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Archive for the ‘Warner Archive’ Category

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, Van Heflin, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Ward Bond

Warner Bros. had a real knack for stomping all over American history in the name of making a good movie. Santa Fe Trail (1940) is a prime example.

Historic figures like “Jeb” Stuart (Errol Flynn), John Brown (Raymond Massey), George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan), Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis pop in and out of this thing, bumping into each other in very non-actual ways. But none of that matters, since the performances and direction are great, and the whole thing runs at about a mile a minute.

This was the seventh of Flynn’s pictures with Olivia de Havilland. They’d do only one more together Raoul Walsh’s They Died With Their Boots On (1941), with Flynn playing George Armstrong Custer, who Reagan plays in this one. Raymond Massey is terrific as John Brown — who cares about the realities of it.

It’ll be great to see Santa Fe Trail in high definition after its years in public domain VHS/DVD hell. Highly recommended.

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Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

Mann and Stewart’s third Western, coming after Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend Of The River (1952), has been screaming for some restoration work for quite some time. Warner Archive has announced a Blu-Ray release for September. Can’t wait to see what they’ve done with it.

These Mann-Stewart pictures are certainly among the best Westerns ever made. Beyond that, it comes down to your personal preference.

I’ll post the technical details as they become available. This one’s as essential as they get.

Love that poster art by Gustav Rehberger.

Thanks to Paula for the tip.

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Directed by John Sturges
Written by Michael Pate
Phillip Rock
Frank Fenton
Music by Jeff Alexander
Cinematography: Robert L. Surtees
Film Editor: George Boemler

Cast: William Holden (Captain Roper), Eleanor Parker (Carla Forester), John Forsythe (Captain John Marsh), William Demarest (Campbell), William Campbell (Cabot Young), Polly Bergen (Alice Owens), Richard Anderson (Lieutenant Beecher), Carl Benton Reid (Colonel Owens), John Lupton (Bailey), Forrest Lewis, Howard McNear, Glenn Strange

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Director John Sturges made lots of really good movies, but he had a real thing for Westerns. One of his earliest was Escape From Fort Bravo (1953). It’s now available on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

It’s the Civil War. William Holden is a captain at Fort Bravo, a Union prison camp filled with Confederate soldiers (John Forsythe, William Demarest, William Campbell). There are Mescalero Apaches outside the walls of the fort and Confederate spies (Eleanor Parker, Howard McNear) inside. The spies help Forsythe mount an escape, and Holden heads out after them.

It all comes to a head when Holden, Parker and the recaptured prisoners are pinned down in a dry creek bed by who-knows-how-many Apaches.

To tell you much more might get in the way of Sturges’ finely-crafted suspense. The last reel of this thing is as good as anything Sturges ever did. It’s terrific.

Quite a few 50s Westerns made good use of the climactic pinned-down-by-Indians thing. A few that come to mind are Apache Drums (1951), Dakota Incident (1956) and Dragoon Wells Massacre (1958).

Holden is really good as the hard-nosed captain. He was an avid outdoorsman, and it looks like he’s in his element here. Eleanor Parker makes a good spy, and she’s beautiful in both an evening gown and leather jacket. William Demarest and William Campbell have some good, well-written scenes together. And it’s great to see Howard McNear, Floyd from The Andy Griffith Show, as a Confederate spy. Where things get a little wonky is in the middle — the romantic scenes between Holden and Parker seem like a studio-dictated addition. They slow the movie down as it makes its way to its tight conclusion. (Sturges was never all that adept with the mushy stuff.) Of course, the thrilling final attack makes up for it.

Escape From Fort Bravo was one of the first pictures shot in the Ansco Color process. It’s no Technicolor, or even Eastmancolor, but it gets the job done. It was John Sturges’ first color film, period. It was shot in Death Valley, Gallop, New Mexico, Corriganville and the MGM backlot in April and May of 1953. The great Robert Surtees was the cinematographer. There was talk at one time of the picture being shot in 3-D. It was not, with MGM making it an early widescreen release instead. In some places, it played in three-track stereophonic sound.

Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray is a marked improvement over the DVD. Here, we get the original widescreen (1.75) and a surprisingly vivid look at Ansco Color’s pastel shades. Like so many stereo movies from the early 50s, the original directional tracks are probably long gone. The mono sound, however, is clean and clear.

Escape From Fort Bravo has everything going for it. A great cast. Meticulous direction. Incredible location photography, in color. And now it has a Blu-Ray that really does all that justice. Highly, highly recommended.

Of course, John Sturges would make another POW escape film, The Great Escape, in 1963. By the way, he was trying to get that one off the ground while Escape From Fort Bravo was being put together. It took him 10 years to get The Great Escape to the screen.

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Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith, John Randolph, Lee Grant, Arthur O’Connell, Barbara Rhoades, Alan Hale, Jr., Gene Evans

After their screenplay for Bonnie And Clyde (1967), David Newman and Robert Benton cooked up this comic, oddball Western, There Was A Crooked Man… (1970). Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was more at home with heavy dramas, but he gives this one his all.

It’s getting a welcome Blu-Ray release from Warner Archive in June.

Kirk Douglas is his usual swaggering self, and Henry Fonda is the new warden at an Arizona prison, hoping to reform Douglas and the other assorted crooks. This came at a time when Fonda was playing around with his Western persona, appearing in pictures like Burt Kennedy’s Welcome To Hard Times (1967), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968), Firecreek (1968) and The Cheyenne Social Club (1970). So while this one might not be a total success, it’s certainly interesting — and that cast is terrific, a great gathering of 50s and 60s character actors. Recommended.

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Directed by John Sturges
Starring William Holden, Eleanor Parker, John Forsythe, William Demarest, William Campbell, Polly Bergen, Howard McNear, Glenn Strange

Warner Archive is working their Blu-Ray magic on John Sturges’ Escape From Fort Bravo (1953), a taut, suspenseful picture starring William Holden and Eleanor Parker.

Shot in Anscocolor, I’m looking forward to what WAC can do with it. Escape From Fort Bravo was originally shown in 1.66, just as the widescreen era was cranking up. But don’t let this make the movie sound like just a technical curio — it’s a damn good 50s Western. Highly recommended.

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Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Starring Randolph Scott, David Brian, Phyllis Thaxter, Helena Carter, Dickie Jones, Ray Teal, Michael Tolan, Paul Picerni, Emerson Treacy, Bob Steele, Walter Sande, Chubby Johnson

Warner Archive has been righting a few wrongs lately, bringing some pictures back to DVD that’ve been missing for a while. One of the latest to be announced is Edwin Marin’s Fort Worth (1951). (Click the lobby card for the Warner Archive link.)

It’s a pretty good one, with a great cast and gorgeous Technicolor photography from Sid Hickox. It was the seventh Western Scott and Marin did together. It was also the last, with the director passing away a couple months before it opened. (Wish a Blu-Ray was also on the way.)

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Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Theron Warth
Screen play by Lillie Hayward
Based on the novel Gunman’s Chance by Luke Short
Director Of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jim Garry), Barbara Bel Geddes (Amy Lufton), Robert Preston (Tate Billing), Walter Brennan (Kris Barden), Phyllis Thaxter (Carol Lufton), Frank Faylen (Jake Pindalest), Tom Tully (John Lufton), Charles McGraw (Milo Sweet), Clifton Young (Joe Shotten), Tom Tyler (Frank Reardon), George Cooper (Fred Barden), Tom Keene (Ted Elser), Bud Osborne (Cap Willis), Zon Murray (Nels Titterton), Harry Carey Jr., Iron Eyes Cody, Chris-Pin Martin

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In a strict chronological sense, Blood On The Moon (1948) isn’t a 50s Western. But in other ways — look, themes, etc., it fits right in with the best the 50s came up with. It also stands as maybe the finest example of film noir creeping into a cowboy movie.

Drifter Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) gets caught up in a squabble between a big rancher, John Lufton (Tom Tully), and the local homesteaders. But there’s more to it than your usual range war plot device. It’s all part of a scheme put together by Mitchum’s old friend Tate Billing (Robert Preston) to swindle Lufton out of both his herd and his lucrative contract to supply meat to the Indian reservation. Mitchum decides he wants nothing to do with Billing’s caper and sides with Lufton and his daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes).

A fairly typical Western plot from the period. What makes all the difference is how its treated, from its look to some of the performances.

In noir-ish fashion, we watch Robert Mitchum wrestle with his conscience as he decides which side of the conflict to settle on. Nobody’s better than Mitchum at the morally ambiguous stuff. Several times he tries to just ride away, only to be pulled back in. Mitchum’s excellent as the down-on-his-luck cowhand turned hired gun, making sure his transition from drifter to hero doesn’t feel forced.

The rest of the cast gathers favorites from both noir and the Western — Charles McGraw, Walter Brennan (he did Red River this same year), Clifton Young, Tom Tyler, even Harry Carey, Jr. and Iron Eyes Cody. Robert Preston was always one of the best of the likable heels, and he’s at the top of his game here. Barbara Bel Geddes (as Mitchum’s love interest) is terrific, and Phyllis Thaxter (as Bel Geddes’ sister who’s duped by Preston) does a lot with a little.

Director Robert Wise didn’t make many Westerns. He said he wasn’t a fan of them. Maybe that’s why he approached this material, based on a Luke Short novel, the way he did Lewton horror movies like The Curse Of The Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945) and the noir Born To Kill (1947). Whatever the reason, it works, making for a post-War Western that really stands out. Wise had a pretty funny career. The later films that he’s known for, from I Want To Live! (1958) to The Sound Of Music (1965), are so far removed from earlier pictures like this one. (Wise considered Blood On The Moon his first big feature.) For instance, compare The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). The films got bigger, for sure, but not necessarily better. 

Robert Wise put this picture together with producer Theron Warth, getting a top-notch script from Lillie Hayward. With the cast was assembled and the shoot approaching, there was talk of replacing Wise with Jacques Tourneur — in an attempt to recapture some of the Out Of The Past (1947) magic. Dore Schary stuck with Wise.

Everything from the shadowy noir touches and more authentic costumes (Wise studied period photographs) to the stunning Sedona locations and well-propped sets make Blood On The Moon a Western unlike any other, something truly unique — as much a character study as it is an action picture. And speaking of action, it’s got one of the damnedest saloon fights you’ve ever seen (between Mitchum and Preston).

Robert Wise: “I wanted to avoid one of those extremely staged-looking fistfights used in all the movies, where the stuntmen did this elaborate, acrobatic fighting and you saw the real actors only in close-ups. I wanted this to look like a real fight, with that awkward, brutal look of a real fight, and when it was done for the winner to look as exhausted as the loser. And Mitch was excited about this. He knew exactly what I was going for. I think he probably knew more than I did about barroom fights like this one.”

Blood On The Moon gets a huge boost from the atmospherics and deep shadows of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. One of the true artistes of the whole noir thing, he shot Stranger On The Third Floor (1940, considered the first film noir), Out Of The Past and Roadblock (1951). He was DP on a few of Val Lewton’s RKO horror pictures, such as Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and Bedlam (1946). And he shot a few of RKO’s Tim Holt pictures, giving them a look way beyond their budget. Thanks to Mr. Musuraca, Blood On The Moon is one of the best-looking B&W Westerns ever made, which makes its release on Blu-Ray something to be excited about.

This time around, Warner Archive has given us one of the best-looking B&W Blu-Rays I’ve seen. It’s clean and crisp, and the contrast levels are absolutely perfect — important in a picture that goes from snow-covered landscapes in daylight to the dark woods in the dead of night. Warner Archive is getting a lot of praise, well-deserved, for restoring 15 minutes to another Mitchum Western from 1948, Rachel And The Stranger. But seeing Blood On The Moon like this, so pristine, is a revelation. Highly, highly recommended.

SOURCE: Robert Wise quote from Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care by Lee Server.

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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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