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Archive for May, 2017

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

John Wayne was born 110 years ago today. Seems like a good reason to watch Rio Bravo (1959), doesn’t it?

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Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Starring Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, David Warner, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens, L. Q. Jones, R. G. Armstrong

Another great Sam Peckinpah movie about the dying West, and another must-have Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

The Ballad Of Cable Hogue (1970) gives Peckinpah another group of outsiders to study — and another outstanding cast to play them. As good as everyone is in this, it’s Stella Stevens that really knocks me out. (She was really good in The Silencers, too.)

This, The Wild Bunch (1969) and Ride The High Country (1962) all cover the same basic theme — the Old West giving way to civilization, with some people not able, or willing, to adapt. But Sam comes at it from a different angle each time, always striking gold. I’m in absolute awe of Peckinpah when it comes to these movies.

Lucien Ballard shot this one, which is reason enough to spring for the Blu-Ray. It will be out in June, with a number of great supplements that appeared on the DVD release. Highly highly recommended.

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Directed by Thomas Carr
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Milton R. Raison
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Marshal Sam Nelson), Phyllis Coates (Marian Harrison), Rick Vallin (Ray Hammond), Fuzzy Knight (Pop Harrison), John James (Marv Ronsom), Denver Pyle (Jonas Bailey), Dick Crockett (Will Peters), Harry Lauter (Mack Wilson)

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Wild Bill Wednesday, a serious oversight on my part. Well, I really felt like watching a Bill Elliott picture the other night, so let’s take a look at Topeka (1953).

The notorious bank robber Jim Levering (Elliott) and his gang wind up in Topeka, Kansas, where Mack Wilson (Harry Lauter) and his thugs are pressuring the local businesses for “protection money.” Elliott winds up as sheriff, seeing the opportunity to gain the citizens’ trust, run Wilson and his henchmen out of town and take over things for himself.

But Levering’s conscience, the lovely Marian Harrison (Phyllis Coates), and his closest friend among the gang, Ray (Rick Vallin), convince him that maybe it’s time to go straight. But, of course, we’ve seen enough of these things to know that’s easier said than done.

I’m a big fan of the common theme of redemption in 50s Westerns. Director Thomas Carr and writer Milton R. Raison do a good job with it in Topeka, leveraging Elliott’s typical good-badman persona. What’s interesting here is that we don’t see Elliott’s good side right away, and even he seems surprised by his turnaround. His transformation is totally believable.

The B Western was heading into the sunset when Elliott made his series of pictures for Monogram (later Allied Artists), and while the budgets hold things back a bit, I’m always impressed by the effort and imagination that went into them. The subject matter’s a bit more adult, Elliott’s a more complex hero than what the matinee crowds were probably used to, and the camerawork is inventive at times (though a little rushed and wobbly at others). For Topeka, it looks like cinematographer Ernest Miller brought a crane out to Iverson and Corriganville. This, for my money, is one of the best of the series.

And one more thing. I really liked Fuzzy Knight in this. He was also good in the offbeat B Western Rimfire (1949).

Topeka is part of Warner Archive’s terrific The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection — which I hope you already own. The set gives these cheap little movies the red-carpet treatment, which they (and William Elliott himself) certainly deserve.

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Just found out about a book that sounds terrific. John Brooker has been conducting interviews and writing about B Westerns for years. In fact, he let me post his interview with Tim Holt on this blog.

I was really stoked to hear he’d written a new book on B Westerns, The Happiest Trail — which is available from Lulu (located right here in Raleigh, NC). Click on the cover for more info.

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Directed by William Wyler
Starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, Chuck Connors

The Big Country (1958) is coming to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber with a slew of extras — commentary, documentary, interviews, etc.

The cast is a great one. Burl Ives won an Oscar for his incredible, and incredibly mean, performance. But, to me, Chuck Connors steals the picture — he’s absolutely perfect in a complex, tragic role.

Franz F. Planer’s Technicolor and Technirama cinematography is beautiful, offering up stunning vistas that live up to the film’s title. The opening credits were created by Saul Bass, and the score by Jerome Moross is one of the best to ever grace a Western.

The old Blu-Ray was a huge improvement over the DVD, but it had some distortion problems. Let’s hope those are sorted out for this new one. And I hear the stereo tracks still haven’t turned up.

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