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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Robbers’ Roost (UA, 1955)


Good bad guys




 
 
Since we’re on a bit of a George Montgomery kick at the moment, having reviewed The Lone Gun the other day (click the link to read) here’s another one, from the year after that. It was a ‘bigger’ picture, shot in Color DeLuxe down in Mexico and with Sidney Salkow at the helm. It was in fact a remake of a 1932 talkie starring George O’Brien, both movies based on the Zane Grey novel serialized in Collier's, October-December 1930. It was the only movie of Goldstein-Jacks Productions. Come to think of it, George had started as Western lead with a Zane Grey story, so he was continuing in the same vein.
 
 
George rides again
 
Sidney Salkow was quite a well-known director at the time. He did a fair number of Westerns, directing a great many TV shows but also twelve features, between The Pathfinder in 1952 (also with George Montgomery) and The Great Sioux Massacre in 1965. Probably the biggest was Sitting Bull with Dale Robertson in 1954. I don’t think any of the pictures was in danger of winning an Oscar but most are perfectly watchable as oaters.

Sid
 
George was of course on fine form in the mid-50s. This was still three years before he starred in Cimarron City on TV and he’d been leading in feature Westerns since the early 1940s. By the 1950s his pictures were frequent releases. He led in three Westerns in 1950, one in 1951, three in ’52, three in ’53 and three in ’54. He was tall, gruff-voiced and had a splendid hat.

 
Tall, gruff and steely
 
The plot, adapted from the Grey novel by Salkow himself, John O’Dea and Maurice Geraghty, is, shall we say, improbable and also rather confused. The basic premise is that rancher Bull Herrick (Bruce Bennett), confined to a wheelchair after a bronc rolled on him, hires two rival rustler gangs because he thinks that each will keep the other from robbing him. It’s like the chief hen in the coop inviting in two foxes. It isn’t very likely, and indeed, it doesn’t work. In the end the two bosses gang up together and agree to split the herd. Of course there will be double-crosses, and, as I said, some confusion along the way.

 
Rancher Bruce Bennett and his sis (Sylvia Findley)
 
O’Dea only wrote two other big-screen oaters, a Rin Tin Tin picture in 1958 and another Montgomery one, Jack McCall, Desperado, in 1953. Geraghty was more of a specialist, writing or co-writing nineteen Westerns, dating back to the 1930s and going on until the Elvis oater Love Me Tender in 1956.

Former-Tarzan Bennett had quite a good sideline in Westerns, most notably as Cody in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre but also as Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer, and as one of The Younger Brothers. Of course he was not the first or last disabled rancher to appear in a Western – we think especially of Edward G Robinson in The Violent Men and Ray Collins in Vengeance Valley.

Good news: the two gangs of bad guys are led by Richard Boone, then 38, and Peter Graves, 29. Second-billed Boone still had two years to go before Have Gun – Will Travel started but he was already well launched on his Western career, having appeared in four Western features in 1952, several each year thereafter and in February 1955 (Robbers’ Roost was released in May) he was the chief bad guy in Ten Wanted Men with Randolph Scott. For me, he was always best as a villain.

 
When in doubt, translate the title as Desperados
 
Graves, fifth billed, though younger was also a pretty experienced Western hand, having appeared in Fort Defiance, War Paint, The Raid and The Yellow Tomahawk before 1955, and he did two other oaters in ’55 to add to Robbers’ Roost, Wichita and Fort Yuma. He would never become quite the Western star his brother James Arness would (and interestingly, they never appeared on screen together) but he had quite a distinguished career in the genre. He would be back with George in Canyon River the following year. Unlike Boone, I feel he never quite convinced as a bad guy; he did goody parts better.

Peter a bad guy

Boone is the badder bad guy and double-crosses Graves
 
The female lead was Sylvia Findley. Who? I hear you ask. Quite. This was her only Western and indeed one of only two films she ever appeared in. She plays Helen, rancher Bennett’s sis from back East. It doesn’t take a genius to tell that George will fall for her. Various other gang members lust after her too but they won’t get a look in.

 
Sylvia in her only Western (and practically her only film)
 
There are quite a lot of songs, some very much more 1950s crooner than 1870s minstrel, delivered by Tony Romano, as gang member Happy Jack. This was his only Western, poor soul.

Good news, though: arch-heavy Leo Gordon is another gang thug. George gets to punch him out. Poor Leo, in Western after Western he got to lose fist-fights, whereas he was a genuinely strong and frightening man who could have beaten up the vast majority of his fellow actors with one hand tied behind his back – though George was no slouch himself as far as height and physique were concerned. Leo too was a heavy in Ten Wanted Men.

 
You don't want to tussle with Leo
 
So a pretty good cast, then. Early on a mysterious stranger (Montgomery) arrives in town and carefully studies the wanted posters. It rapidly becomes clear that he’s good with his guns (he's called Tex so naturally he has two), and he joins Boone’s gang on the Herrick ranch. He declares no interest in women and so Bennett assigns him to bodyguard sister Helen. Little does he know that romance will bloom. There’s a smoothie in town, though, Bob (William Hopper) who fancies la belle Helen – and with brother Bull Herrick in a wheelchair, and not at all well, he also has designs on the ranch.

Who is the mysterious stranger?

Tex seems to ask a lot of questions of everyone, and seems especially interested in where the gang’s horses came from. Is he perhaps an undercover lawman?

But now Helen finds a wanted poster on Tex. He’s really Jim Wall, and wanted back in Texas for murder. Oh no! She doesn’t let on to anyone but she sends him packing.

The source novel

The country

She gets to bathe in a pool (you know how in Westerns however dry the terrain, there’s always a handy pool for the heroine to bathe naked in) and we see her daringly bare legs as she tiptoes into the water.

Boone double-crosses Graves, rustles the whole Herrick herd and hides out in Robbers’ Roost. You know, the Elzy Lay/Butch Cassidy hideout in Utah (no Butch or Sundance in this story though). The movie was actually filmed in Durango but it’s very attractive and very Western cañon country and will do nicely for Utah. There’s an especially good Mexican Hat-type rock where they keep watch.

They seem to be enjoying it

Well, it builds up to an exciting ending. The trouble is, it’s all rather confusing because there’s Boone’s gang and Graves’s gang and they are all galloping about and shooting each other around Robbers’ Roost, but as the characters have not really been delineated, and they’re not wearing uniforms, of course, we can’t tell who’s shooting and who’s getting shot, who’s winning and who’s losing. Furthermore, the sheriff arrives with a large posse and joins in the shootin’, so that adds to the confusion. I fear it was the fault of an over-complex plot and inadequate directing. Oh well.

I don’t think it constitutes a spoiler to say that the bad guys get deceased, Tex gets the gal, and we finally get an explanation for what he’s doing there. No, he isn’t a lawman.

Pretty good stuff, I reckon, though for me anyway not quite up to the standard of The Lone Gun.


What a hat

 

 

8 comments:

  1. Prior to becoming an actor, Leo Gordon served time in San Quentin prison and survived being shot by police. He could have served as a technical adviser to the make believe gunfighters in the movie.

    Richard

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    Replies
    1. Yes, indeed. And it could soon be time for a Gordonorama, a Leo retrospective…
      Jeff

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  2. I'm certainly enjoying this Montgomery fest and hope that it may continue.
    As usual there's great background information in your review.
    I was amused by your Leo Gordon comment-I recall reading about an incident
    on GUN FURY where Leo knocked the **** out of Lee Marvin and Neville Brand
    who had upset him.I read this in a long ago interview with William Smith,
    who,I guess learned the tale from his Laredo co star Brand.
    ROBBER'S ROOST was one of three Leonard Goldstein productions before his
    untimely passing aged 51.
    Goldstein made many good Westerns at Universal like the very underrated
    SADDLE TRAMP plus many others directed by George Sherman.
    He formed his own production imprint Panoramic Productions in a deal with
    Fox which would keep their contract players busy while they concentrated
    on big budget film in their new CinemaScope process.
    The Panoramic films were generally medium budget efforts and mainly
    filmed over at the RKO lot. Furthermore the Panoramic films gave opportunities
    for up and coming stars, Richard Boone,Peter Graves,Debra Paget,Jeffrey Hunter,
    Kevin McCarthy,Lee Van Cleef among others.
    Finally Goldstein formed Leonard Goldstein Productions their first film was the
    excellent STRANGER ON HORSEBACK. Joel McCrea had choice of director on that film.
    Sadly Mr Goldstein passed away before the film was released.
    The other Goldstein Productions were BLACK TUESDAY a brutal Noir with Edward
    G Robinson and Peter Graves. ROBBER'S ROOST was the other title of the three.
    After Mr Goldstein's passing his business partner Robert L Jacks carried on
    making good films,I guess a few of these were works in progress with Goldstein.
    These films included several good Westerns including MAN FROM DEL RIO and
    THE PROUD ONES. The latter,I understand was originally going to star Gary
    Cooper and Guy Madison directed by Gerd Oswald.
    I should imagine Montgomery had choice of director on ROBBER'S ROOST he got on
    well with Salkow and they both had Eastern European family roots.
    They made 4 Westerns together including the engaging but nonsense as history
    JACK McCALL DESPERADO.

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    Replies
    1. That's interesting info on the production side. Thanks!
      See also https://jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.com/2016/12/jack-mccall-desperado-columbia-1953.html
      Jeff

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  3. I should have mentioned that both Lee Marvin and Anne Bancroft got early
    breaks in Panoramic Productions,in fact they are both in THE RAID which is
    certainly the best Western Panoramic made.
    The biggest budget Panoramic title was WHITE FEATHER and the only one made
    in CinemaScope and with a magnetic stereo soundtrack as well.
    WHITE FEATHER was released some time after Mr Goldstein's passing but he did
    get a "presents" credit at the start of the film.
    A similar situation happened with the last of his Universal projects CHIEF
    CRAZY HORSE. Whichever way one looks at it,Leonard Goldstein had his name
    attached to an impressive array of films during his sadly,short lifetime.

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  4. I just watched Robbers Roost and agree. It's far from Montgomery's best despite the excellent cast. A big problem was Sylvia Findley as you say, it's no surprise she only made two movies.

    May I add my support for a "Gordonorama"? I've really become a Leo fan, so that would be great.

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  5. I have been lucky enough to hike into Roober's Roost on my way to Horseshoe Canyon and The Maze, both western sections of Canyonlands National Park, the most fantastic of the whole country. Along Brown's Park - or Hole - on the Colorado-Utah-Wyoming border, and the Hole in the Wall in Wy, the very remote Roost is one of the most famous outlaws hideout. It was used by Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay, the Wild Bunch and the Bassett sisters for years. Plenty of fascinating stories and western ideas for the next centuries... JM

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