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Rory Calhoun
(Francis Timothy McCown, August 8, 1922 – April 28, 1999)

Rory Calhoun was born 99 years ago today. Here he is with Peggie Castle in The Yellow Tomahawk (1954).

The Yellow Tomahawk is a pretty good picture. It’s not on DVD or Blu-Ray — and when you find it somewhere, it’s never in color.

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The Lost City Of Gold.

Sorry, kids, but the Dora movie coming out this week is really bogus. We all know The Lone Ranger already found the Lost City Of Gold. Unless, of course, somebody lost it again.

I’ll take Jay Silverheels over a CGI monkey any day.

At long last, my book A Million Feet Of Film: The Making Of One-Eyed Jacks is actually available. All told, it took Brando five years to make the movie — and me almost 10 to write about it.

What Happens When “The World’s Greatest Actor”
Directs A Cowboy Movie?

We expected the unexpected, and that’s what we got.” — Martin Scorsese
More than three years from contracts to premiere. Six months of shooting. A thousand takes. Almost 200 miles of negative exposed. A revolving door of personnel, including Rod Serling, Sam Peckinpah and Stanley Kubrick — all of them gone before the first frame was shot. A budget that ballooned from $1.8 million to $6 million. And the eventual takeover of the film by Paramount.

If we’d made it the way Marlon wanted it made… it could have been a breakthrough Western.” — Karl Malden

A Million Feet Of Film is the story of One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Marlon Brando’s first, and only, time as director and a picture that may be better known for its troubled production than its merits as a film. 
It was an ass-breaker.” — Marlon Brando


A Million Feet Of Film
is now available from Amazon. Click the sign to get yours today.

A Million Feet Of Film: The Making Of One-Eyed Jacks is the story of Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks, his first, and only, time as director and a picture that may be better known for its troubled production than its merits as a film. 

More than three years from contracts to premiere. Six months of shooting. Almost 200 miles of negative exposed. A revolving door of personnel, including Rod Serling, Sam Peckinpah and Stanley Kubrick — all gone before the first frame was shot. A budget that ballooned from $1.8 million to $6 million. And the eventual takeover of the film by Paramount. Click the cover to order.

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.

Directed by John Ford
Starring Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru, Harry Carey, Jr., Ward Bond, Charles Kemper, Russell Simpson, Hank Worden, James Arness, Francis Ford

John Ford’s Wagon Master (1950) is not just one of my favorite movies, but I consider it one of the best Westerns ever made. There’s a gentleness and an authenticity to it that no other Western can match. It’s easy to see why Ford named it his personal favorite of his own films. For me, putting this thing on is like inviting some old friends to stop by for a spell.

The performances are perfect, from Ben Johnson and Harry Carey, Jr. as the young cowboys who hire on to lead the Mormon wagon train west to Ward Bond as an elder in the group of settlers to Joanne Dru as part of a medicine show that tags along. And Russell Simpson as, what else, a grumpy old man.

Then there are the Cleggs. It seems odd to say a gentle movie has some of the vilest bad guys you’ll ever see, but it does. If you know the movie, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t seen it, well, I feel truly sorry for you.

I could go on and on. But I’ll leave it at this: Wagon Master is coming to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. If you haven’t made the leap to high-definition yet, this should be all the reason you need. Essential.

Thanks for the tip, Paula.

Domino Kid (1957).

Directed by Ray Nazarro
Produced by Rory Calhoun & Victor M. Orsatti
Screenplay by Kenneth Gamet & Hal Biller
Cinematography: Irving Lippman
Film Editor: Gene Havlick

Cast: Rory Calhoun (Domino), Kristine Miller (Barbara Ellison), Andrew Duggan (Wade Harrington), Yvette Duguay (Rosita), Peter Whitney (Lafe), Eugene Iglesias (Juan Cortez), Robert Burton (Sheriff Travers), Roy Barcroft (Ed Sandlin), James H. Griffith (Beal), Denver Pyle (Bill Dragger). Thomas Browne Henry (Doctor)

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There’s something about this movie. It takes one of the most basic of Western plots — a young man seeks revenge after his father is killed and their ranch trashed by guerrilla raiders during the Civil War — and somehow makes you forget you’ve seen this kinda thing a thousand times. There’s a bit of a 7 Men From Now (1956) thing going, as Domino (Rory Calhoun) knows who four of the five killers are, takes care of them, and has to identify the fifth.

Maybe it’s the direction from Ray Nazarro at sets it apart. He did so many of these things, and he had a real knack for keeping em moving. There’s a snap to his movies that others’ pictures lacked. The script’s pretty good, especially at going Rory Calhoun cool things to say. Calhoun, who co-produced and worked on the story, leads a great cast. Kristine Miller is good as the woman Domino left behind when he went gunning for the guys who killed his father. She didn’t have a real long career, but she worked at Republic quite a bit, which is enough of a recommendation for me. Andrew Duggan is the local bigwig who wants to buy Calhoun’s ranch — and make off with his girl. He made some solid Westerns in the late 50s — his next was Decision At Sundown (1957).

Yvette Duguay and Eugene Iglesias are both likable (and Duguay’s very pretty) as a couple of Domino’s only loyal friends in town. Then you’ve got James H. Griffith, one of my favorites, and Denver Pyle as a couple of the men Domino tracks down and blows away. Peter Whitney is the elusive fifth man, who comes to town to put an end to Domino’s “vengeance trail.” You’ll remember him as Amos Agry in Buchanan Rides Alone (1958). And there’s Roy Barcroft and Thomas Browne Henry in a couple small parts (you hardly see Henry’s face in his approximately 15 seconds of screen time).

Cinematographer Irving Lippman gets high marks on this one. It’s a good-looking movie, with deep, moody shadows and some interesting shots throughout — nicely framed for 1.85, another way Domino Kid stays fresh. Lippman was a staff cinematographer at Columbia, shooting pictures like  Hellcats Of The Navy and 20 Million Miles To Earth (both 1957). He also has the distinction of having shot some of the later Three Stooges shorts, a few of their features and almost every episode of both the Jungle Jim and The Monkees TV shows. He started out as a still photographer for the studio.

Domino Kid is not available on DVD or Blu-Ray. The transfer that used to turn up on The Westerns Channel looked great. This is the kind of picture that would be terrific as part of a set similar to those wonderful film noir collections Kit Parker has been doing. It’s a near-textbook example of a medium-budgeted 50s Western. Highly recommended.