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Archive for May, 2015

Directed by John Farrow
Screenplay by James Edward Grant
From a short story by Louis L’Amour
Starring John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, James Arness, Leo Gordon

As part of the Museum Of Modern Art’s 3-D Summer, Hondo (1953) will return to New York in 3-D for the first time in decades. There are a number of showings June 13 through July 4, with Gretchen Wayne introducing the first one.

Of course, Hondo is a terrific picture, whether it’s 2-D or 3-D. If you can’t get to NYC in a couple weeks, the (flat) Blu-ray is stunning.

Also in the MoMA series is 3-D Rarities, an amazing compilation from Bob Furmanek of the 3-D Film Archive — who stops by this blog every so often.

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Badman's Country OS cropped

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Robert E. Kent
Screenplay by Orville H. Hampton
Director Of Photography: Benjamin H. Kline, ASC
Supervising Editor: Grant Whytock, ACE
Musical Score: Irving Gertz

Cast: George Montgomery (Pat Garrett), Neville Brand (Butch Cassidy), Buster Crabbe (Wyatt Earp), Karin Booth (Lorna), Gregory Walcott (Bat Masterson), Malcolm Atterbury (Buffalo Bill Cody), Russell Johnson (Sundance), Richard Devon (Harvey Logan), Morris Ankrum (Mayor Coleman)

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Remember Universal’s “monster rally” pictures of the 40s? Beginning with House Of Frankenstein (1944), they’d pile as many of their monsters as they could into a single movie. It was more of a marketing ploy than a creative decision, perhaps, but they’re wonderful in the contrived ways they would dream up to drag Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman into a single story arc. They’re a long way from those true classics of the 30s, but, God, I love ’em!

In a way, Badman’s Country plays like that — a Who’s Who of the Old West herded by a series of contrivances into a robbery tale — with absolutely no concern for history whatsoever. The outlaws are Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) and the Sundance Kid (Russell Johnson), while the law’s represented by Pat Garrett (Montgomery), Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe), Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) and Buffalo Bill Cody (Malcolm Atterbury). None of it ties to these men’s real lives, but somehow it all works. Butch and Sundance are part of a gang planning a large robbery in Abilene, Kansas. Pat Garrett — who wants to turn in his badge, marry Karin Booth and settle down in California — gets wind of the plot and enlists Earp and Masterson to help out, with Buffalo Bill along for the ride. The Mayor of Abilene (Morris Ankrum) turns out to be a sniveling coward, wanting to do anything to avoid having his town shot up.

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While I’m a big fan of Howard Hawks’ leave-it-to-the-pros philosophy (one reason why Rio Bravo is my favorite Western), the last reel of Badman’s Country is very satisfying as the lawmen and townspeople come together to give the outlaws what for. It all makes for a strong, fast 68 minutes. (There are a number of neat little plot points along the way, but I’ll let you see those for yourself.)

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A short action Western like this doesn’t allow for heavy dramatic scenes, but George Montgomery is quite convincing as the lawman who’s seen enough and is ready to hang up his guns. He never got an A Western of his own, which is a real drag. But with his good looks, height and those incredible cowboy hats, Montgomery stands tall in these B pictures. It’s hard to take your eyes off of him, and he certainly elevates every picture he’s in. Karin Booth does well as his patient, understanding girlfriend. She’d only make a few more films before retiring. Incidentally, Montgomery was paired with Booth in Cripple Creek (1952), and he’d tracked down Butch and Sundance before in Phil Karlson’s The Texas Rangers (1951).

The large supporting cast doesn’t get a chance to make much of an impression. Neville Brand and Russell Johnson are fine as Butch and Sundance, but Buster Crabbe and Gregory Walcott come off kinda flat as Earp and Masterson. Morris Ankrum is sufficiently slimy as Abilene’s ineffective Mayor. Malcolm Atterbury is always terrific, and he does what he can with the script’s rather odd take on Buffalo Bill — he seems more like a sidekick than a major character.

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Fred F. Sears was cranking out solid little Westerns like Badman’s Country, along with other genre pictures, at a staggering pace in the mid- to late-50s. He and director of photography Benjamin Kline worked together extensively at Columbia, going freelance for this one. Badman’s Country hit theaters in August of 1958, one of five films released after Sears’ death. He had a heart attack in his office on the Columbia lot at just 44.

Badman’s Country has the feel of a well-oiled machine, which has to be the result of a team of veterans who’ve made films like this time and time again, sometimes working together. It’s fast, exciting and completely void of pretense. Just the way I like ’em.

Laura wrote about this one a while back. See what she says about it.

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Horse Soldiers JW sized

Marion Mitchell Morrison (born Marion Robert Morrison)
May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979

This is one of those days that oughta be a national holiday. It’s John Wayne’s birthday. The fact that you’re looking at this, on a blog dedicated to Western movies of the 1950s, means I probably don’t need to try to explain how significant Wayne, and his body of work, are.

You’re looking at Wayne in The Horse Soldiers (1959), the John Ford Civil War picture sometimes referred to as “minor Ford.” As I see it, it’s a great movie, you need to get the Blu-ray so you can really appreciate it — and there’s no such thing as “minor Ford.” I think John Wayne would agree with me on that.

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This is the 1,000th post on 50 Westerns From The 50s. I was going to give the milestone a quick mention in an upcoming post (on Badman’s Territory) and move on, but when Jennifer came up with “The 1K Corral,” it seemed like I had to do something more with it.

A thousand of these things is a lot of writin’ on my part — and a ton of readin’ and commentin’ on yours. Thanks for riding along. It’d be a lonely trail without you.

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Westward The Women OS

Directed by WIlliam A. Wellman
Screen Play by Charles Schnee
Story by Frank Capra
Starring Robert Taylor, Denise Darcel, Hope Emerson, John McIntire

On the third Thursday of most months, The Western Film Preservation Society has been running B Westerns at NC State’s McKimmon Center, here in Raleigh, since 1981. This week’s second feature (Thursday the 20th) is a bit of a departure: William Wellman’s Westward The Women (1951). It’s one of the best Westerns of the 50s.

The other film is In Early Arizona (1938) starring Bill Elliott, Dorothy Gulliver, Harry Woods and Jack Ingram — and directed by Joseph Levering. (It’s a bit of a stretch, but I guess that makes this a Wild Bill Wednesday post.) The meetings get going at 6:45.

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Armored Car Robbery TC

Directed by Richard Fleischer
Starring Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, William Talman

A year or so ago, I had the extreme pleasure of being on Todd Liebenow’s excellent podcast Forgotten Filmcast, which features a film blogger covering a favorite movie they consider under-appreciated. We covered Last Train From Gun Hill (1959). They invited me back, and this time it’s Richard Fleischer’s terrific crime picture Armored Car Robbery(1950) starring Charles McGraw and William Talman. We recorded it first thing in the morning, so let’s hope I’m halfway articulate.

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Produced and Directed by Allen H. Miner
Written by Leo Gordon
Director of Photography: Edward Colman, ASC
Film Editors: Jerry Young and John H. Post
Music by Jerry Goldsmith

Cast: George Montgomery (Marshal Clay Morgan), Diane Brewster (Helen Danner), Tom Pittman (Flytrap), Leo Gordon (Hank Danner), House Peters Jr. (Holman), George Trevino (Pedoline), Lynn Cartwright (Kitty), Strother Martin (Petey Walker), Sebastian Cabot (Frenchy), Dan Blocker, John Mitchum, Hope Summers

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Black Patch (1957) is an odd little George Montgomery picture from his own Montgomery Productions, Inc., written by Leo Gordon. While it dishes up plenty of the elements we know and love in these films, it’s so offbeat that opinions about it are all over the place — even among diehard Montgomery fans.

Over the course of his career, character actor Leo Gordon made a name for himself as a writer, scripting everything from horror pictures like Attack Of The Giant Leeches (1959) to the war movie Tobruk (1967) to episodes of Adam-12. His first script was this one.

Leo Gordon: “When Charles Marquis Warren was directing the pilot for Gunsmoke, I told him I had an idea for an episode. ‘Don’t tell me, write it,’ he answered. I went home and the next thing I knew, I had 110 pages. I showed it to my agent. Next thing I know, George Montgomery wanted to buy it. That was Black Patch.”* a_way335

Clay Morgan (Montgomery) is the marshal of Santa Rita, New Mexico. Having lost an eye in the Civil War, he’s known as “Black Patch.” (GM looks so cool in that big black hat and eyepatch!) An old friend, Hank Danner (Gordon), arrives in town with his wife, Helen (Diane Brewster). Helen and Morgan had been deeply in love (still are), but when he never returned from the war, she married Hank. Then, as fate would have it, Morgan has to arrest Hank for bank robbery.

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From there, things go downhill. Not just for our characters, but with the movie itself. As Hank sits in jail, Black Patch becomes more and more concerned with unappealing minor characters (Tom Pittman and Sebastian Cabot, to name just two) and Montgomery disappears for a substantial amount of screen time. There are some interesting scenes in there, for sure, but the shift in tone is quick and jarring. It’s almost like the first half of one movie was spliced onto the second half of another. What makes this so frustrating is that the first half is so good. Montgomery and Gordon are at the top of their game, and the scenes between Montgomery and Diane Brewster are really well done. Things manage to get back on track towards the end, but it’s a bit too late.

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But there’s still plenty to like about Black Patch. Director of photography Edward Colman, from Jack Webb’s Dragnet team, was brought in. (The first Dragnet series had just wrapped up its run.) During production, Montgomery told Erskine Johnson, “Films owe TV an Oscar for getting us off our self-satisfied — er, uh, couches — and into speedy, bang-up production.” Regardless of how many setups he was getting in each day, Colman’s camerawork is inventive and appropriately moody, with the same flair he displayed on the 1954 Dragnet feature. Colman would spend the latter part of his career shooting Disney movies such as The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Mary Poppins (1964) and The Love Bug (1968, his last credit).

Producer/director Allen H. Miner had a long career in television. This was an early feature for him. He directed another Western the same year, The Ride Back (1957) — a cool little movie starring Anthony Quinn and William Conrad. Miner’s direction is solid in Black Patch, for the most part, but I wish he’d kept the story from drifting off course.

Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch (the Monogram Ranch renamed after Autry bought it) is used to good effect. Pretty much the entire picture takes place in town, and Colman shoots it very well. Just five years after this film, the ranch would be largely destroyed by fire. While I complained about the shift in focus away from Montgomery, Gordon and Brewster, there are some great character actors to be found here. Sebastian Cabot is really slimy as Frenchie, Strother Martin’s a deputy who witnessed the bank robbery, and Leo Gordon’s wife Lynn Cartwright is Kitty, a saloon girl. What’s more, Dan Blocker (a couple years away from Bonanza), John Mitchum (Robert’s brother) and Hope Summers (Clara Edwards from The Andy Griffith Show) turn up without credit, though they all have speaking parts.

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Along with this being Leo Gordon’s first script, Black Patch was the first film scored by the great Jerry Goldsmith. The music’s excellent and immediately recognizable as his work — he really hit the ground running. Verna Fields, the masterful film editor of What’s Up, Doc (1972), Jaws (1975, her Oscar-winning work may have saved the movie) and other key films of the 70s, gets an early credit here, as sound editor.

While Black Patch tends to divide people, the DVD from Warner Archive certainly won’t. Not only is a movie that’s been almost impossible to track down now just a click away, it’s beautiful — clean and sharp, with the proper framing and excellent contrast. There are lots of night scenes here, and never does it seem murky or dark. A perfect transfer that does Edward Colman proud. I was also happy to see that Warner Archive made good use of the original artwork. I’ve always loved that poster.

Why not read Laura’s take on Black Patch?

* from an interview with Boyd Magers.

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Hired Gun TC

Directed by Ray Nazarro
Produced by Rory Calhoun and Victor M. Orsatti
Screen Play by David Lang and Buckley Angell
Based on a story by Buckley Angell
Director Of Photography: Harold J. Marzorati, ASC
Film Editor: Frank Santillo
Music by Albert Glasser

Cast: Rory Calhoun (Gil McCord), Anne Francis (Ellen Beldon), Vince Edwards (Kell Beldon), John Litel (Mace Beldon), Bill Williams, Chuck Connors (Judd Farrow), Robert Burton (Nathan Conroy), Salvadore Baques (Domingo Ortega), Guinn “Big Boy” Williams (Elby Kirby), Regis Parton (Cliff Beldon), Buelah Archuletta

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Around the time I decided to write a book on 50s Westerns, and long before I’d thought about a blog to go with it, The Hired Gun (1957) was a movie sitting near the top of my Want List. Rory Calhoun. Anne Francis. Vince Edwards. Guinn “Big Boy” Williams. Black and white CinemaScope (an aesthetic I adore). Directed by Ray Nazarro at Lone Pine. How could this thing not be terrific? But what were my chances of ever seeing it widescreen as intended?

Dissolve to: six years later. An anamorphic widescreen DVD of The Hired Gun was released by Warner Archive a couple weeks ago. And now that I’ve had a chance to see it in all its monochromatic 2.35:1 glory, what’s the verdict?

To be honest, The Hired Gun seems like pretty standard stuff. Plot-wise, it’s nothing that couldn’t be covered in an hour-long TV show. But like so many of the lower-budgeted Westerns of the 50s, the people involved, and what they bring to these minor films, make all the difference.

The Hired Gun was produced by Rory Calhoun and his agent, Victor Orsatti. Their Rorvic Productions made a handful of films in the late 50s, along with Calhoun’s TV series The Texan; the three Westerns were directed by Ray Nazarro (his other two Rorvic pictures were The Domino Kid and Apache Territory).

With The Hired Gun set for MGM release, Anne Francis, who’d just appeared in MGM’s Forbidden Planet (1956) and was a rising star at the studio, was signed as Calhoun’s co-star.

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Francis is Ellen Beldon, who’s to be hung for the murder of her husband. She’s sprung from jail by Chuck Connors, who works on her uncle’s ranch. Very quickly, Mace Beldon (John Litel), the dead man’s father, hires gunslinger Gil McCord (Calhoun) to track her down. The jailbreak, and the chase that follows it, are really well staged — Ray Nazarro was so good with action. Here, he uses an under-cranked camera to boost the urgency and pacing. The rest of the picture, taken up by Calhoun capturing Francis and their journey together, covers more familiar territory. But it covers that territory well, thanks to the professionalism and craft of those who made it.

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Calhoun is cool as a cucumber as the gunman, whether he’s posing as a ranch hand, beating the crap outta Chuck Connors or talking tough to Anne Francis. Since the film’s so short, just 64 minutes, there’s not a lot of time for real character development. We assume all along that he’ll change his mind about his prisoner before it’s all over with.

From Forbidden Planet to Honey West, I’ve always liked Anne Francis — and she’s quite good here. She was one of the only members of the cast and crew who hadn’t experienced the rigors of shooting a Western on location. Jock Mahoney, who worked with director Ray Nazarro on a lot of pictures, once said, “Ray didn’t particularly like women in the cast and he’d make them his whipping boy.”

So, everyone on the picture was fully expecting to see the young actress suffer while in Lone Pine. She was determined to deny them that satisfaction.

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Anne Francis: “Rory and I were in the saddle from morning until night. I suspect he was tired, I know I was. But I wouldn’t have admitted it for all the gold in Fort Knox.”**

Oh, and if you look quick, you’ll see Buelah Archuletta, who played “Look” in The Searchers (1956).

Director of photography Harold J. Marzorati captures Lone Pine, with snow-covered mountaintops in the distance, in stunning black and white CinemaScope. Lone Pine always looks terrific in black and white — check out a Tim Holt picture or two for further proof — and the wide frame makes it all the more dramatic.

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Marzorati’s gorgeous work was done a real service by the folks at Warner Archive. His ‘Scope compositions are perfectly presented and the contrast levels are just right. When was the last time someone saw this movie looking like this? There’s a “textless” trailer to round out the package.

Someone recently commented here that “we’re living in a Golden Age for classic movie lovers.” And when an anamorphic widescreen DVD of a cheap little Western like The Hired Gun can be yours for a little e-commerce, I have to agree.

Laura posted a review of The Hired Gun over at her place today, too.

*From The Adventures Of The Durango Kid, Starring Charles Starrett by Bob Carman and Dan Scapperotti; ** Newspaper article, 1957

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Forty Guns drivein detail

Written, Produced, Directed by Samuel Fuller
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, Hank Worden

We all want to do our part to boost international trade. And here’s an easy way to do it. Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) will come riding onto Blu-ray in June, thanks to the folks at Eureka Entertainment in the UK.

I don’t know what you think of this crazy thing, but I love it. It’s a big sweeping epic on one hand and a glorified Regalscope picture on the other. It’s got everything we expect from a Sam Fuller movie. And it has one of the damnedest opening sequences I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see it on a big curved CinemaScope screen — which I’m sure some of you have experienced.

It’s a Blu-ray/DVD combo, part of their Masters Of Cinema series, with an audio interview with Fuller among its extras. But who needs extras when you get Joseph Biroc’s incredible black and white ‘Scope photography in high definition?

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