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Happy Easter.

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To mark Easter, here’s John Wayne getting ready for his appearance on Laugh-In.

You know, we can all learn a lesson from Duke: being able to laugh at yourself is a great thing.

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William Holden
(April 17, 1918 – November 12, 1981)

Last night, my daughter mentioned that today is William Holden’s birthday. Don’t tell me she’s not getting a well-rounded education!

Probably one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, Holden made a number of good Westerns. John Sturges’ Escape From Fort Bravo (1953) is one of the best. The last couple reels are really outstanding.

Of course, Western fans these days know him for Pike Bishop in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), a performance right up there with Stewart in The Man From Laramie (1955) and Wayne in The Searchers (1956).

RIP, Mickey Rooney.

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Mickey Rooney
(September 23, 1920 – April 6, 2014)

After a show business career longer than most people live, Mickey Rooney has passed away. Here’s the half sheet for My Outlaw Brother (1951).

Tonight I feel like watching It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). “We’re gonna get no place if we’re gonna continue listening to this old bag.”

O.K. At AFI Near DC.

OK at AFI

Today (Monday), Tuesday and Thursday, the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD will run a 35mm print of John Sturges’ Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957). It’s part of a Burt Lancaster series that’s been going on since February.

Of course, the new Blu-ray of Gunfight is wonderful, but the chance to see it on film is something not to be missed.

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Directed by George Archainbaud
Produced by Armand Schaefer
Story and Screen Play by Gerald Geraghty
Director of Photography: William Bradford, ASC
Film Editor: James Sweeney, ACE

CAST: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Gail Davis (Cathy Wheeler), Kirk Riley (Ed Wheeler), Carleton Young (Jim Granby), Denver Pyle, John Doucette.

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Goldtown Ghost Riders is a pretty solid Gene Autry movie, one of six released in 1953, his last year in theaters. Along for the ride are Champion, Smiley Burnette and Gail Davis, still a year or so away from playing Annie Oakley. Support comes from Kirk Riley, Carleton Young, Denver Pyle and John Doucette.

Gene’s a circuit judge looking into fake gold strikes, blackmail and murder in Goldtown — and trying to solve the mystery of the Ghost Riders. (Why didn’t he sing “Ghost Riders In The Sky” in this one?) There’s a bit of a Scooby Doo feel to the whole thing, and it’s quite clever. The bulk of the film is done in flashback, a fairly unusual structure for a B Western. It works pretty well, and if things get a little confusing, there’s plenty of riding, shooting and singing to keep things moving along. What’s interesting is that Gail Davis isn’t involved in all that riding and shooting, playing a pretty typical B Western female lead. As we all know, she was capable of so much more.

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I really enjoy these later Autry films. Like the Roy Rogers films from the same period, they’re more stripped down and a bit more adult. The fancy outfits have been replaced by more practical stuff. The songs may not be as good, but Gene seems a bit more relaxed in front of the camera. (He should be; he’d made almost 90 movies by this time.) Some of the plots strive for something a little different, and the writers certainly deserve credit for that. (Gerald Geraghty, who wrote this one, cooked up the story for Gene’s first film, the whacked-out and wonderful 1936 serial The Phantom Empire.)

About a decade ago, a large-scale restoration project, working from Autry’s own 16mm and 35mm uncut material, made sure these films would look and sound terrific. So these four-film, two-DVD sets from Timeless Media Group are an easy recommendation. Each film comes with a batch of extras, making them one of the best DVD bargains around. But be warned: they’re a bit like potato chips, you can’t stop at just one!

The 50s Westerns spotlight on Gail Davis will continue. Next up: Overland Telegraph (1951).

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On a somewhat related note: Researching this film, I discovered that the Lewis B. Patten book Gene Autry And The Ghost Riders (1955) was reprinted by Wildside Press. It’s a good young adult Western novel, from the guy who wrote the story Red Sundown (1956) came from.

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If I ever had the chance to organize a 50s Westerns retrospective (something I’d love to do), this is certainly one of the evenings I’d set up: Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious (1952) paired with Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). I can’t think of a better night at the movies.

It’s especially cool that Rancho Notorious is a 35mm print. If you make it out to The Castro Theatre in San Francisco on April 23, have a box of Raisinets for me.

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These sets from Timeless Media Group are getting around to the films Autry made in the 50s. I know Gene was also on TV at this time, and these probably weren’t getting as much attention as they had, but I’ve always liked them. (I don’t give Autry enough time on this blog. Sorry, Gene.)

This fifth volume, which is available now, includes:
Loaded Pistols (1949)
Gene Autry And The Mounties (1951)
Night Stage To Galveston (1952)
Goldtown Ghost Riders (1953)

These have looked great so far and have boasted some cool extras. Will have a review of this one soon.

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