Randolph Scott … Tod Jackson
Kay Francis … Julie King
Brian Donlevy … Grat Dalton
George Bancroft … Caleb Winters
Broderick Crawford … Bob Dalton
Stuart Erwin … Ben Dalton
Andy Devine … Ozark Jones
Frank Albertson … Emmett Dalton
Mary Gordon … Ma Dalton
Harvey Stephens … Rigby
Edgar Dearing … Sheriff
Quen Ramsey … Clem Wilson
Dorothy Granger … Nancy
Robert McKenzie … Photographer
Fay McKenzie … Hannah
Directed by George Marshall
Based on the novel by Emmett Dalton and Jack Jungmeyer.
Screenplay by Harold Shumate.
Original Music by Frank Skinner.
Cinematography by Hal Mohr.
Film Editing by Edward Curtiss.
Art Direction by Jack Otterson.
Set Decoration by Russell A. Gausman.
Costume Design by Vera West.
Assistant Direction by Vernon Keays.
Stunts Yakima Canutt by Cliff Lyons.
Musical Direction by Charles Previn.
Released August 23, 1940.
A Universal Picture.
After the block-buster successes of Stage Coach, Union Pacific, Destry Rides Again, and Jesse James, all produced and released in 1939, Hollywood became aware of a major fact: Westerns were back in vogue.
The genre had really taken shape in the silent cinema, where directors like John Ford and William Wellman perfected their craft by making cheaply produced cowboy stories made for the sole purpose of getting a fast buck for the movie studios.
But the genre died with sound movies, where lavish musicals became the new big thing—as well as other techniques which couldn’t be achieved in silent film.
During the 1930s, the majority of Westerns being produced were of the B stamp. To the big studios, Westerns were for the small-town entertainment only. The real profits were to be made in the big cities, where audiences preferred to see Joan Crawford in Sadie McKee (1934), Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in Rose Marie (1936), and Kay Francis in Stolen Holiday (1937).
Only after the successes of Stage Coach, Union Pacific, and Destry Rides Again did they come to realize that a lavish Western could bring in the big bucks, also.
When Daltons Rode was based off of the legend created by the real-life circumstances surrounding the gang and of course the book by Emmett Dalton and Jack Jungmeyer, which was the basis for this excellent piece of Western material.
Randolph Scott had proved himself capable of handling this genre with notable works in The Texans (1938), Jesse James (1939), and Virginia City (1940). Unfortunately, When the Daltons Rode wouldn’t showcase him riding high with the Dalton Brothers, holding up stagecoaches and being in the middle with shoot-outs with officers. Filling in for a role which was originated for Walter Pidgeon, who became ill prior to production, in When the Daltons Rode he wound up sitting on the sidelines, loving Kay Francis instead of shooting a pistol.
By the time she appeared as Julie King, Kay Francis’ career had basically covered all of the basics but the Western. She proved she could do light comedy, musicals, and melodrama. The West was the last frontier for her to arrive, and she grabbed on to this project with more enthusiasm that she had since playing the villainous bitch of In Name Only (1939).
Her excitement is showcased with a stellar performance, more alive than she had been for some time. And for a woman so identified with fashion and glamour, she was perfectly fitted into this movie, unlike her other costume films where she tended to stand out like a soar thumb.
Director George Marshall began his career with Across the Rio Grande (1916). He was one of the directors of the silent cinema to make the Western genre one of the most popular. He had directed Destry Rides Again to a major box office success, and repeated his triumph with When the Daltons Rode.
The film was released to favorable reviews and a potent box office success to make Universal Pictures produce a follow-up, The Daltons Ride Again (1945), which featured none of the headlining actors in this film.
As with so many sequels, it didn’t prove a fair follow-up to its predecessor.
Todd Jackson arrives in a Kansas town looking for his old friends, the Daltons, but all he seems to find is trouble. Peering into a photo studio, he laughs at a man who falls backwards, collapsing the entire setup. The man rushes outside to tell Todd off, who responds with an apology, but admits it was pretty funny.
A gun fires, and out comes Ozark Jones and his girlfriend Nancy, who has caught him cheating on her. Ozark grabs the back of Todd’s arms and uses him as a shield. Everyone laughs at the situation, and the man from the photo session responds by having his brother do the same thing while he pretends to fire. Todd’s bag opens up and his clothes go everywhere, and when the gag is all over he looks at Todd and sarcastically apologizes but says that was funny also.
Todd says “Yeah, so is this,” as he pushes the man into a crate of water, which causes a fight.
The mother of the two young men runs out with her other two sons. She asks what’s the matter with them, and, when Todd recognizes one of their first names, and the brogue of the mother, he comes to realize he has met his old friends.
They laugh about the situation, and insist that Todd come back to the farm with them for their mother’s birthday part. He agrees, but needs to send out a telegram first.
Todd meets Julie, the telegram writer, as she is counting the number of cows in a nearby stable. He is smitten with her, though she resists him, and when he says he will be attending a part later on, she insists that she is also, but doubts they would be seen together at the same place.
Of course they are.
At the party, Todd goes on to Bob Dalton about the girl he met. Bob appears to be interested, and when Julie shows up and Todd gets all excited Bob goes over to her and welcomes her. Unfortunately for Todd, Bob and Julie are engaged to be married, but there are no hard feelings on Bob’s part.
The Dalton ranch is being eyed up by a Kansas Development Company. The family has owned the land for ten years, but the corrupt business is doing their best to have it taken away, even having Ben Dalton wrongfully accused of murdering one of their workers just to get it.
Since Todd is a lawyer, he must do his best to help his friends, though he and Julie are falling more and more in love with each other as the days pass.
At the trial, Todd stages a major argument between the jurors over a stolen horse. Gunfire soon follows, and the judge calls for a recess, but before the trial can go any further, the Daltons whip out pistols of their own and cause a major shoot-up to get Ben out of the courtroom.
Succeeding in their escape, now they are on the run.
The local newspapers do their best to tarnish the boys’ image, blaming them for every robbery and hold-up in the nearby counties when, in reality, they are starving in a barn they are using to hide in. Fed up with being blamed for everything, they decide to make the rumors come true, and feed their stomachs, by holding up a few trains and banks of their own.
Ben Dalton makes his way back to town during a train hold up, and runs into Julie’s office, though the local deputies quickly find him and wrestle with her to get into the room where he is being hidden. Once he is captured, his brothers come back to save him.
The boys do their last major hold up of a train ironically filled with deputies protecting a large amount of money being carried. A chase leads them back into town, where they hide out until the final reel.
Ma sends for Julie, thinking she will be glad to see Bob. He insists that the boys are done; they’re going to South America to get married while everyone else heads out to California. Julie refuses, basically giving him the reason that she loves Todd now, and has forgotten about him.
Furious, Bob rushes over to Todd’s over where a fight breaks out. Julie and Ma run in trying to stop it, and Bob comes to his senses when he goes to strike his own mother. Since Todd is on the floor unconscious, Bob tells Julie to tell Todd he’s sorry about the while thing.
Meanwhile, outside the rest of the boys are going to hold up First National Bank even after Bob told them not to. The deputies have been tipped off, and the final big shoot out occurs, with all of the Dalton Brothers being killed except for Bob, who saves Todd’s life before a gunman can kill him, after which he is gunned down himself.
Todd and Julie are married, and the film ends with their preparation to leave town and start a life together.
This is a really good movie, perhaps the second best one Kay made as a freelance actress, the first being In Name Only (1939). There’s tons of action to keep this one moving, so don’t expect any dead moments for a bathroom break or popcorn.
Work from the stuntmen is phenomenal, especially when one falls off a stagecoach, grabs on underneath and works his way up the back and takes the driver by gunpoint.
The acting is uniformly excellent, particularly on the parts of Randolph Scott, Broderick Crawford, Brian Donlevy, and Kay Francis. Though top billed, Scott does loose audience attention for a good thirty minutes of this movie while the Daltons are out on their criminal runs. Here he doesn’t get the opportunity to play with the action, as he had done in the majority of his Westerns. In When the Daltons Rode his action is limited strictly to suits and the courtroom.
I don’t even recall seeing him with a gun.
Kay plays the typical love interest, but she has some really good scenes. Her best is when the officers break into her office to get Ben Dalton. The extras, who are extremely rough in a very convincing manner, manhandle her in a way which tops her entering the crooked union deal at the end of Stranded (1935) with George Brent.
She allows herself to get pushed around by the best of them.
Her second best is at the end, when she’s over Randolph Scott’s unconscious body yelling at Bob, telling his mother that he has changed; that her son would never be to selfish and irrational. Here Broderick Crawford also does great with his realization of how much life has changed him.
And for fans of Kay Francis, director George Marshall does a good job at checking back with her current situations while the Daltons are away. The only actor we loose contact for a while with is Randolph Scott, but everyone shares the action and honors here, which is something remarkable in the middle of all that gunfire.
Also good enough for a mention of praise is Mary Gordon as the mother and George Bancroft as Caleb Winters.
On the down note is Andy Devine, who gets annoying quickly.
Many point to When the Daltons Rode as following the cliché Western plot, but it still works. A very entertaining piece of work, it is fortunate that this title is available on a major DVD release for anyone to watch and enjoy.
Of one thing you may be sure: Universal will never make a sequel to “When the Daltons Rode.” No, sir, friends, you’ll never see a “Return of Bob Dalton,” for coincidence, or “The Daltons Ride Again”—not within the realm of reason, anyhow. For the climax of this titanic Western, which blasted its way into Loew’s State and eleven other theatres in the metropolitan area yesterday, results in such wholesale tribal slaughter, such a complete patrilineal blackout of the clan, that “When the Daltons Rode” is decisively the last of the Daltons. We have long wanted to see one of these shootin’ pictures in which the final scene is a smoking ruin with everybody dead. This one comes mighty close to being it. At the fade-out there are only a few pious and inconsequential folk, like Randolph Scott and Kay Francis, standing around. The Dalton gang is no more.
But, boy, while those buckos are living, they certinly do put on a show! Like the James brothers before them—or, at least, like the Twentieth Century-Fox Jameses—they start out a law-abiding family of Kansas farmers, back about 1891. But when the inevitable railroad “land grabbers” try to move in on them, when one of the boys accidentally kills a villain and it looks like the end of a rope for him, though the brothers automatically constitute themselves a fraternity of fighting fiends, go marauding around the country robbing banks and sticking up trains and eventually go down in a furious battle with their backs against the walls of Coffeyville, Kan.
We wouldn’t like to suggest that this is the true saga of the famous Dalton gang. Neither would we highly recommend the romantic by-play of Miss Francis nor the ineffectual intervention of Mr. Scott in the plot. But we will say that Brian Donlevy, Broderick Crawford, Andy Devine and others of the gang make some fine desperados; the picture itself is straight, fast Western fare, and for folks who like plenty of shootin’, here is your gunpowder.
Written by Bosley Crowther. Published August 23, 1940 in the New York Times.