My recent George Montgomery Western festival continued today with MASTERSON OF KANSAS (1954).
My viewing of MASTERSON OF KANSAS followed Montgomery's GUN BELT (1953), THE LONE GUN (1954), and ROBBERS' ROOST (1955), all of which I've seen in the last couple of weeks.
Montgomery plays Bat Masterson, who teams with Wyatt (Bruce Cowling) and Virgil (Donald Murphy) Earp to deal with an unjustly convicted murderer (John Maxwell), Indian troubles with Yellow Hawk (Jay Silverheels) and his tribe, and conflict over the appearance of Doc Holliday (James Griffith) in Dodge City.
50 Westerns From the 50s, but I've got to say this one disappointed me a little. The film felt overly stagy to me, from the hokey narration to Jay Silverheels' broken Indian speak to the phony backgrounds and stock footage to the forced dialogue, such as the scene between Amy and her father in the jail.
The other three Montgomery Westerns I've watched in the past week felt more natural, with much more relaxed performances from Montgomery. Here some of his dialogue delivery comes over as a bit tinny and awkward at times. It's not a bad performance, but it seemed a little off to me; perhaps he wasn't wholly comfortable under the weight of portraying the legendary Masterson.
Another problem with my enjoyment was that the fullscreen picture on the Sony Choice DVD-R seemed "squished." Although IMDb indicates the aspect ratio is 1:33, Toby says in his review it's 1:85, which would explain why the fullscreen DVD picture didn't look very good. I thought this was a fairly poor print, which is confusing as Toby seems to have reviewed and thought highly of the very same DVD, so I'm sure we'll be comparing notes on this! Is it possible that the MOD program has sent out two different versions of the same film? (Update: Please be sure to read the comments -- there are definitely two different DVD versions out there.)
The best reason to see the movie is to watch James Griffith as Doc Holliday. Griffith is an actor I've only just come to appreciate in the past year, in films such as APACHE DRUMS (1951) and RAILS INTO LARAMIE (1954). He's outstanding in a multilayered performance as Doc, which Toby describes really well. I'm surprised Griffith isn't better remembered today, given the quality of his work.
I loved the classic shot at the end of Masterson, Earp, and Holliday walking down the street of Hays City to confront the bad guys, six guns blazing simultaneously. It must be said that scene was pretty awesome for a Western fan.
Another plus is the beautiful, brightly colored title card, giving the opening of this Columbia Pictures film a Universal Westerns look.
MASTERSON OF KANSAS runs a quick 73 minutes. It was produced by Sam Katzman and directed by William Castle. The story and screenplay were by Douglas Heyes, who later did a lot of work on the MAVERICK series.
Henry Freulich. It was shot at Southern California movie ranches including Corriganville and the Iverson Ranch.
The Sony DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix.
This film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.