Born to the West (aka Hell Town) (1937): Charles Barton’s Western StarringJohn Wayne, Marsha Hunt, and John Mack Brown

Blast from the Past:

Charles Barton directed Born to the West (reissue title Hell Town) a Western, starring John Wayne (before he became a star), Marsha Hunt, and John Mack Brown.

Born to the West
Born to the West FilmPoster.jpeg

Film poster

Shot in black and white and based upon a Zane Grey novel, the movie includes footage from earlier high-budgeted silent versions.

The picture features the requisite elements of western adventure: fast chases, gun-fights, poker gambling.

Cowlands Dare Rudd (Wayne) and Dinkey Hooley drift into Montana, where they meet Dare’s cousin, Tom Fillmore, cattleman and banker.

Tom offers them jobs but they pass, until Dare sees Tom’s sweetheart, Judy Worstall, whichchanges his mind about the job.

Put in charge of cattle drive, he replaces ranch-foreman Lynn Hardy, who is in cahoots with the rustler Bart Hammond. Dare delivers the cattle to the railhead and return, when he is persuaded into a poker game by Buck Brady, a crooked gambler. Tom appears and takes a hand, but son discovers the dealer is switching decks.

Simple Storytelling

On the vast mountainous Montana vista, to the soft strains of a “ride ’em” chorus, horned cattle are quietly herded until raiders divert them. Hearing shots, Dare  says, “This is no time to think” in a tall white hat, and hungry dark-mustached wiry side-kick lightning-rod salesman Dink Hooley (uncredited Syd Saylor) mis-call “the winning side”, add their wild mustangs to confusion and dusty stampede at jerky triple time of original silent film. Rough shrubby terrain provides a dangerous battleground.

Seemingly safe across border, Dare’s cousin Tom Fillmore (John Mack Brown), local “big man,” Bank President, and “shining” good sheep of the family surprises the pair, and offers them a job. “People around here spend too much time thinking”; John just fist fights and proposes while Tom’s girl Judy (Marsha Hunt) bandages his eye, “I guess I’ll just marry you” he says. She declines to answer, but says, “You’ve been hurt enough for one day.” When a rattler scares her horse, Tom’s somersaults and Dare wins the chase.

Photo: Born to the West 

“I wound up the cat and kicked the clock out,” Dare says, trying to turn a new leaf and be responsible. Judy asks Tom to take the cook’s apron off Wayne, so the boss does promote his cousin to foreman of the herding.

First night out, rustlers attack – empty blankets “Hope it don’t start raining.” Dare makes the sale for over $10K, but gets convinced to pay out wages and stay the night to celebrate, proving who is “the best player west of the Mississippi.”

The bartender serves a deck under the bad guy’s tray of drinks, and Dare loses almost everything.

When Dare is late returning, Tom tells Judy that his misbehavior shows Dare’s true nature. She pleads for him to save Dare, “You’re smart about these things, smarter than any man I know.” He arrives in time to take over playing and catches the crooks’ tricks.

Photo: Born to the West 
The bad guys shoot Tom in the shoulder and pursue the trio. Dink diverts some and catches up to bring the hands back, while the cousins hole up, while Dare admits that Tom is the best poker player.

Back home after winning the gunfight, Tom tells Judy where Dare is riding out of town. He now wishes to offer him partnership, and Judy brings the Montana-bound buddies back.


John Wayne as Dare Rudd
Marsha Hunt as Judy Rustoe
John Mack Brown as Tom Fillmore
John Patterson as Lynn Hardy
Monte Blue as Bart Hammond
Lucien Littlefield as Cattle Buyer
Syd Saylor as Dink Hooley (salesman) (uncredited)
Earl Dwire as Cowhand (uncredited)


Directed by Charles Barton
Written by Stuart Anthony, Robert Yost
Produced by William T. Lackey, William LeBaron
Cinematography: Devereaux Jennings
Edited by John F. Link Sr.
Distributed by Paramount

Release date: December 10, 1937

Running time: 59 minutes