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Archive for the ‘1957’ Category

Hell Canyon Outlaws HS

Directed by Paul Landres
Produced by Jerald Zukor
Written by Allan Kaufman and Max Glandbard
Director Of Photography: Floyd Crosby, ASC
Film Editor: Elmo Williams, ACE
Music Composed and Conducted by Irving Gertz

Cast: Dale Robertson (Sheriff Caleb Wells), Brian Keith (Happy Waters), Rosanna Rory (Maria), Dick Kallman (Smiley Andrews), Don Megowan (Walt), Mike Lane (Nels), Buddy Baer (Stan), Charles Fredericks (Deputy Bear), Alexander Lockwood (Bert, the new sheriff)

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Paul Landres was one of those journeyman directors who could take practically nothing — an OK script, less than a week and a paltry budget — and put together a solid little movie. He worked mainly in TV, with a feature from time to time. Inspired by the upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release of The Return Of Dracula (1958) from Olive Films, I’ve been revisiting some of Landres’ features from the late 1950s.

Hell Canyon Outlaws (1957), known in the UK as The Tall Trouble, was an independent picture from Jerold Zukor Productions, filmed at the Corriganville Ranch. Republic released it. I think it’s one of Landres’ best.

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Four outlaws head to a small town of Goldridge to raise hell and eventually rob the bank. They take over the saloon and hotel, steal a horse, size up the bank and rough up the guy at the livery stable — just for starters. If all this isn’t bad enough, the town council has just fired the sheriff, Caleb Wells (Dale Robertson), and his deputy, Bear (Charles Fredericks). The new sheriff, well, he’s outta town. Goldridge is in a tight spot.

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Dale Robertson is terrific in this. You just know he’s going to be pushed to his breaking point, it’s just a matter of when. That tension, as the town is trashed and Robertson does the slow burn, is what drives Hell Canyon Outlaws. Landres builds the suspense perfectly — with the help of Elmo Williams, who edited High Noon (1952) — to a very satisfying last reel. This and Fred F. Sears’ Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) would make a great double bill.

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Brian Keith is great in one of those somewhat-likable dirtbag roles he excelled at (remember Fort Dobbs?). Keith would’ve made an ideal foil to Randolph Scott in one of the Boetticher pictures.

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Rossana Rory doesn’t have much to do but look pretty as Robertson’s girlfriend, but she’s fine. The rest of the cast — especially the rest of Keith’s gang: Don Megowan, Mike Lane and Buddy Baer — are effective. Dick Kallman is suitably obnoxious as the punk kid with a gun (I really wanted to see him gunned down).

The great Floyd Crosby, another High Noon veteran, gives the picture the feel of something a lot bigger than it is — a trick he’d perform often for Roger Corman in the early 60s.

Hell Canyon Outlaws isn’t available on DVD or Blu-ray anywhere. Given the top-notch cast and crew working at the top of their game, this would be a great one to see in a nice anamorphic transfer (it was shot for 1.85). It’s currently available from Sinister Cinema, but I haven’t seen what it looks like. If I had my own video company, this is one I’d try to track down in a hurry.

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Produced and Directed by Albert C. Gannaway
Written by Thomas G. Hubbard, Associate Producer
Director of Photography: Charles Straumer, ASC
Music Composed and Played by Ramez Idriss (on Fender guitars)
Supervising Film Editor: Asa Clark, ACE

Cast: Jim Davis (“Brennan”), Carl Smith (Sheriff Carl Smith), Arleen Whelan (Murdock), Lee Van Cleef (Shad Donaphin), Louis Jean Heydt (Col. Donaphin), Harry Lauter (Doc Hale), Marty Robbins (Felipe), Douglas Fowley (Marshal Matt Brennan)

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I’ve been meaning to dive into Jim Davis’ pictures from the 50s — the ones where he has the lead — for quite some time. It took someone asking about such a thing to make me finally take it on, so let’s kick things off with The Badge Of Marshal Brennan (1957).

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Davis is an outlaw on the run who happens upon the dying Marshal Brennan (Douglas Fowley). He takes the man’s badge and rides on to the next town. There, mistaken for the marshal, Davis helps take on a powerful rancher whose diseased cattle have created an epidemic that threatens to kill off the town.

wayne_80The story’s nothing new, the sets are cheap, the music — a guitars-only score by Ramez Idriss — is kinda thin (and odd), and some of the camera set-ups seemed rushed. But there’s still something about The Badge Of Marshal Brennan I liked. It might be the cast. Davis is fine, of course. Arleen Whelan is good in one of her last roles. Lee Van Cleef, Louis Jean Heydt and Harry Lauter are as dependable as ever. And a couple country music stars from the period, Carl Smith and Marty Robbins, are thrown in for good measure.

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The Badge Of Marshal Brennan was followed by Raiders Of Old California (1957), again from director Albert C. Gannaway and much of the same cast. They were both shot outside Kanab, Utah, and at Cascade Studios in Hollywood by Charles Straumer. Badge was released by Allied Artists; Republic handled Raiders.

You can find both of these on Amazon or even YouTube. While they’re not gonna knock you out, it’s a shame they’re not available on DVD.

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Legend of the Lost_06

Directed by Henry Hathaway
Starring John Wayne, Sophia Loren, Rossano Brazzi, Kurt Kasznar

Legend Of The Lost (1957) isn’t a Western, and it can’t hold a candle to some of the other pictures Wayne made with Henry Hathaway. But it’s certainly big and it was shot by Jack Cardiff in Technicolor and Technirama, so it should make for a great Blu-ray. And it’s coming from Olive Films in May.

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Dragoon Wells Massacre HS

Directed by Harold Schuster
Produced by Lindsley Parsons
Screenplay by Warren Douglas
From a story by Oliver Drake
Director Of Photography: William Clothier

Cast: Barry Sullivan (Link Ferris), Dennis OKeefe (Capt. Matt Riordan), Mona Freeman (Ann Bradley), Katy Jurado (Mara Fay), Sebastian Cabot (Jonah), Casey Adams (Phillip Scott), Jack Elam (Tioga), Trevor Bardette (Marshal Bill Haney), Jon Shepodd (Tom), Hank Worden (Hopi Charlie), Warren Douglas (Jud), Judy Strangis (Susan), Alma Beltran (Station agent’s wife), John War Eagle (Yellow Claw)

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This is an entry in The Allied Artists Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s rich and varied output.

The team of writer/actor Warren Douglas, producer Lindsley Parsons and director Harold D. Schuster turned out five excellent B-plus pictures for Allied Artists in the 50s. They were the tight, grim Western Jack Slade (1953); a terrific noir, Loophole (1954); a solid sequel, The Return Of Jack Slade (1955); Finger Man (1955), a dope picture with Forrest Tucker, Peggie Castle and Timothy Carey; and finally, the dark, tense CinemaScope Western Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957).

Producer Lindsley Parsons had been in the picture business since the 30s, starting out writing B Westerns like those Lone Star John Wayne movies. Warren Douglas was a B Movie actor who made the transition to screenwriter, often playing a part in the pictures he wrote; he’d later write for a number of TV Westerns. He based his Dragoon Wells Massacre screenplay on a story by the prolific writer/producer/director of scores of B Westerns, Oliver Drake.

Director Harold Schuster started as an actor, making the transition to editor before the Talkies came in. Though he never set the world on fire as a director, he made a few fine films before settling into TV.

Dragoon Wells Massacre LCDragoon Wells Massacre begins with a prison wagon carrying two bad men, Link Ferris (Barry Sullivan) and Tioga (Jack Elam), to trial. Before long, they come across an Indian trader, Jonah McAdam (Sebastian Cabot), and a cavalry patrol that’s been slaughtered by the Apaches, with Capt. Matt Riordan (Dennis O’Keefe) its only survivor. Soon, the drivers and passengers of a stagecoach are added to those making the desperate journey to Fort Dragoon Wells with the Apaches never far behind. This is a fairly common setup — a diverse group making their way from Point A to Point B, battling an enemy, the elements and each other along the way — that’s certainly not limited to Westerns. Douglas comes up with some solid characters, makes sure we like the good ones and hate the bad ones, then puts them all through absolute hell — and us through a tense 88 minutes — before the final fade.

Dragoon Wells Massacre Cabot SullivanWhile the basic premise may be conventional — and I’m keeping the synopsis lean on purpose, what Douglas does with it is certainly not. (I’d love to know how many of the finer points were found in Drake’s original story.) What’s more, Schuster keeps things chugging along, almost relentlessly, from one set piece to the next. The picture really benefits from all of his years at the Moviola, and he gets top-notch performances from his terrific cast — which steadily shrinks with each brush with the Apaches.

Dragoon Wells ElamSullivan and Elam are likable badguys, and we’re soon hoping these outsiders will get their chances for redemption. This could be Elam’s best performance, as a man damned by his appearance — and by the shallowness of others. Dennis O’Keefe is fine as the tough cavalryman. Sebastian Cabot is utterly despicable as the gunrunner — the movie’s real villain. Before he became Mr. French, Cabot was a terrific 50s Westerns sleazeball.

Dragoon Wells Massacre Sullivan Freeman 2Mona Freeman does a great job as a snooty, self-centered, judgmental stage passenger (and former flame of O’Keefe). Her transformation is not only satisfying, but believable. Katy Jurado is good, as always, as a saloon girl hoping to turn her life around. My one complaint is that Hank Worden doesn’t have enough to do — but that’s something you could say about almost everything he appeared in, from The Searchers (1956) to One-Eyed Jacks (1961).

William Clothier shot Dragoon Wells Massacre around Kanab, Utah, in CinemaScope and color by DeLuxe. One of the finest Western shooters ever, Clothier’s work here is tremendous. The entire picture takes place outdoors, and you really feel the heat and dryness of the desert. Just as important, you never think that you’re watching a low-budget movie.

Dragoon Wells stillDragoon Wells Massacre is unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray in the U.S. There’s a German DVD that presents the picture at a TV-friendly 1.78 instead of Scope’s 2.35. It’s a real shame the picture’s so hard to track down and that Clothier’s work is compromised. This is one of those 50s Westerns that gets everything right, and it now sits at the top of my Blu-ray Want List.

Someone who frequents this blog, when I once mentioned that I was watching an old Phil Karlson picture, pointed out that now matter how old it is, a movie’s new if you haven’t seen it. So, following that logic, and considering that I just saw this a few months ago, Dragoon Wells Massacre gets my vote for Best Picture of 2015.

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Abile Town signed still

First, thanks to everyone who sent in their picks — we had a larger turnout this year. Your responses were very thorough, and they made it clear to me what a good year this was for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-ray — you brought up tons of em. Here are the Top 10, ordered by the number of votes they received.

Abilene Town (1946, Blu-ray, Panamint Cinema)
This one topped the list in a big way. I was so stoked to see this fairly obscure Randolph Scott picture rescued from the PD purgatory where it’s been rotting for years — a lot of you seemed to feel the same. Mastered from 35mm fine-grain material, it’s stunning.

Shane (1953, Blu-ray, Eureka)
The Blu-ray release from Paramount made last year’s list, and this UK release was a strong contender this time around. Eureka gives us the opportunity to see what Paramount’s controversial 1.66 cropping looked like.

The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection (1951-54, DVD set, Warner Archive)
I’m pretty biased when it comes to this one, and I was happy to learn that others were as pleased with it as I was. One of the greatest Western stars goes out on a high note, even if it is a low-budget one.

The Quiet Gun (1956, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It’s hard to believe this was a 2015 release, since it was on Olive Films’ coming-soon list for such a long time. These Regalscope movies look great in their original aspect ratio, and for my money, this is the best of the bunch.

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Woman They Almost Lynched (1953, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It makes me feel good to see Allan Dwan get some attention, and stellar presentations of his work, like this one, should continue to fuel his (re-)discovery.

Man With The Gun (1955, Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)
A solid Robert Mitchum Western, with the added punch of a terrific 1.85 hi-def transfer. This is a lot better movie than you probably remember it being.

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Run Of The Arrow (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
This really knocked me out — I’d somehow missed out on what a great movie this is. It took me a while to get used to Rod Steiger and his affected accent, but this is prime Sam Fuller.

The Hired Gun (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
Black and white CinemaScope is a big attraction for me, so I’d been waiting for this one for years. It was worth the wait.

Stranger At My Door (1954, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
A really cool little movie from Republic and William Witney. It was Witney’s favorite of his own pictures, and it’s pretty easy to see why he’d be partial to it. His work here is masterful.

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Star In The Dust (1956, Blu-ray, Koch)
Koch out of Germany is treating us (or those of us with a Region B player) to some great Universal 50s Westerns on Blu-ray. This one was released in Universal’s 2.0 ratio of the period. Some found it a bit tight, but it’s a gorgeous presentation of a movie not enough people have seen.

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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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Tall Stranger ad

Directed by Tomas Carr
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Screenplay by Christopher Knopf
From a story by Louis L’Amour
Director Of Photography: Wilfred M. Cline, ASC
Music by Hans J. Salter
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE

Cast: Joel McCrea (Ned Bannon), Virginia Mayo (Ellen), Barry Kelley (Hardy Bishop), Michael Ansara (Zarata), Whit Bissell (Judson), James Dobson (Dud), George Neise (Mort Harper), Adam Kennedy (Red), Michael Pate (Charley), Leo Gordon (Stark), Ray Teal (Cap), Philip Phillips (Will), Robert Foulk (Pagones), Jennifer Lea (Mary)

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In many ways, The Tall Stranger (1957) is just another late-50s CinemaScope Western from Allied Artists — a straightforward, low-budget picture boosted by a cast full of familiar faces. But this one’s got more going for it than that. It offers up a re-teaming of Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo from Raoul Walsh’s terrific Colorado Territory (1949). And while The Tall Stranger won’t knock the Walsh movie off your list of favorites, it has plenty to recommend it.

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The relationships between brothers, often strained or on opposite sides of the law, was a popular theme with Western screenwriters of the 50s, forming the basis for some of the decade’s finest cowboy pictures — often with some redemption worked in. (I’ll let you come up with your own list of examples.) Working from a short story by Louis L’Amour, The Tall Stranger is part of that sub-genre. Ned Bannon (Joel McCrea) and Hardy Bishop (Barry Kelley) are half-brothers who found themselves enemies in the Civil War. Now that the war has ended, Bishop (Conderate) sees Bannon (Union) as the reason his son was executed as one of Quantrill’s Raiders, and he’s vowed to see him dead. Bannon, on the other hand, has come to reconcile.

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Bannon’s traveling toward Bishop’s Valley with a wagon train, and along the way he’s grown fond of a widow (Mayo) and suspicious of the guides. It all comes together into a tangled-up mess — the settlers, McCrea’s brother’s cattle land, the scheming trail guides, etc. — and McCrea gets to sort it all out — and, of course, shoot people — as it makes its way to a satisfying conclusion.

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Virginia Mayo: “I love Joel, but I didn’t want to be in the film. I thought the script was terrible.”

The script is a bit run-of-the-mill, and little is done to elevate it. Thomas Carr’s direction is missing the visual flair he and DP William Witley brought to Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958). The action scenes are passable, but there’s little momentum or tension in the scenes that tie them together. So what you’re left with, largely, is the appeal and chemistry of its two leads — which is still more than enough to make The Tall Stranger worth your time.

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The Tall Stranger is not available on DVD or Blu-ray in the States. There is a transfer floating around that crops the 2.35 Scope image to fit our 16:9 TVs. It’s watchable, but crowded at times. While this isn’t McCrea or Mayo at their best, this picture deserves to be seen — the way it’s supposed to be seen.

Source: The Westerners by C. Courtney Joyner

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