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Archive for September, 2012


This is my contribution to the Paramount Centennial Blogathon, hosted by The Hollywood Revue. Be sure to check other bloggers’ pieces celebrating Paramount’s 100 years of great movies.

One-Eyed Jacks (1961), directed by and starring Marlon Brando, is a film Paramount probably wished they’d never made. It cost more than three times its original budget, took six months to shoot and over a year to edit (Brando turned in a cut over four hours long), and was nowhere near the hit they were hoping for. It was even the subject of jokes — Jerry Lewis: “Spend your vacation at One-Eyed Jacks.” But over the years, its reputation has evolved from trainwreck to cult film to maybe even a classic.

It’s the subject of my book-in-progress A Million Feet Of Film: The Making Of One-Eyed Jacks. For this blogathon, I’m focusing on a single sequence — one that was ultimately left out of the film.

Some say One-Eyed Jacks is a film with too many climaxes. If so, one of those climaxes is certainly the sequence where Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) ties Rio (Marlon Brando) to a hitching post, horsewhips him, then smashes his gun hand with the butt of a shotgun. It’s a brutal scene, with Rio striking a Christ-like pose as the whole town watches his torture.

Brando and his partners in crime withdraw to a Chinese fishing village for him to heal up, rehab his gun hand and plot his revenge. During the wait, tensions mount between Rio and a couple members of his gang, Bob Amory (Ben Johnson) and Harvey Johnson (Sam Gillman). In the script and Brando’s rough cut, there were scenes with Brando and a waitress in the village (Lisa Lu).

Marlon Brando: “I was supposed to get drunk, come in out of the rain and rape a Chinese girl. You can’t fake drunkenness in a movie, so I figured the scene would work better if I really got drunk.”

The scene was scheduled for a Friday afternoon, so Brando would have the weekend to recuperate.

Brando: “I started drinking about 4:15 in the afternoon of the day I was going to shoot the scene, after telling the other actors what I wanted them to do.”

Makeup artist Phil Rhodes: “So Lisa Lu brought in the food as instructed, but by then Marlon was so drunk he couldn’t say his lines.”

Brando: “It has never taken much alcohol to put me over the edge, so in no time at all I was staggering around, grabbing hold of the girl…”

Alice Marchak, Brando’s personal assistant: “The shots they did film were unusable.”

It was decided to try again the next Friday.

Brando: “It still wasn’t right and I had to do it a number of afternoons to get it right.”

Alice Marchak: “Each night filming came to a halt because Marlon was falling-down drunk… Mostly, it was Marlon falling out of bed, staggering around thoroughly enjoying himself, having loads of fun along with members of the crew… What nobody knew was that most nights before I left the studio, Marlon was so sick I had to hold his head to keep him from drowning in the toilet as he knelt and hugged while he threw up into the toilet bowl.”

All those weeks, all that money, all those hangovers — and the scene was cut.

Producer Frank P. Rosenberg: “The only sequence that was dropped in its entirety was an ancillary and transient love story between Brando and a Chinese girl. Everything about this episode was admirable except that it brought the film to a standstill.”

SOURCES: The New York Times; Neon; Me And Marlon by Alice Marchak; Brando: The Biography by Peter Manso.

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Directed by Delmer Daves
Produced by Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd
Screenplay by Wendell Mayes and Halsted Welles
From the novel by Dorothy M. Johnson
Director of photography: Ted McCord, ASC
Music by Max Steiner
Song: “The Hanging Tree” — Lyrics by Mack David, Music by Jerry Livingston,
Vocal by Marty Robbins
Film Editor: Owen Marks

CAST: Gary Cooper (Dr. Joseph Frail), Maria Schell (Elizabeth Mahler), Karl Malden (Frenchy), Ben Piazza (Rune), George C. Scott (Grubb), Karl Swenson (Mr. Flaunce), Virginia Gregg (Mrs. Flaunce), John Dierkes (Society Red).

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All through college (1982-87), I worked in video stores. One of the films we were constantly asked for was The Hanging Tree (1959). When it finally showed up on VHS, everyone agreed that it was ratty-looking — but we were so excited to see it we didn’t care. As time went on and VHS passed the torch to DVD, The Hanging Tree started showing up on Want Lists all over again. You’d hear there were rights problems, and the material was in bad shape — along with the promise that sorting it out was a priority.

It took a while, but Warner Archive has come through with a nice-looking widescreen transfer that does justice to this worthy film (even if it’s more a sprucing-up than a true restoration). The Technicolor camerawork is well represented in both the interior and exterior scenes, with occasional variances in contrast the only complaint. Grain and a blemish here and there are welcome reminders that this is a film.

From its setting in the Montana gold camp of Skull Creek to its troubled, injured or downright degenerate cast of characters, there’s no other Western like The Hanging Tree. And that makes it a real treat waiting to be discovered or revisited.

By the late 50s, Gary Cooper had matured, much like Randolph Scott, to become the perfect Western lead. His Doc Frail is one of his most complex roles, a physician as handy with a pistol as he is with a scalpel who rides into Skull Creek hoping to escape a troubled past.

Maria Cooper, Gary’s daughter (in a New York Post interview): “He was very interested in this particular character because he was able to portray many facets. He was horrible, controlling and brutish yet he had this tremendously kind, mothering sense of caring for people. It’s not your simple black-and-white hero and it’s not your typical Western.”

Frail becomes involved with a young sluice-robber Rune (Ben Piazza) and an injured immigrant Elizabeth (Maria Schell), and rumors start to spread around the camp about his dark past and relationships with his houseguests. Frail’s secret, a “glory hole” gold strike and mob hysteria all come together for a fiery, violent climax.

Delmer Daves made some outstanding Westerns in the Fifties, with 3:10 To Yuma (1957) and The Hanging Tree maybe the best (bet that’s gonna launch a thread). Both use terrific performances from their leads to create a real sense of unease. In Yuma, we’re somehow charmed by Glenn Ford’s slimy villain, while here we don’t know what to make of Cooper’s compassion for his patients and his conflicting violent side.

Karl Malden as the dirtbag prospector Frenchy and Ben Piazza as Rune are excellent. (Incidentally, Malden directed some scenes when Daves became ill.) George C. Scott makes his debut as Grubb, a drunken fire-and-brimestone preacher. Maria Schell is wonderful and completely believable as the beautiful, hard-working Elizabeth. Though this is Cooper’s film from its fade-in to fade-out, Schell deserves credit for much of its success — and it’s no wonder this is a Western women seem to really respond to. (Those video store requests I mentioned often came from women.)

Daves and Cooper on location.

Ted McCord was a master at outdoor cinematography (The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre), and he works wonders with the Washington locations (doubling as Montana). Daves is often criticized for his fondness for crane shots, but they work well here — sometimes going from sweeping mountains vistas to tighter shots of the scruffy tent city without a cut. The early scenes, with Cooper looking down on the makeshift town, are really effective. Max Steiner provides a score that complements the more melodramatic scenes without pushing them over the top. And Marty Robbins’ title song provides the perfect punctuation in the final scene (the song has been added to the CD of his classic album Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs).

The Hanging Tree is a key Western of the 50s, one that’s been out of circulation far too long. This DVD, which adds a trailer as a bonus feature, is further proof of the real value of the Warner Archive (and similar programs) to collectors like us.

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Universal’s Vault Series has made Comanche Territory (1950) available for pre-order. No release date has been given.

MacDonald Carey is Jim Bowie, trying to keep peace after silver is discovered on Comanche territory. Maureen O’Hara and Charles Drake are the sinister siblings trying to break the treaty.

George Sherman, as you’d expect, makes great use of the Arizona locations — beautiful in Technicolor. And it’s cool to see Maureen O’Hara getting in on the action scenes (she’s seen below in a Jergens Lotion ad that appeared in Life in March, 1950). In her book ‘Tis Herself, she described Comanche Territory as “a fairly decent Western and the film in which I mastered the American bullwhip. By the time the picture was over, I could snap a cigarette out of someone’s mouth.”

Comanche Territory isn’t a great Western, but it has plenty to recommend it.

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One of my favorite Westerns can be seen on that Netflix streaming thing — Hellfire (1949) starring Bill Elliott, Marie Windsor, Forrest Tucker and Jim Davis. It’s a real gem from Republic and director R. G. Springsteen. And it’s in Trucolor.

But don’t just take it from me. Of all the wonderful films Marie Windsor made, she always listed this, The Narrow Margin (1952) and The Killing (1956) as her favorites.

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Yesterday, I complained about the DVD packaging for The Oregon Trail (1959). So today, it’s nice to feature something a little more pleasing to the eye, the upcoming and highly recommended Masterson Of Kansas (1954) from the (renamed?) Choice Collection. This new template has been put to use for all their Western releases for October 2, such as Buchanan Rides Alone (1958).

Speaking of Buchanan, Laura recently wrote on the film, and found it the weakest of the Scott/Boetticher pictures. While I agree to a point — it’s certainly not as strong as, say, The Tall T (1957), seeing it as a kid might have been the beginning of my 50s Westerns obsession.

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Here’s Gloria Talbott, Fred MacMurray and the great John Dierkes in The Oregon Trail (1959), which after much speculation and lots of blog-commenting time, is finally available from the Fox Cinema Archives MOD program. As one of the CinemaScope films Lippert Pictures produced for 20th Century-Fox in the late 50s (The Fly was one, too), it’s something I’m looking forward to.

Though I’m thrilled about this release, which has been officially listed as widescreen, I have a gripe. If what you see at  left is indeed what the packaging looks like, I’m disappointed. A quick Google image search turns up better stuff than that — in color, too. Maybe they should reach out to the collector community — namely, us — for access to better material.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

On a completely unrelated note: my daughter and I watched a couple episodes of The Lone Ranger last night — one with James H. Griffith and the other with Hank Worden. What a treat.

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John Wayne Vinyl Sticker/Decal.

Doing some research the other night, I came across this. I’m typing on a Mac just like the one you see here, only mine’s missing the John Wayne sticker. For now, that is.

Get yours here. (That’s The Searchers, of course.)

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