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Archive for the ‘Monogram/Allied Artists’ Category

Gunsmoke in tucson ad 11 58

Directed by Thomas Carr
Produced by William D. Coates
Screenplay by Paul Leslie Peil & Robert Joseph
Story by Paul Leslie Peil
Director Of Photography: William Whitley, ASC
Film Editor: George White
Music Composed by Sid Cutner

CAST: Mark Stevens (Chip Coburn), Forrest Tucker (John Brazos), Gail Robbins (Lou Crenshaw), Vaughn Taylor (Ben Bodeen), John Ward (Slick Kirby), Kevin Hagen (Clem Haney), John Cliff (Sheriff Cass), Gail Kobe (Katy Porter), George Keymas (Hondo), Richard Reeves (Notches Pole), Bill Henry (Sheriff Blane).

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As the titles roll, we’re looking up into a large tree. Once “Directed by Thomas Carr” dissolves away, a noose is tossed over a branch of the tree, and the camera pans down for an establishing shot of a lynching, all in CinemaScope and nicely-preserved DeLuxe Color. It’s a stylish way to open Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958), an Allied Artists Western that really delivers—and maintains that visual flair and creativity throughout its running time.

Mark Stevens and Forrest Tucker are brothers on opposite sides of the law. Stevens is Chip Coburn, who wants to put his outlaw ways behind him and settle on a ranch of his own. Tucker is John Brazos, a marshal who doubts his brother will stay on the straight and narrow. Chip winds up in the middle of a rancher-farmer dispute and his forced to pick up his guns again.

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Story-wise, it’s nothing new, but the writers—Paul Leslie Peil and Robert Joseph—manage to keep things fresh. As we all know, Westerns work well when they use one of the genre’s standard plots (or plots, in this case) as a springboard. Mark Stevens is really good at the intense, brooding, tortured tough guy, whether in Westerns like this one and Jack Slade (1953) or noir stuff like the excellent Cry Vengeance (1954), which he also directed. Of course, Forrest Tucker is always terrific. His 50s Western filmography is second to none. Gale Robbins is good as Lou, Chip’s saloon girl girlfriend. Gail Kobe’s part, as the good girl who’s loved Chip all along, doesn’t give her much to do. And Kevin Hagan, who plays farmer Clem Haney, is known the world over as Doc Baker on Little House On The Prairie. He does a good job, even though he’s forced to wear a lousy fake beard.

The bond, or conflict, between brothers was a common theme in 50s Westerns. It can be found in pictures like Horizons West (1952), Rage At Dawn (1955), The True Story Of Jesse James (1957), Night Passage (1957), Fury At Showdown (1957) and Face Of A Fugitive (1959, though Fred MacMurray’s brother doesn’t make it past the first reel). Forrest Tucker does a good job in Gunsmoke In Tucson, striking just the right tone in his brother-or-duty scenes and keeping the dialogue from coming off hokey.

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Old Tucson was a busy place in 1958 and ’59. Buchanan Rides Alone. Rio Bravo. The BadlandersThe Lone Ranger And The Lost City Of Gold. The location adds tons of production value to this low-budget film, with director of photography William Whitley wisely letting us see the landscape surrounding the street set. The bridge that’s featured so prominently in Buchanan and Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) gets some screen time as well. (I watch for that bridge like a favorite character actor.)

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One of the things that really strikes me about Gunsmoke In Tucson, something that was mentioned in its reviews back in ’58, is William P. Whitley’s camerawork. Whitley worked for Sam Katzman at Columbia in the early 50s (Jungle Jim, serials, etc.), then got into television—The Adventures Of Superman, The Lone Ranger (the fifth, color season) and eventually Bonanza. He shot over 75 episodes of Bonanza before retiring. He did three pictures for Allied Artists, all released in 1958: Quantrill’s Raiders, Queen Of Outer Space and Gunsmoke In Tucson. All are in Scope and look terrific. Whitley seems to have enjoyed the chance to shoot for the wide screen–his shots are well-composed and inventive throughout Gunsmoke In Tucson. And he made sure Gale Robbins’ red hair popped in scene after scene.

We wouldn’t be appreciating Mr. Whitley’s work if it wasn’t so well presented by Warner Archive. It’s a bit soft, perhaps, but the color is really nice and the audio’s got plenty of punch. This is a really tough, solid little movie—the kind of forgotten treasures this genre, and decade, are full of. Recommended.

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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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A while back, I brought up an exclusive at Collector’s Choice on some Alan Ladd pictures from Warner Archive. Well, that arrangement has about run its course, and those titles will soon be available through normal Warner Archive channels.

Drum Beat (1954)
Directed by Delmer Daves
Starring Alan Ladd, Audrey Dalton, Charles Bronson and Elisha Cook, Jr.

The Big Land (1957)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Anthony Caruso, Julie Bishop and John Qualen.

Guns Of The Timberland (1960)
Directed by Robert D. Webb
Starring Alan Ladd, Jeanne Crain, Gilbert Roland and Frankie Avalon

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There’s another exclusive, this time with Oldies.com, on a couple Allied Artists CinemaScope Westerns to be released July 15.

Oregon Passage (1958)
Directed by Paul Landres
Starring John Ericson and Lola Albright
Paul Landres made some solid low-budget Westerns (Frontier Gun, for instance), so I have high hopes for this one. Incidentally, it’s working title was Rio Bravo. Wonder how the change in title went down, with Howard Hawks’ own Rio Bravo in production around the same time?

Gunsmoke in Tucson (1958)
Directed by Thomas Carr
Starring Mark Stevens and Forrest Tucker
I’ve been on the lookout for this one for quite some time, which goes into familiar range war/brothers-on-opposite-sides-of-the-law territory. I’d also love to see Carr’s The Tall Stranger (1957), starring Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo, turn up on DVD.

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Directed by Lewis Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Sid Theil
Photographed by Ernest Miller, ASC
Film Editor: Sam Fields, ACE
Music by Raoul Kraushaar

CAST: Wild Bill Elliott (Tack Hamlin), Mary Ellen Kay (Lucy Taylor), Robert Bray (Gene Smith), Stanford Jolley (Matt Taylor), Henry Rowland (Mayor Winch), Myron Healey (Brett), George Wallace (Brewer), Fuzzy Knight (Strummer), Zon Murray (Bill), Richard Avonde (Artie), Michael Colgan (Jamison), Denver Pyle (Sperry), Lee Roberts (Wilson), John James (Jed Hamlin).

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Things have gotten so bad that the citizens of Pinetop have formed a vigilante committee to maintain order, but the Brewer gang continues to operate. (And the vigilantes seem almost as bad as the outlaws.) Tack Hamlin (Wild Bill Elliott) comes to town and is soon recruited for sheriff, and he gets right to work, trying to stop both the bandits and the masked vigilantes. Turns out that Brett (Myron Healey), who owns the saloon, leads both the outlaws and the vigilantes, planting false evidence to avoid suspicion.

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As far as I can see, this town is full of bad shots and bluster.”
— Wild Bill Elliott

This is a good entry in the series of Westerns Elliott made for Monogram/Allied Artists near the end of his career. By this point, his “peaceable man” persona was well established, and he goes about his business with his typical cool determination. The sequence about halfway through the picture, as Elliott the newly-appointed sheriff cleans up the town, is terrific. Later, the vigilantes drag Elliott and Fuzzy Knight to the hanging tree, making for a very tense scene that illustrates just how tough the B Western became in its final years. What’s more, in the climax, one of the Brewer gang is shot in the face!

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Fuzzy Knight is great as Elliott’s old friend and deputy. They have a good chemistry together. Mary Ellen Kay does well with a pretty limited part, and makes quite an impression toward the end when she picks up a gun. The badguys, from Myron Healey to George Wallace to Denver Pyle, have locked horns with Elliott before. Same thing behind the camera, from the director (Lewis Collins) to the writer (Sid Theil) to the editor (Sam Fields) and on down the line. Of course, we all know the familiar Iverson and Corriganville locations.

Vigilante Terror is not available on DVD, though it’s one Warner Archive will probably get around to one of these days (that’s a hint, Matt). Watch for it.

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Homesteaders LC

Directed by Lewis Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Sid Theil and Milton Raison
Photographed by Ernest Miller, ASC
Film Editor: Sam Fields, ACE
Music by Raoul Kraushaar

CAST: Wild Bill Elliott (Mace Corbin), Robert Lowry (Clyde Moss), Emmett Lynn (Grimer), George Wallace (Mead), Buss Henry (Charlie), Stanley Price (Van), Rick Vallin (Slim), William Fawcett (Hector), James Seay (John Kroger), Tom Monroe (Jake), Barbara Allen (Jenny Moss), Ray Walker (Col. Peterson).

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Hauling unstable dynamite (that’s turned to nitroglycerine) is a surprisingly common plot device. There’s Wages Of Fear (1953), of course, and Sorcerer (1977), one of my all-time favorite films. There’s a B-movie version, Violent Road (1958), that replaces nitro with rocket fuel, even an episode of Little House On The Prairie. In The Homesteaders (1953), one of William Elliott’s late-period Westerns from Allied Artists, Wild Bill gets his shot at transporting the temperamental stuff from Point A to Point B in one piece. To complicate matters, his crew is made up of men just released from an Army jail and the route runs right through Indian territory.

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For my money, you can’t beat Elliott in this period. From his two-gun rig to his pipe to his off-the-rack Levi’s, there’s a coolness about him that really carries these films. And he certainly carries this one. The script isn’t as tight as some of the others, borrowing some of its structure from the first film in the series, The Longhorn (1950). Lewis Collins’ direction isn’t as assured as usual — and the pacing, typically so lean and efficient, seems a bit off. None of this is really a complaint, just an observation, and all of these films are highly recommended. Just as it was dying, the B Series Western hit a real peak.

The supporting cast, however, is right on the mark. Emmett Lynn is perfect as the grizzled old-timer who helps Elliott guide the wagons to their destination. He keeps the character just grounded enough. George Wallace, who’d been Commando Cody in Republic’s Radar Men From The Moon the year before, is sufficiently hateful as one of the prisoners-turned-trail hands. And James Seay is fine as the crook who wants Elliott’s dynamite for his own purposes.

Homesteaders still

Warner Archive’s Wild Bill Elliott Western Double Feature gives us The Homesteaders paired with Fargo (1952). The transfer is strong, with just a hint of dirt and dust. (I like a little of that every so often.) Let’s hope we see further sets in the near future (with the last few titles in their proper 1.85). They call these DVDs on-demand, so let’s demand ‘em!

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Tim Holt Tuesdays have been a lot of fun, and people seem to like ‘em, so I’m adding Wild Bill Wednesdays to the week. Like the Holt day, it’s a not-quite-weekly way to call attention to William “Wild Bill” Elliott, a cowboy star who doesn’t get his due. (I realize I’m preaching to the choir here.) His later Westerns, the ones that followed the Red Ryder series, are particularly strong, and they’re what I’ll focus on (approximately 1946-54). Elliott’s career was a long one. He was a working character actor for years (often uncredited) before becoming a top-billed cowboy star, so I’ll be dealing with a tiny sliver of his filmography.

Of course, like most Republic pictures, Elliott’s are absent on DVD or Blu-ray. (Dear Olive Films: if you only knew how badly I want a Blu-ray of Hellfire.) The old VHS copies are decent-looking if you want to search ‘em out, and some of them turn up on The Westerns Channel or Netflix from time to time. (1954’s Bitter Creek is scheduled for TCM in June.)

But if you look beyond the Republics, the outlook’s brighter. Warner Archive’s given us a couple of the Monogram/Allied Artists Westerns (Fargo and The Homesteaders), and VCI put out the first of that series, The Longhorn (1951). Then there’s that cool detective series.

We’ll have a real post on Elliott next Wednesday.

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Written and Directed by Daniel B. Ullman
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Director of Photography: Ellsworth Fredricks, ASC
Music by Marlin Skiles
Jazz Sequences by Shorty Rogers And His Giants
Supervising Film Editor: Lester A. Sansom
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE
Dialogue Supervisor: Sam Peckinpah

CAST: Bill Elliott (Lt. Andy Flynn), Keith Larsen (Ralph Wyatt), Helene Stanley (Connie Wyatt), Paul Picerni (Norman Roper), Jack Kruschen (Lloyd Lavalle), Elaine Riley (Gloria), Robert Bice (Sgt. Colombo), Rick Vallin (Deputy Clark), George Eldredge (Major), Regina Gleason (Mrs. Roper), Rankin Mansfield (Doctor), Mort Mills (Photographer).

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The Warner Archive two-disc set Bill Elliot Detective Mysteries created a good deal of excitement around here when it was announced a few weeks ago. Now that it’s arrived, I’m even more stoked about it.

Briefly, the story behind these films goes like this: cowboy star “Wild Bill” Elliott traded his Colt .45s for a snub-nosed .38, making five tough little detective pictures for Allied Artists to end his Hollywood career. Dial Red O (1955) is the first.

Keith Larsen (Ralph Wyatt), a troubled veteran, escapes a VA hospital to visit his wife on the day their divorce becomes final. Elliott sets out to find him, and when the new ex-wife (Helene Stanley) turns up dead, Larsen is quickly tagged as the top suspect. That’s as much of Dial Red O as you’ll get out of me. I don’t want to spoil what is a cool little crime picture, running a lean, mean 64 minutes.

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Elliott is cool as a cucumber as Lt. Andy Flynn of the LA Sheriff’s Department, methodically going about his police work smoking his pipe. The brim of his fedora seems a little large, a subtle reminder of his cowboy persona. (His name would become Andy Doyle for the rest of the series, since there was a real Andy Flynn working in LA law enforcement.) Ralph Wyatt is good as the veteran and Jack Kruschen is fun as the ex-wife’s somewhat beatnik neighbor. Sam Peckinpah, who was working as dialogue supervisor, appears as a short-order cook.

urlThis cheap little cop movie looks like a million bucks, thanks to the folks at Warner Archive (and to the craftsmanship of DP Ellsworth Fredricks and his crew). It’s even given the proper 1.85 widescreen framing. The other four films in the set look just as good.

It’s a real shame these films are largely seen as a curio — “Hey look, Wild Bill’s a policeman!” — when they’re tough little movies with plenty to recommend them. And I recommend them highly indeed.

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