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Kino Lorber’s three-Blu-Ray Audie Murphy Collection is gonna be a good one. I’m not sure what I’m more excited about, that I get to do commentaries for two of ’em, or that these films are coming out, period.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of Night Passage (1957) is one of the best-looking Blu-Rays of a 50s Western I’ve seen, and these should look terrific, too. Universal International’s Westerns from this period were beautifully shot — and they’ve taken pretty good care of them.

The Duel At Silver Creek (1952)
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Audie Murphy, Faith Domergue, Stephen McNally

Don Siegel’s first Western, and first film in color, is a fun, fast-paced little picture with gorgeous camerawork from Irving Glassberg. It’s also got a terrific supporting cast — Hal Mohr, Walter Sande, Frank Wilcox, Harry Harvey, Lee Marvin (his first Western), etc. It has fun with the conventions it tosses into the mix.

The story goes that Siegel’s cut of the picture was barely an hour long. The prologue tacked onto the picture to pad out its running time works perfectly. Siegel and Murphy would work again on The Gun Runners (1958).

Ride A Crooked Trail (1958)
Directed by Jesse Hibbs
Starring Audie Murphy, Gia Scala, Walter Matthau, Henry Silva, Joanna Moore

Audie’s an outlaw reformed more or less by circumstance. Walter Matthau is a lot of fun as a judge Murphy gets mixed up with. Gia Scala and Joanna Moore look terrific.

Jesse Hibbs was a good director for Murphy; they’d already had great success with To Hell And Back (1955). This was Hibbs’ last feature before embarking on a busy run (about a decade) as a TV director. Harold Lipstein shot it in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor.

No Name On The Bullet (1959)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring Audie Murphy, Charles Drake, Joan Evans, Warren Stevens, R.G. Armstrong, Whit Bissell

Over the years, U-I got pretty smart with their Audie Murphy movies. They learned to give him a strong supporting cast, and they built movies around his strengths as an actor. (I don’t think he was anywhere near as limited as some say he was.) No Name On The Bullet (1959) might be the best example fo the latter approach. It’s well-written by Gene L. Coon, later of Star Trek fame, and he gave Murphy some terrific lines. Jack Arnold’s no-frills style is a perfect match for the material.

There’s nothing better than a little low-budget movie where everything clicks to create something much bigger than it should’ve been. This is one of those movies. (On a personal note, this is one of the pictures that launched my obsession with 50s Westerns.)

The set gives you the three movies on separate discs, contained in a slipcover. Trailers and commentaries are included (I’m doing the first two.) Highly recommended. Now, when will someone get around to Tumbleweed (1953) and Seven Ways From Sundown (1960)?

Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Theron Warth
Screen play by Lillie Hayward
Based on the novel Gunman’s Chance by Luke Short
Director Of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jim Garry), Barbara Bel Geddes (Amy Lufton), Robert Preston (Tate Billing), Walter Brennan (Kris Barden), Phyllis Thaxter (Carol Lufton), Frank Faylen (Jake Pindalest), Tom Tully (John Lufton), Charles McGraw (Milo Sweet), Clifton Young (Joe Shotten), Tom Tyler (Frank Reardon), George Cooper (Fred Barden), Tom Keene (Ted Elser), Bud Osborne (Cap Willis), Zon Murray (Nels Titterton), Harry Carey Jr., Iron Eyes Cody, Chris-Pin Martin

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In a strict chronological sense, Blood On The Moon (1948) isn’t a 50s Western. But in other ways — look, themes, etc., it fits right in with the best the 50s came up with. It also stands as maybe the finest example of film noir creeping into a cowboy movie.

Drifter Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) gets caught up in a squabble between a big rancher, John Lufton (Tom Tully), and the local homesteaders. But there’s more to it than your usual range war plot device. It’s all part of a scheme put together by Mitchum’s old friend Tate Billing (Robert Preston) to swindle Lufton out of both his herd and his lucrative contract to supply meat to the Indian reservation. Mitchum decides he wants nothing to do with Billing’s caper and sides with Lufton and his daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes).

A fairly typical Western plot from the period. What makes all the difference is how its treated, from its look to some of the performances.

In noir-ish fashion, we watch Robert Mitchum wrestle with his conscience as he decides which side of the conflict to settle on. Nobody’s better than Mitchum at the morally ambiguous stuff. Several times he tries to just ride away, only to be pulled back in. Mitchum’s excellent as the down-on-his-luck cowhand turned hired gun, making sure his transition from drifter to hero doesn’t feel forced.

The rest of the cast gathers favorites from both noir and the Western — Charles McGraw, Walter Brennan (he did Red River this same year), Clifton Young, Tom Tyler, even Harry Carey, Jr. and Iron Eyes Cody. Robert Preston was always one of the best of the likable heels, and he’s at the top of his game here. Barbara Bel Geddes (as Mitchum’s love interest) is terrific, and Phyllis Thaxter (as Bel Geddes’ sister who’s duped by Preston) does a lot with a little.

Director Robert Wise didn’t make many Westerns. He said he wasn’t a fan of them. Maybe that’s why he approached this material, based on a Luke Short novel, the way he did Lewton horror movies like The Curse Of The Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945) and the noir Born To Kill (1947). Whatever the reason, it works, making for a post-War Western that really stands out. Wise had a pretty funny career. The later films that he’s known for, from I Want To Live! (1958) to The Sound Of Music (1965), are so far removed from earlier pictures like this one. (Wise considered Blood On The Moon his first big feature.) For instance, compare The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). The films got bigger, for sure, but not necessarily better. 

Robert Wise put this picture together with producer Theron Warth, getting a top-notch script from Lillie Hayward. With the cast was assembled and the shoot approaching, there was talk of replacing Wise with Jacques Tourneur — in an attempt to recapture some of the Out Of The Past (1947) magic. Dore Schary stuck with Wise.

Everything from the shadowy noir touches and more authentic costumes (Wise studied period photographs) to the stunning Sedona locations and well-propped sets make Blood On The Moon a Western unlike any other, something truly unique — as much a character study as it is an action picture. And speaking of action, it’s got one of the damnedest saloon fights you’ve ever seen (between Mitchum and Preston).

Robert Wise: “I wanted to avoid one of those extremely staged-looking fistfights used in all the movies, where the stuntmen did this elaborate, acrobatic fighting and you saw the real actors only in close-ups. I wanted this to look like a real fight, with that awkward, brutal look of a real fight, and when it was done for the winner to look as exhausted as the loser. And Mitch was excited about this. He knew exactly what I was going for. I think he probably knew more than I did about barroom fights like this one.”

Blood On The Moon gets a huge boost from the atmospherics and deep shadows of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. One of the true artistes of the whole noir thing, he shot Stranger On The Third Floor (1940, considered the first film noir), Out Of The Past and Roadblock (1951). He was DP on a few of Val Lewton’s RKO horror pictures, such as Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and Bedlam (1946). And he shot a few of RKO’s Tim Holt pictures, giving them a look way beyond their budget. Thanks to Mr. Musuraca, Blood On The Moon is one of the best-looking B&W Westerns ever made, which makes its release on Blu-Ray something to be excited about.

This time around, Warner Archive has given us one of the best-looking B&W Blu-Rays I’ve seen. It’s clean and crisp, and the contrast levels are absolutely perfect — important in a picture that goes from snow-covered landscapes in daylight to the dark woods in the dead of night. Warner Archive is getting a lot of praise, well-deserved, for restoring 15 minutes to another Mitchum Western from 1948, Rachel And The Stranger. But seeing Blood On The Moon like this, so pristine, is a revelation. Highly, highly recommended.

SOURCE: Robert Wise quote from Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care by Lee Server.

RIP, John Ericson.

John Ericson
(September 25, 1926 – May 3, 2020)

John Ericson didn’t make a lot of movies (there’s tons of TV), but he’s in some really good ones, especially when it comes to 50s Westerns — John Sturges’ Bad Day At Black Rock (1955), The Return Of Jack Slade (1955), Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957, above), Day Of The Badman (1958) and Paul Landres’ Oregon Passage (1958). He has passed away at 93.

Ericson’s probably best known by folks today for TV’s Honey West (1965) with Ann Francis. Worth looking for is Pretty Boy Floyd (1960), a cheap entry in the late-50s, early-60s run of gangster bios. It’s no Baby Face Nelson (1957), but it’s well worth your time.

Thanks to Walter for the tip.

From Shout Factory — America’s favorite singing cowboy Gene Autry heads to streaming for the first time ever with the launch of the Gene Autry film and television library on Shout! Factory TV May 1.

The streaming service will release its first collection from Gene Autry’s personal archive, with the streaming debut of fully restored feature films South Of The Border, Gaucho Serenade, Melody Ranch, The Strawberry Roan and Blue Canadian Rockies.

Directed by Jerry London
Starring Clint Walker, Carl Betz, James Wainwright, Neville Brand, Robert Urich

Released during the Golden Age of TV movies, Killdozer (1974) was a big deal among us monster kids at my elementary school the Monday after it aired. To nine-year-olds, Killdozer was really cool — and I’m sure it’s that age demographic, all grown up and nostalgic, that makes up a lot of the picture’s cult following today.

One thing it has going for it is a pretty terrific cast, with Clint Walker and Neville Brand being of particular interest to those of us here. Kino Lorber is bringing it to Blu-Ray this summer, and I’m pretty excited about it.

A Few Things.

There’s a lot going on these days, which is probably a huge understatement. At the same time, within the confines of each of our homes, there’s not much going on at all. I hope everyone is safe, healthy and watching a lot of movies. Thought I’d bring up a few things.

Apache Drums (1951) is coming to Blu-Ray from Sidonis out of France. This is very good news. It’s a terrific picture.

RIP, James Drury.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asked for quite a few movie recommendations, and it’s been a blast to suggest Westerns and crime/noir movies to my homebound friends. It makes me feel good to know that yet another person has come to appreciate Man In The Saddle (1951) or Armored Car Robbery (1950).

Saw Day Of Triumph (1954), a low-budget, heartfelt, but talky story of Christ. It had a great cast — Lee J. Cobb, James H. Griffith (as Judas!), Joanne Dru (as a lovely Mary Magdalene), Burt Mustin, Robert Cornthwaite, Barbara Billingsley, Mike “Touch” Connors and Ralph Moody. The minimal sets are pretty effective, but Burbank is a long way from the Holy Land, in about every possible way.

Completed the commentary for Kino Lorber’s When The Daltons Rode (1940) last week. Due to coronavirus closings and stuff, we recorded it at the engineer’s home. We had to take a break when a train came through town — the tracks run behind his house. Ironically, it was the train robbery sequence.

Hang in there, folks!

I recently had the extreme pleasure of being a guest on Todd Liebenow’s terrific podcast Forgotten Filmcast. Our subject was William Castle’s Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1954). It’s up now — just click the ad above. It’s a good way to spend an hour of your “stay at home” time.

It’s a picture I’ve written about before, and it’s available in Mill Creek’s terrific set The Fastest Guns Of The West: The William Castle Western Collection