Monthly Archives: July 2015

Cahill U.S. Marshal

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 20, 2015

Cahill U.S. Marshal—John Wayne, Gary Grimes, George Kennedy, Neville Brand, Clay O’Brien, Marie Windsor, Royal Dano, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey, Jr., Paul Fix, Hank Worden (1973; Dir: Andrew V. McLaglen)

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The late phase of John Wayne’s career was unusual because, unlike his contemporaries such as Henry Fonda and James Stewart, while he continued to make westerns as they did, some of Wayne’s were actually pretty good.  While this is not the best of late John Wayne, it is not among the worst, either.

J.D. Cahill (an aging John Wayne) is, as the title has already told us, a U.S. marshal, based in Valentine, Texas.  The drama comes because he has been, as a widower, a neglectful father, with his two sons (aged 11 and 17) growing up resentful of his constant absences from their lives.  The movie opens with a scene where Cahill catches and brings in five armed bank-robbers single-handedly, establishing his formidable competence as a marshal.

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J.D. Cahill (John Wayne) is clearly nobody to mess with.

Meanwhile, back in town, his older son Danny (Gary Grimes) has fallen in with bad company and has gotten himself thrown in jail with them to establish an alibi for a criminal enterprise.  The younger son Billy Joe (Clay O’Brien) has also been enlisted in the plan, moving the tools into position, providing a distraction for the sheriff and others by setting fire to a barn, and taking and hiding the loot after the job.  He lets the conspirators, led by Fraser (George Kennedy), out of jail, and they proceed to rob the bank, killing the sheriff and a deputy in the process.  They get back into jail as if they’d never been out, establishing their apparent innocence.

The boys, especially Billy Joe, have a tough time, since they’re not really hardened outlaws and were promised there’d be no killing.  J.D. takes Danny and the half-Comanche Lightfoot (Neville Brand in dark makeup) in pursuit of the supposed robbers, and catches four of them.  They seem guilty enough so they are sentenced to hang, although Danny knows they are innocent—of the bank robbery, at least.

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Cahill (John Wayne) is not pleased to find his older son Danny (Gary Grimes) in jail with questionable companions (George Kennedy).

He may be lacking as a father, but Cahill’s instincts as a manhunter are at full strength, and he knows something is up with his sons.  He and Lightfoot track them as they take the money from the robbery up in the mountains to meet Fraser and the others at a mine.  They are shot at by the gang’s sentry; Lightfoot wounds him but is himself killed.  The sons know that Fraser does not intend to leave them alive.  Since we have already seen Cahill take on several bad guys at one time, we are not surprised when he does it again; it is well-staged.  The sons take the loot back to town to return it, and it looks like they’ll arrive in time to stop the wrong men from hanging.  (They should still need a good lawyer, although that isn’t addressed.)  Cahill’s left shoulder is wounded twice in the course of the movie, but it looks like some repairs have been made to his relationship with his sons as well.  Maybe the future will be better.

The working title of the film initially was “Wednesday Morning.”  Produced by Wayne’s Batjac production company, there are elements of this we’ve seen elsewhere.  The faux-Indian figure (played by Howard Keel in The War Wagon and by Bruce Cabot in Big Jake) is here done best of all by Neville Brand, although he was never an actor of much subtlety.  Elmer Bernstein had done many musical scores on John Wayne movies (e.g., The Comancheros), and elements of the music here seem recycled.  Cahill’s invincibility seems a bit overdone, although it is a critical element of the story and certainly of the John Wayne persona.  The large hairy outlaw who doesn’t speak much but is a vicious killer seems imported from Big Jake.

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Head bad guy Fraser (George Kennedy) is pretty scary to an eleven-year-old in the rain.

John Wayne is, well, very much John Wayne in this movie.  His hats got taller during the 1970s, but he still looked convincing in a well-written part.  At 66, he was not in good health, suffering from emphysema and the lung cancer that would kill him in a few years.  Reportedly, he also had a few pangs about his own paternal neglect of his children over the years, which was partially addressed here by having one of them (Michael Wayne) as the producer.  In the early 1970s, Gary Grimes specialized for a few years in coming-of-age stories, notably in Summer of ’42, but also in westerns such as The Culpepper Cattle Company and The Spikes Gang, and he wasn’t bad at it.  Young Clay O’Brien, who played the younger son, was an authentic New Mexico cowboy whose first acting job had been on Wayne’s The Cowboys the previous year.  After a few years of playing small cowboys in movies, he went back to real cowboying, becoming a champion roper.  Part of the fun here is seeing all the good character actors in bit parts. Royal Dano, Paul Fix, Hank Worden, Marie Windsor (once queen of the B movies), Denver Pyle and Harry Carey, Jr. all show up briefly here.  Even Chuck Roberson, Wayne’s long-time stand-in and stunt double, shows up on screen here; in addition to playing the head of a lynch mob, most of the medium-to-long shots of Cahill on a horse are actually Roberson.

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Cahill (John Wayne), here with sons Billy Joe (Clay O’Brien) and Danny (Gary Grimes), takes a knife to the shoulder in the climactic shootout.

Director Andrew McLaglen had long had connections with John Ford and John Wayne through his father, actor Victor McLaglen.  This was his fifth and final movie directing John Wayne, and as a movie director, McLaglen was a pretty good television director; that is, he never seemed to be as good as he should have been, given the resouces and talent he often had to work with at this stage of his career (see The Way West, for example).  Screenwriter Harry Julian Fink and his wife Rita Fink had written Dirty Harry and Big Jake, and would go on to do a few more Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movies.

This movie is not the best of Wayne’s late career; The Cowboys, Big Jake and The Shootist (his last film) are all better.  But it’s far from the worst, which would include the lamentable Rio Lobo and The Train Robbers.  All in all, it’s worth watching, even if it sometimes seems like there’s less here than meets the eye.  Shot in Durango, Mexico, in color, at 103 minutes.

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Man in the Saddle

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 16, 2015

Man in the Saddle—Randolph Scott, Joan Leslie, Ellen Terry, Alexander Knox, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Cameron Mitchell, John Russell, Richard Rober, Clem Bevans, Alfonso Bedoya (1951; Dir: André de Toth)

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Several of the the Randolph Scott movies from the early 1950s had generic-seeming titles for a western (e.g. The Stranger Wore a Gun), and this is one of them.  It came by the title honestly, taking it directly from its source novel by Ernest Haycox.  Behind that generic title, however, is a strong cast, a good director (one-eyed Hungarian André de Toth), and a complicated range war plot, with a lot of characters coming and going around another Randolph Scott romantic triangle (as in, for example, Canadian Pacific, A Lawless Street, Return of the Bad Men et al.).

Owen Merritt (Randolph Scott) of the Christmas Creek Ranch is one of the smaller ranchers near the big Skull Ranch, owned by Will Isham (Alexander Knox).  Merritt and Isham had both been courting Laurie Bidwell (Joan Leslie), from a poor family with an alcoholic father.  Although she seems to prefer Merritt, Laurie has chosen Isham and security as the movie opens.  Isham senses that she still has feelings for Merritt, and it makes him insecure, feeding his need to take over the valley by fair means or foul.

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Owen Merritt (Randolph Scott) is threatened by his (much shorter) adversary Will Isham (Alexander Knox).

As Merritt licks his emotional wounds, Isham has hired gunfighter Fay Dutcher (Richard Rober) as his foreman.  One night just after the marriage, Merritt’s cattle are stampeded and Juke Vird, one of his hands, is killed.  Juke’s brother George (a youngish Cameron Mitchell) goes into town looking trouble with the Skull hands.  In a gunfight in a dark bar, one the Skull gunhands is killed, leading to a series of strikes and counterstrike between Merritt and the Skull outfit.  George Vird is killed, and Merritt attacks a Skull line cabin.  Merritt’s ranch is attacked and Merritt wounded; he is rescued by his neighbor Nan Melotte (Ellen Drew), who takes Merritt to her grandfather’s remote cabin to recover for a few days.

They are found there by Hugh Clagg (John Russell), an unbalanced lone-wolf-type with a fixation on Nan.  He tries to kill Merritt, but Merritt fights him off and Clagg makes his escape to the Skull Ranch.  As Clagg makes accusations about the faithlessness of a woman, Isham thinks he’s referring to Laurie and shoots him in cold blood.  He and his men head for town to ambush Merritt and his men there.

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Owen Merritt (Randolph Scott) and Hugh Clagg (John Russell) fight for the hand of Nan Melotte in a collapsing cabin.

Merritt and his men sneak into town in a dust storm dressed as Mexicans, with one of the Skull men who saw the Clagg shooting.  They take him to the sheriff, where he fills out an affidavit.  Isham’s men invade the jail, but Merritt goes after Isham.  They reach an agreement that Isham will leave the valley, taking Laurie with him, but as Isham comes down the stairs of the hotel he is shot by his own foreman Dutcher.  Merritt and Dutcher shoot it out, and we know what the outcome of that will be.  The Skull Ranch now belongs to Laurie, and it seems that Nan and Merritt belong to each other.

Fay Dutcher to Owen Merritt, as he turns away with his hands up:  “You wouldn’t shoot a man in the back, would you?”
Owen Merritt:  “I could you.”

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Merritt (Randolph Scott) fights Isham’s forces.

Scott is good as he usually was, riding his horse Stardust (an uncredited co-star) and with his trademark leather jacket making at least one appearance.  Joan Leslie and Ellen Drew are a little stronger than most women in Scott westerns.  Alexander Knox is a bit too much of a megalomaniac in his one-note humorless performance, but his part seems to be written that way.  The rest of the supporting cast is quite strong.  John Russell is good as the unbalanced Hugh Clagg in one of the story’s more interesting and less predictable threads.  Alfonso Bedoya was charming (he has a recurring bit about finding a new hat), but for modern tastes he seems rather an uncomfortably stereotypical Mexican in most of his roles, including this one.  Guinn Williams (The Desperadoes, Virginia City, etc.) keeps his broad comic relief tendencies under control here as one of Merritt’s riders.

A surprising amount of the action takes place at night (the raids and counterstrikes and an impressive gunfight in a darkened saloon) or in a dust storm (the final developments and gunfights), emphasizing De Toth’s good direction and excellent cinematography.  This was the first of De Toth’s six westerns with Scott, although he didn’t think Scott and his producing partner Harry Joe Brown paid enough attention to a film’s story as long as they were making money.  In this case, the plot has a lot of convolutions for the film’s 87 minutes, but much of it is predictable bad big rancher vs. virtuous smaller rancher stuff when you start thinking about it.  We get to see one of Randolph Scott’s patented fights in a collapsing/burning building (see Ten Wanted Men, Hangman’s Knot and Riding Shotgun, for other examples) when Clagg and Merritt tangle in an old cabin.

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The excellent cinematography is by Charles Lawton, Jr., who did many good westerns, including 3:10 to Yuma with director Delmer Daves and several with Budd Boetticher.  It has a better-than-average theme song, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford in hist first film appearance.  Kenneth Gamet, who wrote a number of Scott films (and a total of 44 westerns for the large and small screens, in fact), did the screenplay.  Shot in color at Lone Pine, at 87 minutes.

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Director Andre de Toth confers with Guinn Williams and Randolph Scott during filming.

Although it’s not one of Randolph Scott’s very best westerns, it’s one of the better films from his pre-Budd Boetticher period and well worth watching.  Some say it’s the best of the half-dozen De Toth-Scott collaborations, although you should see at least The Bounty Hunter, Thunder Over the Plains, Carson City and Riding Shotgun before deciding.  De Toth’s very best westerns are probably his first (Ramrod, with Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake) and last (Day of the Outlaw, with Robert Ryan and Burl Ives).

 

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The Revengers

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 13, 2015

The Revengers—William Holden, Susan Hayward, Ernest Borgnine, Woody Strode, Arthur Hunnicutt, Jorge Luke, Warren Vanders (1972; Dir: Daniel Mann)

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It is doubtful that “revengers” is even a real word, but you get the idea.  Somebody’s after vengeance in this Dirty-Dozen-style flick.  That would be John Benedict (a visibly aging William Holden at 54, after years of hard living).  He’s a Colorado rancher whose family is slaughtered by Comancheros and their Comanche allies during a horse-stealing raid.  He tracks them down to the borders of the U.S. and Mexico, and figures he needs help.  Spotting a Mexican prison that rents out convict labor, he hires six of their worst inmates.  Leaving the guards behind, he gets the six decent clothes and weapons, but has some difficulty getting their active allegiance (a staple of this kind of film).

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John Benedict (William Holden, upper left) and his newly-recruited gang, including Ernest Borgnine (tall hat) and Woody Strode (front right).

He leads them in an attack on the Comanchero stronghold, getting most of them, but the leader Tarp (Warren Vanders) escapes although wounded.  Depressed at this failure, Benedict drinks heavily and has a falling-out with one of the six, a Mexican gunslinger who fancies that he may be Benedict’s son.  The six scatter, and Benedict, grievously wounded, is tended by the local healer, an Irish nurse of a certain age named Elizabeth Reilly (Susan Hayward).  There is some attraction between them during the time it takes Benedict to heal, but he rides off in search of closure with Tarp. However, he is arrested and thrown in the Mexican prison from which he had helped the six escape.

Two of the six, Hoop (Ernest Borgnine) and Chamaco (Jorge Luke), the Mexican gunslinger, reassemble the six.  They spring Benedict from the Mexican prison and resume the search for Tarp, whom they find held by a small U.S. cavalry unit besieged by Comanches and Comancheros.  They want him back.  Benedict proposes to kill Tarp and send him back to the Comanches that way, but doesn’t proceed with that out of respect for the badly wounded lieutenant in charge.  Benedict and the six join the outnumbered cavalry and use dynamite and a little artillery to make a last stand.  The cavalry wins, but not without casualties.  The lieutenant and the Mexican gunslinger Chamaco are among them.  And Benedict rides away without killing Tarp, having belatedly decided that revenge is an empty motivation.

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The wounded Benedict (William Holden) and Irish nurse Reilly (Susan Hayward) get to know each other.

There are a couple of things about the movie that don’t work very well.  One is the interlude with the Irish nurse (Susan Hayward) that doesn’t really go anywhere. Her accent isn’t good; it clanks as badly as Barbara Stanwyck’s faux-Irish in Union Pacific (1939).  When Hayward makes a reference to the possibility of having children, we notice that she seems to be in her fifties (at 55, she was a year older than Holden and three years away from her death of cancer) and children are improbable.  Benedict is supposed to be good with a gun, but he looks his age, his shoulders are rounded by now, and he’s not all that persuasive as a gunslinger.  And the ending, with Benedict just walking away from the revenge that has been the point of the movie, is similarly unpersuasive.  At the least, you’d expect that one of the remaining five would get Tarp, since they’ve all demonstrated that they’re not good at impulse control.  Most of the six are not well fleshed-out characters, but the film does keep moving.

Daniel Mann (The Rose Tattoo [1955], The Teahouse of the August Moon [1956], Butterfield 8 [1960], Our Man Flint [1966] et al.) didn’t do many westerns; this may be the only one.  Holden and Borgnine (a replacement for Van Heflin after Heflin’s unexpected death) were reunited from The Wild Bunch (1969) for more adventures in Mexico, but this doesn’t remotely approach that classic in quality.  This is Holden’s last western.  Hayward, in her extraneous role, was coming to the end of her career and wasn’t making many movies.  This was written by Wendell Mayes, who had been nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for Anatomy of a Murder.(1956), and who went on to write the blockbuster Death Wish and Towering Inferno.  The music occasionally reminds one of 1970s television.  In color, shot in Sonora, Mexico, at 106 minutes.  It was made available on DVD in May 2014, with a blu-ray to come in August 2015.

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Benedict (William Holden) prepares to hold off the Comancheros and their Indian allies.

Although it was released in the heyday of the revisionist westerns of the 1970s, this is more traditional in its approach and sensibility.  For better Holden and Borgnine at this late stage of their careers, see, obviously, The Wild Bunch.  For good Susan Hayward in a western, you have to go back twenty years to Rawhide (1951) and Garden of Evil (1954).

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Red Mountain

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 9, 2015

Red Mountain—Alan Ladd, Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy, John Ireland, Jay Silverheels, Jeff Corey, Neville Brand (1951; Dir: William Dieterle, John Farrow [uncredited])

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This is one of Alan Ladd’s more elusive, seldom-seen westerns, a Civil War story with an excellent cast.  Ladd plays Brett Sherwood, a captain from Georgia who has gone west in April 1865 to Colorado Territory to meet up with “Gen.” William Quantrell.  (Reality note: Usually spelled “Quantrill,” he was a colonel at best, and he was long dead by this time, having been killed in Missouri.)  The opening scene shows the legs of a person in the town of Broken Branch dismounting and killing an assayer, hiding his identity.  Since a rare form of Confederate ammunition was used, the locals figure that former Confederate soldier Lane Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), paroled after he was captured at Vicksburg, is responsible.

A lynch mob captures Waldron and is about to hang him when Sherwood shoots the rope (a la Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and helps him escape. When Waldron discovers his rescuer is also a Confederate, he figures Sherwood killed the assayer, and, with the help of his fiancée Chris (Lizabeth Scott), he ungratefully captures Sherwood to turn him in and exonerate himself.  Waldron has found a significant gold strike and wants to stay in the area to work it.

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Sherwood (Alan Ladd) meets Gen. William Quantrell (John Ireland) in Colorado.

The upper hand shifts back and forth a couple of times until Waldron’s leg is broken in a scuffle. Sherwood flags down a passing Union patrol, which turns out to be a group of Confederates and their Ute sympathizers led by Gen. Quantrell (John ireland).  Chris, a Union sympathizer who had lived in Lawrence, Kansas, when Quantrell raided there, is horrified.  Sherwood works to keep the two prisoners alive, while Quantrell is pleased to have another military officer and kindred spirit.  Gradually Quantrell reveals plans to foment a larger Indian rebellion (involving Comanches, Cheyennes, Utes and others) in the wake of the Civil War.

Chris is allowed to retrieve a doctor for Waldron, who is in bad shape, but the doctor is killed when Sherwood helps him escape.  Against her better judgment, Chris is falling for Sherwood rather than Waldron, and Quantrell also becomes suspicious.  As Sherwood helps Waldron and Chris defend themselves against the Utes, a real Union patrol attacks Quantrell.  As Quantrell flees, Sherwood takes after him, and gets him in a final shootout.  Waldron is dead of wounds by this time, and, as Sherwood recovers from his own wound, he confesses to the marshal that he killed the assayer.  Sherwood had found a claim in Colorado Territory before the war, and the assayer had stolen it.   Apparently Sherwood and Chris end up together.  (We knew any character played by Arthur Kennedy was unlikely to get the girl.)  Chris knows where Waldron’s gold strike was.  And word reaches them that the Civil War has ended two days earlier.

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Lane Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), Sherwood (Alan Ladd) and Chris (Lizabeth Scott) make their last stand.

Lizabeth Scott, best known for her work in films noirs, is fine here in one of her two westerns (with Silver Lode [1954]).  Alan Ladd makes a sympathetic leading man, as usual, and is obviously becoming more comfortable in westerns than he was in Whispering Smith.  If you haven’t seen him in a western, you should start with Shane and maybe Branded, both from around the same time as this film; but this one isn’t bad aside from the obvious historical impossibilities.  Character actors Jeff Corey and Neville Brand show up in small parts as a couple of Quantrell’s troopers.  Jay Silverheels is Ute chief Little Crow.

William Dieterle (The Hunchback of Notre Dame [the Charles Laughton version, 1939], Kismet [1944], Portrait of Jennie [1948]) was a mainstream director, not particularly known for westerns.  The uncredited John Farrow directed a few scenes when Dieterle was unavailable during filming.  Music is by Franz Waxman.  Shot in color by Charles Lang around Gallup, New Mexico, at 84 minutes.

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For another western that has Quantrell surviving the war and heading out west to continue his depredations, see Arizona Raiders (1965), with Audie Murphy.

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100 Rifles

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 6, 2015

100 Rifles—Jim Brown, Raquel Welch, Burt Reynolds, Fernando Lamas, Dan O’Herlihy, Aldo Sambrell (1969; Dir: Tom Gries)

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This is sometimes referred to as a spaghetti western, but it isn’t.  Although it was filmed in Spain like many spaghetti westerns and featured Italian actor Aldo Sambrell in the cast, it had an American director, writer, producer and most of the cast.  In fact, there was a lot of American talent involved here.  This was the second of director Tom Gries’ three westerns (along with Will Penny and Breakheart Pass).  He also co-wrote the script, along with experienced screenwriter Claire Huffaker (The Comancheros, Rio Conchos).  It has a very good musical score by Jerry Goldsmith.  And it featured three stars who were either on the rise (Burt Reynolds, Jim Brown) or near their peaks (Raquel Welch, known more for her physical attributes than for acting ability, but she still had box office appeal).  It gave Jim Brown, who had his start in movies with the western Rio Conchos five years earlier, a more substantial leading role than he had previously enjoyed in films.  And it also gave U.S. audiences the first bi-racial love scene in a mainstream movie.

It looks to be set in northern Mexico (specifically, in the state of Sonora) in the early 20th century, the era of continuous Mexican revolution, with trains, a few cars and a few modern armaments scattered around.  Gen. Verdugo (Fernando Lamas), the official governor of Sonora, leads regular troops against the Yaqui Indians and rebels under Gen. Romero.  One of the Yaquis is Sarita (Raquel Welch), as in the opening scene we see Verdugo hang her father.  Into town separately ride two Americans.  One is Yaqui Joe Herrera (Burt Reynolds), only half Yaqui, who has just robbed a bank in Phoenix, Arizona, of $6,000.  The other is Lyedecker (Jim Brown), a former buffalo soldier who has taken a temporary job as a peace officer and hopes to make it permanent by bringing in Joe.  Verdugo is not minded to let any of the three go, but they escape together with Verdugo and his men in hot pursuit.

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Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds) and Lyedecker (Jim Brown) make a break for it.

Joe has used the stolen money to buy the 100 rifles of the title for the desperate Yaquis.  They recover the rifles on mules outside of town, fighting a rearguard action against Verdugo.  Lyedecker develops a relationship (or at least a one-night stand) with Sarita.  As they arrive in the town where they expect to turn the rifles over to Gen. Romero, they find that he has been killed the day before, and Lyedecker is hailed as the new general.  He leads in the capture of an army train, although Verdugo wasn’t on it as they had hoped.  Taking the train into Nogales, on the northern border of Mexico, for an attack on Verdugo’s forces there,  Verdugo hears of their plan and is ready for the train.  Lyedecker, Joe, Sarita and most of the Yaquis and rebels jump off before the train crashes into Nogales, and a battle ensues, with the Yaquis using captured weapons.  Finally, Verdugo himself is clubbed to death with rifle butts, but Sarita is also killed.  Lyedecker appoints Joe his successor as Yaqui/rebel general and heads back to the U.S.

Jim Brown would become a bigger star in the blaxploitation films and a few more westerns of the 1970s, developing (like Robert Mitchum) a sub-specialty in westerns featuring adventures in Mexico (this, Rio Conchos, Take a Hard Ride, etc.).  He works well here, although Burt Reynolds does better.  Raquel Welch does what’s required of her, with flaring nostrils to indicate a fiery temperament and putting her physique on display (a bit quaint by current cinematic standards).  Welch is particularly effective in a scene that calls for her to distract a trainful of soldiers by taking a shower under a water tower.  Pretty smoky for a mainstream 1969 movie, but she’s wearing a white shirt while doing it; nevertheless it works as intended.  Reynolds and Welch did not get on well during the filming and would not work together again.

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A couple of publicity stills will give an idea of how this movie was marketed.  Burt Reynolds was said to have suggested as a tongue-in-cheek strategy, “Take her shirt off, take his shirt off, and give me all the lines.”

The Lyedecker-Sarita relationship was daring for its time, but it seems unremarkable now and it does slow down the plot of a movie obviously based on action.  The film seems like it could be tightened up to good effect.  Sarita’s death off-screen in the final battle scene feels arbitrary, although clearly such things happen in battles like the one in Nogales.  The movie’s not terrible, or even really bad, but the film’s present interest is more as a cinematic and cultural artifact of 1969 rather than because it’s a good western.  In color, at 110 minutes.  It was rated R on its release, because of all the violence and the steamy scenes with Raquel Welch.

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Somehow Jim Brown got lost on this Asian poster.

If you didn’t get enough Raquel Welch, see her in Bandolero! (adventuring in Mexico again, this time with James Stewart and Dean Martin) and in Hannie Caulder, a female revenge story.  Burt Reynolds had already done the spaghetti western Navajo Joe, and would go on to appear in Sam Whiskey and The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing as he became a bigger star in the early 1970s.

 

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Black Spurs

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 2, 2015

Black Spurs—Rory Calhoun, Linda Darnell, Terry Moore, Scott Brady, Lon Chaney, Jr., Bruce Cabot, James Best, Richard Arlen, DeForest Kelley (1965; Dir: R.G. Springsteen)

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The black spurs of the title belong to an outlaw called El Pescadore (The Fisherman with an extra “e”), who robs a bank in the movie’s first scene.  Santee, a cowhand with ambitions, takes up his pursuit as a more lucrative line of work, and appropriates the black spurs when he gets his man.  Returning to his town in Texas in 1885, he finds that his girlfriend has married a sheriff from Laredo and moved on.

Eventually, Santee comes up with an idea to make his fortune in Kile, Kansas.  The railroad will come through Kile or Lark, but the railroad company avoids disorderly towns when making those decisions (historically, then they become disorderly after the railroad has arrived).  Santee makes a deal with Gus Kile (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to open up Lark, causing the railroad to avoid Lark and go through KIle.  He brings in more gamblers, gunmen (Bruce Cabot) and women (led by Linda Darnell), and backs off Sheriff Henry Elkins (James Best), now married to Santee’s former girl Anna (Terry Moore).  Santee is unable to completely control some of his men, who tar and feather Sheriff Elkins.  Anna reveals that her son is Santee’s, and that she had to marry Elkins to become respectable while he was out hunting El Pescatore.

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Santee (Rory Calhoun) wins his spurs (black ones).

Santee has a change of heart now.  (We always knew he was decent somewhere inside, because he was nice to kids.)  He takes up Elkins’ badge and cleans out the saloon he had set up, taking on four gunmen at once. A preacher with a broken arm, Anna and even the all-but-immobile Elkins take shots during the battle.  Finally, Santee takes down Henderson (Bruce Cabot), who is shot, falls, and is last seen being dragged screaming out of town by his frightened horse.  As Santee rides out of town the next day, he discards the black spurs (reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s red slippers in River of No Return, among many other such cinematic gestures).  The truly dreadful theme song intones: “He had no love of his own, because he wore … black spurs.”

This low-budget feature was late in the careers of Rory Calhoun (starting to get a little gray in his hair), Linda Darnell (still beautiful but thickening a bit), Bruce Cabot, who had been playing similar bad guy roles thirty years (Last of the Mohicans, Dodge City) and twenty years (Angel and the Bad Man) previously, and Lon Chaney, Jr.  For Calhoun, this and Apache Uprising (also 1965, also directed by R.G. Springsteen) were his last significant western movies.  It was Darnell’s last movie; she died tragically in a fire the same year at the age of 41 after 25 years in the movies.  Director R.G. Springsteen was nearing the end of his movie career as well, with several low-budget westerns produced by A.C. Lyles.  This is not among the best of Calhoun’s westerns, but it’s not the worst, either.

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Santee (Rory Calhoun) puts on the badge; co-star Linda Darnell behind the scenes with producer A.C. Lyles.

In the 1960s, A.C. Lyles produced a series of thirteen low-budget westerns for Paramount, of which this was the fourth.  One of the ways the budget was kept down was to use journeyman directors (like Springsteen) and to use stars with recognizeable names but who were past their primes–like those in this film.  Silent screen star Richard Arlen was in several of them, including in this as a hard-bitten saloon owner.  Shot in color at Ray Corrigan’s ranch in Simi Valley, California, at 81 minutes.

For better Rory Calhoun, see Dawn at Socorro or Apache Territory.  For better Linda Darnell in a western (and her role here as Santee’s imported madam from New Orleans is quite minor, although she received major billing with Calhoun), see The Mark of Zorro, My Darling Clementine and Two Flags West, all from the 1940s.  For another bounty hunter named Santee, see Glenn Ford in Santee (1973)—not one of his better westerns, either.

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