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Archive for the ‘1950’ Category

Directed by John Ford
Starring Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru, Harry Carey, Jr., Ward Bond, Charles Kemper, Russell Simpson, Hank Worden, James Arness, Francis Ford

John Ford’s Wagon Master (1950) is not just one of my favorite movies, but I consider it one of the best Westerns ever made. There’s a gentleness and an authenticity to it that no other Western can match. It’s easy to see why Ford named it his personal favorite of his own films. For me, putting this thing on is like inviting some old friends to stop by for a spell.

The performances are perfect, from Ben Johnson and Harry Carey, Jr. as the young cowboys who hire on to lead the Mormon wagon train west to Ward Bond as an elder in the group of settlers to Joanne Dru as part of a medicine show that tags along. And Russell Simpson as, what else, a grumpy old man.

Then there are the Cleggs. It seems odd to say a gentle movie has some of the vilest bad guys you’ll ever see, but it does. If you know the movie, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t seen it, well, I feel truly sorry for you.

I could go on and on. But I’ll leave it at this: Wagon Master is coming to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. If you haven’t made the leap to high-definition yet, this should be all the reason you need. Essential.

Thanks for the tip, Paula.

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Working on the commentary for Kino Lorber’s upcoming The Spoilers (1942) Blu-Ray, I was reminded of just how great Russell Simpson is. He’s a hoot in that one. Simpson’s seen above, second from left, in The Gal Who Took The West (1949) starring Yvonne De Carlo.

Russell Simpson was born in San Francisco in June of 1880. He prospected for gold in Alaska at just 18. He eventually decided to become an actor, was in a number of touring companies, played on Broadway and eventually made his film debut in the 1914 version of The Virginian.

Second from left again, as a stern Mormon in Wagon Master (1950).

In the late 30s, Simpson became part of John Ford’s stock company — appearing in Drums Along The Mohawk (1939), The Grapes Of Wrath (1940, as Pa Joad), Tobacco Road (1941), They Were Expendable (1945), My Darling Clementine (1946), Wagon Master (1950) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953). His last picture was Ford’s The Horse Soldiers in 1959.

He’s one of those actors that makes everything he’s in at least a little bit better — even a John Hart episode of The Lone Ranger.

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Directed by Henry King
Starring Gregory Peck, Helen Wescott, Millard Mitchell, Jean Parker, Skip Homeier, Karl Malden

One of the key 50s Westerns, Henry King’s The Gunfighter (1950, is making its way to Blu-Ray from Germany’s Explosive Media. Pictures like this, Winchester ’73 and Devil’s Doorway (all 1950) were a pretty good indicator that something was happening to the Hollywood Western.

This one is absolutely essential. Can’t wait to see Arthur C. Miller’s B&W cinematography in high definition.

Thanks to John Knight for the news.

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Mill Creek’s new four-disc set, The Roy Rogers Happy Trails Collection, gathers up 20 Rogers pictures spanning his entire career, and presents most of them in the same unfortunate condition we’ve seen before. However, the set does have its advantages.

Here are the Rogers movies you get:
Young Bill Hickok (1940)
Sons Of The Pioneers
(1941)
Cowboy And The Senorita (1944)
Sunset In El Dorado
(1945)
Don’t Fence Me In (1945)
Man From Oklahoma
(1945)
Along the Navajo Trail
(1945)
Rainbow Over Texas
(1946)
Down Dakota Way
(1949)
The Golden Stallion
(1949)
Susanna Pass
(1949)
North Of The Great Divide
(1950)
Trigger, Jr
. (1950)
Trail Of Robin Hood (1950)
Bells Of Coronado
(1950)
Twilight In The Sierras
(1950)
Spoilers Of The Plains
(1951)
South Of Caliente
(1951)
In Old Amarillo
(1951)
Pals Of The Golden West
(1951)

Many of these are from the later period, when William Witney was packing these things with action — and shooting some in Trucolor. They also had longer running times, which is where we run into trouble. Trail Of Robin Hood (1950), for instance, runs 67 minutes. In this set, it runs just 63 minutes and that includes the Happy Trails Theatre introduction. So it’s fair to say that up to 10 minutes of the film is gone. This pattern continues throughout, with the damage depending on how long or short each movie was originally. Young Bill Hickok runs under an hour, so it might not have too much missing. Cowboy And The Senorita (1944), Roy and Dale’s first film together is the odd man out. It does not have an introduction, and it runs its full 77 minutes. Looks pretty good, too.

There are a few supplemental videos, some of them from the Roy Rogers Museum, which are nice to have — especially since the museum is no more, and it’s about as close to a tour as we’re gonna get anymore.

Some of these films are available elsewhere uncut. (Trigger, Jr. from Kino Lorber is incredible.) Wouldn’t it be great to have them complete with the introductions included as an extra, the way the Gene Autry pictures are done? I’m dying for a full-length Spoilers Of The Plains.

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Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Starring Tom Keene (as Richard Powers), Judy Clark, Roy Barcroft, I. Standford Jolley, Lee Phelps, Tom Steele

Serial Squadron has announced that they’re preparing a DVD release of the 1950 Republic serial Desperadoes Of The West. Though Republic would keep making serials through 1955, this was the last straight Western — others would would feature a masked rider and lift heavily from the Zorro stuff. Desperadoes works in its stock footage pretty well, pulling more from Republic features and less from their serials.

Tom Keene, working here as Richard Powers, is almost always worth a look, but he seems a bit old for this kinda stuff (he was in his mid-50s). Keen’s career was beginning to wind down at this point. He’d work pretty steadily throughout the 50s in features and TV, with his last picture being Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Not a great swan song, especially after appearing in so much cool stuff over the years.

Republic’s serial budgets were extremely tight in the 50s — this one cost about $150,000. Each chapter’s short running time (chapters 2-12 run just 13 minutes) really keeps things moving, which is a big benefit if you watch them back to back. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this one and I’m looking forward to a chance to revisit it.

Thanks to Texican for the news.

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Since wrapping up a commentary for El Paso (1949), the Pine-Thomas Western starring John Payne, Gail Russell and Sterling Hayden, I’ve been thinking about Gabby Hayes.

George Francis “Gabby” Hayes was born in his father’s hotel, the Hayes Hotel, in Stannards, New York. He played semiprofessional baseball in high school — and ran away from home at 17. He toured with a stock company, joined a circus, and became a successful vaudevillian.

Hayes married Olive E. Ireland in 1914, and she joined him in vaudeville. Hayes was so successful that by 1928, at just 43, he retired to Long Island. But he lost everything in the 1929 stock-market crash, and Olive persuaded George to try his luck in the movies. They moved to Los Angeles.

In his early days in Hollywood, Hayes played all kinds of roles — sometimes two parts in a single film. He did well in Westerns, though he didn’t know how to ride a horse until he was in his 40s and had to learn for a movie. In fact, he didn’t care much for Westerns.

From 1935 to 39, Hayes played Windy Halliday, the sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy (played by William Boyd). In 1939, Hayes left Paramount in a salary dispute and moved over to Republic. Paramount owned the name Windy Halliday, so he became Gabby.

As Gabby Whitaker, he appeared in more than 40 pictures between 1939 and 1946, usually with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry or Wild Bill Elliott — and often working with director Joseph Kane.

Hayes, Wayne and Rogers would all appear in Raoul Walsh’s The Dark Command (1940). Its dream cast also includes Claire Trevor, Walter Pigeon, Marjorie Main and Joe Sawyer. Its success would spur Yates to put more money into their John Wayne movies, and it hints at the bigger pictures Republic would do heading into the 50s. It’s a good one.

George “Gabby” Hayes’ last feature was The Cariboo Trail (1950) with Randolph Scott. He then headed to TV and hosted The Gabby Hayes Show from 1950 to 1954 on NBC and on ABC in 1956. When the series ended, Hayes retired from show business for a second time. He passed away in February 1969.

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The music label Cherry Red out of the UK has released (or is about to release) a 3-CD set Music From The Westerns Of John Wayne And John Ford. Featuring music from Stagecoach (1939), Fort Apache (1948), Three Godfathers (1948), She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), Horse Soldiers (1959) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Of course, music is always a huge part of a John Ford picture, so there’s plenty of good stuff here.

Sometimes it’s the original soundtrack (Rio Grande, Horse Soldiers), sometimes it’s from other sources. You can see a track listing here. This promises to be a very cool set. Can’t wait.

Thanks to Mr. Richard Vincent for the tip.

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