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Archive for September, 2011

TCM is celebrating what would’ve been Nicholas Ray’s 100th birthday with a month of his films — every Tuesday, to be exact.

Included in that lineup are a couple of terrific Westerns — Johnny Guitar (1954, see Ray with Joan Crawford below) and The True Story Of Jesse James (1957). Others not to miss are The Lusty Men (1952, a modern-day Western and one of Ray’s best pictures) and Bigger Than Life (1958). Really, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

I recently posted a piece of The True Story Of Jesse James, a picture that’s much better than its reputation and production history would indicate.

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Happy Birthday: Gene Autry.

Gene Autry

(September 29, 1907 – October 2, 1998)

Ina Autry (Gene’s wife, from a July 1953 Picturegoer article): “Gene never comes down to breakfast unless he’s shaved and bathed and fully dressed in a cowboy suit with tie and boots. For relaxation he listens to Western songs. His favorite food is ham hock, corn bread and buttermilk.”

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Came across these photos of the Midway Drive-In, somewhere in Ohio. (My apologies to the photographer — not sure where I found these.)

It’s obvious how the owners handled to transition to CinemaScope — they simply added “wings” to either side of the screen tower. My guess is the extension would’ve happened in early ’54.

Imagine The Man From Laramie (1955) on such a screen on a nice night.

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The MGM Classics Collection is at it again. This time with Peter Graves in Bel-Air’s Fort Yuma (1955). Directed by Lesley Selander, it was pretty rare for Bel-Air to splurge on Technicolor. Graves’ leading lady Joan Vohs was a Rockette and appeared in William Castle’s Fort Ti (1953).

Other titles are post-1959:

Gunfighters Of Abilene (1960), starring Buster Crabbe, and Gun Street (1961) — both directed by Edward L. Cahn.

California (1963), an AIP picture with a great cast: Jock Mahoney, Faith Domergue, Michael Pate and Nestor Paiva. Alas, a great cast does not always make for a great movie.

 

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Came across something interesting on the Iverson Ranch blog. I highly recommend this blog, but warn you that you’ll be there for hours.

A recent post covers the history of the Middle Iverson Ranch sets, from the buildings’ construction in the early 40s to their use in the pilot episode of The Real McCoys — and on to the fire that destroyed them in 1970.

A typical film that used these sets is The Hills Of Utah (1951), a later Gene Autry picture. Below is the main house set as it appears there. The set also included (at various times) a bunkhouse, barn and shed.

If you’ve seen AIP’s Panic In Year Zero (1962), you know that this house survived an atom bomb falling on LA. But it couldn’t survive sprawl: condominiums now occupy its spot.

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Allan “Rocky” Lane

(September 22, 1909 – October 27, 1973)

El Paso Stampede (1953) was Allan “Rocky” Lane’s last series Western for Republic. It was directed by Harry Keller, whose work on Quantez (1957) I’ve been praising the last few days. Lane’s costar is Phyllis Coates, who’d recently done the first season of The Adventures Of Superman.

Of course, Lane’s career was for from over. He had a handful of pictures yet to make, including The Saga of Hemp Brown (1958) with Beverly Garland, Rory Calhoun, Russell Johnson, Yvette Vickers and John Larch (what a cast). And then there’s being the voice of Mister Ed.

By the way, El Paso Stampede is available from VCI Entertainment.

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Directed by Harry Keller
Produced by Gordon Kay
Screenplay by R. Wright Campbell
Story by Anne Edwards and R. Wright Campbell
Director of Photography: Carl E. Guthrie, ASC
Music: Herman Stein
Music Supervision by Joseph Gershenson
“The Lonely One” words and music by Frederick Herbert and Arnold Hughes
Film Editor: Fred MacDowell

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Whatever your misgivings (namely price) may be about the DVD-R programs in place at a number of studios, you have to admit they’ve put some pretty significant titles in the hands of the geeks who’ve been waiting for ‘em. I’m a card-carrying member of that group of geeks, and I’m stoked to have Quantez (1957) in my hot little hands. Judging by comments I’ve received, I’m not alone.

It’d been years since I’d seen it on TV, and I remembered it as a good Universal-International 50s Western, which is plenty good indeed. (That’s about like saying a “good Hammer horror film.”) Seeing it again, in a top-notch widescreen transfer, it’s a much better picture than I remember — and, to me, one of the better Universal Westerns of the 50s.

Fred MacMurray is Gentry, a tired gunman in a gang of bank robbers with a posse in hot pursuit. Riding into the desert, they take refuge in Quantez, a small town they find deserted. Their horses tired and near death, they’re forced to stay the night — with the plan to cross the border into Mexico the next day. The picture is the story of that night.

I won’t spoil things by giving you much more than that. Just know there’s the usual tension and violence that erupt when you place a group of desperate men in such close quarters. And since there’s a bundle of money, a band of Indians and a woman with a past (Dorothy Malone) on hand, things don’t take long to heat up.

MacMurray is excellent. John Larch comes close to being a bit over the top as Heller, the leader of the gang — but he always pulls back just in time. He’s a very bad man. Dorothy Malone is terrific as Chaney, a used-up saloon girl who feels she’s lost her chance to have a decent life. Westerns have never been known for their women’s roles, but this is a really good one, and she makes the most of it. John Gavin, as the kid of the gang (every gang has one), and James Barton as a minstrel who passes through the ghost town in the middle of the night, provide strong support. This is a well-acted film.

Well written, too. The plot isn’t much more than formula (not a criticism), but R. Wright Campbell’s dialogue is crisp and he avoids the expected often enough to keep things fresh. You never think of this as one of those pictures where the small cast is bottled in someplace more for reasons of budget than plot. The story just works. Campbell later wrote plenty of pictures for AIP, including the marvelous The Masque Of The Red Death (1964). He also did Gun For A Coward (1957), another good MacMurray Universal Western (available as part of the Vault Series).

Thanks to Universal’s careful transfer, one of the real stars of the picture is Carl E. Guthrie, whose CinemaScope camerawork does the film a tremendous favor. (Go look at Guthrie’s list of credits sometime. Wow!) Given the mood and the many nights scenes, you might think this’d play better in black and white. But some ingenious lighting — rich blues at night and reds as the sun comes up — gives the picture a very effective look. This is one of the richest-looking Eastman Color films I can remember.

Of course, we have to give director Harry Keller plenty of credit. Starting out as an editor at Republic, by the time he reached Quantez, he certainly knew his way around a cowboy picture. There’s lots of dialogue here, but Keller keeps things moving at a brisk pace. A year later, he’d be one of the contract directors U-I would draft to “fix” Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil (1958).

Universal should be commended for giving Quantez such a beautiful transfer. And while in a perfect world, this would’ve hit video on Blu-ray, the DVD-R (the Universal Vault Series is an Amazon exclusive) looked terrific and played fine. There are no extras, not even a trailer. But who’s to complain when it looks like this?

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