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Archive for the ‘Alan Ladd’ 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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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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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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Universal’s Vault Series is serving up a handful of 50s Westerns, basically taking the TCM Western Horizons set and selling them as single discs (available exclusively from Amazon).

Horizons West (1952) has Budd Boetticher directing Robert Ryan, Julie Adams and Rock Hudson in a Technicolor post-Civil War tale.

Saskatchewan (1954) puts Alan Ladd, Shelley Winters, J. Carrol Naish and Hugh O’Brian in the hands of the great Raoul Walsh.

Dawn At Socorro (1954) was directed by George Sherman, which is enough for me. Factor in Rory Calhoun, Piper Laurie, Mara Corday, Edgar Buchanan, Skip Homeier, James Millican and Lee Van Cleef, and you’ve really got something going.
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Pillars Of The Sky (1956) stars Jeff Chandler and Dorothy Malone. Support comes from Ward Bond, Olive Carey (both appeared in The Searchers the same year) and Lee Marvin. George Marshall directed in CinemaScope. I love this film.

Backlash (1956) comes from John Sturges and stars Richard Widmark, Donna Reed and William Campbell. Good stuff.

These will make a welcome addition to anybody’s collection, but what I want to know is: where are A Day Of Fury (1956) and Last Of The Fast Guns (1958)?

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Picture 9

It’s been announced that the Shane (1953) Blu-ray will be 1.37 after all — not the reformatted, reconfigured, reconstituted, regurgitated version we were all scared of. Cue a huge collective sigh of relief.

ANOTHER UPDATE (4/25/13): George Stevens, Jr. talks about the whole 1.66/1.37 controversy — and why he won’t be at the TCM screening.

Thanks to Laura and Paula for the news.

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Shane Wide Screen ad

As you may know, George Stevens’ Shane (1953) became a victim of the wide screen war of the early 50s. It was shot in the standard academy ratio (1.37:1) but cropped to 1.66 in theaters. The ad above, for an engagement in Youngstown, Ohio, shows how it was promoted. It was the first film exhibited in 1.66 — on Panoramic Giant-Sized Screens, thanks to a decree from Paramount.

There’s been a lot of speculation about how, and when, this classic Western would turn up on Blu-ray. Well, it’s in the works — and George Stevens, Jr. is prepping it for a 1.66 Blu-ray release this year, its 60th anniversary. You can read all about it here, in a piece that quickly wears out its welcome. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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While Loyal Griggs’ Oscar-winning cinematography is stunning in 1.37, which is how he composed it — and how we see it on DVD today — I’m really curious about the widescreen version. While it isn’t what Stevens (seen above with Alan Ladd and Van Heflin) intended, that’s how audiences saw it back in ’53. Either way, I bet those incredible vistas will be stunning on Blu-ray (even if we’re missing a bit of that blue Montana sky).

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UPDATE (3/29/13): This morning I received an email from David Raynor, who’s come through with some terrific information for this blog, usually about aspect ratios and exhibition. As you’ll see, prints were full frame and theaters would’ve been able to run it as they saw fit.

Hi, Toby,
I ran Shane at the cinema where I was a projectionist over 50 years ago and still have a couple of 35mm clippings from the print that I ran that I have scanned with my film scanner and here send to you as jpeg images. As the film was in Technicolor, the colour hasn’t faded and, as you can see, the film had a variable density optical soundtrack. By the time that I ran it, my cinema had adopted the 1.66:1 aspect ratio for non anamorphic films and this was later upgraded to 1.85:1, while CinemaScope was 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The idea was to get the biggest image possible on both systems, so that there was only a few feet difference on the sides of the screen between a ‘Scope and non ‘Scope picture. Shane was run at 1.66:1 at the cinema where I worked and, to avoid the actors’ heads being cropped off in some scenes due to it being composed for and shot in 1.37:1, the image was kept racked down in the projector gate… although this, of course, meant that a considerable amount of image was cropped off at the bottom of the frame.
Best Wishes from
David
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SHANE 1 cropped
Thanks so much, David. Yet again, I’m humbled by the knowledge and generosity of you folks out there. I also appreciate the extra treat of John Dierkes appearing in these frames!
UPDATE (4/9/13): Greenbriar Pictures Shows, a blog filled with much that is wonderful, weighs in on the Shane 1.66 issue with its usual authority and research.

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