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Archive for the ‘1958’ Category

FORT MASSACRE poster

Directed by Joseph H. Newman
Written by Martin M. Goldsmith
Director Of Photography: Carl Guthrie
Starring Joel McCrea, Forrest Tucker, Susan Cabot, John Russell, George N. Neise, Anthony Caruso, Denver Pyle

Every so often, someone will complain about how light Joel McCrea’s 50s Westerns were, but that’s something Fort Massacre (1958) will never be accused of being. It’s a really good picture with a tough, dark turn from McCrea — one of his best performances, I’d say. And Kino Lorber will bring it to Blu-ray before the year’s up.

McCrea is Sgt. Vinson, a bitter cavalryman driven by a hatred of the Apaches, who massacred his family. When the commanding officer is killed in an ambush, McCrea takes the opportunity to lead the troops through Apache territory — for what the men begin to suspect are personal reasons.

It was written by Martin M. Goldsmith, known for a couple of top-notch noirs — Detour (1945) and The Narrow Margin (1952). He brought a lot of Detour‘s fatalism to Fort Massacre (1958). Joseph. Newman’s direction is tight and assured, making the most of a small budget, and Carl Guthrie makes sure it all looks terrific. Highly, highly recommended. No, make that essential.

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Badman's Country OS cropped

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Robert E. Kent
Screenplay by Orville H. Hampton
Director Of Photography: Benjamin H. Kline, ASC
Supervising Editor: Grant Whytock, ACE
Musical Score: Irving Gertz

Cast: George Montgomery (Pat Garrett), Neville Brand (Butch Cassidy), Buster Crabbe (Wyatt Earp), Karin Booth (Lorna), Gregory Walcott (Bat Masterson), Malcolm Atterbury (Buffalo Bill Cody), Russell Johnson (Sundance), Richard Devon (Harvey Logan), Morris Ankrum (Mayor Coleman)

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Remember Universal’s “monster rally” pictures of the 40s? Beginning with House Of Frankenstein (1944), they’d pile as many of their monsters as they could into a single movie. It was more of a marketing ploy than a creative decision, perhaps, but they’re wonderful in the contrived ways they would dream up to drag Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman into a single story arc. They’re a long way from those true classics of the 30s, but, God, I love ’em!

In a way, Badman’s Country plays like that — a Who’s Who of the Old West herded by a series of contrivances into a robbery tale — with absolutely no concern for history whatsoever. The outlaws are Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) and the Sundance Kid (Russell Johnson), while the law’s represented by Pat Garrett (Montgomery), Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe), Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) and Buffalo Bill Cody (Malcolm Atterbury). None of it ties to these men’s real lives, but somehow it all works. Butch and Sundance are part of a gang planning a large robbery in Abilene, Kansas. Pat Garrett — who wants to turn in his badge, marry Karin Booth and settle down in California — gets wind of the plot and enlists Earp and Masterson to help out, with Buffalo Bill along for the ride. The Mayor of Abilene (Morris Ankrum) turns out to be a sniveling coward, wanting to do anything to avoid having his town shot up.

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While I’m a big fan of Howard Hawks’ leave-it-to-the-pros philosophy (one reason why Rio Bravo is my favorite Western), the last reel of Badman’s Country is very satisfying as the lawmen and townspeople come together to give the outlaws what for. It all makes for a strong, fast 68 minutes. (There are a number of neat little plot points along the way, but I’ll let you see those for yourself.)

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A short action Western like this doesn’t allow for heavy dramatic scenes, but George Montgomery is quite convincing as the lawman who’s seen enough and is ready to hang up his guns. He never got an A Western of his own, which is a real drag. But with his good looks, height and those incredible cowboy hats, Montgomery stands tall in these B pictures. It’s hard to take your eyes off of him, and he certainly elevates every picture he’s in. Karin Booth does well as his patient, understanding girlfriend. She’d only make a few more films before retiring. Incidentally, Montgomery was paired with Booth in Cripple Creek (1952), and he’d tracked down Butch and Sundance before in Phil Karlson’s The Texas Rangers (1951).

The large supporting cast doesn’t get a chance to make much of an impression. Neville Brand and Russell Johnson are fine as Butch and Sundance, but Buster Crabbe and Gregory Walcott come off kinda flat as Earp and Masterson. Morris Ankrum is sufficiently slimy as Abilene’s ineffective Mayor. Malcolm Atterbury is always terrific, and he does what he can with the script’s rather odd take on Buffalo Bill — he seems more like a sidekick than a major character.

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Fred F. Sears was cranking out solid little Westerns like Badman’s Country, along with other genre pictures, at a staggering pace in the mid- to late-50s. He and director of photography Benjamin Kline worked together extensively at Columbia, going freelance for this one. Badman’s Country hit theaters in August of 1958, one of five films released after Sears’ death. He had a heart attack in his office on the Columbia lot at just 44.

Badman’s Country has the feel of a well-oiled machine, which has to be the result of a team of veterans who’ve made films like this time and time again, sometimes working together. It’s fast, exciting and completely void of pretense. Just the way I like ’em.

Laura wrote about this one a while back. See what she says about it.

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Lesley_SelanderNext Thursday, April 9, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will highlight director Lesley Selander by running nine of his films, three of them part of RKO’s excellent series of B Westerns starring Tim Holt (Gunplay is a very good one).

Arrow In The Dust (1954) stars Sterling Hayden and Coleen Gray. Tall Man Riding (1955) is a solid Randolph Scott picture. And The Lone Ranger And The Lost City Of Gold (1958) is the second TV spinoff feature to star Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.

I’m a big fan of Lesley Selander. When it comes to action, he’s one of the best. It’s good to see him get this kind of attention. His films are short, smart, fast — and highly recommended.

Selander on TCM

The times listed are Eastern Standard Time. This is a “restoration” of a shorter post. Thanks to Blake for pointing out all I’d missed.

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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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Pillars Of The Sky HS sized

New York’s 92nd Street Y is hosting a class on Westerns of the 50s. Hosted by Kurt Brokaw, Associate Teaching Professor at The New School and senior film critic of The Independent magazine, it’s got a really terrific roster of films. The classes are Tuesday nights, beginning April 14, with two films each night.

Man, I wish I could get to this.

Week 1
Broken Lance
(1954) Directed by Edward Dmytryk, starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Richard Widmark, Katy Jurado
The Badlanders (1956) Directed by Delmer Daves, starring Alan Ladd, Ernest Borgnine, Katy Jurado

Week 2
Saddle The Wind
(1958) Directed by Robert Parrish, starring Robert Taylor, Julie London, John Cassavetes
Dawn At Socorro (1954) Directed by George Sherman, starring Rory Calhoun and Piper Laurie

Week 3
Pillars Of The Sky
(1956) Directed by George Marshall, starring Jeff Chandler, Dorothy Malone, Ward Bond, Lee Marvin
Backlash (1956) Directed by John Sturges, starring Richard Widmark, Donna Reed, William Campbell, John McIntire

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Week 4
Ride Clear Of Diablo
(1954) Directed by Jesse Hibbs, starring Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Susan Cabot
The Outriders (1950) Directed by Roy Rowland, starring Joel McCrea, Arlene Dahl, James Whitmore, Barry Sullivan

Week 5
Back To God’s Country
(1953) Directed by Joseph Pevney, starring Rock Hudson, Marcia Henderson, Steve Cochran, Hugh O’Brien
Black Horse Canyon (1954) Directed by Jesse Hibbs, starring Joel McCrea and Mari Blanchard

Week 6
Seven Men From Now
(1956) Directed by Budd Boetticher, starring Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed
Gun Fury (1953) Directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Philip Carey, Lee Marvin

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The charge was this: send in your list of favorite 50s Westerns DVD releases for 2014, along with a few 50s Westerns that you discovered this year.

For today, here are your (and my) 10 favorite DVDs or Blu-rays released during the 2014 calendar year.

10. Panhandle (1948) This terrific Rod Cameron picture, directed by Lesley Selander, was released a few years ago as part of VCI’s Darn Good Western Volume 1. This year, it showed up on its on.

9. City Of Bad Men (1953) Dale Robertson leads a great cast: Jeanne Crain, Richard Boone, Lloyd Bridges, Hugh Sanders, Rodolfo Acosta, Don Haggerty, Leo Gordon, John Doucette, Frank Ferguson, James Best. Harmon Jones directs.

8. Fort Massacre (1958) Joel McCrea plays way against type. Forrest Tucker, Susan Cabot, John Russell and Denver Pyle co-star. You can get a nice regular DVD here in the States — and a stunning Blu-ray in Germany.

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7. Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) The guys who developed VistaVision look down from heaven, see this Blu-ray playing in our living rooms, and are very happy indeed.

6. The Lusty Men (1952) There was a time when Nicholas Ray was a machine that cranked out Great Movies. This study of modern-day rodeo cowboys — starring Robert Mitchum, Susan Haywood and Arthur Kennedy — comes from the heart of that period.

5. Drum Beat (1954) Alan Ladd shows us he’s got more than Shane up his sleeve, and Delmer Daves delivers yet another solid Western. This is a lot better movie than you’ve heard (or remember).

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4. Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958) When an Allied Artists Western starring Mark Stevens makes a Top Ten list, I know I’m in the right place.

3. Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Volume 4 As good as the series Western ever got. For me, this fourth volume is the best — which makes it plenty great indeed.

2. Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957) It’s not a stupendous Randolph Scott movie, but it’s a Randolph Scott movie — and Warner Archive has it shining like a black and white, 1.85 diamond.

1. South Of St. Louis (1949) This terrific Joel McCrea picture, with its Technicolor appropriately saturated, is stunning on Blu-ray from Olive Films. Alexis Smith and Dorothy Malone should’ve paid cinematographer Karl Freund for making them look so beautiful.

Along with all these favorites, there was a common complaint: that Olive Films’ promised The Quiet Gun (1956) didn’t make it in 2014.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their lists.

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Gunsmoke in tucson ad 11 58

Directed by Thomas Carr
Produced by William D. Coates
Screenplay by Paul Leslie Peil & Robert Joseph
Story by Paul Leslie Peil
Director Of Photography: William Whitley, ASC
Film Editor: George White
Music Composed by Sid Cutner

CAST: Mark Stevens (Chip Coburn), Forrest Tucker (John Brazos), Gail Robbins (Lou Crenshaw), Vaughn Taylor (Ben Bodeen), John Ward (Slick Kirby), Kevin Hagen (Clem Haney), John Cliff (Sheriff Cass), Gail Kobe (Katy Porter), George Keymas (Hondo), Richard Reeves (Notches Pole), Bill Henry (Sheriff Blane).

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As the titles roll, we’re looking up into a large tree. Once “Directed by Thomas Carr” dissolves away, a noose is tossed over a branch of the tree, and the camera pans down for an establishing shot of a lynching, all in CinemaScope and nicely-preserved DeLuxe Color. It’s a stylish way to open Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958), an Allied Artists Western that really delivers—and maintains that visual flair and creativity throughout its running time.

Mark Stevens and Forrest Tucker are brothers on opposite sides of the law. Stevens is Chip Coburn, who wants to put his outlaw ways behind him and settle on a ranch of his own. Tucker is John Brazos, a marshal who doubts his brother will stay on the straight and narrow. Chip winds up in the middle of a rancher-farmer dispute and his forced to pick up his guns again.

Gunsmoke In Tucson cropped

Story-wise, it’s nothing new, but the writers—Paul Leslie Peil and Robert Joseph—manage to keep things fresh. As we all know, Westerns work well when they use one of the genre’s standard plots (or plots, in this case) as a springboard. Mark Stevens is really good at the intense, brooding, tortured tough guy, whether in Westerns like this one and Jack Slade (1953) or noir stuff like the excellent Cry Vengeance (1954), which he also directed. Of course, Forrest Tucker is always terrific. His 50s Western filmography is second to none. Gale Robbins is good as Lou, Chip’s saloon girl girlfriend. Gail Kobe’s part, as the good girl who’s loved Chip all along, doesn’t give her much to do. And Kevin Hagan, who plays farmer Clem Haney, is known the world over as Doc Baker on Little House On The Prairie. He does a good job, even though he’s forced to wear a lousy fake beard.

The bond, or conflict, between brothers was a common theme in 50s Westerns. It can be found in pictures like Horizons West (1952), Rage At Dawn (1955), The True Story Of Jesse James (1957), Night Passage (1957), Fury At Showdown (1957) and Face Of A Fugitive (1959, though Fred MacMurray’s brother doesn’t make it past the first reel). Forrest Tucker does a good job in Gunsmoke In Tucson, striking just the right tone in his brother-or-duty scenes and keeping the dialogue from coming off hokey.

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Old Tucson was a busy place in 1958 and ’59. Buchanan Rides Alone. Rio Bravo. The BadlandersThe Lone Ranger And The Lost City Of Gold. The location adds tons of production value to this low-budget film, with director of photography William Whitley wisely letting us see the landscape surrounding the street set. The bridge that’s featured so prominently in Buchanan and Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) gets some screen time as well. (I watch for that bridge like a favorite character actor.)

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One of the things that really strikes me about Gunsmoke In Tucson, something that was mentioned in its reviews back in ’58, is William P. Whitley’s camerawork. Whitley worked for Sam Katzman at Columbia in the early 50s (Jungle Jim, serials, etc.), then got into television—The Adventures Of Superman, The Lone Ranger (the fifth, color season) and eventually Bonanza. He shot over 75 episodes of Bonanza before retiring. He did three pictures for Allied Artists, all released in 1958: Quantrill’s Raiders, Queen Of Outer Space and Gunsmoke In Tucson. All are in Scope and look terrific. Whitley seems to have enjoyed the chance to shoot for the wide screen–his shots are well-composed and inventive throughout Gunsmoke In Tucson. And he made sure Gale Robbins’ red hair popped in scene after scene.

We wouldn’t be appreciating Mr. Whitley’s work if it wasn’t so well presented by Warner Archive. It’s a bit soft, perhaps, but the color is really nice and the audio’s got plenty of punch. This is a really tough, solid little movie—the kind of forgotten treasures this genre, and decade, are full of. Recommended.

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