Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tonight's Movie: Frontier Marshal (1939)

FRONTIER MARSHAL, starring Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp, holds an interesting niche in film history. It was the second film 20th Century-Fox based on Stuart Lake's book WYATT EARP: FRONTIER MARSHAL. Just a few years later FRONTIER MARSHAL would be remade yet John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), which was reviewed here last May.

Directed by Allan Dwan, this film also stars Cesar Romero in an interesting performance as Doc Holliday (spelled Halliday here). The "good" and "bad" women in Holliday's life, played by Cathy Downs and Linda Darnell in the Ford version, are played in this film by Nancy Kelly and Binnie Barnes. Scott, always at home in Westerns, is fine as the calm, confident Earp. Ward Bond, who played Wyatt Earp's brother Morgan in CLEMENTINE, appears in another role early in this movie.

While not on a par with CLEMENTINE's visual poetry, FRONTIER MARSHAL is quite an enjoyable film in its own right. The movies are different in many respects, but they also share a number of similar scenes and characters. Moments such as the saloon girl being tossed in a horse trough, the girl from Doc's past looking at a photo in his room, an actor performing in the saloon, or Doc having to do emergency surgery will be quickly recognized by those more familiar with MY DARLING CLEMENTINE.

Whereas MY DARLING CLEMENTINE was shot in Monument Valley, portions of FRONTIER MARSHAL were shot in the striking, easily recognizable Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, California.

Nancy Kelly, who is lovely as the woman from Doc's past, deserves a footnote. In 1939, when she was a leading lady at 20th in films such as this and JESSE JAMES, her little brother Jack was a child actor in two notable films at the same studio, THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL and John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN. Nearly two decades later, Jack Kelly starred with James Garner in my all-time favorite TV series, MAVERICK (currently airing Thursday nights on American Life Channel). While most people seem to prefer Garner's better-known Bret Maverick, Kelly's brother Bart was always my favorite. :) Later in life Jack was the mayor of nearby Huntington Beach, California, and I was privileged to meet him on a couple of occasions. He was a friendly, gracious man.

The original 1939 New York Times review of FRONTIER MARSHAL can be found here.

FRONTIER MARSHAL runs a brief 71 minutes and was shot in black and white. The film does not appear to be currently available on either VHS or DVD. I viewed it on a borrowed video. Hopefully it will turn up on DVD at some point. It's an entertaining Western which is well worth seeing.

2007 Update: FRONTIER MARSHAL is now available as an extra in the Ford at Fox: Essential John Ford DVD Collection.

2012 Update: FRONTIER MARSHAL is now available on DVD-R in the Fox Cinema Archives Collection.

October 2015 Update: I had the wonderful chance to see this film at the Lone Pine Film Festival -- followed a few days later by seeing MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) at UCLA.

2018 Update: I wrote more about this movie for Classic Movie Hub.


Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

I have the Clemente DVD from Fox and found it to be an excellent film, but to me not Ford or Fonda's best. I enjoyed it, but have enjoyed other "Earp" westerns even more. That being said, it was very much visual poetry as you've said.
After reading your review, I would really like to see Frontier Marshal. Hopefully, if Warners has the rights, this could be another Western for another Randolph Scott triple feature DVD!
What is your favorite Hollywood Wyatt Earp film?
My favorite modern one is Tombstone (I am partial to Sam Elliot). I haven't seen all of the classic Earp films so the jury is still out on those.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I frankly used to find CLEMENTINE somewhat overrated compared to Ford's other movies, but on my most recent viewing it impressed me a lot more than it had previously...

I wonder if FRONTIER MARSHAL might turn up from Fox one day since it was originally released by that studio...they also do a very nice job on their releases although there aren't enough of them fast enough to suit me. :)

Like you, I am partial to Sam Elliott, but I haven't seen TOMBSTONE yet. I'll have to catch up with that one. The only other Wyatt Earp film I've seen which is immediately coming to mind is James Garner's HOUR OF THE GUN, which I found only so-so. Lots more out there to see, I suspect!

Best wishes, Laura

9:35 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

I really enjoy your reviews and comments. They always make me want to rush out and get them :) I enjoy the little, lesser known side notes.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for your kind note, Irene. I'm glad to know someone else enjoys my bits of trivia. :) Hope you find some good viewing here! I love movies and love to share them with others.

Best wishes, Laura

9:00 PM  

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