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Archive for the ‘William Elliott’ Category

Abile Town signed still

First, thanks to everyone who sent in their picks — we had a larger turnout this year. Your responses were very thorough, and they made it clear to me what a good year this was for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-ray — you brought up tons of em. Here are the Top 10, ordered by the number of votes they received.

Abilene Town (1946, Blu-ray, Panamint Cinema)
This one topped the list in a big way. I was so stoked to see this fairly obscure Randolph Scott picture rescued from the PD purgatory where it’s been rotting for years — a lot of you seemed to feel the same. Mastered from 35mm fine-grain material, it’s stunning.

Shane (1953, Blu-ray, Eureka)
The Blu-ray release from Paramount made last year’s list, and this UK release was a strong contender this time around. Eureka gives us the opportunity to see what Paramount’s controversial 1.66 cropping looked like.

The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection (1951-54, DVD set, Warner Archive)
I’m pretty biased when it comes to this one, and I was happy to learn that others were as pleased with it as I was. One of the greatest Western stars goes out on a high note, even if it is a low-budget one.

The Quiet Gun (1956, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It’s hard to believe this was a 2015 release, since it was on Olive Films’ coming-soon list for such a long time. These Regalscope movies look great in their original aspect ratio, and for my money, this is the best of the bunch.

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Woman They Almost Lynched (1953, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It makes me feel good to see Allan Dwan get some attention, and stellar presentations of his work, like this one, should continue to fuel his (re-)discovery.

Man With The Gun (1955, Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)
A solid Robert Mitchum Western, with the added punch of a terrific 1.85 hi-def transfer. This is a lot better movie than you probably remember it being.

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Run Of The Arrow (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
This really knocked me out — I’d somehow missed out on what a great movie this is. It took me a while to get used to Rod Steiger and his affected accent, but this is prime Sam Fuller.

The Hired Gun (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
Black and white CinemaScope is a big attraction for me, so I’d been waiting for this one for years. It was worth the wait.

Stranger At My Door (1954, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
A really cool little movie from Republic and William Witney. It was Witney’s favorite of his own pictures, and it’s pretty easy to see why he’d be partial to it. His work here is masterful.

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Star In The Dust (1956, Blu-ray, Koch)
Koch out of Germany is treating us (or those of us with a Region B player) to some great Universal 50s Westerns on Blu-ray. This one was released in Universal’s 2.0 ratio of the period. Some found it a bit tight, but it’s a gorgeous presentation of a movie not enough people have seen.

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The Allied Artists Blogathon is coming, January 29-31, 2016.

Some terrific DVD releases, typically from Warner Archive, have (re-)introduced us to many of the studio’s pictures lately. From Bill Elliott’s last films to some cool crime pictures, we’ve been coming across some good stuff, and this seems like a good excuse to write about some of ’em.

Here’s what you do:
• Pick an Allied Artists-related topic: the possibilities are almost endless. (Later-period Monogram stuff is OK, as is the later stuff like The Wild Geese.)
• Let me know you want to ride along (email fiftieswesterns@gmail.com), what subject you want to cover and when you plan to post it. Your posts can be in any form, of any length, and on any topic as long as it relates to Allied Artists, but I’d like to manage things a bit to make sure we don’t end up with 14 people writing about the same thing.
• Post your piece on the scheduled day, using the official blogathon banner and link (to come).
• Send me the link so I can post it on the master list.

Thanks to Jerry Entract for planting the seed for this thing. And to the fine folks at Warner Archive for bringing is these movies in such stunning condition.

This should be a lot of fun.

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Directed by Thomas Carr
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Dan Ullman
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Marshal Sam Nelson), Virginia Grey (Stella Walker), Henry Morgan (Alf Billings), John Doucette (Ernie Walker), Lane Bradford (William Norris), Stanford Jolley (Everett)

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Released in May 1954, The Forty-Niners (1954) was William Elliott’s last Western. He’d finish out his career with a cool series of detective films (which many of us around here like a lot), but cowboy-wise, this was the end of the trail. It’s the last picture in the Warner Archive set The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection.

Elliott is Marshall Sam Nelson, tracking down the murderers of a marshall in gold-crazy California. He strikes up an alliance with Alf Billings (Harry Morgan), a card sharp who may know the names of the killers. They wind up in Cold Water, where they run afoul of Sheriff Lane Bradford and saloon owner John Doucette. Nelson develops a bit of respect for Billings, who he suspects isn’t all bad. I’m oversimplifying things to avoid spoilers.

Dan Ullman’s script offers up twists and turns that we don’t see coming, even though we’ve seen a million of these things. It gives Henry Morgan a good part (he’d already appeared with Elliott in Republic’s The Showdown in 1950), which of course he’s excellent in. Morgan might have more screen time than Elliott does. Virginia Grey plays Morgan’s old flame who’s now married to Doucette. And to top it all off, Elliott narrates the picture Dragnet-style.

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By the time The Forty-Niners began shooting at the Iverson Ranch and Corriganville, Monogram was called Allied Artists and the industry standard for projection was 1.85. So, thanks to the folks at Warner Archive, we’re treated to a widescreen William Elliott picture. The previous entry in the series, Bitter Creek (1954), was also 1.85 — it’s not included in this set. These films were done very cheaply, and no transfer can ever make up for that. But it was shot by a real pro, Ernest Miller, and the widescreen framing gives it a fresh look.

I can’t say enough about these films, or about how excited I am that they’ve made their way to DVD in such supreme condition. Highly recommended.

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Directed by Lewis Collins
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Story and Screenplay by Dan Ullman
Cinematography: Ernest Miller

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Joe Daniels), Peggy Stewart (Kay Collins), House Peters, Jr. (Ralph Carruthers), Lane Bradford (Fred Jethro), Stan Jolley (Slater), Fuzzy Knight (Cap), John Hart, Lyle Talbot

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The last couple years, we’ve compiled lists of our favorite 50s Western DVD releases for that year, which I post on this blog. Well, I’m gonna go ahead and reveal my pick for the best DVD release of 2015 — Warner Archive’s Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection.

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After The Showdown (1950), William Elliott and Republic Pictures parted ways. It wasn’t long before Elliott entered into a deal with Monogram Pictures to make some low-budget Westerns. In the end, there were 11 of them — with Monogram becoming Allied Artists midstream.

They’re a bit darker and more “adult” than your typical B Western. While the budget limitations are obvious, Elliott’s as reliable as ever — and he’s got some top-notch support from folks like Harry Morgan, Peggy Stewart, Myron Healey, Phyllis Coates, Denver Pyle, Beverly Garland, John Doucette and Fuzzy Knight. I love these little movies.

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Kansas Territory (1952) is one of the better ones. Elliott journeys to Kansas, even though he’s wanted there on an old Civil War charge, to find out who killed his brother. Along the way, he learns his sibling went bad and probably deserved what he got. That, of course, doesn’t stop Wild Bill from tracking down the killer.

Elliott’s determination to get his revenge puts a hard edge on his usual “peaceable man” image. We know he’s a good man, but he’s got some dirty business to tend to — and it’s become an obsession. Dan Ullman’s scripts for these pictures (and for the Elliott detective films that followed) are very tight, and he manages to find something a little different to toss at a familiar plot point.

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Shot at the Iverson Ranch by ace cinematographer Ernest Miller, under the working title Vengeance Trail, Kansas Territory looks great. 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. This set is terrific, giving you eight of the 11 pictures on three DVDs. For me, it’s hard to avoid watching them all in a hard-riding, popcorn-munching binge. A must.

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After a stint at Republic Pictures that resulted in some terrific Westerns (including a personal favorite, 1949’s Hellfire), William Elliott made his way to Monogram. By the time the series was over, Monogram had become Allied Artists and 1.85 had become the standard aspect ratio for American cinema. And the B Western was dead. These 11 pictures made sure it went out on a high note.

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Warner Archive has gathered eight of these films for a three-disc set — The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection.

The Longhorn (1951)
Waco (1952)
Kansas Territory (1952)
The Maverick (1952)
Rebel City (1953)
Topeka (1953)
Vigilante Terror (1953)
The Forty-Niners (1954, widescreen)

Following these rather adult B Westerns, Elliott would make a dynamite series of detective pictures (again for Allied Artists) then go into retirement. Cancer would take him in 1964.

For me, this is the DVD release of the year. It’s due October 13. Between this set and the double feature that’s already out, you’ll have everything but Bitter Creek (1954), which WA promises for a later release. Essential stuff.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Screenplay by Lawrence Hazard and Horace McCoy
Original Story by Hal Long
Cinematography: Reggie Lanning
Art Direction: James Sullivan
Set Decoration: John McCarthy Jr. and George Milo
Costumes: Adele Palmer
Music: Anthony Collins
Film Editor: Richard Van Enger

Cast: William Elliott (Jim McWade), John Carroll (Wesley Baker), Catherine McLeod (Alice Sharp), Albert Dekker (Gibson Hart), Andy Devine (Elihu Mills), Patricia Knight (Josie Allen), Ruth Donnelly (Utopia Mills), Harry Davenport (Rev. Baker), Reed Hadley (Jessup), Russell Simpson (Wade Clayton), Jim Davis (Sam Bass), Frank Ferguson (Andy Renfro)

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This is an entry in The Republic Pictures Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s incredible talent roster, wonderful output and lasting legacy.

Republic blogathon badgeIn retrospect, it is no accident that in 1946 Western series star Wild Bill Elliott was elevated to films Republic treated as their version of “A” Westerns. It was in that year that the genre rapidly attained the maturity that would fully flower in the 1950s. The end of World War II is always a key point in considering this—and indeed it resonates even within the subject of a movie like The Fabulous Texan—as the aftermath of so profound an experience was bound to deepen consideration of so many things, especially life and death conflict, and also the ebb and flow of personal relationships within a changing world, that Westerns had always enjoyed as subjects.

In any event, from 1946 to 1950, Elliott starred in 10 films as William Elliott, before leaving Republic and going back to his “Wild Bill” identity for more series Westerns at Allied Artists, then finishing outside the genre. These 10 movies show a poised, impressively real actor attuned to their serious subjects and though they are mostly hard to see now, it’s hoped that in time they will be better known as they deserve to be. Most of them were directed by Republic mainstay Joseph Kane, a director deeply attuned to the Republic aesthetic and to Westerns (though his films outside the genre are good too) and with a strong individuality as well—he was one of the main sustaining forces at the studio until the end. But after Kane initiated this series of Elliott Westerns, three of the ones that followed were directed by others, including the especially well-regarded Hellfire (1949, R. G. Springsteen) and The Showdown (1950; Dorrell and Stuart McGowan, who had written Hellfire). The other one is The Fabulous Texan, directed by Edward Ludwig, whose presence here is crucial to its character and about whom I will have more to say.

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The screenplay, by Lawrence Hazard and Horace McCoy (from a story by Hal Long) is already excellent. It beautifully follows two interwoven threads. The first is historically based, though no doubt treated with great artistic license—after the Civil War, the Texas State Police impose a cruel martial law on Texans, especially returning Confederate veterans and their families. This is a common theme in the Western throughout its great postwar years, and always the defeated are treated with the most sympathy. The present film is no exception; whatever the political realities, the main villain, Gibson Hart (Albert Dekker), uses the Texas State Police as a vehicle for his own ambition; the film invests little in him in the way of nuance, and proficiently played by Dekker in a way familiar for him, he is not one of the movie’s strengths. It is in the second thread that the movie comes fully alive, a romantic triangle involving two friends, Jim McWade (William Elliott) and Wesley Baker (John Carroll) and the woman they both love, Alice Sharp (Catherine McLeod). Jim and Wes are Confederate veterans returning home at the beginning, hoping for peace—Wes and Alice have unwisely stilled their mutual love for each other for Jim’s sake, and Jim expects to marry her. It may sound like it makes no sense for Wes and Alice to let things happen as they did, but in the telling of the story it’s all too sadly believable, and one spends most of the film watching three sympathetic people as the situation slowly evolves and the truths for each character gradually come out for them all to know. Meantime, circumstances make Wes an outlaw—he avenges the death of his father (Harry Davenport), a preacher who spoke truth to power, by killing the officer of the State Police responsible (Reed Hadley) in a compelling and beautifully staged gunfight.

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The place of Jim in the ensuing action is interesting, as he rides with Wes some of that time, but only against tyranny and the State Police. Unfortunately, there is a fine line for an outlaw and Wes, goaded by the darker Sam Bass (Jim Davis), finally crosses it, with tragic results. Through all this, Jim and Wes take turns protecting each other all the way through a beautiful climax, a nocturnal shootout in a misty spring that settles all accounts. Meantime, Alice evolves no less as an active character, her fate linked to theirs by her own design. And that’s followed through at the end by a coda that picks her up many years later as an elderly woman—it’s both rueful and ironic, and if not emotionally satisfying is perhaps consistent for these characters and seals the link between the relationships and the broader historical story.

The central triangle is beautifully played by all three leads, especially John Carroll, arguably the standout as Wes though partly it’s because he is the most interesting character among three who are all interesting. Handsome and relaxed in his roles while able to emote with some effectiveness, Carroll had a fairly good career, much of it as a lead or second lead at Republic, without seeming to ever draw much positive attention. He may deserve better. One thinks of his modest late career triumph in Decision At Sundown (1957, directed by Budd Boetticher) in which his character Tate Kimbrough, who initially seems a simple villain, pulls himself together enough to face his adversary (Randolph Scott) on his own and gains in moral stature in the process—as a man, he turns out to be a little better than we thought he was, and I think that describes Carroll as an actor. In The Fabulous Texan, there is a scene late in the film between Wes and Alice in which he winds up finally expressing all of his love for her. Done in two simple shots as he stands between her and his horse while getting ready to ride out, he contemplates the way his life has gone, how much of it he is responsible for and how much he came into it through circumstances of the time. In the first shot, straight on to the characters, he wrestles with this and it’s played beautifully as Carroll, very natural and not at all showy, evokes a lot of complex feeling without a lot of heavy drama. The following shot is the closer, more dramatic one as he faces away from Alice over his horse and she is behind him—and here, his desire for her is expressed and Carroll carefully allows more intensity to accompany the more dramatic visual moment.

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Westerns, especially Republic ones, too rarely get the credit they deserve for these moments of truth, though it seems everyone involved works hard for them. Considering the art of The Fabulous Texan, it’s really evident early in the film, even from the beginning—it’s truly poetic to see Jim and Wes riding home from the war, distant figures on a low horizon under a quiet sky of still white clouds. The image so perfectly evokes the desire of the men for a peace they are not going to know, and yet we don’t even know them yet. It is a feeling, an ambiance. By contrast, when Wes returns home with his cousins later to find his father has been murdered, Ludwig executes a powerful forward tracking shot in which the gravity of Wes’ internal change as he realizes what has happened is brilliantly underscored by interlocked movement of the men and the camera.

Plainly, with so much here realized with the greatest possible effectiveness, there is a real creativity on the part of director Ludwig (not to mention one of Republic’s best cinematographers Reggie Lanning), even if efficient telling of the story is as always the main goal. Ludwig’s career, although his body of work is uneven, bears out that he was as gifted as he seems in his best films. The Russian-born director was around in Hollywood since silent days (at least to direct shorts) and gradually found his way to features but without ever having one good studio contract and a place that would nurture him—in that, he’s like many other talented directors in American cinema who moved from job to job and would do best when material and conditions stimulated them. This may have led to other good films–The Gun Hawk (1963), about a gunfighter slowly dying of a mortal wound (and made in a troubled time for American Westerns when few were being produced), is one of the finer and more haunting last films of any director. But based on his three 40s movies for Republic, beginning with The Fighting Seabees (1944) and soon continuing with The Fabulous Texan and in 1948 the awesome Wake Of The Red Witch, one wishes he had made his career at the studio. It’s especially so because of Red Witch—one of the supreme Republic adventures which merges one of its exotic dreamscapes with storytelling that movingly carries the studio’s virtues into an unexpected realm of dark romanticism (Lanning again brought his mastery of black and white to the cinematography); it might even have been surprising then, though it shouldn’t be now that we are starting to fully appreciate Republic as it deserves to be.

Ludwig returned to the studio once in the 50s for Flame Of The Islands (1956), another demented melodrama though not in a way that lifts it to what those others were. It’s interesting though, that it again finds the heroine between several men (more than two in that case), something that in his three 40s Republics seemed to stimulate Ludwig, especially as none of them falls neatly in the way two of the characters in the triangle become a couple. Ludwig seems, from a dramatic point of view, to embrace the unhappiness that can reign, or at least be implied, when rightful lovers do not in the end find their way to each other, and comfortable for sympathetic main characters to die as well.

That’s one more interesting aspect of The Fabulous Texan, of which there is surely much more to say. A beautiful movie and a heartfelt one, a strong story with plenty of action but one glad to take time to observe nuance in sympathetic characters, it is one of the outstanding Westerns of the late 40s. It’s also a worthy film to consider the qualities of Republic—one feels that the studio’s willingness to simply tell its stories, unpretentiously and prosaically, may have been, in the end, the way to find and fully create the deeper poetry of its cinematic world.

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Many thanks to Laura Grieve and John Knight for providing me with a copy of the movie to see.

Blake Lucas is a writer and film critic living in Los Angeles.

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Republic studios yellow

Welcome to The Republic Pictures Blogathon. Over the weekend, we’ll be celebrating the studio’s incredible talent roster, wonderful output and lasting legacy. This page will serve as its hub, and you’ll be able to reach all the posts here. Keep checking back.

One of my earliest movie memories, maybe the earliest, is of a 16mm print of John Ford’s Rio Grande (1950). So Republic has always been a huge part of my movie world.

It was formed by combining a number of the Poverty Row studios, and the goal of its head, Herbert J. Yates, was always commerce over art. So in a way, it’s surprising their films displayed the level of craftsmanship that they did. That craft may be what, in the end, sets them apart. After all, there were lots and lots of B Westerns and serials out there. But there’s a polish to a Republic picture — from the camerawork to the editing to those wonderful special effects to the performances to the stunts, that’s very special. It’s easy to see why their films are still so popular. If only they were readily available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Over the next few days, we have plenty to celebrate. The cowboy movies. The serials. The crime pictures. And on and on. Some great movie bloggers have saddled up or strapped on their rocket suit to be a part of this whole deal — and I really appreciate their efforts. This should be fun, folks!

Click on the images below to be linked to the appropriate blog.

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Day Three.

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Angel And The Badman (1947) – The Round Place In The Middle

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Ride The Man Down (1952) – 50 Westerns From The 50s

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City That Never Sleeps (1953) – Speakeasy

 

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Radar Men From The Moon (1952) – The Hannibal 8

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Day Two.

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The Fabulous Texan (1947) – Blake Lucas at 50 Westerns From The 50s

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Hoodlum Empire (1952) – Jerry Entract at The Hannibal 8

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Jubilee Trail (1954) – Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings

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Rock Island Trail (1950) and California Passage (1950) – The Horn Section

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Day One.

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The Outcast (1954) – Jerry Entract at 50 Westerns From The 50s

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Blackmail (1947) – John Knight at The Hannibal 8

Angel And The Badman (1947) – Thoughts All Sorts

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The Red Pony (1949) – Caftan Woman

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Dakota Incident (1956) – Riding The High Country

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