Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Review - Joe De Yong: A Life in the West

In February 2018, author William Reynolds launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish his biography of Joe De Yong, a cowboy and protege of Western artist Charles M. Russell. It was successfully funded and the result was a beautiful hardbound, 320-page book measuring 9" x 11.5". 

Joe De Yong led a fascinating life and the reason I am reviewing his biography here is that much of that life was spent in Hollywood, where he worked in films as an artist and western regalia consultant. Yes, someone had to be consulted about what is and isn't proper cowboy garb. 

His love for the movies began when he was 14 years old and, working on a ranch, had a chance to meet the famous cowboy star Tom Mix. Joe caught the acting bug and wanted to enter the film business as a cowboy himself. Within five years he was making films with Mix, but while shooting a film on location in Arizona he was stricken with meningitis which left him permanently deaf. While recuperating from his illness, he saw an exhibition of paintings by Charles M. Russell and returned to another passion of his: art. 
Joe De Yong spent years with Russell in his studio, working beside him and learning his craft. It was when Russell died in 1926, that Joe returned to Hollywood to work as a designer for costume and gear and sometimes aid in scenic and storyboard art. This began a career that spanned nearly thirty years of his life. It was only for the Cecil B. DeMille films and Shane ( 1953 ) that he received screen credit, but De Yong had a hand in some top westerns of the time: The Plainsman ( 1937 ), Union Pacific ( 1939 ), Susannah of the Mounties ( 1939 ), Northwest Mounted Police ( 1940 ), Tall in the Saddle ( 1944 ), The Virginian ( 1946 ), Ramrod ( 1947 ), Red River ( 1948 ), The Big Sky ( 1952 ), Rio Bravo ( 1959 ), and his last film, El Dorado ( 1967 ). 

Yong's sketch of the Starrett homestead
William Reynolds wrote an excellent account of this cowboy, covering his personal life, his relation with Charles M. Russell, and his years in Hollywood in great detail. Joe De Yong, A Life in the West is packed with original stills and posters, behind-the-scenes photos, costume sketches, numerous correspondence and, of course, De Yong's etchings and paintings. It is just a fascinating book overall. 

Unfortunately, if you did not back the campaign, the book is only available used through Amazon and eBay, but if westerns are your passion, then try to add this title to your bookshelf.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Johnny Guitar ( 1954 )

Joan Crawford in a western? If that sounds incredulous, Ms.Crawford must have thought so, too, because it was not until 1954 that she starred in her first spurs-and-guns picture - Johnny Guitar. Unlike Barbara Stanwyck, Joan seemed out of place in the desert locale sporting jeans - but she gave it a good try. 
Crawford stars as Vienna, a saloon/casino owner who owns a good chunk of territory in a wind-swept Arizona cattle town and wants the railroad to put in a new stop in town thereby carrying tourists to her gambling lair. Emma Small ( Mercedes McCambridge ) has recently brewed a potful of poison in her heart against Vienna because Vienna stole her sweetheart, the Dancin' Kid ( Scott Brady ), away from her and now is dead set against her notions of securing a railroad stop. 

The Dancin' Kid isn't the noblest citizen in town. He and his cronies ( Ernest Borgnine, Ben Cooper, Royal Dano ) are constantly being blamed for robbing stage-coaches. In truth, they are mining ore from a hidden silver vein. But when the vein runs dry, the Dancin' Kid sees no harm in robbing the town bank - owned by none other than Emma Small. Emma is certain that Vienna is behind the robbery, so it is a good thing that Vienna hired her former lover, Johnny Guitar ( Sterling Haydn ), for protection. 

Johnny Guitar grossed more than $2.5 million when it opened in theatres in January 1955, in spite of primarily negative reviews from critics. It is an unusual western from director Nicholas Ray ( They Live by Night, Rebel Without a Cause ), playing out like a western-noir with a lot of tough-talking drama. The film is slow to start with way too much pretentious dialogue taking place within the confines of Vienna's saloon but, once the picture moves out-of-doors, the story begins to unfold and it is pure entertainment from there on. 

Mercedes McCambridge gives a powerful performance of an embittered woman who is sharpening her claws readying herself for the chance to accuse Vienna of "aiding and abetting" criminals, a hanging charge. In two fantastic showdowns, they butt heads in a war of glares, scathing remarks, and guns. 
McCambridge was not the first choice to play Emma Small. Crawford, who owned the film rights to the novel "Johnny Guitar" by Roy Chanslor, had wanted either Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck for the role but both actresses were too expensive. McCambridge adds such a bite to the character that neither Davis or Stanwyck could have given. 

Actually, the entire cast is glove-fit for their roles...with the exception of Joan Crawford. It is good to see Scott Brady in a semi-villainous role. Sterling Haydn gives his usual gruff performance as Johnny Guitar. The remainder of the cast is made up of familiar western character actors: Ward Bond has a great part as big man John McIvers, Frank Fergusen plays the town marshall, and John Carradine and Rhys Williams are friends of Vienna's.
Johnny Guitar was filmed in TruColor and the color cinematography is beautiful. Costume designer Sheila O'Brien made excellent use of her fashion color palette bedecking Crawford in bright solid colors that stand out among the muted old western town surroundings. In one scene, Vienna is dressed in a gown of white that seems to symbolize her virtuous innocence among the black-clothed posse that has come to hound her.

This particular scene emphasizes what many modern reviewers consider is what Johnny Guitar is really about - a visual commentary on the House of Un-American Activities communist scare which was taking place at that time. In Hollywood, so many actors - including Sterling Haydn - were pressured into naming fellow thespians whom they believed to be communists. Vienna has no personal grievance against the Dancin' Kid and his men but, when little Turkey, one of his gang, is captured in her house, it seems to prove her allegiance to him. The posse threatens Turkey to admit that Vienna is one of the group. Denial means death. A tough choice for the poor kid to it was for those who testified against their friends during the communist trials. 
Peggy Lee gives a sultry performance of the title song near the end of the film, which, if you had felt like turning off your television mid-way through Johnny Guitar, would have made you regret it. It is one of the best western endings that I have seen in years. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

From the Archives: Big Jim McLain ( 1952 )

Oh, just look how Nancy Olson is being mesmerized by John Wayne's gaze! This still photo is not in very good condition but the image captured is wonderful. 

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, September 19, 2018

Across the Wide Missouri ( 1951 )

Bernard de Voto's book "Across the Wide Missouri" became a surprise best-seller in 1947, earning the Pulitzer Prize for History. The brass at MGM quickly purchased the rights to the book in order to use the title and then pondered, 'what are we going to do with this?' For, you see, "Across the Wide Missouri" was a lengthy historical account of the Western fur trade from 1832-1838. It was not a novel. No dialogue. No romance. No cliffhangers. Simply good history. 

Screenwriter Talbot Jennings, with the aid of Frank Cavett, undertook to construct an entirely new story based upon the elements he found in the book - America's vast frontier, the harsh climate, rugged fur traders, and Blackfoot Indians. He wrote a fantastic story, all centering around the star of the film, Clark Gable. 

Gable is Flint Mitchell, a beaver trapper who has been waiting for years to get prime beaver land situated in the heart of Blackfoot Indian territory. When he hears that Brecan ( John Hodiak ) is escorting Kamiah, the granddaughter of Chief Bear Ghost ( Jack Holt ) of the Blackfoot back to her people, he proposes to marry her instead. Kamiah ( Maria Elena Marques ) took a shine to Flint and he found his fire lit. Kamiah helps guide the trappers into the new territory but they are barely settled when young Ironshirt ( Ricardo Montalban ) begins to make trouble for them. 
Across the Wide Missouri is a beautiful western featuring some of the most stunning location scenery to be found in any western of the 1950s. Director William Wellman ( The Public Enemy, The Ox-Bow Incident ) took the cast and crew in tow to Durango, Colorado, to shoot the film on location. Technicolor equipment had to be carried by mule ten thousand feet up in the Rockies. Cinematographer William Mellor captures so much of the mountainous beauty of this area. He frames each scene like a painting, selecting key elements to use as foreground. 

Clark Gable gives an especially touching performance as the new father protecting his infant son in the ravaged territory, and Maria Elena Marques is particularly beautiful as Kamiah. Marques ( Romeo y Julieta, La Perla ) was a famous Mexican film star of the 1940s-1960s and a popular singer as well. In this film, we only hear her once, singing a lullaby to her baby. 

Each of the cast is well suited to their role. Adolphe Menjou, James Whitmore, Alan Napier, and J. Carroll Naish also get prominent parts as trappers and Indians. 

The only disappointing aspect of the film is its runtime - a mere 79 minutes. Across the Wide Missouri ended all too quickly. The film had the makings of a grand epic and such an expansive story deserved a longer runtime. This was not the blame of William Wellman, who was so disgusted with Dore Schary's decision to edit the film that he said, "I've never seen it and never will". Wellman had directed a character-driven picture centering around Flint Mitchell's acceptance of the Native American world, but preview audiences gave a poor response to this. The film was cut and a narration by an uncredited Howard Keel was added to the soundtrack. 

In spite of these edits, Across the Wide Missouri remains an under-rated gem of a film that deftly blends action and drama with a sprinkling of humor. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Front Page News

It seems to be a common thing for a film blog to have its own Facebook page. I never quite understood why considering a blog is a place to share reviews, books of interest and such....and so, for years my sister and I put off starting a Facebook page. But lately, I've come to see the benefits of it. Some folk like to get all of their "news" in one place and hopping on over to a separate website - such as this blog - is too far for their fingers to travel. And so, since I am often on Facebook anyway, I gave in! 

So here is the newly launched Silver Scenes page on Facebook. It is a simple address so it's easy to remember : 

How long it will be active, I can't say. Although, at the moment, I'm excited about having a place to share films, television-related videos, articles and other blogs on a more frequent basis! There's something about the blog page format that makes you feel guilty if your post is not longer than a paragraph. 

I should be running a schnazzy "liking" campaign, offering a fantastic $200 DVD box set to anyone who gives a thumbs up for the page, but it is late in the day and I'm just not up to doing that now. Perhaps in the near future some old movie magazines will be offered in a drawing ( got a basement full of those! ). But for now, if you want to see links to some rare films, great Youtube content, engaging articles from the past and present, movie stills, and behind-the-scenes photos, then please follow the page....the more followers the more content I'll be motivated to post! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Buccaneer ( 1958 )

"There comes a time when a man wants to change...belong to something, or maybe someone."

The pirate and privateer Jean Lafitte had warehouses of stolen loot, a beautiful house on the private island in Barataria Bay, and freedom to do as he pleased, but he lacked respect from the one woman he loved, Annette Claiborne. This woman instills in him a love for the still infant American nation strong enough to make him surrender his pirating ways and seek to become a citizen. But first, he must prove to Governor Claiborne, Annette's father, that he is not in league with the British who are about to send thousands of troops into Louisana to squash General Andrew Jackson's defense of the territory. 

In 1956, director Cecil B. DeMille had found great success with the remake of his silent film The Ten Commandments, and so he undertook another remake of a favorite film of his, The Buccaneer, first made in 1938 with Fredric March in the lead. During the making of The Ten Commandments, DeMille had suffered a heart attack but he had sufficiently recovered to believe that he was capable of undertaking another epic production. He was wrong. Shortly after the initial planning of The Buccaneer, DeMille realized that his health would not permit him to make the film and so he passed the directorial wand to his son-in-law, Anthony Quinn. 
Quinn had never directed a feature film but was willing to give it a try with his father-in-law helping to guide the production. This was the primary reason DeMille had selected Quinn - in order to have full control of the final production. Both came to regret this decision. DeMille was displeased with the film that Quinn had helmed and made editing changes to it before its release that Quinn did not like. 

Just why Cecil B. DeMille and Anthony Quinn were dissatisfied with the final result is difficult to fathom. While it is true that The Buccaneer lacks the compelling drama of The Ten Commandments, the film is colorful, entertaining, and does pack quite a bit of adventure into its 119-minute runtime. The battle scene at the end of the film is particularly thrilling with the bagpiping British troops appearing from the fog ( a scene that Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks would later echo ). 

Unfortunately, the script to The Buccaneer, based upon the 1938 film, has mere threads of real history in its plot. Instead, the screenwriters ( which included Jesse Lasky Jr. ) fashioned a script that captures merely the flavor of the era and its setting. You can't ask for everything.

Yul Brynner, sporting a rare mop of hair, gives a convincing portrayal of the good-hearted privateer longing for a place to anchor. Lafitte is a likable and sympathetic character, as is his companion General Dominique You, played by Charles Boyer. "Of all the men in the world, I never wanted to fail you," Lafitte tells the General in a poignant scene when Lafitte realizes that his friendship with the General may be the price he has to pay for American citizenship. 

Charlton Heston, who is always a pleasure to watch, gives a powerful performance as General Andrew Jackson, reprising a role that he had played in The President's Lady ( 1953 ). Taking care of "Old Ironface" Jackson, making sure that he drinks his hot milk every night, is Mr. Peavy, played by the great character actor Henry Hull. 

The ladies are equally engaging. Inger Stevens, that icy blonde from Sweden, stars as the beautiful Annette Claiborne. She is in love with the pirate and is willing to surrender her status as a Southern society belle to sail off with him into the open sea. The marvelous Claire Bloom plays Bonnie Brown, a feisty tomboy who wants Lafitte as well. But her love is so deep she would rather see him wed to Ms. Claiborne than be with her. 

"You're a fool! She's everything you ever loved and fought her. You gave up everything you had, everything you are. Jean, even I don't want to see you lose her now."
Also in the cast was E.G. Marshall, Lorne Greene, Ted de Corsia, Douglass Dumbrille, and Fran Jeffries. 

At the box-office, The Buccaneer did poorly, bringing in only $3 million dollars in revenue, not even recuperating its $5 million dollar budget. When discussing the films of Cecil B. DeMille, The Buccaneer is rarely mentioned, even though his handiwork is clearly evident in many of the scenes. DeMille is also credited at the beginning of the film before the titles appear. But perhaps modern critics consider the production too run-of-DeMille to be even mentioned among his works. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

It's time for another Impossibly Difficult screenshot and this one we think is not so impossibly difficult. Clues abound but don't be too fooled by the surroundings of these characters! 

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


Congratulations to Phyl for correctly guessing this screenshot as coming from The Incredible Mr. Limpet ( 1964 ) starring Don Knotts. In this scene, the Nazi submarine captain is listening to Mr. Limpet's unusual sonic fish bellow. "Was ist das??"

Monday, September 3, 2018

Love is Forever ( 1954 ) aka Und Ewig Bleibt die Liebe

Some films have a way of drawing you into the story within the first ten minutes. Perhaps it is a practice that screenwriters learned from newspaper journalists who knew how to "hook" the audience with the first lead line. Hollywood productions had this act down pat. German productions were not so good at this technique, and it usually takes twenty minutes before you find yourself attached to the characters. But there were some exceptions. 

Une Ewig Bleibt die Liebe ( "Love is Forever" ) is one of those exceptions. The plot is rather simple and there is never anything exciting going on in the film and yet it has a lot of drama, and it is presented in such a soapy fashion to make it irresistible. 

The Swedish beauty, Ulla Jacobssen, who made a name for herself in Arne Mattsson's One Summer of Happiness ( 1951 ), stars as Marieke, a young woman who was adopted by the Vogelreuther family as a baby. She recently discovered that her birth mother is none other than "die Elster" - "the Magpie" - ( Hilde von Stolz ), the village thief and drunkard. She was recently released from prison after serving eight years in jail. This shames Marieke to no end. She loves her adopted parents and sister more than anyone else but feels she ought to publicly acknowledge her birth mother. 
This angst over her mother is ruining her love life, too. Georg ( Karlheinz Böhm ), her cousin, has loved her for years but she never returned his love because she knows he feels bound in gratitude to the Vogelreuther's as well and they want to see him marry Trude, Marieke's little sister. Georg does show affection for Trude ( Ingrid Andree ) and at the beginning of the film we learn they are to be wed in less than a week's time. Georg would still rather marry Marieke but she would never marry him now because she knows how much her sister loves him and her sister's happiness is more important to her than her own. So, as you can see, there is quite a bit of drama going on in the film.... And it is played out really well, especially by the principal leads. 

Paul Dahlke and Magda Schneider ( Romy Schneider's mother ) also star in the film as Marieke's adopted parents. 

Love is Forever was based on the play "Johannisfeuer/Fires of St. John" by Hermann Sudermann. In Germany, where the film takes place, the celebration of the midsummer solstice on St. John's Eve ( June 23/24 ) is extremely popular. People light huge bonfires which they dance around well into the night. The festival is featured in the film and also in Johannisnacht, released in 1956, which features this celebration near the climax.

The story of Und Ewig Bleibt die Liebe is a good example of how gratitude, when taken too far, can ruin people's lives. Instead of being honest with their feelings to those they love, both Marieke and George would rather sacrifice their own happiness for the family that raised them. 

Want to watch Und Ewig Bleibt die Liebe right now? It's available on Youtube...just click here.