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Archive for the ‘1955’ Category

G Walcott 87th Precinct

Gregory Walcott (Bernard Wasdon Mattox)
(January 13, 1928 – March 20, 2015)

Battle Cry (1955). Mister Roberts (1955). The Sugarland Express (1974). Thunderbolt And Lightfoot (1974). Norma Rae (1979). Gregory Walcott was in some very good films. But he’ll always be known for having the lead in Ed Wood’s Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959).

Born in Wendell, North Carolina — just a few miles from where I’m typing this, Walcott hitchhiked to Hollywood after a couple years in the Army. Before long his film career was off and running. His 50s Westerns include Strange Lady In Town (1955), Thunder Over Arizona (1956) and Badman’s Country (1958, a Fred F. Sears/George Montgomery picture I just watched last week). His TV credits are a mile long, including a couple episodes of The Rifleman and a lead role in 87th Precinct (above).

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Wallace MacDonald
Story and Screen Play by David Lang
Director Of Photography: Fred Jackman, Jr., ASC
Film Editor: Jerome Thoms, ACE
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: Bill Williams (James Kingston), Richard Jaeckel (Lee Parker), Alex Montoya (Joaquin Jironza), Movita (Rosita), Adelle August (Ann Parker), Tex Ritter (Traeger), Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan (Hank Calvin), Ray Teal (Sgt. Tim O’Roarke), Don G. Harvey (Donald Tex McGuire), James Griffith (Abraham Lincoln), Clayton Moore

Fred F. Sears’ Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) really knocked me out, and I was eager to move on to his Apache Ambush (1955), again written by David Lang.

It opens in Washington, D.C., in April 1865, as Bill Williams, Ray Teal and Don G. Harvey meet with President Lincoln (James Griffith). There are cattle in Texas and hungry people in Kansas, and the president asks the men to drive the cattle north.

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Abraham Lincoln (James Griffith): “I wish we could talk longer, but I promised to visit Ford’s Theater this evening.”
James Kingston (Bill Williams): “Hope you enjoy the show, sir.”
Abraham Lincoln: “I’m sure I will.”

To this basic cattle drive plot, Lang’s script adds a wagon train, Mexican bandits, the Apaches of the title, a stampede, a bitter Confederate veteran and a shipment of Henry repeating rifles (and let’s not forget Lincoln’s assassination). All of that in less than 70 minutes.

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Apache Ambush doesn’t rise above its budget the way Fury At Gunsight Pass does. While Fury is tight and focused, Ambush seems to take on too many things. (And it never tops the Griffith/Lincoln opening.) But you are left with the opportunity to spend a little over an hour with a top-notch 50s Western cast and crew.

Bill Williams, of course, was Kit Carson on TV. He also appeared in some very good 50s Westerns: The Cariboo Trail (1950), Son Of Paleface (1952), The Halliday Brand (1957) and more. It’s obvious that he’s comfortable on a horse — he and his wife, Barbara Hale, lived on a working ranch.

There are a lot of great character actors in the cast, and they all do excellent work, from Ray Teal and James Griffith to old pros like Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan and Tex Ritter (this was Ritter’s last film). Clayton Moore’s even on hand as a gunman. Adelle August is the good girl (it’s a shame her career was so brief) and Movita (who’d marry Marlon Brando in 1960) is the bad one. Back to Griffith: he was quite good at Lincoln, and played him a number of times.

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Fred Jackman, Jr., whose cinematography was crucial to the success of Fury At Gunsight Pass, does nice work here, too — though he doesn’t have a sequence as flashy as Fury‘s windstorm. Editor Jerome Thoms had a long career cutting pictures at Columbia. Among his credits are 5 Against The House (1955), Pal Joey (1957), Face Of A Fugitive (1959) and a little thing called Ride Lonesome (1959). In Apache Ambush, Jackman and Thoms do a good job of shooting and cutting to incorporate a lot of stock footage — that may be why it’s black and white — and while it’s all obvious, it matches surprisingly well.

apache werewolfThen there’s director Fred F. Sears, who was so good at turning out these things. When he had a good script, as with Fury At Gunsight Pass, he turned in a supreme example of what a B picture could be. When he had less to work with, you got a good way to spend an afternoon. And that’s where Apache Ambush winds up — not one of Sears’ (or Lang’s) best efforts, but I’d gladly sit down and watch a dozen more just like it.

Apache Ambush is available as part of Columbia’s Choice Collection. I have not seen the DVD-R, but I’ve been told it’s widescreen and looks good. I’d love to see more of Sears’ pictures turn up on DVD. Of course, paired with his The Werewolf (1956) at the Roxana would be fine, too.

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Bill Williams, Richard Jaeckel, Alex Montoya, Movita, Adelle August, Tex Ritter, Ray Corrigan, Ray Teal, Don C. Harvey, James Griffith

I’m on a bit of a Fred F. Sears kick these days, and I’m preparing a post on his Apache Ambush (1955). Turns out it’s on Encore Westerns this Saturday, February 7 at 10:50AM.

Thanks for the tip, Blake.

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Directed by Charles Marquis Warren
Story and Screenplay by Daniel B. Ullman
Starring Raymond Massey, Debra Paget, Jeffrey Hunter, Larry Pennell, Leo Gordon, Dennis Weaver, Guy Williams

How can Seven Angry Men (1955) miss? Raymond Massey plays abolitionist John Brown (a role he’d already tackled on stage and in Santa Fe Trail). It was written by Daniel Ullman, who wrote a number of William Elliott’s Allied Artists pictures, among other things. It’s directed by Charles Marquis Warren, the same year he helped bring Gunsmoke to TV. And it’s got a supporting cast that includes Debra Paget, Jeffrey Hunter, Leo Gordon and a pre-Zorro Guy Williams.

It’s probably a lousy history lesson, but a great addition to the Allied Artists stuff available from Warner Archive. And it’s coming at the end of March.

Thanks for the tip, John.

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RIP, Rod Taylor.

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Rodney Sturt “Rod” Taylor
(11 January 1930 – 7 January 2015)

I always liked Rod Taylor and hated to see that he passed away a few days ago.

Taylor made some terrific movies: The Time Machine (1960), The Birds (1963, below), The Glass-Bottom Boat (1966), Dark Of The Sun (1968) and on and on. He had an early role in Top Gun (1955), a Sterling Hayden picture directed by Ray Nazarro.

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Produced and Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay by Frank Butler
Cinematography by Harold Rosson
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin

CAST: Greer Garson (Dr. Julia Winslow Garth), Dana Andrews (Dr. Rourke O’Brien), Cameron Mitchell (Lt. David Garth), Lois Smith (Spurs O’Brien), Walter Hampden (Father Gabriel Mendoza), Pedro Gonzales Gonzales (Trooper Martinez Martinez), Robert J. Wilke (Karg)

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Strange Lady In Town (1955) is, well, a strange lady in town. An odd mixture of melodrama, romance, feminism and all the usual Western riding and shooting stuff, I didn’t know what to make of it at first. Watched it a second time a couple days later and decided I really did like it. Somehow it all seems to come together.

Strange Lady LC

While the picture itself is certainly interesting, and we’ll get to that in a bit, the story of its production has even more melodrama. Greer Garson had left MGM for Warner Bros. At a WB dinner party she told writer Frank Butler about her love of the Santa Fe area, and Butler put together a story of 1880 Santa Fe perfectly tailored for Garson.

Warner Bros. started construction of 34 new sets around Old Tucson and got to work on casting the picture. Dana Andrews was signed, along with Cameron Mitchell and Lois Smith (in a part Natalie Wood had tried out for). Smith had just appeared in East Of Eden (1954). Shooting began in August of 1954 in Old Tucson, with snakes having to be evicted from the sets each morning and temperatures climbing into the hundreds every afternoon. Then there were some health issues.

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Mervyn LeRoy (seen above with Greer Garson): “In those days, Andrews had a drinking problem… that made my life difficult… Possibly more serious was Greer Garson’s health. She isn’t the complaining sort, so when she said she felt poorly, I knew she must have felt rotten. We called the company doctor, and he got [four] doctors from the Tucson clinic for consultation. It was unanimous; she had appendicitis. The doctors agreed she really should have the appendectomy immediately. ‘No,’ Greer said, with her red-headed stubbornness. ‘I can’t do it now. There is an entire company depending on me. They’d have to shut down for a few weeks. It wouldn’t be fair to them.’ That’s what they used to call a trouper. Every night, they piled bags of ice on her abdomen. Every day, they fed her pills and the nurse was there, sticking a thermometer in her mouth between every scene.”

Back in Hollywood, Jack Warner was having a fit, as the picture went behind schedule and over budget. Finishing their Tucson work, the cast and crew headed back to California. In October, Greer Garson was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Production was shut down for 27 days. During that time LeRoy filled in for an ailing/bingeing John Ford on Mister Roberts (1955).

Harry Carey, Jr.: “I don’t think he had an inkling of what Mister Roberts was, but he took over. In fact, he shares directorial credit with Ford.”

When Strange Lady In Town resumed production on Stage Two at Warner Bros., LeRoy was under pressure to get it done. Scenes taking place in Boston were struck to save time and money. The picture finally wrapped, and was previewed in February 1955. It premiered in Austin, Texas, on April 12. Greer Garson hit the road for the film, something she’d never done before. It seems to have worked. Strange Lady In Town earned back its $3 million cost and turned a healthy profit.

Strange Lady Andrews

Garson plays a doctor from Boston who, tired of being looked down on for being a woman, heads to Santa Fe in 1880 to be near her brother (Cameron Mitchell), a lieutenant in the cavalry. She quickly butts heads with the local doctor (Dana Andrews) over how to practice medicine—and about everything else. The picture packs in everything from glaucoma to bank robbery to domestic violence to Billy The Kid (Nick Adams)—and somehow it all works.

Dana Andrews, drunk or sober, is very good here. His extended fistfight with Robert J. Wilke is one of the best scenes in the film. This may be Wilke’s slimiest villain of them all, which is really saying something. Lois Smith is excellent; so is Cameron Mitchell (he never got his due). Nick Adams doesn’t have enough screen time to make much of an impression. He’d be a lot better in The Last Wagon (1956) and wonderful in Fury At Showdown (1957). Of course, this is Greer Garson’s movie, and she carries it with ease.

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Warner Archive has done it again, giving us an early CinemaScope picture exactly the way it ought to be seen: widescreen with its stereo intact. Old Tucson looks terrific (even in WarnerColor) and Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is full and rich. Strange Lady In Town is an offbeat Western, for sure. Maybe it’s not for all tastes. And though it took me a while to wrap my head around it, I came away really liking it.

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Sources: A Rose For Mrs. Miniver: The Life Of Greer Garson by Michael Troyan; Take One by Mervyn LeRoy; Company Of Heroes: My Life As An Actor In The John Ford Stock Company by Harry Carey, Jr.

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Mervyn LeRoy’s Strange Lady In Town (1955) is coming from Warner Archive. This big-budget CinemaScope Western warranted its own 100-acre set near Tucson, and was shut down for almost a month due to Greer Garson’s appendix. Dana Andrews’ drinking didn’t help much. During the downtime, LeRoy subbed for John Ford on Mister Roberts (1955).

Garson and Andrews are backed by a great supporting cast: Cameron Mitchell, Lois Smith, Robert Wilke, Russell Johnson, Douglas Kennedy and Nick Adams (as Billy The Kid).

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