Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Sundowners

The Sundowners, an eighty-minute long color film from 1950, seems to include all the requisite elements of a typical mid-twentieth century Western: The lone rancher doing his best to hold out against more established ranchers, with only a younger brother and one neighbor to support his efforts; an ineffectual sheriff in the pay of or under the thumb of the most powerful rancher in the area; a female neighbor who doesn't seem too fond of her wimpy husband but is overly fond of the unattached lone rancher; a dead foreman, cattle rustling, more dead bodies, a secret, and of course a climactic gun battle. 

And into this mix comes a man with a name like that of an outlaw: Kid Wichita, who, for some reason unexplained until near the end of the movie, takes an interest in both the welfare of the lone rancher and the lonely wife.  The rancher welcomes Wichita's assistance and that of his two equally disreputable friends but gradually seems less sure that accepting his help is the right thing to do.  On the other hand, the rancher's younger brother, who at first wanted to kill Wichita--this gunslinger goes by Wichita, not Kid--eventually ends up practically hero-worshipping him.

The leads are Robert Sterling as the rancher, Tom Cloud, and Robert Preston as Kid Wichita, the outlaw.  Chill Wills (Bixby in The Biggest Game in the West) is the rancher's friend, and Jack Elam (Boot Coby in Bad Night in Big Butte) is the unloved husband.  Elam was unrecognizable but in the twenty-odd years between The Sundowners and his role in ASJ, Wills hadn't changed much.

Overwrought and melodramatic at times, The Sundowners was filmed in Texas and the location shots raise this movie slightly above average as a result.  A bonus feature consists of filmographies of the major actors and the director.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Law and Order

Having watched several Westerns starring one film icon, John Wayne, I figured it was time to vary my viewing habits so I decided to watch Law and Order, starring Ronald Reagan.  This 80-minute long color film also stars Dorothy Malone. 

The make-up was done by Bud Westmore, who also did the make-up for the ASJ Pilot.  Jack Kelly (Dr. Chauncey Beauregard in Night of the Red Dog) has a small role and Boyd “Red” Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) has an uncredited role but I only knew they were in this movie by looking at the credits.

Reagan is Frame Johnson, the law in Tombstone, Arizona.  But he gives up his job as marshal after bringing in one last outlaw and, along with his two brothers and the local undertaker, ride off with a hearse to Cottonwood, where they plan to be ranchers.  Naturally, their plan does not proceed as smoothly as they would like and the rest of Law and Order shows why. 

Chiefly because Cottonwood is run by a businessman whom Frame ran out of Dodge City years ago and the local sheriff is in his pocket.  The few honest people in Cottonwood, led by a judge, implore Frame to take on the marshal’s job for that town but his ladylove Jeannie, who runs a saloon back in Tombstone, like Mary in Exit from Wickenburg except that Jeannie inherited the establishment from her father instead of her husband, abhors the idea of Frame being a lawman because she is afraid he’ll be killed so he keeps refusing. 

But Law and Order is a Western from 1953 so ultimately Frame can’t help but take on the job to clean up the corrupt town, especially after tragedy strikes.  The relationship between Frame and his brothers, who were hard to distinguish from each other, and the undertaker, who provided the comic undertone, is what really drives Law and Order.  In that respect, it reminded me of Tombstone, with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.  There is also an element of Romeo and Juliet to the movie. 

Even though this is a Universal Studios production and was clearly filmed there as well as on location, the sets did not look at all like those in ASJ twenty or so years later.