Tag Archives: Randolph Scott

The Virginian (1929)

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 28, 2016

The Virginian (1929)—Gary Cooper, Mary Brian, Richard Arlen, Walter Huston, Eugene Pallette, Chester Conklin, Jack Pennick, Randolph Scott, Charles Stevens (1929; Dir:  Victor Fleming)

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This early talkie version of Owen Wister’s oft-refilmed 1902 western novel provides Gary Cooper with one of his signature roles in westerns, along with perhaps The Plainsman and High Noon.  At 28, he had been appearing in movies for about five years, many of them westerns.  And he had broken through to initial stardom with his role in The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), a western of sorts.  A lanky native of Montana, he proved to be a natural in westerns, starring in many of them for the rest of his career.  Although the tale seems old-fashioned now and provides the basis for some of the oldest clichés in westerns, many think this 1929 film is the best version of the story on film.  It was also the first major sound film to be shot outdoors, made on location in Sonora, California.

Most fans of westerns will be familiar with the outlines of the story.  Beautiful young Molly Stark Wood from Vermont comes west to Wyoming Territory to teach at a remote school.  The biggest rancher in the vicinity is Judge Henry, but despite his title there is little law in the territory.  Molly (Mary Brian) meets Judge Henry’s foreman, known only as the Virginian (Gary Cooper), and his sunny-tempered friend Steve (Richard Arlen).  Originally put off by the Virginian’s informality, Molly nevertheless develops an affection for him.

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The Virginian (Gary Cooper) and Trampas (Walter Huston): “If you want to call me that, smile.”

That affection is tested twice.  In the first instance, Steve is corrupted by the rustler Trampas (Walter Huston).  When Judge Henry’s riders capture three of Trampas’ rustlers red-handed, one of them turns out to be Steve.  According to the rules of the time, they are all hanged, and the Virginian takes after Trampas.  As he tracks the rustler chief, Trampas shoots him in the back from ambush.  The Virginian’s horse takes him to the school, and Molly nurses him back to health, only to be horrified when she learns that he led those who hanged his friend Steve.

They manage to get past that, but on their wedding day in Medicine Bow, Trampas shows up in town and orders the Virginian out of town by sundown.  He actually says that the town isn’t big enough for both of them.  Molly tries ineffectively to talk her man out of doing what we all know he has to do.  As the sun goes down, Trampas shoots first, again from ambush, and the Virginian returns fire in a classic street shootout.  As the Virginian returns to Molly at their hotel, they fall into each other’s arms and the film ends.

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Molly (Mary Brian) reasons with the Virginian, to no avail.  And Trampas (Walter Huston) shoots the Virginian in the back from ambush.

The production seems a bit stilted by today’s standards, and the makeup (especially on Brian and Cooper) is clearly of the 1920s.  But this is still a very good western.  There has probably never been a better Virginian on film than the young Cooper, and the film made Cooper a bigger star.  This was his second talking western, after Wolf Song, also directed by Fleming.  He reportedly had trouble remembering his lines, now that he actually had to say lines.  The most difficult part in this story is usually that of Molly, who can easily seem priggish and overly Victorian to current audiences.  Mary Brian is adequate and sometimes spirited in her way, especially when compared with, say, Barbara Britton from the 1946 film version with Joel McCrea.

The supporting cast is very good, too.  Richard Arlen is good at showing Steve’s good nature and making him sympathetic as he falls under Trampas’ sway.  At the time this was made, Walter Huston was better known than Cooper, mostly from working on Broadway; he was paid $20,000 to Cooper’s $3,400.  (Director Victor Fleming was paid $75,000, so we know who had the real clout here.  A prominent director since 1919, Fleming, of course, was connected with some of the best-remembered films of the 1930s and into the 1940s, such as Captains Courageous, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind and A Guy Named Joe—hardly any of them westerns.)

Rotund, gravel-voiced Eugene Pallette is one of the Virginian’s principal supporters in the film.  You’ll recognize him from the later Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood and the Tyrone Power version of The Mark of Zorro.  Silent comedian Chester Conklin makes a fleeting appearance.  Geronimo’s grandson Charles Stevens is in the cast as a Mexican.  North Carolina native Randolph Scott worked on the film as a dialect coach teaching Cooper how to speak as if he were from Virginia, and in a brief non-speaking part early in his career.  There had been earlier silent versions of the story in 1914 and 1923, but this one is better.  The film is in black and white, at 91 minutes.

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Initially Molly (Mary Brain) is torn between the Virginian (Gary Cooper, left) and his pal Steve (Richard Arlen, right), but she chooses well.

This is probably one of the three foundational westerns from the 1920s.  If you want to see how many of the tropes, archetypes and lore of the modern western were developed, watch The Covered Wagon, The Iron Horse and this.  If you want to watch Cooper in another western from the early talking-movies stage of his career, try Fighting Caravans (1931).  If you want to watch another version of The Virginian for purposes of comparison, try Bill Pullman’s television version from 2000 with Diane Lane, which tries to make the language and situations more relatable to modern audiences, with some success.  The 1946 remake with Joel McCrea, Barbara Britton and Brian Donlevy is less successful.

This can be very difficult to find, since it’s not available on DVD.  Sometimes you can catch it on TCM or on the Starz Encore Westerns channel, and it’s said to be on YouTube.

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The Walking Hills

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 24, 2016

The Walking Hills—Randolph Scott, John Ireland, Ella Raines, William Bishop, Edgar Buchanan, Josh White, Jerome Courtland, Arthur Kennedy, Charles Stevens (1949; Dir: John Sturges)

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The enigmatic title of this treasure-hunting noir western set in modern times (ca. 1950) refers to a large area of dunes that move around in strong winds.  An 1852 wagon train supposed to have been full of gold was been lost there, and in a back room card game in Calexico, young Johnny (Jerome Courtland) refers to having seen what might be a line of wagons out in the sand.  Old Willy (grizzled former dentist Edgar Buchanan) supplies the legend, and it is determined that everybody in the room must go, lest anybody staying behind later follow with his own search party and cut them out.

They are soon joined by Chris Jackson (Ella Raines), who works at a local lunch counter and has romantic history with two members of the group.  Aside from Old Willy, the most experienced hand is Jim Carey (Randolph Scott), a rancher and horse breeder, who brings along a mare he expects to foal at any time.  He supplies the expedition with horses, wrangled by his Indian hand Cleve (Charles Stevens).  Chris and Jim were a romantic item before she left him for rodeo rider/gambler Shep/Dave (William Bishop).  Shep in turn abandoned her in the rain in Denver.

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Jim Carey (Randolph Scott) is the center, figuratively and visually, of the group of gold hunters.

Frazee (John Ireland) is a private detective who was pursuing Shep but is now more interested in gold.  He has a gun and a heliograph, with which he signals a confederate in the foothills.  Bits of backstory are told in flashback, such as the fact that Shep had been in a card game in Denver that resulted in an accidental death, for which he is now wanted by the law.  That’s why he left Chris in Denver.  Johnny sees Frazee burying something and jumps him; he is shot by Frazee and initially thought to be paralyzed.  Chris insists that Jim get Johnny to a doctor, but Jim can’t leave his mare and thinks that Johnny won’t make it anyway.  He doesn’t, although he supplies a couple more bits of information before his demise.

[Spoilers follow.]  Old Willy discovers a wagon, giving the group new energy.  But there’s no gold in the wagon, and the band is hit by a sand storm, during which Frazee battles Shep, Chalk (Arthur Kennedy) and Jim with shovels and fists before Chalk shoots Frazee with his own gun.  Jim scrambles to round up the scattered horses in the storm, while the others seek cover.  When the storm passes, the wagon train stands revealed, but with no gold.  Shep takes off to turn himself in and sort things out; Jim gives Chris one of the few remaining horses to follow him.  And he forces Old Willy to reveal that he has in fact found $10,000 in gold, which he will have to split with the survivors.  Jim takes the remaining horse and the new foal, saying that he will send horses for them.

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Treasure-seekers and romantic triangle Chris (Ella Raines), Shep/Dave (William Bishop) and a shirtless Jim Carey (Randolph Scott).

The cast is very good.  Randolph Scott was the biggest star at the time, and he is the moral center of the movie, although he doesn’t seem all that moral at the start.  He’s in good physical shape for a man in his 50s, as his shirtless scenes remind us (for more of those, see him in Carson City).  His strong, taciturn role here reminds us of his work ten years later with director Budd Boetticher.  Sultry Ella Raines is good as Chris; this may have been the peak of her modest movie career, though.  John Ireland was also at the early peak of his long movie and television career following Red River, My Darling Clementine and I Shot Jesse James and before All the King’s Men.  Look for Scott and Ireland together again the same year in The Doolins of Oklahoma, a more conventional western.  William Bishop was fine in this, but did not have a particularly notable career before his early death at 41.  Arthur Kennedy doesn’t have much to do or much camera time.  For Edgar Buchanan in another role as a grizzled gold seeker about this time, see him with Glenn Ford in Lust for Gold. Geronimo’s grandson Charles Stevens gets more screen time here than he usually did, and he looks authentic.

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Fights break out, mostly centering on private investigator Frazee (John Ireland).

Surprisingly for a relatively short film, this includes a couple of musical interludes by bluesman Josh Smith.  Note the camera angles used by director Sturges during those interludes to provide visual interest and prevent things from becoming too static during the songs.  The birth of a foal in the desert provides a symbol of hope and renewal when things are going badly.

The classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre had come out the previous year (1948), and this was obviously influenced by the success of that film.  It was shot in Death Valley and Lone Pine in beautiful black and white by Charles Lawton, Jr., who later worked with producer Harry Joe Brown and Randolph Scott several more times on the Boetticher westerns.  The sandstorm scenes are particularly effective.  He also worked with eminent western directors Delmer Daves, including the marvelously shot 3:10 to Yuma, and John Ford.

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At a compact 78 minutes, much is revealed by flashback, but not everything.  The story is left with a few holes in it, and that appears to be by design.  Story and screenplay are by Alan LeMay (Gunfighters, San Antonio, Rocky Mountain, novels for The Searchers and The Unforgiven).  This is from early in the career of excellent director John Sturges (Escape from Fort Bravo, Bad Day at Black Rock, Last Train from Gun Hill, The Magnificent Seven, Hour of the Gun et al.).  It is not as polished as some of his later work, but it is well worth watching (and even re-watching), although it can be hard to find

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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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Man in the Saddle

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merritt (Randolph Scott) fights Isham’s forces.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Santa Fe

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 8, 2015

Santa Fe—Randolph Scott, Janis Carter, John Archer, Roy Roberts (1951; Dir: Irving Pichel)

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In the wake of the Civil War, southerners Brit Canfield (Randolph Scott) and his three brothers have lost their plantation in Virginia and head west.  In northern Missouri, they encounter hostile Yankee soldiers and are forced to kill one.  In their escape (Scott leaves behind his beautiful horse Stardust, who disappears from the movie), they hop on a passing train and end up in Kansas.  Brit goes to work for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, but his embittered brothers fall in with Cole Sanders (Roy Roberts), operator of a mobile saloon with a lot of other unlawful activities.

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The Canfield brothers in northern Missouri. Randolph Scott (second from left) is still riding Stardust.

Brit quickly becomes the chief assistant and troubleshooter for Dave Baxter (Warner Anderson), a former Yankee officer who remembers Britt as a capable commander for the opposition during the late war.  Baxter’s clerk, payroll manager and telegraph operator Judith Chandler (Janis Carter) is initially hostile, having lost her husband in the Civil War action for which Baxter remembers him.  Sanders (and Canfield’s brothers) fire up Indian hostility to the railroad, until Britt lets the chief drive the iron horse.  Canfield is continually at war with Sanders, with his brothers caught in the middle.

With the railroad rushing to the Colorado state line to make a bonus, Sanders causes a drunkern surveyor to move the state line designation so that the bonus is imperiled until Brit and Baxter drive the construction through the night for the final 48 hours.  The Denver and Rio Grande threatens to take Raton Pass in eastern Colorado (effectively blocking the Atchison, Topeka) until Brit makes a marathon ride to buy the toll road in the pass from Uncle Dick Wooton first.

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Brit Canfield (Randolph Scott) meets the hostile Judith (Janis Carter). Note Scott’s trademark jacket.

A mysterious gang robs the train carrying the payroll, and Britt recognizes a couple of his brothers.  One of them is wounded and dies of his wounds.  Bat Masterson from Dodge City arrests the youngest brother until Britt creates a reasonable doubt for him, with the help of Judith Chandler.  Baxter sets up a decoy train, but Sanders overhears Britt telling his brothers it’s a trap, and they rob the Wells Fargo safe instead.  While pursuing the robbers, Britt encounters Bat Masterson and Baxter and persuades them to let him join their posse.

At a remote station they trap Sanders and his gang; when the remaining two Canfield brothers balk at killing during the escape, Sanders and his men shoot them.  Sanders and his remaining henchman leap aboard a passing train with Britt in pursuit, and since he’s Randolph Scott, we know how that will turn out.  Baxter finds that Judith has hidden a wanted poster for the Canfields and no longer trusts Brit; although the railroad makes it to Santa Fe (despite the name of the railroad, the original line didn’t go to Santa Fe), but by that time Brit is working for a railroad in Nevada.  When Judith finds out where he is, she goes to join him.  Fade to black.

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Brit Canfield (Randolph Scott) hunts for train robbers in the rocks.

This is one of several movies with Randolph Scott as a railroad troubleshooter (see Canadian Pacific and Carson City, for example) in building a western railway.  The film has a lot of plot and good action, with Scott continually torn between getting the railroad through and trying unsuccessfully to get his brothers to go straight.  There are some loose ends in all of this; it’s not clear why Sanders would profit from sabotaging the railroad, for example.  You’d think he would do best with his mobile saloon if the railroad prospered.  This isn’t one of the better supporting casts for a Randolph Scott western; Janis Carter is a fairly colorless female lead, as was common in those films.  The film starts with misattributing a well-known phrase from Lincoln’s second inaugural address to the Gettysburg Address; and includes windy Manifest-Destiny pronouncements and speeches by C.K. Holliday (Paul Stanton playing the owner of the railroad) on more than one occasion.

On the whole, however, this is worth watching, with lots of good action–one of the better Randolph Scott westerns from the early 1950s.  It would make a good double feature with Carson City.  Shot in color in Arizona by Charles (Buddy) Lawton, Jr., at 87 minutes.  This was one of the last films from director Irving Pichel.  The producer was Harry Joe Brown, who frequently worked on Scott projects, most notably those directed by Budd Boetticher in the late 1950s.

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Trail Street

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 1, 2015

Trail Street—Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, George “Gabby” Hayes, Anne Jeffreys, Madge Meredith, Steve Brodie, Billy House (1947; Dir: Ray Enright)

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The Trail Street of the title is the main street of Liberal, Kansas, a reference to the route of the cattle drives from Texas.  Here, the trail-driving cattlemen are the bad guys, pitted against the good but defenseless farmers.

On  the side the farmers is sympathetic local banker (!) Alan Harper (Robert Ryan), who is running out of money to finance them and who is romantically interested in Susan Pritchard (Madge Meredith).  Susan, who wants to movie to the big city, can’t decide between the obviously decent Harper and Logan Maury (Steve Brodie), saloon owner on the side of the cattlemen, who is trying to buy up the farmers’ land as they leave one by one.  Maury is wealthy and offers to take Susan to Chicago.  Saloon girl Ruby (Anne Jeffreys) grew up with Harper but ran away to her present life and sees Maury as hers.

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Susan Pritchard (Madge Meredith) is romanced by decent banker Alan Harper (Robert Ryan).

Amid the gathering chaos, local character Billy Burns (Gabby Hayes) persuades the mayor to send for Bat Masterson (Randolph Scott).  Masterson quickly sizes up the situation and sides with Harper against Maury and the sleazy saloon operator Carmody (Billy House is excellent in the duplicitous role).  While Susan dithers, Harper is framed for the murder of a farmer he was trying to help, and he discovers the farmer had a new type of winter wheat that will make the Kansas prairies fertile fields for wheat production.  As Maury tries to bust the actual murderer out of jail, a battle breaks out, with the departing farmers pitching in against the cowboys and Maury.  Ruby burns the deeds of the farmers that Maury had acquired, and he shoots her in the back, causing his own men to turn on him.  Susan (not terribly convincingly) comes to her senses about Alan.  Bat Masterson leaves for New York to become a “journalist.”  (The real Bat Masterson became sports editor for the Morning Telegraph in New York.)

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Recently-deputized Alan Harper (Robert Ryan), Bat Masterson (Randolph Scott) and even the indecisive Susan Pritchard (Madge Meredith) prepare to defend the jail.

This was made about the time that Randolph Scott was turning his career to making only westerns, and this was not his best work.  At this stage he sometimes adopted a relentlessly cheerful demeanor, notwithstanding what was going on around him, and the result was (a) a kind of dissonance, and (b) a sense that, whatever the problems, they weren’t all that serious, even if slaughter and mayhem were taking place.  Scott would be better in future westerns, especially those made a decade later with Budd Boetticher.  Another weakness, common in Randolph Scott westerns, is an insipid female lead, both in the writing and in performance.  Bad girl Anne Jeffreys is much more interesting than indecisive good girl Madge Meredith.  And a third problem is that Gabby Hayes’ brand of toothless, aw-shucks performance must have been much more attractive 70 years ago than it seems now.  As toothless sidekicks go, Walter Brennan was a much better actor.  Steve Brodie’s bad guy Logan Maury suffers from an inconsistent mustache, among other things.

In black and white, at 84 minutes.  Randolph Scott (Frontier Marshal, Trail Street) joins Joel McCrea (Wichita, The Gunfight at Dodge City) as actors who have portrayed both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson on film.  Some posters for the movie show Scott using two guns (as he did in Canadian Pacific), but he wears only one in the film.  He was better with one.  The German title was much more fun:  Die Totesreiter von Kansas (Death Rider of Kansas).

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The dying Ruby (Anne Jeffreys), having taken one for the team, makes a graceful exit, surrounded by Susan Pritchard (Madge Meredith), Bat Masterson (Randolph Scott) and Alan Harper (Robert Ryan).

Randolph Scott, Gabby Hayes and Steve Brodie had starred the previous year in Badman’s Territory.  Four of these actors, Scott, Ryan, Jeffreys and Hayes would appear together the next year in director Enright’s slightly better Return of the Bad Men.  This time Ryan would be a bad guy (the Sundance Kid), Gabby Hayes would be a wildly improbable bank president and Anne Jeffreys still wouldn’t get the guy despite being more interesting than the ostensible female lead.  Ray Enright, who had directed movies since the 1920s including the 1942 version of The Spoilers with Randolph Scott and emerging star John Wayne, directed several of Scott’s westerns of the late 1940s (Albuquerque, Coroner Creek), as well as Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith in Montana (1950).

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Canadian Pacific

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 11, 2015

Canadian Pacific—Randolph Scott, Victor Jory, J. Carroll Naish, Nancy Olson, Jane Wyatt, Robert Barrat (1949; Dir: Edwin L. Marin)

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Randolph Scott seemed to have bad luck in romantic triangles in western movies.  In the earlier stages of his career, in Virginia City, Western Union and Jesse James, he was an ethical guy with a shady past or even a good guy in an insipid role, doomed to lose the girl to Errol Flynn, Robert Young and Tyrone Power.  Later in his career, plots of his movies sometimes found him interested in two women, one of whom insists that he give up his guns (Angela Lansbury in A Lawless Street, Jacqueline White in Return of the Bad Men and Jane Wyatt in Canadian Pacific).  In two of those movies he actually ends up with the woman who wants him to change, but in this case Jane Wyatt loses out.

Tom Andrews (Randolph Scott) is a surveyor and troubleshooter for the Canadian Pacific Railway, now trying to find a path over the Rocky Mountains.  The railroad is meeting resistance from the local metis (a group of mixed French-Canadian and Indian ancestry) led by fur trader Dirk Rourke (Victor Jory).  The animosity between Rourke and Andrews is complicated by the fact that they both fancy the same girl—Cecille Gautier (Nancy Olson, in her first significant screen role), daughter of a metis leader.  Andrews finds a pass for the railroad and is not scared off when Rourke takes a shot at him.  He is unsuccessful at dissuading a metis meeting from supporting Rourke, and returns to the railroad.

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Publicity stills of Andrews and his romantic interests:  Cecille Gautier (Nancy Olson) and Tom Andrews (Randolph Scott) in the Canadian Rockies; and Tom Andrews successfully romances the lady doctor (Jane Wyatt).

The railroad extension effort is led by Cornelius Van Horne (Robert Barrat), who persuades Andrews to come back to the railroad instead of marrying Cecille.  Andrews encounters railroad lady doctor Edith Cabot (Jane Wyatt), a beautiful and intelligent but priggish easterner with her own hospital railroad car who views him as a gun-wielding barbarian.  Nevertheless, she patches him up from the occasional bullet wound, and presides over his lengthy recovery when he is grievously injured by a dynamite blast triggered by a shot from Rourke.  Meanwhile, Rourke persuades the Blackfoot Indians to attack the railroad, and Cecille rides to warn Andrews.

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Dynamite Dawson (J. Carroll Naish) lives up to his name, smoking a little dynamite with the Blackfeet.

Just recovering after several months and having found an attraction to Dr. Cabot, Andrews leads the defense, while his friend Dynamite Dawson (J. Carroll Naish) rides for help.  During the battle, while Rourke and Andrews are shooting it out, Andrews sees Rourke killed by a convenient falling tree, but not before Rourke has successfully given the signal for the Indians to attack.  At the end, Dr. Cabot can’t forgive Andrews his return to violence, and he ends up with the (much younger) Cecille.  And the railroad goes through.

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Andrews (Randolph Scott) and the railroad men desperately fight off a massive Indian attack from behind a makeshift barricade.

This was an attempt in a way to remake Cecil B. Demille’s Union Pacific story from ten years earlier.  However, the writing isn’t as good and the story doesn’t hang together convincingly.  It was filmed on location in the beautiful Canadian Rockies around Banff National Park.  It was shot in color, but the print hasn’t aged well. 95 minutes long.

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For Randolph Scott enthusiasts, note that this is one of the few instances when he wears (and uses) two guns.  He was more persuasive with one.  And this is one of the earliest appearances of Scott’s famous leather jacket, which would show up periodically in progressively more worn condition for the rest of his career (Hangman’s Knot, Ride the High Country, etc.).  Director Edwin L. Marin was at the helm for several of Scott’s westerns in this era (Abillene Town, Fighting Man of the Plains, The Cariboo Trail, Fort Worth), but his work is generally unremarkable.  For another adventure involving Randolph Scott north of the border, this time with a herd of cattle, see The Cariboo Trail the next year (1950).

This was Nancy Olson’s first significant screen role, and the usually-blond Olson doesn’t seem very persuasive as a dark-haired metis girl.  At 21, she was thirty years younger than Scott.  Next, she went on to one of her biggest screen roles, as screenwriter William Holden’s girlfriend in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.  Other than that, she may be most familiar now for her wholesome work as the frequent girlfriend/wife in Disney comedies of the early 1960s, like The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963).

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Shooting Stars, Part 2

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 16, 2015

Shooting Stars:  A Ranking of the 29 Greatest Western Actors Since 1939
Part 2—Filling Out the Top Ten

For the top five, see our post Shooting Stars, Part 1.

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6.  Joel McCrea  [Barbary Coast, Wells Fargo, Union Pacific, Buffalo Bill, The Virginian (1946), Four Faces West, Ramrod, The Oklahoman, Colorado Territory, The Outriders, Frenchie, Stars in My Crown, Cattle Drive, Saddle Tramp, The San Francisco Story, The Lone Hand, Black Horse Canyon, Border River, Wichita, The Tall Stranger, Gunsight Ridge, The First Texan, Stranger on Horseback, Trooper Hook, Cattle Empire, Fort Massacre, The Gunfight at Dodge City, Ride the High Country, etc.]

For current audiences, McCrea can be the most underestimated actor on this list.  In the early stages of his career during the 1930s he made all kinds of movies.  By 1939, when he made Foreign Correspondent with Alfred Hitchcock and Union Pacific with Cecil B. DeMille, he was a significantly bigger star than John Wayne, and he was about to appear in brilliant comedies with such directors as Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels, Palm Beach Story) and George Stevens (The More the Merrier).  He had always made some westerns, but by the late 1940s, like Randolph Scott he began to concentrate almost entirely on the genre.  His quiet demeanor projected a basic decency, even when he was playing an outlaw (Four Faces West, Colorado Territory).  Neither he nor Scott worked with the very greatest directors of westerns of their time until very late in their careers, but McCrea did have a productive relationship with director Jacques Tourneur (Stars in My Crown, Stranger on Horseback, Wichita).  He appeared in the first of Andre de Toth’s two best westerns (the underrated Ramrod) as well.

McCrea had his own ranch, and he always described himself in his tax returns as a rancher.  He and Scott were among the very best riders in westerns, and he always looked like he knew what he was doing on a horse.  (Watch him in Colorado Territory and Gunsight Ridge, for example.)  His very best western was also Randolph Scott’s best, and the last significant western for both of them:  Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country.  McCrea’s unbending Steve Judd is remembered for his resonant line in that film:  “All I want is to enter my house justified.”  He does, always playing it straight on.

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7.  Randolph Scott  [Heritage of the Destert (1932), Last of the Mohicans (1936), The Texans (1938), Frontier Marshal, Western Union, Jesse James, Virginia City, When the Daltons Rode, The Desperadoes, The Spoilers (1942), Belle Starr, Belle of the Yukon, Gunfighters, Abilene Town, Badman’s Territory, Trail Street, Albuquerque, Coroner Creek, Return of the Bad Men, The Doolins of Oklahoma, Fighting Man of the Plains, Santa Fe, The Walking Hills, Sugarfoot, The Cariboo Trail, The Stranger Wore a Gun, The Man Behind the Gun, Thunder Over the Plains, The Bounty Hunter, Hangman’s Knot, Ten Wanted Men, Man in the Saddle, The Nevadan, Colt .45, Fort Worth, Carson City, Riding Shotgun, Tall Man Riding, Rage at Dawn, 7th Cavalry, Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend, Seven Men from Now, The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Westbound, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station, Ride the High Country, et al.]

At mid-century (1950), Randolph Scott was the top male movie star at U.S. box offices—not because he appeared in big blockbusters, but because his lower-budget and sometimes formulaic westerns played well in rural America.  Like Joel McCrea, he had always done some westerns (Last of the Mohicans [1936], Frontier Marshal, Jesse James) but in the 1930s he played a wide range of roles.  In larger-scale westerns (Western Union, Virginia City), he tended to play an unusually principled semi-bad guy who didn’t get the girl because he died before the end of the movie.

By the late 1940s, he had decided to concentrate almost exclusively on westerns, much like Joel McCrea.  Also like McCrea, he seldom worked with top-flight directors during this stage, although he worked frequently with Andre de Toth (The Bounty Hunter, Thunder Over the Plains, Carson City) and Lesley Selander (Tall Man Riding).  There were always some very good westerns (Hangman’s Knot, Ten Wanted Men, The Bounty Hunter) among the more formulaic work.  He would not be nearly this high on the list except for an amazing burst of great work near the end of his career with two great directors—Budd Boetticher (Seven Men From Now, The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station) and Sam Peckinpah (Ride the High Country, Scott’s last film).

With his courtly North Carolina accent, his riding ability, his weathered good looks as he aged and his ability to project stern rectitude, Scott just needed the right team to work with and was lucky enough to find it in the last seven years or so of his career.  In the 1950s and Ride the High Country, look for him wearing his trademark worn leather jacket, often riding his beautiful dark palomino horse Stardust, who always went uncredited.  In the sheer number of westerns he made, he’s remarkable, and most of them, even the formulaic ones, are pretty watchable.

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8.  Kevin Costner  [Silverado, Dances With Wolves, Open Range, Wyatt Earp]

Kevin Costner is the youngest actor on this list, and he hasn’t made that many westerns.  But of his four westerns, three of them are on the list of 55 Great Westerns and the fourth (Wyatt Earp) is a notable addition to the impressive list of westerns telling the Wyatt Earp story.  Like Robert Duvall, he has both been lucky and has chosen well when selecting his movie roles in westerns.  Like Clint Eastwood, he has been unusually successful in directing himself in westerns (Dances With Wolves, Open Range).

Costner has always connected well with the western sensibility.  His first large-scale film role was as the scapegrace younger brother Jake in Silverado, adept with two guns, physically restless and gymnastic but impulsive.  He next showed up as both director and principal actor in Dances With Wolves, with its extraordinarily long running time.  This was the first western in more than 60 years to win the Best Picture Oscar.  He went on to work with Lawrence Kasdan again in the interesting but not-entirely-successful Wyatt Earp, and finally to direct himself and Robert Duvall in Open Range.  In fact there are those who would say that many of his films are westerns regardless of their supposed settings: the futuristic Waterworld and The Postman, for example, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, with his abominably American accent in the title role.  On the down side of his career now, he may not make more westerns, but he has been extraordinarily successful in those he did make.

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9.  Henry Fonda  [Drums Along the Mohawk, Jesse James, The Return of Frank James, The Ox-Bow Incident, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache, The Tin Star, Warlock, A Big Hand for the Little Lady, How the West Was Won, The Rounders, Firecreek, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Cheyenne Social Club, There Was a Crooked Man, My Name is Nobody, Welcome to Hard Times]

With his All-American looks, demeanor and speaking voice, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Henry Fonda was a superb actor.  Yes, he did seem to be playing a version of himself as Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath and in The Ox-Bow Incident, but those are carefully-edited versions.  After service in World War II, he played it more laissez-faire as Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine (possibly the best Wyatt Earp on film) and much more tightly wound as the martinet Col. Owen Thursday in Fort Apache.  His version of outlaw Frank James, played in two films (Jesse James, The Return of Frank James), may also be definitive.

In the first half of his career, he worked with some great directors: Fritz Lang (The Return of Frank James), John Ford (Drums Along the Mohawk, Young Mr. Lincoln, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache), William Wellman (The Ox-Bow Incident), and Anthony Mann (The Tin Star).  After the excellent Warlock (1959), his career in westerns went into a long, slow fade, although he was usually worth watching.  The most notable of his westerns in the post-Warlock period is probably Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, in which he plays (effectively) against type as a remorseless, blue-eyed killer.  After that, he took what he was offered, including the occasional spaghetti western, but the era of great westerns was fading along with his career.  Fonda’s career arc, normal for his time, demonstrates by comparison why John Wayne was so unusual in his ability to produce the occasional great western even at the end of his life.

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10.  Glenn Ford  [Go West, Young Lady, The Desperadoes, Texas, The Man from Colorado, Lust for Gold, The Redhead and the Cowboy, The Man from the Alamo, The Violent Men, 3:10 to Yuma, The Fastest Gun Alive, Jubal, Cowboy, The Sheepman, Cimarron (1960), The Rounders, The Last Challenge, Heaven with a Gun, A Time for Killing, Day of the Evil Gun, Santee]

Canadian-born actor Glenn Ford was a very durable and versatile leading man, beginning in the early 1940s.  Among his earliest westerns were Texas (1941), where he was paired with William Holden, and The Desperadoes (1943), with Randolph Scott, before he left for service in World War II.  Upon his return, he made his mark with several movies in the new film noir genre (see especially Gilda [1946], for one classic example).  But he also moved back into westerns (The Man from Colorado, Lust for Gold), showing that he was not afraid to play against his generally wholesome image.  Indeed, in one of his very best westerns (the original 3:10 to Yuma) he plays outlaw chieftain Ben Wade, making the unlikable more attractive, and being attracted to the code of good guy Van Heflin more than he expected.

Some of his best work during this middle period of his career was done with the excellent director Delmer Daves (3:10 to Yuma, Jubal, Cowboy), who obviously liked working with him.  He fought Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson and Brian Keith (The Violent Men), and spent a whole movie trying not to fight Broderick Crawford (The Fastest Gun Alive).  As film noir faded in popularity, he was sometimes cast in romantic comedies (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father) and military comedies (The Teahouse of the August Moon, Don’t Go Near the Water, Imitation General), and he brought some of that restrained comedic talent to the westerns The Sheepman and Advance to the Rear as well.  If given a choice, through the 1950s and 1960s, he always wore the same beat-up hat, which was looking pretty disgusting by the early 1960s.  The remake of the western epic Cimarron (1960) with director Anthony Mann and Ford in the lead didn’t really work well, but that wasn’t Ford’s fault.

His later career followed an arc similar to Henry Fonda’s, where the quality of the westerns he was offered declined.  As he played out his string (The Last Challenge, Heaven With a Gun, Santee), he often effectively played a kind of father-figure.  But the scripts weren’t as good, and the popularity of westerns as a genre was fading generally.

To continue the list, see Shooting Stars, Part 3.

 

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Return of the Bad Men

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 9, 2015

Return of the Bad Men—Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, George “Gabby” Hayes, Jacqueline White, Anne Jeffreys (1948; Dir: Ray Enright)

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Indian Territory Marshal Vance Cordell (Randolph Scott) is retiring as a lawman to marry Madge Allen (Jacqueline White), the young and attractive widow of another lawman.  Early in the movie is the 1889 Oklahoma land rush, and the hasty settlement of the town of Guthrie.  The local military authority persuades Cordell to accept a temporary appointment as marshal, just in time for a gang of all the known outlaw names of the old west to start a crime spree (Youngers [out of commission since 1876], Daltons, the Arkansas Kid, Billy the Kid—who was long dead by 1889—and especially the Sundance Kid [Robert Ryan]).  They’re led by Bill Doolin (Robert Armstrong), whose niece Cheyenne (Anne Jeffreys) decides to go straight and joins Cordell as his assistant.

It’s all very counter-historical, and somewhat formulaic.  Gabby Hayes as a toothless bank president?  That’s neither formulaic nor believable.  Things work out as you’d expect.  There’s supposed to be some sexual tension with Cordell and Cheyenne, and some competition between Madge and Cheyenne, but since Randolph Scott’s in his ultra-straight mode you know how that’s going to work out, too.   Cheyenne’s more interesting than Madge, though, and it makes you wonder about Cordell’s judgment.  Note also that the actress playing Cheyenne (Anne Jeffreys) gets higher billing than the one playing Madge (Jacqueline White).  There is a good performance by Robert Ryan as a hard, ruthless Sundance Kid.

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Two legs of a romantic triangle:  Production stills of Marshal Vance Cordell (Randolph Scott) captured by Cheyenne (Anne Jeffreys).  And Robert Ryan as the Sundance Kid.

The “return” of the title is an apparent reference to a successful film Scott and Hayes had made two years earlier, also about a law officer in Oklahoma territory:  Badman’s Territory (1946).  This is not really a sequel in any meaningful sense, except that it also includes a variety of unrelated and implausibly-gathered outlaws.

For another western in which Randolph Scott works things out with a woman (Angela Lansbury) unalterably opposed to his being a lawman, see A Lawless Street.  One recurring lesson seems to be to watch out for the attractive young widows and daughters of deceased lawmen—they tend to want you to leave the profession. (See The Tin Star, for example.)

Note: This is at least the third movie in which Randolph Scott’s character is named Vance, along with Virginia City and Western Union, which are both better than this is.

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The Stranger Wore A Gun

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 5, 2015

The Stranger Wore a Gun—Randolph Scott, Claire Trevor; George Macready, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Joan Weldon, Alfonso Bedoya, Clem Bevans (1953; Dir: Andre de Toth)

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One-eyed Hungarian director André de Toth had gotten off to a good start in westerns, with the sultry Ramrod (1947), followed by writing on The Gunfighter (1950) directed by Henry King.  He then followed with six westerns with Randolph Scott, of which this is one.  With a cast also including Claire Trevor and early bad guy roles for Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, this could have been great, and it isn’t.  The story and writing (by Kenneth Gamet) just aren’t strong enough.  But if you like De Toth’s work, Randolph Scott, Claire Trevor and Lee Marvin, you nevertheless have to see it.

The title could be attached to almost any western, a genre where all the strangers wear guns.  During the Civil War, Lt. Jeff Travis (Randolph Scott) spies for Quantrill in Lawrence, Kansas, in preparation for the notorious guerilla raid on that abolitionist-sympathizing town.  Disgusted by the indiscriminate slaughter and Quantrill’s callous indifference to the infliction of death and devastation, he drops out, but his reputation follows him.  After the war, Travis is a gambler on a riverboat when he is recognized and attacked.  A mysterious figure saves him with a thrown knife to the back of an attacker.  Sympathetic fellow gambler Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) sends him to Prescott, Arizona Territory, to Jules Mourret.

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Jules Mourret (George Macready) meets Jeff Travis (Randolph Scott).

Prescott is a lawless mining town, where two rival gangs raid the Conroy stage line and commit other depredations.  As Travis arrives (he’s the titular stranger with a gun), the territorial capital is being moved to Phoenix in reaction to Prescott’s lawlessness.  Mourret (George Macready), another former Quantrill man, turns out to be the leader of one of the two gangs and Travis’s knife-wielding rescuer from the riverboat.  Using the name of “Matt Stone,” Travis tells the Conroys that he’s a Pinkerton agent sent to help them.  The attractive Shelby Conroy (Joan Weldon), daughter of the line’s owner, is obviously drawn to him.  And Travis finds himself once again working for the bad guys and deceiving decent people, just as he did for Quantrill.

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Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) and Travis (Randolph Scott) renew their acquaintance.  And Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) displays his skills and determination.

Josie Sullivan shows up in Prescott to ply her trade as a gambler and to see how Travis is doing.  She tells him he’s wanted in Louisiana for the riverboat killing.  Conroy is fairly successful at hiding the gold on his stages, but when Mourret’s men Dan Kurth and Bull Slager (played by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) kill a friend while trying to beat out of him information he doesn’t have, Travis’s allegiances shift again.  He tries to set the two gangs against each other, with some success.  Nevertheless, he has to shoot it out with Kurth; Lee Marvin traditionally doesn’t have much luck against Randolph Scott (see Hangman’s Knot and especially Seven Men From Now).  Mourret and Travis ultimately fight it out in a burning building (see Scott in burning buildings in Hangman’s Knot, Riding Shotgun, and Ten Wanted Men), and Travis wins.  Shelby Conroy is crushed at Travis’ deceit and betrayal, but it turns out Travis really wants Josie anyway.  And she lied about him being wanted in Louisiana.

There’s a lot of plot stuffed into only 83 minutes; it doesn’t develop organically, it feels at the end as if there are a number of loose ends, and there are a number of elements we’ve seen before. Neither the Travis nor the Sullivan characters is entirely admirable, with their shifty allegiances and casual deceit of friends and innocent people.  But it is a good cast and the film is ultimately worth watching.  Produced by Harry Joe Brown, with Randolph Scott as associate producer, in color; shot at Lone Pine.  It was also shot in 3-D, like Hondo and Gun Fury, during the brief period in the early 1950s when studios were experimenting with that new presentation.  That accounts for the occasional lunge toward the camera with a burning torch, gun or spear.

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A gleefully evil Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine) enjoys the movie’s 3-D effects.

Claire Trevor (Stagecoach, Allegheny Uprising, The Desperadoes, Best of the Badmen) was coming to the end of an excellent Hollywood career.  Her performances in Stagecoach, Dead End, and Key Largo (an Oscar winner for her) are great ones.  Here she seems to be better than her material.  Joan Weldon never really balances her as a competing romantic interest in this film, although Trevor plays the sort of character who normally shouldn’t win in the end.  Weldon will show up to better effect in 1957’s Gunsight Ridge, with Joel McCrea.  Lee Marvin was starting his memorable career as a heavy (Hangman’s Knot, Seven Men From Now, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), and Ernest Borgnine regularly showed up as a bad guy as well (Johnny Guitar, The Bounty Hunter, Vera Cruz).  Two years later they both turn up as bad guys working for Robert Ryan in John Sturges’ excellent Bad Day at Black Rock.   Alfonso Bedoya’s performance as the Mexican head of the gang rivaling Mourret’s bad guys seems fairly broad and stereotypical now.  If you’re a Scott fan, you’ll be delighted by the appearance of his beautiful dark palomino Stardust and his worn leather jacket, both of which show up here.  Although the directing in this film is nothing dazzling, De Toth went on from this to make the quintessential early 3-D horror movie:  House of Wax.

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