I never caught any of the Red Ryder films when I was a kid but I remember him (and Little Beaver, of course) from the comic books.
Of all the actors playing the role of Red Ryder I am partial to Wild Bill Elliott, but only because my father's accountant was named Bill Elliot. Among the actors who make this 1944 oater memorable are Glenn Strange and Duncan Renaldo. Strange was a fixture in western films but was probably best known for playing Frankenstein's monster in three films; he was also a regular on television's Gunsmoke and he played Butch Cavendish (a.k.a., the guy who started it all) on television's The Lone Ranger. Duncan Renaldo, of course was The Cisco Kid and one of my personal heroes.
Bill Elliott was born Gordon Nance and went by name Gordon Elliott his early career. His career soared in the title role in The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, a fifteen-chapter serial in 1939; he then went by "Wild Bill." Elliot was one of the many B-movie western stars whose popularity eventually faded. During the 1950s he was a television pitchman for Viceroy cigarettes; less than a dozen years later he was dead from lung cancer.
Most people today connect Red Ryder with the Red Ryder BB Gun from Jean Sheperd's A Christmas Story. The character began as a comic strip in 1938 and grew in popularity to include comic books, Big Little Books, movies, a radio show, and a gazillion tie-in promotional products such as the BB gun. There were Red Ryder-sponsored rodeos and pow-wows and Red Ryder brand clothing and lunch boxes and just about everything else. For two decades Red Ryder held the imagination of young boys in sway.
Adding to his popularity was Red Ryder's sidekick, the Indian boy Little Beaver, who by today's standard is horribly non-PC. In the Bill Elliott movies (and in the later films with Allan "Rocky" Lane) Little Beaver was played by Bobby Blake, one-time Our Gang character, later to play Baretta opposite a cockatoo, and even later to be acquitted of murdering his second wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley and was later found responsible for her wrongful death in a civil trial. Anyway, I thought he was cool in Baretta and in In Cold Blood.
So, from 1944, here's "Wild" Bill Elliott in The San Antonio Kid:
For more Overlooked Films and whatnot, go to Sweet Freedom where Todd Mason will have today's links.