Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Friday, July 23, 2021
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
The online celebration of a favourite genre is an ongoing summertime treat.
"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."
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, 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.
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.
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
HERE'S THE "TAG" TO START OFF THE FUN!
1. Western movies or western TV shows?
2. Funny westerns or dramatic westerns?
3. Westerns that focus on loners or westerns that focus on families?
4. Male-centric westerns or female-centric westerns?
5. 1930s to 1960s westerns or 1970s to 2020s westerns?
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?
7. Family-friendly westerns or edgier westerns?
8. Straight-forward good guy or conflicted hero?
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?
10. Bittersweet or happily-ever-after endings?
Monday, July 12, 2021
Lt. William "Tough Willy" (Don't call him "Willy!") Calhoun is the top cop at Union Station.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saturday, May 22, 2021
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.
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."
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.
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).
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?"
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."
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