Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Terror of Tiny Town

Some films have a reputation that precedes them. A lot of the time, it's because the movie is known for being extremely good, such as Citizen Kane. Other movies, like Plan Nine from Outer Space, are known for being extremely bad. And then there are films with well-known gimmicks. A movie which fits into this last group, and which is a bit hard to review objectively as a result, is the 1938 western The Terror of Tiny Town.

The gimmick, here of course, is in the casting, which if you somehow don't know of this movie you might be able to deduce from the title. Producer Jed Buell decided to cast a movie entirely with midgets; at least, that's the word that appears in the opening title cards, people today might find the word "midget" offensive. Apparently, the original idea was for an entire series of movies in this vein, but only The Terror of Tiny Town was produced.

The Terror of Tiny Town is a western, and it has a plot that feels fairly standard for a B movie western. Buck Lawson (Billy Curtis) is the son of rancher Pop Lawson. Pop finds that somebody has been rustling his cattle, and when he and the ranchhands scare away a gang of rustlers, they leave a branding iron behind. That iron has the mark of the ranch owned by Pop's long-time rival, Tex Preston. So it seems fairly obvious to Pop who is responsible.

But wait just a minute. Tex is having some of his cattle rustled, too, and when it comes to the branding, he discovers that they've got the brand of the Lawson ranch. Now, since the viewer gets to see both sides, it's obvious to us that somebody other than Lawson and Preston is responsible, and trying to get the two of them to come to an all-out range war. That somebody is Bat Rhodes ("Little" Billy Rhodes). The question is whether Haines can keep up this ruse long enough to get the result he wants, or whether somebody -- Buck, since he's the one keeping a cool head -- can figure things out.

Complicating matters somewhat is that Preston's lovely niece, Nancy (Yvonne Preston) has come from back east. Buck meets her, and falls in love with her, although along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, neither father is particularly happy about it. Still, this is this sort of western you expect to have a happy ending.

Is The Terror of Tiny Town as bad as its reputation would have you believe. Not really. It certainly does have some problems, in no small part thanks to the gimmick. I think I've mentioned once or twice regarding the all-black "race movies" that being forced to draw from a small talent pool, and having a smaller budget, can easily result in some of the actors not having quite enough talent. In the case of The Terror of Tiny Town, Jed Buell was drawing from an even tinier (no pun intended) pool of talent as there are a lot fewer little people.

Having people of below average height be the entire cast was a mixed bag in other ways. There was the opportunity for some sight gags, such as people walking under the swinging doors of saloons, which may be either funny or offensive depending on your point of view. Buell also included several musical numbers, which are a weak point in that the cast all have too reedy of voices for really good singing. No Deanna Durbins here, not by a long shot.

On the positive side, the plot in The Terror of Tiny Town is really no worse than the plots of any of the many, many B and singing cowboy westerns that Poverty Row was churning out in large doses in the late 1930s. Have a cast of normal-sized people, and the movie would be serviceable Saturday matinee fare.

If you haven't seen The Terror of Tiny Town before, you probably should watch it just for the novelty value.

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