Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gun Belt

I don't think I've ever seen George Montgomery in anything besides ASJ (Curt Clitterhouse in Jailbreak at Junction City) so it was enjoyable to watch him as Billy Ringo in Gun Belt. He played a reformed outlaw, engaged to be married; his fiance, Helen Westcott, played by Arlene Reach, was a strong character who made the role more interesting than the usual love interest depicted in many Westerns. Montgomery looked younger and leaner but was recognizable because his voice and facial expressions were the same.

The story starts off with Billy's outlaw brother, Matt Ringo, escaping from an unnamed Territorial Prison. He and his three sidekicks find Billy on a ranch, along with Matt's son. Matt was sprung from prison so he could talk his brother into doing another job for a businessman in Tucson. Billy declines but ends up helping anyway after he is framed for a bank robbery and murder. There is lots of action and adventure, although the ending was predictable and sappy.

The characters in this 90-minute, 1953 color film are a mix of historical persons and fictional ones; for example, Billy Ringo and Ike Clinton appear to be stand-ins for Johnny Ringo and Ike Clanton. But, Virgil and Wyatt Earp make appearances as well. In fact, it was very interesting to compare Gun Belt's Wyatt Earp with the one in Which Way to the O.K. Corral?

A few side notes: Matt Ringo makes a comment about being naked when he was in prison and unable to wear a gun, similar to Kid's comment in the Pilot. There's a scene where Billy and Ike shake hands to seal a deal, presaging Clitterhouse's deal with Heyes. This deal worked out about just as well as that one. Boyd "Red" Morgan, who played Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim, is a gang member in Gun Belt, though I couldn't identify him on screen.

There's also a reference to Robin Hood and thieves, which harks back to the opening credits of ASJ. And when one character shoots another and then puts the whiskey glass he'd been drinking from down on a desk, I immediately thought of fingerprints, as described by Heyes in Something to Get Hung About. Gun Belt has lots of ASJ references for those who look for them!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Fastest Gun Alive

"No matter how fast you are, there's always someone faster." Words for Kid Curry to live--or die--by! This 1956 black-and-white film, with music by Andre Previn, is about a gunfighter, played by Broderick Crawford (Chester E. Powers in The Man Who Broke the Bank at Red Gap), his two followers, one of whom is Noah Beery (the Sheriff in Something to Get Hung About), and a mild-mannered but obviously conflicted owner of a mercantile, played by Glenn Ford.

The Fastest Gun Alive starts out with a quintessential Old West gunfight. Crawford tracks down men with reputations as fast draws and calls them out to see who is faster. He looks the same, perhaps a little thinner, and is definitely a lot meaner. Even his two followers think he's a bit crazy. When they rob a bank, one of the gang members reminds the other not to take the pennies like he did the last time, presumably because they are too heavy to carry. Wonder if the Devil's Hole Gang ever thought about that!

The movie then shifts and we see Glenn Ford out in the desert, shooting his gun. He rides a wagon home to his wife, who suspects something is wrong but is unable to get him to confide in her. It's clear he has a secret but the audience doesn't find out until much later what it is. The scenes depicting the torment of Ford's character are very well acted. He is pushed to the breaking point, breaks, and then The Fastest Gun Alive spends the rest of its time dealing with the consequences.

Early on in The Fastest Gun Alive is a scene straight out of a Gene Kelly musical: There's a barn dance, and a character named Eric is cajoled into doing a jig--yep, that's the word that was used! Not only does he jig, he tap dances, does acrobatics, and uses two shovels to perform very creative, fancy moves. Eric was played by Russ Tamblyn, who played Riff in the film version of West Side Story, which explains a lot.

Tamblyn is also connected to ASJ in that he appeared with Ben and Roger at the 2006 Western Film Fair in Charlotte, NC! Having now seen barn dances in several Westerns, I wondered if they really were as popular and common as the movies make them out to be, so I did a little research and learned that barn dances were "the poor man's ball."

I liked The Fastest Gun Alive a lot. It was suspenseful in the traditional sense and also psychologically thrilling. It gave me a vision of what life might be like for Kid Curry if he were to marry and try to settle down. From the way things went in this movie, it would probably be very difficult for him to have a normal life after getting the amnesty.

Short article about the history of barn dances:
http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3barn1.htm

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Arrowhead

If Heyes and Curry had seen this film before going into the hills to search for gold in Six Strangers at Apache Springs, it's no wonder they were afraid of the Chiricahua! Arrowhead tells the story of Ed Bannon, a fictional character that a scrolling note at the end of the movie says is based on real-life Indian scout Al Seiber. Bannon, played by Charlton Heston, is suspicious of the Chiricahua Apache's offer to the Army at Fort Clarke, Texas, to make peace. The Army, however, has no such doubts.

Set during the time of the Apache Wars, Arrowhead includes lots of fighting between the Indians and the soldiers; lots of drumming, which sounds stereotypically Indian, as background music; and some romance between Ed and two women that don't make a whole lot of sense. One of the love interests is Nita, a half-Mexican, half-Apache woman, played by Katy Jurado (Carlotta Armendariz in The McCreedy Feud).

Although this movie was produced about twenty years before ASJ, Jurado looks the same here as she does in the TV show--she didn't age much but, on the other hand, she looks old and worn out in Arrowhead. Nita is not particularly endearing and it's hard to see why Bannon would be attracted to her.

However, Bannon as a character is very interesting. He was apparently raised by the Apaches for a number of years, but it's never very clear why that was so or why he left them and became a scout for the Army. He wears a red shirt that laces up the front, which reminded me of Kid's similarly-styled shirt that he wears in several later episodes. And when Bannon shaves shirtless, I couldn't help but be reminded of the scene in Never Trust an Honest Man. But Kid looks much cuter, both when wearing the shirt and without it!

At one hour and forty-five minutes, the film dragged at times despite the abundant action. There are no bonus features. After watching the entire movie, I still don't know why it was called Arrowhead. On a positive note, Brian Keith made his film debut in this movie and he plays the role of an Army officer very nicely. Another positive attribute is that Edith Head was the costume designer and because of that, I think the costumes worn by the actors were probably as authentic as they could possibly be.

Official website of the Chiricahua Apache nation:
http://www.chiricahuaapache.org/

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rage at Dawn

This 1955 film purports to tell the story of the Reno Brothers, the first outlaw gang to rob trains in America, starting in 1866. Besides doing train robberies, the Reno Gang robs county treasury offices and pays off corrupt politicians and lawmen. The movie stars Randolph Scott as an undercover agent with the Peterson National Detective Agency, clearly a stand-in for the Pinkertons, and Forrest Tucker as Frank Reno, leader of the Reno Gang.

After doing some research, it seems that Rage at Dawn adheres broadly to historical fact but does take many liberties and also leaves out a lot of detail. Then again, at only 87 minutes, this is a feature film, not a documentary.

It was great to see Forrest Tucker in the role of a bad guy! He was much thinner than the character of Harker Wilkins (from the Pilot) in Rage at Dawn and by listening carefully, I could still recognize his voice. Randolph Scott, of course, played the good guy, though he pretended to be a bad guy so he could infiltrate the Reno Gang. He appears about half an hour into the film, after the audience has seen the Reno Gang in action and knows they are not pretty good bad men--they are just bad men, with Frank Reno being a cold-hearted killer.

There's a scene where a bartender keeps wiping a glass over and over as he talks to someone, reminding me of Sister Grace in Six Strangers at Apache Springs. In another scene, Frank Reno gives a Kid Curry glare to the county prosecutor, who's on the take--that was fun to see. A description of an outlaw was given at one point (it was of Scott's character) and one of the Reno Brothers says it could fit anyone--just like the descriptions of Heyes and Curry on their wanted posters.

The love story in this movie contrasted nicely with the action scenes. Many of the events in Rage at Dawn took place at night and it was often hard to make out what was happening. Not only that but the print I watched was very scratchy; there was lots of dust on it. The shootout towards the end of the movie was difficult to follow, due to all the actors resembling each other. However, the scene in the jail at the end of Rage at Dawn was very effective. I won't give away the ending by revealing what happened, but I will say it explains the meaning of the title very well.