Sunday, March 5, 2023

To the Last Man (1933)

To the Last Man is a 1933 Randolph Scott western. I love his 1950s westerns but this is the first 1930s Randolph Scott western I’ve seen. It’s based on a Zane Grey story.

The subject is feuding. The civil war has just ended. Mark Hayden (Egon Brecher) is returning to his home in Kentucky but he has no intention of staying there. He’s tired of killing and he wants nothing to do with the Hayden-Colby feud that has gone on for generations. He’s going to move his family west.

At this precise moment yet another killing in the Hayden-Colby feud occurs. Jed Colby (Noah Beery) kills grandpappy Spelvin. The Haydens naturally expect Mark to go gunning for Jed Colby. Instead, much to the horror of the entire community, Mark goes to the police. Jed Colby gets a fifteen year prison sentence. Jed Coby is enraged. It ain’t honourable. You don’t involve the police in a family feud. Most of the Haydens agree.

This makes Mark more determined to leave Kentucky. He takes his two youngest children ands heads for Nevada. His oldest son, Lynn, has to stay behind to look after Grandma Spelvin.

Fifteen years later Mark Hayden has a thriving ranch in Nevada. But there’s no escaping the old feud. Jed Colby, now released from prison, moves to Nevada as well, determined to carry on the feud. Jed takes his daughter Ellen (Esther Ralston) with him.

Jed conducts a war of nerves against Mark Hayden. He steals his cattle. He’s hoping that Mark will come gunning for him.

Tensions are rising and trouble seems unavoidable when Lynn Hayden (Randolph Scott) arrives in Nevada.

On his way to his father’s ranch Lynn encounters Ellen Colby. He doesn’t know she’s a Colby and she doesn’t know he’s a Hayden. There’s an obvious immediate attraction between them.

Ellen Colby is a wild girl. She figures she’s as tough as any man. She’s not exactly ladylike and she’s a bit shocked when Lynn calls her a lady. Shocked, but she likes it.

She thinks that maybe she’d like to be a lady. She asks one of the ranch hands about it. He tells her all about his mother, who was a great lady. It’s an amusing scene because it’s obvious that he was raised in a whorehouse and that his mother was a high-class whore. This is a pre-code western.

The fact that it’s a pre-code western also explains the nude scene. It’s a fairly tame nude scene but it’s more daring than anything you’d see in the 40s and 50s.

Jed Colby has acquired a partner, Jim Daggs (Jack La Rue). He’s a nasty piece of work and he has his own agenda. He wants to marry Ellen Colby but she wants nothing to do with him.

Colby keeps pushing Haydon, hoping for a final showdown in which he can wipe out the Haydens.

The romance between Lynn Hayden and Ellen Colby doesn’t progress smoothly. She knows she’s in love with him but he’s a Hayden. She can’t get past that.

The violence keeps escalating. And escalating. If you like action scenes there are plenty of them. There’s a very high body count.

Randolph Scott is pretty good. Noah Beery is nicely obsessed as Jed Colby. Jack La Rue plays Jim Daggs like a melodrama villain. I kept expecting him to start twirling his moustache. It’s not a good performance but it’s fun. Buster Crabbe plays Lynn’s younger brother Bill. I liked Esther Ralston as Ellen - she captures her wildness and her gradual discovery of her femininity extremely well. Look out for an uncredited Shirley Temple in a bit part.

This movie was directed by Henry Hathaway, a man who would go on to prove that he knew how to make westerns.

The Reel Vault DVD is terrible but there aren’t many options if you want to see this movie. Pre-code westerns don’t seem to be regarded as worthy of restoration and decent DVD/Blu-Ray releases. If only someone could figure out how to promote these movies as film noir we’d suddenly get special edition Blu-Rays.

This is a very dark grim movie. This is a revenge western with multiple layers of revenge. There’s an air of hopelessness about it. These people just won’t stop killing each other.

To the Last Man
is a grown-up western and not being overly constrained by the Production code helps. Nobody in this movie worries about making gunfights fair. If you see an enemy, shoot him in the back. Highly recommended.


  1. Dee, I enjoyed your really good write-up of TO THE LAST MAN(1933). I think there is a restored print out there somewhere. The Museum of Modern Art had the movie restored in 2014 and it was shown at the To Save and Project: the 12th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation during October and November 2014. The second showing of TO THE LAST MAN was introduced by the since retired NEW YORK POST film critic Lou Lumenick, who had a big hand in putting the spotlight on the movie, when he first wrote about it in 2010. Here is a 2014 write-up by Lumenick about the restoration.

    1. It would be great to see it in restored condition, and of course it would be even better to see it get a Blu-Ray release.