THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)





"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

Total Pageviews

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

BUTCHER'S CROSSING by John Williams




John Williams (1922-1994) wrote four novels.  None of them, however, sold many copies during his lifetime.  I remember some years ago seeing and scanning stories about him with headlines such as The Best Writer You Never Heard Of, or something similar.  And that certainly applied to me.  I had never heard of him, and I couldn't read his books because they were out of print.  In fact, although there were critics who praised his work, his books sold few copies before disappearing -- literally in some cases -- into the trash bin of history.


He received his greatest, albeit fleeting, publicity when his epistolary novel set in Ancient Rome, Augustus, won the National Book Award in 1973. But it didn't sell many copies either.

Fast forward to 2013:

A dramatic change occurred when the New York Review of Books (NYRB) re-issued Stoner, a novel about a quiet, unassuming, and, in many ways, forgettable professor teaching literature at the University of Missouri, which had been originally published in 1965.

Suddenly, everyone had heard of John Williams, at least those who read books.  He had become an overnight success -- almost a half-century after he had written the book -- and almost two decades after his death.

A year later, NYRB re-issued Augustus.


However, these were not the first Williams novels to be re-issued by NYRB.  The first was Butcher's Crossing, originally published in 1960, and re-issued by NYRB in 2007.  It had not attracted the readership that Stoner did six years later, but it benefited from the popularity of that novel, even to the point that Butcher's Crossing is now in development as a movie.

The Butcher's Crossing title refers to a rag-tag collection of shacks and shanties located on the Kansas prairie.  In the late 1870's, its primary commercial activity is the collection and shipment of buffalo hides to the east.  

Will Andrews, a young Bostonian imbued with the teachings of Emerson and Thoreau, drops out of Harvard College and travels west in a quest for -- well, for something that he can't quite explain -- but obviously includes a search for self -- a self that he might discover in Nature.


At the gate of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish.  The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he takes into these precincts.  Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes.  Here we find Nature to be the circumstances which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature


In some ways Andrews pursues a course opposite to that of Stoner; while Stoner deserted nature (the farm) for academia, Andrews deserts academia for nature.

Eventually, because he wants to take part in a buffalo hunt (something that neither Emerson nor Thoreau would have approved of), and because he had some money, Andrews agrees to bankroll a hunt led by an experienced hunter named Miller.  To assist the enterprise Miller hires Charley Hoge, a one-handed, whiskey-swilling, Bible-thumper to serve as teamster and camp cook and Schneider, an experienced skinner.  Young Andrews principal job will be to assist Schneider, even though he knows nothing about skinning animals, but is expected to learn.






I'm not going to divulge any more of the plot, because I don't want to be guilty of spoilers and because it's too damn difficult to do anyway.  But I will tell you that the passage across the arid plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado almost ends the hunt even before the hunters arrive in the Colorado Rockies where Miller is certain a huge buffalo herd will be found in a valley that he visited years before.


The hunters find the herd but they tarry too long in the Rockies and have to spend the winter there.  Winter in the Rockies means snow -- a lot of it -- and as a result the hunters find themselves engaging in another battle of survival against the forces of nature.

Just as it is impossible to explain in a brief summary why Stoner is such a great novel, so it is with Butcher's Crossing.  It is a western novel.  No, that's not quite right.  It is a novel set in the west.  Despite the fact that the story is populated by many stock characters -- even the prostitute with the requisite heart of gold -- they are offset by a pared down, austere, but clear and vivid prose that contains no gimmicks or grammatical games.

Joanne Greenberg, who is best known for her book I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, knew Williams and admired his talent long before most of the rest of us even had a clue.  She was quoted as saying that Williams "wrote like a Shaker would ski -- without a wasted motion." Perfect; I wish I had thought of that.

Anyone looking to read a traditional western in the mainstream of the genre should look elsewhere.  This is a book that shares more in common with Herman Melville's Moby Dick than anything ever written by Louis L'Amour.  If, on the other hand, you are an admirer of Cormac McCarthy, than this book would likely appeal to you.


"What will you do now, Mr. McDonald?" Andrews asked; his voice soft.

"Do?"  McDonald straightened on the bed.  "Why, I'm going to do what Miller said I should do; I'm going to get out of this country.  I'm going back to St. Louis, maybe back to Boston, maybe even to New York. You can't deal with this country as long as you're in it; it's too big, and empty, and it lets the lies come into you.  You have to get away from it before you can handle it.  And no more dreams; I take what I can get when I can get it, and worry about nothing else."


Buffalo (bison) skulls to be ground up for fertilizer


40,000 buffalo hides awaiting shipment from Dodge City, Kansas


[Butcher's Crossing] is a novel that turns upside down the expectations of the genre -- and goes to war with a century of American triumphalism, a century of rejuvenation through violence, a century of senseless slaughter. -- John Plotz, The Guardian

Harsh and relentless yet muted in tone, Butcher's Crossing paved the way for Cormac McCarthy.  It was perhaps the first and best revisionist western. -- The New York Times

The finest western ever written. -- Oakley Hall, author of Warlock

'The West' never existed.  It's a dream of 'the East.' -- John Williams














Tuesday, February 21, 2017

THE MAN WHO RODE MIDNIGHT by Elmer Kelton




Back in 1973 Elmer Kelton published his most critically acclaimed novel, one that won both Spur and Western Heritage awards.  It is The Time It Never Rained, which one admiring critic conceded wasn't "the Great American Novel," but may very well be "the Great Texas Novel."

It was the story of Charlie Flagg, a tough-minded Texas rancher who in the 1950s was hanging on with all he had as he tried to survive the worse drought to hit that part of Texas since the Dust Bowl days of the '30s.

Wes Hendricks, the primary protagonist of The Man Who Rode Midnight is cut from the same cloth and could be viewed as the reincarnation of Charlie twenty years down the road.  In his seventies, Wes is not facing drought, though like Charlie he is forced to run sheep on his west Texas hill country ranch because they are profitable, which allows him to stay in the cattle business which isn't profitable.  It is a sacrifice that any self-respecting cattleman would regret, but a man has to do what a man has to do.


"I hated sheep at first, but they growed on me.  I decided they can't be all bad if they make you more money than cattle.  Besides, an old cow'll sometimes try to kill you.  So will a horse.  An old ewe may be dumber than dirt, but you don't find any malice in her."


But Wes does have to confront another problem, one even more relentless and intractable than prolonged drought; his foe is progress.  In his youth Wes had swung a wide loop as a cowboy, bronc buster, and rodeo rider.  He was one tough galoot.  After all, he was "the man who rode Midnight."  All he wanted now was to be left alone so that he could live out his days on his ranch.  But then progress intervened.

The little town of Big River is dying and on its last legs and its citizens are behind a proposal by developers to dam the river and create a lake that would attract tourists.  The only fly in the ointment is Wes; said lake would cover his ranch.


Pedernales River in Texas Hill Country

Wes is offered much more money than what his ranch is worth but that isn't the issue.  He doesn't want to sell for any price, not even when the local sheriff who has vested interests threatens him.


"Strange, the way life changes things on you.  That time I rode Ol' Midnight, they taken my picture.  My name was in the papers.  People went out of their way to shake my hand and talk to me.  I was a hero for a while, and people liked to brag that they knew me.  Now all that's gone; it don't mean a damned thing anymore.  I'm just an old man standin' in everybody's way."


Other characters in the story include Wes' grandson, Jim Ed, a city boy who grew up in Dallas, but comes to live with his grandfather after flunking out of college during his senior year.  He has been sent by his father to try to convince Wes to sell and to take up residence in a retirement home.  Jim Ed, nicknamed "Tater" by his grandfather, a name he detests, finds himself falling for a young woman from a neighboring ranch named Gloria Beth Dawson, nicknamed Glory B., a name she embraces.


Jim Ed shoved aside a coiled rope and a bridle to make room on the seat.  He had to move an assortment of stock medicine, wire pinchers and general working tools to make footroom on the floor.  He bumped his head on a rifle racked against the rear window.

"What's that for?" he asked.

His grandfather replied in a gravelly voice, "You never know when you may run into a son of a bitch that needs shootin'."


Like The Time It Never Rained, The Man Who Rode Midnight is not a "western novel," but a novel set in the West.  The winner of a Western Heritage Award, the themes of The Man Who Rode Midnight examine a generation gap, the conflict between old and new ways, love of land, uncompromising values, romance, and even aching despair over faded love.

Some evenings Wes takes his fiddle and moves away from the house in order not to disturb his grandson and each time plays the same haunting melody, one that his grandson does hear, and eventually recognizes.

As I look at the letters that you wrote to me
It's you that I am thinkin' of
As I read the lines that, to me, were so dear
I remember our faded love
I miss you darlin', more and more every day
As heaven would miss the stars up above
With every heartbeat, I still think of you
And remember our faded love
As I think of the past and all the pleasures we had
As I watched the mating of the dove
It was in the springtime that you said goodbye
I remember our faded love
I miss you darlin', more and more every day
As heaven would miss the stars up above
With every heartbeat, I still think of you
And remember our faded love

And remember our faded love
Written by Bob Wills, James Robert Wills, Johnnie Lee Wills. copyright Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.


The world according to Wes Hendricks:

"There's somethin' way out of balance in the world.  People over in Africa are starvin' because they can't buy food.  People here are starvin' because you can't sell it."

"But that's the way with dreams: the bad ones just haunt you, and the good ones never come true."  

"People moved away from the country in them days; they didn't move to it .... Now it's in style for people to quit the city and move to the country, only they want to bring the city with them.  Time they get through changin' it into everything they come here to run away from, there won't be nothin' left of the country .... They'll pave over the last blade of grass someday, and drown the last tree in an artificial lake so some damnfool from town can race a motorboat.  You ought to at least remember what it used to be like."

"Things ain't like they used to be ... Times, I wonder if they ever were."

"There ain't no better cure for a socialist than a little dose of capital."

"There's no limit to what a man can do once he makes up his mind he ain't allergic to sweat."




Elmer Kelton (1926-2009)







Sunday, February 19, 2017

GABBY HAYES: Part II -- A-Western Sidekick

Part I can be viewed here.

After becoming a popular sidekick in the Hopalong Cassidy series, George Hayes moved to Republic in 1939 where he was paired with up and coming B-Western cowboy star Roy Rogers, to the benefit of both actors.  Roy would soon become "the King of the Cowboys" and Hayes, now nicknamed "Gabby," would be the most popular of all the B-Western sidekicks in the business.


One of the promises that Republic made to Hayes to entice him to sign a contract was that he would be allowed to occasionally appear in their bigger-budget films. Gabby, in the years that he was employed at Republic (1939-1946), appeared in four A-westerns, three of which were Republic productions.






MAN OF CONQUEST (Republic, 1939)




DIRECTOR:  George Nichols, Jr.; PRODUCER:  Sol Siegel; WRITERS: screenplay by Wells Root, E.E. Paramore, and Jan Fortune based on original story by Harold Shumate and Wells Root; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Joseph H. August


CAST:  Richard Dix, Gail Patrick, Edward Ellis, Joan Fontaine, Victor Jory, Robert Barrat, George "Gabby Hayes (as George Hayes), Ralph Morgan, Robert Armstrong, C. Henry Gordon, Max Terhune, Leon Ames, Ernie Adams, Billy Benedict, Lane Chandler, Edmund Cobb, Iron Eyes Cody, William Desmond, Earle Hodgins, Jack Ingram, Fred Kohler, Jr., George J. Lewis, Chief Many Treaties, Chris Pin-Martin, George Montgomery, Horace Murphy, Sarah Padden, Charles Stevens, Hal Taliaferro, Jim Thorpe, Chief Thundercloud, Slim Whitaker, Robert J. Wilke, Guy Wilkerson, Chief Yowlachie


SECOND UNIT DIRECTOR: B. Reeves "Breezy" Eason


STUNTS: Yakima Canutt, Duke Green, Cliff Lyons, George Montgomery, Duke Taylor, Bill Yrigoyen, Joe Yrigoyen



This Sam Houston biopic was at the time Republic's most expensive film.  It also enjoyed the largest advertising budget ever provided for one of the studio's films. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, for: Art Direction; Musical Score; and Best Sound.


The usual suspects make an appearance in the film: Sam Houston (Richard Dix), Andrew Jackson (Edward Ellis), William Travis (Victor Jory), David Crockett (Robert Barrat), Stephen F. Austin (Ralph Morgan), Jim Bowie (Robert Armstrong), and Santa Ana (C. Henry Gordon). And Gabby?  Well, he played a fictitious character named Lannie Upchurch who was befriended by Houston.  In other words, a sidekick.


The cast list included many familiar faces that any B-western fan worth his salt would recognize, including Max Terhune who did stints as a comedic sidekick in three different B-western series: The Three Mesquiteers (Republic), The Range Busters (Monogram), and Johnny Mack Brown (Monogram).



REVIEWS:


"... good acting and big battle scenes expertly filmed by second-unit director B. Reeves "Breezy" Eason, but it was poorly written.  The effect was that of an overbuilt programmer." -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide


"... is still the best movie biography of Sam Houston and, John Wayne's grandiose budget for THE ALAMO notwithstanding, the best account of Texas' fight for independence .... Richard Dix ... was a perfect choice for Houston." -- William K. Everson, A Pictorial History of Western Film, 1969


"Republic Pictures tried to give this biography of Texas' Sam Houston good production values, but script slows down action." Leonard Maltin


"... it is, in the main, an admirably contrived biography, honest enough to mention Houston's sodden spree among the Indians, making dramatic capital of his progression from self-aggrandizing adventurer to instrument of national development.  Houston, as Richard Dix has played him, is a full-bodied portrait, earthy, human, and virile.  -- Frank S. Nugent, New York Times






DARK COMMAND (Republic, 1940)




DIRECTOR: Raoul Walsh;  PRODUCER: Sol
Siegel;  screenplay by Grover Jones, Lionel Houser, F. Hugh Herbert, and Jan Fortune;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jack Marta


CAST:  Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Walter Pidgeon, Roy Rogers, George Hayes, Porter Hall, Marjorie Main, Raymond Walburn, Joseph Sawyer, J. Farrell MacDonald, Trevor Bardette, Al Bridge, Tom London, Glenn Strange, Ernie Adams, Jack Rockwell, Harry Woods, John Merton, Edmund Cobb, Hal Taliaferro, Yak Canutt


STUNTS:  Yakima Canutt, Cliff Lyons, Bill Yrigoyen, Joe Yrigoyen 



The film represents the third pairing of Claire Trevor and John Wayne.  It all began, of course, with their roles in the classic film, STAGECOACH (UA, 1939), with Wayne appearing on loan-out from Republic.  At the time he was starring in that studio's B-western series, The Three Mesquiteers.  There would be no more B-westerns in the actor's future, but one of the Mesquiteers films was not released until after STAGECOACH made its way to the screen.


Striking while the iron was hot Republic loaned Wayne to RKO that same year for another co-starring role with Trevor.  The film was ALLEGHENY UPRISING and this collaboration was much less satisfying than the initial one, though it was not the fault of the two stars. Republic then made the decision to film its own production with the two stars.  DARK COMMAND does not rank with STAGECOACH, of course, but it is a far superior to ALLEGHENY UPRISING.


DARK COMMAND is loosely based on the life of William Clarke Quantrill, the Kansas schoolteacher who became a notorious Confederate guerilla leader during the Civil War.  In the film his name is Will Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon), but there is no doubt about who is supposed to be.


The film is also a re-teaming of John Wayne and Gabby Hayes who first appeared in the same film in Wayne's initial Lone Star/Monogram entry, RIDERS OF DESTINY (1933).  Hayes went on to support Wayne in many of the films in that series, sometimes playing a villain, but also beginning to hone the character that would make him famous in the Hoppy and Roy Rogers films.

Speaking of Roy Rogers, he is in this film, too.  At the time, he was on the verge of replacing Gene Autry as the most popular B-western cowboy riding the cinematic range (partly by the fact that due to military service Autry was absent from the screen for a couple of years).  This is the only time that the three western movie icons -- Wayne, Rogers, and Hayes -- appeared in the same film. 


The film is noted for the famous stunt in which four men and a team of horses and a wagon drive off a high bluff into a lake.  The stunt was performed by Yak Canutt, Cliff Lyons, Bill Yrigoyen, and Joe Yrigoyen.


DARK COMMAND was nominated for two Academy Awards: Art Direction and Musical Score.



REVIEWS:


"Walsh's direction is efficient, but surprisingly anonymous." -- Phil Hardy, The Western


"Dramatically uneven, but entertaining." -- Leonard Maltin


"... a towering Walter Pidgeon performance ... [and] Roy Rogers in a supporting role, comes off surprisingly well as the male ingenue.  The music is fine .... and Walsh directed with verve.  It's essentially big-budget "B" stuff but it's very entertaining." -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide


"A lot of experience and talent has gone into the manufacture of Republic's DARK COMMAND ... and the consequence is the most rousing and colorful horse-opera that has gone thundering past this way since STAGECOACH ... Raoul Walsh ... directed it with an artist's eye for flavor and dramatic movement, and John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Walter Pidgeon and a company of character experts have filled it with brimming life and gusto .... There are ... some spicy contributions made by George Hayes as an itinerant barber-dentist and Raymond Walburn as an overstuffed shirt. -- Bosley Crowther, New York Times



        



The original title of the film was IN OLD OKLAHOMA.  It was later changed because the producers of the musical OKAHOMA charged that it created confusion with their film.



 IN OLD OKLAHOMA (Republic, 1943)


DIRECTOR: Albert S. Rogell;  PRODUCER: Robert North;  WRITERS: screenplay by Ethel Hill and Eleanore Griffin based on original story by Thomson Burtis;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jack Marta



CAST:  John Wayne, Martha Scott, Albert Dekker, George "Gabby" Hayes, Marjorie Rambeau, Dale Evans, Grant Withers, Sidney Blackmer, Paul Fix, Irving Bacon, Byron Foulger, Roy Barcroft, Yakima Canutt, George Chandler, Lane Chandler, Myna Dell, Kenne Duncan, Rhonda Fleming, Bud Geary, Fred Graham, Jack Kirk, Tom London, LeRoy Mason, Harry Shannon, Tom Steele, Slim Whitaker, Harry Woods, Will Wright


STUNTS: Yakima Canutt, Bud Geary, Fred Graham, Cliff Lyons, Eddie Parker, Tom Steele, Post Park, Bill Yrigoyen, Joe Yrigoyen


         

Gabby and Marjorie Rambeau

Oil exploitation in Oklahoma is at the heart of this story which takes place at the turn of the 20th century.  Daniel Somers (John Wayne) and Jim Gardner (Albert Dekker) are rivals in both the oil business and the business of romance as they both seek the affections of Catherine Allen (Martha Scott).  Gabby is stage driver Desperit Dean, who is also Somers' friend, or should I say sidekick.


Dale Evans, at the time known more for singing than acting, has a small part as saloon girl "Cuddles" Walker.  A year later she would become a fixture in the Roy Rogers series and not long after that a fixture in Roy's life as Mrs. Roy Rogers.


At least Evans' name appeared in the cast list.  Rhonda Fleming made her screen debut in this film, also portraying another saloon girl, but receiving no billing.


The setting of the movie was Oklahoma, but location shooting took place in Sedona and Kanab, Arizona and nearby Zion National Park.


The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Musical Score and Sound Recording.



REVIEWS:


"... good action; obligatory romance." -- Leonard Maltin


"Periodically, the folks over at Republic do themselves proud by turning out a highfalutin' picture with all the high-budget trimmings, and IN OLD OKLAHOMA ... is one of them....Once it gets going, [it] does make a lot of noise." -- New York Times


"... the best thins in the film are the action sequences, notably the convoy of oil-filled wagons dashing across the prairie through a brushfire." -- Phil Hardy, The Western





TALL IN THE SADDLE (RKO, 1944)


DIRECTOR: Edwin L. Marin;  PRODUCER: Robert Fellows;  WRITERS: screenplay by Robert Hogan and Paul Fix;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert de Grasse



CAST: John Wayne, Ella Raines, Ward Bond, George "Gabby" Hayes, Audrey Long, Elisabeth Risdon, Don Douglas, Paul Fix, Russell Wade, Emory Parnell, Raymond Hatton, Harry Woods, Clem Bevans, Russell Simpson, Eddy Waller, George Chandler, Ben Johnson


STUNTS: Fred Graham, Ben Johnson, Henry Wills






Gabby is a stage driver once again and he befriends the hero played by John Wayne. Nothing unusual about that, except for this: This is the last pairing of Wayne and Hayes, an association, as noted above, that began with RIDERS OF DESTINY (Lone Star/Monogram) in 1933.


One of the co-writers of this range war feud was Paul Fix, who also had a major acting role in the film.  Fix was one of Wayne's mentors and one that Wayne often acknowledged in interviews.  He was also the father-in-law of actor Harry Carey, Jr.



The poster takes suggestive liberties with the movie's plot (see upper left corner).

In addition to Gabby, two other B-western sidekicks were in the cast.  Raymond Hatton who, as earlier noted, played that role in three series: The Three Mesquiteers (Republic,); The Rough Riders (Monogram); and Johnny Mack Brown (Monogram), and Eddy Waller, who became Allan "Rocky" Lane's sidekick at Republic.



REVIEWS:


"Unfortunately the plot, while amiable, is strictly programmer stuff, with a lot of static talk leading to a detective-story denouement, unmasking the villain ... still Raines is lovely, Hayes is funny, Bond is nicely villainous and Wayne is Wayne." -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide


"is memorable for Raines' tempestuous performance as the independent woman who romances Wayne with a mixture of aggression ... and sultry sexuality ...." -- Phil Hardy, The Western


"TALL IN THE SADDLE is exciting and adventurous drama in the best western tradition.  Picture, mounted with fine scenic backgrounds of the action, combines all the regulation ingredients of wild stagecoach rides, rough-and-tumble fights, gunplay and chases.  Story carries unusual twists from regulation formula to provide top interest as strictly exciting escapist entry.  -- New York Times






BADMAN'S TERRITORY (RKO, 1946)


DIRECTOR: Tim Whelan;  PRODUCER: Nat Holt;  WRITERS: screenplay by Jack Natteford and Luci Ward; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert de Grasse


CAST: Randolph Scott, George "Gabby" Hayes, Ann Richards, Ray Collins, James Warren, Morgan Conway, Virginia Sale, Chief Thudercloud, Lawrence Tierney, Tom Tyler, Steve Brodie, Phil Warren, William Moss, Nestor Pavia, Isabel Jewell, Kermit Maynard, Ben Johnson, Bud Osborne, Elmo Lincoln, Bob Wilke, Emory Parnell, Harry Harvey


STUNTS: Ben Johnson, Kermit Maynard




"See them ALL in action in one picture!" proclaims on poster for the film.  The ALL being a whole host of flea-bitten varmints and owl hoots who, at one time or the other, rode the outlaw trail -- but not all at the same time -- except in this movie (and one other, which we will get to later).  There's Frank and Jesse James (Tyler and Tierney); Bob, Grat, and Bill Dalton (Brodie, Phil Warren, and Moss); Sam Bass (Pavia), Belle Starr (Jewell), Bill Doolin (Carl Eric Hansen); and Charlie Bryant (Glenn McCarthy).

Even Elmo Lincoln (born Otto Elmo Linkenhelt), the screen's first Tarzan, makes an appearance as Dick Broadwell.


And lawman Mark Rowley (Scott) has to contend will all of these bad men and this bad woman who have congregated in the Oklahoma Territory.  Well, of course you have to suspend your annoying tendency to point out historical inaccuracies in films in order to enjoy this one. This is primarily necessary because several of these individuals had already bit the dust well before the Daltons became wanted outlaws.  Belle had been assassinated a year earlier; Jesse four years earlier; and Sam Bass had been gone for over a decade.


As it often happens, Oklahoma looks a lot like California.    



But never mind.  Viewers didn't seem to mind (or know) about historical chronology and the movie did good business at the box office.  The film is also significant in that it represents the beginning of Randolph Scott's transition to full-time western star.



It also represents Gabby's first appearance in a Randolph Scott film, but it wouldn't be the last.

Two years earlier Gabby appeared in his final John Wayne film, TALL IN SADDLE (RKO).  Then in 1946, weary of the grind of making eight pictures a year plus his work in A-westerns, Gabby left Republic and the highly popular Roy Rogers series.


RKO had liked him in TALL IN THE SADDLE and even gave him second billing in BADMAN'S TERRITORY. Ironically, with all those historical outlaws, Gabby portrays a fictitious ex-outlaw known as the "Coyote Kid."



  REVIEWS:


"Nat Holt produced this absurdity; history twisted beyond belief.  The "B" antics are actionful, the performers mostly likable, the script bewildering.  Poor, but amusing for the kiddies." -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide


"The number of featured parts necessarily make for an episodic structure but Whelan's spirited direction lifts the material well above the rut of routine." -- Phil Hardy, The Western


"Solid Western...nonstop fireworks.  Rich characterizations, with Hayes fun as the Coyote Kid." -- Leonard Maltin 


"....it’s a Randolph Scott Western of the 1940s and as such is definitely worth a watch. Put your credulity on hold and enjoy it for what it is. But don’t expect too much. No one would put it at the top of the Randy list." -- Jeff Arnold's West




TRAIL STREET (RKO, 1947)



DIRECTOR: Ray Enright;  PRODUCER: Nat Holt;  Screenplay by Norman Houston and Gene Lewis based on novel by William Corcoran;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: J. Roy Hunt


CAST:  Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys, George "Gabby" Hayes, Madge Meredith, Virginia Sale, Harry Woods, Steve Brodie, Ernie Adams, Si Jenks









You have seen this disclaimer many times:

The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are fictional. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


It appears in TRAIL STREET's opening credits.  So, were they telling us that we should regard as coincidence that the hero's name is Bat Masterson?  And that he is a famous Kansas lawman?  Oh, really?

Well, the rest of the movie is certifiably fiction. To wit: Billy Burns (Gabby Hayes), an old friend of Bat Masterson (Randolph Scott), asks him to come to Liberal, Kansas to take the marshal's job and to help settle a range feud between farmers and ranchers.  In reality Bat Masterson was never a lawman in Liberal, Kansas and may never have even been in the town.  No matter, in the movie he answers his friend's call and makes things right.


Evidently the film confused Brian Garfield.  Ordinarily, I will defer to him on matters (most of the time) when it comes to western movies, but not in this instance. In his review he has Bat cleaning up Dodge City and identifies Robert Ryan as the villain.  Well, as already established, it was Liberal, not Dodge City, and furthermore, Ryan is a good guy this time.



3 good guys: Ryan, Hayes, and Scott


REVIEWS:


"Set in town of Liberal, it features farmers versus cattlemen, wilderness versus cultivated land, East versus West, democratic versus individual action and is punctuated by Gabby Hayes' tall stories about the likes of a Texas grasshopper tall enough to pick their teeth with barbed wire." -- Phil Hardy, The Western


"It is just another pistol drama in which the good marshal ... cleans out a nest of cowboy villains who are making life miserable on the Kansas farms." -- New York Times









WYOMING (Republic, 1947)



DIRECTOR:  Joseph Kane;  PRODUCER: Joseph Kane;  WRITERS: screenplay by Lawrence Hazard and Gerald Geraghty; CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Alton



CAST: William Elliott, Vera Hruba Ralston, John Carroll, George "Gabby" Hayes, Albert Dekker, Virginia Grey, Marie Ouspenskaya, Grant Withers, Harry Woods, Dick Curtis, Roy Barcroft, Trevor Bardette, Paul Harvey, Tom London, George Chesebro, Jack O'Shea, Charles Middleton, Eddy Waller, Olin Howlin, Glenn Strange, Charles King, Rex Lease, Marshall Reed, Ben Johnson


STUNTS: Fred Graham, Ben Johnson, Chuck Roberson, Tom Steele




This was the second in a new series of Republic films starring William "Wild Bill" Elliott. While the studio had earlier filmed two ambitious, big-budget (for them) films, MAN OF CONQUEST and DARK COMMAND, these films were not part of a B-western series in that they had longer running times, bigger budgets, more mature plots, and better production values than those films, but they were characterized by many B-western elements, beginning with the star.

Elliott had become a B-western star at Columbia beginning in 1938. In 1943 he signed on with Republic and starred in two series there, first as himself and then as Red Ryder. In 1946 Republic moved him into this new series which the studio hoped would hold appeal for both adult and juvenile audiences. One of the B-western holdovers in these films was the presence of a comic sidekick.

Gabby, considering his popularity, would have seemed to be a natural for the films. However, he had cut his ties with Republic the year before and WYOMING was his only appearance in the series, and in fact was his final film for that studio.

Andy Clyde had the sidekick role in the initial entry and after WYOMING Andy Devine, who had replaced Gabby as Roy Rogers' sidekick, supported Elliott in a couple of his films, while continuing his role as Roy's sidekick, Cookie Bullfincher.

One of the drawbacks to these films was the presence of Vera Hruba Ralston, an ice skater from Czechoslovakia, who had been brought to the U.S. by Republic's boss, Herbert J. Yates, who attempted to make her an actress. He mandated that she be put in films, but it was impossible to make her an actress. Her English was so limited initially that she had to learn her lines phonetically. But because Yates' relationship to Ralston was more than professional, he persevered to the detriment of these films.

WYOMING's plot is the one about a dispute between a cattle baron and homesteaders that has been filmed many, many times. So, there isn't anything new here. Gabby is Thomas Jefferson "Windy" Gibson, who befriends the Elliott character. So, there isn't anything new there either.

It isn't SHANE, of course, but it isn't a bad film either.


REVIEWS:

"Beautifully lit by Alton with a vividness unusual for the period ... and energetically directed by Kane .... This is one of Elliott's best prestige westerns." -- Phil Hardy, The Western

"The players are typecast, the script mostly formulaic, the direction typically speedy; it's a pretty good Elliott oater but rather juvenile. -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide


ALBUQUERQUE (Paramount, 1948)

DIRECTOR: Ray Enright;  PRODUCERS: William H. Pine and William C. Thomas;  WRITERS: screenplay by Gene Lewis and Clarence Upson Young based on novel by Luke Short, Dead Freight for Piute;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fred Jackman, Jr.



CAST: Randolph Scott, Barbara Britton, George "Gabby" Hayes, Lon Chaney, Jr., Russell Hayden, Catherine Craig, George Cleveland, Irving Bacon, Russell Simpson, Dan White, Lane Chandler, Chuck Roberson, Lee "Lasses" White


STUNTS: Chuck Roberson







The Luke Short novel that the screenplay is based on is characterized by a plot that is a little out of the ordinary.  Many of his novels feature a range feud plot, but this one is a story about a conflict between competing ore-hauling outfits.


Gabby, as Juke, is on the right side of course.  And although Randolph Scott starts out on the wrong side he quickly sees the error of his way and switches sides.  


Russell Hayden, who began his acting career as Hopalong Cassidy's young sidekick, Lucky Jenkins, and then went on to star in a couple of series of his own, is the owner of the freight line that Scott helps win the competition.


Earlier in the decade, Lee "Lasses" White was a comic sidekick for Tim Holt and Jimmy Wakely.




Russell Hayden as Lucky Jenkins































REVIEWS:


"Smoothly scripted by Lewis and Young, with Scott making the central character a believable one ... the production is only marred by Enright's spotty direction which slows the action down too frequently." -- Phil Hardy, The Western


"It's a good fast Luke Short yarn, well plotted with plenty of twists and fairly adult characters.  Minor, but well done by all." -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide







RETURN OF THE BAD MEN (RKO, 1948)


DIRECTOR: Ray Enright;  PRODUCER: Nat Holt; WRITERS: screenplay by Charles O'Neal, Jack Natteford, and Luci Ward based on story by Jack Natteford and Luci Ward;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: J. Roy Hunt



CAST: Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys, George "Gabby" Hayes, Jacqueline White, Steve Brodie, Tom Keene, Robert Bray, Lex Barker, Walter Reed, Michael Harvey, Dean White, Robert Armstrong, Tom Tyler, Lew Harvey, Ernie Adams, Victor Adamson, Hank Bell, Lane Chandler, Earle Hodgins, Kenneth MacDonald, Bud Osborne, Harry Shannon, Charlie Stevens, Forrest Taylor




We're back in Oklahoma Territory and the usual suspects have been rounded up and Randolph Scott is once again a lawman forced to contend with many of the same outlaws he confronted in BADMAN'S TERRITORY two years earlier.  But he isn't the same person.  Mark Rowley in the former, he is now Vance Cordell in the latter.  But that isn't the only confusing aspect associated with RETURN OF THE BADMEN.  The same kind of inaccurate historical chronologies are as true of this film as were true of its predecessor.  So the viewer is advised to just go with the flow and accept the film for what it is, a work of pure fiction that utilizes the names of real people.      

Here is the outlaw lineup and the actors who portrayed them: 



  • The Sundance Kid (but no Butch) -- Robert Ryan
  • Cole, Jim, and John Younger -- Steve Brodie, Tom Keene (RKO's first B-Western series star at the beginning of the sound era), and Robert Bray
  • Emmett, Bob, and Grat Dalton -- Lex Barker (a year later he would become RKO's Tarzan), Walter Reed, and Michael Harvey
  • Billy the Kid -- Dean White 
  • Wild Bill Doolin -- Robert Armstrong
  • Wild Bill Yeager (never heard of him) -- Tom Tyler
  • Arkansas Kid (ditto) -- Lew Harvey
Gabby gets to play a banker in this one while Anne Jeffreys, as Cheyenne, is billed as the "notorious gun girl."  Gun girl?    

Sadly, we have to say goodbye to veteran character actor Ernie Adams who died shortly before this film, his 427th, was released.




Ernie Adams



REVIEWS:

"Ryan is splendid as lead heavy." -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide

"Ryan's edginess and Scott's air of assured competence complement each other well and, despite the showier roles of Brodie and Armstrong, they are always at the center of the film.  This is a superior RKO star western. -- Phil Hardy, The Western

"Stand-out is Robert Ryan, always one of the best bad guys available...." -- Jeff Arnold's West



THE UNTAMED BREED (Columbia, 1948)



(L-R): George E. Stone, Barbara Britton, Sonny Tufts, Gabby Hayes


DIRECTOR: Charles Lamont;  PRODUCER: Harry Joe Brown;  WRITERS: screenplay by Tom Reed based on story by Eli Colter; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charles Lawton, Jr.



CAST: Sonny Tufts, Barbara Britton, George "Gabby" Hayes, Edgar Buchanan, William Bishop, George E. Stone, Joe Sawyer, Gordon Jones, James Kirkwood, Virginia Brissac, Reed Howes, Russell Simpson, Paul Burns, Syd Saylor, Dick Elliott


STUNTS: Yakima Canutt (also stunt co-ordinator), Fred Graham, Jock Mahoney



Stop me if you've heard this one.  Texas ranchers import a Brahma bull to improve their cattle herd.  The bull escapes and commits havoc in the area.  He injures people and kills other bulls.  Some people want to kill the bull, but our hero (Sonny Tufts), whose idea it was to import the bull in the first place, is adamantly opposed.  And so he sets out to capture the bull.  


However, he decides that the only way he can capture the bull is to capture and gentle a wild horse known as the Widow Maker.  Only then, will he have enough horse to subjugate the bull.  If he is successful (and of course he is), he might win the hand of the leading lady (Barbara Britton) away from his rival (William Bishop) (which of course he does).


I'm not sure what the editor of the Saturday Evening Post saw in this story, but that's where it first appeared.  Furthermore, what did the producers of this movie see in it?



Director Lamont's forte was not westerns.  He specialized in cornball comedies starring the likes of Abbott and Costello, Judy Canova, Ma and Pa Kettle, and even Francis the Talking Mule.  THE UNTAMED BREED, which referred to the bull, or the horse, or the people, or all three, is not a comedy -- or at least not intentionally.

The leading man was a problem, too.  Like the director, Sonny Tufts (nee Bowen Charlton Tufts III) never had much experience with westerns.  He was born in Boston, and it showed. A good actor might have been able to overcome that fact, but Sonny was never accused of being a good actor.


Not even Gabby Hayes (as 'Windy' Lucas) and Edgar Buchanan in the same picture could save this one.  There were some other pros in the cast, too. For instance, Barbara Britton had been in a ton of westerns and always gave a good account of herself.

Speaking of pros, Yak co-ordinated and performed stunts and was ably assisted by Fred Graham and Jock Mahoney.  Charles Lawton was a talented cinematographer and some of the location shooting took place in the scenic Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California.  Producer Harry Joe Brown, unlike the director and the film's star, had a long list of westerns on his resume, and there would be many more in the future.  However, all these pluses were not enough to offset the critical minuses.


On the sidekick front, two years later Gordon Jones (as 'Splinters' McGonigle) would replace Andy Devine ('Cookie' Bullfincher) as Roy Rogers' comic sidekick. It was not an improvement, since Jones turned out to be a graduate of the buffoon sidekick school.



REVIEWS:


"... Tufts and Bishop look strained trying to follow the episodic plot .... Only Buchanan and, surprisingly, Britton, seem able to just get on with it." -- Phil Hardy, The Western


"Apparently no one connected with it had much respect for it; it's an unintentional parody -- a textbook example of hokey lousy horse opera. The acting is terrible -- Tufts is howlingly inept with his Brooklyn sounding speech mannerisms -- and the script convoluted, the directing amateurish and the story dull. -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide 


NOTE: As pointed out above, Tufts was born in Boston, not Brooklyn, so that must have been the accent that Garfield heard even though they are quite different.  





This is one of those cases in which the poster was more exciting than the movie.  Furthermore, those movies cited at the top did not contain all that much "Action," "Excitement," or "Adventure" but tended to be overblown and on the turgid side.  No surprise since two of them were directed by Cecil B. DeMille.



EL PASO (Paramount, 1949)


Director: Lewis R. Foster;  PRODUCERS: William H. Pine and William C. Thomas;  WRITERS: screenplay by Lewis R. Foster based on story by J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ellis W. Carter



CAST: John Payne, Gail Russell, Sterling Hayden, George "Gabby" Hayes, Dick Foran, Eduardo Noriega, Henry Hull, Mary Beth Hughes, H.B. Warner, Bobby Ellis, Arthur Space, Steven Geray, Irving Bacon, Lane Chandler, John Hart, Reed Howes, John Merton, Jack Perrin, Denver Pyle, Keith Richards, Lee Roberts, Dan White, Lee "Lasses" White, Chief Yowlachie




Clay and Pesky
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, Clay Fletcher (John Payne), an eastern lawyer, travels to west Texas to conduct some legal business.   Unfortunately, he runs afoul of a gang of thieves headed by Bert Donner (Sterling Hayden) and sheriff LaFarge (Dick Foran), his partner in crime. What really riles Fletcher is the fact that the crooks are stealing the land from returning war veterans.

When nothing else works, Fletcher teaches himself to handle a gun and organizes a vigilante organization to oppose Donner and La Farge.


However, the vigilante organization evolves into a mob that takes the life of an innocent man, forcing Fletcher to rethink the situation.  In the end, he opposes the violence, but nevertheless prevails against the lawless element led by Donner.


The film had a decent cast.  It was Payne's first western, but he would go on to make quite a few, and when the script allowed he could give a good account of himself.  The same could be said about Sterling Hayden, who always played a tough guy, and he could give an authentic performance on either side of the law.


Gail Russell didn't appear in many westerns, but she was very good in two that are fondly remembered by fans of the genre: THE ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (Republic, 1947)  and SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (Batjac/WB, 1956).


Both John Payne and Dick Foran began their movie careers as singers.  In fact, Foran was one of the very first singing cowboys and was Warner Brothers answer to Gene Autry in the '30's.  



Singing cowboy Dick Foran, Smokey, and friend.

And Gabby, well Gabby is "Pesky."  And guess what, he becomes friends with the hero; not exactly what one would call being cast against type.


REVIEWS:


"The one about the lawyer who reluctantly learns to strap on a gun.  Flabby and wheezy with dull slapstick relief." Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide



"The idea of the lawyer taking the law into his own gunhands is quite original and Payne manages the change from educated Easterner to dynamic outlaw leader rather well, in his restrained way." -- Jeff Arnold's West

"Even "Gabby" Hayes as the comic looks rather woe-begone." -- Bosley Crowther, New York Times




THE CARIBOO TRAIL (Fox, 1950)



DIRECTOR: Edwin L. Marin;  PRODUCER: Nat Holt;  WRITERS: screenplay by Frank Gruber based on story by John Rhodes Sturdy;   CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fred Jackman, Jr.


CAST: Randolph Scott, George "Gabby" Hayes, Bill Williams, Karin Booth, Victor Jory, Douglas Kennedy, Jim Davis, Dale Robertson, James Griffith, Lee Tung Foo, Fred Libby, Ben Corbett, Franklyn Farnum, Kermit Maynard



The writers attempted to tell a different a story that would be a departure from the run-of-the mill western oater, but in the end it is a routine affair.


The plot has Jim Redfern (Randolph Scott), his partner Mike Evans (Bill Williams), and their cook Ling (Lee Tung Foo) driving a small herd of cattle from Montana up the Cariboo Trail into British Columbia where they hope to establish a cattle ranch. Or at least Redfern does; Evans is more interested in finding gold.


The two men meet an old prospector on the trail who decides to travel with them.  Of course that would be Gabby Hayes, whose character's name is Grizzly. That night riders stampede the cattle through the camp with Evans being so badly injured that he loses an arm, one that is amputated by Redfern who in doing so saves his friend's life, but an act for which he receives no thanks.


After that, the story proceeds much like one would suspect.


Victor Jory, Douglas Kennedy, and Jim Davis are the villains, though Davis is dispatched by Redfern early in the film.  Karin Booth portrays a saloon owner with the proverbial heart of gold who falls for Redfern.  A young Dale Robertson has a small part, but would soon be on his way to making a name for himself in the western genre.


Some exteriors were filmed in British Columbia, but it appears that most of the film was shot in Colorado. One shot in the film I recognize from my own experience, because I have photographed the same area.  Here are two examples:


 



     

These photographs were taken along the Gunnison River, which is located in central Colorado.  Those dark clouds coming in from the west were about to become even more ominous looking.  As I discovered, they represented the front edge of a snowstorm making its way across the Continental Divide.


Gabby Hayes had started portraying grizzled old-timers in films beginning when he was still in forties.  And even in 1950 when THE CARIBOO TRAIL was released he was still only sixty-five and could have soldiered on for several more years if he had wished.  But he decided to call it quits, which was just as well. By this time he had become a cliche and seemed to be going through the motions, not even being asked to do as much acting as was once required of him in his days with William Boyd and Roy Rogers.


But he didn't shave his beard, or get rid of his floppy hat, or vest, or patched jeans. Instead, still in character he moved from the big screen to the small screen.  In 1950-54, he hosted The Gabby Hayes Show, a fifteen minute program that ran on NBC three times a week.  As host of the show he promoted his sponsor, Quaker Oats, spun yarns, and narrated clips of old B-westerns.  In 1956, he hosted a thirty minute show that ran Saturday mornings on ABC.  It lasted thirteen weeks.  And that was it; he retired from show business for good.






So long, Buckaroos

George Francis Hayes died in 1969.  He was eighty-three years old.