Gun Brothers (1956, directed by Sidney Salkow)


In this western, Buster Crabbe plays Chad Santee, a former Calvary officer who has traveled to Wyoming so he can visit his brother Jubal (Neville Brand) and see Jubal’s ranch.  Traveling by stagecoach, Chad meets and falls in love with a saloon singer named Rose Fargo (Ann Robinson).  When the stagecoach is held up by outlaws and one of them steals Rose’s broach, Chad decides to track the outlaws down.  What Chad doesn’t know is that Jubal is one of those outlaws.

Gun Brothers is an entertaining B-western.  There’s nothing surprising about the story but Buster Crabbe is a believable hero and Ann Robinson gets a chance to show off her saloon singing skills.  Neville Brand steals the film as Jubal.  Before going into acting, Brand was a highly decorated World War II combat officer and he brought his real-life toughness to every role that he played.  He could throw a punch and shoot a gun with an authority that few other actors could match.  Jubal, like Brand, has obviously seen and experienced things that his self-righteous brother will never be able to understand and, as a result, he’s not as tied down to the laws of society as everyone else.   Also turning in good performances are Michael Ansara as an outlaw and Lita Milan, as a Native American woman who is involved with the gang.

Not surprisingly, for a B-western, Gun Brothers is full of characters with names like Shawnee Jack, Yellowstone Kelly, Blackjack Silk, and Moose McClain.  It’s a simple movie but one that will be enjoyed by fans of old fashioned western action.

30 More Days of Noir #2: Blonde Ice (dir by Jack Bernhard)


1948’s Blonde Ice tells the story of Claire Cummings (Leslie Brooks), the society columnist for a San Francisco newspaper.  Almost every man that Claire meets falls in love with her.

Les Burns (Robert Paige), the paper’s cynical sports reporter?  Les is so in love with Claire that he keeps getting involved with her despite the fact that she cheats on him with almost every man that she meets.

Al Herrick (James Griffith)?  Yep, he’s still in love with her too.

Carl Hanneman (John Holland), one of the wealthiest men in San Francisco?  Carl is so in love with Claire that he’s willing to marry her even after he catches her kissing Les on the day of the wedding!

Congressional candidate Stanley Mason (Michael Whalen)?  He’s so in love with Claire that he’s willing to sacrifice his political career just to be with her.

How about Blackie Talon (Russ Vincent), the pilot who witnesses Claire doing some things that she probably wouldn’t want the world to know about?  Well, Blackie never gets around to declaring his love for Claire but his obsession with blackmailing her is probably just his way of dealing with the massive crush that he has on her.

The only person who doesn’t appear to be in love with Claire is Dr. Kippinger (David Leonard), a psychiatrist who immediately picks up on the fact that Claire is cold and manipulative.  There’s a reason why Les refers to her as being …. can you guess? …. “Blonde Ice!”

Of course, even with all of these men falling in love with her, no one loves Claire as much as Claire loves herself.  Claire is a narcissist and a sociopath and she has no problem killing one lover and framing another for the crime.  In fact, it’s something that she attempts to do several times over the course of Blonde Ice.  Claire, it has to be said, is pretty clever about it too.  Her natural ability to manipulate, combined with her total lack of empathy for anyone but herself, makes Claire a dangerous character.

Blonde Ice is somewhat obscure as noirs go.  It was clearly a poverty row production, with only a 74-minute running time and a cast largely made up of obscure contract players.  And yet, Blonde Ice is a personal favorite of mine, largely because of the ferocious performance of Leslie Brooks.  Brooks rips into the role of the femme fatale, delivering her cynical lines with aplomb and murdering anyone who gets in her way.  Considering that this film was made in 1948, I was actually a bit shocked at just how high the body count climbed in just an hour and a few minutes.  Claire is basically willing to kill anyone and the film often seems to take a perverse delight in showing how easily she can convince others of her innocence.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is that Claire attempt to frame the same man for not one but two murders and, even after all that, he still doesn’t seem to be emotionally capable of telling her to get out of his life.  In a world of weak men, Claire comes in, takes control, and offers up no apologies.

Obscure though the film may be, Blonde Ice is an enjoyable noir and can be found on YouTube.

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.

 

A Movie A Day #244: Death of a Gunfighter (1969, directed by Allen Smithee)


At the turn of the 20th century, the mayor and the business community of Cottonwood Springs, Texas are determined to bring their small town into the modern era.  The Mayor (Larry Gates) has even purchased one of those newfangled automobiles that have been taking the country by storm.  However, the marshal of Cottonwood Spings, Frank Patch (Richard Widmark), is considered to be an embarrassing relic of the past.  Patch has served as marshal for 20 years but now, his old west style of justice is seen as being detrimental to the town’s development.  When Patch shoots a drunk in self-defense, the town leaders use it as an excuse to demand Patch’s resignation.  When Patch refuses to quit and points out that he knows all of the secrets of what everyone did before they became respectable, the business community responds by bringing in their own gunfighters to kill the old marshal.

Death of a Gunfighter is historically significant because it was the very first film to ever be credited to Allen Smithee.  The movie was actually started by TV director Robert Totten and, after Widmark demanded that Totten be fired, completed by the legendary Don Siegel.  Since Totten worked for 25 days on the film while Siegel was only on set for 9, Siegel refused to take credit for the film.  When Widmark protested against Totten receiving credit, the Director’s Guild of America compromised by allowing the film to be credited to the fictitious Allen Smithee.

In the years after the release of Death of a Gunfighter, the Allen (or, more often, Alan) Smithee name would be used for films on which the director felt that he had not been allowed to exercise creative control over the final product.  The Smithee credit became associated with bad films like The O.J. Simpson Story and Let’s Get Harry which makes it ironic that Death of a Gunfighter is not bad at all.  It’s an elegiac and intelligent film about the death of the old west and the coming of the modern era.  It also features not only one of Richard Widmark’s best performances but an interracial love story between the marshal and a brothel madame played by Lena Horne.  The supporting cast is full of familiar western actors, with Royal Dano, Harry Carey, Jr., Larry Gates, Dub Taylor, and Kent Smith all making an impression.  Even the great John Saxon has a small role.  Though it may be best known for its “director,” Death of a Gunfighter is a film that will be enjoyed by any good western fan.

The Fabulous Forties #23: Freckles Comes Home (dir by Jean Yarbrough)


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The 23rd film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was an hour-long “comedy” from 1942.  The name of the film was Freckles Comes Home and I have to admit that I’m struggling to come up with anything to say about it.  That’s the thing about these Mill Creek box sets.  Occasionally, you’ll come across a really good movie and, even more frequently, you’ll come across a really bad movie.  But often times, you find yourself watching filler.  If I had to guess, Freckles Comes Home was probably a movie that was made to act as the 2nd half of a double feature.  Not much money nor effort was put into it.  It’s not terrible and it’s certainly not good.  It’s just sort of there.

With a title like Freckles Comes Home, I was expecting this movie would be about a lost dog but it turns out that I was wrong.  Freckles (played by Johnny Downs) is a human being.  He’s returning home from college because a friend of his has inherited some real estate and isn’t sure what to do about it.  While sitting on the bus home, Freckles spends so much time talking about how much he loves his hometown that the man sitting next to him decides that maybe he’ll make that town his home as well.  Unfortunately, that man is Muggsy Dolan (Walter Sande).  As you would expect with a name like Muggsy, Dolan is a criminal on the run.

Back in town, Freckles attempts to convince his father not to build a road that will go through his friend’s property.  He also romantically pursues a childhood friend named Jane (Gale Storm), despite the fact that everyone insists that Jane can do better than Freckles.  (Personally, I was wondering why — in the year 1942 — a young man like Freckles wasn’t overseas, fighting for his country.  DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S A WAR ON, FRECKLES!?)  Meanwhile, Muggsy is plotting to rob the town bank…

And then there’s Jeff (Mantan Moreland), who is the porter at the local hotel.  Jeff thinks that he has a machine that will allow him to find buried gold.  And since Jeff is an African-American in a 1940s film, it’s impossible to watch the way the movie treats him without cringing.  There’s a few scenes where Moreland, as an actor, subtly suggests that Jeff is smarter than the movie gives him credit for and certainly, Moreland’s performance is the most memorable in the film but that really doesn’t make the role any less demeaning.

Anyway, Freckles Comes Home was largely forgettable.  I assume that audiences in the 1940s may have enjoyed it (especially if it was included on a double bill with a more interesting movie) but, seen today, there’s just not that much to be said about it.  It exists, it’s something of a time capsule, and that’s pretty much all there is to say about it.

 

The Fabulous Forties #17: Gung Ho! (dir by Ray Enright)


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The 17th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties Box Set was the 1943 war film, Gung Ho!

Gung Ho!, which is filmed in a documentary style and features a narrator, opens with a series of job interviews.  A tough lieutenant (J. Carrol Naish) is recruiting Marines to serves in a special unit, one which will only take on the most hazardous of assignments.  The narrator reminds us that the interviews are taking place just a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and we listen as each interviewee is asked whether or not he is okay with killing members of the Japanese army.

Some of the interviewees hesitate and some don’t but ultimately, all of them are okay with killing.  One (Rod Cameron) explains that he’s already a murderer, having killed someone back in Kentucky.  Another says that he fought in the Spanish Civil War and that he sees his service as being a continuation of the fight against fascism.  Another Marine (Alvan Curtis) says that he’s an ordained minister but he’s willing to do what has to be done.  A Marine named Pig Iron shows up and, since he’s played by a young Robert Mitchum, we know that he’ll get things taken care of.

And then we get to the final interviewee.  He doesn’t have a big role in the film but his one line makes a big impression.  When asked why he doesn’t mind the idea of killing, he replies, “I just don’t like Japs.”

AGCK!

That’s a line that would definitely not make it into a modern version of Gung Ho!  Or, if it did, it would be followed by the interviewee being admonished and then kicked out of the office.  But Gung Ho! was made in 1943, at the height of World War II and in the shadow of Peal Harbor.  As uncomfortable as it may make us today, “I just don’t like Japs,” was probably Gung Ho‘s big applause line when it was originally released.

And really, that’s the main value of a film like Gung Ho!  It’s a well-made but predictable war film but ultimately, it’s most important as a time capsule.  If you want to know the truth about an era’s culture, as opposed to what you may want the truth to be, look at the art.  Read the books.  Watch the movies.  You may not always like what you find but you owe it to yourself to do so.

Anyway, as far the rest of Gung Ho!, it plays out exactly as you would expect.  Under the eye of Lt. Commander Thornwald (Randolph Scott), the men train for combat.  They visit Pearl Harbor and see the sunken remains of ships that are still smoking after being bombed.  And finally, the men fight the Japanese on an island.  Some survive.  Many more of them die.  And the fight continues.

Gung Ho! will probably be best appreciated by fans of war films, which admittedly I am not.  That said, it is an interesting time capsule of 1943 America.  Plus, it features Robert Mitchum!  Admittedly, it’s a small role but he does get two great scenes and … well, he’s Robert Mitchum!  How can you not enjoy watching Robert Mitchum?

And guess what?  You can watch Gung Ho! below!

The Fabulous Forties #7: The Red House (dir by Delmer Daves)


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Last week, I started on my latest project — watching all 50 of the movies included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set!  I started things off with Port of New York and then I was lucky enough to discover two excellent low-budget gems: The Black Book and Trapped.

And now, we come the 7th film in the Fabulous Forties box set: 1947’s The Red House.

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The Red House takes place is one of those small and seemingly idyllic country towns that always seem to harbor so many dark secrets and past crimes.  Everyone in town is friendly, cheerful, and quick to greet the world with a smile.

Well, almost everyone.

Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson) is the exception to the rule.  A farmer who moves with a pronounced limp, Pete lives on an isolated farm and refuses to have much to do with any of the other townspeople.  He lives with his wife, Ellen (Judith Anderson), and his niece, 17 year-old Meg (Allene Roberts).  Pete and Ellen are extremely overprotective of Meg.  Pete, especially, is always quick to tell her not to associate with any of boys in the town and not to enter the dark woods that sit next to the farm.  He tells her that there’s a red house hidden away in the woods and the house is haunted.  Going into the red house can only lead to death.

Despite Pete’s eccentricities, Meg is finally able to convince him to hire one of her classmates to help do chores around the farm.  Nath (Lon McAllister) is a good and hard worker and soon, even Pete starts to like him.  Meg, meanwhile, is falling in love with Nath.  However, Nath already has a girlfriend, the manipulative Tibby (Julie London), who cannot wait until they graduate high school so that she and Nath can leave town together.  When Nath starts to also develop feelings for Meg, Tibby responds by flirting with the local criminal, Teller (Rory Calhoun).

Though things seem to be getting better on the Morgan Farm, Nath eventually makes the mistake of admitting that, when he goes home, he takes a short cut through the old woods.  Pete angrily forbids Nath from entering the woods.  Of course, this has the opposite effect.  Soon, Nath and Meg are spending all day sneaking away into the woods so that they can look for the red house.

Once Pete learns of what they’re doing, he decides to hire Teller to keep them from even finding and entering the red house.  Needless to say, love, melodrama, murder, and tragedy all follow…

Despite the fact that the DVD suffered from a typically murky Mill Creek transfer, I enjoyed The Red House.  It’s one of those films that is just so over the top with all of the small town melodrama that you can’t help but enjoy it.  (If M. Night Shyamalan had been a 1940s filmmaker, he probably would have ended up directing The Red House.)  Nath and Meg were kind of boring but Julie London was a lot of fun as Tibby.  If I had ever starred in production of The Red House, I would want to play Tibby.

Plus, the film’s got Edward G. Robinson doing what he does best!  Robinson was an interesting actor, in that he could be both totally menacing and totally sympathetic at the same time.  He has some scary scenes as Pete but they’re also poignant because Robinson suggests that Pete hates his behavior just as much as Ellen and Meg.  Robimson was a powerhouse actor, the type who could elevate almost any film.

And that’s certainly what he does in The Red House!

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Shattered Politics #15: Sunrise at Campobello (dir by Vincent J. Donehue)


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I can still remember that day like yesterday.

I was either 10 or 11 and I was at a big family gathering in Arkansas.  I was at my aunt’s house.  My great-grand uncle was sitting in a corner of the living room and watching the TV.  Because he was nearly blind, only an inch or two separated his face from the screen.  And, because he was almost deaf, the television was blaring.  When we first arrived, he was watching what sounded to be a cartoon but, after a few minutes, he changed the channel.

Apparently, whatever channel he was watching was showing a program about the Great Depression because my great-grand uncle snorted a little and yelled (not because he was mad but because he was deaf), “Some people like Roosevelt!  I say he was a dictator!”

That blew my young mind.  It wasn’t because I necessarily knew that much about Franklin D. Roosevelt, beyond the fact that he had been President.  Instead, it shocked me because that was the first time that I had ever heard anyone call a U.S. President a dictator.  It was the first time that I truly understoodd that not everyone shared the same opinions, especially when it came to politics and history.

Looking back, so many of the things that define me as a person — my skepticism about conventional wisdom, my mistrust of authority, and my tendency to dismiss “experts” — are the result of that day, that documentary on the Great Depression, and my great-grand uncle’s opinion of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

(Want to know why I hate it when the headlines of clickbait articles say stuff like, “Neil deGrasse Tyson gave his opinion on the movies and it was glorious?”  Blame me great-grand uncle.  Nobody was going to tell him FDR wasn’t a dictator.  Nobody’s going tell me what’s glorious.  I’ll make up my own mind.)

And, let’s face it — FDR is a controversial figure.  Most of what you read about Roosevelt is positive but if you glance under the surface, you realize that the legacy of the New Deal is far more ambiguous than most people are willing to admit.  You realize that there are serious questions about whether Roosevelt knew about the upcoming attack on Pearl Harbor.  You discover that Roosevelt wanted to reform the Supreme Court so that it would be a rubber stamp for the executive branch.  And, of course, his decision to run for a third term set up exactly the type of precedent that — if not for a constitutional amendment — could have been exploited by the wrong people.

And, yet, as ambiguous as his legacy may be, how can you not be inspired by FDR’s personal story?  He went from being a dilettante who was often dismissed as being an intellectual lightweight to being four-times elected President of the United States.  In between running unsuccessfully for vice president in 1920 and being elected governor of New York in 1928, Roosevelt was crippled by polio.  It’s always been a huge part of the Roosevelt legend that his battle with polio transformed him and made him into the President who led the country during the Great Depression and World War II.

It’s an inspiring story, regardless of what you may think of Roosevelt’s political ideology or his legacy of government intrusion.

It’s also a story that’s told in our 15th entry in Shattered Politics, the 1960 film Sunrise at Campobello.  This film opens with FDR (played by Ralph Bellamy) as an athletic and somewhat shallow man who, while on a vacation with his family, is struck down my polio.  The film follows he and his wife, Eleanor (Greer Garson), as they learn how to deal with his new physical condition.  Throughout the film, Roosevelt remains upbeat and determined while Eleanor remains supportive and eventually — after being out of the public eye for three years — Roosevelt gets a chance to relaunch his political career by giving a nominating speech for Gov. Al Smith at the Democratic National Convention.

(A little bit of history that everyone should know: Al Smith was the first Catholic to ever be nominated for President by a major political party.)

Sunrise at Campobello is one of those films that tends to show up fairly regularly on TCM.  It’s a well-acted film with Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson really making the aristocratic Roosevelts into sympathetic and relatable characters.  At the same time, whenever I’ve watched the film, I’ve always been struck by how long it seems.  (The movie itself is only 144 minutes, which means its shorter than the average Christopher Nolan flick but it’s one of those films that seems longer than it actually is.)  Sunrise at Campobello was based on a stage play and it’s directed like a stage play as well, with little visual flair and emphasis on dialogue and character.  The end result is a film that I can’t really recommend for the casual viewer but one that is, at the very least, interesting for students of history like me.