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Archive for the ‘William Elliott’ Category

Critics’ Choice has a new William Elliott set out that looks pretty promising, with three pictures from 1941. These Columbia B’s, with Elliott teamed with the great Dub Taylor as Cannonball, are pretty terrific.

Across The Sierras (1941)
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
Starring Bill Elliott, Richard Fiske, Luana Walters, Dub Taylor

An ex-con is looking revenge on the two men who sent him to prison. One of them is Wild Bill Hickok (William Elliott). 

Hands Across The Rockies (1941)
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Starring Bill Elliott, Mary Daily, Dub Taylor

Wild Bill Hickock and Cannonball (Dub Taylor) are after the man who killed Cannonball’s father.

The Return Of Daniel Boone (1941)
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Wild Bill Elliott, Betty Miles, Dub Taylor

A large-scale rancher is trying to scoop up all the little ranches in Pecos. His plans run into a snag, Daniel Boone’s grandson (Elliott).

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Directed by R. G. Springsteen
Written by Executive Producers Dorrell and Stuart McGowan
Director Of Photography: Jack Marta
Art Director: James Sullivan
Music by Dale Butts
Film Editor: Tony Martinelli
2nd Unit Director: Yakima Canutt
Special Effects: Howard and Theodore Lydecker

Cast: William Elliott (Zeb Smith), Marie Windsor (Doll Brown/Mary Carson), Forrest Tucker (Marshal Bucky McLean), Jim Davis (Gyp Stoner), H. B. Warner (Brother Joseph), Paul Fix (Dusty Stoner), Grant Withers (Sheriff Martin), Emory Parnell (Sheriff Duffy), Esther Howard (Birdie), Jody Gilbert (Full Moon), Louis Faust (Red Stoner), Harry Woods (Lew Stoner), Denver Pyle (Rex), Trevor Bardette (Wilson), Dewey Robinson (Bartender), Hank Worden

This is an entry in The Marie Windsor Blogathon, a celebration of the actress’s life and work.

I love  Hellfire (1949). I’ve seen it countless times, and it’s the main reason Marie Windsor is, and always has been, my favorite actress. Thought I should get all that out of the way before my extreme bias starts to show.

It goes like this. Zeb Smith, a card sharp (William Elliott), is caught cheating. He’s saved by Brother Joseph, a circuit preacher (H. B. Warner), who ends up catching a bullet for his good deed. Elliott tends to the dying old man, and learns that Joseph’s only regret is that he didn’t get the chance to build a church. Elliott promises to square things by building that church — even though he has to do it according to the Bible, not by simply racking up a wad of cash in a poker game.

Enter Doll Brown (Marie Windsor), a young woman with a price on her head for gunning down the abusive Lew Stoner (Harry Woods). Elliott figures her reward will cover Brother Joseph’s church, but when he finds her, things get complicated. You see, the rest of the Stoner boys want to give Doll a taste of frontier justice for gunning down their brother. Marshal Bucky McLean (Forrest Tucker), a friend of Zeb’s, is also on Doll’s trail. And Doll is really Mary Carson, and she’s looking for her long-lost sister Jane. Add to all that the fact that the recently, and reluctantly, converted Zeb has to do things according to the “rule book.”

“According to the rule book, I’m supposed to be
a peaceable man. Sometimes I kinda forget.”
— Zeb Smith (William Elliott)

While Hellfire looks like a typical minor-A Republic Western, with the distinctly weird Trucolor palette, and plays like most of Elliott’s “good badman” pictures, there are a number of things that set it apart.

First and foremost, there’s the spiritual angle, which takes the redemption theme found in so many Westerns to a new, more literal level. Hellfire goes far beyond the religious allegory we find in other Westerns. While Hellfire‘s theology sometimes seems at odds with the picture’s gunplay and violence, it’s heartfelt, it gives Elliott and Windsor nice character arcs to work with, and it’s quite moving toward the end (that’s Psalm 23, by the way). The pastel hues of Trucolor give the film a fable-like quality that perfectly complements the religious themes.

There’s a heavy dose of symbolism here, too. Fire is a common thread, from the titles to Elliott’s getaway after the card game (setting a stack of six-guns ablaze) to Elliott himself being burned along the way (one torture scene is hard to watch) to the name of the movie itself. Fire turns up in the Bible a lot, too, of course — both literally and conceptually. 

Another key differentiator is Marie Windsor. She’s perfect here, as Doll Brown, who’s riding the West looking for her sister. We easily believe she’d be capable of gunning a man down. Her softer side, Mary Carson, works, too. Windsor pulls it off beautifully, a part that could’ve been laughable in less capable hands.

William Elliott greets Marie Windsor on the first day of shooting.

The screenplay came from brothers Dorrell and Stuart McGowan. They’d written a handful of pictures for Republic — from Mountain Rhythm (1943) to Valley Of The Zombies (1946) to Don’t Fence Me In (1946). This time, they were listed as executive producers. Elliott was a producer as well; the film is credited as “An Elliott-McGowan Production.” One  of Republic’s ace house directors, R.G. Springsteen, was given the assignment.

Republic got a lot of press back in 1949 out of William Elliott’s attempts to get the name of his movie past the Johnson Office. “Hell” had not been in a movie title in 15 years.

Elliott also insisted on Marie Windsor. The studio wanted Adrian Booth, who they had under contract. Elliott had seen Windsor in a test and the recent Outpost In Morocco. When he heard she could ride, that sealed the deal. He worked with her on gun-twirling, and she did a lot of her own stunts.

Marie Windsor: “Republic was a cozier and smaller studio… I love Hellfire. I was so thrilled to get that well-written part of a female bandit, Doll Brown.” 

Republic sent a second unit to Sedona to shoot some riding scenes. The rest of it was shot at the Iverson Rancho and the Republic lot. The cast is made up of the usual Republic roster: Forrest Tucker, Jim Davis, Paul Fix, Grant Withers and Denver Pyle.

Marie Windsor: “Hellfire should have been a Western that would have changed my whole career. Studio owner Herbert Yates promised to spend a lot of money to sell the film. Mr. Yates suddenly got involved in trying to get the communists out of the industry. He made a film called The Red Menace (1949), which he spent a great deal of money to sell and did nothing for Hellfire.”

Yates’ lack of promotion for Hellfire prompted Elliott-McGowan Productions to sue the studio for not holding up its end of the bargain — and for not letting the producers look at the books.

Marie Windsor: “At his own expense, Bill set up an opening publicity tour in Salt Lake City for Hellfire.”

William Elliott made only one more film at Republic, again with the McGowans, Showdown (1950). Its religion them is subtler, and Trucolor is missing, but Marie Windsor is back. It’s certainly worth tracking down.

Believe it or not, Republic sometimes paired Hellfire with Brimstone, a Rod Cameron Western from the same year. One theater near Cincinnati got creative and had the Devil himself taking tickets. 

Elliott considered Hellfire his best film, and Marie Windsor always listed it as a personal favorite (along with The Narrow Margin and The Killing). 

Paramount currently owns the Republic Pictures library. They restored hundreds of these films, Hellfire included. And though the restoration played at the Museum Of Modern Art as part of a Republic retrospective, it hasn’t made its way to DVD or Blu-Ray. 

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A lot of people like all that streaming TV stuff. And when I see how much of my home is dedicated to storing my, my wife’s and my daughter’s favorite movies and TV shows, I wish I did.

But I learned a lesson about streaming. Several years ago, Hellfire (1949) — one of my all-time favorite movies — was available for streaming on Netflix. It was not on DVD or Blu-Ray. Streaming was it. I live in a fairly rural area, and the internet service at the time wasn’t up to snuff, so we never got a Netflix account. A few months later, I heard Hellfire wasn’t up there anymore. I’ve since learned it’s back.

When I feel like watching a favorite movie, I want to watch it — and if it’s sitting on a shelf in my home, I can. I’m not at the mercy of Netflix deciding what they will or won’t offer from one month to the next.

Today, I saw a news story that the Peanuts holiday specials won’t be on broadcast TV this year, something many families make a point of getting together for. The article, in the Los Angeles Times, said “The Peanuts gang and their annual holiday specials have left broadcast television for their new home, Apple TV+…  rather than on ABC and other networks this year.”

As much as I hate it for other folks, Apple TV+ can do what they want, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest are waiting for my family on Blu-Ray. Another lesson learned about streaming vs. DVDs and Blu-Rays.

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A while back, I asked for Want Lists of the 50s Westerns still lost on the high-def trail. Here they are, presented in chronological order. The titles in bold are the ones that were brought up most frequently.

With the recent news about Fox/Disney’s lack of interest in their back catalogs appearing on shiny silver circles, getting this finished and posted seemed very timely. Many of these, mind you, haven’t even turned up on DVD yet.

The Virginian (1946)
Albuquerque (1948)
Coroner Creek (1948)
Whispering Smith (1948)
3 Godfathers (1949)
Colorado Territory (1949)

Hellfire (1949)
Streets Of Laredo (1949)
Ambush (1950)
Branded (1950)
Devil’s Doorway (1950)
The Nevadan (1950)
Saddle Tramp (1950)
Short Grass (1950)
Showdown (1950)

Trail Of Robin Hood (1950)
Across The Wide Missouri (1951)
Along The Great Divide (1951)
Apache Drums (1951)
Best Of The Badmen (1951)
The Great Missouri Raid (1951)
Inside Straight (1951)
Man In The Saddle (1951)
Red Mountain (1951)
The Redhead And The Cowboy (1951)
The Secret Of Convict Lake (1951)
The Texas Rangers (1951)
Westward The Women (1951)

Vengeance Valley (1951)
Warpath (1951)
The Big Sky (1952)
Bugles In The Afternoon (1952)

Hangman’s Knot (1952)
The Lawless Breed (1952)
The Lusty Men (1952)
The Naked Spur (1952)
Ride The Man Down (1952)
The Savage (1952)
The Story Of Will Rogers (1952)
Untamed Frontier (1952)
Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953)
Charge At Feather River (1953)
City Of Bad Men (1953)
Devil’s Canyon {1953)
Escape From Fort Bravo (1953)
The Great Sioux Uprising (1953)
Jack McCall, Desperado (1953)
Last Of The Comanches (1953)
The Last Posse (1953)
The Silver Whip (1953)
The Stranger Wore A Gun (1953)
Wings Of The Hawk (1953)

Tumbleweed (1953)
Apache (1954)
The Bounty Hunter (1954)
Cattle Queen Of Montana (1954)
The Command (1954)
Dawn At Socorro (1954)
The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954)
The Outcast (1954)
Ride Clear Of Diablo (1954)
Silver Lode (1954)
Wyoming Renegades (1954)
The Yellow Tomahawk (1954)
At Gunpoint (1955)
Chief Crazy Horse (1955)
The Last Frontier (1955)
The Man From Bitter Ridge (1955)
Shotgun (1955)
Smoke Signal (1955)
Tennessee’s Partner (1955)
The Violent Men (1955)
Wichita (1955)
Backlash (1956)

Dakota Incident (1956)
Fastest Gun Alive (1956)
Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956)
Great Day In The Morning (1956)
The Last Wagon (1956)
The Lone Ranger (1956)
The Maverick Queen (1956)
Reprisal! (1956)
Seven Men From Now (1956)
Stagecoach To Fury (1956)
Tribute To A Bad Man (1956)
Copper Sky (1957)
Domino Kid (1957)

Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)
Hell Canyon Outlaws (1957)
From Hell To Texas (1958)
Frontier Gun (1958)
The Lone Ranger And The Lost City Of Gold (1958)
Face Of A Fugitive (1959)
Last Train From Gun Hill (1959)
No Name On The Bullet (1959)
Thunder In The Sun (1959)
Yellowstone Kelly (1959)
The Alamo (1960)
Hell Bent For Leather (1960)
Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
Firecreek (1968)
Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973)

As this was being compiled, a few titles actually made their way to Blu-Ray, one of them being the exquisite new Wagon Master (1950) from Warner Archive.

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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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Peggy Stewart
(June 5, 1922 – May 29, 2019)

Heard this morning that Peggy Stewart — who’ll find in everything from Son Of Zorro (1947), a Republic serial, to pictures with Roger, Autry and Elliott to an episode of Seinfeld — has passed away at almost 97.

Peggy was great in all those Westerns (I’m particularly fond of the ones she did with William Elliott), and as anybody who ever spoke with her at a Western convention or something will tell you, she was a really nice lady.

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Directed by Budd Boetticher
Written by Burt Kennedy
Starring Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed, John Larch

Here in Raleigh, NC, we have something called The Western Film Preservation Society. They get together once a month for a couple of Western films and a chapter of a serial. Tomorrow (Thursday), it’s Budd Boetticher’s Seven Men From Now (1956). I don’t need to tell you what a cool thing that is.

Thursday, May 17, 6:45 PM
The McKimmon Center, NCSU Campus

The second feature is Phantom Of The Plains (1945) Starring Bill Elliott, Bobby Blake, Alice Fleming and Ian Keith. It was directed by the great Lesley Selander.

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Directed by Dick Ross
Screenplay by Curtis Kenyon

Cast: William Talman (Matt/Mark Bonham), James Craig (Brick Justin), Kristine Miller (Kathryn Bonham), Darryl Hickman (Toby Bonham), Georgia Lee (Cora Nicklin), Alvy Moore (Willy Williams), Gregory Walcott (Jim Cleary), John Milford (Clint)

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With the passing of Reverend Billy Graham this week, I was reminded of The Persuader (1957), a Western from World Wide Pictures, part of Billy Graham’s ministry. It’s a picture I heard about very early in my plummet into the bottomless pit of 50s Westerns, and it wasn’t easy (or cheap) to track down an old VHS copy.

What turned up in my mailbox was an interesting, low-budget picture (distributed by Allied Artists) with a good cast. William Talman plays twin brothers, one a homesteader, the other a minister. When the farmer Talman’s gunned down by the usual evil cattle baron’s gang, the preacher Talman is left to make things right.

From the opening: “Into this violent land came one Mathew Bonham, a fighting preacher man. He walked tall with a bible in one hand, and the Law in the other. He was quick on the draw with the Good Book. And his word had more power than a Colt 45!”

It’s an earnest movie, and Talman’s really good in it. (Remember him in Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker?) And while it’s certainly a religious movie, The Persuader works as a Western, too. It’s no Hellfire (1949), of course, but what is?

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Here are, left to right, Foy Willing, Roy Rogers, Penny Edwards and Gordon Jones getting ready for some turkey in William Witney’s Trail Of Robin Hood (1950). I know it’s a Christmas movie, but I went for the turkey thing.

Anyway, here’s wishing you all a safe, happy, food-filled Thanksgiving. And I hope you can get away from the parades, dog shows, football, traffic and sales long enough to watch something like, say, Waco (1952) with Bill Elliott, one I’ve been meaning to revisit.

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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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