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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dragoon Wells Massacre (Allied Artists, 1957)

Hollywood loves Massacre movies. Put the word massacre in IMDB's title search and you'll see

Allied Artists grew out of the Poverty Row studio Monogram. Monogram producer Walter Mirisch had great ambitions and wanted “B-plus” pictures, even, gasp, in color. At a time when the average Hollywood picture cost about $800,000 and the average Monogram picture cost about $90,000, AA's first release, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), cost more than $1.2m. Despite the budgets and color, though, AA pictures in the 40s and 50s still looked like, well, big Bs.

Dragoon Wells Massacre was a typical example of a 1950s AA Western. At 88 minutes, in color with Kanab, Utah locations photographed by William Clothier and with a strong cast, this was no poverty row programmer. It was directed by Harold D Schuster, former silent movie actor (he’d been in The Iron Horse; but then, who hadn’t?) and became an editor and then a director. He did the rather touching My Friend Flicka (the 1943 film version) and in 1953 he made Jack Slade, a B which punches above its weight and has some quality. The direction of Dragoon Wells Massacre is tight and controlled, though it is hard to keep up the rhythm in movies about people walking through a desert.
Worth a look
The writing has quality too, even if the premise of Judge Isaac C Parker’s prison wagon, known as the Tumbleweed, trawling through Arizona for prisoners is a bit far-fetched. But there are some good lines, and characters are developed; they are not just cardboard cut-outs of people. The screenplay was by Warren Douglas, who had written Cry Vengeance and would later do The Night of the Grizzly, from a story by Oliver Drake, who wrote Three Mesquiteers stories.

As for the cast, well, Barry Sullivan got top billing and while I must admit never to have been an ardent Sullivan fan (as far as Westerns are concerned) I must say he is very good in this, carrying off the ‘charming rogue’ role of Link Ferris well. On TV he reduced Pat Garrett, I thought, to a character in a soap in The Tall Man, and the story of the Prides in The Road West never really gripped me either. And on the big screen he was pretty poor in Forty Guns (but then the movie was junk). Still, he’s worth watching Dragoon Wells for.
He never really made it in Westerns but is good in this one
The straight man to his likeable scoundrel is Dennis O’Keefe, who plays an upright and commanding cavalry captain, Matt Riordan. O’Keefe, friend of Clark Gable, was a low-budget action movie go-to and a natural for B-Westerns. He’d started as an extra on Cimarron in 1931 and The Plainsman in 1936, and his first starring role in the saddle was in MGM’s comedy-romance The Kid from Texas in 1939. But he didn’t do a great number of oaters, being cast more in rom-coms. He’s OK in Dragoon Wells and gets into the part fine. He is sole survivor of the first massacre and takes charge of the strange mixture of odd-bods that turns up afterwards.
Stalwart Capt. O'Keefe with prisoner Jack Elam in the Tumbleweed prison wagon
The two men, crooked gambler and stalwart captain, are in a way linked by the same dame, Ann Bradley (Mona Freeman, six Westerns, Alan Ladd's love interest in Branded), passenger on the stage with her fiancé Phillip Scott (Max Showalter, as Casey Adams). This is a mystery because the Bradley woman is perfectly detestable. Scott realizes this eventually and dumps her. Riordan is her ex and can’t stand her, rightly. Link at first taunts her and she hates him but eventually they hit it off, which, as the French say, is peu credible. The poor man is saddled with her at the end of the film as he tries to ride off to California and the wretched woman pursues him. This happened to Mr. Sullivan a lot because the same year, just when he thought he’d shot Barbara Stanwyck in Forty Guns, she ran after his buckboard and he was stuck with the harridan for life.
Improbable romance
The story hinges on three conveyances converging on the site of a massacre of soldiers by Apaches. The aforementioned Tumbleweed, containing Link and fellow-crook Jack Elam (in a very sympathetic performance); then the stagecoach with Hank Worden as Hopi Charlie, the driver, and Freeman and O’Keefe as passengers – also aboard is the gorgeous and wonderful Katy Jurado, by far the most sympathetic character of the movie; and a low-life Indian trader’s wagon conducted by the lone, and very fat and always entertaining Sebastian Cabot. You certainly didn’t get many of Mr. Cabot to the pound and he played in TV Westerns, usually as the baddy, quite a bit. He only did three Western movies, more’s the pity, this one, Westward Ho, The Wagons! And the excellent little Sterling Hayden noir B-movie Terror in a Texas Town, in which he was the smiling saloon-owner villain. In Dragoon Wells, it turns out that Mr. Cabot has been selling both whiskey and guns to the Apaches and that makes him a very bad boy indeed.
Disreputable Indian trader Sebastian Cabot
The three small parties have to decide what to do and they opt (well, Riordan bossily opts for them) for making for a fifteen-mile-distant relay station all in the wagon. The story now becomes one of those ones in which the group stagger forward through the arid and inhospitable terrain harried by thirst and the hostile Indians, and are picked off one by one. In fact the film really ought to have been called The Dragoon Wells Massacres because there is a series of the said mass murders. When they get to the relay station it has been burnt and the inhabitants, yes, massacred. They pick up the sole survivor, a little girl. Then they get to the fort at Dragoon Wells and guess what. Yup, the garrison has been massacred. They sure did a lot of massacring in Arizona in them days.
On the left, wonderful Katy Jurado, less than wonderful Mona Freeman and her rather ineffectual fiancé Casey Adams
Yellow Cloud (John War Eagle) gets the blame. This is perhaps the Yellow Cloud that Iron Eyes Cody played in Son of Paleface but I don’t think so really. The Apaches are, as was normal in B-Westerns, homicidal and indistinguishable savages. Though in the 1950s, from Broken Arrow on, they were starting to be presented as real people and with a certain amount of right on their side, AA hadn’t quite caught up with this trend. Of course Geronimo gets a mention. The G-word would always excite fear and trembling among lone whites. Mr. Cloud is apparently Geronimo’s henchman.
John War Eagle as two-dimensional Indian chief Yellow Cloud. Dig the make-up.
Well, Indians, thirst and bad guys in the party gradually whittle away at the numbers and the original eleven shrink to six, or six and a half if you count the child. Relationships develop and wither. Tension does its work. There’s a regrettable fight between Mona and Katy, which should have been cut (though it would have been OK if Katy had taken Mona out). Rather as in Stagecoach, I guess, it’s society’s outcasts who are the most likeable characters, Katy’s disreputable Mexican woman, Link the gambler, Jack Elam the ugly killer, while the ‘respectable’ folk like Mona the lady are shown as weak, helpless and essentially worthless.

On one level just another B-Western, Dragoon Wells Massacre has enough interest and quality to merit a three-revolver rating and, if it comes on TV for example, it would repay a watch.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rustlers (RKO, 1949)

Derringer in a cake

The TV schedules announced Rustlers as the 1919 short and I was delighted, not having seen it – I didn’t even know it survived. That movie is an early Hoot Gibson, the 29th of his 192 Westerns, and it was directed by John Ford. Sadly, however, the writers of the blurb in the TV guide had got it wrong and it was the 1949 Rustlers that they were showing, which is a black & white Tim Holt programmer. Sigh.

Still, I watched it. Well, you gotta. And it was worth it. Not because it was any different from all the other Tim Holt Westerns. Tim was there with sidekick Chito Rafferty (Richard Martin) foiling skullduggery and smiling winsomely, as always. But because a derringer plays a central part in it.
One of the long series of oaters Tim Holt did for RKO
Now regular readers of this blog, both of them, will know that I am besotted with what one reader told me was always called in her family “a villain gun”. I am something of a derringer aficionado, if truth be told, and any movie that contains one will go up in my estimation. Rustlers contains an especially good one.

In a 1953 episode of The Range Rider called Outlaw Pistols, the bad guy Laredo (George L Lewis) fools young Dick West, “all-American boy” (Dickie Jones), by crafting a derringer out of soap. He uses it to threaten the sheriff’s daughter and make Dick let him out of jail. See, not only a sneaky hideout gun for a bandit used against a sweet girl but it’s not even real! Boy, is that tricky. Well, perhaps the makers of that deathless TV show had seen Rustlers because a derringer is also used in a jail break there. This time, saloon gal Trixie Fontaine (Lois Andrews) bakes a cake with a derringer at its center and the dumb sheriff doesn’t even check it, though he makes a play for the cake, wishing to deny the chocolate sumptuousness to the prisoners Tim and Chito, and swallow it himself. Anyway, that was a thrill.

Rustlers was directed by Lesley Selander, like many of the Tim Holt series, and Mr. Selander knew a thing or two about making B-Westerns. He ought to: he was involved in 184 of them, from 1925 to 1968.
Martha is convinced that Chito is a rustler
The movie is slightly unusual because normally Tim shows no interest in the girls at all, leaving that to Chito, but this time he gets Ruth (Martha Hyer) at the end – very chastely, of course. No kiss or anything like that. Trixie is left to Chito, though as she wants to marry him, he runs a mile, as always.

This time Tim Holt is Dick McBride. Usually he was Tim Holt. His horse Lightning also plays a key role in the skullduggery-thwarting.

Well, it wasn’t Hoot Gibson and John Ford, but it made for a pleasant 61 minutes.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Cat Ballou (Columbia, 1965)

Hanging day in Wolf City, Wyoming

Comedy Westerns can be unfunny parodies (and to the serious Westernista, faintly sacrilegious) or affectionate, smiling tributes. You can probably think of examples of both. In the latter category I would place the Buster Keaton Go West, the 1939 Destry, the Bob Hope Paleface pictures, The Sheepman and, of course, Blazing Saddles. Among others. I love these films and will watch them any time they come on. Cat Ballou just about makes it into the list of affectionate tributes. It’s not a mocking effort and it laughs with rather than at the genre. It’s not the most hilarious film, though, and for me anyway doesn’t come in the must-watch department when it appears in the TV schedules. Still, it has quite a lot going for it.

Derringers for one thing. You know how I like the villainous little guns. Usually they appear in the hands of saloon gals, gamblers or besuited crooks. But in Cat Ballou semi-goody Jed (Dwayne Hickman), dressed as a priest to rescue his pardner from the clutches of Sheriff Bruce Cabot, conceals a derringer in a bible. In a bible! Boy, is that sneaky. Dean Martin copied that idea in 5 Card Stud three years later. So that was a great bit in Cat Ballou. Better still, Cat Ballou is a two-derringer movie (a rare bird indeed) because later on Cat shoots Sir Harry (Reginald Denny) with one (no more than he deserved), and that’s what leads her to the gallows in Wolf City, WY in 1894.

A two-derringer Western

That’s where the story is set, and it’s the time of the Hole in the Wall Gang, though their glory hath departed and Butch Cassidy is played by Arthur Hunnicutt, 55 but doing his old-timer routine. Actually, Butch (Robert Leroy Parker) didn’t start his depredations or recruit the Sundance Kid until 1896, when he was 30, but we won’t worry about that too much.
Paul Newman seems to have aged a bit
In fact the cast of Cat Ballou is pretty good. It is true that the good-badmen heroes, Michael Callan as Clay and Dwayne Hickman as Jed, were not top-line Western stars, though Mr. Callan was in They Came to Cordura and The Magnificent Seven Ride! and Mr. Hickman was in several TV Westerns, but other members of the cast were a delight to watch. Jane Fonda is a rather charming Cat. Arthur as Butch Cassidy has to be worth seeing and there’s Jay C Flippen as the corrupt sheriff complementing the great Bruce Cabot as lawman. Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye provide an entertaining Greek chorus with banjos (which they strum very unconvincingly to the soundtrack, sometimes not even bothering). Above all we have Lee Marvin as both the drunken gunslinger Kid Shelleen and the evil noseless assassin Tim Strawn.
Lawman Cabot
Lawman Flippen
Marvin was in 20 Western movies (if you regard The Missouri Traveler, Pocket Money, Raintree County and Bad Day at Black Rock as Westerns) and one or two of his appearances were perhaps less than epic but his Liberty Valance, his Monte Walsh, his Masters in Seven Men From Now and his part as the leader Fardan in The Professionals make him a leading Western star. He had the right level of grit and toughness and he always lifted even an indifferent movie. Four years after Cat Ballou he starred in another famous box-office hit comedy Western, Paint Your Wagon. Luckily, in Cat Ballou he does not break into song. He certainly hams it up as the drunk Shelleen but he is splendidly menacing as Strawn. And the part where he cleans up, and his squire, the Sioux Jackson Two Bears (Tom Nardini), dresses him in his gunslinger armor like some medieval knight, is memorable. The idea of the broken-down gunfighter getting back into shape is of course a familiar trope, and the getting the old guns and clothes out of a drawer or trunk is instantly recognizable to us. Marvin won an Oscar for his part(s).
Marvin fine
Yakima Canutt was the 2nd Unit director too, so the stunts are good.

The movie was directed by Elliott Silverstein, not perhaps in the front rank of Western directors but he had done some TV shows and in 1970 he was to direct A Man Called Horse. The story came from a Roy Chanslor novel (as did Johnny Guitar) and was written up into a screenplay by Walter Newman, who worked with Nunnally Johnson on The True Story of Jesse James and also contributed (uncredited) to The Magnificent Seven, and the hugely experienced Frank Pierson, who did loads of Have Gun – Will Travel episodes. Some of the lines are amusing and the story nips right along so no complaints there.
Jane charming as Cat
The DP was Jack Marta (Dark Command) and there are some nice locations with Buckskin Joe, Colorado standing in for Wyoming.

The Frank De Vol music sticks in your memory too.

And who will ever forget the cross-legged horse?

Great shot

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Fighting Kentuckian (Republic, 1949)

Only just a Western but still quite fun

The late 1940s were a golden age for John Wayne. The endless Poverty Row B-movie programmers of the 30s were a thing of the past and he now starred in some big pictures for Republic, RKO and even, in the case of 3 Godfathers, MGM. The pleasant Angel and the Badman of 1947 was followed by mighty examples of the genre, notably the Howard Hawks-directed Red River, which screened in 1948, and, from 1948 to 50, the great cavalry trilogy of John Ford, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande. Still, Duke found time to produce his own film for Republic (the titles proudly say A JOHN WAYNE PRODUCTION) which appeared between Fort Apache and Yellow Ribbon, The Fighting Kentuckian.
Hardly a Western at all, but entertaining
Now The Fighting Kentuckian is only barely a Western at all, as The New York Times commented, being more of an historical romance. Set in 1819, it has backwoodsmen with single-shot muskets and coonskin caps, and gentlemen with top hats and cutaway coats. Still, if you are not a purist in your definitions you will let this movie pass as a Western because it has Western themes and tropes, and well, it smacks of one.

It is no Red River or Fort Apache, let’s be clear on that at the outset. It’s a pleasant enough excursion into Alabama, rather slow to begin with but picking up the pace to quite an exciting climax, with some weak acting, notably from Vera Ralston as the heroine and good old Hank Worden (hardly at the top of his game: he dutifully announces the lines he has learned - luckily it’s a small part) but also with some quite good playing, especially from Wayne and, as his obese sidekick, Oliver Hardy, sans Laurel.
Oliver Hardy is the comic sidekick
It was directed by George Waggner, the 77 Sunset Strip fellow (how I loved that series as a boy). But Waggers had been involved in Westerns (as actor, writer or director) since the Stone Age – well, 1922. The Fighting Kentuckian was probably his biggest Western, maybe his biggest film, though he also directed Randolph Scott in Gunfighters in 1947. He could handle action, and while the screenplay saddled him with sluggish plot development in the first reel and too little action (that was his own fault as he wrote it), once the pace picked up he showed he knew how to do it alright.
George Waggner
Despite the unusual historical context, the plot is in fact standard Western fare. Congress has granted some Napoleonic exiles land in Alabama, and they have founded Demopolis. This means that the actors speak English wiz a Franche accent, at which Ms. Ralston is not too good, but never mind. Actually, Hugo Haas as the French general (and father of the girl) and Philip Dom as his right hand man Colonel Geraud (well, he would have been a right hand man had he not lost his arm in ze war) are rather good, and they manage quite a moving portrayal of defeated soldiers trying to hold on to their pride and start a new life in a weird world populated by the likes of John Wayne and Ollie Hardy in buckskins. So far, so quite unusual.
Duke doing his Davy Crockett/Dan'l Boone act
But in fact it turns out that a slimy boss of the town (in a mustache, natch) wants the land which Congress has granted the exiles for himself, and he and his henchmen (one of whom is Wayne’s pal, the excellent Paul Fix) are prepared to stoop to unscrupulosity to get it. The hero will thwart their evil schemes.

OK, I know unscrupulosity isn’t a word but I like it, so it is one now.
Paul Fix henching away
This plot has of course adorned almost every Western there ever was.

Although there are no sparks at all between Wayne and Ralston (in fact he appears more attracted to the naughty saloon gal Marie Windsor), there is an evident chemistry between Duke and Ollie. Mr. Hardy even manages to mount a horse at one point, though he is usually seated on a log and blowing on a bugle, or waddling about in that hammy way he had. Still, though, he shows an unexpected talent for the thespian arts, even if his role is hardly Shakespearean, or if it is, it is more in the Macbeth porter class than Falstaff. Vera Ralston appears to have been warned against woodenness and overcompensates by overacting. She was actually in eleven Westerns, amazingly, but the fact that her husband was the studio boss may have had something to do with that.
Vera Ralston
There’s a good high-speed wagon chase and an actionful climax, with the brave Kentuckians (they are Andy Jackson veterans) coming to the rescue of the brave Frenchies and beating the dastardly land-grabbers. Wayne marries Vera and they go off on their honeymoon. Duke asks rather hopefully if Ollie can come along but is given a firm no.

Not perhaps Duke's finest hour but perfectly watchable

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Treasure of Pancho Villa (RKO, 1955)

A gringo adventurer in the Mexican revolution? Where I have seen that before?




I admit to having a soft spot for Westerns set in revolutionary Mexico, especially if there’s a connection to Pancho Villa: Viva Villa! and Viva Zapata! (they usually had exclamation points in their titles and in fact the 1958 Brian Keith/Cesar Romero effort had two, Villa!!) There was Pancho Villa, a 1972 Telly Savalas clunker, the worst of them, and there was And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, a very good 2004 HBO drama. If you like that kind of thing, there was A Bullet for the General, the only spaghetti ever made that is watchable. The Wild Bunch got involved, didn't they. Of course Robert Mitchum was constantly down there as a gringo in the revolution; he was rarely out of The Wonderful Country. Van Heflin went south of the border too, in Wings of the Hawk. I liked James Carlos Blake’s novel The Friends of Pancho Villa. There’s plenty of fodder for pro-Mexican Westernistas.

Of course purists don’t consider these stories Westerns at all, being set in Mexico as they are and in the twentieth century. But for me they are Westerns alright, no doubt about it.

Well, Rory Calhoun was the gringo in old Mehico in 1955. And a mid-50s RKO color Western with Rory, directed by good old George Sherman and with Gilbert Roland and Joseph Calleia in the cast, hell, what’s not to like?

I don't know about history... Hollywood history maybe.

Rory was going to do Shotgun, which he had had a stab at writing, but changed his mind at the last mo', handing it over to Sterling Hayden and doing Treasure instead.

It’s 1915 (as is right and proper for these tales) and two adventurers out for gold, one a Mexican colonel (Gilbert, of course) and one a Yankee gringo (Rory, naturally), are after gold bullion destined for Pancho Villa to fund his revoluciόn. Yup, they want it for themselves. "One last job, gringo," says Gilbert. All these pictures have a gringo gun-runner or whatever and a charismatic Mexican rebel; it was de rigueur. Gilbert is dashing as ever and you can tell he is Mexican because he whistles La Cucaracha. Rory is the tough mercenary Tom Bryan but of course he is secretly a goody, deep down.
I wasn't too much of a Rory Calhoun fan as a Western-obsessed boy in the 50s for some reason but in my dotage (and I have got to the stage in my life where I do dotage) I have come round to thinking he was pretty damn good in the saddle. He’d started by co-starring with Guy Madison in Massacre River in 1949 and got his first Western lead (if Western it was) in the Jacques Tourneur-directed Way of a Gaucho in 1954. The following year he famously starred with Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return. Pancho Villa was his thirteenth big-screen Western and I think he’s durned good in it.

Rory has firepower

There has to be love interest, of course, and Shelley Winters is the pro-revolutionary daughter of a mine owner. She kinda fancies Rory but is put off by his lack of crusading zeal. Ms. Winters was never, I thought, that good in Westerns. It would be ungallant of me to suggest that she had a weight problem and indeed, in this one, her girth is still relatively modest. It wasn’t that. She just never seemed right, somehow. She was better as a gangster’s moll or the like. She had started her prairie career in a very small part as an uncredited dance hall girl in Red River in 1948 but came to fame, as far as oaters are concerned, as the luscious Lola for James Stewart to woo in Winchester ’73 in 1950 (though he seemed more interested in the rifle). She was the eponymous Frenchie in Universal’s Destry remake the same year, then starred with Joseph Cotten (they were both unsuited to the genre) in Untamed Frontier in ’52 and she romanced Mountie Alan Ladd in the Raoul Walsh-directed Saskatchewan in ’54. Pancho Villa was her sixth, and last oater until a late ‘comedy’ Western, The Scalphunters in 1968 with Burt Lancaster and Telly Savalas. To be brutally frank, it was a less than glorious Western career.
Shelley not quite right in Westerns

You have to love Gilbert Roland (Luis Antonio Damaso de Alonso), born in Mexico in 1905. He combined Latin-lover flair and Western swagger (and a caddish mustache) with - there’s only one word for it - aplomb. He was a natural for Westerns, even before The Cisco Kid, especially if a Mexican were needed, and he had starred in them since Men of the North in 1930. He was a Mex Colonel to a Hollywood gringo again in Bandido! the year after Pancho Villa, so the formula obviously worked. In ’56 the gringo was of course Bob Mitchum, as per usual. Anyway, I always like Gilbert. I mean just look at this photo. Is that cool or what?
Dashing Gilbert Roland

Joseph Calleia was another of Hollywood’s tame Mexicans. I think he was never less than excellent. I first came across him in the delightful 1948 Joel McCrea outing Four Faces West (an outstanding Western) but he was in a lot. He had actually started on the writing team of the 1936 Joaquin Murrieta tale Robin Hood of El Dorado and he had first appeared as an actor in an oater in The Bad Man of Brimstone in 1937. Wallace Beery was the badman in question, and Calleia appeared with Beery again in Wyoming in 1940. That year too he was the best thing about the WC Fields/Mae West romp My Little Chickadee where he played Jeff Baxter, the saloon owner and town boss, who is also the Zorroesque “Masked Bandit”. He had parts in two Alan Ladd Westerns, Branded and The Iron Mistress, and Pancho Villa, where he is Pablo Morales and, it turns out, rather a stinker, was his ninth horse opera. Watch out for him; he always lifted a movie.

The excellent Joseph Calleia

I also spotted Jorge Martinez de Hoyos, Hilario from The Magnificent Seven.

So much for the cast. As to the direction, well, George Sherman (1908 – 1991) was a more than reliable helmsman of oaters. He did a lot of those Three Mesquiteers pictures in the 1930s and John Wayne remembered him on big later Batjac Westerns, though by then Sherman was really only director in name, Duke himself having to do most of the work on Big Jake. But pint-sized Sherman (he barely reached five foot) was involved in 158 Westerns altogether, from 1935 to 1971, nearly all Bs. He was a real pro, and knew exactly what was needed and how to do it.

George Sherman knew his Westerns

The writing on The Treasure of Pancho Villa was, on paper, surprisingly classy. A story by Mexico-born J Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater, a husband-and-wife team who had collaborated on El Paso, The Great Sioux Uprising and Siege at Red River, among others, was worked up into a screenplay (his last) by novelist Niven Busch, no less, writer of Duel in the Sun for King Vidor, The Westerner for William Wyler and The Furies for Anthony Mann, who had also worked on The Man from the Alamo, Distant Drums, and, my favorite, the Raoul Walsh-directed 1947 noir Pursued. I mean, respect.
Niven Busch
Given all these top-notch hired pens, the screenplay of Pancho Villa was in fact surprisingly clunky and pedestrian. But never mind.

Rory and Gilbert, after the gold. Dig the boots.

Morelos locations were used and the DP was William E Snyder of The Man from Colorado and The Americano fame so the picture is visually attractive, shot on a $2m budget in SuperScope.

Rory has a Lewis machine gun. It’s first seen in a ‘cello case, and perhaps that’s where spaghettis got their obsession with machine guns in music cases (and later, coffins). The pursuing Federales have Yaqui scouts and trackers. Rory’s costume makes no allowances for 1915 Mexico but is his classic rig from dozens of oaters set in the 1870s.

OK, OK, I know, it’s just a 50s B-Western. But I like it.



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Desperados (Columbia, 1969)


Columbia’s late-60s The Desperados, not to be confused with their 1943 Randolph Scott/Claire Trevor oater The Desperadoes, is pretty trashy. Where the 1940s picture was energetic and fun, the 60s one is a spaghetti-influenced nonentity. In 1943 there was a Max Brand story, directing by Charles Vidor and supporting the principals in the cast were Glenn Ford, Edgar Buchanan and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams. In the 1969 movie there were only Dr. Ben Casey (Vince Edwards) and Londoner Sylvia Syms. Neville Brand as the marshal and Jack Palance as the guerrilla leader couldn’t do anything to save it: they both act badly and they both have dreadful lines The director was rom-com specialist Henry Levin (though to be fair Levin did make The Lonely Man with Palance in ’57). The screenplay was by Walter Brough and it was his only Western movie; you can see why.
OK if you like crap
It’s the Civil War or just after. Parson Josiah Galt (Palance) in a Confederate uniform rides on St. Thomas, in a mountainous Kansas (it’s actually Almeria) and lays waste to it using his 1870s Colts. Brave son Davy, in stick-on Elvis sideburns, doesn’t approve of pillaging. He retires to a ranch in Texas, Spain with a wife (Syms) and son (la Syms’s real son) and tries to lead a decent life. But there’s a guerrilla raid on his town which makes Northfield look like a church social. Many stuntmen fall from roofs. Davy’s past has come back to haunt him, you know how it does.
I would call it a sub-spaghetti but how can anything be worse than a spaghetti?
Palance overacts, as he was wont to do, especially in his later career, and Edwards and Sims weren’t exactly Oscar contenders either. Palance looks about the same age as his son. Very overweight Neville Brand says his (clunky) lines dutifully but really… George Maharis from Route 66 is another Galt son. There’s a train and an inappropriate helicopter shot. There’s a stupid echo. At the end the protagonists fall to their death and really, it’s just as well.
Neville Brand. Not his finest hour.
The print is poor, and the horses are often blue. There are fades-to-black which speak of a TV provenance. It was an American-British co-production, which is why unsuitable Brit actors are in it. I urge you, dear e-readers, to give this one a miss.

Can't you look a little more crazed, Jack?