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Archive for December, 2009

I’m so happy about this, which my wife just brought to my attention.

Four of the greatest Western stars ever are being immortalized on postage stamps — William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Time to resurrect the lost art of letter-writing, if for no other reason than to stick Roy on an envelope.

A little worthless trivia. Tom Mix played a Pony Express rider in The Pony Express Rider (1916). Rogers did the same in Frontier Pony Express (1939). And in Gene Autry’s final feature, Last Of The Pony Riders (1953), he plays a former rider watching the service pass the torch to the stagecoach and telegraph.

The stamps come galloping to your local post office in April.

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Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies on a steady diet of afternoon re-runs, a fairly common topic of kid conversation was which Darrin you preferred on Bewitched. I was always a Dick York man. (Another one of those questions was “Ginger or Mary Ann?”)

Came across this today, from an old Filmfax interview, about York and They Came To Cordura (1959) — and how he had to part ways with Elizabeth Montgomery.

Dick York: “It was the last shot of the day and tomorrow we would wrap Cordura. In the scene, Cooper and I were propelling a hand car carrying several wounded men down an abandoned railroad track. As we passed the camera I was on the bottom stroke of this sort of teeter-totter mechanism that made the handcar run. I was just lifting the handle up as the director yelled ‘Cut!’ and one of the wounded cast members reached up and grabbed the handle. Now, instead of lifting the expected weight, I was suddenly, jarringly, lifting his entire weight off the flatbed — 180 pounds or so. The muscles along the right side of my back tore. They just snapped and let loose… And that was the start of it all — the pain, the painkillers, the addiction, the lost career. I didn’t attend to the problem then. I continued to work through it. At that age, you believe you are bullet-proof and that nothing’s ever going to hurt you.”

But it did hurt. Bad. Years later, after an episode on the set of Bewitched, York was rushed to the hospital and eventually released from the series. His career, and his health, never recovered. York was quite a guy, and his story is an inspiring one.

And They Came To Cordura is quite a picture. How could it not be with that cast? Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter? They say it was mutilated by Columbia and that a longer, much better cut exists somewhere.

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And it happens to be August of 1955, you couldn’t do any better than this: Wichita and The Dam Busters. And a cartoon, too!

With McCrea as Wyatt Earp, Jacques Tourneur directing, CinemaScope and Technicolor, and the whole thing clocking in at just 81 minutes, Wichita has a lot going for it.

The only problem with The Dam Busters is it’s not a Western. Aside from that, it’s terrific.

Got this from the site Wisconsin Drive-In Theaters. This is an amazing source of drive-in information, chock full of old ads and flyers. I’m still making my way through it all. Stop by and, if nothing else, check out the story of the 41 Twin.

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Just wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Hope Santa brings you the cap guns and John Wayne DVDs you asked for.

This ornament graces my tree every year. It always reminds me of the Super 8mm print of The Lone Ranger I got one year — and that this is the time for Jay Thomas to hop on Late Night With David Letterman to tell his terrific Lone Ranger/Clayton Moore story, which you can see here.

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One of those cheesy Italian-to-English translation things on the Web says that title translates to “A Dollar Of Honor.” By whatever name, it’s Rio Bravo, which I haven’t mentioned in weeks. Sorry for the delay.

This depicts the scene where Dude (Dean Martin) finds the bad guy by noticing the blood dropping into the mug on the bar. It’s my favorite part of the picture.

Actually, my favorite part lasts 141 minutes.

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People, especially critics, are funny about movie clichés and formulas. While we all complain when a film seems predictable, formulaic or clichéd, the most popular films often adhere to a pretty strict formula. Hollywood musicals. The Bond films. Slasher flicks. Romantic comedies. The thousands of series Westerns. The list goes on and on.

So if the clichés and formulas themselves aren’t the problem, maybe it’s laziness we have issues with. Bring a fresh approach to the same old thing, however slight, and we’ll lap it up. But crank out that same old thing, the same old way, and you run the risk of being nailed to the wall.

Carson City (1952), the second of six Randolph Scott Westerns directed by Andre De Toth, helps illustrate this. It’s certainly got its share of clichés. A saloon brawl. A shootout or two. A mineshaft accident. A stagecoach holdup. A train robbery. It’s all there, along with a pretty typical lost-love subplot. But thanks to Scott’s presence and De Toth’s always-tight direction, you’re pretty satisfied when “The End” pops up.

There are attempts to break away from convention, however. Sloan Nibley, who’d written a slew of the later Roy Rogers pictures, helped cook up an urbane bad guy, the Champagne Bandit. (In fact, Carson City started out with that title.) But the finished film — from a screenplay by Nibley, Eric Jonsson and Winston Miller — doesn’t do enough with him, so an interesting idea ends up little more than a gimmick. De Toth later wrote, “I didn’t like the script, I needed the money, the pastures started to look much greener on the other side of the fence I was straddling.”

The Champagne Bandit (Raymond Massey)and his gang are robbing stagecoaches to get the gold dust being hauled out of Carson City to nearby Virginia City. Thinking that a railroad line would result in fewer holdups, a banker hires engineer Jeff Kinkaid (Scott) to lay the track and get the gold flowing again. This proves unpopular with the townspeople — and the Champagne Bandit.

In Andre De Toth’s capable hands, all this predictability flies by before you have enough time to notice how familiar it all is. His stuff is lean, fast and cynical — and his Scott pictures hint at the films Scott would later make with Budd Boetticher.

There seems to be renewed interest in De Toth these days, which isn’t surprising. He’s certainly worth seeking out. I’d recommend Pitfall, Man In The Saddle (another Scott), Crime Wave, Day Of The Outlaw and Play Dirty.

In the middle of this rediscovery, Warner Archive has released Carson City as part of its on-demand DVD-R program. While it’s a bare-bones release — the film and that’s it — it’s a nice one. Carson City was the first film in WarnerColor (more on that), and the transfer is crisp and sharp. The interior scenes look good, lush even, while the contrast in the exteriors is a little harsh — giving you a good idea of how WarnerColor looked on film. It’s presented full-frame, which is correct for 1952. There’s a little dust from time to time, which I kind of like. Having grown up with films around the house, usually 16mm, I have a soft spot for a little wear and tear.

It’s hard for me to be objective with a Randolph Scott movie. Carson City’s a good one. The DVD’s fine. And you can get it here.

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Jennifer Jones (1919 – 2009)

Just saw that Jennifer Jones, who got her start as Phylis Isley in New Frontier (1939) with John Wayne, has passed away at 90.

She won as Oscar for The Song Of Bernadette (1943) and starred in David O. Selznick’s mammoth Western Duel In The Sun (1946, that’s her with Gregory Peck), which brought with it another Oscar nomination. She’d marry Selznick in 1949.

Her full obituary can be found here. What’s more, Greenbriar Picture Shows has an excellent series of posts about her.

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Someone asked about Westerns with a Christmas theme. Here’s a few that quickly came to mind.

John Ford’s 3 Godfathers (1948) is often knocked as being sentimental and hokey. I’ve always loved it — partly because it’s sentimental and hokey. Because it’s as pretty in color as My Darling Clementine is in black and white. And because John Wayne’s hat is so cool.

If you watch it this Christmas, note the gun sounds in the early chase scene. I can’t remember any other picture where guns sound like that. (Ford had already done a silent version of the Peter B. Kyne story, starring Harry Carey and called Marked Men. When Carey died, Ford decided on a Technicolor remake dedicated to his friend — and co-starring Harry Carey, Jr.)

There’s The Cowboys And The Indians (1949) with Gene Autry singing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” A pre-Lone Ranger Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels are on hand.

And then there’s Trail Of Robin Hood (1950), where Roy Rogers and a gang of his cowboy-star buddies (Rex Allen, Monte Hale, Tom Tyler, etc.) come to the aide of Jack Holt’s Christmas tree farm. Directed by William Witney, in Trucolor, this is a really, really cool movie — one of my favorite Rogers pictures. I’d love to see this show up on DVD, uncut. Maybe next Christmas?

If you know of any other Christmas-y Westerns, please let me know.

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Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964) is a great, great movie. Ever since I first saw it, its incredible, stylized snow scenes have reminded me of the shot-on-a-soundstage winter scene from Ford’s The Searchers (1956).

In a picture filled with so many spectacular outdoor shots — in VistaVision and Technicolor, no less — this segment of The Searchers seems rather out of place. But with its layers of trees and fake snow, to me, it’s one of the most striking things in the film.

The Kwaidan image above doesn’t support my point as well as it could — it was all I could find. Those who’ve seen both films will hopefully know what I mean. Of course, the connection may be more in my head than in Kobayashi’s. But you never know.

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Just saw that Gene Barry has passed away.

So many people think of Gene Barry as either Bat Masterson or Amos Burke — or for starring in War Of The Worlds (1953). That’s all good stuff. But around here, we’re big on Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957).

You can read his obituary here.

That’s Barry on the right, along with Barry Sullivan and Robert Dix.

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