'Riders Of Death Valley: 4K Restoration' [Blu-ray]
(Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Buck Jones, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1941) 2020 / VCI Entertainment - MVD Visual)
Overview: This western serial has our able heroes escaping various perils devised by the evil Wolfe Reade and his pack of outlaws, who wish to lay claim to a fabled lost mine.
Blu-ray Verdict: Universal reportedly budgeted one million dollars for 'Riders of Death Valley,' a sum unheard of in B-movie circles back then!
With money like that spent on it, it was guaranteed to have a little more of everything: a large cast, extensive location shots, lots of action, plenty of chases and shootouts, et al.
In spite of the grand scale though there are also plenty of the usual B-movie troupes, like obvious stock footage shots used, nobody can hit the broadside of a barn (on both sides of the law) and, well there's just too much overkill in trying to raise this serial above the norm, in my honest opinion.
The plot is simple: The riders of the title are a group of men protecting local miners from the bad guys. Heading up the riders are Jim Benton and his pal Tombstone (Dick Foran, Buck Jones).
Opposing them are Wolf Reade (Charles Bickford) and his "Wolf Pack" backed up by respectable town citizens Kirby and Davis (James Blaine, Monte Blue).
Benton acquires joint ownership in the Lost Aztec Mine with heroine Mary (Jeanne Kelly) and the rest of the story concerns their efforts to hold on to their property.
Dick Foran, who appears to do most of his own action scenes, makes a likeable hero in the lead. The legendary Buck Jones, who had been around westerns since 1918, was about to kickstart his career after this one in the 'Rough Rider' series, but sadly passed away in 1942.
Jones, getting along in years, is visibly doubled (by Rod Cameron, I'm told) in virtually all of his action and riding scenes, but that's ok, as we don't believe for a second most all these "cowboys" are doing all these wild stunts anyway!
Rounding out the riders are Leo Carillo, playing virtually the same character of Pancho that he would portray in the 'Cisco Kid' series, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams as "Borax", Glenn Strange as "Tex" and Noah Berry Jr. as "Smokey" - a character we hardly ever see!
Veteran Edmund Cobb plays the mine foreman who can't seem to keep the baddies locked up and on the wrong side of the law, this serial was elevated a notch by the casting of Bickford (in black hat and mustache) as the chief villain.
As far as I know, this was his only B-Western and his "Wolf Pack" includes such luminaries as Lon Chaney Jr. (wasted again, of course), Roy Barcroft and Dick Alexander.
In closing, all in all, 'Riders of Death Valley' (containing all 15 original Chapters, and now fully restored from a new 4K scan of the Studio’s 35mm fine grain, and released by VCI Entertainment and MVD Visual) is one of the better western serials of the period, although Republic Pictures probably could have done it better with less.
This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and now Restored to a beautiful HD 1080p 4/3 and comes with the Bonus Features of a Commentary on Chapters 1 & 2 by Toby Roan, writer and film historian; Original Serial Trailers; and a Photo & Poster Gallery.
The film will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on November 24th, 2020 via VCI Entertainment / MVD Visual.
Amazon Purchase Link