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Directed by Thomas Carr
Produced by Vincent M. Fennelly
Written by Milton R. Raison
Director Of Photography: Ernest Miller

Cast: Wild Bill Elliott (Marshal Sam Nelson), Phyllis Coates (Marian Harrison), Rick Vallin (Ray Hammond), Fuzzy Knight (Pop Harrison), John James (Marv Ronsom), Denver Pyle (Jonas Bailey), Dick Crockett (Will Peters), Harry Lauter (Mack Wilson)

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Wild Bill Wednesday, a serious oversight on my part. Well, I really felt like watching a Bill Elliott picture the other night, so let’s take a look at Topeka (1953).

The notorious bank robber Jim Levering (Elliott) and his gang wind up in Topeka, Kansas, where Mack Wilson (Harry Lauter) and his thugs are pressuring the local businesses for “protection money.” Elliott winds up as sheriff, seeing the opportunity to gain the citizens’ trust, run Wilson and his henchmen out of town and take over things for himself.

But Levering’s conscience, the lovely Marian Harrison (Phyllis Coates), and his closest friend among the gang, Ray (Rick Vallin), convince him that maybe it’s time to go straight. But, of course, we’ve seen enough of these things to know that’s easier said than done.

I’m a big fan of the common theme of redemption in 50s Westerns. Director Thomas Carr and writer Milton R. Raison do a good job with it in Topeka, leveraging Elliott’s typical good-badman persona. What’s interesting here is that we don’t see Elliott’s good side right away, and even he seems surprised by his turnaround. His transformation is totally believable.

The B Western was heading into the sunset when Elliott made his series of pictures for Monogram (later Allied Artists), and while the budgets hold things back a bit, I’m always impressed by the effort and imagination that went into them. The subject matter’s a bit more adult, Elliott’s a more complex hero than what the matinee crowds were probably used to, and the camerawork is inventive at times (though a little rushed and wobbly at others). For Topeka, it looks like cinematographer Ernest Miller brought a crane out to Iverson and Corriganville. This, for my money, is one of the best of the series.

And one more thing. I really liked Fuzzy Knight in this. He was also good in the offbeat B Western Rimfire (1949).

Topeka is part of Warner Archive’s terrific The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection — which I hope you already own. The set gives these cheap little movies the red-carpet treatment, which they (and William Elliott himself) certainly deserve.

Just found out about a book that sounds terrific. John Brooker has been conducting interviews and writing about B Westerns for years. In fact, he let me post his interview with Tim Holt on this blog.

I was really stoked to hear he’d written a new book on B Westerns, The Happiest Trail — which is available from Lulu (located right here in Raleigh, NC). Click on the cover for more info.

Directed by William Wyler
Starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, Chuck Connors

The Big Country (1958) is coming to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber with a slew of extras — commentary, documentary, interviews, etc.

The cast is a great one. Burl Ives won an Oscar for his incredible, and incredibly mean, performance. But, to me, Chuck Connors steals the picture — he’s absolutely perfect in a complex, tragic role.

Franz F. Planer’s Technicolor and Technirama cinematography is beautiful, offering up stunning vistas that live up to the film’s title. The opening credits were created by Saul Bass, and the score by Jerome Moross is one of the best to ever grace a Western.

The old Blu-Ray was a huge improvement over the DVD, but it had some distortion problems. Let’s hope those are sorted out for this new one. And I hear the stereo tracks still haven’t turned up.

RIP, Kathleen Crowley.

Kathleen Crowley and Michael Pate on the set of Curse Of The Undead (1959).

Kathleen Crowley
December 26, 1929 – April 23, 2017

I’m sorry to report that Kathleen Crowley has passed away. She was in so many movies I really love — The Silver Whip (1953), Ten Wanted Men (1955), The Quiet Gun (1956), Curse Of The Undead (1959) and Showdown (1963) are the Westerns. Then there’s the sci-fi stuff: Target Earth (1954) and The Flame Barrier (1958). And on TV, she appeared in Cheyenne, Maverick, The Lone Ranger, Batman and tons more. No matter how small the part, she always seemed to give it her all.

Ms. Crowley represented her home state of New Jersey on the 1949 Miss America Pageant, and gave up on Hollywood in the late 60s. “To be honest with you, I didn’t like the direction the cinema was going.”

Laura did a nice post on her here.

Directed by John Ford
Starring Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Sal Mineo, Ricardo Montalban, Delores Del Rio, Gilbert Roland, Arthur Kennedy, James Stewart, Edward G. Robinson, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr., Denver Pyle

Cheyenne Autumn (1964) is a picture I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen, on film. And here’s my chance — they’re running a 35mm IB Technicolor print at the New Beverly Cinema on May 21 and 22. Shame it’s 2,554 miles from my front door.

Cheyenne Autumn isn’t Ford’s finest work, but it has plenty to recommend it — and it just might be William Clothier’s best work (he shot it in Super Panavision 70, which is why I want to see it in a theater).

Directed by Mark Robson
Producer: Richard H. Berger
Screenplay by Hugo Butler and Geoffrey Homes
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Music: Roy Webb
Film Editor: Marston Fay

Cast: Robert Sterling (Clay Phillips), Gloria Grahame (Mary Wells), Claude Jarman Jr.(Steve Phillips), John Ireland (Lednov), Jeff Donnell (Elaine Wyatt), Myrna Dell (Helen Carter), Martha Hyer (Marcia), George Cooper (Jim Clayton), Jeff Corey (Jed Graham), Sara Haden (Ma Wyatt), James Bell (Pa ‘Ed’ Wyatt), Shawn McGlory (Fowler), Robert B. Williams (McCall), Steve Savage (Peters), Edward Cassidy (Sheriff Gardner)

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There’s a movie memory that’s been bugging me since I was a kid. It’s a Western, and John Ireland’s the bad guy — a really bad guy. I remembered a few things about Ireland and the film, but never enough to be able to nail it down. Well, it turns out it was Roughshod (1949), a picture I thought I’d never seen.

You hear a lot about the noir influence in Westerns — Blood On The Moon and Pursued are good examples. I’d put Roughshod near the top of the list for successfully meshing the noir style within the Western.

Robert Sterling is Clay Phillips, who’s driving a herd of horses over the Sonora Pass with his kid brother Steve (Claude Jarman Jr.). They happen upon a broken-down buggy and four saloon girls who were headed to Sonora; Clay must be the luckiest cowpoke in history, because the women he’s stumbled upon are Gloria Grahame, Martha Hyer, Myrna Dell and  Jeff Donnell. They’ve been run out of Aspen by a group of concerned citizens.

A panel from the Roughshod adaptation in Prize Comics Western.

Steve Phillips (Claude Jarman Jr.): “Were you driving?”
Mary Wells (Gloria Grahame): “I was at first. Then I was hanging on.”

Trouble is, there are three escaped convicts on the loose, and the ringleader is the truly evil Lednov (John Ireland) — who Clay helped send to prison. Lednov would love to bump into Clay out on the trail. The scene that introduces these very bad dudes is the memory I’ve had bouncing around in my head for decades. And revisiting it thanks to the DVD-R from Warner Archive, it’s easy to see why the picture made such an impression on me. This is a dark, tense, terrific movie (and I don’t want to give too much of it away).

I know very little about Robert Sterling, and he’s fine here. But Gloria Grahame and John Ireland are outstanding. Grahame was great in plenty of things, but she really cooks in this one. The romance that happens along the trail could have been hokey, but she makes it work. It’s a good part, and she really nails it.

It would’ve been easy for someone to take the Lednov part way too far (he’s as nasty as nasty gets in a 50s Western), and screwing up the entire movie in the process. John Larch comes close to doing that in another favorite of mine, Quantez (1957). Ireland is so perfect here. Claude Jarman Jr. is good, too. He always was. Mark Robson gets superb performances from his entire cast — everybody brought their A game to this one.

Warner Archive has Roughshod looking good. It’s not a full restoration or anything, but it’s nice and sharp and pretty clean — with the picture’s many dark scenes dialed in just right. This might be some of DP Joseph Biroc’s best work. The sound’s nice and crisp.

In 50s Westerns, there are so many movies you could say are “ripe for rediscovery.” The fact that Roughshod sits on that list is a real shame. Highly, highly recommended.

Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Richard E. Lyons
Screenplay by N.B. Stone, Jr.
Director Of Photography: Lucien Ballard
Film Editor: Frank Santillo
Music by George Bassman

Cast: Joel McCrea (Steve Judd), Randolph Scott (Gil Westrum), Mariette Hartley (Elsa Knudsen), Ron Starr (Heck Longtree), James Drury (Billy Hammond), Edgar Buchanan (Judge Tolliver), R.G. Armstrong (Joshua Knudsen), Jenie Jackson (Kate), John Anderson (Elder Hammond), L.Q. Jones (Sylvus Hammond), Warren Oates (Henry Hammond)

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Around this blog, it’s pretty much a given that Ride The High Country (1962) is one of the finest Westerns ever made. There are regulars here who say this is their all-time favorite movie — and it’s easy to see why.

There are so many reasons why this thing’s essential. First and foremost, it’s Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea on their way out and Sam Peckinpah on his way in — and all of them turning in some of their best work. Like John Wayne’s The Shootist (1976), this is a perfect Last Movie for Scott and McCrea (and for Scott it was indeed Last). With Peckinpah, one of the things that make his work so endlessly fascinating is that his major themes and stylistic stuff are evident from Day One. Watching that new set of his The Westerner TV series really drove that home.

High Country and The Wild Bunch go so well together, coming at the same themes (outliving your time, sticking to a personal code, etc.) from different angles, but with the same love of the outmoded and the outsider. If you don’t get a little choked up at the end of Ride The High Country, there must be something wrong with you. This one gets me every time.

ride-high-countruy-lc

I’m not here to convince you this is a great movie. You probably figured that out a long time ago — without any help from me. But I do think you need the Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. From every wrinkle in our heroes’ faces to Ron Starr’s red shirt to the gorgeous locations (Horseshoe Lake, etc.), high-definition does Lucien Ballard’s CinemaScope photography proud. It looks like film, which is exactly what it should look like. The increased clarity gives the whole thing a real sense of depth — which has become something I look for in HD transfers these days.

Lucky for us all, the extras from the old DVD release have been retained. They’re terrific and well worth your time. And this disc is well worth your investment (or re-investment, in many of our cases). As I said earlier, this one’s essential.

Always wanted to watch this and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) together. It’d be fun to contrast Ford and Peckinpah’s takes on the end of the West.

The images up top are the cover and spread from a handbill or something from Spain. Pretty cool, huh?