Tag Archives: Richard Boone

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.

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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.

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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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A Thunder of Drums

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 4, 2014

A Thunder Of Drums—Richard Boone, George Hamilton, Luana Patten, James Douglas, Arthur O’Connell, Slim Pickens, Charles Bronson, Richard Chamberlain.  Cameos:  country singer Duane Eddy, rodeo star Casey Tibbs (1961; Dir:  Joseph M. Newman)

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A grim cavalry western, with hard-bitten Capt. Stephen Maddocks (Richard Boone) commanding the undermanned frontier outpost Fort Canby in 1870.  George Hamilton is newly arrived Lt. Curtis McQuade, son of a former post commander and current general.  While fighting Apaches, Maddocks roughly schools McQuade, who also renews his former relationship with Tracey Hamilton (Luana Patten), the fiancée of fellow officer Lt. Gresham (James Douglas).  Maddocks doesn’t want the trouble that is bound to come from such a romantic triangle, with the inevitable competition and animosity between his young officers.

“Bachelors make the best soldiers out here.  They have nothing to lose but their loneliness.”  The line might have been interesting if used once; it’s used twice by Maddocks.  Maddocks leads the garrison on a sortie against the hostiles.  As the lieutenants learn their trade in frontier Indian fighting, there is a climactic battle.  Predictably, Gresham is killed; a little less predictably, McQuade lets Tracey go back east so that he can follow Maddocks’ grim dictum and be a soldier without family entanglements. 

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A sergeant (Arthur Connell), lieutenant (George Hamilton) and private (Charles Bronson) fight Apaches.  Or are they Comanches?

There are references to a former officer saying “Never apologize.  It’s a sign of weakness.”  That presumably goes back to John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.  It turns out that McQuade’s father made sure that Maddocks stayed a captain for the rest of his career because of an unspecified mistake long ago. 

A bearded Richard Boone is good as the embittered Maddocks, although he’s relentlessly downbeat and mostly hostile.  He’s the center of the movie, as he would be in Rio Conchos three years later, and he’s the primary reason to watch this.  A young George Hamilton isn’t particularly good as McQuade; he will show up again in A Time for Killing, a 1967 cavalry western, as a Confederate major pursued in Utah and Arizona by Yankee Glenn Ford.  Charles Bronson, as a trooper obsessed with women, and Richard Chamberlain (who would soon become famous as television’s Dr. Kildare), as a wounded lieutenant, have small parts.  Arthur O’Connell is probably the strongest supporting player here as a veteran sergeant, the sort of role that would have been played more broadly by Victor McLaglen in John Ford cavalry movies a decade earlier.  

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The print was a bit muddy (on Encore Westerns; watch it on TCM, if possible, where they use a better print).  Written by James Warner Bellah, who also wrote The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Sergeant Rutledge and the stories for Fort Apache, Rio Grande and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.  Shot in color in Santa Clarita, California, and near Old Tucson and Sabino Canyon, Arizona.  97 minutes long.  Notwithstanding the title, there aren’t any drums; lots of “talking smoke,” though.

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Robber’s Roost

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 25, 2014

Robber’s Roost—George Montgomery, Richard Boone, Peter Graves, Sylvia Findley, William Hopper, Bruce Bennett (1955; Dir:  Sidney Salkow)

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This a revenge/manhunt western, mixed with a range war.  And all this in a B movie starring good-looking but unexciting George Montgomery in his flat-crowned 1950s cowboy hats.

The mysterious Tex (aka Jim Wall, played by George Montgomery) throws his lot in with a gang of rustlers led by Hank Hayes (Richard Boone).  Boone and his men are on their way to work for crippled cattleman Bull Herrick (Bruce Bennett), figuring to steal his cattle. 

When they arrive, they find that Herrick has also hired a rival gang of rustlers led by Heesman (Peter Graves), figuring that the two bunches of thieves will keep each other honest.  Herrick’s sister Helen (Sylvia Findley) has also arrived from the East, hoping to persuade her brother to return east with her for an operation that will restore his ability to walk and ride.  Also in the mix is neighboring rancher Robert Bell (William Hopper), who has asked Helen to marry him once before and still hopes to persuade her to say yes. 

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A good guy and two bad guys:  Montgomery, Graves and Boone.  But which is which?

Tex, who is thought not to be very interested in women, becomes Helen’s riding companion, delegated by Hayes to keep her from seeing things he doesn’t want her to be aware of.  Initially, the rivalry between gangs has the desired effect, but eventually they start cooperating to steal the entire herd.  At the climax, Hayes makes off with the herd and Helen, with Tex trying to keep her safe. 

It turns out Hayes had robbed Tex’s ranch and raped and killed his wife, and Tex has been tracking him down not only for revenge but also to exonerate himself from murder charges.  After a four-way shootout in the mountains (Hayes’ gang vs. Heesman’s gang vs. a posse led by the sheriff and Bell, while Tex and Helen are trying to escape and Hayes is trying to catch them).  Luckily, Hayes doesn’t die before telling the sheriff about Tex’s innocence, and Tex and Helen ride off together.

RobbersRoostMontFindlay Tex and Helen try to hold out.

George Montgomery’s Tex is remarkably taciturn, and he wears a quintessentially 1950s hat (short, flat crown and wide brim) as he usually did.  Richard Boone’s Hayes is almost continually blinded by lust; this isn’t his best performance as a screen villain.  The dying confession that absolved a wrongly-accused good guy became kind of a cliché in 1950s westerns, and it was often not terribly believable.  There are weaknesses in the writing here, even if the star doesn’t talk much.  In color, filmed in Durango, Mexico, from a story by Zane Grey.  

Historical note:  There were a number of places in the west referred to as Robber’s Roost.  They tended to be either where stages or mining coaches were often robbed (in Montana’s gold country near Bannack and Virginia City, or in southern Idaho’s Portneuf area, for example) or where outlaws sought refuge, as with the remote spot on the Outlaw Trail in the red-rock deserts of southern Utah where Butch Cassidy’s gang and others hid out.  None of them had much to do with rustlers.

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The Alamo (1960)

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 18, 2014

The Alamo—John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Richard Boone, Chill Wills, Frankie Avalon, Linda Cristal, Ken Curtis, Joseph Calleia, Denver Pyle, Hank Worden (1960; Dir:  John Wayne)

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This retelling of the Alamo story and the beginnings of Texas independence from Mexico is perhaps the most John Wayne film ever made:  Wayne was the star, producer, and director, and his company provided some of the financing.  Wayne as an actor was at his peak in the wake of The Searchers and Rio Bravo, and the movie was released to great hype.  From our vantage point more than 50 years later, one would expect that it would have done well at the box office but perhaps not been greeted with much enthusiasm by critics.  In fact, it was the opposite.  A hugely expensive production in its time ($12 million) with an enormous cast, it only made back $8 million domestically.   Wayne lost his personal investment.  The movie eventually went into the black, making lots of money in Europe and Japan, but Wayne no longer owned it by that time.  Critical reaction was mixed at best, but the movie was one of the few nominated for for the Best Picture Academy Award for 1960.

In 1836, Texans are declaring their independence from Mexico, and Mexican president/generalissimo Santa Anna is bringing his experienced army of more than 6000 north to bring them back into the fold.  There is not much of a Texas army to oppose him—only 600 men under Fannin at Goliad and 187 men commanded by William Barret Travis (English actor Laurence Harvey) at San Antonio, using the old mission at the Alamo as a fortress of sorts.  Sam Houston (Richard Boone in his curmudgeonly mode) is trying to put together a real army to oppose Santa Anna, but he desperately needs time to do that.

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In addition to Travis, “Colonel” Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark), former Louisiana land speculator and knife fighter, commands some militia at the Alamo.  And a bunch of roistering Tennesseans nominally led by former congressman Davy Crockett (John Wayne) are in town with an uncertain destination.  Travis offends local Hispanics such as Juan Seguin (Joseph Calleia), who would otherwise support Texas independence, Travis and Bowie bicker constantly, and Travis ineffectively tries to recruit the Tennesseans. 

During the build-up, Crockett bonds with his men, gives the occasional speech about how the word “republic” chokes him up, and makes a play for a young and attractive Hispanic widow (the beautiful Linda Cristal).  She has no apparent dramatic purpose, since she doesn’t actually get together with Crockett and she doesn’t stick around after the first third of the movie.  In the midst of their drunkenness, Crockett manipulates the Tennesseans into joining the defenders of the Alamo.

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Laurence Harvey as Travis and Richard Widmark as Bowie (with his volley gun).

Santa Anna and his good-looking army show up and blast away at the Alamo.  Crockett and Bowie conduct a commando operation to destroy the biggest Mexican gun, and there are constant conflicts with Travis.  It can be no secret to us (or to audiences of 1960) that in the end the defenders are overwhelmed by Santa Anna’s forces and slaughtered to a man in an extended battle sequence, creating the first heroes of Texas independence.  Each of the three defending principals gets an appropriately heroic end.

The need to make this a John Wayne movie means this film disproportionately focuses on the supposed Crockett, who seems not very authentic historically.  He’s not too old for the part, since Crockett was almost 50 when he died at the battle.  There’s a lot of meandering in the first two-thirds of the movie with extraneous characters.  The Tennesseans (especially Chill Wills) quickly become tedious in their constant drunken revelry.  Apparently having learned from Rio Bravo that one should always have a teen-idol singer in the cast to appeal to the younger demographic, Frankie Avalon here is another in a series of unnecessary young brothers and compatriots (Fabian in North to Alaska, Bobbie Vinton in Big Jake and The Train Robbers) who can’t act well.

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In production design, there are a few concessions to 1836 this time, especially in the hats and firearms.  Bowie’s seven-barrel flintlock volley gun (called a Nock gun, after its British maker) looks impressive; such a gun was developed by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars for naval warfare but was not widely used because of its horrific recoil.  Crockett’s coonskin cap looks hot and foolish; thankfully, he often wears more regular hats.

In Rio Bravo the year before, one of the prominent musical features was the constant playing of the Deguello, Mexican-flavored trumpet and guitar music that was said to have been played by Santa Anna’s men at the Alamo, signifying that no quarter was to be given.  It was a romantic story, but, In fact, the tune was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin for that film.  Here the theme music is a combination of the Tiomkin Deguello and the melancholy “Green Leaves of Summer” by Tiomkin, which would be nominated for an Oscar and become a big hit for the folk group The Brothers Four.  The overture and musical intermission are usually omitted for television broadcasts.

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Cinematography was by the excellent William Clothier.  The screenplay was by James Edward Grant (Angel and the Badman), long a favorite (and often clunky) writer-friend of Wayne’s.  The two or three patriotic speeches dropped in, especially those for Wayne, stop the action and don’t work very well.  Producer/director Wayne wanted to express his patriotic sentiments and he got his way, but that aspect doesn’t play well now.  The final battle scene has some curious editing, showing Mexican soldiers lunging at one or another of the notable defenders, cutting away, and seconds later returning to the defender, now skewered with a bayonet or sword and falling over.

The Alamo received seven Academy Award nominations.  It won the Oscar for Best Sound (Gordon E. Sawyer, Fred Hynes) and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Chill Wills), Best Cinematography (William Clothier), Best Film Editing (Stuart Gilmore), Best Musical Score (Dimitri Tiomkin), Best Music (Song) (Dimitri Tiomkin and Paul Francis Webster for The Green Leaves of Summer) and Best Picture.  Chill Wills placed a tasteless ad in Variety, soliciting votes and referring to those who voted for him as his “Alamo cousins.”  Groucho Marx responded in a small ad of his own:  “Dear Mr. Wills, I am delighted to be your cousin, but I voted for Sal Mineo” (nominated for Exodus).

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Wayne directing, apparently in the same hat he wore from Stagecoach (1939) through Rio Bravo (1959).  The hat does not appear on-screen in The Alamo, though.

This film is a relic of John Wayne in the 1960s at the height of his career, and that is the reason to watch it.  John Wayne learned that he didn’t want to direct, although he took over that role again (uncredited, at his insistence) on 1962’s The Comancheros when Michael Curtiz was dying of cancer.  As in the making of other films (see The Cowboys, for example), Wayne’s right-wing politics sometimes conflicted with those of others in the production.  In this case, Widmark didn’t get along with him well.  Widmark repeatedly challenged Wayne’s direction and once they almost came to blows; thereafter the two remained professional but distant. The movie is long, at 167 minutes, and there is a director’s cut at 203 minutes (1993, obviously done without Wayne’s participation) if you want even more and if you can find it.  The movie was re-released in 1967 at 140 minutes, so there are lots of choices.  Some of these cuts are in need of restoration.

So how accurate is it?  Not very.  For example, Bowie did not brandish a seven-barrel volley gun, nor was he wounded in the leg during the final assault, nor did his wife die during the time of the siege. He fell ill due to typhoid fever and was barely awake during the final attack, and Bowie’s wife had died a year before the battle was fought.  Fannin was not ambushed and slaughtered during the siege of the Alamo.  He and his men were murdered in Goliad on Palm Sunday three weeks after the Alamo fell.  Bowie and Crockett never made the decision to leave the Alamo as shown in the movie.  Though Bowie and Travis disliked each other intensely, they agreed that the Alamo should be defended.  And the time frame for the battle is wrong.  The movie shows the final battle taking place during the day; in reality, the final Mexican attack was pre-dawn, while most of the Alamo defenders were sleeping.  The individual deaths of Travis, Bowie and Crockett are fictional, for dramatic effect.  They were killed, but, especially for Crockett, the individual circumstances are not generally known and are still a matter of debate.

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Billboard art by Reynold Brown, emphasizing the film’s epic scale and the final battle.

In a bit part as an aide to Santa Anna, look for famed Mexican bullfighter Carlos Arruza; well-known director Budd Boetticher would fizzle away his career in Mexico during the 1960s trying to make his magnum opus, a documentary on Arruza, before Arruza’s early death in 1966.  If Arruza’s presence in the film was intended to make it appeal to Mexicans, it didn’t work; the film was banned in Mexico.  There are various Canutts (related to Yakima, legendary stuntman and second unit director), Patrick Wayne, even an uncredited Pilar and Toni Wayne.

The first movie about the battle at the Alamo was the silent The Immortal Alamo (1911), now thought to be lost.  There have been at least eight films portraying it, and three television productions, including Disney’s “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” episode on Disneyland.  This is not the best film ever made about the Alamo, but it might be the most prominent.  For a better, more historical Crockett performance, see Billy Bob Thornton in The Alamo (2004)The 2004 movie, which tries for greater historical accuracy, is not among the greatest westerns, but it’s better than this version and Thornton’s performance is terrific.  The definitive Alamo movie has yet to be made.

For more actual history of the Alamo and its defense, focusing on the three protagonists (Crockett, Bowie and Travis) and doing a good job of separating the legends from what is actually known, see the books Three Roads to the Alamo (1999), by William C. Davis and The Blood of Heroes (2012), by James Donovan.

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Big Jake

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 21, 2013

Big Jake—John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Richard Boone, Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum, Bruce Cabot, Harry Carey, Jr. (1971; Dir:  George Sherman)

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A better-than-average John Wayne western from his late period (post-True Grit), maybe the third best after The Cowboys and The Shootist.  Wayne plays Jacob McCandles, long estranged from his family and thought dead by many.  At the start of the movie in 1909, his family is attacked by evildoers led by John Fain (Richard Boone, in one of his better villain performances).  They shoot his oldest son Bobby (played by Bobby Vinton) and kidnap his grandson Little Jake (Ethan Wayne), demanding $1 million in ransom. 

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Big Jake is called back by his wife (Maureen O’Hara, in the last of their five movies together) and undertakes to lead a group into Mexico to deliver the money, aided by sons James (Patrick Wayne) and Michael (Christopher Mitchum), who are fans of new technology, longtime Indian scout Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) and Dog.  There is friction, if not outright hostility, between Jake and the sons, and the writing for and acting of the sons is probably the weakest element of the movie.  Others hear about the money and would like to steal it.  There’s a good shootout scene when the ransom is delivered, with excellent dialogue between Big Jake and John Fain, although some criticize the film as too violent and bloody.  The juxtaposition of old West ways and new technology with its limitations is effective.

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These westerns in which John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara play an estranged married couple (Rio Grande, McClintock!) always seem to make the resolution of the estrangement a lot easier than it would be in any real relationship.  It isn’t clear why the Boone character wears an orange serape the whole movie.  Did they think we wouldn’t recognize him without it?  Did they suppose it made him look larger?  Is he related to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name?  The narration at the start, setting the late-west, early modern nature of 1909, is unnecessary and a bit clunky.  In general, the film isn’t stitched together all that well and has too close an eye on what seems to have sold in previous Wayne movies, but it’s nevertheless quite watchable.

Director George Sherman was an old timer, and this was his last significant film.  It is said that he was in bad health during the filming and that Wayne took over for him frequently.  There are some instances of less-than-great camera angles during fights; in general the directing isn’t remarkable.  The writing is by the same husband-wife team that wrote Dirty Harry about the same time.  Note some of the trademarks:  the recurring “I thought you were dead,” usually answered by “Not hardly.” And the lines repeated between Boone and Wayne are effective.  Good score by Elmer Bernstein.  Dog seems very like the feral character Sam from Hondo, made 20 years earlier.  This was also made by Batjac, Wayne’s production company.

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Great Performances in Westerns, Part 1

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 3, 2013

This is the first of seven posts focusing on individual actors who gave excellent performances in westerns, regardless of whether the entire movie was excellent.  The list is quite selective; there are a lot of really good performances that don’t show up here.  It is intended to point to the very best, in no particular order.  The list is also open for additions, but you should wait until the completion of the series to make sure your suggestion isn’t already on the list.  Some (e.g., Lee Marvin, John Wayne) are on the list for multiple roles.

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Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett in The Alamo

Especially for baby boomers, it’s hard to get past the coonskin-capped caricature of Tennessee’s David Crockett rooted in Fess Parker’s work for Disney in the 1950s.  Thornton does the best job on film in portraying a real Crockett—a frontier personality who seems like he could have been a successful politician, with both personal magnetism and some sensitivity.  One scene that lingers in the mind is Crockett at twilight, playing a fiddle on the walls of the Alamo as a Tennessee counterpoint to the Mexican deguello (the cut-throat bugle call), with death looming two or three hundred yards out.  Another is wordless, as he places cocked pistols in the hands of a Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) almost too weak to hold them, prostrate with typhoid.  Best of all, he doesn’t wear a coonskin cap.  With his Arkansas accent, Thornton would be a natural for westerns, if there were more being made.  He did show up effectively in a bit part in Tombstone, as a violent gambler backed down by Wyatt Earp.  This recounting of the Alamo story isn’t among the very greatest westerns, but it is the most accurate historically and it’s worth watching for Thornton’s performance.  

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Thomas Haden Church as Tom Harte in Broken Trail

Church uses his distinctive voice and a stony face marvelously in his role as Tom Harte, lifelong ne’er-do-well cowboy and nephew to Robert Duvall’s Print Ritter.  Initially Harte is seemingly motivated by resentment that his inheritance has gone to his mother’s brother, but he nevertheless develops as a stand-up guy whose flinty resolve is the bedrock quality that ultimately saves everybody.  He’s relied on at key points in the plot’s backbone story, and he comes through believably.  His initial judgment is schooled at times by Ritter, and he rises to that tutelage.  He’s helped by good production design that makes him look authentic.  Church is another actor who seems made for westerns but will never get the opportunity to make many.  In some ways here he’s reminiscent of Lee Marvin, although he successfully plays lighter roles elsewhere (see Sideways, for example) as well.  This made-for-television miniseries is highly re-watchable, with several excellent performances (Duvall, Greta Scacchi, Scott Cooper and others) in addition to Church’s.  He’s probably the most historically-accurate Billy Clanton on film in Tombstone.

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Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone

Doc Holliday is the showiest role for an actor in the Wyatt Earp story, retold many times.  Earlier versions were played by the physically robust Victor Mature and Kirk Douglas, as well as by excellent character actor Jason Robards.  Kilmer probably does it better than anyone (with the possible exception of Dennis Quaid), being believably tubercular and hair-trigger dangerous, yet with an educated intelligence behind it all.  A lovely performance, one of the best in a western in recent memory.  His lines “I’m your huckleberry” and “You’re a daisy if you do” have continuing resonance for their whimsical quality with an underlying edge and implicit threat.  But also look at his cameo as a not-terribly-effective cavalry captain in The Missing.  Kilmer is the only actor to have played both Doc Holliday (here) and Wyatt Earp (Wyatt Earp’s Revenge, 2012).

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Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp in Tombstone

A lesser actor would have been overshadowed by Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in this version of the Earp story.  Russell was not only convincing in a role that can be quite dour (see Costner’s version, as well as Burt Lancaster’s and James Garner’s) because it deals with a relentless quest for vengeance, but he also seems more balanced.  And physically he bears an extraordinary resemblance to one of the most famous photographs of Earp.  On top of that he’s a terrific actor, believable in action and motivation and in his relationship with Holliday.  We believe him when he’s restraining violence and when he isn’t.  He makes an excellent center for the most successful retelling of the Earp story since the 1940s.  For a late-career resurgence in westerns, see him in Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight (both in late 2015).

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Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp

Quaid’s performance is often overlooked because of Kilmer’s dazzling performance in the same role a year earlier and because the Kasdan-Costner version of the story was kind of a cinematic clunker.  Quaid nevertheless is very convincing as the tubercular dentist and killer.  He lost so much weight for the role that it left new lines in his face, and Holliday’s innate meanness showed through in Quaid’s performance.  That’s unusual for an actor whose most bankable characteristic is his devil-may-care grin.  Although Holliday has been played by some superb actors, Quaid and Kilmer are the best in the role so far.

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Lee Marvin as Masters in Seven Men From Now, Liberty Valance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Rico Fardan in The Professionals and dual roles (Kid Shelleen and Tim Strawn) in Cat Ballou

Marvin and Richard Boone were probably the best villains in the history of westerns, and they were both very versatile actors.  Marvin had an implacable quality that served him well in various roles, especially in (but not limited to) the roles listed here:

  • The most effective of the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns featured an ambiguous bad guy, one whose relationship with Scott’s character could possibly go in different directions.  That was true of the first such movie, Seven Men From Now.  Masters had once been put in jail by Scott’s Ben Stride and they are wary of each other, but Marvin’s capacity for menace increases as the movie goes along and provides for an excellent denouement.  In particular, look at the claustrophobic scene in the back of a wagon at night in the rain, when Masters starts a story that strips two of the other characters bare psychologically until Stride kicks him back out into rain.
  • Marvin’s menace is unmitigated in his role as the villain in the title in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  The movie is full of remarkable performances (John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Woody Strode), but Marvin’s palpable bad-guy-ness makes it all work.  He’s one of the easiest-to-hate villains ever in a western, with a psychotic edge to his performance here.  (For a variation on this role, see him in The Comancheros where, in a brief part, he seems considerably worse than the movie’s ostensible real bad guys.)
  • Marvin won his Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his dual role in Cat Ballou as drunken gunfighter Kid Shelleen and his noseless, black-clad assassin brother Tim Strawn.  There is a memorable photographic still from this performance of the inebriated Shelleen on his apparently drunk horse, both of them leaning against the side of a building, trying to stay upright.
  • Marvin could also do convincing good guys, as in his performance as Rico Fardan in The Professionals.  Here he principally projects control, hardness and competence (as he would later in The Dirty Dozen), with an overlay of elusive principle.  He’s the team leader, and although the movie’s an ensemble success, that’s in large part because Marvin is so believable as Fardan.  Marvin’s military background (he had been a Marine) shows through to advantage.  He could also be on this list for his performance in the title role in 1970’s Monte Walsh.

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Richard Boone as Frank Usher in The Tall T and as Major Jim Lassiter in Rio Conchos

Like Lee Marvin, Richard Boone is best remembered for the villains he played.  Like Marvin, Boone had a distinctive voice which he used to considerable advantage.  He could play silkier than Marvin and was very good at inhabiting the margins of villainy in different ways.

  • In Budd Boetticher’s The Tall T, Boone as Frank Usher develops a strange relationship with Randolph Scott’s flinty Brennan.  He’s never anything other than bad, the mastermind of murders, kidnapping and robbery with two henchmen he thinks are below him.  But there’s a sense that he could have been something else, that he shares some dreams and aspirations with Brennan.  Some of that’s in the writing, which is quite spare.  But mostly it’s in Boone’s performance.  For a couple of other great Boone villains, see Hombre and Big Jake.  For earlier Boone bad guys in slighter movies, see Ten Wanted Men and Robbers’ Roost.
  • Major Jim Lassiter is an embittered, alcoholic Confederate veteran who hunts Apaches in revenge for their killing of his wife and son.  He is by far the most interesting character in the expeditionary ensemble in Rio Conchos.  It’s one of his rare opportunities to play an ambiguous character on the right side, and he carries the movie.  For work with some similarities (i.e., Boone playing parts other than overtly bad guys), see A Thunder of Drums and his work as the enigmatic Paladin in television’s Have Gun Will Travel.

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Rio Conchos

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 12, 2013

Rio Conchos—Richard Boone, Stuart Whitman, Anthony Franciosa, Jim Brown, Edmond O’Brien, Wende Wagner, Rodolfo Acosta (1964; Dir:  Gordon Douglas)

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The lead is ostensibly Stuart Whitman, but Richard Boone steals this better-than-average western, and actually gets top billing in the wake of his Have Gun Will Travel stardom on television.  Jim Brown doesn’t have many lines in his movie debut, made just before his last football season, but he looks good and conveys a sense of fighting expertise.    

In 1867, Capt. Haven (Whitman) and Sgt. Franklyn (Brown) are transporting 2000 repeating rifles from St. Louis to Texas.  The rifles are stolen by a former Confederate, Col. Theron (“The Grey Fox”) Pardee (Edmond O’Brien), who takes them to Mexico.  Pardee plans to sell them to Apaches led by Bloodshirt (Rodolfo Acosta as the Apache chief, just as he was in Hondo and Trooper Hook).  Former Confederate Major Jim Lassiter (Boone) returned from the war to find his wife and son killed by Apaches, and he has become a revenge-obssessed alcoholic.  The movie starts with a scene of Lassiter killing half a dozen Indians at a burial.  When Haven finds Lassiter with one of the stolen rifles and tosses Lassiter in jail, Lassiter is forced to help Haven and Franklyn try to recover or destroy the guns across the Rio Grande in Mexico.  He reluctantly agrees, if they take Rodriguez (Tony Franciosa), a charming Mexican murderer also in jail, who speaks both Spanish and Apache.  The four don’t trust each other, and that’s where much of the drama lies for this movie.  How good is Lassiter’s word?  Can Rodriguez be relied on?  Does Haven know what he’s doing?

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Capturing the Apache maiden (Wende Wagner).

Along the way they acquire a prisoner, Apache maiden Sally (Wende Wagner in dark paint and decolletage), who adds another note of hostility to the group although she doesn’t speak English.  They make their way into Mexico with a wagon load of gunpowder as bait for the gun thieves, fighting among themselves and with Mexican banditos and Apaches.  Lassiter is the most resourceful fighter and tactician among them, but they all have their strengths (as with The Professionals two years later).  They finally find Pardee on the Rio Conchos (a tributary of the Rio Grande, extending into the state of Chihuahua), along with the rifles and Bloodshirt’s Apaches, but are captured by the Indians and tortured before an explosive ending. 

rioconchosCaptured Captured by Bloodshirt.

There’s lots of action, most of it well-filmed.  Whitman is somewhat wooden and his part seems a little underwritten, but Boone is great, with a magnificent voice and weatherbeaten looks.  Franciosa is also very good, but his characterization (and that of most Mexicans in this movie) will strike current audiences as a little broad and perhaps stereotypical.  Wende Wagner, in her first movie, is the weak link, both in acting and in her part as written in the movie.  She doesn’t look much like an Indian (although she apparently had some Indian ancestry along with German and French), and her movie career didn’t develop into much.  Most of the dramatic tension comes from trying to figure out whether the four or five central characters will be, on balance, good or bad.  In the end only Haven and Sally survive the final action, and improbably they seem to go off together.  But Lassiter does get Bloodshirt, or, rather, they get each other.  

RioConchosIndianAttack Apache attack.

This movie has a darker and grittier tone than, say, The Comancheros, which has a similar plot (stopping the sale of firearms to Indians) and the same screenwriter.  It probably suffered in its time for being an ensemble piece without instantly identifiable good guys, instead of a John Wayne-style obvious good guys vs. obvious bad guys western of the sort that audiences were used to then.  Lassiter, the most compelling character, is sometimes hard to identify with.  But that also makes it less predictable in its way.  An underrated and, these days, seldom seen western.

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Filmed in Arizona and around Moab, Utah.  Screenwriters are Joseph Landon and Clair Huffaker (who also wrote The Comancheros, The War Wagon and the novel on which this film is based).  Good early score by Jerry Goldsmith.  Available on DVD as of 2011 together with Take a Hard Ride, a spaghetti western featuring Jim Brown on another expedition into Mexico.  This was probably the best western directed by Gordon Douglas, who also directed Fort Dobbs, Yellowstone Kelly and the 1966 Stagecoach remake, along with Barquero and at least one episode of Maverick. 

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The Tall T

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 17, 2013

The Tall T—Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Sullivan, Henry Silva, Skip Homeier, John Hubbard (1957; Dir:  Budd Boetticher)

It is not clear what the title refers to; it is said to relate to Tenvoorde, owner of the 10-4 Ranch.  At one time the working title of the movie was “T for Terror” (see the trailer on the DVD).

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Patrick Brennan (Randolph Scott) is a former ramrod for that large Arizona ranch (the 10-4), now trying to establish his own ranch in the mountains.  While trying to get his former employer to sell him a seed bull for his own stock, he instead loses his horse in a bet.  (We see early on that he’s capable of making bad judgments, although he takes the consequences without complaint.) 

TallT1 Brennan afoot.

He hitches a ride on a stagecoach driven by old friend Ed Rintoon (the excellent Arthur Hunnicutt) that is hijacked at a way station by Frank Usher (Richard Boone) and his two low-life confederates Chink and Billy Jack (Henry Silva and Skip Homeier).  They’ve already killed the station manager and his young son and callously thrown their bodies down a well.  They soon do the same to stage driver Rintoon.  Usher and his gang try to carry out a plan to get a ransom for Doretta Mims, the woman traveling on the stage.  Maureen O’Sullivan plays Doretta, the daughter of the owner of the largest copper mine in the territory, who’s just been married that morning to her father’s accountant Willard (John Hubbard)—a scurvy choice for a husband, as he shortly demonstrates.  Brennan plans to get away.  He ultimately does, and apparently ends up with the woman, too. 

TallT2 Captured by bad guys.

This was shot with a limited cast and budget in Lone Pine, as were the rest of Boetticher’s westerns with Scott.  This has a few edges to it, reminiscent of the Mann westerns of the 1950s.  It is spare movie-making, with the story told in relatively unadorned fashion in less than 80 minutes.  Nevertheless, there’s a lot of interest in the psychology of the characters, as in Seven Men from Now.  Richard Boone is great as a not-entirely-unsympathetic bad guy.  There’s an interesting balance between Scott and Boone; in some ways, Usher sees Brennan as who he himself might have been in other circumstances.  And might still be, only richer with the proceeds of this kidnapping-robbery-murder.

Randolph Scott and Richard Boone are great in this.  Maureen O’Sullivan, known mostly from her appearances as Jane in the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller in the 1930s, is also very good.  Henry Silva and Skip Homeier make reliably nasty henchmen, in different ways.  Silva, with his Jack Palance face, went on to make a modest career of playing bad guys (see The Law and Jake Wade and The Bravados).  Homeier played a series of kids with guns in the early 1950s (The Gunfighter, Dawn at Socorro), but you can’t do that forever.  Sooner or later, you meet somebody faster with a gun, or drift into television parts.  Or both.

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Getting the girl, for once.

Note Henry Silva’s cooperative corpse helping Brennan rope his legs to drag him into the hut.  The plot is similar to Rawhide and Man of the West, with regular people being held prisoner by outlaws.

[Pat, to the freshly widowed and weeping Doretta, after he has killed three murderous kidnappers]:
“Come on, now.  It’s gonna be a nice day.”  [And they walk off arm in arm.  You might think they’d try to get the outlaws’ horses instead of walking all the way to wherever they’re going.]

From a story by Elmore Leonard (“The Captives”); the screenplay is by Burt Kennedy, as was usual with Boetticher’s better Ranown westerns.  As in Delmer Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma (also from an original story by Leonard), some of the early action takes place in the town of Contention.  As with others of the Ranown-Boetticher westerns, this was not generally available until the release of the Boetticher set in 2008, so they have not been seen as widely as they deserve.  This is one of the four best of them.

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The Shootist

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 20, 2013

The Shootist—John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, Richard Boone, Harry Morgan, John Carradine, Hugh O’Brian, Bill McKinney (1976; Dir:  Don Siegel)

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The Richard Amsel poster for The Shootist is typical for the 1970s and 1980s.

An elegiac end-of-an-era western, as the titular shootist, gunfighter John Bernard Books (John Wayne), literally and figuratively comes to the end of his road with considerable dignity.  This is also a coming of age story for Gillom Rogers, well played by the young Ron Howard.  And it was the last movie in the remarkable career of John Wayne, then 68 and dying of terminal stomach cancer. 

The movie opens with an effective montage of shots from earlier Wayne movies, from Red River to Hondo to Rio Bravo to El Dorado, as Books supposedly ages, with a voiceover by Ron Howard.  The Books credo sounds persuasive, coming from a character with the physical and historical heft of John Wayne:  “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on.  I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”  In 1901 Books is heading to Carson City, Nevada, where all the action in the movie takes place.  The Old West is passing, and so is Books himself. 

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J.B. Books (John Wayne) arrives in Carson City at the turn of the century.

Books is in fact dying of cancer and is looking to live out whatever time is left to him with as much dignity as he can muster.  How he goes about this makes up the remainder of the movie.  It moves more slowly than most John Wayne westerns, but we’re happy enough to see him on the screen that it doesn’t drag and it never becomes unduly sentimental.  Howard is good as a fatherless, sometimes mouthy, teenager looking for role models.

The movie has some excellent actors in cameos and character roles:  James Stewart as a doctor, Lauren Bacall as the widowed operator of a boarding house and mother of the young Howard, Harry Morgan as an obnoxious marshal, and the funereal John Carradine appropriately cast as an undertaker.  You sense that there could have been a relationship between Books and the Bacall character if only Books had more time left to him, although if she’d known who he was she wouldn’t have let him stay at her boarding house in the first place. 

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Books (John Wayne) teaches Gillom (Ron Howard) to shoot, but also and more importantly, about becoming a man.

And then there are the villains, played by Hugh O’Brien, Richard Boone and Bill McKinney.  One gets the feeling that none of them had enough dramatic weight to balance the Books character, so there were three.  They still don’t balance with Books.  Richard Boone is always good to watch, but this isn’t his best role, and he seems more curmudgeonly than downright bad.  He deserved a better-written character with more lines and personality, and perhaps a touch of his traditional villainous courtliness.  This was one of the last movies for both Boone and Stewart as well as for Wayne.  A generation of actors was passing.

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In his final shootout, Books (John Wayne) takes on three separate bad guys at once.

As in The Cowboys, the John Wayne character doesn’t come out of this alive.  But he wasn’t going to, given the setup of the movie, and it’s a pleasure to watch the grace with which he accomplishes it.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, but it’s said that the producer approached Paul Newman and George C. Scott first.  At the time there was no certainty that it would be Wayne’s last picture, but it was a strong way to go out. 

Don Siegel directed a couple of westerns, but he was known more for his work with Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz.  The music is by Elmer Bernstein, a long-time master of the traditional movie score, including many westerns.  This was based on a decent novel of the same title by Glendon Swarthout.

It was the Bicentennial summer, and this was one of two great westerns released.  The other was The Outlaw Josey Wales, and they both remain highly watchable.

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