Tag Archives: Dana Andrews

Belle Starr

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 20, 2015

Belle Starr (also known as Belle Starr, The Bandit Queen)—Gene Tierney, Randolph Scott, Dana Andrews, Shepperd Strudwick, Chill Wills, Olin Howland, Louise Beavers (1941; Dir: Irving Cummings)

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Early in her career, the beautiful Gene Tierney appeared in three westerns among her first four films:  The Return of Frank James (1940), with Henry Fonda, Hudson’s Bay (1941) with Paul Muni, and this, with Randolph Scott and Dana Andrews.  Although they were all based on historical persons or events, they had precious little historical accuracy in them.  In particular, this depiction of the west’s most famous female outlaw has almost nothing to do with the historical person, playing her as a kind of Scarlett O’Hara in Missouri after the Civil War.

Scarlett, er, Belle Shirley (Gene Tierney), is a Confederate sympathizer with a lot of unused feistiness as the war ends.  We see the family home as a large-scale southern plantation, which was probably pretty rare in Missouri.  She shows her canniness by tricking ne’er-do-well thief Jasper Tench (Olin Howland) out of a stolen horse.  Her brother Edward (Shepperd Strudwick) returns from the war, as does former romantic interest Thomas Crail (Dana Andrews), now a major in the Union army and the regional military authority.  Crail is seeking former Missouri border guerillas who have not surrendered, such as Sam Starr (Randolph Scott).

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Outlaw Sam Starr (Randolph Scott) and southern sympathizer Belle Shirley (Gene Tierney) seem to be getting along well.

Belle helps Starr escape Crail’s clutches, and Crail is obliged by the occupation rules to burn down her mansion.  She flees to join Starr’s rebellion, and they fall in love and are married.  Meanwhile, Starr’s rebellion continues to grow in size.  Among the new recruits are the Cole brothers from Texas, said to have ridden with Quantrill during the war.  The Coles have fewer scruples than Starr, and they influence him to move more in the direction of robbery and murder.  Belle’s brother Edward comes to warn her about these new activities of Starr’s, and the Coles gun him down.  Belle gives back Starr’s ring and leaves.

Meanwhile, Starr plans to show up at a speech of the carpetbagger governor as a show of strength.  Belle discovers that it is a trap, with Crail’s men waiting for Starr, and she rides to warn him.  As she does, she is shot from ambush by Tench for the reward on her head. The shot is taken as a warning by Starr, and the raid is aborted.  But Starr gives himself up when he hears about Belle’s fate.  He and Belle’s mammy (Louise Beavers) see the body, but claim that it is not Belle so the venal Tench won’t get the reward.  Crail knows as well as they do that the body is Belle’s, but he plays along.

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Gene Tierney as Belle Starr; and the real Belle Starr in a full-length studio portrait probably taken in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the early 1880s.

Tierney had marvelous facial bone structure and extraordinary beauty, but she was not a great actress and this is not her best work.  (See Laura, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and perhaps Leave Her to Heaven for that.)  The writing makes Belle often seem angrily stupid, and the whole thing makes little sense.  Scott and Andrews are good enough, and Chill Wills makes an early appearance as the outlaw Blue Duck (a strangely religious outlaw), otherwise best known on film as the principal villain in Lonesome Dove.  But none of the characters in this film bear much resemblance to their historical counterparts.

The film has distinguished writing credits, with a screenplay by Lamar Trotti (Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Ox-Bow Incident, Yellow Sky) and story by Niven Busch (Duel in the Sun, Pursued, The Furies).  It just goes to show that otherwise good writers can come up with an occasional bomb.  Director Irving Cummings had been an actor from the earliest days of the movies, but was not terribly notable as a director, having done a number of unremarkable films, along with uncredited work on 1939’s Jesse James.  Music is by experienced movie composer Alfred Newman; the title music had been composed for John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln two years earlier.  The film was shot in color (so it had a good budget for 1941), at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, California, at 87 minutes.

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For a much more interesting depiction of Belle Starr on film, see Pamela Reed in Walter Hill’s The Long Riders (1980).  Although the real Belle Starr was ugly as a mud fence, she has been played on film not only by the glamorous Tierney, but also by Jane Russell, Elsa Martinelli and Elizabeth Montgomery, among others–usually in highly fictionalized form.

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Canyon Passage

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 12, 2015

Canyon Passage—Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Patricia Roc, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Lloyd Bridges, Andy Devine (1946; Dir: Jacques Tourneur)

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Dana Andrews is remembered these days primarily for such modern roles as he played in Laura (1944) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).  But he was also in several good westerns, such as The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Three Hours to Kill (1954), Strange Lady in Town (1955)… and this one.

The movie opens in Portland, Oregon, in 1856.  Logan Stuart (Dana Andrews) is a freighter, running strings of pack mules from San Francisco to Portland.  While in Portland, he gets paid $7000 and arranges to take Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward), fiancée of his friend George Camrose (Brian Donlevy), back to George in Jacksonville in southern Oregon.  He is also attacked by a robber, whom he thinks to be Honey Bragg (Ward Bond) and with whom he has unpleasant history.  The robbery is not successful, and the thief gets away.

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Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward) and Logan Stuart (Dana Andrews) head south for Jacksonville.

On the way south to Jacksonville, they stop at the ranch of Ben Dance (Andy Devine) and his family, where Caroline Marsh (Patricia Roc) is staying.  Stuart is attracted to Caroline, but he seems also to have a relationship with Lucy.  At a cabin raising, he asks Caroline to marry him and she accepts, although she wants to stay put and is troubled that Logan is so footloose, constantly concentrating on expanding his freighting business.

Arriving at Jacksonville, Stuart fights Bragg and wins.  Lucy has been putting off setting a date for her marriage to George, but plans to go through with it after she goes to San Francisco with Logan to get a wedding dress.  Meanwhile, George is acting as a banker for miners in Jacksonville.  He has also been gambling and losing, and has been covering his losses by stealing from the gold deposited with him.  We see that George is also a man of restless affections, not limited to Lucy.  Eventually George stands accused of murdering one of his depositors for his gold, and Logan helps him escape before he can be hung.

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George Camrose (Brian Donlevy) finally persuades Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward) to set the date for their wedding.

[Spoilers follow.]  As Logan and Lucy head south, they are attacked by Bragg.  They are unhurt, but their horses are killed, and they have to walk back to Jacksonville.  By that time the Jacksonville miners, led by Johnny Steele (Lloyd Bridges), have found and killed George in their absence.  After ambushing Logan, Bragg has also attacked an Indian woman, and now the Indians are torching farms and ranches in retaliation, including Ben Dance’s and Logan’s way stations and general store.  Dance is killed and the Indians are after Caroline Marsh, with Logan and the militia also in pursuit.  The Indians catch Bragg and take care of him, which seems to satisfy them for the moment.  Caroline decides she can’t marry Logan because he won’t settle down in one spot.  So Logan heads to San Francisco again to buy more mules to rebuild his operations.  And Lucy joins him.  They’re better suited to each other than Logan and Caroline were, anyway.

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A suspicious Johnny Steele (Lloyd Bridges) speaks for a band of vengeful miners.

Logan Stuart:  “There was a lot of good in George.”
Johnny Steele:  “He sure panned out no color.”
Logan Stuart:  “There’s a thin margin, Johnny, between what could be and what is.”
Johnny Steele:  “Yeah.  It was thin for you last night.  We were of a mind to hang you.”
Logan Stuart:  “You see how thin the margin is.”

Based on a story by Ernest Haycox, this is stuffed full of complicated and not-too-predictable plot and romantic triangles, densely populated with a good cast.  Dana Andrews plays Logan Stuart with the same stoic independence he did Det. Mark MacPherson in Laura.  Susan Hayward, an excellent and often fiery actress, has kind of a generically-written part that doesn’t really allow her to show what she can do.  She’s better in Rawhide [1951] and Garden of Evil [1954], both with meatier roles for her when she had become a bigger star.

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Ben Dance (Andy Devine) offers Caroline Marsh (Patricia Roc) a little avuncular advice.

Brian Donlevy didn’t always play villains (see him in Billy the Kid [1941] and Cowboy [1958], for example), but at this stage of his career he’s so identified with bad guys (the corrupt saloon owner Kent in Destry Rides Again and the sadistic Sgt. Markov in Beau Geste, as just two examples from 1939) that we don’t trust him from the start.  The role of George Camrose calls out instead for somebody like Robert Preston, who specialized during the 1940s in friend-gone-bad roles, in which he established himself as charming first.  Ward Bond also has one of his occasional bad guy roles (e.g., The Oklahoma Kid), and he’s very effective.  This has one of Andy Devine’s better roles, too, where he is not used simply as a form of comic relief.  Hoagy Carmichael plays Hi Linnett, supposedly a small merchant, but mostly there to provide musical interludes, as in To Have and Have Not, and to comment on the action.  Carmichael’s song “Ole Buttermilk Sky” got the movie’s only Oscar nomination.  Several of the film’s significant events happen off-camera:  Bragg’s attack on the Indian maiden, the killing of George by the miners’ mob, the killing of Ben Dance by Indians, etc.

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Hoagy Carmichael as minstrel Hi Linnet provides musical interludes, occasional commentary and the film’s only Oscar nomination.

Jacques Tourneur was a good director of westerns, although he wasn’t best known for them in the 1940s.  Later on in the 1950s, he made a few of them (Stars in My Crown, Wichita, etc.) with Joel McCrea.  Ernest Pascal adapted the Haycox story into a screenplay, with some crisp, sometimes even philosophical, dialogue.  Music, except for that provided by Carmichael, is by Frank Skinner.  This was filmed on location in Oregon in color (a rarity for westerns in 1946) by Edward Cronjager, so it must have had a significant budget for its time.  92 minutes.

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Logan Stuart’s mule train wends its way past Oregon’s Crater Lake.

The title doesn’t seem to mean much; there are no obvious canyons involved.  For other “passage” westerns, see Northwest Passage (1940), California Passage (1950), Passage West (1951), Desert Passage (1952) Southwest Passage (1954), Oregon Passage (1957) and Night Passage (1957), which are otherwise unrelated to this one or to each other.

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Three Hours to Kill

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 7, 2015

Three Hours to Kill—Dana Andrews, Donna Reed, Dianne Foster, Stephen Elliott, Richard Coogan, James Westerfield (1954; Dir: Alfred L. Werker)

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In the classic western The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Dana Andrews was one of three innocent victims of a lynching, along with Anthony Quinn and Francis Ford.  In this, Andrews returns three years after he was the victim of an unsuccessful lynching attempt to find out who was responsible for the murder for which he was almost killed.

There are mixed, but mostly negative, reactions as Jim Guthrie (Dana Andrews) confronts one by one the leaders of the lynch mob.  In flashback we see the story of how banker Carter Mastin (Richard Webb) was killed at a dance, with certain strategic gaps so we don’t know who actually did it.  Guthrie’s main suspects are saloon owner Sam Minor (the unctuous James Westerfield), barber Deke (a frazzled Whit Bissell), hostile rancher Niles Hendricks (Richard Coogan) and smooth gambler Marty Lasswell (Laurence Hugo).  Guthrie’s long-time friend Ben East (Stephen Elliott) is now the sheriff, and he doesn’t immediately lock Guthrie up, although Guthrie is still officially accused of the murder.  Instead, Ben gives Guthrie three hours until he has to leave town—hence the title with the double meaning.

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Flashback: Irate citizens attempt to hang Jim Guthrie (Dana Andrews) immediately after the banker’s murder.

None of the four candidates seems entirely satisfactory as the real killer, and a lot of people disliked Carter Mastin, but other matters develop as well.  When Guthrie barely escaped with his life, his fiancée Laurie Mastin (Donna Reed), sister of the murdered man, was pregnant and married Niles Hendrick to give her son a father.  Saloon girl Chris Palmer (Dianne Foster) still has a thing for Guthrie, although he doesn’t appear interested.  Gambler Lasswell has two women (unusual in a 1950s western) and attempts to leave town with them but is apprehended by Guthrie.

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Jim Guthrie (Dana Andrews) holds his four murder candidates at Sam Minor’s saloon.

[Spoilers follow.]  As the four principal suspects sit out the three hours in Minor’s saloon, they review the events of the night of the murder.  Laurie still seems to have feelings for Guthrie, but will he break up her family?  As the accounts of the murder are examined, a new candidate starts to emerge, although we know him and see it coming.  In the end, Guthrie and the real killer shoot it out, Laurie stays with her family, and Guthrie and Chris ride out of town together.

This is a modest, effective and underrated western whodunit, and it is not really well known today.  Dana Andrews is remembered more for modern roles (Ball of Fire, Laura, The Best Years of Our Lives, etc.), although he made a number of westerns, even some good ones (The Ox-Bow Incident, Canyon Passage, Strange Lady in Town).  In the early 1950s Donna Reed made several westerns (The Far Horizons, Gun Fury, Hangman’s Knot, They Rode West, Backlash, etc.), and she is good here as the conflicted Laurie in a difficult situation.  This was produced by Harry Joe Brown, who did a number of Randolph Scott movies, including those with director Budd Boetticher.

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Eventually, of course, Guthrie (Dana Andrews) is forced to resolve matters in a final shootout.

On the whole, it’s worth watching and should be more widely remembered.  In color, at 77 minutes.  For another western featuring vengeance from an innocent man almost lynched, see Clint Eastwood in Hang ‘Em High.

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Kit Carson

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 24, 2014

Kit Carson—John Hall, Dana Andrews, Lynn Bari, Ward Bond, Harold Huber, Clayton Moore, Raymond Hatton, Charles Stevens (1940; Dir: George B. Seitz)

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Trapper Kit Carson and his men are attacked by Shoshones with Mexican guns near Fort Bridger, Wyoming, losing two years’ worth of pelts.  The only survivors are Carson and his friends Ape (Ward Bond) and Lopez (Harold Huber).  As they straggle into Fort Bridger, they find waiting for them a platoon of soldiers under Capt. John C. Fremont (Dana Andrews) and a wagon train for California led by Paul Terry (Clayton Moore), both of whom want Carson to guide them to California.  Carson refuses until he meets Dolores Murphy, a wealthy and attractive California heiress returning home. Then he signs up as wagonmaster.

Carson has continual disagreements with Fremont as to how to go about things as they move westward, and Carson keeps finding evidence that the Mexican army in California is providing guns to the Shoshones to keep Americans out.  Both Fremont and Carson are interested in Dolores Murphy, too.  As they approach the Sierra Nevadas, Fremont wants to take the direct pass into California; Carson warns that it leads into an area that would make for a good ambush and advises a route 60 miles longer, but safer.

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Lopez (Harold Huber), Ape (Ward Bond) and Carson (Jon Hall) ride.

Fremont doesn’t listen, and his platoon ends up boxed in by a Shoshone-triggered landslide.  While the wagon train is under attack, too, Paul Terry sacrifices himself to warn Carson, and Carson rescues the soldiers by blasting them out with a wagon-load of gunpowder.  Once everybody is in California at the Murphy hacienda, Gen. Castro (C. Henry Gordon) decides to attack the American haciendas while their owners are attending a fiesta at Murphy’s.  Mexican Gen. Mariano Vallejo (Lew Merrill) is captured and tips off Carson, who rides to warn the Americans.  Vallejo switches sides, as he realizes that Castro has it in for him, too.  Meanwhile, Carson decides he has no suitable life to offer a woman and leaves Dolores for Fremont to marry.

While Carson, Ape and Lopez put up a mock defense of the Murphy hacienda against Castro, Fremont and Murphy attack Castro from the rear and defeat him.  They set up the Bear Flag Republic and receive word that the U.S. and California are at war, making this about 1846.  Ape is killed in the Mexican attack while setting off an explosive signal, and Fremont talks Carson (apparently) into the realization that Dolores can only be happy with Carson.

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Carson (Jon Hall), Fremont (Dana Andrews) and Dolores Murphy (Lynn Bari) talk things out.

This film makes a hash of both geography and history.  Carson started working for Fremont as a guide in the 1842 when the fur-trapping was dying out, guiding him on four expeditions in California and the Great Basin.  While they were both in California while it was breaking away from Mexico during the Mexican War, they were on opposite ends of the state.  Carson was working as a courier and guide for Gen. Stephen Kearney across the southwest border to San Diego.  Fremont was rather famously married at the time, to Jessie Benton, daughter of the expansionist Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri.  It was the writing and promotion of Jessie Benton Fremont that made her husband famous, in fact.  Kit Carson was married at least three times beginning in 1835, to an Arapaho woman, a Cheyenne woman and finally to Josefa Jaramillo in Taos, New Mexico, in 1843.

This is one of the early films to make use of Monument Valley and southern Utah, the year after John Ford made Stagecoach there.  Although stunning, it doesn’t really look much like the country around Fort Bridger or California.  Aside from Ward Bond as Ape (who strangely uses a boomerang several times), none of the cast was much associated with westerns.  Half-Tahitian actor Jon Hall is better remembered for such exotic fare as Hurricane, although he would show up again in a 1947 remake of Last of the Mohicans (entitled Last of the Redmen).  Dana Andrews had a small parts in The Westerner, Belle Starr and The Ox-Bow Incident (he was the subject of a lynching) about this time, and he returned briefly to westerns in the 1950s (see Three Hours to Kill, Strange Lady in Town and Comanche, for example).  Geronimo’s grandson Charles Stevens (as Charley Stevens) has one of his juicier parts as Lt. Ruiz, who is working directly with the Shoshones.  Clayton Moore went on to his greatest fame as television’s Lone Ranger a decade later, and Mohawk actor Jay Silverheels (later Tonto) has an uncredited bit part here, too.  Director George B. Seitz was coming to the end of a long career and is better remembered for making several Andy Hardy movies about this time.

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Jon Hall as Kit Carson; and the real Kit Carson.

If you’d like to read about the historical Kit Carson, see Hampton Sides’ recent Blood and Thunder:  An Epic of the American West (2006).  Kit Carson had been the subject of popular attention beginning with dime novels in the 1840s.  He showed up in movies beginning with an early short in 1903, and would move into television in the 1950s.  In black and white, at 97 minutes.

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Take a Hard Ride

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 18, 2014

Take a Hard Ride—Jim Brown, Lee Van Cleef, Fred Williamson, Catherine Spaak, Jim Kelly, Harry Carey, Jr., Barry Sullivan, Dana Andrews (1975; Dir:  Antonio Margheriti)

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It may have had aspirations, but it’s not really in the league of the great westerns, despite the claims on the posters.

This features another of Jim Brown’s forays into Mexico (see, for example, 100 Rifles and Rio Conchos), this time in a merger of two genres from the early 1970s:  blaxploitation movies and spaghetti westerns.  Jim Brown plays Pike, trail boss for cattleman Morgan (Dana Andrews) in this late spaghetti western.  Pike is also a reformed wanted man in improbable red pants (they must have been a 1970s thing–see Clint Eastwood in Joe Kidd).  He’s trying to take $86,000 into Mexico in fulfillment of a promise to Morgan, who dies early on. 

His unwilling accomplice in this task is Tyree (Fred Williamson), a black gambler and gunfighter, along with a tongueless black Indian named Kashtok (Jim Kelly of Enter the Dragon; he keeps being referred to as an Indian, although he looks completely black) with mysterious martial arts moves, and, for a while, Catherine Spaak as Catherine, a former New Orleans prostitute whose husband is killed by nasty outlaws before she is rescued by Pike and Tyree.  (Unaccountable accents in westerns are frequently attributed to New Orleans origins–see, for example, The Magnificent Seven [Yul Brynner] and North to Alaska [Capucine].)  There seems to be some sort of connection between Catherine and Kashtok, but we don’t know how or why. 

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Pike, Tyree et al. are pursued by a legion of bounty hunters and robbers led (more or less) by harmonica-playing Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef).  They include Barry Sullivan as Vane, a former lawman, and Dumper (Harry Carey, Jr.), a corrupt Bible-thumper and his assistant with a gatling gun, a bunch of venal and untrustworthy robbers and a troop of conscienceless Mexican bandits. 

In the end, everything is blown up, Kiefer is shot in the back by Dumper before Dumper dies, and things don’t seem all that resolved.  It does appear that Kiefer is only wounded, and the film doesn’t seem to know what to do with him at the end.  After spending the entire movie setting up some kind of confrontation between Pike and Kiefer, it doesn’t happen.  But plot is not the movie’s strong point; this film is more interested in action than in making sense.  Characters seem to be dropped in and out fairly arbitrarily.  The movie is watchable but not remarkable.  Filmed in Spain and the Canary Islands.  Jerry Goldsmith does the music.  Director Antonio Margheriti is listed as Anthony M. Dawson in the credits.

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The previous year (1974) Brown, Williamson and Kelly had appeared together in Three the Hard Way, a modern-era blaxploitation action thriller.  This movie was apparently conceived as a genre-jumping follow-up project.  In the western genre, Brown and Van Cleef would reunite in 1977 for Kid Vengeance, which was also released as Take Another Hard Ride.

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The Westerner

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 8, 2014

The Westerner—Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Doris Davenport, Forrest Tucker, Dana Andrews, Lilian Bond, Tom Tyler, Chill Wills (1940; Dir:  William Wyler)

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This slow-moving and highly fictionalized biopic about Judge Roy Bean (Walter Brennan, 46 at the time he made this movie) is often viewed as a classic, but it isn’t really much watched these days.  Walter Brennan gives a superb performance in the role of a basically unsympathetic character (Judge Roy Bean, the Law West of the Pecos), and Gary Cooper does well as his friend Cole Harden.

In the early 1880s, Harden is brought into Bean’s courtroom/bar in Vinegarroon, Texas, as a horse thief, and is sentenced to hang.  Noting the judge’s fondness for English actress Lillie Langtry, Harden claims to be able to get the judge a lock of her hair.  Ultimately, it turns out that he bought the horse from the real thief, and he and Bean become unlikely friends. 

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Bean (Walter Brennan) in front of his saloon, The Jersey Lilly [sic].

On his way out of town, Harden stops at a nearby homestead, where he is taken with the beauty of Jane Ellen Mathews (Doris Davenport), daughter of Caliphalet Mathews, the leader of the homesteaders generally.  While helping them out, he finds that cattlemen have let their cattle into the homesteaders’ valley and won’t let the homesteaders fence them out of their crop areas.  Basically, the structure of the remainder of the story is as a range war saga, with the cattlemen led by Bean against the homesteaders.  Harden tries to maintain his relationships with both sides and has an idea.  He charms Jane into letting him take a lock of her hair. 

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Harden (Gary Cooper) takes a lock of hair from a momentarily compliant homesteader (Doris Davenport).

When he tries to mediate between Bean and the homesteaders (after he has taken Bean’s gun), the two sides can’t agree.  But claiming that the lock of hair came from Lillie Langtry, Harden gets Bean to promise to have the cattle removed.  They are, and the homesteaders proceed to give thanks, until they see that the cattlemen have started fires to burn them out instead.  Harden fights the fires with the homesteaders, but Jane Mathews’ father is killed and she won’t listen to him any longer.  Most of the homesteaders leave, but Jane is determined to stay.

Bean admits that he was behind the fires, and Harden goes to Fort Davis to get a warrant for his arrest; he’s also appointed a deputy sheriff to serve it.  Meanwhile, Lillie Langtry (Lilian Bond in a very brief and non-speaking role) arrives in Fort Davis to perform.  Bean changes the town’s name to Langtry and buys up all the tickets to her performance so he can enjoy it privately in his Confederate uniform.  As the curtain goes up, it reveals on stage not Lillie but Harden. 

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Bean (Walter Brennan) finally gets to meet the real Jersey Lily.

The finale is a shootout in the theater, and Bean is mortally wounded.  Harden carries him to Lillie’s dressing room, where he meets her and then expires.  Cut to the Jane Mathews homestead, miraculously rebuilt in 1884.  Harden is there with her as they watch the wagons of returning homesteaders to other farms.  Swelling music, fade to credits.

Other than portraying Bean’s cranky, arbitrary nature, this isn’t very factual.  Davenport is effective enough but a bit stodgy.  She never became much of a star because of an automobile accident that forced her into retirement.  Forrest Tucker is Wade Harper, the younger leader of the homesteaders and rival for Jane Mathews’ hand.  There’s an early Dana Andrews role as a homesteader here, too, and Chill Wills.  The first half of the movie, while the sort-of-friendship between Harden and Bean develops, is fairly slow, but the pace picks up in the second half.  In black and white, filmed on location in Arizona. Music is by Alfred Newman and Dimitri Tiomkin.

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Although he was quirky as a judge/justice of the peace, the real Roy Bean wasn’t the kind of quasi-criminal depicted in this film.  He did fight on the Confederate side at Chickamauga, as the film says.  He was not involved in any range wars of the sort shown here, although many Texans were.  Rather than dying in a shootout in the early 1880s, however, he died peacefully in 1903, still a justice of the peace.  His bar, originally in Vinegarroon, was named The Jersey Lily in honor of Miss Langtry, a famous English beauty, royal mistress and sometime actress, but Vinegarroon itself disappeared in 1882 after the railroad bypassed it.  Bean moved his bar to the town of Langtry, Texas, which was named not after the actress but after George Langtry, a railroad foreman.  Lillie Langtry did make a profitable tour of the U.S., appearing on stage in late 1882 and early 1883. 

Although the historical Bean wasn’t much like the character depicted in this movie, Walter Brennan is excellent in the role.  In fact, Gary Cooper was reluctant to take the Cole Harden role because after reading the initial script he thought the story would be too dominated by Bean’s character and there wasn’t much for him to do.  Brennan won his third Oscar (in five years) as Best Supporting Actor for this role, making him one of only three men to win three Academy Awards for acting.  (The other two are Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis.  You don’t normally think of Walter Brennan the same way as those two, do you?)  Cooper looked good in this film, and looks particularly good riding a beautiful appaloosa.

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Cooper astride one of his co-stars; and the central relationship of the movie–Bean (Brennan) and Harden (Cooper).

This was shot in just four weeks, with Tucson, Arizona, and surrounding country standing in for Texas.  Cooper was at the peak of his career, but he only made three westerns during the 1940s:  this and North West Mounted Police in 1940, and the comedy Along Came Jones in 1945.   William Wyler did not direct many westerns, but he did do the large-scale The Big Country (1958) with Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston, among many others, almost twenty years later.  And Civil War movie Friendly Persuasion (1956), again with Gary Cooper, if you count that as a western.

For another (and revisionist) take on Bean and his life, see Paul Newman in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972).  And another deliberately ahistorical Bean appears in The Streets of Laredo (MfTV, 1995).  For another town named Vinegarroon (a type of scorpion, apparently), see Heaven With a Gun, a late (1969) Glenn Ford film with Ford as a preacher-gunman.

 

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