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Archive for the ‘Sam Katzman’ Category

Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story and Screen Play by Douglas Heyes
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editor: Charles Nelson

Cast: George Montgomery (Major Frank Archer), Richard Denning (Stacey Wyatt), Martha Hyer (Brett McClain), John Crawford (Captain Richard Hillman), Emory Parnell (Sergeant McClain), Michael Granger (Chief Mike)

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Battle Of Rouge River (1954) is another William Castle Western produced by Sam Katzman for Columbia. It’s part of Mill Creek’s terrific eight-movie DVD set The Fastest Guns Of The West: The William Castle Western Collection. Also included are Klondike Kate (1943), Conquest Of Cochise (1953), Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1953), Masterson Of Kansas (1954), The Gun That Won The West (1955), Duel On The Mississippi (1955) and Uranium Boom (1956). All eight for less than $15.

At an outpost in the Oregon Territory, the stiff, serious Major Archer (George Montgomery) replaces Major Wallach (Willis Bouchey), who hasn’t been able to defeat Chief Mike (Michael Granger). Archer meets with the chief and they agree to a 30-day truce that keeps them on either side of the Rogue River. Of course, there’s a woman — Brett McClain (Martha Hyer), the daughter of one of the solders at the fort.

But one of the Irregulars aiding the soldiers (Richard Denning) is working to keep the Indians stirred up — to hold off Oregon’s statehood, which would spoil a good thing some of the area businesses have going. Denning tricks Montgomery into breaking the truce and attacking the Indians.

George Montgomery was on a roll at this time, making one solid little Western after another, often with William Castle as director. For me, Masterson Of Kansas (1954, directed by Castle) and Robber’s Roost (1955) stand out. Martha Hyer’s career was also taking off at this time, and she’d be nominated for an Oscar for Some Came Running (1958).

Richard Denning was in the excellent Hangman’s Knot (1952), playing pretty much the same creep he is in this one. The first thing I remember seeing Denning in was Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), along with all those sci-fi pictures like The Black Scorpion (1957). Later, I’d come to know him as the governor of Hawaii on Hawaii Five-O. Denning was married to the beautiful Universal horror star Evelyn Ankers.

Battle Of Rouge River has the hallmarks of a Sam Katzman picture — a running time of about 70 minutes and lots of stock footage.

“All six winners of the National Indian Beauty Contest”

It also boasts a pretty tacky gimmick. Willam Castle always gave Sam Katzman credit for teaching him the true value of showmanship. Battle Of Rogue River seems to be an example of one of those lessons. According to the ads, you’ll find “all six winners of the National Indian Beauty Contest” in its cast. The contest did not exist until this movie came along — and you have to look really hard to find these lovely ladies in the film.

Battle At Rogue River isn’t among Castle or Montgomery’s finest work. But it’s got a cast and crew of seasoned professionals who I’m always happy to spend time with. Cinematographer Henry Freulich always had these cheap things looking great, and that’s easy to see in the transfer offered up by Mill Creek. I can’t recommend this set enough.

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Director Fred F. Sears with the cast of Apache Ambush (1955).

Fred F. Sears
(July 7, 1913 – November 30, 1957)

Can’t remember the first time I noticed the name Fred F. Sears. Growing up a monster kid, I’m gonna guess it was a local-TV airing of either Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers or The Werewolf (both 1956).

Years later, when I began my deep dive into 50 Westerns, it quickly became obvious that Sears could lift his Westerns out of the budgetary basement to create something special. Like the terrific Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956).

Frederick Francis Sears was born 105 years ago today in Boston. After years in regional theater and teaching drama at Southwestern University in Memphis, he headed to Hollywood — and wound up at Columbia as a bit actor and dialogue director. While working on some of Durango Kid pictures (usually as a bad guy), he got to know Charles Starrett. He directed one of the Durango Kids, Desert Vigilante (1949), and eventually pretty much took over the series.

Fred F. Sears and Joan Taylor working on Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1957).

Sears became a preferred director for Sam Katzman, whose quickie unit at Columbia cranked out serials and genre pictures at a frantic pace. He spent the rest of his career at Columbia (except for one freelance gig, 1958’s Badman’s Country). From crime pictures to horror movies to Westerns, Sears’ ability to get ’em done on time and on budget served him well. Quality wasn’t much of a concern wit Katzman, but Sears always managed to provide some anyway. Today he’s known for Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), a picture that benefits from remarkable stop-motion animation from Ray Harryhausen, and The Giant Claw (1957), a film completely scuttled by some of the worst special effects in Hollywood history. But Fury At Gunsight Pass and The Werewolf (1956) are near-perfect examples of how good low-budget genre filmmaking can be.

Fred F. Sears died in his office at Columbia on November 30, 1957, with eight pictures waiting for release. He was 44.

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Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Screen Play by Robert E. Kent
Director Of Photography: Lester H. White
Film Editor: Viola Lawrence

Cast: Brett King (Joe Branch), Barbara Lawrence (Kate Manning), James Griffith (Bob Dalton), Bill Phipps (Bill Dalton), John Cliff (Grat Dalton), Rory Mallinson (Bob Ford), William Tannen (Emmett Dalton), Richard Garland (Gilkie), Nelson Leigh (Father Kerrigan)

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So glad to see The Fastest Guns Of The West: The William Castle Western Collection turn up in my mailbox. Couldn’t wait to crack it open and give it a whirl. You get Klondike Kate (1943), Conquest Of Cochise (1953), Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1953), Masterson Of Kansas (1954), Battle Of Rogue River (1954), The Gun That Won The West (1955), Duel On The Mississippi (1955) and Uranium Boom (1956). All directed by William Castle. Most produced by Sam Katzman. And all eight for less than $15.

Jesse James Vs. The Daltons is about as historically accurate as Blazing Saddles (1974) is. Joe Branch (Brett King) might be the son of Jesse James. He and Kate Manning (Barbara Lawrence) — he saves her from a being lynched — hook up with the Dalton Gang to retrieve some loot and locate Jesse, alive or dead.

It’s silly, fast-paced and loads of fun. The picture runs just over an hour, with Castle and DP Lester H. White throwing coffee pots, bullets and dying bad guys at the 3-D camera whenever possible. There’s plenty of ridin’, fightin’ and shootin’, though you can tell the schedule kept the action from getting the staging it needed. It’s a bit sloppy at times.

This might have been Brett King’s only lead, and it was certainly his last feature. He’d do nothing but TV for the rest of his career. After a couple episodes of The Green Hornet in 1967, King and his wife moved to Harbour Island, Bahamas, and opened the Coral Sands Hotel. He became a mover and shaker in the tourism industry down there.

Barbara Lawrence has a decent part here, though there seemed to have been no effort to make her even slightly resemble a woman from the late 19th century. You see that a lot in 50s Westerns. She looks good in jeans, and I guess that was more important (King just happens to have a pair that fits her in his saddlebag). Barbara’s career wasn’t a long one — she gave up movies for real estate — though she’s in some good stuff, including the cool Regalscope sci-fi picture Kronos (1957).

James H. Griffith plays one of the Daltons. He’s always worth watching, and even though he gets third billing, his part isn’t all that big in this one. Castle would give him bigger, better parts in his next two Westerns: Masterson Of Kansas (1954, included in this set) and The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954).

Jesse James Vs. The Daltons was shot in Technicolor and 3-D, and it was to be projected at 1.85. It appears here 2-D, of course, and full frame. The picture looks quite good, but as you can imagine, there’s a lot of dead space at the top and bottom of the frame. The zoom feature on my TV took care of some of that. (Mill Creek licenses these pictures from Columbia and works with what the studio sends them.)

The rest of the set looks even better. The real jewel is the black and white Uranium Boom (1956), which looks gorgeous. You’d almost think you were looking at a Blu-Ray. The Fastest Guns Of The West: The William Castle Western Collection is a terrific set, something many of us have been hoping for. As I see it, William Castle could do no wrong, and these movies are good, cheap fun — thanks to Mill Creek for giving us such a budget-friendly, storage-space friendly package. Highly, highly recommended.

To the fine folks at Mill Creek: while you’re serving up William Castle, how about a set of the Whistler movies?

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I had to make sure this wasn’t April Fool’s Day — because a set of eight Westerns directed by William Castle (all but one produced by Sam Katzman!) sounds too good to be true. But here it is, coming from our friends at Mill Creek Entertainment.

Klondike Kate (1943)
Starring Ann Savage, Tom Neal and Glenda Farrell
One of Castle’s first directing credits — it came out a year before the first of The Whistler series.

Conquest Of Cochise (1953)
Starring John Hodiak, Robert Stack, Joy Page
Stack and Page had already appeared together in Budd Boetticher’s Bullfighter And The Lady (1951). Hodiak makes a good Cochise.

Masterson Of Kansas (1954)
Starring George Montgomery, Nancy Gates, James Griffith
James Grifftih’s performance as Doc Holliday really elevates this one.

Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1954)
Starring Barbara Lawrence, James Griffith, William Phipps
This one was originally in 3-D and Technicolor. As you’d imagine, Castle throws everything he can think of at the camera.

Battle Of Rogue River (1954)
Starring George Montgomery, Richard Denning, Martha Hyer
Katzman cast “all six winners of the National Indian Beauty Contest” in this picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if this contest didn’t exist before Katzman and Castle came along.

The Gun That Won The West (1955)
Starring Dennis Morgan, Paula Raymond, Richard Denning
This tale of the US Cavalry taking on Chief Red Cloud makes good use of stock footage from Buffalo Bill (1944).

Duel On The Mississippi (1955)
Starring Lex Parker, Patricia Medina, Warren Stevens, John Dehner
Not really a Western, but it’s got a solid Western cast doing the Louisiana river pirate thing.

Uranium Boom (1956)
Starring Dennis Morgan, Patricia Medina, William Talman
A modern-day Western with Dennis Morgan and William Talman fighting over their uranium mine — and the lovely Patricia Medina.

Can’t tell you how excited I am about this set. Castle’s one of my favorite filmmakers, and I’ve got a real soft spot for these Castle-Katzman movies. Highly, highly recommended.

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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).

Law vs Billy Brady Griffith

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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