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Archive for the ‘1957’ Category

Directed by Gerd Oswald
Produced by John Beck
Executive Producer: Bob Goldstein
Screenplay by Jason James
From a novel (Showdown Creek) by Lucas Todd
Director Of Photography: Joseph LaShelle
Music by Harry Sukman

Cast: John Derek (Brock Mitchell), John Smith (Miley Sutton), Carolyn Craig (Ginny Clay), Nick Adams (Tracy Mitchell), Gage Clarke (Chad Deasy), Robert E. Griffin (Sheriff Clay), Malcolm Atterbury (Norris), Rusty Lane (Riley), Sydney Smith (Van Steeden), Frances Morris (Mrs. Williams), Tyler McDuff (Tom Williams), Robert Adler (Alabam), Norman Leavitt (Swamper), Ken Christy (Mr. Phelps), Tom McKee (Sheriff of Buckhorn), Kermit Maynard, Buddy Roosevelt

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Just for grins, I decided to post a portion of a chapter-in-progress from my book, 50 Westerns From The 50s.

Pretty much ignored when it came out, Fury At Showdown (1957) can be seen today as a solid 50s Western — and an absolute miracle of low-budget film-making. Director Gerd Oswald somehow pulled this picture off in a week!

After a year in jail for a shooting in self-defense, Brock Mitchell (John Derek) returns to the family ranch, now run by his younger brother Tracy (Nick Adams). Brock finds himself an outcast in his own hometown, and the target of a crooked lawyer (Gage Clarke), whose brother is the man he killed. To make matters worse, the lawyer brings a hired gun (John Smith) to town — and is about to foreclose on the brothers’ ranch.

Gerd Oswald (from a terrific Filmfax interview): “That was one of my six or seven day epics… The line producer, John Brett, said, ‘You are only allowed so much money for this picture and tomorrow we’ve got a big lynch scene. We’re supposed to have 50 extras, and I can only give you 12. That’s all — we just don’t have any more money.’ So by necessity I was forced to do certain set-ups that I normally wouldn’t have done. I filled half the screen with the profile of one man, then filled the background. I created a mob scene with just 12 people.”

Oswald certainly wasn’t the only director to make a movie with no time and no money. But with Fury At Showdown, he found a way to make these limitations work for the film, not against it. Many dialogue scenes play out in a single take, with the actors moving toward, and away from, the camera to create different “shots” within these long takes. It’s obvious these scenes were extensively rehearsed. Other scenes place actors in both the foreground and the background, as a way to combine bits of action into a single set-up. And the making-a-mob-out-of-12-people approach is carried throughout, giving the whole film a minimalist feel in keeping with its loner lead character.

Of course, you need a good script, capable actors and an ingenious cameraman to cut corners like that and end up with a decent movie. The screenplay is by Jason James, adapted from the 1955 novel Showdown Creek by Lucas Todd. Todd is a pen-name for Stanley Kauffmann, the noted film and theater critic for The New Republic and The New York Times.

There’s a solid performance from John Derek, a terrific one from Nick Adams, who underplays nicely, and appropriately hateful turns from John Smith and Gage Clarke. Carolyn Craig, as Derek’s old flame, and a stable of trusty character actors hold their own.

Director of photography Joseph LaShelle was known for his gritty realism, making him an ideal choice for noirs like Laura (1944, which landed him an Oscar), Hangover Square (1945) and Road House (1948). LaShelle also an ability to make a budget look bigger than it really is, which made him perfect for something like I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). LaShelle and Oswald came to Fury At Showdown shortly after completing Crime Of Passion (1957), a mini-noir with Barbara Stanwyck and Sterling Hayden.

A one-week picture tends to have a rushed, ragged feel. Think of something from Monogram, like a Bowery Boys movie or one of Bela Lugosi’s Monogram Nine. The haphazard, one-take-and-move-on tone of those pictures is replaced by a feeling of tight control in Fury At Showdown. Obviously, planning and rehearsal made all the difference. It was shot on the RKO Western street (later Desilu) and at the Iverson Ranch in mid-July 1956.

Upon its release, A.H. Weiler of The New York Times called Fury At Showdown “a surprisingly decent little Western” and said “this unpretentious, low-budget entry is leanly written, tersely acted and, above all, straightforward… Under Gerd Oswald’s sure direction, this tightly authentic atmosphere, the good, blunt dialogue and some discreetly inserted music do much to project the urgency of Mr. Derek’s plight—that of a young man at his life’s crossroads.” It’s rare for the Times to see the merits of a little picture like this.

Years later, in his massive book The Western, Phil Hardy wrote: “A stylistic tour de force and undoubtedly Oswald’s best film, Fury At Showdown has a formal excellence that belies its five-day shooting schedule and shames many a bigger budgeted movie… Rarely has economy been put to such a positive use.” Amen to that.

Fury At Showdown (1957) is a real gem, one of those neglected little masterpieces that are so fun to discover. Highly, highly recommended.

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Quantez (1957)
Directed by Harry Keller
Starring Fred MacMurray, Dorothy Malone, James Barton, Sydney Chaplin, John Gavin, John Larch, Michael Ansara

Just finished recording a commentary for Harry Keller’s Quantez (1957), a film I appreciate more every time I see it. It feels awkward to plug these things when I work on ’em, but this one is something special. The movie is ripe for rediscovery — and I think it’s the best commentary I’ve done.

It’s also a picture with superb art direction and cinematography, so high-definition will be a big plus.

Horizons West (1952)
Directed by Budd Boetticher
Starring Robert Ryan, Julia Adams, Rock Hudson, John McIntire, Raymond Burr, James Arness, Dennis Weaver

Horizons West (1952) has the great cast of contract players — Adams, Hudson, McIntire, Dennis Weaver — and gorgeous Technicolor we expect from Universal International Westerns of the early 50s. It’s a post-Civi War story of Ryan’s ambitions getting the best of him. Budd Boetticher keeps it short on running time and long on action. 

The color will make this one really pop on Blu-Ray. I’ll be recording a commentary for it next week. Both pictures are expected in May from Kino Lorber. 

There haven’t been many 50s Westerns riding up on DVD or Blu-Ray lately. These will help make up for it.

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Kino Lorber’s second set of 50s Westerns on Blu-Ray serves up some good ones: The Redhead From Wyoming (1953), Pillars Of The Sky (1956) and Gun For A Corward (1957). It’s due April 6.

The Redhead From Wyoming (1953)
Directed by Lee Sholem
Starring Maureen O’Hara, Alex Nicol, William Bishop, Alexander Scourby, Robert Strauss, Gregg Palmer, Jack Kelly, Dennis Weaver, Stacy Harris

Maureen O’Hara runs a saloon and ends up in the middle of the usual cattlemen vs. settlers thing. It’s short, fast and beautifully shot by Winton C. Hoch.

Pillars Of The Sky (1956)
Directed by George Marshall
Starring Jeff Chandler, Dorothy Malone, Ward Bond, Keith Andes, Lee Marvin

Jeff Chandler is a calvary officer trying to keep his troops and Dorothy Malone from being scalped. Harold Lipstein shot it in CinemaScope on location in Oregon. Filmed right after The Searchers wrapped, it features a number of the same players (Ward Bond, Walter Coy, Olive Carey, Beulah Archuletta).

Gun For A Coward (1957)
Directed by Abner Biberman
Starring Fred MacMurray, Jeffrey Hunter, Janice Rule, Dean Stockwell, Bob Steele

This one weaves a family struggle into a cattle drive and rustlers story. It looks great in CinemaScope and MacMurray is terrific.

All three come with a trailer and commentary (I’m doing Pillars Of The Sky). And given Kino Lorber’s track record with their Universal movies, they’ll look terrific.

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Joel McCrea
November 5, 1905 – October 20, 1990

Let’s remember the great Joel McCrea on what would’ve been his 115th birthday. He’s seen here in The Tall Stranger (1957).

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Kino Lorber’s bringing a couple of underrated Anthony Quinn Westerns to Blu-Ray in early 2021 — Man From Del Rio (1956) and The Ride Back (1957). These two pictures illustrate all the riches that were turning up in theaters during the 50s. Major stars like Anthony Quinn were doing medium-budget Westerns like this, along with the stuff guys like George Montgomery and Guy Madison were doing.

Man From Del Rio (1956)
Directed by Harry Horner
Starring Anthony Quinn, Katy Jurado, Peter Whitney, Douglas Fowley, John Larch, Douglas Spencer, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams

Man From Del Rio has a great cast and has overlooked far too long. Hopefully, a nice widescreen HD transfer of Stanley Cortez’s cinematography will give it a bit of a reappraisal. Cortez, of course, shot a few films you might’ve heard of — The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Night Of The Hunter (1955) and The Naked Kiss (1964).

Wish Harry Horner had directed more. This and Beware, My Lovely (1952) show he really had the chops. His production design work is incredible. He did pictures like The Wonderful Country (1959), The Hustler (1961) and The Driver (1978).

The Ride Back (1957)
Directed by Allen H. Miner
Starring Anthony Quinn, William Conrad, Lita Milan

William Conrad produced and co-stars in this one. He’s a lawman who heads to Mexico to bring back outlaw Quinn. Director Allen H. Miner did the George Montgomery picture Black Patch the same year. Black Patch went a bit too far with the stylistics, but that’s not a problem here. Joseph Biroc shot The Ride Back, by the way. He’d just shot Attack (1956) for Robert Aldrich, who was a producer on The Ride Back. Biroc’s B&W cinematography is always a plus, and it’ll be stunning on Blu-Ray.

I love the tagline “It rides a trail no Western ever rode before!”

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Lori Nelson
(August 15, 1933 – August 23, 2020)

Lori Nelson, has passed away at 87. She was born Dixie Kay Nelson. Her family moved to Hollywood when she was four. Soon after, she was crowned Little Miss America.

In 1950, Ms. Nelson signed a seven-year contract with Universal-International. Her first film was Bend Of The River, followed by Ma And Pa Kettle At The Fair and Francis Goes To West Point (all 1952). In 1953, U-I put her in Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire. She appeared in two Audie Murphy pictures, Tumbleweed (1953) and Destry (1954).

In 1955, she did Ma And Pa Kettle At Waikiki, Revenge of the Creature, Roger Corman’s Day The World Ended and I Died A Thousand Times, a remake of High Sierra (1941) — which has already been remake as Colorado Territory (1949). Underwater! was released in 1955, though it’d been shot some time earlier. She was loaned to Howard Hughes and RKO for that one. She’s also in Pardners (1956), one of the last Martin and Lewis pictures, Hot Rod Girl (1956) co-starring Chuck Connors and Howard W. Koch’s Untamed Youth (1957) with  Mamie Van Doren. What a great batch of 1950s cinema.

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There’s something about this blog I’ve always been uncomfortable with. Through DVD/Blu-Ray new release information or reviews, by plugging a Kickstarter campaign to restore something, or by mentioning a book that’s on the way (including mine), I have a tiny influence on people’s buying decisions. I work in Marketing and Advertising and do this every day, so I ought to be OK with it, but it’s different at this more informal, semi-personal level. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know quite a few of you, and I make a point of not telling my friends how to spend their money.

Having said all that, now I want to tell you how to spend your money. Not really, but kinda.

Back in the 90s, before 50s Westerns took over my life, I used to watch a lot of old Poverty Row horror and 60s spy movies (especially those goofy European James Bond ripoffs). A great source for such things was a company in Oregon called Sinister Cinema. Maybe you’re familiar with them. A friend and I (how ya doing, DV?) ordered from them quite a bit (it was VHS back then) or would rent their stuff from a mail-order place called Video Vault. 

Nowadays, Sinister Cinema deals in DVDs, of course, and they’ve taken a real shine to B Westerns of the 30s and 40s. You’ll find some terrific pictures on their site, from Hoot Gibson to Bob Steele to Ken Maynard. And some titles I’d been looking for decent copies of — Riders Of The Whistling Skull (1937), Hell Canyon Outlaws (1957) and A Lust To Kill (1958).

The folks at Sinister Cinema are talking about shutting down. First, I’d hate to see that happen because old movie nuts aren’t supporting them like we should. So I encourage you to visit their site. Click on the logo above, and away you go! And I highly recommend Hell Canyon Outlaws. (Click the lobby card up top for that link.) It was directed by Paul Landres and has a great part for Dale Robertson. Sinister’s copy is from a well-worn 16mm print, but it’s very watchable. It’s full-frame, so if your TV will let you zoom a bit, you can approximate its 1.85 framing.

And since these titles are less than $10 each, I don’t feel so bad about trying to make you part with your dough. You might even thank me for it.

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John Ericson
(September 25, 1926 – May 3, 2020)

John Ericson didn’t make a lot of movies (there’s tons of TV), but he’s in some really good ones, especially when it comes to 50s Westerns — John Sturges’ Bad Day At Black Rock (1955), The Return Of Jack Slade (1955), Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957, above), Day Of The Badman (1958) and Paul Landres’ Oregon Passage (1958). He has passed away at 93.

Ericson’s probably best known by folks today for TV’s Honey West (1965) with Ann Francis. Worth looking for is Pretty Boy Floyd (1960), a cheap entry in the late-50s, early-60s run of gangster bios. It’s no Baby Face Nelson (1957), but it’s well worth your time.

Thanks to Walter for the tip.

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Kino Lorber is serving up four terrific Universal Westerns in March, an announcement that gets. 2020 off to a great start.

Canyon Passage (1946)
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Starring Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Patricia Roc, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Andy Devine, Lloyd Bridges

Canyon Passage was Jacques Tourneur’s first Western and first film in color. It’s got a great cast (Ward Bond is terrific — and very scary) and incredible Technicolor photography from Edward Cronjager, who also shot Lang’s Western Union (1941). This is a very overlooked, underrated film.

Night Passage (1957)
Directed by James Neilson
Starring James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Brandon de Wilde, Jay C. Flippen, Robert J. Wilke, Hugh Beaumont

Shot in Technirama, a high-fidelity combination of VistaVision and anamorphic widescreen, Night Passage is as sharp as movies could get in the late 50s. And with loads of incredible location work in Durango, Colorado, it’s stunning — and a perfect candidate for Blu-Ray. The movie itself, while it’s no masterpiece, has been unjustly maligned. You’ll find the story behind all that in an old post.

Man In The Shadow (1957)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring Jeff Chandler, Orson Welles, Colleen Miller, Barbara Lawrence, John Larch, Royal Dano, James Gleason

There are a thousand reasons to be excited about this modern-day (well, 1957) Western — Jeff Chandler, Orson Welles, B&W CinemaScope and Jack Arnold, for starters. Welles and producer Albert Zugsmith got to talking here, which led to Touch Of Evil (1958).

The Rare Breed (1966)
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Juliet Mills, Ben Johnson, Jack Elam, Harry Carey, Jr.

The best thing The Rare Breed has going for it is its incredible cast — how could it go wrong? Not to mention the Technicolor/Panavision cinematography of William H. Clothier.

All four films will feature a commentary (I’m doing both Passage films) and an original trailer. It’s no easy to recommend these things!

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Doing some research on Night Passage (1957), I came across an article from The LA Times, reporting that the ongoing editing of Men In War (1957) was forcing Anthony Mann to back out of Night Passage. It also pointed out that this would free up the director to do The Tin Star (1957) for Paramount.

There are lots of stories about why Anthony Mann left what would’ve been his sixth Jimmy Stewart Western. This was a new one for me.

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