Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '56 - Jerry Entract ""

Monday, November 21, 2016

Underrated '56 - Jerry Entract

Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry but is an English lifelong movie 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.

Check out Jerry's other Underrated lists here:
1) “PASSPORT TO TREASON” (1956) directed by Robert S. Baker
STARS: Rod Cameron, Lois Maxwell & Clifford Evans

In the 1950s a considerable number of films were made in Britain with an American star (or two) brought over to head an otherwise British cast. These were generally programmers and often the stars were either second rank or first rank stars whose careers needed a boost.

One of the best of these was this film directed by prolific Robert S. Baker and starring one of my favourite actors, Rod Cameron.

Rod becomes embroiled in a mystery while investigating the death of a friend, finding himself gradually unravelling a plot featuring a peace organisation which may have more sinister motives.

Female lead is Canadian Lois Maxwell some years before she found permanent fame as Miss Moneypenny in 14 Bond films.

Not available on DVD as far as I can ascertain.

2) “A DAY OF FURY” (1956) directed by Harmon Jones
STARS: Dale Robertson, Mara Corday & Jock Mahoney

If a medium-budget, well-made colour western with good casts is what you seek, the long list of westerns made by Universal-International between the late 40s and early 60s are a good bet.

“A DAY OF FURY” is one of the best of these. Unusual in that the main good guy, played by Jock Mahoney is secondary while the central character played by Dale Robertson is a pretty ornery customer. He is in town to effectively hold it to ransom to pay back the townspeople for banishing him years before. The sheriff (Mahoney) is beholden to him and thus reluctant to act against him until violence intervenes.

Both Robertson and Mahoney were born to play in westerns and are terrific here.

The film is available from Sidonis with forced subtitles and still awaits a proper U.S. commercial release sadly.

3) “THE KILLING” (1956) directed by Stanley Kubrick
STARS: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray & Vince Edwards

Only the second film of a young Kubrick, before his later ‘spectacles’, this is a ‘heist’ movie that owes much to the earlier “The Asphalt Jungle” which had also starred the excellent Sterling Hayden. The film concerns the planning, execution and aftermath of a $2-million racetrack robbery. Filmed on real locations in L.A. and at the Bay Meadows racetrack in the San Francisco area the film has a very naturalistic feel with overlapping dialogue etc. The action concentrates to a large extent on the characters of the cast, their problems and insecurities.

Cast includes Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook jr and Jay C. Flippen so you know there are multiple reasons to watch this film.

Available on DVD and BluRay in the Criterion Collection.
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4) “GUN FOR A COWARD” (1956) directed by Abner Biberman
STARS: Fred MacMurray, Jeffrey Hunter & Janice Rule

Despite not being an obvious ‘western’ actor, Fred MacMurray made a series generally very good westerns in the 50s at a point when his career needed a boost. He acquitted himself well IMHO.

After the death of their father his ranch falls to his three sons to run it. The middle son, played by Jeffrey Hunter, has an aversion to hot-headedness and violence and is thought by his older brother, Fred, to be a coward. As the story unfolds, the youngest brother is killed unnecessarily and Fred’s girl finds herself moving closer to Hunter.

There is , I suppose, quite an age difference between the elder brother (Fred) and youngest played by Dean Stockwell but these things can be overlooked. Just enjoy it!

A fine widescreen print is available in the Universal Vault series.
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5) “SLIGHTLY SCARLET” (1956) directed by Allan Dwan
STARS: John Payne, Rhonda Fleming & Arlene Dahl

John Payne made a fine series of superior films in the 50s, concentrating either on tough westerns or tough noirs. Never better than when his characters are good but not-all-good. In “SLIGHTLY SCARLET” he is not that ‘good’ at all! 

Based on a novel by great crime writer, James M. Cain, and directed by Allan Dwan, the real ‘star’ of the film is the rich Technicolor photography of maestro John Alton, somehow managing to make rich colour and ‘noir’ go together for once. He makes much of the red hair of the two sisters played by Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl.

The story centres on organised crime, corrupt city politics and the people caught up in it.

VCI put out a very good widescreen print on DVD some years ago so the film is, rightly, easily available.

One of the best of this type of film and John Payne was at his very peak.
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6) “SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE” (1956) directed by Charles F. Haas
STARS: Jock Mahoney, Martha Hyer & Lyle Bettger

Another thoroughly entertaining little medium-budget western from U-I. The director, Charles F. Haas, had mostly TV in his CV but in 1956 he made two solid westerns for U-I – this one and “STAR IN THE DUST”. I don’t know why he did not do more as he did a fair job with both films. I grew up with Jock (Jack) Mahoney on my TV screen as a kid in “THE RANGE RIDER” and have always enjoyed his easy-going acting style and unbeatable athleticism. He made a series of films in the mid-50s for U-I and his westerns were naturally the best of them. He manages to insert some of his effortless stuntwork into this film.

His character returns from the Civil War to his native Abilene and straight into a blazing range war. He was thought dead and his former sweetheart is now engaged to friend Lyle Bettger. Jock becomes sheriff and finds himself right in the middle, not only between the ranchers and farmers but also between Bettger and his ex, Martha Hyer. Trouble won’t be far behind.

This type of film falls in the middle of the ‘A’ or ‘B’ categorisation, like many of the most satisfying westerns of the 50s.

Only available copy from Sidonis of France with forced subtitles so another good film awaiting a US release.
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john k said...

Great choices,and write ups Jerry.
I might point out that GUN FOR A COWARD was actually a '57 film released in the
UK early January '57 and the USA late January '57.
It was certainly filmed in '56 so that's OK.
For me it's the most underrated of MacMurray's Universal Westerns and the Blu Ray from
Germany's Koch Media is a marked improvement over the DVD.
The very fine SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE is due from Koch in Feb 2017 on DVD with superior
packaging and no wretched "forced" subs.
I'm glad you mentioned STAR IN THE DUST-(also out on a super looking Koch Blu Ray) and
according to Wikipedia was a box office hit in the USA taking over $4 million at the
box office.It's indeed strange that the film did not advance John Agar's career.
Regarding Charles Haas I also rather like the oddball thrillers that he made for the
SCHOOL-all strikingly filmed in black & white 'scope.
Dwan's sublime SLIGHTLY SCARLET was one of my choices also.
A DAY OF FURY has plenty of admirers among "our gang" and is far and away the best of the
three fine Westerns Robertson made with Harmon Jones.
All in all Jerry...very well done.

Anonymous said...

Fine choices, Jerry, not a bad one among them. I 've never seen PASSPORT TO TREASON but it's the kind of title I could easily see Renown in the UK releasing - might be worth emailing them as they do tend to welcome suggestions.
Nice to see a brace of Jock Mahoney westerns there, and just to point out that there are good, subtitle-free (or removable anyway) versions available from Amazon Italy too.

Kristina said...

Good ones and more to add to my neverending watchlist (which this site does a lot!) :) I have a couple of these on hand and will get to them asap--A DAY OF FURY looks great. Love SLIGHTLY SCARLET!

Jerry Entract said...

Thanks a lot, John, Colin and Kristina for coming here to leave your great comments!

Bit cheeky I know, John, to put the MacMurray film in for 1956 but the gap is narrow (January 57). It's great to know there are new releases coming that will address unavailability.

I am most happy to source from Spain and Italy for DVDs but I know a lot of our U.S. friends only buy U.S. releases.

Colin, I know that there is a close tie-up between Renown Films and the Talking Pictures TV channel here in the UK where "PASSPORT TO TREASON" has been showing so an imminent release is quite likely (I hope).

I am getting the picture that we ALL like "SLIGHTLY SCARLET"!

Laura said...

A great list, Jerry!

I'm another fan of SLIGHTLY SCARLET! And I included SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE in my own list, couldn't leave it off. Hope more Western fans will discover it!

THE KILLING is great. Need to watch A DAY OF FURY and GUN FOR A COWARD!

I love the '50s UK films with US stars and need to check out PASSPORT TO TREASON! Thanks for making me aware of it.

Best wishes,

Silver Screenings said...

"Slightly Scarlet" is certainly making its share of appearances in this series so far. Time to finally see it! :)

Jerry E said...

Thanks a lot for your nice comments, Laura and Silver Screenings (Ruth, is it?)!

Yup, Laura, you really DO need to push the referred two westerns into your 'to watch NEXT' pile! Plus, from Kristina's list, you need to add "RED SUNDOWN" which is, as you know, loved by John and Blake as much as I.

Kristina said...

Just watched A DAY OF FURY and loved it! Robertson was super and Jock Mahoney perfectly cool.

Jerry Entract said...

Had a feeling you'd like it, Kristina! An unusual story and the stars are really fine in it. Thanks for saying!