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Archive for the ‘William Castle’ Category
Posted in Andre de Toth, Audie Murphy, Budd Boetticher, Burt Kennedy, Charlton Heston, Delmer Daves, DVD reviews, releases, TV, etc., Fred MacMurray, Gary Cooper, George Montgomery, Glenn Ford, Jeff Chandler, Jeffrey Hunter, Joel McCrea, John Ireland, Johnny Mack Brown, Kirk Douglas, Lee Van Cleef, Lesley Selander, Randolph Scott, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Taylor, Rory Calhoun, Tim Holt, William Castle, William Elliott on April 4, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story and Screen Play by Douglas Heyes
Director of Photography: Henry Freulich, ASC
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editor: Henry Batista, ACE
CAST: George Montgomery (Bat Masterson), Nancy Gates (Amy Merrick), James Griffith (Doc Holliday), Jean Willes (Dallas Corey), William A. Henry (Charlie Fry), Bruce Cowling (Wyatt Earp), Donald Murphy (Virgil Earp), Sandy Sanders (Joe Tyler), Benny Rubin (coroner), David Bruce (Clay Bennett), Gregg Barton (Sutton), Greg Martell (Mitch Connors), Jay Silverheels (Yellow Hawk), John Maxwell (Amos Merrick), Frank Wilcox (prosecutor, uncredited).
If heaven works the way I hope it does, as soon as I say hello to my mom and grandparents, I’m gonna ask for an introduction to William Castle. (Knowing my mom, she will have already set something up.) From there, I’ll spend large chunks of Eternity asking about stuff like how the kids with slingshots took out the Emergo skeletons.
You see, I love William Castle. Even though I’m a full generation too young to have seen his movies in all their hyped-up, gimmack-y, first-run, theatrical glory, they’re some of my all-time favorite films and real mile markers across my youth. My best friend James and I read about them endlessly in Famous Monsters, caught them on TV and eventually saw a passel of them at New York’s Film Forum. Taking my daughter to see a revival showing of 13 Ghosts (1960) was a father-daughter evening I’ll always remember.
Like a lot of people, both film fans and filmmakers, my love of the movies can be traced back to William Castle. He was a brilliant showman — and when he was focused on making a film, a good director. His Whistler films, for instance, show us just what he was capable of. They’re terrific.
Castle spent much of his career at Columbia. In the early Fifties, he directed a handful of films for Sam Katzman’s unit at the studio.
Castle: “Sam Katzman was a smallish man with a round cherubic face and twinkling eyes. Few people in the motion-picture industry took him seriously as a producer of quality films, but to me, Sam was a great showman.”
Cinematographer Richard Kline: “Sam had his own unit at Columbia Sunset on Lyman Place. It had been the Tiffany-Stahl studio. Columbia bought that place and made it Sam’s unit… It was a very small studio, it was not luxury. For instance, there was no commissary, and I don’t think they even had a hot dog stand! So you’d have to go off the lot and eat somewhere in the area.”
In Katzman, Castle had evidently found his mentor, and he soon realized there’s a lot more to the movie business than just making movies. Jungle Sam’s influence can be found all over Castle’s horror films of the late Fifties and early Sixties — or at least all over the way they were hyped and sold.
One of Castle’s pictures for Katzman (in my opinion, the best), Masterson Of Kansas (1954) is fast and tough. Its tight schedule and lean budget don’t hold it back. George Montgomery is Bat Masterson, sheriff of Dodge City. James Griffith is the notorious gambler and gunfighter Doc Holliday, in an excellent performance. They join forces with Wyatt Earp (Bruce Cowling) to save an innocent man from the gallows and keep the Indians off the warpath. (The real Masterson served as a deputy under Earp for a spell, and Earp and Holliday took on the Clantons at the O.K. Corral, so this gun-toting dream team isn’t as farfetched as it sounds.)
Nancy Gates as the daughter of the framed man and Jean Willes as a saloon girl do well with the underwritten parts they’re given. Jay Silverheels is his usual dignified self as Chief Yellow Hawk. George Montgomery never became the big cowboy star he should’ve been, leaving a solid list of very good, and very overlooked, medium-budgeted Westerns. He’s quite good here, and Columbia’s costume people gave him a beautiful hat.
But the film belongs to character actor James Griffith. Doc Holliday is a flashy part in any Western, and everyone from Victor Mature to Kirk Douglas to Val Kilmer has put their own spin on the character. Griffith’s approach is my favorite. He’s a doctor (he was really a dentist), he’s dying, he has nothing to lose, and Griffith makes sure you believe it. At times, you can see the death wish in his face. In some scenes, the compassion of a physician and chivalry of a gentleman return. And he wrestles with killing Masterson versus helping him out. Somehow, Griffith makes all the character’s contradictions come together, and even make sense. And remember, he does all this over the course of just 73 minutes.
Masterson Of Kansas has been brought to Columbia’s MOD program in a transfer than does everyone proud. Henry Freulich’s camerawork is splendid, with compositions that really take advantage of the then-new 1.85 aspect ratio. The Technicolor adds plenty of production value, and it’s rare to see the Iverson Ranch or Corriganville look this good. And the sound makes sure we take note of Mischa Bakaleinikoff’s score, along with the ching-ching-ching of Montgomery’s spurs. Columbia’s A-level treatment of their B Movies is certainly appreciated (even if it can be argued that some of the films don’t deserve it). There are no features on this disc, not even a menu. You put it in, it starts. I like that.
This is a film, and now a DVD, I highly recommend — something special seems to have been going on here. I hope this one inspires you to seek out more Castle and Montgomery films. You won’t be disappointed.
SOURCES: A Sci-fi Swarm And Horror Horde: Interviews With 62 Filmmakers by Tom Weaver; Step Right Up! by William Castle.
On this day in 1892, the notorious Dalton gang took its last ride, with an unsuccessful attempt to rob two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas.
You can read about it here, courtesy of True West Magazine. Of course, Sam Katzman and William Castle’s Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1954) has nothing to do with history, but this lobby card lets me feature James H. Griffith again (to the right of the wanted poster).
Yesterday, I complained about the DVD packaging for The Oregon Trail (1959). So today, it’s nice to feature something a little more pleasing to the eye, the upcoming and highly recommended Masterson Of Kansas (1954) from the (renamed?) Choice Collection. This new template has been put to use for all their Western releases for October 2, such as Buchanan Rides Alone (1958).
Speaking of Buchanan, Laura recently wrote on the film, and found it the weakest of the Scott/Boetticher pictures. While I agree to a point — it’s certainly not as strong as, say, The Tall T (1957), seeing it as a kid might have been the beginning of my 50s Westerns obsession.
(August 29, 1916 – December 12, 2000)
I don’t think George Montgomery has gotten his due. He may not have made a true classic, and most of his Westerns were of the studio product variety, but he can be counted on for a good solid way to spend an hour and a half. And those modest films are looking better and better with each passing year.
A real renaissance man — actor, producer, director, painter, sculptor, craftsman, builder and on and on — Montgomery had a pretty fascinating life.
Montgomery (to the LA Times): “I was real lucky. You know, I was just a farm boy from Montana when I arrived there (Hollywood in 1937). Two days later, I was in a Garbo movie at MGM, getting $35 a day doing some stunt work.”
I’ve been screaming for a while now about the many merits of Masterson Of Kansas (1954). But Montgomery made plenty of good ones, from The Texas Rangers (1951) to the very interesting Black Patch (1957). (Warner Archive has helped us out with nice transfers of a few titles.) Like Rory Calhoun, Montgomery’s 50s Westerns deserve the attention given to those of, say, Audie Murphy or Joel McCrea.
Columbia Classics has announced a few 50s Westerns for MOD release on October 2. First is The Phantom Stagecoach (1957), directed by Ray Nazarro. It stars William Bishop, Kathleen Crowley, Richard Webb, Frank Ferguson — and plenty of Iverson Ranch location work.
From Sam Katzman’s unit comes a couple from William Castle. Duel On The Mississippi (1955) may not be a Western, since it takes place in Louisiana, but it’s got Lex Barker, Patricia Medina, Warren Stevens and John Dehner, so it’s close enough.
In a post back in March of 2010, I wrote: “I’m not gonna hold my breath waiting for Columbia to release Masterson Of Kansas (1954) on DVD.” Two years later, I’m really happy to be announcing that it’s on its way. To me, this is easily the best of the Westerns William Castle made for Sam Katzman’s unit at Columbia — George Montgomery is Bat Masterson and James Griffith is very, very good as Doc Holliday. Well worth checking out. (Along with Roy Roger’s double-crown hats and Wayne’s ragged hat from Rio Bravo, George Montgomery had some of the coolest hats in 50s Westerns.)
All three films should be widescreen, with the two Castle pictures being in Technicolor. The longest of the three is 74 minutes (Masterson), so you can count on some fast-paced fun.
This is a silly excuse for a post. Got a copy today of a 50s Western I’ve never seen — and best of all, know almost nothing about. It’s got Ray Teal in it, which is good enough for me.
Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953) is a low-budget Columbia picture directed by Fred F. Sears. Sears spent his entire career at Columbia, starting with the Durango Kid series and often working for Sam Katzman. His best picture is probably Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956).
Cinematographer Henry Freulich shot a lot of these cheap Columbia Technicolor Westerns, including William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas (1954). He also shot several of the Blondie pictures, which are big favorites around my house.
Writer David Lang wrote a lot of low-budget Westerns — including The Hired Gun (1957), which I’m dying to see — and 50s Western TV like The Rifleman, Cheyenne and Maverick.
Been researching the Westerns William Castle (below) directed for Sam Katzman (above). Most of what Sam produced over the years, from the Batman serials to the Bowery Boys to Jungle Jim to Harum Scarum (1965), was junk — but it was wonderful junk. (You’ll find a 1952 Time article on Sam here.)
Cameraman Richard Kline: “When we were doing some Biblical thing, somebody called a discrepancy to Sam’s attention: ‘Sam, on the call sheet here, you only have 10 disciples. There were 12 in the Bible.’ Sam said, ‘There might’ve been 12 in the Bible, but there’s only 10 in my budget!’”
Castle’s Westerns seem, almost, to be a notch or two above Katzman’s typical level. (I particularly like Masterson Of Kansas.) The Technicolor and (sometimes) 3-D help, along with the casts which include people like George Montgomery, James Griffith, Jay Silverheels, Scott Brady, Martha Hyer, Patricia Medina and many others. But Castle’s direction, which always takes a backseat to his gifts as a showman, shouldn’t be dismissed. Take a look at The Whistler pictures he did for a good example.
Richard Kline: “He was a competent director but he was caught in the rush of quickie films, and he could never get out of that type of filmmaking. He was a lovely guy… and he made more out of what he did than any of the others.”
Richard Kline quotes from A Sci-fi Swarm And Horror Horde: Interviews With 62 Filmmakers by Tom Weaver. Sam Katzman photo from Life, March 1953. William Castle illustration by Peter Louis Cutler.
William Castle is one of my favorite film makers. (Notice that I didn’t say favorite directors.)
One of my Best Days Ever was spent at New York’s Film Forum with my best friend James Graham — for a screening of Castle’s The Tingler (1959) in Percepto. From the excellent The Whistler series to cheap Sam Katzman Westerns like Masterson Of Kansas (1954) to gimmick-y horror pictures like The Tingler, a William Castle film is pure entertainment.
So I guess it only makes sense that one of the best times I’ve had in a theater in recent years was seeing Jeffrey Schwarz’s Castle documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story at The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. I’d never seen a film that felt like it was made Just For Me — 80-something minutes of movie geek bliss.
I’m really excited about its upcoming deluxe DVD release from Schwarz’s Automat Pictures (a couple years ago, it was part of Columbia’s Castle boxed set). This solo disc piles on hours of extras, from commentaries to interviews to the thing I’m dying to see: footage of Castle lecturing at USC in the 70s. Can’t wait.
It’s the night before Christmas, 1954, in Youngstown, Ohio. You’ve got your kerchief or cap on, and you’re about to settle down for a long winter’s nap. Winding down, you open the newspaper and you come across the ads above — two ads for the same film! — spread across the gutter. And you think to yourself: After the presents and the turkey and the in-laws, maybe we should head over to the Palace.
Someone commented on the upcoming Blu-Ray of Vera Cruz (1954) and the lack of aesthetic value in its packaging. That spurred me to revisit the film’s posters and ads. These ads were full-page height, so you can imagine how striking it would’ve been.
I’m really getting stoked about this Blu-Ray. Anybody out there know anything about the transfer and source materials?
By the way, opening the same day at the State — George Montgomery in Sam Katzman and William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas.