Tag Archives: Rory Calhoun

A Ticket to Tomahawk

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 30, 2015

A Ticket to Tomahawk—Dan Dailey, Anne Baxter, Rory Calhoun, Walter Brennan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Chief Yowlatchie, Will Wright, Connie Gilchrist, Jack Elam, Charles Stevens, Marilyn Monroe (1950; Dir: Richard Sale)


One more musical number, and this western comedy would have been a full-fledged western musical.  The fictional Tomahawk & Western Railroad needs to get a train to Tomahawk, Colorado, in early September 1876 to fulfill its charter, or it will lose its right to operate there.  But it has enemies, primarily Col. Dawson, who runs the stage line in the area and doesn’t want the competition, and his henchmen; and the disgruntled Arapahoes led by Crooked Knife.  And a few minor problems, such as the fact that of the final sixty miles of the line from Epitaph to Tomahawk, forty of those miles have no track.  (Apparently fabricated in England, the rails were lost in transit off Cape Horn).

A paying passenger has bought the ticket of the title; he is Johnny Behind-the-Deuce (Dan Dailey), a footloose, well-traveled card shark and drummer selling mustache cups.  He arrives in Epitaph in company with Dawson henchmen, who wound Marshal Kit Dodge (veteran character actor Will Wright) so that his straight-shooting granddaughter Kit Dodge Jr. (Anne Baxter) has to take over the effort to get the train the last sixty miles.  And they are joined by Dakota (Rory Calhoun), secretly another of Dawson’s henchmen; Madame Adelaide (Connie Gilchrist) and her troupe of theatrical “ladies”; a Chinese laundryman; and Kit’s stoic Indian watchdog Pawnee (Chief Yowlatchie, best remembered now for his role in the classic Red River).


Miss Adelaide (Connie Gilchrist), young Kit Dodge (Anne Baxter) and Johnny (Dan Dailey) survey the damaged trestle, backed by Dakota (Rory Calhoun) and Pawnee (Chief Yowlatchie).

Figuring that determination will overcome all obstacles, strings of mules are hitched up to the locomotive to tow it where the tracks don’t go.  Initially that works, until they arrive at Massacre Creek to discover the railroad trestle has been blown up by Dawson’s men. It turns out that Johnny knew Crooked Knife from their time together in a wild west show, and Johnny persuades the Arapahoes to help disassemble the locomotive and get the train up over an alternative route via Funeral Pass.  As the deadline approaches, the train is still just outside of Tomahawk until Johnny convinces the Tomahawk town fathers to extend the city limits to where the locomotive is.  He plans to be on his way, but young Kit has other ideas.  “Maybe you wouldn’t be so loose-footed if I gave you a permanent limp!”

[Spoilers follow.]  In the last scene, Johnny is about to board yet another train.  But finally he puts on the conductor’s hat and bids a temporary farewell to young Kit and their five daughters, who seem to bear the same names as Miss Adelaide’s girls.


Miss Adelaide (Connie Gilchrist) and her girls. The one in yellow might look familiar.

Of course, none of this is very serious and the sensibility is very much like Annie Get Your Gun, from about the same time.  The gender roles and romantic expectations are very much of the 1950s, too, although Anne Baxter’s role as the younger Kit Dodge is a reversal of sorts.  Dan Dailey showed up in musicals of the time (There’s No Business Like Show Business, Give My Regards to Broadway) but this may have been his only western.  Anne Baxter was an excellent actress, but this isn’t among her most memorable outings generally (All About Eve, The Ten Commandments) or in westerns (Yellow Sky, Three Violent People, Cimarron).

There’s a superb supporting cast, many of whom are underused.  Walter Brennan does his shtick as the engineer of the Emma Sweeney (the locomotive involved).  Rory Calhoun, in the early part of his movie career, keeps to his pattern of playing bad guys in big-budget productions like this (River of No Return, The Spoilers) and good guys in more modest efforts (Dawn at Socorro, Apache Territory).  Arthur Hunnicutt was in his most productive period as a character actor (Two Flags West, Broken Arrow, The Big Sky) but has nothing here as Sad Eyes, the locomotive tender.  If you have quick eyes, you might recognize Marilyn Monroe in an early role as one of Miss Adelaide’s girls; so you would be wrong if you thought her only western was River of No Return (1954), with Robert Mitchum and Rory Calhoun.  Will Wright is perfectly cast as the elder Kit Dodge, and veteran villain (and former studio accountant) Jack Elam shows up without many lines as one of Col. Dawson’s henchmen.


This is watchable, but not terribly memorable.  Director Richard Sale was known more as a writer (he provided the improbable story and the screenplay for this) than a director, and his directing career (twelve films, of which this was the third) was not particularly notable.  Shot in color, in and around Durango, Colorado, using the Denver & Rio Grande track.  90 minutes.

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Four Guns to the Border

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 26, 2015

Four Guns to the Border—Rory Calhoun, Colleen Miller, Walter Brennan, John McIntire, Jay Silverheels, George Nader, Nina Foch, Charles Drake, Nestor Paiva (1954; Dir: Richard Carlson)


Based on a story by Louis L’Amour, this unpretentious western also has an excellent cast.  The writing and direction aren’t quite as good as the cast and story, but it’s worth watching, particularly if you like Rory Calhoun.  At this stage of his career, Calhoun played the protagonist in lower-budget movies (e.g., Dawn at Socorro, Apache Territory), while he was often the villain in big budget productions (The Spoilers, River of No Return).  Here he is something of both, but mostly the protagonist.  The cast includes John McIntire and Walter Brennan, both excellent character actors who didn’t often appear in the same movie, since they tended to play the same kind of old-coot-ish roles. (But see them together in The Far Country, where they’re both pretty good.)

In 1881 the four riders of the title are moving through Apache country, presumably in Arizona or New Mexico, when they come upon Simon Bhumer (pronounced “Boomer,” played by Walter Brennan) and his nubile, tomboyish daughter Lolly (Colleen Miller), fresh from finishing school.  Both Cully (Rory Calhoun), the leader of the four, and Bronco (George Nader) are visibly taken with her, but Simon thinks none of them are good enough for her.  In fact, he’s right.  The four are headed to pull off a bank robbery, while Simon and Lolly are going back to his ranch in Shadow Valley through territory infested with Apaches.


Simon Bhumer (Walter Brennan) and daughter Lolly (Colleen Miller) head for their ranch; but a heated relationship develops between Lolly and Ray Cully (Rory Calhoun).

All six spend the night at Greasy’s general store, while Greasy (Nestor Paiva) reconnoiters in town to verify that the bank currently holds enough money to make robbing it worth while.  Cully has a combustible scene or two with Lolly until Simon breaks it up.  Gang members Bronco and Yaqui (Jay Silverheels) fight regularly, seemingly out of exuberance.  Dutch (John McIntire) has known Simon a long time; they were both quasi-outlaws, until Simon went straight.

The gang’s plan for the bank involves Cully creating a diversion while the robbery takes place, and then the gang bolts for the border.  Cully and Sheriff Jim Flannery (Charles Drake, previously seen as Shelly Winters’ ineffective boy friend Steve in Winchester ’73) were once young hellions, both vying for the affections of Maggie (Nina Foch), who chose Jim.  Cully picks a fight with Jim, which engages the town’s attentions until Maggie breaks it up.  Having completed the robbery as planned, the four head for the border with a posse in pursuit.  Back at Greasy’s store, they find it burned by Apaches, with Greasy dead.


Sheriff Jim Flannery (Charles Drake) and Cully (Rory Calhoun) fight out old grievances.

[Spoilers follow.]  Meanwhile, Simon Bhumer’s horse goes lame, and he and Lolly are besieged by Apaches.  Cully hands the loot to Dutch and takes off to help.  Dutch gives it to Bronco and follows, and finally Bronco and Yaqui head for the battle, too.  It’s a desperate matter, and one by one Dutch, Yaqui and Bronco are all killed and Cully is gravely wounded.  Yaqui had used the bag of loot to bash an Indian, and the coins are scattered all over the site.  Simon and Lolly take Cully to the Shadow Valley ranch, and when the posse arrives at the battle site to chase off the Apaches, only bodies and the scattered proceeds of the robbery are left.

At the Bhumer ranch, Cully’s wound is bad enough so Simon has to go for medical help.  Flannery and two deputies arrive and start to shoot it out with Cully.  He calls out Flannery, while Lolly tries to talk him out of it.  As Cully and Flannery advance to their showndown, finally Cully surrenders—persuaded at last by the love of a good woman.


Cully (Rory Calhoun) rides to the rescue, while Yaqui (Jay Silverheels) and Dutch (John McIntire) look on.

As a general matter, this is above average.  Rory Calhoun is good here, and the film has also surprisingly strong female roles.  Both Colleen Miller as Lolly and Nina Foch in a limited role as Maggie are good; Calhoun and Miller have good chemistry together.  Jay Silverheels has one of his best roles, not to mention a very colorful costume.  All in all, this is a good early Calhoun western.  The ending, with Cully giving himself up, is not entirely satisfying, but it’s how such matters were handled in westerns from the 1940s and 1950s (see Joel McCrea in Four Faces West and Fred MacMurray in The Moonlighter for just two other examples).  The good guy could not be allowed to get away with crime even if he was repentant, lest all society fall apart.


Richard Carlson directs Rory Calhoun and Colleen Miller in their climactic scene.

Richard Carlson is known mostly as an actor in supporting roles, but he directs competently here in his second feature.  In color, at 83 minutes.  This can be hard to find, since it is apparently not available in the U.S. on DVD.

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Black Spurs

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 2, 2015

Black Spurs—Rory Calhoun, Linda Darnell, Terry Moore, Scott Brady, Lon Chaney, Jr., Bruce Cabot, James Best, Richard Arlen, DeForest Kelley (1965; Dir: R.G. Springsteen)

The black spurs of the title belong to an outlaw called El Pescadore (The Fisherman with an extra “e”), who robs a bank in the movie’s first scene.  Santee, a cowhand with ambitions, takes up his pursuit as a more lucrative line of work, and appropriates the black spurs when he gets his man.  Returning to his town in Texas in 1885, he finds that his girlfriend has married a sheriff from Laredo and moved on.

Eventually, Santee comes up with an idea to make his fortune in Kile, Kansas.  The railroad will come through Kile or Lark, but the railroad company avoids disorderly towns when making those decisions (historically, then they become disorderly after the railroad has arrived).  Santee makes a deal with Gus Kile (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to open up Lark, causing the railroad to avoid Lark and go through KIle.  He brings in more gamblers, gunmen (Bruce Cabot) and women (led by Linda Darnell), and backs off Sheriff Henry Elkins (James Best), now married to Santee’s former girl Anna (Terry Moore).  Santee is unable to completely control some of his men, who tar and feather Sheriff Elkins.  Anna reveals that her son is Santee’s, and that she had to marry Elkins to become respectable while he was out hunting El Pescatore.


Santee (Rory Calhoun) wins his spurs (black ones).

Santee has a change of heart now.  (We always knew he was decent somewhere inside, because he was nice to kids.)  He takes up Elkins’ badge and cleans out the saloon he had set up, taking on four gunmen at once. A preacher with a broken arm, Anna and even the all-but-immobile Elkins take shots during the battle.  Finally, Santee takes down Henderson (Bruce Cabot), who is shot, falls, and is last seen being dragged screaming out of town by his frightened horse.  As Santee rides out of town the next day, he discards the black spurs (reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s red slippers in River of No Return, among many other such cinematic gestures).  The truly dreadful theme song intones: “He had no love of his own, because he wore … black spurs.”

This low-budget feature was late in the careers of Rory Calhoun (starting to get a little gray in his hair), Linda Darnell (still beautiful but thickening a bit), Bruce Cabot, who had been playing similar bad guy roles thirty years (Last of the Mohicans, Dodge City) and twenty years (Angel and the Bad Man) previously, and Lon Chaney, Jr.  For Calhoun, this and Apache Uprising (also 1965, also directed by R.G. Springsteen) were his last significant western movies.  It was Darnell’s last movie; she died tragically in a fire the same year at the age of 41 after 25 years in the movies.  Director R.G. Springsteen was nearing the end of his movie career as well, with several low-budget westerns produced by A.C. Lyles.  This is not among the best of Calhoun’s westerns, but it’s not the worst, either.


Santee (Rory Calhoun) puts on the badge; co-star Linda Darnell behind the scenes with producer A.C. Lyles.

In the 1960s, A.C. Lyles produced a series of thirteen low-budget westerns for Paramount, of which this was the fourth.  One of the ways the budget was kept down was to use journeyman directors (like Springsteen) and to use stars with recognizeable names but who were past their primes–like those in this film.  Silent screen star Richard Arlen was in several of them, including in this as a hard-bitten saloon owner.  Shot in color at Ray Corrigan’s ranch in Simi Valley, California, at 81 minutes.

For better Rory Calhoun, see Dawn at Socorro or Apache Territory.  For better Linda Darnell in a western (and her role here as Santee’s imported madam from New Orleans is quite minor, although she received major billing with Calhoun), see The Mark of Zorro, My Darling Clementine and Two Flags West, all from the 1940s.  For another bounty hunter named Santee, see Glenn Ford in Santee (1973)—not one of his better westerns, either.

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The Gun Hawk

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 11, 2015

The Gun Hawk—Rory Calhoun, Rod Cameron, Rod Lauren, Ruta Lee, Robert Wilke, John Litel, Morgan Woodward (1963; Dir: Edward Ludwig)


This is a late western in the careers of Rory Calhoun and Rod Cameron, and the last movie for director Edward Ludwig (who made such John Wayne non-westerns as Big Jim McLain, Wake of the Red Witch and The Fighting Seabees).

The title refers to the mysterious figure who runs the haven of Sanctuary on the Mexican border, enforcing his rules with his gun.   Blaine Madden (Rory Calhoun), not bad with a gun himself, rides into Baxter, the town where he grew up, in time to meet and help young footloose gunman Reb Roan (Rod Lauren).  Sheriff Ben Corey (Rod Cameron, with lots of gray paint in his hair) liked Madden when he was growing up and once offered him a job as his deputy.  He didn’t take it, but his jealous childhood friend Mitch (Morgan Woodward) did, and he still resents Madden.  Madden tells Corey he’s not staying in town but is headed to Sanctuary.


Sheriff Ben Corey (Rod Cameron), Deputy Mitch (Morgan Woodward) and Blaine Madden (Rory Calhoun) all see trouble coming but differ in their responses.

In the local saloon, after Madden helps Roan in a fight with the Sully brothers, those brothers start picking on the town drunk (long-time character actor John Litel, who had often played ministers and even Gen. Phil Sheridan).  Finally, they shoot him, not realizing that he’s Madden’s father.  Madden leaves town, saying he’s not going in pursuit of them, but he finds them before Corey does.  Corey rides up, sees Madden standing over the two dead Sullys and tries to arrest him.  Madden rides away, gambling that Corey will not shoot him in the back, but he does, winging him.

Aimless young drifter Reb Roan finds Madden having collapsed from his wound and does what he can to doctor it.  It’s in Madden’s right arm (his gun arm), and it obviously impairs Madden’s ability to use his gun.  As the two of them ride into Sanctuary, Madden is greeted as “El Gavilan,” Spanish for “the hawk”—he is the mysterious figure who presides over Sanctuary.  His first action is to run out Johnny Flanders (veteran screen heavy Robert Wilke), who has violated Sanctuary’s rules about not using guns.  He accomplishes this not with guns but (not very convincingly for some one with a badly wounded right arm) with his fists.


Roan (Rod Lauren) and Madden (Rory Calhoun) ride into Sanctuary.

[Spoilers follow.]  Ben Corey rides into Sanctuary and takes Madden into custody, but the residents of the hamlet prevent him from riding out with El Gavilan.  Mitch tries unsuccessfully to raise a posse in a neighboring town and wants to just shoot Madden down.  Corey takes back his badge.  Meanwhile, in Sanctuary Madden’s romantic interest Marleen (Ruta Lee) spends the night with him, and in the morning he forces Roan into a gun fight.  Roan is wounded but Madden (who was dying from his wound) is dead—a death the way he wanted it.  Marleen then explains to Roan that, having violated the rules of Sanctuary, he must now leave.

The ending is not terribly satisfying, and the rationale for Reb having to leave not all that convincing now that Madden is dead.  There are at least two alternate endings that would have worked better:  (1) Instead of Madden dying, he and Roan stage the final gunfight, but it is just that—staged, for Corey to witness from his perch above the town.  When he sees Madden’s apparent death, he gives up the chase, and Madden and the inhabitants of Sanctuary live happily ever after in their remote location.  Or better, (2) if Madden has to die, it plays out as in the movie, but with his last words the dying Madden passes to Roan the mantle of El Gavilan, and Roan becomes the protector of Sanctuary in the place of his mentor.  And it’s never really explained why the fatherly Corey actually did shoot Madden in the back, although theoretically just wounding him.  The result in the film is probably more true to the state of 19th-century medicine on the trail than if Madden had survived.


A last night for Madden (Rory Calhoun) and Marleen (Ruta Lee).

Experienced hands Calhoun and Cameron are fine in this low-budget effort, although Calhoun spends too much time just looking pained, either from his wound or the situation around him.  Lauren and Ruta Lee are not impressive.  This is not among Calhoun’s very best efforts; those would probably be Dawn at Socorro (1954) and Apache Territory (1958), both with better writing. But it does pull us in with interesting characters, good world-weary acting from Calhoun and with its twist on familiar situations up to a point, until things fall apart at the end.  Rory Calhoun fans will want to watch it anyway.  In color, at 92 minutes.

For another tale of a haven for outlaws in the Southwest, see the more famous Rancho Notorious (1952) by director Fritz Lang, with the establishment presided over by Marlene Dietrich.  There is a string of westerns about gunmen with physical impairments, the best-known of which is El Dorado (1966), in which John Wayne is the afflicted gunslinger.

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Domino Kid

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 21, 2015

Domino Kid—Rory Calhoun, Andrew Duggan, Kristine Miller, Yvette Duguay, Eugene Iglesias (1957; Dir: Ray Nazarro)


In 1957 and 1958, Rory Calhoun was juggling his career between movies and television.  Not enough good movie roles were coming his way, so he took a producing role in a few westerns, working with journeyman director Ray Nazarro.  The best of these was probably Apache Territory (1958), based on a story by Louis L’Amour, in color.  Less ambitious efforts were The Hired Gun and Domino Kid, both in 1957.

Domino Kid is Court Garrand (Rory Calhoun), taking his name from the Double Six Ranch where he grew up.  While he was away fighting in the Civil War, a roving band of five outlaws raided the ranch and killed his father.  As the movie begins, Domino is hunting down the outlaws one by one.  By the time the movie is a few minutes old, he has killed Haymes and Trancas and is looking for Ed Sandlin.  He finds him in a saloon, with Sandlin sounding like he wants to make amends but really planning an ambush.  Domino manages to get Sandlin and escape town, looking for number four:  Sam Beal (played by an uncredited James Griffith, with his distinctive voice).  Domino gets Beal but does not get away unscathed.  Badly wounded, he is rumored to be dead.  And he has no idea who the fifth man in the gang was.


Former girlfriend Barbara (Kristine Miller) accuses Domino (Rory Calhoun) of becoming just another gunslinger–and not much of a guitar player.

Back in his home town of Pradera, former friends, including girlfriend Barbara (Kristine Miller), hear of his vengeance quest with increasing disquiet.  Wade Harrington (Andrew Duggan), a new banker in town, is interested in his Double Six Ranch, and hopes he’s dead.  But when Barbara visits the place, she finds him there, recuperating from his wounds.  He tries for a loan from Harrington but is denied.  On his way home he finds Harrington’s men damming the water his ranch depends on, claiming that the stream is on public land.  Domino threatens to kill Harrington if he doesn’t tear down the dam.

Domino drinks more heavily in Rosita’s cantina with Juan (Eugene Iglesias), an old friend who saw the five outlaws at the time of the original crime.  Domino broods about whether he’s becoming just another killer, as people seem to think.  One night, an oaf in the cantina uses his quirt on Rosita and Domino decks him.  Juan hauls the unconscious oaf off the premises but is captured by the oaf’s friends.  As they are about to torture Juan, Domino shows up and decks him again.  Juan says the oaf is the fifth man Domino’s been looking for.

As Domino prepares to leave the next morning at 10, Harrington challenges him in the street with a rifle.  He chooses not to respond, but we know that Harrington has already placed the oaf and some others at the site to help him.  As they fire at him, Domino fires back getting a few but taking some slugs himself.  As he falls, he gets the fifth man.  Harrington seems to be fine.  And Barbara promises to nurse Domino back to health.


Publicity stills of a steely-eyed Rory Calhoun; and Domino (Calhoun) and Barbara (Kristine Miller) getting together.

The ending is hopelessly muddled.  At one point in the shoot-out, it looks like Harrington is helping Domino out, but we have no idea why, since he arranged for this attack.  And several plot threads relating to the ranch are left unresolved.  What about the dam?  Is it on public land?  What about Harrington?  Is he in fact a good guy, or at least not so bad as we had thought?  Is the ranch idea going to work?  The Mexicans—Rosita (Yvette Duguay) and Juan (Eugene Iglesias)—are among the best characters in this one.

Rory Calhoun could do well in westerns, and he deserved better material, direction and writing than this.  Since he was a producer, however, maybe he had only himself to blame.  But the story works for a while, until it trips over its own feet.  For better Rory Calhoun in protagonist roles, see Dawn at Socorro and Apache Territory.  He had the best male widow’s peak in movies since Robert Taylor.

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Apache Territory

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 9, 2015

Apache Territory—Rory Calhoun, Barbara Bates, John Dehner, Leo Gordon Frank DeKova, Francis De Sales, Thomas Pittman, Carolyn Craig, Myron Healey (1958; Dir: Ray Nazarro)


Based on an early novel by Louis L’Amour (Last Stand at Papago Wells, which would have been a better and less generic title), this is first an Old Scout Takes Charge story.  The Old Scout here is Logan Cates (Rory Calhoun), and he is one of those omni-competent frontiersmen of whom L’Amour was so fond, like Hondo Lane (John Wayne, also in a story by L’Amour), Ward Kinsman (Robert Taylor in Ambush), Shalako (Sean Connery in Shalako) or Archie McIntosh (Burt Lancaster in Ulzana’s Raid).  It is also a Lost Patrol story, like Fort Massacre, from the heyday of cavalry westerns.  It has echoes of Strangers on a Stagecoach stories, except that this time it’s strangers surrounded by Apaches.  If only it had an easterner coming west and learning new ways and a Mysterious Stranger, it might have most of the traditional elements of western stories packed into one relatively short B western.

We first find Cates in the Arizona desert, aided by a little voice-over narration, as he tries to get to Yuma while avoiding hostile Apaches.  He’s successful enough until he spies several white horsemen who don’t see Apaches about to attack them; he fires a couple of warning shots, and they take off, followed by the Apaches.  He cautiously approaches the next water, only to find the whites’ bodies, and a live Apache.  He kills the Apache and finds one young white survivor with a wound:  19-year-old Lonnie Foreman (Thomas Pittman), who joins him.  A bit later Cates comes upon a wagon the Apaches have already left; a quivering young woman, Junie Hatchett (Carolyn Craig), huddles under the sagebrush with the rest of her family slaughtered nearby.


Logan Cates (Rory Calhoun) and Jennifer Fair (Barbara Bates) hash over past regrets.

As the three head for Apache Wells, they encounter two more riders:  former Confederate cavalry officer Grant Kimbrough (John Dehner) and his fiancée Jennifer Fair (Barbara Bates), also heading for Yuma.  As they all stop for water at Apache Wells, they are surrounded by Apaches under their leader Churupati and are joined in due course by six surviving cavalrymen from a patrol from Yuma, as well as Lugo (Frank DeKova), a Pima scout and prospector.  The cavalrymen have their own problems, in addition to having lost fifteen men already.  Their sergeant, Sgt. Sheehan (Francis De Sales), is a former desk clerk from St. Louis, and Zimmerman (Leo Gordon), whom he has demoted, is in a state of near constant rebellion.

[Spoilers follow.]  The sergeant defers to Cates in matters of strategy and planning.  Kimbrough initially does the same, but doesn’t trust his fiancée with Cates around and really wants to leave quickly.  Zimmerman wants to take over and is a constant source of tension.  Kimbrough and Zimmerman don’t trust Lugo, but Cates is inclined to, since Apaches hate Pimas.  Cates has a history with Jennifer that puts him at odds with Kimbrough.  He insists that they wait out the attack, since they have water and the Apaches don’t.  He and Lugo think a storm is imminent, and they plan to get out under cover of the weather.  The cavalrymen get picked off one by one, starting with the sergeant and another.  Zimmerman is killed trying to break out, and another (Myron Healey) is driven crazy thinking of his family in Illinois.  Finally, as the storm comes up, Cates, Lonnie, Kimbrough and Conley (the last cavalryman) fashion bombs out of gunpowder and canteens and use the storm as cover to deliver them—except for Kimbrough, who tosses his aside and ducks back to cover.


By the end, the survivors ride out.  Kimbrough is dead after a fight with Lugo, Cates and Jennifer are back together, and it looks like Lonnie and Junie will ride on to California and make a life together with a little gold given to them by Lugo.  The five are the only survivors.  We never see Churupati.

Rory Calhoun could be a decent actor with good material and direction (see him in Dawn at Socorro, for example).  Here he mostly looks pained while others quarrel with him, as he tries to save people he’s not really responsible for.  He tended to be the protagonist in B westerns but a bad guy in A westerns (see, for example, The Spoilers and River of No Return).  Cates’ backstory of his relationship with Jennifer is not terribly convincing.  One suspects the direction by journeyman Ray Nazarro wasn’t much help.  Nazarro directed a lot of B westerns, and this was his last movie.  John Dehner (The Fastest Gun Alive, Trooper Hook, Man of the West, The Left-Handed Gun) and Leo Gordon (Hondo, Gun Fury, Ten Wanted Men, 7th Cavalry, McLintock!) were both excellent character actors, and they do well enough here. Gordon tends to be on one note of hostility here, and he can do much more than that if allowed.  Barbara Bates is fine; she’s required to move from hositility to Cates to despising Kimbrough to rapprochement with Cates, and it works.  DeKova works well enough as the Pima Lugo.   Pittman and Craig would have done better with better writing for their parts and more nuanced direction.   Both Tom Pittman and Carolyn Craig, who played the young couple, died young and violently—Pittman soon after the release of this movie in a car crash and Craig in 1970 by gunshot (suicide).  Barbara Bates was also a suicide in 1969.

In all, this is a watchable B western, especially for fans of Rory Calhoun.  It’s not perfect, and it’s marred by pedestrian direction.  Among all westerns, it might win the award for Best Performance by a Gila Monster.  Shot in color by Irving Lippman, at 77 minutes.  Not to be confused with Apache Country, with Gene Autry (1952).  Or with the classic Fort Apache, for that matter.

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Selander’s Cavalry

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 9, 2014

Journeyman director Lesley Selander is said to have made more westerns than any other director, purely in terms of numbers–107 Westerns between his first directorial feature in 1936 and his last in 1968.  This requires a little explanation.  Allan Dwan, a well-known director between 1909 and 1961, directed 171 westerns.  But 157 of these were silent movies produced between 1911 and 1917, when movies were not yet generally at feature length.  (Cecil B. DeMille is thought to have made the first feature-length movie in 1914 with The Squaw Man.)  So Selander is considered to have made the most westerns in the modern era–since 1920 or so, let’s say.

In the hierarchy of directors, Selander was more prolific but less talented than, say, Andre de Toth.  He seldom had a large budget, well-known writers or a big star to work with; these were mostly B movies.  But leading actors in Selander movies occasionally included Randolph Scott (Tall Man Riding) or Rory Calhoun (The Yellow Tomahawk, below), and he often had good character actors (John Dehner, Robert Wilke, John Doucette, Noah Beery, Jr.).  Long-time character actor Harry Dean Stanton got his start on Selander westerns.  During the 1950s Selander was at the peak of his career when he made several cavalry movies, including these four.


War Paint—Robert Stack, Joan Taylor, Keith Larsen, Peter Graves, Charles McGraw, John Doucette, Robert Wilke (1953; Dir: Lesley Selander)

Robert Stack is Lt. Billings, the commander of a small cavalry troop charged with delivering a treaty to an Indian chief.  If he doesn’t receive it within a week, the chief will go on the warpath.  The chief’s son Taslik (Keith Larsen) is guiding the soldiers to his father, but he secretly wants war to come and is undermining the mission.  His sister Wanima (Joan Taylor), a beautiful Indian princess, secretly follows the patrol, sabotaging their water and helping her brother in other ways.  Not a lot of action or much star power, but the cast is good aside from that.  Filmed in color in the vicinity of Death Valley.  Workmanlike directing, with occasionally clunky writing.  89 minutes.

The Yellow Tomahawk—Rory Calhoun, Peggie Castle, Noah Beery, Jr., Lee Van Cleef, Rita Moreno, Peter Graves (1954; Dir: Lesley Selander)

This was a B movie directed by Lesley Selander, so Rory Calhoun is a good guy in it.  In higher-grade movies, he tended to show up as a bad guy (The Spoilers, River of No Return), and he could be convincing as either good guys or bad.

Indian scout Adam Reed (Rory Calhoun) is a blood brother to the Cheyenne war leader Fireknife (Lee Van Cleef).  When the cavalry, led by Major Ives (Warner Anderson), insists on building a post in Wyoming Territory contrary to the treaty with Red Cloud, Fireknife warns Reed that there will be bloodshed, especially because Ives was one of the leaders at the Sand Creek Massacre of Black Kettle’s Cheyennes a few years previously.

While traveling to warn the cavalry detachment, Reed encounters Kate Bolden (Peggie Castle), who is looking for her betrothed lieutenant.  (Obligatory nude-bathing-in- the-wilderness scene.)  Ives refuses to leave and bit by bit all the soldiers are killed except Ives.  Reed guides the small party of survivors to Fort Ellis, where he hopes to turn Ives over to a court martial.  Finally, it comes down to Reed against Fireknife, one brother against another, and Reed wins.  Bolden has transferred her affections to Reed after her lieutenant is killed.  And it turns out Ives is part Cheyenne, which is the personal stain he was trying to wipe out at Sand Creek.

Filmed in Kanab, in southern Utah, this movie features some clunky acting and was seen in a very poor print.  It was theoretically shot in color, but the print I saw was black and white and grainy.  Castle wears anachronistic very tight blouse and pants.  Van Cleef doesn’t sound like an Indian, although his Indian looks are better than some whites in such parts.  Noah Beery is a Mexican scout, pursued by amorous Indian maiden Honey Bear (unconvincingly played by Rita Moreno).  Peter Graves is a cowardly prospector who kills his partner after they’ve discovered gold.  On the whole it’s watchable, but not really good.  82 minutes.


Tomahawk Trail—Chuck Connors, Susan Cummings, George Neise, Harry Dean Stanton (1957; Dir: Lesley Selander)

Clunky writing distinguishes this B western about a beleaguered cavalry patrol in Apache country.  The two conflicts:  (a) an inexperienced, incompetent (and out of his head) lieutenant (George Neise) with the patrol in danger among Mescalero Apaches; and (b) Apache chief Victorio’s daughter (Lisa Montell) captured by the patrol.  Experienced sergeant Wade McCoy (Chuck Connors) has to take over, although some members of the patrol question his authority and he has the spectre of a court martial hanging over him (a la The Caine Mutiny).  McCoy gets them back to the post without horses, only to find all the personnel there slaughtered and the well water salted.  At the post they have to hold off an attack by Victorio’s superior forces, until the fight is resolved when his daughter returns to the Apaches.  The lieutenant is killed in the defense.

Susan Cummings plays Ellen Carter from Philadelphia; when she dons a military uniform out of necessity, it looks suspiciously tailored to her form (much as Joanne Dru looked good in military garb in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon).  A young Harry Dean Stanton (billed as Dean Stanton) plays the disabled lieutenant’s orderly.  The movie uses an actual Indian actor (Eddie Little Sky) as Johnny Dogwood, the patrol’s Apache scout.  Filmed around Kanab in southern Utah, in black and white.  Short, at only 60 minutes.


Revolt at Fort Laramie—John Dehner, Gregg Palmer, Frances Helm (1957; Dir: Lesley Selander)

Generally, this is a decent late black-and-white B western curiously lacking in star power.  The Civil War is starting back east, and the garrison at Fort Laramie is (a) facing its own problems with Red Cloud and (b) trying to sort out where the individual loyalties of the soldiers will lie in the conflict between the states.  Major Seth Bradner (John Dehner) is from Virginia, with southern sympathies.  Second-in-command Capt. James Tenslip (Gregg Palmer) is a northerner, in love with Bradner’s niece Melissa (Frances Helm).  The soldiers appear equally split between north and south, although historically southerners tended (and still tend) to take to a career in the military more than northerners.  A too-venal-seeming Jean Selignac (supposedly a half-Sioux, played by Don Gordon) is a scout whose own loyalties are in question for different reasons.  Dehner is fine; Palmer is fairly forgettable; Helm is okay.  Filmed in Kanab, Utah.  Look for an uncredited Harry Dean Stanton as a southern-leaning private.  Short, at 73 minutes.


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The Spoilers (1955)

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 28, 2014

The Spoilers—Jeff Chandler, Anne Baxter, Rory Calhoun, John McIntire, Ray Danton, Barbara Britton (1955; Dir: Jesse Hibbs)


This is the fifth and most recent version of Rex Beach’s oft-filmed novel of claim-jumping, fraud and larceny in the Alaska gold rush of 1899.  Like some of the other frequently re-made stories from the earlier years of the movies (The Virginian, Whispering Smith), this one hasn’t been done again in 60 years, as tastes in stories and forms of entertainment have changed.  This story and various of its elements (the culminating fight scene, the female saloon owner in love with the good guy, the shared mine ownership, the con-man claim-jumping mastermind) obviously influenced better Alaska gold rush movies such as 1954’s The Far Country and 1960’s North to Alaska.  The 1930 version of the story with Gary Cooper is apparently lost; the 1942 version with John Wayne and Randolph Scott is generally thought to be the best, especially its climactic fight scene.  This one is watchable but not exceptional.

As the movie opens, the arrival of Roy Glennister (Jeff Chandler) and his partner Dextry (John McIntire) on the boat from Seattle is anticipated by his girlfriend, saloon owner and dance-hall girl Cherry Malotte (Anne Baxter).  There have been a number of claim-jumping incidents recently, and nobody knows where the new gold commissioner Alexander McNamara (Rory Calhoun) will come out on these things.  When the steamer arrives, Cherry is chagrined to find that Glennister has apparently been keeping company with the new federal judge’s attractive young niece, and she and Glennister have an explosive break-up.  Concern over claim-jumping dies down as the new judge generally seems to find for the original claimants.  But when Glennister and Dextry are served with a warrant about a competing claimant, we start to see that McNamara is crooked and has hired a fake federal judge.  He intends to take Glennister and Dextry’s existing $80,000 in gold and take another $250,000 from their claim while they wait for their case to be heard.  It never will be.


Cherry Malotte (Anne Baxter) gets to know Alexander MacNamara (Rory Calhoun); Dextry (John McIntire) and Glennister (Jeff Chandler) defend their mining claim.

Originally Glennister takes a more law-abiding view than Dextry, but at this point he sees that things are crooked and stacked against them.  They try to take the gold from their sequestered safe, and the marshal is killed in the process—shot in the back by Cherry’s dealer Blackie (Ray Danton, who had a short-lived but memorable career as a bad guy in the 1950s before drifting into mostly television work). Blackie is apparently playing his own anti-Glennister game because he wants Cherry, too.  Glennister is blamed for the marshal’s death and thrown into jail, where McNamara plots to allow him to escape and then shoot him down in the process.  Cherry hears of the plan and aids a real escape for Glennister.  Glennister and Dextry violently take back their mine while McNamara is distracted by Cherry in town.  Blackie is killed in a train crash during the recovery of the mine, but not before admitting his killing of the marshal.  Glennister confronts McNamara and they engage in a lengthy fist fight that virtually destroy’s Cherry’s Northern Saloon.  McNamara’s gang is apprehended (including the comely faux-niece), and Glennister and Cherry are back together.

Chandler gives a serviceable performance, as does Calhoun.  The best are probably Anne Baxter and John McIntire (who had played the principal claim-stealer in the previous year’s The Far Country).  Anne Baxter’s most famous role was in All About Eve, of course, but if you’d like to see her in another good western, check out Yellow SkyIn color.


The films are based on Rex Beach’s 1906 novel, which was in turn based on the exploits and machinations of real-life Nome crook and claim-jumper Alexander McKenzie, who served three months in jail before being pardoned by Pres. McKinley in 1901.

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Dawn at Socorro

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 26, 2014

Dawn at Socorro–Rory Calhoun, Piper Laurie, David Brian, Alex Nicol, Edgar Buchanan, Lee Van Cleef, Mara Corday, Skip Homeier (1954; Dir:  George Sherman)


This movie asks the question “What if Doc Holliday had been a nicer guy?”  The famously misanthropic gambler-gunman-dentist often steals a film of the Earp story, but here he’s less misanthropic—a world-weary former Confederate gambler from South Carolina with a reputation and a way with guns.  And he apparently likes to help innocent blondes instead of hanging out with big-nosed Hungarian prostitutes.

It starts with an Earp-esque framing story in 1871, ten years before the real Tombstone gunfight.  In Lordsburg, New Mexico, Marshal Harry McNair, his brother Vince and gambler-gunman Brett Wade (Rory Calhoun) take on the local Ferris clan, led by Old Man Ferris and including sons Tom, Earl (Lee Van Cleef) and Buddy (Skip Homeier).  As in Tombstone, the Ferrises lose, in part because their gunman-ally Jimmy Rapp (Alec Nicol) is dead drunk and unable to participate at the time of the shootout.

Having received a minor wound in the battle, Wade is now planning to go to Colorado Springs for his lungs.  A young woman is brought into Lordsburg by her religious-fanatic father and told she no longer has a family; she has to make her own way in the world with few options.  She is Rannah Hayes (Piper Laurie), and Dick Braden (David Brian), owner of a crooked saloon in Socorro, pounces and offers her a job there as a saloon girl when she has nowhere else to go.


Piper Laurie as Rannah Hayes in her saloon-girl phase; Alex Nicol as Jimmy Rapp.

The next day Wade, Jimmy Rapp and Rannah are on the same stage for Socorro, where Wade intends to catch the train.  Wade and Rannah talk, and he hears a bit of her story.  At a way station, Earl Ferris makes an attempt to ambush Wade, who grabs Rapp’s gun and kills Earl.

Once in Socorro, Wade manages not to catch the first train so he can keep an eye on Rannah.  Socorro Sheriff Cauthen (Edgar Buchanan) is nervous at the presence of the notorious gunman and orders him to take the next available train, at 6:30 the next morning.  Meanwhile, he plans to spend the entire night keeping an eye on Wade and Rapp.

Sheriff Cauthen:  “Let’s have your gun.”
Jimmy Rapp:  “I’m naked without it!”
Sheriff Cauthen:  “It’s all right. I won’t arrest you for being naked.”


As Braden pushes Rannah farther into the life of a saloon girl, Wade tries without much success to get her to go the other way.  She is emotionally bruised by the treatment of her father, who claimed she was coming on to the ranch hands.  Wade’s old friend Letty (Mara Corday) works at Braden’s and has no illusions about where the life leads.  Wade has a very successful night at Braden’s craps table, winning more than $20,000.  Finally he and Braden agree to a poker game.  If Braden wins, he gets Wade’s craps winnings and keeps Rannah.  If Wade wins, Rannah leaves with him.  As 6 a.m. looms in the tense game, Wade loses and prepares to leave town.

Station Agent:  “Who’s coming after you?”
Brett Wade:  “My past.  Every dark, miserable day of it.”

Having won is not enough revenge for Braden, who offers Rapp $5,000 to kill Wade.  Wade wins that shootout, despite having to borrow a gun again.  And he takes out Braden as Braden prepares to shoot him without warning.  Wearily, he gives the sheriff back his gun and gets on the train.  As it pulls out of Socorro, Rannah takes the next seat and says she’s heading for Colorado Springs.

George Sherman was a lifelong director of B movies, and this one fits that description, too.  However, it’s a pretty decent B movie, one of Rory Calhoun’s better films.  Calhoun, whose real name was apparently Francis McCown and whose friends called him “Smoke,” was in 21 western movies and many television shows.  In A movies (The Spoilers, River of No Return), he was often a bad guy.  In B movies, he tended to be a good guy.  He was reasonably smooth and convincing at both.  He’s good here, but the movie really depends on Piper Laurie’s ability to be persuasive and engaging as naïve-but-sweet potential saloon-girl Rannah.  If we don’t care about her, we don’t care about the movie.  And she works well.  Even Edgar Buchanan is good in a different role than his usual alcoholic reprobate judge.  This may not be the most memorable western you’ll see this year, but it’s a pleasant way to spend 80 minutes.  In color, with a script by George Zuckerman.


Dave Kehr characterizes it as “an audacious re-framing of the OK Corral story that imagines the Doc Holliday character (Rory Calhoun) surviving the shoot-out with the Clantons and trying to get out of the game, only to find himself in a town that exactly resembles the one he just left.  There’s some highly imaginative staging here:  a lot of the action takes place in a crowded saloon, where the main characters warily keep an eye on each other while nothing much happens, and there’s a stylized showdown at the end that makes use of some striking high-angle compositions that suggest Hitchcock more than Ford.”

For another 1950s variation on the Earp story using different names, try Forty Guns (1957), with Barry Sullivan and Barbara Stanwyck.


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River of No Return

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 13, 2014

River of No Return—Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun, Tommy Rettig (1954; Dir:  Otto Preminger, Jean Negulesco)


Reportedly, neither Marilyn Monroe nor director Otto Preminger wanted to make this movie; they were forced to do so because of contractual obligations.  Both were said to have reservations about the script, and they didn’t get along with each other much, either.

In 1875 Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum) has sent for his ten-year-old son Mark (Tommy Rettig) to live with him on a remote homestead on Idaho’s River of No Return after the boy’s mother dies.  While waiting in a mining camp for his father, Mark makes the acquaintance of dance hall girl Kay (Marilyn Monroe).  Once back on their farm, gambler Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun) and his “wife” Kay are on a raft headed downriver to file a gold claim in Council City but are marooned at the Calder place.  When Matt declines to lend Weston his rifle and horse, Weston knocks Calder out and takes them, leaving Kay behind.


Calder worries about hostile Indians (of unspecified tribe, but one supposes that in 1875 they’d be Nez Perces or Northern Paiutes, maybe Bannocks) without the rifle, and they show up.  In desperation, Calder, Mark and Kay are forced to take the raft downriver, although there is little hope they can get through the rapids in the 15 miles to Council City.  The Indians burn the Calder cabin as the trio heads downstream.  Starvation becomes a problem, as they exist on berries and what few fish they can spear.  Finally, they catch an elk in the river, but the roasting meat attracts a mountain lion.  Calder attacks Kay, and the the lion attacks Calder.  He is saved when the lion is killed by a couple of hunters, one of whom turns out to be Colby, the person from whom the gambler Weston won his gold claim.  He’s determined to get it back and coarsely comes on to Kay.  Calder is up and down in his relationship with Kay; mostly he’s suspicious of her because of her association with Weston.

They spar verbally, with Kay saying she knows that Calder’s wife died while he was in jail for shooting somebody in the back.  For his part, Calder treats Kay like a dance hall girl.  It turns out Weston and Kay haven’t yet been married.  Calder drives off Colby and keeps his rifle and ammunition belt.  The next day as they head downriver again, the Indians find them just before they get to the rapids.  Calder drops several of them but runs out of ammunition.  Two of their Indian attackers make it to the raft, and Calder has to fight them off just as they reach the rapids. 

They shoot the canyon, although Calder falls off and only stays with them by hanging on to the steering rudder.  Just before they get to Council City, Kay makes Calder promise to let her talk with Weston first to avoid violence.  Reluctantly Calder agrees, and he and Mark go off to the general store.  Kay explains things to Weston, but he responds by taking out his gun and shooting Calder as he walks out of the store.  With Calder down, Weston heads for him, obviously planning to finish him off.  Just as he aims his gun to do so, Mark in the store at the rifle rack shoots him in the back. 


Kay (Marilyn Monroe) returns to her former career.

Kay takes her red shoes (symbols of her former life and unsavory career) to the local saloon and resumes that career there.  The Calders get a horse, wagon and supplies.  In the final scene, Kay wistfully sings (dubbed by Gloria Wood) “The River of No Return.”  As she finishes to enthusiastic applause, she smiles ruefully.  Calder walks through the door and carries her out over his shoulder.  “Where are you taking me?” she says in presumed outrage.  “Home,” he replies.  As the wagon heads out of town, she throws the red shoes in the dust, much like Will Kane’s badge at the end of High Noon.

Despite any reservations Monroe and Preminger may have had about the script, this did well at the box office.  The movie is watchable, but Monroe’s not a natural in westerns.  She’s all right in this, if a bit distracting.  It was said that during the shooting Preminger and Monroe stopped speaking to each other and would only communicate through Mitchum, who had known Marilyn a long time.  Mitchum was quite at home in westerns, and Rettig went on to star in Delmer Daves’ The Last Wagon and in a television series with Lassie.  Rory Calhoun is in his slick and sleazy bad guy mode, as in The Spoilers.  He’s not on screen all that much.

RiverNo MonroeMitch

She didn’t get along with director Preminger’s screaming style, but she did get along with long-time friend and co-star Mitchum.

In color, filmed in Banff and Jasper, Alberta, in Cinemascope and 3D.  When Preminger was not available for some reshoots, Jean Negulesco directed those.  It’s not very long at 91 minutes.  Preminger did not consider this one of his best.

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