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Written and Directed by Delmer Daves
Director Of Photography: J. Peverell Marley, ASC
Film Editor: Clarence Kolster
Music by Victor Young

CAST: Alan Ladd (Johnny Mckay), Audrey Dalton (Nancy Meek), Marisa Pavan (Toby), Robert Keith (Bill Satterwhite), Charles Bronson (Captain Jack)

Not long after Shane (1953), Alan Ladd left Paramount, the studio that made him a star, and launched his independent company, Jaguar. Their first film was Drum Beat (1954). Based on the 1873 Modoc War, Ladd plays an Indian fighter recruited by President Grant to find a way to peace with the Modoc. Turns out the tribe wants peace, but a chief named Captain Jack (Charles Bronson) and his band of renegades are lousing things up. Repeated attempts for a peaceful resolution are unsuccessful, and we get a very exciting last couple of reels.

Though I’m not a big Alan Ladd fan, I really liked this one. It wears its “sympathetic treatment of the Indians” thing well, but never forgets that it’s action that puts people in the seats. Boy, a lot of people get shot in this thing.

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My job is to protect the wagon train. When somebody shoots at my people, I shoot back.”
— Alan Ladd

Ladd and Daves (and, of course, DP J. Peverell Marley) shot Drum Beat in Warnercolor and the then-new CinemaScope. As was the custom with ‘Scope at the time, they avoided close-ups, went for long takes whenever possible, and gave us lots of gorgeous vistas of Sonora, Arizona, and the Coconino National Forest. Daves always showed off the landscape in his Westerns, making each setting an essential element of the film, and this is one of Drum Beat’s great strengths. If there’s a film that makes better use of the Sonora area, I don’t know what it is.

The cast is a 50s Western fan’s dream: James H. Griffith (as a Civil War veteran who lost a leg at Shilo), Frank Ferguson, Elisha Cook, Jr., Willis Bouchey, Perry Lopez, Anthony Caruso, Denver Pyle and Strother Martin (who I heard was in it, but somehow missed). Of course, Charles Bronson makes quite an impression as Captain Jack in his first film under his new name (it had been Buchinsky, which was considered too Russian-sounding in the HUAC years).

With Drum Beat, Warner Archive gives us a pretty good-looking DVD. The Warnercolor is, well, Warnercolor — but here it looks as good as I’ve ever seen it look. The image is a tad soft at times (varying from shot to shot), some of which we can blame on the early CinemaScope. The audio is excellent; I love the stereo sound of these early Scope pictures, with an actor’s voice following them as they move around within the wide frame. This is a really good film, and a real treat in widescreen and stereo (I’d love to see a Blu-ray turn up someday). Highly recommended.

Alan Ladd and Delmer Daves reunited for The Badlanders (1958), also available from Warner Archive. I haven’t seen it in ages, and I’m really eager to revisit it.

Along with Drum Beat, two more Ladd Westerns came riding into town, thanks to Warner Archive.

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

Ladd’s a cattle man who works to build a town around a railroad hub, which will benefit the local ranchers. Of course, there’s someone who doesn’t want all this to happen.

As a drunk, Edmond O’Brien steals every scene he’s in. He’s terrific. This is WarnerColor again, and it’s not as well-behaved as it is in Drum Beat. Good movie, though, especially if you’re a fan of O’Brien or Virginia Mayo. Gordon Douglas is as dependable as ever.

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

This time, Ladd’s a lumberjack who arrives in the Northwest to take out a lot of trees. The townspeople are afraid Ladd’s efforts will cause mudslides and do other environmental harm. Frankie Avalon sings “Gee Whiz Whillikins Golly Gee,” which Bugs Bunny used to sing in the bumpers to The Bugs Bunny Show on Saturday mornings. This tune is just one of the things that put Guns Of The Timberland in that goofy time period that a lot of series Westerns exist in, where Old and New West, cars and buckboards peacefully coexist.

Jeanne Crain is beautiful, Gilbert Roland is as cool as ever, and Lyle Bettger actually gets to be a good guy for once. The Technicolor makes it to DVD looking like a million bucks, while alcohol has Ladd looking just terrible.

A 50s Western Mystery.

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OK, folks, let’s see if we can sort this one out. John has written in trying to pin down a certain Western. Here’s what he wrote:

“I saw a western in the fifties as a kid that had a scene in which one of the secondary characters gets killed with a rake. You don’t see the killing, just the aftermath of a bloody rake leaning against a wall and blood on the wall. That image has stayed with me lo these many years but I cannot remember the title.”

Firecreek (1969) came to mind, but that’s the Sixties and a pitchfork. Then there’s Violent Saturday (1955). Again, a pitchfork and not a Western.

Anybody got any ideas?

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As part of an all-day tribute to James Garner on Monday, July 28 (at 8AM ET), TCM is running a hard-to-find Randolph Scott Western, Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957). Directed by Richard Bare, it stands as Garner’s only 50s Western — and a rather oddball entry in Scott’s final decade as a Western star. It’s also noteworthy as one of Angie Dickinson’s first films. (They’re not listing this as being letterboxed, but we’ll manage.)

Warner Archive, what’s holding this one up?

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Hank Worden (born Norton Earl Worden)
July 23, 1901 – December 6, 1992

Let’s salute one of the greatest character actors of them all, Mr. Hank Worden, on his birthday. That’s him on the far left in this still from The Quiet Gun (1956), a fine Regalscope Western starring Forrest Tucker.

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Buy this Blu-ray or Cooper gets it!

One of the toughest, slimiest, most brutal and just plain best-est 50s Westerns of them all, Anthony Mann’s Man Of The West (1958), is getting a much-needed upgrade this November from Kino Lorber.

It’s hard to put my finger on just why I love this one so much. For starters, it’s one of the finest Westerns ever made. But there’s other stuff, too. Like the awful Cleggs in Wagonmaster (1950), the bad guys here are of unbelievable scuzziness. (It’s hard to believe this is the same Jack Lord I love in Hawaii Five-O, not a hair out of place.) There are very few movies that impact me the way this one does: Mann is at the absolute top of his game here, twisting us around and ringing us out like a dishrag. (Just looking at this still is giving me the willies.) And Cooper brings incredible depth to Link Jones, maybe the ultimate Mann Western character—sorry, Jimmy—and certainly one of Coop’s best performances.

If you can watch this one and not be affected, check your pulse. You’re dead.

Thanks to Dick Vincent for the news. And Blake, if you don’t have a Blu-ray player yet, you’ve run out of excuses, pal.

RIP, James Garner.

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James Garner
1928 – 2014

Some celebrities, you’d swear you actually knew them. Maybe you invite them into your home every week (through your TV). Perhaps you can’t remember a time when you weren’t aware of them. Or it could be that they just come off so real. All of those apply to James Garner.

Garner didn’t make much of a mark on the 50s Western, at least not in theaters. (1957’s Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend is the only one he did.) But his Maverick is still a milestone in Westerns on TV. And John Sturges’ Hour Of The Gun (1967, above) is one of the best post-50s Westerns out there, largely due to Garner’s performance — and one of the most sadly overlooked.

I was 10 years old when The Rockford Files (below) debuted, and after binge-watching it countless times over the years, I’m convinced it’s the greatest TV show ever. If I ever fall into a lot of money, you can bet that a gold mid-70s Pontiac Firebird Esprit will find its way to my driveway.

But there’s so much more. The Great Escape (1963). Grand Prix (1966). Marlowe (1968). Those great Doris Day pictures. Support Your Local Sheriff (1969). I’m just getting started.

I’m not making a lot of sense here. Thinking of James Garner and his body of work is a bit mind-boggling right now, and I’m struggling to find a coherent thread through it all. So I’ll just say I miss him already and thank God we can continue to benefit from his talent.

Visit Laura’s place for her thoughts on Garner. An obituary is here.

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John Ford’s shadow hangs over the Western to a huge degree. How huge? Well, My Darling Clementine (1946) is one of the finest Westerns ever made, yet I can think of several he made that I think are better.

But who cares what I think? Criterion is giving Ford’s tale of the O.K. Corral the treatment it deserves. It’s due in October on both DVD and Blu-ray. And that’s certainly something to hoot and holler about.

Thanks to Dick Vincent for the tip.

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