Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Coroner Creek (1948)

When I see the name of Western novelist Luke Short in the opening credits of a film, I sit up and take notice. Short's novels provided the basis for the excellent films STATION WEST (1948) and BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), and he wrote the original stories for two more very good Westerns, RAMROD (1947) and AMBUSH (1950). One of Short's favorite themes is the loner seeking justice.

That theme appears again in Short's CORONER CREEK, filmed as a Cinecolor Western starring Randolph Scott. This is one of the first Westerns in the long partnership of Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown, and it's an excellent, absorbing study of a man driven by revenge.

The film has some of Scott's signature touches of humor, such as the way he checks himself into a hotel without waking the sleeping clerk, but for the most part this is a somber, serious tale. In terms of quality, I would rank CORONER CREEK near the higher end of the Westerns Scott made before his well-known teaming with director Budd Boetticher in the '50s.

Chris Danning (Scott) is looking for a blonde man with a scar on his face who was responsible for the death of Danning's fiancee. Danning doggedly follows leads until he finally finds his man, Younger Miles (George Macready), in the town of Coroner Creek. Miles is a powerful land and business owner, who also has the sheriff (Edgar Buchanan) under his thumb; the sheriff is the father of Miles's alcoholic wife Abbie (Barbara Read).

Danning is helped by hotel owner Kate (Marguerite Chapman), local ranch owner Della (Sally Eilers), and Della's ranch hand Andy (Wallace Ford), who all have reasons for disliking Miles.

There are a couple of violent confrontations in the film which are absolutely brutal, particularly for 1948; this is no light "Saturday shoot-'em-up" Western. The first notable fight is an extended battle between Chris and Miles's henchman Ernie (Forrest Tucker), which includes the cringe-worthy smashing of a couple people's hands. Near the end of the film, Miles's relentless shooting of someone he knows is downright shocking. It's a fairly dark film in that regard, but it also makes the moment justice is served all the more satisfying.

The reference to justice being served shouldn't be a plot spoiler; after all, this is a Randolph Scott Western. Does anyone think he'd leave town without getting his man? :) There is something very comforting about sitting down to watch a Randolph Scott Western; the viewer knows it will deliver as expected.

This is what might be called a typical Randolph Scott Western performance, and that's a good thing. No one should mess with the steely-eyed Scott, and those who do live to regret it. In his films Scott is something of a Western superhero, and yet at the same time he's an entirely real person who at some points suffers excruciating pain, both mental and physical. Scott is capable of conveying a world of hurt on his weathered face. In fact, Scott probably does more acting with his eyes than he does delivering dialogue.

Marguerite Chapman has a fairly bland part as a religious woman who encourages Chris to give up his quest for revenge. Her character comes a bit more alive toward the end when she overcomes her religious scruples about violence to aid Chris; the scene made me think of Grace Kelly and HIGH NOON.

As a side note, Chapman has a fairly unattractive wardrobe which is not photographed to good effect in Cinecolor. There is no wardrobe credit so I wonder if the filmmakers just pulled some Western dresses out of the costume department! Better choices could have been made.

Actress Sally Eilers, who plays Della, had been married to producer Harry Joe Brown, although they were divorced at the time this film was made. She and Wallace Ford, who is most enjoyable as the loyal Andy, help provide the film with its lighter moments. William Bishop, Russell Simpson, and Douglas Fowley are also in the cast. Incidentally, IMDb credits stuntman-actor Jock Mahoney with doubling George Macready.

This was the last of 21 films made by actress Barbara Read, billed here as Barbara Reed. Read was very personable in the RKO programmer SORORITY HOUSE (1939). She was also in THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) with Deanna Durbin and another interesting programmer called MARRIED AND IN LOVE (1940). She's quite good as Miles's tragic wife.

The film runs 90 minutes. It was directed by Ray Enright and photographed by Fred Jackman Jr. There's some very nice location shooting in Sedona, Arizona, although the big battle between Scott and Tucker appears to have been shot in a soundstage.

CORONER CREEK was released on VHS in the Columbia Western Classics series. It's a good print, given the inherent limitations of Cinecolor. (There's a scene where Eilers shows Scott some ranch land, and as the camera scans the range the hills turn all sorts of different colors, in the same shot.) There were not any scratches or other notable defects.

To date the film does not appear to have had a release on DVD. (Update: This film will be released on DVD by TCM on December 2, 2013.)

Randolph Scott Westerns of the '40s and '50s previously reviewed here: BELLE STARR (1941), THE DESPERADOES (1943), ABILENE TOWN (1946), THE WALKING HILLS (1949), THE NEVADAN (1950), COLT .45 (1950), FORT WORTH (1951), MAN IN THE SADDLE (1951), TALL MAN RIDING (1955), A LAWLESS STREET (1955), SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), THE TALL T (1957), SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND (1957), and WESTBOUND (1959).


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I remember the sensation of my eyes popping out of my head the first time I saw that Scott - Tucker set to when I was a kid. Some things stay with you.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

This is one of my favorite Randolph Scott westerns. You are so right about that fight scene between Scott and Tucker. Ouch!

I was thrilled when, last month, I found the VHS copy of this at Half Price Books for $1. I snapped it up immediately. Also picked up a VHS of "Devil Dogs of the Air" with James Cagney for the same price.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I definitely don't think I'm going to be forgetting that fight scene -- it gives me the shivers just thinking about it. :)

What a fantastic deal you got on those videos, Kevin! I've sometimes wondered if I'm one of the last people to frequently watch VHS tapes, along with DVDs, the DVR, Region 2 DVD, and streaming (grin). I use whatever works! Glad to know I'm not alone being happy to score good deals on VHS movies. My only real concern in that department is making sure I can obtain a replacement VHS player when needed.

Best wishes,

11:20 AM  
Blogger TParker said...

Who played the hotel clerk?

7:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm not sure! Anyone?

Best wishes,

10:11 AM  
Blogger TParker said...

It might be Ray Enright himself. I don't know how to get any confirmation from it.

2:13 PM  

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