Tag Archives: Randolph Scott

Jesse James (1939)

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 24, 2014

Jesse James—Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Randolph Scott, Nancy Kelly, Henry Hull, Jane Darwell, Brian Donlevy, Donald Meek, John Carradine, Slim Summerville (1939; Dir: Henry King)


If you had never seen a Jesse James movie, this might not be a bad place to start—not because it’s strongly factual (it isn’t), but because it’s almost pure romanticized legend.  It’s a top-flight big-budget production with a strong cast, a big-name writer and a well-known director, in color at a time when almost all films were in black and white.

Jesse James: “I hate the railroads… and when I hate, I’ve gotta do something about it.”

As the film opens, the St. Louis Midland Railroad, in the person of Barshee (Brian Donlevy at his slimiest), is bullying and bamboozling poor, honest Missouri farmers into selling their land for much less than it’s worth. That doesn’t work on the James family of Liberty; their mother, Mrs. Samuels (Jane Darwell) feels poorly but is strong-minded. When Jesse (Tyrone Power) shoots Barshee in the hand while he’s trying to use a scythe on Frank (Henry Fonda), Barshee gets a warrant for his arrest. While trying to serve it, he throws a bomb into the room where Mrs. Samuels lies, killing her and starting the James brothers on their outlaw trail for good.  Jesse confronts Barshee in a bar, killing him and one of his strong-arm minions.


Good ol’ Missouri farm boy Jesse (Tyrone Power) becomes notorious outlaw chieftain Jesse James.

Jesse has to leave his long-time girlfriend Zee Cobb (Nancy Kelly), niece of the local newspaper editor, Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull).  Liberty Marshal Will Wright is sympathetic to them, like many of their fellow Missouri citizens, but is also romantically interested in Zee.  After Jesse and Frank have started a successful career robbing trains, Zee and Will talk Jesse into taking the railroad’s offer of leniency if he turns himself in.  However, the sleazy railroad president has no intention of keeping his word and plans to see Jesse hung.  (The offer of a deal to return to respectability that turns bad is also a feature of the stories of Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy.)


Jesse (Tyrone Power) turns himself in to sympathetic Marshal Will Wright (Randolph Scott).

Through the craftiness of Frank and the connivance of Will, Jesse is liberated.  Before resuming his outlaw career, he and Zee are married, but the outlaw life wears on her.  When her son is born, she returns to her uncle’s home in Liberty, and Jesse turns mean.

Zee Cobb James:  “Shooting and robbing—it’ll just get in your blood, Jesse. You’ll end up like a wolf!”

A detective spreads word that if a member of the James gang kills Jesse, he will receive $25,000 and amnesty.  Bob Ford (John Carradine) is tempted, and he warns the detective about the gang’s next job in Northfield, Minnesota.  The gang is shot up, Jesse is badly wounded and Frank and Jesse barely escape, desperately jumping their horses through a storefront window and, later in the pursuit, over a cliff into a river.  Frank disappears from the story at this point; Jesse escapes his hunters and arduously makes his way back to St. Joseph, where Zee finds him and nurses him back to health.  He resolves to take his family to California and go straight.


Frank James (Henry Fonda) runs for his horse in Northfield when a bank robbery goes bad.

As he is about to catch a train west, he is visited by the Ford brothers, Bob and Charlie. They tell him Frank wants to do a last job, and he is tempted. But he refuses, and as the brothers are leaving, Bob shoots Jesse in the back.  As the film closes, Major Cobb gives a populist eulogy for the deceased outlaw, painting a very sympathetic portrait of him.

Many of the members of this cast do very well. Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, Brian Donlevy and Donald Meek are all very good.  Power was known more for costume dramas, but he made a few good westerns (The Mark of Zorro, Rawhide).  Henry Hull quickly becomes tiresome in his role as the hard-drinking editor, the first of a string of those in westerns. (See, for example, Wallace Ford in Wichita and Edmond O’Brien in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.)  This is a problem in the writing, as well as in Hull’s overplaying.  Nancy Gates as Jesse’s wife Zee often comes across as sanctimonious in her sometimes lengthy ruminations on outlawry and such; again, much of this is due to the writing.  She did not have a robust career, but she appeared in at least one other good western in the same year:  Frontier Marshal, also with Randolph Scott.  At this point of his career, Scott often played ethical characters with criminal conflicts (Western Union, Virginia City); here he is also conflicted because of his attraction to Zee and his sympathy for the brothers.  He’s the most ethical character in the film, although he doesn’t really have much to do.  Both Donald Meek and John Carradine would appear the same year in the superb Stagecoach.

Although it has occasional bursts of action, there are also several spots where it bogs down slightly with a lot of talk, when Jesse is briefly in jail, when Zee is philosophizing about the outlaw life, or when Major Cobb is dictating another of his cranky, repetitive and tedious editorials.  Notwithstanding the pacing problems and talkiness, the technicolor Tyrone Power is always great to look at, and Henry Fonda as Frank is excellent and persuasive.


A brooding Tyrone Power as Jesse; and the real Jesse James about the time of his death at 34 in 1882.

This would be followed the next year by a sequel.  Since Jesse dies at the end of this movie, the sequel is about Frank:  The Return of Frank James, with Frank seeking revenge for Jesse’s killing.  Henry Fonda as Frank, Henry Hull as the tedious Major Rufus Cobb, Donald Meek as the slippery railroad president, John Carradine as Bob Ford and J. Edward Bromberg as Runyan the detective all reprise their roles.

The variations from actual history are too numerous all to be mentioned here.  The film makes no mention of the James brothers’ guerrilla history with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson during the Civil War.  There are no Younger brothers in the gang; all the members but Jesse and Frank are nonentities.  Events like the railroad-sponsored bombing are misplaced and telescoped together in time.  Mrs. Samuels was not killed by the incendiary bomb, but she did lose an arm and it killed her youngest son.  It was not what started their outlaw careers but came after they were well-established in robbing trains and banks.  Bob Ford was quite young when he killed Jesse, and he was not a member of the gang on the Northfield raid.  No one gave any warning to authorities in Northfield; the citizenry was just well-armed and prepared not to let its bank be robbed.  Jesse was not wounded at Northfield, although other members of the gang were killed or badly shot up (e.g., the Youngers).  The movie shows Jesse being killed shortly after recovering from his Northfield wounds. In fact, the Northfield raid was in 1876 and Jesse was killed six years later, in 1882.  There is no evidence that Jesse was planning to move to California when he was killed.  Jesse was not the Robin Hood figure shown in this movie.  For a more accurate historical depiction of the James brothers and their depredations, see The Long Riders more than forty years later.


The film has an unfortunate place in movie history because of a stunt.  As Frank and the badly wounded Jesse are making their escape from Northfield, they both appear to ride off a 70-foot cliff into a river below.  While it appears to be two riders and two horses, the second is simply a closer camera angle of the one stunt, so it looks different.  The horse in the stunt was killed, however, which caused such an outcry that it led to the formation of what became the American Humane Association’s Film and Television Unit.  Since 1940, the unit has monitored the treatment of animals in movies, and since 1989 the phrase “No animals were harmed during the making of this picture” (a registered trademark) has appeared in the credits of movies for which it is true.  The stunt is visually impressive, but knowing what the outcome was dampens the viewer’s enthusiasm.

In 1939, the use of color in film was in its infancy.  Few movies were in color, like the big productions Gone With the Wind and Dodge City.  This was.  Director Henry King had been making movies for 25 years at this point, including such notable silent films as Tol’able David and The Winning of Barbara Worth.  He was not involved with the sequel.  He made several more memorable westerns, including The Gunfighter and The Bravados, both with Gregory Peck, before finishing his long and eminent career more than twenty years later.  Writer Nunnally Johnson had a newspaper background, like many others of the best writers for movies (Ben Hecht, Charlie MacArthur).  He sometimes played a production role on movies, and he was prominent enough that his name sometimes even appeared with the movie’s title in the credits (“Nunnally Johnson’s Along Came Jones,” for example).  He did not write many westerns, although he did some uncredited work for King on The Gunfighter.  Shot on location in Missouri.  108 minutes long.


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A Lawless Street

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 10, 2014

A Lawless Street—Randolph Scott, Angela Lansbury, Warner Anderson, Wallace Ford, John Emery, James Bell, Michael Pate, Jeanette Nolan (1955; Dir: Joseph H. Lewis)


The lawless streets in question are in the town of Medicine Bend.  Calem Ware (Randolph Scott) has been brought in as marshal by large rancher Asaph Dean (James Bell), founder of the town of Medicine Bend.  (See Randolph Scott in another Medicine Bend the next year, in Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend.)  Ware is good with a gun and demonstrates that he doesn’t mind using it, but he seems a bit haunted by something.  When Dingo Brion tries to kill him as he’s getting a shave, he finds five $20-dollar gold pieces in Dingo’s pocket, meaning that somebody’s paying to get Ware killed.

There is little hiding that one of the prime candidates as this paymaster is saloon owner Cody Clark (John Emery), who thinks he’d do better business in a more open town. His silent partner is businessman Hamer Thorne (Warner Anderson), who similarly hopes to prosper when a mining boom hits. The sleazy Thorne has been carrying on an affair with Dean’s wife Cora (Jean Parker), but plans to throw her over for Tally Dickinson (Angela Lansbury), a stage performer he’s just brought into town.


Marshal Calem Ware (Randolph Scott) and Doc Wyatt (Wallace Ford) head toward trouble.

However, Tally is still married to Calem Ware, although they haven’t been together in eight years.  When he was the marshal in Apache Wells, she couldn’t take worrying about the violence of his profession.  When they meet again, it seems they still have feelings for each other, but neither changes the attitudes that drove them apart.  Thorne and Cody bring in a gunfighter with a special enmity for Ware, Harley Bascomb (the saturnine Michael Pate).  Intrigued by the high price they’re offering, Bascomb demands a third of their operation.

Unaware that Ware has injured his gun hand in a fight, Bascomb calls him out and creases his skull when Ware can’t handle his gun as well as usual.  As Ware falls, his friend Doc Amos Wyatt (Wallace Ford) pronounces him dead and removes the body to where he can recuperate in private while everybody thinks he’s dead.  Meanwhile, the town blows wide open, and Thorne and Cody challenge Dean.  Seeing what’s happening, both Tally and Dean’s wife desert Thorne.  When Ware recuperates enough, he has it out with Bascomb again, this time winning by a stratagem.  As Thorne and Cody prepare to leave town, Thorne kills Cody thinking he’s Ware, and Ware captures Thorne.  Turning both Thorne and his marshal’s badge over to the newly-invigorated forces of good in the town, Ware heads off to his ranch with Tally, leaving his career as a marshal in Medicine Bend and giving his gun to Doc Wyatt.


The second time, Ware (Randolph Scott), bad hand and all, gets gunman Harley Bascomb (Michael Pate).

This is a fairly complicated plot for a movie of only 78 minutes, with lots of coming and going.  Scott seems a little too sunny of disposition for a man who kills several people in the course of the film and has several large-scale personal problems.  Angela Lansbury is a step up from the usual female lead in a Scott movie, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of actual chemistry between them.  Still, this is a better-than-average Scott western from the early 1950s, made just about the time he was starting his association with Budd Boetticher.

Screenplay by Kenneth Gamet, who wrote eight Scott westerns in all.  In color.

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Ten Wanted Men

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 24, 2014

Ten Wanted Men—Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Jocelyn Brando, Skip Homeier, Dennis Weaver, Leo Gordon, Lee Van Cleef (1955; Dir: H. Bruce Humberstone)

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Adam Stewart [seeing Campbell standing over a dead Grinnel]:  “I thought Grinnel was your friend?”
Wick Campbell:  “That’s what makes it so sad.  I’ve known him for years.  First time I was ever forced to kill a man, and it had to be a friend of mine.”

In Ocatilla, Arizona Territory, saloon owner Wick Campbell (Richard Boone) has romantic/material interests in his young female ward Maria Segura (Donna Martell).  When she defects to the protection (and romantic attentions) of young Howie Stewart (Skip Homeier, playing a good guy for a change), Campbell hires ten outlaws (including Leo Gordon and Lee Van Cleef) to start a range war, take over the town and take care of both Howie Stewart and his uncle John (Randolph Scott).  The ten are clearly too much for young local sheriff Clyde Gibbons (Dennis Weaver).  Howie is goaded into a gunfight with one of Campbell’s men, and he surprisingly wins.  Despite the fact that he shot in self-defense, false testimony forces the sheriff to put Howie in jail, but he breaks out.  John Stewart’s brother, peaceable lawyer Adam Stewart (Howie’s father) is killed by Campbell when he refuses to divulge Howie and Maria’s secret location.  Howie blames John for his father’s death.


John Stewart:  “You know, Campbell, you’re not thinking straight.  Since you became a big man, you have the idea that everything should be done the way you want it, and that’s dangerous.  Better straighten yourself out before someone does it for you.”
Wick Campbell:  “You, Stewart?”
John Stewart:  “Possibly.”

The malevolent Campbell succeeds to some degree in his war before losing control of his outlaws and being killed by John Stewart.  Then it’s up to Stewart to get rid of the ten.  Stewart discovers Frank Scavo, formerly Campbell’s chief thug, robbing the safe in Campbell’s burning saloon.  During a vicious fight between Stewart and Scavo, a wall falls on Scavo and kills him.  A double marriage follows–John Stewart and Corinne Michaels, and Howie and Maria.


Corinne Michaels (Jocelyn Brando) and John Stewart (Randolph Scott), romantically inclined.

Jocelyn Brando (Marlon’s sister) plays Corinne Michaels, John Stewart’s love interest.  Neither Scott nor Boone shows a glimmer of humor here.  Although Richard Boone was an excellent actor and could be particularly effective at playing a villain (The Tall T, Hombre, Big Jake), this is not his best work.  Boone wears a gun in a shoulder holster under his vest, in an unconventional rig for a western (but see Tyrone Power in 1939’s Jesse James for another example).  Leo Gordon is good as Frank Scavo, the chief thug among the ten wanted men.  There’s a fighting-with-dynamite scene, as in Rio Bravo four years later.  There is some overheated dialogue, and an unnecessarily twisted plot.  Slightly better than average, maybe, but not quite as good as Scott’s best work.  In color, at 80 minutes.  Two years later, Randolph Scott, Richard Boone and Skip Homeier would all reunite in The Tall T, directed by Budd Boetticher.

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Carson City

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 20, 2014

Carson City—Randolph Scott, Raymond Massey, Lucille Norman, Richard Webb, Larry Keating (1952; Dir: Andre de Toth)


Despite the name, this is not a mining western but a railroading western.  (Carson City and Virginia City were in the heart of the fabled Comstock Lode silver-mining country.)  It is not the very best work in the genre by one-eyed Hungarian director Andre de Toth (see Ramrod and Day of the Outlaw) or by star Randolph Scott during the early 1950s (see maybe Hangman’s Knot), but it is an above-average western with a reputable star and director.

Silent Jeff Kincaid (a not-so-silent Randolph Scott) has developed a reputation as a railroad construction engineer able to deal with tough terrain.  San Francisco banker William Sharon (Larry Keating) wants to build a railroad line in the mountains between between Virginia City and Carson City on the Nevada side of the Sierra Nevada range.  Kincaid knows the territory well because he grew up there.  His half brother Alan is still there, although Kincaid hasn’t been back in a dozen years or more.


The brothers (Richard Webb, Randolph Scott) meet, along with the newspaper publisher’s daughter (Lucille Norman).

As Kincaid rides back into town, he is greeted by Susan Mitchell (Lucille Norman), daughter of the local newspaper publisher.   She was only thirteen when Jeff left town, but she had a crush on him.  Working with the Mitchells is brother Alan Kincaid (Richard Webb), who has a relationship of sorts with Susan.  Banker Sharon wants the new line to avoid bandits who’ve been robbing stages, but newspaperman Mitchell and most of the rest of the town like it the way it is and don’t want the riotous changes railroaders will bring.

The bandits are led by mine owner Big Jack Davis (Raymond Massey), whose mine is played out, and by his henchman Squires (James Millican).  They try to sabotage the new line at every turn, smashing up a wagon load of equipment and killing the driver, then engineering a landslide that kills three others and traps Kincaid and several others in a blocked tunnel.  They are rescued by a joint town-railroad effort that punches through the tunnel from the other side.  Davis kills Susan’s father when he thinks he knows too much.  Some suspect Kincaid of having had a hand in Mitchell’s murder to silence opposition, and Susan isn’t sure.  Alan becomes hostile because he thinks Susan is becoming too fond of Jeff.


Kincaid (Randolph Scott) rescues Susan (Lucille Norman) from a railroad-building blast.

On the line’s opening run, there is a big celebration, but Davis plans to rob the train as it returns from Virginia City to Carson City.  Jeff gets wind of these plans and rides with miners to the site of the robbery.  As Davis and Squires are getting away with the gold bullion, Davis shoots Squires in the back and heads into the rocks.  In an extended shootout, Alan is killed but Jeff gets Davis.  In the end, it looks like Jeff gets Susan and is about to be talked into taking on the building of another tricky line of railroad.

Most of Randolph Scott’s westerns in the early 1950s were made for Columbia and Warner Bros.  They tended to be made with comparatively low budgets, and this showed up principally in the writing, the hiring of the director and the supporting players.  Here the director is better than in most, but the weaknesses are in the supporting cast.  Raymond Massey could usually do a pretty juicy villain pretending to respectability (see Dallas, for example), and he does it well here.  But Richard Webb, playing blond brother Alan, is not very memorable, nor is Warners starlet Lucille Norman—another in a string of forgettable romantic interests in Scott westerns.  The assumption seems to be that if Jeff Kincaid left Carson City twelve years ago, maybe he’s about 35 years old; but Randolph Scott, although he is aging very well, is closer to 55.  That’s about 30 years older than Lucille Norman.  During the shootout in the rocks, the figure in black leaping around the rocks with great agility is clearly not a Randolph Scott in his mid-fifties.  One co-star worth looking for:  Scott’s beautiful dark palomino Stardust.


With those grumbles, this film moves right along, and if you’re a Randolph Scott fan, it’s worth watching.  This is the second of six Randolph Scott westerns directed by Andre de Toth.  After two or three more years and four more westerns, De Toth would tire of the restrictions of low budgets and other frustrations that came with Scott westerns, and would decide to make no more of them.  But this is a pretty good one.  According to Robert Knott, author of The Films of Randolph Scott, it is “the absolute best Warner Bros. Scott western of the period.”  (Hangman’s Knot was a Columbia production.)  In color, at 86 minutes.

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Thunder Over the Plains

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 26, 2014

Thunder Over the Plains—Randolph Scott, Lex Barker, Phyllis Kirk, Charles McGraw, Hugh Sanders, Elisha Cook, Jr., Henry Hull (1953; Dir: Andre de Toth)


Cavalry, carpetbaggers and quasi-vigilantes clash in 1869 Texas, before the state was re-admitted to the Union following the Civil War.  Captain (and native Texan) Dave Porter (Randolph Scott) and wife Norah (Phyllis Kirk) are finding Texas not entirely comfortable after he fought for the Union in the late unpleasantness between the states.  In part Norah’s discomfort is not only because she isn’t a native Texan like her husband, but perhaps also because she seems much younger than he—30 years, maybe?

Porter’s commanding officer Lt. Col. Chandler (the fussy Henry Hull) is mildly sympathetic to Porter’s concerns, but mostly he doesn’t want to mess up with the brass in the two years before he can retire with his pension.  Porter doesn’t really want to exterminate the local vigilantes led by Ben Westman (Charles McGraw, with the subtle name for his character) because he sympathizes with them to some extent.  Elisha Cook, Jr., is Joseph Standish, a corrupt tax assessor, being run by the more corrupt developer and cotton broker Balfour (Hugh Sanders).


Bad guys Standish (Elisha Cook, Jr.) and Balfour (Hugh Sanders) with hands up (note the expensive clothes, obvious evidence of corruption).


Dave Porter (Randolph Scott) tries to talk things out with wife Norah (Phyllis Kirk), but she’s having trouble seeing it his way.

Matters are further complicated when cavalry reinforcements arrive, led by handsome young Capt. Bill Hodges (Lex Barker, fresh off several performances as Tarzan), who knew Norah in a former life.  He’s a smug, by-the-book type who cares nothing about the locals but only about black-and-white orders.  Westman is falsely accused of the murder of Henley, a Balfour informer, and Porter tries to buy time to find the real guilty party (Balfour).  But Hodges starts shooting prematurely and also dishonorably makes a play for Norah, and Porter finds himself a wanted man for having released Westman from custody.  Fortunately, things work out as they should, after some angst for the Porters.

Norah Porter (Phyllis Kirk):  “Whatever became of Frances Bilky?”

Capt. Bill Hodges (Lex Barker):  “I don’t know.  She married a colonel, I think.  Maybe it was a general.  At any rate, she outranks all of us.”

Norah Porter:  “But that’s wonderful!  Now she’ll have her lifelong ambition to lead the cotillion.  Well, I guess that’s what I always wanted too.”

Hodges:  “You don’t have anything like that around here, do you, Captain?”

Capt. David Porter (Randolph Scott):  “Oh, I don’t know.  The Indians come down once a month and dance for us.”


Smug Capt. Hodges (Lex Barker) prematurely starts the violence. Perhaps a Tarzan yodel would be effective here.

Westman’s friends abduct the corrupt Standish, intending to trade him for Westman before he can hang, but Col. Chandler is having none of that.  Dave Porter is about to get Standish to provide written proof that Balfour killed Henley when the increasingly sleazy Hodges raids the camp and shoots Standish, apparently trying to get Porter.  When he brings in Westman’s men and Porter, they manage to escape.  While Porter finds Standish’s evidence, Balfour and three henchmen try to kill him.  Of course they fail.  He is, after all, played by Randolph Scott.  And Hodges gets sent either (a) back to Washington in disgrace, or (b) to an assignment in dangerous Indian territory–Chandler gives conflicting signals about which it is.  And a little voice-over narration neatly wraps up Reconstruction in Texas and returns its government to the locals much more congenially than it actually happened.

The title has no apparent relationship with the movie’s content.  Randolph Scott always looked good in a cavalry uniform, with his straight-backed bearing and obvious rectitude.  Fess Parker has a brief part here (and in The Bounty Hunter) before becoming more widely known as Davy Crockett on television.  There is heavy-handed voice-over narration at the start and end.  In all, this is a decent job by one-eyed Hungarian director Andre de Toth, although it’s not his very best work.  That would be Ramrod (his first western, with Joel McCrea) and Day of the Outlaw (his last western, with Robert Ryan).  But this is one of the better efforts from his Randolph Scott period in the early 1950s, when De Toth and Scott made six westerns together.

Screenwriter Russell Hughes also did Anthony Mann’s The Last Frontier and Delmer Daves’ Jubal, as well as giant bug movie Them.  Cinematography was by Bert Glennon.  In color, at 82 minutes.


For another movie about Texas during the carpetbagger Civil War aftermath, see Three Violent People, with Charlton Heston and Anne Baxter (1956).

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Tall Man Riding

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 6, 2014

Tall Man Riding—Randolph Scott, Dorothy McGuire, Peggie Castle, John Dehner, Robert Barrat, John Baragrey, William Ching, Paul Richards (1955; Dir: Lesley Selander)


Made about the same time as the first of the Bud Boetticher-Ranown westerns, this stars Randolph Scott as Larry Madden returning to Montana.  Madden, a one-time small rancher, is returning not only to Montana but to the valley from which he had earlier been driven out by Tuck Ordway (Robert Barrat), owner of the Warbonnet Ranch, the largest spread in the valley, for daring to romance Ordway’s daughter Corinna (Dorothy Malone).  His back still bears the whip scars from that occasion.

On riding into the valley Madden rescues a well-dressed man being pursued by three gunmen.  Only when the rescue is complete does he discover that the rescued man (William Ching) is the husband Corinna has acquired since Madden’s departure five years before.  Riding on into town, Madden ventures into the saloon owned by Cibo Pearlo (John Baragrey; his character claims to be “pure Castilian”).  Pearlo received the same treatment from Ordway as Madden, but Madden doesn’t like him any better than he likes Ordway.  Pearlo’s girlfriend Reva (Peggie Castle) is the singer in the saloon and a friend of Corinna.


Madden (Randolph Scott) calls out the Peso Kid (Paul Richards).

By the end, Corinna’s husband has been killed, as has Reva (probably), Pearlo and Madden’s corrupt lawyer Luddington (John Dehner), as well as Pearlo’s Mexican gunman the Peso Kid.  Ordway’s land titles are invalid, and there’s a land rush onto what used to be his ranch.  The implication is that Madden and Corinna will get together again, although (a) she hasn’t been a widow long, (b) she’s spent most of the movie hating him, (c) there’s still bad blood with her family, and (d) Reva would be a better match for him if she’s still alive.

This is kind of an average western for Scott in non-Boetticher material.  This has some clunky writing, a contrived plot and uncertain relationship motivations, but it does have Randolph Scott, Dorothy Malone and John Dehner.  Scott is also riding his beautiful dark palomino Stardust, who shows up in many Scott movies from this period, much like James Stewart’s horse Pie does in the Anthony Mann westerns.  This was directed by prolific journeyman director Lesley Selander, although it’s better than some of his other work.  In color, 83 minutes.  The Montana landscape here looks a lot like California.

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Hangman’s Knot

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 11, 2014

Hangman’s Knot—Randolph Scott, Donna Reed, Lee Marvin, Claude Jarman, Jr., Frank Faylen, Ray Teal, Guinn Williams, Jeanette Nolan, Richard Denning, Clem Bevans (1952; Dir: Roy Huggins)


A Civil War Confederates-after-Yankee-gold film, and one of Randolph Scott’s best from his pre-Boetticher period.  (Note that the producers here are Scott and Harry Joe Brown—later the combined “Ranown” of the Boetticher-Scott films.  At this point they still needed to find a reliable director and writer for their team, although Roy Huggins does well in both those roles here.)

Eight Confederate soldiers from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia are in Nevada, led by Major Matt Stewart (Randolph Scott).  As the movie starts, they’re planning to steal a shipment of Union gold to save their all-but-defeated southern cause.  They waste no time in carrying out that plan, killing the Yankee soldiers and taking the $250,000 in gold the Yankees are transporting.  Unknown to them, however, the Civil War has ended a month before the attack, and they just hadn’t heard about it.  Now they’ve killed a bunch of Union Nevada volunteers, are in possession of a lot of gold in the middle of hostile territory, and are liable to be hung when they get caught.  The five survivors of the raid agree to try to get back south with the gold and perhaps split it up.  Stewart doesn’t want to become an outlaw, but Rolph Bainter (Lee Marvin in one of his first significant movie roles) wouldn’t mind at all.


Capturing the gold wagon is only the start.

They can trust no one, and Rolph impulsively kills Capt. Peterson, their contact who he thinks has been holding out information on them and plans to take the gold for himself.  They take Peterson’s medicine wagon with Stewart driving.  When they encounter a posse, Stewart tells them the Confederates have already been captured in a town behind them, and they move on.

That’s fine until the wagon is ruined in an accident.  The Confederates flag down a stagecoach and take it over.  The two passengers inside are Molly Hull (Donna Reed), a former Union nurse, and her fiancé Lee Kemper (Richard Denning), a cattle trader who is not all he seems.  They all take refuge in a stage line way station in a rocky mountain pass and are trapped there by the posse of “deputies” (read: gold-hungry drifters) led by Quincey (Ray Teal).  It’s pretty clear that they intend to kill the remaining Confederates and anybody else in the station and take the gold for themselves.  They capture Cass Browne (Frank Faylen), one of Stewart’s men, and drag him nearly to death.


Stewart (Randolph Scott) drives the getaway stage.

Stewart’s men are now besieged in the way station, with the aging stationmaster Plunkett (Clem Bevans) and his middle-aged daughter Mrs. Margaret Harris (Jeanette Nolan), whose husband was killed at Gettysburg and whose son was in the Union patrol guarding the stolen gold; he’s now dead, obviously.  Molly helps care for a badly wounded Confederate while the others try to figure out how they’re going to escape.  Stewart, under the guise of trying to make a deal, plants the seed with the posse that the gold is back where they left the medicine wagon.

After taking their captives’ word not to yell out, the Confederates try to escape through the back door.  But Lee breaks his word, and Stewart’s men are forced back inside.  In exchange for two bars of gold, Lee gives Stewart a token that he says will enable them to get horses, supplies and passage from the local Paiute Indians.  Molly isn’t really his fiancée, but now she’s even more disgusted with him.  Both Stewart and Rolph have eyes for Molly, but Stewart is much more gentlemanly in his approach, as we would expect from Randolph Scott.


Rolph (Lee Marvin) finds his brand of charm doesn’t work on Molly (Donna Reed), or on Stewart (Randolph Scott), either.

At one point, the “deputies” put a noose around Cass Browne’s neck, and Stewart uses dynamite for a distraction to rescue him. (Anachronism alert:  Dynamite wasn’t patented until 1867 and was not used during the Civil War.)  Some backstory emerges on young trooper Jamie Groves (Claude Jarman, Jr.):  he watched his family killed and their farm burned by Sherman’s men in Georgia, and, although he was in the raiding party after the Yankee gold, he’s never shot any one during his brief military service.  Rolph tries to seduce/attack Molly, until Stewart pulls him off. They fight, and Rolph, when he’s losing, tries to shoot an unarmed Stewart.  Jamie shoots Rolph—the first man he has ever shot.  Now they’ve lost one of their best (but most unscrupulous) fighters.

The “deputies” now try a short tunnel under the station’s floorboards, but that doesn’t work.  The second night they set fire to the station, just before a brief downpour cuts visibility.  The first out the door is Lee, who is shot down while trying to make a deal.  Taking what they can of the gold, the three remaining Confederates make a break for it.  Some of the deputies leave to hunt for the gold supposedly left by the medicine wagon; Quincey shoots Smitty (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams) and is shot and then dragged himself.  Cass Browne is shot while trying to get to the posse’s horses, but he gets another posse member.


The way station falls in flames.  From left to right:  Claude Jarman, Jr., Randolph Scott, Jeanette Nolan, Clem Bevans, Richard Denning, Donna Reed and Frank Faylen.

Finally, it’s only Stewart and Jamie left.  Now that they could actually get away with it, they choose to leave the gold at the station for Molly to turn in.  Plunkett and Margaret give them a couple of stagecoach horses for their escape and offer Jamie a place with them if he wants to come back.  Stewart and Molly make plans to reunite, too.

The film is very well-cast, and the writing (by director Roy Huggins) is very good.  Randolph Scott looks good in his dark clothing, light-colored neckerchief and worn leather jacket.  That leather jacket is one of the trademarks of Scott’s later career, like his dark palomino horse Stardust; look for him wearing it in many of his movies from this period, including Ten Wanted Men and Ride the High Country (his last film).  Marvin is very effective as a villain in an early screen role, and even Claude Jarman, Jr., known principally as a child actor in The Yearling, does well with his small part, in one of his last significant movies.  All the Confederates seem well-defined and distinct, with their own personalities, and some of the posse as well.  This is a small gem, one of the best of Randolph Scott’s pre-Boetticher years. This is rare for a movie from the early 1950s in that it allows Stewart and Jamie, at least, to get away without having to surrender to the authorities, if not with their loot intact.


Molly and Stewart, finally together, featuring Randolph Scott in his trademark jacket..

The action is good, since the stunts were overseen by second-unit director Yakima Canutt.  The stunt double for Scott during his fight scenes with Lee Marvin is a little too obvious.  Writer-director Roy Huggins never directed another movie but took his talents to television, with Maverick, Cheyenne, The Fugitive and eventually The Rockford Files.  Shot in the Alabama Hills at Lone Pine, in color, at just 81 minutes.

For other Confederates-after-Yankee-gold westerns, see Virginia City (1940) with Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott, Westbound (1959), also with Randolph Scott, and The Black Dakotas (1954).  Even Rio Lobo (1970), Howard Hawks’ last movie, may fit into that category, although it’s not a very good film.  For more Lee Marvin as a bad guy, see him in Seven Men From Now (1956), again with Randolph Scott, in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), with Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan, and The Comancheros (1961), with John Wayne, before he gets to his ultimate villain role:  as Liberty Valance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

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Randolph Scott in the Early 1950s

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 27, 2014

Randolph Scott, Western Hero


By 1946, Randolph Scott had begun to concentrate his acting career almost entirely on westerns.  He’d always done some good ones (Last of the Mohicans [1936], Frontier Marshal [1939], Virginia City [1940] and Western Union [1941], for example).  In those last two, he seemed to specialize in playing an uncommonly good bad guy, wrestling with moral dilemmas but eventually losing the girl to a less conflicted good guy.  As the decade developed he made only westerns, and seemed very at home in them, with his stern rectitude, his natural riding ability and his courtly North Carolina accent.  By 1950 Scott was the leading box office movie star in the country, ahead even of John Wayne.  Although his movies always made money, they tended to be formulaic and not terribly well written.  They are still engaging to watch for fans of westerns, but they are not really as good as some of the westerns of Joel McCrea during the same period or as good as the last westerns of Scott’s career that he made with Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah.

Boetticher referred to the early 1950s Scott movies as “the old Randolph Scott pictures,” and to the movies he made with Scott beginning in 1956 as “the real Scott pictures.”  One reason the old Randolph Scott pictures began to seem formulaic was Warner Brothers’ approach.  Ed Gorman describes Scott’s position in the industry and the production of Scott movies:


“Scott was the constant current running beneath ‘A’ westerns flourishing after the war.  He’d gone over completely to cowboy parts, profited handsomely on many he produced, and passed shooting breaks conferring with stockbrokers.  There were ongoing deals with Warners and Columbia, permitting Randy to knock off four and sometimes five a year while bigger names like Wayne, Stewart, and Cooper limited western output and spent themselves as heavily hammering out percentage memos and negative ownership.  Scott was on and off jobs within three or so weeks and traveled no further than Lone Pine to finish yearly quotas.  He was unstoppable in small towns and all his shows met payroll.  His southern accent was apple butter to kinsmen here in North Carolina where Scott grew up, and no frontiersman came more credibly of the times and places his westerns depicted ….

“[Studio head Jack] Warner had gathered his line producers and lower execs to map out the year’s program.  We’ll make the usual number of Randolph Scott westerns at seven hundred and fifty thousand apiece.  We can always count on rentals of a million and a quarter, he said.  Could I make a suggestion?, asked a young man in the room.  Why not spend a million dollars on the Scott westerns?  With improved quality, maybe they could bring back two million, he said hopefully.  Kid, you’re fired, replied Warner.  I’ll tell you why you were fired.  Those westerns are a dying market.  The public is getting all the shit-kickers they need on our TV shows.  Now, if you had said, “Why don’t we make Randy Scott westerns for half a million?”, I would have made you my assistant.


“This, unfortunately, was the backdrop against which Seven Men From Now was produced, for by then Scott grosses were declining.  Warner’s most recent with him, Tall Man Riding (1955), barely cracked a million in domestic rentals, while across-town Columbia saw just $777,000 from 1956’s 7th Cavalry.  [Warner Brothers] did try economizing to the extent of shooting in-house Shootout At Medicine Bend in black-and-white the following year, an act punishable in this instance with domestic rentals lowest of any so far–$655,000.  Budgets and profits both fell as tele-cowboys rose, with WB enthusiastically competing with itself.  Cheyenne was breaking big on ABC by 1956-57, having gone to new episodes every other week after an initial season among revolving wheels on the failed Warner Brothers Presents, and Maverick [of which Budd Boetticher directed the first three episodes] was in preparation for a 1957 premiere.”

For Gorman’s comments, see newimprovedgorman.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-randolph-scott-budd-boetticher.html

With this trend of declining revenues on his movies and competition from television, one might be forgiven for considering Randolph Scott over the hill.  Batjac, John Wayne’s production company, commissioned a script from Burt Kennedy, giving him only the title Seven Men From Now to work with.  Wayne liked the script but decided against starring in the film himself, since he had a bigger project with John Ford in the works (The Searchers).   Budd Boetticher, slated to direct, recalled a conversation with Wayne.  “I said, ‘Who do you want to play the lead, Duke?’ and he said, ‘Well, let’s use Randolph Scott, he’s through.'”

BoetticherWayneScottWayne, Scott and Boetticher.

Maybe Scott was not as through as Wayne thought.  The project meant that the now-aging Scott (58 years old in 1956) began his productive partnership with producer Harry Joe Brown, director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy, resulting in a series of excellent westerns now considered classics of the genre, including Seven Men From Now, The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station, and Decision at Sundown, among others.  These did not have big budgets and were filmed at Lone PIne, but they were better in quality than Scott’s projects for Warner Brothers and Columbia had recently been.  Seven Men From Now, for example, was made for $719,000, which could not have happened if John Wayne had starred in it according to the original plan.  It made a modest $989,000 and was not initially recognized by the public as a gem, but it led to the Boetticher-Scott partnership and a series of western classics over the next five years.

The movies below are examples of Scott’s solid cinematic output during the early 1950s.  For other good (perhaps better) Randolph Scott movies from the early 1950s, see also Hangman’s Knot, Ten Wanted Men, The Cariboo Trail, Thunder Over the Plains and The Bounty HunterIt may be that upon re-viewing, one or more of the titles briefly described below may seem worthy of its own post.  If you like Randolph Scott, these are still worth watching.  With Scott movies from the 1950s, look for a frequent, although uncredited, co-star:  his beautiful dark palomino horse, Stardust (Tall Man Riding, Seven Men From Now).  Another Scott trademark from this period is his worn leather jacket, seen in such films as Hangman’s Knot, Ten Wanted Men and his last, Ride the High Country.


Fighting Man of the Plains—Randolph Scott, Dale Robertson, Victor Jory (1949; Dir.  Edwin L. Marin)

The most notable feature of this film is that the James gang, led by an improbably well-dressed Jesse (Dale Robertson), shows up at the very end to save the life of Marshal Jim Dancer (Randolph Scott), who is otherwise about to be lynched by Jimmy Tancred for his outlaw past.  He rode with Quantrill in the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, a plot quirk that is also used in another Scott western of the period, The Stranger Wore a Gun.  Victor Jory is Dancer’s friend, rather than a villain.

The Nevadan—Randolph Scott, Dorothy Malone, Forrest Tucker, George Macready (1950; Dir:  George Douglas)

A dark-haired Dorothy Malone as Karen Galt may do the best acting in this.  Scott plays Andrew Barclay, a federal marshal, who tracks and befriends escaped outlaw Tom Tanner to find where he’s hidden his loot.   Also after the loot is local boss Ed Galt, father of Karen.  In color.

Colt .45—Randolph Scott, Zachary Scott, Lloyd Bridges, Ruth Roman, Alan Hale (1950; Dir:  Edwin L. Marin)

Clunky western full of anachronisms, supposedly set in 1851.  Randolph Scott is Steve Farrell, a firearms salesman trying to get back a couple of new .45s stolen by Zachary Scott, head of an outlaw gang.  Bridges is a miner working with the outlaws, married to Roman.  Hale is a corrupt sheriff, also working with the outlaws.


Fort Worth—Randolph Scott, Phyllis Thaxter (1950; Dir.  Edward L. Marin)

The railroad comes to Fort Worth; Randolph Scott is a fighting newspaperman exposing outlaw gangs and greedy real estate operators cheating local folks out of their rights to land the railroad wants.  In color.

Riding Shotgun—Randolph Scott, James Millican, Joan Weldon (1954; Dir:  Andre De Toth)

One of those 1950s stories in which a town doesn’t support those who are trying to defend it.  It features an early appearance by Charles Bronson, as bad guy Pinto under the name of Charles Buchinsky.  Larry Delong (Randolph Scott) rides shotgun on the stage.  When he survives a stage robbery, he is figured by the town to be either a coward or in cahoots with bandits.  So he has to go after the Maraday (James Millican) gang himself, while the town is trying to lynch him.  Delong’s romantic interest is the daughter (Joan Weldon) of Col. Flynn, the proprietor of the town’s Bank Club, which the gang is trying to rob while all the competent men in town are out in the posse chasing them.  Improbably, Delong wins.  Lots of voice-over narration by Scott.  One of several westerns that find Randolph Scott besieged (e.g., Decision at Sundown).  A better-than-average Scott movie of his pre-Boetticher period—a workmanlike job by director DeToth.  In color.


Rage at Dawn—Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker, Mala Powers, J. Carroll Naish, Edgar Buchanan, Ray Teal (1955; Dir:  Tim Whelan)

Not much of a western, since it takes place just after the Civil War (1866) in Indiana and Missouri.  James Barlow (Scott) is an undercover agent and former Confederate spy working for a Pinkerton-type agency to infiltrate a gang of bank and train robbers led by the Reno brothers.  He develops feelings for Laura (Powers), the Reno sister.  He sets them up for capture during a train robbery, but is too late to save them from an early-morning lynching while they’re in jail.  Based on a story by Frank Gruber; the Reno brothers were actual historical characters (the first train robbers in American history), as was their sister Laura.  Barlow is fictional.  In color.


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Belle of the Yukon

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 24, 2014

Belle of the Yukon—Randolph Scott, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dinah Shore, Bob Burns, Charles Winninger, William Marshall, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Robert Armstrong, Victor Kilian (1944; Dir:  William A. Seiter)


This as much a musical as a western, with new songs by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, often sung by a young and dark-haired Dinah Shore.  As the title suggests, this takes place during the Canadian Gold Rush, mostly in a saloon, in the isolated city of Malamute.  This was two years after Randolph Scott played a con man in a northern gold rush in The Spoilers (1942), and in his return he is apparently again a con man as Honest John Calhoun, owner of the largest saloon in town.

It’s not just the name; he has taken pains to establish a reputation for honesty, turning down offers from George (Robert Armstrong), a more corrupt gambler, to set up games more explicitly rigged in the house’s favor.  As the movie opens, a boatload of new female entertainers from Seattle led by Belle de Valle (Gypsy Rose Lee) show up to supplement the singing of Lettie Candless (Dinah Shore), daughter of Honest John’s manager Pop Candless (Charles Winninger).  Belle and Honest John had some history back in Seattle, where he was more obviously a con man, then known as Gentleman Jack.


Belle and Honest John meet again; Belle in her working gear.

The relationship between Belle and Honest John rekindles.  Lettie has her own relationship with Steve Atterbury (blonde William Marshall), who may or may not already be married, and also appears to be wanted by the Seattle police.  Honest John keeps trying to get him out of town so the Seattle police won’t arrive and take him and others in his employ into custody as well.  Young love keeps messing up his attempts.  Honest John also employs a professor (Victor Kilian) who purports to be able to predict when the harsh northern winter will set in.  He starts a bank to hold the gold produced by betting on the professor’s report, and it becomes a magnet for those who want to rob it, especially George and the sheriff, Mervin Maitland (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams).

Thereafter there are several currents running through the story.  (1) Is Honest John really honest now, or is he just running another scam?  (2) If it is a scam, is he scamming George and Mervin, or everybody?  (3)  Will Honest John be honest with Belle, or will he break her heart again, as he did in Seattle?  (4)  What is Steve Atterbury running from, and will young love win in the end?  Most of those questions you could answer without even seeing the movie.  The way they’re answered in the movie doesn’t always make sense.


The Young Lovers:  Dinah Shore as Lettie Candless and William Marshall as Steve Atterbury.

It’s pretty light stuff.  Some say that Gypsy Rose Lee can’t act, but she certainly has a presence.  She and Dinah Shore wear some of the smallest-waisted costumes on film, obviously with the help of corsets.  And they are elegant costumes, with the exception of one dress worn by Shore on stage which looks like she has on a long-sleeved black T-shirt under the dress.  Randolph Scott is good as Honest John Calhoun, with enough of his usual rectitude to make you think he could be honest, and with enough charm so you’d forgive him if he isn’t.  There doesn’t seem to be much heat in the rekindled romance between Belle and Honest John.  Bob Burns plays a con-man subordinate of Honest John who repeatedly gets the better of Sheriff Mervin, both played for comic relief.  While it’s not clear that this is entirely a “western comedy,” it certainly has a number of comedic elements.

In color, so it had a good budget in 1944, when color westerns were still quite rare.  It’s short, at 83 minutes, and quickly paced, so you don’t have much time to think about the plot.  The screenplay is by James Edward Grant (Angel and the Badman), a favorite writer of John Wayne.  Dinah Shore sings “Like Someone in Love” and “Sleigh Ride in July,” which both became popular generally and were covered by such other singers as Bing Crosby.

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Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 12, 2014

Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend—Randolph Scott, James Garner, Angie Dickinson, James Craig, Gordon Jones, Dani Crayne (1957; Dir:  Richard L. Bare)


Made in black and white at a time when most westerns, even such low-budget productions as Budd Boetticher’s Ranown movies starring Randolph Scott, were in color.  To the modern viewer, the attraction is the cast, with Randolph Scott in his prime, James Garner in an early movie role about the time he was starting out in television’s Maverick series, and the young Angie Dickinson two years before Rio Bravo.

Ex-cavalry Captain Buck Devlin (Randolph Scott), Sgt. James Maitland (young James Garner) and Pvt. Wilbur Clegg (Gordon Jones) are trying to find out who’s providing the faulty ammunition that’s getting soldiers killed in fights with the Sioux.  They are helped by Quakers, and claim to be Quakers themselves as they go undercover to investigate thefts in the area of Medicine Bend, and look for the poor quality powder.


Three ex-soldiers as Quakers:  Maitland (Garner), Clegg (Jones) and Devlin (Scott).

Devlin develops a romantic relationship with the much younger Priscilla King (played well by Angie Dickinson–an even greater age difference than she would have with John Wayne in Rio Bravo), and Maitland with Nell Garrison (Dani Crayne), a saloon singer who works for E.P. Clark (James Craig).  Maitland and Clegg infiltrate Clark’s shady business by taking jobs at his store. Clark, now suspicious of the three strangers in town, tries to lure Devlin into a trap, but fails.  Devlin steals Clark’s ill-gotten gains one night and gives the money back to the pioneers from whom it was originally stolen.  As matters develop, Clark is behind the robberies and shoddy merchandise, and Maitland and Clegg almost get hanged before Devlin bails them out.


Production still of Angie Dickinson, Randolph Scott and Dani Crayne.

Clark’s operation is eventually uncovered and Devlin kills him in, ironically given the film’s title, a fistfight. The film ends with Devlin preparing to ride into the sunset with Priscilla King.

Warner Brothers was worried about declining revenues on Scott movies in the mid-1950s, as well as competition from television (in which it was gleefully participating, with programs like Cheyenne and Maverick).  For those reasons, they held down costs here by shooting the film in black and white.  It’s not exactly great; for example, it’s not as good as the westerns Scott made with Boetticher about this time.  But it’s not terrible, either.  It’s almost like recent movies with comic-book heroes, with the protagonist (Scott, in this case) assuming a secret identity and fighting crime with a mask.

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