Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Birthday Tribute to George O'Brien

Handsome cowboy star George O'Brien was born in San Francisco on this date in 1899.

Over the past 18 months or so O'Brien has become a top favorite of mine. I love his RKO "B" Westerns and his sunny, good-natured personality. Watching him gives me the feeling that "all's right with the world."

As I wrote in my post on BULLET CODE (1940): "It's such fun to step into the world of one of these O'Brien Westerns for an hour. He's sort of a Western 'Superman,' a large man of great strength who hurls bad guys around with ease; he has an impish mischievous streak, but he's an honorable, responsible man who protects the vulnerable and won't back down from a fight.

"At the same time, O'Brien's characters feel 'real' and possible, rather than the stuff of fantasy. It's rather nice to be reminded that there are good men like him in the world, and I imagine the audiences of 1940, watching as war clouds gathered, must have thought so too."

Frequent costar Virginia Vale later said of O'Brien: "George was just a gem of a fellow. I thought he was just wonderful."

After TRIPLE JUSTICE (1940) O'Brien re-enlisted in the Navy, where he was a decorated officer during WWII. After the war he continued to focus on his Naval career, serving during Korea and continuing in the Naval Reserves until the '60s.

O'Brien appeared in just a handful of postwar films, mostly for his old friend John Ford: FORT APACHE (1948), SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), and CHEYENNE AUTUMN (1964).

O'Brien was married to Marguerite Churchill. Their daughter Orin has been a bassist with the New York Philharmonic for nearly half a century and son Darcy was the author of many published books.

There's a good book out on O'Brien from Bear Manor Media: GEORGE O'BRIEN: A MAN'S MAN IN HOLLYWOOD by David W. Menefee.

George O'Brien films previously reviewed here: THE IRON HORSE (1924), NOAH'S ARK (1928), GUN LAW (1938), BORDER G-MAN (1938), PAINTED DESERT (1938), THE RENEGADE RANGER (1938), THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939), TIMBER STAMPEDE (1939) (also here), ARIZONA LEGION (1939) (also here), THE FIGHTING GRINGO (1939) (also here), LEGION OF THE LAWLESS (1940), BULLET CODE (1940) (also here), PRAIRIE LAW (1940) (also here), and TRIPLE JUSTICE (1940).

Update: Additional reviews: 3 BAD MEN (1926), SUNRISE (1927), MYSTERY RANCH (1932), THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1935), THE BORDER PATROLMAN (1936), LAWLESS VALLEY (1938), RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE (1939), TROUBLE IN SUNDOWN (1939), STAGE TO CHINO (1940) (also here), and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) (also here).

January 2016 Update: Coming to DVD: George O'Brien Western Collection.

2017 Update: A new review: THE RAINBOW TRAIL (1932).

2018 Update: A review of WHISPERING SMITH SPEAKS (1935), plus film historian Ed Hulse's memories of George O'Brien.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Great choice, Laura! I also have come to really appreciate George O'Brien only in recent years and now realise why he was so popular. PLUS, he did many of his own really quite dangerous stunts (see the horse to stagecoach transfer in close-up in "Stage To Chino" for example).

There is a very nice 6DVD set of his best films (23 of 'em) available in very nice print quality, considering how rare many of them are. I would recommend it.

Best wishes,

2:44 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love hearing from another O'Brien fan, Jerry! I appreciate O'Brien for so many things -- including, as you say, the stunts.

I've seen both FORT APACHE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON many times (the latter is one of my favorite films) but I haven't watched them since I became familiar with more of his work; it will be really interesting to go back to them with a new perspective on just who he was.

I've not come across that set, thanks for the tip!

Best wishes,

4:28 PM  

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