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Archive for the ‘William Castle’ Category

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There’s no doubt that, back in 1962, kids at the Lawton Theatre in Lawton, Oklahoma, had a very good time. I can’t imagine a better night at the movies than a twin bill of William’s Castle’s immortal House On Haunted Hill and Universal’s vampire Western Curse Of The Undead (both 1959).

Here’s hoping you all have a happy, and safe, Halloween.

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Dragoon Wells Massacre UK LC

It’s a lot of fun putting this list together every year, seeing what people are coming across for the first time. Remember, though these things are 60-something years old, if you’ve never seen it, it’s a new movie!

To make the list, a picture has to be mentioned by at least three people. This year, there were fewer titles brought up, but the frequency was a lot higher. We ended up with a solid lineup of fairly obscure, medium-budgeted 50s Westerns — and if you haven’t discovered them yourself, search them out.

And I hope this blog helped you discover some of these.

Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)
This was my personal favorite discovery of the year, and I was so happy to have others finding it, too. William Clothier’s camerawork deserves a solid CinemaScope transfer — and Jack Elam’s performance needs to be seen by more people. (Stay tuned for the Allied Artists blogathon, where I’ll give this thing some much-deserved attention.)

Cave Of Outlaws (1951)
William Castle directs a 50s Western for Universal — shooting at Carlsbad Caverns, Vasquez Rocks and the Iverson Ranch. Needs a DVD release.

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Wyoming Mail (1950)
A fairly obscure U-I Western starring Stephen McNally and Alexis Smith. Reginald Le Borg keeps things moving at a brisk pace and Russell Metty makes sure the Technicolor looks terrific.

Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958)
A number of people picked up the DVD from Warner Archive, and it seems like most of us were impressed. If you still haven’t tracked this one down, get to it!

Thunderhoof (1948)
A Phil Karlson horse picture with a cast of only three (and the horse). Can’t to track this one down.

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Four Guns To The Border (1954)
This one was on last year’s list, too. We keep bumping into, and we all seem to like it. It’s a great example of what a Universal 50s Western can be: terrific cast, gorgeous Technicolor, plenty of action.

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While doing some research on George Sherman’s The Treasure Of Pancho Villa (1955), I came across The Odessa American from October 9, 1955. What was playing around town was incredible.

Ector: The Treasure Of Pancho Villa
Scott Theater: Night Of The Hunter 
Rio Theater (next door to the Scott): The Big Combo
Twin Terrace Drive-In: Wichita and New Orleans Uncensored
Twin Cactus Drive-In: The Seven Little Foys and Coroner Creek
Broncho Drive-In: Las Vegas Shakedown and The End Of The Affair
Twin-Vue Drive-In: The Seven Little Foys and The Denver And Rio Grande

You could spend your night with Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Robert Mitchum or Rory Calhoun. If all that wasn’t enough, you could head to the Odessa High School field house on the 11th for The Western Revue Of 1955 with Lash LaRue and “Fuzzy” St. John in person — or wait a couple more days for Elvis Presley (“with Scotty and Bill”), Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson and Porter Wagoner.

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By the way, the Ector Theater was restored in 2001 and runs classic movies from time to time. I love Texas.

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David Arrate earns a Name That Stock Footage badge for uncovering one of the many cost-cutting measures to be found in Masterson Of Kansas (1954), the best of William Castle’s Westerns for Sam Katzman’s unit at Columbia. Thanks, David.

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Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story and Screen Play by Bernard Gordon (as John T. Williams)*
Director of Photography: Henry Freulich, ASC
Music under the supervision of Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editor: Aaron Stell, ACE

CAST: Scott Brady (Billy The Kid), Betta St. John (Nita Maxwell), James Griffith (Pat Garrett), Alan Hale Jr. (Bob Ollinger), Paul Cavanagh (John H. Tunstall), William ‘Bill’ Phillips (Charley Bowdre), Benny Rubin (Arnold Dodge).

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capturfiles1The William Castle Blogathon devotes a few days of online pontification to one of my favorite filmmakers.

Castle was a huge part of my movie-geek childhood (one that I’m trying to pass on to my daughter). You’ll find other Castle posts here.

In 1954, Sam Katzman produced a series of Westerns about famous real-life outlaws and lawmen — Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (which was in 3D), The Law Vs. Billy The Kid and Masterson Of Kansas. All three were directed by William Castle, still a few years from finding his niche in gimmick-y horror movies aimed at kids, such as House On Haunted Hill (1958) and The Tingler (1959).

The Law Vs. Billy The Kid was written by Bernard Gordon, who’d written The Lawless Breed (1952), an excellent tale of John Wesley Hardin that Raoul Walsh directed for Universal-International, starring Rock Hudson and Julie Adams. A blacklisted screenwriter, Gordon was selling plastics when he was contacted by Charles Schneer, an assistant producer at Columbia who looking for a Western script. (Schneer would got on to produce Ray Harryheusen’s Dynamation films.)

Bernard Gordon: “I borrowed a synopsis from a friend, Philip Stevenson, another blacklisted writer who had written an unproduced play about Billy The Kid. This story was approved. I went to work writing the script and shared the minimum pay for the original story with Stevenson and another blacklisted writer, Bob Williams, who collaborated with me so I could continue to work selling plastics. My script was accepted… The success of this work started me, with many fits and starts, into a busy career as a blacklisted screenwriter.”

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The picture hits a few of the milestones of Billy The Kid’s life: his friendship with Pat Garrett, job with John Tunstall, involvement in the Lincoln County War, and his shooting by Pat Garrett. Those facts are as close as we get to actual biography. Here, the Kid (Scott Brady) is simply too old; Billy was only 21 when he was killed. There’s a cooked-up romantic subplot with Tunstall’s niece, played by Betta St. John. And as we’d see in Arthur Penn’s The Left-Handed Gun (1958), there’s an attempt to portray the Kid as a troubled young man forced into his life of crime.

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For a guy from Brooklyn, Scott Brady sure made a lot of Westerns, including his own TV series, Shotgun Slade (1959-61).  During the 50s, he worked with some of the genre’s best directors: Allan Dwan (The Restless Breed), Budd Boetticher (Bronco Buster), Joe Kane (The Maverick Queen) and Nicholas Ray (Johnny Guitar). There were also a couple Regalscope Westerns, Blood Arrow and Ambush At Cimarron Pass (both 1958).

As Pat Garrett, James Griffith walks away with the film — just as he’d do as Doc Holliday in Masterson Of Kansas (1954). By underplaying, he gives Garrett plenty of strength. His performance really elevates the film.

In his essential book Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare The Pants Off America, Castle didn’t devote much time to his  Katzman Westerns, though he had nothing but praise for Katzman as a showman. By this time, Castle was a solid contract director — and he certainly knew his way around Hollywood locations like Melody Ranch and Walker Ranch. He wrote of this period of his career, “I was now on another treadmill, turning out a full-length feature every month.” He was still four years away from his independent breakthrough with Macabre (1958).

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Castle keeps The Law Vs. Billy The Kid moving at a good clip and gets pretty good performances from his cast. His direction is efficient and assured, even if he was cranking out pictures like sausages. There are no frills, no 3D, no floating skeleton, no Coward’s Corner. It doesn’t need them. The Law Vs. Billy The Kid stands as another a good example of a middle-budget Columbia 50s Western. It was made fast and lean — remember, it was produced by Sam Katzman’s unit. But the pros, craftsmen and artists who made the film work wonders. One of these craftsmen would be Director of Photography Henry Freulich — who spent the bulk of his career at Columbia, shooting everything from Three Stooges shorts to The Durango Kid pictures to the Blondie movies to a slew of William Castle films. (He deserves a plaque here in the Roan house.) Freulich gives Castle’s Technicolor Westerns a bright, crisp look, and I really like the way he used the then-new 1.85 aspect ratio.

* In 1997, the Writers Guild of America restored Bernard’s credit for The Law Vs. Billy The Kid.

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When the Charles Bronson Regalscope Western Showdown At Boot Hill (1958) showed up on Blu-ray, it seemed too good to be true. For decades, it’s been impossible to see these things in their proper black-and-white ‘Scope glory — unless you came across a 16mm print or a bootleg tape made from one. (An adapted ‘Scope print of Escape From Red Rock sits nearby.) Designed to show off their 2.35 format, the Regalscopes are absolutely unwatchable when they’re pan-and-scan.

Now we can thank Olive Films for Clint Eastwood in Ambush At Cimarron Pass (1958), set for a September 24 release. Clint has called it the worst Western ever made, though I certainly wouldn’t go that far. Scott Brady is the star, along with Margia Dean and Eastwood as a young hothead. All the Regalscope pictures are cheap — this one isn’t able to rise above its budget in the way Stagecoach To Fury (1956) and The Quiet Gun (1957) do. Of course, an early Eastwood role will be the appeal for most folks.

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Also on the way is The Americano (1955), with Glenn Ford, Frank Lovejoy, Cesar Romero and Ursula Thiess. This troubled production was begun by Budd Boetticher in Brazil and finished some time later by William Castle (seen below with executive producer Sam Wiesenthal and Ursula Thiess).

Also on the way is John Wayne, Marie Windsor and Oliver Hardy in Republic’s The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) and Joseph H. Lewis’ The Big Combo (1955, not a Western, but terrific).

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William Castle is one of my favorite filmmakers. I grew up on his stuff — from The Whistler pictures to the horror films to, of course, the Sam Katzman Westerns. So I was happy to hear about the upcoming William Castle Blogathon, and even happier to be invited to play along.

I’ve chosen The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954), one of those Katzman Westerns Castle directed in the mid-50s. It stars Scott Brady as Billy, Betta St. John and James H. Griffith as Pat Garrett. (I’ve already written about Masterson Of Kansas.)

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