Sunday, July 23, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Carbine Williams (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

James Stewart plays the title role in CARBINE WILLIAMS (1952), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Williams was a moonshiner who went to prison after a federal agent was accidentally killed during a raid on a still.

Williams was initially a tough case at the prison and ended up on a chain gang, but eventually he was sent to a prison farm, run by Captain Peoples (Wendell Corey). When Peoples discovered that Williams had designed a new kind of repeating rifle, he allowed him to work on it in the prison shop over a period of years.

Williams' invention and simultaneous reform helped lead to his early parole, after which he continued to work on new gun designs. His concept of a repeating rifle was ultimately used by the army in World War II.

I had never seen CARBINE WILLIAMS before and it's a bit of an odd film, though ultimately rewarding. Stewart's character is an angry man for much of the movie, with the same simmering rage as was seen in some of his Anthony Mann Westerns that decade. Morever, his character spends at least the first two-thirds of the 92-minute movie making some really dumb decisions, which makes it difficult to empathize. It's hard to root for an immature man who thinks of his own feelings but not those of his family.

The film becomes a bit of a slog in the middle third, though Stewart pulls the viewer along by the sheer dint of his star power. The film improves once Wendell Corey enters the picture.

Stewart and Corey, who would later team in REAR WINDOW (1954), have an interesting dynamic, as Corey is equally capable of hinting at bubbling rage underneath a tranquil surface. This is particularly apparent in the scenes where Peoples sends Williams to solitary confinement.

At the same time, Corey's character is a smart man who recognizes Williams' interest might be used to help turn his life around. Despite his earlier harsh relationship with Williams, he eventually gives him the freedom to work on his invention on prison grounds. Stewart's reaction in a scene where Peoples tells the prison board that he'll finish Williams' sentence if Williams lets him down is quite moving.

I wouldn't class CARBINE WILLIAMS as one of Stewart's stronger films, but I think it proved worthwhile, and it also opens a window on an interesting piece of history.

The supporting cast includes Jean Hagen as Williams' long-suffering wife and Bobby Hyatt as his son. Williams' parents are played by Carl Benton Reid and Lillian Culver, and one of his brothers is played by James Arness. The large cast also includes Paul Stewart, Rhys Williams, John Doucette, Emile Meyer, Otto Hulett, and Howard Petrie.

CARBINE WILLIAMS was directed by Richard Thorpe and filmed in black and white by William C. Mellor.

CARBINE WILLIAMS was released early in the Warner Archive's history; I noticed the print has the old Turner logo at the start. The picture is quite clear, though originally filmed in a bland, muted visual style. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

James Stewart is one of my absolute favourite actors of all time (my wife's too) but I saw this film just once many years ago and, although glad I saw it, have no particular desire to own it or re-view it. My reaction to the film was very similar to your own, Laura.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Good to know what another big Stewart fan thought of this title, Jerry! Glad you shared your thoughts. I was a little surprised not to like it more than I did, though as mentioned I ended up feeling glad I saw it.

Best wishes,

12:02 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I have never heard of this one! A nice little obscure find. Thanks Laura.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Raquel! This one was really different! I'm glad it popped onto my radar screen -- imperfect but worth a look.

Best wishes,

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here in North Carolina, we're proud of Carbine Williams, and his rifle prototypes are in the state history museum. The movie's a bit odd, but Stewart carries it along on his back with his typical ease.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Love that regional history info, Toby! You're right, Stewart really pulls the viewer along even when you're thinking "This is kind of a strange movie," LOL. And ultimately I was glad I saw it.

Best wishes,

7:45 PM  

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