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Archive for the ‘John Ford’ Category

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Andrew Victor McLaglen
(28 July 28, 1920 – 30 August 2014)

Andrew V. McLaglen, the son of actor Victor McLaglen, was a prolific director who got the kind of apprenticeship any filmmaker would envy: after growing up on his dad’s movie sets, he was made assistant director on John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952). McLaglen worked on a number of films from John Wayne’s Batjac (he co-produced Seven Men From Now) and got his first directing credit for the company’s Gun The Man Down (1956).

The late 50s and early 60s saw lots of TV work—including 116 episodes of Have Gun-Will Travel—with a feature from time to time. It was usually Westerns. McLintock! (1963). The Rare Breed (1966, above, with Maureen O’Hara). The Way West (1967). In the 70s, he was John Wayne’s director of choice.

Mr. McLaglen passed away at 94. He will probably be known for McLintock! and Shenandoah (1965), two films that showed what he was capable of.

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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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John Ford’s shadow hangs over the Western to a huge degree. How huge? Well, My Darling Clementine (1946) is one of the finest Westerns ever made, yet I can think of several he made that I think are better.

But who cares what I think? Criterion is giving Ford’s tale of the O.K. Corral the treatment it deserves. It’s due in October on both DVD and Blu-ray. And that’s certainly something to hoot and holler about.

Thanks to Dick Vincent for the tip.

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Searchers screenng 1

Short notice, for sure. But certainly worth your while. And I’d be wasting my time to think I needed to tell you how great this film is.

Click on either image for ticket information.

Searchers screenng 2

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John Wayne
(born 
Marion Robert Morrison; May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979)

Here’s a great shot of John Wayne, John Ford and the rest of the cast and crew shooting The Searchers (1956) near the Three Sisters in Monument Valley.

Maybe not the ideal picture for celebrating Wayne’s birth, but I figured you’d all wanna see it.

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Strange Lady HS

Mervyn LeRoy’s Strange Lady In Town (1955) is coming from Warner Archive. This big-budget CinemaScope Western warranted its own 100-acre set near Tucson, and was shut down for almost a month due to Greer Garson’s appendix. Dana Andrews’ drinking didn’t help much. During the downtime, LeRoy subbed for John Ford on Mister Roberts (1955).

Garson and Andrews are backed by a great supporting cast: Cameron Mitchell, Lois Smith, Robert Wilke, Russell Johnson, Douglas Kennedy and Nick Adams (as Billy The Kid).

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To me, this whole digital movie theater thing makes going to the Movies not feel like going to the Movies. It’s more like going to the home of someone who has a bigger, better TV than you do.

Or that’s the way I used to think. This week I saw The Searchers (1956) for maybe the 100th time. It was a DCP presentation at the Carolina Theater in Durham, and it really knocked me out.

One of my last 35mm-in-a-theater experiences was You Only Live Twice (1967) a year or so ago. It turned out to be a dye-transfer print complete with a loud (optical) monaural track and that short-lived, somewhat psychedelic United Artists logo. It was glorious. But I guess those days are gone.

I’d seen digital in a theater before and was always disappointed. Color, clarity, contrast — they were all lacking. Sometimes the removal of film grain had given faces a weird waxy look. With The Searchers, the only thing I missed was the change-over cues. The Carolina obviously has a nice set-up, and I know that Jim Carl, who books their series of older films, is determined to make everything look as good as it can possibly look.

So if this is how digital’s gonna look, I guess I’m OK with it. I guess.

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