Monday, September 1, 2014
LIFETIME WESTERN ‘DELIVERANCE CREEK’ REVIEW, PLUS ‘6 BULLETS TO HELL’ TRAILER, ALMERIA FEST LINE-UP AND MORE!
DELIVERANCE CREEK – A TV Movie Review
Wes Ramsey & Lauren Ambrose
If you’re looking for a gritty, original, suspenseful Western with a taste of revenge, The Lifetime Channel would probably not be your first stop. Nor would best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, of A WALK TO REMEMBER, NIGHTS IN RODANTHE and THE NOTEBOOK, be your first guess to produce such a film. But DELIVERANCE CREEK is the first movie from Sparks’ new production company, it is on Lifetime, and it’s a very satisfying Western. I should say it’s satisfying, but it does leave you wanting more, which is fortunate, since it’s a back-door pilot that may yet go to series.
Set in the South, two years into the Civil War, it focuses on Belle Gatlin Barlow (crimson-tressed Lauren Ambrose), a mother of three small children, who suspects she’s a widow – her husband is off in the Confederate Army, and it’s been troublingly long since she’s heard from him. This is a homefront movie, a familiar idea for the Second World War, but unusual for the War Between the States. With the strong men off fighting the war, the males left at home are physically feeble or morally gutless or self-centered and opportunistic. Strong women are mostly in charge, whether it’s Belle, the banker (Catherine Willis) who holds the note on Belle’s farm, Belle’s quietly abolitionist sister (Caitlin Custer), or the nearby house-slave (Yaani King) who’s staying behind when she sets her husband and children on the Underground Railroad.
Things are desperate enough for Belle, trying to keep her romance with the local lawman (Wes Ramsey) from becoming public knowledge, and fending off the advances and deprivations of her banker’s husband (Barry Tubb), when who wanders back to her farm but her brother Jasper (Christopher Backus) and his men. They’re fresh from the war, fighting for guerilla leader and sociopath Bloody Bill Anderson, and eager to hide out at the ranch while they plan the robbery of a Union payroll.
Caitlin Custer and Skeet Ulrich
Desperate times drive people to desperate actions, and between foreclosing money-lenders, runaway slaves, Yankee soldiers and Confederate guerrillas, it’s no surprise that innocents die, and Belle straps on a gun. The chilling and bloody opening informs the viewer this isn’t what you think of as a TV-movie Western. There is a sensible but startling amount of shooting and hanging and whipping, and accidents by people well-meaning but too-quick-to-fire. The plot develops not mechanically, but often because people you’ve grown to like make stupid but believable and fatal judgments. There is ample tragedy as well as hope. Writer Melissa Carter is better known for her romantic comedies like LITTLE BLACK BOOK and JANE BY DESIGN, but she handles drama and suspense well. Jon Amiel, director of the groundbreaking BBC series THE SINGING DETECTIVE has recently been helming THE BORGIAS, and has proved his skill in both action and comedy with films as diverse as COPYCAT, ENTRAPMENT and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE. He handles the drama and action skillfully.
The sense of history is strong, in a story that could have become BAD GIRLS 2 if the filmmakers weren’t careful. The performances are persuasive, and Lauren Ambrose, who must carry the story, is likable even as we worry that she’s too damned feisty for her own good. The relationships are believable, both the affection and hostility convincing. The women are cast well, as are many of the men. In particular Christopher Backus, who previously starred in the Western YELLOW ROCK, has a great look for the period. The art direction, and particularly the costume design by Kari Perkins, who previously dressed the Western LEGEND OF HELLSGATE, is excellent. My only caution would be that some of the men’s faces seem too clean, too unlined for the lives they are supposed to have led. Some lines and scars and dirt would be a welcome addition. Boy, do I hope this one gets picked up as a series! DELIVERANCE CREEK premieres on the Lifetime Channel on Saturday, September 13th at 8 p.m.
‘6 BULLETS TO HELL’ TRAILER!
Here’s the first trailer to the much-anticipated new Spaghetti Western shot in Spain and cut in Texas (if you missed my recent coverage on this one, go HERE ) . ‘SIX BULLETS TO HELL’ will premiere this month at the Almeria Western International Film Festival – see the next story for details.
ALMERIA WESTERN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SEPT. 11-13
Despite distractions, interruptions, and the hijacking of the festival by the Mayor of Tabernas, Spain, the Almeria Western International Film Festival is going ahead, with a line-up of films that includes the premiere of 6 BULLETS TO HELL, DEAD IN TOMBSTONE, LA FLOR DE LIS, THE VIRGINIAN, PREY FOR DEATH, THE RETRIEVAL, FORAJIDOS DE LA PADAGONIA, and EXIT HUMANITY. To see trailers for these films, and learn more, visit their website HERE to learn more!
MYSTERY PHOTO – THE SOLUTION!
Last week I posted a signed photo my daughter had picked up for me, featuring Henry Fonda and an unidentified actor. (If you missed that exciting post, go HERE ) It was signed, but not by Fonda. It was signed by ‘Jack’ to ‘Chalky’. The big mystery was, who was the Jack in the picture, and who was Chalky who was given it? The solution, not surprisingly, came from Michael F. Blake. The son of character actor Larry J. Blake (who has the first line of dialogue in HIGH NOON), Michael is an accomplished film historian and author of HOLLYWOOD AND THE O.K. CORRAL, CODE OF HONOR – THE MAKING OF THREE GREAT AMERICAN WESTERNS, and three books about Lon Chaney. He’s also a busy film make-up artist, working recently on THE LONE RANGER and LINCOLN. He and I also are both interviewees in TCM’s Western Fanatics short (you don’t know about that one? Check it out below!)
Mike emailed me, “Henry, the photo is definitely not from MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. My gut says THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES. As far as Chalky, to my eye he looks a lot like Chalky Williams, who was a bit player/extra in many, many films & TV shows. He lived across the street from me in the mid-1960s on Hollyglen Place in Studio City. I never knew or heard of another guy named Chalky, nor did my dad ever mention another person with that name.” So, if it’s Chalky Williams in the picture, then Jack is presumably the guy who took the picture of Fonda and Chalky together, and gave it to Chalky. A quick check on IMDB shows that Chalky and Fonda worked together on BIG HAND FOR A LITTLE LADY (1966) and THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB (1970), but the picture is clearly from the late thirties or forties, so I’ll go with RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940). Thanks Mike!
STAGECOACH DAYS – BANNING SEPT. 5-7
This three-day weekend celebration will feature daily rodeos, a Wild West gunfighter competition, historical encampments, blacksmithing contest, a carnival, parade, food, and a kids’ zone. It takes place in A.C. Dysart Park. Learn more at their official website HERE.
17TH ANNUAL SILVER SPUR AWARDS FRI. SEPT. 19TH
Mike Connors and Robert Wagner at
last year's Silver Spur
Once again it’s almost time for the Silver Spur Gala Awards, honoring careers in Western film and television. This year’s Master of Ceremonies will be Darby Hinton, Israel Boone from the DANIEL BOONE series, and soon to be seen in the Western mini-series TEXAS RISING! This year’s honorees are Clayton ‘The Lone Ranger’ Moore, represented by his daughter Dawn Moore; director of CALL OF THE WILD and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT William Wellman, represented by his son, William Wellman Jr.; the late actor, star of THE RESTLESS GUN, John Payne; WAR OF THE WORLDS star and frequent Western TV guest star Ann Robinson; MCCLINTOCK! and STAGECOACH (1966) star Stephanie Powers; 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS and SERGEANTS 3 star Ruta Lee; and GLORY and POSSE actor and stuntman Bob Minor.
A portion of the proceeds will go to the John Tracy Clinic, which helps young children with hearing loss. For the best seating, VIP tickets are $175 on-line and $195 at the door. General seating is $125 on-line and $145 at the door. To learn more, and to buy tickets, visit the official website HERE.
OLD WEST DAY – SATURDAY SEPT 20TH IN RANDSBURG, CA
Travel to this one-day fund-raising event at and for the Rand Desert Museum in the Mojave Desert! You can pan for gold, ride the trolley, and watch cowboys and bandits battle! There will also be bluegrass and country bands, a vintage car show, art vendors, a pancake breakfast and barbecue. To learn more, go to the Museum’s official site, HERE.
THAT'S A WRAP!
Happy Labor Day! September 14th would have been Clayton Moore's 100th birthday, so next week I hope to have my coverage of the Clayton Moore Tribute panel at the Cinecon, as well as my interview with The Lone Ranger's daughter, Dawn Moore. Have a great week!
All Original Contents Copyright September 2014 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved
All DELIVERANCE CREEK photos (except maybe the head-shot of Chris Backus) by Zade Rosenthal
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
INSP PREMIERES ‘HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS’ MONDAY, PLUS 1ST ‘HATEFUL 8’ TRAILER, AND HELP SOLVE THIS WESTERN FOTO MYSTERY!
INSP PREMIERES ORIGINAL WESTERN SHORT, ‘HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS’ MONDAY!
I can’t recall another time when I wrote about a brand-new film, and could conclude with, “and if you want to see the entire film right now, click the link below,” but that is exactly the situation here!
INSP is a channel with a longtime commitment to family entertainment, particularly in the Western genre: they’re the folks who brought back – and exclusively show – the classic HIGH CHAPARRAL and THE VIRGINIAN series. They also run THE BIG VALLEY, BONANZA, LITTLE HOUSE, and DR. QUINN. (To learn more about the history of INSP, read my interview with Senior VP of programming Doug Butts HERE )
After years of airing classic shows, they started getting their toes wet with creating original programming in 2012, with a series of short films under the heading of Moments. Here’s how they describe their mission at the moments.org page: “Moments.org is a web network producing original short films. Our films are designed to inspire, encourage and entertain viewers with stories that celebrate love, faith, redemption, patriotism and other timeless truths in action.”
Starting with the two and a half minute ‘Thank you for your service’ -- which is not exactly the story you expect -- and grouped under the headings ‘A moment of truth,’ ‘A moment of hope,’ ‘A moment of insight,’ ‘A moment of valor,’ and ‘Unbroken soldiers,’ the team of Thomas Torrey, Shea Sizemore, Michelle Wheeler and Jim Goss have produced dozens of short dramas and documentaries which run on INSP as Public Service Announcements, and are also available on-line HERE.
But creative filmmakers always want more, including more time, and in 2013 they created OLD HENRY (not me!), as a series of two-minute films about an aging man played by THE WALTONS star – and hence INSP-viewer favorite – Ralph Waite in his final lead performance. The chapters were later edited into a 22-minute story, the longest Moments film by far, and it’s been extremely popular.
Now they’ve made a Western, the ten-and-a-half minute HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, the Moments.org’s tentpole production for 2014, written and directed by Thomas Torrey, and it is by far their most ambitious outing yet. Set in a sun-blasted desert town, opening with two men on a gallows, it’s a good vs. evil story, starring the Emmy-winning (for MIAMI VICE), Oscar-nominated (for STAND AND DELIVER) Edward James Olmos as someone who has seen a vacuum of leadership in the town, and decides to fill it. Grant Goodeve, who has toughened considerably since his 8 IS ENOUGH DAYS, is the lawman who stands in his way.
The air is electric with tension from the first shot to the last, and each of those shots if wonderfully framed by cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos, who won a Wrangler Award for his work on the Western CONAGHER, shot much of the recent sensation BREAKING BAD, and elegantly lensed one of my all-time favorites, RISKY BUSINESS. RIGHTEOUS is a tantalizing little film, which fulfills its promise, but leaves you wanting more. It’s easy to see it as a back-door pilot to a full-length feature, or even a series.
The drama is the work of writer and director Thomas Torrey, who had also written and directed THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE and OLD HENRY. I asked him if he was originally hired for the Moments.org films. “I got hired in January of 2012 to create this department. As you know, INSP (presents) all family-friendly content, but it’s all classic, licensed family shows – nothing was original. Our CEO wanted INSP to have a voice. So before he was gonna run, he was gonna walk, and before that, crawl, with short films that would air on commercial breaks. I was hired to create the (short form) department. We produce ten to fifteen significant pieces a year, both scripted and documentary.”
Cinematographer Villalobos and Olmos sharing
a laugh between scenes.
HENRY: Why did you decide to approach Ralph Waite with the OLD HENRY story?
THOMAS: We had such success with THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, the veterans piece, because it served an underserved demographic. We started thinking, what was another underserved demographic that we can honor, in hopes of generating a piece that would have that kind of impact. I had spent three years working in the retirement industry as a filmmaker – kind of imbedded with a company – and really became a champion for pro-aging causes. My eyes really opened to the ageism that’s so pervasive in the media and America. I said, well I know a demographic that’s underserved: the elders among us. So I came up with the character, and my boss challenged me: why don’t you come up with a longer story, so that we can really explore this. Ralph Waite was already well-loved by our audience. THE WALTONS is one of our most-watched programs. And we already had a relationship with him, so I wrote the piece for him, figuring that if we could afford him, we could probably get him. I sent him the script, saying I wrote this for you; our audience loves you. What do you think? He got back to us real quick, and wanted to jump on-board.
HENRY: HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS is a short film, but at ten minutes, it’s five times the length of most of the films you are doing. What made you make the jump?
THOMAS: Westerns are dear to my heart, and I knew coming out of last year that I wanted to raise my own bar, and think of something that, if I weren’t working for INSP, I’d want to make by myself. Well, a Western! And I knew it would be a good fit for our network, because the western block of programming, Saddle-Up Saturdays, is some of our highest-rated. So I told my boss, Jim, I want to write a western for 2014. And he said, “Let’s see if we can find the story.” Actually I had a whole different concept and story, but it didn’t work; it was too big for the amount of time I had to tell the story. And Jim said, “Why don’t you think of something more classically Western; think about the battle between good and evil.” I started writing this character, Mr. Lucey (Edward James Olmos), coming in to town: he’s the Devil, obviously. And I got to page three, page four, got to page eight or nine and I thought, I bet I could get away with a longer short if I create a nice sort of cliffhanger by the second or third minute. And I (went) back to my superiors and said, “I want to try an experiment. I want to try making the two or three minute version, the thing that we show on-air, end with a cliffhanger, and say, to see the entire film, go to moments.org.” So it’s a little experimental. We’re going to see how much traffic we can generate from our on-air viewers to on-line. So the real answer is, the only way I could get away with a ten-minute film which is only going to be seen on-line is because I’m also creating an on-air short version, which is the opening three minutes. Another sort of justification for doing it is, next year, INSP is going to begin producing longform original series. Moments.org will continue to produce shorts, but we’re also keeping an eye internally on what are the popular stories among Moments.org that perhaps the network could develop into something longer. Up until Ralph Waite’s passing, we were developing a feature film version of OLD HENRY. And so if HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS is really popular with our audience, if people are clamoring for it as a series or a feature film, well then at least we have a little home-made market research that says there may be an audience for this film.
HENRY: Sort of a short back-door pilot.
THOMAS: Exactly. And you’ve seen the piece – it’s unresolved.
HENRY: It’s open-ended.
THOMAS: And that’s by design.
HENRY: How long did you shoot?
THOMAS: This was shot in three days, over two timezones. We had a two-day shoot out in the desert at Whitehorse Ranch in Landers, California --
HENRY: That’s Peter Menyhart’s place. It looks fabulous; wonderfully solid and rough-hewn.
THOMAS: He did an amazing job – that’s why he gets a set designing credit. We shot there two days in May, and then we did a third day of pick-ups here in South Carolina last month.
HENRY: And you limited your story to one sequence in real time, which I thought was much smarter than trying to compress a feature into ten minutes.
THOMAS: There’s a whole back-story that’s implied.
HENRY: What were Edward James Olmos and Grant Goodeve like to work with?
THOMAS: They were fantastic. Our cinematographer, Reynaldo Villalobos, who we had through a mutual friend, and who was excited to come on-board, was friends with Edward James Olmos, and that’s how we were able to hire Mr. Olmos. Grant Goodeves has been a longtime friend of INSP, and I had tried casting Grant in OLD HENRY as Henry’s son, and for logistical purposes it didn’t work out, but we stayed in touch. And when I thought of this pure hero, he was the first guy I went to. Grant is a warm, generous, funny man, and he was just a joy to work with. Edward James Olmos got there just the day before (shooting), and he was just such a warm, inviting, unassuming guy. You get the impression that he’s very intense, but he’s just doing his process. And it was hard on the actors, because it was ten hours in the desert sun with their thick clothes. But he ate with us, and was just so complimentary of the script and the project, that it was just a thrill to work with both of them.
HENRY: You said you were excited to do a Western. Are you a longtime fan of the genre?
THOMAS: Not a longtime fan. I’m not one of those kids who grew up watching Westerns with his dad. I grew up with a sci-fi buff, so I was indifferent to the Western genre until I was in my twenties. Probably ten years ago I saw ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and THE PROPOSITION, a Western set in the Australian outback, in the same week. Seeing them just opened up this love for the Western genre, and then I caught up: I watched them all. Now I’m just a Western junkie, and I love them, the new ones and the old ones, and ever since then, as a filmmaker, it’s a genre I want to explore, both writing and directing.
And you can see the result, HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, below!
TEASER TRAILER FOR ‘HATEFUL 8’ PREMIERED FRIDAY
If you rushed out to catch SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, I understand you found yourself to be pretty much alone – but you did get a teaser for Quentin Tarantino’s new Western – a good trick since the cameras haven’t started rolling – and when they do it’ll be 70mm Cinemascope! It’s a graphic trailer, featuring music, and the names of the film’s characters. Folks who took part in the dramatic staged reading, who are expected to take part, include Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, and Samuel L. Jackson. Jennifer Lawrence is said to be in talks with Tarantino, to play one of the two female roles, that of Daisy – the role taken by Amber Tamblyn at the staged reading! Here is a shaky, presumably bootlegged, look at the trailer.
PLEASE HELP ME SOLVE THIS WESTERN PHOTO MYSTERY!
A few days ago I got an email from my daughter with the subject-line, “Who’s the guy who’s not Fonda?” Attached was the photo above, clearly Henry Fonda in a Western, talking to a man, also in costume, wearing a star. She’d spotted it, and other nicely signed and framed pictures of movie stars, at an antique store. They were all signed to ‘Chalkie.’ The signature on the Fonda picture was probably ‘Jack,’ presumably the guy with Henry Fonda. Did I know who ‘Jack’ was? Did I want it $20 worth?
My gut said it was from MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and when I pulled it up on IMDB, the poster they illustrated it with showed Fonda as Wyatt Earp, with that mustache! But who could ‘Jack’ be? I checked the credits, looking for Jacks. Jack Curtis played a bartender, but a bartender wouldn’t wear a badge. Jack Kenny played a barfly, but a barfly wouldn’t wear a badge either, nor would the stagecoach driver that Jack Pennick played. A stuntman on the picture was Jack Montgomery, father of child star Baby Peggy. It could be him – I couldn’t find a picture of him. Then another possibility occurred to me: maybe it wasn’t ‘Jack,’ maybe it was ‘Lake’ – Stuart N. Lake, who interviewed the real Wyatt Earp at length, and wrote the biography FRONTIER MARSHALL, on which CLEMENTINE was based! It would make sense for him to be on the set – Morgan Woodward, a regular on the WYATT EARP TV series told me that Lake was a technical adviser, and on-set all the time! I searched online, and found the photo of Stuart N. Lake below.
Stuart N. Lake
Looks like the same guy to me!
I called my daughter back and asked her to buy the picture. Well, she got it, I paid for it, and…the signature is definitely ‘Jack,’ not ‘Lake.’ So, who is the guy with the badge? My wife looked at the picture, and asked me if it was from JESSE JAMES (1939), where Fonda played Frank to Ty Power’s Jesse. He had that damned mustache in that one, too, and he wore it again in the sequel, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940), as well!
Now I’m asking you for your help! What movie is the still from? CLEMENTINE? JESSE JAMES? FRANK JAMES? Another Fonda Western? And who is Jack? And who is Chalky – that certainly isn’t a common nickname? Anybody know? Any good guesses? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the post, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
THAT'S A WRAP!
Please let me know what you think of THE HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, and if you know who 'Jack' is. And have a great week!
All Original Contents Copyright August 2014 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved
Sunday, August 17, 2014
CLAIM-JUMPERS BE DAMNED! ALMERIA INTERNATIONAL WEST FILM FEST RIDES AGAIN -- ‘6 BULLETS TO HELL’ TO PREMIERE AT FEST!
(Updated 8-18-2014 -- see KARL MAY story)
As you may have read in the June 15, 2014 Round-up (and if you missed it, HERE is the link ), the 4th Annual Almeria Western Film Festival was cancelled because Tabernas Mayor Mari Nieves Jaen stole it from its creators! She registered the Festival name under her own name, and proceeded to plan her own event, one which would presumably be politician-friendly, and more dedicated to photo ops than film history.
I don’t know if her festival is going to proceed, and could not care less! But I was delighted to hear from Original fest co-creator Danny Garcia. “We've decided to carry on and we'll celebrate this year’s Almeria Western Film Festival next September 11-13. We'll have a new website and a new name as we'll add 'International' to the name to make it different from the fake one.”
The very next day I heard from the star/writer/director of the excellent LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE (click HERE for my review), Tanner Beard, with news about his next Western film. “6 BULLETS TO HELL will have a European Premier in Almeria, Spain on September 12th. We are finding out about our US premier, which should be happening sometime in October, and there is another European screening at the Aberdeen Film Festival in early October.”
There can be no more fitting place for the film to premiere, since its conception is tied to the Fest, when Tanner attended in 2012. As Danny Garcia, both the Fest’s co-creator and the film’s exec producer, explained to me in 2013, “The first contact between us and Tanner happened at the… Festival, where Tanner won the audience prize with THE LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE.” They started talking story, and before you knew it, they had a movie in the works. “We used Mini Hollywood (the set built by Leone for the film FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) and Fort Bravo (used in hundreds of Spaghetti Westerns as well: DEATH RIDES A HORSE, BLINDMAN, CHATO’S LAND, etc.) and we shot in the desert of Tabernas and the mountains of Abla for the epic final duel.” (You can read more details about the production HERE )
6 BULLETS TO HELL is a revenge tale, about a peaceful man who must put on a badge and track down the men who destroyed his world. It’s made very much in the spaghetti western manner and style. It was shot in Spain and edited in the U.S. It has five credited writers: Chip Baker, Jose L. Villanueva, Tanner Beard, Danny Garcia, Russell Quinn Cummings, and it’s co-directed by Tanner Beard and Russell Quinn Cummings.
Don't let them in!
The stars are Crispian Belfrage as the lawman, Tanner Beard as an outlaw with no conscience, and Magda Rodriguez, Aaron Stielstra, Russell Quinn Cummings, and long-time Euro-western regular Antonio Mayans. I had the pleasure of watching the first half hour of the film (note: they didn’t hold back on the rest of the film; I just couldn’t get the rest to play. I HATE watching movies on-line!), and enjoyed it a helluvah lot! Spaghetti Western fans will be ‘all in’ as soon as they see the titles roll, and hear the first dubbed line of dialogue! It manages the very dicey balancing act of being enough of an homage to bring the knowing smiles, while still maintaining its own integrity as a dramatic story. I’ll have more information on the Festival in the coming weeks.
WEDNESDAY COWBOY LUNCH @ THE AUTRY CELEBRATES ‘MELODY RANCH’!
On Wednesday, August 20th, at high noon, Rob Word will present, as he does on the third Wednesday of every month, the Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry, which this time out will celebrate that legendary location for Western films for 99 years, Melody Ranch! A working ranch from the 19th century, and a movie ranch since 1915, it was the stomping ground of silent stars like William S. Hart and Tom Mix, and with the coming of sound, it became Monogram Ranch. Incalculable sagebrush sagas were shot there, and it gained its greatest fame when Gene Autry bought the property in 1952, and rechristened it Melody Ranch after his long-running radio show.
In addition to Gene’s own movies, just about every western TV series shot episodes there, and among the many series that called the lot home were GUNSMOKE, BRET MAVERICK, and DEADWOOD. Hundreds of features have been shot there, including the recent DJANGO UNCHAINED, and currently the miniseries WESTWORLD is lensing there.
Among the guests attending will be one of the great child stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Jane Withers, who starred with Gene Autry in SHOOTING HIGH! The event is free, but you have to buy your own lunch, and I’d advise you to get there early, as the tables do fill up. The good news is, if you end up at one of the outdoor tables, there will be a live video feed. See you there!
Gene and Jane in SHOOTING HIGH!
WIN TICKETS TO SEE JOHN BERGSTROM LIVE ON THURSDAY AUG. 21ST!
Thursday night at 8 (tho’ the doors open at 7), Cowboy balladeer John Bergstrom will be celebrating the release of his fourth CD, BUTTERFIELD STAGE, with a concert at The Rep, a.k.a. The Repertory East Playhouse, 24266 Main St., Newhall, CA 91321. Tickets are just $20, and you can buy them by calling 877-340-9378. This concert is being presented by the excellent folks at OutWest Western Boutique and Cultural Center, our sponsor with the logo at the top left of the page – and you can buy all of John Bergstrom’s CDs at that site.
But wait – there’s more! I caught OutWest honcho Bobbi Jean Bell in such a good mood that she told me she’ll give away two free pairs of tickets to the first two folks who email me and ask for them! Just send me a note at email@example.com, and be sure to put ‘John Bergstrom’ in the subject line, so I don’t think you’re one of those Nigerian Princes who keeps contacting me!
FREE GENE AUTRY DOUBLE-FEATURE SAT. AT THE AUTRY
At noon on Saturday, August 23rd, The Autry will screen a pair of Gene’s movies in the Imagination Gallery, BOOTS AND SADDLES (Rep. 1937) and GOLD MINE IN THE SKY (Rep.1938). In BOOTS, an English kid inherits a ranch, and wants to sell it, but Gene wants the boy to become a westerner, and help him raise horses for the Army. Another man wants to buy the ranch, and when his and Gene’s bids are the same, they decide to settle it with a race. The best part is, the kid actor, New Zealander Ronald Sinclair, would in fact give up his acting career to join the U.S. Army when war broke out, and would return to be a very successful movie editor. And the other bidder is played by Gordon Elliot, who would become a big star a year later, when Republic changed his name to Wild Bill Elliot. In GOLD MINE troubles ensues when Gene is made the executor of a will, and has to decide who a high-spirited heiress may and may not marry! Both co-star Smiley Burnette, and are directed by Republic action-ace Joe Kane.
GENE AUTRY COLLECTION #5 REVIEWED
GENE AUTRY ENTERTAINMENT continues to release four-packs of Gene’s films, and I’ve just received volume 5 (I’ve also received 6&7, which I’ll be reviewing in the near future). Made from 1949 to 1953, they’re all Gene Autry‘Productions released by Columbia Pictures. As always, each features a beautiful female lead – Barbara Britton, Elena Verdugo, Virginia Huston, and Gail Davis. And they all feature Champion, the World’s Wonder Horse. Two star Pat Buttram, one stars Smiley Burnette, but in the first, Gene rides sidekickless!
LOADED PISTOLS (Col 1949) is an unusual Gene Autry entry in a number of ways, most noticeably that it’s a legit murder mystery, opening with a shooting when the lights are switched off during a crap game. There’s even one of those fun THIN MAN-styled, “You’re probably wondering why I brought you all here tonight,” scenes where the crime is reenacted! The victim is a friend of Gene’s, and the suspect is such a jerk that you realize Gene is stepping in more to make sure the guilty party doesn’t get away, rather than to see the innocent jerk freed. This is the first Autry I recall seeing without a sidekick, and much as I like Smiley and Pat, it’s an interesting change. Barbara Britton, the beautiful female lead, had already made an impression opposite Joel McCrea in THE VIRGINIAN, and done a pair of films with Randolph Scott so, unlike his other ladies, she receives title-card billing with Gene. She’s probably best remembered for costarring with Richard Denning in the MR. AND MRS. SMITH series.
Also of note in the cast are Chill Wills as a lawman who keeps confiscating Gene’s guns; old western leading man Jack Holt; Robert Shayne before he’d become Inspector Henderson on SUPERMAN; ace geezer character actor Clem Bevans; and one of my favorites silent movie comedians, Snub Pollard, he of the handlebar mustache, and he even takes a pratfall – pretty impressive at sixty! This is truly an outdoor picture, with little time wasted between walls. Full advantage is taken of the beautiful Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, and the beautiful Champion.
As the title suggests, GENE AUTRY AND THE MOUNTIES (Col 1951) shifts the action north to Canada, or actually to heavily pine-forested Big Bear Lake. In a story that today would be described as ‘suggested by actual events,’ Gene and Pat pursue into Canada a group of French Canadians who are heisting U.S. banks to fund a Canadian Revolution. The boys encounter a startling world where Mounties are reviled and despised. When their Mountie friend Terrie Dillon (Richard Emory) is nearly killed by the bandits, the nearest help is lovely Marie Duvol (long-time Universal starlet Elena Verdugo), whose juvie brother (Jim Frasher) and uncle (Trevor Bardette) are among the Mountie-haters. And wouldn’t you know, their ring-leader Pierre LaBlond (Carleton Young) has plans for Marie that make her shudder.
Unusual for the amount of seething hatred in the story, even easy-going Gene loses patience with the brother who is mean to his own dog. When the kid asks if Gene plans to beat him up, he says it wouldn’t be fair for a grown man to beat a boy. But he adds, never changing his smile, “If I were your size, I’d skin you alive.” Directed by John English, as is LOADED PISTOLS, there’s a very dramatic out-of-control fire sequence towards the end.
Again reflecting history, NIGHT STAGE TO GALVESTON (Col 1952) focuses on the days after the Civil War, when the Texas Rangers were disbanded, replaced by a corrupt State Police service, in the movie run by suave but villainous Robert Livingston. With the support of newspaper publisher Porter Hall and his daughter Virginia Houston, Gene and Pat gather criminal evidence from ex-Rangers. But Livingston won’t go down without a fight. By turns effective and cloyingly adorable is twelve-year-old Judy Nugent as a child orphaned by the homicidal State Police. Nugent would do two films for Douglas Sirk, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION and THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW, at twenty be a continuing character on the Billy the Kid series THE TALL MAN, and later marry, and divorce, GUNSMOKE star Buck Taylor.
Almost unrecognizable without his mask in a small, uncredited role, is Clayton Moore, THE LONE RANGER (Robert Livingston was also the Lone Ranger in a Republic serial). Moore had been dropped from his series over a salary dispute in 1950, and while John Hart was wearing the mask for 54 episodes, generous men like Gene Autry gave Clayton small roles in movies and TV episodes, often unbilled or as ‘Clay Moore’, until the LONE RANGER producers came to their senses and brought him back.
The final movie in the set is one from Gene’s last year of filmmaking, GOLDTOWN GHOST RIDERS (Col 1953). The story of a gold-rush town built on a foundation of fraud, it’s an unusual entry for a number of reasons. Gene plays not only a rancher, but a circuit judge. Also, the story is told largely in flashback – the tale begins with a man looking for revenge after being imprisoned for a decade, and most of the story concerns the events that led to his imprisonment. It also raises an interesting legal quandary that would be revisited in 1999’s DOUBLE JEOPARDY: if you’ve already served a term for the murder of someone who it turns out is alive, is it then legal for you to kill them? There’s even a supernatural element; Smiley Burnette tells the story of an ethereal pack of ‘Ghost Riders’ who haunt the area and jealously guard their claims.
The film features Gene’s nemesis from GENE AUTRY AND THE MOUNTIES, Carleton Young; a very young Denver Pyle; and as a young Mexican miner whose claim is jumped; Neyle Morrow. A favorite of the great ‘guy story’ filmmaker Sam Fuller, Morrow would appear in fourteen of his crime thrillers, war movies and westerns. The female lead is Gene’s lovely frequent co-star Gale Davis, who would soon shed her gingham in favor of fringed buckskin and star for Gene’s Flying A company as ANNIE OAKLEY.
Special features with each movie include a montage of stills and posters, inside info from producer and film historian Alex Gordon, an episode of the GENE AUTRY MELODY RANCH RADIO SHOW, and Gene and Pat doing on-camera introductions from MELODY RANCH THEATER, a TV series they hosted on The Nashville Network in 1987. Personally, I like to listen to the radio shows on my computer, but you can also run them on your DVD player. My favorite of this group is one where Jack Benny is guest, plugging his switch of radio networks. The TV intros are fun and informative; the boys have a lot of amusing memories of performing in Canada. Also there’s a surprisingly direct discussion of the importance of non-whites in the settling of the American West. Released by Timeless Media Group, this and the other Gene Autry Collections are available from OutWest HERE and other fine retailers.
A TERRIFIC N.Y. TIMES DOCUMENTARY ON KARL MAY
Lost in Translation: Germany’s Fascination With the American Old West
HERE is the link -- I’m sure you’ll find it fifteen minutes very well-spent!
THAT’S A WRAP!
That’s it until next week!
All Original Contents Copyright August 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved