Friday, July 23, 2021

LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: Female vocalists and Western movie theme songs

The 2021 edition of Legends of Western Cinema Week hosted by Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy, Heidi at Along the Brandywine, and Olivia at Meanwhile, in Rivendell is fast coming to a close. My final contribution to the online celebration is a look at three classic western movie theme songs.

The singing group Pals of the Golden West are unique among the groups featured in the B westerns of the 1930s and 1940s such as The Sons of the Pioneers, The Riders of the Purple Sage, and The Avalon Boys in that they spotlighted a female singer, Nora Lou Martin. Prominent as characters in the George O'Brien movie Stage to Chino, 1940 the "Pals" and Nora sing the title song written by Fleming Allen.

When former radio and big band singer Dale Evans hitched her wagon to Republic Studios and Roy Rogers, singing cowboy Roy's movies became even more musical but Dale singing a movie theme song as a solo never seemed to occur to those in charge.

The singing cowboys eventually gave way to the more adult-themed westerns heading into the 1950s. You would be hard-pressed to find many movie westerns without a theme song or many western theme songs performed by female artists. Producers generally sought out the fellows such as Frankie Laine, Tennessee Ernie Ford, or Tex Ritter.

Further research and the knowledge of others will probably be able to enlighten me as to other or more recent examples, however to my certain knowledge as an audience I can only come up with three marvelous female vocalists who introduced three memorable western themes. Click on the highlighted titles to hear the songs.

Johnny Guitar, 1954 was placed on the National Film Registry in 2008. Nicholas Ray directed Philip Yordan's screenplay and the unique result is alternately a nightmare or a genre-busting dream which cannot be ignored.

The score by the brilliant Oscar-nominated/winning composer and arranger Victor Young (Shane) features a haunting melody to which jazz singer/composer Peggy Lee provided equally haunting lyrics. While Peggy didn't sing the theme to introduce the movie, a brief vocal is heard at the ending credits. Her recording has risen in popularity thanks to inclusion in Fallout New Vegas. 

Peggy Lee sings Johnny Guitar

Saddle the Wind, 1958 was written by Rod Serling and directed by Robert Parrish and John Sturges. It tells the story of two brothers from different generations and outlooks and features two actors of the same, old-school studio work from Robert Taylor and method player John Cassavetes. Julie London is the woman who comes between the brothers. The popular singer was given the Oscar-nominated/winners Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (Buttons and Bows) tune to sing over the credits as well as in the film itself.

Julie London sings Saddle the Wind

Monte Walsh
, 1970 is an elegiac western directed by William A. Fraker from Lukas Heller's screenplay based on Jack Schaefer's novel. The score is by Oscar-winner John Barry (Dances With Wolves) and the lyrics to the theme song by Oscar-winner Hal David (Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head). Cass Elliot, the glorious pop singer who came out of the group The Mamas and the Papas, and who passed much too early sang the theme song, The Good Times Are Coming.

Cass Elliot sings The Good Times Are Coming (for those who haven't seen the movie)

Cass Elliot sings The Good Times Are Coming (for those familiar with the movie)


Many thanks to Walter S. for letting me know that Maureen O'Hara, the leading lady of The Deadly Companions, 1961 sang the title song written by Marlin Skiles and Charles Fitzsimons (Maureen's brother). The Deadly Companions was the first feature film directed by writer/director Sam Peckinpah and co-starred Maureen with one of her favourite actors and friends, Brian Keith.

Maureen O'Hara sings Dream of Love from The Deadly Companions

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: No Name on the Bullet, 1959

This review of the 1959 western No Name on the Bullet is a contribution to the Legends of Western Cinema Week hosted by Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy, Heidi at Along the Brandywine, and Olivia at  Meanwhile, in Rivendell this July 19 - 24, 2021.

The online celebration of a favourite genre is an ongoing summertime treat.

Audie Murphy

Meet John Gant as portrayed by Audie Murphy in No Name on the Bullet. John Gant is a gunfighter of repute whose presence in the town of Lordsburg gives rise to anxiety and trouble among the many worthy citizens who may or may not be the object of Gant's professional skill. Real and imagined crimes of the past haunt their waking and sleeping hours.

Charles Watts, Jerry Paris, Willis Bouchey

Sheriff Buck Hastings's (Willis Bouchey) hands are tied. Gant is a known assassin but he subtly pushes his victim into a gunfight which can only be labeled self-defense, not murder. Gant is hired for his skill and he is a thorough professional. 

Buck: "You watch some of our respected citizens from now on. You're gonna learn something. --- Everybody steps on somebody's toes sometime."

Audie Murphy, Charles Drake

"Doc" Luke Canfield (Charles Drake) considers Gant a stranger not to be pre-judged, then a greater risk than imagined to the town he loves. Luke wants to find out what makes Gant tick. Gant philosophically tries to open Doc's eyes to the idea that they are two sides of the same coin.

Gant: "Take two men. Say they have robbed and lied and have never paid. A man whom one of them has robbed comes to me and says ... "Kill that man who has robbed me." ... And I kill him. The other man becomes ill and would die, except for a physician who returns him to life to rob and lie again. Who's the villain in this piece? Me or the physician? Don't look as though you think I'm insane. You think about it."

Doc: "Gant, I'm a healer. I've devoted my life to it, and I intend to continue. Right now I've got one big public health problem, and I'm looking at it."

Audie Murphy, Whit Bissell, Karl Swenson

Paranoia and guilt cause two businessmen (Whit Bissell, Karl Swenson) to believe their third partner has hired Gant to get rid of them. The third partner (John Alderson) is equally convinced his partners want him gone. Gant has seen this scenario played out many times before. Bribery and mayhem will result while Gant single-mindedly sticks to his task. He need do nothing except advertise his presence.

Stricker: "Money brought Gant here. Maybe it can get him to leave."

Virginia Grey, Warren Stevens

Lou Fraden (Warren Stevens) stole Roseanne (Virginia Grey) from her husband Sam. Their guilt and fear have kept them on the run for years. Lou is a coward and a braggart and he is convinced that Sam hired Gant to complete his revenge. Roseanne realizes that they are not worth the trouble. Lou and whisky is a dangerous combination.

Roseanne: "Sam must hate us even more than I thought. He's gonna let us stay together."

Charles Drake, Joan Evans, Edgar Stehli

Doc's fiancee Anne Benson (Joan Evans) comes to see the threat in Gant as it relates to her invalid and dying father. Judge Benson (Edgar Stehli) through his years of experience claims to understand the character of the man Gant. The Judge is a man of secrets and plans. He predicts the vigilante mob that will form in town and he believes he knows how to stop Gant in his mission.

Anne: "I'm going to kill you, Mr. Gant."

Edgar Dearing, Hank Patterson, Audie Murphy

Two old coots, who tell tall tales and play chess when not sleeping find Gant's presence mildly annoying or of no interest whatsoever when it comes to his mission. They provide a humorous interlude and proof that life goes on despite the momentous fear and guilt experienced by their fellow citizens. It means nothing to Charlie and Ed.

Ed: "Hey, sonny. Would you mind movin' aside a little bit? You're cuttin' out the sun."

Audie Murphy

There is a fatalistic stillness to Murphy's performance of John Gant. The gunman's reputation and the fees he commands speak to a man who never fears failure. I like to contrast and compare Murphy's work here with the seemingly naive Destry, 1954 in George Marshall's remake of his 1939 classic. The films provide an example of how Murphy took advantage of his Hollywood opportunity and grew as an actor over time.

Jack Arnold (1912-1992)

Jack Arnold, the versatile director of classic science fiction was a prolific and profitable member of Universal Studios at the time. Arnold's career runs the gamut of such fan favorites as The Incredible Shrinking Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon, diverse comedies with Bob Hope (Bachelor in Paradise), Tony Randall (Hello Down There), and Peter Sellers (The Mouse That Roared) plus over thirty years of classic television programming from Wagon Train to The Love Boat. Among this diverse field of entertainment, Arnold both produced and directed the intriguing western No Name on the Bullet.

Gene L. Coon (1924-1973)

The story for No Name on the Bullet is by Harold Amacker and it is his only film credit. The screenplay is by Gene L. Coon, beloved of Trekkies. Director Arnold and writer Coon's stamp can also be found on the 1957 western Man in the Shadow, three episodes of the series It Takes a Thief, and eight episodes of the Blake Edwards' series Mr. Lucky

No Name on the Bullet presents interesting themes and characters, each concept is highlighted by the other and the film is a sparse and thought-provoking outside-the-box western of its era.

Of note:

 Audie Murphy and Charles Drake films: Gunsmoke, 1953, To Hell and Back, 1955, Walk the Proud Land, 1956, No Name on the Bullet, 1959, and Showdown, 1963.

Monday, July 19, 2021


Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy, Heidi at Along the Brandywine, and Olivia at Meanwhile, in Rivendell are our hosts for the online celebration Legends of Western Cinema Week, during July 19 - 24. The celebration of our favourite westerns will be a treat during the strangeness of 2021



1. Western movies or western TV shows?

I grew up in an era of western TV shows, both first-run and in syndication. I freely admit to a deep nostalgic association for the programs, the stars, guest stars, and the storytelling. 

2. Funny westerns or dramatic westerns?

I love a giggle and a good western spoof (Support Your Local Sheriff!, Way Out West), however, it is the more dramatic fare I go to most often when choosing which western to watch.

3. Westerns that focus on loners or westerns that focus on families?

H'm. It seems that while I love the dramatic possibilities in a family dynamic I tend to lean toward the loner.

4. Male-centric westerns or female-centric westerns?

Marie Windsor in Hellfire, 1949

I like the fellas, I really do. Nonetheless, since my first viewing/reading of True Grit back in 1969 I look for the female-centric westerns for validation. I enjoy slipping into the worlds of Westward the Women, The Guns of Fort Petticoat, The Secret of Convict Lake, and watching Barbara Stanwyck and Maureen O'Hara and other strong women ruling the range.

5. 1930s to 1960s westerns or 1970s to 2020s westerns?

Henry Fonda and Cathy Downs in My Darling Clementine, 1946

I'm a 1930s to 1960s gal. Let's say from Hell's Heroes to Ride the High Country and everything in between, prestige pictures or formulaic B fun for the Saturday matinee crowd.

6. Westerns that take place in America or westerns that take place internationally?

Westerns that take place in America are my preference (I would definitely accept western Canada) as they have the feel of organic, authentic storytelling to me.

7. Family-friendly westerns or edgier westerns?

I enjoy a similar comfort in both the family-friendly fare and the edgier films. I'm not sure what that says about my psyche but I'm going with the tough guys and gals on this one.

8. Straight-forward good guy or conflicted hero?

James Stewart in Winchester '73, 1950

While I still admire the straight-forward heroes I grew up with, it is those conflicted fellows who hold a lot of allure for me these days.

9. Historically accurate westerns or westerns that aren't afraid to take some creative liberties?

I am fascinated by the way filmmakers throughout the decades have taken liberties with the western genre to highlight or re-examine history as well as the times in which they were creating their films. The McCarthy era gave rise to High Noon and Silver Lode. The feminist movement presented opportunities to take the focus off of the men, in films like Cat Ballou and Johnny Guitar.

10. Bittersweet or happily-ever-after endings?

Monday, July 12, 2021

CITIES WITHIN CITIES: Union Station, 1950

Cities within cities fascinate creators and audiences. Consider the nightclub in Piccadilly, 1929, the business complex in Skyscraper Souls, 1932, and the transportation hub in The Terminal, 2004. The transportation mecca for our feature's setting is the Chicago Union Station, with the conveniently located Los Angeles Union Station playing the part.

Nancy Olson, William Holden

Lt. William "Tough Willy" (Don't call him "Willy!") Calhoun is the top cop at Union Station.

Calhoun: "It covers over six acres. Counting commuters, we handle about 80,000 people a day. That doesn't include the people who are just wandering through. You know, using the station for a shortcut."

Joyce Willecombe is a young woman, a witness, involved in a kidnapping case closely tied to Union Station. 

Joyce: "The job, your railroad station, that's all that counts. ... Yesterday you called yourself an ordinary citizen, but you're not. You're a policeman, 24 hours a day."

William Holden (Stalag 17) stars as Calhoun and Nancy Olson (Pollyanna) as Joyce. The Paramount Pair can be seen in four films released in a two-year period. Also from 1950 is Billy Wilder's acclaimed Sunset Blvd. which gave both Olson (supporting actress) and Holden (lead actor) Oscar nominations. 1951 would see the release of two war pictures, Submarine Command directed by John Farrow and Force of Arms directed by Michael Curtiz.

Joyce is an observant young woman, a secretary to wealthy Henry Murchison played by Herbert Heyes (A Place in the Sun). Joyce reported suspicious men on a train to the conductor who passed the information along to Calhoun at Union Station. Further investigation revealed that the men had kidnapped Murchison's daughter Lorna played by Allene Roberts (The Red House). Lorna's blindness adds a complication to the circumstances.

Union Station Headquarters

The case becomes a joint operation between the Union Station police and the City police led by Inspector Donnelly played by Barry Fitzgerald (The Sea Wolf). The Inspector has years of experience and a mouth full of clover. He speaks comfort to Mr. Murchison and jaded cynicism to those he commands. Nonetheless, every effort and then some are put into the investigation. 

Lyle Bettger, Allene Roberts

The mastermind of the crime is Joe Beacom played by Lyle Bettger (The Greatest Show on Earth). He is one of life's losers who spent five years in prison planning every detail of his "big score." The kidnapping requires the human element in that he must have underlings for grunt work and his girl Marge played by Jan Sterling (Ace in the Hole) to help with Lorna. The human element always means there is room for mistakes and in these conditions, mistakes can be deadly.

Union Station adopts some of the docudrama style popular at this time and it is fascinating to watch the tailing of a suspect through the elevated train system and to see the number of people and businesses being transacted at the station. Crooks making their living and the police patrolling and rounding them up. The passengers and passers-through are not aware of half of what is going on around them.

Barry Fitzgerald, William Holden

The film is not all work, although it occupies the thoughts and actions of all the characters. As a fan of actors working with props, I enjoy a scene at Donnelly's apartment where he fixes hot toddies for himself and Calhoun as they discuss the case, war, wives, and work. 

Donnelly: "Were you ever pinned down by mortar fire? In my time it was cannonballs, the kind they have on monuments now. But even then there was always someone, some foolish man who stood up and walked into it. That's how wars are won."

Sidney Boehm's (The Atomic City) screenplay was based on a story by Thomas Walsh (Pushover). Rudolph Mate, a five-time Oscar nominee for cinematography (Cover Girl) turned director (The Dark Past). His cinematographer's eye brings us many interesting angles from which to see the story, but not in the artsy way that they overwhelm the script.

Thomas E. Jackson

Union Station
clocks in at just over 80 minutes which is filled with interesting scenes, absorbing characters and it all leads to an exciting, action-packed finale. Along the way, you will note many familiar faces including Edith Evanson, Queenie Smith, Kasey Rogers, Douglas Spencer, Byron Foulger, Ralph Byrd, Trevor Bardette, Harry Hayden, James Seay, Parley Baer, Dick Elliott, Robert Easton, and Robert Cornthwaite. The last time I watched the movie I spotted Thomas E. Jackson (Little Caesar) as a sharp-eyed detective.

The next time you have the opportunity to stroll through your city's Union Station to catch a train or watch the people, you'll think of this well-made movie and your imagination will work a little overtime.

Nancy Olson turns 93 on July 14th
Happy Birthday!

Saturday, May 22, 2021


Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews present The Christopher Lee Blogathon, May 21-23, 2021. Thank you, Barry and Gill.  Day 1   Day 2   Day 3

When the auspicious 20-year run of Gunsmoke came to an end, executive producer Toronto-born John Mantley, his star James Arness, and his writing and directing team turned to an epic television series inspired by the epic sweep of the 1962 film How the West Was Won. Set in the tumultuous years of the American Civil War, Zebulon Macahan, a respected frontier scout returns to Virginia to assist his brother's family in moving west to avoid the conflict. Avoiding the Civil War proves impossible, but the family does become part of the migration. 

The series premiered in 1976 with four episodes and concluded with 11 episodes in its third season in 1979. We are looking at the epic opening episodes of season 2 from 1978 with Christopher Lee among its distinguished guest cast.

Vickie Schreck (Jessie), Fionnula Flanagan (Molly), Kathryn Holcomb (Laura)
Bruce Boxleitner (Luke), James Arness (Zeb), William Kirby Cullen (Josh)

The stories of the Macahan family intersect throughout the story. The home base is a farm where those who remain are adjusting to the death of their mother Kate and the arrival of their Aunt Molly Culhane (Fionnula Flanagan - Emmy nominee). Laura becomes enamoured of a strong-willed Mormon (John Reilly) and they face the bigotry rampant toward the religious sect. Luke hits the trail running from a wronged past and the gunfighter's reputation he does not want. He will become involved with a canny sheriff (Lloyd Bridges) and his spitfire of a daughter (Elyssa Davlos). 

Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke), Horst Buchholz (Sergei)
Our multi-linguist actors and characters converse in Russian

Zeb Macahan is in the Dakotas where the State Department, through Major Drake (Peter Hansen) requests his expertise as a hunter and scout. A party of Russian noblemen led by The Grand Duke Dimitri (Christopher Lee), the Csar's brother no less, are making a grand tour. They wish to hunt; they wish to hunt buffalo, 200 or so kills should satisfy their plans. Zeb wants nothing to do with the entitled noblemen, particularly the arrogant nephew Sergei (Horst Buchholz). Zeb is friends with the Sioux and he will not trespass on their territory nor do anything to the buffalo stock so necessary to their survival. Zeb walks away from the government's "offer."

Trisha Noble (Valerie), Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke)

Major Drake turns to the talents of another scout Coulee John Brinkerhoff (Cameron Mitchell). Brinkerhoff hates all Indians and his agenda includes deliberate trespass of treaty lands and antagonizing the Sioux into a fight. Face to face with the Sioux, the Grand Duke understands the concept of discretion being the better part of valour while the hotheaded Sergei treats the Sioux as if they were Russian serfs. The result of the confrontation finds Sergei and his mistress Valerie (Trisha Noble) taken captive and one cavalry officer dead.

James Arness (Zeb), Ricardo Montalban (Santangkai)

The war chief of the Sioux, Santangkai (Ricardo Montalban - Emmy winner) is justifiably angry. He will keep the unlooked-for Russian hostages until the American government admits their intrusion onto Sioux land and the killing of the buffalo. He seeks retribution. Santangkai tells all of this to his friend Zeb Macahan, who will relay the terms of releasing the hostages to the man now in charge, General Stonecipher (Brian Keith). 

A small party of unarmed men from each side meets in a meadow to exchange cash and, on the part of the Americans, a cagily worded apology. It should have been a simple matter to complete the transaction. Sergei had plans of his own and once his hands were freed he rushed to whip Santangkai and found death at the hands of an outraged Sioux brave. A brave dies at the hands of a Russian guard. The outrage of the Grand Duke will of course be appeased by further violence sanctioned by his government hosts. Washington will be alerted and Washington will send orders.

Peter Hansen (Major Drake), Brian Keith (General Stonecipher), Van Williams (Captain MacAllister)

General Stonecipher has his own opinion on the circumstances. He knows they are in the wrong and therefore must assert themselves to save face. He will do his duty; he will not deny the facts. Zeb Macahan has his opinion and he leaves the Fort to offer his assistance to Satangkai. "Are you going to make the whole Sioux nation suffer because of one man, General? One man who was such a jackass, it was a miracle he didn't get killed years ago?"

Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke)

The Grand Duke has an opinion that he does not keep to himself. The trip to the American frontier has opened his eyes to much, and that much is that America is a failed experiment. "You! How dare you speak of Sergei in that manner? I will not tolerate this, General. Sergei lost his life as a direct result of this man's miscalculations and he is paid to know that the Savage can't be trusted. You cannot let him go. I insist that he be punished."

"You are fools, all of you. Do you really imagine that you can have a society where every man considers himself the equal of every other man? Where every serf and every peasant opposes his betters with impunity? Where a man like Macahan can defy your authority and walk away without any fear of being punished? No, gentlemen, this is folly, sheer folly. One day soon this nation will crash around your ears and I, for one, will await that day with great pleasure."

The story of the Grand Duke's royal tour and its repercussions plays out over the episodes Buffalo Story, Mormon Story, and Interlude. It is a tale of adventure, of loyalties, of sacrifice, and of shame.

(Caftan Woman is currently still in the hospital due to her transplant recovery. This post was published at her request by her daughter Janet.)

LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: Female vocalists and Western movie theme songs

The 2021 edition of Legends of Western Cinema Week hosted by Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy , Heidi at Along the Brandywine , and Olivi...