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Archive for the ‘VCI Entetainment’ Category

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay by Herb Meadow and Don Martin
From a novel by Louis L’Amour
Cinematographer: Ray Rennahan
Film Editor: William B. Murphy
Music by Paul Dunlap

Cast: Joel McCrea (Judge Rick Thorne), Miroslava (Amy Lee Bannerman), Kevin McCarthy (Tom Bannerman), John Carradine (Col. Buck Streeter), John McIntire (Josiah Bannerman), Nancy Gates (Caroline Webb)

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badgeI missed Stranger On Horseback (1955) on its first run in the UK. as the support feature to the very popular Marty.

My interest was aroused by a February 1963 edition of Motion which had a comment on the film by the esteemed Raymond Durgnat. Mr Durgnat was the doyen of a new breed of young English cineaste film writers. Durgnat’s impression of the film was as follows: “In Stranger On Horseback (a disturbing little Jacques Tourneur Western), Joel McCrea comes across Miroslava (ex Archimboldo) who is clad throughout in black leather, boots, gloves, and of course whip. SHE comes across HIM bathing naked in a pool and though the scene is censored, it looks as if it builds up to the scene in Duel In The Sun where Gregory Peck waits for Jennifer Jones to emerge from among the reeds where she is cowering and shivering. The film also has a moment of Hawksian moral sadism; the weak willed sheriff (Emile Meyer) finally accepts the necessity for violence and blasts away at the crooks with a shotgun. “How d’you like it?” asks McCrea. “Loathesome,” replies Meyer grinning broadly.”

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The plot of Stranger On Horseback is pretty straightforward: a circuit judge (McCrea) wants to get the goods on an unsolved murder committed by the son (Kevin McCarthy) of a local king-pin (John McIntire). Tourneur graces the film with plenty of quirky offbeat touches that range from the humorous to the subversive.

The only available version of the film is on DVD from VCI, obtained from a print sourced from the vault of the British Film Institute. Sadly, this print is in bad shape — the lovely Sedona locations appear washed out. Hopefully, a master neg may surface or perhaps the film will be restored, like the previously considered lost Seven Men From Now (1956). It’s amazing what can be done these days, just consider the wonderful restoration done by Ignite Films on Canadian Pacific (1949) and The Cariboo Trail (1950). We live in hope. Not only is Stranger On Horseback Tourneur… it’s very good Tourneur.

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The film runs a mere 66 minutes, which suggests the film may have been censored — most of McCrea’s Fifties programmers clocked in at around 80 minutes. The film was an initial independent effort from producer Leonard Goldstein who previously had a splendid track record at Universal and Fox. Sadly, Mr. Goldstein passed away at the tender age of 51,  before Stranger On Horseback was released. Goldstein also produced Saddle Tramp (1950), the best of McCrea’s six Universal Fifties Westerns.

McCrea had choice of director on Stranger On Horseback. He chose Tourneur, who previously made the wonderful Stars In My Crown (1950), a film which sadly failed to find an audience. Tourneur also directed McCrea’s next picture Wichita (19XX), the first of four films that he made for Allied Artists. Wichita was far and away the best of the four and scored at the box office.

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The bad guy in Stranger On Horseback is Kevin McCarthy, who impressed McCrea. He told the young actor, “I’m going to tell the studios all  about you.” I have often wondered if this lead to McCarthy’s most iconic role in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956). After all, producer Walter Wanger had produced one of McCrea’s biggest hits, Foreign Correspondent (1940). Wanger and McCrea were working out of Allied Artists at the same time. Furthermore; Sam Peckinpah played a bank teller in Wichita and a meter reader in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Sam has often cited Don Siegel as his mentor.

Don Siegel had previously tried to develop Bad Day At Black Rock at Allied Artists. He wanted McCrea to play the lead. With all due respects to Spencer Tracy and John Sturges, John at the very fine Greenbriar Picture Shows feels the McCrea/Siegel film would have been superior. I totally agree. And I might hasten to add that I will be first in line when Warners releases the Blu-Ray version of Sturges’ film.

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Had McCrea appeared in Bad Day At Black Rock and not turned down the Van Heflin role in Shane (1953) this surely would have had a huge boost to his star power which faded considerably in the late Fifties.As much as we all love his Westerns I would have loved to have seen him tackle some of the non Westerns roles played by Cooper and Stewart in the Fifties. McCrea’s reason for turning down Shane was two-fold: he did not feel he was at a time in his career to take secondary roles; plus, he did not want to detract from his friend Alan Ladd. McCrea, in typical modesty, stated that he could never had been as good as Heflin was. I totally disagree especially under George Stevens’ direction.

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An amusing snippet: one day, Ladd asked his pal McCrea, “What do you do when the phone doesn’t ring… when nobody wants you?” McCrea jokingly replied, “I slap my wife on the butt, jump on my horse and ride around the ranch.” This flippant attitude was totally alien to the increasingly insecure Ladd.

From the mid to late Fifties, McCrea often worked for directors who were a far cry from the likes of Hawks, Hitchcock, Wyler, Wellman, Sturges and Walsh — whom he worked for in his glory days. It’s a shame that Tourneur or Siegel didn’t direct films like The Oklahoman or Trooper Hook (both 1957), especially with their subtext of alienation and racism. Both directors made wonderful films that shared those themes. Things did improve when Joseph Newman came on board, a vast step up from the likes of Francis D. Lyon and Charles Marquis Warren.

Despite the late Fifties drop off in quality (apart from the Newman efforts, especially 1958’s Fort Massacre), McCrea has left a hugely impressive body of work. It is also encouraging that many major stars, from Katherine Hepburn to Clint Eastwood, feel McCrea was grossly underrated.

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Directed by Ray Taylor
Starring Lash La Rue, Fuzzy St. John, Dan White, House Peters, Jr., Nancy Saunders

This may be the first time Lash and Fuzzy have graced the “pages” of this blog. Folks have written in a few times asking when I’m going to get around to these guys, and I’m sorry for the oversight.

Outlaw Country (1949) is one of the later Lash pictures, and at 72 minutes, one of the longest. It features La Rue’s long-lost twin brother, the Frontier Phantom — who turns up again the last Lash/Fuzzy movie, The Frontier Phantom (1952). Made for Western Adventure Productions, these had even lower budgets than the previous PRC pictures.

Outlaw Country is paired with Law Of The Lash (1947, a PRC picture) in VCI’s Lash La Rue Double Feature. Both were directed by Ray Taylor, one of the most prolific directors of them all, with more than 150 films to his credit.

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Knights Of Range OS

Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Russell Hayden, Victor Jory, Jean Parker

1940 is typically outside the rough confines of this blog (have you noticed how “squishy” the Fifties thing has become lately?), but being that it’s from one of our collective favorites, Lesley Selander, I figured it was worth pointing out.

VCI now offers a remastered copy of Knights Of The Range (1940), one of Paramount’s many Zane Grey adaptations. Judging from the sample on their website, it looks plenty good.

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There’s a cool twin bill coming in July from Lippert Pictures, Kit Parker Films and VCIApache Chief (1949) and Bandit Queen (1950).

Apache Chief 
Directed by Frank McDonald
Starring Alan Curtis, Russell Hayden, Carol Thurston, Tom Neal, Fuzzy Knight, Alan Wells, Billy Wilkerson

In a way this is pretty standard stuff, but it’s from the Indian’s point of view which freshens things up a bit. Russell Hayden and Fuzzy Knight are on hand, which helps out a lot.

Fans of technical stuff will appreciate that Apache Chief was one of a couple dozen films shot with the Garutso Balanced Lens. The credit reads: “Introducing the latest scientific achievement in motion picture photography, the Garutso Balanced Lens, a new optical principle which creates a three dimensional effect.” The Wild One (1953), the Brando motorcycle picture, is probably the most high-profile film shot with the lens.

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Bandit Queen
Directed by William Berke
Starring Barbara Britton, Willard Parker, Philip Reed, Barton MacLane, Jack Ingram, Margia Dean

Barbara Britton, Barton MacLane, Vasquez Rocks, 70 minutes. What else do you need to know?

William Berke was a very prolific director, working extensively for Sam Katzman (directing several Jungle Jim pictures) and Robert Lippert. See his name in the credits, and you’re pretty sure to have a good time for the next 60 minutes or so.

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The charge was this: send in your list of favorite 50s Westerns DVD releases for 2014, along with a few 50s Westerns that you discovered this year.

For today, here are your (and my) 10 favorite DVDs or Blu-rays released during the 2014 calendar year.

10. Panhandle (1948) This terrific Rod Cameron picture, directed by Lesley Selander, was released a few years ago as part of VCI’s Darn Good Western Volume 1. This year, it showed up on its on.

9. City Of Bad Men (1953) Dale Robertson leads a great cast: Jeanne Crain, Richard Boone, Lloyd Bridges, Hugh Sanders, Rodolfo Acosta, Don Haggerty, Leo Gordon, John Doucette, Frank Ferguson, James Best. Harmon Jones directs.

8. Fort Massacre (1958) Joel McCrea plays way against type. Forrest Tucker, Susan Cabot, John Russell and Denver Pyle co-star. You can get a nice regular DVD here in the States — and a stunning Blu-ray in Germany.

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7. Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) The guys who developed VistaVision look down from heaven, see this Blu-ray playing in our living rooms, and are very happy indeed.

6. The Lusty Men (1952) There was a time when Nicholas Ray was a machine that cranked out Great Movies. This study of modern-day rodeo cowboys — starring Robert Mitchum, Susan Haywood and Arthur Kennedy — comes from the heart of that period.

5. Drum Beat (1954) Alan Ladd shows us he’s got more than Shane up his sleeve, and Delmer Daves delivers yet another solid Western. This is a lot better movie than you’ve heard (or remember).

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4. Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958) When an Allied Artists Western starring Mark Stevens makes a Top Ten list, I know I’m in the right place.

3. Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Volume 4 As good as the series Western ever got. For me, this fourth volume is the best — which makes it plenty great indeed.

2. Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (1957) It’s not a stupendous Randolph Scott movie, but it’s a Randolph Scott movie — and Warner Archive has it shining like a black and white, 1.85 diamond.

1. South Of St. Louis (1949) This terrific Joel McCrea picture, with its Technicolor appropriately saturated, is stunning on Blu-ray from Olive Films. Alexis Smith and Dorothy Malone should’ve paid cinematographer Karl Freund for making them look so beautiful.

Along with all these favorites, there was a common complaint: that Olive Films’ promised The Quiet Gun (1956) didn’t make it in 2014.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their lists.

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Cyber Monday

I’m not sure I get the whole Cyber Monday thing, but who cares when Warner Archive offers up an offer like this? Have at it, folks!

A recommendation, uh, let’s see — Randolph Scott in Carson City (1952).

There’s also a discount available at VCI. Go to vcientertainment.com. The coupon code VCIBF60 will get you 60% off. A recommendation: the absolutely essential Roy Rogers TruColor double feature of Under California Stars (1948) and Bells Of San Angelo (1947).

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The Collins English Dictionary defines evangelism as “the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others with the intention of conversion.” I think that sorta fits the overall purpose of this blog, to convince someone out there to give a particular film or TV show or whatever a shot. If you’ve read much of this thing — and God knows there’s a lot of it by now, you’ve been preached to about everything from the power of Fred MacMurray as a cowboy star to the aesthetic riches of black and white CinemaScope.

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Gail Davis and George Archainbaud

The topic of today’s sermon is Gail Davis and her Annie Oakley TV show. And I’ll be referring to the VCI DVD set Annie Oakley: The Complete Series.

Annie Oakley works a lot like The Gene Autry Show, both from Gene’s Flying A Productions. They have the feel of a theatrical B Western — just shorter and cheaper, and clearly geared towards kids. Gene brought along some of the directors who made his features so successful: guys like George Archainbaud, Ray Nazarro, Earl Bellamy and John English.

Some great character actors made their way to Annie Oakley, too: Slim Pickins, Helene Marshall, James Best, John Doucette, James H. Griffith, Lee Van Cleef, Alan Hale Jr., Dickie Jones, Fess Parker, Clayton Moore, Denver Pile, LQ Jones, Glenn Strange and more. From the writers to the actors to the cameramen — these crews were a well-oiled machine, perfectly suited to the quick schedules of TV production. They rode the same ranches, climbed the same Lone Pine rocks and punched the same bad guys. It’s like hour-long features were put in the dryer, left in there too long, and shrunk down to 27 minutes. All guided by the shrewd business acumen of Gene Autry.

But what makes Annie Oakley so special is Annie herself, Gail Davis. And that’s not to take anything away from Brad Johnson as Lofty Craig and Jimmy Hawkins as Annie’s brother Tagg. Or from her horse Target, for that matter.

24q4dmoGail’s up to all the fancy riding and trick-shooting the part requires, perfectly so. She’s a real sparkplug, with enough charisma to propel each episode all by herself. It’s a role she was born to play, you hear that a lot. And it’s true, even she agreed. But it’s so much more than that. I can’t think of an actress who’s more immediately likeable than Gail Davis.

It’s easy to like the 11-disc, 81-episode set from VCI Entertainment, too. You get the entire series, looking just great, saddled with extras: photo galleries, commercials, the original pilot, a documentary and more. Gail’s daughter Terrie was along for the ride on this project, and her contribution makes a huge difference. Her mother hung onto a lot of stuff, and she shares it with us.

Like any TV show, some episodes are better than others. I’m still making my way through them, but I’ve developed an affinity for the episodes directed by the underappreciated Ray Nazarro. He’s a master at the kind of action this show served up every week.

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VCI has given this set a lot of TLC. It’s obvious from the minute you open it up. The quality and consistency never wavers. The extras are classy and comprehensive. And Gail Davis is as cool as cool could be.

My daughter’s a big fan of both Annie Oakley and Gail Davis, and her enthusiasm convinced me to look into it. She was the real evangelist here, and she was right. Highly, highly recommended.

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