The Duke does the Fugitive
There is a box set of John Wayne movies called "John Wayne - Classic Collectors Set", it features 6 of Wayne's early westerns before he became a major star and each movie has not only be colourized but also lasts just over 50 minutes. Now with them being relatively short these early westerns are ideal when you want to watch a movie but haven't got time for something longer but be warned because you don't want to watch these movies one after the other, in fact you would be best advised to watch one a fortnight. The reason being is that whilst they all have individual storylines they all run to the same formula which sees a touch of romance, some brief western action and John Wayne inevitably saving the day. And as such "Sagebrush Trail" or "An Innocent Man" as it is also known is no different, it is a quick western which runs to that formula and whilst not the worst western I have seen is in reality just about average.
Having escaped from prison after being charged with a murder he didn't committed John Brant (John Wayne - The Shootist) is forced to become a fugitive and finds himself becoming part of a gang of Outlaws when Joseph Conlon 'Jones' (Lane Chandler - The Well) helps him escape from the law. Whilst with the outlaws John discovers that Joseph is the man who committed the murder he is accused of but also learns that he had no idea that anyone had been arrested for his crime. Accepting that Joseph hadn't set him up he tries to forgive and forget but when they become rivals for the affections of pretty shop worker Sally Blake (Nancy Shubert) jealousy causes issues between them especially as the rest of the outlaws don't trust John anyway.
As storylines go "Sagebrush Trail" does have more going on than other Wayne westerns from this period, we have him as a fugitive who ends up becoming part of a gang and ends up becoming best friends with the man who actually committed the crime which Wayne's character is accused of. There is also some confusion, some jealousy, some betrayal, some secrets and some very generic as well as slim romance but to be honest whilst there is all this going on it is also very simple. And it's very simple because you know the outcome, John Wayne will save the day, deal with the bad guys, clear his name and get the girl. And to be honest I am not spoiling "Sagebrush Trail" by saying so because as already mentioned all these b-movie westerns were built around the same idea.
As such "Sagebrush Trail" really ends up about being two things and one of those is the action which to be honest is more substantial than what was shown in other westerns. I say substantial purely because there is more but that doesn't mean it is that good. With the exception of an all guns blazing shoot out and a horse chase scene there is little which really grabs your attention. Actually that's a lie as the opening scene sees John Wayne hiding in a river using a broken reed to breath whilst the Sheriff gets ever closer. But even this scene isn't that spectacular and because these movies were churned out, usually at a frantic pace of one a week the action always feels generic.
The other thing which "Sagebrush Trail" ends up being about is John Wayne who whilst not the major star he was to become was the lead actor. Now I'm fan a fan of Wayne be it in these early movies where he traded on his smile and handsome looks or in those later movies where he played a variation on himself. But sadly Wayne's performance as fugitive John Brant is very much one which sees him on auto pilot, going through the motions, delivering a few angry looks and the occasional smile and to be honest little else. But then Wayne is the best thing about "Sagebrush Trail" and Lane Chandler as his friend Joseph Conlon 'Jones' is even more robotic as is Nancy Shubert who plays the generic love interest.
What this all boils down to is that "Sagebrush Trail" is very much your typical early John Wayne western which whilst having an individual storyline really is about a few moments of action and John Wayne being the hero. Compared to later westerns these relatively short westerns are inferior but even when Wayne is on auto pilot he still entertains even when he does the same thing which he did in other movies from the era.