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Archive for April, 2011

Raleigh and much of the rest of North Carolina are still reeling from Saturday’s tornadoes. It breaks your heart to see all the destruction and hear of the lives and homes lost, but it’s great to watch people bouncing back, helping each other out and just generally being Good.

With all this going on, I keep thinking about Melody Time (1948), the Disney feature that gave us the “Pecos Bill” sequence — tied with Ichabod And Mr. Toad (1949) for my all-time favorite Disney animated thing. But what Pecos has that Toad lacks is Roy Rogers and The Sons Of The Pioneers, who sing of Pecos showing a tornado just who’s boss:

“Once he roped a raging cyclone out of nowhere
Then he straddled it and settled down with ease
And while that cyclone bucked and flitted
Pecos rolled a smoke and lit it
And he tamed that ornery wind down to a breeze”

Raleigh sure coulda used Bill last Saturday.

The wonderful Pecos Bill record, complete with MP3s and original artwork, was featured as part of the Kiddie Records Weekly project. Here. He’s Week 15. As a kid, I played this LP (a Camden re-issue with Johnny Appleseed on the other side) till the grooves were practically gone. (Explains a lot, I guess.) Go get it, folks!

As a true corrupter of youth, I felt compelled to search out an image of Pecos with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

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That’s what I’ve always heard anyway. I’ve also heard that VCI has had to delay their new widescreen Tennessee’s Partner (1955) till May 3rd. Production issues. I hate it’s delayed, but look on the bright side — this gives me yet another chance to post about an Allan Dwan Western.

Henry Cabot Beck brought this to my attention — Time Out‘s list of the The 50 Greatest Westerns. It’s quite a list, with some really interesting choices. There were a number of pictures I was happy to see make the list, and some things that made me scratch my head, such as Decision At Sundown (1958) being included, but not The Tall T (1957). Seven Men From Now (1956) was also there.

My list would naturally lean heavily on the 50s, but I was glad to see Monte Hellman’s The Shooting (1966) appear. And while you expect these things to never match what you’d pick yourself, I was kinda cheesed off that Silver Lode (1954) was omitted.

So look it over, gang, and let’s tear it apart.

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A tornado, actually more than one, touched down in Raleigh this afternoon, knocking down lots of trees and leaving lots of people without power (and homes) — and causing a lot of damage around Shaw University.

We were out running errands and ducked into a Walmart when things started looking bad. While we were there, I spent some time in the DVDs and found this four-picture Universal set for $5. You get Whispering Smith (1948), Albuquerque (1948), War Arrow (1953) and The Duel At Silver Creek (1952). Not bad for a buck-and-a-quarter each.

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I’m really looking forward to VCI’s widescreen Tennessee’s Partner (1955), slated for the 19th. Their current edition of the film, which looks just fine, is full frame. The above image shows you about what to expect aspect-wise. Superscope pulled a 2:1 anamorphic image from a full-frame negative.

The film itself, supposedly Allan Dwan’s personal favorite of the 10 pictures he made with producer Benedict Bogeaus, is a lot of fun. Dwan’s breezy direction and John Alton’s luscious cinematography make this a real piece of eye candy — the way the camera glides through Rhonda Fleming’s gambling hall is worth the price of admission. It’s one of those instances where a sound stage is better than real life.

During the researching and writing of this book (and all the posts on this blog), these Dwan pictures have become some of my favorite 50s Westerns, especially Silver Lode (1954). I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Expect (still) more on Tennessee’s Partner once I get a load of the new DVD.

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The Western Film Fair

Clarion Sundance Plaza Hotel

Winston-Salem, NC

July 20-23, 2011

You can find out more about the show here. This is their 34th year! As always. there will be guests, screenings and a dealers’ room.

One of the guests is Lisa Montell who appeared in The Tomahawk Trail (1957) and The Lone Ranger And The Lost City Of Gold (1958).

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From the Milwaukee Sentinel, February 14, 1957:

“Hollywood badman Robert Wagner, star of The True Story Of Jesse James, at the Palace Theater, fails to frighten autograph hunting high school newspaper editors attending a news conference at the Schroeder Hotel Wednesday.”

From Pieces Of My Heart: A Life by Robert Wagner with Scott Eyman:

“I was looking froward to working with Nick Ray on a Western, but he was a very strange man. He was bisexual, with a drinking problem and a drug problem — a very confused and convoluted personality, even for a director, few of whom were as obviously tormented as Nick… he hardly ever gave you a physical direction. It was all about emotions, and that’s what he tried to put in the movie.”

With The True Story Of Jesse James, there’s a lot to not like. But I like it anyway.

Some of the performances aren’t up to snuff (though Jeffrey Hunter is excellent as Frank James). The flashback structure gets cumbersome, and the cloud-the-edges-of-the-frame device (which Nicholas Ray didn’t want) is embarrassing. From fade-in to fade-out, it reeks of studio tampering. And, of course, there’s the pesky little fact that the true story isn’t all that true — even if it’s truer than other Jesse James pictures.

But Ray’s unparalleled use of color and ‘Scope, along with some terrific sound design, make individual sequences very effective — even if the picture as a whole falls short. Plus, it’s hard to dislike any film that offers up Agnes Moorehead, Alan Hale (Jr.), John Carradine, Chubby Johnson and Frank Gorshin. What’s more, it falls right in line with so many of Ray’s other pictures, with Rebel Without A Cause being the obvious one. Both deal with troubled young men and the reasons for their behavior (problems with authority, the desire to somehow live a “normal” life, etc.).

There are about a dozen films jockeying for the last few slots in my book — that “50 Films” gimmick has become quite a burden. This is one of them. While it certainly has its merits, Johnny Guitar (1954) already ensures that Ray makes the list. So it basically comes down to how much material can be turned up on it — how good a chapter it would make — or if I fall completely in love with it and can’t bear the thought of leaving it out.

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Bruce Lander, who passes through 50 Westerns From The 50s quite a bit, sent me a copy of The Western Film And TV Annual from 1958. (That’s not it above — the ’58 volume has Dale Robertson on the cover.) These books, put together by F. Maurice Speed in the UK, make a wonderful resource. Lots of stills. Interviews (Audie Murphy and Jock Mahoney in this one). Info on the real West.

Of course, earlier volumes (it first appeared in 1947) don’t include TV. Features covered in this one include Decision At Sundown (1958), The Hired Gun (1957, black and white CinemaScope, with Rory Calhoun and Anne Francis) and Day Of A Bad Man (1958, starring Fred MacMurray and Marie Windsor). I’m dying to see those last two.

Thanks a million, Bruce. Now to track down the rest of the decade.

 

 

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