52 Before 62 — #27 The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944)

Marktwain1944poster.jpgDirected by Irving Rapper

Screenplay by Alan Le May, adaptation by Alan Le May and Harold Sherman, with additional dialog by Harry Chandlee, all from the play by Harold Sherman

Starring Fredric March, Alexis Smith, Donald Crisp, Alan Hale, and John Carradine

Is Mark Twain a great novelist?  That seems the single question asked by this film, which is purportedly Twain’s life story.  Given the movie about Twain is asking the question, it’s no surprise it answers that, yes, he was a great novelist.  And, though Twain does not start writing in earnest until maybe 30% of the way through the film, after moving from one successful career to another – riverboat pilot to newspaperman – if we did not come to the same conclusion, then what was the point of making a movie about him in the first place? Continue reading

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52 Before 62 — #26 The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Sweetsmell.jpgDirected by Alexander Mackendrick

Screenplay by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, from the novelette by Ernest Lehman

Starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, and Susan Harrison

Sydney Falco (Tony Curtis) is a New York City press agent, desperate to place items about his clients in J.J. Hunsecker’s (Burt Lancaster) gossip column.  Just a mention there carries enough weight to make, or break, a career, which explains all the anxiety and jockeying for position that follows Hunsecker.  But while Falco and Hunsecker usually have a shark-and-remora relationship,[1] Hunsecker has lately frozen Falco out, insisting Falco be the hatchet man ruining the relationship between Hunsecker’s little sister, Susan (Susan Harrison), and the guitar player, Steve Dallas (Marty Milner), who Hunsecker has no appreciation for.  As days go on and the end does not come for Susan and Steve’s love, Hunsecker grows vicious toward Falco, pushing Falco even deeper into his desperation.  Eventually, both men hit a version of rock bottom

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52 Before 62 — #25 Sherlock Holmes Double Feature

"Silver Blaze" (1937).jpg

Murder at the Baskervilles, a.k.a. The Silver Blaze (1937)

Directed by Thomas Bentley

Screenplay by Arthur Macrae and H. Fowler Mear, based upon the Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze”

Starring Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming, Lyn Harding and John Turnbull

The Woman in Green - 1945 - Poster.pngThe Woman in Green (1945)

Directed by Roy William Neill

Screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, based in part on the Arthur Conan Doyle stories “The Final Problem” and “The Adventures of the Empty House”

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, and Henry Daniell

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52 Before 62 — #24 Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

LeaveHer.jpgDirected by John M. Stahl

Screenplay by Jo Swerling, from the novel by Ben Ames Williams

Starring Gene Tierney, Cornell Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Darryl Hickman, Mary Phillips Vincent Price, Ray Collins, Chill Wills, Gene Lockhart

Even though I saw Laura years ago, where Gene Tierney stars as the titular Laura, and I recall enjoying it, even though Tierney did not register with me.  I was far more into the fact that Clifton Webb, who I always thought of as the archetype of fussy, but not overly-stern movie dads thanks to his turn in Cheaper by the Dozen,[1] did a pretty good heel turn.  Plus, the fact that a very-young Vincent Price got to play a straight part in something other than a B-grade thriller was pretty exciting to see. Continue reading

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52 Before 62 — #23 Destry Rides Again (1939)

Destryridesagainposter.jpgDirected by George Marshall

Screenplay by Felix Jackson, Gertrude Purcell, and Henry Myers, from an original story by Felix Jackson, suggested by the novel of the same name by Max Brand

Starring Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart and Brian Donlevy

I started reading the book Best. Movie. Year. Ever. by Brian Raftery recently.  The whole premise of the book is 1999 was the greatest movie year ever.  To support this, just look at the lineup of 1999 releases: Fight Club, The Blair Witch Project, Being John Malkovich, Election, American Beauty, Go, Three Kings, Office Space, Eyes Wide Shut, and Magnolia.  And that’s just naming a few.  Which is a murderer’s row of films by any stretch.[1]

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52 Before 62 — #22 O.  Henry’s Full House (1952)

O. Henry's Full House Poster.jpgDirected by Various

Written by Various

Starring Charles Laughton, Marilyn Monroe, Dale Robertson, Richard Widmark, Anne Baxter, Jean Peters, Gregory Ratoff, Fred Allen, Oscar Levant, Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger

Many of my most vivid memories of school revolve around the movies they’d show us when they didn’t feel like teaching.  Most times these would be ‘educational’ films, sometimes not.  And when they were not they’d give it to us as a reward for something or other.  One of the reward movies was Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, which I’ve already talked about being low-level scandalous in the school because Dee Snider and Twisted Sister makes an appearance.  As if watching some glam/metal guys in long hair and women’s clothes would turn us gay or something.[1]   Less of a reward was the old educational program from the 70s, Mulligan Stew, which at least had the memorable “4-4-3-2” song, which occasionally runs through my head without asking even to this day. Continue reading

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52 Before 62 — #21 My Darling Clementine (1946)

1946.my.darling.clementine.jpgDirected by John Ford

Screenplay By Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller, screen story by Sam Hellman, based upon the novel “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marhsal” by Stuart N. Lake

Starring Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Water Brennan, Ward Bond, Cathy Downs and Tim Holt

Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda), and his three brothers (Ward Bond, Tim Holt, and Don Garner) are driving cattle west.  When they stop for a night in Tombstone, Arizona, the youngest brother winds up shot in the back and the cattle rustled.  Now, there’s no doubt this was the work of Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) and his sons, but there’s also no real proof.  Determined to hold the killers accountable, Earp sticks around and becomes sheriff of Tombstone, to give him time to get proof.  Along the way he becomes sort-of frenemies with Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), and imposes some law and order on things.  In the end, Earp finds the proof he needs about his brother’s killer, and gets his revenge on the Clantons.

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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.


Related image

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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