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The Tall Stranger (1957).

Tall Stranger ad

Directed by Tomas Carr
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Screenplay by Christopher Knopf
From a story by Louis L’Amour
Director Of Photography: Wilfred M. Cline, ASC
Music by Hans J. Salter
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE

Cast: Joel McCrea (Ned Bannon), Virginia Mayo (Ellen), Barry Kelley (Hardy Bishop), Michael Ansara (Zarata), Whit Bissell (Judson), James Dobson (Dud), George Neise (Mort Harper), Adam Kennedy (Red), Michael Pate (Charley), Leo Gordon (Stark), Ray Teal (Cap), Philip Phillips (Will), Robert Foulk (Pagones), Jennifer Lea (Mary)

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In many ways, The Tall Stranger (1957) is just another late-50s CinemaScope Western from Allied Artists — a straightforward, low-budget picture boosted by a cast full of familiar faces. But this one’s got more going for it than that. It offers up a re-teaming of Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo from Raoul Walsh’s terrific Colorado Territory (1949). And while The Tall Stranger won’t knock the Walsh movie off your list of favorites, it has plenty to recommend it.

Tall Stranger LC5

The relationships between brothers, often strained or on opposite sides of the law, was a popular theme with Western screenwriters of the 50s, forming the basis for some of the decade’s finest cowboy pictures — often with some redemption worked in. (I’ll let you come up with your own list of examples.) Working from a short story by Louis L’Amour, The Tall Stranger is part of that sub-genre. Ned Bannon (Joel McCrea) and Hardy Bishop (Barry Kelley) are half-brothers who found themselves enemies in the Civil War. Now that the war has ended, Bishop (Conderate) sees Bannon (Union) as the reason his son was executed as one of Quantrill’s Raiders, and he’s vowed to see him dead. Bannon, on the other hand, has come to reconcile.

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Bannon’s traveling toward Bishop’s Valley with a wagon train, and along the way he’s grown fond of a widow (Mayo) and suspicious of the guides. It all comes together into a tangled-up mess — the settlers, McCrea’s brother’s cattle land, the scheming trail guides, etc. — and McCrea gets to sort it all out — and, of course, shoot people — as it makes its way to a satisfying conclusion.

Mayo Tall Stragner

Virginia Mayo: “I love Joel, but I didn’t want to be in the film. I thought the script was terrible.”

The script is a bit run-of-the-mill, and little is done to elevate it. Thomas Carr’s direction is missing the visual flair he and DP William Witley brought to Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958). The action scenes are passable, but there’s little momentum or tension in the scenes that tie them together. So what you’re left with, largely, is the appeal and chemistry of its two leads — which is still more than enough to make The Tall Stranger worth your time.

McCrea Tall Stranger

The Tall Stranger is not available on DVD or Blu-ray in the States. There is a transfer floating around that crops the 2.35 Scope image to fit our 16:9 TVs. It’s watchable, but crowded at times. While this isn’t McCrea or Mayo at their best, this picture deserves to be seen — the way it’s supposed to be seen.

Source: The Westerners by C. Courtney Joyner

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Over the years, a great many movies have suffered from how they’re seen on TV — incomplete, beat-up, pan-and-scan prints (sometimes not even in color as they once were). That mistreatment eventually impacts the film’s overall reputation, as TV became how entire generations experienced older movies. (Right now, I’m thinking of how awful the Regalscope pictures have looked since they left theaters. Thank goodness for DVD and Blu-ray.)

I think TV shows have suffered a similar fate over the years, with faded prints hacked to bits to make room for more commercials. The Rebel (1959-61), now that we have the new set from Timeless Media Group, illustrates my point.

13_1959 Rebel, The TV Series (Nick Adams)

The Rebel follows Johnny Yuma (Nick Adams), a restless young Confederate veteran after the Civil War. With nothing to return to (we learn in the first episode that his lawman father’s dead), he “wanders the West” for 76 episodes — getting pulled into various situations as he rides from town to town in search of peace.

0e9f250b7cbb6dac92241b95bebf97beNick Adams is very good as Yuma, bringing the right mix of intensity and sensitivity to the part. He’s believable as a young man who’d beat the crap out of a guy, then write about it in his journal. It could’ve come off terribly. Like so many of these 5os Western TV shows, the supporting cast each week is incredible. The first episode alone features Strother Martin, Dan Blocker and John Carradine. And over the run of the show, you’ll also find Claude Akins, Robert Blake, Elisha Cook, Jr., Royal Dano, John Dehner, Jack Elam, Virginia Gregg, L.Q. Jones, George Macready, Patricia Medina, Agnes Moorehead, Leonard Nimoy, Warren Oates, Paul Picerni, Tex Ritter, Soupy Sales, Bob Steele, Peggy Stewart, Robert Vaughn, Yvette Vickers and Marie Windsor. Adams’ wife Carole Nugent is terrific in an early episode. Johnny Cash is in one, too.

Producer Andrew J. Fenady (from a good interview here): “We would shoot one day on location. Vasquez Rocks, and a lot in Thousand Oaks. And the second day we would shoot on the lot — the (western) street at Paramount. The third day we would do the interiors, whether it was someone’s house, or a shack, or a hotel or a jail. A sheriff’s office. So that was really the formula: first day out, second day on the street, and the third day interiors.”

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About half the episodes were directed by Irvin Kirshner. He does a good job, to be sure, but there’s nothing in this to indicate that this is the guy who’d eventually direct The Empire Strikes Back (1980), maybe the last truly epic film I can remember. The size of the screen was obviously not an issue for him. Bernard L. Kowalski, Bernard McEveety, Robbert Ellis Miller and Frank Baur handled the rest.
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Transferred from slightly worn, complete 16mm prints with changeover cues punched in them here and there, The Rebel, The Complete Series gives us all 76 episodes. Johnny Cash’s vocals have been restored to the titles (the theme was replaced for syndication, which is how we’ve been seeing and hearing it for years). While the quality varies from episode to episode, and 16mm can be a little soft, to have them all looking this good is a revelation. There are plenty of extras, from interviews to stills to commercials — even the pilot for the proposed companion series The Yank. This is a good set, and a good show, ready to be rediscovered. Highly recommended.

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Abilene Town HS

Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Starring Randolph Scott, Ann Dvorak, Edge Buchanan, Rhonda Fleming, Lloyd Bridges, Helen Boyce

Don’t think I’ve ever seen Edwin Marin’s Abilene Town (1946) looking anything but terrible. Well, that’s about to change. Panamint in the UK has announced an all-region Blu-ray of Abilene Town — from 35mm fine grain material. It should be available in a couple weeks. I can’t wait!

hank worden

Let’s remember my favorite Western character actor, Hank Worden, on his birthday. He’s seen here with Ward Bond in John Ford’s Three Godfathers (1949).

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54166_3lEssential
stuff at a terrific price.

With this two-disc set from Mill Creek, you get the five Columbia titles from Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher’s Ranown cycle — The Tall T (1957), Decision At Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960, above). And if all that isn’t enough, they’ve thrown in Joseph H. Lewis’ A Lawless Street (1955) to sweeten the deal.

Available September 15. Buy a whole case of ’em, folks, and your holiday shopping’s done. Now, what do we have to do to get a Blu-ray version of this?

Gunmans Walk HS

Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Kathryn Grant, James Darren, Mickey Shaughnessy

Explosive Media out of Germany has announced an upcoming Blu-ray of Phil’s Karlson’s Gunman’s Walk (1958). This is a terrific Western and one of Karlson’s best movies. It’s far more obscure than it needs to be.

Republic studios yellow

The Republic Pictures Blogathon is coming, September 18-20 — a celebration of the studio’s incredible talent roster, wonderful output and lasting legacy.

Here’s what you do:
• Pick a Republic-related topic: the possibilities are almost endless.
• Let me know you want to ride along (email fiftieswesterns@gmail.com), what subject you want to cover and when you plan to post it. Your posts can be in any form, of any length, and on any topic as long as it relates to Republic Pictures, but I’d like to manage things a bit to make sure we don’t end up with 14 people writing about Radar Men From The Moon.
• Post your piece on the scheduled day, using the Republic Pictures Blogathon banner and link (to come).
• Send me the link so I can post it on the master list.

This should be a lot of fun.

Thanks to John Knight for planting the seed for this thing. And to Mr. Jack Mathis for keeping the eagle flying all those years.

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