Archive for June, 2011

Actress Elaine Stewart has passed away at 81. You can find her obituary here.

Here she is with Jimmy Stewart and director James Neilson on the set of Night Passage (1957).

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Interesting story from CNN

Billy the Kid photograph fetches $2.3 million at auction.

By Leslie Tripp, CNN

(CNN) — A 130-year-old photo, billed as the only authenticated picture of legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, sold for $2.3 million at a Denver auction Saturday night.

The Kid reportedly paid 25 cents to have the photo taken in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The Old West Show & Auction had estimated the tintype — an early photographic technique that used metal plates — to bring in between $300,000 and $400,000.

“When the bidding ended, the whole room erupted in clapping and people leapt to their feet,” said Melissa McCracken, spokeswoman for the auction. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

The winning bidder was billionaire William Koch who founded Oxbow Carbon, with reported sales of $4 billion annually. Koch comes from a well-known family whose last name has made headlines in the past year for their political involvement.

David Koch is William’s twin. David and another brother, Charles, operate Koch Industries and are prominent conservative activists. Koch Industries is a large, privately owned conglomerate with interests ranging from petroleum to plastics to paper.

The Denver auction started with five bidders. Within two minutes, the bids shot up to a million dollars.

“The bidding was absolutely crazy,” McCracken said.

The outlaw was born Henry McCarty but was also known as William H. Bonney and Henry Antrim. Popular history has him gunning down 21 men, but many historians say the number was closer to nine. He later died at the hands of another sheriff when he was only 21.

The big photo above is Paul Newman as Billy in Arthur Penn’s The Left Handed Gun (1958). That whole picture cost less than $2.3 million.

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I’ve had a review PDF of the upcoming Hermes Press book Roy Rogers, King Of The Cowboys: The Collected Dailies And Sundays for a couple weeks now. It’s taken a while to absorb all that’s in there since, 1) a book of newspaper strip reprints is not your normal sit-down-and-read-it type of book, and 2) there’s a lot of great stuff in there to really be savored along the way.

Prior to cracking open this book (actually, clicking on the PDF file), my exposure to the Roy Rogers newspaper strip was limited to chancing upon a piece of original art here and there  — similar to the image above, which appears in the book. I’d never actually read a complete story.

I was eager to see how the strips compared to the Rogers comic books (often written by the excellent and prolific Gaylord DuBois), which I’ve always enjoyed. I was expecting good things.

Turns out, the strips are great. The stories are well put together, the art’s outstanding, no matter who’s doing it — Mike Arens, Pete Alvardo, Alex Toth (who ghosted for Arens for a short time, below) or Tom, Chuck or Bob McKimson. You know, something that has always impressed me about newspaper strips is how the first panel each day has to remind the reader what’s going on, and how the really good ones will manage to do that without throwing that panel away. Such story construction is incredible.

And the book, it’s a pretty incredible thing in and of itself. Just the fact that it exists blow me away. If my assumption, that the stories selected are a representative sampling of the entire 12-year run, is correct, then I can’t wait for the next volume. If this is seen as a one-shot deal, then Hermes Press is to be commended for picking so many cool stories. I knew practically nothing about the strip as I began the Introduction by comics historian Tim Lasuita, but was soon armed with all the history (of the strip and its artists) necessary to really appreciate the stories that followed and understand the strip’s context (Roy Rogers as pop culture phenomenon). The final section, on Alex Toth’s involvement in the strip’s final months, helps illustrate the link between the comic books and the strips — and helps explain why they were all so good.

Kudos to the folks at Hermes Press for unearthing the strip to begin with. The level of attention this book demonstrates is really going above and beyond. The reproduction and design are excellent — from cover to cover, from the strips to memorabilia. This is a first-class presentation, and Roy deserves nothing less.

Here’s the Amazon link.

Postscript: Looking at the News & Observer this morning, I came across the obituary for Pamela Elton Jenks (June 1, 1949 – June 21, 2001).

I didn’t know Miss Jenks, but the photo that appeared in today’s paper — a young Pamela in her Dale Evans outfit, right — was wonderful. My condolences to her family — and to Miss Jenks, Happy Trails.

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Okay, The Killer Is Loose (1955) isn’t a Western. But it’s Budd Boetticher entering a period when he made nothing but excellent movies. His next was Seven Men From Now (1956) — see what I mean?

The Killer Is Loose is now available as part of MGM’s on-demand DVD-R program, the MGM Classics Collection. It’s tight, tense and terrific — with Wendell Corey giving a very creepy, career-best performance. Joseph Cotton and Rhonda Fleming are good, too. Highly, highly recommended. The info lists it being full frame, which I hope is a mistake. Lucien Ballard’s cinematography is top-notch and deserves proper treatment.

Below, in a photo I could stare at for hours, are Ballard (beside the camera) and Boetticher (in front of Ballard) shooting a scene on a bus.

Budd Boetticher (from his book When In Disgrace): “The Killer Is Loose was a good film with Joseph Cotton, Rhonda Fleming and Wendell Corey, who were wonderful to work with. But I don’t think they appreciated what Lucien and I did. We made that picture in 15 days on a 20-day schedule.”

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powerHouse Books is asking folks to vote for the cover image for the upcoming John Wayne: The Legend And The Man. Sounds like a great book, offering a glimpse into the Wayne archives and photo albums.

Go here to chime in. The Searchers (1956) shot is great, so are the ones from Hondo (1953)  and The Three Godfathers (1948), but I would’ve put something from Rio Bravo (1959, below) in the running. Guess we’ve all got our favorites. (Now that I look at ’em, that Comancheros shot is pretty cool, too.)

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Audie Leon Murphy

June 20, 1924 – May 28, 1971

Budd Boetticher (from a great interview found here): “What [are] you going to do for an encore when you got a Congressional Medal of Honor when you were 18 years old? I loved Audie Murphy… He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t womanize, but he gambled about everything. Two crows on a fence, he’d bet you a thousand dollars that the one on the left would fly out first.”

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In 1955, Roger Corman was a young independent producer with a couple cheap pictures under his belt: Highway Dragnet (1954) and The Fast And The Furious (1955). The latter, a low-budget crime picture starring John Ireland (who also directed) and Dorothy Malone, wound up being the first film released by American Releasing, run by Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson — a company that would evolve into American International Pictures.

American popular culture would never be the same.

Roger Corman: “The early days at American Releasing were pretty hectic. You always found yourself with no time and no money and a movie to shoot.”

Part of Corman’s arrangement with American Releasing was that The Fast And The Furious would become the first release of a three-picture deal. This deal made sure Corman had money to put into his next film, which turned out to be Five Guns West (1955).

Corman: “Although I had some advance money from AIP, the picture was financed primarily with my money.”

Going into this next one, the young producer wanted to try his hand at something else.

Corman: “After The Fast And The Furious, I felt I was ready to direct… I had been on the lot at Fox and seen how it was done in the big time. I had seen my two little pictures being made. And I did set up a few shot that one day on the beach… I had shot a one-day short subject… I felt, I can do this. If a young man came to me today with similar credentials there’s no way I’d hire him.”

Samuel Z. Arkoff: “He almost had to direct and produce to be able to get on the screen in a short period of time with the amount of money available. If he hadn’t been his own director, he couldn’t possibly have made them so fast. If he hadn’t been his own producer, he wouldn’t have known what he as the director wanted.”

Corman: “The story for Five Guns West was mine, but the structure and screenplay were Bob Campbell’s… Our collaboration became a model for countless future films: We discussed my idea and built a story structure. He wrote, we honed it together, and then I directed from the screenplay. I gave myself a nine-day shooting schedule and a $60,000 budget.”

The picture plays like a Civil War variation on The Dirty Dozen (1967). A group of Confederate prisoners are offered pardons for carrying out a dangerous mission, to journey across Indian Territory to find a Union gold shipment — and a Confederate traitor. Much of the action takes place at a way station, as the prisoners turn on their commander (John Lund) and try to have their way with Dorothy Malone.

Corman: “I only had the five men plus a few minor speaking parts… I offered John Lund and Dorothy Malone as much as I could and hired a young, rugged newcomer named Touch Connors. He later changed his name to Mike and became a TV star on Mannix.”

Mike Connors: “Roger was one of the few people around who gave inexperienced actors a chance. I got, I think, $400. But just working was a great thrill.”

The cast also included two actors who’d go on to memorable parts in other Corman films: Paul Lund, so effective as the alien in Not Of This Earth (1957), and Jonathan Haze (whose name is misspelled in the titles), Seymour in the three-day masterpiece Little Shop Of Horrors (1960). Writer R. Wright Campbell also wrote a part for himself.

Corman: “I was nervous, but I never doubted that I could pull it off. The film was almost all exteriors and I decided to shoot in the parched, rocky terrain at Iverson’s Ranch, on the far side of the San Fernando Valley near Chatsworth… I was also planning to shoot at Ingram’s Ranch, owned by cowboy actor Jack Ingram, because he had built a Western town there.”

Along with his ranch, Jack Ingram himself appears in the film.

Corman: “I had planned everything. Then I awoke on the first day of shooting and drove to the location through an incredible torrent of rain. This wasn’t possible. My first day! I hadn’t even started and I was already behind schedule! I got so worked up and tense that I pulled off the road and threw up. Then I just leaned against my car in the rain and pulled myself together. I made it to Iverson’s and after about an hour’s wait the rain stopped.”

Puddles of water and muddy boots can be clearly seen in the Iverson scenes. Part of the crew trudging around in the rain that day was Oscar-winning cinematographer Floyd D. Crosby, who’d won a Golden Globe for his work on High Noon (1951).

Floyd Crosby: “He needed a lot less coaching than a lot of other young directors. He knew what he wanted, he worked fast, and it was fun. Suddenly we were a team.”

This collaboration would result in excellent, and excellent-looking, pictures like Pit And The Pendulum (1961) and Tales Of Terror (1964). Eventually, Crosby worked on other films, for other directors, at AIP.

Corman: “He was a rarity. He worked fast, which is important to me, and yet his stuff was always good. No matter how fast I moved, Floyd kept right up, and he could light a setup in 10–15 minutes flat, or even faster if need be, and we’d go. That’s unusual—lots of people are fast, but you don’t want to see the results. With Floyd, you didn’t have that problem. Plus, he knew how to set up these really complicated dolly shots quickly. He was the best, and working with him was always a pleasure, professionally and personally.”

Making this first one, however, doesn’t sound like a pleasure at all. For starters, they worked 10-hour days.

Corman: “I’d shoot in the morning and then sit by myself with my eyes closed during our lunch break. I’d just sit there and envision the possible difficulties of the afternoon’s shooting. Throughout the film, I tried to do things like not collapse in front of the cast and crew.”

“After the first week went by and nothing awful happened, I felt a little less petrified. From that experience, I learned that all first-time directors are nervous. If they’re not, then they don’t have the artistry, creativity or sensitivity to be in this business.”

It’s hard to pull off a ride through Indian Territory when you’re got a cast of less than a dozen people. Here’s how Roger tackled it.

“I went to a stock footage library and bought what I needed for the Indians scenes. An audience sees a shot of Indians riding on horseback through the dust — who knows what film that actually came from? A soldier looks through binoculars from a hilltop — then I cut to the stock shot of 500 Indians racing by on horseback. “Okay, fellas,” he says, “the Indians are over there. Let’s head over there!” That was by far the cheapest way for them to travel through Indian Territory.”

Five Guns West stands as a pretty typical ultracheap 50s Western. Actually, it rises above its minimal budget fairly well. Some clumsy camera moves and under-choreographed fights show just how fast they were working. The performances from Lund and Malone are fine, while Connors, Haze and the others try a bit too hard. It was billed as being in “Wide Screen Color” — nothing more than Pathécolor and a 1.85 cropping.

But when you put Five Guns West up against later Corman films, it’s interesting that depending on the budget, cast and schedule—his direction is sometimes worse. Once you’ve seen Ski Troop Attack and Atlas (both 1960), his directorial debut plays like The Magnificent Ambersons.

Corman: “The pace never let up. Before Five Guns West came out, for example, I was already involved with Apache Woman, a Western they created and asked me to produce and direct from a completed script. It cost a little under $80,000.”

Corman: “I did four Westerns, all distributed by AIP. Two of them were my ideas and two were AIP’s ideas — the titles alone will tell you which were which. The two that were my ideas were Five Guns West and Gunslinger (1956). The two that were AIP’s ideas were Apache Woman and The Oklahoma Woman (both 1955).”

And while the budgets and schedules certainly got better, that’s pretty much the way Roger Corman’s directorial career continued.

Corman: “I think if I had been unemployed longer between films, I could have sat and thought a little bit about what I was doing.”

SOURCES: Roger Corman (with Jim Jerome): How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime; Wheeler Winston Dixon: Collected Interviews: Voices From Twentieth-Century Cinema; Ed Naha: The Films Of Roger Corman; and J. Philip di Franco: The Movie World Of Roger Corman.

NOTE: A previous Corman post appeared on this blog: Gunslinger. More on the Roger Corman Blogathon here.

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Just heard that Julie Adams, one of my favorite actresses (seen here with Jimmy Stewart in Bend Of The River), has been added to the guest list for The Western Film Fair. Miss Adams appeared in a number of Universal Westerns and, of course, The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954).

The Western Film Fair

Clarion Sundance Plaza Hotel

Winston-Salem, NC

July 20-23, 2011

Schedules guest Lisa Montell had to cancel her appearance. More on the show here.

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I’m proud to be contributing to the upcoming Roger Corman Blogathon, sponsored by Forgotten Classics Of Yesteryear.

Each blogger has selected a particular film. You’ll find a full schedule here. Expect lots of good stuff.

On Saturday, a post will appear here on Five Guns West (1955) starring John Lund and Dorothy Malone. This was Corman’s first film as director and the first of four Westerns he made in 1955 and 1956. One of them — Gunslinger (1956) starring Beverly Garland, John Ireland and Allison Hayes — is well worth seeking out.

Of course, Roger Corman’s contribution to cinema is immense, from his own pictures to the many careers he helped launch over the years — a list of heavy hitters you’ve probably seen many times. His Pit And The Pendulum (1961) is a personal favorite, one of the films that made me the old movie nut I am today, and one I’m dying for my daughter to get old enough to appreciate.

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This print ad is part of the current American Express campaign. (Click on it and it’ll get bigger.) There’s a web component as well. Being in Advertising (copywriter/creative director) and a fan of Westerns, a couple things struck me about it.

• With the genre declared dead or dormant or whatever, it’s interesting that a Western image still symbolizes The Movies, much in the way stock footage of a cavalry charge — complete with audio of a bugle, gunfire and rampaging Indians — used to represent someone watching TV.

• The widescreen image in the theater illustration suffers when placed on the handheld device. Note that the sides are cropped off.

Don’t strain your eyes to read the copy in the ad. There’s no mention of Randolph Scott. (And I promise this is the closest this blog will get to including advertising — until I start plugging my book!)

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