Archive for May, 2012

As we all know, and whether we really like it or not, the manufacture-on-demand DVD business is how we’ll feed our 50s Westerns habit in the future. So I’m pretty stoked that Fox has hopped on board with The Fox Cinema Archives.

In the first batch of titles is Van Heflin in Hugo Fregonese’s The Raid (1954). It costars Anne Bancroft, Lee Marvin and Richard Boone. Also appearing are Peter Graves, John Dierkes, Kermit Maynard and William Schallert. I’d watch Van Heflin brush his teeth, so take my opinion with a block of salt. It’s a good picture.

Also coming is Frontier Marshal (1939), Allan Dwan’s take on the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, starring Randolph Scott and Cesar Romero. Very highly recommended.

So now let’s load the comments section with all the Fox pictures we want.

Thanks, as always, to Paula for the tip.

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Saturday would’ve been John Wayne’s 105th birthday. Here he is in The Comancheros (1961).

Been thinking about this picture quite a bit lately. Partly because the Blu-ray is gorgeous. And because I’ve been thinking about what would’ve happened if Budd Boetticher had accept Duke’s offer and directed it. What a different film it would’ve been (though I like it just fine the way it is), and what a different career Budd would’ve had.

Isn’t it amazing that over 50 years after this picture came out, we care about this stuff?

Happy birthday, Duke.



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Here’s remembering the brave men and women who’d given their lives for all of us here in the United States.

The image is from John Ford’s Fort Apache (1948).

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Coming on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films in August — Raoul Walsh’s Pursued (1947).

Cool, huh?

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A Wayne-Fellows Production
Directed by John Farrow
Produced by Robert Fellows
Screenplay by James Edward Grant
Based on a story (“The Gift Of Cochise”) by Louis L’Amour
Photography: Robert Burks, ASC and Archie Stout, ASC
Editor: Ralph Dawson, ACE
Music: Emil Newman and Hugo Friedhofer
Technical Advisor: Major Philip Kieffer

CAST: John Wayne (Hondo Lane), Geraldine Page (Angie Lowe), Ward Bond (Buffalo Baker), Michael Pate (Vittorio), James Arness (Lennie), Rodolfo Acosta (Silva), Leo Gordon (Ed Lowe), Tom Irish (Lt. McKay), Lee Aaker (Johnny Lowe), Paul Fix (Major Sherry), Rayford Barnes.


Over the years, a number of things have kept Hondo from being recognized as the fine Western it is. First, there’s a tendency to discount all 50s 3-D films as slaves to a gimmick. Next, there’s the fact that it was released the same year as, and has a few similarities to, George Stevens’ Shane (1953) — which has taken its place as one of the genre’s giants. Then consider that Hondo sits among pictures like Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956) and Rio Bravo (1959) in John Wayne’s filmography — it’s easy to be overlooked in a crowd like that. Then, and probably the toughest of these hurdles to overcome, is the decade or so the picture was virtually impossible to see.

This absence was brought about by Wayne’s estate and included all the films produced by Wayne-Fellows and Batjac. (When Robert Fellows was bought out, the company was renamed Batjac, after the shipping line in 1949’s Wake Of The Red Witch.) The Batjac pictures resurfaced on DVD in 2005, with a very nice edition of Hondo being one of the highpoints.

Hondo began as a Louis L’Amour story, “The Gift Of Cochise,” which James Edward Grant, Wayne’s scriptwriter of choice, adapted for Wayne-Fellows. (It appeared in the July 5, 1952 issue of Collier’s.) John Farrow was signed to direct, and Glenn Ford was offered the lead. Ford didn’t want to work with Farrow after his experience on a previous Wayne-Fellows picture, Plunder Of The Sun (1953). Unwilling to fire the director, Wayne took another look at the script and decided to do it himself.

Wayne is Hondo Lane, a Cavalry dispatch rider who turns up at the small ranch of Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page), located in the middle of Apache territory. He’s on foot, with his dog, having lost his horse fighting the Apaches. She says her husband is away and will be back shortly. Seeing through her lie — her husband doesn’t seem to be coming back — he urges her and her son (Lee Aaker) to seek safety from the Apaches. She’s never had trouble with the Apache chief Vittorio (Michael Pate) before, and decides to stay. From there things get a bit more complicated, as Wayne ends up killing Page’s ne’er-do-well husband (Leo Gordon) and being captured and tortured by Vittorio. There’s an exciting wrap-up as Wayne helps the Cavalry lead a number of settlers out of Apache territory.

Grant’s script expanded the L’Amour short story considerably, and L’Amour then novelized the screenplay. Published to tie in the film’s opening, it was a bestseller — and is still in print today.

Wayne-Fellows was in a distribution deal with Warner Bros., who’d seen runaway success with House Of Wax (1953) in 3-D, so it soon came to pass that Hondo was to be shot in 3-D. It would be the first time Warner Bros. would use its new All-Media camera rig — and the first of Wayne-Fellow’s productions in color (WarnerColor).

All the Batjac pictures benefited from Duke’s working relationships with some of the best actors and technical people around. Behind the camera were cameraman Archie Stout and John Ford, who visited the location and ended up shooting a bit of second unit stuff. The cast included third-billed Ward Bond, Paul Fix in a character part, and James Arness — under contract to Wayne’s company and still a few years from being recommending by Duke for Gunsmoke.

One clear break from what, and who, we expect from a John Wayne Movie turned out to be his leading lady — Geraldine Page.

Paul Fix: “Duke’s agent, Charles Feldman, also represented Geraldine Page who was a successful actress on the New York stage. Robert Fellows offered her the part without testing her… Duke was dismayed when he first saw her. She had bad teeth, so the first thing Fellows did was send her to a dentist who worked on her for three days.”

Cast and crew arrived in Camargo, Mexico, with shooting to start June 11, 1953. Thanks to the technical difficulties of shooting 3-D on location, things got off to a rather slow start. Setups were few and far between.

Leo Gordon: “They had that great big camera that was the size of a small truck.”

Geraldine Page: “It was a very temperamental machine. So we had lots of time to sit under the broiling Mexican summer sun.”

Wayne and mogul Jack Warner had been communicating via telegram from the beginning, often with Wayne complaining about the delays and expense of working in 3-D. Jack Warner saw some dailies and wired on June 18 about more close-ups: “Director is not moving you and Geraldine close enough to camera. Everything seems to be too far away.”

Wayne replied two days later: “Farrow has done everything but play music to get camera in for close shots… cameraman is over cautious for fear front office will scream eyestrain. Will show cameraman your wire.”

The “cameraman” Wayne refers to is Archie Stout, a Batjac veteran who shared duties on Hondo with Robert Burks, who’d worked on House Of Wax and would go on to shoot some of Hitchcock’s finest films. But the 3-D cameras and frustrated DPs weren’t the only things troubling Wayne. He was in the middle of a divorce from his wife Chata. Their relationship was volatile, to say the least. Then there were his scenes with Page.

James Arness: “Acting with Geraldine Page was difficult for Duke, since their styles were completely different. Here was dynamic Wayne, who wanted to move things right along regardless of meaningless details, and a very intense costar who wanted to know the meaning of every scene she was in… as they got used to each other, things worked out fine.”

What’s more, the Mexican temperatures sometimes topped 120 degrees.

James Arness: “It was mid-summer, and blazing hot down there. We worked 14 hours a day in the sun… After each day’s shooting, we’d all race back to our run-down Mexican motel and hit the bar to quench our thirst. We ordered anything, just so the glass was full of ice. After a few day’s, everyone came down with Montezuma’s revenge… The problem was solved when we realized the water for the ice in our drinks was coming from a polluted river near the hotel.”

Lee Aaker: “We were in Mexico for three months doing it… most of all, I remember John Wayne as being very nice to me.”

After wrapping in early August, the picture was quickly edited and scored for a Thanksgiving premiere in Houston. Its wide release in January of 1954 was very successful. There’s been a lot of debate over the years about the picture’s 3-D engagements. Some claim it played mostly flat, but that’s not the case. Almost all of its first run was in 3-D.

Whether flat or in 3-D, Hondo is an excellent film — not a great one. Its smaller size turns out to be a large part of its appeal, and it seems to hint at the look and tone of The Searchers (1956).

Wayne’s performance is excellent. Despite his trouble working with Geraldine Page, their scenes together are very good, some of his best work. It’s easy to wish Wayne had called up Maureen O’Hara for Mrs. Lowe, but Page brings lot to the film. She was perfectly cast, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Ward Bond is terrific, making a big impression with relatively little screen time as Buffalo Baker, a grizzled old friend of Hondo’s. Leo Gordon is perfectly slimy as Ed Lowe — boy, am I glad when he gets shot. But acting honors have to go to Michael Pate as the Apache chief. He somehow manages to make Vittorio scary and sympathetic at the same time. Hondo is held up as an early example of Hollywood treating Native Americans and their culture with respect. It does it without preaching or sacrificing the action audiences came for. This is a cowboy movie that doesn’t need 3-D glasses to give you plenty of depth.


Paramount’s Blu-ray of Hondo is, in some ways, simply a high-definition version of their 2-D DVD from 2005. Both contain the same bonus material — an excellent collection of commentaries, documentaries, trailers, photos and more. (A couple of the documentaries didn’t make it over from DVD.) But the Blu-ray’s 1.75 ratio makes all the difference. This is clearly how this film was meant to be seen. It’s one of the nicest WarnerColor transfers I’ve seen, with its harsher contrast helping you feel the heat Wayne and company suffered through. Of course, there’s the typical jump in sharpness and detail that comes with Blu-ray.

Audio is clean with a nice range, and I much preferred the original mono to the 5.1 mix. (I have to say it’s been the audio, as much the video, that has really impressed me with the shift to Blu-ray.)

Hondo is an essential 50s Western, if for no reason other than Wayne made so few cowboy pictures during the decade. And for those wondering if Hondo’s worth the upgrade to Blu-ray, put on your old DVD. Look at all the dead space at the top and bottom. Yep, it’s worth it.

SOURCES: James Arness: An Autobiography; Duke, We’re Glad We Knew You; Duke: The Life And Image Of John Wayne; this fabulous article by Bob Furmanek and Jack Theakston; and more.


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One of our knowledgeable friends out in Bloggywood maintains an amazing Flickr photostream — and it’s high time you were all introduced to it.

His name’s David Raynor from Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire, England, UK. He’s been uploading his collection of film stills, posters, handbills, scans and personal photographs — as TheBrinkswayBoy — providing us all with an incredible resource and hours of obsessive fun. David was a projectionist, so he’s not only got a ton of film paper, but he knows how these pictures were exhibited. (For instance, he solved the mystery of how Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier played theaters: 1.66. He knows because he ran it.)

A couple examples, chosen almost at random. Above, Rory Calhoun in George Sherman’s The Treasure Of Poncho Villa (1955), is a scanned frame from a Technicolor SuperScope print. (Be sure to read his comments for a lesson in anamorphic processes.)

Below is Rhonda Fleming in Bullwhip (1958). In his notes on this one, David even tells you when and where he saw it. By the way, Bullwhip was scored by the great character actor James Griffith.

There’s plenty more where these came from.

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Just what we all need — some good news. Olive Films are doing us 50s Westerns fans a real favor these days, and I may need to have my salary direct-deposited into their account.

In recent weeks, they’ve come through with so many cool things: Run For Cover (1954), Denver And Rio Grande (1952), Pony Express (1953), The Hangman (1959), The Jayhawkers (1958), High Noon (1952) and more.

And now they’ve announced two more essential pictures — John Ford’s Rio Grande (1950) and Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954) — with a release date of August 7. Both will be available in standard DVD and Blu-Ray. No info on bonus features as of yet.

Both are Republic pictures. Rio Grande received a nice DVD release several years ago. Laserdisc is the only round silver thing Johnny Guitar has been on in the States.

Thanks to all of you who brought this to my attention.

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Margia Dean appeared in a number of 50s Westerns, from The Return Of Jesse James (1950) to Ambush At Cimarron Pass (1958, above). She’s also in the Hammer classic The Quatermass Experiment/The Creeping Unknown (1955). Then there’s winning a Shakespearean performance contest at 15, being crowned Miss California and producing a couple pictures in the 60s. I could go on and on.

Ms. Dean is mentioned in Maury Dexter’s memoirs, and she didn’t like, or agree with, what she read. Here’s her response:

“An author shouldn’t make accusations without being sure of the facts. I didn’t even know that Maginetti was fired, or why. I had no knowledge or participation in the business operations, or input. I would never have used any influence that I might have had to harm someone. It saddens me to have read that those whom I thought of as friends, were threatened by me and even boycotted me. I was nice to everyone.” — Margia Dean

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Directed by Paul Landres
Produced by Richard E. Lyons
Associate Producer: Maury Dexter
Written by Stephen Kandel
Director of Photography: Walter Strenge, ASC
Art Director: Edward Shiells
Supervising Film Editor: Robert Fritch, ACE
Music Composed by Paul Dunlap

CAST: John Agar (Sheriff Jim Crayle), Joyce Meadows (Peg Barton), Barton MacLane (Simon Crayle), Robert Strauss (Yubo), Lyn Thomas (Kate Durand), James Griffith (Cash Skelton), Morris Ankrum (Andrew Barton), Leslie Bradley (Rev. Jacob Hall), Doodles Weaver (Eph Loveman), Holly Bane (Tanner).


In the mid-50s, B producer Robert Lippert entered into an arrangement with 20th Century-Fox where his Regal Films, Inc. would produce a series of second features for the studio — two black and white CinemaScope pictures a month. Lippert wanted to combine the economy of black and white with the draw of CinemaScope. They called the process Regalscope.

Regalscope is black and white CinemaScope, nothing more. Lippert made around 50 Regalscope features between 1956 and 1959 — all of them cheap, most of them Westerns. These Westerns feature folks like John Agar, Jim Davis, Beverly Garland and Forrest Tucker. One, Ambush At Cimarron Pass (1958) gave Clint Eastwood an early role. And each picture is a virtual parade of your favorite character actors.

Maury Dexter worked for Lippert during the Regalscope years, making sure they got a feature in the can in just a week. (He gets an associate producer credit on Frontier Gun.)

Maury Dexter: “We were shooting as many as 20 films a year… We had … first-rate production men with years of experience in their field. By name: Frank Parmenter, Herb Mendelshon, Clarence Eurist, Ralph Slosser and more. We hired directors of photography such as Floyd Crosby, Daniel Haller, James Wong Howe, Kenneth Peach, Ed Cronjager and Joe Birocletal – all top-flight cameramen, some Academy Award winners. We were churning out a feature every few weeks that included subjects such as adventures, thrillers, Westerns, Civil War and some science fiction like Kronos (1957) and The Fly (1958).”

Frontier Gun (1958) was produced by Richard Lyons.

Dexter: “[Lyon’s] claim to fame, at that time, was that his stepfather was an officer of Leows, Inc. So, Richard came to us as a wanna-be producer… Lippert assigned him to me to teach him the fine points of producing. Richard was an amiable, easygoing person and was eager to learn. He was finally given a project and I physically produced the show, but Richard learned a lot and, naturally, was given screen credit as producer.”

Lyons would eventually produce Ride The High Country (1962) for MGM. We all owe him for that one.

Frontier Gun is yet another town-tamer story. John Agar is Jim Crayle, son of noted lawman Simon Crayle (Barton MacLane). Agar’s given a badge by Honcho’s town council to take on Yubo (Robert Strauss) — one of those saloon owners intent on running the town — so Honcho can become a safe place for decent people to live. Agar’s an expert shot, but an old injury makes him slow on the draw. Eventually, the father rides into town to tell his son he’s not up to the task.

Paul Landres directed. By 1958, he was already a TV veteran, directing episodes of everything from Boston Blackie to The Lone Ranger. He was a dependable journeyman director who made only a handful of features. Here he does an admirable job with the money and schedule he had to work with. It was shot by Walter Strenge, who did a number of the Regalscope films, including Stagecoach To Fury (1956). For Frontier Gun, Landres and Strenge relied on the medium shots and long takes that make early widescreen films so interesting.

Frontier Gun was the second of three pictures Joyce Meadows made with John Agar.

Joyce Meadows: “I grew very attached to John. We worked very well together… I thought he had a very good presence on the screen. He worked hard and was very, very in favor of whomever was working with him, to share the camera.”

Robert Strauss, who usually plays comic badguys, is quite interesting as Yubo. Veteran character actors Doodles Weaver and James Griffith are on hand giving the picture a little extra B Western clout.

Joyce Meadows: “Morris Ankrum was also in that film. What a great character actor he was, and I enjoyed studying him when he performed.”

You have to cut the Regalscope pictures some slack. They’re a bit talky, and the lack of money and time can be quite obvious. But they have great casts, especially the Westerns, and the scripts usually play well. Frontier Gun is one of the better ones. It’s a real shame they’re so hard to track down, especially in some semblance of widescreen — because once you get into them, you really want to see them all. Anybody out there got a widescreen Stagecoach To Fury?

An interesting, and disturbing, bit of trivia: the 35mm print archived at UCLA is missing a couple reels.

SOURCE: Maury Dexter’s Highway To Hollywood; Ladies Of The Western by Michael Fitzgerald and Boyd Magers; Scream Sirens Scream! by Paul Parla and Charles P. Mitchell.

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Gary Cooper
1901 – 1961

Here’s Anthony Mann pointing a gun at Gary Cooper as Royal Dano looks on. They’re hard at work on Man Of The West (1958). This disturbing, incredible film may be the Blue Velvet of 50s Westerns.

Coop was born on this day in 1901. He passed away way too soon, but not before he’d established himself as one of the greatest film actors of all time.

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