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Archive for the ‘1954’ Category

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

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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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RIP, Lizabeth Scott.

L Scott Silver Lode still

Lizabeth Scott
September 29, 1922 – January 31, 2015

Saw this morning that Lizabeth Scott passed away on January 31st at 92.

Her smoky voice made her perfect for film noir (Pitfall is a really good one). She only made one 50s Western: Allan Dwan’s Silver Lode (1954), which happens to be one of my favorites. (There’s also Red Mountain, a Civil War picture.)

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Apache Drums LC

Yesterday, I posted our favorite DVD releases of the year. Today’s list is made up of films we discovered during 2014. Titles that made the list were mentioned by at least three people. It’s a great lineup of fairly obscure, medium-budgeted 50s Westerns — and if you haven’t discovered them yourself, search them out.

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953) Fred F. Sears was extremely prolific, and his 50s Westerns are worth seeking out. This is one of the better ones, available through Columbia’s on-demand DVD program.

Apache Drums (1951) A suspense picture dressed up in cowboy clothes, produced by Val Lewton and directed by Hugo Fregonese. With Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Willard Parker, Arthur Shields, James Griffith and Clarence Muse (who’s superb in a small part).

Border River (1954) With George Sherman directing Joel McCrea, Yvonne De Carlo and Pedro Armendáriz, how could it not be great? Shot around Moab, Utah.

Cow Country (1953) Coming across a new Lesley Selander picture is always a treat. This one features Edmond O’Brien, Helen Wescott, Bob Lowery, Barton MacLane, Peggie Castle, James Millican and Robert Wilke.

A Day Of Fury (1956) One of the most unusual, and overlooked, Westerns of the 50s. Harmon Jones directs Dale Robertson, Mara Corday and Jock Mahoney. I’m so glad this one’s being rediscovered.

Four Guns To The Border (1954) Rory Calhoun, Colleen Miller and Walter Brennan in an excellent Universal Western directed by Richard Carlson.

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Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) Another good one from Fred F. Sears. Wish this one would see a real DVD release — black and white widescreen is so cool.

The Silver Whip (1953) Dale Robertson, Rory Calhoun, Robert Wagner, Kathleen Crowley and James Millican star in this taut, tight picture from editor-turned-director Harmon Jones. The staging of the climactic chase is masterful.

Stage To Tucson (1950) Rod Cameron and Wayne Morris. Lone Pine in Technicolor. Surely that’s worth an investment of 81 minutes.

Yellow Tomahawk LC

The Yellow Tomahawk (1954) Sadly, this color film is only available black and white. But it’s still a solid effort from the ever-dependable Lesley Selander — with a cast that includes Rory Calhoun, Peggie Castle, Noah Beery, Jr., Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and Rita Moreno.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

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The charge was this: send in your list of favorite 50s Westerns DVD releases for 2014, along with a few 50s Westerns that you discovered this year.

For today, here are your (and my) 10 favorite DVDs or Blu-rays released during the 2014 calendar year.

10. Panhandle (1948) This terrific Rod Cameron picture, directed by Lesley Selander, was released a few years ago as part of VCI’s Darn Good Western Volume 1. This year, it showed up on its on.

9. City Of Bad Men (1953) Dale Robertson leads a great cast: Jeanne Crain, Richard Boone, Lloyd Bridges, Hugh Sanders, Rodolfo Acosta, Don Haggerty, Leo Gordon, John Doucette, Frank Ferguson, James Best. Harmon Jones directs.

8. Fort Massacre (1958) Joel McCrea plays way against type. Forrest Tucker, Susan Cabot, John Russell and Denver Pyle co-star. You can get a nice regular DVD here in the States — and a stunning Blu-ray in Germany.

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7. Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) The guys who developed VistaVision look down from heaven, see this Blu-ray playing in our living rooms, and are very happy indeed.

6. The Lusty Men (1952) There was a time when Nicholas Ray was a machine that cranked out Great Movies. This study of modern-day rodeo cowboys — starring Robert Mitchum, Susan Haywood and Arthur Kennedy — comes from the heart of that period.

5. Drum Beat (1954) Alan Ladd shows us he’s got more than Shane up his sleeve, and Delmer Daves delivers yet another solid Western. This is a lot better movie than you’ve heard (or remember).

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4. Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958) When an Allied Artists Western starring Mark Stevens makes a Top Ten list, I know I’m in the right place.

3. Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Volume 4 As good as the series Western ever got. For me, this fourth volume is the best — which makes it plenty great indeed.

2. Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957) It’s not a stupendous Randolph Scott movie, but it’s a Randolph Scott movie — and Warner Archive has it shining like a black and white, 1.85 diamond.

1. South Of St. Louis (1949) This terrific Joel McCrea picture, with its Technicolor appropriately saturated, is stunning on Blu-ray from Olive Films. Alexis Smith and Dorothy Malone should’ve paid cinematographer Karl Freund for making them look so beautiful.

Along with all these favorites, there was a common complaint: that Olive Films’ promised The Quiet Gun (1956) didn’t make it in 2014.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their lists.

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Directed by Allan Dwan
Screen Play by Steve Fisher
Photographed by Reggie Lanning
Film Editor: Fred Allen, ACE
Special Effects: Howard and Theodore Lydecker

CAST: John Lund (Lance Horton), Brian Donlevy (Charles Quantrill), Audrey Totter (Kate Quantrill/Kitty McCoy), Joan Leslie (Sally Maris), Ben Cooper (Jesse James), Nina Varela (Mayor Delilah Courtney), Jim Davis (Cole Younger), Reed Hadley (Bitterroot Bill Maris), Frank Ferguson.

Allan Dwan approached Woman They Almost Lynched (1953) as a parody. As he told Peter Bogdanovich, “If you treat that seriously, where would you be?”

Released a few months before Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), and from the same studio, Republic, Dwan’s picture is just as personal. To me, it feels like he’s trying to see just how much he could get away with, really biting the hand that was feeding him. Maybe he was. His time at Republic was almost up, and he’d soon begin a terrific run with producer Benedict Bogeaus.

Olive Films has announced Woman They Almost Lynched for DVD and Blu-ray release in January. It’s good to see Olive come through with another key Republic title. As a huge fan of Dwan’s late-period work, I’d put this on the esential list. (At the same time, Robert Aldrich’s World For Ransom, released by Allied Artists in 1954 and starring Dan Duryea, will hit the streets.)

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RKO Dragnet big producer

I believe this is the RKO Ranch in Encino, as it appears in the 1954 Dragnet episode “The Big Producer.” It’s a good one, one of the best in my opinion, about a washed-up silent movie producer reduced to peddling pornography. There’s a strong Sunset Boulevard (1950) vibe to it, with Jack Webb and Ben Alexander joined by Ralph Moody, Martin Milner and Carolyn Jones.

This seems like a good way to plug The Jack Webb Blogathon happening over at my other place, The Hannibal 8. It’s running through the weekend (beginning on Friday, naturally), and some great folks are contributing (including our friend Laura and my daughter Presley). Stop by if you get a chance.

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Written and Directed by Delmer Daves
Director Of Photography: J. Peverell Marley, ASC
Film Editor: Clarence Kolster
Music by Victor Young

CAST: Alan Ladd (Johnny Mckay), Audrey Dalton (Nancy Meek), Marisa Pavan (Toby), Robert Keith (Bill Satterwhite), Charles Bronson (Captain Jack)

Not long after Shane (1953), Alan Ladd left Paramount, the studio that made him a star, and launched his independent company, Jaguar. Their first film was Drum Beat (1954). Based on the 1873 Modoc War, Ladd plays an Indian fighter recruited by President Grant to find a way to peace with the Modoc. Turns out the tribe wants peace, but a chief named Captain Jack (Charles Bronson) and his band of renegades are lousing things up. Repeated attempts for a peaceful resolution are unsuccessful, and we get a very exciting last couple of reels.

Though I’m not a big Alan Ladd fan, I really liked this one. It wears its “sympathetic treatment of the Indians” thing well, but never forgets that it’s action that puts people in the seats. Boy, a lot of people get shot in this thing.

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My job is to protect the wagon train. When somebody shoots at my people, I shoot back.”
— Alan Ladd

Ladd and Daves (and, of course, DP J. Peverell Marley) shot Drum Beat in Warnercolor and the then-new CinemaScope. As was the custom with ‘Scope at the time, they avoided close-ups, went for long takes whenever possible, and gave us lots of gorgeous vistas of Sonora, Arizona, and the Coconino National Forest. Daves always showed off the landscape in his Westerns, making each setting an essential element of the film, and this is one of Drum Beat’s great strengths. If there’s a film that makes better use of the Sonora area, I don’t know what it is.

The cast is a 50s Western fan’s dream: James H. Griffith (as a Civil War veteran who lost a leg at Shilo), Frank Ferguson, Elisha Cook, Jr., Willis Bouchey, Perry Lopez, Anthony Caruso, Denver Pyle and Strother Martin (who I heard was in it, but somehow missed). Of course, Charles Bronson makes quite an impression as Captain Jack in his first film under his new name (it had been Buchinsky, which was considered too Russian-sounding in the HUAC years).

With Drum Beat, Warner Archive gives us a pretty good-looking DVD. The Warnercolor is, well, Warnercolor — but here it looks as good as I’ve ever seen it look. The image is a tad soft at times (varying from shot to shot), some of which we can blame on the early CinemaScope. The audio is excellent; I love the stereo sound of these early Scope pictures, with an actor’s voice following them as they move around within the wide frame. This is a really good film, and a real treat in widescreen and stereo (I’d love to see a Blu-ray turn up someday). Highly recommended.

Alan Ladd and Delmer Daves reunited for The Badlanders (1958), also available from Warner Archive. I haven’t seen it in ages, and I’m really eager to revisit it.

Along with Drum Beat, two more Ladd Westerns came riding into town, thanks to Warner Archive.

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The Big Land (1957)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
CAST: Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Anthony Caruso, Julie Bishop and John Qualen

Ladd’s a cattle man who works to build a town around a railroad hub, which will benefit the local ranchers. Of course, there’s someone who doesn’t want all this to happen.

As a drunk, Edmond O’Brien steals every scene he’s in. He’s terrific. This is WarnerColor again, and it’s not as well-behaved as it is in Drum Beat. Good movie, though, especially if you’re a fan of O’Brien or Virginia Mayo. Gordon Douglas is as dependable as ever.

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Guns Of The Timberland (1960)
Directed by Robert D. Webb
CAST: Alan Ladd, Jeanne Crain, Gilbert Roland, Frankie Avalon

This time, Ladd’s a lumberjack who arrives in the Northwest to take out a lot of trees. The townspeople are afraid Ladd’s efforts will cause mudslides and do other environmental harm. Frankie Avalon sings “Gee Whiz Whillikins Golly Gee,” which Bugs Bunny used to sing in the bumpers to The Bugs Bunny Show on Saturday mornings. This tune is just one of the things that put Guns Of The Timberland in that goofy time period that a lot of series Westerns exist in, where Old and New West, cars and buckboards peacefully coexist.

Jeanne Crain is beautiful, Gilbert Roland is as cool as ever, and Lyle Bettger actually gets to be a good guy for once. The Technicolor makes it to DVD looking like a million bucks, while alcohol has Ladd looking just terrible.

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