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Gallant Defender

(aka Cowboy Crusader / Gun Law)


Columbia Pictures Corporation

Production Dates: September 25 - October 8, 1935

Release Date: 1935 11 30

Running time: 57 or 60 minutes (6 reels)

Key book (production) number: 80





Plot Summary

Production and Promotional Stills



        Based on a Peter B. Kyne book, "Gallant Defender" is the first of many Charles Starrett / Sons of the Pioneers b-Western films by Columbia Pictures. The Pioneers and Starrett made another together in 1936, "The Mysterious Avenger". Starting at the end of 1937 with "The Old Wyoming Trail", they made 27 more.

        The first few films gave very little dialogue to the Pioneers but the series eventually became an excellent vehicle for the group. Bob Nolan's parts became meatier until he was second lead to Charles Starrett. For several months, he wrote every song in each film.

        "Gallant Defender" features songs by Tim Spencer and the Farr Brothers in a realistic setting - one after another around the campfire. The instruments were guitars and Hugh Farr's violin; no bull fiddle.

        Around the campfire, Bob Nolan can be seen faintly in the flickering light. The Pioneers may also have parts as extras in the movie but our video is of very poor quality and we could not spot them. Sound was still in its infancy and everyone spoke their lines very loudly.

        Unlike later Columbia pictures, "Gallant Defender" is introduced with Tim Spencer's "Westward Ho" instead of "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", the song which was to become the theme of the early series. (See Blazing Six Shooters, etc.) This movie is available on DVD.



Cast: (with photos)

Left: Charles Starrett as Johnny Flagg and Joan Perry as Barbara McGrail

Right: Harry Woods as Barr Munro


Left: Edward J. Le Saint as Harvey Campbell

Centre: Jack Clifford as Sheriff Luther

Right: Al Bridge as "Salty Smith" McGrail


Left: George Cheesbro as Joe Swale

Centre: Edmund Cobb as David Larkin

Right: George Billings as Jimmy McGrail


Betty Jane Graham as Lily


Also in the cast: Gene Alsace, Chuck Baldra, Stanley Blystone, Dick Botiller, George Burton, Bob Card, Buck Connors, Jack Kirk, Tom London, Frankie Marvin, Bud Osborne, Pascale Perry, Glenn Strange and Slim Whitaker, etc.



1. Westward Ho (Covered Wagon Roll Me) (Tim Spencer)

2. The New Frontier (Tim Spencer)

3. Boggy Road to Texas (Hugh & Karl Farr)


Plot Summary

            Though released nationally in 1935, Gallant Defender, the first entry in Charles Starrett's 17-year western series for Columbia, wasn't reviewed by the New York press until April of 1936. Ostensibly based on a story by Peter B. Kyne (who was given a producer credit), the film is largely the handiwork of Columbia staff scrivener Ford Beebe. The plot is motivated by a range war between cattlemen and homesteaders. Representing the latter contingent is Johnny Flagg (Starrett), who hopes to bring an end to the hostilities. Instead, villains Munro (Harry Woods) and Swale (George Chesebro) manage to frame Johnny for murder, forcing him to break out of jail to prove his innocence. Starrett's leading lady in this film and the subsequent Mysterious Avenger is Joan Perry, who retired from films when she became the wife of Columbia president Harry Cohn. Gallant Defender was well-received by fans and exhibitors alike, getting the Starrett series off to a rousing start. Pioneers appear only once in a musical interlude around campfire. (Unknown contributor)


The film opens with Johnny Flagg on a beautiful white horse he calls "Pal" approaching the sign to Oro Grande. He hears gunfire and decides to check it out.



            When from a distance he sees a covered wagon being circled by three horsemen who are firing at an elderly man and a little girl, he decides to take a hand.  By the time he gets within firing range, the outlaws have already shot the old man and set fire to the wagon. The little girl picks up her grandfather's gun but the outlaws yank it from her and throw it away.



            Johnny wounds one of the outlaws and lets the rest go while he frees the team and cow from the blazing wagon then tries to help the homesteaders. The little girl is nearly hysterical but he assures her that her grandfather will live. He builds a travois for her grandfather, puts her up behind his own saddle on Pal and starts for the encampment of settlers near Oro Grande to find a doctor.



            In the town of Oro Grande, a meeting of the Cattlemen's Association is in session under president Harvey Campbell. Before too long it becomes apparent that rancher Barr Munro has been hiring gunmen and making war on the settlers, using methods that upset even the ranchers who do not want the homesteaders in the area. Campbell gives Munro a letter asking him to resign from the Cattlemen's Association and Barr, angry with them all, accuses them of jealousy.



            Back at the encampment, the travois bearing her wounded grandfather arrives and little Lily runs to her uncle Marvin.




            In conversation with Larkin and the other nesters (settlers), Johnny discovers that the local ranchmen are trying to scare them to prevent them from staking claims on land on the Jackson Reserve that has been newly opened for homesteading. Johnny suggests they organize so they offer him the job but he says his gun is not for hire.



            In a saloon in Oro Grande, Munro derides his henchmen for botching the job that morning. He asks them if they crochet as well as they fight.



            The sheriff catches up to Campbell and offers his resignation. Campbell refuses to let him resign even though a new batch of Munro's gunmen, all named Smith, are just riding into town. Swale introduces them all, including Salty Smith. The sheriff accuses Munro of violence to the nesters. Munro responds by saying he is just the scapegoat. The sheriff and Campbell walk off. Munro confronts Salty Smith and asks him his name. He is sure he has met him before but can't place him now.



            In the bar, Swale tells Munro he has heard rumor of a United States Marshall infiltrating his band. Munro is certain it is Johnny Flagg and plans to keep an eye on him.



            Johnny rides into town and chats with Campbell, standing on the boardwalk with the Sheriff. Johnny asks if anyone is hiring. On being told there is only one man hiring and he hires only men named Smith, Johnny says he has heard of him and does not want any part of him. The sheriff advises him to ask the bartender. "He's the closest thing we've got to a newspaper!"



            Barr Munro scatters his men around the saloon and meets Johnny at the bar where he is asking the bartender if he has heard of anyone hiring. Munro offers him a job but when Johnny hears the pay will be $100 a month, he declines. A job paying that much is sure to be illegal. Munro accuses him of being a US Marshall and Johnny laughs. He tells Munro he is lucky. If he had been the law, he would have made 3 arrests right then and there and looks at the three men who nearly killed the homesteader earlier. Two of them draw and have the guns shot from their hands. Munro draws and holds a gun on Swale. Johnny sees through that and takes Munro's gun.



            The sheriff rushes in at the sound of gunfire and follows Johnny out to the sidewalk. He tells Johnny he is deputized and Johnny refuses that job, too. "When I want to fight for a living, I'll join the army!" He rides out of town and Munro orders men to follow him to make sure he does not return.



            On the way out of town, Johnny meets a covered wagon in trouble. The wheel has fallen off and a pretty young lady is making a futile attempt to jack it up.



            It is plain that she is not strong enough to do it herself so he offers his assistance. She refuses and her little brother holds a gun on him. Johnny helps them, anyway, teasing her all the time about needing a husband.



            Just as Johnny finishes replacing the wheel, Munro's three men ride out of the brush with guns leveled. One of them is Salty Smith. The outlaws start to unload the wagon and Salty manages to quickly reverse his gun and give it to Johnny who makes good use of it after a startled half second. He orders the men to drop their guns, unsaddle and send their horses down the road. Then, he says, they must walk back to town.



            Johnny talks with Barbara McGrail and finds out that she wants to take her father's ranch back now that it is open for homesteading. Her father had been killed several years before and Munro, McGrail's foreman, had taken it over. When he hears this, Johnny changes his mind about riding on and hires himself on as Barbara's foreman even though she doesn't have the ranch yet.



            As Munro smokes a cigar in front of the Land Office, Campbell walks up and reminds him once more that he will never keep the homesteaders away. Munro starts to disagree when Barbara's wagon drives up with Johnny Flagg riding alongside.



            Flagg re-introduces himself to Munro as Barbara's new foreman. Munro accuses him of siding with the nesters and Flagg does not deny it. Then Johnny walks over to the back of the wagon and drops three revolvers and three saddles at an astonished Munro's feet. Shortly after that, three unsaddled horses canter into town with three tired outlaws trotting along behind them.



            Back at the encampment, Johnny tells the gathered nesters that he has changed his mind. If they still want him to take charge he is willing but, he warns them, it means war. His first order is to circle the wagon with the cooking fires and stock inside.



        Back in Oro Grande, Munro is deriding his henchmen but decides to go ahead with attacking the encampment.



            Around the campfire, the Sons of the Pioneers sing "The New Frontier" and then someone asks for a fiddle piece. Hugh obliges with "Boggy Road to Texas" accompanied by someone playing the jug. They sing one more song, "Westward Ho" and then are interrupted by the guard bringing in Salty Smith who turns out to be Barbara's uncle.


Left: Tim Spencer and Leonard Slye


Left: Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer.

Right: Hugh Farr


            Salty warns them about the coming attack and explains that he has been searching for years for proof that Munro murdered his brother. He is now close to getting it. Johnny sends him back to town and follows soon after.



            In the saloon, the outlaws plan to leave for the raid when Johnny walks in. The sheriff comes in in time to hear the word "raid". He tries to talk Johnny out of organizing a vigilante committee and at the same time, he tries to talk Campbell into supporting the nesters.



            Munro sarcastically asks the sheriff why he hasn't been arrested yet. "If I was gonna arrest people for what they're gonna do, I'd have arrested you long ago! I've got to wait till the crime's committed and by then it's too late." The sheriff and Campbell have words and the sheriff leaves in disgust, severing their longtime friendship. Johnny leaves to consult the nesters and Campbell leaves to gather the Cattleman's Association once more.



    When the Sheriff leaves, Munro tells Swale that Salty is the spy, that he's recognized him as McGrail's brother. He orders Swale to follow Salty to make sure he does not spill the beans. Salty intends to do just that. He catches up with the sheriff, says he wants to swear out a warrant for Munro's arrest for murder.



            Just as Salty is about to give his proof, Swale shoots him from the shadows. The sheriff returns his fire and the gunfire brings Johnny back. The two men carry Salty into the Sheriff's office where he will be safest and then they send for the doctor. Johnny and the sheriff share their news and the sheriff realizes for the first time who Barbara McGrail is. He sends Johnny to Campbell's office with that news. It will change his mind, he says, and it does. Campbell writes a note to the Cattleman's Association and gives it to Johnny. Johnny has barely left when he hears more gunfire and finds Campbell has been killed. The cattlemen believe Johnny did it and the sheriff puts him into a cell for safe keeping. Munro joins the crowd and incites them even more. He sends a man around to the other ranchers.

            The sheriff feels terrible about Campbell dying, thinking he was angry with him. Johnny assured him that Campbell understood. They send a note out to the encampment asking for Barbara and Jimmy to come into town to sit with their Uncle Salty. And they ask the nesters to drive into town and meet at the Land Office in the morning, unarmed. Meanwhile, Munro's men have been stirring up the rancher's to vigilante action by telling them that the nesters have killed Campbell.

            Salty comes to for a short while, long enough for the sheriff to question him and take notes. He makes out a warrant for Munro's arrest then tries to persuade Johnny to ride out of town. Johnny refuses. He has the key in the cell with him.



            The nesters gather in front of the land office and then the ranchers arrive with Munro. It looks like trouble for awhile but the sheriff brings the ranchers in to talk with Johnny.



            Johnny asks the ranchers if Munro had accused him of killing Campbell. And then he asked if Munro had said why. The rancher replied that Munro had said Johnny had killed Munro because he had refused to back the nesters.



            Johnny brought out the note Campbell had given him that night and the ranchers saw the light when Johnny told them further that Barbara was McGrail's daughter and pointed her out, sitting by her wounded uncle.



            The ranchers are now as eager to hang Munro as they had been to hang Johnny but the sheriff talks them out of it. "Now you let the Law make the mistakes," he warns. Meanwhile, outside, Munro notices that the nesters have armed themselves and are moving toward the land office. The official arrives and unlocks the door. Munro moves toward the door but is halted by the ranchers who show Munro the letter. He asks them if they are backing the nesters and they reply that they have orders to remain neutral. Well, says, Munro, I'd better file now. Johnny stops him before he goes through the door. Johnny tells Munro that the watch he is wearing has McGrail's name in it. Munro goes for his gun but Johnny is faster. The ranchers take Munro's henchman into the jail and the nesters let Barbara and her foreman go in and stake her homesteading claim first. Her little brother pipes up, "It's not a foreman we need but a husband!" Barbara silently agrees as she takes Johnny's arm.



Production and Promotional Stills




Courtesy of Jan Scott



Courtesy of Jan Scott

See also fan letter concerning this picture.




With Joan Perry

(Private Collection)



Courtesy of Buddy Bryant



Courtesy of Jan Scott


Courtesy of Bruce Hickey



Courtesy of Bruce Hickey



Courtesy of Bruce Hickey



Joan Perry and Charles Starrett: publicity photo


Courtesy of Bruce Hickey


Courtesy of Bruce Hickey




Courtesy of Bruce Hickey



Courtesy of Bruce Hickey