Monday, October 31, 2011

Fox Movie Channel in November: Highlights

Here's a peek at a few of the interesting titles on the Fox Movie Channel schedule in November:

...November kicks off with HALF ANGEL (1951), a whimsical comedy starring Joseph Cotten and Loretta Young, on November 1st. Young plays a prim nurse who confounds hospital benefactor Cotten by turning into quite a different person at night.

...The business drama WOMAN'S WORLD (1954) returns to the schedule on November 5th. The all-star cast includes Fred MacMurray, Van Heflin, Lauren Bacall, June Allyson, Cornel Wilde, Arlene Dahl, and Clifton Webb. It's in the vein of other films about corporate shenanigans, such as EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954) and THE POWER AND THE PRIZE (1956).

...THUNDERHEAD - SON OF FLICKA (1945), a sequel to MY FRIEND FLICKA (1943), airs on November 6th. It stars Roddy McDowall, Preston Foster, and Rita Johnson.

...I really enjoyed CRASH DIVE (1943), which will be on Fox November 7th. It stars a young trio of Dana Andrews, Tyrone Power, and Anne Baxter.

...Clifton Webb, Ruth Hussey, Robert Wagner, and Debra Paget star in STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER (1952), a biography of John Philip Sousa, on November 11th. This film was due to be released by Fox years ago, but the DVD market changed and the schedule shut down. Now it's due to be released as a combination Blu-ray/DVD package on December 13th. However, they aren't selling the movie as a standalone DVD; the only way those of us without Blu-ray players can get the DVD is to buy the Blu-ray too.

...The John Ford pre-Code film PILGRIMAGE (1933) will be shown November 14th. The cast includes Heather Angel and actor-director Norman Foster.

...On November 15th, the interesting spy drama FIVE FINGERS (1952) airs, starring James Mason and Danielle Darrieux. This movie is not on DVD in the United States.

...Last week a new biography of Loretta Young was discussed here. Those interested in the story of Loretta's secret child with Clark Gable may want to check out the movie that started the whole saga, CALL OF THE WILD (1935). It's on November 16th.

...Jimmy Stewart and Maureen O'Hara star in MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION (1962) on November 22nd.

...Perfect Thanksgiving Day viewing: HOME IN INDIANA (1944), a lovely piece of autumnal Americana starring the young Jeanne Crain, June Haver, and Lon McCallister, supported by Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, and Charlotte Greenwood.

...Beautiful Elaine Stewart stars with John Derek in THE ADVENTURES OF HAJJI BABA (1954) on November 29th. If only Fox wouldn't show it in pan and scan...

As always, keep in mind that Fox often shows films more than once per month; I've only listed one date per title. Check out the schedule for possible additional air dates.

Due to Fox repeating movies with such regularity, viewers may also want to check out my September and October posts for additional titles which might be airing in November.

Tonight's Movie: Thunder in the Sun (1959)

I started out this evening watching a spooky pre-Code film, in keeping with the holiday. By the time I got a few minutes into the movie, I knew it was too creepy for me to keep watching, and so it was back to my movie comfort zone and another Western! Westerns and monster movies seem to be the theme of the past week.

THUNDER IN THE SUN is something of a curiosity: strong lead actors in an intriguing story which provides an unusual twist on the traditional wagon train Western -- but told with strikingly poor production values. The end result is entertaining, but this viewer couldn't help feeling that with some effort, the film could have been even better.

Jeff Chandler plays Lon Bennett, a cranky wagon train guide who agrees to lead a small group of Basque settlers west to California. Lon is baffled by some Basque traditions, but eventually he comes to enjoy their company, and he's strongly attracted to fiery Gabrielle (Susan Hayward). Gabrielle is married to a much older man (Carl Esmond), a marriage arranged when she was a child, and Lon feels no compunction about trying to persuade -- or pressure -- Gabrielle into an affair.

When Gabrielle's husband dies suddenly, Basque tradition dictates that she will wed her husband's unmarried brother Pepe (Jacques Bergerac). Their engagement leads to considerable conflict between Lon and Pepe. Meanwhile the wagon train keeps moving toward California, coping with a lack of water and hostile Indians. While one Basque tradition leads to an unfortunate prairie fire, the Basques are able to put their familiarity with mountain terrain to good use in battling the Indians.

THUNDER IN THE SUN has an appealing and unique premise, but the visual execution is decidedly clunky, awkwardly combining soundstage shots with second unit location footage and process shots; all three types of footage are frequently edited together in a single scene, resulting in the film having a very odd look at times. There is better use of location shooting towards the end of the film, including a Death Valley sequence, but overall this film looks quite mixed up; apparently it didn't have much of a budget.

Another quality issue is that Susan Hayward's voice sometimes seems to be looped. I suspect there may have been issues as far as getting her French accent correct which necessitated dubbing her dialogue in later for some scenes. In fact, in one scene her vocal track was noticeably out of sync, but I don't know if the issue was with the original film or Netflix streaming.

On the plus side, there's some impressive stunt work in a scene where two characters ride away from a fire and fall into a river. Future director Hal Needham was among the stunt crew.

This isn't one of Jeff Chandler's more heroic roles, and indeed, his behavior toward Susan Hayward's character in the first half of the movie would be called sexual harrassment in this day and age! If Gabrielle were played by a weaker actress these scenes might be downright disturbing, but the problem is mitigated insofar as the audience knows Susan Hayward is a tough cookie who is more than a match for Chandler's aggression. Ultimately their strong characters are well matched, but it's an odd courtship, to say the least.

The bottom line: If you like Jeff Chandler, Susan Hayward, and/or Westerns, you may well find this somewhat cheesy but enjoyable, as I did. Despite the film's flaws, I was glad I watched it. Other viewers may want to steer clear.

The supporting cast includes Blanche Yurka and Fortunio Bonanova.

This film was directed by Russell Rouse. It was shot in Technicolor by Stanley Cortez. The movie runs 81 minutes.

THUNDER IN THE SUN is a Paramount film which can be seen via Netflix Watch Instantly. It does not appear to have had a DVD or VHS release.

The trailer is on YouTube.

TCM in November: Highlights

It hardly seems possible that today is Halloween! It's time to take a look ahead at the November schedule for Turner Classic Movies.

November looks like another great month of selections, with a nice mix of obscure and familiar titles; there are particularly good lineups on the day before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Day -- a perfect time to introduce younger family members and friends to the "classics"!

The Star of the Month will be a "Battle of the Blondes," with nine evenings devoted to the films of 18 blonde actresses, starting on Wednesday, November 1st. The featured actresses are Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Veronica Lake, Lana Turner, Jean Harlow, Judy Holliday, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Betty Grable, Janet Leigh, Brigitte Bardot, Doris Day, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Marlene Dietrich, Ursula Andress, Julie Christie, and Diana Dors. I won't be doing a separate Star of the Month post this month, but a couple of the titles, which are TCM premieres, are mentioned below.

...Tomorrow, November 1st, I'll be recording a film noir title I've never seen: DETOUR (1945), starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage. DETOUR kicks off an entire day of film noir goodness, including Joel McCrea in COLORADO TERRITORY (1949), a Western remake of Bogart's HIGH SIERRA (1949). COLORADO TERRITORY and HIGH SIERRA were both directed by Raoul Walsh.

...BRUTE FORCE (1947) is of interest to me because it features a trio of interesting actresses: Yvonne DeCarlo, Ann Blyth, and Ella Raines. (Happily there is quite a bit of DeCarlo on TCM and elsewhere this month!) It will be shown November 2nd.

...I've come to appreciate actor-director Don Taylor over the past year or two; on November 3rd he stars with Sally Forrest and Raymond Burr in RIDE THE HIGH IRON (1956).

...More episodes of SCREEN DIRECTORS PLAYHOUSE will be shown November 3rd, featuring the work of directors including Leo McCarey, Frank Borzage, and John Brahm.

...I'll be recording TARGET ZERO (1955) on November 8th. It's a Korean war film which stars two actors I especially like, Richard Conte and Peggie Castle.

...There's more Yvonne DeCarlo on November 8th, when she is seen with Rory Calhoun in "Hot Cargo," an episode of SCREEN DIRECTORS PLAYHOUSE. As described in a recent post, Calhoun wrote DeCarlo's 1955 Western SHOTGUN and also gave her away that year at her wedding. Later that day, DeCarlo costars with Victor Mature in Jacques Tourneur's TIMBUKTU (1959).

...Also on November 8th, ODONGO (1956) looks interesting, starring Rhonda Fleming and Macdonald Carey. It comes out on DVD-R November 1st in the Columbia Classics line.

...Additional episodes of SCREEN DIRECTORS PLAYHOUSE on November 8th were directed by Andrew L. Stone, Stuart Heisler, and George Sherman, among others.

...Norma Shearer fans alert: she stars in LET US BE GAY (1930) on November 9th.

...On November 10th, TCM is showing all three films in the FOUR DAUGHTERS series, as well as DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939), which features the identical cast. These are wonderful films which I strongly recommend.

...November 11th there's a Dana Andrews-Richard Conte film I've never seen, A WALK IN THE SUN (1945). It's part of a lineup of Veterans Day films which also includes Dennis Morgan in GOD IS MY CO-PILOT (1945) and John Payne and Randolph Scott in TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI (1942). The war movies close out with a trio of James Garner films set during WWII: DARBY'S RANGERS (1958), UP PERISCOPE (1959), and THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964).

...The next day, November 12th, there's another James Garner film, TOWARD THE UNKNOWN (1956), also starring William Holden, Lloyd Nolan, Charles McGraw, and Karen Steele. A remastered print of this film was released earlier this year by Warner Archive.

...There seem to be a number of Richard Carlson fans out there besides myself! He can be seen in THE LAST COMMAND (1955), a film about the Alamo, on November 13th. It also stars Sterling Hayden.

...And William Lundigan's many fans can see him starring with John Garfield and Brenda Marshall in EAST OF THE RIVER (1940) on November 15th.

...On November 16th, Carole Lombard's night in the "Battle of the Blondes" will include a brand-new print of NOTHING SACRED (1937), which is usually shown in a seriously bad print. Kino will be releasing the new print to DVD on December 20th.

...There's more for Yvonne DeCarlo fans on November 17th, when BAND OF ANGELS (1957) is shown. It also stars Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier, and it was directed by Raoul Walsh.

...I've got to see this one: Joan Crawford and James Stewart in THE ICE FOLLIES OF 1939 (1939). November 18th!

...TCM screens PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952) on Sunday, November 20th. It stars Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, and Van Johnson. Also airing that day is the 20-minute short MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE (1950).

...I'm curious about SHADOW IN THE SKY (1951), a film about a shell-shocked veteran airing on November 21st. It stars Ralph Meeker, Nancy Davis (Reagan), and James Whitmore.

...I'm going to be sure to record REBEL IN TOWN (1956) on November 22nd. It stars John Payne and Ruth Roman.

...November 23rd is the day before Thanksgiving, and it's a perfect day to introduce those children who are starting the holiday early to classic adventure films, including TREASURE ISLAND (1934), THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), THE JUNGLE BOOK (1942), TARZAN, THE APE MAN (1932), and KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950).

...Betty Grable's "Battle of the Blondes" tribute on Thanksgiving Eve, November 23rd, will include two films new to Turner Classic Movies: SWEET ROSIE O'GRADY (1943), costarring Robert Young, and one of my favorite Grable films, DOWN ARGENTINE WAY (1940). The latter film costars Don Ameche and features some knockout dancing by the Nicholas Brothers.

...On Thanksgiving Day, TCM has a fantastic lineup of family films including MGM's Technicolor version of LITTLE WOMEN (1949); MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944); Margaret O'Brien in THE SECRET GARDEN (1949); and THE MUSIC MAN (1962). At 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 Pacific, TCM comes through with MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), a perfect film for Thanksgiving Day. Later that evening the lineup includes the comedy THE LADY EVE (1941), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda; two Marx Brothers films; and SHALL WE DANCE (1937), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

...Another really interesting film airing on November 26th: EASY LIVING (1949). This isn't the classic Jean Arthur-Ray Milland screwball comedy; it's a Jacques Tourneur film starring Victor Mature, Lucille Ball, and Lizabeth Scott.

...November 28th's lineup includes WALK SOFTLY, STRANGER (1950), starring Joseph Cotten.

...There's a day-long tribute to Busby Berkeley on November 29th. I'm especially looking forward to the relatively obscure THE GO-GETTER (1937), starring Geoge Brent and Anita Louise. The lineup also includes Loretta Young in the pre-Code SHE HAD TO SAY YES (1933), a mind-bending film which must be seen to be believed.

A note for classic film fans who receive the Encore Westerns channel: a rarely shown Yvonne DeCarlo Universal Western, FRONTIER GAL (1945), comes to Encore Westerns starting on November 2nd and 3rd. It costars Rod Cameron. Set your DVR!

There are many more excellent titles airing on TCM in November, including a four-night TCM Spotlight series, "All Aboard!" which focuses on films set on ships.

Please review the complete schedule for lots more titles available on Turner Classic Movies in November!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Law and Order (1953)

I thought the Universal Western LAW AND ORDER was terrific. This film may have been considered standard fare in the '50s, but for me this is "movie comfort food" at its finest. I enjoyed it from start to finish.

The movie's got a wonderful cast, starting with Ronald Reagan as Frame Johnson, the sheriff of Tombstone, who has tamed the town and is now tired of violence and the rigors of a tough job. Frame decides to settle down with his true love, Jeannie (Dorothy Malone), on a ranch outside the town of Cottonwood.

When Frame and his brothers Lute (Alex Nicol) and Jimmy (Russell Johnson) arrive in Cottonwood, they discover it's even more violent than Tombstone once was, with the bad guys in Cottonwood led by Preston Foster, Dennis Weaver, and Jack Kelly. (Now that's a cast!) Lute takes a job as Marshal of Cottonwood but finds it may be more than he bargained for. Meanwhile headstrong Jimmy falls passionately in love with beautiful Maria (Ruth Hampton), sister of one of the town villains (Weaver).

This is just a good old-fashioned Western, filled with saloons, shootouts, romances, and a barn burner of a brawl near the end between Reagan and Foster. For good measure, there are familiar Western character actors Chubby Johnson (BEND OF THE RIVER) and Barry Kelley prominent in the supporting cast.

Reagan plays his role with an easy charm and confidence, including an excellent scene early on where he stands down a lynch mob led by his own brother. Malone doesn't have much more to do than look pretty as Reagan's understanding fiancee, but she's appealing in her limited role.

I especially enjoyed the subplot of the Romeo and Juliet love between Jimmy and Maria, which was pretty steamy for the early '50s. It was also a bit of a revelation seeing the "Professor," Russell Johnson, as a romantic young hothead; this was filmed a decade before he was stranded with GILLIGAN. Ruth Hampton, who played Maria, was only in half a dozen films in the early '50s.

LAW AND ORDER was directed by Nathan Juran. It was filmed in Technicolor by Clifford Stine. The opening and closing action sequences were filmed at Red Rock Canyon, California.

LAW AND ORDER is available on DVD as part of the Universal Western Collection. It also had a release on VHS under the same series title.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...a slightly abbreviated pre-Halloween edition!

...Today marks the centennial of the birth of lovely actress Ruth Hussey. Hussey is best known for her role in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940), but she was a marvelous presence in both films and television for roughly 35 years. One of my favorite Hussey performances was in a "B" movie called WITHIN THE LAW (1939).

...The L.A. Film Critics have awarded Doris Day a Career Achievement Award, which is certainly very well deserved. It will be interesting to see whether Miss Day accepts the award personally this January.

...Over at Speakeasy, Kristina has a detailed, lengthy profile of one of my very favorite actors, Ward Bond.

...John Lasseter of Pixar and Disney will be receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this week on November 1st. The star will be located in front of the Disney-operated El Capitan Theatre.

...I'm belatedly catching up with the news that the BBC is filming a prequel to the classic series ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL. The new series will focus on James Herriot's time in veterinary college.

...The film version of the musical LES MISERABLES is set to star Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway.

...At Motion Picture Gems, Tom shares a decade-old ABC News segment on actress Dolores Hart. It's about 15 minutes long and really worthwhile. Tom also has a post on one of the films Hart made with Elvis, LOVING YOU (1957). I discovered it was on DVD at a very reasonable price and just ordered it.

...Warner Bros. is threatening not to provide its films to Blockbuster in a dispute over renting films in the first 28 days of release. Blockbuster will have to purchase WB films elsewhere.

...Meanwhile Redbox has raised its prices and announced plans for streaming.

...There are plans to make a movie about six months in the life of Princess Grace. Does anyone else remember the 1983 TV-movie with Cheryl Ladd?

...Criterion Cast Tweets that Barnes and Noble's fall Criterion sale will begin on Tuesday, November 1st.

...The New York Times posted the eulogy for Steve Jobs by his sister, Mona Simpson. They didn't meet until they were adults but forged a close relationship.

For more great links from earlier this week, please see last Monday's link roundup, This and That. Have a great week!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959)

THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY is a good, solid Western. The script isn't anything particularly special, but it keeps the story moving along, and the film is elevated by the fine cast, especially Joel McCrea's lead performance as Bat Masterson. I'll be watching this one again.

Bat Masterson seems to attract trouble wherever he goes. He invariably ends up having to shoot it out with one person or another, and he invariably is the one left standing when the smoke clears.

When unexpected circumstances lead to Masterson being elected marshal of Dodge City, he cleans up the town, but his new job is jeopardized when he takes the law into his own hands to help an old friend (Walter Coy).

McCrea is outstanding as Masterson, a somewhat tormented man who hates gunfights yet can't seem to keep clear of them. He's a complex, interesting character who perhaps could as easily turn outlaw as marshal. Masterson is a man with a curious mixture of uncertainty and confidence, somewhat guilt-ridden yet courageous and honorable.

Masterson is attracted to beautiful Pauline (Julie Adams), the uptight daughter of the town minister (James Westerfield), and he's blind to the feelings of Lily (Nancy Gates), with whom he co-owns a saloon. Adams is particularly interesting as a woman who at times seems to want to change, yet she can't break out of her rigidity. Her performance subtly conveys her inner conflict; she's clearly attracted to Masterson, yet she can't seem to help herself from putting distance between them because he doesn't meet her ideals.

For the viewer, however, Bat's most enjoyable relationship is with Doc Tremaine (John McIntire), who quickly becomes Bat's righthand man in everything from running games at the saloon to setting free a mentally challenged young man (Wright King) who is going to be hanged. Doc is greatly entertained by participating in Bat's adventures, and the audience enjoys it too. McIntire is always an interesting actor, and his character contributes a great deal to the film's success.

The cast also includes Richard Anderson, Harry Lauter, Don Haggerty, Timothy Carey, Kasey Rogers, John Mitchum, and Frank Sully.

This film was directed by Joseph M. Newman. The CinemaScope photography was by Carl E. Guthrie. It runs 81 minutes.

In her new autobiography, THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR, Julie Adams writes of Joel McCrea with great admiration: "I fondly recall that, between takes, Joel would talk about his wife, the delightful actress Frances Dee, and the three sons they had together. Joel was a family man through and through, and he and Frances remained married the rest of his life. They lived on a ranch... I will always remember Joel as a man of good character. Besides being very handsome, it was what he stood for as a person, in life, and on the screen, that made him so very special."

A lovely tribute, and it makes me happier than ever that in a week's time I'll be able to visit the McCrea Ranch.

THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY is available on DVD.

It's also been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available on the TCM website.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Magnetic Monster (1953)

One good Richard Carlson monster movie deserves another, so I followed up last night's screening of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) with a film Carlson made one year earlier, THE MAGNETIC MONSTER.

The "monster" in this film is actually a "hungry" radioactive element that keeps doubling in size; its magnetic force threatens to ultimately throw the world off its axis. This information prompted my favorite lines in the movie, when a general, played by Roy Engel, reacts by saying, "I like this world. Let's keep it in one piece."

Richard Carlson plays Dr. Jeffrey Stewart, a government "A-Man" (love it) from the Office of Scientific Investigation. It's up to Jeff and his assistant, Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan), to find a way to stop the radioactive monster before it's too late. The battle is especially personal for Jeff, as he and his wife are expecting their first child. The scenes of brief respite Jeff has at home during the crisis made me think a bit of Richard Widmark as the doctor and Barbara Bel Geddes as his wife in PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950).

As an aside, films such as THE MAGNETIC MONSTER and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON made Carlson the perfect actor to later star in Frank Capra's great series of science films, HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT (1957), THE STRANGE CASE OF THE COSMIC RAYS (1957), and THE UNCHAINED GODDESS (1958). HEMO gets my vote for the best educational film of all time. I saw it regularly in elementary school in the '70s. When the big film cannisters were brought in I always crossed my fingers the movie would be HEMO and not the dreaded THE RED BALLOON (1956), which just about put me to sleep every time.

Returning to the film at hand, THE MAGNETIC MONSTER is my kind of scary movie, where the fear builds around a scientific theory rather than an actual creepy-crawly monster. My dad described it to me as "a lot of time turning the dials on the big machines," and I loved that aspect of the movie. It's great fun watching the earnest Dr. Stewart and his assistant scanning, pushing buttons, spinning dials, and feeding information to a supercomputer improbably named MANIAC. The entire film seems emblematic of the scary new postwar nuclear era which was just a few years old when this film was made.

Southern Californians may enjoy some great 1950s footage of Long Beach Airport, including the interior of the terminal as well as the exterior. I always enjoy seeing this beautiful little Art Deco airport turn up in movies. Jacqueline wrote a post on the airport last year at Another Old Movie Blog. Following that line of thought, I'd love to read Jacqueline's thoughts one day on THE MAGNETIC MONSTER against the context of the nuclear/Cold War era; coincidentally just this week she reviewed another 1953 film with nuclear themes, Dick Powell's SPLIT SECOND.

The special effects were by Harry Redmond Jr., who passed away this past summer at the age of 101. More information on Redmond's remarkable career, including links to obituaries, can be found at the bottom of this post.

The climax of the film incorporates footage from a German film called GOLD (1934). According to information posted at IMDb, Richard Carlson's wardrobe in the final scenes was designed to match the stock footage.

The film was directed by Curt Siodmak, who cowrote the screenplay with producer Ivan Tors. Siodmak was the brother of director Robert Siodmak. Curt Siodmak also wrote the screenplay for I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), which I watched just a couple of weeks ago.

The supporting cast includes pretty Jean Byron (THE PATTY DUKE SHOW) as Carlson's expectant wife. Kathleen Freeman, Jarma Lewis, Byron Foulger, Harry Ellerbe, Leo Britt, Leonard Mudie, John Zaremba, and Strother Martin are also in the large cast.

The movie runs 76 minutes.

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER does not appear to have had a release on VHS or DVD. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available online.

Update: This film is now available on DVD.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Bend of the River (1952) at the Egyptian Theatre

At tonight's tribute to Julie Adams at the Egyptian Theatre, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) was followed by the Anthony Mann Western BEND OF THE RIVER. The movie was screened in a beautiful 35-millimeter print; although I've seen it before on multiple occasions, it was a particular joy to see it on the big screen for the first time.

I wrote a fairly cursory review of BEND OF THE RIVER five years ago, but it's a movie which really deserves a fuller exploration. It's a terrifically entertaining Western which I admire more with each viewing. The film has outstanding lead performances by James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy, an engaging supporting cast, beautiful Technicolor Oregon vistas, and a fast-paced, well-constructed script by Borden Chase.

Glynn McLyntock (Stewart) and Emerson Cole (Kennedy) are two men with violent pasts who meet when McLyntock saves Cole from a hangman's noose. Their friendship is further forged as they work together battling Indians who attack McLyntock's wagon train on the way to Oregon. McLyntock is determined to start a new life as a farmer or rancher in Oregon, but Cole may not be able to permanently renounce his past, even though he's won the love of the beautiful Laura (Adams).

The film has a great sense of pacing, starting with a slam-bang opening that speeds from McLyntock saving Cole, to the wagon train attack and then the two men subsequently working together to fight off the Indians. Humor is sprinkled throughout, whether it's the two men joking about Indian "birdcalls" or silently acknowledging one another's help as they pluck off the Indians one by one.

As the film continues, it has great set pieces including a saloon shootout, the men later racing their horses onto a paddlewheeler as they escape with their bought-and-paid-for supplies from a town that's got gold rush fever, or McLyntock stalking the villains near the end of the film, memorably telling the leader "You'll be seein' me."

One of the things I really enjoy is the teamwork between McLyntock, Cole, and Trey Wilson (Rock Hudson), a young gambler who joins forces with the older men. The saloon shootout with the three men fighting off seemingly most of the town is terrific. There's a sweetly funny subplot about the tentative attraction between Trey and Marjie (Lori Nelson), Laura's younger sister. There's also a very cute moment with Trey herding cattle with a weak calf across his saddle.

Stewart is, in a word, outstanding. Julie Adams said in her interview before the film that she would watch Stewart film his closeups and marvel at how much he could convey with his eyes; she said not many actors she worked with over the years could match Stewart's skills in front of a camera. Something I particularly noticed on this viewing is that although Stewart's McLyntock has remarkable abilities as an outdoorsman and fighter, when his life is in danger, he's no Superman -- there's real fear in those eyes. Similarly, when betrayed by a friend, we simultaneously see anger and even hurt in those eyes.

We see McLyntock's unspoken feelings for Laura in the way he looks at her when she's not watching and in the somewhat despairing way he moves his arms as he leaves her. Stewart's facial expressions and body language alone may contribute more to his fully rounded performance than what he does with dialogue, and of course his way with dialogue is quite remarkable too.

The supporting cast is filled with marvelous faces. In addition to the lovely Adams and Nelson, Jay C. Flippen and Harry Morgan are in the cast; both men were regulars in the series of films Mann and Stewart made in the '50s. Character actor Chubby Johnson is delightful as the paddle-wheeler captain. Stepin Fetchit is the captain's righthand man, and although the character at times seems stereotypically dense, looking beyond that there's a real sweetness in the close relationship between Johnson and Fetchit, who go off into the sunset (or, more accurately, back to the South) together near the end of the film.

Frank Ferguson, another favorite character actor, is a card cheater, and Howard Petrie is a storekeeper who goes bad when tempted by gold rush riches. (It was driving me crazy trying to remember where else I'd seen Petrie, and it suddenly dawned on me he's in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS.) Royal Dano, Frances Bavier, Jack Lambert, Lillian Randolph, Frank Chase, and Cliff Lyons fill out the cast; Lyons was also on the film's team of stuntmen.

The film is based on the novel BEND OF THE SNAKE by Bill Gulick. The fine cinematography was by Irving Glassberg. Costumes were by Rosemary Odell.

BEND OF THE RIVER has been released on DVD as part of the Universal Western Collection, as well as on VHS. It's also included in the six-film set James Stewart: The Western Collection. The DVD is available from Netflix.

This film is also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

Previous Egyptian Theatre posts: Dick Van Dyke Show 50th Anniversary at the Egyptian Theatre; A Visit to the 13th Noir City Film Festival (2011); Tonight's Movie: An American in Paris (1951) at the Egyptian Theatre; Tonight's Movie: West Side Story (1961) at the Egyptian Theatre; Tonight's Movie: The Ten Commandments (1956) at the Egyptian Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Cleopatra (1934) at the Egyptian Theatre; A Visit to the Noir City Film Festival (2010).

Tonight's Movie: Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) at the Egyptian Theatre

Tonight was another great evening at the Egyptian Theatre, celebrating the career of actress Julie Adams.

Miss Adams signed her new book, THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR, and was interviewed by historian Alan K. Rode in between screenings of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and BEND OF THE RIVER (1952).


It was a particular treat for me to see Miss Adams in person again, many years after I had a bit part in a theatrical production of THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE in which she played the title role. I briefly showed her my program and she seemed quite delighted by that, signing my book "From Jean Brodie to the Creature - we have a history!"


The book itself is gorgeous. From the small amount of time I've had to look at it, it appears to be worth every penny of the $30 price. It's a heavy softcover book of over 260 pages, with a vast array of superb photos, reproduced in high quality on glossy paper. The double-thick covers include beautiful reproductions of her movie posters on the inner covers. As an added bonus, a CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON CD from Monstrous Movie Music was included in the purchase price. For more information, visit Julie Adams' website.

I enjoyed the chance to say hello to Alan Rode before the movies. He's hosted many of the film events I've attended over the last year or two, and I always enjoy hearing him speak or interview guests. He's genial and highly knowledgeable, and his intermission interview with Miss Adams was a great example of his work; he deftly walked with her through her career, from breaking into movies to working with Jimmy Stewart, Budd Boetticher, and Anthony Mann, to more detailed reminisces of making CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.


Miss Adams is a charming speaker, energetic and articulate, who spoke with great warmth of many interesting people she had worked with during her career. She is still a working actress at the age of 85.

Adams spoke with particular admiration of the swimmers who doubled her and the Creature in the underwater scenes, and said she was lifelong friends with both men who played the Creature, Ben Chapman (the land version) and Ricou Browning (in the water). Ginger Stanley was Adams' swim double.

She also said that making the film was a very positive, fun experience, with an excellent director, Jack Arnold, and an outstanding cast. She said none of them ever dreamed that people would still be watching and enjoying the movie over half a century later!


She also mentioned that when she arrived in Hollywood she had to lose her Southern accent. I could have sworn the accent came out during one scene in CREATURE, when she said she needed "fresh air," and "air" had a real Southern twang!

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was shown with old-fashioned paper 3D glasses with red and green lenses. I hadn't seen a movie with that type of glasses in many years -- I saw KISS ME, KATE that way a couple times in the late '70s or early '80s -- and it worked suprisingly well, although I appreciate the improvements in modern 3D glasses. The black and white print provided by Universal was excellent.

Monster movies aren't really my thing, and I confess that, by the time the film's 79 minutes had run out, I had gotten a bit tired of the Creature continually reappearing, sneaking on board the boat RITA and sticking his slimy fingers through ship windows and so on (grin). Yet at the same time it was a fun, enjoyable movie, and I was glad to finally catch up with such an iconic bit of '50s cinema. The filmmakers, including director Arnold and cinematographer William E. Snyder, successfully create an environment and mood which makes the audience willing to buy in to the fantastic tale. The movie's outstanding underwater sequences add a great deal to the atmosphere. The film's final sequence, as the boat struggles to make it out of the lagoon, was quite nerve-wracking.

Adams is terrific as scientist Kay Lawrence, conveying a woman who is knowledgeable and adventurous, but also a really good screamer who looks amazing in a white swimsuit. (When asked what happened to the swimsuit, she said, "It went the way of all latex.") She is a very significant part of what makes the film enjoyable.

I've written recently of my growing admiration for Richard Carlson, who seems to keep turning up in good movies. He's also excellent as Dr. David Reed, and like Adams, it must be admitted he looks mighty fine in swimwear. Carlson's brave Dr. Reed shows integrity and compassion for the Creature -- even after the Creature has bumped off several people in the expedition!

Richard Denning gave perhaps the least believable performance, as it was necessary for his character to be rude and make poor decisions throughout the film in order for the plot to movie forward. His character felt more like a plot device than a real person.

The main cast was rounded out by Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, and Whit Bissell.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON has been released on DVD in the Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection as well as in the three film Legacy Collection, which has many extras. I anticipate adding this DVD to my collection soon so I can learn more about the film's production as well as check out the sequels.

It's also been released on VHS and is available on Netflix streaming.

My next visit to the Egyptian Theatre should be in November, when I plan to attend a screening of Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy in MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934); a signing of the new biography, MYRNA LOY: THE ONLY GOOD GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD, will be included.

Previous Egyptian Theatre posts: Dick Van Dyke Show 50th Anniversary at the Egyptian Theatre; A Visit to the 13th Noir City Film Festival (2011); Tonight's Movie: An American in Paris (1951) at the Egyptian Theatre; Tonight's Movie: West Side Story (1961) at the Egyptian Theatre; Tonight's Movie: The Ten Commandments (1956) at the Egyptian Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Cleopatra (1934) at the Egyptian Theatre; A Visit to the Noir City Film Festival (2010).

Newer›  ‹Older