Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Forty-Niners (1954) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE FORTY-NINERS (1954), Bill Elliott's last Western, is part of the three-disc, eight-film Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection released this month by the Warner Archive.

Until a couple of weeks ago I'd never seen a Bill Elliott Western, so I started off by reviewing FARGO (1952) and THE HOMESTEADERS (1953) in the Warner Archive's Wild Bill Elliott Western Double Feature.

When it came time to open up the new eight-film collection tonight, I decided to start at the end, with THE FORTY-NINERS, due to the presence of Virginia Grey and Harry Morgan in the supporting cast.

THE FORTY-NINERS is a pretty good little "law enforcement Western." Elliot plays Sam Nelson, an undercover U.S. marshal looking for the killers of a fellow marshal. The trail leads him to Alf Billings (Morgan), who makes a living of sorts cheating at cards. Sam saves Alf from some irate gamblers, and Alf eventually leads Sam to the killers, played by John Doucette and Lane Bradford.

Grey plays Doucette's alcoholic wife Stella, who was Alf's old flame. Alf starts to think about turning over a new leaf so he can take Stella away from her miserable husband, and his new conscience comes in handy when Sam runs into trouble dealing with the two bad men.

With Elliott's resonant voice providing ongoing narration -- right up to giving the date of a character's execution at movie's end -- the film feels a bit like a Western DRAGNET, which is pretty ironic given the presence of DRAGNET costar Morgan! It's interesting to also note that after THE FORTY-NINERS Elliott's last few films were detective movies.

I was amused, when I had finished writing this, to come across a review by Dan Stumpf at Mystery File which makes the very same DRAGNET comparison. Stumpf, incidentally, calls the film "a perfectly fine Western."

While I tend to prefer the more light-hearted and charming "B" Western heroes such as George O'Brien, Tim Holt, or even Dick Foran, the DRAGNET comparison made Elliott work for me in this as the "just the facts, ma'am" marshal. I think it's the strongest of the three Elliott Westerns I've seen to date, which also benefits from having the always-fine Morgan in a large role.

The script of this 71-minute film is by Daniel B. Ullman, who wrote countless Westerns for both "A" and "B" level films. It was roughly around this time that he started transitioning to bigger pictures, such as the excellent Joel McCrea film WICHITA (1955).

THE FORTY-NINERS was directed by Thomas Carr and shot by Ernest Miller.

Virginia Grey doesn't appear until a good 34 minutes or so into the movie, but she does a nice job as the unhappy wife trapped in a marriage to a nasty man. The cast also includes I. Stanford Jolley and Harry Lauter.

There was at least one very mild little jump in the print, which could have been something that's been there for decades, but for the most part the widescreen print looked just fine. There are no extras.

It's a treat to have another great set of good-looking "B" Westerns to enjoy thanks to the Warner Archive!

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger john k said...

I go off-line for a couple of days and when I return the World has gone crazy.
Laura is actually reviewing and enjoying Horror movies...what's happening.
science fiction than horror but it does beg the question whats next.....Hammer
Films perhaps. Naturally I blame Kristina's influence regarding all of this.:)
I really enjoyed Laura's fine reviews of the two Sci-Fi films.
I have not watched the widescreen version of THE FORTY NINERS yet but remember
when I saw an off air copy...what a terrible waste of the wonderful Virginia Grey.
I have begun to watch this set and like Laura I am not watching it in order,
I am picking selected titles that take my fancy.
I watched THE LONGHORN which was remade virtually scene by scene as CANYON RIVER.
I prefer the George Montgomery film as it had the advantage of color and
CinemaScope. I also watched TOPEKA which is the best of this series I have seen so
far.Bill is on the wrong side of the law in this one. It's really fast moving
fun very well directed by Thomas Carr.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Good to see your positive review for this film from the eagerly-awaited Wild Bill Elliott set, Laura. It's amazing that you and Toby over at 50 Westerns From The 5os should both choose to watch the latest film in the set first and review on the same day! A wealth of good reading.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, your note cracked me up! I know, it's crazy, right?! LOL. It's like the time I told family members I'd bought a Japanese silent movie. The wonderful thing is that no matter how many movies I see I keep finding great new things to discover...though John and Kristina, I'm sorry, no Hammer horror! I don't think my sensitivity to visually disturbing things is gonna go away. :) But I do admire the wide net Kristina casts in her viewing, she's called my attention to some more recent titles, such as a couple with Pierce Brosnan, that I should check out...

John, that's really interesting THE LONGHORN was remade as CANYON RIVER; you might recall I loved CANYON RIVER!

Jerry, thanks for calling my attention to Toby's review of THE FORTY-NINERS! For my other readers, it can be found here.

Best wishes,

8:14 PM  
Blogger Kristina said...

ok now I found where this conversation is happening :)
Casting a wide net is a neat way to put it, though I need to brush up on a lot more, so "I'm gonna need a bigger net!". About the horror, totally understandable, everyone has their tastes and limits and it's great that you're always game to try new things to see what else you might fall in love with. Really enjoying this week at your blog!

7:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

LOL! I know, the conversation is kind of darting around to different posts, thanks for following along! :)

Love it, "I'm gonna need a bigger net!" :)

So glad you're enjoying the "different" slant at the blog this week, it's lots of fun, with more to come!

Best wishes,

4:10 PM  

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