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Archive for the ‘20th Century-Fox’ Category

Directed by Lesley Selander
Produced by Jack Jungmeyer
Screenplay by Maurice Geraghty
Story by Frank Gruber
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Jack Greenhalgh
Film Editor: Francis D. Lyon

Cast: George Montgomery (Tom Horn / Steve Garrett), Rod Cameron (Harve Logan / Kid Curry), Marie Windsor (Dakota Lil), John Emery (Vincent), Wallace Ford (Carter), Jack Lambert (Dummy), Larry Johns (Sheriff), Marion Martin (Blonde Singer), James Flavin (Secret Service Chief), Walter Sande (Butch Cassidy)

This is an entry in The Marie Windsor Blogathon, a celebration of the actress’s life and work. It comes from guest blogger Boyd Cathey.

Marie Windsor always evokes wonderful memories for me, and on this day, December 11, 2020, which would have been her 101st birthday, I think back to the films with her that left an imprint on me, and that since my childhood I’ve managed to see and in many cases finally acquire.

When I was young boy my dad and I would go from time to time to a movie house in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, usually on a Saturday, to see a Western double feature. Our favorite was Randolph Scott. My dad’s family is from Charlotte, and my grandparents were acquaintances with Randy Scott’s family, also in Charlotte, so we had a connection. One of the first films I recall featuring Marie Windsor was The Bounty Hunter (1954). I think it was a re-release at one of the lesser, second-run theaters that used to exist in the city, as the original release was in 1954, and I was too young to go to movies back then. I remember her role as the wife of a notorious bandit—she wasn’t the main star, but she seemed to give an extra spark to this Scott Western, which like most of his Warner oaters seemed less polished than the Columbia products.

Anyway, I was taken by her. Okay, I was maybe only about 10, but I was captivated—she was beautiful and perky, and along with Sophia Loren, she became my idolized female star. In the late 1950s until her retirement in 1991, she also frequently acted in television. She made appearances in Maverick, Rawhide, Perry Mason, even Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury, one of the best American crime mystery series. And Windsor was always beautiful and captivating, she never seemed to age.

A few years later—probably the early 1960s or so—a local television station broadcast Dakota Lil (1950), one of those films that stations would broadcast usually late at night. I begged my parents to let me stay up—it was a school night, and my normal bedtime was 10 p.m. Somehow they agreed, maybe because dad wanted to see it also. Anyway, we both viewed it, and immediately Dakota Lil became a favorite.

The plot is fairly simple, although the development is more complicated. George Montgomery, Secret Service undercover agent Tom Horn (as Steve Garrett), is charged with breaking a major counterfeit outfit, the “Hole-in-the-Wall” gang in Wyoming. To do this he travels to Matamoros, Mexico, to enlist the aid of Windsor—Dakota Lil—noted for her ability to perfect an exact replication of official signatures. They both head to Wyoming, but she initially begins working with the chief culprit and the particularly nasty Rod Cameron (Harve Logan/Kid Curry)

The first thing you notice is the film score: it’s by the award-winning composer Dmitri Tiomkin, and it is gorgeous and memorable. In fact, its themes remained in my mind long after I first watched the DVD. Certainly, Fox by charging Tiomkin with the music of Dakota Lil intended it to be more than just another “super-B” Western.  Additionally, John Emery, who plays the role of Vincent, a former concert pianist and hanger-on to Windsor, offers up several short pieces by Frederic Chopin! Marie—Dakota Lil—sings various songs, with the singing voice of Anita Ellis. She executes excellent lip-syncing.

Although Dakota Lil showcases a youngish George Montgomery, Windsor steals the show and adds essential sparkle to the film. She invests the generally unremarkable dialogue with some real panache, indeed with just a face gesture or an inflection in her voice she can steal a scene. When she shows up at the Wind River, Wyoming, saloon (owned by Cameron) and comes upon the current diva, that chanteuse asks her: “What are you staring at?,” Windsor responds dryly: “A no talent performance.” Likewise, her dialogue with Cameron on how they plan to split the proceeds of the counterfeit government bonds shows comparable spunk and her mastery of crisp exchange, even humor. One can see how Marie Windsor fit so well into film noir, indeed, Dakota Lil shares certain characteristics of that genre. Consider, for example, Cameron’s preferred method of killing his enemies—by brutal strangling, almost matter-of-fact in its cruelty.

It was only in 2015 that I discovered that a DVD existed, in fact, two DVD releases. And I snatched up a copy as soon as I could. Both are in the PAL European video format, which means they will not play in American NTSC DVD players; but All Region DVD players are easily available and can be had inexpensively via Amazon.com and elsewhere. One copy was issued in Spain, which I have not seen. My copy is issued by Simply Media, a British company, which licensed their copy from Renown Films.

Although Dakota Lil was originally released by 20th Century-Fox in Cinecolor (February 1950), to my knowledge no color issue has emerged since its original release. Neither of the available DVDs is in color. Since Cinecolor was a less stable and reliable color process than Technicolor, one wonders if such a copy still exists somewhere in the Fox archives. Kino Lorber has done some wonderful restoration work with Scott’s The Cariboo Trail and Canadian Pacific, both Fox releases, so maybe we are allowed to hope?

Both the Simply Media copy and the Spanish release are available reasonably from the American firm, DaaVeeDee.com and also from Amazon.com. My copy is a good B & W issue, with a sharp picture and no sign of deterioration.

Directed by warhorse director Lesley Selander, Dakota Lil is surely one of his finer efforts. It deserves to be much better known. No, it’s not perhaps as good a vehicle for Windsor as, say, Hellfire (1949, with Wild Bill Elliott), but it merits attention…and perhaps a full digital restoration?

In any event, it should be seen for Marie Windsor’s fine performance which raises this film above the dozens similar to it released in 1950. Happy Birthday, Marie, and may your legacy on film continue to be enjoyed and appreciated!

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Had the extreme pleasure of being a guest on the Western Podcast. We talked about Don Siegel’s terrific Elvis Western Flaming Star (1960). Hope you have as much fun listening to it as I did recording it. 

Where else can you hear French and Southern accents bumping into each other like this?

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Directed by Henry King
Starring Gregory Peck, Helen Wescott, Millard Mitchell, Jean Parker, Karl Malden, Skip Homeier, Anthony Ross

Criterion has announced the October release of one of the absolute key Westerns of the 50s, Henry King’s The Gunfighter (1950). 

This is one of those movies that introduced a theme that’s been ripped off so often, we have a hard time understanding how fresh and innovative the film really was. In the case of The Gunfighter, it’s so good, we can always appreciate it for that. That theme, of course, is the gunman who wants to hang up his guns and live a normal life — here, he has a wife and son to reconnect with. There have been dozens of variations on that idea since, but this is where it came from.

You can always expect a sterling transfer from Criterion, along with a healthy stack of supplemental stuff. They do a terrific job on whatever they take on. The Gunfighter is essential (it gets a chapter in my 50s Westerns book, by the way), and I’d consider the Criterion disc just as essential.

Thanks to everybody who sent in the news!

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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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Directed by Henry King
Starring Gregory Peck, Helen Wescott, Millard Mitchell, Jean Parker, Skip Homeier, Karl Malden

One of the key 50s Westerns, Henry King’s The Gunfighter (1950, is making its way to Blu-Ray from Germany’s Explosive Media. Pictures like this, Winchester ’73 and Devil’s Doorway (all 1950) were a pretty good indicator that something was happening to the Hollywood Western.

This one is absolutely essential. Can’t wait to see Arthur C. Miller’s B&W cinematography in high definition.

Thanks to John Knight for the news.

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Written, Produced, Directed by Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Art Direction: John Mansbridge
Music: Harry Sukman
Film Editing: Gene Fowler Jr.

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Jessica Drummond), Barry Sullivan (Griff Bonnell), Dean Jagger (Sheriff Ned Logan), John Ericson (Brockie Drummond), Gene Barry (Wes Bonnell), Robert Dix (Chico Bonnell), Jidge Carroll (Barney Cashman), Paul Dubov (Judge Macy), Gerald Milton (Shotgun Spanger), Ziva Rodann (Rio), Hank Worden (Marshal John Chisum)

__________

With a Sam Fuller movie, there’s always something kinda off. Not off in a bad way, off as in different from anything else you’ve ever seen — except another Sam Fuller movie. The performances, pacing, editing, dialogue — they’re just different. And that’s before you get to the story itself.

A great example of this is Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957). It’s unlike any Western you’ve ever seen.

Forty Guns is a big sweeping epic on one hand and a glorified Regalscope picture on the other. There’s a scene pretty early in the movie where John Ericson and his gang of punks are busting up the town. They throw stuff, shoot stuff and just generally create total mayhem. Fuller cuts back and forth across the street as they shoot from one side and their bullets hit windows or whatever on the other side — then to the helpless, wigged-out townspeople watching all this. The footage doesn’t cut together in the smooth, traditional Hollywood way, but it perfectly creates the chaos and movement the scene needs.

Barbara Stanwyck is terrific as Jessica Drummond, a female take on the rancher who runs the town. Barry Sullivan is Griff Bonnell, a former gunman now working for the government. So far, it sounds like one of your standard B Western plots — how many times was Roy Rogers a government agent? But that’s where the similarities end, as Forty Guns goes off in directions only Sam Fuller would even think of taking it. And he’s got a cast and crew eager to help him get there.

It has one of the damnedest opening sequences I’ve ever seen, as the Drummond and her 40 guns come thundering along a deserted and pass by Sullivan and his brothers. I’d love to experience it on a big curved CinemaScope screen.

But from one end to the other, Forty Guns is a movie absolutely filled with striking images, cooked up by Fuller and delivered in gorgeous B&W CinemaScope by Joseph Biroc — and all flawlessly captured on Blu-Ray by Criterion. They’ve really got the contrast perfectly dialed-in on this one. Wish every black and white movie looked like this on video — everybody who helps bring old movies to TV and video needs to take a look at this.

Of course, it’s got a typically Criterion-ish slew of extras — interviews, a documentary, even a chapter of Fuller’s autobiography. It’s a pretty deep dive, and it’s always a treat to wallow in Sam Fuller. He was a real character, a true original and one helluva filmmaker. Highly, highly recommended.

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Margia Dean and Stagecoach To Fury (1956) came up on my other blog today, which reminded me of the Regalscope picture’s coverage in the August 1956 issue of American Cinematographer.

It’s one of my favorite of the Regalscope Westerns, with a great cast — Forrest Tucker, Marie Blanchard, Paul Fix, Wallace Ford, Margia Dead, Ellen Corby — and solid direction from William Claxton.

Here are Marie Blanchard and DP Walter Strenge, who shot the picture (and wrote the American Cinematographer article). This was the first CinemaScope movie shot using Eastman Plus-X negative film.

A good look at the relay station set. The location stuff was shot around Kanab, Utah, with more done closer to home at the Gene Autry ranch.

Wish this one would make its way to DVD and/or Blu-Ray in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It deserves to be seen the way Strenge shot it.

Here’s the article as a PDF: Stagecoach To Fury Amer Cin Aug 1956. Enjoy.

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Directed by Sam Fuller
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry

Criterion has announced a December 11 date for their edition of Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957). The extras sound terrific and I can’t wait to see its black and white Scope in high definition.

This is one of those movies where you find something new to be dazzled by each time you see it. Absolutely essential.

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Hope Lange, Agnes Moorehead, Alan Hale Jr., Alan Baxter, John Carradine, Rachel Stephens

Nicholas Ray’s mangled masterpiece The True Story Of Jesse James (1957) is coming to Blu-Ray from Twilight Time. It’s one of my personal favorite 50s Westerns — for Ray’s incredible use of CinemaScope if nothing else, and it’s the subject of what I think is my best post ever for this blog.

It’s coming November 20. Not sure what the extras will be, but I can’t wait.

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Directed by Henry King
Screenplay by Philip Yordan

Cast: Gregory Peck, Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd, Albert Salmi, Henry Silva, Kathleen Gallant, Barry Coe, George Voskovec, Herbert Rudley, Lee Van Cleef, Andrew Duggan, Joe DeRita

Twilight Time has announced they’ll be putting out Henry King’s The Bravados (1958) on Blu-Ray.

Gregory Peck’s riding the vengeance trail in this one, looking for the men who killed his wife six months earlier. By the time it’s all over, he hardly seems any better than the men’s he’s after.

Twilight Time will certainly offer up some nice extras to go with a gorgeous transfer — and this CinemaScope picture surely deserves it. Highly recommended.

Thanks for the tip, Paula!

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