craigjclark (craigjclark) wrote,

The only law here is the vigilantes.

When the hooded men of the adventure serials that were popular in the early days of cinema started colonizing other genres, the ones that migrated west tended to gather in number, forming secret societies intent on keeping their own brand of order in the otherwise lawless territories. That was the case in A Mormon Maid and it's certainly true of Hal Roach's 1920 two-reeler An Eastern Westerner, in which Harold Lloyd plays a city boy (known as The Boy) exiled to his uncle's ranch when he comes home late from dancing one night. The Boy doesn't make it as far as his uncle's homestead, though, as soon after his arrival in Piute Pass he's roped into a crooked card game in which he loses all his money. Furthermore, he flirts with a girl (Mildred Davis, as The Girl) who's being pursued by The Bully -- "Tiger Lip" Tompkins (Noah Young), the only character identified by name -- and gets The Bully mad at him.
"Call the Angels," Tompkins says, referring to the Masked Angels, the group of hooded vigilantes he commands. "We'll run this tenderfoot across the state line." This order, given after The Boy has foiled his nefarious plot to get The Girl by holding her father hostage, touches off the exciting climax where The Boy spends several minutes dodging a horde of men on horseback in white hoods, unmistakably recalling the Klan in The Birth of a Nation five years earlier. These masked men, however, are easily bamboozled by the quick-thinking city slicker who has been sent into their midst.
There's a different dynamic at work in 1940's Legion of the Lawless, a B-western vehicle for RKO star George O'Brien, who plays Jeff Toland, a lawyer who rides into the unincorporated community of Ivestown and puts out his shingle in advance of the railroad coming through. Almost immediately he butts heads with Ellen Ives (Virginia Vale), daughter of town founder Henry (Hugh Sothern, who previously appeared in the Republic serial The Fighting Devil Dogs), and runs afoul of her uncle Les (Norman Willis), the leader of the local vigilante group which keeps the populace in line and wears black hoods while doing so. If this sounds at all familiar, it's because director David Howard remade the same basic script (by Doris Schroeder) as Pirates of the Prairie two years later. (Heck, they may have even used the same hoods.) If you've seen one, you've seen them both, but as they feature a bunch of guys in black hoods raising hell, I honestly couldn't resist.
Tags: i'm just a hooded guy, short, silent, warner archive, western
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