Monday, February 25, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Davy Crockett, Indian Scout (1950)

DAVY CROCKETT, INDIAN SCOUT, was made by a favorite low-budget director, Lew Landers, and has appealing lead actors in George Montgomery and Ellen Drew. I was thus predisposed to like the film, but this mildly entertaining "B" Western was so cheaply made that the poor production values are downright distracting, and in all honesty the dramatic elements aren't much better.

Montgomery plays one Davy Crockett, who isn't the famous Davy Crockett of the Alamo, but a relative. It's the 1840s, and Davy is helping to guide settlers west along with his childhood friend, Red Hawk (Philip Reed). Drew plays Frances, a teacher who joins the wagon train but isn't quite who she seems to be. Neither is her supposedly deaf-mute driver, Ben (Landers "regular" Paul Guilfoyle).

There's spying and Indian battles and of course the wagon train eventually reaches its destination (if that's a surprise, you haven't seen enough "B" Westerns). The leads do what they can, but some of the actors seem more like they're in a high school play than a nationally released movie; it doesn't help that some of their dialogue is pretty bad, too. The Indians wear awkwardly shaped, stiff wigs which are pretty much just like what was slapped on James Cagney's head when he was playing an extra playing an Indian in LADY KILLER (1933). I suspect a high school theatrical department could actually do better in that regard.

As for the other production values...what production values? There's lots of stock footage of places like Monument Valley, but the actors probably never got any further than Iverson Ranch, if they even went that far. Many of the scenes were done with ultra-obvious painted backdrops, and still more with back projections. Most egregious are battle scenes where the action cuts from the settlers with their guns to stock footage of approaching Indians, but the two groups never meet on screen! There's just the occasional arrow flying into the camp. This film probably had a lower budget than another ultra-cheap Western I saw last year, Bill Williams' THE WILD DAKOTAS (1956).

I've enjoyed any number of Westerns regardless of phony backgrounds if the stories were compelling, but the storyline and performances were just...awkward. The best performance in the film was by Noah Beery Jr., who is natural and lets fly with the best dialogue in the movie.  He's funny, and it's a relief whenever he comes on screen. I'm afraid this is one that the other actors would probably just as soon have erased from the memory banks.

The supporting cast also includes Robert Barrat, Addison Richards, Billy Wilkerson, Ray Teal, Iron Eyes Cody, and Chief Thundercloud. Cinematography was shared by George Diskant and John J. Mescall. The movie runs 71 minutes.

Kristina featured Philip Reed in an interesting profile at Speakeasy a while back. He bounced around in the film business for decades and was in many movies I've seen, yet to this point I still have trouble connecting his name and face.

I watched this United Artists release on a "manufactured on demand" DVD-R from MGM. It can be rented from ClassicFlix.

DAVY CROCKETT, INDIAN SCOUT has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies. It can be rented from Amazon Instant Video. A trailer is available on YouTube.

Films directed by Lew Landers which have previously been reviewed at this site: NIGHT WAITRESS (1936), WITHOUT ORDERS (1936), FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), THEY WANTED TO MARRY (1937), THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937), DOUBLE DANGER (1938), CRASHING HOLLYWOOD (1938), SKY GIANT (1938), SMASHING THE RACKETS (1938), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), CONSPIRACY (1939), STAND BY ALL NETWORKS (1942), THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947), and MAN IN THE DARK (1952).


Blogger barrylane said...

Re Lew Landers. It is conceivable that his career in second features and routine television was just about where it belonged. Capable but without a spark of vision. As a studio director he was handed cast, crew and screenplay. He was a good manager and put them all together. Nothing for the auteurist crowd to get excited about other than they have run out of new heroes.

1:19 PM  

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