Tag Archives: Manhunts

Young Guns II

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 12, 2015

Young Guns II—Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, William Petersen, Christian Slater, James Coburn, Viggo Mortensen, Alan Ruck, Jenny Wright, Scott Wilson (1990; Dir: Geoff Murphy)

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Poster art for the Gang 2.0, with the addition this time of Tom O’Folliard (Balthazar Getty) and Hendry French (Alan Ruck) on the left, and Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater) on the right.

Young Guns was a surprise hit in 1988, striking a chord with the youthful end of the movie-going public. It gave rise to a new idea at movie studios:  Perhaps there was a market for youth-oriented westerns, a genre whose principal audience had been considered to be among the aging population that still remembered, and harbored a fondness for, John Wayne.  The new idea resulted in such westerns with young actors as American Outlaws (2001) and Texas Rangers (2001), neither of which did much at the box office because they were not good movies.  And, of course, it led inevitably to a sequel to Young Guns.  As with the first movie, the sequel consists of several facts mixed with a lot of fiction.

When last seen in the first movie, Billy (Emilio Estevez) and several of his compatriots were escaping from the burning McSween house in Lincoln, New Mexico, after an extended battle in 1877.  Alexander McSween himself and Charlie Bowdre (Casey Siemaszko) were killed, but Billy got out; Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland) returned to the East and José Chavez y Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) headed west to California.  As Young Guns II opens a year later in 1878, Billy is now riding with a couple of new comrades:  Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater), who envies Billy his notoriety, and Pat Garrett (played briefly by Patrick Wayne in the first movie, here by William Peterson with luxurious sidewhiskers in a more significant role).

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Pat Garrett (William Petersen) during his days of riding with Billy.

The initial scenes show Doc Scurlock, now teaching children in a school in New York, being abducted and thrown into a pit-jail in Lincoln, where he is reunited with Chavez.  Billy meets with Gov. Lew Wallace (Scott Wilson), and they negotiate a deal:  Billy testifies against the Murphy-Dolan faction in court after a brief token imprisonment, and in return he is to receive a full pardon.  But the Lincoln County prosecutor is a member of the Murphy-Dolan ring, and he intends to hang Billy.  Billy manages to escape, along with Scurlock and Chavez.  Pat Garrett leaves the gang for a more respectable life, but they are joined by Hendry William French (Alan Ruck), a farmer who has lost his family and farm, and Tom O’Folliard (Balthazar Getty), a 14-year-old who looks younger.

Billy tells the other members of the gang they’re heading south to Mexico along a trail he calls the Mexican Blackbird.  They stop by the ranch of John Chisum, an ally of Billy’s murdered former boss John Tunstall.  Chisum (James Coburn, who had played Pat Garrett almost twenty years earlier in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid [1973]) resists financing Billy’s expedition south, and they shoot two of his men.  When they leave, Chisum decides to “set a thief to catch a thief,” and he recruits Garrett as the new sheriff of Lincoln County to hunt Billy down.

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Billy (Emilio Estevez) is captured more than once, but never intimidated.

Garrett’s posse includes a newspaperman and John W. Poe (Viggo Mortensen in a small role), a representative of the cattlemen’s association who is there to see that Garrett takes his responsibilities seriously.  At White Oaks, Billy and his men are enjoying themselves at Jane Greathouse’s sporting place when accosted by a local mob wearing hoods.  Billy negotiates an exchange of Chavez for the mob to hang, but sends Deputy Carlyle out in Chavez’ clothing and hat, and the mob shoots him to pieces.  Garret burns down Jane’s establishment in retaliation (despite their past history), and she leaves town in Lady Godiva fashion for unknown reasons.

Finally the gang is cornered in a remote cabin at Stinking Springs.  O’Folliard and Scurlock are killed; Chavez is badly wounded, and Hendry and Rudabaugh barely escape.  Billy surrenders and is jailed in Lincoln.  Jane Greathouse is not allowed to talk with him privately but plants a gun in the outhouse, and Billy pulls off his famous jailbreak, killing Bob Ollinger with his own shotgun, as well as Deputy James Bell.  Billy heads for Fort Sumner, where he sees a dying Chavez and encounters Pat Garret waiting for him in the dark.  We see Billy’s funeral in Fort Sumner.  But we also have a framing story from 1950, claiming that Billy’s friend Pat Garret did not kill him, and that Billy lived until 1950 as Brushy Bill Roberts.

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Emilio Estevez in heavy makeup as the aged Brushy Bill Roberts, ca. 1950.

The director here is not the same as the first movie; this may be the best-known movie directed by New Zealander Geoff Murphy.  But the writer, John Fusco, is the same, and the feel of the movie is quite similar, although the story here is more episodic.  There are bits of anachronistic dialogue, as in the first movie.  A feeling of doom pervades this film, since we all know that Billy didn’t live long.  Billy (Emilio Estevez) is his usual immature self, slick with guns, heedless and utterly self-confident.  Jenny Wright is memorable in a brief role as sensual madam Jane Greathouse.  The Tom O’Folliard and Hendry William French characters feel unnecessary, although Alan Ruck is good as Hendry.  This may have been one of Christian Slater’s best roles; Slater has a limited range as an actor, and Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh seems perfectly suited to him.  William Peterson is one of the better versions of Pat Garrett on film, although he is still somewhat enigmatic.  If you liked Young Guns, you’ll want to see Young Guns II.  Together, they constitute their generation’s glossy cinematic version of the Billy the Kid story.  In color, at 104 minutes.

What about historical inaccuracies?  There was no Jane Greathouse; Billy and his compatriots were besieged at the house of James Greathouse in White Oaks.  Scurlock was not killed at Stinking Springs or elsewhere; he returned east, but only as far as Texas, where he lived out his life until 1929 as a respected citizen.  His death in the movie was based on the actual death of Charlie Bowdre, apparently written that way in the movie to accommodate Kiefer Sutherland’s schedule on other projects.  Chavez became a gunfighter and policeman in New Mexico, and apparently died of natural causes in 1924.  Tom O’Folliard was Billy’s best friend in the gang, and he was not 14 but was about 22 (near Billy’s own age) when he was killed by Garrett’s posse.  Pat Garrett and Billy were not close friends and did not ride together; they were at best casual acquaintances.  Garrett did hire a writer to get out his side of the story, since Billy was popular in some quarters in New Mexico.  Dave Rudabaugh was sometimes known as Dirty Dave, a particularly unpleasant New Mexico outlaw with an aversion to water like the Dirty Steve character played by Dermot Mulroney in the first movie.  Rudabaugh never used the name “Arkansas Dave.”  He was captured at Stinking Springs, not fleeing south to Mexico.  After escaping from jail in New Mexico, he joined the Clanton gang around Tombstone, Arizona Territory, fighting the Earps.  The events of the last three years or so of Billy’s life are compressed to make them seem more like two or three months.  That’s for starters.

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Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland) and Chavez y Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) at Stinking Springs.

With famous outlaws (Jesse James, Butch Cassidy) there appears to be an irresistible temptation to come up with some reason they did not die as history records but lived on to a healthy old age under another name.  The same impulse is there with Billy the Kid.  But the best information indicates that he was really killed by Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner in July 1881, about the age of 21.

Dave Rudabaugh shows up in The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959), but his role there is completely fictional.  Wyatt Earp first meets Doc Holliday in Fort Griffin, Texas, when hunting Dave Rudabaugh in Wyatt Earp (1994).

Some music for the film is provided by rock musician Jon Bon Jovi, who also has a cameo as one of the prisoners in the jail-pit in Lincoln. He gets killed early in the movie.

Trivia and obvious question:  At one point in the movie, Doc Scurlock quotes the Edgar Allan Poe poem “El Dorado.”  For no extra points at all, name the other western in which the same poem is quoted.  For the answer, click here.  Kick yourself if you didn’t get this one.

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Siringo

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 5, 2014

Siringo—Brad Johnson, Chad Lowe, Steven Macht, Floyd Crow Westerman, Crystal Bernard, William Sanderson, Barry Corbin (Made for Television, 1995; Dir: Kevin G. Cremin)

Probably an interesting movie could be made about Charlie Siringo, but this isn’t it.  The contents of this short, made-for-television piece are completely fictional.  The real Charlie Siringo was not part Kiowa, as this would have it (his father was Italian and his mother Irish, both immigrants).  He spent most of his career as a Pinkerton agent, not an actual lawman, and he was not exceptionally sympathetic to Indians.  Much of his time was spent undercover working against labor (as in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, in the 1890s) or in unsuccessfully chasing Butch Cassidy.  He became known principally because he wrote a memoir describing his adventures.

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Siringo (Brad Johnson) and Kaitlin Mullane (Crystal Bernard) nurse an old Indian.

In this slight effort, Siringo (Brad Johnson) lives in Arizona at the San Carlos Apache reservation.  After capturing Texas bad guy Wade Lewis (Steven Macht) who was selling guns to Indians and assassinating their leaders, Siringo is put on leave while he recovers from a leg wound.  Lewis escapes while being shipped to the Yuma prison, and Siringo is sent north after him, accompanied by talkative young deputy U.S. marshal Winton Powell (Chad Lowe).

In Wyoming they find Kaitlin Mullane (Crystal Bernard), a former girlfriend of one of Lewis’s fellow escapees.  Kaitlin has used the proceeds of a long-ago robbery to start a ranch there and go straight.  Meanwhile, Siringo befriends an aging Sioux couple with health problems.  When the outlaws and their gang arrive, the young deputy marshal is killed and Siringo almost is as well.

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Brad Johnson as Charlie Siringo; and the real Charlie Siringo, Pinkerton operative.

Nursed back to health by the Sioux, he finds and attacks the outlaws Indian-style (bow and flaming arrows, stealth).  In the final shoot-out Kaitlin is killed, and Siringo hauls the despicable Lewis back to Arizona instead of killing him as he really wants to, thus establishing himself as a real lawman.  If it wants us to care what’s going on, this needs to do a better job of developing story and characters, especially Siringo.  Short, at 90 minutes.

For Brad Johnson in another western, see him as bad guy and assassin Beau Dorn in Crossfire Trail (2001), trying to get Tom Selleck.

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Relentless

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 24, 2014

Relentless—Robert Young, Marguerite Chapman, Akim Tamaroff, Barton MacLane, Mike Mazurki, Clem Bevans, Willard Parker (1948; Dir: George Sherman)

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In the early 1940s, Robert Young was being groomed to be a major star.  He appeared in primary roles in two big-budget movies with western connections:  1940’s epic tale of the French and Indian War, Northwest Passage, with Spencer Tracy, and 1941’s tale of Manifest Destiny and technological expansion in Western Union, with Randolph Scott and Dean Jagger.  He was outshown by Tracy and by Scott in each of these.  After the war he didn’t make many westerns, but he made this one.

The title refers to Nick Buckley’s pursuit of the man who can clear his name.  Nick Buckley (Robert Young) is a drifter with a thoroughbred horse that has just foaled.  The horse is stolen and ridden to death; when Nick catches up with the thief, they shoot it out and Nick kills him.  A witness to the confrontation (Barton MacLane) says he’ll tell the sheriff about the shooting and that Buckley shot in self defense; instead he tells the sheriff Nick killed three miners for their claim, and Nick now has a price on his head.  The only way to clear his name is to find the witness, Tex Brandow (MacLane), and get him to tell authorities the truth.

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Nick Buckley (Robert Young) and Luella Purdy (Marguerite Chapman) hunt for Tex Brandow, in order to clear Nick’s name.

While trying to escape a posse and keep the foal alive, Nick falls in with Luella Purdy (Marguerite Chapman), a young woman with a wagon who intends to return east now that her father is dead.  She helps Nick escape twice, and Nick finally tracks down Brandow at the disputed claim, only to see him shot down by gambler Joe Faringo (Akim Tamaroff) and his henchman Jake (Mike Mazurki), who want to kill Nick and take the claim.  Luckily the sheriff Jeff Moyer (Willard Parker), who hasn’t believed Nick up to this point, is a witness to Brandow’s dying confession, and Nick and Luella ride off together, presumably to quit drifting.  There’s a soulful burro named Sappho that fosters the foal.  Pleasant enough but unremarkable; not much seen these days.

Young didn’t catch on as a major star after the war, but in the television age he did become a significant star in that new medium.  He is remembered now principally for his roles as the ultra-competent father in Father Knows Best from the 1950s, and as the kindly and omniscient Dr. Welby from Marcus Welby, M.D., in the 1970s.  He’s not bad here, but the spunky Marguerite Chapman tends to be who you remember from this movie.  She was in Coroner Creek with Randolph Scott the same year as this film was released.

More than twenty years in the future, director George Sherman would still be making the occasional western, even some good ones like Dawn at Socorro and Big Jake, although many were B movies, especially in the 1950s.  This one was shot in color in Simi Valley, California, at 93 minutes.

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The Big Gundown

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 22, 2014

The Big Gundown—Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, Walter Barnes (1966; Dir: Sergio Sollima)

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An early non-Leone spaghetti western featuring Lee Van Cleef in his new role as leading man, dressed in trademark black and smoking a pipe.  He’s Jonathan Corbett, a Texas lawman/bounty hunter with few challenges left.  He meets Broxton (Walter Barnes), a railroad baron who suggests Corbett run for the U.S. Senate.

Broxton then sets Corbett on the trail of Cuchillo Sanchez (Tomas Milian), a scapegrace Mexican very good with a knife who supposedly raped and murdered a 12-year-old girl.  After several scrapes with Mormons, an isolated female ranch owner and a Mexican whorehouse, Corbett finds Broxton (with his German bodyguard) in Mexico; he also discovers that Broxton’s son-in-law Chet committed the crimes of which Cuchillo is accused.

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In the manhunt, starting in a cane field and moving to rocky, mountainous terrain, Corbett sets up a showdown between Cuchillo with a knife and the Broxton son-in-law with a gun.  Then comes the big showdown between Corbett and everybody, including the German.  (Chennault’s Variation on a famous dictum of Chekhov:  “If a German gunman shows up in the first act, he will be firing before the end.”  See Vera Cruz and The Wild Bunch, for example.)  And Corbett and Cuchillo ride off into the sunset, one (Corbett) to the north and the other to the south.

Among aficionados of spaghetti westerns, Sergio Soliima enjoys a reputation as one of the three Sergios, behind only the great Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci as a director.  The Big Gundown is often reckoned one of the top ten spaghetti westerns.  Of course, it still has the limitations of its subgenre, and it’s not as good as Leone’s best work.  Cuchillo reappears, again played by Tomas Milian, in Sollima’s Run, Man, Run in 1968; it’s probably better, although this isn’t bad, as spaghetti westerns go.  The score by Ennio Morricone features kind of a shrieking theme song as well as “Chorus of the Mormons.”  This was released the year after Leone’s For a Few Dollars More and the same year as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  The version usually seen in the U.S. is a poorly-cut 84-minutes long.  Supposedly a 114-minute version exists.

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Face of a Fugitive

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 21, 2014

Face of a Fugitive—Fred MacMurray, Lin McCarthy, Dorothy Green, Alan Baxter, James Coburn, Ron Hayes (1959; Dir: Paul Wendkos)

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In the 1950s Fred MacMurray was in a series of low-profile westerns that tended to be in part meditations on community and in part a consideration of whether a bad man can walk away from his past.  They included At Gunpoint, Quantez, Good Day for a Hanging, The Moonlighter, and this one.  Partly they work because MacMurray could project the kind of decency he did later as the father Steve Douglas in the television show My Three Sons in the 1960s.  Partly they work because he’s also good at portraying somebody on the edge, who could go either way.  His greatest movie role was as Walter Neff, the insurance investigator who gets pulled to the dark side by his fascination for bad woman Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944), one of the best films noir ever made.  We know how that one ended up, so we’re always aware that he could go that way again.

As in The Moonlighter and Quantez, here he’s a man with a past.  Jim Larsen (MacMurray) is a bank robber in the custody of a deputy marshal on a train, being taken to prison.  He overpowers the deputy and gets away, just as his younger brother Danny (Ron Hayes) arrives with horses to give him help he doesn’t need or want.  The deputy pulls a hidden gun and shoots Danny; Danny shoots back and kills the deputy, putting Larsen in bigger trouble than he was in before.  Larsen and his wounded brother get on the rear car of a train and try to sort out their situation.

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They have a patchy family history, with a father who looked out for himself and a mother who wore herself out and died young.  Larsen left home when she died and harbors continuing resentment against his father.  As he tries to figure a way out, Danny dies and Larsen stuffs his body in a mail bag and tosses it off a bridge into a river.  At a railroad switchyard, he pretends to be Ray Kincaid, mine inspector, and eludes capture until he arrives at the town of Tangle Blue.  (This picturesque name is the name of a lake in northern California’s Trinity Alps, but there’s no overt connection with this location in the movie.)

His seatmate is six-year-old Alice, who lives in Tangle Blue, where her mother Ellen Bailey (Dorothy Green) is a widow and her uncle Mark Riley (Lin McCarthy) is the new sheriff.  The plot takes its time developing, as Ray makes the acquaintance of Ellen and witnesses a confrontation between the young sheriff and Reed Williams (Alan Baxter), a large rancher who wants to fence off public land.  Ray can’t leave town because the passes have been shut down while the search is on for Jim Larsen.  So he applies to Mark for a job as a deputy.

At the dance in Tangle Blue that night, the answer on the job is no.  But Williams shows up with several of his men, including Purdy, to threaten Riley.  Ray steps in to back Williams off, and Riley gives him the deputy job.  As they talk about the nature of responsibility, law and family life, Ray talks Riley into marrying his long-time girlfriend, even with the uncertainties of his life as sheriff.

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Helping the sheriff face down the bad guys.

Mark Riley:  “Are you trying to tell me I should ask her to marry me now? Tonight?”
Jim Larsen/Ray Kincaid:  “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
Mark Riley:  “Don’t you realize that I might be killed in the morning?”
Larsen/Kincaid:  “Anybody can be killed… any day.”
Mark Riley:  “Anybody is me!  Any day is tomorrow!”

As Ray takes Ellen home from the dance, they see that the body of a young man has been found in a local stream, stuffed into a mail bag.  (Of course, we knew it would show up.)  Ray and Ellen seem to have a relationship developing, but he still has to get out of there.  In town, Williams’ men jump him in a bar.  He beats Williams, but Williams’ men pound him.  (Reminiscent of Robert Ryan’s fight against the outlaws in Day of the Outlaw, the same year as this film.)

Early the next morning Ray and Riley are guarding the pass out of town.  Ray tries to talk Riley into either backing off with Williams, or as an alternative, taking it to him hard.  Riley, who is about to become a lawyer, is stubborn in rejecting both of these, and heads off to cut down Williams’ fence, which will precipitate some form of showdown.  Purdy draws on Riley when he moves to cut the fence, but Ray is in the rocks above and displays extraordinary marksmanship with a rifle, hitting Purdy’s gun and cutting the three strands of wire with shots.  Riley leaves to get the wanted flyers from the train that will show Larsen’s likeness on them, and Ray starts to cut Purdy loose from his entangling wire when Williams’ men ride up.  Ray gets away to a small ghost town; he’s badly outnumbered but he starts to get Williams’ men one by one.  However, as he runs across a rotted roof, he falls through and breaks a leg.  As he drags himself into another room of the building, Purdy follows and Williams comes into the abandoned building through the front door.  It’s dim, and Williams shoots Purdy by mistake.  Riley, Ellen and deputies arrive, and it’s not clear whether Ray gets Williams or Riley does, but Ray has wounds in addition to his broken leg and is past caring for the moment.

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Ray (Fred MacMurray) cuts Purdy (James Coburn) loose.

Ellen Bailey:  “What’ll they do to him?”
Mark Riley:  “I don’t know.  But I’ll be there in court to tell them what he did here.”

In the 1950s, of course, outlaws in westerns weren’t allowed to get away with their crimes as they might be now.  (See the end of The Moonlighter, for example.)  There’s still the dead deputy to account for, even with Ray’s subsequent heroism in Tangle Blue.  It makes for an equivocal and mildly unsatisfying ending.

Mark Riley:  “You might say it’s the same man, but then again, you might not.”

MacMurray and Coburn (showing up here after his introductory role in Ride Lonesome) are very good, and Dorothy Green is good enough.  Ron Hayes is good in a brief role as Danny Larsen before he dies.  The rest of the cast isn’t as strong, particularly Lin McCarthy as the stubborn sheriff Mark Riley and Alan Baxter as the principal bad guy.  Both these roles could have used more nuance in their development, but the movie’s budget probably wasn’t big enough to get better actors for these roles.  MacMurray is really the only significant name in the cast.  By now he is not thought of as a star in westerns, but he was in several good ones in the 1950s.  This and Quantez are probably the two best, but they’re all worth watching.  This was MacMurray’s last western.

In general, the writing is good but not flashy, as Ray develops relationships in town.  As he is treated decently, he responds the same way and is better than he has to be, convincingly.  The pacing is good as the plot and relationships develop, heading toward the inevitable conflict with Williams.  Director Paul Wendkos spent most of his career in television, but he also made one of the Magnificent Seven sequels (Guns of the Magnificent Seven) and three Gidget movies.  Music is by Jerry Goldsmith.  In color, at 85 minutes.

For a similar good story of a man with a past riding into town under a false identity and helping out a beleagured sheriff against considerable odds, see Richard Egan in Tension at Table Rock (1956).

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Gun Fury

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 30, 2014

Gun Fury—Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Philip Carey, Leo Gordon, Pat Hogan, Roberta Haynes, Lee Marvin, Neville Brand (1953; Dir: Raoul Walsh)

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Three of the principal characters in this western from the early 1950s are still wallowing in the aftermath of the Civil War. Ben Warren (Rock Hudson in an early starring role) fought for the Union, has had more than enough killing and now wants only to marry his fiancée Jennifer Ballard (Donna Reed) and live on his large California ranch.  He doesn’t even wear a gun any more.  Jennifer is from Atlanta and is anxious to start a new life where the the desolation of Sherman’s March is not remembered.  And Frank Slayton (Phil Carey) is an embittered former Confederate, now an outlaw in the southwest.

As the film starts, Jennifer is on a stage carrying a large amount of gold and two former Southern gentlemen, along with a cavalry escort.  They stop in Haynesville, Arizona Territory, where Jennifer is meeting her future husband Ben.  He joins the stage passengers, and after it takes off Ben and Jennifer discover that the two Southerners are the noted outlaws Frank Slayton and Jess Morgan (Leo Gordon), and their new cavalry escort are Slayton’s men.  They rob the stage and think they’ve killed Warren, and Slayton abducts Jennifer, for whom he has developed a fascination.

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Strangers on a stagecoach:  Slayton (Phil Carey), Morgan (Leo Gordon), Warren (Rock Hudson), Ballard (Donna Reed), and a real stranger.

Slayton and Morgan have a falling out over the abduction, and Slayton leaves Morgan tied to a corral post for the buzzards.  Meanwhile, Warren discovers he isn’t really dead and takes one of the stagecoach horses in pursuit.  He releases Morgan, and they join forces to pursue Slayton for vengeance and to rescue Jennifer.  They are joined by an Indian Johash (Pat Hogan), whose sister was also taken by Slayton’s men in an earlier raid on Taos.

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Frank Slayton (Phil Carey) leaves Jess Morgan (Leo Gordon) to die.

As Slayton and his men get closer to the Mexican border, Morgan and Warren find a couple of his men buying supplies in a town and kill one of them.  Now Slayton knows they are following.  He stops by a village notable for its cantina and Mexican ladies of easy virtue, where Slayton has a girl Estella Morales (Roberta Haynes).  He has Jennifer cleaned up and has his way with her, although the camera doesn’t show that very explicitly.  Estella is enraged at being abandoned so casually.  Slayton makes a deal with Warren and Burgess: he’ll trade Jennifer back to Warren in exchange for Burgess.  Although Warren isn’t minded to make that trade, not trusting Slayton in the slightest, Burgess insists he can take Slayton.  It doesn’t work, and Burgess is killed.

Now it’s Warren and Johash against Slayton and the remainder of his band of outlaws.  Estella tries to get Slayton and is killed for her pains.  It comes finally, as we knew it would, to former pacifist Warren and the ruthless outlaw Slayton.  Just when it looks like Slayton has the advantage, it turns out he has forgotten Johash, and Slayton ends with a knife in his back.  Warren and Jennifer ride off to their California ranch.

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Jennifer Ballard (Donna Reed) is fit to be tied; Ben Warren (Rock Hudson) seeks vengeance.

This is one of three movies from 1953 in which director Raoul Walsh used his new discovery Rock Hudson. (The Lawless Breed and Sea Devils are the other two.)  None of them are particularly memorable.  Like Hondo, this film was made in the 3-D process that was all the rage that year, and the camerawork, especially in the second half, shows the usual evidence of that in the angles of thrown objects, striking rattlesnakes and such.  Carey as the sociopathic outlaw Slayton and Leo Gordon as the vengeful Jess Burgess give the best performances in the cast.  Leo Gordon was just breaking into movies, the same year that he played Ed Lowe (Geraldine Page’s despicable husband, shot by John Wayne) in Hondo.

Donna Reed is beautiful but nothing special as Jennifer (she’s more notable in Hangman’s Knot and Backlash later in the decade, for example), and Rock Hudson was never a dazzling actor, but he was more wooden here than he would be later in his career.  Lee Marvin and Neville Brand have early roles as members of Slayton’s gang, but they have neither enough lines nor enough camera time to distinguish themselves here.  Roberta Haynes is modestly interesting in a limited role as Mexican spitfire Estella, but one does feel that actual Mexican Katy Jurado could have done it better, and that the smoldering Linda Darnell did do it better in My Darling Clementine.

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The script by Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins is fine, based on Kathleen George’s novel Ten Against Caesar.  Warren has interesting exchanges with lawmen and townsfolk of the small towns he and Burgess go through in their pursuit, as he tries without success to get some help.  The title of the movie doesn’t mean anything in particular, which was common enough with westerns of that era.  One does expect better camera work from the experienced director Walsh; camera placement and angles here often telegraph what’s coming.  The one-eyed Walsh could not himself see the 3-D results of his work, but he had done better westerns—Colorado Territory, for example.  Shot on location in Sedona, Arizona.  83 minutes.

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Hard Ground

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 20, 2014

Hard Ground—Burt Reynolds, Bruce Dern, Amy Jo Johnson, Seth Peterson (MfTV, 2003; Dir:  Frank Q. Dobbs)

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A variation on a frequently-used theme:  two old-timers, a lawman and an outlaw, join forces to use their experience and old-time skills to deal with a gang of more modern (and nastier) bad guys.  In this case, John “Chill” McKay (Burt Reynolds) is a former bounty hunter serving twenty years in the Arizona territorial prison in Yuma.  He is released to the custody of his brother-in-law Nate Hutchinson (Bruce Dern) to track down psychotic bandit and prison escapee Billy Bucklin (David Figlioli), who has a new gang and is heading south toward the Mexican border to pull off some kind of nefarious job. 

The wrinkle is that Hutch’s deputy is McKay’s son Joshua (Seth Peterson); he’s tracking the bad guys out ahead of McKay and Hutch.  He rescues Liz Kennedy (Amy Jo Johnson) from a couple of the gang and leaves her at a remote trading post, for Hutch and McKay to send her back.  She won’t go back, predictably enough.  So now she’s following along with Hutch and McKay; she doesn’t have their survival and violence skills, but she gets by on spunk.  There’s an undercurrent of tension between McKay and his son.  Will there be some sort of rapprochement between the two, and, if so, how?  How many of them will survive the upcoming confrontation with Bucklin?

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Brothers-in-law, former antagonists and now partners:  Nate Hutchinson (Bruce Dern), lawman (for a change), and Chill McKay (Burt Reynolds), convict and bounty hunter.

Bucklin and gang hit a U.S. army gold shipment, slaughtering the soldiers escorting it.  Undeterred by the border, Hutch, McKay, Joshua and Liz head into Mexico after Bucklin, and there is a climactic shootout in a Mexican town.  It’s better than many of its made-for-television type, although Burt Reynolds’ facelift is distracting.  He’s actually not bad in the role, though.  The screenplay isn’t great.  One wonders it the director’s name, Frank Q. Dobbs, is a pseudonym.  He has apparently been involved in other television westerns and western minseries, mostly as a producer:  Streets of Laredo, Dead Man’s Walk, Rio Diablo, Johnson County War.

Burt Reynolds had a promising career in westerns beginning in the mid-1960s, when he became part of the cast in the late portions of the long-running show Gunsmoke on television.  He appeared as the protagonist in Navajo Joe (1966), a spaghetti western directed by Sergio Coliima.  (Reynolds supposedly signed on thinking the director would be another Sergio–legendary Sergio Leone.)  He did well enough in a couple of big budget westerns in the early 1970s:  the comedy Sam Whiskey and the more serious and underrated The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, based on a best-selling novel of the time.  He seemed like he might have had a robust career in westerns, especially those requiring a comedic touch but not too broad an edge–perhaps the sort of thing James Garner did well.  But the genre was dying out for the next couple of decades, and he drifted into such high-box-office-but-low-prestige good-ol’-boy fare as the Smoky and the Bandit and Cannonball Run movies.  He’s pretty good here, in the twilight of his career.  He and fellow old pro Bruce Dern carry the film, although supporting players Amy Jo Johnson and Seth Peterson are fine in their roles, too..

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The Wild North

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 22, 2014

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

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

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

WildNorthGranger2Granger as Vincent.

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

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

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

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

Pedley:  “Is that why you ran away?”

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

Pedley:  “I don’t know.”

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

WildNorthCoreyMountieCorey as Mountie Pedley.

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

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

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

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The Bounty Hunter

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 9, 2014

The Bounty Hunter—Randolph Scott, Dolores Dorn, Ernest Borgnine, Marie Windsor, Dub Taylor (1954; Dir:  Andre de Toth)

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A formulaic western with an improbable plot, which is nevertheless engaging on a minor level.  Randolph Scott is the titular merciless bounty hunter Jim Kipp, engaged by the Pinkerton agency to find three unknown train robbers responsible for several deaths near Dodge City a year previously.  After a shoot-out with a posse killed four of the seven robbers, the three survivors had escaped with the loot into somewhere in the New Mexico-Texas-Colorado area. 

Scott tracks the three off into the badlands with a cowboy’s minimal baggage, figuring how far they could have gone with the water available to them.  Yet when he arrives in the remote and unfriendly town of Two Forks, over the course of a couple of days he demonstrates that he’s brought with him at least three hats and several changes of clothes.  The local Doc Spencer (Harry Antrim) lies to Kipp about having treated a wounded man shot in the leg; Kipp is intrigued both by the lie and by the Doc’s comely blonde daughter Julie Spencer (Dolores Dorn).  Nobody seems to like Kipp much.  (“Well, you know what they say about you:  you’d turn in your grandmother on her birthday if there was a reward on her.”).  But that doesn’t get to him. 

BountyHunterWindScott Getting the drop on Kipp.

Kipp demonstrates his humanity by letting a young prison escapee go and revealing how his storekeeper father’s killing set him on his present course.  He acts as an agent provocateur to get the bad guys to reveal themselves, and, surprisingly, Ernest Borgnine (as antagonistic, limping hotel clerk Bill Rachin) ultimately isn’t one of them.  The three improbably turn out to be the local postmaster (Dub Taylor), the sheriff (Howard Petrie), and a resourceful and not unsympathetic saloon girl Alice Williams (frequent movie bad girl Marie Windsor).  The movie ends with two of them having been killed by others of the three.  In the end, Kipp gets the girl and converts to being a lawman in Two Forks, much like Henry Fonda’s redemption in the more convincing The Tin Star.

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The doc’s prim daughter (Dorn) takes on the saloon girl (Windsor).

The editing’s not great, with a few jerky cuts.  You can also see too clearly where doubles are used (for Scott while riding bareback, and for stocky character actor Dub Taylor jumping off a roof), for example—sloppy directing where the camera’s too close.  The movie is well paced, however, and modestly engaging, with Scott mostly in his cheerfully confident mode.  Romantic interest Julie Spencer is played by Dolores Dorn, 36 years younger than Scott and married to Franchot Tone.  She’s eclipsed by Marie Windsor, though.  Vance Edwards has a bit part as Tyler MacDuff, and at the end look for a young Fess Parker as one of three wild cowboys who ride into Two Forks and quickly back out again.  One of several westerns made by De Toth in the late 1940s and early 1950s, mostly with Randolph Scott.  The low-wattage cast and sloppy editing seem like evidence of a low budget and quick production, but the movie’s not bad.  The color wasn’t good on the print I saw.  Even on TCM, which makes a point of using the best prints available, the print looked dingy and in need of restoration.  Not available on DVD. 

Not to be confused with the terrible 2010 movie of the same name with Jennifer Anniston and Gerard Butler.

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Gunsight Ridge

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 9, 2014

Gunsight Ridge—Joel McCrea, Mark Stevens, Joan Weldon, Addison Richards, L.Q. Jones (1957; Dir:  Francis D. Lyon)

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This late Joel McCrea film seems more formulaic than it ought to; somehow the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  McCrea, getting a bit long in the tooth (he was 52 at the time), plays Mike Ryan.  He and the attractive Molly Jones (Joan Weldon) are passengers on the stage to Bancroft near the Arizona border with Mexico, where her father is the sheriff.  On the way the stage is held up by two robbers, one of whom has distinctive eyes above his bandanna-mask.  During the robbery the other’s mask slips, and he is recognized by the stage driver (Slim Pickens in a small role).  Molly berates Ryan for not trying to thwart the robbery, as her father would have done.  As the bandits make their getaway, the one who was recognized is shot down by the other.

As Ryan arrives in town, some of the town fathers have their misgivings about whether the sheriff is too old for the job.  Four cowboys from a local ranch (the Lazy Heart) ride in and proceed to shoot up the town.  The sheriff squares his shoulders and goes out to stop them without obvious help.  But Ryan tucks a gun in his belt and helps the sheriff stop them.  Since Ryan needs a job, the sheriff hires him as a deputy.  Meanwhile, the penniless Ryan inveigles a place at Mrs. Donahue’s upscale boarding house, where one of the other boarders is Velvet Clark (Mark Stevens), a gambler-miner, who (as is immediately obvious to the viewer) has the eyes above the bandanna in the stage robbery.

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Mike Ryan (Joel McCrea) and Velvet Clark (Mark Stevens) get acquainted.

As Ryan starts about his duties, he observes Clark playing the piano in the parlor when Clark figures nobody is around.  Clark then proceeds to the saloon, where he loses.  He explains to his paramour, saloon girl Rosa (Darlene Fields), that he had the talent but not the funds to develop that talent; it appears that his turning to crime was because of the frustration.  Leaving for the Oriental across the street, he instead robs the bank, being careful not to be seen.  During the investigation of the robbery, Ryan displays his credentials as a Wells Fargo detective and steps in to support the sheriff. 

The train is robbed by the four drunken cowboys from the ranch.  On his way to arrest them, the sheriff crosses paths with Clark and Clark shoots the sheriff rather brutally.  Ryan is also on their trail and finds the murdered sheriff.  Clark sees the robbery of the train and plans to take the $30,000 in proceeds from the drunken cowboy-robbers.  Meanwhile Ryan is following and gets a Mexican to show him a short cut by an old Indian trail over the mountains to their likely destination.  The townspeople there have captured the four cowboys, but Clark takes the loot, killing one of the captors.  He shoots Ryan’s horse as Ryan pursues, and Ryan has to get another.

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Ryan negotiates with an irate farm girl.

At a ranch house, Clark charms a farm girl into giving him a replacement horse.  Ryan still pursues, and catches up with Clark at Gunsight Ridge.  They shoot it out in the rocks, and Ryan wins.  He returns to Bancroft to Molly and to become sheriff as her father’s successor.

McCrea is good as always, and rides better than anybody else in the cast.  Stevens is excellent as Velvet Clark, and his character and performance are what make this movie better than average.  However, Stevens was a career second-tier actor in movies, and, except for McCrea, this is a low-wattage cast.  L.Q. Jones in an early role is one of the train-robbing cowboys.  In black and white, filmed in part at Old Tucson.

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