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Archive for the ‘RKO’ Category

Directed by Allan Dawn
Produced by Howard Welsch
Screen Play by Horace McCoy & Norman S. Hall
Story by M. Coates Webster & Howard Welsch
Director Of Photography: Jack Marta
Film Editor: Arthur Roberts
Special Effects: Howard & Theodore Lydecker
Music by Nathan Scott

Cast: Jane Russell (Belle Starr), George Brent (Tom Bradfield), Scott Brady (Bob Dalton), Forrest Tucker (Mac), Andy Devine (Pete Bivins), Jack Lambert (Ringo), John Litel (Matt Towner), Ray Teal (Emmett Dalton), Rory Mallinson (Grat Dalton), Mike Ragan (Ben Dalton), Roy Barcroft (Jim Clark), Glenn Strange, George Chesebro, Iron Eyes Cody

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That photo of Jane Russell’s gorgeous Mercedes prompted me to revisit Allan Dwan’s Montana Belle (1952), which I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while.

I really like Jane Russell. She made some really cool movies, including Son Of Paleface (1952), one of my all-time favorites. She didn’t take herself too seriously, didn’t take any crap from Howard Hughes (or anybody else, it seems) and wasn’t afraid to be who she was. Plus, she drove that car!

In late October and November, 1948 — the same year she appeared in The Paleface, Russell made Montana Belle. It was produced by Howard Welsch for his Fidelity Pictures. Welsch had an arrangement with Republic to use their facilities, standard crew (such as DP Jack Marta) and Trucolor. Allan Dwan, who was directed pictures for Republic at the time, signed on. Republic would handle distribution.

Detail from a Serbin Golfer ad, promoting Montana Belle as a Republic picture.

In April of ’49, Welsch sold the completed Montana Belle to RKO for $875,000 — he and Republic split about $225,000 in profits. Then, the picture fell victim to the typical RKO/Howard Hughes weirdness. It was released by RKO in November of 1952, a full four years after Dwan shot it.

The story has Belle Starr (Russell) involved with the Dalton gang, then forming her own outlaw band, and finally giving it all up for the love of a saloon owner (George Brent). Along the way, Jane impersonates a fella and dons a blonde wig to pass as a saloon singer and gambler.

Montana Belle is at its best when all the riding, robbing and shooting’s going on — well directed by Dwan and captured in Trucolor by Jack Marta (would love to see this get the restoration other Trucolor pictures have received lately).

Jane Russell isn’t as comfortable in front of the camera as she’d later become, with pictures like Macao and Son Of Paleface (both 1952), but she handles herself pretty well here. George Brent has an interesting part, or maybe he makes the part interesting. And the rest of the cast is made up of real veterans at this kind of stuff: Scott Brady, Forrest Tucker, Andy Devine, Jack Lambert, Ray Teal, Roy Barcroft and Iron Eyes Cody. Dwan and Brady would later do another overlooked little 50s Western, The Restless Breed (1957).

Montana Belle is available overseas in a PAL DVD that I’ll bet looks pretty crummy. Since it’s officially an RKO picture, it’s not part of the Republic stash over at Paramount. With Allan Dwan getting a much-deserved mini-reappraisal in recent years, it’d sure be great to see this one get a decent DVD, or better yet Blu-Ray, release. It’s no classic, but it’s easy to recommend it anyway.

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Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Starring Virginia Mayo, Robert Stack, Ruth Roman, Alex Nicol, Raymond Burr, Leo Gordon, Regis Toomey

Jacques Tourneur’s post-Civil War picture Great Day In The Morning (1956) is coming to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive in November. Whether it’s morning or not depends on where you are in the world, but another Tourneur Western in high-definition makes for a great day indeed! The Superscope, Technicolor cinematography by William Snyder is incredible. This somewhat overlooked picture comes highly recommended.

This followed Tourneur’s better-known Westerns Stranger On Horseback and Wichita, both with Joel McCrea and both released in 1955. It’d be great to see those get a Blu-Ray release, too!

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Directed by John Ford
Starring Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru, Harry Carey, Jr., Ward Bond, Charles Kemper, Russell Simpson, Hank Worden, James Arness, Francis Ford

John Ford’s Wagon Master (1950) is not just one of my favorite movies, but I consider it one of the best Westerns ever made. There’s a gentleness and an authenticity to it that no other Western can match. It’s easy to see why Ford named it his personal favorite of his own films. For me, putting this thing on is like inviting some old friends to stop by for a spell.

The performances are perfect, from Ben Johnson and Harry Carey, Jr. as the young cowboys who hire on to lead the Mormon wagon train west to Ward Bond as an elder in the group of settlers to Joanne Dru as part of a medicine show that tags along. And Russell Simpson as, what else, a grumpy old man.

Then there are the Cleggs. It seems odd to say a gentle movie has some of the vilest bad guys you’ll ever see, but it does. If you know the movie, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t seen it, well, I feel truly sorry for you.

I could go on and on. But I’ll leave it at this: Wagon Master is coming to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. If you haven’t made the leap to high-definition yet, this should be all the reason you need. Essential.

Thanks for the tip, Paula.

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Nancy Gates
(February 1, 1926 – March 24, 2019)

Nancy Gates has passed away at 93. She was from Dallas, signed with RKO at just 15, and made some really good movies before retiring in 1969 to concentrate on her family.

She was particularly strong in Westerns such as Masterson Of Kansas (1954), Stranger On Horseback (1955), The Brass Legend (1956), The Rawhide Trail (1958), The Gunfight At Dodge City (1959) and Comanche Station (1960). Her other pictures include Hitler’s Children (1943), At Sword’s Point (1952), Suddenly (1954), World Without End (1956) and Some Came Running (1958). She was busy on TV, too, with everything from Maverick and Wagon Train to Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Perry Mason.

Around here, we’ll probably always remember her as Mrs. Lowe in Comanche Station. She’s really terrific in that one.

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Newark, Ohio, was the place to be on June 8, 1952.

By this time, Desert Passage (1952) — the last of the Tim Holt/Richard Martin RKO pictures, had been in release for about a week.

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Directed by Lesley Selander
Screenplay by Arthur E. Orloff
From a story by William Lively
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Music by Paul Sawtell
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley

Cast: Tim Holt (Tim Holt), Richard Martin (Chito Rafferty), Linda Douglas (Peg Masters), Frank Wilcox (Regan), Robert Sherwood (Kenny Masters), John Pickard (Dawson), Kenneth MacDonald (Wheeler), Wendy Waldron (Maria), Patricia Wright (Saloon Girl), Tom London (Old Timer), John Merton (Dale)

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I’m way overdue for a Tim Holt Tuesday. Sorry, Mr. Holt.

By 1952, series Westerns were winding down, and Trail Guide (1952) would be one of the last of Tim Holt’s pictures for RKO. As the series began its ride into the sunset, the budgets got smaller — leaving Holt and Richard Martin, along with director Lesley Selander, to keep things going by simply being so damn good at what they do. And that’s what you have here, some real pros bringing effortless skill and charm to each and every one of the picture’s 60 minutes.

Tim and Chito lead a wagon train to Silver Springs (thanks to stock footage from Wagonmaster), a town where ranchers detest homesteaders. Tim encounters brother-and-sister ranchers (Linda Douglas and Robert Sherwood) and a crooked saloon owner (Frank Wilcox) as he tries to help the settlers stake their claims.

There’s a great fistfight, plenty of riding and the usual back-and-forth with Tim and Chito. It looks like they stayed closer to LA, probably for budget reasons, so we don’t have those stunning Lone Pine vistas. But DP Nicholas Musuraca makes the most of any location. His work is stunning in some of these things. When God’s your set decorator, budget doesn’t matter.

Linda Douglas consults the script.

Linda Douglas had a very short film career. She’d later marry Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers. (There’s a great documentary on him, 1998’s The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg. Look for it.) She’s fine here, and very pretty.

Frank Wilcox makes a great bad guy. (Why are saloon owners always crooks?) It was funny to have Wilcox talking about the oil found on the range, when a decade later, he’d play Mr. Brewster, the oil company executive who makes Jed Clampett a millionaire on The Beverly Hillbillies. Lighting isn’t around this time. Tom London is funny as an old codger with a supposedly trained dog.

It’s a shame that the series Western left us as things were getting so good — look at these Holts, the Monogram Wild Bill Elliott pictures or the Witney-directed Roy Rogers movies. Luckily, they made a lot of ’em, and they’re turning up on DVD and sometimes Blu-Ray looking terrific. Trail Guide can be found on Tim Holt Western Classics Collection, Volume 4 from Warner Archive. While there’s a fleck of dust or damaged frame here and there, it’s served up well. The four volumes leave a few pictures orphaned, probably due to problems with the available material. Hopefully they’ll turn up someday, and a fifth set will wrap ’em up. These sets are essential.

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Directed by Mark Robson
Producer: Richard H. Berger
Screenplay by Hugo Butler and Geoffrey Homes
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Music: Roy Webb
Film Editor: Marston Fay

Cast: Robert Sterling (Clay Phillips), Gloria Grahame (Mary Wells), Claude Jarman Jr.(Steve Phillips), John Ireland (Lednov), Jeff Donnell (Elaine Wyatt), Myrna Dell (Helen Carter), Martha Hyer (Marcia), George Cooper (Jim Clayton), Jeff Corey (Jed Graham), Sara Haden (Ma Wyatt), James Bell (Pa ‘Ed’ Wyatt), Shawn McGlory (Fowler), Robert B. Williams (McCall), Steve Savage (Peters), Edward Cassidy (Sheriff Gardner)

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There’s a movie memory that’s been bugging me since I was a kid. It’s a Western, and John Ireland’s the bad guy — a really bad guy. I remembered a few things about Ireland and the film, but never enough to be able to nail it down. Well, it turns out it was Roughshod (1949), a picture I thought I’d never seen.

You hear a lot about the noir influence in Westerns — Blood On The Moon and Pursued are good examples. I’d put Roughshod near the top of the list for successfully meshing the noir style within the Western.

Robert Sterling is Clay Phillips, who’s driving a herd of horses over the Sonora Pass with his kid brother Steve (Claude Jarman Jr.). They happen upon a broken-down buggy and four saloon girls who were headed to Sonora; Clay must be the luckiest cowpoke in history, because the women he’s stumbled upon are Gloria Grahame, Martha Hyer, Myrna Dell and  Jeff Donnell. They’ve been run out of Aspen by a group of concerned citizens.

A panel from the Roughshod adaptation in Prize Comics Western.

Steve Phillips (Claude Jarman Jr.): “Were you driving?”
Mary Wells (Gloria Grahame): “I was at first. Then I was hanging on.”

Trouble is, there are three escaped convicts on the loose, and the ringleader is the truly evil Lednov (John Ireland) — who Clay helped send to prison. Lednov would love to bump into Clay out on the trail. The scene that introduces these very bad dudes is the memory I’ve had bouncing around in my head for decades. And revisiting it thanks to the DVD-R from Warner Archive, it’s easy to see why the picture made such an impression on me. This is a dark, tense, terrific movie (and I don’t want to give too much of it away).

I know very little about Robert Sterling, and he’s fine here. But Gloria Grahame and John Ireland are outstanding. Grahame was great in plenty of things, but she really cooks in this one. The romance that happens along the trail could have been hokey, but she makes it work. It’s a good part, and she really nails it.

It would’ve been easy for someone to take the Lednov part way too far (he’s as nasty as nasty gets in a 50s Western), and screwing up the entire movie in the process. John Larch comes close to doing that in another favorite of mine, Quantez (1957). Ireland is so perfect here. Claude Jarman Jr. is good, too. He always was. Mark Robson gets superb performances from his entire cast — everybody brought their A game to this one.

Warner Archive has Roughshod looking good. It’s not a full restoration or anything, but it’s nice and sharp and pretty clean — with the picture’s many dark scenes dialed in just right. This might be some of DP Joseph Biroc’s best work. The sound’s nice and crisp.

In 50s Westerns, there are so many movies you could say are “ripe for rediscovery.” The fact that Roughshod sits on that list is a real shame. Highly, highly recommended.

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