Thursday, August 09, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Red Sundown (1956)

Rory Calhoun, a favorite Western star, was born on August 8, 1922.

When I wrapped up work last evening I decided to honor Calhoun's birthday by watching him in RED SUNDOWN (1956).

RED SUNDOWN has been highly recommended to me by several people, including my dad and my friends Blake, John, Toby, and Kristina, among others! In fact it was on my list of 10 films I was planning to see last year; for various reasons I had to push the list forward into 2018 but I finally made headway and crossed this title off tonight!

Calhoun plays Alec Longmire, who finds outlaw Bud Purvis (James Millican) wandering on the prairie. Alec rescues Bud but they soon tangle with Rod Zellman (Leo Gordon), who chases after Bud and Alec, which leads to a memorable gunfight in which the seriously wounded Bud comes up with a unique (if more than a little creepy) way to save Alec.

Alec promises Bud he'll give up living by the gun, though he hadn't planned on an offer as deputy sheriff from Sheriff Murphy (Dean Jagger). The good-natured sheriff offers Alec the job and Alec accepts. The job is all the more appealing as the sheriff has a lovely daughter, Caroline (Martha Hyer).

The town is in the middle of a land war pitting Rufus Henshaw (Robert Middleton) and his goons (including John Doucette) against the townspeople. Creepy Chet Swann (Grant Williams) arrives in town to work for Henshaw, with orders to kill.

Like most '50s Universal Westerns, this is a colorful, relatively short film which packs lots of entertainment value into its 81 minutes. That said, it goes above and beyond the norm with interesting plotting and some wonderful performances.

Calhoun is always good in Westerns, but he's especially fine here as a young man struggling to go straight but finding it harder than expected, between the doubts of Caroline and the need to pick up his gun again, even if this time it's on the side of law and order.

Jagger is also wonderful as the sheriff who gives Alec a second chance. The dialogue when they meet is absolutely terrific, as the sheriff asks Alec if he's on any of the wanted posters in the sheriff's office and Alec says "Let's go look." The friendly, frank discussion which follows between the two men is an excellent scene.

The movie provides a heck of a part for character fave James Millican, who had been in films in bit parts since the mid '30s and gradually climbed into more substantive character roles in the late '40s and '50s. He was really hitting his stride in the mid '50s, in films such as this and DAWN AT SOCORRO (1954), where he played a Wyatt Earp type role opposite Calhoun's spin on Doc Holliday, but tragically Millican died of cancer in 1955, before this film was released. He was only 45.

Millican is unforgettable as the gunman who says if he had it all to do again, he'd get a real job; he gets a second chance at living, only to lose it again. In his final moments he finds a way to save Alec twice over, first keeping him from dying and then also obtaining Alec's promise that he'll go straight.

Hyer has sharp edges in this one, as the woman who seems attracted to Alec but doubts his character. She's particularly dismayed when she finds him with an old girlfriend, Maria, played by Lita Baron, who was then Mrs. Rory Calhoun in real life. Unbeknownst to Caroline, Maria is now actually Henshaw's mistress.

And then there's Williams, who would later work with director Jack Arnold on the heartbreaking sci-fi film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957). He's quite something as the deranged killer unleashed on the town by Henshaw.

The film has a succession of good action scenes, with my favorite being when Henshaw's men arrive and take over the saloon, but they have a surprise coming. A great moment.

The movie was filmed by William Snyder. The above-average score was by Hans J. Salter, and the title song was composed and sung by Terry Gilkyson. The supporting cast includes Trevor Bardette, David Kasday, Chuck Roberson, Rusty Westcoatt, Chuck Hayward, Lane Bradford, and Helen Brown.

Many thanks to my friend John Knight for providing a lovely widescreen print for me to watch. What an enjoyable experience! This is certainly a film which needs to be out on Region 1 DVD in the U.S.


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,
It's been a long time coming but you have more than done justice to this great
programmer Western.
Wasn't "creepy" Chet Swann (Grant Williams) horrible to Trevor Bardette and his wife.
I was amused to see next year in THE MONOLITH MONSTERS Grant and Trevor team up to save
America,and indeed the World, from the title monsters.
I remember seeing a Jack Arnold interview where he stated that Williams was underrated and
deserved better from Hollywood.
So glad you finally got around to RED SUNDOWN and hopefully HIGHWAY 301 will not be too
far behind :)

2:03 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I was one of the "among others" that recommended "RED SUNDOWN" to you a while back (grin) as it is a beacon in Calhoun's already fine western CV, one of those 80 min., tightly-packed and competently-made westerns they did so very well throughout the 50s.

I'm shortly going to sample 3 of Rory's non-westerns from the same period - "THE BIG CAPER", "FLIGHT TO HONG KONG" & "THE LOOTERS". I'm very hopeful they will be of a comparable quality.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Wonderful review that makes me excited to see this film.

The hubby is under the impression that I have seen every western that was ever made, but I know there are new treasures waiting for me every day.

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Kevin Deany said...

Bear Manor Media has a new biography out on Grant Williams. My library has it. I need to check it out.

8:43 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi again Laura,

For my eternal shame,I missed your wonderful essay on The Duke's leading ladies
over at The Movie Hub. The reason-I was off line for about 10 days due to moving
home. Anyway,I have been going through various back pages and caught up with
this fine piece at last. I love the Ella Raines photo with the two guns and as you say
it's a shame Ella and The Duke never made more films together.
At least where I am living now I have 24/7 internet have been warned!
I cannot wait 'till your next Movie Hub write up and I will not miss it this time around.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, another good review of a "Jim Dandy" of a Western movie. RED SUNDOWN is worth watching. The source material was BACK TRAIL(1956), a novel written by Lewis B. Patten, who was a good writer. Rory Calhoun, supported by a top-notch cast, was really good in this one. Many a Western fan believe that these mid-level 1950's Westerns were some of the best ever made. Universal-International Studios released some gems during the late 1940's through the early 1960's. I recently viewed THE LAST OF THE FAST GUNS(1958) starring Jock Mahoney. It is another gem.

Glad to see John K. back in the saddle again.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Great review, so glad you liked this as much as your western-loving pals did :) so great-- packed full of story and good actors in such a short run time. Agree with Walter, the Universal westerns are like candy. LAST OF THE FAST GUNS is one of my fav western discoveries of the past few years!

4:45 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Kristina, I couldn't agree with you more about the quality of the Universal-International Westerns. THE LAST OF THE FAST GUNS(1958) is a pleasure to look at, because of the beautiful photography of the locations in Mexico by Alex Phillips. The writing of David P. Harmon gave the character's memorable dialogue. For mystery fans out there, this movie is a mystery with twists and turns. Jock Mahoney was never better and Gilbert Roland is really good.

Laura, I wonder if James Millican's family has any way of knowing how much we appreciate him. He had such a distinctive voice. I think he was just really coming into his own, acting wise. It is a shame that he died at age forty-five.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Loving all the love for RED SUNDOWN!

John, I'd completely forgotten about Williams and Burdette costarring in THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957), which coincidentally was another film I was able to see thanks to you! That was a fun one. HIGHWAY 301 is in my "hot stack"! Really like the lead actors, Steve Cochran and Virginia Grey, so look forward to it. (I clearly need much more time to watch movies, there are so many I want to see...LOL.)

John, thank you also very much indeed for the kind feedback on my John Wayne column. So glad you enjoyed it! I'm working on my next piece tonight. :) That's great about your internet access; are you in London now? Hope your move went well!

Jerry, I rather thought that you must have recommended RED SUNDOWN as well! It seems as though most everyone in our circle of Western fans, other than myself and Caftan Woman, had already seen and enjoyed this one! We need movies today with those 80-minute running times, don't we? :)

I enjoyed FLIGHT TO HONG KONG and especially THE BIG CAPER though not on a level with Rory's Westerns. Need to see THE LOOTERS. Would be interested in your thoughts!

Caftan Woman, movies are the gift that keeps on giving, right?! I hope you can see this one soon and that you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Kevin, thanks for the tip on the Grant Williams book. Here's a Bear Manor press release on it for anyone who may be interested.

Kristina, I definitely did enjoy it as much as you and everyone else, thanks so much! They really did pack so much story into an hour and 20 minutes. Totally agree, Universal Westerns are like candy, especially with those gorgeous colors starting at the moment of the opening credits!

Walter, always great to get some additional background. I will try to move LAST OF THE FAST GUNS into my "hot stack" this weekend thanks to the endorsements of you and Kristina. Really enjoy Mahoney, his SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE was a great Western find for me.

I actually tried to do a little internet sleuthing to see if I could find whether James Millican still has family in CA. He was a graduate of my daughter's alma mater, the University of Southern California; all I've found so far is that (per IMDb) he had two children including a daughter named Ginny who went to UCLA. In my experience it seems to mean quite a bit to family members to hear that their relative's work continues to bring enjoyment to others, and I would love for them to know that although he wasn't a big name, his performances continue to mean a lot to many classic film fans.

I did learn that his final resting place is at Forest Lawn in Glendale. It looks like it would be a fairly easy site to locate, and I would like to pay my respects next time we happen to visit.

Best wishes,

7:32 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I think that would be a very nice thing for you to pay tribute by visiting James Millican's grave, Laura. Nice thought.
Among Jock Mahoney's westerns, "SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE" does not always get mentioned in discussion. Maybe it is thought of as a lesser film but I love it and I know you do too. One of his best for me.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

How can I have missed this one. Will correct that very soon! I need to see a good western again after being disappointed in the William Castle western set.

11:34 PM  
Blogger john k said...

I'm on the outer fringes of London-near Epping Forest.
The move went well but the build up was a nightmare-four months of hell with the
buyer's solicitors making ridiculous demands then finally giving me four days to vacate
clear my apartment and source a removal company.Are property transactions this complicated
in America...I hope not.
Anyway I'm here now. Thanks so much for the link to the Williams book.
I keep plugging HIGHWAY 301 because I know both yourself and Colin have it in the "to be
viewed" bay. I had heard of the film but thought,Warner Bros programmer,most capable cast-
but when I finally saw the film it totally blew me away,like,where has this been all my
life? Cochran and Grey are excellent as is the entire cast.
Thanks so much for the kind words.
It's wonderful all the love these Universal programmer Westerns are generating (and this
thread,I might add) Another really good one is A DAY OF FURY certainly Dale Robertson's
finest hour.Often dismissed as a minor film Jack Arnold's MAN FROM BITTER RIDGE is also
very good,again with a top notch supporting cast.
Totally agree regarding the Castle set with MASTERSON OF KANSAS being possibly the best
of the bunch and other films like KLONDIKE KATE not fitting in.
Oddly enough,arguably, the best of the Castle/Sam Katzman Westerns,THE LAW VS BILLY THE
KID,was not included.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I really have to track down more Universal Westerns, especially with Rory. Sexy man. If you like to see celluloid burst into flames, you'll have to see Four Guns to the Border. Dawn at Socorrro is another good one.

I can recommend Highway 301 too. I wrote about it a while ago. I'm a big Steve Cochran fan and this is a good showcase for him.

1:16 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Margot....
Great blog and a new one to me....very well chosen films I might add.
Loved your HIGHWAY 301 review-done with a formidable degree of wit,I thought.
If this does not persuade Laura (and Colin if he's with this) to give the film a try
I guess nothing will.
Always good to hear from another Cochran fan.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Thank you John. Another good Cochran movie is Private Hell 36.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Margot, yes, eros unbound in FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER(1954). Also, the movie had such a good cast. Walter Brennan and John McIntire together with Jay Silverheels. Also, I thought Jay Silverheels wardrobe was impressive. Russell Metty's photography was outstanding. The fine script written by George Van Marter and Franklin Coen taken from the story "In Victorio's Country" by Louis L'Amour, which was first published in GIANT WESTERN magazine in June, 1949.

If my memory serves me right, I think it was on this blog, when Laura wrote about FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER, that Blake Lucas commented on the eros scene. Blake had met Colleen Miller and he asked her about the love scene. She told him that the love scene was director Richard Carlson's creation. So, there you have it, the "hot" and daring love scene, especially for 1954, was created by Richard Carlson and performed by the ruggedly handsome Rory Calhoun and the beautiful Colleen Miller.

Margot is a really good writer and it was a pleasure to read her write-up on HIGHWAY 301(1950). This movie is a longtime favorite of mine. I first saw it as a youngster on the old Channel 3 WREC-TV EARLY MOVIE. I recommend it highly. Steve Cochran is a force. Also, go over and check out the writing of Margot at

10:52 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I guess I should have looked up Calhoun's movies on this blog. I'll do so immediately.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all for such a great discussion!

Vienna, I'd love to know what you think when you get to it.

John, your move sounds like it was challenging! Glad that is all behind you now. I have A DAY OF FURY in my stack too! So many movies to watch, so little time...!

Margot, I agree, FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER blew me away, that scene is unforgettable. (And since I'm a Richard Carlson fan I love what he did there as a director.) And I adored DAWN AT SOCORRO too! I hope you'll enjoy my posts. Great to hear you also endorse HIGHWAY 301. Cochran is very enjoyable, looking forward to it. I'll be sure to read your post, have opened it up as a reminder...and thank you for linking to my blog in your blogroll!

Walter, isn't it funny how we can often remember the specifics of watching a classic film on TV? I remember which ones I watched on Ch. 5 vs. Ch. 9 vs. Ch. 11 here in L.A. Goldwyn films on Ch. 5, MGM on Ch. 11, etc.

Best wishes,

12:17 AM  

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