Archive for the ‘Fred F. Sears’ Category

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Next month, the digital broadcast station GetTV offers up some Durango Kid pictures starring Charles Starrett, of course, and Smiley Burnette.

They’re presented Saturday matinee style, as they were intended. (And in chronological order, which is a nice touch.)

Saturday, October 11
12 p.m. – Both Barrels Blazing(1945)
1:20 p.m. – The Fighting Frontiersman (1946)

Saturday, October 18
12 p.m. – The Blazing Trail (1949)
1:15 p.m. – Bandits Of El Dorado (1949)

Saturday, October 25
12 p.m. – Trail Of The Rustlers (1950)
1:15 p.m. – The Kid From Broken Gun (1952)

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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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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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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!


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.


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.


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.


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).


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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I’ve always felt that Fred F. Sears’ work was sadly overlooked. So what do I do when Apache Ambush (1955) is announced for DVD release? I overlooked it.

Coming out the same day (February 5) as Sears’ Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1952), which is very good, Apache Ambush stars Bill Williams, along with Richard Jaeckel, Ray Teal, Ray “Crash” Corrigan and Tex Ritter. Its big appeal for me is James Griffith as Abe Lincoln. Can’t wait.

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February 5th will see the release of Columbia’s Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953), an excellent little Western from Fred F. Sears.

I put together a post on this film a few months ago, ending it with: “Ambush At Tomahawk Gap is a picture that’s easily overlooked — just one of many Columbia Westerns from the 1950s — but offers so much for those willing to track it down. Hopefully, a DVD release of some sort will make that easier.”

Thanks to Columbia, it’s now very easy indeed. This is another one I highly recommend (and that appeared on the Wish List we all put together last month). So, while I’m looking this gift horse in the mouth, how’s about Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956)?


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Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953), starring John Hodiak and John Derek, is a minor Columbia Western directed by Fred F. Sears. And it’s a damn good one.

Fred F. Sears with Joan Taylor on Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1957).

After years in regional theater and teaching drama at Southwestern University in Memphis, Fred F. Sears headed to Hollywood. He eventually wound up at Columbia as a bit actor and dialogue director. While working on some of Columbia’s Durango Kid pictures, he got to know Charles Starrett. He directed one, Desert Vigilante (1949), and eventually took over the series. (There’s a nice DVD available of 1951’s Bonanza Town, which Sears both directed and appears in.)

Along with William Castle, Sears became a preferred director for Sam Katzman, whose quickie unit at Columbia cranked out serials and genre pictures at a frantic pace. He spent the rest of his career at Columbia, and from crime films to horror movies to Westerns, Sears’ ability to get ‘em done on time and on budget served him well. Quality wasn’t much of a concern, but he always managed to provide some anyway. Today he’s known for Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), a picture that benefits from remarkable stop-motion animation from Ray Harryhausen, and The Giant Claw (1957), a film completely scuttled by some of the worst special effects in Hollywood history. Sears died in his office at Columbia in November, 1957, with eight pictures waiting for release, leaving a deep filmography that’s certainly worth diving into. (1956’s The Werewolf is a good one.)

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap gave Sears a better cast than usual, a slightly bigger budget and Technicolor. It makes good use of a familiar plot — a group of ex-cons battle Indians and each other as they search for their buried loot — adding plenty of suspense and a mean streak a mile wide. This is a surprisingly violent film. It does what many good low-budget Westerns do: build a simple story around a small cast, create some tension, then pile on the action.

Sears had an excellent cast to wok with. Not long after the release of Ambush, John Hodiak would appear on Broadway to raves in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial; he had a fatal heart attack in 1955. (He hated working with horses.) John Derek was an upcoming young actor, and he’d appear in a number of excellent 50s Westerns. David Brian, who was a year away from appearing in Dawn At Socorro (1954), had a long, successful career as a character actor in movies and TV. Ray Teal is now known as Sheriff Coffee in Bonanza, but he turns up in hundreds of films (he’s terrific as the bartender in One-Eyed Jacks). María Elena Marqués was a noted Mexican actress. This and Across The Wide Missouri (1951) are the only American films she made — both times she played Indians. And the great John Qualen is on hand as a grizzled old prospector.

Helping Sears make the most of this were cinematographer Henry Freulich, who shot lots of cheap Technicolor Westerns for Columbia, including William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas (1954). Writer David Lang has a long list of credits — 50s Westerns such as Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956, again with Sears) and  TV like The Rifleman, Cheyenne and Maverick.

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap is a picture that’s easily overlooked — just one of many Columbia Westerns from the 1950s — but offers so much for those willing to track it down. Hopefully, a DVD release of some sort will make that easier.

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