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Archive for the ‘Columbia’ Category

Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story and Screen Play by Douglas Heyes
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editor: Charles Nelson

Cast: George Montgomery (Major Frank Archer), Richard Denning (Stacey Wyatt), Martha Hyer (Brett McClain), John Crawford (Captain Richard Hillman), Emory Parnell (Sergeant McClain), Michael Granger (Chief Mike)

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Battle Of Rouge River (1954) is another William Castle Western produced by Sam Katzman for Columbia. It’s part of Mill Creek’s terrific eight-movie DVD set The Fastest Guns Of The West: The William Castle Western Collection. Also included are Klondike Kate (1943), Conquest Of Cochise (1953), Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1953), Masterson Of Kansas (1954), The Gun That Won The West (1955), Duel On The Mississippi (1955) and Uranium Boom (1956). All eight for less than $15.

At an outpost in the Oregon Territory, the stiff, serious Major Archer (George Montgomery) replaces Major Wallach (Willis Bouchey), who hasn’t been able to defeat Chief Mike (Michael Granger). Archer meets with the chief and they agree to a 30-day truce that keeps them on either side of the Rogue River. Of course, there’s a woman — Brett McClain (Martha Hyer), the daughter of one of the solders at the fort.

But one of the Irregulars aiding the soldiers (Richard Denning) is working to keep the Indians stirred up — to hold off Oregon’s statehood, which would spoil a good thing some of the area businesses have going. Denning tricks Montgomery into breaking the truce and attacking the Indians.

George Montgomery was on a roll at this time, making one solid little Western after another, often with William Castle as director. For me, Masterson Of Kansas (1954, directed by Castle) and Robber’s Roost (1955) stand out. Martha Hyer’s career was also taking off at this time, and she’d be nominated for an Oscar for Some Came Running (1958).

Richard Denning was in the excellent Hangman’s Knot (1952), playing pretty much the same creep he is in this one. The first thing I remember seeing Denning in was Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), along with all those sci-fi pictures like The Black Scorpion (1957). Later, I’d come to know him as the governor of Hawaii on Hawaii Five-O. Denning was married to the beautiful Universal horror star Evelyn Ankers.

Battle Of Rouge River has the hallmarks of a Sam Katzman picture — a running time of about 70 minutes and lots of stock footage.

“All six winners of the National Indian Beauty Contest”

It also boasts a pretty tacky gimmick. Willam Castle always gave Sam Katzman credit for teaching him the true value of showmanship. Battle Of Rogue River seems to be an example of one of those lessons. According to the ads, you’ll find “all six winners of the National Indian Beauty Contest” in its cast. The contest did not exist until this movie came along — and you have to look really hard to find these lovely ladies in the film.

Battle At Rogue River isn’t among Castle or Montgomery’s finest work. But it’s got a cast and crew of seasoned professionals who I’m always happy to spend time with. Cinematographer Henry Freulich always had these cheap things looking great, and that’s easy to see in the transfer offered up by Mill Creek. I can’t recommend this set enough.

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Screenplay by David Lang and Martin Berkeley
Story by David Lang
Director Of Photography: Henry Freulich
Film Editors: Al Clark and James Sweeney

Cast: Philip Carey (Wade Harper), Roberta Haynes (Paris), Wallace Ford (McBride), Richard Webb (Ace Eliot), Lee Van Cleef (Reno), Maurice Jara (Wingfoot), Regis Toomey (Col. Markham), Jay Silverheels (Spotted Bear), Pat Hogan (Yellow Knife), Frank Fenton, Dennis Weaver

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Figured it was time for another Fred F. Sears movie. A few years ago, I assigned myself the task of doing a post on each of Sears’ Westerns (I’m not counting the Durango Kids he directed). When those are done, the plan is to focus on his non-Western movies on my other blog.

Columbia was cranking out 3-D movies like crazy in the height of the ’53-54 stereoscopic craze. One of the bigger ones was Raoul Walsh’s Gun Fury (1953) starring Rock Hudson, Donna Reed and a terrific supporting cast.

Phil Carey and Roberta Haynes were part of that cast, and as soon as they finished the Walsh picture, they were put to work on The Nebraskan (1953).

Carey’s a cavalry scout who gets caught up in a standoff with the Sioux when he won’t turn over Wingfoot (Maurice Jara), who’s been accused of murdering chief Thundercloud. With them are a gambler Ace (Richard Webb) and saloon girl Paris (Roberta Haynes) — Carey used to have a thing going with Paris — and the murderous Reno (Lee Van Cleef), who’s escaped from the brig.

They take refuge in Wallace Ford’s way station, fighting off wave after wave of Indians — along with Reno’s repeated attempts to get loose and Ace turning out to be a sniveling coward.

The small-group-under-siege-in-a-small-space part hints at Hangman’s Knot (1952), and the Indian attacks remind me of Apache Drums (1951). This approach keeps the limited budget from being too much of a hindrance.

Wallace Ford is terrific, as always, as the grumpy ex-cavalryman. Lee Van Cleef is a real bad dude in this one. The scene where he strangles the guard at the brig is pretty tough stuff. Phil Carey’s OK and Roberta Haynes gets to look pretty and load guns. Speaking of that, it was good to see the loading of weapons treated somewhat realistically.

I came across a news article on the film that said Maurice Jara also owned a restaurant in Pamona, Casa Ramirez.

What I liked about The Nebraskan is pretty much the same thing I’ve said about all the other Fred Sears pictures — the high level of craftsmanship and efficiency he brings to these things. You can tell the cast and crew were professionals, committed to making the best they could of the material, budget and schedule. That goes a long, long way with these things.

The Nebraskan was shot in Technicolor and 3-D by Henry Freulich — some of it at the Corrigan Ranch. It was intended to be cropped to 1.85. The picture got a DVD-R release from Columbia’s Choice Collection. It looked great but was presented full-frame. It’d make a swell candidate for one of those Mill Creek sets.

TheNebraskan isn’t as good as the two pictures I compared it to, Hangman’s Knot and Apache Drums. But that doesn’t stop me from recommending it, or any of Fred F. Sears’ work.

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Was looking for images for a couple posts I was working on and found an ad where they played as a double feature (in Long Beach in December of 1953).

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Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Screen Play by Robert E. Kent
Director Of Photography: Lester H. White
Film Editor: Viola Lawrence

Cast: Brett King (Joe Branch), Barbara Lawrence (Kate Manning), James Griffith (Bob Dalton), Bill Phipps (Bill Dalton), John Cliff (Grat Dalton), Rory Mallinson (Bob Ford), William Tannen (Emmett Dalton), Richard Garland (Gilkie), Nelson Leigh (Father Kerrigan)

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So glad to see The Fastest Guns Of The West: The William Castle Western Collection turn up in my mailbox. Couldn’t wait to crack it open and give it a whirl. You get Klondike Kate (1943), Conquest Of Cochise (1953), Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1953), Masterson Of Kansas (1954), Battle Of Rogue River (1954), The Gun That Won The West (1955), Duel On The Mississippi (1955) and Uranium Boom (1956). All directed by William Castle. Most produced by Sam Katzman. And all eight for less than $15.

Jesse James Vs. The Daltons is about as historically accurate as Blazing Saddles (1974) is. Joe Branch (Brett King) might be the son of Jesse James. He and Kate Manning (Barbara Lawrence) — he saves her from a being lynched — hook up with the Dalton Gang to retrieve some loot and locate Jesse, alive or dead.

It’s silly, fast-paced and loads of fun. The picture runs just over an hour, with Castle and DP Lester H. White throwing coffee pots, bullets and dying bad guys at the 3-D camera whenever possible. There’s plenty of ridin’, fightin’ and shootin’, though you can tell the schedule kept the action from getting the staging it needed. It’s a bit sloppy at times.

This might have been Brett King’s only lead, and it was certainly his last feature. He’d do nothing but TV for the rest of his career. After a couple episodes of The Green Hornet in 1967, King and his wife moved to Harbour Island, Bahamas, and opened the Coral Sands Hotel. He became a mover and shaker in the tourism industry down there.

Barbara Lawrence has a decent part here, though there seemed to have been no effort to make her even slightly resemble a woman from the late 19th century. You see that a lot in 50s Westerns. She looks good in jeans, and I guess that was more important (King just happens to have a pair that fits her in his saddlebag). Barbara’s career wasn’t a long one — she gave up movies for real estate — though she’s in some good stuff, including the cool Regalscope sci-fi picture Kronos (1957).

James H. Griffith plays one of the Daltons. He’s always worth watching, and even though he gets third billing, his part isn’t all that big in this one. Castle would give him bigger, better parts in his next two Westerns: Masterson Of Kansas (1954, included in this set) and The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954).

Jesse James Vs. The Daltons was shot in Technicolor and 3-D, and it was to be projected at 1.85. It appears here 2-D, of course, and full frame. The picture looks quite good, but as you can imagine, there’s a lot of dead space at the top and bottom of the frame. The zoom feature on my TV took care of some of that. (Mill Creek licenses these pictures from Columbia and works with what the studio sends them.)

The rest of the set looks even better. The real jewel is the black and white Uranium Boom (1956), which looks gorgeous. You’d almost think you were looking at a Blu-Ray. The Fastest Guns Of The West: The William Castle Western Collection is a terrific set, something many of us have been hoping for. As I see it, William Castle could do no wrong, and these movies are good, cheap fun — thanks to Mill Creek for giving us such a budget-friendly, storage-space friendly package. Highly, highly recommended.

To the fine folks at Mill Creek: while you’re serving up William Castle, how about a set of the Whistler movies?

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I had to make sure this wasn’t April Fool’s Day — because a set of eight Westerns directed by William Castle (all but one produced by Sam Katzman!) sounds too good to be true. But here it is, coming from our friends at Mill Creek Entertainment.

Klondike Kate (1943)
Starring Ann Savage, Tom Neal and Glenda Farrell
One of Castle’s first directing credits — it came out a year before the first of The Whistler series.

Conquest Of Cochise (1953)
Starring John Hodiak, Robert Stack, Joy Page
Stack and Page had already appeared together in Budd Boetticher’s Bullfighter And The Lady (1951). Hodiak makes a good Cochise.

Masterson Of Kansas (1954)
Starring George Montgomery, Nancy Gates, James Griffith
James Grifftih’s performance as Doc Holliday really elevates this one.

Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1954)
Starring Barbara Lawrence, James Griffith, William Phipps
This one was originally in 3-D and Technicolor. As you’d imagine, Castle throws everything he can think of at the camera.

Battle Of Rogue River (1954)
Starring George Montgomery, Richard Denning, Martha Hyer
Katzman cast “all six winners of the National Indian Beauty Contest” in this picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if this contest didn’t exist before Katzman and Castle came along.

The Gun That Won The West (1955)
Starring Dennis Morgan, Paula Raymond, Richard Denning
This tale of the US Cavalry taking on Chief Red Cloud makes good use of stock footage from Buffalo Bill (1944).

Duel On The Mississippi (1955)
Starring Lex Parker, Patricia Medina, Warren Stevens, John Dehner
Not really a Western, but it’s got a solid Western cast doing the Louisiana river pirate thing.

Uranium Boom (1956)
Starring Dennis Morgan, Patricia Medina, William Talman
A modern-day Western with Dennis Morgan and William Talman fighting over their uranium mine — and the lovely Patricia Medina.

Can’t tell you how excited I am about this set. Castle’s one of my favorite filmmakers, and I’ve got a real soft spot for these Castle-Katzman movies. Highly, highly recommended.

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The word on the street is that Powerhouse/Indicator out of the UK is prepping some of the Budd Boetticher – Randolph Scott pictures, the five  Columbia ones, for Blu-Ray. Of course, those were put out by Sony in a terrific set several years ago, with plenty of extra stuff — but we’ve all been pining for all of these to make their way to Blu-Ray.

Michael Dante, Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher on the Westbound set.

Powerhouse/Indicator will do a tremendous job with these. This would leave Seven Men From Now (1956) and Westbound (1959) orphaned in high-definition. Seven Men is handled by Paramount these days, and Westbound is in the care of the Warner Archive. More news as it turns up.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Directed by Ray Nazarro
Written by Barry Shipman
Cinematography: Fayte Browne

Cast: Charles Starrett (Steve Woods/The Durango Kid), Smiley Burnette (Himself), Mary Ellen Kay (Doris Donner), George Chesebro (Bill Donner), Frank Fenton (Bart Selby)

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Mill Creek has done us a big favor by scooping up 10 of the 60-plus Durango Kid movies and putting them in one extremely budget-friendly two-disc set, The Durango Kid Collection. One of the 10 is Ray Nazarro’s Streets Of Ghost Town (1950).

In this outing, Steve and Smiley help ​the ​sheriff of Dusty Creek ​(Stanley Andrews) look for a fortune in stolen money supposedly hidden in a​n old​ ghost town — boarded up, littered wth tumbleweeds and creeking and moaning just enough to keep Smiley scared. A good chunk of the picture uses flashbacks to fill us in on how the treasure was stolen by Bart Selby (Frank Fenton, wearing a hat that seems too small for his head) and his gang, then ​taken by ​the double-crossing Bill Donner (George Chesebro). Back in the “present,” Selby and his gaggle of crooks are looking for the loot, and it’s believed Bill Donner is dead. Then Donner’s niece (Mary Ellen Kay) and nephew turn up to complicate matters.

This is no Riders Of The Whistling Skull (1937), but it handles its mystery elements pretty well. The Devil’s Cave, where the money’s hidden, is pretty cool, especially when Donner locks a couple of his cohorts in there with the treasure to die a slow death. And Smiley working a Ouija board is a pretty odd sight. The cinematography by Fayte Browne looks terrific, with lots of deep shadows to crank up the spookiness.

Ray Nazarro directed over half the Durango Kids (he did half of this set), and he keeps Streets Of Ghost Town running like a well-oiled machine. Charles Starrett is as likable as always and looks cool, and Smiley Burnette is, well, Smiley Burnette, which certainly works for me. George Chesebro is wonderful as the crazed, double-crossing crook.

What bothers me about The Durango Kid pictures is the Kid himself — he often seems nailed to the action like an obligation. But he sure looks terrific tearing through the ghost town on Raider.

The same Durango Kid titles that make up this set have been available from Columbia on DVD in the past, sometimes at up to 20 bucks a piece. So the economics of this set are pretty solid — and it’ll sure save you some shelf space. You can count on Columbia for terrific transfers of these older titles, and these don’t disappoint. (I love the fact that there’s some dust and dirt to remind us what film used to look like.) Recommended.

So with 10 of the series pulled together for this nifty set, when can we count on volumes two through seven?

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