Monday, August 19, 2019

FAVOURITE MOVIES: Union Pacific (1939)

Film fans and historians often point to the 1939 movie season for its release of genuine, timeless classics. A roll call of movie titles is all that is needed to back up the claim. The western, a popular genre since movie's beginnings due to its easily available outdoor locations and popular stories proved itself profitable in the B market and respected among the A level releases in the 1920s with such classic titles as 3 Bad Men, The Covered Wagon, The Iron Horse, Hell's Heroes, and Tumbleweed.

During the 1930s, fewer of the more serious westerns were on the studio's must-do list. Singing cowboy programmers and those borrowing Zane Grey stories or merely titles were made for easy profit and to keep contractees busy. We can find occasional breakthroughs such as Annie Oakley and The Arizonian, both from 1935, and The Texas Rangers and DeMille's The Plainsman in 1936.

The 1939 releases, however, saw the adult western once more assert itself with the cinematic perfection of John Ford's Stagecoach and his frontier story Drums Along the Mohawk. Henry King directed Nunnally Johnson's psychological study of the outlaw Jesse James. George Marshall directed the classic adventure/spoof Destry Rides Again for Universal. Warner Brothers got into the act with Michael Curtiz and the rousing Dodge City and Lloyd Bacon with The Oklahoma Kid. Alan Dwan brought the Tombstone story back to life in Frontier Marshal, later to be reworked by Ford as My Darling Clementine.

Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur
The Plainsman, 1936

Cecil B. DeMille's 1939 contribution to the western genre and to the legendary year is Union  Pacific. DeMille's first film had been a western, The Squawman, a movie he would remake twice. The Virginian and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine figure prominently in his filmography. What could he possibly do to top throwing Wild Bill Hickcock, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Painted Horse, and Yellow Hand together in The Plainsman? The only place to go was the building of the transcontinental railroad!

A 1936 Ernest Haycox (Stage to Lordsburg) novel called Trouble Shooters involving a character who took care of troubles for the Union Pacific Railroad was the basis for the story of the film adapted by Jack Cunningham (Wagon Wheels) and written by Walter De Leon (Ruggles of Red Gap).

Brian Donlevy, Sheila Darcy

The great undertaking of linking the Union Pacific from the east with the Central Pacific from California is beset by more than political apathy and Mother Nature. Nefarious forces led by a crooked businessman are bedeviling every mile in the Union Pacific's progress. Sid Campeau played by Brian Donlevy has been hired by these forces to cheat and distract the workers with gambling and women at the end of track. The rampant crime causes delay and confusion.

Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Preston

Union Pacific trouble-shooter Jeff Butler played by Joel McCrea has been placed in charge of the railroad's interests. The Civil War veteran is friendly with Campeau's partner Dick Allen played by 21-year-old Robert Preston. The friendship struggles to persist amid their different sides in the matter, and their mutual affection for Mollie Monahan. Barbara Stanwyck plays Mollie, the daughter of an admired engineer, and the postmistress for the railway. Barbara's brogue is both distracting and sweetly sincere. You get used to it.

Akim Tamiroff, Lynne Overman, Joel McCrea

The cast is filled with familiar faces and voices as the story comes to life. Chief among those providing entertainment is Akim Tamiroff and Lynne Overman as the railway overseers assigned to assist Jeff Butler. They are characters! Regis Toomey is a doomed workman and Anthony Quinn a smooth gambler with a quick draw. Robert Barrat is a bully and Richard Denning a young reporter. Evelyn Keyes took a trip over from Tara to play a telegrapher's wife who flirts with her own husband.

Union Pacific has action, adventure, suspense, sacrifice, romance, and humour. The movie has a unique look courtesy of cinematographer Victor Milner. Milner began his career as a newsreel photographer and he brings to these events a sense of their reality and their history. Victor Milner collaborated with Cecil DeMille on eight films including The Plainsman and won an Oscar for his work on Cleopatra.

Union Pacific was Victor Milner's first time shooting Barbara Stanwyck. Their later work includes The Lady Eve, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and The Furies. Milner would also shoot Joel McCrea for Preston Sturges in The Great Moment and The Palm Beach Story.

Upon its first viewing Union Pacific has the feel of a movie you have seen before. It features every character stereotype you might expect in an epic western; the stalwart hero, the feisty leading lady, and the roguish scoundrel. Every plot cliche established from caveman days makes an appearance from a daring robbery to an Indian attack to a train wreck.

I felt comfortably at home with Union Pacific on my first viewing. It was presented by Elwy Yost on TVOntario's beloved Saturday Night at the Movies (1974-1999), which featured an uncut double bill with an educational component. The movie is pleasant in its familiarity and admirable in its craft. I also felt that way on my most recent viewing where the visit with this old movie friends was accompanied by a companionable glass of wine.

The antique railway equipment and engines used in this film and future endeavours are now housed in a museum in Carson City, Nevada. 

Union Pacific was awarded a Palm d'Or in 2002 by the Cannes Film Festival in recognition of the submissions of the 1939 inaugural event which did not take place until after WW2 in 1946.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Lawrence Edward Watkin's moving and thoughtful novel On Borrowed Time was adapted by playwright Paul Osborn for the Broadway stage with its themes of death and life presented to the audience in all its intimacy in 1938.

Frank Conroy, Dudley Digges, Peter Miner

That first production starred Dudley Digges as Julian, Frank Conroy as Mr. Brink, Dorothy Stickney as Nellie, Jean Adair as Aunt Demetria, and Peter Miner as Pud. MGM bought the rights to film the play and found an equally wonderful cast in Hollywood.

Today's look at the MGM production of On Borrowed Time is for The Fifth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Gabriela at Pale Writer, running from August 13th to 15th. Access the articles HERE or HERE.

Lionel Barrymore, Bobs Watson, Eily Malyon, Beulah Bondi

Lionel Barrymore and Beulah Bondi portray Julian and Nellie. On Borrowed Time would be the fourth film to feature the two actors following Christopher Bean and The Stranger's Return in 1933, The Gorgeous Hussy in 1936, and ending with It's a Wonderful Life in 1946 and Lone Star in 1952. 

Cedric Hardwicke, Lionel Barrymore, Bobs Watson

Sir Cedric Hardwicke was cast as Mr. Brink, with Bobs Watson as Pud and Eily Malyon as Aunt Demetria Riffle. Hardwicke's Mr. Brink is an entity entrusted with the responsibility of escorting souls into the hereafter. Gramps Northrup tells Pud the afterlife is the place "where the woodbine twineth."

Mr. Brink is calm and patient, with a low and soothing voice. Mr. Brink is accustomed to anxiety or reluctance from those he encounters. Mr. Brink will inveigle his subject or resignedly await their acceptance. Mr. Brink is rarely caught by surprise or perturbed. Gramps Northrup greatly perturbs Mr. Brink.

The Northrop household was once a bustling family home consisting of Dr. and Mrs. James Northrop, his parents Julian and Nellie, and the young son of the family, Pud. The young doctor and his wife gave Mr. Brink a lift in their car. The loss is a difficult one but made easier for Pud with the presence of his Gramps whom he loves more than anything in the world.

Demetria Riffle is Pud's maternal aunt and the loss of her sister is most difficult because she was expecting the gift of a much-desired trip to California. Learning that savings and an insurance policy to the tune of $55,000 are Pud's legacy, Demetria schemes to get control of the boy and his money. Demetria tries to slander Northrup's housekeeper Marcia played by Una Merkel, or at least discredit her in Nellie's eyes. Gramps tries to get ahead of Demetria's plans but the avaricious woman is too smart and quick for him.

Mr. Brink visits Nellie, who is very tired and almost finished her knitting. She is ready to accept Mr. Brink's hand. Mr. Brink had visited Gramps once before but was rebuffed in no uncertain terms. Pud was there and, as was his way, echoed his grandfather's sentiments.

Gramps had performed what he said was a good deed to which Pud advised him to make a wish and it would come true. When yet another boy tried stealing apples from their backyard tree Gramps declared that he wished he could keep such thieves up in the tree, and this wish came to be. When Mr. Brinks visited Gramps a second time, the old man asked Mr. Brink to reach him one of the Golden Russets from the tree, and Death was caught in the branches.

No one can die with Mr. Brink out of commission. What does Gramps Northrup care? His one concern is Pud. Pud must be kept out of the clutches of Demetria Riffle. Pud must be allowed to grow up a healthy, fun-loving boy, and not be turned into a sanctimonious snob. Pud needs his Gramps and Mr. Brinks has no argument to sway the old man.

Lionel Barrymore, Bobs Watson

Eventually, Dr. Evans played by Henry Travers becomes a believer in Gramp's crazy story of Mr. Brink. His calm and reasonable arguments also fall on deaf ears but he warns Julian Northrop that he will stop at nothing to obtain Mr. Brink's release from the tree as there is much suffering that only Brinks can relieve. Dr. Evans commits Gramps to a mental institution, so either way, Pud will end up out of his reach. Caught in a seemingly impossible situation, Gramps is still wily enough to turn things around to his advantage. Mr. Brinks, however, will have the final say.

Mr. Brinks: "Now you understand how much it means to your whole world to deny me."

Lionel Barrymore is cagey, bombastic, forlorn, charming, playful, admirable and stubborn in the role of Julian "Gramps" Northrup. Harold S. Bucquet, who directed Barrymore in nine of the Dr. Kildare/Gillespie pictures was the director of On Borrowed Time. A history of arthritis and broken hips led to Lionel's working from a wheelchair, and these pictures with Bucquet represent his moving to that phase of his life and career fulltime.

On Borrowed Time is an emotional and memorable fantasy produced by Sidney Franklin (Waterloo Bridge) at MGM with cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg (Gaslight), and a score by Franz Waxman (Peyton Place). I was surprised to note that with its pedigree and virtues, On Borrowed Time did not receive any award nominations before recalling that its year of release was 1939 when Hollywood enjoyed a surfeit of quality.


Beulah Bondi who played Nellie in our movie also played the role in a 1953 Broadway revival of On Borrowed Time opposite Victor Moore, her co-star in the Leo McCarey classic Make Way for Tomorrow. David Stollery (The Adventures of Spin and Marty) played young Pud and Leo G. Carroll (The Man from U.N.C.L.E) was Mr. Brink.

Beulah Bondi again played Nellie in a 1957 television production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame with Ed Wynn as Gramps, Claude Rains as Mr. Brink, and Margaret Hamilton as Demetria.

Dorothy Stickney who played Nellie in the 1938 Broadway production repeated the role on television in 1949 on The Ford Theatre Hour with Walter Hampden as Gramps and Basil Rathbone as Mr. Brink.

Friday, August 2, 2019


Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting his annual salute to Britain and the movies. Click HERE for the contributions to The 6th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon.

During the 1950s Columbia Studios released several films in a co-production agreement with independent producers and international studios, including those in Great Britain. The Detective is one of the successes of that business model.

A bit of philosophy, a bit of whimsey, a bit of mystery, and delightful companionship is found in G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories.

In The Blue Cross, published in 1910, the French detective Valentin is searching for the famous and very tall thief Flambeau. During his travels, Valentin comes across "...a very short Roman Catholic priest going up from a small Essex village."

"The little priest was so much the essence of those Eastern flats: he had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several brown paper parcels which he was quite incapable of collection. The Eucharistic Congress had doubtless sucked out of their local stagnation many such creatures, blind and helpless, like moles disinterred."
- G.K. Chesterton

Thelma Schnee, Maurice Rapf, and director Robert Hamer are credited with the screenplay for our 1954 film The Detective. The movie skillfully reworks the story told in The Blue Cross along with Father Brown's continuing quest to save M. Flambeau from himself.

We are introduced to Father Brown as a man fascinated by crime and criminals. He knows the wicked ways of his parishioners. He has studied their habits and he works out ways to make them see the error of their ways and adapt to walking the straight and narrow. This habit of the practical application of his theology gets Father Brown in trouble with The Bishop played by Cecil Parker, but Father Brown is one of those "to thine own self be true" fellows, and everyone knows he will continue on as he intends.

"Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?"
- G.K. Chesterton

A decorative cross from Father Brown's Church is to be sent to a Eucharistic Congress in France and while its value is not entirely monetary, Scotland Yard has arranged for protection in its transport. Father Brown is convinced that the Yard would bring undue attention to the Cross of St. Augustine and circumvents The Bishop's wishes and the official's plans.

The journey over the Channel brings Father Brown into contact with many suspects, but only one Flambeau. Peter Finch plays the debonair and daring thief. Disguised as a priest he befriends the innocent-looking Father Brown with the goal of relieving the cleric of his treasure. Flambeau is unaware that Father Brown has not only tasked himself with safely delivering the Cross to the Congress, but with rehabilitating the famous Flambeau.

The characters in The Detective are expertly played by Joan Greenwood as a wealthy widow with an awakening sense of adventure, a crook turned chauffeur played by Sid James who longs to backslide, the exasperated Inspector played by Bernard Lee, and the ancient librarian played by Ernest Thesiger. Each character and each incident in the journey that is The Detective are filled with genuine emotion and wit.

It is, however, the exploits of and the interactions between Father Brown and Flambeau as played by Alec Guinness and Peter Finch that fascinate and delight the audience. The showiness inherent in the character of Flambeau could have led to hamminess with a less skilled actor in control. The focus and seeming vagueness in Father Brown could become wearisome if Alec Guinness didn't imbue his character with innate intelligence and humour.

The odd pair share a journey and a chase across countries, through mansions and auction houses, from vineyards to underground graveyards.

Flambeau: "What are you really after, your cross or my soul?"
Father Brown: "Both, of course."
Flambeau:  "Well, come and find us. I'll make you a bargain: whatever you can find you shall have."
Father Brown: "I accept your bargain."
Flambeau: "It would have been an interesting encounter. Pity it will never take place." 

Certainly, we are in no doubt that the determined Father Brown will have his victory. It is just a question of how and when. It is a question we long to see answered. There is a satisfaction to the conclusion of The Detective that falls outside of the expected gratification of a just solution to a puzzle. In the matter of Father Brown and Flambeau, we are pleased in the validation of Father Brown's faith and practical application of his philosophy, and also pleased for Flambeau.


Father Brown was first adapted for the screen 20 years earlier for Paramount starring Walter Connolly as Father Ignatius Brown and Paul Lukas as Flambeau. Mervyn Johns played Father Brown in a BBC television feature in 1964. An Austrian television series, Pater Brown ran from 1966-1972. Kenneth More starred as Father Brown in a 1974 series for ATV and Mark Williams has been playing Father Brown for the BBC since 2013 in a series which airs in North America on PBS.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


Edna Ferber's best-selling novels were prime material for motion pictures, from So Big to Show Boat to Giant. Come and Get It published in 1935 was produced by Samuel Goldwyn in 1936. Howard Hawks began the production which was completed by William Wyler when Goldwyn found fault with the adaptation approved by Hawks.

Ferber is notable for her larger-than-life characters, her mix of generations and changing times, and her reporter's eye that highlights injustice. In Show Boat, it was miscegenation laws, in Giant the treatment of Mexican citizens, and of Natives in Cimarron. In Come and Get It she wanted people to think about the Earth itself and the debt we owe in terms of conservation. The film shifted the focus to the romantic angle, yet the underlying theme did manage to make itself heard.

Edward Arnold stars as Barney Glasgow. We meet him in the Wisconsin north woods in the 1880s where he is the energetic and ambitious boss of a lumber camp. Barney plans to be one of the richest men in the State within a decade. He will work the men hard and promises them they will play hard at the end. He will bend and twist laws and regulations to suit his purposes. And he will marry the boss' daughter. Barney has plans.

Walter Brennan, Edward Arnold, Frances Farmer

Barney's dearest friend is Swan Bostrom played by Walter Brennan. The Swedish lumberjack is devoted to Barney in return. The two very different men fall in love with the same girl. Lotta Morgan played by Frances Farmer sings in a saloon and will do what she must to get by, even drugging Barney for her boss. Nonetheless, Barney gets to her and she falls hard. Barney loves Lotta passionately, but she is not part of his plan for success. It doesn't occur to him that he could make Lotta a part of his life and still be a success. Barney marries Emma Louise Hewitt and becomes a big man. Lotta marries Swan, becomes a good wife and mother, and dies.

By the turn of the 20th century, the Glasgow business is prosperous enough for Barney to complain about government interference. The family is prosperous enough for daughter Evvie played by Andrea Leeds to make a suitable marriage. Evvie and her dad have an open and affectionate relationship. She calls her father by his first name which is something not even her mother does with ease.

The relationship between Emma played by Mary Nash and her son Richard played by Joel McCrea is only seen on screen in a breakfast scene, but the two actors are a delight. Richard is a thorn in his father's side as the young man speaks of replanting and of sanitary paper cups and the good of government regulations. More than these practical and philosophical differences will come between them.

Frances Farmer, Joel McCrea

Convinced by Evvie that he deserves and needs a vacation, Barney heads north to visit Swan and get in some hunting and fishing. Swan and Lotta's daughter, also called Lotta and also played by Frances Farmer immediately catches Barney's eye with the memories of his lost love all mixed up in the present. Young Lotta wants a life away from the logging camp town and plays, ever so innocently, upon Barney's attraction to get the family, including her Aunt played by Maddy Christians a trip to the city. Lotta sees her future as a career woman and gets Barney to send her to business school. Lotta acts like she knows what she is doing but is lying to herself. She is frightened of anything being asked of her in return by Barney Glasgow.  

Gossip abounds about the relationship between Barney and his old friend's family at the same time that Richard and Lotta find they are naturally drawn to each other. Barney Glasgow has always gotten everything he wants out of life, or at least he thought so until now. Is he a man out of his time? Will his eyes be opened or will tragedy come to all?

Frances Farmer

Come and Get It boasts exciting logging sequences directed by Richard Rossen, a stirring score by Alfred Newman, glorious cinematography from masters Gregg Toland and Rudolph Mate, and grand costumes from Omar Kiam.

Frances Farmer is charismatic and moving in both roles. Miriam Hopkins and Andrea Leeds (Evvie) were under early consideration for the dual role. The next year Frances would again appear opposite Edward Arnold when he played Diamond Jim Fisk in The Toast of New York.

Plaques, in place of trophies, were awarded to the supporting actor winners from 1937-1944.

It's Summer Under the Stars and the TCM screening of Come and Get It is on the morning of Tuesday, August 27th when Walter Brennan is in the spotlight. Walter Brennan won the first of his three Best Supporting Actor Oscars for the role of Swan Bostrom in the introductory year of the Supporting Actor and Actress categories. Further wins were for the films Kentucky, 1938 and The Westerner, 1940. He was also nominated for Sergeant York, 1941.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

THE NOIRATHON: Thieves' Highway (1949)

"All film noir are crime drama, but not all crime drama are film noir."
- Caftan Woman's number one movie rule

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films, especially her film noir, which brings us to The Noirathon on July 27th to the 29th. Click HERE to embrace the dark side.

Director Jules Dassin had a knack for bringing us into the surrounding dark world. Years ago, Cinematheque Ontario presented a double bill of Dassin film-noir with Night and the City, 1950 and Thieves' Highway, 1949. The theatre viewing of these films confirmed Dassin's genius with the style.

A.I. Bezzerides (The Big Valley), created stories from his working background in trucking which intrigued filmmakers and gave us They Drive by Night and Thieves' Highway. Being the right man for the job, Bezzerides wrote the screenplay from his novel Thieves' Market for this 1949 film. Dassin collaborated with cinematographer Norbert Brodine (Kiss of Death) to create an atmosphere of physical and emotional darkness.

Richard Conte, Tamara Shayne, Morris Carnovsky

Nick Garcos played by Richard Conte is incongruously impetuous and steady. Nick is impetuous in his sudden decisions and steady in the way he follows through once his course is set. Nick, a veteran of the European theatre in WW2 has returned to his Fresno home after traveling the world as a mechanic on a steamer. He plans to marry his girlfriend Polly played by Barbara Lawrence and go into business with her father. First, there is the long-awaited reunion with his beloved parents played by Morris Carnovsky and Tamara Shayne.

Tragedy has befallen the family during Nick's absence. His father, a produce trucker, has not only been cheated at the San Francisco market, but an unexplained accident resulted in the amputation of his legs. The man to blame is a known cheat named Mike Figlia played by Lee J. Cobb with his trademark relish. Nick seeks retribution.

Richard Conte, Millard Mitchell

Ed Kinney played by Millard Mitchell has bought Mr. Garcos' beat-up old truck and Nick joins him in transporting the first Golden Delicious apples of the season to San Francisco. Ed is hoping for a windfall, and Nick a chance to bring down Figlia. The road to the city is a long and a dangerous one even for men not seeking revenge. In the course of the route, the bond between these makeshift partners is strengthened when Ed saves Nick's life. Nick had been trapped while changing a tire on the unstable vehicle. Ed falls behind in the old truck while Nick races ahead to the market.

Ed is bedeviled all the way by truckers "Slob" played by Jack Oakie and Pete played by future director Joseph Pevney. They kibbitz and annoy Ed all the way up the highway in a half-serious, due to Ed trying to keep them out of the apple deal, and half-joking way because they are comrades in arms, so to speak.

Richard Conte, George Tyne, Lee J. Cobb

Once the weary and wounded Nick reaches San Francisco he finds nothing but trouble. He must get involved with Figlia despite warnings as it is his purpose. Figlia knows and uses every trick in the book to steal the desired fruit, and further gouge his own customers. Keeping Nick out of the way proves easy for Figlia as he uses a combination of Nick's exhaustion and the charms of prostitute Rica played by Valentina Cortese.

Valentina Cortese, Richard Conte

Rica and Nick spark off each other with an instant attraction and understanding that builds on the sarcasm in their words and the kindness in their actions. A one-sided phone conversation tells Rica more about Nick and Polly's relationship than even Nick realizes. Rica's quick action in dangerous situations presents an admirable fearlessness. She is as impetuous and steady as Nick.

More tragedy strikes our truckers when Ed is killed in a horrific accident, bringing Slob and Pete again into the orbit of Nick Garcos and of Mike Figlia. It is a bitter and unsentimental orbit and the end of this journey will only be reached with explosive violence.

Life is tough enough without some crook making it tougher; the trucking business in particular. The audience is taken on a whirlwind journey of revenge and justice, redemption and new beginnings in Thieves' Highway.


Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb, Hope Emerson

Hope Emerson and Richard Conte's exchange in Thieves' Highway is brief and certainly more friendly in nature than their previous encounters in House of Strangers and Cry of the City.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: Post 5 of 5, The Far Side, and Beyond

The LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK is an online celebration running from July 21 - 27. It is hosted by Heidi of Along the Brandywine, Olivia of Meanwhile, in Rivendell and Hamlette's Soliloquy.

It appears that The Far Side creator Gary Larson, like many of us, knows his westerns!

My Top Ten Western Film Scores

Victor Young

1. Shane, 1953 - Victor Young
2. Rio Grande, 1950 - Victor Young
3. The Big Country, 1958 - Jerome Moross
4. How the West Was Won, 1962 - Alfred Newman
5. The Magnificent Seven, 1960 - Elmer Bernstein
6. Red River, 1948 - Dimitri Tiomkin
7. Night Passage, 1957 - Dimitri Tiomkin
8. Ride the High Country, 1962 - George Bassman
9. Savage Sam, 1963 - Oliver Wallace
10. 3:10 to Yuma, 1957 - George Duning

My Top Ten Comedy-Westerns

Laurel and Hardy
Way Out West, 1937

1. Support Your Local Sheriff!, 1969
2. Way Out West, 1937
3. Destry Rides Again, 1939
4. Ruggles of Red Gap, 1935
5. A Big Hand for the Little Lady, 1966
6. The Paleface, 1948
7. Son of Paleface, 1952
8. McLintock!, 1963
9. Along Came Jones, 1945
10. My Little Chickadee, 1940

My Top Ten Westerns

John Beradino
7 Men from Now, 1956

1. Shane, 1953
2. The Searchers, 1956
3. Winchester '73, 1950
4. My Darling Clementine, 1946
5. Stagecoach, 1939
6. 7 Men from Now, 1956
7. Rio Grande, 1950
8. Ride the High Country, 1962
9. Westward the Women, 1951
10. The Big Country, 1958

I've been watching westerns my whole life!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: Post 4 of 5, "Hop-a-Long" Cassidy

The LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK is an online celebration running from July 21 - 27. It is hosted by Heidi of Along the Brandywine, Olivia of Meanwhile, in Rivendell and Hamlette's Soliloquy.

William Boyd
1895 - 1972

"Hopalong Cassidy was a combination of irresponsibility, humor, good nature, love of fighting, and nonchalance when face to face with danger. His most prominent attribute was that of always getting into trouble without any intention of so doing; in fact, he was much aggrieved and surprised when it came. It seemed as though when any "bad man" desired to add to his reputation he invariably selected Hopalong as the means (a fact due, perhaps, to the perversity of things in general). Bad men became scarce soon after Hopalong became a fixture in any locality. He had been crippled some years before in a successful attempt to prevent the assassination of a friend, Sheriff Harris of Albuquerque, and he still possessed a limp."
- Clarence E. Mulford, Bar 20, 1906

Mulford's creation of Hopalong Cassidy was a grizzled old cowpoke far removed from the handsome actor William Boyd who portrayed the character so successfully and nobly on screen. The disparity between Hoppy on the page and Hoppy on the screen did not hamper the success of both the author and the filmmakers. Mulford continued to write his detailed and action-filled stories into the 1940s. Louis L'Amour took up the mantle in the 1950s for Bantam.

Paramount Studios released the first Hopalong Cassidy picture in July of 1935. Doris Schroeder and Harrison Jacobs adapted the 1910 Mulford novel, Hopalong Cassidy. The team would write over a dozen films in the series. Howard Bretherton directed the first three and would film ten overall. The three films discussed here were all photographed by Oscar winner (The Quiet Man) Archie Stout.

Charles Middleton, William Boyd

Bill Cassidy is returning to the Bar 20 ranch much to the delight of owner Buck Peters (Charles Middleton), Red Connors (Frank McGlynn Jr.), and old Uncle Ben (George "Gabby" Hayes) who is something of a father figure to Bill. Newer ranch hand Johnny Nelson (Jimmy Ellison) is rather put out about this Cassidy fellow whom everyone praises so much. Johnny thinks of himself as the top hand around these parts and he's going to let Cassidy know it! Johnny's rash personality often finds him the trouble he is seeking. Johnny will spend much of his introduction to Bill Cassidy apologizing.

Buck Peters is butting heads with neighbouring rancher Jim Meeker (Robert Warwick) over water rights and grazing land. Neither man is aware that they are being played by a gang of rustlers with Meeker's foreman Jack Anthony (Kenneth Thomson) stirring up trouble between the two camps.

Kenneth Thomson, Robert Warwick, Paula Stone, Jimmy Ellison

Johnny and pretty Mary Meeker (Paula Stone) fight and flirt their way toward a relationship. Things get truly tense when Johnny shows up at a Meeker party and gets into a fight with the crooked foreman Anthony. Johnny is accused of killing a Meeker cowboy and the cry goes out to "string him up". If Cassidy and Red hadn't been looking out for him, Johnny would have been a goner. Cassidy is wounded in the melee but patched up by Uncle Ben. From thereon, Bill declares he can "hop along with the best of them."

William Boyd, George "Gabby" Hayes

Red and Bill investigate and uncover the rustler's scheme. Knowing they are being played and proving it are two different things. It is Uncle Ben who discovers where the outlaws are hiding themselves and the cattle, but he is with the Meeker foreman at the time and pays with his life after bravely getting to Hoppy with the vital clue. This leads to an exhilarating scene of horsemen gathering and racing to the exciting finale where truth prevails and there is justice for Uncle Ben.

Now that things have been settled Buck Peters is once again on the move, planning to relocate to Wyoming. Johnny rides off leaving Mary on the ranch rather than have Hoppy and Red get into trouble without him.

Released in October of 1935, The Eagle's Brood was based on the 1930 novel Hopalong Cassidy and the Eagle's Brood. The outlaw El Toro (William Farnum) has not crossed the border in many years, but there is still a price on his head and he strikes fear in the hearts of many. One such man with a reason to fear El Toro is Big Henry (Addison Richards). Henry and his gang have murdered El Toro's son and daughter-in-law for the gold they were delivering to a bank. The bad men did not realize that they had left El Toro's young grandson alive as a witness.

William Boyd, Joan Woodbury

Dolores (Joan Woodbury), Big Henry's girlfriend who dances in his saloon has come across the youngster and understands the danger he faces. Dolores hides young Pablo and writes to El Toro. Crossing the border to reach his grandson El Toro saves the life of Sheriff Bill "Hopalong" Cassidy. Cassidy is beholden to El Toro and realizes the outlaw is too famous to be able to save his grandson. Hoppy promises to deliver the lad to El Toro to repay his debt. Hoppy's deputy Johnny Nelson (Jimmy Ellison) impetuously follows Hoppy on his quest.
William Boyd, George "Gabby" Hayes

Big Henry's minions include Paul Fix, who played nothing but weasels during this time in his career but would grow into the respected Micah Torrence on The Rifleman. George "Gabby" Hayes is featured as a bartender named Spike. Spike maintains an effort to remain neutral in Big Henry's battles, but his heart is in the right place which will do him no good when it comes to the final shootout. 

In melodramatic fashion, reminiscent of Nancy in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, our dancing Dolores's efforts to return Pablo safely to his grandfather without giving up the gang results in her murder. There will be more twists and turns and bloodshed before the reunion of the grateful old outlaw and his orphaned grandson.

Doris Schroeder's script was based on characters created by Clarence E. Mulford for this November 1935 release. We bring the gang back to Buck Peters (J.P. McGowan) Bar 20 ranch where Buck's sister Clarissa (Ethel Wales) brings some maiden lady bossiness to the group. Hoppy and Red avoid Clarissa's orders when a rancher named Arnold writes for help with rustlers led by the mysterious "Nevada." Johnny is particularly asked not to come along as Mr. Arnold's daughter Margaret (Jean Rouverol) has soured on this former sweetheart. Johnny doesn't believe it and heads into trouble regardless. Margaret has been to school in Boston and her tastes have changed. She wants the comforts of city life and a neighbouring dude, George Purdue (Harry Worth) is promising those things.

Jean Rouverol, Jimmy Ellison

Red and Johnny remain at the Arnold ranch while Hoppy heads into the mountains in an effort to scope out the outlaws. Disguised as a gambler and calling himself Tex Riley, Hoppy teams up with an old-time prospector called "Windy" (George "Gabby" Hayes). Finding a stranger to regale with tall tales, Windy likes to relate his exploits with the famous Hopalong Cassidy.

William Boyd, Harry Worth

The easterner Purdue is (surprise!) the rustler Nevada. He is an interesting villain for a B western, with an obsessive admiration for Napoleon to augment his plans to have the biggest cattle ranch in the state. Purdue finds it particularly galling that he should have a rival in a common ranch hand such as Johnny. Among Nevada's crew, we find the ubiquitous 1930s minion Paul Fix. Al St. John plays a doomed outlaw named Cinco who invites the callousness of his boss.

Having determined the identity and hideout of the rustlers, Hoppy signals the Arnold ranch and justice can be served. In this outing, the chase begins with the riders preparations to take out after the crooks. The lack of a score makes the sequence quite effective, but you won't be missing the stirring chase music as that will come in time. Johnny, rushing into things ahead of Hoppy's signal, gets himself captured and requires rescuing. It's a good thing Jimmy Ellison is so good looking because Johnny can get rather annoying at times.

George "Gabby" Hayes, William Boyd, Paul Fix

Outlaw Herb Layton (Joe Rickson) gets the last word on Purdue/Nevada who proves himself a coward in the face of his own destruction. Happily, after the deaths of Spike and Uncle Ben in our previous movies, Gabby Hayes' character of Windy lives and joins up with Hoppy to return to the Bar 20. "I'll be with ya' till the durn thing blows up!"


The above publicity from Paramount shows how seriously the studio considered future Oscar winner James Gleason for the role of Cassidy. The wiry Gleason could play ornery as easily as he could play lovable, but in the luckiest break of his career, William Boyd was given the role. He made Hoppy an upstanding man of honour and an idol for generations of popcorn-munching munchkins.

FAVOURITE MOVIES: Union Pacific (1939)

Film fans and historians often point to the 1939 movie season for its release of genuine, timeless classics. A roll call of movie titles...