Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Abilene Town (1946)

I liked ABILENE TOWN from the minute the evocative opening credits began rolling. It's the quintessential old-fashioned Western, with Marshal Randolph Scott striving to keep the peace in Abilene as a range war brews between cattlemen and homesteaders. The movie is a great example of why Scott became a beloved star of the Western genre.

Laconic Marshal Dan Mitchell (Scott) is juggling a town divided down the middle, with saloons on one side of the street and churches and shops on the other; Dan is also juggling the affections of a lady from each side of the street. Angelic shopkeeper's daughter Sherry (Rhonda Fleming) adores Dan but wants him to quit his dangerous job and give up trying to civilize Abilene. Fiery saloon singer Rita (Ann Dvorak) won't admit her attraction for the Marshal, preferring to kick his shins at regular intervals but always coming through when he needs her.

Lloyd Bridges is appealing as Henry, a young homesteader leading a group of farmers against murderous cowboys who try to burn and stampede families out of their homes. (Bridges seems so young here, it's amazing to realize he already had roughly 50 film credits by this point in his career.) Henry also has his eye on beautiful Sherry, possibly complicating Dan's romantic life even further. Or maybe not...

The film runs a well-paced 89 minutes, and the lead performances are all quite enjoyable. Scott handing someone a key and telling him to go lock himself up in the jail is the kind of thing that might have possibly inspired some of James Garner's funny scenes in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969). Dvorak has a particular chance to shine in a series of saloon performances; I don't know if Dvorak did her own singing or was dubbed, but she puts over her numbers in a very believable way which is an added plus for this film. The black and white photography of these songs is quite striking and helps set the film's mood.

I also enjoyed small details, such as Dan's horse faithfully following him around town, even in the movie's last shot.

The supporting cast includes Edgar Buchanan as the good-for-nothing county sheriff.

ABILENE TOWN was directed by Edwin L. Marin. Marin worked at MGM in the late '30s and early '40s, where his credits included the 1938 version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and several entries in Ann Sothern's MAISIE series. For the last few years of his career Marin mostly directed Randolph Scott Westerns, including CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949), FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS (1949), COLT .45 (1950), THE CARIBOO TRAIL (1950), SUGARFOOT (1951), and FORT WORTH (1951). Marin, who was married to actress Ann Morriss, died at the age of 52 in 1951.

ABILENE TOWN can be seen on DVD and VHS. The VHS copy I watched from United American Video was for the most part a fine print, with a few scenes toward the end looking a bit softer than the rest of the picture.

ABILENE TOWN is a solid, well-crafted film sure to please fans of Westerns and Randolph Scott.


Blogger Vienna said...

I love Ann Dvorak and am pretty sure she did her own singing. She sang in several Warners films.
Another star who started off so well at Warners then her career stalled when she followed her English husband ,Leslie Fenton the UK. She came back to Hollywood after their divorce .
Two of her best films were I WAS AN AMERICAN SPY and GIRLS OF THE ROAD.
She also had some good songs in John Wayne's FLAME OF THE BARBARY COAST

7:31 AM  

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