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Archive for the ‘Nancy Gates’ Category

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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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Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay by Herb Meadow and Don Martin
From a novel by Louis L’Amour
Cinematographer: Ray Rennahan
Film Editor: William B. Murphy
Music by Paul Dunlap

Cast: Joel McCrea (Judge Rick Thorne), Miroslava (Amy Lee Bannerman), Kevin McCarthy (Tom Bannerman), John Carradine (Col. Buck Streeter), John McIntire (Josiah Bannerman), Nancy Gates (Caroline Webb)

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badgeI missed Stranger On Horseback (1955) on its first run in the UK. as the support feature to the very popular Marty.

My interest was aroused by a February 1963 edition of Motion which had a comment on the film by the esteemed Raymond Durgnat. Mr Durgnat was the doyen of a new breed of young English cineaste film writers. Durgnat’s impression of the film was as follows: “In Stranger On Horseback (a disturbing little Jacques Tourneur Western), Joel McCrea comes across Miroslava (ex Archimboldo) who is clad throughout in black leather, boots, gloves, and of course whip. SHE comes across HIM bathing naked in a pool and though the scene is censored, it looks as if it builds up to the scene in Duel In The Sun where Gregory Peck waits for Jennifer Jones to emerge from among the reeds where she is cowering and shivering. The film also has a moment of Hawksian moral sadism; the weak willed sheriff (Emile Meyer) finally accepts the necessity for violence and blasts away at the crooks with a shotgun. “How d’you like it?” asks McCrea. “Loathesome,” replies Meyer grinning broadly.”

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The plot of Stranger On Horseback is pretty straightforward: a circuit judge (McCrea) wants to get the goods on an unsolved murder committed by the son (Kevin McCarthy) of a local king-pin (John McIntire). Tourneur graces the film with plenty of quirky offbeat touches that range from the humorous to the subversive.

The only available version of the film is on DVD from VCI, obtained from a print sourced from the vault of the British Film Institute. Sadly, this print is in bad shape — the lovely Sedona locations appear washed out. Hopefully, a master neg may surface or perhaps the film will be restored, like the previously considered lost Seven Men From Now (1956). It’s amazing what can be done these days, just consider the wonderful restoration done by Ignite Films on Canadian Pacific (1949) and The Cariboo Trail (1950). We live in hope. Not only is Stranger On Horseback Tourneur… it’s very good Tourneur.

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The film runs a mere 66 minutes, which suggests the film may have been censored — most of McCrea’s Fifties programmers clocked in at around 80 minutes. The film was an initial independent effort from producer Leonard Goldstein who previously had a splendid track record at Universal and Fox. Sadly, Mr. Goldstein passed away at the tender age of 51,  before Stranger On Horseback was released. Goldstein also produced Saddle Tramp (1950), the best of McCrea’s six Universal Fifties Westerns.

McCrea had choice of director on Stranger On Horseback. He chose Tourneur, who previously made the wonderful Stars In My Crown (1950), a film which sadly failed to find an audience. Tourneur also directed McCrea’s next picture Wichita (19XX), the first of four films that he made for Allied Artists. Wichita was far and away the best of the four and scored at the box office.

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The bad guy in Stranger On Horseback is Kevin McCarthy, who impressed McCrea. He told the young actor, “I’m going to tell the studios all  about you.” I have often wondered if this lead to McCarthy’s most iconic role in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956). After all, producer Walter Wanger had produced one of McCrea’s biggest hits, Foreign Correspondent (1940). Wanger and McCrea were working out of Allied Artists at the same time. Furthermore; Sam Peckinpah played a bank teller in Wichita and a meter reader in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Sam has often cited Don Siegel as his mentor.

Don Siegel had previously tried to develop Bad Day At Black Rock at Allied Artists. He wanted McCrea to play the lead. With all due respects to Spencer Tracy and John Sturges, John at the very fine Greenbriar Picture Shows feels the McCrea/Siegel film would have been superior. I totally agree. And I might hasten to add that I will be first in line when Warners releases the Blu-Ray version of Sturges’ film.

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Had McCrea appeared in Bad Day At Black Rock and not turned down the Van Heflin role in Shane (1953) this surely would have had a huge boost to his star power which faded considerably in the late Fifties.As much as we all love his Westerns I would have loved to have seen him tackle some of the non Westerns roles played by Cooper and Stewart in the Fifties. McCrea’s reason for turning down Shane was two-fold: he did not feel he was at a time in his career to take secondary roles; plus, he did not want to detract from his friend Alan Ladd. McCrea, in typical modesty, stated that he could never had been as good as Heflin was. I totally disagree especially under George Stevens’ direction.

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An amusing snippet: one day, Ladd asked his pal McCrea, “What do you do when the phone doesn’t ring… when nobody wants you?” McCrea jokingly replied, “I slap my wife on the butt, jump on my horse and ride around the ranch.” This flippant attitude was totally alien to the increasingly insecure Ladd.

From the mid to late Fifties, McCrea often worked for directors who were a far cry from the likes of Hawks, Hitchcock, Wyler, Wellman, Sturges and Walsh — whom he worked for in his glory days. It’s a shame that Tourneur or Siegel didn’t direct films like The Oklahoman or Trooper Hook (both 1957), especially with their subtext of alienation and racism. Both directors made wonderful films that shared those themes. Things did improve when Joseph Newman came on board, a vast step up from the likes of Francis D. Lyon and Charles Marquis Warren.

Despite the late Fifties drop off in quality (apart from the Newman efforts, especially 1958’s Fort Massacre), McCrea has left a hugely impressive body of work. It is also encouraging that many major stars, from Katherine Hepburn to Clint Eastwood, feel McCrea was grossly underrated.

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Hugh O’Brian
(April 19, 1925 – September 6, 2016)

I can always count on this blog to be a total joy to work on — except for when it comes to posts like this. Hugh O’Brian, who for so many will always be TV’s Wyatt Earp, has passed away at 91.

Before making his way into movies and TV, O’Brian — whose real name is Hugh Charles Krampe — dropped out of college to fight in World War II. At 17, he became the Marines’ youngest drill instructor.

O’Brian appeared in a number of Westerns before landing the Earp role, from The Return Of Jesse James (1950) to The Lawless Breed (1953) to The Brass Legend (1956). He’d go on to appear in The Shootist (1976).

He was tremendously dedicated to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, a non-profit leadership development program for high school kids.

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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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Hitler's Children 6 sheet

Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Produced by Edward A. Golden
Screen Plat by Emmet Lavery
Based on the novel Education For Death by Gregor Ziemer
Director Of Photography: Russell Metty, ASC
Film Editor: Joseph Noriega
Music: Roy Webb

Cast: Tim Holt (Karl Bruner), Bonita Granville (Anna Muller), Kent Smith (Prof. Nichols), Otto Kruger (Col. Henkel), H.B. Warner (The Bishop), Hans Conried (Dr. Graf), Nancy Gates (Brenda), Lloyd Corrigan (Franz Erhart), Peter Van Eyck, Edward Van Sloan, Richard Martin

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What’s a movie about the Hitler Youth from 1943 doing on a blog dedicated to Westerns from the 1950s? That’s easy. It stars Tim Holt, one of the handful of actors, directors, writers and technical folks I swore to plug tirelessly when starting this thing up six years ago. Plus, it’s really good.

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Tim Holt’s career is certainly an interesting one. He chose the cowboy star path rather than the typical leading man route, while showing time and time again that he was a more than capable actor. Films like The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948) and this one, Hitler’s Children (1942), show just how good he was. Holt’s performances and chemistry with Richard Martin (as Chito) are a big part of what makes their series of B Westerns so special. (Boy, am I preaching to the choir here!)

Hitler’s Children was seen by RKO as an exploitation picture, using the romance between an American student (Bonita Granville) and a young Nazi (Tim Holt) as a way to catalog various Nazi atrocities (the ones known at the time), from sterilization to flogging.

Director Edward Dmytryk: “Taken from a novel titled Education For Death, its story concerned the treatment of youthful nonconformists in Nazi Germany. A title with the word ‘Hitler’ in it was considered box-office poison, and the exhibitors asked [producer] Doc Golden and RKO to change ours. Doc was stubborn — and he was right. The film cost a little over $100,000, and, running only in England and the Western Hemisphere… grossed, by some accounts, $7,500,00.”

Dmytryk didn’t start the picture. He replaced Irving Reis after the first few days of shooting. Hitler’s Children stands as RKO’s highest-grossing film, taking in even more than the mighty King Kong (1933)! Dmytryk soon made his way to A pictures, with Murder, My Sweet coming in 1944.

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Something like this needs a good cast to keep the melodrama from falling into parody. Holt and Granville are excellent, and they’re supported by some real pros: Kent Smith, Otto Kruger, H.B. Warner, Hans Conried, Nancy Gates, Peter Van Eyck, Edward Van Sloan and more. They say Richard Martin’s in there somewhere as a Gestapo stooge!

Russell Metty’s cinematography deserves a lot of credit for the film’s overall effectiveness. He sets the mood and menace perfectly, more than making up for the meager budget. The Nazi rally long shot that opens the film appears to be a miniature. It’s incredible. Metty simply does not get the respect he deserves.

Warner Archive has done its typically stellar work with this one. It’s a movie that really needs its strong contrast levels and solid blacks — and they’re near-perfect on this DVD-R. Hitler’s Children is a movie I’ve been championing for years, and I have no trouble recommending it highly — even though Tim’s packing a Luger, not a Colt.

And isn’t that six-sheet up top terrific?

 

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Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Starring Tim Holt, Bonita Granville, Kent Smith, Otto Kruger, H.B. Warner, Hans Conried, Nancy Gates

Sometimes a B Movie will pull off something in a way no A picture ever could. This is one of those times. Hitler’s Children (1943) was clearly meant to be an exploitation picture about the Hitler Youth, but it ended up being so much more. One of Tim Holt’s finest performances, and a real home run for both director Edward Dmytryk and cinematographer Russell Metty.

It’a available today from Warner Archive. Highly, highly recommended.

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54166_3lEssential
stuff at a terrific price.

With this two-disc set from Mill Creek, you get the five Columbia titles from Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher’s Ranown cycle — The Tall T (1957), Decision At Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960, above). And if all that isn’t enough, they’ve thrown in Joseph H. Lewis’ A Lawless Street (1955) to sweeten the deal.

Available September 15. Buy a whole case of ’em, folks, and your holiday shopping’s done. Now, what do we have to do to get a Blu-ray version of this?

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