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Archive for the ‘MGM’ Category

outriders-mag-ad

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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Warner Archive has some great stuff promised for April.

The Hired Gun (1957)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Rory Calhoun, Anne Francis, Vince Edwards, Chuck Connors
This is one I’ve been wanting for a long time. Black and white Scope with Rory Calhoun and Anne Francis, directed by Ray Nazarro. What’s not to like?

Black Patch (1957)
Directed by Allen H. Miner
Starring George Montgomery, Diane Brewster, Tom Pittman, Leo Gordon, Lynn Cartwright
A solid Montgomery Western written by character actor Leo Gordon.

Arrow In The Dust HS

Arrow In The Dust (1954)
Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Jimmy Wakely, Lee Van Cleef
Hayden and Gray appear together a couple years before The Killing (1956), directed by the great Lesley Selander.

The Marauders (1955)
Directed by Gerald Mayer
Starring Dan Duryea, Jeff Richards, Keenan Wynn
Duryea as the bad guy gets first billing. Enough said.

Son Of Belle Starr (1953)
Directed by Frank McDonald
Starring Keith Larsen, Dona Drake, Peggie Castle, Regis Toomey
Peggie Castle and Regis Toomey in 70 minutes of Cinecolor from Allied Artists.

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Sam and Bob PGBK

This book falls outside the usual scope of this blog, but I’m sure many of us will be interested in it. I know I am! Paul Seydor’s The Authentic Death and Contentious Afterlife Of Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid: The Untold Story of Peckinpah’s Last Western Film will be available in February. I’m not sure I can wait that long.

the-authentic-death-and-contentious-afterlife-of-pat-garrett-and-billy-the-kidPat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973) could be Sam Peckinpah’s most mangled masterpiece — as you know, he had a lot of them. Slim Pickens’ final scene, featuring Katy Jurado and set to Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” gets my vote as the saddest, most moving scene in cinema history. (Quick, Toby, think of something else!)

From Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid‘s troubled shooting — plagued with everything from schedule-busting camera malfunctions to liver-wrecking substance abuse — to its mutilation by MGM and eventual restoration and reappraisal, Seydor’s got a helluva story to tell. As an editor, his insight into the film’s cutting and re-cutting should be worth the cover price alone. His previous book, Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration, and documentary, The Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage (1996), show that he knows his way around this subject. Man, I can’t wait!

 

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Badlanders TC
Directed by Delmer Daves
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Screenplay by Richard Collins
From a novel by W.R. Burnett
Director Of Photography: John Seitz, ASC
Film Editors: William H. Webb and James Baiotto

CAST: Alan Ladd (Peter Van Hoek), Ernest Borgnine (John McBain), Katy Jurado (Anita), Claire Kelly (Ada Winton), Kent Smith (Cyril Lounsbery), Nehemiah Perdoff (Vincente), Robert Emhardt (Sample), Anthony Caruso (Comanche)

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Today’s post marks the 101st birthday of Alan Ladd (September 3, 1913 – January 29, 1964).

Warner Archive’s recent Alan Ladd releases got me on a bit of a Ladd kick, so I was eager to see The Badlanders (1958). A Western remake of The Asphalt Jungle (1950), directed by Delmer Daves, it pairs Ladd with Ernest Borgnine.

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The Dutchman (Ladd) and McBain (Borgnine) leave Yuma to settle a couple scores in Prescott: the Dutchman was framed for a gold robbery and McBain was cheated out of his gold-rich land. The Dutchman has a plan to retrieve a tremendous amount of gold ore from an abandoned mine, and he recruits McBain for the heist. The catch is, the marshall’s warned Ladd that he’d better be on the next stage outta town, which leaves the following evening. Things are further complicated by a crooked deputy, some really crooked businessmen and Katy Jurado and Claire Kelly. But, of course, as with The Asphalt Jungle, the heist itself is the centerpiece of the picture.

Delmer Daves made some of the finest Westerns of the 50s: Broken Arrow (1950), 3:10 To Yuma (1957) and The Hanging Tree (1959). The Badlanders doesn’t reach that level, but it’s a solid film that easily translates the heist picture to the Old West. Ladd and Borgnine are very good. Ladd’s cool as a cucumber throughout. Borgnine’s transformation from bitter inmate to loyal friend is played very well. Its failure could’ve sunk the film. Katy Jurado is beautiful—she and Borgnine became an item and were married a couple years later. (Borgnine spent some time watching her work on One-Eyed Jacks.) Oh, and Ladd and Borgnine remained friends till Ladd’s death.

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Daves always makes great use of his locations, and The Badlanders is no exception. The Yuma Territorial Prison plays itself. Various mines around Kingman, Arizona, were supposedly used. And Old Tucson has never looked better. I always get a kick out of seeing that bridge (from Buchanan Rides Alone, Rio Bravo and many more). The previous Daves/Ladd film, 1954’s Drum Beat, made great use of the Sedona area.

There is no composer credit for The Badlanders. It’s scored entirely with stock music. I don’t know of another film of this stature (Daves, Ladd, MGM) that uses recycled music. I’d love to hear the story behind that decision. Sometimes it works fine, sometimes it seems to have been chosen at random.

A fairly early effort from Warner Archive, The Badlanders looks great. Nice and sharp, and the color is strong. A full-frame trailer is included. Recommended.

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Bill Hunt at The Digital Bits has a bit more news on the status of John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960):

“… I was up in L.A. checking out Robert Harris’ recent restoration tests of The Alamo with my own two eyes. Despite what MGM has claimed officially, let me assure you, having now seen the tests firsthand – which the studio has apparently not done yet for some strange reason (and how weird is that?) – this film is in serious need of restoration. The good news, however, is that I’ve also seen tests of how good the film could look like if given a restoration. The result would easily be worth theatrical presentation and a solid Blu-ray release. So keep spreading the word and keep the pressure on the studio. Fingers crossed.”

UPDATE: Robert Harris has clarified things with a post at Home Theater Forum:

“Sorry. A bit confusing. Nothing is occurring. Merely shared the tests which we did a month or so ago with a few people. And for the record, the roadshow version of the film is gone, as far as film or theatrical is concerned. Only the general release version has a chance of being decently preserved, but not at full quality. Too late.”

There’s nothing I can type here that will get across how sad and angry this makes me. Thanks to Paula for bringing this to my attention.

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