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Archive for the ‘Warner Archive’ Category

Directed by Lewis Collins
Written by Joseph Poland
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller
Music by Raoul Kraushaar

Cast: Johnny Mack Brown (Himself), Lee Roberts (Sheriff Bob Conway), Phyllis Coates (Marian Gaylord), Hugh Prosser (George Millarde), Dennis Moore (Henry Lockwood), Marshall Reed (Macklin)

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The last of Johnny Mack Brown’s B Westerns for Monogram, Canyon Ambush (1952) is pretty much exactly what you’re picturing in your head — a pretty solid little picture shot at Iverson Ranch. In it, Brown’s a government agent who rides into Border City to help bring a masked rider to justice. There’s plenty of ridin’ and shootin’ all over the hallowed grounds of the Iverson Ranch, and Phyllis Coates is on hand to give the picture an extra boost — and plenty of curb appeal.

The screenplay’s by Joseph Poland, who wrote a ton of B Westerns (Autry, Wayne, Elliott) and serials (Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc.Batman And Robin and Atom Man Vs. Superman).

At the time Canyon Ambush was in production, Monogram was in the process of becoming Allied Artists. William Elliott stayed and made a few more pictures with the typical Monogram team (Lewis Collins, Thomas Carr, Ernest Miller, etc.); Johnny Mack Brown retired.

Canyon Ambush is available on DVD from Warner Archive’s Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 5. The three-disc set also includes Brown and Raymond Hatton in The Texas Kid (1943), Partners Of The Trail (1944), Law Men(1944), Ghost Guns (1944), Gun Smoke (1945), Frontier Feud (1945), Border Bandits (1946) and Raiders Of The South (1947). Canyon Ambush looks terrific, stunning at times. The contrast levels are beautiful, giving us a chance to really take in the wonders of the Iverson Ranch. (One more thing: Johnny Mack Brown has a really cool hat in this one.)

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Directed by John Sturges
Screen Play by William Bowers
Based on the novel by Marvin H. Albert
Director Of Photography: Robert Surtees
Film Editor: Ferris Webster

Cast: Robert Taylor (Jake Wade), Richard Widmark (Clint Hollister), Patricia Owens (Peggy), Robert Middleton (Ortero), Henry Silva (Rennie), DeForest Kelley (Wexler)

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The Law And Jake Wade (1958) seems to be one of those Westerns everybody likes. The few times I’ve read or heard something negative about it, I always come way wondering if the dissenter had seen the same movie I saw.

John Sturges was a master at building suspense over the span of about 90 minutes. And with Escape From Fort Bravo (1953), Jake Wade and Last Train From Gun Hill (1959), he did it within the 50s Westerns bracket.

Jake Wade (Robert Taylor) wants to go straight and start a new life with his fiancé Peggy (Patricia Owens), but his old partner Clint Hollister (Richard Widmark) turns up — accompanied by psychopaths Henry Silva and DeForest Kelley — and wants to know where Wade buried the loot from an old bank job.

Before long (probably still in the first reel; this thing moves fast), Widmark’s abducted Patricia Owens and they’re all headed into Comanche territory to dig up the money — with the Comanches on the warpath.

This has the same “small group in a helluva fix as they go from Point A to Point B” setup you find in pictures like Roughshod (1949), Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957) and some of the Scott-Kennedy-Boetticher films. It’s perfect for Sturges, and he sets up the story and characters, then slowly turns up the heat as the movie progresses. While the ending may not be as satisfying as it could be, getting there is quite a ride.

Robert Taylor stands as tall as you expect him to. He has to tow the line to keep his bride-to-be safe, and Sturges wrings a lot of tension from that. Widmark is terrific as Hollister — another one of his likable psychos. He creates a real sense of menace here. You know he has no qualms about killing his hostages, and figures that’s exactly what he’ll do once he’s got the money. DeForest Kelley and Henry Silva make quite an impression with their limited screen time. These are dangerous freaks, and we’re well aware of that just seconds after their first appearance. Robert Middleton also scores as the one somewhat human member of Wade’s old gang.

There’s no composer credit for The Law And Jake Wade. It uses a lot of pre-existing stuff, much of it lifted from Elmer Bernstein’s score for Saddle The Wind. There was a musicians’ strike in ’58, and it affected quite a few films (Delmer Daves’ The Badlanders, for instance). Occasionally, something seems a bit out of place, but the music’s fine for the most part.

Ferris Webster’s editing is top notch throughout. The Indian attack sequence is very well done.

In a rather odd way, the casting of The Law And Jake Wade was predicted by I Love Lucy. In the 1955 episode “The Tour,” Lucy seeks to snag some fruit from our co-stars’ back yards. “I’d just love a Richard Widmark grapefruit to go with my Robert Taylor orange.” (Thanks to my daughter for this piece of trivia.)

Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray is stunning. High-definition really brings out the detail and depth of Surtees’ Scope camerawork, making sure Lone Pine and Death Valley are a huge part of the picture’s overall effect. (Temperatures were right at zero when they shot the scenes in the High Sierras.) Sturges was always very good at emphasizing the isolation in his Westerns, and this Blu-Ray brings that front and center. The color’s good for Metrocolor and the sound is nice and clean. The only extra is an original trailer.

The Law And Jake Wade is one of the essential 50s Westerns, and this hi-def edition of it was obviously given the care it deserves.

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Directed by John Sturges
Starring Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, Patricia Owens, Robert Middleton, Henry Silva, DeForest Kelley

The Law And Jake Wade (1958) is one of the best Westerns of the 50s. It’s tight, tense and in CinemaScope, which is exactly what you want in a John Sturges movie. Oh, and it’s coming to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

Jake Wade (Robert Taylor) wants to go straight, but his old partner Richard Widmark wants to know where he buried the loot from an old bank job. Before long, Widmark’s abducted Taylor’s fiancé (Patricia Owens) and they’re all headed into Comanche territory — and the Comanches are on the warpath.

This is as good as it gets, folks — and I’m sure Warner Archive will treat it right. Essential stuff.

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Warner Archive has a couple early 50s pictures on the way, both of them worth your time and hard-earned dough. Look at the casts on these things!

The Lion And The Horse (1952)
Directed by Louis King
Starrting Steve Cochran, Wildfire, Ray Teal, Bob Steele, Harry Antrim, George O’Hanlon

The Lion And The Horse was an early exercise in Warnercolor, but don’t hold that against it. I’ve never seen this one, but with Ray Teal and Bob Steele that far up on the cast list, I’m dying to. Steve Cochran played a bad guy more often that not, and this gives him a chance to be likable. Shot in Utah’s Mount Zion National Park, the animals had trouble with the high altitudes and were placed in an oxygen tent from time to time. Director Louis King’s previous picture was Frenchie (1950) with Joel McCrea, and he’d follow it with Powder River (1953).

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Cow Country (1953)
Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Edmond O’Brien, Helen Wescott, Bob Lowery, Barton MacLane, Peggie Castle, James Millican, Robert Wilke, Raymond Hatton, Tom Tyler, Jack Ingram

Cow Country plays like a series Western on a larger scale — and that’s a good thing. Of course, what would you expect from Lesley Selander? James Millican has a great part here, and Robert Wilke is badder than usual. And Peggie Castle alone is worth the price of admission. Recommended.

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Warner Archive has kicked of their Christmas In July Sale — which lets you get four titles for just $44 with free shipping. This is a great, great thing — and it includes Blu-Rays!

Lesley Selander’s Short Grass (1950) with Rod Cameron and Johnny Mack Brown is one to consider. Click the banner to start shopping.

 

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Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Starring Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, David Warner, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens, L. Q. Jones, R. G. Armstrong

Another great Sam Peckinpah movie about the dying West, and another must-have Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

The Ballad Of Cable Hogue (1970) gives Peckinpah another group of outsiders to study — and another outstanding cast to play them. As good as everyone is in this, it’s Stella Stevens that really knocks me out. (She was really good in The Silencers, too.)

This, The Wild Bunch (1969) and Ride The High Country (1962) all cover the same basic theme — the Old West giving way to civilization, with some people not able, or willing, to adapt. But Sam comes at it from a different angle each time, always striking gold. I’m in absolute awe of Peckinpah when it comes to these movies.

Lucien Ballard shot this one, which is reason enough to spring for the Blu-Ray. It will be out in June, with a number of great supplements that appeared on the DVD release. Highly highly recommended.

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Directed by Thomas Carr
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Milton R. Raison
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Marshal Sam Nelson), Phyllis Coates (Marian Harrison), Rick Vallin (Ray Hammond), Fuzzy Knight (Pop Harrison), John James (Marv Ronsom), Denver Pyle (Jonas Bailey), Dick Crockett (Will Peters), Harry Lauter (Mack Wilson)

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Wild Bill Wednesday, a serious oversight on my part. Well, I really felt like watching a Bill Elliott picture the other night, so let’s take a look at Topeka (1953).

The notorious bank robber Jim Levering (Elliott) and his gang wind up in Topeka, Kansas, where Mack Wilson (Harry Lauter) and his thugs are pressuring the local businesses for “protection money.” Elliott winds up as sheriff, seeing the opportunity to gain the citizens’ trust, run Wilson and his henchmen out of town and take over things for himself.

But Levering’s conscience, the lovely Marian Harrison (Phyllis Coates), and his closest friend among the gang, Ray (Rick Vallin), convince him that maybe it’s time to go straight. But, of course, we’ve seen enough of these things to know that’s easier said than done.

I’m a big fan of the common theme of redemption in 50s Westerns. Director Thomas Carr and writer Milton R. Raison do a good job with it in Topeka, leveraging Elliott’s typical good-badman persona. What’s interesting here is that we don’t see Elliott’s good side right away, and even he seems surprised by his turnaround. His transformation is totally believable.

The B Western was heading into the sunset when Elliott made his series of pictures for Monogram (later Allied Artists), and while the budgets hold things back a bit, I’m always impressed by the effort and imagination that went into them. The subject matter’s a bit more adult, Elliott’s a more complex hero than what the matinee crowds were probably used to, and the camerawork is inventive at times (though a little rushed and wobbly at others). For Topeka, it looks like cinematographer Ernest Miller brought a crane out to Iverson and Corriganville. This, for my money, is one of the best of the series.

And one more thing. I really liked Fuzzy Knight in this. He was also good in the offbeat B Western Rimfire (1949).

Topeka is part of Warner Archive’s terrific The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection — which I hope you already own. The set gives these cheap little movies the red-carpet treatment, which they (and William Elliott himself) certainly deserve.

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