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.

30 Days of Noir #24: Fourteen Hours (dir by Henry Hathaway)


As a genre, film noir has always been associated with crime: murder, brutish gangsters, seductive femme fatales, and occasionally a cynical private detective doing the right thing almost despite himself.  However, not all film noirs are about criminals.  Some are just about desperate characters who have found themselves on the fringes, living in a shadow-filled world that appears to be monstrously indifferent to all human suffering.

That’s certainly the case with the 1951 noir, 14 Hours.  The film centers around Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart, who previously played a murderer in another classic noir, He Walked By Night).  Robert isn’t a gangster.  He’s not a private detective.  He doesn’t carry a gun and he doesn’t provide any sort of hard-boiled narration.  In fact, for the majority of the film, Robert is defined by less who he is and more by what he’s doing.  Robert Cosick, having earlier checked into a room on the 15th floor of a New York hotel, has climbed out of a window and is now standing on a ledge.  Robert says that he’s going to jump.

What has driven Robert Cosik to consider such an extreme action?  The film never settles on any one reason, though it gives us several clues.  When his father (Robert Keith) and his mother (Agnes Moorehead) show up at the scene, they immediately start bickering about old family dramas.  When Robert’s ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes) begs him to step in from the ledge, he listens a bit more to her than he did to his parents but he still refuses to come in from the ledge.

But perhaps the real reason that Robert Cosick is out on that ledge can be found in the film’s shadowy visuals.  Directed in a semi-documentary fashion by Henry Hathaway and featuring harsh, black-and-white cinematography that’s credited to Joe MacDonald, Fourteen Hours emphasizes the indifference of the city.  From the menacing landscape of concrete buildings to the crowds gathering below the ledge to see if Robert lives or dies,  New York City is as much as a character in this film as Robert, his family, or the cop (played by Paul Douglas) who finds himself trying to talk Robert into reentering his hotel room.  When night falls, the city may light up but it does nothing to alleviate the shadows that seem to be wrapping themselves around Robert.  For the fourteen hours that Robert is on that ledge, he may be the center of the world but the film leaves little doubt that New York City will continue to exist in all of its glory and its horror regardless of how Robert’s drama plays out.  Whether he lives or dies, Robert appears to be destined to be forgotten.

When the film isn’t concentrating on the cops trying to talk Robert into getting back in the hotel room, it shows us the reactions of the people who see him standing out on that ledge.  (If this film were made today, everyone would be holding up their phones and uploading Robert’s plight to social media.)  Some people are moved by Robert’s struggle.  For instance, a young woman played by Grace Kelly (in her film debut) reaches a decision on whether or not to get a divorce based on what she sees happening on the ledge.  Two office workers (played by Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget) even strike up a romance as they wait to see what will happen.  Some people view Robert as being a madman.  Others see him as being a victim.  And then there’s the many others who view him as being either a minor distraction or a piece of entertainment.  For them, it’s less important why Robert’s on the ledge or even who Robert is.  What’s important to them is how the story is going to end.

It’s not a particularly happy film but it’s made watchable by Hathaway’s intelligent direction and the performances of Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart.  With its theme of instant fame and hollow indifference, it’s a film that remains as relevant today as when it was initially released.

30 Days of Noir #16: I Was A Communist For The FBI (dir by Gordon Douglas)


The 1951 noir, I Was A Communist For The FBI, tells the story of Matt Cvetic (Frank Lovejoy).  The film could just as easily be called I Hate Matt.

Seriously, from the minute we first see Matt, he’s got people hating on him.  When he goes to visit his mother, his three brothers all make it clear that he’s not welcome in their house.  When he goes to the local high school to find out why his son has been getting into fights, the principal is cold and rude to him.  Even worse, his son announces that it’s all Matt’s fault!  When Matt goes to his job at a Pittsburgh steel mill, the other members of his union view him with a mix of suspicion and resentment.  When Matt attempts to give his neighbor’s son some batting tips, the boy’s father tells Matt to get away from his child and adds, “Baseball is an American game!”

As you may have guessed from the film’s title, Matt is a communist.  He’s been a member of the Communist Party for nine years and, during that time, he’s seen a lot of bad things.  He’s met wth the shady spies who secretly deliver Russian orders to their comrades in the U.S.  He’s watched as communist leader Jim Blandon (James Millican) has plotted to sow discord among otherwise loyal Americans.  He’s watched as unions have been taken over and money has been raised on the backs of the workers.  If there’s anything that Matt understands about communism, it’s that the majority of its leaders care little about the people that they claim to represent.

Because Matt’s a communist, he basically can’t go anywhere without someone calling him “a dirty red” or a traitor to his country.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that not even his fellow communists trust him.  When Matt leaves one clandestine meeting, he’s followed until he reaches home.  In order to test Matt’s ideological purity, Jim Blandon orders a school teacher named Eve Merrick (Dorothy Hart) to get to know him.  We’re told that Eve is one of many communists who have managed to land a job teaching the children of America.

As you’ve probably once again guessed just by looking at the film’s title, the communists have good reason to be suspicious of Matt.  For 9 years, Matt has been working undercover.  As much as it tears him up that he can’t even tell his family the truth, Matt is determined to do what he has to do to keep America safe.  Sadly, that means that Matt has to be a pariah.  He has to deal with his “comrades” showing up at his own mother’s funeral and sarcastically mocking her religious faith.  When his own brother punches him, he has to accept it and lie about  being “a communist and proud of it!”  As he explains it, the fact that his son hates his “communist” father just makes Matt love his son all the more….

I Was A Communist For The FBI is an interesting film.  On the one hand, it’s a very easy film to criticize.  Yes, it’s totally heavy-handed, to the extent that the film even ends with the Battle Hymn of the Republic playing in the background.  Yes, Frank Lovejoy is a bit on the bland side in the lead role.  Yes, the film does seem to be making the argument that some people are more deserving of civil liberties than others.  As someone who believes in individual freedom above all else, it’s hard for me not to take issue with the way the film glorifies not only the FBI but also government overreach in general.

And yet, it’s a very well-made film.  Director Gordon Douglas hits all the right noir notes, from the shadowy streets to the pervasive sense of unease and paranoia.  James Millican is wonderfully villainous as Jim Blandon and Dorothy Hart also gives a good performance as Eve.  The film itself portrays the communist leadership as being more concerned with profit than ideology.  At one meeting, they brag about how much money they’ve made by infiltrating the unions.  In another meeting, Blandon orders one of his stooges to start promoting fascism, the idea being to divide Americans into two extremist camps and then wait for them destroy themselves.  When the communists start a riot during a labor strike, they attempt to blame it on a Jewish newspaper.  When they’re not fanning the flames of antisemitism, they’re causally using the “n-word.”  Again, it’s all very heavy-handed but, at the same time, it’s also a reminder that there will always be grifters who will attach themselves to any ideological movement, hoping to enrich themselves off of the idealism of others.  In our current hyperpolitical climate, that’s an important lesson to remember.

Finally, if nothing else, I Was A Communist For The FBI is very much a document of its time.  It was based on a true story, though how close it sticks to the actual facts of the case I won’t venture to guess.  Oddly enough, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, even though it’s clearly not a documentary.  Don’t ask me how to explain that one.  It’s a strange world.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: High Noon (dir by Fred Zinnemann)


(I am currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR!  I recorded the 1952 best picture nominee, High Noon, off of Retroplex on January 28th.  This review is scheduled to posted at 12 noon, central time.  Clever, no?)

High Noon is a testament to the power of simplicity.

It’s a famous film, one that continues to be influential and which is still studied today.  It’s known for being one of the greatest westerns ever made but it’s also a powerful political allegory.  Even people who haven’t seen the film know that High Noon is the moment of the day when someone shows their true character.  Just as everyone knows the plot of Star Wars, regardless of whether they’ve actually watched the film, everyone knows that High Noon is about a town marshal who, after the entire town deserts him, is forced to face down a gang of gunmen on his own.

And yet, it really is a surprisingly simple movie.  It’s the quintessential western, filmed in black-and-white and taking place in the type of frontier town that you would expect to find hiding on the back lot of an old movie studio.  Though wonderfully brought to life by a talented cast, the majority of the characters are familiar western archetypes.

There’s the aging town marshal, a simple man of integrity.  Gary Cooper won an Oscar for playing the role of Will Kane.  When we first see Will, he’s getting married in a frontier courtroom.  All of the town leaders have come to his wedding and all of them wish him luck in the future.  Will is retiring and everyone agrees that the town would never have survived and prospered if not for Will Kane.  After all, Will is the one who captured the notorious outlaw, Frank Miller.  When the news comes that Miller has been pardoned and will be arriving back in town on the noon train, everyone tells Will that he should just leave town and go on his honeymoon.  However, the new marshal will not be arriving for another day and Will is not willing to abandon the town.  However, the town is more than willing to abandon him.

Will’s new wife is Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly).  Amy is a Quaker and a pacifist.  Amy begs Kane to leave town but Kane says that he’s never run from a fight.  Amy tells him that she’ll be leaving on that noon train, with or without him.  Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) is the former girlfriend of both Kane and Miller.  She is one of the few people in town to call out everyone else’s cowardice but she is still planning to leave before Miller arrives.  As she explains it to Amy, she would never abandon Kane if he were her man but he’s not her man anymore.

The townspeople, who first appear to be so friendly and honest, soon prove themselves to be cowards.  None of them are willing to stand behind Will.  The Mayor (Thomas Mitchell) publicly castigates Will for staying in town and putting everyone else in danger.  Deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) says that he’ll only help Will if Will recommends him as his replacement.  The town minister (Morgan Farley) is more concerned with why Will was married by the justice of the peace, instead of in the church.  The town judge (Otto Kruger) leaves early, saying he can be a judge in some other town.  One of the few people to show Will any sympathy is the former marshal (Lon Chaney, Jr.) but, unfortunately, he is too old and crippled by arthritis to provide any help.

Though it all, Frank’s gang sits at the train station and waits for Frank to arrive.  One gang member is played be Lee Van Cleef.  He looks really mean!

With a brisk running time of 84 minutes, High Noon unfolds in real time.  Throughout the film, as Kane grows increasingly desperate in his attempt to find anyone brave enough to stand with him, we see clocks in the background of nearly every scene.  We hear the ticking.  We know that both noon and Frank Miller are getting closer and closer.  We know that, soon, Will will have no other option but to stand on the street by himself and defend a town that doesn’t deserve him.

It’s simple but it’s undeniably powerful.

It’s been said that High Noon was meant to be a metaphor for the blacklist.  Frank Miller and his gang were the fascists that, having been defeated in World War II, were now coming back to power.  Will Kane was a stand-in for all the men and women of integrity who found themselves blacklisted.  The townspeople represented the studio execs who refused to challenge the blacklist.  That’s the theory and it’s probably true.  But, honestly, the political metaphor of High Noon works because it can be applied to any situation.  Will Kane is anyone who has ever had to face down the forces of totalitarianism.  He is anyone who has ever had the courage to take a lonely stand while everyone else cowered in the corner.

It’s a powerful metaphor and it’s also a genuinely entertaining movie.  The gunfight is thrilling.  The romance between Will and Amy feels real.  Even the town feels like an actual place, one that has its own history and culture.  It’s a simple film but it’s a great film.

Like a lot of great films, High Noon was nominated for best picture.  And, like a lot of great films, it lost.  In High Noon‘s case, it lost to a film that is almost its exact opposite, The Greatest Show on Earth.  However, Gary Cooper did win an Oscar for his unforgettable performance as Will Kane.

I think we tend to take classic films for granted.  Don’t do that with High Noon.  See it the next chance you get.

The Fabulous Forties #22: Adventures of Gallant Bess (dir by Lew Landers)


Adventures_of_Gallant_Bess_FilmPoster

For nearly a month now, I’ve been making my way through the 50 films included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.  Like most Mill Creek box sets, the Fabulous Forties is full of public domain films.  Some of them are surprisingly good and some of them are surprisingly bad.  And then there are others that are somewhere right in the middle of bad and good.  These are films that may not be great works of cinematic art but, at the very least, they serve as a time capsule of the period in which they were made.

The 22nd film in the Fabulous Forties box set, 1948’s Adventures of Gallant Bess, is just such a film.  Obviously made to appeal to family audiences, Adventures of Gallant Bess tells a fairly predictable story.  Cowboy Ted Daniels (a youngish Cameron Mitchell) captures a wild mustang named Bess.  Ted and Bess soon become inseparable but, during a visit to the local town, Bess gets riled up and destroys a few cars.  Ted is told that he has to pay for the cars but he doesn’t have any money.  So, he enters the local rodeo.

However, the rodeo is operated by the evil Bud Millerick (James Millican) and Bud wants Bess for his own.  So, he arranges for Ted’s leg to be broken by a bull.  Injured and unable to work, Ted is forced to sell his beloved Bess to Bud.  Once Ted recovers, he discovers that Bud is abusing Bess and forcing her to perform in a demeaning rodeo show.  What’s a cowboy to do but steal back his horse?

You can probably guess everything that happens in Adventures of Gallant Bess just from reading the plot description but it’s still a pretty likable film.  Bess is a wonderful horse and there’s something oddly endearing about the obviously cheap sets and the often melodramatic performances.  Cameron Mitchell, of course, is best known for appearing in films like Blood and Black Lace, The Toolbox Murders, The Demon, The Swarm, and Space Mutiny, so it’s definitely interesting to see him playing a simple and honest cowboy here.

(It’s actually difficult to recognize Mitchell until he smiles.  Once you see that smirk, you know exactly who is playing Ted Daniels.)

Adventures of Gallant Bess was filmed in color, which was a big deal in 1948.  Seen today, it is so saturated with color (and so obviously filmed on sound stages) that the movie actually looks like a live action cartoon.  Seen today, it’s perhaps a little too easy to be dismissive of this old-fashioned film but I imagine that, in the 40s, it was quite a fun movie to watch.

And you can watch it below!