Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 13: ALL-STAR WESTERN ROUNDUP!

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is tomorrow night, and in honor of that All-American pastime I’ve corralled an All-Star lineup of (mostly) All-American Westerns filled of blazing six-guns, galloping horses, barroom brawls, sexy saloon gals, and wide-open spaces. Hot damn, that DVR sure enough gets filled up mighty fast! Saddle up and enjoy these capsule looks at one of my favorite genres, the Western:

THE CARIBOO TRAIL (20th Century-Fox, 1950; D: Edwin L. Marin) – Randolph Scott   rides tall in the saddle driving his cattle to Vancouver gold rush country in this exciting oater filled with stampedes, Indian attacks, bad hombres, shoot outs, and fisticuffs. There’s a pretty saloon keeper (Karin Booth), a mean town boss (Victor Jory), and Scott’s bitter ex-pardner (Bill Williams), who had to have his arm amputated along the trail. Scenic Colorado stands in for Canada’s Great Northwest, shot in gorgeous Cinecolor by DP Fred Jackman Jr. Look for young Jim Davis and Dale Robertson in supporting parts. The movie doesn’t break any new ground, but for genre fans it’s a real treat! Fun Fact: The always delightful Gabby Hayes plays loveable old windbag Grizzly in his final feature film appearance.

FACE OF A FUGITIVE (Columbia 1959; D: Paul Wendkos) – Escaped outlaw on the run Fred MacMurray settles in the town of Tangle Blue, where he gets tangled up with pretty shopkeeper Dorothy Green, her sheriff brother Lin McCarthy, and evil landowner Alan Baxter. Routine ‘B’ Western elevated somewhat by MacMurray’s low-key performance, Wendkos’ taut direction, and Wilfred M. Cline’s moody cinematography. Fred is always watchable. Fun Fact: Young James Coburn   makes his second film appearance as one of Baxter’s hired hands.

ARIZONA RAIDERS (Columbia 1965; D: William Whitney) – Above-average Audie Murphy   ‘B’ outing, with the star and his pal Ben Cooper a pair of ex-Quantrill Raiders sprung from prison by the newly appointed head of the Arizona Rangers to hunt down some remaining guerillas terrorizing the territory. Some well-staged action by director Whitney, a veteran of Republic Pictures serials and sagebrush sagas. It’s fun to see another serial & sagebrush vet, the great Buster Crabbe as Ranger Captain Andrews, and the supporting cast features slimy baddies Michael Dante and George Keymas, Gloria Talbott as an Indian maiden, and Ray Stricklyn as Audie’s kid bro. I could’ve done without the opening exposition by Booth Colman as a newspaper editor talking directly to the camera; otherwise this is highly recommended! Fun Fact #1: Unintentionally funny line – Stricklyn (while lying mortally wounded): “Clint, it’s… it’s getting kinda dark” Murphy: “Well, it’s a little cloudy, Danny”! Fun Fact #2: Miss Talbott is well-known to horror genre buffs for her roles in DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL, THE CYCLOPS, and I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE!

RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE (Columbia 1966; D; Bernard McEveety) – An interesting if flawed attempt at a psychological Western, aided by a solid supporting cast. A modern-day bartender in Cold Iron, Texas (Arthur O’Connell) relates to a census taker (James MacArthur) the legend of “The Day of the Reprisals”, a fateful night in town history. Flashbacks take us to 1884, when buffalo hunter Jonas Trapp (Chuck Connors), returning home to his wife (Kathryn Hays) after 11 years, gets bushwhackers by a trio of nasties (Michael Rennie, Claude Akins, Bill Bixby), who brand him with a red-hot iron and steal his $17,000 savings. Now Jonas goes out for revenge to reclaim both his money and his wife. The mainly backlot sets and a sometimes weak script keep this strictly ‘B’ level, but a game attempt nonetheless. The impressive cast features Buddy Baer, Joan Blondell , Jamie Farr, Paul Fix (Chuck’s RIFLEMAN costar), Frank Gorshin, Gloria Grahame , Robert Q. Lewis, Gary Merrill, and Ruth Warrick. Folk singer Glenn Yarbrough (“Baby, the Rain Must Fall”) sings the title tune. Not a classic, but definitely worth a look. Fun Fact: Production company Goodson/Todman were better known for their myriad TV game shows – BEAT THE CLOCK, FAMILY FEUD, MATCH GAME, PRICE IS RIGHT, WHAT’S MY LINE, et al.

CHISUM (Warner Bros 1970; D: Andrew V. McLaglen) – Cattle baron John Wayne takes on rival town boss Forrest Tucker during the famous Lincoln County Cattle War, with William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid (Geoffey Deuel) thrown in for good measure. This will seem like a rehash to fans of Duke’s older, better movies, with so many Familiar Faces from previous vehicles ( John Agar , Christopher George, Richard Jaeckel Hank Worden , etc etc) the set must’ve seemed like old home week. Ben Johnson adds some spice as Wayne’s mumbling, grumbling sidekick Pepper, William Clothier’s shots of scenic Durango, Mexico are breathtaking, and the finale (featuring a cattle stampede through town and a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Wayne and Tucker) is fairly exciting. Not one of his best outings, but hey… it’s a John Wayne Movie! That alone makes it worth watching! Fun Fact: Country star Merle Haggard   sings the tune “Turn Me Around”, and actor William Conrad does a hip-hop rap over the title credits. Just kidding about that last tidbit, I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention!

       

ADIOS, SABATA (United Artists 1971; D: Gianfranco Parolini) –  Lesser but highly enjoyable entry in the Spaghetti Western canon. This is the second of Parolini’s Sabata Trilogy, with black-clad Yul Brynner taking over for Lee Van Cleef in the title role (Van Cleef returned for the final film). “Soldier of Fortune” Sabata teams with frenemy Ballantine and a colorful band of Mexican revolutionaries to steal Emperor Maximilian’s gold and defeat the sadistic Colonel Skimmel. The bare-bones plot is just an excuse for Parolini (billed in the U.S. print as “Frank Kramer”) to assault our senses with an almost non-stop barrage of violent set pieces, well shot by DP Sandro Mancori. Yul gets off some snappy one-liners, and his sawed-off repeating rifle is way cool, as is Bruno Nicolai’s ersatz Ennio Morricone score. Kick back, pop open an adult beverage, and enjoy the action! Fun Fact: Minor late 50s/early 60s teen idol Dean Reed, who embraced leftist politics and became more successful as an ex-pat entertainer, plays the part of Ballantine.      

Ride along with other “Cleaning Out the DVR” posts:

Hunger Games: Charlton Heston in SOYLENT GREEN (MGM 1973)

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Oscar winning actor Charlton Heston (BEN-HUR) ventured into the realm of dystopian science-fiction in the late 60s/early 70s with a quartet of films. He starred in the 1968 blockbuster PLANET OF THE APES and its 1970 sequel BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, then a 1971 adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND titled THE OMEGA MAN. The last of these was 1973’s SOYLENT GREEN, a grim look at an overpopulated, polluted future world (set in 2020!) where food is scarce, the climate has changed dramatically, and the rich minority controls everything. (Geez, sound familiar?)

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Heston plays NYC Police Detective Thorn, investigating the murder of powerful, rich industrialist William Simonson (Joseph Cotten in a cameo), who lives in Central Park West, a complex for wealthy males that comes complete with a woman as part of the “furniture” (Leigh Taylor-Young). The killing looks like a robbery attempt gone bad, but Thorn suspects foul play, and has his eye on Simonson’s bodyguard Tab (a rather paunchy Chuck “THE RIFLEMAN” Connors).

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Thorn is assisted by his roommate, the elderly crime book researcher Sol Roth. Edward G. Robinson is Sol, in what was his last film role. Robinson was Hollywood’s OG, having starred in 1931’s LITTLE CAESAR, the movie that kicked off the gangster cycle. His acting chops hadn’t diminished one bit, and Robinson gives us a touching swan song as a man who longs for the days when the world was livable, showing his disgust at the “tasteless, odorless crud” the Soylent Corporation manufactures to feed the masses. The scene where Thorn brings home some plundered “real food” (beef, apples, and a bottle of bourbon) is priceless as we watch the old man’s spirit lift savoring the meal.

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The powers that be put the kibosh on Thorn’s investigation, having him reassigned to “riot duty”, riding herd over the rabble as Soylent Green is put up for rationing. An assassin tries to gun him down, meeting a gruesome death under one of the front-end loaders used to control the rowdy peasants. Thorn keeps digging into the murder despite pressure from his boss (Brock Peters), as does Sol. The elderly former professor goes to The Exchange, bringing along the reference books Thorn obtained from the Soylent Oceanographic Survey. They come to a grim conclusion, and Sol cannot bear to live with the truth. He checks into Home, an assisted death facility, and Thorn arrives just before Sol expires. Sol shares the horrible secret of Soylent Green, begging Thorn to prove it to the world. The death scene is poignant, as Sol drinks from a poisoned cup, then lays down while bathed in orange light, images of nature before him, classical music gently taking him away. Edward G. Robinson, an actor’s actor to the last, died of terminal cancer twelve days after filming this scene.

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I’m about to SPOIL THE ENDING so if you haven’t seen SOYLENT GREEN, keep scrolling. Most of you film fans out there already know, and even those who’ve never seen the movie have heard people imitating Heston’s famous last words: “It’s people…Soylent Green is people!” I’m a huge admirer of Heston, not just for his many great performances, but for always staying true to himself. Charlton Heston was King of the Epics (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY), starred in Orson Welles’ classic noir TOUCH OF EVIL, and made great Westerns like WILL PENNY and THE MOUNTAIN MEN. A liberal politically early in his life, Heston campaigned for Adlai Stevenson, marched with Martin Luther King, and was president of his union, The Screen Actor’s Guild. When he felt the Democratic Party had abandoned their principles, Heston switched to the Republicans, supporting his old friend Ronald Reagan. He served as president of the NRA, making that famous speech about taking our guns away “when you pry them from my cold, dead hands”. It’s not hip to be Heston fan nowadays, but I don’t really care. He served his country in WW2, and stood up proudly for his convictions. Besides, any actor who can do Shakespeare and share a stage with Dame Edna Everage can’t be all bad. Charlton Heston, American icon, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in 2008.

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Other cast members include Whit Bissell, Paula Kelly, Dick Van Patten, and Celia Lovsky. Miss Lovsky was once married to Peter Lorre, and as an actress is perhaps best known to sci-fi fans as Vulcan leader T’Pau in the “Amok Time” episode of STAR TREK. Director Richard Fleischer, son of animation pioneer Max (Popeye, Betty Boop), had an uneven career, batting slightly over .500, with more hits (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, THE BOSTON STRANGLER) than misses (1967’S DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, the abominable MANDINGO, 1980’S THE JAZZ SINGER with Neil Diamond). SOYLENT GREEN is solidly in the hit column, with themes that are still relevant today, and a wonderful farewell performance from Edward G. Robinson.

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