Carson City


Sometimes I have vague memories of when I first saw certain movies. On occasion, these memories relate to cinema visits, which tend to stand out more of course, but more frequently they are of movies I caught on TV. Saturday afternoon broadcasts introduced me to many films and stars, cementing them in my consciousness largely due to the fact that I came upon them at the right age to allow lasting impressions to form, and also because of the random way I encountered them. As I said, there is a vagueness to all this, and yet I can say that on the afternoon of Saturday January 29th 1977 I was watching Randolph Scott in Carson City (1952). And I am able to state this with confidence due to the wonder of the BBC Genome service, which makes it  possible to discover exactly when any movie was broadcast on its channels. That had been my only viewing of the film till I finally managed to pick it up on DVD over thirty years later. Of course I didn’t recall details but those Randolph Scott westerns that I adored as a youngster worked their way into my memory and played a defining role in shaping my love of cinema. Looked at now, over 45 years on from that weekend spent in front of the family TV, it may not represent the finest work Scott did, but it is a good movie. Perhaps even more importantly, it evokes for me a little of that magic I first experienced all those years ago.

If some movies are capable of transporting viewers like myself back to particular points in time, it is probably fair to say that the western, arguably more than any other genre, succeeded in doing something similar to society itself, encouraging the audience to cast its collective mind back to the that pivotal point where progress butted heads with freewheeling lawlessness and ushered in the modern age. Carson City, as is the case with countless other genre entries, kicks off with a hold-up of a stagecoach. It is such a familiar and well worn trope, but it serves its purpose for all that by drawing viewers into the action immediately. It plays out in a quirky fashion, the bandits laying out a feast before the passengers, a spread attractively presented and accompanied by bottles of champagne. The tone is light for the moment, larceny served with courtesy and style with only the bankers left feeling sore. Yet just as the genre itself was firmly focused on those final years of the open frontier, the fences were popping up in the west and the gate would soon be closed on such Robin Hood romanticism. The juggernaut driving this relentless march toward modernity was the railroad, the unstoppable iron horse that would punch its way through from coast to coast. The townsfolk of Carson City are fearful of what may follow in the wake of the railroad, hoping to cling for as long as possible to the familiarity of the stagecoach lines despite their vulnerability in the face of determined raiders. Jeff Kincaid (Randolph Scott) is the engineer hired by the rail bosses to build the line through the rugged mountainous terrain and add another link in the chain of civilization gradually snaking its way across a continent.

Where does Carson City rank in relation to the other films André de Toth made in collaboration with Randolph Scott? Well, it is neither the best nor the worst of those half dozen pictures so I would have to place it comfortably in the middle. It isn’t an especially complex story, it doesn’t ask its star to dig too deep within and the villains are simply villainous and no more. Still, it is what could be termed an easy watch, with a plot which develops in a straightforward manner that is satisfying even if it’s never especially surprising. De Toth has the scenes in town looking good and the Bronson Canyon and Iverson Ranch locations feel like the well recognized landmarks one passes on the way to a visit with an old friend. It’s colorful, pacy and full of incident – stagecoach and train robberies, a couple of brawls, several shootouts and an atmospheric mine rescue – and the shift in tone from the light, airy beginning to something darker and more dangerous later on is effected seamlessly.

Randolph Scott’s more memorable parts saw him exploring layers of his own private morality, but Carson City is a much more straightforward assignment. The character of Kincaid is one of his clear-eyed and uncomplicated adventurers. Scott could play that kind of noble westerner practically blindfolded and he sails through the movie with a graceful assurance. I am unsure how many on screen railroads he built or how many miles of telegraph wire he strung down the years but it must have been a lot. The only hint of personal conflict comes via his increasingly strained relationship with his young half-brother played by Richard Webb. Even here the envy and resentment grows out of Webb’s own sense of inferiority rather than anything in Scott’s character. The villains are a perpetually scowling and dangerous James Millican and an extremely buttery Raymond Massey, the latter suckering everyone into believing his soft geniality is genuine and not just a smokescreen to conceal his icy ruthlessness. In one of her few dramatic parts, singer Lucille Norman is the newspaperwoman driving a wedge between Scott and Webb. She does fine and, on this showing anyway, I reckon it’s a pity she didn’t make more movies.

Carson City can be found on DVD via the Warner Archive and there are Spanish and Italian editions available as well. Even if it doesn’t labor the point or dwell on the implications to any extent, the story is part of that fairly large body of westerns dealing with the drive towards civilization, modernity and the rule of law. All of that may underpin the story but this is a piece of entertainment first and foremost and it certainly delivers on that. So, while Carson City is not the weightiest of Randolph Scott’s westerns, it does highlight the appeal of the star and consequently offers plenty of enjoyment.

54 thoughts on “Carson City

    • Yes, it’s a very enjoyable watch, but not what I could term a great western, if that makes any sense. I like it and I had a good time viewing it yet I wouldn’t want to sell it as some classic of the genre. It’s one of those solid and professional movies that form the backbone of the genre I guess.

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  1. Great review as usual Colin. Strangely enough “Carson City” is one of those westerns that I too always associate with a period in the 1970s when I was seeing these pictures on weekly time slots called “The Wednesday Western” (although the slot’s name changed to reflect every day of the week at one time or another!). You mention the brawls. Although the unrealistic semi-comic mass saloon brawls of John Wayne westerns are the ones most readily associated with westerns generally, I think that the fights in Scott’s westerns in the early-mid 50s are altogether different. They are incredibly brutal and you can almost feel the broken bones, bruises and missing teeth afterwards. As I recall, there’s one such fight in “Carson City” and another one that’s posibly even rougher in Joseph Lewis’s “A Lawless Street.” People who are familiar with Shel Silverstein’s great song “The Winner”, sung by Bobby Bare, will get the idea. I revisit Carson City regularly – my copy is the Spanish DVD as well – and you’ve captured its appeal wonderfully.

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    • There is a fairly comedic brawl right at the start of the movie, where Scott’s character is introduced. Later though, there is a much more bruising one, which someone has uploaded to YouTube:

      Coroner Creek is another Scott movie with a brutal fight in it, and The Nevadan has a tough one as well.

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  2. How rare is it to be able to accurately pinpoint something you were doing so long ago! I remember watching this movie a few years ago and finding it good, solid entertainment. There’s plenty of well-staged action, Randy’s in good form and Massey delivers nicely in his role. You’ve inspired me to watch it again, thanks, Colin.

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    • I’d love to be able to say my memory was so razor sharp I could recall that decades old viewing without help. The credit has to go to the BBC app though, and it is fun to have acess to something such as that which allows one to dig out the exact time and place something was viewed.

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  3. Love the trip down memory lane and it’s so true how we look back at those random discoveries with a fondness that always will remain. Our home was much the same and a Saturday afternoon western was commonplace and it’s Audie Murphy who stands out in my memories from those days.

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    • Mike, I find that most interesting, not only on account of the convergence of experience, the familiarity of the notion of a Saturday afternoon western on the box, but also the divergence in different countries.
      I know I saw Audie Murphy westerns in those days but my impression, and I freely it is only an impression that I can’t actually back up, is that his movies were screened less frequently than those of Scott. I must look into that a bit more.

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      • not only on account of the convergence of experience, the familiarity of the notion of a Saturday afternoon western on the box, but also the divergence in different countries.

        The late 70s/early 80s was also a formative period for me as far as movies are concerned but here in Australia it wasn’t Saturday afternoon westerns, it was classic movies screened after midnight. Two of the TV networks here screened nothing but old mostly black-and-white movies from midnight to dawn. I’d just got my first job and I was a shift worker so midnight to dawn just happened to be my only time for TV watching.

        I watched hundreds of movies that way. A lot of them were British, hence my love for British classic movies. And a lot of them were American crime B-movies, hence my love of those movies.

        In those days, whether you watched old movies late at night or on Saturday afternoons, one way or another you were going to be exposed to classic movies. They were so few viewing choices that you’d watch old movies whether you wanted to or not and as a result lots of people were infected by the classic movie fandom bug. That doesn’t happen now. Young people get zero exposure to these movies, so they never get infected by that bug. I’ve encountered people in their late 30s who don’t even know that movies existed in those days. They think movies were invented sometime in the 80s.

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        • I couldn’t agree more. While I’m not sure I’d personally want to go back to the days of limited availability I do think the splintered nature if our viewing habits nowadays reduces both the opportunity and appetite for a range of movies.

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          • Yes, these days people only watch movies that they’ve deliberately sought out. In our younger days we were more or less forced to watch movies that we would not have deliberately chosen, and often those movies turned out to be very pleasant surprises.

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            • this isn’t an issue for those of us who are already aware of what is available and what has been made, but it does act as an obstacle, one could even say a blind, for people who haven’t had the opportunity to see a wider range of material. I love the fact I can watch almost anything I want, when I want, but you have to be aware that it’s out there in the first place.

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  4. Always good to read another review of a Randolph Scott western of yours, Colin. No matter where it ranks. And it’s even better when you remember when you first caught it. As you know, something I’ve grown to appreciate. Thanks for this. 🙂

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    • The cave-in sequence was shot in a very atmospheric style and is pretty tense.
      Lucille Norman seemed at home in a dramatic setting and I imagine she could have had a good career in that direction had she wanted to.

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      • I like Lucille a lot; an aside, Charles Ruggles had been set for the Massey part, and he is okay, but Ruggles on screen, is and was always, superior. Take a look at his work in Ramrod. He brings something extra. On a personal note, I have a soft spot for him. In theatre; he did The pleasure of His company and won the Tony. I saw him and it back in the late fifties, and years later when I produced a Toronto variation, Charlie kept springing to mind.

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  5. Always rewarding to find you back in Westerns territory, Colin, and Randy Scott especially. I have the Warner Archive DVD and the film looks great on it. I find your description and placement of “CARSON CITY” within Scott’s movies spot-on. Not a classic but a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
    One of Scott’s most brutal fights was in “CORONER CREEK”, one of his best films. As you say, Scott’s fights were generally more realistic and brutal.

    I agree about the BBC Genome website. What a treasure! My parents bought a TV following the Queen’s coronation (like so many others did) and the genome has allowed me to pinpoint the exact date in September 1953 that I saw my first western on screen. The BBC were showing a 1933 serial, “FIGHTING WITH KIT CARSON” starring Johnny Mack Brown and that was my first sighting. This was quickly followed up though by Paramount’s Hopalong Cassidy features which were a phenomenal commercial success all over again for a new audience. I was fully hooked! Have been ever since!

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    • I find it’s rare to come away from a Randolph Scott western dissatisfied. Obviously, some are far superior, but there’s always something positive to take from the average or lesser ones as well.

      Yes, the BBC Genome is kind of addictive once you start digging around it.

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    • Jerry, I always find this personal information about one’s first impressions on seeing a movie or tv show for the first time very interesting, because I think it is a special time.

      A few months ago you mentioned the site https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/search/0/20?q=hondo#top and I’ve found this a wonderful find. Thank you. It is interesting to see what was playing on BBC-TV and what wasn’t playing here in the USA at the time. For example: HONDO(1953) starring John Wayne couldn’t be found on any local tv station in the USA after 1970, but it was being shown on BBC One in 1976 and 1978. Producer Michael Wayne, who was head of Batjac Productions, kept HONDO out of circulation for many years in the USA. Although, there was one showing on the CBS TUESDAY NIGHT MOVIE on 9/12/78, which was its first and only tv network prime time airing. The problem is that not every local tv CBS network affiliate aired the network movie. Where I was living, at the time, the CBS affiliate was KTHV Channel 11 Little Rock, Arkansas and the programmers showed their own movie, which was a French Foreign Legion movie TEN TALL MEN(1951) starring Burt Lancaster. I had last viewed HONDO on the WMCT Channel 5 Memphis, Tennessee MOVIE 5 in 1964. Finally, after 30 years I was able to see HONDO at my leisure in 1994 when it was released on vhs video. I really don’t think that I want to go back to the days of limited availability.

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      • The BBC genome is a wonderful treasure trove, isn’t it, Walter. Glad you are enjoying it too.
        Around 1973 my employer started a massive project to convert a massive amount of print (the world’s largest fund of details of merchant shpping) to be computerised. This was a vast project and when my wife and I married in 1975 I was boosting my pay with paid overtime proof-reading the computerised data. I was able to do this at home. A big bonus at the end of a Saturday night’s work was the BBC ‘s Midnight Movie double bill of classic film noir. I was completely hooked. I saw a vast number of these great movies that fuelled my lasting love of those films.

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        • Jerry, yes, I’m enjoying BBC genome. BBC’s Midnight Movie double bill of classic noir sounds good to me. Just think, many of us were viewing the same type of movies during the same time period, but in different countries. Those were the days.

          In 1973 I barely knew what a computer was, just something I’d seen in the movies and on tv shows. I never thought that I’d be holding one in my hands conversing with someone in the UK.

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        • The Saturday night summer horror double-bills on BBC2 were a joy, as were the Chan and Rathbone/Bruce seasons on Friday afternoons, not to mention the full runs of so many B detective series I got to see via Irish TV in the early ’80s.

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      • This reminds me of that time in the 1980s when Rear Window and those other Hitchcock movies came back into circulation. It would be unthinkable nowadays for any movie to effectively disappear in that way. That said, as physical media gradually falls out of favor and streaming takes over, I imagine market forces will see less access afforded to material that is not so much in demand.

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        • as physical media gradually falls out of favor and streaming takes over, I imagine market forces will see less access afforded to material that is not so much in demand.

          Sadly, I agree. I expect that ten years from now the range of easily accessible pre-1990s movies will be very much more limited than it is today. Twenty years from now I suspect that most pre-1990s movies will effectively have disappeared from view altogether. Film scholars in universities might still be able to access them but that’s about it.

          We have lived through the golden age of classic movie fandom which is gradually drawing to a close.

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            • Yes. One thing we can do is to keep buying physical media. Keep supporting those companies who are still releasing older movies on DVD or Blu-Ray. There are several reasons I don’t watch streaming services but one of the big reasons is that I want to support those companies that are keeping physical media alive.

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                • There’s a bit of ‘the end of the world is nigh’ about this discussion! 🙂 🙂 By nature, I must admit to being a bit of a pessimist myself but I’m afraid that I don’t share the general air of despondency on this one. Although I don’t doubt the official figures which illustrate the way streaming has taken off at the expense of physical media, I don’t think all is lost by a long chalk. For one thing, threads that I frequent on various discussion forums with titles along the lines of “Physical media is dying!” were often started around 2008! Here we are, 14 years – an economic crash and a world pandemic – later and there’s still a wealth of stuff coming out from the pre-1980s era. 4K UHD discs of many Hollywood classics are appearing in every greater numbers. Between labels like Kino Lorber and Warner Archive in the US, high quality blu-ray presentations of classic film noir, westerns, drama and sci-fi are pouring out. Ditto Imprint in Australia. Here in the UK, we have labels like Indicator, BFI, Arrow, 88 Films and StudioCanal, which are going from strength to strength.…and not just by releasing the films themselves but by producing the well-researched, interesting extras that accompany them. There’s clearly a market need for quality, physical media and these guys are meeting that need. Of course it’s important that we continue to support them but I think that doing so as if to suggest that, if we don’t, that they’re constantly in imminent danger of going under is rather overstating the situation. For this forum of course, it also helps that the Germans love westerns! Accordingly, many that are missed out by Kino for example make an appearance on labels like Koch and Explosive Media. (They’re about to release Audie Murphy’s HELL BENT FOR LEATHER on blu, as well as the little-known TAGGART). I think that there’s a great deal to celebrate. In fact, you could even say that the situation is – if I may quote a previous contributor – “Jim Dandy”!! 🙂

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                  • I hope you’re right. The other thing that worries me (just to maintain the “we’re all doomed” atmosphere) is the generational question. Lots of older classic movie fans are certainly buying physical media at the moment, but how many twenty-somethings are buying Blu-Rays? I don’t know the answer to that question. How many twenty-somethings even own the hardware to play Blu-Rays?

                    Is it going to be possible to buy a Blu-Ray player twenty years from now? Is there enough of a market to persuade manufacturers to keep making them?

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                  • Fair enough, Dafydd, I guess there is a tendency and temptation to succumb to Cassandra-style despair in such matters, and I think you’re right to point out the riches that are currently available from one source or another.
                    I sometimes wonder if some of the media companies aren’t content to let this impression exist as it’s one way to keep customers keen. But perhaps that’s me being too cynical. Long-term, I don’t know how things will pan out, but the medium-term trend does seem to be away from possessions in general and a drift towards minimalism. As ever, time will tell how it all plays out.

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                    • Some really interesting, if maybe a bit depressing, discussion here. I am generally a ‘glass-half-full’ person and whilst I know the audience for classic movies shrinks by the year I have been continually and pleasantly surprised by how many people of certainly the generation after mine are big fans.

                      Minimalism doesn’t get much of a look-in in my home. I am still building a collection of physical format movies and streaming will never satisfy me. Dafydd makes the very relevant point that the end of discs has been on the cards for years and many wonderful new releases of films, not all major movies by any means, continue to flow. Long may it continue!

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  6. Welcome back to high country. Its one of those westerns I did not see at the cinemas. Agreed its not the best but middleling no doubt.

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    • I think it stays within the parameters it sets for itself and is fine when taken on those terms. The lack of meaningful personal conflict – leaving the sibling rivalry aspect aside as it is weak – could be said to reduce clutter as there are so many other developments in the plot. At the same time, it restricts itself or sets boundaries for itself. So yes, middling.

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  7. it is Six in the morning here, I does a quick look outside and the place is covered with snow. The temp is minus 7 C. Ah!!!!!! Another pleasant spring day in Calgary, Alberta!!!!!!

    Have a great week in your part of the planet!!!

    Gordon

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    • Gordon, here along the Arkansas/Missouri border it is 90F degrees and factor in the humidity and it feels like 100F. Watch a good movie with a tropical setting.

      Take care and stay safe.

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        • Apparently it is going to be hotter here in the UK than Mexico next week. Yuk. This week has been around a very pleasant 20 degrees C , except of course today when it will be raining, just because I had planned to play golf!

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  8. Colin, this is a “Jim Dandy” of a write-up and I really enjoyed it. CARSON CITY(filmed 1951, released 1952) is a good solid Randolph Scott Western Movie, needless to say, I like this movie, I recall first viewing it on tv’s WREC Channel 3 Memphis, Tennessee EARLY MOVIE in 1968. I’ve been blessed with a good memory for being able to remember what year I first viewed a movie, or tv show that I really liked. In my personal experience, the idea of remembering the first time of viewing a movie or TV show is special, especially as a youngster. This is the time of life where you take the movie or TV show in, without knowing anything about it. I had never read a review, article, or book about movies or TV. I watched them because I liked stories and the visual telling of stories. So, I placed the story told visually into my memory. This was a unique and special time, the wonder of memories entrenched in our mind’s eye.

    As a youngster, I viewed my first movies on tv, because my parents never took me to a movie theater. We lived over 20 miles away from the nearest theater, so it wasn’t a must do. For people, like my family, who lived out in the hinterlands tv’s the NBC SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES(1961-78) was a big event. My Mother would sometimes fix popcorn and our family would watch the movie, and what really good movies they were, as I look back.

    Getting back to Westerns and Randolph Scott, in my neck of the woods I saw a lot of Scott westerns on the every afternoon WREC Channel 3 EARLY MOVIE’s. The Memphis, Tennessee tv market viewing area included portions of the states of Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri. The EARLY MOVIE was on at the time I got home from school. I saw a lot of Scott Westerns during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Randolph Scott gave us plenty of Westerns to view, because he made more of them than any other actor during the 1950’s. Scott was a GIANT in my book and he remains my all-time favorite western actor. I don’t have any figures to back this up, but I think in my tv viewing area there were more Scott Westerns shown than Audie Murphy ones, although Murphy was popular, also. This is intriguing me. In my neck of the woods, although I don’t have any figures to back this up, George Montgomery Westerns, especially during the 1960’s, appeared on a lot of the EARLY MOVIES, but not as many times as Scott. Audie Murphy died in a plane crash on May 28, 1971. I think the programmers in my tv viewing area scheduled several of Audie’s movies during the early 1970’s. Although, I don’t know if Audie out paced Scott on tv during the early 1970’s, or not. This interests me.

    Colin, thanks for triggering my memory.

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    • Walter, “Jim Dandy” is a lovely expression!

      Seeing movies, or discovering them to be more accurate, at the right time has such a long lasting effect. Whatever we come across and like at a young age really does stay with us and shapes our tastes if nothing else. Of course, the learning process is a lifelong one and I’m happy to say I am still discovering new material.

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  9. All
    The last few days I have been watching the Crime-Police series TOKYO VICE. It stars Ansel Elgort, Rachel Keller, Sho Kasamatsu and the superb Ken Watanabe. A rookie American newspaper man gets mixed up with the Yakuza. A sharp looking and nasty Police drama with the first episode being directed by Michael Mann. Four episodes in so far and loving it.

    Gord

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  10. Colin
    Finally found my copy of CARSON CITY and gave it a watch last night. Not the best Scott duster but quite watchable. Ray Massey and James Millican fill out their roles very well as you pointed. What I like is the work of veteran writer Winston Miller. An under-rated word-smith in my opinion. His story or screenplay worked in MY DARLING CLEMINTINE, .RELENTLESS, STATION WEST, ROCKY MOUNTAIN, THE BOUNTY HUNTER, RUN FOR COVER, TENSION AT TABLE ROCK and BRANDED.

    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Anyone heard of THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF RAOUL WALSH?
    it is a doc showing here on TCM this Wed. It is about the life and films of director Raoul Walsh. It is new for me so on the recorder it goes.

    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

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