Monday, July 06, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Straight Shooting (1917) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Director John Ford's first feature film, STRAIGHT SHOOTING (1917), will be released on Blu-ray and DVD next week by Kino Lorber.

Watching the new Blu-ray was something of a revelation for me, as I had previously seen the film at the 2017 Lone Pine Film Festival.

"Seen" perhaps doesn't really describe my previous experience, as the digital print screened was so faded that at times I had trouble following the story. I had meant to watch it again on YouTube to try and get more out of it, especially as the film is so short, but I never got around to it -- and now I'm glad, because the print I saw via this Blu-ray provided a completely different viewing experience. The visual clarity was remarkable; I'm most grateful it exists and has been released.

Ford and star Harry Carey (Sr.), who plays the lead role of Cheyenne Harry, had worked together on a few shorts featuring that character and wanted to make a feature-length film. Universal Pictures wasn't initially on board with the idea, so it required fibbing to the studio in order to secure additional film stock, but they did get it, made the full-length film, and the rest is history.

In STRAIGHT SHOOTING George Hively's scenario presents a typical Western homesteaders vs. ranchers range war, with evil rancher Thunder Flint (Duke Lee) hiring Cheyenne Harry to lead his ranch hands against the homesteaders. Also on Flint's team is Placer Fremont (Vester Pegg); he and Harry eye one another warily. Fremont soon demonstrates that he deserves Harry's concern; Fremont is evil personified, killing the innocent young son (Ted Brooks) of a rancher, Sweet Water Sims (George Berrell).

Harry comes across the grieving family and is moved to change sides in the conflict, especially as he's taken with the rancher's pretty young daughter Joan (Molly Malone). Sam Turner (Hoot Gibson), one of Flint's ranchhands, is also smitten with Joan and helps the family despite his employer.

Harry eventually battles Fremont in a harrowing gunfight on the streets of the local town. Matters build to a climax with a major shootout at the Sims homestead, with Harry calling in a favor from his old pal Black-Eye Pete (Milt Wilson) and his gang to help battle Flint's men.

In the end Harry must decide whether to hit the trail again, leaving Sam to romance Joan, or commit to ending his roaming days and try for her hand himself...

There's a lot of action packed into this 63-minute film -- which, incidentally, runs six minutes longer than the time currently listed at IMDb. Carey is terrific, straddling the line between being quite menacing -- this is a man you do not want to mess with -- and tenderhearted. The emotions he expresses for the grieving Sims family and the agonizing dilemma he faces in the final scenes are deeply moving, no dialogue needed.

It's also interesting seeing the young Gibson in this as Joan's somewhat awkward would-be suitor. I've enjoyed getting to know Gibson's work a bit since first seeing him in THE TEXAS STREAK (1926) at Cinecon a few years ago.

STRAIGHT SHOOTING is not a great film, but it's a good one, and a fascinating look at some of the director's earliest work. Even then, his technique showed flare, as he and cinematographer George Scott captured a wonderful sequence in the pouring rain and some beautifully staged location riding sequences along with the previously mentioned action pieces.

The significance of the film's final moments being centered around a door was not lost on me, calling to mind the importance a door played in John Wayne's tribute to Carey in the final moments of THE SEARCHERS. In this film things may go a bit differently for the lead character, but the staging around the door nonetheless provides some deeply moving moments.

Extras on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray include video and booklet essays by Tag Gallagher; a fragment from a Ford-directed film, HITCHIN' POSTS (1920), preserved by the Library of Congress; and an audio commentary track by film historian Joseph McBride, author of SEARCHING FOR JOHN FORD and coauthor, with Michael Wilmington, of JOHN FORD. I really enjoyed McBride's commentary on Ernst Lubitsch's ANGEL (1937) a few weeks ago and will definitely be listening to his STRAIGHT SHOOTING commentary in the next few days; I expect to learn even more about this film and its role in the careers of Ford and Carey.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

This sounds fascinating. The earliest Carey/Ford picture I have seen is Bucking Broadway, also from 1917 and also featuring Vester Pegg as a bounder. It was presented by Peter Bogdanovich at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007. Gee, it feels like only a couple of years ago. My how time flies.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Harry Carey was, of course, a fine actor and he and the young Ford were quite a team in this period. Hoot Gibson went on to be a bigger star in the 1920s than Carey.

I love that still you put up, Laura, showing the riders with that deep gap in the background. How striking is that!

10:52 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, what a great review of a movie that many of us have been waiting for. Actually a good print to feast our eyes upon, finally. Harry Carey, Sr. is one of my favorite actors and he was a role model for John Wayne and others. Harry and Olive Carey were like surrogate parents to Wayne.

I hope the Kino Lorber Blu-ray of HELL BENT(1918) is as good as STRAIGHT SHOOTING(1917). HELL BENT is another Jack Ford and Harry Carey Western, with Carey as Cheyenne Harry. Carey and Ford also wrote the story. It was thought to be a lost movie, but it was located in two private collections and a print at the Czechoslovak Film Archives.

Along with Jerry, I really like the still of Beale's Cut you put up from STRAIGHT SHOOTING. John Ford and others liked to use this location near Newhall, California. Director D.W. Griffith used it in BROKEN WAYS(1913), which starred Henry B. Walthall, Blanche Sweet, and Harry Carey. It was released by the Biograph Company. Was this the first time Beale's Cut was used in a movie? Who knows, because most silent movies are considered lost.

Probably the most famous use of Beale's Cut was in THREE JUMPS AHEAD(1923) a Fox Film written and directed by John Ford and starring Tom Mix and Alma Bennett. This movie is considered lost, which is a crying shame, because it contains a much debated scene of Tom Mix and his horse Tony making a 20 feet jump over Beale's Cut. There are stills from the movie and of the jump. Some think it was trick photography, although several stuntmen claim they actually did the stunt. Also, Tom said that he and Tony did the jump. So, who knows.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for your comments! This was really an interesting film for a Western fan.

Caftan Woman, I haven't seen BUCKING BROADWAY yet! How amazing you were able to see it on a big screen with that introduction. (And the years really do fly by, don't they?)

Jerry and Walter, isn't that shot of Beale's Cut striking? My husband reminded me that Huell Howser visited it in an episode of CALIFORNIA'S GOLD which can be seen online thanks to his archives at Chapman University:

Walter, that is great additional info on Beale's Cut which I was unaware of -- especially as my knowledge of silents lags way behind my knowledge of later films. Loved hearing about that locations appearances. Really enjoyed my first Tom Mix film a year or two ago at the Lone Pine Fest. What a shame THREE JUMPS AHEAD is lost. Let's hope one day it miraculously turns up!

Best wishes,

11:29 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older