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Archive for the ‘Phyllis Coates’ Category

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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Maverick LC

After a stint at Republic Pictures that resulted in some terrific Westerns (including a personal favorite, 1949’s Hellfire), William Elliott made his way to Monogram. By the time the series was over, Monogram had become Allied Artists and 1.85 had become the standard aspect ratio for American cinema. And the B Western was dead. These 11 pictures made sure it went out on a high note.

Rebel City LC

Warner Archive has gathered eight of these films for a three-disc set — The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection.

The Longhorn (1951)
Waco (1952)
Kansas Territory (1952)
The Maverick (1952)
Rebel City (1953)
Topeka (1953)
Vigilante Terror (1953)
The Forty-Niners (1954, widescreen)

Following these rather adult B Westerns, Elliott would make a dynamite series of detective pictures (again for Allied Artists) then go into retirement. Cancer would take him in 1964.

For me, this is the DVD release of the year. It’s due October 13. Between this set and the double feature that’s already out, you’ll have everything but Bitter Creek (1954), which WA promises for a later release. Essential stuff.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Bill Elliott-Fargo

Directed by Lewis Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Story and Screenplay by Jack DeWitt and Joseph Poland
Director of Photography: Ernest Miller, ASC
Music by Raoul Kraushaar
Film Editor: Sam Fields, ACE

CAST: Bill Elliott (Bill Martin), Myron Healey (Red Olson), Phyllis Coates (Kathy MacKenzie), Fuzzy Knight (Ted Sloan), Arthur Space (Austin), Jack Ingram (Rancher MacKenzie), Robert Wilke (Link), Terry Frost (Alvord), Robert Bray (Ed Murdock), Denver Pyle (Carey), Tim Ryan (Sam), Florence Lake (Maggie), Stanley Andrews (Judge Bruce), Richard Reeves (Bartender), Eugene Roth (Blacksmith).

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Warner Archive’s Will Bill Elliott Double Feature is hopefully the first of a series that will eventually put all 11 of these excellent “last-gasp” B Westerns* in our hot little hands. It gives us Fargo (1952) and The Homesteaders (1953). (The first picture in the series, The Longhorn (1951), has been available for a while from VCI.)

The last of the Elliotts to bear the Monogram logo, Fargo tosses a few curveballs into the usual ranchers vs. settlers tale. Bill Martin (Elliott) rides into Fargo to settle his brother’s estate and ends up trying to carry on his brother’s work — advocating the use of barbed wire to fence off the range. A gang of thugs, lead by Red Olson (Healy) are determined to keep the range undivided. There’s a tough, adult spin on the usual B Western here, typical of series Westerns from this period. For instance, an early saloon brawl is particularly brutal, and the badguys do something to Elliott about halfway through that’ll make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. (No spoilers here, folks.) And there’s a Rube Goldberg-ish barbed wire machine that I found fascinating. 

Fargo LC detail

One of the real joys of 50s Westerns is the cast, and here we get the chance to spend time with folks like Elliott, Phyllis Coates, Fuzzy Knight, Jack Ingram, Denver Pyle and Robert Wilke. Of course, Myron Healey is every bit as despicable as you’d hope. But what I really appreciated about Fargo was its excellent use of the Iverson Ranch. Many of the familiar rock formations we know and love pop up over the course of its 69 minutes.

Warner Archive makes sure Fargo looks good, not eye-popping, but far better than you’d expect a Monogram cowboy movie to look in 2014. Originally released in sepia tone, we get it black and white, which is fine. The audio’s strong. Judging from the comments that have come in about these Elliott pictures, I’m not the only one happy with this twin-bill DVD — and I’m not alone in wanting the rest of the series.

• Thanks to John for the phrase “last-gasp B Westerns.”

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Yesterday was William Elliott’s birthday, so it seems about time to finish up a piece I started a while back on The Longhorn (1951), the first of 11 films “Wild Bill” made for Monogram Pictures (later known as Allied Artists). It’s available on DVD from VCI, packaged with Charles Starrett’s first Western, Stampede (1936), as Cowboy Heroes Volume 1.

Elliott’s a cattle rancher planning to cross-breed his Longhorn cattle with Herefords. Before its 70 minutes are up, The Longhorn treats us to a cattle drive, a double cross, rustlers and Phyllis Coates. Not to mention plenty of gunplay. The plot has a few twists, so I’m keeping this spoiler-free.

For a cheap cowboy picture aimed at the Saturday matinee crowd, The Longhorn has plenty going for it. For starters, it boasts a tight, surprisingly adult script by Dan Ullman. Ullman wrote a slew of 50s Westerns, from programmers like Kansas Pacific (1953) with Sterling Hayden to the excellent Face Of A Fugitive (1959), a favorite of many who frequent this blog. The Longhorn was directed by Lewis D. Collins, who started with silent shorts and passed away a few years after this one. (By the way, Monogram paired Ullman and Collins on the cool Hot Rod in 1950.) Then there’s the cinematography by Ernest Miller, another veteran of the silents, who shot hundreds of B pictures and TV shows before his death in 1957. One of his standout credits is Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet (1951).

With so much talent on either side of the camera, how could The Longhorn miss? These six Monogram/Allied Artists pictures were Elliott’s last Westerns, and he went out on a high note — even if it’s a low-budget one.

This series was released in sepia tone, which gave the pictures an extra bit of class. William Elliott always supplied quite a bit of class, too. The VCI DVD of The Longhorn, unfortunately, isn’t presented that way, opting for standard black and white. Can’t say I blame them — sepia tends to monkey with the contrast, but it’d be nice to see how these films looked in theaters. The transfer here is fine, probably from 16mm — clean and complete, if a bit soft. My only real complaint is that VCI didn’t follow this up with the other Monogram Elliotts. (Are these things PD?) Bitter Creek (1954), which co-stars Beverly Garland, has been on my Want List for ages.

In summary, The Longhorn is a good example from the last days of the series Western, showing real toughness and maturity. VCI has given us a nice DVD. And most important, you can never go wrong with Bill Elliott. Recommended.

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