Apr 192014
 
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


BEND OF THE SNAKE / BEND OF THE RIVER

BILL GULICK – Bend of the Snake. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1950. Paperback reprints: Bantam #906, 1951; Paperback Library, 1968.

BEND OF THE RIVER. Universal, 1952. James Stewart, Julia Adams, Arthur Kennedy, Rock Hudson, Jay C. Flippen, Chubby Johnson, Stepin Fetchit, Harry Morgan Jack Lambert, Royal Dano, Frances Bavier. Screenplay by Borden Chase. Directed by Anthony Mann.

   Bill Gulick’s first novel, Bend of the Snake, doesn’t seem like anything special to me, but it got snatched up immediately by the movies, and then discarded — of which more later.

    Bend rides out slowly at first, with Scott Burton summoned to help out an old friend in a foundering business deal. Seems his buddy Emerson Cole is trying to break up a local monopoly in the Oregon territory and needs Burton’s help — understandable since Burton is that stock figure of Western Fiction: an honest man who can’t be beaten with guns or fists.

BEND OF THE SNAKE / BEND OF THE RIVER

   Gulick never tells us just what the bond is that makes Burton so willing to come to Cole’s assistance, but it quickly becomes apparent that Cole has neither the spine nor the ethics of his good buddy, character traits which lead the story into murder and a fairly well-handled investigation when a bookish youngster turns amateur sleuth.

   For the most part though, this is pretty standard stuff, with Burton breaking the local robber baron by getting a load of goods to market past his hired guns, then beating down further attempts at ambush, arson and general mayhem.

   Gulick creates an effective cast of salt-of-the-earth settlers and a crusty riverboat captain to give the tale a fine, spirited background, but plot-wise this is no different than a hundred others.

   This was filmed, sort of, as Bend of the River, and when it came out Gulick ran an ad complaining that the only things they used from his book were the first three words of the title. Whereupon screenwriter Borden Chase observed wryly that he should have waited to see if the movie was a hit before distancing himself from it.

BEND OF THE SNAKE / BEND OF THE RIVER

   In fact, Bend of the River (the second teaming of director Anthony Mann and star Jimmy Stewart) was a big hit, and deservedly so. It is in fact, probably the most enjoyable of Mann’s westerns and the most satisfying of Stewart’s.

   Just to be strictly accurate, I should note that Borden Chase did incorporate a few elements from Gulick’s book besides the first three words of the title: Emerson Cole is still a shifty character (though considerably more ballsy as played by Arthur Kennedy) and there’s still a helpful steamboat captain and something about getting a wagon load of goods past considerable obstacles, but the rest is pure Borden Chase, and it’s a theme he’d return to again: a man of principle (Jimmy Stewart, natch, the character re-named Glyn Mclyntock) allied with a helpful but not entirely trustworthy partner (Arthur Kennedy in a role he’d also return to again) involved in a deadly undertaking that is part thrill-a-minute adventure and part spiritual odyssey as Stewart/Mclyntock seeks to redeem himself from his past.

BEND OF THE SNAKE / BEND OF THE RIVER

   Mann seemed particularly attuned to this sort of thing and he evokes it here with speed and energy but without the angst that intensifies his later films: The Naked Spur (’53) and Man of the West (’58) may be more profound, but Bend of the River is more fun, as Stewart and Kennedy brave marauding Indians, crooked speculators, hired guns and mutinous miners (Morgan, Lambert and Dano at their best/worst) on their way to a confrontation that seems all the more satisfying because we know it’s coming.

   I should also add that Universal had Chase write in a part for a rising young newcomer on the lot, Rock Hudson, who can be glimpsed in the Mann/Stewart Winchester ’73 (1950). Chase wrote him in but then apparently had no idea what to do with him as Hudson drops out of the action at a crucial moment and only reappears when it seems safe to do so.

BEND OF THE SNAKE / BEND OF THE RIVER

 Posted by at 2:24 am
Apr 062012
 
REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


NORTH OF 36. Paramount Pictures, 1924. Jack Holt, Ernest Torrance, Lois Wilson, Noah Beery, David Dunbar, Stephen Carr. Based on the novel by Emerson Hough. Director: Irvin Willat. Shown at Cinevent 35, Hollywood CA, May 2003.

NORTH OF 36 Jack Holt

   Lois Wilson plays Taisie Lockheart, a Texas rancher who needs to get her herd of cattle to Abilene and across “a thousand miles of Indian territory.” Noah Berry, the villainous Texas State Treasurer (some things never change, I guess) Sim Rudabaugh, scheming to take control of her land by any means necessary, tracks the cattle drive with a crew of ruffians among whom is good guy Jack Holt aiming to thwart Rudabaugh’s plan.

   This was conceived as a sequel to The Covered Wagon and was to be directed by James Cruze, but a cut in the budget lost the company the director and its grandiose plans for another epic of the West.

   However, they were able to engage the last remaining herd of longhorn cattle for the drive and the excitement of the drive and the work of an excellent cast more than makes up for any budget deficiencies.

   The punishment meted out to Rudabaugh by the Indians he’s wronged is a truly horrific moment in film vengeance, and the audience responded with cheers and applause. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. And they should.

NORTH OF 36 Jack Holt

 Posted by at 10:23 pm
Mar 082012
 
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THE LAST SUNSET

THE LAST SUNSET. Universal Pictures, 1961. Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas, Dorothy Malone, Joseph Cotten, Carol Lynley, Neville Brand, Regis Toomey, Jack Elam. Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, based on the book Sundown at Crazy Horse, by Howard Rigsby. Director: Robert Aldrich.

   If you’re ever looking for something terse and violent in a Western, you may find it in Sundown at Crazy Horse (1957), by Vechel Howard (aka Howard Rigsby). Like most Gold Medals, it’s a fast, fun read, and Howard has a gift for conveying information with intriguing detail that notches this way above average.

THE LAST SUNSET

   He knows the gritty details of moving cows around, and he can put them across without getting his foot tangled in the stirrup. He also shows a subtle gift for characterization that eludes many more successful writers — insert names here.

   In 1961 screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo added a layer of Greek Tragedy to this simple tale, and Robert Aldrich filmed it as The Last Sunset, with Rock Hudson as the lawman, Kirk Douglas the good/bad guy, Dorothy Malone the woman they both want, plus Jack Elam and Neville Brand as a pair of perfectly-cast owlhoots.

   They should have known better than to complicate a story whose chief asset was simplicity, as the movie slows up some, but it’s sustained by Aldrich’s flair for the perverse and westerns don’t get much kinkier than this.

THE LAST SUNSET

 Posted by at 3:54 am
Mar 022012
 

PARTNERS OF THE SUNSET Jimmy Wakely

PARTNERS OF THE SUNSET. Monogram, 1948. Jimmy Wakely, Cannonball Taylor, Christine Larson, Steve Darrell, Marshall Reed, Jay Kirby, Leonard Penn, J.C. Lytton. Screenplay: J. Benton Cheney. Director: Lambert Hillyer.

   Just so that we’re squared away with this right from the start, the title of this movie is purely generic. It has nothing to do with the story line at all.

   And for a movie that’s only 53 minutes long — and that includes five songs — it’s as full of as much villainous treachery, all-around bad-guy-ism and men on horses running here and there as any aficionado of the good old-fashioned B-Western could possibly want.

PARTNERS OF THE SUNSET Jimmy Wakely

   Plus the comedy antics of Cannonball Taylor, not usually one of my favorite sidekicks, but he makes good use of a fishing pole on several goofy but well-timed occasions in Partners of the Sunset.

   What more could you want? As an actor, Jimmy Wakely was an awfully good singer, and when the singing cowboy began to disappear from the big screen in the 1950s, so did his movie career. Not that he probably noticed very much. As I say, he was maybe the best singer of all the singing B-Western cowboys, and he’s in good form here.

PARTNERS OF THE SUNSET Jimmy Wakely

   He plays the foreman of a horse ranch in this movie, and working under budget constraints, Cannonball Taylor seems to have been the only ranch hand. The story begins in earnest when the owner of the ranch comes home with a new bride perhaps half his age, played by the beautiful Christine Larson. The ranch owner’s son (Jay Kirby) expresses a different opinion of the lady and is forcefully kicked off the ranch.

   Complications begin to mount precipitously from there, but it turns out the son is right. The lady may be beautiful, but she’s certainly no lady. She’d not even be out of place in a tough guy crime drama. Except for Cannonball talking too much out of turn, Jimmy Wakely’s plan may have…

   But watch the movie. It’s no High Noon, but even the kids at the Saturday matinee may have realized this particular entry in the Wakely resume may have been one of his better ones.

PARTNERS OF THE SUNSET Jimmy Wakely

   (A small caveat, or Truth in Advertising: I haven’t watched them all, only this one and one other, which was fairly dull and uninteresting and will not be mentioned further.)

   As for screenwriter J. Benton Cheney, I don’t know much about him, but in 1948 alone, he wrote 12 small epics just like this one, presumably all for Monogram. By 1950, however, he was out of the business until TV really came along.

   Director Lambert Hillyer was equally busy in 1948; by my count he was at the helm of 11 western dramas, also presumably all for Monogram. But once again, after six more films in 1949, that was it for him until 1953. He had a short career in TV from then on, known most perhaps for directing 39 episodes of The Cisco Kid between 1953 and 1956.

PARTNERS OF THE SUNSET Jimmy Wakely

 Posted by at 7:33 am

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