Archive for the ‘William Witney’ Category

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.


Day Three.


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


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


City That Never Sleeps (1953) – Speakeasy


Radar Men LC Ch4

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


Day Two.

Fabulous Texan OS

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

Hoodlum Empire TC

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


Jubilee Trail (1954) – Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings


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


Day One.


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


Blackmail (1947) – John Knight at The Hannibal 8

Angel And The Badman (1947) – Thoughts All Sorts

Red Pony 6S

The Red Pony (1949) – Caftan Woman

Dakota_Incident TC

Dakota Incident (1956) – Riding The High Country

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Directed by William Witney
Screen Play by John K. Butler & Richard Wormster
Based upon an Esquire magazine story by Todhunter Ballard
Music: R. Dale Butts

Cast: John Derek (Jeff Cosgrave), Joan Evans (Judy Polsen), Jim Davis (Major Linton Cosgrave), Catherine McLeod (Alice Austin), Ben Cooper (The Kid), Slim Pickens (Boone Polsen), Bob Steele (Dude Rankin), Harry Carey, Jr. (Bert), Frank Ferguson (Chad Polsen), James Millican (Cal Prince)


Republic blogathon badgeI am delighted to be able to take part in a The Republic Pictures Blogathon and would like to thank our host, Toby, for making it possible.

Having been formed from a merger of several small film companies in 1935, Republic Pictures hit the ground running, immediately scoring huge success with their Gene Autry Western series. They followed this success with The Three Mesquiteers the next year and into the 40s with popular series heroes Don Barry, Wild Bill Elliott, Rocky Lane and, especially, Roy Rogers.

Right from the start, Republic was making a cross-section of film types even though their specialty was the Western. I often feel that Republic was at its very best with their B-Western series – their ‘comfort zone’, if you like. Some of their later, bigger-budgeted Westerns seem a little ’overblown’ by comparison with the smaller, tighter-budgeted action fests. Jubilee Trail comes to mind. This was certainly not always the case, however, and one film that I certainly feel has the spirit and the energy of their smaller fry is 1954’s The Outcast.

The fact that the film was directed by action-ace Wild Bill Witney would have had a lot to do with it certainly. The action is captured beautifully in Republic’s Trucolor hues by expert cinematographer Reggie Lanning. The screenplay was co-written by John K. Butler and Richard Wormser from an Esquire Magazine story by Todhunter Ballard. The story concerns the return to Colorado of Jet Cosgrave (John Derek) after years away with the strong intent of reclaiming his rightful heritage, the vast Circle C Ranch, from his uncle Major Cosgrave (Jim Davis) who had forged Jet’s father’s will to gain control.

Into this main thread we find the arrival of the Major’s new intended (played by Catherine McLeod) whose affections gradually turn away from the Major when she sees how vicious and crooked he really is, towards Jet. There is another woman on the scene though who has set her sights firmly on Jet! Essentially this is a ‘range war’ western (I like those) and whilst you can always say ‘this plot is familiar’ where westerns are concerned, it is really all about how that plot plays out and how well it is dealt with.


For me, this is a Western I am always happy to re-watch every few years as it just ‘ticks all the boxes’ for me. The storyline and the attendant action are not contrived but natural and the action which is plentiful is expertly-handled by Witney. The supporting cast reads like a “Who’s Who” of the western – Bob Steele, Harry Carey jr, James Millican, Ben Cooper, Frank Ferguson, Hank Worden… I am again struck by how good John Derek is in the leading role. He made a number of good Westerns for different studios and it struck me that he would have been a terrific Western lead for one studio, along the lines of Audie Murphy (and just as good). Good actor and he handles the gunplay and horseback stuff like a real seasoned westerner.


The Outcast is sadly one of those many fine Republic films that are not available on DVD in the US market. The only option is an Italian release that is on sale on Amazon UK for around $200! Thankfully, the BBC transmitted the movie some years ago in the UK and I recorded it. The print is fine and the Trucolor comes across OK. This is one of those films we need to see released by someone who cares.

If a solid, well-made western made by folks who knew how to do it is your thing then this one is worth seeking out (if you can).


Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry, but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.

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Quiet Gun TC cropped

Directed by William Claxton
Starring Forrest Tucker, Mara Corday, Jim Davis, Kathleen Crowley, Lee Van Cleef, Hank Worden

They say good things come to those who wait. Well, The Quiet Gun (1956) is a very good movie — maybe the best of the Regalscope Westerns. And we’ve been (almost patiently) waiting quite some time since Olive Films hinted at its release. This is one many of us have been longing for in all its widescreen glory, and it’ll be a joy to toss the almost unwatchable pan-and-scan bootleg I’ve had for years. It’s coming on both DVD and Blu-ray March 31.

What’s more, Republic’s Stranger At My Door (1956) from William Witney is part of the same batch of releases. It’s an excellent picture starring Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina and Skip Homeier.

Thanks to John and Laura for this wonderful news. I can’t wait.

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They say today marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Here’s Roy Rogers and Trigger in Trail Of Robin Hood (1950), making sure every kid gets a tree.

Around my house, this wonderful, charming 67 minutes is a holiday tradition. It goes well with egg nog, cookies and, of course, popcorn and Raisinets (not to mention one of Sir Galahad’s relatives).

There’s absolutely no way I can recommend this movie enough. And I’d like to say hello to Sis McGonigle herself, Carol Nugent.

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Hellfire TC

So far, the great cinematographer Jack A. Marta has hardly been mentioned here. I’m ashamed and with today’s Wild Bill Wednesday, I’m taking care of it. So many outstanding movies. What Price Glory (1926). The Night Riders (1939). Dark Command (1940). Flying Tigers (1942). Hellfire (1949). Trigger, Jr. (1950). Spoilers Of The Plains (1951). The Last Command (1955). The Bonnie Parker Story (1958). Cat Ballou (1965). Duel (1971).

On that last one, Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough TV movie Duel, Marta’s experience shooting outdoors in the desert helped get the thing completed on its 10-day schedule.

Steven Spielberg (from the excellent book Steven Spielberg And Duel: The Making Of A Film Career): “Jack was a sweetheart. He was just a kind, gentle soul who you know had never worked that fast in his entire career; none of us had, and yet there was nothing he didn’t do or couldn’t do, and he really enjoyed himself.”

No offense to Mr. Spielberg, but I have a feeling Duel‘s 10-day shoot, though exhausting, was probably nothing new for Marta, who’d done beautiful work on Republic’s tight schedules, in both black and white and Trucolor, and worked on plenty of television shows like Route 66 and Batman.

When Elliott co-produced Hellfire (below) for Republic release, a film he saw as a very special project (and considered his best film), Jack Marta was the director of photography. Was he randomly assigned the job by Republic, or did Elliott request him after working together on The Gallant Legion (1948) and the Trucolor The Last Bandit (1949)? (I’m getting pretty good at finding new ways to sneak Hellfire into this blog.)

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Trail of RH in Statesville NC 2

xmasmovieThis is my contribution to The Christmas Movie Blogathon. The post is an expansion of a previous piece I’ve been wanting to revisit. This blogathon gave me the chance. The old post has been largely removed, but I left something there to preserve the comments.

Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ work. Some are folks who pass through here every so often. I’m particularly looking forward to the post on The Bishop’s Wife (1947), a personal favorite, and Ivan’s thoughts on The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), a very funny Bob Hope picture.


Directed by William Witney
Associate Producer: Edward J. White
Written by Gerald Geraghty
Music: Nathan Scott
Director of Photography: John MacBurnie
Film Editor: Tony Martinelli
Special Effects: Howard and Theodore Lydecker

CAST: Roy Rogers, Trigger, Penny Edwards (Toby Aldridge), Gordon Jones (Splinters McGonigle), Rex Allen, Allan “Rocky”Lane, Monte Hale, William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Ray Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, Tom Keene, Jack Holt, Emory Parnell (J. Corwin Aldridge), Clifton Young (Mitch McCall), James Magill (Murtagh), Carol Nugent (Sis McGonigle), George Chesebro, Edward Cassidy (Sheriff Duffy).


By the late 40s, the Roy Rogers pictures had become relatively elaborate musicals, reducing the action to make room for production numbers — complete with pretty girls and orchestras — and with Roy’s outfits looking more chorus than corral. The story goes that the head of Republic, Herbert J. Yates, had been wowed and inspired by seeing Oklahoma on Broadway. John Wayne said of Yates, “He was a nice enough guy but he had no taste.”

Of course, glitz, glamour and music rights come with a pretty hefty price tag, especially compared to two guys in western wear punching each other in the face. So with the smaller budgets came fewer songs — and more action. Good thing Roy’s director at the time was William Witney.

Witney fan Quentin Tarantino describes it like this: “After their first few movies together, Witney had gotten Roy out of his fringe-and-sparkle attire and was dressing him in normal attire, blue jeans and stuff. They stopped being these crazy musicals. He turned them into rough, tough violent adventures.”

Such was the state of the Roy Rogers Movie when Trail Of Robin Hood (1950) went into production. It’s in Trucolor, Roy’s traded his Nudie suits for plaid shirts, and the action comes fast and furious. Oh, and in spite of its title, it’s a Christmas movie.

TORH Roy Jack H sized

Here, Roy works for the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and comes to the aid of cowboy star Jack Holt, who’s retired and growing Christmas trees — which he intends to sell at cost, so every kid can have one. A large Christmas tree conglomerate doesn’t like Holt’s business model and takes to stealing Holt’s trees, sabotaging his operation and threatening his workers. Naturally, Roy, Trigger and Bullet will have none of this.

I don’t want to give too much away. Just know that the whole thing is actually goofier than it sounds — and that it’s full of fights, chases, fires and other mayhem. Along the way, Roy and the Riders Of The Purple Sage sing a couple Christmas songs (“Ev’ry Day Is Christmas Day In the West” is very good), there’s a young girl (Carol Nugent) with a pet turkey named Sir Galahad, and a number of Republic cowboy stars turn up to help save Holt’s farm. On hand are Allan ‘Rocky’ Lane, Monte Hale, William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Ray Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, Tom Keene, Rex Allen and George Chesebro.

Trail of Robin Hood LC

Roy’s daughter Cheryl Rogers-Barnett, who has a small part in Trail Of Robin Hood, points out, “They used that formula of putting all their cowboys into one as sort of a promo for the other cowboys. Rex Allen was not a big name yet, and it was a way of promoting him.”

With Trail Of Robin Hood and the other late-period Rogers films (his last Republic picture came out in 1951), William Witney did more than just cut the music and stir in more violence — he turned up the pacing. He creates excitement, builds suspense and sets the pace through skillful editing. And the story is told visually whenever possible. The comedy (from Gordon Jones this time) and songs don’t get in the way or slow things down.

But maybe most important, Witney keeps things simple. There’s not an ounce of fat in the picture’s 67 minutes, and camera movement is always purposeful, never flashy. As Tarantino explains, “These guys were storytellers. They knew how to move the camera to convey information so they didn’t have to shoot another dialogue scene to explain something.”

Trail Of Robin Hood behind scenes

Cheryl Rogers-Barnett says of Witney: “He was a great action director, and loved Trigger. He was always trying to come up with extra things for the Old Man to do.”

$(KGrHqFHJCUFECuZN7JtBRzlRwtOIQ~~60_57Dale Evans, of course, was Mrs. Roy Rogers and his steady co-star. But she was on maternity leave. So Penny Edwards appears in Trail Of Robin Hood — in a part obviously written with Dale in mind. Penny transitioned from singer to actress, was under contract at Warner Brothers, made six films with Rogers in 1950-51, and left the picture business in 1954 to serve the Lord. She returned a few years later, appearing in lots of TV shows and commercials.

Gordon Jones plays Splinters McGonagle, the usual broad sidekick part you expect in a B Western. He was in six Rogers pictures, made a few other Republic films (including Woman They Almost Lynched) and would soon appear as Mike The Cop onThe Abbott & Costello Show. Carol Nugent is quite good. And of course, Jack Holt and all the guest stars are terrific.

Cheryl Rogers-Barnett: “The main thing I remember is being absolutely in awe of Jack Holt and just about everybody else was, too. There were a lot of cowboy stars in there that made a lot of movies, but Jack Holt was a Movie Star, and Republic didn’t have many Movie Stars working on that lot. They did, but it was so different. He had worked for all of the big studios and he’d been a star in Silents and Talkies, and everybody was sort of in awe of him. And he was so sweet to me. The one and only line I get is with him [she asks Holt for his autograph], and I think it took me like three tries. Dad was getting really upset because Republic liked one and done. I stammered a little.”


Another standout is the villain. Tall and thin, with a cleft chin and a voice deeper than you’d expect, Clifton Young makes a particularly nasty bad-guy, especially considering he works for a Christmas tree company. Young had been one of Our Gang, “Bonedust,” making the transition from silent to sound. Not long after Trail Of Robin Hood, he was killed in a hotel fire.

Trail Of Robin Hood is wonderful, and it’s a shame it’s not better known as a Christmas movie (note the holiday engagement in Statesville, NC advertised up top). We can thank the title for that, probably selected more or less at random from Republic’s list, or file, of candidates. It was available uncut on VHS from Republic back in the day. But what you’ll find on DVD is cut by at least 10 minutes. Roy, and this great little movie, deserve a lot better than that.

TORH HS? cropped

Sources: Quentin Tarantino from a 2000 NY Times piece; Cheryl Rogers-Barnett from a phone conversation with the author.

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Picture 20

Olive Films have announced a few titles they’ll have to us in 2014. There are three 50s Westerns in there, and they’re good ones.

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
Directed by Allan Dwan
Cast: John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Joan Leslie
Dwan directs a sort-of spoof for Repubic. Good stuff.

Stranger At My Door (1956)
Directed by William Witney
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina, Skip Homeier, Slim Pickins
This film should be much better known than it is. The scene with the horse (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean) is Witney at his best.

The Quiet Gun (1957)
Directed by William F. Claxton
Cast: Forrest Tucker, Lee Van Cleef, Mara Corday, Jim Davis, Hank Worden
Maybe the best Regalscope Western. I’m dying for this one!

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