Gun Belt (1953, directed by Ray Nazarro)

Outlaw Matt Ringo (John Dehner) escapes from prison and reunites with his old gang.  Riding out to Tombstone, Matt tracks down his son, Chip (Tab Hunter).  Chip is now living with his uncle, Billy Ringo (George Montgomery).  Billy was once a member of Matt’s gang but he’s gone straight, he’s given up his guns, and he now has a ranch of his own.  Billy tries to keep the naive Chip from idolizing his father but Chip is bored with life on the ranch.  Matt not only works to turn Chip against his uncle but he also frames Billy for a bank robbery.  With the town convinced that Billy has returned to his outlaw ways, Billy has no choice but to reach out to the most honest lawman in town, Wyatt Earp (James Millican).

The most interesting thing about this western is the way that it blends real people, like Wyatt and his brother Virgil (Bruce Cowling), with characters who were obviously fictionalized versions of the participants in the gunfight at the OK Corral.  The Ringos are obviously based on Johnny Ringo who, as anyone who has seen Tombstone has seen you, never went straight in real life.  Meanwhile, the head of the gang is named Ike Clinton.  Did someone misspell Ike Clanton’s name while writing the script or was the name really changed for some unknown reason?  Ike Clanton wasn’t around to sue over the way he was portrayed in the movie.

Beyond the mix of a little truth with a lot of fiction, Gun Belt is a traditional western with bad outlaws and upstanding lawmen and a naive cowpoke who has to decide whether he wants to follow the path of good or evil.  George Montgomery has the right presence to be a believable as both a retired outlaw and rancher and James Millican brings quiet authority to the film’s version of Wyatt Earp.  Western fans will be happy to see Jack Elam in the role of one of the gang members.  The only really false note is provided by Tab Hunter, who comes across as very young and very callow and not believable at all as someone who could work on a ranch or successfully pursue a career as a professional lawbreaker.

Seven years after it was released, Gun Belt was remade as Five Guns To Tombstone.

Lisa Marie Reviews The Oscar Nominees: Battleground (dir by William Wellman)

I love February.

Why?  Well, first off, we all know that February is the most romantic month of the year.  February is Valentine’s Day, romantic movies, flowers, lingerie, and chocolate.  February is also the month when, in a lead up to the Oscars, TCM devotes a good deal of its programming to showing Oscar nominees of the past.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of my dreams is to watch and review every single film that has ever been nominated for best picture. Now, realistically, I’ll never be able to accomplish this goal because the 1929 Best Picture nominee The Patriot is currently a lost film.  But, even if it does mean that I’ll only be able to see 510 out of the 511 nominated films, it’s still a dream that I’m pursuing and, with the help of TCM and the month of February, it’s a dream that’ll come true.

Take, for instance, Battleground.  This 1949 Best Picture nominee (it lost All The King’s Men) recently aired on TCM.  I’m not exactly a fan of war films but, since it was a best picture nominee, I still made sure to DVR and watch it.

Set during the final days of World War II, Battleground follows one platoon of soldiers as they fight and attempt to survive the Battle of the Bulge.  The platoon is made up of the type of characters that we usually expect to find in a WWII film but, fortunately, they’re played by an ensemble of likable actors who all bring their familiar characters to life.  There’s Jim Layton (Marshall Thompson), the newest member of the platoon who nobody wants to run the risk of getting close to.  There’s Holley (Van Johnson), the cheerful soldier who is unexpectedly thrust into a position of leadership that he might not be right for.  Roderiques (Ricardo Montalban) is from Los Angeles and is amazed by the sight of snow.  “Pops” Stazak (George Murphy) is the type of older soldier who you would totally expect to be nicknamed “Pops.”  Bettis (Richard Jaeckel) is scared of combat.  Kippton (Douglas Fowley) spends nearly the entire film looking for his lost teeth.  And finally, of course, there’s the hard-boiled but warm-hearted Sgt. Kinnie (James Whitmore).

In some ways, Battleground is a very conventional film and it’s easy to wonder how it ended up getting nominated for best film of the year.  (Among the eligible films that were not nominated: The Bicycle Thief, Champion, The Fountainhead,  On The Town, Sands of Iwo Jima, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, They Live By Night, and White Heat.)  However, the film’s nomination makes a bit more sense when you consider that it was released just four years after the end of World War II.  It was a film that appealed both to the veterans who were able to relate to the film’s story and to the patriotic spirit of a country that had just defeated the greatest evil of the 20th Century.

Battleground did not exactly make me a fan of war movies but it’s still a well-made and effective film. As opposed to a lot of other war films, Battleground never makes war look like fun.  For the most part, the emphasis is less on strategy and combat and more on the soldiers who are simply trying to survive from day-to-day.  The end result is a film that serves as a moving tribute to the soldiers who fought in World War II.