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|Index||16 reviews in total|
Randolph Scott often shines as typical westerner.
Here he plays Captain Potter a perfect example for Christian charity. He
even prefers humiliation and danger to reputation of his lovely
He is a hero and a saint.
Scott never looks unbelievable in his part.
Lex Barker, former Tarzan and later superman "Old Shatterhand", plays against his image as arrogant villain. And I think he does it very well.
The story is entertaining and there are a lot of other good actors like Henry Hull, Phyllis Kirk and Elisha Cook jr. in it.
This really is an enjoyable B-western directed by veteran Andre de Toth.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Thunder Over the Plains" is another of those enjoyable little 80
minute color westerns turned out by Randolph Scott in the 1950s.
Competently directed by Andre deToth, the film keeps moving along and
doesn't get too bogged down with the domestic issues. And there's
another of those great supporting casts of recognizable faces.
This one takes place in Texas following the U.S. Civil War before the state re-entered the Union and was governed by the occupying Union Army. Capt. David Porter (Scott) is charged with the protection of government officials in their dealings with local land owners. The only trouble is these officials are nothing but carpetbaggers who over tax and cheat the farmers out of their property.
Chief among the carpetbaggers are Tax Commissioner Joseph Standish (Elisha Cook Jr.) and cotton broker H.L. Balfour (Hugh Sanders). Porter, a native Texan, is accused of bias towards the settlers by his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Chandler (Henry Hull) who doesn't want to upset his superiors as he is within two years of retirement.
Aiding the settlers is Ben Westman (Charles McGraw) a sort of "Robin Hood" who with his gang that includes Faraday (Lane Chandler), Kirby (Fess Parker) and henchman John Cason foil Balfour at every turn. Col. Chandler orders Porter to bring Westman in.
Trigger happy Captain Bill Hodges (Lex Barker) arrives and is placed under Porter's command. He also has designs on Porter's attractive wife Norah (Phyllis Kirk). Hodges moves on Westman's hideout against Porter's orders and allows the bandit to escape. Hodges however, shoots Kirby in the back without provocation.
When Standish witnesses Balfour murder a cohort, he becomes nervous and threatens to inform the authorities. Balfour murders Standish and pins the blame on Westman. In order to clear his name Westman allows Porter to take him in on Porter's promise to find the guilty party. Col. Chandler gives Porter only three days before he orders Westman hanged. After Hodges bungles another battle with Westman's gang, Chandler orders that Westman be hung the next morning. Porter goes to Westman's gang for help forcing a final showdown with Balfour and his gunman Conrad (James Brown) where.....................................
Scott gives his usual excellent stiff jawed performance. Unusual for him, he remains in uniform for most of the film. Barker had recently finished his "Tarzan" series (1948-52) for RKO in which he replaced Johnny Weissmuller. Henry Hull is probably best remembered for "Werewolf of London" (1935) in which he played the title role.
Fess Parker would shortly become Davy Crockett for Disney and later play Daniel Boone on TV. James Brown (not the football player or the Soul Singer) is best remembered for playing Lt. Rip Masters on the long running "Rin Tin Tin" TV series. Elisha Cook appeared in "Shane" the same year as "Torrey" the settler who is gunned down by Jack Palance. Also in the cast are Trevor Bardette as a settler and Earle Hodgins as a fast talking auctioneer.
This film takes place in Texas after the civil war. The "carpetbaggers" were buying cotton bales for ridiculous prices after it was auctioned. Randolph Scott is Captain Porter who is obliged to maintain the law even though he is really on the side of those who are fighting the carpetbaggers, whose leader is Ben Westman (Charles McGraw). Scott does not resign only because he thinks someone else will be much harsher. When Captain Hodges (Lex Barker) shows up with a different point of view, you know trouble is coming, he even starts seducing Scott's wife Norah (Phyllis Kirk). Entertaining, with a lot of action and great color like most of Scott's films of the fifties.
This just became one of my favorite Randolph Scott movies.
First, there's an intelligent script by Russell Hughes, who wrote for some good radio shows like "Nightbeat" and Alan Ladd's "Box 13", as well as such films as Anthony Mann's "Last Frontier", Delmer Daves' "Jubal", and even the best of the giant-bug movies, "Them".
Then, there's the look and feel of the film. Director Andre De Toth and his great cinematographer Bert Glennon (who had done remarkable work with the likes of Josef von Sternberg and John Ford) light and shoot for realism and emotional impact. Glennon had also shot "Man Behind the Gun" (available on the flip side of this DVD), so I suppose director Felix Feist could be blamed for that film's phony-looking stage sets. Here, in "Thunder... ", a barroom scene looks like it was shot in a real barroom (foreshadowing Clint Eastwood's "natural lighting" technique by decades) and exteriors are shot outdoors. To be fair, the Feist film may have had budget or producer issues, but given that film's potential (dealing with water rights, corrupt politicians, the possible secession of southern California, even the semi-legendary Joaquin Murrietta as a supporting character) it still seems like a typical, entertaining, 40's-style B-movie. "Thunder...", released the same year, 1953, seems more forward-looking, more compelling, more of the age of the "adult" Westerns, even though the literally flag-waving ending with its narrative paean to the great state of Texas kind of pulls us back to B-movie-land.
Thunder Over The Plains starts with the same premise as John Wayne's
Red River and Randolph Scott's earlier film, The Texans. That is the
corrupt rule of carpetbaggers post the Civil War. But there are no
large herds of cattle to be driven north for profit to escape the
burdensome taxes laid down by the occupying carpetbagger civil servants
and the army to back them up.
Randolph Scott is a Union army captain, but also a Texan and he sees both sides. Henry Hull is his put upon commanding officer and Charles McGraw plays a leader of a local gang who have risen up like Robin Hood among the oppressed. These guys aren't Ku Klux Klan nightriders by any means though.
Our villains are Hugh Sanders and Elisha Cook, Jr. a pair of scurvy lowlifes if there ever were. They've got quite the little self perpetuating racket. The more they extort, the more McGraw raids, the more Sanders and Cook cry that the army has to stay in Texas. Just about anything is blamed on McGraw and his men.
There's also a domestic crisis of sorts with newly arrived captain Lex Barker, an arrogant sort who was on duty in Washington and would like to get back there. Barker's bored and he makes a play for Phyllis Kirk who is married to Randolph Scott. Since they don't like each other from the beginning that only increases the problem.
Andre DeToth who did several westerns including a few with Randolph Scott brought home a good one here. With themes like an attempt at adultery here, this was not a western for the Saturday matinée kiddie trade. DeToth's best in my opinion is one called Ramrod with Joel McCrea and his then wife Veronica Lake, but this one is pretty good too.
DeToth also learned from the best and the final shootout scene with Scott against four men bears no small resemblance to High Noon, released a year earlier.
Definitely one of Randolph Scott's best westerns of the Fifties.
Thunder Over The Plains is directed by André De Toth and written by
Russell S. Hughes. It stars Randolph Scott, Lex Barker, Phyllis Kirk,
Charles McGraw, Henry Hull & Elisha Cook Jr. Filmed in WarnerColor the
exterior photography is by Bert Glennon at the Warner Ranch in
Calabasas, and David Buttolph scores the music.
It's 1869, and Texas is still not part of the Union. Carpetbaggers rule the state and criminal activity is high. Captain Porter (Scott), a proud Texan himself, finds he has to carry out orders against his own countrymen. When a man in town is murdered in cold blood, suspicion falls on rogue cowboy Ben Westman (McGraw), but Porter believes he's innocent and strikes a deal to bring him in for a fair trial. However, this sets off a chain of events that leads to Porter himself becoming a wanted man.
Knowing direction, fine acting and a darn good script, all make Thunder Over The Plains essential viewing for the 50s Western fan. The bonus, aside from the impressive support cast, is the story itself. This was a troubled time, a time when only two states were not yet accepted back into the Union post the Civil War. Toth and Hughes paint a murky town, one of corruption, tax oppression and shifty shenanigans. There's even room in the story for strains on the family home of Porter and an attempt at adultery. Throw in the nice colour and scenery, pace it briskly with enjoyable action set-pieces (the shoot out at the end is familiar but excellently done), and it's a fictionalised winner. 7/10
In post Civil War Texas, an Army captain is charged with bringing in an outlaw who has become a legend for taking on the Carpetbaggers. It begins and ends with hokey narration, but in between there is a fairly interesting story, helped by nice color cinematography. Scott is his usual solid self as the captain. McGraw plays the outlaw, but it is Barker (coming off his final Tarzan movie) as another Army captain that is the real villain here. Kirk does well as Scott's understanding wife. It's not up to the level of Scott's later Westerns with Budd Boetticher, but it's competently directed by de Toth. The final gunfight is too drawn out and somewhat anti-climactic.
During reconstruction, Texas-born Army Captain Randolph Scott is torn
between duty and his fellow Texans (including a young Fess Parker), who
are in a life-or-death struggle against corrupt officials and ruthless
carpetbaggers. Meanwhile, slimy officer Lex Barker gets a little too
close to Scott's wife.
Thunder Over The Plains sags just a bit in the middle, but has great production values and is fairly ambitious for a 1950's B-western, with some pretty complex characters. The cinematography and direction by Andre De Toth are excellent.
Elisha Cooke Jr. is pretty good as a sniveling tax collector. Lex Barker's character is especially vile, kind of a surprise considering the times in which this was made and the fact that Barker is so handsome and all-American looking!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Randolph Scott plays it perfectly straight as a post-war captain in the
Union Army, stationed in Texas and a Southerner himself. He and his
wife, Phyllis Kirk, are uncomfortable with their duties. Scott is
supposed to protect the civilian authorities from the depredations of a
gang led by Charles McGraw. But the civilians -- the wide-eyed and
trembling Elisha Cook, Jr., and his dominant partner, the sneering and
treacherous Hugh Sanders -- are worse than the gang. They overtax the
locals, buy cotton for one tenth what they sell it for after they ship
it to New York. For Scott, this is known as "role conflict," when a
person is caught between two non-concordant roles -- loyal Texan and
loyal Army officer. For the South, this is known as "reconstruction."
Nobody knows how Lincoln might have handled reconstruction since he was assassinated at the end of the war. (He'd said the Southern states would be welcomed back into the union "as if they'd never left.") His successor, Andrew Johnson, was an unregenerate racist and a barely literate ex tailor who mismanaged the deal as best he could. His earnest hope was that the white aristocrats of the South, being gentlemen, would reestablish order and the slaves, now free, would assume their accustomed place as subordinates and servants. It didn't work out. Reconstruction was a disaster and order was maintained by the presence of Army troops for years. Seven years after the year of this movie, 1869, Rutherford B. Hayes found himself in a controversy concerning the electoral college and the popular vote, and apparently made a deal to withdraw the Army from the Southern states in return for the presidency. For the next ninety years the South would remain solidly Democratic and segregated.
It's in this historical context that the movie's particular interest lies. It's not just another Western with a good sheriff against a band of evil outlaws and cattle rustlers. The role conflict that Randolph Scott was in was very real and generated by political circumstances. No nonsense about who's the fastest draw around here.
It's one of Scott's best performances, full of complexity. The villains are clearly identified -- Cook and Brand, that scurrilous duo of miscreants. The movie's sympathy is obviously with the native Texans, most of whom are men of principle, including the gang leader, McGraw. He holds up the shipment of that tainted cotton all right, but he doesn't keep it for himself. He evidently returns it to those who rightly own it or he burns it.
Scott is joined by an arrogant officer, Lex Barker, who does everything wrong and who puts moves on Scott's wife. He's another unlikable villain. (You can always tell the villains because they have no sense of humor.) Lex Barker does not perform celluloid magic but he's stolid in the part. As Scott's wife, Phyllis Kirk must have been genuinely uncomfortable. Stuck out there on the Texas plains, with her elegant accent and aristocratic features. She must have wondered what life was all about, how to cope with it all, how to live in the unfolding moment. (Her birth name was not Kirk but Kierkegaard.) It has its Western conventions but it's an attempt at a serious movie about a serious subject and Scott handles it well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Civil War has ended and 1869 Texas is not unlike a powder keg with a short fuse. Those that can farm or grow cotton are forced out of their homes and off of their ranches by greedy carpetbaggers from the north. Captain David Porter(Randolph Scott)has a hard time with his loyalties being forced to witness carpetbaggers hiding under the legal protection of the Union Army of Occupation. A Texas patriot Ben Westman(Charles McGraw)is framed on a murder charge and Porter is under fire for letting his real allegiance be known. Westman's followers do their best to steal back what the carpetbaggers have taken by corrupt law of the land. Meanwhile a younger Captain Hodges(Lex Barker)is trying to put the moves on Porter's wife(Phyllis Kirk), who feels she has suffered loneliness much too long. Scott is at his stoic best, while Elisha Cook Jr. and Hugh Sanders fill the role of villains. Also in the cast: Lane Chandler, Fess Parker and Henry Hull.
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