Sunday, June 03, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Dallas (1950)

Decades before the existence of J.R. Ewing, there was another DALLAS, an unexpectedly giddy Gary Cooper Western. DALLAS is colorful, action-packed, and amusing, which all adds up to an entertaining movie.

Coop plays Blayde "Reb" Hollister, who's sort of a cagey Western superhero, complete with a tinhorn sidekick he takes under his wing.

The complicated plot has Hollister, a one-time Confederate officer wanted by the law, trading places with an inexperienced marshal, Martin Weatherby (Leif Erickson). Hollister tries to keep Martin alive and teach him the ways of the west, while simultaneously searching for the men who killed his family back in Georgia. Hollister locates his quarry in Dallas: respected citizen Will Marlowe (Raymond Massey) and Will's trigger-happy younger brother Bryant (Steve Cochran).

Throw in Martin's fiancee, Tonia (Ruth Roman), falling hard for Hollister, and he's got his hands full.

DALLAS has its serious moments, but it has an unexpectedly punchy side, starting with the opening sequence, in which Wild Bill Hickok (a delightful Reed Hadley) helps Hollister stage a very public "death" to get the law off his back. There are many such comedic touches sprinkled throughout the film.  Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised this Western has a funny streak, as it was directed by Stuart Heisler, who also directed Cooper in the very amusing Western comedy ALONG CAME JONES (1945).

Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran might not have even met making this film, as -- despite a publicity photo to the contrary -- they don't share scenes, but the next year they would costar in an excellent film noir, TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951). Cochran is so scruffy in DALLAS that he's initally almost unrecognizable, but he has some good moments as the perpetually thwarted Bryant. In one scene Hollister lifts Bryant's gun right out of his holster without Bryant realizing it!

Roman is elegant as the aristocratic Tonia, who can't help loving Hollister, despite Hollister's attempt to help Martin out in his courtship. A scene where Hollister does Martin's shooting for him, so he can impress Tonia, is sort of a Western cross between CYRANO DE BERGERAC and the later MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.

The movie also has an excellent supporting cast, with familiar faces such as Jerome Cowan, Will Wright, and Antonio Moreno. Barbara Payton plays Bryant's lady friend.

The movie was shot in beautiful Technicolor by Ernest Haller, filming on the Warner Bros. backlot and Southern California movie ranches. I'm pretty sure I recognized a rock formation later seen in THE WILD DAKOTAS (1956)! Both films utilized the Iverson Ranch; the Iverson Ranch blog has some good photos from DALLAS.

The rousing score is by the great Max Steiner. The script by John Twist runs a well-paced 94 minutes.

DALLAS is available on DVD as part of the Gary Cooper Signature Collection. The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

The movie also had a release on VHS.

The trailer is available at the Turner Classic Movies website.


Blogger The Tiny Twins said...

I only knew about the 80's Dallas... I am going to have to watch the film! Thank you!!

11:18 PM  
Blogger Crocheted Lace said...

That sounds like a Gary Cooper movie I could actually watch, his only discernible talent appeared in light comedy touches. Otherwise, he had the presence of a fence post. Whatever "it" was that makes people like Cooper, I sure can't see it. His acting makes me cringe.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I always liked the opening scene, where Cooper, standing against a wall, lights a match and then lights the wanted poster bearing his visage which he proceeds to stamp out.

I recently read a biography of Barbara Payton. What an incredibly sad life.

"Dallas" is a perfectly enjoyable 90 minutes, and I am happy to have this movie in my collection.

9:39 AM  

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