Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Man Trailer (1934)

A few good friends of this blog are fans of Buck Jones Westerns, but until now I had never watched one! I've acquired a nice collection of them thanks to said friends, and I've now watched my first Jones film, THE MAN TRAILER (1934). I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it very much.

I chose THE MAN TRAILER as the leading lady is Cecilia Parker, who later played Marian in MGM's long-running ANDY HARDY series. I also thought the lone review at the film's IMDb page sounded cute, and indeed it was.

Track Ames (Jones) is a good man who's had bad trouble with both a Texas lawman and a ring of crooks headed by Jim Burke (Arthur Vinton). The desperate Track is tempted to become an outlaw, but instead he ends up saving a stagecoach containing a shipment of gold and pretty Sally Ryan (Parker) from Burke.

Track becomes a marshal in the Oklahoma town where Sally lives, going by the name of Dan Lane, but trouble, in the form of Burke, isn't far behind him.

Some of the acting, combined with the somewhat scratchy sound quality of the print I watched, feels a bit "quaint," but at the same time, Jones in particular has an endearing sincerity despite not being the greatest actor. Moreover, the film's stylish and economical storytelling keeps the viewer interested, along with the sweet love story.

In terms of my overall enjoyment, I'd rank this one about on a par with a George O'Brien Western, which is a high compliment coming from me. I don't know if I'll like all of Jones's films as much, but I liked this one!

The movie is eye-catching from the opening scene where Track approaches the rustlers' lair, while a lookout watches from a high perch. Some nice stunt work follows with a horse to stagecoach transfer. The exteriors were apparently shot at Iverson Ranch; the rocks seen early in the film were so striking that I briefly wondered if it was the Alabama Hills.

Watching the exciting chase scene, I was struck that we're watching history on two different levels when watching a Western like this, or many other films; beyond the "times past" depicted in the story, we're also watching historic Western moviemaking, with actors and locations which have become so familiar to us over time.

One of the nicest bits of storytelling occurs when Track is asked by several townsmen to be a marshal. He turns the job down, saying it's not in his plans, but Sally wordlessly takes the badge from one of the men, with a slight smile on her face. Cut to the next scene, and Track is standing in front of the marshal's office, wearing the badge; we further realize that some time has passed when he looks at the engraved watch he received as a reward for rescuing the gold, as it would have taken time for the watch to be engraved and delivered to him. Sally's father had said there was no stopping her when she put her mind to something, and it's clear from this little moment he was telling the truth!

There's also some sly humor; early in the film we see Track roasting what is clearly a rabbit over his campfire, while he chats with his horse (which was a clever way to handle some exposition). Later in the movie, when Sally's father asks what's for dinner, she replies, "Fried rabbit," prompting a startled "Not that again!" look from Track which no one else sees. Little moments like that really added some color to the movie.

I also really appreciate a movie where the hero and heroine don't have misunderstandings due to lack of communication. It was thus quite refreshing when, after declaring their feelings for each other, Sally asks Track if he can share the problem that's worrying him. He immediately takes out the wanted poster with his picture on it and hands it to her. That gave the movie a gold star in my book right there.

Jones was considerably older than Parker, but while he looks older, the gap doesn't seem all that big on screen; they seem well-suited, especially as she is no shrinking violet, but a spunky gal through and through.

The supporting cast includes Clarence Geldart, Steve Clark, and Charles West. The movie was filmed by Benjamin Kline.

THE MAN TRAILER was written and directed by Lambert Hillyer, who had a long career in the Westerns business. The movie runs a brisk 59 minutes.

THE MAN TRAILER does not seem to be currently available on DVD, VHS, or streaming. Let's hope this Columbia Pictures film is one day more easily accessible.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Wow, Laura! In recent months you've watched your first Hopalong Cassidy movie and now your first Buck Jones! LOL Delighted you enjoyed it so much too. As Series western stars go, I think Jones was one of the better actors but perhaps it was his charm, his great horsemanship and his sincere love of western lore that made him stand out.
What next, I wonder? One of the westerns his Columbia stablemate Tim McCoy starred in 1931-35?
I look forward to your reviews of further Buck Jones movies......

11:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Jerry! You never know! All this, and Bill Elliott too! As I said in another comment recently, the more I see, the more I learn there is to explore. Which is a pretty wonderful thing!

The enthusiasm of folks like you has played a big role in my expanding film horizons!

Best wishes,

12:18 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Yay, it finally happened! And equating it to a George O'Brien film is high praise from you indeed. I'm so glad you liked your first one, and I hope you choose another you'll like just as well... FORBIDDEN TRAIL was the first Buck Jones films I ever saw, and it's still a favorite (hint, hint.)

I liked the Track and Sally scenes very much too; it was a real nice touch how he just handed her the poster. And I've never had Plum jam! I wonder if I'd like it?

These early 30's westerns may look very primitive to a modern eye, but in a way it adds to their charm. And like you say, it's fascinating to see the bridge between eras. If the dialogue sounds a little "creaky" at times, I think it's just as much due to writers who are more used to penning screen cards than spoken dialogue, as it is actors adjusting to sound.

Like Jerry, I think Jones is actually one of the more talented and versatile western leads. He can be the very picture of grim determination, or the happy go lucky cowboy personified. I've seen his characters near tears at the death of a friend, or match a side-kick laugh for laugh in the comedy department.

The "not the greatest" actor charge could be laid against many of our favorites... I mean, do we watch a George Montgomery, or even a Randolph Scott film, to say: 'he is one of the greatest actors in the world?' For sheer thespian ability, the actors from the British stage tradition (who 'cut their teeth on Shakespeare') pretty much top my list in that department. But to me, "great actors" shouldn't always judged by an ability to play multiple roles with seamless ease (sometimes within the same production,) or deliver every soliloquy in HAMLET with nary a stumble. I think acting "greatness" can also mean excelling in the particular niche an actor has created for himself, and which no one else could fill half as well (whew, I didn't start out to write an essay, my apologies for getting a tad long-winded;-))

7:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Mary, I'll keep FORBIDDEN TRAIL in mind!

Your comment reminds me of a scene I'd forgotten, where it briefly looked as though Track was near tears. Definitely touching.

Some good thoughts to consider here including on early dialogue/sound.

Looking forward to trying out more Buck Jones films...and speaking of George Montgomery, I'll also have a review of one of his movies here in a couple weeks or so! (The jungle adventure WATUSI.)

Best wishes,

8:17 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

John Wayne, after media discussion about his acting ability (what do they know anyway), said that he liked to think what he did was "react". Great way to describe that naturalistic style of acting. Boy did he "react" well!!

8:57 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Hi Laura, thanks for responding:-) I'm kind of an outspoken rambler, so looking back over my post I was hoping that it caused no offense, none was intended.

I've seen WATUSI, and remember it as a respectable adventure tale (I didn't mind the use of a lot of stock footage from KING SOLOMON'S MINES.)

Jerry, I think a lot of the old school leading men don't get near enough credit, Wayne in particular. Politics I'm sure has something to do with it, but is it also because he made it look so easy?

I've noticed acting appreciation is often just a matter of personal taste: one critic adamantly states that a performance smells, yet another critic just as decisively says the same performance is great. Who will pick up the pieces? (lol) There are some always critically acclaimed actors who I find overrated, and I don't really understand the whole "method" concept. Any good actor can bring his own uniqueness to a part. In my estimation, Olivier had it right with his remark: "I thought each of us had our own method."

Off the top of my head, the worst actor I've ever seen as a leading man (in an old, professionally made film) is probably "Sunset" Carson. A real-life cowboy and a likable guy, and he just couldn't act to save his life, and his vocal pitch didn't help any. His films for Republic were well-made, and he was ably supported, but after a couple film I couldn't watch any more. He really made me appreciate the little things I had tended to take for granted: thought behind the eyes, change of inflection/tone in the voice, etc. (apologies in advance to any "Sunset" fans out there, I just call 'em as I see 'em.)

2:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Wayne certainly did "react" well, Jerry!

One of my favorite Wayne anecdotes was an interview with Binnie Barnes where she was asked the greatest actor she ever worked with. Olivier? Ralph Richardson? Her reply: "John Wayne." Loved that.

Oh, no worries at all, Mary, love chatting about this stuff. :) Great Olivier quote.

Appreciate the feedback on WATUSI -- I've seen KING SOLOMON'S MINES several times so it will be fun to see if I recognize the stock footage!

Also very interested in your take on Sunset Carson, have never seen him on film.

Best wishes,

7:34 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

This is a fun (and interesting) discussion, Laura and Mary.

Yes, I like Olivier's comment too - right on the nail. I don't enjoy watching method acting either. Compare in 'JUBAL' Rod Steiger's scenery-chewing antics with Glenn Ford's naturalistic style. You couldn't ignore Steiger but I know which style I prefer!

Sunset ( bless him) was no actor. His action-packed films were fun though.

As for Wayne - in the 1970s we had a ratings-high chat show in UK hosted by Michael Parkinson and he got a huge number of classic-era stars on as guests. Many were his heroes as he genuinely loves the movies. Unfortunately, when it came to Duke Wayne, his left-of-centre journalist credentials turned the interview from what should have been a chat about Wayne's film work into a grilling over his (unfashionable by then) politics. I always felt it was such a missed opportunity.....

11:46 PM  
Blogger john k said...

First things first.......
Michael Parkinson is a horrible,disgusting lecherous old dinosaur who
should have been put out to pasture decades ago.
Like Jerry I saw the Wayne interview....crass and cringe making.
In more recent years he interviewed Morgan Freeman and the whole theme of
the interview was that Mr Freeman was Black..."Parky" had nothing else to bring
to the table.
Enough of him except to say Parkinson is to chat shows what Bill Clinton is to
We had another great chat show host Michael Aspel who always did his research and
respected his guests.
When his excellent chat show "Aspel & Company" aired many years back his first
guests were Clint Eastwood and Elizabeth Taylor such was the respect he gained in
the industry.

You may want to edit/delete my rant above but now back to the main man Mr Jones.
Great to see so much love for Buck on this most entertaining thread.
Lambert Hillyer directed many fine Buck Jones Westerns.
He also directed silent Westerns starring William S Hart.
As you correctly state the lion's share of his films were Westerns.
His most famous film is the cult item DRACULA'S DAUGHTER a Universal Horror much
heralded for it's sensual subtext.
I'm in the process of trying to track down some of his crime thrillers which are very
hard to locate and feature stars of the era like Jack Holt and Ralph Bellamy.
On my (hopefully) forthcoming "Discoveries of 2015" over at Brian's I have chosen
a Hillyer film THE DEFENSE RESTS. I thought it was very good but like many of Hillyer's films it has dark and disturbing elements. A very interesting director
who's early work I would like to see much more of.

For future Buck Jones viewing I highly endorse MEN WITHOUT LAW and THE DEADLINE.
The latter was recently released by Sony's MOD series in a beauty of a transfer.
What I love about these Jones pictures is that the Real West was only in America's
recent past and still existed in certain parts of rural America.This is reflected,
I think in the Jones films.

6:34 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Interesting to see WATUSI name dropped here.
I've been wanting to see this for years and am thrilled that Warner Archive
have just released it in widescreen.
If for nothing else to see George Montgomery in a jungle flick.
WATUSI was directed by Kurt Neumann and written by James Clavell they had just
completed the Sci Fi smash hit THE FLY.
Sadly Mr Neumann passed away before THE FLY opened so he never got to hear about
his biggest box office smash. It's reported that Neumann shot THE FLY in the same
time it took George Stevens to do one set up in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.
Steven's film while a wow with critics failed at the box office.( extreme length,
black & white and no major stars were blamed.) THE FLY on the other hand made a
fortune. The only thing that delayed the shooting of THE FLY was when Vincent Price
and Herbert Marshall got an uncontrollable fit of the giggles in the notorious
"help me...help me" scene. They had to do multiple takes.
WATUSI was an attempt by exploitation expert Al Zimbalist to crank out a couple
of cheapies using mainly left over/unused footage from KING SOLOMONS MINES.
Neumann,an expert at making something out of nothing from his Lippert days
was the ideal director for this sort of thing.
The other Zimbalist "epic" made at the same time was TARZAN THE APE MAN this time with another good director "slumming it" ...Joseph Newman.
Speaking of Kurt Neumann Warner Archive recently released his BAD BOY which was
Audie Murphy's first starring role. It's an excellent study of a young tearaway
with a neat psychological twist.Highly recommended.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Well, that’s one interview I’m in no hurry to see;-) My gosh, I loathe the man already and I’ve never even seen him. Thanks for the warnings! And yes, what a terrible waste. Wayne deserved so much better than that.

The “Method” schools tend to run to the left, as do most critics, and it seems to me that the critics are predisposed to praise “Method” performances as a result. John Wayne, with his ‘no cowboy on a psychiatrist's couch,’ is the anti-thesis of the modern every-character-must-have-a-neurosis trend, which I see as stemming from a scorn of traditional heroes, and the Method’s influence.

Glenn Ford is yet another supposedly “wooden” leading man from old Hollywood, who, like Wayne (and many others), gave a fantastic performance when given the opportunity. And yeah, Steiger needed a little reining in.

Jerry and Laura, glad you liked the quote, here’s the rest of it: "What they call 'the Method' is not generally advantageous to the actor at all. Instead of doing a scene over again that's giving them trouble, they want to discuss, discuss, discuss. I'd rather run through a scene eight times that waste time chattering away about abstractions. An actor gets a thing right by doing it over and over. Arguing about motivations and so forth is a lot of rot. American directors encourage that sort of thing too much.”

Regarding Buck Jones, I’ve heard that he was one of Wayne’s cowboy idols, which makes perfect sense to me, they both have very honest, natural acting styles. Another similarity is that both are such natural athletes they’re a pleasure to watch in motion!

And John, I really like, and heartily agree with, your remark about the very near proximity of the "real west" in Jones' films. I think some of the early Universal western serials have this feel too (BTW, which Lambert Hillyer films are you looking for?)

1:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

"What I love about these Jones pictures is that the Real West was only in America's
recent past and still existed in certain parts of rural America. This is reflected,
I think in the Jones films."

Just a quick note for now as I'm in the middle of a rush job -- I wanted to echo Maricatrin's agreement of the above sentiment by John. I think that is part of what I was feeling when I had the sense I was watching "history," some of it felt very authentic and it was special to watch that early sound moviemaking, not too many decades past real Western times.

I have FORBIDDEN TRAIL, MEN WITHOUT LAW, and THE DEADLINE on my priority list for Buck Jones viewing, thanks to both of your recommendations, along with another film here he made with Cecilia Parker, UNKNOWN VALLEY.

John, I almost requested a review screener of BAD BOY this week but ultimately went another direction -- I hope to review it in the future. Love the cast including Martha Vickers.

Best wishes,

1:20 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

And of course, in those early movie-making days, many of the extras were or had been real cowboys and some had even been born in 'old west' times. Buck Jones and Tim McCoy had both been born around 1890, for instance. Tom Mix too of course.
Westerns are one genre I am happy to watch right back to the beginning of sound. They were not yet formulaic and were so close still to the real thing you can almost smell it! Wonderful to enjoy.

2:37 PM  
Blogger john k said...

I guess I may have been a bit tough on Parkinson-I'm not in a good mood because
my Wayne Morris films are still stuck in the post.
It's just that I never forgave "Parky" for boasting about how he put The Duke on
the spot in that crass interview....after all Parky is some provincial sports
journalist who got lucky and John Wayne is well...John Wayne.

Here are my picks of the Lambert Hillyer films that I am after....there are others
but I thought I'd narrow it down to a select few.

Hillyer's final film for Universal and Rod Cameron in his B Series Western days.
Charles Starrett,Russell Hayden Mounties film
Julie Bishop,Rita Hayworth
Bruce Cabot Ward Bond
Johnny Mack Brown crime/medical drama
Jack Holt,Fay Wray
Tim McCoy crime drama
Charles 'Chic' Sale Preston Foster
Railroad crime drama.

After a stint with the majors (Columbia-Universal) Hillyer spent the rest of his
film career churning out Westerns for Monogram.This is Jerry's thing and he will
know the cream of the crop as far as the Monogram's are concerned.
Hillyer did what he could with Monogram's threadbare production values-at least
these films gave him steady work.

6:51 AM  
Blogger john k said...

More Kurt Neumann.....
Laura,I was very impressed with BAD BOY...Murphy was excellent in his first
starring role and Lloyd Nolan and Jane Nigh give stellar support.
Neumann also directed Murphy in THE KID FROM TEXAS an excellent Billy The Kid
It's a shame Neumann passed away so young (50) just as he achieved a major box
office smash. He had other projects in development with Lippert/Fox including
a pet project THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI which ended up in other hands after
his passing.Such a shame to pass away so young after nearly 30 years in the business.
Neumann seemed to like to develop his own projects rather than be tied to the studios.
Sadly the budgets on some of his earlier films never matched their ambitions.
He had a long and fruitful relationship with Lippert.
His first project ROCKETSHIP XM is a low budget gem.
Neumann presented Robert Lippert with the initial draft a tale of a rocketship
that lands on Mars,inhabited by prehistoric monsters. Neumann said they could stretch
the budget by lifting footage from ONE MILLION YEARS BC...(yet again)
Lippert sent him on his way and got Dalton Trumbo,no less to do a re-write.
Trumbo came up with something more adult and intelligent. Lippert then phoned
Neumann and said "come over here kid...we're going to the moon!"
I love the way these deals were struck in those days.
Another Neumann film I am after is REUNION IN RENO from his short stint with
Universal.The main reason,apart from Neumann's involvement is that I like the stars
Mark Stevens and Frances Dee.
So much great stuff out there to discover.

7:12 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Interesting list John.

The Lippert anecdote should be taken with a grain of salt. Neumann would not have been given cavalier, even if affectionate, treatment.

Oh, and Jane Wyatt in Bad Boy with Nolan and Murphy, not Nigh, yes?

7:51 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Amen to that last comment, John!
There are some juicy-looking films on your Hillyer-wanted list - some I would love to see too!

9:06 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, what a great point about some of the early stars having been cowboys, or alive during the era. You called to mind a book I read years ago, HOLLYWOOD POSSE by Diana Serra Cary (Baby Peggy).

That's a great list of Lambert Hillyer films to watch for, John! Many actors I like on that list. Kurt Neumann's REUNION IN RENO also sounds very interesting, love the lead actors, Stevens and Dee.

This fun has been a lot of fun, thanks to all!

Best wishes,

1:30 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Thanks Barry re the mistake regarding Nigh/Wyatt.........
It proves even smartass Limeys get things wrong sometimes.

The very interesting Lippert book "Talks cheap...actions expensive" gives a great
insight into Lippert senior. According to the book ROCKETSHIP XM cost $90,000 to make
and grossed $600,000 in the USA a very handsome profit for those days.
I don't think,by all accounts that Lippert junior was as interested in movies,or indeed movie-makers as his father.
I feel Neumann who worked for Lippert extensively liked the deal because he was able
to make the films that he wanted to make. The RegalScope/Lippert films SHE DEVIL
and KRONOS are excellent and look far more expensive films than they were to make.
Depending on which source you believe THE FLY cost $350,000-$500,000 and grossed
8 Million a huge amount in those days. THE FLY was a Lippert project as were
Sam Fullers CHINA GATE and FORTY GUNS. Lippert really gave Fuller his directing
break.I don't think either Neumann and Fuller would have had such a good working
relationship with Lippert if he was hard to deal with.
Maury Dexter had a great relationship with Lippert...there is a passage in the
book where Dexter borrowed a considerable sum of money from Lippert (to bankroll
his brother's business venture,or something) and Lippert was very annoyed when
Dexter tried to pay the money back.
Yes,Barry I agree sometimes these things get mis-quoted but at any rate it's good
to hear from you as I always enjoy your comments and insight.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, that's fun info from the Lippert book. The book is on my shelf and I need to make time to read it!

Best wishes,

12:39 PM  

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