Saturday, January 04, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Great Day in the Morning (1956) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Civil War Western GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING (1956) has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

It's early 1861, and Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack) is rescued from Indians by fellow travelers heading toward Denver: Ann (Virginia Mayo), who plans to open a dress shop; Kirby (Alex Nicol), Ann's hired guide; and Ann's other guide Zeff (Leo Gordon), who hates Southerners. Which is a bit of a problem as Owen is a Southern sympathizer from North Carolina.

Once in Denver Owen promptly wins a saloon, The Circus Tent, from its owner Jumbo (Raymond Burr); the win comes thanks to bottom-of-the-deck dealing from Boston (Ruth Roman), who has immediately taken a fancy to Owen. Jumbo had previously used some marked cards himself so Owen doesn't seem too bothered to win the saloon through cheating.

Ann and Boston are each attracted to Owen, but Owen is too self-involved to give either woman a great deal of thought. He's all about making a fortune quickly and perhaps, while he's at it, helping the few Southerners in the area get their gold out of town to support the South.

In a rare spurt of generosity, Owen does spend some time helping Gary (Donald MacDonald), the orphaned son of a man Owen had killed, but Owen's long-term plans don't involve Gary or either of the women.

This movie, directed by Jacques Tourneur and filmed by William Snyder in Technicolor and RKO SuperScope, is a visual treat, thanks particularly to the new Blu-ray. Mayo and Roman are both stunning, and their colorful gowns (by Gwen Wakeling) are pure eye candy as well.

Overall, the film is surprisingly dry coming from the director of a pair of Westerns I hold in very high regard, CANYON PASSAGE (1946) and WICHITA (1955).

A big part of the problem lies in the script by Lesser Samuels, which was based on a novel by Robert Hardy Andrews. Stack's lead character is too unlikeable to be a hero and not interesting enough to sustain interest as an anti-hero. One has the feeling that the other characters are all in the way of Owen doing whatever it is he wants to do. He doesn't seem to care deeply about anyone or anything, other than himself, and consequently the viewer doesn't care much about him.

Both women somewhat inexplicably love Owen, but Owen's not thinking about a permanent relationship. As it happens, the women share the single most interesting scene in the movie, discussing their mutual feelings for the same man; Roman's character pledges unconditional love, while Mayo's Ann says that's not enough and a relationship has to be, in essence, a two-way street. Each woman makes a valid point. I would have loved a film about the two women and what led each of them west; it could have been fascinating.

There are some nice bits here and there. I particularly liked Leo Gordon's loudmouth Rebel hater not being a cartoon character; a former sergeant, he's recruited to return to uniform near the end of the film and immediately sets about whipping his scraggly recruits into shape. It's a nice scene.

In the end the film is entertaining enough, thanks particularly to Mayo and Roman and the lovely color, but viewer interest is tamped considerably by the overall storyline.

GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING runs 92 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Regis Toomey, Carleton Young, Peter Whitney, Pierce Lyden, Burt Mustin, Lane Chandler, Kermit Maynard, and William Phipps.

This Blu-ray widescreen print from the Warner Archive is very attractive, with a strong soundtrack. The welcome extras are four short subjects directed by Tourneur.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,
Could not agree more with your review-sub par Tourneur but nice to have
restored in widescreen on Blu Ray.
I too agree regarding Stack's anti hero,as you so rightly point out,
hard to feel anything for him one way or the other.
Back in the 60's I saw GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING at a revival theater.
double billed with CRY DANGER-more than a decent evening's entertainment.
I'm glad that Warner Archive are continuing to restore old RKO titles
Toby has announced that they are releasing UNDERWATER in widescreen from
a brand new 4K restoration.
I've never seen UNDERWATER and it's not top of my wants list and I should
imagine it's minor league John Sturges.
I do feel,however that I should support this release so we get more of the
same. The 4K restoration and original aspect ratio is certainly the main
attraction for me for this forthcoming release.
Like GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING I'm sure UNDERWATER will look gorgeous.
Warners do own the following RKO Westerns which I also hope are Blu Ray
releases DEVIL'S CANYON (ridiculous,but fun with lovely Mayo) TENSION AT
Sadly Warners do not own Allan Dwan's superb SILVER LODE an RKO classic
crying out for a good restoration-a Criterion version would be a dream come

5:43 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I seem to like the movie a lot more than you two, but maybe that's because I'm a Stack fan. I really loved Ruth Roman in this and must say the ending came as a shock to me.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John and Margot! Thanks so much for each of your feedback. Interested to hear what each of you thought of this film.

Margot, I agree, Roman was really quite good in this. She and Mayo made the movie for me but if I had to pick I think I'd give Roman the edge in this one.

John, I saw UNDERWATER! about five years ago and sadly was unimpressed, but I may give it a fresh look to see what sounds like a great-looking new print. Thanks for the info on that! The other titles you mention I would all love to see released on Blu-ray.

Best wishes,

10:45 PM  

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