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 Amazon.com) 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!