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Archive for the ‘1953’ Category

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Directed by Roy (Ward) Baker
Produced by William Bloom
Written by Francis M. Cockrell
Director Of Photography: Lucian Ballard
Music by Paul Sawtell

Cast:Robert Ryan (Donald Whitley Carson III), Rhonda Fleming (Geraldine Carson), William Lundigan (Joseph Duncan), Henry Hull (Sam Elby), Larry Keating (Dave Emory), Carl Betz (Lt. Mike Platt), Robert Burton (Sheriff), Barbara Pepper

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Inferno (1953) isn’t a Western. But it’s got enough of our usual stuff in it — cast, crew, locations, etc. — to seem like a pretty good fit. Truthfully, I just wanted to write about it, celebrate director Roy Ward Baker and lift up Panamint Cinema’s fine work in bringing it to DVD and Blu-ray.

3-D never saved a crappy movie, and how much it enhances a film comes down to personal taste (to me, if it’s not perfectly presented, it’s a huge distraction). None of that is an issue with Inferno, because it’s a terrific “desert noir” picture — and director Roy Baker and cinematographer Lucian Ballard use the 3-D very, very well. (Have you noticed that watching a 3-D movie flat tends to show off how gimmick-y it is? Fort Ti, for instance.)

Inferno WC

Robert Ryan is a tough, drunken business tycoon no one seems all that fond of. When he breaks his leg horseback riding in the Mojave, his wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her new lover (William Lundigan) decide to leave him there to die — they’re not killing him, they’re just not saving him. Sounds like a perfect plan. Only they didn’t figure Ryan would sober up, patch up his leg and start making his way back to civilization.

The picture goes back and forth between Ryan’s trek through the desert and Fleming and Lundigan’s attempts to fake their way through the rescue efforts. Ryan plays his part largely without dialogue — we hear his thoughts as narration — and he’s very, very good. (As if I had to tell you that.)

Roy Baker: “I had always had an ambition to make a picture in which the leading character spends long periods alone on the screen, where the interest would be in what he does, rather than what he says.”*

Inferno LC 2

Fleming and Lundigan are good, too. As the movie progresses, their paranoia and stress levels escalate. You just know it’s going to fall apart. It’s to the credit of everyone involved that our sympathy shifts from scene to scene — and in how satisfying it is when Fate takes over in the last reel.

Director Roy (Ward) Baker was a master, and today, nobody seems to know who he is. He enjoyed a widely-varied career, bouncing from features to TV, from genre to genre, and from the US to the UK with ease. He got a great performance out of Marilyn Monroe in Don’t Bother To Knock (1952), directed some great episodes of The Avengers, made one of the best Hammer films, Five Million Miles To Earth (1968, known in the UK as Quatermass And The Pit), and gave us one of the most impossibly-great, damned-near perfect movies I’ve ever seen, A Night To Remember (1958).

His use of depth in Inferno is subtle but very effective, and he was proud of his work on the picture. A falling rock or two, a chair thrown toward the camera — that’s about it as far as the showy stuff goes. The rocks and cactus provide plenty of opportunities to play around with depth in a more natural way. He and Lucian Ballard work wonders with light and color to create the intensity of the desert. The movie looks really hot — though it was shot in the winter. (Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah also lured Ballard and his cameras into the desert for pictures like Buchanan Rides Alone and The Wild Bunch.)

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The supporting cast is a good one. Henry Hull is great as the old prospector who comes to Ryan’s aid. Larry Keating, who’s wonderful on The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show, is Ryan’s business associate, and he doesn’t seem all that upset, or surprised, that his partner’s gone missing. And Barbarba Pepper, Mrs. Ziffel on Green Acres, turns up as a waitress.

They say that back in the 90s, a British retrospective on Baker was reduced to running a 16mm TV print of Inferno. Luckily, Bob Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive tracked down 35mm Technicolor prints of both the left and right sides — which this incredible region-free Blu-ray comes from (transferred by Dan Symmes). The picture is stunning at times, sharp as a tack with vivid color and just the right amount of grain. It looks exactly like what it is — a nice 35mm dye-transfer Technicolor print. This was an early stereo picture, but there’s only mono here. Bet the stereo masters are long gone. I wasn’t able to watch the 3-D version, which would have to be impressive since it comes from the same material. There’s a healthy batch of extras, from trailers to an interview with the great Rhonda Fleming.

Inferno comes highly, highly recommended — both the movie and this beautiful Blu-ray. And I’d like to thank Bob Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive and Russell Cowe of Panamint Cinema for getting it out there.

Sources: *Director’s Cut: A Memoir of 60 Years in Film by Roy Ward Baker; Blu-ray liner notes

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Directed by John Farrow
Screenplay by James Edward Grant
From a short story by Louis L’Amour
Starring John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, James Arness, Leo Gordon

As part of the Museum Of Modern Art’s 3-D Summer, Hondo (1953) will return to New York in 3-D for the first time in decades. There are a number of showings June 13 through July 4, with Gretchen Wayne introducing the first one.

Of course, Hondo is a terrific picture, whether it’s 2-D or 3-D. If you can’t get to NYC in a couple weeks, the (flat) Blu-ray is stunning.

Also in the MoMA series is 3-D Rarities, an amazing compilation from Bob Furmanek of the 3-D Film Archive — who stops by this blog every so often.

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Hired Gun 3S

A while back I listed a batch of 50s Westerns on the way from Warner Archive. At that time, the actual release dates weren’t known — it was just April. Well, now we know it’s this coming Tuesday, April 21. Gonna be a busy week.

The Hired Gun (1957)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Rory Calhoun, Anne Francis, Vince Edwards, Chuck Connors

Black Patch (1957)
Directed by Allen H. Miner
Starring George Montgomery, Diane Brewster, Tom Pittman, Leo Gordon

Arrow In The Dust still CG

Arrow In The Dust (1954)
Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray (above with the titular arrow and dust), Jimmy Wakely, Lee Van Cleef

The Marauders (1955)
Directed by Gerald Mayer
Starring Dan Duryea, Jeff Richards, Keenan Wynn

Son Of Belle Starr (1953)
Directed by Frank McDonald
Starring Keith Larsen, Dona Drake, Peggie Castle, Regis Toomey

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Pony Express foreign LC

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.33.41 AMGoogle is commemorating the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express with a nifty little snatch-the-mail-sacks-without-running-into-a-rock-or-a-cactus-or-an-outlaw video game and some links about the short-lived mail service. (Judging from this game, my daughter’d make a lot better Pony Express rider than I would.)

Nat Holt and Paramount beat Google to the punch by 62 years with Pony Express (1953), a cool Western with history re-written by Charles Marquis Warren. It stars Charlton Heston (as Buffalo Bill, who really rode for the Pony Express), Rhonda Fleming, Jan Sterling and Forrest Tucker (as Wild Bill Hickock). To get the mail through, Heston and Tucker have to contend with weather, Indians, outlaws and both Rhonda Fleming and Jan Sterling taking baths. The action scenes are really well done. Olive Films brought it out on DVD back in 2011.

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Lesley_SelanderNext Thursday, April 9, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will highlight director Lesley Selander by running nine of his films, three of them part of RKO’s excellent series of B Westerns starring Tim Holt (Gunplay is a very good one).

Arrow In The Dust (1954) stars Sterling Hayden and Coleen Gray. Tall Man Riding (1955) is a solid Randolph Scott picture. And The Lone Ranger And The Lost City Of Gold (1958) is the second TV spinoff feature to star Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.

I’m a big fan of Lesley Selander. When it comes to action, he’s one of the best. It’s good to see him get this kind of attention. His films are short, smart, fast — and highly recommended.

Selander on TCM

The times listed are Eastern Standard Time. This is a “restoration” of a shorter post. Thanks to Blake for pointing out all I’d missed.

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Pillars Of The Sky HS sized

New York’s 92nd Street Y is hosting a class on Westerns of the 50s. Hosted by Kurt Brokaw, Associate Teaching Professor at The New School and senior film critic of The Independent magazine, it’s got a really terrific roster of films. The classes are Tuesday nights, beginning April 14, with two films each night.

Man, I wish I could get to this.

Week 1
Broken Lance
(1954) Directed by Edward Dmytryk, starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Richard Widmark, Katy Jurado
The Badlanders (1956) Directed by Delmer Daves, starring Alan Ladd, Ernest Borgnine, Katy Jurado

Week 2
Saddle The Wind
(1958) Directed by Robert Parrish, starring Robert Taylor, Julie London, John Cassavetes
Dawn At Socorro (1954) Directed by George Sherman, starring Rory Calhoun and Piper Laurie

Week 3
Pillars Of The Sky
(1956) Directed by George Marshall, starring Jeff Chandler, Dorothy Malone, Ward Bond, Lee Marvin
Backlash (1956) Directed by John Sturges, starring Richard Widmark, Donna Reed, William Campbell, John McIntire

Diablo TC

Week 4
Ride Clear Of Diablo
(1954) Directed by Jesse Hibbs, starring Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Susan Cabot
The Outriders (1950) Directed by Roy Rowland, starring Joel McCrea, Arlene Dahl, James Whitmore, Barry Sullivan

Week 5
Back To God’s Country
(1953) Directed by Joseph Pevney, starring Rock Hudson, Marcia Henderson, Steve Cochran, Hugh O’Brien
Black Horse Canyon (1954) Directed by Jesse Hibbs, starring Joel McCrea and Mari Blanchard

Week 6
Seven Men From Now
(1956) Directed by Budd Boetticher, starring Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed
Gun Fury (1953) Directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Philip Carey, Lee Marvin

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Stranger Wore A Gun 3D poster

Directed by Andre De Toth
Produced by Harry Joe Brown
Associate Producer: Randolph Scott
Screen Play by Kenneth Gamet
Based Upon “Yankee Gold” by John M. Cunningham
Film Editors: Gene Havlick, ACE and James Sweeney, ACE
Musical Director: Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: Randolph Scott (Jeff Travis), Claire Trevor (Josie Sullivan), Joan Weldon (Shelby Conroy), George Macready (Jules Mourret), Alfonso Bedoya (Degas), Lee Marvin (Dan Kurth), Ernest Borgnine (Bull Slager).

R Scott blogathon badgeThis is my contribution to The Blogathon For Randolph Scott, which has seen some excellent writing from a group of learned film fans.

It’s easy to see The Stranger Wore A Gun (1953) as just another Randolph Scott movie. Not as good as some, better than a few. Of the six Scott pictures directed by Andre de Toth, it might be the least. (To me, 1951’s Man In The Saddle is the best.)

But what makes The Stranger Wore A Gun stand out today isn’t its convoluted plotting, what a slimy bad guy George Macready is, or how great Joan Weldon looks. It’s the picture’s technical aspects, the stuff it boasted about on its one-sheet: 3-Dimensions, wide screen and stereophonic sound.

Ernest Borgnine: “The director was Andre de Toth, who wore an eye patch, having lost an eye as a kid. But here he was, directing a movie in 3D!”

A solid, resourceful filmmaker, Andre de Toth was chosen to test-drive and fine tune a few of Hollywood’s technical developments of the 50s. The second of the De Toth Scotts, Carson City (1952), was the first Warnercolor film. House Of Wax (1953) was filmed in the Natural Vision 3D format and Warnercolor, with the added bonus of stereophonic sound. The first major-studio 3D movie, it’s still considered the best use of the process during the early-50s craze.

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Randolph Scott (in the trailer): “I talked it over with my partner-producer Harry Joe Brown. Naturally, we didn’t want to be left at the post in this great new technical race in the picture industry, so we decided to go all out —3D, stereophonic sound and Technicolor. Now that’s a mouthful, and it was an armful to do, but exciting.”

Working titles were I Ride Alone and Yankee Gold.

Andre de Toth: “They asked me to do it in 3D. I had qualms about it, but the conceit that killed so many people won the battle. I knew I was better than the rest of the ordinary geniuses and I thought that, single-handedly, I’d be able to stop the exodus from 3D, revive third-dimensional pictures, and gain some more experience in 3D by doing a Western. But my conceit and hope didn’t resurrect 3D. It was dead and buried by the junk thrown at the public way before we started. Too bad.”

The film’s other distinction it that it was the first film composed and shot to be projected at 1.85. This aspect ratio is still the standard, in use in theaters and on video today. What’s a shame is that these technical amenities are completely absent on the 2D, full-frame, mono DVD. (The three-track stereo elements were lost years ago.)

Scott plays Jeff Travis, a Confederate spy attached to Quantrill’s raiders. Realizing that Quantrill and his men are little more than bandits and murderers, he flees and winds up in Prescott, Arizona, after the war is over. He becomes involved with an old flame, Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor), and falls in with some stage robbers: the sophisticated ringleader Jules Mourret (George Macready) and a couple of his henchmen, Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) and Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine).

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Ernest Borgnine: “No sooner had I finished From Here To Eternity and gone home to New York than, bam, I was asked to come right back again to shoot a Western, The Stranger Wore A GunThe Stranger Wore A Gun was the picture where I met a lifelong friend, Lee Marvin.”

Back to the story. Scott befriends the Conroys, a father and daughter (Joan Weldon) who run the stag line and decides he wants out of the outlaw life. It all comes to a fiery climax in the saloon. And, of course, all sorts of things are thrown at the audience over the course of its 83 minutes.

Joan Weldon: “Warners had nothing scheduled for me so they decided to put me on suspension without pay. I ran into Randy somewhere, and he heard I was suspension and called my agent and said he had a part in a picture at Columbia and would I consider doing it… It was three weeks; work; six days a week. Then Warner Bros. said, ‘She’s under contract to us, we want the money from the loan-out.’ My agent said, ‘No way. You put her on suspension; she can do what she wants with the money,’ So I did get the money.”

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The Stranger Wore A Gun is a mess. The performances are fine, some of the action sequences are very well done, it moves along briskly, and it all looks great in Technicolor. But it’s hard to follow — and some of Scott’s actions don’t make sense. De Toth, as good a director as he is, could only do so much with the script he was given. Maybe they thought 3D would overcome whatever shortcomings the picture may have.

The last of the De Toth Scotts, Bounty Hunter (1954), was also shot in 3D (for Warner Bros.). But by the time it was ready for release, the boom was over. It only played flat.

Sources: De Toth On De Toth by Andre de Toth, The Films Of Randolph Scott by Robert Nott, Ernie by Ernest Borgnine, and the wonderful 3D Archive website.

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