Foxfire

On the outside looking in doesn’t do anybody any good.

That one casual line in Foxfire (1955), spoken by one of the most hard done by and neglected characters in the movie as it happens, goes a long way towards catching the spirit and flavor of the entire picture. In a sense, all of the characters are outsiders in their individual worlds, some by chance and others by choice or design. This is a strong theme, one many of us will be able to identify with at some point in our lives and thus a solid bedrock on which to construct this story which I’d say is three parts melodrama and one part modern western. That part picks up on and weaves into the blend perhaps one of the more interesting, challenging and progressive thematic threads to be found in the fabric of the 1950s western, the clash of cultures which was inevitable in a new land and the dramatic tension growing out of that.

A desert highway, one of those arrow straight and seemingly endless thoroughfares that we viewers have traveled many times. Our companion on this occasion is a lone woman, Amanda Lawrence (Jane Russell), speeding along until she gets a flat tire. With no help available, she sets off on foot, burdened with what look like the assorted fripperies of a shopping expedition. There can’t be any doubt that this chic and carefully coiffed lady is very much an outsider in the primal landscape, a refugee from 5th Avenue cast adrift in the dust and heat of the southwest. Then out of that shimmering haze comes a jeep carrying two men – miner Jonathan Dartland (Jeff Chandler) and doctor Hugh Slater (Dan Duryea) – and we’re off. Amanda is clearly taken with Dartland and he’s at least interested in her.  What follows is a love story but it’s not a smooth one, and I think it’s questionable in the end what all of the protagonists are in love with. In fact, despite the relatively neat conclusion, those questions are only partly answered and I feel there’s a suggestion that they will rear their heads again.

As far as I can see, the characters are being pulled in different directions partly by their disparate backgrounds and partly by their status as outsiders. Beginning with Dartland, or Dart as everyone refers to him. We learn very early on that he is half Apache, with a mother who has returned to the reservation and wholly integrated herself back into tribal life after the death of her husband. He is forced to endure some bigoted and prejudiced attitudes – including one thoughtless gaffe on the part of Amanda before she learns about his heritage – but tends to brush them aside. He insists it means nothing to him but a couple of understated moments call this into question – the brief flash of hurt in his eyes when Amanda makes that crack about Indians, and then later the diffidence and self-consciousness he displays when entering the club for their first date, not to mention the haste with which he beats his retreat.

For all Dart’s claims of not being affected by his background, he’s very much aware that he is outside looking in. And he cannot fully break with his past; he avoids talking about his mother’s people, keeps his memories quite literally locked away and reacts with petulant sensitivity to their discovery. Nevertheless, the tone of his relationships, especially with Amanda is dictated by his upbringing, his instinctive prioritizing of self-reliance as well as his resorting to the physical as opposed to the emotional act of love when confronted with conflict. As I mentioned  above, I’m unsure whether he’s confident what he’s in love with – his wife or his ambition, and that siren song of kith and kin holds a powerful attraction.

What of Amanda? Is she any less an outsider? A socialite on vacation drawn to something attractive, and she does refer to Dart time and again as pretty in a neat subversion of traditional objectification. She labors hard to adapt to the harsh conditions of the mining town and also has to deal with the whispers of her own past tempting her to throw it all up in favor of the ease and plenty she was accustomed to. Again, does she really know what she wants – the rugged ideal of her imagination or the the reserved figure of reality?

You can always tell a script has depth when it adds meat to the bones of the supporting characters ; this one is from the pen of Ketti Frings, who had already written a few very good films noir as well as another Joseph Pevney / Jeff Chandler picture Because of You, and I’m keen to track that one down now. Dan Duryea’s boozy doctor could have been a mere caricature, a sidekick with a bottle who bumbles in the background. However, the character isn’t written with such broad strokes, there are layers present which are only gradually uncovered. He doesn’t truly belong either, another blow in from another world, a drunk as a result of personal trauma and casting around for a means to escape his circumstances. Duryea excelled at playing heels and it’s therefore not much of a surprise when his cunning and manipulative side rises to the surface. The one who arguably suffers this most, albeit with almost superhuman stoicism, is his nurse/lover played by Mara Corday. Like Dart, she is half Apache yet the barriers separating her from white society are even more entrenched. There’s something both outrageous and touching about her quiet patience and devotion to a man who habitually neglects her to the point of naked disrespect. Then there’s that wedding scene, where she is looking in in every sense, relegated to a place outside in the company of hookers and other undesirables. She is in a very real way a peripheral figure and is assigned only a limited amount of screen time, but her presence and its effect on the viewer is significant. Somehow, the casual acceptance (by herself as well as by the other characters, and perhaps even more so on her own part) of her regular social exclusion and the flippant exploitation of her affections do as much to highlight prejudice as some of the more direct and overt references involving  Dart.

I’ve watched and featured a number of Joseph Pevney movies this year and Foxfire is probably the most enjoyable one so far. I appreciated the understated way the drama unfolds and this is particularly true of the key scenes. The film has that appealing look that is so characteristic of Universal-International productions and William Daniels’ Technicolor cinematography honestly is quite breathtaking at times. The setting matters too, it feels entirely appropriate in this case that everything revolves around a mining settlement in the Arizona desert. The location offers a tangible link to the classic western and then there is that sense of the ephemeral, of a place hastily built amid a permanent wasteland – Chandler’s character dreams of making it a lasting settlement but there’s that nagging doubt again, as in his personal affairs, over how sure the foundations will be. Somehow the raw purity of the scorched backdrop offers a contrast to the transitory desires, ambitions, jealousies and angst of this group of people, none of whom appear to genuinely belong.

As for availability, there is a Blu-ray which has been released in the US and I understand it offers a fine presentation of the movie. Sadly, I’m Region B only when it comes to Blu-ray so I had to find other options. There has been a DVD release in Italy that is hard to fault as far as the picture quality is concerned. It might be standard definition but the 2.00:1 widescreen image is sharp as a pin, clean and colorful. Sure there are better melodramas to be found and the theme here may not have the kind of universal resonance that typically adds greatness. Nevertheless, this is a good movie, and it mostly worked for me, raising a number of issues I could relate to as well as providing an hour and a half of polished, solid entertainment. My recommendation is that anyone able to access this title should check it out.

75 thoughts on “Foxfire

  1. Very nicely put, Colin. You have certainly whetted this reader’s appetite to try and get hold of this movie. Like you, I am restricted to Region 2 for BluRay so I shall need to look elsewhere.

    The more I see Jeff Chandler the more I appreciate his ability to project toughness underlayed with often well-concealed vulnerability and sensitivity.
    And, like you, I love the ‘look’ of those U.I. films of the 50s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you would get on well with the movie, Jerry, so keep it in mind.
      Yes, Chandler rarely disappoints and this was an excellent role for him, offering a balance and complexity.

      Like

  2. Really good analysis Colin, you make an excellent case. And of course you had my attention at Italian DVD as ever! This is one that I do remember, somewhat dimly from a TV showing, (dubbed) a good 3 or 4 decades ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Colin
    Nicely said my good man. What is nice here is that nobody in the cast goes over the top. The actors are all controlled in their parts, in particular, Mara Corday, as you have pointed out. I’m glad you suggested this film for me a while back, well worth the watch. Every time I see a new film lensed by William Daniels, up he moves on my list of favorite cinematographers. It does not seem to matter if b/w or color, the film shines.
    Again, well done Colin.
    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

    • Daniels was a great cinematographer, no question about that, and his shooting of the movie is a big part part of its attraction.
      Glad to hear you liked the movie.

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  4. I have not seen this film since AMC was American Movie Classics. I only remember Dan Duryea as the most appealing performance.
    I have since read the novel by Anya Seton. It’s very good, but the movie is a very loose adaptation.
    Jeff Chandler and Jane Russell: so much pulchritude!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice to hear from you again, Muriel. I can’t comment on the source novel as I’ve not read it. Loose adaptations don’t bother me all that much as the media are different anyway, but that’s only my personal view on such matters.
      Yes, Chandler and Russell look very good, and of course the movie as a whole is very easy on the eye.

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  5. Today the mail brought me DVDs of “FOXFIRE” and “HARRY BLACK”, both of which I was inspired to order after recommendations on this great blogsite. So, thanks again, Colin and also Blake who particularly raised my interest in the Stewart Granger film.

    This week I put on “THE SILVER WHIP” (1953), which I had not seen in quite a while. Harmon Jones did a creditable job in the director’s chair and with Dale Robertson AND Rory Calhoun starring it ought to be a winner. Not a classic but the sort of bread-and-butter western I particularly tend to enjoy.
    Sorry to go off-piste, Colin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you have a good time with both of those movies, Jerry – actually, I feel sure you will.

      The Silver Whip is most enjoyable, well made, with a strong theme and you can’t go far wrong with a cast like that.

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  6. Colin, Jerry
    I first saw The Silver Whip back in 2016 and was happy I did. It is a well put together film with a good story, and fine work from both the cast and crew. Thanks for the reminder here as I do believe I shall put it up for a re-watch.
    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Colin
    Speaking of Mara Corday, I was flipping channels tonight and hit on 1983’s SUDDEN IMPACT. It was the bit were Corday, as Loretta the coffee shop waitress, is filling Eastwood’s coffee cup full of sugar. She is trying draw his attention to the hold-up men in the café. Still a fine looking woman nearly 30 years after FOXFIRE. I see her last 4 screen credits were all bit parts in Eastwood films.
    Gord

    Liked by 3 people

  8. FILMS FOR THE WEEKEND
    THE BRAVADOS 59
    DODGE CITY 46
    PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID 73
    KING OF THE LUMBERJACKS 40 First time watch for this John Payne programmer. The others are all re-watch material.

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  9. Just watched The Virginian 1946 starring a young Joel McCrea. It is a slow moving western involving a love triangle and a cowboy finding his convictions of the Code of the West. There was not much of action or gunfights. Lovely high country scenery and in technicolor. Good time filler. Best regards.

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    • I believe the opposite. A definitive film, performance by McCrea and virtually no love triangle, but it is about justice and what good men and women must do to preserve society, as opposed to the revered Canyon Passage, which is about letting the evil, stupid and brutal survive long enough to destory civilization, as represented by the town of Jacksonville, Oregon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Barry. Like you, I’ve never understood the love for CANYON PASSAGE. Despite solid direction and production values and a decent cast I’ve always felt that (at best) it was a middling slice of Americana. No more, no less. It’s not a Western and also not remotely in the same class as McCrea’s VIRGINIAN.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Canyon Passage is an first-rate movie. Here’s a review of it I published 5 years ago:

    This is an outstanding Western: beautifully directed by Jacques Tourneur, very well written by Ernest Pascal and with strong performances by the lead actors. It’s the kind of film that reveals more with each watching: a striking piece of dialogue, a fleeting expression on an actor’s face or a beautifully composed landscape (cinematography by Edward Cronjager) will make its presence felt. At the heart of the movie are two relationships of men expected to marry women while clearly more in love with someone else. The dialogue is elevated above the usual fare and has characters talking about the gods that people choose, the inevitability of their fates, the pointlessness of their daily routines, the community’s obsession with violence. The violence is depicted starkly for the movie’s time and still stings. Susan Hayward dominates her scenes but Andrews and Donlevy are very effective and there are also good turns by Ward Bond, Lloyd Bridges and Andy Devine. Hoagy Carmichael’s songs fit neatly into the film and don’t look like a sappy add-on.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. All
    So far I have watched Dodge City and the Bravados off my films for the weekend. The first is always fun and love that big bar-room brawl. The second was somewhat less than I recall it being. Mind you, I last saw it back when I used to tip a few too many on weekends.
    Gord

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    • I think The Bravados is a remarkable movie. beautifully shot, powerful in its intensity, and its examination of the human heart treads a delicate and fine line between mercilessness and sensitivity. If it’s not Henry King’s best film, it’s not far off. I wrote a short piece on it here.

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  12. Colin
    Do not take me wrong here, The Bravados is a good film, which I quite enjoyed, The ending just seems diff from what I recall. Likely my addled mind. LOL! No doubt about Peck giving a smoking hot performance. It reminds me of his Captain Ahab character in Moby Dick. He has the same madness of mind in his relentless pursuit of the killers (whale)in this one. Henry Silva gives one of his better film bits in this one as well.
    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

    • For some reason “THE BRAVADOS” has attracted some negativity over the years (I don’t mean you, Gord LOL) but I go a lot of the way with your feeling on this one, Colin. I (re)watched it about a year ago and was very impressed.
      Gord, you remind me that it has been years since I watched “DODGE CITY” so it needs to come off the shelf!
      Over past days I watched “FOXFIRE” and really enjoyed it. I don’t think I have ever seen Jane Russell more appealing – very natural. Also watched “WYOMING RENEGADES” (1955), another not seen in years. As programmers go I thought it really pretty decent with a nice touch at the end with the women of the town rounding up the bad guys. It is another of those Columbia second features produced by Wallace Macdonald and directed by Fred F. Sears. All those I have seen have been solid, tough films that are well worth a watch.
      I had a real treat today though – 1941’s “WESTERN UNION”. Again, many years since I last saw it. The Region 2 Optimum DVD I have shows the beautiful camerawork of Edward Cronjager up to its true glory.
      Recognised, quite rightly, as a classic western and I found Scott absolutely superb in it, showing how natural he was to be the future torchbearer for westerns going forward.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hmm, Wyoming Renegades sounds interesting – that man Gene Evans again – I’ll have to look into sourcing a copy.
        Western Union is very good; Fritz Lang and Randolph Scott might sound like an odd combination, but it works. And I’m pleased to hear you saw and liked Foxfire.

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  13. Some observations about FOXFIRE……..top billed Jane Russell was every bit of a ‘full figured woman’, but in this film far in excess. Jane must have been living and eating high on the hog at this time in her career and it showed in nearly every scene she was in. The staging and camera set up were careful not to expose too much of Jane’s thickness. Also, it seemed that the supporting cast of Chandler and Corday were fattened up to not take away from Jane’s appeal…..especially when they were shot in the same frame. The best part of this film was the technicolor widescreen cinematography. Obvious to me the movie needed to be widescreen so Jane’s hefty appearance would be much more forgiven. Anyone else pickup on this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Personally, I can’t say I noticed Jane Russell looking all that different to usual, Scott – I don’t think she was what you’d term a wraith at any time.

      I agree the cinematography, and especially the use of color is one of the big selling points of this movie.

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        • Maybe so, it doesn’t take much stretching to make an image look a bit odd. As I say, I didn’t notice anything untoward on the the disc I viewed. Of course I can only speak of how it looked to me. That’s just my perception, which may or may not be correct.

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  14. Hope it’s all right to use this thread to raise awareness of some other films, Colin?
    This morning I watched (for only the second time) “GUN THE MAN DOWN” (1956), a fine example of what could be done with a small budget. James Arness was a pretty busy actor 1955-75 as the Marshal on TV in “GUNSMOKE” but not long into that tenure the Wayne family put him in a rare big screen appearance. Produced by Robert E. Morrison & Andrew V. McLaglen, directed by McLaglen (his first feature) & photographed imaginatively by William Clothier and nice roles for Harry Carey jr, Emile Meyer and Robert Wilke.
    It ‘s small-scale yet well-paced and with the theme of redemption at its core. Basically, my kinda western!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course it’s OK, Jerry. When you get right down to it, one of the main purposes of this place is to raise awareness.
      Gun the Man Down is something I’ve only seen once myself – I need to get back to it.

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  15. Jerry
    Gun the Man Down
    I must admit this is a new one for me. I watched Gunsmoke the series with Arness for years and years as a kid. I of course will be adding Gun the Man Down to my must watch list. Thanks for the heads up.
    Gord

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    • Hi Gord,
      I watch “GUNSMOKE” regularly as I find it addictive! All the stories from the first few seasons were adapted by John Meston from the stories he wrote for the radio “Gunsmoke” starring William Conrad (which I used to listen to as a kid). I find the TV series (certainly the first 10 seasons at least) to hold up very well. So different from any other TV western.

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      • I’m with you Jerry……I’m still to this day regularly addictive. One could write a book on the reasons why this show compared to all the others of the era was such a gem…….especially for me those first 6-years. It just keeps getting better over time which I can’t fully explain. We are lucky to have it.

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  16. Jerry, remember seeing Gun The Man Down some time ago and found it enjoyable. If I am not wrong, Robert Wilke as the main villain here. Best regards.

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    • Chris, you are right. Bob Wilke and Don Megowan with Emile Meyer and Harry Carey jr as the law. I forgot to mention that the screenplay was by Burt Kennedy.

      Like

  17. Chris, Jerry
    Bob Wilke, a true master of the black hat crowd! Caught him on an episode of THE RIFLEMAN just a couple of weeks ago. He was great as always.

    Gord

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  18. Gord, agreed Bob Wilke was the ‘true master of the black hat crowd’. Remembered him in Night Passage, High Noon and The Magnificent 7.

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  19. All
    One of my cable outfits is showing CATTLE KING from 1964 with Robert Taylor, I do not know this film at all.. Is it worth recording ?

    Gord

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    • Well, Gord, I guess everyone wouldn’t agree with me but my opinion would be – yes, definitely! Low budget certainly but Taylor made it as a finish to his MGM contract so it’s well-made and Robert Middleton does his bad-ass bit.
      I would be very interested to hear what you think, if you record it.

      Like

  20. “Cattle King” has one of the best opening lines in any Westerns, as the bad guys ride up to the barbed wire, heavy Richard Devon cuts it and memorably says “Let’s get this range war started!”

    That’s just wonderfully self-conscious about the genre.

    It’s pretty good–and the last film of director Tay Garnett. And I find this volatile, transitional period of the Western (1963-1966) endlessly fascinating, “Cattle King” falling more to the classical side as you would expect, not that fresh and without tremendous inspiration perhaps but satisfyingly coherent.

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    • The first time I watched it I thought it was just okay. But, when I read Blake’s comment about the opening memorable lines I went ahead and watched it again. Funny how the second time around it was much better. However, I never did hear the lines “Let’s get this range war started!”……..what I did hear was “When I start a job I finish it!”. Was it possible that a change in lines were dubbed in later?

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      • The first time I saw it, the line was also inexplicably missing (I had read about it in the book “The Heavies” and so was looking forward to it). Somehow, there is that copy without it but I’m not sure why. Later, I saw it several times with the line very much there.

        I’m sorry you didn’t get to hear it. I can’t explain this. It’s there as the film was originally released for sure.

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        • Hello Blake…….after viewing a bit more online (ok.ru) the GUNS OF WYOMING version as released in the UK and the French dubbed version had a completely different opening sequence to the CATTLE KING movie version. This opening sequence, running time around 1-minute, was removed from the other US version of CATTLE KING which depicted the actual beginning of the range war having Richard Devon probably stating those memorable lines. I say probably because the movie was dubbed in French, but he is definitely making a declaration of some kind before burning out a homesteader.

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          • You guys are making me want to view the movie to see what the version I have includes. Robert Taylor western – no hardship!

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  21. All
    John Ford’s SEVEN WOMEN 1966 is coming up here on TCM this weekend. This is another film I must admit to having never seen. Your opinions please my good people.

    Gord

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  22. Gordon –

    7 WOMEN is sublime. You know this is Ford’s last film–and a haunting end. Just thinking of its last few minutes makes me emotional. Ford was still as great as ever as he finished his stunning 50 career. He himself felt this was one of his best films. A great way to end.

    No one who has ever loved Ford should miss this film.

    And it’s still not on DVD! How can that be?

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    • I saw “7 Women” in the early ’80s at the Harvard-Epworth church in Harvard Sq. The pastor there ran an eclectic film series (“The Girl Can’t Help It”, “The T.A.M.I. Show”). He used to do a little commentary before and after a movie. About “7 Women” he asked the audience to think about the meaning of the yellow dress that Anne Bancroft wears at the end of the film. I thought it was a marvelous film with a great cast including one of my favorite actresses, Betty Field. I never did figure out what the yellow dress symbolized.

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      • That is interesting what he asked about the “yellow dress”–actually it is a multi-colored kimono with yellow dominant, but I get why he presented this as something to think about and would have enjoyed his commentary. Not sure that I’d know just what to say about the symbolism there either and I’ve seen it many times; it is certainly allusive.

        One thing about that kimono–Ford wanted mostly monochromatic costumes in a subtle color scheme, intending the color to become more vibrant in the climax when she puts on that kimono, and Walter Plunkett did his part of that beautifully, as he always did. Of course, Ford’s sensitivity to color along with other things does not preclude his usual daring with deep blacks, shadows and silhouettes, and since you saw it you know the stunning image where she comes back alone to enter that room for the film’s final moments and stands in the middle of the Panavision frame silhouetted between the hallway walls. Lots of directors do great things, but all the way to the end, Ford seems to have some gift for this level of expressiveness that’s just a little beyond all the others.

        Yes, great cast, Frank, as you say–and mostly not Ford’s stock company except for Anna Lee, but they were all superb–well I guess we could qualify that with Sue Lyon but she does come over the way he wanted her to. I’ve always felt Mildred Dunnock and Margaret Leighton especially stood out, but it’s not fair to the others to say that. Anne Bancroft stepped in on a moment’s notice when her friend Patricia Neal had a stroke after shooting had started–and that’s amazing how she found the role as she did and carried the center of the film; her finest hour for sure.

        I appreciated you sharing, and having read other comments that you have made, I’m not surprised you would respond to this movie. You do make me regret that I didn’t get to hear the pastor talk about “The Girl Can’t Help It.” !!!
        Sounds like he made a lot of interesting, terrific choices of movies.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Before cable, VCRs, DVDs came into being, Cambridge / Boston was an oasis where you could see old and/or foreign films. I saw some great double-bills — “Stagecoach” & “Lifeboat” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” & “Gunga Din” for example. Perhaps the most famous of the repertory movie houses in the area was the Orson Welles Cinema. Filmmakers and musicians who made personal appearances or visited at the Welles Cinema included Nicholas Ray, Peter Bogdanovich, Edward Dmytryk, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, George A. Romero, Harold Russell, François Truffaut, Orson Welles, and Neil Young. Unfortunately, it closed in 1986 after a fire. I saw “Vertigo” in 1983 at the Brattle Theatre when it was finally released from the vault. I saw “The Searchers” across the river in Boston on a big screen. I saw “Zulu” on a even bigger screen. You could see anything from “Wind Across the Everglades” to “Bigger Than Life” to a midnight screening of “Goldfinger” (the Harvard boys went crazy!). There was even a little bookstore called “Movie Madness” which hung around for a few years but with 19 other book stores within walking distance, it went under. Those days are gone, but thanks to Colin pointing me to okaydotru, I have a new treasure chest of movies to view.

          Liked by 1 person

  23. Blake
    I knew it was Ford’s last film but one does wonder why it never hit dvd..The recording is set, so my Sunday night is all lined up!

    Gord

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  24. Pingback: Deported | Riding the High Country

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