Big Bad Bob: Robert Mitchum in MAN WITH THE GUN (United Artists 1955)

Rugged Robert Mitchum is pretty much the whole show in MAN WITH THE GUN, a film by first  time director (and Orson Welles protege) Richard Wilson. It seems a strange choice at this juncture of Mitchum’s career. He was just coming off four big films in a row (RIVER OF NO RETURN, TRACK OF THE CAT, NOT AS A STRANGER, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER ), then makes a low budget Western that harkens back to his days making ‘B’ Zane Grey Westerns at RKO. But that was Mitchum; always the maverick who did things his way.

The film itself isn’t bad: Mitchum plays a notorious gunslinger, a “town tamer” hired by Sheridan City to clean things up from the clutches of boss ‘Dade Holman’ (who isn’t seen til the end, but whose influence is everywhere). There’s a subplot with his ex-wife Jan Sterling, now running the dance hall girls at The Palace, and the whereabouts of their five year old daughter. Another subplot involves Karen Sharpe, daughter of town council leader Emile Meyer, catching feelings for Mitchum, to the chagrin of her young, headstrong fiance  John Lupton. But don’t let the soap opera elements fool you: MAN WITH THE GUN is an exercise in violence, with Mitchum a killing machine who has no problem mowing down bad guys. Wilson and N.B. Stone Jr’s script dips briefly into the psychological reasons Mitchum’s character does what he does, making him more than just a one-dimensional gun-for-hire.

Wilson had helped stage plays for Welles’ Mercury Theater of the Air, and worked as Welles’ assistant on CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and associate producer on LADY FROM SHANGHAI and MACBETH. He completed the documentary IT’S ALL TRUE: BASED ON AN UNFINISHED FILM BY ORSON WELLES shortly before his death in 1991, and appears posthumously in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND . While he’s no Welles, Wilson manages to create some moody, almost film noir-ish scenes with the help of ace cinematographer Lee Garmes (the burning down of The Palace in particular is well staged). His directorial filmography is skimpy, but includes some interesting vehicles, like THE BIG BOODLE (starring a dissipated Errol Flynn), AL CAPONE (with Rod Steiger as Scarface), the well-regarded noir PAY OR DIE, and the AIP sex romp THREE IN THE ATTIC.

MAN WITH THE GUN also benefits from a supporting cast of Familiar Faces, including veteran Henry Hull as the ineffective town marshal, Ted de Corsia as the Palace’s manager (complete with bad French accent!), Leo Gordon and Claude Akins as heavies, young Angie Dickinson as a saloon girl, and Jay Adler, Barbara Lawrence (as a dizzy blonde), Burt Mustin, Maidie Norman, Maudie Prickett, Stafford Repp, Buddy Roosevelt, Amzie Strickland, and James Westerfield (who sets up the film’s finale). The film’s no classic, but will satisfy fans of both Westerns in general, and Robert Mitchum in particular. I fall into both categories, so of course I liked it; the rest of you will have to watch and judge for yourselves!

 

 

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Monster Con: Vincent Price in THE BARON OF ARIZONA (Lippert 1950)

We all know and love Vincent Price for his creepy performances in horror films, from his demented Henry Jarrod in HOUSE OF WAX, to all those AIP/Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe shockers, to his turn as The Inventor in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. But the actor was more than just a screen fiend, playing in many a film noir, comedies, costume swashbucklers, and even the Western genre. Our Man Vinnie got top billing in a strange little oater titled THE BARON OF ARIZONA, and as a bonus for film fans the director is a young tyro by the name of Samuel Fuller!

In this bloodless but gripping outing, Price plays James Addison Revis, a swindler, con man, and forger who  concocts an elaborate, grandiose scheme to gain control over the Arizona Territory in 1882. He begins his con game ten years earlier by grooming an orphaned waif named Sofia to later be declared heir to Spanish land grants, then marrying the girl when she becomes of age. The local cowboys are up in arms when Revis and his bride claim the territory as their own, going as far as throwing a bomb through the Revis’ window!

But Revis is second to none when it comes to deviousness, and his forgeries are almost perfect. The U.S. Government even offers him 25 million for the rights to Arizona, but Revis turns them down flat, and sues the Feds instead! But when Department of the Interior agent John Griff begins his investigation, things slowly start to unravel for Revis one strand at a time. When the con is revealed, Revis is almost lynched by an angry mob (in a scene that’s pure Fuller!) before he makes it to the Federal pen…

James Addison Revis is a part that’s tailor-made for the talents of Vincent Price. Based on a true story, Price’s Revis is a charming con artist who almost pulls his scheme off, and Vinnie’s at his best in THE BARON OF ARIZONA. Price has a field day as the grandiose bunco artist, and as always he’s able to say more with one arched eyebrow than any dozen lesser actors! Though he’s a thoroughly despicable cheat and crook, he also displays a tender side, truly in love with Sofia, who loves him back despite his obvious faults.

Sofia is played by another horror vet, Ellen Drew (1941’s THE MAD DOCTOR and THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL), who also does good work here, and is a standout during the courtroom scene. Seems like almost all the cast has some kind of horror connection: Vladimir Sokoloff (Pepito) later played in such fare as MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, and MR. SARDONICUS; Beulah Bondi (Sofia’s duenna Loma) costarred with Karloff and Lugosi in THE INVISIBLE RAY ; Angelo Rossitto (the gypsy Angelo) was in FREAKS and many other spookfests. And hero Reed Hadley (Griff), who also narrates, ended his career in the Al Adamson “classic” BRAIN OF BLOOD!

The legendary Sam Fuller

Sam Fuller worked as a crime reporter and pulp novelist before beginning his Hollywood career as a scenarist. After returning home from WWII, he was given a chance to direct with the low-budget Western I SHOT JESSE JAMES. The 1951 war drama THE STEEL HELMET put him on the map as a filmmaker to be reckoned with, and a string of critically acclaimed movies followed: SCANDAL SHEET, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, HELL AND HIGH WATER, THE CRIMSON KIMONO, SHOCK CORRIDOR. Fuller refused to play the Hollywood game, or abide by the rules, and his films are stamped with his singular artistic vision. My personal favorite is 1980’s THE BIG RED ONE, a WWII epic starring an equally singular man, Lee Marvin. Most of his movies are both violent and low-budget, yet Samuel Fuller’s films never let his audience down.

An interesting side note: Allegedly, future PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE auteur Ed Wood worked on THE BARON OF ARIZONA as a stuntman. Is it possible that’s Ed doubling for Vincent Price when he tumbles off that wagon in long shot?? I don’t have any proof to back that up, but hey… stranger things have happened in Hollyweird!!

West-Teen Angst: GUNMAN’S WALK (Columbia 1958)

GUNMAN’S WALK may not be a classic Western like THE SEARCHERS or HIGH NOON, but it was entertaining enough to hold my interest. That’s due in large part to a change of pace performance by All-American 50’s Teen Idol Tab Hunter as a sort-of Rebel Without A Cause On The Range, an unlikable sociopath with daddy issues, aided and abetted by Phil Karlson’s taut direction and some gorgeous panoramic Cinemascope shots by DP Charles Lawton Jr.

Boisterous cattle rancher Lee Hackett (Van Heflin) is one of those Men-Who-Tamed-The-West types, a widower with two sons. Eldest Ed (Hunter) is a privileged, racist creep who’s obsessed with guns, while younger Davy (played by another 50’s Teen Idol, James Darren) is more reserved. The Hacketts are about to embark on a wild horse round-up, and enlist two half-breed Sioux, the brothers of pretty young Clee (Kathryn Grant,  young wife of crooner Bing Crosby).

Ed kills one of the brothers by riding him off a cliff as they vie to rope a beautiful white mare. The Indians call it murder, but a fellow white man (Ray Teal, later the sheriff on TV’s BONANZA) lies for the kid in order to gain favor with Lee, freeing Ed to carouse and cause trouble with abandon. The man is subsequently given his pick of ten horses, and when he picks that white mare, Ed guns him down in a rage, is arrested again, and escapes after killing a deputy. A posse is formed, including Lee, who must confront his wild child in a final showdown.

Hunter is very good indeed as the spoiled, antisocial Ed, a thoroughly unlikable punk who thinks he can get away with anything he wants… including murder. This was a total departure from Tab’s clean-cut image, and he delivers the acting goods under Karlson’s watchful eye. The underrated director cut his movie teeth directing Charlie Chan and Bowery Boys entries at Monogram Pictures before reinventing himself as one of the premiere makers of films  noir during the 50’s, with titles like SCANDAL SHEET, KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL , 99 RIVER STREET , THE PHENIX CITY STORY, and THE BROTHERS RICO. Karlson was also responsible for one of the biggest hits of the early 70’s, WALKING TALL. I’ve praised Karlson’s work several times on this blog, and if you haven’t rediscovered his films yet, you should!

Equally good is Van Heflin as the hail-fellow-well-met dad, unable to grasp the changing times in the West (then again, Heflin’s always good, isn’t he?). James Darren doesn’t get much to do, but he’s one of my favorites (and for more on Mr. Darren, follow this link to my recent post on FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG ). Kathryn Grant doesn’t get much to do either except look pretty, and the supporting cast includes stalwarts such as Bert Convy (making his film debut) as the doomed half-breed, GET SMART’s Ed Platt (who was also in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) as a sympathetic Indian agent, Robert F. Simon as the town sheriff, and Mickey Shaughnessy as his deputy.

So while GUNMAN’S WALK may not be a classic in the John Ford mold, it’s worth watching for Hunter’s about-face as a heel, Karlson’s direction, and those beautiful vistas captured by Lawton. Now here’s Tab singing his #1 hit from 1957, “Young Love”. Adios, amigos!:

Jungle Boogie: Ed Wood’s THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (Allied Artists 1958)

Reincarnation and past lives were popular themes in the 1950’s, mainly because of the success of THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY, which spawned a host of imitators. One of these was THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST, a bizarre take on the theme written by the legendary (for all the wrong reasons!) Edward D. Wood, Jr. In this incarnation of the reincarnation subject, we find a pretty young bride who improbably discovers she was once a fierce jungle gorilla!

Big Game Hunter Lance Fuller and his new wife Charlotte Austin are honeymooning at his stately manor. She finds out he’s keeping a gorilla named Spanky in the basement to be shipped to a zoo, and gets a ‘sinister urge’ (sorry!) to see it. Charlotte goes ape over Spanky, and he obviously digs her, too. But worried Lance warns her to keep her paws off the big ape because he’s dangerous.

Later that night, Spanky escapes his cage and fondles our young bride, ripping off her nightie, so jealous Lance shoots the hairy horndog! Charlotte keeps having dreams about Africa, and can’t shake the feeling she’s lived before, so an eminent psychologist (and really, is there any other kind in these movies?) is called in to hypnotize her. Under hypnosis, Charlotte rambles on about one of Ed Wood’s favorite subjects, angora fur: “so soft like a kitten’s fur… it felt so good on me, as if it belonged there”. Ahem, okay…

The couple head to The Dark Continent so Lance can bag some big game, with their faithful houseboy/guide Taro (who speaks in a stilted Brooklyn accent!) in tow. Lance goes traipsing off among the stock footage of wild animals, while Charlotte discovers the animals fear her – because she was once Queen of the Gorillas! And by the way, do Great White Hunters usually change into their pajamas while sleeping in their jungle tents, or wear their sneakers when traversing the jungle veldt (asking for a friend)? Anyway, some Indian tigers have escaped from a cargo ship and are on the loose, attacking Charlotte before Lance kills them, and while she’s recuperating, she somehow (don’t ask me how!) summons a gorilla into camp, and the beast KO’s Lance and carries Charlotte off into the jungle where she belongs!

“It felt so good on me… ” – Ed Wood with Dolores Fuller in 1953’s “Glen or Glenda?” (Ed’s on the right!)

Yep, that’s definitely an Ed Wood story, all right! But Ed didn’t direct THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST – that honor went to producer Adrian Weiss, in his only time sitting in the director’s chair (he’d been working as a writer, editor, production manager, and assistant director since the 1930’s). Weiss isn’t bad, but I would’ve loved to have seen what Ed Wood could have done with a slightly larger budget than usual. Not much larger, mind you, but at least the sets don’t look like they’ll come crashing down on the actor’s heads at any given moment!!

Star Lance Fuller is perhaps best known for his turn as the big-foreheaded alien Brack in THIS ISLAND EARTH, played in CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA with Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan, costarred in Roger Corman’s APACHE WOMEN, and was once married to blonde bombshell Joi Lansing. Pretty Charlotte Austin should have had a bigger career, but besides small parts in DADDY LONG LEGS and HOW TO BE VERY VERY POPULAR, and a bigger one in Frankenstein 1970 , she went nowhere. A pair of Hollywood’s top gorilla-suited actors are featured here: Ray “Crash” Corrigan and Steve Calvert .

So while THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST may be silly, it’s perfect Saturday matinee fare, and kids of all ages will go ape over it, as will all you Ed Wood completists out there – and count me among them! I’d never seen it before, but now it’s available all this month on The Film Detective, and if you aren’t familiar with them yet, just follow this link… and tell ’em Cracked Rear Viewer sent you!

 

End of the Trail: James Stewart in Anthony Mann’s THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (Columbia 1955)

I’ve covered several of the  Anthony Mann/James Stewart Western collaborations here. Their final sagebrush outing together THE MAN FROM LARAMIE was shot in Cinemascope and gorgeous Technicolor, features a bunch of solid character actors, has beautiful New Mexico scenery… yet felt like a letdown to me. Maybe it’s because Mann and Stewart set the bar so high in their previous Westerns, but THE MAN FROM LARAMIE is an anti-climactic climax to the director/star duo’s pairings.

Stewart’s good as always, playing bitter Will Lockhart, whose brother was killed by Apaches and whose mission is to find out who’s selling the guns to them. But the film came off flat, feeling like just another routine Western – good, but not in the same category as WINCHESTER ’73 or BEND OF THE RIVER. Those Mann film noir touches are nowhere to be found, replaced by (dare I say it!)… soap opera elements!

Cathy O’Donnell, so good as Wilma in William Wyler’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and Keechie in Nick Ray’s THEY LIVE BY NIGHT , is not-so-good here as love interest Barbara. Granted, the part is underwritten by scenarists Philip Yordan and Frank Burt, as are most of the characters, reduced to mere cardboard cutouts. Even the great Donald Crisp struggles to make something out of mean ranch owner Alec Waggoman. Arthur Kennedy does okay as ranch foreman (and nominal villain) Vic Hansboro, but Alex Nicol is lousy as hot-headed Waggoman son Dave. Wallace Ford seems to be channeling Gabby Hayes as Stewart’s cantankerous sidekick Charley. Only Aline MacMahon as salty rival rancher Kate (“I’ve patched up bullet holes in places I wouldn’t like to mention”) and young Jack Elam as conniving town drunk Chris Boldt manage to create fleshed-out characters – and Elam’s killed off early!

On the plus side, Charles Lang’s cinematography is outstanding, with some truly breathtaking shots of New Mexico’s scenic vistas, enhanced by that previously mentioned Cinemascope and Technicolor. The film can also be violent and bloodily brutal in places, with some incredibly tough stunt work from pros like Bill Catchings, Ted Mapes, and Chuck Roberson. But let’s be honest – when I start talking about the background and stuntmen, you know I don’t have a lot to say about the film! It just doesn’t have that special “something” that set apart the other Mann/Stewart Westerns. Instead, it’s just another 50’s oater.

Anthony Mann directing Jimmy Stewart in 1953’s “Thunder Bay” (that’s costar Dan Duryea in the background)

Anthony Mann and James Stewart were scheduled to team again for 1957’s NIGHT PASSAGE, but Mann backed out over the casting of Audie Murphy as Jimmy’s outlaw kid brother. Mann claimed Stewart just wanted an excuse to play his accordion in a movie, and a rift developed between the two that never healed. NIGHT PASSAGE is more reminiscent of their work together than THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, a mediocre Western that completists will want to see…  the rest of us can just go back and enjoy THE NAKED SPUR or WINCHESTER ’73 once again.

 

 

 

Eat To The Beat(nik): Peter Falk in THE BLOODY BROOD (Kay Films 1959)

I suppose you could categorize THE BLOODY BROOD as Canadian Beatnik Noir – and it would definitely be a category of one! But this low-budget entry from The Great White North tells its tale at a fairly swift pace (or aboot as swift as those Canucks can get, eh?), features an oddball cast of characters, and offers viewers the unquestionably non-Canadian Peter Falk in his second film as a dope-peddling psychopath who gets his kicks from “death… the last great challenge of the collective mind”.

Falk, warming up for his breakthrough role as Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles in MURDER INC. a year later, plays Nico, who  pushes his junk to the Beat Generation rejects that hang around the local cafe (“He’s a salesman, baby… he sells dreams”). When an old man dies of a heart attack before their eyes, psycho Nico thinks it’d be far-out to deliberately off a square, so he and his pal Francis give a ground-glass-laced hamburger to an unsuspecting messenger boy. The kid calls his big brother Cliff right before he croaks, and now Cliff dives into the seedy world of bongos, bad poetry, and slinky chicks in leotards to avenge the boy, despite being warned off by Police Detective McLeod and copping a beating from a pair of Nico’s leather-clad thugs, Studs and The Weasel…

Falk steals the show as the cool-but-deadly Nico, giving us a mesmerizing portrayal of a sociopath. The film serves as a showcase for the then-32-year-old Falk’s undeniable talent, and his performance is worth the proverbial price of admission. As for the rest of the cast, none of them are anyone you’d immediately know, unless you’re a fan of Spaghetti Westerns – actor Jack Betts, who plays Our Hero Cliff, later changed his name to Hunt Powers and rode the dusty trail in Italian Horse Operas like SUGAR COLT, ONE DAMNED DAY AT DAWN… DJANGO MEETS SARTANA (as Django), DJANGO AND SARTANA ARE COMING… IT’S THE END (as Sartana!), COFFIN FULL OF DOLLARS, and A FISTFUL OF DEATH (and later portrayed Boris Karloff in the James Whale biopic GODS AND MONSTERS!).

All the usual beatnik trappings are to be found here in THE BLOODY BROOD, and director Julian Roffman manages to squeeze a decent little ‘B’ out of his rock-bottom budget limitations, aided by veteran DP Eugene Schufftan, the German immigrant who worked on everything from Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS to Edgar G. Ulmer’s BLUEBEARD to Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE to his Oscar-winning work on Robert Rossen’s THE HUSTLER. There are four screenwriters credited, including Elwood Ullman . Wait, what? Ullman? Famous for scripting all those Three Stooges/Bowery Boys slapstick comedies? How’d he get in here? Maybe he took a side job while out on a caribou hunting trip, eh?

THE BLOODY BROOD is now available for viewing on The Film Detective

Goodnight, Vienna: THE THIRD MAN (British Lion 1949)

I’m just gonna come right out and say it: THE THIRD MAN is one of the greatest movies ever made. How could it not be, with all that talent, from producers Alexander Korda and David O. Selznick, director Carol Reed , screenwriter Graham Green, and cinematographer Robert Krasker, to actors Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli , and Trevor Howard. It’s striking visuals, taut direction, and masterful acting transcend the film noir genre and make THE THIRD MAN one of the must-see films of 20th Century cinema.

The story starts simply enough, as American pulp novelist Holly Martins arrives in post-war Vienna to meet up with his old pal Harry Lime, only to learn that Harry was recently killed in a car accident. He attends the graveside service, meeting Harry’s mysterious actress girlfriend Anna Schmidt, and is quickly pulled down a rabbit hole of intrigue and deception involving the British military police, black marketeers, and a very much alive Harry…

Reed fills the screen with dazzling cinematic imagery, from a terrifying ferris wheel ride to the shadow world of Vienna’s sewers, each scene giving the viewer something different: Dutch angles, quick cut edits, close-ups, and atmospheric lighting. Little touches like that kid and his ball or the man with the balloons add greatly to the film’s mood. While Reed was already one of England’s master craftsmen, there’s a heavy Orson Welles influence throughout THE THIRD MAN. Most historians claim the film is pure Reed, but the Welles touch is so evident in many scenes that one wonders…

Orson Welles  doesn’t appear as Harry Lime until around 30 minutes into the film, but his presence is felt throughout, and the entire movie revolves around this charming rogue. Welles is reunited with his Mercury Theater cohort Joseph Cotten as the pulp fiction writer Holly (“I write cheap novelettes”), who sets things in motion. Alida Valli was well known to Italian movie lovers; she’d go on to a long and prosperous international career. Trevor Howard is good as always as British Major Calloway, and his second-in-command Sgt. Paine is played by James Bond’s future boss Bernard Lee. There’s another 007 connection in THE THIRD MAN as well: assistant director Guy Hamilton would go on to direct GOLDFINGER , DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER , LIVE AND LET DIE , and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.

Then there’s that unique zither score by Austrian native Anton Karas, unlike anything heard in films before or since. Allegedly, Reed didn’t want to go with traditional Viennese waltz music, and came across Karas playing his zither at a wine garden one night. One thing led to another, and the zither plays a huge factor in making THE THIRD MAN so memorable, not to mention making a brief star out of the humble Karas, whose “Harry Lime Theme” became an unlikely #1 hit in 1950:

I could go on and on about the brilliance of THE THIRD MAN, but why waste time reading my humble scribblings? Go out and watch the film yourselves, and if you already have – watch it again!