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Westward Ho (1935)
John Wayne....and a cast of thousands!
When Republic Pictures was formed in 1935,Trem Carr's Lone Star western group was included along with star John Wayne. Thus began Wayne's turbulent relationship with the studio which lasted until 1951.
The first thing that you will notice when watching "westward Ho!" for the first time is the large cast of extras particularly in the riding scenes (the veritable cast of thousands). Quite a feat for the newly formed "B" studio considering that the Great Depression was still ongoing.
Anyway, the plot in that oft used good brother vs. bad brother theme. John an d Jim Wyatt are part of a wagon train that is ambushed by rustler Ballard (Jack Curtis)and his gang, which includes veteran stuntman/actor Yakima Canutt. The boys parents are killed and John is left for dead while brother Jim is "adopted" by Ballard.
Fast forward a few years and John Wyatt has grown up to be John Wayne and Jim, Frank McGlynn Jr. Jim has become an outlaw within Ballard's gang. John meanwhile has organized a vigilante group known as "The Singing Riders" to track down all outlaw gangs as he searches for his lost brother.
Along the way, John joins up with Lafe Gordon's (Jim Farley)cattle drive in the hopes of catching Ballard and Co. Well, as luck would have it, Gordon has a comely young daughter Mary (Sheila Mannors) with whom John strikes up a relationship. To complicate matters, Jim also joins Gordon's group unbeknownst that his brother John is there. Finally the brothers discover who each of them is and..............................
John Wayne had previously portrayed "Singin' Sandy) in a couple of his Lone Star westerns. So as the leader of the "Singing Riders" he gets to sing (dubbed of course) a forgettable tune to the heroine. A singing cowboy John Wayne was not.
The film is enhanced by the presence of Yakima Canutt who staged many of the film's stunts including several horse falls and a spectacular "wagon over the cliff" scene. Considering the large cast of riders, this could not have been no easy task.
Other recognizable faces in the cast were Glenn Strange, Earl Dwire (who had appeared in several of Wayne's "Lone Stars") and Lloyd Ingraham.
Worth a look.
Four Guns to the Border (1954)
Another of Those Compact 80 Minute Universal Westerns!
"Four Guns to the Border" is one of those entertaining little 80 minute westerns that Universal turned out in the the 50s. The leads in those films were largely interchangeable (i.e. Audie Murphy, Jeff Chandler, Rory Calhoun, Jock Mahoney etc.)
Calhoun stars in this one as a largely unsympathetic character Cully, a bank robber, trying for that one big score. Riding with him are Bronco (George Nader), Dutch (John McIntyre) and Yaqui (Jay Silverheels). On the trail the boys meet former outlaw Simon Bhumer (Walter Brennan playing it straight this time) and his comely young daughter Lolly (Colleen Miller). In spite of Simon's warning, sparks begin to fly between Cully and Lolly.
But first thing first. Cully it seems has a past with Sheriff Jim Flannery (Charles Drake) and his attractive wife Maggie (Nina Foch). He uses this past relationship to goad Flannery into a fight as a diversion to the bank hold-up. Then the gang flees into Apache territory where of course they meet up with the Bhumers and.............
"Four Guns to the Border" was directed by actor Richard Carlson who does a creditable job but allows Calhoun's character to find redemption in the usual contrived happy Hollywood ending though. Brennan is good as the protective father as is McIntyre who was a past master at stealing a scene. Nestor Paiva also has a nice bit as "Greasy".
An entertaining little western.
Hang 'Em High (1968)
From Beeves to Spaghetti to Lawman!
Anyone familiar with Clint Eastwood's early career will remember his role as Rowdy Yates on TV's "Rawhide" where he played second lead for eight seasons (1959-65). During this time he worked with many a seasoned guest star while learning his craft. In 1964 while still working on the TV series he starred in a trio of "Spaghetti Westerns" for Italian director Sergio Leone. In those pictures he played a no nonsense fast on the draw drifter. The films were not released in the US until after "Rawhide" had finished.
For his first American film following the Leone trilogy, Eastwood chose "Hang 'em High". In it he played a character that he would play with variations for most of the rest of his career (see "Dirty Harry").
The opening sequence has cattleman Jed Cooper (Eastwood) being lynched for cattle rustling by a vigilante group headed by Captain Wilson (Ed Begley). Leaving him for dead the group rides off. Cooper is rescued by Marshal Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson) and is taken in a prison wagon to Judge Fenton's (Pat Hingle) jail. The judge verifies Cooper's innocence and sees in him a potentially great lawman. The judge you see, has jurisdiction over a large area and needs able bodied lawmen to enforce the law.
Cooper of course wants to seek out those who had lynched him but the judge cautions him over using the law to gain his revenge. But as we would come to know, no one escapes Clint Eastwood's justice.
"Hang 'em high" was directed in a Leone style by Ted Post who had directed Eastwood in several episodes of "Rawhide" An able cast of Hollywood veterans was assembled to play the various supporting roles. Inger Stevens plays a bitter widow who checks out the prison wagons in search of her husband's killer. Charles McGraw plays spineless Sheriff Ray Calhoun who refuses to aid Cooper in his quest and Bruce Dern plays the slimy outlaw Miller who leads two naive young men to their doom.
Others in the impressive cast include veteran Bob Steele in one of his best latter day roles, Alan Hale Jr. as the town blacksmith, Dennis Hopper in a brief bit as a mad prophet, James MacArthur as a preacher and James Westerfield, L.Q. Jones and Bert Freed in other roles.
Eastwood would never look back after this one.
Red River (1948)
Mutiny On the Prairie!
With a tip of the hat to "Mutiny On the Bounty", "Red River" is the quintessential cattle drive movie. Directed by Howard Hawks, it contains many of the types of characters that would appear in his subsequent westerns (i.e. "Rio Bravo"). There's the tough no nonsense authority figure, the toothless sidekick, the young gunfighter, the sharp tongued female etc.
John Wayne playing against type for the first time, is Tom Dunson who with his sidekick Groot (Walter Brennan) and youngster Matt Garth (Mickey Kuhn) leave a wagon train and settle on land in Texas to build the biggest cattle ranch in the area despite the mild protest from the supposed Mexican owner. Dunson when leaving the wagon train had left the love of his life Fen (Coleen Gray) behind to be killed by Indians.
Anyway, Matt grows up to be Montgomery Clift (in his first film) who has been away (we are not told where) and has become a notorious gunfighter. Following the Civil War, Dunson finds that there is no market for his cattle so he decides to embark on a cattle drive to Sedelia, Missouri. Dunson becomes increasingly neurotic as the drive proceeds.
About half way through, Matt learns of an alternate route over the newly formed Chisholm Trail to the railroad at Abelene, Kansas. Dunson insists on taking the drive to Missouri. The drovers are becoming disenchanted with Dunson's relentless drive. When he threatens to hang two deserters, Matt takes over the herd and "maroons" Dunson. Dunson vows to follow and ultimately kill Matt. The rest of the film awaits their ultimate showdown.
Hawks, who also produced, assembled a cast of veteran recognizable western performers. Joanne Dru plays "saloon girl" Tess Milay, John Ireland gunfighter Cherry Valance, Harry Carey Sr. cattle buyer Melville, Harry Carey Jr. drover Dan Latimer and Noah Beery Jr. drover Buster.
Also along for the drive are veterans Chief Yowlachie, Paul Fix, Hank Worden, Hal Taliaferro, Tom Tyler, Glenn Strange, Lane Chandler, Pierce Lyden and John Merton. Watch for Shelley Winters as another "saloon Girl" in the campfire sequence.
In spite of an impending duel between Matt and Cherry it never comes to pass and they become friends. And the final showdown between Dunson and Matt leaves much to be desired. The size difference between the two makes a physical confrontation a little one sided don't you think.
There are two versions of the film. The first, the pre-release version runs 133 minutes and has a journal relating the story over the course of the picture. The theatrical version at 127 minutes has a voice over narration by Walter Brennan and was the preferred version of Hawks.
Hangover Square (1945)
A Concerto For Murder!
Following the success of "The Lodger" (1944), Darryl F. Zanuck, never one to miss an opportunity, rushed star Laird Cregar into a sequel of sorts, "Hangover Square". Again Cregar is cast as a schizophrenic dual personality murderer.
There's no doubt that he is a murderer as the opening scene has him stabbing an old antique dealer (Francis Ford) to death. Later we see him wandering aimlessly in the turn of the 20th century streets of London. He suddenly regains his senses and has no memory of the past few hours or of the dastardly crime he has just committed.
Back at his home we learn that George Harvey Bone (Cregar) is an aspiring composer who is working on a concerto that he hopes will bring him fame. He is working under the tutelage of Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier) who just happens to have an attractive young daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) who has an attraction to Bone.
Bone meanwhile has doubts about his blackouts and seeks the advice of Scotland Yard shrink Dr. Allan Middleton ( a bland George Sanders). Middleton advises him to ease up on his work and go out and have some fun. While watching a music hall revue, he is attracted to alluring showgirl Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell). She sees an opportunity to use George to her advantage by getting him to write songs for her while playing up to him. Unbeknownst to George, Netta has been carrying on with producer Eddie Carstairs (Glen Langan). When George discovers her deception he has another blackout and...........................................
One can't help but notice the similarities between the Bone character(s) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both have good girl/bad girl relationships and both have mysterious blackouts where they commit violent acts. And of course there is the inevitable comparison to Cregar's Jack the Ripper character from "The Lodger". I personally didn't find him nearly as frightening in this film, bug eyes notwithstanding.
Laird Cregar was apparently afraid of being type cast as a murderous villain. With the success of "The Lodger" he saw himself as a leading man and undertook a crash diet between the two films losing 100 lbs in the process. It is quite shocking to see the difference in Cregar's appearance in the two films. The stress on his heart evidently took its toll and he passed away at age 31 before "Hanover Square" was released.
The Lodger (1944)
The Ultimate Portrait of Jack the Ripper!
"The Lodger" is considered by many to be the best of the several attempts to film the Jack the Ripper legacy. Much of the credit for this has to be attributed to the bravura performance by Laird Cregar in the lead role.
Directed by John Brahm and photographed by Lucien Ballard we get a superior Gothic horror film complete with dimly lit foggy London streets with elements of "The Picture of Dorion Gray", Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "The Phantom of the Opera" thrown in. To appease the censors, the murder victims were changed from prostitutes to dance hall girls and all of the murders take place off screen.
A mysterious man who calls himself "Slade" (Cregar), rents rooms from a down on their luck couple the Warwicks (Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Sara Allgood) at the time of the Jack the Ripper killings. The couple have a young niece Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon) who performs in music halls.
Slade leaves little doubt as to who he really is and Cregar plays him as a soft spoken man with sinister overtones. Brahm has him photographed from low angles (a la Sidney Greenstreet) to emphasize his threatening size and piercing eyes. (Cregar was a big man standing over six feet and weighing 300 lbs).
When the latest murder turns out to be a woman who had just met Kitty, Scotland Yard is called in with Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders) in charge. Naturally he is attracted to the lovely Kitty as is, we are soon to learn, Slade.
The climax, which takes place following Kitty's performance, is the highlight of the film. Cregar's transformation into the mad murderer is positively frightening. This picture made a star out of the talented Cregar who went on to film a sequel of sorts the following year in "Hangover Square".
If you pay attention closely, you will discover (due to last minute editing and voice over) that one lady is actually murdered twice.
The Undying Monster (1942)
Helga, Don't Go Out There!
"The Undying Monster" was an attempt by Darryl F. Zanuck to replicate the success that Universal Studios was having with horror movies for his studio 20th Century Fox. What we get here is a sort of horror/mystery mix with a tip of the hat to Sherlock Holmes and "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
The story surrounds the Hammond family who have lived in a drafty old house for centuries just outside of London England. The current owners are a brother, Oliver Hammond (John Howard) and his sister Helga (Heather Angel). Also in residence are a creepy old butler Walton (Halliwell Hobbes) and his sinister wife (Elly Malyon). It seems that a family curse has befallen the Hammonds once again.
When Oliver and a local girl are found savagely attacked in the foggy old moors, fear spreads throughout the house. When the girl dies a murder investigation is begun by Scotland Yard. Heading up the investigation are the Holmes/Watson like team of Bob Curtis (James Ellison) and his assistant "Christy" (Heather Thatcher). The family doctor, Doctor Jeff Colbert (Bramwell Fletcher) seems to know more than he is telling and the Waltons are lurking about in the shadows.
I don't think I'm giving too much away when I say that the culprit turns out to be a werewolf whose identity is not revealed until the end.
The film was directed by John Brahm a German who fled his country in the 1930s and had made mostly "B" movies (of which this is one) to date. He injects mystery and horror into his "B" budget in an imaginative way both through his direction and the atmospheric photography of no less than the legendary Lucien Ballard. I was disappointed though at a couple of tacky rear projection shots involving characters riding in a coach.
It's odd that everyone in the cast has a British accent except for the "star" James Ellison. Ellison had recently graduated from being second banana to Hopalong Cassidy but never progressed beyond a "B" picture leading man. Heather Angel and John Howard had starred together in the "Bulldog Drummond" series from 1937 to 1939. And yes that was Charles McGraw playing Studwick who battles Curtis in the basement tombs.
Brahm would soon be rewarded for his efforts with a pair of "A" budget films with "A" list casts in "The Lodger" (1944) and "Hangover Square" (1945) both starring Laird Cregar.
The Ride Back (1957)
Marvellous Little Western!
"The Ride Back" is a low budget black and white 79 minute western that is essentially a two character story featuring a half breed Mexican fugitive (Anthony Quinn) and the hot sweaty sheriff (William Conrad) who tries to bring him back from Mexico to the USA for trial.
Quinn and Conrad play off of each other as each tries to out smart the other. Quinn claims his innocence but certain of his actions leaves us in doubt. Conrad's sheriff is an ordinary looking down on his luck law man who nevertheless vows to bring Quinn to justice. The two play psychological games with each other with a band of renegade Apaches stalking them all the way.
Things change however, when they encounter a little girl (Ellen Hope Monroe) whose family has been massacred by the Apache. She fears the gruff grizzled sheriff while Quinn's fugitive uses her liking for him to his advantage. Then the Indians attack and.......................
Conrad who was also the producer was probably instrumental in getting Anthony Quinn to play the fugitive. Quinn had just won an Oscar for "Lust for Life" and was in big demand by others. I'm sure that he didn't do this one for the money but saw the merits of a well written story. You can almost feel the intense heat as the principals cross the territory.
Also in the cast are Lita Milan as Quinn's girl friend, Victor Millan as the village Padre and Jorge Trevino as the border guard.
Escort West (1958)
Interesting Low Budget Western
"Escort West" is interesting little low budget Black and White western about the efforts of an ex-confederate soldier Ben Lassiter (Victor Mature) and his daughter Abbey (Reba Waters) to reach Oregon and a new life.
Set in 1865 just after the Civil War, Lassiter finds that not all of the old wounds have healed. At a way station he meets two sisters Beth Drury (Elaine Stewart) and her sister Martha (Faith Domergue) who are in the company of a cavalry detachment. Martha bears a resentment of Lassiter because of the war.
Later on the trail Lassiter finds the cavalry detachment massacred except for quartermaster Nelson Walker (Rex Ingram) and the two ladies whom he had hidden away. The unlikely party then proceeds toward another army group who unbeknownst to them is pinned down under fire from the Indian renegade Tago (X. Brands) who is also in pursuit of the Lassiter group.
Director Francis D. Lyon had the luxury of a seasoned cast of veterans although in some cases he doesn't take advantage of them often under utilizing their talents. Also in the cast are Noah Beery Jr., Leo Gordon (who co-wrote the story), Ken Curtis, William Ching, John Hubbard, Harry Carey Jr., Slim Pickens and Roy Barcroft as various soldiers.
Victor Mature was always an under rated actor. He was usually better than his material as is the case here. Acting kudos in this film go to the veteran actor Rex Ingram who gives a sympathetic performance as the doomed Walker. Faith Domergue is one who never quite made it but is probably best remembered for her dalliance with Howard Hughes. Ken Curtis went on to portray "Festus Hagen" in the long running TV series "Gunsmoke".
If Ain't Broke...Don't Fix It!
Around the time this film was made, stars Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings were performing concerts as "The Highwaymen" and they were good. So, having success as a performing group Nelson thought..."Why not make a movie together." Well sir, the one Willie chose (as Executive Producer) was a re make of the classic John Ford film "Stagecoach".
By now any movie goer worth his salt knows the story line of "Stagecoach"....a group of unlikely travelers taking the stage to Lordsburg through hostile Indian territory. Veteran TV director Ted Post follows the original story to a point.
The major difference is in the casting of the "Doc" character. In the original, Doc was a boozy reprobate on the make for his next drink. Willie Nelson however chose to play the character as "Doc" Holliday...yes THAT Doc Holliday complete with a pair of six guns and a brazen attitude. That made the character of Peacock the whiskey salesman (Anthony Newley) totally irrelevant so he quickly exits the story.
The rest of the characters stick to the original. Kris Kristofferson plays Ringo, Johnny Cash, Curly the Marshal, Waylon Jennings the gambler Hatfield and John Schneider, Buck the stagecoach driver. Others in the cast include Tony Franciosa as Gatewood the banker, Elizabeth Ashley as Dallas the saloon girl and Mary Crosby as a very pregnant Lucy Mallory.
Director post keeps the story moving and the action flowing. The Indian attack is well staged although without veteran stunt man Yakima Canutt, the stagecoach stunt work suffers in comparison. The final showdown with Luke Plummer (Alex Kubils) is changed somewhat to include all of the Highwaymen.
As actors, one could say that the four principals made great singers although they do carry off their respective parts as best they could. Others in the country music oriented cast include June Carter Cash and son John Carter Cash as proprietors of a relay station, David Allen Coe as one of the Plummers, Billy Swan as a bartender and Jennings' wife Jessi Colter in a minor role. And for the old timers among you, there's a brief appearance in the Plummer sequence by veteran cowboy hero Lash LaRue.
Given that this was a TV movie and the violence toned down somewhat, the boys give us a pleasant if not entertaining old style western. But because it tries to re-make a classic, it suffers in comparison. It just shows to go ya that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".