Tag Archives: Walter Brennan

The Westerner

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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At Gunpoint

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 3, 2014

At Gunpoint—Fred MacMurray, Dorothy Malone, Walter Brennan, Skip Homeier, Tommy Rettig (1955; Dir:  Alfred L. Werker)

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A variation on the High Noon theme, which was made two or three years earlier than this movie.  Peace-loving storekeeper Jack Wright (Fred MacMurray) kills the leader of an outlaw gang by a stroke of luck while they’re trying to rob the local bank.  Hailed as a hero, Wright realizes deep down that he’s a coward, and, more obviously, he’s not really any good with a gun.  When the surviving gunmen return to town, thirsting for revenge, the townsfolk expect Wright to singlehandedly stand up to the villains. When he asks for help, his neighbors turn their backs on him, ordering him to get out of town to avoid further trouble. Only the doctor (Walter Brennan) and Wright’s wife (Dorothy Malone) remain loyal.  Ultimately, Wright finds that he may not be as cowardly as he had thought.  After Wright gives a stirring speech in a saloon, the townspeople do come to his aid and the gang is captured. 

This is different from High Noon in that the man in danger has not deliberately taken that risk—he’s not a marshal or sheriff—and because eventually the town does stick up for him.  Kind of talky.  Good performance by MacMurray; his son is played by Tommy Rettig, who went on to star in Delmer Daves’ The Last Wagon and in television’s Lassie.  The crusty but beloved town doctor (Walter Brennan) is essentially the same character as John McIntire in The Tin Star.

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This is one of those 1950s westerns dwelling on the interaction between a town and its sheriff, the nature of community and the kind of support a sheriff should expect from those he protects.  The most famous is High Noon, but see also The Tin Star, Warlock and Rio Bravo, as well as the later Lawman.  This also bears some resemblance to The Fastest Gun Alive a couple of years later; the difference is that Glenn Ford in Fastest Gun is good with a gun but doesn’t want to use it.  The cowardly townspeople were becoming a cliché by the time this movie was made.  Another comparison might be with 1967’s Hombre, in which Paul Newman has been rejected by others for living as an Apache.  He clearly owes them nothing, but nevertheless comes to their aid against his own inclinations simply because he is the one best suited to do so.   In color, at 81 minutes.

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The Showdown

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 25, 2014

The Showdown—William Elliott, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan, Jim Davis, Marie Windsor, Rhys Williams, Yakima Canutt, Charles Stevens (1950; Dirs:  Dorrell McGowan and Stuart McGowan)

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Not a terribly meaningful title for a cattle drive movie.  Stoic actor Wild Bill Elliott starred in a lot of B-type westerns and crime stories in the late 1940s and 1950s, including several as Red Ryder, but he was kind of stone-faced and not very charismatic.  If you want to watch one of his westerns to see what he was about, you could do worse than trying this one. 

William (Wild Bill) Elliott is Shadrach Jones, an ex-Texas State Policeman looking for his brother’s killer.  The movie opens with Jones digging up his brother’s body, to find that he’d been shot in the back with a small-caliber gun.  Figuring the killer to be one of the hands on a trail drive to Montana, he signs on as the trail boss for owner Cap MacKellar (Walter Brennan) of the Circle K after he has to kill Big Mart (Leif Erickson), the existing foreman.  Marie Windsor (queen of the B-movies) is Adelaide, saloon owner and partner to MacKellar, with perhaps a romantic interest in Jones.  She shows up to go on the drive, theoretically to protect her investment but really to have a female on screen through the movie.

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Adelaide (Marie Windsor) and Shadrach Jones (William Elliott).

[Spoilers follow.]  The drive has the usual vicissitudes (stampedes and related deaths), with the added element of somebody killing various participants as the drive moves along.  Finally an accident gives MacKellar a mortal injury and he admits that he did the shooting of Jones’ brother, leaving a number of loose ends in the plot. 

There are some spots where the background is too obviously painted, and the supporting cast is stronger than the lead.  Walter Brennan gives the best performance in the film as McKellar, the owner of the herd.  Charles Stevens (grandson of Geronimo) is another of his Indian Joe characters.  Harry Morgan is good as Rod Main, a gunhand hostile to Jones from the start.  Rhys Williams is Chokecherry, the one-handed cook and chuckwagon driver.  On the whole this seems slightly better than a B movie, with a better than average script.  A Republic film with a low budget and some noir elements, but it’s better than it deserves to be.  Black and white, 86 minutes. 

Not to be confused with either Showdown (1963) with Audie Murphy, or Showdown (1973) with Rock Hudson, Dean Martin and Susan Clark.  Not to mention Fury at Showdown, Showdown at Boot Hill, etc.

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How the West Was Won

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 11, 2014

How the West Was Won–James Stewart, Richard Widmark, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Henry Fonda, Walter Brennan (1962; Dir:  Henry Hathaway, John Ford, George Marshall)

NY Times, by Dave Kehr, Sept. 8, 2008.  Written on the occasion of the release of the restored version of the movie on DVD.

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The first Cinerama features were travelogues, transporting 1950s spectators to parts of the world most would never see.  (Many of the earliest Edison and Lumière films, at the turn of the 20th century, fulfilled a similar function.)  Released in the United States in 1963, How the West Was Won would be the first — and, as it turned out, the last — narrative film to be shot in the three-strip Cinerama process.

In a sense the film’s guiding aesthetic is still that of the travelogue, but instead of visiting various scenic locations, it makes brief stops at most of the symbolic locations of the western genre, from the embarkation points of the Erie Canal to the California mountains of the Gold Rush.

The script, by James R. Webb (Vera Cruz), does its best to touch all the thematic bases of the genre too:  the male characters include a mountain man (James Stewart) and a river pirate (Walter Brennan); a wagon master (Robert Preston) and a riverboat gambler (Gregory Peck); a builder of railroads (Richard Widmark) and a frontier marshal (George Peppard).  The main female characters are even more broadly archetypal: a pair of sisters, portentously named Lilith (Debbie Reynolds, who becomes a saloon singer and budding capitalist) and Eve (Carroll Baker, who stakes out a farm on a Mississippi riverbank and mothers two boys).

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As a dramatic narrative How the West Was Won doesn’t work all that well.  Few of the characters are on screen long enough to establish identities beyond those of the stars who play them.  Most of the episodes are thinly developed, and over all the film has a jerky, stop-and-start rhythm, perhaps because it is the work of three different directors.

Henry Hathaway (True Grit) reportedly was in charge of the project and directed three episodes (“The Rivers,” “The Plains” and “The Outlaws”).  John Ford directed one (“The Civil War”), and George Marshall another (“The Railroad,” although Hathaway later said he had to reshoot much of Marshall’s material).

Instead this is a movie of visual epiphanies, ingeniously realized in the face of crippling stylistic challenges.  The Cinerama camera — an 800-pound behemoth that resembled a steel-girded jukebox — could move forward and backward with ease and elegance, resulting in some of the most impressive moments in the film (like the long tracking shot through a river town that opens “The Rivers”).  But it couldn’t pan from side to side without creating registration problems, and close-ups were all but impossible to achieve with the system’s short 27-millimeter lenses.

Moreover, characters couldn’t move freely across the wide screen, because crossing the two join lines — where the images overlapped — would create a distracting jump, and the action (beyond the broad movements of rushing trains or stampeding buffalo) had to be restricted to the center of the screen.

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Hathaway and Marshall are resourceful and craftsmanlike in dealing with these limitations, finding ways to position the actors so that the join lines are hidden, or filling the unused space beyond the center frame with vertiginously detailed landscapes that fall off into infinite distance.

But it is John Ford who rises to the challenge most poetically, chiefly by ignoring it.  “The Civil War” is an exquisite miniature (unfortunately padded out by some battle sequences lifted from Raintree County, an earlier MGM Civil War film) that consists of only three scenes: a mother (Ms. Baker) sends a son (Peppard) off to war; the son has a horrible experience as night falls on the battlefield of Shiloh; the son returns and finds that his mother has died.  The structure has a musical alternation: day, night, day; exterior, interior, exterior; stillness, movement, stillness.

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In the first and last scenes the famous Fordian horizon line extends the entire length of the extra-wide Cinerama frame.  In the aftermath of the battle the horizon line disappears in darkened studio sets.  The sense of the sequence is profoundly antiwar — Generals Sherman and Grant, played by John Wayne and Henry Morgan, briefly appear as a couple of disheveled, self-pitying drunks — and it gradually becomes apparent that the elderly Ford is revisiting one of his early important works, the 1928 drama Four Sons.

The expressionistic middle sequence, with its studio-built swamp, refers to F. W. Murnau, whose Sunrise was one of the great influences on the young Ford, while the open-air sequences that bracket it, with their unmoving camera, long-shot compositions and rootedness in the rural landscape, recall the work of the American pioneer D. W. Griffith.

When, in the final panel of Ford’s triptych, a gust of wind tousles Peppard’s hair in the foreground and then continues across to the forest in the middle distance and on to the stand of trees in the most distant background, it seems like a true miracle of the movies: a breath of life, moving over the face of the earth.  No less formidable a filmmaker than Jean-Marie Straub has called “The Civil War” John Ford’s masterpiece; for the first time, thanks to this magnificent new edition, I think I know what he’s talking about. Birth, death, rebirth.

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Note:  This epic of the west is long, at 164 minutes.  Voice-over narration is by Spencer Tracy.  Music was by Alfred Newman.  In addition to this piece, Dave Kehr was the writer of a 2005 documentary on director Budd Boetticher entitled Budd Boetticher:  A Man Can Do That.  After fourteen years of writing a column for the New York Times on new DVD releases, of which this was one, he now works as a film curator for the MoMA in New York.

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Blood on the Moon

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 18, 2014

Blood on the Moon—Robert Mitchum, Robert Preston, Barbara Bel Geddes, Walter Brennan, Phyllis Thaxter (1948; Dir:  Robert Wise)

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A watchable range war saga based on a 1941 novel by Luke Short.  Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) is drifting from Texas, when he’s invited by old friend Tate Riling (Robert Preston, in his sleazy friend mode) to join him in a get-rich-quick scheme with corrupt Indian agent Jake Pindalest (Frank Fayden). 

John Lufton (Tom Tully) is the local cattle baron, who has long provided beef for the reservation while grazing his herds on reservation land.  Pindalest, on Riling’s urging, has given Lufton notice that he’ll no longer be buying Lufton’s beef, and Lufton has to find new grazing land.  He’s trying to move his cattle back to the basin where he used to graze, but now there are homesteaders there to resist, led by Riling.  Kris Barden (Walter Brennan), who used to work for Lufton, is prominent among them. 

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Lufton has two daughters, one of whom, Carol (Phyllis Thaxter), is romantically interested in Riling and the other, Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes), takes a few shots at Garry.  After being fully informed of the set-up and participating in stampeding Lufton’s herd, Garry decides the scheme isn’t for him and saves Lufton from two of Riling’s gunmen.  He’s hurt in a fight with Riling but gets Pindalest to tell the army to back off on the deadline for removing Lufton’s herd. 

Riling, PIndalest and a couple of gunmen come after Garry, who’s wounded and holed up at Barden’s place.  Amy Lufton shows up to give medical care and help fight off the bad guys.  (You can tell Riling’s sleazy because of the loud plaid jacket he wears.)  In the end Garry kills one of the gunmen, shoots it out with Riling and gets Amy. 

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A good cast, with a complicated story for the 90-minute length of the movie.  Note Garry’s authentic-looking hat, different than 1950s-style hats in westerns.  Some shots look like Monument Valley, but mostly it was filmed on the RKO lot in Encino, with some outside of Sedona, Arizona.  Like Yellow Sky, released the same year, it has some noir-ish elements, especially in the use of light and shadow.  An RKO release in black and white, directed by Robert Wise (best known for The Sound of Music).  Not yet available on DVD in the U.S. at the end of 2013.

According to Lee Server’s 2001 biography of Mitchum (Robert Mitchum:  “Baby, I Don’t Care”), director Wise claimed “the first scene we shot after Mitch got outfitted was in the barroom.  Walter Brennan was sitting at a table with a couple of pals, and Brennan was very interested in the Old West, it was a hobby of his.  And I’ll never forget when Bob came on the set, just standing there, wth the costume and the whole attitude that he gave to it, and Brennan got a look at him and was terribly impressed.  He pointed at Mitchum and said, ‘That is the goddamndest realest cowboy I’ve ever seen!’”

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Bad Day at Black Rock

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 2, 2013

Bad Day at Black Rock—Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Dean Jagger (1955; Dir:  John Sturges)

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Perhaps the best movie set in the modern west (but see Lone Star and No Country for Old Men), a claustrophobic noir-inflected story that takes place in a tiny town in the Arizona desert. 

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First Train Conductor:  [Looking at Black Rock] “Man, they look woebegone and far away.”

John J. Macreedy:  “Oh, I’ll only be here twenty-four hours.”

First Train Conductor:  “In a place like this, it could be a lifetime.”

The movie begins with an interesting opening shot of a train crossing the desert.  One-armed John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train in Black Rock in 1945 in a dark suit, the first time the train’s actually stopped there in four years.  World War II is just over, but rationing and other strictures persist.  None of the town’s suspicious residents want him there, as he tries to locate a local Japanese farmer, Mr. Komoko. 

blackrockjj-macready The mysterious stranger arrives in town.

A couple of local cowboy-thugs, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) and Hector David (Lee Marvin), try to intimidate Macreedy, who bears them with patience and an even temper.  Local rancher-boss Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) suggests that Komoko was sent off to an internment camp shortly after Pearl Harbor, and only three months after he arrived at Black Rock.  Macreedy visits Adobe Flats, where the Komoko farm was; he finds a burned house, a deep well and what may be a grave. 

Mr. Hastings, Telegrapher:  “Sure you don’t want some lemonade? It don’t have the muzzle velocity of some other drinks drunk around here, but it’s good for what ails you.”

On the way back, Coley tries to drive him off the road, but Macreedy makes it back to Black Rock.  Coley then tries to pick a fight in a diner, only to find that Macreedy knows judo and takes him out using only one arm.  It becomes clearer that Smith and his people killed Komoko, and they’re probably going to kill Macreedy, too.  Macreedy is a veteran who lost his arm in Italy; Komoko’s son was killed saving his life, and he wants to give the old man his son’s medal. 

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Reno Smith:  “She must have strained every muscle in her head to get so stupid.”

The drunken sheriff Tim Horn (Dean Jagger) and undertaker Doc Velie (Walter Brennan) try ineffectively to help him.  Finally, young local hotel clerk Pete Wirth (a James Dean-esque John Ericson), plagued with guilt over his minor role in Komoko’s death, recruits his sister Liz (Anne Francis) to take Macreedy out of town in her jeep.  She betrays Macreedy to Smith, who kills her anyway.  In a shootout with no gun, Macreedy improvises a Molotov cocktail and sets Smith afire.  Having brought in the state police to Black Rock, he then catches the train out of town. 

[last linesSecond Train Conductor:  “What’s all the excitement? What happened”

John J. Macreedy:  “A shooting”

Second Train Conductor:  “Thought it was something.  First time the Streamliner’s stopped here in four years.”

John J. Macreedy:  “Second time.”

A superb cast cast, although Tracy seems old for a recent veteran, and some excellent writing in the screenplay by Millard Kaufman.  Tightly directed, the film comes in at 81 minutes.  Tracy was nominated for Best Actor.  This was part of a good run for director Sturges in the 1950s, along with Escape from Fort Bravo, Last Train from Gun Hill and Gunfight at the OK Corral, before he got into his larger-scale action films of the 1960s.  Music was by a young Andre Previn.

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Northwest Passage

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 8, 2013

Northwest Passage—Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, Walter Brennan, Ruth Hussey, Montague Love, Addison Richards (1940; Dir:  King Vidor)

Epic version of part of Kenneth Roberts’ 1936 novel about Rogers’ Rangers and their most famous exploit, the raid on the Abenaki settlement at St. Francis in October 1759 during the French and Indian War.  More than half the Rangers died on their grueling return from the raid through very wild country teeming with French and their Indian allies.  The subtitle of the film is Book One:  Rogers’ Rangers.  A sequel was planned but never made, showing Rogers’ deterioration and descent into debt and alcoholism in England after the war, as a loyalist increasingly out of tune with more pro-American colonists.  During arduous filming in northeastern Washington, Tracy came to loath director King Vidor and swore he’d never work with him again.  The film’s music features the old English army tune “Over the Hills and Far Away,” later used in a similar fashion in the Sharpe series set in the Napoleonic wars.

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The posters emphasize Indian-fighting, the epic scale of the story, and its connection with the best-selling novel by Kenneth Roberts.

Young Harvard-educated (until he is expelled) artist Langdon Towne (Robert Young) and his friend Hunk Marriner (Walter Brennan) get in trouble in their native Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for making seditious comments about a local English official (Montague Love).  To avoid jail, they leave for the west.  They join Major Robert Rogers (Spencer Tracy), who offers them the chance to go farther west and paint Indians if they become Rangers and go with him on a raid north into French territory and make maps.  Trying to avoid detection by the French, the Rangers make their way arduously northward from the English fort at Crown Point, at one point portaging their boats laboriously over a mountain and at another wading through interminable swamps. 

The St. Francis Abenaki village the rangers are hitting is not just a peaceful Abenaki settlement.  It has been used for decades as a base for raids by French-allied Indians (Abenakis, Hurons, and Catholic Mohawks) on frontier settlements in the colonies farther south in English territory.  Most of the rangers have experienced the effects of these raids, and the objective is to hit it hard enough so that it won’t be used as a base for future guerrilla activity.  According to Rogers’ subsequent report, the rangers found 600-700 scalps fluttering in the breezes at St. Francis.  Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander, also wanted to divert French military attention and resources from James Wolfe’s army at Quebec.

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The rangers arrive at St. Francis and are successful at their military objective in a harrowing sequence, but they find none of the food they had counted on for their difficult return by a different route.  Towne receives a wound to his midsection, and they gather white captives for the return by way of Lake Memphremagog.  Against Rogers’ advice, they vote to break into four groups for the return trip.  French and Indians pick off some; injuries, starvation and madness take others.  Out of the 142 Rangers, only about 50 make it to the rendezvous at Eagle Mountain.  Straggling into Fort Wentworth where they expect finally to find provisions and support, they instead find it abandoned.  But it isn’t long until a British unit headed in most unlikely fashion by Lord Jeffrey Amherst (Lumsden Hare) himself marches in, replete with supplies.  Towne goes back to his girlfriend (Ruth Hussey), and the Rangers march off to the west, supposedly in search of the Northwest Passage across the continent. 

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Tracy is superb as Rogers, an inspiring leader who carries our attention and commands respect throughout the movie.  He didn’t actually make westerns, though; the closest he ever came again was in the excellent Bad Day at Black Rock, set in the modern west, in Broken Lance and in the range melodrama The Sea of Grass..  Brennan is good and Young pretty good as the two regular characters whose story we’re following.  Addison Richards is also good as an officer who becomes unhinged after the brutality on both sides.  Ray Teal and Hank Worden have uncredited early roles as Rangers.  Much of the film was shot outdoors on location in eastern Washington and the Payette River in Idaho, and it shows on screen.  Shot in color (rare for 1940), this film was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography.  It was also long for its time, at more than two hours.  It finally became available on DVD in Dec. 2011. 

The title hasn’t much to do with the events or subject matter of the movie; it refers to where the Rangers are headed at the end of the film.  However, it probably had to be the same as the best-seller on which it was based.  Compare the plot with Errol Flynn’s World War II movie Operation Burma a few years later. 

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The racial attitudes will appear dated to the sensibilities of viewers more than 70 years later.  But they weren’t much questioned in 1940, and they were even stronger in the era depicted, 200 years earlier, when many frontier dwellers had been subjected to Indian raids and atrocities.  Viewers who can’t put themselves into the perspective of other historical times may have trouble with this.  The Indians are mostly stereotypical, with Konkapot as the head of Rogers’ Stockbridge Indian scouts not given much to say and little screen time.  Indian tortures and atrocities are described, but not shown.  At St. Francis, almost all of the Indians shown are men of fighting age, not the women and children who would also have been present.  The Indians generally look like plains Indians, rather than their eastern woodland counterparts, especially as they would have dressed late in the year.  The whole idea of slaughtering Indians, admirable in the 1930s, is almost unthinkable today.  Modern animal rights enthusiasts wouldn’t care for the way Rogers silences a barking dog in the Abenaki village, either—with a thrown hatchet.  The movie makes compelling watching if you can get past current social attitudes, though.  This and 1992’s Last of the Mohicans are probably the best movies about the French and Indian War and this phase of American frontier history.

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Lord Jeffrey Amherst here is shown more positively than he is generally remembered these days.  Sir William Johnson’s Mohawks are depicted as unreliable, duplicitous and shifty; Johnson usually gets better press now.  It is true that the actual Rogers didn’t get along well with Johnson, and was regarded with suspicion by the British army structure within which he served.  As depicted, the Indians did call him White Devil.  There have been a couple of good biographies of the father of U.S. special forces in recent years:  see White Devil by Stephen Brumwell (2006) and War on the Run by John F. Ross (2009).  Roberts’ pro-American novel with 1930s attitudes is also good reading, although long out of print now.  Roberts was reportedly horrified at the movie, however.  As a Loyalist (or Tory), Rogers was responsible for uncovering American spy Nathan Hale during the Revolution, with which he disagreed.  He was an American type:  the frontiersman competent and feared while fighting Indians and exploring terrain in the wilderness environment where he felt at home but out of touch in other more civilized surroundings (see George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, maybe even Meriwether Lewis).  It makes Andrew Jackson seem more admirable, as one who could function well in several worlds.

Not to be confused, or even connected, with Southwest Passage (1954).

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My Darling Clementine

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 30, 2013

My Darling Clementine—Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan, Cathy Downs, Tim Holt, Ward Bond (1946; Dir:  John Ford)

Of all the cinematic versions of the Wyatt Earp story, this is the least accurate historically.  (Well, with the exception of 1939’s Frontier Marshal, which is a pretty good movie, too.)  But this elegant black and white retelling, with Henry Fonda as a mythic Wyatt, has a visual spareness and beauty that remain unmatched more than sixty years later.  If you know much about the historical events in Tombstone, maybe the best way to watch this classic is to just enjoy the story John Ford tells here for what it is without weighing it against the actual history.  Bear in mind the line from another Ford western (Liberty Valance) about legends becoming fact.  Ford was helping that process along for the Earps.

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Filmed in Ford’s favorite western location (Monument Valley, where he made nine movies), there are images from this movie that linger long after it’s over:  Fonda sitting in a chair on the boardwalk, tipped back on the rear legs with his leg propped against a post as he watches the town’s comings and goings; Fonda and Downs at a church social, dancing outdoors on the newly-built floor of what will be the church; Fonda and his brothers finding the body of the youngest brother in the pouring rain; a hack actor getting help from Victor Mature’s Doc Holliday in finishing Hamlet’s soliloquy; a badly shot Mature calmly looking through the poles of a corral, his hand holding a white handkerchief near his head as he selects and shoots his next target.

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Bruce Willis in a visual Fonda reference (Last Man Standing, a gangster-era remake of Yojimbo directed by western aficionado Walter Hill).  Even the chair is the same.

The most eye-catching female role here is not the Clementine Carter of the title, played by Cathy Downs, but smoldering Linda Darnell as Chihuahua, a Mexican saloon girl and prostitute in love with Doc Holliday. 

At the movie’s start, Wyatt Earp (Fonda) and his three brothers, Morgan (Ward Bond), Virgil (Tim Holt) and James, are driving a herd of cattle to California when they arrive outside Tombstone in Arizona.  Leaving young James to watch the herd, they go into town for a shave and a drink.  They return in the driving rain to find the herd stolen and James dead.  It’s obvious to us that it’s the work of Old Man Clanton (an unusually malevolent Walter Brennan) and his four sons, who were coveting the herd earlier and tried to buy it.  The surviving brothers return to town, where Wyatt, already known as a peace officer from a stint in Dodge City, accepts a job as the town marshal with his brothers as deputies.

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Walter Brennan as a malevolent Old Man Clanton.

One of his first actions is to meet and establish some kind of relationship with Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), who owns the local saloon where Chihuahua sings.  Doc is volatile and used to having his way, but he and Wyatt arrive at a wary accommodation.  There is a sense of impending doom over Doc, due to bouts of wracking coughs that indicate he has consumption (tuberculosis).  The stage brings Clementine Carter to town, a figure from Doc’s past with whom Wyatt is immediately taken.  Doc is less thrilled to see her, and he tells Clementine to leave town or he will.  The jealous Chihuahua thinks Doc will now go to Mexico with her and marry her.  Meanwhile, Wyatt discovers Chihuahua with an elaborate silver cross that James had bought for his own girl, and she tells him she got it from Doc.  Wyatt chases down the stage for Tucson and retrieves Doc.  He doesn’t come easily; the two finally face off, and Wyatt wins.

On their return to Tombstone, they confront Chihuahua, since Doc knows he didn’t give her the cross.  She finally confesses that she got it from Billy Clanton (John Ireland), and Clanton, who has been lurking outside the window, shoots her and flees on horseback.  Wyatt takes three shots at Clanton to little apparent effect and Virgil pursues him toward the Clanton ranch.  At the ranch, Billy falls dead on the porch from wounds, and Old Man Clanton shoots Virgil in the back with a shotgun. 

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Wyatt delivers an ultimatum to the Clantons at the OK Corral.

Meanwhile, Doc Holliday exercises his now-quite-rusty surgical skills on the badly wounded Chihuahua, using saloon tables for the operation with the assistance of trained nurse Clementine.  It’s apparently successful, and for a time Doc is the skilled surgeon of old.  However, the Clantons return with Virgil’s body to Tombstone, setting up the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  Chihuahua dies, and Holliday joins the Earps against the Clantons.  In the extended shootout, all four of the remaining Clantons are killed, with Old Man Clanton as the final member of the family to go down.  Wyatt and surviving brother Morgan (Ward Bond) head for California to tell their father what has happened, and Clementine becomes the schoolmarm in Tombstone.  Wyatt departs, leaving the sense that he’ll be back to resume the relationship.

Tim Holt and Cathy Downs in My Darling Clementine, 1946.

Wyatt and Clementine say goodbye for a while.

Fonda couldn’t be better as Wyatt Earp in his first movie role after returning from service in the navy during World War II.  As it is used in this movie, even Fonda’s hat almost becomes a character itself; both its shape and Fonda’s use of it seem authentic.  Victor Mature, whose most obvious characteristic was his physical size and robustness, is a strange choice to play the slight, tubercular Holliday, but it works well enough in the end.  Walter Brennan is excellent as Old Man Clanton, setting up a similar role for him in the parody Support Your Local Sheriff more than twenty years later.  The Clanton sons never become differentiated and don’t matter much.  There’s something of a Mexican stereotype in Darnell’s Chihuahua, but she doesn’t go so far as to attempt a Mexican accent and after enough fiery close-ups she’s effective.  Cathy Downs is beautiful as Clementine, and she doesn’t actually have to do much.  The character actors such as Alan Mowbray’s Shakespearean hack Granville Thorndyke, Jane Darwell’s townswoman Kate Nelson, and J. Farrell Macdonald as Mac the barman are excellent.  Wyatt to Mac:  “Mac, you ever been in love?”  Mac:  “No, I’ve been a bartender all my life.”

This was also John Ford’s first postwar movie, and it began another amazing run for him.  Over the next ten years, he’d make a string of some of the most remarkable westerns ever filmed.  Ford was said to have known Wyatt Earp as an old man (Earp died in 1929, spending a few of those last years in Hollywood), and this film was loosely based on Stuart Lake’s biography written soon after the old lawman’s death.  Ford claimed that the version of the famous gunfight that he shot was based what Earp personally told him, including a diagram and the passage of a dust-raising stagecoach during the shooting.  But as usual he was “printing the legend”–telling his story the way he thought it should be.  After Ford submitted his film, studio head Darryl Zanuck notoriously took some liberties with it, resulting in some new footage and a shorter cut.  (See Lost Masterpieces.)

The black-and-white cinematography by James MacDonald is remarkable, especially in low shots that bring in the sky; in rain at night; in its use of shadows and light in interior shots; and in long shots that end up in the distance on a feature of Monument Valley geography.  As the surviving Earps and Doc Holliday walk down the dirt street at dawn toward the OK Corral, they’re barely visible in long shots that emphasize the looming sky.  The movie in general has an almost palpable sense of bygone Americana.

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The mortally wounded Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) does not go gently.

If you want a more historical recounting of the Tombstone saga, and in particular the famous gunfight, try Tombstone or Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp.  So what’s incorrect in Clementine?  There was no Clementine historically, and Wyatt’s relations with women were less fastidious than this movie depicts.  James was the oldest of the Earp brothers, not the youngest, and the positions of Morgan and Virgil were switched in this film.  It was older brother Virgil, not Wyatt, who took on the job of marshal in Tombstone.  The Earps did not come to Tombstone driving cattle; they came to a booming mining town looking for gambling opportunities and maybe a quick mining strike.  The country around Tombstone isn’t much like Monument Valley.  Wyatt didn’t meet Doc Holliday in Tombstone; they’d previously met in Fort Griffin, Texas, and had been friends for some years.  Doc came to Tombstone after the Earps were already there.  Doc was a dentist, not a surgeon, and he was from Georgia, not Boston, although he was trained in Philadelphia.  He was not killed at the OK Corral, but died in a Colorado sanitarium six years later.  His mistress was not Mexican, but a Hungarian prostitute, Big Nose Kate Elder, and she outlived Doc by more than 50 years.  The Earps’ opponents at the shootout were not Old Man Clanton and three of his four sons—he had only three and he was dead months before the shootout.  Ike and Billy Clanton were in the fight; Ike ran and survived, and Billy was killed, along with the two McLaury brothers.  The gunfight itself was a more stand-up and shoot-it-out affair than depicted in the movie with less moving around, and it was over much quicker.  Some of the more interesting aspects of the real-life story happen during Wyatt’s vendetta ride after the shootout at the corral, and that aftermath is not depicted at all in this film.  And that’s for starters.

Some of these less-than-historical elements have their roots in earlier cinematic versions of the story.  For example, for a Clementine figure re-entering Doc’s life in Tombstone, Doc as a surgeon rather than a dentist, a dramatic operation on a saloon table and Doc being killed in Tombstone, see Frontier Marshal from 1939, with Randolph Scott as Earp and Cesar Romero as Doc.

Wyatt and Clementine dance--he clumsy but enthusiastic, and with great joy. "Make room for our new Marshall and his Lady Fair".

The marshal dances with Clementine, as Monument Valley looms in the background.

John Ford was indisputably a great director, but he could be nasty to work with.  Three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan would refuse to work with him again after this film.  And Henry Fonda, who had an extraordinarily successful history with Ford by the time this was made (Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Grapes of Wrath), would have his own falling-out with Ford about ten years later.

For historical reading on the actual Tombstone and the Earps, try Paula Marks’ To Live and Die in the West or recent biographies of Wyatt by Allen Barra or Casey Tefertiller. 

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On the set of My Darling Clementine, 1946.

Note:  As of Oct. 2014, this classic was released on a Criterion Collection DVD, complete with commentary, extras, a fully-restored version of the 97-minute theatrical release, and even a 103-minute pre-release cut.  It’s the best way to see the film.  However, the earlier 2004 DVD has an excellent commentary by film historian and Ford biographer Scott Eyman that is worth listening to.

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Red River

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 27, 2013

Red River–John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru, John Ireland, Noah Beery, Jr. (1948; Dir:  Howard Hawks)

This is the first of the two brilliant westerns (1959’s Rio Bravo is the other) on which Hawks’ reputation as a director of westerns rests.  Hawks was not particularly known for westerns, although most everybody in Hollywood who had worked in the industry as long as Hawks had some kind of experience with westerns.

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What makes this one brilliant?  It marks the bringing of serious themes from other genres into westerns—the father-son conflict between Tom Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift), for example; the nature of leadership and its moral boundaries; competition between two young men with similar skills but different principles; and a complex relationship between a strong man and an assertive female.  It’s a great trail drive story, with overtones of obsession (Wayne’s character, foreshadowing the obsessiveness of Ethan Edwards in The Searchers).  The other relationships in the movie are not simple, especially when it seems the characters have to take sides between Dunson and Garth:  Loyal family retainer Groot Nadine (Walter Brennan), who loves them both; gunhand Cherry Valance (John Ireland), who competes with Garth but respects him nevertheless; and Tess Millay (Joanne Dru), who is attracted to Garth romantically but like Groot has to mediate between Garth and the vengeful Dunson, while we try to figure out what kind of woman she is.

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Young Dunson (John Wayne) and his doomed love.

Dunson is a hard man from the start of the movie.  We first see him in 1851 with a wagon train heading from St. Louis toward California.  As Dunson and Groot leave the wagon train to head south into Texas across the Red River, Dunson’s girl in another wagon begs to go along.  He says he’ll send for her, and they part ways.  Comanches attack the train after Dunson leaves, and he sees the smoke from a distance.  Several attack Dunson and Groot, too; he fights them off, but they kill one of his two cattle.  They find the boy Matthew Garth wandering through the brush, a survivor of the attack who’d been chasing his cow when the Comanches came.   Dunson and Groot take him with them, farther south into Texas.  When Dunson finds the land he wants, it’s part of a huge Spanish land grant whose owner lives south of the Rio Grande.  Dunson figures he can take it, and he starts his ranch there with the brand Red River D.

Fast forward to the end of the Civil War, in 1865.  Garth returns from service in the war (presumably with the Confederacy), and Dunson has developed a huge herd for which there are no buyers in Texas.  Dunson wants to trail the herd a thousand miles north over the Chisholm Trail to the railroad in Missouri, something which has never been done successfully.  The rest of the movie is the epic story is of that first cattle drive north from Texas. 

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Cherry Valance (John Ireland) and Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift) test each other.

It takes somebody as obsessive as Dunson to drive the herd (and his men).  They take off with the famous “Yee-haw” scene, and it’s not a smooth trip.  There is a night stampede, resulting in deaths both human and bovine.  Some of the men can’t take it and want to quit; Dunson becomes increasingly unreasonable, with his megalomania out of control.  When he plans to hang two deserters, Garth steps in and stops him.  Garth takes control of the herd, moving it north across the Red River and into Kansas, heading for Abilene rather than Sedalia, Missouri, as Dunson had insisted.  None of them know whether the railroad is really in Abilene, although with our modern point of view we have a pretty good idea that it is.

As they move into Kansas, they’re harassed by marauding Indians and wary of the pursuing Dunson.  The cowboys temporarily leave the herd to rescue a bunch of traveling gamblers and loose women from Indian attack, and Garth meets Tess Millay, who is wounded in the attack.  They are taken with each other, but Garth has his drive to finish and Dunson to deal with, and the herd moves on to the north.

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Dunson and his new men reach the gamblers’ camp and learn of the Indian attack and the herd’s movements.  Dunson wants to replace Garth as his son, and offers Tess half his ranch if she’ll bear him a son; she says she’ll do it if he gives up his plan to kill Garth¸ and she accompanies him toward Abilene.  Meanwhile, Garth and the herd make it there first, and Garth gets a top price for the herd, about $50,000.  This sets up the final scene, where all the characters sort out their loyalties and the means they’ll use to defend them.  The resolution of the father-son fight is abrupt and a little silly, but the rest of the movie is so good we can put up with that.

The movie was made in 1946 but sat on the shelf for two years before its release because of a dispute with Howard Hughes.  It features more adult and complex relationships than most previous westerns. It has a superb cast, and excellent direction.  This was Montgomery Clift’s first film, and he manages to be persuasive, if not entirely convincing, next to the overpowering physicality of John Wayne.  The women are unusually assertive for a western, both Joanne Dru (Mrs. John Ireland) and Coleen Gray, although Gray in her first film role gets just a couple of minutes of screen time.  The numerous supporting characters are well-written and well-acted, and they include, in addition to Dru, Ireland and Brennan, Noah Beery, Jr., Harry Carey (Sr. and Jr.), Chief Yowlachie as an Indian trail hand, Hank Worden, Coleen Gray and many others.  Appearing uncredited are Richard Farnsworth as a Dunson rider and Shelley Winters as a dance hall girl with the gamblers.

John_Wayne - red river The final confrontation.

Excellent management of all these supporting roles gives them each differentiation and development while not impeding the overall pacing of the movie.  It adds to the large-scale feel of the film.  There’s so much going on that it rewards re-watching.  It’s ambitious and long for the year it was released, especially for a western—about two and a quarter hours.  After more than 60 years, this remains the greatest of the trail drive movies except for Lonesome Dove, which was not really playing by the same rules. 

There are some excellent visual touches, like the shadow that passes over the sun during the funeral of the young cowboy killed during the stampede.  Russell Harlan was the cinematographer.  The music is by Oscar-winning movie composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who also did the music for Hawks’ Rio Bravo more than ten years later as well as numerous other movies.  The tune for “Settle Down,” the theme for Red River, gets recycled in Rio Bravo when sung by Ricky Nelson and Dean Martin.

RedRiverDruHawksDru and Hawks light up behind the scenes.

Wayne considered this film his second breakthrough, after Stagecoach.  (Maybe his third, if you consider his first starring role in Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail, which nobody saw.)  Playing much older than he really was, as the megalomaniacal Tom Dunson, gave him a chance to demonstrate his acting chops in a film that a lot of people did see.  Even John Ford, who had cast him in Stagecoach almost ten years previously, was rumored to have said after seeing Red River, “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act!”  And the most productive period of their collaboration was coming up, with the cavalry trilogy and The Searchers.  Both Wayne and Hawks wore their Red River D belt buckles from this film for many years when dressed in jeans.  You sometimes see it popping up on Wayne in other westerns–nine of them in total.

Director Howard Hawks had initially wanted Jack Beutel (who had played Billy the Kid in The Outlaw) for the role of Matthew Garth.  But he got lucky when Beutel was still under contract to Howard Hughes, who was nursing a grudge against Hawks for their falling-out over The Outlaw a few years earlier.  Clift turned out to be a much better actor.  Wayne had misgivings about the difference in their sizes during the climactic fight, but Hawks was known for his ability to block and stage fights convincingly on film.  Wayne ultimately conceded that Hawks knew what he was doing.  Clift had never been in a western before, and never would be again.  Hawks advised him to watch and imitate stuntman Richard Farnsworth.  “Montgomery, you walk along behind him and watch him carefully.  If he scratches his butt, you scratch yours.  He’s a real cowboy.”  Red River made Clift a star.  Meanwhile, Farnsworth worked in westerns as a stuntman and in bit parts and waited more than 35 years for his own breakthrough role in The Grey Fox.

As of May 2014, Red River is now available on an excellent DVD set from Criterion Collection.

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The Far Country

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 18, 2013

The Far Country—James Stewart, Walter Brennan, Ruth Roman, John McIntire, Corinne Calvet, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Robert Wilke, Royal Dano, Jack Elam, Kathleen Freeman (1954; Dir:  Anthony Mann)

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In another of Mann’s stories about an alienated loner, Jeff Webster (James Stewart) has driven a herd of cattle from Wyoming to Seattle, where they are loaded on a steamboat for Skagway, Alaska Territory.  It is 1898, so the Alaskan gold rush is on.  Webster and his garrulous partner Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan) plan to drive the herd even farther north to Dawson, where there isn’t a lot of beef and they can get top dollar for their cattle.  Then, as Ben tells anyone who will listen, they’ll buy a ranch in Utah, where they’ll spend the rest of their days.

Jeff isn’t just a loner; he’s a loner who’s good with a gun and killed two men on the drive to Seattle.  When the boat’s authorities try to arrest him, he is hidden by saloon owner Ronda Castle (Ruth Roman), who’s taken a romantic interest in him.  As he’s driving his cattle off the boat, Jeff inadvertently disrupts a public hanging conducted by Gannon (John McIntire), the local authority who is a law unto himself with a band of thugs (Jack Elam, Robert Wilke) to back him up.  He confiscates Jeff’s cattle, and Jeff takes a job leading Ronda Castle’s wagons to Dawson, up over the Chilkoot Pass.  When he get the wagons over the pass, he goes back to Skagway in the middle of the night, steals his cattle back and drives them over the pass toward Dawson.

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Jeff Webster (James Stewart) makes a new acquaintance (Ruth Roman) while escaping the law on the way to Alaska.

Once in Dawson, Ben makes connections with the regular folk, including Renee Vallon (Corinne Calvet), a young girl they had met in Skagway.  With the gold has come a rougher element and some crime, and the process is sped up by Ronda’s Dawson Castle saloon.  Jeff sells his cattle at a high price and buys a local gold claim.  Meanwhile, the Mounties haven’t yet figured out how to extend their authority over the unruly area.  Jeff finds himself with several conflicts:  two potential romantic interests; the salt-of-the-earth regular residents and claimholders against the glitzier newcomers out for a fast buck; and regular law and order against Gannon’s variety of law.

Yes, Gannon has shown up in Dawson, with an even larger gang of thugs than he had in Skagway.  Claim-jumping becomes a regular feature of life in Dawson, as do murder and robbery.  Jeff resists taking a hand until he’s robbed and left for dead, and Ben is killed.  Renee nurses him back to health, and although his arm is still in a sling, he has a final shootout with Gannon and his minions.

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Jeff Webster (James Stewart) confronts a gleefully corrupt Gannon (John McIntire, with henchman Jack Elam on his left).

This is one of the best of the “northerns” set during the Alaska gold rush (see also North to Alaska, White Fang and The Spoilers), and like many of them, it features a character based on the real-life conman Soapy Smith, who took over Skagway for a time.  This has a larger cast than some of Anthony Mann’s westerns, and they’re quite good.  Both Ruth Roman and Corinne Calvet are believable romantic interests, so that the final choice is not a foregone conclusion.  John McIntire is excellent as Gannon, the Soapy Smith character.  Walter Brennan’s talkative Ben makes personal connections much more easily than Jeff, but he tends to let information slip when he shouldn’t.  Jay C. Flippen and Kathleen Freeman are both part of the good Dawson crowd.  Stewart is edgy as he usually was in a Mann western; he wears his usual hat and rides Pie, the horse he rode through seventeen westerns.  One key plot point relates to a bell Jeff hangs from his saddle horn.

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James Stewart demonstrates that Randolph Scott wasn’t the only star of western movies who could have a romantic triangle going, first with saloon owner Ruth Roman and then with mining lass Corinne Calvet.

The script was by Borden Chase, who provided the scripts for previous Mann films Winchester ’73 and Bend of the River, as well as for Red River and Night Passage.  The film was shot on location at Jasper in Alberta.  Cinematography was by William H. Daniels.  The DVD version in general circulation (2010) is unfortunately only a full-screen, pan-and-scan version.

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