Archive for August, 2012

Fred MacMurray
(August 30, 1908 – November 5, 1991)

We’ve had a lot of birthdays lately, so I almost gave this one a miss. But Fred MacMurray’s Westerns are a big deal here at 50 Westerns From The 50s.

MacMurray had quite a career, going from big movie star to huge TV star — with some ranching and shrewd investing thrown in for good measure. You hear a lot about him being cheap, but the end justified the means — he died a very, very rich man.

In the late 50s, he hit a real sweet spot, appearing in a string of excellent medium-budget Westerns. Quantez (1957) and Face Of A Fugitive (1959, which had the working title Justice Ends With A Gun) are highlights, but the others are certainly worthwhile. I encourage you to sit down with a few of these things some weekend. A Good Day For A Hanging (1958) is pretty easy to find. Quantez and Gun For A Coward (1957) are available as part of the Universal Vault Series.

Wish I could toast him with his own MacMurray Ranch wine. Should’ve planned ahead. I’d like to “dedicate” this post to not just MacMurray, but to my wife Jennifer, who happened upon Face Of A Fugitive one afternoon and told me how good it was, and Blake Lucas, whose enthusiasm for Fred’s cowboy pictures convinced me to really study them as a whole.

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Joe Kubert, 1926 – 2012.

Joe Kubert, one of the undisputed masters of the whole comic-book thing, passed away this month.

In the 50s, he worked on a few Western titles, including Jesse James (that’s not his art, he didn’t do the covers). A bound collection of these is available and very worthwhile.

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George Montgomery
(August 29, 1916 – December 12, 2000)

I don’t think George Montgomery has gotten his due. He may not have made a true classic, and most of his Westerns were of the studio product variety, but he can be counted on for a good solid way to spend an hour and a half. And those modest films are looking better and better with each passing year.

A real renaissance man — actor, producer, director, painter, sculptor, craftsman, builder and on and on — Montgomery had a pretty fascinating life.

Montgomery (to the LA Times): “I was real lucky. You know, I was just a farm boy from Montana when I arrived there (Hollywood in 1937). Two days later, I was in a Garbo movie at MGM, getting $35 a day doing some stunt work.”

I’ve been screaming for a while now about the many merits of Masterson Of Kansas (1954). But Montgomery made plenty of good ones, from The Texas Rangers (1951) to the very interesting Black Patch (1957). (Warner Archive has helped us out with nice transfers of a few titles.) Like Rory Calhoun, Montgomery’s 50s Westerns deserve the attention given to those of, say, Audie Murphy or Joel McCrea.

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August 12th would’ve been Samuel Fuller’s 100th birthday, and the Aero in Santa Monica is paying tribute with three double bills. Friday’s is The Shock Corridor (1963) and Forty Guns (1957). Just seeing the title sequence on a big screen is worth price of admission.

Sorry about the short notice, but things move fast with Fuller.

Friday, August 24

Aero Theatre
1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403

“It’s not even really a Western. I don’t know what it is… Forty Guns doesn’t care.” — Martin Scorsese.

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Child actor Jimmy Hunt is best known today as the kid in the original Invaders From Mars (1953). But he also appeared in two of Joel McCrea’s Universal Westerns — Saddle Tramp (1950) and The Lone Hand (1953). I’ve spoken with Mr. Hunt a couple times about these wonderful films, and about what a terrific guy Joel McCrea was. As I transcribe it all, here’s a bit on making The Lone Hand.

Jimmy Hunt: “They took me out where they now have all the Universal Studios rides. That used to be the old backlot. They got this horse from a little girl and figured ‘If a little girl can ride it, this horse’ll be good.’ I got to go out and ride and ride and ride.

One day I’m out riding, and this thing takes off on me. I’m trying to stop it, and it won’t stop. I’m pulling on the reins so hard, its mouth is bleeding. It dumps me off on the side of a hill, then heads back to the barn, and the wranglers end up out looking for a kid. I’m walking back with tears in my eyes, saying, ‘I don’t want to get back on that horse again.’ On the way to Colorado (location work was done in Durango), that little horse got in a fight with another horse, and that horse kicked the crud out of it. So they had to send it home, and I got another horse. I was the happiest kid in the world to get a different horse.

We stayed at a dude ranch that had a man-made lake with a little island. It had sulfur water for medicinal purposes. Everybody hated it because it smelled like crap, but I would go swimming in it because I thought it was cool. I’d have my makeup on and I’d wash off in that thing and swim around at night.”

More will come as my typing skills permit.

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We’ve been lucky the last year or so, with lots of 50s Westerns making their way to DVD, DVD-R or even Blu-ray. Many films that have been on my Want List for a decade or more are now in my collection — The Wonderful Country (1959), for instance. Bet it’s the same for you.

Running this blog and working on the book it was meant to plug, I’ve come across so many films I want to see again — or have somehow missed altogether. Many of them you’ve mentioned in your comments here, others turn up on someone’s filmography, and some just seem to come out of thin air.

The Parson And The Outlaw (1957) is a good example. I’ve seen this film and remember liking it, but that’s about it. I’m dying to see it again. Marie Windsor is my favorite actress, hands down (for 1949’s Hellfire alone). I’m always interested in the work or Oliver Drake. Charles “Buddy” Rogers returning after a 10-year absence as the parson, and the film’s producer, is intriguing. And how can you resist a lobby card like the one up top? It was a Columbia picture, so what are we waiting for?

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These beautiful Hopalong Cassidy cap pistols (the subject line is what the original box called them) were manufactured by the All Metal Products Co. from Wyandotte, Michigan in 1955. By then, of course, Hoppy was out of theaters (the last of the features was released in 1948) and well-established on TV.

Today, it’s hard to believe kids used to go to the movies wearing these things.

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INSP TV is adding The High Chaparral to its stable of shows, and kicking things off with a marathon on September 15. This has me thinking about Cameron Mitchell, who played Buck Cannon throughout the show’s run.

Mitchell had a pretty incredible career, beginning with offers to pitch for the major leagues — which he turned down to pursue acting — and serving as an Air Force bombardier in World War II. He played Happy Loman in Death Of A Salesman both on Broadway and film. Then there’s his film credits: John Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945), Command Decision (1947), House Of Bamboo (1955), Monkey On My Back (1957). Ride In The Whirlwind (1966, a great film) — even the voice of Christ in The Robe (1953).

Henry Hathaway, Mitchell and Susan Hayward at work on Garden Of Evil (1954).

He was very visible in 50s Westerns, too. Man In The Saddle (1951), Powder River (1953), Garden Of Evil (1954) and Tension At Table Rock (1956, above with Richard Egan), to name a few. Then came a busy period in Europe that resulted in Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964), Minnesota Clay (1964) and Knives Of The Avenger (1966), among others.

But it’s probably The High Chaparral (1967-1971) for which he’s best known.

He did some really terrible horror films in the 70s and 80s — The Toolbox Murders (1978) is atrocious — and he worked steadily on TV. (Name a show, and there’s a good chance he was on it at least once.) What always struck me was that he never seemed to walk through a part. He was too professional for that, the perfect example of a working actor. And while it sometimes seems beside the point, he was good. And quite often, as in Ride In The Whirlwind or The High Chaparral, he was excellent.

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Universal is in the middle of their 100th anniversary shindig. A restored Blu-ray of Jaws (1975) hits the streets today, in case you’re interested. (I can’t wait.)

The Movie Stills Title Collection, a great Web resource, is marking the occasion with a collection of title cards from Universal Westerns. This one for the Audie Murphy picture Drums Across The River (1954) is just one of many. These are really beautiful. Be sure to check them out.

(WordPress says this is the 600th post on 50 Westerns From The 50s.)

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Kit Parker has been working on a history of The Weiss Brothers’ Artclass Pictures. As he described it, “Figured if no one wrote their story it would be lost to history. It took a lot of research, and their story is interesting, even if the majority of their movies are not.”

Part One can be found here. Good stuff.

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