Archive for November, 2011

My wife and I are big fans of Mid-Century architecture, furniture, etc. (Ever seen Gary Cooper’s house?)

Today, Jennifer was reading up on Richard Neutra and this came up. It’s a rendering of a home designed for Howard Hawks, but never built.

Among lots of other incredible homes and buildings, Neutra designed the Cyclorama in Gettysburg. Oh, prints are available of the Hawks house.

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Last week, I posted about the Fight For 35mm petition, which if you haven’t, I urge you to consider signing. Since then, a very good article about the current state and icky future of theatrical projection has appeared on the AV Club website.

I grew up in a house full of film, usually 16mm. To me, the texture of film, a few specks of dust, changeover cues and the purr of a projector are as much a part of movie-watching as color, sound and popcorn. (One of my problems with DVD and Blu-ray is that they look too good.)

The cinema experience of today is nothing like the one some of us remember — the way these 50s Westerns were seen, incidentally. We’ve gone from movie palace to multiplex, which I don’t see as progress. So if the times they are a-changin’ again, I don’t see me heading out to the cinema too much. After all, we can watch a digital picture at home — on a screen not that much smaller than found in most theaters.

I will now step down off my soapbox and get back to cowboy movies.

Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda, from the TCM Classic Film Festival (and lifted from their website). Thanks to Laura for bringing this article to my attention.

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Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961) is a picture that really seems to divide classic Western fans. To some, it’s a great film; to others, a self-indulgent disaster.

Whichever side you’re on, masterpiece or mess, you probably know something of its troubled production — at least a year behind schedule, a few million dollars over budget, Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah hired and fired, and so on. It’s been written about quite a bit over the years, and I’ve covered it before on this blog.

As a side project to 50 Westerns From The 50s, I’m at work on A Million Feet Of Film: The Making Of One-Eyed Jacks. Particulars will come as they’re sorted out. In the meantime, there’s a Facebook page to share some photos and other material I’ve amassed over the years.

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Happy Thanksgiving.

Here’s wishing you a safe, happy Thanksgiving — along with plenty to be thankful for over the next year.

And in the words of Roy Rogers, “may the good Lord take a liking to you.”

This still is from Utah (1945), which you can watch here if you get sick of parades and football. By the way, Roy and the turkey are surrounded by The Sons Of The Pioneers.

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If you end up at WalMart over the holiday, you might want to fish around in the $5 DVD bin — because there’s good stuff to be had in there. Image Entertainment has released a slew of triple-feature sets, with three films stuck on a single DVD — at five bucks a pop.

There are no technical specs on the packaging, so I tried one and was happy to find that my five-dollar gamble had paid off — Image has licensed the nice anamorphic transfers that are available elsewhere for more money. There are no extra features of any kind.

In addition to these Western sets, there are collections of war pictures (one has Andre de Toth’s excellent Play Dirty from 1968), a Corman/Poe/Price disc, and lots of Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson things.

I really dig Escort West (1959). You can’t beat black and white ‘Scope. Day Of The Outlaw (1959) is one of the best 50 Westerns of them all — we can spend the holiday weekend arguing that one, if you want. And John Sturges’ Hour Of The Gun (1967) deserves far more credit than it gets.

Whether they’re worth a trip to WalMart is a matter of personal taste.

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Just what my day needed — a little Budd Boetticher. First, I hung a title card for Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) in my office, then Seminole (1953) hits DVD. With Budd behind the camera and Rock Hudson, Anthony Quinn, Richard Carlson, Barbara Hale and Lee Marvin in front of it, it’s a good one.

Saw an IB Technicolor 16mm print of this thing years ago, and the color is still seared into my brain.

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“The major film studios have decided that they eventually want to stop renting all archival 35mm film prints entirely because there are so few revival houses left, and because digital is cheap and the cost of storing and shipping prints is high.”

The above quote comes from the overview of the Fight For 35mm petition. And I’m urging you all to read up on it and sign it.

And if that doesn’t work, then I guess it’s Occupy Film Vault.

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The onslaught on new releases continues, which is great news, with a batch of Paramount titles on the way from Olive Films — including a number of 50s Westerns (in addition to Nicholas Ray’s Run For Cover, which I covered in a previous post).

Silver City (1951): Byron Kaskin directs Edmond O’Brien, Yvonne De Carlo, Richard Arlen, Barry Fitzgerald, Gladys George and John Dierkes.

The Savage (1952): Directed by George Marshall. Charlton Heston stars. There was a bit of controversy over the title, with The Savage being switched out with Warbonnet (see below).

Denver And Rio Grande (1952): Byron Haskin and Edmond O’Brien again, this time with Sterling Hayden, Dean Jagger, J. Carrol Naish and Zasu Pitts in tow. Gorgeous Technicolor location work — and Hayden, as always, is cool.

Pony Express (1953): Charlton Heston is Buffalo Bill. Forrest Tucker is Wild Bill Hickock. Rhonda Fleming and Jan Sterling are in it. It’s written by Charles Marquis Warren . What more do I need to say?

The Hangman (1959): I’m dying to see this one again! Robert Taylor, Tina Louise, Fess Parker and Jack Lord make up a terrific cast. Directed by the great Michael Curtiz. Jack Lord was on a roll in this period — Man Of The West (1958), God’s Little Acre (1958) and Williamsburg: The Story Of A Patriot, the VistaVision short subject that has run continuously at the Colonial Williamsburg visitor center since 1957.

The Jayhawkers (1959): Jeff Chandler, Fess Parker and Henry Silva star in this picture, which holds up much better as a Western than as a history lesson about pre-Civil War Kansas. Henry Silva is in a lot of good 50s Westerns — The Tall T (1957), The Bravados (1958) and The Law And Jake Wade (1958), yet we don’t really associate him with the genre. It also features a terrific score by Jerome Moross.

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By the time Oliver Drake planted his director’s chair for the first shot of A Lust To Kill (1958), he’d already carved out quite a place for himself in the history of the Western. He was a real Hollywood veteran, writing cowboy pictures before sound came in, and amassing hundreds of credits. He scripted the incredible Riders Of The Whistling Skull (1937) for Republic, which pitted The Three Mesquiteers against mummies and an Indian cult. While it doesn’t reach the delirium of The Phantom Empire (1935), it has some of that same goofy genre-mixing charm.

As time went on, Drake was doing more and more. He wrote, produced, directed and even composed songs for dozens of Westerns for Universal and Monogram. The Universal Johnny Mack Brown picture The Lone Star Trail (1943) serves as a good example. He’s credited for the screenplay, as a composer and as associate producer. Around the same time, he began directing with more frequency, turning out low-budget pictures such the Jimmy Wakely series for Monogram.

It wasn’t all Westerns, however. Drake was producer and an uncredited scriptwriter on The Mummy’s Curse (1944), the last of Universal’s Lon Chaney Mummy cycle. And he wrote a couple of Monogram’s later Charlie Chan films. From what I can tell, he was a Story Machine.

As the Series Western made its way to television in the early 50s, Drake went along for the ride, writing episodes of everything from The Gene Autry Show to The Adventures Of Superman. But there were still features here and there, such as Marie Windsor in The Parson And The Outlaw (1957, which he wrote and directed) and A Lust To Kill.

A low-budget affair starring Jim Davis, Don Megowan and Allison Hayes — a Production Associates production released by Barjul International Pictures — A Lust To Kill is surprisingly adult and mean-spirited. If it lacked certain production values, it made sure it offered stuff TV couldn’t touch.

Cheney Holland (Megowan) and his brother Luke are involved in a robbery of a load of rifles and abandoned by the rest of their gang. Luke is killed and Cheney apprehended by the pursuing lawmen, a posse that includes former friend Marshal Matt Gordon (Jim Davis). During his brother’s funeral, Cheney escapes with the aid of his girl Sherry (Allison Hayes). While Cheney seeks to settle the score with his gang, Marshall Gordon is after Cheney. Early on, we care for Cheney. There’s good in him and he wants to lead a simple, honest life — but Fate just won’t let him. Over the course of the picture, we know his bad side has won out, and our sympathies start to shift to Jim Davis.

The story and screenplay were by Tom Hubbard and Sam Roeca, who’d written episodes of 26 Men, a Western series from the same period Drake often directed. Director of Photography Glen MacWilliams shot Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), which landed him an Oscar nomination. While the picture has the look of your typical 40s Series Western, its tone and noir-ish plot (not to mention the skinny-dipping barmaids) place it squarely in the 50s. The performances are quite good for a picture that was obviously done on the cheap (and the quick), and we owe the cast and Drake for doing quite a lot with what looks like very little. Having Davis provide a voiceover at the beginning and end from Ecclesiastes 3 is a cool touch. This gritty little picture is well worth 70 minutes of your time. (The only serious liability is the stock music. It’s effective at times, but wildly inconsistent overall.)

You’ll find A Lust To Kill readily available on DVD from Alpha Video. By Alpha’s standards, it looks pretty good. By any other standards, however, it’s a supreme insult. (At least it’s cheap.) An Oscar-caliber cinematographer deserves better treatment than this, even if it’s nowhere near the picture he was nominated for. It’s also available on DVD-R from Something Weird Video. I haven’t seen their release, but I hear it’s much better. It couldn’t help but be.

I’ve been meaning to write about A Lust To Kill for some time. When I recently came into contact with Lisa Drake, Oliver Drake’s daughter, it seemed like the right time to do it. Below is a photo of Oliver Drake’s ranch in Pearblossum, California. Some of A Lust To Kill was shot there. Drake built the house himself — it had electricity, running (cold) water and little else. (May do more on the ranch a bit later.) Thanks to Miss Drake for the photos.

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Warner Archive is serving up an odd one, but a good one. The Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 1 presents nine late-period Monogram Westerns. First up are four Jimmy Wakely pictures, all directed by Lambert Hillyer:

Oklahoma Blues (1948)

Partners Of The Sunset (1948)

Cowboy Cavalier (1948)

Gun Law Justice (1949)

Next are four Johnny Mack Browns:

Outlaw Gold (1950)

Man From Sonora (1951)

Oklahoma Justice (1951)

Texas Lawmen (1951)

And finally, there’s Cavalry Scout (1951), starring Rod Cameron and Jim Davis and directed by Lesley Selander — in CineColor. This was a bigger picture than the usual Monogram product.

Stay tuned. More new release stuff coming on the noon stage!

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