Archive for the ‘Pre-1950’ Category


Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Screenplay by Lawrence Hazard and Horace McCoy
Original Story by Hal Long
Cinematography: Reggie Lanning
Art Direction: James Sullivan
Set Decoration: John McCarthy Jr. and George Milo
Costumes: Adele Palmer
Music: Anthony Collins
Film Editor: Richard Van Enger

Cast: William Elliott (Jim McWade), John Carroll (Wesley Baker), Catherine McLeod (Alice Sharp), Albert Dekker (Gibson Hart), Andy Devine (Elihu Mills), Patricia Knight (Josie Allen), Ruth Donnelly (Utopia Mills), Harry Davenport (Rev. Baker), Reed Hadley (Jessup), Russell Simpson (Wade Clayton), Jim Davis (Sam Bass), Frank Ferguson (Andy Renfro)


This is an entry in The Republic Pictures Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s incredible talent roster, wonderful output and lasting legacy.

Republic blogathon badgeIn retrospect, it is no accident that in 1946 Western series star Wild Bill Elliott was elevated to films Republic treated as their version of “A” Westerns. It was in that year that the genre rapidly attained the maturity that would fully flower in the 1950s. The end of World War II is always a key point in considering this—and indeed it resonates even within the subject of a movie like The Fabulous Texan—as the aftermath of so profound an experience was bound to deepen consideration of so many things, especially life and death conflict, and also the ebb and flow of personal relationships within a changing world, that Westerns had always enjoyed as subjects.

In any event, from 1946 to 1950, Elliott starred in 10 films as William Elliott, before leaving Republic and going back to his “Wild Bill” identity for more series Westerns at Allied Artists, then finishing outside the genre. These 10 movies show a poised, impressively real actor attuned to their serious subjects and though they are mostly hard to see now, it’s hoped that in time they will be better known as they deserve to be. Most of them were directed by Republic mainstay Joseph Kane, a director deeply attuned to the Republic aesthetic and to Westerns (though his films outside the genre are good too) and with a strong individuality as well—he was one of the main sustaining forces at the studio until the end. But after Kane initiated this series of Elliott Westerns, three of the ones that followed were directed by others, including the especially well-regarded Hellfire (1949, R. G. Springsteen) and The Showdown (1950; Dorrell and Stuart McGowan, who had written Hellfire). The other one is The Fabulous Texan, directed by Edward Ludwig, whose presence here is crucial to its character and about whom I will have more to say.


The screenplay, by Lawrence Hazard and Horace McCoy (from a story by Hal Long) is already excellent. It beautifully follows two interwoven threads. The first is historically based, though no doubt treated with great artistic license—after the Civil War, the Texas State Police impose a cruel martial law on Texans, especially returning Confederate veterans and their families. This is a common theme in the Western throughout its great postwar years, and always the defeated are treated with the most sympathy. The present film is no exception; whatever the political realities, the main villain, Gibson Hart (Albert Dekker), uses the Texas State Police as a vehicle for his own ambition; the film invests little in him in the way of nuance, and proficiently played by Dekker in a way familiar for him, he is not one of the movie’s strengths. It is in the second thread that the movie comes fully alive, a romantic triangle involving two friends, Jim McWade (William Elliott) and Wesley Baker (John Carroll) and the woman they both love, Alice Sharp (Catherine McLeod). Jim and Wes are Confederate veterans returning home at the beginning, hoping for peace—Wes and Alice have unwisely stilled their mutual love for each other for Jim’s sake, and Jim expects to marry her. It may sound like it makes no sense for Wes and Alice to let things happen as they did, but in the telling of the story it’s all too sadly believable, and one spends most of the film watching three sympathetic people as the situation slowly evolves and the truths for each character gradually come out for them all to know. Meantime, circumstances make Wes an outlaw—he avenges the death of his father (Harry Davenport), a preacher who spoke truth to power, by killing the officer of the State Police responsible (Reed Hadley) in a compelling and beautifully staged gunfight.


The place of Jim in the ensuing action is interesting, as he rides with Wes some of that time, but only against tyranny and the State Police. Unfortunately, there is a fine line for an outlaw and Wes, goaded by the darker Sam Bass (Jim Davis), finally crosses it, with tragic results. Through all this, Jim and Wes take turns protecting each other all the way through a beautiful climax, a nocturnal shootout in a misty spring that settles all accounts. Meantime, Alice evolves no less as an active character, her fate linked to theirs by her own design. And that’s followed through at the end by a coda that picks her up many years later as an elderly woman—it’s both rueful and ironic, and if not emotionally satisfying is perhaps consistent for these characters and seals the link between the relationships and the broader historical story.

The central triangle is beautifully played by all three leads, especially John Carroll, arguably the standout as Wes though partly it’s because he is the most interesting character among three who are all interesting. Handsome and relaxed in his roles while able to emote with some effectiveness, Carroll had a fairly good career, much of it as a lead or second lead at Republic, without seeming to ever draw much positive attention. He may deserve better. One thinks of his modest late career triumph in Decision At Sundown (1957, directed by Budd Boetticher) in which his character Tate Kimbrough, who initially seems a simple villain, pulls himself together enough to face his adversary (Randolph Scott) on his own and gains in moral stature in the process—as a man, he turns out to be a little better than we thought he was, and I think that describes Carroll as an actor. In The Fabulous Texan, there is a scene late in the film between Wes and Alice in which he winds up finally expressing all of his love for her. Done in two simple shots as he stands between her and his horse while getting ready to ride out, he contemplates the way his life has gone, how much of it he is responsible for and how much he came into it through circumstances of the time. In the first shot, straight on to the characters, he wrestles with this and it’s played beautifully as Carroll, very natural and not at all showy, evokes a lot of complex feeling without a lot of heavy drama. The following shot is the closer, more dramatic one as he faces away from Alice over his horse and she is behind him—and here, his desire for her is expressed and Carroll carefully allows more intensity to accompany the more dramatic visual moment.


Westerns, especially Republic ones, too rarely get the credit they deserve for these moments of truth, though it seems everyone involved works hard for them. Considering the art of The Fabulous Texan, it’s really evident early in the film, even from the beginning—it’s truly poetic to see Jim and Wes riding home from the war, distant figures on a low horizon under a quiet sky of still white clouds. The image so perfectly evokes the desire of the men for a peace they are not going to know, and yet we don’t even know them yet. It is a feeling, an ambiance. By contrast, when Wes returns home with his cousins later to find his father has been murdered, Ludwig executes a powerful forward tracking shot in which the gravity of Wes’ internal change as he realizes what has happened is brilliantly underscored by interlocked movement of the men and the camera.

Plainly, with so much here realized with the greatest possible effectiveness, there is a real creativity on the part of director Ludwig (not to mention one of Republic’s best cinematographers Reggie Lanning), even if efficient telling of the story is as always the main goal. Ludwig’s career, although his body of work is uneven, bears out that he was as gifted as he seems in his best films. The Russian-born director was around in Hollywood since silent days (at least to direct shorts) and gradually found his way to features but without ever having one good studio contract and a place that would nurture him—in that, he’s like many other talented directors in American cinema who moved from job to job and would do best when material and conditions stimulated them. This may have led to other good films–The Gun Hawk (1963), about a gunfighter slowly dying of a mortal wound (and made in a troubled time for American Westerns when few were being produced), is one of the finer and more haunting last films of any director. But based on his three 40s movies for Republic, beginning with The Fighting Seabees (1944) and soon continuing with The Fabulous Texan and in 1948 the awesome Wake Of The Red Witch, one wishes he had made his career at the studio. It’s especially so because of Red Witch—one of the supreme Republic adventures which merges one of its exotic dreamscapes with storytelling that movingly carries the studio’s virtues into an unexpected realm of dark romanticism (Lanning again brought his mastery of black and white to the cinematography); it might even have been surprising then, though it shouldn’t be now that we are starting to fully appreciate Republic as it deserves to be.

Ludwig returned to the studio once in the 50s for Flame Of The Islands (1956), another demented melodrama though not in a way that lifts it to what those others were. It’s interesting though, that it again finds the heroine between several men (more than two in that case), something that in his three 40s Republics seemed to stimulate Ludwig, especially as none of them falls neatly in the way two of the characters in the triangle become a couple. Ludwig seems, from a dramatic point of view, to embrace the unhappiness that can reign, or at least be implied, when rightful lovers do not in the end find their way to each other, and comfortable for sympathetic main characters to die as well.

That’s one more interesting aspect of The Fabulous Texan, of which there is surely much more to say. A beautiful movie and a heartfelt one, a strong story with plenty of action but one glad to take time to observe nuance in sympathetic characters, it is one of the outstanding Westerns of the late 40s. It’s also a worthy film to consider the qualities of Republic—one feels that the studio’s willingness to simply tell its stories, unpretentiously and prosaically, may have been, in the end, the way to find and fully create the deeper poetry of its cinematic world.


Many thanks to Laura Grieve and John Knight for providing me with a copy of the movie to see.

Blake Lucas is a writer and film critic living in Los Angeles.

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Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Produced by Jules Levey
Screen play by Harold Shumate
From the novel “Trail Town” by Ernest Haycox
Director Of Photography: Archie J. Stout, ASC
Film Editor: Richard Heermance

Cast: Randolph Scott (Marshal Dan Mitchell), Ann Dvorak (Rita), Edgar Buchanan (Bravo Trimble), Rhonda Fleming (Sherry Balder), Lloyd Bridges (Henry Dreiser), Helen Boice (Big Annie), Howard Freeman (Ed Balder), Richard Hale (Charlie Fair), Jack Lambert (Jet Younger), Dick Curtis (Ryker), Earl Schenck (Hazelhurst), Eddie Waller (Hannaberry), Hank Patterson (Doug Neil)


After World War II, Randolph Scott would create a persona that would carry him through the rest of his career (he played his last non-Western role in 1947) and make him one of the Western’s true icons. He wore his age very, very well, and it gave him the kind of authority you find in Wayne or Cooper or Stewart.

At the same time Scott was maturing, so was the Western itself — and that maturity marks the 50s Westerns we’re so enamored of around here. Abilene Town (1946) shows both of these shifts, Scott’s and the Western’s, toward something more complex and a little darker.


Just a few years after the Civil War, Abilene, Kansas, is a town divided, literally. On one side of the street are the merchants and homesteaders, and on the other side, the saloonkeepers, gamblers and dance hall girls. In the middle stands Marshal Dan Mitchell (Randolph Scott). There’s a range war brewing, with the homesteaders laying down stakes to build a real community and the ranchers wanting to keep the range, and the saloons, open.


Of course, the rancher-settler conflict forms the backbone of many, many Westerns. This time around, there’s a lot of human nature woven into that familiar plot-line — the townspeople are reluctant to actually do anything about their situation, in a way that would become more common in the 50s. It’s certainly lighter here than what would come later, which provides a good role for Edgar Buchanan as an ineffective sheriff. Ann Dvorak gets plenty of screen time, and a number of songs, as Scott’s saloon-singer girlfriend. Lloyd Bridges and Rhonda Fleming get early roles. And Jack Lambert is at his creepy best.


Edwin L. Marin’s direction is very assured, and the action scenes are very well done.

Abilene Town is in the public domain, and when it turns up on TV or on DVD at the dollar store, it invariably looks terrible. Soft, washed-out, spliced-up — just plain lousy. For that reason, I’d never seen it all the way through. The new region-free Blu-ray from Panamint Cinema, mastered from a 35mm fine grain print courtesy of the BFI National Archive, is a revelation. There’s a sound glitch or two, and changeover cues are visible, but those are welcome reminders that you’re watching a movie. I miss such things. Archie Stout’s cinematography is just incredible — it’s hard to believe this is the same movie I’ve given up on so many times over the years. We all owe a big thanks to Russell Cowe at Panamint Cinema for seeing this one through — a movie that has been almost unwatchable for decades now shines like a diamond. Abilene Town is ripe for reappraisal and this Blu-ray should make it happen. Essential.

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bad men of tombstone

Directed by Kurt Neumann
Starring Barry Sullivan, Marjorie Reynolds, Broderick Crawford, Fortunio Bonanova, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams

We’ve know about this one for a while, but I’ve been meaning to give it a post all its own. Bad Men Of Tombstone (1949) will make its way to DVD from Warner Archive on April 7.

Kurt Neumann is probably best know for a handful of the Weissmuller Tarzan pictures and The Fly (1958, which he produced and directed). I’ve always found him a solid director, able to put every dollar of his limited budgets on the screen, and that certainly applies to his work on Bad Men Of Tombstone. Plus, I like Barry Sullivan in Westerns.

Coming at the same time from Warner Archive is Seven Angry Men (1955) and Black Midnight (1949).

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Trail Street TC

Directed by Ray Enright
Produced by Nat Holt
Screenplay: Norman Houston, Gene Lewis
Based on the novel Golden Horizon by William Corcoran
Director Of Photography: J. Roy Hunt
Film Editor: Lyle Boyer

Cast: Randolph Scott (Bat Masterson), Robert Ryan (Allan Harper), George “Gabby” Hayes (Billy Burns), Anne Jeffreys (Ruby Stone), Madge Meredith (Susan Pritchett).

I am delighted to be able to take part in The Randolph Scott Blogathon and would like to thank our host, Toby, for making it possible.

R Scott blogathon badgeWhen Randolph Scott films are talked about it is more often than not his Ranown films released in the main through Columbia Pictures that are quite rightly in the frame. I don’t think I would quibble with the notion of describing each of those films a “Western classic.”

Scott, however, had of course been a major Western star long before his association with Budd Boetticher and Burt Kennedy.  We talk regularly here about those earlier pictures directed by Andre De Toth for just one example. Most of Scott’s films after 1950 were made or released by either Warners or Columbia (alternating sometimes). But his earliest western successes were probably those produced by Nat Holt and often released by RKO, directed by Ray Enright and others.

I was first introduced to Scott in my childhood through these Nat Holt productions and they quickly became favorites. One that fails to warrant mention very often, it seems, is Trail Street from 1947.


The story is a range war drama with the matter of law and order interwoven as farmers and ranchers are at loggerheads. The farmers cannot get their wheat to grow due partly to climate but mainly due to the free roaming of the ranchers’ cattle. This is exacerbated by the lack of local law and order. Into this situation rides Bat Masterson (Scott) who is enlisted as town marshal to bring a degree of order. He has a crusty old deputy played by George Hayes in one of the best parts in his career. “Gabby” is always a plus in anything for me.

Scott also deputizes Robert Ryan whose character discovers a form of wheat that will withstand the drought conditions, so making a brighter prospect for the farmers and therefore the community.

There is of course plenty of slam-bang shoot-’em-up action as one would expect and the different strands of the storyline are woven together well.


As if the presence of Scott and Hayes wasn’t enough, we have the beauty of Anne Jeffries in support and the strong role played by the always-excellent Ryan too.

Randolph Scott had been in films for quite a few years in 1947 yet had only recently decided to concentrate exclusively on westerns and as a result his star was on the rise (within a year or two he was in the Top Ten most popular male stars at the box office – ANY genre) and Ryan was also on his way building a name in both westerns and especially film noir as one of Hollywood’s finest actors.

Trail Street was one of a sizable handful of westerns Scott made for Nat Holt but the three best, I think, were Badman’s Territory, Return Of The Badmen and this film.

Later films are better known these days but I like to watch and enjoy any, or certainly most, of Scott’s westerns from 1946 on. For anyone unfamiliar I would heartily recommend this film and for those that are familiar I would heartily recommend a re-watch – soon!

It is available from Warner Archive.


Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry, but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.

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I was happy to learn that Grit is now available here in the Raleigh area. And it’s good to see some Randolph Scott pictures in their January schedule.

One that I like a lot, and that is often overlooked, is Ray Enright’s Coroner Creek (1948). It’s playing Monday at 9AM. Any picture that offers up Scott along with Edgar Buchanan, Wallace Ford and Forrest Tucker (not to mention an uncredited Curly-Joe DeRita) is certainly worthwhile.

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The charge was this: send in your list of favorite 50s Westerns DVD releases for 2014, along with a few 50s Westerns that you discovered this year.

For today, here are your (and my) 10 favorite DVDs or Blu-rays released during the 2014 calendar year.

10. Panhandle (1948) This terrific Rod Cameron picture, directed by Lesley Selander, was released a few years ago as part of VCI’s Darn Good Western Volume 1. This year, it showed up on its on.

9. City Of Bad Men (1953) Dale Robertson leads a great cast: Jeanne Crain, Richard Boone, Lloyd Bridges, Hugh Sanders, Rodolfo Acosta, Don Haggerty, Leo Gordon, John Doucette, Frank Ferguson, James Best. Harmon Jones directs.

8. Fort Massacre (1958) Joel McCrea plays way against type. Forrest Tucker, Susan Cabot, John Russell and Denver Pyle co-star. You can get a nice regular DVD here in the States — and a stunning Blu-ray in Germany.


7. Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) The guys who developed VistaVision look down from heaven, see this Blu-ray playing in our living rooms, and are very happy indeed.

6. The Lusty Men (1952) There was a time when Nicholas Ray was a machine that cranked out Great Movies. This study of modern-day rodeo cowboys — starring Robert Mitchum, Susan Haywood and Arthur Kennedy — comes from the heart of that period.

5. Drum Beat (1954) Alan Ladd shows us he’s got more than Shane up his sleeve, and Delmer Daves delivers yet another solid Western. This is a lot better movie than you’ve heard (or remember).


4. Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958) When an Allied Artists Western starring Mark Stevens makes a Top Ten list, I know I’m in the right place.

3. Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Volume 4 As good as the series Western ever got. For me, this fourth volume is the best — which makes it plenty great indeed.

2. Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957) It’s not a stupendous Randolph Scott movie, but it’s a Randolph Scott movie — and Warner Archive has it shining like a black and white, 1.85 diamond.

1. South Of St. Louis (1949) This terrific Joel McCrea picture, with its Technicolor appropriately saturated, is stunning on Blu-ray from Olive Films. Alexis Smith and Dorothy Malone should’ve paid cinematographer Karl Freund for making them look so beautiful.

Along with all these favorites, there was a common complaint: that Olive Films’ promised The Quiet Gun (1956) didn’t make it in 2014.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their lists.

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Two Gene Autry pictures, Sunset In Wyoming (1941) and The Cowboy And The Indians (1949), will be screened at The Autry in Griffith Park on December 27 at noon. What makes this a big deal is that The Cowboy And The Indians features Gene singing his song “Here Comes Santa Claus.” It’s a real solid Autry movie all around.

I’m working on an article on the film for ClassicFlix.com, and have really enjoyed digging into in the last week or so.

Now if someone would run Trail Of Robin Hood (1950)!

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