FIGHTERS OF THE SADDLE (1929–silent), starring Art Acord
scenario by Horace B. Carpenter (who starred in Dwain Esper’s 1934 MANIAC )
directed by Robert J. Horner (infamous for his z-grade sound films, but not bad here)
Art Acord (though not from the film under review)
Art Acord is someone who was a well-known star in his heyday (in the world of westerns), but few of his films survive, and those that do are not really typical of what made him famous. Hailing from my former hometown of Stillwater, Oklahoma, Acord died at the age of 40 in Mexico in 1931—-however, his name still surfaces here and there as a man of historical significance, and I just saw it today in an article about Oklahoma history, so I thought I’d re-post my review of his final surviving film, FIGHTERS OF THE SADDLE, which I originally published online in 2003.
One of the few available Art Acord films, a late-silent that’s probably not typical of Acord’s work
Imagine if the only available film by Boris Karloff was THE TERROR? Or if the only available Bob Steele western was AMBUSH TRAIL? We probably wouldn’t consider these men to be the greats in their respective genres that they are. While it’s rumored that more than a dozen Art Acord films are owned by collectors, the same three from his waning days on the screen are the only ones in active circulation today, easily available to someone who would want to buy them. FIGHTERS OF THE SADDLE, from 1929, is one of those. Directed by Robert J. Horner (never a good sign, but this is actually a competently made cheap-jack silent western, so perhaps the photographer made the important decisions or maybe Horner, like Oscar Micheaux, is not as bad a silent director as he is a sound director?) as silent films were on their deathbed, FIGHTERS OF THE SADDLE stars Art Acord as the son of a ruthless land developer who is running small tenants off their land so he can sell the land to corporations building roads. Art is sent by his dad to force the Wayne family off their land, and when he sees how unjust this is, he sides with the family and takes a stand against his dad. The 1929 Art Acord actually reminded me of Lon Chaney Jr. somewhat (in the late 30s, for example), and he looked a bit puffy. He plays the “sensitive but tough” part well, but if his name was John Doe and this was the only film I ever saw with him, I don’t know if I’d actively seek out others. Yet when I asked my father, a boy who loved westerns in the 1920’s and saw them every weekend, about his favorite western stars from the 20’s, he went into long descriptions of Ken Maynard, Tom Mix, and Art Acord. I assume he was talking about the Acord films made at Universal in the early 20’s. Let’s hope some of those have survived and find their way into circulation. As for the rest of this film, Tom Bay is quite impressive as the evil cousin of Art, who is trying to drive a wedge between Art and his dad so Tom can fill the position that Art does in the family. John Lowell is appropriately sleazy as “Bulldog” Weatherby, Art’s dad, but the Bulldog’s behavior in the film’s finale is completely unrealistic (that kind of thing never happens in real life!), and what’s going on when this old man tries to kiss the Wayne lady on the lips before Art embraces her in the final scene? Is that supposed to be funny? I found it sickening!! And the attempt at “cuteness” with the young Wayne children singing songs that are transcribed for us in title cards proves that silent films should not attempt to convey music elements. Overall, this is an interesting curio–OK as a z-grade late-silent western, and a rare view of Art Acord, but probably not typical of what made Art Acord a star. I have a few questions about elements in the film that seem elliptically presented, making me wonder if this is due to sloppy writing, budgetary unwillingness to film scenes that are more easily talked about, or poor continuity, but I don’t think this film necessarily lends itself to such scrutiny. By the way, the FIGHTERS OF THE SADDLE that the title refers to are actually the hired thugs of Bulldog, not some heroic group led by Art Acord!
FIGHTERS OF THE SADDLE is easy to find on budget DVD for those so inclined. Let’s hope more of Acord’s features are found, so I can see for myself what my father enjoyed so much about the man’s 1920’s Universal films, the films that truly capture what made him famous.