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Archive for the ‘1954’ Category

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Written and Directed by Delmer Daves
Director Of Photography: J. Peverell Marley, ASC
Film Editor: Clarence Kolster
Music by Victor Young

CAST: Alan Ladd (Johnny Mckay), Audrey Dalton (Nancy Meek), Marisa Pavan (Toby), Robert Keith (Bill Satterwhite), Charles Bronson (Captain Jack)

Not long after Shane (1953), Alan Ladd left Paramount, the studio that made him a star, and launched his independent company, Jaguar. Their first film was Drum Beat (1954). Based on the 1873 Modoc War, Ladd plays an Indian fighter recruited by President Grant to find a way to peace with the Modoc. Turns out the tribe wants peace, but a chief named Captain Jack (Charles Bronson) and his band of renegades are lousing things up. Repeated attempts for a peaceful resolution are unsuccessful, and we get a very exciting last couple of reels.

Though I’m not a big Alan Ladd fan, I really liked this one. It wears its “sympathetic treatment of the Indians” thing well, but never forgets that it’s action that puts people in the seats. Boy, a lot of people get shot in this thing.

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My job is to protect the wagon train. When somebody shoots at my people, I shoot back.”
— Alan Ladd

Ladd and Daves (and, of course, DP J. Peverell Marley) shot Drum Beat in Warnercolor and the then-new CinemaScope. As was the custom with ‘Scope at the time, they avoided close-ups, went for long takes whenever possible, and gave us lots of gorgeous vistas of Sonora, Arizona, and the Coconino National Forest. Daves always showed off the landscape in his Westerns, making each setting an essential element of the film, and this is one of Drum Beat’s great strengths. If there’s a film that makes better use of the Sonora area, I don’t know what it is.

The cast is a 50s Western fan’s dream: James H. Griffith (as a Civil War veteran who lost a leg at Shilo), Frank Ferguson, Elisha Cook, Jr., Willis Bouchey, Perry Lopez, Anthony Caruso, Denver Pyle and Strother Martin (who I heard was in it, but somehow missed). Of course, Charles Bronson makes quite an impression as Captain Jack in his first film under his new name (it had been Buchinsky, which was considered too Russian-sounding in the HUAC years).

With Drum Beat, Warner Archive gives us a pretty good-looking DVD. The Warnercolor is, well, Warnercolor — but here it looks as good as I’ve ever seen it look. The image is a tad soft at times (varying from shot to shot), some of which we can blame on the early CinemaScope. The audio is excellent; I love the stereo sound of these early Scope pictures, with an actor’s voice following them as they move around within the wide frame. This is a really good film, and a real treat in widescreen and stereo (I’d love to see a Blu-ray turn up someday). Highly recommended.

Alan Ladd and Delmer Daves reunited for The Badlanders (1958), also available from Warner Archive. I haven’t seen it in ages, and I’m really eager to revisit it.

Along with Drum Beat, two more Ladd Westerns came riding into town, thanks to Warner Archive.

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The Big Land (1957)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
CAST: Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Anthony Caruso, Julie Bishop and John Qualen

Ladd’s a cattle man who works to build a town around a railroad hub, which will benefit the local ranchers. Of course, there’s someone who doesn’t want all this to happen.

As a drunk, Edmond O’Brien steals every scene he’s in. He’s terrific. This is WarnerColor again, and it’s not as well-behaved as it is in Drum Beat. Good movie, though, especially if you’re a fan of O’Brien or Virginia Mayo. Gordon Douglas is as dependable as ever.

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Guns Of The Timberland (1960)
Directed by Robert D. Webb
CAST: Alan Ladd, Jeanne Crain, Gilbert Roland, Frankie Avalon

This time, Ladd’s a lumberjack who arrives in the Northwest to take out a lot of trees. The townspeople are afraid Ladd’s efforts will cause mudslides and do other environmental harm. Frankie Avalon sings “Gee Whiz Whillikins Golly Gee,” which Bugs Bunny used to sing in the bumpers to The Bugs Bunny Show on Saturday mornings. This tune is just one of the things that put Guns Of The Timberland in that goofy time period that a lot of series Westerns exist in, where Old and New West, cars and buckboards peacefully coexist.

Jeanne Crain is beautiful, Gilbert Roland is as cool as ever, and Lyle Bettger actually gets to be a good guy for once. The Technicolor makes it to DVD looking like a million bucks, while alcohol has Ladd looking just terrible.

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A while back, I brought up an exclusive at Collector’s Choice on some Alan Ladd pictures from Warner Archive. Well, that arrangement has about run its course, and those titles will soon be available through normal Warner Archive channels.

Drum Beat (1954)
Directed by Delmer Daves
Starring Alan Ladd, Audrey Dalton, Charles Bronson and Elisha Cook, Jr.

The Big Land (1957)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Anthony Caruso, Julie Bishop and John Qualen.

Guns Of The Timberland (1960)
Directed by Robert D. Webb
Starring Alan Ladd, Jeanne Crain, Gilbert Roland and Frankie Avalon

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There’s another exclusive, this time with Oldies.com, on a couple Allied Artists CinemaScope Westerns to be released July 15.

Oregon Passage (1958)
Directed by Paul Landres
Starring John Ericson and Lola Albright
Paul Landres made some solid low-budget Westerns (Frontier Gun, for instance), so I have high hopes for this one. Incidentally, it’s working title was Rio Bravo. Wonder how the change in title went down, with Howard Hawks’ own Rio Bravo in production around the same time?

Gunsmoke in Tucson (1958)
Directed by Thomas Carr
Starring Mark Stevens and Forrest Tucker
I’ve been on the lookout for this one for quite some time, which goes into familiar range war/brothers-on-opposite-sides-of-the-law territory. I’d also love to see Carr’s The Tall Stranger (1957), starring Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo, turn up on DVD.

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Four Guns To The Border (1954) is an excellent 50s Western from Universal-International. It’s a hard one to track down, unfortunately.

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The picture gave actor Richard Carlson one of his few directing credits. He does a tremendous job; wish he’d done more. Here, he’s working with Rory Calhoun and Colleen Miller.

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Here’s Colleen Miller on a Western street. Iverson, maybe?

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Rory Calhoun takes a phone and cigarette break.

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Here’s Miller again, this time with George Nader. The terrific cast includes John McIntire, Walter Brennan, Nina Foch, Jay Silverheels and Nestor Paiva.

Will get around to a real post on it soon. Why isn’t this thing on DVD?

 

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Warner Archive has given Collector’s Choice an exclusive on four Alan Ladd films, three of them Westerns. This is stuff many of us have been asking for. Click on the banner for more information.

Drum Beat (1954)
Directed by Delmer Daves
Starring Alan Ladd, Audrey Dalton, Charles Bronson and Elisha Cook, Jr.
This CinemaScope Western was the first film from Ladd’s Jaguar Productions, and it offered a good early role for Charles Bronson. Note the photo below: Daves, Jack Warner and Ladd commemorate Drum Beat with a cake.

The Big Land (1957)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Anthony Caruso, Julie Bishop and John Qualen.
I think we all take Gordon Douglas for granted, maybe because he didn’t “specialize” in Westerns the way so many of our favorites did. This one, Fort Dobbs (1958) and Yellowstone Kelly (1959) are all terrific.

Guns Of The Timberland (1960)
Directed by Robert D. Webb
Starring Alan Ladd, Jeanne Crain, Gilbert Roland, Frankie Avalon
Have to admit I’ve never seen this one. Looking forward to it.

A fourth film, The Deep Six (1958), is not a Western. Directed by Rudolph Maté, it’s a World War II picture with William Bendix and James Whitmore. Does it get any better than Whitmore in a war film?

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If I ever had the chance to organize a 50s Westerns retrospective (something I’d love to do), this is certainly one of the evenings I’d set up: Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious (1952) paired with Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). I can’t think of a better night at the movies.

It’s especially cool that Rancho Notorious is a 35mm print. If you make it out to The Castro Theatre in San Francisco on April 23, have a box of Raisinets for me.

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Robert Wagner and Virginia Leith on location for White Feather (1955). For some reason, this Delmer Daves-scripted picture has been overlooked. Seek it out.

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Barbara Stanwyck and Allan Dwan chat between scenes on Cattle Queen Of Montana (1954). Dwan could do no wrong during this late phase of his incredible career.

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Dan Duryea and Audie Murphy hanging out while making Ride Clear Of Diablo (1954). Both were at the top of their game on this one.

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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

1955 The man from Laramie - cropped

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