Monday, February 27, 2017

"Montana Rides!" by Evan Evans (Max Brand)

If you've been following either of my blogs for the last, oh, ten days or longer, you'll probably know I'm a wee bit fond of a certain actor named Alan Ladd.  That's him on the right in my current blog header.  He's also splashed all across my Hamlette's Soliloquy header.  For a full year now, he's been the main focus of my cinematic attention.  And yet, in that whole year, I only read one book that was made into one of his movies, the amazing And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field.  (I've previously read The Great Gatsby, of course, and plan to host a read-along of it this summer.)

Well, now I've read another.  My absolute favorite (so far) Alan Ladd movie, Branded (1950), is based on Montana Rides! by Evan Evans, who is better known as Max Brand.  It follows the adventures of a man with no name, who's called the Montana Kid, or Montana, or The Kid most of the time.  He closely resembles the rich Lavery family, whose four-year-old son was kidnapped twenty years earlier, and The Kid agrees to impersonate that son with the help of a distinctive birthmark he gets tattooed on his shoulder.  The plan is to get accepted as part of the family and then steal everything he can get his hands on.  He's supposed to share his loot with the guys who came up with the plan in the first place.  It's a get-rich-quick con game set in the west.

The only hitch is, the Lavery family is awesome.  The dad is tough-as-nails but as honest and fair as can be.  The mom is fragile, half living in the past as she waits for her stolen son to return.  And the daughter is a fantastic mix of beauty, brains, and stubbornness.  And while The Kid snarls and snaps his way into their midst, once they accept him, he realizes he can't possibly go through with the swindle because he wants to live up to their expectations, not ruin them.  So he smashes their happily reunited family all to bits by telling dad and sister who he really is, then setting off for Mexico, where he's convinced he's seen their actual son.  Who has been raised by a notorious and really horrible bandit chief.

If all of this sounds like kind of no western you've ever really heard of before, you're feeling how I felt during both the movie and the book.  It's got a really different flavor and plot to it, which is part of what I love about the story.  I also love the movie because all but one character is about as nice as could be possibly believable, and I just want to go get myself adopted by the Laverys.  Nobody is quite as nice in the book except Mrs. Lavery, but I still want to hang out with them all anyway.  And I really want to read the sequel now, Montana Rides Again.  

They changed a few other things from the book to the movie -- in the movie, the main character is called Choya instead of The Montana Kid, and he's "crowding thirty" instead of twenty-four, presumably because Alan Ladd was in his mid-30s when he played the role and couldn't pass for mid-20s anymore.  Probably why he's not called The Kid anymore, too.  

The other main change from book to movie is how they portray Mexicans.  In the movie, the Mexicans aren't any worse than any American character who isn't named Lavery, and a sight better people than some.  In the book, the Mexican characters are constantly described as cruel, vicious, dirty, mean, foul -- the kidnapped Lavery boy is basically told he has to "stop being so Mexican" and become a good person.  It's an unsettling look back at the casual racism of the 1930s, when this book was published, and it definitely bothered me in places.  Not enough to keep me from enjoying the book overall, but enough that I wanted to mention that here so future readers are warned about that aspect of its content.  And enough that I will always love the movie more.

Particularly Good Bits:

Now that the shadow was removed, she could see his face.  He counted a second and a half while she looked straight into it.  He knew all about his face.  It had done a lot for him in his life (p. 28).

"I was robbed of your boyhood and all the years when you would have come to me for help.  I never can have those years back and the loss of them has been an open wound that my life nearly slipped away through.  But now the wound is healing and the life is coming back.  Still I want to be of use to you.  Mothers are made of tough stuff.  They're durable metal when their children need them" (p. 67).

"...if you and I had been friends, we could have taken the covering off the world like an orange and eaten it bit by bit.  A slice for you, a slice for me!" (p. 202).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for mild language sprinkled throughout, some western violence, and the implication that a woman would be violated if she was captured by her enemies.

This is my third book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017, and my sixth for my second stint at the Classics Club.  This book isn't particularly famous now, but it was written by a famous author (Max Brand and Evan Evans were both pseudonyms for a guy named Frederick Faust who reportedly wrote 500 books!!!) and quite popular in its day.

(Alan Ladd as Choya in Branded.  You knew I'd have to include a photo of him, right?)


  1. I've read quite a lot of Max Brand! Did you know he also wrote Destry Rides Again (which was quite different from the film of the same name)? Understandably for a guy who wrote in such volume, his books range from really good to rather uninspiring. This one sounds like fun—I probably mentioned this before, but the plot sounds so similar to an O. Henry story (though with a different ending) that I wonder if Brand actually based his book off it.

    1. Elisabeth, I know I read some Max Brand books back when I was a teen, but I have no idea anymore what they were. Yup, I know he created Destry, and also Dr. Kildaire under one of his other nom-de-plums! I failed to mention in the post that he wrote 500 novels... and died at age 51. That is craziness.

      You did mention this sounds a bit like an O. Henry story. it also reminds me of While You Were Sleeping.

  2. I so love that pic at the bottom. Sounds like a fun read!

    1. DKoren, I know, isn't that one of the coolest entrances? Ahhh, the symbolism of him looking over his shoulder, second-guessing himself. They do several other shots of him doing that throughout the film, did you notice? Pointing out the tattoo, of course, but I also like that it highlights how he's a always waiting for his past to catch up with him.

  3. The Montana Kid was also the central character in another Max Brand western, THE SONG OF THE WHIP.

    1. Is it also called Montana Rides Again?

    2. MONTANA RIDES AGAIN is a separate novel not just an alternate title for MONTANA RIDES. The Montana Kid trilogy is MONTANA RIDES, MONTANA RIDES AGAIN, and THE SONG OF THE WHIP.

    3. Anonymous, interesting! I didn't realize there was a third book about him. Neat! Thanks for letting me know.


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