Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Stampede (1949)

One of my favorite Westerns this year was PANHANDLE (1948), a Rod Cameron film for Allied Artists which was cowritten and coproduced by 25-year-old Blake Edwards. It was Edwards' first work behind the camera.

Edwards, who also played a hired gun in PANHANDLE, took just one more acting role and by 1949 had quit acting to focus on writing, producing, and eventually directing. Edwards followed up on PANHANDLE by cowriting and coproducing another Rod Cameron Western, STAMPEDE. STAMPEDE, like PANHANDLE, was directed by Lesley Selander and was released by Allied Artists.

STAMPEDE lacks some of PANHANDLE's originality and clever dialogue, but it's a solid and enjoyable Western which I'm sure I'll be revisiting in the future.

Cameron plays Mike McCall, a cattle rancher whose way of life is threatened by settlers who plan on fencing the land and farming.

McCall owns the rights to Spirit Lake, the only possible source of water for the settlers, so he's standing in the way of not only the farmers but the businessman (Donald Curtis) who sold the farmers the land and is going to be in trouble if he can't provide the water he promised.

Mike's aided by his happy-go-lucky brother Tim (Don Castle of HIGH TIDE) and his friend Sheriff Aaron Ball (Johnny Mack Brown). He also receives unexpected support from Connie (Gale Storm), the spunky farmer's daughter whose initial antagonism toward Mike hides her attraction.

STAMPEDE is a fairly straightforward, traditional Western story but it's nicely paced and well-played by a good cast. Sparks fly when the strong-willed Mike and Connie collide; one of their scenes, where she goes after him with a gun, rather reminded me of Anne Baxter and Gregory Peck in the preceding year's YELLOW SKY (1948). There's also a cute repeated bit making light of the difference in Cameron and Storm's heights. I appreciated that, like PANHANDLE, STAMPEDE provides a strong female role.

My only quibble with the movie was that I would have enjoyed it if Cameron and Storm had had more scenes together; STAMPEDE clocks in at 76 minutes, but it could easily have been a little longer without wearing out its welcome.

The film provides a good supporting role for Johnny Mack Brown, who has a great action moment when he makes a running leap onto his horse late in the film. Don Castle is charming as Mike's younger brother. The cast includes Jonathan Hale, John Miljan, Steve Clark, and I. Stanford Jolley. Bit players include Chuck Roberson and Kermit Maynard, who also served as stuntmen.

The cinematography was by Harry Neumann. A poster for the film indicates that it was shot in Sepiatone, like PANHANDLE, but whereas the PANHANDLE DVD was in sepia, the nice-looking Warner Archive DVD is in black and white.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of Cameron's Westerns. I hope to see FRONTIER GAL (1945) and SHORT GRASS (1950) in the fairly near future; I'd also like to track down titles such as RIVER LADY (1948) with Yvonne DeCarlo and Dan Duryea, CAVALRY SCOUT (1951) with Audrey Long and James Millican, and WAGONS WEST (1952) with Peggie Castle and Frank Ferguson. The last two titles listed were written by Daniel Ullman, who wrote a pair of Westerns I've recently enjoyed, WICHITA (1955) and CANYON RIVER (1956).

My fellow Western fans should find STAMPEDE pleasing entertainment.


Blogger barrylane said...

Stampede is quite okay and while I see your point re Panhandle, both Stampede and especially Short Grass are smart pictures. I think Short Grass, with another good supporting part for Johnny Mack Brown, with Alan Hale, Jr., Raymond Walburn and Morris Ankrum and Jonathan Hale making significant and memorable contributions. Later on, Cameron moved to Republic and the productions had larger budgets but were not quite the equal of this group. Cameron is always effective.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like a very entertaining little picture Laura. It's one I'm going to try and pick up in the future. I wasn't crazy about the sepia look of Panhandle but got used to it - still, I'm pleased to hear Stampede is more conventional B&W. Interesting too the way some of these small pictures gave stronger roles to women.


1:10 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I rented the first Warner Archive set of Monogram westerns and really enjoyed the Johnny Mack Brown entries. I'll rent the others soon, but in the meantime, this one sounds like another one worth viewing.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Barrylane. SHORT GRASS is in my "watch soon" stack and I hope to watch it and write about it in the near future.

Colin, I'd be very interested to hear your take. I kind of liked the sepia look of PANHANDLE, partly just because it was different, but STAMPEDE looks fine in black and white. I agree, some of the women's roles in these lesser-known Westerns are quite good.

Kevin, thanks much for the feedback on the Johnny Mack Brown Westerns. I've never seen any of those in which he starred and will add that idea to my future viewing list! I hope you enjoy STAMPEDE when you get a chance to see it. I'm so glad the Warner Archive has made it easy for us to see Westerns starring actors like Rod Cameron, Tim Holt, George O'Brien, Johnny Mack Brown and more -- and in very nice prints, too.

Best wishes,

12:43 AM  

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