Monthly Archives: May 2014

Butch and Sundance on Film

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 31, 2014

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Film

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Of course the best known version of the famous outlaws on film is 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, written by William Goldman and directed by George Roy Hill.  This film established them as attractive Robin-Hood-type, not-so-bad outlaws just as the Old West was passing, an image which has considerable basis in history.  Prior to that time, when they appeared in films it tended to be as regular outlaws notable mostly for their colorful names, appearing only incidentally in movies where they were not the principal characters.  After 1969, there have been several less successful attempts to recapture the magic of Newman and Redford as Butch and Sundance.  Katharine Ross even reprised her role as Etta Place in a made-for-television movie (The Sundance Woman, 1976).  Other than the 1969 classic, perhaps the most successful cinematic use of Butch and Sundance was in 2011’s Blackthorn, in which Sam Shepard is an aging Butch Cassidy in Bolivia, contemplating a return to the U.S. in the 1920s.

Cheyenne (sometimes seen as Wyoming Kid; Arthur Kennedy as Sundance, 1947)

Return of the Bad Men (Robert Ryan as Sundance, 1948)

Dakota Lil (Walter Sande as Butch, 1948)

Wyoming Renegades (Gene Evans and William Bishop, 1954)

The Maverick Queen (Howard Petrie and Scott Brady, 1956)

Badman’s Country (a mélange of improbable lawmen and outlaws, including Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, etc. fighting Cassidy [Neville Brand], 1959)

Cat Ballou (Arthur Hunnicutt as an aging Cassidy, 1965)

Return of the Gunfighter (John Crawford and John Chandler Davis, 1967)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Paul Newman and Robert Redford, 1969)

Butch and Sundance:  The Early Years (Tom Berenger and William Katt, 1979)

Mrs. Sundance (Elizabeth Montgomery; 1974; MfTV)

The Sundance Woman (Katharine Ross; 1976; MfTV)

The Legend of Butch and Sundance (2006; MfTV)

Outlaw Trail:  The Treasure of Butch Cassidy (2006)

Blackthorn (Sam Shepard, 2011)

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Outlaw Trail:  The Treasure of Butch Cassidy—Ryan Kelley, Bruce McGill, James Gammon, Shauna Thompson, Arielle Kebbel (2006; Dir.  Ryan Little)

Set in 1951 in Utah, this modest film is based on the premise that (a) Butch and Sundance weren’t killed in Bolivia in 1908, and (b) Butch brought back some kind of gold treasure from South America and stashed it somewhere around his boyhood home in Circleville, Utah.  Ryan Kelley plays a young Indiana Jones-type role as Roy Parker, a great nephew of Robert LeRoy Parker, who wants, among other things, to rehabilitate Butch’s historical reputation.  Bruce McGill is Garrison, a nefarious local museum director after treasure and supposedly a son of Etta Place.  He and his henchmen chase Roy and friends in pursuit of the lost treasure around various scenic spots in Utah, including rivers and moving trains.  James Gammon plays Sam Parker, Roy’s grandfather and a younger brother of Butch.  Shauna Thompson is Roy’s widowed mother Lorraine.  Arielle Kebbel is Ellie, new blonde girl in town.  In the end, Roy Parker meets his grandfather’s brother, Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy, played by James Karen), now going under the name William Phillips in Washington.  Better than one would expect, although some complain about the ending.  A little fast and loose with some of the facts:  William Phillips of Spokane almost certainly wasn’t Butch Cassidy, and he’d died in the 1930s in any event, not living until 1951.  Directed by Ryan Little (Saints and Soldiers) on location in Utah (Provo Canyon, Bryce Canyon, the Heber Creeper).

The Legend of Butch and Sundance—Michael Biehn, David Clayton Rogers, Ryan Browning, Rachelle Lefevre, Blake Gibbons, Susan Ruttan (MfTV, 2006: Dir:  Sergio Mimica-Gezzon)

This was a failed television pilot set for 2004 but aired only in 2006; hence the apparent occasional breaks for commercials.  It was the last “movie” scored by Basil Poledouris, who had done the music for Lonesome Dove and Quigley Down Under.  The leads, young Butch Parker/Cassidy (David Clayton Rogers) and Harry Longabaugh (Ryan Browning) are both personable and well differentiated.  Etta Place (Rachelle Lefevre, who played renegade vampire Victoria in New Moon) has a red-headed spark, and a relationship with both men.  

Since it was made as a pilot, there were some liberties taken with history in this set-up to leave writers of future episodes with lots of potential material.  Michael Biehn is the biggest name in this; he plays young Butch’s outlaw mentor Mike Cassidy.  It makes the Wild Bunch and the Hole in the Wall gang seem like separate entities, which they weren’t.  Shot in Alberta.

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The Horse Soldiers

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 30, 2014

The Horse Soldiers—John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers, Ken Curtis, Judson Pratt, Willis Bouchey, Denver Pyle, Strother Martin, Althea Gibson, Hank Worden, Hoot Gibson (1959; Dir:  John Ford)

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Not exactly a western, since it takes place entirely in Mississippi during the Civil War.  But it stars John Wayne and William Holden riding horses and fighting battles, and it’s directed by John Ford.  So the western genre seems to be where it fits most comfortably—specifically, it’s a cavalry western.

Gen. U.S. Grant has besieged Vicksburg on the Mississippi River but not yet taken it, so that puts the time of this story in the first half of 1863.  Grant calls in cavalry Col. John Marlowe (John Wayne) and gives him the assignment of destroying supplies and railroads to the south in Newton Landing, between Vicksburg and Baton Rouge.  Marlowe’s officers include Col. Phil Secord (Willis Bouchey), an older man from Michigan with political ambitions, and Maj. Henry Kendall (William Holden), a surgeon who is almost instantly at odds with Marlowe.

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Hannah Hunter, Marlowe and Kendall at Greenbriar; Marlowe with one of his scouts.

Heading south and trying to keep the Confederates in ignorance of their whereabouts and objectives, the cavalry stops at the plantation of Greenbriar, run by Miss Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers).  She receives them hospitably, given that her sympathies are southern, and discovers that they plan to destroy the supplies at Newton Landing and then head for Baton Rouge.  Kendall finds Hannah and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) listening, and Marlowe is forced to take them along so his plans are not prematurely revealed.  Hannah’s attempts to escape and hostility to the Yankees provide another source of tension within the column.

Hannah Hunter:  “They’ll catch up to you and cut you to pieces, you nameless, fatherless scum.  I just wish I could be there to see it!”

Col. John Marlowe:  “If it happens, Miss Hunter, you will be.”

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Trying to figure out why the Confederates aren’t putting up more resistance.

As they move toward Newton Landing, Marlowe’s men discover a couple of Confederate deserters (Denver Pyle and Strother Martin), whom Marlowe lures into giving information on Confederate units in the area before he turns them over to the southern sheriff.  At Newton Landing, there are a few Confederate soldiers led by a one-armed Col. Jonathan Miles (Carleton Young), known to Kendall from their days fighting Indians out west.  It turns out Miles has telegraphed for reinforcements, and when those additional men arrive on a train, Marlowe’s men are reluctantly forced to fight a battle. The Yankees win handily before destroying the supplies and railroad, which pains the one-time railroad worker Marlowe.  When the Confederate army asks a local military school to send its young men into battle, led by their reluctant headmaster/minister (Basil Ruysdael), Marlowe and his men are forced to leave the field rather than shooting them down, once more demonstrating Marlowe’s comparative humanity.  The political Col. Secord continually gives poor and self-aggrandizing advice, and when Marlowe takes to referring to Kendall as “Croaker,” Kendall responds by calling Marlowe “Section Hand.”

Col. John Marlowe [during firefight]:  “I didn’t want this. I tried to avoid a fight!”

Maj. Henry Kendall:  “That’s why I took up medicine.  

With Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry on their heels, they move south toward Baton Rouge, only to find their way blocked by another Confederate unit at a bridge about 40 miles from their destination.  Hannah’s slave Lukey is killed by the initial Confederate attack.  Meanwhile, Marlowe and Hannah get to know each other better as Hannah nurses Marlowe’s wounded men with Kendall and sees that Marlowe cares about his young wounded soldiers.  His hostility to doctors is rooted in the period before the war, when he was a young railroad section hand and his wife was killed by a medical mistake.  Marlow’s cavalry finds a way to ford the river and flank the blocking Confederates while their attention is fixed on a direct charge across the bridge.  Marlowe takes a leg wound, which Kendall binds up.

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The Colonel lights the fuse and dashes across the bridge.

Marlowe has to blow up the bridge so Forrest can’t follow him so closely.  He is the last across the bridge and tells Hannah he loves her, taking her bandanna for a neckerchief.  He barely makes it across the bridge, leaving Kendall and Hannah tending the wounded and Kendall presumably bound for captivity in Andersonville prison in Georgia.  Marlowe and Kendall are to some degree reconciled, with some mutual respect at the end.

Director Ford does well in managing his large cast and the action in this film.  There are typical Fordian touches, such as the opening shots of a column of cavalry riding along railroad tracks against the sky and supposedly singing a Civil War song over the initial credits.  There are the low-angle shots of cavalry riders as they charge across the bridge.  The story is based on an actual historical incident from the Civil War:  Grierson’s Raid, from Legrange, Tennessee, in April 1863, led by Col. Benjamin Grierson.  Grierson was a music teacher who was afraid of horses because one kicked him in the head as a child.  Joining the Union army to fight slavery (he was a staunch abolitionist) he wanted infantry duty but was assigned to the cavalry by mistake.  He turned out to be good at it and stayed in the cavalry after the war, becoming the first Colonel of the 10th Cavalry (buffalo soldiers).  It’s unclear why the names are changed, but presumably it was to give the writers and director greater freedom to deviate from the real historical events.  There probably wasn’t much of a love story involved in the real raid, nor such animosity with the regimental doctor.

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John Ford directs Wayne and Towers in an intimate scene.

Overall, the film seems to take an anti-war stance.  The movie takes an interesting attitude toward southerners and their slaves.  It does not condone slavery, but it shows close relationships between owners and slaves, as with Hannah and Lukey.  It seems sympathetic to the Union side generally, but it does not shy away from showing nobility in southerners in a way that now seems slightly old-fashioned (the sheriff to whom Marlowe turns over the deserters, the military school headmaster and his charges, the courtliness of Forrest in offering medical assistance to Kendall at the end, for example).  In modern times, when there can be no cinematic tolerance at all for slavery, it could probably not be done this way, although arguments could be made that Ford’s approach is historically accurate or defensible.  The incident with the two Confederate deserters is reminiscent of several situations in Cold Mountain (2003).

This is one of Ford’s last movies and not, perhaps, among his very best, although it is still a very good western.  There are a host of Ford’s usual character actors, such as Strother Martin, Hank Worden and his son-in-law Ken Curtis in one of his better performances, but there is no Ben Johnson or Harry Carey, Jr.  1920s cowboy star Hoot Gibson shows up in a small role as a Union sergeant in his penultimate movie.  (His last appearance was as an uncredited deputy in Ocean’s Eleven.)  1950s African-American tennis star Althea Gibson appears as Lukey.  Judson Pratt is good as Marlowe’s hard-drinking Sergeant-Major Kirby, the sort of role in which Ford once would have cast Victor McLaglen.  This is one of three Civil War cavalry movies for William Holden, along with Escape from Fort Bravo (1953) and Alvarez Kelly (1966).  He was drinking heavily at the time and during production broke his arm falling off a bridge.

Strother Martin on working with John Ford:  “I did a tiny bit in The Horse Soldiers (1959) first, and that’s when I met him; and he liked me, I guess.  Ford said to somebody I knew, ‘I’ve got to get something else for that Stuffer.. Smucker… Stoofer… whatever the hell his name is,’ and he put me in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).”

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John Wayne and Hoot Gibson trading stories behind the scenes.

Constance Towers, who otherwise didn’t have much of a movie career, appears in one of her two Ford movies (along with Sergeant Rutledge), with her curiously 1920s-style looks.  Gen. U.S. Grant, appearing briefly at the start of the movie, is played by songwriter Stan Jones, who composed the movie’s featured song “I’ve Left My Love” which plays over the opening credits and elsewhere in the film and three years earlier had written “The Song Of The Searchers,” sung by the Sons Of The Pioneers over the titles of the The Searchers (1956).

Cinematography is in color by William Clothier.  The film was shot on location in Mississippi and Louisiana, giving it an authentic look.  Screenwriters were John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin, based on a novel by Harold Sinclair.  The score is by David Buttolph, with the title song by Stan Jones.

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The film marked the beginning of mega-deals for Hollywood stars.  John Wayne and William Holden received $775,000 each, plus 20% of the overall profits, an unheard-of sum for that time.  The final contract involved six companies and numbered twice the pages of the movie’s script.  The movie was a financial failure, however, with no profits to be shared in the end.

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The Tall Men

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 28, 2014

The Tall Men—Clark Gable, Jane Russell, Robert Ryan, Cameron Mitchell, Juan Garcia, Emile Meyer (1955; Dir:  Raoul Walsh)

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Title card:  “Montana Territory – 1866.  They came from the South, headed for the goldfields…  Ben and Clint Allison, lonely and desperate men. Riding away from a heartbreak memory of Gettysburg.  Looking for a new life.  A story of tall men – and long shadows.”

Brothers Ben (Clark Gable) and Clint Allison (Cameron Mitchell), Texans and Confederate veterans, find themselves in Mineral City, Montana, in 1866 during a blizzard.  Ben, who is often referred to as “Colonel” throughout the movie, rode with Quantrill during the war, and the brothers have not found their way home, nor have they found a purpose or much money.  They see Nathan Stark (Robert Ryan) with $20,000 and try to rob him.  In return, he makes a counter-proposal.  He wants to buy cattle in Texas at $3 to $4 a head and drive them to Mineral City, where he can get $50 a head for them.  They decide to join Stark in that enterprise.

The three ride south toward Texas and find themselves in Colorado Territory during another blizzard.  They encounter a starving migrant group including Nella Turner (Jane Russell), share a meal and keep moving.  They find Sioux sign a bit later; Stark and Clint keep moving toward Bent’s trading post; Ben goes back to warn the migrants.  The Sioux find them first, and the only survivor is Nella.  Ben and Nella wait out the storm in a cabin and trade stories.  Ben’s dream is to start his own ranch on “Prairie Dog Creek” in Texas.  Nella has grown up on a hardscrabble ranch and wants no more of that life, although the two are attracted to each other.  Eventually they make it to San Antonio, Texas, where they are reunited with Stake and Clint.

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Ben (Clark Gable) and Nella (Jane Russell) waiting out the blizzard.

Ben as the trail boss hires former Confederates and mostly vaqueros headed by Luis (Juan Garcia) to drive 5000 cattle the 1500 miles to Montana.  Nella hooks up with Stark, who promises her half of the Montana Territory.  Stark brings her along on the trail drive over Ben’s objections, so she’s a continuing source of tension between the two.  As they approach Kansas, Jayhawkers demand $1 per head to allow the herd to pass, and Stark is inclined to pay it.  Ben isn’t, and the drovers shoot it out with the Jayhawkers with no casualties to themselves.

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Clint (Cameron Mitchell), Ben (Clark Gable) and Stark (Robert Ryan) face Jayhawkers at the Kansas border.

As they move on toward Wyoming, there are increasing signs of Indian trouble.  It is the middle of Red Cloud’s War, and the army in Wyoming Territory won’t let the herd keep going up the Bozeman Trail to the Montana mining towns.  Stark is inclined to turn the herd back to Abilene and sell it there; Ben wants to push ahead notwithstanding Red Cloud’s Sioux.  As usual, Ben wins.  Meanwhile, Clint is drinking more and there is bad blood between Clint and Stark.  During one confrontation, Stark demonstrates that he is better with a gun than Clint.  While riding point, Clint is killed by Indians, and Ben finds his arrow-filled body tied to a tree.

Ben and Stark find their way blocked by the hostile Sioux.  In a stirring sequence, Ben and his men stampede the herd through the Indians, and they soon find themselves outside of Mineral City.  Stark goes in to sell the cattle, and Ben follows with the herd.  At Stark’s office in the back room of a saloon, Stark divides up the money and then invites the local vigilance committee to take and hang Ben.  Ben reciprocates with the support of his more numerous vaqueros, and makes good his exit with his share of the money and Stark’s reluctant admiration.  Obviously the two never trusted each other, although they worked together on the long ride from Montana to Texas and the drive back north.

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Ben finds himself in a stand-off with Stark’s vigilantes in Mineral City.

Nathan Stark to the vigilantes:  “There goes the only man I ever respected.  He’s what every boy thinks he’s going to be when he grows up and wishes he had been when he’s an old man.”

As Ben arrives back at the camp preparing to head back to Texas, he finds Nella there.  She has decided Texas ranching with Ben is more to her taste than half of Montana Territory with Stark.

Clark Gable turns in a strong performance as trail boss Ben Allison.  Robert Ryan’s Nathan Stark is written to be stiff and not very sympathetic, although he is presumably one of the tall men of the title.  His final comment on Ben Allison (above) seems heavy-handed and unnecessary.  Jane Russell is not a very good actress, and the time given to development of her character during the movie slows things down.  Her recurrent singing quickly becomes tiresome.  The part needed either to be smaller or to have a better actress.  Russell does not manage to be interesting even during the obligatory bathing-in-the-river scene.

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This is not one of director Raoul Walsh’s better westerns, but there are some good touches.  For example, the lowering of wagons down cliffs reminds us of a similar scene from Walsh’s The Big Trail twenty-five years earlier.  The stampede-through-the-Indians scene is stirring.  This cattle drive western is obviously reminiscent of Howard HawksRed River, and interestingly Hawks’ younger brother William is a producer on this film.  The screenwriters are Sidney Boehm and the veteran Frank Nugent (who often worked with John Ford), and the writing is mostly unremarkable.  The excellent music is by Victor Young (Wells Fargo [1937], North West Mounted Police [1940], Rio Grande [1950], Johnny Guitar [1954] and most memorably Shane [1953]), who died the next year at the age of 56.  It was shot in color around Durango, Mexico, which is why some of the trail drive scenes look more like desert than they should for the northern plains.

Although Gable is quite watchable in this, none of his westerns turn out to be all that memorable.  He didn’t appear in westerns until the 1950s, when they were more respectable than they had been earlier in his career.  He was a mountain man in the poorly edited Across the Wide Missouri (1951), and Lone Star (1952) was better.  A King and Four Queens (1957), also directed by Walsh toward the end of his career, is at best undistinguished and not much seen these days.

Based on a novel by Clay Fisher, this is obviously also based on the real-life trail drive of Nelson Story from Texas to Montana in 1866, during Red Cloud’s War.  The real Nelson Story seems to have been more admirable than Nathan Stark, although he had his hard edges, too.  There are some historical anomalies.  If Ben and Clint Allison rode with Quantrill, for example, they never came anywhere close to Gettysburg during the war, although they refer to it.  Presumably the town of Mineral City is standing in for the western Montana mining towns of Virginia City and Bannack, which were about the only parts of Montana inhabited in 1866.  Those towns had memorable vigilantes, too.  The story of a trail drive from Texas to Montana has been depicted much better and with much more complexity in Lonesome Dove, of course.H

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Randolph Scott in the Early 1950s

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 27, 2014

Randolph Scott, Western Hero

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By 1946, Randolph Scott had begun to concentrate his acting career almost entirely on westerns.  He’d always done some good ones (Last of the Mohicans [1936], Frontier Marshal [1939], Virginia City [1940] and Western Union [1941], for example).  In those last two, he seemed to specialize in playing an uncommonly good bad guy, wrestling with moral dilemmas but eventually losing the girl to a less conflicted good guy.  As the decade developed he made only westerns, and seemed very at home in them, with his stern rectitude, his natural riding ability and his courtly North Carolina accent.  By 1950 Scott was the leading box office movie star in the country, ahead even of John Wayne.  Although his movies always made money, they tended to be formulaic and not terribly well written.  They are still engaging to watch for fans of westerns, but they are not really as good as some of the westerns of Joel McCrea during the same period or as good as the last westerns of Scott’s career that he made with Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah.

Boetticher referred to the early 1950s Scott movies as “the old Randolph Scott pictures,” and to the movies he made with Scott beginning in 1956 as “the real Scott pictures.”  One reason the old Randolph Scott pictures began to seem formulaic was Warner Brothers’ approach.  Ed Gorman describes Scott’s position in the industry and the production of Scott movies:

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“Scott was the constant current running beneath ‘A’ westerns flourishing after the war.  He’d gone over completely to cowboy parts, profited handsomely on many he produced, and passed shooting breaks conferring with stockbrokers.  There were ongoing deals with Warners and Columbia, permitting Randy to knock off four and sometimes five a year while bigger names like Wayne, Stewart, and Cooper limited western output and spent themselves as heavily hammering out percentage memos and negative ownership.  Scott was on and off jobs within three or so weeks and traveled no further than Lone Pine to finish yearly quotas.  He was unstoppable in small towns and all his shows met payroll.  His southern accent was apple butter to kinsmen here in North Carolina where Scott grew up, and no frontiersman came more credibly of the times and places his westerns depicted ….

“[Studio head Jack] Warner had gathered his line producers and lower execs to map out the year’s program.  We’ll make the usual number of Randolph Scott westerns at seven hundred and fifty thousand apiece.  We can always count on rentals of a million and a quarter, he said.  Could I make a suggestion?, asked a young man in the room.  Why not spend a million dollars on the Scott westerns?  With improved quality, maybe they could bring back two million, he said hopefully.  Kid, you’re fired, replied Warner.  I’ll tell you why you were fired.  Those westerns are a dying market.  The public is getting all the shit-kickers they need on our TV shows.  Now, if you had said, “Why don’t we make Randy Scott westerns for half a million?”, I would have made you my assistant.

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“This, unfortunately, was the backdrop against which Seven Men From Now was produced, for by then Scott grosses were declining.  Warner’s most recent with him, Tall Man Riding (1955), barely cracked a million in domestic rentals, while across-town Columbia saw just $777,000 from 1956’s 7th Cavalry.  [Warner Brothers] did try economizing to the extent of shooting in-house Shootout At Medicine Bend in black-and-white the following year, an act punishable in this instance with domestic rentals lowest of any so far–$655,000.  Budgets and profits both fell as tele-cowboys rose, with WB enthusiastically competing with itself.  Cheyenne was breaking big on ABC by 1956-57, having gone to new episodes every other week after an initial season among revolving wheels on the failed Warner Brothers Presents, and Maverick [of which Budd Boetticher directed the first three episodes] was in preparation for a 1957 premiere.”

For Gorman’s comments, see newimprovedgorman.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-randolph-scott-budd-boetticher.html

With this trend of declining revenues on his movies and competition from television, one might be forgiven for considering Randolph Scott over the hill.  Batjac, John Wayne’s production company, commissioned a script from Burt Kennedy, giving him only the title Seven Men From Now to work with.  Wayne liked the script but decided against starring in the film himself, since he had a bigger project with John Ford in the works (The Searchers).   Budd Boetticher, slated to direct, recalled a conversation with Wayne.  “I said, ‘Who do you want to play the lead, Duke?’ and he said, ‘Well, let’s use Randolph Scott, he’s through.'”

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Maybe Scott was not as through as Wayne thought.  The project meant that the now-aging Scott (58 years old in 1956) began his productive partnership with producer Harry Joe Brown, director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy, resulting in a series of excellent westerns now considered classics of the genre, including Seven Men From Now, The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station, and Decision at Sundown, among others.  These did not have big budgets and were filmed at Lone PIne, but they were better in quality than Scott’s projects for Warner Brothers and Columbia had recently been.  Seven Men From Now, for example, was made for $719,000, which could not have happened if John Wayne had starred in it according to the original plan.  It made a modest $989,000 and was not initially recognized by the public as a gem, but it led to the Boetticher-Scott partnership and a series of western classics over the next five years.

The movies below are examples of Scott’s solid cinematic output during the early 1950s.  For other good (perhaps better) Randolph Scott movies from the early 1950s, see also Hangman’s Knot, Ten Wanted Men, The Cariboo Trail, Thunder Over the Plains and The Bounty HunterIt may be that upon re-viewing, one or more of the titles briefly described below may seem worthy of its own post.  If you like Randolph Scott, these are still worth watching.  With Scott movies from the 1950s, look for a frequent, although uncredited, co-star:  his beautiful dark palomino horse, Stardust (Tall Man Riding, Seven Men From Now).  Another Scott trademark from this period is his worn leather jacket, seen in such films as Hangman’s Knot, Ten Wanted Men and his last, Ride the High Country.

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Fighting Man of the Plains—Randolph Scott, Dale Robertson, Victor Jory (1949; Dir.  Edwin L. Marin)

The most notable feature of this film is that the James gang, led by an improbably well-dressed Jesse (Dale Robertson), shows up at the very end to save the life of Marshal Jim Dancer (Randolph Scott), who is otherwise about to be lynched by Jimmy Tancred for his outlaw past.  He rode with Quantrill in the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, a plot quirk that is also used in another Scott western of the period, The Stranger Wore a Gun.  Victor Jory is Dancer’s friend, rather than a villain.

The Nevadan—Randolph Scott, Dorothy Malone, Forrest Tucker, George Macready (1950; Dir:  George Douglas)

A dark-haired Dorothy Malone as Karen Galt may do the best acting in this.  Scott plays Andrew Barclay, a federal marshal, who tracks and befriends escaped outlaw Tom Tanner to find where he’s hidden his loot.   Also after the loot is local boss Ed Galt, father of Karen.  In color.

Colt .45—Randolph Scott, Zachary Scott, Lloyd Bridges, Ruth Roman, Alan Hale (1950; Dir:  Edwin L. Marin)

Clunky western full of anachronisms, supposedly set in 1851.  Randolph Scott is Steve Farrell, a firearms salesman trying to get back a couple of new .45s stolen by Zachary Scott, head of an outlaw gang.  Bridges is a miner working with the outlaws, married to Roman.  Hale is a corrupt sheriff, also working with the outlaws.

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Fort Worth—Randolph Scott, Phyllis Thaxter (1950; Dir.  Edward L. Marin)

The railroad comes to Fort Worth; Randolph Scott is a fighting newspaperman exposing outlaw gangs and greedy real estate operators cheating local folks out of their rights to land the railroad wants.  In color.

Riding Shotgun—Randolph Scott, James Millican, Joan Weldon (1954; Dir:  Andre De Toth)

One of those 1950s stories in which a town doesn’t support those who are trying to defend it.  It features an early appearance by Charles Bronson, as bad guy Pinto under the name of Charles Buchinsky.  Larry Delong (Randolph Scott) rides shotgun on the stage.  When he survives a stage robbery, he is figured by the town to be either a coward or in cahoots with bandits.  So he has to go after the Maraday (James Millican) gang himself, while the town is trying to lynch him.  Delong’s romantic interest is the daughter (Joan Weldon) of Col. Flynn, the proprietor of the town’s Bank Club, which the gang is trying to rob while all the competent men in town are out in the posse chasing them.  Improbably, Delong wins.  Lots of voice-over narration by Scott.  One of several westerns that find Randolph Scott besieged (e.g., Decision at Sundown).  A better-than-average Scott movie of his pre-Boetticher period—a workmanlike job by director DeToth.  In color.

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Rage at Dawn—Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker, Mala Powers, J. Carroll Naish, Edgar Buchanan, Ray Teal (1955; Dir:  Tim Whelan)

Not much of a western, since it takes place just after the Civil War (1866) in Indiana and Missouri.  James Barlow (Scott) is an undercover agent and former Confederate spy working for a Pinkerton-type agency to infiltrate a gang of bank and train robbers led by the Reno brothers.  He develops feelings for Laura (Powers), the Reno sister.  He sets them up for capture during a train robbery, but is too late to save them from an early-morning lynching while they’re in jail.  Based on a story by Frank Gruber; the Reno brothers were actual historical characters (the first train robbers in American history), as was their sister Laura.  Barlow is fictional.  In color.

 

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Good Day for a Hanging

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 26, 2014

Good Day for a Hanging—Fred MacMurray, Robert Vaughn, Maggie Hayes, Joan Blackman, James Drury, Emile Meyer (1959: Dir:  Nathan Juran)

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It’s been more than twenty years since Ben Cutler (Fred MacMurray) wore a lawman’s badge.  He’s now a widower in Springdale, in small-town rural Nebraska, with an almost grown daughter (Joan Blackman), and engaged to Ruth Granger (Maggie Hayes), a widow with a growing son.  When the town bank is robbed, Ben drops one of the bandits with half the loot and joins the posse chasing them out of town.

As the bandits take brief refuge in some rocks, they return fire on the posse, killing aging Marshal Hiram Cain (Emile Meyer, the range baron in Shane).  When Ben sees Cain fall, he gets another of the bandits while the rest make their escape.  The posse takes young Eddie Campbell back to town with a head wound that doesn’t seem to be too serious.  He’s a local boy with a slick lawyer, and Ben’s daughter Laurie is increasingly infatuated with him, even though the young local doctor (James Drury) is also trying to get her attention.

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Cutler (Fred MacMurray) and Hiram Cain (Emile Meyer), the dead marshal.

When the town asks him to take Cain’s place as marshal, he does.  Campbell has a good lawyer with political ambitions, obviously paid for by the outlaws using the bank loot.  During the trial, Campbell’s lawyer manages to shake most testimony about seeing Cain get shot, but not Ben’s.  Campbell is convicted and sentenced to hang based largely on Ben’s testimony as a witness of the event.

Most locals feel the sentence is too harsh, but Ben feels obligated to carry it out.  As the hanging approaches, Laurie is caught smuggling a derringer to Campbell.  Public opinion, and that of his own daughter and fiancée, turn against Ben.  The only ones who still believe in him are Maggie’s young son Mitch and Cain’s elderly widow.  The town council gets a petition for clemency for Campbell and asks Ben to take it to the governor, who knows him.  While he’s gone, his deputies get drunk and Campbell’s confederates manage to spring him from jail, wounding the doctor.

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Cutler’s daughter is infatuated with young Campbell.

As Ben returns to town with the governor’s commutation of Campbell’s sentence, he gives back the badge, feeling he no longer has public support.  He steps into the middle of a shootout, as the outlaws try to get out of town.  He gets two of them, but Campbell takes refuge in the adjacent livery stable.  During the extended gunfight, Laurie warns Ben as Campbell steps out behind him.   Campbell is wounded but makes a break for it and returns fire on Ben.  Ben finally gets him, symbolically enough, on the platform of the gallows on which he was to hang.

The town council wants him to take back the badge, and with a minimum of discussion he does.  All is forgiven, apparently, and Ben’s daughter and fiancée come back to him.

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Cutler takes the badge.

Obviously, this is one of those westerns from the 1950s, like High Noon and The Tin Star, that is concerned with the relationship between the town and its lawman.  The story is told well enough that the viewer is not entirely sure of the degree of Campbell’s guilt until the end; it all depends on how much you trust Fred MacMurray.  This is, after all, the solid and dependable father-figure Fred MacMurray–not the weaselly one from Double Indemnity or the unrepentant outlaw from The MoonlighterThe end is abrupt and not entirely convincing; it feels like more reconciliation is necessary among several characters and with the town in general.  This is similar in many ways to MacMurray’s At Gunpoint, in which he is not a lawman but a shopkeeper unskilled with guns who manages to get an outlaw during a robbery.  But the town doesn’t like the results of that, either.  It also has similarties in theme to The Fastest Gun Alive.

The resolution may be abrupt, but this is a watchable western.  The fiancée Ruth never comes alive, and the daughter Laurie seems impenetrably stupid for much of the movie.  But MacMurray as Ben always seems reasonable and right.  In color.  Short, at just 85 minutes.

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Belle of the Yukon

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 24, 2014

Belle of the Yukon—Randolph Scott, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dinah Shore, Bob Burns, Charles Winninger, William Marshall, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Robert Armstrong, Victor Kilian (1944; Dir:  William A. Seiter)

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This as much a musical as a western, with new songs by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, often sung by a young and dark-haired Dinah Shore.  As the title suggests, this takes place during the Canadian Gold Rush, mostly in a saloon, in the isolated city of Malamute.  This was two years after Randolph Scott played a con man in a northern gold rush in The Spoilers (1942), and in his return he is apparently again a con man as Honest John Calhoun, owner of the largest saloon in town.

It’s not just the name; he has taken pains to establish a reputation for honesty, turning down offers from George (Robert Armstrong), a more corrupt gambler, to set up games more explicitly rigged in the house’s favor.  As the movie opens, a boatload of new female entertainers from Seattle led by Belle de Valle (Gypsy Rose Lee) show up to supplement the singing of Lettie Candless (Dinah Shore), daughter of Honest John’s manager Pop Candless (Charles Winninger).  Belle and Honest John had some history back in Seattle, where he was more obviously a con man, then known as Gentleman Jack.

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Belle and Honest John meet again; Belle in her working gear.

The relationship between Belle and Honest John rekindles.  Lettie has her own relationship with Steve Atterbury (blonde William Marshall), who may or may not already be married, and also appears to be wanted by the Seattle police.  Honest John keeps trying to get him out of town so the Seattle police won’t arrive and take him and others in his employ into custody as well.  Young love keeps messing up his attempts.  Honest John also employs a professor (Victor Kilian) who purports to be able to predict when the harsh northern winter will set in.  He starts a bank to hold the gold produced by betting on the professor’s report, and it becomes a magnet for those who want to rob it, especially George and the sheriff, Mervin Maitland (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams).

Thereafter there are several currents running through the story.  (1) Is Honest John really honest now, or is he just running another scam?  (2) If it is a scam, is he scamming George and Mervin, or everybody?  (3)  Will Honest John be honest with Belle, or will he break her heart again, as he did in Seattle?  (4)  What is Steve Atterbury running from, and will young love win in the end?  Most of those questions you could answer without even seeing the movie.  The way they’re answered in the movie doesn’t always make sense.

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The Young Lovers:  Dinah Shore as Lettie Candless and William Marshall as Steve Atterbury.

It’s pretty light stuff.  Some say that Gypsy Rose Lee can’t act, but she certainly has a presence.  She and Dinah Shore wear some of the smallest-waisted costumes on film, obviously with the help of corsets.  And they are elegant costumes, with the exception of one dress worn by Shore on stage which looks like she has on a long-sleeved black T-shirt under the dress.  Randolph Scott is good as Honest John Calhoun, with enough of his usual rectitude to make you think he could be honest, and with enough charm so you’d forgive him if he isn’t.  There doesn’t seem to be much heat in the rekindled romance between Belle and Honest John.  Bob Burns plays a con-man subordinate of Honest John who repeatedly gets the better of Sheriff Mervin, both played for comic relief.  While it’s not clear that this is entirely a “western comedy,” it certainly has a number of comedic elements.

In color, so it had a good budget in 1944, when color westerns were still quite rare.  It’s short, at 83 minutes, and quickly paced, so you don’t have much time to think about the plot.  The screenplay is by James Edward Grant (Angel and the Badman), a favorite writer of John Wayne.  Dinah Shore sings “Like Someone in Love” and “Sleigh Ride in July,” which both became popular generally and were covered by such other singers as Bing Crosby.

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Tribute to a Bad Man

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 23, 2014

Tribute To A Bad Man—James Cagney, Irene Papas, Don Dubbins, Stephen McNally, Lee Van Cleef, Vic Morrow, Royal Dano (1956; Dir:  Robert Wise)

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King Lear-like ranching baron Jeremy Rodock (James Cagney) is under siege on his Wyoming territory ranching empire, by horse thieves, a former partner (James Bell) and his own recently-hired shifty foreman McNulty (Stephen McNally).  McNulty has designs on (and perhaps a history with) Rodock’s live-in Greek mistress Jocasta (Irene Pappas), a former dance hall girl from Cheyenne. 

Under attack and wounded by horse thieves on his own range, Rodock is rescued by a young easterner Steve Millar (Don Dubbins) and promptly gives him a job.  Rodock is obsessed with vengeance and his own brand of frontier justice, and young Miller becomes obsessed with Jocasta.  

TributeCagPapRodock and Jocasta.

On one encounter with the thieves when they try to kill him, Rodock’s men shoot the former partner and hang the leader of the thieves.  The partner’s son (Vic Morrow) takes up with Rodock’s crooked foreman and the rest of the thieves, but they, too, are caught.  Rodock foregoes his usual vengeance, though, and Jocasta comes back to him.  He doesn’t have Lear’s tragic end.  His empire isn’t destroyed, he gets the woman back, and his enemies (except the partner’s embittered son) are dealt with.  The young easterner goes off into the west. 

One assumes the “bad man” of the title refers to Cagney’s Rodock, but it doesn’t really fit him.  The original title was “Jeremy Rodock.”  He’s more misguided than bad, and he’s not entirely wrong.  Cagney’s eastern accent is a bit jarring, and the Greek Papas doesn’t particularly fit in a western.  Don Dubbins is not very interesting as Rodock’s young protege.  But it seems to work nevertheless.  Lee Van Cleef is here, not as a bad guy but just one of Rodock’s wranglers (named Fat Jones), as is Royal Dano (Abe).  A late Cagney film, this is the last of his three westerns (The Oklahoma Kid and Run for Cover are the other two). 

TributeCagRifleAttacked on the range.

Cagney was a great actor, but he was never as persuasive in a western as he was in a gangster film or even a musical.  This does not have a dazzling script.  It was a big budget movie filmed in Colorado in widescreen gorgeous color (by Robert Surtees), with a big-time director.  Robert Wise didn’t do many westerns, but he did this and Blood on the Moon (1948), a western noir which is better.  Music is by the Hungarian Miklos Rosza, who tended to do epics.

For Shakespearean overtones, compare it with Jubal, which came out the same year.  This was originally cast with Spencer Tracy and Grace Kelly, but Tracy had problems with director Robert Wise and Kelly married Rainier of Monaco. 

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The Wild North

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 22, 2014

The Wild North—Stewart Granger, Wendell Corey, Cyd Charisse, Ray Teal (1952; Dir:  Andrew Marton)

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Swashbuckling Englishman Stewart Granger (real name:  James Leblanche Stewart) at the height of his American film career made this movie, the same year as The Prisoner of Zenda and Scaramouche. 

Here he is French-Canadian trapper and outdoorsman Jules Vincent; Wendell Corey is Constable Pedley, the Mountie sent to bring him in for killing another trapper.  Cyd Charisse has a non-dancing role as Vincent’s Chippewa romantic interest, with not a lot to do.  Basically, this is a tale of wilderness survival.  Pedley goes after Vincent in the wilderness and captures him, but getting him back to civilization is another matter.  Vincent is much better in the frozen wilderness than Pedley is.  Ultimately Pedley gets lost and loses his mind, and Vincent rescues him both physically and mentally.  In the end, of course, Vincent gets off, since he’s good-hearted and didn’t mean to kill the guy anyway.  The movie depends on Granger, and he’s reasonably charming here. 

WildNorthGranger2Granger as Vincent.

Pedley:  “You’re not a bad guy…for a murderer.  Why’d you kill the man?

Vincent:  “I shot at his shoulder.  The canoe swayed.”  (Shrugs.)

Pedley:  “You fought with him the night before, over the girl.”

Vincent:  “That was no fight.  It was nothing.”

Pedley:  “Is that why you ran away?”

Vincent:  “You don’t believe me, do you?”

Pedley:  “I don’t know.”

Vincent:  “That’s it, Pedley.  See?  You’re a man who should understand–and you don’t believe me.  What chance would I have in front of a jury of ribbon clerks?”

WildNorthCoreyMountieCorey as Mountie Pedley.

Ray Teal is part of another trapper pair that has lost its own outfit, and he offers to help Vincent escape or kill the Mountie.  The Boulder Mountains of Idaho (not far from Sun Valley), the filming location, pass convincingly for the rugged Canadian northwest, apparently.

For other westerns involving survival in frozen conditions, see Day of the Outlaw (1959), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), Seraphim Falls (2006) and Wind River (2017).  For stories of lawmen bringing in sympathetic outlaws and developing relationships, see The Ride Back (1957), 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and The Comancheros (1962).  For other westerns with Mounties, see North West Mounted Police (1940), Saskatchewan (1954) and Gunless (2010).

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The antagonists face off, with an Indian princess between them.

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Stars in My Crown

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 16, 2014

Stars In My Crown—Joel McCrea, Ellen Drew, Dean Stockwell, Lewis Stone, James Mitchell, Juano Hernandez, Charles Kemper, Arthur Hunnicutt (1950; Dir:  Jacques Tourneur)

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This is a slice-of-small-town-Americana film, with a dose of traditional religion thrown in, as one might guess from the title, which is also the title of an old-time hymn.  Josiah Dozier Gray (Joel McCrea in his most overtly decent moral-guy mode) is a Civil War veteran and a preacher in Walesburg, Tennessee, a town that is afflicted by lack of a church, and subsequently by typhoid, racial bigotry and a young doctor who doesn’t believe in God.  When Gray first shows up in town, he gives his first sermon in a saloon, using his guns to quiet the unruly non-church-going crowd.  The town builds a church, and Josiah settles in and marries Harriet (Ellen Drew).  They take in her orphaned nephew John Kenyon (Dean Stockwell) to raise, and from time to time it’s John’s adult voice that narrates the film (with the voice of Marshall Thompson).

StarsCrownPreachSaloonPreaching in the saloon.

Life happens in Walesburg.  Beloved and crusty old Doc Harris (Lewis Stone) dies, and his place is taken by his son young Doc Harris (James Mitchell), who believes in science, not religion.  He doesn’t fit in well and wants to move to a larger city, but he also wants to marry the school teacher Faith Radmore Samuels (Amanda Blake, with a symbolically named character).  Faith doesn’t want to leave Walesburg and postpones responding to young Doc’s proposal of marriage.

John comes down with typhoid, and young Doc warns Josiah to stay away from people to avoid passing on the contagion.  He doesn’t listen, and the disease spreads.  John recovers, but it looks like teacher Faith won’t.  Josiah feels guilty that he didn’t do what Doc said, even though they both know the disease is water-borne, and he withdraws from the town and from his preaching, questioning his faith and his role in the community.  When Faith is dying (both literally and figuratively), young Doc sends at last for Josiah.  When she doesn’t die, Josiah and young Doc are reconciled; young Doc Harris has regained his Faith, and Josiah regains his faith as well.  John figures out that it was the schoolhouse well that spread the disease, and Josiah is vindicated.

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Uncle Famous (Juano Hernandez) at his cabin after the place has been trashed; Gray faces down the nightriders armed with only his moral authority and his wits.

An old black former slave, Uncle Famous Prill (Juano Hernandez), is targeted by white-sheeted night riders, who plan to hang him when he won’t leave.  The old Josiah would have used his guns, but now he faces down the night riders armed only with his moral authority and a little guile.  The Isbell family, led by patriarch (and old war friend of Gray) Jed Isbell (Alan Hale, Sr.) with several sons, backs him up, silently and unknown to Josiah, with guns.  But they too, even as non-church-goers, are impressed with the parson’s moral authority.  As the movie ends, the entire Isbell clan shows up at church at last.

In one of the movie’s better lines, after Gray has read Uncle Famous’ will to the nightriders and shamed them into leaving, the two-page document  falls to the ground, and John picks it up.  Seeing two blank pieces of paper, he says, “There’s no will here!”  “Sure there is, son,” responds Josiah.  “It’s the will of God.”  Not everybody could make that work, but McCrea handles its weight effortlessly with a mix of natural authority and humor.

By the end of the movie all has been conquered (including the preacher’s own doubts in himself), and the preacher and the young doctor have come to a certain appreciation of each other.  Joel McCrea is perfectly cast as parson Josiah Dozier Gray, and he said on at least one occasion that this was his personal favorite among his movies.  And in a long career, he was in some very good ones, working with such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Preston Sturges, George Stevens, Cecil B. DeMille and Sam Peckinpah.  Ellen Drew is good as his supportive wife, and Dean Stockwell was at his peak as a child actor.  Stockwell and McCrea would appear together again in Cattle Drive (1951) the next year.  The supporting cast is very strong, with some very good character actors—Alan Hale, Arthur Hunnicutt, Juano Hernandez, Charles Kemper (as Professor Sam Houston Jones, a genial medicine show proprietor), and Ed Begley.  Perhaps the weakest performance is by James Mitchell as young Doc Harris, and he’s not bad.

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The preacher and his family:  McCrea, Stockwell and Drew.

The pacing in the film is slightly leisurely at only 89 minutes, but it matches well with the subject matter, giving relationships and issues time to develop.  If anything, it could be a bit longer.  French director Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past, perhaps the greatest film noir ever made, and the gothic classic Cat People) was at the peak of his game.  He and McCrea would make a couple more westerns together, although they’re not as good as this one:  Stranger on Horseback (1955, with McCrea as a circuit-riding judge) and Wichita (also 1955, with McCrea as Wyatt Earp).  As with McCrea, this was said to be Tourneur’s favorite of all his films.  The titular hymn “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?” works well in this film, as do “Beulah Land” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” near the end.  It’s good to hear those instead of the over-used “Shall We Gather at the River” (John Ford’s favorite for such films) although there are some strains of that one, too.  It’s based on a novel by Joe David Brown, shot in black and white.  It’s an underappreciated gem in its quiet way, a forerunner of such more celebrated films as To Kill a Mockingbird.

The film was respectably profitable in its time although not a blockbuster, making about $225,000 in profit.  By some definitions, this may not actually be a western, since there are no Indians and the town seems somewhat established if not large.  Much of Tennessee was rural, but not exactly western after the Civil War.  But it has Joel McCrea, guns and cowboy hats in the 19th century.  This was apparently Alan Hale’s last movie.  James Arness (uncredited, as the oldest of the Isbell sons) and Amanda Blake, yet to star in television’s Gunsmoke, are bit players in this one.  It has been available in remastered form on DVD since 2011.

 

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Supernatural Westerns

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 14, 2014

Supernatural Elements in Westerns

In the 1940s and early 1950s, supernatural elements in westerns tended to be gentle and related to Christianity, as they are in 3 Godfathers.  During the 1950s and 1960s, other, more horrific (dinosaurs!) or surrealist (High Plains Drifter) elements crept in.  By the 1990s, some elements of Indian animism or mysticism were present in such mainstream fare as The Missing.  By around 2010, we were getting comic-book heroes or antiheroes (Jonah Hex), outright science fiction (Cowboys & Aliens), and Indian horror (Ravenous and The Lone Ranger, both of which feature a creature from Indian lore called a wendigo).  Given their current popularity on television and in movies, it was inevitable that even zombies and vampires would show up in westerns, too (Gallowwalkers).

In all of these categories we are not under the impression that the lists include everything that might be put on them.  We welcome your suggestions for additions to the lists—please leave a comment.

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Elements of Traditional Christianity

For the first half of the twentieth century, movies often had some form of overt reference to Christianity, which their audiences took for granted.  That was true of westerns as well.  Sometimes, as with John Ford’s 3 Godfathers (a story remade at least five times before 1948) or Heaven Only Knows, there was some form of the overtly miraculous.  More often, it was a more organic or naturalistic presence, with a preacher wearing guns, as in Stars in My Crown (1950, Joel McCrea), Count Three and Pray (1955, Van Heflin) or Heaven with a Gun (1969, Glenn Ford) or Quaker pacifism (Angel and the Badman, High Noon, Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend).  Sometimes it took the form of Mormons on wagon trains (Brigham Young, Bad Bascomb, Wagon Master).  Sometimes it’s simply an outlaw trying to reform, with religion running just under the surface (Four Faces West, 1948, Joel McCrea).  The more naturalistic depictions of religion do not appear on these lists; for those, see our post on Westerns and Religion.

By the 1960s, society’s consensus on the value of religion and its place in society began to break down.  Sam Peckinpah, for example, used R.G. Armstrong as a religious fanatic with whom the audience was expected not to identify in both Ride the High Country (1962) and Major Dundee (1965).  By the end of the decade, the figure of the crazed or renegade religious fanatic or the fallen preacher was becoming a more frequent character, as in Will Penny and Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue.  By now, overtly religious characters in westerns are routinely depicted as depraved, hypocritical, crazed or power-hungry, as with Jason Isaacs’ character in Sweetwater (2013), which was deservedly not seen by many.

In that sense, Pale Rider and Purgatory were throwbacks to an earlier time, when Christian figures could be more benevolent or helpful.  Even R.G. Armstrong, in Purgatory, his last movie, got to be the driver of a heavenly stagecoach and a messenger from God, a good religious character for a change.

Heaven Only Knows (1947)  An angel comes to save saloon owner/gambler; comedy.

3 Godfathers (1948)  Three outlaws sacrifice themselves to save a baby on Christmas.

Pale Rider (1985)  Preacher may have supernatural powers or background.

Purgatory (MfTV, 1999)  Outlaws stumble on a refuge for repentance.

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Elements of Surrealism and/or Indian Animism

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)  A Chinese magician in the Old West.

The Hallelujah Trail (1965)  The visions of Oracle Jones are fueled by alcohol consumption.

Mackenna’s Gold (1969).  Indian spirits cause earthquakes and landslides when unauthorized white men find hidden Indian gold.

High Plains Drifter (1973)

Young Guns (1988)  Billy the Kid and compatriots seek a vision for their future through peyote.

Quigley Down Under (1990)  Quigley and Crazy Cora are healed by aborigine magic.

Dead Man (1995)

Wild Bill (1995)  An aging Bill Hickok has opium dreams, often in black and white, with a skewed angle.

The Missing (2003)

Seraphim Falls (2006)

The Warrior’s Way (2010)  A Korean-made Chinese martial arts movie, set in a ghoulish American West, complete with surreal circus, dwarf, hordes of despicable outlaw thugs and invincible assassins.

Comic Book/Superhero Roots or Influence

The first three on this part of the list were low budget disasters and are deservedly seldom watched.  They’re included for completeness.  The rest had more upscale pretensions and larger budgets—sometimes, as with The Lone Ranger, quite large.  It is said that The Crow initially included a cowboy-figure as a guru/instructor to the hero, but that role ended up on the cutting room floor, so we can’t really include it.  Such a figure does appear in Tall Tale, The Golden Compass and Ghost Rider, though.  Some of these stories, instead of being westerns with supernatural elements, are supernatural stories with western elements.

Man or Gun (1958)  C-level magic gun story.

The Hanged Man (MfTV, 1974)  Lynching survivor has the power to read minds.

Ballad of a Gunfighter [Gunfighter] (1999)  C-level Hopalong Cassidy, magic gun.

Tall Tale (1995)  Pecos Bill as mentor to young boy.

The Big Lebowski (1998)  Sam Elliott as a cowboy angel in the cult classic.

Ghost Rider (2007)  Making deals with Satan, cowboy advisor (Sam Elliott again).

The Golden Compass (2007).  Girl in fantasy tale has Western figure (Sam Elliott) as mentor.

Jonah Hex (2010)  Bounty hunter Hex has the power to talk to the dead.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)  Aliens invade Arizona Territory.

The Lone Ranger (2013)  Butch Cavendish is a wendigo.  The Ranger and Tonto are comic book characters.

Dead in Tombstone (2013)  Dead outlaw makes deal with Satan, and returns for vengeance.

R.I.P.D. (2013)  Western lawman returns as an undead enforcer to escaped souls from hell.

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Cover of Phil McClorey’s Horror in the West anthology, painted by Tony Taylor.  Cover of Weird Tales magazine, February 1924.  Supernatural tales set in the West are not a new phenomenon, although they seem to be picking up in the last couple of decades.

Gothic and Horror Westerns

The best movies on this segment of the list are The Stalking Moon (1968, a thriller more than a horror film) and Ravenous (1999).  Indeed, Ravenous almost made it on to the list of 55 Great Westerns, except that it is principally a horror movie, not a western.  None of the rest of these has its own post here (not yet, at least); most of them aren’t very good, and some are truly terrible.  For some reason, there seems to have been an outburst of zombie stories from 2006 to 2008, and they are occasionally still with us (Gallowwalkers, 2012).

As a cross-reference, we include below a separate list of horror westerns from our Italian and horror movie consultant, Adam Sorensen at Lionsgate Films.  There’s some duplication with our lists, but he includes a few others as well.  Lionsgate had long been known for releasing low-budget direct-to-DVD films, which many of these are, before it moved more into big-budget mainstream films like the recent Hunger Games movies.

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The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958)  Western remake of Kiss of Death.

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)

Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)

The Stalking Moon (1968)  Suspense thriller.

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)—Cowboys vs. dinosaurs.

Westworld (1973)  Gunslinging robots go awry in a modern vacation retreat.

Into the Badlands (MfTV, 1991)  Three-part anthology with gothic/horror elements.

Sundown:  The Vampire in Retreat (1989)  Vampires and vampire hunters.

Ravenous (1999)  Wendigos and cannibalism.

The Quick and the Undead (2006)  Zombies in an alternative west.

Undead or Alive:  A Zombedy (2007)  Zombies and Apache curses.

Shiloh Falls (2007)  Lawman and outlaws join to fight powerful evil.

Dead Noon (2007)  Undead cowboy from hell seeks revenge.

The Burrowers (2008)  Undefined threat from below.

Dead West (2010)  aka “Cowboys and Vampires” at a modern theme park.

The Dead and the Damned (2011)  Bounty hunter and Indian fight zombies.

Gallowwalkers (2012)  Gunfighters and zombies.

Alien Showdown:  The Day the Old West Stood Still (2013)  Lone cowboy fights alien scout.

Bone Tomahawk (2015)  Rescuing captives from cannibalistic cave-dwellers.

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From our Italian and Horror Movie consultant, Adam Sorensen at Lionsgate Films:

A list of some western-themed horror films.  I’m sure there are more, but these are perhaps some of the most high-profile films in a relatively limited genre:

*The Living Coffin (Mexico, 1959)

*Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)

*Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter(1966)

*High Plains Drifter (1973)

*Westworld (1973)

*Near Dark (1987)

*Ghost Town (1988)

*Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989) – Bruce Campbell & M. Emmett Walsh!

*Grim Prairie Tales (1990)

*From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – and its direct-to-video sequels

*Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)

*Dead Birds (2004)

*Jonah Hex (2010)

*Gallowwalkers (2012) – haven’t seen this, but it is a supernatural western featuring Wesley Snipes.  Gunfighters and zombies.   Brazilian title:  “Caçador de Almas,” Hunter of Souls.

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