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One of my earliest movie memories is of watching an 8mm print of Tom Mix in The Great K&A Train Robbery (1926). What a cool movie — and you certainly don’t get any cooler than Tom Mix. He was a real ranch hand, starred in well over a hundred films, got John Wayne his job in the props department at Fox, appeared in the circus and was made an honorary Texas Ranger. Quite a guy.

Scott McCrea, the pen name of a great friend of this blog, is writing a series of novels featuring Tom Mix. The first one, The Mountain Killer, is now available. I highly recommend it. Click on the cover (above) or order yours today!

RIP, Henry Silva.

Henry Silva
(September 23, 1926 – September 14, 2022)


The great character actor Henry Silva has passed away, a few days short of his 96th birthday.

From Westerns like The Tall T (1957, above) and The Bravados (1958) to gangster pictures like Johnny Cool (1964) to Rat Pack things like Oceans 11 (1960) to a slew of foreign action movies, it was always a good sign to see Silva’s name pop up in the credits. He rarely got a role that wasn’t a villain of some sort, but when he did, he was terrific.

Directed by Henry Hathaway
Starring Steve McQueen, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Arthur Kennedy, Suzanne Pleshette, Martin Landau, Pat Hingle, Paul Fix, Gene Evans, John Doucette, Lyle Bettger, Ted de Corsia

It’s about time on this one! Kino Lorber is bringing Henry Hathaway’s Nevada Smith (1966) to Blu-Ray from the camera negative.

It’s a prequel to The Carpetbaggers (1964) with Steve McQueen playing a younger version of Alan Ladd’s character. It was beautifully shot by Lucien Ballard in a number of incredible locations. For 50s Western fans, its biggest appeal might be its supporting cast of great Western character actors. Highly recommended.

Conquest Of Cochise (1953).

Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Associate Producer: Herbert Leonard
Screen Play by Arthur Lewis & DeVallon Scott
Story by DeVallon Scott
Director Of Photography: Henry Freulich, ASC
Film Editor: Al Clark, ACE
Art Director: Paul Palmentola
Musical Director: Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: John Hodiak (Cochise), Robert Stack (Major Tom Burke), Joy Page (Consuelo de Cordova), Rico Alaniz (Felipe), Fortunio Bonanova (Mexican Minister), Edward Colmans (Don Francisco de Cordova), Alex Montoya (Jose Garcia), Steven Ritch (Tukiwah), Carol Thurston (Terua), Rodd Redwing (Red Knife) Robert E. Griffin (Sam Maddock), Poppy del Vando (Señora de Cordova)


Been on a big Sam Katzman kick of late, to the point I feel like a one-man Sam Katzman Blogathon — there are a number of Katzman posts in the works (here and on The Hannibal 8). This time around, it’s Conquest Of Cochise (1953), one of William Castle’s first films for Katzman’s unit at Columbia.

Coming a few years after Jeff Chandler played Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950), this time the Apache chief is played by John Hodiak. In Tucson, after the Gadsden Purchase, ranchers are being raided by the Apache and Comanche. Major Tom Burke (Robert Stack) is sent to stop the violence and establish peace with Cochise. While he’s there, Burke takes a shine to Consuelo de Cordova (Joy Page).

Cochise also wants peace, but the Comanche do not, which leads to trouble — and more trouble. Eventually, Page is captured by the Apache and held hostage, with Stack working to free her as she and Kodiak fall in love.

It’s a short picture, running just 70 minutes, with more talk than action — and Castle’s direction seems uncharacteristically stiff. The picture’s greatest asset is certainly its cast. John Hodiak is quite good as Cochise, making the usual stilted Indian-speaking-white-man’s-tongue dialogue work. It’s his movie. Robert Stack is a stoic hero here, a bit like his Elliott Ness on The Untouchables. Joy Page is lovely. She and Robert Stack had been paired in Budd Boetticher’s Bullfighter And The Lady (1951). 

The cast and crew spent a lot of time at Vasquez Rocks, about an hour from the Columbia lot — where a fairly crude painting of those same rocks awaited on a soundstage (see the above still). They also shot some stuff at Corriganville. Director Of Photography Henry Freulich captures it all in gorgeous Technicolor. As cheap as these Katzman pictures were, I’m surprised he sprung for Technicolor. The stuff wasn’t cheap.

Katzman’s cost-cutting is painfully obvious, the history is questionable, the ending is too abrupt and Castle doesn’t seem to have found much inspiration in the script he was handed. But I love it anyway.

Conquest Of Cochise was part of Sony’s MOD program, and the transfer was near-perfect. Maybe Mill Creek or Critics Choice will get around to another set of Katzman-Castle Westerns. 

4 guns WC cropped

Directed by Richard Carlson
Starring Rory Calhoun, Colleen Miller, George Nader, Walter Brennan, Nina Foch, John McIntire

Four Guns To The Border (1954) is an excellent 50s Western from Universal International. It’s been a hard one to track down, but our friends at Explosive Media are taking care of that.It’s coming to Blu-Ray in December.

This picture gave actor Richard Carlson one of his few directing credits. He does a tremendous job. Wish he’d done more. Four Guns To The Border has a great cast, gorgeous color and will be terrific on Blu-Ray. Can’t wait!

Thanks to John Knight for the tip!

Elvis Presley passed away 45 years ago today — way too soon. One of his best pictures is certainly Don Siegel’s Flaming Star (1960). (If you ask me, it is his best.) It gets a chapter in my book, and when I was the guest on the Western Podcast, it was our subject.

Here, they’re shooting the film’s only musical number. That’s Barbara Eden dancing with her back to us. (By the way, Barbara Eden is part of the events happening at Graceland during Elvis Week.)

Elvis drinks a lot of milk on location.

Elvis and director Don Siegel on location.

Elvis on horseback, crew on film truck. The DP was Charles Clarke. It was one of his last pictures.

Lastly, here’s Elvis with the great John McIntire. McIntire would replace Ward Bond on Wagon Train about a year later.

 

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Colbert Clark
Written by Howard J. Green
Director Of Photography: Fayte M. Browne
Film Editor: Paul Borofsky

Cast: Charles Starrett (Steve Martin/The Durango Kid), Smiley Burnette (Smiley), Jack Mahoney (Jack Mahoney), Clayton Moore (The Hawk), Eddie Parker (Skeeter), Jim Diehl (Al Travis), Lane Chandler (George), Syd Saylor (Yank-Em-Out Kennedy), John Cason (Duke), LeRoy Johnson (Smoky), Jack Carry (Pete), Sam Flint (Clark Mahoney)


Have been concentrating on the book, which has kept me kinda absent on here. My recent research has been on the unsung director Fred F. Sears.

Charles Starrett starred in The Durango Kid, in 1940. Columbia didn’t get around to The Return Of The Durango Kid till 1945. By the time the series was shut down in 1952, Columbia had cranked out 65 Durango Kid movies — at which point Starrett retired from movies.

One of the last of the series, The Hawk Of Wild River (1952) has a terrific cast, adding Jock Mahoney and Clayton Moore to the usual Durango roster. Of course, Mahoney had been part of the series for quite a while, doubling for Charles Starrett.

After being replaced by John Hart for the third season of The Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore went back to work as one of the best, and busiest, bad guys in Hollywood. First up was the Republic serial Radar Men From The Moon (1952). In The Hawk Of Wild River, he’s The Hawk, a half-breed bandit who’s as proficient with a bow and arrow as he is with a six-gun.

This time around, US Marshal Steve Martin (Charles Starrett) is sent to the town of Wild River to stop a run of stagecoach robberies by The Hawk and his gang. The Hawk has been killing off Wild River’s sheriffs as fast as they can pin a badge on ’em. When Steve hits town, the acting sheriff is Jack Mahoney (Jock Mahoney). The Durango Kid captures The Hawk and once he’s in jail, Martin gets himself arrested and thrown into The Hawk’s cell, never revealing that he’s a Federal man. They escape and Martin joins The Hawk’s gang — and with the help of his alter ego, The Durango Kid, eventually bring the outlaws to justice.

Along the way, Smiley Burnette is hypnotized and convinced he’s a “heap big” Indian chief. And as always happens with these things, he comes close to screwing up Martin’s plans.

Running just 53 minutes, The Hawk Of Wild River is a pretty typical Durango Kid movie, clearly aimed at kids. The usual things are in place: Smiley doing his silly stuff, Starrett donning his Durango outfit (and riding Raider) and lots of riding and fighting and shooting. Director Fred F. Sears keeps it moving at a quick pace, and director of photography Fayte Browne makes it all look like a million bucks. The Iverson Ranch is really used well in this one.

Fred F. Sears started out working as a character actor and dialogue director on the Durango Kid pictures and eventually climbed into the director’s chair. From there, he became a fixture in Sam Katzman’s unit at Columbia until he died in his office on the lot in 1957 (with eight films still awaiting release). It’s a real shame he never got a bigger budget or longer schedule.

Stuntman and actor Eddie Parker plays Skeeter. The next year, he’d play Mr. Hyde in Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1953) and the Mummy in Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955). The guy’s in about anything you can think of.

The Hawk Of Wild River is one of the 10 movies in Mill Creek’s budget-friendly two-disc setThe Durango Kid Collection. The transfer looks wonderful — with this one and the other nine films. It’s a nice little set, and it comes highly recommended. (Wish they’d get around to a volume two!)

RIP, L.Q. Jones.

L. Q. Jones (Justus Ellis McQueen, Jr.)
(August 19, 1927 – July 9, 2022)

The great Western character actor L.Q. Jones has passed away at 94.

His real name was Justus Ellis McQueen, Jr., but for the screen, he took his name from his first picture, Battle Cry (1955).

Jones worked with some of the greats of 50s Westerns: Randolph Scott (1958’s Buchanan Rides Alone, above), Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy. Sam Peckinpah made him a member of his stock company, casting Jones in five of his films. He stayed extremely busy on TV, often in Westerns, throughout the 60s and 70s. And he wrote, produced and directed the 1975 science fiction film A Boy And His Dog.

He was a great storyteller, as the many YouTube videos of him will prove.

L.Q. is T.C., the bad guy on the far right, in this promo still from Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). He became close friends with Strother Martin (upper left). 

Happy Independence Day!

Here’s a lobby card from Republic’s Bells Of Capistrano (1942) to mark the Fourth Of July (1942).

Gene Autry entered the Air Force a few days after principal photography wrapped on this one. It was his last picture till he picked things up after the war with Sioux City Sue (1946). He only made five films for Republic before moving over to Columbia for the rest of his film career.

Here’s wishing you all a fun, safe Independence Day!

Directed by Walter Hill
Starring David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, James Keach, Stacy Keach, Dennis Quaid, Randy Quaid, Christopher Guest, Nicholas Guest, Pamela Reid, Harry Carey Jr., Fran Ryan

Imprint has announced Directed By Walter Hill, a Blu-Ray set of six films directed by Walter Hill: Hard Times (1975), The Driver (1978), The Long Riders (1980), Extreme Prejudice (1987), Johnny Handsome (1989) and Broken Trail (2006).

This is good news, first, because I absolutely love The Driver and The Long Riders—and because among the many extras to be including in this thing, I get to do a commentary for The Long Riders—one of the best of the many Jesse James movies. It’s almost certainly the most accurate.

The folks at Imprint do extraordinary work, always, and I’m overjoyed to be a tiny part of this one. Highly recommended.