Saturday, December 17, 2011

Belle of the Yukon

The voice-over that reads the text on-screen as Belle of the Yukon begins says not to expect a movie filled with violence or one that is like the works of Robert Service.  He is the poet who wrote The Cremation of Sam McGee—see the link below—and it seems to me that the text at the start of this film is trying to imitate the style of that poem.  If that text had also said to expect a movie filled with musical numbers and improbable plot twists acted in overly broad comic fashion, I probably would not have watched it.  Fortunately, this 1944 movie was only 84 minutes long.

In Belle of the Yukon, Randolph Scott stars as Honest John Calhoun, proprietor of a saloon and dance hall in Malamute, Alaska, during the gold rush days.  With a name like Honest John, of course the man is not on the up and up.  The daughter of his manager, named Lettie, is played by Dinah Shore; she is in love with the piano player who has a seemingly shady past.  Gypsy Rose Lee plays Belle, who was John’s love interest in Seattle; she and her troupe of dancers have just arrived to work at the Emporium, as Honest John's place of entertainment is called.  The main plot points revolve around these four characters but there are several secondary plots as well.

The name Honest John reminds me of the name of the character Pete Duel played in The Young Country, Honest John Smith.  The con games played by John Calhoun in this film remind me of those pulled by Oscar Harlingen (played by Severn Darden) in Never Trust an Honest Man and by Heyes himself in Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

Like those ASJ episodes, there are double crosses in this movie as well and the only reason I watched Belle of the Yukon to the end was to see how they were resolved.  At one point, John Calhoun remarked, “You can carry this honesty thing too far”, and I can definitely envision Heyes saying something like that!

What I enjoyed most about Belle of the Yukon were the outrageous hats worn by Belle and her dancers.

Website about Robert Service:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Good Day for a Hanging

Although Fred MacMurray is the lead in Good Day for a Hanging, playing a reluctant marshal, Ben Cutler, I was much more interested in watching James Drury (Lom Trevors in the Pilot and Sheriff Tankersley in The Long Chase), who plays a doctor, and Robert Vaughn, who plays a bank robber.

Set in Nebraska in June 1878, Good Day for a Hanging starts off with three men watching a stagecoach travel on a road far below the ridge atop which they are sitting on their horses.  But in a twist, they are not out to rob the stage; instead, they are coordinating their movements with the two men inside it.  Within minutes of each other, they all arrive in the town of Springdale, where the audience is introduced to several other characters in the movie. 

The bank is robbed, the robbers gallop out of town pursued by a posse, men are shot and killed or wounded, and one of the robbers (Vaughn) is caught and jailed.  The remainder of Good Day for a Hanging is about the relationships between the marshal; his daughter (played by Joann Blackman), who is sweet on the robber, her childhood friend; the marshal’s fiancĂ©; the townsfolk; and a couple of lawyers –they all have differing ideas about what they think should happen to Eddie, the young bank robber charged with murder.  There is a trial, a gallows is built, clemency is sought, a jailbreak is planned, a gunfight occurs, justice prevails in the end.

Good Day for a Hanging is a conventional Western that reminded me of many others I have seen.  MacMurray and Blackman acted woodenly; Drury as a self-absorbed doctor was interesting; and it was fun to see Vaughn as a bad guy.  This 1958 movie was a pleasant diversion, an enjoyable way to spend 85 minutes of time, but nothing more.