Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, Van Heflin, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Ward Bond

Warner Bros. had a real knack for stomping all over American history in the name of making a good movie. Santa Fe Trail (1940) is a prime example.

Historic figures like “Jeb” Stuart (Errol Flynn), John Brown (Raymond Massey), George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan), Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis pop in and out of this thing, bumping into each other in very non-actual ways. But none of that matters, since the performances and direction are great, and the whole thing runs at about a mile a minute.

This was the seventh of Flynn’s pictures with Olivia de Havilland. They’d do only one more together Raoul Walsh’s They Died With Their Boots On (1941), with Flynn playing George Armstrong Custer, who Reagan plays in this one. Raymond Massey is terrific as John Brown — who cares about the realities of it.

It’ll be great to see Santa Fe Trail in high definition after its years in public domain VHS/DVD hell. Highly recommended.

Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

Mann and Stewart’s third Western, coming after Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend Of The River (1952), has been screaming for some restoration work for quite some time. Warner Archive has announced a Blu-Ray release for September. Can’t wait to see what they’ve done with it.

These Mann-Stewart pictures are certainly among the best Westerns ever made. Beyond that, it comes down to your personal preference.

I’ll post the technical details as they become available. This one’s as essential as they get.

Love that poster art by Gustav Rehberger.

Thanks to Paula for the tip.

Active Ingredients.

Like the last post, which was a status report on the book, here’s another one dealing with something I’m often asked about — research and resources.

There’s a great big stack of books I’ve turned to quite a bit during the “making” of 50 Westerns From The 50s. You’re probably familiar with most, if not all, of them.

The B Directors: A Biographical Directory – Winston Wheeler Dixon
Close Up: The Contract Director
– Jon Tuska
Company Of Heroes: My Life As An Actor In The John Ford Stock Company – Harry Carey, Jr.
De Toth On De Toth – Andre De Toth & Anthony Slide
Escape Artist: The Life And Films Of John Sturges – Glenn Lovell
The Films Of Audie Murphy – Bob Larkins
The Films Of Budd Boetticher
– Robert Nott
The Films Of Randolph Scott – Robert Nott
Fritz Lang: The Nature Of The Beast – Patrick McGilligan
Highway To Hollywood, The Hard Way
– Maury Dexter
The Hollywood Posse – Diana Serra Cary
Hollywood Trail Boss – Burt Kennedy
I Was That Masked Man – Clayton Moore
John Ford – Peter Bogdanovich
John Wayne: The Life And Legend – Scott Eyman
Ladies Of The Western – Boyd Magers & Michael Fitzgerald
Last Of The Cowboy Heroes
 – Robert Nott
The Legendary Lydecker Brothers – Jan Allen Henderson
Lost In The Fifties: Rediscovering Phantom Hollywood
– Winston Wheeler Dixon
A Million Feet Of Film: The Making Of One-Eyed Jacks – Toby Roan (just kidding)
Paul Landres: A Director’s Stories – Francis Nevins
Print The Legend: The Life And Times Of John Ford
– Scott Eyman
The Ragman’s Son
– Kirk Douglas
Searching For John Ford: A Life – Joseph McBride
A Siegel Film: An Autobiography – Don Siegel
Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films Of Robert L. Lippert
– Mark Thomas McGee
Three Bad Man: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond
– Scott Allen Nollen
Universal International Westerns, 1929-46
– Gene Blottner
Universal International Westerns, 1947-63
– Gene Blottner
The Western – Phil Hardy
Westerns Women – Boyd Magers & Michael Fitzgerald
When In Disgrace
– Budd Boetticher
White Hats And Silver Spurs – Herb Fagan
Who The Devil Made It – Peter Bogdanovich
Who The Hell’s In It – Peter Bogdanovich
Wild Bill Elliott
 – Gene Blottner
The Years Of George Montgomery – George Montgomery

This is just a small fraction of the books I’ve turned to in my research, and the list grows every day. (Assembling a bibliography is a real drag, by the way.) I’ve noticed that, next to maybe The Beatles and Bob Dylan, I have more books on John Ford and John Wayne (often combined) than any other topic.

Then there’s magazine and newspapers articles. There are several binders around here filled with those, some on the films covered in the book and others covering lots and lots of other 50s Westerns. Newspapers.com has been a godsend.

Where’s The Book?

The 50 Westerns From The 50s blog was launched over a decade ago — at the same time I began writing a book with the same name. While the blog’s chugged along quite nicely all these years, the book’s still MIA. I get asked about it fairly frequently.

Well, it’s getting there. Rough drafts are in place for 37 of the 50 chapters. Some are even complete. A few late 40s and early 60s Westerns are in there, too. Images have been selected for about half the book.

There’s one film I still have to track down on DVD or something. And I have to settle on a few contenders for Picture #50. 

Read through it all over the weekend, and I didn’t hate it. That’s a step in the right direction.

Bob Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive is working on their most ambitious and labor-intensive effort yet — teaming up with TCA Television Corp. and the Lou Costello Estate to restore and preserve The Abbott & Costello Show from its original 35mm camera negatives! This mammoth project is being propelled by a Kickstarter campaign, which is nearing its completion. Click the title card above to participate. Do it today!

With these shows, what we see today comes from standard-definition transfers done back in the 80s, that have been “sharpened” and monkeyed with over the years for DVD release. (My old 16mm prints were better-looking!) For this new release, the 26 Season One episodes will be scanned from 35mm master elements in 4K — and each episode will be digitally cleaned, frame by frame.

Some episodes will have commentaries, including my own ramblings for episode 11, “The Western Story.” I’m honored.

These shows are terrific — it’s still considered one of the greatest TV shows ever, and I’m so stoked The 3-D Film Archive is giving them the four-star treatment they gave Africa Screams (1949). Can’t wait to see Stinky, Mike The Cop and Hillary Brooke in all their 4K glory. Essential.

Directed by John Sturges
Written by Michael Pate
Phillip Rock
Frank Fenton
Music by Jeff Alexander
Cinematography: Robert L. Surtees
Film Editor: George Boemler

Cast: William Holden (Captain Roper), Eleanor Parker (Carla Forester), John Forsythe (Captain John Marsh), William Demarest (Campbell), William Campbell (Cabot Young), Polly Bergen (Alice Owens), Richard Anderson (Lieutenant Beecher), Carl Benton Reid (Colonel Owens), John Lupton (Bailey), Forrest Lewis, Howard McNear, Glenn Strange

__________

Director John Sturges made lots of really good movies, but he had a real thing for Westerns. One of his earliest was Escape From Fort Bravo (1953). It’s now available on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

It’s the Civil War. William Holden is a captain at Fort Bravo, a Union prison camp filled with Confederate soldiers (John Forsythe, William Demarest, William Campbell). There are Mescalero Apaches outside the walls of the fort and Confederate spies (Eleanor Parker, Howard McNear) inside. The spies help Forsythe mount an escape, and Holden heads out after them.

It all comes to a head when Holden, Parker and the recaptured prisoners are pinned down in a dry creek bed by who-knows-how-many Apaches.

To tell you much more might get in the way of Sturges’ finely-crafted suspense. The last reel of this thing is as good as anything Sturges ever did. It’s terrific.

Quite a few 50s Westerns made good use of the climactic pinned-down-by-Indians thing. A few that come to mind are Apache Drums (1951), Dakota Incident (1956) and Dragoon Wells Massacre (1958).

Holden is really good as the hard-nosed captain. He was an avid outdoorsman, and it looks like he’s in his element here. Eleanor Parker makes a good spy, and she’s beautiful in both an evening gown and leather jacket. William Demarest and William Campbell have some good, well-written scenes together. And it’s great to see Howard McNear, Floyd from The Andy Griffith Show, as a Confederate spy. Where things get a little wonky is in the middle — the romantic scenes between Holden and Parker seem like a studio-dictated addition. They slow the movie down as it makes its way to its tight conclusion. (Sturges was never all that adept with the mushy stuff.) Of course, the thrilling final attack makes up for it.

Escape From Fort Bravo was one of the first pictures shot in the Ansco Color process. It’s no Technicolor, or even Eastmancolor, but it gets the job done. It was John Sturges’ first color film, period. It was shot in Death Valley, Gallop, New Mexico, Corriganville and the MGM backlot in April and May of 1953. The great Robert Surtees was the cinematographer. There was talk at one time of the picture being shot in 3-D. It was not, with MGM making it an early widescreen release instead. In some places, it played in three-track stereophonic sound.

Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray is a marked improvement over the DVD. Here, we get the original widescreen (1.75) and a surprisingly vivid look at Ansco Color’s pastel shades. Like so many stereo movies from the early 50s, the original directional tracks are probably long gone. The mono sound, however, is clean and clear.

Escape From Fort Bravo has everything going for it. A great cast. Meticulous direction. Incredible location photography, in color. And now it has a Blu-Ray that really does all that justice. Highly, highly recommended.

Of course, John Sturges would make another POW escape film, The Great Escape, in 1963. By the way, he was trying to get that one off the ground while Escape From Fort Bravo was being put together. It took him 10 years to get The Great Escape to the screen.

Fred F. Sears
(July 7, 1913 – November 30, 1957)

Director Fred F. Sears was born 108 years ago today. He also worked as a character actor, and he’s the officer on the left in this lobby card from Fort Savage Raiders (1951). While this picture was directed by Ray Nazarro, Sears directed quite a few of the later Durango Kid pictures.

When that series shut down, Sears signed on with Sam Katzman’s unit (today’s his birthday, too) and made quite a few films before his untimely death in 1957.

Just finished this up. What a blast. Click on the image to check it out.

Book Review: The Sherrif.

I don’t read near as much fiction as I used to. Of late, my reading’s become largely focused on research for my own books. So when I was offered a copy of Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright’s The Sheriff, I was happy to have a reason to read a novel again.

Austin Wright proudly admitted to me that The Sheriff was influenced by a handful of key Western movies — one is Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962), pictures he’s loved since childhood. That alone got me interested.

The Sheriff is centered around Sheriff John Donovan, who founded the Texas panhandle town of Three Chop. He’s run the place for a good 20 years. But the times, they are a-changing, a sad fact that Donovan has to wrap his head around, fast. With a new century on the way, Sheriff Donovan’s community (along with the West as a whole) in a state of flux and his health failing him, some bad men make their way to Three Chop.

Over the years, the end of the Old West has proven rich for storytellers, both in print and on film. And as we’ve seen in many terrific Westerns (especially those from the 50s), you can use the Western as a framework for all sorts of commentary on all sorts of issues. (Quick example: the ton of McCarthy/HUAC allegory packed into 50s Westerns.) This end-of-the-West story has plenty to say — about everything from religion to mortality to progress to big business, and it does it without sacrificing action, pacing or authenticity. 

It’s so easy to recommend The Sheriff. It’s a big story about some big issues — leading to the big showdown. Click on the cover to buy one.

One more thing: being that Wright is an admitted John Wayne nut, does his sheriff’s name come from Wayne and Donovan’s Reef (1963)? 

Directed by John Wayne
Starring John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Frankie Avalon, Patrick Wayne, Linda Cristal, Joan O’Brien, Hank Worden, John Dierkes, Denver Pyle, Olive Carey, Chill Wills, Joseph Calleia, Ken Curtis, Richard Boone

We may never get to see John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960) restored the way we want it to be — the way it deserves to be. But there’s something out there — a Blu-Ray/DVD set from Germany — that’s a little closer to the ideal.

Koch has a three-disc set with the shorter cut on Blu-ray and the 202-minute roadshow version on DVD. (Sadly, the only known print of the longer cut has deteriorated to the point that nothing can be done with it.) There are a handful of extras, some in German, some in English. Amazon.de had a version with different cover art — that one is already sold out. 

Since this might be as good as we’ll ever get, this is highly recommended. If you have any details about this — like is the roadshow version anamorphic, is the intermission included and what sort of region lock might be on it — please let us know.

Thanks to Graham for bringing this up.