|Alphonso J. "Al" Jennings|
Al Jennings was a notorious character who emerged from the “wild” west to make his mark on popular culture and on early cinema. A former attorney he had turned to crime following the fatal shooting of one of his brothers by another lawyer. He enjoyed a largely unsuccessful criminal career in late 1897 along with his elder brother Frank and was sent down for life after being found guilty of train robbery and assault with intent to kill an officer of the law... Frank got five years.
|Al and Frank Jennings|
In prison he had befriended writer William Sydney Porter (“O. Henry”, later to write The Cisco Kid) and picked up tips on narrative techniques. But when it came to story-telling it seems that Al was a natural and he started to spin new and ever more elaborate versions of his life of crime. Naturally he began to become involved in cinema and the re-invention of the West in general and himself in particular.
|Al and Frank meet the Lady at the dug-out|
The story stars with the boys staging an opportunist robbery as Al overhears of $5,000 being deposited in the town bank. They make their escape and head out over the plains where they encounter the Lady living in a home literally dug-out of the desert: a startling construct that reflects the grim life awaiting those who failed to prosper in the "new" territories.
|Corrine Grant and Ben Alexander|
The two bought a house with what money she had but ended up defaulting on their mortgage as her husband descended into alcoholic inactivity and they ended up scratching a living in the middle of nowhere... she spends her life watching and waiting that he will return sober and with food...
The Jennings boys leave all of the food for the mother and son and head off. Frank has been touched by her plight and they decide to exact revenge on the banker who took the Lady’s money.
|Al makes a withdrawal|
After a successful robbery they return to find the Lady being abused by her drunken husband who is less than impressed with their attempts to help his wife. He heads off to the saloon but returns with a posse to arrest the boys. There’s a gun-fight in which the boys dig their way to freedom and the husband gets shot… the Lady is all alone but not help-less.
Al and Frank return her and the boy to her parents who welcome her with open arms: all forgiven. They ride off into the sunset for more altruistic adventures…
OK, it’s easy to make light of Al Jennings’ way with the truth but you have to be impressed with his energy and his chutzpah! He lived well into his 90’s and advised on many a B-movie western. There’s a fascinating interview with him on the DVD commentary – still weaving outlandish tales even at 94, he says that he fought in the Civil War even though he was only born in 1863!
The overwhelming impression is that The Lady of the Dug-Out is a genuine display of the spirit of the 1890s when a man’s force of personality could take him anywhere, beyond the law as well as believability. Good enough for Teddy Roosevelt, we should cut Al some slack, whilst not condoning his crimes. After all… in all the trains and banks he (tried) to rob he never shot no-one… and, as Alias Smith and Jones, Butch and Sundance and others have shown, we like some outlaws we can forgive.
|Ben Alexander and Corrine Grant|
It’s available from all good online retailers and is exceptional value - I would have been happy with Clara alone but The Lady of the Dug-Out is one of many superb surprises. The Western wasn't just a genre but a way of life...