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Wagon Trail

Black and white, 1935
Astor Pictures
Directed by Harry Fraser
Runtime: 55 minutes

Starring: Harry Carey (Sheriff Clay Hartley), Gertrude Messinger (Joan Collins), Edward Norris (Clay Hartley, Jr.), Roger Williams (Mark Collins), Earl Dwire (Deputy Joe Larkin), Chuck Morrison (Deputy Chuck)


Two horsemen ride up to the Golden Rule Saloon to meet with a man named Mark Collins. One of the men is Clay Hartley, Jr., son the town sheriff. Collins has called together Hartley and a group of hired men to hatch a scheme for robbing the stagecoach to Mission Flats, which will be carrying a load of gold dust.

Clay stays behind after the rest of the men have left, telling Collins he doesn't want to have any part of robbing the stage. Collins threatens to hand Hartley's Golden Rule gambling debts over to his father if he refuses to cooperate.

Meanwhile, Collins' adopted daughter Joan has stopped into town to speak with Sheriff Hartley. Joan is in love with young Clay, and his father hopes her influence will help keep him away from running with a bad crowd at the Golden Rule. One of Hartley's deputies interrupts their conversation to tell the sheriff they have caught wind of a robbery attempt on the stage. Hartley and his deputies ride out of town to prevent it.

The lawmen arrive in time to prevent the robbery. Young Hartley is riding with the bandits, but does not fire his gun or otherwise participate in the robbery attempt. Though the stage is ultimately safe, one of the deputies is shot during the conflict.

Deputy Joe Larkin pursues and captures one of the bandits as he retreats on horseback. Larkin is chagrined to discover it is Clay he has captured. On the condition that Clay promises to go straight, Larkin is about to let him go in order to spare the sheriff from having to arrest his own son. However, another deputy rides onto the scene, and Larkin is forced to bring Clay in.

Back in town, the sheriff confronts Collins, suspecting he played a role in the robbery attempt. Hartley threatens to hang the first of the gang that is brought in. Moments later, his deputies arrive with Clay in custody. Clay is the only member of the gang they have captured. Once Hartley is out of earshot, Collins declares that he is convinced that Clay will talk while in his father's custody.

In the privacy of the jailhouse, Hartley checks Clay's gun and sees it hasn't been fired. Knowing then that his son didn't play a role in the shooting of his deputy, Hartley tries to get his son to tell him who ordered the robbery. Clay refuses to talk, so Hartley is forced to lock him up and await trial.

Hartley enlists Joan to elicit the truth from Clay from his jail cell. Because he doesn't want to hurt her with the truth about her father, Clay continues to maintain his silence about the details of the robbery. He remains silent even during his trial, and as a result he is sentenced to be hanged.

After the sentencing, Sheriff Hartley trails Collins to his ranch house and overhears him in conversation with his men. Collins, still afraid Clay might talk at the eleventh hour, plans to grab Clay before the hanging and take him away to get rid of him. Hartley rides to town ahead of Collins and asks Larkin, his loyal deputy, to saddle a horse to help Clay escape.

When Collins, the townsfolk and the judge find out that Hartley has allowed his son to escape, they relieve him of his badge. Hartley refuses to be arrested and escapes to join his son. The judge pins the badge on Collins, who wanted the badge all along, and Larkin quits in disgust. Collins deputizes one of his men, and his control of the town seems complete.

Hartley rides to his old hunting cabin to meet up with his son. Clay finally admits that Collins was the head of the bunch that tried to rob the stage, and that he only participated because Collins promised to tear up his gambling IOUs if he rode lookout. Clay promises his father that he only rode in that job and had nothing to do with an earlier bank robbery that Collins planned.

With the new knowledge that Collins planned the bank job and that he is keeping the loot in his safe at the Golden Rule, Hartley rides back into town to confront Collins and prove his son's innocence. Entering the Golden Rule, Hartley demands to speak with Collins alone in his office. At gunpoint, he retrieves his son's IOUs, but finds the bank money from the safe has already been removed.

Hartley and Collins have a fistfight in the saloon. Collins nearly shoots Hartley while he is down, but Larkin steps in and saves the day by shooting the gun from Collins' hand. Hartley and his gang of former deputies then pursue the bank money, which they discover has been placed on the stage leaving town.

While Hartley and his men chase the stage to retrieve the bank money, Collins and his men move to get rid of Clay. Joan has gone ahead to warn Clay of the danger-- she rides up to the hunting cabin in a wagon and the two attempt to escape together. Collins and his men follow closely behind and capture Clay after a short pursuit.

Collins decides to hang Clay immediately, and strings him up as Joan looks on. Hartley and his men, having recovered the bank money, ride to bring Clay back to town. Seeing the wagon tracks, they follow the trail to where Clay is about to be hanged. Hartley shoots the hanging rope in the nick of time to save his son. He and Collins have another fistfight, and Hartley subdues him to take him back to town. Grabbing a gun, Collins shoots himself in the gut. As he dies, he has a change of heart, declaring to Hartley that Clay is a good kid.

After the group returns to town, the sheriff and his deputies are reinstated, and Clay is set free to start anew with Joan.

Plot keywords: stagecoach robbery, father/son drama, son goes bad, redemption of criminal, hanging, disgraced sheriff, B western

Scenery: dusty and rocky terrain, some trees

Wagon Trail is available on DVD.

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