Tag Archives: Burt Kennedy

Mail Order Bride

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 2, 2015

Mail Order Bride—Buddy Ebsen, Keir Dullea, Lois Nettleton, Warren Oates, Marie Windsor, Barbara Luna, Paul Fix, Denver Pyle (1964; Dir: Burt Kennedy)

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Burt Kennedy started out as a stunt man but quickly moved into writing, particularly for John Wayne’s Batjac production company.  His writing career is most notable for Kennedy having penned the best of the Budd BoetticherRandolph Scott collaborations, beginning with Seven Men From Now (1956). From there he eventually moved into directing, and this was his second movie. The first (The Canadians [1961]) had not been a success.

At the start of this film, young Lee Carey (Keir Dullea) is fitfully working a small ranch in Montana, although he doesn’t much like to work.  He has fallen in with bad companions, especially his friend Jace (Warren Oates).  Into this situation rides aging former lawman Will Lane (Buddy Ebsen), a friend of Lee’s deceased father—a good enough friend, in fact, that Lee’s father left him title to the ranch.  Lane is supposed to pass title to the ranch along to Lee when/if he decides that Lee is responsible enough to make a go of it, which he isn’t yet.

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Lee Carey (Keir Dullea) is introduced to Annie Boley (Lois Nettleton) by Will Lane (Buddy Ebsen).

Lane decides that what Lee needs is the love of a good woman and the responsibilities of family life, a view that Lee doesn’t share.  Lane heads for Kansas City, where he meets Hanna (Marie Windsor) at her saloon.  When she hears about his quest, she steers him to Annie Boley (Lois Nettleton), a widow with a young son who works cleaning up the saloon/hotel.  She nervously agrees to give the idea a try, and Lane, Annie and son take the train for Montana.

Lee has been hanging out with Marietta (Barbara Luna), his favorite prostitute, when they arrive.  He reluctantly agrees to Lane’s proposition, but he doesn’t anticipate the arrangement will be permanent.  To his credit, he also explains his approach to Annie, so she doesn’t expect anything more.  Meanwhile, he tries to put on a good front, building a new house for Annie and son and working the cattle so Lane will give him the title to the place and he can return to his old life.

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Lee (Keir Dullea) tries to persuade Will Lane (Buddy Ebsen) that he’ll take care of his new family by building a house.

He likes Annie well enough, but finds that Marietta will no longer consort with him now that he’s a married man, since she seems to take marriage (even a sham marriage) more seriously than he does.  In frustration he gives up and sets up a plan with the no-good Jace to steal all the cattle.  Jace tries to expedite things by setting fire to the half-built cabin, almost killing Annie’s young son Matt in the process.  That finally tears it for Lee, who has bonded with the boy (and with Annie, to some extent).  He seeks Lane’s help in rectifying things.  When Jace declines to give back the cattle, a classic showdown confrontation follows.  At the end, although both Lee and Annie want him to stay, Lane rides on because they no longer need him–kind of like an aging western Mary Poppins.  He appears to be headed to Kansas City to renew his acquaintance with Hanna.

This is slight and predictable fare, but quite watchable—more than a synopsis of the plot would suggest.  The two performances that make it work are by Buddy Ebsen, who plays Will Lane with some restraint and believability and a little steel, and Lois Nettleton, as Annie, the hopeful young widow with a son.  Not conventionally beautiful, Nettleton is now remembered principally for her work in middle-aged character parts, but here she is excellent as a young woman in a role that calls for vulnerability and some nuance.  Keir Dullea (now remembered mostly for 2001: A Space Odyssey) does well enough, but, aside from treating Annie reasonably well, his character is written so that there’s not much else to recommend him after he’s spent almost the entire movie as a wastrel.  Warren Oates plays Warren Oates’ usual sort of character very well.  There are also good character actors here:  Paul Fix as the local sheriff, Denver Pyle as the preacher who marries Lee and Annie, and especially Marie Windsor as Hanna, the warm and wise Kansas City saloon proprietor.

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This alternative poster features not Annie Boley but Marietta (Barbara Luna) in the center.

Buddy Ebsen had started on Broadway as a dancer with his sister Velma, eventually co-starring with Shirley Temple (Captain January, 1936), Judy Garland (Broadway Melody of 1938 [1937]) and even being cast as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, until he had to pull out when the aluminum paint initially used in the makeup almost killed him.  Before this film, he had been seen principally as Davy Crockett’s sidekick George Russell in the Disney films with Fess Parker.  Now he had a television success as one of the principals in The Beverly Hillbillies, and would later go on to star for several seasons as aging detective Barnaby Jones on television.  He’s good enough here to make us wish he had made more westerns.

Burt Kennedy would hit his peak as a director a little later in the 1960s with The War Wagon and especially with his masterpiece Support Your Local Sheriff.  From there it was mostly downhill, as he drifted toward good-ol’-boy westerns with a comedic edge, often featuring country music people.  He could be an excellent writer, and he wrote this modest effort.  Shot in color around Kennedy Meadows in California’s central Sierra Nevadas, at 83 minutes.  It might be hard to find, but it’s decent to watch.

An alternative title was “West of Montana.”  The title Mail Order Bride has been used for a number of other films and books.  Not to be confused, for example, with a 2008 Hallmark made-for-television feature with the same name starring Daphne Zuniga.

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Yellowstone Kelly

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 31, 2014

Yellowstone Kelly—Clint Walker, Edward (Edd) Byrnes, Claude Akins, John Russell, Ray Danton, Andra Martin, Rhodes Reason, Warren Oates (1959; Dir: Gordon Douglas)

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Luther “Yellowstone” Kelly was a real frontier trapper and scout, whose particular expertise and knowledge was in the Montana area from which he got his nickname.  He served as the chief of scouts for Gen. Nelson A. Miles in the Yellowstone district during the Sioux wars of 1876-1877, the same time period as this movie.  He was not, as the prologue of the movie would have it, the first white man to cross the Yellowstone Valley.  He was more than thirty or forty years too late for that.  Some of Lewis and Clark’s party had gone down the Yellowstone Valley even seventy years earlier on their return from the west coast.

In this version, Kelly (Clint Walker) rides into Fort Buford (at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers on the western border of North Dakota) to replenish his supplies.  Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn has already happened, so this is after June 1876.  While at Fort Buford he advises inexperienced but ambitious Major Towns (Rhodes Reason) against his plan to hunt the Sioux and refuses to go with the cavalry.  He ends up fighting with several soldiers, led by a sergeant (Claude Akins), and he acquires Anse Harper (Edd Byrnes) as a kind of unwanted apprentice.

Major Towns:  “In other words, you refuse.”
Yellowstone Kelly:  “In any words, I refuse.”

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Clint Walker as Kelly and John Russell as Gall; and Ray Danton as Sayapi.

As Kelly and Harper ride into the Snake River country with their two supply mules, they encounter hostile Sioux, who capture them.  They are taken to Gall (John Russell), chief of the Hunkpapa Sioux.  It develops that seven years earlier Gall had been shot on the Snake, and Kelly had cut out the bullet and healed him without knowing who he was.  In return, Gall has allowed Kelly to trap the Snake country for seven years.  Now he wants Kelly to remove a bullet from another Indian—from a captive Arapaho maiden, Wahleeah (Andra Martin).  A complication is that Wahleeah’s captor is Gall’s nephew Sayapi (Ray Danton), who does not trust Kelly.

Kelly is successful in removing the bullet; in return Gall allows Kelly and Anse to leave with their mules.  As they move into Kelly’s cabin and set up traps, they see an Indian rider approaching and then fall off his horse.  It’s Wahleeah, who has escaped from Sayapi and is now all but dead.  As she lies recovering, Gall rides up and decides she can stay the winter with Kelly and he will retrieve her when he returns from his winter hunting ground.  An angry Sayapi breaks with his uncle and rides off with a few followers.

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Kelly (Clint Walker) rescues Wahleeah (Andra Martin).

As Kelly and Anse get to know Wahleeah, she tells them she intends to escape to her Arapaho people, who appear to be near the area of Yellowstone Park, a hundred miles away.  Kelly intends to turn her back over to Gall in the spring.  Anse, who appears to be falling for her, thinks Kelly might be wrong.  As Anse is about to help her escape, Sayapi shows up, shoots Anse, takes Wahleea and burns the cabin.  Kelly comes back, follows the Sioux trail and overtakes them at night.  He attacks, kills several of them, including Sayapi, and takes back Wahleeah.  Heading back for his burned-out cabin, he encounters Major Towns’ column about to cross the Snake River to find and attack the Sioux.  Towns will not be dissuaded.  “I’ll tell you once more, Major. On this side [of the river] you’re in trouble.  Over there, you’re dead!”

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Wahleeah (Andra Martin) talks the impressionable Anse (Edd Byrnes) into letting her escape.

Kelly and Wahleeah ride back to home ground, but are soon overtaken by the remnants of Major Towns’ column.  The major is dead, and the column and Kelly are soon surrounded by Gall and his warriors.  Gall offers to let Kelly depart in peace if he gives up Wahleeah, but Kelly refuses.  After a couple of attacks demonstrate that the column is likely to be wiped out, Wahleeah breaks for the Sioux.  When she falls, Kelly and Gall meet over her, and Gall makes the same offer again.  But finally he recognizes that Wahleeah has chosen Kelly, and he departs in discouragement or disgust.  Kelly and Wahleeah ride off together.

The screenplay for this movie was written by Burt Kennedy, then in the middle of his fruitful collaboration with Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott.  It was originally intended for John Ford to direct, with John Wayne starring as Kelly, but they opted for The Horse Soldiers instead.  Several of the principal actors were under contract to Warner Bros. for television series:  Clint Walker in Cheyenne, Edd Byrnes in 77 Sunset Strip (known more for his hair than for his acting), John Russell (Lawman) and Ray Blanton (The Alaskans).  Walker even rides Brandy, his big horse from the Cheyenne series.  This is Clint Walker’s best-known western, but not the best.  That would probably be Fort Dobbs, made the previous year, also with director Gordon Douglas.  John Russell made this the same year he played bad guy Nathan Burdette in Rio Bravo, with John Wayne.  The shifty Ray Danton had played Blackie in The Spoilers before moving into television work.  Blue-eyed Andra Martin was a Warners starlet, and this may have been the high point of her movie career.  Warren Oates has a non-speaking role as a trooper who gets killed.  You have to look fast to catch him.

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Clint Walker as Yellowstone Kelly; and the real Luther Kelly during his scouting period in the 1870s.

There are several problems of geography and tribal history with this story.  Fort Buford was in far western North Dakota, and the Snake River rises in southwestern Wyoming, hundreds of miles to the west across the wide breadth of Montana, and never even makes it into Montana before heading west across Idaho.  The Snake River and Yellowstone Park were not in Sioux country; the dominant tribe would likely have been the Shoshonis (or Snakes), although you could perhaps find Blackfeet or even Crows in the vicinity.  But not the Sioux, who were enemies of the Shoshonis and Crows.  The Arapahoes were not enemies of the Sioux but were, like the Cheyennes, traditional allies of the Sioux.  Still, if you like Clint Walker, this is a watchable western with kind of a meandering plot and a seductive blue-eyed Arapaho maiden.  In color, at 93 minutes.

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Return of the Gunfighter

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 24, 2014

Return of the Gunfighter—Robert Taylor, Chad Everett, Ana Martin, Lyle Bettger, Mort Mills, John Davis Chandler (1967; Dir:  James Neilson)

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Aging gunfighter Ben Wyatt (played by aging Robert Taylor in his typical black, in one of his last movie roles) is released from the Arizona territorial prison at Yuma in 1878 after five years when it is discovered he was falsely convicted and imprisoned.  On his way to Lordsburg, New Mexico, he discovers (a) wounded Lee Sutton (Chad Everett) being chased by a Lordsburg posse after having killed a man named Boone; (b) his old friends the Domingos from days as a Juarista have been killed; and (c) three Boone brothers are also on the trail of Sutton.  (One of the Boones is played by Australian actor Michael Pate, who often convincingly played Indians in movies and television productions—Major Dundee, Hondo.) 

After retrieving the Domingo daughter Anisa (Ana Martin) from Cipar, Wyatt, Sutton and Anisa head for Lordsburg to find out who killed her parents.  Turns out it was Lee’s older brother Clay Sutton (Lyle Bettger), who displays his unsuitability by cold-bloodedly shooting down the corrupt town judge and marshal (Mort Mills), who are both in his pocket.  Lee must choose between Wyatt (who has saved him) and Anisa on one side, or his brother.  There is a final shootout in Lordsburg, and it turns out predictably.  Taylor isn’t bad, but he looks tired, which is appropriate enough for this role.  In fact, Taylor was gravely ill during the shooting of this film.  The ending should have provided some form of resolution in the life of Ben Wyatt, and it doesn’t.  The action should have more of an impact than it does.  Everett isn’t great.  There are a couple of holes in the plot.  On the whole, this isn’t bad, though.  Not much seen these days.  Burt Kennedy is listed as one of the writers, with Robert Buckner.  He was also starting to direct westerns about this time (Mail Order Bride, Young Billy Young), with his masterpiece (Support Your Local Sheriff) coming in two years.

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Lee Sutton (Chad Everett), Anisa (Ana Martin) and Ben Wyatt (Robert Taylor); Ana Martin and Robert Taylor on the set of Return of the Gunfighter.

Taylor would be dead in two years, at the age of 57; this was his last western.  For another western in which Robert Taylor plays a character named Wyatt, see him as Buck Wyatt in Westward the Women (1951).  Chad Everett was a young, up-and-coming actor and appeared in a couple of westerns about this time before turning more completely to television (Medical Center).  The other is The Last Challenge, with Glenn Ford (1967).

Notes:  The nefarious Clay Sutton has a couple of gunslingers working for him named Sundance (the snaky John Davis Chandler in a strange hat, also seen in a bit part as a bounty hunter in The Outlaw Josey Wales) and Butch Cassidy, both bad guys.  The two historical outlaws did spend some time on New Mexico ranches, but not like this.  This movie was released a couple of years before the George Roy Hill movie came out, making the outlaw pair into sympathetic good guys.  Ostensibly the action takes place in 1878, but Lordsburg wasn’t founded until 1880. 

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Buchanan Rides Alone

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 6, 2014

Buchanan Rides Alone—Randolph Scott, Craig Stevens, Manuel Rojas (1958; Dir:  Budd Boetticher)

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One of the Ranown westerns based in a town, like Decision at Sundown, instead of being shot out in the Lone Pine countryside.  Agry Town, on the California-Mexico border, is corrupt, like Sundown.  The genial Texan Buchanan rides in from Mexico and has trouble riding out.  The sheriff, the judge and the hotel keeper are all brothers named Agry, with a son of the judge as a short-lived trouble-maker.  That seems to make four Agrys.

In a saloon, Juan de la Vega (Manuel Rojas), a wealthy young Mexican seeking revenge, kills Roy Agry, son of Judge Simon Agry.  Buchanan helps him as the sheriff’s men proceed to beat him, and both land in jail, Buchanan with his $2000 from his years in Mexico confiscated.

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Buchanan rides in–alone.

Sheriff:  “Oh, you don’t like this town?”

Buchanan:  “I don’t like some of its people.”

Sheriff:  “Me included?”

Buchanan:  “You especially.”

Sheriff:  “Oh, you’d like to kill me maybe?”

Buchanan:  “I’d like to give you what your boys gave me.”

Sheriff:  “Take the law into your own hands, is that it?”

Buchanan:  “No, just you.”

As matters play out, Buchanan is sent out from town in the company of two deputies who obviously have instructions to kill him.  One of them, Pecos Hill, upon finding that Buchanan is a fellow West Texan, turns on the other and kills him.  Buchanan is released and they hold a non-stereotypical impromptu funeral for the deceased gunman.  Pecos has a speech in which he declares that his deceased friend was a cheater and a thief who couldn’t be trusted, but otherwise was not a bad guy.

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Pecos (L.Q. Jones) delivers an impromptu funeral soliloquy, while Buchanan (Randolph Scott) looks on.

The three senior Agrys are all conspiring against each other.  Judge Simon is the most powerful, and has his own gunman, Abe Carbo (Craig Stevens).  Sheriff Lew Agry has several deputies.  And hotel keeper Amos Agry is playing one against the other for his own advantage.  Simon keeps trying to extract a $50,000 ransom from Juan’s family, while Luke wants to get the money and hang Juan, too.  Amos wants a cut of the money.  Juan escapes and is recaptured; Buchanan is released and recaptured.   After several reverses, all the players end up at the border scrabbling over the $50,000.  The Agrys are on the U.S. side, and Juan and Buchanan are on the Mexican side.  The money is on the bridge in the middle, and there is a stand-off.  Lew sends Simon to get the money and then shoots him while he’s on the bridge. Lew then gets shot in turn.  With the two effective Agrys dead, Buchanan gets most of his $2000 back and then hands the $50,000 to Juan and the town over to Carbo.

This is based on the 1956 novel The Name’s Buchanan by Jonas Ward.  The writing credit for this one is attributed to Charles Lang (as is Decision at Sundown), and Randolph Scott as Buchanan is talkier than in Burt Kennedy’s scripts, with more humor.  However, Boetticher later confirmed that he found the Lang script unsuitable and had Burt Kennedy re-write it.  Since Lang’s wife was gravely ill and they needed the money, Kennedy generously allowed the writing credit (and the fee) to stay with Lang.  Still, it’s not really Kennedy’s best work as a writer. 

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Buchanan (Scott), Carbo (Craig Stevens) and a nameless horse.

Interestingly enough, there is no significant female role in this film, not even for Karen Steele (the statuesque Mrs. Boetticher).  Television private eye Craig Stevens (“Peter Gunn”) plays Carbo, Simon’s hired gunman who always rides in a carriage.  Stevens gets second billing, but his character isn’t very developed.  There is an early screen appearance by L.Q. Jones as the chatty young Texan Pecos Hill. 

This is not one of the more highly-regarded Boetticher-Scott efforts, but it’s enjoyable enough to watch.  Cinematography is in color by Lucien Ballard.  Like all the other Ranown westerns, this is fairly short, at 78 minutes.  Filmed in Old Tucson-Sabino Canyon, in Arizona, not at Lone Pine like most of the other Ranown series.  So, although it’s the only one of the Ranown films to be set in California, it’s the only one not to be filmed in California.  Director Taylor Hackford has commented that Scott’s Buchanan is a sort of precursor to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, the character at the center of Sergio Leone’s influential Dollar movies. .

 

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Fort Dobbs

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 6, 2014

Fort Dobbs—Clint Walker, Virginia Mayo, Brian Keith, Richard Eyer, Russ Conway (1958; Dir:  Gordon Douglas)

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A variation on a theme of Hondo—remote ranch threatened by Indians, widow with young son befriended by capable scout who may have had something to do with her husband’s death.  Apparently this was kind of a low-budget variation, with a couple of television actors starring.  In black and white in 1958, filmed near Moab, Utah.  Cinematography is by William Clothier.  Written by George W. George and Burt Kennedy (screenwriter of the best Boetticher-Scott westerns), with music by Max Steiner.  The original title was Fifteen Bullets to Fort Dobbs, shortened upon release to just Fort Dobbs.

How much you like this western depends on your tolerance for Clint Walker’s brand of taciturn acting.  Walker is Gar Davis, big and good with a gun but not so good with women, apparently.  As the movie opens, he kills somebody and the sheriff from Largo (West Texas?  New Mexico?) leads a posse after him into Comanche country.  Davis finds a body with an arrow in the back; he switches jackets with the corpse and pushes it into a ravine, hoping that the posse will take it for him without getting close enough to get a better look.  When the posse, already uncomfortable with chasing Davis, finds the body, they are only too willing to head back without investigating further, taking Davis’ horse.  Davis finds a remote ranch and attempts to make off with a horse, only to be shot a glancing blow.  It turns out the ranch is owned by Mrs. Gray (Virginia Mayo, in one of her better roles) and her son Chad (Richard Eyer). 

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Gar Davis with Mrs. Gray, and an amusing exchange with Clett the gunrunner.

It further turns out the corpse Davis had found was her husband, and she begins to think Davis killed him.  Davis gets the widow and son out just as the Comanches torch the ranch, and they head for Fort Dobbs.  The trip is complicated by numerous Comanches, encounters with Clett, a garrulous and unscrupulous gun-runner (well-played by Brian Keith), and Mrs. Gray’s headstrong nature and suspicions of Davis. 

When they do make it to Fort Dobbs, they find the garrison has been massacred.  Not far behind them are the survivors from Largo, led by the sheriff (Russ Conway), with Comanches in pursuit.  They’re running out of ammunition, and Davis volunteers to head for Santa Fe for help.  By this time the sheriff has persuaded Mrs. Gray that Davis didn’t kill her husband, but he still intends to hang Davis for a killing back in Largo.  He fills Mrs. Gray in on more of Davis’ background, and that his love for a faithless woman was at the root of his troubles with the law. 

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On his way to Santa Fe, Davis encounters Clett the gunrunner again and tries to persuade him to take the guns back to Fort Dobbs.  They shoot it out, and Davis heads back with the guns—new Henry repeating rifles.  Davis gets in just as the Comanches attack again, and the rifles enable the fort’s defenders to ward off the Indians.  At the end, the sheriff sends Davis off to Santa Fe with the Grays, now that they’ve all forgiven him. 

This is quite watchable.  In fact, this is probably Clint Walker’s best western, not primarily because of his acting, which is pretty consistent from movie to movie, but because of the decent script and good supporting actors, especially Mayo and Keith.  For Virginia Mayo in another good western, see her with Joel McCrea in Colorado Territory.  Shot on location near Moab and Kanab, Utah, in black and white.

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Douglas also directed the 1966 Stagecoach remake, Rio Conchos, Yellowstone Kelly, and Barquero along with more mainstream stuff like In Like Flint, Robin and the 7 Hoods, The Detective and They Call Me MISTER Tibbs.  He’d been directing movies since 1935—kind of an Andre de Toth type.

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The War Wagon

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 28, 2013

The War Wagon—John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Howard Keel, Bruce Cabot, Robert Walker, Keenan Wynn, Bruce Dern, Harry Carey, Jr., Sheb Wooley, Chuck Roberson (1967; Dir:  Burt Kennedy)

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Fairly good late period John Wayne, better written by Clair Huffaker than most of Wayne’s regular fare.  This is an assembling-the-team-and-pulling-the-caper western (like The Badlanders and The Train Robbers) by Wayne’s Batjac production company.  It also represents Burt Kennedy’s move from writing (the best of the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott films) and television directing to directing movies.  This was about as good as director Kennedy would get, though, except for his Support Your Local … pair starting the following year. 

Honest rancher Taw Jackson (Wayne) gets out of prison after three years and returns on parole to Emmett, New Mexico, about 43 ½ miles from El Paso.  He lost his ranch and was framed for some unspecified crime by Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot), owner of the Pierce Mining Company, when gold was found on the ranch.  The wagon of the title is Pierce’s armored stagecoach, used for delivering gold to the railroad, accompanied by more than thirty armed guards on horses.  The sheriff is clearly in Pierce’s pocket. 

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Jackson aims to get back some of his gold when an unusually large shipment ($500,000) is due to move.  He first recruits amoral old enemy Lomax (Kirk Douglas), gunman, gambler, womanizer, bon vivant and, not incidentally, safecracker.  He had made arrangements in prison with Billy Hyatt (young Robert Walker, son of Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones), alcoholic but good with explosives, and with dishonest Wes Fletcher (Keenan Wynn), who hauls freight for Pierce and provides both information and a means of transporting the loot (in barrels of flour).  The final member of the team is Levi Walking Bear (a ludicrously cast Howard Keel, but he’s mostly comic relief), for his connections with the Kiowas led by Wild Horse, who is to provide a diversion for the wagon’s outriders during the robbery.

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Pierce outfits the wagon with a gatling gun just before the run, but with a few ups and downs things work out mainly as planned.  When the outriders are distracted by the Kiowas, Billy uses nitroglycerin to blow up a bridge and separate them from the wagon.  Lomax and Walking Bear set a trap to remove the wagon’s driver.  Pierce, inside the wagon, has a falling out with two of his henchmen at a critical moment, and they shoot him as he shoots them.  Fletcher shows up at the appointed place with his young blond wife (bought from her parents and played by Valora Noland), and the team puts the gold loose in the flour barrels.  Wild Horse, however, tries to double-cross them until distracted, and perhaps blown up, by nitroglycerin.  The Indians shoot Fletcher and the flour/gold wagon bolts driverless.  The barrels roll out toward the starving Kiowa women and old people, and the gang appears to have lost its loot—except that Jackson finds a few bags that Fletcher had surreptitiously stolen.  Presumably, Jackson gets his ranch back, and Billy gets Fletcher’s young, blond wife.

Kirk Douglas had been a significant movie star for 20 years when this was made, but a point is made of his athleticism, such as frequently leaping on to horses without using the stirrups.  He wears a hat less than most actors in westerns, as in The Last Sunset.  Douglas is dressed in very tight-fitting clothes, including a suede tunic-vest that must have been difficult to get into, matching suede boots, black form-fitting stretch pants and black gloves with a large ring on the outside of one finger.  The Douglas-Wayne interplay is very effective; they made three films together in as many years.  According to the production notes on the 2003 DVD release, Keenan Wynn’s battered hat that he wears in the picture was Leslie Howard’s Confederate cavalry hat from Gone With the Wind which Wynn purloined from MGM.  Wynn first wore the hat in a 1942 MGM screen test and “wore it in every picture he made.”  Although Wynn plays a crazy/dishonest old man, he was in fact nine years younger than Wayne.  According to Wayne, the (gratuitous) fight in the saloon was his 500th on-screen fight.

 WarWagonGold Loading the gold.

There are a number of the Wayne regulars along for the ride.  Harry Carey, Jr., Bruce Cabot, Sheb Wooley, Chuck Roberson.  Bruce Dern, a slimy Pierce henchman who gets killed early in the movie, would be the first to kill John Wayne in a western a few years later in The Cowboys.  The gold dust looks rather obviously like iron pyrite.

To see John Wayne as an outlaw again, look at 3 Godfathers, The Angel and the Badman, The Searchers, and The Train Robbers.  Maybe The Sons of Katie Elder.  He’s showing his age here; he’d already lost a lung to cancer, and it’s not terribly believable when he and Douglas seem to leap from the crashing war wagon.  But it’s an enjoyable and watchable movie anyway, if not among his best—better and more coherent than the previous year’s El Dorado, even though the estimable Howard Hawks directed that one.

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Filmed in color by William Clothier in Durango, Mexico.  Music by Dimitri Tiomkin, but it’s not one of his more memorable scores.  Theme song sung by Ed Ames.

This was the first of three John Wayne movies in which one of his old acting pals plays a dubious Indian:  Howard Keel here, Neville Brand in Cahill U.S. Marshal, and Bruce Cabot in Big Jake.  Young Robert Walker didn’t have much of a movie career, but you can catch him in another western:  Young Billy Young, with Robert Mitchum, also directed by Burt Young.

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Ride Lonesome

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 18, 2013

Ride Lonesome—Randolph Scott, Pernell Roberts, James Coburn, Lee Van Cleef, Karen Steele, James Best (1959; Dir:  Budd Boetticher)

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One of the last Ranown westerns, and generally thought to be one of the better ones.  (The four best are Seven Men from Now, The Tall T, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station.)  Randolph Scott is bounty hunter Ben Brigade, who captures stupid young killer Billy John (James Best) in the movie’s opening scene.  This is a manhunt/vengeance western, in which Brigade really wants to use Billy as bait for his older brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef, in his 1950s bad guy mode).  When Brigade was a lawman years ago in Santa Cruz, he had brought Frank to justice only to see him given a light sentence by a cooperative judge.  Frank then captured and hanged Brigade’s wife at the movie’s most potent symbol, the hanging tree.

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The young widow (Karen Steele) is not pleased.

The interesting relationship here is not Brigade’s with Frank or Billy John, or even with young blond widow Mrs. Carrie Lane (Karen Steele).  It’s with Sam Boone (played well by Pernell Roberts, with a very resonant voice), a sometime outlaw and longtime acquaintance of Brigade who wants to go straight and thinks possession of Billy John will enable him to obtain amnesty for his past crimes.  When Brigade doesn’t trust him and won’t give him Billy John, it’s not clear how far Boone will go to get Billy John.  He has some good instincts, but also some not so good.  The trip to Santa Cruz is complicated by hostile Apaches (who have caused Mrs. Lane to be a widow at the start of this movie), and supposed pursuit by Billy John’s brother Frank, who is apparently untroubled by the Indians.

Roberts’ Boone has the quintessential Boetticher-Scott-Kennedy line:  “Some things a man can’t ride around.”   Scott said it in The Tall T.  The line wasn’t exclusive to a Kennedy script; John Wayne had a version of it in Stagecoach and it has been used many times in westerns.

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Partners Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn).

There is a final showdown at the hanging tree, and things are sorted out.  Brigade doesn’t end up with the woman in this one (as he also doesn’t in Comanche Station, for example).  The movie’s memorable final image is of Brigade standing in front of the burning hanging tree, as his long-awaited vengeance crumbles to ash. 

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Brigade at Hangtree with Billy John.

A very good western, but not quite as good as Seven Men from Now and The Tall T, which both feature better bad men.  Pernell Roberts isn’t written to be bad enough, the opposite of Claude Akins in Comanche Station, who’s too obviously only bad.  Still, Roberts provides one of the principal dramatic questions:  Will he actually try to kill Brigade?  We think we know what the result will be if he does, and until we find the answer he’s the most talkative character in the movie.  However, if he were more obviously bad, maybe the ending wouldn’t work.

It has kind of a meaningless title with generic western resonance; “The Hanging Tree” or something like that would have been better, although it was used in a Gary Cooper movie about the same time.  Frank needs a little more development, maybe a little more explanation of the hanging.  There are indications he might be interesting if given a little more screen time.  Brigade spends almost all of the movie just being implacably righteous.  This was the first film for a young James Coburn (as none-too-smart Whit, Boone’s sidekick), and it got him cast in Face of a Fugitive and, more significantly for his career, The Magnificent Seven.  Steele is fine, but too 1950s blond and too young-seeming for Scott.  (She’s also in the Boetticher-Scott Westbound and Decision at Sundown, and she eventually married Boetticher.)  She does provide sex appeal and a certain kind of focus for the group; it just isn’t clear where she’s going at the end of the movie.  She’s not as helpless as many women in westerns, though.

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The movie’s most potent symbol burns.

The movie has the typical Boetticher opening shot, of a lone rider emerging from the distance weaving his way through Lone Pine rocks.  There are not a lot of close-ups; mostly the director uses middle-distance shots, with those and other shots using the dramatic scenery.

This has the usual Ranown team:  Boetticher directing, Burt Kennedy writing, Scott starring, Harry Joe Brown producing; cinematography by Charles Lawton, Jr. (not Laughton), and score by the Wisconsin-born composer Heinz Roemheld.  References to the territorial prison at Yuma sound like Santa Cruz (and Rio Bravo) are in Arizona Territory, although they may be in New Mexico or they may be entirely fictional. 

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The Tall T

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 17, 2013

The Tall T—Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Sullivan, Henry Silva, Skip Homeier, John Hubbard (1957; Dir:  Budd Boetticher)

It is not clear what the title refers to; it is said to relate to Tenvoorde, owner of the 10-4 Ranch.  At one time the working title of the movie was “T for Terror” (see the trailer on the DVD).

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Patrick Brennan (Randolph Scott) is a former ramrod for that large Arizona ranch (the 10-4), now trying to establish his own ranch in the mountains.  While trying to get his former employer to sell him a seed bull for his own stock, he instead loses his horse in a bet.  (We see early on that he’s capable of making bad judgments, although he takes the consequences without complaint.) 

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He hitches a ride on a stagecoach driven by old friend Ed Rintoon (the excellent Arthur Hunnicutt) that is hijacked at a way station by Frank Usher (Richard Boone) and his two low-life confederates Chink and Billy Jack (Henry Silva and Skip Homeier).  They’ve already killed the station manager and his young son and callously thrown their bodies down a well.  They soon do the same to stage driver Rintoon.  Usher and his gang try to carry out a plan to get a ransom for Doretta Mims, the woman traveling on the stage.  Maureen O’Sullivan plays Doretta, the daughter of the owner of the largest copper mine in the territory, who’s just been married that morning to her father’s accountant Willard (John Hubbard)—a scurvy choice for a husband, as he shortly demonstrates.  Brennan plans to get away.  He ultimately does, and apparently ends up with the woman, too. 

TallT2 Captured by bad guys.

This was shot with a limited cast and budget in Lone Pine, as were the rest of Boetticher’s westerns with Scott.  This has a few edges to it, reminiscent of the Mann westerns of the 1950s.  It is spare movie-making, with the story told in relatively unadorned fashion in less than 80 minutes.  Nevertheless, there’s a lot of interest in the psychology of the characters, as in Seven Men from Now.  Richard Boone is great as a not-entirely-unsympathetic bad guy.  There’s an interesting balance between Scott and Boone; in some ways, Usher sees Brennan as who he himself might have been in other circumstances.  And might still be, only richer with the proceeds of this kidnapping-robbery-murder.

Randolph Scott and Richard Boone are great in this.  Maureen O’Sullivan, known mostly from her appearances as Jane in the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller in the 1930s, is also very good.  Henry Silva and Skip Homeier make reliably nasty henchmen, in different ways.  Silva, with his Jack Palance face, went on to make a modest career of playing bad guys (see The Law and Jake Wade and The Bravados).  Homeier played a series of kids with guns in the early 1950s (The Gunfighter, Dawn at Socorro), but you can’t do that forever.  Sooner or later, you meet somebody faster with a gun, or drift into television parts.  Or both.

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Getting the girl, for once.

Note Henry Silva’s cooperative corpse helping Brennan rope his legs to drag him into the hut.  The plot is similar to Rawhide and Man of the West, with regular people being held prisoner by outlaws.

[Pat, to the freshly widowed and weeping Doretta, after he has killed three murderous kidnappers]:
“Come on, now.  It’s gonna be a nice day.”  [And they walk off arm in arm.  You might think they’d try to get the outlaws’ horses instead of walking all the way to wherever they’re going.]

From a story by Elmore Leonard (“The Captives”); the screenplay is by Burt Kennedy, as was usual with Boetticher’s better Ranown westerns.  As in Delmer Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma (also from an original story by Leonard), some of the early action takes place in the town of Contention.  As with others of the Ranown-Boetticher westerns, this was not generally available until the release of the Boetticher set in 2008, so they have not been seen as widely as they deserve.  This is one of the four best of them.

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Seven Men from Now

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 14, 2013

Seven Men from Now—Randolph Scott, Lee Marvin, Gail Russell, Don Barry, Walter Reed, John Larch (1956; Dir:  Budd Boetticher)

In the opening scene, former sheriff Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) enters a cave from a driving rain storm and approaches the campfire of two strangers.  They’re a little edgy, and they start talking about a recent killing in the town of Silver Springs.  Stride sits at the fire and takes a cup of coffee.  One of the two asks Stride, “Did they catch the ones who done it?”  “Two of ‘em,” responds Stride, carefully watching the others.   They draw and Stride gets them both.  We don’t know why Stride was the one hunting them, but he walked right in and did it fair and square.  And according to the title there are five more to come.

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Randolph Scott as Ben Stride, looking for seven men.

On his way the next morning Stride crosses trails with the Greers, an eastern couple whose wagon is stuck in mud.  He helps them pull out and guides them to a deserted stage stop, where they encounter Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and Clete (Don Barry).  Masters is somebody Stride once put in jail, and who claims not to have been involved in the robbery in Silver Springs, although he’s interested in the stolen gold.  For a while the four travel together, and they rescue a man pursued by Apaches, only for Masters to kill him moments later as the rescued man tries to shoot Stride in the back.  Three of seven down; four more to go.

Masters has eyes for Annie Greer (Gail Russell), whose husband John (Walter Reed) is garrulous, unskilled in the ways of the west and perhaps weak.  Masters pushes John Greer in a remarkable scene in a wagon in the rain just telling stories, until Stride makes Masters leave.

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Masters (Lee Marvin) telling tales in the rain.

It turns out Stride is a widower; it was his wife working in the Wells Fargo office who was killed in Silver Springs.  Stride lost the last election for sheriff, and when he declined to take a job as deputy, his wife had to work.  He’s now attracted to Annie Greer, too, but she’s married and Stride has a strict moral code.  Stride and Masters are both heading for Flora Vista, which they think is the likely point for whoever took the Wells Fargo gold to try to get it into Mexico.  The Greers are going there to catch a trail west to California.

Masters reaches Flora Vista first after leaving the slower-moving Greers, and there he encounters Payte Bodeen (John Larch), the leader of the gang that planned and committed the robbery and murder.  Masters tells them Stride is on his way, and two of the gang are dispatched to intercept Stride in the desert before he gets to Flora Vista.  Stride gets them both, but injures his leg and loses his horse in doing so.  The Greers, following along behind in their wagon, find him and patch him up as well as they can.  John Greer admits that he had unknowingly agreed to take the stolen Wells Fargo box to Flora Vista, and he leaves it in the desert with Stride.  Stride figures it will draw the remaining killers to him.

He’s right, and it also draws Masters and Clete.  The final shootout for the gold is between Stride and Masters, and it’s great.  By the end of the movie, John Greer is also dead, more bravely than one might have expected, and there is the suggestion that Stride and Annie Greer might get together.  But they might not, too.  That makes this movie one of only two (along with The Tall T) of the Boetticher westerns where Scott may end up with a romantic interest.

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An injured Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) faces off against Masters (Lee Marvin) in the desert.

The editing of the shooting scenes is very interesting.  Although Stride wins at least two of these, we never actually see him draw and shoot.  We see Masters constantly playing with his guns, drawing them, loading them, twirling them, and he’s clearly fast, dextrous and confident.  Fast as Masters is, Stride is faster, but it’s mostly in our minds.  This is a remarkable contrast to how shootout scenes are shot in later westerns, especially after The Wild Bunch.

Scott plays much the same character in all the Boetticher westerns—capable, taciturn, obsessed with vengeance, sure of himself and that he knows all the rules.  Lee Marvin is one of the two best villains in a Boetticher movie, and although he is an obvious bad guy he’s not without a certain dangerous charm.  The interactions between Scott and Marvin make the movie memorable.  You can also see Scott’s frequent uncredited co-star, his beautiful dark palomino horse Stardust.

The script was written by Burt Kennedy for John Wayne, but Wayne couldn’t take the part of Ben Stride because he was scheduled to be in John Ford’s The Searchers.  However, this one was produced by Wayne’s Batjac Company and was successful enough to start a series for director Boetticher.  The rest were produced by Randolph Scott and Harry Joe Brown—combining their names in that of their production company, Ranown.

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This is the earliest and one of the best of the westerns directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott, all made during a surprisingly brief period in the late 1950s.   “Spare” is one word frequently used to describe the storytelling in them.  They typically don’t have large casts or budgets, and they’re not long, but they work well.  Burt Kennedy wrote this one, as he did the best of these collaborations.  This and the other Boetticher westerns were unavailable for decades, appreciated only by a small cult of fans and, of course, the French.  But you can now find them on DVD, and they’re well worth watching, especially the stronger entries in the series (The Tall T, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station).

 

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Comanche Station

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 12, 2013

Comanche Station—Randolph Scott, Claude Akins, Nancy Gates, Skip Homeier, Richard Rust (1959; Dir:  Budd Boetticher)

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Jefferson Cody’s wife was stolen by Comanches ten years ago, and now every time he hears of a white woman among the Comanches he goes out and buys her back.  The movie opens with a typical Budd Boetticher shot of a lone horseman making his way through the Lone Pine rocks, and the horseman is Cody (Randolph Scott) on another such errand.  This time the white woman is Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates), and she’s grateful for the rescue but uncertain how she’ll be received when Cody returns her to her husband and family.

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Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) barters with the Comanches for Mrs. Lowe (Nancy Gates).

Cody and the newly liberated Mrs. Lowe are resting up at Comanche Station, a stagecoach swing station locked up for now, when three other riders come up, engaged in a running battle with the Indians.  They turn out to be Ben Lane (Claude Akins), cashiered from the cavalry by Cody years earlier when Cody was a major, along with two younger henchmen.  Cody helps them fend off the Comanches, and they form an uneasy alliance until they can all get through to Lordsburg and safety.

One of Lane’s young guns is killed by the Comanches, and Lane saves Cody when Cody is attacked while reconnoitering—this despite the fact that everybody knows that Lane hates Cody and plans to kill him so he can collect for himself the $5000 reward offered by Mrs. Lowe’s husband.  So the question isn’t what he’ll try, but how and when, as it was in Seven Men from Now, The Tall T and Ride Lonesome.  We even have a pretty good idea of what the outcome will be (this is a Randolph Scott character we’re talking about, after all), but the interplay between the adversaries and the drawing of moral lines (or not) are what make it interesting. 

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Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) and Ben Lane (Claude Akins), adversaries temporarily riding together.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Lowe thinks that Cody is only bringing her back to Lordsburg for the reward, too.  She clearly doesn’t understand either the degree of obsession that takes over Randolph Scott characters in these Boetticher westerns, or their unyielding moral rectitude.  So that has to play out, too.  Maybe her husband isn’t worthy of her and she’ll decide to ride off with Cody.  After all, Lowe can’t be much of a man if he doesn’t go after her himself, can he?

There are a couple of twists at the end, and this is one of the best of the Boetticher-Scott films.  As with the best of them, this one was written by Burt Kennedy, and there’s some good dialogue that provides character development and differentiation in very few words.  Scott doesn’t talk much, as usual, and when he does it’s in a convincing quasi-Southern accent.  (Scott grew up in North Carolina.)  Claude Akins as Ben Lane is playing a slightly more sympathetic bad guy than he is normally given, although the character of Lane doesn’t have the layers that, say, Lee Marvin or Richard Boone might have brought to the role.  His two young guns as played by Skip Homier and Richard Rust are excellent.  Nancy Gates, who retired from movies after this film, is attractive, feisty and convincing as Mrs. Lowe, although not as much is required of her. 

Much of the movie is spent either fighting Comanches or trying to get away from them, but there’s an undercurrent of sympathy for Indians that runs through this, as in other Boetticher films.  It’s usually voiced tersely by Scott at some point in the film.

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Cody (Randolph Scott) is surrounded by Comanches.

This was the last of the Ranown westerns directed by Boetticher, and although there are remarkable similarities in plot, casting, location and production team for all of them, they never become too formulaic.  Or if there is a formula, it’s so skillfully executed that they’re compelling nevertheless.  They’re enjoyable individually as westerns, and taken together they constitute a remarkable body of work within a short period of time.  For decades, this and the others were not available on video or DVD, but in late 2008 five of them were released in a set.  Boetticher’s and Scott’s best work can now be much more widely appreciated, as it deserves.  There could easily be two more of the Boetticher-Scott westerns on this list of greatest westerns –The Tall T and Ride Lonesome.   Randolph Scott hung up his spurs and retired from movies after Comanche Station, to be lured out of retirement only for one last movie:  the superb Ride the High Country with Joel McCrea.

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