The Western art films depict the taming of nature during the Old American West. Set during the 19th century the Western genre deals with the settlement days where code of honor is emphasized in the film. The plot invokes the era’s “frontier justice” where citizens who’ve been wronged by outlaws enact retribution through showdowns where firearms are used. Nature is raw in the frontier where settlers are close to the mountains and sand dunes.
The are several subcategories for Westerns which include: Union Pacific story where modern technology of the era begins to flourish, Ranch story where the ranch owners face peril due to their property being coveted by rustlers or large landowners, Empire story where one builds an empire from the ground up whether a ranch or oil, Revenge story where the perpetrator is pursued and brought to justice by the wronged, Cavalry and Indian story involves colonization of the land for new settlers, Outlaw story involves outlaws, and Marshal story which focus on the lawman.
Henry Hathaway directed The Thundering Herd (1933), The Shepherd of the Hills (1941), To the Last Man (1933), Sundown (1941), Prince Valiant (1954), True Grit (1969), and many other films. When The West Was Young: Heritage of The Desert (1932) conveys the significance of standing one’s ground in the face of adversity. There’s a portrayal of the harsh environment of the 1890’s in the West through elements of nature and outlaws. The film is based on Zane Grey’s novel Heritage of the Desert which had another early film adaptation.
There are many instances in which the characters exhibited courage in difficult moments such as Adam Naab sticking to the land that his kin founded as Judson Holderness attempts to take it. Jack Hare shows gumption before the Naab family when he owns up to the newfound love that Judy expressed to him. Judy following her heart doesn’t conform to expectations of tradition and breaks off the wedding as she doesn’t love Snap.
The film begins with a dedication to the earlier settlers who helped build the foundation for the land. Set during 1890 word spreads of a “gangster element” in the region.
In the desert Judson Holderness (David Landau) talks with Lefty (Guinn Williams) about how he has brought out all the land in the region but Adam Naab’s. Lefty mentions that Naab won’t sway which leads Holder to concoct a plan. Adam Naab (J. Farrell MacDonald) is overseeing his workers while Windy (Vincent Bernett) adjusts the dress for Judy (Sally Blane) while they talk.
Judson makes his way to the Naab’s ranch to make him an offer but he declines. Adam shows him the graves of his fellow settlers who he traveled and worked with to cultivate the land on which they stand. Judson leaves with no intention of abandoning his aim of obtaining the land through whatever means.
At Judson’s The White Sage Salon, he offers Snap Naab (Gordon Westcott) credits to continue another round on a game of chance in exchange for his service. Jack Hare (Randolph Scott) a land appraiser enters the establishment asking for directions to Naab’s ranch. He’s directed to Judson who offers him housing for the night as a snare to lead him to his end. Lefty is ordered to shoot Hare’s horse as he traverses the desert in the blazing sun. Nearby the betrothed Judy and Snap stumble upon Jack who’s dehydrated from roaming the scorching land.
Being nursed back to form Jack reveals that he’s the land appraiser and that he was looking for Adam Naab, but was set up by Holderness . Judy is quite taken with Jack and both build rapport with one another to Snap’s dismay. The Naab clan are camping out and tuning to music of the young West as they stand their ground against Judson.
The following day Naab sends Jack to Judy’s territory after reviewing the paperwork for the land appraisal. Jack crosses over to Judy’s and both spend the day together while Snap sets off frustrated because Judy is with Jack who he sees as an obstacle for Judy’s hand. Jack goes out briefly, upon returning he finds Judy in danger and rescues her from a bear that was attacking the cattle on the mountain trail. Afterwards, Snap takes Judy back with him after finding her with Jack.
The wedding is pushed ahead and Jack is crestfallen as he felt something for Judy. Adam sends Jack as lookout for Judson’s men and Judy watches disheartened as Jack rides away on his horse. She decides to go out to find Jack to profess her feelings for him and both meet each other with jubilance. Jack heads to Naab’s to sort things out, there he encounters the rowdy Snap who knocks him as he tried to explain the development with Judy.
As Judy makes her way back she finds Judson in her home and she tries to escape. Snap arrives telling Judson that he isn’t taking orders from him before getting shot. The fate of Snap reaches Adam on his doorstep as a message is delivered on the back of his son’s suit. Both Adam and Jack head to the Salon to confront Judson and rescue Judy.
While holding Judy against her will Judson reveals that he intends to marry her in order to acquire her land under his name. Jack gets to Judy first while aided by Windy, however, there’s a standoff with Windy sustaining a gunshot wound. With the arrival of Adam, Holderness is confronted by the father of the man who’s death he’s responsible for, resulting in Judson and his men being dispatched in the night. At daybreak Jack and Judy ride their horse toward the horizon with Adam following behind looking toward their future.
The ranch story reiterates the importance of legacy and independence through the actions of the characters. In a discussion with Judson Lefty said, “That Naab isn’t going to hightail it like the rest of the settlers did, he’s a fighter,” it shows the emphasis of maintaining ground in turbulent times.
Immediately audience will be immersed into the early West where nature and outlaws run wild. In this 60 minute black and white film viewers will be taken to the frontier days where technology isn’t evolved to what is known today. Adam Naab’s clan camp out under the stars in the night, and during the day these settlers herd their cattle. Naab fights to protect what his fellow men died to build in the early days. The importance of family and camaraderie is a reoccurring theme which is akin to Lassie in The Painted Hills (1951). Audience are treated to a final confrontation in Judson’s Saloon where “frontier justice” is dished for the death of Adam’s son, and the kidnapped Judy is rescued.