Archive for the ‘Fred MacMurray’ Category

Here’s Gloria Talbott, Fred MacMurray and the great John Dierkes in The Oregon Trail (1959), which after much speculation and lots of blog-commenting time, is finally available from the Fox Cinema Archives MOD program. As one of the CinemaScope films Lippert Pictures produced for 20th Century-Fox in the late 50s (The Fly was one, too), it’s something I’m looking forward to.

Though I’m thrilled about this release, which has been officially listed as widescreen, I have a gripe. If what you see at  left is indeed what the packaging looks like, I’m disappointed. A quick Google image search turns up better stuff than that — in color, too. Maybe they should reach out to the collector community — namely, us — for access to better material.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

On a completely unrelated note: my daughter and I watched a couple episodes of The Lone Ranger last night — one with James H. Griffith and the other with Hank Worden. What a treat.

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The Oregon Trail (1959), a color and CinemaScope picture made by Lippert/Regal for 20th Century Fox, was announced as part of the Fox Cinema Archives collection — with a release date of September 11 (this coming Tuesday). However, there was a bit of controversy with the first batch of FCA releases — mainly aspect ratio issues — and news has been a bit sketchy since. So who knows. Fred MacMurray’s late-50s Westerns have been a hot topic around here lately, so this would be a welcome addition.

Maury Dexter was part of the Lippert team cranking out Regalscope pictures for Fox. He mentioned The Oregon Trail in his memoirs, Highway To Hollywood, which are available here.

Maury Dexter: “We shot a film entitled The Oregon Trail starring Fred MacMurray and directed by Gene Fowler, Jr… Lou Vittes wrote the screenplay (with Fowler). Anyway, we had a last-minute script meeting on a Saturday afternoon, just prior to principal photography. The following Monday morning, several of the scenes that were altered or completely rewritten were scenes that had been scheduled to shoot on the first day. MacMurray was heavily involved with some of these scenes, so late Saturday, the mimeo company picked up the revised scenes and promised to have them printed by early Sunday morning. I was concerned about MacMurray getting late changes, so I instructed the mimeo company to hand deliver the new scenes to Fred’s home on Sunday morning. I personally called Fred and apologized for the late changes and told him that he would receive them on Sunday, in time to study them for the following day. He was very nice and said the following: ‘Don’t worry about it. For the amount of money you people are paying me… I’d ride a bicycle down Hollywood Boulevard in the nude!’ My kind of guy… nothing pretentious about him.”

If I find out anything further about the DVD release, or lack thereof, I’ll update this post accordingly. And if you come across anything, please let us know.

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Fred MacMurray
(August 30, 1908 – November 5, 1991)

We’ve had a lot of birthdays lately, so I almost gave this one a miss. But Fred MacMurray’s Westerns are a big deal here at 50 Westerns From The 50s.

MacMurray had quite a career, going from big movie star to huge TV star — with some ranching and shrewd investing thrown in for good measure. You hear a lot about him being cheap, but the end justified the means — he died a very, very rich man.

In the late 50s, he hit a real sweet spot, appearing in a string of excellent medium-budget Westerns. Quantez (1957) and Face Of A Fugitive (1959, which had the working title Justice Ends With A Gun) are highlights, but the others are certainly worthwhile. I encourage you to sit down with a few of these things some weekend. A Good Day For A Hanging (1958) is pretty easy to find. Quantez and Gun For A Coward (1957) are available as part of the Universal Vault Series.

Wish I could toast him with his own MacMurray Ranch wine. Should’ve planned ahead. I’d like to “dedicate” this post to not just MacMurray, but to my wife Jennifer, who happened upon Face Of A Fugitive one afternoon and told me how good it was, and Blake Lucas, whose enthusiasm for Fred’s cowboy pictures convinced me to really study them as a whole.

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Quantez (1957) is an excellent Universal Western, one we’ve spent considerable time discussing on this blog. Came across this still and thought it was worth a quick post.

Here are Dorothy Malone and Fred MacMurray relaxing between takes. I assume this was on a Universal soundstage and not in the town built near Victorville. In the picture, the town of Quantez has only been abandoned a few days, so a real ghost town wouldn’t do. Heat during those exterior shoots hovered around 110 degrees, so I doubt there’d be a lot of singing going on there.

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Directed by Harry Keller
Produced by Gordon Kay
Screenplay by R. Wright Campbell
Story by Anne Edwards and R. Wright Campbell
Director of Photography: Carl E. Guthrie, ASC
Music: Herman Stein
Music Supervision by Joseph Gershenson
“The Lonely One” words and music by Frederick Herbert and Arnold Hughes
Film Editor: Fred MacDowell


Whatever your misgivings (namely price) may be about the DVD-R programs in place at a number of studios, you have to admit they’ve put some pretty significant titles in the hands of the geeks who’ve been waiting for ’em. I’m a card-carrying member of that group of geeks, and I’m stoked to have Quantez (1957) in my hot little hands. Judging by comments I’ve received, I’m not alone.

It’d been years since I’d seen it on TV, and I remembered it as a good Universal-International 50s Western, which is plenty good indeed. (That’s about like saying a “good Hammer horror film.”) Seeing it again, in a top-notch widescreen transfer, it’s a much better picture than I remember — and, to me, one of the better Universal Westerns of the 50s.

Fred MacMurray is Gentry, a tired gunman in a gang of bank robbers with a posse in hot pursuit. Riding into the desert, they take refuge in Quantez, a small town they find deserted. Their horses tired and near death, they’re forced to stay the night — with the plan to cross the border into Mexico the next day. The picture is the story of that night.

I won’t spoil things by giving you much more than that. Just know there’s the usual tension and violence that erupt when you place a group of desperate men in such close quarters. And since there’s a bundle of money, a band of Indians and a woman with a past (Dorothy Malone) on hand, things don’t take long to heat up.

MacMurray is excellent. John Larch comes close to being a bit over the top as Heller, the leader of the gang — but he always pulls back just in time. He’s a very bad man. Dorothy Malone is terrific as Chaney, a used-up saloon girl who feels she’s lost her chance to have a decent life. Westerns have never been known for their women’s roles, but this is a really good one, and she makes the most of it. John Gavin, as the kid of the gang (every gang has one), and James Barton as a minstrel who passes through the ghost town in the middle of the night, provide strong support. This is a well-acted film.

Well written, too. The plot isn’t much more than formula (not a criticism), but R. Wright Campbell’s dialogue is crisp and he avoids the expected often enough to keep things fresh. You never think of this as one of those pictures where the small cast is bottled in someplace more for reasons of budget than plot. The story just works. Campbell later wrote plenty of pictures for AIP, including the marvelous The Masque Of The Red Death (1964). He also did Gun For A Coward (1957), another good MacMurray Universal Western (available as part of the Vault Series).

Thanks to Universal’s careful transfer, one of the real stars of the picture is Carl E. Guthrie, whose CinemaScope camerawork does the film a tremendous favor. (Go look at Guthrie’s list of credits sometime. Wow!) Given the mood and the many nights scenes, you might think this’d play better in black and white. But some ingenious lighting — rich blues at night and reds as the sun comes up — gives the picture a very effective look. This is one of the richest-looking Eastman Color films I can remember.

Of course, we have to give director Harry Keller plenty of credit. Starting out as an editor at Republic, by the time he reached Quantez, he certainly knew his way around a cowboy picture. There’s lots of dialogue here, but Keller keeps things moving at a brisk pace. A year later, he’d be one of the contract directors U-I would draft to “fix” Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil (1958).

Universal should be commended for giving Quantez such a beautiful transfer. And while in a perfect world, this would’ve hit video on Blu-ray, the DVD-R (the Universal Vault Series is an Amazon exclusive) looked terrific and played fine. There are no extras, not even a trailer. But who’s to complain when it looks like this?

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Universal has a few 50s Westerns in their upcoming releases. These are good ones, folks — and they’re available now.

Gun For A Coward (1956) stars Fred MacMurray, Jeffrey Hunter and Chill Wills. It was directed by Abner Biberman in CinemaScope and Eastman Color. (Above is MacMurray and Wills chatting with Rock Hudson on the set.)

Quantez (1957) is MacMurray again, this time with Dorothy Malone (seen on the set, above), John Gavin and John Larch. Directed by Harry Keller, in CinemaScope and Eastman Color, this is one I’ve really been waiting for.

Van Heflin is one of my favorite actors, and in Tomahawk (1951), he’s paired with Yvonne De Carlo. They’re joined by Alex Nicol, Preston Foster, Jack Oakie, Susan Cabot and Rock Hudson. Directed by George Sherman in Technicolor. Tomahawk was shot in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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Came across a few Fred MacMurray Westerns on YouTube. I’m not a big fan of watching movies on the computer, since it’s a pretty lousy approximation of the theaterical experience. But these pictures are hard to see otherwise. Many of them were in CinemaScope and are presented pan-and-scan here, so beware.

Face Of A Fugitive (1959) features an early role for James Coburn. A Columbia picure, it was 1.85 — so it looks OK on YouTube. Pretty good picture, too. Link here.

Day Of The Badman (1958) from Universal-International gives MacMurray a fabulous cast to work with: Joan Weldon, Skip Homeier, Marie Windsor, Lee Van Cleef, Edgar Buchanan and more. It was in Eastman Color and CinemaScope. Watch it, or about half its width, here.

At Gunpoint (1955) from Allied Artists boasts another great cast: MacMurray, Walter Brennan, Dorothy Malone and Skip Homeier. Another one that screams for a widescreen transfer. It’s showtime!

While he had his own ranch (now a vineyard), it’s said that MacMurray didn’t like all the riding these pictures required. But he did quite a few of them in the late 50s and plays quite well in a Western. A Good Day For A Hanging (1958), which is available on DVD, is well worth seeking out.

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