We’re going to celebrate the shortest month of the year over the next few weeks by taking a look at movies featuring some of cinema’s shortest actors. (No Tom Cruise jokes, I promise.) First up is the 1938 cult classic western The Terror Of Tiny Town.
Billed as a “rollickin’, rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ drama of the great outdoors”… “with an all-midget cast,” The Terror Of Tiny Town is probably known to most people more by reputation than by dint of having actually been seen. Hollywood legend has it that producer Jed Buell got the idea for his film when he overheard two employees of his production company discussing the depressed status of the film business saying “if this economy doesn’t turn around, we’ll have to start making pictures with midgets.” And the rest, as they say, is cinema history.
Sure, a western, or any genre film for that matter, with an all little people cast is a gimmick. But when the novelty of its cast wears of, which it does fairly quickly, what are we left with? Unfortunately the answer is, “a rather lousy western.” Frustratingly, outside of a few (unintentional?) sight gags, such as walking under a saloon’s swinging doors, and ironic bits of dialogue (“One day I’ll be the biggest man in the county!”), even the movie itself seems uninterested in its own gimmick. Why is the town built for average-sized people? Was it abandoned only to be re-populated later by little people?
Bat Haines (“Little Billy” Rhodes) is the black-hatted villain of the piece, pitting against each other two ranches with a long hostory of animosity in the hopes of grabbing both their lands and cattle. It is a fairly story and it is not helped by the fact that a majority of the cast are not trained or very talented actors. A bit of a Romeo And Juliet love story between Billy Curtis and Yvonne Moray doesn’t do much to liven up the procedures. And even though it clocks in at a trim 62 minutes, The Terror Of Tiny Town winds up feeling longer.
The scene below pretty much illustrates my point.
Many of the actors in The Terror Of Tiny Town would of course go on to appear as Munchkins the following year in MGM’s The Wizard Of Oz. Star Billy Curtis would go on to have a decent and long career all the way up to the mid-1980s. Oddly enough, although there have been films where little people make up a majority of the cast (Under The Rainbow, Time Bandits, Tom Cruise’s home movies) no one has ever tried to make another film with a cast exclusively consisting of them. Which I guess makes The Terror Of Tiny Town the best all-midget movie ever, if only by default.