Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cowboy

 If I didn’t know that Cowboy was produced by Columbia, I would have thought this 1958 movie was the inspiration for many of ASJ episodes’ plots.  Based on Frank Harris' 1930 book My Reminiscences as a Cowboy, it stars Glenn Ford as Tom Reese, a cattle-driving, poker-playing trail boss and Jack Lemmon as Frank Thomas, a hotel clerk who wants to be a cowboy. 

Vaughn Taylor (the first desk clerk in Return to Devil's Hole and Willis in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry) plays the hotel manager who is Frank's boss.  Many scenes in this movie seemed to be ancestors of, especially, 21 Days to Tenstrike and The McCreedy Feud.  Ostensibly about Frank’s desire to join Reese’s cattle drive so he can meet up with his Mexican girlfriend, the movie is actually an interesting character study of the changes experienced by a man who is out of his comfort zone.

Here is a list of scenes in Cowboy that resonate with ASJ:
* A Mexican grandee who has, at his side, not his sister but his daughter;
* A partnership between two men who are opposites, but in this case they don’t much like each other and it’s a marriage of convenience only;
* Scenes of herding cattle on a trail drive, but with more detail as they showed the chuck wagon meals, the soreness from riding and one man giving another a massage which, if this hadn’t been a movie from the mid-20th century, could certainly have implied something much less innocent than what was clearly meant;
* Secret meetings at “a mission north of Guadelupe,” although the outcome here was not positive as it was in the TV show;
* A fight between drovers, although this time it was over a girl rather than who was doing which job;
* Beeves worth $20 in Chicago, and they sure weren't scrawny;
* A death on the trail, with the actual funeral, not just a few words spoken later.

There were also a few interesting lines of dialog which I could easily see Kid Curry saying when depressed or Hannibal Heyes saying when trying to persuade Curry not to use his gun, although in Cowboy they were voiced by a former lawman:
“Man gets a reputation with a gun, he’s just got to do too much killin’.”
“A man has to have something besides a gun and a saddle.  You just can’t make it all by yourself.”

Glenn Ford is always good and it’s fun to see a young Jack Lemmon.  There is also a very interesting trailer as a bonus feature; it starts off with the two stars talking directly to the camera—to the audience—about why people should go see the film and then it shows some actual scenes from the movie.  At only 92 minutes, Cowboy is a quick and easy film to watch.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

West of the Badlands

This film does not begin with the actual movie but rather an introduction to it by Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and their son Roy, Jr.  It lasts a few minutes and then West of the Badlands begins.  I was confused at first, thinking maybe I was watching a TV show instead, but then the hosts of Happy Trails Theatre announced the start of the film.

The 64-minute black-and-white movie starts with a text explanation that sets the story in 1875’s Idaho Territory.  I thought that odd because I do not associate badlands with Idaho.  But when I went to IMDb to find out more about West of the Badlands, and couldn’t find a reference to the movie, further digging revealed that an alternate title for this film is The Border Legion.  And that makes a lot more sense as that is the name of the outlaw gang which plays a big role in the movie.

Roy Rogers plays a doctor, Steve Kells, aka Steve Kellog, who is running from the law for some reason not explained until partway through West of the Badlands.  Gabby Hayes plays sidekick Honest John Whitaker; clearly, there are some possible connections to ASJ here!  Carol Hughes is Alice, Steve’s fiancée, and Joseph Sawyer is Jim Gulden, leader of the outlaw gang.  Maude Eburne is Hurricane Hattie McGuire, owner of a saloon in Miles City, but she has little in common with Blanche Graham from Journey from San Juan.

But a connection to that episode appears soon after: Steve shows up in need of a job and says, “I can play a guitar a little but not enough to be hired for it.”  Well, he can certainly sing and play a whole lot better than Michele Monet!  And the customers in the saloon in West of the Badlands seemed to appreciate him a lot more, too.  Later, in the outlaw hideout (a cabin somewhere), Steve sings Git Along Little Dogies; the line about "Wyoming will be your new home" struck me as ironic!  It was, however, pretty funny to see all the outlaws participating in a sing-a-long; I really can’t picture the Devil’s Hole Gang doing that.

While the quality of the DVD is not the best, and it is obvious that the actors are lip-syncing when singing, and obvious too when the actors are riding on a wagon or stagecoach that they are not, in fact, actually galloping along but rather the changing scenery behind them is a special effect and they are stationery, the actual plot of West of the Badlands was fun.  It involved Steve getting involved with capturing the gang of outlaws, Honest Joe trying—and eventually succeeding—in getting townsfolk interested in a mining operation, a couple love stories, and two lawmen on opposite sides when it came to apprehending Steve.  I don’t recall ever seeing a Roy Rogers movie before but based on this one, I will certainly seek out more.

The DVD of West of the Badlands included two long bonus features that are well worth viewing.  The first, lasting about half an hour, is called Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Biography and includes lots of anecdotes and stories by them and their children plus scenes from many of their Hollywood movies as well as what seem to be home movies.  The second bonus feature is called Sidekicks Feature and over the course of twenty minutes discusses and shows scenes with six supporting actors who played sidekicks to Roy Rogers in his movies, including Andy Devine (Sheriff Bintell in The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg), who played sidekick Cookie Bullfincher in nine of his movies.

The last bonus feature was only a few minutes long and consisted of a video tour of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, and included shots of Trigger and other animals on display (though I recall some controversy about the horse a few years ago).  A link below has information about the closing of the museum, which happened in 2009.

Information about the now-closed Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Museum:
http://www.b-westerns.com/roy-dale.htm

Sunday, October 13, 2013

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

This film is referenced a lot when Westerns are discussed but even though it was directed by John Ford and stars John Wayne, this 1949 movie, shot in Monument Valley (as usual for Ford), I was not especially impressed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.  There is a lot going on--as if Ford tried to cram all the possible plots of a Western into just this one movie--and at times I had difficulty distinguishing the supporting characters from one another.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is the story of a small United States cavalry outpost in the Southwest in 1876 that has to defend itself against Indians uniting for war.  It opens with a scene of a stagecoach driving through the desert and a mention of Rio Bravo, making me wonder if Ford was referencing his past and future films.  John Wayne plays Nathan Brittles, a captain who has only a few days left of service before he retires.  Some of the best scenes in the movie occur between Brittles and his sergeant, played by Victor McLaglen.

There are women at the outpost, too, and one day, Brittles escorts two of them to a stage station where they will catch a train going East so they will be safe from the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers who are attacking the army.  One of the women wears a yellow ribbon in her hair.  She seems spoiled and immature—flirting with the men, wanting her way and not listening to people who know more than she about the dangers of life in a remote, unsettled area. 

The women ride horses instead of travelling in the accompanying wagon, and I just don’t know how anyone could have found it comfortable to ride side saddle!  She Wore a Yellow Ribbon then shows how the actions of the younger woman, played by Joanne Dru, affect the lives of the cavalry soldiers as they go about performing their duties.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is a voyage of discovery.  As the cavalry patrol goes about its business, all sorts of mishaps and adventures befall it: Indians are seen, men get shot by arrows, the stage station is attacked, there is a fight in the bar.  Just as in Six Strangers at Apache Springs, the fight here has too much slapstick and is over the top.  Unlike the TV show, however, the fighting in the movie is interspersed with conversation, which makes it slightly more tolerable.  Captain Brittles also discovers what is important to him, as an officer and as a man, as do some of the other soldiers.

The music was too blatant—it told me what to think of instead of letting the action speak for itself.  But the cinematography was beautiful, especially the shot of the sunset at the end of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and deservedly won an Oscar as a result.  Wayne looked very different in a mustache and his acting was the best part of this 93-minute movie.  Paul Fix (Tom Hansen in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, Clarence in Night of the Red Dog, and Bronc in Only Three to a Bed) has a very small role but one that is crucial to the overall plot of the movie. 

There are a few bonus features on the DVD: One is three short home movies shot by John Ford of him and his friends in various locations that have nothing to do with this movie.  Another is a text featurette about the collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne and a third is the theatrical trailer for the film.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Violent Men

Although the main characters in The Violent Men are small rancher Mr. Parrish (Glenn Ford) and neighboring cattleman Mr. Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson), this movie could just as aptly be named The Violent Woman.  That would be Barbara Stanwyck who, as Mrs. Wilkison, steals the show.

And Brian Keith plays a love interest!  Jack Kelly (Dr. Chauncey Beauregard in Night of the Red Dog) has a supporting role as a hand on Parrish's ranch and Frank Ferguson (the undertaker Mr. Billings in Bad Night in Big Butte) has an uncredited role; neither actor was recognizable and it was only by reading the credits that I discovered they were in this movie.

The film moves at a slow pace for the first 45 minutes, taking its time to introduce all the characters, but then it picks up speed and does so with a vengeance.  Glenn Ford is the hero but he is very much a milquetoast until one incident forces his hand.

After that, there is plenty of action and the remaining 51 minutes pass quickly.  The main plot of The Violent Men concerns a rich cattleman who’s forcing the smaller ranchers and the farmers out of “his” valley, but a secondary plot involving his wife and her machinations is much more gripping.

Interestingly, this movie is based on a book by Donald Hamilton, who wrote the Matt Helm spy series, and there are traces of that reluctant hero in the character of John Parrish.  This is not Ford’s best work but Stanwyck, although at times veering into caricature, shines.  Robinson does not have as much to do as the other actors in this 1955 film.  The Violent Men is only an adequate B-Western but as a character study in greed, it works very well.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gun Street


Sometimes it’s hard to see how a movie got made, and Gun Street is one of those movies.  Opening with a shot of a deputy sheriff, played by John Clarke, practicing his fast draw—which isn’t anywhere near the caliber of Kid Curry’s—the sheriff of the unnamed town, played by James Brown, observes, “That fast draw business is over-rated.”  A good line, but from there, the movie goes downhill.

The plot of Gun Street revolves around an escaped convict by the name of Gary Wells who killed a guard during his getaway, and who now seems to be headed for his old hometown.  The audience gets his backstory as the sheriff, who grew up with the man, tells his deputy all about the dastardly fellow. 

Next we see the two lawmen visiting, in turn, the ex-wife of the criminal, who is married to the town doctor; a sister, married to a lout of a husband; and another sister, who runs a saloon.  There’s also an overbearing mayor and a scared witness from the trial that convicted Wells and sent him to prison for six years.  That allows the movie to show the audience a cross-section of how the townsfolk react to the news of the escape.

Gun Street—and I have no idea why the movie is named that, for there is no showdown on the main street, nor is there any gun play at all to speak of—then spends the rest of its time dithering over how to track down Wells, with the sheriff periodically stating how much he doesn’t want to be the sheriff anymore.  There are several scenes that show the sheriff and his deputy interacting with the townspeople and riding off to various locations as they endeavor to capture the escaped convict.

The only connection to ASJ that I could find was that in the ex-wife’s house and a sister’s house, there were “rope curtains,” similar to the one in the Porterville saloon in the Pilot.   Certainly, the sheriff in Gun Street was nothing like Lom Trevors (in any of his incarnations) or even any of the more comedic sheriffs in the show.  The only interesting feature of this movie was that there were telephones in the sheriff’s office and the doctor’s home, and when those people used them to communicate with each other, they did it so matter-of-factly it was obvious the instrument was no longer a novelty.

But overall, this 1961 black and white movie was more like a bad TV show than a feature length film.  Fortunately, Gun Street was only 67 minutes long.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Watching The Outlaw Josey Wales solidified my appreciation of Clint Eastwood as a great Western actor.  He does a terrific job as the eponymous main character, creating a role that is very much a pretty good bad man.  He’s a farmer in Missouri whose family is slaughtered by a band of Kansas Red Legs (see link below) during the Civil War.  Sounds kinda familiar, right?

One day while sitting at the grave of his wife, Bloody Bill Anderson, played by John Russell (Lom in The Day the Amnesty Came Through and Witness to a Lynching and Deputy Marshal Bart in Which Way to the O.K. Corral?) and barely recognizable with a beard and mustache, appears with his guerrillas.  Josey joins them on their murder spree until the war ends, with scenes of skirmishes between North and South shown in a blue tint.  All this happens before the end of the opening credits.

The movie reverts to full color when the men are offered pardons by the Union—an amnesty, one man calls it—and all but Josey accept.  He watches the ceremony from afar and the audience learns that Terrill, a Red Leg who opposes Wales, is dispatched to hunt him down and bring him to justice.  Terrill is played by Bill McKinney (Lobo in the Pilot, Return to Devil’s Hole, The Man Who Murdered Himself, and The Biggest Game in the West), who appeared in several Eastwood films.  This section of The Outlaw Josey Wales sets up the remainder of the movie, which lasts 135 minutes in all.

Chased by soldiers and bounty hunters who want the $5,000 reward out on him, Josey at first rides with a young bushwhacker who decided at the last minute that he didn’t want the pardon offered by the Union.  Josey encounters many people on his journey south to Indian Territory, where he thinks he will be safe.  Among them are a quack doctor selling an elixir, who is much slimier than Dr. Snively in The Day the Amnesty Came Through; an old Cherokee who was forced to travel the Trail of Tears—he makes a great political speech about the history between whites and Indians; a heavy-handed trading post owner and a young Navajo woman who works for him and doesn’t speak English; various bounty hunters and soldiers; and finally two pioneer women, one elderly and the other rather young, who were attacked by Comancheros as they travelled by wagon to a better life. 

The former Southern bushwhacker is a veritable Pied Piper as he just tries to stay alive!  Throughout these scenes, The Outlaw Josey Wales does an excellent job of showing how tough the living conditions of the period truly must have been.

Josey lives in a violent time and he is a violent man who knows only one way out when he’s pinned down, which happens on a fairly regular basis.  After meeting the two white women, The Outlaw Josey Wales shifts and becomes slightly more homespun, as viewers see all the people whom Josey has collected to him settle down on a homestead by a stream outside of Santo Rio, Texas.  They are threatened by Comanches but Josey resolves that situation.  However, serenity doesn’t come easily to Josey and there is a climactic shootout before this 1976 movie reaches a satisfactory conclusion.

There are some interesting bonus features on the DVD of The Outlaw Josey Wales.  The first comprises several screens of text describing the evolution of the movie: its origin from the book to its production by Clint Eastwood.  The second bonus feature, titled “Eastwood in Action,” is seven minutes of explanation of how Eastwood made the movie; the narration is pretty corny but since it’s short it doesn’t matter. 

The last bonus feature is the most interesting; titled “Hell Hath No Fury,” it’s a half hour “making of” featurette that shows the cast and crew behind the scenes as they filmed the movie.  It also includes interviews with the stars of the movie, including Bill McKinney, and it was very interesting to see him as a much older man as this bonus feature was made in 1999.  Immediately following the credits for this bonus feature are scenes of Josey Wales spitting tobacco, which he does throughout the movie, and Eastwood explaining the meaning behind the actions; it’s quite funny and worth waiting for.  And definitely completely different than Kyle Murtry chewing tobacco!

A couple other notes: Part of The Outlaw Josey Wales was filmed in Kanab, Utah, which apparently filled in for Texas, just as Moab, Utah, filled in for Wyoming in ASJ.  The soundtrack really enhanced the period atmosphere and links to two of the songs showcased in the movie, the Rose of Alabama and The Sweet By and By, are provided below.

Listen to The Rose of Alabama:
http://www.civilwarheritagetrails.org/American_Civil_War/Rose_of_Alabama.html

Listen to In the Sweet By and By, recorded in 1908:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgBQuUrcKUA

Article about the Kansas Red Legs:
http://www.legendsofkansas.com/redlegs.html

Monday, July 1, 2013

Will Penny

I don’t know why it took me so long to watch this—Will Penny is a very good movie!  Starring Charlton Heston as the title character and Joan Hacket (Alice Bannion in The Legacy of Charlie O’Rourke) as Catherine Allen, this 1968 film also introduces Lee Majors (Joe Briggs in The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone) in his first credited film role.  His face was immediately recognizable. 

Another co-star is Slim Pickens (Mike the bartender in Exit from Wickenburg; and three sheriffs in The Man Who Murdered Himself, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, and The Strange Fate of Conrad Meyer Zulick), whose voice is recognizable anywhere, plays a chuck wagon cook.

The beginning of Will Penny was very reminiscent of 21 Days to Tenstrike: We first see Will on a cattle drive; then at dinnertime around the chuck wagon, where the cook’s personality reminds me of Gantry; the trail boss—who seems to also be the ranch owner—offers the drovers a bonus if they can get the herd to their destination by a certain time; and there’s a fight among some men over nothing important.

But the plot of Will Penny was primarily concerned with what happens after the cattle drive ends.  Will and two friends decide to ride together and encounter some very unfriendly people in the form of a mad preacher, played by Donald Pleasence, and his three sons.  Later Will, who is not a young man, goes his own way and ends up working for a cattle outfit as the caretaker of a line shack for the winter. 

But there’s a surprise: Joan and her young son, H.G., who were abandoned by the guide who was taking them to Oregon to join her husband, are squatting there and refuse to leave.  The remainder of the film is about the burgeoning relationship between Will, Catherine, and H.G..  It is not a spoiler to say things do not go smoothly.

Catherine is a civilizing force on Will, just as Alice was on the boys in ASJ; she even wears her hair in much the same way although otherwise in Will Penny she looks different.  There’s a funny scene where she tries to get Will to take a bath.  He replies that he bathes eight or nine times.  Catherine asks, “A month?”  Will says, “A year!  Well, what’s wrong with that?  It’s as much as anybody.”  To which Catherine retorts, “Well, not everybody.”  Clearly, not all men in the Old West were as fastidious as Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry!

How Will Penny ends is an unexpected surprise but it is a stronger movie as a result.  In one of the two bonus features, the 20-minute long Remembering Will Penny, Charlton Heston says this was the best Western he ever made; other people interviewed also had high praise for the movie.  The other bonus feature, The Cowboys of Will Penny, was much shorter and included reminiscences of the actors who played cowboys in the movie.

The scenery in Will Penny was beautiful and the ending credits stated that part of the movie was filmed in the Inyo National Forest in northern California.  The music was very 1970s; it reminded me, in a good way, of the song Take a Look Around in Return to Devil’s Hole.  At 98 minutes, this is a film not to be missed.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Duel in Durango

In Duel in Durango, Will Sabre, played by George Montgomery (Curt Clitterhouse in Jailbreak at Junction City), is an outlaw who wants to go straight.  He wears a black hat with silver conchos, was known as the fastest gun around, and was the leader of an outlaw gang which robbed banks and stagecoaches throughout the West.  The other gang members, however, don’t approve of Sabre’s decision to get out of the business.

But at the start of Duel in Durango, the audience does not know this.  What viewers see is a man who finds a young boy beside a covered wagon, his pa dead.  Then the scene shifts to a group of men interrogating a homesteader about the whereabouts of outlaw Will Sabre and, once they get the information, one of the men, apparently the leader, shoots the homesteader dead.  Boyd “Red” Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) has a small role as one of the outlaws and also does some stunt work, according to the credits listed on IMDb. 

Meanwhile, the stranger who found the boy helps him bury his father and when a posse composed of Texas Rangers shows up asking about Will Sabre, both man and boy recognize the name as that of a famous outlaw but they plead ignorance as to ever having seen him.  Shortly after that, the other group of men shows up and finds Will Sabre, who is the stranger helping the boy.  They present him with an ultimatum: Return to the gang within thirty days or else…

Will Sabre adopts the alias of Dan Tomlinson and takes the boy Robbie (played by Bobby Clark) to Durango, where he used to have a girl.  Judy (played by Ann Robinson) is a successful rancher who, although initially angry at Will for leaving her, eventually softens up enough to acquiesce to his request to look after Robbie.  Unlike Clementine Hale, Judy is serious and not at all flighty in her demeanor.  Her home is a lot nicer than Clem’s cabin, too.  Duel in Durango spends a fair amount of time showing the domestic life of this trio that somehow becomes a family.

Dan gets a job as a teller in the local bank.  Before hiring him, the manager asks, “Have you ever done any banking?”  “Well, not your kind,” Dan replies.  Definitely shades of Hannibal Heyes here!  And Kid Curry, too, for Dan tells Robbie, “By the time you grow, [people] won’t be wearing guns.  They’ll live by the law.”  So not exactly an echo, as Duel in Durango was released in 1957, some fourteen years before the premiere of ASJ, but perhaps an ancestor.

But not everything is perfect forever.  Sabre’s old gang catches up to him; there’s a bank robbery and a gun battle on the main street of Durango.  Dan comes under suspicion—the sheriff, played by Frank Ferguson (Mr. Billings, the undertaker, in Bad Night in Big Butte), always did seem to have reservations about him.  And then, something happens to Robbie.  Sabre seeks out his former gang members at their hideout, which is called a “shack” in Duel in Durango and is much more rustic than Devil’s Hole.

Although this film is also known as Gun Duel in Durango, I think Duel in Durango is a better title because the duel refers to more than just the gunfight that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the movie.  Will Sabre duels with his alternate persona, Dan Tomlinson, who is meek as a mouse, as he continuously faces challenges in his attempt to go straight.  He also duels with Judy and with Robbie over matters of the heart and home.  Even Sabre’s verbal parrying with the sheriff was a duel between the law and outlaw. 

Ultimately, though, all these struggles come to a satisfying, if abrupt, end which fans of Alias Smith and Jones will cheer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Stagecoach to Fury

The double meaning of the title of this 75-minute black-and-white 1956 movie soon becomes apparent.  Starring Forrest Tucker (Deputy Harker Wilkins in the Pilot) as cavalryman John Townsend and co-starring Paul Fix (Clarence in Night of the Red Dog), Stagecoach to Fury is typical B-movie fare with a few interesting touches. 

Forrest Tucker is immediately recognizable, not least because he is by far the tallest person in the cast.  He plays a shotgun messenger to Paul Fix’s stagecoach driver, Tim.  They are carrying a group of passengers through John Ford country, on a stagecoach from the appropriately-named Navajo Passenger Stage Lines.

Stopping at a waystation, they are captured by Mexican bandits who want the gold they believe the stage is carrying.  From then on, Stagecoach to Fury alternates between telling the personal histories of three of the passengers and showing the determination of the others to prevent the bandits from finding the gold. 

The three stories are told through flashbacks and reveal the reasons why those people ended up as passengers on this particular stagecoach.  There is little character development of the other four passengers—one of whom ends up dead very early on—or of the Mexicans, who frequently speak Spanish which isn’t translated, which, in my opinion, makes the movie more realistic.

There is a flashback scene in Stagecoach to Fury that reminded me of the scene in The Posse That Wouldn’t Quit when Belle Jordan confronts the sheriff of the posse tracking Heyes and Curry.  As in that episode, the scene here shows a woman stepping outside her home to confront two men who have been tracking someone.  However, who the good guys and the bad guys are is reversed in this movie's scene.

The premise of Stagecoach to Fury—a group of strangers trapped in a small room or building by some antagonistic force beyond their control—has been filmed numerous times.   Budd Boeticher’s The Tall T on the big screen and, on TV, The Virginian episode Strangers at Sundown immediately came to mind.  Despite that, the twists in this movie make it an enjoyable afternoon diversion.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Stalking Moon


A cross between Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and a modern slasher movie, The Stalking Moon is the first horror Western I have ever seen.  Beautiful cinematography in vibrant colors and the sometimes haunting music, used judiciously, really complement the plot of this 1968 film that was partially shot on location in Nevada.

The Stalking Moon opens with a long shot of a man clambering over Vazquez Park-like rocks as he then helps the U.S. Army capture a band of Apaches in Arizona.  Gregory Peck stars as Sam Varner, an Army scout whom the audience soon finds out has decided to retire and return to his ranch in New Mexico. 

One of the Indians turns out to be a captive white woman, played by Eva Marie Saint, with a young half-Indian son.  She has evidently been with the Apaches for a long time because she has a hard time remembering how to speak English.

The soldiers herd the Indians to the Army camp, prior to sending them to the reservation at San Carlos.  On their way to the makeshift Army post, they come across a burned-out homestead and someone mutters the name Salvaje.

Not much is made of the plight of the Indians, however.  Instead, the plot of The Stalking Moon soon revolves around the white woman, whose name is Sarah Carver, and her attempts to accompany Varner to his ranch with her son.  There is a bit of a mystery as to why she wants to leave the Army encampment so quickly but, ultimately, she does and the journey to New Mexico reveals the openness and loneliness of the Old West. 

Red “Boyd” Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) has a small role as a stagecoach driver the travellers meet on their way to Varner's ranch.  Varner, Carver and her son survive a sandstorm in the desert that was just as bad, if not worse, than the one in Smiler with a Gun.  Eventually, they arrive at the ranch, situated in a forest near a river, and the old man who was taking care of the place and buying up cattle for Varner, greets them.

All seems idyllic—Sam is getting used to having a woman around and Sarah is regaining her voice and strength.  But soon mysterious, violent incidents occur and the name Salvaje is uttered again.  An Indian scout (played by Robert Forster), a friend of Sam’s, shows up, and after that, the suspense dramatically increases. 

There is a lot of scrambling through the forest and over rocks and in the river, as in High Lonesome Country, and it slowly becomes clear who Salvaje is and why he is there.  The Stalking Moon handles all of this very effectively in its 109 minutes.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hang 'Em High

This is a surprisingly good movie!  I was surprised because I thought it would be a spaghetti Western, but the synopsis of the plot of Hang ‘Em High intrigued me so I decided to take a chance on it.  I’m glad I did; this 114-minute film from 1967 is well worth watching.  And there are lots of little reminders of Alias Smith and Jones, too.

Clint Eastwood plays Jed Cooper, whom the audience first sees as a cowboy driving a small herd of cattle across a river, just like in Twenty-One Days to Tenstrike.  Suddenly, a large group of men surround him and accuse him of rustling.  One of the men is played by immediately-recognizable Alan Hale, Jr. (Andrew Greer, the lawyer in The Girl in Boxcar 3).  Another man, Loomis, is played by L.Q. Jones (Clint Weaver in Stagecoach Seven) , not so recognizable as I mistakenly thought he was the man wearing an eye patch.  They don’t believe his evidence that he bought the cattle legally and hang him from a nearby tree.  This scene at the beginning of Hang ‘Em High was well-done and reminded me a little of The Ox-Bow Incident.

Fortunately, a marshal comes along, sees the man dangling and cuts him loose, only to have his deputy shackle his feet and dump him in the prison wagon with the other men he’s transporting to Fort Grant, Oklahoma Territory.  Much later in the movie the audience learns that the marshal’s name is Hayes.  After a few days in the pit-like jail, the judge (played by Pat Hingle) releases him.  Cooper wants revenge on the nine men who attempted to hang him.  But it turns out Cooper is an ex-lawman and Judge Fenton offers him a job that he can’t refuse: $250 a month as a Federal Marshal; he will be the twentieth marshal in the entire Territory.  The judge tells Cooper he can go after the men who tried to kill him but he must bring them in alive, and the remainder of Hang ‘Em High is about Cooper’s pursuit of them.  There is also a rather mysterious woman, Rachel Warren (played by Inger Stevens), who comes to play a significant role in the movie.

Other connections to Alias Smith and Jones abound: A character, seen only in one scene at the beginning of Hang ’Em High, is called Preacher.  The town where the bad guys are is called Red Creek.  Cooper and another man call each other “boy” but in this movie, it’s used as a derogatory insult, in contrast to the affectionate use of the term in the TV show.  At one point, Cooper is distracted from his mission of revenge by having to track down some murdering cattle-rustlers, and he brings all of them through a desert safely, though it’s clear when they reach Fort Grant that they suffered mightily.  One scene had L.Q. Jones inside a house engaged in a shoot-out with Cooper, in a fun twist from seeing him on the outside shooting in in Stagecoach Seven.  And Alan Hale was taking the law into his own hands when he supported the hanging of Cooper, in contrast to his role as a lawyer in ASJ.  In another irony, Mark Lenard (Jim Plummer in Exit from Wickenburg) is a prosecutor appearing before Judge Fenton’s court.

Fort Grant is a clear stand-in for the real Fort Smith in Arkansas and Judge Fenton is obviously a surrogate for the real Judge Isaac Parker, the “Hanging Judge.”  About half the plot of Hang ‘Em High consists of Cooper tracking down his nemeses and the other half deals with his relationship with the judge and his tendency to hang all the prisoners brought before his court.  The gallows is prominently located in the center of the town and the movie shows several scenes of people being hung.  At one mass execution, there is a party-like atmosphere, just as in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry; a vendor can even be heard hawking, not popcorn, but pretzels, licorice sticks for children, and cold beer.  There is a great shot of the shadows of several pairs of legs dangling; in fact, the quality of the cinematography and production design is very high in this film. 

There are no bonus features on the DVD I watched but there is a very interesting trailer for Hang ‘Em High; it is obvious that the movie is from the ‘60s!  All in all, this was a very enjoyable film and definitely worth seeing.

Biography of Judge Isaac Parker:
http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ar-isaacparker.html

History of the U.S. Marshal Service, with a focus on the Old West period:
http://www.legendsofamerica.com/law-usmarshals.html

Review summary in The New York Times:
http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/21400/Hang-Em-High/overview

From IMDb:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061747/?ref_=sr_1

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Indian Fighter

The beginning of The Indian Fighter, a 1956 movie starring Kirk Douglas as Johnny Hawks, strongly reminded me of White Feather and Broken Arrow, two other films from the same decade.  And while this movie did often seem to be derivative, Douglas’ performance was good enough to keep me entertained throughout its 88 minutes. 

The generic plot of The Indian Fighter is a mash-up of: white man is friends with Indians but works for the Army, white scout leads pioneer settlers through tense Indian country, white man falls for Indian girl and problems ensue, unscrupulous white men search for gold, white girl falls for white scout but he is not interested, Indians attack Army fort, white man comes under suspicion by soldiers and settlers. 

Alan Hale (Andrew Greer, the lawyer in The Girl in Boxcar #3) co-stars as a suitor of the white girl; he’s the “best apple-grower in all of Michigan.”  The white girl has a son named—surprise!—Tommy, just like the boys in Exit from Wickenburg and The Men Who Corrupted Hadleyburg.  And Hawks shoots a rattler, in a scene reminiscent of Smiler with a Gun.

There were some interesting scenes in the movie that touched on the history of the West.  Over the course of The Indian Fighter, the state of relations between the whites and the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Shoshone were mentioned; some were friendly to the people invading their territory and some were not.  A subplot involved an Army photographer, a protégé of Mathew Brady, who believed that his photos would show the beauty of the land to people back East and persuade them to journey West in a venture to civilize the region.

The background music was generally overbearing and obvious but at approximately the mid-point of The Indian Fighter, a song was played by a character in the movie and a google search revealed it to be a song from the Civil War called Two Brothers.