THE FORBIDDEN TRAIL (1923 - Sunset Prod.) Writ. & Dir.: Robert North Bradbury, Asst. Dir. Jack Pierce.  With Jack Hoxie, Evelyn Nelson, Joe McDermott, Steve Clemento, Thomas G. Lingham, Frank Rice and William Berke .

The fifth in a series of eight westerns, starring rodeo star, Jack Hoxie, which were the maiden films of theater chain owner turned producer, Anthony J. Xydias.  William K. Everson called this series "cheap but interesting....enjoyable little films." and here's an opportunity to see a prime example in a stunning amber Kodascope print!

The film opens on a covered wagon trek, soon descended upon, not by the usual Native-Americans, but a black-hearted outlaw, Red 'Hawk' Dugan (McDermott) and his gang.  A Cavalry Colonel on horseback (a bearded Hoxie in a cameo as his own father) spots the calamity and single-handedly tries to save the homesteaders, but is eliminated by Dugan. Before dying, the Colonel breathes his last words to an Afircan-American (Clemento) who comes to his aid.  He in turn is captured by the outlaws who have also taken the only survivor of the massacre - a child, who Dugan will raise as his own daughter....

Nearly twenty years pass - and the son (Hoxie) of the late Colonel is now a "star packer".  The uncle that raised him finally reveals to him the details of his father's demise and so of course, Jack is hell bent on revenge....

While the outcome is predictable, the film still sports some winning elements - the location photography by Bert Longnecker is crisp and airy - with some nice grace notes (an abundant yet intelligent use of iris shots and titles superimposed over location shots), the mostly progressive depiction of an African American - easily the bravest, most honorable and intelligent character in the piece, and a rather good extended action climax - replete with spark-filled sword duel, exploding cabin, and an extended chase over road, rock and water.

The tragic fates of two in the cast are worth noting.  Joseph McDermott committed suicide a month after this picture's release.  Three months later, Evelyn Nelson, after playing Hoxie's leading lady in one more film, also took her own life.

Hoxie - who could pass for Tom Mix's homely cousin (hell, he makes 'Broncho Billy' Anderson look handsome!) would soon hit his apex for a five year stretch at Universal (and actually made another film with the title, FORBIDDEN TRAIL in 1929) but, according to Everson, Hoxie "projected as rather oafish" in talkies and so after a handful, went back to rodeo and 'Wild West' shows, living to a ripe old age.  (Bruce Lawton)