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Archive for the ‘Columbia’ Category

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 The fancy outfits have been replaced by more practical stuff.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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Hawk of wild river

Columbia has come through with another Durango Kid picture, The Hawk Of Wild River (1952). It’s one of the later entries in the series, but it’s got a lot going for it: Charles Starrett and Smiley Burnette, of course, along with Clayton Moore and Jock Mahoney and direction from Fred F. Sears.

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White Squaw HS

Another low-budget Columbia 50s Western is always a welcome thing. The fact that The White Squaw (1956) was directed by Ray Nazarro (and that I’ve never seen it) makes this really good news. It stars David Brian, who you might remember from Dawn At Socorro (1954), and May Wynn, who was also in The Violent Men (1955).

It’s a Columbia Classics release — and it’s available now. (Thanks for the tip, Paula!)

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Reprisal tree

From the pressbook for Reprisal! (1956) —

The tree in the film created quite a problem for director George Sherman, both as to finding it and transporting it to the picture’s location site, some 30 miles south of Tucson, Arizona… Sherman and producer Lewis Rachmil first thought they’d have to have such a tree fabricated in order to get what they needed. But one day, while searching for location sites in southern Arizona, they found their tree, on the outskirts of Tubac, the oldest white settlement in Arizona.

An old cottonwood, the tree stood about 30 feet high, with twisted, gnarled limbs and completely leafless. Rachmil and Sherman immediately contacted the owner of the land… and made a deal with him to cut down and remove it to the site they’d chosen for the film backgrounds.

Getting the dead cottonwood to the location site became something of a major problem; a 30-foot tree, complete with limbs and huge trunk, is quite a lot of wood to move en masse. The studio hired a huge flat trailer truck, hoisted the tree aboard by crane and then transported it 40 miles over the highway to a dirt road the company had built to the shooting site… The tree had to be moved at dawn, when there was little traffic.

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Face Of Fugitive OS sized

You’ve probably heard of getTV, the newest TV sub-channel from Sony Pictures Television. (It’s one of the digital broadcast channels we get here in Raleigh.) Tomorrow, March 1, they’re offering up the excellent Fred MacMurray Western Face Of A Fugitive (1959) at 7:00 and 10:40 PM. It gave James Coburn a really good early role. A great way to spend a Saturday night.

This is one I highly recommend, both to whoever out there has a chance to watch it — and to Columbia for a nice widescreen DVD release.

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When it comes to The Durango Kid, I’ve really dropped the ball — especially given that the bulk of the series was directed by Ray Nazarro and Fred F. Sears. Charles Starrett made the first one, The Durango Kid, in 1940. (It’s available from VCI.) Columbia didn’t get around to The Return Of The Durango Kid till 1945. Making up for lost time, Columbia cranked out 62 more Durango Kid pictures before shutting down the series in 1952 — at which point Starrett retired from movies.

Trail Of The Rustlers (1950) has been announced as part of the Columbia Classics Collection, to be released on January 28. Starrett’s backed by a great cast this time around — Smiley Burnette, Gail Davis and Tommy Ivo (who later became a big-time drag racer). Starrett is doubled by Jock Mahoney, still a few years from being a Western star himself.

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The Sony Movie Channel’s Western Round-Up Marathon serves up a weekend full of excellent Westerns featuring folks like Audie Murphy (The Texican, 1966), Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and James Garner. Of particular interest to fans of 50s Westerns is a Sunday morning devoted to Randolph Scott.

Sunday, January 26

10 AM The Nevadan (1950) Gordon Douglas directs Scott, Dorothy Malone, Forrest Tucker, Frank Faylen and George Macready. The Cinecolor looks OK, but it takes a lot more than an oddball color process to spoil Lone Pine.

11:30 AM The Tall T (1957) The second of the Scott-Boetticher-Kennedy Ranown Cycle (the first was 1956’s Seven Men From Now) is one of the best, maybe the best. Richard Boone is terrific and Skip Homeier gets his face blown off.

1 PM Comanche Station (1960) The last of the Ranowns, with Boetticher and Charles Lawton Jr. shooting Lone Pine in CinemaScope.  Claude Akins is the bad guy this time, and Skip Homeier’s back for good measure.

While we’re on the subject of Randolph Scott, Henry Cabot Beck brought a Budd Boetticher interview to my attention. Good stuff.

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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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Produced and Directed by Wallace MacDonald
Written by Clark E. Reynolds
Director Of Photography: Irving Lippman
Film Editor: Al Clark, ACE
Assistant Director: Leonard Katzman

CAST: Robert Knapp (Gil Reardon), Jana Davi (Rosita), Walter Coy (Ben Keefer), Paul Birch (Marshal Matt Crawford), Don C. Harvey (Deputy Dave), Clarence Straight (Deputy Frank Ross), Jerry Barclay (Jordan Keefer), Roy Hayes (Walt Keefer), Charles Horvath (Coloradas), Jean Moorhead (Katy Reardon).

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Don’t think I’d ever heard of this one. Gunmen From Laredo (1959) is a cheap, 67-minute B Western from Columbia. It doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, except for the fact that it’s a cheap, 67-minute B Western from Columbia. That’s good enough.

There’s a real Sam Katzman feel to Gunmen From Laredo — if anything, it might be even cheaper than Jungle Sam’s Westerns. The assistant director is Katzman’s nephew Leonard, who’d go on to a long, successful career in television.

Gil Reardon (Robert Knapp) is framed for murder by Ben Keefer (Walter Coy), who killed Reardon’s wife (Jean Moorhead). As Reardon tries to clear his name and bring Keefer to justice, with the help of Rosita (Jana Davi) and Laredo’s marshal (Paul Birch), we’re treated to a number of shootouts, a prison escape, a dust storm, a few fistfights and more — all cleverly spaced to keep the kids from getting restless.

Gunmen From Laredo sized

Robert Knapp worked steadily in TV from the 50s into the 70s (appearing in both incarnations of Dragnet). He didn’t make many features and had very few leads. Knapp doesn’t have the presence of, say, George Montgomery or Guy Madison, who appeared in these sorts of things, but he’s serviceable.

Jana Davi is Maureen Hingert, 1955’s Miss Ceylon. She appeared in a handful of 50s Westerns, including an uncredited part in Pillars Of The Sky (1956). Walter Coy is the bad guy here; we know him as John Wayne’s brother in The Searchers (1956). And Paul Birch, who’s in a slew of Roger Corman’s 50s films (how can you forget him in 1957’s Not Of This Earth?), is his dependable self as the marshal who comes to Knapp’s aid.

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Jean Moorhead (Playboy‘s Playmate Of The Month, October 1955) plays Knapp’s wife. She had a short film career, but somehow managed to work with both Ed Wood (The Violent Years) and John Ford (The Long Gray Line). The part of Laredo, Texas, is played by the Iverson Ranch. Bronson Canyon’s in it, too.

The director-producer was Wallace MacDonald, who hadn’t directed a film since the Silents. He’d been a busy producer between those directing jobs, from Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942) to Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956). Shot in March of 1958, Gunmen From Laredo would be his last film.

Irving Lippman was a staff cinematographer at Columbia, shooting pictures like  Hellcats Of The Navy and 20 Million Miles To Earth (both 1957). He also has the distinction of having shot a few of the later Three Stooges shorts, a few of  their features and almost every episode of The Monkees. For Gunmen From Laredo, he kept things bright and sharp and makes the Columbia Color behave, and nicely frames everything for 1.85. Again, it looks like a Sam Katzman film.

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Gunmen From Laredo was obviously put together for the bottom of a bill, and the kids were probably happy with it. And while it’s not very good, it’s great to know there are more of these things out there — maybe better than this one, maybe worse — waiting for us to find them.

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Picture 27

William Castle is one of my favorite filmmakers. I grew up on his stuff — from The Whistler pictures to the horror films to, of course, the Sam Katzman Westerns. So I was happy to hear about the upcoming William Castle Blogathon, and even happier to be invited to play along.

I’ve chosen The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954), one of those Katzman Westerns Castle directed in the mid-50s. It stars Scott Brady as Billy, Betta St. John and James H. Griffith as Pat Garrett. (I’ve already written about Masterson Of Kansas.)

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