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Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Sam Rolfe & Harold Jack Bloom
Director Of Photography: William Mellor
Film Editor: George White
Music by Bronisław Kaper

Cast: James Stewart (Howard Kemp, Janet Leigh (Lina Patch), Robert Ryan (Ben Vandergroat), Ralph Meeker (Roy Anderson), Millard Mitchell (Jesse Tate)

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As great as The Naked Spur (1953) is, and even with Warner Archive’s incredible track record, I didn’t have high hopes for this Blu-Ray. Boy, was I wrong.

Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur is certainly one of the finest Westerns ever made, but it’s been one of the most consistently terrible-looking great movies on home video. From VHS to laserdisc to DVD, the Technicolor palette was muted and the picture itself way too soft. What was supposed to be sharp and vibrant looked like a pastel — in other words, it never stopped looking like VHS. Pair all that with the sad economics of home video these days — that the demand for older films hardly justifies the expense of a major restoration, and you can see why I wasn’t expecting the gorgeous presentation we can thank Warner Archive for today. 

But enough on that (for now).

The Naked Spur was the third of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns, coming after Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend Of The River (1952). The Far Country (1954) and Man From Laramie (1955) would follow. This was a cinematic hot streak that will probably never be equaled.

The entire cast of The Naked Spur: (L-R) Millard Mitchell, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker, James Stewart.

Howard Kemp (Stewart) is bringing in Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) to stand trial for murder. Vandergroat is accompanied by his girl, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh). Along for the ride are a prospector (Millard Mitchell) and a dishonorably discharged Cavalryman (Ralph Meeker). At first, folks think Stewart’s a lawman — with the knowledge that he’s a bounty hunter and there’s $5,000 at the end of the trail, things change. Mitchell and Meeker want a share of the reward — and they know how to make that piece of the pie a bit bigger. Vandergroat sees all this, and he starts working at everyone to create a chance to get away.

I’m not going any further than that. Don’t want to spoil anything.

Anthony Mann and Janet Leigh on location.

Stewart’s his usual torn, tormented, edgy Mann-picture cowboy in this one — he needs the reward to buy back his ranch. Ryan is at his best as the manipulative, slimy-but-somehow-charming Vandergroat. Ralph Meeker has maybe the best scumbag role of his career — he plays almost the entire picture with a sneer. Millard Mitchell would only make one more movie; he died of lung cancer not too long after this. And Janet Leigh is just perfect. She’s totally believable as an easy target for Ryan who slowly sees him for the murderous sociopath he really is. Much of the picture’s considerable tension comes from these characters.

The Naked Spur seems like a prototype for the Scott-Boetticher Westerns that would come a few years later: the small cast, the tightness, the tone, the incredible use of the landscape, the male lead who’s trying to right a wrong or live something down, the charismatic or even likable villain, etc. I’m not suggesting, not for a second, that Burt Kennedy and Budd Boetticher were ripping Mann off. It’s just a particular type of Western that really worked well in the 50s. Some of my all-time favorite movies fit this pattern.

Now back to the Blu-Ray. Many of y’all out there had an understandable wait-and-see approach to this one. I’m happy to report you can proceed with complete confidence — this is one of the most significant upgrades I’ve seen from DVD to Blu-Ray. The care that went into this is obvious in every frame.

It’s a near perfect transfer of three-strip Technicolor — the color and sharpness are impeccable. It’s clean without signs of noise reduction. The sound has a nice range to it and the extras from the old DVD  — a Pete Smith Specialty, Tex Avery’s Little Johnny Jet (1953) and the trailer — have been brought over.

The Naked Spur is certainly one of the best classic films to hit Blu-Ray this year. It’s so nice to see it get the attention it so richly deserves — especially William Mellor’s incredible outdoor Technicolor work. Absolutely essential.

It was an honor to be the guest on Robert’s podcast yesterday. He turned it around quick, and it’s ready now. Check it out.

Happy Veterans Day.

Here’s Admiral John Ford of the US Navy to help us commemorate Veterans Day.

A huge thank you to all of you who have served. We can’t fully appreciate all you’ve done, but let’s hope we come close.

Name That Stock Footage.

Will Freeman brought this to my attention.

Universal International used this really cool aerial gunfight shot from George Sherman’s Dawn At Socorro (1954) was used in a montage in Jack Arnold’s Red Sundown (1956).

Thanks, Will!

Directed by Budd Boetticher
Starring Richard Lapp, Anne Randall, Robert Random, Beatrice Kay, Victor Jory, Audie Murphy

Both Audie Murphy and Budd Boetticher’s last film, A Time For Dying (1969) had a hard time — the sets were destroyed twice, and it never really got any distribution in the United States.

Murphy is Jesse James. Victor Jory is Judge Roy Bean. Boetticher wrote and directed. And Lucien Ballard shot it. Aren’t you glad our friends at Indicator/Powerhouse are bringing it to Blu-Ray?

This one’s a must, folks.

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, Van Heflin, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Ward Bond

Warner Bros. had a real knack for stomping all over American history in the name of making a good movie. Santa Fe Trail (1940) is a prime example.

Historic figures like “Jeb” Stuart (Errol Flynn), John Brown (Raymond Massey), George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan), Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis pop in and out of this thing, bumping into each other in very non-actual ways. But none of that matters, since the performances and direction are great, and the whole thing runs at about a mile a minute.

This was the seventh of Flynn’s pictures with Olivia de Havilland. They’d do only one more together Raoul Walsh’s They Died With Their Boots On (1941), with Flynn playing George Armstrong Custer, who Reagan plays in this one. Raymond Massey is terrific as John Brown — who cares about the realities of it.

It’ll be great to see Santa Fe Trail in high definition after its years in public domain VHS/DVD hell. Highly recommended.

Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

Mann and Stewart’s third Western, coming after Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend Of The River (1952), has been screaming for some restoration work for quite some time. Warner Archive has announced a Blu-Ray release for September. Can’t wait to see what they’ve done with it.

These Mann-Stewart pictures are certainly among the best Westerns ever made. Beyond that, it comes down to your personal preference.

I’ll post the technical details as they become available. This one’s as essential as they get.

Love that poster art by Gustav Rehberger.

Thanks to Paula for the tip.

Active Ingredients.

Like the last post, which was a status report on the book, here’s another one dealing with something I’m often asked about — research and resources.

There’s a great big stack of books I’ve turned to quite a bit during the “making” of 50 Westerns From The 50s. You’re probably familiar with most, if not all, of them.

The B Directors: A Biographical Directory – Winston Wheeler Dixon
Close Up: The Contract Director
– Jon Tuska
Company Of Heroes: My Life As An Actor In The John Ford Stock Company – Harry Carey, Jr.
De Toth On De Toth – Andre De Toth & Anthony Slide
Escape Artist: The Life And Films Of John Sturges – Glenn Lovell
The Films Of Audie Murphy – Bob Larkins
The Films Of Budd Boetticher
– Robert Nott
The Films Of Randolph Scott – Robert Nott
Fritz Lang: The Nature Of The Beast – Patrick McGilligan
Highway To Hollywood, The Hard Way
– Maury Dexter
The Hollywood Posse – Diana Serra Cary
Hollywood Trail Boss – Burt Kennedy
I Was That Masked Man – Clayton Moore
John Ford – Peter Bogdanovich
John Wayne: The Life And Legend – Scott Eyman
Ladies Of The Western – Boyd Magers & Michael Fitzgerald
Last Of The Cowboy Heroes
 – Robert Nott
The Legendary Lydecker Brothers – Jan Allen Henderson
Lost In The Fifties: Rediscovering Phantom Hollywood
– Winston Wheeler Dixon
A Million Feet Of Film: The Making Of One-Eyed Jacks – Toby Roan (just kidding)
Paul Landres: A Director’s Stories – Francis Nevins
Print The Legend: The Life And Times Of John Ford
– Scott Eyman
The Ragman’s Son
– Kirk Douglas
Searching For John Ford: A Life – Joseph McBride
A Siegel Film: An Autobiography – Don Siegel
Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films Of Robert L. Lippert
– Mark Thomas McGee
Three Bad Man: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond
– Scott Allen Nollen
Universal International Westerns, 1929-46
– Gene Blottner
Universal International Westerns, 1947-63
– Gene Blottner
The Western – Phil Hardy
Westerns Women – Boyd Magers & Michael Fitzgerald
When In Disgrace
– Budd Boetticher
White Hats And Silver Spurs – Herb Fagan
Who The Devil Made It – Peter Bogdanovich
Who The Hell’s In It – Peter Bogdanovich
Wild Bill Elliott
 – Gene Blottner
The Years Of George Montgomery – George Montgomery

This is just a small fraction of the books I’ve turned to in my research, and the list grows every day. (Assembling a bibliography is a real drag, by the way.) I’ve noticed that, next to maybe The Beatles and Bob Dylan, I have more books on John Ford and John Wayne (often combined) than any other topic.

Then there’s magazine and newspapers articles. There are several binders around here filled with those, some on the films covered in the book and others covering lots and lots of other 50s Westerns. Newspapers.com has been a godsend.

Where’s The Book?

The 50 Westerns From The 50s blog was launched over a decade ago — at the same time I began writing a book with the same name. While the blog’s chugged along quite nicely all these years, the book’s still MIA. I get asked about it fairly frequently.

Well, it’s getting there. Rough drafts are in place for 37 of the 50 chapters. Some are even complete. A few late 40s and early 60s Westerns are in there, too. Images have been selected for about half the book.

There’s one film I still have to track down on DVD or something. And I have to settle on a few contenders for Picture #50. 

Read through it all over the weekend, and I didn’t hate it. That’s a step in the right direction.

Bob Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive is working on their most ambitious and labor-intensive effort yet — teaming up with TCA Television Corp. and the Lou Costello Estate to restore and preserve The Abbott & Costello Show from its original 35mm camera negatives! This mammoth project is being propelled by a Kickstarter campaign, which is nearing its completion. Click the title card above to participate. Do it today!

With these shows, what we see today comes from standard-definition transfers done back in the 80s, that have been “sharpened” and monkeyed with over the years for DVD release. (My old 16mm prints were better-looking!) For this new release, the 26 Season One episodes will be scanned from 35mm master elements in 4K — and each episode will be digitally cleaned, frame by frame.

Some episodes will have commentaries, including my own ramblings for episode 11, “The Western Story.” I’m honored.

These shows are terrific — it’s still considered one of the greatest TV shows ever, and I’m so stoked The 3-D Film Archive is giving them the four-star treatment they gave Africa Screams (1949). Can’t wait to see Stinky, Mike The Cop and Hillary Brooke in all their 4K glory. Essential.