When John Mason’s father is killed, John is wounded. Attracted to his nurse Alice, a conflict arises between him and his friend Ben who plans to marry Alice. John later finds the killer of his father but goes to face him not knowing Ben has removed the bullets from his gun.
The Dawn Rider has all the right elements for a great movie: a love triangle, loyalties between friends and relatives, revenge, right versus wrong, and a strong-willed hero. Packaged into an hour long cowboy package, everything was right for a great movie. As with nearly all B westerns the time and money required to make a great movie were not there.
As John Mason, Wayne never loses focus in his pursuit of his father’s killer. At the same time he is oblivious to the yearnings of his best friend’s girl, Alice Gordon. Alice is unaware of her brother’s criminal doings. Ben McClure is suspicious of Mason when he is around Alice. Rudd Gordon needs to stop Mason before being revealed as a murderer. All the while Yakima Canutt oversees everything as the evil saloon owner.
While the story is very straight forward with no plot twists, every scene works toward the climax. While it may have been the intention of Robert Bradbury to do this, too often a cheap western got bogged down with mindless action scenes. The Dawn Rider holds up very well as a movie that clearly tells its story and gets to the point without losing the viewer.
John Wayne was a strong figure on screen by 1935. His trademark swagger and delivery was still in the making, but he was genuinely the John Wayne of legend by that time. It took another four or five years for Hollywood to notice, though.