Archive for December, 2010

Cheyenne was a landmark TV Western. It was the first hour-long dramatic series. It was one of the first TV shows produced by a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros.). And it made Clint Walker a star.

With a hit show, the exacting schedule that came with it, no features on the horizon, and an exclusive contract that paid him just $150 a week, after two seasons, Walker was unhappy.

Clint Walker: “… I found out they [Warner Bros.] turned down some pretty nice features that I could’ve done… I heard that when people inquired, they were told, ‘When Clint Walker does features, he’ll do ‘em for Warner Bros.’ So that’s where we had the difference of opinion.” *

So, he walked off Cheyenne, which certainly got the studio’s attention. Soon, he had a new contract — and Fifteen Bullets From Fort Dobbs was in production.

Written by Burt Kennedy and George W. George, Fort Dobbs (1958) comes pretty close to the tone Kennedy set for the Scott/Boetticher “Ranown Cycle.” Like those films, dialogue is kept to a minimum. In fact, you’re almost 15 minutes into the picture before the first dialogue scene of any real length.

Walker plays Gar Davis, one step ahead of a posse, who escorts Virginia Mayo and her son (Richard Eyer) through Comanche territory to Fort Dobbs. Along the way, they encounter the Comanches and Brian Keith, an old acquaintance of Davis’ looking to sell a load of Henry repeating rifles. These rifles provide a major plot point — the working title (Fifteen Bullets From Fort Dobbs) might refer to the fact that 15 cartridges could be loaded into the Henry at a time.

Fort Dobbs is a tough, gritty Western that wears its smallish budget well. The country around Kanab, Utah, offers up plenty of production values. There are very few interiors. And William Clothier’s black and white cinematography gives it a stark, noir-ish look that suits the tone of the picture.

Clint Walker is fine in a part that makes the most of his incredible physical presence. Virginia Mayo is quite good as the widow, Mrs. Gray, though her Southern accent comes and goes. But Brian Keith almost steals the picture as the likable, despicable Clett.

Along with the tight script, effective performances and striking camerawork (by William H. Clothier), credit is due to director Gordon Douglas. An exceptional action director who’s unjustly overlooked, Gordon gave us Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball (1946); The Doolins Of Oklahoma (1949), a really terrific Randolph Scott picture; Them! (1954), the first and best of the giant bug movies, to name just a few. He also directed two more Clint Walker pictures for Warner Bros., Yellowstone Kelly (1959) and Gold Of The Seven Saints (1961). All three Walker/Douglas films are now available from Warner Archive.

Max Steiner’s music is effective and gives the picture a big feel. I noticed a cue or two lifted from The Searchers (1956) and suspect further cues were borrowed from other Warner Bros. Westerns.

Fort Dobbs is a high-water mark for Warner Archive. The transfer is stunning at times, really doing Clothier’s photography justice. The occasional stock shot, with its grain and shift in contrast, is the only complaint — and it would’ve been a complaint back in 1958. The audio is very clean with plenty of range, so those all-too-familiar Warner Bros. sound effects (some I recognize from Bugs Bunny cartoons) are crisp and clear.

The packaging, making good use of the original poster art, is a big improvement over Warner Archive’s early releases. (They seem to be going back and reworking the artwork throughout their catalog, and I wish packaging upgrades were available.) A trailer is included, and while that’s not exactly a treasure trove of supplemental material, it goes beyond the program’s usual bare bones presentation. To me, the best bonus feature is a gorgeous transfer, which this DVD-R certainly delivers. And speaking of DVD-R’s, my copy played flawlessly.

Fort Dobbs was a picture I was eager to see again. It didn’t disappoint. Neither did the DVD. You can get it from Warner Archive here. Recommended.

* From a recent phone conversation.

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Happy Fifth Anniversary!

Here’s wishing John McElwee and his blog Greenbriar Picture Shows a happy fifth anniversary. It’s one of the best, and one of the most consistent, of the many film blogs I keep up with.

John’s offered up a ton of facts, figures, images (like the one above) and technical stuff that has been a tremendous help to my research. And he’s in North Carolina to boot!

You know, five years ago, I don’t know if I even knew what a blog was.

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Looks a lot like Track Of The Cat (1954) out there.

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This post was expanded for a Christmas blogathon. I’ve kept the post somewhat alive to preserve the comments.


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Fred Foy, RIP

Fred Foy, the announcer on The Lone Ranger and so many other things, has passed away at 89.

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John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows has posted a terrific piece — two parts with more on the way — on Paramount’s VistaVision process and its debut feature, White Christmas (1954, one of Laura‘s favorites).

Of all the various wide and otherwise-shaped screen formats, VistaVision is my favorite. John does a marvelous job of not only explaining the process, but how it was unveiled back in ’54. (The ad above was swiped from one of those posts.)

Like CinemaScope’s wide image, the deep focus and increased clarity of VistaVision are ideal for Westerns. Just look at the Monument Valley vistas in The Searchers (1956) and you’ll see what I mean. So with the process in mind this morning, here’s a more or less complete list of the Westerns released in “motion picture high fidelity.”

Run For Cover (1955)

The Searchers (1956)

Three Violent People (1956)

Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957)

The Lonely Man (1957)

The Tin Star (1957)

Last Train From Gun Hill (1959)

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

We’re pretty fortunate that most of these VistaVision Westerns are available on DVD. One-Eyed Jacks is a real mess, infecting stores with rancid PD releases. (Here‘s a bit on that.) The Lonely Man is incredible with its black and white cinematography by the severely underrated Lionel Lindon. The Searchers has even received the Blu-ray treatment, and it’s marvelous. Sadly, Run For Cover is nowhere to be seen.

From its resolution to its aspect ratio, today’s TVs and Blu-ray discs are what the process has been begging for since the last frame of film ran (sideways) through the VistaVision camera. Now if we could just get more true double-frame screenings.

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After looking over my daughter’s letter to Santa — some of the best, most persuasive writing she’s ever done — I got to wondering what would show up on a 50s Westerns wish list. So I polled a handful of folks who frequent this blog. Nothing scientific, just asking some Western fans what they’d like to add to their DVD collections. After compiling all the responses, here’s what we ended up with.

The Doolins Of Oklahoma (1949, Columbia)

Hellfire (1949, Republic)

South Of St Louis (1949, Warner Bros.)

The Walking Hills (1949, Columbia)

Ambush (1950, MGM)

North Of The Great Divide (1950, Republic, uncut)

The Showdown (1950, Republic)

Stars In My Crown (1950, MGM)

Trail Of Robin Hood (1950, Republic, uncut)

Apache Drums (1951, Universal)

Red Mountain (1951, Paramount)

Tomahawk (1951, Universal)

Westward The Women (1951, MGM)

The Big Sky (1952, RKO)

Gunsmoke (1953, Universal)

Jack Slade (1953, Allied Artists)

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953, Republic)

Drum Beat (1954, Warner Bros.)

Johnny Guitar (1954, Republic)

Masterson Of Kansas (1954, Columbia)

Ride Clear Of Diablo (1954, Universal)

Three Hours To Kill (1954, Columbia)

The Last Command (1955, Republic)

A Man Alone (1955, Republic)

Naked Dawn (1955, Universal)

The Rawhide Years (1955, Universal)

Run For Cover (1955, Paramount)

A Day Of Fury (1956, Universal)

Great Day In The Morning (1956, RKO)

Gunslinger (1956, American International)

The Quiet Gun (1956, Regal/20th Century Fox)

Quincannon Frontier Scout (1956, United Artists)

Pillars In The Sky (1956, Universal)

Red Sundown (1956, Universal)

Reprisal! (1956, Columbia)

7th Cavalry (1956, Columbia)

Star In The Dust (1956, Universal)

Fury At Showdown (1957, MGM)

Shootout At Medicine Bend (1957, Warner Bros.)

The Big Country (1958, MGM, the recent restoration)

Fort Massacre (1958, Allied Artists)

Gunman’s Walk (1958, Columbia)

Curse Of The Undead (1959, Universal)

The Hanging Tree (1959, Warner Bros.)

The Hangman (1959, Paramount)

The Wonderful Country (1959)

The picture with the most requests was Westward The Women. (It’s also the film that has spurred the most activity on this blog to date.)

I didn’t ask about box sets, but you cooked up some real interesting ones.

Allan Dwan at Republic

The Joel McCrea Universal Westerns

The RKO Tim Holts

Roy Rogers In Trucolor (This one came up a lot.)

The plan is to sort this list by studio — or by video rights, if I can figure them out — and get the titles to whoever controls them. Maybe it’ll do some good. If nothing else, it was a fun exercise.

If you’d like to add your favorites to the list, go right ahead. Comment away. I won’t be sending it anywhere till after the first of the year.

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20th Century Fox has announced a series of limited-edition DVDs of classic films — 3,000 of each — from their back catalog. Offered through Screen Archives, a great soundtrack label, these will feature a more deluxe treatment of the picture than we’re seeing from, say, Warner Archive. Isolated scores even! You can read more about it here.

Only one title will be released per month, and there are no Westerns listed in the original announcement. But Violent Saturday (1955) is a dynamite crime picture. If you doubt me, just read that supporting cast.

Another way of getting old movies, added to the DVD-Rs, streaming video and expensive imports. To me, this sounds like a great program.

Thanks to Laura for the tip.

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Van Heflin

Today would be the 100th birthday of Van Heflin, one of the finest actors to ever be projected on a screen. Dying at 60, his life — and his list of credits — were far too short.

Of his Westerns, he’s known for Shane (1953) and 3:10 To Yuma (1957), both true landmarks in 50s Westerns. But his performance in the criminally obscure Gunman’s Walk (1958) is among his very best.

I’ve extolled the virtues of this Phil Karlson picture quite a bit since cranking up this blog, and it breaks my heart that it’s so hard to track down and watch. Maybe that Columbia DVD-R thing will fix this one day. “Dear Santa…”

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Right after a post extolling the joys of seeing a classic film in a theater, on film, with an audience, I come across this article (actually, my wife found it) from The Slate — “Why projectionists will soon be no more.”

Good article. And in my opinion, very bad news. Read it here.


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