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Archive for the ‘William Witney’ Category

Hellfire TC

So far, the great cinematographer Jack A. Marta has hardly been mentioned here. I’m ashamed and with today’s Wild Bill Wednesday, I’m taking care of it. So many outstanding movies. What Price Glory (1926). The Night Riders (1939). Dark Command (1940). Flying Tigers (1942). Hellfire (1949). Trigger, Jr. (1950). Spoilers Of The Plains (1951). The Last Command (1955). The Bonnie Parker Story (1958). Cat Ballou (1965). Duel (1971).

On that last one, Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough TV movie Duel, Marta’s experience shooting outdoors in the desert helped get the thing completed on its 10-day schedule.

Steven Spielberg (from the excellent book Steven Spielberg And Duel: The Making Of A Film Career): “Jack was a sweetheart. He was just a kind, gentle soul who you know had never worked that fast in his entire career; none of us had, and yet there was nothing he didn’t do or couldn’t do, and he really enjoyed himself.”

No offense to Mr. Spielberg, but I have a feeling Duel‘s 10-day shoot, though exhausting, was probably nothing new for Marta, who’d done beautiful work on Republic’s tight schedules, in both black and white and Trucolor, and worked on plenty of television shows like Route 66 and Batman.

When Elliott co-produced Hellfire (below) for Republic release, a film he saw as a very special project (and considered his best film), Jack Marta was the director of photography. Was he randomly assigned the job by Republic, or did Elliott request him after working together on The Gallant Legion (1948) and the Trucolor The Last Bandit (1949)? (I’m getting pretty good at finding new ways to sneak Hellfire into this blog.)

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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.”

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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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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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Directed by William Witney
Associate Producer: Edward J. White
Original Screen Play by A. Sloan Nibley
Director Of Photography: Jack Marta

CAST: Roy Rogers, Trigger, Jane Frazee (Taffy Baker), Andy Devine (Cookie Bullfincher), Stephanie Bachelor (Jean Loring), Roy Barcroft (Matt Wilkes), Chester Conklin (Old Timer) and Bob Nolan and The Sons of the Pioneers.

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In what has to be one of the worst examples of shortsightedness in Hollywood’s history, Republic Pictures cut the Trucolor Roy Rogers films to a TV-friendly 54 minutes from running times of around 67-75 minutes each. And, of course, the TV prints were black and white. What’s worse, they cut the original negatives and tossed the “scraps,” so the story goes.

Tracking down the King Of The Cowboys’ Trucolor movies is a real challenge for DVD labels and collectors alike (a fact covered in a recent post). So when another turns up uncut and actually in color, it’s a real cause for celebration. Such is the case with the recently-released Springtime In The Sierras (1947) from Film Chest. Transferred from an ultra-rare complete 16mm color print, it may not be something you’d use to show off your home theater system to the neighbors, but that’s not the point, is it? It’s Roy, it’s complete, it’s in color and it’s now in your hot little hands.

Roy Rogers is after a gang that’s slaughtering wild game illegally. There’s a lot of money in the meat, and these guys are willing to kill (both animals and people) to keep their operation going. Roy’s old friend Captain Foster (Harry V. Cheshire) is murdered, and Roy takes on the gang — with the usual Roy Rogers/William Witney mix of music, comedy and lots and lots of action. There are at least three fistfights, with one between Roy Rogers and Roy Barcroft taking place in a mammoth freezer full of slaughtered game. (Watching these later Rogers films, you have to remind yourself at times that these were aimed at kids.)

There’s plenty of singing, too, which is a real treat with Bob Nolan and the Sons Of The Pioneers on hand. Andy Devine provides his usual comic relief. Dale Evans isn’t around, but Jane Frazee is — and there’s Stephanie Bachelor as one of the deer-killing villains. Sloan Nibley wrote a number of the later Rogers films. This was one of his first, and it shows his flair for story (usually a somewhat oddball one) and gift for balancing the various elements that make up a Roy Rogers movie. Around the time Roy left Republic for TV, Nibley wrote a few good Western features (Carson City and Springfield Rifle, both 1952) before settling into a busy life as a television writer.

The stars here are Roy Rogers and director William Witney. Working together, they created a tough, lean, fast-paced series of films that are slowly being recognized as the gems they are — something those of us who read and write this blog have known for decades. Witney’s under-cranked action scenes are incredible in Springtime In The Sierras, with a couple riding stunts that have to be seen to be believed. (I’m not one to stop a picture midstream, but there’s a riding/shooting stunt in the last reel I had to stop and really study.)

So what does the DVD look like? I’m happy to report that it’s all there, from Republic logo to Republic logo. It’s a little soft, attributable to the 16mm material and the Trucolor process. (That’s a screen grab to the left.) If you’ve seen Trucolor before (during this period when it was two-strip instead of three), you know what to expect. It’s a long way from Technicolor, with a rather other-wordly range of hues that I find beautiful. The disc also includes Roy and Dale hosting an episode of The Chevy Show from Easter, 1961. It’s a black and white kinescope of a color program, complete with Corvair commercials and appearances by Martin Milner and George Maharis of Route 66.

Film Chest has done us all a favor by helping us check another color Rogers off our Want Lists. The fact that they did it with care makes it all the better. Highly recommended.

 

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The Trucolor Roy Rogers films were really mistreated by Republic Pictures, cut to a TV-friendly 54 minutes from a running time of around 67-75 minutes. And, of course, they were printed black and white. Republic cut the original negatives and tossed the “scraps,” so the story goes — making uncut, color prints of these films a real scarcity.

With Springtime In The Sierras (1947), Film Chest worked from rare, complete 16mm material. The results, I’ve heard from reliable sources, are quite nice. (I grew up watching Roy in 16mm — to me, that’s how he’s supposed to look!) Normally, I’d wait to review this since it’s already available, but a recent post proved what a hot topic these films are, so why not a plug?

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Henry Cabot Beck of True West Magazine and I were emailing back and forth this morning about the color Roy Rogers pictures (Trucolor, to be precise), how wonderful they are, and how terribly they’re represented on DVD. It’s a matter that has been beaten to death on a number of newsgroups, which shows just how important this really is. With these pictures in mind, a hastily-constructed post seemed in order.

The official releases worth your time and money are:

Bells Of Coronado (1950) is the only Roy Rogers film that Lions Gate got around to putting on DVD during their handling of the Republic catalog. (Maybe this new arrangement with Olive Films will result in a few more.) Coronado is a good one, with Dale Evans, Trigger, Grant Withers and Pat Brady adding their usual support. William Witney lends his masterful direction, the songs are great and the Trucolor looks good. I think this is out of print, but it’s still listed here.

VCI’s Roy Rogers Western Double Feature Volume 1 presents Under California Stars (1948) and The Bells of San Angelo (1947) — both uncut and both looking just fine. California features Jane Frazee and Andy Devine, while San Angelo has Dale Evans, Andy Devine and Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers. Witney directed both. It’s also a deal, available through their website for just four bucks! Trailers are even included. So mosey on over and pick one up.

I wish this was a lot longer post, with lots of links so you could complete your color Rogers collection. Maybe someday. Till then, “may the good Lord take a liking to you.”

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