Sagebrush Law, a Sagebrush Saga Starring Tim Holt



It is hard to imagine that in the same year in which Tim Holt was portraying the insufferable-brattish, adult Georgie Minafer in Orson Welles’ masterpiece, The Magnificent Ambersons, that he was starring in no less than six westerns. While Ambersons wrapped shooting by late January, Holt continued on in the spring and summer productions of, Bandit Ranger, Red River Robin Hood, Sagebrush Law, The Avenging Rider, Pirates of the Prairie and Fighting Frontier.

Film Daily August 28, 1942

Film Daily August 28, 1942


Sagebrush Law of which I pen, was not released until April of 1943 (according to modern founts of cinematic knowledge) was a fine production of a standard Western of which Tim Holt made his bread and butter, so to speak. Holt, when not appearing in what are now considered Hollywood classics, such as, Stella Dallas (1937), Stagecoach (1939), Swiss Family Robinson (1940), the aforementioned Ambersons (1942), My Darling Clementine (1946), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), he was putting his stamp on Western movie history.

Tim Holt

Tim Holt


During his stretch with RKO Holt made 46 Westerns, and Sagebrush Law, stands as a good example of his work during this period. Yet, the film was in at least one respect, different than the normal sagebrush-drama, in that veteran John Elliott, who was celebrating 50-years in show-business in 1942, who was normally seen in villainous roles, played a sympathetic character who helps Tim in the capture of the story’s villains. In fact, it was Holt who was responsible for the change in this Western, for director Sam Nelson and Producer Bert Gilroy had Elliott suited for another scoundrel part, when Holt interceded (as a favor to Elliott) and pleaded Elliott’s case before the production’s duo.[1] Maybe this side-note is not quite the stuff of Hollywood-Land legend, but, it was a nice departure to see Elliott offered the opportunity to provide sympathy rather than the one causing the distress, over which compassion was needed.

John Elliott

John Elliott


Tim Holt joined the Army in 1942, but he was given a deferment and RKO announced that they would use the time to film six Western sagas, with a shooting schedule of 74-days.[2] That audacious timetable was only not met, but all six of the RKO Holt Westerns were finished in just 60-days, finishing up by late July of 42’.[3]

Sagebrush Law has for a considerable time thought to have been released in April of 1943,[4] with many respected sources regurgitating the same year of release reported by the American Film Institute (Friday, April 2, 1943),[5] as though it were firmly fixed and no other contradicting proof were available. But the film premiered in Los Angeles in December of 1942, at the Hitching Post theater, located at Hollywood and Vine, on Thursday, the 17th of Christmas month.[6]

Los Angeles Times, December 17,1942

Los Angeles Times, December 17,1942


The Hitching Post was a genre specific movie house, featuring, you guessed it, Westerns. The 400 seat theater catered to kids and opened its doors to cowboys and cowgirls of all ages in 1941; ABC Theaters who owned the Hitching Post, started other of the Western genre theaters, in Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Long beach and Santa Monica, California.[7] This Western theater experiment would last only through the end of the 1940’s.[8]

Hitching Post Theater, Hollywood

Hitching Post Theater, Hollywood


The film was in general release by the first of weekend of 1943,[9] and by the following week Sagebrush Law had spread further across the country,[10] with cities being added by the week going forward, reaching a majority of the nation by February of 1943.[11]

Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, January 10,1943

Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, January 10,1943

Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, February 19, 1943

Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, February 19, 1943


By C. S. Williams


[1] Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) November 11, 1942

[2] Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) June 3, 1942

[3] Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) July 28, 1942

San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) August 2, 1942



[6] Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) December18, 1942

[7] Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) February 13, 2011


[9] Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) January 2, 1943

[10] Northwest Arkansas Times (Fayetteville, Arkansas) January 2, 1943

Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana) January 10, 1943

[11]Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) January 17, 1943

Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina) February 3, 1943

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) February 5, 1943

Hancock Democrat (Greenfield, Indiana) February 11, 1943

Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois) February 20, 1943

St Louis Star and Times (St. Louis, Missouri) February 22, 1943


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