"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Charles Marquis Warren


Writer, director and producer of over a thousand Westerns



Charles Marquis Warren (pictured left in 1955), born 1912, died 1990, was an important contributor to our noble genre, the Western. I myself don’t actually like all the Westerns he wrote, directed or produced. Some were weak and some were even rather unpleasant. But there were a lot of good ones too. And remarkably he is credited with over a thousand oaters, big screen and small.

The godson of F Scott Fitzgerald almost naturally became a writer. While at college he developed an interest in the scribbling racket, resulting in a (non-Western) play entitled No Sun, No Moon, which was staged at Princeton University. Warren decided to go to Hollywood in 1933 when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer took an option on the play. With the help of his godfather, Warren secured a position as a staff writer for the studio. He contributed to pictures such as the Laughton/Gable Mutiny on the Bounty and the Astaire/Rogers Top Hat. But those aren't Westerns so we shall ignore them.

In the late 30s Warren left Hollywood for New York where he found success as a fiction writer for various pulp magazines. Several of his writings were published in The Saturday Evening Post. The Argosy serial Bugles Are for Soldiers (1940) and one of his Post stories, Only the Valiant (1943) were published as novels and became best-sellers. The book-length version of Bugles Are for Soldiers was retitled Valley of the Shadow. Warren seemed to be specializing in cavalry Westerns.

Warren's wartime novel, bought by Warners

During World War II, Warren joined the US Navy, rising to the rank of commander, and in the Pacific earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and five battle stars.

The first Western motion picture he worked on was the 1949 Streets of Laredo, with William Holden, a remake of the pre-war Fred MacMurray oater The Texas Rangers, Warren adapting and revamping the original screenplay by Mr. & Mrs. King Vidor. That was followed by a cavalry Western, Republic’s Oh, Susanna!, with Rod Cameron and Chill Wills, and The Redhead and the Cowboy, with Glenn Ford and Rhonda Fleming, both pictures released in March 1951, and Warners’ Only the Valiant, another cavalry picture, with Gregory Peck, released the following month, which screenwriters Edmund North and Harry Brown worked up from Warren’s novel. In 1952 Warren co-wrote the screenplay for the (rather ordinary) Gary Cooper Western Springfield Rifle. So by the early 50s he was already established in the world of the Western movie.

The first Western he directed was the rather good Little Big Horn, another cavalry picture, for minor studio Lippert in 1951. It starred an excellent Lloyd Bridges and John Ireland.

Bridges and Ireland with Marie Windsor in Little Big Horn

That was followed by Hellgate, also for Lippert, a Western/prison movie with Sterling Hayden. In 1953 he moved to Paramount, where he both directed and wrote a picture I don’t care for at all, Arrowhead, with Charlton Heston, purportedly about scout Al Sieber (renamed Ed Bannon) but in fact nothing to do with Sieber at all, racist and rather hateful in tone.

The same year he wrote Pony Express, also starring Heston (as Buffalo Bill), a complete farrago of nonsense, really, and not very good.

He directed Raymond Massey in the John Brown ‘biopic’ Seven Angry Men for Allied Artists in 1955 (Massey had also played Brown in Santa Fe Trail in 1940) and the year after, Warren helmed RKO’s Tension at Table Rock, a rather good Western (like Arrowhead from a Frank Gruber novel) which we shall shortly be reviewing, and The Black Whip, a Regal Films production released by Fox, written by Orville H Hampton, with the excellent Hugh Marlowe – a Western I can’t find, sadly, and don’t remember from way back when.

In 1957 he directed another Regal/Fox Western, this time with his own production company Emirau Productions (named after the Battle in World War Two in which Warren was injured), Copper Sky with Jeff Morrow (another one we’ll be reviewing soon) and from ’57 he would become a regular producer. He produced two with Joel McCrea, Trooper Hook for United Artists (rather good) and Fox’s Cattle Empire (enjoyable), and he produced, wrote and directed (so there’s no one else to blame really) Ride a Violent Mile with the less-than-stunning John Agar. The 50s ended, Westernwise, with Blood Arrow, another Emirau/Regal/Fox effort, which he directed and produced (but did not write), starring Scott Brady.

In 1955, while he was still writing, directing and/or producing big-screen Westerns, he was one of the prime movers of Gunsmoke on TV. CBS offered him the job of producing and directing episodes. He was at first hesitant, wanting to concentrate on feature films, but he accepted the job when CBS offered to pay him $7000 per week. He produced the entire first season of the series and directed the first 26 of its 39 episodes. He continued as producer for the start of the second season in the fall of ’56 but left mid-season due to a difficult professional relationship with Norman Macdonnell, the associate producer of the series.

Key members of the Gunsmoke cast smooch with Warren

In 1959, Warren became producer and occasional writer and director for the series Rawhide. He used the diary written in 1866 by trail boss George C Duffield (which I've been meaning to read for some time) to shape the character of Gil Favor.

He also served briefly as producer or executive producer for three other Western series, Gunslinger, The Iron Horse and The Virginian. So all in all he was a considerable force in the domain of the TV Western.

But in the 1960s he returned to features. You can’t count The Brazen Bell (1962) because that was two episodes of The Virginian edited together. But Day of the Evil Gun in 1968, released by MGM, and Charro! in 1969 (NGP) were definitely big-screen outings. The first starred Glenn Ford again, back with Warren after The Redhead and the Cowboy, and the second, Warren’s last Western, was an Elvis Presley picture. Sadly, neither was any good. Ford was a great Western actor and Elvis was excellent in Flaming Star but in these late pictures they could do nothing. It was, honestly, a sad end to Warren’s Western career.


Warren seems thrilled to be with Elvis. Well, who wouldn't be?

He was responsible for some iffy pictures, and indeed some downright bad ones, but he could also do some really good work. For me, apart from Gunsmoke and Rawhide, I think Streets of Laredo, Tension at Table Rock, Little Big Horn and Trooper Hook were probably his best efforts.

Charles Marquis Warren died of a heart aneurysm in 1990 at the age of 77, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

4 comments:

  1. Very interesting feature on a man whose name crops up a lot in connection with the western.
    Certainly, the character of Ed Bannon in "ARROWHEAD" is unpleasant and racist but I rather felt that was the point, that he was intentionally portrayed that way as a tough but flawed man.
    I certainly like "TENSION AT TABLE ROCK", "TROOPER HOOK" & "CATTLE EMPIRE" myself but really it is as the man who initially steered three very fine, ground-breaking TV western series that I value him.
    Btw, Jeff, you can source a copy of "THE BLACK WHIP" from The Hollywood Scrapheap.

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    1. I'm not sure he was just "tough but flawed". I feel Warren invites us to sympathize with Heston's character or at least think him an admirable Western tough guy. I know attitudes were different in those days, but still Arrowhead was three years post-Broken Arrow and you might expect a more nuanced portrait of Indians and their plight.
      Thanks for the tip about The Hollywood Scrapheap!
      Jeff

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  2. Yes, you're right, Jeff - we view things so differently today! Even so...I don't get the feeling of sympathy towards Bannon, but rather a bitter, rather unhappy man. Still - eye of the beholder, and all that!
    The film certainly causes discussion, and that's no bad thing.

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  3. Incidentally, Jeff, apart from "THE BLACK WHIP", it is worth your while exploring their catalogue. They are not 'commercials' of course but I have bought a number of their films, including several Rod Cameron and Bill Elliott Republics and the results are very pleasing.

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