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Archive for the ‘Fred F. Sears’ Category

Director Fred F. Sears with the cast of Apache Ambush (1955).

Fred F. Sears
(July 7, 1913 – November 30, 1957)

Can’t remember the first time I noticed the name Fred F. Sears. Growing up a monster kid, I’m gonna guess it was a local-TV airing of either Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers or The Werewolf (both 1956).

Years later, when I began my deep dive into 50 Westerns, it quickly became obvious that Sears could lift his Westerns out of the budgetary basement to create something special. Like the terrific Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956).

Frederick Francis Sears was born 105 years ago today in Boston. After years in regional theater and teaching drama at Southwestern University in Memphis, he headed to Hollywood — and wound up at Columbia as a bit actor and dialogue director. While working on some of Durango Kid pictures (usually as a bad guy), he got to know Charles Starrett. He directed one of the Durango Kids, Desert Vigilante (1949), and eventually pretty much took over the series.

Fred F. Sears and Joan Taylor working on Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1957).

Sears became a preferred director for Sam Katzman, whose quickie unit at Columbia cranked out serials and genre pictures at a frantic pace. He spent the rest of his career at Columbia (except for one freelance gig, 1958’s Badman’s Country). From crime pictures to horror movies to Westerns, Sears’ ability to get ’em done on time and on budget served him well. Quality wasn’t much of a concern wit Katzman, but Sears always managed to provide some anyway. 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 special effects in Hollywood history. But Fury At Gunsight Pass and The Werewolf (1956) are near-perfect examples of how good low-budget genre filmmaking can be.

Fred F. Sears died in his office at Columbia on November 30, 1957, with eight pictures waiting for release. He was 44.

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Screenplay by David Lang and Martin Berkeley
Story by David Lang
Director Of Photography: Henry Freulich
Film Editors: Al Clark and James Sweeney

Cast: Philip Carey (Wade Harper), Roberta Haynes (Paris), Wallace Ford (McBride), Richard Webb (Ace Eliot), Lee Van Cleef (Reno), Maurice Jara (Wingfoot), Regis Toomey (Col. Markham), Jay Silverheels (Spotted Bear), Pat Hogan (Yellow Knife), Frank Fenton, Dennis Weaver

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Figured it was time for another Fred F. Sears movie. A few years ago, I assigned myself the task of doing a post on each of Sears’ Westerns (I’m not counting the Durango Kids he directed). When those are done, the plan is to focus on his non-Western movies on my other blog.

Columbia was cranking out 3-D movies like crazy in the height of the ’53-54 stereoscopic craze. One of the bigger ones was Raoul Walsh’s Gun Fury (1953) starring Rock Hudson, Donna Reed and a terrific supporting cast.

Phil Carey and Roberta Haynes were part of that cast, and as soon as they finished the Walsh picture, they were put to work on The Nebraskan (1953).

Carey’s a cavalry scout who gets caught up in a standoff with the Sioux when he won’t turn over Wingfoot (Maurice Jara), who’s been accused of murdering chief Thundercloud. With them are a gambler Ace (Richard Webb) and saloon girl Paris (Roberta Haynes) — Carey used to have a thing going with Paris — and the murderous Reno (Lee Van Cleef), who’s escaped from the brig.

They take refuge in Wallace Ford’s way station, fighting off wave after wave of Indians — along with Reno’s repeated attempts to get loose and Ace turning out to be a sniveling coward.

The small-group-under-siege-in-a-small-space part hints at Hangman’s Knot (1952), and the Indian attacks remind me of Apache Drums (1951). This approach keeps the limited budget from being too much of a hindrance.

Wallace Ford is terrific, as always, as the grumpy ex-cavalryman. Lee Van Cleef is a real bad dude in this one. The scene where he strangles the guard at the brig is pretty tough stuff. Phil Carey’s OK and Roberta Haynes gets to look pretty and load guns. Speaking of that, it was good to see the loading of weapons treated somewhat realistically.

I came across a news article on the film that said Maurice Jara also owned a restaurant in Pamona, Casa Ramirez.

What I liked about The Nebraskan is pretty much the same thing I’ve said about all the other Fred Sears pictures — the high level of craftsmanship and efficiency he brings to these things. You can tell the cast and crew were professionals, committed to making the best they could of the material, budget and schedule. That goes a long, long way with these things.

The Nebraskan was shot in Technicolor and 3-D by Henry Freulich — some of it at the Corrigan Ranch. It was intended to be cropped to 1.85. The picture got a DVD-R release from Columbia’s Choice Collection. It looked great but was presented full-frame. It’d make a swell candidate for one of those Mill Creek sets.

TheNebraskan isn’t as good as the two pictures I compared it to, Hangman’s Knot and Apache Drums. But that doesn’t stop me from recommending it, or any of Fred F. Sears’ work.

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Was looking for images for a couple posts I was working on and found an ad where they played as a double feature (in Long Beach in December of 1953).

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Mill Creek has announced a 10-movie set of Durango Kid movies. Some, if not all, of these have been available before, but who cares?

Charles Starrett starred in The Durango Kid, in 1940. Columbia didn’t get around to The Return Of The Durango Kid till 1945. Making up for lost time, Columbia cranked out 62 more Durango Kid pictures before shutting down the series in 1952 — at which point Starrett retired from movies.

The Fighting Frontiersman (1946)
Directed by Derwin Abrahams
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Helen Mowery

Blazing Across The Pecos (1948)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Charles Wilson

Laramie (1949)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Fred F. Sears

Trail Of The Rustlers (1950)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Gail Davis, Tommy Ivo

Streets Of Ghost Town (1950)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Mary Ellen Kay, George Chesebro

Lightning Guns (1950)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Gloria Henry, Jock Mahoney

Snake River Desperadoes (1951)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Don Reynolds, Tommy Ivo

Bonanza Town (1951)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Fred F. Sears, Myron Healey, Robert J. Wilke

The Hawk Of Wild River (1952)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Jock Mahoney, Clayton Moore

The Kid From Broken Gun (1952)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Jock Mahoney
Charles Starrett’s final appearance as The Durango Kid. Actually, his last movie, period.

This is a great collection at an incredible price, just $14.98. Remember, Sony’s Columbia Classics Collection, or whatever it’s called, was pricing these things at $20 apiece! Highly recommended.

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Here’s a batch of behind-the scenes photos to help wrap up 2016.

Let’s start with Maria Elena Marques and John Derek on the set of Fred F. Sears’ Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953).

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Next is Edith Head, Jeff Chandler and Melvin Frank going over costumes for The Jayhawkers! (1959).

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Here’s Satchel Page and Robert Rossen at work on The Wonderful Country (1959).

Fort Dobbs BTS

Then there’s Virginia Mayo and Clint Walker shooting Fort Dobbs (1958).

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Hell Canyon Outlaws HS

Directed by Paul Landres
Produced by Jerald Zukor
Written by Allan Kaufman and Max Glandbard
Director Of Photography: Floyd Crosby, ASC
Film Editor: Elmo Williams, ACE
Music Composed and Conducted by Irving Gertz

Cast: Dale Robertson (Sheriff Caleb Wells), Brian Keith (Happy Waters), Rosanna Rory (Maria), Dick Kallman (Smiley Andrews), Don Megowan (Walt), Mike Lane (Nels), Buddy Baer (Stan), Charles Fredericks (Deputy Bear), Alexander Lockwood (Bert, the new sheriff)

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Paul Landres was one of those journeyman directors who could take practically nothing — an OK script, less than a week and a paltry budget — and put together a solid little movie. He worked mainly in TV, with a feature from time to time. Inspired by the upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release of The Return Of Dracula (1958) from Olive Films, I’ve been revisiting some of Landres’ features from the late 1950s.

Hell Canyon Outlaws (1957), known in the UK as The Tall Trouble, was an independent picture from Jerold Zukor Productions, filmed at the Corriganville Ranch. Republic released it. I think it’s one of Landres’ best.

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Four outlaws head to a small town of Goldridge to raise hell and eventually rob the bank. They take over the saloon and hotel, steal a horse, size up the bank and rough up the guy at the livery stable — just for starters. If all this isn’t bad enough, the town council has just fired the sheriff, Caleb Wells (Dale Robertson), and his deputy, Bear (Charles Fredericks). The new sheriff, well, he’s outta town. Goldridge is in a tight spot.

Hell Canyon Outlaws DR still

Dale Robertson is terrific in this. You just know he’s going to be pushed to his breaking point, it’s just a matter of when. That tension, as the town is trashed and Robertson does the slow burn, is what drives Hell Canyon Outlaws. Landres builds the suspense perfectly — with the help of Elmo Williams, who edited High Noon (1952) — to a very satisfying last reel. This and Fred F. Sears’ Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) would make a great double bill.

Hell Canyon Outlaws LC2

Brian Keith is great in one of those somewhat-likable dirtbag roles he excelled at (remember Fort Dobbs?). Keith would’ve made an ideal foil to Randolph Scott in one of the Boetticher pictures.

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Rossana Rory doesn’t have much to do but look pretty as Robertson’s girlfriend, but she’s fine. The rest of the cast — especially the rest of Keith’s gang: Don Megowan, Mike Lane and Buddy Baer — are effective. Dick Kallman is suitably obnoxious as the punk kid with a gun (I really wanted to see him gunned down).

The great Floyd Crosby, another High Noon veteran, gives the picture the feel of something a lot bigger than it is — a trick he’d perform often for Roger Corman in the early 60s.

Hell Canyon Outlaws isn’t available on DVD or Blu-ray anywhere. Given the top-notch cast and crew working at the top of their game, this would be a great one to see in a nice anamorphic transfer (it was shot for 1.85). It’s currently available from Sinister Cinema, but I haven’t seen what it looks like. If I had my own video company, this is one I’d try to track down in a hurry.

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Badman's Country OS cropped

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Robert E. Kent
Screenplay by Orville H. Hampton
Director Of Photography: Benjamin H. Kline, ASC
Supervising Editor: Grant Whytock, ACE
Musical Score: Irving Gertz

Cast: George Montgomery (Pat Garrett), Neville Brand (Butch Cassidy), Buster Crabbe (Wyatt Earp), Karin Booth (Lorna), Gregory Walcott (Bat Masterson), Malcolm Atterbury (Buffalo Bill Cody), Russell Johnson (Sundance), Richard Devon (Harvey Logan), Morris Ankrum (Mayor Coleman)

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house-of-frankenstein R50 TC

Remember Universal’s “monster rally” pictures of the 40s? Beginning with House Of Frankenstein (1944), they’d pile as many of their monsters as they could into a single movie. It was more of a marketing ploy than a creative decision, perhaps, but they’re wonderful in the contrived ways they would dream up to drag Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman into a single story arc. They’re a long way from those true classics of the 30s, but, God, I love ’em!

In a way, Badman’s Country plays like that — a Who’s Who of the Old West herded by a series of contrivances into a robbery tale — with absolutely no concern for history whatsoever. The outlaws are Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) and the Sundance Kid (Russell Johnson), while the law’s represented by Pat Garrett (Montgomery), Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe), Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) and Buffalo Bill Cody (Malcolm Atterbury). None of it ties to these men’s real lives, but somehow it all works. Butch and Sundance are part of a gang planning a large robbery in Abilene, Kansas. Pat Garrett — who wants to turn in his badge, marry Karin Booth and settle down in California — gets wind of the plot and enlists Earp and Masterson to help out, with Buffalo Bill along for the ride. The Mayor of Abilene (Morris Ankrum) turns out to be a sniveling coward, wanting to do anything to avoid having his town shot up.

Badman's Country LC7

While I’m a big fan of Howard Hawks’ leave-it-to-the-pros philosophy (one reason why Rio Bravo is my favorite Western), the last reel of Badman’s Country is very satisfying as the lawmen and townspeople come together to give the outlaws what for. It all makes for a strong, fast 68 minutes. (There are a number of neat little plot points along the way, but I’ll let you see those for yourself.)

Badman's Country BTS1

A short action Western like this doesn’t allow for heavy dramatic scenes, but George Montgomery is quite convincing as the lawman who’s seen enough and is ready to hang up his guns. He never got an A Western of his own, which is a real drag. But with his good looks, height and those incredible cowboy hats, Montgomery stands tall in these B pictures. It’s hard to take your eyes off of him, and he certainly elevates every picture he’s in. Karin Booth does well as his patient, understanding girlfriend. She’d only make a few more films before retiring. Incidentally, Montgomery was paired with Booth in Cripple Creek (1952), and he’d tracked down Butch and Sundance before in Phil Karlson’s The Texas Rangers (1951).

The large supporting cast doesn’t get a chance to make much of an impression. Neville Brand and Russell Johnson are fine as Butch and Sundance, but Buster Crabbe and Gregory Walcott come off kinda flat as Earp and Masterson. Morris Ankrum is sufficiently slimy as Abilene’s ineffective Mayor. Malcolm Atterbury is always terrific, and he does what he can with the script’s rather odd take on Buffalo Bill — he seems more like a sidekick than a major character.

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Fred F. Sears was cranking out solid little Westerns like Badman’s Country, along with other genre pictures, at a staggering pace in the mid- to late-50s. He and director of photography Benjamin Kline worked together extensively at Columbia, going freelance for this one. Badman’s Country hit theaters in August of 1958, one of five films released after Sears’ death. He had a heart attack in his office on the Columbia lot at just 44.

Badman’s Country has the feel of a well-oiled machine, which has to be the result of a team of veterans who’ve made films like this time and time again, sometimes working together. It’s fast, exciting and completely void of pretense. Just the way I like ’em.

Laura wrote about this one a while back. See what she says about it.

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