Archive for May, 2023

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

John Wayne was born 116 years ago today. Here he is on the set of Howard Hawks’ magnificent Rio Bravo (1959). Even when he’s just screwing around between takes, Duke’s as cool as they come.

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Walter Hill directing The Long Riders (1980).

As my commentary notes for The Long Riders (1980) take shape (for Imprint’s upcoming Blu-Ray set), I keep bumping into all sorts of interesting things. The coolest was a chance to speak with James Keach for a bit, making sure I had the story of the film’s development correct. (He is justifiably proud and fond of the film.)

This BFI interview with Walter Hill was terrific, covering his relationship with Budd Boetticher, working with Sam Peckinpah and Steve McQueen and his feel for Westerns. Enjoy!

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Directed by Howard Hawks
Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, Claud Akins, John Russell

Warner Bros. is bringing their new restoration of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) to 4K disc in July. Haven’t seen any info on a new DVD or Blu-Ray. This is my favorite Western and it has never been all that stellar-looking on video, so I’m really stoked about this. Hope and pray it doesn’t have that sickly yellow tint that infects so many restorations of older films lately. 

Thanks to Dick Vincent for the news.

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Undercrank Productions is bringing a couple of Tom Mix silent Westerns to Blu-Ray in July — Sky High (1922) and The Big Diamond Robbery (1929). They’re getting 2K digital restorations and scores from Ben Model.

Sky High (1922)
Written & directed by Lynn Reynolds
Starring Tom Mix, J. Farrell MacDonald, Eva Novak, Sid Jordan, Tony

Filmed at the Grand Canyon, this modern-day Western (with lots of airplane stuff) has Mix as a government agent trying to stop a gang smuggling illegal immigrants into the U.S. (things haven’t changed much in the last 101 years, have they?). 

The Big Diamond Robbery (1929)
Directed by Eugene Forde
Starring Tom Mix, Kathryn McGuire, Frank Beal, Tony

Mix’s last silent film is also a modern-day Western. Here, he helps a rich young woman chase down her prized diamond necklace. According to the folks at Undercrank, The Big Diamond Robbery hasn’t been seen since its original release in 1929.

Tom Mix is wonderful, and it’s hard to believe his films are around 100 years old. I absolutely love his The Great K&A Train Robbery — it’s one of my favorite silent movies — and I can’t wait to see these two. Recommended.

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William Witney
(May 15, 1915 – March 17, 2002) 

William Witney was born 108 years ago. He was a true innovator in how action makes its way to the movie screen. He was working at Republic Pictures, and while on location for the 1937 serial The Painted Stallion, the director, Ray Taylor, was too drunk to work. Witney took over at just 21.

Watching Busby Berkeley put together one of his famous dance numbers, Witney realized that fight sequences could be choreographed and shot the same way. He under-cranked the camera to speed up the action — merely fast became death-defying. He experimented with the best place to put the camera car when tracking a chase — along the side of the car or stagecoach vs. shooting head-on, with horses charging straight at the camera.

After serving in a Marine combat camera unit in World War II, Witney returned to Republic for his last serial, The Crimson Ghost (1946), then took over the Roy Rogers movies. Dialing up the action, putting less emphasis on the music and bringing in a decidedly darker, more violent tone, Witney breathed new life into Roy’s final films.

William Witney was a genius, and his contribution the cinema has been pathetically under-appreciated.

Photo up top: William Witney and Cheryl Rogers on the set of Trail Of Robin Hood (1950). Photo courtesy of Jay Dee Witney.

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