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Archive for the ‘Lewis D. Collins’ Category

Abile Town signed still

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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Directed by Lewis Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Story and Screenplay by Dan Ullman
Cinematography: Ernest Miller

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Joe Daniels), Peggy Stewart (Kay Collins), House Peters, Jr. (Ralph Carruthers), Lane Bradford (Fred Jethro), Stan Jolley (Slater), Fuzzy Knight (Cap), John Hart, Lyle Talbot

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The last couple years, we’ve compiled lists of our favorite 50s Western DVD releases for that year, which I post on this blog. Well, I’m gonna go ahead and reveal my pick for the best DVD release of 2015 — Warner Archive’s Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection.

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After The Showdown (1950), William Elliott and Republic Pictures parted ways. It wasn’t long before Elliott entered into a deal with Monogram Pictures to make some low-budget Westerns. In the end, there were 11 of them — with Monogram becoming Allied Artists midstream.

They’re a bit darker and more “adult” than your typical B Western. While the budget limitations are obvious, Elliott’s as reliable as ever — and he’s got some top-notch support from folks like Harry Morgan, Peggy Stewart, Myron Healey, Phyllis Coates, Denver Pyle, Beverly Garland, John Doucette and Fuzzy Knight. I love these little movies.

Kansas Territory still

Kansas Territory (1952) is one of the better ones. Elliott journeys to Kansas, even though he’s wanted there on an old Civil War charge, to find out who killed his brother. Along the way, he learns his sibling went bad and probably deserved what he got. That, of course, doesn’t stop Wild Bill from tracking down the killer.

Elliott’s determination to get his revenge puts a hard edge on his usual “peaceable man” image. We know he’s a good man, but he’s got some dirty business to tend to — and it’s become an obsession. Dan Ullman’s scripts for these pictures (and for the Elliott detective films that followed) are very tight, and he manages to find something a little different to toss at a familiar plot point.

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Shot at the Iverson Ranch by ace cinematographer Ernest Miller, under the working title Vengeance Trail, Kansas Territory looks great. Monogram struck prints of these pictures in “glorious sepia tone,” and while I’m a stickler for preserving the original presentation, I’m glad Warner Archive stuck with black and white. Sepia doesn’t always come off well on TV. This set is terrific, giving you eight of the 11 pictures on three DVDs. For me, it’s hard to avoid watching them all in a hard-riding, popcorn-munching binge. A must.

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After a stint at Republic Pictures that resulted in some terrific Westerns (including a personal favorite, 1949’s Hellfire), William Elliott made his way to Monogram. By the time the series was over, Monogram had become Allied Artists and 1.85 had become the standard aspect ratio for American cinema. And the B Western was dead. These 11 pictures made sure it went out on a high note.

Rebel City LC

Warner Archive has gathered eight of these films for a three-disc set — The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection.

The Longhorn (1951)
Waco (1952)
Kansas Territory (1952)
The Maverick (1952)
Rebel City (1953)
Topeka (1953)
Vigilante Terror (1953)
The Forty-Niners (1954, widescreen)

Following these rather adult B Westerns, Elliott would make a dynamite series of detective pictures (again for Allied Artists) then go into retirement. Cancer would take him in 1964.

For me, this is the DVD release of the year. It’s due October 13. Between this set and the double feature that’s already out, you’ll have everything but Bitter Creek (1954), which WA promises for a later release. Essential stuff.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Yesterday was William Elliott’s birthday, so it seems about time to finish up a piece I started a while back on The Longhorn (1951), the first of 11 films “Wild Bill” made for Monogram Pictures (later known as Allied Artists). It’s available on DVD from VCI, packaged with Charles Starrett’s first Western, Stampede (1936), as Cowboy Heroes Volume 1.

Elliott’s a cattle rancher planning to cross-breed his Longhorn cattle with Herefords. Before its 70 minutes are up, The Longhorn treats us to a cattle drive, a double cross, rustlers and Phyllis Coates. Not to mention plenty of gunplay. The plot has a few twists, so I’m keeping this spoiler-free.

For a cheap cowboy picture aimed at the Saturday matinee crowd, The Longhorn has plenty going for it. For starters, it boasts a tight, surprisingly adult script by Dan Ullman. Ullman wrote a slew of 50s Westerns, from programmers like Kansas Pacific (1953) with Sterling Hayden to the excellent Face Of A Fugitive (1959), a favorite of many who frequent this blog. The Longhorn was directed by Lewis D. Collins, who started with silent shorts and passed away a few years after this one. (By the way, Monogram paired Ullman and Collins on the cool Hot Rod in 1950.) Then there’s the cinematography by Ernest Miller, another veteran of the silents, who shot hundreds of B pictures and TV shows before his death in 1957. One of his standout credits is Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet (1951).

With so much talent on either side of the camera, how could The Longhorn miss? These six Monogram/Allied Artists pictures were Elliott’s last Westerns, and he went out on a high note — even if it’s a low-budget one.

This series was released in sepia tone, which gave the pictures an extra bit of class. William Elliott always supplied quite a bit of class, too. The VCI DVD of The Longhorn, unfortunately, isn’t presented that way, opting for standard black and white. Can’t say I blame them — sepia tends to monkey with the contrast, but it’d be nice to see how these films looked in theaters. The transfer here is fine, probably from 16mm — clean and complete, if a bit soft. My only real complaint is that VCI didn’t follow this up with the other Monogram Elliotts. (Are these things PD?) Bitter Creek (1954), which co-stars Beverly Garland, has been on my Want List for ages.

In summary, The Longhorn is a good example from the last days of the series Western, showing real toughness and maturity. VCI has given us a nice DVD. And most important, you can never go wrong with Bill Elliott. Recommended.

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