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Directed by Henry King
Starring Gregory Peck, Helen Wescott, Millard Mitchell, Jean Parker, Karl Malden, Skip Homeier, Anthony Ross

Criterion has announced the October release of one of the absolute key Westerns of the 50s, Henry King’s The Gunfighter (1950). 

This is one of those movies that introduced a theme that’s been ripped off so often, we have a hard time understanding how fresh and innovative the film really was. In the case of The Gunfighter, it’s so good, we can always appreciate it for that. That theme, of course, is the gunman who wants to hang up his guns and live a normal life — here, he has a wife and son to reconnect with. There have been dozens of variations on that idea since, but this is where it came from.

You can always expect a sterling transfer from Criterion, along with a healthy stack of supplemental stuff. They do a terrific job on whatever they take on. The Gunfighter is essential (it gets a chapter in my 50s Westerns book, by the way), and I’d consider the Criterion disc just as essential.

Thanks to everybody who sent in the news!

There’s something about this blog I’ve always been uncomfortable with. Through DVD/Blu-Ray new release information or reviews, by plugging a Kickstarter campaign to restore something, or by mentioning a book that’s on the way (including mine), I have a tiny influence on people’s buying decisions. I work in Marketing and Advertising and do this every day, so I ought to be OK with it, but it’s different at this more informal, semi-personal level. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know quite a few of you, and I make a point of not telling my friends how to spend their money.

Having said all that, now I want to tell you how to spend your money. Not really, but kinda.

Back in the 90s, before 50s Westerns took over my life, I used to watch a lot of old Poverty Row horror and 60s spy movies (especially those goofy European James Bond ripoffs). A great source for such things was a company in Oregon called Sinister Cinema. Maybe you’re familiar with them. A friend and I (how ya doing, DV?) ordered from them quite a bit (it was VHS back then) or would rent their stuff from a mail-order place called Video Vault. 

Nowadays, Sinister Cinema deals in DVDs, of course, and they’ve taken a real shine to B Westerns of the 30s and 40s. You’ll find some terrific pictures on their site, from Hoot Gibson to Bob Steele to Ken Maynard. And some titles I’d been looking for decent copies of — Riders Of The Whistling Skull (1937), Hell Canyon Outlaws (1957) and A Lust To Kill (1958).

The folks at Sinister Cinema are talking about shutting down. First, I’d hate to see that happen because old movie nuts aren’t supporting them like we should. So I encourage you to visit their site. Click on the logo above, and away you go! And I highly recommend Hell Canyon Outlaws. (Click the lobby card up top for that link.) It was directed by Paul Landres and has a great part for Dale Robertson. Sinister’s copy is from a well-worn 16mm print, but it’s very watchable. It’s full-frame, so if your TV will let you zoom a bit, you can approximate its 1.85 framing.

And since these titles are less than $10 each, I don’t feel so bad about trying to make you part with your dough. You might even thank me for it.

This coronavirus mess has many of us stuck in our homes, whether we want to be or not. I’ve been using some of that time to make some progress on 50 Westerns From The 50s, the book-in-progress that is this blog’s namesake.

Thought it would be fun to “sneak preview” some of the 50s Westerns (50 of ’em) the book will highlight (with a chapter dedicated to each). So click on the old ad up top and you’ll be transported to the book’s Facebook page. The ad says 8:40PM, and who am I to argue with Hollywood circa 1957? The first one will appear on Facebook at that time tonight (Eastern Standard Time).

Directed by Henry Hathaway
Starring John Wayne, Betty Field, Harry Carey, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Marjorie Main, John Qualen, Fuzzy Knight

Kino Lorber has announced a Fall Blu-Ray release of Henry Hathaway’s The Shepherd Of The Hills (1941). It’s not a Western, really, since it takes place in the Ozark Mountains, but some Western elements were worked into the novel’s plot to make it more of a John Wayne movie. Wayne was well on his way to becoming a major star — this was just a couple years after Stagecoach (1939).

It was Wayne’s first time working with director Henry Hathaway. They’d do a number of pictures together. It was also the first time we got to see John Wayne in Technicolor, and that gorgeous color will certainly be one of the delights to be found in this new Blu-Ray. This is a beautiful movie. Highly recommended.

The Film Detective has launched The Lone Star Channel, available to stream on SLING TV and DistroTV — and coming soon to STIRR.

For those all set up to steam TV, this will put plenty of Western movies and TV shows at your disposal — to watch live or on-demand. Among all that stuff is The Roy Rogers Show.

Click on the Lone Star logo to find out more.

Directed by Budd Boetticher
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Screenplay by Steve Fisher and D.D. Beauchamp
Story by Niven Busch and Oliver Crawford
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Film Editor: Virgil W. Vogel

Cast: Glenn Ford (John Stroud), Julie Adams (Beth Anders), Chill Wills (John Gage), Hugh O’Brian (Lt. Lamar), Victor Jory (Jess Wade), Neville Brand (Dawes), John Day (Cavish), Myra Marsh (Ma Anders), Jeanne Cooper (Kate Lamar), Mark Cavell (Carlos), Edward Norris (Mapes), Guy Williams (Sergeant)

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It took Budd Boetticher a while to find his cinematic sweet spot with stuff like The Killer Is Loose and Seven Men From Now (both 1956). But he made some terrific pictures in the meantime. The Man From The Alamo (1953) is one of the best of those. It’s a short movie completely filled with action — from the attack on the Alamo to a number of fist fights to the climactic wagon train scenes. It’s all handled perfectly, and when you learn this was a shoot plagued by injuries, it’s easy to see why.

 

John Stroud (Glenn Ford) is the one man who left the Alamo after Travis drew his line with his sword, and he’s been labeled a coward. We know he’s not. Stroud sees the chance to help other families make their way to safety as a way to clear his name — and get his revenge on Wade (Victor Jory), the leader of a band of mercenaries who have hired on with Santa Anna.

We get an early version of the usual Boetticher hero — an outsider obsessed with a personal mission, a character Randolph Scott played to perfection in pictures like The Tall T (1957). Glenn Ford does a good job here as a man who’s lost everything, even his good name. Not many movies have us rooting for a character so clearly burned out and cynical. That’s where Ford really comes through, always showing enough of the decent family man to keep us from writing him off. It also keeps us from wondering why Julie Adams would be interested in him.

Victor Jory is Wade, the soldier for hire responsible for the death of Ford’s family. Jory is a great bad guy, and he’s at his absolute slimiest best here — though it’s hard to top him in South Of St. Louis (1949). He’s given some sweaty, sneering closeups that’ll make your skin crawl. 

Julie Adams is so beautiful in Russell Metty’s Technicolor — she was perfect for Universal International’s bright, colorful Westerns of the 50s. And she’s always able to pull something out of an underwritten part. Neville Brand is terrific, too. Chill Wills can be a bit grating, as usual.

Back to Russell Metty. He was a master, and his Technicolor work here is incredible. In a picture that takes place largely in rocks and sand, he manages to find enough of a color palette to create plenty of vibrant visuals.

And that’s what makes this new Blu-Ray from Mill Creek such a treat. It’s a gorgeous transfer of the original material, and the movie really benefits from the boost in definition, a solid improvement on the old DVD (which was nice to begin with). The color is really terrific. Mill Creek has paired it with Robert Rossen’s They Came To Cordura (1959), which also looks splendid. A pair of movies like this, looking this good, at such a great price — you can’t get too many of em. Highly recommended.

Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Screen Play by Sherman L. Lowe, George Plympton, Basil Dickey, Jack O’Donnell
Original Story by Oliver Drake
Photography: Jerome Ash and William A. Sickner
Starring Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Buck Jones, Charles Bickford, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Lon Chaney, Jr., Noah Beery, Jr., Jeanne Kelly, Glenn Strange, Roy Barcroft

VCI is prepping another Universal serial for Blu-Ray release, 1941’s “million dollar super serial with a million thrills,” Riders Of Death Valley

While I doubt they spent that much on it, it certainly has a million-dollar cast — the likes of Dick Foran, Buck Jones, Charles Bickford, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Lon Chaney, Jr., Noah Beery, Jr., Glenn Strange and Roy Barcroft!

For the Blu-ray, VCI will use original 35mm material. A still gallery and two-chapter commentary from yours truly will be included. This is a cool serial and should be a really nice release.

A few years later, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Glenn Strange would take each other on again in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), with Chaney as Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, and Strange as Frankenstein’s monster.

Directed by John Ford
Starring Harry Carey, Duke Lee, Neva Gerber, Vester Pegg

Kino Lorber is bringing a John Ford/Harry Carey silent picture, 1918’s Hell Bent, to Blu-Ray in August — from a 4K restoration. I’m sure I’m not the only one excited about this.

The extras sound terrific on this one. They include an archival 1970 audio interview with Ford by Joseph McBride, author of Searching For John Ford, along with a commentary by McBride. Other supplement round out the package. Can’t wait.

Kino Lorber’s three-Blu-Ray Audie Murphy Collection is gonna be a good one. I’m not sure what I’m more excited about, that I get to do commentaries for two of ’em, or that these films are coming out, period.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of Night Passage (1957) is one of the best-looking Blu-Rays of a 50s Western I’ve seen, and these should look terrific, too. Universal International’s Westerns from this period were beautifully shot — and they’ve taken pretty good care of them.

The Duel At Silver Creek (1952)
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Audie Murphy, Faith Domergue, Stephen McNally

Don Siegel’s first Western, and first film in color, is a fun, fast-paced little picture with gorgeous camerawork from Irving Glassberg. It’s also got a terrific supporting cast — Hal Mohr, Walter Sande, Frank Wilcox, Harry Harvey, Lee Marvin (his first Western), etc. It has fun with the conventions it tosses into the mix.

The story goes that Siegel’s cut of the picture was barely an hour long. The prologue tacked onto the picture to pad out its running time works perfectly. Siegel and Murphy would work again on The Gun Runners (1958).

Ride A Crooked Trail (1958)
Directed by Jesse Hibbs
Starring Audie Murphy, Gia Scala, Walter Matthau, Henry Silva, Joanna Moore

Audie’s an outlaw reformed more or less by circumstance. Walter Matthau is a lot of fun as a judge Murphy gets mixed up with. Gia Scala and Joanna Moore look terrific.

Jesse Hibbs was a good director for Murphy; they’d already had great success with To Hell And Back (1955). This was Hibbs’ last feature before embarking on a busy run (about a decade) as a TV director. Harold Lipstein shot it in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor.

No Name On The Bullet (1959)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring Audie Murphy, Charles Drake, Joan Evans, Warren Stevens, R.G. Armstrong, Whit Bissell

Over the years, U-I got pretty smart with their Audie Murphy movies. They learned to give him a strong supporting cast, and they built movies around his strengths as an actor. (I don’t think he was anywhere near as limited as some say he was.) No Name On The Bullet (1959) might be the best example fo the latter approach. It’s well-written by Gene L. Coon, later of Star Trek fame, and he gave Murphy some terrific lines. Jack Arnold’s no-frills style is a perfect match for the material.

There’s nothing better than a little low-budget movie where everything clicks to create something much bigger than it should’ve been. This is one of those movies. (On a personal note, this is one of the pictures that launched my obsession with 50s Westerns.)

The set gives you the three movies on separate discs, contained in a slipcover. Trailers and commentaries are included (I’m doing the first two.) Highly recommended. Now, when will someone get around to Tumbleweed (1953) and Seven Ways From Sundown (1960)?

Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Theron Warth
Screen play by Lillie Hayward
Based on the novel Gunman’s Chance by Luke Short
Director Of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jim Garry), Barbara Bel Geddes (Amy Lufton), Robert Preston (Tate Billing), Walter Brennan (Kris Barden), Phyllis Thaxter (Carol Lufton), Frank Faylen (Jake Pindalest), Tom Tully (John Lufton), Charles McGraw (Milo Sweet), Clifton Young (Joe Shotten), Tom Tyler (Frank Reardon), George Cooper (Fred Barden), Tom Keene (Ted Elser), Bud Osborne (Cap Willis), Zon Murray (Nels Titterton), Harry Carey Jr., Iron Eyes Cody, Chris-Pin Martin

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In a strict chronological sense, Blood On The Moon (1948) isn’t a 50s Western. But in other ways — look, themes, etc., it fits right in with the best the 50s came up with. It also stands as maybe the finest example of film noir creeping into a cowboy movie.

Drifter Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) gets caught up in a squabble between a big rancher, John Lufton (Tom Tully), and the local homesteaders. But there’s more to it than your usual range war plot device. It’s all part of a scheme put together by Mitchum’s old friend Tate Billing (Robert Preston) to swindle Lufton out of both his herd and his lucrative contract to supply meat to the Indian reservation. Mitchum decides he wants nothing to do with Billing’s caper and sides with Lufton and his daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes).

A fairly typical Western plot from the period. What makes all the difference is how its treated, from its look to some of the performances.

In noir-ish fashion, we watch Robert Mitchum wrestle with his conscience as he decides which side of the conflict to settle on. Nobody’s better than Mitchum at the morally ambiguous stuff. Several times he tries to just ride away, only to be pulled back in. Mitchum’s excellent as the down-on-his-luck cowhand turned hired gun, making sure his transition from drifter to hero doesn’t feel forced.

The rest of the cast gathers favorites from both noir and the Western — Charles McGraw, Walter Brennan (he did Red River this same year), Clifton Young, Tom Tyler, even Harry Carey, Jr. and Iron Eyes Cody. Robert Preston was always one of the best of the likable heels, and he’s at the top of his game here. Barbara Bel Geddes (as Mitchum’s love interest) is terrific, and Phyllis Thaxter (as Bel Geddes’ sister who’s duped by Preston) does a lot with a little.

Director Robert Wise didn’t make many Westerns. He said he wasn’t a fan of them. Maybe that’s why he approached this material, based on a Luke Short novel, the way he did Lewton horror movies like The Curse Of The Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945) and the noir Born To Kill (1947). Whatever the reason, it works, making for a post-War Western that really stands out. Wise had a pretty funny career. The later films that he’s known for, from I Want To Live! (1958) to The Sound Of Music (1965), are so far removed from earlier pictures like this one. (Wise considered Blood On The Moon his first big feature.) For instance, compare The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). The films got bigger, for sure, but not necessarily better. 

Robert Wise put this picture together with producer Theron Warth, getting a top-notch script from Lillie Hayward. With the cast was assembled and the shoot approaching, there was talk of replacing Wise with Jacques Tourneur — in an attempt to recapture some of the Out Of The Past (1947) magic. Dore Schary stuck with Wise.

Everything from the shadowy noir touches and more authentic costumes (Wise studied period photographs) to the stunning Sedona locations and well-propped sets make Blood On The Moon a Western unlike any other, something truly unique — as much a character study as it is an action picture. And speaking of action, it’s got one of the damnedest saloon fights you’ve ever seen (between Mitchum and Preston).

Robert Wise: “I wanted to avoid one of those extremely staged-looking fistfights used in all the movies, where the stuntmen did this elaborate, acrobatic fighting and you saw the real actors only in close-ups. I wanted this to look like a real fight, with that awkward, brutal look of a real fight, and when it was done for the winner to look as exhausted as the loser. And Mitch was excited about this. He knew exactly what I was going for. I think he probably knew more than I did about barroom fights like this one.”

Blood On The Moon gets a huge boost from the atmospherics and deep shadows of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. One of the true artistes of the whole noir thing, he shot Stranger On The Third Floor (1940, considered the first film noir), Out Of The Past and Roadblock (1951). He was DP on a few of Val Lewton’s RKO horror pictures, such as Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and Bedlam (1946). And he shot a few of RKO’s Tim Holt pictures, giving them a look way beyond their budget. Thanks to Mr. Musuraca, Blood On The Moon is one of the best-looking B&W Westerns ever made, which makes its release on Blu-Ray something to be excited about.

This time around, Warner Archive has given us one of the best-looking B&W Blu-Rays I’ve seen. It’s clean and crisp, and the contrast levels are absolutely perfect — important in a picture that goes from snow-covered landscapes in daylight to the dark woods in the dead of night. Warner Archive is getting a lot of praise, well-deserved, for restoring 15 minutes to another Mitchum Western from 1948, Rachel And The Stranger. But seeing Blood On The Moon like this, so pristine, is a revelation. Highly, highly recommended.

SOURCE: Robert Wise quote from Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care by Lee Server.