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Border Devils (1932)
Excellent acting in low-budget but well-scripted Harry Carey flick
Like my cousin, Marion Robert and eventually Michael Morrison, I love Harry Carey, and Harry Carey, Jr., too. (Most people, but not all, know that John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison. When his brother was born, his strange mother took the Robert away from him and gave it to the new boy, and re-naming Marion Mitchell. As he grew into his teens, though, he didn't want to be Mitchell so he re-named himself Michael, which I find to be a perfect choice. I would have done the same.)
One of the glories of YouTube is the presence of several Harry Carey movies, including "Border Devils," an action-packed western I am very grateful to have found.
It's not a great print, there at YouTube, but it's good enough to be able to appreciate the talent of the actors and the skill in the script, a change-of-identities story that keeps a viewer on edge: Will he get caught?
Helping the hero is a man who became probably the most-loved of all the sidekicks, George Hayes, an exceptional actor, who nearly always stole whatever movie he was in, and who could play villains as well as the comical partner.
He demonstrates HUGE talent in this early movie.
The leading lady was not only extremely talented, she was one of the most attractive western film actresses I've seen, Kathleen Collins. She was a real westerner, born -- and later, at age 91, dying -- in San Antonio.
For some reason, she made no more movies after "Border Devils," at least according to her bio here at IMDb. Maybe 28 movies was all she wanted, or maybe marriage interfered, but I find it a shame she made only those 28.
This is a good story, extremely well acted, and nicely directed and photographed, easily worth eight out of 10. And maybe a better print would have earned it at least a nine.
I highly recommend "Border Devils" and hope you get to watch it.
The Quiet Gun (1957)
Quick start to extremely well-acted western drama
Director William F. Claxton wastes no time in starting "The Quiet Gun," a modern-ish western with lots of story and dramatics and personal conflict, and not so much gun-play.
Excellent performers take a taut story and render it believably and excitingly.
As a long-time fan of Forrest Tucker, I believe he has never given a better performance. He is smooth, controlled, even nuanced, and makes us, the audience, completely on the side of his character, Sheriff Carl Brandon.
Jim Davis plays his friend, Ralph Carpenter, who is lured into a ridiculous situation, certainly by Old West standards, but, remember, the city attorney is one of those blue-nosed Easterners, played very well by Lewis Martin (a really interesting name, considering that Jerry and Dean were at about the peak of their team effort).
(I do have to question, though, whether a city attorney would actually have any jurisdiction out in the ranch-lands, but that really isn't important. It's more important to accept the flow of the action, and question the script only afterward.)
Jim Davis, another of my favorites, is not on screen very much, even though he's third billed. But he is a strong presence when he is there.
Hank Worden gets a chance to shine, and he too shows himself to be more than a character: He's a character actor. Great performance by him.
The two women are pivotal to the story, especially the one played so beautifully by Mara Corday, but they are also not on screen much.
Of course we must mention Lee Van Cleef, who had a most fascinating career. His last years saw him as a major TV series star and a very highly paid movie performer, especially of Italian westerns. And he deserved every penny.
There is a relevant lesson in this story: The town council is composed of some rather rascally and self-aggrandizing men, not so foul or corrupt as, for example, the city councils of Los Angeles or Chicago, but enough power-lust is in them to create the conflict that finally results in several deaths.
Sheriff Brandon is savvy enough to know that some laws should not and can not be enforced, but the power-lusters and the busybodies over-rule him, resulting in the tragedies.
Even beyond some superb performances, especially by Forrest Tucker, this story is enough to grab an audience and leave us tense and torn, right until the end.
I highly recommend "The Quiet Gun," available at YouTube in a very good print but, alas, interrupted several times by intrusive -- but brief -- commercials.
The Three Mesquiteers (1936)
Maybe not Colt MacDonald's characters, but this is great
As an introduction to the Three Mesquiteers themselves (not that the characters stayed consistent through the series) and to the eventual series of that name, "The Three Mesquiteers" is a wonderful movie, with clever dialogue and excellent story, very well acted at all levels.
Bob Livingston and Ray Corrigan played Stony and Tucson as a good team, obviously liking each other enough to teach each other and still work smoothly together, for fighting or cowboying.
Syd Saylor was probably a better all-around actor than Max Terhune, who replaced him in the next 3M movies, but he was a different character and must be considered in that light. Actually, he probably better fit the physical description by the original author, William Colt MacDonald.
Bad guys here were exceptional, including Al Bridge, who went on to an illustrious career, especially as a favorite of Preston Sturges. He even looked enough like J.P. McGowan that they were believably brothers.
McGowan was really good as the rotten leader of the bad guys, but in his character's one moment of near-humanity, he was even better.
John Merton was the brawn heavy and excellent, as always.
Gene Marvey was very likable as the leader of the injured veterans -- an unfortunately always relevant topic -- and even had a beautiful singing voice. It is shameful that even IMDb has no information on him.
As his character's sister, Kay Hughes was lovely and also likable. Her career lasted more than ten years, but apparently she gave it up before it gave her up.
Frank Yaconelli was, as always in such parts, outstanding, and other "injured vets" were sympathetic and earned our liking and admiration.
Look for a young and early Milburn Stone, who went on to great fame as "Doc" in the decades long TV series "Gunsmoke." Even this early, he stands out.
There is really so much to like in this "The Three Mesquiteers" it's hard to know what to say and what to leave out. For example, one must mention some excellent dialogue, especially the line about the French fight for glory, the English for land, and Americans for souvenirs.
All in all, a great movie, and my only serious complaint is about the jerky quality of the print I saw at YouTube. At least it was the right movie: One listed there under this title was another 3M entirely.
Finally, one other small complaint, a directorial (what I consider an) error: When the boys leave a dance to go after the villains, they do so bare-headed. Real cowboys would have grabbed their hats maybe even before their guns.
Still, this is a wonderful film, a wonderful introduction, and a wonderful experience, starring two of my favorite cowboys.
(It's truly only parenthetical I mention having got to meet Ray Corrigan about a month before his death and even attended his funeral. I had looked forward to meeting him for a long time, and was fortunate enough to do so at a Western Film Collectors convention in July of 1976. He was a lovely and charming man, still looking handsome and strong. R.I.P.)
Wabash Avenue (1950)
Surprise? Betty Grable and Phil Harris are great actors
Betty Grable has always been adorable, awfully cute to look at and to watch dancing. Generally she didn't have to DO anything besides be and look cute, which she did awfully well. But act? In "Wabash Avenue" she does!
It's a slight story, full of clichés and not-especially-developed characters, but Betty Grable so completely dominates her scenes and the entire movie that "Wabash Avenue" is a must-see.
You MUST watch her face -- not just her legs-- and her body movements. She gives what must be her greatest performance, and she is absolutely marvelous. She hits just the right notes in gestures and expressions and I would recommend "Wabash Avenue" for third and fourth viewings just to see her.
Then there's Phil Harris. Usually he gets to be a cardboardish caricature of himself, which is usually all he needs to be and all we want or need him to be. But as "Mike Stanley," he out-does himself, and probably no one else could have given quite the same portrayal. He too is marvelous.
He and the other excellent cast members are helped, immensely, by some clever and entertaining dialogue, some OK music and beautiful and/or skimpy costumes, and some excellent character actors, especially James Barton, who steals every scene he's in, and the great Reginald Gardiner.
Of course we shouldn't omit mention of Victor Mature who gives a good performance without taking off his shirt or wielding a weapon. He probably deserves more respect generally.
"Wabash Avenue" is not necessarily a great movie, but it is fun and, as mentioned above, Betty Grable and Phil Harris are reason enough to watch and re-watch.
Pardon My Gun (1930)
Not really a western, except barely, it's a musical and rodeo picture
"Fuzzy" as a name for a frog was funny, and was pretty darned clever, especially in a movie the "humor" of which was dismal. (Remember the dragon in Harry Potter named "Fluffy"?)
And perhaps the movie seems even worse than it really is because the print is miserable. At least the one I saw at YouTube is.
One rather funny scene was an almost direct steal from a Buster Keaton movie, and of course was much better done there, but here it still was cute.
And the next scene, when Ted kisses the diminutive Peggy, why it alone is almost worth the price of admission. Excellent. (Tom Keene, as I keep saying, is a very likable guy, even when he's named George Duryea.)
Although, I did write too soon: "Peggy" over-acted her response.
And the next bit of "humor," with a very good dancer, when she got to dancing, was just awful. It is the kind of stuff the previous reviewers were so negative about. With good reason.
Then "Peggy" sings. And does she make up for the silly bit earlier. Mona Ray is hardly a cowboy singer, but she is one heck of a night-club vocalist. She should have been in dozens of movies.
She's backed up by a pretty good band, the Abe Lyman Orchestra -- actually a VERY good band -- and, yes, all the musical numbers make this much more of a musical than a western, but let's judge it for what it is, an early musical in a sort-of western setting. Maybe a Western Swing setting.
There is more western-ness in some excellent rope tricks by the McFarlane brothers, who also impressed me with some equally excellent trick riding.
When we get to the denouement, we arrive with almost no violence, despite some villainy by the great Harry Woods, who had not yet achieved his plane as a fine actor.
Seriously, this is much better than most of those other reviews would lead you to believe. I suggest you relax and enjoy it for what it is, a rodeo-trick-riding-musical with a little western adventure and villainy thrown in.
The performers are generally very capable, even though the writers and director didn't give them much help.
Remember it's 1930, and sound movies were still young. Remember context, and I think you will actually enjoy the excellently titled "Pardon My Gun," even though there is not a gun, either.
Between Heaven and Hell (1956)
Performances and camera work make this one to see
Brad Dexter was the only one of "The Magnificent Seven" not to become a major star. When you see his performance in "Between Heaven and Hell," you will wonder why.
He is given a very sympathetic character to play, and gives in return one of his best performances.
Buddy Ebsen started show biz life as a minor, but pleasant, song and dance man, but, as shown here, he became one of the finest dramatic actors of the century (despite such obstacles as "The Beverly Hillbillies").
"Between Heaven and Hell" is a very generic title, and seems to have very little to do with this movie. It has been used dozens of times, and maybe once or twice, somewhere, it was appropriate. Maybe.
Richard Fleischer's directing and Leo Tover's photography, though, overcome the trite title and well complement the excellent acting in presenting a dramatic war story.
From the opening shot, there is fluidity in the camera work that awed me, that left me admiring Mr. Fleischer more than I ever had before. If you don't like war movies -- and I don't -- you will want to watch this one for the photography, including the scenery.
One complaint: The protagonist, played well by Robert Wagner, goes through the mandatory (made so by "the rules of drama") change, but there is no good explanation of his motives, of why he changes.
Perhaps it is plain, right before our eyes, in a manner of speaking only because it is never explicated. But there really should have been some motivational explanations.
Still, it was plausible and reasonable, and, again, the acting and camera work are so good -- no, excellent, "Between Heaven and Hell" is definitely worth watching.
By the way, do not miss a chance to see this just because the On Demand description is so disgustingly PC. There is no "racism" even though that PC description implies there is.
I found it via the Time Warner Cable system's On Demand. And free!
Anne Francis is great! but silent movies are very badly represented
Cute idea is not especially well written, but excellent cast of very talented actors do their best.
Anne Francis in particular shines. This was early in her career -- she was 22 or so -- and she had dialogue of a stuffy, snobby Ivy Leaguer which an awful lot of Hollywood actors are unable to handle believably. She is just about perfect, though.
The wonderful Elsa Lanchester, though, is over the top, like the mis-representations of silent movies, and apparently she plays her role just as she is directed and as the part is written. (I love her, but not the part.)
Ray Collins, one of my favorites, has good dialogue that he, as usual, delivers beautifully.
Ginger Rogers, on the other hand ... well, she is one of my very favorite people in all show biz history. She was so great in this part, I didn't even recognize her at first. I had to double-check the credit list. She so completely submerged herself in this role, I developed a new respect for someone I already had ultimate respect for.
Actors in "Dreamboat" are, in fact and generally, great fun to watch, and deserve admiration and respect.
The directing and writing, by the same person, are not so good, but probably this movie has more good than not-so-good, and Clifton Webb's character makes some good criticism of the television medium. (Fred Allen said TV is called a medium because so little of it is either rare or well done.)
I suggest watching "Dreamboat" totally relaxed and with no expectations. You will probably enjoy it. In fact, I stayed till the end and revised my rating upward. Hang on: It ends well.
Battle of Greed (1937)
Little-known gem, starring Tom Keene, has clever script and talented cast and an early representation of Mark Twain
Excellent acting, in every part, carries a cleverly created story -- with a tee-niny bit of history as its basis.
Tom Keene was one of the most likable movie heroes, and it puzzles me constantly why he is not a household name today, except among hard-core western fans.
Here his character, John Storm, is supported by his younger brother, beautifully played by Jimmy Butler, and by Virginia City's newspaper editor Mark Twain, very interestingly played by James Bush.
This is an early portrayal of Twain, and the earliest I know of. The Twain persona became part and parcel of Americana in several versions of a one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight," with Hal Holbrook probably the most famous portrayer.
Opposing Storm is the brains heavy, Hammond, whose first name is apparently never given, and the brawn heavy, Bates, fascinatingly played by Ray, or Rafael, Bennett.
Helping mark this film as a great one in its class is continual interplay among the minor characters, especially when they tease Bates about his upcoming battle with Storm.
There is some absolutely marvelous back-and-forth among the hangers-on and Bates and his fellow henchmen.
Apparently this is a little-known movie, since for now there are no other reviews, but it is available in a mediocre print at YouTube, which is where I watched it late 15 July 2015.
I want to see every Tom Keene movie available, and hope you will seek out those opportunities, too. He is watchable, likable, talented, and his movies are well done, with generally high production values.
So far, every Keene movie I've seen has had a good script and talented cast and crew. I highly recommend them all, including "Battle of Greed."
For Heaven's Sake (1926)
The moving camera films and, having filmed, moves on
"For Heaven's Sake" was double-billed with "Grandma's Boy" on Turner Classic Movies' Silent Sunday, 12 July 2015, and it was a glorious pairing.
Harold Lloyd was working with Hal Roach for "GB" and was independent "For Heaven's Sake."
The first was, and was intended to be, more of a character study, as the alleged experts call it, while the second was more of a purely gag-filled romp.
"Sake" also had Lloyd's loveliest -- in my opinion -- co-star in the Tennessee girl, Jobyna Ralston, of South Pittsburg. (Some of her family is still there. I've tried, unsuccessfully, to talk the lifeless chamber of commerce into having a Jobyna Ralston film festival. It's a sad town but in a beautiful part of the country, not too far from Chattanooga. South Pittsburg is the home of the Cornbread Festival, featuring the Lodge iron skillets.)
"For Heaven's Sake" also has some wonderful stunts, with Lloyd's frequent foil Noah Young performing yeoman work, as do several excellent stunt performers.
It is, after all, Harold Lloyd, so you know there will be athletic performances and great sight gags, but the directing is quite an eye-opener, too, with that moving camera referred to in this review's title.
Both these films intrigued and delighted me with the moving camera, visually quite fascinating and very inventive and clever.
There is more story here than some supposed experts and even some reviewers here admit to and, combined with the sight humor, they make this a great movie, one I highly recommend.
The Evidence of the Film (1913)
An excellent example of why Thanhouser films need to be found
"Evidence of the film" is an excellent example of inventive filmic story-telling, downright startling in its originality and creativity for 1913.
But a good film for any age.
Another example from Thanhouser, the long-defunct studio working in New Rochelle, New York, "Evidence" is one of fewer than 200 films that have been found, out of some 1,000 produced.
It is a small film, but with a dramatic story and superlative actors and, as I said, marvelously inventive method of presenting the story.
A messenger boy, played by the remarkable Marie Eline, is accused of a crime, and his sister, played by the even more remarkable Florence La Badie, who died too, too young (and we can only imagine what heights of stardom she could have reached), works to find the evidence that will prove his innocence.
Too many other reviewers have given away the story, but I won't. Instead I will repeat, this is a wonderful find, a discovery of a film previously thought lost, and it is more evidence a major effort must be expended to find all the Thanhouser films extant.
"Evidence" was shown on Turner Classic Movies on 5 July 2015, one of three Thanhouser films following a documentary about the studio. I hope to see it again and highly recommend it to you.