Archive for the ‘John Payne’ Category

Rails Into Laramie TC

Thanks to everyone who entered the 50s Western Matte Painting Contest. Unfortunately, there was no winner.

The image (seen below) was from Rails Into Laramie (1954), a good Universal-International Western directed by Jesse Hibbs. As is typical of films from this period, there is no credit of any kind for the matte work.

If you get a chance to see Rails Into Laramie, I recommend it. James H. Griffith, one of my favorite character actors, has a good-sized part — and John Payne was on a real roll in the mid-50s.

Of all the entries I received, John Knight came closest. He was pretty sure it was a Universal-International picture.

Matte Painting

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Dan Duryea
(January 23, 1907 – June 7, 1968)

Let’s all remember Dan Duryea on his birthday. Here he is (as Waco Johnnie Dean) with Shelley Winters in Winchester ’73 (1950), one of the best Westerns of the 50s. Today would be a good day to pay your respects at the wonderful web site Dan Duryea Central.

Duryea was only 61 when he passed away, but he managed to squeeze a lot of terrific movies into those years. (Of late, I’ve become weirdly enamored of his odd performance in 1957’s Night Passage.)

Duryea (from a Hedda Hopper interview): “I thought the meaner I presented myself, the tougher I was with women, slapping them around in well produced films where evil and death seem to lurk in every nightmare alley and behind every venetian blind in every seedy apartment, I could find a market for my screen characters.”

Below, he appears in a personal favorite, Silver Lode (1954), with Stuart Whitman and Alan Hale, Jr.



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This time of year, it seems like everybody’s trying to make you spend your money. Pre-holiday this, Black Friday that, spend the night at Walmart to save five bucks on a ten-dollar toaster. It’s pretty disgusting.

That said, I really think you should take advantage of VCI’s annual Holiday Sale.

As an example, you can get Silver Lode (1954), one of my favorite 50s Westerns, for just $2.40. If you haven’t seen this film, please go get one.

VCI boasts a number of cool 50s cowboy pictures, along with more Allan Dwan stuff (Slightly Scarlet, etc.), their Forgotten Noir series and tons of cool British films (ever seen Genevieve?). Good stuff.

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The Bel-Air pictures continue from MGM’s DVD-R program.

Rebel In Town (1956) has a great cast — John Payne, Ruth Roman, J. Carrol Naish, Ben Cooper and Ben Johnson. It was directed by Alfred Werker. This is one I’m really looking forward to.

The Broken Star (1956), directed by Lesley Selander, stars Howard Duff and Lita Baron. It was available on Hulu for a while, in a nice-looking, though full-frame transfer.

Outlaw’s Son (1957), another one from Lesley Selander, stars Dane Clark, Ben Cooper and Lori Nelson.

The Iron Sheriff (1957) is a Grand Production, not a Bel-Air, with Sterling Hayden, John Dehner and Constance Ford — directed by Sidney Salkow.

Hopefully, these will be widescreen. By 1956-57, 1.85 was pretty much the standard, and these pictures really benefit from that cropping.

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Here’s John Payne celebrating his birthday on the set of Tennessee’s Partner (1955).

Left to right: Rhonda Fleming, Allan Dwan, Angie Dickinson, John Alton (kneeling), Ronald Reagan, Payne, Colleen Gray (in bonnet) and Benedict Bogeau.

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If there’s any cinematographer whose work deserves the red carpet treatment on DVD, it’s John Alton.

Alton was a master.  He worked fast — coming to the set fully prepared and not using a lot of lights. And while “painting with light” was his thing, evidently diplomacy was not. He was fired a lot, until he finally got fed up with the whole business and vanished. Along the way, he went from pictures like An American In Paris (1951), his first color film — and the one that earned him an Oscar, to film noir with Anthony Mann (T-Men, Border Incident, etc.) to cowboy pictures at Republic (Wyoming).

In 1954, Alton found himself at RKO, working with director Allan Dwan on a series of medium-budget films produced by Benedict Bogeaus. These pictures gave Dwan a level of authority (or maybe he simply took charge of things) he hadn’t enjoyed since the silent days. However it came about, he really made the most of it.

Allan Dwan: “John Alton was a fine cameraman and we hit it off well. He was good for us because he’s wonderful with lights — very economical.”

From 1954 to 1956, Dwan and Alton made seven pictures together, all produced by Bogeaus for RKO.

Dwan: “Never over around $800-850,000. About three weeks shooting each — 15 days. That was the design. They were token pictures to keep the studio alive — Hughes wasn’t interested in a big splurge. And none of our pictures warranted a big budget — they all went out and got their money back plus a profit.”

The next to last of these “token pictures,” and the third Western of the bunch, was Tennessee’s Partner (1955) — in Superscope with prints by Technicolor. (Dwan would later list it as his favorite of the films he made for Bogeaus and RKO.)

John Payne is Tennessee, a gambler who’s set up shop in Rhonda Fleming’s saloon — the Marriage Market in Sandy Bar. Ronald Reagan is Cowpoke, who saves Tennessee’s life. Tennessee later proves that Cowpoke’s fiancé, Colleen Gray, is a gold-digger (named, appropriately, Goldie). Speaking of gold, there’s a subplot involving Grubstake McNiven (Chubby Johnson) striking it rich.

Dwan: “…this was a good, honest story, and I liked Bret Harte… I believe the original story was more tragic than ours, but it was very definitely more downbeat. And it was a short story, so we had to stretch it out some way or other.”

To stretch it, they seemed to have played up the humor and action. Dwan’s breezy direction and John Alton’s luscious cinematography make this a real piece of eye candy — aided by the art direction of Van Nest Polglase (Citizen Kane). The way the camera glides through Rhonda Fleming’s gambling hall is worth the price of admission. Then there’s its Technicolor tour of the Iverson Ranch in the last two reels. It’s a gorgeous, yet completely unpretentious, story of friendship and double-crosses.

Tennessee’s Partner has been available on DVD, in a nice full-frame transfer, from VCI for years. Superscope extracted a 2:1 anamorphic image from a full-frame negative — which is what the new edition, again from VCI, replicates. (The lack of a Superscope logo in the credits indicates that full-frame source material was used.) As far as color and sharpness go, this is comparable to their first release. But with the new attention to the framing, Alton’s camerawork is even more impressive. He’s quoted somewhere as saying “It’s not what you light — it’s what you don’t light.” And the 2:1 image, especially in the gambling scenes, really highlights the way he used darkness.

VCI gives us original trailers to Tennessee’s Partner and the other Dwan/Alton/Bogeaus titles they have available. Seen together, they really had me wanting to put together a marathon some weekend.

With a new edition of any film, in any format, there’s always the question of value. Is this worth reaching into my wallet for, again? In my case, certainly, as I’ve been dying to see how Tennessee’s Partner looked in Superscope. For those who own the full-frame version, it’s a matter of personal taste. For the rest, it’s a good picture — a significant 50s Western — and this is by far the best it’s ever been presented on video. Get it here.

[The Allan Dwan quotes come from Allan Dwan: The Last Pioneer by Peter Bogdanovich, one of my favorite film books.]

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The only bad thing I can say about Allan Dwan’s Silver Lode (1954) is I wish he’d made 20 more pictures just like it.

It’s one of my favorite 50s Westerns. It stands as a supreme example of just what a B movie was capable of being — what it lacks in budget, it more than makes up for with its number of ideas.

Of course, given the people involved in it, none of that should be a big surprise. Directed by Allan Dwan. Shot by John Alton. Produced by Benedict Bogeaus. With a cast that includes John Payne, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Harry Carey, Jr., Alan Hale, Jr., Stuart Whitman, Delores Moran and Morris Ankrum. Not bad, huh?

In 1954, the Western was proving to be a good place to stick a little pro-communist or anti-HUAC sentiment. But unlike High Noon (1952) or Johnny Guitar (1954), Silver Lode is surprisingly blatant about it. It was written by Karen DeWolf, who’d eventually be blacklisted.

For starters, Duryea’s crooked Marshall is named McCarty. He rides into town with an arrest warrant for Dan Ballard (John Payne). The charge is murder. Over the next 70-something minutes, we watch Payne try to prove his innocence, as the citizenry of Silver Lode goes from Payne’s friends and supporters to a bloodthirsty mob. Even his fiancée (Scott) has her doubts about him — on their wedding day. It’s a picture that never lets up for a second, showing Dwan’s absolute mastery of pacing. And it’s filled with amazing shots and sequences, obviously developed for budget reasons, that illustrate the inverse relationship that can exist between money and creativity.

A remastered DVD just came out from VCI Entertainment. And while it’s not the gorgeous, sparkly thing we’d all hope for, it’s a definite improvement over the previous edition. Better color. Less dust. Nice audio. I’m completely happy with it, glad that VCI thought enough of the film to revisit it. Highly, highly recommended.

Two other Dwan/Payne pictures — Tennessee’s Partner (1955), a Western costarring Ronald Reagan, and Slightly Scarlet (1956), a rare color film noir — are also worth seeking out. Both of these pictures were in SuperScope.

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