Much of the story revolves around the saloon, if not just for its location: it has a very dark element to it despite the night time gaiety, the music, laughter, dancing, card playing and of course liquor. Livermore's saloon is also in many ways a deadly trap; any time a patron happens to hear ominous violin playing which seems to come from nowhere, is listening to a death warning, for it means someone is going to be murdered. Steve and Kelly learn this piece of information from the bartender once they take a seat at the bar. Steve also unexpectedly finds himself trying to be picked up by a local girl who has taken an immediate liking to him once he walks into the saloon: suddenly remembering his supervisor's admonishment about his weakness when it comes to women, he playfully picks up the girl and sits her on a table, perhaps as a means of discouraging her interest in him. As soon as Steve meets Rose, however, he forgets about his supervisor's words and starts displaying social proprieties to her: asking her for a dance at Livermore's chagrin, chatting with her, and finding out who she is. Rose even confides to Steve that he “may be dancing with death”, a reference to the controlling, murderous Livermore. But the temporary diversion brings her a sense of relief, her instinct telling her that Steve is a government agent working undercover, just as she is.
Rose plays up to Livermore quite well, acknowledging the complex relationship she has with him, and the game of love and attraction is something he simply cannot refuse. His mind is on little else whenever she is alone with him. Rose succeeds in making him believe she loves her “bad boy”, waiting for the right moment for him to give himself away, as she hopes to placate him when it comes to the violin playing. The single song Livermore plays several times throughout the film is not of the sweet-stringed variety; it has a funerary demeanor, with its foreboding notes; quite literally a “song of death.” It is a song that cannot be softened, neither can its violin player be softened, even when Livermore spends a few minutes gently petting a small white bird in his office while his henchmen are standing in a row in front of his desk. As soon as the violin is picked up and played, a look of fear and mortality come over the faces of the men, one of whom is immediately shot dead by Livermore when he stops playing his violin.
As soon as Steve finds Rose alone in her room upstairs of the saloon, he talks to her, trying to acquire information about her role in all this, her relationship with Livermore, and of course his own feelings for her. Much to Steve's surprise, she drops her convincing Spanish accent and speaks in English, telling him that she too is a government agent trying to close in on Livermore's arms smuggling operations. Unknown to the two of them, Livermore eavesdrops on their conversation, eventually calling her out. Steve finds himself in a position of rescuing her from Livermore's men, while his partner Kelly holds Livermore hostage in his own office. But the violin playing has not yet stopped; Livermore reaches for his instrument of death, Kelly being his final target, while Steve successfully frees Rose, his partner paying the final price.
Directed by J. P. McCarthy and written by Al Bridge (who also played the role of Livermore) with Wellyn Totman, “God's Country and the Man” integrates some very basic western elements with the intricate and complex human relationships of its main characters, from fidelity to love and sacrifice. With human interest elements like these as a central part of the plot, “God's Country and the Man” is an early Tom Tyler talkie worth an hour of viewing time.
Despite the shortcomings of the existing print-to-DVD of “Two Fisted Justice” (1931) (an entire reel is missing, shortening the movie by about 19-20 minutes from the original), this is a Trem Carr film worth exploring. It goes without saying that the most seemingly important part of the film is missing, the beginning where Tom meets President Lincoln in person prior to leaving for the south as a government agent on a special mission during the Civil War. As in his FBO movies, Tom has a boy companion who he rescued from an Indian attack, a member of a small family traveling through the territory by covered wagon. Named Danny (Bobbie Nelson), the boy witnesses his guardians get killed, and is lucky enough to see someone on horseback nearby: the fringed leather and poncho-wearing Kentucky Carson (Tom Tyler). Possibly the most poignant scene in the movie is where Danny tells Kentucky that the two adults he was traveling with were not his parents, implying he was adopted, a second tragic loss of a couple who loved him and raised him as their own. Kentucky takes Danny in as his own, along with Sagebrush, the boy's dog, as they all ride together on horseback into town. But after having been away from town for awhile, Kentucky soon discovers the place he calls home is now run by a criminal element, with Nick Slavin (William Walling) as the leader. To make matters worse, Kentucky has a romantic interest in Nancy Cameron (Barbara Weeks), whose father (John Elliott) became a member of Slavin's gang. Kentucky is unaware of this, although Sagebrush feels uneasy around Cameron, when they are standing next to each other in the local general store. Compared to Cameron, Kentucky is the man the dog prefers, jumping into his arms and licking his face, making Cameron feel uneasy while Kentucky explains to him how dogs can sense a trustworthy person or not. Upset, Cameron exits and leaves Kentucky with enough time to guess what is happening in town, its downfall into a lawless form of “law and order.”
Cameron eventually decides to leave Slavin's gang, perhaps out of concern for his daughter Nancy, but also because of Kentucky. Nancy eventually wants to marry Kentucky and be happy with him, without having to worry too much about her father. It is not long before Slavin finds out about Cameron's wanting to leave the outfit and sends one of his men, Cheyenne Charlie (Pedro Regas) to eliminate Cameron. That night, Danny is sound asleep in bed with Sagebrush by his feet, the dog awakened by noises outside. Soundlessly walking downstairs, Sagebrush can hear Cameron and Charlie fighting, and stops, lingering nearby, as an alert for his master to hopefully find him and tell Kentucky what is happening. During the struggle, Charlie ends up the victim, knifed to death, while Cameron escapes. By the time this happens, Danny has left his bed and found his missing dog, witness to a murder.
Marshal Houston (Gordon De Main) is advised to arrest Slavin and end the dominating criminal element in town. Danny finally confesses that Cameron knifed Cheyenne Charlie to death, and Cameron is convicted in a kangaroo court, ready to hang in the center of town. In the nick of time, a letter of reprieve arrives from President Lincoln, delivered to Kentucky Carson, who turns it over to the sheriff and lets Cameron free, a climactic scene which includes the arrest of Slavin and his gang. Young Danny is happy to be with Kentucky in his new home, along with Nancy, when out of nowhere Sagebrush shows up, completely unharmed, and delighted to be reunited with his master.
Directed and written by George Arthur Durlam, “Two Fisted Justice” has its share of action like the other Tom Tyler westerns, but takes its time in exploring the full range of emotions in a child who has been through more than his share of life-changing events at a very young age. Yakima Canutt appears as one of Kentucky's fellow poncho riders and performs the stuntwork in the film.
Stay tuned for the third part of this series!
Note: The following Trem Carr movies with Tom Tyler are still on the “lost film” list:
“Partners of the Trail” (1931)
“The Man from Death Valley” (1931)
“Galloping Thru” (1931)
“Vanishing Men” (1932)
“The Man from New Mexico” (1932) exists as a complete 35mm print at the Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. Hopefully one day this will see restoration and digitalized for consumer DVD purchase.