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Archive for the ‘1955’ Category

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay by Herb Meadow and Don Martin
From a novel by Louis L’Amour
Cinematographer: Ray Rennahan
Film Editor: William B. Murphy
Music by Paul Dunlap

Cast: Joel McCrea (Judge Rick Thorne), Miroslava (Amy Lee Bannerman), Kevin McCarthy (Tom Bannerman), John Carradine (Col. Buck Streeter), John McIntire (Josiah Bannerman), Nancy Gates (Caroline Webb)

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badgeI missed Stranger On Horseback (1955) on its first run in the UK. as the support feature to the very popular Marty.

My interest was aroused by a February 1963 edition of Motion which had a comment on the film by the esteemed Raymond Durgnat. Mr Durgnat was the doyen of a new breed of young English cineaste film writers. Durgnat’s impression of the film was as follows: “In Stranger On Horseback (a disturbing little Jacques Tourneur Western), Joel McCrea comes across Miroslava (ex Archimboldo) who is clad throughout in black leather, boots, gloves, and of course whip. SHE comes across HIM bathing naked in a pool and though the scene is censored, it looks as if it builds up to the scene in Duel In The Sun where Gregory Peck waits for Jennifer Jones to emerge from among the reeds where she is cowering and shivering. The film also has a moment of Hawksian moral sadism; the weak willed sheriff (Emile Meyer) finally accepts the necessity for violence and blasts away at the crooks with a shotgun. “How d’you like it?” asks McCrea. “Loathesome,” replies Meyer grinning broadly.”

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The plot of Stranger On Horseback is pretty straightforward: a circuit judge (McCrea) wants to get the goods on an unsolved murder committed by the son (Kevin McCarthy) of a local king-pin (John McIntire). Tourneur graces the film with plenty of quirky offbeat touches that range from the humorous to the subversive.

The only available version of the film is on DVD from VCI, obtained from a print sourced from the vault of the British Film Institute. Sadly, this print is in bad shape — the lovely Sedona locations appear washed out. Hopefully, a master neg may surface or perhaps the film will be restored, like the previously considered lost Seven Men From Now (1956). It’s amazing what can be done these days, just consider the wonderful restoration done by Ignite Films on Canadian Pacific (1949) and The Cariboo Trail (1950). We live in hope. Not only is Stranger On Horseback Tourneur… it’s very good Tourneur.

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The film runs a mere 66 minutes, which suggests the film may have been censored — most of McCrea’s Fifties programmers clocked in at around 80 minutes. The film was an initial independent effort from producer Leonard Goldstein who previously had a splendid track record at Universal and Fox. Sadly, Mr. Goldstein passed away at the tender age of 51,  before Stranger On Horseback was released. Goldstein also produced Saddle Tramp (1950), the best of McCrea’s six Universal Fifties Westerns.

McCrea had choice of director on Stranger On Horseback. He chose Tourneur, who previously made the wonderful Stars In My Crown (1950), a film which sadly failed to find an audience. Tourneur also directed McCrea’s next picture Wichita (19XX), the first of four films that he made for Allied Artists. Wichita was far and away the best of the four and scored at the box office.

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The bad guy in Stranger On Horseback is Kevin McCarthy, who impressed McCrea. He told the young actor, “I’m going to tell the studios all  about you.” I have often wondered if this lead to McCarthy’s most iconic role in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956). After all, producer Walter Wanger had produced one of McCrea’s biggest hits, Foreign Correspondent (1940). Wanger and McCrea were working out of Allied Artists at the same time. Furthermore; Sam Peckinpah played a bank teller in Wichita and a meter reader in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Sam has often cited Don Siegel as his mentor.

Don Siegel had previously tried to develop Bad Day At Black Rock at Allied Artists. He wanted McCrea to play the lead. With all due respects to Spencer Tracy and John Sturges, John at the very fine Greenbriar Picture Shows feels the McCrea/Siegel film would have been superior. I totally agree. And I might hasten to add that I will be first in line when Warners releases the Blu-Ray version of Sturges’ film.

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Had McCrea appeared in Bad Day At Black Rock and not turned down the Van Heflin role in Shane (1953) this surely would have had a huge boost to his star power which faded considerably in the late Fifties.As much as we all love his Westerns I would have loved to have seen him tackle some of the non Westerns roles played by Cooper and Stewart in the Fifties. McCrea’s reason for turning down Shane was two-fold: he did not feel he was at a time in his career to take secondary roles; plus, he did not want to detract from his friend Alan Ladd. McCrea, in typical modesty, stated that he could never had been as good as Heflin was. I totally disagree especially under George Stevens’ direction.

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An amusing snippet: one day, Ladd asked his pal McCrea, “What do you do when the phone doesn’t ring… when nobody wants you?” McCrea jokingly replied, “I slap my wife on the butt, jump on my horse and ride around the ranch.” This flippant attitude was totally alien to the increasingly insecure Ladd.

From the mid to late Fifties, McCrea often worked for directors who were a far cry from the likes of Hawks, Hitchcock, Wyler, Wellman, Sturges and Walsh — whom he worked for in his glory days. It’s a shame that Tourneur or Siegel didn’t direct films like The Oklahoman or Trooper Hook (both 1957), especially with their subtext of alienation and racism. Both directors made wonderful films that shared those themes. Things did improve when Joseph Newman came on board, a vast step up from the likes of Francis D. Lyon and Charles Marquis Warren.

Despite the late Fifties drop off in quality (apart from the Newman efforts, especially 1958’s Fort Massacre), McCrea has left a hugely impressive body of work. It is also encouraging that many major stars, from Katherine Hepburn to Clint Eastwood, feel McCrea was grossly underrated.

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Ronald Reagan
February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004

I’m ashamed to have missed Tim Holt’s birthday on the 5th. I’m not gonna screw up Ronald Reagan’s. He’d be 105 today.

Here he is in Law And Order (1953). I resisted the temptation to post yet another photo from Allan Dwan’s Tennessee’s Partner (1955), a picture I love.

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RIP, Rex Reason.

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Rex Reason
(November 30, 1928 – November 19, 2015)

Rex Reason has passed away at 86. He’s best known for appearing in the great sci-fi picture This Island Earth (1955), but he’s in some solid 50s Westerns — Smoke Signal (1955), Raw Edge (1956) and Badlands Of Montana (1956, above) with Beverly Garland.

He left the movie business in the 60s and got into real estate.

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Robbers Roost poster sized

Directed by Sidney Salkow
Starring George Montgomery, Richard Boone, Sylvia Findley, Peter Graves, Warren Stevens, William Hopper, Leo Gordon

Let’s not forget Robbers Roost (1955), announced for Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. It has an official release date of December 1. It’s a solid George Montgomery picture, based on a novel by Zane Grey, with a terrific cast. The cinematography by Jack Draper looks great. Draper worked on a lot of Mexican films, or American films shot in Mexico, such as Budd Boetticher’s Bullfighter And The Lady (1951) and this one, which was filmed around Durango.

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sanstitre40m
54166_3lEssential
stuff at a terrific price.

With this two-disc set from Mill Creek, you get the five Columbia titles from Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher’s Ranown cycle — The Tall T (1957), Decision At Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960, above). And if all that isn’t enough, they’ve thrown in Joseph H. Lewis’ A Lawless Street (1955) to sweeten the deal.

Available September 15. Buy a whole case of ’em, folks, and your holiday shopping’s done. Now, what do we have to do to get a Blu-ray version of this?

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Man With A Gun LC6

Directed by Richard Wilson
Starring Robert Mitchum, Jan Sterling, Karen Sharpe, Henry Hull, Ted De Corsia, Leo Gordon

Man With The Gun (1955) is a solid little Western that gets overlooked in favor of other Mitchum pictures like Blood On The Moon (1948) or The Wonderful Country (1959). The cast makes a big difference here. Henry Hull is terrific, as are Ted De Corsia and Leo Gordon — and having both Jan Sterling and Karen Share in the same picture is a real treat.

Kino Lorber has this one coming on Blu-ray in September, along with The Wonderful Country, and I’m really stoked about the chance to see this with its 1.85 framing in place. Recommended.

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george montgomery-robbers roost.jpg2

Directed by Sidney Salkow
Starring George Montgomery, Richard Boone, Sylvia Findley, Peter Graves, Warren Stevens, William Hopper, Leo Gordon

Sure has been a lot of new release stuff turning up lately. And here’s a good one: George Montgomery in Robbers Roost (1955) — coming from Kino Lorber later this year. The DVD from MGM’s MOD program was nice, and I figure this will hail from the same transfer.

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