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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Wallace MacDonald
Story and Screen Play by David Lang
Director Of Photography: Fred Jackman, Jr., ASC
Film Editor: Jerome Thoms, ACE
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: Bill Williams (James Kingston), Richard Jaeckel (Lee Parker), Alex Montoya (Joaquin Jironza), Movita (Rosita), Adelle August (Ann Parker), Tex Ritter (Traeger), Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan (Hank Calvin), Ray Teal (Sgt. Tim O’Roarke), Don G. Harvey (Donald Tex McGuire), James Griffith (Abraham Lincoln), Clayton Moore

Fred F. Sears’ Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) really knocked me out, and I was eager to move on to his Apache Ambush (1955), again written by David Lang.

It opens in Washington, D.C., in April 1865, as Bill Williams, Ray Teal and Don G. Harvey meet with President Lincoln (James Griffith). There are cattle in Texas and hungry people in Kansas, and the president asks the men to drive the cattle north.

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Abraham Lincoln (James Griffith): “I wish we could talk longer, but I promised to visit Ford’s Theater this evening.”
James Kingston (Bill Williams): “Hope you enjoy the show, sir.”
Abraham Lincoln: “I’m sure I will.”

To this basic cattle drive plot, Lang’s script adds a wagon train, Mexican bandits, the Apaches of the title, a stampede, a bitter Confederate veteran and a shipment of Henry repeating rifles (and let’s not forget Lincoln’s assassination). All of that in less than 70 minutes.

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Apache Ambush doesn’t rise above its budget the way Fury At Gunsight Pass does. While Fury is tight and focused, Ambush seems to take on too many things. (And it never tops the Griffith/Lincoln opening.) But you are left with the opportunity to spend a little over an hour with a top-notch 50s Western cast and crew.

Bill Williams, of course, was Kit Carson on TV. He also appeared in some very good 50s Westerns: The Cariboo Trail (1950), Son Of Paleface (1952), The Halliday Brand (1957) and more. It’s obvious that he’s comfortable on a horse — he and his wife, Barbara Hale, lived on a working ranch.

There are a lot of great character actors in the cast, and they all do excellent work, from Ray Teal and James Griffith to old pros like Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan and Tex Ritter (this was Ritter’s last film). Clayton Moore’s even on hand as a gunman. Adelle August is the good girl (it’s a shame her career was so brief) and Movita (who’d marry Marlon Brando in 1960) is the bad one. Back to Griffith: he was quite good at Lincoln, and played him a number of times.

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Fred Jackman, Jr., whose cinematography was crucial to the success of Fury At Gunsight Pass, does nice work here, too — though he doesn’t have a sequence as flashy as Fury‘s windstorm. Editor Jerome Thoms had a long career cutting pictures at Columbia. Among his credits are 5 Against The House (1955), Pal Joey (1957), Face Of A Fugitive (1959) and a little thing called Ride Lonesome (1959). In Apache Ambush, Jackman and Thoms do a good job of shooting and cutting to incorporate a lot of stock footage — that may be why it’s black and white — and while it’s all obvious, it matches surprisingly well.

apache werewolfThen there’s director Fred F. Sears, who was so good at turning out these things. When he had a good script, as with Fury At Gunsight Pass, he turned in a supreme example of what a B picture could be. When he had less to work with, you got a good way to spend an afternoon. And that’s where Apache Ambush winds up — not one of Sears’ (or Lang’s) best efforts, but I’d gladly sit down and watch a dozen more just like it.

Apache Ambush is available as part of Columbia’s Choice Collection. I have not seen the DVD-R, but I’ve been told it’s widescreen and looks good. I’d love to see more of Sears’ pictures turn up on DVD. Of course, paired with his The Werewolf (1956) at the Roxana would be fine, too.

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Bill Williams, Richard Jaeckel, Alex Montoya, Movita, Adelle August, Tex Ritter, Ray Corrigan, Ray Teal, Don C. Harvey, James Griffith

I’m on a bit of a Fred F. Sears kick these days, and I’m preparing a post on his Apache Ambush (1955). Turns out it’s on Encore Westerns this Saturday, February 7 at 10:50AM.

Thanks for the tip, Blake.

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Fury At Gunsight Pass TC

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Wallace MacDonald
Story and Screen Play by David Lang
Director Of Photography: Fred Jackman, Jr.
Film Editor: Saul A. Goodkind, ACE
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: David Brian (Whitey Turner), Neville Brand (Dirk Hogan), Richard Long (Roy Hanford), Lisa Davis (Kathy Phillips), Katharine Warren (Mrs. Boggs), Percy Helton (Peter Boggs), Morris Ankrum (Doc Phillips), Addison Richards (Charles Hanford), Joe Forte (Andrew Ferguson), Wally Vernon (Johnny Oakes), Paul E. Burns (Squint)

Fury At Gunsight Pass titleHow many plot twists and double-crosses can you cram into 68 minutes? That’s something you might ask yourself about two-thirds of the way through Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956), a cheap little Columbia Western directed by Fred F. Sears.

It goes something like this: a group of bank robbers ride into Gunsight Pass. The robbery goes awry, part of the gang is captured, but the money isn’t recovered. The men of Gunsight Pass quickly become a mob, ready for a lynching. As the prisoners are being escorted out of town (to avoid the vigilantes), the rest of the gang (lead by Neville Brand) ambushes the posse, frees their cohorts and returns to town to locate the loot. With a windstorm raging, they announce they’ll start shooting civilians — one every 30 minutes — till the money is handed over.

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Fury At Gunsight Pass works a bit like Allan Dwan’s Silver Lode (1954), stacking circumstance on top of circumstance and piling on plenty of suspicion and paranoia as it goes. Plenty of suspense, too. This is a well-crafted little movie.

Wallace MacDonald produced a lot of Westerns for Columbia in the 50s, including some good ones like Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1952), The Hard Man (1957) and Return To Warbow (1958). His unit often worked from scripts by David Lang, who wrote a lot of Westerns before making his way to TV. Lang’s work here is original, very tight and economical.

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David Brian and Neville Brand are appropriately shifty as double-crossing bank robbers. Richard Long is a bit wooden as one of the citizens of Gunsight Pass, though he’s good in the fight scenes. Percy Helton and Katharine Warren make quite an impression as the crooked undertaker and his wife. Lisa Davis isn’t given much to do. And, of course, Morris Ankrum is terrific as the town doctor.

Director Fred F. Sears was so prolific, cranking out one B movie after another for Columbia, it’s easy to miss his real successes among all the standard stuff. Today he’s known for Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), a picture that benefits from remarkable stop-motion animation from Ray Harryhausen, and The Giant Claw (1957), a film completely scuttled by some of the worst, most laughable special effects in Hollywood history. Sears died in his office at Columbia in November, 1957, with eight pictures completed and waiting for release. He’s one of those B filmmakers whose work is ripe for rediscovery. His Ambush At Tomahawk Gap is a real sleeper — and so is Fury At Gunsight Pass.

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Cinematographer Fred Jackman, Jr. had a lot of Westerns under his belt by the time he came to Gunsight PassStrawberry Roan (1948), Fighting Man Of The Plains (1949) and Apache Ambush (1955), to name a few. (He was good with Cinecolor.) A tremendous amount of Fury At Gunsight Pass was shot at Vasquez Rocks, and Jackman’s black and white, 1.85 photography looks great. Columbia made frequent use of Vasquez Rocks for their 50s Westerns. (According to a quick look at Google Maps, it’s only 43 miles from the studio.) The scenes in town, during the windstorm, which make up the last 15-20 minutes of the film, feature wind machines and tons and tons of dirt. It must’ve been absolute hell for both the cast and crew.

Columbia hasn’t gotten around to putting this one on DVD, which is a real shame. It’s unusual and suspenseful — and well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.

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Stranger Wore A Gun 3D poster

Directed by Andre De Toth
Produced by Harry Joe Brown
Associate Producer: Randolph Scott
Screen Play by Kenneth Gamet
Based Upon “Yankee Gold” by John M. Cunningham
Film Editors: Gene Havlick, ACE and James Sweeney, ACE
Musical Director: Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: Randolph Scott (Jeff Travis), Claire Trevor (Josie Sullivan), Joan Weldon (Shelby Conroy), George Macready (Jules Mourret), Alfonso Bedoya (Degas), Lee Marvin (Dan Kurth), Ernest Borgnine (Bull Slager).

R Scott blogathon badgeThis is my contribution to The Blogathon For Randolph Scott, which has seen some excellent writing from a group of learned film fans.

It’s easy to see The Stranger Wore A Gun (1953) as just another Randolph Scott movie. Not as good as some, better than a few. Of the six Scott pictures directed by Andre de Toth, it might be the least. (To me, 1951’s Man In The Saddle is the best.)

But what makes The Stranger Wore A Gun stand out today isn’t its convoluted plotting, what a slimy bad guy George Macready is, or how great Joan Weldon looks. It’s the picture’s technical aspects, the stuff it boasted about on its one-sheet: 3-Dimensions, wide screen and stereophonic sound.

Ernest Borgnine: “The director was Andre de Toth, who wore an eye patch, having lost an eye as a kid. But here he was, directing a movie in 3D!”

A solid, resourceful filmmaker, Andre de Toth was chosen to test-drive and fine tune a few of Hollywood’s technical developments of the 50s. The second of the De Toth Scotts, Carson City (1952), was the first Warnercolor film. House Of Wax (1953) was filmed in the Natural Vision 3D format and Warnercolor, with the added bonus of stereophonic sound. The first major-studio 3D movie, it’s still considered the best use of the process during the early-50s craze.

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Randolph Scott (in the trailer): “I talked it over with my partner-producer Harry Joe Brown. Naturally, we didn’t want to be left at the post in this great new technical race in the picture industry, so we decided to go all out —3D, stereophonic sound and Technicolor. Now that’s a mouthful, and it was an armful to do, but exciting.”

Working titles were I Ride Alone and Yankee Gold.

Andre de Toth: “They asked me to do it in 3D. I had qualms about it, but the conceit that killed so many people won the battle. I knew I was better than the rest of the ordinary geniuses and I thought that, single-handedly, I’d be able to stop the exodus from 3D, revive third-dimensional pictures, and gain some more experience in 3D by doing a Western. But my conceit and hope didn’t resurrect 3D. It was dead and buried by the junk thrown at the public way before we started. Too bad.”

The film’s other distinction it that it was the first film composed and shot to be projected at 1.85. This aspect ratio is still the standard, in use in theaters and on video today. What’s a shame is that these technical amenities are completely absent on the 2D, full-frame, mono DVD. (The three-track stereo elements were lost years ago.)

Scott plays Jeff Travis, a Confederate spy attached to Quantrill’s raiders. Realizing that Quantrill and his men are little more than bandits and murderers, he flees and winds up in Prescott, Arizona, after the war is over. He becomes involved with an old flame, Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor), and falls in with some stage robbers: the sophisticated ringleader Jules Mourret (George Macready) and a couple of his henchmen, Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) and Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine).

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Ernest Borgnine: “No sooner had I finished From Here To Eternity and gone home to New York than, bam, I was asked to come right back again to shoot a Western, The Stranger Wore A GunThe Stranger Wore A Gun was the picture where I met a lifelong friend, Lee Marvin.”

Back to the story. Scott befriends the Conroys, a father and daughter (Joan Weldon) who run the stag line and decides he wants out of the outlaw life. It all comes to a fiery climax in the saloon. And, of course, all sorts of things are thrown at the audience over the course of its 83 minutes.

Joan Weldon: “Warners had nothing scheduled for me so they decided to put me on suspension without pay. I ran into Randy somewhere, and he heard I was suspension and called my agent and said he had a part in a picture at Columbia and would I consider doing it… It was three weeks; work; six days a week. Then Warner Bros. said, ‘She’s under contract to us, we want the money from the loan-out.’ My agent said, ‘No way. You put her on suspension; she can do what she wants with the money,’ So I did get the money.”

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The Stranger Wore A Gun is a mess. The performances are fine, some of the action sequences are very well done, it moves along briskly, and it all looks great in Technicolor. But it’s hard to follow — and some of Scott’s actions don’t make sense. De Toth, as good a director as he is, could only do so much with the script he was given. Maybe they thought 3D would overcome whatever shortcomings the picture may have.

The last of the De Toth Scotts, Bounty Hunter (1954), was also shot in 3D (for Warner Bros.). But by the time it was ready for release, the boom was over. It only played flat.

Sources: De Toth On De Toth by Andre de Toth, The Films Of Randolph Scott by Robert Nott, Ernie by Ernest Borgnine, and the wonderful 3D Archive website.

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Tall T TC?

Directed by Budd Boetticher
Produced by Harry Joe Brown
Screen play by Burt Kennedy
Based on a story by Elmore Leonard
Director Of Photography: Charles Lawton, Jr., ASC
Music composed and conducted by Heinz Roemheld
Film Editor: Al Clark, ACE

Cast: Randolph Scott (Pat Brennan), Richard Boone (Frank Usher), Maureen O’Sullivan (Doretta Mims), Arthur Hunnicutt (Ed Rintoon), Skip Homeier (Billy Jack), Henry Silva (Chink), John Hubbard (Willard Mims), Robert Burton (Tenvoorde), Fred E. Sherman (Hank Parker), Chris Olsen (Jeff).

This is part of The Blogathon For Randolph Scott. It contains spoilers. This is purely because most of Toby’s regulars will already have seen this film.

The premise of The Tall T is pretty basic. A trio of stagecoach robbers discover the stage they intend to rob is carrying the daughter of a wealthy copper mine owner; they decide to go for a ransom demand instead. Above anything else, however, a central theme of the film is isolation and indeed loneliness. The central character Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott) lives a solitary existence. He has a small spread, but at this time cannot afford any hired help. He lives alone in a remote place.

Visiting his friends at a stagecoach relay station father (Fred Sherman) and son (Chris Olsen) are also isolated. The wife/mother has passed on. The young boy has never visited a town — he is full of wonder about what such a place is like. In a very touching moment, the boy gives Scott the few pennies he has saved so Scott can bring him back some cherry stripe candy. Scott takes the boy’s money, not out of meanness but because he knows this is a big deal for the child — he’s actually able to buy something from town. Ironically, this is a town that he will never live to visit one day.

 

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After a leisurely 20 minutes or so with a more smiley than usual Scott, things take a darker turn. Mrs. Mimms (Maureen O’Sullivan), we discover, only married her weakling (and we later find out, cowardly) husband out of loneliness.

Boetticher and Burt Kennedy knew that the films they were making were generally classed as B Movies. They also knew that they could get a lot more past the censor because of this.

With the O’Sullivan character, we get none of the innuendo directed at Gail Russell in Seven Men From Now (1956). Furthermore, there are none of the more explicit references that were directed at Karen Steel in Ride Lonesome (1959) and Nancy Gates in Comanche Station (1960). Instead, we get lines like “she’s as plain as an adobe wall.” A deglamorized O’Sullivan has the dowdy clothes to match her character. Despite all of this we are left in no doubt that Scott and O’Sullivan will be a “couple” at the end of the picture. This becomes obvious in their first scene alone together.

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When the bad guy trio (Richard Boone, Henry Silva, Skip Homeier) things get really dark. After gunning down Scott’s pal (Arthur Hunnicutt), we learn that they have murdered the father and the child. Their bodies have been dumped down a well, before Scott’s return to the way station. They’ve committed that most heinous of crimes – child murder! The audience then realises that as this is a Randolph Scott picture; there is no way this trio will be alive at the end of the film. Furthermore, as this is a Boetticher picture, the trio’s deaths will be presented with as much graphic violence as the censor at that time will allow.

Most filmmakers, certainly from the Spaghetti era onwards, would have presented the Boone-Silva-Homier characters as leering repellent scum. That’s the easy option. Boetticher and Kennedy have no interest in easy options.

Boone’s Frank Usher, we discover, is quite intelligent, he would like to have become what Scott actually is. He could have become what Scott is had he not chosen a life of crime. He actually likes Scott, he at last has found someone he can hold a conversation with. Boone, too, is isolated, saddled with two cohorts that he has nothing in common with whatsoever.

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Silva, we learn, killed his first man at age 12: his own father, who was beating his mother with a tequila bottle. He goes by the derogatory nickname “Chink,” obviously a reference to Silva’s Oriental facial features. (Interestingly, Silva was cast as Mr. Moto when Lippert tried to revive the series in the mid-Sixties.) Homeier’s Billy Jack is a rather dumb, child-like character. Note the way he grabs the child’s candy from Scott, to Boone’s obvious annoyance. Silva likes to brag of his many encounters with women to the far more naive Homier. Amusingly, he details how his amorous encounters were curtailed one time because he pulled a leg muscle. Burt Kennedy used this situation again in his later Return Of The Seven (1966). All of Silva’s bragging leaves Boone totally cold and disinterested.

Despite the grim subject matter Boetticher and Kennedy mine the material for dark humour. This is best shown in the scene where Silva waits for the command to kill O’Sullivan’s weak husband (Hubbard). Silva’s facial expressions and body language convey a great sense of frustration and anticipation. Finally, as Hubbard is almost out of shot, Boone utters the command, “Bust him Chink,” a great line from a great scene.

There are tender moments too, especially when Boone takes coffee into a still-sleeping O’Sullivan. He gently covers her with a blanket, it’s a scene of a longing for a domestic existence that Boone has never had, and now never will.

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In the prelude to the graphically brutal climax, Boone with his back to Scott, attempts to ride away. He knows Scott will not be able to shoot him in the back.

“Don’t do it, Frank,” pleads Scott; the fact he uses his first name (the only time in the film) emphasises the bond that has developed between the two men.

The four Boetticher-Kennedy-Scott Westerns are among the finest ever made — and now rightly considered true classics. Furthermore, I would state that the Boetticher-Kennedy partnership is the greatest writer/director partnership in the history of the Western.

Boetticher wanted Richard Boone to play Frank Usher from the word go. “I announced to the studio I’d like to cast Richard Boone. It surprised me when Harry Joe and others didn’t exactly agree with me.”

They seriously doubted Mr. Boone had a sense of humour. Boetticher was unable to meet with Boone, as Boone’s wife was undergoing medical tests at the time. Later, on the telephone, Boetticher explained to Boone: “I had a problem with Columbia’s top executives who were of the opinion that he had no sense of humour. There was a moment’s silence then Boone’s wonderful voice said, ‘Well, Budd, you’ve got to admit those heart operations are pretty fuckin’ funny.’ He got the job! My biggest kick was that not one executive remembered not wanting Boone in the picture because he was absolutely marvelous.”

The fact that the Boetticher-Kennedy-Scott pictures were very much collaborative efforts is explained in the oft-told tale regarding the filming of Ride Lonesome. During the filming of Ride Lonesome, we were having dinner when Randy looked up from his steak. “Hey you two, what’s the name of the skinny young fella in the red underwear I played that scene with today?”

“Coburn’s his name,” Burt answered. “James Coburn.”

“Good! He’s all right. So why don’t you two dream up some new lyrics for that boy? I like his style!”

Scott, Boetticher explained, was like that with everyone who deserved it!

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John Knight is “a ‘Muswell Hillbilly’ by birth, now retired and living on the Isle Of Wight. A lifelong film fanatic, my ‘education’ on film was mainly gained in the fleapits of London and many visits to the National Film Theatre on London’s Southbank.” For Chris Wicking and Colin McGuigan: mentors past and present.

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The Nevadan TC

Directed by Gordon Douglas
Produced by Harry Joe Brown and (uncredited) Randolph Scott
A Scott-Brown Production
Story and screenplay by George W. George and George F. Slavin
Additional Dialogue by Rowland Brown
Cinematography: Charles Lawton Jr., ASC (Cinecolor)
Art Direction: George Brooks
Set Decoration: Frank Tuttle
Music: Arthur Morton
Film Editing: Richard Fantl

Cast: Randolph Scott (Andrew Barclay), Dorothy Malone (Karen Galt), Forrest Tucker (Tom Tanner), Frank Faylen (Jeff), George Macready (Edward Galt), Charles Kemper (Sheriff Dyke Merrick), Jeff Corey (Bart), Tom Powers (Bill Martin), Jock O’Mahoney (Sandy)

This post is part of The Blogathon For Randolph Scott, January 23-25, a celebration of his life and work.

R Scott blogathon badgeFrom 1946 to the end of his career in 1962 Randolph Scott starred in no less than 41 movies—allowing some flexibility to contemporary-set The Walking Hills (1949), all but two of the earliest ones are Westerns, a deliberated decision by Scott that was fortuitous for the genre, which flowered through this period. No less important was his partnership with producer Harry Joe Brown at Columbia beginning in 1947 with Gunfighters—17 of these films were made by their production company, which went under various names: Scott-Brown, Producers-Actors, and, finally, Ranown. Though it’s less than the greater share of Scott’s Westerns through 1960, these films generally tend to be the actor’s best (a stunning exception is Seven Men From Now in 1956 but by initiating the Ranown cycle it has come to be aligned with it)—the partners plainly looked for good scripts and the films were made with evident care, even though they sought no extra prestige at the time. The Nevadan (1950), fifth of their movies, is arguably their best to date, and if in the end it falls just about in the middle in terms of quality, that’s high praise.

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And The Nevadan is also significant, as a closer look will show, for being a 1950 movie. There is surely no argument that this was a watershed year for the genre. The directions it begins to take at the time, and all at once, have an unparalleled freshness and flexibility, even if the motifs had always been there. Consider just some of the films: The Gunfighter, which took over what had been a well-used motif of the ill-fated outlaw in the 40s and introduced in his place a figure who may not be wanted by the law but has lived with killing and is coming to an inner reckoning; Winchester ’73, where the revenge motif, seemingly so well-worn by now, is given new life in the evident pathology of both hero and villain within a disturbing blood relationship; Broken Arrow and Devil’s Doorway, which began what is sometimes called the “pro-Indian cycle” but should probably just be called “the Indian cycle” for the new balance and depth brought to all aspects of this part of American history. These examples are far from inclusive, but simply suggestive of the richness to be found in that year’s Westerns. No less important in the present case is that movies that seemed modest on every level might also contribute deeply. So, unnoticed at the time, Saddle Tramp, which plays so sweetly and with apparent casualness, ends with what may still be the most piercing expression—there for a moment and then gone—of the wandering/settling theme and the ambivalence that animates it.

Into this landscape rides The Nevadan—a taut 80 minutes in which one can simply enjoy the inventive storytelling, the engaging characters, the beautiful locations, and the rugged action. But within that, it turns out there is a lot going on.

The story is set in motion quickly by the theft of $250,000 in gold by Tom Tanner (Forrest Tucker) and his arrest and escape, followed by wary partnership with a mysterious man, Andrew Barclay (Randolph Scott), dressed like an Eastern dude, who he encounters on the trail. As the plot leads to the abandoned mine where Tom has left the gold, other characters play in and a number of other relationships are treated, all with increasing drama as these characters move toward convergence in the eventful climax. Edward Galt (George Macready), a rancher and saloon owner, wants to take the gold for himself, and his daughter Karen (Dorothy Malone), involved after she becomes attracted to Barclay, comes to see the unhealthiness of her father, both in his obsessive greed and obsessive attachment to her in the absence of her mother who left him long ago. There are also two brothers who work for Galt, Jeff (Frank Faylen) and Bart (Jeff Corey), given considerable attention.

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The sets of relationships here, treated without the film ever seeming to pause to do so, are all interesting. Of the brothers, Jeff is the meaner one, and at times ridicules the weaker, slower Bart, but is also protective of him and one knows in the end this is where his soft spot lies. The father/daughter relationship is not given the heavy attention of Walter Huston/Barbara Stanwyck in The Furies (same year of 1950) where the incestuous currents are hit very hard, but it has no less sense of a very adult reality—here, it becomes evident that Karen, though affected, is a moral and positive woman who does not share her father’s poisonous feelings, and only needs to see him as he is to step comfortably into selfhood. Most engaging of all though is the friendship between Tom Tanner and Andrew Barclay, who turns out to be a federal agent. There is not a word of dialogue about this friendship, nor anything that actually states it, but it quietly animates the film and becomes more evident until the climactic scene in the abandoned mine. Here, Barclay movingly pleads with Tanner to give up the gold and turn himself in, to end his life of outlawry, while Tanner at the same time insists he means to keep it. The resolution comes not with a change of heart but with a terrific fight between them in the collapsing mine, the film’s most memorable scene.

Tom Tanner is the movie’s most interesting character and anticipates one of the deepest themes of the Western in the 50s, that of “crossing over.” It is a provocative theme, and one that in Westerns found great spiritual depth as the decade wore on because it asks the viewer to agree that any sin, crime or misdeed can be lived down, that redemption is something possible at any point in life, that it is the present that is most important. One might not agree—though I believe this theme is at one with the original teachings of Christianity—but that is the view of 1950s Westerns. Of course, the theme may be treated complexly, and not every character who thinks about crossing over is able to, no matter how much they may yearn for it. Very important in Randolph Scott Westerns, the theme flowers in the Ranown cycle in three variations, all involving very different characters and different outcomes—Richard Boone in The Tall T (1957), Pernell Roberts and James Coburn in Ride Lonesome (1959), and Richard Rust in Comanche Station (1960)—each moving in its own way. One can’t claim the same drama for Tanner, yet he is still remarkable for several reasons. First, he is prescient for those characters—even though he is an outlaw, one can’t help but like him from the start and that never changes. And though, as with Barclay, we really know nothing about him outside of what happens in the action of the film, it is still possible to easily see that outlawry was, for him, simply the wrong path—in that climactic scene, when he speaks about the gold, one compares the way he talks about it to the way Galt had talked about it and it is so different, so evident that part of him already wants to give it up, and on some level has given it up. The movie ends as it should in terms of law, but not tragically, and so both the character and his friendship with Barclay are affirmed.

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George F. Slavin and George W. George can claim their share of good scripts, and this early one is especially so not just because what I’ve considered is palpably there, but also because the writers did not construct it with an insistence on those implicit ideas (one also notes the presence of the interesting Rowland Brown doing some writing on it)—as I’ve noted, the script tells the story but it leaves the realization to bring out all those interesting shadings in the relationships. So it is director Gordon Douglas, plainly a gifted practitioner in most genres, who does most to make it all work. This was his second Western, the first being The Doolins Of Oklahoma the previous year, also for Scott-Brown and also very well-done but in the familiar vein I’ve touched on earlier of ill-fated outlaws then dominant. What Douglas gives here that he came increasingly to master in his best films was layered, dramatic staging in his compositions that by itself conveyed a lot about the relationships—the fine acting of everyone involved completes this and is made even better because they are so dynamic in the frame. The payoff scene between Galt and his daughter Karen as he bends into the image trying to grasp her while she looks out at him and toward the camera is one example, and the choreography of Tanner and Barclay within the mine in the climax is another, but examples are numerous in the film—this is a director interested in relationships and how to treat them cinematically. As his style developed through the 50s, Douglas could also place this layered imagery within even more elaborate outer visual frames that are both fetching and dramatic; that is not so evident here, but simply being so supple in placing actors and staging their interplay, especially in interiors, gives this movie everything it needs.

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In exteriors, Douglas may not quite as distinctive at this point, or superior to other practitioners in the genre, but he certainly compares well and the movie is always beautiful. Cinecolor (used for the last time here by Scott-Brown) is not as vibrant as Technicolor, but that doesn’t make its blues and rusts or the ambiance they give to the locations any greater naturalism—properly restored and preserved as it now is in this movie, it’s a fetching and indeed striking color process, and very much at one with the drama here.   The exterior locations are the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine, always so expressive in Westerns and many of Randolph Scott’s conspicuously so. The cinematographer was the great Charles Lawton, Jr., a Columbia mainstay who fortuitously was there for the end of the Ranown cycle and the magnificent Cinemascope imagery of Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station.

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And that leads to consideration of another pleasure of Randolph Scott movies, and those of Scott-Brown especially—actors and actresses who were valued and kept being called back. Among the main players, Tucker, Macready and Faylen all had multiple appearances for the company and Tucker is also in Rage at Dawn (1955) with Scott later, while Malone would appear with him again in Tall Man Riding (1955). They are all perfect in their roles, as also Jeff Corey (tragically blacklisted soon after or he’d never have been out of movie work in the 50s, as he was not at any other time) and Charles Kemper as the knowing sheriff (tragically dead in an accident within the year). In addition to those mentioned, Scott and Brown gave a leg up to Jock Mahoney, then known as a great stuntman but coming into acting where he was a natural and would wind up at the end of the 50s one of the last to make his mark as a star, however briefly, in this level of Western in which Scott himself was so important. Of the others, I’d single out Malone, who with her Texas twang and naturalness is an icon of the genre, not surprisingly in many Westerns, and of course, Tucker, who makes Tanner so appealing. Forrest Tucker is barely noted in most film histories now but remains very much admired by genre aficionados and I’m sure always will be—he has a strong presence, can play good or bad or (as here) in between, all equally well, and is always convincing.

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It’s very much to Randolph Scott’s credit than in these, films on which he was a producer, he is not interested in a vehicle for himself as much as he is in a good movie and glad to let others have at least as good a part as his own. At the same time, he holds the center. Increasingly, and this is a good point to consider it, as his hair became greyer and his face and bearing took on more age, he seemed to be aware of what was in his persona. As a young actor, he had ready appeal but with directors who just took him as he was he could also be a little stolid, not deeply engaged in the roles; yet he always had the talent—one only has to see what a caring director like Fritz Lang brought out of him in Western Union (1941) where he is the tragic outlaw who wants to outrun his past and cross over. Of course, later, with Budd Boetticher, it was a match made in heaven between the two men—here was a director who “got him” in the most profound way, evident immediately in their first collaboration, and so the director’s sensibility and the star’s persona resonated in a way rare in cinema, and Scott, in a way that few movie stars can claim, became sublime in the final phase of his career, remaining so after Ranown was over and in the company of fellow icon Joel McCrea in the epiphany of Ride the High Country (1962). But looking at his career whole, no director, not even Boetticher, can take all the credit for finding the soulfulness of Randolph Scott. He had been working on it himself the whole time, in modest films like The Nevadan tapping the knowing humor and quiet self-possession, as well as the inwardness and tenderness, that would finally become so awesome in their humanity in the years of full maturity.

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Blake Lucas is a writer and film critic living in Los Angeles. By bringing together Michael Wayne at Batjac and Robert Gitt of the UCLA Archive, he was responsible for the 2000 UCLA restoration of Seven Men from Now.

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Announcing screenings like this feels like torture sometimes, being that they’re over 2,000 miles from here.

In what is probably a birthday salute to Randolph Scott, The New Beverly is running 35mm prints of the last two entries in the Ranown cycle, Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960) on January 25 and 26. Being that these are the two pictures that Budd Boetticher and director of photography Charles Lawton, Jr. shot in CinemaScope, that’s great news indeed.

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And while we’re on the subject, the Blogathon For Randolph Scott is approaching – and there’s some good stuff in the works.

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