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Prairie Pals (1942)
Good cowboy cast, including Charles King; fairly slow but enjoyable
Stan Jolley and Charles King were both good actors, but too often given shallow characters to play. Not this time.
They interact well, and give their characters some depth.
Which is more, I'm sorry to write, than can be said about Art Davis and Bill "Cowboy Rambler" Boyd (making at least three Bill Boyd actors, including two cowboy Bill Boyds).
Davis and Boyd were together in about six movies, and were always likable enough, just never outstanding, never thrilling. They were better singers than actors, though they were usually at least adequate. And in fact their singing was often very good to listen to, especially when harmonizing.
Lee Powell made only two more movies after this before entering the Marine Corps and dying in World War II. A very sad end for anyone, of course, and very sad for his fans, but perhaps even more sad for a man who could have become a big, or at least bigger, star.
Esther Estrella, the only female, didn't have much to do but look pretty, and she did that extremely well. But she didn't make many pictures.
For some reason, director Sam Newfield used the name of Peter Stewart but "Prairie Pals" showed some very nice touches and he should have gotten credit.
There is a print at YouTube that is very hard to see and is chopped up badly so it's often hard to hear, but I found it worthwhile, a pleasant enough way to while away an hour or so. I hope you like it too.
Lady for a Night (1942)
Too much good to sum up in one title
Unusual roles for John Wayne and Joan Blondell, unusual setting, and unusual drama for Republic, and they all add up to a wonderful movie that offers lots of fun for us, the audience.
Blondell and Wayne make a strong pairing, something Hollywood should have considered before and again. Blondell was usually known for light, even fluffy characterizations but here she proves herself so much more: an actress. And Wayne, looking good in formal city-slicker attire, plays a character of politics and urban corruption (which, in fact, are so often the same thing) who still is essentially decent.
It's a familiar story in some ways, but it's familiar because it seems to happen enough in, as we laughingly call it, real life.
Wayne and Blondell should be enough for any movie, but they are backed up by a sterling, by an incredibly varied and tremendously talented cast, even including the amazing The Hall Johnson Choir, with some astonishing soloists.
Stealing every scene she's in is Hattie Noel. She just dominates every shot, with her skill at delivering her lines and an overwhelming personality -- and some brilliant and funny dialogue.
Despite his drunken character, Ray Middleton comes close to stealing his scenes, too. He endows his character with an undeniable and innate decency, despite the drunkenness.
Middleton doesn't sing in "Lady for a Night" although he was a trained singer with a beautiful voice, beautiful even in speaking.
Perhaps the climax is just what we expect, but it is also what we want. And the ending, the final scene, is also what we want.
Wayne again proves he is an actor capable of many different roles, and Blondell again is so adorable, and so beautiful, their presence alone would make any movie worth watching just for them, but "Lady for a Night" is well-nigh perfect for its entire cast and its excellent script.
I have no hesitation rating it a ten and recommending it highly.
It's available at YouTube.
Delicious and rare treat, and a real find, as well as a good Western
Not really perfect, but ...
Robert Redford starred in a movie called "The Natural." I read the book; it was stupid; I didn't see the movie. The book was about a baseball player. Well, Lou Gehrig WAS a baseball player, but he was really a natural as an actor.
Some other commenter called Gehrig as stiff as his bat. Wrong! Gehrig was so relaxed, so -- that word again -- natural in this cowboy movie, it is more than a shame, more than a tragedy that this was his last year of an active life, that soon after making "Rawhide," Lou Gehrig developed the disease that now bears his name.
He appeared in front of a camera as if he'd been doing it for years.
The nominal star was that incredibly talented Smith Ballew, possessor of one of the most beautiful voices to appear on screen, especially in Westerns. He was a very tall and good-looking man, with real grace as a cowboy, and genuine singing talent. In fact, he made hundreds of records in several genres.
But even Smith Ballew was at least slightly over-shadowed by the great, the legendary Lou Gehrig, one of the most honored baseball players of all time.
In "Rawhide," he showed he could have anticipated other baseballers such as Chuck Connors and had a whole career in motion pictures. He is thoroughly likable, very personable and charming, and seems as if he's been performing for years. What a shame he wasn't allowed to keep doing so.
"Rawhide" is about Lou's retiring to the ranch his "sister" has bought for the two of them. It would have perhaps worked even better if another name had been applied to the character, but it still works well for "Lou Gehrig" and his sister.
That sister is beautifully played by the beautiful Evalyn Knapp. She gives such a charming performance here, I am both angered and saddened she didn't become the huge star she obviously was capable of being.
"Rawhide" works partly because its three stars are so believable and likable, and partly because there are superbly talented co-stars and atmosphere players, and many of them.
B Westerns are so much better when there are many smaller parts and especially when they are so excellently performed by such a superlative cast as this movie has.
"Rawhide" is a special treat because it's Lou Gehrig's only fictional movie talking appearance. He could have been a major star if his life had not taken such a tragic turn.
He even looks like John Wayne in some of the stills, with his 10-gallon hat and craggy good looks -- and not like Gary Cooper who played him in the biopic.
"Rawhide" is available at YouTube in a not-great print, but it's good enough for you to appreciate the clever and well-written story that is very ably directed and that even has some really nice, non-intrusive, music. I highly recommend "Rawhide."
Aces and Eights (1936)
More story than action, but Tim McCoy makes it worth seeing
Tim McCoy was a real Westerner, a great horseman, and a better actor than most people might think, those considering him "just" a B Western star.
This Western is flawed by several Gringos trying, not very successfully, to play Mexicans, but there are many intriguing characters and a complex plot in a story set in Spanish-heritage California and Nevada to more than make up for the flaws.
The major locale is Rawhide, Nevada, a real town, now a ghost town, but it once looked like this: http://www.westernmininghistory.com/towns/nevada/rawhide
Perhaps the biggest flaw is Rex Lease, who gives good performances in other movies, but here he fails with a Mexican accent, and has trouble mounting his horse.
More than compensating for Lease is Earle Hodgins, here called Earl. Often cast as a fast-talking carnival or medicine-show barker, his role here as a marshal is different, perhaps (and reminding in some ways of John Cleese's playing a sheriff in "Silverado"), but he is a capable enough actor to pull it off beautifully.
Possibly the most intriguing note, though, is from the great Karl Hackett, who not only narrates at the beginning of "Aces and Eights," but plays that most famous holder of a poker hand of aces and eights, Wild Bill Hickok. And he doesn't even get screen credit.
Wheeler Oakman plays the slimy Ace Morgan, and as usual he makes us believe he really is despicable, in a great performance.
"Aces and Eights" is a flawed movie, with some obviously dubbed-in sound effects and an identical shot of a poker-hand close-up used at least three times.
But it stars Tim McCoy. All I ever need to know is It Stars Tim McCoy.
I'll watch it, and I'll recommend it. It Stars Tim McCoy, and it's available at YouTube.
The Pecos Kid (1935)
Good story, some nice directing, of oft-used plot
Some good characters were not especially well portrayed by these likable but not especially proficient actors.
Fred Kohler, Jr., gave better performances in other movies, but he by and large handled the action better than he did his dialogue.
His female lead, the cute, the downright adorable, Ruth Findlay didn't have much of a career: 10 credits, and she then was mostly unbilled or used a different name. She wasn't on screen much in this movie, but when she was, and when she spoke, her voice really caught my attention. Is it Jean Arthur she reminds me of?
The great Earl Dwire, here billed as "Dwyer," tried to play a Mexican, and his accent wasn't as bad as Marlon Brando's in "Viva Zapata!" but could have been better. (Ruth Findlay was married to Frank Yaconelli, and he could have taught Dwire and the director, perhaps, how to create a Mexican accent.)
Probably the best actor was Roger Williams, who played the chief bad guy. Mr. Williams had a very, very busy seven years, with 120 roles to his credit. This one came in about the middle of his career.
Or maybe the best actor was the unbilled Robert Walker, who was on screen very briefly as a marshal. But he looked more confident and relaxed than any of the others.
This is a story of revenge, or, maybe better, justice, and various versions have starred probably every Western player at one time or another. But it's a good story. Any story about justice is.
The print I saw at YouTube of "The Pecos Kid" was pretty terrible, with some scenes too dark to see anything and lots of badly repaired breaks, but the story is clear if the dialogue isn't always.
I like "The Pecos Kid," while realizing its limitations and I hope you do too.
Hollywood Cowboy (1937)
Might be better in better print, but good cast in good story
"Hollywood Cowboy" is also listed at YouTube as "Wings over Wyoming," and you can find it under either or both titles. But if you look, I'm afraid you won't find a very good print.
Which is a shame. I might have given it a 10 if I could have seen it in one piece, without the dark picture, without the breaks and pops and jumps, and without the hiss on the sound track.
It has a crackerjack cast, starring the very good-looking and extremely capable George O'Brien, with the beautiful and also talented Cecilia Parker.
Hers was another Hollywood story of a beautiful talent who apparently crossed the studio bosses, because she obviously had the looks and ability to have become a star.
"Wings over Wyoming" is as good a title as "Hollywood Cowboy" because all those words figure in the story, well co-written by Dan Jarrett and director Ewing Scott, who was helped in the directing by the great George Sherman, who helmed many a Western movie.
It is a slightly involved story, with bunches of characters including city-slicker gangsters trying to transfer their skulduggery to the ranges of, yes, Wyoming.
There have been other efforts with a similar premise, but none better than this one.
I highly recommend this, for cast, scenery (actually California), and good story. I just hope you find a better print.
Utah Blaine (1957)
Excellent cast in action-packed Louis L'Amour story
Rory Calhoun proved himself an action hero, a two-gun action hero, in this fast-moving, and often exciting minor A Western. And he had to prove himself so with such an excellent cast of first-rate players.
His female lead was the beautiful -- although outrageously padded -- Susan Cummings, who also proved herself a first-rate actress who should have many more first-rate parts.
Her character was a strong and courageous woman, a type not seen often enough in any film but perhaps especially so in Westerns, where they mostly are present to be rescued or protected.
This Western heroine wields a shotgun and drives off the bad guys if they get too close.
Max Baer, the boxing champ, was another excellent actor and I had never seen him in a Western. He should have had his own series, playing the big and strong hero. He shows himself fully capable of it in this film.
Ray Teal is such a strong personality he almost steals "Utah Blaine" from its star -- and he plays the chief bad guy! This is a striking performance, and proof positive Mr. Teal could have played any kind of role.
Director Fred Sears leads his cast and crew admirably, and also proves himself a first-rate director, deserving of bigger-budget pictures and respect.
"Utah Blaine" was completely unknown to me before I accidentally found it at YouTube, and I am completely recommending it.
Raiders of Red Gap (1943)
Excellent cast not used well in mediocre plot that is still mostly fun
Bob Livingston was a very good actor but in this entry in the "Lone Rider" series, he rather walked through it.
Al St. John, on the other hand, always gave his all, and generally came across that way in "Raiders of Red Gap."
Yes, there were moments he somewhat overdid, but he had one of his best roles in this series.
The leading lady, Myrna Dell, also had a good role. She got to be more than a pretty face, and in her last scene she showed she should have had many more and bigger roles.
Charles King is my favorite villain, and for a change, he is the brains heavy, not just the brawn.
As sheriff, George Cheesebro got to play an unusual role, a good guy, and what an actor! He was incredibly likable here, too.
It's a pretty light-weight B Western, but I like it and hope you will too. And you can catch it as I did, at YouTube.
Don Camillo (1952)
Nice adaptation of Don Camillo stories, slightly Americanized so even we can understand
Having read all of Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo stories, several times, I was very pleased to find "The Little World of Don Camillo" on YouTube. And I was further pleased to find it rather faithful to the original work by Guareschi.
It's hard, usually, at least for me, to render a total and impartial judgment of a dubbed movie, but in my opinion the acting was superb, the casting was excellent, and the presentation of Guareschi's vision of this Po River Valley village was close enough to perfect.
I see at IMDb that more modern versions of some Don Camillo stories have been made, and I hope to see them. Eventually.
But first I want to see all the Fernandel versions. And I want to urge everyone to seek out the books and read them, either before or after seeing the movies. Especially read "Comrade Don Camillo," which is the only complete novel of the series.
I have read "Comrade Don Camillo" several times, and every time I am moved to tears at some of the scenes, and to laughter at others, and to tears by the overall tone and beauty.
Guareschi was, and might still be, the largest-selling Italian author in the world, and in my opinion deservedly. His own history is well worth reading, even in this post-Soviet Union era.
Boss of Rawhide (1943)
Excellent cast, some very good music, and some vicious fights
Despite the excellent cast -- and any movie is improved and rates high if Dave "Tex" O'Brien is in it -- "Boss of Rawhide" does not earn 10 stars.
There are very many good elements, including that excellent cast -- and I cannot stress the quality of the players too much -- but there are some bad ones too: Primarily the attempts at humor by the minstrels.
Director Elmer Clifton had been around since silent days, and his sure touch was not quite so sure, or perhaps the editing could have been tighter. Still, the framing and angles showed his experience and he kept the action moving -- most of the time.
Jim Newill, who co-authored with "Tex" O'Brien one of the songs, sang four and showed me he was one of the best cowboy singers of the movies. He had a really good voice.
Oliver Drake wrote the other three. His name too is just magic and means a good time is ahead for a movie audience.
There are too many great Western performers to try to point out the great Western performances in "Boss of Rawhide."
And the story was solid, with many and intriguing characterizations, generally well portrayed.
It doesn't quite come together, primarily because of the unfunny "humor" of the minstrel show, but it's a B Western and therefor I like it.
And, more important, Dave "Tex" O'Brien is one of the stars. His big fight scene at the end showed him, again, as a superior actor, and I'd rate "Boss of Rawhide" high just for him.
You can do what I did, and see it free at YouTube -- well, almost free: There are commercial interruptions. But having to watch the beginnings of commercials is usually better than paying money.
I do recommend "Boss of Rawhide."