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Archive for the ‘DVD reviews, releases, TV, etc.’ Category

Young Guns LC

For us Westerns fans, Warner Archive’s on a real roll this week. In addition to Nick Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952), and Randolph Scott, Angie Dickinson and James Garner in Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957), there’s some good Allied Artists stuff available today.

The Young Guns (1956)
Directed by Albert Band
Starring Russ Tamblyn, Gloria Talbott and Perry Lopez

This one mixes the Western with your typical 50s juvenile delinquency tale, beating both The True Story Of Jesse James (1957, Ray again) The Left-Handed Gun (1958) to theaters.

A couple Allied Artists pictures that were Oldies.com exclusives are now standard Warner Archive titles: Oregon Passage (1957) and Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958).

And if that’s not enough, there’s Raton Pass (1951), Russ Tamblyn again in Son Of A Gunfighter (1965) and a couple spaghetti westerns, including one, Ringo And His Golden Pistol, from Sergio Corbucci. Told you it was a good week.

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Gail Davis is just wonderful as Annie Oakley, a part she was probably born to play. This upcoming set from VCI (due October 21) gives you all 81 Annie Oakley episodes, restored, with all sorts of extras: a documentary, the pilot, commercials, photo galleries and more.

Some terrific character actors rode through this series: Slim Pickins, Helene Marshall, James Best, John Doucette, James H. Griffith, Lee Van Cleef, Alan Hale Jr., Dickie Jones, Fess Parker, Clayton Moore, Denver Pile, LQ Jones, Glenn Strange and more. (Even Shelly Fabares!) And in the director’s chair from week to week, you might find the likes of George Archainbaud, Ray Nazarro, Earl Bellamy or John English. Produced by Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions, many of these folks were veterans of Gene’s movies and series. Then there’s Lone Pine locations and those beautiful double-action Colts.

We’re gonna get a lotta mileage out of this thing at my house. My daughter Presley really loves this show.

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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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Badlanders TC
Directed by Delmer Daves
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Screenplay by Richard Collins
From a novel by W.R. Burnett
Director Of Photography: John Seitz, ASC
Film Editors: William H. Webb and James Baiotto

CAST: Alan Ladd (Peter Van Hoek), Ernest Borgnine (John McBain), Katy Jurado (Anita), Claire Kelly (Ada Winton), Kent Smith (Cyril Lounsbery), Nehemiah Perdoff (Vincente), Robert Emhardt (Sample), Anthony Caruso (Comanche)

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Today’s post marks the 101st birthday of Alan Ladd (September 3, 1913 – January 29, 1964).

Warner Archive’s recent Alan Ladd releases got me on a bit of a Ladd kick, so I was eager to see The Badlanders (1958). A Western remake of The Asphalt Jungle (1950), directed by Delmer Daves, it pairs Ladd with Ernest Borgnine.

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The Dutchman (Ladd) and McBain (Borgnine) leave Yuma to settle a couple scores in Prescott: the Dutchman was framed for a gold robbery and McBain was cheated out of his gold-rich land. The Dutchman has a plan to retrieve a tremendous amount of gold ore from an abandoned mine, and he recruits McBain for the heist. The catch is, the marshall’s warned Ladd that he’d better be on the next stage outta town, which leaves the following evening. Things are further complicated by a crooked deputy, some really crooked businessmen and Katy Jurado and Claire Kelly. But, of course, as with The Asphalt Jungle, the heist itself is the centerpiece of the picture.

Delmer Daves made some of the finest Westerns of the 50s: Broken Arrow (1950), 3:10 To Yuma (1957) and The Hanging Tree (1959). The Badlanders doesn’t reach that level, but it’s a solid film that easily translates the heist picture to the Old West. Ladd and Borgnine are very good. Ladd’s cool as a cucumber throughout. Borgnine’s transformation from bitter inmate to loyal friend is played very well. Its failure could’ve sunk the film. Katy Jurado is beautiful—she and Borgnine became an item and were married a couple years later. (Borgnine spent some time watching her work on One-Eyed Jacks.) Oh, and Ladd and Borgnine remained friends till Ladd’s death.

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Daves always makes great use of his locations, and The Badlanders is no exception. The Yuma Territorial Prison plays itself. Various mines around Kingman, Arizona, were supposedly used. And Old Tucson has never looked better. I always get a kick out of seeing that bridge (from Buchanan Rides Alone, Rio Bravo and many more). The previous Daves/Ladd film, 1954’s Drum Beat, made great use of the Sedona area.

There is no composer credit for The Badlanders. It’s scored entirely with stock music. I don’t know of another film of this stature (Daves, Ladd, MGM) that uses recycled music. I’d love to hear the story behind that decision. Sometimes it works fine, sometimes it seems to have been chosen at random.

A fairly early effort from Warner Archive, The Badlanders looks great. Nice and sharp, and the color is strong. A full-frame trailer is included. Recommended.

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Shootout Medicine Bend 36

Directed by Richard L. Bare
CAST: Randolph Scott, James Craig, Angie Dickinson, Dani Crayne, James Garner, Gordon Jones

This is one we’ve all been waiting for and it’s on its way from Warner Archive: Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957), a fairly obscure Randolph Scott movie that gave early roles to Angie Dickinson and James Garner. There’s a big connection between this film and Warner Bros.’ Cheyenne and Maverick TV series. Director Richard L. Bare directed episodes of each, Garner and Dickinson appeared in both (Garner, or course, was a lead on Maverick), and DP Carl Guthrie shot some of each show. In fact, being in black and white, Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend has the feel of a Warner Bros. TV Western. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

TCM ran this recently as part of their tribute to James Garner (it was his first Western feature), and it’s a pretty solid Western with an oddball touch here and there. Warner Bros. must not have seen much promise in it; a Scott Western hadn’t been shot in black and white since 1949. But it looks good, thanks to Carl Guthrie, who shot a number of excellent late-50s Westerns. His color work on Quantez (also 1957) is terrific.

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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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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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