Thursday, December 30, 2004

Happy New Year!

If I don’t have a chance to post later today, I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Donna and I are currently planning on staying home tomorrow night, possibly having dinner with her mother and one of her cousins. Not sure what we’ll be watching come midnight, although it may just be the insides of our eyelids. :-)

Hey, it will be strange not to see Dick Clark this year, won’t it? I like Regis, but it will still seem odd.

On New Year’s Day we are having about a half dozen folks over for a late lunch/early dinner (or “dunch”, as Donna and I have dubbed this particular meal time). We expect our guests to come along pretty early so we can watch the Rose Parade together, than have enjoy a pork roast that Donna picked up the other day.

If you’re going to be out driving, either get one of those designated drivers or take a taxi/car-service home. You also might want to just spend the night at friends or stay at a nearby motel/hotel. Sadly, there are going to be way too many folks who won’t be taking this advice and will be behind the wheel after drinking way too much. If you must be out on the road be especially cautious, since I’d like to see you all back again next week.

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

What I got for Christmas!

Well, I certainly hope that everyone enjoyed the holiday and am preparing themselves for the New Year celebrations. I had a very nice time in California, celebrating Christmas with Donna's daughter Kristina.

We flew out of JFK last Thursday (12/23) and were picked at LAX by Donna's ex-husband (and Kristina's father) Michael. Michael acted as our host and chauffeur for the next few days, taking us around to some of the places where Donna used to live and to several restaurants. We were joined for most of the weekend by Kristina's friend, Devin.

I have to recommend both Mimis Café in Laguna Niguel for breakfast. The fresh baked muffins and raisin carrot-cake log are to die for. Also, the price is very reasonable. This used to be one of Donna's favorite places and I can understand why. Be prepared to wait a while depending on when you arrive. If you're curious:

I have been hearing about In-n-out Burger for a while now. Kristina raves about it and when Donna's sister came back after a visit, her husband was also a fan. We had a chance on Sunday, before heading to the movies (where we saw MEET THE FOCKERS, which is a must for anybody who liked MEET THE PARENTS). The great thing about the place is the very limited menu. You'd think that would be a down side, but the choice of a burger or cheeseburger makes life very simple. The place was packed when we got there, which goes to show you that in spite of the hundreds of other restaurants and fast-food places around they must be doing something right! If you like hamburgers you have to give the place a try. I thought the fries were a bit salty, but not too bad and definitely a step above most fast-food fries. Oh, you might want to check out the "secret menu", which you can find over at their website:

By the way, there are other stories told about the place, but check out the bottom of the soda cups to understand where they may be coming from. :-)

Anyway, we had a nice day on Christmas, with Donna and the girls putting together a delicious meal, which included honey-glazed ham, sweet potatoes and Donna's homemade cheesecake. Yummy!

Every year my Christmas gifts run along a theme. We've gone through SOUTH PARK & THE SIMPSONS so that I'll end up with books, t-shirts or other related items. I have Simpson editions of both LIFE & CLUE, which we enjoy playing. This year I made mistake of sitting around with my wife's nieces & nephews watching SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. I actually enjoy the show and now find myself with a SPONGEBOB t-shirt, 2005 15-month calendar, six-inch inflatable doll and a mini-lunch pail filled with SPONGEBOB sour candies. If you haven't really sat down and watched the program, you might be surprised to find yourself enjoying it. The recurring MERMAID MAN & BARNACLE BOY characters are wonderful examples of super-hero spoofs which are clever enough to appeal to comic fans of all ages.

About the only 'western' related things I saw were seeing the Saddle Back Mountains, where some low-budget westerns were filmed. Also, passed the exit to Gene Autry Way which made me smile as I passed the sign.

Happy Trails!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to take a moment to wish all of you a very Happy Holiday. I hope that you'll find the days filled with joy and fulfillment.

I'll be back sometime next week, after a few days visiting my step-daughter in California. I'll let you know what transpires when I get back.

My hope is that I can start adding more links and perhaps some photos to this site in the coming New Year.

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Western reprints from AC Comics

Publisher Bill Black is a fan of westerns and is one of the good folks who have put his money behind his hobby. His AC Comics, which began reprinting Golden Age super-hero stories, added a few western titles to their publication schedule over a decade ago. To many comic fans Black & Co. may be better known for their ‘good girl’ super-hero comic FEM FORCE. Unfortunately, for this reason Black has a bad rep in some circles, which I think is unfortunate, due to the remarkable effort he has demonstrated in allowing modern fans to discover the comics and heroes of the past.

For a short time, probably no more than a year or so, Black had the rights to use the Charlton 'action heroes'. AC under the AmeriComics imprint published several books featuring new adventures of the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom & others. There was even a team title called 'Sentinels of Justice' which had to be quickly revamped once DC comics officially acquired the rights to the Charlton stable.

In the comic book field, where the western was once a mainstay, there are few examples of this genre still to be found. Sadly, many of the so-called ‘westerns’ which some companies put out are generally re-imagined takes on classic western heroes or supernatural tales told with a frontier backdrop. There have been some very good titles, such as Marvel’s SUNSET RIDERS & DC’s THE KENTS (which mixed real life events with the fictional story of Jonathan Kent’s family during the American Civil War era), and some alternative/independent publishers have put out miscellaneous issues here and there.

The books from AC tend to be reprints of western comics previously published by Magazine Enterprises (ME) a now defunct publisher, which put out an amazing group of licensed titles. Black has also acquired the licensed rights to such western heroes as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Tom Mix, among others. ME published licensed and original material for several decades which allows AC to put together some fantastic reprints. If you check on eBay or go to conventions it would cost you hundreds of dollars to acquire some of the comics, and in some cases it would be almost impossible to find them in more than fair condition. Black allows fans of this type of material to read or re-read stories which have been unseen since they were originally published a generation ago.

If you click on the link over to the right you’ll find the official AC website which will give you more information on the books and some of the heroes whose stories you can read. While you’re there you can even click to buy some of the AC books which you may not be able to otherwise locate. It has been my experience that many comic shops won’t carry or order these titles unless you pre-order them.

For those interested in non-western comics, you might want to check out the AC home page to see what other comics they publish. They continue to publish FEM FORCE, along with several spin-offs and specials, plus reprints of Golden Age heroes from a half dozen long-gone publishers.

Happy Trails & Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Gene & Roy: a few more reviews

(These were originally posted on 10/10/03. I haven't changed these as much as some previous reviews.)

Riders of the Whistling Pines (1949) Gene Autry plays a forest ranger who has recently retired. While on his way to take over a campground he has purchased he shoots at a mountain lion, only to apparently shoot a fellow ranger (Ranger Carter played by Jason Robards, Sr., father of the better known Oscar winner). Even though the death is ruled a 'hunting accident' many of the town's residents, including the man's daughter Helen (played by Patricia White, who continued working in television & film into the early 1990s).

Naturally, we all know that the ranger was actually killed by Bill (Damian O'Flynn), a henchman for the local logging company. It seems that Ranger Carter had discovered that many of the trees were infested with a destructive moth and logging had to be stopped. Once cleared of the crime Gene is put in charge of spraying the forest, which puts him at odds with the loggers. Of course in the end, Gene wins the day and the girl.

Plenty of singing by Gene and others along the way, plus Clayton Moore (known for his long-time role as The Lone Ranger) does a nice turn as another logging company henchman. Moore actually displays a comedic side in a scene involving a ringing phone, Moore does a 'slow burn' rivaling Edgar Kennedy at his best. This is typical Autry fare, but fun and actually touching in some scenes with a Jimmy Lloyd as a fellow pilot who mourns his late wife.

King of the Cowboys (1943) This wartime flick exists in two versions. The DVD has the version shown in general release, followed by the additional scenes filmed for the Armed Forces. In the general release film the head saboteur (Lloyd Corrigan) is the governor's secretary, while in the 'government' version he is an unnamed industrialist. Why they change the occupation of his character doesn't make any sense to me, since he meets the same fate in both films. My guess is that the DOD didn't think our fighting forces should see a film in which a government employee (even a male secretary) is working against the best interests of the U.S.

Anyway, Roy and sidekick Smiley Burnette are asked by the governor to bring in a group of saboteurs, who have been blowing up warehouses and otherwise disrupting the war effort. The gang is never said to be working for the Nazis, nor is there more than a few mentions of the ongoing war (mostly shown in newspaper headlines or in posters on walls talking about buying bonds, etc.). Roy finds himself in enough life threatening circumstances to fill your typical Republic serial, but he's able to take down the gang, plus sing a number of songs all in a single feature. No wonder the guy was so popular!

My Pal Trigger (1946) Roy & Dale Evans had already appeared in close to a dozen films together at this point. Here they are joined by George "Gabby" Hayes, this time playing rancher Gabby Kendrick, the father of Susan (with Dale in this role) and owner of Golden Sovereign. Roy seeks to mate the Sovereign with his own mare in hopes of raising the offspring, but Gabby refuses the request and insults Rogers while doing so. When Sovereign is killed later by the rancher who first rustles the horse from the Kendrick ranch, Roy is found at the scene and arrested. We then follow Roy as he first escapes and later turns himself in, along with Trigger who had been born during his travels.

It is a convoluted tale, but entertaining and it gives Roy a chance to sing, ride and get into several fights (all of them with multiple antagonists) which he doesn't always win. A fictionalized tale of how Roy got Trigger and I doubt that anyone, even the kids in the audience, took it for the truth. A solid Rogers/Evans effort and you can never have too much of that.

"Song of Texas"

(Originally posted 10/16/03, I’ve only made a few changes.)

Song of Texas (1943) Dale Evans is nowhere in sight, so Roy finds himself attracted to Sue Bennett (played by Sheila Ryan), the daughter of Roy’s one time idol Sam Bennett (Harry Shannon). Roy and the Sons of the Pioneers are working for crooked rodeo owner Jim Calvert (Barton MacLane, who would go on to play Gen. Peterson in I DREAM OF JEANNIE), until they discover he has fixed a race that leads to Sam being injured. When Roy and the boys quit, trying to start their own rodeo, Calvert does all he can to sabotage their efforts. As usual Roy and the Sons drop everything to sing a few songs, including “Mexicali Rose” and “Rainbow Over the Range”.

This is a typical Rogers film with the only surprise the appearance of Arlene Judge, in the role of Sue’s friend. Ms. Judge, was a delightful comedian, who starred in the ‘classic’ exploitation film “Girls in Chains”, the granddaddy (or grandmother) of all women-in-prison flicks.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Old Time Radio

When I was a kid my family used to go to my maternal grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner almost every week. One of the highlights of those days came in the early evening when my father would let me have the car keys and I would sit in the front seat listening to the radio. While there may have been other shows on the only one which sticks in my mind is one called “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.” I was probably between ten and twelve years old during this period, since the program aired its final episodes in 1962.

I bring this up not only to reveal what an old coot I am, but to show that my love of Old Time Radio (OTR) wasn’t one of those things I came upon only in later life. When I was young there were still a few live radio programs around, though many were even then on their last legs. Most stations were switching over to all-music formats, with some news and community affairs programs thrown into the mix. Radio could no longer compete economically with television, with both sponsors and creative talent switching over to the newer medium.

When I was in my early twenties some FM stations and a few AM ones began re-broadcasting the old shows. Generally they were things like THE SHADOW and THE GREEN HORNET, but they would also occasionally toss in individual episodes of other shows. If you were in the New York metropolitan area, or had decent reception in the evenings you might be able to hear Joe Franklin broadcasting some of the old radio variety and comedy shows during his late-night program. In the 1980s I began collecting OTR programs on cassette, either taping them myself or buying from several dealers in the field.

The link to which I’ve added over on the side will bring you to a great site which includes a lot of information on the shows, links to other OTR sites and dealers. The folks over there call themselves the “Original Old Time Radio WWW Pages”, and I’m not going to argue the point. It will take an OTR fan hours to just begin skimming some of the wonderful material over there, but I highly recommend that you at least take a peek.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Boots and Saddles" with Gene Autry

(This was previously posted on 10/3/03. I have made a few changes.)

Boots and Saddles (1937) – Gene Autry plays the manager of a ranch owned by a British nobleman. When his Lordship passes away the land is bequeathed to his only son, Edward (played by Ronald Sinclair, later to give up acting to become a film editor), who is only about 12 or 13 yrs old. Arriving in America the young lord is ready to sell his father’s ranch, until Gene convinces him that it would be better to preserve his father’s estate by selling horses to the Army, thereby paying off any debts.

Not one of Autry’s best films, but he certainly did lesser fare in his long career in the saddle. As a kid I usually preferred non-singing cowboys, but Autry (like Roy Rogers) always seemed to be on the air, so I grew fond of him. Personally, Autry always struck me as a singer who learned how to ride a horse, but never seemed a ‘real’ cowboy and he never really convinced me that he was even comfortable out on the range. Still I find that I enjoy his films when I get a chance to view them. With their action and humor it’s easy to see how kids, and even adults, would warm to the star and his films.

Of course things never go smoothly in these things and Autry finds himself in competition with an unscrupulous horse trader who wants the Army contract for himself. As usual, Gene finds time to sing a few songs and even to get involved with some tricks involving his horse Champion. Of note here is Bill Elliot (listed as “Gordon Elliot” in the credits) in a small role. Elliot went on to play first “Wild Bill Saunders”, then “Wild Bill Hickok” and eventually “Wild Bill Elliot” in several western series during the 1940s into the mid-1950s. Elliot is perhaps best known for his role of “Red Ryder” (in which he co-starred with a young Robert/Bobby Blake as Little Beaver, his Indian companion) a series of movies based on the comic-strip character (created by Fred Harman). Elliot’s career began in silent movies (often as an uncredited extra) and ended in the late-1950s when he played a Los Angeles sheriff’s department detective in a series of films.

Gene’s sidekick in this film (as in dozens of others) is Lester “Smiley” Burnette, who teamed up first with Gene and later Charles Starrett in the ‘Durango Kid’ series. Burnette also wrote and performed country western/cowboy songs, meeting Autry while the entertainer was touring and becoming part of his backup group.

The Autry films are pretty predictable and you know that they will end with Gene getting the girl or just riding Champion and singing. They are harmless fun for a quiet afternoon, which is of course, what they were meant to be.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Elbow Creek Magazine

ELBOW CREEK MAGAZINE was an attempt to produce an online magazine which made available (free of charge) articles, poems and fiction about the American west. Sadly, it only was able to complete five issues before the realities of Internet publishing (we assume, since the last issue was obviously not scheduled to be the final one, so no explanation is given) brought the venture to a close.

I have to give Thomas A. Rice (who signed the editorial page) and his cohorts credit for a very nice try. The material they produced is very good and it would have been interesting to see where they would have gone if allowed to continue.

One of the things they were attempting was the creation of a 'shared universe' centered around the fictional Elbow Creek, CO. It was their hope that a number of writers would populate this town with characters and give it a history upon which others could build. There are only three stories which take place there at the magazines closing, two of which were written by Rice himself.

Even though there are only a few samples over on the website, I thought it was important enough to add a link to it so other fans of this literature might take a look.

Happy Trails!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Lone Ranger on the Web

Courtesy of the fine folks at Endeavor Comics, I've added a link to their Lone Ranger website. It has some nice stuff (including a bit of the William Tell Overture & photos), plus further links to other LR sites.

It would be impossible to have grown up, as I did, in the mid-1950s and not been aware of the television show featuring Clayton Moore as the Ranger. He along with Roy, Gene and Hoppalong Cassidy helped form my earliest TV viewing habits. When I began reading the comics strips in the various newspapers to which my parents subscribed, it was also natural to immediately begin following the adventures of the Ranger and his Indian companion. Once I started buying comicbooks the LR titles from Dell were among the first non-funny animal comics I read. It was only later that I began to take an interest in the super-hero books.

There is something noble about the Ranger, his selfless struggle to bring justice to a lawless era. Like Batman, when he was closer to his roots, the Ranger began as someone seeking to bring to justice those who had destroyed his earlier life. Witnessing the murder of his brother and fellow Texas Rangers, the youngest Reed sibling vows to defend law abiding citizens against those who oppress them. Check out the "Lone Ranger's Creed" to see where the Ranger is coming from.

Via the Largent's page you'll find links to other sites (including the Old Corral) dedicated not only to the Lone Ranger, but to other fictional western heroes. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

TIN STAR: a book review

Tin Star: a book review

This anthology of western short stories has nothing to do with the movie of the same name, starring Henry Fonda & Anthony Perkins. Then again since the stories and the film have to do with those who carry a badge in the Old West, I guess in that way they do have similarities.

Edited by Robert J. Randisi, himself a writer of mystery and western fiction, the book contains twelve short stories by some well known (and lesser known) writers. Perhaps the most familiar to western fans would be Elmer Kelton and Loren Estleman, both multi-award winners in western fiction. Along with their work are ones by Ed Gorman, Wendi Lee, Tim Champlin, Douglas Hirt, Deborah Morgan, Marthayn Pelegrimas, James Reasoner, Frank Roderus and L.J. Washburn. Between them these writers have won numerous awards both in the western and mystery genres. In fact, I have been surprised as I begin reading westerns and checking on the writers the number of them who seem to cross over between the two. I suppose in someway there is a common theme of the ‘good guy’, often a loner, out to right some wrong or bring the ‘bad guy’ to justice. I can see why both would attract certain writers.

The theme of the collection involves the men, and in one case a woman, who put their lives on the line to bring law and order to a region of the country just beginning to make the change from frontier to nation. The stories range from shortly after the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you will) until the very beginning of the Twentieth Century. While most of the characters are on horseback, you will find a few automobiles and even a telephone or two making an appearance. They remind me of many of the Roy Rogers & Gene Autry films in which it was sometimes impossible to figure out exactly when a particular story took place, generally unless the characters entered a large town they could have taken place at almost any time period.

Like any anthology the contributions range from ones which deserve award consideration to simply decently told tales. Estleman, Gorman and Washburn create new stories featuring series characters that have appeared previously, while Deborah Morgan introduces the fascinating former Buffalo Soldier Archie Law in a terrific story which begs to be continued. The writers all focus on the individual behind the badge; in a couple of cases the badge itself plays an important part in the story.

I’m hoping that sales and popular reaction to the book urges Randisi (and the good folks at Berkley Publishing to turn TIN STAR into an on-going series.

Friday, December 03, 2004

"To The Last Man"

(This was previously posted on 8/7/03.)

Not that anyone is keeping count but, since I do this blog to amuse myself anyway, I'm going to review another Randolph Scott western.

TO THE LAST MAN (1933) adapts a Zane Grey novel by the same name. The story was filmed previously in 1923, that silent starred Richard Dix in the role of the returning son, played later by Scott. The basic plot concerns a long-time feud between southern families who take their hatred out west and end up poisoning another generation. Of course, you can't have this type of thing without the Romeo and Juliet scenario cropping up, can you?

The Scott film takes liberties with Grey's novel, chiefly the names of the characters and the opening of the film which sets up the history of the main characters, whereas in the novel two of the books main characters meet and everything is explained in their conversation. Where the feuding families in the original story are the Isbel and Colter clans (as they are in the '23 film), Scott is a member of the Hayden family while his romantic interest Ellen (played by Esther Ralston)is the daughter of his father's sworn enemy, the head of the Colby clan(Ned, played by Noah Berry).

Just as an aside: I notice that in several of Scott’s films the names of characters are changed (for no reason I can understand) from those in the novels and stories from which they are adapted. I wonder it this was something the studio heads demanded, once they had the rights to particular properties.

The movie is predictable, but it sort of funny seeing Buster Crabbe and Fuzzy Knight together, as they both appeared in the TV show "Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion" more than twenty years later. The film is also notable as being the first feature film in which a young Shirley Temple appears, as one of the Hayden children. She doesn't sing or dance, but does slap & punch a pony (rather viciously, I thought) in one scene, before having her doll's head shot off by one of the bad guys.

Coincidentally, when I noted the film’s title I went to my comics and discovered that I had a reprint of the Dell Four Color adaptation of the same Zane Grey story. The comic (published in b&w by ACG several years ago) takes some liberties with the story as well, which is understandable, since it had to pass the Comics Code and the novel ends with the near rape of Colby's daughter by the villainous Jim Coulter. In the Scott film Berry's chief henchman (who leers at the very, lovely Miss Ralston through the entire film) is called Jim Daggs (played by Jack La Rue, who made his career playing villains and shady characters). Now I don't know a lot about the Hayes Code, but Daggs sleazy advances towards Ellen (including one as Ralston goes skinny-dipping, and she certainly seems nude or nearly so in the film) are pretty obvious and even young kids in the theatre would not have been unsure of his desires. The camera also seems to love focusing in on Ralston's posterior, as often as possible. It has almost as many close-ups as some of the major characters.

Not one of your classic films, but certainly enjoyable and with enough action during its 70 min. running time as director Henry Hathaway (who went on to direct the John Wayne films, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER & TRUE GRIT, as well as Marilyn Monroe's NIAGRA) could cram in.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Howard Hughes' THE OUTLAW

Before getting to the reprinted review I wanted to take a moment to explain the term 'apa' found in the first paragraph.

Depending on whom you ask it stands for either Amateur Press Association or Alliance. These are groups of fans dedicated to a particular hobby or interest who ban together and publish individual newsletters (generally referred to as 'zines'), running any where from two to a dozen or more pages. A Central Mailer/Overall Editor will then collect the zines and mail them out to all members of the apa.

These groups are believed to have been started by science fiction/fantasy fans in the era of the pulps, but now hundreds of apas covering just about any type of interest are active. The "golden age" of the apa was probably from around the early 1970 until the mid-1980s when the Internet with its various electronic bulletin boards and message boards led many apa members to jump ship for the immediate gratification of the online community.

(This was previously posted back on 8/21/03, but some changes have been made.)

After thinking about this review (which I'm also running in an apa I belong to) I wonder if I should have talked more about really being bothered by the 'rape' scene and the fact that the woman seems pretty forgiving. There is a scene a while later where the viewer is not sure if Rio is going to kill Billy, but after that it's apparent that she is more than happy to put such things as sexual assault behind her and fall in love with her rapist. A nyway, I just didn't want folks to think that the whole thing didn't bother me, since it did.

THE OUTLAW (1943) I'm sure that I must have seen this film at some point on television, but you would think that I would have had some memory of it. It certainly has a few scenes that should have stuck in my mind, but I honestly cannott recall anything other than seeing various clips. Most of those, naturally, were of Jane Russell's ample and heaving bosoms be honest the shot often showed of Russell with her torn dress falling from her shoulder doesn't actually appear in the movie. At least not in the version I have on the DVD collection.

Also, just to point this out to anyone interested in buying said collection this film contains the only major glitch that I have discovered in either disk. About three-quarters of the way through there is a flutter and for the next twenty minutes or so the audio track is several seconds ahead of the video. Annoying, but it does make for some funny scenes when Russell begins lip-synching Walter Houston. It goes back to normal in the final reel, so I can't say that it totally ruined the film for me.

There are, according to Leonard Malton's book, a couple of versions of this film around including a 117 min. "uncensored" version. I can certainly see why the censors at the time may have had some problems with the film, especially a rape scene that takes place in shadow. Or rather, it's implied as Billy the Kid (played by first timer Jack Buetel) pulls Rio (Jane Russell, also in her first screen role) down into the hay, after she has tried to kill Billy for the murder of her brother. Their conversation and revelation of this plot point is shown clearly, but then when Russell attempts to shove a pitchfork into Buetel the two of them roll into darkness. You hear Rio tell Billy to get off her, but he responds with something along the lines of, "Stop struggling lady or I'll rip all your dress off." Music swells and camera fades to the next morning with Billy talking to Doc Holliday (nicely acted by Walter Houston). Whoa!!

There is a later scene where the now more than willing Rio is about to fall once again into Billy's arms, only to be interrupted by her aunt. This scene is shot from such an angle that Russell seems about to perform oral sex on the camera lens, so maybe it was good that they cut away at that point! This would certainly have the ladies in the audience getting up and heading for the exits in some theatres, I'm sure. I also have to wonder what the kids in the audience might have made of all this on some Saturday matinee. (On further reflection I doubt this movie would have been shown to audience of kids. I think the Catholic League and other such groups would have frowned on that.)

Actually, the film isn't as bad as some folks seem to find it, in my humble opinion. It would have been interesting to see what Howard Hawks (who is reported to actually have directed this, with Howard Hughes taking credit) would have done without Hughes butting in. No doubt Hughes wanted to ensure that Russell, his then current lady friend, came off well. There are certainly stories of Hughes using his well-known engineering ability to construct a bra suitable for Russell's full figure all the double-crosses and back stabbing going on in this film it is amazing that it actually has a happy ending (at least for two of the characters), although I'm sure that historians would be tossing their popcorn long before the final credits rolled.

I rather doubt that any surviving estates that Billy, Doc Holliday or Pat Garrett (played here by Thomas Mitchell) may have had would have been overly happy with the portrayal of any of their ancestors. Although Holliday certainly comes across as the best of the lot, not counting several cold-blooded murders along the way. A fun and entertaining film, and certainly one that has its own notoriety in cinematic circles. Would have been interesting to see what Joel or Mike and the bots would have thought of the whole thing.
As I said, I did have some problems with the assault scene, but in general I didn't find the film isn't as bad as some other reviewers. An odd film, more notable for the behind the scenes activity and the association with Hughes than a movie to be sort out as a classic.

The Old Corral

The Old Corral website, used along with CowboyPal, will probably let you track down information on just about every screen western hero or villain. Unlike CowboyPal, Old Corral focuses on those actors who spent their lives working for the lesser known studios, generally not cracking into the "A" picture market for any length of time. Also, OC only has a few items related to television westerns, mostly actors who made their names in "B" movies and later moved on to the small screen range.

The folks at OC have done an outstanding job digging up information and photographs of the lesser known heroes. You will also find links to pages dedicated to folks like John Wayne (who began in second-tier theatricals), but that isn't the goal of the OC contributors.

Sunset Carson, Tim Tyler, Buck Jones and the sidekicks might not be known to folks unfamiliar with the hundreds of western features turned out by smaller studies during the 1930s through '50s. Series like the Three Mesquiteers, Rough Riders and the Range Busters are long forgotten, not even appearing on Turners Classic Movies or AMC, as far as I know. Still there are older fans, and younger ones just learning of this output, who'll be glad to see sites like OC and CowboyPal available.

It's easy to get lost for an hour or so on these sites, but in my opinion it's time well spent.

Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan saddle up!

This was originally posted on my other blog. 8/18/03 (some changes have been made).

SANTA FE TRAIL (1940) was directed by Michael Curtiz who was a respected director prior to his coming to the U.S. from his native Hungary in the mid-1920s. Curtiz had already worked with Errol Flynn several times prior to this film (including THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD), so it's likely that they felt comfortable with each other. Than again, I'm not a Flynn scholar, so it could have been just as likely that both actor and director where forced to work together again and again by the studio heads. This film is not a high point in either's career and was probably thrown together to fill a double bill with a higher profile release. Still the movie is entertaining enough, if not exactly easy to follow.

Back in 'the old days' I had an acquaintance, whom we'll call The Dude. Now The Dude (TD, from here on) wasn't just a fan of Errol Flynn, she was infatuated with the man. Although, she'd have probably denied it, there was something obsessive about her interest in Flynn. It's probably just as well that the man died years before she was born, since I wouldn't have been surprised learn that she had been picked up for stalking, had he still been around. Not only did she collect everything she could get her hands on in the form of books, old articles, videos, photographs, TD (who was admittedly a fair artist) had sketchbooks filled with renditions of Flynn in and out of costume (the later making use of stills of the actor in bathing trunks, and a bit of imagination on her part).TD had not only all this Flynn material on her book shelves and in filing cabinets, but also a number of photos on her bedroom wall AND a large poster on the ceiling above her bed.

It really is probably best NOT to dwell on that last bit of info, but I tell it for a reason. (Besides letting you know that I do know some interesting folks. :-)It has become impossible for me, in the years since becoming involved with TD to watch any Flynn film objectively. I don't dislike Flynn, and in fact, enjoyed the man's films for years before TD and I ever crossed paths. Still the woman did have an effect, so bear that in mind while I try to review this sucker, okay?

Flynn stars as J.E.B. Stuart, opposite a very, young looking Ronald Reagan as his fellow West Pointer, George Armstrong Custer. Reagan looks fresh off the back lot and it's hard to believe that he would one day become more famous for his political skills than for his acting ability. I'd have to dig out my history books, but I have my doubts as to rather or not Custer and Stuart ever competed for a women, let alone a Kit Carson Halliday, played with wry, humor by Olivia de Havilland (whom also co-starred with Flynn in ROBIN HOOD, among others). Of course, I could be wrong!This love triangle acts as backdrop for the more dramatic tale of Custer and Stuart's hunt for the abolitionist John Brown (with Raymond Massey scaring the crap out of everybody and chewing up entire barn loads of scenery in the part).

As Leonard Maltin (or one of his reviewers) states in his indispensable guide, the movie makers seem unsure of what exactly they are trying to do here. The film throws in comedy, melodrama, action and even a song or two, apparently hoping that if one thing doesn't grab the audience, something else a few minutes later might.The script also seems unsure where it stands on the Civil War, since it does it's best to make the abolitionist side come out as the heavies and slavery seems an after thought to other economic and political motives. In fact, while he is the heavy Massey's Brown appears to be the only one who genuinely wants to help free the slaves from their bondage.

Not a great film by any means, and probably one that nobody listed first on their later acting resumes (aside from the brilliant Massey). I've got a fondness for this film since I was a kid and it certainly is a lot more fun and enjoyable than a number of major films that have become better known.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Reading Westerns

Considering my love of the western genre you’d think that I would also have read a number of western novels. Sadly, for whatever reason, I never got around to reading more than a few and even those were books which were assigned to me while in high school. I’ll not count various short stories by Jack London or Mark Twain which took place in the west or frontier Alaska. I don’t really consider those ‘westerns’ in the usual fashion, if you follow my logic.

Two of those I did read, SHANE by Jack Schaefer and THE OX BOW INCIDENT by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, were read after my English class had been shown the film adaptations of the works. We then had to write essays discussing the differences between movie and novel. Personally, I consider both of these films among the best American westerns you’re likely to see.

The only other western novel (more a novella, I suppose) I recall reading is Bret Harte’s THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLATS. This was also something that was assigned in a class on American literature which I took in my senior year.

Given that this blog is dedicated to my love of Westerns, it seems that I should try my hand at reading (and probably reviewing) a few ‘classic’ and contemporary books of that genre. I may actually go back and take a fresh look at the three books I’ve already read, just to see how I view them as an adult without a teacher’s deadline. There are also a few well-known authors and books which I’d like to sample. To be fair to myself, I’m not going to set any type of deadline and will get around to these books as I have the time.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Sterling Hayden to the rescue!

(Reminder: this was originally posted in July 2003 on my other blog. I've only made a few changes to the text.)

Last Friday I had the afternoon free so I watched another western from the GREAT AMERICAN WESTERN collection I mentioned previously.

KANSAS PACIFIC (1953) is a dramatization of the construction of the railroad through Kansas just prior to the Civil War. The area was divided between those who favored the Union and those 'state rights' & pro-slavery advocates who supported the Confederacy. Seeing the difficulties being thrown at the railroad the Union Army ‘unofficially' sends in a construction engineer (played by Sterling Hayden) to assist. Naturally, as these things go events rapidly build from destruction of property to the murder of railroad personnel. Eventually the Army must send in troops. (For folks also into comic books, I should recommend the John Ostrander scripted THE KENTS, from DC Comics. It covers the same era and features fictional and real life individuals involved in the conflict.)

Hayden stars with Barton MacLane as the railroad's chief engineer, and Eve Miller as MacLane's daughter (and the only female in the cast), the love interest for Hayden. One of the villain's henchmen is played by Myron Healey, whom you may recall was in RAGE AT DAWN, with Randolph Scott, as one of the Reno brothers. That fella was all over the place and proof that Hollywood loved a 'good' bad guy. :-)

Initially I didn't recognize him in pencil-thin moustache and minus the mask, but Clayton Moore has such a distinctive voice that I couldn't help but realize that he was playing a bad guy. You have to remember that at this point Moore was having contractual problems with the folks producing the LONE RANGER TV show and was temporarily replaced in the role for which he will always be remembered. Guy still had to pay the rent! Moore had played a villain in several films earlier in his career, so it wasn't a stretch for him, even though it may have startled any LR fans who happened to catch this in the theatre back then.

Not a classic, by any means, but like many other 'B' westerns of the time well-acted and well produced. Director Ray Navarro was very busy in the 1940s - '50s cranking out dozens of westerns for a number of studios. His last project was in 1964 when he directed "When Strangers Meet" (also released as "Dog Eats Dog") with Jayne Mansfield and Cameron Mitchell. Now there's a legacy!

Randolph Scott!!!

As I explained in my previous post, I have always been a fan of westerns. Some of my earliest television memories are of getting up early on a Saturday morning to watch the old Hopalong Cassidy movies. I have a photo of myself at around the age of four dressed in complete cowboy apparel, Stetson, six-guns and all. In fact, the broken nose I have was the product of taking a header down the stairs as I tried to descend wearing that very same holster. I don’t ever recall seeing Roy or Gene have that problem. :-)

Anyway, last weekend I picked up a 2 DVD collection of western films. This was Vol. 1 & 4 of a fourteen (last time I checked on called THE GREAT AMERICAN WESTERN. There were eight movies on the two disks, and they make for perfect viewing on those Thursday’s when I don’t have to be in to work until 3:00pm.Yesterday, I decided to watch two of the four Randolph Scott films included in first volume DVD.

THE FIGHTING WESTERNER (1935) was originally released as ROCKY MOUNTAIN MYSTERY, based on the Zane Grey novel “Golden Dreams”. Scott plays a mining engineer who seeks to discover what happened to his cousin, the previous engineer at a radium mine. It’s easy to see that this film was made when some actors were still trying to change from the ‘silent movie’ style of acting to a more realistic style suitable for sound. The camera still closes in for long reaction shots of the actors frozen in position with their eyes wide, as if waiting for the dialogue cards to show up. Even then Scott seemed a natural for this type of role, with his rugged good looks and easy manner of talking. A young Ann Sheridan plays his romantic interest, and the film has enough action for a film twice its hour length. (The film plays as if it had been a serial or planned as one, with a number of cliff-hangers throughout.) Basically a mystery, I was actually surprised at the ending, which to me comes out of nowhere, but was still entertaining.

The second film, RAGE AT DAWN (1955) can also be found on video as SEVEN BAD MEN. This was written by Frank Gruber, a well-known writer of the pulps and later western novels, besides being a screenwriter for dozens of features and television series (including 77 SUNSET STRIP). Scott is showing his age, with his sandy brown hair showing more than a little gray. He’s still quite believable in the action scenes, although a bit slower in the fights. This film is supposedly based on the real life activities of the Reno brothers, a family of outlaws who led the way for the later James and Dalton gangs. Some film buffs have said that the opening scenes, showing the Reno’s escaping from a bungled bank robbery and ambush by towns people, may have inspired a similar scene in Sam Peckinpah’s classic THE WILD BUNCH. Forest Tucker, Edward Buchanan and Denver Pyle also star in this film, which features Scott as an undercover detective sent to infiltrate and capture the Reno gang. Of course, as can be expected in this type of film, things can’t be simple and Scott finds himself falling in love with the Reno’s young sister, played by Mala Powers. Some folks may remember Powers from the classic ‘50s sci-fi film “The Colossus of New York”. Actually a solid bit of entertainment, with a nice scene where Scott is helpless to stop the lynching of the three surviving Reno brothers in a jail.

I’ll be reviewing more westerns as I get a chance and I also want plug Cowboy Pal a great website for anyone interested in the western films of the 1930s thru 1950s. This site has photos, posters, audio and video clips as well as links to dozens of "official" and unofficial web pages for many of the major western stars. I loved checking out some of the comic book covers, featuring Gene, Roy, Hoppy and many others. I have spent hours at this site and I doubt I've seen a third of what's available. "Pecos" Steve says check it out!

A not so brief intro to some reviews.

I’m going to go back over the past year or so and republish some reviews I did for PARTING SHOTS. I had purchased a couple of DVD collections of western films and was able to watch them over a period of a few weeks. Back then I was living in Connecticut and was close enough to my job that it only took me about twenty minutes to walk to work. I worked every other Thursday evening so had my mornings free. It was great to spend time with Roy, Gene and Randolph Scott.

(The following is only slightly changed from the way it first appeared in July 2003):
Having grown up in the 1950s & '60s it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that some of my first idols were cowboys. Way back then your typical young boy didn't really consider that the image might be idealized. Nor that many of the 'heroes' we saw on both the TV and big screen were fictionalized versions of men who robbed, gambled, murdered and were not the kind of guys you'd really want to know too well. The real Wyatt Earp wasn't much different from some of the men that he jailed, except that for a number of years he wore a badge. Back then, even if we had known, I doubt it would have dampened our enjoyment of the TV shows and movies we saw.

As most people realize, the westerns (pre-WILD BUNCH) were pretty basic morality plays for the most part. There were the good guys (most, if not all in white hats) and bad guys (who might not wear black hats, but often needed a shave, while our hero always found time to whip out a razor and clean himself up each day). The 'indians' could be either bad or good, depending on the series or the plot of any given film. The women, Annie Oakley and Dale Evans aside, were generally there to be captured, flirted with by the comical sidekick or revealed as deceitful, saloon hall dancers who were secretly working for the villain. (This last female, would almost inevitably fall in love with the good guy and when she tried to betray or escape the bad guy she was usually killed, only to die in the hero's arms.) Besides in our pre-puberty years the females only seemed to get in the way of the 'real' action, so it was better when they weren't around. (Okay, I admit that "Miss Kitty" was kind of strange, since she seemed able to fend for herself most of the time and it was usually the Marshal who went looking for her. Of course, GUNSMOKE was an 'adult' western and aimed at an older audience, so you had to just accept it.)

I just realized that what had been intended as a short introduction to my talking about a couple of movies I saw today has turned a bit long-winded. My apologies!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Hangin' out at Harmony Ranch

Back in 1991, after Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Rueben made the mistake of playing with his pee pee in an adult theatre, CBS pulled his kids show and was looking around for replacement. Imagine my surprise, as both a fan of Rueben's show and cowboy music, when they settled on a program featuring the RIDERS IN THE SKY.

The Riders are a contemporary quartet who perform western ballads and traditional 'cowboy' songs. Only three of the foursome appeared regularly on the show, these being "Ranger Doug", "Too Slim" and "Woody Paul". The fourth member of the group was accordianist "Joey The CowPolka King", who appears with the other members in concert and on their albums/CDs.

I've been a sucker for 'cowboy' music since I was a kid, watching Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers performing in just about all his films (and some of his television episodes). Plus, you couldn't see as many Gene Autry movies as I did without an appreciation of Gene's musical talents. Face it, ol' Gene was a much better singer than he was an actor.

The Riders' site has plenty of information on the group and samples of their music.

Happy Trails!

Something from the newsstand

Just discovered a site while searching for something else. I'd never heard of the magazine, WILDEST WESTERNS, but apparently there are a half dozen issues out so far and you can subscribe to it over on their website.

The site has some articles, photographs and reviews which have already appeared in the print version, plus some obits on western actors who have passed away. I have barely had a chance to check out the site myself, but it seems to be something which should fit in perfectly with this blog.

I apologize in advance for any folks who think that the sites I link to here may be a bit too commercial in nature. Frankly, that's the nature of the many sites on the Internet, with even some blogs getting into the act. Personally, having grown up watching the major commercial networks and the viewing countless ads in comics I can't get upset by this stuff. Heck, if I could figure out a way to make a buck here I don't know that I'd be against the idea. :-)

Happy Trails!

What else did she star in?

Just about everybody familiar with blogs (and that's all of you, I assume) or the 'net in general have probably used the Internet Movie Database at one time or other. Personally, I find myself checking out the name of a film or an actor's credits at least a few times a week. I'll either do this because I'm writing about a certain movie/television show, or I'm trying to do a bit of research for a library patron. It never fails that when a celebrity passes away that I'll have at least one person come in and want to know in what films this person appeared.

Even with several dozen books on movie & television actors it would be next to impossible to have enough up-to-date material on the shelves. IMDB.COM makes my job a lot easier and, to be honest, I will spend way too much time just searching for my own amusement.

Hope you will find it as useful and as much fun as I do.

Happy Trails!

Cowboy Pal

You'll notice the link to the COWBOY PAL website over to the right. I found the page a couple of years ago, while working at the University of New Haven and spent hours playing around.

The folks over there have created a great spot for fans of the western stars of 'yesteryear'. With links to some "official" pages, articles, video and audio clips featuring some of the better known stars of an earlier generation. One of my favorites is the link to weekly installments of "ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION", a fantastic serial starring Reed Hadley in the Don Diego/Zorro role.

A number of the links will take you over to where you can pick up videos & DVDs featuring the various stars. Others will take you to pages set up by fellow western fans around the world. Chances are if you enjoy westerns (either films or television) you'll find something here to your liking.

Happy Trails & Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Is there a reason for this?

My 'main' blog, PARTING SHOTS was originally going to focus on my fan interests. I was going to talk about movies, Old Time Radio, classic television and comics (strips and books). As time went on I started spending more time discussing politics, social issues and the events happening in the news. I still threw in an occasional review or two, but basically I wasn't having fun over there.

SHOT'S SHACK bring me back to my original idea for a blog/website, which is to simply talk about and link to stuff that I enjoy. I'll still be blogging on things in the news and 'real life' events over at PS, but SS will be where I'm going to ramble about things which I've always loved. A lot of that will be about 'westerns' chiefly the television shows (GUNSMOKE, RAWHIDE, BONANZA, etc.), but also movies and comics related to those 'cowboy' themes.

If I have a chance I'm going to reprint (or would that be 're-blog) some of the reviews I wrote last year on a series of western DVDs I have in my collection. I'll also link to some other sites related to my various interests as I locate them. There a few 'cowboy hero' websites dedicated to Roy, Gene, Hoppy and others, so you can expect to see them listed and I'll have a few comments on each. Eventually I'm going to talk about Old Time Radio, something I used to be a big fan of and to which I've gone back to enjoy since I have dozens of programs on audiotape.

Please don't expect me to be blogging on a regular basis here, since I'll still be spending a lot of time over at PS. As I said before, SHOT'S SHACK is where I'm going to come to play.

Happy Trails!