Flaming Feather

Having taken a break from writing about the genre for a bit, I think it’s time to return to the movies that have formed the bedrock of this site since its earliest days – westerns. Instead of getting into a thematically rich example, I’m going to look at a brisk, no-nonsense entertainment. Flaming Feather (1952) is exactly that; pacy, plot-driven and directed by perennial journeyman Ray Enright, the movie tells an enjoyable and undemanding story in an hour and a quarter, makes the most of its attractive locations and allows its accomplished cast to smoothly occupy the types of roles they were ideally suited to.

Arizona in the post-Civil War era and, as ever, there is a threat to the creeping influence of civilization. Sometimes the movies will focus on the menace of outlaw gangs, ruthless gunslingers, business rivals, or indigenous resistance. On this occasion, it’s something of a hybrid: a band of murderous and relentless Ute renegades who appear to be organized and led by a faceless white man, a man who is known only by the alias of the Sidewinder. Of course any villain, not least one who assumes the identity of a serpent, should sooner or later come face to face with his or her personal nemesis. The core concept that has been at the heart of all drama, from classical tragedy right down to popcorn fare such as Flaming Feather, is that one can only spend so long poking a finger in the eye of fate before some form of retribution descends. And so it is here that the Sidewinder pushes his luck once too often. By raiding and plundering the ranch of Tex McCloud (Sterling Hayden), he sets in motion a chain of events that will lead inexorably to his downfall. The hero in this case has the kind of implacable resolve that it’s best not to gamble against, and backing up his natural thirst for a reckoning is the small matter of a wager he has laid with a cavalry lieutenant (Forrest Tucker) regarding who is going to track down the perpetrator first. So we have a fairly straightforward setup, one which will be further complicated (though never unduly so) by the intervention of two women, Arleen Whelan & Barbara Rush, as it heads towards a memorable conclusion amid the ruins of Montezuma Castle.

Ray Enright was nearing the end of a long career by the time he took charge of Flaming Feather. He only had one more feature ahead of him (a routine George Raft effort) and came to this off the back of a run of solid and enjoyable movies with Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy, as well as the extremely disappointing Montana with Errol Flynn. Enright is never going to make anyone’s list of great directors, but he was a competent studio professional and, given the right script, cast and crew, was more than capable of producing a good quality piece of work. This movie saw him shooting a tight and trim script penned by Gerald Drayson Adams, taking advantage of the dramatic Arizona locations, and enjoying the contribution of top cinematographer Ray Rennahan. The tone throughout is consistent – straight drama with a light sprinkling of well-judged humor – and the big action set pieces in the third act are nicely handled.

One day I may well devote a post to distinctive voices and styles of delivery in the movies. I could turn out copy on Dan Duryea’s wheedling, Orson Welles’ cajoling, Burt Lancaster’s pitter-patter, and perhaps Sterling Hayden’s confrontational abruptness. The latter carries an air of authority, it doesn’t leave a great deal of room for maneuver or subtlety but it certainly evokes the straight-shooting hero who favors the direct approach. And this is exactly the type of performance Hayden delivers; there’s no shading or nuance here, just a portrait of a wronged man on a quest for justice, which is perfectly fine under the circumstances. Any consideration of instantly recognizable voices would have to include Victor Jory, a man whose characteristic tones typically put me in mind of someone trying to sell a used bottle of snake oil, and possessed of a face which seems always to have been a stranger to sincerity. He was born to play villains and I don’t imagine it’s going to constitute a spoiler of any consequence to say that this is the role he fulfills once again.

There are some actors who, when their names appear among the credits, give viewers a reassuring feeling, a comforting knowledge that, whatever else may be lacking, they can be depended on to turn in a strong performance. Forrest Tucker was such a figure; he was entirely at home in westerns and he brought an authenticity to the screen. If I have any complaint here, it’s that he’s missing from the action for far too long in the mid-section. Of the two female roles, Arleen Whelan gets the showier part as the duplicitous saloon girl and runs with it. Barbara Rush is given a simpler and more one-dimensional character, but bigger and better things were just around the corner for her, starting with Jack Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space and then a a number of fine movies for Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray. In support, we get Edgar Buchanan, Richard Arlen and a small but welcome part for Ray Teal.

Flaming Feather was made for Nat Holt Productions via Paramount. There are a few DVD releases of the film in European countries – Italy and Germany for sure, although there may be others. I have the German disc and it’s what I might term OK. The image is clear enough but it’s obviously using an older master and there is that softness and lack of “zip” associated with such sources. I’d like to see it scrubbed up and looking fresher but I imagine I might be in a for a long wait. As movies go, this isn’t going to change anyone’s world, alter one’s perceptions of the genre or stimulate any intellectual debate. What it will do, however, is provide a pleasant evening’s entertainment. I liked it.

47 thoughts on “Flaming Feather

  1. Colin
    .
    I recall watching this with my dad on the old beast of a b/w television we had back in the late 60’s. A quick look at my too watch list fails to find it for a needed re-watch. So on the list it goes. Thanks for the heads up reminder.

    Enright was a decent middle of the road helmsman who scored with the several films like WAGONS ROLL AT NIGHT with Bogie, and a watchable trio of Randy Scott western films, TRAIL STREET, ALBUQUERQUE and the quite entertaining CORONER CREEK.. I also liked his WW2 flag-waver, GUNG HO with Randy Scott and an early Bob Mitchum bit.

    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Incidentally I watched it last week and really enjoyed the movie a lot. Definitively a fun watch. It’s one of those pictures that takes a formula and makes the best out of it without reinventing the wheel. It had a few little surprises in store.

    I’ve become a fan of Forrest Tucker. Unfortunately here he has to play second fiddle again to another actor, as he so often had to do, though I don’t want to knock Hayden who excelled in these kind of roles.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Margot
      Tucker is a actor that is hard not to like. He is equally good at being a white hat, or a black hat type. The perfect second fiddle to the lead. He never seemed to give a bad performance no matter what the quality of the film was. I agree with you that it would have been nice to see him get a few more leading parts.

      Gord.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Gordon, Tucker played the leading part in California Passage, Rock Island Trail and Flight Nurse. And very nicely too. If Laura reads this, I’m sure she would agree with me. 🙂

        He was also a charismatic bad guy in Warpath, where the heroine for no reason that I can see preferred Edmond O’Brien over Tucker. O’Brien and Tucker should have switched roles.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That’s great that you got to see it recently – it’s nice when people have had an opportunity to watch something I feature close to the time.
      I thought Tucker and Hayden played well off each other and whenever the former isn’t on screen it kind of emphasizes how much of a contribution he made.

      Like

  3. Colin
    Back to “Flaming Feather”. As you say, when one sees names like Tucker, Buchanan, and Victor Jory listed in the cast,one gives the film a closer look. A few years back I saw a western episode of Schlitz Playhouse made in 1954 with Arleen Whelan as the lead. A better actress than one would think. More than just a pretty face.

    “The Wagons Roll at Night” is a sort of knock off of KID GALAHAD moved to the world of a small time circus. Sylvia Sidney and Eddie Albert offer support. Not a world beater by any means, but fun.

    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A nice choice to make, Colin! I came relatively late to “FLAMING FEATHER” but have seen it 2 or 3 times already as it is a western I find very enjoyable. Not top drawer, as you say, but a superior ‘meat and potatoes’ western with fine locations, beautifully photographed and a fun, gripping storyline.

    Ray Enright was a working director who got the job done. In addition to this one, he did a sterling job with “TRAIL STREET” & “GUNG HO” and he did a terrific job with “CORONER CREEK”, in my Top 5 Scott westerns (which is saying a lot!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • A “meat and potatoes” western is a neat description, Jerry – most apt in this case.
      I’m glad you liked the locations too as I feel that aspect adds a lot of value to the production.

      You know, I’ve never seen Gung Ho – for as long as I remember, it always seemed to be available as a public domain title and that may be part of the reason I let it pass me by.

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      • Colin, obviously Randy Scott is famous for westerns, quite rightly, but he made two really good war films in 1943 – the afore-mentioned “GUNG HO” and especially the really fine “CORVETTE K-225”. I think the latter is one of the best war films I’ve seen.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jerry
      As I mentioned earlier, CORONER CREEK is a real keeper, and it is nice to see others agree. Same thing with GUNG HO and TRAIL STREET as you add. Now i’m going to need to dig out all of these for a re-watch. LOL One of the great things about this site.

      Gord

      Liked by 1 person

  5. All
    Speaking of Mister Tucker, a couple of weeks ago I took in HOODLUM EMPIRE. It is a crime slash noir with Tucker playing a real nasty bit of work. The cast includes Claire Trevor, Brian Donlevy.and John Russell. The director was Joseph Kane.

    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a long wait back to high country! Like you, I agree to your choice. Caught this as weekend afternoon movie on black and white tv in the 70s. It was even better when viewed in color thereafter. Typical western from an ever dependent Sterling Hayden. Best regards.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I saw this once maybe twenty-five years ago on TV and don’t remember it too well now. I guess I enjoyed it well enough without it making any special impression. Easy enough to take as it was for a genre fan like me but not that memorable.

    That’s kind of how I am with Ray Enright most of the time. He was certainly capable but sometimes one wishes he’d put more that was distinctive into it.
    I do consider CORONER CREEK much the best of his Randolph Scott movies, Western or otherwise–that one is pretty good. But the only Enright that has a special glow for me is SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS with Joel McCrea, a very satisfying reimagining of Raoul Walsh’s THE ROARING TWENTIES as a Western and Enright really did make the most of it–and have to add the DVD transfer of this is gorgeous for capturing the original Technicolor look.

    When you introduced that subject of distinctive voices, I was sure that you were going to single out Edgar Buchanan since he’s in this. He has one of the most individual voices ever and really knew how to make it work for him. One of my favorite moments in Westerns is the speech about marriage of the drunken judge in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. In context of the scene it’s in, there is obviously something humorous about it, and yet strangely, by the time he finishes he has actually been profound about it too. Really a wonderful moment and owes especially to Buchanan delivering it in the way he did.

    Just a note about the two women here. Arleen Whelan was very good, in a lot of Republic, where John Ford found her some years after YOUNG MR. LINCOLN and cast her in an important role in THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT. She also shines in non-Western RAMROD (not Republic) as one of the two women there, holding her own with Veronica Lake who of course has the more volatile character. As for Barbara Rush, I just thought she was always great, and even if her superb playing in BIGGER THAN LIFE is surely the peak for her, there were other great roles too, not only for Sirk (by the way, her debut in Sirk’s THE FIRST LEGION preceded IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE) but STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET (1960, Quine) for one more example and in one of the most memorable episodes of THE FUGITIVE in 1965 (“Landscape with Running Figures” in two parts) she played Marie Gerard, the unhappy wife of the obsessed antagonist, who is thrown together unknowingly with Kimble–their interaction in a deserted town took that great show to a high point in my view.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes of course, you’re quite right about Barbara Rush appearing for Sirk in The First Legion – I completely forgot that.
      And it’s odd you should mention Strangers When We Meet just now. I’ve never seen the movie but was holding a DVD of it in my hand the other night and thinking of watching it. You’ve just bumped it up the queue for me.

      Like

      • Hope you will see STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET soon, a very beautiful melodrama, and a good movie if you’re looking for one with Kirk Douglas. Also, Kim Novak gives one of her very best performances there.

        You don’t write about this kind of movie as much which makes me all the more interested in what you’d say about it. I’m sure it would have all of your usual thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. So we see what Colin is watching this weekend. What about the rest of you? Myself I taping a pair of Jane Russell films off TCM to watch later in the weekend First up tonight will be the great Toshiro Mifune in 1963’s HIGH AND LOW. It is a kidnapping slash crime film that really hits the spot. This will be my second go around with it.
    Everyone have a good weekend, Gord

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a interesting pick, Gord. I’ve not seen High and Low but I’ve read and very much enjoyed the Ed McBain novel, King’s Ransom, from which it was adapted.

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      • Colin
        Ed McBain’s work seems to have an impact world wide. I still run across old 50’s and 60’s tv episodes where he did the story or screenplay. Amazing! I really do recommend the Japanese film.

        Gord

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m still in the process of working my through his 87th Precinct series, a remarkably consistent body of work written in a style that seems deceptively effortless but certainly isn’t. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the movie.

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          • Colin
            I have the same series here. I even have a review of the first episode I did in 2013 up on IMDB. Good series imo.

            \Gord

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                • I thought the ones I’ve seen so far – maybe half or thereabouts – were fine, a good imagining of the characters and the style of the books. As such, I’d be happy to recommend the series to anyone.

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                  • Gord
                    “MAN ON THE RUN” should be considerably enhanced now as this restoration on DVD & BluRay only came out this week.
                    I remember enjoying the 87th PRECINCT TV series when it was shown here by ITV in 1961/2. I bought that Timeless set and watched it through a year or two ago. Very good.
                    Actually there was a ‘golden’ period of cop shows/dramas from U.S. networks in the early 60s – some really good, adult and well-made series, such as the one discussed, “ARREST AND TRIAL”, “NAKED CITY” and several more plus of course the superb “THE FUGITIVE”. Thankfully, most or at least many of these are available on disc now.

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  9. This weekend, Gord? Depends – my wife and I have recently been watching several of those sumptuous Merchant-Ivory films, the most recent “A ROOM WITH A VIEW”. Superb filmmaking.
    For just me though – I have a brand new Network restoration of “MAN ON THE RUN” (1948) that is sitting there winking at me. I’ve also been promising myself a long-awaited re-watch of “THE TEXAS RANGERS” (1935), starring a young Fred MacMurray.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerry
      Gee whiz, am looking out my window right now and cannot see to the other side of the street because of the snow falling.
      I was lucky enough to see “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” on the big screen when first out. The ex and I even went back the next week for a re-do. As you said, superb filmmaking.,

      MAN ON THE RUN is quite good imo. Saw it on a dvd-r some one in the UK had sent me a decade or so ago. Not great quality but ok for me. TEXAS RANGERS I have here somewhere on a studio vhs. A surprisingly good mid 30’s western. I really liked the cast here, in particular, Jack Oakie and Lloyd Nolan.

      Gord

      Like

  10. Delighted there are others that rate CORONER CREEK as one of Randolph Scott’s best offerings. I also would include a sleeper that evidently few take notice to… THE WALKING HILLS. It’s a totally offbeat story and character for Scott but is smartly directed by John Sturges, before a became a fixture as a grade A director with westerns and war. Hope somebody else likes THE WALKiNG HILLS just a little bit.

    Like

  11. Pingback: Coroner Creek | Riding the High Country

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