Category Archives: 52 Before 62

52 Before 62 — #20  The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

The Bishop's Wife clean poster.jpgDirected by Henry Koster

Screenplay by Leonardo Bercovici and Robert E. Sherwood, based upon the novel of the same name by Robert Nathan

Starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, and Elsa Lanchester

A bishop (David Niven), focused too much on raising money to build a cathedral, and not enough on his wife (Loretta Young) and daughter (Karolyn Grimes), or the Lord’s work for that matter, grows increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on the project.  When he prays for guidance, an angel (Cary Grant) visits.  Only, while the angel proceeds to brighten the lives around him, ingratiates himself with the bishop’s wife and daughter, the low-key mischief he visits on the bishop only deepens the man’s frustration.  Eventually, though, the angel sets the bishop straight and reminds him the important things in life are family and the Christian ethic.

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52 Before 62 — #19 Tom Thumb (1958)

TomthumbPoster.jpgDirected by George Pal

Screenplay by Ladislas Fodor, based upon the stories by The Brothers Grimm

Starring Russ Tamblyn, Bernard Miles, Jessie Matthews, Alan Young, Terry-Thomas, June Thorburn, and Peter Sellers

If you think about it, George Pal was well-positioned to be a strong rival for Walt Disney.  He received seven Oscar noms for animated shorts he directed in the 1940s, and was even awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1944 for developing the techniques used in Puppetoons.[1]  In fact, one of his cartoons, Tubby the Tuba, was one I watched about a million times when I was a kid, though I’m not sure how.  It seems like it wasn’t on VHS until the late-80s, when I would have been too old for it, which makes me think it played on early morning TV where I lived as either something in the public domain – a la the Why We Fight series – or just a real cheap program to license.  It’s just as possible I’m just simply delusional. Continue reading

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52 Before 62 — #18 Ride Lonesome (1959)

Ride Lonesome 1959 Poster.jpgDirected by Budd Boetticher

Screenplay by Burt Kennedy

Starring Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, James Best, James Coburn, and Lee Van Cleef

Brigade (Randolph Scott) is a bounty hunter, come to take Billy (James Best) back to Santa Cruz to stand trial for shooting a man in the back.  On the way back they stop at a way station where the absent master has left his wife, Carri (Karen Steele), in charge while he’s off on business.  (Turns out, he was killed by Indians and won’t be returning at all).  Two other men at there, though: the charismatic, but not all-that-threatening outlaws Boone and Wit (Pernell Roberts and James Coburn).  Boone and Wit might have it in mind to rob the stagecoach, but change their mind when they realize bringing Billy to justice might mean amnesty for them for past crimes.  Shortly, Indians attack and Billy’s brother, Frank (Lee Van Cleef) give chase as well.  The tension over Brigade collecting the bounty for Billy, and Boone getting amnesty for Billy, threatens to come to a head, until it turns out Brigade really has no interest in Billy beyond using him as bait: he wants Frank to catch up with them because he’s got a score settle with Frank.[1]  In the end, Brigade gets his revenge, Boone gets his amnesty, and everybody goes away happy.  Except maybe for Carrie, who’s husband is dead, and Billy, who’s probably going to be hung.

Image result for ride lonesome

Steele and Scott

How Was It?

Ride Lonesome is a basic, standard fare western, comprising elements of films we’ve all seen before.  Don’t mistake – these elements are assembled well and Boetticher’s direction keeps the film light on its feet, and prevents any drag – at 73 minutes long, it sure would be a trick if it did drag.  Flourishes aside though, it is derivative.

But calling it derivative should not be tossed off without comment, so I’ll say while it feels derivative, some of that is earned, some of that is not.

Where it’s earned is the early-going of the film feels like a re-tread of Rio Bravo, which was itself later retreaded much more explicitly by Assault on Precinct 13.  And Alien.  And The Thing.  And…

Rio Bravo is the story of a single location under siege by outlaws, and in Ride Lonesome, when Brigade arrives at the way station with Billy, and Indians threaten to attack, and we knew Frank was probably on his way, I began to suspect we were going to play that siege story out.  That they would hunker down and wait and we’d get the B-movie version of Rio Bravo.  Even when the plot broke and the group of them moved on to a second location, the threat of it all returning to Rio Bravo territory was still there, because our heroes could easily have come under siege at the second location.[2]  But the curious thing is that in neither location are they ever really put under siege.  Sure, there’s some gunfights with the Indians, but they are fast and over quick and the threat dissipates in almost a moment, allowing Brigade and his fellows to keep on the move.  And that’s the key difference – the plot is too often on the move to really fall into being a low-rent Rio Bravo, even if it evokes it.

Image result for unforgiven jail scene

Little Bill given Beauchamp the pistol

Where calling the film derivative is unearned is in Ride Lonesome’s best scene, which is liberally borrowed by Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.  In that film, after English Bob has been jailed for bringing guns into a town where you can’t do that, Bob’s biographer, Mr. Beauchamp, is encouraged by the sheriff, Little Bill, to give Bob a gun so they can see how quick either man is on the draw.  Bill is tantalized by the prospect of killing Little Bill, a man who very-recently beat his ass, and good, but ultimately declines to take the gun, fearing it is unloaded and he’d simply be shot in a moment of cruelty.  The twist is, the gun was loaded and he missed his chance.

In Ride Lonesome the scene plays out such that Billy actually gets his hands on a rifle and sticks it in Brigade’s belly, ready to blow him open.  Only, Boone intervenes and says if Billy pulls that trigger, he’s getting shot next no matter what happens.  Which Boone says would be a waste because that rifle Billy is holding actually belongs to Boone, which means there’s no shell in the chamber for firing.  See, Boone says he accidentally shot himself in the leg once with a loaded rifle and so to not make the same mistake twice, he doesn’t chamber a shell in a rifle until he needs it.  Which means Billy would get himself shot for nothing.  Reluctantly, then, Billy puts the gun aside, only to learn there was a shell in the chamber and he missed his chance.

While there are many similarities between this scene in both films, the key difference is in Ride Lonesome it plays out over a two minute stretch of time, out in the dessert on a calm morning.  It’s good, don’t doubt that, but it does not achieve the tension it could.  Whereas in Unforgiven the scene plays out in a sheriff’s office, while it’s storming outside and the tension seems to ratchet up for an eternity.  If nothing else, watching these two scenes side-by-side is a lesson in how two different filmmakers, with different sensibilities, can take similar subjects and make something completely unique with them.

While this series has given me more time with westerns, it’s also got me a little more acquainted with Randolph Scott.  Before, I only knew him in a supporting role in the screwball comedy, My Favorite Wife.  Now, thanks to this series, I know him as the star of modestly-budgeted, efficient action westerns.  Even though I have a very limited sample size of just three films of his to draw from, it’s easy to see a certain sort of pattern with Scott.

Onscreen, Scott excels as a tense, square-jawed, taciturn type.  While he’s eminently watchable, it’s almost more as a curiosity, or in a morbid way, like waiting to see if this guy’s inherent stiffness/awkwardness will finally break down into a mess.  Except it doesn’t and he just comes across like a less-charismatic John Wayne, who makes up for that lack of charisma by being a complete mystery in many ways.  Moreover, where John Wayne is generally electric onscreen, because you know how quick he can be to violence, and what he’s capable of – he’s a very out character, most of the time – Scott is interesting in that, because he’s a mystery, the danger is not knowing what he’s capable of.  In that way he’s almost a blank slate that we build up into something more by mapping our own anxieties on him.  Because Scott and Wayne play so many similar character types, the real difference I see between Scott and Wayne is Wayne always has a streak of good humor buried somewhere in him; Scott seems distinctly humorless.  That said, Scott is above average here in the role of Brigade, and even if not a great actor, he’s direct and watchable.

The supporting cast is uniformly fine, but given the film is 73 minutes long, there isn’t a lot of time for any of them to do much.  Pernell Roberts is the standout, basically the second lead, and though he’s supposed to be an outlaw, he’s too good-humored to really be a menace.  Karen Steele is fine in a thankless role, Van Cleef has little to do, and Best is nothing special.  The one who stuck out from the supporting players in a different way was Coburn, who is charming and almost sweet in the role, but at the same time seems a bit wrong for the role: he’s too savvy of a man, and knowing, to effectively play as naïve as the role needs.

While Ride Lonesome is an efficient and satisfying film, the one complaint is the music.  In a film tinged with so much tragedy – Carrie’s husband is killed offscreen by Indians, who then offer to trade his horse for Carrie, as well as Brigade’s wife having been hung by an outlaw – the scenes adjoining these revelations have such jaunty music in them that the drama of the moment was really undercut.  In a film that is so efficient in everything else, this felt like a glaring miscalculation.


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Scott and Best at the hanging tree

That Title

While the film is called Ride Lonesome, it seems a real shame it wasn’t called The Hanging Tree.  Given the prominence of a hanging tree in the film, that feels like a real missed opportunity.


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[1] Years ago Frank hung Brigade’s wife from a super-special hanging tree in revenge for something or other.  This apparently was no big deal to Frank, who has basically forgotten it happened.  On the other hand, Brigade’s been burning on it ever since.

[2] This threat seems more budgetary than plot-driven.  After all, shooting in a single location has to be cheaper than shooting all over creation.

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52 Before 62 — #17 A Double Life (1947)

A Double Life poster.jpgDirected by George Cukor

Screenplay by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin

Starring Ronald Colman, Signe Hasso, Edmond O’Brien, Shelley Winters, Ray Collins and Millard Mitchell

Ronald Colman was an old-style movie star, of the kind we basically don’t see anymore.  Handsome, debonair, always clean and seemingly well-pressed, but with a bit of a roguish streak to them.  Modern analogues might be George Clooney and Colin Firth.  Moreover, Colman always comes across as authentically continental.  Worldly.

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52 Before 62 — #16 Wagon Master (1950)

Color poster. The word "WAGON" sweeps across the middle of the poster, with the word "MASTER" below it; just above there is text in smaller font that reads "John Ford and Merian C. Cooper present". Several scenes from the film are painted around the text, including a woman affectionately looking down at a kneeling man, a shootout with one man standing, holding a pistol, and several men falling or lying on the ground, and two covered wagons being pulled by galloping and rearing horses. At the top left there is text reading "John Ford's lusty successor to 'Fort Apache' and 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon'". The credit block at the bottom reads "Ben Johnson - Joanne Dru - Harry Carey, Jr. - Ward Bond", with "Directed by John Ford" in larger font at the right. In smaller lettering, nearer the bottom, the poster has another line of credits "and Charles Kemper - Alan Mowbray - Jane Darwell".Directed by John Ford

Screenplay by Frank Nugent and Patrick Ford

Starring Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Harey Carey Jr.

Ben Johnson was not a star of the sort we’re used to, which is one who actually leads movies.  If Johnson was a star at all, it was in the sense of showing up for a few days work in a small role to give a film like Will Penny that flavor of verisimilitude it thrives on.  Which means he was the very example of a supporting player.

There’s a story about Ben John in Peter Biskind’s book, Easy Riders, Ragin Bulls, about how when Peter Bogdonavich was casting The Last Picture Show, he really wanted Ben Johnson to play Sam The Lion in that film.  Johnson, though, turned off by the language in the script, and the amount of dialog he’d have.   Bogdonavich persisted, though, and went to John Ford and asked him to appeal to his frequent actor, Ben Johnson.  Ford did, asking Johnson something to the effect of, “Are you just going to play Duke’s [John Wayne’s] sidekick all your life?”  Johnson took the part and won an Oscar for it, the irony of which is it still wasn’t for a starring role – the Oscar was for Best Supporting Actor.  If anything, Johnson moved from being John Wayne’s sidekick to Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Daniels’ sidekick.[1] Continue reading

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52 Before 62 – #15 John Loves Mary (1949)

John Loves Mary poster.jpgDirected by David Butler

Screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, from the play by Norman Krasna

Starring Ronald Reagan, Patricia Neal, Jack Carson, Edward Arnold, Virginia Field, Wayne Morris, and Katharine Alexander

I’ve never seen a Ronald Reagan movie.  Yes, he was President and ‘acted’ his way through that, but that’s more a reality show than a movie these days, if we’re honest.  Anyway, what’s amazing about seeing no Reagan movies is I see a lot of movies.  Like, way more than the average person.[1]  But honestly, I’m  probably not alone in not seeing any Reagan films because I’m pretty sure even the idiots who think the man was a great president also haven’t bothered perusing his filmography.  The reason?  Because the general consensus is his movies are not worth seeing.  After all, of his entire filmography just three of those films managed Best Picture nominations, and the only one of those three even rated a mention in The New York Times Guide to the 1000 Best Movies Ever Made was Dark Victory.  Even then, that mention probably has more to do with it being a Bette Davis/Humphrey Bogart vehicle than it does for featuring an at-best-fifth-billed Ronald Reagan. Continue reading

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52 Before 62 #14 – Bend of the River (1952)

Image result for frances bavier bend of the riverDirected by Anthony Man

Screenplay by Borden Chase, from the novel by

Starring James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Julie Adams, and Rock Hudson 

In the most famous movie involving the Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart/Borden Chase/Rock Hudson quadrumvirate, Winchester 73 (1950), Hudson barely got to play a part, as much as he played a stereotype: he put on red-face makeup to play a war-like Native-American.  Of course, while Hudson would be a massive star later, he was a nobody then, so slapping on some red-face makeup was a positive step in his career. Continue reading

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52 Before 62 #13 – Consolation Marriage (1931)

ConsolationMarriagePoster.jpgDirected by Paul Sloane

Screenplay by Humphrey Pearson, story by Bill Cunningham

Starring Irene Dunne, Pat O’Brien, John Halliday, Matt Moore, Myrna Loy and Lester Vail

One advantage of this project, over and above The Best Picture Project, and The Also-Rans Project, is the flexibility it gives me to choose the movies to write about.  After all, I can write about any movie I want, as long as:

  1. I’d never seen the film around, and
  2. It had to come out before 1962.

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52 Before 62 — #12 Topper (1937)

Topper Lobby Card 2.jpgDirected by Norman Z. Mcleod

Screenplay by Jack Jevne, Eric Hatch and Eddie Moran, from the novel of the same name by Thorne Smith

Starring Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Roland Young, and Billie Burke

The first Tim Burton movie I ever saw was Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, which they showed us in school in 1986 as a reward at the end of the school year.  I was in the fifth grade.  This movie was actually a little bit controversial for some people in the school, owing to Dee Snider and Twisted Sister making an appearance.  Not that Twisted Sister did anything all that controversial themselves, just that in the mid-80s it was still very-early days in the era of men dressing overtly feminine.  There were worries some parents would raise a stink, which sort of speaks to what a different time it was where I came from in the mid-80s.  Either way, in the end we got to see the movie and as far as I know, nobody turned to a life of crime for having seen Dee Snider in a corset and fishnet stockings.

While Pee Wee’s Big Adventure was the first Tim Burton movie I ever saw, it really wasn’t demonstrably a “Tim Burton” movie in the way we know them now, as much as it was an extension of the Pee Wee Herman brand.  Sure, Burton might have brought a certain skewed perspective to the movie, but it was never really his.  And how could it be, with the stars name right there in the title? Continue reading

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52 Before 62 — #11 The Informer (1935)

The Informer poster.jpgDirected by John Ford

Screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based upon the novel of the same name by Liam O’Flaherty

Starring Victor McLaglen, Margot Grahame, Wallace Ford, and Preston Foster

During the Communist witch-hunt, the rabidly anti-communist Cecil B. DeMille wanted to force the Director’s Guild to require its members to basically investigate the communist leanings of everybody who worked on their films.  This came about when allegations were made that Director Guild of America president, Joseph L. Mankiewicz had communist sympathies.  So, at a meeting of the guild, DeMille and his boys tried to run this bullshit through.  Well, after the meeting had been going a while, and after DeMille’s goons spent a good long time talking shit about Mankiewicz, John Ford decided he’d had enough and took the floor to defend Mankiewicz, famously saying:

“My name’s John Ford. I make Westerns. I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who knows more about what the American public wants than Cecil B. DeMille — and he certainly knows how to give it to them. But I don’t like you, C.B. I don’t like what you stand for, and I don’t like what you’ve been saying here tonight.”

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