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Archive for the ‘Warner Archive’ Category

Warner Archive has announced Blu-Ray releases for a couple of pictures we’ve all been pining for — Robert Wise’s Blood On The Moon and Norman Foster’s Rachel And The Stranger (both 1948).

From its cast (Robert Mitchum, Charles McGraw) to its brooding tone to its cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca, Blood On The Moon is one of the best examples of film noir creeping into the Western — and a big indicator of what the 1950s had in store for the genre. It’s terrific, and I can’t wait to see it in high definition.

Rachel And The Stranger is about as far from Blood On The Moon as you can get, a lighter, sweeter film with an unbeatable cast: Loretta Young, Robert Mitchum and William Holden. It was helped along at the box office by, of all things, Robert Mitchum’s marijuana arrest. Warner Archive is promising an uncut version — Howard Hughes cut over 10 minutes out of it — with Waldo Salt’s writing credit restored. This is a big, big deal.

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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 Anthony Mann (and Charles Walters)
Starring Glenn Ford, Maria Schell, Anne Baxter, Arthur O’Connell, Russ Tamblyn, Mercedes McCambridge, Vic Morrow, Robert Keith, Charles McGraw, Aline MacMahon, Harry Morgan, Edgar Buchanan

Warner Archive is bringing MGM’s sprawling 1960 version of Edna Ferber’s Cimarron to Blu-Ray. Anthony Mann directed about half of it, leaving after a series of disagreements with the producer, Edmund Grainger. The big Land Rush sequence is incredible and makes this Blu-Ray something to spring for.

While you could certainly argue that Mann was better suited to smaller films like Raw Deal (1948) or Bend Of The River (1952), Cimarron would see him head in an epic direction — his next pictures being El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire.

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Warner Archive has announced the 10th and final volume in their Monogram Cowboy Collection series.

It features nine Johnny Mack Brown pictures from 1946-49 —
The Haunted Mine (1946)
Valley Of Fear (1947)
Crossed Trails (1947)
Triggerman (1947)
Back Trail (1947)
Gunning For Justice (1948)
Range Justice (1948)
Trail Ends (1949)
Western Renegades (1949)

While I sure hate to see this terrific series reach the end of the trail, Warner Archive promises more: “Fear not – further oaters are on deck in more modestly sized editions!”

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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 Lewis D. Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Daniel B. Ullman
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller
Music by Raoul Kraushaar
Film Editor: Sam Fields

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Matt Boone), I. Stanford Jolley (Curly Ivers), Pamela Blake (Kathy Clark), Paul Fierro (Lou Garcia), Rand Brooks (Al), Richard Avonde (Pedro), Pierce Lyden (Farley), Lane Bradford (Wallace), Terry Frost (Will Richards), Stanley Price (Sheriff), Stanley Andrews (Judge), Michael Whalen (Barnes), Ray Bennett (Bull Clark), House Peters Jr. (Doctor)

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Seems like it’s time for a Wild Bill Wednesday. So let’s go to Waco (1952).

A little backstory. William Elliott and Republic Pictures parted ways in 1950. It wasn’t long before Elliott started making low-budget Westerns at Monogram. By the time the series was over, Monogram had become Allied Artists, 1.85 had become the standard aspect ratio for American cinema, and the B Western was dead. These 11 pictures — Waco was the second — made sure the B Western went out on a high note.

Matt Boone (Elliott) leaves Waco, Texas in a hurry after killing the crooked gambler Bull Clark (Ray Bennett) in self defense — he knows he won’t get a fair trial. Boone falls in with a gang of outlaws and is shot and captured when a bank job in Pecos goes wrong. Two of Waco’s prominent citizens bring Elliott back to Waco. They believe in his innocence (they saw Clark draw first) and need him to clean up their town. He’s elected sheriff. Only trouble is, his old gang (led by I. Stanford Jolley) and the gambler’s daughter (Pamela Blake) aren’t too keen on the idea.

These Monogram and Allied Artists pictures are a bit darker, more “adult,” than your typical B Western. The budget limitations are certainly obvious, but William Elliott’s as reliable as ever — and in this one, he gets to play the “good badman” type of role he liked so much, patterned after William S. Hart.

I’m a peaceable man and I’m not lookin’ for trouble. I’m not runnin’ from it neither.”

Waco comes from a pretty tight script by Dan Ullman. Ullman wrote plenty of 50s Westerns, from programmers like Kansas Pacific (1953) with Sterling Hayden to the excellent Face Of A Fugitive (1959), starring Fred MacMurray. It was directed by Lewis D. Collins, who started with silent shorts, made a boatload of pictures and passed away a few years after this one.

Pamela Blake’s part here doesn’t give her a whole lot to do. She stayed plenty busy — everything from This Gun For Hire (1942) to the serial Ghost Of Zorro (1949) at Republic to Live Wires (1946), the first Bowery Boys movie, to The Sea Hound (1947), a Sam Katzman serial at Columbia. Waco was her last feature — she worked on TV for a while, then retired to raise a family. I. Stanford Jolley, who’s got a great part here as a not-as-bad-as-you-thought outlaw, appeared in hundreds of Westerns, including a number of these Elliott pictures. It’s always a plus when he turns up in the credits (or in the back of a crowd working without credit).

Waco is part of Warner Archive’s terrific The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection. Shot at Corriganville and the Iverson Ranch by ace cinematographer Ernest Miller, it looks terrific on DVD. Monogram struck prints of these pictures in “glorious sepia tone,” and while I’m a stickler for preserving the original presentation, I’m glad Warner Archive stuck with black and white. Sepia doesn’t always come off well on TV. The set treats these cheap little movies with the kind of respect they (and William Elliott himself) certainly deserve. It’s great to see them looking so clean and sharp. Highly recommended.

Dan Ullman would write, produce and direct a remake of Waco — the Regalscope picture Badlands Of Montana (1957) starring Rex Reason and Beverly Garland.

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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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