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Archive for the ‘Joseph H. Lewis’ Category

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Randolph Scott
(January 23, 1898 – March 2, 1987)

Happy birthday to my favorite cowboy star, Randolph Scott. He’s seen above in Man In The Saddle (1951), hanging out with Tennessee Ernie Ford. This is an excellent Scott picture, which you can read all about in a recent post over at Riding The High Country. Or you can stick close to home with A Lawless Street (1955) here.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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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When the Charles Bronson Regalscope Western Showdown At Boot Hill (1958) showed up on Blu-ray, it seemed too good to be true. For decades, it’s been impossible to see these things in their proper black-and-white ‘Scope glory — unless you came across a 16mm print or a bootleg tape made from one. (An adapted ‘Scope print of Escape From Red Rock sits nearby.) Designed to show off their 2.35 format, the Regalscopes are absolutely unwatchable when they’re pan-and-scan.

Now we can thank Olive Films for Clint Eastwood in Ambush At Cimarron Pass (1958), set for a September 24 release. Clint has called it the worst Western ever made, though I certainly wouldn’t go that far. Scott Brady is the star, along with Margia Dean and Eastwood as a young hothead. All the Regalscope pictures are cheap — this one isn’t able to rise above its budget in the way Stagecoach To Fury (1956) and The Quiet Gun (1957) do. Of course, an early Eastwood role will be the appeal for most folks.

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Also on the way is The Americano (1955), with Glenn Ford, Frank Lovejoy, Cesar Romero and Ursula Thiess. This troubled production was begun by Budd Boetticher in Brazil and finished some time later by William Castle (seen below with executive producer Sam Wiesenthal and Ursula Thiess).

Also on the way is John Wayne, Marie Windsor and Oliver Hardy in Republic’s The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) and Joseph H. Lewis’ The Big Combo (1955, not a Western, but terrific).

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Sony Movie Channel is focusing on Westerns next month, with a terrific all-day marathon scheduled for Sunday, July 28 that should keep readers of this blog firmly planted on their sofas — or scrambling to make room on their DVRs.

The directors represented here — Boetticher, Sherman, Daves, Karlson, Castle, Witney — make up a virtual Who’s Who of 50s Westerns directors. The times listed are Eastern. Put the coffee on, it’s gonna be a long day!

4:40 AM Face Of A Fugitive (1959, above) One of those really cool, tough Westerns Fred MacMurray made in the late 50s. James Coburn has an early role, and Jerry Goldsmith contributed one of his first scores. It’s not out on DVD in the States, and the Spanish one doesn’t look so hot, so don’t miss it here.

6:05 AM Relentless (1948) George Sherman directs Robert Young, Marguerite Chapman, Willard Parker, Akim Tamiroff, Barton MacLane and Mike Mazurki. Shot around Tucson (and the Corrigan Ranch) in Technicolor. I may be in the minority, but I like Robert Young in Westerns.

7:40 AM A Lawless Street (1955) Joseph H. Lewis knocks another one out of the park, directing Randolph Scott and Angela Lansbury. This film doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

9:05 AM Decision At Sundown (1957) Part of Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott’s Ranown cycle, this one tends to divide fans. I think it’s terrific. It’s certainly more downbeat than the others (Burt Kennedy didn’t write it), with Scott’s character almost deranged vs. the usual obsessed.

10:25 AM The Pathfinder (1952) Sidney Salkow directs George Montgomery in a low-budget adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper, produced by Sam Katzman. Helena Carter and Jay Silverheels round out the cast.

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11:45 AM Battle Of Rogue River (1954) William Castle directs George Montgomery (seen above with Martha Hyer) the same year they did Masterson Of Kansas. I’m a real sucker for Castle’s Westerns, so it’s hard to be objective here.

1:05 PM Gunman’s Walk (1958) Phil Karlson’s masterpiece? A great film, with a typically incredible performance from Van Heflin, that really needs to be rediscovered. Not available on DVD in the U.S. Don’t miss it.

2:45 PM They Came To Cordura (1959) Robert Rossen directs a terrific cast — Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter and Dick York. Set in 1916 Mexico, it has a look somewhat similar to The Wild Bunch (1969). Looks good in CinemaScope.

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4:55 PM Jubal (1956, above) Delmer Daves puts Othello on horseback. Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Valerie French, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, Felicia Farr, Harry Carey, Jr. and John Dierkes make up the great cast. Charles Lawton, Jr. shot it in Technicolor and CinemaScope.

6:40 PM Arizona Raiders (1965) Wiliam Witney directs Audie Murphy in a picture that plays like a cross between a 50s Western and a spaghetti one. Murphy got better as he went along, and his performance here is quite good.

8:20 PM 40 Guns To Apache Pass (1966) Witney and Murphy again. This time around, Murphy is after a missing shipment of guns.

If all that’s not enough, there’s the Back In The Saddle sweepstakes, a chance to win a three-day dude ranch getaway. Check SonyMovieChannel.com to find out more.

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Depending on your outlook, this latest set from Sony and Turner Classics might be seen as a prayer answered. The Randolph Scott Westerns Collection gathers up four really good ones for a September release:

Coroner Creek (1948) This tough Cinecolor picture from Ray Enright, based on a Luke Short novel, is one of Scott’s best pre-Boetticher Westerns. His character here is practically a prototype for the burned-out, obsessed guy we know from the Ranowns.

The Walking Hills (1949) is John Sturges’ first Western. Scott is joined by Ella Raines, Edgar Buchanan, Arthur Kennedy and folk singer Josh White. The crisp black and white location work in Death Valley is really something to see.

The Doolins Of Oklahoma (1949, above) comes from Gordon Douglas. George Macready, Louise Allbritton, John Ireland and Noah Beery Jr. are on hand. Douglas has Yakima Canutt on his second unit, and as you’d expect, the action scenes are excellent.

7th Cavalry (1956) comes up on this blog quite often, as we’ve warned each other about some lousy DVDs. It’s a Joseph H. Lewis cavalry picture in Technicolor and widescreen (1.85), with Barbara Hale, Jay C. Flippen, Frank Faylen, Leo Gordon, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey Jr. and Michael Pate. It’s not as strong as A Lawless Street (1955), Scott and Lewis’ previous collaboration, but the cast and director alone make it worthwhile. Cross your fingers that it’s presented 16×9.

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Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Produced by Harry Joe Brown
Associate Producer: Randolph Scott
Screen Play by Kenneth Gamet
Story by Brad Ward (novel, The Marshal Of Medicine Bend)
Director Of Photography: Ray Rennahan, ASC
Music Composed and Conducted by Paul Sawtell
Film Editor: Gene Havlick

CAST: Randolph Scott (Marshal Calem Ware), Angela Lansbury (Tally Dickenson), Warner Anderson (Hamer Thorne), Jean Parker (Cora Dean), Wallace Ford (Dr. Amos Wynn), John Emery (Cody Clark), James Bell (Asaph Dean), Ruth Donnelly (Molly Higgins), Michael Pate (Harley Baskam), Don Megowan (Dooley Brion), Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Dingo Brion), Frank Hagney (Dingo Brion), Frank Ferguson, Kermit Maynard.

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Thanks to Randolph Scott pictures like Hangman’s Knot (1956) and the Ranown cycle, A Lawless Street (1955) is often overlooked. But when held up to those exalted Scotts, it holds its own — and shares several of the themes that would mark Randy’s pictures through the end of his career.

Scott is Marshal Calem Ware, an aging, weary town-tamer hired to restore order to Medicine Bend. There have been similar jobs in similar towns, lots of them. This lifestyle has had its consequences along the way, including losing Tally Dickenson (Angela Lansbury), who couldn’t take the constant pressure of wondering if her man would be coming home. Then, as Fate would have it, Tally’s traveling stage show arrives in Medicine Bend.

Scott’s sense of justice or need for revenge, and what they’ve cost him, is a common thread in his 50s Westerns. There’s a different spin on it this time since Lansbury is still alive — Scott’s lost as many wives in his films as Vincent Price in the Corman/Poe cycle — and their talk of old times and what went wrong makes for a very good scene.

Of course, Ware’s sense of duty and justice put off rekindling any romance. There’s a wide-open town to tend to.

So Scott goes about his work, and with a couple reels to go, things go a bit astray plot-wise. It’s all wrapped around a neat plot twist, and Lewis’ deft handling of Kenneth Gamet’s screenplay can’t prevent a somewhat dissatisfying resolution. Instead of a home run, we’ve got a triple.

Joseph H. Lewis always brought a strong sense of style to his pictures — along with a budget-be-damned desire to put something with real flair on the screen. As he told Peter Bogdanovich: “I signed my name to every frame of film.”* Always trying something different. Always looking for another visual approach to the story. Always trying to keep things moving. And in A Lawless Street, this drive is obvious the second the Columbia lady gets out of the way.

Stylistically, it’s a marvelous little film — to the point of pointing out how static some 50s Westerns can be. Lewis’ compositions are exquisite with some complex camera moves that set it apart from similarly-budgeted pictures. (The titles and opening sequence make quite an impact.) At every point, the camera seems to be in just the right place. Each cut, or decision to go with a long take, feels like the right one. And never does style get in the way of telling the story.

Joining Lewis behind the camera was cinematographer Ray Rennahan, one of the true masters of three-strip Technicolor — he shot the first feature in the process, Becky Sharp (1935). Rennahan would shoot Lewis’ remaining features: 7th Cavalry (1956), The Halliday Brand (1958) and Terror In A Texas Town (1959).

Like most of the Scotts, this one has a terrific cast. Angela Lansbury seems like an offbeat choice for Ware’s estranged wife, and she overplays it a bit, especially in contrast to the subtle Scott, but she’s lovely. She evidently wasn’t fond of the picture: “I once rode off into the sunset on a buckboard with Randolph Scott — another low point.”**

Michael Pate, however, was thrilled to be involved. “I was called in to see the always friendly, very modest director Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia. Sitting in his office, I was amazed when he told me he’d seen me in Hondo (1953) and had decided right there and then I’d be a good bet for Harley Bascom. Oh boy — was I nervous about getting that part! I borrowed a gunbelt and a Colt .45 from the Columbia property department and practiced and practiced in front of a full-length mirror… We came to the scene in the bar where Randy dives under the batwing doors… In the first rehearsal, I was so fast on the draw I got off three shots before Randy had hardly hit the floorboards… Randy got slowly to his feet, very thoughtfully holstered his six-shooter, carefully brushed a speck or two of dust from his trousers and drawled, as only he could, ‘Son, that was a mighty fast draw you did there — but keep I mind I’m supposed to win this one.”#

A Lawless Street gives a good part to the always-terrific Wallace Ford. He’d been in Coroner Creek (1948) with Scott and would go on to add Wichita, The Man From Laramie (both 1955) and Warlock (1959) to his resume. He was also an off-and-on member of John Ford’s stock company. In addition, Frank Hagney and Jeanette Nolan are quite good in parts well crafted by Gamet (who wrote eight Scott Westerns in all).

Around the time of the release of A Lawless Street, Scott told Bob Thomas: “There’s no doubt that television has cut into our business. We used to count on a two-and-a-half or three million gross domestically and four million or more worldwide. But you can’t expect that nowadays.” He was well aware of the fact that the picture business was indeed a business.

But he also knew a good director when he came across one — his independent (Scott-Brown) pictures were directed by the likes of Lewis, Andre de Toth and Budd Boetticher. And direction is what makes a difference here. Recommended.

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SOURCES: *Who The Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich; **The Films Of Randolph Scott by Robert Nott; #Western Clippings #3 by Boyd Magers; and Kings Of The Bs by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn.

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Baltimore was a good place to be on February 23, 1957 — judging from this page out of The Baltimore Afro-American. Take a look at what was playing:

The Searchers (1956), which needs no explanation.

7th Cavalry (1957), a Columbia Randolph Scott picture directed by Joseph H. Lewis — followed by The Gamma People (1956).

The Brass Legend (1956) stars Hugh O’Brien, Nancy Gates and Raymond Burr. It was directed by Gerd Oswald.

Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker in Many Rivers To Cross (1955).

Drango (1957) with Jeff Chandler, paired with The Peacemaker (1956), an early feature credit for Ted Post.

Then there’s Stagecoach To Fury (1957), a Regalscope picture with Forrest Tucker and Mari Blanchard. Looks like a rare booking as the top of the bill.

And sprinkled around other theaters: Clark Gable in Raoul Walsh’s The King And Four Queens (1956); Flesh And The Spur (1957), an AIP Western with John Agar, Marla English and Touch Connors; Phil Karlson’s They Rode West (1954); even James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in The Oklahoma Kid (1939).

Not sure where I would’ve had my mom drop me off.

UPDATE: Each of these theaters (The Roosevelt, The Met, The New Albert and The Regent) are gone.

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