The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)- Russell Rouse

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

Where is all the love for Glenn Ford westerns?! Seriously, if you were to research the best western actors, you will find many names worthy of being in the conversation, such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart, Will Rogers, Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper,  and Gregory Peck. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)The name that’s missing (and with my strenuous objection) is the immensely talented Glenn Ford. Perhaps it’s because he is also remembered for his great film noir and crime movies as well, but to overlook the abundance of quality westerns that he made throughout his glorious career is an injustice to both him and yourself. Take for instance his 1956 picture, “The Fastest Gun Alive”.

This powerful and unlikely western story revolves around Geroge Kelby Jr., or rather, George Temple (Glenn Ford) as he is now known. He is the fastest gun alive, but nobody in his small town of Cross Creek knows about it because he has hidden that part of his past from them.The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) He, and his wife Dora (Jeanne Crain), are essentially taking refuge from his past in this small town- running a store and being treated as an outsider, afraid to act like a man. He is frustrated that he can’t reveal his abilities to the other townsfolk, but knows that if they knew, people would come from all over to challenge his abilities.

Everything changes when word of gunslinger Vinnie Harold (Broderick Crawford) and his most recent killing conquest reach the town. Everybody enjoys retelling the story they have heard, and interjecting their own thoughts on how to be a great gunfighter. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)It is more than George can take and (after too many drinks) he tells (then proves) his quick-draw abilities. The next morning George decides to leave town, but Vinnie, along with his bank robbing sidekicks (John Dehner & Noah Beery Jr.), are already in town and looking for the supposed “fastest gun alive”.

Besides having a good foundation of a story, there are a couple of surprises that although take too long to develop, make for a highly engrossing tale with a perfect blend of suspense, drama, and action. Cinematographer George J. Folsey is best known for work on bright-colored musicals like “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952), and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954), but “The Fastest Gun Alive” allows him to show off his underrated ability to set a mood and a feel for a film with masterfully planned and executed lighting and camera movements.

Glenn Ford is spectacular in a role that is quite different from his other western roles. He isn’t confident or outspoken. He has a timid approach to everything, and because of that, the character’s depth allows Ford to explore himself as an actor in a different way. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)He doesn’t waste any time or energy, dedicating his entire performance to the “tortured soul” that he feels is always trying to burst out of him, and it works magically.

The supporting cast also adds quite a lot to the overall feel of this picture, headlined by Broderick Crawford as the loud-mouthed, quick to anger, villain. His role is small, but because of its importance to the “real” story, it takes a consummate professional to pull it off- and Crawford is the ideal man for the job. John Dehner is also quite entertaining, and gets the benefit of many comedic lines, even in serious situations. Jeanne Craine stays in the background in a part that is dialogue heavy, that in turn seems to drag out a few scenes, but it’s not any fault of her own. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)Her real highlight is in her costumes. They are glorious, and although possibly seem a little too fancy and clean, still make each of her entrances exciting. Also of note is the supporting cast is a young Russ Tamblyn. His part is unimportant, his presence is unnecessary, but he gets a chance to show off his athletic dancing ability in an early scene at a hoedown. Although completely gratuitous, his talents are a physical wonder, and it gives an opportunity to smile, to a film that is quite serious.

I know that I can get a bit crazy, ranting about the quality of the westerns from the 1950’s, but “The Fastest Gun Alive” is one that is more than a film that is worth seeing, it’s a film that you should see. And while I’m up on my soapbox, how about some extra appreciation for every single one of Glenn Ford’s underrated, yet still amazing westerns?

The Man with a Cloak (1951)- Fletcher Markle

★★★★

 

“The Man with a Cloak”. Doesn’t it sound mysterious, intriguing and exciting? With a title as great as that, one can’t help but have some seriously high expectations for what follows. The Man with a Cloak (1951)The good news is that on most levels this 1951 drama exceeds, or at least meets those expectations.

The film takes place in New York City, 1845. A young French girl named Madeline (Leslie Caron) has traveled to New York in order to track down her finance’s wealthy Grandfather, Charles Thevenet (Louis Calhern). She finds him grumpy, angry, drunk and almost incommunicable, in part due to his failing health, and in part because of the woman who “cares” for him, Lorna Bounty (Barbara Stanwyck). She, along with her two cohorts (Joe De Santis & Margaret Wycherly) posing as a maid and butler, are just waiting for the old man to die in order to live comfortably off of his money; so much so in fact, that they may be trying to speed up his dying process.

Madeline is the unexpected thorn in their side, as they correctly suspect that the blood ties to his only living relative might persuade him to send money back to France.The Man with a Cloak (1951) Lorna does everything in her power to keep Madeline from spending time with Charles- locking him away because of his “failing health”, leaving Madeline sitting alone, worrying about his safety.

Enter, “The Man with a Cloak”. (I know, you almost forgot about him, didn’t you?) This good-natured, nameless chap (Joseph Cotten) claims to be a writer, but his true profession is drinking. In fact, if ever there was a movie that did everything they could to convince the audience that a man has a drinking problem, this would be the one. He meets Madeline early on in the film, and like all great mysterious film characters, waits around patiently observing until he can be of some use. He introduces himself simply as Dupin, and finds himself playing detective- enthusiastically getting involved in Madeline’s problems, and getting involved with Lorna as well.

There are many aspects of this film that are great, but it’s the acting that stands out.The Man with a Cloak (1951) The unusual part is that it’s not just because of Stanwyck and Cotten, as you might expect. They are both good (as always), but it’s the supporting players that enhance the overall film: People like Margaret Wycherly, the underrated character actor from movies like “White Heat” (1948), “Sergeant York” (1941) and “Random Harvest” (1942); Joe De Santis, who would go on to a long and flourishing career in television, as well as some key roles in films like “The Professionals” (1966), “Buchannan Rides Alone” (1958) and “I Want to Live!” (1958); Louis Calhern, whose career spanned over thirty years of filmmaking, in which he covered almost every type of movie imaginable. Films like “Duck Soup” (1933), “Notorious” (1946), “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950), “Blackboard Jungle” (1950) “High Society” (1956), and even played Julius Caesar alongside Marlon Brando. Even Jim Backus, who brilliantly portrayed James Dean’s father in “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), shows up as the humorous bartender always trying to get Dupin to pay his tab. Sure you can expect that special something from Cotten and Stanwyck in this film, but these smaller roles are the ones that make “The Man with a Cloak” an ensemble picture. The Man with a Cloak (1951)Leslie Caron, on the other hand, is desperately outmatched here. It’s not really her fault (well, maybe it is), there is just too much experience and charisma oozing from everyone else on the set, and she is unable to keep up, leaving her hiding in the shadows of more prestigious actors.

I find myself surprised that more people weren’t, and aren’t, enthralled by this film. It feels similar in a way to George Cukor’s “Gaslight” (also starring Cotten in a vaguely similar role), only without the same level of suspense. The black and white cinematography by George J. Folsey looks stunning, the music by David Raksin is appropriately mysterious, and the direction from Fletcher Markle doesn’t interfere with the cast that was obviously the focal point anyway. So I asked myself, “What went wrong?”

And then it hit me. “The Man with a Cloak” is a superbly crafted 1940’s drama, released in the 1950’s. It feels like a 40’s movie, it looks like a 40’s movie, and when it’s over you’ll feel like you watched a 40’s movie. The Man with a Cloak (1951)Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t need to be a bad thing. It’s just that “The Man with a Cloak” was released within the same few months as films like “Strangers on a Train” (1951), “A Place in the Sun” (1951) and “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951). Those are 50’s films, thus clearly differentiating themselves in design and style from films such as this one.

So don’t label “The Man with a Cloak”, expecting something overly suspenseful, as audiences inevitably did in 1951. Enjoy the film as an example of complex characters portrayed by some highly talented actors, culminating into a film that has a little bit of everything to offer. Besides, who doesn’t love a good mystery every now and then?
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