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

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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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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