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Archive for the ‘DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews’ Category

Directed by Leslie Goodwins
Screenplay by Edgar B. Anderson Jr. & Cliff Lancaster
From a story by John Calvert
Music by Johnny Richards
Directors Of Photography: Glen Gano & Clark Ramsey
Film Editor: John F. Link

John Calvert (John Bonar), Ralph Morgan (Nugget Jack), Ann Cornell (Rusty), Gene Roth (Bill Johnson), Tom Kennedy (Big Tom), Judd Holdren (Jud Jerson), Danny Rense (Ward Henry), Robert Graham (Cougar), George Morrell (Recorder Of Claims)
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Gold Fever is a really cheap, pretty obscure Monogram Western from 1952 with incredible poster art (above). That was about all I knew about it, until our friends at Warner Archive cleaned it up and stuck it on a DVD.

John Calvert is better known as a magician — he was still at it when he died at 102 — than as a movie star. But he had a pretty impressive list of credits, stuff like Bombardier (1943), Mark Of The Whistler (1944), The Return Of The Durango Kid (1945) and a few Poverty Row Falcon pictures.

Gold Fever was written by, produced by, and starring Calvert. The female lead, Ann Cornell, was his wife. Director Leslie Goodwins did tons of TV after years doing shorts and stuff like Mexican Spitfire (1940) and The Mummy’s Curse (1944).

Calvert plays John Bonar, who teams up with Nugget Jack (Ralph Morgan) to help set up his mining claim. That turns out to be more trouble than anybody bargained for, since Bill Johnson (Gene Roth) is out to snag Nugget Jack’s mine. Added to the mix is a pretty, pistol-packing gal named Rusty (Ann Cornell).

The dialogue is stilted, the acting is pretty terrible across the board, and even at 62 minutes, it drags a bit in the middle. But there’s something about this one that really grabbed me. It was Ralph Morgan. He’s a real hoot as Nugget Jack, in what turned out to be his last movie. He overplays it, but it somehow works. And given the rest of the performances, he’s a source of energy the picture really needs. Morgan did a ton of pictures like the serial Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc. (1941), Hitler’s Madman (1943), The Monster Maker (1944) and Song Of The Thin Man (1947).
Gold Fever boasts not one, but two, cinematographers, Glen Gano and Clark Ramsey. Gano shot The Return Of The Durango Kid (1945), a few Three Stooges shorts, Untamed Women (1952) and The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971). Clark Ramsey was DP on I Killed Geronimo (1950), Superman And The Mole Men (1951), Hidden Guns (1956) and The Parson And The Outlaw (1957). I was surprised to see that Ramsey was from Palo Pinto County in central Texas (the tiny town of Brad, with just a couple dozen people). My grandparents lived in nearby (and quite tiny) Strawn. I love that area.
Gold Fever

The editor, John F. Link, cut everything from Bowery Champs (1944) to Anthony Mann’s The Great Flamarion (1945) to the Regalscope Western Escape From Red Rock (1957). He was nominated for an Oscar for For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943), and his last film was Russ Meyer’s The Immortal Mr. Teas (1959). That’s quite a variety.

Gold Fever is not the kind of movie you’re gonna put on to show off your new UHD TV, but that doesn’t keep Warner Archive from giving it a little TLC. It looks as good as you’d expect it to look, actually a little better.

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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 Lesley Selander
Screenplay by Arthur E. Orloff
From a story by William Lively
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Music by Paul Sawtell
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley

Cast: Tim Holt (Tim Holt), Richard Martin (Chito Rafferty), Linda Douglas (Peg Masters), Frank Wilcox (Regan), Robert Sherwood (Kenny Masters), John Pickard (Dawson), Kenneth MacDonald (Wheeler), Wendy Waldron (Maria), Patricia Wright (Saloon Girl), Tom London (Old Timer), John Merton (Dale)

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I’m way overdue for a Tim Holt Tuesday. Sorry, Mr. Holt.

By 1952, series Westerns were winding down, and Trail Guide (1952) would be one of the last of Tim Holt’s pictures for RKO. As the series began its ride into the sunset, the budgets got smaller — leaving Holt and Richard Martin, along with director Lesley Selander, to keep things going by simply being so damn good at what they do. And that’s what you have here, some real pros bringing effortless skill and charm to each and every one of the picture’s 60 minutes.

Tim and Chito lead a wagon train to Silver Springs (thanks to stock footage from Wagonmaster), a town where ranchers detest homesteaders. Tim encounters brother-and-sister ranchers (Linda Douglas and Robert Sherwood) and a crooked saloon owner (Frank Wilcox) as he tries to help the settlers stake their claims.

There’s a great fistfight, plenty of riding and the usual back-and-forth with Tim and Chito. It looks like they stayed closer to LA, probably for budget reasons, so we don’t have those stunning Lone Pine vistas. But DP Nicholas Musuraca makes the most of any location. His work is stunning in some of these things. When God’s your set decorator, budget doesn’t matter.

Linda Douglas consults the script.

Linda Douglas had a very short film career. She’d later marry Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers. (There’s a great documentary on him, 1998’s The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg. Look for it.) She’s fine here, and very pretty.

Frank Wilcox makes a great bad guy. (Why are saloon owners always crooks?) It was funny to have Wilcox talking about the oil found on the range, when a decade later, he’d play Mr. Brewster, the oil company executive who makes Jed Clampett a millionaire on The Beverly Hillbillies. Lighting isn’t around this time. Tom London is funny as an old codger with a supposedly trained dog.

It’s a shame that the series Western left us as things were getting so good — look at these Holts, the Monogram Wild Bill Elliott pictures or the Witney-directed Roy Rogers movies. Luckily, they made a lot of ’em, and they’re turning up on DVD and sometimes Blu-Ray looking terrific. Trail Guide can be found on Tim Holt Western Classics Collection, Volume 4 from Warner Archive. While there’s a fleck of dust or damaged frame here and there, it’s served up well. The four volumes leave a few pictures orphaned, probably due to problems with the available material. Hopefully they’ll turn up someday, and a fifth set will wrap ’em up. These sets are essential.

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Produced and Directed by William J. Hole, Jr.
Written by James Edmiston and Dallas Gaultois
Cinematography: John M. Nickolaus, Jr.
Music by Alec Compinsky

Cast: James Craig (Tom Sabin), Martha Vickers (Mary Hoag), Edgar Buchanan (Dipper), Brett Halsey (Johnny Naco), Paul Richards (Hoag), Richard Martin (Quijano), Blu Wright (Farmer Brown), John Swift (Zodie Dawes), Paul Raymond (Bartender)

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One of my favorite things about early CinemaScope pictures: those long takes. If the Scope picture is a cheap one, with setups kept to a minimum to save money, then you can count on even more long takes. And that brings us to Four Fast Guns (1959). It’s a cheap little B&W Scope Western released by Universal-International.

The premise is terrific. A town tamer is on his way to Purgatory when he comes across Tom Sabin (James Craig). Sabin ends up gunning the guy down, then rides on to Purgatory and takes on the town tamer job. Purgatory’s run by Hoag (Paul Richards), who owns the saloon — he’s who the townspeople want “tamed.” Hoag writes to three notorious gunmen, offering each $1,000 to kill Sabin. (He even asks Sabin to mail the letters!) All three show up, and all three end up locking horns with Sabin. When the last fast gun, Johnny Naco (Brett Halsey), turns out to be Sabin’s brother — and Hoag’s wife Mary (Martha Vickers) admits she’s in love with the town tamer, things get complicated. It all makes for an interesting 72 minutes.

James Craig does a good job in his take on the world-weary gunfighter. This is a common theme in 50s Westerns, of course — ranging from Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter (1950) to Fred MacMurray in Face Of A Fugitive (1959). Not a lot of time goes into the relationship between the Sabin brothers, but it’s well done. It’s another angle you see quite a bit in these films — Night Passage and Fury At Showdown (both 1957), for instance.

Four Fast Guns was Martha Vickers’ last feature. I’ll never forget her in The Big Sleep (1946). She’d do a couple episodes of The Rebel, then retire. Her scenes with Craig are well done. Mary’s love for Sabin doesn’t come out of the blue. It actually makes sense, thanks to the performances and the script from James Edmiston and Dallas Gaultois.

It was a unique idea to put Hoag in a wheelchair, and it’s great to see Richard Martin, as one of the fast guns, do a serious take on his Chito character from the Tim Holt pictures. Edgar Buchanan is as dependable as ever as Dipper, who serves as Sabin’s makeshift deputy. His character could’ve easily become a liability, but he keeps things in check most of the time.

John M. Nickolaus, Jr. shot Four Fast Guns. He also shot a few Regalscope pictures, including Showdown At Boot Hill and Desert Hell (both 1958), so he certainly knew his way around B&W Scope. (The House Of The Damned, a cheap haunted house picture that Nickolaus shot for Maury Dexter, is worth seeking out.) The bulk of Nickolaus’ career was spent in TV, shooting many episodes of Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, The Outer Limits and more. The blocking of scenes within the wide frame, bringing real life to those long takes, is very effective.

Four Fast Guns is usually listed as a 1960 picture. But it played at the Palms Theatre in Detroit (with 4D Man) in December of 1959. Released by Universal-International, it was often paired with Operation Petticoat (1959).

I love cheap movies like this, where talent and ingenuity make or break the picture. (Today’s budget-equals-quality approach to cinema is why I rarely go to the movies anymore.) Four Fast Guns is available on DVD from Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment in two ways — first as part of their Darn Good Westerns set, then as a standalone DVD. Either way, it looks terrific and comes highly recommended. (I’d love to see it make its way to Blu-Ray.)

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Directed by Delmer Daves
Produced by Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd
Screenplay by Wendell Mayes and Halsted Welles
From the novel by Dorothy M. Johnson
Director of photography: Ted McCord, ASC
Music by Max Steiner
Song: “The Hanging Tree” — Lyrics by Mack David, Music by Jerry Livingston,
Vocal by Marty Robbins
Film Editor: Owen Marks

CAST: Gary Cooper (Dr. Joseph Frail), Maria Schell (Elizabeth Mahler), Karl Malden (Frenchy), Ben Piazza (Rune), George C. Scott (Grubb), Karl Swenson (Mr. Flaunce), Virginia Gregg (Mrs. Flaunce), John Dierkes (Society Red)

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It was a big deal back in 2012 when Warner Archive brought Delmer Daves’ The Hanging Tree (1959) to DVD. (Hard to believe it’s been that long.) Their new Blu-Ray ought to be just as big an event, since hi-def can really add to your appreciation of the film.

Not a frame from the Blu-Ray, just a sample long shot from the film.

Cooper’s character, Doc Frail, lives in a cabin on a ridge about the mining town of Skull Creek. Throughout the picture, we’re look down on the village from Frail’s perspective. These deep-focus shots now have an almost stunning amount of detail, giving you an opportunity to really study what Daves had his cast of extras doing in the recesses of those long shots.

Gary Cooper and Maria Schell in a goofy publicity shot.

Another benefit of the new Blu-Ray is the color. Ted McCord shot The Hanging Tree in Technicolor, and Warner Archive has it looking like a million bucks. It has a slight brownish tone to it that suits all the wood we see throughout — from the trees to the makeshift buildings of Skull Creek. You also get a real feel of lamplight in the interiors, while most Technicolor films from the period seem extremely bright. The low lighting is necessary here, as Maria Schell is kept in darkness as she regains her sight.

Warner Archive frames the picture at 1.78:1, a slight variation on its theatrical 1.85. That’s becoming a bit of a norm with a lot of hi-def transfers, and it doesn’t bother me. The grain here is near perfect — it’s there, as it should be, but it’s never distracting.

The Hanging Tree is a great movie. And this is the way to see it. Highly, highly recommended.

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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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Between now and New Year’s Eve, send me your favorite DVD and Blu-ray releases for the year — I’ll do all the accounting and put together our Best Of 2017 list. The only requirements: they have to have been released during the 2017 calendar year, somewhere on Planet Earth, and have some relation to 50s Westerns. This will be the fifth year we’ve done this, and it’s always been a lot of fun.

One of the real joys of this blog is the sharing and recommending that goes on. So while you’re at it, let me know what your biggest Discoveries were for 2017. Doesn’t matter if it’s been on DVD for years, you saw it on GetTV last week or borrowed a bootleg from a friend — what 50s Westerns did you get acquainted with this year?

For both lists, drop your picks in the comments to this post or email fiftieswesterns AT gmail DOT com. And don’t collude with the Russians on your list. What do they know about 50s Westerns anyway?

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