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Archive for the ‘Jim Davis’ Category

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Directed by John English
Screen Play by Gerald Geraghty
Story by Alan James
Director Of Photography: William Bradford
Film Editor: James Sweeney

Cast: Gene Autry (Himself), Gail Davis (Dell Middler), Jim Davis (Wade McQuarrie), Bob Steele (Walt Middler), Pat Buttram (Pat “Cougar” Claggett), Terry Frost (Wyatt), Edgar Dearing (Colonel Middler), Paul Frees (Narrator)

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Silver Canyon (1951) is an interesting late-period Gene Autry movie. It’s a Civil War picture, with Jim Davis playing Wade McQuarrie, a Quantrill-like Confederate guerilla. McQuarrie’s wreaking havoc on the Union’s supply lines and Army scout Autry is sent to sort it all out.

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These later Autry’s give up a song or two to make room for more action, a trend with most Singing Cowboy pictures from this period. This one even tosses in a lynch mob for good measure.

You get the usual Autry cast from this period — Gail Davis and Pat Buttram — with the added benefit of Jim Davis as the stylish, ruthless guerrilla leader — and Bob Steele as a Confederate sympathizer who gets mixed up with the raiders. As we’ve all said around here a million times, it’s often the roster of character actors who take these things up a notch, and that’s the case here. Factor in the great Paul Frees as narrator, and this one stands out among Gene’s later pictures.

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Gene Autry always surrounded himself with real pros, usually folks he’d worked with time and time again. From John English to Gerald Geraghty to William Bradford, and from the Iverson Ranch to Pioneertown, this would’ve been a very familiar undertaking for all concerned — including those of us watching it.

Silver Canyon is another example of the care that’s gone into preserving Autry’s movies. The Image DVD is terrific, with the usual lineup of extras. It has not been re-issued as part of the four-picture sets from Timeless Media Group.

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Produced and Directed by Albert C. Gannaway
Written by Thomas G. Hubbard, Associate Producer
Director of Photography: Charles Straumer, ASC
Music Composed and Played by Ramez Idriss (on Fender guitars)
Supervising Film Editor: Asa Clark, ACE

Cast: Jim Davis (“Brennan”), Carl Smith (Sheriff Carl Smith), Arleen Whelan (Murdock), Lee Van Cleef (Shad Donaphin), Louis Jean Heydt (Col. Donaphin), Harry Lauter (Doc Hale), Marty Robbins (Felipe), Douglas Fowley (Marshal Matt Brennan)

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I’ve been meaning to dive into Jim Davis’ pictures from the 50s — the ones where he has the lead — for quite some time. It took someone asking about such a thing to make me finally take it on, so let’s kick things off with The Badge Of Marshal Brennan (1957).

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Davis is an outlaw on the run who happens upon the dying Marshal Brennan (Douglas Fowley). He takes the man’s badge and rides on to the next town. There, mistaken for the marshal, Davis helps take on a powerful rancher whose diseased cattle have created an epidemic that threatens to kill off the town.

wayne_80The story’s nothing new, the sets are cheap, the music — a guitars-only score by Ramez Idriss — is kinda thin (and odd), and some of the camera set-ups seemed rushed. But there’s still something about The Badge Of Marshal Brennan I liked. It might be the cast. Davis is fine, of course. Arleen Whelan is good in one of her last roles. Lee Van Cleef, Louis Jean Heydt and Harry Lauter are as dependable as ever. And a couple country music stars from the period, Carl Smith and Marty Robbins, are thrown in for good measure.

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The Badge Of Marshal Brennan was followed by Raiders Of Old California (1957), again from director Albert C. Gannaway and much of the same cast. They were both shot outside Kanab, Utah, and at Cascade Studios in Hollywood by Charles Straumer. Badge was released by Allied Artists; Republic handled Raiders.

You can find both of these on Amazon or even YouTube. While they’re not gonna knock you out, it’s a shame they’re not available on DVD.

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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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First, thanks to everyone who sent in their picks — we had a larger turnout this year. Your responses were very thorough, and they made it clear to me what a good year this was for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-ray — you brought up tons of em. Here are the Top 10, ordered by the number of votes they received.

Abilene Town (1946, Blu-ray, Panamint Cinema)
This one topped the list in a big way. I was so stoked to see this fairly obscure Randolph Scott picture rescued from the PD purgatory where it’s been rotting for years — a lot of you seemed to feel the same. Mastered from 35mm fine-grain material, it’s stunning.

Shane (1953, Blu-ray, Eureka)
The Blu-ray release from Paramount made last year’s list, and this UK release was a strong contender this time around. Eureka gives us the opportunity to see what Paramount’s controversial 1.66 cropping looked like.

The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection (1951-54, DVD set, Warner Archive)
I’m pretty biased when it comes to this one, and I was happy to learn that others were as pleased with it as I was. One of the greatest Western stars goes out on a high note, even if it is a low-budget one.

The Quiet Gun (1956, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It’s hard to believe this was a 2015 release, since it was on Olive Films’ coming-soon list for such a long time. These Regalscope movies look great in their original aspect ratio, and for my money, this is the best of the bunch.

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Woman They Almost Lynched (1953, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It makes me feel good to see Allan Dwan get some attention, and stellar presentations of his work, like this one, should continue to fuel his (re-)discovery.

Man With The Gun (1955, Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)
A solid Robert Mitchum Western, with the added punch of a terrific 1.85 hi-def transfer. This is a lot better movie than you probably remember it being.

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Run Of The Arrow (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
This really knocked me out — I’d somehow missed out on what a great movie this is. It took me a while to get used to Rod Steiger and his affected accent, but this is prime Sam Fuller.

The Hired Gun (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
Black and white CinemaScope is a big attraction for me, so I’d been waiting for this one for years. It was worth the wait.

Stranger At My Door (1954, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
A really cool little movie from Republic and William Witney. It was Witney’s favorite of his own pictures, and it’s pretty easy to see why he’d be partial to it. His work here is masterful.

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Star In The Dust (1956, Blu-ray, Koch)
Koch out of Germany is treating us (or those of us with a Region B player) to some great Universal 50s Westerns on Blu-ray. This one was released in Universal’s 2.0 ratio of the period. Some found it a bit tight, but it’s a gorgeous presentation of a movie not enough people have seen.

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Associate Producer – Director: Joe Kane
Screen Play by Mary McCall, Jr.
Based on a Saturday Evening Post story by Luke Short
Director Of Photography: Jack Marta
Music: Ned Freeman

Cast: Brian Donlevy (Bide Marriner), Rod Cameron (Will Ballard), Ella Raines (Celia Evarts), Forrest Tucker (Sam Danfelser), Barbara Britton (Lottie Priest), J. Carrol Naish (Sheriff Joe Kneen), Chill Wills (Ike Adams), Jim Davis (Red Courteen), Taylor Holmes (Lowell Priest), James Bell (John Evarts), Paul Fix (Ray Cavanaugh), Roydon Clark, Roy Barcroft, Al Caudebec, Douglas Kennedy, Jack La Rue, Claire Carleton

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This is an entry in The Republic Pictures Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s incredible talent roster, wonderful output and lasting legacy.

Republic blogathon badgeHerbert Yates devised a rather odd hierarchy for Republic’s releases. First, there were the “Jubilee” pictures, shot in a week for about $50,000 — this was their bread and butter. Then came the “Anniversary” films, with schedules stretching to 15 days and budgets up to $200,000. The “Deluxe” projects were a decidedly bigger product, with bigger starts and costing up to half a million. And last came the “Premiere” bracket, with top directors (John Ford, Fritz Lang, Nick Ray) and budgets of about a million.

Ride The Man Down (1952) was a Deluxe, with location shooting in Utah, a terrific cast and the otherwordly hues of Trucolor. For good measure, Republic assigned it to one of their ace house directors, Joe Kane, who also gets an associate producer credit.

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When the owner of the renowned Hatchet Ranch freezes to death, his daughter inherits the whole spread, and it’s up to the dedicated, steadfast foreman, Will Ballard (Rod Cameron), to protect Hatchet from the surrounding ranchers. This range war plot is something we’re all familiar with, but Mary McCall, Jr.’s screenplay, adapted from a Luke Short story, is overly complicated (complete with a murder and a love triangle worked in), leaving the audience with a lot to sort out along the way.

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The picture’s biggest strength is certainly its cast, made up of some of Republic’s best. Rod Cameron is very good as Will Ballard. It’s a part that really suits him — he’s good at talking tough and swing his fists. Brian Donlevy is terrific as a powerful, greedy rancher. Ella Raines is good as the Hatchet Ranch’s new owner, a part that could’ve been annoying. Forrest Tucker turns out to be a rather slimy bad guy. And J. Carrol Naish makes quite an impression as a crooked sheriff.

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Ride The Man Down boasts the kind of fistfight we expect from a Republic picture. Cameron and Forrest Tucker duke it out in a cabin, practically destroying the place in the process. And there’s a cool scene where Cameron beans Jim Davis with a cue ball.

This is another Republic picture without a DVD or Blu-ray release. Marta and Kane give the film a big, lush look and it’d be nice to see Jack Marta’s cinematography closer to his original intent. Maybe one of these days.

I leave you with a final thought: Would you want to live in a town where the sheriff is J. Carrol Naish?

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Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Screenplay by Lawrence Hazard and Horace McCoy
Original Story by Hal Long
Cinematography: Reggie Lanning
Art Direction: James Sullivan
Set Decoration: John McCarthy Jr. and George Milo
Costumes: Adele Palmer
Music: Anthony Collins
Film Editor: Richard Van Enger

Cast: William Elliott (Jim McWade), John Carroll (Wesley Baker), Catherine McLeod (Alice Sharp), Albert Dekker (Gibson Hart), Andy Devine (Elihu Mills), Patricia Knight (Josie Allen), Ruth Donnelly (Utopia Mills), Harry Davenport (Rev. Baker), Reed Hadley (Jessup), Russell Simpson (Wade Clayton), Jim Davis (Sam Bass), Frank Ferguson (Andy Renfro)

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This is an entry in The Republic Pictures Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s incredible talent roster, wonderful output and lasting legacy.

Republic blogathon badgeIn retrospect, it is no accident that in 1946 Western series star Wild Bill Elliott was elevated to films Republic treated as their version of “A” Westerns. It was in that year that the genre rapidly attained the maturity that would fully flower in the 1950s. The end of World War II is always a key point in considering this—and indeed it resonates even within the subject of a movie like The Fabulous Texan—as the aftermath of so profound an experience was bound to deepen consideration of so many things, especially life and death conflict, and also the ebb and flow of personal relationships within a changing world, that Westerns had always enjoyed as subjects.

In any event, from 1946 to 1950, Elliott starred in 10 films as William Elliott, before leaving Republic and going back to his “Wild Bill” identity for more series Westerns at Allied Artists, then finishing outside the genre. These 10 movies show a poised, impressively real actor attuned to their serious subjects and though they are mostly hard to see now, it’s hoped that in time they will be better known as they deserve to be. Most of them were directed by Republic mainstay Joseph Kane, a director deeply attuned to the Republic aesthetic and to Westerns (though his films outside the genre are good too) and with a strong individuality as well—he was one of the main sustaining forces at the studio until the end. But after Kane initiated this series of Elliott Westerns, three of the ones that followed were directed by others, including the especially well-regarded Hellfire (1949, R. G. Springsteen) and The Showdown (1950; Dorrell and Stuart McGowan, who had written Hellfire). The other one is The Fabulous Texan, directed by Edward Ludwig, whose presence here is crucial to its character and about whom I will have more to say.

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The screenplay, by Lawrence Hazard and Horace McCoy (from a story by Hal Long) is already excellent. It beautifully follows two interwoven threads. The first is historically based, though no doubt treated with great artistic license—after the Civil War, the Texas State Police impose a cruel martial law on Texans, especially returning Confederate veterans and their families. This is a common theme in the Western throughout its great postwar years, and always the defeated are treated with the most sympathy. The present film is no exception; whatever the political realities, the main villain, Gibson Hart (Albert Dekker), uses the Texas State Police as a vehicle for his own ambition; the film invests little in him in the way of nuance, and proficiently played by Dekker in a way familiar for him, he is not one of the movie’s strengths. It is in the second thread that the movie comes fully alive, a romantic triangle involving two friends, Jim McWade (William Elliott) and Wesley Baker (John Carroll) and the woman they both love, Alice Sharp (Catherine McLeod). Jim and Wes are Confederate veterans returning home at the beginning, hoping for peace—Wes and Alice have unwisely stilled their mutual love for each other for Jim’s sake, and Jim expects to marry her. It may sound like it makes no sense for Wes and Alice to let things happen as they did, but in the telling of the story it’s all too sadly believable, and one spends most of the film watching three sympathetic people as the situation slowly evolves and the truths for each character gradually come out for them all to know. Meantime, circumstances make Wes an outlaw—he avenges the death of his father (Harry Davenport), a preacher who spoke truth to power, by killing the officer of the State Police responsible (Reed Hadley) in a compelling and beautifully staged gunfight.

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The place of Jim in the ensuing action is interesting, as he rides with Wes some of that time, but only against tyranny and the State Police. Unfortunately, there is a fine line for an outlaw and Wes, goaded by the darker Sam Bass (Jim Davis), finally crosses it, with tragic results. Through all this, Jim and Wes take turns protecting each other all the way through a beautiful climax, a nocturnal shootout in a misty spring that settles all accounts. Meantime, Alice evolves no less as an active character, her fate linked to theirs by her own design. And that’s followed through at the end by a coda that picks her up many years later as an elderly woman—it’s both rueful and ironic, and if not emotionally satisfying is perhaps consistent for these characters and seals the link between the relationships and the broader historical story.

The central triangle is beautifully played by all three leads, especially John Carroll, arguably the standout as Wes though partly it’s because he is the most interesting character among three who are all interesting. Handsome and relaxed in his roles while able to emote with some effectiveness, Carroll had a fairly good career, much of it as a lead or second lead at Republic, without seeming to ever draw much positive attention. He may deserve better. One thinks of his modest late career triumph in Decision At Sundown (1957, directed by Budd Boetticher) in which his character Tate Kimbrough, who initially seems a simple villain, pulls himself together enough to face his adversary (Randolph Scott) on his own and gains in moral stature in the process—as a man, he turns out to be a little better than we thought he was, and I think that describes Carroll as an actor. In The Fabulous Texan, there is a scene late in the film between Wes and Alice in which he winds up finally expressing all of his love for her. Done in two simple shots as he stands between her and his horse while getting ready to ride out, he contemplates the way his life has gone, how much of it he is responsible for and how much he came into it through circumstances of the time. In the first shot, straight on to the characters, he wrestles with this and it’s played beautifully as Carroll, very natural and not at all showy, evokes a lot of complex feeling without a lot of heavy drama. The following shot is the closer, more dramatic one as he faces away from Alice over his horse and she is behind him—and here, his desire for her is expressed and Carroll carefully allows more intensity to accompany the more dramatic visual moment.

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Westerns, especially Republic ones, too rarely get the credit they deserve for these moments of truth, though it seems everyone involved works hard for them. Considering the art of The Fabulous Texan, it’s really evident early in the film, even from the beginning—it’s truly poetic to see Jim and Wes riding home from the war, distant figures on a low horizon under a quiet sky of still white clouds. The image so perfectly evokes the desire of the men for a peace they are not going to know, and yet we don’t even know them yet. It is a feeling, an ambiance. By contrast, when Wes returns home with his cousins later to find his father has been murdered, Ludwig executes a powerful forward tracking shot in which the gravity of Wes’ internal change as he realizes what has happened is brilliantly underscored by interlocked movement of the men and the camera.

Plainly, with so much here realized with the greatest possible effectiveness, there is a real creativity on the part of director Ludwig (not to mention one of Republic’s best cinematographers Reggie Lanning), even if efficient telling of the story is as always the main goal. Ludwig’s career, although his body of work is uneven, bears out that he was as gifted as he seems in his best films. The Russian-born director was around in Hollywood since silent days (at least to direct shorts) and gradually found his way to features but without ever having one good studio contract and a place that would nurture him—in that, he’s like many other talented directors in American cinema who moved from job to job and would do best when material and conditions stimulated them. This may have led to other good films–The Gun Hawk (1963), about a gunfighter slowly dying of a mortal wound (and made in a troubled time for American Westerns when few were being produced), is one of the finer and more haunting last films of any director. But based on his three 40s movies for Republic, beginning with The Fighting Seabees (1944) and soon continuing with The Fabulous Texan and in 1948 the awesome Wake Of The Red Witch, one wishes he had made his career at the studio. It’s especially so because of Red Witch—one of the supreme Republic adventures which merges one of its exotic dreamscapes with storytelling that movingly carries the studio’s virtues into an unexpected realm of dark romanticism (Lanning again brought his mastery of black and white to the cinematography); it might even have been surprising then, though it shouldn’t be now that we are starting to fully appreciate Republic as it deserves to be.

Ludwig returned to the studio once in the 50s for Flame Of The Islands (1956), another demented melodrama though not in a way that lifts it to what those others were. It’s interesting though, that it again finds the heroine between several men (more than two in that case), something that in his three 40s Republics seemed to stimulate Ludwig, especially as none of them falls neatly in the way two of the characters in the triangle become a couple. Ludwig seems, from a dramatic point of view, to embrace the unhappiness that can reign, or at least be implied, when rightful lovers do not in the end find their way to each other, and comfortable for sympathetic main characters to die as well.

That’s one more interesting aspect of The Fabulous Texan, of which there is surely much more to say. A beautiful movie and a heartfelt one, a strong story with plenty of action but one glad to take time to observe nuance in sympathetic characters, it is one of the outstanding Westerns of the late 40s. It’s also a worthy film to consider the qualities of Republic—one feels that the studio’s willingness to simply tell its stories, unpretentiously and prosaically, may have been, in the end, the way to find and fully create the deeper poetry of its cinematic world.

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Many thanks to Laura Grieve and John Knight for providing me with a copy of the movie to see.

Blake Lucas is a writer and film critic living in Los Angeles.

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Directed by William Witney
Screen Play by John K. Butler & Richard Wormster
Based upon an Esquire magazine story by Todhunter Ballard
Music: R. Dale Butts

Cast: John Derek (Jeff Cosgrave), Joan Evans (Judy Polsen), Jim Davis (Major Linton Cosgrave), Catherine McLeod (Alice Austin), Ben Cooper (The Kid), Slim Pickens (Boone Polsen), Bob Steele (Dude Rankin), Harry Carey, Jr. (Bert), Frank Ferguson (Chad Polsen), James Millican (Cal Prince)

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Republic blogathon badgeI am delighted to be able to take part in a The Republic Pictures Blogathon and would like to thank our host, Toby, for making it possible.

Having been formed from a merger of several small film companies in 1935, Republic Pictures hit the ground running, immediately scoring huge success with their Gene Autry Western series. They followed this success with The Three Mesquiteers the next year and into the 40s with popular series heroes Don Barry, Wild Bill Elliott, Rocky Lane and, especially, Roy Rogers.

Right from the start, Republic was making a cross-section of film types even though their specialty was the Western. I often feel that Republic was at its very best with their B-Western series – their ‘comfort zone’, if you like. Some of their later, bigger-budgeted Westerns seem a little ’overblown’ by comparison with the smaller, tighter-budgeted action fests. Jubilee Trail comes to mind. This was certainly not always the case, however, and one film that I certainly feel has the spirit and the energy of their smaller fry is 1954’s The Outcast.

The fact that the film was directed by action-ace Wild Bill Witney would have had a lot to do with it certainly. The action is captured beautifully in Republic’s Trucolor hues by expert cinematographer Reggie Lanning. The screenplay was co-written by John K. Butler and Richard Wormser from an Esquire Magazine story by Todhunter Ballard. The story concerns the return to Colorado of Jet Cosgrave (John Derek) after years away with the strong intent of reclaiming his rightful heritage, the vast Circle C Ranch, from his uncle Major Cosgrave (Jim Davis) who had forged Jet’s father’s will to gain control.

Into this main thread we find the arrival of the Major’s new intended (played by Catherine McLeod) whose affections gradually turn away from the Major when she sees how vicious and crooked he really is, towards Jet. There is another woman on the scene though who has set her sights firmly on Jet! Essentially this is a ‘range war’ western (I like those) and whilst you can always say ‘this plot is familiar’ where westerns are concerned, it is really all about how that plot plays out and how well it is dealt with.

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For me, this is a Western I am always happy to re-watch every few years as it just ‘ticks all the boxes’ for me. The storyline and the attendant action are not contrived but natural and the action which is plentiful is expertly-handled by Witney. The supporting cast reads like a “Who’s Who” of the western – Bob Steele, Harry Carey jr, James Millican, Ben Cooper, Frank Ferguson, Hank Worden… I am again struck by how good John Derek is in the leading role. He made a number of good Westerns for different studios and it struck me that he would have been a terrific Western lead for one studio, along the lines of Audie Murphy (and just as good). Good actor and he handles the gunplay and horseback stuff like a real seasoned westerner.

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The Outcast is sadly one of those many fine Republic films that are not available on DVD in the US market. The only option is an Italian release that is on sale on Amazon UK for around $200! Thankfully, the BBC transmitted the movie some years ago in the UK and I recorded it. The print is fine and the Trucolor comes across OK. This is one of those films we need to see released by someone who cares.

If a solid, well-made western made by folks who knew how to do it is your thing then this one is worth seeking out (if you can).

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Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry, but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.

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