COWBOYS TO APPEAR ON POST OFFICE WALLS!
On April 17th, the U.S. Postal Service will issue COWBOYS OF THE SILVER SCREEN, four stamps honoring all-time favorite cowpunchers William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Robert Rodriguez is the artist for all four portraits. It's been a noteworthy time for Roy Rogers in particular, whose Under Western Skies (1938) was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry, along with The Mark of Zorro (1940), Once Upon a Time In The West (1968) and The Revenge of Pancho Villa (1930-1936). Ironic that both happy events should happen so close to the closing of the Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, Missouri. If you'd like read Roy Rogers Jr. statement about the closing, click here. And if you'd like to nominate movies for the National Film Registry, click here.
SANTA CLARITA COWBOY FESTIVAL!
The 17th Annual Festival will be taking place at the fabled Melody Ranch, of Gene Autry fame, April 22nd-25th. There are many different events and activities, including eating, shopping, touring the Melody Ranch Museum, a wide range of music and dance performances -- including my personal favorites, The Quebe Sisters Band, screenings of High Noon, and of The Shootist - featuring screenwriter Miles Swarthout. There are a ton of different individual events and packages, so for more information and tickets, click here.
BOOK REVIEW - THE WESTERNERS by C. COURTNEY JOYNER
C. Courtney Joyner’s collection of interviews, entitled THE WESTERNERS is, simply, one of the best books ever written about the western film. While most such books are written by one of two kinds of outsider – either a goofy fan with enthusiasm but no knowledge, or a pretentious academic with a wealth of pointless statistics – in this one the story told by the men and women who actually made the movies, interviewed by a man who knows what questions to ask.
Joyner is a screenwriter with more than twenty produced films to his credit, and he’s directed a couple as well. He’s written extensively about his two favorite film genres – westerns and horror – in Wildest Westerns, Fangoria and Famous Monster of Filmland. Joyner’s book covers a wide range of western entertainment in terms of year and budget. He speaks to Glenn Ford, one of the biggest stars to ever ride the range, and to the great character people like perennial John Wayne sideman Edward Faulkner, and accountant-turned-villain-turned-comic Jack Elam. Elam’s story of what happened during the filming of the train-station opening of Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West (1968) is a jaw-dropper.
Then there are the subjects whose families span generations in the film business. Harry Carey Jr., a solid presence in westerns from Red River and Three Godfathers, both 1948, to Tombstone (1993) – with Billy The Kid Vs. Dracula (1966) in between – is the son of silent western star Harry Carey Sr. You’ll learn what it was like working with John Wayne and John Ford, how an innocuous, overheard comment from Ben Johnson got him banned from John Ford sets for fourteen years. You’ll read about how Dennis Hopper got blackballed after storming off the set, because director Henry Hathaway was mocking his recently deceased pal James Dean. Another second generationer, director Andrew V. McLaglen, son of actor Victor, has plenty of stories to tell.
Joyner’s talk with Elmore ‘Dutch’ Leonard traces his career from the pulps, to Hombre, to the phone-call he got from Clint Eastwood: “Dirty Harry is going to make an awful lot of money. I want one just like it. A guy with a gun, only different.” That’s what led to Joe Kidd(1972). Writer-director Burt Kennedy talks at length about his collaboration with director Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott, which gave us, arguably, the best series of westerns ever made – a subject Kennedy glossed over in his autobiography.
This volume is clearly a labor of love. It contains the only extensive interview I’ve ever read with Warren Oates, who died back in 1982. We are fortunate that Joyner managed to interview Oates while still a college student, as part of a class project!
Also represented are two of the great beauties of the western screen, Virginia Mayo and Julie Adams. While most actresses whine about dust in their hair and eating outside, both of these women enjoyed the often down-and-dirty work, and Mayo won my heart by referring to westerns as ‘outdoor pictures,’ the term John Ford preferred.
Producer A.C. Lyles, the grand old man of Paramount Pictures, discusses his highly successful series of small-budget westerns that kept a slew of old-timers in front of the camera. The television side of westerns is not slighted either. Joyner speaks to Andrew J. Fenady, who in addition to writing Chisum (1970), also wrote and/or produced series like The Rebel, Branded and Hondo.
And spaghetti westerns are welcomed into the fold. Aldo Sambrell, the greatest of the banditos in the Sergio Leones, and so many others, tells the story of why he had to pull a saber on Jim Brown during the making of 100 Rifles(1969).
THE WESTERNERS is a trade paperback published by MacFarland, 256 pages, $39.95, with a forward by Miles Swarthout, the screenwriter of the wonderful The Shootist (1976), from his father Glendon Swarthout’s novel. If you click this link, you’ll be connected to the Westerners’ website, and can order the book from MacFarland or Amazon – and you can watch the trailer for The Wild Bunch (1969)!
FESS PARKER DIES MARCH 19TH, AGE 85
The ruggedly handsome actor who would forever blur a generation's identification of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone was born, appropriately, in Fort Worth, Texas in 1924. Walt Disney, searching for an actor to play Crockett, was considering pre-GUNSMOKE James Arness, and watched him in a 1954 sci-fier, THEM! There he apotted Fess Parker in a small role, and the rest is legend. He became a star over-night, and nearly every kid in the world sported a coon-skin cap for a few years. His rendition of 'Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier,' was #1 for sixteen weeks, for which he was paid $150.00. After the seven CROCKETTS he starred in Westward Ho The Wagons (1956), and Old Yeller (1957), both for Disney. He wanted to be let out of his contract to play a role in Ford's The Searchers, and to star opposite Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, but Uncle Walt nixed both. In the 1962 season he starred in a TV adaptation of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Starting in 1964 Parker began playing Daniel Boone, and would continue for 159 episodes. He only took a few roles after Boone, before shifting his business interests to real estate. He had a tremendously successful development in Santa Barbara. He'd drop in there every weekend, and talk for hours to the many aging kids who grew up with him as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.
ROBERT CULP DIES MARCH 24TH, AGE 79
Although handsome leading man Culp is best remembered by the public for his long-running series, I SPY, he appeared frequently in western movies and TV shows. He starred in 70 episodes of Trackdown, guested on The Rifleman and Peckinpah's The Westerner, and played Wild Bill Hickok in The Raiders (1963). He starred in Castaway Cowboy (1974) and the comedy The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976). His best western role was ine starred in Hannie Caulder (1971), where he plays the gunslinger who teaches Raquel Welch to shoot. In addition to acting, Culp was a talented writer, and wrote episodes of Trackdown, I Spy and The Greatest American Hero. He also wrote a pilot, Summer Soldiers, for Sam Peckinpah, but they never got it made. He also directed episodes of I SPY, Greatest American Hero, and the feature Hickey and Boggs(1972), in which he co-starred with his old I SPY pal Bill Cosby. I remember hearing him speak at a Writers Guild rally about twenty years ago, where he revealed that he became a director not so much to direct as to protect the integrity of the scripts he had written. If you, like me, haven't seen Culp in the saddle in a while, you can click here and watch The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday.
BUTCH CASSIDY AT THE BILLY WILDER
The Billy Wilder Theatre at UCLA has an occasional series of screenings entitled The Movie That Inspired Me. David Fincher, who has directed Benjamin Button (2008), Zodiac (2007) and Fight Club (1999), has selected Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969), directed by George Roy Hill, written by William Goldman. And in case anyone forgot, it stars Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross and Strother Martin (I love to point out that Strother was in both Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch, both films about the same guys in the same year). David Fincher and series curator, director Curtis Hanson, will attend. For details and tickets, click here.
SWEETGRASS AT LANDMARK THEATERS
Here is the official blurb about a new documentary. "SWEETGRASS is an unsentimental elegy to the American West. The documentary follows the last modern-day cowboys to lead their flocks of sheep up into Montana's breathtaking and often dangerous Absaroka-Beartooth mountains for summer pasture. The astonishingly beautiful yet unsparing film reveals a world in which nature and culture, animals and humans, vulnerability and violence are all intimately meshed. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times calls the film 'a really intimate, beautifully shot examination of the connection between man and beast,' while Ronnie Scheib of Variety considers it 'a one-of-a-kind experience...at once epic-scale and earthbound.'" Okay, none of those Brokeback Mountain (2005) cheap-shots -- I'm sure these poor cowboys have heard 'em all. Sweetgrass is playing at the Varsity Theatre in Seattle, the Nuart in Los Angeles, and will open this week at the Kendall Square Cinema in Boston.
I don't know how many of you went to see Ernest Borgnine at the North Hollywood Library on March 20th, but he played to a packed house. As one of the librarians commented that they'd never seen so many people at the library, nervous firemen slipped in and out of the auditorium where MARTY was being screened. The sign on the wall allowed an occupancy maximum of 116, but there were probably 150 or more. After, the big man answered questions about his career in general, talked a bit about The Wild Bunch, Vera Cruz(1954), and Burt Lancaster, and signed a helluvah lot of copies of his autobio, ERNIE.
WESTERN MOVIES ON TV
Note:AMC=American Movie Classics, EXT= Showtime Extreme, FMC=Fox Movie Channel, TCM=Turner Classic Movies. All times given are Pacific Standard Time.
Monday March 29th
FMC 3:00 a.m. Call Of The Wild (1935) Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Jack Oakie, Buck, D:William Wellman, W:Gene Fowler - from Jack London's novel. (Great stuff, and Gable at his best - no wonder Loretta got impregnated by him on the shoot!)
Wednesday March 31st
TCM 8:00 a.m. TWO RODE TOGETHER (1961) John Ford directd James Stewart and Richard Widmark in this story of two tough characters bringing home a group of freed Comanche hostages. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent from the novel by Will Cook.
FMC 3:00 A.M. DRUMS ALONG THE MOWHAWK (1939)
John Ford directed with gusto from the Lamar Trotti, Sonya Levian script, based on the Walter D. Edmonds novel. Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda star in one of the finest of 'eastern' westerns, a Revoltionary War story packed with Ford stock company greats like John Carradine, Arthur Shields and Ward Bond. In a more normal year, it might have been named Best Picture, but in 1939 it received only two Oscar nominations, for Edna Mae Oliver's comic turn as Best Supporting Actress, and for Ray Rennahan and Bert Glennon's glorious Technicolor photography -- and it won neither. Highly recommended.
FMC 9:00 a.m. THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES (1957) Nicholas Ray directed this remake of the 1939 classic, starring Robert Wagner as Jesse, Jeffrey Hunter as Frank, and Alan Hale Jr. as Cole Younger, with Hope Lange and Agnes Moorehead. Scripy by Walter Newman, adapted from Nunnally Johnson's original.
Thursday April 1st
FNC 7:01 a.m. SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW (1959) Comedy western, D:Raoul Walsh, W:Howard Dimsdale, starring Jayne Mansfield, Kenneth More, Henry Hull, Bruce Cabot.
AMC 7:00 p.m. BLAZING SADDLES (1974)Mel Brooks directed and co-wrote, with Norman Steinberg, this delightfully broad western comedy about a town getting it's first black sheriff, Cleavon Little, helped only by Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid. With Slim Pickens and Madeline Kahn, and featuring a rousing theme sung by Frankie Laine.
Friday April 2nd
TCM 1:15 a.m. MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES: HOWARD HAWKS (1973) Docymentary directd by Richard Schickel.
TCM 6:16 a.m. GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1938) Theatre impressario David Belasco's play about a frontierwoman sheltering an outlaw becomes a vehicle for the voices of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. With Buddy Ebsen. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, script by Isabel Dawn.
TCM 10:15 a.m. THE KID FROM TEXAS (1939) A playboy turns cowboy, and sets up a polo match with an Indian tribe. Stars Dennis O'Keefe, Buddy Ebsen and Jack Carson. Directed by S. Sylvan Simon, story by Milton Merlin and Byron Morgan, screenplya by Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allen Woolf and Albert Mann Heimer.
AMC 12:30 p.m. BLAZING SADDLES (1974)Mel Brooks directed and co-wrote, with Norman Steinberg, this delightfully broad western comedy about a town getting it's first black sheriff, Cleavon Little, helped only by Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid. With Slim Pickens and Madeline Kahn, and featuring a rousing theme sung by Frankie Laine.
TCM 12:45 p.m. FRONTIER RANGERS (1959) This movie and the next are cobbled together from the excellent TV series NORTHWEST PASSAGE, based on Kenneth Robert's novel about Robert's Rangers and the French and Indian War. Starring Keith Larsen, Buddy Ebsen and Angie Dickinson, directed by the great Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Gerald Drayson Adams.
TCM 2:15 p.m. FURY RIVER (1961) See above, the same cast, this time with four directors and several writers.
Saturday April 3rd
AMC 7:00 a.m. The Culpepper Cattle Company (1972) Directed by Dick Richards from his own story, scripted by Gregory Prentiss and Eric Bercovici. Young Gary Grimes talks a trail boss, Billy Green Bush, into taking him on a cattle drive. With Luke Askew, Bo Hopkins, Charles Martin Smith and Matt Clark -- how many westerns is Matt Clark in, anyway? As many as Gabby Hayes?
TCM 9:00 a.m. LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) As a little big fan of director Arthur Penn and screenwriter Calder Willingham, I couldn't wait to see this adaptation of Thomas Berger's novel about an incredibly old Dustin Hoffman recalling his upbringing by Indians and fighting alongside Custer. But it's just ghastly, nearly unwatchable, and absolutely pointless, for 140 minutes! It strives to be funny on occasion, but fails utterly. Hoffman doesn't suck, but he can't save it. Faye Dunaway is fetching as she seduces Hoffman. Chief Dan George was nominated for as Oscar, in a performance that reminds you of Bela Lugosi's later work -- when he was at such a higher level of professionalism than those around him that you wondered how he could stand it. Great make-up by Dick Smith. Burn the negative.
AMC 9:15 a.m. THE COMANCHEROS (1961) John Wayne arrests Stuart Whitman, but they must join forces to defeat evil gun-running comanchero Lee Marvin. Great fun, written by James Edward Grant from a novel by Paul Wellman. It was Michael Curtiz's last film. When he became too ill, John Wayne took over the directorial reins, but refused credit. Fine Elmer Bernstein score. Biggest weakness: Lee Marvin is supposed to be horribly scared from surviving being scalped, but he actually looks like he's wearing a horse-shoe crab on top of his head.
AMC 11:45 a.m. LAST OF THE DOGMEN (1995) - Tab Murphy wrote and directed this story about a bounty hunter tracking three escaped convicts, and supernatural events that ensue. Starring Tom Berenger, Barbara Hershey, Kurtwood Smith and, Parley Baer, the original 'Chester' from the radio drama GUNSMOKE.
AMC 2:30 p.m. JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972) Sydney Pollack directs Robert Redford in the story of a real mountain man, culled from several different writers: Vardis Fisher, Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker. The screenplay is by John Milius and Edward Anholt, and is co-stars Will Geer. Probably Redford's best western role (yes, I know SUNDANCE KID is good, too), and it was a wise move to eliminate his character's nickname: Liver-Eating Johnson.
AMC 5:00 p.m. THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES (1976) Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, with Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, John Vernon and Sheb Wooley. Clint's a Missouri farmer who becaomes a Confederate guerilla -- reportedly Clints favorite among his films. Screenplay by Philip Kaufman, from Forrest Carton's novel.
AMC 8:00 p.m. THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES (1976) Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, with Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, John Vernon and Sheb Wooley. Clint's a Missouri farmer who becaomes a Confederate guerilla -- reportedly Clints favorite among his films. Screenplay by Philip Kaufman, from Forrest Carton's novel.
AMC 11:00 p.m. JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972) Sydney Pollack directs Robert Redford in the story of a real mountain man, culled from several different writers: Vardis Fisher, Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker. The screenplay is by John Milius and Edward Anholt, and is co-stars Will Geer. Probably Redford's best western role (yes, I know SUNDANCE KID is good, too), and it was a wise move to eliminate his character's nickname: Liver-Eating Johnson.