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Archive for June, 2013

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William Castle is one of my favorite filmmakers. I grew up on his stuff — from The Whistler pictures to the horror films to, of course, the Sam Katzman Westerns. So I was happy to hear about the upcoming William Castle Blogathon, and even happier to be invited to play along.

I’ve chosen The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954), one of those Katzman Westerns Castle directed in the mid-50s. It stars Scott Brady as Billy, Betta St. John and James H. Griffith as Pat Garrett. (I’ve already written about Masterson Of Kansas.)

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This video from FilmmakerIQ.com may not teach you anything you don’t already know, but it sure is arranged and presented well.

Up top is Hank Worden and Barry Sullivan in Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) in CinemaScope.

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According to the Sweetwater Reporter, this would’ve been a good weekend to be in Sweetwater, Texas. It was probably hot as blazes, but there were sure plenty of cool movies to see.

I know it’s not a Western, but Republic’s Hell’s Half Acre (1954) has to be seen to be believed. Olive Films has given you the chance — it’s out on DVD and Blu-ray.

My wife has been doing some research on my family’s history and came upon a great online Texas newspaper search tool. Obviously, I’m using it for a different purpose.

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Directed by Louis King
Produced by André Hakim
Screenplay by Geoffrey Homes, from a story by Sam Hellman
Based on a book by Stuart Lake (Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal)
Director of Photography: Edward Cronjager
Film Editor: William B. Murphy
Musical director: Lionel Newman

CAST: Rory Calhoun (Chino Bull), Corinne Calvet (Frenchie Dumont), Cameron Mitchell (Mitch Hardin), Penny Edwards (Debbie Allen), Carl Betz (Loney Hogan), John Dehner (Harvey Logan), Raymond Greenleaf (Prudy), Victor Sutherland (Alcalde Lowery), Ethan Laidlaw, Robert J. Wilke, Harry Carter, Frank Ferguson, Harry Hines, Hank Worden, Paul E. Burns.

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If you were to measure the quality of a film by the character actors that turn up in it, Powder River (1953) would rank with the finest movies ever made. John Dehner, Frank Ferguson, James H. Griffith, Robert J. Wilke, Paul E. Burns, Ethan Laidlaw — the list goes on. (I’ve heard Hank Worden’s in it, but I didn’t see him.)

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It’s another variation on the Earp-Holliday story, with no mention of the O.K. Corral. Rory Calhoun is Chino Bull, an Earp-ish lawman who gives up his guns and badge to try a little prospecting — but is forced to put them back on when his partner (Frank Ferguson) is killed. Cameron Mitchell is Mitch Hardin, a take on Doc Holliday (a doctor with a brain tumor this time). Corrine Calvet runs the local saloon and Peggy Edwards (who stepped in at Republic when Dale Evans was on maternity leave, appearing in Trail Of Robin Hood and others) is the woman who comes from the East in search of Mitch. John Dehner is a gambler and Robert J. Wilke is, of course, a bad guy.

While we’ve seen all this play out in other films, some of them better (and featuring some of the same cast), there’s a freshness and watchability to Powder River that delays us from making the inevitable comparisons until long after its 77 minutes are up. (Face it, to compare this film to My Darling Clementine is both unfair and ridiculous.)

Rory Calhoun has a confidence and  easygoing manner that makes him an ideal 50s Western lead, and Powder River fits him like a glove. Cameron Mitchell is a seriously underrated actor, and his take on Holliday is intense, but avoiding the histrionics of other actors. They have a few good scenes together — I especially liked them talking shop in the saloon as Mitchell showed off his flashy gun belt. Good actors, solid script.

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The rest of the cast goes about its business, doing the things that kept them so busy working in so many of these films — and making each one better in the process.

Louis King, the brother of director Henry King (The Gunfighter), began his career as an actor in the Silents, and made the shift to directing long before sound came in. He was a busy contract director throughout the 30s and 40s — Charlie Chan, Bulldog Drummond, etc., and ended his career on TV (Adventures Of Wild Bill Hickock, The Deputy). Powder River was one of his last features, and his assured, unpretentious direction is a large part of its success. Is this a great film? Of course not. Would I watch a thousand just like it? Absolutely.

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The DVD-R from Fox Cinema Archives seems to have been transfered from a Technicolor print, and at certain points, it’s absolutely beautiful. But if you’ve seen a number of dye-transfer prints, you know they can be inconsistent, with registration, contrast and color varying quite a bit. That’s the case here, and while it doesn’t make for the kind of spotless, flawless experience we’re coming to expect — it’s what these films have looked like for decades. It’s sharp and clear and the audio is clean — and I like seeing those reel changeover cues make their appearance.

This is a minor Western that I certainly recommend — and a great introduction to the work of Rory Calhoun.

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Only The Valiant OS

Gregory Peck was loaned out to Warner Bros. for Only The Valiant (1951), a picture produced by James Cagney’s brother William and directed by Gordon Douglas — and coming on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films in August.

The combination of Gordon Douglas and Ward Bond is hard to resist, but I’ve always had a hard time with this film — along with anything else the tragic Barbara Payton appeared in. To me, she personifies the dark side of Hollywood, and it’s hard to disconnect her sad story from the image on the screen.

The cast also includes Gig Young, Lon Chaney, Michael Ansara and John Doucette. It’s based on a book by Charles Marquis Warren. And though Gregory Peck never missed a chance to knock the film (granted, it’s a long way from 1950’s The Gunfighter), it’s a pretty solid early-50s cavalry picture.

The old release from Lions Gate had to be one of the worst-looking DVDs ever released — almost as bad as the various dollar-store copies of One-Eyed Jacks (1961) I’ve wasted my money on. I’m sure we can count on Olive Films to give us something worth looking at.

Thanks, Paula.

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Audie Leon Murphy
(June 20, 1925 – May 28, 1971)

Today’s one of those days that ought to be a national holiday.

Audie’s seen here in Duel At Silver Creek (1952), one of his earlier pictures for Universal.

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Sony Movie Channel is focusing on Westerns next month, with a terrific all-day marathon scheduled for Sunday, July 28 that should keep readers of this blog firmly planted on their sofas — or scrambling to make room on their DVRs.

The directors represented here — Boetticher, Sherman, Daves, Karlson, Castle, Witney — make up a virtual Who’s Who of 50s Westerns directors. The times listed are Eastern. Put the coffee on, it’s gonna be a long day!

4:40 AM Face Of A Fugitive (1959, above) One of those really cool, tough Westerns Fred MacMurray made in the late 50s. James Coburn has an early role, and Jerry Goldsmith contributed one of his first scores. It’s not out on DVD in the States, and the Spanish one doesn’t look so hot, so don’t miss it here.

6:05 AM Relentless (1948) George Sherman directs Robert Young, Marguerite Chapman, Willard Parker, Akim Tamiroff, Barton MacLane and Mike Mazurki. Shot around Tucson (and the Corrigan Ranch) in Technicolor. I may be in the minority, but I like Robert Young in Westerns.

7:40 AM A Lawless Street (1955) Joseph H. Lewis knocks another one out of the park, directing Randolph Scott and Angela Lansbury. This film doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

9:05 AM Decision At Sundown (1957) Part of Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott’s Ranown cycle, this one tends to divide fans. I think it’s terrific. It’s certainly more downbeat than the others (Burt Kennedy didn’t write it), with Scott’s character almost deranged vs. the usual obsessed.

10:25 AM The Pathfinder (1952) Sidney Salkow directs George Montgomery in a low-budget adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper, produced by Sam Katzman. Helena Carter and Jay Silverheels round out the cast.

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11:45 AM Battle Of Rogue River (1954) William Castle directs George Montgomery (seen above with Martha Hyer) the same year they did Masterson Of Kansas. I’m a real sucker for Castle’s Westerns, so it’s hard to be objective here.

1:05 PM Gunman’s Walk (1958) Phil Karlson’s masterpiece? A great film, with a typically incredible performance from Van Heflin, that really needs to be rediscovered. Not available on DVD in the U.S. Don’t miss it.

2:45 PM They Came To Cordura (1959) Robert Rossen directs a terrific cast — Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter and Dick York. Set in 1916 Mexico, it has a look somewhat similar to The Wild Bunch (1969). Looks good in CinemaScope.

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4:55 PM Jubal (1956, above) Delmer Daves puts Othello on horseback. Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Valerie French, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, Felicia Farr, Harry Carey, Jr. and John Dierkes make up the great cast. Charles Lawton, Jr. shot it in Technicolor and CinemaScope.

6:40 PM Arizona Raiders (1965) Wiliam Witney directs Audie Murphy in a picture that plays like a cross between a 50s Western and a spaghetti one. Murphy got better as he went along, and his performance here is quite good.

8:20 PM 40 Guns To Apache Pass (1966) Witney and Murphy again. This time around, Murphy is after a missing shipment of guns.

If all that’s not enough, there’s the Back In The Saddle sweepstakes, a chance to win a three-day dude ranch getaway. Check SonyMovieChannel.com to find out more.

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