Tag Archives: Wallace Beery


Nicholas Chennault ~ February 2, 2015

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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Bad Bascomb

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 2, 2014

Bad Bascomb—Wallace Beery, Margaret O’Brien, J. Carroll Naish, Marshall Thompson, Marjorie Main (1946; Dir:  S. Sylvan Simon)


Wallace Beery is the eponymous Zeb Bascomb, leader of an outlaw gang, in this blatant attempt to recapture the sentimentality of his earlier hit with Jackie Cooper, The Champ (1931), which had been in turn a variation on Charlie Chaplin’s sweeter The Kid (1921)–a societal outcast is reformed or saved by the love of a child.   In other ways it uses story elements from the 1940 western Wyoming, in which Beery plays a nasty military deserter who ends up helping the good guys in a range war. 

Shortly after the Civil War, Bascomb and his gang try to rob a bank, only to run into a trap with law officers waiting for them.  Pursued by a posse, Bascomb, Bart Yancy (J. Carroll Naish) and young Jimmy Holden (William Marshall) escape and join a Mormon wagon train headed for Utah.  There is gold hidden on the train, and eventually Yancy finds it.  The plan is to take the gold and flee. 

However, by now Bascomb, going by the name Zeke Smith, has formed a relationship with nine-year-old Emmy (Margaret O’Brien), a member of the lost (and particularly clueless) Mormon wagon train.  And Bascomb further becomes romantically entangled with Emmy’s grandmother Abbey Hanks, played by Marjorie Main.  As the head elder lies dying, he entrusts leadership of the wagon train to Bascomb and makes him promise to get them through to Utah.  Yancy is disgusted and leaves to see if he can find more reliable allies.


Bascomb (Wallace Beery) with Emmy (Margaret O’Brien) and her grandmother Abbey Hanks (Marjorie Main).


Bascomb (Beery) and Bart Yancy (J. Carroll Naish) have a difference of opinion.

As the wagon train encounters hostile Indians, egged on by Bascomb’s now-former associate Yancy, Bascomb directs the set-up of the defense and rides off 40 miles to seek help from the cavalry.  (That’s an obvious double doing all the hard riding on film for the 61-year-old Beery.)  He fights off Indian attackers in his desperate ride, and meanwhile the wagon train is attacked.  The defense is led by Bascomb’s young (outlaw) associate Jimmy Holden, who has come to fancy one of the young ladies in the wagon train and, like Bascomb, is forsaking his outlaw ways. 

In the end, after rescuing the wagon train, the reformed Bascomb rides off with the federal officer to face the music for his life of crime.  Even the love of a child can’t save him from that.  In the 1940s and 1950s, outlaws had to be shown receiving the consequences of their crimes and seldom were allowed to just change their ways and get away with it. 


Al Hirschfeld caricatures of O’Brien and Beery and of Beery by himself.  His characters don’t usually smile, contrary to what both of these seem to show.

Wallace Beery had had a long and successful career as a bad guy (see him as Magua in the 1920 Last of the Mohicans, for example), and, surprisingly, as a rough-hewn not-really-so bad guy with a heart of gold.  He was a big star in his time, even though he obviously lacked matinee-idol looks.  By most accounts, Beery was not as nice to work with as the characters he portrays on screen, especially for child actors; he had all the coarseness his characters usually do, without the heart of gold.  Margaret O’Brien claimed that she had to be protected by crew members from Beery’s insistence on constantly pinching her.  He and Marjorie Main were paired in a number of movies beginning around 1940 (Wyoming), as Beery had been with Marie Dressler in the 1930s.  Bad Bascomb was one of Beery’s last five movies.  It was kind of an old-fashioned film even in 1946; Beery died three years later in 1949.  For current audiences, all the bonding with young Emmy can seem slow and cloying; others find it heart-warming, as the filmmakers intended.  This is interesting as a cultural artifact, a sort of film that isn’t made now.  Use it as a test, to see if you can get into the mindset of an earlier generation of filmgoers from almost seventy years ago.

You might see this as similar in theme to Angel and the Badman, made a year later in 1947, where an outlaw is reformed by his love (fatherly in this case, rather than romantic, as in Angel) for a young religious female.  It is also said that Bascomb inspired Anthony Mann in making one of his own westerns taking a Bascomb theme (bad guy-fugitive seeks refuge in/leads wagon train) in 1954’s Bend of the River. The opening scene of Bend of the River pays homage to Bad Bascomb by having James Stewart ride up to a wagon and receive a piece of food from a little girl. Some say that more than twenty years later in the original True Grit, John Wayne was channeling Wallace Beery as Rooster Cogburn, and winning his only Best Actor Oscar for it.  In black and white, at 112 minutes.  Filmed on location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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Last of the Mohicans (1936 and 1920)

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 19, 2013

Last of the Mohicans—Randolph Scott, Binnie Barnes, Henry Wilcoxon, Bruce Cabot, Heather Angel, Philip Reed, Robert Barrat, Hugh Buckler (1936; Dir:  George B. Seitz)


The official 1936 movie poster uses a 1919 N.C. Wyeth illustration from the book (upper left corner).

The successful 1992 version of this story was said to be have been based more on this 1936 movie than on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper.  There are several lines from this version that recur in the 1992 movie and the 1936 screenwriter Philip Dunne even has a credit in the 1992 film, but the two versions are not identical in plot. 

Col. Munro (Hugh Buckler) is at Albany, about to head for Fort William Henry on Lake George, when he is joined by Major Duncan Heyward (Henry Wilcoxon) and Munro’s two daughters, Alice (Binnie Barnes, with dark hair) and Cora (Heather Angel, blond).  Their column is led by adopted Mohawk Magua (Bruce Cabot), who talks Heyward and the Munro daughters into taking a short cut on which he plans to betray them to the invading Hurons.  The small party is rescued by Hawkeye (Randolph Scott) and father and son Mohicans, Chingachgook (Robert Barrat) and Uncas (Philip Reed).  While making for Fort William Henry, they steal canoes and elude the Huron pursuit.  Hawkeye and Alice begin to form a relationship, to the irritation of Major Heyward, as do Uncas and Cora.

LastMohicans36BarnesScott Alice and Hawkeye

Once at the fort, the British are besieged by the French, Hurons and Ottawas.  Uncas makes an unsuccessful attempt to carry a dispatch to Gen. Webb and is wounded.  Hawkeye tells the colonials their homes and farms are in danger and helps them to escape the fort; for this, he and Chingachgook are put in the fort’s brig.  Montcalm, the French commander, persuades Munro that further resistance is hopeless, and Munro surrenders on the promise of honorable terms and treatment.  Magua whips the French-allied Hurons and Ottawas into a murderous frenzy, and the Indians attack the now-vulnerable British before they are able to leave the fort.  The French are horrified and eventually put a stop to the massacre, but not before Magoa makes off with Alice and Cora and heads north.


Hawkeye and the Mohicans escape the brig in the melee and head after Magua, encountering Major Heyward on the trail.  Magua brings the sisters to the Huron council, where it is decided that Alice will die by being burned to death, and Cora is given until morning to decide between joining her sister in death or becoming Magua’s squaw.  Uncas sneaks into the camp and rescues Cora, but Magua pursues.  Uncas is killed by Magua and Cora chooses death rather than be taken again by Magua.  In turn, Chingachgook kills the evil Magua.

Hawkeye and Major Heyward argue over who will volunteer to trade himself for Alice.  Heyward knocks out Hawkeye and steals his clothes; the Hurons agree to trade Cora for the disguised Heyward.  Hawkeye shows up and has a shooting match with Heyward to prove who is the real Hawkeye; he ends up being tortured and prepared for burning.  As the Mohicans, Heyward and Alice escape, they find a relief column near and return in time to save Hawkeye. 


Once back in in Albany with the relief column, Hawkeye faces a court martial for the same changes for which he was imprisoned at Fort William Henry, but this time Heyward comes to his defense.  He is acquitted of all charges in return for joining the British army as a scout in their next expedition northward.

So the blond and dark Munro daughters are switched in this version; the canoe chase takes place before the fort surrenders, Major Heyward surivives, and Hawkeye joins the British army.  These are all changed in the 1992 version of the story.  But this version deserves to be regarded as a classic.  Scott is excellent as Hawkeye in one of the best of his early screen roles, and Wilcoxon does very well as Heyward.  The sisters are also excellent.  Cabot as Magua is neither as evil and leering as Wallace Beery (1920) nor as implacably cruel as Wes Studi (1992).  But this is well worth watching, despite a couple of clunky spots.  It was filmed in the Crescent City and Smith River areas of northern California, using Yurok, Hoopa and Tolowa extras.

The Last of the Mohicans—Wallace Beery, Barbara Bedford, Harry Lorraine, Alan Roscoe, Theodore Lorch, Henry Woodward (1920; Dir: Clarence Brown, Maurice Tourneur)


The first film version of Last of the Mohicans was a 1911 one-reeler starring James Cruze, better known these days for directing the 1923 silent western classic The Covered Wagon.  The silent version most often seen these days is Maurice Tourneur’s 1920 version.  That same year there was a German version of the story featuring Bela Lugosi as Chingachgook. 


Bedford and Roscoe as the young lovers Cora and Uncas.

This Tourneur version is notable for Wallace Beery’s leering performance as the evil Magua, for the prominence of Uncas (Alan or Albert Roscoe) as the romantic hero, and for the strangely hayseed depiction of Hawkeye (Harry Lorraine), giving him a much less prominent role in the drama than this character usually has.  The romantic leads of Roscoe and then-17-year-old Barbara Bedford (Cora) were later married.  Boris Karloff is said to be one of the Indian extras in the film, but if so he’s not very obvious.

LastMohicansBeery Beery as Magua

This was filmed around Big Bear Lake and the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California, with some shooting in Yosemite.  The directors are top-quality:  Tourneur did most of the movie, but after being injured on the set, he gave Clarence Brown one of his first directing chances in finishing the film and doing much of the outdoor shooting.  The restored print has a lot of color tints in it.  This version is one of the three (1920, 1936, 1992) most worth watching and is said to be truer to Cooper’s novel than most later versions.  At 73 minutes, it’s not terribly long.

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