Monday, July 31, 2017

The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca ( 1958 )

Walt Disney produced a number of great television serials during the 1950s and 1960s for his show The Wonderful World of Color. The most popular were The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and The Swamp Fox. One of the earlier serials, however, also ranks as one of the best - The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca - released in 1958. This was years before the average family owned a color television set, but Disney was shrewd enough to realize that the program may be re-aired in the near future and so he had the entire series filmed in color.

"And the legend was that, like el gato "the cat", nine lives had Elfego Baca"

This ten-part miniseries, set in the 1880s, starred a young Robert Loggia as Elfego Baca, the legendary gunman who took on the badge of deputy sheriff and vowed to rid New Mexico of the reckless cowboys who caused havoc in small towns. Baca was a man of peace but he wanted “outlaws to hear my steps a block away.” They not only heard him, but after he survived unscathed an incident where eighty cowboys ganged up on Baca and barraged over 4,000 shots into the house where he was holed up in for nearly 33 hours, he was nicknamed "el gato" the cat, and many believed that he truly had nine lives. Since this serial had ten parts, each episode featured a different incident that endangered one of those nine lives of Elfego Baca. 
The Italian-American Loggia makes a convincing Latino, oozing charisma as this noble hero. He's courageous and bold, considerate of the poor people in the village, and studious, too. He spends every free hour studying law so that he could become a lawyer and better serve the people. Each one of Baca's encounters with those around him are interesting, whether he's tracking down a wanted criminal ( even beyond state boundaries ), trying to prove the innocence of another, or engaging in a gunfight on the street.  
Almost all of Disney's television shows featured a little romance so Liza Montell was brought in to play the character Anita Chavez, a young widow who first encounters Baca when he uses her adobe house as a hideout. She's a fitting beauty for this good-hearted young man. Also in the cast are James Dunn, as a fellow lawyer; Robert F. Simon, as his deputy sheriff; and Leonard Strong as one of the villains.

One of the highlights of The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca is the introductions that Walt personally delivers to each episode. Dressed in western regalia, he narrates a brief history behind the man known as Baca and is then followed by a group of fiddling cowboys who perform the catchy opening theme song. Great entertainment!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

From the Archives : Ralph Forbes in Beau Ideal ( 1931 )

The handsome Ralph Forbes posing in desert regalia for a publicity photo from "Beau Ideal" ( 1931 ).

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Valley of Gwangi ( 1969 )

In the late 1960s, adventure and sci-fi films weren't all too popular in the theaters. The younger generation preferred films that portrayed gritty realism; films that dealt with problems they could relate to. The older generation were wondering what became of the musicals and noirs they loved and preferred to stay at home watching their favorite old-time actors on the late-late movie on television. 

Hence, a fantasy-western like The Valley of Gwangi - even with the name of Ray Harryhausen behind it - was destined for instant obscurity. Today, it is still buried under the stop-motion maestro's other works. 

The Valley of Gwangi features an imaginative story line and - naturally - some great special effects, but it doesn't come off as particularly entertaining fare, partly owing to the bland performances of the two main leads, James Franciscus and Gila Golan ( which sounds like a Harryhausen creature itself ).
The story begins in the desert of Mexico where a gypsy steals a small creature known as "El Diablo" from the Forbidden Valley. This turns out to be the miniature prehistoric ancestor to the modern horse. T.J Breckenridge ( Golan ) gets a hold of this creature and hopes to feature it in an upcoming act for her travelling circus. When paleontologist Horace Bromley ( Laurence Naismith ) hears about this find, he convinces a band of gypsies to steal it and return it to the Forbidden Valley so he can discover if more of these creatures exist. Tuck Kirby ( Franciscus ) follows these gypsies into the valley attempting to re-capture El Diablo for Breckenridge.....but instead discovers a litany of living dinosaurs! Along with other members of the circus, Kirby and Professor Bromley try to capture Gwangi, a belligerent Allosaurus, to make the starring attraction of the circus instead. 

Ultimately, what rescues The Valley of Gwangi from becoming a quick drive-in picture is the exciting theme music ( by Jerome Moross ), and the visual style of the film....scenes of the professor in the desert hunting for dinosaur bones, close-ups of the old gypsy woman uttering curses, and Gwangi struggling to free himself from the metal cage at the circus. Harryhausen's animation during the final sequence within the church is especially good, too. 
After the release of Gwangi, Harryhausen and producer Charles Schneer began work on The Golden Voyage of Sinbad ( 1973 ), a film that took several years to produce but which proved to be a much bigger success at the box-office.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Pile up! Pile up! This fellow is heading right into a mob of bicyclists that aren't looking down at the road like they should be. If you are a fan of one of the actors in this film, you'll recognize this scene right away.... otherwise it might be impossibly difficult to remember just what film you saw this pile up in! 

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


Phyl has impressed us with correctly guessing "Paris Holiday", the 1958 comedy starring Bob Hope. That's Hope in this scene, hanging from the helicopter ladder ( well, it's probably his stunt-double, but you get the point ). He was having a fun time crashing into a brigade of policiers sur les bicyclettes! 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Scaramouche ( 1952 )

"He was born with the gift of laughter and the sense that the world was mad"

Raphael Sabatini's classic 1921 novel "Scaramouche" was made into three film adaptations over the years, including a 1956 television series, but hands down this Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer version starring the engaging English actor Stewart Granger tops them all. Why? Because the film accomplished that rare feat of improving upon the novel it was based on. Scaramouche ranks as one of the best swashbuckling films of the 1950s, and even boasts the longest and most intricate fencing duel in Hollywood's history. 

Stewart Granger stars as our dashing hero Andre-Louis Moreau, a young lawyer who dedicates years of his life to avenge the death of his best friend ( Richard Anderson ) who was killed in a duel by the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr ( Mel Ferrer ), a master swordsman. He joins a traveling theatre group where he dons the mask of Scaramouche, the star comedian, in order to hide from the Marquis' soldiers who have ordered Andre arrested as a revolutionary. Even with his dogged determination to pin down the Marquis, Andre takes time off from his fencing lessons to woo Lenore ( Eleanor Parker ), a flaming red-headed actress and Aline de Gavrillac ( Janet Leigh ), the pretty young ward of the Marquis. 

"But who is Scaramouche? And why does he hide his face behind a mask?"
Scaramouche plunges the audience right into the action from the on-start, packing a lot of story in its 115-minute run time. It features a marvelous cast, excellent cinematography, stunning costumes and sets ( credit Gile Steele and Cedric Gibbons, respectively ), and a lovely Victor Young score ( the end music is especially apropos ). In short, it's a rousing good swashbuckler! 

Veteran director George Sidney, who was especially adept at filming musicals ( Anchors Aweigh, The Harvey Girls, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate ), took the helm of this classic, staging all of the sword-fighting sequences as though they were dance numbers. These fencing "ballets" are a highlight of this colorful film and the climatic eight-minute duel sequence between Granger and Ferrer is justly famous for it took these actors eight weeks of training to get their fencing movements precise. 

"Scaramouche, you have just given your last performance!"

European fencing champion Jean Heremans provided Stewart Granger with fencing lessons and he delighted in doing all of his own stunts. Granger was ideally cast as the rakish lad born with the gift of laughter. He brought a playful exuberance to the character which was a key element in bringing Sabatini's novel to life. 

Granger had seen the original 1923 silent version ( starring Ramon Navarro and Lewis Stone ) as a child and when he was offered a contract by MGM, he signed it on the condition that Scaramouche would be developed as a project for him. 

The studio had toyed with remaking the film for years, first in 1938 with Fernand Gravet, and then as a possible musical version with Gene Kelly or Fernando Lamas in the starring role, so when Granger suggested the book as a vehicle for himself it was swiftly put into production. Since MGM studios always treated novel-based films with reverence, Scaramouche went to the top of their release schedule as an A-picture. 
Elizabeth Taylor was originally slated to play the part of Aline de Gavrillac, but had to turn down the role because she was already signed for another picture. Ava Gardner was also to have been in the film, in Eleanor Parker's role. However, this was a fortunate swap for Eleanor Parker is excellent as the feisty Lenore. 

Rounding out the cast was Henry Wilcoxon, Nina Foch ( as Marie Antoinette ), Lewis Stone, Robert Coote, and Elisabeth Risdon. 

This post is our contribution to The Swashathon being hosted by Movies Silently. Be sure to head on over to Movies Silently site to check out other great reviews of classic swashbuckling films. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Yellow Jack ( 1938 )

For hundreds of years people on the island of Cuba - and throughout other parts south of the equator - were dying of yellow fever, a disease that many doctors believed was unpreventable and, if not caught in time, incurable. What baffled these men of medicine the most was the fact that they were unable to determine what triggered yellow fever. Was it caused by germs in the air? Bad food? Sweat from dirty clothing? Was the disease something that spread from person to person? 

According to MGM's Yellow Jack, all these questions were answered in 1898 when, at a United States Marine camp in Cuba, three doctors ( Lewis Stone, Henry Hull, Stanley Ridges ), along with the aid of five brave guinea pigs....ahem, volunteer soldiers....tested out the theory of Dr. Finlay, a Scotsman who believed that yellow fever came from the bite of an infected mosquito. Other scientists felt this was the likely cause, too, but with over 700 species of mosquitoes on the island, they didn't even know where to begin their investigations as to which species was the culprit. Thankfully, Dr. Finlay ( Charles Coburn ) made the study of those bugs his life's work and had solved that mystery years prior. Now, with five plucky soldiers on hand ( Robert Montgomery, Alan Curtis, Sam Levene, Buddy Ebsen, and William Henry ) he was given the opportunity to put his theories into action. 
Yellow Jack was based upon the 1934 Sidney Howard-Paul de Kruif play of the same name, which starred James Stewart in the lead role as the Irish sergeant John O'Hara. It was his performance in this play that led to him coming out to Hollywood and signing an MGM contract. He could have done an excellent job with this part, but Robert Montgomery was given the lead instead and unknowing film audiences didn't mind the change for Yellow Jack did fairly well at the box-office. Robert Montgomery and Henry Hull ( certainly an underrated actor ) both give good performances and George B. Seitz directs the action with a steady hand. Both Seitz and Louis Stone were probably enjoying this trek in the jungle as a change of pace from the Andy Hardy films. 
Pretty Virginia Bruce, the only female lead in the film, portrays the nurse whom Robert Montgomery's heart thumps for. He's not as concerned about finding a cure for yellow fever, as much as finding a cure for the love-bug. He fails to realize that the interest she pays to him is merely out of her itching desire to find a soldier willing to stake his life for the cause of science and humankind. But ultimately, she falls for the winsome ways of the sergeant and comes to admire his selflessness as much as the audience does. 

For a decade after the release of The Story of Louis Pasteur in 1935, "medical discovery" pictures were a popular genre. These films usually featured stellar casts, engrossing scripts, and a touch of romance. Yellow Jack embraces all these aspects, too, with an added bit o' Irish humor. It is well worth watching on a hot and sticky day....just be sure to have your mosquito netting handy. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

From the Archives : Old Yeller ( 1957 )

Dorothy McGuire is spending a little bonding time off the set of Old Yeller with her leading player, Spike, in this rare candid photo. Spike portrayed "Old Yeller" in the 1957 Walt Disney classic. He later moved on to television work, appearing as a regular in The Westerner and a few episodes of Lassie

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Nugget Reviews - 23

Johannisnacht ( 1956 )  14k 

An opera singer divorces her husband shortly after an extended performing tour in America. Years later, she returns to Germany to see her daughter whom her husband hid away in a chalet in the valley. Willy Birgel, Hertha Feiler, Erik Schumann, Sonja Sutter, Wolfgang Grunner. MGM Pictures. Directed by Harald Reinl.

A sweet romance from Delos-Film studios. Austrian-born Hertha Feiler, who often starred in comedies with her husband Heinz Ruhmann, is given a decent dramatic part here and the location filming of this "Heimatfilm" is beautiful. There is also a nice sub-romance going on between Erik Schumann and Sonja Sutter. 


A Royal Scandal ( 1945 ) Elect.

A young idealistic lieutenant warns Catherine the Great of treachery within her court. She finds his loyalty and good looks very appealing and makes him her boy-toy, much to the chagrin of his true love, Queen Catherine's lady-in-waiting, Anna. Tallulah Bankhead, Charles Coburn, Anne Baxter, William Eythe, Vincent Price, Mischa Auer. 20th Century Fox Pictures. Directed by Otto Preminger and Ernst Lubitsch.

Ernst Lubitsch was a master at creating frothy comedies. He reached his prime in the early 1930s with such classics as Monte Carlo, The Smiling Lieutenant, One Hour with You and Ninotchka, but even he couldn't save this film from Preminger's heavy-handed direction. While there were a few amusing sequences in A Royal Scandal, overall the comedy seemed force. Tallulah Bankhead gave a grand performance as Catherine the Great, with some excellent support from character actors Charles Coburn and Sig Ruman, in spite of the circumstances.


King Richard and the Crusaders ( 1954 ) 14k.

While encamped in the Holy Land, two noblemen plot to murder Richard the Lionheart and make his death appear to be from a Saracen attack, but his loyal knight Sir Kenneth discovers the plan. Rex Harrison, Laurence Harvey, George Sanders, Virginia Mayo, Robert Douglas. Warner Brothers. Directed by David Butler. 

Rex Harrison and Laurence Harvey give engrossing performances in this otherwise run-of-the-mill Crusades adventure, based upon Sir Walter Scott's novel "The Talisman". George Sanders makes an unconvincing King Richard, and Virginia Mayo's presence serves merely as eye-candy, but the Technicolor is beautiful and it's fun watching Rex Harrison tackle an Arab role.


Scaramouche ( 1923 ) Elect.

A quiet French lawyer becomes a revolutionary after a nobleman kills his friend in a duel. Ramon Navarro, Alice Terry, Lewis Stone, Julia Swayne Gordon. Metro Pictures. Directed by Rex Ingram.

Production standards were high in this Rex Ingram silent classic, but the film fails to capture the excitement of Rafael Sabatini's novel and lingers on a bit too long. The zest that Stewart Granger brought to the part of Andre Moreau in the 1952 remake was non-existent in Novarro's portrayal. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford would have been ideal casting choices instead. However, the French Revolution sequences at the climax were truly hair-raising.


The Toy Wife ( 1938 ) 14k

A flirtatious and frivolous Southern belle marries her sister's serious-minded fiancee. He later comes to regret not having found himself a more sensible wife. Luise Rainer, Melvyn Douglas, Barbara O'Neil, Robert Young, Alma Kruger. MGM Pictures. Directed by Richard Thorpe.

Luise Rainer was fresh from her Oscar-winning performance in The Good Earth when she starred in The Toy Wife, MGM's consolation project after losing the book rights to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind". This southern belle story put the spotlight on Rainer, allowing her - as "Frou-Frou" - to swoosh her hoop skirts around New Orleans and playfully toy with the heart-strings of not one, but two, gentlemen. It makes for engrossing soap. Barbara O'Neil earned the role of Ellen ( Scarlett's mother ) in Gone with the Wind, thanks to her performance in this film as Frou-Frou's sister.