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Archive for the ‘Barry Sullivan’ Category

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Directed by Roy Rowland
Produced by Richard Goldstone
Story and Screenplay by Irving Ravetch
Cinematography: Charles Schoenbaum
Art Direction: Preston Ames and Cedric Gibbons
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis
Music: Andre Previn
Sound: Standish J. Lambert and Douglas Shearer (supervisor)
Film Editor: Robert J. Kern

Cast: Joel McCrea (Will Owen), Arlene Dahl (Jen Gort), Barry Sullivan (Jesse Wallace), Claude Jarman, Jr. (Roy Gort), James Whitmore (Clint Priest), Ramon Novarro (Don Antonio Chaves), Jeff Corey (Keeley), Ted De Corsia (Bye), Martin Garralaga (Father Damasco)

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badgeIn Westerns, the Civil War sometimes plays in the background and sometimes in the foreground—Westerns may play during the War or in its aftermath, as characters deal with loss and tragedy and journey west to start over. In either frame, that defining national event is a good basis for rich internal drama as well as external action. In a sprawling, vital country that has remained riddled with real if often suppressed conflict, the open conflict of that War provides a good dramatic inflection to many Westerns, and its interplay with stories in Southwest settings gives an individual coloration to narratives like that of The Outriders, which covers a lot of ground from Union prison camp to redemption and renewal in the open spaces of the West, even though the story is fairly intimate and specific and involves a relative few characters. The War is on when the film begins and over when it ends, and as relationships and conflicts are resolved, a note of reconciliation plays beneath the surface, giving to what has been a taut story and challenging vision of America of that time a positive and deeply moral tone at the fadeout.

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The action of the movie is set in motion by the escape of three Confederate prisoners, Will Owen (Joel McCrea), Jesse Wallace (Barry Sullivan), and Clint Priest (James Whitmore). Almost recaptured, they are saved by Keeley (Jeff Corey, in a an effectively understated portrait of evil), a Quantrill associate who leads his own band of murderous raiders. Because of Will’s experience in and knowledge of the Southwest, the three men are enlisted to escort a wagon train carrying Union gold from Santa Fe to St. Louis—the train is led by Don Antonio Chaves (Ramon Novarro) and includes a Union widow, Jen Gort (Arlene Dahl), her late husband’s troubled younger brother Roy (Claude Jarman, Jr.), and an ill priest (Martin Garralaga). The three men are not alike (it’s evident from the beginning that Will is inherently decent and moral, while Jesse is self-serving and willfully violent and Clint will kind of wait to be shown what’s right) and Keeley’s intended ambush on the train weighs on Will even as it’s understood the gold is supposed to go to the South, as Will understands those on the train will all be killed. One feels Will struggling over this throughout, and crucially at the halfway point (a memorable nocturnal scene begins here) it’s revealed that he and Jen have quietly fallen in love. The next day, they encounter what seems like an impassable rising river, and Will believes this saves them from going on, but Jesse resourcefully devises a plan to cross the rushing river on rafts bound by ropes on either side (but a wagon is lost and Roy loses his life). Finally, though, news comes that the War is over, and it’s only then that Will learns Keeley had conspired with Jesse to steal the gold for themselves and not to turn it over to the South. Firmly on the side of Don Antonio and the others now, Will fights against his old comrade Jesse as well as Keeley and the others. He has finally come to where he has wanted to be, a hard-won ending for a hero who has been uncertain and conflicted like so many strong protagonists in Westerns of these years.

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The Outriders, made by high-toned MGM, is a handsome Technicolor production, beautifully photographed by Charles Schoenbaum with extensive Utah exteriors, and is strongly cast for all roles, boasts costumes by the brilliant Walter Plunkett and a wonderful score by a young Andre Previn (he was only 20, folks!). But its considerable virtues reside even more deeply because, those production values aside, it’s one more 1950 Western that knew where the genre was going—to a number of interrelated aspects that would carry it into a decade of incomparable artistic grace. These aspects are principally the spiritual evolution of the hero (often matched, as here, to the moral fall of the villain) who comes to a better place of commanding his life without giving it over to destruction of others, and along with this, very often, finds an idealized and yet fully believable romance with a strong heroine of equal substance; the joining of that personal story to a vibrant narrative marked by physical events and external conflict; and the expressiveness of landscape and setting which commands attention to all these things.

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What draws me so much to this personally is that I love graceful shifts of tone and the way more quiet, nuanced moments can find a place in narratives of robust action. So, like many who have seen it, I find what we may call the campfire dance a sequence of special beauty that especially lifts this mostly unheralded gem. Done on a soundstage (very beautifully too), it begins with Will breaking out the liquor to calm tensions among the men, but the dance that begins with men as partners comes to a point where they are all too aware of the one woman presently out of view. On her own, and sure of herself, Jen breaks her ladylike reclusiveness to come out and dances with all the men, one by one, wearing out her shoes in the process and only prompting Will to intervene after Jesse in his turn becomes too aggressive with her (and in an inspired aesthetic touch, the green bandana with which Jesse pulls her to him then becomes the green shoes she gives to Will to put on her feet). Will and Jen begin to dance among the others (accompanied by a lovely, gentle waltz theme Previn uses only at this one point), then away in an overhead shot, and then they are alone in a brief dialogue which begins with his soft, tender, and wonderful line “You never showed yourself like this before.”

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Over ten minutes are given to that sequence—not counting a coda between Will and Jesse which further builds the antagonism of their relationship—and at least that much more time is given to the elaborate river crossing, an impressively staged and filmed sequence with little evidence of fakery. This whole stretch of the movie would be enough to make it stand out—and that’s true even though these events of a dance and a river crossing have a ritual quality in Westerns and are very familiar (what is arguably the greatest Western of this same year, Wagon Master, directed by John Ford, has both) but it’s a welcome familiarity because there is such an eternal resonance of life in both these things. Even apart from that though, the trajectory is a satisfying one from beginning to end. The subtly realized romance is mostly visualized rather than verbally articulated, and that’s characteristic of the genre, while by contrast, Will and Jesse—though their conflict does become physical—mostly do confront each other in words, and to powerful effect; it’s not only that broken male relationships work so well in Westerns, but it’s always interesting to see a character who seems poised and smooth (Jesse) reveal the depths of venality, cruelty, and unwanted sexual aggressiveness that are the darker side of masculinity.

The character of Will is the relatively quiet center that draws one to follow this drama. Again and again, Joel McCrea is filmed looking on and watching (other characters do this too but it has the most weight when it is him); his presence is grave and thoughtful, and McCrea expresses a full range of emotions but without ever being showy about it. If there is a gold standard for a certain kind of movie acting, favoring believability and an effective simplicity over theatrics, McCrea exemplifies it. Confidence and attractiveness never become machismo or narcissism for him—and he knows how to be nuanced while being completely unmannered.

As often observed, Joel McCrea and his friend Randolph Scott both made a choice to concentrate on Westerns in 1946, just when the genre began to fully flower, and were there through its peak in the 1950s, then finally starred together in the magisterial epiphany of Ride the High Country (1962) which effectively ended their careers on a sublime note (though McCrea came back for a few vagrant credits later). That is as it was but it might be added their careers have different arcs that one can observe if one breaks the years 1946-1960 into three periods, Scott forging a relationship with director Budd Boetticher in the later years 1956-1960 that took him to the heights of the Ranown cycle, while McCrea by contrast has more of his best films in the first period 1946-1950, when he made fewer films than Scott and was more selective (in the middle period of 1951-1955 they are perhaps equal, and that was a period McCrea finished with two 1955 Westerns reuniting him with Jacques Tourneur, arguably his ideal director). In those 1946-1950 years McCrea was blessed with a number of superior scripts and with gifted directors including not just Tourneur (the very special Stars in My Crown which followed the present film in the same year), but also Raoul Walsh, Andre de Toth and Hugo Fregonese.

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Roy Rowland, Arlene Dahl and Joel McCrea

In The Outriders, Roy Rowland—directing his only movie with McCrea—holds his own with those artists. A contract director for MGM throughout this period (though loaned out at times), he moved easily among genres—there are musicals and melodramas, including some late film noir, along with Americana, other Westerns, and engagingly, a frontier comedy Many Rivers to Cross (1955) which bridges several genres. No one has ever claimed some consistent theme or any stylistic obsessions with him that I am aware of, and yet he did so well with so many of these movies. One quality I like him for is that he is patient with the material, and doesn’t rush if there is something worth lingering on. Prosaic though his approach may seem to be much of the time, this patience affords him the opportunity to find the magic of a sequence, like the campfire dance, if it’s there to be found, even to imbue it with some real poetry, while also giving a sustained vividness to the equally elaborate river crossing. In addition to working well with McCrea, he also did well with the other actors here. The very beautiful Arlene Dahl has perhaps never been better, fleshing out her character beyond the script, while Barry Sullivan makes a compelling, individualized villain. Given a number of fine films, Rowland may deserve more attention; in any event, in my experience he gives The Outriders what is arguably the best direction of his career.

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Blake Lucas is a writer and film critic living in Los Angeles.

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The character Joel McCrea played in so many of his Westerns was a confident, moral man — absolutely true to his word (even when he was an outlaw). Many say that character is a perfect match for McCrea himself. Here in the States, with our contentious, divisive 2016 election coming to an end just a few days after McCrea’s birthday, there’s an irony there that’s hard to miss. There’s also a realization that we could sure use someone like McCrea today.

I could go on and on about Joel McCrea’s incredible career, working with some of Hollywood’s greatest directors on some of their finest films (many of which will be covered over the course of this blogathon), but there’s a quote from a 1978 interview that pretty much says it all —

“I liked doing comedies, but as I got older, I was better suited to do Westerns. Because I think it becomes unattractive for an older fellow trying to look young, falling in love with attractive girls in those kinds of situations… Anyway, I always felt so much more comfortable in the Western. The minute I got a horse and a hat and a pair of boots on, I felt easier. I didn’t feel like I was an actor anymore. I felt like I was the guy out there doing it.”

Below you’ll find links for a series of posts from a very fine roster of bloggers, writers, fans, etc. Keep checking back.

Day 3

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South Of St. Louis (1949)
50 Westerns Of The 50s

Day 2

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These Three (1936)
The Jade Sphinx

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The Outriders (1950)
50 Westerns From The 50s, by Blake Lucas

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Gunsight Ridge (1957)
Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings

Day 1

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Ride The High Country (1962, by Jerry Entract)
50 Westerns From The 50s

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The Virginian (1946)
Caftan Woman

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Wichita (1955)
The Round Place In The Middle

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Four Faces West (1948)
Speakeasy

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The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
The Hannibal 8 (by Jerry Entract)

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Stranger On Horseback (1955)
50 Westerns From The 50s by Allen Smithee

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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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Dragoon Wells Massacre UK LC

It’s a lot of fun putting this list together every year, seeing what people are coming across for the first time. Remember, though these things are 60-something years old, if you’ve never seen it, it’s a new movie!

To make the list, a picture has to be mentioned by at least three people. This year, there were fewer titles brought up, but the frequency was a lot higher. We ended up with a solid lineup of fairly obscure, medium-budgeted 50s Westerns — and if you haven’t discovered them yourself, search them out.

And I hope this blog helped you discover some of these.

Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)
This was my personal favorite discovery of the year, and I was so happy to have others finding it, too. William Clothier’s camerawork deserves a solid CinemaScope transfer — and Jack Elam’s performance needs to be seen by more people. (Stay tuned for the Allied Artists blogathon, where I’ll give this thing some much-deserved attention.)

Cave Of Outlaws (1951)
William Castle directs a 50s Western for Universal — shooting at Carlsbad Caverns, Vasquez Rocks and the Iverson Ranch. Needs a DVD release.

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Wyoming Mail (1950)
A fairly obscure U-I Western starring Stephen McNally and Alexis Smith. Reginald Le Borg keeps things moving at a brisk pace and Russell Metty makes sure the Technicolor looks terrific.

Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958)
A number of people picked up the DVD from Warner Archive, and it seems like most of us were impressed. If you still haven’t tracked this one down, get to it!

Thunderhoof (1948)
A Phil Karlson horse picture with a cast of only three (and the horse). Can’t to track this one down.

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Four Guns To The Border (1954)
This one was on last year’s list, too. We keep bumping into, and we all seem to like it. It’s a great example of what a Universal 50s Western can be: terrific cast, gorgeous Technicolor, plenty of action.

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Forty Guns drivein detail

Written, Produced, Directed by Samuel Fuller
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, Hank Worden

We all want to do our part to boost international trade. And here’s an easy way to do it. Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) will come riding onto Blu-ray in June, thanks to the folks at Eureka Entertainment in the UK.

I don’t know what you think of this crazy thing, but I love it. It’s a big sweeping epic on one hand and a glorified Regalscope picture on the other. It’s got everything we expect from a Sam Fuller movie. And it has one of the damnedest opening sequences I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see it on a big curved CinemaScope screen — which I’m sure some of you have experienced.

It’s a Blu-ray/DVD combo, part of their Masters Of Cinema series, with an audio interview with Fuller among its extras. But who needs extras when you get Joseph Biroc’s incredible black and white ‘Scope photography in high definition?

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bad men of tombstone

Directed by Kurt Neumann
Starring Barry Sullivan, Marjorie Reynolds, Broderick Crawford, Fortunio Bonanova, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams

We’ve know about this one for a while, but I’ve been meaning to give it a post all its own. Bad Men Of Tombstone (1949) will make its way to DVD from Warner Archive on April 7.

Kurt Neumann is probably best know for a handful of the Weissmuller Tarzan pictures and The Fly (1958, which he produced and directed). I’ve always found him a solid director, able to put every dollar of his limited budgets on the screen, and that certainly applies to his work on Bad Men Of Tombstone. Plus, I like Barry Sullivan in Westerns.

Coming at the same time from Warner Archive is Seven Angry Men (1955) and Black Midnight (1949).

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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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