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Archive for July, 2021

Where’s The Book?

The 50 Westerns From The 50s blog was launched over a decade ago — at the same time I began writing a book with the same name. While the blog’s chugged along quite nicely all these years, the book’s still MIA. I get asked about it fairly frequently.

Well, it’s getting there. Rough drafts are in place for 37 of the 50 chapters. Some are even complete. A few late 40s and early 60s Westerns are in there, too. Images have been selected for about half the book.

There’s one film I still have to track down on DVD or something. And I have to settle on a few contenders for Picture #50. 

Read through it all over the weekend, and I didn’t hate it. That’s a step in the right direction.

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Bob Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive is working on their most ambitious and labor-intensive effort yet — teaming up with TCA Television Corp. and the Lou Costello Estate to restore and preserve The Abbott & Costello Show from its original 35mm camera negatives! This mammoth project is being propelled by a Kickstarter campaign, which is nearing its completion. Click the title card above to participate. Do it today!

With these shows, what we see today comes from standard-definition transfers done back in the 80s, that have been “sharpened” and monkeyed with over the years for DVD release. (My old 16mm prints were better-looking!) For this new release, the 26 Season One episodes will be scanned from 35mm master elements in 4K — and each episode will be digitally cleaned, frame by frame.

Some episodes will have commentaries, including my own ramblings for episode 11, “The Western Story.” I’m honored.

These shows are terrific — it’s still considered one of the greatest TV shows ever, and I’m so stoked The 3-D Film Archive is giving them the four-star treatment they gave Africa Screams (1949). Can’t wait to see Stinky, Mike The Cop and Hillary Brooke in all their 4K glory. Essential.

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Directed by John Sturges
Written by Michael Pate
Phillip Rock
Frank Fenton
Music by Jeff Alexander
Cinematography: Robert L. Surtees
Film Editor: George Boemler

Cast: William Holden (Captain Roper), Eleanor Parker (Carla Forester), John Forsythe (Captain John Marsh), William Demarest (Campbell), William Campbell (Cabot Young), Polly Bergen (Alice Owens), Richard Anderson (Lieutenant Beecher), Carl Benton Reid (Colonel Owens), John Lupton (Bailey), Forrest Lewis, Howard McNear, Glenn Strange

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Director John Sturges made lots of really good movies, but he had a real thing for Westerns. One of his earliest was Escape From Fort Bravo (1953). It’s now available on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

It’s the Civil War. William Holden is a captain at Fort Bravo, a Union prison camp filled with Confederate soldiers (John Forsythe, William Demarest, William Campbell). There are Mescalero Apaches outside the walls of the fort and Confederate spies (Eleanor Parker, Howard McNear) inside. The spies help Forsythe mount an escape, and Holden heads out after them.

It all comes to a head when Holden, Parker and the recaptured prisoners are pinned down in a dry creek bed by who-knows-how-many Apaches.

To tell you much more might get in the way of Sturges’ finely-crafted suspense. The last reel of this thing is as good as anything Sturges ever did. It’s terrific.

Quite a few 50s Westerns made good use of the climactic pinned-down-by-Indians thing. A few that come to mind are Apache Drums (1951), Dakota Incident (1956) and Dragoon Wells Massacre (1958).

Holden is really good as the hard-nosed captain. He was an avid outdoorsman, and it looks like he’s in his element here. Eleanor Parker makes a good spy, and she’s beautiful in both an evening gown and leather jacket. William Demarest and William Campbell have some good, well-written scenes together. And it’s great to see Howard McNear, Floyd from The Andy Griffith Show, as a Confederate spy. Where things get a little wonky is in the middle — the romantic scenes between Holden and Parker seem like a studio-dictated addition. They slow the movie down as it makes its way to its tight conclusion. (Sturges was never all that adept with the mushy stuff.) Of course, the thrilling final attack makes up for it.

Escape From Fort Bravo was one of the first pictures shot in the Ansco Color process. It’s no Technicolor, or even Eastmancolor, but it gets the job done. It was John Sturges’ first color film, period. It was shot in Death Valley, Gallop, New Mexico, Corriganville and the MGM backlot in April and May of 1953. The great Robert Surtees was the cinematographer. There was talk at one time of the picture being shot in 3-D. It was not, with MGM making it an early widescreen release instead. In some places, it played in three-track stereophonic sound.

Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray is a marked improvement over the DVD. Here, we get the original widescreen (1.75) and a surprisingly vivid look at Ansco Color’s pastel shades. Like so many stereo movies from the early 50s, the original directional tracks are probably long gone. The mono sound, however, is clean and clear.

Escape From Fort Bravo has everything going for it. A great cast. Meticulous direction. Incredible location photography, in color. And now it has a Blu-Ray that really does all that justice. Highly, highly recommended.

Of course, John Sturges would make another POW escape film, The Great Escape, in 1963. By the way, he was trying to get that one off the ground while Escape From Fort Bravo was being put together. It took him 10 years to get The Great Escape to the screen.

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Fred F. Sears
(July 7, 1913 – November 30, 1957)

Director Fred F. Sears was born 108 years ago today. He also worked as a character actor, and he’s the officer on the left in this lobby card from Fort Savage Raiders (1951). While this picture was directed by Ray Nazarro, Sears directed quite a few of the later Durango Kid pictures.

When that series shut down, Sears signed on with Sam Katzman’s unit (today’s his birthday, too) and made quite a few films before his untimely death in 1957.

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