The First Rebel (1939)
Wayne's Rebel Cry
James Smith (John Wayne - Winds of the Wasteland) is the leader of a group of settlers, including tomboy Janie (Claire Trevor - Stagecoach) who has a thing for him. At their settlement in the Alleghany river area Smith is riled when he hears a man called Callendar (Brian Donlevy) talk about illegally trading with the Indians. He is even angrier when he discovers that Callendar and his men have manipulated Capt. Swanson (George Sanders) who is meant to be there to protect the settlers not naively aid the traders. Deciding to take matters into his own hands Smith and his friends decide to masquerade as Indians in order to intercept the illegal traders and in doing so prove to Swanson what is going on. Unfortunately all it does is lead to him being thrown in jail for a murder he didn't commit with little hope of clearing his name.
The combination of Claire Trevor and John Wayne is thankfully enough to make "The First Rebel", also known as "Allegheny Uprising" worth watching. There is some fire between them which makes their various scenes together entertaining, be it Trevor as Janie going off on one at Wayne's Jim Smith, or when he comically dismisses her. It is a good job that Trevor and Wayne spark as the rest of the cast whilst delivering solid performances never fully feel right in character.
But beyond the star pairing "The First Rebel" is a mundane western of sorts which often feels more like a costume drama than an exciting action movie. There is action but it ends up feeling like an after thought with a lot of the movie dedicated to actors in period costume talking. It is the stuffiness of the dialogue which these actors get to deliver which compounds the problem as not a single actor makes it sound believable. And as such when we have scenes which focus on the British soldiers it sounds not only false but comically pompous, which part of me thinks was the intention in the first place.
What this all boils down to is that "The First Rebel" is a little disappointing as whilst the chemistry between Claire Trevor and John Wayne goes a long way to making it worth watching beyond that it doesn't deliver the excitement and drama which the story is crying out for.
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