HORIZONS WEST. Universal International, 1952. Robert Ryan, Julie Adams, Rock Hudson, Judith Braun, John McIntire, Raymond Burr, James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Frances Bavier, Tom Powers. Director: Budd Boetticher.
Horizons West is a very good, albeit uneven, 1952 Universal Studios production directed by Budd Boetticher. Set in and around Austin, Texas, after the Civil War and during Reconstruction, this Western tragedy stars Robert Ryan and Rock Hudson as the brothers, Dan and Neil Hammond.
As the film progresses, Dan (Ryan) and Neil (Hudson) find themselves on opposite sides of the law, with the latter tasked with bringing in his criminal older brother back to town for trial, culminating in a final interfamilial showdown in a small Mexican town. Dan starts off as a seemingly good guy, but by the end, the man’s done gone bad, irredeemably so.
The movie benefits from its strong coterie of extremely talented actors. Aside from Ryan and Hudson, the film also stars Raymond Burr, who brilliantly portrays Cole Hardin, a sleazily villainous gambler. There’s something about Burr’s character that’s so devious that one wishes that he weren’t killed off so abruptly.
And then there’s the lovely Julia Adams (Creature of the Black Lagoon), who portrays Hardin’s wife. She inevitably falls in love with the increasingly arrogant and power-mad Dan Hammond, causing friction between Dan and Cole. Veteran character actor John McIntire portrays the stoic Ira Hammond, owner of the family ranch who watches with alarm as his son, Dan (Ryan) returns home from the war a defeated, but proud Confederate officer, only to morph into to a ruthless and corrupt Texas power player.
Aside from the skillful acting, Horizons West makes excellent use of vivid and symbolic use of colors (Technicolor works extraordinarily well here) and numerous well-constructed lush interiors. Look for the scene in front of an Austin hotel when Dan Hammond is wearing a red tie and Mrs. Hardin is wearing also wearing red in her attire. It just works perfectly.
In many ways, the plot is standard, almost cliché Western fare, replete with a soldiers returning home from the Civil War, a good guy gone bad, brothers in conflict, a corrupt and flamboyant Mexican general, cattle rustling, and a lynch mob.
One can, however, view Horizons West less as a standard Western, and more as a quasi-Greek tragedy set in the American West, similar to Saddle The Wind, which I reviewed here.
Similarly, one can interpret it as contemporaneous social criticism about how big money can corrupt otherwise good men. Indeed, by the time that the movie ends, the two overtly greedy lead characters, Dan Hammond (Ryan) and Cole Hardin (Burr), have both been killed by gunfire.
In contrast, in the final moments, the film’s most humble and hardworking characters are prospering in the bounty of the westward movement of people and cattle, hence the seemingly optimistic title of the film. But to the extent that Horizons West is about the rise and tragic fall of Dan Hammond, the film’s French title, Le Traitre du Texas (The Texas Traitor), is more accurate in conveying the film’s classically tragic overtones.
The film’s greatest flaw is in the fact that we never really get a full sense of what drives Dan Hammond to self-destruction, why he goes power mad. There’s almost no indication that something terrible happened during the war that explains his descent into villainy.
There are, however, a couple of brief moments that may shed at least some light on the matter. Soon after Dan returns home from the war with his adopted brother, Neil (Hudson) and their family’s ranch hand, Tiny McGilligan (James Arness), he tells his parents that he finds Texas to be too quiet and refers to all the noise he heard during the Civil War.
But that’s about the last he mentions of this. We never see Dan struggle with his wartime experiences, nor do we ever hear him explain to another character what drives him to cheat and to steal. The other instance is when Dan discusses finances with Ira, his father who still hasn’t paid off the debt on the ranch, something that Dan Hammond seems to find embarrassing. But again, it’s a brief exchange and one that isn’t much referred to later on.
Still, Horizons West remains a better than average Western. Ryan, Hudson, and Burr are all great actors and it shows. The film’s strongest point is its extraordinary use of color. There are many scenes in which color, rather than dialogue, is the focal point. It’s a movie that explores one man’s descent into greed and violence, but nonetheless remains truly beautiful to behold.
Here's the trailer for Mercenaries, The Asylum's distaff take on the uber-manly Expendables franchise. The trailer looks pretty good - promising, even - but as it's an Asylum picture, I'm not letting my expectations get too high. The studio hasn't had a great track record for quality in any genre, really, and has fared especially poorly with action fare (stunts are expensive).
Cool to see Brigette Nielsen as the Big Bad, though it is disappointing to see that Cynthia Rothrock appears to have a non-fighting role. I'm hoping that Zoe Bell and Kristina Loken can raise the bar here. It can't hurt that Zoe can do her own stunts.
In a letter published in “The Readers’ Viewpoint” column in its June 1948 issue, Robert Boyer labeled Famous Fantastic Mysteries as “. . . the Aristocrat of the Pulps, the acme of stf perfection,” a title that can likewise be conferred upon the magazine’s later companions, Fantastic Novels and A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine.
Started by the Frank A. Munsey Company in the fall of 1939 and edited by Mary Gnaedinger, Famous Fantastic Mysteries was created to reprint the scientific romances originally published in The All-Story, Argosy, and The Cavalier. Welcomed by readers anxious to experience the classics found in the Munsey files, Famous Fantastic Mysteries was joined by a companion title, Fantastic Novels, in the early summer of 1940. For most of the next year, the two magazines were published in alternating months.
In late 1942, Munsey sold many of its pulps—including their two classic reprint magazines—to Popular Publications. Reluctant to take on a pair of fantasy titles, the new publisher opted to continue Famous Fantastic Mysteries, but not Fantastic Novels. Popular would wait until 1948 to return Fantastic Novels to the stands, once again relying on the Munsey archives for its content. A third title, A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine, was added in late 1949.
On Thursday, August 7th, beginning at 8:30 PM, Ed Hulse, author and editor of Blood ‘n’ Thunder and Nathan Madison, popular culture historian and author of Anti-Foreign Imagery in American Pulps and Comic Books, 1920-1960, discuss Famous Fantastic Mysteries, one of the major science-fiction titles started in 1939, as well as its two brethren, Fantastic Novels and A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine. Highly regarded during the pulp era, all three remain highly collectible pulp magazines, given their exceptional fiction and beautiful illustrations.
Click on the illustrations to learn more about the images.
I never quit pushing Anthony Mann do I?
Mystery File did a fine piece on this movie. I've seen it two or three times and now I want to see it again.
- Doug Dorst, S. (via quoted-books)
David Morrell: He was the first person to write about drug addiction at a time when opium in the form of laudanum was in everybody’s medicine cabinet and was used the same way we use aspirin. Many people were addicted to the drug, but the hypocrisy of the time was so severe that when De Quincey openly discussed his opium use, he became notorious and was called the Opium-Eater for the rest of his life. De Quincey was also an inventor of the true-crime genre. He was obsessed with the Ratcliff Highway mass murders of 1811. The first publicized multiple killings in English history, they paralyzed the entire country and created terror comparable to that of Jack the Ripper three-quarters of a century later.
Charles P. Pierce (no relation) writes on the Esquire site:
[W]hat connected Brett [sic] Maverick with Jim Rockford, and what allowed Garner to send convention for a loop was the fact that, while not being cowards, both Brett and Jim were unconvinced that violence was necessarily a part of being either a Western hero or a private eye. They never saw the logic in it. This doesn't make sense. Somebody might get hurt here. And it might be me. QED, let's try to think our way out of this mess. It took a rare actor to turn that trick without appearing either cowardly or unpleasantly conniving.After acknowledging Garner’s “crucial” role in the 1969 film Marlowe, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Little Sister (“The script wasn't vintage noir--there was a martial arts scene--and Garner was not exactly Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but he was droll and melancholy”), Britain’s Guardian newspaper notes that
His second breakthrough came in 1974, when Huggins still in the business, assigned a pilot script to the writer Stephen J. Cannell, who decided to break as many rules of the TV private-eye genre as he could. The obvious casting was Garner: Jim Rockford, the ex-prisoner hero of The Rockford Files, was a downmarket Marlowe, with no office but his mobile home at the beach, an answering machine instead of a secretary. His gun was stored in the biscuit jar. Rockford had a paunch from tacos and beers; he was lazy; and, except for his retired trucker dad, he knew mostly bums, losers and put-upon LAPD cops.Garner grew up in Oklahoma, so it’s natural that the state’s major newspaper, The Oklahoman, should devote space to celebrating his long career. Its obituary is here, but the paper also offers a more in-depth look at the actor’s life here. Written by entertainment editor Gene Triplett, the article draw heavily on The Garner Files, the 2011 memoir Garner wrote with Jon Winokur, but notes some discoveries Winokur made while collaborating on that book:
As Maverick had done, the series pushed the televisually possible further. Storylines could be serious--Garner was proud of an episode based on a New Yorker investigation into the grand jury system, so acute that it helped change the law. But it was the sense of a weird Los Angeles, sundried as a lizard up canyon roads, that was new and different. Critics panned it, but the first season was a ratings hit; then [co-creator Roy] Huggins was pushed out, and Garner confronted Universal Television over an enforced change in tone. Rockford lost 20% of its audience but continued for five seasons (Garner won his Emmy in 1977); then it ended suddenly in the sixth season, when Garner told the crew on location that he was exhausted and had no intention of dying early, and walked out.
“I had no idea how extensive (Garner’s Korean [War] service) was,” Winokur said in a recent phone interview. “He was in a unit that was thrown into the front lines when the Chinese Communists crossed the 38th Parallel in 1951, and his unit was the first thing they ran into, and they were decimated. They had something like 60 percent casualties in a very short time, and (Garner) was wounded a couple of times … and got a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster, which he never talked about very much.” …(Click here to see The Oklahoman’s front-page tribute to Garner.)
Another revelation for the author, from interviews with Garner’s friends and associates, was “the number of people whose lives he has enhanced through his generosity. … Something that came up again and again was how tremendously generous he is, both financially and in other ways.”
Eric Deggans writes in National Public Radio’s Monkey See blog:
I didn’t know, watching Isaac Hayes push James Garner around on The Rockford Files, that I was seeing a special character continue an important television legacy.CelebStoner mentions Garner’s support of legalizing marijuana:
All I knew, as a devoted fan of Garner’s put-upon private eye, was that Jim Rockford seemed like a kind of hero you never saw anywhere else on television.
Perpetually strapped for cash and working a case that wasn’t likely to change that situation, Rockford was a wrongly imprisoned ex-con who cloaked his heroism in a cynic’s quips and world-weary attitude (Hayes was a physically intimidating fellow ex-con who always mispronounced his name as “Rockfish”).
“Rockfish” rarely pulled a gun or won a fight with his fists--which could be a little frustrating to those of us weaned on more, say, direct TV private eyes like Mannix or Shaft. Instead, he maneuvered among a seedy universe of corrupt cops and crooks, lame hustlers and earnest victims, using his street smarts and an unerring sense of justice to save the day.
He wasn’t an anti-hero as much as an “unhero”; a regular Joe with a sardonic sense of humor who stepped up when he was needed.
“I don’t know where I’d be without it,” he wrote in his 2011 memoir, The Garner Files. “It opened my mind to a lot of things, and now its active ingredient, THC, relaxes me and eases my arthritis pain.”And this story from The Washington Post’s obituary is one that I’ve heard before, but it is worth repeating here:
Mr. Garner said he most valued collegiality on the set, and it tended to bring out his best performances. One case he cited was “Murphy’s Romance.”UPDATE: I want to add another voice to this chorus of praise. In A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence Towles Canote writes:
Co-star [Sally] Field told a CBS News reporter of the making of that movie, “He’s so profoundly sexy, and maybe the best kiss I ever had in my life, which was on camera, believe it or not.”
Mr. Garner replied, “I think she’s had a very sheltered life. I mean, poor baby, if that’s the best.”
Thinking further, he added, “I’ve had a couple of them say that. I might not be a bad kisser at all.”
What always appealed to me about James Garner was that while he was incredibly handsome and charming, at the same time he seemed entirely approachable. Unlike many movie stars James Garner came off as “just one of the guys.” I always imagined that if someone met Mr. Garner in a bar that he or she could sit down with him and talk about the weather, sports, television, and all of the other things about which everyday people talk. Indeed, James Garner treated acting as if it was simply another job. In his memoir, The Garner Files he wrote of acting, “Be on time, know your words, hit your marks, and tell the truth. I don’t have any theories abut acting, and I don’t think about how to do it, except that an actor shouldn’t take himself too seriously, and shouldn’t try to make acting something it isn’t.”READ MORE: James Garner: 1928-2014,” by Ronald Tierney (Life, Death, and Fog); “James Garner, 1928-2014: Remembering Rockford,” by Craig McDonald; “Remembering James Garner and The Rockford Files,” by Julia Buckley (Mysterious Musings); “James Garner, R.I.P.,” by Mitchell Hadley (It’s About TV).
While James Garner may have treated acting as just another job, there can be no doubt that he was great at it. While he will forever be remembered as Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, he played a wide variety of roles throughout his career. Many of them were similar to his two best-known roles, men who preferred to use their wits instead of their fists. There is a marked similarity between Bret Maverick, Jim Rockford, Lt. Hendley of The Great Escape, and Jason McCullough of Support Your Local Sheriff. And while Mr. Garner played such charming rogues well, he was equally adept at the sometimes very different roles he played. He played tough as nails lawman Wyatt Earp not once, but twice, and did so convincingly (once in Hour of the Gun and once in Sunset). And while most of the characters James Garner played were nice guys, he was capable of playing characters who were not so nice. In the television movie Barbarians at the Gate he played real-life millionaire F. Ross Johnson. Like many of James Garner’s characters, real-life F. Ross Johnson is charming, but at the same time he had no problems with thousands of Nabisco employees losing jobs if it made him millions of dollars.
James B. Lowe - Uncle Tom
Arthur Edmund Carewe - George Harris
George Siegmann - Simon Legree
Eulalie Jensen - Cassie
Mona Ray - Topsy
Virginia Grey - Eva St. Clare
Lassie Lou Ahern - Little Harry
Lucien Littlefield - Lawyer Marks
Vivien Oakland - Mrs. Shelby