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Archive for the ‘1954’ Category

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Directed by Ray Nazarro
Screenplay by Ray Buffum and DeVallon Scott
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Aaron Stell

Cast: Gary Merrill (Brock Marsh), Wanda Hendrix (Ruth Lawrence), John Bromfield (Mike Daugherty), Noah Beery, Jr. (Gimpy Joe), Fay Roope (John Lawrence), Howard Wendell (Judge Baker), Robert Simon (Marshal Whit Collins), James H. Griffith (Warren), Richard Webb (Frank Gibbs), Peter Whitney (Grimes), John War Eagle (Chief War Cloud), Jay Silverheels (Black Buffalo), Clayton Moore (Stone)

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At only 65 minutes long, The Black Dakotas (1954) was clearly meant to fill out a double bill. But for a film that’s not all that noteworthy, there are a number of things about it worth noting.

First, there’s the cast. Gary Merrill, in his first Western, is the bad guy — a Confederate hoping to stir up things with the Sioux to keep Union soldiers tied up. He gets a lot of screen time for a villain, maybe because he’s far more interesting than the good guy (John Bromfield). Wanda Hendrix, Audie Murphy’s ex-wife, was about to retire from the movies (at least for a few years), and she’s fine here. Noah Beery, Jr. does what he can with a rather odd part. The great James H. Griffith doesn’t have a whole lot to do as one of the bad guys.

John Bromfield and Wanda Hendrix

More on the cast. The Black Dakotas was shot during the period when Clayton Moore left The Lone Ranger TV series (over a salary dispute, reportedly) and returned to B Movie character parts. Moore’s not listed in the credits, but he’s there. You’ll also see Jay Silverheels (Tonto to Moore’s Lone Ranger) as one of the Sioux chiefs. From Moore and Silverheels to Beery and Griffith, the characters actors run rings around the leads.

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Here, Ray Nazarro does what we’ve seen him do so many times — put together a brisk little movie that delivers in the action department. It seems like no matter how small the budget or tight the schedule, Nazarro delivers the goods, the same way Lesley Selander always does. Of course, having Ellis Carter as director of photography doesn’t hurt. Why isn’t Carter brought up more often? He shot The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), for God’s sake! He gives The Black Dakotas a much bigger look than you’d expect. An early sequence was shot on a cloudy day — at Iverson, I think — and Carter really makes a positive out of a negative.

Carter’s fine work is well presented (in widescreen) in Mill Creek’s 7 Western Showdown Collection, a two-DVD set that contains seven Westerns. All the pictures look terrific, and the price is hard to beat. Recommended. I hope Mill Creek keeps up the good work, and I’d love to see movies like this make their way to Blu-Ray.

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Herbert J. Yates
Screenplay by Philip Yordan
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger
Original Music by Victor Young and Peggy Lee

Cast: Joan Crawford (Vienna), Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar), Mercedes McCambridge (Emma Small), Scott Brady (Dancin’ Kid), Ward Bond (John McIvers), Ben Cooper (Turkey Ralston), Ernest Borgnine (Bart Lonergan), John Carradine (Old Tom), Royal Dano (Corey), Paul Fix (Eddie)

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s-l1600-15Johnny Guitar (1954) has always been one of my favorite 50s Westerns.

Now, I could go on and on about how it’s a Feminist Western, a Psychological Western, an Existential Western, an HUAC allegory and lots of other things — or maybe it’s none of those. Depends on how you look at it.

I could rattle off a list of prominent filmmakers who’ve cited it as an influence or a favorite. I could cover its incredible cast, surely one of the best assembled for a 50s Western (and that’s saying something), or Victor Young’s terrific score — even that great instrumental version of the title song by The Spotnicks.

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I could even mention that at one point, there was talk of Jack Webb turning it into a TV series. Maybe it’s best to not get me started on Johnny Guitar at all.

But that’s not what this is about, not today anyway. It turns out Johnny Guitar is also one of the finest Blu-Rays I’ve ever seen.

Of course, Olive Films brought it out a few years ago, and it was marvelous. Some of us griped about it not reflecting Nick Ray’s original 1.66 cropping (I’m among the guilty), but the overall quality more than made up for it.

Well, Olive’s new Signature edition, it leaves the old release in the red, Sedona dust. This is a case where what a movie looks like on video can have a substantial impact on your appreciation of it. I saw details I’d never seen, and the restored 1.66 framing revealed little hints of Ray’s eye for color and composition (and his overall genius) that have escaped me for decades. In short, it made this great movie seem even greater.

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The extras — Martin Scorsese intro, commentary, documentaries, trailer, etc. — are outstanding, covering everything from the film and its many interpretations to Nicholas Ray to Republic pictures. Still haven’t made my way through them all. This is a movie that deserves, and stands up to, all the analysis that’s heaped on it, and this package does it justice.

I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money. So I’ll just say that if I won the lottery, I’d buy a few cases of these and send you all one. And if you hadn’t made the switch to Blu-Ray, well, I’d have to help you out with that, too. This one gets my highest recommendation.

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Mill Creek Entertainment has announced another set of films — the 7 Western Showdown Collection. Many of us may have these on separate discs, but it’s got some excellent 40s and 50s Westerns (along with the 1971 rodeo picture J.W. Coop).

The Black Dakotas (1954)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Gary Merrill, Wanda Hendrix, John Bromfield, Noah Beery, Jr.

This is the highlight for me, a Ray Nazarro Technicolor picture I’ve never seen. It was put out a few years ago as part of Sony’s MOD program, and I believe it was widescreen.

The set also includes:

Texas (1941)
Directed by George Marshall
Starring William Holden, Glenn Ford

Blazing Across The Pecos  (1948)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Charles Wilson

They Came To Cordura (1959)
Directed by Robert Rossen
Starring Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter

The Man From Colorado (1948)
Directed by Henry Levin
Starring William Holden, Glenn Ford, Ellen Drew, Edgar Buchanan

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Gun Fury (1953)
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Starring Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Philip Carey, Lee Marvin, Leo Gordon

The old DVD of Gun Fury was full-frame (and 2-D) instead of its intended 1.85. Not sure if Columbia will provide Mill Creek with new material or not, but a widescreen version would be reason alone to pick up this set.

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Bounty Hunter intermission card

50 Westerns From The 50s is going on a bit of a sabbatical. While we’re away, here’s the intermission card from a rare 3-D print of The Bounty Hunter (1954).

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I’m gonna make this quick because time’s running out. Olive Films’ Signature Edition of Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954) comes our tomorrow. Today, the pre-order price at Amazon is only $16.99 (the list price is $39.95).

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Get the new Blu-Ray of Johnny Guitar, or Frank’ll let you have it.

Watched it over the weekend, and I really urge you to get it (a real review will be coming soon). Don’t have a Blu-ray player? Well, now’s the time. This thing’s incredible. As much as I love this movie, seeing it in hi-def and its proper 1.66 framing, I love it even more. Essential.

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The lineup for the 54th New York Film Festival — which runs from September 30 to Octoebr 16 — includes a terrific Henry Hathaway retrospective that doesn’t skimp on his Westerns.

Rawhide (1951)
Starring Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Hugh Marlowe, Dean Jagger, Edgar Buchanan, Jack Elam, George Tobias, James Millican

Garden Of Evil (1954)
Starring Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark, Hugh Marlowe, Cameron Mitchell

From Hell To Texas (1958)
Starring Don Murray, Diane Varsi, Chill Wills, R.G. Armstrong, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Carey, Jr.

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North To Alaska (1960)
Starring John Wayne. Stewart Granger, Ernie Kovacks, Fabian, Capucine, Joe Sawyer, James H. Griffith

The Shepherd Of The Hills (1941), Kiss Of Death (1947) and Niagara (1953) are among the other Hathaway pictures being shown. Good stuff.

The restored One-Eyed Jacks (1961) is also part of the festival.

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Scott Brady, Mercedes McCambridge, Ben Cooper, Ernest Borgnine, Ward Bond, John Carradine, Royal Dano, Frank Ferguson, Paul Fix, Denver Pyle

Olive Films has launched their new Signature series with a couple titles we’ll all be interested in: High Noon (1952) and Johnny Guitar (1954).

With Blu-rays from new 4K scans and a slew of extras, these should be terrific. For Nick Ray’s weird and wonderful Johnny Guitar, the best extra has to be the correct 1.66:1 framing. Ray was an absolute master at composition — and maybe the King Of CinemaScope — and I’m sure this proper aspect ratio will make all the difference. Watch for them in September.

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