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Archive for the ‘Oliver Drake’ Category

There’s something about this blog I’ve always been uncomfortable with. Through DVD/Blu-Ray new release information or reviews, by plugging a Kickstarter campaign to restore something, or by mentioning a book that’s on the way (including mine), I have a tiny influence on people’s buying decisions. I work in Marketing and Advertising and do this every day, so I ought to be OK with it, but it’s different at this more informal, semi-personal level. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know quite a few of you, and I make a point of not telling my friends how to spend their money.

Having said all that, now I want to tell you how to spend your money. Not really, but kinda.

Back in the 90s, before 50s Westerns took over my life, I used to watch a lot of old Poverty Row horror and 60s spy movies (especially those goofy European James Bond ripoffs). A great source for such things was a company in Oregon called Sinister Cinema. Maybe you’re familiar with them. A friend and I (how ya doing, DV?) ordered from them quite a bit (it was VHS back then) or would rent their stuff from a mail-order place called Video Vault. 

Nowadays, Sinister Cinema deals in DVDs, of course, and they’ve taken a real shine to B Westerns of the 30s and 40s. You’ll find some terrific pictures on their site, from Hoot Gibson to Bob Steele to Ken Maynard. And some titles I’d been looking for decent copies of — Riders Of The Whistling Skull (1937), Hell Canyon Outlaws (1957) and A Lust To Kill (1958).

The folks at Sinister Cinema are talking about shutting down. First, I’d hate to see that happen because old movie nuts aren’t supporting them like we should. So I encourage you to visit their site. Click on the logo above, and away you go! And I highly recommend Hell Canyon Outlaws. (Click the lobby card up top for that link.) It was directed by Paul Landres and has a great part for Dale Robertson. Sinister’s copy is from a well-worn 16mm print, but it’s very watchable. It’s full-frame, so if your TV will let you zoom a bit, you can approximate its 1.85 framing.

And since these titles are less than $10 each, I don’t feel so bad about trying to make you part with your dough. You might even thank me for it.

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Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Screen Play by Sherman L. Lowe, George Plympton, Basil Dickey, Jack O’Donnell
Original Story by Oliver Drake
Photography: Jerome Ash and William A. Sickner
Starring Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Buck Jones, Charles Bickford, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Lon Chaney, Jr., Noah Beery, Jr., Jeanne Kelly, Glenn Strange, Roy Barcroft

VCI is prepping another Universal serial for Blu-Ray release, 1941’s “million dollar super serial with a million thrills,” Riders Of Death Valley

While I doubt they spent that much on it, it certainly has a million-dollar cast — the likes of Dick Foran, Buck Jones, Charles Bickford, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Lon Chaney, Jr., Noah Beery, Jr., Glenn Strange and Roy Barcroft!

For the Blu-ray, VCI will use original 35mm material. A still gallery and two-chapter commentary from yours truly will be included. This is a cool serial and should be a really nice release.

A few years later, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Glenn Strange would take each other on again in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), with Chaney as Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, and Strange as Frankenstein’s monster.

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Dragoon Wells Massacre HS

Directed by Harold Schuster
Produced by Lindsley Parsons
Screenplay by Warren Douglas
From a story by Oliver Drake
Director Of Photography: William Clothier

Cast: Barry Sullivan (Link Ferris), Dennis OKeefe (Capt. Matt Riordan), Mona Freeman (Ann Bradley), Katy Jurado (Mara Fay), Sebastian Cabot (Jonah), Casey Adams (Phillip Scott), Jack Elam (Tioga), Trevor Bardette (Marshal Bill Haney), Jon Shepodd (Tom), Hank Worden (Hopi Charlie), Warren Douglas (Jud), Judy Strangis (Susan), Alma Beltran (Station agent’s wife), John War Eagle (Yellow Claw)

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This is an entry in The Allied Artists Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s rich and varied output.

The team of writer/actor Warren Douglas, producer Lindsley Parsons and director Harold D. Schuster turned out five excellent B-plus pictures for Allied Artists in the 50s. They were the tight, grim Western Jack Slade (1953); a terrific noir, Loophole (1954); a solid sequel, The Return Of Jack Slade (1955); Finger Man (1955), a dope picture with Forrest Tucker, Peggie Castle and Timothy Carey; and finally, the dark, tense CinemaScope Western Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957).

Producer Lindsley Parsons had been in the picture business since the 30s, starting out writing B Westerns like those Lone Star John Wayne movies. Warren Douglas was a B Movie actor who made the transition to screenwriter, often playing a part in the pictures he wrote; he’d later write for a number of TV Westerns. He based his Dragoon Wells Massacre screenplay on a story by the prolific writer/producer/director of scores of B Westerns, Oliver Drake.

Director Harold Schuster started as an actor, making the transition to editor before the Talkies came in. Though he never set the world on fire as a director, he made a few fine films before settling into TV.

Dragoon Wells Massacre LCDragoon Wells Massacre begins with a prison wagon carrying two bad men, Link Ferris (Barry Sullivan) and Tioga (Jack Elam), to trial. Before long, they come across an Indian trader, Jonah McAdam (Sebastian Cabot), and a cavalry patrol that’s been slaughtered by the Apaches, with Capt. Matt Riordan (Dennis O’Keefe) its only survivor. Soon, the drivers and passengers of a stagecoach are added to those making the desperate journey to Fort Dragoon Wells with the Apaches never far behind. This is a fairly common setup — a diverse group making their way from Point A to Point B, battling an enemy, the elements and each other along the way — that’s certainly not limited to Westerns. Douglas comes up with some solid characters, makes sure we like the good ones and hate the bad ones, then puts them all through absolute hell — and us through a tense 88 minutes — before the final fade.

Dragoon Wells Massacre Cabot SullivanWhile the basic premise may be conventional — and I’m keeping the synopsis lean on purpose, what Douglas does with it is certainly not. (I’d love to know how many of the finer points were found in Drake’s original story.) What’s more, Schuster keeps things chugging along, almost relentlessly, from one set piece to the next. The picture really benefits from all of his years at the Moviola, and he gets top-notch performances from his terrific cast — which steadily shrinks with each brush with the Apaches.

Dragoon Wells ElamSullivan and Elam are likable badguys, and we’re soon hoping these outsiders will get their chances for redemption. This could be Elam’s best performance, as a man damned by his appearance — and by the shallowness of others. Dennis O’Keefe is fine as the tough cavalryman. Sebastian Cabot is utterly despicable as the gunrunner — the movie’s real villain. Before he became Mr. French, Cabot was a terrific 50s Westerns sleazeball.

Dragoon Wells Massacre Sullivan Freeman 2Mona Freeman does a great job as a snooty, self-centered, judgmental stage passenger (and former flame of O’Keefe). Her transformation is not only satisfying, but believable. Katy Jurado is good, as always, as a saloon girl hoping to turn her life around. My one complaint is that Hank Worden doesn’t have enough to do — but that’s something you could say about almost everything he appeared in, from The Searchers (1956) to One-Eyed Jacks (1961).

William Clothier shot Dragoon Wells Massacre around Kanab, Utah, in CinemaScope and color by DeLuxe. One of the finest Western shooters ever, Clothier’s work here is tremendous. The entire picture takes place outdoors, and you really feel the heat and dryness of the desert. Just as important, you never think that you’re watching a low-budget movie.

Dragoon Wells stillDragoon Wells Massacre is unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray in the U.S. There’s a German DVD that presents the picture at a TV-friendly 1.78 instead of Scope’s 2.35. It’s a real shame the picture’s so hard to track down and that Clothier’s work is compromised. This is one of those 50s Westerns that gets everything right, and it now sits at the top of my Blu-ray Want List.

Someone who frequents this blog, when I once mentioned that I was watching an old Phil Karlson picture, pointed out that now matter how old it is, a movie’s new if you haven’t seen it. So, following that logic, and considering that I just saw this a few months ago, Dragoon Wells Massacre gets my vote for Best Picture of 2015.

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We’ve been lucky the last year or so, with lots of 50s Westerns making their way to DVD, DVD-R or even Blu-ray. Many films that have been on my Want List for a decade or more are now in my collection — The Wonderful Country (1959), for instance. Bet it’s the same for you.

Running this blog and working on the book it was meant to plug, I’ve come across so many films I want to see again — or have somehow missed altogether. Many of them you’ve mentioned in your comments here, others turn up on someone’s filmography, and some just seem to come out of thin air.

The Parson And The Outlaw (1957) is a good example. I’ve seen this film and remember liking it, but that’s about it. I’m dying to see it again. Marie Windsor is my favorite actress, hands down (for 1949’s Hellfire alone). I’m always interested in the work or Oliver Drake. Charles “Buddy” Rogers returning after a 10-year absence as the parson, and the film’s producer, is intriguing. And how can you resist a lobby card like the one up top? It was a Columbia picture, so what are we waiting for?

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By the time Oliver Drake planted his director’s chair for the first shot of A Lust To Kill (1958), he’d already carved out quite a place for himself in the history of the Western. He was a real Hollywood veteran, writing cowboy pictures before sound came in, and amassing hundreds of credits. He scripted the incredible Riders Of The Whistling Skull (1937) for Republic, which pitted The Three Mesquiteers against mummies and an Indian cult. While it doesn’t reach the delirium of The Phantom Empire (1935), it has some of that same goofy genre-mixing charm.

As time went on, Drake was doing more and more. He wrote, produced, directed and even composed songs for dozens of Westerns for Universal and Monogram. The Universal Johnny Mack Brown picture The Lone Star Trail (1943) serves as a good example. He’s credited for the screenplay, as a composer and as associate producer. Around the same time, he began directing with more frequency, turning out low-budget pictures such the Jimmy Wakely series for Monogram.

It wasn’t all Westerns, however. Drake was producer and an uncredited scriptwriter on The Mummy’s Curse (1944), the last of Universal’s Lon Chaney Mummy cycle. And he wrote a couple of Monogram’s later Charlie Chan films. From what I can tell, he was a Story Machine.

As the Series Western made its way to television in the early 50s, Drake went along for the ride, writing episodes of everything from The Gene Autry Show to The Adventures Of Superman. But there were still features here and there, such as Marie Windsor in The Parson And The Outlaw (1957, which he wrote and directed) and A Lust To Kill.

A low-budget affair starring Jim Davis, Don Megowan and Allison Hayes — a Production Associates production released by Barjul International Pictures — A Lust To Kill is surprisingly adult and mean-spirited. If it lacked certain production values, it made sure it offered stuff TV couldn’t touch.

Cheney Holland (Megowan) and his brother Luke are involved in a robbery of a load of rifles and abandoned by the rest of their gang. Luke is killed and Cheney apprehended by the pursuing lawmen, a posse that includes former friend Marshal Matt Gordon (Jim Davis). During his brother’s funeral, Cheney escapes with the aid of his girl Sherry (Allison Hayes). While Cheney seeks to settle the score with his gang, Marshall Gordon is after Cheney. Early on, we care for Cheney. There’s good in him and he wants to lead a simple, honest life — but Fate just won’t let him. Over the course of the picture, we know his bad side has won out, and our sympathies start to shift to Jim Davis.

The story and screenplay were by Tom Hubbard and Sam Roeca, who’d written episodes of 26 Men, a Western series from the same period Drake often directed. Director of Photography Glen MacWilliams shot Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), which landed him an Oscar nomination. While the picture has the look of your typical 40s Series Western, its tone and noir-ish plot (not to mention the skinny-dipping barmaids) place it squarely in the 50s. The performances are quite good for a picture that was obviously done on the cheap (and the quick), and we owe the cast and Drake for doing quite a lot with what looks like very little. Having Davis provide a voiceover at the beginning and end from Ecclesiastes 3 is a cool touch. This gritty little picture is well worth 70 minutes of your time. (The only serious liability is the stock music. It’s effective at times, but wildly inconsistent overall.)

You’ll find A Lust To Kill readily available on DVD from Alpha Video. By Alpha’s standards, it looks pretty good. By any other standards, however, it’s a supreme insult. (At least it’s cheap.) An Oscar-caliber cinematographer deserves better treatment than this, even if it’s nowhere near the picture he was nominated for. It’s also available on DVD-R from Something Weird Video. I haven’t seen their release, but I hear it’s much better. It couldn’t help but be.

I’ve been meaning to write about A Lust To Kill for some time. When I recently came into contact with Lisa Drake, Oliver Drake’s daughter, it seemed like the right time to do it. Below is a photo of Oliver Drake’s ranch in Pearblossum, California. Some of A Lust To Kill was shot there. Drake built the house himself — it had electricity, running (cold) water and little else. (May do more on the ranch a bit later.) Thanks to Miss Drake for the photos.

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