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?

People Will Talk (1951)- Joseph L. Mankiewicz

★★★

 

“People Will Talk” (1951) is not your typical Cary Grant movie. In fact, there is almost nothing typical about this film at all. The plot itself is rather hard to describe, except to say that there are actually two plots, involving the same characters, that are interwoven to createPeople Will Talk (1951) one somewhat secretive story.

Dr. Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant) is a physician in his own clinic, who also teaches at a medical school. He has become famous for his unorthodox treatment methods that include various types of conventional, psychological and holistic medicines. One of his fellow teachers (Hume Cronyn) has brought Noah’s methods into the spotlight, and launched a full blown misconduct suit against Noah. It is not just Noah’s medical background that is under investigation, however, as there are also several unanswered questions about Noah’s loyal friend, Mr. Shunderson (Finlay Currie), who, somewhat mysteriously, is always positioned just a few feet from Noah.

While this is happening, Noah also meets and treats Deborah (Jeanne Crain). He discovers that she is pregnant and the father, as it turns out, was someone that Deborah only knew briefly before he went to war People Will Talk (1951)and died. Worried about upsetting her own father (Sidney Blackmer), Deborah attempts to kill herself. Of course, Noah saves the day and the two fall in love.

“People Will Talk” is listed as a comedy/drama, but in truth there are very few things funny about this film. Don’t get me wrong, it tries to be funny, and for a brief moment you can smile as Cary Grant plays with his train set or while he verbally jousts with his friend and colleague (Walter Slezak), but within moments of these events the story reverts back to a serious plot (or two plots, as it were) and the jokes are gone.

All of this is alright, though, because writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz isn’t much of a comedic filmmaker. He makes brilliant dramas filled with amazingly engrossing stories and dialogue, interspersed with moments of humor. It’s his meal ticket, and a good one at that. I can appreciate his attempt to branchPeople Will Talk (1951) out, but it just doesn’t work.

What remains today is a film that shows the dangers of witch hunts, particularly on the part of the hunters. Mankiewicz, himself, was unwilling to name names of communist sympathizers in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. As a result, Noah refuses to discuss Mr. Shunderson, or anything about his past during Noah’s own hearing. Mankiewicz was obviously trying to make a point with “People Will Talk”, and the message comes through loud and clear.

Cary Grant does an exceptional job with this role, despite it being outside his usual character comfort zone. He mixes the comedy and drama better than most would. Even though Grant’s character spends most of the film being mysterious about his past, the audience People Will Talk (1951)will naturally gravitate towards him, simply because of how invitingly Grant plays this role.

The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable, as Jeanne Crain seems to overact a bit, and the supporting characters aren’t given much in the way of substance. Walter Slezak and Sidney Blackmer have some great one liners, but they are few and far between, and Finlay Currie can’t do much with the role of the mysterious Shunderson because it would give away details about the character’s past. The best supporting roles are Hume Cronyn, who does nicely with the under developed role of the shifty villain, and Margaret Hamilton, who appears in just the first scene of the film, but is so much fun to watch that I found myself anxiously hopingPeople Will Talk (1951) she would return. (She doesn’t.)

In the end, “People Will Talk” is not a film that will leave a lasting impression upon you, mostly because it tries to be too important. Perhaps if the film took itself more seriously (or even less seriously), the end result would have been better.

 

Sunday’s New Release Round-Up!

New Releases on blu-ray and DVD for Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Another week… another series of great releases. Two of which are from The Criterion Collection, and they have me more excited than I thought imaginable. Although there aren’t a significant number of newer releases coming out, the quality of these titles (especially the classic films), make this week seem even better.

  • “3:10 to Yuma” (1957): If you have been following Lasso the Movies, you have probably already heard about this release, and how I excited I am that this film is FINALLY coming to blu-ray! Directed by3:10 to Yuma (1957) the great Delmer Daves and staring Van Heflin and Glenn Ford, this film’s plot is well known today because of the remake of the same name, released in 2007. (See “3:10 to Yuma” for my review.) It has been quite some time since I have seen this original, but my good friend Colin at Riding the High Country would be more than happy to explain why the original is a MUCH better film. Of course it shouldn’t take me long to watch this film… watch it again, and then share my thoughts as well. This film is being released through The Criterion Collection this week, and you can visit their site for more information or to order yourself a copy.
  • “Jubal” (1956): Just for good measure, The Criterion Collection has decided to release another Delmer Daves western that also stars Glenn Ford. This film is a retelling of the Shakespeare classic,Jubal (1956) “Othello”, only set in Wyoming. “Jubal” also stars Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Felicia Farr, Charles Bronson, Valerie French and Jack Elam. There is a definite upside/downside to this release, in that The Criterion Collection has a severe lack of bonus content for the film (which is disappointing), but also means that the price is much lower. For a full review on this film, once again I am deferring to Colin from Riding the High Country.
  • “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945): Have you ever seen this film? If you answered no, I suggest you make it a priority. This suspense/drama is about a manipulative wife (brilliantly portrayed by Gene Tierney)Leave Her to Heaven (1948), who acts violently whenever her husband’s attentions aren’t fully devoted to herself. “Leave Her to Heaven” is perhaps a little melodramatic, but Tierney’s performance is unbeatable, and John M. Stahl’s direction is dead on. The film also stars Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price.

This marks the first time that “Leave Her to Heaven” has been available on blu-ray, but it comes with a catch. It is being released exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment, and is limited to 3,000 copies. If it’s a film you are looking to add to your collection, you better act fast.

  • “Cloud Atlas” (2012): Looking to watch a movie that is sure to leave you scratching your head? Then look no further than last year’s disappointing sci-fi film, “Cloud Atlas”. I won’t even try toCloud Atlas (2012) explain what this film is about, but I will mention that it covers six different stories that are intertwined, despite the fact that they take place in different times and places. The film stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant, and is definitely a “love it or hate it” film. Where do you stand?
  • “Philadelphia” (1993): Speaking of Tom Hanks! It doesn’t get much better than this when itPhiladelphia (1993) comes to an acting performance. Tom Hanks won his first Academy Award for “Philadelphia”, and Denzel Washington joins him in making this one of the most moving and powerful films of its time. Unfortunately, this is another film being released exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment, and again there are only 3,000 copies available.
  • “Texas Chainsaw 3D” (2013): Is anybody else tiredTexas Chainsaw 3D of seeing this film over and over again? Apparently not. If you don’t already know about the plot of any “Texas Chainsaw” film, just glance at a picture of the freakish Leatherface wielding his chainsaw and take a guess. Somehow they keep making more of these films (this is number seven), and somehow they keep making money. I suppose you could at least say that the 3D is one advantage that this film has, but even that isn’t enough to make me watch.
  • “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles SwanA Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2012) III” (2012):Writer/director Roman Coppola brings this interesting and misguided tale of a graphic designer who’s life begins to spin out of control when he is dumped by his girlfriend. The film stars Charlie Sheen, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Patricia Arquette, and it could quite possibly be the worst reviewed movie of last year. (Doesn’t me saying that kinda make you want to watch it, now?) Good luck to those who are brave enough to give it a try.
  • “Three Faces West” (1940): This looks like an interesting drama about a North Dakota farm town Three Faces West (1940)that has to head west due to the severe dust storms and droughts. John Wayne stars with Sigrid Gurie and Charles Coburn, and although this film isn’t considered great by anyone, I don’t hear anyone complaining either. It certainly looks like something I will check out eventually.
  • “Second Chorus” (1940): This is one of the mostSecond Chorus (1940) neglected films in Fred Astaire’s illustrious career. Of course he did call it the worst film he ever made, so perhaps it’s alright that few have seen or even remember this film. He co-stars with Paulette Goddard, Artie Shaw and Burgess Meredith, and the film was directed by H.C Potter.
  • “Miracle of the Bells” (1948): This drama filmMiracle of the Bells (1948) from RKO centers around the death of a woman (Alida Valli), and the Hollywood press agent (Fred McMurray) who is trying to fulfill her dying wish of being buried in her hometown. When he runs into trouble, he enlists the help of Father Paul (Frank Sinatra). Much of the film is then told through flashback, as the girl’s life (and death) is revealed. “Miracle of the Bells” also stars Lee J. Cobb, and is directed by Irving Pichel.
  • Movies 4 You: Western Classics (1953-1957): Coming this week (only to DVD) is this westernWesterns 4 You (1953-1957) four pack that I felt inclined to mention. (Mostly just because I love westerns.) The collection includes: 1.) “The Lone Gun” (1954) starring George Montgomery, Dorothy Malone and Frank Faylen 2.) “Ride Out of Revenge” (1957) starring Roy Calhoun, Gloria Grahme and Lloyd Bridges 3.) “Gunfight Ridge” (1957) starring Joel McCrea and Mark Stevens 4.) “Gun Belt” (1953) starring George Montgomery, Tab Hunter and Helen Westcott. The suggested retail price on this set is $9.99, which for four even moderately good westerns is still a bargain.

Well, I guess that’s it for now. What are you going to be watching this week?

Vicki (1953)- Harry Horner

 ★★★

 

“Vicki” (1953) is a film noir that is based on Steve Fisher’s 1941 novel, “I Wake Up Screaming”. In the film, Vicki Lynn (Jean Peters) is a model who has been murdered. Police Detective Ed Cornell (Richard Boone) takes the case and is obsessively determined find her killer. ThroughVicki (1953) flashbacks, we discover that Vicki was a beautiful waitress who was discovered by talent promoter, Steve Christopher (Elliott Reid), while she is working the nightshift in a New York diner. With the help of columnist Larry Evans (Max Showalter) and a famous actor named Robin Ray (Alexander D’Arcy), Vicki is turned into an overnight star. Not long after, she decides to go to Hollywood, thus terminating her working relationship with all three men. Detective Cornell seems determined to convict Christopher, especially when he discovers that Christopher and Vicki’s sister, Jill (Jeanne Crain), are falling in love. There is, however, more than meets the eye with this case, as it turns out that everyone wanted something from Vicki.

Harry Horner (father of composer James Horner) was a production designer, who during his career, won two Academy Awards for his work on “The Heiress” (1949) and “The Vicki (1953)Hustler” (1962). When it came to directing, he did a fair amount of work on T.V., but only made a handful of films, including “Vicki”. This is actually quite an enjoyable film because of the mystery involved. The crime itself is over before the film begins, but the suspense of figuring out which character is the killer makes it quite entertaining.

The cast is fun to watch in this one because each character does a great job of being mysterious, in an attempt to keep the audience guessing. Each of the men seems to be infatuated with Vicki, yet each one of them also appears to be hiding something darker and more sinister within. Even Vicki’s sister is a suspect because of her jealous nature. The only real disappointment for me was with Richard Boone’s performance, which I Vicki (1953)consider to be over the top. He tries to be one of those driven detectives that we have read about in countless novels, and in the end it comes off as laughable. His dialogue isn’t bad, but because of his delivery (and his general aloofness) it is hard to take him seriously.

“Vicki” is actually a re-make of the 1941 film noir, “I Wake Up Screaming”, starring Betty Grable, Victor Mature and Carole Landis. From what I have read, the plots of these two films are almost identical, except for the spelling of her name (Vicki vs. Vicky). I have purchased the 1941 version as well, in order to compare the two films.