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Archive for the ‘John Agar’ Category

Lippert

A few weeks ago, I broke my glasses and began relying on an old (pre-trifocals) pair while I scrambled for an eye exam and new frames. Reading became very, very difficult. Not the best time to receive a book you’re really excited about. But that’s exactly when Mark Thomas McGee’s Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films Of Robert L. Lippert, from BearManor Media, turned up in my mailbox.

Lippert Pictures (and related companies) cranked out cheap little Westerns like 1952’s Outlaw Women, along with gems such as Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James (1949) and The Quiet Gun (1957). (They covered the other genres, too.) I’m a big fan of these films and was determined to make my way through the book with or without spectacles, holding it so close I risked paper cuts on my nose.

McGee set the book up very well. The first 80 pages or so read as a biography and history of Lippert and his career, from the theater business to film production. I had a working knowledge of the Lippert story going in, but was always coming upon something I didn’t know. There’s a filmography, arranged by company, that makes up the bulk of the book. And finally, there’s a listing of the Lippert theaters (the closest to me was in Chattanooga, TN).

red desert HS

What’s not to like about a book like this? It’s packed with information on movies I grew up with, movies I love. Rocketship X-M (1950). The Steel Helmet (1951). Superman And The Mole Men (1951). Forty Guns (1957). Showdown At Boot Hill (1958). The Fly (1958). The Alligator People (1959). House Of The Damned (1963). They’re all in here, and you’ll come away with a better understanding of what went into getting them made. Where I think McGee really excelled was in making sure the book, as informative as it is, stayed as fun as the films it’s about. (The same goes for his previous books on Roger Corman and AIP.)

copper sky

If there’s a downside to this book, it’s that the filmography points out film after film that you’d love to track down and see. You’ll find a lot of them available from Kit Parker Films and VCI, and others scattered here and there. Some of the Fullers were even given the Criterion treatment. As for the rest, well, happy hunting.

It’s very easy to recommend Mark Thomas McGee’s Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films Of Robert L. Lippert. Now that my new glasses are in, I’m reading it a second time.

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Directed by Paul Landres
Produced by Richard E. Lyons
Associate Producer: Maury Dexter
Written by Stephen Kandel
Director of Photography: Walter Strenge, ASC
Art Director: Edward Shiells
Supervising Film Editor: Robert Fritch, ACE
Music Composed by Paul Dunlap

CAST: John Agar (Sheriff Jim Crayle), Joyce Meadows (Peg Barton), Barton MacLane (Simon Crayle), Robert Strauss (Yubo), Lyn Thomas (Kate Durand), James Griffith (Cash Skelton), Morris Ankrum (Andrew Barton), Leslie Bradley (Rev. Jacob Hall), Doodles Weaver (Eph Loveman), Holly Bane (Tanner).

__________

In the mid-50s, B producer Robert Lippert entered into an arrangement with 20th Century-Fox where his Regal Films, Inc. would produce a series of second features for the studio — two black and white CinemaScope pictures a month. Lippert wanted to combine the economy of black and white with the draw of CinemaScope. They called the process Regalscope.

Regalscope is black and white CinemaScope, nothing more. Lippert made around 50 Regalscope features between 1956 and 1959 — all of them cheap, most of them Westerns. These Westerns feature folks like John Agar, Jim Davis, Beverly Garland and Forrest Tucker. One, Ambush At Cimarron Pass (1958) gave Clint Eastwood an early role. And each picture is a virtual parade of your favorite character actors.

Maury Dexter worked for Lippert during the Regalscope years, making sure they got a feature in the can in just a week. (He gets an associate producer credit on Frontier Gun.)

Maury Dexter: “We were shooting as many as 20 films a year… We had … first-rate production men with years of experience in their field. By name: Frank Parmenter, Herb Mendelshon, Clarence Eurist, Ralph Slosser and more. We hired directors of photography such as Floyd Crosby, Daniel Haller, James Wong Howe, Kenneth Peach, Ed Cronjager and Joe Birocletal – all top-flight cameramen, some Academy Award winners. We were churning out a feature every few weeks that included subjects such as adventures, thrillers, Westerns, Civil War and some science fiction like Kronos (1957) and The Fly (1958).”

Frontier Gun (1958) was produced by Richard Lyons.

Dexter: “[Lyon's] claim to fame, at that time, was that his stepfather was an officer of Leows, Inc. So, Richard came to us as a wanna-be producer… Lippert assigned him to me to teach him the fine points of producing. Richard was an amiable, easygoing person and was eager to learn. He was finally given a project and I physically produced the show, but Richard learned a lot and, naturally, was given screen credit as producer.”

Lyons would eventually produce Ride The High Country (1962) for MGM. We all owe him for that one.

Frontier Gun is yet another town-tamer story. John Agar is Jim Crayle, son of noted lawman Simon Crayle (Barton MacLane). Agar’s given a badge by Honcho’s town council to take on Yubo (Robert Strauss) — one of those saloon owners intent on running the town — so Honcho can become a safe place for decent people to live. Agar’s an expert shot, but an old injury makes him slow on the draw. Eventually, the father rides into town to tell his son he’s not up to the task.

Paul Landres directed. By 1958, he was already a TV veteran, directing episodes of everything from Boston Blackie to The Lone Ranger. He was a dependable journeyman director who made only a handful of features. Here he does an admirable job with the money and schedule he had to work with. It was shot by Walter Strenge, who did a number of the Regalscope films, including Stagecoach To Fury (1956). For Frontier Gun, Landres and Strenge relied on the medium shots and long takes that make early widescreen films so interesting.

Frontier Gun was the second of three pictures Joyce Meadows made with John Agar.

Joyce Meadows: “I grew very attached to John. We worked very well together… I thought he had a very good presence on the screen. He worked hard and was very, very in favor of whomever was working with him, to share the camera.”

Robert Strauss, who usually plays comic badguys, is quite interesting as Yubo. Veteran character actors Doodles Weaver and James Griffith are on hand giving the picture a little extra B Western clout.

Joyce Meadows: “Morris Ankrum was also in that film. What a great character actor he was, and I enjoyed studying him when he performed.”

You have to cut the Regalscope pictures some slack. They’re a bit talky, and the lack of money and time can be quite obvious. But they have great casts, especially the Westerns, and the scripts usually play well. Frontier Gun is one of the better ones. It’s a real shame they’re so hard to track down, especially in some semblance of widescreen — because once you get into them, you really want to see them all. Anybody out there got a widescreen Stagecoach To Fury?

An interesting, and disturbing, bit of trivia: the 35mm print archived at UCLA is missing a couple reels.

SOURCE: Maury Dexter’s Highway To Hollywood; Ladies Of The Western by Michael Fitzgerald and Boyd Magers; Scream Sirens Scream! by Paul Parla and Charles P. Mitchell.

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