I came to town to search for gold
And I brought with me a memory
And I seemed to hear the night winds cry
Go hang your dreams on the hanging tree
Your dreams of love that will never be
Hang your faded dreams on the hanging tree. – Mack David & Jerry Livingston
Redemption and its near relative salvation are in many ways the cornerstones of the classic western. These twin themes recur throughout the genre and lie at the heart of all the great westerns. Allied to these concepts is the notion of spiritual rebirth, the discovery of that indefinable something which serves to draw lost and damaged souls back from limbo. The Hanging Tree (1959) successfully explores all these elements and is a beautifully constructed piece, cyclical and symmetrical, and rich in the kind of life-affirming positiveness that I’ve come to see as one of the integral aspects of director Delmer Daves’ western work.
Montana 1873, the lure of gold has drawn all the flotsam and jetsam of humanity to the territory in search of riches. It’s a nomadic, rootless life for those following the gold trail, traipsing from one settlement to another as the hopes of making that big strike ebb and flow. Joe Frail (Gary Cooper) is one of those drifting through the west, although his motives appear less certain. Frail is a doctor, and seems more interested in the opportunity to keep on the move than in any desire to become wealthy. Newly arrived in yet another shanty encampment that has sprung up around the prospectors’ claims, Frail has no sooner secured a place to stay than he finds himself saving the life of a young man. Rune (Ben Piazza) is a sluice robber, attempting to snatch nuggets from the workings, and running from a trigger-happy lynch mob. Frail takes him in, treats his wound, and keeps him on as a bonded servant in lieu of payment. Thus we have the first instance of salvation, Frail protecting Rune from the hanging tree which he eyes with an air of fatalism at the opening. As the doctor sets up practice it’s gradually revealed that this laconic and reserved man has a shadowy past and a reputation as an accomplished gunman. The second person to be saved is a Swedish immigrant Elizabeth Mahler (Maria Schell), the sole survivor of a stagecoach robbery. Suffering from exposure and temporarily blinded, Elizabeth is found by Frenchy Plante (Karl Malden), one of those amoral types that exist around gold camps, and nursed back to health by Frail. It’s at this point that the story becomes most involving. Prior to this there were only hints and oblique allusions to the doctor’s inner pain. Frail is a man buried in the past, emotionally entombed and haunting the world of the living rather than actually participating in it. As Elizabeth’s affection for Frail slowly blossoms into love, the doctor draws back and distances himself. Elizabeth’s confusion is shared by the viewer as it’s apparent that Frail is attached to her but unwilling or unable to take the leap of faith necessary. The reasons for this hesitancy masquerading as indifference do become clear as the tale progresses, but it’s only when Frail is also dragged before the hanging tree that a resolution is achieved. The film’s powerful and emotive climax sees the hero’s protective yet stifling armor stripped away and the ultimate redemption, salvation and rebirth realized.
Delmer Daves made some of the finest westerns of the 1950s and it’s only fitting that he should round off the decade with a work as layered, sensitive and complex as The Hanging Tree. As I said in my introduction, the structure of the film is carefully judged. Not only is it book-ended by Marty Robbins’ wonderful rendition of the title song, but it also opens and closes with the figure of Cooper, having undergone a major spiritual reawakening over the course of the story, beneath the hanging tree. The film is packed with symbolism, fire and trees being the most prominent. In both cases, we are encouraged to view these elements in a positive and negative light. Fire is initially referred to, though not seen, as representative of Doc Frail’s traumatic past. When it appears again near the end though it takes on a cathartic quality, burning away the negativity which has dogged him. And of course the focus on trees is even more significant. There are two trees of note: the hanging tree of the title and the one overlooking Elizabeth and Frenchy’s claim. The former naturally calls most attention to itself; the gnarled, clawing branches suggestive of guilt, punishment and death. And yet by the end it comes to symbolize something entirely different – renewal, permanence and the birth of a new life. That other tree, the one which eventually falls into the river, has to be viewed as a positive feature too. It’s destruction of the claim reveals the treasure hidden among its roots, the cache of nuggets which will both precipitate the final confrontation and eventually liberate the characters. Aside from all this, the location shooting and the camera positions of Daves and cinematographer Ted McCord also help focus on the subtext. The fact that Frail chooses a home high on a cliff above the swarming anthill of the mining camp serves to emphasize the remoteness and distance of the character.
Gary Cooper was an ideal piece of casting as the taciturn and aloof Joe Frail, his weathered features perfectly reflecting the emotionally desiccated man he was portraying. It’s not uncommon to read critical comments about Cooper’s acting, often failing to appreciate the subtle and understated nature of the man’s work. As with all the great screen actors, Cooper understood and used the little things, the twitch of a facial muscle or the quick glance that reveal more than pages of dialogue and overt emoting ever could. It’s not the first time that the point has been made that a good western is so often elevated by the presence of a strong female role, and Maria Schell’s performance in The Hanging Tree provides a good illustration of this. Frankly, she hardly puts a foot wrong at any point, from her initial helplessness and vulnerability, through the confusion prompted by her rejection, to her eventual emergence as an independent and complete woman. If the movie is really about Frail’s journey I think it’s also fair to say that it would be a meaningless and hollow affair had it not been for the strength of Schell’s character; she is vital to the story and Schell’s beautiful playing of the part gives it that little extra something that makes it special. While Frail’s own internal conflict is the main focus, Karl Malden as the lecherous prospector whose unwanted advances bring matters to a head adds another layer. Malden brought out the earthy, feral qualities of Frenchy and his uncouth impulsiveness makes for a fine contrast with Frail’s wounded gentility. In support, Ben Piazza gets a fair bit of screen time and is fair enough as the boy who first resents his savior’s cool arrogance before gradually warming to him and becoming a firm ally. The other parts of note are filled by Karl Swenson and Virginia Gregg as the sympathetic storekeeper and his shrewish wife. Additionally, the ever reliable (and always welcome) John Dierkes flits in and out of proceedings, as does George C Scott, making a showy debut as a venomous preacher/healer.
The Hanging Tree has been available on DVD from a variety of European sources for quite some time now, but always in faded, full-frame transfers. The MOD disc from the Warner Archive improves on these previous iterations in pretty much all areas. The print used is certainly not pristine, displaying the odd scratch and blemish, but it is in the correct widescreen ratio and is much more colorful than anything I’ve seen before. The only extra feature offered on the disc is the theatrical trailer. It’s fascinating to follow how the western grew and built upon its inherent strengths throughout the 1950s, and the end of that decade saw it reach full maturity. The Hanging Tree is certainly a mature work of art, a finely judged and multi-layered examination of human nature and human relationships. For me, these late 50s westerns demonstrate not only what the genre was capable of but what cinema itself had to offer. The more I watch, write and think about the westerns of Delmer Daves, the higher his stock rises. I guess it’s clear enough that I both like and respect The Hanging Tree a lot. I consider it one of my favorites in the genre and I haven’t the least hesitation in strongly recommending it. It’s an absolute must for anyone who appreciates or cares about the western.
130 thoughts on “The Hanging Tree”
Great review, Colin. And that poster is new to me. One of my favorite westerns.
That end scene where Cooper leans forward and gently touches Maria Schell’s face speaks volumes,doesn’t it.
I too love the title song.
Thanks. Yes, the ending is one of the great redemptive scenes in the western. In fact, it’s one of those moments of beauty which Daves so expertly wove into his films, perfectly judged, shot and played.
I think Malden is terrific in his role. Looking at his work through the years it is not something one might expect from him. I’m not so fond of George C. Scott’s “preacher” who has time to blast someone at every turn. Cooper does so well playing a man with a past who is not always so keen on showing that he really is a good man.
Wonderful scenery and Daves wonderful touch help it all. Thanks for the essay.
Hi Chris. Yes, Scott gives a very stagey, self-conscious performance, the kind of turn that screams “look at me” every time he appears.
Having said that, the work of Cooper, Schell and Malden more than makes up for it as far as I’m concerned.
Terrific review Colin – I think this may have been the first of Daves’ westerns that I saw and I was enormously impressed from its subtle characterisation to the tightly controlled camerawork (McCord in particular is a really underrated cinematographer who did some great work with Michael Curtiz).
Thanks Sergio. McCord was indeed an excellent cinematographer; The Breaking Point and Flamingo Road spring to mind as fine examples of his work with Curtiz, not to mention The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for Huston.
Daves ! and what a cast !
You gotta know this is not going to be a superficial shootout.
Thank you! I think one thing you can be sure of when you see a western with Daves name in the credits is that it’s never going to be superficial. I feel he made some of the most satisfying films the genre had to offer, and this one is right up there among his best.
Initially for me the interest in this film stemmed from the Marty Robbins song as my dad had an lp of him doing all the western songs like El Paso and Big Iron (why wasn’t that used in a movie). Then of course I grew into all things Cooper and Scott. I will have to rediscover this one as its been a while. I really like Coop in Man of the West the year before. Hard to believe he was gone shortly after this film. A great loss.
You know Mike, my father was a huge fan of Marty Robbins too and I grew up hearing his music all the time. The fact Robbins performed the title song certainly meant the movie first caught my attention for similar reasons.
And, yes this movie, coming on the heels of Man of the West, was Cooper’s last great role. In a way, his passing could be seen as one of the markers for the end of the genre’s greatest era.
your appreciation and high regard for “The Hanging Tree” is apparent by your thoughtful, incisive and most eloquent appraisal of this film.
I wholeheartedly agree with your remarks regarding that fine actor, Gary Cooper. Although he will probably be remembered for his work in “High Noon”, one can only hope that this role will encourage younger generations to explore Gary Cooper’s filmography to gain some appreciation of his talent.
Once again, Colin, your comments on film are a pleasure to read. Thanks!
Too kind Rod.
Yes, Cooper will probably be forever associated with High Noon, which is no bad thing of course. However, just as a handful of famous titles can seemingly overshadow an entire genre such as the western, the same can be said for certain actors like Cooper.
While it is good that some movies have gained iconic status, it can also be disappointing when they then turn into the only examples of a genre or an actor’s work that people are familiar with.
One of Delmer Daves’ I’ve not seen, but must now care of your fine review, Colin.
In that case Mike, I’ve clearly done my job. I hope you get the chance to view the film – I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of it whenever you do get round to it.
As a regular contributor,I thought it would be rather churlish not to comment on this film.
Just for a change I don’t have much to say;I like the film rather than love it. As I mentioned over at Toby’s these big budget “super Westerns” are a tad out of my comfort zone.
What I would like to say however Colin, is that the exceptional high quality of your essays never ceases to amaze me.
Thanks very much John, really nice of you to say that.
Yes, I know your preferences lie with the smaller scale productions and that’s fair enough as far as I’m concerned. For myself, I like all types – big, small and medium budget affairs. As long as the movie engages me or moves me in some way, then I’m happy. And, as has been said before, that’s part of the beauty of the western overall – there’s such a diversity of productions that pretty much all tastes are catered for.
I’m still in awe of that final shot in the film. An iconic moment when Frail, for the first time, shows tenderness to Elizabeth. A new beginning. And Rune, just out of shot, is going to stick around,I think.
No dialogue needed.
You and me both! From the point when Cooper calls out Schell’s name to halt her in her tracks until the final fade out there’s not another word spoken, and not another word needed. The scene is timed, lit, composed and shot beautifully – one of those rare instances of a purely cinematic moment.
I’ve always loved this film which has been underrated by many over the years. Saw it first run when it opened. Yes, the symbolism is everywhere including the characters’ names. Marty Robbins rendition of the theme song is properly wistful. One of Coop’s best performances in his final years. Delmer Daves had some trademark crane and pan shots but they work well here. And, golly, a terrific final shot that says it all. Thanks for the review!!
And thank you for the comment Garry. I envy you seeing this on release in the theater.
Daves leaves his mark all over the movie as far as I can see, in the development of the theme and the visuals. I understand Malden got behind the camera for a short time at some point when Daves was taken ill but I can’t say I noticed any shift in tone or style to give any clues as to what scenes were involved.
So glad to read again your praise of Delmer Daves – while I didn’t care for the (exceedingly popular) romantic tosh he dished in the 60s, his westerns from the 50s in particular really do stand the test of time. They are probably among my favourites along with those of Boetticher and Mann and yet are wholly individual.
It’s become an annual thing for me to feature one of his films around this time of year, and his 50s work is just such a pleasure to watch and write about.
You could, I suppose, make a case for the romantic films he later focused on being an extension of what he was doing in the 50s. All his best movies take an interesting look at romantic relationships to some extent, frequently resulting in memorable and very touching scenes. I guess it’s maybe this aspect that adds that individuality you speak of to his work.
That’s a very fair point Colin – his work is always technically impeccable and his view of humanity I think an essentially romantic one – but the soap operas he basically concluded his carrer with felt very two-dimensional in terms of characterisation – YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE could have been much stringer in my view. HANGING TREE was probably the apex of his career, artistically speaking.
I’m really only theorizing here as I’ve never (as far as I’m aware anyway) seen any of those soapier 60s efforts. Judy over at Movie Classics recently did a very nice piece on Kings Go Forth which encouraged me to give that one another viewing recently.
Thanks for that link Colin, hadn’t seen it!
You’re welcome. I thought Judy wrote very well on the film.
Exceedingly well writ. This review is bound to be one of your greatest hits, Colin. Submit it to a publisher and it would come back with a contract.
I could never get into The Hanging Tree. It was always shown full-screen in a faded scratchy discolored print. Then one day TCM aired it widescreen and I decided to take another look. There was plenty of print damage, but the film pulled me in and kept me so absorbed I wasn’t aware of the time passing. Then a new transfer was finally released last year by Warner Archive, and what a revelation. Just when I thought 1950s westerns had no more surprises, along comes The Hanging Tree. In a way it reminds me of reading Zane Grey. In his novels the hero and heroine would be at odds and kept apart throughout the story, and then they reach an understanding and are brought together in the last paragraph on the last page. Daves certainly sustains the tension as he leads toward that final shot. The last minute is quite a reward. As the genre moved closer toward cynicism and nihilism, Daves reminds us that a little humanity is engaging and satisfying, too. I agree with all the praise for this film and for Delmer Daves’ work in the genre.
I like the emotional canvas of Daves romantic films. They’re intelligent and sophisticated romances. It’s a shame he didn’t live longer to work in a more permissive time.
john k, I wouldn’t call The Hanging Tree a super big production by any means. It’s well-produced, yes, but on a medium scale. It is shot in one central location and the extras are limited in number and in working days — perhaps three or four days at the most. Of course, the film looks much bigger than it really is. That’s movie-magic.
Thank you very much indeed Richard.
The ending is most definitely a reward, both for the characters and the viewer. There’s something deeply satisfying about it, and it never feels forced or fake. That humanity you mention is a very attractive aspect of the era’s westerns, and I’ve come to realize over the years how much of this particular quality is to be found in Daves’ work.
Yes, the humanity of the American western and of Daves’ westerns in particular is precisely what I respond to. Of course, he has to show that humanity emerging out of adverse and violent circumstances for it to have any emotional impact. Of the several above average westerns Daves’ directed, I regard 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and The Hanging Tree (1959) as two of the finest westerns ever made. These two films represent the best Americans achieved in the genre we created out of our national experience. Your reviews of both films are the most understanding and the best I’ve read. Here’s that 3:10 to Yuma review, for those who haven’t seen it:
If the makers of spaghetti westerns had balanced their films with a little more humanity and stoicism, the spaghetti western might have achieved greater heights, and lasted decades longer. The worthwhile spags can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The rest are relentless exercises in nihilism, sadism, and cynicism. Audiences got tired of it. No wonder it was so short-lived.
Yes, I think one important distinction between the US and the Spaghetti westerns is the approach to violence and violent situations. The classic US variety was more likely to draw attention to the tragedy or the negative consequences, using it as a catalyst for some kind of redemption. The Spaghetti western really only approached this position on a handful of occasions. Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dynamite (Giù la Testa) are immensely rewarding films but there’s too much shallowness in the vast majority of the sub-genre for me.
This film has sparked some great discussion, Colin. I remember the film going on general release in Britain in 1959 and it was HUGE. The song by Marty Robbins was heard a lot on radio and of course, Gary Cooper was one of Hollywood’s giant stars in 1959.
1959 was an important year for movies, it seems to me. There were other very big movies released that year, including some westerns, but the Hollywood studio system was coming to an end and things would never be quite the same again. For me personally, the latter 1950s were a “high water” mark for the western film – they had reached a maturity and expertise that was awesome and although great westerns were still to come, including my favourite after which this blogsite is named, I feel after 1959 we had generally had the best.
Colin’s review of this film is, I think, outstanding and I do not believe we will see a better one at any time.
I just ran a search on IMDb and it came up with a list of 35 westerns for 1959:
Good Day for a Hanging
The Horse Soldiers
The Gunfight at Dodge City
Last Train from Gun Hill
They Came to Cordura
Day of the Outlaw
Alias Jesse James
The Hanging Tree
No Name on the Bullet
Gunmen from Laredo
The Wonderful Country
Revenge of the Virgins
Curse of the Undead
The Oregon Trail
These Thousand Hills
The Young Land
The Legend of Tom Dooley
The Wild and the Innocent
Face of a Fugitive
Thunder in the Sun
Cast a Long Shadow
King of the Wild Stallions
Zorro, the Avenger
Plunderers of Painted Flats
The Miracle of the Hills
Ghost of Zorro
There are some fantastic movies among them, and I think it shows what a strong year it was for the genre.
And Jerry, I really appreciate your kind words there.
Uh-oh. A list. I like lists. 35 westerns in 1959? I’m way behind. I only have
1 – Rio Bravo — WB blu and DVD
2 – Good Day for a Hanging — Columbia DVD
3 – The Horse Soldiers — MGM DVD
4 – The Gunfight at Dodge City — MGM / Fox DVD
5 – Last Train from Gun Hill — Paramount DVD
6 – Ride Lonesome — Columbia DVD
7 – They Came to Cordura — Columbia DVD
8 – Day of the Outlaw — MGM / Fox DVD
9 – Yellowstone Kelly — WA DVD-R
10 – The Hanging Tree — WA DVD-R
11 – No Name on the Bullet — Universal DVD
12 – Westbound — WA DVD-R
13 – The Jayhawkers — Olive blu
14 – The Wonderful Country — MGM / Fox DVD-R
15 – Warlock — Fox DVD
16 – The Hangman — Olive blu
17 – These Thousand Hills — Fox DVD
18 – The Young Land — VCI DVD
19 – Cast a Long Shadow — VCI DVD
20 – King of the Wild Stallions — WA DVD-R
In addition, I have
21 – Curse of the Undead — Universal VHS
22 – Face of a Fugitive — recorded off cable
23 – The Legend of Tom Dooley — recorded off cable
24 – The Wild and the Innocent — recorded off cable
I also have two Mexican-made westerns not on imdb’s list:
25 – La Cucaracha (epic classic about the revolution) — Quality Films
26 – The Living Coffin (horror western) — CasaNegra
Guess I have some catching up to do.
I make it I have 21 of those movies myself. I had no idea The Young Land was available. I must look into that.
I’ve been intrigued by the whole idea behind Curse of the Undead for a while now and I just the other day found out that it’s available on DVD from Italy here.
CURSE OF THE UNDEAD………aah! back to my comfort zone.
I too noted that it’s available on DVD in Italy and in widescreen too! I have a DVD dubbed from a video but the widescreen presentation is tempting.
The film is quite an atmospheric little thriller, and has it’s own take on the Vampire thing. Strikingly shot by Ellis Carter. Edward Dein also directed the cult classic SHACK OUT ON 101;I have yet to catch up with that one. I have, however, seen the equally wacky THE LEECH WOMAN also directed by Dein.
The film manages to be both campy and chilling and Coleen Gray is far,far better than the film deserves. Nice comment from Coleen (over at Laura’s?) where she commented that the film has a special place for her as it’s the only one where she received top billing.
Colin……off topic but concerning Euro DVDs and Blu Rays;have you noticed that in Spain several of their latest Blu-Ray releases are BD/r as opposed to PRESSED DISCS. These mainly seem to be from Llamentol with several Fox titles including BROKEN ARROW, GARDEN OF EVIL and RIO CONCHOS to name a few. Our friends in Spain (on Amazon es) seem less than happy with the situation – is this the future I ask. I have spoke to a couple of UK collectors who have so far been happy with the p.q. on these things and are even happier with the low price. Perhaps.Colin you can enlighten me as I have yet to purchase one of them so far.
I also notice that Llamentol have BUCKSKIN slated as a future DVD release but sadly as a 4×3. This was,I think the last of the A.C.Lyles Westerns that we have discussed many times over at Toby’s. I would want this film if it was in the correct ratio as I remember it as being one of the better Lyles epics; besides Barry Sullivan makes anything worth watching.
BTW nice to see other people are into “lists”
John, on the BD-R question, I know no more than you do. I don’t *think* these companies have released any movies on DVD-R thus far, so it appears to be confined for the present to HD releases.
Wouldn’t you know it. Universal doesn’t release CURSE OF THE UNDEAD (1959) on DVD in its native country but release a DVD in Europe. Typical. It’s an effective, atmospheric Gothic western with good production values, some neat ideas and an appealing cast. It’s fun. Australian character actor Michael Pate leaves a lasting impression as Don Drago Robles the gunslinging vampire. The poster really sells the film:
john k, I watched a full-screen, pan & scan off-air recording of BUCKSKIN (1968) recently, the last of A.C. Lyles’ 13 westerns for Paramount. These films were shot on the backlot in 12 days for about $200,000 which was cheap even in the 1960s. And yet they have everything they need to put it across. The script is about average for a 1940s programmer stretched out to almost 90 minutes and the direction is pedestrian to put it kindly. Whoever told Bill Williams to play his rancher paralyzed on one side with the useless hand shoved into his pants needed to get his head examined. As U.S. Marshal Craddock, Barry Sullivan projects a weariness and resignation combined with a matter-of-fact delivery that brings gravitas to everything he does. He was an actor who genuinely felt his business. I would like to have seen him in dozens more westerns. I also enjoyed spending time with Lon Chaney Jr. who gets plenty of screen time. Every supporting role is thoroughly realized by some Hollywood old timer. I like the good-natured idealism of the A.C. Lyles westerns. They were made in the 1960s but they are in the mindset of the 1930s and 1940s.
Richard, I don’t know if you’ve read it already but Toby did a really nice piece on Curse of the Undead on his site some time back here. It’s well worth reading.
Thanks for the link to Toby’s write-up. I learned a lot about the film, and the Deins, I didn’t know before.
You’re welcome -it’s a good read.
(First, sorry this is so belated–discussions often tend to drift away from the original subject, but my comment goes back to that.)
For me, this may be your best piece ever, Colin. I read it several times and almost cried during the first paragraph the first time through.
Since I agree with everything you say about THE HANGING TREE–while also appreciating fresh insights about its use of fire and trees that have deepened my appreciation of it, as well the frame capture of the ending and your further thoughts on this as well as Vienna’s very sensitive observations about it–I’ll just explain what moves me so much in the way you contextualize the film at the beginning and end of the piece.
It’s that I feel such strong affinity with you in seeing redemption/renewal themes as the heart of the genre, especially in the greatest Westerns, of which so many are from this peak period, as the discussion has acknowledged. I’ve talked about this before too–but it means a lot to see so many other lovers of the genre agree about it too, as I now observe reading the discussions.
It has been on my mind this week not only how much the Western came to be so expressive of these spiritual themes but also that it was such a popular genre then, as opposed to now when it’s embraced by the happy few (who all seem to be around at the blogs I follow–or at least seems that way at times). To me, this means logically that audiences of the 1950s readily responded to the expression of these themes in Westerns and found them resonant. What does that say about the 1950s–so often characterized as a shallow culture–relative to later times, when Westerns became cynical, facetious, often excessively cruel and violent and not seeming to value human lives in the same way, or when these themes have been treated, it has been in a very self-conscious way? Toby at 50 Westerns from the 50s is another one who has talked about how Westerns then–no matter how mature, sophisticated, artistic, profound–never play heavily or pretentiously. They are so plainly movies for any audience to enjoy and appreciate. I believe this is key to why stories which have such deep spiritual resonates can work as they do.
Well, a big subject and I know we’ll get back to it more, but thanks for a beautiful piece that really moved me and it’s clear others reacted the same way.
Guess I do want to add something about Delmer Daves, who rightly made your list of best Western directors (what happened to this piece? And the two on actors in Westerns and film noir?–I was looking for a link and couldn’t find it and I know those who missed the directors piece and the discussion that followed would want to read it some time). He is a favorite of mine in the genre too, with a wonderful and very individual contribution through these years, that is as you’ve observed deeply humanistic. I’ve seen all of Daves 30 movies and he had an interesting career because he began as a successful screenwriter, so started in As and never went to Bs. That course can have its own pitfalls and he has his lows, but I’d have to say I like the majority of his films and the most outstanding ones far outnumber the weakest ones. Also, he had good movies in all genres, though the Westerns certainly dominate at the top–3:10 TO YUMA, COWBOY and THE HANGING TREE are the Daves movies I go back to most and find most completely satisfying. But I feel I should add something that people might not know–the heart attack that sidelined Daves as THE HANGING TREE was being completed (he asked Malden to step in and it was finished according to Daves plan and seamless as you say) was serious enough that he was advised not to endure the rigors of location shooting for Westerns anymore, and it was because of this he went to those romantic melodramas for the last phase of his career. But even if it hadn’t happened, I think the end of the 1950s was a good place to close a group of Westerns for any director and that he wasn’t going to contribute more than he had to it at this point–and even if they are not at the same level those last romantic melodramas are not negligible, are consistent with who he is, and some of them are very good.
The info about Daves above comes to me from Jean-Pierre Coursodon, major French film critic who is a personal friend–he had corresponded directly with Daves and learned about this from the director himself in the course of that..
I will also add since he’s not likely to come up in a lot of discussions here that you can count me as one more who loves Marty Robbins–and it’s not just the title song of THE HANGING TREE. I love his voice and adore his work and so many of his songs. I’ve been known to put him on during a long drive and listen to him for an hour.
Correction to above–“I believe this is key to why stories which have such deep spiritual resonances can work as they do.”
Also, I probably stretched a point a little to say Daves had good films in “all” genres–he did direct movies over a wide range of genres and mostly effectively over that range: the excellent PRIDE OF THE MARINES has one of the best wartimes sequences ever, THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU is a moving, still underrated wartime romance, THE RED HOUSE (which you wrote about and maybe my favorite non-Western Daves) is unusual noirish melodrama and David Goodis derived DARK PASSAGE is a memorable film noir with great, almost dreamlike romantic ending. Of those later color melodramas, PARRISH and SUSAN SLADE have a lot to be said for them and haven’t had the credit they deserve. RETURN OF THE TEXAN (1952) is a contemporary-set Western and as I’ve lamented at different times, it seems to have somehow gone missing (though it’s a Fox film so hopefully will surface one of these days)–this is a gem.
Also, I guess I’ll throw in my two cents about 1959 Westerns since Colin came up with that list above–I’ve seen over two-thirds of those (most of the rest on my “want to see” list though I never heard of REVENGE OF THE VIRGINS until now). I keep my own lists of Westerns seen and still to see and on mine I also have ESCORT WEST and THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW, so I looked on IMDb and find 1959 was the U.S. release date but they had UK release in 1958 so that accounts for the difference–different ways of listing often account for variable dates.
Every year in the 1950s Western is important and they all not only make a strong contribution but I believe each has its own individual character as the genre quietly evolves to the ones near the end of the decade. But although production in the genre is actually down in 1959, in terms of what the movies are giving us, it was never better than in the ones released. The redemption/renewal theme is conspicuously strong through these movies, especially the best ones, and even though I’m not complete on the year, I would claim no fewer than a dozen of the year’s Westerns as outstanding, ranging from just exceptionally good to more than its share of the best ever. So to me, it is the peak. Really, THE WESTERNS OF 1959 would be worth a book of its own.
And one thing that deepens my feeling about it is looking at the Westerns of 1960, in which the genre is still very strong and there are many fetching films to be seen, but their character is much different and it is beginning to cut in different directions. COMANCHE STATION, which is surely the year’s best Western, is a very early release in the year, closes the Ranown cycle of the 1950s and is the one with most affinities to those of 1959 so could almost be claimed poetically at least to be an end of the 1950s Western. I’ve seen all but a few of that year’s Westerns and of the ones that I know It definitely plays the redemption/renewal themes most strongly.
Blake, I want to say I really appreciate your taking the time to add those two long and informative responses. I guess I’ve said this before but one of the best things about running this site is the opportunity it’s afforded me to share my thoughts with like-minded film fans, and it’s even more gratifying that so many have found their way here. I feel those themes that we’ve spoken of here, and which this film so eloquently and sensitively expresses, are what draw so many of us to the genre, and especially those peak years of the late 50s.
Also, I’m glad you shared that information about Daves’ health and the effect it had on the direction his career took.
As for those posts you mentioned the one on western directors can be found here, the one on western stars here, and the post on noir stars here. All of them should come up though if you type “ten of the best” into the search box on the top right.
I didn’t remember the specific title “Ten of the Best” but now looking at your lists to the right, I hit “Uncategorized” and also found that is a way to get those pieces and the discussions.
Following john k’s train of thought about1950s westerns building up to themes of redemption and renewal, what other westerns would he say were significant in the process during that decade? Counting from 1 to 10 (1951-60), the tenth year is always the endcap of the decade as well the transition into the next. In Westward the Women (1951), it is the women who find renewal, those that survive the journey. Can there be renewal without redemption, as in The Naked Spur (1953)? I see the theme at work in The Proud Ones (1956), in 7 Men From Now (1956), in Daves’ The Last Wagon (1956) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957), in Run of the Arrow (1958), in The Big Country (1958), perhaps in Comanche Station (1960) and The Unforgiven (1960) (the latter doesn’t receive enough attention). And then there’s The Searchers.
Err..Sorry Richard;flattered though I am that quote regarding redemption and renewal is far too intelligent to come from the likes of me!
I did however like your take on the A C Lyles Westerns and it;s good to know someone admires Barry Sullivan as much as I do.
The Lyles Western I would love to see released in the correct ratio is Selander’s TOWN TAMER
what a cast; even by Lyle’s standards.
A fascinating and heartfelt insight from Blake that I enjoyed so much!
I suppose the western enjoyed a sort of revival with the spaghetti westerns but with one exception I found them empty – men with no name and a lot of violence and grunting but no script and no heart. The best westerns by then had already been made, in my estimation.
Blake, my wife and I saw Marty Robbins on stage in London in the 1970s – what a showman! And what a voice! I still love listening to his music.
Whenever I say I’m a western fan,I always qualify it by saying I mean westerns of the 50s, the decade when all my favorites were made.
I can remember,years ago,thinking I was alone in my admiration for Randolph Scott westerns. It’s been so good to realize that I am not alone!
And with the thought of all the great westerns Colin reviews here, I saw STAGECOACH this week in a cinema for the first time in years, and came away thinking is it really that good. I appreciate it is John Ford and it is from 1939. You could argue that westerns changed considerably by the 50s.
Stagecoach has a lot of pluses of course – John Wayne finally getting into an A film with a director who knew how to get the best out of him. Thomas Mitchell stealing the film and deserving of his Oscar.Claire Trevor showing what a good actress she was. Andy Devine at his least irritating and actually very good. The shoot-out with the Indians in which Yakima Canutt does these incredible stunts. John Carradine,Donald Meek. Can’t argue with that cast.
Minuses. The over use of soundtrack music . I guess Ford never knew the expression, Less is more.
The continual shouting of poor Berton Churchill as the banker.
Ford’s love of the cavalry which does nothing for me.
The use of Monument Valley is of course a plus, but it cried out for color.
The ending which doesn’t make sense. Ringo surely can’t go back to his ranch. He’s still a fugitive.
Maybe it’s wrong to compare Stagecoach with the best of the 50s. Please shoot me down if you don’t agree!
No, I wouldn’t exactly say it’s unfair to compare it to 50s westerns, but there is a different sensibility at work.
I love Stagecoach and I think it’s an immensely important and influential work both within the western genre and cinema overall. At the very least it played a highly significant role in the maturing process the western needed to go through at the time. However, that process was an ongoing one and films made close to twenty years later do, I think, reflect the progression.
And I love the way this discussion is spinning out. Great stuff guys!
Guess there’s some disagreement about this but I believe most folks consider a decade to be the years which begins with the number, like 5 or 6. So, 1950-1959, 1960-1969, et al. Richard-W, take a look at Phil Hardy’s authoritative THE WESTERN for example and you’ll see that’s how he does it. Toby’s blog “50 Westerns from the 50s” follows in this same way. I’m not insisting on it, just pointing out there are good reasons to see it this way. And in terms of characterizing the genre, it definitely works best in any event. 1950 sets out so many motifs for the decade with the pro-Indian film, the weary gunfighter film, the treatment of revenge as something disturbing and obsessive (in WINCHESTER ’73 most) and we’ve already talked about the place of 1959.
I agree with most folks here that the 1950s is the peak of the genre and most of the great Westerns made then, but I feel some of you are blaming spaghetti Westerns too much–American movies carry their share of the blame for the coarsening that comes into the genre in late 60s and especially the 70s, There are exceptions to that, but Leone at his best is an exception too. Meantime, even the directors who contributed films I admire, like Leone and Peckinpah, were not a good influence and it is arguably the least appealing things about them that lesser filmmakers of the period followed.
On STAGECOACH I agree with Colin. It is not my personal favorite but is a great film, way ahead of the curve in maturity and sophistication. The prewar zeitgeist is so different than the postwar zeitgeist though, and Ford’s 1946 MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is much closer to my heart, and the richer, more reflective movie.
Everybody, join the Sam Peckinpah forum and contribute your thoughts:
Blake Lucas — yes I have Phil Hardy’s westerns encyc. I hope he’ll do additional study and re-evaluation and then revise the book someday. As it stands I find the capsule reviews insufficient. And it is severely handicapped by failing to come to terms with the silents. I don’t agree with your reasoning for the decade beginning at zero although, although you are following the standard practice.
Ford’s STAGECOACH (1939) never gets old. It’s a personal favorite of mine. Dramatically it plays out just fine so far as I’m concerned, including the ending. Recently I began to view the film in a new light after watching George O’Brien’s westerns at Fox from the early 1930s. STAGECOACH is like a summing up, a refinement if you will, of the themes and character O’Brien played at Fox. They were stunning films. It’s a tragedy they’re not available (although they survive) and make no mistake they influenced Ford. I wish Warner Brothers would do a hi-def 4K scan of its elements and release it on blu-ray. That way we’d have two different sources of the film on blu-ray.
You know, Richard-W, it’s fine to disagree about how to mark a decade, and I just thought it was worth noting that it is often done the other way from the way you do it. I’m not sure there can really be said to be a “right” or “wrong” way here, regardless of what is standard practice or what reasoning is used. I would say whatever is most helpful to each of us individually…
My citing Hardy’s encyc said “authoritative” because he covers more ground than most. I didn’t say “definitive,” and I certainly don’t support every word he writes. But how could anyone? He left out some of my personal favorites in the capsules–like FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (and also in the same year 1954 DAWN AT SOCORRO, another Rory Calhoun starrer) and I really consider these oversights. But should we really complain? He covered more ground than most in this. It’s much like THE BFI COMPANION TO THE WESTERN edited by Ed Buscome, where I have even more disagreement, especially with some of the essays on how the genre treats certain things, which are at times overwhelmed with the worst currents of ideological/academic critical theory coming out of the 70s, and I had Pam Cook’s piece on women in mind when I took the exact opposite view in “Saloon Girls and Ranchers’ Daughters: The Woman in the Western”–something Jim Kitses readily observed when he put my essay right after hers in THE WESTERN READER. And of course, I think my view is right and will prevail in the end, and I feel support for it as close as this thread and comments about Elizabeth/Maria Schell in both the piece and discussion.
Still, like Hardy, it’s an invaluable book–few have done these kinds of studies and they are so valuable to have. With books like these, I prefer to err on the side of gratitude that someone went to this much trouble. I don’t think either editor would argue they have exhausted the subject, nor will it ever be. We should all just contribute what we can, and hopefully will be positive.
Boy, this has certainly turned out to be a lively discussion, and I’m sorry that I’ve missed out on so much of it as it was taking place. (Real-life occupational stuff is taking its toll on my blog/book time.) I’m gonna tackle several of these things at once.
First, I’m glad others are discovering Curse Of The Undead. It’s a stupid movie in a lot of ways, and quite ingenious in others. I’ve always been impressed at how well the Deins stirred together the horror and Western ingredients, somehow remaining true to both. Hope my blog post added to people’s appreciation of it —researching it made me admire it all the more.
Colin, this is a typically fine piece. Good job. I agree with all your points, especially that this was a great way for Daves to end the decade. What fine Westerns he made. (Just came across White Feather, which he wrote, and quite liked it.)
Blake, I agree with you completely about the BFI and Hardy books. I appreciate them so much, even as I get frustrated with them for their omissions. I also agree with Richard that capsule reviews can’t do these films justice, and this was a huge factor in my decision to pick a finite number of films and give them the space they need.
Good to hear from you Toby and I hope work/business is going well.
Now that Curse of the Undead is readily available I’m making point of getting my hands on it – the odd blend of genres piques my interest. And White Feather is a movie I fully intend to feature here at some point.
On the encyclopedia/capsule review matter, I’m one of those who both appreciates and is simultaneously frustrated by them. They’re great for basic data on unseen or unknown films but leave me hungry to find out more. The range and scope of such books means that’s inevitable but I kind of miss having a bit more meat on the bones – although you could argue they are doing their job simply by stimulating the desire to dig deeper in the first place.
Blake Lucas, don’t misunderstand my remarks on the Overlook encyc of Westerns. It has proved to be useful if not indispensable over the years. But I find many of the capsule reviews inadequate to the purpose, if not obtuse. And yet it’s sufficient to justify a revised and expanded edition. So you see, I do see the bright side.
I share your appreciation for FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (1954), by the way, as well as DAWN AT SOCORRO (1954). The latter has finally been released in the USA by Turner Classic Movies “open vault” with Universal.
I hope you found space to mention Richard Pearce’s HEARTLAND (1979) in your article on women in the western. A significant western drama because of its realistic portrayal, by Conchata Farrell, of a pioneer woman, the choices she must make and the work she undertakes. The part played by Renée Zellweger in APPALOOSA (2009) is also significant because it’s so true to frontier life and frontier conditions. Mrs. French had every reason to behave the way she does, and the men who love her understood that in the film.
Colin, after you watch CURSE OF THE UNDEAD you might give THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST (1958) a try. A Fox burn-on-demand. The fiend is played by Robert Evans, who later became the producer of CHINATOWN etc., and he is directed by Gordon Douglas who takes the job no less seriously than his other westerns. FIEND has more muscle and histrionics while CURSE has more Gothic atmosphere. I quite enjoy both approaches.
The Gothic atmosphere of Curse of the Undead sounds right up my street. I’ve heard good things about The Fiend Who Walked the West before and I plan to track it down at some point.
It’s kinda odd but I have the de-subtitled Sidonis FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST paired with the video transfer to DVD of CURSE OF THE UNDEAD paired up as a double bill. A friend who is a graphic designer/film fanatic makes neat artwork for films and pairs them up with graphics in double CD jewel cases; if that makes any sense….it works for me and saves space too!
I said this before over at Toby’s but I feel that FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST would have worked far better over at Universal with Jack Arnold directing and Audie Murphy and Jan Merlin starring, in the O Brian and Evans roles respectively. That’s not to knock Gordon Douglas who does a solid job but Evan’s over-ripe performance does detract from the film.
Speaking of Douglas and 1959 his marvelous YELLOWSTONE KELLY is certainly one of the best Westerns of 1959 and much admired by the aforementioned Phil Hardy. Oddly enough I got the Euro Blu-Ray of Douglas’s STAGECOACH recently (I certainly was not going to pay the Twilight Time going rate!) and am happy to say that it’s a stunning transfer. The odd casting all but kills the thing (Ann- Margaret is simply awful!) but when the film heads
outdoors, at least it’s visually stunning. There is no way Douglas was even going to make a film half as good as the 1939 classic but better casting certainly would have helped. I will pay the Twilight Time rate for the forthcoming Blu-Ray of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE a film that was made for the format if ever there was one. No doubt it will appear in Europe,cheaper but I am just not prepared to wait.
Richard W I enjoyed your take on BUCKSKIN and the A.C.Lyles things in general and I do wish that the best of them would make it to DVD in the correct ratio. Maybe the tie-up deal Warners have with Paramount will see them put out as archive releases. I remember seeing BUCKSKIN paired with WHERE’s JACK as a double bill all those years ago. The Lyles films I like the least are the ones with Howard Keel; never liked him in Westerns. RED TOMAHAWK is the one Lyles Western that I have never seen. I wonder if any second-string Western stars actually turned Lyles down. Some people I would not have minded seeing in a Lyles Western: Jock Mahoney, Guy Madison, Sterling Hayden and Lex Barker, to name a few.
John, Yellowstone Kelly is a fine movie, very enjoyable and well shot. I may upgrade the remake of Stagecoach myself at some point. I have a non-anamorphic version and although it’s no great shakes as a movie, I find it watchable enough.
Just took the opportunity to look again at Phil Hardy’s THE WESTERN – I have the 1991 second edition. I like it a lot,covering so many decades and with good summaries and illustrations.
I expect we could all find some errors or omissions,and a third edition would be useful.
A couple of mistakes I’d like to see corrected – FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS (1949) – describing Victor Jory as “the villain of the piece” – when in fact it is one of the few occasions where Jory is a thoroughly decent type!
BEST OF THE BADMEN (1951) – “(Robert) Ryan is the confederate guerrilla”. – don’t think so.
SHANE (1953) – ” the suggested love-hate relationship between Arthur and Ladd”. Odd way to describe it.
I don’t have the book myself and was wondering are there errors throughout or just a handful of notable ones.
Throughout. Minor little things. Errors of omission. Synopses that are off-center. Usually when Hardy’s appraisal is wrong it’s because he hasn’t seen the film. But the films he hasn’t seen are included. I recommend that you get the book. It has proved useful in building my western DVD library, which is extensive. I like the concept of the Overlook Film Encycleopedias. I have their Gangster Films, Science Fiction Films (both by Phil Hardy), Horror Films (by Tom Milne) and Westerns. Although not perfect they are valuable reference books and you’ll find yourself looking things up all the time.
… and the Overlooks can be found cheap on amazon marketplace.
It occurs to me to mention the BFI has published some perceptive dissertations on American westerns and films noir in thin, handy little books that fit neatly on the shelf right next to the DVD.
I would like to add my agreement with Richard there. If it is any help, Colin, I agree about the number of minor errors that crop up (noticed all those to which Vienna refers) BUT I also agree with Richard and Blake that one has to view such books in a positive light that we have them at all. Knowing the faults, I still refer to Hardy’s encyc on westerns on a regular basis. And when I first got it 20 years ago I learned a lot of useful stuff on the B-western series that I had not previously been able to glean.
Definitely worth picking up a copy. Hours of harmless enjoyment……….
Thanks guys. I like to have some reference books available and I’m surprisingly light when it comes to westerns. I think I’ll pick up a copy of Hardy’s book after all the qualified recommendations.
He can be a difficult just to be difficult (he is flat out wrong when it comes to Leone) but I still like Brian Garfield (Death Wish, Last of the Hard Men) guidebook. He was one heck of a writer and he knows his way around a Western. Whether you are bobbing your head in agreement or shaking it violently in dissent I find his book plenty of grouchy fun. He covers the classic Western period particularly well.
Chris, that is another writer whose work I am unfamiliar with.
Just reflecting, after a good few years have passed, on some of the points made above, it’s not necessarily a negative point to find oneself disagreeing with an author’s perspective. If it inspires us to think about ideas or themes in greater depth, if only in an effort to refute some theory that sounds misguided, then that is surely something positive.
Interesting review of the new Blu-Ray of FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT over on the New York Post site by the always entertaining Lou Lumenick.
As has been stated many places before Gary Cooper turned this one down because he considered “Spy Thrillers” B Movie fare. However, Mr Lumenick states that Cooper chose to do the cheesy NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE instead. I never liked those Cooper DeMille Westerns with the Colonial Western UNCONQUERED the very worst of the bunch. Racist issues aside, the film has one of the most stupid moments in film history where Cooper and Paulette Goddard,going over a waterfall in a canoe are saved by grabbing onto a twig. Give me a good B Movie over this bloated crap any time!
I am also glad McCrea did FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT I’ll take McCrea over Cooper any day; but then that’s just me. I also think overall McCrea made better Westerns too. McCrea I might add was a huge admirer of Cooper. Oddly enough Cooper did have RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY as a possible future project and no doubt would have played the McCrea role. Again I am glad things turned out the way that they did,what other actor than McCrea could have delivered the great “enter my house justified” line.
Not that I dislike everything Cooper did; GARDEN OF EVIL is fine and Cooper is great in the film. Of the three Warner Brothers Westerns DALLAS is the worst of the three. SPRINGFIELD RIFLE has great production values and set pieces but should have starred Randolph Scott. DISTANT DRUMS has somehow entered p.d. hell although Olive Films have been promising a remastered version at some point. I have only seen vapid copies of this film on TV recently so the jury is out until hopefully, one day, we get a restored version.
I do have other issues with Cooper that I will not go into here,for I am sure my comments will have generated enough flak already. It’s just for me he is my least favorite of the great Western stars and I really wish that I could love THE HANGING TREE and MAN OF THE WEST more than I do, to me they are interesting misfires from great Western directors.
Very interesting snippet on IMDb that originally THE PROUD ONES was going to star Cooper directed by Gerd Oswald!
Something tells me I should scrap these comments; oh well, here goes, I’ve got my flak jacket on!
Well we all have different tastes John, and the same actors and the way material is approached won’t appeal to us all. There’s nothing wrong with a dissenting opinion, and there are points I certainly agree with you on. I’m pretty ambivalent about the DeMille westerns myself; they look great and contain some spectacular scenes but there’s a shallowness there – Unconquered bored me to be honest.
I also feel the casting of McCrea in Foreign Correspondent is spot on, much as I admire Cooper I can’t see how he could have improved on what we got.
BTW, I wrote a piece on Foreign Correspondent myself a while back.
Many thanks for your most gracious reply, and, of course the link.
Off topic slightly but I have mentioned Twilight Time Blu-Rays on a previous post. Just checked out the going rate for THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (a film I really want) and the going rate on Amazon USA is $70! That is far too rich for my blood, at any rate Second Sight in the UK say they will release it later this year. Are these guys playing on the “limited Edition” thing too much, in any case, several of these Twilight Time releases have appeared as budget releases overseas. I DO want Blu Ray of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE but not for 70 bucks. I did get the Blu of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH ( a guilty pleasure to be sure) on a cheap…ish Aussie imprint and it looks stunning, don’t see how the Twilight Time release could have been an improvement.
BTW, just got the UK Blu Ray of Siegel’s THE KILLERS and it’s a beauty. Choice of two ratios (TV and Cinema) plus a most interesting profile of Lee Marvin.
Very enlightening, though short, interview with Siegel as well.
I like the 1959 Journey to the Centre of the Earth and don’t feel guilty! Cast ( aside from Pat Boone) is good as is the plot, and of course fabulous Hermann music.
John, the limited edition aspect (which appears part of the licensing deals involved) and the consequent high prices are unattractive to me personally. The fact that most if not all of the titles have been or will be available elsewhere is a further reason for me to abstain. US customers may see this differently of course – the notion of importing seems genuinely alien to many, and there are I think cultural reasons for this.
I’ve seen some screencaps for Siegel’s The Killers and it looks really attractive. I shall certainly buy it at some point.
john k writes:
“… The Lyles films I like the least are the ones with Howard Keel;
never liked him in Westerns. RED TOMAHAWK is the one Lyles
Western that I have never seen. I wonder if any second-string
Western stars actually turned Lyles down. Some people I would
not have minded seeing in a Lyles Western: Jock Mahoney, Guy
Madison, Sterling Hayden and Lex Barker, to name a few.”
I’d watch those actors in any western. Perhaps the 1960s needed more producers like A.C. Lyles, but the western had gone to television. Anyhow, I just watched a full-screen transfer of the one you haven’t seen, RED TOMAHAWK (1967) the 9th in A.C. Lyles’ series for Paramount. The townspeople of Deadwood, South Dakota organize to fend of an impending attack by Sioux Indians following the massacre of Gen. Custer. Howard Keel is a cavalry officer trying to secure two a gatling guns with which the soldiers on patrol can defend themselves and defeat the Sioux, but the townspeople want the gatlings for themselves. The opening scene with the dead bodies of the 7th Cavalry spread out on the slopes is nicely done, but the film is almost entirely a town-based western, with a couple of comings and goings to the Iverson Ranch set about 12 miles up the road. The plot is structured well and builds gradually in suspense. It’s not bad, really. You might enjoy it on that basis alone. The problem with lanky Howard Keel is that he’s not very focused on his performance. Worse than that, he is called upon to do a lot of riding, and sits hunched over in the saddle, his back bent like a bow. A hero is supposed to ride tall and straight in the saddle. Just look at Randolph Scott or John Wayne or almost any other western actor. Either R.G. Springsteen didn’t tell him or the actor wasn’t taking direction because he is not practiced on a horse. Of course, Keel does not have that problem in his musicals which is where I prefer him — especially in KISS ME KATE 3-D (1953). The cast is large with many familiar faces filling in the background. The aspect ratio is reportedly 1.66 so not a lot was missing from the transfer I watched. The film looks good. I’d buy a DVD if there was one.
Many thanks for the feedback on RED TOMAHAWK Richard, of course it’s one that I would like to see, the plot sounds interesting too! Of course by the time A.C. was cranking these things out people like Madison and Barker were working mainly in Europe. Very surprised that Mahoney was not enticed into doing one,
perhaps he was offered a couple but thought better of it.
Judging by some comments on the Home Theater Forum, lots of folks would like to see these films make it to DVD. One fellow even went as far to say that despite the fact most of them were lousy, that he would but the lot!
Personally, I think a bit of dissension makes the stew more interesting. Would agree with most of John and Colin’s comments above except John’s view of Coop who I admire greatly (though not more than McCrea!).
I can’t imagine “The Proud Ones” being done any better than with Robert Ryan. A great “character” actor. Even his heroes had considerable shades of grey to them.
The Proud Ones (1956) is fine just the way it is, thanks to Robert Ryan.
john k writes,
Judging by some comments on the Home Theater
Forum,lots of folks would like to see these films
make it to DVD. One fellow even went as far to say
that despite the fact most of them were lousy, that
he would buy the lot!
That was me, actually. I said that.
Here in the USA, john k, we do not denigrate the name or the work of Gary Cooper. It simply isn’t done. Not even in jest. Most Americans would take the gravest exception to your … views. Should you ever visit these shores, I caution you not to express such views of a national hero openly, if I were you, certainly not in the western states nor in Montana, specifically.
Walked right into that one Richard,didn’t I.
I have been to The States several times and never managed to upset anyone that I know of.
I would like to know how WHITE FEATHER (Fox, 1955), which Toby has highlighted at 50 Westerns From the Fifties, came about. Does anyone know? If I were to guess, I would guess that Fox, being Fox, wanted to remake Delmer Daves’ BROKEN ARROW (1950). This fictitious version of Tom Jeffords’s negotiations with Apache chief Cochise and romance with an Indian maiden in southeastern Arizona was a big hit and very influential. So Fox employed British scribe John Prebble (best known for ZULU and Masterpiece Theater) to rework Daves’ script for the Cheyenne chief Broken Hand in the Dakotas, a fictitious version of Chief Red Cloud and perhaps Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Once again the story is about negotiating a treaty and confining the tribe to a reservation. The other thing in common is the romance between the Indian daughter of the Chief and the white man. Debra Paget returns in the same role she played in BROKEN ARROW only with a name change, while Robert Wagner is miscast as a townsite surveyor who is indifferent to the Cheyenne’s plight. The character arc is largely his, because he falls in love with the Indian maiden and in so doing comes to sympathize with the Cheyenne. In the end he gives up everything, including the love of a white woman, to live as a Cheyenne with his Indian maiden. There many parallel scenes in the two films. I could be wrong, but I don’t see much of Delmer Daves’ hand in this script except as a source. I think it was probably the work of co-writer Leo Townsend building on Prebble’s story and that Daves’ credit was largely a professional courtesy. The film is a solid entertainment. It has its virtues and its moments. The film was shot in Fox’s mandatory Cinemascope process. What it gains in spectacle from the wide, narrow frame it loses in dramatic intimacy, and dramatic intimacy is what it needs. If Delmer Daves had directed it I suspect it would be a very different film.
Richard W, Unforgiven though I am for my Cooper comments I do know a bit about WHITE FEATHER. The film was a work in progress for famed producer Leonard Goldstein who produced many of the mainly pro-Indian Westerns made over at Universal mainly directed by George Sherman. Fox approached Goldstein in view of forming his own production imprint Panoramic Productions; to be filmed mostly over at RKO and released by Fox. The point of all this was to keep young Fox contract players employed while they concentrated on their big budget CinemaScope projects like THE ROBE. The Panoramic films include many fine titles like THE RAID. Apart from Fox contract players like Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget, the films featured many up and coming talents like Richard Boone, Lee Marvin, James Best, Peter Graves to name a few.
Mr Goldstein passed away in 1954 and there were still a few on-going projects still in production.
WHITE FEATHER is the only Panoramic production actually shot in CinemaScope and was produced by Goldstein’s associate Robert L Jacks. Running alongside all of this Mr Goldstein also formed another production imprint Leonard Goldstein Productions. This imprint only released three films; all good ones: STRANGER ON HORSEBACK, ROBBERS ROOST and BLACK TUESDAY. All of these titles were released after Mr Goldstein’s passing.Mr Goldstein’s brother Robert served as producer on these films.
Robert L Jacks went on to produce many fine films;how many would have been executive produced by Leonard Goldstein who can tell. Some Robert L Jacks films of note THE PROUD ONES, A KISS BEFORE DYING, THE KILLER IS LOOSE and THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, again all excellent. Robert L Jacks also produced the very fine TV Movie Mr Horn with David Carradine and Richard Widmark – great as always. This is a very fine and very long movie;the first half deals with the Indian Wars and Geronimo and the second half (by far the better) deals with his later career as a bounty hunter and details Horn’s decline into alcoholism. I think, but am not totally sure, that Warners own the rights to this one; it was a Lorimar Production. At any rate I am in dire need of upgrading my “off air” copy.
Returning to WHITE FEATHER I am not too sure how Daves got involved. Another project that Mr Goldstein was involved in but never ended up producing is Lloyd Bacon’s THE GREAT SOUIX UPRISING. I have written quite a bit about this film over at Toby’s. Certainly Bacon and producer Albert Cohen have let a great deal of violence filter into the mix as opposed to the Goldstein/ Sherman projects. In fact I would say that it’s the most violent of all the Fifties Universal Westerns. Jeff Chandler is excellent as always and the film is pretty good too. Speaking of Lloyd Bacon (not a name we associate with Westerns) Warner Archive have just released a remastered version of THE OKLAHOMA KID.
Finally Richard, do you really think that I am going to go into a bar in Montana and start knocking
Cooper! Stupid I may be; but not that stupid.
That is a fair bit of research, john k, thank you. I guess the jury is still out on the extent of Delmer Daves’ involvement. He just does not strike me as someone who would rewrite or remake his own film five years later, hence my speculation that the credited co-authors wrote the remake. Of course there is also the possibility that Daves started WHITE FEATHER as one thing and Leo Townsend finished it as a remake of BROKEN ARROW.
I have a dry sense of humor and was joshing you about Gary Cooper. It’s true, though, he is much admired in America and even his B westerns are highly thought of because he’s in them.
Another thought on Robert Webb’s WHITE FEATHER. It doesn’t need the romance between the surveyor and the Indian girl. The romance is forced and just gets in the way. I get the message — that two races can learn to live together — but the fact is, at that time, they didn’t. Don’t get me wrong; I like romance in westerns. Perhaps a downplayed romance with the daughter of the Post Trader would have served just as well. The film starts with that, then drops it and segues into replaying the interracial romance from BROKEN ARROW. There is another story being told here about displacement which, if the filmmakers had focused on it exclusively, and had implemented just a little more history, would distinguish WHITE FEATHER. Jeffrey Hunter, Eduord Franz and Hugh O’Brian are surprisingly effective as pale Indians. director Robert Webb handles the spectacle well.
But is it Delmer Daves? Not really. Anyone else know the film?
All this talk about White Feather has ensured one thing: it will definitely be featured on this site sooner rather than later.
Don’t let our ruminations derail the muse, Colin.
“Yes, I think one important distinction between the US and
the Spaghetti westerns is the approach to violence and
violent situations. The classic US variety was more likely
to draw attention to the tragedy or the negative conse-
quences, using it as a catalyst for some kind of redemption.
The Spaghetti western really only approached this position
on a handful of occasions. Once Upon a Time in the West
and A Fistful of Dynamite (Giù la Testa) are immensely
rewarding films but there’s too much shallowness in the
vast majority of the sub-genre for me.”
Indeed. The British-made westerns, on the other hand, had much on their collective mind and several of them relied on stories by Louis L’Amour. My personal favorite is Michael Winner’s LAWMAN (1971), filmed in Durango. It appears Germany just made a western with South Africa locations standing in for Texas. It’s called IN EINEM WILDEN LAND (2013). The story has something to do with immigrant women being kidnapped by Comanches. The stills indicate a commendable attention to period detail in the costuming and props. Evidently the film is spoken in German. Could it be the producers did not consider English-speaking countries as a market for a western?
Perhaps one of you knows the film? I’m trying to find out if this blu-ray:
Those British westerns you mention, aside from Lawman, would be the Euan Lloyd productions. Catlow, Shalako and The Man Called Noon were all adapted from Louis L’Amour books. None of them are what I’d term particularly good movies but I have a bit of a soft spot for the latter two, and part of that is down to Stephen Boyd turning in enjoyable supporting performances in both.
Those are the ones. Stephen Boyd’s career took a strange turn after Fantastic Voyage (1967). He fit right in to the western and I would have liked to see do more of them. Weren’t El Condor (1970), A Man Called Horse (1970), The Hunting Party (1971), Man In the Wilderness (1971), Chato’s Land (1972), Billy Two-Hats (1974), Return of a Man Called Horse (1976), Eagle’s Wing (1979) also UK productions? or at least co-productions? I know Hannie Caulder (1971) was a co-production with the USA.
I know I’m forgetting a couple.
A Man Called Horse and Eagle’s Wing are exceptional films.
As an aside, UK directors Robert Day and John Guillermin were responsible for two of the best westerns of the 1980s, The Quick and the Dead (1987) and The Tracker (1988). Both were cable films shot in widescreen that could easily have played in theaters, and should have.
Certainly co-productions, although I’d have to do a bit of research to find out exactly who was behind all of them.
Boyd was very good in one of his early roles in The Bravados and he has always been a great favorite of mine; we haven’t produced a huge number of movie stars in Northern Ireland. He seemed to have grown tired of the big budget stuff as the 60s wore on and decided to opt for smaller projects that grabbed his interest. Sadly, some of his choices were poor I think. His career might have been revived somewhat had he not passed away so suddenly and early; I seem to remember hearing Lloyd planned to cast him in the role played by Jack Watson in The Wild Geese had he not died unexpectedly.
Richard W Wrote:
“I have a dry sense of humor and was just joshing you about Gary Cooper”
Sure fooled me buddy!
I was going to take things a stage further and had a post entitled “Deconstructing Gary” but it would be unfair to take things any further, considering the above comment so the thing has ended up in the waste paper basket, just as well I guess.
Actually I would not do the dirt on any iconic American when in their homeland be it Clint Eastwood, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Woody Strode, Dolly Parton, Pete Seeger; it’s just not my way. If I do not admire any of the aforementioned, and others too numerous to mention, I certainly respect them!
Regarding Euro Westerns I think that the first one may have been THE SAVAGE GUNS (1962).
This was a one-off effort from Capricorn Films a spin-off from Hammer Films and headed by Hammer honcho Michael Carreras. The film did have three Americans in lead roles: Richard Basehart, Don Taylor and Alex Nicol. Sadly the film is not very good but was picked up by MGM. THE SAVAGE GUNS was Capricorn’s sole venture.
I’ve heard about or read about The Savage Guns before John. Never seen it though.
I recommend you check out the early spaghetti western Le Goût de la violence (1961)
and Cimitero senza croci (1969) aka The Rope and the Colt:
by French dramatist Robert Hossein. Both films were shot in Almeria, Spain by the French. Hossein was a true dramatist who told romantic tragedies in genre trappings. Most of the films he directed were noirs. There is very little dialog in Hossein’s films, but when it comes, it matters.
Interesting, those are new to me.
The second part of my Cooper comments was entitled “Heroes” and related to Richard’s remarks about Cooper being an American hero,although Cooper does not figure in the following piece.
In Don Graham’s excellent Audie Murphy biography No Name On The Bullet of a couple of decades back Mr Graham states in the preface that most of today’s youth would think that Audie was Eddie Murphy’s brother. Audie himself stated that the only thing more out of date than yesterday’s papers is yesterday’s war hero; he certainly should know.
Many years ago when visiting Arlington Cemetery I wanted to visit the grave of my childhood hero. The tour guide had sort of heard of Audie but had no idea where the grave was. Just about the saddest thing that I heard recently was over at Toby’s and the unkempt state of Randolph Scott’s grave!
Who would figure as a War Hero/Audie comparison these days? Chris Kyle I guess. His story is also an American Tragedy,these things always seem to run in tandem. Clint Eastwood’s next project is Chris Kyle’s story “American Sniper” and it would see Eastwood back in his comfort zone. Film should be outstanding and may be a fitting “swan song” to Eastwood’s career. Just in case there are any misunderstandings Clint is directing the film and I believe Bradley Cooper has been cast as Chris Kyle.
Just to round-up on some of the above;firstly I never expected Michael Winner to be name-dropped here although Wendell Mayes who co-wrote THE HANGING TREE also scripted Winner’s most successful film DEATH WISH.
I did see WHITE FEATHER in a huge cinema in the Sixties in magnetic stereo and it was quite an experience. I would rate the film as good but certainly not great. Stephen Boyd’s final film (I think) was the generally unheralded but interesting crime thriller THE SQUEEZE. Boyd is the bad guy in this film and he is outstanding. As a “Heist” movie I would rate it several notches above ROBBERY which we discussed over at Toby’s recently. Stacey Keach’s English accent is spot on.
I’ve never The Squeeze but if you feel it’s better than Robbery, then I reckon that’s one to keep my eyes peeled for.
Sold! I just watched a clip of the opening of this online, with the great song by Marty Robbins, and have now got to see the whole thing, so I’ve just ordered the Warner Archive DVD from someone on eBay and will hopefully have it in the next few days. Will then return to reread your review, Colin. I appreciated your comments on Cooper as I think he is an actor who tends to be underrated – my admiration has grown steadily with the films of his that I’ve seen, and I’d agree with you on his understated acting.
Many thanks for linking to my review of ‘Kings Go Forth’ – much appreciated. And this is yet another great discussion on your site, with so many tips on other films to see.
Hi Judy. Your article on Kings Go Forth was a typically strong analysis and appreciation that I was only too happy to be able to link to.
I’m pleased to hear I encouraged you to seek out the movie and I feel confident you’ll enjoy viewing it. I’d be delighted if you’re able to come back and add your thoughts on it when you do get to watch it.
A fabulous review. I like all kinds of acting styles and all kinds of actors. But IMHO. the biggest problem with 95% of Gary Cooper’s films is Gary Cooper. What some people call his understated acting style, I call weird and wooden. For me, it is the odd way he delivers lines, not facial expressions or body language.
But with an interesting plot – and a great ensemble – I’ll watch this. I’d really like to see a movie where I really like Cooper’s performance.
Cooper is one of those actors who certainly does seem to divide opinion among film fans. All the varied reactions to film personnel is another reason why discussions of these movies remains fascinating to me.
Muriel, I assume from what you say at the end that you haven’t seen this film. If so, then I’d love to think I’ve encouraged you to give it a go. I feel the script here really does draw on Cooper’s strengths.
Everybody, check out the Captain’s blog on “WHERE HAS ALL THE TRUCOLOR GONE?” :
Thanks. Some interesting info there.
Colin, I’ve now seen this film and returned to reread your review. Must agree with you and Vienna about the greatness of the ending – I’m struck by the way Cooper is reaching down to Schell in that still you have chosen, finally bending. I think another symbol, as well as the fire and trees, is the gold itself – I wondered if we would find out where Frail got those bags of gold coins he carries with him, using one to buy the house in the first place – I have a feeling he might use another one to pay in a gambling session, but I could be misremembering. (Maybe the gold came from all that desperate gambling – doesn’t seem he would have made it from medicine.) But anyway he tries to buy people, both Rune (another made-up name, surely?) through the whole “bond servant” business and Elizabeth by secretly paying for her gold claim – and then at the end she buys him back from the gallows by giving all the gold away to the mob.
A little scene that sticks in my mind is when Frail actually rides out to see Elizabeth at the gold workings and she gives him coffee. He immediately goes into doctor mode and starts checking her health – and he doesn’t know how to answer when she says “Maybe I should ask how you are” and goes away again.
One problem I have with the plot is that it’s hard to believe Elizabeth and Rune would go into business with the amazingly sleazy Frenchy after he has already shown his true colours on several occasions – but Karl Malden’s performance is very enjoyable, anyway. Thanks so much for recommending this film, Colin, and writing such an incisive piece about it.
Judy, I’m delighted to hear you got to see the film, and it seems you enjoyed it. Thanks very much for coming back to share your thoughts on it. I really like that point you make about the climax and Cooper’s character finally bending, very astute of you.
You’re right too about the whole question of gold running through the picture. We’re reminded all the time of the potential for both good and evil presented by wealth and riches, of the way it can bring out the very best and the very worst in people.
BTW, this has now become only the second piece ever on this site to have comments run into three figures, and the first time for an individual film review. So a big thank you to all is in order.
That number of comments is a tribute to you as a writer, Colin, and to the great following you have built for your blog – reading through the thread gives such a lot of information and tips for more films to see.
I’ve been thinking about the film a bit more over the morning and your description of Frail as “a man buried in the past” – plus your comment “The fact that Frail chooses a home high on a cliff above the swarming anthill of the mining camp serves to emphasize the remoteness and distance of the character.”
I’m thinking that, as well as being haunted by his personal past, he also seems to be from an older West than the one that is growing up around him – going with the fact that Cooper looks so weathered and tired in this film. I do think there’s a poignancy to that ending because you have the feeling that he has had so many gun fights (both the character in this film and the actor in so many others) and yet he can’t do anything heroic to get that noose off his neck, but has to be rescued by an exchange of money.
As you can see, I liked it a lot, and will hope to see more of Daves’ Westerns!
Far too kind Judy, but thanks very much anyway.
Perhaps it’s just the romantic in me, but I like to think that Doc Frail was rescued, and reborn, by love and renewed hope. I think the gold was just another of those shackles binding him. By casting it away and offering herself to him instead, Elizabeth was bringing him back to the world of the living.
If you enjoyed this film, then I think you’ll find 3:10 to Yuma, The Last Wagon and Jubal immensely rewarding too.
Colin, as a fellow-romantic, I do agree with that ending for Doc and Elizabeth – but I think there’s also satire there at the expense of the townspeople who give up their justice at the scent of gold! And I’ll be looking out all those films soon – I have seen the remake of 3:10 to Yuma but need to catch up with the original. Thanks!
The remake of 3:10 to Yuma is a mere shadow of the original, which I do hope you get to see. There are so many good things in the film, and I consider the brief scene with Glenn Ford and Felicia Farr to be one of the highlights of cinema in general.
Very late to your cogent review, Colin, and couldn’t begin to add anything of value which hasn’t been plumbed far more eloquently by the many, many commentators. Couple of little tidbits might be of interest, though. Dick Shepherd, who co-produced (his first film, at the age of 31) The Hanging Tree, was my agent for almost 20 years, until his retirement in 2009. Dick died this past December. He told me many stories about the production, its genesis, pre- and post-, etc.
About the final, haunting shot (one of the great closing images in all of film, from my humble perspective)– Cooper on his knees, Schell standing, and Rune behind them, as the dangling noose hovers over them all. Daves and Dick and co-producer Martin Jurow spent days trying to use the image without Marty Robbins, only Max Steiner’s evocative score. They even tried doing it with no music. They all were concerned that the upbeat Robbins would undercut the image, what it is saying about each character, the melancholy behind the fact that all three are alive. However, in the end, they felt that the audience would miss Robbins, since it had opened with him, it needed his V-O closure. None of them — Daves, Dick or Martin Jurow — was ever totally satisfied with it as is.
Regarding the title song, this might be of some interest. Gary Cooper apparently had an excellent singing voice. And originally, he was going to sing the song beneath the title. Maria Cooper, his daughter, remembers his practicing in his workroom at their house. Dick told me that it was finally decided that it would undercut his performance, the audience hearing Cooper warbling might throw off the mood they were trying to create.
Same thing happened with Friendly Persuasion. Cooper was originally going to sing Of Thee I Love, the tune behind the credits. He worked on it (Maria recalls this, too), but in the end, William Wyler decided it would undercut the import of Cooper as actor. It was one thing for singers — Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, etc. — to sing title tunes, they were singers to begin with. Cooper was actor first (though there are those who question this!).
It’s great to see Delmer Daves finally beginning to get some of his due. His westerns are fascinating on so many levels, if for no other reason than they show the cowboys actually earning a living — whether as working cowboys, ranchers, miners, what-have-you, So often, in westerns, you see these cowboys hanging in saloons, morning/noon/night, spending money, getting drunk, but never seeming to work. In Delmer Daves westerns, they earned a living.
Again, thanks much, Colin!
John, I’m delighted that you took the time to pass on that information on the production of the movie, and the options that were on the table. Frankly, I love the ending; it’s just about perfect as far as I’m concerned and I honestly can’t imagine it remaining as powerful, moving or evocative had any of those alternatives you outlined been applied. Still, it’s fascinating to get that insight into how those involved felt about it all.
Enjoyed reading this. As it happens, it’s on television tonight. I’m going to record it and watch it later this week.
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Hello, vinnie, nice to hear from you. Thanks very much for trawling back through my posts to find this, and pleased that you liked it.
I hope you like the movie too, I never tire of recommending Delmer Daves’ work to others as he’s one of my favorite directors. I think his films are very accessible too for those who may not be hardcore western fans – you can depend on a rich theme and strong human interest.
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I’m sure I’ll really enjoy it. I saw it was on television and remembered you reviewed it a while back. I’ll try to make more time to visit your blog. You’re welcome on my blog anytime, would love to hear your thoughts on some of my posts.
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Yes, I really need to get around more – I’ve neglected a lot of sites recently, and that’s purely as a result of constraints on my time. Will try harder!
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There’s no pressure Colin, just visit when you can.
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There must be something here I’m not seeing. It does not ring any bells for me entertainment wise. I read glowing reviews for it and go back for a re-watch and, nothing. Oh, well we can’t like them all..
Well, Cooper doesn’t do it for everybody so that may be part of it. Also, I think it probably depends how deeply the central characters, or their relationship, resonates – that’s what drives the story after all. If that aspect isn’t speaking to you, then I guess the movie won’t work. As you say, Gord, everybody reacts in a different way to such stuff – one size doesn’t fit all and there’s no reason why we should expect it to do so.
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Hi, Colin – on the strength of your thoughtful and beautifully written review, I ordered the DVD of The Hanging Tree and watched it yesterday. It is an outstanding movie: it lives up to everything you claimed for it. I know I’ll be watching it again and again in the years to come. Thank you for that gift.
Steve, I’m very pleased to hear you were encouraged to seek out the film based on what I’d written here – that really is “job done” as far as I’m concerned and this kind of feedback makes the whole blog business feel even more worthwhile.
Remember the theme song by Marty Robbins. First LP I ever owned was Gufighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Of course Hanging Tree is not on that playlist. That said, I’ve yet to view the film. Will do that soon thanks to this fine review.
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Paul, I think the way the song is blended into the credits is especially effective, and indeed affecting.
And you should definitely make a point of watching the film at the earliest opportunity.
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The Hanging Tree is one of my favorite westerns. Great title song and perfect ending…
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I couldn’t agree more. That ending in poignant, powerful and wholly fitting. I love this movie.
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It’s my wife’s favorite western! 🙂
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A woman of impeccable taste then.
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Excellent review of a fascinating. The Blu really did justice. Honestly people can try to knock Coop but really he was an American treasure and so is this film.
I’ve gone through various copies of this movie over the years, from an old off air, to a less than satisfactory DVD with compromised aspect ratio, to the restored Warner DVD, and finally the Archive Blu-ray. I’m more than pleased with the latter.
I don’t know why Cooper still gets doubts cast on his acting although I suspect a certain amount of that is simple laziness and the repetition of poorly judged criticisms leveled at him long ago and wheeled out regularly.
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