3.21.2014

Blood On the Moon (1948)

Directed by Robert Wise. Starring Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Preston, Frank Faylen and Walter Brennan as Kris Barden!




A shadowy noir-infused western soaked in adult themes and shady characters.


*SPOILERS* Robert Mitchum plays hired gunman "Jim Garry", called into town by his old friend to help him fellow homesteaders stand up to local cattle baron John Lufton (a wonderful Tom Tully). Jim comes to cross paths with Lufton's daughter, Amy (a fiery Barbara Bel Geddes). He eventually realizes that he not only has feelings for Amy, but that he was brought in under phony pretense by his slimy friend, Tate Riling (a fantastic bit of villainy by Robert Preston).

Walter Brennan plays one of the fellow homesteaders that early on is joined with Tate Riling in their quest against John Lufton. When a planned cattle raid goes awry, Brennan's son winds up dead. From that point on he realizes he was wrong, that he should have talked it out with Lufton instead of taking the cattle by force. He joins up with Jim and Amy, and along with Lufton they come up with a plan to stop Tate Riling. Frank Faylan pops up as one of Tate Riling's goons. In a great bit Mitchum tricks Faylen, leading him out into the middle of nowhere so he can't notify Riling that Mitchum switched sides.

Robert Wise directs BLOOD ON THE MOON like a fine film noir drenched in black and white. It opens during a rain storm at night and though much of it is shot on location a lot of it takes place at night. It has a somber tone and when Brennan's character loses his son it's ramification effects everyone's motivations, unlike the human fodder showcased in most oaters of the time.


Robert Mitchum plays the deep thinking brooding gun-for-hire to a "T". His presence as a cowboy fits just as comfortable as his roles in crime noir. The difference is strictly window dressing, the motivations and set-up are similar, the tone and atmosphere are also very similar. This movie looks forward to the more adult and psychological westerns that would be made in the following years, those of Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann. And especially that of Mitchum's own similar role in MAN WITH A GUN (1955).


If there is one complaint it's a goofy one, the film ends on too much of a happy note. The bad guy dies and in a throwaway line Amy's insinuates her and Jim will now be married, just like that. Jim shrugs and they practically skip into the sunset. After all the rain and dark nights it just doesn't sit right. I guess it was just a convention of westerns at the time. True film noir ends mostly in tragedy, in my opinion. Almost reaching the goal then losing it. But I still love this movie, Mitchum's Jim Garry earned his happy ending.





3.20.2014

The Walking Hills (1949)

Directed by John Sturges. Starring Randolph Scott, Ella Raines, Arthur Kennedy and Edgar Buchanan as Old Willy!





Sturges assembles a great group of actors for this contemporary noir western taking place in then current times of 1949. The presence of Randolph Scott and Edgar Buchanan keep it firmly rooted in the genre but the whole approach is more adult and sinister than the B-movie programmers the stars were known for.


The movie opens on a group of people playing cards in the back room of a border town. Each character has a shady past that they are trying to run away from. When they discover the local folklore of buried treasure in the sand dunes may be true they decide to sneak into the Mexican desert at night and begin to dig. Eventually secrets, emotion and a sand storm threaten to tear everything apart.


Terrific looking black and white photography give this western a wonderful noir inspired look. Made before HANGMAN'S KNOT this truly seems like the first step Randolph Scott would take toward making a more mature western film, eventually coming to fruition in the movies he did with Budd Boetticher. At 78 minutes this is every bit as good, IMO.


Guitarist, singer, songwriter Josh White is on hand as part of the group of treasure hunters. White sings and plays guitar while they dig, when they eat and when they're just standing around at night. It's the perfect kind of blues that you need when you are in the middle of a desert digging for gold.

 

3.16.2014

Ride Lonesome (1959)

Directed by Budd Boetticher, starring Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Cleef, and introducing James Coburn as Whit!




"A man could do that."

The apex of Budd Boetticher / Randolph Scott Ranown pictures. COMANCHE STATION (1960) may have come after and even though it's very good it just isn't as perfect as RIDE LONESOME. 

*SPOILERS* In RIDE LONESOME Randolph Scott plays "Ben Brigade", a man who captures Billy John (James Best), to use him to exact revenge on his brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) for killing his wife. Along the way he saves a woman, played by Karen Steele, from an Indian attack at the station she was working. Two outlaws tag along played wonderfully by Pernell Roberts and James Coburn in his big screen debut. They quickly discover Karen Steele's husband to be dead so all three join together to evade the Indians. Roberts and Coburn ride along in with the hopes of turning on Scott to use Billy John as their way of gaining amnesty.

SHOOT IT IN LONE PINE!

The film opens on location amid the beautiful rocky hills of Lone Pine! Randolph is colder and more rugged than ever before. The loss of his wife has eaten away at him, he is a shell of a man hell bent on revenge. It's great! Karen Steele lights up the screen, the affection of every Indian Chief and outlaw around. She falls for Randolph but he is still grieving for his long lost wife. 





Once again the outlaws steal the show. Pernell Roberts and James Coburn are a riot. They are the heart and soul of this film. In the previous films 7 MEN FROM NOW and THE TALL T the outlaws are friendly with Scott but in the end he is forced to take them out. RIDE LONESOME switches that convention, this time allowing them to actually become friends and earn their happy ending. Their plan of double crossing Scott never has a chance to come to fruition. In the end Scott accepts his sadness and allows the two outlaws a chance of a better life, one that he can never have. The villains Billy John and his brother Frank played by Lee Van Cleef are easily dispatched by Scott. James Best is great as the weasely "Billy John", but if the movie has one fault it's the amount of screen time for Lee. It is much too short, his character could have used a touch more fleshing out. But that's a minor nitpick in an otherwise perfect film.




3.15.2014

The Tall T (1957)

Directed by Budd Boetticher - starring Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O'Sullivan, Henry Silva and Skip Homeier (as Billy Jack)!





"Cherry Striped Candy."


With those words by "Pat Brennan" (Randolph Scott) a sunny tone is set, and for the first act the antics are kept humorous and light. Scott meets with a Station hand and his son and the young boy excitedly asks Scott if he could pick up some candy for him during his trip to town. Once in town Randolph rides a bull and loses his horse in a good-natured bet. Jumping into the drinking trough just to avoid getting gouged! Scott grabs his saddle sans horse and walks outta town. 



*SPOILERS* Along the way he hitches a ride from a newlywed couple played by John Hubbard and Maureen O'Sullivan, the daughter of a big-time ranch baron. The husband having only married O'Sullivan for her father's money. At the station they find out that the owner and the boy have been killed and their bodies dumped in the well by thieves played by Richard Boone, Henry Silva and Skip Homeier. The tone immediately shifts from light-hearted to grim and gritty. Eventually the husband attempts to make a deal that lets him leave to go to his father-in-law to bring back ransom money in exchange for his wife. He's really only doing to save himself and happily leaves his wife behind, leaving Scott to come up with a plan to save him and the wife. Patrick Boone's character begins to take a liking to Scott seeing him more as an equal than the two grunts he rides with. In the meantime sexual tension between Maureen O'Sullivan and Randolph Scott begins to rise.



Shot in Lone Pine!

Budd continues to get his low budget money's worth by filming in the rocky hills of the wonderful Lone Pine location. Once settled in the story mostly takes place in a small area, the cave where they are keeping Scott and O'Sulivan captive and outside the cave where the bandits have a small camp set up. It's so simple it could practically work as a stage play. It's all framed up beautifully.


THE TALL T is adapted from the original story "The Captives" by Elmore Leonard and it builds on the template of 7 MEN FROM NOW providing Randolph Scott with a wife of a weak willed man to fall in love with, and ultimately save the day for. Maureen O'Sullivan is understated in her performance as the plain looking wife who is eventually brought out of her shell by the sexual energy between her and Randolph.



The villains all continue to shine, all three character actors feel like a real danger yet at the same time enough back story is given to keep them from being one-dimensional goons. Again you can almost see Scott and Boone being friends had things been different. Henry Silva is a riot as usual, just completely chewing up the scenery. Skip Homeier is great as the dim-witted Billy Jack, Skip also appears later in Budd's COMANCHE STATION (1960) to great effect.


At 78 minutes it's a great short B-movie western, it doesn't get any better than this.



2.23.2014

Seven Men from Now (1956)

Directed by Budd Boetticher - starring Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin and Walter Reed






Randolph Scott plays 'Ben Stride', a sheriff whose wife was killed during a Wells Fargo robbery. He's in pursuit of the thieves and their loot when he happens across a troubled married couple (Gail Russell and Walter Reed). He helps them get their wagon unstuck from the mud and in the process begins to find himself drawn to the wife.

The three eventually meet up with Lee Marvin, who's in pursuit of the stolen loot. He knows Scott's history and who he really is, he also picks up the attraction Scott has for Russell and begins to make things unbelievably uncomfortable for the two of them, and her milquetoast husband.

SHOOT IT IN LONE PINE!

This is the film that kickstarted the Ranown film cycle, the collaborations between Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott. And also Burt Kennedy, who is as equally an important part of the formula. This movie and the films that followed changed the landscape. They were westerns that weren't just about cowboys and Indians, but rather they were about characters and relationships. They were about our flaws and imperfections. The villains weren't always so bad and the heroes had issues. Budd had small budgets but the look of these films are all first class, shot on location in LONE PINE, the setting ties them together giving them a kind of visual continuity.


 



Randolph Scott is great, playing a less smiley character than usual and more of a tortured soul. Gail Russell is the perfect Budd/Scott love interest. Karen Steele may have more pin-up girl appeal, but Gail has a magnetic charged sexuality. Her sap of a husband is admirably played by Walter Reed. It's a thankless role but he really sells himself as a fish out of water in over his head in this new frontier full of men who know how to take charge and survive.

But it's Lee Marvin who steals the show as a sketchy foil for Scott who is after the stolen loot. The screen can barely contain him. From the moment he steps into frame he oozes charm. You'd wish he was friends with Scott instead off being at odds with him, a theme that runs through the best Boetticher /Scott collaborations (The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station).





2.07.2010

The Man from Laramie (1955)

Directed by Anthony Mann - starring James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Alex Nicol, Cathy O'Donnell and Aline MacMahon as 'Kate Canady'





**SPOILERS ABOUND**
Stewart plays 'Will Lockhart', an ex-soldier seeking revenge for the death of his brother who was killed by Apaches using rifles. While trying to investigate who sold the Indians the guns, Lockhart runs afoul of powerful cattle baron Alec Waggoman (a superb Donald Crisp) and his spoiled brat of a son, Dave (Alex Nicol).

Alex Nicol is great as the whiney spoiled manchild, Dave. Throwing his weight around and showing off he picks on outsider Lockhart. He tosses a rope around him and drags him through a campfire, burns down his wagons and shoots his mules (off camera)! Dave is upsurped by Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy) who runs the ranch himself and is like a son to Alec, possibly moreso than Dave.

Cathy O'Donnell plays 'Barbara Waggoman' caught between the love of Vic and Lockhart, the stranger, and a much older man. Cathy isn't given much to do but has a couple cute scenes with Stewart, one where they're drinking tea and carrying on.


Lockhart gets framed for knifing a wino (Jack Elam!) in a back alley and gets bailed out by Kate Canady (a spirited Aline MacMahon). She's an old love of Alec's and his only true competition in the country. She wants Lockhart to help her run the ranch. He wants nothing to do with it but needs her help so he agrees and begins looking over the cattle. What follows is one the most shocking sadistic scenes of violence in a pre-1960's mainstream picture, as if the poor mules weren't already enough. It's great.




THE MAN FROM LARAMIE is one of the best films of the genre, and possibly Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart's best film together. The relationships are grey and not everyone is as good or bad as they seem to be at first. Lots of ideas about fate, tragedy and love. Especially between the KING LEAR inspired good son/bad son. There's quite a bit of plot but it never gets bogged down and has a nice pace that is always moving and interesting. The New Mexico locations shot in CinemaScope are stunning, with expansive sweeping shots of the desert, the salt flats and the various ranches look beautiful. It's too bad Mann and Stewart didn't get to do more films together in Scope.


Six six-guns are pointed at James Stewart in this publicity still for the Columbia Pictures release,
The Man from Laramie (1955)

2.06.2010

The Law and Jake Wade (1958)

Directed by John Sturges - starring Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, Patricia Owens, Henry Silva and DeForest Kelley as 'Wexler'



Robert Taylor plays 'Marshal Jake Wade', a reformed outlaw who breaks his old pal 'Clint Hollister' (an excellent Richard Widmark) outta jail to pay back an old debt, thus saving him from a hangin'. Jake now lives a simple life with his soon-to-be bride 'Peggy' (Patrica Owens). But Hollister and his gang have other plans. Years ago Jake buried the money from their last job, and now Clint Hollister wants his cut.

Robert Taylor is a bit of a stiff here and I just can't warm up to him. The real reason to see this movie is for Richard Widmark and his gang of baddies, including Henry Silva and DeForest Kelley, who steal every scene. I just about died when Henry Silva sez with a straight face that he's from Kansas. Bones has a great southern accent and is hot to see Taylor get his. So is Silva. So is me. Widmark is great as usual, playing a likable jerk. I genuinely felt bad when Talor sez to him at the end, "I never liked you as much as you liked me." Widmark is devestated. He curls up and dies inside. In a fit of anger he throws his cigarette to the ground and stomps away. Patricia Owens has the thankless role of being the captive woman with nothing to do, but she looks good doing it.




SHOT IN LONE PINE!

And directed by John Sturges. This b-movie has swell production value, beautiful mountain vistas and a great shootout in a ghost town. The night scenes are stage-bound but sometimes I kinda prefer that to day-for-night. A solid western that is worth seeing for the locations and character actors. And I guess for fans of Robert Taylor's sad face.



1.31.2010

No Name on the Bullet (1959)

Directed by Jack Arnold - starring Audie Murphy and Charles Drake



Audie Murphy plays a quick-draw hitman who strolls into town and without lifting a finger or saying a word upsets the whole place and turns it's town folks on each other. He befriends a physician (Charles Drake), who takes a curious liking to Murphy, playing him in chess and picking his brain about who he's there to kill. Murphy's very presence brings out the paranoia and everyone with a shady past thinks they might be the target.


** SPOILERS ** Audie Murphy plays a believable villain in this. His character's trick is that he always gets his hit to draw on him first, clearing Audie of any crime. At the end of the film when it's revealed the target is an old man all Murphy has to do is get him excited and he has a heart attack on the front porch. Charles Drake as 'The Physician' plays the would-be-hero, finally turning on Murphy and throws a giant hammer, hitting Murphy in the arm. Blood dripping down his hand, Murphy crawls up on his horse and rides outta town. The End.

Directed by Jack Arnold, the movie opens with great views of the countryside but once Audie gets to town it mostly takes place in the saloon and backrooms. Kinda' psychological character study of small towns and one of Murphy's best westerns.


Sent into us by reader Barry M - "Gene L. Coon wrote this, says IMDB. Probably most famous as writer and producer for Star Trek, and writer of the Spectre of the Gun episode!"



1.30.2010

Hangman's Knot (1952)

Directed by Roy Huggins - starring Randolph Scott, Lee Marvin, Donna Reed, Claude Jarman Jr., Frank Faylen and Richard Denning


A group of Confederate soldiers led by 'Major Matt Stewart' (Randolph Scott) rob a Union gold shipment and kill all the men. The last soldier tells them with his dying breath that war was over a month ago, the South lost and now they'll be pegged as murderous robbers. With a group of deputies after them they hijack a stagecoach and take the passengers hostage in a station house. They find out the deputies are really bounty hunters after the gold and they're prepared to kill everyone to get it. Including the hostages!

SHOOT IT IN LONE PINE!

Lean at 81 minutes the film opens in rocky Lone Pine! but quickly settles into a single room for the rest of the movie. **SPOILERS** Lee Marvin in an early role plays 'Rolph Bainter' a trigger happy soldier who's at odds with Scott, eventually leading to a great fist-fight where Scott falls in the fireplace and they both tear the house apart. Donna Reed is 'Molly Hull' a nurse for the Union engaged to 'Lee Kemper' (Richard Jenning), a real jerk who only looks out for himself. Claude Jarman Jr. is 'Jamie' a young member of Scott's gang who's yet to kill and has to grow up quick. Clem Bevans runs the Station with his daughter, her son recently killed by Confederate soldiers, she despises Scott and his gang. The bounty hunters eventually grow impatient and start fighting within themselves with everything coming to a head when they set the Station on fire. A terrific western in the mold of the Scott/Boetticher films.


"I'm coming home to ya Bessie, this time for good."

1.29.2010

Man With the Gun (1955)

Directed by Richard Wilson - starring Robert Mitchum, Henry Hull, Jan Sterling and Karen Sharpe





The movie opens with a man shooting a dog in front of a young boy in the middle of the street, thus setting the grim tone of what's to follow.


Robert Mitchum plays 'Clint Tollinger', a man who comes to town looking for his wife, Nelly Bain (Jan Sterling), who ran away from him and who now runs a saloon full of girls. Clint has a reputation as a town tamer and once the folks in town learn of his presence they decide to employ him to clean up their act and rid them of a ruthless cattle baron, Dade Holman (an un-credited Joe Barry), who's been taking them over with his violent ways. Unfortunately for the town they soon find out that the medicine is almost as bad as the cure.

Henry Hull plays the town Sheriff, a weathered tired old man who refuses to stand up to Dade Holman and his goons. He deputizes Clint and tries to stay out of his way only helping once things start to tip in their favor. A young man named Jeff Castle (John Lupton) is the only one in town who's willing to fight for his land. Holman's thugs having burnt down his new house and knocked him around. Jeff is looking to take back what's rightfully his back but he doesn't stand a chance and his hot-headedness risks him losing his soon-to-be bride, Stella Akins (Karen Sharpe). Stella, along with most of the women in town, take an immediate liking to Clint. This is picked up by Clint's wife who gets jealous of the younger woman, who Clint says reminds him of her when she was younger and more innocent.

A quick paced western-noir that has Mitchum playing a troubled man right set to explode. Mitchum rides into town and locates his wife only to find that she wants nothing to do with him, that is unless he wants to put his guns down. He doesn't. Gunslinging is all he knows. He rids the town of most of the riff-raff then waits for their boss to show. 

**SPOILERS** In a heated discussion he finds out from his wife that their daughter died years ago from influenza and she's been keeping it a secret, punishing herself over it. Mitchum's rage boils over and he darts out the room. He walks over to Dade Holman's saloon and coaxes the crooked manager into a fight, killing him, then sets the building ablaze, risking the whole town of burning down.

He stands aside sweating, in awe of the fire as the townsfolk rush to wet down the nearby buildings.


There are several un-credited cameos by bit players. A young Angie Dickinson can be seen in the group of dancing girls and Claude Akins is one of Holman's gang who tries to shoot Mitchum with a gun hidden in is hat. Directed by Richard Wilson, a protégé of Orson Welles, and shot in glorious black and white. The film fits in nicely with Mitchum's other noir-like westerns: BLOOD ON THE MOON and PURSUED. All three are worth seeking out for fans of noir and adult westerns of the 1940's and 50's.