Columbia's Westerns

There was a time when a dusty Main Street shoot-out or a barroom brawl was all the action a movie needed. Movie-going audiences in the 1920’s through the 1950’s loved the thrills and suspense of the western film and Columbia Pictures was at the top of its game with this genre. So much so that the mystique of the studio’s old-fashioned “oater” still remains a draw today.
Early westerns were usually one-hour “B movie” serials, half of a double bill, in which cowboy heroes would return to the screen week after week to play out the previous week’s cliffhanger. Columbia produced more than 300 of these westerns from 1930 through 1958 and attracted many of the era’s best known cowboy stars: Buck Jones, “Wild Bill” Elliott, Tex Ritter, Tim McCoy, Gene Autry and Charles Starrett, most widely known as “the Durango Kid.” While the western serial’s “B” status was derived from their low budgets and production values (more costly sequences like horse stampedes or Indian attacks would be reused in multiple films), the westerns packed plenty of gun-slinging, villainy and cowboy heroism to lure post Depression-era audiences to the movies, making them a popular and successful genre for Columbia for decades.
Buck Jones, a well-liked cowboy star from the dozens of silent westerns he made at Fox, made his first sound film for Columbia and went on to make nineteen more films for the studio between 1930 and 1934, including THE TEXAS RANGER, MEN WITHOUT LAW, and RANGE FEUD, featuring a young John Wayne. Fellow Columbia box-office star Tim McCoy rose to fame at the studio in the 1930’s with movies like TWO-FISTED LAW and CORNERED. Gordon “Wild Bill” Elliott starred in the serial THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF WILD BILL HICKOK which ran for fifteen episodes and provided him with the famous nickname that would stay with him throughout his career. Elliott went on to star in a number of other Columbia serials, reprised his role as Wild Bill Hickok and later, in the early 1940’s, paired up with singing cowboy Tex Ritter on eight successful films including THE DEVIL’S TRAIL.

“Wild Bill” Elliott

Charles Starrett