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Archive for the ‘RKO’ 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 John Ford
Starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, George O’Brien, Arthur Shields

A spiffed-up restoration of John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) was unveiled at this year’s TCM Festival. I heard it was gorgeous.

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Warner Archive is bringing that same transfer to our Blu-ray players soon. It’ll be a real treat to see Winton C. Hoch’s Technicolor cinematography in high definition. Lest we forget what an incredible artist he was.

UPDATE: Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945) is also coming to Blu-ray from Warner Archive the same day. In my opinion, which is worth pretty much nothin’, it’s the greatest war movie ever made.

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Roughshod BTS comic panelI’ve been working on a review of the Roughshod (1949) DVD from Warner Archive, and my research turned up some pretty cool stuff. This panel from Prize Comics Western shows the cast and crew at work — the whole story is about making the film. Here, cinematographer Joseph Biroc and director Mark Robson prepare to shoot Gloria Grahame and Robert Sterling.

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Cast and crew on location.

s-l1600-5Here’s Myrna Dell and costume woman Christine Chute. According to the original photo caption, it was 101 degrees in the desert.

Roughshod Jarman Dell sizedClaude Jarman, Jr. and Myrna Dell play cards on location. If you haven’t seen this one, it’s terrific.

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Abile Town signed still

First, thanks to everyone who sent in their picks — we had a larger turnout this year. Your responses were very thorough, and they made it clear to me what a good year this was for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-ray — you brought up tons of em. Here are the Top 10, ordered by the number of votes they received.

Abilene Town (1946, Blu-ray, Panamint Cinema)
This one topped the list in a big way. I was so stoked to see this fairly obscure Randolph Scott picture rescued from the PD purgatory where it’s been rotting for years — a lot of you seemed to feel the same. Mastered from 35mm fine-grain material, it’s stunning.

Shane (1953, Blu-ray, Eureka)
The Blu-ray release from Paramount made last year’s list, and this UK release was a strong contender this time around. Eureka gives us the opportunity to see what Paramount’s controversial 1.66 cropping looked like.

The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection (1951-54, DVD set, Warner Archive)
I’m pretty biased when it comes to this one, and I was happy to learn that others were as pleased with it as I was. One of the greatest Western stars goes out on a high note, even if it is a low-budget one.

The Quiet Gun (1956, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It’s hard to believe this was a 2015 release, since it was on Olive Films’ coming-soon list for such a long time. These Regalscope movies look great in their original aspect ratio, and for my money, this is the best of the bunch.

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Woman They Almost Lynched (1953, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It makes me feel good to see Allan Dwan get some attention, and stellar presentations of his work, like this one, should continue to fuel his (re-)discovery.

Man With The Gun (1955, Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)
A solid Robert Mitchum Western, with the added punch of a terrific 1.85 hi-def transfer. This is a lot better movie than you probably remember it being.

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Run Of The Arrow (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
This really knocked me out — I’d somehow missed out on what a great movie this is. It took me a while to get used to Rod Steiger and his affected accent, but this is prime Sam Fuller.

The Hired Gun (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
Black and white CinemaScope is a big attraction for me, so I’d been waiting for this one for years. It was worth the wait.

Stranger At My Door (1954, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
A really cool little movie from Republic and William Witney. It was Witney’s favorite of his own pictures, and it’s pretty easy to see why he’d be partial to it. His work here is masterful.

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Star In The Dust (1956, Blu-ray, Koch)
Koch out of Germany is treating us (or those of us with a Region B player) to some great Universal 50s Westerns on Blu-ray. This one was released in Universal’s 2.0 ratio of the period. Some found it a bit tight, but it’s a gorgeous presentation of a movie not enough people have seen.

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Directed by Mark Robson
Starring Robert Sterling, John Ireland, Claude Jarman Jr., Gloria Grahame, Myrna Dell, Jeff Donnell, Martha Hyer

It seems fitting that the 200th DVD/Blu-ray announcement is one I’ve never seen. Shows how many of these films there are out there and what riches are still waiting to be dug up. Warner Archive’s done the digging this time, serving up an RKO Western I’ve been wanting to see for years. It’s coming in January.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Hitler's Children 6 sheet

Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Produced by Edward A. Golden
Screen Plat by Emmet Lavery
Based on the novel Education For Death by Gregor Ziemer
Director Of Photography: Russell Metty, ASC
Film Editor: Joseph Noriega
Music: Roy Webb

Cast: Tim Holt (Karl Bruner), Bonita Granville (Anna Muller), Kent Smith (Prof. Nichols), Otto Kruger (Col. Henkel), H.B. Warner (The Bishop), Hans Conried (Dr. Graf), Nancy Gates (Brenda), Lloyd Corrigan (Franz Erhart), Peter Van Eyck, Edward Van Sloan, Richard Martin

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What’s a movie about the Hitler Youth from 1943 doing on a blog dedicated to Westerns from the 1950s? That’s easy. It stars Tim Holt, one of the handful of actors, directors, writers and technical folks I swore to plug tirelessly when starting this thing up six years ago. Plus, it’s really good.

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Tim Holt’s career is certainly an interesting one. He chose the cowboy star path rather than the typical leading man route, while showing time and time again that he was a more than capable actor. Films like The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948) and this one, Hitler’s Children (1942), show just how good he was. Holt’s performances and chemistry with Richard Martin (as Chito) are a big part of what makes their series of B Westerns so special. (Boy, am I preaching to the choir here!)

Hitler’s Children was seen by RKO as an exploitation picture, using the romance between an American student (Bonita Granville) and a young Nazi (Tim Holt) as a way to catalog various Nazi atrocities (the ones known at the time), from sterilization to flogging.

Director Edward Dmytryk: “Taken from a novel titled Education For Death, its story concerned the treatment of youthful nonconformists in Nazi Germany. A title with the word ‘Hitler’ in it was considered box-office poison, and the exhibitors asked [producer] Doc Golden and RKO to change ours. Doc was stubborn — and he was right. The film cost a little over $100,000, and, running only in England and the Western Hemisphere… grossed, by some accounts, $7,500,00.”

Dmytryk didn’t start the picture. He replaced Irving Reis after the first few days of shooting. Hitler’s Children stands as RKO’s highest-grossing film, taking in even more than the mighty King Kong (1933)! Dmytryk soon made his way to A pictures, with Murder, My Sweet coming in 1944.

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Something like this needs a good cast to keep the melodrama from falling into parody. Holt and Granville are excellent, and they’re supported by some real pros: Kent Smith, Otto Kruger, H.B. Warner, Hans Conried, Nancy Gates, Peter Van Eyck, Edward Van Sloan and more. They say Richard Martin’s in there somewhere as a Gestapo stooge!

Russell Metty’s cinematography deserves a lot of credit for the film’s overall effectiveness. He sets the mood and menace perfectly, more than making up for the meager budget. The Nazi rally long shot that opens the film appears to be a miniature. It’s incredible. Metty simply does not get the respect he deserves.

Warner Archive has done its typically stellar work with this one. It’s a movie that really needs its strong contrast levels and solid blacks — and they’re near-perfect on this DVD-R. Hitler’s Children is a movie I’ve been championing for years, and I have no trouble recommending it highly — even though Tim’s packing a Luger, not a Colt.

And isn’t that six-sheet up top terrific?

 

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Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Starring Tim Holt, Bonita Granville, Kent Smith, Otto Kruger, H.B. Warner, Hans Conried, Nancy Gates

Sometimes a B Movie will pull off something in a way no A picture ever could. This is one of those times. Hitler’s Children (1943) was clearly meant to be an exploitation picture about the Hitler Youth, but it ended up being so much more. One of Tim Holt’s finest performances, and a real home run for both director Edward Dmytryk and cinematographer Russell Metty.

It’a available today from Warner Archive. Highly, highly recommended.

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