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To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
And the Oscar Goes to............!
What can I add to the already glowing reviews of this wonderful film. It gave star Gregory Peck a long overdue Oscar as Best Actor of 1962. He had the good fortune to have been given an excellent supporting cast which only added to the film's brilliance. It should be noted that there were no other so-called stars in the cast, unusual for a Peck film.
The story, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee, is one of a small town country lawyer who is asked to do his civic duty by defending a black man accused of rape, a sensitive topic for films of that time.
Atticus Finch (Peck) is a widower with two young children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford) going about their daily business when Judge Taylor (Paul Fix) asks Atticus to take on a case, which no one else will touch, of a black man Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) who is accused of raping the young daughter (Collin Wilcox) of red necked farmer Bob Ewell (James Anderson).
The trial proceeds and Atticus casts reasonable doubt on the guilt of the defendant. Even so, the jury finds Robinson guilty and.................................................
The film is essentially divided into three parts. The first part follows the children and their friend Dill Harris (John Megna) in their summer pursuits. The second and central part of the film is the court room sequence. The final part is the aftermath of the trial including the children's encounter with the neighborhood bogey man Boo Radley (Robert Duvall).
There are several performances of note here. Peck of course was never better. He considered the role of Atticus Finch as his personal favorite of all of his roles. His easy going but authoritative manner both with his children and in the court room are a sight to behold. Mary Badham and Phillip Alford were not professional actors when hired but turn in great performances as Finch's children.
James Robinson is positively scary as the red necked farmer Ewell who accuses Tom of rape. His confrontation scene with Peck is memorable. Collin Wilcox as Mayella Violet Ewell, the "victim" almost steals the court room scene as does the touching performance by the great black actor Brock Peters as the doomed accused.
Robert Duvall in one of his earliest films, plays Boo Radley without uttering a word. He does it all with facial expressions from fear to compassion to understanding. Also, using his facial expression to advantage is veteran character actor Richard Hale as Nathan Radley, Boo's father as he cements up a hole in the tree where Boo had left small items for the children.
And much is made on the DVD commentary by Producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan on the cutting of the part of Ruth White as the wheelchair bound Mrs. Dubose to one short scene. If it was that good, surely they could have found a way to keep it in. And why was it not included on the DVD?
Others in the strong cast include William Windom as the prosecuting attorney, Frank Overton as the Sheriff, Estelle Evans as the Fich housekeeper Calpurnia and Rosemary Murphy as neighbor Maudie Atkinson.
If I have any criticism of the film it is the very obvious studio bound "exteriors" which take away from the film's authenticity. Nevertheless, this is a film that seem to get better with age.
The Forty-Niners (1954)
"Wild Bill" Rides Off Into the Sunset!
"The Forty-Niners" turned out to be "Wild Bill" Elliot's final western. His series was one of the last, if not the last, of the "B" series westerns. TV had come to town.
The film begins with Ernie Walker (John Doucette) and Bill Norris (Lane Bradford) ambushing and killing a federal marshal. Mine owner Everett (I. Sanford Jolley) is brought in and charged with the murder. He reveals that he had hired the killers but cannot remember their names. He does recall however, the name of the man who arranged for him to meet the killers - Alf Billings. Marshal Sam Nelson (Elliot) is assigned to track down Billings (Harry Morgan) and learn the identity of the killers.
Nelson runs into Billings in a saloon poker game where he is caught cheating by gambler Harry Lauter. Nelson rescues Billings and the two flee. Over the course of their fireside chat, Billing proposes that the two work together to clean up in poker games. Nelson agrees so that he can keep Billings under surveillance.
As luck would have it, after arriving in the gold miner town of Coldwater, Billings spots Walker who has become the prosperous saloon owner. Billings blackmails Walker into a partnership by writing a letter detailing Walker and Norris' crimes and hiding it. Norris meanwhile has become the town sheriff and has a confrontation with Nelson. Nelson begins to suspect Walker and Norris as the killers.
In an effort to obtain the incriminating letter, Walker conspires with his wife Stella (Virginia Grey) to play up to Billings with whom she had a previous relationship. Billings gets her to admit the plot by promising to "take her away from all this". A letter written by Nelson to his superiors is intercepted by Norris and Nelson's identity is revealed.
Walker and Norris force Billings to try and kill Nelson. Nelson meets Billings at a deserted cabin but Billings is unable to kill Nelson and proposes that the two work together to which Nelson reluctantly agrees. On the way back to town Billings meets Norris, the two fight, Billings is wounded and.............................................
For his final western Elliot didn't disappoint his fans. He had a better than usual supporting cast, a good story and enough action to satisfy his fans.
"Wild Bill" Elliot's western career began in earnest with "The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickcok" a 1938 serial followed by a five year career at Columbia and a further period with Republic Pictures where he starred in a number of their "A" features. Elliott's Monogram/Allied Artists series was I thought, a cut above those of most of his contemporaries.."B" plus, if you will.
Still and all, it was sad to see "Wild Bill" riding off into the sunset for one last time.
Vigilante Terror (1953)
The title "Vigilante Terror" tells you what this action packed little western is all about.
The Brewster gang has been terrorizing the town of Pine Top with their daring robberies. Brewster (George Wallace) along with his gang which includes Sperry (Denver Pyle) are hunting ex gang member Jed Hamlin (John James) who has left the gang. Jed is the brother of Tack Hamlin ("Wild Bill" Elliott) who comes to town looking for him.
Tack meets up with Jed but are attacked by a vigilante group headed by Saloon owner Brett (Myron Healey). In the gunfight that follows, Tack is shot (Don't worry folks, it was only a crease). Believing him dead, the gang captures and hangs Jed.
Returning to town Tack meets up with old pal Strummer Jones (Fuzzy Knight) and while sharing a beer with his friend, he saves a gambler from being lynched. Mayor Winch (Henry Rowland) is impressed and offers Tack the job of sheriff. He accepts and appoints Strummer as his deputy and the two begin cleaning up the town.
Meanwhile the stagecoach is robbed by the Brewster gang wearing identical calico masks. The calico is traced to Matt Taylor's (I. Stanford Jolley) store. Taylor by the way, has a beautiful young daughter Lucy (Mary Ellen Kay). The vigilantes seeking a scapegoat for the robbery, grab Taylor and attempt to lynch him. Tack saves him and hides him out in his mountain cabin.
The vigilantes are contemplating action against Tack and Strummer. Mine owner Gene Smith (Robert Bray) exercises on the side of caution but Brett favors stringing the boys up. Matt Taylor is discovered and brought back to town. Brett fires up the crowd which includes henchmen Zon Murray and Richard Avonde as well as, townsmen Stanley Price and Edward Cassidy, to drag Tack, Strummer and Taylor out to be hanged. Fortunately sharp shootin' Lucy comes to their rescue. In the meantime, the Brewster gang robs the Wells Fargo office and Sperry is wounded.
A posse is formed and with the urging of Smith pursue the Brewster gang as do Tack and Strummer. Finally, the gang is cornered and...........................................................
Elliot as always gives his usual no nonsense, totally serious performance. No quirks this time around. Knight again gets to play it straight rather than the comic sidekick for which he is remembered. With the name of Strummer, I was expecting him to take out a guitar at some point. And Myron Healey was up to his double crossing best as the chief bad guy.
Our "Wild Bill" A Bank Robber?
"Topeka" is one of the better westerns in "Wild Bill" Elliott's Monogram/Allied Artists series.
It starts off with Jim Levering (Elliott) and his gang (omigod, is that "Wild Bill" robbing a bank?) of Ray Hammond (Rick Vallin), Marv Ransom (John James), Jonas Bailey (Denver Pyle) and Will Peters (Dick Crockett) robbing said bank. Apparently, they have been robbing banks all over the state of Iowa. When Levering is recognized by bank clerk Stanley Price, the gang is forced to flee. They wind up in the town of (you guessed it) Topeka, Kansas.
In casing the town Jim goes to Pop's restaurant where he meets Pop (Fuzzy Knight) and his comely young daughter Marian (Phyllis Coates). There he learns that gambler Mack Wilson (Harry Lauter) has the town all tied up and is exacting tributes from the local merchants. Jim then decides to take over the town himself.
After besting Wilson's henchman Jake Manning (Dale Van Sickel) in a fight, Jim is approached by the town council consisting of Pop, Doc Mason (I. Stanford Jolley) and Banker Corley (Edward Clark) and offered the job of sheriff. Jim feels that this will be the perfect cover for his planned takeover.
When a rancher (Henry Rowland) is cheated out of his bank roll, Jim goes to Wilson and forces him to return the money. However, on riding home the rancher is bushwhacked and his money taken. Meanwhile Marv, Jonas and Will are becoming impatient waiting for Jim to make his move. Jim has taken a shine to Marian and he and Ray change their minds and decide to go straight. Marv, Jonas and Will on the other hand decide to join forces with Wilson and loot the town until....................................
Elliott always gave his characters a little something extra. They were never your typical "B" western heroes. They smoked, drank hard liquor and sometimes stayed to the other side of the law, as in this film. Although frequently falling for the heroine, he never got to kiss her at the end of the picture.
Rebel City (1953)
Who Are the Copperheads?
"Rebel City" is a Civil War drama taking place in 1864 Kansas about a bunch of northerners banding together to form "The Copperheads" with the aim of foiling the Union's war effort.
Gambler Frank Graham ("Wild Bill" Elliott) arrives in Junction City seeking his father's murderer. It seems that his father a freighter, was found in possession of $2,000 in counterfeit money paid him for the sale of his wagons, when he was killed. Graham goes to his father's former place of business and encounter Joe Spencer (John Crawford). Spencer refers Graham to army officers Col. Barnes (Ray Walker) and Capt. Ramsay (Robert Kent) for clarification of the situation. They are of little help.
Graham in trying to trace the counterfeit cash, discovers fellow gambler Greeley (Denver Pyle) trying to pass a bill in a poker game. Graham gives chase to Greeley who vanishes into Hardy's (Henry Rowland) print shop. Graham becomes suspicious of Hardy when no trace of Greeley can be found. Graham also speaks with Temple (Keith Richards) a store owner, Perry (I. Stanford Jolley) a peddler and jeweler Spain (Otto Waldis. An attempt is made on Graham's life but he wounds his assailant.
Strapping on his six guns (now we know that Graham means business), Graham goes to work for rival freighter Jane Dudley (Marjorie Lord). On his first run he is mugged and his evidence stolen. Later Greeley turns up dead in his wagon. Spain confesses to Graham that he was a member of the Copperheads and plans to reveal their identities but is killed before he can act. With his suspicions in mind, Graham forms a plan to trap the leader of the Copperheads into revealing himself and.............................................................
For a Civil War drama, there is little in the way of combat. There are no gray coats to be seen any where. Also, unless I missed it, the actual killer of Graham's father is never revealed. Furthermore the assailant whom Graham wounded is never identified through his wound or otherwise.
As his series wore on, Elliot's budgets, production values and supporting casts seemed to be lessening. And he still didn't get to kiss the girl but did get to light up a couple of cigarettes though.
The Maverick (1952)
Different Role for Elliott!
"The Maverick" provided star "Wild Bill" Elliott with a different type of role. He plays a by the book, poker faced, stern army lieutenant. No twin holstered reverse draw six guns in this one.
The story centers around that old "B" western staple the cattlemen versus the homesteaders. Frank Bullit (Richard Reeves) leads a gang of hired guns attacking homesteaders. He and his partners George Fane (Gregg Barton), Bud Karnes (Denver Pyle) and Fred Nixon (Gene Roth) are captured by the army. Lt. Pete Devlin (Elliott) is assigned to transport the prisoners to Fort Jeffrey for trial. Sgt. Frick (Myron Healey) and Cpl. Johnson (Robert Bray) are ordered to go along. Toopers Westman (Terry Frost) and Barham (Rand Brooks) join the party on the trail.
Devlin has been ordered to get the prisoners to Fort Jeffrey alive so that they can be tried and punished and the outlaw gang dismantled. Along the trail the group meets up with Della Walker (Phyllis Coates) and her feisty Grandma (Florence Lake) who are also going to the fort. Against Devlin's better wishes, the two join the trek. Frick has designs on the comely Della but she resists. Meanwhile Bullit's other partner, Massey (Robert J. Wilke) is organizing the remaining gang members in an effort to free the four outlaws.
One night Bullit attempts to escape but is brought down by Frick's knife. Devlin demotes Frick for disobeying orders by trying to kill the escaping prisoner. Frick, despising his superior, listens to the outlaws offer of $500 to let them loose. But then, Massey and the gang catch up to the group and..........................................
Elliot's character is unlikable through most of the movie. I thought he was out of his element for a series western. His gruff no-nonsense persona turns everyone off including Della. And you know that Myron Healey will be up to no good at some point in the story.
Most of the film takes place on the trail where nothing much happens except for the escape attempt. This tends to slow things down and induce a few yawns. There's a pretty good action sequence at the end though, which brings the picture back to life.
"Wild Bill" needs to become "Wild Bill" again.
Kansas Territory (1952)
Don't Get in My Way!
"Kansas Territory is another of "Wild Bill" Elliot's films for Monogram/Allied Artists. This one has a revenge theme.
Joe Daniels (Elliott) receives news that his brother has been murdered in the town of Redding, Kansas. He immediately sets out to find his brother's killer. On the way, he is stopped by Marshal Furness (John Hart) who warns him of the consequences of his quest. His trigger happy deputy Bob Jethro (Marshall Reed) draws on Daniels but is wounded. Daniels then warns the marshal not to get in his way.
On his way to town he meets Kay Collins (Peggy Stewart) whom he questions along with her crippled father Sam Collins (Lyle Talbot) who has a personal axe to grind. They tell him of his brother's evil ways which of course Joe doesn't believe.
Daniels continues on into the town and begins to learn that his brother was not the straight laced brother he remembers. Hotel clerk Weatherbee (William Fawcett) refuses to rent him a room. Daniels is befriended by lawyer Ralph Carruthers (House Peters Jr.) who offers to have Joe stay at his place.
Joe then confronts his brother's partner in the local saloon, Slater (I. Stanford Jolley) and Bob Jethro's brother Fred (Lane Bradford) who both deny any knowledge of the murder. Meanwhile Marshal Furness goes to the Governor (Stanley Andrews) to plead for a pardon for Daniels for old war time charges in the hope that this will deter Daniels in his search for revenge.
On his way back to town with the pardon, the marshal is bush whacked by Bob Jethro. Daniels then goes back to town and confronts who he thinks is the killer, calls him out and.............................
Elliot again plays the grim faced, one track minded anti-hero that was prevalent in most of his films. At the beginning, he takes off his single holstered gun and straps on his trademark two gun belt, so you know that he means business. Plenty of action in this one. Elliott has a couple of knock down drag out fights first with stuntman Dale Van Sickle and later with Bradford. There's plenty of hard ridin' to boot.
I found the ending to be a little confusing. You don't get to see the final shoot out with the killer, so you aren't sure who shot who. I also thought by not having the brother in the cast at least at the beginning of the story, we didn't get to see him in action. And it was rather gruesome to see that no one actually checked on the marshal when he was shot to see if he was dead or not.
Others in the cast include Fuzzy Knight in a disappointing one scene appearance, Terry Frost, Lee Roberts and Stanley Price as Henchmen, and Pierce Lyden as the head of the Town Council.
And oh yes, Elliot ALMOST, ALMOST gets to kiss the heroine Stewart a no-no for "B" action heroes.
Above Average Elliott Oater!
"Waco" is an unusual "B" western in that it has its star "Wild Bill" Elliott playing a whiskey drinking, cigarette/cigar smoking hombre who actually becomes an outlaw.
Drifter Matt Boone (Elliott) comes to Waco, Texas, gets into a poker game and winds up killing powerful rancher Bull Clark (Ray Bennett) in self defense after Clark is caught cheating. Boone is forced to take it on the lam as he is charged with murder. He ends up joining an outlaw gang headed by Curly Ivers (I. Sandford Jolley) whose gang includes trigger happy gunman Lou Garcia (Paul Fierro) and the boyish Al (Rand Brooks).
While robbing a bank Boone is wounded and taken into custody facing the hangman's noose. Concerned citizens from Waco, Richards (Terry Frost) and Farley (Pierce Lyden) arrange to bring him back to Waco for a fair trial. With Judge Stanley Andrews presiding, the jury acquits Moore. Richards, Farley and the Judge conspire to force Moore to become the sheriff of Waco.
Bull Clark's daughter Kathy (Pamela Blake) and foreman Wallace (Lane Bradford vow to make Moore pay for the killing of Clark. But Wallace himself is killed in a card game by gambler Crawford (Rory Mallinson). Moore comes to arrest Crawford and is forced into a gunfight with his gunsel Ace Logan (Dick Paxton). This proves to the town that Moore is a competent lawman.
Meanwhile Garcia on his own decides to rob the Waco stagecoach. On board is Kathy Clark whom he kidnaps. Moore who had an arrangement with Ivers' gang to stay out of Waco, goes to their hideout to rescue. Kathy. The girl gains a new insight into Moore's persona. Later when Ivers is brought in by Texas Rangers...................................
Elliot as usual, gives a convincing performance as the good/bad hero. He goes from one gun to two as he takes up the job of sheriff. Jolley in a rare leading role is good as the fatherly gang leader. And what about perennial bad guys Terry Frost and Pierce Lyden playing respectable town citizens for a change. House Peters Jr. plays the doctor tending Moore's wound, John Hart plays the Texas Ranger who bring Ivers in and veterans Ed Cassidy and Franklyn Farnum appear in the bank hold up sequence.
Oddly enough there are no fist fights or extended gun battles in this film. Doesn't hurt it a bit.
The Longhorn (1951)
Keep Rollin', Rollin', Rollin!
"The Longhorn" was the first film from Bill Elliot under his new arrangement with Monogram/Allied Artists following his departure after seven years from Republic Pictures. His "Wild Bill" moniker was restored as were his reverse holster six shooters.
In this film Elliot plays rancher Jim Kirk who plans to cross-breed Hereford cattle with his diminishing value Texas Longhorns. Together with his friend Andy (Myron Healey), the two set off for Oregon to purchase a herd of Herefords. But wait, Myron Healey a good guy? Nah. Old Myron is conspiring behind the scenes with baddies Moresby (John Hart) and Latimer (Marshall Reed) to steal Kirk's herd.
On the way to Oregon, Jim and Andy are attacked by Indians who steal their horses. Andy is wounded and Jim is forced to walk for help. He is found by rancher's daughter Gail Robinson (Phyllis Coates). Andy is brought to Robinson's ranch to recover. Charlie Robinson (I. Stanford Jolley) an old time cattleman decides to join Jim's cattle drive as the cook bringing with him his comely young daughter.
Jim buys a herd of 1,000 cattle from rancher Steve Clark and sets out to hire a trail crew. He is forced to hire a group of outlaws led by Purdy (Lane Bradford) to make the drive. The one-eyed, toothless bartender Ben (William Fawcett) decides to go along.
Jim proves to be a demanding taskmaster to the point of refusing to butcher a cow in order to feed his men. Finally, the herd nears its destination of Wyoming and Andy and the baddies make their move and............................................
The title of the film is a little misleading as the main story involves a cattle drive of Herefords. And, you may notice that in all of the scenes involving the cattle, none of the cast members are shown riding within the herd. Obviously the cost conscious Monogram studio used stock (no pun intended) footage for these sequences. And you would think that a trail crew consisting of outlaws AND led by non other than bad guy Lane Bradford, there would have been trouble from within over the course of the drive. Aside from Zon Murray being fired for drinking and the dispute over no meat, nothing really happens. I just couldn't get used to Bradford as a good guy. And...there is no fight over the girl.
Elliott had been starring in Republic's "A" features since 1946 so it must have been a step down for him to go back to playing the two gun pipe smoking "B" movie hero. But to his credit, he gives an excellent performance as the hard nosed no nonsense trail boss. And..he almost gets to kiss the heroine.
The Homesteaders (1953)
Non-Explosive Elliott Oater!
"The Homesteaders" opens with homesteader Mace Corbin ("Wild Bill" Elliott) laboriously plowing his rock/stump laden farm. He receives a letter from the army informing him that the army will sell him four wagon loads of dynamite which he hopes to distribute to fellow homesteaders to help clear their lands.
Together with partner Clyde Moss (Robert Lowery)who has his own agenda, they go to pick up the explosives at the army fort. There Corbin learns that the dynamite is unstable and could explode at any time. To help transport the load overland to their home, the boys are given access to released army prisoners to form their travel crew.
The wagon train forges on with Corbin as the stern wagon master. Old timer Grimes (Emmett Lynn), totally miscast, becomes the "ramrod" if you will. Of course there are troublemakers in the crew. Mead (George Wallace) and Slim (Rick Vallin are the chief protagonists. Back in town, gold miner Kroger (James Seay) has designs on the dynamite and plans to steal it from Corbin & co. Following an Indian attack, Kroger launches his own raid and......................................................
Oddly enough, I guess due to budgetary restraints, there are no wagons blowing up in spite of their volatile cargo. At 62 minutes this film had the shortest running time of any of Elliot's Monogram/Allied Artists westerns.
Bill Elliott wasn't your regular Saturday afternoon cowboy. He never the fancy duds of his contemporaries nor did he have a sidekick. In fact he is seen smoking a pipe in a camp fire scene. There is a reason that he was the last of the "B" western cowboys.