Redemption Song: John Wayne in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (Republic 1947)


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John Wayne  starred in some of the screen’s most iconic Westerns, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for ANGEL AND THE BADMAN. Perhaps it’s because the film fell into Public Domain in the mid-70’s, and I’ve had the opportunity to view it so many times. Yet I wouldn’t keep coming back to it if it weren’t a really good movie. It’s Wayne’s first film as producer, and though it has plenty of that trademark John Wayne action and humor, it’s a bit different from your typical ‘Big Duke’ film.

Wayne plays Quirt Evans, an outlaw on the run. The wounded Quirt encounters a Quaker family, the Worths, who take him to file a land claim before the big guy finally passes out. They bring him back to their family farm to nurse him back to health, and pretty daughter Penny, unschooled in the ways of the…

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Yukon Gold: THE SPOILERS (Universal 1942)


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What’s this?? A “Northern” Western set in 1900 Alaska Gold Rush territory starring my two favorite cowboys, John Wayne and Randolph Scott ? With the ever-enticing Marlene Dietrich thrown in as a sexy saloon owner? Count me in! THE SPOILERS is a big, brawling, boisterous film loaded with romance, action, and, most importantly,  a sense of humor. It’s the kind of Hollywood entertainment epic that, as they say, “just don’t make ’em like that anymore”. I’ve never been quite sure who “they” are, but in regards to THE SPOILERS, they’re right – and more’s the pity!

Rex Beach’s popular 1906 novel had been filmed three times before (1914, 1923, 1930), and would be one more time after (in 1955), but with The Duke, Rugged Randy, and La Dietrich on board, this has got to be the best of the bunch. Even though audiences were more than familiar with the story…

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Tall (Tales) in the Saddle: THE LAW WEST OF TOMBSTONE (RKO 1938)


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Cowboy star Harry Carey had been around since motion pictures were knee-high to a cactus. He made his first film in 1908, working with pioneer director D.W. Griffith. He was already one of silent film’s biggest sagebrush stars by the time he made 1918’s STRAIGHT SHOOTER, the directorial debut of John Ford. When the  talkies rolled around, Carey was over fifty and his leading man days were behind him. He transitioned into a fine character actor, and his talents are given a good showcase in the low-budget Western THE LAW WEST OF TOMBSTONE.

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Carey is champion liar Bill Barker, a charming rascal who spins tall tales of his bravery fighting bloodthirsty Indians. The old windbag gets himself thrown out of New York circa 1881 when he tries to run a con on Wall Street tycoon Sam Kent. Not even his ex, a former saloon girl now passing herself off as continental singing…

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The Fabulous Forties #27: Sundown (dir by Henry Hathaway)


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You may remember how, back in April, I started on a mission to review all 50 of the films included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.  I actually got off to a pretty good start and, by the end of the month, I was about halfway through.  Yay me!

However, then the month of May began.  And May turned out to be a very, very busy month.  As I sit here writing this, it’s been 27 days since I last posted a Fabulous Forties review.  That review was …. well, I can’t even remember what it was.  After I post this, I’ll click on this link to find out.

However, things have calmed down a bit and now I can go ahead and finish up the Fabulous Forties box set.  And that’s a good thing because, between me and you, I am more than ready to move on to the Nifty Fifties box set!

Anyway, without further ado, let’s consider the 27th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties, 1941’s Sundown!

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Sundown was released by United Artists in 1941.  It’s a propaganda film, telling the story of British soldiers in North Africa and their attempts to both maintain the peace among the natives and to keep the Axis powers from arming the local rebels.  Bruce Cabot is the experienced soldier who knows how things work in Africa.  George Sanders is the new commander who is a bit more by-the-book.  At first, you think that the film is going to be dominated by the rivalry between Sanders and Cabot but actually it’s not much of a rivalry.  For the most part, they get along just fine and I guess that’s to be expected considering that the film was made at a time when the emphasis was on everyone remaining unified against the Nazis.

Speaking of the Axis powers, they’re always in hovering in the shadows of the film but it’s rare that we actually see any enemy soldiers.  Perhaps this is because the film was made at a time when the United States was technically neutral.  Joseph Calleia plays a prisoner of war who has rejected fascism and instead just wants to sing opera and cook for Sanders and Cabot.  Calleia’s character is specifically identified as being an Italian.  If not for that (and the fact that the film was made in 1941), it would be just as easy to assume that Sanders and Cabot were fighting the French or maybe the Russians.

There’s an enemy agent in one of the tribes and it’s up to Sanders and Cabot to figure out who.  Helping them out is the local big game hunter, played by Harry Carey.  And, on top of that, there’s also a mysterious native woman played by Gene Tierney.  Gene Tierney is totally miscast but that adds to this film’s odd charm.

And, for modern viewers, it definitely is an odd charm.  I watched Sundown twice and I’m still not sure exactly what happened in the film.  Sundown is one of those films that doesn’t so much have a plot as it just has a lot of scenes that kind of tell a story, assuming that you have the patience and concentration to figure out how they all link together.  Between Cabot’s roguish smile, Sanders’s stiff upper lip performance, Calleia’s enjoyable overacting, and Gene Tierney’s otherworldly beauty, Sundown is unexpectedly dream-like.  The film even features a sudden sermon in which a clergyman (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) exhorts everyone to fight.  The clergyman is never seen again.

Sundown was a strange movie, one that I often found myself struggling to follow.  It was also apparently a box office bomb, though it did receive 3 Oscar nominations.  One of those nominations was for Charles Lang’s cinematography and it was definitely deserved.  Even the version I saw (which suffered from a typically poor Mill Creek transfer) was still impressive to look at.

Shattered Politics #4: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (dir by Frank Capra)


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So, when you read that I was going to be reviewing 94 political films here at the Shattered Lens, you probably knew that one of them would have to be the 1939 best picture nominee, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

So, we all know that story right?  The senator from an unnamed state dies.  The weak-willed Governor (Guy Kibbee) has to appoint a new senator.  Political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) demands that the governor appoint one of his cronies.  The state’s reformers demand that the Governor appoint a never-seen crusader named Henry Hill (who, whenever I hear his name, makes me think of Ray Liotta snorting cocaine in Goodfellas).  The Governor’s children demand that he appoint Jefferson Smith (James Stewart, of course!), who is the head of something called the Boy Rangers.  The Governor flips a coin.  The coin lands on its edge but it also lands next to a newspaper story about Jeff Smith.

So, of course, Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

Now, as the movie quickly makes clear, Jeff Smith is immediately out-of-place in Washington.  For one thing, he’s actually excited to be there.  He’s convinced that he’s there to make America a better place.  When a bunch of drunken reporters (led by the great Thomas Mitchell) make Smith look foolish, Smith responds by running around Washington and punching them out.  (That whole sequence probably serves as wish fulfilment for a lot of politicians.)  When his cynical legislative aide Saunders (Jean Arthur) tells him that he’s too naive to survive in Washington, he wins her over with the purity of his idealism.  When his mentor, Senator Paine (Claude Rains), is revealed to be a part of Washington’s corrupt culture, Smith is stunned.  When Taylor tries to destroy his political career, Smith responds by giving the filibuster to end all filibusters.  He’s one man standing up against a culture of corruption and…

And there’s a reason why, 76 years later, aspiring political candidates still attempt to portray themselves as being a real-life, modern Jefferson Smith.

This is one of those films that everyone seems to agree is great and, of course, there’s many reasons to love Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  There’s the lead performance of Jimmy Stewart, of course.  While this may not be his best performance (I prefer the more layered characterization that he brought to It’s A Wonderful Life and Anatomy of a Murder), it is Stewart at his most likable and, most importantly, he makes you feel Jeff Smith’s pain as he discovers that Washington is not the great place that he originally assumed it to be.  Claude Rains was always great when it came to playing good men gone wrong and he’s perfect as Sen. Paine.  Thomas Mitchell and Jean Arthur are perfectly cast and I always enjoy seeing the bemused smile on the face of Vice President Harry Carey as Smith conducts his filibuster.

But I think the best thing about Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is that it actually makes you believe that there are Jeff Smiths out there who actually could make a difference.  And, until Judd Apatow gets around to remaking the film with Adam Sandler, audiences will continue to believe.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Trader Horn (dir. by W.S. Van Dyke)


Last night, as I attempted to drift off to sleep, I switched over to TCM and watched the 1931 film Trader Horn.

Why Was I Watching It?

I’m on a mission to see every film ever nominated for best picture and Trader Horn was nominated back in 1931.  (It lost to the first western ever to win best picture, Cimarron.)  Trader Horn is a bit of an oddity among Oscar contenders in that it received no other nominations save for best picture and it has never been released on DVD.  When I saw it on TCM’s schedule last night, I figured that might very well be my only chance to see this forgotten best picture nominee.

What’s It About?

So Trader Horn (Harry Carey) is a heroic ivory hunter.  Yes, this film was made a long time ago. He makes his living in Africa where he spends his time killing animals and explaining how, whenever the natives start playing their drums, it means that “every black devil is in the bush.”  Again, this film was made a very loooooooong time ago.

Anyway, at the start of the film, Trader Horn is introducing his apprentice (Duncan Renaldo) to the facts of life in Africa.  Eventually, they meet a missionary (Olive Golden) who is looking for daughter who was kidnapped by a tribe years ago.  When Golden is killed, Trader Horn takes it upon himself to find her daughter (played by Edwina Booth) and bring her back to civilization.

What Worked?

Trader Horn was the first non-documentary to be filmed on location in Africa and, as you watch the movie, it quickly becomes apparent that the film’s plot is really just an excuse to show off all the nature footage that director W.S. Van Dyke managed to capture.  Countless time the film’s story comes to a complete halt while Carey and Renaldo simply stop to watch a grazing giraffe or to watch a leopard hunt a wildebeest.  Normally, this is the sort of thing I would complain about but, in this case, the story was so predictable and silly that I was happy for the interruption.  It helps that the 80 year-old nature footage is still visually impressive and exciting to watch.   According to the research I did on the Internet after seeing the film, Trader Horn’s footage was used as a stock footage in countless “jungle” films over the next three decades in much the same way that the same old distressing mondo footage tends to show up in every single Italian cannibal film.

There’s a scene were Renaldo finds a lion cub and oh my God, it’s just the most adorable little kitty ever!

Trader Horn actually has an interesting production history and I enjoyed reading about it after I watched the movie.  Apparently, Van Dyke spent seven months in Africa making this film and almost the entire crew ended up falling ill.  At least two cameramen were killed while filming the wild animals and Edwina Booth returned so sick that her film career was pretty much ended. 

On one final note, there was apparently a pornographic remake of this film in the late 60s.  Its title?  Trader Hornee.

What Didn’t Work?

Did I mention this film was made a really looooooong time ago?  Because, seriously, it was.  On occasion, I’ve heard an old film described as being “creaky.”  I never really understood what that meant until I saw Trader Horn because, quite frankly, this film is amazingly creaky.   It moves slowly, the performers are rather melodramatic (though Harry Carey does a good job), and. while the cultural attitudes may have been acceptable in 1931, they now come across as extremely racist and its hard not to feel really uncomfortable with scenes where Renaldo ogles the bare-breasted native women and says, “Why, they’re not savages at all!  They’re like little children!”

Bleh.

“Oh My God!  Just Like Me!” Moments:

I would have wanted to adopt that lion cub too.

Lessons Learned:

1931 was a long, long time ago.