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Archive for the ‘Character actors’ Category

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Hank Worden (born Norton Earl Worden)
July 23, 1901 – December 6, 1992

Let’s salute one of the greatest character actors of them all, Mr. Hank Worden, on his birthday. That’s him on the far left in this still from The Quiet Gun (1956), a fine Regalscope Western starring Forrest Tucker.

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Eli Wallach
(December 7, 1915 – June 24, 2014)

One of our finest character actors has passed away. You know, not just anybody could steal a three-hour Western from Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.

An ugly day indeed.

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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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Directed by Louis King
Produced by André Hakim
Screenplay by Geoffrey Homes, from a story by Sam Hellman
Based on a book by Stuart Lake (Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal)
Director of Photography: Edward Cronjager
Film Editor: William B. Murphy
Musical director: Lionel Newman

CAST: Rory Calhoun (Chino Bull), Corinne Calvet (Frenchie Dumont), Cameron Mitchell (Mitch Hardin), Penny Edwards (Debbie Allen), Carl Betz (Loney Hogan), John Dehner (Harvey Logan), Raymond Greenleaf (Prudy), Victor Sutherland (Alcalde Lowery), Ethan Laidlaw, Robert J. Wilke, Harry Carter, Frank Ferguson, Harry Hines, Hank Worden, Paul E. Burns.

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If you were to measure the quality of a film by the character actors that turn up in it, Powder River (1953) would rank with the finest movies ever made. John Dehner, Frank Ferguson, James H. Griffith, Robert J. Wilke, Paul E. Burns, Ethan Laidlaw — the list goes on. (I’ve heard Hank Worden’s in it, but I didn’t see him.)

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It’s another variation on the Earp-Holliday story, with no mention of the O.K. Corral. Rory Calhoun is Chino Bull, an Earp-ish lawman who gives up his guns and badge to try a little prospecting — but is forced to put them back on when his partner (Frank Ferguson) is killed. Cameron Mitchell is Mitch Hardin, a take on Doc Holliday (a doctor with a brain tumor this time). Corrine Calvet runs the local saloon and Peggy Edwards (who stepped in at Republic when Dale Evans was on maternity leave, appearing in Trail Of Robin Hood and others) is the woman who comes from the East in search of Mitch. John Dehner is a gambler and Robert J. Wilke is, of course, a bad guy.

While we’ve seen all this play out in other films, some of them better (and featuring some of the same cast), there’s a freshness and watchability to Powder River that delays us from making the inevitable comparisons until long after its 77 minutes are up. (Face it, to compare this film to My Darling Clementine is both unfair and ridiculous.)

Rory Calhoun has a confidence and  easygoing manner that makes him an ideal 50s Western lead, and Powder River fits him like a glove. Cameron Mitchell is a seriously underrated actor, and his take on Holliday is intense, but avoiding the histrionics of other actors. They have a few good scenes together — I especially liked them talking shop in the saloon as Mitchell showed off his flashy gun belt. Good actors, solid script.

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The rest of the cast goes about its business, doing the things that kept them so busy working in so many of these films — and making each one better in the process.

Louis King, the brother of director Henry King (The Gunfighter), began his career as an actor in the Silents, and made the shift to directing long before sound came in. He was a busy contract director throughout the 30s and 40s — Charlie Chan, Bulldog Drummond, etc., and ended his career on TV (Adventures Of Wild Bill Hickock, The Deputy). Powder River was one of his last features, and his assured, unpretentious direction is a large part of its success. Is this a great film? Of course not. Would I watch a thousand just like it? Absolutely.

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The DVD-R from Fox Cinema Archives seems to have been transfered from a Technicolor print, and at certain points, it’s absolutely beautiful. But if you’ve seen a number of dye-transfer prints, you know they can be inconsistent, with registration, contrast and color varying quite a bit. That’s the case here, and while it doesn’t make for the kind of spotless, flawless experience we’re coming to expect — it’s what these films have looked like for decades. It’s sharp and clear and the audio is clean — and I like seeing those reel changeover cues make their appearance.

This is a minor Western that I certainly recommend — and a great introduction to the work of Rory Calhoun.

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Almost all genre film fans know character actor Dick Miller. Here he is tending bar behind Richard Denning and Peggie Castle in Roger Corman’s The Oklahoma Woman (1956).

There’s a documentary on Miller in the works, one that I’m dying to see. You can help get it done through Kickstarter. And while you’re there, you can see Dick’s home movie footage from the set of A Time For Killing (1967), which Corman began directing, but was completed by Phil Karlson. Mugging for the 8mm camera are Glenn Ford, Inger Stevens, Harry Dean Stanton and Timothy Carey. Be sure to check it out.

UPDATE (August 21, 2012): Elijah did it. If any of you out there pledged to help make this happen, thanks. I’m dying to see it.

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The great character actor R. G. Armstrong passed away on Friday. He was 95.

Mr. Armstrong appeared in a couple 50s Westerns, From Hell To Texas (1958, below) and No Name On The Bullet (1959), but really made his mark in the 60s and 70s. Sam Peckinpah used him a number of times, beginning with an episode of The Westerner, with terrific results. Philip Kaufman’s The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid (1972) is an overlooked gem with a great part for Armstrong. As a kid, he scared me in Race With The Devil (1974).

Originally from Alabama, he got a Masters in English from the University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, just down the street. I doubt anybody on campus today knows who he is.

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There’s a rash of cinema about cinema making the rounds these days — My Week With Marilyn, Hugo and The Artist. Talk of these new films — and it seems like everybody I run into has seen at least one of them — brings to mind my favorite movie about the movies, Hearts Of The West (1975).

Directed by Howard Zieff (whose first picture, 1973′s Slither, is one of the weirdest, loopiest, funniest films I’ve ever seen), Hearts Of The West declares its undying love of Hollywood, Westerns in particular, from the MGM lion to the final fadeout. Look at the one-sheet. That’s some cast: Jeff Bridges, Andy Griffith, Blythe Danner, Donald Pleasence and Alan Arkin. Not listed on the poster are the great 70s character actors Matt Clark, Alex Rocco and Richard B. Schull.

Looks like Bob Madison’s been thinking about the picture, too. He’s written a wonderful post on it for his blog, The Jade Sphinx. Read it. And if you haven’t seen Hearts Of The West, do. It’s available from Warner Archive.

An aside: In 1999, I wrote a radio campaign for a Raleigh neighborhood called Falls River. We were going with an old-time radio show approach and had the budget to hire the kind of talent you need to pull off such a thing. We got a few voice demo CDs from some places in New York and got to casting.

Making my way through the demos, I came across the name Richard B. Schull. I thought no way, and encouraged by my good friend and creative director Tomas Gardner, made a call and signed him on. No other male voices were ever considered. I made a quick pass through the three scripts, tweaking them to better suit his wonderful voice. The other voices, both women, were selected for how well they might play off Mr. Schull.

The entire cast was perfect. Real pros. My only direction was to get them to speed things up a bit so my lengthy script would fit within the 60 seconds.

Mr. Schull was really nice and let me be Johnny Fanboy and tell him how much I love Slither and Hearts Of The West. I didn’t go to New York. Instead, we did an ISDN patch, communicating through some sorta digital thing — otherwise, I woulda had our picture taken and begged him to let me take him to lunch.

The resulting spots were terrific. They’re still a highlight of my radio reel. Sadly, Mr. Schull passed away a few months later. It was a huge honor to work with him. I get goosebumps every time I see one of his films.

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Harry “Henry” Morgan has passed away at 96.

In a way, Morgan had two careers. To most of us who own televisions, he’s an icon, due to Dragnet and M*A*S*H. But before that, and this is where he plugs into this blog, he was a top notch character actor, with a list of credits any actor’d be jealous of. In 50s Westerns alone, he appears in some of the genre’s best: Bend Of The River (1952), High Noon (1952) and The Far Country (1954, pictured above) — along with a couple of smaller pictures that are personal favorites, The Showdown (1950) and Star In The Dust (1956). He’d already done The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, below) and Yellow Sky (1948). And he’d add Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and The Shootist (1976) to his credits before he was finished.

An incredible body of work. And remember, that’s just the Westerns.

Morgan is one of those actors that though I know who he is and am always excited when he turns up in something, I quickly forget I’m watching a performance — he’s always real. I’m no actor, but I imagine pulling that off in a character part’s shorter screen time is a real accomplishment.

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A friend of this blog, Marisa of The Timothy Carey Experience, will make an appearance on The Projection Booth podcast talking about — what else? — Timothy Carey. Joining her on the November 16 program will be Romeo Carey, Timothy’s son. This sounds like something not to be missed.

Above, that’s Carey up to some typical freakishness in One-Eyed Jacks (1961).

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Character actor John Dierkes appeared in a string of really great 50s Westerns: Shane (1953, above, on the left), Silver Lode (1954), The Raid (1954), The Left Handed Gun (1958, he’s beyond terrific in this) and The Hanging Tree (1959), to name a few.

His other credits include The Thing From Another World (1950), The Red Badge Of Courage (1950), Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1953), Friendly Persuasion (1956), One-Eyed Jacks (1961), The Haunted Palace (1963) and The Omega Man (1973). Not to mention John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960, below, he’s at the bottom right).

Just recently discovered that he tested for the part of Lurch on The Addams Family. Of course, the part went to Ted Cassidy.

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