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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

6 Guns (The Asylum, 2010)


Acceptable




 
 
6 Guns is a not very special but acceptable straight-to-video Western, a project of the Van Dyke clan. It’s currently available on Netflix. It’s better than the average made-for-TV or Hallmark offering, being a touch more adult and gritty.

The star is Barry, son of Dick Van Dyke, and the director is Shane (a good Western name), a grandson of the faux-Cockney comic star. It’s the only Western of both. Still, you’ve got to start somewhere.
 
I've seen worse
 
Barry plays a vaguely Clintish bounty hunter (all the rage at the moment on this blog), taciturn, tough and tenacious. He is cornily described in the dialogue as “the best bounty hunter in the West”. The movie opens with a cloyingly heart-warming happy-family scene in a cabin with loving husband and wife with two angelic children, but this (overdone) domestic bliss is shattered by a band of five brutal outlaws led by savage Lee Horn (stuntman Geoff Meed, not bad as principal baddie) and his lowlife confederates. The gang murder the little boys, also shoot to death the honest sheriff-husband (Brian Wimmer, star of a 2006 Butch Cassidy spin-off The Outlaw Trail: The Treasure of Butch Cassidy) and proceed to rape the wife. They are not nice at all.

The wife, Selina (Sage Mears), survives but becomes the town drunk. Our bounty-hunter hero (as you know, bounty hunters in Westerns are semi-bad but generally on the side of Right), who goes by the Western name of Frank Allison, takes pity on her and essays to rehabilitate the fallen woman. She cleans up and begs Frank to teach her to shoot. He reluctantly agrees. So far, so fairly standard, but in this day and age it’s a young woman who learns to be a gunfighter and gets her revenge, not a man. The bounty huntress is born.
 
Shooting lesson
 
It’s all set in Arizona, around Bisbee, though shot in California. They use a rather sepia coloring to give it ‘age’ and a hint of nostalgia.

Well, the badmen leave but return when they hear that Selina has survived, for she is a witness who must be eliminated. The sheriff (Greg Evigan, who had been in Shadow on the Mesa and another TV movie, Mail Order Bride) is understandably nervous for he is not as tough as Frank and indeed, he is duly violently removed from the action by the gang. So it’s all up to Frank to resist the hateful five. But wait, for here comes Selina…

So there’s a final showdown in Bisbee and I shall not tell you who wins, though you may guess.
 
An outlaw bites the dust
 
It’s all OK, I guess, and you could watch it. I personally wouldn’t splash out on a DVD purchase but if it came on TV you could give it a go. I’m not sure what the title refers to. There were five guns of the badmen, and seven if you count the good guys. It has a modern slightly feminist tinge to it and the last scene (unthinkable in earlier Westerns) reinforces that.

So long for now, e-pards. I’ll be back on the trail soon.

 

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Bounty Hunter (Warner Bros, 1954)


Not the best André De Toth/Randolph Scott Western but still pretty good




 
 
Hollywood was always interested in the bounty hunter. In Westerns this breed of gunman was ambivalent, a badman acting as a sort of lawman, a fellow with base motives (money) yet bringing dangerous criminals to justice for the good of society. It wasn’t easy to make a bounty hunter a hero: when Steve McQueen was pursuing villains on TV for the bounty in Wanted: Dead or Alive the positive side of catching criminals had to be played up and the financial side quietly forgotten (it's a wonder Josh made a living because he so often donated his bounty to worthy widows, etc.) In movies the bounty hunter bringing in a corpse draped over a saddle was often shunned as a lowlife but he was a kind of hero nevertheless; think of Henry Fonda in The Tin Star as an example. Sergio Leone didn’t bother about the hero business: in For a Few Dollars More (a movie which definitely cites The Bounty Hunter) his bounty hunter (Lee van Cleef) has few pretensions to nobility; he’s just a ruthless gunman. But that was a spaghetti and as we know, spaghettis aren’t proper Westerns.

Of course the whole ‘dead or alive’ notion was phony. In 1872 the Supreme Court in Taylor v. Taintor ruled that bounty hunters were a part of the law enforcement system.

Whenever they [those pursuing fugitives] choose to do so, they may seize him [the person who has skipped bail] and deliver him up to his discharge; and if it cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done. They may exercise their rights in person or by agent. They may pursue him into another state; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose.

But there was no authorization to kill the fellow. Most of those ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ posters you see are modern inventions derived from the celluloid West.
 
Phony
 
Still, since when have we allowed a mere detail such as historical fact to get in the way of enjoyment of a Western on the screen?

The Bounty Hunter was Randolph Scott’s 48th Western and one of the series he did with Warner Brothers. It was shot in 1953 when Scott was already 55 years old but he could still romance the girl and convince as an action hero. In fact Scott was one of those fortunate men who grew more handsome as he aged and the 1950s were in many ways his golden age. The Bounty Hunter is not the best of the Warners Westerns (that was probably Carson City) but it’s pretty damn good nevertheless.
 
A goodie
 
It was the last Western Scott did with director André De Toth. De Toth had loved the Western, that most American of film, and had made five starring Randy before this one, and he had a high regard for Scott. But De Toth wanted to move on. While he spoke highly of Scott as a good Western actor, he didn't warm to him. He once called him an abacus, a reference to Scott's habit of counting his money, and reading The Wall Street Journal between takes on set.

A curious fact is that De Toth made rather a thing of 3D pictures – one of his most famous films was the 3D horror movie House of Wax, shot the same year as The Bounty Hunter - and this was odd for a one-eyed man who couldn’t see in 3D at all.
 
3D. Duck!
 
The Bounty Hunter was designed as a 3D (the format was all the rage in ’53) and thus has much aiming guns at the camera (and a sheriff’s hat shot off which whizzes into the audience’s face) but it was released in ’54 in standard format, which is how we all see it today of course.
 
Afficher l'image d'origine
André De Toth's last Western with Scott
 
The Bounty Hunter is the story of notorious Jim Kipp (Scott), ruthless hunter-down of wanted men who, in the classic Western way, shoots a fugitive in the rocks in the first reel, brings the body in flung over the man’s own horse and dumps it at the sheriff’s office, demanding the $500 reward. He won’t even give back ten bucks of the price for a pine box. He’s not there for charity. In town, he is feared and shunned. He is told, "Well, you know what they say about you, you'd turn in your own grandmother on her birthday if there was a reward on her."

It turns out later, of course, that Jim Kipp’s pa owned a store and was shot and killed there by robbers. Jim was too young then to do anything about it but when he was old enough he vowed to devote his life to bringing in such villains, dead or alive. So really, he’s a fighter for justice. Well, he was Randolph Scott. Later in the story he does his Randy act and we see the pain on his face as he remembers his daddy’s demise and we sense his Scott-ish nobility.
 
Curiously for a 79-minute film, there's an intermission. Refill your popcorn.
 
Anyway, it’s a good actionful start. The story was again written by Winston Miller. Miller had started penning B Westerns in the 1930s, getting his grounding, and after World War II had blossomed rather, notably contributing largely to the great My Darling Clementine. But he also wrote or co-wrote other good oaters like Station West and Fury at Furnace Creek (both 1948) and he had worked on the excellent Carson City for Randy in ’52. He does a fine job on The Bounty Hunter because it is a whodunnit, or ‘who’s the quarry’ but Miller gives us few clues – and plenty of false leads. We are kept guessing till the very end. Actually, there’s a No Name on the Bullet vibe to it: in the 1959 Audie Murphy picture too (one of Murphy’s best Westerns), a stranger gunman comes to town looking for someone, and the pressure builds as the townsfolk get increasingly paranoid. I’m sure the Universal team that made No Name had seen The Bounty Hunter. They must have done.

The movie was shot in bright Warnercolor (the earlier De Toth/Scott Western had been that process’s first outing) with cinematography by Edwin DuPar, who had started in the silent days and latterly had shot Silver River and Springfield Rifle for Warners. The locations were Red Rock Canyon and the Warner Ranch, i.e. California, which did as stand-ins for the Kansas/Indian Territory setting of the story – were probably more attractive and more ‘Western’. Visually the picture is pleasing.

The cast isn’t bad. Among the hunted-looking townsmen are Howard Petrie (he’s the sheriff) and Ernest Borgnine, the limping hotelier. Harry Antrim (the doctor from Devil’s Doorway) is a suspicious doc and Dub Taylor, often Russell Hayden or Charles Starrett’s sidekick Cannonball, is the equally shady postmaster. I thought Robert Keys (Kansas Pacific, San Antone, Rails into Laramie) was good as the smooth gunman-gambler, another suspicious character.
  
 Ernest is the suspicious hotel keeper

There are, naturally, two dames with whom the hero may dally, the prim and proper daughter of the doc (Dolores Dorn in her only Western) and a racier saloon gal (Marie Windsor, leading lady or ‘the other woman’ in a good number of B-Westerns). As to be expected, Randy weds the former in the last scene.
 
The bounty hunter (he's just been to church) with doc's daughter and sheriff
 
Marie Windsor is the saloon gal
 
A key regular member of the cast of Scott Westerns is there too, his fancy palomino Stardust. So that’s good.

There’s some good De Toth action, though the fistfight is dealt with in a comic way unusual for the director. The story appears to be set in the 1870s, as so many of these films were, but the pistols look very modern for that.

The Bounty Hunter is no great film of Hollywood history but if you are a fan of good Western movies it’s a must.

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Carson City (Warner Bros, 1952)


Rollicking




 
Only two years after constructing the Canadian Pacific in Cariboo Trail for Fox, pistol-packing railroad engineer Randolph Scott was down in Nevada for Warners laying rails between Virginia City and Carson City. He did it with aplomb because he was Randolph Scott, one of the best Western actors ever.
 
The best of Randy's Westerns for Warners
 
It’s a bright, breezy romp, a pretty standard plot but done with panache. It was André De Toth’s fourth Western as director, and his second with Randy. It was shot in the studio’s new Warnercolor, and was written by Sloan Nibley, a Roy Rogers regular, and Winston Miller, who had co-written My Darling Clementine. The New York Times review at the time said, “Sloan Nibley and Winston Miller, the scenarists; Andre De Toth, who directed, and practically the entire cast have performed their assignments with a competent jauntiness that suggests they weren't out to fool anybody.”
 
Massey slightly less awful than usual
 
I like Carson City. It’s a lot of fun. It’s true it has Raymond Massey as the principal villain (replacing Charles Ruggles), and Massey was a bad actor all his life, a dreadful ham and especially bad in Westerns (e.g. Sugarfoot, also with Randy). But he does somehow manage to keep his overacting in check this time, a bit anyway. Perhaps it was De Toth. And he does have James Millican as his chief henchman, always a help - in fact Millican's restrained acting shows Massey up.
 
Millican is chief henchperson
 
The dame is a bit of a pain too, newspaper editor’s daughter Susan Mitchell (Warner starlet du jour Lucille Norman, an ex-singer in pretty well her only female lead and her only Western). Norman’s character hovers between the silly and the dumb. She also has make-up apparently applied with a trowel.
 
He gets her in the end and they ride off on the caboose
 
But all the rest is just dandy. A banker and a railroad baron (Larry Keating and Thurston Hall), whom you expect to be crooked but aren’t, want, rather absurdly, to build a rail link to avoid the stage robberies plaguing the Comstock area. They get happy-go-lucky railroad engineer Silent Jeff Kincaid, just back from Panama and discovered slugging it out in a saloon, to build the line through mountainous terrain. Little does Randy know at the time (in fact it takes most of the movie before he works it out, doh) that mine-owner Massey is the one behind the stage robberies. He runs a gang dubbed The Champagne Bandits, so-called because Massey believes that if you treat the stage passengers to a slap-up picnic with fancy booze and only rob the bankers, the bandits will get their sympathy. He may have had a point.

Well, Randy arrives in Carson City to find his half-brother Alan (Richard Webb, small part in Distant Drums, later to become a regular of TV Westerns) and his (Randy's) childhood sweetheart Susan (la Norman). Alan is dead-set on bringing Susan to the altar so he doesn’t welcome brother Jeff at all. Work on the railroad starts under Silent Jeff’s direction (actually he is far from silent; perhaps it was an ironic moniker) and he is helped by a rough crew under competent foreman Hardrock Haggerty (William Haade, usually a Western heavy). It’s a post-war pro-progress American film.

There’s a lot of action, well handled as usual by De Toth, with bar-room brawls (with a thrown chair breaking the mirror behind the bar, obviously), murders, landslides, and mucho chasin’ and shootin’. There’s a lot of energy in the picture.
 
Excellent train - and it's held up too
 
There’s an excellent train, held up in the last reel. There’s a final shoot-out in the rocks (Bronson Canyon), not quite up to Winchester ’73 standards maybe but at least as good as many other oaters (I'm sure Budd Boetticher had seen Carson City and admired that sequence). Altogether, the movie is very satisfactory.

The movie was slated to be directed by Michael Curtiz but he dropped out once Errol Flynn (who disliked Westerns) turned it down. I’m glad: De Toth and Scott were better. Carson City is probably the best Western Warners did with Scott. The movie premiered in Carson City, natch, and made a lot of dough for the studio.  I almost gave it four revolvers. Probably would have done if it had some better character actors in other parts.

Well worth a watch.

 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Law of the Land (NBC TV, 1976)


Standard stuff




 
 
Law of the Land (no relation to the 1917 silent movie or the Australian or American 1990s TV series) is a made-for-TV Western movie starring Jim Davis and a young Don Johnson.  It was first aired on NBC in 1976. It isn’t very good.
 
 
Still, it’s always enjoyable to see Jim and it’s quite amusing to see Don in his mid-twenties, nearly a decade before his decade-defining goings-on in Miami. He’d been the star of the LQ Jones-directed so-called “sci-fi cult classic” A Boy and his Dog the year before but Westernwise he has hardly been a specialist. Being third billed in the psychedelic ‘Western’ Zacariah in 1971, co-star with Mickey Rourke in the contemporary ‘Western’ Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, and an appearance in an episode of Kung Fu hardly constitute a Western career. Later he starred in a ‘proper’ Western, the 1995 TV movie In Pursuit of Honor, and of course more recently he was Big Daddy in Django Unchained, but that’s about it. In Law of the Land he plays a charming young rogue who is finally conscripted by Sheriff Jim to wear a deputy’s badge. He’s OK, I guess, despite his 1970s hair.
 
 
 
Pre-Dallas Jim Davis made a good tough sheriff. He looks his age a bit (well, he’s entitled, he was born in 1909) but he’s still got the grit. This was his penultimate lead role in a Western (he died in 1981). He’d been a major feature of the genre since 1942, mainly for Republic, and did both good guy and black-hat roles with rangy, slow-speaking aplomb. Later he would be Jock Ewing on TV and all through his career TV had been important (in the mid-1950s he was of course railroad detective Matt Clark, capturing every Western outlaw there ever was on Stories of the Century). In Law of the Land, he’s a lawman who has no truck with weakness or criminality and one look at his craggy face and silver hair will tell you that.
 
 
He has a whole team of deputies, even before Don joins up. There’s the capable Arapaho Tom Condor (Cat Bellini, who’d had a smallish part in Little Big Man but didn’t really do Westerns), the equally loyal Brad (Nicholas Hammond, Friedrich in The Sound of Music, not exactly a qualification), the young hopeful Dudley whom Jim treats as a general factotum (toothy Charles Martin Smith, The Toad in American Graffiti, later to be in The Spikes Gang, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and The Culpepper Cattle Co.) and lead deputy, the sheriff’s pal Andy (Glenn Corbett in his last Western, fittingly a TV show for he had spent most of his Western career on the small screen). Andy is shot, though, so is written out after a reel or two. If TV movies have reels.

It’s a murder mystery, though it’s pretty easy to guess who dunnit. Spoiler alert: it’s ‘guest star’ Andrew Prine, John Wayne buddy who’d been a regular of TV Western shows since 1960, especially Wide Country, but had also done some big-screen oaters, notably as McSween in Chisum). He’s a deranged ex-Confederate colonel become serial killer of saloon gals.

Well, it’s all rather predictable and unremarkable, I fear, and you won’t miss much if you never see it. Still, Jim is good and there is a train (and even a turntable). There’s a typewriter (invented in the 1860s, apparently) and I do like Victorian gadgets in Westerns. There’s also a consumptive dentist (consumptive dentists seemed to populate the West quite densely). You could watch it.

 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Maverick Queen (Republic, 1956)


Big Republic drama




 
 
Not being a Barbara Stanwyck fan, I find it hard to like The Maverick Queen. Still, I have done my best, and can report several positive features of this mid-50s oater.
 
Barbara Stanwyck is a bossy unpleasant cattlewoman. How unusual.
 
Republic pushed the boat out on this one, filming it in their Trucolor and their widescreen 'Naturama' in very handsome Colorado locations. I’m a real Royal Gorge fan so it was great to see the train chugging through it from Silverton, and the robbery was excellent. The DP was Jack Marta, something of a Western specialist who worked on Dark Command and Cat Ballou, among many others. Visually, it’s a very nice picture and there are almost hints of Loyal Griggs Shanery here and there.
 
Widescreen
 
And then the support cast. Lots of familiar names pop up: Wallace Ford, Jim Davis, Emile Meyer, John Doucette. Always nice to see them. The stars, apart from Ms. Stanwyck, who was never less than tiresome, are not at all bad. Barry Sullivan is the leading man. First seen in range duds, he soon changes into proper Barryesque frock coat and silk vest, and deals faro in the Maverick Queen (for it’s the name of Stanwyck’s saloon). Sullivan was never in the very top flight of Western actors but could usually be relied upon to turn in a solid performance, especially in a frock coat. He would of course return to co-star with la Stanwyck in Forty Guns the following year (a trashy picture if ever there was one). In fact Stanwyck plays a similar role in both The Maverick Queen and Forty Guns, a bossy, unpleasant cattlewoman with grande dame pretensions.
 
Yes, well.
 
And third billed we have Scott Brady. Now, I am definitely (or mos’ def as they say these days) a fan of Scott and his bros. They were actually Tierneys (pity: we could have called them the Brady bunch) and they all had a bit of a rep for being tearways. Lawrence Tierney was notorious for bar-room brawls, drinking a lot, getting stabbed and the like and brother Gerard (the Scott was a later stage name) didn’t hang about either, with narcotics charges, illegal bookmaking activities and suchlike dogging his career. But both (and Edward too) were great value on the screen, especially as heavies and hoodlums. Westernwise, Lawrence only did five (though he was Jesse James twice, in Best of the Badmen and Badman's Territory) but Scott Brady made quite a thing of them. Many Westernistas will remember him as Shotgun Slade on TV but he started big-screen Westerns in 1949 (one of those awful Yvonne de Carlo efforts), was Bloody Bill Anderson in Kansas Raiders the year after, and he was the Dancin’ Kid in Johnny Guitar in ’54. His first lead part in an oater was that year too, when he was Billy the Kid in Columbia’s The Law vs. Billy the Kid (with the excellent James Griffith as Pat Garrett) – which I see to my shame we haven’t reviewed yet. Must get round to that. Anyway, it’s always good to see Scott Brady with a sixgun, especially if he is a baddy.
 
Scott as a mean Sundance Kid. Stanwyck romances him but then throws him over for Barry. Scott doesn't care for that at all.
 
And he’s a baddy in The Maverick Queen alright; in fact he is the principal baddy, the meanest hombre in a whole gang of outlaws. For this is a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid picture, and Scott is Sundance. But no good-bad Robert Redford-type Sundance he. Nay, he is mean through ‘n’ through. And rather dirty, scruffy and unshaven too. Howard Petrie is Butch Cassidy, and a very commanding leader he is as well, ordering minions about hither and yon (the real Butch was no bandit king and was more or less accepted as the leader at different times). Petrie’s part is much smaller, though, and Butch doesn’t have all that much to say or do. It’s really a Sundance movie.
 
Sullivan, Stanwyck, Brady: a love/hate triangle
 
Among the gang at the Hole on the Wall (the story is set in Wyoming, not Colorado) are George Keymas as Muncie and John Doucette as Loudmouth, but they are the only named desperadoes. The whole Wild Bunch numbers eleven (I counted them) but heaven knows who the others were.

Barry is Jeff Younger, a nephew of Bob and Jim’s. Or he says he is. Various remarks, and the clothes and guns, lead us to believe the story is set soon after the Civil War, which is a bit odd considering that the Wild Bunch didn’t maraud until the 1890s but Westerns are not famous for respecting chronology or historical fact, are they? Later in the movie Jim Davis turns up, also in a frock coat, and says he is Jeff Younger. Well, it’s all very confusing. I don’t think Cole and Jim even had a nephew Jeff anyway.

Wallace Ford is a badman, which is a bit unusual. He appears to be the loyal factotum of the rancher Lucy Lee (Mary Murphy) but is actually a low-down spy for the Wild Bunch. The skunk.
 
Wallace is Mary Murphy's ranch cook but he's a spy for the Wild Bunch, the skunk
 
Kenneth Gamet wrote it and it’s supposed to be based on a Zane Grey novel. Gamet was capable of good and not-quite-so-good Western work: he did a lot of Randolph Scott oaters and several were really quite classy, especially the outstanding Coroner Creek (based on a Luke Short story). Later he wrote TV shows, especially Casey Jones. The Maverick Queen is tight and professional, I must say, if a tad corny here and there.

The director was good old Joseph Kane, Republic’s top Western director, who worked especially with John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. I like him because he was a cellist. He started writing silent Westerns in 1925 and his first as credited director was a Ken Maynard oater in 1934. He was still directing episodes of The Iron Horse on TV in the late 60s. Respect. He does a good job on The Maverick Queen; it’s taut and pacy.
 
Worth a watch
 
Some of the music is good, by Victor Young, though it occasionally strays into the portentous or overblown. The Ned Washington ballad over the opening titles, sung by Joni James, is, however, dire. And we have to suffer through it twice more during the movie.

If you’re expecting Butch and Sundance to get away and go off to South America, I’m afraid (spoiler alert) you’re going to be disappointed. They did not die under the guns of the Bolivian army but at the hands of Barry and his fellow tough-guy Pinkertons, e.g. Emile.

If you are a Stanwyck groupie you’ll go for The Maverick Queen big time. But even if you are a normal human being you’ll get quite a lot out of it. It certainly has its points. It just staggered to a three-revolver rating.

So long, e-pards. Happy trails.

 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Quick Gun (Columbia, 1964)


Audie rides for Columbia now




 
 
Towards the end of his career, in the mid-1960s, Audie Murphy’s contract with Universal ran out. New management was less interested in contract stars and thought Westerns were a thing of the past, the dolts. Audie made a few pictures for Columbia from 1964 to ’67 and other studios too, but there was no doubt that his star was on the wane. Still, the Columbia oaters were very decent, with similar production values and budgets to the Universal ones – that is to say not stellar but adequate. The movies were formulaic but attractive visually, with good camerawork, nice color and fine ‘Western’ locations.
 
The mixture as before, but still quite good
 
Such a one was The Quick Gun, another go-round of the plot about coming back to town after time away gunslinging because Pa has died and the hero wants the ranch back. Then he’s going to hang up his guns, you know how they do. Audie is Clint Cooper and this Clint has gained a rep as a fast gun, I mean a quick gun, and not on the right side of the law either. The townsfolk shun him for this on his return and because he bumped off a couple of their number before departing (though of course it was only self-defense).
 
Audie wants to hang up his guns
 
The good news is that Ted de Corsia is Spangler, the outlaw boss of the gang which hitherto counted Clint among its ranks. I always like Ted. Big and brawny with a growl of a voice, he was ideal as a heavy in Westerns, or any other genre come to that. In fact he started as the killer in The Lady from Shanghai. He was a regular of TV Western shows but he also did a great many big-screen oaters, usually B-Westerns, and you can often see him bossing gangs or henching other heavies. Ted plays Spangler as a charismatic but ruthless villain with panache, and he does an excellent job.

The honest sheriff in town, who turns out to be a rival for the gal (Merry Anders as “Helen over at the schoolhouse”) but is awfully decent about it when she opts for Audie, is James Best. Often the bad guy in Westerns, Best could also do good lawmen (I’m not thinking of The Dukes of Hazzard here). He was in over a hundred Westerns altogether, mostly TV shows but he started in a classy big-screen oater, Winchester ’73 in 1950, and he knew Audie well because he had been Cole Younger to Murphy’s Jesse James in Kansas Raiders the same year. In The Quick Gun Sheriff Best sacrifices himself and is cruelly shot down by bandit Ted but his heroism helps to save the town. Actually, it’s mainly the Reverend’s fault: he (Charles Meredith) urges the sheriff to go reason with Ted, a foolish and doomed attempt that gets him killed.
 
With Sheriff Best
 
Another good thing: Frank Ferguson is a leading townsman, Helen’s dad, who bravely stands by Clint, helps him get the better of the renegades and is shot in the shoulder for his pains. I always like Frank. It’s that droopy mustache and sloping eyebrows. They make him look like an avuncular walrus.

Ray Hatton is “Elderly man” and Gregg Palmer (a member of John Wayne’s stock company) is there too. I like to see old familiar faces in these movies.

There are some good brawls, especially one in a barn where the protagonists fight with those hooks they use to grab straw bales. The climactic gunfight when the outlaws attack the town is a bit one-sided: although the townsmen outnumber Ted’s gang and are well positioned behind burning barricades they still manage to get shot down, and the baddies take the town.
 
I like the French poster
 
Ted starts with a dozen men but luckily a few are shot down so that when they take the town the gang comprises the right and proper number of seven. As you know, all gangs, posses and suchlike ought to number seven in Westerns.

Talking of shooting, the movie was nicely photographed by Lester Shorr, who had been working on Westerns since Cimarron in 1931 and became a regular DP on TV oaters, especially Bonanza. It’s supposed to be 1873 Montana but the California locations did well enough. The director was good old Sidney Salkow, a Columbia steady who had been directing (and writing) cowboy movies since 1952. Probably his biggest efforts were Sitting Bull in 1954 and Robbers’ Roost in ’55, though he spent most of his Western time on TV shows, especially Fury and Tales of Wells Fargo. He does a workmanlike job on this Audie outing and the movie rattles along.

There's a High Noonish bit in the last reel when she shoots the bad guy in the back to save her lover.

By the way, both Ferguson and Best teamed up with Audie again soon after, in The Cimarron Kid.

 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Texas Rangers (Paramount, 1936)


Texas Rangers, Hollywood style





Hollywood loved the Texas Rangers. Of course silver screen Rangers were all noble and there were no incompetent, brutal or racist men among them. Mike Cox, in his book The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821 – 1900 (Forge, 2008), lists no fewer than 118 movies from 1910 to 1995 featuring Texas Rangers. Zane Grey’s best-seller The Lone Star Ranger of 1915 had been a seminal work of Ranger mythology; it was a silent movie twice (1919 with William Farnum and 1923 starring Tom Mix) and a talkie in 1930 with George O’Brien as lead. Buck Jones starred in The Texas Ranger in 1931.
                                                                                                                       
In 1935 Walter Prescott Webb published his book The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense, extolling their virtues in glowing terms. This will give you a flavor:

The real Ranger has been a very quiet, deliberate, gentle person who could gaze calmly into the eye of a murderer, divine his thoughts, and anticipate his action, a man who could ride straight up to death. In fatal encounter – the last resort of a good officer – the Ranger has had the unhurried courage to take the extra fraction of a second essential to accuracy which was at a premium in the art and the science of Western pistology.

Webb’s Rangers were thus gentle, telepathic killers. But his writings were very influential and it is certain that King Vidor and co-writer Elizabeth Hill (Mrs. Vidor) had read him. Vidor was looking to make an epic, big-budget patriotic Western the following year, Texas’s centennial. He produced, directed and co-wrote with his wife the motion picture The Texas Rangers; it was thus a personal project. The resulting movie (like the Zane Grey tale, it would be remade, so the legend has been durable) was by modern standards a corny whitewash but still, it has its points.
 
French poster rather good
 
The story is one of three happy-go-lucky outlaws, Jim, Sam and comic-relief Wahoo. They rob stages humorously and exchange badinage. But they get separated, and Jim and Wahoo, hard up and jobless, join the Texas Rangers, while Sam goes it alone, leading a gang of rustlers. When they run across Sam again (he's rustling), Jim’s plan is to get the inside information on gold shipments and the like so that Sam and his bandidos can steal them.

Wahoo is the first to get religion. He likes it in the Rangers and doesn’t want to be a badman anymore. Jim has no truck with this and continues his nefarious collaboration with Sam until he too realizes that he is more Ranger than outlaw and he makes a deal with Sam, now known as the Polka-Dot Bandit, under the terms of which each will leave the other alone as both go their separate ways.

That’s fine until Ranger Jim is sent on a mission to capture Polka-Dot…

That’s about the plot. Of course there’s a girl for Jim to romance, the Rangers Major’s daughter, Amanda, and there’s a feisty orphan boy, Davy, whom the compadres rescue from an Indian attack on his family’s cabin – he now lives with Amanda. Neither Jim nor Davy wants anything to do with girls and civilized domesticity at first but both are eventually worn down and subdued.

They got Fred MacMurray to play Jim Hawkins (no relation to RLS). He was a Paramount contract player who had risen to stardom and in 1935 he had played opposite Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn and Carol Lombard, but he had never done a Western, so it was something of a risk. He acquitted himself well, though, and was quite convincing as both a light-hearted outlaw in the first reel and the tough Texas Ranger later in the movie when it gets much darker and more serious. MacMurray would go on to make eleven more Westerns (see for example Gun for a Coward or Face of a Fugitive) and was surprisingly good in them. The Texas Rangers part had originally been intended for Gary Cooper, though, and while Fred may make a fair fist of it, he was no Coop.
 
Fred rides the range with Jack Oakie
 
Sam McGee, the outlaw pard who would go on to be the bandit king Polka-Dot, was played by Lloyd Nolan. Nolan had also found success at Paramount, getting two lead roles in 1935 and starring with James Cagney and George Raft – gangster movies were his thing. The Texas Rangers was his first time in the saddle too. He would go on to get a biggish part in Wells Fargo with Joel McCrea the following year but would only do five Western movies in his career, though he became a regular on Western TV shows in the 50s and 60s. He’s not terribly convincing as bandit chief, I fear, though he does try for a certain charming-rogue style with a hint of steel beneath.
 
Lloyd Nolan as the Polka-Dot Bandit
 
As for the comic-relief Wahoo Jones, that part went to popular comedian Jack Oakie. Oakie had been a big-name star of comedies and musicals through the end of the silent era and into the talkies (despite being functionally deaf). His contract with Paramount was not renewed in 1934 but he occasionally worked for the studio in a freelance capacity and had starred with Clark Gable and Loretta Young in the 1935 The Call of the Wild. He certainly makes the most of his role as Wahoo.
 
As they rescue a kid in the first reel and are kind to him, the outlaws are obviously goodies
 
These three were joined by Jean Parker as Amanda. Yet another in her first Western, she would go on to do quite a few – she would be Molly in The Gunfighter in 1950.

So the cast isn’t bad, though by no means Western specialists.

Gabby Hayes is a corrupt judge, amusing as ever.

Some of the black & white photography, by Edward Cronjager, is very good (Cronjager was a real artist). The locations were in New Mexico, in fact, not Texas, but never mind. There’s also some stirring music by Gerard Carbonara – though the intro and outro ballad is cheesy.

I actually prefer the 1949 color remake, Streets of Laredo, mainly because it starred William Holden, who was an outstandingly good Western actor. But still, the original The Texas Rangers is well worth a watch. It almost made three revolvers. Might have made four with Coop as star.

Wahoo and Sam, outlaw buddies, later on opposite sides of the law