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Archive for October, 2010

Happy Halloween

No matter what you’re going out as, here’s hoping you’re have a fun, and safe, Halloween.

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James MacArthur, 1937 – 2010

James MacArthur, who played Danny Williams on one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Hawaii Five-O, has passed away at 72.

His only 50s Western is Disney’s The Light In The Forest (1958).

I’m sure there’ll be a million “Book ‘em, Danno” jokes over the next few days, so I’ll just leave it at “Aloha.”

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Frank Capra, from Frank Capra: Interviews:

“I always wanted to make a Western. I finally wrote a Western that I thought would make a hell of a story. It was called Westward The Women, about the women coming into the West and what their effect was. But I worked at a studio that didn’t have any horses. So I sold the story to William Wellman. He made it at MGM. It’s been a regret to me that I’ve never been able to make a Western. A man riding a horse across a prairie is poetry in motion.”

Capra’s original story was called “Pioneer Women.” Westward The Women (1951) is easily one of the better Westerns from MGM, a studio that didn’t have much of a grasp on the genre.

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Over the weekend, 50s Western From The 50s passed 50,000 hits. Thanks to all of you. I’m blown away by the response to this thing. (But I keep wondering — ain’t you people got better things to do?)

To mark the happy occasion, I’ve got a DVD of Sterling Hayden in Joseph H. Lewis’ Terror In A Texas Town (1958) for the first to come through with the picture’s working title. Use the form below to send in your answer. Good luck.

If you’ve never seen this one, it’s a must — a strange, cheap little picture with a script by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. It was Lewis’ last theatrical film before he headed into TV to give us a ton of great episodes of The Rifleman, among other things.

UPDATE: Congrats to Richard Vincent. Terror In A Texas Town began production as Hard As Nails.

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Colin over at Riding The High Country has posted another great piece — this one on Last Train From Gun Hill (1959).

Read it when you get a chance. Or better yet, watch the film, then read Colin’s post.

This is one picture where the more time I spent with it — watching it, researching it, or reading something like what Colin has written — the better sense I get of just what a good movie it really is. It’s so intense and entertaining, you lose track of its many qualities — from the performances to Charles Lang’s VistaVision cinematography to Dmitri Tiomkin’s score.

And let’s not forget the script (which Dalton Trumbo had a hand in, though nobody seems to know just how much). Here’s a taste —

Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas): “I know an old man who’d like to kill you, Belden — the Indian way: slow. That’s how I’m gonna do it: slow — but the white man’s way. First you stand trial. That takes a fair amount of time, and you’ll do a lot of sweating! Then they’ll sentence ya. I never seen a man who didn’t get sick to his stomach when he heard the kind of sentence you’ll draw. After that you’ll sit in a cell and wait, maybe for months, thinking how that rope will feel around your neck. Then they’ll come around, some cold morning, just before sun-up. They’ll tie your arms behind you. You’ll start blubbering, kicking, yelling for help. But it won’t do you any good. They’ll drag you out in the yard, heave you up on that platform, fix that rope around your neck and leave you out there all alone with a big black hood over your eyes. You know the last sound you hear? Kind of a thump when they kick the trapdoor catch — and down you go. You’ll hit the end of that rope like a sack of potatoes, all dead weight. It’ll be white hot around your neck and your Adam’s Apple will turn to mush. You’ll fight for your breath, but you haven’t got any breath. Your brain will begin to boil. You’ll scream and holler! But nobody’ll hear you. You’ll hear it. But nobody else. Finally you’re just swingin’ there — all alone and dead.”

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Plunderers Of Painted Flats was released in January 1959 (the poster calls it “a Republic presentation”). It starred Corinne Calvet, John Carroll, Skip Homeier and Joe Besser — and was in black and white ‘Scope (Naturama). Its director, Albert C. Gannaway, did a short series of these threadbare widescreen Westerns for Republic. At least one of them, Man Or Gun (1958), is pretty good.

That July, Republic was no more. There was no way the Western could be the same after that.

Director Joe Kane, from Kings Of The Bs: “Yates had trouble with the Actors Guild. He refused to pay residuals for pictures that were going on television. So they shut him down. The Actors Guild just closed the place and put him out of business… I went over to television. There was nothing else I could do. Republic was completely out of business. There was nothing left of it.”

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I’ve posted on One-Eyed Jacks (1961) before. Jettisoned from the 50s by Brando’s self-indulgence, it would’ve been an interesting cap to the decade’s cinematic West. It’s still one of my favorite Westerns.

But while it’s easy to come at the picture as a curio — Brando’s only time directing, with a production history as convoluted as any you’ve ever heard — it’s a beautiful, fascinating film. (Of course, to some it’s a total mess.)

One of its many strengths is Hugo Friedhofer’s music, for years represented by a single soundtrack LP — only half the actual score. But that’s been rectified by the Kritzerland two-CD release. Disc One is the original album, with a couple alternate takes. Disc Two is where things really get interesting — the complete score in stunning stereo.

The amount of care that went into this project is obvious — and everyone who touched it should be proud. Limited to just 1,200 copies, it’s already getting hard to find.

Wouldn’t you love to see the film itself get the same attention on DVD?

UPDATE: A bit of One-Eyed Jacks news here.

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Bats and Bullets.

Baseball’s postseason is upon us — complete with some really incredible pitching this week. Around my house, America has at least two pastimes — baseball and old cowboy movies. Interestingly, there are a few crossovers (that I can think of off the top of my head).

Chuck Conners

Cub, Dodger, Rifleman, Cowboy in Africa.

 

Johnny Berardino

Indian (’48 World Series), Pirate, one of the Seven Men From Now.

 

Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige

Too many teams to name, Union cavalryman in The Wonderful Country.

 

Gene Autry

Angels owner, Singing Cowboy. (Seen here with Warren Spahn.)

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Where’s Hank?

Was looking at this still of Harry Carey, Jr., John Wayne and Hank Worden from The Searchers (1956) — and noticed something that seemed a bit odd.

That’s not Hank Worden as Mose Harper. And the fake Hank is nowhere near as tall as the real one. (Worden’s one of the few actors who ever seemed as tall as Duke.)

So, where was he? Was he sick that day? Jury duty? Wrapping up some other picture? In hot water with John Ford?

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It’s easy to like Audie Murphy’s later Westerns. He was, almost single-handed, carrying 50s Westerns into the 60s after most cowboy stars had retired or defected to TV. (Murphy had tried television, too, with Whispering Smith.) And he was working on these later films with the likes of William Witney, R.G. Springsteen and Lesley Selander, directors responsible for not only a lot of good pictures, but for the genre as we know it.

Apache Rifles (1964) — an action-filled story of an Indian-hating cavalry officer who has a change of heart when he meets a half-breed missionary — was making the rounds about the same time A Fistful Of Dollars was in production in Italy and Spain. The times they were a-changin’. And pictures like Apache Rifles would soon be almost extinct — short, tough (American) Westerns created by seasoned professionals with utmost efficiently.

Utmost efficiency indeed. One of the real pleasures of Apache Rifles is watching all the pros at work. William Witney with his usual mastery of low-budget filmmaking, especially the action sequences. A tight script by TV Western specialist Charles B. Smith. And solid performances by a cast of veterans at this type of thing: Murphy, Michael Dante, L.Q. Jones, Linda Lawson, etc. This is not to say that the picture succeeds only as a curio — “one of the last of a dying breed” or some sort of cinematic swan song for its participants. It works like so many similar films did before it. If you like medium-budget Westerns, or Audie Murphy pictures, there’s plenty to like here.

There’s also plenty to like with the new DVD from Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment. Most important, of course, is the film itself. Apache Rifles has been well served. The transfer is sharp and clean, but without so much digital knob-twiddling it doesn’t look like film anymore. The (DeLuxe) color is a bit muted, but there’s no fading. Grain is evident — and that’s a good thing. The audio’s fine, with a tolerable amount of hiss (that’s probably been there since 1964).

But where the DVD really excels is in its supplemental material. There are short pieces on Witney and the Lone Pine Museum, a still gallery and a longer documentary on Apache Rifles and the end of the conventional Western. It’s always good to see a smaller picture get this kind of attention — and I’m sure we can all come up with a list of dozens more we’d like to see treated this respectfully.

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