Tag Archives: Range Wars

Wyoming

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 2, 2015

Wyoming—Wallace Beery, Leo Carillo, Marjorie Main, Ann Rutherford, Joseph Calleia, Paul Kelly, Bobs Watson, Henry Travers, Chill Wills (1940; Dir: Richard Thorpe)

WyomingPoster2WyomingBeery2

This is a Wallace Beery vehicle, with Beery doing his patented old-cuss-goes-straight-through-love-of-a-child shtick, which had worked so well in The Champ with Jackie Cooper almost a decade earlier.  This time it’s set in the west, in Wyoming, to be exact.  George Custer is still alive, so it’s 1876 or so.  And Custer is still a hero, as he would be in the biopic They Died With Their Boots On (where he was played by Errol Flynn), released about the same time.  This is also the first cinematic pairing of Beery and Marjorie Main as a quasi-romantic cantankerous older couple, which they would repeat in Bad Bascomb, among several other films.  It is also a range war story, with Sitting Bull’s Sioux thrown in for good measure.

Reb Harkness (Wallace Beery) and his partner Pete Marillo (Leo Carillo) are former Confederates who have had to flee Missouri, where they are wanted.  Moving west, they rob trains but make the mistake of robbing one carrying Col. George Custer (Paul Kelly) and the officers of the 7th Cavalry, who give pursuit.  Pete takes Reb’s horse and all the money, and Reb falls in with returning Confederate Dave Kincaid, heading for his ranch in Wyoming.  (One has no idea what Kincaid has been doing in eleven years since the end of the Civil War, but he’s still wearing parts of his uniform.)

WyomingCalleiaBeery

John Buckley (Joseph Calleia) and Reb Harkness (Wallace Beery) become adversaries in the local range war.

Reb in turn takes Dave’s horse and equipment as they get close to the ranch.  Dave happens upon horsemen making off with his cattle and is shot down.  Hearing the shots, Reb turns back and finds Dave’s body.  He takes it to the ranch, where he meets Dave’s daughter Lucy (the young Ann Rutherford) and young son Jimmy (Bobs Watson).  He also meets, and is taken with, Mehitabel (Marjorie Main), the local blacksmith’s sister.  The town and the Sweetwater Valley are increasingly controlled by John Buckley (Joseph Calleia), who feels free to make off with any cattle in the vicinity and wants to acquire all the land.  Reb hopes to even things by robbing a stage with several of Buckley’s men, returning after selling the Kincaid cattle.  In a shootout, Reb kills them all; he gives the money to Lucy.  When Mehitabel shoes his horse, Reb is even more infatuated with her.

The ineffective sheriff (Henry Travers) is under the control of Buckley; he jails Reb when Reb is captured by Custer and his men.  Reb manages to escape without being shot down as Buckley planned, hiding out at the Kincaid Ranch.  Meanwhile, Buckley manages to get Custer ordered to Laramie while he finishes stealing all the valley’s cattle.  Reb leads the ranchers in taking them back, and Buckley retaliates by offering Sitting Bull’s Sioux guns for taking care of Reb and his allies.  As they are besieged on the Kincaid Ranch, Custer and the cavalry ride to the rescue.  They take Buckley into custody, and look the other way with Reb.  So Reb appears to get away with his previous life of crime, unlike most movies of the time.  Custer says he’s off to the Little Bighorn to deal with Sitting Bull, and we know how that ends.

WyomingMainBeery

Marjorie Main and Wallace Beery begin a cinematic association that continues for several more movies.

Beery was a decent actor, as demonstrated by his ability to depict good relationships with children despite the fact he couldn’t stand them and treated child actors badly.  Eighteen-year-old Ann Rutherford, who had been a child actor, was doing ingenue roles in Andy Hardy movies and playing Scarlett O’Hara’s sister in Gone With the Wind.  She did not get along well with Beery, either, but he was a much bigger star.  This kind of story played better in the 1940s than it does now, and the aging Beery (then 55) played variations on it for the rest of his career.  Malta-born Joseph Calleia was a good actor who often played villains in movies; he has better material in Four Faces West and Branded, however, where he played more ambiguous characters.  The blacksmith Lafe is played by an uncredited Chill Wills.  An alternative early title was Bad Man of Wyoming, simplified to just Wyoming.

Director Richard Thorpe had made 50 silent westerns and worked on into the 1960s.  MGM put more money into the production of this film than it did into most westerns, and it was shot on location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  In plot and location, this has eerie similarities to Shane more than a decade later. And it also has similarities to Beery’s own Bad Bascomb (1946) with Margaret O’Brien and Marjorie Main, also shot in Jackson Hole.  To modern audiences it seems kind of old-fashioned, and not just because of the cinematic technology of 1940.  In black and white, at 88 minutes.

WyomingGrp

The earliest western shot in Jackson Hole is said to have been the silent movie The Cowboy and the Lady (1922), with ingenue Mary Miles Minter.  Part of Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail (1931) had been shot there, with wagons being lowered down cliffs into the valley.  Beery was so taken with the place he built a cabin on the shores of Jackson Lake and even participated in a protest with local ranchers in 1943.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Young Guns

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 22, 2014

Young Guns—Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko, Terence Stamp, Jack Palance, Terry O’Quinn, Patrick Wayne (1988; Dir: Christopher Cain)

YoungGunsPoster1YoungGunsPoster2

This was an attempt to combine the youth movies of the 1980s (e.g., The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) with the western genre and the story of Billy the Kid.  The result was surprisingly successful at the box office.  Many historical elements of The Kid’s story are here:  the murder of John Tunstall (Terence Stamp), the background of the Lincoln County War, the siege at the house of Alexander McSween (Terry O’Quinn), and the role of L.G. Murphy (Jack Palance) and the Santa Fe Ring in New Mexico Territory of the time.  But the details are not particularly accurate and the story is not complete, leading to the eventual sequel Young Guns II (1990).

In 1878 transplanted Englishman John Tunstall owns a ranch outside of Lincoln.  He collects ne’er-do-well young men, not for immoral purposes (despite an accusation by the obnoxious Murphy) but to give them jobs and civilize them, teaching them basic manners and to read and write.  His most recent acquisition is wild young William Bonney (Emilio Estevez).  As tensions rise between Tunstall and the Murphy-Dolan ring that runs Lincoln County, Murphy’s men, including the Lincoln County sheriff, blatantly murder Tunstall on the road to his ranch.  In reaction to the killing, his young men become “regulators”—a traditional word used by vigilantes in range wars to give themselves an air of real authority.  Led by Tunstall’s foreman Dick Brewer (Charlie Sheen), who tries to keep them respectable, they include:  Billy, who is wild, good with guns, bad with authority and erratic; Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland), who is more educated than the others. writes bad poetry and is infatuated with Murphy’s young Chinese captive; José Chavez y Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips), half Navajo and half Mexican, good with knives; Charley Bowdre (Casey Siemaszko), whose skills are pugilistic and who would like to get married; Dirty Steve Stephens (Dermot Mulroney), the least interesting and articulate (and filthiest) member of the group; and J. McCloskey (Geoffrey Blake), who may be a spy for Murphy.

YoungGunsTunstallBilly

Billy (Emilio Estevez) shows off his gun skills to an unimpressed Tunstall (Terence Stamp).

Billy [after shooting a Texan in a bar who was boasting that he would kill Billy the Kid]:  “How many does that make, Doc?  25?”

Doc Scurlock:  “Five.”

Billy [self-satisfied]:  “We’ll call it ten.”

After Billy kills Henry Hill and starts a gun battle that results in other deaths, the gang loses any vestige of respectability.  Billy kills McCloskey.  Bounty hunter Buckshot Roberts (Brian Keith) comes after them.  Dick is killed by Roberts, and several others are wounded in a wild shootout.  Historically Roberts was killed by Billy and his friends, but it’s not clear that happens here.  Billy becomes the de facto leader of the group and kills the corrupt Sheriff Brady, telling him, “Reap the whirlwind, Brady!  Reap it!”–a Biblical reference.  Pat Garrett (Patrick Wayne) warns the Kid about a plot to kill Tunstall’s partner and lawyer Alex McSween (Terry O’Quinn) in Lincoln.  Garrett says he’s the Kid’s friend (historically, he may have been), but it’s not clear whether he’s giving a real warning or setting up the Kid and his gang for an ambush.

They take the bait, though, and go to Lincoln to warn McSween.  They’re barely inside McSween house when it is surrounded by Murphy’s men, bounty hunter John Kinney and his men and eventually a cavalry unit.  The siege carries on into the next day (historically the siege lasted five days), and the besiegers set fire to the house.  The gang tries to break out, and they are all at least wounded.  Billy is shot a couple of times but kills several, including Murphy (not historical) and gets away.  Scurlock escapes with a young Chinese woman who had been held captive by Murphy.  Chavez y Chavez makes his getaway and heads west.  Stephens dies, as does the newly-married Bowdrie, but not before killing Kinney.  (Historically, Bowdre did not die at the siege.)  McSween tries to surrender but is cut down by a gatling gun.  The seige ended the Lincoln County War, but not the Kid’s career, which had another three colorful years to go.  Although there is narration telling what became of the three who lived, matters are now set up for a sequel with another director.

YoungGunsRegulators

The Regulators:  Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland), Brewer (Charlie Sheen), Chavez y Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips), Billy (Emilio Estevez), Charley Bowdrie (Casey Siemaszko), Dirty Steve (Dermot Mulroney).

Alex McSween:  “I’m not leaving my house.”

Billy:  “Alex, if you stay they’re gonna kill you.  And then I’m gonna have to to go around and kill all the guys who killed you.  That’s a lot of killing.”

Billy and his friends (real historical characters) are depicted as juvenile delinquents with a grievance, and Billy as played by Emilio Estevez has a wild, psychotic edge to him (with a bowler hat).  As Dirty Steve puts it, “He ain’t all there, is he?”  Estevez’ Billy is more literate than the historical Billy probably was.  Doc Scurlock and Chavez y Chavez are the most notable of the gang.  Dermot Mulroney’s character is not very interesting, but he can do much better; see him in Bad Girls, for example.  Casey Siemaszko is good as Charley Bowdre.  Terence Stamp is excellent as Tunstall, and Palance plays bad-guy Murphy broadly.  The cameos with Brian Keith (as Buckshot Roberts) and Patrick Wayne (soon-to-be-sheriff Pat Garrett) are fun, but Wayne would be replaced by William Peterson in the sequel.

If you look quickly, you can catch an uncredited cameo by Tom Cruise, who was visiting the set and put on a mustache and costume.  He’s the first man shot by Charlie Bowdre during the siege at the McSween house.  This was probably the peak of the career of director Christopher Cain (born Bruce Doggett in South Dakota), who also directed The Next Karate Kid and the execrable western September Dawn (a version of the Mountain Meadows massacre).  Filmed in New Mexico, in color, at 107 minutes. Rated R for violence and lots of killing.

YoungGunsEstevezBillyKidHistorical

Emilio Estevez is somewhat glitzier than the real historical Kid, as is usually the case in movies about Billy.  He joins a black-leather clad Robert Taylor and blue-eyed Paul Newman as cinematic Billys.  For historical Billy, you might start with Robert Utley’s Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life (1991) and High Noon in Lincoln: Violence on the Western Frontier (1990).  For readability, try Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, by Michael Wallis (2007).  He was said to have killed 21 men, one for each year of his life, but the best count is around eight, more or less.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

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)

Ten Wanted MenTenWantedTall

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.

TenWantedScottTenWantedFren

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.

TenWantedBrandoScott

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.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Cattle King

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 14, 2014

Cattle King—Robert Taylor, Robert Middleton, William Windom, Ray Teal, Robert Loggia, Joan Caulfield, Malcolm Atterbury, Richard Devon (1963; Dir: Tay Garnett)

CattleKingPosterCattleKingGerm

An aging Robert Taylor plays the eponymous Cattle King:  Sam Brassfield, owner of the Teton Ranch in 1883 Wyoming Territory, presumably in Jackson Hole.  Early scenes set up depredations on the range, with masked men cutting fences, stampeding cattle and shooting a Teton Ranch hand in the back.

It turns out that Clay Matthews (a hefty Robert Middleton), another rancher based in Cheyenne is trying to foment a range war to clear the area so he can bring in cheap Texas cattle to flood the area.  Opposing Brassfield are flinty sheepman Abe Clevenger (Malcolm Atterbury) and weak-willed Harry Travers (William Windom), whose sister Sharleen (Joan Caulfield) agrees to marry Brassfield in the course of the movie.  Brassfield is supported by longtime foreman Ed Winters (Ray Teal) and Mexican cowboy/gunhand Johnny Quatro (a young Robert Loggia).

CattleKingTaylor

The Cattle King of the title, Sam Brassfield (Robert Taylor).

The story is muddied by the passage of Pres. Chester Arthur (Larry Gates in lots of sidewhisker makeup and wig) through the state, from Cheyenne to Yellowstone Park.  Whenever he shows up, everything gets ponderous.  Eventually the Travers siblings are shot by Matthews’ gunman Vince Bodine (Richard Devon), and Sharleen is killed.  It brings on a final unconvincing showdown between Brassfield and Matthews, who doesn’t look like he’s any hand with a gun to rival Brassfield.

Clunky dialogue by writer Thomas Thompson (also an associate producer), arbitrary plot turns, too many unnecessary characters, relentless and unconvincing pacifism by Brassfield, meaningless presidential interludes, and little sense of Wyoming geography (Jackson Hole and Cheyenne are at opposite ends of a sizeable state) work against the film.  The settings look more like California (which they are) than Wyoming and the Tetons.  In color, at 90 minutes.

This doesn’t give Robert Taylor his best material to work with.  For better Taylor westerns, see Ambush, Devil’s Doorway, Westward the Women and The Last Hunt, among others.  Robert Middleton was an exceptional character actor, sometimes a bad guy as he is here, but often benevolent or a character of mixed motivations.  See him also in The Law and Jake Wade (again with Robert Taylor), Friendly Persuasion, and Big Hand for the Little Lady, among others.  Robert Loggia is young-ish here; see him as aging outlaw Frank Jarrett in Bad Girls thirty years later.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Sea of Grass

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 1, 2014

The Sea of Grass—Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Melvyn Douglas, Harry Carey, Robert Walker, Phyllis Thaxter, Edgar Buchanan, Ruth Nelson (1947; Dir: Elia Kazan)

SeaofGrassTallSeaofGrassFren

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were one of the great pairs from Hollywood’s golden age, appearing in nine films together.  This one is based on a 1936 novel by Conrad Richter, reckoned a considerable literary light in his time.  The director, on only his second movie, was Elia Kazan, who turned out to be one of the greats.  There’s a terrific supporting cast, and an excellent screenwriter in Marguerite Roberts (Ambush, True Grit).  A superb cinematographer is on board in Harry Stradling.  Should have been a recipe for a classic, right?  Well, it’s probably one of the two least-watched of the Tracy-Hepburn collaborations, along with Keeper of the Flame.  This is a family saga-range war story, albeit one with more literary roots than is normal for such tales, and it’s also an easterner-comes-west-and-doesn’t-get-it melodrama.

In 1880, Lutie Cameron (Katharine Hepburn) of St. Louis decides to marry Col. James B. Brewton (Spencer Tracy) of Salt Fork, New Mexico Territory after a short courtship in St. Louis.  He’s the biggest rancher in the Salt Fork area, consisting of high (7,000 feet) plains he calls “the sea of grass.”  Brewton owns the water holes in the sea of grass, but he does not have title to the thousands upon thousands of acres he uses as grazing land for his many cattle.

SeaofGrassArriving

Lutie Cameron (Katharine Hepburn) arrives in Salt Fork.

Brewton was unable to come to St. Louis for the wedding because he’s embroiled in a trial with Brice Chamberlain (Melvyn Douglas) as opposing counsel.  A homesteader was shot and driven off his 160 acres, and Chamberlain’s representing him in suing the supposed assailants.  As Lutie arrives, she meets Chamberlain in the local hotel while looking for Brewton.  He is obviously taken with her.  As he returns to court, the jury finds that the homesteader was attacked by “parties unknown.”  Brewton reiterates his view that the high sea of grass won’t work for farming (much as John Wayne’s G.W. McClintock would put it in the comedy McLintock! twenty years later).

Lutie and Jim are married in town, and Jim takes her out to the ranch, where the nearest neighbor is fifteen miles away.  She doesn’t get Jim’s insistence on keeping the land as grassy range, but she wins over Jeff, the ranch’s crusty cook (Edgar Buchanan).  The Brewtons have a daughter, Sarah Beth, and Lutie talks Jim into allowing her friend Selina (Ruth Nelson) and husband Paul to homestead, although he says they will only last six months.  During a winter blizzard, the Brewton cattle knock down Paul’s fences; he shoots one and is beaten by Brewton riders.  Selina loses her baby and terminates her relationship with Lutie.  Chamberlain tries to talk Lutie into running away with him.

SeaofGrassArguingSeaofGrassDouglasHep

Brewton (Spencer Tracy) and Lutie (Katharine Hepburn in white) argue; Chamberlain (Melvyn Douglas) tries to romance Lutie (Hepburn in black).

After a couple of years (one character or another frequently announces that it’s been two years since the previous scene), Lutie takes off to Denver to shop and perhaps to take an extended break.  While there, she encounters Chamberlain at the historic Brown Palace Hotel where she’s staying, and they indulge in a night of passion.  But Lutie discovers that she loves Brewton and goes back to Salt Fork, only to realize that she’s pregnant with Chamberlain’s child.  When she gives birth to a boy, she tells Doc (Harry Carey) and Jim the truth while she’s apparently out of her head.  Things are never the same between them again.  She goes back to St. Louis after another two years; Brewton keeps the children.

Chamberlain is appointed a federal judge and sees that the range is opened to homesteaders with the support of the cavalry.  At first they do all right, when there’s a lot of rain.  But after two or three years of drought, their farms blow away and there’s no longer grass to hold the soil down.  The Brewton children grow up; Sarah Beth (Phyllis Thaxter) goes east to school, and son Brock (Robert Walker) becomes a wild hand, good with a gun.

When Sarah Beth comes home, she finds that Brock is largely out of control.  His birth circumstances are an open secret in Salt Fork, and when another gambler brings it up during a card game, Brock shoots him.  He jumps bail despite Jim’s asking him not to, and a posse finally hunts him down about the time Lutie comes back to Salt Fork.  After fighting it out with the posse, Brock dies in Jim’s arms, and Jim and Lutie are finally reconciled.  Presumably the settlers did not survive the drought on the sea of grass.

SeaofGrassGambling

Brock Brewton (Robert Taylor) gets into a dangerous game.

For a couple whom we know to have been romantically involved for years, including while this movie was made, and who had superb chemistry in other films, the relationship of Tracy and Hepburn is curiously flat throughout this one.  We never see what brought the Brewtons together; they have few interests in common and disagree on a big one that affects Col. Brewton.  There are several occasions when it seems like these people could resolve matters between them if they would just talk to each other about them.  When they don’t, that tends to be frustrating in a movie.  Tracy, who was a superb actor, doesn’t show much range in this film.  Hepburn, as Lutie, is not terribly sympathetic, in part because the writing doesn’t play to her usual strengths and independence.  If you like melodrama, this may be your cup of tea, though.

This was director Elia Kazan’s only western.  In his autobiography, his comment on it was, “It’s the only picture I’ve ever made that I’m ashamed of.  Don’t see it.”  And in the 65 years since it was made, viewers have largely followed that advice.  It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t really come to life.  This is not the best work for either the fledgling director or the writer.  At the time this was made, Kazan was a talented stage director and nobody knew then that he would turn out to be a great screen director.  He didn’t really demonstrate that with this film, and he went back to the stage for a few years.

SeaofGrassKazanHepTracy

Director Elia Kazan confers with Hepburn and Tracy behind the scenes.

During filming, director Kazan complained that Kate kept changing her character’s outfit in every scene.  Costume designer Walter Plunkett, who had been dressing Hepburn and her characters since 1933, explained, “It’s because of Spence.  He’s the love of her life, and she wants him to think she’s prettier than any other girl.”  Kazan explained, “I mean in the movie.”   Plunkett responded, “The movie!  I mean in real life.  That’s what matters.”  We don’t see that chemistry in this film, though.

For Harry Carey, this was the next-to-last of his movies, made just before Red River was released.  He carries kind of a folksy authenticity, as he always did, in playing Doc Reid.  A long-time giant of the screen, he had made 132 westerns, many of which from the silent era are now lost.  Melvyn Douglas is good in a role that calls for him to be both self-righteous (about the homesteaders) and a bit slimy in trying to make off with another man’s wife.  He’s hard to like, but it’s believable that there could be a character like that.  Edgar Buchanan is excellent as the cook-cum-nursemaid Jeff.  Both Ray Teal and Hank Worden have small, uncredited roles in this, too.  Robert Walker would play a similar role again in 1951’s Vengeance Valley, with Burt Lancaster as the good brother to Walker’s wild, amoral brother.

SeaofGrassHepBetween

Katharine Hepburn with costume designer Walter Plunkett, staying pristine between scenes.

Brice Chamberlain: “Why do women insist on loving men for what they want them to be instead of what they are?”  [Seems like this ought to be a line for Jim Brewton, but he never says anything this vulnerable, so Chamberlain says it for him.]

For Tracy in better westerns, check him out in Northwest Passage (1940, set during the French and Indian War of the 1750s) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, set in a modern west).  Hepburn made no other westerns for another 25 years until she made Rooster Cogburn with John Wayne, a sequel of sorts to True Gritor and/or a remake of The African Queen, depending on how you want to look at it.

SeaofGrassSpanSeaofGrassIt

Watching this movie, the cinematography is occasionally dazzling, with small wagons against immense, brightly lit rock formations.  Even the shots of the sea of grass are persuasive.  This is one of those that, if made just a few years later, would have been shot in color and in widescreen format, which would have made it better.   Although Harry Spradling was a superb cinematographer, nominated thirteen times for Academy Awards, he’s known much more for shooting large scale musicals, including My Fair Lady, Hello Dolly and Funny Girl, as well as A Streetcar Named Desire and many others.

Music is by Hubert Stodhart.   Excellently shot in black and white, at 123 minutes.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Ramrod

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 4, 2014

Ramrod—Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Donald Crisp, Charles Ruggles, Preston Foster, Arleen Whelan, Ian MacDonald, Ray Teal, Lloyd Bridges, Wally Cassell, Nestor Paiva (1947; Dir: Andre de Toth)

RamrodPoster2RamrodPoster3

“Men are so easy!… A little lace, a pair of lips, a touch, and they kill for you!”  Despite the lurid line on the poster (which nobody says in the film), this is a very good western.

This was the first of eleven westerns directed by one-eyed Hungarian-born Andre de Toth, and it was one of his two best. Star Joel McCrea was moving into the phase of his career during which he would, as Randolph Scott had done, choose to make mostly westerns.  He and Veronica Lake (now Mrs. De Toth) had starred early in the decade in Preston Sturges’ excellent Sullivan’s Travels, and now, as her career waned, they reunited in a very good western directed by her husband.  It was based on a story by Luke Short, usually a good sign for a western, especially in the late 1940s.

There’s a lot of backstory as the movie starts, and a large cast of characters with complicated relationships.  The ramrod of the title is Dave Nash (Joel McCrea), who is coming back to himself after an extended period of heavy drinking.  His wife died giving birth to a son, and the son died in a cabin fire, triggering Nash’s descent into alcoholism.  Three weeks before the film begins, sympathetic sheriff Jim Crew (Donald Crisp) had gotten him a job with Walt Shipley (Ian MacDonald), who plans to bring sheep into the area and break up the cattle ranchers’ monopoly on the valley’s free range.

RamrodLakeMcCrea

Stars Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea behind the scenes.

The cattle ranchers are led by the fierce Frank Ivey (Preston Foster), and they include Ben Dickason (Charles Ruggles).  He and his strong-willed daughter Connie (Veronica Lake) are on the outs; he wants her to marry Frank Ivey, and she’s engaged to Walt Shipley instead.  She has moved out of her father’s ranch house and into the local hotel.  As the movie starts, Shipley is about to take the stage out of town to buy sheep, and Ivey has vowed to stop him.

It’s night as the stage is about to leave; Dave is in front of the hotel to back up his boss with his gun as the occasion presents itself.  But Walt can’t stand up to Ivey, and he folds.  He disappears from town quietly, leaving his Circle 66 ranch to Connie.  Red Cates (a young Lloyd Bridges), one of Ivey’s riders, prods Dave in a bar; they fight, and Dave wins and almost comes to blows with Frank Ivey, too.  Connie plans to run Shipley’s ranch and hires Dave as her foreman (or “ramrod”), figuring he’s one of the few who’ll stand up to Ivey.

RamrodDeForeMcCrea

Bill Schell (Don DeFore) is recruited by his friend Dave Nash (Joel McCrea).

In turn, Dave hires four or five more riders, beginning with his long-time friend Bill Schell (Don DeFore).  Schell has a long-term grudge against Ivey, and few scruples about staying on the right side of the law.  He brings in the other riders, who all have issues with Ivey.  When Ivey and his men burn down the former Shipley ranch house and buildings while Connie is retrieving things from her father’s house, Dave moves her into a nearby stone line cabin used by Ivey.  When they file for title to the line cabin, Ivey and his men show up there, and Ivey orders Virg (Wally Cassell) to beat Curley (Nestor Paiva), who is there to give Connie protection.  The camera work is tight on Virg’s face, managing to convey the brutality of the beating without showing the actual blows.

Connie takes what’s left of Curley into town, where he is cared for by Rose Leland (Arleen Whelan), the local dressmaker.  She and Dave have a relationship of sorts, but now there are questions by some, including Ben Dickason, about the nature of Dave’s relationship with Connie.  Dave insists on allowing Jim Crew to follow the law as they plan the next step after Curley’s beating.  However, Bill Schell finds Ivey’s ramrod Ed Burma (Ray Teal, in an early role although he was not young even then) in a livery stable.  Schell prods him into a fight and guns him down.

RamrodFrankRidesUp

Frank Ivey (Preston Foster) and his men ride up to the line cabin now taken over by Connie (Veronica Lake).

Connie senses Dave’s reluctance to do anything downright dishonest, so she approaches Bill Schell to stampede her herd and blame it on Ivey.  As Sheriff Jim Crew goes to arrest Ivey, Ivey shoots him down.  When he hears about it, Dave finds Virg and kills him in a gunfight, taking a bad wound to the shoulder himself.  The dying Virg tells him it was Ivey himself who killed the sheriff, not Virg.  The doc fixes Dave up at Rose’s, but Bill has to get him out of town before Ivey finds him in such helpless condition.  Curley finally dies from the effects of his beating.

Bill hides Dave in a mine in the hills, but Connie rides there to take them supplies.  Ivey’s men follow her. Dave is healing, but not yet enough, and Bill puts him on Connie’s horse and sends him one direction.  He takes Dave’s horse and heads higher into the mountains, where Ivey and two other men track him.  Ivey kills Schell with two shotgun blasts to the back.  As Dave makes it back to town, Ben Dickason tells him how Schell was killed.  With his arm still in a sling, Dave takes a shotgun into the street to call Ivey out.  Ivey still thinks of Dave as a drunk and taunts him about how close he’ll have to get to make the shotgun work.  He does.  The question then remains:  Will Dave take up with Connie, who now has the way clear to her own ranching empire, or is he still more interested in Rose?

RamrodShowdown

Dave Nash and Frank Ivey finally have it out, shotgun against pistol.

Joel McCrea is excellent as the reforming alcoholic Dave, and Veronica Lake has a very strong role as the scheming Connie.  At first she’s pushed into using whatever she can, but we can see that she comes to relish using all the tools at her disposal.  This was her only western, but she’s good in it. Use of her as a femme fatale nudges this into the noir western category.  Don DeFore is very good as the genial, good-with-a-gun but not terribly scrupulous Bill Schell, and a lot of the smaller roles are well played, too.  Preston Foster is a standard despicable villain as Frank Ivey.  Charles Ruggles, often a genial or comedic father figure (see Ruggles of Red Gap, for example), is still genial but not commanding as Connie’s father.  Arleen Whelan is pretty good but not great as Rose the dressmaker, although it’s kind of a thankless role, since she’s mostly playing the counterpoint to Lake’s Connie.  This and Kidnapped (her first starring role) were the high points of her career.

This complex western cost more than $1 million to make in 1947, and it didn’t make that back at the time.  However, modern audiences tend to like it better than those of 1947.  It’ll make you wonder why you haven’t heard more about it.  It’s available on Blu-Ray since 2012.

RamrodLakeRamrodSpan

A still of the sultry Veronica Lake in her role as Connie Dickason.  You can see why the Spanish title was La Mujer de Fuego (“Woman of Fire”).

Although there’s a lot going on, the story is economically told in 95 minutes.  The dialogue is well-written, crisp and intelligent.  There is both good camera work and excellent western scenery, since the film was shot in southern Utah in and around Zion National Park.  Cinematography is in black and white by Russell Harlan, who also shot Red River, The Big Sky and Rio Bravo for Howard Hawks, not to mention Lust for Life and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Joel McCrea was in several strong westerns about this time in the late 1940s, including Colorado Territory, Four Faces West, Stars in My Crown and The Outriders.  Andre de Toth went on to make a series of westerns, many of them starring Randolph Scott, until he burned out on them in the mid-1950s.  Several of them, such as The Bounty Hunter, Riding Shotgun and Carson City, are well worth watching.  His last western was Day of the Outlaw in 1959, with Robert Ryan and Burl Ives. His first (this one) and his last were his best.  If you like his work, look for his well-known 3-D horror classic, House of Wax with Vincent Price.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

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)

TallManRidingTallTallManRidingIt

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.

TallManRidingVaughn

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.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Tribute to a Bad Man

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 23, 2014

Tribute To A Bad Man—James Cagney, Irene Papas, Don Dubbins, Stephen McNally, Lee Van Cleef, Vic Morrow, Royal Dano (1956; Dir:  Robert Wise)

TributePosterTributeIt

King Lear-like ranching baron Jeremy Rodock (James Cagney) is under siege on his Wyoming territory ranching empire, by horse thieves, a former partner (James Bell) and his own recently-hired shifty foreman McNulty (Stephen McNally).  McNulty has designs on (and perhaps a history with) Rodock’s live-in Greek mistress Jocasta (Irene Pappas), a former dance hall girl from Cheyenne. 

Under attack and wounded by horse thieves on his own range, Rodock is rescued by a young easterner Steve Millar (Don Dubbins) and promptly gives him a job.  Rodock is obsessed with vengeance and his own brand of frontier justice, and young Miller becomes obsessed with Jocasta.  

TributeCagPapRodock and Jocasta.

On one encounter with the thieves when they try to kill him, Rodock’s men shoot the former partner and hang the leader of the thieves.  The partner’s son (Vic Morrow) takes up with Rodock’s crooked foreman and the rest of the thieves, but they, too, are caught.  Rodock foregoes his usual vengeance, though, and Jocasta comes back to him.  He doesn’t have Lear’s tragic end.  His empire isn’t destroyed, he gets the woman back, and his enemies (except the partner’s embittered son) are dealt with.  The young easterner goes off into the west. 

One assumes the “bad man” of the title refers to Cagney’s Rodock, but it doesn’t really fit him.  The original title was “Jeremy Rodock.”  He’s more misguided than bad, and he’s not entirely wrong.  Cagney’s eastern accent is a bit jarring, and the Greek Papas doesn’t particularly fit in a western.  Don Dubbins is not very interesting as Rodock’s young protege.  But it seems to work nevertheless.  Lee Van Cleef is here, not as a bad guy but just one of Rodock’s wranglers (named Fat Jones), as is Royal Dano (Abe).  A late Cagney film, this is the last of his three westerns (The Oklahoma Kid and Run for Cover are the other two). 

TributeCagRifleAttacked on the range.

Cagney was a great actor, but he was never as persuasive in a western as he was in a gangster film or even a musical.  This does not have a dazzling script.  It was a big budget movie filmed in Colorado in widescreen gorgeous color (by Robert Surtees), with a big-time director.  Robert Wise didn’t do many westerns, but he did this and Blood on the Moon (1948), a western noir which is better.  Music is by the Hungarian Miklos Rosza, who tended to do epics.

For Shakespearean overtones, compare it with Jubal, which came out the same year.  This was originally cast with Spencer Tracy and Grace Kelly, but Tracy had problems with director Robert Wise and Kelly married Rainier of Monaco. 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Westerner

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 8, 2014

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

WesternerPosterWesternPoster2

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

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

WesternerBrennan

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

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

WesternerLockHair2

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

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

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

WesternerMtgLillie

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

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

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

WesternerSpanWesternerSpan2

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

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

gary cooper 1940 - by robert coburnWesternerBrennanCoop

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

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

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

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Sons of Katie Elder

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 29, 2014

The Sons of Katie Elder—John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman, Michael Anderson, Jr., Paul Fix, James Gregory, Martha Hyer, George Kennedy, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, Percy Helton, John Doucette (1965; Dir:  Henry Hathaway)

SonsKatiePosterSonsKatieSpan

There is no Katie Elder in this film; she has died and the movie starts with her ca. 1898 funeral in Clearwater, Texas.  Three of her four sons are in attendance, with the oldest watching from a nearby hill.  The four brothers are John (John Wayne), a well-known gunman who hasn’t been home in ten years; Tom (Dean Martin), a gambler who has also been gone for years; Matt (Earl Holliman); and Bud (Michael Anderson, Jr.), who has been going to the Colorado School of Mines for the last year but whose continued education there is in question.  None of them appear to have formed their own families or relationships that we see.

Katie had been living in semi-poverty since the death of her husband Bass Elder several months previously under suspicious circumstances.  Her former ranch is now owned by large landowner and gunshop proprietor Morgan Hastings (James Gregory), who is outwardly friendly but worried about John Elder’s presence.  He has hired gunman Curley (George Kennedy) to keep an eye on John’s comings and goings.

SonsKatieBros The Elder brothers.

Meanwhile the Elder brothers are trying to find out more about their mother’s circumstances and death.  Her best friend was a young woman named Mary Gordon (Martha Hyer), who is given to reminding the brothers how little they had been around.  Local sheriff Billy Wilson (Paul Fix) also worries that the brothers will stir up trouble, although he also worries about his own overzealous deputy Ben Latta (Jeremy Slate), who tends to see things in uncomfortably black-and-white terms.

The Elder brothers are finding that (a) their mother had a lot of grit and everybody liked her, and (b) their father was shot in the back after losing the ranch to Morgan Hastings in a card game.  A man from Pecos who had corresponded with Kate Elder about a herd of horses stops by, and the Elders agree to take 200 horses and drive them to Colorado for sale, to finance Bud’s continued college career.

SonsKatieWayne Battle at the bridge.

While they are gone to Pecos to get the horses, Billy rides out to where they are staying and Morgan Hastings shoots him from a distance with a rifle.  As the Elders return with the horses, they are taken prisoner by a posse and put in jail, where they continue to argue over how to respond.  John Elder seems to win the discussion, largely by virtue of being the oldest and being John Wayne.  While being transported by wagon, they are ambushed by a Hastings-led party.  They manage to get a few weapons and fire back; deputy Ben Latta and Matt are killed, and John gets Curley.  John, Tom and Bud make it back to town to get a doctor for Bud, who has been shot.

In town, Tom captures Hastings’ weaselly son Dave (Dennis Hopper).  Dave doesn’t really tell them anything, but Hastings shoots him and they find out that Hastings had cheated and killed their father.  In the end, Tom is badly wounded and John ignites and explodes the gun shop while Hastings is inside.  (In his gun battle with Hastings, it appears that John Elder gets 14 shots out of his Colt Peacemaker without reloading.  The final shot hits and ignites a barrel of gunpowder in Hastings’ gun shop.)

John Elder:  “All we want to do is make you end up rich and respectable.  You fight us every step of the way.”

Bud Elder:  “I don’t want to be rich and respectable. I want to be just like the rest of you.”

SonsKatieBelgWide

In some ways, this is a typical “unscrupulous land baron trying to take over the entire range” movie (see The War Wagon, for example, and any number of other such westerns).  It reunites John Wayne and Dean Martin from Rio Bravo; Martin isn’t as good in this one.  Earl Holliman is good but his part is underwritten; Michael Anderson as youngest brother Bud is largely just annoying.  Michael Anderson Jr. was in this and as a young soldier in Major Dundee before he drifted off to television work.  James Gregory and George Kennedy are good as patently bad guys.  The Martha Hyer character is unnecessary and doesn’t really do much.  There is a good cast of supporting character actors:  Paul Fix, John Doucette, Strother Martin, Percy Helton, Rhys Williams, John Qualen et al.  Rodolfo Acosta, who often played Indian chiefs (Hondo, Trooper Hook), is here one of Hastings’ gunmen.  Chuck Roberson, one of Wayne’s favorite stand-ins and stuntmen, is present as well.

This was Wayne’s first movie after having a cancerous lung removed.  He was not in good health, and he looks significantly older at 58 (playing a character who is supposedly around 40) than he had in The Comancheros four years earlier.  In general, this is a middle-of-the-pack John Wayne western from the 1960s—good enough but not remarkable.  It was remade in a modern urban setting with Mark Wahlberg as Four Brothers in 2005.

Shot in color in Durango, Mexico.  Cinematography is excellent, by Lucien Ballard.  Good music is by Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, The Comancheros).  The hearse featured at the funeral of Katie Elder currently resides in front of the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World.  In western history, there was a famous Kate Elder:  “Big Nose” Kate Elder, a prostitute of Hungarian origins and girlfriend of legendary gunfighter-gambler-dentist Doc Holliday.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone