JOHN LEE HANCOCK TAKES OVER WRITING CHORES ON 'MAGNIFICENT 7'
MGM, not satisfied with TRUE DETECTIVE creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto’s script for the remake of the John Sturges 1960 classic THE MAGNIFICENT 7, scripted by William Roberts, which is itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic SEVEN SAMURAI, have hired a new writer, and Tom Cruise is no longer attached to star (we never found out if he was going to play Steve McQueen or Yul Brynner – or Toshiro Mifune).
The new scribe is writer/director John Lee Hancock, director of the current SAVING MR. BANKS, who also wrote and directed THE BLIND SIDE, garnering a Best Picture Oscar nom, plus a Best Actress nom for Sandra Bullock. More to the point, in relation to doing ‘7’, he scripted and directed THE ALAMO (2004).
GENE AUTRY DVD COLLECTION 4
Volume four of the Gene Autry DVD collections has been released, and it features four musical westerns Gene made at Republic between 1938 and 1942, all with the Republic Tower logo (if you’d like to learn about the history of Republic’s many logos, check out the site HERE ). The four delightful films, THE OLD BARN DANCE (1938), BLUE MONTANA SKIES (1939), SIERRA SUE (1941) and COWBOY SERENADE (1942) all feature sidekick Smiley Burnette, America’s wonder-horse Champion, and a beautiful, spunky girl -- Helen Valkis, June Storey, and Fay McKenzie twice, respectively.
The plots are varied, and as usual with Gene’s pictures, a bit more inventive than most of the B westerns of the era – and the titles almost never give you a clue. THE OLD BARN DANCE does feature a barn dance, but it’s about the conflict between unscrupulous tractor sellers and horse-traders like Gene. It’s directed by arguably the best action-director Republic ever produced, Joe Kane. BLUE MONTANA SKIES takes Gene north into snow and onto dog-sleds, and concerns pelt-smuggling and murder, and features villainous Glenn Strange. MONTANA is directed by B. Reaves ‘Breezy’ Eason, who started helming films in 1915, and is considered by many to be the greatest director of big action scenes in Hollywood history. In addition to his own films, he often did uncredited second unit direction of chases and battle scenes, including the chariot race in the original BEN HUR (1925), as well as action scenes in CIMMARON (1931), THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941). He also directed Gene in his Mascot Serial, THE PAHNTOM EMPIRE, which made Gene a movie star. Needless to say, the snow-bound action is well-handled and exciting.
SIERRA SUE features Gene and Smiley as state inspectors trying to stop an outbreak of ‘devil weed’ that could poison the cattle, banging heads with farmers who don’t trust new, scientific methods. There’s a memorable stampede in this one. COWBOY SERENADE tells the story of an innocent young cattle-man who’s given the chance by Gene to negotiate the sale of a herd, and is swindled by card-sharps and con-men. Gene has to set things right. The young man is Rand Brooks, who in 1939 played Scarlet O’Hara’s first husband in GONE WITH THE WIND, and would become a sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy in the late 1940s, a TV co-star of Rin Tin Tin in the 1950s, and starting in the 1960s, built what would become the largest and most respected ambulance service in the country.
From the frozen north to the Sierras, a highpoint of all of the films is the stunning, breathtaking photography in dramatic locations. Back then they knew how to shoot black and white, using contrast to create every bit as much beauty as you could with color. All the films run about an hour each, and have been beautifully restored, taken from Gene’s own copies. They are complete and uncut. If you’ve ever had the disappointment of seeing 53-minute bootleg versions of Gene’s films, in addition to the often poor image quality, you knew right away what was lost in the ten-minutes of missing footage: Gene’s musical numbers!
Here you get not only the whole movie, with the proper titles, and good audio quality, but special features that set the mood as well. Each of the movies is accompanied by a gallery of images, both stills, lobby cards and posters, from the film. Each has what is described as ‘Trivia & Movie Facts’, but they are much more than that. Alex Gordon, who was the President of England’s Gene Autry Fan Club, came to the U.S. in 1947, and had a considerable career as a film producer at American International Pictures. He was also advance-man for Gene Autry’s cross-country tours, and worked for Gene for many years. He wrote the ‘Trivia & Movie Facts’, which are fascinating time-capsules of what was going on behind the scenes at the time of each film’s production. Each movie is accompanied by an episode of the Gene Autry Melody Ranch Radio Show, featuring Gene, Pat Buttram or Smiley Burnette, and guests like the Cass County Boys, and fellow singing cowboys like Eddie Dean and Jimmy Wakely.
My favorite special features come from back in 1987, when The Nashville Network, a now-gone cable channel, featured a series, MELODY RANCH THEATER. There, Gene and Pat Buttram, sometimes with guests, would introduce one of Gene’s movies. These introductions, the middle break, and wrap-up, are included for each movie (they can’t find the OLD BARN DANCE intro, so another interesting one has been substituted). The boys were pretty long in the tooth when they did these, and it sometimes takes them a while to get the stories out, but it’s a real pleasure to hear them reminisce about the old days and their co-stars. You can see that Pat Buttram’s preparation and research are extensive.
I found this four-film collection a delight, with pristine copies of exciting films, great music, and packed with the sort of special features I just gobble up. Here's the link to the official Gene Autry site: http://www.geneautry.com/musicmovies/dvds/geneautrycollection4.html
LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HOLLYWOOD by Michael B. Druxman
A Book Review
Michael Druxman’s new memoir, whose full title is LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HOLLYWOOD; MORE OF MY WACKY ADVENTURES IN TINSELTON, comes with a very unusual caveat: don’t read it until you’ve already read his previous memoir, MY FORTY-FIVE YEARS IN HOLLYWOOD…AND HOW I ESCAPED ALIVE (here’s my review of that tome: http://henryswesternroundup.blogspot.com/2011/06/unsinkable-debbie-reynolds.html).
It’s good advice, and I strongly recommend reading both books. Druxman has plenty of good, often great, and frequently outrageous stories to tell, and rather than repeating himself, he’s eager to plow ahead.
Michael Druxman has had several careers, all of them aiming at a career in Hollywood. He acted and directed plays in Seattle, met and worked with dozens of actors when he became a publicist in Hollywood, wrote several books about the film industry, became a successful playwright of one-man shows about movie stars, and finally became a successful screenwriter and director for Roger Corman. He has not won Oscars, but he has made a living writing fulltime, and has written some outstanding screenplays, including the excellent CHEYENNE WARRIOR.
It’s not all about stars – several chapters deal with his experiences directing plays, without big names, in small theatres in Seattle. But these are the experiences that made him the writer and director he would become. A born self-promoter, being a publicist came easy to him, and his stories about those in front of and behind the camera who hired him are many and varied, from the very funny to the frustrating to the sad.
He did well for, and was a close friend of Michael Ansara. He tried to do as well for the great director Budd Boetticher, who had worked so hard to protect his star, Randolph Scott, and his material, but still got screwed out of directing TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA. He did well for Eddie Dmytryk, but not as well George Sherman, who John Wayne hired to direct BIG JAKE. The veteran director got the interviews he wanted, but his criticism of Mexican film crews didn’t endear him to the Duke or the Mexican government. Director Paul Landres had a long and successful career directing western TV series. He was particularly successful directing difficult animal shows like FLIPPER and DAKTARI! But when those shows got cancelled, he had a helluvah time getting any work at all: he’d been typed as an ‘animal’ director!
Actors he represented, some of whom he loved, and others he hated, include Reed Hadley; Gale Gordon; Mike Farrell, whom he regrettably dropped as having no future; voice-actor Daws Butler, who introduced him to Bud Abbott; Edd ‘Kookie’ Burns; Stanley Myron Handleman; Abe Vigoda (loved him); HILL STREET BLUES’ Michael Conrad (hated him); and among his favorites, Steve Kanaly, Henry ‘Manolito Darrow, and Michael Ansara.
Among the writers he grew to know in Hollywood were the author of LITTLE CAESAR and creator of the gangster movie, W. R. Burnett; Christopher Isherwood; screenwriting comedy legend Henry Ephron; MUSIC MAN creator Meredith Wilson; and Tennessee Williams.
On a lighter note, one chapter deals with some of the…uh…bigger stars in Hollywood, like Uncle Miltie, Forrest Tucker, Gary Cooper, and especially Rock Hudson. Later chapters are particularly informative about matters like working for Roger Corman, trying to get plays produced, and pet projects Druxman has tried tried to make ‘happen’ for years. Of particular interest to writers, later chapters deal in a very informative and ‘nuts-and-bolts’ sense with the business of getting your book published, print-on-demand publishing, e-books, and audio books. I personally learned plenty, and was encouraged, by these chapters. Michael even takes the reader into the business of self-publishing and autograph shows.
An eye-opening memoir full of great stories and sage advice, LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HOLLYWOOD is published by Bear Manor Media, and priced at $19.95. Here's the link to the Bear Manor site: http://www.bearmanormedia.com/index.php?route=product/search&filter_name=life%2C%20liberty%20%26%20the%20pursuit%20of%20hollywood
THAT’S A WRAP!
I hope you’ve all recovered from Christmas, and are ready for New Years! This is nothing western, but when I was a kid growing up in New York City, every New Years Eve a local channel would show the Jack Benny comedy THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT (1945), which I consider a perfect New Years movie. Jack plays an angel sent to New York City to blow Gabriel’s trumpet at midnight, and destroy the planet. It’s a great Warner Brothers comedy with a wonderful supporting cast: Alexis Smith, Guy Kibbee, Allyn Joslyn, Reginald Gardner, Bobby Blake, Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Mike Mazurki. The art direction in Heaven is stunning, and it’s directed with great verve and enthusiasm by Raoul Walsh.
Nonetheless, it was a bomb, that pretty much ended Jack Benny’s career as a movie star. Anyway, I have a DVD dub of a lousy, commercial-filled VHS copy off of channel 5 twenty years ago, and it’s a grand tradition at our house to watch it on New Years. Although, to be really honest it’s become a grand tradition for me to watch it by myself – my wife and daughter are sick to death of it. Luckily, my dog has only seen it once, so I may have some company. If you get a chance to, some time, watch it! Hey, are there any good New Years westerns?
All Original Contents Copyright December 2013 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved