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Archive for February, 2017

white-rogers-witney

Producer Eddie White, Roy Rogers, Director William Witney.

While doing some research on Sunset In The West (1950), I came upon an intro to Under California Stars (1948) that aired on Roy Rogers’ Happy Trails Theater. William Witney was the guest, and he gave a bit of a rundown on how the Rogers pictures came together. Very interesting stuff, coming from a brilliant craftsman.

William Witney: “Our producer, the greatest guy, Eddie White… was from New York. He didn’t know which end of a horse was which, but he had good taste. And they brought me along and put me with him. I’d been a horseman all my life. I’m a jumping horse rider, and I love horses. So, we made a very excellent team, the two of us. We became the best of friends.

witney-happy-trails

They would give us a title from the front office, and I remember a couple of ’em. One was North Of The Great Divide. I said, ‘How in the world did they get North Of The Great Divide? There is no north of the great divide.’ But Bill Saal came up with that title… Now, that’s all they gave us, just the title. So we hired a writer. We had three of four stock writers that were excellent. Sloan Nibley comes to mind… Eddie and myself and Sloan would sit down and we would decide what we wanted the story to be about. Then Sloan would go back — now we might be working on three pictures at the same time, or maybe four… They’d go back and they’d kinda block it out, bring it back, and we’d say ‘No, you’re on the wrong track… Let’s do it this way or do it that way.’

dale-roy-script

Now we come up with a finished script. Eddie and I would go through it, check the dialogue, check it out, and give it to the production department. Now Jack Lacey was our unit man for years. He’d lay it out on the board for a budget, and we would put the budget down, and if that was what the studio would okay, now we had to find the locations. We knew every location locally. I knew every location we could afford to go to. We’d pick the location — Big Bear, someplace like the Iverson… So now we’ve got the locations, we’ve got the departments — wardrobe department, makeup department… These crews that we had were held together with a tight hand. They were our friends.

Republic studios yellow

Republic was a small studio. I was under contract there for 28 years, and this studio, everybody used to say, was the hardest studio to work at in the world, but our crews were excellent. They had people in there that were just brilliant… Incidentally, the guy who swept the horse stuff off the street was called a sportsman — because he followed the horses. ‘Sportsman!’ We’ve got a casting office, and they read the script and they make suggestions. You also have a book of actors, and you know actors after all these years. You got through the book and you say, ‘See if you can get him, I wanna interview him.’ And you’d interview these people to look at them. You knew their ability, most of them, because you’d worked with them before. Once I said, ‘Oh, I know him. I just made a picture with him. Cast him.’ Well, he came in, and he’d just had all his teeth pulled out. It made it a little difficult.”

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brian_keith_the_westerner_1960

The Westerner — the short-lived 1960 Western series created by Sam Peckinpah and starring Brian Keith — is a really amazing thing. First, it’s just a good show, period. Next, for a Peckinpah fan, it’s a chance to see the whole Peckinpah Thing take shape before our eyes. From the dialogue that rings so true to his unique blend of the hard-ass and the sentimental to particular scenes or dialogue that’d crop up in his later work, The Westerner feels like a prototype for Sam’s career (or at least the early part of it). His visual style still had a way to go.

independent_press_telegram_sun__sep_25__1960_I’ve been dragging around bootleg copies of The Westerner for years. I’d never seen the pilot from Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre — but Shout Factory has taken care of that with their marvelous new two-DVD set. You get the 13 regular episodes and the pilot (featuring Neville Brand at his despicable best), along with commentaries from Peckinpah scholars like Paul Seydor, who’s written some excellent books on Sam and his work. His The Authentic Death And Contentious Afterlife Of Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid: The Untold Story Of Peckinpah’s Last Western Film has become one of my favorite movie books.

Haven’t made it through both discs yet, but all the shows I’ve seen look great. This is one a lot of folks have been waiting for, and this is certainly worth the wait. Right now, it’s a Walmart exclusive — at just $14.96 — and I encourage you to put aside whatever hangups you might have about the megastore and go get one of these. It’s a must.

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southern_illinoisan_fri__oct_28__1960_

Fans have been hollering for this one for quite a while. Right now, it’s a Walmart exclusive: The Westerner, the 1960 series created by Sam Peckinpah and starring Brian Keith, is out on DVD from Shout Factory. Only 13 episodes were produced (it was up against The Flintstones) — they’re all terrific, and they’re all here. Also included is the Zane Grey Theatre episode that served as the show’s pilot.

Episodes were directed by the likes of Peckinpah, Andre de Toth and Ted Post. Appearing in those 13 episodes were folks like Warren Oates, Katy Jurado, John Dehner, Slim Pickens, Robert Culp, Frank Ferguson, Virginia Gregg, R.G. Armstrong and Dub Taylor — many of them people Peckinpah would turn to time and time again. Lucien Ballard shot three of them. And Brian Keith’s dog, Brown, is played by Spike, who was also Old Yeller. Highly, highly recommended.

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witney

Came across something I wanna share. During World War II, some directors were standing around at Republic, talking. The only one of them of draft age was William Witney (above) — who eventually joined the Marines and served in their combat photography unit.

During this conversation, George Sherman said, “Anyone who quits Republic and joins the Army is a coward.”

If Sherman’s quip isn’t terrific enough, the very idea of these guys standing around jawbonin’ really knocks me out. I shook Mr. Witney’s hand at a Western film festival many years ago, and was too young, stupid and intimidated to really say anything. What a missed opportunity that was. Of course, he was as nice as he could be.

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son-of-paleface-hs

Directed by Frank Tashlin
Starring Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Roy Rogers

There’s been some debate out there as to whether this counts as a 50s Western, and some have said they don’t care for comedy Westerns in general. But for me, Son Of Paleface (1952) is one of my all-time favorite films.

This was once available on the old HD DVD discs. Remember those? Now it’s coming to Blu-Ray this Summer from Kino Lorber, along with The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) and a couple of the Hope-Crosby Road pictures, Road To Rio (1947) and Road To Bali (1952). It’s all good stuff.

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gu-fever-tc

Directed by Mark Stevens
Screenplay by Stanley H. Silverman and Mark Stevens
Starring Mark Stevens, John Lupton, Larry Storch, Maureen Hingert (Jana Davi), Aaron Saxon, Jered Barclay, Dean Fredericks

Almost didn’t post this one since, to me, Sidonis’ forced subtitles are a deal-breaker. But the movie itself — Mark Stevens in a 1958 revenge Western that ran into trouble with the PCA, sounds so cool I just had to throw it out there.

Mark Stevens co-wrote and directed Gun Fever (1958), so we can count on it being a tough little picture. (The crime picture Cry Vengeance, which he directed in 1954, is really cool.) The director of photography was Charles Van Enger, who shot Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), one of my all-time favorites.

Gun Fever should be B&W 1.85. Sidonis out of France have it listed as a May DVD release. I’ve never seen this one, and I’m dying to.

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