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)

Friday, January 23, 2015

RANDOLPH SCOTT: Western Star, 1938-1945



 Randolph Scott: The Paramount Years, 1932-1938 can be read here.

Randolph Scott in one of his finest roles: WESTERN UNION (1941)

In the 1930's, Randolph Scott's movie career was given a huge boost when he was chosen by Paramount to star in a series of Westerns based on the stories of Zane Grey.  When his contract with that studio ended in 1938, he made a wise decision when he decided to sign a non-exclusive contract with Darryl Zanuck and 20th Century-Fox.
His first film for Zanuck was a co-starring role with Shirley Temple in REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM (Fox, 1938), directed by Allan Dwan. Little Miss Temple, nearing the advanced age of ten, received top billing, as she did the following year when the two were paired in SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES (Fox). 

Five years earlier, she had made her film debut in an uncredited extra role in TO THE LAST MAN (Paramount, 1933), which had featured Scott in the lead role.
Overall, 1939 was an excellent year for the actor. He supported Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, and Nancy Kelly in Henry King's classic outlaw biography whitewash, JESSE JAMES (Fox). The hugely entertaining film enjoyed only a glancing resemblance to historical truth, and that included Scott's role as a fictional lawman who befriends the James brothers. However, his future prospects were greatly improved due to the big business that the film enjoyed at the boxoffice.

In many respects, Scott's most important role of the year was as Wyatt Earp in FRONTIER MARSHAL (Fox), which also featured Nancy Kelly, Binnie Barnes, and John Carradine. Allan Dwan was again the director.  He had begun directing Western films as early as 1911. FRONTIER MARSHAL, however, was his first sound Western.
Sam Hellman wrote the screenplay, which was adapted from Stuart N. Lake's book, Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal, purportedly a biography, but one that contains as much fiction as fact. Lake and Fox got a lot of mileage out of that book. In addition to the 1939 film, Fox had earlier used it as the source material for FRONTIER MARSHAL (Fox, 1934, starring George O'Brien). 
In 1946, the studio filmed the most famous version, that being John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, starring Henry Fonda. The film's script not only utilized Lake's book as source material, it also adapted Hellman's screenplay from the 1939 film. Oddly enough, Ward Bond had a role in all three films, though he portrayed a different character in each one.
In 1953, Fox filmed the fourth version of the story based on Lake's book and and the third utilizing Hellman's screenplay. It was POWDER RIVER, starring Rory Calhoun and Cameron Mitchell.
But it didn't end there. Lake served as a consultant for the long-running TV series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O'Brian. At least the producers of the series demonstrated a degree of integrity by including the word legend in the title of the series.
FRONTIER MARSHAL was the type of entertaining, fast-paced, and unpretentious medium-budget Western that eventually became synonomous with the actor.  Although the film suffered from competition provided by a host of blockbuster Westerns released in the same year, it held its own and was as entertaining and  as satisfying as any of them.
In 1940-41, Scott appeared in two big-budget, deluxe epic Westerns when he supported Errol Flynn in VIRGINIA CITY (WB, 1940) and Robert Young and Dean Jagger in WESTERN UNION (Fox, 1941).
Unfortunately, VIRGINIA CITY was a flawed production.  It was made by Warner Brothers, and that studio, though proficient in the filming of crime dramas, never learned the art of filming Westerns; and director Michael Curtiz was in a similar predicament -- he too never understood the mythology of the West.  In later years, some of Scott's weakest films were produced by the studio.  The later good Westerns released by the studio -- some starring Scott -- were filmed by independent production units and distributed by Warner Brothers.  Oddly, the studio dominated the production of TV Westerns and produced some rather good ones.

Scott and Flynn

Bogie as Mexican bandido??!!
The cast in support of Flynn was superb.  In addition to Scott, it featured Miram Hopkins, Humphrey Bogart (but unfortunately miscast), Alan Hale, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Douglas Dumbrille, Paul Fix, Ward Bond, and Lane Chandler.  However, it was defeated by Curtiz's direction and Robert Buckner's weak script.  This was particularly true of Bogart who was miscast (and knew it) as a sneering Mexican bandit.  Through no fault of his own, for he should not have been in the film, he was pathetic.
One would think the studio would have learned its lesson from the previous year when it miscast Bogart and James Cagney as unconvincing westerners in THE OKLAHOMA KID (but it was a profitable film, which explains Bogart's presence in VIRGINIA CITY.)
One wonders how the project was ever completed since the relationship between Flynn and Curtiz was always uneasy at best, and neither Hopkins, notoriously difficult to direct, nor Bogart had any faith in the film or the director. 
Despite superb second-unit stuntwork by the immortal Yakima Canutt, VIRGINIA CITY is turgid, ponderous, and confused.
Turgid, Ponderous, and Confused
 WESTERN UNION, however, represents what is one of Scott's finest screen performances, and perhaps his best before RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (MGM, 1962).  The plot, based on a Zane Grey story, deals with the establishment of the first telegraph line across the West, despite the efforts of villains and hostile Indians to prevent its completion.  There is a romantic triangle that finds the heroine (Virginia Gilmore) torn between the heroic eastern tenderfoot (Robert Young) and the equally heroic Western good-badman (Scott).
WESTERN UNION might be the best of the epic Westerns of its time -- and one of the best of all time.  Scott, supposedly in a supporting role to star Young, steals the picture in the William S. Hart type role.  In addition to Scott, Young, and Gilmore, the cast includes Dean Jagger, Barton MacLane, Slim Summerville, Chill Wills, and John Carradine.  The film was enhanced by Edward Cronjager's glorious Technicolor photography. 
 Fritz Lang was not known for directing Westerns, but this one is the best of the three that he did direct.
The real star of this film is Randolph Scott -- not Robert Young
 In the same years as the previous two pictures, Scott starred in two outlaw biopics: WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (Universal, 1940), directed by George Marshall and featuring Kay Francis, Brian Donlevy, George Bancroft, Broderick Crawford, Andy Devine, Stuart Erwin, Frank Albertson, and Edgar Buchanan; and BELLE STARR (Fox, 1941), with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Chill Wills, and Louise Beavers, directed by Irving Cummings, and co-written by Lamar Trotti, Niven Busch, and Cameron Rogers.
Despite the overall quality of the two films each suffered a drawback.  It was difficult to accept the beautiful Miss Tierney in the role of the outlaw queen who in reality was fleshy, big-boned, and homely.

Gene Tierney as Belle Starr

Belle Starr as Belle Starr
 The film is also a complete whitewash of the life and times of the so-called "Bandit Queen."  Scott is Sam Starr, an ex-Confederate guerilla who becomes an outlaw in postwar Missouri.  He and Belle fall in love and marry.   Belle attempts to get Sam to go straight, which he does, but only after Belle is killed by Jasper Tench (Olin Howland), a horse thief who harbors a grievance against her.
In the real world, Sam Starr was Belle's Cherokee husband.  The two served time for horse theft and engaged in a series of petty crimes -- not in Missouri, but in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma).  Sam was killed in a shoot-out at a dance and Belle was shot and killed by a neighbor who harbored a grievance against her. Oh, well.
Although all the Daltons were killed in the Scott film in their attempt to simultaneously rob two Coffeyville, Kansas (their hometown) banks in broad daylight, all one had to do was read the credits to conclude that one of the Daltons must have survived.  The screenplay was based on the autobiography of Emmett Dalton, who, though badly wounded, did not perish in the robbery attempt.
Of course, most viewers did not detect the incongruity and wouldn't have much cared if they had.  Western fans have never allowed distorted history to interfere with their enjoyment of a good Western.
The fictionalized plot features Crawford, Donlevy, Erwin, and Albertson as the Dalton brothers who are forced into a life of crime when a land coporation in cahoots with the railroad attempts to steal their farm.  Scott is the sympathetic lawyer and family friend who attempts to assist them in their efforts to go straight and maintain possession of their land.
The truth is, Scott didn't have much to do in this film.  Its primary assest was action, a stuntman's picture -- but Scott's character was involved in practically none of that action.  Although he was listed well down in the cast, the real star was Broderick Crawford, who portrayed Bob, the leader of the Dalton clan, and had much more onscreen time than Scott. (You can read my review of the film here.)
The real star of this film is Broderick Crawford -- not Randolph Scott
In between Westerns in these years, Scott found time to appear in one major non-Western production.  He supported his personal friend Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940). 
By 1942, the dominance of deluxe Westerns was beginning to wane.  THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (WB) was the only Western in that budgetary category to be released that year, and it was released in January.  Instead studios began to concentrate on less ambitious A-Westerns, many of which could be classified as "A-minus" or "B-plus Westerns" in order to differentiate them from the big-budget A's and low-budget B's.
In the long run, this trend toward medium-budget Westerns exerted the single greatest impact on Scott's career.  But first he starred with Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne in a pair of films.  THE SPOILERS (Universal, 1942, directed by Ray Enright) could be classified as a non-Western since it is set in the gold rush in Nome, Alaska.  However, it has the look and feel of a Western and I tend to think of it as such.  PITTSBURGH (Universal, 1942), on the other hand is a non-Western.  These two, by the way, represent the only times that Scott and Wayne appeared together in a film.
 The Spoilers 1942 Poster.jpg 
 THE SPOILERS, filmed five times, is known primarily for its rousing display of fisticuffs between Scott, the crooked gold commissioner, and Wayne, the wronged miner.  The supporting cast was outstanding.  It was headed by Harry Carey (as Wayne's crusty partner), Richard Barthelmess (in his final screen appearance), and William Farnum.  Farnum, by the way, had starred in the original (1914) silent version and had served as technical advisor on the 1930  version that starred Gary Cooper.
As for that brawl with Wayne, Scott would later engage in other brutal fistfights, most notably with Forrest Tucker and John Russell.  But more about that later.
Scott, who was already in his forties when the U.S. entered WWII, did not serve in the military, but did fight the war on the screen.  In 1942, in addition to the films discussed above, Scott co-starred with John Payne and Maureen O'Hara in a war movie, TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI (directed by H. Bruce Humberstone). The following year he starred in three more war films: CORVETTE K-225 (first-rate), GUNG-HO! (directed by Ray Enright, it went a bit overboard in its nationalistic jingoism), and BOMBARDIER (the best of the three).
1943 also found Scott back in the saddle starring in a good medium-budget Western.  THE DESPERADOES (Columbia, with Glenn Ford, Claire Trevor, and Evelyn Keyes, plus character support from good ol' Edgar Buchanan, good ol' 'Big Boy' Williams, and Porter Hall).
Based on a Max Brand story, the plot is about a bandit (Ford) going straight and joining forces with a marshal (Scott) to clean up a town and defeat the villain (Buhanan).  Charles Vidor was the director and Harry Joe Brown was the producer.  It is notable for being Columbia's first color production.
Apparently, Dietrich wasn't available

After starring in the musical (gasp!) Western BELLE OF THE YUKON (RKO, 1944, featuring Gypsy Rose Lee and Dinah Shore), CHINA SKY (1945, directed by Ray Enright, and featuring Ellen Drew and Anthony Quinn in support) and supporting Charles Laughton CAPTAIN KIDD (1945), Scott reached a major turning point in his career.
It occurred in 1946 when he starred in two more medium-budget Westerns -- Edwin L. Marin's ABILENE TOWN (UA) and Tim Whelan's BADMAN'S TERRITORY (RKO).  After these two, Scott with only three exceptions, devoted his remaining career to Westerns.  The exceptions are HOME SWEET HOME HOMICIDE (1946), CHRISTMAS EVE (1947, directed by Edwin Marin), and a cameo appearance in a Warner Brothers musical, STARLIFT (1951).
Significantly, the Westerns he starred in during the remainder of his career were in the medium-budget category.  The best was yet to come in the career of the aristocratic southern gentleman.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

RANDOLPH SCOTT: The Paramount Years, 1932-1938

Even knowing Randolph Scott was one of the highlights of my career...There has never been such a complete gentleman in the long history of the motion picture business ... Randy was also the most unselfish star I have ever met. 

-- Budd Boetticher in the foreword of Last of the Cowboy Heroes by Robert Nott

THE VIRGINIAN (Paramount, 1929), one of the first sound Westerns, was a significant one for several reasons: 1) it starred young Gary Cooper who was developing into one of the best actors in the business; 2) it featured an able supporting cast headed by the consummate actor Walter Huston (his film debut) and Richard Arlen; 3) the story was based on a famous novel by Owen Wister; and 4) it was directed by Victor Fleming, with assistance from Henry Hathaway. In 1939, Fleming would direct GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM) and Hathaway later became one of the more famous directors of Western films.

But one of the more significant aspects of the film is not readily apparent. A young native Virginian, attempting to break into movies, was hired by the producer to serve as voice coach for Cooper.  He also appeared in the film as an unbilled extra.  It was Randolph Scott's first Western role.  He and Hathaway would ride the same trail many times in the next few years.

He was born George Randolph Scott in 1898 (or 1903; dates vary) in Orange County, Virginia, but grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. His father was a textile executive and his mother was a member of a wealthy North Carolina family. Both parents were direct descendants of Virginia settlers.

He studied the textile business at Georgia Institute of Technology (later Georgia Tech) but sustained an injury while playing football. He then transferred to the University of North Carolina where he graduated with a degree in textiles and manufacturing.

The textile business held little or no interest for Scott and as he approached age thirty, he headed west to California, armed with a letter of introduction from his father to a slight acquaintance who was dabbling in the movie business, a fellow by the name of Howard Hughes. With Hughes' aid Scott landed several bit parts as an extra, all uncredited, but was finally cast as the male lead in WOMEN MEN MARRY (1931).

He then signed a seven-year contract with Paramount.  At first the studio didn't quite know how to utilize the actor after signing him.  After all, it had Gary Cooper for Westerns, Cary Grant for romantic leads, and Buster Crabbe for "B" features.

Reportedly, author Will James wanted Scott to star in his autobiography, which was to be filmed by Paramount.  Unfortunately for Scott, since the story would have provided him with an ideal vehicle, the deal fell through.

Finally, Paramount gave him a starring role, the first of many, many starring roles in Western films.  It was HERITAGE OF THE DESERT (1932), with a script adapted from the Zane Grey novel. Henry Hathaway made his directorial debut on the film. 

From 1932 to 1935, Scott starred in ten Paramount Westerns based on Grey's novels .  The first six were directed by Hathaway, the first of several accomplished directors to associate themselves with Scott during his career.

These Paramount films were not A-Westerns, nor medium-budget Westerns (what could be labelled A minus or B plus Westerns), but B-Westerns that looked more expensive than they were.  The illusion was created by the studio's practice of intercutting footage, panoramic vistas, and some non-action long shots from its Jack Holt silent series that had been filmed at much greater expense. Consequently, Scott and the other actors wore costumes and rode horses that matched the stock footage and, whenever possible, actors from the silent series were cast in the same roles in the Scott films.

Other studios often used stock footage as well. For example, Warner Brothers spliced silent footage from their Ken Maynard films into their John Wayne and Dick Foran series that were produced during the '30's.  But no studio ever utilized stock footage to the degree that Paramount did in the Scott films.

HERITAGE OF THE DESERT, despite its melodramatic plot (after all, it was a Zane Grey story), proved to critics that Scott was a natural actor who could deliver the goods in the Western genre, and that his future was a bright one.  The supporting cast included Sally Blane (sister of Loretta Young) as the heroine, David Landau as the chief villain, as well as Guinn "Big Boy" Williams and J. Farrell MacDonald.  

WILD HORSE MESA (1932) is one of the better entries in the series.  Scott again filled the lead role that belonged to Jack Holt in the studio's silent version.


Fred Kohler was cast as the villain, a dastardly individual who trapped wild horses by using barbed wire, a role that had belonged to Noah Beery in the silent version.  Sally Blane was again the leading lady.  Hathaway as usual utilized silent footage for the action sequences and emphasized characterization and character relationships in the new footage.

MAN OF THE FOREST (1933) was a superior entry, if for no other reason than its stellar cast that included Harry Carey, Buster Crabbe, Verna Hillie, Big Boy Williams, and, as the villain, Noah Beery.

If one were forced to choose the best of the series, it might be TO THE LAST MAN (1933).

Directed by Hathaway, the film was adapted from one of Grey's better novels. The story was based on the historic Tonto Basin, Arizona range war of 1887, a conflict involving cattlemen and sheepmen. Appearing in an uncredited role was little Miss Shirley Temple, making her film debut at age four.

While starring in the Zane Grey series, Scott was also appearing in non-Westerns, but not in any that served to advance his career.  He even found himself cast in two Astaire-Rogers musicals.

His most prestigous role during this period was in King Vidor's SO RED THE ROSE (Paramount, 1935).  Although Scott received some favorable critical notices, the film, with a plot similar to the later GONE WITH THE WIND, did not.  It not only failed artistically, but also financially, leading one studio executive to dub it SO RED THE INK!

By 1935, Scott had completed the Zane Grey series with ROCKY MOUNTAIN MYSTERY.  The following year he received his initial starring role in an A-Western, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, while on loan-out to United Artists.  Directed by George B. Seitz, it is one of the best of many screen versions of the James Fenimore Cooper novel -- which is hardly worth boasting about since most of them have not been good.  That is to be expected, I suppose, since Cooper was not a very good writer. 

Scott is the white hunter Hawkeye and Robert Barrat is his faithful Indian companion, Chingachgook.  Also in the cast is Binnie Barnes, Heather Angel, and Bruce Cabot.

In 1938, after appearing in several more Paramount features, Scott completed his contract with the studio by starring in James Hogan's THE TEXANS, his second starring role in an A-Western.  The remake of NORTH OF '36, based on Emerson Hough's novel about post-Civil War Texas, was not a successful effort.  An epic about the opening of the Chisholm Trail, the origins of the Ku Klux Klan, and the transcontinental railroad should be anything but dull -- but this one was.

Despite an excellent cast headed by Joan Bennett and Scott, with support from May Robson, Walter Brennan, Robert Cummings, and Raymond Hatton, the film clumsily failed as a result of having its continuity disjointed by an even greater reliance on stock footage from the Jack Holt silent version than had been true in the Zane Grey series.

Scott's career, however, was about to receive a big boost.  He reached an important decision when he signed a non-exclusive contract with Darryl Zanuck and 20th Century Fox.  As a result, he would be cast in several deluxe Westerns during the late '30's and early '40's.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (Universal, 1940)

DIRECTOR: George Marshall; WRITERS: screenplay by Harold Shumate based on book, When the Daltons Rode by Emmett Dalton; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hal Mohr

STUNTS: Yakima Canutt (archival footage), Cliff Lyons (archival footage), Eddie Parker, Bob Reeves, Duke York

CAST: Randolph Scott, Kay Francis, Brian Donlevy, George Bancroft, Broderick Crawford, Stuart Erwin, Andy Devine, Frank Albertson, Mary Gordon, Harvey Stephens, Edgar Dearing, Sally Payne, Edgar Buchanan, Al Bridge, Bob Kortman, Ethan Laidlaw, Tom London, Eddie Parker

The Dalton Clan: (back row L-R: Bob (Broderick Crawford; Emmett (Frank Albertson); Ben (Stuart Erwin); Grat (Brian Donlevy).  Seated in the front is Ma Dalton (Mary Gordon)


The above is part of the prologue that appears on the screen right after the credits.  It serves as a warning: You are not going to learn the truth about the Dalton brothers by viewing this film.  You are not going to because "to a large extent" the story is based on"the tales that the old settlers still tell of them -- woven together with strands of fiction."  The implication is that the tales told by the old settlers are fact, but in reality those tales are just as likely to be as fictitious as those "strands of fiction" that were woven together with them.  And were the Daltons really "so incredible ... that no man can say where fact ends and fancy begins"?

Well, of course, movies are under no obligation to render exact history and no one should go to a movie for a history lesson, and that goes double for WHEN THE DALTONS RODE.  But it was, and is, possible to "say where fact ends and fancy begins."  Fact ended right after the credits rolled and fancy began with the prologue and did not end until about here:

But there's more.  In the climatic shootout, all three Daltons -- Bob, Grat, and Emmett -- die in a blizzard of bullets fired by the local citizenry. 

Then how to explain this?


If Emmett perished in the failed holdup, how did he write the book that the film is based on?  Well, he didn't die.  He could have, because his body was riddled with bullets, but he did survive, and he did write the book.  That doesn't mean that we can totally trust his version of the events, but they would seem to be more reliable than screenwriter Shumate's version.

There are a number of things about the casting that don't add up.  To begin with, I don't know why Randolph Scott is even in this film, but he is.  He doesn't have much to do and despite the fact that his name is at the top of the credits he is not the star.

In the previous year in JESSE JAMES, he is a lawman who befriends Jesse and his brother Frank, portrayed by Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda, respectively.  In that film, however, Scott is listed fourth in the credits, as he should be.  In the Daltons film, he is an old family friend and a lawyer who defends the brothers and falls in love with the leading lady, but pretty much stays out of the way.

Even though he is miscast, the real star of the film is Broderick Crawford.  I could never completely accept him in a Western, but in his role as Bob Dalton, the leader of the gang, he does have the most important part in the film.  So, where does his name appear in the credits?  How about fifth. 

Bob Dalton (Broderick Crawford) slugs the town marshal.  Lawyer Tod Jackson (Randolph Scott) is a bystander, as he is for much of the film. 

Listed fourth in the opening cast credits is George Bancroft.  He was a well-known name who had given a memorable performance the previous year in John Ford's classic Western, STAGECOACH, in which he portrayed Curley Wilcox, a lawman whose tough exterior hides a tender heart.

In the Daltons film, he is on the other side of the law.  He is a banker who is in cahoots with a land corporation that is stealing the land of the Daltons and other settlers in order to sell it to the railroad for its right away.  However, despite being the boss villain and being billed fourth, he is hardly onscreen at all. 

Listed third in the credits is Brian Donlevy, who portrays brother Grat.  Donlevy is another of those actors who were often cast in Westerns, but shouldn't have been.  Like Crawford, he was never quite believable as a westerner.  But he was better known than Crawford and therefore was billed ahead of him.

He was in two 1939 classic Westerns.  In JESSE JAMES, he portrays a railroad tough who is responsible for the death of the James brothers' mother (not really; she outlived Jesse by three decades and died only four years before Frank).  As a result, Jesse dispatches Donlevy early in the film.

His other Western role that year was in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, directed by George Marshall.  In that one, he is a saloon owner and, therefore it goes without saying, is the chief villain.

Then there is Edgar Buchanan. Supposedly, Andy Devine, who portrays a fictititious character named Ozark, a friend of the Daltons who becomes a member of their gang, supplied the comedy in this film.    

It never mattered if Andy was in an important film like STAGECOACH, which he was, or if he was portraying Roy Rogers' sidekick, Cookie Bullfincher, or Wild Bill's deputy, Jingles P. Jones, he always played the same character.  Thus, it is that character that we see in WHEN THE DALTONS RODE.  I'm afraid that I find his character to be more irritating than humorous.

It has been written that Andy Devine's role as the stage driver in STAGECOACH was partly due to his ability to handle a 6-horse hitch.  Maybe that explain why he was cast in the role of Ozark.

Now back to Edgar Buchanan.  Even though he was only in his late thirties at the time, he portrays an old-timer who adds a light touch to the film.  And even though his scenes bookend the film in a pleasant fashion, he isn't even listed in the credits.  Surely, that was an oversight.  A year later, however, Buchanan was given his first major role.  The film was TEXAS (1941), also directed by George Marshall.  In fact, he would become one of Marshall's favorite actors and, as we shall later see, he was cast in several of the director's Westerns. 

Kay Francis was a native of Oklahoma, which is the setting for part of the film.  She appeared in her first film in 1929.  By the mid-30's, while under contract to Warner Brothers, she became the highest paid actress in the business.  But before the decade ended, and after being divorced from her fifth husband, the studio did not extend her contract.  And that is how she ended up in this film, her only Western.

WHEN THE DALTONS RODE did nothing to advance her career and by the mid-40's, she found herself working on Poverty Row at Monogram.  She made three films there, in which she was both star and producer.  The last was released in 1946 and it was her last film. 

Now we get to the good stuff. It is probably hard to tell up to this point, but I like this film. To enjoy it, one just needs to forget about history and think of the Daltons as being fictitious characters and set back and enjoy the action. The real stars are the stuntmen who make this little production one of those films that put motion in motion pictures.

The list of stuntmen is a who's who of stunting: Yakima Canutt, Cliff Lyons, Eddie Parker, Bob Reeves, and Duke York.  According to the IMDb website, Canutt and Lyons are in the film by way of archival footage, but they are in it, and that's good enough.

Most of the stunts are performed by Broderick Crawford's doubles, which reinforces the fact that he was the real star of the film -- along with the stuntmen.

We see the famous Yakima Canutt stagecoach stunt (could be stock footage from another feature), which is supposed to be Bob Dalton (Crawford). 



Bob leaps from rocks onto a stage: 

All five gang members attempt to use a stagecoach to outrun a posse.  Since the coach is too slow, four jump onto the coach horses, cutting them loose and using them as mounts.  Bob then rides back and picks up Ozark (Devine) who is driving the coach.

Even after they are cut loose from the stage, the horses are incapable of outrunning the well-mounted posse.  Luckily, the outlaws hear an approaching train.  All five jump from overhanging rocks onto the top of the train.

The most famous stunt in the film is this one:

After the gang leaps from the rocks onto the top of the train, they move inside and rob the passengers and the express car, even though there is a boxcar full of lawmen guarding the train.  The outlaws make their getaway by jumping the lawmen's horses off the moving train.
Due to the danger to the horses, this is apparently the only time this stunt was ever staged.
Naturally, Bob is the last to jump from the train.  And because of that, he is forced to jump over a cliff into a lake.  (This very much appears to be archival footage. The year before, Cliff Lyons jumped a horse off a cliff into a lake during the filming of JESSE JAMES. Lyons survived but the horse was killed. This scene is not from that film and it doesn't appear to be the portly Mr. Lyons either. But I'm not sure who it was or from what movie it first appeared in. Nevertheless, it is spectacular.)

The Daltons met their Waterloo when they attempted to rob two banks -- simultaneously -- in broad daylight -- in their hometown.  In the film, it is Grat's idea, but in reality Bob was the mastermind.  It has been written that he wanted to outdo the James boys.
The name of the town is never mentioned in the movie, but it was Coffeyville, located in southeastern Kansas a few miles from the Oklahoma border.
The three brothers, along with two other gang members, rode into the town on a day when there were many people on the street.  In an effort to disguise themselves they wore fake beards -- that fooled nobody.  In a town in which they were well-known, they were easily identified by people on the streets.
This is a depiction by local artist Paul Sprague of the Daltons raid on Coffeyville in 1892
Bob and Emmett entered the First National Bank while Grat and the other two gang members entered the C. W. Condon and Co. Bank across the plaza.
Everything went awry for the gang.  As they left the two banks, they were fired at from all directions by the town marshal and other townsmen who had been able to acquire weapons, many of them from a local hardware store located next door to the First National Bank.  
As the outlaws attempted to reach their horses in an alley where they had left them, four of them, including Bob and Grat, were killed.  Twenty-one year old Emmett, despite what occurs on the screen, and despite being wounded many, many times, was the only survivor.
Four townsmen, including the marshal, were also killed.
Emmett was later tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.  He was pardoned in 1907.  He wrote two books: Beyond the Law (1918) and When the Daltons Rode (1931).  He died in 1937, three years before the film based on the book was released.
Well, at least all is well that ends well for some folks in Coffeyville:
Edgar Buchanan, Kay Francis, and Randolph Scott in the closing scenes of WHEN THE DALTONS RODE
Director George Marshall, star Marlene Dietrich, and producer Joe Pasternak on the set of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939)
George Marshall entered films in 1912 as an actor.  In 1917, he made his directing debut.  In the silent era, he often directed Westerns including films starring the likes of Tom Mix, Harry Carey, and Jack Hoxie.
In the sound era, he specialized in Westerns that often poked gentle fun at the genre.  He is best known for DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart, with Brian Donlevy in a supporting role. 
After WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (1940), he directed TEXAS (1941), starring William Holden, Glen Ford, and Claire Trevor, with George Bancroft and Edgar Buchanan in support.  In 1954, he made DESTRY, starring Audie Murphy, a remake of the Dietrich-Stewart film.  Edgar Buchanan appears as the mayor. One of his most enjoyable Westerns is THE SHEEPMAN, starring Glen Ford and Shirley MacLaine.  Good old Edgar Buchanan is in that one, too.
Bosley Crowther in a review of WHEN THE DALTONS RODE in the New York Times wrote that "of one thing you may be sure: Universal will never make a sequel to 'When the Daltons Rode.' No, sir, friends, you'll never see a 'Return of Bob Dalton,' for instance, or 'The Daltons Ride Again' .... For the climax of this titanic Western ...  results in such wholesale tribal slaughter, such a complete patrilineal blackout of the clan, that 'When the Daltons Rode' is decisively the last of the Daltons. The Dalton gang is no more."
Five years later, Universal released THE DALTONS RIDE AGAIN.  You can look it up. It seems that old outlaws never die, they are just recycled.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A CHILDHOOD: The Biography of a Place by Harry Crews

When Harry Crews died in 2012, Elaine Woo in the Los Angeles Times wrote, [t]he word ‘original’ only begins to describe Crews, whose 17 novels place him squarely in the Southern gothic tradition, also known as Grit Lit. He emerged from a grisly childhood in Georgia with a darkly comic vision that made him literary kin to William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Hunter S. Thompson, although he never achieved their broad recognition.

In 1968, he began a long tenure on the University of Florida faculty. Woo writes that during his three decades there, he swore, drank and generally fractured the academic mold. With piercing blue eyes set deep in his craggy face, a limp caused by one or another violent encounter, a wardrobe that ran to sleeveless T-shirts and denims, and an assortment of tattoos (including one of a skull with a line from ee cummings, how do you like your blue-eyed boy/Mister Death’), he looked like the type of person one would cross the street to avoid meeting.

I have read most of his novels and though I have to admit that they are not among my favorites, I will always have vivid memories of each of them, for they are impossible to forget. How could I forget a story about a man who sets out to eat an entire car, a Ford Maverick, piece-by-piece (Car, 1972), or a man who makes a living by knocking himself out (The Knockout Artist, 1988)?

His books never made the best-seller lists and that was because, as one critic wrote, in part because they bewildered some readers and repelled others.  But he did develop a cult following, a huge, loyal one.

Maud Newton wrote:
A Childhood, his autobiography, is by most critics' reckoning, his best work.  A Feast of Snakes, a novel about a rattlesnake revival, comes close, exposing the hypocrisy and strange allure of Pentecostalism with an intensity matched only by Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain.

His novels are a bit too bizarre for some readers, but that shouldn't cause them to shy away from A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, which is a straight forward account of the first six years of his life, and is just as memorable as his novels, and will always be one of my favorites.

The son of agricultural sharecroppers, he grew up in extreme poverty in south Georgia during the '30s and '40s. In 1937, when Crews was a small boy, his father died as the result of a heart attack. His description of what happened the night after his father was buried is one of the most devastating descriptions of grinding poverty that I have ever read:

The night after the day daddy was buried, somebody went in the smokehouse and stole all the meat that had been cured and hung there before he died .... Mama knows who got the meat, not because she has any hard proof, but because in her heart she knows, and I know too, but the one who got it is himself lying in the same graveyard daddy's in and I see no reason to name him.

He was one of my daddy's friends. I do not say he was supposedly or apparently a friend. He was a friend, and a close one, but he stole the meat anyway. Not many people may be able to understand that or sympathize with it, but I think I do. It was a hard time in that land, and a lot of men did things for which they were ashamed and suffered for the rest of their lives. But they did them because of hunger and sickness and because they could not bear the sorry spectacle of their children dying from lack of a doctor and their wives growing old before they were thirty.

arry Crews life proved at least one thing: It is possible to overcome what appear to be the insurmountable odds of one’s childhood. How many people could have survived paralysis and a full body hot water scalding before age six?  However, it should be added that only a few people – a mighty few – could have surmounted the odds he faced. But not only did he have to survive a harrowing childhood, he also had to survive an adulthood that would have finished off anyone who was not blessed with his iron will and intestinal fortitude.