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Archive for the ‘RKO’ Category

RIP, Lizabeth Scott.

L Scott Silver Lode still

Lizabeth Scott
September 29, 1922 – January 31, 2015

Saw this morning that Lizabeth Scott passed away on January 31st at 92.

Her smoky voice made her perfect for film noir (Pitfall is a really good one). She only made one 50s Western: Allan Dwan’s Silver Lode (1954), which happens to be one of my favorites. (There’s also Red Mountain, a Civil War picture.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Tim H Storm Over Wyoming

Here at 50 Westerns From The 50s, Tuesday belongs to Tim Holt. 

Noreen Nash, Tim Holt and Richard Martin on location for Storm Over Wyoming (1950, working title: Range War).

T Holt Border Treasure BTS

Lunch while shooting Border Treasure (1950).

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Jerry Wald
Written for the screen by Horace McCoy and David Dortort
Suggested by a story by Claude Stanush
Director Of Photography: Lee Garmes, ASC
Music by Roy Webb
Film Editor: Ralph Dawson, ACE

Cast: Susan Hayward (Louise Merritt), Robert Mitchum (Jeff McCloud), Arthur Kennedy (Wes Merritt), Arthur Hunnicutt (Booker Davis), Frank Faylen (Al Dawson), Walter Coy (Buster Burgess), Carol Nugent (Rusty Davis), Burt Mustin (Jeremiah Watrus)

Whenever I see a Nicholas Ray picture, I usually want to see another one. Because after a favorite Ray film, about anything that comes after it’s gonna be a letdown. That’s especially true with The Lusty Men (1952), a brilliant movie at the top of a list of brilliant movies.

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Jeff McCloud (Robert Mitchum), a banged-up, washed-up, tapped-out rodeo cowboy, agrees to mentor the up-and-coming Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy). They set out on the rodeo circuit, with Merritt’s wife Louise (Susan Hayward) in tow. Wes is soon on his way to the championship, but at what cost? To himself? To his wife and their plans for a little ranch of their own? And to Jeff, who’s stuck watching someone else reach the position he enjoyed a few years before?

Like most Nick Ray movies, it’s about so much more than it’s about. It touches on the corruptive nature of fame and money — and how we’ll risk our lives and relationships for a shot at them. It reminds us how futile it can be to attempt to recapture our past — whether it’s a childhood home or rodeo stardom. It serves as a modern-day riff on the classic Western theme of the gunfighter who wants to hang up his guns, but is trapped by his reputation (such as 1950’s The Gunfighter). And it gives us a good look at just how self-destructive we can be — a topic Ray would become an expert on.

Louise (Susan Hayward): Wes tells me you once made three thousand dollars in one day, rodeoin’.
Jeff (Robert Mitchum): That’s right.
Louise: And threw it all away.
Jeff: Oh, I didn’t throw it away. It just sorta… floated.
Louise: That’s pretty stupid, breakin’ all your bones, then lettin’ the money go.

Robert Mitchum often dismissed his work, but he always had nice things to say about The Lusty Men. Ray gets a terrific performance out of him, and he does the same with Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy. Mitchum and Kennedy both went beyond the insurance company’s limits and really attacked the rodeo scenes, doing many of their own stunts. (They say even Nick Ray gave cowboy-ing a try.) This really adds to the film’s documentary feel, which incorporates lots of great footage shot on the rodeo circuit.

Nicholas Ray: “Arthur Kennedy was a beautiful actor to work with. Where it might have taken me five minutes with Mitchum and 10 minutes with Susan Hayward between takes to get them into the right groove, when something went wrong in one of Kennedy’s scenes, by the time I’d cut, walk over and gotten my arm around him, he’d know everything I was going to say. And the next take would be perfect.”

Arthur Kennedy: “A strange guy. Had a most peculiar way of giving direction. I never could quite grasp his meaning. I’d agree to everything, then try to figure out what the hell he meant”

There are fine performances throughout, from Arthur Hunnicutt as a grizzled old cowboy, Walter Coy as a drunken, mangled saddle tramp, and Carol Nugent as a girl growing up on the rodeo circuit, to name just a few.

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Burt Mustin is incredible as Jeremiah, owner of McCall’s ramshackle family home — which the Merritts want to buy. This was an early film role for Mustin, who we all know from his endless appearances on TV — everything from The Lone Ranger to Dragnet to Leave It To Beaver (as Gus the fireman) to The Andy Griffith Show to All In The Family, and his work here is a supreme example of the contribution a character actor can make. Across the board, this is one of the best-acted films I’ve ever seen. Every line, every frame rings true.

They say shooting began while the script was still being worked on, and that many scenes were worked out on the set. Hayward, who’d been brought to RKO from 20th Century-Fox at great expense, was not happy with the arrangement. However, it all came together and stands as one of Ray’s and Mitchum’s best films. By the way, its working title was Cowpoke; RKO owner Howard Hughes came up with The Lusty Men.

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My grandpa was a cowboy, a real one. He trained cutting horses and did a little rodeoing back before I came along (one of his trophies is among my most prized possessions — and it’d sit atop the TV if the damned things weren’t so skinny nowadays). Wish I’d had a chance to watch The Lusty Men with him. I’m certain he would’ve found its depiction of early-50s rodeo life accurate. But did he ever know a Jeff McCloud? Or a Wes Merritt? My guess is that he did. And when you think about it, all of us probably do — minus the cowboy hat.

Warner Archive has come through with a picture many of us have been wanting as long as DVDs have been around. (I’ve been holding onto the old laserdisc for decades.) And they’ve served it up looking like a million bucks. It’s sharp and the contrast levels are near-perfect. Even if the DVD was abysmal, I’d recommend it. But looking like it does, it’s absolutely essential.

You know, given our culture’s current fascination with celebrity and wealth, Ray’s picture is probably more timely now than it was back in ’52.

Sources: I Was Interrupted by Nicholas Ray, Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure Of An American Director by Patrick McGilligan

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This blog tends to stay away from modern-day Westerns (well, they were modern in the 50s). But I’ll certainly make an exception with this one: Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952). It’s been announced for release from The Warner Archive on September 16. (Blake, I’m sure you’ll be stoked about this one.)

Robert Mitchum often dismissed his work, but this was one he had nice things to say about. Ray gets a terrific performance out of him, and he does the same with Susan Hayward and Arthur Kennedy. They say shooting began while the script was still being worked on, and that many scenes were worked out on the set as a result. However it all came together, it’s one of Ray’s and Mitchum’s best films. And that’s saying a lot. Highly recommended.

This is one of the handful of films I’ve held onto my laserdisc of, and I guess it can be retired now. Thanks for the tip, Paula.

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Directed by Lesley Selander
Produced by Herman Schlom
Screen Play by Adele Buffington
Story by Carroll Young
Director Of Photography: J. Roy Hunt, ASC
Music by Paul Sawtell
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley, ACE

CAST: Tim Holt (Tim Holt), Richard Martin (Chito Jose Gonzalez Bustamonte Rafferty), Gail Davis (Terry Muldoon), Hugh Beaumont (Brad Roberts), Mari Blanchard (Stella), George Nader (Paul Manning) Robert J. Wilke (Bellew), Cliff Clark (Terence Muldoon), Russell Hicks (Colonel Marvin), Robert Bray (Steve), Fred Graham (Joe).

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This time around, Tim Holt and Chito get involved with the transcontinental telegraph. Terry Muldoon (Gail Davis) and her father are running the wire westward, and its completion will close down a number of military outposts. This will destroy Paul Manning’s supply business and keep him from paying off his loans to Brad Roberts (Hugh Beaumont). Roberts and his bunch (which naturally includes Robert J. Wilke) take matters into their own hands —a “Gang-Stooge Terror Plot,” according to the ads — and eventually run afoul of Tim and Chito.

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Overland Telegraph (1951) is one of my favorite Holt pictures. It’s a lot of fun to watch Hugh Beaumont as a bad guy. Mari Blanchard doesn’t have much to do but look pretty as Nader’s saloon-girl fiancé. But having Gail Davis on hand is a real asset, displaying a bit of the riding and shooting skills that would make her such a great Annie Oakley on TV. The Iverson Ranch is featured quite a bit, too.

b70-5266Gail Davis: “It was a good part for the girl, not just one of those smile into the sunset pictures. Tim was really cute, he had a friendly personality but was a bit of a kidder. So was Dick Martin, but both were very conscientious about their pictures.”*

Of course, director Lesley Selander and editor Samuel Beetley deserve a lot of the credit. They keep things moving at such a clip that the hour’s over before you know it. If you’ve ever seen a lousy B Western, you know that in the wrong hands, an hour can last forever. Selander is such a pro and has such a flair for these things that his films stand apart from the rest. He should’ve written a textbook on film pacing.

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Overland Telegraph is part of Warner Archive’s fourth volume of the Tim Holt Western Classics Collection. It has several of the earlier entries and the last few, providing a great overview of the series. B Westerns didn’t come any better than these. As with the previous sets, the transfers are exquisite — a real tribute to the care and craftsmanship that went into these films. Highly, highly recommended (as if you hadn’t figured that out already).

SOURCE: * Westerns Women by Boyd Magers and Michael G. Fitzgerald.

 

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This is a big, big deal. Warner Archive has come through with the fourth volume in their Tim Holt series, giving us the beginning, and end, of Holt’s time at RKO. It’s a three-disc, nine-movie set that includes Wagon Train (1940, which got the series off to a terrific start), The Fargo Kid (1940), Cyclone On Horseback (1941), Riding The Wind (1942), Land Of The Open Range (1942), Thundering Hoofs (1942), Overland Telegraph (1951) and Trail Guide (1952). 

Overland Telegraph (seen in the Mexican lobby card above) is a particularly good one, giving Holt and Richard Martin a top director, Lesley Selander, and really good cast to work with: Gail Davis, Hugh Beaumont (as the bad guy!), Mari Blanchard, George Nader and Robert J. Wilke.

The set is available now. Thanks to everyone at Warner Archive for their dedication to getting these wonderful little films out there.

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