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Archive for the ‘1955’ Category

Elsa Martinelli
(January 30, 1935 – July 8, 2017)

Elsa Martinelli was an Italian model and actress. She was “introduced” in The Indian Fighter (1955), which was produced by its star, Kirk Douglas, and directed by Andre de Toth.

In the Fifties and early Sixties, she split her movie career between European pictures and American stuff like Howard Hawks’ Hatari! and Orson Welles’ The Trial (both 1962).

She passed away in Rome today at 82.

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With The Indian Fighter (1955) making its way to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber, this seemed like a good time to share some more of the photos my wife’s finding as she helps with the research for my commentary. (Photos don’t do too well in an audio commentary.) I’ve been really wallowing in this movie the last couple weeks.

Here, they’re shooting a scene with Hank Worden and Walter Matthau.

Elisha Cook rests between takes in Bend, Oregon, as Ira Eagleman (whose parents were working as extras) looks on. Cook, Worden, Matthau — what a cast!

A prop man fires flaming arrows at the fort.

Elsa Martinelli, an Italian fashion model, made her screen debut in The Indian Fighter. Douglas’ wife Anne saw her in Vogue and recommended her for the part.

Here, they’re shooting inside the stockade. I can’t find director Andre de Toth in this photo, but this seems to be a scene with Douglas and Walter Abel. The Indian Fighter was the first picture from Douglas’ Bryna Productions. It was also de Toth’s first time chance to work with CinemaScope. He does a couple of really cool 360-degree pans that really use the Scope frame (and show off the distortion in those early Scope lenses).

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I’ve been doing research on Andre de Toth’s The Indian Fighter (1955) for a commentary on Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray. (When it comes to research like this, my wife Jennifer does a lot of the heavy lifting.)

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The Indian Fighter was the first picture from Kirk Douglas’ Bryna Productions, and they built an elaborate 200-foot square fort for it. It looks terrific in those CinemaScope tracking shots.

The stockade belonged to the Bend, Oregon, Chamber Of Commerce (it was built by a local construction company), and they rented it out for various things, including Oregon Passage (1958), a Paul Landres picture I really like. A forest fire damaged the area around the fort, really hurting its usefulness as a movie location. It was burned in the early 60s and the area replanted. It’s a shame, since it’s really impressive, compared to other movie forts I’ve seen.

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George Randolph Scott
(January 23, 1898 – March 2, 1987)

The great Randolph Scott was born 119 years ago today. Here he is in Tall Man Riding (1955), which I realize I haven’t seen in a while. Another thing — why don’t I have this lobby card in my collection?

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Directed by Andre de Toth
Starring Kirk Douglas, Elsa Martinelli, Walter Matthau, Diana Douglas, Walter Abel, Lon Chaney Jr., Eduard Franz, Alan Hale, Jr., Elisha Cook, Jr., Ray Teal, Hank Worden

Kino Lorber has announced the Blu-Ray release of Andre de Toth’s The Indian Fighter (1955), starring Kirk Douglas, for later this year.

L to R: Lon Chaney, Hank Worden and Walter Matthau

It’s a good one, with plenty going for it. That terrific cast — Walter Matthau in a Western, Hank Worden as an Indian. And Andre de Toth working in early CinemaScope, shot by Wilfrid M. Cline. I’m really looking forward to this one.

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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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