My guess is that the hand and light meter belong to director of photography Bert Glennon.
Archive for the ‘Warner Bros.’ Category
Directed by Delmer Daves
Produced by Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd
Screenplay by Wendell Mayes and Halsted Welles
From the novel by Dorothy M. Johnson
Director of photography: Ted McCord, ASC
Music by Max Steiner
Song: “The Hanging Tree” — Lyrics by Mack David, Music by Jerry Livingston,
Vocal by Marty Robbins
Film Editor: Owen Marks
CAST: Gary Cooper (Dr. Joseph Frail), Maria Schell (Elizabeth Mahler), Karl Malden (Frenchy), Ben Piazza (Rune), George C. Scott (Grubb), Karl Swenson (Mr. Flaunce), Virginia Gregg (Mrs. Flaunce), John Dierkes (Society Red).
All through college (1982-87), I worked in video stores. One of the films we were constantly asked for was The Hanging Tree (1959). When it finally showed up on VHS, everyone agreed that it was ratty-looking — but we were so excited to see it we didn’t care. As time went on and VHS passed the torch to DVD, The Hanging Tree started showing up on Want Lists all over again. You’d hear there were rights problems, and the material was in bad shape — along with the promise that sorting it out was a priority.
It took a while, but Warner Archive has come through with a nice-looking widescreen transfer that does justice to this worthy film (even if it’s more a sprucing-up than a true restoration). The Technicolor camerawork is well represented in both the interior and exterior scenes, with occasional variances in contrast the only complaint. Grain and a blemish here and there are welcome reminders that this is a film.
From its setting in the Montana gold camp of Skull Creek to its troubled, injured or downright degenerate cast of characters, there’s no other Western like The Hanging Tree. And that makes it a real treat waiting to be discovered or revisited.
By the late 50s, Gary Cooper had matured, much like Randolph Scott, to become the perfect Western lead. His Doc Frail is one of his most complex roles, a physician as handy with a pistol as he is with a scalpel who rides into Skull Creek hoping to escape a troubled past.
Maria Cooper, Gary’s daughter (in a New York Post interview): “He was very interested in this particular character because he was able to portray many facets. He was horrible, controlling and brutish yet he had this tremendously kind, mothering sense of caring for people. It’s not your simple black-and-white hero and it’s not your typical Western.”
Frail becomes involved with a young sluice-robber Rune (Ben Piazza) and an injured immigrant Elizabeth (Maria Schell), and rumors start to spread around the camp about his dark past and relationships with his houseguests. Frail’s secret, a “glory hole” gold strike and mob hysteria all come together for a fiery, violent climax.
Delmer Daves made some outstanding Westerns in the Fifties, with 3:10 To Yuma (1957) and The Hanging Tree maybe the best (bet that’s gonna launch a thread). Both use terrific performances from their leads to create a real sense of unease. In Yuma, we’re somehow charmed by Glenn Ford’s slimy villain, while here we don’t know what to make of Cooper’s compassion for his patients and his conflicting violent side.
Karl Malden as the dirtbag prospector Frenchy and Ben Piazza as Rune are excellent. (Incidentally, Malden directed some scenes when Daves became ill.) George C. Scott makes his debut as Grubb, a drunken fire-and-brimestone preacher. Maria Schell is wonderful and completely believable as the beautiful, hard-working Elizabeth. Though this is Cooper’s film from its fade-in to fade-out, Schell deserves credit for much of its success — and it’s no wonder this is a Western women seem to really respond to. (Those video store requests I mentioned often came from women.)
Ted McCord was a master at outdoor cinematography (The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre), and he works wonders with the Washington locations (doubling as Montana). Daves is often criticized for his fondness for crane shots, but they work well here — sometimes going from sweeping mountains vistas to tighter shots of the scruffy tent city without a cut. The early scenes, with Cooper looking down on the makeshift town, are really effective. Max Steiner provides a score that complements the more melodramatic scenes without pushing them over the top. And Marty Robbins’ title song provides the perfect punctuation in the final scene (the song has been added to the CD of his classic album Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs).
The Hanging Tree is a key Western of the 50s, one that’s been out of circulation far too long. This DVD, which adds a trailer as a bonus feature, is further proof of the real value of the Warner Archive (and similar programs) to collectors like us.
Released today by Warner Archive — The Hanging Tree (1959) from Delmer Daves. It was George C. Scott’s first film and Daves’ last Western, after a career filled with good ones: 3:10 To Yuma (1957), Jubal (1958) and more.
Karl Malden (from The Actor Within: Intimate Conversations With Great Actors by Rose Eichenbaum): “During the last two weeks of the picture, the director [Delmer Daves] got sick and went to the hospital. So I got a call on a Saturday to come over to Coop’s house. I get there, and he says they might have to close down production. ‘That’s too bad,’ I say. So he says, ‘Why don’t you finish directing the picture?’ ‘Me?’ ‘You can do it. You directed Widmark in Counter Attack. You can do it.’ So I said okay, but if I find that I’m lost and I don’t know how to do it, and we have to sit there and figure it out, don’t scream at me.’ ‘Kid,’ he said. He always called me kid even though I was almost as old as he was. ‘Kid, I’ve never spoken angrily to anyone in my life, and I’m not going to start now.’ So I accepted and directed the picture for two and a half weeks. When it was finished, Gary Cooper went over to Warner’s and said to them, ‘Star billing.’ That’s the first picture in which I got star billing. That’s the kind of man Gary Cooper was.”
Many of you have already nabbed these pictures for your collections, but I like the box. Warner Archive has corralled their Randolph Scott releases and slid them into a nice-looking slipcover. It contains:
Badman’s Territory (1946) I’ve always liked the chemistry between Randy and George “Gabby” Hayes, and this may be their best picture together (though I’m a big fan of 1950’s Caribou Trail). Lawrence Tierney’s also on hand.
Trail Street (1947) casts Scott as Bat Masterson. Robert Ryan and Gabby Hayes lend support. Ray Enright directs, with an emphasis on action and pacing.
Return Of The Bad Man (1948) adds Robert Ryan as a very nasty Sundance Kid to the Randolph Scott/Gabby Hayes mix.
Carson City (1952) is a good one from Andre De Toth, which has been covered here before. The transfer’s gorgeous, showing that WarnerColor isn’t the end of the world. It was the first picture in WarnerColor, by the way.
Westbound (1959) stirs up a bit of controversy among 50s Westerns fans, since it’s a run-of-the-mill Scott picture that happens to be directed by Budd Boetticher. Scott owed Warners a picture and asked Budd to help him make the most of it. If you can come at it not expecting another Ride Lonesome (1959), you’ll really enjoy it.
Let’s all try not to panic or anything, but it looks like Rio Bravo (1959) is out of print on Blu-ray.
The disc didn’t seem to knock anybody out — grain was a common complaint — and I haven’t heard if a new edition is in the works. Others said it didn’t look as good as The Searchers (1956) — but to be honest, few Blu-rays do.
Anybody know what’s going on? Don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea of living in a world where Rio Bravo is unavailable.
Warner Bros.’ first CinemaScope release. The first CinemaScope Western. The first film shot in both CinemaScope and 3-D. That’s a lot of history, or trivia, for a single medium-budget cowboy picture to carry. But that’s what fate, and Jack Warner, did to The Command (1954) — and to director David Butler and cinematographer Wilfred M. Cline.
Production got under way as Rear Guard, based on the novel White Invader by James Warner Bellah, part of his series of Fort Stark stories. John Ford’s Fort Apache (1947), She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) had already been adapted from these stories. Here, Guy Madison had the lead, with Joan Weldon, James Whitmore and Harvey Lembeck (Eric Von Zipper himself) rounding out the cast.
Director David Butler covered The Command in his DGA oral history —
“We made it very, very cheaply, but it looked great… We made it out at the Warner Bros. Ranch. Guy Madison was one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met. He was a manly man. He’d never done much, and this picture put him over very big. Harvey Lembeck had a comedy part. Also, it was David Weisbart’s first picture as a producer. He had been a cutter, and he was a hell of a nice fellow. All of us were just delighted that this picture turned out the way it did. A swell little picture.”
“For 3-D, we had to line the people straight back because the dimension went that way, and in CinemScope we had to stretch them out. Every scene had to be staged differently. We would wind up with two pictures.”
The Command is available from Warner Archive, with its CinemaScope, WarnerColor and stereophonic sound nicely represented. The 3-D version seems to have never been released. Same with The Bounty Hunter (1954).