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Archive for the ‘Pre-1950’ Category

Directed by John Ford
Starring Harry Carey, Duke Lee, Neva Gerber, Vester Pegg

Kino Lorber is bringing a John Ford/Harry Carey silent picture, 1918’s Hell Bent, to Blu-Ray in August — from a 4K restoration. I’m sure I’m not the only one excited about this.

The extras sound terrific on this one. They include an archival 1970 audio interview with Ford by Joseph McBride, author of Searching For John Ford, along with a commentary by McBride. Other supplement round out the package. Can’t wait.

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Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Theron Warth
Screen play by Lillie Hayward
Based on the novel Gunman’s Chance by Luke Short
Director Of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jim Garry), Barbara Bel Geddes (Amy Lufton), Robert Preston (Tate Billing), Walter Brennan (Kris Barden), Phyllis Thaxter (Carol Lufton), Frank Faylen (Jake Pindalest), Tom Tully (John Lufton), Charles McGraw (Milo Sweet), Clifton Young (Joe Shotten), Tom Tyler (Frank Reardon), George Cooper (Fred Barden), Tom Keene (Ted Elser), Bud Osborne (Cap Willis), Zon Murray (Nels Titterton), Harry Carey Jr., Iron Eyes Cody, Chris-Pin Martin

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In a strict chronological sense, Blood On The Moon (1948) isn’t a 50s Western. But in other ways — look, themes, etc., it fits right in with the best the 50s came up with. It also stands as maybe the finest example of film noir creeping into a cowboy movie.

Drifter Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) gets caught up in a squabble between a big rancher, John Lufton (Tom Tully), and the local homesteaders. But there’s more to it than your usual range war plot device. It’s all part of a scheme put together by Mitchum’s old friend Tate Billing (Robert Preston) to swindle Lufton out of both his herd and his lucrative contract to supply meat to the Indian reservation. Mitchum decides he wants nothing to do with Billing’s caper and sides with Lufton and his daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes).

A fairly typical Western plot from the period. What makes all the difference is how its treated, from its look to some of the performances.

In noir-ish fashion, we watch Robert Mitchum wrestle with his conscience as he decides which side of the conflict to settle on. Nobody’s better than Mitchum at the morally ambiguous stuff. Several times he tries to just ride away, only to be pulled back in. Mitchum’s excellent as the down-on-his-luck cowhand turned hired gun, making sure his transition from drifter to hero doesn’t feel forced.

The rest of the cast gathers favorites from both noir and the Western — Charles McGraw, Walter Brennan (he did Red River this same year), Clifton Young, Tom Tyler, even Harry Carey, Jr. and Iron Eyes Cody. Robert Preston was always one of the best of the likable heels, and he’s at the top of his game here. Barbara Bel Geddes (as Mitchum’s love interest) is terrific, and Phyllis Thaxter (as Bel Geddes’ sister who’s duped by Preston) does a lot with a little.

Director Robert Wise didn’t make many Westerns. He said he wasn’t a fan of them. Maybe that’s why he approached this material, based on a Luke Short novel, the way he did Lewton horror movies like The Curse Of The Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945) and the noir Born To Kill (1947). Whatever the reason, it works, making for a post-War Western that really stands out. Wise had a pretty funny career. The later films that he’s known for, from I Want To Live! (1958) to The Sound Of Music (1965), are so far removed from earlier pictures like this one. (Wise considered Blood On The Moon his first big feature.) For instance, compare The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). The films got bigger, for sure, but not necessarily better. 

Robert Wise put this picture together with producer Theron Warth, getting a top-notch script from Lillie Hayward. With the cast was assembled and the shoot approaching, there was talk of replacing Wise with Jacques Tourneur — in an attempt to recapture some of the Out Of The Past (1947) magic. Dore Schary stuck with Wise.

Everything from the shadowy noir touches and more authentic costumes (Wise studied period photographs) to the stunning Sedona locations and well-propped sets make Blood On The Moon a Western unlike any other, something truly unique — as much a character study as it is an action picture. And speaking of action, it’s got one of the damnedest saloon fights you’ve ever seen (between Mitchum and Preston).

Robert Wise: “I wanted to avoid one of those extremely staged-looking fistfights used in all the movies, where the stuntmen did this elaborate, acrobatic fighting and you saw the real actors only in close-ups. I wanted this to look like a real fight, with that awkward, brutal look of a real fight, and when it was done for the winner to look as exhausted as the loser. And Mitch was excited about this. He knew exactly what I was going for. I think he probably knew more than I did about barroom fights like this one.”

Blood On The Moon gets a huge boost from the atmospherics and deep shadows of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. One of the true artistes of the whole noir thing, he shot Stranger On The Third Floor (1940, considered the first film noir), Out Of The Past and Roadblock (1951). He was DP on a few of Val Lewton’s RKO horror pictures, such as Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and Bedlam (1946). And he shot a few of RKO’s Tim Holt pictures, giving them a look way beyond their budget. Thanks to Mr. Musuraca, Blood On The Moon is one of the best-looking B&W Westerns ever made, which makes its release on Blu-Ray something to be excited about.

This time around, Warner Archive has given us one of the best-looking B&W Blu-Rays I’ve seen. It’s clean and crisp, and the contrast levels are absolutely perfect — important in a picture that goes from snow-covered landscapes in daylight to the dark woods in the dead of night. Warner Archive is getting a lot of praise, well-deserved, for restoring 15 minutes to another Mitchum Western from 1948, Rachel And The Stranger. But seeing Blood On The Moon like this, so pristine, is a revelation. Highly, highly recommended.

SOURCE: Robert Wise quote from Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care by Lee Server.

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Kino Lorber has announced their first volume of Western Classics for June — When The Daltons Rode (1940), The Virginian (1946) and Whispering Smith (1948).

When The Daltons Rode offers up about 30 minutes of constant riding, shooting and just general mayhem in its last reels, all courtesy of the great Yakima Canutt. Amazing stuff. Whispering Smith was tailor-made for Alan Ladd — his first Western and his first color film. The Virginian puts a couple of my favorites in the same movie — Joel McCrea and William Frawley.

Working on the commentary notes for When The Daltons Rode has been a lot of fun, especially watching all the stunts again and again.

I love the first volume of sets like this, since it comes with the promise of more!

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Directed by George Marshall
Starring Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, Brian Donlevy, Una Merkel

Criterion has announced they they’re bringing George Marshall’s Destry Rides Again (1939) to DVD and Blu-Ray in April. (We’ve sure seen a lot of James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich making its way to Blu-Ray lately.)

It comes with a slew of terrific extras, of course, but the draw for me is a new 4K restoration done with the Film Foundation. Can’t wait to see how this thing will shine! Absolutely essential.

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Kino Lorber is serving up four terrific Universal Westerns in March, an announcement that gets. 2020 off to a great start.

Canyon Passage (1946)
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Starring Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Patricia Roc, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Andy Devine, Lloyd Bridges

Canyon Passage was Jacques Tourneur’s first Western and first film in color. It’s got a great cast (Ward Bond is terrific — and very scary) and incredible Technicolor photography from Edward Cronjager, who also shot Lang’s Western Union (1941). This is a very overlooked, underrated film.

Night Passage (1957)
Directed by James Neilson
Starring James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Brandon de Wilde, Jay C. Flippen, Robert J. Wilke, Hugh Beaumont

Shot in Technirama, a high-fidelity combination of VistaVision and anamorphic widescreen, Night Passage is as sharp as movies could get in the late 50s. And with loads of incredible location work in Durango, Colorado, it’s stunning — and a perfect candidate for Blu-Ray. The movie itself, while it’s no masterpiece, has been unjustly maligned. You’ll find the story behind all that in an old post.

Man In The Shadow (1957)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring Jeff Chandler, Orson Welles, Colleen Miller, Barbara Lawrence, John Larch, Royal Dano, James Gleason

There are a thousand reasons to be excited about this modern-day (well, 1957) Western — Jeff Chandler, Orson Welles, B&W CinemaScope and Jack Arnold, for starters. Welles and producer Albert Zugsmith got to talking here, which led to Touch Of Evil (1958).

The Rare Breed (1966)
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Juliet Mills, Ben Johnson, Jack Elam, Harry Carey, Jr.

The best thing The Rare Breed has going for it is its incredible cast — how could it go wrong? Not to mention the Technicolor/Panavision cinematography of William H. Clothier.

All four films will feature a commentary (I’m doing both Passage films) and an original trailer. It’s no easy to recommend these things!

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Pairing John Wayne and Randolph Scott in the same movie, well, that’s about as good as it gets. Add Marlene Dietrich in there, too, and you can’t miss. It worked well enough with The Spoilers that they did it again less than a year later with Pittsburgh (both 1942). They’re both making their way to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Both are highly recommended.

The Spoilers
Directed by Ray Enright
Starring Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Margaret Lindsay, Harry Carey

Rex Beach’s story of the Alaska Gold Rush had been filmed a number of times already when it was turned into a vehicle for Marlene Dietrich, who was a big deal thanks to Destry Rides Again (1939). This version not only has the Dietrich/Scott/Wayne star power going for it, but it boasts one of the greatest saloon brawls in Hollywood history. The story goes that some of Wayne and Scott’s punches are real.

The cinematography by Milton Krasner has always knocked me out on this one, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in high definition. I’m doing a commentary for it, which’ll give me a chance to ramble on about my hero, Randolph Scott.

Pittsburgh
Directed by Lewis Seiler
Starring Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Shemp Howard, Paul Fix, Nestor Paiva

This time, Wayne’s a coal miner who wants to make something or himself, no matter who he has to use and toss aside along the way. The cast in this one’s a real winner, with a few of my favorite character actors — Shemp, Paul Fix and Nestor Paiva!

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Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Starring Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Patricia Roc, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Andy Devine, Lloyd Bridges

Canyon Passage (1946) is a large-scale tale of the Oregon Territory. Jacques Tourneur’s first Western and first color film, it was a big hit back in 1946. It’s got a great cast (Ward Bond is terrific — and very scary) and incredible Technicolor photography from Edward Cronjager, who also shot Lang’s Western Union (1941).

It’s coming to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber later this year. You can bet it’ll look great.

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VCI Entertainment has announced the upcoming (May) Blu-Ray release of two terrific 15-chapter Buck Jones serials from Universal — The Red Rider (1934) and The Roaring West (1935).

The Red Rider was directed by the prolific Lew Landers. This was one of his first pictures. Buck’s co-stars in this one are Grant Withers and Marion Shilling. As you might expect, Monte Montague’s around, too.

The Roaring West is from director Ray Taylor, who did a number of serials, including The Green Hornet and Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (both 1940). Early in his long, prolific career, he was an assistant director for John Ford.

Both are sourced from original 35mm fine grain material — and both will feature first-chapter commentaries from yours truly. And if all that’s not enough, they’re bringing out The Vanishing Shadow (1934), too. Boy, am I excited about these.

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Republic Trucolor logo

Martin Scorsese has curated a retrospective of Republic movies, for February and August at the Museum Of Modern Art, from the restored material at Paramount.

There’s some great stuff in February’s lineup, including Trigger, Jr. (1950), Stranger At My Door (1956) and one of my all-time favorite films, Hellfire (1949). Three of my favorite directors are represented: William Witney, George Sherman and Allan Dwan.

Working with the fine folks at Kino Lorber on commentaries for some of their Republic releases, the quality of the material coming out of Paramount is incredible. (I’m in the middle of Singing Guns right now.) So glad to see these films are being treated with the respect they deserve.

Thanks to Laura for the news!

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Directed by Stuart Heisler
Starring Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, William Demarest, Dan Duryea

ClassicFlix has announced a new remaster of Stuart Heisler’s terrific Western spoof, Along Came Jones (1945). Actually, it’s not so much a spoof of Westerns as it is Gary Cooper poking a little fun at himself. It’s a cool movie, and I’m sure it’ll benefit from the ClassicFlix treatment. They’ve done some terrific stuff so far.

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