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Archive for the ‘Virginia Mayo’ Category

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Edmund Grainer
Screenplay by Lesser Samuels
Based on the novel by Robert Hardy Andrews
Music by Leith Stevens
Cinematography: William E. Snyder
Film Editor: Harry Marker

Cast: Virginia Mayo (Ann Merry Alaine), Robert Stack (Owen Pentecost), Ruth Roman (Boston Grant), Alex Nicol (Captain Stephen Kirby), Raymond Burr (Jumbo Means), Leo Gordon (Zeff Masterson), Regis Toomey (Father Murphy), Carleton Young (Colonel Gibson)

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Director Jacques Tourneur is well known for his horror (Cat People) and noir (Out Of The Past) pictures, and he should be. It’s a shame his Westerns — a handful of very good, and very unique, pictures from the 40s and 50s — don’t get the same recognition. Great Day In The Morning (1956) was Tourneur’s last Western feature (he did some cowboy stuff for TV), and it’s often overlooked or shrugged off. It’s well worth seeking out, especially now that we can see it in all its Technicolor and Superscope glory on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack) arrives in Denver from his home in North Carolina, right before the start of the Civil War. He finds the place divided between those sympathetic to the North or the South. He’s a self-centered opportunist (about the nicest thing you could say about him), hoping to profit from the gold being discovered there and the unrest created by the impending war. Owen quickly establishes himself, drawing the ire of the town boss (Raymond Burr), getting caught up in all the pre-war bickering and fighting, and catching the eye of both a businesswoman (Virginia Mayo) and saloon girl (Ruth Roman). He’s always willing to play one side against the other for his own benefit.

And that’s where the trouble comes in. The male lead isn’t very likable, and it’d be easy to transfer that opinion to the film itself. But you’d be overlooking a lot of good stuff. First, there’s the incredible look Tourneur gives all his films. Pools of light in deep shadows are used well to direct our eye and highlight certain characters or bits of action. Cinematographer William E. Snyder does some great work here.

The cast of Great Day In The Morning is terrific, from the villains like Raymond Burr and Leo G. Gordon to the ladies, Virginia Mayo and Ruth Roman. Roman is especially good. Robert Stack is fine as Pentecost, and he’s to be commended for playing the character as the creep that he is. Westerns, especially the ones from the 1950s, get a lot of mileage out of the theme of redemption. It’s the backbone of many of the genre’s finest films. Here, we fully expect Pentecost to see the error of his ways, have a change of heart and make amends before the final fade. But with almost every genre convention Tourneur faces, his pictures seem to zig where other films zag — it’s very evident in his first Western, Canyon Passage (1946). Being that Tourneur is at the wheel on Great Day In The Morning, we shouldn’t be surprised when Pentecost’s redemption doesn’t happen the way it usually does.

Warner Archive has been bringing out 50s SuperScope movies on Blu-Ray lately, such as John Sturges’ Underwater! from 1955, and they’re doing a tremendous job with them. You hear a lot about how the process was grainy and soft, but you’d never think that after look at these Blu-Rays. They’re beautiful. It’s great to see them looking like this, and I’d certainly welcome some more.

A lot of people simply don’t like Great Day In The Morning. But it’s a Jacques Tourneur movie that’s often overlooked, and for that reason, along with its superb presentation on Blu-Ray, I recommend it highly.

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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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The word on the street is that Powerhouse/Indicator out of the UK is prepping some of the Budd Boetticher – Randolph Scott pictures, the five  Columbia ones, for Blu-Ray. Of course, those were put out by Sony in a terrific set several years ago, with plenty of extra stuff — but we’ve all been pining for all of these to make their way to Blu-Ray.

Michael Dante, Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher on the Westbound set.

Powerhouse/Indicator will do a tremendous job with these. This would leave Seven Men From Now (1956) and Westbound (1959) orphaned in high-definition. Seven Men is handled by Paramount these days, and Westbound is in the care of the Warner Archive. More news as it turns up.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Here’s a batch of behind-the scenes photos to help wrap up 2016.

Let’s start with Maria Elena Marques and John Derek on the set of Fred F. Sears’ Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953).

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Next is Edith Head, Jeff Chandler and Melvin Frank going over costumes for The Jayhawkers! (1959).

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Here’s Satchel Page and Robert Rossen at work on The Wonderful Country (1959).

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Then there’s Virginia Mayo and Clint Walker shooting Fort Dobbs (1958).

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Directed by Tomas Carr
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Screenplay by Christopher Knopf
From a story by Louis L’Amour
Director Of Photography: Wilfred M. Cline, ASC
Music by Hans J. Salter
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE

Cast: Joel McCrea (Ned Bannon), Virginia Mayo (Ellen), Barry Kelley (Hardy Bishop), Michael Ansara (Zarata), Whit Bissell (Judson), James Dobson (Dud), George Neise (Mort Harper), Adam Kennedy (Red), Michael Pate (Charley), Leo Gordon (Stark), Ray Teal (Cap), Philip Phillips (Will), Robert Foulk (Pagones), Jennifer Lea (Mary)

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In many ways, The Tall Stranger (1957) is just another late-50s CinemaScope Western from Allied Artists — a straightforward, low-budget picture boosted by a cast full of familiar faces. But this one’s got more going for it than that. It offers up a re-teaming of Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo from Raoul Walsh’s terrific Colorado Territory (1949). And while The Tall Stranger won’t knock the Walsh movie off your list of favorites, it has plenty to recommend it.

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The relationships between brothers, often strained or on opposite sides of the law, was a popular theme with Western screenwriters of the 50s, forming the basis for some of the decade’s finest cowboy pictures — often with some redemption worked in. (I’ll let you come up with your own list of examples.) Working from a short story by Louis L’Amour, The Tall Stranger is part of that sub-genre. Ned Bannon (Joel McCrea) and Hardy Bishop (Barry Kelley) are half-brothers who found themselves enemies in the Civil War. Now that the war has ended, Bishop (Conderate) sees Bannon (Union) as the reason his son was executed as one of Quantrill’s Raiders, and he’s vowed to see him dead. Bannon, on the other hand, has come to reconcile.

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Bannon’s traveling toward Bishop’s Valley with a wagon train, and along the way he’s grown fond of a widow (Mayo) and suspicious of the guides. It all comes together into a tangled-up mess — the settlers, McCrea’s brother’s cattle land, the scheming trail guides, etc. — and McCrea gets to sort it all out — and, of course, shoot people — as it makes its way to a satisfying conclusion.

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Virginia Mayo: “I love Joel, but I didn’t want to be in the film. I thought the script was terrible.”

The script is a bit run-of-the-mill, and little is done to elevate it. Thomas Carr’s direction is missing the visual flair he and DP William Witley brought to Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958). The action scenes are passable, but there’s little momentum or tension in the scenes that tie them together. So what you’re left with, largely, is the appeal and chemistry of its two leads — which is still more than enough to make The Tall Stranger worth your time.

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The Tall Stranger is not available on DVD or Blu-ray in the States. There is a transfer floating around that crops the 2.35 Scope image to fit our 16:9 TVs. It’s watchable, but crowded at times. While this isn’t McCrea or Mayo at their best, this picture deserves to be seen — the way it’s supposed to be seen.

Source: The Westerners by C. Courtney Joyner

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Written and Directed by Delmer Daves
Director Of Photography: J. Peverell Marley, ASC
Film Editor: Clarence Kolster
Music by Victor Young

CAST: Alan Ladd (Johnny Mckay), Audrey Dalton (Nancy Meek), Marisa Pavan (Toby), Robert Keith (Bill Satterwhite), Charles Bronson (Captain Jack)

Not long after Shane (1953), Alan Ladd left Paramount, the studio that made him a star, and launched his independent company, Jaguar. Their first film was Drum Beat (1954). Based on the 1873 Modoc War, Ladd plays an Indian fighter recruited by President Grant to find a way to peace with the Modoc. Turns out the tribe wants peace, but a chief named Captain Jack (Charles Bronson) and his band of renegades are lousing things up. Repeated attempts for a peaceful resolution are unsuccessful, and we get a very exciting last couple of reels.

Though I’m not a big Alan Ladd fan, I really liked this one. It wears its “sympathetic treatment of the Indians” thing well, but never forgets that it’s action that puts people in the seats. Boy, a lot of people get shot in this thing.

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My job is to protect the wagon train. When somebody shoots at my people, I shoot back.”
— Alan Ladd

Ladd and Daves (and, of course, DP J. Peverell Marley) shot Drum Beat in Warnercolor and the then-new CinemaScope. As was the custom with ‘Scope at the time, they avoided close-ups, went for long takes whenever possible, and gave us lots of gorgeous vistas of Sonora, Arizona, and the Coconino National Forest. Daves always showed off the landscape in his Westerns, making each setting an essential element of the film, and this is one of Drum Beat’s great strengths. If there’s a film that makes better use of the Sonora area, I don’t know what it is.

The cast is a 50s Western fan’s dream: James H. Griffith (as a Civil War veteran who lost a leg at Shilo), Frank Ferguson, Elisha Cook, Jr., Willis Bouchey, Perry Lopez, Anthony Caruso, Denver Pyle and Strother Martin (who I heard was in it, but somehow missed). Of course, Charles Bronson makes quite an impression as Captain Jack in his first film under his new name (it had been Buchinsky, which was considered too Russian-sounding in the HUAC years).

With Drum Beat, Warner Archive gives us a pretty good-looking DVD. The Warnercolor is, well, Warnercolor — but here it looks as good as I’ve ever seen it look. The image is a tad soft at times (varying from shot to shot), some of which we can blame on the early CinemaScope. The audio is excellent; I love the stereo sound of these early Scope pictures, with an actor’s voice following them as they move around within the wide frame. This is a really good film, and a real treat in widescreen and stereo (I’d love to see a Blu-ray turn up someday). Highly recommended.

Alan Ladd and Delmer Daves reunited for The Badlanders (1958), also available from Warner Archive. I haven’t seen it in ages, and I’m really eager to revisit it.

Along with Drum Beat, two more Ladd Westerns came riding into town, thanks to Warner Archive.

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The Big Land (1957)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
CAST: Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Anthony Caruso, Julie Bishop and John Qualen

Ladd’s a cattle man who works to build a town around a railroad hub, which will benefit the local ranchers. Of course, there’s someone who doesn’t want all this to happen.

As a drunk, Edmond O’Brien steals every scene he’s in. He’s terrific. This is WarnerColor again, and it’s not as well-behaved as it is in Drum Beat. Good movie, though, especially if you’re a fan of O’Brien or Virginia Mayo. Gordon Douglas is as dependable as ever.

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Guns Of The Timberland (1960)
Directed by Robert D. Webb
CAST: Alan Ladd, Jeanne Crain, Gilbert Roland, Frankie Avalon

This time, Ladd’s a lumberjack who arrives in the Northwest to take out a lot of trees. The townspeople are afraid Ladd’s efforts will cause mudslides and do other environmental harm. Frankie Avalon sings “Gee Whiz Whillikins Golly Gee,” which Bugs Bunny used to sing in the bumpers to The Bugs Bunny Show on Saturday mornings. This tune is just one of the things that put Guns Of The Timberland in that goofy time period that a lot of series Westerns exist in, where Old and New West, cars and buckboards peacefully coexist.

Jeanne Crain is beautiful, Gilbert Roland is as cool as ever, and Lyle Bettger actually gets to be a good guy for once. The Technicolor makes it to DVD looking like a million bucks, while alcohol has Ladd looking just terrible.

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This one’s cool, folks. A 35mm print of Colorado Territory (1949) will run at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center For The Arts on Sunday, July 27 as part of their Invasion Of The Cinemaniacs series.

I don’t know about you, but Raoul Walsh’s Colorado Territory is one of my favorite Westerns. It’s the movie that made me go nuts over Joel McCrea. And Virginia Mayo is absolutely wonderful in it.

Jonathan Knapp, who looks at this blog on occasion, is the cinemaniac who picked it. Boy, do I wish I could get to this one.

And another thing: I’ve been waiting months to use that artwork (above)!

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