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Archive for the ‘Monogram/Allied Artists’ Category

Directed by Leslie Goodwins
Starring John Calvert, Ralph Morgan, Ann Cornell

John Calvert is better known as a magician, still at it when he died at 102, than as a movie star. But anybody with Mark Of The Whistler (1944) in their list of credits is OK by me.

Gold Fever (1952) is a cheap little Monogram Western — which for many of us, is all the recommendation we need. It was written by, produced by, and starring Calvert. The female lead, Ann Cornell, was his wife. Ralph Morgan is, well, Ralph Morgan — a character actor who did a ton of pictures like Hitler’s Madman (1943) and The Monster Maker (1944). Director Leslie Goodwins did tons of TV after years doing shorts and stuff like The Mummy Curse (1944). And it’s coming soon from Warner Archive.

And dig that poster art!

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Directed by Dick Ross
Screenplay by Curtis Kenyon

Cast: William Talman (Matt/Mark Bonham), James Craig (Brick Justin), Kristine Miller (Kathryn Bonham), Darryl Hickman (Toby Bonham), Georgia Lee (Cora Nicklin), Alvy Moore (Willy Williams), Gregory Walcott (Jim Cleary), John Milford (Clint)

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With the passing of Reverend Billy Graham this week, I was reminded of The Persuader (1957), a Western from World Wide Pictures, part of Billy Graham’s ministry. It’s a picture I heard about very early in my plummet into the bottomless pit of 50s Westerns, and it wasn’t easy (or cheap) to track down an old VHS copy.

What turned up in my mailbox was an interesting, low-budget picture (distributed by Allied Artists) with a good cast. William Talman plays twin brothers, one a homesteader, the other a minister. When the farmer Talman’s gunned down by the usual evil cattle baron’s gang, the preacher Talman is left to make things right.

From the opening: “Into this violent land came one Mathew Bonham, a fighting preacher man. He walked tall with a bible in one hand, and the Law in the other. He was quick on the draw with the Good Book. And his word had more power than a Colt 45!”

It’s an earnest movie, and Talman’s really good in it. (Remember him in Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker?) And while it’s certainly a religious movie, The Persuader works as a Western, too. It’s no Hellfire (1949), of course, but what is?

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Directed by Lewis Collins
Written by Joseph Poland
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller
Music by Raoul Kraushaar

Cast: Johnny Mack Brown (Himself), Lee Roberts (Sheriff Bob Conway), Phyllis Coates (Marian Gaylord), Hugh Prosser (George Millarde), Dennis Moore (Henry Lockwood), Marshall Reed (Macklin)

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The last of Johnny Mack Brown’s B Westerns for Monogram, Canyon Ambush (1952) is pretty much exactly what you’re picturing in your head — a pretty solid little picture shot at Iverson Ranch. In it, Brown’s a government agent who rides into Border City to help bring a masked rider to justice. There’s plenty of ridin’ and shootin’ all over the hallowed grounds of the Iverson Ranch, and Phyllis Coates is on hand to give the picture an extra boost — and plenty of curb appeal.

The screenplay’s by Joseph Poland, who wrote a ton of B Westerns (Autry, Wayne, Elliott) and serials (Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc.Batman And Robin and Atom Man Vs. Superman).

At the time Canyon Ambush was in production, Monogram was in the process of becoming Allied Artists. William Elliott stayed and made a few more pictures with the typical Monogram team (Lewis Collins, Thomas Carr, Ernest Miller, etc.); Johnny Mack Brown retired.

Canyon Ambush is available on DVD from Warner Archive’s Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 5. The three-disc set also includes Brown and Raymond Hatton in The Texas Kid (1943), Partners Of The Trail (1944), Law Men(1944), Ghost Guns (1944), Gun Smoke (1945), Frontier Feud (1945), Border Bandits (1946) and Raiders Of The South (1947). Canyon Ambush looks terrific, stunning at times. The contrast levels are beautiful, giving us a chance to really take in the wonders of the Iverson Ranch. (One more thing: Johnny Mack Brown has a really cool hat in this one.)

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Warner Archive has a couple early 50s pictures on the way, both of them worth your time and hard-earned dough. Look at the casts on these things!

The Lion And The Horse (1952)
Directed by Louis King
Starrting Steve Cochran, Wildfire, Ray Teal, Bob Steele, Harry Antrim, George O’Hanlon

The Lion And The Horse was an early exercise in Warnercolor, but don’t hold that against it. I’ve never seen this one, but with Ray Teal and Bob Steele that far up on the cast list, I’m dying to. Steve Cochran played a bad guy more often that not, and this gives him a chance to be likable. Shot in Utah’s Mount Zion National Park, the animals had trouble with the high altitudes and were placed in an oxygen tent from time to time. Director Louis King’s previous picture was Frenchie (1950) with Joel McCrea, and he’d follow it with Powder River (1953).

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Cow Country (1953)
Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Edmond O’Brien, Helen Wescott, Bob Lowery, Barton MacLane, Peggie Castle, James Millican, Robert Wilke, Raymond Hatton, Tom Tyler, Jack Ingram

Cow Country plays like a series Western on a larger scale — and that’s a good thing. Of course, what would you expect from Lesley Selander? James Millican has a great part here, and Robert Wilke is badder than usual. And Peggie Castle alone is worth the price of admission. Recommended.

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Warner Archive has kicked of their Christmas In July Sale — which lets you get four titles for just $44 with free shipping. This is a great, great thing — and it includes Blu-Rays!

Lesley Selander’s Short Grass (1950) with Rod Cameron and Johnny Mack Brown is one to consider. Click the banner to start shopping.

 

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Directed by Thomas Carr
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Milton R. Raison
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Marshal Sam Nelson), Phyllis Coates (Marian Harrison), Rick Vallin (Ray Hammond), Fuzzy Knight (Pop Harrison), John James (Marv Ronsom), Denver Pyle (Jonas Bailey), Dick Crockett (Will Peters), Harry Lauter (Mack Wilson)

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Wild Bill Wednesday, a serious oversight on my part. Well, I really felt like watching a Bill Elliott picture the other night, so let’s take a look at Topeka (1953).

The notorious bank robber Jim Levering (Elliott) and his gang wind up in Topeka, Kansas, where Mack Wilson (Harry Lauter) and his thugs are pressuring the local businesses for “protection money.” Elliott winds up as sheriff, seeing the opportunity to gain the citizens’ trust, run Wilson and his henchmen out of town and take over things for himself.

But Levering’s conscience, the lovely Marian Harrison (Phyllis Coates), and his closest friend among the gang, Ray (Rick Vallin), convince him that maybe it’s time to go straight. But, of course, we’ve seen enough of these things to know that’s easier said than done.

I’m a big fan of the common theme of redemption in 50s Westerns. Director Thomas Carr and writer Milton R. Raison do a good job with it in Topeka, leveraging Elliott’s typical good-badman persona. What’s interesting here is that we don’t see Elliott’s good side right away, and even he seems surprised by his turnaround. His transformation is totally believable.

The B Western was heading into the sunset when Elliott made his series of pictures for Monogram (later Allied Artists), and while the budgets hold things back a bit, I’m always impressed by the effort and imagination that went into them. The subject matter’s a bit more adult, Elliott’s a more complex hero than what the matinee crowds were probably used to, and the camerawork is inventive at times (though a little rushed and wobbly at others). For Topeka, it looks like cinematographer Ernest Miller brought a crane out to Iverson and Corriganville. This, for my money, is one of the best of the series.

And one more thing. I really liked Fuzzy Knight in this. He was also good in the offbeat B Western Rimfire (1949).

Topeka is part of Warner Archive’s terrific The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection — which I hope you already own. The set gives these cheap little movies the red-carpet treatment, which they (and William Elliott himself) certainly deserve.

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960

Back in 2014, gathering everybody’s favorite DVD and Blu-Ray picks for the year turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s since become an annual thing.

Thanks to everybody who sent in their picks for 2016. This was a great year for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-Ray (and 2017 is shaping up to be just as good, or maybe better). Here’s the Top 10, according to your votes.

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10. Desperado (1954, Warner Archive, DVD)
It was a tie between this Wayne Morris picture and his earlier Desert Pursuit (1952). They’re both solid, offbeat little Westerns — and it’s real treat to have them available in such stellar condition.

9. Yellow Sky (1948, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Thanks to William Wellman, we didn’t have to wait till the 50s for Hollywood to start making 50s Westerns. The town of Yellow Sky is populated by only an old prospector and his daughter — until some slimy outlaws come riding up.

8. Western Union (1941, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Randolph Scott in Fritz Lang’s second Technicolor movie. There’s so much cool stuff in this movie, and it looks wonderful.

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7. Black Horse Canyon (1954, Universal Vault, DVD)
For years, Joel McCrea’s Universal Westerns were missing on DVD. It’s great to have them so easy to track down. This is a good one.

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6. Comanche Station (1960, Explosive Media, Blu-Ray)
The last of the Scott-Boetticher Westerns turns out to be the first to make its way to Blu-Ray, and as I see it, the others can’t get here soon enough. This thing’s incredible.

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5. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, Warner Archive, Blu-Ray)
John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, above) is one of the most beautiful color movies ever shot. The proof is pressed oh-so-magnificently into this Blu-Ray. It also features one of John Wayne’s finest performances.

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4. Roughshod (1949, Warner Archive, DVD)
This gets my vote as the best of the “noir Westerns.” I was real happy to see the response this picture got. It’s a shame it’s not better known.

3. Cariboo Trail (1950, Kino Lorber, DVD/Blu-Ray)
The transfer here is a minor miracle, demonstrating how good CineColor can look. They wisely didn’t go overboard with the cleanup, so it still retains its true film look. And, of course, this is a solid picture from Edwin Marin and Randolph Scott.

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2. Johnny Guitar (1954, Olive Films Signature Edition, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Olive’s new Signature edition is a marked improvement over their old release, which was terrific. The restored 1.66 framing makes a big difference, and the supplemental stuff is excellent.

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1. One-Eyed Jacks (1961, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Opinions of Marlon Brando’s Western are all over the place, so I was really surprised to see it land in the top spot. However, judging it simply in terms of its superb presentation, I don’t see how anything could beat it. It’s stunning, a big fat reward to all of us who’ve suffered through those awful tapes and discs over the years. I’m proud and honored to have been involved with Criterion’s work here. (Note: Having worked on the One-Eyed Jacks extras, I did not feel comfortable taking part in the vote this time around.)

In closing, the discs on this list highlight the impact the video presentation can have on our appreciation of these old movies. Many of these have been available, in some form, for years. One more thing: your reasons for not buying a Blu-Ray player are rapidly running out.

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