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

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TRADING MANNY: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again by Jim Gullo

In December 2007, Major League Baseball (MLB) released the so-called Mitchell Report. It made the claim that eighty-nine major league baseball players had been guilty of using performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). Although the report made no names public, a few high profile names on the list were leaked to the press.

Jim Gullo, a free-lance writer, and his son, Joe, seven-years old at the time, were huge baseball fans. With the release of the report, young Joe began to ask questions, questions such as: 1) If drugs are bad for you, why do players take them? 2) Isn’t it cheating to take drugs? 3) If it is cheating, why aren’t players being punished?

The elder Gullo was able to satisfactorily answer the second question, but found the other two to be difficult propositions to explain to a seven-year old. Manny Ramirez was Joe’s favorite player and, despite living in the Seattle area, the Boston Red Sox was his favorite team. Steroid rumors had swirled around Ramirez for several years, but he had always denied them. Then he was caught. Twice he was suspended by MLB. He still denied that he had ever resorted to PED’s

The Ramirez revelations hit young Joe like a ton of bricks. It would have been analogous to me at that age to discover that Stan Musial was a boozer and a wife-abuser

Father and son embarked on a two-year odyssey to try to determine why players jeopardized their health by taking PED’s and why MLB wasn’t meting out greater punishments for the perpetrators. They visited with many different people associated with various aspects of the game at both the major and minor league levels.

Very few people associated with the game were willing to discuss the issue. Minor league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst was the only active player who would talk about the problem and even then only in a decidedly guarded fashion. At the time, he was a blogger who was also working on a book about his minor league experiences. He confessed to Gullo that he had to be circumspect about what he said or wrote about the drug problem because it would cause him difficulties with his teammates who were already suspicious of his note taking in the clubhouse. When Hayhurst’s book, “The Bullpen Gospels,” was later published, there was no mention of PED’s

One ex-major leaguer, Scott Brosius, former Yankees third baseman and currently a college baseball coach, was more open in his condemnation of drug use. Partly, I suppose, because he wanted to dissuade his players from giving in to the temptation and because he was no longer an active player. That is still to his credit, because other ex-players approached by Gullo were close-mouthed about the issue.

Why was MLB so tardy in creating a drug testing policy and why even today do many think the punishment for violators is insufficient? Jim Gullo struggled with that question but never arrived at what he thought was a good answer. I’m not sure why, because it seems obvious.

MLB in the mid to late 90s was reeling from the strike-shortened season of 1994. It was a year that the unimaginable occurred; there was no World Series.

Four years later saw the herculean home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Not only did both sluggers surpass Roger Maris’ single season mark of sixty-one home runs, but McGwire stomped it into the ground with seventy home runs. (McGwire’s record would stand for only three years, however, when Barry Bonds hit seventy-three in 2001.)

How did McGwire’s Cardinals team fare during his record-breaking season? It finished in 3rd place in the division with a record of 83-79 and, worst of all, 21.5 games out of first place. However, the team’s attendance for the year was 3,195,691, which represented an increase of approximately 500,000 over the previous year. Not only that, wherever the Cardinals (or Cubs) played on the road the home team always enjoyed an increase in gate receipts.

Sammy Sosa lost the home run race to McGwire, but his team still benefited. The Cubs finished second in the division with a record of 90-73, but 12.5 games out of first. But they made it into the postseason as a wild card, only to be swept in three straight by the Braves. The Cubs drew 2,623,194 fans that season, also an increase of approximately 500,000. (Poor Sammy Sosa, the only hitter to hit more than sixty home runs in three different seasons, and yet failled to finish first in either of those years. He finished second to McGwire twice and once to Bonds.)

It is apparent that PED’s were financially good for baseball franchises – and their players.

But why would players jeopardize their health? Gullo struggled with that question for 250 pages, but he had answered it on page sixty. The aforementioned Dirk Hayhurst was in competition with pitcher Clay Hensley for a spot on San Diego’s major-league roster. Two years before, Hensley failed a drug test. He had been taking steroids. His only penalty was the fifteen-game suspension that was in force at the time. He made the roster; Hayhurst was assigned to San Diego’s Triple-A Portland team.

Triple-A may be only a step away from the major leagues, but in all other aspects it isn’t even close. For example, that season Hensley would make the minimum MLB salary of $410,000. Hayhurst would make $1,200 a month, but only for the duration of the baseball season. Hensley would travel by air, stay in luxury hotels, and receive a hundred dollars a day as meal money. On the road Hayhurst would travel on buses, stay in fleabag motels, eat at convenience stores and gas stations, and receive meal money that would barely cover that meager fare. Furthermore, while Hensley stayed around long enough to qualify for a major league pension, Hayhurst did not.

Although this does not explain why a Hayhurst and others do not surrender to the PED temptation, it does explain why a Hensley and many others do.

PED’s have resulted in millions and millions of dollars of income for players and franchises. Let’s consider this list of accused violators of MLB’s drug policy: Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez. These are among the greatest superstars of a whole generation of players. But because of the shadow hanging over their respective heads, in all likelihood none will ever be admitted to the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, as the old adage goes, they can cry all the way to the bank. (This makes a baseball fan like me wonder about the relevance of the Hall of Fame if all these sluggers, MVP’s, and Cy Young winners will not be there. I also wonder what it now means to players who are being elected to the Hall. Has the significance of that honor been greatly diminished?)

Trading Manny, the title of the book, is a reference to a trade that father and son made after their two-year odyssey. They traded Manny for a new favorite player, one who did not drink, dip, and, despite being in his mid-twenties, was an admitted virgin abstaining from sex until marriage. His name is (no surprise) Dirk Hayhurst, a relief pitcher who spent part of two seasons in the major leagues while appearing in a total of twenty-five games. (However, I am sure that father Gullo didn’t allow his son to read Hayhurst’s The Bullpen Gospels when it was later published, because it is filled not only with profanity but also with the extremely crude activities engaged in by him and his teammates during a single season in the minors. (Well, nobody’s perfect it would seem, not even Dirk Hayhurst.)

Even after two suspensions for drug violations, Manny Ramirez had never admitted his guilt. But just as I finished reading “Trading Manny,” I ran across a news story in which Manny confessed. Now, he said, he has found the Lord and has changed his ways. He knows that he should never have used PED’s, but that’s in the past and he knows he can still hit, despite being 42-years old. All he needs, he says, is the opportunity to prove it. Never mind that he has failed to do so in the minors during the previous two years.

Manny won’t make it back to the big leagues, not because of his past drug abuse, but rather, despite his claims to the contrary, because he can no longer hit. If he could, major league teams would be lining up to sign him.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Clint Eastwood
Dean Martin

Richard Boone

Dale Evans

James Garner

Monte Hale
Pernell Roberts

John Russell
Eric Fleming

Dan Blocker

Nick Adams
Michael Landon

Fuzzy Q. Jones (Al St. John)

Robert Culp

Hugh O'Brian
James Drury

Annie Oakley

Billy the Kid
Calamity Jane


Monday, March 24, 2014


Stephen Wright’s debut novel, first published in 1983, is a difficult one to categorize. The Amazon blurb describes it as being “sardonic, searing, seductive, and surreal…” It is certainly all of that.

It is also overwritten, with sentences that cover an entire page and paragraphs that cover more than a page. After reading about ten or fifteen pages, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to finish the book and after about thirty pages, I was almost positive that I wasn’t. In fact, I almost put it aside, but knowing that if I did I would never pick it up again, I soldiered on.

The book consists of vignettes, some as short as a paragraph and others that last as much as twenty pages. They alternate between a third person account of events that occurred during the Vietnam War and a first person account of events that take place in a large American city after the war – a war that never ends for the narrator, the book’s central character.

At first, I was put off by the long sentences, the long paragraphs, and the alternating settings. Eventually, however, I realized that while it was true that at times the book was chaotic to the point of being incoherent that what it was attempting to describe was also chaotic and incoherent. It was at that point that I was able to adjust to the rhythm of the book and found myself not wanting to put it down.

Walter Kendrick in his overall favorable review in the New York Times wrote, Wright’s “talent is impressive, though unruly.” And that “some of the excesses of the book can be ascribed to its being a first novel, mulled over for at least ten years. It tries to do too much – to describe the war, its aftereffects, the psychology of drug addiction and (most murkily) the role that green plants play in all these matters.”

Critic Nathaniel Rich in his review of the book wrote, “A good war novel forces you to visualize, in vivid detail, the horror and dysfunction of combat. A great war novel goes further – it makes you fear the horror personally.” By that definition, Meditations in Green is a great war novel.

I remember once reading that all war novels, by their very nature, were anti-war novels, the reason being that any faithful depiction of the horror of combat would have to leave the reader with a visceral abhorrence of war. Meditations in Green does that. Furthermore, it is more than a novel about the Vietnam War. In the tradition of Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, it is a novel about the absurdity of war – any war. Those two novels contain some humorous moments, and so does Meditations in Green. But the humor in all three novels comes in the dark variety.

The Amazon blurb also says that many consider Meditations in Green to be the greatest of all the Vietnam War novels. I have always been partial to James Webb’s Fields of Fire and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and the more recent Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. I always recommend them without reservation to other readers. I will also recommend Meditations in Green, but not without some reservations. It may not be for everybody – especially not for anybody who prefers a straightforward linear narration. My advice for anyone who does decide to read it is that they stay the course. Don’t give up on it too early.

Is Meditations in Green the greatest Vietnam War novel? Well, maybe not, but it does belong in the conversation.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

THE INFORMANT by Kurt Eichenwald

I stumbled onto this book on the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble. Since it cost practically nothing and looked mildly interesting, I bought it. It went in my TBR bookcase where it languished for years. Oh, occasionally I would pick it up, blow the dust away and read the blurbs and think that it looked mildly interesting, and then place it back on the shelf.

Not long ago, while looking for something to read I picked it up again, and thought, this looks mildly interesting, and decided that I would read it. After all, according to the cover of my paperback copy, it had been made into a major motion picture starring Matt Damon. By the time that I finished the prologue, I was hooked.

It isn’t often that a work of nonfiction can be described as a page-turner – but that is a good description of The Informant. And there are a lot of pages to turn – 500 plus, in fact. Investigative reporter Kurt Eichenwald leaves no stone unturned and no fact unexamined or unreported in his thoroughly researched account of a price fixing conspiracy that occurred in the ‘90’s. Involved in the conspiracy were Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the hugely successful and politically powerful agribusiness corporation, as well as two Japanese and two South Korean corporations.

The prices being fixed included, among others, citric acid and high fructose corn syrup, additives that are found in a countless number of food products. And then there was lysine, an amino acid added to livestock feed, in order to fatten hogs and chickens. The result is that the prices of these additives were artificially propped up and that drove up the expenses of the food producers, which were subsequently passed on to – of course – the consumer.

ADM’s advertising slogan was and is “supermarket to the world.” But because its competitors wanted to keep prices high and its customers wanted to keep them low, the private and extremely cynical inside slogan among its top executives was “competitors are our friends and customers are our enemies.”

I know what I have described thus far doesn’t sound like much of a page-turner. But it is. What makes it so is that the FBI was able to persuade one of ADM’s top executives to wear a wire in order to tape him and other ADM executives and those of the four Asian corporations, engaging in price fixing. This cooperating witness was at the time (and may still be) the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history. His name is Mark Whitacre.

And what a witness he was! I’m not about to go into details about him or his actions because it is impossible to do so in a brief summary. Also, it would be like spoiling the plot in a whodunit – which is how this book reads.

Eichenwald wrote in an afterword:

This is a book about the malleable nature of truth. As the story shows, reality can serve as the handmaiden of fiction….Throughout these pages, I’ve tried to play upon that line between fact and fantasy. While everything described in this book occurred, the story was intentionally structured to lend temporary credence to some of the many lies told in this investigation. Essentially, I was attempting to put readers in the same uncertain position as the investigators, all while dropping hints – admittedly subtle at times – about where reality began.”

He accomplished his goal. But beware; this is a complex, convoluted story. There are more characters than in a Russian novel. The reader needs a scorecard to keep up with the players. Fortunately, Eichenwald provides one in the front of the book. Also, complicating the story are the bureaucratic battles fought between FBI investigators and federal prosecutors (to be expected; it happens all the time) as well as turf battles between the U.S. Attorneys offices in Illinois and the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., not to mention internal struggles within the Justice Department. All of this can make it difficult to stay with the story.

My only complaint about the book is that Eichenwald could have streamlined his account somewhat without detracting from the readers understanding of the important facts of the case. But he had done his research – and how – and he was eager to report it – and did he ever.

The book was originally published in 2000. The movie was released in 2009. While the book gives much attention to the FBI agents’ investigation, and a great deal of space to the efforts of the prosecutors (whose in-fighting came close to derailing the case), the movie, unable to film the book in its entirety, concentrates on the whistleblower and his amazing antics. Greed and malfeasance that results in international price fixing conspiracies are nothing to laugh about, and yet, when one reads the book, one can’t help but laugh at times – even out loud sometime. In fact, the movie was promoted as a comedy – a comedy about price fixing!

The book has been compared to the fiction of Tom Clancy, Scott Turow, Michael Crichton, and, of course, John Grisham. But those writers’ imaginations pale in comparison to what Eichenwald recounts in his nonfiction book. One critic wrote, “…with its dizzying array of subplots, twists, and political maneuvers, this book is more like Grisham’s entire oeuvre compressed into 600 pages.”

Columnist Liz Smith nailed the book precisely when she wrote, “[It] reads like John Grisham on acid….”

The title of the original edition of the book is The Informant: A True Story. The title of the paperback movie tie-in (published in 2000) that I own is The Informant! A True Story.  I am always wary of book, and especially movie, titles that announce that the story is a “true story.” More times than not, it isn’t. But this one is.

Exclamation marks in titles are red flags, too. They usually promise more than what they deliver. This one was added because the movie, which heavily concentrates on Mark Whitacre and his role in the proceedings, has to be seen to be believed. But it is true, too. And I have to admit that in this case the exclamation mark is warranted!

As a friend said about the book, “Truth (even when it’s built around lies) is and always will be stranger than fiction.”

Kurt Eichenwald

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

B-WESTERNS: RKO-Radio Pictures

RKO-Radio Pictures was created in 1928 with the merger of the KAO (Keith-Albee-Orpheum) theater chain and Joseph P. Kennedy's production company, Film Booking Offices (FBO).  The merger had been brought about by RCA which wished to get involved in the film business by providing sound for films.  RKO stood for Radio-Keith-Orpheum and Radio was added to the title as an acknowledgement of RCA's position as a major stockholder.

During the silent era, FBO had been responsible for several outstanding B-Western series starring Fred Thomson, Tom Tyler, and Bob Steele.  After leaving Fox, the most popular Western star of all, Tom Mix, joined FBO for his final series of silent Westerns.

Fred Thomson and Silver King
Fred Thomson was a great all-round athlete and an ordained Presbyterian minister who became a superstar cowboy at FBO during the '20's.  In 1928, he stepped on a nail in his stables while tending his horses and he contracted tetanus.  His illness was wrongly diagnosed and he died on Christmas day that year.  He was 38-years-old.

Tom Tyler

Bob Steele
Tom Mix, the "King of the Silent Cowboys," and Tony

After the creation of RKO, Tom Tyler and Bob Steele hit the independent trail at Poverty Row and Tom Mix signed with Universal to star in his first and only sound series.  After a pause in the action to allow the dust to settle, RKO embarked on a number of superior B-Western series.  The studio never produced as many Western series as B-Western factories such as Republic or Monogram, for example, or as many as the two second tier major studios, Columbia and Universal.  However, the RKO series that were produced were consistently better than any produced by any other studio.

Their first B-Western cowboy star was born George Duryea.  That moniker wasn't going to cut it and consequently he became Tom Keene.  Keene's tenure at RKO began in 1931 and ended in 1933 when the studio decided to discontinue its B-Western series.   Like Tyler and Steele before him, he hit the independent trail before eventually settling in at Monogram.

Tom Keene, RKO's first cowboy star
For two years after the Keene series ended, RKO produced no B-Western series.  Then in 1936, the studio re-entered the field with a series starring George O'Brien.

How good was this series?  When Don Miller wrote Hollywood Corral, his seminal study of the B-Western, he titled one chapter "How to Make Good Westerns: Fox, RKO and O'Brien."

During the silent era, O'Brien had been a popular leading man in prestigious  films produced by Fox, a few directed by John Ford.  In 1930, with the advent of sound he began starring in a quality B-Western series for the same studio.  When that series was terminated in 1935, he moved over to RKO and began another topnotch series. Because of the influential popularity of the Autry Westerns over at Republic, RKO felt obliged to add music and provide O'Brien with a comic sidekick.  Therefore, in some of the entries, Ray Whitley provided the music and the sidekick was often Chill Wills, who portrayed a character known as "Whopper."

George O'Brien

O'Brien's tenure at RKO ended in 1940.  A member of the naval reserve, he was activated when the U.S. entered WWII.  Looking around for a new cowboy the RKO executives found one on their lot.  He was Tim Holt, the son of former silent film star, Jack Holt.  As a teenager, he had begun acting in films in 1937.  He even had a small role as a cavalry officer in John Ford's STAGECOACH (1939).  By that time, he had attracted RKO's attention and he had been cast in a number of that studio's films, including a couple of Westerns.

His series was inaugurated in 1940.  He would eventually star in more B-Westerns at RKO than any other actor and in the process he would become the cowboy most identified with that studio.

(L-R): Ray Whitley, Tim Holt, Lee " Lasses" White

Holt possessed many of the necessary attributes needed by a cowboy star.  He was boyishly handsome, was an excellent horseman (in fact, a champion polo player), and a good athlete who could more than hold his own when it came to the action.  The problem was, however, that only 21-years-old when the series began, he looked even younger, more like a teenager than an adult.

That said, the series was supported by all the good production values that the studio provided for its B-Westerns and it proved to be popular with the juvenile audiences who were the primary fans of the genre. Don Miller even titled one of the other chapters in his book on B-Westerns, "...Or Anyway, Better Westerns Than Most: Keene, Holt & other guys at RKO."

As mentioned, the producers of the O'Brien series had added music and a comedy sidekick to some of the features.  The trend was continued with the Holts.  Ray Whitley would continue to provide the music, while the role of Whopper was given to Emmett Lynn, who always was more irritating than funny.  The role was later given to Lee "Lasses" White, which was only marginally an improvement.  Finally, Cliff Edwards, a much better actor than Lynn or White, was cast as a character known as Ike.  It was a marked improvement.

Holt's first series ended in 1943 when he entered the Air Force and flew missions as a bombardier in the Pacific theater.  The decorated veteran would be off the screen for four years.

With both O'Brien and Holt in the military serving their country, RKO produced no B-Westerns in 1944.  However, wishing to begin another series, the search was on for another cowboy.  Once again, their man was found right in their own backyard.

Robert Mitchum began his career as a heavy in the Hopalong Cassidy films, before eventually working his way up to good guy roles.  RKO took notice and cast him in several non-Westerns.  In 1945, the studio starred him in two Westerns, both based on Zane Grey stories.  In the first, NEVADA, he was given not one, but two sidekicks.  Neither was a singer and both were assets.

Hoppy and Bad Man Mitchum

Guinn "Big Boy" Williams was always a welcome presence in a Western and maybe he wasn't able to provide brains but he was able to provide brawn as well as comedy.  Richard Martin portrayed the character of Chito Jose Gonzalez Bustamente Rafferty, the character that he would be closely identified with for the rest of his acting career.  Martin, without Williams, would fill the same role with the same characterization in WEST OF THE PECOS.  As it turned out, it would be Mitchum's final B-Western.

Good Man Mitchum
The same year that the two Westerns were released, RKO gave Mitchum an important role in William Wellman's WWII drama, THE STORY OF GI JOE, and a star was born.  There would be Westerns, but no more B-Westerns in the actor's future.

Enter James Warren.  He was no O'Brien, or Holt, or Mitchum, but he was as good as Tom Keene.  However, the studio seemed to be marking time by starring Warren in only three films, also based on Zane Grey stories, released over the course of three years.  Richard Martin was there for the first, but was replaced by John Laurenz in the Chito role in the other two.  It was a step back.

James Warren and friend

Perhaps what RKO was waiting on was the return of its young hero.  But the first role for Tim Holt after the war was an important supporting role as Virgil Earp in John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (Fox, 1946).  Two years later, he would receive his best notices for his role as one of three gold seekers in Mexico in John Huston's THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (WB).  In between these two classic films, however, he had already begun a new series of B-Westerns at RKO.

Still only in his twenties, the war years had matured Holt and he looked more like what a sagebrush hero should look like.  Holt had the good fortune of inheriting Richard Martin as his sidekick.  Both were good actors who enjoyed an easy rapport on the screen with the happy result being one of the best hero-sidekick pairings that the B-Western genre ever produced.

The music was absent from these postwar films.  Furthermore, Holt's range wear tended toward plain boots and denim without any fringe or frill.  The stories contained enough action to satisfy the juvenile faithful while at the same time containing enough plot that even adults could enjoy them.  In addition, the black-and-white photography, often in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California, was excellent.
Holt did adopt one affectation at the beginning of the series.  He wore two guns, but the left hand gun was turned butt forward.  Eventually, thank goodness, the gimmick was discarded.

The young males in the audience were probably thankful that Holt did not engage in much mushy romance.  That part of the plot was usually left to Chito, who was a cowboy Casanova.  That seemed to be more acceptable to the young male crowd, who would just as soon have had no romance in their Westerns.

Tim, Chito, Friend (Myrna Dell)

Oddly enough, while the Holt character usually had a different name in each film, Martin was always Chito Rafferty.  It was only toward the end of the series that Holt's character became Tim Holt.  This is also one of the few series in which the sidekick was taller than the hero.

RKO's B-Western series, like those of other studios, could not overcome TV's competition in the early '50's.  Hoppy, Gene, and Roy had already ridden onto the small screen when, in 1952, Tim and Chito rode into the sunset for the last time.  And so ended what was one of the best B-Western series ever filmed and what many believe was the best of all the post-war series.

I need to add a final note.  In UNDER THE TONTO RIM (1947), a gent by the name of Richard Powers portrayed the leader of an outlaw gang.  Powers had been born George Duryea, but later changed his name to Tom Keene.  After his starring days ended, he changed it again and was often cast in supporting roles in RKO films.  In the final shoot-out, Tim was forced to shoot and kill the outlaw.  I wonder if anyone appreciated the irony that RKO's last cowboy hero had just killed the studio's first cowboy hero?







Sunday, February 9, 2014

RAWHIDE (Fox, 1951)

Interesting poster; of course nothing remotely resembling it appeared in the film

DIRECTOR: Henry Hathaway; PRODUCER: Samuel G. Engel; WRITER: Dudley Nichols; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Milton Krasner

CAST: Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Hugh Marlowe, Dean Jagger, Edgar Buchanan, Jack Elam, George Tobias, Jeff Corey, James Millican, Louis Jean Heydt, Robert Adler, Milton Corey, Dick Curtis, Judy & Jody Dunn, Edith Evanson, William Haade, Howard Negley, Walter Sande, Max Terhune, Kenneth Tobey, Dan White

NARRATOR: Gary Merrill


Tom Owens’ (Tyrone Power) father has sent him out west from St. Joe to the Rawhide Pass relay station so that he can learn the stagecoach business under the tutelage of veteran station manager Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan).  The stagecoach line is known as the “Jackass Mail” because it uses mules to pull stagecoaches that transport mail and passengers between San Francisco and St. Louis.  Rawhide is located in a remote and desolate area halfway between the two destinations and Tom’s father thought it would be a good place for his son to learn the business from the ground up.  Tom’s exile is almost over and he is anxious to return to the more hospitable environs back east.

One day while the passengers of an eastbound stage are eating their meal, soldiers arrive to warn Sam and Tom that an outlaw by the name of Rafe Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe) and three other convicts have broken out of prison, held up one of the line’s stages, and killed its driver.  Fearing that the outlaws are planning to rob the eastbound stage and since it is the line’s policy that young children are never to be placed in jeopardy, the protesting Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) and her little toddler niece (Judy Dunn) are forced to remain at the station to await the next eastbound stage.

Arriving at the station later in the day is a man who claims to be a deputy sheriff.  Believing him, Tom and Sam relax only to have the man pull his gun and announce that he is Zimmerman.  He then calls in his three henchmen, Gratz (George Tobias), Yancy (Dean Jagger), and Tevis (Jack Elam).  Zimmerman’s plan is to allow the westbound stage to pass uncontested that evening and to rob tomorrow’s eastbound coach, which is reportedly carrying a rich cargo of gold bullion. 

With the arrival of the outlaws, the stage is set (pun intended) for one of those basic hostage stories that we have all viewed and enjoyed down through the years, films such as YELLOW SKY (Fox, 1948), THE TALL T (Columbia, 1957), DAY OF THEOUTLAW (UA, 1959), HOMBRE (Fox, 1967), and at least a dozen others that could be listed.  Those are all excellent films and it is a supreme compliment to say that RAWHIDE holds its own against all of them.

And why not?  What transpires after the arrival of Zimmerman and company is a taut story written by a talented scriptwriter (Dudley Nichols; worked on thirteen scripts for John Ford), directed by a veteran director (Henry Hathaway), featuring two A-list stars and an excellent supporting cast, topped off by brilliant black-and-white photography by an artist (Milton Krasner) who took great advantage of the Alabama Hills topography. 

If you have seen the film then you know how it all turns out and if you haven’t then I shouldn’t tell you.  You should watch it and find out for yourself to see what happens – and I don’t believe you will be disappointed.


RAWHIDE was viewed by critics at the time as just another oater.  The Variety reviewer wrote, “Despite a strongly-told story…picture isn’t the proper vehicle for Power, who is wasted in part and comes off second best to a number of other players…Power is never permitted a chance as a hero.”  So, does Power always have to be the hero?  Is anybody this side of John Wayne expected to be always brave, courageous, and bold?  Sometimes the best acting occurs when actors are cast against type.

Power came from an acting family and he always resented the fact that he was celebrated more for his looks than his acting.  By all accounts, he relished his role in RAWHIDE because it was a change of pace from the swashbuckling costume dramas that had been his specialty.  In addition, he said he was thankful that he did not have a single costume change in the whole film (In fact, as far as I can tell, nobody did.).

And despite the view of the Variety reviewer, I would have to say that his character was heroic in the film.  He was an ordinary man who admitted that he was frightened and yet when the showdown arrived, as it inevitably would, he overcame his fear and rose to the occasion.  In the end, he did “what a man’s gotta do.”  Isn’t that how Westerns define a hero?

Power appeared in only a few Westerns, but he did have the good fortune to star in one classic, JESSE JAMES (Fox, 1939), in which he played the title role with Henry Fonda as brother Frank.  And while RAWHIDE, which receives better reviews today than it did at the time of its release, is never going to be considered a classic, it is a good representative of the many fine Westerns that were produced in the ‘50’s, the genre’s greatest decade.

Susan Hayward was known for her beauty, but unlike her co-star, was also recognized for her acting talent.  After being nominated for a best actress Oscar four times, she finally won the fifth time for her performance in I WANT TO LIVE (UA, 1958).

She also appeared in only a few Westerns.  The best of them was RAWHIDE and another excellent and underrated film, CANYON PASSAGE (Universal, 1946).  In RAWHIDE, she portrays a fiery, forceful, and resourceful female not usually found in the Western genre. 


Brian Garfield wrote a glowing review of RAWHIDE in his book Western Films: A Complete Guide.  However, the last line was surely the best review that one of the film’s actors ever received.  Garfield wrote, “[m]ost of all, however, it is Hugh Marlowe’s electrifying performance that makes it top-drawer.”

That’s not bad for a guy who came into the world as Hugh Herbert Hipple.  Therefore, he made at least one good move early in his career when he changed his name.  He was never a star but he did have some good supporting roles in a number of acclaimed films. 

He appeared in a number of TV Westerns, but like the two stars, he appeared in only a few on the big screen.  One of them was his role as Susan Hayward’s husband in GARDEN OF EVIL (Fox, 1954)The Western also starred Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark and was directed by Henry Hathaway.

An acting career that lasted fifty years was topped off by his role of the family patriarch on the TV soap opera, Another World, a role that he filled from 1969 until his death in 1982.  Although the New York Times failed to include Marlowe’s tenure in soap opera land in its obituary, it did say that he was survived by his brother G. Worthington Hipple.  I wonder what that G. stood for, but I digress.

Marlowe’s character had his hands full at Rawhide Pass.  He had to plan the hold-up, control the hostages, and keep his three henchmen in line – especially Tevis.  Tevis, as portrayed by Elam, was not only an outlaw; he was a depraved psychopath who could not be trusted to carry out orders.  Not only that, he had designs on the lady and they were not honorable.  And did he ever look the part in what turned out to be his breakthrough role.

The author of Elam’s obituary in The Guardian described him perfectly: “With his bony, stubbled face, beetle-brows looming over a dead left eye, and gravelly voice, he was the very embodiment of a skulking, no-account, two-bit varmint, and the relish with which he played his parts made every appearance, however fleeting, a pleasure.”

The dead eye was the result of a childhood accident that occurred in Boy Scout camp.  It was also the reason Elam became an actor.  He was told by doctors that he could lose sight in his good eye if he didn’t give up his current occupation as an accountant.  Jack was an accountant!

Far too early in the story, Elam kills off another great character actor, Edgar Buchanan.  Shot him, although he was unarmed, and in the back, of course, and enjoyed it.  Surely, Buchanan could have been kept around a little longer for the sake of some interesting interplay between him and Elam.  It reminds me of what happened in THE TALL T, when Henry Silva shot Arthur Hunnicutt.  True, Hunnicutt was reaching for a gun and Silva didn’t shoot him in the back, and perhaps it was necessary for plot’s sake to knock him off, but did it have to happen so early?

Movie audiences in the early ‘50’s must have been taken aback to see Elam dispatch Buchanan in such cold-blooded fashion, but today I have to admit that it doesn’t have quite the same effect that it must have had then.  Part of the reason is that in his later years it developed that Elam had the heart of a clown with a gift for self-parody, which he displayed with amusing effect in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (UA, 1969) and SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (UA, 1971).  Who knew that accountants could be scary and funny?

One other note: Edgar Buchanan was an ex-dentist.  In what other movie would you find an ex-accountant shooting an ex-dentist – in the back?

George Tobias is okay as the inarticulate lout, Gratz, and Dean Jagger noted for more sophisticated roles in BRIGHAM YOUNG (Fox, 1940), WESTERN UNION (Fox, 1941), and TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (Fox, 1949) is surprisingly good as the childlike Yancy.

Two other interesting character actors, James Millican and Louis Jean Heydt, have small roles in the film.  I will have much to say about them in a future post.

I have one quibble about what I think is otherwise an excellent film.  The off-screen narration by Gary Merrill at the beginning and the end about the jackass mail was totally out of place.  Moreover, so was the over-blown musical theme that backed him.  Both the narration and the music belonged in an epic film about the building of the transcontinental railroad or the stringing of the telegraph across the West and maybe even the jackass mail if that had been what the film was really all about.  But it wasn’t.  It was about what happened at one relay station and had nothing to do with the historical significance of the jackass mail.

The musical theme would have even been fitting in a film about pioneers headed westward, perhaps a film such as BRIGHAM YOUNG.  In fact, it was the theme for that film, a film directed by Hathaway, starring Tyrone Power, with Dean Jagger in the title role.  A decade later, It was recycled for RAWHIDE.

I am going to give Brian Garfield the final word on RAWHIDE:

The story follows predictable lines to an equally predictable shoot-out but the course it takes in getting there is crisp and gripping, thanks to good characterizations and fine black-and-white photography…and uniformly good acting plus an outstanding performance by Marlowe as the chief villain….”

Alabama Hills