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Friday, May 11, 2018

Frontier Uprising (UA, 1961)


Jim frees California




 
 
Reader Jerry Entract and I were agreeing the other day that we were fans of Jim Davis Westerns. So I thought I’d review another one today.

Many 70s viewers will think of Jim (left) as Jock Ewing but of course he had a distinguished Western career long before that. The IMDb bio tells us that “Tall, rangy Jim Davis spent much of his early career in westerns, mainly at Republic Pictures. The Missouri-born and -raised Davis' relaxed, easygoing manner and Southern drawl easily fit most moviegoers' image of the cowboy, and Republic put him in a ton of them over the years (the fact that, unlike a lot of movie cowboys, he looked right at home on a horse didn't hurt, either).” Westernistas will think of him as railroad detective Matt Clark, tracking down every famed outlaw in Western history in Stories of the Century on NBC in 1954 and ’55 but he started in big-screen Westerns as far back as 1942 in Northwest Rangers (as ‘Mountie with warrant – uncredited’). He first led in Westerns in 1957 when he topped the billing in four: The Badge of Marshal Brennan, Raiders of Old California, Apache Warrior and The Last Stagecoach West. In fact he quite liked California stories because as well as Raiders of Old California he also appeared in California Passage (1950), Three Desperate Men (1951), Jubilee Trail (1954) and Frontier Uprising (1961), all stories about California. In this one he is rather grandly credited in the titles as ‘James Davis’, which does sound rather posh.


As I watched Frontier Uprising I found it very familiar. Then I realized why. It is basically an uncredited remake of Kit Carson, an Edward Small production of 1940 also released by United Artists. That one had Dana Andrews as the Army lieutenant and Jon Hall as Kit, with Lynn Bari as the Californian beauty they both fall for. George Bruce wrote the screenplay of the 1940 one, based on a story by Evelyn Wells. Orville H Hampton, who wrote Frontier Uprising, must have been a fan. Don Kelly’s Lt. Kilpatrick in Frontier Uprising is a straight copy of Dana Andrews and Jim Davis’s character of buckskin-clad scout Jim Stockton is uncannily like Jon Hall’s Kit Carson.

We open with a dastardly Mexican officer (John Marshall, about as Mexican as I am) offering rifles to the ‘Shoshonies’ to attack Yanqui wagon trains of settlers coming into Mexican California. As you know, those who provide Indians with guns in Westerns are on a naughtiness par with Benedict Arnold, John Wilkes Booth and Dr. Crippen.

Then we are introduced to some fur trappers led by Jim Stockton (Davis) with his sidekicks Beaver (Ken Mayer, pretty well an unknown, to me at least) and Lopez (David Renard, ditto). They are taking their rich haul of skins to Fort Bridger to sell them, but are nervous. “It’s quiet,” says Beaver. “Too quiet,” Jim replies, in that timeless fashion of the Western cliché. Then they are attacked by the Shoshone with those long guns and they lose all their furs. Curses. Luckily “Indians don’t attack at night” so the trio are able to escape after dark. I’m afraid the writing isn’t too original.

The three pards

At Fort Bridger, dead broke, the three pards agree to the suggestion of Charley Bridger (Tudor Owens) to guide a wagon train into California. There they may find the origin of those Shoshone rifles. I’m not sure who Charley Bridger was. It’s the early 1840s and Jim Bridger founded Fort Bridger in 1843. Maybe the producers thought it would be confusing to have another Jim.

There’s an ‘amusing’ scene in a bath house when Jim accidentally strays over to the ladies’ section.

Naturally, there’s a glamorous beauty on the wagon train. It was compulsory in them days. She is Consuela (Nancy Hadley - not, I fear, the greatest of actresses), off to rejoin her father, Don Montalvo (good old Nestor Paiva) down near Monterey. She is accompanied by her chaperone, her aunt Agostina (Renata Vanni). And equally naturally, the dashing Army lieutenant accompanying the party, Kilpatrick (Don Kelly, a TV Western veteran, rather miscast) falls for her. At first she responds graciously to the courtly officer and gentleman, and despises and spurns the rough backwoodsman Jim. But we all know right away how that’s going to pan out.

Will Jim win the Californian beauty? Yes.

Well, they set off. They must have taken the southern route because they pass through Monument Valley. The vast majority of the scenes, both interiors and ‘exteriors’, are shot on studio sound stages but every now and again we get some location shooting, and, if I am not mistaken, intercut stock footage from other movies. I’m afraid it all does look rather cheap.

The Mexican liaison officer with the Shoshone, Lt. Ruiz (Eugene Iglesias) urges the Indians to attack but Chief Taztay (Herman Rudin) declines. It’s one thing to slaughter a few innocent settlers, where’s the harm in that? But this train has an Army escort. No thanks, Ruiz. Ruiz replies with the Spanish for “Grrr.”

The Shoshone are in league with the dastardly Mexicans 

But then the by-the-book Kilpatrick says he cannot enter California, a foreign territory, as that would cause a diplomatic incident, and so he and his men set off north for Oregon. Now the Indians are free to attack…

Well, there follows a good deal of action in which Jim obviously acts with boldness, courage and daring. Ruiz’s puny sword is no match for Jim’s fists. Unfortunately, though, sidekick Lopez is fatally wounded in the fight and is buried in the studio.

Before succumbing to Jim’s blows, Ruiz informs the scout that Mexico has declared war on the USA, so Jim gallops off after Kilpatrick and persuades him to come back and defend the wagon trainers. It’s OK now, you see, because he can fight those pesky Mexicans with impunity.

For the final reel the story shifts to Monterey where the new California Republic (so we must be in 1846) has a fort. If this fort is taken, we are told, all California will fall to Mexico. Don Montalvo, Consuela’s patrician dad, is pro-Republic and despises the corrupt government in far-off Mexico City, so he helps Jim and Co. to save the fort. All this bit is telescoped into the last ten minutes or so.

The don, the scout and the soldier plan how to save California

Will California be saved for the gringos? And who will get the gal, the smooth officer or the rough scout? Well, you may guess (and I fear the photo above may have given you a slight clue) but my own lips are sealed, dear e-pards. You will have to watch this epic to know for sure.

It's all pretty second-rate, I am sorry to tell you, but Jim is good. It was directed by old hand Edward L Cahn, who had been born in the previous century and started in movies in 1917. He directed the rather good 1932 version of Law and Order, but that was by far his best effort. Most of other Westerns were distinctly B. The year before Frontier Uprising he had directed Jim Davis in Noose for a Gunman.

Edward Cahn. He looks a bit sinister.

It was a Robert E Kent production. You know Kent. He began as a rapid screenwriter for Sam Katzman at Columbia. Then he became a producer for Edward Small, which is how he got his hands on this script. He was involved in different capacities with a lot of Westerns, often with such titles as When the Redskins Rode, Jesse James vs. the Daltons and The Toughest Gun in Tombstone. They weren’t of uniformly high quality… Utah Blaine with Rory Calhoun in 1957 was good, though.

Anyway, you could watch Frontier Uprising. I mean you could.

 


 

10 comments:

  1. And this is the other Jim Davis western I've never yet seen.... By the way, Jeff, thanks for the mention.

    I have a dastardly secret.....The only soap opera I have ever followed really was "DALLAS". Gasps from Jeff. But really it was only the starring involvement of Jim Davis that got me watching in the first place. I thought he fit the Jock Ewing role like a glove.

    Although only the 2nd male lead role, one of my favourite JD westerns is "THE OUTCAST" (1954) as villain Major Cosgrave against top-billed John Derek. A corker.

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    1. Ugh. My mother followed Dallas religiously and I thought it was appalling. Oh well, horses for courses.
      Yes, The Outcast is good, an early 50s Republic picture in color. I must get round to reviewing that too. "So little time, so much to do." (Last words of Cecil Rhodes).
      Jeff

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    2. Oh, I wouldn't argue with your assessment of "Dallas",Jeff. Just one of those guilty (sort of) pleasures.

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    3. Actually, I remember now, I did review The Outcast, back in 2014. See https://jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.fr/2014/01/the-outcast-republic-1954.html (I have the memory of an amnesiac flea). The review was favorable, though I watched it again on Jerry's recommendation and he's right, it's a cracking good Western. I should probably have heaped it with more praise.
      Jeff

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  2. Unlike Jeff & Jerry I'm not the biggest Davis fan in the World-
    he's fine as a heavy but a bust as the hero.
    When he finally got to play the good guy it was normally in no budget
    B efforts.
    Another "lost" Davis flick is the RegalScope entry WOLF DOG which
    nobody's seen.
    A couple of no budget efforts where Davis is really nasty are
    THE WILD DAKOTAS and FRONTIER GAMBLER which look as if they
    were made back to back.
    Both film totally waste underrated Coleen Grey.
    Actually FRONTIER GAMBLER is rather good a threadbare version of LAURA
    and Davis is fine as an oafish heavy.
    I do however like Davis as the heavy in the Republic films and fare
    like THE CARIBOO TRAIL where he's just fine.

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  3. Jeff and Jerry, I like Jim Davis, especially as the heavy. Also, he made a good lawman. He especially stood out in the small, but memorable part of the lawman in BAD COMPANY(1972). Davis' Southern drawl, was actually a Midwestern drawl. He was born and grew up in Platte County, Missouri. Platte County is northwest of Kansas City.

    John, this is the first time I have ever heard of or read anything about WILD DOG.

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    1. Some good leads to follow up here from John and Walter. I like it when recommendations appear in the comments!
      Jeff

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  4. Walter, WOLF DOG along with FLAMING FRONTIER were made by RegalScope Films,Canada,possibly back to back, from the very prolific Sam Newfield.
    I think FLAMING FRONTIER can be tracked down but WOLF DOG appears to
    be a "lost" movie.
    As far as I know these two titles were the sole entries from RegalScope's Canadian division. :)
    Oddly enough Davis only appeared in one A.C.Lyles production FORT UTAH,where is way down the cast list.
    Other OK Davis cheapies imclude NOOSE FOR A GUNMAN and THE GAMBLER
    WORE A GUN.
    Jeff,I think you will enjoy FRONTIER GAMBLER,despite it's no budget.
    The cast is much better than the film deserves.
    THE WILD DAKOTAS is OK as these cut & paste things go-stock footage
    is well used and helps beef the thing up a bit. Both films again from
    the very prolific Newfield.

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  5. Wolf Dog is not entirely lost. You can get it on YouTube if you are willing to put up with lousy picture/sound quality. See today's review!
    Jeff

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  6. John, always thanks for information about other movies. I found WOLF DOG(1958) on YouTube. It was okay and it brought back some memories of my childhood.

    FRONTIER GAMBLER(1956) is one I don't think I've seen before. I'll look for it.

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