Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Tonight's Movie: A Lawless Street (1955)

This seems to be the week for "Lawless" Westerns. Last night we watched THE LAWLESS BREED, which I found disappointing.

Tonight's "Lawless" movie, A LAWLESS STREET, was much more satisfactory, a solidly made Randolph Scott Western I very much enjoyed.

Scott plays Marshal Calem Ware, who has cleaned up towns throughout the West and is currently working in Medicine Bend. Ware must deal with constant threats on his life and the unexpected visit of his long-estranged wife (Angela Lansbury).

There are some creaky bits of dialogue here and there -- most saddled on Lansbury -- but there is also plenty of Scott's trademark laconic humor, nicely drawn supporting characters, and some creatively shot action scenes. The film was a fast-paced 78 minutes. This is one I'll be wanting to watch again in the future.

One of the film's pleasures is seeing actresses like Ruth Donnelly and Jean Parker in prominent supporting roles. 22 years previously, Parker played Beth in LITTLE WOMEN, perhaps her best-known role in an acting career which spanned over three decades. Last month I reviewed her relatively little-known Christmas film BEYOND TOMORROW.

Donnelly had an even longer career, starting in the silents in 1914 and continuing into '60s TV. She was in many pre-Code classics, including FOOTLIGHT PARADE, FEMALE, JEWEL ROBBERY, and MANDALAY; Capra films such as MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON; and warm family films such as THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S and I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN.

I especially enjoyed Wallace Ford as the doctor who is the marshal's sidekick; Ford also had a long career, starting in the pre-Code era and continuing through the mid-'60s. The chief villain was played by Michael Pate, who was both an actor and a screenwriter. Warner Anderson, John Emery, Jeanette Nolan, Don Magowan, James Bell, and Frank Ferguson round out the cast.

The movie was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, who made many Westerns and B movies, including film noir titles such as MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945) and GUN CRAZY (1950). The color cinematography was by the great Ray Rennahan.

A LAWLESS STREET is available on both DVD and video.


Blogger Lester Hunt said...

Wow, Randy Scott and Angela Lansbury as a romantic couple. How many ways is that weird? Thanks for the alert. I will secure and view the DVD!

1:30 AM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

I was also taken aback by the Scott-Lansbury chemistry in this movie, but it grew on me as the film went on.

I was particularly heartened to see your kind words for those neglected talents, Ruth Donnelly and Jean Parker, Laura--especially since neither lady ever, imho, ever got her due. I loved the gruff flirtatiousness between Randy and Ruth in A Lawless Street. I hope that you have a chance to see Ruth at her funny best opposite James Cagney, (who loved her, in part because he said that her no nonsense manner reminded him of his mother), in the brisk little pre-code, Hard to Handle (1933).

I loved what you wrote about Beyond Tomorrow(1940) and found the gentle Jean Parker to be a particularly lovely presence in Sequoia (1934), an almost totally forgotten nature film that she graced so long ago.

Having become a serious Joseph H. Lewis fan in the last few years, this is one film I was particularly glad I stumbled on.
Thanks so much for posting about this too easily overlooked but enjoyable feature.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I taped SEQUOIA just a few weeks ago, Moira, and look forward to it. I will be on the lookout for HARD TO HANDLE! Loved the Cagney-Donnelly anecdote.

So many movies, so little time...

Hope you enjoy watching this, Lester.

Best wishes,

10:33 AM  
Blogger Biograph Consulting said...

There is an emphasis on Scott's aging process as the town marshall, and Scott was indeed 57 when he made the film, with several major Western masterpieces to come, including Ride Lonesome and Ride The High Country--what's fascinating, I think, is that Scott makes no attempt at pretending he's still the town hotdog, that he is, indeed, greying and creaking at the edges, and still himself, both as Scott and as the Town Marshall, like so many Western legends, whether Wayne or Eastwood, the genre and his fans allowed him to play honest. I must admit it would have been lovely to have Angela Lansbury entertain with a second musical number, but the plot was too tight for more dancing girls!

5:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Catching up with comments today! Wanted to say I enjoyed your thoughts on the film and Scott's character and performance. The Western seemed to provide some excellent opportunities for actors such as Scott who were no longer young. This is a film I'd be interested in revisiting.

Best wishes,

11:07 AM  

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