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Archive for the ‘MGM’ 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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Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Richard E. Lyons
Screenplay by N.B. Stone, Jr.
Director Of Photography: Lucien Ballard
Film Editor: Frank Santillo
Music by George Bassman

Cast: Joel McCrea (Steve Judd), Randolph Scott (Gil Westrum), Mariette Hartley (Elsa Knudsen), Ron Starr (Heck Longtree), James Drury (Billy Hammond), Edgar Buchanan (Judge Tolliver), R.G. Armstrong (Joshua Knudsen), Jenie Jackson (Kate), John Anderson (Elder Hammond), L.Q. Jones (Sylvus Hammond), Warren Oates (Henry Hammond)

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Around this blog, it’s pretty much a given that Ride The High Country (1962) is one of the finest Westerns ever made. There are regulars here who say this is their all-time favorite movie — and it’s easy to see why.

There are so many reasons why this thing’s essential. First and foremost, it’s Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea on their way out and Sam Peckinpah on his way in — and all of them turning in some of their best work. Like John Wayne’s The Shootist (1976), this is a perfect Last Movie for Scott and McCrea (and for Scott it was indeed Last). With Peckinpah, one of the things that make his work so endlessly fascinating is that his major themes and stylistic stuff are evident from Day One. Watching that new set of his The Westerner TV series really drove that home.

High Country and The Wild Bunch go so well together, coming at the same themes (outliving your time, sticking to a personal code, etc.) from different angles, but with the same love of the outmoded and the outsider. If you don’t get a little choked up at the end of Ride The High Country, there must be something wrong with you. This one gets me every time.

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I’m not here to convince you this is a great movie. You probably figured that out a long time ago — without any help from me. But I do think you need the Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. From every wrinkle in our heroes’ faces to Ron Starr’s red shirt to the gorgeous locations (Horseshoe Lake, etc.), high-definition does Lucien Ballard’s CinemaScope photography proud. It looks like film, which is exactly what it should look like. The increased clarity gives the whole thing a real sense of depth — which has become something I look for in HD transfers these days.

Lucky for us all, the extras from the old DVD release have been retained. They’re terrific and well worth your time. And this disc is well worth your investment (or re-investment, in many of our cases). As I said earlier, this one’s essential.

Always wanted to watch this and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) together. It’d be fun to contrast Ford and Peckinpah’s takes on the end of the West.

The images up top are the cover and spread from a handbill or something from Spain. Pretty cool, huh?

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Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Starring Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Mariette Hartley, Ron Starr, James Drury, Edgar Buchanan, R.G. Armstrong

Here’s one so many of us have been waiting for. Warner Archive has announced an upcoming Blu-Ray release for Sam Peckinpah’s Ride The High Country (1962).

Surely one of the finest Westerns ever made. Absolutely essential.

Thanks to Dick Vincent for the great news.

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Directed by Roy Rowland
Produced by Richard Goldstone
Story and Screenplay by Irving Ravetch
Cinematography: Charles Schoenbaum
Art Direction: Preston Ames and Cedric Gibbons
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis
Music: Andre Previn
Sound: Standish J. Lambert and Douglas Shearer (supervisor)
Film Editor: Robert J. Kern

Cast: Joel McCrea (Will Owen), Arlene Dahl (Jen Gort), Barry Sullivan (Jesse Wallace), Claude Jarman, Jr. (Roy Gort), James Whitmore (Clint Priest), Ramon Novarro (Don Antonio Chaves), Jeff Corey (Keeley), Ted De Corsia (Bye), Martin Garralaga (Father Damasco)

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badgeIn Westerns, the Civil War sometimes plays in the background and sometimes in the foreground—Westerns may play during the War or in its aftermath, as characters deal with loss and tragedy and journey west to start over. In either frame, that defining national event is a good basis for rich internal drama as well as external action. In a sprawling, vital country that has remained riddled with real if often suppressed conflict, the open conflict of that War provides a good dramatic inflection to many Westerns, and its interplay with stories in Southwest settings gives an individual coloration to narratives like that of The Outriders, which covers a lot of ground from Union prison camp to redemption and renewal in the open spaces of the West, even though the story is fairly intimate and specific and involves a relative few characters. The War is on when the film begins and over when it ends, and as relationships and conflicts are resolved, a note of reconciliation plays beneath the surface, giving to what has been a taut story and challenging vision of America of that time a positive and deeply moral tone at the fadeout.

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The action of the movie is set in motion by the escape of three Confederate prisoners, Will Owen (Joel McCrea), Jesse Wallace (Barry Sullivan), and Clint Priest (James Whitmore). Almost recaptured, they are saved by Keeley (Jeff Corey, in a an effectively understated portrait of evil), a Quantrill associate who leads his own band of murderous raiders. Because of Will’s experience in and knowledge of the Southwest, the three men are enlisted to escort a wagon train carrying Union gold from Santa Fe to St. Louis—the train is led by Don Antonio Chaves (Ramon Novarro) and includes a Union widow, Jen Gort (Arlene Dahl), her late husband’s troubled younger brother Roy (Claude Jarman, Jr.), and an ill priest (Martin Garralaga). The three men are not alike (it’s evident from the beginning that Will is inherently decent and moral, while Jesse is self-serving and willfully violent and Clint will kind of wait to be shown what’s right) and Keeley’s intended ambush on the train weighs on Will even as it’s understood the gold is supposed to go to the South, as Will understands those on the train will all be killed. One feels Will struggling over this throughout, and crucially at the halfway point (a memorable nocturnal scene begins here) it’s revealed that he and Jen have quietly fallen in love. The next day, they encounter what seems like an impassable rising river, and Will believes this saves them from going on, but Jesse resourcefully devises a plan to cross the rushing river on rafts bound by ropes on either side (but a wagon is lost and Roy loses his life). Finally, though, news comes that the War is over, and it’s only then that Will learns Keeley had conspired with Jesse to steal the gold for themselves and not to turn it over to the South. Firmly on the side of Don Antonio and the others now, Will fights against his old comrade Jesse as well as Keeley and the others. He has finally come to where he has wanted to be, a hard-won ending for a hero who has been uncertain and conflicted like so many strong protagonists in Westerns of these years.

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The Outriders, made by high-toned MGM, is a handsome Technicolor production, beautifully photographed by Charles Schoenbaum with extensive Utah exteriors, and is strongly cast for all roles, boasts costumes by the brilliant Walter Plunkett and a wonderful score by a young Andre Previn (he was only 20, folks!). But its considerable virtues reside even more deeply because, those production values aside, it’s one more 1950 Western that knew where the genre was going—to a number of interrelated aspects that would carry it into a decade of incomparable artistic grace. These aspects are principally the spiritual evolution of the hero (often matched, as here, to the moral fall of the villain) who comes to a better place of commanding his life without giving it over to destruction of others, and along with this, very often, finds an idealized and yet fully believable romance with a strong heroine of equal substance; the joining of that personal story to a vibrant narrative marked by physical events and external conflict; and the expressiveness of landscape and setting which commands attention to all these things.

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What draws me so much to this personally is that I love graceful shifts of tone and the way more quiet, nuanced moments can find a place in narratives of robust action. So, like many who have seen it, I find what we may call the campfire dance a sequence of special beauty that especially lifts this mostly unheralded gem. Done on a soundstage (very beautifully too), it begins with Will breaking out the liquor to calm tensions among the men, but the dance that begins with men as partners comes to a point where they are all too aware of the one woman presently out of view. On her own, and sure of herself, Jen breaks her ladylike reclusiveness to come out and dances with all the men, one by one, wearing out her shoes in the process and only prompting Will to intervene after Jesse in his turn becomes too aggressive with her (and in an inspired aesthetic touch, the green bandana with which Jesse pulls her to him then becomes the green shoes she gives to Will to put on her feet). Will and Jen begin to dance among the others (accompanied by a lovely, gentle waltz theme Previn uses only at this one point), then away in an overhead shot, and then they are alone in a brief dialogue which begins with his soft, tender, and wonderful line “You never showed yourself like this before.”

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Over ten minutes are given to that sequence—not counting a coda between Will and Jesse which further builds the antagonism of their relationship—and at least that much more time is given to the elaborate river crossing, an impressively staged and filmed sequence with little evidence of fakery. This whole stretch of the movie would be enough to make it stand out—and that’s true even though these events of a dance and a river crossing have a ritual quality in Westerns and are very familiar (what is arguably the greatest Western of this same year, Wagon Master, directed by John Ford, has both) but it’s a welcome familiarity because there is such an eternal resonance of life in both these things. Even apart from that though, the trajectory is a satisfying one from beginning to end. The subtly realized romance is mostly visualized rather than verbally articulated, and that’s characteristic of the genre, while by contrast, Will and Jesse—though their conflict does become physical—mostly do confront each other in words, and to powerful effect; it’s not only that broken male relationships work so well in Westerns, but it’s always interesting to see a character who seems poised and smooth (Jesse) reveal the depths of venality, cruelty, and unwanted sexual aggressiveness that are the darker side of masculinity.

The character of Will is the relatively quiet center that draws one to follow this drama. Again and again, Joel McCrea is filmed looking on and watching (other characters do this too but it has the most weight when it is him); his presence is grave and thoughtful, and McCrea expresses a full range of emotions but without ever being showy about it. If there is a gold standard for a certain kind of movie acting, favoring believability and an effective simplicity over theatrics, McCrea exemplifies it. Confidence and attractiveness never become machismo or narcissism for him—and he knows how to be nuanced while being completely unmannered.

As often observed, Joel McCrea and his friend Randolph Scott both made a choice to concentrate on Westerns in 1946, just when the genre began to fully flower, and were there through its peak in the 1950s, then finally starred together in the magisterial epiphany of Ride the High Country (1962) which effectively ended their careers on a sublime note (though McCrea came back for a few vagrant credits later). That is as it was but it might be added their careers have different arcs that one can observe if one breaks the years 1946-1960 into three periods, Scott forging a relationship with director Budd Boetticher in the later years 1956-1960 that took him to the heights of the Ranown cycle, while McCrea by contrast has more of his best films in the first period 1946-1950, when he made fewer films than Scott and was more selective (in the middle period of 1951-1955 they are perhaps equal, and that was a period McCrea finished with two 1955 Westerns reuniting him with Jacques Tourneur, arguably his ideal director). In those 1946-1950 years McCrea was blessed with a number of superior scripts and with gifted directors including not just Tourneur (the very special Stars in My Crown which followed the present film in the same year), but also Raoul Walsh, Andre de Toth and Hugo Fregonese.

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Roy Rowland, Arlene Dahl and Joel McCrea

In The Outriders, Roy Rowland—directing his only movie with McCrea—holds his own with those artists. A contract director for MGM throughout this period (though loaned out at times), he moved easily among genres—there are musicals and melodramas, including some late film noir, along with Americana, other Westerns, and engagingly, a frontier comedy Many Rivers to Cross (1955) which bridges several genres. No one has ever claimed some consistent theme or any stylistic obsessions with him that I am aware of, and yet he did so well with so many of these movies. One quality I like him for is that he is patient with the material, and doesn’t rush if there is something worth lingering on. Prosaic though his approach may seem to be much of the time, this patience affords him the opportunity to find the magic of a sequence, like the campfire dance, if it’s there to be found, even to imbue it with some real poetry, while also giving a sustained vividness to the equally elaborate river crossing. In addition to working well with McCrea, he also did well with the other actors here. The very beautiful Arlene Dahl has perhaps never been better, fleshing out her character beyond the script, while Barry Sullivan makes a compelling, individualized villain. Given a number of fine films, Rowland may deserve more attention; in any event, in my experience he gives The Outriders what is arguably the best direction of his career.

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

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Westward The Women OS

Directed by WIlliam A. Wellman
Screen Play by Charles Schnee
Story by Frank Capra
Starring Robert Taylor, Denise Darcel, Hope Emerson, John McIntire

On the third Thursday of most months, The Western Film Preservation Society has been running B Westerns at NC State’s McKimmon Center, here in Raleigh, since 1981. This week’s second feature (Thursday the 20th) is a bit of a departure: William Wellman’s Westward The Women (1951). It’s one of the best Westerns of the 50s.

The other film is In Early Arizona (1938) starring Bill Elliott, Dorothy Gulliver, Harry Woods and Jack Ingram — and directed by Joseph Levering. (It’s a bit of a stretch, but I guess that makes this a Wild Bill Wednesday post.) The meetings get going at 6:45.

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Hired Gun TC

Directed by Ray Nazarro
Produced by Rory Calhoun and Victor M. Orsatti
Screen Play by David Lang and Buckley Angell
Based on a story by Buckley Angell
Director Of Photography: Harold J. Marzorati, ASC
Film Editor: Frank Santillo
Music by Albert Glasser

Cast: Rory Calhoun (Gil McCord), Anne Francis (Ellen Beldon), Vince Edwards (Kell Beldon), John Litel (Mace Beldon), Bill Williams, Chuck Connors (Judd Farrow), Robert Burton (Nathan Conroy), Salvadore Baques (Domingo Ortega), Guinn “Big Boy” Williams (Elby Kirby), Regis Parton (Cliff Beldon), Buelah Archuletta

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Around the time I decided to write a book on 50s Westerns, and long before I’d thought about a blog to go with it, The Hired Gun (1957) was a movie sitting near the top of my Want List. Rory Calhoun. Anne Francis. Vince Edwards. Guinn “Big Boy” Williams. Black and white CinemaScope (an aesthetic I adore). Directed by Ray Nazarro at Lone Pine. How could this thing not be terrific? But what were my chances of ever seeing it widescreen as intended?

Dissolve to: six years later. An anamorphic widescreen DVD of The Hired Gun was released by Warner Archive a couple weeks ago. And now that I’ve had a chance to see it in all its monochromatic 2.35:1 glory, what’s the verdict?

To be honest, The Hired Gun seems like pretty standard stuff. Plot-wise, it’s nothing that couldn’t be covered in an hour-long TV show. But like so many of the lower-budgeted Westerns of the 50s, the people involved, and what they bring to these minor films, make all the difference.

The Hired Gun was produced by Rory Calhoun and his agent, Victor Orsatti. Their Rorvic Productions made a handful of films in the late 50s, along with Calhoun’s TV series The Texan; the three Westerns were directed by Ray Nazarro (his other two Rorvic pictures were The Domino Kid and Apache Territory).

With The Hired Gun set for MGM release, Anne Francis, who’d just appeared in MGM’s Forbidden Planet (1956) and was a rising star at the studio, was signed as Calhoun’s co-star.

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Francis is Ellen Beldon, who’s to be hung for the murder of her husband. She’s sprung from jail by Chuck Connors, who works on her uncle’s ranch. Very quickly, Mace Beldon (John Litel), the dead man’s father, hires gunslinger Gil McCord (Calhoun) to track her down. The jailbreak, and the chase that follows it, are really well staged — Ray Nazarro was so good with action. Here, he uses an under-cranked camera to boost the urgency and pacing. The rest of the picture, taken up by Calhoun capturing Francis and their journey together, covers more familiar territory. But it covers that territory well, thanks to the professionalism and craft of those who made it.

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Calhoun is cool as a cucumber as the gunman, whether he’s posing as a ranch hand, beating the crap outta Chuck Connors or talking tough to Anne Francis. Since the film’s so short, just 64 minutes, there’s not a lot of time for real character development. We assume all along that he’ll change his mind about his prisoner before it’s all over with.

From Forbidden Planet to Honey West, I’ve always liked Anne Francis — and she’s quite good here. She was one of the only members of the cast and crew who hadn’t experienced the rigors of shooting a Western on location. Jock Mahoney, who worked with director Ray Nazarro on a lot of pictures, once said, “Ray didn’t particularly like women in the cast and he’d make them his whipping boy.”

So, everyone on the picture was fully expecting to see the young actress suffer while in Lone Pine. She was determined to deny them that satisfaction.

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Anne Francis: “Rory and I were in the saddle from morning until night. I suspect he was tired, I know I was. But I wouldn’t have admitted it for all the gold in Fort Knox.”**

Oh, and if you look quick, you’ll see Buelah Archuletta, who played “Look” in The Searchers (1956).

Director of photography Harold J. Marzorati captures Lone Pine, with snow-covered mountaintops in the distance, in stunning black and white CinemaScope. Lone Pine always looks terrific in black and white — check out a Tim Holt picture or two for further proof — and the wide frame makes it all the more dramatic.

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Marzorati’s gorgeous work was done a real service by the folks at Warner Archive. His ‘Scope compositions are perfectly presented and the contrast levels are just right. When was the last time someone saw this movie looking like this? There’s a “textless” trailer to round out the package.

Someone recently commented here that “we’re living in a Golden Age for classic movie lovers.” And when an anamorphic widescreen DVD of a cheap little Western like The Hired Gun can be yours for a little e-commerce, I have to agree.

Laura posted a review of The Hired Gun over at her place today, too.

*From The Adventures Of The Durango Kid, Starring Charles Starrett by Bob Carman and Dan Scapperotti; ** Newspaper article, 1957

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