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Archive for the ‘Chubby Johnson’ Category

This morning, I saw Chubby Johnson in the “Gunpowder Joe” (1953) episode of The Lone Ranger. Seemed like time to make him Character Actor Of The Day.

He was born Charles Rutledge Johnson in 1903, in Terre Haute, Indiana. He worked as a journalist and radio announcer for years, and he was in his 40s when he did his first film, Abilene Town (1946) with Randolph Scott. He kept both careers going for a while. 

Around the time of the underrated Rocky Mountain (1950), Errol Flynn’s last Western, Chubby decided to concentrate on the movies. He’d go on to make more than 80 pictures.

L-R: Myron Healey, Claudia Barrett, Allan “Rocky” Lane and Chubby Johnson in Republic’s Night Riders Of Montana (1951).

Republic needed a replacement for sidekick Eddy Waller in the Rocky Lane series. Chubby rode alongside Allan Lane for most of 1951 and ’52.

L-R: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Chubby Johnson and Stepin Fetchit in Anthony Mann’s Bend Of The River (1952).

Chubby’s in lots of great stuff. High Noon (1952), Anthony Mann’s Bend Of The River (1952) and The Far Country (1954), Calamity Jane (1953) with Doris Day, Gunsmoke (1953, with Audie Murphy), Law And Order (1953), Cattle Queen Of Montana (1954), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) and on and on.

On TV, Chubby was a regular in Sky King the Rex Allen series Frontier Doctor, and he guested on shows like Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Thriller, Death Valley Days, Sugarfoot, The Andy Griffith Show, Temple Houston, Dennis The Menace and Maverick. He stayed plenty busy.

His last pictures were Support Your Local Sheriff! and Sam Whiskey in 1969. He passed away in 1974.

With Howard Keell and Doris Day on the set of Calamity Jane (1953).

Chubby could make the most of a small part, and really shine when given something bigger, as in Bend Of The River and Calamity Jane. Another one of those guys who gives a picture a lift when he turns up.

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Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Ruth Roman, Corinne Calvet, Walter Brennan, John McIntire, Jay C. Flippen, Henry Morgan, Steve Brodie

It’s always a good day when another James Stewart/Anthony Mann movie makes its way to Blu-Ray. Arrow Academy has announced The Far Country (1954) for release this November.

The Far Country was Mann and Stewart’s fourth Western together, and it’s a good one. The cast and crew were well-acquainted and the movie feels like a well-oiled machine. Set in Alaska, though shot in Canada, the picture lets Mann and DP William H. Daniels make the most of the locale in widescreen. Speaking of widescreen, Arrow has promised to give us the movie two ways, in both 1.85 and 2.0 aspect ratios. Universal-International at this time was often using 2.0 — Man Without A Star (1955), Mole People (1956), etc.

Like the other Mann/Stewart Westerns, this one’s essential, folks.

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Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring Ronald Reagan, Dorothy Malone, Preston Foster, Alex Nicol, Ruth Hampton, Russell Johnson, Chubby Johnson, Dennis Weaver, Tom Steele

Just a reminder that Nathan Juran’s Law And Order (1953), a solid Western from Universal-International, is coming to Blu-Ray next month from Shout Factory. Can’t wait to see Clifford Stine’s gorgeous Technicolor photography in high definition.

Ronald Reagan’s a fed-up lawman who decides to hang up his guns. But you know how those things work out — soon he’s having to strap em back on to settle an old score. Reagan’s cool, Dorothy Malone is beautiful in three-strip Technicolor, and director Nathan Juran settles in for a good run of Westerns at U-I.

I don’t care what your politics are, this one comes highly recommended.

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Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Julie Adams, Rock Hudson, Lori Nelson, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Royal Dano, Stepin Fetchit, Chubby Johnson

Kino Lorber has given a solid release date for their Blu-Ray of Bend Of The River (1952) — April 16, 2019.

This is the second of the Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart Westerns, and a very gorgeous thing in Technicolor. Which of the Mann-Stewart Westerns is best is a matter of personal taste, and probably a good way to get an argument going among fans of this stuff. But it’s easy to say that they’re all among the finest Westerns ever made — and absolutely essential.

Providing a commentary for this release was indeed an honor, though in retrospect, wish I’d spent more time on Julie Adams. And while I have the chance, I want to thank Glenn Erickson of cinesavant.com for his help on this one. We got a back-and-forth email thing going about Bend Of The River that really helped me pull stuff together. Thanks, Glenn.

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Errol Flynn Westerns are a strange breed. Maybe the first thing you notice is the artificial-ness — Flynn’s displaced accent (hell, his displaced everything), the supersaturated Technicolor of some of them, Humphrey Bogart’s Mexican bandito in Virginia City (1940) and the earnest adventurousness of them all. They’re a bit on the surreal side, almost The Cowboy Of Oz.

They can also seem a little like watching the same movie over and over. The plots — or plot, since they all seem so similar — play like leftovers from Monogram or Mascot with more money thrown at them. And then there are the casts, the same character actors yanked from the Warner Bros. roster of contract players, seemingly at random. (Don’t take any of this as a complaint.)

The Flynn Westerns work pretty much like this: if you like, say, Montana, chances are you’ll like the others. (I do.) Then you get to Rocky Mountain, Flynn’s eighth and last Western. Suddenly, things are very different.

That difference isn’t just what you see on the screen. Hardly. Both the Hollywood and Errol Flynn of 1950 were quite different from just a few shorts years before. For one thing, the studio system was breaking down, and cost-savings were the order of the day. Out went Technicolor, large casts and lavish sets. Next, Flynn wasn’t the dashing young actor of old. His years of hard living were catching up with him. He’d be dead in less than a decade.

Of course, the Western was changing, too.

You can feel these harsh realities, this change, in almost every frame of Rocky Mountain, a grim, gritty little picture that stands as a clear, early example of what we now think of as a Fifties Western. They may have trimmed the budget, but they sure  didn’t scrimp when it came to fatalism. It absolutely oozes from this film.

It’s March of 1865. The Civil War is nearing its end, and the Confederacy needs a miracle. The weary Lafe Barstow (Flynn) has brought his men all the way to California in an effort to link up with insurrectionists, assemble a band of guerillas, and hopefully turn the tide of the war. However, this far West, they end up facing an enemy even more formidable than the Yankees: the Shoshones.

Flynn and his men come to the aid of a stagecoach being chased by a Shoshone raiding party, a gallant act that will eventually seal their fate. The lone passenger turns out to be Johanna Carter (Patrice Wymore), fiancé of a Union lieutenant. Protecting the woman compromises their mission, and puts them in conflict with both the Shoshones and the Union soldiers looking for the missing stage.

The bulk of the film works as a tense character study, as the Confederate guerillas and Wymore wait for the showdown they know is coming, against whichever enemy finds them first. The climactic scene, as the men give each other those resigned looks, their final goodbyes, is reminiscent of what would follow in The Wild Bunch (1969). They know they’re not riding away from this one. As they turn to face their foe (I’m not gonna spoil things by saying who), Flynn has a great line: “They’ve seen our backs. Let’s show ‘em our faces!”

The action takes place on the mountain of the title. There’s not a single interior in the entire film. Filmed outside Gallup, New Mexico, the terrain gives the picture production values far beyond its slim budget. (When God’s your set decorator, who needs a budget?)

The vistas are striking, largely thanks to director of photography Ted McCord. A real veteran, who started out with Silent Westerns, McCord excelled at outdoor shooting, with a career that spanned everything from Ken Maynard riding into the sunset to Julie Andrews coming over the hill in The Sound Of Music (1965), certainly one of the most-revered exterior shots in filmdom.

William Keighley spent the bulk of his Hollywood career as a contract director at Warner Bros. His list of 30s credits includes some of the studios best films: “G” Men (1935), Bullets Or Ballots (1936) and The Prince And The Pauper (1937). He was replaced by Michael Curtiz halfway through Flynn’s The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) — with that one, there’s still some debate about how much of Keighley’s work we’re looking at.

More good movies preceded World War II — Brother Rat (1938), for instance. When the war ended, Keighley found himself at RKO. An excellent film noir, The Street With No Name (1948), came from that period. Then he was back at Warner Bros. for Rocky Mountain. A couple more pictures followed, including The Master Of Ballantrae (1953), which would also turn out to be Flynn’s final swashbuckler and Keighley’s last picture before retiring to Paris. His assured work on Rocky Mountain keeps things moving and tension mounting.

While it was Flynn’s last Western, Rocky Mountain provided a couple guys with their firsts — Slim Pickens and Sheb Wooley. According to Wooley (in a Western Clippings interview), “We were down in New Mexico on location, and Flynn said, ‘I know you’re new at this, and I’ve been around about 15 years, so if you want to ask me anything or run lines or whatever, we’ll work on it at night if you want.’ But I never could catch the time when we were both sober enough to work on it.”

Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, a frequent Flynn costar, was also on hand. But what really generated buzz around Rocky Mountain was leading lady Patrice Wymore. She was 21, working on her second picture and engaged to Broadway producer Sammy Lambert. Flynn was 40 and engaged to a Rumanian princess, Irene Ghika. Both of those romances went by the wayside, and Flynn and Wymore were married shortly before the picture opened, which had to have made things easy for Rocky Mountain’s publicity people. And though they were separated, Patrice was Mrs. Errol Flynn when he died in 1959.

Rocky Mountain is a good picture. It’s got a tough performance from Flynn — very different from his other Westerns, and turning his hardened looks into a benefit. It’s well written by Winston Miller (My Darling Clementine), from a story by Alan LeMay (The Searchers). It’s as much character piece as it is a cowboy picture, giving its cast plenty to work with.

And it stands in marked contrast to something like San Antonio (1945), hinting at just where the Western was heading over the next 10 years.

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Rocky Mountain is one of four Flynn Westerns (he made eight) lavishly presented in the Errol Flynn Westerns Collection. The other three are Virginia City (1940), San Antonio (1945) and Montana (1950). Raoul Walsh’s Silver River (1948, their last picture together) is the only Flynn cowboy movie not on DVD. You can watch it here, however — and I recommend that you do.

UPDATE 11/29/16: Rocky Mountain will be available as a single disc in January 2017 from Warner Archive.

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