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Archive for the ‘Pre-1950’ Category

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Back in 2014, gathering everybody’s favorite DVD and Blu-Ray picks for the year turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s since become an annual thing.

Thanks to everybody who sent in their picks for 2016. This was a great year for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-Ray (and 2017 is shaping up to be just as good, or maybe better). Here’s the Top 10, according to your votes.

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10. Desperado (1954, Warner Archive, DVD)
It was a tie between this Wayne Morris picture and his earlier Desert Pursuit (1952). They’re both solid, offbeat little Westerns — and it’s real treat to have them available in such stellar condition.

9. Yellow Sky (1948, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Thanks to William Wellman, we didn’t have to wait till the 50s for Hollywood to start making 50s Westerns. The town of Yellow Sky is populated by only an old prospector and his daughter — until some slimy outlaws come riding up.

8. Western Union (1941, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Randolph Scott in Fritz Lang’s second Technicolor movie. There’s so much cool stuff in this movie, and it looks wonderful.

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7. Black Horse Canyon (1954, Universal Vault, DVD)
For years, Joel McCrea’s Universal Westerns were missing on DVD. It’s great to have them so easy to track down. This is a good one.

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6. Comanche Station (1960, Explosive Media, Blu-Ray)
The last of the Scott-Boetticher Westerns turns out to be the first to make its way to Blu-Ray, and as I see it, the others can’t get here soon enough. This thing’s incredible.

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5. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, Warner Archive, Blu-Ray)
John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, above) is one of the most beautiful color movies ever shot. The proof is pressed oh-so-magnificently into this Blu-Ray. It also features one of John Wayne’s finest performances.

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4. Roughshod (1949, Warner Archive, DVD)
This gets my vote as the best of the “noir Westerns.” I was real happy to see the response this picture got. It’s a shame it’s not better known.

3. Cariboo Trail (1950, Kino Lorber, DVD/Blu-Ray)
The transfer here is a minor miracle, demonstrating how good CineColor can look. They wisely didn’t go overboard with the cleanup, so it still retains its true film look. And, of course, this is a solid picture from Edwin Marin and Randolph Scott.

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2. Johnny Guitar (1954, Olive Films Signature Edition, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Olive’s new Signature edition is a marked improvement over their old release, which was terrific. The restored 1.66 framing makes a big difference, and the supplemental stuff is excellent.

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1. One-Eyed Jacks (1961, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Opinions of Marlon Brando’s Western are all over the place, so I was really surprised to see it land in the top spot. However, judging it simply in terms of its superb presentation, I don’t see how anything could beat it. It’s stunning, a big fat reward to all of us who’ve suffered through those awful tapes and discs over the years. I’m proud and honored to have been involved with Criterion’s work here. (Note: Having worked on the One-Eyed Jacks extras, I did not feel comfortable taking part in the vote this time around.)

In closing, the discs on this list highlight the impact the video presentation can have on our appreciation of these old movies. Many of these have been available, in some form, for years. One more thing: your reasons for not buying a Blu-Ray player are rapidly running out.

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Directed by Raoul Walsh
Starring Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, Thomas Mitchell, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Monte Blue

Silver River (1948), an Errol Flynn Western directed by Raoul Walsh, is finally making its way to DVD from Warner Archive. Watch for it in January.

Production was marked by the liquored-up antics of both Flynn and his leading lady, Ann Sheridan. Probably due to those antics, this was the last of eight pictures Flynn and Walsh made together (if you haven’t seen their Objective, Burma!, do it now!). In spite of the delays and frustrations, Flynn turned in a solid, complex performance — the effects of his hard living might have made him a better Western star.

2016 has been a great year for classic Westerns on DVD and Blu-Ray. 2017’s getting off to a great start, too. Thank you, Warner Archive!

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Directed by Alfred E. Green
Starring Joel McCrea, Frances Dee, Charles Bickford, Joseph Calleia, William Conrad

It didn’t do well when it came out. But to those familiar with it today, Four Faces West (1948) is a minor masterpiece.

It’s a movie that plays with the audience at every turn, always offering up a fresh take on convention. The performances are excellent, Alfred E. Green’s  direction is right on the money, and Russell Harlan’s cinematography is terrific.

Kino Lorber has announced a DVD and Blu-Ray release in early 2017. You don’t want to miss this one, folks.

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Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Starring William S. Hart, Jane Novak, Robert McKim

Olive Films has announced the January release of the 1919 William S. Hart picture Wagon Tracks. Mastered from an original 35mm nitrate print preserved by the Library of Congress, it should be quite a thing.

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I grew up watching 8mm Blackhawk prints of Hart’s movies, and I love them all. Can’t wait to see this one again.

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Directed by Ray Enright
Written by Zachary Gold and James R. Webb
Director Of Photography: Karl Freund, ASC
Film Editor: Clarence Kolster
Music by Max Steiner
Wardrobe by Milo Anderson

Cast: Joel McCrea (Kip Davis), Alexis Smith (Rouge de Lisle), Zachary Scott (Charlie Burns), Dorothy Malone (Deborah Miller), Douglas Kennedy (Lee Price), Alan Hale (Jake Evarts), Victor Jory (Luke Cottrell), Bob Steele (Slim Hansen), Art Smith (Bronco), Monte Blue (Captain Jeffery), Nacho Galindo (Manuel), Paul Maxey (Papa Brugnon)

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badgeThis look at South Of St. Louis (1949) is an entry in the Joel McCrea Blogathon, a three-day celebration to commemorate what would’ve been his 111th birthday.

It’s the Civil War. Kip Davis (Joel McCrea), Charlie Burns (Zachary Scott) and Lee Price (Douglas Kennedy) are partners in Three Bell Ranch (the three ranchers have little bells on their spurs). When their spread is plundered and burned by the Union guerrilla raider Luke Cottrell (Victor Jory), the partners head to Brownsville, Texas, to look for Cottrell and start raising a stake to rebuild their ranch.

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Lee decides to join the Confederate Army. Kip and Charlie are soon up to their ears in trouble, smuggling guns up from Mexico for the Confederates. It’s dangerous work, but there’s the promise of the money they need to rebuild the Three Bell.

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Kip becomes so focused on revenge and rebuilding his ranch, he loses his fiancee (Dorothy Malone) to Lee. But he soon catches the eye of Rouge (Alexis Smith), the saloon singer who’s in on the smuggling operation. All the while, Charlie is becoming more and more transfixed by the money — and less and less interested in ranching.

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It all comes down to a final shootout, with friend pitted against friend — and the jingling of those three bells reminding the men of what they once meant to each other. It’d be hard to find a movie with a more satisfying last reel. All in all, it’s a moving story of the power of friendship, the pitfalls of revenge and the glory of redemption — with plenty of gunplay.

Produced by United States Pictures, and released by Warner Bros., South Of St. Louis is a remake of Warner’s own gangster picture The Roaring Twenties (1939), which starred Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

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Dorothy Malone and Ray Enright

Director Ray Enright began his career as an assistant editor and gag man for Mack Sennett. After serving in the First World War, he made his way to Warner Bros. — where he was eventually made a director. Naturally, given his tutelage at the Sennett studio, Enright had a real flair for both comedy and action, and his films always scoot along at a steady pace. The fight scene between John Wayne and Randolph Scott in his The Spoilers (1942) remains one of the Movies’ best — the legend goes that some of the blood you see is real. Enright worked with Hollywood’s greatest Western stars: Wayne, Scott (Trail Street, Coroner Creek, etc.), Audie Murphy (1950’s Kansas Raiders), Sterling Hayden (Flaming Feather in 1952) and, of course, this one time with McCrea.

Enright was given a splendid cast to work with on this one, and he got solid performances from them all. McCrea’s grace and naturalism are in full force here, helping guide us through some odd choices his character makes along the way. Alexis Smith is fine in a role that would’ve been perfect for Claire Trevor. One of McCrea and Smith’s later scenes together — he’s drowning his sorrow in tequila down in Matamoros, Mexico, and she’s tired of watching him “eating [his] heart out with hate” — is very well done, setting up the ending just perfectly.

Zachary Scott is terrific — we can really watch Charlie lose his soul to money. Douglas Kennedy and Dorothy Malone don’t have all that much to do, though they do it well. Alan Hale does what he always does as the saloon keeper, be the delightful Alan Hale, and Bob Steele is at his best as a bad guy. I love it when Steele gets a good amount of screen time. Victor Jory sneers his way through the picture as the evil Luke Cottrell. He turns in one of my favorites of his many wonderful performances.

Karl Freund and Joel McCrea

Thanks to the gorgeous Blu-Ray available from Olive Films, we can see that one of the picture’s greatest assets is the stunning Technicolor work of Karl Freund. Freund (his nickname was “Papa”) came to the U.S. from Germany in 1929, and was soon behind the camera at Universal on stuff like Dracula (1931). He directed The Mummy (1932), one of the most visually stunning of the Universal monster movies. He won an Academy Award for his cinematography for The Good Earth (1937), and eventually helped develop (with Desi Arnaz) the three-camera system for lighting and shooting I Love Lucy in front of a live audience. This technique is still in use today.

Freund has every frame of South Of St. Louis looking like something you’d hang over your mantel. With her red hair, rouge and Milo Anderson costumes, Alexis Smith looks like she’d glow in the dark. And with its Technicolor red, the Confederate flag never looked so majestic. (Be sure to note the curtains in Alan Hale’s Brownsville Drovers’ Rest Saloon. The red practically leaps out of your TV.)

South Of St. Louis had its premiere in Brownsville, Texas (in two theaters), with McCrea and Smith making the rounds to promote the picture. When it opened in New York at the Strand Theatre, Desi Arnaz and his orchestra performed. The picture was a big hit, and Jack Warner soon had McCrea in Colorado Territory (1949), a remake of the Bogart picture High Sierra (1941) — both films directed by the mighty Raoul Walsh. Then for McCrea, it was Stars In My Crown (1950) at MGM and a near-perfect string of medium-budget Westerns for Universal-International. He was really on a roll.

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Directed by Joseph Kane
Starring John Wayne, Vera Hruba Ralston, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond

Kino Lorber has gotten hold of some of the Republic titles under Paramount’s control. They’ve announced Dakota (1945), a solid Western from Joe Kane starring John Wayne, for release before the end of the year. This could be a terrific arrangement, folks!

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Canyon Passage DJ

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Ernest Pascal
Adapted from the Saturday Evening Post story by Ernest Haycox
Director Of Photography: Edward Cronjager
Film Editor: Milton Carruth

Cast: Dana Andrews (Logan Stuart), Brian Donlevy (George Camrose), Susan Hayward (Lucy Overmire), Patricia Roc (Caroline Marsh), Ward Bond (Honey Bragg), Hoagy Carmichael (Hi Linnet), Fay Holden (Mrs. Overmire), Stanley Ridges (Jonas Overmire), Lloyd Bridges (Johnny Steele), Andy Devine (Ben Dance), the Devine Kids, Frank Ferguson, Ray Teal

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There seems to be a general consensus around here that Canyon Passage (1946) is a damn good Western, typically fine work from Jacques Tourneur, and a picture that has been unjustly overlooked over the years. We also tend to agree that the DVD from Universal is a terrific example of how to present three-strip Technicolor on our hi-def TVs. So much so, that a few folks have commented that they couldn’t imagine how much difference a Blu-ray upgrade would make.

Well, the new Blu-ray from Panamint offers up a stunning example of just what Blu-ray can do — that beautiful transfer of Edward Cronjager’s Technicolor photography is, well, even more beautiful than it was before. Sharper, crisper, more detailed — and with a real sense of depth. After viewing this, the old DVD seems way too bright by comparison. The extras — from newsreel footage of the premiere to a series of radio shows to a nice booklet on the film — really make this a premium package.

Patricia Roc and Jacques Tourneur

Patricia Roc and Jacques Tourneur

Then there’s the movie itself. Director Jacques Tourneur’s first Western, and his first time working in Technicolor, Canyon Passage is a big, beautiful, complex tale of the Oregon territory in 1856. Dana Andrews runs a freight business and winds up in a love triangle with Susan Hayward and Brian Donlevy — while dealing with both Indians and a positively evil Ward Bond.

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Ward Bond and Dana Andrews duke it out

It’d be easy for Canyon Passage to get bogged down in melodrama, but Tourneur’s too smart for that. He treats us to incredible vistas of the Oregon locations (Crater Lake is one of them), gets top-notch performances from the entire cast and offers up a great fistfight between Andrews and Bond. Bond deserves special mention: he’s a real scumbag in this one, a sharp contrast to roles that came later like Wagon Master (1950) and The Searchers (1956).

Jacques Tourneur came to this film with some classic horror movies under his belt — Cat People (1942) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943), and he’d follow it with one of the finest noirs, Out Of The Past (1947). Tourneur’s body of work is certainly worth seeking out. Case in point: his other Westerns include Stars In My Crown (1950) and Wichita (1955).

It’s easy to recommend Canyon Passage — both the film and Panamint’s high-definition, Region B presentation of it. It takes a good thing and makes it better.

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