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Archive for the ‘Neville Brand’ Category

Badman's Country OS cropped

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Robert E. Kent
Screenplay by Orville H. Hampton
Director Of Photography: Benjamin H. Kline, ASC
Supervising Editor: Grant Whytock, ACE
Musical Score: Irving Gertz

Cast: George Montgomery (Pat Garrett), Neville Brand (Butch Cassidy), Buster Crabbe (Wyatt Earp), Karin Booth (Lorna), Gregory Walcott (Bat Masterson), Malcolm Atterbury (Buffalo Bill Cody), Russell Johnson (Sundance), Richard Devon (Harvey Logan), Morris Ankrum (Mayor Coleman)

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Remember Universal’s “monster rally” pictures of the 40s? Beginning with House Of Frankenstein (1944), they’d pile as many of their monsters as they could into a single movie. It was more of a marketing ploy than a creative decision, perhaps, but they’re wonderful in the contrived ways they would dream up to drag Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman into a single story arc. They’re a long way from those true classics of the 30s, but, God, I love ’em!

In a way, Badman’s Country plays like that — a Who’s Who of the Old West herded by a series of contrivances into a robbery tale — with absolutely no concern for history whatsoever. The outlaws are Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) and the Sundance Kid (Russell Johnson), while the law’s represented by Pat Garrett (Montgomery), Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe), Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) and Buffalo Bill Cody (Malcolm Atterbury). None of it ties to these men’s real lives, but somehow it all works. Butch and Sundance are part of a gang planning a large robbery in Abilene, Kansas. Pat Garrett — who wants to turn in his badge, marry Karin Booth and settle down in California — gets wind of the plot and enlists Earp and Masterson to help out, with Buffalo Bill along for the ride. The Mayor of Abilene (Morris Ankrum) turns out to be a sniveling coward, wanting to do anything to avoid having his town shot up.

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While I’m a big fan of Howard Hawks’ leave-it-to-the-pros philosophy (one reason why Rio Bravo is my favorite Western), the last reel of Badman’s Country is very satisfying as the lawmen and townspeople come together to give the outlaws what for. It all makes for a strong, fast 68 minutes. (There are a number of neat little plot points along the way, but I’ll let you see those for yourself.)

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A short action Western like this doesn’t allow for heavy dramatic scenes, but George Montgomery is quite convincing as the lawman who’s seen enough and is ready to hang up his guns. He never got an A Western of his own, which is a real drag. But with his good looks, height and those incredible cowboy hats, Montgomery stands tall in these B pictures. It’s hard to take your eyes off of him, and he certainly elevates every picture he’s in. Karin Booth does well as his patient, understanding girlfriend. She’d only make a few more films before retiring. Incidentally, Montgomery was paired with Booth in Cripple Creek (1952), and he’d tracked down Butch and Sundance before in Phil Karlson’s The Texas Rangers (1951).

The large supporting cast doesn’t get a chance to make much of an impression. Neville Brand and Russell Johnson are fine as Butch and Sundance, but Buster Crabbe and Gregory Walcott come off kinda flat as Earp and Masterson. Morris Ankrum is sufficiently slimy as Abilene’s ineffective Mayor. Malcolm Atterbury is always terrific, and he does what he can with the script’s rather odd take on Buffalo Bill — he seems more like a sidekick than a major character.

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Fred F. Sears was cranking out solid little Westerns like Badman’s Country, along with other genre pictures, at a staggering pace in the mid- to late-50s. He and director of photography Benjamin Kline worked together extensively at Columbia, going freelance for this one. Badman’s Country hit theaters in August of 1958, one of five films released after Sears’ death. He had a heart attack in his office on the Columbia lot at just 44.

Badman’s Country has the feel of a well-oiled machine, which has to be the result of a team of veterans who’ve made films like this time and time again, sometimes working together. It’s fast, exciting and completely void of pretense. Just the way I like ’em.

Laura wrote about this one a while back. See what she says about it.

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Rio Bravo foreign poster sized

Rio Bravo (1959)
Directed by Howard Hawks
Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond

My favorite Western, Rio Bravo (1959), has been missing from Blu-ray for some time now (I’d heard it had something to do with music or story rights). Was really happy to find out it was being reissued. However, I’d heard the old Blu-ray wasn’t anything to write home about, and there’s no news yet on if this new edition is remastered or not (I’m assuming not). A new 2K transfer was done not long ago, but there’s been no mention of it for the Blu-ray.

Regardless, Rio Bravo is a terrific movie and certainly worth adding to your high-definition shelf. When it arrives June 2, I’d love to toast my copy with a bit of Duke bourbon (haven’t located it in North Carolina yet).

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The Train Robbers (1973)
Directed by Burt Kennedy
Starring John Wayne, Ann-Margret, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson

Also coming to Blu-ray are a couple of later Wayne pictures. The Train Robbers (1973) is a lot of fun, Burt Kennedy at the top of his game. Wayne and Ben Johnson are terrific together, of course. As a kid, the train stuck in the sand, on the big Panavision screen, was a striking image that really stuck with me.

John Wayne In Cahill U.S. Marshal

Cahill: U.S. Marshal (1973)

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring John Wayne, George Kennedy, Neville Brand, Clay O’Brian, Marie Windsor, Harry Carey Jr., Paul Fix, Hank Worden

In some ways, Cahill: U.S. Marshal (1973) isn’t a very good movie. But as a John Wayne extended-family reunion, it can’t be beat (take a quick look at that cast). Wayne’s interplay with Neville Brand is worth the price of admission, and it’s always good to see Marie Windsor in anything.

These three titles are available separately (highly recommended, at a great price) from Warners, and as part of a John Wayne Westerns Collection set.

Thanks to Dick Vincent for the tip.

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Return of Jack Slade NB MB

Since watching Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956), Neville Brand has been on my mind. (Blake Lucas brought him up, too.)

If I was to make a list of underappreciated actors, Neville Brand would be near the top. He’s so good in so many pictures — big ones and small ones. And there was so much more to him than just a bad guy.

After serving in World War II — where he was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and other decorations, Brand studied acting on the G.I. Bill. His first sizable film role was in D.O.A. (1950). His career as a heavy was off to the races.

Neville Brand: “With this kisser, I knew early in the game I wasn’t going to make the world forget Clark Gable… I don’t go in thinking he’s a villain. The audience might, but the villain doesn’t think he’s a villain… I just create this human being under the circumstances that are given.”

Brand Laredo with bookFrom time to time, he’d play something other than a thug, or his thug would have a decent amount of screen time, and he’d really shine. Something like Halls Of Montezuma (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star (1957) or Don Siegel’s Riot In Cell Block 11 (1954). There’s Reese Bennett on Laredo (1965-67). And he had great chemistry with John Wayne in Cahill: U.S. Marshall (1973), giving the film a much-needed shot in the arm.

Brand fought Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism. Was a veracious reader with a huge library (some of it was lost in a fire in the 70s). And everyone seems to say the same thing: that he was a tough guy — but also a really nice man.

He’s seen up top with Mari Blanchard in The Return Of Jack Slade (1955), one of the many movies to benefit from his presence, and reading on the Laredo set.

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Fury At Gunsight Pass TC

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Wallace MacDonald
Story and Screen Play by David Lang
Director Of Photography: Fred Jackman, Jr.
Film Editor: Saul A. Goodkind, ACE
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Cast: David Brian (Whitey Turner), Neville Brand (Dirk Hogan), Richard Long (Roy Hanford), Lisa Davis (Kathy Phillips), Katharine Warren (Mrs. Boggs), Percy Helton (Peter Boggs), Morris Ankrum (Doc Phillips), Addison Richards (Charles Hanford), Joe Forte (Andrew Ferguson), Wally Vernon (Johnny Oakes), Paul E. Burns (Squint)

Fury At Gunsight Pass titleHow many plot twists and double-crosses can you cram into 68 minutes? That’s something you might ask yourself about two-thirds of the way through Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956), a cheap little Columbia Western directed by Fred F. Sears.

It goes something like this: a group of bank robbers ride into Gunsight Pass. The robbery goes awry, part of the gang is captured, but the money isn’t recovered. The men of Gunsight Pass quickly become a mob, ready for a lynching. As the prisoners are being escorted out of town (to avoid the vigilantes), the rest of the gang (lead by Neville Brand) ambushes the posse, frees their cohorts and returns to town to locate the loot. With a windstorm raging, they announce they’ll start shooting civilians — one every 30 minutes — till the money is handed over.

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Fury At Gunsight Pass works a bit like Allan Dwan’s Silver Lode (1954), stacking circumstance on top of circumstance and piling on plenty of suspicion and paranoia as it goes. Plenty of suspense, too. This is a well-crafted little movie.

Wallace MacDonald produced a lot of Westerns for Columbia in the 50s, including some good ones like Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1952), The Hard Man (1957) and Return To Warbow (1958). His unit often worked from scripts by David Lang, who wrote a lot of Westerns before making his way to TV. Lang’s work here is original, very tight and economical.

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David Brian and Neville Brand are appropriately shifty as double-crossing bank robbers. Richard Long is a bit wooden as one of the citizens of Gunsight Pass, though he’s good in the fight scenes. Percy Helton and Katharine Warren make quite an impression as the crooked undertaker and his wife. Lisa Davis isn’t given much to do. And, of course, Morris Ankrum is terrific as the town doctor.

Director Fred F. Sears was so prolific, cranking out one B movie after another for Columbia, it’s easy to miss his real successes among all the standard stuff. Today he’s known for Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), a picture that benefits from remarkable stop-motion animation from Ray Harryhausen, and The Giant Claw (1957), a film completely scuttled by some of the worst, most laughable special effects in Hollywood history. Sears died in his office at Columbia in November, 1957, with eight pictures completed and waiting for release. He’s one of those B filmmakers whose work is ripe for rediscovery. His Ambush At Tomahawk Gap is a real sleeper — and so is Fury At Gunsight Pass.

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Cinematographer Fred Jackman, Jr. had a lot of Westerns under his belt by the time he came to Gunsight PassStrawberry Roan (1948), Fighting Man Of The Plains (1949) and Apache Ambush (1955), to name a few. (He was good with Cinecolor.) A tremendous amount of Fury At Gunsight Pass was shot at Vasquez Rocks, and Jackman’s black and white, 1.85 photography looks great. Columbia made frequent use of Vasquez Rocks for their 50s Westerns. (According to a quick look at Google Maps, it’s only 43 miles from the studio.) The scenes in town, during the windstorm, which make up the last 15-20 minutes of the film, feature wind machines and tons and tons of dirt. It must’ve been absolute hell for both the cast and crew.

Columbia hasn’t gotten around to putting this one on DVD, which is a real shame. It’s unusual and suspenseful — and well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.

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Gun Brothers (1956) is a cheap Western released by United Artists, featuring Buster Crabbe, Ann Robinson, Neville Brand and an incredible supporting cast — Slim Pickens, Roy Barcroft, Michael Ansara and others. It was directed by Sidney Salkow, and shot on the Corriganville Ranch.

It’s currently available on Hulu. The transfer is beautiful, though it needs to be cropped to 1.85. These low-budget things are a matter of personal taste, I guess, but they’re a great to spend an hour and some change.

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