Archive for the ‘Columbia’ Category

stuff at a terrific price.

With this two-disc set from Mill Creek, you get the five Columbia titles from Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher’s Ranown cycle — The Tall T (1957), Decision At Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960, above). And if all that isn’t enough, they’ve thrown in Joseph H. Lewis’ A Lawless Street (1955) to sweeten the deal.

Available September 15. Buy a whole case of ’em, folks, and your holiday shopping’s done. Now, what do we have to do to get a Blu-ray version of this?

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Gunmans Walk HS

Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Kathryn Grant, James Darren, Mickey Shaughnessy

Explosive Media out of Germany has announced an upcoming Blu-ray of Phil’s Karlson’s Gunman’s Walk (1958). This is a terrific Western and one of Karlson’s best movies. It’s far more obscure than it needs to be.

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lfC1BOFES2 sized

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.

Griffith as Abe3

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.

Apache Ambush LC (1)

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.

apache ambush

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.

Fury At Gundight Pass LC

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.


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.

Fury another ad

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.

Screen shot 2014-11-18 at 11.39.17 AM

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).


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.”


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.



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.


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.


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.


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!


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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