Series: Rex the Wonder Horse feature

Director: Fred Jackman
Producer: Hal Roach
Titles: H.M. Walker
Photography: Floyd Jackman, George Stevens
Editor: Richard Currier

Stars: Barbara Kent, James Finlayson, Oliver Hardy, Theodore von Eltz
Company: Pathé Exchange
Released: 24 April 1927
Length: 7 reels
Production No.: J-5
Filming dates: December 11-30, 1926
Rating: 5/10
No Man's Law

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We begin with Rex, a black horse, who is roaming around a barren wasteland intent on performing heroic deeds for people in need. More about him later. The action begins when two outlaws (Spider O'Day and Sharkey Nye) sit over a campfire eating their meal when Nye reads a 'wanted' poster with his name and face on it in the possession of his friend. Sharkey (Hardy), sporting an unshaven face, complemented with an eye-patch, asks why his accomplice hasn't cashed in on the reward sooner, to which Spider replies that it's on his to-do list in the near future. Sharkey then suspects he may have been poisoned by the meal and takes to the nearby water to drink when Spider spots and shoots dead a rattlesnake which is very close by. Sensing some friction the two of them decide that from now on they should both put their guns under a rock whilst they sleep, an ingenious idea because one cannot get to his weapon without the other helping to lift the heavy rock.
Nearby, the beautiful foster daughter (Barbara Kent) of local miner Jake Belcher (James Finlayson) wakes one morning and ventures out to the waterhole for a swim whilst the two outlaws discover gold near Jake's farm and start digging through the dirt to lay claim on it. Pre-warned by a sign that advises tresspassers they will be shot on sight if they are caught by the miner, they continue their activity regardless.
Down at the water, a naked Barbara Kent swims whilst Hardy observes her, even to the point of suggesting he jump in with her. As he mocks her clothes by the waterside, the horse appears to scare him away, forcing him to fall from a steep cliff. Trapped in the water without her clothes, she asks for help from Hardy's associate (Theodore von Eltz) but he chooses instead to leer at her and her predicament; that is until the horse comes and gives him a shove into the water. This gives her the chance to get out, get dressed and head back home accompanied by the horse where the two outlaws are contemplating what to do about the owner of the mine. Hardy opts to shoot him so they can steal the gold but is talked out of it by making it look like an accident instead. They collapse the mine in the hope that will be enough to accomplish their task.
The daughter hears the call for help from her foster father Finlayson and comes running just as Hardy plans to drop a large rock down the mineshaft on his head to put him out of his misery once and for all. Aided by the horse, who scares away the villains, she arrives in the nick of time. That night, the four of them sit around the log cabin which is home to the miner and his foster daughter. It soon becomes apparent that the two men are interested in the lady, but the horse senses she is in danger. Friction continues to grow between the two men over their shared interest of the young lady who is at this time nursing her father's wounds in his bed. Night falls and the two men lay awake on the floor each having improper (and quite dark) thoughts about the situation of doing away with the father and are reminded of the girl's naked swimming earlier in the day as she undresses in front of them and sleeps nearby. The camera shows Oliver Hardy in quite a menacing state of villainy.
Sensing a lack of trust the men again bury their guns under a heavy rock to prevent any double-cross. When they return to the cabin Spider lands a punch to Sharkey before going over to the bed of the girl. Despite the fears of her father, she smiles and welcomes his advances. It is clear from this point on that Hardy's character is the bad guy. This is further underlined in the next scene as he comes round after being floored by Spider and takes to brawling with him outside as the girl looks on before fainting (if that's what you call it!) There is some slight humour here as Hardy picks up von Eltz and bounces him on the ground in an attempt to render him unconscious. However, von Eltz (who by now has been established as the 'good' villain) wins the upper hand and makes the ultimatum that one of them has to hit the trail. It is agreed that the two men should gamble for the outcome of their fate: the winner gets to keep the girl and the mine, the loser has to kill the father and leave empty-handed.
They settle down to a game of checkers as the wounded miner watches. Sharkey is beaten but is quick to his feet and shoots the unarmed Spider before grabbing Jake, dumping him into a wheelbarrow and escorting him to the edge of a steep and rocky cliff. Spider grabs Toby and together they rush to retrieve the guns from under the large rock outside. Back at the cliff Sharkey carries out his threat and throws the father over the top, but he manages to cling on during his descent. The horse we had almost forgotten about at this point suddenly bursts into action to chase away the criminal, but only far enough for him to meet up with his old acquaintance who is still frantically trying to get to the gun under the rock. This time it's Spider who receives a smack to the head as Sharkey takes off with the girl and barricades himself inside the cabin. That is until the horse starts kicking it down and Sharkey is forced to flee on horseback with his new prize, followed closely behind by his now-rival ex-partner. In the end the horse comes to the rescue, saves the day and the bad-guy-turned-hero wins the girl.



Favourite bit
It's fair to say there are no outstanding scenes in what is a relatively plodding film, so I would have to go with the obvious swimming scene. Barbara Kent swims naked in a waterhole as she is observed by the lustful Oliver Hardy. It's nothing spectacular, but when you mention the words "nudity" and "1927" you cannot escape the curiosity! Unfortunately due to the long lenses of the camera and the fact the actress was wearing a flesh-coloured bodysuit to conceal her modesty, there is nothing much to get excited about. Some comments I have read regarding this scene claim it to be "controversial". I don't see why? Daring maybe but certainly nothing I would call controversial.

Trivia
Copyrighted April 7, 1927.
Also listed for May 1, 1927.
Barbara Kent wore a moleskin body suit to hide her nudity in the film.
Released in the UK as Man's Law.
The reward for capture of Sharkey Nye is $5,000.
If you look closey enough you can see a dark line in the mud before Hardy falls down the cliff after being threatened by the horse. This would indicate the shot was not the first take.
After her father is injured at the bottom of the mineshaft, Barbara Kent looks down from atop and calls after him. Is it my imagination or does she play to the camera with a deliberate smile/pose? Seems odd. That's not the only time either; when she is confronted in her bed by the onlooking Spider O'Day character she milks her smile (directly at the camera) for every penny. Not that I am complaining - she's a very attractive girl, but it does seem a bit unnecessary?
During the game of checkers Hardy plays with the black pieces and von Eltz plays as white.
When Oliver Hardy picks up James Finlayson in his arms he makes it look so easy. Either Hardy was very strong or Fin was very light. Either way it is an impressive show of strength!
What the experts say
"Overall it's a longdrawn-out film with a slow plot and although it is interesting to see Hardy as an evil villain, that doesn't excuse the relatively mediocre boredom throughout" ~ Lord Heath.

Rex the Wonder Horse
Rex
Lady
Lady
Barbara Kent
Toby Belcher
Oliver Hardy
Sharkey Nye
Theodore von Eltz
Spider O'Day
James Finlayson
Jake Belcher

CREDITS LOBBY CARD & GLASS SLIDE


Acknowledgements:
Max Lanzisera (help)

This page was last updated on: 24 April 2019