Friday, March 15, 2019

REMAKE AVENUE: The Arizonian (1935) and The Marshal of Mesa City (1939)


This trip to Remake Avenue finds us among hitching rails, horse troughs and copious saloons (leave your guns at the door).

The Arizonian begins with an outstanding story and screenplay by Dudley Nichols (The Informer, Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home). The director Charles Vidor (Ladies in Retirement, Gilda, Love Me or Leave Me) was described by James Cagney as a "nice Michael Curtiz." The cinematographer is Harold Wenstrom (The Big House, The Lost Patrol, Annie Oakley). These three collaborators created a memorable western release for RKO in 1935. 

The Arizonian is permeated with a moody sense of melancholy against its violent backdrop. Richard Dix stars as Clay Tallant, a lawman mostly modeled on Wyatt Earp. Clay accepts the job of marshal in Silver City after the murder of the current marshal. The situation in Silver City is not conducive to success for the law. It is rife with crooked politics and criminals. The corruption stems from Sheriff Mannen played by Louis Calhern.

Preston Foster, Richard Dix, Louis Calhern

Clay's philosophy is that the west and the times are changing and there will be a day with no guns. Nonetheless, Clay understands how he must deal with these times and understands he may not live to see the change he envisions.

Clay has personal reasons for seeing the job through. His brother Orin played by James Bush is here, and involved with saloon singer Kitty played by the marvelous Margot Grahame. Clay will also find a friend in Tex Randolph played by Preston Foster. Tex came to town on the wrong side of the law but finds redemption in joining the fight against Mannen. Impressive in supporting roles are Etta McDaniel as Sarah, Kitty's maid, and Willie Best as Pompey. These are characters who will leave a lasting impression with the viewer.

Clay enforces gun control and impresses the townsfolk with his ability to fight back against Mannen. However, the powerful crooks will not go down without a fight. Blatant and brutal murder, and an exciting final showdown played out amongst a dusty and smoke-filled street is a powerful scene with a heartbreaking and righteous ending.

The Arizonian is a "little" movie at 1 hour and 15 minutes, yet every one of those minutes is filled with excitement and emotion. 



RKO revisited The Arizonian as The Marshal of Mesa City starring George O'Brien in 1939. The movie was directed by David Howard, who directed 27 pictures with George during this decade. The majority of their movies are entertaining and due to Dudley Nichols original story, The Marshal of Mesa City is an outstanding collaboration. The screenplay was adapted by Jack Lait Jr. who contributed a half dozen westerns to the studio at this time.

Leon Ames, Henry Brandon, George O'Brien

The Marshal of Mesa City has a shorter running time than The Arizonian, clocking in at just over the hour mark. George plays Cliff Mason who becomes the new marshal of Mesa City. The graft in town is represented by Leon Ames as Sheriff Cronin. The character of Cliff's brother is eliminated while the romantic interest of the singer is switched up to a schoolteacher played by George's frequent leading lady, Virginia Vale.

Henry Brandon has an outstanding showcase as the reformed outlaw Duke Allison. Duke joining forces with Cliff provides much of the emotional depth of this telling of the story. Brandon gives an appealing characterization opposite George's vitality.

Many of the incidents from the earlier film are transferred here including an opening attack on a stagecoach, and the marshal enforcing his own brand of gun control. The drama in the concluding shootout is recreated in the dusty street, creating its own emotional denouement true to this version of the tale.

The Arizonian is rarely shown although I have caught it on TCM in the past. The Marshal of Mesa City is more likely to make an appearance on the network although neither seems poised to put in an appearance in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled!












23 comments:

  1. Regarding the 1939 movie it says that DAVID HOWARD directed GEORGE OBRIEN in 27 movies! That must be some kind of record!! I saw George in three movies-FORT APACHE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, both with THE DUKE, JOHN WAYNE, and also CHEYENNE AUTUMN with RICHARD WIDMARK & CARROLL BAKER.

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    1. My introduction to George O'Brien was Fort Apache, which airs on TCM tonight. Since then he has become a favourite of mine. The first time I saw Sunrise was in a theatre. It was mesmerizing.

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  2. LEON AMES-the dad in LITTLE WOMEN(1949) with JUNE ALLYSON as JO, the wealthy father(Leslie) of RODNEY HARRINGTON(BARRY COE)in PEYTON PLACE starring LANA TURNER. Also the dad in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS starring JUDY GARLAND.

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    1. I adore Leon Ames. A most recognizable face and voice. The earliest movie I have seen him in was Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1932 and of course the latest was his final film, Peggy Sue Got Married in 1986. So touching as a good guy, and so believable as the bad guy.

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  3. Wow, I wonder if that's the record for the shortest amount of time between original film and its first remake. I have seen neither, but love the cast from THE ARIZONIAN. I can just imagine Louis Calhern as a crooked sheriff!

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    1. There was another movie that had a really short time between the original and the remake-the original one was THREE BLIND MICE with LORETTA YOUNG and JOEL MCCRAE(in black & white). It came out in 1938. Then in 1941 it was remade as a musical in color with BETTY GRABLE and DON AMECHE. Another difference is the first one was about three sisters. The second one was about two sisters (Grable and CAROLE LANDIS) and their aunt played by the funny and unique CHARLOTTE GREENWOOD. A difference of only 3 years!

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    2. Rick, Calhern is indeed exceptional as the villain in this piece. He is absolutely despicable. The movie should be more well-known with its pedigree of writer and director. I hope TCM sees fit to dust it off and show it more often.

      Well, as our friend here points out with Three Blind Mice, 1938 and Moon Over Miami, 1941 which also made it to the movies again in 1946 as Three Little Girls in Blue, some stories seem to sweep through Hollywood on a boomerang.

      I can understand RKO returning to this story. You can't go wrong with Dudley Nichols.

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  4. As soon as I saw the name Louis Calhern I thought of two things, that he was in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN(replacing Frank Morgan) and that at one time he was married to Natalie Schafer, who would later play Mrs. Howell on GILLIGANS ISLAND. Then I remembered that he did a voice role in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL(he was heard on record). His character was deceased and his daughter Georgia(Lana Turner) was listening to his record. (He had been an actor and she would later go into acting). Also he was in EXECUTIVE SUITE(with WILLIAM HOLDEN and FREDRIC MARCH) and WERE NOT MARRIED(with ZSA ZSA GABOR who didn't have very many lines).

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  5. It's funny how we approach/remember actors for different things. The first movies that come to my mind when I think of Louis Calhern are The Red Pony and Duck Soup, and then two with Ann Harding, The Magnificent Yankee and Two Weeks With Love. Also Executive Suite. The entire cast is magnificent in that movie.

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  6. Its been so long since Ive seen EXECUTIVE SUITE that Im not clear about one part. There was a scene where SHELLEY WINTERS was waiting for her gentleman friend to get off the phone. It was kind of a funny scene. I cant remember if it was Louis Calhern in that scene.

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    1. Louis Calhern was interrupting Shelley's date with her married boss played by Paul Douglas. Calhern was blackmailing his co-worker to vote his way at the upcoming Board meeting.

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  7. I'm so glad you called attention to these great little Westerns, I love them both! I think Preston Foster and Henry Brandon were exceptionally good in each version -- I also like Richard Dix a great deal but MESA CITY has the edge for me because of my love for George O'Brien. This was one of the earliest non-Ford Westerns I saw O'Brien in and it made me a big fan. Love the economical yet dramatic way the final shootout was staged.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    1. Such a memorable story and so imaginatively told. Both films are worth seeing and I wish they were more readily available. They truly deserve a wider fan base.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

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  8. Speaking of remakes CLARK GABLE did RED DUST(1932) and its remake MOGAMBO(1953). 21 years difference but he still was the lead. BETTY GRABLE did CONEY ISLAND(1943) and its remake WABASH AVENUE(1950), just 7 years difference, still the lead. Are there any other movies where an actor got to be the lead in the original movie and its remake? (If Betty and Clark were a couple and got married she would have been BETTY GRABLE GABLE).

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    1. A supporting role came to mind. Frank McHugh played the same character, that of a luxury liner pickpocket in One Way Passage, 1932 and 'Til We Meet Again, 1940.

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    2. I didn't know that about McHugh! Haven't seen those films yet. Other notable supporting repeats: Both Reginald Owen and Forrester Harvey played the same roles in THE MAN IN POSSESSION (1931) and its remake PERSONAL PROPERTY (1937).

      Best wishes,
      Laura

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    3. Wow! I didn't know about Owen and Harvey's roles. What fun! 'Til We Meet Again is on TCM tomorrow, March 21 in the morning.

      Apparently, Hollywood thought Edward Everett Horton was the only guy who could play Nick Potter. And I think Hollywood was right.

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  9. Both of these sound terrific, especially The Arizonian. Richard Dix and Louis Calhern? Sign me up!!

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    1. We'll have to send good movie vibrations out into the universe or at least in the direction of TCM. We've been good. We deserve a treat.

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  10. Paddy Lee, a good write-up on two really good Westerns. Both movies owe a great deal to Stuart Lake’s 1931 biography, WYATT EARP, FRONTIER MARSHAL. The movies include scenes taken from the book, which had been filmed in 1934 as FRONTIER MARSHAL, which also starred George O’Brien as Marshal Michael Wyatt. FRONTIER MARSHAL is considered a lost movie?


    I've been interested in Earpiana since I was a youngster watching the syndicated re-runs of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WYATT EARP(1955-61) starring Hugh O'Brian. The early talking pictures, that were loosely based on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, used other names other than Earp and Holliday. Why? The late Wyatt Earp left behind a lawsuit happy widow named Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp. So, when 20th Century Fox Studios financially settled with Mrs. Earp, Randolph Scott portrayed Wyatt Earp in FRONTIER MARSHAL(1939). Also, Richard Dix portrayed Wyatt Earp in TOMBSTONE: THE TOWN TO TOUGH TO DIE(1942), which is another good Western.

    The Kitty Rivers(Margot Grahame) character in THE ARIZONIAN is based somewhat loosely close to the real Josie Earp. I doubt if writer Dudley Nichols knew anything about Josie's Tombstone past, when he wrote the script. Josie did a good job of covering up her past until her death in 1944.

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    1. I have yet to see the 1934 Frontier Marshal, but really enjoy the 1939 movie of that name. A few years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival they had a free screening of My Darling Clementine. It was the first time I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen. A couple of young women were in the aisle next to me and seemed a little disappointed that it was a black and white western, but their reactions to each story development were audible and a testament to their enjoyment. Earp and the stories around him I think will still be inspiring writers for many years yet.

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  11. Caftan Woman, have you ever heard of a TV-Movie I MARRIED WYATT EARP? Ive never seen it but it starred Marie Osmond and a actor that is good in westerns and drama, Bruce Boxleitner. He got to work with JAMES ARNESS several times including as a nephew in HOW THE WEST WAS WON(on TV in the 70s). He also got to work with Arness in the last GUNSMOKE movie which was the last acting job that Arness did. Bruce received a GOLDEN BOOT award. He worked with Kenny Rogers in the Gambler movies. Out of 5 movies he did all but the 4th one. Bruce was married to one of my favorite actresses, Melissa Gilbert.

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    1. I've seen Bruce Boxleitner in many things, but I don't recall the Earp picture. I'm a big fan of The Macahans. Uncle Zeb was a great role for Arness following Gunsmoke. Canadian John Mantley produced the show, as he did for the last seasons of Gunsmoke.

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