Cinema of yesteryear ‘South of St. Louis’ | Sunday Observer
Retro reviews:

Cinema of yesteryear ‘South of St. Louis’

21 February, 2021

Released in 1949, and directed by Ray Enright,‘South of St. Louis’ is a Western film set in the days of the American civil war that brings pronounced southern sympathies through its storyline and scheme of characters. The story builds on the friendship of three ranchers whose personal goals and ambitions are put to the test in the face of the brutal civil war that has wrecked their peaceful lives on the ranch knows as Three Bell Ranch which was meant to signify how each of the trio wore a ‘jingle bob’ on the spurs of their riding boots.

Kip Davis played by Joel McCrea, Charlie Burns played by Zachary Scott and Lee Price played by Douglas Kennedy, are the trio of ranchers of the Three Bell Ranch whose ranch is attacked and pillaged by guerrilla raider and Union Army leader Luke Cottrell. Kip’s fiancée Deb, played by Dorothy Malone begs the trio not to go in pursuit of Cottrell and his band of thugs as she believes that seeking to settle the score will result in tragedy. However, Kip, Charlie and Lee are determined to ensure that Cottrell and his looters will not trouble them again as they want to rebuild the ranch and not quit.

Path of divergence

The trio encounter Cottrell at a local bar. But he refuses to be provoked into a gun draw with Kip as the wily Cottrell is aware of Kip’s reputation for being ‘quick on the draw’. However, Kip then challenges Cottrell to an old fashion one on one fist fight which becomes quite a spectacle. Kip beats Cottrell and sends him packing warning him to stay out of Texas. Although it seems initially that the trio have prevailed over the man who destroyed their livelihoods, ‘the battle’ is far from over. The civil war has brought the northern Yankee Army to their midst and their hometowns are now ‘occupied Union territory’. It is in this context that the trio who had always been together find themselves on the path of divergence. Lee who cannot stand to see the Union Army takeover their lands decides to join the Confederate Army.

Kip and Charlie, however, decide they will rebuild Three Bell ranch, but what soon awaits them is a path that leads them to unexpected gains and dangers. The turning point occurs when Kip undertakes for a fee of fifty dollars to deliver a wagon load of furniture to Mexico which reveals to be a secret consignment of firearms for the Confederate Army.

Enterprise of gunrunning

Although arrested by the Union Army in Texas, he is secretly released on being transported as a prisoner. From there on, Kip and Charlie embark on an enterprise of gunrunning for the Confederate war effort along with their partner in business, the attractive lounge singer ‘Rogue’ who first got them involved in the business on the cover of the furniture consignment.

The path that opens before Kip and Charlie sees them face off their nemesis Luke Cottrell who is also now supporting the Confederate forces due to better financial prospects, as well as being drawn into a cycle of profiteering that leads to crossing paths with Lee who moves up the ranks of the Confederate Army. Treachery, greed and battles with conscience and duty bring events that alter their lives forever. The end is not one that shows a reunion of the trio’s friendship for long, but doesn’t disappoint those who wish for a happy ending.