"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jubal (Columbia, 1956)

 










Othello of the Plains





 
It has to be said that part of Glenn Ford’s success in playing Jubal Troop in Jubal, his eleventh Western, and director Delmer Daves's fourth, comes from the fact that he was opposite two hams. Rod Steiger only had two acting modes, (a) overacting and (b) overacting wildly. He does at least choose the former here but that’s about all you can say. As for dear old Ernest Borgnine, he was quite sweet in this part, trying hard for the naïf, genuine, slightly dumb but kindly Shep, the rancher, and he did his very best. But Ernest was an Easterner through and through and never quite convinced in Westerns. He was great as a heavy in gangster pictures and so forth of course but Westerns? Well…  I make an honorable exception for The Wild Bunch, naturally.
 
 
So Glenn Ford’s almost Gary Cooperish underplaying wasn’t really needed here. He could have hammed it up a bit and still seem classy. But that wasn’t his way. Slow, quiet, strong, and say it with your eyes, that’s what he preferred. And he was outstanding.

Ford later said, "Rod...well, in kindness I think I should say he did a great job with his role. However, the 'method' got a little too much for some of us, especially the wranglers … Look, Rod won an Academy Award, didn't he? And so did Ernie, so whatever Rod was doing in his role for Jubal probably worked for him. He was intense, I'll tell you that." This was gracious of Ford and a typically polite way of saying that Steiger and Borgnine both overacted.
 
 
It was important because this was another ‘psychological’ Western which depended much on the interplay between the characters and less on out-and-out Western action (not that Daves ever went for fastest-gun-in-the-West action Westerns). It famously has echoes of Othello as the Iago-like ranch hand Pinky (Steiger, in a part not in the original book) poisons Othello/Borgnine’s mind with suspicions about his lovely wife Mae (Valerie French) and Cassio/Jubal. It must be said though that the Shakespearean echoes are faint. Unless, that is, the Bard had hidden in a drawer a first draft which included two Desdemonas, one a pretty fast mover when men were around.
 

For Jubal nobly resists the advances of the brazen Mae in favor of a fresh and pretty girl in a troop of traveling ‘Rawhiders’, Mormons possibly (though this is never stated), played by Felicia Farr in her debut (and the first of three Westerns she did for Daves). And we all know of course that hell hath no fury like a woman spurned and Mae is sure spurned, though not the way Iago/Rod tells it of course. The relationship between Ford and Farr (another recent Columbia acquisition) is touching and done very tenderly. The love is shown as pure and contrasted with the profane type displayed by Mae.
 

I actually felt sorry for Mae. She is supposed to be Canadian (probably to mask her British accent) and has married Shep to escape a bad life back home. But, poor woman, what is she supposed to do on the wild ten thousand Wyoming acres? Her husband tries to be loving but he is coarse and vulgar. She has nothing to do and in her Joan Crawford-style green scarf is a beautiful young woman in her prime. Interestingly, the women are at the heart of this film, and in Daves Westerns that is far from always the case. In so many Hollywood oaters they were just appendages, starlets added for box-office appeal but extrinsic to the story. In Jubal the action revolves around them.

Pinky, Mae’s former lover, hates Jubal, whom Shep has rescued from a Wyoming blizzard and given a place on the ranch, because Jubal has worked as a sheepman (actually, though, it wasn’t till 1958 that Glenn did that, as we know) and because Shep promotes him over Pinky’s head to be foreman. And as if that weren’t enough, Mae starts to make eyes at Jubal, and Pinky is supplanted in her affections. Hatred and tension build.

Interestingly, Daves and Russell S Hughes, who adapted the first part of Paul Wellman's novel Jubal Troop for this film (the novel goes from Indian fighting to oil drilling), invent a backstory which is not in the book. Jubal tells Felicia how as a boy he had fallen in the river, his mother had refused to try to save him and his father had died trying. 50s films liked Freudian frissons of this kind and childhood trauma to explain a broken life. But really, the episode is recounted in order to give an Oedipal tinge to the story more than an Othello one. Jubal's guilt at his father's death and perhaps sub-conscious longing for his mother is echoed with his rescue in the snowstorm by Borgnine, who becomes a father-figure, and by Jubal's undoubted attraction to Ernest's wife (though he resists it). Psychological, huh.

Pinky part-times as leader, with Jack Elam, of a mob of anti-sodbuster vigilantes and they try to run the Rawhiders off. Jubal intervenes to protect the settlers and overrides Pinky – more reason for hatred – and is aided by a cowboy traveling with the wagon train, Reb (Charles Bronson, after he had ditched his Buchinsky name and two years after playing Captain Jack in Daves's Drum Beat). Bronson is actually rather impressive in this. His part is grossly underwritten and his chance to shine is very limited indeed but he does a good job, implying an air of mystery.

Noah Beery Jr. is excellent as one of the ranch hands, genuinely decent and unhappy at the turn things take, and he succeeds in elevating his small part to be quite a prominent one. He often did that.
 

Pinky’s end is very subtly suggested by Daves. The horror of it is not lessened by its not being shown. If anything, the reverse. Daves had a lifelong fear of - yet morbid fascination with - death  by hanging, witness of course his last Western, The Hanging Tree, with Gary Cooper, and several near-lynching scenes elsewhere.

Jubal is a curious name. Maybe it was a reference to Confederate commander Jubal Early or perhaps it refers to the Biblical descendant of the outcast Cain. Maybe both.

Visually, the picture is very fine. All Daves's Westerns were. Charles Lawton, Jr.'s cinematography makes full use of the then-new Cinemascope screen shape and Grand Teton, Wyoming locations. Full marks to him and Delmer Daves, and the quality of the DVD is very good. The movie has almost a Shane/Loyal Griggs-like look to it sometimes. Lawton did three Westerns for Daves, all beautiful, as well as others for Boetticher and even John Ford. He was an artist.

Jubal is a HUAC era film and the plight of the hounded innocent man takes on double meaning. It is interesting to see also how the base informer is scornfully sent away as beneath contempt.

Daves often managed to slip in a line or two at the very limit, for the 50s, of Production Code acceptance. Here he has perhaps the sauciest double-entendre of all, when Jubal is rolling a cigarette and gazing up at seductive Mae in her lighted bedroom window. His pal Reb, who is very astute, understands instantly the attraction - and the danger - and says to Jubal, "Tried to roll them cigarettes once but I couldn't learn to keep my finger out." Silently, Jubal shows him his cigarette successfully rolled, with his finger out. The message is clear.

At the end, Jubal rides off with the wagon train of outcasts (they are more disreputable and unwashed in the book). Daves often did this at the end of his Westerns. White settlement is repressive and corrupt, and the hero prefers the wild. 3:10 to Yuma was an exception because we presume that at the end of it, Van Heflin goes back to decent farming life with his family, but if you think of the ending of Broken Arrow, The Last Wagon or Jubal, the hero prefers to go off into the untamed frontier. It is the white 'civilized' world that creates all the problems and suffering. The boss of the Rawhiders he goes off with, Felicia's dad, is named Shem, very close to Shep, and he becomes the new father-figure. I hope he won't suffer another Oedipal ending. Shem is played, by the way, by Basil Ruysdael, General OO Howard in Broken Arrow. Like many directors, Daves liked his 'stock company' of trusted actors about him.

Glenn Ford said, "Del was a very fine director. I think the three films we did together hold up well, even today. You know, I can't tell you why we had good chemistry. He was always prepared and he knew what he wanted to achieve with a film. I owe Del a lot of credit in my goal to portray a real cowboy, not an actor pretending to be a cowboy. He saw potential in me and I hope I didn't disappoint him." No, Glenn, you didn’t disappoint.

Ford added, "Nothing happened in a Delmer Daves film that wasn't intentional, from the camera set-ups to the wardrobe. He was like Fritz Lang in that way. For some reason, and it has nothing to do with me, Jubal, 3:10 to Yuma, and Cowboy are probably the best Westerns I made. It could be the good stories but you've got to give Del a lot of credit. Jubal was a difficult script that Del wrote for [Columbia boss] Harry Cohn. Harry really wanted to do this film. The story floated around Hollywood for over a decade, and Columbia put a lot of money into its development."

Jubal was an extremely good film and ranks with The Sheepman and 3:10 to Yuma in my view as the summit of Glenn Ford’s Western achievement. It was perhaps not the very greatest of Delmer Daves's Westerns but it was certainly not the worst either.

 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Violent Men, aka The Bandits (Columbia 1955)

 











A proper Western
  
 



On the surface a melodramatic tale of range war, passion and lust, this movie, Glenn Ford’s tenth Western, is saved by the very powerful performances of the principals and the visual quality of the picture. Edward G. Robinson on crutches is a cattle baron and Barbara Stanwyck is his imperious wife who is two-timing Edward G. with his brother, Brian Keith (excellently slimy in hair oil and thin moustache) who is himself two-timing Stanwyck with a Mexican spitfire. The daughter of Edward G. & Stanwyck, Dianne Foster, has inherited a bit of the imperiousness. In fact all the women in the film are arrogant and scheming and we are tempted to cheer when they get dumped by the men or do the dumping and storm off.
 

Glenn Ford, now back with Columbia for the first Western since 1949’s Lust for Gold, is a Civil War veteran recovering from wounds, a rancher willing to sell to Edward G. and move east with his (scheming) fiancée until pushed too far. He is absolutely superb as the man who doesn’t want to fight but when forced to it brings military skills to the conflict.

There is a corrupt Sheriff and a horrid band of murderous gunfighters who pillage the whole valley. Richard Jaeckel is very good as the homicidal young hired gun.
 

There are some spectacular shots when Glenn and his men stampede the big rancher’s horses and cattle. The film is brilliantly shot in bright color in California and around Old Tucson by W. Howard Greene and Burnett Guffey. Edward G.’s ranch is to die for (and he nearly does). The music is excellent too (Max Steiner).
 

OK, the script is sensational and over-the-top and la Stanwyck is pretty awful but it’s still an exciting Western which gallops along and is well directed (Rudolph Maté) and shot. And Glenn Ford, after the hiccup of The Americano, was back where he belonged, in the saddle in a quality, exciting, proper Western. He was at the peak of his career. In the following two years, also for Columbia, he was to produce two of his best ever Western performances, both for Delmer Daves.

Keep clicking on Jeff Arnold’s West to find out which!



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Americano (RKO, 1955)

 

Gaucho detectives
 



 

This film, which we must probably count as Glenn Ford’s ninth Western, commits two cardinal sins against the genre: it is set outside the American West and occurs in modern times. Still, it’s part of the Ford canon and it does get more and more cowboy as it goes along. It even ends with a classic Western showdown.
 
I like the rather South American poster

Sam Dent (Ford) wants to make $25,000 to start a ranch in Texas by delivering three Brahma bulls to a rich landowner in up-country Brazil. Once there, he encounters skullduggery of every kind, dusky maidens, ferocious wildlife and wicked bandidos. It’s all go.

Glenn is, of course, excellent and behaves properly as the laconic, tough loner, as all good cowboys must. Unfortunately Frank Lovejoy as the wicked Brazilian cattle baron is from The Bronx and it shows, or rather we hear it. Never mind, he is villainous enough and has a splendidly evil henchman, Rodolfo Hoyos Jr.

The star is really Cesar Romero who has a part to die for, a gaucho-bandido-private detective. Wow. Romero does an excellent interpretation of Anthony Quinn (who definitely should have had the role). He is dashing, charming and roguish.
 
Action!

The women are appropriately sultry. Ursula Thiess (who was Mrs. Robert Taylor) is a ranch owner whose property Bronx Frank wants to grab and she duly falls for Glenn. Cesar’s woman is Teresa (Abbe Lane) who is pretty sensational and gives us a song and (boy!) a dance. A full South American dance band seems to materialize in the jungle so that she can gyrate to it. It’s the highlight of the film. If you are a man.
 
If you’re not, I’m sure you understand.
 
The laconic, tough loner

Wildlife stock footage has obviously been cut in (the color’s different) so that we can alliteratively thrill to pumas, piranhas and parrots.

As a Western director, William Castle was known for such art movies as Jesse James vs. The Daltons and The Law vs. Billy the Kid but was more usually at work at horror pics. This one didn’t win too many Oscars, I’m afraid. Still, always good to see Glenn.



Monday, February 25, 2013

The Man from the Alamo (Universal, 1953)

 

Another 'Man from...'

 




 
Westerns loved the title The Man from… One thinks of the man from Laramie, of course, but there were also men from Bitter Ridge, Dakota, Del Rio, Galveston, Guntown, Hell's River, Salinas, Snowy River, Texas, Utah, loads more, even from God’s Country.

Maybe after a couple of rather less than stunning Westerns, Glenn Ford wanted to recapture the magic of The Man from Colorado of 1948.
 
Great Western actor

This one is too early to be a Western by some purists’ standards but actually, although it’s supposedly set in the 1830s, it’s a real Western alright. Johnny Stroud (Ford) is branded a coward for having being chosen by lot to ride out of the Alamo before the massacre to protect the families of the besieged men. He is too late and so embarks on a voyage of vengeance to kill the leader of the guerrilla band, Jess Wade (good outlaw name), played by perennial villain Victor Jory, who burned his farm and killed his family. These marauders dress up as Mexicans and what could be sneakier than that?
 
 Dramatic stuff
 
He is aided by a young Mexican boy (Marc Cavell), who knows Glenn is no coward, (as if) and by Beth Anders (beautiful Julia Adams), who comes round to that view. Chill Wills, splendid as a one-armed town elder John Gage, also comes to see Glenn as heroic but only at the very end.
 
At least someone believes Glenn isn't a coward
 
Branded a deserter and coward, he finds himself in a cell awaiting hanging with, as luck would have it, a member of the gang of bandits. If they can escape together and Glenn can infiltrate the gang...
 
Now's my chance
 
Ford was an outstanding Western hero. He was handsome, rode well (always on high grade horseflesh) and did an excellent line in the strong, silent, often misunderstood type. Above all he underplayed it, in an almost Gary Cooperish way. The role he had in this movie suited him to a T.
 
Budd Boetticher left to others the grand themes of Western history. He wasn't interested in the Alamo so much as the story of one man. Think of those excellent movies he made with Randolph Scott: they aren't about great themes, conquering the west or crossing the continent; they are about how one man deals with adversity courageously.
 
I'm not going to justify myself. You believe what you want.

Produced by Aaron Rosenberg for Universal (we think of those Anthony Mann Westerns...), directed by Boetticher, written by Steve Fisher and DD Beauchamp the Great from a Niven Busch story, photographed by Russell Metty and with music by Frank Skinner, this early 50s Western really had all the right ingredients. There’s action and plenty of shootin’. The Alamo scenes are quite impressive and Travis and Bowie look suitably beat up and dirty (nothing like Harvey or Widmark seven years later in the plodding Wayne Alamo).
 
Proper Alamo defenders. Ragged and dirty.
 
The ending is as expected but none the less heartening for that. Some of the dialogue is a bit corny, it’s true, and you always wonder in these cases why the hero doesn’t simply explain the situation and get the people on his side. But no, he has to go his lonesome way with jaw set and upper lip stiff, gritty in the knowledge that he is right and must stand above the base taunts and rumors, even if they get him lynched. No true Western hero will stoop to justifying himself.
 
Charge!

1953 was a pretty hot year for Westerns, what with Shane, Hondo and The Naked Spur coming out, not to mention Escape from Fort Bravo, The Stranger Wore a Gun, Gun Fury and Ride, Vaquero!, to name but a few. There were 299 in all that year (including TV), if you can believe it. So The Man from the Alamo had stiff competition. It held up well.
 
Mine's the bandit on the right, Annie

But it is a good little Western, well worth its Jeff Arnold three-revolver rating and a DVD purchase. With Glenn and Chill, and Boetticher giving the orders, you can’t go far wrong.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Redhead and the Cowboy (Paramount, 1951)

 
 
The Redhead and the Cowboy





After the high-quality Man from Colorado and Lust for Gold at the end of the 1940s, that superlative Western actor Glenn Ford turned in two B-Westerns, The Redhead and the Cowboy (Paramount, 1951) & The Secret of Convict Lake (Fox, 1951). One would have thought that he had built a platform with his earlier good work to go on to make some really classy oaters at the start of the 1950s. It was the time of Winchester '73 and Broken Arrow, after all, and other top-notch Westerns. But for Glenn, those came later, in the mid- and late-50s.

In this rather slight 82-minute horse opera, Glenn Ford’s sixth, he slipped back a bit into the light B-picture mode of before the War. After having done serious drama, he now appeared (free of his Columbia contract, for Paramount) in a rather silly Civil War spy/detective tale directed by Leslie Fenton, who only did four Westerns, although to be fair they did include Whispering Smith and Streets of Laredo.
 

It’s a black & white picture so you’ll have to take the redhead part on trust. Glenn plays the cowboy and Rhonda the redhead, in case you’re wondering.

In the Charles Marquis Warren story, Gil Kyle (Ford) is falsely accused of murder and his only alibi is a glamorous Confederate spy, Candace Bronson (Rhonda Fleming, such a beautiful woman and a fine actress). So he has to chase her down to prove his innocence. She thinks he might be a spy too. There are mucho plot complications as they run into desperadoes, Union agents (Ray Teal is one) and guerrilla fighters, many far from scrupulous.
 

Edmond O’Brien (pretending to be a cattle buyer but obviously not) is in it and Iron Eyes Cody too. Morris Ankrum is the (rather dumb) sheriff, so there is that. And Fred Flintstone's voice (Alan Reed) is a Quantrillish Reb colonel. It has its moments. But all in all this movie and the enjoyable but hardly great The Secret of Convict Lake the same year were steps backward in Glenn Ford’s Western career. Not that he was bad in them. He was always very good. But they weren’t the quality pictures he deserved. In this one Glenn, that supreme horseman, even has to 'ride' those fake horses in the studio with poor back projection. Ugh!

Greater things were to come.



 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lust for Gold (Columbia, 1949)

 
 

  Superb, gripping Western
 


 
 



The gold-lust is well described

Lust for Gold, Glenn Ford’s fifth oater, is a Western sandwich. It starts and ends with modern times, for nearly half the film’s length, as fortune-hunter Barry Storm (William Prince, energetic, naïf) searches the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine, named after his grandfather, immigrant Jacob Walz, who is said to have found Spanish riches there. Researcher Floyd Buckley (Hayden Rorke) is killed in the mountains and suspicion falls on Storm. The local sheriff (Paul Ford, in his first Western) orders deputies Covin (Will Geer, excellently sinister) and Walter (Jay Silverheels, solid as always) to accompany Storm back into the mountain, to retrace his steps.

In the long flashback to the original events, Walz (Glenn Ford), a German whom people assume to be Dutch (Dutch/Deutsch, a common confusion in the West), accompanied by old Wiser (Ford's pal Edgar Buchanan again, absolutely outstanding), follows Ramon (Antonio Moreno) and partner Ludi (Arthur Hunnicutt) into the mountains, and Walz shoots them all dead with his Sharps, even his partner Edgar, when the treasure is found, to claim the gold. Shades of Treasure of the Sierra Madre then.
 
Murderous and reprehensible, yet you kind of back him

Walz returns to town (there's a great scene showing how rumors and false information spread) but understandably won’t file a claim because he will have to reveal where the gold is. But he is entrapped by crafty Julia Thomas (a brilliant Ida Lupino) pretending to be all sweet and innocent (and unmarried) but really, of course, after his money like everyone else. She finally receives a crushing response.

Glenn Ford pulls off the trick of being reprehensible as the murderous Walz, even teetering on the edge of Madness (he had also gone insane the year before in The Man from Colorado), yet being at the same time curiously sympathetic. He is embattled, attacked on all sides and you can’t help feeling sorry for him despite his actions. He makes a good fist of the slightly German accent and he looks quite Bret Maverickish when dressed up, clean and courting Ida. It’s a truly great performance by Ford.

At the end we go back to the modern murder mystery to resolve the case of the dead Buckley.
 
That Sharps

So we have a short nineteenth century Western bracketed by a modern thriller. The story, adapted by Ted Sherdeman and Richard English from the real Barry Storm's book, is interesting and unusual. Like Sierra Madre, it’s a tight thriller about the corrupting power of greed.

It was directed by S Sylvan Simon, who only did three Westerns, this one, Bad Bascomb and The Kid from Texas. It is said that George Marshall did some of the directing uncredited. Photographed in black & white by the great Archie Stout in the Superstition Mountains, the film’s noirish qualities are intensified.

Lust for Gold really is an excellent movie and Glenn Ford is outstanding in it. So is (top-billed) Ida Lupino.

And by the way, the mine still hasn’t been discovered, if you’re interested. The voiceover tells us we all have the right to seek the gold and stake a claim if we find it. But beware of Ida.

Femme very fatale
 

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Man from Colorado (Columbia, 1948)

 
Glenn Ford's first 'serious' Western







By 1948 we were into ‘psychological Western’ country. Post-war Westerns showed us angst and anger, intense relationships and sometimes even descents into madness. Audiences (and indeed, writers and actors) had often seen too much of conflict and stress in the early 1940s to be satisfied any more with bland pap or false, superficial cinematic tales.
 

Glenn Ford and William Holden were great pals. They had starred together, practically as boys, in Ford’s very first – and Holden’s second - Western, Texas in 1941, and were both early Columbia contract players. They both became excellent Western stars, Ford developing into the ordinary guy with guts who quietly does what he has to do and Holden into the cynical or world-weary tough-guy parts. The Man from Colorado, their first Western after the War, was really the first where they were clearly mature, seasoned players doing a serious job. Ford’s first three, Texas; Go West, Young Lady and The Desperadoes were all good but, frankly, pretty light fare.

In this slightly unusual psychodrama, Ford is the Union colonel who becomes a federal judge and Holden the captain who becomes his US marshal. We soon perceive, however, that the relationship should have been the other way round, as Holden shows the decency and authority required for command while Ford gives a fine performance of a man descending into megalomania. To complicate the issue, the two are rivals for the hand of the fair Caroline (Ellen Drew), who marries Glenn but should have taken Bill.
 

Released in 1948 and with a screenplay by Robert D Andrews and Ben Maddow based on a story by Borden Chase, this dark movie (in color yet it seems often to be almost in black & white) is tightly directed by Henry Levin (better known for sword-and-cloak dramas) and well photographed by William Snyder. The George Duning music is a bit ho-hum and the score could have been from any gangster or other movie but all round this is a well-written, tautly directed film with outstanding acting.
 

It starts on the very last day of the Civil War as Ford gives the order to wipe out a straggling Confederate war party in Colorado despite its captain running up the white flag. Decent Holden is shocked but says nothing for the moment out of loyalty. Ford’s villainy worsens in civilian life as he confides his madness to his journal but will not admit it to anyone else. Glenn Ford’s friend Edgar Buchanan (who appeared in three of Ford's first four Westerns) is the crusty, kindly old doc who makes excuses but the paranoia and blood-lust of Ford grow as he becomes a hanging judge and leads posses to run down criminals or those he only suspects might be criminals. Ford’s madness is always measured against the rock-like common sense of Holden.
 

There is a social and moral theme of grasping businessmen using the letter of the law to dispossess veteran miners who, desperate, turn to lawlessness as 'social bandits' and become prey for the mad judge. There are sub-plots but the story never becomes too complicated and the tale rattles along at a fair pace.

Ford (apart from his silly hair) is extremely good as the commander descending into insanity and Holden, handsome and noble, is splendid as the former friend who stands up to him. Drew is moving and strong as the wife even if such parts didn’t allow for much in those days. James Millican as Jericho Howard, the ex-soldier social bandit who is very handy with a log chain, is pretty good and Ray Collins and Jerome Courtland provide satisfactory interpretations of the exploitative capitalist and Jericho’s tragic younger brother respectively.

Fascinatingly, just once, when he shouts (rare for Ford), he sounds Canadian. As he left Canada at the age of 8 and went to school and grew up in California, that’s quite surprising. Maybe it was from his parents.
 

It all ends with a climactic fire and showdown. Jericho has to die unfortunately because according to the puritan mores of 1940s Hollywood a bandit could not be seen to get away with it, even if driven to his crimes by injustice, but otherwise people get their just desserts and Holden gets the girl. Oops, I’ve given it away. But you knew what the outcome would be, didn’t you? It’s still quite an exciting drama, well worth a watch. Not perhaps one of the greatest Westerns of the immediate post-War period (it is certainly no Fort Apache or Red River, both released in the same year), it is nevertheless a serious ‘small’ Western that has undeniable qualities. Compare it to, say, Yellow Sky, another dark, psychological Western of 1948. 1948 was actually a very good year for the genre.
 

And Glenn Ford and Bill Holden are outstanding.

 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Texas (Columbia, 1941)

 
The young Glenn Ford




 



Glenn Ford’s Western career started auspiciously with an excellent little picture for Columbia – he and young William Holden were both recently signed contract players for the studio.
 
Poster doesn't look anything like them

Texas in many ways is a B-movie. It’s a 90-minute black & white with (then) pretty unknown leads. It was certainly overshadowed by big studio numbers like the Errol Flynn/Raoul Walsh Custer picture They Died With Their Boots On or the Fritz Lang-directed Western Union with Randolph Scott, or indeed the Robert Taylor Billy the Kid and George Montgomery in Riders of the Purple Sage, all of which came out in 1941. But it’s a sleeper, an unpretentious Western that manages to blend humor and drama very successfully.

It was directed by George Marshall, fresh from his successes in Destry Rides Again in ’39 and When the Daltons Rode in ’40. Like them, Texas has unpretentious energy and spirit with a good dose of laughs. Marshall had been at it since the very early silent days: his first Western was Across the Rio Grande in 1916 and in fact he had started as a lad doing stunt work in early Westerns for Universal, but about the time of the Second World War and after he really came into his own. He directed Glenn Ford several times (this one,  The Sheepman and Advance to the Rear, as well as doing some - uncredited - direction of Lust for Gold), always with success. With Destry Rides Again (and its 1954 remake Destry) and The Sheepman to their credit, this director and star are assured of a place at the very summit of the Comedy Western Parnassus.
 
The boys

We start in Abilene, 1866. Former Rebels Dan (Holden) and Tod (Ford) are caught stealing a hog and fined an impossible sum by a spittoon-using pro-Union judge (Raymond Hatton). A railroad baron, Windy Miller (George Bancroft) bails them out and they witness the hold-up of a stage. They rob the robbers. Tod aims to give the money back to its rightful owners but Dan has other ideas. They split up and go their separate ways. Tod lands up as a cattle ranch hand where he falls for the rancher’s daughter, Mike (Claire Trevor, excellent). Dan falls in with rustlers who turn out to be the same gang that held up the stage but he meets and falls for Mike too. (As you probably know, there's quite a tradition of Western gals being called Mike).

To say this Western is action-packed is an understatement. It gallops along at breakneck pace with many a yeehar. There's a cattle drive to Abilene (and the inevitable line "The East needs beef" does not fail to make an appearance) and rustlin' and stampedes and a prize fight and shoot-outs galore.

It was Edgar Buchanan’s favorite movie. He appeared 13 times with Glenn Ford and they were buddies. Here he plays a wonderful crooked frontier dentist – it’s a great part – and of course it’s funnier if you know Buchanan had been a dentist in real life before arriving at Tinseltown.

It's a buddy movie that foreshadows Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and a host of imitations like Alias Smith and Jones.

Texas is a terrific little film (coming after Arizona of the year before, Holden's Western debut, also excellent) and was a great launch pad for Glenn Ford’s wonderful Western career.