Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘MGM’ Category

Directed by John Ford
Produced by John Ford & Merian C. Cooper
Screenplay by Laurence Stallings, Frank S. Nugent & Robert Nathan
Based on The Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne
Director Of Photography: Winton Hoch, ASC
Film Editor: Jack Murray
Musical Score: Richard Hageman

Cast: John Wayne (Robert Marmaduke Hightower), Pedro Armendáriz (Pedro Encarnación Escalante y Rocafuerte, AKA Pete), Harry Carey Jr. (William Kearney, The Abilene Kid), Mildred Natwick (Mother), Ward Bond (Sheriff Perley “Buck” Sweet), Mae Marsh (Mrs. Sweet), Jane Darwell (Miss Florie), Guy Kibbee (Judge), Hank Worden (Curly), Dorothy Ford (Ruby Latham), Charles Halton (Oliver Latham), Jack Pennick (Luke), Fred Libby (Deputy), Ben Johnson (Posseman), Michael Dugan (Posseman) Francis Ford (Drunken Old-Timer at Bar), Richard Hageman (Piano Player In Saloon), Ruth Clifford (Woman in Bar), Jack Curtis (Bartender), Harry Tenbrook (Bartender), Gertrude Astor (Townswoman), Eva Novak (Townswoman), Amelia Yelda (Robert William Pedro Hightower)


Why is John Ford’s 3 Godfathers (1948) so often overlooked, so rarely mentioned along with the director’s other post-war masterworks? Even called “minor Ford,” by some. Since its release in December of 1948, it’s been criticized for being too sentimental, too religious, too hokey. But as I see it, it’s just too good to ignore.

While John Ford was shooting Fort Apache (1948), the first picture in his “cavalry trilogy,” the great silent Western star Harry Carey passed away. Ford got his start directing Carey pictures, and Ford shut down Fort Apache for a few days to visit the dying star, reminiscing with him as he breathed his last. Ford then put together Carey’s funeral, by all accounts an elaborate affair.

For his next film, Ford chose 3 Godfathers, based on a Peter B. Kyne novelette he’d filmed with Harry Carey back in 1919 as Marked Men. (It’s a lost film.) Ford decided to “introduce” Harry Carey, Jr. with the remake, even though the young actor had already done a few pictures, including appearing with his dad in Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948). Ford also needed a hit after the failure of The Fugitive (1947), which had put his Argosy Productions in real trouble. A Technicolor Western with John Wayne oughta do the trick.

3 Godfathers opens with a silhouetted figure on horseback, Cliff Lyons sitting on Harry Carey’s horse Sonny, and the dedication:

“To the Memory of Harry Carey —
Bright Star of the early western sky…”

After robbing a bank in Welcome, Arizona, three outlaws — John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz and Harry Carey Jr. — are pursued into the desert by a posse lead by Sheriff Buck Sweet (Ward Bond). Out of water, Carey wounded and their horses lost in a sandstorm, the outlaws come across a pregnant woman (Mildred Natwick) at Terrapin Tanks. Her tenderfoot husband took off in search of water, after blowing up the tanks, leaving her alone and ready to give birth.

Pedro (Armendáriz) helps deliver the baby, and before the mother dies, she names the boy after its three godfathers (Robert William Pedro Hightower) and asks them to save her baby. They promise. After burying the mother, the outlaws discover a trunk full of things she had packed for her new baby, including some canned milk and a Bible. They pack a few things and head out.

Here, Ford begins to bring in the religious allegory, as the three bad men (not wise men, not kings) follow a star toward New Jerusalem with the newborn.

William Kearney, “The Abilene Kid” (Harry Carey, Jr.): “You fellas don’t understand. Ya think this is just chance? Just accidental like, us coming here this way? Finding the mother. Helping her. The infant in the manger. The star, bright, last night. I ain’t talking out of no fever sweat, Bob, honest I ain’t. You think we had anything to do with what’s happened? No sir, we didn’t.”

(Beware: spoilers ahead.) Of course, the desert is unforgiving, and two of the outlaws don’t finish the journey. Kearney eventually succumbs to his woulds. Pete falls and breaks his leg — and encourages Bob (Wayne) to head on alone with the child. Pete asks for Wayne’s pistol, in case of coyotes.

Pedro “Pete’ Roca Fuerte (Pedro Armendáriz): “Hey, Bob… I just remembered what tomorrow is. Feliz Navidad. Merry Christmas.”

It’s not long after Wayne trudges on that we hear the shot.

Wayne on location. (If only they’d had that film truck in the movie!)

As Wayne continues toward New Jerusalem with the baby, thirst and exhaustion (and his lack of faith) take their toll and he comes close to giving up — even after the ghosts of his friends urge him to keep going. Wayne falls to the ground, and the Bible is blown open to Matthew 21. He reads of God’s provision of a donkey and its colt — and those very animals appear to help Wayne and the child complete their pilgrimage. Wayne’s reaction to the miracle is shock, disbelief and perhaps a sudden awakening. (Wayne plays it so well.) Bob and the baby reach a saloon in New Jerusalem early Christmas morning. The saloon’s piano player (Richard Hageman, who scored the film) plays “Silent Night.”

Sheriff Sweet enters the saloon, Winchester at the ready. Wayne collapses, muttering “You got me!” as he falls to the floor. (Who got him, the sheriff or the Lord?)

Now we get to see Bob’s true redemption — he’d rather do time than sign the adoption papers for a suspended sentence. They’d made a promise to a dying woman. As Bob boards the train, bound for a year and a day in the prison in Yuma, he has Bond and his wife to care for the child and a girl (Dorothy Ford) waiting for him when he’s released. It’s a joyous time, as far from any other heading-to-the-penitentiary scene as you can get.

(That’s a more in-depth synopsis than I normally like to include. Seemed necessary.)

One of the incredible things about John Ford’s work is his ability to make his movies turn on a dime. He can shift tone from scene to scene — and the picture works. With other directors, you’re left with a disjointed film that doesn’t know what it wants to be and the audience doesn’t know what to make of it. Here, Ford takes us from the jovial chat with the sheriff before the robbery to the suspense of the chase and the sandstorm to the drama of the discovery of the wagon, the baby’s birth and the mother’s death to the comedy of the three godfathers trying to figure out how to care for the baby (above) — and on to the journey through the desert with its tragedy, sacrifice and spiritual awakening. Never are these shifts jarring. It flows seamlessly.

Also, Ford never lets us see the bad side of the three bad men. From the friendly chat with the Sweets to Bob and Pete refusing water to save it for the wounded Kid to Pete’s treatment of the expectant mother to their oath to her as she dies, we are instead shown their goodness. We’re set up to like them, to pull for them, to celebrate their redemption and eventually mourn their loss.

Harry Carey, Jr., nicknamed Dobe (comparing his red hair to adobe), recalled, “We shot 3 Godfathers in Death Valley. It was in May, and that’s a beautiful time of year up there. We stayed at The Furnace Creek Inn, and Uncle Jack was in seventh heaven. He was off on location with no front-office types to look over his shoulder, and he had both Pete Armendáriz and Ward Bond to pick on.”* (The Furnace Creek Inn hosted many film crews over the years, ranging from One-Eyed Jacks to Star Wars.)

Nights in Death Valley were spent playing dominos.

Ward Bond was Ford’s favorite target for abuse, and the rest of the cast and crew breathed easier when he was around. Pedro Armendáriz, a big star in Mexico — who’d been in Ford’s two previous pictures, The Fugitive and Fort Apache (1947), was another of Ford’s favorite victims. Armendáriz reported for 3 Godfathers with an ornate black leather, silver-studded costume complete with a large sombrero. Ford promptly set him straight — he was no hero in the picture, just a bandit — and he was issued a beat-up outfit to match his character. Armendáriz was furious, especially when he saw the swayback horse and worn-out Mexican saddle he was to use. The more Armendáriz complained, the more junk Ford took from the prop truck (frying pan, coffee pot, etc.) and hung on the great Mexican star’s saddle.

Temperatures in Death Valley reached 130 degrees some days. “It was a terrible location, with the sand and the dirt,” Ben Johnson once commented.** Johnson’s role, as a member of the posse, is quite small — Ford was evidently still feeling him out as an actor.

For the Kid’s death scene, the first take didn’t meet Ford’s approval, to put it mildly. Ford had the cast and crew clear out, leaving Dobe laying alone in the sun — no shade, no water — for half an hour. When they returned, take two was all that was needed. It was real. As Carey remembered in his book Company Of Heroes, “Duke lifted me to my feet. He had his arms around me, holding me up. Ford took my face in his hands. He was smiling. ‘Why didn’t you do that the first time? See how easy it was? You done good! That’s a wrap!'”

After Death Valley, it took about 10 days at the RKO Pathé studio to finish shooting 3 Godfathers. Mildred Natwick’s scene as the dying mother was shot there one morning, then they had lunch in Ford’s office. The dedication to Harry Carey that opens the picture was the last thing done.

3 Godfathers was cinematographer Winton C. Hoch’s first film with Ford. Together, they made some of the most beautiful Westerns ever, with Hoch winning an Oscar for She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949). But 3 Godfathers has one gorgeous, breathtaking image after another, like a great Western painting that moves.

Richard Hageman makes good use of a number of familiar tunes, which he brings in and out of his score with ease. Ford’s films almost always use songs the audience knows. “Goodbye Old Paint” is heard during the Harry Carey tribute. The Kid sings “Streets Of Laredo (The Dying Cowboy),” the townspeople sing “Bringing In The Sheaves,” and this being a John Ford movie, you can count on “Shall We Gather At The River.”

Redemption is probably the most common theme in Westerns, and it’s every bit as important to 3 Godfathers as the parallels to the Christ child are. So it’s fitting that Ford set things in the days leading to Christmas, a time of renewal.

Harry Carey, Jr. again: “There was a very special feeling on every John Ford set. It was the feeling that something great was happening, a feeling of reverence. It wasn’t a feeling of reverence for John Ford; it was a feeling of reverence for art. It was like being in church.”*

How someone could sit through the picture’s 106 minutes and not be moved (if not choked up) is beyond me. It rewards repeat viewings by revealing more and more, like peeling back one layer after another, making it a gift we can unwrap each and every Christmas.

Minor Ford? That’s ridiculous.

* Pappy: The Life Of John Ford by Dan Ford
** John Ford: Hollywood’s Old Master by Ronald L. Davis
Be sure to read the chapter on 3 Godfathers in Harry Carey, Jr.’s book Company Of Heroes

Thanks to Pastor James of The Narrow Trail Cowboy Church

Read Full Post »



Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Sam Rolfe & Harold Jack Bloom
Director Of Photography: William Mellor
Film Editor: George White
Music by Bronisław Kaper

Cast: James Stewart (Howard Kemp, Janet Leigh (Lina Patch), Robert Ryan (Ben Vandergroat), Ralph Meeker (Roy Anderson), Millard Mitchell (Jesse Tate)


As great as The Naked Spur (1953) is, and even with Warner Archive’s incredible track record, I didn’t have high hopes for this Blu-Ray. Boy, was I wrong.

Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur is certainly one of the finest Westerns ever made, but it’s been one of the most consistently terrible-looking great movies on home video. From VHS to laserdisc to DVD, the Technicolor palette was muted and the picture itself way too soft. What was supposed to be sharp and vibrant looked like a pastel — in other words, it never stopped looking like VHS. Pair all that with the sad economics of home video these days — that the demand for older films hardly justifies the expense of a major restoration, and you can see why I wasn’t expecting the gorgeous presentation we can thank Warner Archive for today. 

But enough on that (for now).

The Naked Spur was the third of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns, coming after Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend Of The River (1952). The Far Country (1954) and Man From Laramie (1955) would follow. This was a cinematic hot streak that will probably never be equaled.

The entire cast of The Naked Spur: (L-R) Millard Mitchell, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker, James Stewart.

Howard Kemp (Stewart) is bringing in Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) to stand trial for murder. Vandergroat is accompanied by his girl, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh). Along for the ride are a prospector (Millard Mitchell) and a dishonorably discharged Cavalryman (Ralph Meeker). At first, folks think Stewart’s a lawman — with the knowledge that he’s a bounty hunter and there’s $5,000 at the end of the trail, things change. Mitchell and Meeker want a share of the reward — and they know how to make that piece of the pie a bit bigger. Vandergroat sees all this, and he starts working at everyone to create a chance to get away.

I’m not going any further than that. Don’t want to spoil anything.

Anthony Mann and Janet Leigh on location.

Stewart’s his usual torn, tormented, edgy Mann-picture cowboy in this one — he needs the reward to buy back his ranch. Ryan is at his best as the manipulative, slimy-but-somehow-charming Vandergroat. Ralph Meeker has maybe the best scumbag role of his career — he plays almost the entire picture with a sneer. Millard Mitchell would only make one more movie; he died of lung cancer not too long after this. And Janet Leigh is just perfect. She’s totally believable as an easy target for Ryan who slowly sees him for the murderous sociopath he really is. Much of the picture’s considerable tension comes from these characters.

The Naked Spur seems like a prototype for the Scott-Boetticher Westerns that would come a few years later: the small cast, the tightness, the tone, the incredible use of the landscape, the male lead who’s trying to right a wrong or live something down, the charismatic or even likable villain, etc. I’m not suggesting, not for a second, that Burt Kennedy and Budd Boetticher were ripping Mann off. It’s just a particular type of Western that really worked well in the 50s. Some of my all-time favorite movies fit this pattern.

Now back to the Blu-Ray. Many of y’all out there had an understandable wait-and-see approach to this one. I’m happy to report you can proceed with complete confidence — this is one of the most significant upgrades I’ve seen from DVD to Blu-Ray. The care that went into this is obvious in every frame.

It’s a near perfect transfer of three-strip Technicolor — the color and sharpness are impeccable. It’s clean without signs of noise reduction. The sound has a nice range to it and the extras from the old DVD  — a Pete Smith Specialty, Tex Avery’s Little Johnny Jet (1953) and the trailer — have been brought over.

The Naked Spur is certainly one of the best classic films to hit Blu-Ray this year. It’s so nice to see it get the attention it so richly deserves — especially William Mellor’s incredible outdoor Technicolor work. Absolutely essential.

Read Full Post »

Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

Mann and Stewart’s third Western, coming after Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend Of The River (1952), has been screaming for some restoration work for quite some time. Warner Archive has announced a Blu-Ray release for September. Can’t wait to see what they’ve done with it.

These Mann-Stewart pictures are certainly among the best Westerns ever made. Beyond that, it comes down to your personal preference.

I’ll post the technical details as they become available. This one’s as essential as they get.

Love that poster art by Gustav Rehberger.

Thanks to Paula for the tip.

Read Full Post »

Directed by John Sturges
Written by Michael Pate
Phillip Rock
Frank Fenton
Music by Jeff Alexander
Cinematography: Robert L. Surtees
Film Editor: George Boemler

Cast: William Holden (Captain Roper), Eleanor Parker (Carla Forester), John Forsythe (Captain John Marsh), William Demarest (Campbell), William Campbell (Cabot Young), Polly Bergen (Alice Owens), Richard Anderson (Lieutenant Beecher), Carl Benton Reid (Colonel Owens), John Lupton (Bailey), Forrest Lewis, Howard McNear, Glenn Strange


Director John Sturges made lots of really good movies, but he had a real thing for Westerns. One of his earliest was Escape From Fort Bravo (1953). It’s now available on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

It’s the Civil War. William Holden is a captain at Fort Bravo, a Union prison camp filled with Confederate soldiers (John Forsythe, William Demarest, William Campbell). There are Mescalero Apaches outside the walls of the fort and Confederate spies (Eleanor Parker, Howard McNear) inside. The spies help Forsythe mount an escape, and Holden heads out after them.

It all comes to a head when Holden, Parker and the recaptured prisoners are pinned down in a dry creek bed by who-knows-how-many Apaches.

To tell you much more might get in the way of Sturges’ finely-crafted suspense. The last reel of this thing is as good as anything Sturges ever did. It’s terrific.

Quite a few 50s Westerns made good use of the climactic pinned-down-by-Indians thing. A few that come to mind are Apache Drums (1951), Dakota Incident (1956) and Dragoon Wells Massacre (1958).

Holden is really good as the hard-nosed captain. He was an avid outdoorsman, and it looks like he’s in his element here. Eleanor Parker makes a good spy, and she’s beautiful in both an evening gown and leather jacket. William Demarest and William Campbell have some good, well-written scenes together. And it’s great to see Howard McNear, Floyd from The Andy Griffith Show, as a Confederate spy. Where things get a little wonky is in the middle — the romantic scenes between Holden and Parker seem like a studio-dictated addition. They slow the movie down as it makes its way to its tight conclusion. (Sturges was never all that adept with the mushy stuff.) Of course, the thrilling final attack makes up for it.

Escape From Fort Bravo was one of the first pictures shot in the Ansco Color process. It’s no Technicolor, or even Eastmancolor, but it gets the job done. It was John Sturges’ first color film, period. It was shot in Death Valley, Gallop, New Mexico, Corriganville and the MGM backlot in April and May of 1953. The great Robert Surtees was the cinematographer. There was talk at one time of the picture being shot in 3-D. It was not, with MGM making it an early widescreen release instead. In some places, it played in three-track stereophonic sound.

Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray is a marked improvement over the DVD. Here, we get the original widescreen (1.75) and a surprisingly vivid look at Ansco Color’s pastel shades. Like so many stereo movies from the early 50s, the original directional tracks are probably long gone. The mono sound, however, is clean and clear.

Escape From Fort Bravo has everything going for it. A great cast. Meticulous direction. Incredible location photography, in color. And now it has a Blu-Ray that really does all that justice. Highly, highly recommended.

Of course, John Sturges would make another POW escape film, The Great Escape, in 1963. By the way, he was trying to get that one off the ground while Escape From Fort Bravo was being put together. It took him 10 years to get The Great Escape to the screen.

Read Full Post »

Directed by John Sturges
Starring William Holden, Eleanor Parker, John Forsythe, William Demarest, William Campbell, Polly Bergen, Howard McNear, Glenn Strange

Warner Archive is working their Blu-Ray magic on John Sturges’ Escape From Fort Bravo (1953), a taut, suspenseful picture starring William Holden and Eleanor Parker.

Shot in Anscocolor, I’m looking forward to what WAC can do with it. Escape From Fort Bravo was originally shown in 1.66, just as the widescreen era was cranking up. But don’t let this make the movie sound like just a technical curio — it’s a damn good 50s Western. Highly recommended.

Read Full Post »

Directed by Anthony Mann (and Charles Walters)
Starring Glenn Ford, Maria Schell, Anne Baxter, Arthur O’Connell, Russ Tamblyn, Mercedes McCambridge, Vic Morrow, Robert Keith, Charles McGraw, Aline MacMahon, Harry Morgan, Edgar Buchanan

Warner Archive is bringing MGM’s sprawling 1960 version of Edna Ferber’s Cimarron to Blu-Ray. Anthony Mann directed about half of it, leaving after a series of disagreements with the producer, Edmund Grainger. The big Land Rush sequence is incredible and makes this Blu-Ray something to spring for.

While you could certainly argue that Mann was better suited to smaller films like Raw Deal (1948) or Bend Of The River (1952), Cimarron would see him head in an epic direction — his next pictures being El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire.

Read Full Post »

The_Daily_Times_News_Tue__Feb_11__1969_Directed by Victor Fleming
Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Haviland, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, Ward Bond, Yakima Canutt

The Graham Cinema in Graham, North Carolina is running Gone With The Wind (1939) at various times April 28 – May 2.

Sunday, April 28
2:00 PM & 7:00 PM

Monday – Thursday, April 29 – May 2
7:00 PM

They ad above was run when the Graham Cinema featured Gone With The Wind back in 1969.

Read Full Post »

Written and directed by Blake Edwards
Starring William Holden, Ryan O’Neal, Karl Malden, Lynn Carlin, Tom Skerritt, Joe Don Baker, James Olson, Leora Dana, Moses Gunn, Victor French, Rachel Roberts, Sam Gilman

Warner Archive is bringing Blake Edwards’ wonderful The Wild Rovers (1971) to Blu-Ray. Philip Lathrop’s photography deserves nothing less.

This is another one of those movies mangled by its studio — MGM cut about half an hour out of it without Edwards’ knowledge. This Blu-Ray (like the previous DVD) will be Edwards’ longer cut, which rights MGM’s wrongs.

William Holden is so good in this. And it makes an interesting companion piece to his work in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) — these are two of the best films ever done about the changing West.

Read Full Post »

Directed by Richard Brooks
Starring Robert Taylor, Farley Granger, Lloyd Nolan, Debra Paget, Russ Tamblyn

Warner Archive has announced an upcoming Blu-Ray release of The Last Hunt (1956). It’s one of the harshest Westerns of the 1950s — you could make a strong case that it’s one of the best. The buffalo hunting scenes — filmed during the thinning of the herd in South Dakota — will stay with you for a while, that’s for sure. And Robert Taylor is chilling.

Can’t wait for this to hit Blu-Ray. Highly, highly recommended.

Read Full Post »

The music label Cherry Red out of the UK has released (or is about to release) a 3-CD set Music From The Westerns Of John Wayne And John Ford. Featuring music from Stagecoach (1939), Fort Apache (1948), Three Godfathers (1948), She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), Horse Soldiers (1959) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Of course, music is always a huge part of a John Ford picture, so there’s plenty of good stuff here.

Sometimes it’s the original soundtrack (Rio Grande, Horse Soldiers), sometimes it’s from other sources. You can see a track listing here. This promises to be a very cool set. Can’t wait.

Thanks to Mr. Richard Vincent for the tip.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »