Tag Archives: Ward Bond

Canyon Passage

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 12, 2015

Canyon Passage—Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Patricia Roc, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Lloyd Bridges, Andy Devine (1946; Dir: Jacques Tourneur)

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Dana Andrews is remembered these days primarily for such modern roles as he played in Laura (1944) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).  But he was also in several good westerns, such as The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Three Hours to Kill (1954), Strange Lady in Town (1955)… and this one.

The movie opens in Portland, Oregon, in 1856.  Logan Stuart (Dana Andrews) is a freighter, running strings of pack mules from San Francisco to Portland.  While in Portland, he gets paid $7000 and arranges to take Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward), fiancée of his friend George Camrose (Brian Donlevy), back to George in Jacksonville in southern Oregon.  He is also attacked by a robber, whom he thinks to be Honey Bragg (Ward Bond) and with whom he has unpleasant history.  The robbery is not successful, and the thief gets away.

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Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward) and Logan Stuart (Dana Andrews) head south for Jacksonville.

On the way south to Jacksonville, they stop at the ranch of Ben Dance (Andy Devine) and his family, where Caroline Marsh (Patricia Roc) is staying.  Stuart is attracted to Caroline, but he seems also to have a relationship with Lucy.  At a cabin raising, he asks Caroline to marry him and she accepts, although she wants to stay put and is troubled that Logan is so footloose, constantly concentrating on expanding his freighting business.

Arriving at Jacksonville, Stuart fights Bragg and wins.  Lucy has been putting off setting a date for her marriage to George, but plans to go through with it after she goes to San Francisco with Logan to get a wedding dress.  Meanwhile, George is acting as a banker for miners in Jacksonville.  He has also been gambling and losing, and has been covering his losses by stealing from the gold deposited with him.  We see that George is also a man of restless affections, not limited to Lucy.  Eventually George stands accused of murdering one of his depositors for his gold, and Logan helps him escape before he can be hung.

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George Camrose (Brian Donlevy) finally persuades Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward) to set the date for their wedding.

[Spoilers follow.]  As Logan and Lucy head south, they are attacked by Bragg.  They are unhurt, but their horses are killed, and they have to walk back to Jacksonville.  By that time the Jacksonville miners, led by Johnny Steele (Lloyd Bridges), have found and killed George in their absence.  After ambushing Logan, Bragg has also attacked an Indian woman, and now the Indians are torching farms and ranches in retaliation, including Ben Dance’s and Logan’s way stations and general store.  Dance is killed and the Indians are after Caroline Marsh, with Logan and the militia also in pursuit.  The Indians catch Bragg and take care of him, which seems to satisfy them for the moment.  Caroline decides she can’t marry Logan because he won’t settle down in one spot.  So Logan heads to San Francisco again to buy more mules to rebuild his operations.  And Lucy joins him.  They’re better suited to each other than Logan and Caroline were, anyway.

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A suspicious Johnny Steele (Lloyd Bridges) speaks for a band of vengeful miners.

Logan Stuart:  “There was a lot of good in George.”
Johnny Steele:  “He sure panned out no color.”
Logan Stuart:  “There’s a thin margin, Johnny, between what could be and what is.”
Johnny Steele:  “Yeah.  It was thin for you last night.  We were of a mind to hang you.”
Logan Stuart:  “You see how thin the margin is.”

Based on a story by Ernest Haycox, this is stuffed full of complicated and not-too-predictable plot and romantic triangles, densely populated with a good cast.  Dana Andrews plays Logan Stuart with the same stoic independence he did Det. Mark MacPherson in Laura.  Susan Hayward, an excellent and often fiery actress, has kind of a generically-written part that doesn’t really allow her to show what she can do.  She’s better in Rawhide [1951] and Garden of Evil [1954], both with meatier roles for her when she had become a bigger star.

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Ben Dance (Andy Devine) offers Caroline Marsh (Patricia Roc) a little avuncular advice.

Brian Donlevy didn’t always play villains (see him in Billy the Kid [1941] and Cowboy [1958], for example), but at this stage of his career he’s so identified with bad guys (the corrupt saloon owner Kent in Destry Rides Again and the sadistic Sgt. Markov in Beau Geste, as just two examples from 1939) that we don’t trust him from the start.  The role of George Camrose calls out instead for somebody like Robert Preston, who specialized during the 1940s in friend-gone-bad roles, in which he established himself as charming first.  Ward Bond also has one of his occasional bad guy roles (e.g., The Oklahoma Kid), and he’s very effective.  This has one of Andy Devine’s better roles, too, where he is not used simply as a form of comic relief.  Hoagy Carmichael plays Hi Linnett, supposedly a small merchant, but mostly there to provide musical interludes, as in To Have and Have Not, and to comment on the action.  Carmichael’s song “Ole Buttermilk Sky” got the movie’s only Oscar nomination.  Several of the film’s significant events happen off-camera:  Bragg’s attack on the Indian maiden, the killing of George by the miners’ mob, the killing of Ben Dance by Indians, etc.

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Hoagy Carmichael as minstrel Hi Linnet provides musical interludes, occasional commentary and the film’s only Oscar nomination.

Jacques Tourneur was a good director of westerns, although he wasn’t best known for them in the 1940s.  Later on in the 1950s, he made a few of them (Stars in My Crown, Wichita, etc.) with Joel McCrea.  Ernest Pascal adapted the Haycox story into a screenplay, with some crisp, sometimes even philosophical, dialogue.  Music, except for that provided by Carmichael, is by Frank Skinner.  This was filmed on location in Oregon in color (a rarity for westerns in 1946) by Edward Cronjager, so it must have had a significant budget for its time.  92 minutes.

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Logan Stuart’s mule train wends its way past Oregon’s Crater Lake.

The title doesn’t seem to mean much; there are no obvious canyons involved.  For other “passage” westerns, see Northwest Passage (1940), California Passage (1950), Passage West (1951), Desert Passage (1952) Southwest Passage (1954), Oregon Passage (1957) and Night Passage (1957), which are otherwise unrelated to this one or to each other.

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The Oklahoma Kid

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 23, 2015

The Oklahoma Kid—James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, Donald Crisp, Harvey Stephens, Hugh Sothern, Ward Bond (1937; Lloyd Bacon)

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The most obvious feature of this western from 1937 is that the two best-known actors in it have the most urban personas of any from the 20th century.  That’s perhaps one reason why James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart didn’t make many westerns.  They don’t sound all that authentic in a western, either.

The Oklahoma Kid:  “Listen, I learned this about human nature when I was but so high, and that is: that the strong take away from the weak, and the smart take it away from the strong.”

Cagney plays the outlaw of the title, the Oklahoma Kid.  It is 1893, the eve of the famous Oklahoma land rush into the Cherokee Strip (the largest land run in U.S. history).  There were several Oklahoma land rushes, the most famous in 1889 and 1893, featured in Tumbleweeds (1925, William S. Hart’s last film), Cimarron (both 1931 and 1960 versions) and Far and Away (1992), among other movies.  The land to be opened to settlers this time has been bought from the Indians for a pittance, but even that pittance is robbed from a stagecoach by the evil Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) and his gang.  However, it is also stolen from them by… the Oklahoma Kid.  McCord sees to it that the original crime is attributed to the Kid, instead of to his own gang.

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Wes Handley (Ward Bond) is inclined to take on the Oklahoma Kid (James Cagney) over his choice of music.

Meanwhile, law-abiding folk are planning to set up the town that will become Tulsa.  The Kincaids, father John (Hugh Sothern) and son Ned (Harvey Stephens), will ride their fastest horses and claim the site.  Judge Hardwick (Donald Crisp) and daughter Jane (Rosemary Lane) will come along shortly after, with law and civilization.  However, McCord and his men are Sooners, sneaking across to the land the night before the gun goes off, and they claim the Kincaid’s site first.  The Kincaids strike a deal:  they get the town site they want, but have to agree that McCord gets exclusive rights to saloons, booze and gambling.  That sets up a conflict between the forces of law (regular folks) and chaos (McCord).

When there’s talk of setting up a vigilance committee, McCord frames John Kincaid for a murder.  It turns out that the Oklahoma Kid is Jim Kincaid, John’s wild son, and he comes back to help the old man.  He brings back Judge Harwick to hear the case, but he’s too late, and a venal hack judge has sentenced John to hang.  John refuses to be busted out of jail, though, and, as Ned, now the local sheriff, pursues the Kid, McCord whips a mob into a fury.  By the time Ned and the Kid get back to town, their father is dead.

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Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) and the Kid (James Cagney) come to an impasse.

The Kid starts to hunt down the four of McCord’s men who led the mob:  Indian Joe, Wes Handley (Ward Bond), Curley and Ace Doolin.  The last is Doolin, whom he wounds, and Doolin testifies to McCord’s involvement.  Ned goes to arrest McCord, but McCord gets the drop on him and shoots him.  The Kid comes up the back way, and McCord looks like he will get him, too.  But the dying Ned shoots McCord, the Kid’s name is cleared of the original robbery charges, and he gets Jane Hardwick, who had previously been engaged to Ned.  (Ned was apparently unaware that guys named Ned never get the girl in movies.)

This had a bigger budget than most 1930s westerns, as we can tell from the top-flight stars and main-line director.  Cagney’s particular form of screen energy dominates the movie, making the Kid seem kind of a pre-gangster of the plains.  Cagney was a bigger star than Bogart at this stage of Bogart’s career.  Cagney and Bogart didn’t get along well on the set, much as their characters didn’t, although they went on to make Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) and The Roaring Twenties (1939) together—gangster movies, for which they seem much better suited.  Cagney made two more westerns in the 1950s as his career was coming to a close:  Run for Cover (1955), and Tribute to a Bad Man (1956).  Bogart made at least one more; he shows up as a Mexican bandit chieftain in Virginia City (1940).  This film is surprisingly watchable, considering the apparent unsuitability of the casting and the fact that it’s from an era when westerns were generally made very cheaply and had little cinematic prestige.  Director Lloyd Bacon was versatile (his work includes 42nd Street and other musicals with Busby Berkeley as choreographer and Knute Rockne, All American), but he didn’t make many westerns.  According to Cagney, Bacon wasn’t the director originally slated to direct.

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Cagney wasn’t entirely happy with the way the project turned out.  In his 1976 autobiography Cagney by Cagney, he described how the project started:  “The picture was an idea of [writer] Ted Paramore’s, who conceived of doing the story of the mountain men, particularly of their paragon, Kit Carson.  We researched it and I came up with some things I wanted to do, pretty exciting things, I thought.  Warner’s, without warning pulled Paramore off the script and without a word to me, changed directors.  When I got the final script it had as much to do with history as the Katzenjammer Kids.  It had become typical horse opera, just another programmer.”  Bogart, profiled in the New York Times just before the film’s release, seemed not all that wild about it.  “I speak the same lines and do the same things as I do in any other Warner picture.  The only difference is that I snarl at the Injuns from under a ten-gallon hat.”  Actually, Cagney’s hat is significantly larger than Bogart’s.  Bogart seemed preoccupied by the hats; he was famously quoted as saying that “Cagney looked like a mushroom under [his] huge western hat.”

Music is by Max Steiner; cinematography is by the legendary James Wong Howe.  Shot on the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, California.  In black and white, at 81 minutes.

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Unconquered

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 17, 2014

Unconquered—Gary Cooper, Paulette Goddard, Howard Da Silva, Ward Bond, Boris Karloff, Mike Mazurki, Katherine DeMille, Cecil Kellaway (1947; Dir: Cecil B. DeMille)

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Gary Cooper had made a reputation in a variety of film genres in the 1920s and 1930s, including upscale westerns.  By the 1940s he was among the biggest stars in Hollywood, and he only made four westerns during the decade:  The Westerner and North West Mounted Police in 1940, Along Came Jones in 1945 and Unconquered in 1947.  North West Mounted Police and Unconquered were not the low-budget productions typical of the genre then.  They were directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and Unconquered was DeMille’s usual self-conscious epic, made with a large budget, in color and with a long playing time of 146 minutes.

Unconquered begins in 1763, the time of Pontiac’s Uprising in the northwest frontier of Britain’s American colonies, more than a decade before the Revolution.  Comely young English woman Abigail Hale (Paulette Goddard) is sentenced to death or transportation to the colonies in indentured servitude for helping her dying brother resist impressment into the Royal Navy.  She chooses transportation.  As the ship carrying her and other convicts nears the colonies, Abby attracts the interest of smooth but nefarious Indian trader Martin Garth (Howard Da Silva), who bullies the slave trader on the ship into auctioning her prematurely.  Unexpectedly, she is bought by Virginia militia Capt. Christopher Holden (Gary Cooper, not young at 46), who distrusts and wants to frustrate Garth.  Holden arranges for her to receive her freedom when he leaves the ship the next day, since he’s meeting his fiancée.

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Abby (Paulette Goddard) catches the eye of Indian trader Martin Garth (Howard Da Silva).

Holden’s plans go astray.  His fiancée Diana (Virginia Grey) reveals that she has married Holden’s brother, and Garth bullies the slave trader into giving him Abby’s freedom papers and reselling her to his henchman Bone (Mike Mazurki).  Holden ends up inland at the Peaketown Fair, where he meets his blacksmith friend John Fraser (Ward Bond), sees Abby again, meets with Col. George Washington (Richard Gaines) and Sir William Johnson, the King’s premier Indian agent.  They hear of Pontiac’s plans to inflame the northwestern tribes (western Senecas, Shawnees, Ottawas) in the western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan areas.  Holden agrees to carry wampum belts inviting the chiefs to a meeting, although he knows Garth’s Indian allies will be trying to kill him.  They do get his two scout comrades, but Holden makes it to Fort Pitt in western Pennsylvania.

There he finds the garrison is both depleted and reluctant to believe him.  He also finds Abby working in Bone’s tavern, and he abducts her to use as bait for Garth.  At a ball, Holden manages to challenge Garth to a duel, but Garth and Bone make off with Abby to the camp of Guyasuta (Boris Karloff), chief of the western Senecas and Garth’s father-in-law.  They leave Abby with Guyasuta, but his warriors and women begin to torture her.  Holden finds her and uses apparent magic (gunpowder explosions, a compass) get her released.  Pursued by Guyasuta’s warriors, they head downriver in a canoe, shooting rapids and going over a waterfall where Holden arranges a wildly improbable grab of a conveniently overhanging tree branch just in time.

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Abby (Paulette Goddard) and Holden (Gary Cooper) head for the falls.

As they make their way to the fort at Venango, Holden and Abby find evidence of Indian raids and slaughtered settlers.  At Venango, evidence suggests that the fort surrendered when given promises of mercy but the inhabitants were slaughtered by the Indians anyway.  However, the garrison at Fort Pitt refuses to believe them, and Holden is court-martialed and imprisoned.  Abby promises Garth she’ll stay with him if he’ll arrange for Holden’s escape.  He does, but also arranges for sharpshooters to ambush Holden during the escape.  Garth’s spurned Seneca wife Hannah (Katherine DeMille, Cecil’s daughter) re-directs Holden but is shot herself.

Holden makes it to Col Henry Bouquet at Bushy Run looking for reinforcements for Fort Pitt, but finds Bouquet’s ranks depleted, too.  He arranges to borrow Bouquet’s drummers and pipers and a hundred dead men, using them to feign a relief column to chase off the Senecas now besieging Fort Pitt just as Fort Pitt is on the verge of surrendering as Venango did.  As Garth and Bone try to escape with Abby, Holden catches them in a stable and finally shoots it out with Garth.

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Holden (Gary Cooper) has it out with Garth (Howard Da Silva), as Bone (Mike Mazurki) and Abby (Paulette Goddard) look on.

Although this is watchable, it has a few elements that don’t work well with modern audiences.  The color cinematography by Ray Rennahan is excellent.  The heavy-handed introductory narration and the dialogue can be clunky, and the Indians are mostly evil stereotypes, as one might guess from the casting of Karloff.  Some critics at the time referred to this as “The Perils of Paulette,” because of the way she seems to move from crisis to crisis.  The production design is good; DeMille gets the uniforms, forts and firearms right.  Cooper and Goddard are both a little old for their roles, but they work well enough.  Goddard had several fights with DeMille during filming, and he would never cast her again in one of his movies.  Her accent in this film is decidedly not English.  This was also the last of Cooper’s four films with DeMille.  Howard Da Silva makes an excellent villain.  In his memoirs, DeMille said that he was not completely satisfied with the ending and thought it needed to be stronger.

By this time, Cecil B. DeMille had been making westerns for more than thirty years, since The Squaw Man in 1914, the first feature-length movie of any kind.  This was his last western, but not his best.  Both The Plainsman (1936) and Union Pacific (1941) are watched more than North West Mounted Police (1940) and this.  Unconquered was based on Neil Swanson’s novel The Judas Tree; he also wrote Allegheny Uprising, another colonial-period western starring John Wayne and Clair Trevor.  The river scenes were shot on the Snake River in Idaho, and look very good.  Iron Eyes Cody is both in the cast and listed as an Indian language consultant, but we now know that Cody, despite making a career as a cinematic, advertising and television Indian, was in fact the son of Sicilian immigrants.

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Guyasuta (Boris Karloff) with daughter Hannah (Katherine DeMIlle); and Cecil B. DeMille directs Paulette Goddard in her bath scene.

Although Pontiac never actually shows up in this film, the traditional historical work on his wars is Francis Parkman’s The Conspiracy of Pontiac, first published in 1851 but still readable.  Guyasuta was not the unrelievedly evil character depicted here although he consistently opposed the expansion of American settlement in the Ohio country.  For a recent biography see Brady Crytzer’s Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America (2013), which not only describes his role in Braddock’s defeat, Pontiac’s uprising and the Battle of Bushy Run as mentioned in this film, but takes him all the way up through the American Revolution and the Battle of Oriskany (see Drums Along the Mohawk) to his participation in the Indian defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 by Mad Anthony Wayne.  For a description of the situation on the American frontier in 1763, see Colin Callaway’s The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America (2006).

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Kit Carson

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 24, 2014

Kit Carson—John Hall, Dana Andrews, Lynn Bari, Ward Bond, Harold Huber, Clayton Moore, Raymond Hatton, Charles Stevens (1940; Dir: George B. Seitz)

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Trapper Kit Carson and his men are attacked by Shoshones with Mexican guns near Fort Bridger, Wyoming, losing two years’ worth of pelts.  The only survivors are Carson and his friends Ape (Ward Bond) and Lopez (Harold Huber).  As they straggle into Fort Bridger, they find waiting for them a platoon of soldiers under Capt. John C. Fremont (Dana Andrews) and a wagon train for California led by Paul Terry (Clayton Moore), both of whom want Carson to guide them to California.  Carson refuses until he meets Dolores Murphy, a wealthy and attractive California heiress returning home. Then he signs up as wagonmaster.

Carson has continual disagreements with Fremont as to how to go about things as they move westward, and Carson keeps finding evidence that the Mexican army in California is providing guns to the Shoshones to keep Americans out.  Both Fremont and Carson are interested in Dolores Murphy, too.  As they approach the Sierra Nevadas, Fremont wants to take the direct pass into California; Carson warns that it leads into an area that would make for a good ambush and advises a route 60 miles longer, but safer.

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Lopez (Harold Huber), Ape (Ward Bond) and Carson (Jon Hall) ride.

Fremont doesn’t listen, and his platoon ends up boxed in by a Shoshone-triggered landslide.  While the wagon train is under attack, too, Paul Terry sacrifices himself to warn Carson, and Carson rescues the soldiers by blasting them out with a wagon-load of gunpowder.  Once everybody is in California at the Murphy hacienda, Gen. Castro (C. Henry Gordon) decides to attack the American haciendas while their owners are attending a fiesta at Murphy’s.  Mexican Gen. Mariano Vallejo (Lew Merrill) is captured and tips off Carson, who rides to warn the Americans.  Vallejo switches sides, as he realizes that Castro has it in for him, too.  Meanwhile, Carson decides he has no suitable life to offer a woman and leaves Dolores for Fremont to marry.

While Carson, Ape and Lopez put up a mock defense of the Murphy hacienda against Castro, Fremont and Murphy attack Castro from the rear and defeat him.  They set up the Bear Flag Republic and receive word that the U.S. and California are at war, making this about 1846.  Ape is killed in the Mexican attack while setting off an explosive signal, and Fremont talks Carson (apparently) into the realization that Dolores can only be happy with Carson.

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Carson (Jon Hall), Fremont (Dana Andrews) and Dolores Murphy (Lynn Bari) talk things out.

This film makes a hash of both geography and history.  Carson started working for Fremont as a guide in the 1842 when the fur-trapping was dying out, guiding him on four expeditions in California and the Great Basin.  While they were both in California while it was breaking away from Mexico during the Mexican War, they were on opposite ends of the state.  Carson was working as a courier and guide for Gen. Stephen Kearney across the southwest border to San Diego.  Fremont was rather famously married at the time, to Jessie Benton, daughter of the expansionist Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri.  It was the writing and promotion of Jessie Benton Fremont that made her husband famous, in fact.  Kit Carson was married at least three times beginning in 1835, to an Arapaho woman, a Cheyenne woman and finally to Josefa Jaramillo in Taos, New Mexico, in 1843.

This is one of the early films to make use of Monument Valley and southern Utah, the year after John Ford made Stagecoach there.  Although stunning, it doesn’t really look much like the country around Fort Bridger or California.  Aside from Ward Bond as Ape (who strangely uses a boomerang several times), none of the cast was much associated with westerns.  Half-Tahitian actor Jon Hall is better remembered for such exotic fare as Hurricane, although he would show up again in a 1947 remake of Last of the Mohicans (entitled Last of the Redmen).  Dana Andrews had a small parts in The Westerner, Belle Starr and The Ox-Bow Incident (he was the subject of a lynching) about this time, and he returned briefly to westerns in the 1950s (see Three Hours to Kill, Strange Lady in Town and Comanche, for example).  Geronimo’s grandson Charles Stevens (as Charley Stevens) has one of his juicier parts as Lt. Ruiz, who is working directly with the Shoshones.  Clayton Moore went on to his greatest fame as television’s Lone Ranger a decade later, and Mohawk actor Jay Silverheels (later Tonto) has an uncredited bit part here, too.  Director George B. Seitz was coming to the end of a long career and is better remembered for making several Andy Hardy movies about this time.

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Jon Hall as Kit Carson; and the real Kit Carson.

If you’d like to read about the historical Kit Carson, see Hampton Sides’ recent Blood and Thunder:  An Epic of the American West (2006).  Kit Carson had been the subject of popular attention beginning with dime novels in the 1840s.  He showed up in movies beginning with an early short in 1903, and would move into television in the 1950s.  In black and white, at 97 minutes.

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A Man Alone

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 5, 2014

A Man Alone—Ray Milland, Mary Murphy, Ward Bond, Raymond Burr, Lee Van Cleef, Alan Hale, Jr.  (1955; Dir:  Ray Milland)

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Although he’s frequently dirty and sometimes unshaven, Welsh-born Ray Milland still seems like an unusually fastidious cowboy with an eastern-ish accent.  Wesley Steele (MIlland) is a known gunman, but not exactly an outlaw, stranded in the desert.  He stumbles on a robbed stage, where six people have been killed, and then into a bank robbery in Mesa, a town controlled by Stanley (Raymond Burr).  He is blamed for both, and the hunt is on for Steele in earnest.

As he escapes, he seeks refuge in the basement of a house that turns out to be owned by local sheriff Gil Corrigan (Ward Bond) and his daughter Nadine (Mary Murphy, best known for her role as Marlon Brando’s girlfriend in The Wild One two years previously).  The sheriff is incapacitated with yellow fever, and the house is quarantined.  Steele wins Nadine’s confidence by helping to care for her father, even though she knows the whole town is looking for Steele. 

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It turns out that both the bank robbery and the heinous stage robbery were carried out by Stanley and his henchmen (including Lee Van Cleef).  Steele has to win over the recovered sheriff, who, once persuaded, lets him go and is then about to be lynched by irate townspeople.  Steele re-appears and saves him.  Steele gets the girl, who seems much younger than he.

In color, especially Murphy’s blond hair, at 96 minutes.  A rare western with Ray Milland, directed by Ray Milland, and it’s watchable, with a good supporting cast.  For Milland in another western, see Copper Canyon (1950), with Hedy Lamarr.

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The Moonlighter

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 3, 2014

The Moonlighter—Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Ward Bond, William Ching, Jack Elam (1953; Dir:  Roy Rowland)

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Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck had been making movies together since 1940’s Remember the Night, and of course their best-known collaboration was in one of the screen’s all-time greatest films noir:  Double Indemnity (1944).  This time they’re in a western, and, while pleasant enough to watch, it’s not in the same category as Double Indemnity.  It’s probably the weakest of their four films together.

The film starts with Wes Anderson (MacMurray) in jail, having been arrested as a moonlighter—one who rustles cattle by moonlight.  He is in fact guilty, but an irate rancher wants to lynch him.  Circumstances conspire so that they hang the wrong man (as in The Ox-Bow Incident), and a black man in the jail sings spirituals so we’ll get the connection with more modern lynching in the American south—also like The Ox-Bow Incident. 

Anderson escapes and arranges for a funeral for the supposedly deceased Wes Anderson, robbing those who attend to pay for the festivities.  He takes some revenge on the spread that did the lynching and heads home for Rio Hondo after a five-year absence with a wound in his shoulder.

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His brother Tom (William Ching) works respectably in the local bank and has finally convinced Wes’ former girlfriend Rela to marry him.  However, Tom gets fired, and Cole Gardner (Ward Bond), an old outlaw acquaintance of Wes’, shows up with a plan to rob the bank.  Wes tries to keep Tom out of the plan, but Tom now insists on being included.  As they escape, his former employer pulls a hidden gun and shoots Tom in the back.  Wes and Cole make their escape in the bank president’s horseless carriage, placing the time of this movie around 1900.

As Wes and Cole hole up in a remote cabin, a posse searches for them ineffectively.  But Rela knows where they probably are, and she convinces the sheriff to deputize her.  Meanwhile, Cole decides he doesn’t want to share the loot.  He and Wes fight, and, hampered by his wounded shoulder, Wes is knocked out and tied up.  As Cole descends the mountain, Rela spots him and a gun battle breaks out between them.  Rela eventually wins, finds Wes and unties him.  She insists they go down the dangerous way. 

As Rela and Wes cross under a waterfall, Rela slips and falls in a pool.  Wes could escape but chooses to rescue her and he takes her back to the remote hideout.  They have a discussion with lots of “suddenly I realized …” on both sides.  Rela always loved Wes and he loves her.  Now he’s decided to turn in himself and the money so that he and Rela can be together when he gets out of jail.  (He’s ignoring the fact that under the felony murder rules, he is likely to be accused of Tom’s murder, since it happened in the commission of a felony in which he was participating.)  Anyway, the second ride down the mountain goes smoothly, and they fade out.

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The action sequences (the jailbreak and lynching, and the fight between Cole and Wes, for example) are good.  But all of the sudden realizations are not convincing.  At the least, they needed more time to develop.  It brings to mind the ending of Remember the Night, which was not quite as unsatisfying.  MacMurray and Stanwyck rekindle their relationship in 1956 in Douglas Sirk’s melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow.  And MacMurray is better in 1957’s Quantez.  In black and white.  Short, at 77 minutes.  Like John Wayne’s Hondo and Raoul Walsh’s Gun Fury, The Moonlighter was originally shot in 3-D during Hollywood’s brief flirtation with that technology in the early 1950s.

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Drums Along the Mohawk

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 30, 2014

Drums Along the Mohawk—Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, Edna May Oliver, John Carradine, Ward Bond, Francis Ford, Roger Imhof, Arthur Shields, John Big Tree (1939; Dir:  John Ford)

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Based on Walter D. Edmonds’ 1936 best-seller of the same name, this is the story of life on the frontier in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York during the American Revolution.  Whereas the Iroquois tribes and the British had been allies of the American settlers during the French and Indian War of the late 1750s (the setting for the events of Last of the Mohicans), they are now the enemies of the Americans trying to assert their independence from the British.

The movie opens with the marriage in Albany of Gil Martin and his new bride Lana in 1776.  The same day they move on toward his new farm near Deerfield in the Mohawk Valley.  Lana is taken aback at the rustic nature of his cabin and the sudden terrifying appearance of an Indian, who turns out to be Blue Back, a friend and a “good Christian.”  Lana meets neighbors at the nearby Fort Herkimer in German Flats, and Gil takes his place in the militia commanded by Gen. Nicholas Herkimer (Roger Imhof).

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The young couple heads west from Albany.

As the neighbors are helping Gil to clear his land, the farm is attacked by Indians led by one-eyed Caldwell (John Carradine), a Tory.  The farm and crops burn and the settlers straggle to Fort Herkimer, where Lana suffers a miscarriage.  With no farm, the Martins hire on to work for the widow Mrs. McKlennar (Edna May Oliver).  Soon Gil leaves with the militia, and after the Battle of Oriskany, they straggle back.  The Americans have won, but at a cost.  Gen. Herkimer is wounded in the knee; his leg is amputated but he dies from blood loss.  Gil is wounded but survives.  Lana is expecting again.

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The enigmatic and serpentine Caldwell (John Carradine).

Tories and Mohawks attack German Flats, and the settlers again take refuge in Fort Herkimer.  Mrs. McKlennar is mortally wounded, and powder and ammunition run low.  Gil escapes and runs toward Fort Dayton for reinforcements, followed by three Mohawks.  Those in the fort are pressed hard, as the Mohawks force the gates and attack the church where the women, children and last defenders are holed up.  At the last moment the regular army from Fort Dayton appears, the Mohawks are vanquished, Cornwallis has surrendered to Washington, and the new nation is born.  The implication is that Blue Back has killed the Tory Caldwell.  Mrs. McKlennar has left her place to the Martins, and they resume the life they had planned in 1776.  The film has covered a period of about five years without being very specific about the passage of time.

This was director John Ford’s first film in Technicolor, made right after Stagecoach and Young Mr. Lincoln.  You can see elements of his developing visual style in shots with a two-wheel horse-drawn cart along a ridge against a looming sky, and with the three Mohawks pursuing Gil outlined against a red sunrise as they crest a ridge. 

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The Widow McKlennar (Edna May Oliver) buys a round; Lana holds off the savages.

Henry Fonda is good (it was his second film made with Ford, after Young Mr. Lincoln), and Claudette Colbert is fine as previously-pampered Lana who adapts to life on the frontier.  (Jean Arthur would have been spunkier and more interesting, and Claire Trevor would have been sweeter and a little more age-appropriate.) 

The strength of this movie is in several strong performances by supporting characters, starting with Edna May Oliver as the forthright Mrs. McKlennar.  Roger Imhof is an avuncular Gen. Herkimer with an appropriately German accent.  Arthur Shields is good as Rev. Rosencrantz, the German Flats pastor, and Chief John Big Tree is excellent as Blue Back, the Christian Indian.  Big Tree had been in 1924’s The Iron Horse and Stagecoach (1939), and will show up again in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as an old Cheyenne friend of Capt. Nathan Brittles.  In fact, he was a Seneca who was in 59 films between 1915 and 1950.  Ward Bond is effective as Adam Hartman, Gil’s close friend in the militia, and John Carradine is a good but shadowy figure as the villainous one-eyed Tory Caldwell, apparently based on the Tory leader Walter Butler.  John Ford’s brother Francis plays an aging scout captured by the Mohawks and torched in a wagon filled with straw.  There’s lots of Technicolor fire in the movie.

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Gil Martin races Mohawks against a Technicolor sunrise.

This film was a big success at the box office in Hollywood’s greatest year ever.  Ford had planned to spend three weeks in filming the Battle of Oriskany at great expense, but studio head Darryl Zanuck ordered him to find ways to cut the expense.  The battle and its results are narrated effectively by the wounded and delirious Gil as he receives medical care at the Widow McKlennar’s farm.  The screenwriter was Lamar Trotti, who also wrote the screenplays for Young Mr. Lincoln and The Ox-Bow Incident.  The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress for Edna May Oliver’s performance as the Widow McKlennar and for Best Cinematography.  Music is by Alfred Newman.  Filmed in Cook County, Pennsylvania, and even in southern Utah, but Monument Valley doesn’t show up.

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As with Gone With the Wind, 1939’s biggest movie, there are a few attitudes that can seem archaic to modern tastes.  Lana’s a little too hysterical initially for modern feminist sensibilities.  The Mohawks are faceless, menacing savages.  The alcoholic comic relief doesn’t play as well now as it did then.  And John Ford’s pre-World War II unquestioning patriotism is on display as the new nation is born at the end.  Still, it’s a mistake to expect a movie from 75 years ago to conform to more modern social attitudes.  On its own terms, it’s pretty good and eminently watchable.

The film’s sense of community among those living on the frontier, based around a church, is quite good.  The American Revolution has seldom worked well in movies, and this is one of the best of such films.  It would have been nice to have a little more background on the Mohawks and other Indians involved, as well as the enigimatic Tory Caldwell.  That wasn’t done much in 1939, and the movie budget and pacing probably wouldn’t have allowed for it anyway.  If you want more information on the actual history of this branch of the American Revolution in Iroquois country, see Glenn F. Williams’ Year of the Hangman:  George Washington’s Campaign Against the Iroquois (2006).  The title refers, a bit sensationally, to the year 1777, when the Battle of Oriskany took place and the 7s were thought to resemble gallows.  But the scope of the book is much broader than that. 

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Wagon Master

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 17, 2013

Wagon Master—Ward Bond, Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru, Harry Carey, Jr., Jane Darwell, Alan Mowbray, Charles Kemper, James Arness, Francis Ford, Hank Worden, Jim Thorpe (1950; Dir:  John Ford)

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The title of this movie is sometimes written in one word, but in the movie titles it’s two.  Even lesser John Ford westerns, like this and 3 Godfathers, are better than average westerns.  This one, although well cast, is lacking in star power, with leads going to actors who usually played supporting roles in Ford’s westerns.  It is normally thought that the title refers to Ward Bond’s character, who went on to play the role of the wagon master in the television series Wagon Train before his death in 1960 at the age of 57.  But in the film Bond refers to Ben Johnson’s character as the wagon master.

Here Bond plays the role of Elder Wiggs, leader of a band of Mormons stranded in Crystal City, a town that doesn’t like them, as they try to make their way toward the San Juan River country, not too far from the Monument Valley and Moab locations where this was filmed.  Wiggs encounters the horse trading Blue brothers Travis (Johnson) and Sandy (Harry Carey, Jr.) who are familiar with the desolate country and hires them to guide the beleaguered Mormons. 

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The Blue brothers and Elder Wiggs (Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr. and Ward Bond).

The first problem encountered is a medicine show (or “hoochie-coochie show,” as Wiggs refers to it) wagon, also kicked out of Crystal City and now stranded in the desert when its team of mules took off.  They’re consoling themselves with Dr. A. Locksley Hall’s elixir.  Hall (Alan Mowbray, who played the alcoholic Shakespearean actor in Ford’s My Darling Clementine) and his troupe reluctantly join the Mormons, who with equal reluctance are willing to give them replacement stock and take them as far as the cutoff to California.  Travis is drawn to Denver (a woman with a past, and named after a city, like Dallas in Stagecoach), the most attractive of Hall’s entourage.  (John Ford’s older brother Francis plays Mr. Peachtree, a minor member of the Hall group.) 

The next problem is water, scarce in this dry part of the southwest.  Third, they encounter the Cleggs, a Deliverance-style band of related outlaws led by Uncle Shiloh Clegg (Charles Kemper), wounded in their most recent holdup—in Crystal City, as it happens.  He needs medical attention and decides not to leave the train after he gets it.  The Cleggs’ willingness to resort to violence and gunplay seems to put them in charge, to the dismay of the non-violent Mormons.

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Next up, Indian trouble:  they encounter what seem to be hostile Navajos, played by the actual Navajos Ford normally used as Apaches or Comanches in his Monument Valley epics—except for Jim Thorpe, a Sac and Fox, in his last film appearance.  However, the Navajos actually seem inclined to trust Mormons more than normal white men, and the two groups bond over a campfire dance.  Reese Clegg attacks a Navajo woman, and in order to prevent bloodshed Wiggs orders him whipped.

A posse from Crystal City, where the Cleggs robbed the bank and which evicted both Hall’s wagon and the Mormons, catches up with them, seeking the Cleggs.  The Cleggs won’t let Hall’s wagon leave at the appointed place, and it looks like the Mormons are in for it from the Cleggs as well.  They come to a place where the Mormons have to dig a track for their wagons, including their unwieldy wagon with seed grain needed for their colony on the San Juan.  Still resentful at Reese’s whipping, Uncle Shiloh is on the verge of making Wiggs take the seed grain wagon on the track at full speed, insuring both Wiggs’ death and the destruction of the Mormons’ vital seed grain.  But Sandy, attracted to one of the Mormon girls (Kathleen O’Malley), is slipped a gun by her younger brother and starts shooting.  His brother Travis grabs a gun from a downed Clegg and together the two of them finish off the nasty Cleggs.  Wiggs’ comment to Travis:  “I thought you said you never got involved in gunplay.”  “I said, only shootin’ snakes.”

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The medicine wagon and a prominent occupant:  Joanne Dru as Denver.

As far as we know, Sandy ends up with Prudence and Travis with Denver, although Denver is rather uncooperative through most of the movie, even when Travis tempts her with the prospect of joining him at a ranch in a special valley he knows (reminiscent of Ringo’s pitch to Dallas in Stagecoach). 

Historically, the story seems grounded in the actual story of the Mormon pioneers’ grueling journey to the San Juan River country in far southeastern Utah.  A couple of times they sing “Come, Come Ye Saints,” the Mormon signature hymn, although there is also a rendition of the inevitable “Shall We Gather at the River.”  There’s some actual familiarity with Mormons behind all this, although there are stereotypical elements in the portrayal of the Mormons, too.

Bond and the young Johnson are excellent, as are Mowbray (with a whiff of W.C. Fields about him) and Kemper in lesser roles.  Ben Johnson, with his cowboy background, did his own stunts and was one of the best riders in westerns (along with perhaps Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott).  Carey is fine in a slighter role.  Joanne Dru (married to actor John Ireland at the time) here reminds one of her role in Red River, although that was directed by Howard Hawks; she’s good at playing an attractive semi-bad girl.  James Arness shows up in an early role as Floyd Clegg; Hank Worden is a mentally-impaired Clegg.  Charles Kemper is very good as the slimy Uncle Shiloh Clegg; he was killed in an automobile accident not too long after making the movie.  Jane Darwell is Sister Ledyard, who blows a horn to get attention or to get things moving.

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Sister Ledyard (Jane Darwell) calls for attention.

The movie is short, at less than 90 minutes, but well put together.  It is one of the better wagon train westerns; it would make a good double feature with Westward the Women, from about the same time.  There’s a fair amount of music from the Sons of the Pioneers, as in Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande.  This was made between those two cavalry movies.  Ford was clearly enamored of the singing group during this period, although they’re an element that hasn’t aged particularly well for the tastes of modern audiences.  There’s a strong strain of Fordian nostalgia here, as in many of his westerns.  Ford is said to have claimed this was his favorite of his movies, and it’s quite good, if more modest than some others.  In black and white.

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Johnny Guitar

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 13, 2013

Johnny Guitar—Joan Crawford, Sterlling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Ward Bond, Scott Brady, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Cooper, Royal Dano, John Carradine, Paul Fix, Frank Ferguson  (1954; Dir:  Nicholas Ray)

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An unusual cult favorite with a large cast, noir influences and bright colors; similar to Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious in having a big female star from Hollywood’s golden age in the lead and in the melodramatic noir sensibility, among other things.  More obviously an artifact from the time it was made than any attempt to re-create the 19th century west for its story, it’s nevertheless an interesting artifact.

Former saloon girl Vienna (Joan Crawford in her hard-edged mode, a veteran of 30 years in the movies at this point) has finally built up her own saloon in the wilds of Arizona, although local ranchers (Ward Bond as baron John McIvers) and business people (Mercedes McCambridge as banker-rancher Emma Small) see her place as a haven for outlaws and rustlers.  The railroad is coming through, which they think will bring in hordes of new settlers to take their land, and Vienna stands to make a lot of money then. 

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Things come to a head when the local stage is robbed, Emma’s brother is killed in the holdup, and a tall, guitar-playing blond guy from Albuquerque shows up, apparently responding to a call from Vienna.  This is the titular Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), who initially spends his time fending off hostility both from McIvers and his group and from four apparent outlaw-miners, especially Bart Lonergan (Ernest Borgnine).  McIvers gives Vienna and the four 24 hours to clear out; Vienna makes it clear she’s not going.  Johnny Guitar fights with Bart, and wins.  As he’s leaving, young gunman Turkey Ralston (Ben Cooper) shows off and Johnny Guitar grabs a gun and bests him.  It turns out his real name is Johnny Logan, and he and Vienna have a lot of history, although they haven’t seen each other in five years.  She instructs him to leave his guns in his saddlebag.

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The four outlaw-miners include Bart, tubercular Corey (Royal Dano), Turkey and their leader the Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady), a former paramour who now fancies Vienna more than she fancies him.  There are clearly a number of conflicts coming up.  The four aren’t yet real outlaws and didn’t rob the stage; they have a silver mine, but it’s played out now.  They decide that if they’re being chased out, they might as well rob the local bank (owned by Emma) before they go.

Vienna goes to the bank the next morning and withdraws all her money.  While she’s there, the four rob the bank, while Vienna tries unsuccessfully to talk them out of it.  McIver and Emma lead a vengeful posse in pursuit of the four, but Emma’s also convinced that Vienna had something to do with the robbery.  During the chase, the passes on the escape route are dynamited by railroad crews, and the four retreat to the Lair, their large house in a hidden, defensible position.  Turkey is hurt when his horse falls, and even more when his horse runs under a low-hanging branch and knocks him off.

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Having lost the four, the posse comes to Vienna’s, which is closed.  Vienna is playing the piano in a white dress; Johnny Guitar is out of sight.  The posse finds the wounded Turkey hidden under a table, and McIvers and Emma promise him he won’t hang if he gives up Vienna as an accomplice.  Turkey cracks (Vienna tells him to save himself, so she’s kind of acquiescing although not taking responsibility for the lie), and he does it.  The posse proceeds to hang them both from a bridge anyway despite their promises.  At the last second Johnny Guitar cuts Vienna down, and they make a break for the Lair.  Vienna’s saloon is in flames.

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The posse follows Turkey’s horse to the entrance to the Lair, and Emma convinces lookout Bart to turn on his compatriots.  He knifes Corey and Johnny shoots him as he’s trying to shoot the Kid in the back.  Emma wounds Vienna and the posse kills the Kid but refuses to go farther with Vienna.  The furious and implacable Emma then pushes Vienna into a shootout, which Vienna wins, and the posse slowly leaves.  Presumably Vienna and Johnny get back together on a long-term basis.  Maybe Vienna rebuilds her hard-won saloon.

Joan Crawford dominates the film with her character Vienna, who’s always working out what her various relationships will be.  Sterling Hayden is slightly flaky as her gunless gunman in a supporting role, although the movie is named after him.  He apparently didn’t get along well with Crawford during the filming.  Ward Bond’s McIvers has some scruples, but not enough.  Emma is said to be a one-time rival of Vienna for the Kid’s affections, but McCambridge is an implacably anti-Vienna wild woman for most of the movie, somewhat over the top in her performance.  Crawford and McCambridge did not get along well, either, and maybe that fueled some of the hostility.  McCambridge later admitted that she was battling alcoholism at the time as well.  Frank Ferguson as Marshal Williams, the voice of reason and restraint in the mob, John Carradine as Vienna’s caretaker, and Royal Dano as the consumptive, book-reading Corey are all particularly good.

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Director Nicholas Ray was known for his noir work (In a Lonely Place and others) in the early 1950s, and that sensibility is present in this melodrama, along with bright Technicolor touches and Crawford’s fierce eyebrows and crimson lipstick.  Some see this as an allegory for the political McCarthyism then dominating Congress, with the posse’s mob mentality and its leaders’ mistaken judgment and misplaced hostilities.  Taken as a whole, this is enjoyable to watch, if a bit overwrought.  It seems torn between its desire to have the Vienna character be a strong, self-sufficient woman (she wears pants for most of the film) and the occasional nod to 1950s social mores.  The all-female shootout between Vienna and Emma is a hallmark in the history of westerns.  Peggy Lee wrote and sings the title song.

[Other films with a 1940s-50s take on lynching include The Ox-Bow Incident (obviously), The Moonlighter, Three Hours to Kill and this.  The first two even have a black peripheral character present at the lynching to make the point that they really want us to be thinking about the problem of lynching of blacks in the south.]

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Dodge City

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 7, 2013

Dodge City—Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Alan Hale, Bruce Cabot, Ann Sheridan, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Victor Jory (1939; Dir: Michael Curtiz)

Movie stars didn’t get much bigger than the team of Flynn and De Havilland in 1939.  Although this was the fifth of nine Warner Brothers movies they made together, it was also their first and perhaps best western.  It obviously had a big budget, being filmed in Technicolor at a time when most movies, and certainly most westerns, weren’t.  (For purposes of comparison, the other big color movies that year were Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz—pretty heady company.)  The director, the Hungarian Michael Curtiz, had been responsible for Flynn and De Havilland’s most successful movies, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (also in color the previous year) and, of course, Flynn’s earlier breakthrough, Captain Blood.

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Flynn is Wade Hatton, and the movie explains his accent by saying that he’s an Irishman with wanderlust and a background in the English military in India.  He fought in the Civil War for the South, and as the movie starts he and pals Rusty Hart (Alan Hale) and Tex Baird (Guinn Williams) are finishing a stint as buffalo hunters for the railroad that has just been completed to Dodge City.  After a run-in with Jeff Surrett (a young Bruce Cabot), they return to Texas while Dodge City itself falls into chaos and lawlessness, under the corrupt domination of saloon owner Surrett.  (His saloon is called The Gay Lady, and features Ann Sheridan in a modest role as his presumably eponymous headliner.)  Interestingly enough, the bad guys are Yankees, and the good guys are southerners, a reversal of the usual situation in westernsalthough there have always been some exceptions.

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A bit later, Hatton is the honcho for a trail herd coming up from Texas to Dodge City along the Chisholm Trail.  Coming along are Abbie Irving (Olivia de Havilland) and her neer-do-well brother, whose parents have died.  The brother is a drunk who is killed when his constant careless shooting causes a stampede, and Abbie blames Hatton for his death.  Obviously, that relationship will be repaired by the end of the movie.  After (a) Surrett is clearly responsible for the death of a competing buyer for Hatton’s cattle, and (b) out-of-control gunfire results in the death of a boy on a Sunday School outing, Hatton agrees to clean up the town and make it safe for decent people, women and the Pure Prairie League.  Abbie goes to work for Joe Clemens (the name an obvious homage to Mark Twain); Clemens is the crusading anti-Surrett newspaper editor of the Dodge City Star (Frank McHugh), the sort of part you can easily see Thomas Mitchell playing if he hadn’t been busy getting his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for being Doc Boone in Stagecoach that year.  McHugh is fine, though, until he is whipped and then killed by vile Surrett henchman Yancey (the reptilian Victor Jory).  Ward Bond shows up in an early (and brief) role as Yancey’s unconvincing alibi.  (See him also in a fleeting role in the same year’s Frontier Marshal.) 

When Hatton and Abbie get the goods on Yancey and Surrett for Clemens’ death, the climax of the movie is a shootout on a burning train.  Ultimately, of course, Hatton, Rusty and Tex kill Surrett and his minions in the shootout, saving everybody a lengthy and uncertain trial.  The end of this movie sets up the next western for Flynn and De Havilland, with Col. Grenville Dodge asking Hatton to spend his honeymoon cleaning up the mining town Virginia City which is, if anything, in worse shape than Dodge City had been.

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De Havilland with Flynn as sheriff (smaller hat, baby blue tie).

Hatton’s initial wide-brimmed hat in this movie is unusual.  Note how he changes hats to one with a smaller brim (along with changing all his other attire) when he becomes sheriff.  The baby-blue string tie is a stretch; it probably should have been black.  Flynn, especially the younger Flynn, is always watchable, but some don’t find him very convincing in westerns.  De Havilland makes a lively western female lead and has her usual good chemistry with Flynn on screen.  The accounts say that she had a miserable time making the movie, and would have preferred the Ann Sheridan dance hall floozy role, even though Sheridan didn’t actually have much to do.  Of course, this film hasn’t much to do with the real history of cleaning up Dodge City. 

Written by the young Robert Buckner, who also wrote Virginia City and Santa Fe Trail (both Flynn western vehicles), as well as Jezebel, The Oklahoma Kid, Knute Rockne, All-American, Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Desert SongVirginia City, the follow-on, when it gets made, is not an actual sequel and has Miriam Hopkins instead of Olivia de Havilland as Flynn’s romantic interest.

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