Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Fort Worth (1951)

FORT WORTH is a relatively weak Randolph Scott Western, hampered by a talky, disjointed script and bland supporting performances.

Scott plays Ned Britt, who accompanies a wagon train to his old home town of Fort Worth, Texas, where he sets up shop printing a newspaper. Ned is attracted to a childhood friend, Flora (Phyllis Thaxter), who is engaged to Blair Lunsford (David Brian). But Lunsford, it turns out, is buying up land around economically depressed Fort Worth and may not have the town's best interests at heart. Meanwhile, Ned also battles the villainous Gabe Clevenger (Ray Teal) and his gang.

The movie starts off well, with gorgeous Technicolor opening credits accompanied by a jaunty musical score composed by David Buttolph. Unfortunately, the script is overly chatty in some scenes, with characters given to unnatural-sounding, lengthy speechifying, and at other points the story transitions are abrupt and confusing.

For instance, one moment Flora tells off Ned and makes clear she loathes him, yet in the next scene they're quite friendly and she seems to have no lingering resentment. Earlier, when Ned first sees Flora, he doesn't recognize her, despite the fact that (as we soon learn) they were raised together. Even if it had been 14 years, it was hard for me to believe Ned wouldn't know Flora if they'd been that close.

Another strange sequence finds Ned's one-time fiancee, Amy (Helena Carter), showing up in town. Amy's only in a couple of scenes, and her purpose seems to be to cause Flora to doubt Blair's love. Immediately after her big confrontation scene with Flora and Blair, Amy vanishes from the film.

The opening scenes are beautifully shot on location in Southern California, but then we have another awkward transition, as we go from day on the wagon trail to nighttime with some villainous new characters, on a painfully obvious soundstage. The way the scene was cut, it seemed as though it went immediately from daylight to nighttime; any passage of time wasn't made clear, and the painted backdrop made me feel I'd somehow wandered into another movie.

Many of the exteriors were filmed on the Warner Bros. lot. I wonder how many times the saloon showed up in a Warner Bros. Western with the name Bella Union? That name goes at least as far back as Errol Flynn's SAN ANTONIO (1945). In the late '50s the Bella Union turned up from time to time on TV's MAVERICK, complete with stock footage of the interior.

As far as the cast, Thaxter and Brian aren't very interesting, and Brian at times verges unintentionally into goofball territory. He does at least share a nicely choreographed, if too brief, shootout scene with Scott. The film's supporting cast includes Chubby Johnson, Paul Picerni, Bob Steele, Emerson Treacy, and Walter Sande.

Former child actor Dick (Dickie) Jones, who plays Scott's assistant, was born in 1927 and had at least 110 screen credits between 1934 and 1965. His best-known part is perhaps the voice of PINOCCHIO (1940). He is now 83.

FORT WORTH runs 80 minutes. It was directed by Edwin L. Marin. Marin regularly directed Scott's Westerns, but sadly he died before FORT WORTH was released. He was just 52. Marin was survived by his wife, actress Ann Morriss, and their children.

FORT WORTH is available in a beautiful print on DVD as part of a three-film Randolph Scott set. The other films in the set are TALL MAN RIDING (1955) and COLT .45 (1950).

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