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!:

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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!

Ro-Man Holiday: ROBOT MONSTER (Astor Pictures 1953)

My friends at The Film Detective are hosting a Drive-In Monster Movie Party all this month, and asked me to join in on the fun! When I received the list of movies they’re showing, I jumped at the chance to watch and review ROBOT MONSTER, that infamous no-budget classic directed by Phil Tucker, featuring an alien called Ro-Man who looks like a gorilla wearing a diving helmet. And honestly, how can you not love that!!

ROBOT MONSTER consistently makes critics’ all-time worst movie lists, derided for its technical ineptitude, overwrought acting, absurd dialog, and flat-out senselessness. It’s all that, to be certain, but I look at things through a different (some would say “shattered”) lens. First, did I enjoy it? The answer: a resounding yes! The movie may not be on a par with CASABLANCA or THE SEARCHERS , but it didn’t bore me or make me want to shut it off. Tucker’s little opus isn’t the height of brilliance, but it’s fun, and I watch films mainly to  have fun. Second, I don’t want to be preached to or have someone else’s political philosophies rammed down my throat – I wanna be entertained, dammit, and ROBOT MONSTER succeeds on that level. Tucker himself allegedly attempted suicide after the movie was released, but honestly, it’s not THAT bad.

The movie doesn’t make a whole lot of sense most of the time, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment of it. Seems Ro-Man is one of a Master Race of aliens who’ve obliterated everyone on Earth except for a hearty band of non-stars, most prominent being ‘B’ actors George Nader and Claudia Barrett, both of whom are easy on the eyes. Claudia in particular is one hot sci-fi babe, and apparently Ro-Man thinks so too, as her Earthly delights cause the diving-helmeted gorilla-alien to kidnap her for his own nefarious purposes. This may be a kiddie sci-fi flick, but lovely Claudia sure seems to spend a lot of time in bondage!

George Barrows as Ro-Man scares no one in that silly get-up, and seems to be having a hard time navigating through Bronson Canyon in his bulky costume (probably couldn’t see out of the helmet!). Barrows was a bit player and stuntman who followed the grand tradition of Charlie Gemora and Crash Corrigan in playing onscreen apes, beginning with TARZAN AND HIS MATE, and appeared in such fare as GORILLA AT LARGE, BLACK ZOO, GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, and HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE , as well as tons of TV (THE ABBOTT & COSTELLO SHOW, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, THE LUCY SHOW, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, MAN FROM UNCLE, THE INCREDIBLE HULK).

I still haven’t figured out what’s up with all the bubbles, but that didn’t stop me from loving this loopy yet likable film. ROBOT MONSTER is one of those  so-bad-it’s-good flicks that has a demented charm all it’s own. Most importantly, it’s enjoyable, something you can’t say about many big budget productions currently playing at the local bijou. I like it, and if you’re in the right frame of mind, you will, too!

ROBOT MONSTER is now playing on The Film Detective 

Time Well Spent: THREE HOURS TO KILL (Columbia 1954)

I don’t think you’ll find THREE HOURS TO KILL among anyone’s Top Ten Films list, or Top Ten Westerns, or even Top Ten Dana Andrews Movies. What you will find, if you give this movie a chance, is a solid, adult themed Technicolor Western with just a hint of film noir, made by Hollywood pros in front and behind the cameras. And you can’t ask for much more than that.

Jim Guthrie returns after a three year absence to the town that once tried to hang him. Jim relates the tale via flashback to old friend and current sheriff Ben East: a big night in town had everybody drinking and partying it up. Sexy hotel owner Chris Palmer comes on to Jim, but he only has eyes for pretty Laurie Mastin, bringing out the jealous side of banker Niles Hendricks. Laurie’s brother Carter disapproves of Jim, and a fight breaks out. The camera moves indoors as the partygoers hear two shots, then rush outside to see Jim standing over Carter, gun in hand. The alcohol-fueled crowd erupts into a lynch mob, and Jim barely escapes with his life, his rope-scarred neck a constant reminder of that fateful night.

Ben gives Jim til sundown, just three short hours away, to prove his innocence before either leaving town for good or being arrested. He soon learns many things have changed since he left. Laurie is now married to Niles and has a young son – and as it turns out, the kid is Jim’s! His probing makes him a marked man, and there are suspects galore, all with their own reasons for wanting Carter dead and Jim held responsible…

Dana Andrews  takes the role of Jim Guthrie and plays it like one of his many noir protagonists. He’s a hard man, and justice isn’t the only thing on his mind. Andrews is as obsessed and determined as his Mark McPherson in LAURA , and though his star had fallen somewhat (due to his alcoholism; Andrews eventually conquered his demons through AA), he delivers a sturdy performance. Donna Reed was a year removed from her Oscar win for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and the part of Laurie is a nice, juicy dramatic role for her. As always, Reed gives it her all, and the two work well together.

Character actor James Westerfield in “Three Hours to Kill”

The supporting cast is filled with Familiar Faces. Stephen Elliott is Sheriff Ben, who’s not what he seems. Richard Coogan (TV’s original CAPTAIN VIDEO) plays Niles, who’s also not what he seems. Dianne Foster (Chris) has an impressive sagebrush resume that includes THE KENTUCKIAN, THE VIOLENT MEN, and NIGHT PASSAGE. James Westerfield is bartender Sam, Whit Bissell barber Deke, Richard Webb (another TV captain, CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT) the unfortunate Carter, and Laurence Hugo (the soap opera EDGE OF NIGHT) the gambler Marty. Carolyn Jones has an early role as a bar girl, and you’ll find vets Stanley Blystone, Franklyn Farnum, Frank Hagney, Hank Mann, Frances McDonald, Snub Pollard, and Buddy Roosevelt among the townsfolk.

Producer Harry Joe Brown treats the film like one of his Randolph Scott Westerns – in fact, it probably would’ve made a good Scott vehicle! The screenplay by Richard Alan Simmons (SHIELD FOR MURDER) and Roy Huggins (future creator of TV’s THE FUGITIVE and THE ROCKFORD FILES) is tense and original. Veteran DP Charles Lawton (THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI) makes the Columbia backlot look sufficiently Western. And director Alfred Werker had been around since the silent era; working mainly in B’s, his better known films include HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD, KIDNAPPED, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, REPEAT PERFORMANCE, and HE WALKED BY NIGHT.

The name Paul Sawtell rarely shows up in discussions on great film composers, but if you’ve ever watched a classic-era movie, you’ve heard his work. Sawtell’s credits are legion: he worked on many Universal Horror and Sherlock Holmes films in the 40’s, moved on to RKO for some Tarzans, scored films noir like THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE, BORN TO KILL , T-MEN, RAW DEAL , and KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL , low budget horror and sci-fi (SON OF DR. JEKYLL, THE BLACK SCORPION , IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE ), Irwin Allen’s THE LOST WORLD , VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, and FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON, and even a couple of Russ Meyer sexploitationers (FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, MOTORPSYCHO). Sawtell also composed tons of stock music cues that pop up in almost 500 films and TV shows. He’s one of Hollywood’s unsung heroes, and though he’s no Max Steiner, he deserves a shout-out – so here it is!!

THREE HOURS TO KILL is not a “classic” Western (we’re not talking John Ford here!), but the talent on both sides of the camera make it just a cut above average. It’s well worth watching, not only for Western buffs, but for fans of good, solid Hollywood filmmaking.