Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Westerns - Jerry Entract

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Underrated Westerns - Jerry Entract

Here's a westerns list I meant to post as part of that series, but am very happy to post now!

Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry but is an English lifelongmovie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.
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1) “THE MAN FROM TUMBLEWEEDS” (1940) directed by Joseph H. Lewis

I am a huge fan of westerns, both A and B, and Bill Elliott was a hugely popular western star in his day so I want to include one B-western in this list that I think exemplifies just how good one of these “series” westerns could be.

This film pre-dates “The Dirty Dozen” by many years but the premise is similar – a group of paroled convicts being enlisted to help bring a vicious outlaw gang to justice. The treatment here is quite adult for a ‘B’ and Elliott in the last of four as Wild Bill Saunders really impresses.

Joseph H. Lewis was a good choice as director here, as he showed on many other occasions, lifting a film up several notches by taut pacing, fast action and inventive use of the camera.

This was produced in-house by Columbia Studios who had a fine history of making quality “series” westerns.

2) “THE OUTCAST” (1954) directed by William Witney

A terrific example by Republic Pictures of how to make an ‘A’ western (semi-A anyway) that has all the required ingredients to satisfy western fans. It was filmed in color, directed by ace action director Wild Bill Witney with a young John Derek clearly enjoying the western action, both on horseback and off. That the bad guy in this is played by Jim Davis hurts this movie not a bit. He really impresses here and there is also a nice small but telling part as a gunman for Bob Steele.

Derek plays a young man returning home and riding into a nest of vipers headed by his crooked uncle, played by Davis, who is determined at all costs not to let Derek claim his inheritance.

3) “BRIMSTONE” (1949) directed by Joseph Kane

Another color western from the great Republic Pictures, this time directed by another of their stalwart action directors, Joe Kane. This qualifies as a “ranch” western, a sub-genre of which I am most fond. It stars another very popular and able western star, Rod Cameron, as a lawman investigating a serious spate of cattle rustling where all is not as it seems.

This film has a terrific cast because , apart from Cameron, it features a fine performance from Walter Brennan plus Forrest Tucker, Jack Holt, Jim Davis (again), James L. Brown, Jack Lambert and more – enough to gladden any deep Western fan’s heart!

This is decidedly adult, quite brutal in some of the superb action scenes and fully entertaining.

4) “FORT DOBBS” (1958) directed by Gordon Douglas

Clint Walker was the star of the very first of the TV westerns intended for adults when “Cheyenne” hit the screens in 1955. As part of the arrangement he came to with Warner Bros to keep him happy and on-board, he was put into three fine A-westerns for the studio during the run of the series. This was the first of them.

Directed by the under-rated Gordon Douglas; when I watched this again recently I was once more reminded why I like it so much. Walker has an impressive screen presence and tackles his part of a man escorting a widow and her young son through dangerous Indianterritory with confidence and showing just how comfortable he was in the genre. Also, I have never been more impressed with Virginia Mayo than I was in her tough but sensitive playing here.

The cast includes Brian Keith and young Richard Eyerand the story scripted by George W. George and Burt Kennedy. Overall some great credentials here.


5) “THE SHOWDOWN” (1950) directed by Dorrell & Stuart McGowan

I don’t apologise for including another Bill Elliott film in this group. Made ten years after the other film reviewed here, in the meantime Elliott had developed into a major western star. This was the final film in his 8-year contract with Republic Pictures and although budgetary constraint begins to show in that much of the film was shot on sound stages, it is nonetheless a triumph. Elliott clearly had faith in it as he was a co-producer.

It is a cattle drive western, is tough and quite brutal at times and adult in treatment. In it Elliott is the trail boss who is trying to uncover the identity of the man who murdered his brother. He has revenge in his heart and cannot find redemption until he has conquered the feelings that are eating away at him.

Once more a great cast is assembled by Republic with Walter Brennan again in a powerful role, the edgy beauty of Marie Windsor, plus Henry Morgan and Jim Davis. A strong and satisfying western to end his tenure at Republic before moving to the smaller Monogram Pictures for a new series in 1951.

5 comments:

livius1 said...

The only one I'm familiar with here is Fort Dobbs, Jerry. I agree it's an excellent vehicle for Walker and Mayo is indeed very good. Mayo was one of those actresses who was too often poorly served by the parts she was given - however, under the right circumstances she was a fine performer.

Have to keep my eyes peeled for the other movies now.

Colin

Laura said...

Jerry, I loved your list! FORT DOBBS is such a fine choice for an Underrated Western. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it made me wish Clint Walker had made more theatrical Westerns than he did. I was impressed with how much Virginia Mayo did wordlessly, such as her expressions of realization in the scene where she wakes up and realizes she's not dressed.

Looking forward to BRIMSTONE which I have here to watch thanks to our mutual friend John K -- will be watching for the others!

Best wishes,
Laura

john knight said...

Great choices Jerry,the only one I have not seen is the
Columbia B. Lewis's involvement makes this a must-see
for me!
BRIMSTONE sees Brennan giving us a re-take of his
Old Man Clanton and I must say I much prefer "mean"
Walter Brennan to "lovable" Walter Brennan. I know that
I am in a minority here!
THE SHOWDOWN is great,how many other Westerns start
with a grave-robbing sequence during a thunderstorm at
midnight!
The annoying part of all this is that none of those
great Republic A Westerns starring Rod Cameron,
Forrest Tucker and William Elliott are available on
DVD. Someone really needs to sort this out;there are
some outstanding films in that series.

Blake Lucas said...

Wonderful choices, Jerry, And even though I know a lot of Westerns you came up with two I've missed--BRIMSTONE and THE OUTCAST. Of course, they are both on my list and in the case of THE OUTCAST I've had a few opportunities and have been careless about it so mean to remedy that. But it seems like I always have more good unseen Westerns to look forward to and I'm happy about that.

It's one of the pleasures of being around these days to see Republic now getting the critical respect it is. That studio stands for something, and it's something we can't love enough because but it's not something that is going to be recaptured.

The three Gordon Douglas/Clint Walker movies all deserve recognition. I liked YELLOWSTONE KELLY most when it came out but now would say that FORT DOBBS may be at least as good and is certainly the most taut of the three. I've noted that Douglas directed Virginia Mayo four times and always very well, maybe especially in this one, which was last of the four. I'm glad you took up for Mayo, who is still widely under appreciated in my book. She's a major figure in Westerns--and wonderful in other movies too.

Jerry E said...

Thanks, Guys, for your support and knowledgable feedback.

I'm kinda surprised that any of these films are new to you but then I think about it and realise how LONG I have been around so no wonder I am familiar with so many westerns.

I heartily commend all of them to you as I believe they would be your kind of westerns. Only thing though - they may be difficult to track down, as John says.

I agree, Blake, it is a wonderful thing that Republic pictures are now getting the recognition they deserve. I would add Allied Artists films to that. During the 50s they made some really fine little westerns, noirs etc.

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