Archive for October, 2012

Another Audie Murphy Western coming to DVD is always good news. In January, Cast A Long Shadow (1959) will arrive from Galam (Shout Factory’s parent company). It was directed by Thomas Carr and co-stars Terry Moore, John Dehner, James Best and Denver Pyle.

ClassicFlix lists it as widescreen. More info here.


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Directed by Hugo Fregonese
Produced by Val Lewton
Screenplay by David Chandler, from “Stand At Spanish Boot” by Harry Brown
Director of Photography: Charles P. Boyle, ASC
Music: Hans J. Salter
Film Editor: Milton Carruth

CAST: Stephen McNally (Sam Leeds), Coleen Gray (Sally), Willard Parker (Joe Madden), Arthur Shields (Reverend Griffin), James Griffith (Lt. Glidden), Armando Silvestre (Pedro-Peter), Georgia Backus (Mrs. Keon), Clarence Muse (Jehu), Ruthelma Stevens (Betty Careless), James Best (Bert Keon), Chinto Guzman (Chacho), Ray Bennett (Mr. Keon).


Happy Halloween. This is my contribution to the Val Lewton Blogathon — a celebration of the life and work of the great producer.

Hosted by Stephen aka Classic Movie Man and Kristina of Speakeasy, you can find more posts at either Classic Movie Man’s Lewton page or Speakeasy’s Lewton page — by film bloggers from all over the Intenet. I’m honored to be rubbing cyber-elbows with them.

If this is your first stop on the Val Lewton blogathon, you’ve come in at the end of the show. Apache Drums (1951) was producer Lewton’s last film; he died before its release. Though this was his only Western, and the only time he would produce a Technicolor film, Apache Drums is very much an extension of his earlier work in horror films. A little backstory is in order.

Val Lewton was a novelist who wound up a producer. In the early 40s, he found himself in charge of a small unit at RKO, making horror films for $150,000 each. His psychological approach, preying upon our fear of the dark and the unknown, was both effective (the first, Cat People, grossed millions and helped save the studio) and cost-effective (little light, minimal sets and no monster makeup). Lewton believed it was better to suggest horror than to show it. Leaving RKO in 1946, he made films for Paramount and MGM, and considered starting an independent production company with two of his directors from RKO, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. It fell through. There was talk of an association with Stanley Kramer at Columbia. And there was a producing gig at Universal-International — which resulted in Apache Drums.

The town of Spanish Boot is on a mission to make something respectable of itself. So when Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally), a gambler, shoots a man in self defense, he’s run out of town by Mayor Joe Madden (Willard Parker) and Reverend Griffin (Arthur Shields). He’s also forced to leave his girl Sally (Coleen Gray) behind.

Not long after leaving town, he comes across the bodies of saloon owner Betty Careless and her dance hall girls — also banished from Spanish Boot by Madden and Griffin. They’ve been massacred by Mescalero Apaches. Jehu, the piano player (Clarence Muse), is still alive as NcNally rides up. His warning: “Apaches, Mascalero Apaches… A hundred, maybe 200. They came down out of the rocks like ghosts… You gotta warn the town.”

Leeds rides back to warn the good people of Spanish Boot, but no one will believe him — until a stagecoach shows up with its passengers dead. This sets things in motion, the Apaches comes, and Leeds and the remaining townspeople take refuge in an adobe church, hoping to hold out till the the cavalry can arrive.

Filmed under the working title War Dance, Apache Drums was based on a story by Harry Brown, “Stand At Spanish Boot.” I haven’t read it to see how the story was adapted for the screen, but it’s obvious Lewton was able to approach it like his horror films for RKO. Here, the Apaches are the unknown that hides in the dark. Like the people of Spanish Boot, the audience waits in the church, listening to the drums outside, knowing that when the music stops, the siege will begin.

Director Hugo Fregonese keeps things moving and the tension mounting. It’s only 75 minutes long. The literate script was by David Chandler, no doubt with plenty of input from Lewton. Chandler later wrote Tomahawk Trail (1957).

Cinematographer Charles P. Boyle enjoyed a long career that began in the Silents. His handling of the darker scenes near the end of this film, with lots of Technicolor candles, is very effective, and contributes to the mood Lewton knew was key to the film’s success. A few years after Apache Drums, Boyle shot the Davy Crockett TV shows for Disney, which were re-edited into the feature Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier (1955). His last film was Old Yeller (1957).

Location shooting was done at Red Rock Canyon State Park, scenes that must’ve been incredible in dye-transfer Technicolor. The Joshua Trees elsewhere are a clear sign of other Mojave Desert locales. (Some sources list Tucson, AZ, and Apple Valley, CA, as other locations.) The expansive, gorgeous outdoor scenes are contrasted by the dark, claustrophobic interiors of the last reel, as the painted warriors leap from the church’s high windows onto the determined settlers below.

To help manage costs, the Mescalero Apaches were often played by Los Angeles lifeguards. They were athletic enough for what was required — and cheaper than professional stuntmen. Their presence in the last third of the film is handled largely through sound design — the drums of the title, an effective way to heighten tension while staying within budget. It’s to the credit of everyone involved with Apache Drums that we’re never actually aware we’re watching a low-budget picture.

Stephen McNally is quite good as Leeds, a scoundrel we can’t help but like, and who comes to see the error of his ways. As Sally, who also can’t help but like Leeds, Coleen Gray does all she can with a pretty standard part. If she’d had more to do in the final attack in the church, it would’ve made a huge difference.

Coleen Gray: “A very good Western picture. Val Lewton was a fine producer… He was a very poetic, creative man, very sensitive person.”*

Back to the cast. Willard Parker’s mayor is a bit too stalwart — it’s easy to guess his fate. As the self-righteous reverend, Arthur Shields is, well, Arthur Shields — and that’s a great thing indeed. His character undergoes a real transformation over the course of the film. James Griffith is good, as always, as the wounded cavalry officer barricaded in the church with the townspeople. His knowledge of the Apache informs the audience as we go along. Unfortunately, Clarence Muse has too little screen time as Jehu, the saloon’s piano player.

With Apache Drums, Lewton had brought his strengths to another genre and another studio — crafting a tough, atmospheric Western that makes a strength, not a handicap, of its limited budget. After the disappointments of his post-RKO years, it looked like things were getting back on track. But following a couple heart attacks, Val Lewton died on March 14, 1951, at just 46. Apache Drums was released in May. Imagine if he’d continued to work his magic in Universal Westerns for the rest of the decade.

An aside: John Carpenter has always claimed his Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) was an homage to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959). To me, Carpenter’s taut, suspenseful film seems much more a riff on Apache Drums.

I urge you to read Colin’s excellent post on this film at Riding The High Country.

* From Westerns Women: Interviews With 50 Leading Ladies Of Movie And Television Westerns From The 1930s To The 1960s by Boyd Magers.

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Coming to Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films, January 22, 2013 — John Ford’s The Quite Man (1952).

Suddenly, a lot of people have plans for Saint Patrick’s Day. Yeah, I know, it’s not a Western.

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On this day in 1881, around 3PM, the infamous Gunfight At The O.K. Corral took place in Tombstone, Arizona. It involved Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and Doc Holliday taking on the Clanton-McLaury gang. In a lead-filled 30 seconds, three men (Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers) were killed.

Here’s a couple shots from John Sturges’ 1957 take on the event, Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. It’s just one of many films to deal with the shootout, and to theorize on how it actually happened. It’s more likely that they came up with a good action sequence and left it at that. This one gets extra points for the simple fact that Lancaster spends a lot of time running around with a sawed-off shotgun.

This seems like a good time to post the lyrics to Gunfight‘s theme song, written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, and sung by Frankie Laine. It’s woven throughout the film very effectively.

OK Corral, OK Corral
There the outlaw band make their final stand
OK Corral
Oh my dearest one must die
Lay down my gun or take the chance of losing you forever
Duty calls
My back’s against the wall
Have you no kind word to say
Before I ride away

Your love, your love
I need your love
Keep the flame, let it burn
Until I return
From the gunfight at OK Corral
If the Lord is my friend
We’ll meet at the end
Of the gunfight at OK Corral
Gunfight at OK Corral

Boot Hill, Boot Hill
So cold, so still
There they lay side by side
The killers that died
In the gunfight at OK corral
OK corral
Gunfight at OK corral

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This Halloween, we can all curl up with our laptops and a plastic pumpkin full of our kids’ candy and make our way through the Val Lewton Blogathon.

I’ll be bringing up the rear with a post on the last film Lewton produced (he died at a way-too-young 46), Apache Drums (1951). His only Western, it benefits from all the mood and suspense we know and love from his wonderful horror films. In a lot of ways, it plays more like a horror film than a cowboy picture.

Directed by Hugo Fregonese and starring Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray and Arthur Shields — and with a good part for ace character actor James Griffth — it’s a solid, unique Western with plenty going for it. You’ll find further details on the Lewton blogathon, including a lineup of the films and bloggers, here.

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Jack Arnold’s Red Sundown (1956), an excellent Universal Western starring Rory Calhoun, Martha Hyer and Dean Jagger, can be seen on Encore Westerns on October 28.

Check your listings, mark your calendar, set your DVR.

Thanks to Laura for the tip.

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The 3-D Film Archive has posted a terrific new article, “An In-Depth Look At Creature From The Black Lagoon.” This is a site that just keeps getting better and better — be sure to check out their history of the early-50s widescreen race.

Going beyond Creature, the article covers Universal’s contributions to 3-D technology and widescreen exhibition, which I found fascinating. I also didn’t realize that by the time of Creature‘s release, the 3-D fad was already dying out, and many of its bookings were flat. (It’s amazing they even bothered with 3-D for Revenge Of The Creature.)

They also review the new 3-D Blu-ray edition of Creature From The Black Lagoon, appearing in the eight-disc set Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. I’ve heard many positive things about the film’s new transfer, but was alarmed to learn here of its re-convergence — director Jack Arnold’s unique, deeper effects set it apart from other 3-D pictures.

Since Julie Adams stars in Creature, I opted for a couple stills from one of her other Universal 3-D films, Wings Of The Hawk (1953). It co-stars Van Heflin and was directed by Budd Boetticher. Sadly, it’s very hard to see these days.

Speaking of Miss Adams, have you read her book?

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Here’s a production photo of Randolph Scott and Patrice Wymore from Felix Feist’s The Man Behind The Gun (1953). Ms. Wymore was Mrs. Errol Flynn, by the way.

My guess is that the hand and light meter belong to director of photography Bert Glennon.

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Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story and Screen Play by Douglas Heyes
Director of Photography: Henry Freulich, ASC
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editor: Henry Batista, ACE

CAST: George Montgomery (Bat Masterson), Nancy Gates (Amy Merrick), James Griffith (Doc Holliday), Jean Willes (Dallas Corey), William A. Henry (Charlie Fry), Bruce Cowling (Wyatt Earp), Donald Murphy (Virgil Earp), Sandy Sanders (Joe Tyler), Benny Rubin (coroner), David Bruce (Clay Bennett), Gregg Barton (Sutton), Greg Martell (Mitch Connors), Jay Silverheels (Yellow Hawk), John Maxwell (Amos Merrick), Frank Wilcox (prosecutor, uncredited).


If heaven works the way I hope it does, as soon as I say hello to my mom and grandparents, I’m gonna ask for an introduction to William Castle. (Knowing my mom, she will have already set something up.) From there, I’ll spend large chunks of Eternity asking about stuff like how the kids with slingshots took out the Emergo skeletons.

You see, I love William Castle. Even though I’m a full generation too young to have seen his movies in all their hyped-up, gimmack-y, first-run, theatrical glory, they’re some of my all-time favorite films and real mile markers across my youth. My best friend James and I read about them endlessly in Famous Monsters, caught them on TV and eventually saw a passel of them at New York’s Film Forum. Taking my daughter to see a revival showing of 13 Ghosts (1960) was a father-daughter evening I’ll always remember.

Like a lot of people, both film fans and filmmakers, my love of the movies can be traced back to William Castle. He was a brilliant showman — and when he was focused on making a film, a good director. His Whistler films, for instance, show us just what he was capable of. They’re terrific.

Castle spent much of his career at Columbia. In the early Fifties, he directed a handful of films for Sam Katzman’s unit at the studio.

William Castle, Sam Katzman and serial director Spencer Gordon Bennett.

Castle: “Sam Katzman was a smallish man with a round cherubic face and twinkling eyes. Few people in the motion-picture industry took him seriously as a producer of quality films, but to me, Sam was a great showman.”

Cinematographer Richard Kline: “Sam had his own unit at Columbia Sunset on Lyman Place. It had been the Tiffany-Stahl studio. Columbia bought that place and made it Sam’s unit… It was a very small studio, it was not luxury. For instance, there was no commissary, and I don’t think they even had a hot dog stand! So you’d have to go off the lot and eat somewhere in the area.”

In Katzman, Castle had evidently found his mentor, and he soon realized there’s a lot more to the movie business than just making movies. Jungle Sam’s influence can be found all over Castle’s horror films of the late Fifties and early Sixties — or at least all over the way they were hyped and sold.

One of Castle’s pictures for Katzman (in my opinion, the best), Masterson Of Kansas (1954) is fast and tough. Its tight schedule and lean budget don’t hold it back. George Montgomery is Bat Masterson, sheriff of Dodge City. James Griffith is the notorious gambler and gunfighter Doc Holliday, in an excellent performance. They join forces with Wyatt Earp (Bruce Cowling) to save an innocent man from the gallows and keep the Indians off the warpath. (The real Masterson served as a deputy under Earp for a spell, and Earp and Holliday took on the Clantons at the O.K. Corral, so this gun-toting dream team isn’t as farfetched as it sounds.)

Nancy Gates as the daughter of the framed man and Jean Willes as a saloon girl do well with the underwritten parts they’re given. Jay Silverheels is his usual dignified self as Chief Yellow Hawk. George Montgomery never became the big cowboy star he should’ve been, leaving a solid list of very good, and very overlooked, medium-budgeted Westerns. He’s quite good here, and Columbia’s costume people gave him a beautiful hat.

But the film belongs to character actor James Griffith. Doc Holliday is a flashy part in any Western, and everyone from Victor Mature to Kirk Douglas to Val Kilmer has put their own spin on the character. Griffith’s approach is my favorite. He’s a doctor (he was really a dentist), he’s dying, he has nothing to lose, and Griffith makes sure you believe it. At times, you can see the death wish in his face. In some scenes, the compassion of a physician and chivalry of a gentleman return. And he wrestles with killing Masterson versus helping him out. Somehow, Griffith makes all the character’s contradictions come together, and even make sense. And remember, he does all this over the course of just 73 minutes.

Nancy Gates in IB Technicolor.

Masterson Of Kansas has been brought to Columbia’s MOD program in a transfer than does everyone proud. Henry Freulich’s camerawork is splendid, with compositions that really take advantage of the then-new 1.85 aspect ratio. The Technicolor adds plenty of production value, and it’s rare to see the Iverson Ranch or Corriganville look this good. And the sound makes sure we take note of Mischa Bakaleinikoff’s score, along with the ching-ching-ching of Montgomery’s spurs. Columbia’s A-level treatment of their B Movies is certainly appreciated (even if it can be argued that some of the films don’t deserve it). There are no features on this disc, not even a menu. You put it in, it starts. I like that.

This is a film, and now a DVD, I highly recommend — something special seems to have been going on here. I hope this one inspires you to seek out more Castle and Montgomery films. You won’t be disappointed.

SOURCES: A Sci-fi Swarm And Horror Horde: Interviews With 62 Filmmakers by Tom Weaver; Step Right Up! by William Castle.

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On this date in 1866, the Reno brothers gang robbed the Ohio and Mississippi Railway. This was the first train robbery. The contents of the safe were insured by the Adams Express Company, who hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to track down the robbers. Life for the Reno boys would never be the same.

The photo is from Rage At Dawn (1955). Randolph Scott is a detective hired by the railroad to track down the Reno brothers (Forrest Tucker, J. Carrol Naish, Myron Healey and Denver Pyle). It’s a solid mid-50s Randolph Scott picture, which means it’s plenty good indeed.

Thanks to Shay for bringing this to my attention.

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