Gunsmoke (1953) – Movie reReview

gunsmoke-movie-poster-1953-1020199995Audie Murphy and Susan Cabot, who collaborated at least two other times, in Duel at Silver Creek and Ride Clear of Diablo, are the leads in this lightweight but thoroughly well-made and entertaining movie. Also in it is Charles Drake, the white knight to Audie’s black knight in No Name on the Bullet. All of those are extremely good movies. Just about all of Audie’s works are on the + side of B or at least the – side of A.

This one is an easy A if you ask me.

So, this one is about a young gun, Reb Kittridge, drifting into Billings after having made a quick and escape from Johnson County. He’s got a job lined up in Billings, but the situation grows rapidly murky when someone takes a potshot at him before he even gets into town, he meets the daughter of his presumptive target, Rita Saxon (Cabot), and then declines a gunfight with Old Man Saxon (since he hasn’t actually been formally hired yet.) This sort of behavior endears him greatly to Old Man Saxon–who used to be a hellraiser himself, and remembers what it was like to be a young gun who wants out and just needs a leg up…

Anyhow, the bad guy wants the Saxon ranch; Saxon doesn’t want to sell; Kittridge kind of wants to be done with this whole gunslinging business, blah blah blah…so Saxon “loses” his ranch to Reb in a game of cards (“complete with morgage,” heh.)

So now, the burden of the plot is on Audie to get his cattle to market by hook or by crook, with Telford (the bad guy) breathing down his neck and Rita’s bushwacking fiance also causing trouble. Also, Reb’s erstwhile friends have now become business rivals and are now trying to murder him. Better yet, the Saxon ranch genuinely is in a peck of trouble, mortgaged, facing a tight deadline, and low on men and beef both (“That’s your problem, son.” Hehhh.) Oh yeah, and there isn’t even enough money to make payroll for all the men who are about to quit, HAH.

And even better still, Miss Saxon is not at all pleased with the change of management in her home.

And so the fun begins…

– It’s actually kind of a bad look to be picking a fight with a man six inches shorter than you, Curly…
– That being said, Audie (briefly) going berserk on some stuntmen is a definite highlight.
– Rita in some really 50s’ underwear and an incredibly pointy bustier, is also, as Kittridge points out, also worth looking at. I mean…corsets, man. Just…corsets.
– Old Man Saxon has a pretty good role, fatherly, calm, and stalwart…but also slyly running the whole show from the back seat the whole damn time.

There really isn’t all that much more to say about this movie, other than it’s well-written, is acted with distinction and great prowess, moves quickly, is fun and occasionally, genuinely clever. It’s a credit to its genre and you ought to give it a watch.

Rated: See ya round, Johnny.

Movie (re)Review – Best of the Badmen (1951)

Best of the Badmen was released in 1951, is a Western, and stars Robert Ryan, Claire Trevor, and Walter Brennan, in case you needed to know any of that.

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This movie was indecisive.

It’s got good filming/staging/cinematography. (Look, I am easy to please. If the colors are pretty and there are lots of them, I am happy.) It’s got good fight choreography (Robert Ryan was a collegiate boxer and knew how to throw a punch). It’s got some pretty top-notch actors–Walter Brennan in particular underplays his usual humorous old-timer role with an almost villainous edge, to interesting effect. On the other hand, there are times when the actors–especially Robert Ryan–nail their parts effortlessly, and then there are times when they don’t. If they’d all gone full-throttle, all the time, it might have smoothed over the deficiencies of the script and made it better overall.

Anyhow, it’s also got an intriguing concept for a plot: post the Civil War, the man (Jeff Clanton, Robert Ryan) who brings in Quantrill’s Raiders (you know–Jesse James and the like) peacefully, is double-crossed or outfoxed or whatever, by the evil carpetbagger-slash-Pinkerton, Fowler. Fowler wants the rewards on the Jameses and Youngers; when Clanton refuses to hand them over, has him found guilty of murder in a kangaroo court and sentenced to hang. However, after Mrs. Fowler (Claire Trevor) breaks him out of jail and he hooks up with the outlaws, the once peaceable Clanton is hell-bent for revenge on Fowler. (Only Fowler–he doesn’t care about the money.) Also, Mrs. Fowler has also taken refuge in the outlaw town–incognito–and hooks up with Clanton. Dum-de-dum, something something outlaw raid, oh, and maintain your humanity and let’s escape to Mexico but not until I. Get. Fowler.

So you can see there is much that could be of interest there. However, it’s got a script that doesn’t quite pull together as well as it should, and can’t decide whether it is going to be dumb but competent and occasionally witty, or dumb but moralizing and dramatic. It settles on dramatic….and dumb.

Pros: The characters are well-sketched. Walter Brennan, playing an antiheroic twist on his usual role, is quite good. Even the outlaws, who usually would be consigned to a surly bunch in the background, are fairly distinctive and have a certain amount of personality. Claire Trevor (rather zaftig and looking glam in period costume) does fine in an ambiguous but also slightly underwritten role. Jack Beutel, as the sidekick, is good at being A Good Kid.–which, if that name sounds vaguely familiar, yes indeed he was Billy the Kid in the 1943 horrorshow The Outlaw. He’s wayyyyy better in this movie. [This is not difficult.]

Cons: The script is a lot stupider than it needs to be and there is the distinct impression at points that the actors knew it, too. Oh, and the ending is abrupt, moralistic, and pretty darned unsatisfying. Other than that, it’s a good little movie.

Rated: Oh, and Robert Ryan has a shirtless scene.

Quik(re)review – The 13th Letter (1951)

the-13th-letter-md-webSo I (re)watched The 13th Letter – a 1951 movie directed by Otto Premiger (you know, the name you know from lots of better movies such as Fallen AngelLauraWhere the Sidewalk Ends and…River of No Return? Huh.) and starring an underwritten Linda Darnell, a bored Charles Boyer, and Michael Rennie’s cheekbones as the hero.

It’s about a (very) tall, handsome, young, unmarried doctor who has set up in a small Canadian town and is just starting to settle himself and his clock collection in comfortably. The settling-in process is interrupted by a series of poison pen letters accusing him of an affair with Charles Boyer’s wife. This is, of course, nonsense, because Rennie has Linda Darnell throwing herself at him in a negligee and it’s getting harder and harder to dodge. But things get decidedly serious when one of the letters’ receivers commits suicide on being told he has cancer. Everyone is a suspect now–from the incompetent hospital nurse who is Boyer’s spurned ex and Boyer’s sister-in-law, to Darnell’s snide younger sister, to Linda Darnell herself. And what is the terrible trauma which lurks in our hero’s past…?

The reveal is two-fold, and actually rather more satisfying than you’d expect. It’s even been cunningly foreshadowed by Boyer’s doctor character explaining to another about this weird psychological condition known as folie a deux…

All that said, it’s still a bit underwritten. There’s enough story here for a TV episode, not really for a movie. Linda Darnell has barely anything to do except look alternately sultry and sulky, and there’s nothing whatsoever to make the romance between her and Rennie interesting other than both parties’ good looks. The central mystery is, fittingly, the most intriguing part of the story; but it’s a little hampered by the fact that there are really only two strong suspects and neither of them get any focus. Inserting more plot–such as making the “investigation” less laughable–would have provided more interest, and more room for all characters to explore and expand. It didn’t, it wasn’t, they couldn’t, and ultimately this movie is….a bit underwritten, and its cast members–who totally did have the ability to take what they were given and deliver on it–were good-looking but underserved.

Rated: I’m going to do something productive with my day any minute now. Annnny minute now.

QuikReview: Gunman’s Walk (1958)

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(reposted from: Watchlist Update)

This one was actually kind of hard to watch: it’s about a strong and headstrong man who goes his own way and raises his sons to do the same…and how his sons, well, do the same.

Van Heflin is solid and by turns charming and unpleasant as patriarch Lee Hackett, who considers himself one of the boys, except for when he doesn’t, and don’t you forget it, kid. He owns the biggest spread in the state, and built every bit of it up with his own hands at the barrel of a gun, wrestling control from wrestlers and Indians. Only….

…only, that was a long time ago and the place is civilized now. It’s illegal to wear guns in town. (It’s illegal to shoot people, too.) Lee himself skirts around issue #1 by having a thorough understanding of issue #2, but his eldest son…

Tab Hunter (also seen as a juvenile in the George Montgomery flick Gun Belt) is Ed Hackett: handsome, ambitious, sullen, resentful, and generous by turns. (Except the handsome bit. He hangs on to that with great prowess throughout the entire movie.) He’s grown up in the shadow of his father and wants to move out of it, but at every turn keeps finding that Dad is–and indeed, all the other authority figures in town are–just a little ways ahead of him. Like, twenty years ahead of him. And when you’re playing with fire and loaded guns, and even if Dad does keep bailing you out of trouble–you don’t get a whole lot of second chances.

Hunter gives an excellent performance–he considered it his best role, apparently, as it gave him a chance to show he wasn’t just another pretty face. He also rides impressively well, so he’s got that going for him, too.

James Darren as the Good Son and Kathryn Grant as the half-Sioux but entirely civilized love interest whose brother was killed…semi-inadvertently…by Ed, have less material to work with but still serve their parts well as the immovable moral centers around which the rest of the characters circle, orbit, and/or crash.

Another reviewer pointed out that this movie might also be read as anti-gun. I suppose you could make that argument, but I find it more of a condemnation of the people who take on a deadly responsibility, perhaps themselves with a clear understanding of what it is–but who fail to teach their children the same. Lee carries a gun as a statement of power, independence, and self-reliance, not quite understanding why this statement is out of fashion in the modern day, but still somewhat understanding that it is. On the other hand, his son, who has absorbed that wearing a gun means standing apart from people who don’t, is violently confused as to why there still seem to be constraints, and so many conflicting rules about his behavior…when he’s the man with the gun.

The ending is standard and a bit pat, but it’s also what the audience, having grown to understand the characters and know their ways, knows is coming–and wants to see.

Rated: four white mares out of four.

Read/Watchlist

spy-x-family-768x662-1Mostly, it’s been The Shadow novels. However, there are others.

– The Continental Op – Dashiell Hammett

– Star Man’s Son – Andre Norton, which is a post-apocalyptic scifi-adventure

– Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett

Watchlist:

– Spy x Family is incredibly cute, wholesome, funny, exciting, well-paced, well-written, well-characterized, well-plotted, and overall just awesome. One of the reasons I never could get into American comics in a big way is that the art style is always uneven or just plain ugly. Manga-style art just looks so much better to my eye!

– Diablo (2015) – a nu-Western starring Scott Eastwood, who really should have asked his pops for some help. It’s one of those “I have one clever idea, one idea should be enough to swing a movie on,” and “I want it to be dramatic and meaningful,” type movies that only has a budget of around five dollars (4.95$ of which went to Scott’s hairdresser), and which desperately needed someone who knew what they were actually doing to write the script (to make it meaningful) and direct it (to make it dramatic.) It’s basically unwatchable, and I only skipped to the end because the synopsis spoiled the twist and I was curious to see how it ended. Shame, that.

Repost Review: Gun Fury (1953)

Gun Fury is  a 1953 Western with Rock Hudson, Phil Carey, Donna Reed, and Leo Gordon in it. If you don’t know who any of those people are, then shame on you for even reading a scifi blog. Scifi is at its heart descended from the frontier genre and pulp westerns are the granddaddy of all adventure/mil/exploration/colonization/fightin’ injuns aliens scifi stories. SO THERE.

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Seriously? That’s a terrible tagline.

Pros: Directed by Raoul Walsh, so, good pacing, good filming (I just really love the look of Technicolor. It’s awesome.), a competent plot, and excellent performances. Phil Carey as (spoiler!) the bad guy carries (ahaha) the show: handsome, assured, dignified, and calmly malevolent. Leo Gordon (Riot in Cell Block 11, Black Patch, Night of the Grizzly), gets a fairly heroic role and does extremely well in it, which must have been a change. Rock Hudson merely has to look square-jawed and handsome, but this probably came easily to him. Ditto for Donna Reed, but she had kind of a lackluster role anyway (see below).

The one thing that I think sets good movies apart from bad is economy: economy of dialogue, of characterization, of philosophy. This movie has it. It takes one throwaway line to set up an entire character (the Indian Guy) who doesn’t show up for another twenty minutes. But when he gets there, we know who he is, why he’s there, and what he’ll do without having it explained. It takes one action (politely offering water to the captive lady and politely leaving her in peace when turned down) to set up that that outlaw is a decent guy who will do right by her–and when he helps her make a break for it, we are not surprised, and when he (spoiler!) gets trampled to death for his pains, we are saddened.

Economy of philosophy is observed, as well. First of all, there has to be a moral philosophy; second, it has to be coherent; third, it should be based in intelligent and reasoned actions by consistent characters. The moral commentary underpinning the story is set up quickly, competently, and early, when Ben and Slader discuss their business plans; it is expanded on through the actions of various characters–of Ben trying and failing to recruit help; of Slader’s lawlessness versus Jess’ soldierly honor–and, finally, it is summed up with a single line and that’s it, we get back to the shooting and galloping. Come to think of it, showing, not telling, is another thing good movies do.

On the downthumb: a Damsel in Distress being the central motivator means that the Damsel stays firmly in Distress the whole time. I prefer heroines with a little more grit and hopefully more motivation. Another problem: the climax hinges on a really, really improbable prisoner exchange that just doesn’t make sense given the circumstances.

So, plot: we open on a stagecoach with the usual complement: a young woman (Donna Reed as Jennifer) travelling to join her fiance; a nervous businessman; a confident ex-Southern Genn’leman in a suit, with a gun, (Phil Carey as Slader); and a guy who is automatically suspicious because he’s hiding under his hat trying to sleep. Our suspicions are promptly confirmed, because when he removes his hat, he is Leo Gordon as Jess, in cahoots with Slader’s Southern Gentleman, but, strangely enough, a decent fellow. We are soon also introduced to the Fiance, Ben (Rock Hudson), whose war-wearied philosophy of minding his own business and no-one else’s, clashes with Slader’s The South Shall Rise (But Mostly I’m In It For Me) ethos. Jess, meanwhile, tries to warn Jennifer and Fiance Ben from continuing on the stage….to no avail.

So there is a robbery, a wrecked stage, and Fiance Ben is left for dead, while Fiancee Jennifer is taken by the outlaws. Only Jess has an appropriately pragmatic–and gentlemanly–attitude about this, for all the good it does him: he gets tied to a post and left behind for the vultures. Meanwhile, Ben wakes up and wanders over to make himself useful. Jess is still alive, and a bargain is struck….

But Ben’s appeal for help–to bystanding sheepherders and to the nearby Sheriff — are met with blank denials by men who have no personal stakes in the game and no business but their own to mind. (Spot the irony. If you look hard enough, it’s there, and not at all outlined and underscored heavily by the movie). Nevertheless, the odds even out a little, as Ben and Jess are joined by a vengeful Indian, and then by Slader’s even more vengeful Mexican ex-girlfriend. Mind you, she’s way more of a hinderance than a help to the heroes, but she does try.

So the plot progresses to the point where Slader is down to three men and willing to deal rather than fight: he’ll take Jess in return for Jennifer, and while Ben is riding back to discuss this with Jess, I’m over here hoping Leo Gordon’s going to survive to the end of the movie….and then Slader grins and checks his pistol and we know he ain’t.

This rank treachery, after a good-faith exchange on Jess and Ben’s part, is what finally drives Ben to deliver the moral straight out: a good man who minds his own business and doesn’t start trouble is still at the mercy of a bad man who causes trouble–and will not stop. Ignoring an evil or avoiding it does not make it go away….it must be stopped, by whatever means is necessary.

Rated: Four incompetent damsels out of five. This movie does not rise to greatness, but it’s still pretty good.

Thoughts:
– There are a lot of very tall people in this movie! Leo Gordon was 6’2, Rock Hudson was 6’5, and Phil Carey was 6’4. Sure, normally the camera would smooth this all out and fake them being “heroically statured,” but they all tower over Donna Reed (5’3) so much that I was actually motivated to look up their statistics.
– Neville Brand! Lee van Cleef! They don’t do very much, but they’re there in the background going “Sure, Boss,” and in Lee’s case, grinning a lot and menacing the damsels.
– Giving orders clearly is a large part of making sure they’re obeyed. “Waitaminute, I wanna make sure I get you. You want me to shoot the horse, shoot her, or what?”
– Horses score: A! It’s made very clear that one horse can’t carry two big men very far, very fast, or for very long; and the heroes make at least one stop purely to rest the horses.
– “You’ll like this one, Mom. Even the Indian guy gets to avenge his sister. It’s very progressive.”

Movies with my Mother: A Day of Fury (1956)

pgrsaao8ibpxesyj2a5u3y1eixv(Reposted from….wow, way back in 2017.)

“Dun duuuun dun!”

“Jagade? Never heard of him.”
“He’s fictional.”

“See, a brown horse. You wouldn’t be able to tell in black and white that he was riding a brown horse. It’d just be a black horse. Or a white horse.”

“Jagadi. Jagati?”

“What’s she always looking at?”
“Him.”

‘Windah.’

“He’s pushing his luck. He is!”
“He’s doing it on purpose.”
“Yes, but he is pushing it! Look at him!”

” ‘Excuse us. Give us a minute please.’ ‘Beat it?’ ”
“The kid deserved it.”
“Could still be polite.”

“See, look, he actually knows how how to ride.”

“What’s she doing?…checking him out?”image-w1280

“Bet you someone saw her.”
“Yep, see, the other girl. Ungrateful!”

“Uh oh, ambush. Ambush!”
“No, it’s the girl waiting for him….oh, it’s the other girl. Huh.”

“Noooo, you can get down without his help.”
“They always do.”

“Tell me what happens when I get back. […] What did he do to the schoolteacher girl?”

p41247_i_h10_ab“They’ll turn against him. Look, she turned against him already.”
“Yeah, but he knows it.”
“That lady didn’t want that girl to come back, look.”
“He does it on purpose. He pushes people. He likes it.”
“And they turn against him.”
“Yeah, but when people try to fight back he kills them.”

“What. Did that. Prove.”

“He just told you everything you needed to know, now go back.”

“Uh oh, uh oh did he really send that young man?”
“He didn’t but he’s been egging him on the whole time.”

“Uhhhh ohhhhh.”

“He a big man, he got a gun, huh.”

“Too bad.”
“He might survive!”

[very nearly simultaneously:]
“Turn around…he’s going to turn around…”
“Uh oh I can’t look, when you can’t see people’s backs, they’re gonna see something–”
[he sees something and it’s genuinely shocking]
“Uhhhohhhhhhhh!”
“Oh my gosh!”

dia2bfuria2bfoto2b2[“One of us will explain later.”]
“Teehee!”
“Good one.”

“All that is sass. The marshal said get, now.”

“What! Why did the bell get him!”
“The preacher beat him–mostly by being shot–”
“Wait. How?”
“The preacher stopped them, they were about to lynch the marshal. And the marshal was their only hope. So the preacher beat him, and there was enough of them to ring the bell. Or something.”

“I didn’t know he was faster!”
“Of course he’s faster, he’s the good guy.”

“That was a good movie.”
“It was intresting.”

ReReview: Face of a Fugitive (1959)

face-of-a-fugitive-movie-posterSo this is a 1959 Western starring Fred MacMurray and Not-Rhonda Fleming (She has red hair.) Also it has a young but extremely toothy James Coburn as “that young punk who sneers a lot.”

This one was really great, mostly because the plot is very simple. A happens, and therefore B. However, C. And therefore, D. And so on, very logically leading on to (depending on the genre): the farmboy becoming king, the Death Star blowing up, or finding the sword of Martin the Warrior.

In this case: MacMurray is a genial bank robber en route to trial and jail, but actually just about to escape. However, overenthusiastic help from his kid brother ends with two people dead–the brother, and the escorting deputy. Therefore, with murder on the rap sheet, MacMurray has no choice other than to run. However, getting out of town is delayed: all strangers are being detained at the pass until the wanted posters with the fugitive’s picture arrive. And therefore, MacMurray….well, watch the movie. Most of the subsequent “and therefores” are a direct result of MacMurray’s character just being that much of a swell, decent guy. He’s the kind of hero that small children and horses trust on sight. He’s the kind of man who can tuck a little girl into bed, or go toe-to-toe with the toughest guy in town; can talk some sense into a proud young feller’s head, or save the day in a gunfight.

In fact, MacMurray’s hero is so competent, the final fight has to put him at a significant handicap to maintain any sort of tension. This was something that felt like a total gimick at first, but on thought was really quite brilliant. Without the injury, the audience–trusting the guy they’ve seen outthink, outmaneuver, and outfight all parties so far–is going to simply impatiently wait for him to clear up this stupid little fight, and then get back to something that does provide a problem. With it, MacMurray is pinned and the gunfight becomes the center of attention. Kudos to the writer.

The one downside of the movie is that its ending (post-gunfight) is almost cruelly abrupt. Give itfacefugcutting another minute and give the man a line or two to explain himself, at least! Well, nobody’s perfect.

There’s also a really amusing (well, to me, at least) scene where MacMurray’s character is doing the decent thing and cutting James Coburn out of the barbed wire he’s tangled in. At least, until Coburn’s crazy boss and the rest of the riders come storming up, at which point MacMurray books it.

10 wirecutters out of 10.