Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Guns of the Timberland (1960)

GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND is a genial Warner Bros. Western from Alan Ladd's Jaguar Productions.

The story concerns conflict between ranchers and lumbermen, with Jeanne Crain and Lyle Bettger heading up the ranchers and Alan Ladd and Gilbert Roland leading the lumbermen. Sheriff Regis Toomey keeps a close eye on the warring groups.

Ladd has second thoughts about his job after Crain shows him a ghost town caused by logging and resulting mudslides, and it doesn't hurt that he's also attracted to her. Meanwhile Roland loses patience -- and, one might say, his mind -- and decides he's going to cut down trees no matter who gets hurt.

The movie covers much the same ground as an earlier Warner Bros. movie, THE BIG TREES (1952), but it does so in a livelier manner; the script is nothing special, but the production is buoyed by a strong cast, a jaunty musical score by David Buttolph, and lovely location filming in Graeagle, California.

While the movie is entertaining, I thought of it as "Western lite," due to moments such as the anachronistic Jerry Livingston-Mack David song Frankie Avalon sings at the town dance. Although the movie was released at the start of the decade, it has something of the feel of a later '60s film, where historical accuracy too often took a back seat to the filmmakers' desire to use trendy '60s hairstyles and music. (BATTLE OF BRITAIN, anyone?) Jeanne Crain's unnaturally thick makeup doesn't wear off even after hours of fighting a forest fire.

When one sees the name Aaron Spelling as producer and cowriter, it seems perhaps to explain some of the film's "glamour" and promotion of the young singing star over authenticity.

16-year-old Alana Ladd plays the storekeeper's daughter who's in love with Avalon; when she smiles she's the spitting image of her father, though truthfully she's not a very convincing actress here. Her brief film career was over by 1962; she has long been married to former Los Angeles radio host Michael Jackson. It was special to have Alana in the audience at last year's screening of her father's excellent film THE GREAT GATSBY (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival.

It must be noted that though Alan Ladd was still in his 40s and otherwise fit, in many shots his handsome face is noticeably pudgy and strained, I assume due to his known issues with alcohol. I really like Ladd so the premature aging visible here made me a little sad, though the film overall is lighthearted in tone. Ladd would be gone less than four years after this film was released.

The movie's issues aside, it's nonetheless a pleasant 91 minutes for those who like the cast, with the extensive location work a real plus. The movie leaves the viewer with a smile as Ladd and Crain ride the logging train out of town while the lumbermen sing "Cry Timber."

The supporting cast includes Noah Beery Jr. and Verna Felton. The movie was directed by Robert D. Webb and filmed in widescreen by John F. Seitz. The screenplay by Spelling and Joseph Petraca was based on a novel by Louis L'Amour.

GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND isn't out on VHS or DVD. It was shown this week on Turner Classic Movies as part of Jeanne Crain Day in the Summer Under the Stars festival.

2014 Update: GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND is now out on DVD from the Warner Archive.


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,

Really enjoyed your review of GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND;I remember when I saw the
film at the time how out of place Frankies song routine was.Director Robert Webb
seemed to like putting "anachronistic" songs into his Westerns,Elvis in LOVE
ME TENDER comes to mind as well.
On the Warner Archive Facebook page people keep asking about these Ladd/Jaguar
productions;all they seem to say is........nothing to report at the moment.
I do hope this gets resolved as I not only want GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND but
The fact that Turner are showing these films does offer a glimmer of hope.
Laura,I loved your George Montgomery birthday tribute and have really enjoyed
all the attention that you have been bringing to his Westerns.

5:11 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

You wouldn't have to work very hard to be livelier than "The Big Trees". Yikes!

Sorry I missed this last go round. Will keep my eyes open. After all, everybody loves Regis Toomey.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John!

That's very interesting that the same director did an Elvis Western. :) Glad to know it wasn't just me feeling the song was oddly placed.

Like you, I would like to see more Jaguar films, hopefully they will be coming to Warner Archive soon!!

Thanks so much for the feedbacck on the Montgomery tribute. I have really been enjoying him. MASTERSON OF KANSAS is on my viewing list for the near future.

Caftan Woman, couldn't agree with you more on THE BIG TREES, LOL. I'm afraid that one was a disappointment! I smile any time I see Regis Toomey's name in the opening credits. :) He had quite a nice part in this one, hope you can catch it soon.

Best wishes,

11:20 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I've had this on my want to see list for years so like you I grabbed the opportunity to see it as soon as TCM showed it.

Your review is more than fair--for all my good will it was hard to see a lot there that was really very fresh, although it was capably directed, except for those anachronistic aspects you mention (Avalon's song at the dance seemed to turn it into a rock and roll movie, and I'm not sure his later more pensive song riding along through the trees really did more to take one into what was supposed to be this film's world). The story ideas are good in themselves but given that they've been worked many times, why not more conviction?--and after defending the whole idea of her ranch and the environment, Jeanne Crain happily goes off with logger Alan Ladd--maybe she felt he had bent enough already, but if she was going to do this I'd have liked an attempt at a more thoughtful way of making it happen.

The best thing about it was surely Gilbert Roland--the role is along the lines of others he has played of a sympathetic character, sometimes a friend or otherwise emotionally attached to the hero, who finally becomes the villain though without completely losing sympathy. A superb actor always.

But on the other hand, like you, I found it painful to watch Alan Ladd. Of course, his performance was just fine, but he looked so bad, and even his preferred cinematographer John Seitz (many films together from their Paramount days on)cannot conceal that disturbing puffiness in his face. Ladd is someone I really like--and some films have used that sadness in his persona really well (SHANE especially)--but it's too bad it was apparently for real.

I'm glad I saw the film though--there are still great Westerns in the early 60s for sure, and many good ones, but it's interesting to see that on a certain level of the lesser ones, the genre is starting to wane when it goes for what is now very familiar but not deeply engaged.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, thanks so much for your detailed comments, I really enjoyed reading them and comparing notes.

Regarding your comment "...there are still great Westerns in the early 60s for sure, and many good ones, but it's interesting to see that on a certain level of the lesser ones, the genre is starting to wane when it goes for what is now very familiar but not deeply engaged." -- I think this is part of what I was trying to describe with my "Western lite" comment. For all that I enjoyed spending time with this movie in its beautiful setting, it had a certain sense of phoniness or going through the motions -- not very deeply engaged, as you say. It didn't help that things would happen periodically to pull me out of the era, like the music or Jeanne's bright orange lipstick. :)

Thanks again very much for sharing your thoughts -- I suspect there are other Western fans like us who have been wanting to see this one for a long time!

Best wishes,

12:39 AM  

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