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mighty-joe-young

Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack
Technical Creator: Willis O’Brien
Starring Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh, Nestor Paiva, Regis Toomey, Mr. Joseph Young

There’s nothing about Mighty Joe Young (1949) that isn’t wonderful. I can’t recommend it enough. And with it making it debut on Blu-ray in October, there is much to be happy about. (It’s also part of a four-title Special Effects Collection).

With this one, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Wagon Master (1950), John Ford put Ben Johnson on the cinematic map — and let us all see what a natural, amiable actor he was. Of course, Mr. Joseph Young’s pretty amiable, too.

Thanks to Paula and John for bringing this to my attention.

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There’s a cool twin bill coming in July from Lippert Pictures, Kit Parker Films and VCIApache Chief (1949) and Bandit Queen (1950).

Apache Chief 
Directed by Frank McDonald
Starring Alan Curtis, Russell Hayden, Carol Thurston, Tom Neal, Fuzzy Knight, Alan Wells, Billy Wilkerson

In a way this is pretty standard stuff, but it’s from the Indian’s point of view which freshens things up a bit. Russell Hayden and Fuzzy Knight are on hand, which helps out a lot.

Fans of technical stuff will appreciate that Apache Chief was one of a couple dozen films shot with the Garutso Balanced Lens. The credit reads: “Introducing the latest scientific achievement in motion picture photography, the Garutso Balanced Lens, a new optical principle which creates a three dimensional effect.” The Wild One (1953), the Brando motorcycle picture, is probably the most high-profile film shot with the lens.

Bandit Queen HS

Bandit Queen
Directed by William Berke
Starring Barbara Britton, Willard Parker, Philip Reed, Barton MacLane, Jack Ingram, Margia Dean

Barbara Britton, Barton MacLane, Vasquez Rocks, 70 minutes. What else do you need to know?

William Berke was a very prolific director, working extensively for Sam Katzman (directing several Jungle Jim pictures) and Robert Lippert. See his name in the credits, and you’re pretty sure to have a good time for the next 60 minutes or so.

RIP, Pierre Brice.

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Pierre Brice
(February 6, 1929 – June 6, 2015)

Pierre Brice, who played the Apache chief Winnetou in German Westerns based on books by Karl May, passed away yesterday. The series, which originally starred Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand and ran from 1962 to 1968, was extremely successful — and predated the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood pictures from Italy. Brice continued to play Winnetou well into the 90s.

This blog does not concern itself with Westerns from Europe or the 60s. But it’s safe to say many of us out there, particularly in Europe, became Western fans through these films.

Thanks to Laura for bringing this to my attention.

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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.

RIP, Betsy Palmer.

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Betsy Palmer
(November 1, 1926 – May 29, 2015)

She only made one 50s Western, and it’s a good one: Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star (1957) with Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins. She worked extensively over the course of her 50-year career — a few soaps, a regular on I’ve Got A Secret and a really good role in Mister Roberts (1955), among other things — but today she’s largely known for playing Jason Voorhees’ mom in the first two Friday The 13th films (1980 and 1981).

Seeing one obituary after another focusing on the slasher pictures (she claimed to only take the first one because she needed a new car), I decided Betsy’s lone 50s Western was worth a post. And I’m reminded that The Tin Star has received very little coverage in the blog, which needs to be rectified.

Directed by John Farrow
Screenplay by James Edward Grant
From a short story by Louis L’Amour
Starring John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, James Arness, Leo Gordon

As part of the Museum Of Modern Art’s 3-D Summer, Hondo (1953) will return to New York in 3-D for the first time in decades. There are a number of showings June 13 through July 4, with Gretchen Wayne introducing the first one.

Of course, Hondo is a terrific picture, whether it’s 2-D or 3-D. If you can’t get to NYC in a couple weeks, the (flat) Blu-ray is stunning.

Also in the MoMA series is 3-D Rarities, an amazing compilation from Bob Furmanek of the 3-D Film Archive — who stops by this blog every so often.

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Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Robert E. Kent
Screenplay by Orville H. Hampton
Director Of Photography: Benjamin H. Kline, ASC
Supervising Editor: Grant Whytock, ACE
Musical Score: Irving Gertz

Cast: George Montgomery (Pat Garrett), Neville Brand (Butch Cassidy), Buster Crabbe (Wyatt Earp), Karin Booth (Lorna), Gregory Walcott (Bat Masterson), Malcolm Atterbury (Buffalo Bill Cody), Russell Johnson (Sundance), Richard Devon (Harvey Logan), Morris Ankrum (Mayor Coleman)

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Remember Universal’s “monster rally” pictures of the 40s? Beginning with House Of Frankenstein (1944), they’d pile as many of their monsters as they could into a single movie. It was more of a marketing ploy than a creative decision, perhaps, but they’re wonderful in the contrived ways they would dream up to drag Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman into a single story arc. They’re a long way from those true classics of the 30s, but, God, I love ’em!

In a way, Badman’s Country plays like that — a Who’s Who of the Old West herded by a series of contrivances into a robbery tale — with absolutely no concern for history whatsoever. The outlaws are Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) and the Sundance Kid (Russell Johnson), while the law’s represented by Pat Garrett (Montgomery), Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe), Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) and Buffalo Bill Cody (Malcolm Atterbury). None of it ties to these men’s real lives, but somehow it all works. Butch and Sundance are part of a gang planning a large robbery in Abilene, Kansas. Pat Garrett — who wants to turn in his badge, marry Karin Booth and settle down in California — gets wind of the plot and enlists Earp and Masterson to help out, with Buffalo Bill along for the ride. The Mayor of Abilene (Morris Ankrum) turns out to be a sniveling coward, wanting to do anything to avoid having his town shot up.

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While I’m a big fan of Howard Hawks’ leave-it-to-the-pros philosophy (one reason why Rio Bravo is my favorite Western), the last reel of Badman’s Country is very satisfying as the lawmen and townspeople come together to give the outlaws what for. It all makes for a strong, fast 68 minutes. (There are a number of neat little plot points along the way, but I’ll let you see those for yourself.)

Badman's Country BTS1

A short action Western like this doesn’t allow for heavy dramatic scenes, but George Montgomery is quite convincing as the lawman who’s seen enough and is ready to hang up his guns. He never got an A Western of his own, which is a real drag. But with his good looks, height and those incredible cowboy hats, Montgomery stands tall in these B pictures. It’s hard to take your eyes off of him, and he certainly elevates every picture he’s in. Karin Booth does well as his patient, understanding girlfriend. She’d only make a few more films before retiring. Incidentally, Montgomery was paired with Booth in Cripple Creek (1952), and he’d tracked down Butch and Sundance before in Phil Karlson’s The Texas Rangers (1951).

The large supporting cast doesn’t get a chance to make much of an impression. Neville Brand and Russell Johnson are fine as Butch and Sundance, but Buster Crabbe and Gregory Walcott come off kinda flat as Earp and Masterson. Morris Ankrum is sufficiently slimy as Abilene’s ineffective Mayor. Malcolm Atterbury is always terrific, and he does what he can with the script’s rather odd take on Buffalo Bill — he seems more like a sidekick than a major character.

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Fred F. Sears was cranking out solid little Westerns like Badman’s Country, along with other genre pictures, at a staggering pace in the mid- to late-50s. He and director of photography Benjamin Kline worked together extensively at Columbia, going freelance for this one. Badman’s Country hit theaters in August of 1958, one of five films released after Sears’ death. He had a heart attack in his office on the Columbia lot at just 44.

Badman’s Country has the feel of a well-oiled machine, which has to be the result of a team of veterans who’ve made films like this time and time again, sometimes working together. It’s fast, exciting and completely void of pretense. Just the way I like ’em.

Laura wrote about this one a while back. See what she says about it.

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