Tag Archives: Glenn Ford


Nicholas Chennault ~ February 21, 2014

Cowboy—Glenn Ford, Jack Lemmon, Brian Donlevy, Victor Manuel Mendoza, Richard Jaeckel, Strother Martin (1958; Dir:  Delmer Daves)


Tom Reese:  “And all that hogwash about horses!  The loyalty of the horse!  The intelligence of the horse!  The intelligence?  You know a horse has a brain just about the size of a walnut.  They’re mean, they’re treacherous and they’re stupid.  There isn’t a horse born that had enough sense to move away from a hot fire.  No sensible man loves a horse.  He tolerates the filthy animal only because riding is better than walking.”

This is a standard tenderfoot-and-cattle drive story with a good cast.  Hard-bitten Tom Reese (Glenn Ford, at the peak of his career as a leading man) is a cattleman who buys his cattle in Mexico (Guadalupe, on the trip in this movie), drives them north to Wichita to the railroad and then sells them in Chicago. 

CowboyMendozaReeseMendoza and Reese on the trail.

As the movie opens, Reese and his men are arriving at a luxurious Chicago hotel to spend a week or more enjoying the cash from the most recent sale.  Frank Harris (Jack Lemmon, just entering his period as a major leading man) is a night clerk at the hotel and harbors romantic notions of the cowboy life, in addition to an infatuation with the daughter of the major Mexican cattleman in Guadalupe.  In a hard night of gambling, Reese loses more money than he expected to and borrows Harris’ bankroll of $3800, agreeing to make Harris his partner in the next cattle drive.  The next morning when Reese tries to return the money, Harris is adamant that he wants to stick with the deal for partnership and has quit his job at the hotel.

There are the usual cattle drive episodes:  the stampede, snakes, raiding Comanches (meaning this had to be before 1876 or so, when Comanches were put on a reservation in Oklahoma), fights in bars, tenderfoot riding the wild bronc and such.  Harris is the tenderfoot in question, and he grows in both trail skills and responsibility, as he and Reese have a falling-out over how to handle the men, and Reese is badly wounded by the Comanches.  It turns out the young Mexican woman is now the wife in a marriage arranged by her parents, devastating Harris.  By the time they return to Chicago with the cattle, Reese and Harris have established a mutual respect and perhaps a continuing partnership. 

CowboyHarrisReese CowboyPoster4

The supporting actors here are good, particularly Brian Donlevy in one of his last screen roles.  Donlevy plays Doc Bender, an aging former marshal of Wichita and gunhand trying to figure out where he fits into the increasingly civilized west and what his connections are while he makes a few bucks as a cowboy.  Strother Martin and Richard Jaeckel are also good as trail hands, and Victor Manuel Mendoza as Mendoza, the segundo to Reese.  While Ford is a natural in westerns, Lemmon isn’t, although he’s fine in the tenderfoot role.

This film looks good, bigger than most of Daves’ work.  It seems short, at around 90 minutes, with the wrapup and re-establishment of the relationship between Reese and Harris particularly abrupt.  Worth watching but not as memorable as it may seem at first.  In color, shot in New Mexico.

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The Sheepman

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 31, 2014

The Sheepman—Glenn Ford, Leslie Nielsen, Shirley MacLaine, Pernell Roberts, Edgar Buchanan, Slim Pickens, Mickey Shaughnessy, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (1958; Dir:  George Marshall)


A congenial range war western, as the cattlemen in town try to cope with and drive out Jason Sweet (Glenn Ford), a newcomer-sheepman who’s good with a gun and has a sense of humor and his own way of going about things.  Not exactly a full-on satire like, say, Support Your Local Sheriff, it nevertheless has a well-developed sense of humor and a lot of satiric elements, especially in the first half. 

Col. Stephen Bedford (Leslie Nielsen), now a respectable local cattle baron, is also the morally slippery Johnny Bledsoe from Sweet’s Texas past.  Sweet has won all these sheep in a card game in Denver and wants to graze them on common range. He begins by winning a fight he picks with the toughest man in town, the none-too-smart Jumbo McCall (Mickey Shaughnessy).

SheepmanRoberts Roberts as Choctaw Neal.

The conflicts here include not only the obvious cattle vs. sheep, but there are also the conflicted loyalties of Shirley MacLaine’s Dell Payton, who’s attracted to Sweet but all of whose other interests are on the side of the cattlemen.  She’s also engaged to Bedford.  She does participate in a plan to distract Sweet at a dance while his sheep are removed, which Sweet takes as a betrayal.  Sweet will obviously have to confront Bedford’s gunman Choctaw Neal and probably Bedford himself.  The question is less what will happen than how it will happen.

In addition to pitting two Canadian-born actors (Ford and Nielsen) against each other, Pernell Roberts is gunslinger Choctaw Neal, in his pre-Bonanza days (and a year before playing another more nuanced role as a quasi-heavy in Ride Lonesome).  The young Shirley MacLaine is excellent as the cattleman’s daughter/romantic interest in one of her two westerns (with Two Mules for Sister Sara).  Character actors Edgar Buchanan, Slim Pickens and Mickey Shaughnessy are also good in this one.  Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez is good as Sweet’s head sheepherder, a year before playing a Mexican hotelier in Rio Bravo. 


Altogether, a pretty good and quite watchable western, nicely paced.  It came out the same year as Cowboy, another seldom-seen but good Glenn Ford western.  It has good dialogue; William Bowers and James Edward Grant (a favorite writer of John Wayne’s) got an Oscar nomination for the screenplay.  It should be seen in several ways as a precursor of Support Your Local Sheriff.  It uses the phrase “town character” ten years before Support Your Local Sheriff (which was also written by William Bowers).  It’s one of several good George Marshall-Glenn Ford movies (comedies, some military like Advance to the Rear, Imitation General, It Started with a Kiss; The Gazebo), several of which were written by William Bowers, too.  George Marshall, director of the original Destry Rides Again and the less memorable 1954 remake with Audie Murphy, had a good touch with humor.  In color. 

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Great Performances in Westerns, Part 4

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 6, 2013

Glenn Ford as Ben Wade and Van Heflin as Dan Evans in 3:10 to Yuma


The two are inseparable, because it’s the tension between them and the opposite ideas they represent that make this movie work.  In large part, that’s because neither of them is quite what he seems.  Ford’s Wade claims to be an unrepentant outlaw, but he’s drawn to the decency he sees in Heflin’s Evans.  Evans is decent, but by the end of the movie he has shown the development of a quiet heroism that no one else in the movie will step up to.  And that makes a difference even to Wade.  For other really good performances by these two, look for Ford in Cowboy, Jubal (both with excellent director Delmer Daves) and The Sheepman and Heflin in Shane.


Christian Bale as Dan Evans in 3:10 to Yuma

It’s somewhat the same story, but there are differences, especially in how things end.   Russell Crowe is excellent as the captured outlaw leader Ben Wade, but the Dan Evans role as a desperate honest rancher is harder.  How do you make quasi-ineffective decency attractive, both to the movie audience and convincingly to the other characters?  Evans gradually becomes less ineffective and more heroic, to us, to Wade and to his own son.  He doesn’t ask for their admiration, but by the end of the movie he has it.                        


Alan Ladd as Shane in Shane

Movie roles don’t come any more iconic than Shane, the mysterious gunfighter in the film with his name as its title.  The entire movie revolves around him, as its title implies.  As an actor, Ladd has some drawbacks to overcome:  his small size works against him in a couple of fight scenes; his urban-seeming reserve nevertheless works to lend him some mystery as a western gunman; and he was not a natural either with guns or horses.  Maybe some of his success in this role is due to brilliant direction by George Stevens, who was into an amazing string of movies at the time Shane was made.  But when the film ends, it’s Ladd as Shane that we remember.  He makes almost as big an impression on us as he does on young Brandon de Wilde in the movie.  Ladd made a number of westerns during his career, although none of them are as strong as Shane.  The next best is probably Branded; after that try The Badlanders, Red Mountain and Saskatchewan. 


Bruce Dern as Asa Watts (Long Hair) in The Cowboys

The role of demented ex-con Asa Watts gave Bruce Dern the chance to both kill John Wayne and to chew the scenery in one of the best bad-guy performances ever in a western.  He’s exactly what’s needed in this role—never quite convincing in his belated attempts at sincerity, and clearly psychotic as he takes on Wayne and his boys.  In Dern’s long career as a supporting actor, this is one of the roles that defines him.  For a similar role, see him as a villain fighting Charlton Heston in Will PennyFor a comedic variant on this role, see him as ne’er-do-well miscreant Joe Danby in Support Your Local Sheriff.  He plays an outlaw who may be more sympathetic than any of the lawmen in the revisionist PosseIn a more sympathetic role late in his career, catch him as an aging lawman on a manhunt south of the border in the made-for-television Hard Ground.


Gary Cooper as Will Kane in High Noon

Cooper was too old for the part, and presumably for the young Grace Kelly as his romantic interest, when he played Will Kane.  But his particular style of underplaying worked magnificently in this role, and it revitalized his career.  Besieged on every side by a resentful deputy, by old relationships, by evasive townspeople, and most of all by the advancing hour with its approaching confrontation with evildoers, Kane takes the strain and steps up to do what a man’s got to do.  This, Alan Ladd’s Shane and John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards are the iconic roles of the western in the 1950s.  A westerner from Montana himself, Cooper always had both a good feel for playing western roles and a Gregory Peck-like way of projecting a basic decency.  See him also in Man of the West, a later role for which he was also too old, The Hanging Tree, Vera Cruz and Garden of Evil.  For a younger Gary Cooper, see him as Wild Bill Hickok in The Plainsman and as a friend of Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner.  He’s even good as a quasi-comic singing cowboy in Along Came Jones, although he clearly can’t sing.


Yul Brynner as Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven

One of the most memorable roles in Brynner’s long and varied career is as the enigmatic Chris Adams, the leader of the Seven.  His accent is hard to place, and Brad Dexter refers to him, not entirely convincingly, as “You old Cajun.”  In the end, we go with him, though, through the tryouts, the planning, the initial confrontations with the bandits, and the outright battles.  We don’t really know him any better as he and Steve McQueen ride out of the village they have saved, though.  But there’s a reason he reprised this role at least twice—once in the first of the sequels and again as a robotic version of his character in Westworld.  And it’s a version of this role he plays in the spaghetti western Adios, Sabata and in Invitation to a Gunfighter.  The role had become iconic, although Brynner didn’t make many westerns.


Steve McQueen as Vin in The Magnificent Seven

This was McQueen’s breakthough role in movies, although he had become a television star of sorts as the moral bounty hunter Josh Randall in Wanted:  Dead or Alive.  Seemingly a natural for westerns, he nevertheless didn’t make very many of them; his career flowered as the genre was going through one of its numerous fades.  Vin is a rootless cowboy who steps up to help Chris Adams drive a hearse with an unwanted Indian corpse to Boot Hill, in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes.  It’s even more interesting if one considers that McQueen didn’t get along well with Brynner and was looking for ways to make Vin more noticeable with bits of business (shaking shotgun shells, taking off his hat to scan the horizon, etc.).  It works for him; he pretty much steals the scene, and it’s interesting to watch from that perspective.  Notwithstanding the lack of personal chemistry between the actors, the relationship between the characters works, too.  The only other westerns in his body of work were Nevada Smith (1966) and Tom Horn (1980, when the actor was already dying).  McQueen and director Sturges would have another significant success with the non-western The Great Escape,1963.


Kevin Kline as Paden in Silverado

Silverado is really an ensemble movie, but the character most at the heart of it is Kevin Kline’s Paden.  He never actually loses his temper or composure, even in the most threatening or dire circumstances.  He has a native elegance and competence, but we never learn as much about his backstory as we do about the other major chatacters.  We discover that Paden rode with Cobb’s outlaws for a time and has a quixotically humane streak along with a fondness for saloons, but that’s all we know.  The result is that he’s a bit enigmatic.  For all we know, after the action shown in the movie, Paden lives out his days as a saloon proprietor with Linda Hunt in the town of Silverado, although he’s been instrumental in wiping out the largest rancher in the area.  The character works, although in a way it cries out for a real romantic relationship, aside from his friendship with Hunt’s character.  There’s an allusion to an attraction to Rosanna Arquette’s settler character, but it’s not very developed or persuasive, with the feeling that much of it was left on the cutting room floor.  Kline’s film career largely took place during a period when not many westerns were made, and this may be his only such movie.  For other roles showcasing his sly humor, see Soapdish, Princess Cariboo (in a minor role with wife Phoebe Cates as the lead) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not to mention The Big Chill, another ensemble movie by Lawrence Kasdan from the early 1980s.

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3:10 to Yuma (the Original)

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 15, 2013

3:10 to Yuma—Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Leora Dana, Felicia Farr, Richard Jaeckel, Robert Emhardt (1957; Dir:  Delmer Daves)

Dan Evans:  What’s the matter?
Mrs. Alice Evans:  Nothing. It seems terrible that something bad can happen and all anybody can do is stand by and watch.
Dan Evans:  Lots of things happen where all you can do is stand by and watch.


There’s an undercurrent of fatalistic courage in the Dan Evans character played by Van Heflin.  Dan struggles with his obligations the whole movie, but when it counts he doesn’t just stand by and watch.  The inevitable comparison is with the 2007 remake.  Well, this unpretentious 1957 original from a story by Elmore Leonard has much less action than the remake; it’s more a psychological study, with Glenn Ford’s excellent performance as ruthless but charming outlaw boss Ben Wade at its heart.  The plot holds together a little better, and the ending is simpler and makes a bit more sense, although there have always been those who don’t find this original ending believable, either.  For a western, there’s a lot of talk in this movie.

Van Heflin as Dan Evans is good, but he’s doing a version of his solid rancher character from Shane, the sort of role for which he is now mostly remembered.  This one is deeper and more complex, with more camera time for his character.  Evans is an Arizona rancher about to go under financially.  When a reward is offered to get captured outlaw chieftain and gunman Ben Wade on the 3:10 train to Yuma, where the infamous territorial prison is located, Evans takes the job as a way to address at least some of his difficulties.  Unexpectedly, a relationship of sorts develops.  Heflin’s stolid and beleagured Evans gives Ford’s Wade a worthy opponent to play against, as Evans’ courage develops while he’s faced with temptation.  Evans’ ambivalence is obvious the entire movie as he is forced to hear Wade’s Mephistophelean blandishments during a lengthy stretch in an upper hotel room (the bridal suite, in fact) in Contention.  As things turn out, Wade also has more ambivalence than he has showed most of the time. 

3.10 to Yuma 3

Outlaw chieftain Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) chats up barroom girl Emmy (Felicia Farr).

Leora Dana, as Evans’ wife Alice, seems realer than Gretchen Mol does in the remake, but she’s also given a meatier role than Mol.  It’s a little surprising how much of Wade’s interlude with a saloon girl Emmy (Felicia Farr) was in the original; it seems a little frank in its implications for a 1950s western.  Richard Jaeckel as Wade’s second in command Charley Price doesn’t have Ben Foster’s psychotic edge, but the role wasn’t written that way the first time around.  Missing from the remake is Henry Jones’s role as Alex Potter, the town drunk cum outlaw guard, replaced by Alan Tudyk as Doc Potter in a different kind of role.  Also not in this original:  the nastiness of the lender and his repulsive henchmen; the father-son developments between Dan and his oldest son; Dan’s disability and Civil War background; the morally-blinkered Pinkerton man killed by Wade on the trip to Contention; and the Indians and the railroad men who try to the keep the party from making it there.  In fact, the arduous segment from Evans’ ranch to Contention is not in the original.  Wade’s gang in Contention seems a little more human and less invincible, although Dan Evans still seems very overmatched. 


Wade (Glenn Ford) and his lieutenant Charley Prince (Richard Jaeckel).

In the end, Alice shows up in Contention to try (unsuccessfully) to talk Dan out of walking Wade to the train; and as Dan and Wade get to the train under attack from Wade’s gang, they just roll into an empty boxcar on the moving train.  Dan has earned Wade’s respect, and it’s Wade who suggests getting onto the train to get Dan out of an otherwise untenable situation.  He ends by saying that he’s broken out of Yuma before, and the feeling is that he’ll do it again.  That’s probably okay with Dan, who just sees his job as getting Wade to Yuma and is not concerned with what may happen after that.  He’s developed a little affection for Wade, too, if not any admiration for his moral character.


Wade (Glenn Ford) and Evans (Van Heflin) look to make a run for the 3:10 train to Yuma.

You can see this as another of those 1950s meditations on the uneasy relationship between the law enforcer and the town he protects, as with High Noon, The Tin Star, and Warlock, although the emphasis here is on the developing relationship between Evans and Wade.  Dan is one of those ordinary citizens who steps up, not a professional gunman or career law enforcement man.  There are obvious noir influences here.  This original version of the story is highly watchable and ought to be seen by any fan of the remake.  This could legitimately be placed on a list of great westerns, and probably would be if it weren’t eclipsed by the showier remake.  At 92 minutes, it’s also considerably shorter than the remake.  This is more about psychology (in a good way); the remake is more about action.  Glenn Ford dazzles in the juicier Ben Wade role.

In general Delmer Daves seems a workmanlike director who made some good westerns in the 1950s.  His work is usually worth seeking out.  But he has his champions as something more.  Bertrand Tavernier pointed out in Film Comment, “What first impresses the viewer is Daves’ attention to landscape, to nature, expressed in shots that intimately and sometimes inextricably mingle lyricism and realism.

“He actually insisted on personally supervising the kind of material many Hollywood filmmakers would leave to second-unit directors–extreme long shots, transitional moments filmed at dawn or twilight.”

In black and white; cinematographer Charles Lawton (not Laughton), Jr., also worked with Budd Boetticher during this period.  This would get some votes as the most beautifully shot black-and-white western ever made, if you watch it in high definition (either the Criterion Collection DVD or somewhere like TCM).  The Contention-Bisbee railroad connection figured again in Leonard’s story for Hombre.  The theme song is sung by Frankie Laine:  “Though you’ve got no reason to go there, and there ain’t a soul that you know there, when the 3:10 to Yuma whistles its sad refrain, take that train . . . . . .”

Note:  The hat Glenn Ford wears in this movie he wore for most of his westerns in the 1950s and 1960s, long past when it should have been retired.  He joins John Wayne and James Stewart as western stars with recurring hats.

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