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Archive for the ‘Fred F. Sears’ Category

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Wallace MacDonald
Story and Screen Play by David Lang
Director Of Photography: Fred Jackman, Jr., ASC
Film Editor: Jerome Thoms, ACE
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: Bill Williams (James Kingston), Richard Jaeckel (Lee Parker), Alex Montoya (Joaquin Jironza), Movita (Rosita), Adelle August (Ann Parker), Tex Ritter (Traeger), Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan (Hank Calvin), Ray Teal (Sgt. Tim O’Roarke), Don G. Harvey (Donald Tex McGuire), James Griffith (Abraham Lincoln), Clayton Moore

Fred F. Sears’ Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) really knocked me out, and I was eager to move on to his Apache Ambush (1955), again written by David Lang.

It opens in Washington, D.C., in April 1865, as Bill Williams, Ray Teal and Don G. Harvey meet with President Lincoln (James Griffith). There are cattle in Texas and hungry people in Kansas, and the president asks the men to drive the cattle north.

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Abraham Lincoln (James Griffith): “I wish we could talk longer, but I promised to visit Ford’s Theater this evening.”
James Kingston (Bill Williams): “Hope you enjoy the show, sir.”
Abraham Lincoln: “I’m sure I will.”

To this basic cattle drive plot, Lang’s script adds a wagon train, Mexican bandits, the Apaches of the title, a stampede, a bitter Confederate veteran and a shipment of Henry repeating rifles (and let’s not forget Lincoln’s assassination). All of that in less than 70 minutes.

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Apache Ambush doesn’t rise above its budget the way Fury At Gunsight Pass does. While Fury is tight and focused, Ambush seems to take on too many things. (And it never tops the Griffith/Lincoln opening.) But you are left with the opportunity to spend a little over an hour with a top-notch 50s Western cast and crew.

Bill Williams, of course, was Kit Carson on TV. He also appeared in some very good 50s Westerns: The Cariboo Trail (1950), Son Of Paleface (1952), The Halliday Brand (1957) and more. It’s obvious that he’s comfortable on a horse — he and his wife, Barbara Hale, lived on a working ranch.

There are a lot of great character actors in the cast, and they all do excellent work, from Ray Teal and James Griffith to old pros like Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan and Tex Ritter (this was Ritter’s last film). Clayton Moore’s even on hand as a gunman. Adelle August is the good girl (it’s a shame her career was so brief) and Movita (who’d marry Marlon Brando in 1960) is the bad one. Back to Griffith: he was quite good at Lincoln, and played him a number of times.

apache ambush

Fred Jackman, Jr., whose cinematography was crucial to the success of Fury At Gunsight Pass, does nice work here, too — though he doesn’t have a sequence as flashy as Fury‘s windstorm. Editor Jerome Thoms had a long career cutting pictures at Columbia. Among his credits are 5 Against The House (1955), Pal Joey (1957), Face Of A Fugitive (1959) and a little thing called Ride Lonesome (1959). In Apache Ambush, Jackman and Thoms do a good job of shooting and cutting to incorporate a lot of stock footage — that may be why it’s black and white — and while it’s all obvious, it matches surprisingly well.

apache werewolfThen there’s director Fred F. Sears, who was so good at turning out these things. When he had a good script, as with Fury At Gunsight Pass, he turned in a supreme example of what a B picture could be. When he had less to work with, you got a good way to spend an afternoon. And that’s where Apache Ambush winds up — not one of Sears’ (or Lang’s) best efforts, but I’d gladly sit down and watch a dozen more just like it.

Apache Ambush is available as part of Columbia’s Choice Collection. I have not seen the DVD-R, but I’ve been told it’s widescreen and looks good. I’d love to see more of Sears’ pictures turn up on DVD. Of course, paired with his The Werewolf (1956) at the Roxana would be fine, too.

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Bill Williams, Richard Jaeckel, Alex Montoya, Movita, Adelle August, Tex Ritter, Ray Corrigan, Ray Teal, Don C. Harvey, James Griffith

I’m on a bit of a Fred F. Sears kick these days, and I’m preparing a post on his Apache Ambush (1955). Turns out it’s on Encore Westerns this Saturday, February 7 at 10:50AM.

Thanks for the tip, Blake.

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Fury At Gunsight Pass TC

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Wallace MacDonald
Story and Screen Play by David Lang
Director Of Photography: Fred Jackman, Jr.
Film Editor: Saul A. Goodkind, ACE
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: David Brian (Whitey Turner), Neville Brand (Dirk Hogan), Richard Long (Roy Hanford), Lisa Davis (Kathy Phillips), Katharine Warren (Mrs. Boggs), Percy Helton (Peter Boggs), Morris Ankrum (Doc Phillips), Addison Richards (Charles Hanford), Joe Forte (Andrew Ferguson), Wally Vernon (Johnny Oakes), Paul E. Burns (Squint)

Fury At Gunsight Pass titleHow many plot twists and double-crosses can you cram into 68 minutes? That’s something you might ask yourself about two-thirds of the way through Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956), a cheap little Columbia Western directed by Fred F. Sears.

It goes something like this: a group of bank robbers ride into Gunsight Pass. The robbery goes awry, part of the gang is captured, but the money isn’t recovered. The men of Gunsight Pass quickly become a mob, ready for a lynching. As the prisoners are being escorted out of town (to avoid the vigilantes), the rest of the gang (lead by Neville Brand) ambushes the posse, frees their cohorts and returns to town to locate the loot. With a windstorm raging, they announce they’ll start shooting civilians — one every 30 minutes — till the money is handed over.

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Fury At Gunsight Pass works a bit like Allan Dwan’s Silver Lode (1954), stacking circumstance on top of circumstance and piling on plenty of suspicion and paranoia as it goes. Plenty of suspense, too. This is a well-crafted little movie.

Wallace MacDonald produced a lot of Westerns for Columbia in the 50s, including some good ones like Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1952), The Hard Man (1957) and Return To Warbow (1958). His unit often worked from scripts by David Lang, who wrote a lot of Westerns before making his way to TV. Lang’s work here is original, very tight and economical.

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David Brian and Neville Brand are appropriately shifty as double-crossing bank robbers. Richard Long is a bit wooden as one of the citizens of Gunsight Pass, though he’s good in the fight scenes. Percy Helton and Katharine Warren make quite an impression as the crooked undertaker and his wife. Lisa Davis isn’t given much to do. And, of course, Morris Ankrum is terrific as the town doctor.

Director Fred F. Sears was so prolific, cranking out one B movie after another for Columbia, it’s easy to miss his real successes among all the standard stuff. 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, most laughable special effects in Hollywood history. Sears died in his office at Columbia in November, 1957, with eight pictures completed and waiting for release. He’s one of those B filmmakers whose work is ripe for rediscovery. His Ambush At Tomahawk Gap is a real sleeper — and so is Fury At Gunsight Pass.

Fury another ad

Cinematographer Fred Jackman, Jr. had a lot of Westerns under his belt by the time he came to Gunsight PassStrawberry Roan (1948), Fighting Man Of The Plains (1949) and Apache Ambush (1955), to name a few. (He was good with Cinecolor.) A tremendous amount of Fury At Gunsight Pass was shot at Vasquez Rocks, and Jackman’s black and white, 1.85 photography looks great. Columbia made frequent use of Vasquez Rocks for their 50s Westerns. (According to a quick look at Google Maps, it’s only 43 miles from the studio.) The scenes in town, during the windstorm, which make up the last 15-20 minutes of the film, feature wind machines and tons and tons of dirt. It must’ve been absolute hell for both the cast and crew.

Columbia hasn’t gotten around to putting this one on DVD, which is a real shame. It’s unusual and suspenseful — and well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.

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Apache Drums LC

Yesterday, I posted our favorite DVD releases of the year. Today’s list is made up of films we discovered during 2014. Titles that made the list were mentioned by at least three people. It’s a great lineup of fairly obscure, medium-budgeted 50s Westerns — and if you haven’t discovered them yourself, search them out.

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953) Fred F. Sears was extremely prolific, and his 50s Westerns are worth seeking out. This is one of the better ones, available through Columbia’s on-demand DVD program.

Apache Drums (1951) A suspense picture dressed up in cowboy clothes, produced by Val Lewton and directed by Hugo Fregonese. With Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Willard Parker, Arthur Shields, James Griffith and Clarence Muse (who’s superb in a small part).

Border River (1954) With George Sherman directing Joel McCrea, Yvonne De Carlo and Pedro Armendáriz, how could it not be great? Shot around Moab, Utah.

Cow Country (1953) Coming across a new Lesley Selander picture is always a treat. This one features Edmond O’Brien, Helen Wescott, Bob Lowery, Barton MacLane, Peggie Castle, James Millican and Robert Wilke.

A Day Of Fury (1956) One of the most unusual, and overlooked, Westerns of the 50s. Harmon Jones directs Dale Robertson, Mara Corday and Jock Mahoney. I’m so glad this one’s being rediscovered.

Four Guns To The Border (1954) Rory Calhoun, Colleen Miller and Walter Brennan in an excellent Universal Western directed by Richard Carlson.

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Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) Another good one from Fred F. Sears. Wish this one would see a real DVD release — black and white widescreen is so cool.

The Silver Whip (1953) Dale Robertson, Rory Calhoun, Robert Wagner, Kathleen Crowley and James Millican star in this taut, tight picture from editor-turned-director Harmon Jones. The staging of the climactic chase is masterful.

Stage To Tucson (1950) Rod Cameron and Wayne Morris. Lone Pine in Technicolor. Surely that’s worth an investment of 81 minutes.

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The Yellow Tomahawk (1954) Sadly, this color film is only available black and white. But it’s still a solid effort from the ever-dependable Lesley Selander — with a cast that includes Rory Calhoun, Peggie Castle, Noah Beery, Jr., Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and Rita Moreno.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

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Next month, the digital broadcast station GetTV offers up some Durango Kid pictures starring Charles Starrett, of course, and Smiley Burnette.

They’re presented Saturday matinee style, as they were intended. (And in chronological order, which is a nice touch.)

Saturday, October 11
12 p.m. – Both Barrels Blazing(1945)
1:20 p.m. – The Fighting Frontiersman (1946)

Saturday, October 18
12 p.m. – The Blazing Trail (1949)
1:15 p.m. – Bandits Of El Dorado (1949)

Saturday, October 25
12 p.m. – Trail Of The Rustlers (1950)
1:15 p.m. – The Kid From Broken Gun (1952)

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durangokid

Here’s a thing on the Durango Kid I did for Classicflix, a quick guide to the few films in the series available on DVD.

Fred F. Sears and Ray Nazarro, whose work I really like, directed many of these, and I’d love to be able to really dive into the series.

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Hawk of wild river

Columbia has come through with another Durango Kid picture, The Hawk Of Wild River (1952). It’s one of the later entries in the series, but it’s got a lot going for it: Charles Starrett and Smiley Burnette, of course, along with Clayton Moore and Jock Mahoney and direction from Fred F. Sears.

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