Archive for the ‘John Derek’ Category

Directed by Gerd Oswald
Produced by John Beck
Executive Producer: Bob Goldstein
Screenplay by Jason James
From a novel (Showdown Creek) by Lucas Todd
Director Of Photography: Joseph LaShelle
Music by Harry Sukman

Cast: John Derek (Brock Mitchell), John Smith (Miley Sutton), Carolyn Craig (Ginny Clay), Nick Adams (Tracy Mitchell), Gage Clarke (Chad Deasy), Robert E. Griffin (Sheriff Clay), Malcolm Atterbury (Norris), Rusty Lane (Riley), Sydney Smith (Van Steeden), Frances Morris (Mrs. Williams), Tyler McDuff (Tom Williams), Robert Adler (Alabam), Norman Leavitt (Swamper), Ken Christy (Mr. Phelps), Tom McKee (Sheriff of Buckhorn), Kermit Maynard, Buddy Roosevelt


Just for grins, I decided to post a portion of a chapter-in-progress from my book, 50 Westerns From The 50s.

Pretty much ignored when it came out, Fury At Showdown (1957) can be seen today as a solid 50s Western — and an absolute miracle of low-budget film-making. Director Gerd Oswald somehow pulled this picture off in a week!

After a year in jail for a shooting in self-defense, Brock Mitchell (John Derek) returns to the family ranch, now run by his younger brother Tracy (Nick Adams). Brock finds himself an outcast in his own hometown, and the target of a crooked lawyer (Gage Clarke), whose brother is the man he killed. To make matters worse, the lawyer brings a hired gun (John Smith) to town — and is about to foreclose on the brothers’ ranch.

Gerd Oswald (from a terrific Filmfax interview): “That was one of my six or seven day epics… The line producer, John Brett, said, ‘You are only allowed so much money for this picture and tomorrow we’ve got a big lynch scene. We’re supposed to have 50 extras, and I can only give you 12. That’s all — we just don’t have any more money.’ So by necessity I was forced to do certain set-ups that I normally wouldn’t have done. I filled half the screen with the profile of one man, then filled the background. I created a mob scene with just 12 people.”

Oswald certainly wasn’t the only director to make a movie with no time and no money. But with Fury At Showdown, he found a way to make these limitations work for the film, not against it. Many dialogue scenes play out in a single take, with the actors moving toward, and away from, the camera to create different “shots” within these long takes. It’s obvious these scenes were extensively rehearsed. Other scenes place actors in both the foreground and the background, as a way to combine bits of action into a single set-up. And the making-a-mob-out-of-12-people approach is carried throughout, giving the whole film a minimalist feel in keeping with its loner lead character.

Of course, you need a good script, capable actors and an ingenious cameraman to cut corners like that and end up with a decent movie. The screenplay is by Jason James, adapted from the 1955 novel Showdown Creek by Lucas Todd. Todd is a pen-name for Stanley Kauffmann, the noted film and theater critic for The New Republic and The New York Times.

There’s a solid performance from John Derek, a terrific one from Nick Adams, who underplays nicely, and appropriately hateful turns from John Smith and Gage Clarke. Carolyn Craig, as Derek’s old flame, and a stable of trusty character actors hold their own.

Director of photography Joseph LaShelle was known for his gritty realism, making him an ideal choice for noirs like Laura (1944, which landed him an Oscar), Hangover Square (1945) and Road House (1948). LaShelle also an ability to make a budget look bigger than it really is, which made him perfect for something like I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). LaShelle and Oswald came to Fury At Showdown shortly after completing Crime Of Passion (1957), a mini-noir with Barbara Stanwyck and Sterling Hayden.

A one-week picture tends to have a rushed, ragged feel. Think of something from Monogram, like a Bowery Boys movie or one of Bela Lugosi’s Monogram Nine. The haphazard, one-take-and-move-on tone of those pictures is replaced by a feeling of tight control in Fury At Showdown. Obviously, planning and rehearsal made all the difference. It was shot on the RKO Western street (later Desilu) and at the Iverson Ranch in mid-July 1956.

Upon its release, A.H. Weiler of The New York Times called Fury At Showdown “a surprisingly decent little Western” and said “this unpretentious, low-budget entry is leanly written, tersely acted and, above all, straightforward… Under Gerd Oswald’s sure direction, this tightly authentic atmosphere, the good, blunt dialogue and some discreetly inserted music do much to project the urgency of Mr. Derek’s plight—that of a young man at his life’s crossroads.” It’s rare for the Times to see the merits of a little picture like this.

Years later, in his massive book The Western, Phil Hardy wrote: “A stylistic tour de force and undoubtedly Oswald’s best film, Fury At Showdown has a formal excellence that belies its five-day shooting schedule and shames many a bigger budgeted movie… Rarely has economy been put to such a positive use.” Amen to that.

Fury At Showdown (1957) is a real gem, one of those neglected little masterpieces that are so fun to discover. Highly, 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).


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


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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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)


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.


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.


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).


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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A blogger friend of mine did a year-end wrap-up of his favorite DVD releases of the year. I think a lot of my friend, and imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I decided to steal his idea. Here’s my Top Five. Comment away!


5. Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953, Columbia) The work of Fred F. Sears, a prolific director at Columbia, deserves a look, and this is a tough, tight little Western that nobody seems to remember. John Derek’s good and Ray Teal gets a sizable part.


4. Randolph Scott Western Collection (Various, TCM/Sony) Four Columbia Scotts — Coroner Creek (1948), The Walking Hills (1949), The Doolins Of Oklahoma (1949) and 7th Cavalry (1956, above) — go a long way toward making all his 40s and 50s Westerns available on DVD.


3. Movies 4 You Western Classics (Various, Shout Factory) Four medium-budget 50s Westerns — Gun Belt (1953), The Lone Gun (1954), Gunsight Ridge (1957) and Ride Out For Revenge (1957) — for an amazing price.  I’d love to have a hundred sets like this.


2. Shane (1953, Paramount) There was so much controversy about the aspect ratio — the studio-imposed 1.66 vs. the original 1.33 George Stevens shot it in — that we all forgot to talk about what a lovely Blu-ray was ultimately released (in 1.33).


1. Showdown At Boot Hill (1958, Olive Films) This is probably the worst movie on this list, but my favorite release. The very thought of a Regalscope Western presented widescreen and in high definition makes me very, very happy. Olive Films promises the best of the Regals, The Quiet Gun (1956), in 2014 — which you can expect to see on next year’s list.

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February 5th will see the release of Columbia’s Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953), an excellent little Western from Fred F. Sears.

I put together a post on this film a few months ago, ending it with: “Ambush At Tomahawk Gap is a picture that’s easily overlooked — just one of many Columbia Westerns from the 1950s — but offers so much for those willing to track it down. Hopefully, a DVD release of some sort will make that easier.”

Thanks to Columbia, it’s now very easy indeed. This is another one I highly recommend (and that appeared on the Wish List we all put together last month). So, while I’m looking this gift horse in the mouth, how’s about Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956)?


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I dread going to Walmart like some people dread going to the dentist. Wound up in one last night — and walked out with a copy of Fury At Showdown (1957).

It’s one of those twin-bill $5 DVDs from TGG Direct, paired with Gary Cooper in Along Came Jones (1945), and dumped in those big bins full of DVDs. TGG has been licensing stuff from Fox/MGM, some of which I’ve mentioned before.

Fury At Showdown is a real gem, one of those neglected little masterpieces that are so fun to discover. It’s got solid performances from John Derek and Nick Adams — and superb direction from Gerd Oswald. And it was shot in a week.

It’s a sharp full-frame transfer, with rich blacks and just enough dirt and dust to remind you you’re watching a movie. Widescreen would’ve been terrific, but to see this thing finally available — and for just $5 — who’s complaining? I’ve recommended this picture many times, and I’ve been researching it for the book and blog recently (with a big thanks to Thomas Chadwick), so you haven’t heard the last of it.

Fury At Showdown will make a nice addition to your Labor Day weekend. It’s even worth a trip to Walmart.

UPDATE (9/6/12): This DVD is now available from Amazon at a higher price.

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Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953), starring John Hodiak and John Derek, is a minor Columbia Western directed by Fred F. Sears. And it’s a damn good one.

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

After years in regional theater and teaching drama at Southwestern University in Memphis, Fred F. Sears headed to Hollywood. He eventually wound up at Columbia as a bit actor and dialogue director. While working on some of Columbia’s Durango Kid pictures, he got to know Charles Starrett. He directed one, Desert Vigilante (1949), and eventually took over the series. (There’s a nice DVD available of 1951’s Bonanza Town, which Sears both directed and appears in.)

Along with William Castle, 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, and from crime films 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, but he 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. Sears died in his office at Columbia in November, 1957, with eight pictures waiting for release, leaving a deep filmography that’s certainly worth diving into. (1956’s The Werewolf is a good one.)

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap gave Sears a better cast than usual, a slightly bigger budget and Technicolor. It makes good use of a familiar plot — a group of ex-cons battle Indians and each other as they search for their buried loot — adding plenty of suspense and a mean streak a mile wide. This is a surprisingly violent film. It does what many good low-budget Westerns do: build a simple story around a small cast, create some tension, then pile on the action.

Sears had an excellent cast to work with. Not long after the release of Ambush, John Hodiak would appear on Broadway to raves in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial; he had a fatal heart attack in 1955. (He hated working with horses.) John Derek was an promising young actor, and he’d appear in a number of excellent 50s Westerns. David Brian, who was a year away from appearing in Dawn At Socorro (1954), had a long, successful career as a character actor in movies and TV. Ray Teal is now known as Sheriff Coffee in Bonanza, but he turns up in hundreds of films (he’s terrific as the bartender in One-Eyed Jacks). María Elena Marqués was a noted Mexican actress. This and Across The Wide Missouri (1951) are the only American films she made — both times she played Indians. And the great John Qualen is on hand as a grizzled old prospector.

Helping Sears make the most of this were cinematographer Henry Freulich, who shot lots of cheap Technicolor Westerns for Columbia, including William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas (1954). Writer David Lang has a long list of credits — 50s Westerns such as Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956, again with Sears) and  TV like The Rifleman, Cheyenne and Maverick.

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap is a picture that’s easily overlooked — just one of many Columbia Westerns from the 1950s — but offers so much for those willing to track it down. Hopefully, a DVD release of some sort will make that easier.

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Gerd Oswald’s excellent Fury At Showdown (1957), a little masterpiece waiting to be discovered by a larger audience, is scheduled to appear on Encore Westerns on Tuesday, June 19, at 9AM (Eastern/Pacific). Don’t miss it.

It stars John Derek, Nick Adams, Carolyn Craig and John Smith. A key 50s Western and a miracle of low-budget film-making — Oswald somehow pulled this picture off in a week (some of it at Iverson Ranch)!

Gerd Oswald (from a terrific Filmfax interview): “That was one of my six or seven day epics… The line producer, John Brett, said, ‘You are only allowed so much money for this picture and tomorrow we’ve got a big lynch scene. We’re supposed to have 50 extras, and I can only give you 12. That’s all — we just don’t have any more money.’ So by necessity I was forced to do certain set-ups that I normally wouldn’t have done. I filled half the screen with the profile of one man, then filled the background. I created a mob scene with just 12 people. The film got tremendous reviews in New York; they praised the inventiveness of the shots — truth was I was forced into it.”

Why hasn’t MGM made this part of their MOD effort (widescreen, please)? In the meantime, if someone out there captures this on DVD-R, please let me know!

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This is a silly excuse for a post. Got a copy today of a 50s Western I’ve never seen — and best of all, know almost nothing about. It’s got Ray Teal in it, which is good enough for me.

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953) is a low-budget Columbia picture directed by Fred F. Sears. Sears spent his entire career at Columbia, starting with the Durango Kid series and often working for Sam Katzman. His best picture is probably Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956).

Cinematographer Henry Freulich shot a lot of these cheap Columbia Technicolor Westerns, including William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas (1954). He also shot several of the Blondie pictures, which are big favorites around my house.

Writer David Lang wrote a lot of low-budget Westerns — including The Hired Gun (1957), which I’m dying to see — and 50s Western TV like The Rifleman, Cheyenne and Maverick.

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