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Archive for the ‘1957’ Category

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.

Mayo Tall Stragner

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.

McCrea Tall Stranger

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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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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Run Of The Arrow ad sized

Directed by Sam Fuller
Starring Rod Steiger, Sara Montiel, Brian Keith, Ralph Meeker, Jay C. Flippen, Charles Bronson, Olive Carey, Colonel Tim McCoy

Another Fuller picture making its way to DVD is always good news, even better when it’s one of his Westerns. Run Of The Arrow (1957) — coming from Warner Archive July 7, begins with the end of the Civil War as a disillusioned soldier (Rod Steiger) makes his way west and takes up with the Sioux. Sound kinda like something you might’ve seen with Kevin Costner?

This is a long way from Dances With Wolves, if for no other reason than because it was written, produced and directed by Sam Fuller. Recommended.

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Timeless Media Group has announced The Rebel: The Complete Series for release this August. You get all 76 episodes and plenty of bonus stuff: interviews, stills, commercials and a featurette.

Nick Adams plays Johnny Yuma, a young Confederate veteran who “roamed through the west” following the Civil War. Each week, he encounters a new batch of characters, played by the typically wonderful character actors of the period, from John Carradine to Marie Windsor — and some folks we’d come to know later like Warren Oates and Strother Martin. Johnny Cash, who released a 45 of  the title tune, even turns up in one.

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There’s been a lot of great TV Westerns making their way to DVD lately, and it’s good to see The Rebel joining that group. And while we’re on the subject of Nick Adams, Fury At Showdown (1957) — an excellent little Western with a terrific performance from Nick — is out on DVD. I can’t recommend it enough.

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