Archive for July, 2010

Warner Archive is offering the first 300 pre-orders of the new widescreen DVD-R of Yellowstone Kelly (1959) a copy signed by its star, Clint Walker.

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Baltimore, Maryland. December, 1955.

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Laura from Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings was kind enough to send me a couple rocks from the Alabama Hills. For the time being, it’s as close as I’ll be getting to the locations for some of my favorite films — the Tim Holt RKO’s, a few Roy Rogers pictures, The Gunfighter (1950), Hangman’s Knot (1952), the Ranown cycle, and on to Tremors (1990).

Thanks Laura, for helping these rocks make the 2,500-mile trek from Lone Pine to my desk.

The image above was swiped from The Great Silence, a fabulous blog dedicated to film locations.

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It’s looking like we’re going to have to drill offshore for 50s Westerns on DVD. At least in this case, the more that gets spilled, the better.

John Knight has pointed out a few titles that have been listed on Starscafe. Coming from Spain is Cattle Empire (1958). Written and directed by Charles Marquis Warren, this Joel McCrea picture feels a bit like a prototype for TV’s Rawhide, which Warren created the following year. Judging from the sample frame above (lifted from mundodvd.com — a click will enlarge it), our Spanish friends have used a transfer kind to Cattle Empire‘s ‘Scope image and DeLuxe color. I haven’t seen this film in years, and never widescreen, but I remember it’s one of those that McCrea turns into something just by being in it.

Also on the way (from Spain again) are Dale Robertson in The Gambler From Natchez (1954, maybe not really a Western, but who’s complaining?), Fred MacMurray in the CinemaScope The Oregon Trail (1959) and Randolph Scott and Gene Tierney in Belle Starr (1941).

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In 1954, William Castle was still a contract director at Columbia, cranking out cheap Westerns for Sam Katzman. (According to IMDB, a shaky source, eight Castle-directed pictures were released in 1954!) He was also four years away from producing his first independent picture, Macabre (1958), which insured the audience against death by fright — and made a killing. House On Haunted Hill, a masterpiece that dangled a fake skeleton over the crowd in a crucial scene (this was called Emergo), came a year later.

Castle always gave Sam Katzman credit for teaching him the true value of showmanship (vs. actually having a good movie). Battle Of Rogue River (1954) seems to be an example of one of those lessons. Produced by Katzman and directed by Castle, Rogue River plops “all six winners of the National Indian Beauty Contest” in the middle of its cast.

I didn’t know there was a National Indian Beauty Contest. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t exist before Katzman and Castle came along.

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Beulah Bondi

Saw a bit of an episode of The Waltons the other night, “The Conflict,” where Beulah Bondi played a mountain woman (Martha Corinne Walton) being tossed off of her land to make way for the highway. She was excellent in it, and looking her up, I found out she played the same character in a later episode — and won an Emmy for it. These were her last roles, a highlight in a career full of highlights (Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Furies).

Anyway, this reminded me of Miss Bondi’s fine work in Track Of The Cat (1954). In a film known for William Clothier’s innovative cinematography and color scheme, and for the simple fact that John Wayne produced it, the performances often get overlooked.

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Came across an interesting article from The Age, back in October of 1955 — “New Twist To Westerns” from Screen News by L. R. Swainson — covering what was going on in the Western genre in the middle of the 50s.

“No one need be surprised at Marlon Brando’s announcement that the first film of his newly formed company, Pennebaker Productions, will be a Western — Louis L’Amour’s To Tame A Land — with himself as Gunman No. 1″

Brando and Pennebaker did indeed make a Western, One-Eyed Jacks (1961). It was based on The Authentic Death Of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider, not the L’Amour book.

“…what is surprising is the way in which, even in this age of nuclear weapons and inter-planetary preoccupation, American movie makers are still loyal to the good old horse-opera on which the cinema was reared… A recent check-count on the production schedules of Hollywood studios revealed that more than 80 top budget Westerns were lined up — approximately one-third of Hollywood’s average annual output.”

“In The Man From Laramie, hero James Stewart suffers the usual physical degradations. But they — and the simple plot — are decorated with some up-to-date psychological knickknacks.”

Stewart certainly suffers some physical degradations in that picture, but I’d hardly call them usual.

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Got a real treat this morning. Went and spent some time with Ben Cook of Benton Card Company in Benson, NC. This printing business has been in Ben’s family for generations. From newspapers to gospel and country music posters (Aretha Franklin was a customer early in her career) to political signs, they’ve done quite a bit over the years. Including movie posters.

There were pieces for local theaters and drive-ins. And in the late 50s and early 60s, Benton Card had an arrangement with American International Pictures — working from the pressbooks, they printed 14×22 two- and three-color posters for stuff like Reptilicus and the Corman Poe films. AIP boasted some beautiful artwork during this period, some of it by the great Reynold Brown.

Ben showed me around the current operation downstairs, then all the old block type and printing equipment upstairs. They didn’t throw anything away. (I pulled a random pressbook out of their files and ended up with The Persuader, the 1957 Christian Western produced by Billy Graham’s production company!)

But what really knocked me out were the racks of posters. All labeled, some reprints, a few originals.

I felt like a kid in a candy store. I’ve bought a handful of Benton pieces over the years (Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, for one), and it was great to see where they came from.

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There’s been a real dearth of video releases to report lately. Some of you have written in to lament the fact that you actually had a surplus in your Westerns DVD budget. Well, the folks at Warner Archive are helping take care of that with a couple Westerns on their slate for release today.

First is Anthony Mann’s Devil’s Doorway (1950, MGM) starring Robert Taylor as a Indian who fought in the Civil War, and who returns home to fight the injustices committed against his people.

This was Mann’s first Western, and he displays a real command of the genre. (The Furies would be released the same year.) It was also Mann’s last film with ace cinematographer John Alton. Alton brings along his bag of film noir lighting tricks, making for an incredible-looking film. Taylor is excellent, as always, and Louis Calhern is wonderful as a gambler.

This is a must, folks.

MGM held the release of Devil’s Doorway back to wait and see how another “Indian Western,” Delmer Daves’ Broken Arrow (1950), performed at the box office. (Looking at this insert card, you’ll note that MGM didn’t indicate in any way that Taylor plays an Native American.)

Warner Archives’ other Western release, also available today, is RKO’s The Half-Breed (1952) starring Robert Young, Janis Carter and Jack Buetel.

Buetel is the guy Howard Hughes signed to play Billy The Kid in The Outlaw (1943/1946), then wouldn’t put him in another picture for years and years — around eight, to be exact. Buetel finally followed The Outlaw with The Best Of The Badmen (1951), before playing the title role in The Half-Breed.

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Proof that they don’t make ’em like they used to — and that long before we knew what global warming was, we were suckers for the comfort of air conditioning.

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