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!