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Archive for May, 2010

On Memorial Day

Thinking about Memorial Day and all it means — and it means a lot — the first appropriate thing (for this blog) I thought of was She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949). When it comes to honor and tradition and America, John Ford and John Wayne sure seem to fit the bill.

If you want to sit down in front of your TV today, you can’t go wrong with any of Ford and Wayne’s Cavalry Trilogy — Fort Apache (1947), Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande (1950). Or you can trade the spurs for combat boots and go with their They Were Expendable (1945), the greatest War Film ever made.

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20,000 Hits.

20,000 is a lot of hits. Thanks to you all.

And speaking if hits, here’s Joel McCrea delivering one to Kevin McCarthy in Stranger On Horseback (1955).

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The actor/director/photographer Dennis Hopper passed away today after a fight with prostate cancer — and more important, after a long, always-interesting career in films.

He gave some amazing performances. Apocalypse Now (1979), Hoosiers and Blue Velvet (both 1986) quickly come to mind.

I’m sure there will be plenty of discussion of his life and work over the next few weeks. And I imagine very little of it will involve Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) or From Hell To Texas (1958). Of the second one, he said:

“I got into a lot of trouble on that… It wasn’t like somebody sent a black ball around after that, but word got around that I wasn’t somebody you wanted to work with. Soon after that, I was dropped from my contract at Warner Bros.. I went back to New York and I studied with Strasberg for five years. I didn’t have another major role in a studio picture for nearly 10 years, until Hathaway hired me again for The Sons of Katie Elder in ’65.”

You’ll find the entire interview here, where he discusses his clash(es) with Henry Hathaway. And here’s an incredible photo I came across of Hopper with John Ford and John Huston.

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Here’s a couple excellent pictures I’ve been reminded of over the last couple days.

First, I finished James Best’s book Best In Hollywood, which I really enjoyed. He dedicates a chapter to Paul Newman, covering their time working on The Left-Handed Gun (1958). (His story about being hung in Ride Lonesome is great, too.)

Laura from Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings brought up one she really likes — A Man Alone (1955), starring and directed by Ray Milland. It’s a very unusual Western, with a great part for Ward Bond — which he’s great in. It’s on Encore Westerns this weekend, I think. An obscure film that shouldn’t be obscure.

I’m also a big fan of the one-sheets for these films. In the 50s, Warner Bros.’ art department sure had a way with type. The left-justified type — Left-Handed Gun, get it? — is a cool touch. And for A Man Alone, Republic showed a level of restraint that gives the film a distinguished (their word) feel. I really love that painting — wonder who did it, and where it is.

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Happy Birthday

John Wayne

May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979

Seen here as John T. Chance in Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959).

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Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. at Thrilling Days Of Yesteryear made the most casual of mentions of John Sturges’ Last Train From Gun Hill (1959) the other day.

What a movie. Seeing it as a kid, I was struck by the intensity and overall nastiness of the whole thing. Rape. Murder. Arson. (Remind you of Blazing Saddles?) A shotgun stuck under someone’s chin. That’s 94 minutes well spent.

“Taut” is a word used a lot when Last Train From Gun Hill comes up. Very different from its better-known, even iconic predecessor Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957). Even Burt Lancaster thought that one was too talky, and Budd Boetticher told Moviemaker: “In Sturges’ picture, he’s got the four guys at the O.K. Corral walking down the middle of the street! You could have killed them with a bucket of hot water, for Christ’s sake!”

There’s a lot of overlap in the credits — John Sturges, Hal Wallis, Kirk Douglas, Dmitri Tiomkin, Charles Lang, Jr. (whose VistaVision photography is always fabulous) and others. But while it makes sense for the two pictures to be linked (they played theaters as a double feature, and are currently available together on DVD), Gun Hill deserves a place on the list of the decade’s best Westerns — maybe the space occupied by its older brother.

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There’s been a bit of a theme going around here the last couple days about the Universal-International Westerns of the 50s — and about how scarce they are on DVD here in the States.

Lucky for us, Bounty Films out of Australia has licensed a handful of U-I titles, not all of them Westerns, for DVD release. I can’t wait to see how good they look, since this could open up another source for these things. Available now is Horizons West (1952), directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Robert Ryan, Rock Hudson, Julie Adams and John McIntire.

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Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone And The Infield Fly Rule has posted a fabulous piece on the appeal of 50s Westerns — in particular those of Universal-International. Please read it.

Researching my book, throwing stuff up on this blog and communicating with the nice folks I’ve met along the way, I’m constantly reminded how much I love these things — the great ones, the good ones, even the crummy ones. Dennis brings up a few specific pictures, like the terrific No Name On The Bullet (1959), but his points really cover the genre, and the decade, as a whole.

More importantly, he nails what it’s like to be a fan of these films.

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That’s the main title to The Quiet Gun (1957), a good little RegalScope picture directed by William F. Claxton.

Below is a screen capture from the middle of the film — as it plays pan-and-scan on Westerns Channel. The fingers on the bottom left, and the tip of the hat, belong to Lee Van Cleef, who is completely in the frame when you see it the way you’re supposed to see it. That’s Forrest Tucker in the chair.

This shows just how hard it is to watch these things when they’re not presented properly. Now, I’m sure everyone that passes by this blog knows all about the widescreen vs. pan-and-scan issue, but watching this tonight was maddening.

This movie — no, make that any movie — and all the artists and craftsmen who made them, deserve better than this.

This is the only way I’ve ever seen The Quiet Gun, and I’m happy to say it holds up.

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“Sashay my mavericks.”

Driving to work this morning, for no particular reason — or at least none I can determine — this line from Son Of Paleface (1952, one of my all-time favorite films) popped into my head:

Junior Potter (Bob Hope): “Where I hail from, we don’t cotton to folks what cotton to other folks’ gals that don’t cotton to folks that cotton to them. That’s cotton talk, see?”

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