Lonely As The Night: Randolph Scott in COMANCHE STATION (Columbia 1960)

COMANCHE STATION was the final entry in the Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher/Burt Kennedy series of Westerns, and in many ways a fitting ending. The loneliness of the Westerner is again a key theme as the film begins with the solitary figure of Scott as Jefferson Cody, riding across that rocky, barren, now mighty familiar Lone Pine terrain. He bargains with hostile Comanches for a captive white woman named Nancy Lowe, wife of a wealthy rancher. Stopping at Comanche Station, Cody and Mrs. Lowe encounter three men being chased by the tribe.

We learn one of these men is Ben Lane, a bounty hunter who shares a dark past with Cody. The two were formerly in the Army together, where then-Major Cody busted Lane out of the service for the slaughter of a village of friendly Indians. We also learn Mrs. Lowe’s husband is offering a five thousand dollar reward for her return – dead or alive. The station manager returns, an arrow in his chest, telling Cody and company the stagecoach was turned back by renegade scalphunters before he dies, and now the four men and Mrs. Lowe must ride to Lordsburg on their own, with those scalphunters close behind. There’s plenty of action, danger, and drama along the way, as the renegades aren’t the only threat, and a surprise twist at the end.

Scott is stoic as Cody, a man whose wife was captured by Comanches ten years earlier, and has been searching for her ever since. His singlemindedness of purpose has led him to a life of bartering for the release of captive white women in hopes of finding her. He’s the eternal Wandering Cowboy, cursed by fate to search for his love, a search that has so far been in vain. Claude Akins as Lane is a smiling menace with an evil laugh who has ideas of his own about what to do with Mrs. Lane. Nancy Gates (SUDDENLY ) does good work here as Mrs. Lane, and the small cast also features Skip Homeier and Richard Rust as Lane’s accomplices.

There is some truly majestic camerawork here by Boetticher and his DP Charles Lawton Jr., the outdoor scenery becoming a character itself, filled with both beauty and terror. Boetticher went from here to direct the gangster drama THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND and some TV work (ZANE GREY THEATER, DEATH VALLEY DAYS, THE RIFLEMAN), but spent much of the decade working on a documentary about Mexican bullfighting legend Carlos Arruza , an obsession which consumed him and created much hardship for the director. It was finally released in 1972 to no great acclaim. Boetticher directed one other film, 1969’s A TIME FOR DYING (Audie Murphy’s swan song), wrote the story for TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, and made an appearance in the 1988 film TEQUILA SUNRISE before his death in 2008.

As for Randolph Scott, after a thirty-plus year career in films, the actor had one more film in him before settling into a comfortable retirement at the age of 64. It was another Western, by a new young director, delineating the contrast between the Old West and the New. The film was 1962’s RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. The director? Sam Peckinpah.

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Confessions of a TV Addict #7: TJ HOOKER and His Amazing Hair Helmet!

TV Cop Shows ran rampant during the 1980’s. There were gritty street cops, female cops, Dirty Harry-inspired cops, MTV cops, debonair cops, teenage cops, and every other permutation you could think of, short of outer space cops. But for Cops With The Best Hair, it has to be… no, not CHARLIE’S ANGELS, but TJ HOOKER!

TJ HOOKER starred William Shatner (which kind of makes this a semi-outer space cop show, no?) as Hooker, a veteran on the LCPD (standing in for Los Angeles) who serves as mentor to the younger cops. Shatner, who by this time was, shall we say, follically challenged, wore a perm-coiffed toupee which never got mussed no matter how many times he ran down bad guys, got in hellacious fights, or got it tousled by his latest love interest:

As Warren Zevon would say, “His hair was perfect”!

Also with perfect hair was costar Adrian Zmed as Officer Vince Romano, Hooker’s young partner:

Zmed, the immortal star of GREASE 2, also went through the series without a single hair out-of-place, as did former teen idol James Darren, who joined the cast in season two as another veteran cop, Jim Corrigan:

Then there’s 80’s babe Heather Locklear as Stacy Sheridan, a rookie cop with long blonde locks who must’ve hired an army of stylists to keep up with the gelled and blow dried perfection of Shatner and company:

Even Richard Herd, who played LCPD Captain (and Stacy’s dad) Dennis Sheridan, had better hair than the usual police bosses of the era:

The show itself (which ran from 1982-86) is pretty cheezy, with plenty of cool 80’s background music (dig those synthesized drums!), sex and violence, and the brilliant emoting of Our Man Shatner! Plus, all that gorgeous 80’s hair! I occasionally catch TJ HOOKER weeknights at 10:00EST on the FETV (Family Entertainment) network (DirecTV Ch. 323). It’s the perfect way to end the day by shutting your mind off for an hour, indulging in a big hunk of 80’s cheese, and of course enjoying those Amazing Hair Helmets!

More ‘Confessions of a TV Addict’:

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… No, It’s CAPTAIN NICE

A Fan’s Appreciation of Adam West

The Marvel Super Heroes Have Arrived!

How TURN-ON Got Turned-Off

Aaron Ruben, Man Behind the Laughter

Justin Wilson “Guar-On-Tees” You’ll Have a Happy Mardi Gras!

Lonesome Cowboy: Randolph Scott in RIDE LONESOME (Columbia 1959)

Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher  teamed again for RIDE LONESOME, their sixth of seven Westerns and fourth with writer Burt Kennedy. Scott’s a hard case bounty hunter bringing in a killer, joined in his trek by an old “acquaintance” with an agenda of his own. Everyone’s playing things close to the vest here, and the stark naked desert of Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills, with its vast emptiness, plays as big a part as the fine acting ensemble.

Ben Brigade (Scott) has captured the murderous Billy John and intends to bring him to justice in Santa Cruz. Coming to a waystation, he finds Sam Boone and his lanky young companion Whit, known outlaws who’ve heard the territorial governor is granting amnesty to whoever brings in Billy. Also at the station is Mrs. Crane, whose husband has been murdered by marauding Mescaleros. Sam’s interested in forming a partnership and taking Billy to the nearest town, but Brigade is determined to head to Santa Cruz “no matter what”, for reasons of his own. The five of them ride out, and get ambushed along the way by the Mescaleros. They manage to come out victorious, but more peril awaits, as Billy’s brother Frank and his crew are following their trail…

I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen this – and it’s must-see for Western buffs! Boetticher, a John Ford acolyte, frames his shots almost as well as The Master himself, and Lone Pine is his Monument Valley. Charles Lang’s camera captures the sense of isolation not only of the location, but of the players. The small cast all get to shine here, though most never went on to huge success in film. Pernell Roberts (Sam) became a star on television, first as eldest son Adam Cartwright in the first six seasons of BONANZA, then for seven years as TRAPPER JOHN, MD (1979-86). Karen Steele (Mrs. Crane) did four films for Boetticher (DECISION AT SUNDOWN, WESTBOUND, THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND, this one), but did better as a guest performer on episodic TV. James Best (Billy) supported many a Western, but didn’t achieve real stardom until playing goofy Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (1979-85).

The two actors that did obtain screen superstardom have very small parts in RIDE LONESOME. James Coburn made his movie debut as Whit, and though he’s a minor character, there are signs he’s an actor with a future. Coburn would make another Western that year (FACE OF A FUGITIVE), then score big in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN , go on to hits like THE GREAT ESCAPE and  OUR MAN FLINT, and eventually an Oscar for AFFLICTION. Lee Van Cleef (Frank) could be called “Lee Van Brief” for all the screen time he gets here. It wasn’t until he teamed with Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE that he became an overnight success after 13 years in films, and a Spaghetti Western icon in his own right.

RIDE LONESOME’s sparse cast and setting, along with Boetticher’s keen eye and the intense script by Kennedy, make this a most enjoyable Western, and  Randolph Scott’s portrayal of a man hell-bent on vengeance is the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes, smaller is better!

Well of Loneliness: Randolph Scott in THE TALL T (Columbia 1957)

I’ve told you Dear Readers before that Randolph Scott stands behind only John Wayne in my personal pantheon of great Western stars. Scott cut his cowboy teeth in a series of Zane Grey oaters at Paramount during the 1930’s, and rode tall in the saddle throughout the 40’s. By the mid-50’s, Scott and his  producing partner Harry Joe Brown teamed with director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy for seven outdoor sagas that were a notch above the average Westerns, beginning with SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. The second of these, THE TALL T, remains the best, featuring an outstanding supporting cast and breathtaking location cinematography by Charles Lang, Jr.

Scott plays Pat Brennen, a friendly sort trying to make a go of his own ranch. Pat, who comically lost his horse to his old boss in a wager over riding a bucking bull, hitches a ride with his pal Rintoon’s oncoming stagecoach. Rintoon’s passengers are newlywed spinster Doretta Mims, whose father owns the richest copper mine in the territory, and her spouse Willard, a worm who obviously married Doretta for her money. The coach pulls into the switching station run by Pat’s friend and his young boy. But neither are to be found… instead three bad hombres greet them, thinking the stage is carrying a payroll they intend to rob. Rintoon is gunned down, and Pat, Doretta, and Willard are doomed to be next, until the spineless Willard strikes a deal with the outlaws to have Doretta’s father pay a ransom….

There’s an undeniable theme of loneliness threaded throughout the film, beginning with Scott’s Pat Brennen. Though outwardly an affable man, Pat has a hard edge to him that begins to boil to the surface after he and Doretta are held hostage. He’s always been an independent loner, though more than once people tell him, “Ain’t right for a man to be alone”. Doretta too, not the most attractive woman, suffers from being alone, which is the reason she married the cowardly Willard Mims. Even outlaw leader Frank Usher feels isolated, and finds more of a bond with Pat than his younger, uneducated companeros. Boetticher’s direction emphasizes this loneliness under a vast blanket of blue Western sky and the beautiful but empty scenic location of California’s Pine Valley mountains and desert.

The supporting cast is small, again underscoring that feeling of isolation. Maureen O’Sullivan , best known as Jane to Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan, was semi-retired when she took the role of Doretta Mims. Miss O’Sullivan, a striking beauty, was glammed down for the part of the homely spinster, later blossoming toward film’s end. Richard Boone shows subtle depth of character as gang leader Usher while still conveying a menacing presence as a man not to be trifled with. His underlings are a pair of movie “bad hombres” indeed – Henry Silva and Skip Homeier . Arthur Hunnicut’s Rintoon seems a comic sidekick, which makes his death early on all the more shocking. John Hubbard as the craven Mims, who throws his own wife under the bus to save his miserable hide, elicits no sympathy when he gets what’s coming to him.

The Scott/Boetticher Westerns don’t have the flamboyance of, say, the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone trilogy , or the historical importance of the John Wayne/John Ford collaborations . Instead, they’re all compact, well-made productions that have plenty to say about the human condition under the guise of the Western genre. THE TALL T stands tallest among them, and makes a good introduction to those who haven’t seen any of these classic Westerns before. Once you watch, you’ll be hungry for more.

 

 

Forgotten Horror: THIRTEEN WOMEN (RKO 1932)

I pride myself on having seem almost every horror film made during the 1930’s, though once in a while an obscure title comes along whose attention has escaped me. But how on Earth did I miss THIRTEEN WOMEN, especially with a cast headlined by Irene Dunne (of all people!) and Myrna Loy ? This fast-paced thriller involving hypnosis, astrology, and serial murder is downright nasty, and has been cited as a precursor to the “slasher” genre… not to mention a whole lot of fun!

We begin with circus performer June Raskob receiving a letter from the mysterious Swami Yogadashi with her horoscope attached, predicting impending doom in the stars for her. But it’s her sister who dies, plunging to her death during their trapeze act (shown in gruesome detail), and poor June goes hopelessly insane. The scene shifts to exotic half-caste Ursula Georgi, who has the Swami under her hypnotic spell and uses him as a pawn in her game to get revenge on her St. Alban’s sorority sisters who ostracized her because of her race. Lovely Hazel Clay is next: she stabs her hubby to death with a butcher knife and is given the chair!

Skeptical Laura Stanhope gathers the remaining girls to calm them down, but when the Swami’s prediction of his own demise comes to pass (under Ursula’s dark influence) and schoolmate Helen Frye commits suicide aboard a train, even Laura comes to believe – she’s recently received her own letter warning “something dreadful” is about to happen to her young son Bobby. Police Sgt. Clive, investigating Helen’s death, finds Laura’s address on Helen’s baggage, and begins to dig up the facts. Then the unthinkable: Bobby gets a package of candy in the mail, and worried Laura has it analyzed at police headquarters. The verdict: poison! When that fails, chauffeur Burns (also under Ursula’s power) buys the tyke a bouncy ball for his birthday, an explosive bouncy ball! This all culminates in a train ride to hell, where Laura is confronted by Ursula, with Clive and his men in hot pursuit, and the ultimate end of the she-devil  exactly the way Swami Yogadachi predicted she would die.

Myrna Loy was specializing in exotic roles at this juncture in her career, and her evil-eyed Ursula is one of her scariest – though I can’t blame her for the way she was treated because of racism among the other girls, cold-blooded murder isn’t the best way to make things right! Irene Dunne was already a star for films like CIMARRON and BACK STREET, and she makes a good woman-in-peril here, suave Ricardo Cortez pours on his usual charm as Clive, and the cast is made up of Familiar Faces like Florence Eldridge, Jill Esmond, C. Henry Gordon (The Swami), Kay Johnson , and Edward Pawley.

Peg Entwistle (1908-1932)

This was the only screen appearance of Peg Entwistle, in the small role of murderess Hazel. Miss Entwistle is better known for her tragic death than her acting: in 1932, she climbed to the top of the Hollywood sign, and jumped from the letter H, a suicide at age 24. Her death was played up all in the papers and scandalized the film community, later rehashed in Kenneth Anger’s book HOLLYWOOD BABYLON, along with a topless pic of the late actress (which I refuse to reproduce here, not because I’m prudish, but I feel it exploits a tragic situation).

THIRTEEN WOMEN draws from elements of the murder mystery, psychological thriller, and occult practices to create a horror movie begging to be rediscovered. Myrna Loy is a sultry villainess, and director George Archainbaud uses some neat camera tricks, like an animated star after some of the deaths to segue into the next scene.  If you’re a horror buff like me, you’ll definitely want to seek out this forgotten gem.

One Hit Wonders #15: “Smell of Incense” by Southwest FOB (HIP Records 1968)

The obscure Southwest FOB climbed to #56 on the pop charts with their psychedelic hit “Smell of Incense”:

This cover of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band tune by five high school pals from Dallas, Texas gained national exposure, and the kids released one album. They even opened some shows for a group that soon became much bigger – Led Zeppelin! But the band broke up, and Southwest FOB (which stood for ‘Free On Board’, don’t ask me why) was relegated to the Bargain Bins of rock history… almost. Two of the group’s members later became prominent in the 1970’s as one of that decade’s most boring soft-rock duos, England Dan and John Ford Coley:

Yes, the pair behind such snoozers as “Nights Are Forever Without You”, “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again”, and “Love Is the Answer” first hit it big with Southwest FOB. Should’ve stuck to psychedelia, boys!

A Hidden ‘Poil’: THREE MEN ON A HORSE (Warner Brothers 1936)

Frank McHugh got a rare starring role in the comedy THREE MEN ON A HORSE, based on the hit Broadway play by George Abbott and John Cecil Holmes. McHugh was usually cast as the funny friend of fellow members of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia “ James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, but here he takes center stage as a meek, hen-pecked type who has an uncanny knack for picking winning horses – as long as he doesn’t bet on them!

Greeting card writer Erwin Trowbridge is beset by a whiney wife, obnoxious brother-in-law, and bullying boss. After a row with wifey brought on by meddling bro-in-law, Erwin leaves his humble Ozone Park, Queens abode and decides to skip work and get sloshed. Stumbling into a seedy hotel bar frequented by Runyonesque gamblers, Erwin gives them a winning pony – then passes out. The three mugs, Patsy, Charlie, and Frankie, bring him up to Patsy’s room to recuperate, hoping the little genius will bring them good luck, not to mention winners.

Patsy, who thinks Erwin’s greeting card verses are sheer poetry, calls boss Carver to demand a raise for the schlep, which results in Erwin’s firing. The gamblers head to the track, but when Patsy returns, he catches Erwin with his dame Mabel in a compromising position. It was all a mistake, but Erwin’s winning well has run dry… seems he can’t pick horses unless he’s riding on the Ozone Park bus! Needless to say, Patsy and the boys accommodate him, leading to further complications with wife Audrey, in-law Clarence, and mean Mr. Carver….

THREE MEN ON A HORSE does suffer from staginess, which is surprising since the director is Mervyn LeRoy , famous for “moving” pictures like LITTLE CAESAR, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, and QUO VADIS, among others. The exaggerated “New Yawk” accents the actors use (‘Oy-win’ for Erwin, for example) gets a bit annoying at times, as does Carol Hughes’ whiney portrayal of whiney Audrey. The saving grace is a marvelous cast of character actors, all of whom get a chance to shine.

McHugh is great as the spineless Oy-win, I mean Erwin, who finally gets to assert himself at the end. He’s especially good during his drunk scenes… not a stretch for one of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia”! Joan Blondell , playing Patsy’s “goil” Mabel, is a welcome sight in any movie. Patsy himself is Sam Levene , making his film debut in the role he originated on Broadway. His cohorts are Allen Jenkins (sarcastic Charlie) and Teddy Hart (Frankie), an actor I know little about except he played Crowbar in a few ‘Ma & Pa Kettle’ epics. Old reliable Guy Kibbee is boss Carver, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson gets in on the fun as an elevator operator who plays the ponies, and that “Master of the Slow Burn” Edgar Kennedy gets some good laughs as Harry the bartender.

It’s a minor movie, to be sure, but one that on the whole is enjoyable. It gives McHugh and company a chance to break free of their usual secondary parts and have some fun. Despite a couple of quibbles, THREE MEN ON A HORSE is a comedy “woith” watching!