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.

Horror Film Review: Invaders From Mars (dir by William Cameron Menzies)


The aliens have arrived!  They landed one night in the middle of a thunderstorm and now, they’re hiding underground in a sandpit.  Only David McClean (Jimmy Hunt) was awake to witness their arrival.  He was supposed to be asleep but who could sleep through all that thunder and lightning?  (Not to mention the sound of the flying saucer!)  Unfortunately, no one’s going to believe David because he’s only 12 years old!

That’s the premise at the heart of Invaders from Mars, a nicely surreal science fiction film from 1953.

In order to humor David, a few people do go to the sandpit to look for this supposed UFO.  They include his scientist father (Leif Erickson) and a few local cops.  They all return saying that they found nothing.  They also all return in a really bad mood.  David’s formerly loving and humorous father is suddenly distant and rather grumpy.  And he no longer speaks like himself.  Instead, he is now rigidly formal, like someone still getting used to speaking a new language.  Maybe it has something to do with the strange mark on the back of his neck….

David goes into town and soon discovers that several townspeople are acting just like his father.  It’s almost as if something is controlling them!  Well, what else can David do but go to the local observatory and get the U.S. Army involved!?

Invaders from Mars may be disguised as a children’s film about a flying saucer but it actually deals with some very adult issues.  What do you do when you know that you’re right but no one is willing to listen to you?  Do you stubbornly cling to what you believe or do you just become a mindless and unquestioning zombie like everyone else?  Do you remain independent or do you get the mark on your neck?  Of course, it should also be pointed out that Invaders From Mars was made at a time when people were very much worried that America was being invaded from within by communists and subversives, all of whom would rob Americans of their individual freedoms just as surely as the aliens in David’s town.  Invaders From Mars came out two years before Invasion of the Body Snatchers but they both deal with very similar issues.

What sets Invaders From Mars apart is that it’s told from a child’s point of view.  It plays out like a nightmarish fairy tale.  The film was directed by the famous production designer, William Cameron Menzies and he gives the entire film a nicely surreal look.  The town is just a little bit too perfect while the inside of the spaceship is a maze of corridors, all overseen by a ranting head in a crystal ball.

The film’s ending was probably chilling to audiences in 1953.  For modern audiences, it’s a bit of groan-inducing cliché.  Still, the ending itself makes sense when viewed in the context of the entire film.  (It’s literally the only ending that makes sense.)  Still, ending aside, Invaders From Mars is a classic sci-fi film and one well worth watching this Halloween season.

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE AMAZING TRANPARENT MAN (MCP 1960)


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Director Edgar G. Ulmer made some astounding contributions to the horror/sci-fi genres: THE BLACK CAT, BLUEBEARD, THE MAN FROM PLANET X . Unfortunately, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN isn’t among them. The below-low budget movie (shot on location in Dallas simultaneously with BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER) tries to throw too many things at the wall, and nothing really sticks, thanks to a weak script and short 57 minutes running time.

Ulmer does show flourishes of his brilliance in the opening scene, where safecracker Joe Faust breaks out of prison, is chased by hounds through the woods, and is met by a woman who drives him to a deserted looking, isolated farmhouse. But by this time, he had been beaten down from years of Poverty Row work with little to no recognition, and you can tell Ulmer just took the money and ran with this one.

The woman is Laura Matson, one of a nest of spies led…

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B-Girls and B-Movies: CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (United Artists 1957)


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CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL is just a routine ‘B’ crime drama, one of many churned out in the 50’s. Yet the performances of stars Brian Keith Beverly Garland , and an above-average supporting cast helped elevate the by-the-numbers material into something watchable. It’s those Familiar Faces we all know and love from countless movies that made CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL work for me.

The story revolves around racketeers muscling in on the Worker’s National Union so they can bring their “numbers rackets and ‘B’ girls” to the city. Politically ambitious State’s Attorney Jim Fremont is dead set on busting them up, and when the union’s treasurer is murdered, the finger of suspicion is pointed at honest Union President Artie Blane. Blane’s been framed by his rival, VP Ken Harrison, who takes his orders from “disbarred attorney” Alan Dixon, “one of the masterminds of the old Capone gang”. Blane is brought to trial and, thanks to some chicanery by an “old derelict” with the…

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Cleaning Out The DVR #16: Johnny Belinda (dir by Jean Negulesco)


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Continuing my effort to watch 38 films in 10 days (and, as of today, I only have 6 days left!), I spent part of last night watching the 1948 film Johnny Belinda.

Johnny Belinda takes place in Canada, on Cape Breton Island.  The residents of the island are a hearty, no-nonsense group of people.  They work hard, they don’t play hard because they never play, they farm, and they don’t have much use for outsiders.  When a new doctor, Robert Richardson (Lew Ayres), arrives on the island, he has to work hard to earn their trust.

Dr. Richardson is fascinated by Belinda McDonald (Jane Wyman), a young woman who is deaf and mute.  Belinda lives on a farm with her father (Charles Bickford) and her aunt (Agnes Moorehead).  Everyone in the community assumes that Belinda is a simple-minded and, because her mother died giving birth to her, she is resented by her father.  Only Dr. Richardson believes that Belinda is in any way intelligent and, over her father’s objections, he teaches Belinda sign language.

Dr. Richardson’s secretary, Stella (Jan Sterling), falls in love with him and grows angry when it becomes apparent that he’s more interested in taking care of Belinda than pursuing an adulterous romance with Stella.  Meanwhile, Stella’s husband, a viscous alcoholic named Locky (Stephen McNally), gets drunk and rapes Belinda.  9 months later, when Belinda gives birth to a boy that she names Johnny, everyone assumes that Dr. Richardson is the father.  Soon, both Richardson and the McDonald family are being shunned by the judgmental community.

Locky, meanwhile, is determined to keep anyone from finding out about his crime, to the extent that he’s willing to commit murder.  Both Locky and Stella are determined to take Johnny away from Belinda and it all eventually leads to further tragedy and, somewhat inevitably, a dramatic murder trial.

Much like Random Harvest, Johnny Belinda is another film that I could imagine being remade for Lifetime.  It’s a well-made melodrama that appeals to all of the emotions and features a cast of talented actors doing good work playing characters that are probably just a bit too familiar.  In fact, there’s really not a single moment of Johnny Belinda that will take you by surprise but, despite that, the film still works.  Jane Wyman does such a good job playing the silent Belinda that it makes the entire movie worth watching.  (It’s interesting to contrast Wyman’s innocent, vulnerable, and sympathetic performance here with her far more severe work in The Yearling.)  Reportedly, Wyman devoted so much time and effort to her performance that it was cited as a reason for her divorce from future President Ronald Reagan.  For Johnny Belinda, Wyman lost the chance to be first lady but she did win an Oscar.

(And, for the record, Wyman voted for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, saying that it wasn’t often that you got to vote for your ex-husband.)

Johnny Belinda was nominated for best picture of the year and, with 10 nominations, it was the most nominated film of 1947.  Though it won an Osar for Wyman, it lost best picture to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet.