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Archive for the ‘1953’ Category

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William Holden
(April 17, 1918 – November 12, 1981)

Last night, my daughter mentioned that today is William Holden’s birthday. Don’t tell me she’s not getting a well-rounded education!

Probably one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, Holden made a number of good Westerns. John Sturges’ Escape From Fort Bravo (1953) is one of the best. The last couple reels are really outstanding.

Of course, Western fans these days know him for Pike Bishop in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), a performance right up there with Stewart in The Man From Laramie (1955) and Wayne in The Searchers (1956).

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Directed by George Archainbaud
Produced by Armand Schaefer
Story and Screen Play by Gerald Geraghty
Director of Photography: William Bradford, ASC
Film Editor: James Sweeney, ACE

CAST: Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Gail Davis (Cathy Wheeler), Kirk Riley (Ed Wheeler), Carleton Young (Jim Granby), Denver Pyle, John Doucette.

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Goldtown Ghost Riders is a pretty solid Gene Autry movie, one of six released in 1953, his last year in theaters. Along for the ride are Champion, Smiley Burnette and Gail Davis, still a year or so away from playing Annie Oakley. Support comes from Kirk Riley, Carleton Young, Denver Pyle and John Doucette.

Gene’s a circuit judge looking into fake gold strikes, blackmail and murder in Goldtown — and trying to solve the mystery of the Ghost Riders. (Why didn’t he sing “Ghost Riders In The Sky” in this one?) There’s a bit of a Scooby Doo feel to the whole thing, and it’s quite clever. The bulk of the film is done in flashback, a fairly unusual structure for a B Western. It works pretty well, and if things get a little confusing, there’s plenty of riding, shooting and singing to keep things moving along. What’s interesting is that Gail Davis isn’t involved in all that riding and shooting, playing a pretty typical B Western female lead. As we all know, she was capable of so much more.

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I really enjoy these later Autry films. Like the Roy Rogers films from the same period, they’re more stripped down and a bit more adult. The fancy outfits have been replaced by more practical stuff. The songs may not be as good, but Gene seems a bit more relaxed in front of the camera. (He should be; he’d made almost 90 movies by this time.) Some of the plots strive for something a little different, and the writers certainly deserve credit for that. (Gerald Geraghty, who wrote this one, cooked up the story for Gene’s first film, the whacked-out and wonderful 1936 serial The Phantom Empire.)

About a decade ago, a large-scale restoration project, working from Autry’s own 16mm and 35mm uncut material, made sure these films would look and sound terrific. So these four-film, two-DVD sets from Timeless Media Group are an easy recommendation. Each film comes with a batch of extras, making them one of the best DVD bargains around. But be warned: they’re a bit like potato chips, you can’t stop at just one!

The 50s Westerns spotlight on Gail Davis will continue. Next up: Overland Telegraph (1951).

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On a somewhat related note: Researching this film, I discovered that the Lewis B. Patten book Gene Autry And The Ghost Riders (1955) was reprinted by Wildside Press. It’s a good young adult Western novel, from the guy who wrote the story Red Sundown (1956) came from.

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These sets from Timeless Media Group are getting around to the films Autry made in the 50s. I know Gene was also on TV at this time, and these probably weren’t getting as much attention as they had, but I’ve always liked them. (I don’t give Autry enough time on this blog. Sorry, Gene.)

This fifth volume, which is available now, includes:
Loaded Pistols (1949)
Gene Autry And The Mounties (1951)
Night Stage To Galveston (1952)
Goldtown Ghost Riders (1953)

These have looked great so far and have boasted some cool extras. Will have a review of this one soon.

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Last Of The Comanches Saunders

Character actor Hugh Sanders stayed busy throughout the 50s, in both features and on TV — with parts in pictures like The Wild One (1953), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and To Kill A Mockingbird (1962).

From Illinois, Sanders worked in radio before making the move to Hollywood in 1949. He made a number of Western features before his death in 1966 (at just 54), such as Last Of The Comanches (1953, above), The Guns Of Fort Petticoat (1957) and Warlock (1959, below). He played a lot of lawmen, as he did in City Of Bad Men (1953). And as is so common with character actors in this period, he often went without credit.

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On TV, you’ll see him in Western shows like The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Tales Of Wells Fargo and Maverick, along with Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. And that’s just scratching the surface.

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Directed by Harmon Jones
Produced by Leonard Goldstein
Written by George W. George and George F. Slavin
Director Of Photography: Charles G. Clarke, ASC
Musical Direction: Lionel Newman
Film Editor: George A. Gittens

CAST: Jeanne Crain (Linda Culligan), Dale Robertson (Brett Stanton), Richard Boone (Johnny Ringo), Lloyd Bridges (Gar Stanton), Carole Mathews (Cynthia Castle), Carl Betz (Phil Ryan), Whifield Connor (Jim London), Hugh Sanders (Bill Gifford), Rodolfo Acosta (Mendoza), Pascual Garcia Pena (Pig), Don Haggerty (Bob Thrailkill), Leo Gordon, John Doucette, Frank Ferguson, James Best.

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On March 17, 1897, in Carson City, Nevada, Bob Fitzsimmons knocked out “Gentleman” Jim Corbett in 14 rounds to become the World Heavyweight Champion.

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This historic boxing match is the basis of City Of Bad Men (1953), as bandits are drawn like flies to the event’s box office. Among those ambitious outlaws are Brett Stanton (Dale Robertson) and his outfit, which includes his brother Gar (Lloyd Bridges), along with the gangs of Johnny Ringo (Richard Boone) and Bob Thrailkill (Don Haggerty). Complicating matters is that Brett is no stranger to Carson City, and he has some unfinished business with Linda Culligan (Jeanne Crain). It’s not long before Brett is torn between Linda and the money.

The story goes that Dale Robertson stayed away from acting classes in the early days of his career, and there’s a naturalism to his work that serves his Westerns well. While he’s known for Tales Of Well Fargo on TV, his feature work like City Of Bad Men is worth seeking out. If the part calls for it, he can drop his easygoing charm with ease. The more of his films I see, the more I like him.

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Harmon Jones didn’t direct many features before heading to TV. His five Westerns — The Silver Whip (1953), City Of Bad Men, A Day Of Fury (1956), Canyon River (1956) and Bullwhip (1958) — are perfect examples of what a medium-budget studio Western could be. A Day Of Fury is a fantastic film, one of the best Westerns to come out of Universal in the 50s — and that’s saying something. If Jones had made more Westerns, I’m sure we’d be grouping him with directors like George Sherman, Gordon Douglas and Phil Karlson.

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City Of Bad Men was produced by Leonard Goldstein, who produced many, many films for Universal (including the Ma And Pa Kettle series) and 20th Century-Fox. He clearly understood the importance of a strong cast and filled this one with pros like Frank Ferguson, John Doucette and Don Haggerty. He also gave a stage actor named Leo Gordon his first film work.

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Leo Gordon: “They asked me could I ride a horse. ‘Yes. If I can’t ride it, I’ll carry it.’ So I came out to Hollywood. They put me on a horse, and I was on a horse for 35 years.”*

Much of the film was shot on the Fox lot, with the titles and opening scene making good use of Vasquez Rocks. This was a common location for Goldstein’s Westerns — his Cave Of Outlaws (1951) and Duel At Silver Creek (1952) also used them.

One of the utility stunt men on the film was Jack Young.

Jack Young: “I doubled Lloyd Bridges on that. I did the saddle fall when they shot him. I doubled Richard Boone for the fall into the boxing ring — and that hurt! It was a fake ring and they didn’t have any give in it. It was only about eight or nine feet, but it hurt! Knocked the coon-dog crap right outta me.”**

City Of Bad Men is yet another solid middle-budget 50s Western, with a good script, great cast and handsome production values. Director of Photography Charles G. Clarke, who spent the bulk of his career at 20th Century-Fox, makes sure everything look terrific.

All of this is nicely preserved and presented on the DVD-R from Fox Cinema Archives. There’s a blemish here and there, but the Technicolor is as eye-popping as you’d expect — and the audio is impressive. I preferred Jones and Robertson’s other films, The Silver Whip and A Day Of Fury, to this one, but have no qualms about recommending it highly.

* The Astounding B Monster by Marty Baumann; ** Interview with the author.

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Another day, another reason I’m living on the wrong end of the country. UCLA will present a very thorough Anthony Mann retrospective, covering all the noir and Westerns we know and love, at the Billy Wilder Theater starting this week. Click on Gary Cooper for details.

The 50s Westerns include:
The Furies (1950) January 31
Devil’s Doorway (1950) March 3
Winchester ’73 (1950) March 15
The Naked Spur (1953) February 9
The Far Country (1954) March 23
The Man From Laramie (1955) February 5
The Last Frontier (1956) February 21
The Tin Star (1957) March 30
Man Of The West (1958) March 30

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Russell Johnson, who just everybody in America knows as The Professor from Gilligan’s Island, passed away today at 89.

He’s seen above (center) with Alex Nicol and Ronald Reagan in Law And Order (1953). He appeared in other 50s Westerns such as Rancho Notorious (1952, he runs the chuck-a-luck wheel), Seminole (1953) and Ride Clear Of Diablo (1954).

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A blogger friend of mine did a year-end wrap-up of his favorite DVD releases of the year. I think a lot of my friend, and imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I decided to steal his idea. Here’s my Top Five. Comment away!

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5. Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953, Columbia) The work of Fred F. Sears, a prolific director at Columbia, deserves a look, and this is a tough, tight little Western that nobody seems to remember. John Derek’s good and Ray Teal gets a sizable part.

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4. Randolph Scott Western Collection (Various, TCM/Sony) Four Columbia Scotts — Coroner Creek (1948), The Walking Hills (1949), The Doolins Of Oklahoma (1949) and 7th Cavalry (1956, above) — go a long way toward making all his 40s and 50s Westerns available on DVD.

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3. Movies 4 You Western Classics (Various, Shout Factory) Four medium-budget 50s Westerns — Gun Belt (1953), The Lone Gun (1954), Gunsight Ridge (1957) and Ride Out For Revenge (1957) — for an amazing price.  I’d love to have a hundred sets like this.

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2. Shane (1953, Paramount) There was so much controversy about the aspect ratio — the studio-imposed 1.66 vs. the original 1.33 George Stevens shot it in — that we all forgot to talk about what a lovely Blu-ray was ultimately released (in 1.33).

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1. Showdown At Boot Hill (1958, Olive Films) This is probably the worst movie on this list, but my favorite release. The very thought of a Regalscope Western presented widescreen and in high definition makes me very, very happy. Olive Films promises the best of the Regals, The Quiet Gun (1956), in 2014 — which you can expect to see on next year’s list.

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Olive Films have announced a few titles they’ll have to us in 2014. There are three 50s Westerns in there, and they’re good ones.

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
Directed by Allan Dwan
Cast: John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Joan Leslie
Dwan directs a sort-of spoof for Repubic. Good stuff.

Stranger At My Door (1956)
Directed by William Witney
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina, Skip Homeier, Slim Pickins
This film should be much better known than it is. The scene with the horse (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean) is Witney at his best.

The Quiet Gun (1957)
Directed by William F. Claxton
Cast: Forrest Tucker, Lee Van Cleef, Mara Corday, Jim Davis, Hank Worden
Maybe the best Regalscope Western. I’m dying for this one!

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Directed by Leslie Selander
Produced by Scott R. Dunlap
Associate Producer: Edward Morey, Jr.
Screenplay by Adele Buffington
Adaptation by Tom W. Blackburn, from Curtis Bishop’s novel Shadow Range
Photographed by Harry Neumann, ASC
Film Editor: John C. Fuller, ACE
Musical Score and Direction: Edward J. Kay

CAST: Edmond O’Brien (Ben Anthony), Helen Wescott (Linda Garnett), Bob Lowery (Harry Odell), Barton MacLane (Marvin Parker), Peggie Castle (Melba Sykes), James Millican, Robert Wilke, Raymond Hatton, Tom Tyler, Jack Ingram.

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When the series Westerns were put out to pasture in the early 50s, Monogram became Allied Artists and shifted from series Westerns like The Long Horn (1952) with William Elliott to Westerns like Cow Country (1953). These films have the feel of series cowboy movies executed on a larger scale — bigger casts, better sets, about 20 minutes longer. There’s still the slimy banker, the plot to snatch land from the smaller ranches, lots of riding and shooting and bad guys like Barton MacLane and Robert Wilke. You’ve seen it all a thousand times, and it’s just as welcome in this form as it was before.

So while there’s nothing particularly new about Cow Country, there’s nothing to dislike about it, either. The plot’s a little convoluted, but you’re familiar with it. The area cattle businesses is in a bad way, and Bob Lowery, Barton MacLane and Robert Wilke are trying to take their land away. Edmond O’Brien runs a freight business and ends up being the hero. There’s a love triangle between Lowery, Helen Westcott and Peggie Castle. And, boy, do a lot of people get shot.

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O’Brien looks cool in a Levi jacket with his hat slightly cocked to one side. He didn’t make many Westerns, and his Bronx accent seems a little out of place, but he’s such a great actor, it works like a charm. He didn’t make many Westerns; I recommend Silver City (1951) and Denver And Rio Grande (1952) — and he’s remarkable in The Wild Bunch (1969).

Peggie Castle is known to B movie fans for turning up in about every genre you can think of, and looking terrific in them all. Here, however, she gets a part that lets her show what she’s capable of, and she’s very good. Whatever it was that kept her in low-budget movies, it wasn’t her acting ability. Her big scene here, where she goes after Lowery with a bullwhip, is very satisfying.

Cow Country gives James Millican a good part as an immigrant farmer, and Robert Wilke gets more screen time than usual — he’s a real slimeball in this one.

Leslie Selander could direct a film like Cow Country in his sleep, with this one coming hot on the heels of those wonderful Tim Holt Westerns for RKO. It moves so quick, and plays so smooth, that you never have a chance to think that you’re watching a clever variation on something you’ve seen many, many times before.

Cow Country is not available on DVD, but Allied Artists pictures turn up from Warner Archive. Watch for it.

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