Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Man From Sonora (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MAN FROM SONORA (1951) is a Monogram "B" Western starring Johnny Mack Brown. It's available on DVD in the Monogram Cowboy Collection, Vol. 1, from the Warner Archive.

I had previously enjoyed Brown in supporting roles as a sheriff in the Rod Cameron Westerns STAMPEDE (1949) and SHORT GRASS (1950), but this was my first time to see him starring in a "B" Western.

MAN FROM SONORA was a pleasant surprise. It was well-made and engaging, with a nice sense of energy. The dialogue and acting wasn't all stellar, but it was good enough, with Phyllis Coates a lively and intelligent leading lady. (Coates, who played Alice in the JOE McDOAKES shorts, is now 87.) The film moved along and held my attention throughout.

Brown doesn't cut a traditional leading man figure; for one thing he was way too old for Coates, but fortunately their relationship wasn't developed beyond her smiling admiringly at him. That said, he's personable, with his friendly authority capturing attention from the opening scene where his beloved horse is stolen by stage robbers. The way he handled it rather reminded me of George O'Brien in the opening scenes of the first O'Brien Western I saw, GUN LAW (1938), where he's confronted by an outlaw.

After Johnny's horse is stolen, he hitches a ride into the nearest town, where he works to recover his horse and solve the stage robbery. I'm sure no one familiar with Westerns will be surprised that a seeming pillar of the community, the too-friendly Ed Hooper (House Peters Jr.), is the ringleader of the bad guys.

Good ol' Lyle Talbot plays the sheriff, an old friend of Johnny's, who's caught between the desire to do right and aid his friend on the one hand and playing town politics on the other.

One gets a good sense of the weather from this film. Some of the scenes are quite breezy, and a couple scenes with a stagecoach pulling into town seem to have been shot in early morning fog. I think I could even see the breath from an extra; it must have been chilly!

The black and white photography was by Gilbert Warrenton. According to A Drifting Cowboy, which featured the nice still below to the right, the film was shot at Iverson Ranch.

MAN FROM SONORA runs 54 minutes and was directed by Lewis D. Collins from a screenplay by Maurice Tombragel. The supporting cast included Lee Roberts, Dennis Moore, John Merton, and Stanley Price.

The Warner Archive print of MAN FROM SONORA was excellent. It's rather amazing that a relatively unsung little Monogram "B" Western could look so nice over six decades later!

I previously reviewed Rod Cameron in CAVALRY SCOUT (1951), the only color film in this set. I'll be reviewing more Johnny Mack Brown and Jimmy Wakely movies from Volume 1 of the Monogram Cowboy Collection in the days to come. Based on seeing the first two films, this set is a nice treat for those who enjoy exploring lesser-known films in the Western genre.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Nice review of a nice film, Laura. Johnny Mack Brown has been one of my B-western heroes for a very long time! By all accounts, a perfect gentleman towards his co-workers and leading ladies, expert horseman and well-experienced in the action department. In fact, despite his advancing age by the time this film was made my eyes tell me that he was still able to handle the fight scenes etc himself.

Having read in books that these last-gasp of the B-western features were a bit pallid I was unsure whether to buy. So glad I did as I thoroughly enjoyed these later Monograms. Cost-cutting was evident in the smaller casts and lack of the more stunning location shooting yet Monogram was still trying to put more on screen for less. Their music scores were moving with the times and the storylines appropriately grittier. The fact that the wind was blowing strongly in some scenes in this film, as you pointed out, probably reflects cost-cutting. They were not prepared to wait for ideal conditions but actually I find it really adds atmosphere.

As Monogram Pictures morphed into Allied Artists about this time they really stepped up their product, delivering some terrific noirs as well as the more usual westerns. The latter also brought us comfortably into the 50s with some fine examples.
Good stuff!

3:10 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Jerry, I really enjoyed them.

You make some great points. I was watching the fight scene in the saloon carefully and when he swung around to face the camera it was clear he was doing his own fight scene.

I very much agree that not waiting for ideal weather conditions added atmosphere. I could just imagine them on the street set saying "Well, it's still kind of hazy but the fog's lifted enough we're going to go ahead and film!" It's not often you see a stagecoach rolling into town in such relatively murky weather, and I loved that. Also loved the way the wind was blowing in the scene where he reclaimed his palomino.

Best wishes,

9:00 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Yes, I suspect that the misty conditions and the breath from their mouths is explained by the fact they were probably shooting 5-6.00 in the early morning. Long days!

9:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I feel like out-of-the-ordinary things like the weather help one feel a little closer to the movie, giving insight into what it must have been like to stand there on the set that day! :)

I'm quite looking forward to checking out the next Brown Western in the set. If I continue to enjoy them -- which will hopefully be the case given your own liking for his movies -- I will definitely be looking to pick up more Monogram Western collections.

Best wishes,

10:25 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. There's a moment late in the film when something like a butterfly flew in right in front of the camera lens and flew out again, but they kept right on going and didn't do a retake!

Best wishes,

10:29 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Love those little touches! Little did they know that 60 years later folks would be cheering their hurried takes. Whatever would they think?

10:45 AM  

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