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

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Edmund Grainer
Screenplay by Lesser Samuels
Based on the novel by Robert Hardy Andrews
Music by Leith Stevens
Cinematography: William E. Snyder
Film Editor: Harry Marker

Cast: Virginia Mayo (Ann Merry Alaine), Robert Stack (Owen Pentecost), Ruth Roman (Boston Grant), Alex Nicol (Captain Stephen Kirby), Raymond Burr (Jumbo Means), Leo Gordon (Zeff Masterson), Regis Toomey (Father Murphy), Carleton Young (Colonel Gibson)

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Director Jacques Tourneur is well known for his horror (Cat People) and noir (Out Of The Past) pictures, and he should be. It’s a shame his Westerns — a handful of very good, and very unique, pictures from the 40s and 50s — don’t get the same recognition. Great Day In The Morning (1956) was Tourneur’s last Western feature (he did some cowboy stuff for TV), and it’s often overlooked or shrugged off. It’s well worth seeking out, especially now that we can see it in all its Technicolor and Superscope glory on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack) arrives in Denver from his home in North Carolina, right before the start of the Civil War. He finds the place divided between those sympathetic to the North or the South. He’s a self-centered opportunist (about the nicest thing you could say about him), hoping to profit from the gold being discovered there and the unrest created by the impending war. Owen quickly establishes himself, drawing the ire of the town boss (Raymond Burr), getting caught up in all the pre-war bickering and fighting, and catching the eye of both a businesswoman (Virginia Mayo) and saloon girl (Ruth Roman). He’s always willing to play one side against the other for his own benefit.

And that’s where the trouble comes in. The male lead isn’t very likable, and it’d be easy to transfer that opinion to the film itself. But you’d be overlooking a lot of good stuff. First, there’s the incredible look Tourneur gives all his films. Pools of light in deep shadows are used well to direct our eye and highlight certain characters or bits of action. Cinematographer William E. Snyder does some great work here.

The cast of Great Day In The Morning is terrific, from the villains like Raymond Burr and Leo G. Gordon to the ladies, Virginia Mayo and Ruth Roman. Roman is especially good. Robert Stack is fine as Pentecost, and he’s to be commended for playing the character as the creep that he is. Westerns, especially the ones from the 1950s, get a lot of mileage out of the theme of redemption. It’s the backbone of many of the genre’s finest films. Here, we fully expect Pentecost to see the error of his ways, have a change of heart and make amends before the final fade. But with almost every genre convention Tourneur faces, his pictures seem to zig where other films zag — it’s very evident in his first Western, Canyon Passage (1946). Being that Tourneur is at the wheel on Great Day In The Morning, we shouldn’t be surprised when Pentecost’s redemption doesn’t happen the way it usually does.

Warner Archive has been bringing out 50s SuperScope movies on Blu-Ray lately, such as John Sturges’ Underwater! from 1955, and they’re doing a tremendous job with them. You hear a lot about how the process was grainy and soft, but you’d never think that after look at these Blu-Rays. They’re beautiful. It’s great to see them looking like this, and I’d certainly welcome some more.

A lot of people simply don’t like Great Day In The Morning. But it’s a Jacques Tourneur movie that’s often overlooked, and for that reason, along with its superb presentation on Blu-Ray, I recommend it highly.

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Directed by Henry Levin
Produced by Pat Duggan
Written by Harry Essex & Robert Smith
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Music by Van Cleave
Film Editor: William B. Murphy

Cast: Jack Palance (Jacob Wade), Anthony Perkins (Riley Wade), Neville Brand (King Fisher), Robert Middleton (Ben Ryerson), Elaine Aiken (Ada Marshall), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Willie), Claude Akins (Blackburn), Lee Van Cleef (Faro), Harry Shannon (Dr. Fisher), James Bell (Judge Hart), Adam Williams (Lon), Denver Pyle (Brad), John Doucette (Sundown Whipple)

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It’d be easy to call The Lonely Man (1957) another gunfighter-wants-to-hang-up-his-guns movie, with an estranged son tossed into the mix. But you’d be really selling this one short. After all, one thing you learn from watching a couple hundred 50s Westerns is that the fun often comes from seeing what each picture does with a well-worn, basic framework we’ve all seen before.

After many years, gunman Jacob Wade (Jack Palance) comes home to lead a normal, peaceful life, only to find the wife he abandoned dead (suicide?) and his son a very bitter young man. Father and son wind up at Wade’s other ranch, where Ada (Elaine Aiken), a herd of mustangs and plenty of trouble await. That trouble, it’s some guys from Wade’s past — Neville Brand, Claud Aikens, Lee Van Cleef and Elisha Cook — and they have a score to settle. And to top it all off, Jacob’s going blind.

Palance is dressed a bit like his character, Jack Wilson, in Shane (1953), but all similarities end there. Jacob Wade has a conscience here, and is filled with regret. This isn’t how he wanted things to turn out, and he hopes to make things right with his son. Anthony Perkins is quite good as Riley Wade. He has plenty to learn, but he doesn’t come off as a spineless toad. Though he’s angry and spiteful, we still like him and feel for him.

Robert Middleton, who’s always good, has a great part as the one member of Wade’s old gang who’s still loyal. We like him, but we don’t really trust him.

9209_0007__20151015141858Elaine Aiken is really good as the woman Jacob’s been with since leaving his family. She didn’t make many movies, this was her first, but she became a noted acting teacher — and a founder of the Actors Conservatory. The bad guys, from Neville Brand to Lee Van Cleef, have well-rounded parts — and the actors make the most of their limited screen time.

The dialogue by Harry Essex and Robert Smith is terrific and the direction from Henry Levin and editing by William Murphy are very tight. This is solid picture.

But for my money, the real “star” of The Lonely Man is cinematographer Lionel Lindon. He did some fine work over the course of his long career — from Road To Utopia (1945) and The Black Scorpion (1957) to The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and The Munsters, but this one is just stunning. (Let’s not forget his beautiful Trucolor work in 1955’s A Man Alone.) The rich shadows of the interiors and the deep focus of the Alabama Hills exteriors are gorgeous in black and white VistaVision.

The Paramount DVD of The Lonely Man has been around for a while, and it’s a terrific example of what a good transfer can be. The VistaVision is sharp as a tack, as it should be, and the blacks are absolutely perfect, and that’s critical to appreciating Lionel Lindon’s work on this film. The Alabama Hills have rarely been presented so beautifully. I’d love to see this make it to Blu-Ray.

The Lonely Man certainly deserves more attention than it gets. Highly, highly recommended.

Interestingly, a few months later, Anthony Perkins and Neville Brand were back in another black and white VistaVision Western for Paramount — Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star (1957).

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Since Monte Hellman’s The Shooting and Ride In The Whirlwind (both 1966) come from outside the parameter of 50s Westerns, I placed the review of the Criterion twin-bill on my other blog. Click on the package above to mosey over thee.

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Directed by Lewis D. Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Daniel B. Ullman
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller
Music by Raoul Kraushaar
Film Editor: Sam Fields

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Matt Boone), I. Stanford Jolley (Curly Ivers), Pamela Blake (Kathy Clark), Paul Fierro (Lou Garcia), Rand Brooks (Al), Richard Avonde (Pedro), Pierce Lyden (Farley), Lane Bradford (Wallace), Terry Frost (Will Richards), Stanley Price (Sheriff), Stanley Andrews (Judge), Michael Whalen (Barnes), Ray Bennett (Bull Clark), House Peters Jr. (Doctor)

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Seems like it’s time for a Wild Bill Wednesday. So let’s go to Waco (1952).

A little backstory. William Elliott and Republic Pictures parted ways in 1950. It wasn’t long before Elliott started making low-budget Westerns at Monogram. By the time the series was over, Monogram had become Allied Artists, 1.85 had become the standard aspect ratio for American cinema, and the B Western was dead. These 11 pictures — Waco was the second — made sure the B Western went out on a high note.

Matt Boone (Elliott) leaves Waco, Texas in a hurry after killing the crooked gambler Bull Clark (Ray Bennett) in self defense — he knows he won’t get a fair trial. Boone falls in with a gang of outlaws and is shot and captured when a bank job in Pecos goes wrong. Two of Waco’s prominent citizens bring Elliott back to Waco. They believe in his innocence (they saw Clark draw first) and need him to clean up their town. He’s elected sheriff. Only trouble is, his old gang (led by I. Stanford Jolley) and the gambler’s daughter (Pamela Blake) aren’t too keen on the idea.

These Monogram and Allied Artists pictures are a bit darker, more “adult,” than your typical B Western. The budget limitations are certainly obvious, but William Elliott’s as reliable as ever — and in this one, he gets to play the “good badman” type of role he liked so much, patterned after William S. Hart.

I’m a peaceable man and I’m not lookin’ for trouble. I’m not runnin’ from it neither.”

Waco comes from a pretty tight script by Dan Ullman. Ullman wrote plenty of 50s Westerns, from programmers like Kansas Pacific (1953) with Sterling Hayden to the excellent Face Of A Fugitive (1959), starring Fred MacMurray. It was directed by Lewis D. Collins, who started with silent shorts, made a boatload of pictures and passed away a few years after this one.

Pamela Blake’s part here doesn’t give her a whole lot to do. She stayed plenty busy — everything from This Gun For Hire (1942) to the serial Ghost Of Zorro (1949) at Republic to Live Wires (1946), the first Bowery Boys movie, to The Sea Hound (1947), a Sam Katzman serial at Columbia. Waco was her last feature — she worked on TV for a while, then retired to raise a family. I. Stanford Jolley, who’s got a great part here as a not-as-bad-as-you-thought outlaw, appeared in hundreds of Westerns, including a number of these Elliott pictures. It’s always a plus when he turns up in the credits (or in the back of a crowd working without credit).

Waco is part of Warner Archive’s terrific The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection. Shot at Corriganville and the Iverson Ranch by ace cinematographer Ernest Miller, it looks terrific on DVD. Monogram struck prints of these pictures in “glorious sepia tone,” and while I’m a stickler for preserving the original presentation, I’m glad Warner Archive stuck with black and white. Sepia doesn’t always come off well on TV. The set treats these cheap little movies with the kind of respect they (and William Elliott himself) certainly deserve. It’s great to see them looking so clean and sharp. Highly recommended.

Dan Ullman would write, produce and direct a remake of Waco — the Regalscope picture Badlands Of Montana (1957) starring Rex Reason and Beverly Garland.

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Mill Creek’s new four-disc set, The Roy Rogers Happy Trails Collection, gathers up 20 Rogers pictures spanning his entire career, and presents most of them in the same unfortunate condition we’ve seen before. However, the set does have its advantages.

Here are the Rogers movies you get:
Young Bill Hickok (1940)
Sons Of The Pioneers
(1941)
Cowboy And The Senorita (1944)
Sunset In El Dorado
(1945)
Don’t Fence Me In (1945)
Man From Oklahoma
(1945)
Along the Navajo Trail
(1945)
Rainbow Over Texas
(1946)
Down Dakota Way
(1949)
The Golden Stallion
(1949)
Susanna Pass
(1949)
North Of The Great Divide
(1950)
Trigger, Jr
. (1950)
Trail Of Robin Hood (1950)
Bells Of Coronado
(1950)
Twilight In The Sierras
(1950)
Spoilers Of The Plains
(1951)
South Of Caliente
(1951)
In Old Amarillo
(1951)
Pals Of The Golden West
(1951)

Many of these are from the later period, when William Witney was packing these things with action — and shooting some in Trucolor. They also had longer running times, which is where we run into trouble. Trail Of Robin Hood (1950), for instance, runs 67 minutes. In this set, it runs just 63 minutes and that includes the Happy Trails Theatre introduction. So it’s fair to say that up to 10 minutes of the film is gone. This pattern continues throughout, with the damage depending on how long or short each movie was originally. Young Bill Hickok runs under an hour, so it might not have too much missing. Cowboy And The Senorita (1944), Roy and Dale’s first film together is the odd man out. It does not have an introduction, and it runs its full 77 minutes. Looks pretty good, too.

There are a few supplemental videos, some of them from the Roy Rogers Museum, which are nice to have — especially since the museum is no more, and it’s about as close to a tour as we’re gonna get anymore.

Some of these films are available elsewhere uncut. (Trigger, Jr. from Kino Lorber is incredible.) Wouldn’t it be great to have them complete with the introductions included as an extra, the way the Gene Autry pictures are done? I’m dying for a full-length Spoilers Of The Plains.

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Written, Produced, Directed by Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Art Direction: John Mansbridge
Music: Harry Sukman
Film Editing: Gene Fowler Jr.

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Jessica Drummond), Barry Sullivan (Griff Bonnell), Dean Jagger (Sheriff Ned Logan), John Ericson (Brockie Drummond), Gene Barry (Wes Bonnell), Robert Dix (Chico Bonnell), Jidge Carroll (Barney Cashman), Paul Dubov (Judge Macy), Gerald Milton (Shotgun Spanger), Ziva Rodann (Rio), Hank Worden (Marshal John Chisum)

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With a Sam Fuller movie, there’s always something kinda off. Not off in a bad way, off as in different from anything else you’ve ever seen — except another Sam Fuller movie. The performances, pacing, editing, dialogue — they’re just different. And that’s before you get to the story itself.

A great example of this is Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957). It’s unlike any Western you’ve ever seen.

Forty Guns is a big sweeping epic on one hand and a glorified Regalscope picture on the other. There’s a scene pretty early in the movie where John Ericson and his gang of punks are busting up the town. They throw stuff, shoot stuff and just generally create total mayhem. Fuller cuts back and forth across the street as they shoot from one side and their bullets hit windows or whatever on the other side — then to the helpless, wigged-out townspeople watching all this. The footage doesn’t cut together in the smooth, traditional Hollywood way, but it perfectly creates the chaos and movement the scene needs.

Barbara Stanwyck is terrific as Jessica Drummond, a female take on the rancher who runs the town. Barry Sullivan is Griff Bonnell, a former gunman now working for the government. So far, it sounds like one of your standard B Western plots — how many times was Roy Rogers a government agent? But that’s where the similarities end, as Forty Guns goes off in directions only Sam Fuller would even think of taking it. And he’s got a cast and crew eager to help him get there.

It has one of the damnedest opening sequences I’ve ever seen, as the Drummond and her 40 guns come thundering along a deserted and pass by Sullivan and his brothers. I’d love to experience it on a big curved CinemaScope screen.

But from one end to the other, Forty Guns is a movie absolutely filled with striking images, cooked up by Fuller and delivered in gorgeous B&W CinemaScope by Joseph Biroc — and all flawlessly captured on Blu-Ray by Criterion. They’ve really got the contrast perfectly dialed-in on this one. Wish every black and white movie looked like this on video — everybody who helps bring old movies to TV and video needs to take a look at this.

Of course, it’s got a typically Criterion-ish slew of extras — interviews, a documentary, even a chapter of Fuller’s autobiography. It’s a pretty deep dive, and it’s always a treat to wallow in Sam Fuller. He was a real character, a true original and one helluva filmmaker. Highly, highly recommended.

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When I started doing DVD and Blu-Ray commentaries, it no longer felt appropriate to survey the best 50s Westerns DVD and Blu-Ray releases for the year. So, as a substitute (maybe a poor one), here’s a reminder of a few things we were treated to this year — and we’ll let all the praise, complaints or ranking come from you in the comments. Part 2 can be found next door at The Hannibal 8.

2018 didn’t see a lot of 50s Westerns turn up on DVD, but what turned up was certainly worthwhile.

The Durango Kid Collection
Mill Creek has come through with some terrific multi-picture sets over the last few years. They’re often Columbia pictures, and many have been available already as MOD releases, but they look great, the prices can’t be beat, and they’re big space savers as we watch our collections gobble up our square footage. The Durango Kid movies are fun, and this set gave me an excuse to really wallow in them for a while.

The Fastest Guns Of The West: The William Castle Western Collection
Another Mill Creek set, this offers up eight William Castle Westerns, most of them done for Sam Katzman. This was very eagerly awaited around here, and many of us are hoping for a second volume.

The True Story Of Jesse James (1957)
Twilight Time gave The True Story Of Jesse James a Blu-Ray release, giving us all a great opportunity to re-assess this Nicholas Ray picture — which was mangled by 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope really benefits from 1080 presentation, and Ray is known for his great use of ‘Scope.

Five Tall Tales: Budd Boetticher & Randolph Scott At Columbia
It was about time somebody got around to the Ranown cycle in true high definition. So, where’s Seven Men From Now (1956)?

A Man Alone (1955)
This under-appreciated Ray Milland Western got a thorough restoration from Paramount — and a nice DVD and Blu-Ray release from Kino Lorber. It even played at the Museum Of Modern Art.

So there’s a few to get us going. What Western DVD and Blu-Ray releases stood out to you this year?

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