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Archive for the ‘1953’ Category

Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Associate Producer: Herbert Leonard
Screen Play by Arthur Lewis & DeVallon Scott
Story by DeVallon Scott
Director Of Photography: Henry Freulich, ASC
Film Editor: Al Clark, ACE
Art Director: Paul Palmentola
Musical Director: Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: John Hodiak (Cochise), Robert Stack (Major Tom Burke), Joy Page (Consuelo de Cordova), Rico Alaniz (Felipe), Fortunio Bonanova (Mexican Minister), Edward Colmans (Don Francisco de Cordova), Alex Montoya (Jose Garcia), Steven Ritch (Tukiwah), Carol Thurston (Terua), Rodd Redwing (Red Knife) Robert E. Griffin (Sam Maddock), Poppy del Vando (Señora de Cordova)


Been on a big Sam Katzman kick of late, to the point I feel like a one-man Sam Katzman Blogathon — there are a number of Katzman posts in the works (here and on The Hannibal 8). This time around, it’s Conquest Of Cochise (1953), one of William Castle’s first films for Katzman’s unit at Columbia.

Coming a few years after Jeff Chandler played Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950), this time the Apache chief is played by John Hodiak. In Tucson, after the Gadsden Purchase, ranchers are being raided by the Apache and Comanche. Major Tom Burke (Robert Stack) is sent to stop the violence and establish peace with Cochise. While he’s there, Burke takes a shine to Consuelo de Cordova (Joy Page).

Cochise also wants peace, but the Comanche do not, which leads to trouble — and more trouble. Eventually, Page is captured by the Apache and held hostage, with Stack working to free her as she and Kodiak fall in love.

It’s a short picture, running just 70 minutes, with more talk than action — and Castle’s direction seems uncharacteristically stiff. The picture’s greatest asset is certainly its cast. John Hodiak is quite good as Cochise, making the usual stilted Indian-speaking-white-man’s-tongue dialogue work. It’s his movie. Robert Stack is a stoic hero here, a bit like his Elliott Ness on The Untouchables. Joy Page is lovely. She and Robert Stack had been paired in Budd Boetticher’s Bullfighter And The Lady (1951). 

The cast and crew spent a lot of time at Vasquez Rocks, about an hour from the Columbia lot — where a fairly crude painting of those same rocks awaited on a soundstage (see the above still). They also shot some stuff at Corriganville. Director Of Photography Henry Freulich captures it all in gorgeous Technicolor. As cheap as these Katzman pictures were, I’m surprised he sprung for Technicolor. The stuff wasn’t cheap.

Katzman’s cost-cutting is painfully obvious, the history is questionable, the ending is too abrupt and Castle doesn’t seem to have found much inspiration in the script he was handed. But I love it anyway.

Conquest Of Cochise was part of Sony’s MOD program, and the transfer was near-perfect. Maybe Mill Creek or Critics Choice will get around to another set of Katzman-Castle Westerns. 

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Directed by Raoul Walsh
Starring Rock Hudson, Julie Adams, Mary Castle, John McIntire, Hugh O’Brian, Dennis Weaver, Forrest Lewis, Lee Van Cleef, Glenn Strange

Next up from Explosive Media is Raoul Walsh’s The Lawless Breed (1953), coming to DVD and Blu-Ray (region free!) in September.

Raoul Walsh, Rock Hudson and Julie Adams during shooting.

It’s a pretty inaccurate story of the outlaw John Wesley Hardin, played by Rock Hudson. The manuscript for his autobiography is used to launch the picture as a series of flashbacks. 

With Walsh’s typical no-nonsense, propulsive direction, a really strong cast and incredible Technicolor photography from Irving Glassberg (which will really be something to see in high definition), The Lawless Breed plays as a better movie than it actually is. Highly recommended.

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Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Sam Rolfe & Harold Jack Bloom
Director Of Photography: William Mellor
Film Editor: George White
Music by Bronisław Kaper

Cast: James Stewart (Howard Kemp, Janet Leigh (Lina Patch), Robert Ryan (Ben Vandergroat), Ralph Meeker (Roy Anderson), Millard Mitchell (Jesse Tate)


As great as The Naked Spur (1953) is, and even with Warner Archive’s incredible track record, I didn’t have high hopes for this Blu-Ray. Boy, was I wrong.

Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur is certainly one of the finest Westerns ever made, but it’s been one of the most consistently terrible-looking great movies on home video. From VHS to laserdisc to DVD, the Technicolor palette was muted and the picture itself way too soft. What was supposed to be sharp and vibrant looked like a pastel — in other words, it never stopped looking like VHS. Pair all that with the sad economics of home video these days — that the demand for older films hardly justifies the expense of a major restoration, and you can see why I wasn’t expecting the gorgeous presentation we can thank Warner Archive for today. 

But enough on that (for now).

The Naked Spur was the third of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns, coming after Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend Of The River (1952). The Far Country (1954) and Man From Laramie (1955) would follow. This was a cinematic hot streak that will probably never be equaled.

The entire cast of The Naked Spur: (L-R) Millard Mitchell, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker, James Stewart.

Howard Kemp (Stewart) is bringing in Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) to stand trial for murder. Vandergroat is accompanied by his girl, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh). Along for the ride are a prospector (Millard Mitchell) and a dishonorably discharged Cavalryman (Ralph Meeker). At first, folks think Stewart’s a lawman — with the knowledge that he’s a bounty hunter and there’s $5,000 at the end of the trail, things change. Mitchell and Meeker want a share of the reward — and they know how to make that piece of the pie a bit bigger. Vandergroat sees all this, and he starts working at everyone to create a chance to get away.

I’m not going any further than that. Don’t want to spoil anything.

Anthony Mann and Janet Leigh on location.

Stewart’s his usual torn, tormented, edgy Mann-picture cowboy in this one — he needs the reward to buy back his ranch. Ryan is at his best as the manipulative, slimy-but-somehow-charming Vandergroat. Ralph Meeker has maybe the best scumbag role of his career — he plays almost the entire picture with a sneer. Millard Mitchell would only make one more movie; he died of lung cancer not too long after this. And Janet Leigh is just perfect. She’s totally believable as an easy target for Ryan who slowly sees him for the murderous sociopath he really is. Much of the picture’s considerable tension comes from these characters.

The Naked Spur seems like a prototype for the Scott-Boetticher Westerns that would come a few years later: the small cast, the tightness, the tone, the incredible use of the landscape, the male lead who’s trying to right a wrong or live something down, the charismatic or even likable villain, etc. I’m not suggesting, not for a second, that Burt Kennedy and Budd Boetticher were ripping Mann off. It’s just a particular type of Western that really worked well in the 50s. Some of my all-time favorite movies fit this pattern.

Now back to the Blu-Ray. Many of y’all out there had an understandable wait-and-see approach to this one. I’m happy to report you can proceed with complete confidence — this is one of the most significant upgrades I’ve seen from DVD to Blu-Ray. The care that went into this is obvious in every frame.

It’s a near perfect transfer of three-strip Technicolor — the color and sharpness are impeccable. It’s clean without signs of noise reduction. The sound has a nice range to it and the extras from the old DVD  — a Pete Smith Specialty, Tex Avery’s Little Johnny Jet (1953) and the trailer — have been brought over.

The Naked Spur is certainly one of the best classic films to hit Blu-Ray this year. It’s so nice to see it get the attention it so richly deserves — especially William Mellor’s incredible outdoor Technicolor work. Absolutely essential.

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Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

Mann and Stewart’s third Western, coming after Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend Of The River (1952), has been screaming for some restoration work for quite some time. Warner Archive has announced a Blu-Ray release for September. Can’t wait to see what they’ve done with it.

These Mann-Stewart pictures are certainly among the best Westerns ever made. Beyond that, it comes down to your personal preference.

I’ll post the technical details as they become available. This one’s as essential as they get.

Love that poster art by Gustav Rehberger.

Thanks to Paula for the tip.

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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


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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Lee Aker
(September 25, 1943 – April 1, 2021)

Lee Aker, who most will remember from the Rin Tin Tin TV show, has passed away at 77. He also appeared in Hondo (1953, above) with John Wayne, High Noon (1952), Ride Clear Of Diablo (1954) and Destry (1954).

Aker suffered a stroke and died April 1 near Mesa, Arizona. Sadly, his body was unclaimed.

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Directed by John Sturges
Starring William Holden, Eleanor Parker, John Forsythe, William Demarest, William Campbell, Polly Bergen, Howard McNear, Glenn Strange

Warner Archive is working their Blu-Ray magic on John Sturges’ Escape From Fort Bravo (1953), a taut, suspenseful picture starring William Holden and Eleanor Parker.

Shot in Anscocolor, I’m looking forward to what WAC can do with it. Escape From Fort Bravo was originally shown in 1.66, just as the widescreen era was cranking up. But don’t let this make the movie sound like just a technical curio — it’s a damn good 50s Western. Highly recommended.

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Joan Weldon
(August 5, 1930 – February 11, 2021)

Joan Weldon, a lovely actress who appeared in some terrific pictures in the 50s, has passed away at 90.

She appeared with Randolph Scott in two Westerns, The Stranger Wore A Gun (1953) and Riding Shotgun (1954), both directed by Andre de Toth, along with The Command (1954) with Guy Madison, Gunsight Ridge (1957) with Joel McCrea and Day Of The Badman (1958) with Fred MacMurray. But the big one, the one she’s known for, is Gordon Douglas’s great giant ant picture Them! (1954).

She was quote a singer and did a lot of musical theater, including appearing with Forrest Tucker in The Music Man.

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Kino Lorber’s second set of 50s Westerns on Blu-Ray serves up some good ones: The Redhead From Wyoming (1953), Pillars Of The Sky (1956) and Gun For A Corward (1957). It’s due April 6.

The Redhead From Wyoming (1953)
Directed by Lee Sholem
Starring Maureen O’Hara, Alex Nicol, William Bishop, Alexander Scourby, Robert Strauss, Gregg Palmer, Jack Kelly, Dennis Weaver, Stacy Harris

Maureen O’Hara runs a saloon and ends up in the middle of the usual cattlemen vs. settlers thing. It’s short, fast and beautifully shot by Winton C. Hoch.

Pillars Of The Sky (1956)
Directed by George Marshall
Starring Jeff Chandler, Dorothy Malone, Ward Bond, Keith Andes, Lee Marvin

Jeff Chandler is a calvary officer trying to keep his troops and Dorothy Malone from being scalped. Harold Lipstein shot it in CinemaScope on location in Oregon. Filmed right after The Searchers wrapped, it features a number of the same players (Ward Bond, Walter Coy, Olive Carey, Beulah Archuletta).

Gun For A Coward (1957)
Directed by Abner Biberman
Starring Fred MacMurray, Jeffrey Hunter, Janice Rule, Dean Stockwell, Bob Steele

This one weaves a family struggle into a cattle drive and rustlers story. It looks great in CinemaScope and MacMurray is terrific.

All three come with a trailer and commentary (I’m doing Pillars Of The Sky). And given Kino Lorber’s track record with their Universal movies, they’ll look terrific.

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