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Archive for the ‘Sam Katzman’ Category

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Produced and Directed by Wallace MacDonald
Written by Clark E. Reynolds
Director Of Photography: Irving Lippman
Film Editor: Al Clark, ACE
Assistant Director: Leonard Katzman

CAST: Robert Knapp (Gil Reardon), Jana Davi (Rosita), Walter Coy (Ben Keefer), Paul Birch (Marshal Matt Crawford), Don C. Harvey (Deputy Dave), Clarence Straight (Deputy Frank Ross), Jerry Barclay (Jordan Keefer), Roy Hayes (Walt Keefer), Charles Horvath (Coloradas), Jean Moorhead (Katy Reardon).

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Don’t think I’d ever heard of this one. Gunmen From Laredo (1959) is a cheap, 67-minute B Western from Columbia. It doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, except for the fact that it’s a cheap, 67-minute B Western from Columbia. That’s good enough.

There’s a real Sam Katzman feel to Gunmen From Laredo — if anything, it might be even cheaper than Jungle Sam’s Westerns. The assistant director is Katzman’s nephew Leonard, who’d go on to a long, successful career in television.

Gil Reardon (Robert Knapp) is framed for murder by Ben Keefer (Walter Coy), who killed Reardon’s wife (Jean Moorhead). As Reardon tries to clear his name and bring Keefer to justice, with the help of Rosita (Jana Davi) and Laredo’s marshal (Paul Birch), we’re treated to a number of shootouts, a prison escape, a dust storm, a few fistfights and more — all cleverly spaced to keep the kids from getting restless.

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Robert Knapp worked steadily in TV from the 50s into the 70s (appearing in both incarnations of Dragnet). He didn’t make many features and had very few leads. Knapp doesn’t have the presence of, say, George Montgomery or Guy Madison, who appeared in these sorts of things, but he’s serviceable.

Jana Davi is Maureen Hingert, 1955’s Miss Ceylon. She appeared in a handful of 50s Westerns, including an uncredited part in Pillars Of The Sky (1956). Walter Coy is the bad guy here; we know him as John Wayne’s brother in The Searchers (1956). And Paul Birch, who’s in a slew of Roger Corman’s 50s films (how can you forget him in 1957’s Not Of This Earth?), is his dependable self as the marshal who comes to Knapp’s aid.

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Jean Moorhead (Playboy‘s Playmate Of The Month, October 1955) plays Knapp’s wife. She had a short film career, but somehow managed to work with both Ed Wood (The Violent Years) and John Ford (The Long Gray Line). The part of Laredo, Texas, is played by the Iverson Ranch. Bronson Canyon’s in it, too.

The director-producer was Wallace MacDonald, who hadn’t directed a film since the Silents. He’d been a busy producer between those directing jobs, from Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942) to Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956). Shot in March of 1958, Gunmen From Laredo would be his last film.

Irving Lippman was a staff cinematographer at Columbia, shooting pictures like  Hellcats Of The Navy and 20 Million Miles To Earth (both 1957). He also has the distinction of having shot a few of the later Three Stooges shorts, a few of  their features and almost every episode of The Monkees. For Gunmen From Laredo, he kept things bright and sharp and makes the Columbia Color behave, and nicely frames everything for 1.85. Again, it looks like a Sam Katzman film.

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Gunmen From Laredo was obviously put together for the bottom of a bill, and the kids were probably happy with it. And while it’s not very good, it’s great to know there are more of these things out there — maybe better than this one, maybe worse — waiting for us to find them.

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David Arrate earns a Name That Stock Footage badge for uncovering one of the many cost-cutting measures to be found in Masterson Of Kansas (1954), the best of William Castle’s Westerns for Sam Katzman’s unit at Columbia. Thanks, David.

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Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story and Screen Play by Bernard Gordon (as John T. Williams)*
Director of Photography: Henry Freulich, ASC
Music under the supervision of Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editor: Aaron Stell, ACE

CAST: Scott Brady (Billy The Kid), Betta St. John (Nita Maxwell), James Griffith (Pat Garrett), Alan Hale Jr. (Bob Ollinger), Paul Cavanagh (John H. Tunstall), William ‘Bill’ Phillips (Charley Bowdre), Benny Rubin (Arnold Dodge).

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capturfiles1The William Castle Blogathon devotes a few days of online pontification to one of my favorite filmmakers.

Castle was a huge part of my movie-geek childhood (one that I’m trying to pass on to my daughter). You’ll find other Castle posts here.

In 1954, Sam Katzman produced a series of Westerns about famous real-life outlaws and lawmen — Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (which was in 3D), The Law Vs. Billy The Kid and Masterson Of Kansas. All three were directed by William Castle, still a few years from finding his niche in gimmick-y horror movies aimed at kids, such as House On Haunted Hill (1958) and The Tingler (1959).

The Law Vs. Billy The Kid was written by Bernard Gordon, who’d written The Lawless Breed (1952), an excellent tale of John Wesley Hardin that Raoul Walsh directed for Universal-International, starring Rock Hudson and Julie Adams. A blacklisted screenwriter, Gordon was selling plastics when he was contacted by Charles Schneer, an assistant producer at Columbia who looking for a Western script. (Schneer would got on to produce Ray Harryheusen’s Dynamation films.)

Bernard Gordon: “I borrowed a synopsis from a friend, Philip Stevenson, another blacklisted writer who had written an unproduced play about Billy The Kid. This story was approved. I went to work writing the script and shared the minimum pay for the original story with Stevenson and another blacklisted writer, Bob Williams, who collaborated with me so I could continue to work selling plastics. My script was accepted… The success of this work started me, with many fits and starts, into a busy career as a blacklisted screenwriter.”

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The picture hits a few of the milestones of Billy The Kid’s life: his friendship with Pat Garrett, job with John Tunstall, involvement in the Lincoln County War, and his shooting by Pat Garrett. Those facts are as close as we get to actual biography. Here, the Kid (Scott Brady) is simply too old; Billy was only 21 when he was killed. There’s a cooked-up romantic subplot with Tunstall’s niece, played by Betta St. John. And as we’d see in Arthur Penn’s The Left-Handed Gun (1958), there’s an attempt to portray the Kid as a troubled young man forced into his life of crime.

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For a guy from Brooklyn, Scott Brady sure made a lot of Westerns, including his own TV series, Shotgun Slade (1959-61).  During the 50s, he worked with some of the genre’s best directors: Allan Dwan (The Restless Breed), Budd Boetticher (Bronco Buster), Joe Kane (The Maverick Queen) and Nicholas Ray (Johnny Guitar). There were also a couple Regalscope Westerns, Blood Arrow and Ambush At Cimarron Pass (both 1958).

As Pat Garrett, James Griffith walks away with the film — just as he’d do as Doc Holliday in Masterson Of Kansas (1954). By underplaying, he gives Garrett plenty of strength. His performance really elevates the film.

In his essential book Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare The Pants Off America, Castle didn’t devote much time to his  Katzman Westerns, though he had nothing but praise for Katzman as a showman. By this time, Castle was a solid contract director — and he certainly knew his way around Hollywood locations like Melody Ranch and Walker Ranch. He wrote of this period of his career, “I was now on another treadmill, turning out a full-length feature every month.” He was still four years away from his independent breakthrough with Macabre (1958).

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Castle keeps The Law Vs. Billy The Kid moving at a good clip and gets pretty good performances from his cast. His direction is efficient and assured, even if he was cranking out pictures like sausages. There are no frills, no 3D, no floating skeleton, no Coward’s Corner. It doesn’t need them. The Law Vs. Billy The Kid stands as another a good example of a middle-budget Columbia 50s Western. It was made fast and lean — remember, it was produced by Sam Katzman’s unit. But the pros, craftsmen and artists who made the film work wonders. One of these craftsmen would be Director of Photography Henry Freulich — who spent the bulk of his career at Columbia, shooting everything from Three Stooges shorts to The Durango Kid pictures to the Blondie movies to a slew of William Castle films. (He deserves a plaque here in the Roan house.) Freulich gives Castle’s Technicolor Westerns a bright, crisp look, and I really like the way he used the then-new 1.85 aspect ratio.

* In 1997, the Writers Guild of America restored Bernard’s credit for The Law Vs. Billy The Kid.

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William Castle is one of my favorite filmmakers. I grew up on his stuff — from The Whistler pictures to the horror films to, of course, the Sam Katzman Westerns. So I was happy to hear about the upcoming William Castle Blogathon, and even happier to be invited to play along.

I’ve chosen The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954), one of those Katzman Westerns Castle directed in the mid-50s. It stars Scott Brady as Billy, Betta St. John and James H. Griffith as Pat Garrett. (I’ve already written about Masterson Of Kansas.)

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Sony Movie Channel is focusing on Westerns next month, with a terrific all-day marathon scheduled for Sunday, July 28 that should keep readers of this blog firmly planted on their sofas — or scrambling to make room on their DVRs.

The directors represented here — Boetticher, Sherman, Daves, Karlson, Castle, Witney — make up a virtual Who’s Who of 50s Westerns directors. The times listed are Eastern. Put the coffee on, it’s gonna be a long day!

4:40 AM Face Of A Fugitive (1959, above) One of those really cool, tough Westerns Fred MacMurray made in the late 50s. James Coburn has an early role, and Jerry Goldsmith contributed one of his first scores. It’s not out on DVD in the States, and the Spanish one doesn’t look so hot, so don’t miss it here.

6:05 AM Relentless (1948) George Sherman directs Robert Young, Marguerite Chapman, Willard Parker, Akim Tamiroff, Barton MacLane and Mike Mazurki. Shot around Tucson (and the Corrigan Ranch) in Technicolor. I may be in the minority, but I like Robert Young in Westerns.

7:40 AM A Lawless Street (1955) Joseph H. Lewis knocks another one out of the park, directing Randolph Scott and Angela Lansbury. This film doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

9:05 AM Decision At Sundown (1957) Part of Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott’s Ranown cycle, this one tends to divide fans. I think it’s terrific. It’s certainly more downbeat than the others (Burt Kennedy didn’t write it), with Scott’s character almost deranged vs. the usual obsessed.

10:25 AM The Pathfinder (1952) Sidney Salkow directs George Montgomery in a low-budget adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper, produced by Sam Katzman. Helena Carter and Jay Silverheels round out the cast.

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11:45 AM Battle Of Rogue River (1954) William Castle directs George Montgomery (seen above with Martha Hyer) the same year they did Masterson Of Kansas. I’m a real sucker for Castle’s Westerns, so it’s hard to be objective here.

1:05 PM Gunman’s Walk (1958) Phil Karlson’s masterpiece? A great film, with a typically incredible performance from Van Heflin, that really needs to be rediscovered. Not available on DVD in the U.S. Don’t miss it.

2:45 PM They Came To Cordura (1959) Robert Rossen directs a terrific cast — Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter and Dick York. Set in 1916 Mexico, it has a look somewhat similar to The Wild Bunch (1969). Looks good in CinemaScope.

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4:55 PM Jubal (1956, above) Delmer Daves puts Othello on horseback. Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Valerie French, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, Felicia Farr, Harry Carey, Jr. and John Dierkes make up the great cast. Charles Lawton, Jr. shot it in Technicolor and CinemaScope.

6:40 PM Arizona Raiders (1965) Wiliam Witney directs Audie Murphy in a picture that plays like a cross between a 50s Western and a spaghetti one. Murphy got better as he went along, and his performance here is quite good.

8:20 PM 40 Guns To Apache Pass (1966) Witney and Murphy again. This time around, Murphy is after a missing shipment of guns.

If all that’s not enough, there’s the Back In The Saddle sweepstakes, a chance to win a three-day dude ranch getaway. Check SonyMovieChannel.com to find out more.

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Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story and Screen Play by Douglas Heyes
Director of Photography: Henry Freulich, ASC
Music Conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editor: Henry Batista, ACE

CAST: George Montgomery (Bat Masterson), Nancy Gates (Amy Merrick), James Griffith (Doc Holliday), Jean Willes (Dallas Corey), William A. Henry (Charlie Fry), Bruce Cowling (Wyatt Earp), Donald Murphy (Virgil Earp), Sandy Sanders (Joe Tyler), Benny Rubin (coroner), David Bruce (Clay Bennett), Gregg Barton (Sutton), Greg Martell (Mitch Connors), Jay Silverheels (Yellow Hawk), John Maxwell (Amos Merrick), Frank Wilcox (prosecutor, uncredited).

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If heaven works the way I hope it does, as soon as I say hello to my mom and grandparents, I’m gonna ask for an introduction to William Castle. (Knowing my mom, she will have already set something up.) From there, I’ll spend large chunks of Eternity asking about stuff like how the kids with slingshots took out the Emergo skeletons.

You see, I love William Castle. Even though I’m a full generation too young to have seen his movies in all their hyped-up, gimmack-y, first-run, theatrical glory, they’re some of my all-time favorite films and real mile markers across my youth. My best friend James and I read about them endlessly in Famous Monsters, caught them on TV and eventually saw a passel of them at New York’s Film Forum. Taking my daughter to see a revival showing of 13 Ghosts (1960) was a father-daughter evening I’ll always remember.

Like a lot of people, both film fans and filmmakers, my love of the movies can be traced back to William Castle. He was a brilliant showman — and when he was focused on making a film, a good director. His Whistler films, for instance, show us just what he was capable of. They’re terrific.

Castle spent much of his career at Columbia. In the early Fifties, he directed a handful of films for Sam Katzman’s unit at the studio.

William Castle, Sam Katzman and serial director Spencer Gordon Bennett.

Castle: “Sam Katzman was a smallish man with a round cherubic face and twinkling eyes. Few people in the motion-picture industry took him seriously as a producer of quality films, but to me, Sam was a great showman.”

Cinematographer Richard Kline: “Sam had his own unit at Columbia Sunset on Lyman Place. It had been the Tiffany-Stahl studio. Columbia bought that place and made it Sam’s unit… It was a very small studio, it was not luxury. For instance, there was no commissary, and I don’t think they even had a hot dog stand! So you’d have to go off the lot and eat somewhere in the area.”

In Katzman, Castle had evidently found his mentor, and he soon realized there’s a lot more to the movie business than just making movies. Jungle Sam’s influence can be found all over Castle’s horror films of the late Fifties and early Sixties — or at least all over the way they were hyped and sold.

One of Castle’s pictures for Katzman (in my opinion, the best), Masterson Of Kansas (1954) is fast and tough. Its tight schedule and lean budget don’t hold it back. George Montgomery is Bat Masterson, sheriff of Dodge City. James Griffith is the notorious gambler and gunfighter Doc Holliday, in an excellent performance. They join forces with Wyatt Earp (Bruce Cowling) to save an innocent man from the gallows and keep the Indians off the warpath. (The real Masterson served as a deputy under Earp for a spell, and Earp and Holliday took on the Clantons at the O.K. Corral, so this gun-toting dream team isn’t as farfetched as it sounds.)

Nancy Gates as the daughter of the framed man and Jean Willes as a saloon girl do well with the underwritten parts they’re given. Jay Silverheels is his usual dignified self as Chief Yellow Hawk. George Montgomery never became the big cowboy star he should’ve been, leaving a solid list of very good, and very overlooked, medium-budgeted Westerns. He’s quite good here, and Columbia’s costume people gave him a beautiful hat.

But the film belongs to character actor James Griffith. Doc Holliday is a flashy part in any Western, and everyone from Victor Mature to Kirk Douglas to Val Kilmer has put their own spin on the character. Griffith’s approach is my favorite. He’s a doctor (he was really a dentist), he’s dying, he has nothing to lose, and Griffith makes sure you believe it. At times, you can see the death wish in his face. In some scenes, the compassion of a physician and chivalry of a gentleman return. And he wrestles with killing Masterson versus helping him out. Somehow, Griffith makes all the character’s contradictions come together, and even make sense. And remember, he does all this over the course of just 73 minutes.

Nancy Gates in IB Technicolor.

Masterson Of Kansas has been brought to Columbia’s MOD program in a transfer than does everyone proud. Henry Freulich’s camerawork is splendid, with compositions that really take advantage of the then-new 1.85 aspect ratio. The Technicolor adds plenty of production value, and it’s rare to see the Iverson Ranch or Corriganville look this good. And the sound makes sure we take note of Mischa Bakaleinikoff’s score, along with the ching-ching-ching of Montgomery’s spurs. Columbia’s A-level treatment of their B Movies is certainly appreciated (even if it can be argued that some of the films don’t deserve it). There are no features on this disc, not even a menu. You put it in, it starts. I like that.

This is a film, and now a DVD, I highly recommend — something special seems to have been going on here. I hope this one inspires you to seek out more Castle and Montgomery films. You won’t be disappointed.

SOURCES: A Sci-fi Swarm And Horror Horde: Interviews With 62 Filmmakers by Tom Weaver; Step Right Up! by William Castle.

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