Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Fighting Lawman (1953)

It's apparent in the first few minutes of the Allied Artists film THE FIGHTING LAWMAN that it's not going to be one of the more scintillating "B" Westerns ever made. A sample of the too-earnest narration: "It was a hot, dry, dusty day. Seems like it always is when you're chasing bank robbers."

The first few minutes are narrated by Deputy Marshal Jim Burke (Wayne Morris), which gives the film the feel of a Western law enforcement procedural. It's an odd blend of "docu-cop" and 1880s Western, as Burke hunts down the three surviving men who robbed the Bank of Flagstaff. His trail leads to a small town and the sister (Virginia Grey) of a fourth robber who died after breaking out of jail.

I approached the film with goodwill due to the lead actors, Morris and Grey, and while the movie did not prove to be noteworthy, it was watchable light entertainment which moved along at a good pace. It's a pleasant time-passer for fans of "B" Westerns, but not much more than that, and surely some of the lines must have been hokey even in 1953.

I did also feel that Morris's performance veered back and forth between appearing comfortable and awkward as a lawman in the Old West; that clash was, oddly enough, part of what made him interesting to watch. Morris was a longtime pro but I could never quite figure out if he fit in a Western movie, though he made a number of them in the '50s. A better script with more character shadings doubtless would have helped; the story is acceptable but quite by-the-numbers.

Grey's role was a bit of a surprise, playing a no-good, exceptionally mercenary woman. It's not a very appealing character for such a likeable actress, but Grey does well in the part. She and Morris had previously costarred in DESERT PURSUIT (1952).

I felt that it was useful to see this film to appreciate the relative quality of the "B" Westerns starring actors such as George O'Brien and Tim Holt. The Holt movies, for example, were sometimes miniature Western works of art in terms of their visual quality, beautifully shot by people like J. Roy Hunt and Nicholas Musuraca.

THE FIGHTING LAWMAN is partly set in Flagstaff but the locations look very Southern California, and indeed, IMDb indicates the film was made at Corriganville in Simi Valley.

This film was directed by Thomas Carr. The supporting cast includes John Kellogg, Harry Lauter, John Pickard, Denver Pyle, and Rick Vallin. Longtime Western character actor Myron Healey plays a sheriff who joins forces with Jim. The film runs 72 minutes.

THE FIGHTING LAWMAN is part of a Wayne Morris Double Feature released by the Warner Archive. The print is quite nice, although the film itself has an unremarkable "TV Western" type appearance, shot by Gilbert Warrenton. Warner Archive also gets kudos for the very appealing box art. What a long way the Archive has come from the plain blue cases of its first year!

The other film on the "twofer" disc is THE MARKSMAN (1953), costarring Elena Verdugo and character actor favorite Frank Ferguson.


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura, I too was underwhelmed by the two films in this Warner Archive set.Surely some of the other Westerns that he made for
Monogram/Allied Artists were better. I would love to see
TWO GUNS AND A BADGE because it is generally considered the last of
the "series" B Westerns,also Beverley Garland is in the cast.
A better bet is the recently released Sony MOD THE BIG GUSHER where
he is teamed with Preston Foster,I really enjoyed that one.
They also teamed up for another film THE TOUGHER THEY COME around
the same time though I have never seen that.
Another Western high on my wants list is STAGE TO TUSCON where he
is teamed with Rod Cameron.The pair make a most engaging duo;its
in color and has decent production values plus some lovely Lone
Pine location work.
By the mid-Fifties Waynes career was fading fast in 1955 he appeared
in the last of the ultra-cheap BOMBA films LORD OF THE JUNGLE.
Then it was off to England for a series of very low budget crime
films.He is however still very popular with vintage film buffs;
I am often bemused by how sought after his films are.
A really good one is PORT OF HELL (1954) where he is teamed with
Dane Clark;both actors are excellent in this one.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Recently I have been under high amounts of stress and I have found that B movies have been very comforting. I feel overwhelmed by A-list pictures but B movies hit the spot. But it is disappointing when a B movie fails to deliver!

Sorry to hear that this one disappointed but kudos to you for approaching it with goodwill!

8:24 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John!

You really know your "B" movies and our tastes often coincide, so I was interested to hear your reaction to the Morris set. I think it was you who first let me know about Wayne making crime movies in England which fascinates me. Will have to check one out at some point.

Happily I have a videotape recording of THE BIG GUSHER and will try to check it out before too long, especially as I'm a Preston Foster fan. I really appreciate the tips on the other good films!!

Best wishes,

10:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Raquel!

I couldn't agree with you more. I often tend to save more "emotionally demanding" dramas or film noir, etc., for the weekends when I'm rested up and/or have time for longer films. At the end of a long workday or at a time when I'm stressed, a "B" movie makes great "movie comfort food." I especially enjoy the detective series and the quality "B" Westerns mentioned in this review as they provide good entertainment with familiar faces/characters. But I love the "B's" in general!

With June drawing to a close, I was looking back at what I've seen in the first half of the year and was a little surprised to note just how many "B" films and pre-Codes I've seen so far this year. I hope that my reviews can play a role in helping to keep these lesser-known titles known to movie fans.

Thanks so much for feedback!

Best wishes,

10:22 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I've seen THE BIG GUSHER--it's directed by Lew Landers no less and I thought one of his best films. In addition to Foster and Morris, Dorothy Patrick stars as center of the romantic triangle and I thought it was the best role she ever had (that I've seen). One reason I take an interst in Patrick is that I knew her a little as a kid--she lived nearby and I was friends with her sons. To me she was the height of beauty and glamour then.

Just want to join John K. in recommending THE BIG GUSHER--it's fast and breezy when you want that kind of a film, but a solid and satisfying drama too.

I haven't seen THE FIGHTING LAWMAN but I think I saw THE MARKSMAN way back in time. Morris is fine in Westerns, and I'd say THE DESPERADO (1954), also directed by Thomas Carr, is not a series "Western" though still a B (I believe it followed TWO GUNS AND A BADGE), and a very good movie with Morris in the lead. I recently watched the color and 'Scope remake COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER which has Frank Lovejoy--in his last theatrical film--in the role Morris had played.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, how cool is it that you had an acquaintance with Dorothy Patrick! I've always liked her, since seeing TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY as a kid. Especially enjoyed her as the supportive wife in BOYS' RANCH and in COME TO THE STABLE along with a few more movies. She was memorable as the murder victim in a small role in HOUSE BY THE RIVER. Anyway, loved your anecdote and to read of your take on her at the time you knew her.

You and John K have sent me digging into my videotape closet and I've pulled out the tape with THE BIG GUSHER to watch soon. Can't beat the cast and you know I've been enjoying checking off Lew Landers movies as I watch them in recent months!

You and John K have me jotting down several titles today which I'll be watching for. Thank you!

Best wishes,

11:32 AM  
Blogger john k said...

I love the idea of B Movies as "comfort food" how very
true!I do hope that you manage to check out
PORT OF HELL Laura,if you are going to make a film about
an atomic bomb in L.A.Harbor,on a shoestring this is
how it should be done. Lovely interplay between Dane
Clark as the hard as nails Port Warden and Morris
as a tough Polish/American tugboat skipper.
This Allied Artists release is sadly not one owned by
Warner Archive its now with Paramount/Republic.
Hopefully with Paramount titles mow being distributed
by The Archive it may surface there at some point.
Just for fun I thought I would list the Wayne Morris
British B Movies. The UK titles are in caps with the
alternative USA titles also listed.

Early effort by Cy Endfield (Zulu)
Good spy stuff,though oddly Morris is not seen in the
last third of the film,which gives the impression that
he was taken ill.
(a.k.a.The Green Carnation)
Arguably the best of Waynes Brit Bs,good climax on the
rollercoaster at a Fair ground.
Another lost Republic gem.
Another Republic British production,this time with an
American director (R.G.Springsteen.) Would make a lovely Warner Archive double bill with THE GREEN BUDDAH.......well in a perfect World!
(a.k.a. The Dynamiters)
Ultra-cheap but rather endearing crime thriller.
Set in
Soho and Shepherds Bush but actually filmed in
Brighton! Available in a nice restored version on
DVD from Renown in the UK
OK Smuggling stuff with Karin Booth also flown over
from Hollywood for this one.

Wayne Morris also,while filming these little epics
also appeared in a UK T.V. series THE ADVENTURES OF
THE BIG MAN where he played a store detective!
This series is considered "lost"

3:44 AM  

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