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Archive for the ‘Monogram/Allied Artists’ Category

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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Oregon Passage HS

Directed by Paul Landres
Written by Jack DeWitt
Based on the novel by Gordon D. Shirreffs
Director Of Photography: Ellis Carter
Music by Paul Dunlap
Film Editor: Maury Wright

Cast: John Ericson (Lt. Niles Ord), Lola Albright (Sylvia Dane), Toni Gerry (Little Deer), Edward Platt (Major Roland Dane), H.M. Wynant (Black Eagle), Rachel Ames (Marion), Walter Barnes (Sgt. Jed Erschick), Harvey Stephens (Capt. Boyson), Jon Shepodd (Lt. Baird Dobson), Paul Fierro (Nato)

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Director Paul Landres worked largely in TV, with a feature from time to time. My Paul Landres binge continues, inspired by the DVD and Blu-ray release of The Return Of Dracula (1958) from Olive Films.

Paul Landres

Landres got his start as an editor, cutting series Westerns and serials at Universal, and made the move to director in the very early 50s — in both features and TV. He retired after a 1972 episode of Adam-12.

Oregon Passage is an Allied Artists Western from 1958, shot on location in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, in both CinemaScope and DeLuxe color. These gorgeous vistas, in color and ‘Scope, and a really good score form Paul Dunlap give the picture production values beyond what we’re used to in a Landres picture. The fort, which had appeared in The Indian Fighter (1955), is impressive. The small Indian camp and undermanned cavalry patrols do give things away, however. No matter, this is one of Landres’ best.

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Lieut. Niles Ord (John Ericson) returns from a month-long patrol — he’s been trying to track down the Shoshoni warrior Black Eagle — to find the fort under a new, by-the-book commanding officer, Major Dane (Edward Plat, Chief on Get Smart). Niles once dated Dane’s wife Sylvia (Lola Albright), and he’s soon battling his C.O. as much as Black Eagle. The fact that Sylvia’s grown to detest her jealous husband and life on the frontier doesn’t help much.

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While Oregon Passage doesn’t always manage to ride around the usual cavalry movie conventions, it’s a tough, taut picture with a real edge to it. The action scenes, particularly the final raid on the fort, are well staged and rather brutal.

John Ericson is good as the dedicated young officer — he’d already been in Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) and Forty Guns (1957). Edward Platt is easy to hate as the despicable Major. And Lola Albright and Toni Gerry manage to flesh out fairly typical roles as the cavalry wife and Indian squaw, respectively.

Cinematographer Ellis W. Carter was a real craftsman, often working at Universal-International. He shot some of my favorites of the studio’s late-50s films: A Day Of Fury (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Land Unknown (1957, so cool in CinemaScope!) and The Monolith Monsters (1957) — along with Showdown (1963), Audie Murphy’s last Universal picture. Carter’s outdoor work on Oregon Passage is often beautiful. He and his crew certainly made the most of their two weeks on location.

Oregon Passage UK LC

Oregon Passage is available on DVD from Warner Archive. At times, the transfer is sharp as a tack; there are problems at other times, often with the color. No doubt, these are problems with the source material used — no surprise since the picture was shot in DeLuxe Color. None of this takes away from the movie, which as a fan of Paul Landres’ work, I am overjoyed to have in my hot little hands. Recommended.

By the way, the working title for Oregon Passage was Rio Bravo. It’s easy to understand the title change, being that Howard Hawks’ own Rio Bravo (1959) was in production around the same time.

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Whistling Hills LC

Stephen Lodge is a very nice man who, as a kid, got to visit some Western movie and TV sets. (His aunt worked for Monogram.) One of those visits was to the Iverson Ranch while Johnny Mack Brown was shooting Whistling Hills (1951).  I’ve “borrowed” the next few snapshots from his website, which I encourage you to check out.

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First, Stephen and his brother meet Johnny Mack Brown.

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Brown with his costar, Noel Neill.

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Brown at the saloon on Iverson’s Western street. There are plenty of other photos on Lodge’s site, along with a great writeup of his time on the Iverson Ranch.

Whistling Hills is available on Warner Archive’s Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 7.

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Rawhide Trail HS

Help Kit Parker track down this movie, and you’re doing us all a favor.

The Rawhide Trail (1958) is the only picture Kit Parker Films has the rights to that he has no material for. It’s an Allied Artists Western starring Rex Reason and Nancy Gates, and I’m sure we’d all like a chance to see it. It was shot by the great Karl Struss, who did everything from Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) to The Alligator People (1959), at the Iverson Ranch.

So, if you have a print stashed under your bed, or if one of your film-collector buddies does, please let Kit know — you can reach him through me.

Wouldn’t it be great to check another 50s Western off the MIA on DVD list?

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Code Of The Saddle TC

Warner Archive is about to offer up their ninth volume of their Monogram Cowboy Collection. This one’s all Johnny Mack Brown, nine pictures on three discs.

The Gentleman From Texas (1946)
Trailing Danger (1947)
Flashing Guns (1947)
Land Of The Lawless (1947)
Code Of The Saddle (1947)
Law Comes To Gunsight (1947)
The Fighting Ranger (1948)
Frontier Agent (1948)
The Sheriff Of Medicine Bow (1948)

All feature Raymond Hatton and were directed by Lambert Hillyer, except for Code Of The Saddle coming from Thomas Carr.

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The release date is September 13.

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