"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Glory Guys (UA, 1965)

Custer's Last Stand in all but name

The Glory Guys was supposed to be part of the Sam Peckinpah oeuvre. Peckinpah (left) wrote the screenplay in the late 1950s, adapting the 1956 novel The Dice of God by Hoffman Birney, and was to have directed the movie, which was going to star Charlton Heston and Angie Dickinson. It would have been Major Dundee ante diem. It is said that in fact Sam did direct a few of the early scenes – though Peckinpahists Nick Redman, Paul Seydor and Garner Simmons, in the audio commentary on the Blu-ray, dispute that.

Peckinpah, we know, was not the easiest person to work with. After the splendid Ride the High Country in 1962, a picture he largely wrote and casted as well as directed, he had difficulty in getting other big-screen projects. His cantankerousness and propensity for going vastly over-budget and over-schedule didn’t help, nor his fondness for the bottle. In fact there was nothing till Major Dundee released in 1965, four months before The Glory Guys – and Major Dundee would be a very expensive critical and commercial flop (though later ‘rehabilitated’ by critics and fans). Peckinpah had been fired from The Cincinnati Kid in early '65 and the producers and studio were nervous, so he was replaced on The Glory Guys by one of the producers, Arnold Laven, pictured below, who, with fellow Army Air Force war photographers Jules V Levy and Arthur Gardner, set up Levy-Gardner-Laven to produce movies in peacetime. The company made a specialty of TV Westerns, Laven directing many of The Rifleman episodes (some written by Peckinpah). As far as feature-film Westerns went, though, Laven had directed Geronimo (the weak Chuck Connors one) in 1962 but that’s all. The Glory Guys would suffer greatly from lukewarm direction.

Director Laven

It’s a Custer’s last stand picture, in all but name. Alfred Duggan was cast as the Custerish General McCabe. His officers blame him for the loss of Captain Harris at the attack on the Apaches at Wishbone Creek – for this, read Major Elliott at the massacre of Cheyenne on the Washita. Then we see ‘Custer’ disobeying orders from a Sheridan-like commanding general (Paul Birch) not to engage the Sioux before rendezvous-ing with another force, so desperate was he to prevent the ‘hostiles’ escaping, and ultra-rashly engaging the huge force against advice, with the inevitable result of Army corpses, including his own, strewn on the hillside. This reading of Little Bighorn allows for no pro-Custer sentiment. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Duggan is the Custerish McCabe

It is clear that Laven & Co were also going for a John Ford cavalry-Western vibe, complete with officer’s ball, comic-relief drunken trooper (James Caan) and so on. But they failed in that. It’s true that very late Ford, e.g. Cheyenne Autumn, was overlong and meandering, with no clear directorial hand on the tiller, but Ford in his prime would never have allowed this slow, lumbering, elephantine picture to go on so long and with so little action until the final battle scene. Nor would he have countenanced such unsubtle interplay between the characters or put up with such stodgy acting.

The movie also went for the cliché of tough sergeant turning raw recruits into soldiers. We’ve seen it a hundred times and in this respect The Glory Guys (as the title might suggest) is just a generic war movie.

It was a big-budget affair, in Panavision and Color De Luxe, shot with a host of extras in Durango, Mexico locations and photographed by James Wong Howe, no less. It was no cheap B-picture, that’s for sure. There are some classic Howe shots in silhouette. He was a real artist, a master of light and shadow. His capturing of the large-scale battle scenes was also superbly done. Visually, the picture is indeed occasionally the equal of Ford’s work.

Jimmy Howe

A classic Howe shot

The cast, however, was uninspired. Topping the billing was Tom Tryon as the noble captain battling against stupid senior officers – a standard Western trope, and Laven had nothing to add to Ford's magisterial treatment of this theme with John Wayne and Henry Fonda in Fort Apache. Tryon, Disney’s Texas John Slaughter from TV, had also featured in Three Violent People, a Charlton Heston/Anne Baxter Western of 1956. He had been Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal in 1963, which was much ballyhooed, but that turned out to be a surprise flop. Tryon turned to writing but still acted a bit. He would star in the 1967 TV remake of Winchester ’73, for example. You could hardly call him a big star of the feature Western.

Going for the Capt. York vibe

Second billing went to Harve Presnell as the chief of scouts and Tryon’s rival for the hand of the fair Senta Berger. Mr. Presnell had very 1960s coiffure in this movie. In fact his hair looks very like that of the present incumbent of the White House, though perhaps less orange. The Howard Keel-esque Presnell was a baritone who had made it big in The Unsinkable Molly Brown with Debbie Reynolds the year before but there were precious few musicals around then and he tried his hand at a ‘straight’ Western. To be brutally frank (and when is your Jeff anything less?) neither Mr. Tryon nor Mr. Presnell was especially charismatic.

Donald Trump                                  Harve Presnell  

Ms. Berger, who had moved from her native Austria to Hollywood in 1962 and was Teresa in Peckinpah’s Major Dundee, is the point of the love-triangle in The Glory Guys. She soon returned to Europe. As far as Western movies were concerned, that was all she wrote. Berger would be back with Peckinpah in the 70s, though, in Cross of Iron. I must say that in The Glory Guys she plays a free and intelligent woman capable of empathy towards both her suitors, even if she clearly prefers one of them. It’s a strong character, and our sympathies for her are heightened when she is mistreated by the sneering and mean wife of the general (Jeanne Cooper).

Senta Berger

Slim Pickens was there, as the tough sergeant who really cares deep down, and doing his Slim thing. He was never less than entertaining. But really he and Duggan were the only ‘star’ Western names.

Slim does his thing

Michael Anderson Jr. has a part as the green young recruit who falls in love. He had been the naïve kid in The Sundowners back in 1960 and just the month before the release of The Glory Guys he had been the young Bud Elder in John Wayne’s The Sons of Katie Elder. He was also in Major Dundee. Anderson specialized in ‘green kid’ parts. In fact, though, he is rather too wide-eyed and ‘innocent’ in The Glory Guys, really overdoing it.


James Caan milks his comic-relief part for all it’s worth with his ‘Irish’ accent. It was his first feature Western. He would co-star with Wayne in El Dorado two years later and lead in some minor Westerns in the 70s but I’m not sure he was entirely suited to the genre.

James Caan hamming it up

There are obligatory scenes such as a semi-comic saloon brawl. Nothing new or special here.

There’s a Major Dundee-ish scene by the river that makes you wonder how much input Peckinpah in fact had. You can't help thinking that Major Dundee was The Glory Guys the way Sam wanted it. The two movies paralleled each other in so many ways. Interestingly, three actors were on both sets: Anderson, Berger and Pickens.

There’s a very improbable bit where Tryon’s captain arranges for his troop to ride out without weapons and be attacked by fake Indians. I don’t know what was gained by this tomfoolery.


The music by Riz Ortolani is bold and martial – if you want to be polite. Strident and blaring might be other adjectives to employ. And by the ninety-third time you’ve heard it you are heartily sick of it. It is rendered as a cheesy ballad over the titles.

The fort (‘Fort Doniphan’) is good: instead of the usual toy fort with wooden palisade that Hollywood loved it is a more realistic ‘open’ one, like Fort Laramie or Fort Apache.

The Glory Guys is watchable, if a bit ho-hum and too long.

Lousy poster


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Young Guns of Texas (Fox, 1962)

Move over, Dad, it's our turn

By the early 1960s the Western movie was still alive and people still bought theater tickets to see one but it was definitely showing its age, and TV Westerns were by now all the thing. Studios needed gimmicks to renew the appeal. Color was one way: the first color TVs had been introduced in the US in 1954 but they were expensive. By the start of the next decade, however, sales of color TVs were well up and feature-film Westerns were losing their edge. CinemaScope and variations on the theme were the next way that studios competed with television. It cost more but it offered something that the still small screens at home could not. Other commercial stunts and devices were tried.

Fox had the bright idea of gathering the offspring of some of the big Western stars of the 50s and drawing in the curious that way. Robert Mitchum’s eldest son James, then 22, topped the billing. He looked, talked and walked like his dad (though sadly didn’t have the acting ability).

Alana, Alan Ladd’s nineteen-year-old daughter, came next. She’d had small parts in some of her pa’s movies as a girl but wasn’t really destined for the silver screen – this was her last picture.

Westerns weren't quite her thing

And Jody McCrea, 28, son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee, tall and handsome like his father but once again without, perhaps, quite the same talent, was recruited too. He also had appeared in some of dad’s movies, quite a few in fact, and was Pa’s deputy in Wichita Town on NBC from September 1959 until April 1960. In 1967 and ’70 he would lead in two Westerns, Sam and Cry Blood, Apache, co-producing the latter.

Jody, Alana, Jim

Lastly, a sort of honorary son: Gary Conway’s mentor and father-figure was Gene Barry. The following year Conway would be Detective Tim Tilson to Barry’s Amos Burke, often getting to ride in the captain’s Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, in Burke’s Law. Conway did a few Western TV shows but this was his only feature in the genre.

I don’t think anyone would accuse Chill Wills in 1962 of being a young gun. He was 60. But I guess they needed some weight. He plays a self-ordained preacher, Jody’s father, a bit of a reprobate in his youth (in fact we are told that some annoyed husbands hanged him and though he was cut down he ever after had a crooked neck, Judge Roy Bean-like). Now he is nervous around ruthless rich rancher Jesse Glendenning but shows he still has the tough stuff in him when the going gets rough – as it inevitably does.

Rancher Glendenning is played by Robert Lowery, another experienced Western hand. He had been in John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk in 1939 and would later be entertaining as the political hack governor to whose character John Wayne waspishly gave the name Humphrey, in the otherwise largely unfunny Mclintock! Lowery was in a great number of B- and TV Westerns and did actually lead in Universal’s 1944 serial Mystery of the Riverboat and then some B-Western features.

This Glendenning has a daughter, natch (Alana) who has fallen for Jim Mitchum but daddy disapproves because the boy was raised by the Comanche and no daughter of his was going to marry any damn Indian. Alana and Jim have other ideas and indeed, the Reverend Chill is on hand to conduct a horseback ceremony. Nevertheless, Mr. Glendenning raises a posse of his gunsel ranch hands and sets off in pursuit, quite spoiling the honeymoon.

Dad doesn't approve of her intended

There’s a subplot of Gary Conway’s character searching for an Army patrol. We learn that his brother is commanding it. To West Pointer Gary’s undying shame this brother (whom we never meet, only his corpse) was a Northerner who “forgot what side he was on” and disappeared down to the Confederacy and his Atlanta belle with 30,000 Yankee dollars. Gary wants it back.

It’s nicely shot in Old Tucson and surroundings in good color, so it’s easy on the Western eye. There’s Paul Sawtell music too, some of it cleverly tailored to the scenes (e.g. variations on the theme of Mendelssohn’s wedding march when Jim kisses Alana).

Calamity Jane appears, as Martha Jane Canary, pronounced like the yellow bird. She is appropriately feisty and a crack shot. Not quite sure what she was doing down on the Texas/Mexico border just after the Civil War (when she would have been 13 or 14) but never mind. She is played by Barbara Mansell, not, I fear, the greatest of all the actresses that have played Martha Jane.

Chill looks approving at Calamity after her bath in a barrel

The Mescalero Apaches play a key role but only in that old-fashioned Western way as extras to be shot down in droves by the heroes. One gets Jody with an arrow in the back but a few minutes later he is seen with just his arm in a sling and is able to ride home so I don’t guess it hurt that much.

Without wishing to give away the ending (spoiler alert because I shall) at one point, when the young elopers are being hard pressed by the ruthless posse led by Alana’s dad, Jim Mitchum says there’s going to be a fight and she’s soon gonna be “either an orphan or a widow”. A bit tough for a new bride. Actually, though, in the last reel she will become both. Oops.

It was produced and directed by Maury Dexter and written by Harry Spalding (as Henry Cross). Mr. Dexter started as a teenage actor in Three Stooges pictures and graduated to producing and directing B-movies for Robert Lippert. He was interviewed about Young Guns of Texas in Wild Wild Westerners by Tom Weaver (Bear Manor, 2012), if you’re interested. Spalding also worked for Lippert. He said he used the name Henry Cross because "I wrote 18 original scripts in three years, and I didn't want people to start thinking that the only writer in Hollywood was Harry Spalding!"

Young Guns of Texas is uninspired but watchable.

The Young Guns idea would of course be taken up, notably in 1988 and 90.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Waco (Paramount, 1966)

OK if you're desperate for a Western

Waco was an AC Lyles production. Andrew Craddock Lyles, Jr. (1918 – 2013), pictured left, was, as you probably know, a film producer for Paramount Pictures, best known for producing a variety of Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s. Lyles said that he was asked by Paramount to do a Western when they realized they had none on their schedule of releases. When Law of the Lawless did well at the box office in 1964, Paramount asked him how many more he could do a year. Lyles replied "five" and he was given the green light to produce more second features for the studio (though not five a year). Lyles filled his cast with many older, experienced actors who were his personal friends. The glory days of the Western were pretty well over and Lyles’s 60s oaters tended to be rather cheap looking, slightly lurid and the actors were often showing signs of middle-aged spread. The glory days of the 1950s were definitely over.

Waco had Howard Keel and Jane Russell topping the billing. Keel, then in his late forties, had been the brawny baritone of MGM who had them swooning in the aisles. He’d been Frank Butler to Betty Grable’s Annie Oakley in the movie version of Annie Get Your Gun in 1950 and three years later he was Wild Bill Hickok to Doris Day’s Jane Cannary in Calamity Jane. He had tried a slightly more serious Western part in Ride,Vaquero! the same year but it was back to form in the dire (but popular) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers the following year. These musicals can only be defined as Westerns by a stretch. He would be Levi Walking Bear in John Wayne’s The War Wagon the year after Waco but in all honesty one would hardly define him as a leading Western actor. He would become well kown on Dallas. Still, he was good enough for Lyles.

Lyles, Russell, Keel on the set

As for Ms. Russell, well, she was ‘only’ forty-five at the time but, without wishing to be ungallant (though I fear that an occasional lack of gallantry is one of your Jeff’s rare faults) she looks rather bizarre in this picture, with a small cosmetically altered head on a, ahem, rather substantial body. I am sure she was a very nice person and all but she was, I fear, another who was slightly unsuited to the Western – though she was doubtless a good actress in other kinds of movie. She had famously started in our noble genre with the (then) sensational The Outlaw in 1943, a perfectly dreadful picture, had redeemed herself in 1948 as Calamity Jane (another one) in the highly entertaining The Paleface with Bob Hope in 1948, and returned in the 1952 sequel (which I think was even better) Son of Paleface in 1952. The same year she was Montana Belle, then she appeared with Clark Gable in the interminable, plodding and turgid The Tall Men. Waco was her seventh and last big-screen oater.

La Russell does her thing

By 1966, though, I’m not sure that the Keel-Russell billing was going to have them waiting in lines round the block to see a B-Western.

The rest of the cast had a certain Western cachet, I guess, but they too were hardly John Wayne. Brian Donlevy got third billing but it was a real cheat because he only had a couple of scenes and total screen time was about one minute. I like Donlevy in other genres (e.g. as Quatermass), and he had a fascinating life, but he was another who never quite convinced in Westerns - unless as a saloon heavy in Barbary Coast, Destry Rides Again or Union Pacific. He was the worst ever and very ridiculous Trampas in the post-war color remake of The Virginian, for example, a lousy Grat Dalton in When the Daltons Rode, hopeless as the Pat Garrettish figure in the 1941 Billy the Kid (the Robert Taylor one), and an unconvincing Quantrill in Kansas Raiders. No, I fear he should have stuck to other kinds of movie.

Donlevy makes a token appearance

Now, who else can I be rude about? Oh yes, Wendell Corey.

Corey (right) was a Hal B Wallis discovery and got a Paramount contract but he tended to be cast in supporting roles and then from the 1960s did a lot of TV work. His career wasn’t exactly helped by an alcohol problem. As far as Westerns were concerned, he’d started second billed but weak in The Furies (produced by Wallis), he’d been Frank James in the B-movie The Great Missouri Raid and then he was brother Jesse (a very unconvincing one) in Alias Jesse James, another Bob Hope comedy. But he really didn’t ‘do’ Westerns, not properly. In Waco he plays a pastor - appropriately, actually, as he was the son of a clergyman. He’s Jane Russell’s husband. They both wear somber black throughout.

John Smith (left) had been Slim Sherman on Laramie on TV (he was the heart-throb of one of my sisters; another preferred Robert Fuller). Here, with a little more avoirdupois, he plays the crooked saloon owner and would-be town boss (all proper Westerns have to have one). Blonds can play villains in Westerns, though rarely goodies (it’s one of the reasons why Alan Ladd was unconvincing in the genre). Smith’s OK, I guess, though the picture really needed that smarmy blond saloon owner de luxe, Lyle Bettger, who was still going strong in 1966 – in fact he was in another Lyles Western, Johnny Reno. One good thing, though: as is only right and proper, the slimy saloon owner has a derringer! Excellent. In fact he does for the pastor with it. No bad thing. Of course the preacher had to croak so that Waco could go off with Jane Russell.

Lower down the cast list we have John Agar in a small part. He had started at the top in Westerns but worked his way down. He married Shirley Temple and was cast by John Ford as one of her suitors in the great Fort Apache in 1948, and also got a part in its sequel She Wore a Yellow Ribbon the year after. Ford, who could be a nasty bully, made Agar’s life hell on the set but John Wayne stood up for him (as he often did; he was a decent man) and later in life gave the out-of-work actor parts in his 60s commercial movies: in fact Agar’s last three were The Undefeated, Chisum and Big Jake. Waco, and Johnny Reno, were the last he did before those Wayne vehicles.

Robert Lowery is the mayor. He had been in John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk in 1939 and would later be entertaining as the political hack governor to whom John Wayne waspishly gave the name Humphrey, in the otherwise largely unfunny Mclintock! Lowery was in a great number of B- and TV Westerns and did actually lead in Universal’s 1944 serial Mystery of the Riverboat and then some B-Western features. He is consigned to a bit part here, though.

Further still down the billing we have Gene Evans as the drunk deputy, DeForest Kelley as saloon owner Smith’s henchman and Willard Parker in a bit part as heavy. I always like to see Gene, credited by IMDb with no fewer than 157 Western appearances. Kelley, best known of course as Bones in Star Trek, did quite a few feature Westerns and wasn’t at all bad in them. Parker did a lot of Westerns too, mostly B ones; he was Cole Younger in Young Jesse James and was star of Tales of the Texas Rangers on TV. Waco was his very first outing in the saddle.

DeForest is Smith's henchman

Silent star Richard Arlen, then 67, was wheeled out for a cameo. He plays the sheriff shot down by DeForest in the first reel. In his first talkie Arlen had been Steve in the greatest of all movie versions of The Virginian, the 1929 Gary Cooper one.

And Fuzzy Knight is there too, in a 30-second micropart as the telegraph operator.

Well, that’s enough rambling on about the actors.

The plot is a bit tired, I fear. Emporia, WY is a wide-open town which drunken cowpokes spend their time hurrahing (rather weakly on the part of the extras). The civic elders send for feared gunfighter Waco (Keel), pardoned from the pen by the governor so that he can come and clean up the town. Crooked saloon owner Joe Gore (Smith) and his henchman Rile (Kelley) don’t care for this idea at all – in fact they were the ones who shot the previous sheriff (Arlen) in the back. They set up two Jenner brothers (Parker and Regis Parton) to gun Waco down on arrival – you see there used to be three brothers but thanks to Waco there are now only two. Their mother, Ma Jenner (Anne Seymour) also wants revenge and she’s pretty handy with a rifle. Of course, Waco easily disposes of these. In fact he makes the two brothers strip (off camera, of course, no nudity here) and burns their clothes on Main Street.

Waco is undecided as to whether to clean up the town as lawman or take it over from Gore. A better actor and writer would have made more of this hesitation. It could have been interesting. Steve Fisher (right) did the screenplay. He worked on a couple of goodish Westerns – The Man from the Alamo and San Antone, for example – but mostly did TV work. He was Lyles’s go-to writer for these 60s B-Westerns. He put in a rape (off camera again, naturally) and the girl attacked (Tracy Olsen) then calls herself “filth” and gets a job as a saloon whore. All rather unsavory. Steve liked the word “filth” though because that’s what Jane Russell has to say to describe Waco. A bit harsh.

You see Waco also wants to come to Emporia to renew acquaintance with his old flame Jill (Russell) but she has wed the local clergyman (Corey) so that’s awkward. Still, he seems to get over it quite quickly.

Everyone appears to have a guilty secret. The pastor rode with Quantrill. Waco wasn’t studying law in prison, as he let it be known, but to become a priest. Naturally he doesn’t want this known. Why not? It’s all rather silly. He has one good line: he says to the town elders, “I’m not as bad as people think I am.” Fair enough. Then he adds, “Maybe worse.”

After that it’s just a straight Earpish-tough-lawman-cleans-up-Dodge type picture with a predictable outcome.

There are too many characters and some of it is confusing. Who are all these people?

It was directed by good old RG Springsteen (left). Mr. Springsteen (I don’t think he’s related to Bruce), Bud as everyone called him, started as a wardrobe assistant at Fox back in the silent days and became a mainstay as B-Western director at Republic in the 1940s and 50s. He subsequently moved to TV and directed wagonloads of episodes of Bonanza, Rawhide, Laramie (which I guess is where he met John Smith), Wagon Train et al. He directed very many feature Westerns, though, from Colorado Pioneers in 1945, a Bill Elliott oater, to Hostile Guns in 1967, a late George Montgomery/Yvonne de Carlo flick. Waco was one of his last.

It starts with an unmistakable Lorne Greene ballad which makes Waco sound very like Ringo. It’s reprised at the end, of course.

It was all shot on the Paramount Western town lot, but in color, and it looks rather low-budget. There are about thirty seconds of location shooting of ropin’ ‘n’ brandin’, probably lifted from another movie.

Maybe if this picture had been made a decade earlier, with, say, Anthony Mann or Delmer Daves at the helm and with, I don’t know, Glenn Ford or Henry Fonda as Waco, and maybe someone really good like Ida Lupino or Nancy Gates in the Russell part – and Bettger as saloon boss, obviously – then it might have been really quite good. As it is, well…