Friday, July 10, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Thunderhoof (1948)

THUNDERHOOF (1948) is a three-character Western drama directed by Phil Karlson.

One of my faves, Preston Foster, has a good lead role in this as rancher Scotty Mason, who dreams of capturing a beautiful wild stallion. Foster, incidentally, would also work with director Karlson on THE BIG CAT (1949) and KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952).

Scotty, his wife Margarita (Mary Stuart), and "The Kid" (William Bishop), a young man Scotty has mentored, are in the desert in search of the stallion who will be the foundation of Scotty's ranch.

Despite Scotty's best efforts, the Kid is neither stable nor appreciative of what Scotty's done for him, and he's also got his eye on Margarita, whom he knew in her previous life as a cantina singer. The Kid and Scotty brawl badly but then unite to capture the horse; they're successful but it unfortunately results in Scotty breaking his leg.

The trio struggle towards home with the horse, at one point taking refuge in a house where the owners seem to have left in a hurry, a bit of mystery which pays off nicely. Eventually Scotty and the Kid have another confrontation, and this time the Kid means to leave Scotty in the desert for dead. Margarita will never know what the Kid did, and he can have her too...

This was an interesting, if unexpectedly dark, film thanks to the actors, particularly Foster and Stuart. Despite the spare screenplay, written by Hal Smith (THE DEFIANT ONES) with Kenneth Gamet, the two actors manage to quickly convey their characters' affection for one another along with a brief back story.

Apparently Scotty has had a habit of picking up "strays"; the Kid was one, and Margarita was the other. She has, as she puts it, "grown up" and seems happy in a secure relationship with her doting, if older, husband.

The Kid briefly entices her with thoughts of bright lights and a more exciting life in town, but fate steps in and quickly reminds her of who is the better man.

Besides my interest in Preston Foster, who is excellent here, I was particularly interested to see Mary Stuart in a leading role. The early scenes between Foster and Stuart are charming; she plays a fairly tough gal Scotty feels comfortable teasing that the Kid is dead (he's actually "dead drunk"), but then she's rapturous when presented with a pair of silk stockings. Her joy in this moment is beautifully played, and Foster is equally good as the man proud to have made her so happy.

I recently wrote a bit about Stuart's career in a post on the film THE CARIBOO TRAIL (1950) for Classic Movie Hub. It's a very interesting performance, much more complex than her second female lead in THE CARIBOO TRAIL, and I would have liked seeing more of her on the big screen; as I wrote at Classic Movie Hub, shortly after THE CARIBOO TRAIL she left for New York and what turned out to be a decades-long career on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW.

Bishop's someone I can take or leave; he's an okay actor but I don't find him particularly charismatic. Since I'm not a particular fan I suppose it worked out well that he was the villain of the piece. I wondered a bit about why the Kid was so resentful of the man who had taken him in but decided he was simply a broken person who couldn't be fixed, even when given friendship and a home, and at this stage of things he was rather like an overgrown problem child...a child capable of great destruction.

The film reminded me a bit of the later INFERNO (1953), another film about a love triangle and a broken leg in the desert. THUNDERHOOF has a good sense of mood and moves along at a nice clip, over and done in 77 minutes.

Karlson and cinematographer Henry Freulich did a good job giving the film its rough, gritty look; I couldn't tell for sure where it was filmed but various scenes looked like they could have been shot at Iverson Ranch, Vasquez Rocks, or possibly Lone Pine, and the familiar-looking dugout house I'm pretty sure was at Corriganville.

The night scenes were probably done in a soundstage, yet were so well done I wasn't completely sure.

THUNDERHOOF, originally released theatrically by Columbia Pictures, became available on DVD-R from the Sony Choice Collection a few years ago. Amazon's listing says the print was newly remastered; there's nothing to that effect on the box, but the print does look quite good.

For more on this film, check out Ivan Shreve's review for ClassicFlix and Steve's post at Mystery File.


Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, THUNDERHOOF is right up my trail. I like this kind of Western and this is a good one. Good story, good actors, good direction, good photography. What more could a fan of Western programmers want? Also, I'm a fan of Preston Foster. Have you ever visited Foster's Bouquet Canyon 248 acre ranch? It was quite a spread in its day and it's still intact, not having been sold off in lots. Foster's ranch is less than 20 miles from Vasquez Rocks, where part of this movie was filmed. I wonder how many movies, TV shows, music videos, and commercials have been filmed there since Harry Carey made the silent movie HUMAN STUFF in 1920? Have you ever visited Vasquez Rocks?

Vasquez Rocks is one of my favorite locations for movies and TV. I've enjoyed seeing this wondrous rock formation in all its marvelous recreations put forth on the screen since I first took notice of it, thanks to an episode of NBC-TV's BONANZA. Also, Thanks to director William Witney, who would take the Cartwright family off of the Paramount Studios lot and place them out on location. The episode "Between Heaven and Earth" first aired on November 15, 1964.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Walter, I've not been to Preston Foster's former ranch, and your mention sent me to Google where I found this 2-minute YouTube video. It's beautiful! How interesting it's not that far from Vasquez Rocks.

I've driven past Vasquez Rocks many times but haven't parked up close and walked around -- hope to do that in the future. Thanks for confirming my impression that this movie filmed there! Glad to know you enjoyed it as well -- and that you share my admiration for Preston Foster!

Best wishes,

6:45 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, thanks for the neat looking video of the Preston Foster Ranch. The land looks like it did during the pioneering homesteading days of yore. I'm glad the 248 acres haven't been sold off in small lots. I read where Foster owned the Los Robles(The Oaks)ranch from 1935-65. He built a 6,000-square-foot single-family home with 9 bedrooms and 7 baths on a 248.61-acre lot, with a built year of 1942. Also, it had guest quarters, a western-themed entertainment lodge, pool, and two additional houses. It is in Santa Clarita Valley and about 5 miles south is the William S. Hart Horseshoe Ranch, which is now a museum and regional park.

5:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Walter!

Glad I could share that video, I thought it was neat. Foster has always struck me as a smart and interesting guy -- he was also a musician and very involved with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary -- and it sounds like along with everything else he had great taste and invested wisely in real estate! :)

The William S. Hart Ranch is on our "to visit" list!

Best wishes,

9:21 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I have only just read your review of this fine western Laura, for the very simple reason that I had just bought the DVD and was worried about spoilers. Anyway, we both watched it last night and really enjoyed it.
IMDb was noticeably absent on location information but I recognised Vazquez Rocks at least! In addition to Walter's interesting comments on that location I always enjoy the opening titles on the 2nd season (2nd half) of "LARAMIE" TV show where John Smith and Bob Fuller ride together right past the Rocks.

I obviously appreciate William Bishop more than you as I find him an interesting presence generally. As for Preston Foster - I have been watching him in films and TV ("GUNSLINGER") since the 1950s yet it is more recently that I have come to really appreciate him. Interested to hear about his second career as a rancher too. He joins an interesting list of actors who became ranchers. Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck were very enthusiastic ranchers too of course.

These comments may disappear into space as this review was a while ago now.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry!! I'm so glad that you were able to see this film and commented on it after you saw it. Really glad you enjoyed it. Glad you recognized Vazquez Rocks!

Enjoyed your thoughts on William Bishop. Perhaps in time I'll come to appreciate him more, as I did Preston Foster. :)

Thanks for adding your endorsement of the film in the comments, I hope anyone looking for info it in the future will be encouraged to give it a try.

Best wishes,

6:48 PM  

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