Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Star in the Dust (1956)

A good cast elevates STAR IN THE DUST (1956), a solid Universal Pictures Western.

Sheriff Bill Jorden (John Agar) holds a convicted murderer named Sam Hall (Richard Boone) in his jail. Sam is due to be hung at sundown, but a war is brewing between ranchers and farmers who want to break Sam out of his cell for varied reasons. Bill, aided only by two older deputies (Paul Fix and James Gleason), intends to hold them all off and carry out the sentence in due course.

One by one we're introduced to characters around town who are interested in the unfolding jailhouse drama, including wealthy George Ballard (Leif Erickson); his sister Ellen (Mamie Van Doren), who loves Bill; Nellie Mason (Coleen Gray), a seamstress shunned by some in town because of her love for Sam; and Nan Hogan (Randy Stuart), who fears her husband Lou (Harry Morgan) will die breaking Sam out of jail.

Other actors appearing in the film are Stanley Andrews, Robert Osterloh, Terry Gilkyson, and, in a very early role, Clint Eastwood.

It's a reasonably good Western, but there are two main drawbacks to the movie. The most important one is that I found the film's unending focus on a hanging and the attendant details distasteful, simply not an especially appealing theme.

The other issue, which is more of a good problem to have, is that the cast is so big, with a number of good actors and interesting characters, that one wishes some of them had more screen time than 80 minutes allows.

Additionally, Agar is almost a little too stoic as the sheriff, who walks in the shadow of his late father, also a sheriff. Agar constantly looks pained but doesn't bring many shadings to the character to make Bill more interesting. I like Agar's work in Ford's FORT APACHE (1948) and especially SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) very much, and he's by no means poor here, but he does seem on the tired side in his depiction of a serious man with a big problem. His numerous scenes with Fix are a relief as Fix is much more lively as his righthand man.

Boone, as he did in the later THE TALL T (1957), makes a fascinating villain; in this case it's a bit problematic that he isn't playing opposite someone equally dynamic.

Van Doren is acceptable as the leading lady, torn between her love for Bill and her weasel of a brother, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about her character. The supporting ladies are far more interesting, starting with Coleen Gray as Nellie, the woman Sam has dallied with. Nellie has apparently led a lonely life, starved for affection until Sam came to town, and she desperately wants to break Sam out of jail and run away with him. Nellie has quite a knock-down, drag-out fight with Nan (Stuart) over some critical letters.

The characters I most wanted to know about were Nan and Lou (Morgan). Nan is apparently a former saloon girl who was once George's lady friend, but she's now happily married to Lou. It was interesting watching the characters and doing some reading between the lines; both Stuart and Morgan brought a lot to their roles and might have been the most interesting people in the movie.

STAR IN THE DUST was directed by Charles F. Haas. It was shot by John L. Russell, who coincidentally filmed the last movie I reviewed, TOBOR THE GREAT (1954).

STAR IN THE DUST is not available in the U.S. in any format, but it's been released on a Region 2 DVD in Europe, and it's also had a Blu-ray release there. Let's hope that at some point there will be a U.S. DVD release in the Universal Vault Collection.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Really interested to read your take on a western that would certainly fall into the category 'routine' but I don't mind that one bit. It is an enjoyable western to me.

I suppose the whole storyline does centre around a 'hanging' but that's OK (I guess you haven't seen "GOOD DAY FOR A HANGING", Laura! LOL). Agar is rather dull here, I agree, but it felt completely 'right' to me. He is the son of a celebrated father who he feels he is having to live up to but cannot completely and his slight dullness seems to be part of who his character is.

U-I made so many westerns in the 50s that might not have been classics but a goodly proportion of them were solid and enjoyable examples of the genre. This, as the saying goes, has been one of them......


2:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry!

Sitting down to watch a '50s Universal Western is definitely one of my favorite things...always colorful with good casts and usually worth seeing. :)

You're right, I haven't seen GOOD DAY FOR A HANGING, LOL! Or THE HANGING TREE!

Enjoyed your thoughts on Agar's performance, you make a good case for him.

Best wishes,

10:00 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,
I pretty much agree with you here-especially your comment that there are too
many good actors given very little to do.
Film would have been far better with Universal regulars Jock Mahoney or Rory
Calhoun-Agar is a total bust as a Western leading man.
The ballad singer Terry Gilkyson had a long association with Disney-Bare Necessities
is his most famous composition. His daughter Eliza is an Alt-Country star.
The French Sidonis DVD has sadly "Forced" (non removable) French subtitles.
The Spanish Blu Ray is a bootleg-and a BD-r these releases are best avoided.
Spain is the bootleg center of the Universe there seem to be no copyright laws
there. Luckily Amazon show the reverse of the disc and if there are no logos
(Universal-Sony and so on) then it's a bootleg copy.
STAR IN THE DUST has had an official Blu Ray release from Koch Germany and
it is an excellent transfer.
Universal Vault certainly need to up their game-but I would always go for a Euro
Blu Ray as opposed to a DVD (so 1999 :) ) or worse still a MOD.
Koch Germany love their Universal programmer Westerns-their Blu Ray of RAW EDGE is
also highly recommended.
I much prefer Agar in Sci Fi like TARANTULA! or THE MOLE PEOPLE-in these films
he really shines.

6:05 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I watched this one for Richard Boone awhile back. I remember enjoying it. Your post brought back some of the details to me! I think I had to watch it on youtube, as I couldn't find it anywhere else.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John and Deb, really appreciated the feedback from each of you!

John, I was interested that although you shared my thoughts on Agar's performance, you liked him in sci-fi films. TARANTULA is on my watch list!

Thanks also for pointing out Gilkyson's history with THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967) which had completely slipped my mind! Unfortunately he was another weak aspect of this film. Doesn't work that well -- for comparison check out Burl Ives in STATION WEST (1948) who provides a haunting singing narration.

Deb, have you seen Boone in MEDIC? I got the DVD set and look forward to checking it out.

Best wishes,

11:40 PM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I have not yet seen Medic, but I am looking forward to watching it when I can get a hold of it!

8:58 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I've never seen "MEDIC" either, Laura. Please do start watching so you can report back to Deb and me.....

2:24 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Thanks Laura,

Gilkyson gets a lot of flak for his Western ballads but I like them!!!
He was obviously a favorite of producer Albert Zugsmith...Terry also warbles
the backing songs to RAW EDGE and RED SUNDOWN.
I love TARANTULA! and Agar is perfectly cast in that film.
Again,look for Clint Eastwood at the end of the film.

3:36 AM  

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