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Archive for November, 2013

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Here’s a cool AP photo from 1951, chronicling Jane Russell’s tub scene in Son Of Paleface (1952). Click it and it gets bigger.

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Why go to Walmart and get punched in the face over a cheap toaster when you can sit at home and buy cowboy movies? Click the image above and have at it.

And if you haven’t done it yet, do yourself a favor and get Westward The Women (1951). If nothing else, it’ll give you something to be thankful for next Thanksgiving.

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Happy Thanksgiving.

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Here’s wishing you all a terrific Thanksgiving. Hope you can squeeze a Western in among all the parades and dog shows and football games and shopping trips.

Don’t forget to stop for a second to think of all you’re thankful for. And when you do, I hope your list is a long one.

What kind of sandwich goes best with Rory Calhoun — leftover turkey or leftover ham?

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Timeless Media Group has corralled all five seasons of The Gene Autry Show (1950-1955) into a single set for release on December 10.

GeneAutryShow_CompleteCEThis blog is not about TV. Other people know a lot more about it than I do and do a much better job covering it than I ever could. But when you’re familiar with the features, seeing how Gene transitioned from theaters to living rooms is fascinating — and in keeping with what happened to Gene’s career, and the Western itself, over the course of the decade.

When Autry stopped making features — the TV series began in 1950, the movies lasted into 1953 — he brought a lot of actors and crew over to the show. George Archainbaud, for instance, directed Gene’s last feature, Last Of The Pony Riders (1953), and TV shows throughout its run. William Bradford, who shot a number of the later features, did all but a handful of the TV shows. (How’d they pull all this off?) Many of the TV writers had also written for the Autry features at some point, including a single episode by brothers Dorrell and Stewart E. McGowan, who’d scripted one of Gene’s best, South Of The Border (1939). (They also wrote one of my favorite films, 1949’s Hellfire).

The shows really have the feel of an Autry feature. Shorter and cheaper, of course, with a plot that’s even more bare-bones than the movies — and usually limited to a single song. Each episode exists as its own entity, too. From one show to the other, Gene is everything from a rancher to a U.S. Marshall, it’s the Old West one week and the Fabulous Fifties the next, and sometimes Gene doesn’t even know his sidekick Pat Buttram. Gene was a great businessman, and he was smart enough to stick with a sure thing — whether it’s a cameraman or a formula.

Making my way through the series, what really struck me was the incredible stream of actors and actresses that turn up from week to week: Denver Pyle, Alan Hale, Jr. (who’s a sidekick for a while), James H. Griffith, Kermit Maynard, John Doucette, Fuzzy Knight, Lyle Talbot, Robert J. Wilke, Tom Tyler, Jack Ingram, Clayton Moore, Chill Wills, Glenn Strange, James Best, Francis Ford, Lee Van Cleef. Gloria Talbott, Nestor Paiva, Peggy Stewart, “Curly” Joe Besser, Tommy Ivo and a million more. (That has to be the longest sentence I’ve ever written.) Autry’s acting leaves a lot to be desired — though he’d come a long way since The Phantom Empire (1936), but he surrounded himself with some real pros, and they do wonders for these shows.

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You can’t help being knocked for a loop by the color episodes. Two first-season shows were done in color as an experiment and the fifth season is color all the way. The type of color isn’t identified — my guess would be Eastmancolor — and it looks pretty weird, a little blown out in spots. But that’s the fault of the original material, not something we can complain to Timeless Media Group about. It’s terrific to see Gene and Roy and Champion in color. These were transfered from Gene’s personal material and are spotless, with supplements like radio shows, photo galleries and commercials — along with an extra DVD that gives you episodes of other shows from Autry’s Flying ‘A’ Productions. Recommended.Gene Autry - GA rehearsing

Gene Autry at work on his TV show. Photo lifted from Steven Lodge’s blog.

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A Man Alone Charlotte drive-in

My research associate here at 50 Westerns From The 50s (also known as my wife Jennifer) came across this photo of the Albemarle Road Drive-In Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A Man Alone (1955) is a very good, very overlooked Republic picture directed by and starring Ray Milland. Mary Murphy and Ward Bond co-star. It was on Olive Films’ release list at one point, but it’s been removed. That’s a real shame. The film wasn’t alone at the Albemarle Road Drive-In — it was paired with John Wayne in The Fighting Kentuckian (1949).

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Directed by George Archainbaud
Produced by Herman Schlom
Written by Norman Houston
Director Of Photography: J. Roy Hunt
Music by Paul Sawtell
Film Editor: Desmond Marquette

CAST: Tim Holt (Ross Taylor), Richard Martin (Chito Jose Gonzalez Bustamonte Rafferty), Jane Nigh (Stella), John Doucette (Bat), House Peters, Jr. (Rod), Inez Cooper (Anita Castro), Julien Rivero (Philipe), Ken MacDonald (Sheriff Carrigan), Vince Barnett (Pokey), Robert Peyton (Del), David Leonard (Padre), Tom Monroe (Dimmick).

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Here at 50 Westerns From The 50s, Tuesday belongs to Tim Holt. 

When an earthquake hits Mexico, Senorita Anita Castro (Inez Cooper) organizes a relief effort in Arizona. Loading a mule train with donations of all sorts — including gold, silver and jewels — she heads toward the border. A gang of thieves, headed by John Doucette and House Peters, Jr. and assisted by Jean Nigh, get wind of Anita’s plan and plot to steal the treasure. Tim (called Ross Taylor this time) and Chito (Richard Martin) end up involved, of course — and lots of riding and shooting ensue.

Border Treasure (1950) is one of the later RKO Holts, and I’ve always considered it one of the stronger entries in the series. First, the bad guys are terrific — and Nigh has a good role as Stella, the saloon girl who falls in with John Doucette and House Peters, Jr. There’s a great, extended saloon fight between Holt and Doucette. And Richard Martin adds a nice touch as he shows compassion for Mexico and its people following the earthquake. (This one has Tim and Chito doing some real ranch work, mending fence, which I always find a cool addition. Come to think of it, Tim does the work — Chito conveniently disappears.)

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This time, George Archainbaud directs. He got his first director credit in 1917, and spent much of his career at RKO. His The Lost Squadron (1932) is excellent. Archainbaud got heavily into TV in the 50s, with much of his work coming from Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions. For a while, he was alternating between Gene’s TV show and later features (including 1953’s Last Of The Pony Riders, which turned out to be Gene’s Autry’s final film).

Director of Photography J. Roy Hunt spent a number of years at RKO, where he shot Val Lewton’s I Walked With A Zombie (1943),  The Devil Thumbs A Ride (1947) and Mighty Joe Young (1949) — in between many of these Holt films. Hunt retired not longer after the Holt series came to an end, never making the transition to television that kept so many of his contemporaries employed well into the 1960s.

These RKO Holts make great use of Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills, perhaps rivaled only by Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott’s Ranown Cycle. Some work for Border Treasure was also done at the area’s Anchor Ranch. The RKO Ranch in Encino and the beautiful San Fernando Mission of L.A.’s Mission Hills district are also featured. (Boy, I gotta get out to California — my Points Of Interest list is getting longer and longer.)

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Border Treasure is one of 10 Holt pictures in Warner Archive’s Tim Holt Classic Western Collection Volume 3 — and it’s a beautiful thing from logo to logo. The Lone Pine scenes are sharp and bright, with a real feeling of depth. I’d love to take a frame from one of the Lone Pine scenes and hang it on my wall (over the sofa would be nice) — and this transfer seems sharp enough to let me do it.

In the early days of this blog, the Holt RKOs were high on our want lists. To have them presented like this is more than I expected. To say I highly recommend this — the DVD-R set or the movie itself — would be ridiculously redundant at this point.

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Directed by Harmon Jones
Produced by Robert Arthur
Screenplay by James Edmiston and Oscar Brodney
Story by James Edmiston
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter, ASC
Film Editor: Sherman Todd, ACE
Music Supervision by Joseph Gershenson

CAST: Dale Robertson (Jagade), Mara Corday (Sharman Fulton), Jock Mahoney (Marshal Allan Burnett), Carl Benton Reid (Judge John J. McLean), Jan Merlin (Billy Brand), John Dehner (Preacher Jason), Dee Carroll (Miss Timmons), Sheila Bromley (Marie), James Bell (Doc Logan). Dani Crayne (Claire), Howard Wendell (Vanryzin), Charles Cane (Duggen), Phil Chambers (Burson), Sydney Mason (Beemans), Helen Kleeb (Mrs. McLean).

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Not too long ago, I wrote about Harmon Jones’ The Silver Whip (1954), a film I found better than its reputation, and with much more going for it than just its pairing of Dale Robertson and Rory Calhoun. That lit a fire under me to track down a copy of A Day Of Fury (1956), which brought Jones and Robertson together again — this time at Universal-International. It’d been years since I’d seen Fury, and I was really knocked for a loop by how good it is.

There’s been speculation that A Day Of Fury was an influence on Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter (1973), an honor that actually goes to the spaghetti western Django The Bastard (1969, which is available from VCI as The Stranger’s Gundown). That said, Eastwood’s picture certainly has a few things in common with A Day Of Fury. In both, a mysterious stranger comes to town, and his very presence turns that town inside out. (No Name On The Bullet works somewhat the same way.) This time, the gunfighter is Jagade (Dale Robertson). The town marshall (Jock Mahoney) owes Jagade his life, which complicates matters quite a bit. What’s more, Jagade and the marshall’s fiancé (Mara Corday) were once an item. But there’s so much more to it than that.

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Dale Robertson: “It was an interesting story. After I finished it, I read it again. I figured this guy (Jagade) was the Devil. He, himself, never did anything wrong. He merely set things up to show the weakness of other people. (Producer) Bob Arthur rewrote the story… and he took away a lot of the little subtle things that were so wonderful in the original script.”#

Watching the picture with Robertson’s Devil idea in mind is very interesting, and I’d love to see that original screenplay. Robertson seems to be enjoying himself in a part that lets him stretch out a bit, while Jock Mahoney is stuck in a goodguy role that is maybe a little too good.

Dale Robertson: “They were trying to push Jock Mahoney… He was the most agile, one of the most fluid actors in the whole business. He was really wonderful, he was athletic, had great moves.”#

Mahoney proves Robertson’s point in the first scene in the movie, when he does a horse fall. It’s not often that you see one of the leads do such a stunt on his own.

Mara Corday: “The director, Harmon Jones, was a nice man, had been an editor. He told you line readings — in other words, how to say the lines. He’d put emphasis on certain words that I wouldn’t have. It made everyone stilted.”*

Jan Merlin committed the age-old actor’s trick of saying he could ride a horse when called about the part, then getting to the set and proving he could not. This was his first Western. “Harmon was marvelous… He was kind to me. Anybody else would have lost their temper after all I’d done.”#

A Day Of Fury is unavailable on DVD in the States, though it’s received a Blu-ray release in Europe. It’s an excellent film, well outside the normal Universal Western. Highly recommended.

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SOURCES: * Westerns Women by Boyd Magers; # Universal-International Westerns, 1947-1963 by Gene Blottner (McFarland);

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