Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Blogathon for RANDOLPH SCOTT: Hangman's Knot (1952)



The camera introduces us to a gang of sun baked, desperate men in a rocky terrain.  Weary, tough and determined, young and afraid, thoroughly absorbed in the task at hand.  It is obvious that this is dangerous business and many will die this day.  The credits alert us that we are watching Hangman's Knot, a Columbia release produced by Harry Joe Brown and Randolph Scott, written and directed by Roy Huggins.  Hold onto your hats, once the physical and emotional action begins, it does not let up.

Scott is Confederate Major Matt Stewart and he leads his men, dressed as civilians, on a mission to rob gold being transported by Union soldiers.  The Confederates are successful in their ambush only to learn that their timing is off; the war is over and theirs was the losing side.  When the advance scout, Captain Peterson played by Glen Langan (Dragonwyck, Margie), admits he knew in advance of the ambush that the war was over he is shot by the volatile Rolph Bainter played by Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen, Point Blank).  This was the first of three movies Marvin made with Randolph Scott followed by The Stranger Wore a Gun and Seven Men from Now.  Trouble always seems to come from Lee Marvin.  Frank Faylen (It's a Wonderful Life, TVs The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) plays Cass Browne, a man of infinitely more stability and a wry observer.  John Call (Don't Bother to Knock, The Anderson Tapes) plays Egan Walsh who does his duty.  18-year-old Claude Jarmin Jr. (Intruder in the Dust, Rio Grande) plays young Jamie Groves who does a lot of growing up in a short time.


Randolph Scott, Claude Jarmin Jr.

Major Stewart agrees with his men that they have fought for the gold and it is theirs, but instead of keeping it for themselves it should be used to help rebuild the South.  The new plan is thwarted by men and events.  The men are a posse led by Ray Teal (The Best Years of Our Lives, TVs Bonanza) as Quincy and they are in search of the fugitives not for retribution or a cause, but to claim the loot for themselves.  Circumstances force the gang to hijack a stagecoach and hold its passengers and way station keepers hostage as they battle the murderous posse and each other (Remember, trouble always seems to come from Lee Marvin.).


Donna Reed, Randolph Scott

The hostages which complicate the already perilous situation are a Union nurse Molly Hull played by Donna Reed.  Miss Reed began her movie career at MGM and in ten years had grown from a charming ingenue to a versatile leading lady.  Her professionalism and chemistry with co-star Randolph Scott adds much to Hangman's Knot made a year prior to her Oscar winning role in From Here to Eternity and a half dozen years before conquering television with The Donna Reed Show (four Emmy nominations, one Golden Globe win).


Claude Jarmin Jr., Clem Begans, Jeanette Nolan

Richard Denning (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Glass Key) plays Lee Kemper, a schemer with little backbone, but crucial knowledge.  The station agent Plunkett is played by old timer Clem Bevans (The Yearling, Portrait of Jennie), a man who has seen a thing or two.  Plunkett's daughter Mrs. Harris is played by Jeanette Nolan (The Big Heat, MacBeth).  Her character's heart has been hardened by loss.


Claude Jarmin Jr., Randolph Scott, Jeanette Nolan
Clem Bevans, Richard Denning, Donna Reed, Frank Faylen

The tension builds between both sides and within the camps as the Southerners are trapped by men as daring as themselves.  The interplay between the fine actors with their sparse and well-written characters is intriguing and riveting viewing.  Bold action and that thing we call Fate will have to combine if there is any chance for Major Stewart and those he leads and protects.


Roy Huggins
1914 - 2002

Roy Huggins was a working screenwriter at Columbia with seven credits to his name including Too Late for Tears and The Lady Gambles, and Hangman's Knot was his directorial debut.  The film was well received by critics and fans, and Huggins was offered directing contracts from Scott-Brown and Columbia which were turned down.  Huggins is quoted in Robert Nott's Last of the Cowboy Heroes (published 2000) as saying "I directed Hangman's Knot just to prove I could do it, so directors wouldn't talk down to me.  I wanted to produce and write, not direct, and when I told Harry Cohn that, he said 'Every son of a bitch in this town wants to direct, and you don't'."  The well-paced adventure film shows directing promise, although one might quibble about the filming of the stunt double in the fight scene, but it is still a good fight.  In the long run, fans of Cheyenne, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files, etc. are happy Mr. Huggins was true to himself.


Randolph Scott
1898 - 1987

Our star Randolph Scott devoted his screen career to westerns from 1948 on and they are a most interesting grouping of medium budgeted, well-crafted films that showcase an actor/star whose command of his abilities and persona improved with age and whose popularity as a top western star is legendary.
 
https://fiftieswesterns.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/the-blogathon-for-randolph-scott/

A click on this enticing banner will lead you to a world of Randolph Scott films and fans as hosted by Toby Roan of 50 Westerns From The 50s.

26 comments:

  1. A strong Scott western, and one which has the feel of a Boetticher movie in places - those Lone Pine locations always set my mind to thinking of him anyway. I like how the film narrows the perspective as it goes along and focuses on the cramped setting, which ramps up the tension and drama. Scott and Marvin were a good pairing; they'd do better work together of course but this one ain't bad at all.

    Colin

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    1. Excellent point about the narrowing of perspective. It really worked on the tension level.

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  2. I love this Scott western. Thanks for your fine review. The cast was so good.

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    1. There are few things I enjoy more than a fine classic movie ensemble.

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  3. Where would you put Scott within the pantheon of Western cinematic heroes? I didn't realize so much of his career was in Westerns until I happened to look at his IMDB page one day, and I get the impression he was more than a B-movie guy.

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    1. Randolph Scott is the first name that comes to mind when I consider westerns. Part of that is due to the number and quality of his output and part of that has to do with the box office number one cowboy, John Wayne. I adore watching "Duke", but to me he was more than a cowboy star. James Stewart, Glenn Ford and Joel McCrea would round up a top five.

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  4. Another Scott Western I haven't seen yet -- and a Roy Huggins film too! Donna Reed is always a welcome heroine as well. All this and Lone Pine too? I'm taking notes today. :) I guess the good thing about the ones I haven't seen yet is that I still have them to look forward to!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    1. I love the spin you put on your upcoming viewing of "Hangman's Knot". I'd bet actual money that this is one you are going to enjoy. I was hoping to find it on TCM's Donna Reed day coming up this week, but they let the side down.

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  5. Great review of one of Scott's absolute finest westerns IMHO. The narrative tension is maintained terrifically throughout and Marvin makes a fine contribution.
    I'm so glad you shared this tribute between Scott and Roy Huggins. The latter's contribution to film, but especially TV, was immense.

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    1. "Hangman's Knot" truly delivers. I think the faith that our star showed in our fledgling writer/director was all important.

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  6. BTW, meant to endorse your list of favourite western stars. Scott, McCrea, Stewart and Wayne are my Top 4 (no question). No.5 might be Robert Taylor. But I think it might actually be a sort of rolling list where I don't want to exclude any of....Rod Cameron, Rory Calhoun, George Montgomery and a few more. Maybe they're all equal No.5!!

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    1. I like your rolling list. A lot of fine actors, and actors who had to really work at it, gave their best in westerns. All deserve our applause.

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  7. This Western represents a fine example of the early writing of Roy Huggins, who created some of television''s finest series. I love your quote: "Trouble always seems to come from Lee Marvin." Ain't that the truth? You made a fine choice and did a fine job with your RS Blogathon selection!

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    1. Thanks, Rick. It is a movie I enjoyed before I realized who Huggins was, and particularly how important he was in my entertainment life. Of course, once I made that connection it made the movie even more special.

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  8. Excellent review, Caftan Woman! This is yet another Scott film I've yet to see, but it sounds great, and what a cast! You're right, Lee Marvin's presence in a movie always spells trouble for somebody. Very interesting to learn of Roy Huggins involvement. I've been reading Ed Robertson's books on MAVERICK and THE ROCKFORD FILES recently, which of course were two of Huggins biggest TV hits. What an interesting and talented man he was.

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    1. I love the idea of Huggins doing this to get other directors off his back. No longer could they tell him what could or couldn't be done as he'd been there and done that.

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  9. Great review. You really captured the tension as well as the beauty and like others here, I especially liked the line about Lee Marvin, even more the second time when you said ("Remember, trouble always seems to come from Lee Marvin.") I chuckled heartily because it's just so true.

    My top tier of Randolph Scott movies is, I must acknowledge, the usual one--the six films of the Ranown cycle (Budd Boetticher didn't consider "Westbound" part of this and I don't either) and "Ride the High Country." But in the next tier this is probably first among a few equals for me. It is really so fine, so well-done and I always wondered why Roy Huggins did not pursue directing his own scripts after this. He certainly could have.

    That question was finally answered for me in your quote from him that really made sense, that he wanted the other directors to know he could and then they'd respect his work. Though I would have liked a few more movies as good as "Hangman's Knot" I can't regret his career course. He created my two favorite television series of all time:
    1 - The Fugitive (and)
    2 - Maverick
    and I say that having seen every episode of both shows. Really a prodigious talent.

    I was also interested in your favorite Western actors because I'm one more person here who agrees on Wayne, Stewart, McCrea and Scott as the top four. The first three can probably claim more for their non-Western roles than Scott, while superb would be an understatement for their great Western roles too, but it is Scott who may most believably
    embody the Western hero in the late masterpieces--he is so resolute yet so understated, and when there is a tragic note he carries it with that heartbreaking stoicism that moves us so much. In any event, after those four so many are great in the Westerns they made, especially in the 50s, and Glenn Ford is a choice that I'd find hard to argue with, but I might hold out for Richard Widmark even if it's an offbeat choice: His Westerns are consistently strong through the classic period, and he's always great in them over a wide range of roles from hero to villain and lots of shades in between.

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    1. Thank you so much.

      I agree with our bundling of the Scott films, placing "Hangman's Knot" at the top of the second list. A cut above and a notch below.

      Widmark is an offbeat choice. He is an actor I enjoy immensely but somehow my appreciation of his westerns never pushed him over to that list. Certainly something to consider. So many truly fine performances in westerns seem to go under-appreciated as some blind critics/fans think the hat does the acting.

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  10. Randolph Scott movies are rare on TV, but luckily I can find them on the internet... or in B-movie sessions in weird channels! Hangman's Knot sounds great, with a great cast, like Donna Reed and often forgotten Jeanette Nolan. I hope I can see this one soon.
    Thanks for the always kind comments,
    Le

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    1. Good luck! Here's hoping a whole lot of Scott movies come your way soon.

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  11. One of the few Westerns I have seen so was happy to read your review. I too was very unschooled in the ways of Randolph Scott, and for a long time had him down as a bit movie player (he was in more than 100 movies I recently discovered!). Happy to see I wasn't alone in this oversight and it's great to see his films getting some well-deserved recognition. I have to say that this film wasn't quite as predictable as I thought it would be, although the relationship with the hostage (Donna Reed?) is a step too far for me!

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    1. There are lots of treasures to be found in classic westerns and the filmography of Randolph Scott. Maybe this is the year they nudge themselves into your favourites pile.

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  12. Splendid review, and background on Roy Huggins. I join the few who haven't seen it yet, but when I do, I'll know now what to look for. Thanks.

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    1. I think this is a movie you would really enjoy. Lots of good work to appreciate.

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  13. Great review, just saw it on Encore and enjoyed it immensely. Lee Marvin always played well off his co-stars in Westerns, whether it was John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, or Randolph Scott. I thought Donna Reed did extremely well in her part.

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    1. The "Encore" channel sounds like something I wish we had up here! Thanks for the reading and the kind words.

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