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Archive for the ‘James H. Griffith’ Category

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Directed by Ray Nazarro
Screenplay by Ray Buffum and DeVallon Scott
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Aaron Stell

Cast: Gary Merrill (Brock Marsh), Wanda Hendrix (Ruth Lawrence), John Bromfield (Mike Daugherty), Noah Beery, Jr. (Gimpy Joe), Fay Roope (John Lawrence), Howard Wendell (Judge Baker), Robert Simon (Marshal Whit Collins), James H. Griffith (Warren), Richard Webb (Frank Gibbs), Peter Whitney (Grimes), John War Eagle (Chief War Cloud), Jay Silverheels (Black Buffalo), Clayton Moore (Stone)

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At only 65 minutes long, The Black Dakotas (1954) was clearly meant to fill out a double bill. But for a film that’s not all that noteworthy, there are a number of things about it worth noting.

First, there’s the cast. Gary Merrill, in his first Western, is the bad guy — a Confederate hoping to stir up things with the Sioux to keep Union soldiers tied up. He gets a lot of screen time for a villain, maybe because he’s far more interesting than the good guy (John Bromfield). Wanda Hendrix, Audie Murphy’s ex-wife, was about to retire from the movies (at least for a few years), and she’s fine here. Noah Beery, Jr. does what he can with a rather odd part. The great James H. Griffith doesn’t have a whole lot to do as one of the bad guys.

John Bromfield and Wanda Hendrix

More on the cast. The Black Dakotas was shot during the period when Clayton Moore left The Lone Ranger TV series (over a salary dispute, reportedly) and returned to B Movie character parts. Moore’s not listed in the credits, but he’s there. You’ll also see Jay Silverheels (Tonto to Moore’s Lone Ranger) as one of the Sioux chiefs. From Moore and Silverheels to Beery and Griffith, the characters actors run rings around the leads.

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Here, Ray Nazarro does what we’ve seen him do so many times — put together a brisk little movie that delivers in the action department. It seems like no matter how small the budget or tight the schedule, Nazarro delivers the goods, the same way Lesley Selander always does. Of course, having Ellis Carter as director of photography doesn’t hurt. Why isn’t Carter brought up more often? He shot The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), for God’s sake! He gives The Black Dakotas a much bigger look than you’d expect. An early sequence was shot on a cloudy day — at Iverson, I think — and Carter really makes a positive out of a negative.

Carter’s fine work is well presented (in widescreen) in Mill Creek’s 7 Western Showdown Collection, a two-DVD set that contains seven Westerns. All the pictures look terrific, and the price is hard to beat. Recommended. I hope Mill Creek keeps up the good work, and I’d love to see movies like this make their way to Blu-Ray.

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The lineup for the 54th New York Film Festival — which runs from September 30 to Octoebr 16 — includes a terrific Henry Hathaway retrospective that doesn’t skimp on his Westerns.

Rawhide (1951)
Starring Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Hugh Marlowe, Dean Jagger, Edgar Buchanan, Jack Elam, George Tobias, James Millican

Garden Of Evil (1954)
Starring Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark, Hugh Marlowe, Cameron Mitchell

From Hell To Texas (1958)
Starring Don Murray, Diane Varsi, Chill Wills, R.G. Armstrong, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Carey, Jr.

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North To Alaska (1960)
Starring John Wayne. Stewart Granger, Ernie Kovacks, Fabian, Capucine, Joe Sawyer, James H. Griffith

The Shepherd Of The Hills (1941), Kiss Of Death (1947) and Niagara (1953) are among the other Hathaway pictures being shown. Good stuff.

The restored One-Eyed Jacks (1961) is also part of the festival.

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Directed by John English
Written by Norman S. Hall
Director Of Photography: William Bradford
Film Editor: James Sweeney

Cast: Gene Autry (Himself), Gail Davis (Melody Colton), Kirby Grant (Lt. Randolph Mason), James H. Griffith (The Apache Kid), Philip Van Zandt (Curt Reidler), Pat Buttram (Shadrach Jones), Champion

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This might put me in the minority, but I prefer Gene Autry’s later pictures. Could be for any number of reasons. His acting’s better. There’s a greater emphasis on action. Gail Davis is often around. And some actually take place in the Old West.

Indian Territory capture 1Case in point: 1950’s Indian Territory. Autry’s a Confederate veteran serving with the U.S. cavalry now that the war’s over. He’s been sent to get to the bottom of Indian attacks on settlers — and ends up tangling with The Apache Kid (James H. Griffith) and an Austrian gunrunner (Philip Van Zandt). With the help of sidekick Shadrach Jones (Pat Buttram) and the daughter of a local rancher (Gail Davis), Gene restores order to Apache Springs.

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The supporting cast can really make a movie like this, and this one is certainly no exception. James H. Griffith wouldn’t be my top-of-mind pick to portray an Apache renegade, but he’s so good, you have no trouble looking past that. Gail Davis displays some of the spunk that made her Annie Oakley series (produced by Gene’s company) such a treat. And Pat Buttram’s sidekick role doesn’t feel nailed onto the story as is so often the case.

Indian Territory was filmed around Pioneertown, the live-in movie set not far from Joshua Tree and Palm Springs — developed by Russell Hayden, Dick Curtis and Roy Rogers.

Pat Buttram (from the Melody Ranch Theater introduction included on the DVD): “They thought it’d be a great location and they built this Western street… they built it to turn a stagecoach around in. That made it so wide, when you had a crowd scene, you had to send seven busloads of people up there to even be seen on those streets. We’d have to use a little corner here and a little corner there.”

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Indian Territory is available in Volume 2 of The Gene Autry Collection — put together by Image Entertainment and later Timeless. There was a stand-alone release (from Image) prior to that. With either one, you get a gorgeous transfer and plenty of extras, from the Melody Ranch Theater stuff featuring Gene and Pat to a radio show and still gallery. Gene’s films have been treated with great care, as Indian Territory proves. Recommended.

UPDATE: Came across this signed still of James Griffith. Judging from the costume, it’s from Indian Territory.

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Since starting this blog and allowing myself to really wallow in 50s Westerns, it’s been interesting to note how many of the 50s Western “practitioners” made the move to television in the 50s and into the 60s. For them, it probably wasn’t a real decision — they simply went where the work was.

Daniel Boone (1964-70) is one of the programs that really benefited from the Western pedigree of its cast and crew. Boone was developed to leverage Fess Parker’s incredible popularity as Disney’s Davy Crockett. Fact is, the show was to be about Crockett, but Disney wouldn’t give up the rights.

Parker at Boone Forest

Shout Factory has released the show’s first season in a 6-disc Collector’s Edition — 29 episodes with bonus material. Making your way through the set, you’re immediately struck by the familiar names and faces. This first season, the only one not in color, supplements its regular cast — Parker, Patricia Blair, Albert Salmi, Ed Ames, etc. — with the likes of Claude Akins, Dan Duryea, James H. Griffith, Jay Silverheels, Robert J. Wilke, Michael Pate, John McIntire and Hank Worden. Directors include Joseph H. Lewis, George Sherman, Thomas Carr, Nathan Juran and George Marshall — who all some some outstanding 50s Westerns.  The first episode, “Ken-Tuck-E,” directed by Marshall, was written by Borden Chase and shot by Carl Guthrie. Quite an impressive bunch.

The set looks terrific, with print quality varying a bit from episode to episode — but solid overall. The extra stuff is well done. And as for the shows themselves, I’ve always felt this first season was stronger than what came later. But you know, Parker’s so likable, that hardly seems important. Recommended.

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belgianchainlightninglipn2Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Starring Randolph Scott, George “Gabby” Hayes, Bill Williams, Victor Jory, Karin Booth, Douglas Kennedy, Jim Davis, Dale Robertson, James Griffith

Kino Lorber has announced they’ll have Randolph Scott in The Cariboo Trail (1950) out on DVD and Blu-ray sometime this year. With a great cast (it was Gabby Hayes’ last movie), solid direction from Edwin L. Marin, and Cinecolor’s gloriously funky hues, it’s a load of fun and not to missed.

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Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Starring Randolph Scott, Jane Wyatt, J. Carrol Naish, Victor Jory, Nancy Olson

First, Scott, Marin and producer Nat Holt gave us Canadian Pacific (1949). It’s not as good as the second picture, but I’m looking forward to seeing its Cinecolor in high-definition.

Thanks to Mike Kuhns and Vitaris for the tips.

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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.

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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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