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Archive for the ‘John Sturges’ Category

Directed by John Sturges
Screen Play by William Bowers
Based on the novel by Marvin H. Albert
Director Of Photography: Robert Surtees
Film Editor: Ferris Webster

Cast: Robert Taylor (Jake Wade), Richard Widmark (Clint Hollister), Patricia Owens (Peggy), Robert Middleton (Ortero), Henry Silva (Rennie), DeForest Kelley (Wexler)

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The Law And Jake Wade (1958) seems to be one of those Westerns everybody likes. The few times I’ve read or heard something negative about it, I always come way wondering if the dissenter had seen the same movie I saw.

John Sturges was a master at building suspense over the span of about 90 minutes. And with Escape From Fort Bravo (1953), Jake Wade and Last Train From Gun Hill (1959), he did it within the 50s Westerns bracket.

Jake Wade (Robert Taylor) wants to go straight and start a new life with his fiancé Peggy (Patricia Owens), but his old partner Clint Hollister (Richard Widmark) turns up — accompanied by psychopaths Henry Silva and DeForest Kelley — and wants to know where Wade buried the loot from an old bank job.

Before long (probably still in the first reel; this thing moves fast), Widmark’s abducted Patricia Owens and they’re all headed into Comanche territory to dig up the money — with the Comanches on the warpath.

This has the same “small group in a helluva fix as they go from Point A to Point B” setup you find in pictures like Roughshod (1949), Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957) and some of the Scott-Kennedy-Boetticher films. It’s perfect for Sturges, and he sets up the story and characters, then slowly turns up the heat as the movie progresses. While the ending may not be as satisfying as it could be, getting there is quite a ride.

Robert Taylor stands as tall as you expect him to. He has to tow the line to keep his bride-to-be safe, and Sturges wrings a lot of tension from that. Widmark is terrific as Hollister — another one of his likable psychos. He creates a real sense of menace here. You know he has no qualms about killing his hostages, and figures that’s exactly what he’ll do once he’s got the money. DeForest Kelley and Henry Silva make quite an impression with their limited screen time. These are dangerous freaks, and we’re well aware of that just seconds after their first appearance. Robert Middleton also scores as the one somewhat human member of Wade’s old gang.

There’s no composer credit for The Law And Jake Wade. It uses a lot of pre-existing stuff, much of it lifted from Elmer Bernstein’s score for Saddle The Wind. There was a musicians’ strike in ’58, and it affected quite a few films (Delmer Daves’ The Badlanders, for instance). Occasionally, something seems a bit out of place, but the music’s fine for the most part.

Ferris Webster’s editing is top notch throughout. The Indian attack sequence is very well done.

In a rather odd way, the casting of The Law And Jake Wade was predicted by I Love Lucy. In the 1955 episode “The Tour,” Lucy seeks to snag some fruit from our co-stars’ back yards. “I’d just love a Richard Widmark grapefruit to go with my Robert Taylor orange.” (Thanks to my daughter for this piece of trivia.)

Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray is stunning. High-definition really brings out the detail and depth of Surtees’ Scope camerawork, making sure Lone Pine and Death Valley are a huge part of the picture’s overall effect. (Temperatures were right at zero when they shot the scenes in the High Sierras.) Sturges was always very good at emphasizing the isolation in his Westerns, and this Blu-Ray brings that front and center. The color’s good for Metrocolor and the sound is nice and clean. The only extra is an original trailer.

The Law And Jake Wade is one of the essential 50s Westerns, and this hi-def edition of it was obviously given the care it deserves.

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Directed by John Sturges
Starring Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, Patricia Owens, Robert Middleton, Henry Silva, DeForest Kelley

The Law And Jake Wade (1958) is one of the best Westerns of the 50s. It’s tight, tense and in CinemaScope, which is exactly what you want in a John Sturges movie. Oh, and it’s coming to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

Jake Wade (Robert Taylor) wants to go straight, but his old partner Richard Widmark wants to know where he buried the loot from an old bank job. Before long, Widmark’s abducted Taylor’s fiancé (Patricia Owens) and they’re all headed into Comanche territory — and the Comanches are on the warpath.

This is as good as it gets, folks — and I’m sure Warner Archive will treat it right. Essential stuff.

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Over at my other blog, I’ve had this Dialogue Of The Day thing going for a while and have been meaning to start it up over here. The dialogue in these movies is often so rich, this should be a lot of fun.

To kick things off, here’s some tough stuff from Kirk Douglas in Last Train From Gun Hill (1959), which they say Dalton Trumbo helped write.

Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas): “I know an old man who’d like to kill you, Belden — the Indian way: slow. That’s how I’m gonna do it: slow — but the white man’s way. First you stand trial. That takes a fair amount of time, and you’ll do a lot of sweating! Then they’ll sentence ya. I never seen a man who didn’t get sick to his stomach when he heard the kind of sentence you’ll draw. After that you’ll sit in a cell and wait, maybe for months, thinking how that rope will feel around your neck. Then they’ll come around, some cold morning, just before sun-up. They’ll tie your arms behind you. You’ll start blubbering, kicking, yelling for help. But it won’t do you any good. They’ll drag you out in the yard, heave you up on that platform, fix that rope around your neck and leave you out there all alone with a big black hood over your eyes. You know the last sound you hear? Kind of a thump when they kick the trapdoor catch — and down you go. You’ll hit the end of that rope like a sack of potatoes, all dead weight. It’ll be white hot around your neck and your Adam’s Apple will turn to mush. You’ll fight for your breath, but you haven’t got any breath. Your brain will begin to boil. You’ll scream and holler! But nobody’ll hear you. You’ll hear it. But nobody else. Finally you’re just swingin’ there — all alone and dead.”

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New York’s 92nd Street Y is hosting a class on Westerns of the 50s. Hosted by Kurt Brokaw, Associate Teaching Professor at The New School and senior film critic of The Independent magazine, it’s got a really terrific roster of films. The classes are Tuesday nights, beginning April 14, with two films each night.

Man, I wish I could get to this.

Week 1
Broken Lance
(1954) Directed by Edward Dmytryk, starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Richard Widmark, Katy Jurado
The Badlanders (1956) Directed by Delmer Daves, starring Alan Ladd, Ernest Borgnine, Katy Jurado

Week 2
Saddle The Wind
(1958) Directed by Robert Parrish, starring Robert Taylor, Julie London, John Cassavetes
Dawn At Socorro (1954) Directed by George Sherman, starring Rory Calhoun and Piper Laurie

Week 3
Pillars Of The Sky
(1956) Directed by George Marshall, starring Jeff Chandler, Dorothy Malone, Ward Bond, Lee Marvin
Backlash (1956) Directed by John Sturges, starring Richard Widmark, Donna Reed, William Campbell, John McIntire

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Week 4
Ride Clear Of Diablo
(1954) Directed by Jesse Hibbs, starring Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Susan Cabot
The Outriders (1950) Directed by Roy Rowland, starring Joel McCrea, Arlene Dahl, James Whitmore, Barry Sullivan

Week 5
Back To God’s Country
(1953) Directed by Joseph Pevney, starring Rock Hudson, Marcia Henderson, Steve Cochran, Hugh O’Brien
Black Horse Canyon (1954) Directed by Jesse Hibbs, starring Joel McCrea and Mari Blanchard

Week 6
Seven Men From Now
(1956) Directed by Budd Boetticher, starring Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed
Gun Fury (1953) Directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Philip Carey, Lee Marvin

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The charge was this: send in your list of favorite 50s Westerns DVD releases for 2014, along with a few 50s Westerns that you discovered this year.

For today, here are your (and my) 10 favorite DVDs or Blu-rays released during the 2014 calendar year.

10. Panhandle (1948) This terrific Rod Cameron picture, directed by Lesley Selander, was released a few years ago as part of VCI’s Darn Good Western Volume 1. This year, it showed up on its on.

9. City Of Bad Men (1953) Dale Robertson leads a great cast: Jeanne Crain, Richard Boone, Lloyd Bridges, Hugh Sanders, Rodolfo Acosta, Don Haggerty, Leo Gordon, John Doucette, Frank Ferguson, James Best. Harmon Jones directs.

8. Fort Massacre (1958) Joel McCrea plays way against type. Forrest Tucker, Susan Cabot, John Russell and Denver Pyle co-star. You can get a nice regular DVD here in the States — and a stunning Blu-ray in Germany.

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7. Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) The guys who developed VistaVision look down from heaven, see this Blu-ray playing in our living rooms, and are very happy indeed.

6. The Lusty Men (1952) There was a time when Nicholas Ray was a machine that cranked out Great Movies. This study of modern-day rodeo cowboys — starring Robert Mitchum, Susan Haywood and Arthur Kennedy — comes from the heart of that period.

5. Drum Beat (1954) Alan Ladd shows us he’s got more than Shane up his sleeve, and Delmer Daves delivers yet another solid Western. This is a lot better movie than you’ve heard (or remember).

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4. Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958) When an Allied Artists Western starring Mark Stevens makes a Top Ten list, I know I’m in the right place.

3. Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Volume 4 As good as the series Western ever got. For me, this fourth volume is the best — which makes it plenty great indeed.

2. Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957) It’s not a stupendous Randolph Scott movie, but it’s a Randolph Scott movie — and Warner Archive has it shining like a black and white, 1.85 diamond.

1. South Of St. Louis (1949) This terrific Joel McCrea picture, with its Technicolor appropriately saturated, is stunning on Blu-ray from Olive Films. Alexis Smith and Dorothy Malone should’ve paid cinematographer Karl Freund for making them look so beautiful.

Along with all these favorites, there was a common complaint: that Olive Films’ promised The Quiet Gun (1956) didn’t make it in 2014.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their lists.

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James Garner
1928 – 2014

Some celebrities, you’d swear you actually knew them. Maybe you invite them into your home every week (through your TV). Perhaps you can’t remember a time when you weren’t aware of them. Or it could be that they just come off so real. All of those apply to James Garner.

Garner didn’t make much of a mark on the 50s Western, at least not in theaters. (1957’s Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend is the only one he did.) But his Maverick is still a milestone in Westerns on TV. And John Sturges’ Hour Of The Gun (1967, above) is one of the best post-50s Westerns out there, largely due to Garner’s performance — and one of the most sadly overlooked.

I was 10 years old when The Rockford Files (below) debuted, and after binge-watching it countless times over the years, I’m convinced it’s the greatest TV show ever. If I ever fall into a lot of money, you can bet that a gold mid-70s Pontiac Firebird Esprit will find its way to my driveway.

But there’s so much more. The Great Escape (1963). Grand Prix (1966). Marlowe (1968). Those great Doris Day pictures. Support Your Local Sheriff (1969). I’m just getting started.

I’m not making a lot of sense here. Thinking of James Garner and his body of work is a bit mind-boggling right now, and I’m struggling to find a coherent thread through it all. So I’ll just say I miss him already and thank God we can continue to benefit from his talent.

Visit Laura’s place for her thoughts on Garner. An obituary is here.

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William Holden
(April 17, 1918 – November 12, 1981)

Last night, my daughter mentioned that today is William Holden’s birthday. Don’t tell me she’s not getting a well-rounded education!

Probably one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, Holden made a number of good Westerns. John Sturges’ Escape From Fort Bravo (1953) is one of the best. The last couple reels are really outstanding.

Of course, Western fans these days know him for Pike Bishop in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), a performance right up there with Stewart in The Man From Laramie (1955) and Wayne in The Searchers (1956).

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