Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on July 8, 2014
In the late 1950s Warner Brothers was using their television properties to create stars on the cheap. One of them was Clint Walker, a former merchant marine and deputy sheriff whose freakish physique and down home sincerity carried the TV Western Cheyenne to high ratings. A March 1958 issue of Screenland checks off his measurements as if he were a prize heifer: ”It’s safe to say he is the biggest man in cowboy movies. He stands six-feet-six, with an 18-inch neck, a 38-inch waist and hips so slim that he can hardly keep his gun belt up.” Signed to a seven year contract by WB in 1955 at $175 a week, Walker began chafing at his rock bottom salary, even when it was bumped to $500 (he walked off the show to protest in ’59). To placate their brooding star, WB cast him in two big screen Westerns, both directed by Gordon Douglas and scripted by Burt Kennedy (and available on DVD through the Warner Archive): Fort Dobbs (1958) and Yellowstone Kelly (1959) (they would make a third in 1961, Gold of the Seven Saints). They are lonesome works, with Walker playing an outsider plying his trade at the edges of society. In Fort Dobbs he’s a wanted murderer, while in Yellowstone Kelly he’s an individualist scout and trapper mocked by the Army brass for his sympathy towards Native Americans.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on June 26, 2014
“I wonder if my brother remembers his brother?”
We lost Eli Wallach on June 26th at the ripe old age of 98. The talented actor was beloved by film fans and fellow actors so quickly cobbled together obituaries as well as many heartfelt tributes have begun flooding the World Wide Web. It’s with much trepidation that I tip my own toe into these grief-filled waters but since hearing the news I haven’t been able to get Wallach out of my head. The Brooklyn born son of Jewish parents who immigrated to America from Poland appeared in over 150 films and television productions including BABY DOLL (1956), THE LINEUP (1958), SEVEN THIEVES (1960), THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), THE MISFITS (1961), HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962), THE VICTORS (1963), LORD JIM (1965), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), THE TIGER MAKES OUT (1967), ACE HIGH (1968) and THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR (1970), which are just a few early highlights from his lengthy body of work. And while it’s difficult to point to a favorite role in a career as vast and varied as Wallach’s I can’t deny that his unforgettable turn as the grinning bandito in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY has had the biggest and most long-lasting impact on me. It’s a film I first saw nearly 40 years ago with my father when I was just an impressionable kid and much like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (another favorite Wallach film), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is a movie that I have returned to countless times and each viewing experience becomes richer and more rewarding.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on June 17, 2014
The five Westerns that Jimmy Stewart made for director Anthony Mann proceed with the inexorable grim fates of Greek tragedy. The Man From Laramie (1955), their final collaboration, circles around the perverse machinations of the Waggoman family, rich ranch owners who are overflowing with cattle and Oedipal anxieties. Stewart is the rootless antagonist who triggers their fears into violence. These are characters weighted with symbolic significance, from the blinded patriarch to his spoiled, elaborately dressed son, but the film never sinks under that weight. Mann’s widescreen cinematography of the parched New Mexico desert keeps nature in balance with the corroded psyches of his protagonists. The West is not an expressionist tool for Mann, but a hard reality that is irreducible to his film’s characters. As Andre Bazin wrote in his 1956 review of The Man From Laramie, “when his camera pans, it breathes.” This breathing is made visible in the superb limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time, remastered from the original negative in a 4K scan, and presented in its original 2.55:1 aspect ratio for the first time on home video. It’s available exclusively through Screen Archives.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 12, 2013
Today is Buck Jones’ birthday (b. Dec. 12th 1891) and although his name might not be familiar to modern movie audiences the much loved B-movie cowboy was once one of the most popular western stars in Hollywood. Jones began his career in silent films and successfully transferred to making talkies while working with some interesting talent including directors John Ford, William Wellman, W. S. Van Dyke, James W. Horne, Lambert Hillyer and Kurt Neumann and fellow actors such as John Wayne, Carol Lombard, Tom Mix, Gabby Hayes, Lon Chaney Jr., Susan Fleming, Anita Louise and Buster Crabbe (just to name a few). At the height of his fame (roughly between 1925 and 1938) Jones was making 6-8 films a year and his likeness, along with his white horse called Silver, could be found in comic books and on advertisements for many products that appealed to kids including Schwinn bicycles, Post breakfast cereals, Royal Crown Cola and Daisy air guns. His fan club, affectionately known as The Buck Jones Rangers, boasted over three million members and at one point in his career Jones was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood and supposedly received more fan mail than any star.
Posted by David Kalat on October 5, 2013
I missed y’all last week, due to a technical difficulty. And thanks to that glitch, I missed posting about John Ford’s Stagecoach in advance of last Sunday’s screening on TCM. Which is a shame, but at the same time Stagecoach is one of those classic movies so towering in its importance that it practically dwarfs all efforts to really appreciate it–here is the film that made John Wayne a star, that proved that Westerns could move from the B-movie ghetto to being major Hollywood fare, and that then established the character types and narrative tropes that would fuel all those subsequent Westerns inspired by it. That’s a lot to pull off in just 96 minutes. More to the point, it’s a set of accomplishments defined primarily by what comes later, by what we know about Stagecoach‘s precedent-setting legacy.
In other words, forget that I missed putting it in context when it aired on TV last week–what would it have been like to experience it back in 1939? That’s almost beyond our reach altogether. But c’mon, let’s give it a try, shall we?
Posted by Susan Doll on September 2, 2013
One of this summer’s biggest misfires, The Lone Ranger was green-lighted in 2008, began shooting in 2011, came in with a $250 million budget, and cost about $150 million to market. For all of that effort and money, it has yet to break $100,000,000, according to the IMDB.
While promoting the movie, star Armie Hammer revealed the problems the cast and crew experienced during production. Just before principle photography began in New Mexico, Disney shut down the movie to force producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski to wheedle down the budget from $260 million to $215 million. When the ball finally began rolling, Mother Nature interfered via severe rainstorms with 70 mph winds, a snowstorm, and even wildfires, edging the budget closer to the original costs. During the summer, the temperatures soared passed 100 degrees, slowing down productivity. Sadly, a stuntman was killed during production, casting a pall over the shoot. When, the crew suffered from an outbreak of chicken pox, some joked that The Lone Ranger seemed to be cursed.
Posted by David Kalat on August 3, 2013
He sat in the audience of High Noon, fuming. He didn’t like the way Gary Cooper slunk through the town unable to muster any allies for his heroic stand against Evil. He thought it was unmanly. And after shaking his fist for a while and muttering oaths under his breath, he realized that he wasn’t accomplishing anything just venting his rage at the screen. So he went to work, to make his own movie, as a deliberate rejection of High Noon.
When it appeared in theaters, Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo claimed to be based on a short story by “B.H. McCampbell,” which makes it sound impressive. In fact, “B.H. McCampbell” was Hawks’ daughter Barbara, and her “short story” was just some spitballing about how cool it would be if some gangsters had a bunch of dynamite in crates and some good guys came along and shot up the crates to make them blow up. Which is, indeed, very cool. But that little bit of business aside, writers Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett were really tasked with making a manlier version of High Noon, with the same character types in the same situation but in which the sheriff doesn’t get all wishy washy and scared and whatnot, but just stoically goes out and kicks some ass.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on July 16, 2013
This is Part 2 of a series on director Allan Dwan. Part 1 focused on his silent films.
Dwan was ready for the transition to sound. He had experimented with the new technology as early as 1925, when he made a satirical sound short that screened at the private Lambs’ Club. There was a failed effort at the men’s only institution to allow women to join, or at least perform at their “gambols”. So Dwan directed a sketch in which Gloria Swanson audibly crashed their proceedings, as reported by Frederic Lombardi in his Dwan biography. In 1927 he made a sound newsreel for Movietone News (“The Military Academy at West Point”), and shot a sound prologue for The Iron Mask (1929). So when his career fully transferred to talkies later in ’29 with Frozen Justice, he already had a feel for how he could bend the technology to serve his roving camera. In her introduction for Slightly Scarlet at the Museum of Modern Art, filmmaker and critic Gina Telaroli remarked that the concept of “circulation” is the key to Dwan’s art, referring to his circling plots as well as the perambulations of his camera and actors. His mastery of the tracking shot, which he developed as early as 1915 in David Harum, continued unabated into the sound era, even with the restrictions of onerous recording equipment. Even when the camera is static, his films percolate with a choreography of micro-movements inside the frame, as his anxious characters push forward into the unknown.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on May 14, 2013
Delmer Daves is having a moment. The Criterion Collection, the closest thing the U.S. has to a cultural gatekeeper, just released 3:10 To Yuma (1957) and Jubal (1956) on DVD and Blu-Ray, while the Anthology Film Archives in New York City is holding a mini-retrospective of rarely screened Daves titles, including Pride of the Marines (1945) and The Red House (1947). I had never delved into the director’s work because the ambivalent words of Andrew Sarris and Manny Farber were ringing in my head. Sarris thought his films had “stylistic conviction in an intellectual vacuum”, while Farber positioned Daves against the Spartan “Hawks-Wellman tradition” as “a Boys Life nature lover who intelligently half-prettifies adolescents and backwoods primitives.” While encapsulating their writing approaches, Sarris’ lucidity versus Farber’s contradictory collisions, they both convey images of shallow postcard beauty. Then I saw Daves’ extraordinary The Hanging Tree (1959, on DVD from the Warner Archive), which uses a cliffside cabin as a visual metaphor for Gary Cooper’s moral atrophy, and realized his use of landscape is far more complex than Boys Life kitsch. Eager for more, I watched five Daves films over the weekend, which revealed a sensitive director of actors drawn to tales of regeneration both spiritual and physical.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on April 30, 2013
As May approaches, the film world turns its eyes to the Cannes Film Festival, which will host world premiere screenings from the likes of Jia Zhangke and Alexander Payne at its Grand Théâtre Lumière. I, however, will be celebrating the Edward L. Cahn Film Festival, taking place on my mustard stained IKEA couch in Brooklyn. No accreditation was necessary aside from an active Netflix account, and travel time was limited to trips to the bathroom. Cahn, born in Brooklyn, was a promising director of incendiary corruption dramas at Universal (Afraid to Talk, Laughter in Hell) before spinning his wheels for MGM short subjects in the late ’30s. He re-emerged as a pathologically prolific director of B-Westerns and gangster films in the 1950s, at AIP and the various companies of Robert E. Kent. Seventeen of these grim 1950s features are available to stream on Netflix, but all are due to expire from the service tomorrow [UPDATE: only OKLAHOMA TERRITORY and IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE expired, the other 15 were renewed], along with almost 1,000 other titles (check here for the full list). So I attempted to watch Cahn’s films with as much speed and urgency as he made them.
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