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Archive for the ‘1955’ Category

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Produced and Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay by Frank Butler
Cinematography by Harold Rosson
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin

CAST: Greer Garson (Dr. Julia Winslow Garth), Dana Andrews (Dr. Rourke O’Brien), Cameron Mitchell (Lt. David Garth), Lois Smith (Spurs O’Brien), Walter Hampden (Father Gabriel Mendoza), Pedro Gonzales Gonzales (Trooper Martinez Martinez), Robert J. Wilke (Karg)

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Strange Lady In Town (1955) is, well, a strange lady in town. An odd mixture of melodrama, romance, feminism and all the usual Western riding and shooting stuff, I didn’t know what to make of it at first. Watched it a second time a couple days later and decided I really did like it. Somehow it all seems to come together.

Strange Lady LC

While the picture itself is certainly interesting, and we’ll get to that in a bit, the story of its production has even more melodrama. Greer Garson had left MGM for Warner Bros. At a WB dinner party she told writer Frank Butler about her love of the Santa Fe area, and Butler put together a story of 1880 Santa Fe perfectly tailored for Garson.

Warner Bros. started construction of 34 new sets around Old Tucson and got to work on casting the picture. Dana Andrews was signed, along with Cameron Mitchell and Lois Smith (in a part Natalie Wood had tried out for). Smith had just appeared in East Of Eden (1954). Shooting began in August of 1954 in Old Tucson, with snakes having to be evicted from the sets each morning and temperatures climbing into the hundreds every afternoon. Then there were some health issues.

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Mervyn LeRoy (seen above with Greer Garson): “In those days, Andrews had a drinking problem… that made my life difficult… Possibly more serious was Greer Garson’s health. She isn’t the complaining sort, so when she said she felt poorly, I knew she must have felt rotten. We called the company doctor, and he got [four] doctors from the Tucson clinic for consultation. It was unanimous; she had appendicitis. The doctors agreed she really should have the appendectomy immediately. ‘No,’ Greer said, with her red-headed stubbornness. ‘I can’t do it now. There is an entire company depending on me. They’d have to shut down for a few weeks. It wouldn’t be fair to them.’ That’s what they used to call a trouper. Every night, they piled bags of ice on her abdomen. Every day, they fed her pills and the nurse was there, sticking a thermometer in her mouth between every scene.”

Back in Hollywood, Jack Warner was having a fit, as the picture went behind schedule and over budget. Finishing their Tucson work, the cast and crew headed back to California. In October, Greer Garson was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Production was shut down for 27 days. During that time LeRoy filled in for an ailing/bingeing John Ford on Mister Roberts (1955).

Harry Carey, Jr.: “I don’t think he had an inkling of what Mister Roberts was, but he took over. In fact, he shares directorial credit with Ford.”

When Strange Lady In Town resumed production on Stage Two at Warner Bros., LeRoy was under pressure to get it done. Scenes taking place in Boston were struck to save time and money. The picture finally wrapped, and was previewed in February 1955. It premiered in Austin, Texas, on April 12. Greer Garson hit the road for the film, something she’d never done before. It seems to have worked. Strange Lady In Town earned back its $3 million cost and turned a healthy profit.

Strange Lady Andrews

Garson plays a doctor from Boston who, tired of being looked down on for being a woman, heads to Santa Fe in 1880 to be near her brother (Cameron Mitchell), a lieutenant in the cavalry. She quickly butts heads with the local doctor (Dana Andrews) over how to practice medicine—and about everything else. The picture packs in everything from glaucoma to bank robbery to domestic violence to Billy The Kid (Nick Adams)—and somehow it all works.

Dana Andrews, drunk or sober, is very good here. His extended fistfight with Robert J. Wilke is one of the best scenes in the film. This may be Wilke’s slimiest villain of them all, which is really saying something. Lois Smith is excellent; so is Cameron Mitchell (he never got his due). Nick Adams doesn’t have enough screen time to make much of an impression. He’d be a lot better in The Last Wagon (1956) and wonderful in Fury At Showdown (1957). Of course, this is Greer Garson’s movie, and she carries it with ease.

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Warner Archive has done it again, giving us an early CinemaScope picture exactly the way it ought to be seen: widescreen with its stereo intact. Old Tucson looks terrific (even in WarnerColor) and Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is full and rich. Strange Lady In Town is an offbeat Western, for sure. Maybe it’s not for all tastes. And though it took me a while to wrap my head around it, I came away really liking it.

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Sources: A Rose For Mrs. Miniver: The Life Of Greer Garson by Michael Troyan; Take One by Mervyn LeRoy; Company Of Heroes: My Life As An Actor In The John Ford Stock Company by Harry Carey, Jr.

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Strange Lady HS

Mervyn LeRoy’s Strange Lady In Town (1955) is coming from Warner Archive. This big-budget CinemaScope Western warranted its own 100-acre set near Tucson, and was shut down for almost a month due to Greer Garson’s appendix. Dana Andrews’ drinking didn’t help much. During the downtime, LeRoy subbed for John Ford on Mister Roberts (1955).

Garson and Andrews are backed by a great supporting cast: Cameron Mitchell, Lois Smith, Robert Wilke, Russell Johnson, Douglas Kennedy and Nick Adams (as Billy The Kid).

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Desi Arnaz, John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance (L-R) working on the “Lucy And John Wayne” episode of I Love Lucy.

Posted for Jennifer and Presley, a couple of real Lucy nuts. And because it makes me happy to look at it. Even in 60-year-old photographs, Wayne’s smile is contagious.

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Three excellent little 50s Westerns, previously part of multi-disc sets, are now available as stand-alone discs from VCI and Kit Parker Films. All three are highly recommended.

Hellgate (1952)
Directed by Charles Marquis Warren
Starring Sterling Hayden, Joan Leslie, Ward Bond, James Arness and Peter Coe

Shotgun (1955)
Directed by Leslie Selander
Starring Sterling Hayden, Yvonne De Carlo, Zachary Scott, Guy Prescott and Robert J. Wilke

Four Fast Funs (1960)
Directed by William J. Hole, Jr.
Starring James Craig, Martha Vickers. Edgar Buchanan, Brett Halsey and Paul Richards

4 fast guns

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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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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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Written and Directed by Daniel B. Ullman
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Director of Photography: Ellsworth Fredricks, ASC
Music by Marlin Skiles
Jazz Sequences by Shorty Rogers And His Giants
Supervising Film Editor: Lester A. Sansom
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE
Dialogue Supervisor: Sam Peckinpah

CAST: Bill Elliott (Lt. Andy Flynn), Keith Larsen (Ralph Wyatt), Helene Stanley (Connie Wyatt), Paul Picerni (Norman Roper), Jack Kruschen (Lloyd Lavalle), Elaine Riley (Gloria), Robert Bice (Sgt. Colombo), Rick Vallin (Deputy Clark), George Eldredge (Major), Regina Gleason (Mrs. Roper), Rankin Mansfield (Doctor), Mort Mills (Photographer).

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The Warner Archive two-disc set Bill Elliot Detective Mysteries created a good deal of excitement around here when it was announced a few weeks ago. Now that it’s arrived, I’m even more stoked about it.

Briefly, the story behind these films goes like this: cowboy star “Wild Bill” Elliott traded his Colt .45s for a snub-nosed .38, making five tough little detective pictures for Allied Artists to end his Hollywood career. Dial Red O (1955) is the first.

Keith Larsen (Ralph Wyatt), a troubled veteran, escapes a VA hospital to visit his wife on the day their divorce becomes final. Elliott sets out to find him, and when the new ex-wife (Helene Stanley) turns up dead, Larsen is quickly tagged as the top suspect. That’s as much of Dial Red O as you’ll get out of me. I don’t want to spoil what is a cool little crime picture, running a lean, mean 64 minutes.

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Elliott is cool as a cucumber as Lt. Andy Flynn of the LA Sheriff’s Department, methodically going about his police work smoking his pipe. The brim of his fedora seems a little large, a subtle reminder of his cowboy persona. (His name would become Andy Doyle for the rest of the series, since there was a real Andy Flynn working in LA law enforcement.) Ralph Wyatt is good as the veteran and Jack Kruschen is fun as the ex-wife’s somewhat beatnik neighbor. Sam Peckinpah, who was working as dialogue supervisor, appears as a short-order cook.

urlThis cheap little cop movie looks like a million bucks, thanks to the folks at Warner Archive (and to the craftsmanship of DP Ellsworth Fredricks and his crew). It’s even given the proper 1.85 widescreen framing. The other four films in the set look just as good.

It’s a real shame these films are largely seen as a curio — “Hey look, Wild Bill’s a policeman!” — when they’re tough little movies with plenty to recommend them. And I recommend them highly indeed.

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