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Archive for the ‘Republic’ Category

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Trail of RH in Statesville NC 2

xmasmovieThis is my contribution to The Christmas Movie Blogathon. The post is an expansion of a previous piece I’ve been wanting to revisit. This blogathon gave me the chance. The old post has been largely removed, but I left something there to preserve the comments.

Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ work. Some are folks who pass through here every so often. I’m particularly looking forward to the post on The Bishop’s Wife (1947), a personal favorite, and Ivan’s thoughts on The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), a very funny Bob Hope picture.

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Directed by William Witney
Associate Producer: Edward J. White
Written by Gerald Geraghty
Music: Nathan Scott
Director of Photography: John MacBurnie
Film Editor: Tony Martinelli
Special Effects: Howard and Theodore Lydecker

CAST: Roy Rogers, Trigger, Penny Edwards (Toby Aldridge), Gordon Jones (Splinters McGonigle), Rex Allen, Allan “Rocky”Lane, Monte Hale, William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Ray Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, Tom Keene, Jack Holt, Emory Parnell (J. Corwin Aldridge), Clifton Young (Mitch McCall), James Magill (Murtagh), Carol Nugent (Sis McGonigle), George Chesebro, Edward Cassidy (Sheriff Duffy).

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By the late 40s, the Roy Rogers pictures had become relatively elaborate musicals, reducing the action to make room for production numbers — complete with pretty girls and orchestras — and with Roy’s outfits looking more chorus than corral. The story goes that the head of Republic, Herbert J. Yates, had been wowed and inspired by seeing Oklahoma on Broadway. John Wayne said of Yates, “He was a nice enough guy but he had no taste.”

Of course, glitz, glamour and music rights come with a pretty hefty price tag, especially compared to two guys in western wear punching each other in the face. So with the smaller budgets came fewer songs — and more action. Good thing Roy’s director at the time was William Witney.

Witney fan Quentin Tarantino describes it like this: “After their first few movies together, Witney had gotten Roy out of his fringe-and-sparkle attire and was dressing him in normal attire, blue jeans and stuff. They stopped being these crazy musicals. He turned them into rough, tough violent adventures.”

Such was the state of the Roy Rogers Movie when Trail Of Robin Hood (1950) went into production. It’s in Trucolor, Roy’s traded his Nudie suits for plaid shirts, and the action comes fast and furious. Oh, and in spite of its title, it’s a Christmas movie.

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Here, Roy works for the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and comes to the aid of cowboy star Jack Holt, who’s retired and growing Christmas trees — which he intends to sell at cost, so every kid can have one. A large Christmas tree conglomerate doesn’t like Holt’s business model and takes to stealing Holt’s trees, sabotaging his operation and threatening his workers. Naturally, Roy, Trigger and Bullet will have none of this.

I don’t want to give too much away. Just know that the whole thing is actually goofier than it sounds — and that it’s full of fights, chases, fires and other mayhem. Along the way, Roy and the Riders Of The Purple Sage sing a couple Christmas songs (“Ev’ry Day Is Christmas Day In the West” is very good), there’s a young girl (Carol Nugent) with a pet turkey named Sir Galahad, and a number of Republic cowboy stars turn up to help save Holt’s farm. On hand are Allan ‘Rocky’ Lane, Monte Hale, William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Ray Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, Tom Keene, Rex Allen and George Chesebro.

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Roy’s daughter Cheryl Rogers-Barnett, who has a small part in Trail Of Robin Hood, points out, “They used that formula of putting all their cowboys into one as sort of a promo for the other cowboys. Rex Allen was not a big name yet, and it was a way of promoting him.”

With Trail Of Robin Hood and the other late-period Rogers films (his last Republic picture came out in 1951), William Witney did more than just cut the music and stir in more violence — he turned up the pacing. He creates excitement, builds suspense and sets the pace through skillful editing. And the story is told visually whenever possible. The comedy (from Gordon Jones this time) and songs don’t get in the way or slow things down.

But maybe most important, Witney keeps things simple. There’s not an ounce of fat in the picture’s 67 minutes, and camera movement is always purposeful, never flashy. As Tarantino explains, “These guys were storytellers. They knew how to move the camera to convey information so they didn’t have to shoot another dialogue scene to explain something.”

Trail Of Robin Hood behind scenes

Cheryl Rogers-Barnett says of Witney: “He was a great action director, and loved Trigger. He was always trying to come up with extra things for the Old Man to do.”

$(KGrHqFHJCUFECuZN7JtBRzlRwtOIQ~~60_57Dale Evans, of course, was Mrs. Roy Rogers and his steady co-star. But she was on maternity leave. So Penny Edwards appears in Trail Of Robin Hood — in a part obviously written with Dale in mind. Penny transitioned from singer to actress, was under contract at Warner Brothers, made six films with Rogers in 1950-51, and left the picture business in 1954 to serve the Lord. She returned a few years later, appearing in lots of TV shows and commercials.

Gordon Jones plays Splinters McGonagle, the usual broad sidekick part you expect in a B Western. He was in six Rogers pictures, made a few other Republic films (including Woman They Almost Lynched) and would soon appear as Mike The Cop onThe Abbott & Costello Show. Carol Nugent is quite good. And of course, Jack Holt and all the guest stars are terrific.

Cheryl Rogers-Barnett: “The main thing I remember is being absolutely in awe of Jack Holt and just about everybody else was, too. There were a lot of cowboy stars in there that made a lot of movies, but Jack Holt was a Movie Star, and Republic didn’t have many Movie Stars working on that lot. They did, but it was so different. He had worked for all of the big studios and he’d been a star in Silents and Talkies, and everybody was sort of in awe of him. And he was so sweet to me. The one and only line I get is with him [she asks Holt for his autograph], and I think it took me like three tries. Dad was getting really upset because Republic liked one and done. I stammered a little.”

TORH LC 6

Another standout is the villain. Tall and thin, with a cleft chin and a voice deeper than you’d expect, Clifton Young makes a particularly nasty bad-guy, especially considering he works for a Christmas tree company. Young had been one of Our Gang, “Bonedust,” making the transition from silent to sound. Not long after Trail Of Robin Hood, he was killed in a hotel fire.

Trail Of Robin Hood is wonderful, and it’s a shame it’s not better known as a Christmas movie (note the holiday engagement in Statesville, NC advertised up top). We can thank the title for that, probably selected more or less at random from Republic’s list, or file, of candidates. It was available uncut on VHS from Republic back in the day. But what you’ll find on DVD is cut by at least 10 minutes. Roy, and this great little movie, deserve a lot better than that.

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Sources: Quentin Tarantino from a 2000 NY Times piece; Cheryl Rogers-Barnett from a phone conversation with the author.

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Picture 20

Olive Films have announced a few titles they’ll have to us in 2014. There are three 50s Westerns in there, and they’re good ones.

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
Directed by Allan Dwan
Cast: John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Joan Leslie
Dwan directs a sort-of spoof for Repubic. Good stuff.

Stranger At My Door (1956)
Directed by William Witney
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina, Skip Homeier, Slim Pickins
This film should be much better known than it is. The scene with the horse (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean) is Witney at his best.

The Quiet Gun (1957)
Directed by William F. Claxton
Cast: Forrest Tucker, Lee Van Cleef, Mara Corday, Jim Davis, Hank Worden
Maybe the best Regalscope Western. I’m dying for this one!

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wayne-ohara-crew-rio-grande

John Ford’s Rio Grande (1950) is one of the major 50s Westerns I’ve somehow neglected over the life of this blog. As a small attempt to remedy that, here’s a photo of John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and the crew shooting a scene. Ford’s not visible here, unfortunately.

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A Man Alone Charlotte drive-in

My research associate here at 50 Westerns From The 50s (also known as my wife Jennifer) came across this photo of the Albemarle Road Drive-In Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A Man Alone (1955) is a very good, very overlooked Republic picture directed by and starring Ray Milland. Mary Murphy and Ward Bond co-star. It was on Olive Films’ release list at one point, but it’s been removed. That’s a real shame. The film wasn’t alone at the Albemarle Road Drive-In — it was paired with John Wayne in The Fighting Kentuckian (1949).

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alamo-last command

It’s been mentioned on this blog a number of times that Olive Films have removed some key Republic titles from their list of future releases — The Last Command (1955, note the retitled card above) being one of them. Among the reasons for ditching these titles is that the Trucolor materials can be difficult, and costly, to prepare for release.

However, when Trucolor Republics like Hellfire (1949), The Outcast (1954) or A Man Alone (1955) show up on TV, they look fine. Not spiffy enough for Blu-ray, for sure, but good enough for a DVD release I’d be happy to have in my collection.

Richard W. commented the other day that we should reach out to a Mr. Lime on the Home Theater Forum about these titles, pointing out that we’d be standing at the ready, cash in hand, for these films.

At a time when so many of us are writing to our politicians about healthcare, national parks and pay for the military, why not squeeze in a quick note to the HTF about Hellfire?

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LASTCOMMAND112

Today was my mom’s birthday. She was a Texan, and The Last Command (1955) is a film she loved. Here are a few still from it.

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Of course, it’s Republic’s take on the story of the Alamo, directed by Frank Lloyd — made after John Wayne left the studio.

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Sterling Hayden is Jim Bowie, Richard Carlson is William Travis, Arthur Hunnicutt is Davy Crockett and J. Carroll Naish is Santa Ana. Ernest Borgnine, Jim Davis, John Russell and Slim Pickens are also in it.

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It doesn’t have the spectacle of Wayne’s The Alamo (1960), but I recommend it highly. So does my mom. Olive Films needs to give it a DVD and Blu-ray release.

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Ambush at CP still cropped

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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Picture 22

According to the Sweetwater Reporter, this would’ve been a good weekend to be in Sweetwater, Texas. It was probably hot as blazes, but there were sure plenty of cool movies to see.

I know it’s not a Western, but Republic’s Hell’s Half Acre (1954) has to be seen to be believed. Olive Films has given you the chance — it’s out on DVD and Blu-ray.

My wife has been doing some research on my family’s history and came upon a great online Texas newspaper search tool. Obviously, I’m using it for a different purpose.

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Allan Dwan sketch cropped

Director Allan Dwan’s career was as old as the Movies themselves, and many of the early technical developments were his doing. Going into the mid-50s, he was still making innovative, unique, personal films — usually for smaller studios that would leave him alone and let him do what he did best.

I went Wig City over Allan Dwan’s films of 50s, thanks to DVDs of his work from VCI, and that helped spawn this blog. So I was really stoked to hear about The Museum of Modern Art’s Dwan series — which will include several of those Westerns.

From the MoMA web site: The Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of Dwan’s films in 1971, with Dwan in attendance, and while another exhibition was certainly due after 42 years, this series was prompted by the publication of Frederic Lombardi’s definitive study of Dwan’s work, Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the of the Hollywood Studios (McFarland, 2013).

If you can make it to any of these, by all means do so. The Westerns are:

June 14-15, 18
Frontier Marshal (1939)
With Randolph Scott, Nancy Kelly, Cesar Romero, John Carradine, Ward Bond.
This was once almost impossible to see (the bootleg tape I had of it was impossible to see). Another take on the O.K. Corral story. I prefer Randolph Scott with more age on him, but this is a really cool film.

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June 24-25
Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
With Audrey Totter, Joan Leslie, John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Ben Cooper.
Dwan made a string of films for Republic that are worth seeking out (Olive Films, you reading this?), with Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) being the best known. Dwan approaches this as a spoof — evidently, he didn’t see any other way — and the results are terrific.

June 29-30
The Restless Breed (1957)
With Scott Brady, Anne Bancroft, Jim Davis, Scott Marlowe, Evelyn Rudie.
Dwan’s last Western. A revenge tale gets a light comic touch.

Picture 45

July 3,5
Tennessee’s Partner (1955)
With John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, Ronald Reagan, Coleen Gray.
John Alton’s Superscope cinematography almost steals the show, making the Iverson Ranch look like the most beautiful place on earth.

July 3, 6
Silver Lode (1954)
With John Payne, Dan Duryea, Lizabeth Scott, Harry Carey, Jr.
A key 5os Western, and the damnedest McCarthy comment you’ve ever seen. Again, Alton and his cameras roam the ranches of Hollywood to amazing results.

Be sure to look at the complete listing. I highly recommend Slightly Scarlet (1956), an incredible Technicolor, Superscope film noir shot by John Alton.

Thanks to Stephen Bowie.

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