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Archive for the ‘1953’ Category

Fred M article

Want to pass along the link to a piece on Fred MacMurray’s 50s Westerns. These are favorites of many of us that hang around this blog.

Of the eight Westerns he made between 1953 and 1959, four are available in the States on DVD, and you’ll find them at ClassicFlix.com.

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bill-elliott_vigilante-terror

Directed by Lewis Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Sid Theil
Photographed by Ernest Miller, ASC
Film Editor: Sam Fields, ACE
Music by Raoul Kraushaar

CAST: Wild Bill Elliott (Tack Hamlin), Mary Ellen Kay (Lucy Taylor), Robert Bray (Gene Smith), Stanford Jolley (Matt Taylor), Henry Rowland (Mayor Winch), Myron Healey (Brett), George Wallace (Brewer), Fuzzy Knight (Strummer), Zon Murray (Bill), Richard Avonde (Artie), Michael Colgan (Jamison), Denver Pyle (Sperry), Lee Roberts (Wilson), John James (Jed Hamlin).

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Things have gotten so bad that the citizens of Pinetop have formed a vigilante committee to maintain order, but the Brewer gang continues to operate. (And the vigilantes seem almost as bad as the outlaws.) Tack Hamlin (Wild Bill Elliott) comes to town and is soon recruited for sheriff, and he gets right to work, trying to stop both the bandits and the masked vigilantes. Turns out that Brett (Myron Healey), who owns the saloon, leads both the outlaws and the vigilantes, planting false evidence to avoid suspicion.

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As far as I can see, this town is full of bad shots and bluster.”
— Wild Bill Elliott

This is a good entry in the series of Westerns Elliott made for Monogram/Allied Artists near the end of his career. By this point, his “peaceable man” persona was well established, and he goes about his business with his typical cool determination. The sequence about halfway through the picture, as Elliott the newly-appointed sheriff cleans up the town, is terrific. Later, the vigilantes drag Elliott and Fuzzy Knight to the hanging tree, making for a very tense scene that illustrates just how tough the B Western became in its final years. What’s more, in the climax, one of the Brewer gang is shot in the face!

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Fuzzy Knight is great as Elliott’s old friend and deputy. They have a good chemistry together. Mary Ellen Kay does well with a pretty limited part, and makes quite an impression toward the end when she picks up a gun. The badguys, from Myron Healey to George Wallace to Denver Pyle, have locked horns with Elliott before. Same thing behind the camera, from the director (Lewis Collins) to the writer (Sid Theil) to the editor (Sam Fields) and on down the line. Of course, we all know the familiar Iverson and Corriganville locations.

Vigilante Terror is not available on DVD, though it’s one Warner Archive will probably get around to one of these days (that’s a hint, Matt). Watch for it.

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The sixth installment in Timeless Media’s Gene Autry series offers up four titles from Gene’s later years on the big screen.

The Strawberry Roan (1948)
Longer than usual and in Cinecolor, this is one of Autry’s best films. It plays a bit like Roy Rogers’ My Pal Trigger (1946), giving Champion a real chance to shine. Gloria Henry, Jack Holt and Pat Buttram co-star.

Rim Of The Canyon (1949)
Gene plays himself and his dad! Much of the film takes place in a ghost town and really pours on the atmospherics.

Barbed Wire (1952)
Gene and Pat Buttram find themselves caught between feuding ranchers and homesteaders.

Winning Of The West (1953)
One of Autry’s last co-stars Gail Davis and Smiley Burnette, as they battle crooks masquerading as Indians. (The photo up top is from this film.)

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Homesteaders LC

Directed by Lewis Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Sid Theil and Milton Raison
Photographed by Ernest Miller, ASC
Film Editor: Sam Fields, ACE
Music by Raoul Kraushaar

CAST: Wild Bill Elliott (Mace Corbin), Robert Lowry (Clyde Moss), Emmett Lynn (Grimer), George Wallace (Mead), Buss Henry (Charlie), Stanley Price (Van), Rick Vallin (Slim), William Fawcett (Hector), James Seay (John Kroger), Tom Monroe (Jake), Barbara Allen (Jenny Moss), Ray Walker (Col. Peterson).

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Hauling unstable dynamite (that’s turned to nitroglycerine) is a surprisingly common plot device. There’s Wages Of Fear (1953), of course, and Sorcerer (1977), one of my all-time favorite films. There’s a B-movie version, Violent Road (1958), that replaces nitro with rocket fuel, even an episode of Little House On The Prairie. In The Homesteaders (1953), one of William Elliott’s late-period Westerns from Allied Artists, Wild Bill gets his shot at transporting the temperamental stuff from Point A to Point B in one piece. To complicate matters, his crew is made up of men just released from an Army jail and the route runs right through Indian territory.

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For my money, you can’t beat Elliott in this period. From his two-gun rig to his pipe to his off-the-rack Levi’s, there’s a coolness about him that really carries these films. And he certainly carries this one. The script isn’t as tight as some of the others, borrowing some of its structure from the first film in the series, The Longhorn (1950). Lewis Collins’ direction isn’t as assured as usual — and the pacing, typically so lean and efficient, seems a bit off. None of this is really a complaint, just an observation, and all of these films are highly recommended. Just as it was dying, the B Series Western hit a real peak.

The supporting cast, however, is right on the mark. Emmett Lynn is perfect as the grizzled old-timer who helps Elliott guide the wagons to their destination. He keeps the character just grounded enough. George Wallace, who’d been Commando Cody in Republic’s Radar Men From The Moon the year before, is sufficiently hateful as one of the prisoners-turned-trail hands. And James Seay is fine as the crook who wants Elliott’s dynamite for his own purposes.

Homesteaders still

Warner Archive’s Wild Bill Elliott Western Double Feature gives us The Homesteaders paired with Fargo (1952). The transfer is strong, with just a hint of dirt and dust. (I like a little of that every so often.) Let’s hope we see further sets in the near future (with the last few titles in their proper 1.85). They call these DVDs on-demand, so let’s demand ‘em!

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Some good stuff out there on the web today. Sadly, none of it is on here.

The First Year Of Widescreen Production
An impeccably researched article/page at 3D Film Archive. Clears up a lot of stuff we’ve all being wondering and arguing about for years.

George Montgomery: Actor, Artist, Renaissance Man 
Laura’s profile over at ClassicFlix not only clues you in on what an all-around creative guy he was, but lists his Westerns that are available on DVD. 

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fortbravo2

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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johndoucette-goldtownghost

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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autry5

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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city of bad men TC

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.

City Of Bad Men LC 7

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.

City Of Bad Men DR color

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.

City Of Bad Men Leo G

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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