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..."