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Archive for the ‘Columbia’ Category

durangokid

Here’s a thing on the Durango Kid I did for Classicflix, a quick guide to the few films in the series available on DVD.

Fred F. Sears and Ray Nazarro, whose work I really like, directed many of these, and I’d love to be able to really dive into the series.

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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.

home-goldtown-ghost-riders-2-lrg

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 The fancy outfits have been replaced by more practical stuff.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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picture

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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