Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pale Rider

This 1985 film, produced, directed, and starring Clint Eastwood, pleasantly surprised me. I had watched part of one of his spaghetti Westerns but couldn't see it through to the end, and didn't particularly care for Unforgiven when it came out (I should watch it again) so I wasn't sure what to expect from Pale Rider. But with a character named Preacher at its core, I had to see it!

This Preacher resembles Robert Donner's Preacher (Never Trust an Honest Man) in that he also has a mysterious background and can shoot real well. He rides into a mining camp--Sacramento is mentioned but the movie was at least partially filmed in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, and looks beautiful--after saving a gold miner from a severe beating in town. The prospector, played by Michael Moriarty, is looking after a woman and her daughter, and Preacher ends up staying with them for a while. He protects the prospectors from a greedy mine owner who owns both the town and the surrounding land and wants the canyon where the miners work for his own, and won't stop until he gets it.

Pale Rider captures the details of life in a mining camp exceedingly well: the hardships of mining, the joy of finding a gold nugget, what living in a cramped cabin with few luxuries is like, as well as the antagonism of small-time miners versus a large, more industrial-oriented mine and its workers who are destroying the land in their search for gold. There are predictable plot turns but the acting is excellent. In one scene in the second half of the movie, the greedy landowner bullies one of the miners who has come to town into doing a dance and of course that reminded me of Kid being forced to do the jig in The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone. But what happens after the miner does the dance is very different from what Kid did.

The final showdown in Pale Rider is classic Western fare. The last few scenes of the movie echo a very famous Western but I don't want to spoil it for anyone by revealing which movie it is. I invite readers to post a comment and guess!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sam's Wild West Christmas

This children's book, written by Nancy Antle and illustrated by S.D. Schindler, was published in 2000 by Dial Books for Young Readers. At forty pages, Sam's Wild West Christmas is a quick read. The ISBN is 0-8037-2199-4.

The plot is simple, which is appropriate for a book aimed at children in first and second grade. Sam and Rodeo Rosie, who first appeared in Sam's Wild West Show, by the same author, are travelling home when they come upon a train that has been robbed by outlaws. They track the outlaws to an isolated cabin where they are holding a large man in a red suit hostage, while the rest of the entertainers put on a show for the train crew and passengers. Sam and Rodeo Rosie use their rodeo skills to capture the outlaws, free the man in red and his strange-looking "horses," and rescue the passengers' presents that the outlaws had stolen. They return to the train and everyone is happy.

Although the plot deals with two train robbers, these outlaws are nothing like Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. There is lots of action in the story; the text is full of Christmas allusions both obvious and subtle; there are some fun anachronistic touches; and amusing watercolor drawings. Anyone looking for a Christmas story with an Old West flavor may find Sam's Wild West Christmas just the book to read.

Author's website:
http://nancyantle.com/

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rocky Mountain

I never knew that one of my favorite actors was in Westerns! And talk about a connection to ASJ: Robin Hood himself, Errol Flynn that is, starred in several Westerns. Rocky Mountain is the first one I saw, though the last Western Flynn made, and I'll definitely watch his others as Flynn was great in this 1950 black and white movie.

The film has an unusual beginning for a Western, which I won't spoil by describing. Flynn is the leader of a group of Confederate soldiers in California, who are cleverly introduced to the audience as they ride on horseback to fend off an attack by Shoshone Indians. A small dog also has a recurring role, which I found wearisome. The main connection of this movie to ASJ is Slim Pickens (the sheriff in The Man Who Murdered Himself, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, The Strange Fate of Conrad Meyer Zulick; as well as bartender Mike in Exit from Wickenburg). This is the first film he made--after a successful rodeo career--and he plays one of the soldiers in Flynn's band. Pickens is recognizable only by his voice; in appearance, he is much thinner, younger-looking, of course, and has a mustache. His character's name is Plank.

The plot of Rocky Mountain revolves around what happens after Flynn and his soldiers rescue a stagecoach from the Indian attack, and then have to deal both with the Indians who want revenge and with US Cavalry soldiers who end up their prisoners when trying to rescue the Cavalry officer's fiance, who was on the stage. Most of the movie, which was filmed in New Mexico, takes place on top of a mesa (hence, the title). The ending of the movie is just as unusual as its beginning.

Sidenotes: The sound of rifles slowly being cocked was very effective in creating suspense at one point during the movie. About fifty minutes in, characters talk about poker and the analogy reminded me of dialog in fanfiction stories. There is also a scene in the second half of the movie where Indian drums are played as the background music, and I find it interesting that in Westerns, white people are always so afraid when they hear that sound.

There is an audio commentary by Flynn biographer Thomas McNulty that is well worth listening to. At one point, he talks about the actors in Rocky Mountain and gives a short biography of Slim Pickens, which is very interesting. There are several other bonus features: a) a newsreel about flooding, but there was no sound so I have no idea where it occurred; b) a cartoon about animals, in color; c) an interesting short drama about the conflict between miners and farmers, in black and white; d) another, in color, called "Wells Fargo Days;" and e) another black and white mini-feature called "Trial by Trigger."

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Far Country

I'm beginning to wonder how many times Walter Brennan played a cowboy on a cattle drive! In The Far Country (1955), he and James Stewart are partners in a venture to drive a herd of cattle from Seattle to Skagway, Alaska, to Dawson, Canada, because beef is selling for a high price in the Klondike Gold Rush town.

What's interesting in the beginning of the movie is that the cattle are loaded onto a ship for the journey from Seattle to Skagway. Along the way, they encounter numerous problems. Sound familiar? Yep, I thought of 21 Days to Tenstrike, too. There's a corrupt lawman/judge and the partners meet a mysterious woman and a French-speaking girl, all of whom have major roles in The Far Country.

After the men arrive in Dawson, the plot takes a turn and reminds me, at times, of Night of the Red Dog, in that Jeff and Ben are mining gold in order to get enough money to buy themselves a spread in Utah, where they plan to spend the rest of their lives in comfort. There's also a scene straight out of the Pilot: When Jeff is in a saloon getting a drink, his adversary the "lawman" slides a gun down the length of the bar; Jeff is supposed to take it but someone persuades him not to reach for it.

One of the problems is that Jeff Webster (Stewart) is accused of murder right after he boards the ship to Skagway but, unlike Kid, he has friends who hide him. Ben Tatum (Brennan) tells Jeff they're on another cattle drive with problems--that sure does sound familiar! And then a comment is made that "trouble seems to follow" Jeff--that sounds familiar, too! There's a scene I find very interesting because it quotes prices for food and cattle; I don't know if they're accurate or not but Ben brings a plate of beef and potatoes to Jeff and says it cost $5.00, at which Jeff expresses surprise. Ben then says that beef in Dawson is bringing $1.00/pound a hoof and more than $10/pound when dressed.

A note about the cinematography: Throughout much of The Far Country it looked to me like the background was done in matte shots but according to the closing credits, the movie was filmed in Jasper National Park, in the Canadian Rockies. Well, the transfer to DVD clearly leaves something to be desired because I would never have thought the background scenery was on location if I hadn't been told.

Some trivia: Jeff comes from Wyoming. The corrupt lawman character was modeled after Soapy Smith, who resided in Skagway for a while. A minor character is named Gant. Bud Westmore did the make-up. This is a Universal film.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Naked Spur

This 1953 movie, which was filmed in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Story or Screenplay, bears a passing resemblance to The Bounty Hunter in that it's about a man who has captured an outlaw and is determined to bring him in no matter what happens along the way.

Howard Kemp, the bounty hunter, is played by James Stewart. He pays an old prospector to join him and a dishonorably discharged soldier attaches himself to the pair (played by Millard Mitchell and Ralph Meeker, respectively). When they find outlaw Ben Vandergroat, played by Robert Ryan, they discover that he is accompanied by Lina Patch (played by Janet Leigh), the daughter of one of Vandergroat's accomplices. This is the entire speaking cast of The Naked Spur and the rest of the movie is about the interplay between the characters as they travel back to Abilene, Kansas, where Kemp intends to turn Vandergroat over to the law and claim the substantial reward on him. There is plenty of action and drama and adventure as the movie unfolds.

Vandergroat reminded me, vaguely, of Heyes because he was constantly using his silver tongue in attempts to talk himself free. With very little effort, he was able to sow discord among his captors by exploiting their weaknesses. But in one very important respect, he was completely different from Heyes--Vandergroat was on his way to Abilene to face a murder charge, and everyone knew he was guilty.

I found it interesting that the prospector and soldier could just, more or less on a whim, decide to pick themselves up and follow a complete stranger on a journey halfway across the country, just because they hoped to share in the reward. I can't imagine something like that happening nowadays, and the fact that it seemed plausible in The Naked Spur only shows how much American society has changed in the past 140 years or so.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Outlaw Thanksgiving

This children's book, by Caldecott Medal winner Emily Arnold McCully, is a fictional account of a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Butch Cassidy in the mid-1890s.  Published in 1998, it is based on fact and there is a detailed author's note at the end of An Outlaw Thanksgiving that provides information about Butch Cassidy and other real-life participants in the holiday meal, the railroads of the time period and how people regarded them, and train travel in the late nineteenth century.

The plot describes the journey west of Clara who, with her mother, is travelling by train to meet her father in California. On the prairie, their train becomes snowbound and sleds appear to take the passengers to nearby hotels to wait until the train is plowed out. A fellow passenger, kindly Mr. Jones, invites Clara and her mother to join him on the sled he has hired. Unbeknownst to the ladies, Mr. Jones takes them to Brown's Hole, where Butch Cassidy, going by the name Bob, is hosting Thanksgiving. Clara eventually recognizes the outlaw and Clara has to decide if she should reveal what she knows.

An Outlaw Thanksgiving is a quick, pleasurable read for elementary school-aged children. The many watercolor illustrations by the author effectively capture the spirit of the story and there is a map showing the routes of various railroads across the United States. The author visited Brown's Hole in Utah to research her story and adults interested in the Old West will also enjoy this work of historical fiction.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Winchester '73

Now I know why I like Jimmy Stewart so much--he had the same birthday as me! I found that out after watching this movie, because after listening to the interview he did as a bonus feature, I wanted to learn more about him. In Winchester '73, he stars as a man who wins a special rifle, the eponymous Winchester 1873, in a shooting contest, the end of which brought to mind the scene in the Pilot where Kid shoots two bullets at once.

While Stewart's character, Lin McAdam, doesn't quite do that, he does demonstrate an equally impressive feat of shooting. The referee for the contest is Will Geer (Seth in Smiler with a Gun, another episode with a shooting contest), playing Marshal Wyatt Earp when he was a lawman in Dodge City, Kansas. But this Earp is very different from the one portrayed in Which Way to the O.K. Corral?, played by Cameron Mitchell.

However, things go downhill for Lin when the rifle is stolen. He and his sidekick spend the rest of the movie trying to recover the weapon, which passes through several hands in a series of adventures. One person who acquires the rifle for a brief time is Rock Hudson, playing an Indian! Another actor is a US Cavalry sergeant who was at Gettysburg (as mentioned in Stagecoach 7 by LQ Jones).

There is an on-going conflict between Lin and a man named Dutch Henry Brown which is finally explained and resolved at the end of Winchester '73. Shelley Winters plays a sort-of love interest. One aspect of the movie that I especially appreciated was the lack of continual background music; only at certain points was music heard and that made it very effective.

A few other notes: There is a high stakes poker game, but I do not think Heyes would ever be caught playing for the stakes in this game. There is also a remuda in Winchester '73, just like in 21 Days to Tenstrike, but it was only after watching this film that I learned that the word refers to the string of horses a cowboy uses and not the place where they are corralled for the night.

And, when not riding horses, people are shown using stagecoaches for transportation, in particular, Butterfield stagecoaches. Since their stages are frequently seen in ASJ, I looked up the company and included a couple links for further information below. This is a Universal picture and I kept trying to find locations in the movie that were also used in ASJ, until I heard in the interview that it was filmed mostly in Arizona.

In his interview, Stewart is asked about working with Will Geer and his response is interesting. He also has some very interesting comments about the advantages of working under contract for a movie studio, which contrasted with what I've read of Pete's thoughts on the subject. Although it is not my favorite Jimmy Stewart Western, I enjoyed Winchester '73. The bonus feature, the only one Stewart ever did, makes it all the more worth watching.

Information about Butterfield's, with many first-hand descriptions from passengers:
http://www.desertusa.com/mag00/may/stories/butter.html

Friday, October 23, 2009

3 Godfathers

The music accompanying the opening credits was very familiar but I couldn't place it and it haunted me until later in 3 Godfathers when it was played again and the lyrics were included. Then I recognized it as the ballad Joan Hackett (Alice Banion in The Legacy of Charlie O'Rourke) sang but since she didn't sing the whole song, I never realized it was "The Streets of Laredo."

I searched the Internet hoping to find a clip of her singing the song but was not successful; however, I did find one of Johnny Cash singing all the verses and have included a link to it at the end of this entry. Burl Ives also sings the song but I couldn't find a video clip of him singing it online, though I did purchase it from iTunes. I quite like the song now!

As far as this 1948 movie (which is in color, by the way) goes, it's about three bank robbers--played by John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carey, Jr.--who are chased by a posse through the desert. The youngest outlaw, known as the Abilene Kid and called Kid, has been shot. They have no water; encounter a sandstorm and try to find shelter; and when the storm abates, they discover that their horses have run off and they have to walk out of the desert. Of course, these scenes reminded me of Smiler with a Gun.

I was also reminded of Six Strangers at Apache Springs when the men reach a place called Apache Wells, where they thought they'd finally obtain water; unfortunately, circumstances prevented that and they had to resort to squeezing moisture out of barrel head cacti to survive. Which made me wonder why Heyes and Kid didn't do the same when they were in the desert. I won't relate any more of the plot except to say there is death in the desert in 3 Godfathers and that the symbolism of the story is pretty obvious.

Pedro Armendariz apparently was a very well-known Mexican actor of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s and I wonder if Roy Huggins named Caesar Romero's character after him.

YouTube clip of Johnny Cash singing "Streets of Laredo":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSzfWLlvlAE

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stagecoach

Since Stagecoach was filmed in 1939, I figured it wouldn't have any ASJ connections in it. The only reason I decided to watch it was because it's considered a classic Western. But as soon as I heard that raspy, twangy voice, I knew I'd been wrong. And right there, receiving third billing in the credits, just after Claire Trevor and John Wayne, was Andy Devine!

There's a reason this movie is considered a classic: the stock characters, the plot, the location--it's all there but elevated to a very level by the performances of the actors. Andy Devine plays a stagecoach driver who, although of course much younger than the character he played in ASJ (the sheriff in The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg)--he is thinner and has dark hair, which is obvious even though the movie is in black and white--is still clearly recognizable.

The group of passengers he is carrying includes a crooked banker, a Southern gambler, a drunken doctor, a meek liquor salesman, a "tart with a heart" (as a writer friend of mine once said and which I, in the true spirit of ASJ, shamelessly recycle here), a lady too sophisticated to talk to the other woman, a marshal, and a pretty good bad guy. As the group travels to its destination, various encounters and adventures occur until, after they have finally arrived, there is a climactic scene in the middle of the town street with a bad guy named Plummer (another ASJ connection).

The accompanying audio commentary by Scott Eyman, a film historian who also assisted Robert Wagner with his autobiography (which I recently read, before I was aware of his work in the Western genre), is very useful in situating Stagecoach in the context of its time and among other Westerns. The background information he provides about how John Ford, the director, worked with John Wayne in the role that made him a star, is not to be skipped. At 100 minutes it's a long movie, for a Western, but one I highly recommend.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ten Wanted Men

The best thing about this 1955 movie is the cinematography. I have developed a great appreciation for movies shot in Technicolor, as Ten Wanted Men was; the scenery here looks gorgeous.

As for the rest of the movie, well, the title doesn't make sense; the dialog is mostly melodramatic; and there are noticeable bloopers. Like, in a climactic shootout between Randolph Scott the hero and Richard Boone the bad guy, there is the sound of a gunshot but it's clear the gun in the actor's hand was never fired. It's a silly film but at only 80 minutes, it's fun to see the plethora of movie Western cliches in it.

Although there aren't any real ASJ connections in Ten Wanted Men, as I watched it I was reminded of several scenes in various episodes of the TV show. First, the name of the bad guy wasn't clear to me--it sounded like "Weed" or even "Wheat" so of course I was reminded of the scene in The Biggest Game in the West when the sheriff questions Heyes about the outlaws after the poker game has been robbed. Turns out the character's name in the movie is "Wick" but no matter. The bad guy also wears a vest with a string that ties both sides together, which resembled one of Roger Davis' Heyes' costumes. It looked silly here, too. At one point, one of the female characters says something about a man making love to her. It was same comment Louise made in Everything Else You Can Steal and clearly indicated the same thing; that phrase must have had a different meaning back then.

Besides all the beautiful saguaro--it's obvious the movie was filmed on location in Arizona--it was interesting to see close-ups of period handcuffs and leg irons. One of the characters is arrested and the sheriff puts those manacles on him. As a fanfic writer, it was useful to see how a person looked and moved when shackled like that.

For information about and pictures of saguaro:
http://www.desertmuseumdigitallibrary.org/public/sResults.php?squery=saguaro&ctgy=Plants&sort=&spp=16&pn=1
(From the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, on the outskirts of Tucson; speaking from personal experience, a great place to gain an appreciation of the desert), and
http://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm
(Saguaro National Park, near Tucson)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Gunfighter: Man or Myth?

Written by Joseph G. Rosa and published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1969, this book (ISBN 0-8061-1561-0) offers a comprehensive examination of gunfighters in the Old West. It is a scholarly work, with numerous footnotes and a nine-and-a-half page bibliography, so at times the tone is rather dry, but the amount of information presented is huge and it is well worth the effort to read it.

There are two sections to the book; the first is called The Myth and the Man, which explains the origin of the gunfighter and situates him in the period of the Old West. This section also offers a detailed look at many men who were known as gunfighters--both lawmen and outlaws. Much of the text consists of stories and anecdotes of the exploits of these men and one gains an appreciation, if not exactly admiration, for what they did. Using primary sources of newspaper articles and first-hand accounts, the descriptions of life in cowtowns and frontier towns is compelling. Analysis by the author provides perspective to the period accounts.

The second section, called The Pistoleer, describes the weapons used by gunfighters and the companies that produced them. The features of six-guns manufactured by Colt, Smith and Wesson, and Remington are described in great detail, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Again, there is a reliance on primary sources for information. The accoutrements of the gunfighter, bullets and holsters, are also discussed. This section includes a chapter on "The Cult of the Six-Shooter," which takes a look at the concept of a fast draw. The reason for tying a gun down is explained but, according to the author, the fast draw was not practiced by gunfighters in the Old West! And on page 206, the author states, "In the frontier days, when a man without a revolver was only half-dressed..." So Kid's comments in the Pilot and The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone actually have some basis in historical fact and were not just lines included in the script for a laugh. The book ends with a short explanation of how the gunfighter has lived on in books, movies, and television.

Anyone interested in the Old West who wants to know the facts behind the legends should read The Gunfighter: Man or Myth? It is a fascinating book.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Red River

Red River is the fictional story of the first cattle drive from Texas along the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas. This 1948 black-and-white film stars John Wayne and Montgomery Clift.

Walter Brennan has a prominent role as a chuck wagon cook. He is irascible, eggs on Wayne and Clift when they are fighting each other (at the end of the movie), and even has a name--Groot--all of which reminds me of his work in 21 Days to Tenstrike. In fact, his work in that episode seemed like a reprise of his role in Red River and I wonder if he consciously drew on how he played Groot in the movie for how he played Gant on ASJ.

Noah Beery, Jr. (Something to Get Hung About) and Paul Fix (The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, Night of the Red Dog, Only Three to a Bed) co-star but if one didn't know they were in the movie, it might be hard to recognize them since Red River was made more than twenty years before ASJ.

About forty-seven minutes into the movie, there's a scene with the chuck wagon in the right background with men sitting around a campfire in the foreground, and a man carrying a saddle walks into the frame from stage right--it was so similar to the scene in 21 Days to Tenstrike that I went and watched the ASJ episode again to compare.

Although I liked the movie, it did seem to drag on; perhaps that was intentional and was designed to mimic the tedium of a three-month long cattle drive! I also didn't care for love-interest Joanne Dru's character; she was too melodramatic for my taste. And I found the music score, by Dmitri Tiomkin, who composed the music for so many great Westerns, to be intrusive here, as it frequently telegraphed how viewers were supposed to feel about what they were watching.

The scenes of all the cattle as they were driven across the land and through rivers was very impressive and made me wonder how the director managed to film them. Not far into the movie, one of the other characters makes a remark that I found very amusing, but I can't decide if Kid Curry or Hannibal Heyes would be more likely to say it: "You know... There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere." Watch the movie and let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hangman's Knot

One of the pleasures of watching these old Westerns is the unexpected discovery of familiar names from ASJ in the credits. Hangman's Knot, from 1952, is such a movie. It was written and directed by Roy Huggins and co-stars Jeanette Nolan.

It's about a group of Confederate soldiers, led by Randolph Scott, who, not knowing the War is over, steal gold from a Union wagon and shoot the soldiers guarding it. They find themselves trapped in a stagecoach way station with the father and daughter who run it and two passengers from the stage they commandeered to escape what appears to be a posse.

From then on, the plot bears a superficial resemblance to Stagecoach Seven as Scott tries to figure out how he and his men can avoid getting killed by the erstwhile posse, which is really just a group of drifters posing as deputies, who have surrounded the building they are in. Nolan plays a woman whose son was one of the soldiers guarding the gold; her character is completely different from Miss Birdie Pickett in the Pilot and I wasn't even sure it was her until I looked up her character at IMDb.com.

Two other features reminded me of ASJ: There is a travelling medicine wagon in early scenes of Hangman's Knot, similar to that in Witness to a Lynching (although the man who owned it was not a quack like Doc Snively), and oil is poured on water and fire to provide more light to see what people are doing, just as was done in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry when the boys try to escape from the cave in which they were hiding.

There is lots of action in this movie along with personality conflicts among the soldiers and their hostages in the stagecoach station, which makes this 80-minute movie very entertaining to watch.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Stranger Wore a Gun

Now I know that even Randolph Scott can have an off day or, in this case, an off movie! The Stranger Wore a Gun is the kind of movie that has everything but quality in it.

It's also in 3-D; I never knew Westerns were made in that format. The 3-D effects are very obvious: guns pointing and shooting directly into the camera, other objects thrown toward the camera, rocks in the foreground and a fire that are clearly meant to be seen through 3-D glasses.

The first scenes in this 1953 movie show yet another version of Quantrill's raid on Lawrence. I suppose ninety years is not really that long a time after the event, which is why a number of movies from the mid-twentieth century depicted it.

Then the plot, such as it is, shifts to a riverboat and finally to Prescott, Arizona, where Scott's character, a former spy for Quantrill's Raiders, gets mixed up with a former Confederate soldier and the men who work for him, a gang of outlaws, and a stagecoach business, along with a mysterious woman from his past who's followed him to Prescott; there's lots of action but somehow the movie seems to drag.

There are numerous, though tenuous, connections to ASJ: The outlaw gang leader wears the strap to his hat in the same fashion as Clint Weaver in Stagecoach Seven; Scott's character wears a shirt that is similar to Kid's red lace-up shirt, except that in the movie here, Scott's shirt stays laced up; and the outlaw gang leader wears a blue polka-dot bandana like Pete did in some episodes.

But the most interesting connection for me was when some of the characters were shown playing faro. The sign on the outside of the saloon in The McCreedy Bust advertised faro but I'd never before seen people playing it, though I have played an online version of the game. Perhaps I would have liked The Stranger Wore a Gun more if I'd watched the whole movie in 3-D but since I didn't, I think only avid Randolph Scott fans will enjoy it.

Link to online faro (click on the link at the bottom of the main text page to play):
http://www.gleeson.us/faro

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ride with the Devil

Directed by Ang Lee, this 1999 film is set during the Civil War and focuses on the relationships between and experiences of a few young men from Missouri who become bushwhackers. Ride with the Devil shows the ravages of war inflicted on civilians as well as the men who are fighting. It is an epic film, both in the sweep of its story and its duration which, although only about two hours long, feels longer because of all the events that occur in it.

Despite the difficulty I often had in understanding the dialog, due to the actors speaking with strong accents, the vocabulary and rhythm of their speech seemed authentic to the time period (not that I'm an expert!). The interior sets were fascinating in their attention to detail and the outdoor panoramic scenes were beautifully shot. Even though there was a lot of violence in the movie, it was never gratuitous. There are many raids by the bushwhackers and the one on Lawrence, Kansas, is included, and that's the connection to ASJ, since Heyes and Curry talked about the war in The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg.

It is interesting to compare how that raid was depicted in this movie with how it was shown in Kansas Raiders almost 50 years earlier. Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich and Jeffrey Wright star, along with several other well-known actors whom I had difficulty distinguishing from one another and a huge cast of extras.

Killstraight

I saw this book at the library and the title and cover intrigued me so I took it out and, have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Killstraight is about a man, whose English name is Daniel Killstraight, who has returned to the West after spending several years at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. He witnesses a hanging and then gradually gets more and more involved in trying to figure out what really happened.

There's no connection to ASJ other than the fact that Killstraight is trying to find his way in a changed world, just like Heyes and Curry are trying to adjust to a new way of life. I really liked this novel, for how it described the world Killstraight found himself in and for the mystery at the center of the novel. And also because some years ago, when I visited the Navajo Nation and was at the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Ganado, Arizona, a National Park Service volunteer gave a talk about the Carlisle School and as a result, I had an idea of what Killstraight endured when he was there.

Reading this novel introduced me to a genre of literature I had no idea was still vibrant and I am looking forward to reading more books by this author and many others.

Webpage for Killstraight:
http://www.johnnydboggs.com/Killstraight.html

Website about the Carlisle School, by a historian who does research about it:
http://home.epix.net/~landis/histry.html

Rio Bravo

John Wayne and Dean Martin star in this 1959 movie, and Martin gives a bravura performance as an alcoholic deputy to Wayne's no-nonsense sheriff. Rio Bravo also stars Walter Brennan (The Day They Hanged Kid Curry and 21 Days to Tenstrike) as another deputy. He's not wearing dentures, though, so it was often hard for me to understand what he was saying.

All three of them are trying to prevent a gang from breaking their prisoner, an accused murderer played by Claude Akins, out of the local jail. Angie Dickinson (who perhaps can be said to have a connection to ASJ as a result of starring with Earl Holliman in Police Woman), is also in this film, as is Ricky Nelson, of all people.

It's a long movie but doesn't drag. Partway through there is a musical interlude; Martin sings, Nelson sings and plays the guitar, and Brennan sings and plays the harmonica. I quite liked one of the songs, "Get Along Home, Cindy, Cindy." I wanted to download the song, which I later learned is a traditional tune from Appalachia, but it's not part of Ricky Nelson's works available on iTunes; I did, however, find a excerpt of it on YouTube. Rio Bravo is a movie definitely worth watching.

YouTube clip of "Cindy, Cindy":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPYCJlFfhW8

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

This 1957 version, starring a wonderful Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday, is great. What I didn't know beforehand is that Earl Holliman (Wheat) is also in this movie! He was so young, though, that I didn't recognize him and it wasn't until the credits rolled at the end that I learned who his character was (a deputy).

So then I went back and watched his scenes again and I could see a faint resemblance to Wheat; his voice, however, once I was listening carefully, was the same. I don't think I need to recount the plot here; suffice it to say that Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is definitely worth watching.

Gun Fury

This movie, from 1953, stars Rock Hudson and was produced by Columbia. It's about a man who goes after the outlaws who abducted his fiancee during a stagecoach robbery.

What I didn't know when I decided to watch it was that Roy Huggins co-wrote the screenplay! What makes Gun Fury even more interesting is that the heroine, Donna Reed--the woman who was kidnapped--was not a wimpy, insipid character like so many of the guest stars on ASJ. She was fairly strong and kept trying to escape.

It made me think that Huggins regressed with his characterizations of most of the women on ASJ when he developed his treatments for the stories. I mean, ASJ was produced almost twenty years after this movie, so what happened? Was it Huggins or the other writers who decided to make the ASJ women that way after they got the outlines from him? Or was it Universal who wanted them like that? I enjoyed this movie for the way it portrayed the lead female character.

Kansas Raiders and The Lawless Breed


These are short movies and are packaged on one DVD. Both are good. Kansas Raiders, from 1950, stars Audie Murphy as Jesse James. I have to say, I really like Audie Murphy as an outlaw--I think he does a great job playing those characters. A young Tony Curtis is also in this movie.

The tie-in to ASJ is that it's about Quantrill and his raid on Lawrence, Kansas. Jesse and his gang join up with Quantrill and the movie follows Jesse as his qualms about what's going on get stronger and stronger. It's interesting to see how the movie depicts the raid, though I suspect it's not especially accurate.

The Lawless Breed, from 1952, has Rock Hudson in his first starring role, as John Wesley Hardin. What's interesting about this movie is that Hardin is referred to as "the fastest gun in the West" and that he goes up against three brothers named Hanley. They aren't especially good guys, though. After seeing The Lawless Breed, I read some about Hardin, and I don't think the movie was particularly accurate in its description of Hardin's life; however, it was fun to watch.

Other ASJ connections: Both movies were produced by Universal and Bud Westmore did the make-up on at least one of them, possibly both--he also did make-up on ASJ.

Decision at Sundown

This is another Budd Boetticher movie, from 1957, with Randolph Scott playing a bit against type and a young-looking Noah Beery, Jr. (Something to Get Hung About). Vaughn Taylor (the first desk clerk in Return to Devil's Hole and the stableman in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry) plays Mr. Baldwin, the barber. 

Scott is out for vengeance and Beery is his sidekick; they're up against a man who seems to have taken over the town... Decision at Sundown is a fast-paced movie and only about 90 minutes long. The commentary by Taylor Hackford is also interesting.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

This is an excellent movie; I really enjoyed it. The two major stars are Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne but Vera Miles (The Posse That Wouldn't Quit), Andy Devine (The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg) and Jeanette Nolan (Pilot) also star.

It was really interesting to see them when they were younger; the movie is from 1962. Miles and Devine looked basically the same, although Devine was somewhat heavier. Both Miles and Nolan spoke with Swedish accents, which was a little weird.

A couple other things connect The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to ASJ: In the beginning, during a stagecoach robbery, the leader of the gang says, "Stand and deliver!" I was surprised to hear it so I looked up the phrase and discovered that highwaymen said this when they robbed their victims and, according to Wikipedia, the phrase was in use since the 17th century.

And at the end of the movie, there's a reference to Junction City--it must have been a popular place since it's the second time I've heard it mentioned in a Western, and this movie was a Paramount picture! The plot, told as a flashback, revolves around something Stewart's character did. I'm not going to say anything more about what happens in the movie: Just go watch it!

El Diablo

This is an HBO movie broadcast in 1990. It stars Louis Gossett, Jr., and Anthony Edwards. While The Bounty Hunter is one of my top five favorite ASJ episodes, I cannot say that El Diablo is one of my favorite Westerns.

Edwards is a schoolteacher who decides to rescue one of his students who has been kidnapped, even though he has no idea of how to go about doing that. He meets up with Gossett's character, who is a cross between a bounty hunter, a lawman, a cowboy and a drifter.

Together, they have lots of adventures as they track the gang that is holding the girl. Some of the dialog was witty but there also seemed to be a lot of tongue-in-cheek comments, and much of the action was, in my opinion anyway, unrealistic and unbelievable. Not even Robert Beltran of Star Trek: Voyager and Branscombe Richmond of Renegade, who also appeared in El Diablo, could save this movie for me.

Night Passage

I liked this movie a lot. It stars Audie Murphy and James Stewart, and until I started watching Westerns, I had no idea that Stewart starred in so many of them. Night Passage, from 1957 is about two brothers on opposite sides of the law.

Murphy is the bad guy, but he's a good bad guy, and he plays that kind of role really well. Stewart is the good guy and I like his characterization, too. The connection to ASJ wasn't the actors but rather the setting--part of it takes place in a town called...Junction City! And in the beginning of the film, just after the opening credits, a man dances a jig--a real jig, not like the one Kid Curry attempted in Going, Going, Gone.

This was a Universal picture and I have a sneaking suspicion that Roy Huggins was familiar with it. I really wonder how much he was influenced by these movie Westerns when he worked on ASJ.

As for the plot of Night Passage, it involves Stewart trying to guard a mining payroll being transported by railroad and Murphy trying to rob the train it's on. It's a fast-moving, short movie with lots of action and also good dialog.

Ride the High Country

Ride the High Country (1962) is apparently the movie that launched director Sam Peckinpah's career. James Drury fans take note! Drury is not the star--Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea are--and he doesn't appear in the movie until quite a ways after the beginning, but his role is pivotal.

Drury's character is completely different from his role as Lom Trevors in ASJ and it was really interesting to see him as a real jerk, a miner with three louts as brothers, one of whom is LQ Jones (Stagecoach Seven), who marries a girl that doesn't know what she's getting herself into, and he comes to a bad end. But I had to rewatch Drury's scenes when his character first appeared as I wasn't sure it was him; he looked very different from Lom.

The story actually begins with Scott and McCrea agreeing to guard a shipment of gold from a mining camp, but lots of moral ambiguities arise as a result of their decision. The scenes at the mining camp are a far cry from how miners were depicted in ASJ.

There is an excellent bonus feature that details Sam Peckinpah's career and it states that this movie is considered a classic Western. It has some violence but not nearly as much as later Peckinpah films reportedly do (I haven't seen anything else by him). I liked the movie and certainly recommend it.

The Texican

This is another Audie Murphy movie and the connection to ASJ is that it also stars Broderick Crawford (Dreadful Sorry, Clementine and The Man Who Robbed the Bank at Red Gap). The Texican is from 1966 and is only 88 minutes long, which was good because although the plot sounded interesting, the actual movie held my interest only due to its two stars.

Murphy plays an ex-sheriff with a price on his head and Crawford is the despot who had his brother, a newspaperman, killed. The setting is Rim Rock, Texas, which immediately brought to mind Red Rock from ASJ. Crawford's character was totally differently from how he played Winford Fletcher, although physically he looks the same and was immediately recognizable--here, he is the embodiment of evil, not a bumbling, clue-less crook.

To me, The Texican was more melodrama than drama. But if you like Audie Murphy, and I do, and want to see an ASJ guest star in a completely different kind of role, this move may be worth watching.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Broken Lance

This was one of the first Westerns I watched, because Robert Wagner starred in it and It Takes A Thief was one of my favorite TV shows when I was younger. But the opening credits revealed a surprise: Earl Holliman (Wheat, of course; no need to list his episodes!) and Katy Jurado (Carlotta, Senor Armendariz's sister in The McCreedy Feud) also starred in Broken Lance!

This 1954 movie stars Spencer Tracy as the patriarch of a ranching family and is about the conflict between Wagner's character, playing one son, whose mother was Jurado's character, and his three half-brothers, one of whom was played by Holliman.  Other conflicts are between Jurado and her three stepsons, between the ranching family and local Indians, and between Wagner's character's love interest and her family, who disapproves. There's lots of action and drama, as can be imagined!

Katy Jurado was easy to spot but I had to look up Earl Holliman's character on the Internet to place him, and then rewatch his scenes, because he looked very different from his role in ASJ. Of course this movie was almost twenty years earlier!

Ride Lonesome

This is a great movie! Ride Lonesome is also directed by Budd Boetticher; it's from 1959 and one of the stars is Pernell Roberts (Exit from Wickenburg and Twenty-One Days to Tenstrike) an outlaw trying to win an amnesty. Sound familiar?!

The story is actually about a bounty hunter, played by Randolph Scott, and the journey he is on as he tries to bring another outlaw, played by James Best, in to justice. Roberts' character, along with his sidekick who is played by James Coburn, attach themselves to the bounty hunter.

There are several conversations about being on the wrong side of the law and wondering if the "governor" will give them amnesty. The details were very different from ASJ but I wondered if Glen Larson and/or William Goldman had seen this movie or if the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was based on it. A woman, played by Karen Steele, also has an important role. There's a climactic showdown at the end of the movie.

The sets are sparse and the cinematography is wonderful. There's a terrific bonus feature by a film historian who discusses movie Westerns; it's an audio commentary dubbed over the movie soundtrack and it really added to my appreciation of the genre. Ride Lonesome is well worth watching.


The Cimarron Kid & The Man from the Alamo



The first movie I write about just has to be The Cimarron Kid from 1952 (or 1951, according to some sources). Here's why: About thirty minutes into the movie, I was stunned to see a scene that was used in ASJ! It's at the start of the opening credits, when the outlaws come riding down a hill to rob the train going by. 

I had to watch it several times and then check my ASJ DVD to make sure they were identical, and they were. I had noticed that the color looked a bit different in that opening sequence in ASJ but I never knew that the scene was from a completely different movie, and such an earlier one, at that. 

Oh, and the plot is great, too: Muphy plays a young man recently released from prison after serving time for a crime he didn't commit; however, through circumstances beyond his control, he falls in with a gang of outlaws and ends up as their leader. Lots of action, a love story, and those familiar scenes make this a real fun movie.

The Cimarron Kid is paired with The Man from the Alamo (1953), which co-stars Neville Brand and Chill Wills, two actors who also guest starred in ASJ. Neville Brand was in Shootout at Diablo Station and Which Way to the OK Corral?, playing a bad guy in both episodes. Chill Wills was in The Biggest Game in the West; he was one of the ranchers and poker players. I'm not sure but it almost looked like some scenes were filmed on the Mexican set at Universal used in some ASJ episodes. 


Both movies are Universal films (and were directed by Budd Boetticher, one of my favorite directors) so it makes sense that some sets and, apparently, some scenes, were recycled into other productions later on. The plot is about the only survivor of the Alamo, played by Glenn Ford, and how he deals with the accusation of cowardice by people because he left the fort before the final battle occurred.

Introduction

I watched "Alias Smith and Jones" (ASJ) when it was first broadcast in the 1970s and had taped several episodes when it was rebroadcast in the 1980s. I rediscovered ASJ again in the Spring of 2008 when I saw it was available through Netflix. I quickly watched all four disks of Season 1, then decided I had to own the DVDs so I bought the set. My interest was rekindled and I read all the ASJ fan fiction I could find on the Internet, joined message boards and read whatever I could find about the show on the Web and in books.

When I figured I'd found all the fanfic out there, I began to write my own stories featuring Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. As I was writing, I found myself doing a lot of research to make my stories more realistic, and I got interested in the history of the US in the post-Civil War period as a result, an era I knew little about. Then I branched out and started watching classic Westerns, and found many guest stars who'd appeared in episodes of ASJ were also in lots of wonderful movies. I have been making my way through the Westerns in Wild West magazine's list of top 100 movies, as well as other Westerns, which has been a lot of fun as I've never seen--or even heard of--most of these movies. I also started reading novels set in the Old West, and non-fiction magazines and books about Western history.

I decided to create this blog to share my thoughts about movies that have some kind of connection to ASJ. I was fascinated to learn that many of the guest stars on the show also starred in Westerns filmed in the 1950s and 1960s. In most cases, the movie starred an actor or actress who had a guest role on ASJ. In other cases, a scene or a set in a movie was used in an episode of the TV show. Sometimes, a phrase or a scene triggered a connection for me. Or someone listed in the credits of a movie had some sort of relationship to ASJ. I find it very interesting to compare how the West was portrayed in these movie Westerns with how it was depicted in ASJ. I'll briefly describe the plot of the movie, point out the ASJ connection, and provide links to movie reviews and sites with further information. Occasionally, I'll post about a book I've read that I like, or a website or place that I find particularly interesting. As Joe Simms says in The Bounty Hunter, "I got my eye on you..."