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Archive for the ‘DVD Reviews’ Category

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The Westerner — the short-lived 1960 Western series created by Sam Peckinpah and starring Brian Keith — is a really amazing thing. First, it’s just a good show, period. Next, for a Peckinpah fan, it’s a chance to see the whole Peckinpah Thing take shape before our eyes. From the dialogue that rings so true to his unique blend of the hard-ass and the sentimental to particular scenes or dialogue that’d crop up in his later work, The Westerner feels like a prototype for Sam’s career (or at least the early part of it). His visual style still had a way to go.

independent_press_telegram_sun__sep_25__1960_I’ve been dragging around bootleg copies of The Westerner for years. I’d never seen the pilot from Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre — but Shout Factory has taken care of that with their marvelous new two-DVD set. You get the 13 regular episodes and the pilot (featuring Neville Brand at his despicable best), along with commentaries from Peckinpah scholars like Paul Seydor, who’s written some excellent books on Sam and his work. His The Authentic Death And Contentious Afterlife Of Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid: The Untold Story Of Peckinpah’s Last Western Film has become one of my favorite movie books.

Haven’t made it through both discs yet, but all the shows I’ve seen look great. This is one a lot of folks have been waiting for, and this is certainly worth the wait. Right now, it’s a Walmart exclusive — at just $14.96 — and I encourage you to put aside whatever hangups you might have about the megastore and go get one of these. It’s a must.

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Directed by Ray Nazarro
Screenplay by Ray Buffum and DeVallon Scott
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Aaron Stell

Cast: Gary Merrill (Brock Marsh), Wanda Hendrix (Ruth Lawrence), John Bromfield (Mike Daugherty), Noah Beery, Jr. (Gimpy Joe), Fay Roope (John Lawrence), Howard Wendell (Judge Baker), Robert Simon (Marshal Whit Collins), James H. Griffith (Warren), Richard Webb (Frank Gibbs), Peter Whitney (Grimes), John War Eagle (Chief War Cloud), Jay Silverheels (Black Buffalo), Clayton Moore (Stone)

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At only 65 minutes long, The Black Dakotas (1954) was clearly meant to fill out a double bill. But for a film that’s not all that noteworthy, there are a number of things about it worth noting.

First, there’s the cast. Gary Merrill, in his first Western, is the bad guy — a Confederate hoping to stir up things with the Sioux to keep Union soldiers tied up. He gets a lot of screen time for a villain, maybe because he’s far more interesting than the good guy (John Bromfield). Wanda Hendrix, Audie Murphy’s ex-wife, was about to retire from the movies (at least for a few years), and she’s fine here. Noah Beery, Jr. does what he can with a rather odd part. The great James H. Griffith doesn’t have a whole lot to do as one of the bad guys.

John Bromfield and Wanda Hendrix

More on the cast. The Black Dakotas was shot during the period when Clayton Moore left The Lone Ranger TV series (over a salary dispute, reportedly) and returned to B Movie character parts. Moore’s not listed in the credits, but he’s there. You’ll also see Jay Silverheels (Tonto to Moore’s Lone Ranger) as one of the Sioux chiefs. From Moore and Silverheels to Beery and Griffith, the characters actors run rings around the leads.

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Here, Ray Nazarro does what we’ve seen him do so many times — put together a brisk little movie that delivers in the action department. It seems like no matter how small the budget or tight the schedule, Nazarro delivers the goods, the same way Lesley Selander always does. Of course, having Ellis Carter as director of photography doesn’t hurt. Why isn’t Carter brought up more often? He shot The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), for God’s sake! He gives The Black Dakotas a much bigger look than you’d expect. An early sequence was shot on a cloudy day — at Iverson, I think — and Carter really makes a positive out of a negative.

Carter’s fine work is well presented (in widescreen) in Mill Creek’s 7 Western Showdown Collection, a two-DVD set that contains seven Westerns. All the pictures look terrific, and the price is hard to beat. Recommended. I hope Mill Creek keeps up the good work, and I’d love to see movies like this make their way to Blu-Ray.

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Oregon Passage HS

Directed by Paul Landres
Written by Jack DeWitt
Based on the novel by Gordon D. Shirreffs
Director Of Photography: Ellis Carter
Music by Paul Dunlap
Film Editor: Maury Wright

Cast: John Ericson (Lt. Niles Ord), Lola Albright (Sylvia Dane), Toni Gerry (Little Deer), Edward Platt (Major Roland Dane), H.M. Wynant (Black Eagle), Rachel Ames (Marion), Walter Barnes (Sgt. Jed Erschick), Harvey Stephens (Capt. Boyson), Jon Shepodd (Lt. Baird Dobson), Paul Fierro (Nato)

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Director Paul Landres worked largely in TV, with a feature from time to time. My Paul Landres binge continues, inspired by the DVD and Blu-ray release of The Return Of Dracula (1958) from Olive Films.

Paul Landres

Landres got his start as an editor, cutting series Westerns and serials at Universal, and made the move to director in the very early 50s — in both features and TV. He retired after a 1972 episode of Adam-12.

Oregon Passage is an Allied Artists Western from 1958, shot on location in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, in both CinemaScope and DeLuxe color. These gorgeous vistas, in color and ‘Scope, and a really good score form Paul Dunlap give the picture production values beyond what we’re used to in a Landres picture. The fort, which had appeared in The Indian Fighter (1955), is impressive. The small Indian camp and undermanned cavalry patrols do give things away, however. No matter, this is one of Landres’ best.

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Lieut. Niles Ord (John Ericson) returns from a month-long patrol — he’s been trying to track down the Shoshoni warrior Black Eagle — to find the fort under a new, by-the-book commanding officer, Major Dane (Edward Plat, Chief on Get Smart). Niles once dated Dane’s wife Sylvia (Lola Albright), and he’s soon battling his C.O. as much as Black Eagle. The fact that Sylvia’s grown to detest her jealous husband and life on the frontier doesn’t help much.

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While Oregon Passage doesn’t always manage to ride around the usual cavalry movie conventions, it’s a tough, taut picture with a real edge to it. The action scenes, particularly the final raid on the fort, are well staged and rather brutal.

John Ericson is good as the dedicated young officer — he’d already been in Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) and Forty Guns (1957). Edward Platt is easy to hate as the despicable Major. And Lola Albright and Toni Gerry manage to flesh out fairly typical roles as the cavalry wife and Indian squaw, respectively.

Cinematographer Ellis W. Carter was a real craftsman, often working at Universal-International. He shot some of my favorites of the studio’s late-50s films: A Day Of Fury (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Land Unknown (1957, so cool in CinemaScope!) and The Monolith Monsters (1957) — along with Showdown (1963), Audie Murphy’s last Universal picture. Carter’s outdoor work on Oregon Passage is often beautiful. He and his crew certainly made the most of their two weeks on location.

Oregon Passage UK LC

Oregon Passage is available on DVD from Warner Archive. At times, the transfer is sharp as a tack; there are problems at other times, often with the color. No doubt, these are problems with the source material used — no surprise since the picture was shot in DeLuxe Color. None of this takes away from the movie, which as a fan of Paul Landres’ work, I am overjoyed to have in my hot little hands. Recommended.

By the way, the working title for Oregon Passage was Rio Bravo. It’s easy to understand the title change, being that Howard Hawks’ own Rio Bravo (1959) was in production around the same time.

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Canyon Passage DJ

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Ernest Pascal
Adapted from the Saturday Evening Post story by Ernest Haycox
Director Of Photography: Edward Cronjager
Film Editor: Milton Carruth

Cast: Dana Andrews (Logan Stuart), Brian Donlevy (George Camrose), Susan Hayward (Lucy Overmire), Patricia Roc (Caroline Marsh), Ward Bond (Honey Bragg), Hoagy Carmichael (Hi Linnet), Fay Holden (Mrs. Overmire), Stanley Ridges (Jonas Overmire), Lloyd Bridges (Johnny Steele), Andy Devine (Ben Dance), the Devine Kids, Frank Ferguson, Ray Teal

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There seems to be a general consensus around here that Canyon Passage (1946) is a damn good Western, typically fine work from Jacques Tourneur, and a picture that has been unjustly overlooked over the years. We also tend to agree that the DVD from Universal is a terrific example of how to present three-strip Technicolor on our hi-def TVs. So much so, that a few folks have commented that they couldn’t imagine how much difference a Blu-ray upgrade would make.

Well, the new Blu-ray from Panamint offers up a stunning example of just what Blu-ray can do — that beautiful transfer of Edward Cronjager’s Technicolor photography is, well, even more beautiful than it was before. Sharper, crisper, more detailed — and with a real sense of depth. After viewing this, the old DVD seems way too bright by comparison. The extras — from newsreel footage of the premiere to a series of radio shows to a nice booklet on the film — really make this a premium package.

Patricia Roc and Jacques Tourneur

Patricia Roc and Jacques Tourneur

Then there’s the movie itself. Director Jacques Tourneur’s first Western, and his first time working in Technicolor, Canyon Passage is a big, beautiful, complex tale of the Oregon territory in 1856. Dana Andrews runs a freight business and winds up in a love triangle with Susan Hayward and Brian Donlevy — while dealing with both Indians and a positively evil Ward Bond.

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Ward Bond and Dana Andrews duke it out

It’d be easy for Canyon Passage to get bogged down in melodrama, but Tourneur’s too smart for that. He treats us to incredible vistas of the Oregon locations (Crater Lake is one of them), gets top-notch performances from the entire cast and offers up a great fistfight between Andrews and Bond. Bond deserves special mention: he’s a real scumbag in this one, a sharp contrast to roles that came later like Wagon Master (1950) and The Searchers (1956).

Jacques Tourneur came to this film with some classic horror movies under his belt — Cat People (1942) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943), and he’d follow it with one of the finest noirs, Out Of The Past (1947). Tourneur’s body of work is certainly worth seeking out. Case in point: his other Westerns include Stars In My Crown (1950) and Wichita (1955).

It’s easy to recommend Canyon Passage — both the film and Panamint’s high-definition, Region B presentation of it. It takes a good thing and makes it better.

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Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Starring John Ford, John Wayne, James Stewart, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Harry Carey, Jr. Peter Bogdanovich, Orson Welles (narrator)

Some of my all-time favorite movie dialogue comes from this documentary.

Peter Bogdanovich: Mr. Ford, you made a picture called Three Bad Men which is a large scale western. You had a – quite elaborate land-rush in it.
John Ford: Mmm hmm.
Bogdanovich: How did you shoot that?
Ford: With a camera.

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That pretty much sums up Directed By John Ford (1971). It’s a wonderful film, though I always come away from it glad I’m not Peter Bogdanovich (though I’d love to lay claim to What’s Up, Doc?). Bogdanovich’s documentary is coming to DVD from Warner Archive. If you don’t have it, you need it. (This would make a great pairing with the upcoming Blu-ray of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.)

Love that Dodgers cap! Hope they make it to the Series this year.

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Over the years, a great many movies have suffered from how they’re seen on TV — incomplete, beat-up, pan-and-scan prints (sometimes not even in color as they once were). That mistreatment eventually impacts the film’s overall reputation, as TV became how entire generations experienced older movies. (Right now, I’m thinking of how awful the Regalscope pictures have looked since they left theaters. Thank goodness for DVD and Blu-ray.)

I think TV shows have suffered a similar fate over the years, with faded prints hacked to bits to make room for more commercials. The Rebel (1959-61), now that we have the new set from Timeless Media Group, illustrates my point.

13_1959 Rebel, The TV Series (Nick Adams)

The Rebel follows Johnny Yuma (Nick Adams), a restless young Confederate veteran after the Civil War. With nothing to return to (we learn in the first episode that his lawman father’s dead), he “wanders the West” for 76 episodes — getting pulled into various situations as he rides from town to town in search of peace.

0e9f250b7cbb6dac92241b95bebf97beNick Adams is very good as Yuma, bringing the right mix of intensity and sensitivity to the part. He’s believable as a young man who’d beat the crap out of a guy, then write about it in his journal. It could’ve come off terribly. Like so many of these 5os Western TV shows, the supporting cast each week is incredible. The first episode alone features Strother Martin, Dan Blocker and John Carradine. And over the run of the show, you’ll also find Claude Akins, Robert Blake, Elisha Cook, Jr., Royal Dano, John Dehner, Jack Elam, Virginia Gregg, L.Q. Jones, George Macready, Patricia Medina, Agnes Moorehead, Leonard Nimoy, Warren Oates, Paul Picerni, Tex Ritter, Soupy Sales, Bob Steele, Peggy Stewart, Robert Vaughn, Yvette Vickers and Marie Windsor. Adams’ wife Carole Nugent is terrific in an early episode. Johnny Cash is in one, too.

Producer Andrew J. Fenady (from a good interview here): “We would shoot one day on location. Vasquez Rocks, and a lot in Thousand Oaks. And the second day we would shoot on the lot — the (western) street at Paramount. The third day we would do the interiors, whether it was someone’s house, or a shack, or a hotel or a jail. A sheriff’s office. So that was really the formula: first day out, second day on the street, and the third day interiors.”

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About half the episodes were directed by Irvin Kirshner. He does a good job, to be sure, but there’s nothing in this to indicate that this is the guy who’d eventually direct The Empire Strikes Back (1980), maybe the last truly epic film I can remember. The size of the screen was obviously not an issue for him. Bernard L. Kowalski, Bernard McEveety, Robbert Ellis Miller and Frank Baur handled the rest.
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Some episodes were transferred from slightly worn 16mm prints with changeover cues punched in them here and there; others look like a million bucks. What’s important is that The Rebel, The Complete Series gives us all 76 episodes, complete. Johnny Cash’s vocals have been restored to the titles (the theme was replaced for syndication, which is how we’ve been seeing and hearing it for years). While the quality varies from episode to episode, and 16mm can be a little soft, to have them all looking this good is a revelation. There are plenty of extras, from interviews to stills to commercials — even the pilot for the proposed companion series The Yank. This is a good set, and a good show, ready to be rediscovered. Highly recommended.

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Abilene Town HS

Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Starring Randolph Scott, Ann Dvorak, Edge Buchanan, Rhonda Fleming, Lloyd Bridges, Helen Boyce

Don’t think I’ve ever seen Edwin Marin’s Abilene Town (1946) looking anything but terrible. Well, that’s about to change. Panamint in the UK has announced an all-region Blu-ray of Abilene Town — from 35mm fine grain material. It should be available in a couple weeks. I can’t wait!

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