Monday, May 11, 2015

Tonight's Movie: South of St. Louis (1949)

Joel McCrea heads a terrific cast in SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS (1949), which I caught up with for the first time in many years thanks to the beautiful DVD from Olive Films.

I had little memory of the film from that long-ago viewing, and the Civil War era plot, alas, proved to be a bit dreary. The film concerns three longtime pals who co-own a ranch; after being burned out, Kip and Charlie (McCrea and Zachary Scott) end up gun-running for the South while Lee (Douglas Kennedy) signs on with the Confederate Army.

Two lovely ladies, saloon gal "Rouge" (Alexis Smith) and army nurse Deb (Dorothy Malone) pine over Kip; after being ignored for too long, Deb later transfers her affections to Lee. That and Charlie's obsession with making money -- nearly sacrificing Kip's life -- cause Kip to retreat across the border in disgust, where he's on the road to alcoholism. Then one day after the war has ended, Kip gets word that newly minted Texas Ranger Lee is on the verge of a dangerous confrontation with Charlie.

The film isn't boring; it's just not very interesting, either. McCrea's Kip is a bit dense, making a series of poor decisions; Scott as the cynical, wryly sarcastic Charlie is more fun to watch, but his character gradually descends into villainy, aided by the creepy, knife-wielding Slim (Bob Steele). Only Lee has a real sense of nobility, if one can forgive him being a Confederate soldier; that problem is erased by making him a Ranger at movie's end.

What does distinguish SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS is its absolutely stunning Technicolor, filmed by Karl Freund. The Olive Films DVD looks quite spectacular; Joel McCrea's eyes were never so blue! In fact, it's hard to imagine the Blu-ray looking any better than the impressive DVD picture. It looks so good that it's worth watching the movie for that reason alone.

The film has some wonderful visual imagery centered around the bells that the three friends wear on their spurs; the scenes with close-ups of the spurs provide the movie's best moments, whether it's the opening barroom confrontation with Cottrell (Victor Jory) or the final shootout. The "three bells" theme is so effective, one wishes it were part of a stronger movie.

Still, any time spent with this cast is worthwhile. They may have all made better films, but having this group of actors all together on screen in the same film is special.

The supporting cast also includes Alan Hale (Sr.), Art Smith, Monte Blue, and Nacho Galindo.

SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS was directed by Ray Enright. It has a solid score by Max Steiner. It runs 88 minutes.

For another take on this film, please visit Jacqueline's engaging post at Another Old Movie Blog.


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,

I've always loved this film and the transfer on the Olive release is
wonderful.A great cast and crammed full of action.
I also love another Ray Enright Western of similar vintage FLAMING
FEATHER. This is another action packed affair with a great cast. It's also
one of Sterling Hayden's top Westerns.
Victor Jory,who I like in anything,totally steals FLAMING FEATHER.

4:04 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I got this Olive Films release a while back but still have not watched it yet. Your review highlighting the stunning colour cinematography has me drooling!

I'm sorry though you obviously felt some disappointment with the film itself though. I think it is a real cracker! Even Boyd Magers recently gave it 4 stars - he rates it one of McCrea's finest.
I love the diversity of opinion we all show; makes for healthy debate!

7:02 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I haven't seen this one in a long time, but a friend of mine believes it is a western remake of THE ROARING TWENTIES. Your description makes it sound like he may not be too far off the mark.

I heard the Olive transfer of this title is a stunner, and I look forward to seeing it one day.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for the mention, Laura. It's an interesting movie, and I got a kick out of your mentioning creepy knife-throwing Bob Steele. Creepy he was.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alexis Smith looks stunning in this and I like the song she sings, Too Much Love .Is that the title?
Strong cast as you say.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

It's in colour?! I saw it on a black and white TV when I was a kid and never forgot those bells.

Looking forward to catching up with it.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Love that so many people are interested in this one!

John, I haven't seen FLAMING FEATHER but any Western with Sterling Hayden is a movie I should see. :)

Jerry, I think I can safely guarantee that the color of the Olive Films release is going to wow you! Interested to hear Boyd Magers' rating. There are so many McCrea films I like better (i.e., in the late '40s RAMROD comes to mind first). That said, I'm sure I'll be watching this again to enjoy the cast in Technicolor.

Kevin, there are definitely some elements of THE ROARING 20S I can see in this film although obviously the inspiration is used in a pretty loose way.

Happy to be able to share your post, Jacqueline! It took me a while after reading it to catch up with the movie myself but I finally did! It's always fun when Bob Steele turns up in a cast (ISLAND IN THE SKY is one of my fave Steele parts), and he got a nice juicy part here.

Vienna, I liked the song too. I was really surprised to see that Smith was dubbed (by Bonnie Lou Williams) as the voice is such a match for Smith's speaking voice.

Caftan Woman, if you've only seen this in B&W it's gonna wow you. :) Would love to know your reaction.

Best wishes,

7:09 PM  

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