Posts Tagged ‘Turner Classic Movies’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Tall T

I volunteered to write a blog for the Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by two great sites dedicated to classic films: Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and Scribehard on Film.  The hosts of these two sites brilliantly decided to host a month-long blogathon that parallels the great actors and actresses featured each day for the month of August on  the Turner Classic Movies cable channel.  Be sure to click on the links to read other great posts by other bloggers who also love classic movies!   I volunteered to focus on actor Randolph Scott, and specifically the great action/Western The Tall T.  Summer Under the Stars Blogathon

The Tall T was  directed by Bud Boetticher, produced by Harry Joe Brown, and the  associate producer was the film’s star, Randolph Scott.  The idea for the film came from an Elmore Leonard story that he wrote in 1955 for Argosy magazine, titled The Captives.  Burt Kennedy wrote the screenplay adaptation of Leonard’s story and the film was distributed in 1957 by Columbia Pictures.  In  glorious technicolor, the movie was  filmed on location in the rugged locale of Lone Pine, California.  Besides Randolph Scott, the cast includes Maureen O’Sullivan, Richard Boone, Henry Silva, Skip Homeier, Arthur Hunnicutt, John Hubbard, Robert Burton, Christopher Olsen, and Fred Sherman.

Randolph Scott is Pat Brennan, a down-on-his luck ranch hand, who has decided to travel to the town of Contention in order to see his old boss, Mr. Tenvoorde, the owner of the Tall T ranch.  As he begins his journey,  Brennan stops by the stage coach relay station owned by Hank Parker(Fred Sherman).  After a  nice greeting and visit, Brennan promises Jeff, Parker’s son(Christopher Olson) that he’ll bring the boy a bag of candy on his way back from Contention.  Brennan is heading there because he  wants to buy a bull from Mr. Tenvoorde in order to start up his own ranch.  Tenvoorde likes to make bets and he bets Brennan that he can have the bull, a Brahma, only if he can break it first(ride it in a specific amount of time without falling off the bull).  If Brennan can do it, he gets the bull, but if he gets thrown off, he also has to give his horse to Tenvoorde.  Brennan takes the bet, rides the bull, but gets thrown off and lands in a watering trough!  Without his horse, Brennan begins the long walk back to the relay station.  Luckily, he meets up with Ed Rintoon(Arthur Hunnicutt), a stage coach driver he knows who has been hired to drive a private coach to Bixby for newlyweds Willard and Doretta Mims(John Hubbard and Maureen O’Sullivan).  Rintoon welcomes Brennan aboard the coach, to sit shotgun, of course, and agrees to take him to the relay station.

Landing in that water trough!

Landing in that water trough!

Without his horse, Brennan has to travel by foot.

Without his horse, Brennan has to travel by foot.

Arthur Hunnicutt, as Rintoon, stage coach driver.

Arthur Hunnicutt, as Rintoon, stage coach driver.

Hitching a ride to the relay station.

Hitching a ride to the relay station.

When the coach gets to the relay station, Brennan calls out to Parker and Jeff but there is no answer.  Finding that odd, Brennan is standing up on the stage coach’s roof when he and Rintoon here a low, gravelly voice order them to throw down their guns.  Rintoon glances down at his rifle near his feet and he makes a grab for it only to be gunned down by a young man who suddenly appears from the relay station building.  Another man, the speaker, appears, as well as another younger gunman.  It is Frank Usher(Richard Boone) and his gang, Chink(Henry Silva) and Billy Jack(Skip Homeier).  They inform Brennan that they have killed Hank Parker and his son Jeff, and that they intend to rob the coach.  It is at this point that newlywed Willard Mims pokes his head out of the coach to inform the outlaws that his new bride is the daughter of the richest man in the state and that wouldn’t it be better to hold his wife hostage and he personally will deliver a ransom note to his father-in-law.

Usher telling Brennan that he killed Parker and Jeff.

Usher telling Brennan that he killed Parker and Jeff.

Usher and his gang telling Brennan their robbery plans.

Usher and his gang telling Brennan their robbery plans.

The Tall T baddies Chick and Billy Jack.

The Tall T baddies Chick and Billy Jack.

Mims doesn't stand a chance against Chick and his guns.

Mims doesn’t stand a chance against Chick and his guns.

The actors do a great job with their parts showing their characters to be people with deeper feelings and complexities than just the on the surface good folks vs.  bad folks.  With Mims’s  offer, we see him for what he is, a sniveling coward who only married his wife for her fortune.  The bride, Doretta, is plain and in her middle thirties so she jumped at the chance to marry instead of dying an old maid.  Usher is evil, pure and simple.  So is his gang, one sneaky and conniving and one trigger-happy and jumpy.  Boone plays Usher without giving the audience any reason to have sympathy for him.  Yet, his character always wants to talk to Brennan, as if Brennan is an example of what he, Usher, could have been, if he’d made better choices with his life.  Doretta and Brennan have to find ways to survive being held hostage by these three; luckily they camp near a cave that provides the two of them protection and a chance to make plans to outwit their captors.  Brennan, a confirmed bachelor, shows that chivalry still lives with his care of Doretta and deeper feelings grow between the two of them.

Brennan realizing he has deeper feelings for Doretta.

Brennan realizing he has deeper feelings for Doretta.

Usher, talking too much about his life, to Brennan.

Usher, talking too much about his life, to Brennan.

Randolph Scott lived a very interesting and somewhat charmed life.  Born on January 23, 1898 in Virginia but raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, he was the second of 6 children, born to George and Lucille Scott.  Randolph’s father was an administrative engineer at a textile mill.  Randolph and his siblings went to private schools and Scott excelled at sports.  When WWI arrived, Scott was 19 and he enlisted in the Army.  He was stationed in France as an artillery observer with the 2nd Trench Mortar Battalion, 19th Field Artillery.  After the war, Scott came back to the states and enrolled at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.  He aimed to play football there but a back injury ended his football career.  Next, Scott enrolled at University of North Carolina, to major in textile engineering, but ended up dropping out due to a lack of interest in that field.  His father helped Randolph land an accounting job at the mill where he worked.  In 1927, the acting bug bit Randolph Scott and he gave up the accounting job and moved to Hollywood to try and make it as an actor.  His father happened to know Howard Hughes through previous business dealings so with the introduction letter from his father to Hughes, Scott was able to snag a bit part in a movie, 1928’s Sharp Shooters.  After a couple more bit parts, and a part in The Virginian(rumor is that Scott helped star Gary Cooper speak with a  southern drawl), famed director Cecil B. Demille suggested to Scott that he get some stage work under his belt.  Scott listened and soon found parts to act on stage with The Pasadena Playhouse.

Scott’s earlier movies ran the gamut.  He was cast in dramatic movies, comedies, war movies, adventure movies, a fantasy/horror film, and even a couple of musicals-he was Fred Astaire’s buddy in those two films, not needed to dance or sing.  As Scott aged, he decided to focus his acting in Westerns, as he liked making that type of film and it was a wise decision.  He made many westerns in the 1950s and 1960s and most of them did quite well at the box office.  Scott excelled at portraying the quiet, strong man, willing to do the right thing, even if it was going to be the hardest thing to do.  For a full list of Scott’s films, check out the link on Imdb.  One other interesting fact I found out in researching Randolph Scott is that he was under consideration for the role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind!  Oh if only he had gotten the part!  Scarlett would have had a real dilemma in trying to choose between Scott and Gable!

For an excellent western to view, to see Randolph Scott excell in a role that he did best, tune in on Monday, August 19th at 8:00 ET/7:00 CT when Turner Classic Movies airs The Tall T, in tribute to Randolph Scott day, as part of their Summer Under the Stars.

Randolpoh Scott in his later acting years.

Randolpoh Scott in his later acting years.

Randolph Scott in the 1930s.

Randolph Scott in the 1930s.

My Classic Movie Pick and for the Mary Astor Blogathon: The Hurricane

In 1936, writers Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall published their 7th adventure novel, The Hurricane.  Their 4th novel, Mutiny on the Bounty, published in 1932, had been  such a literary sensation that MGM turned it into a film in 1935 starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.   This time around, studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn wanted to make a movie based on a Nordhoff and Hall novel  and he hired John Ford to direct this tale of wrong-doing, injustice, and  love, amidst the onslaught of a South Pacific hurricane.book cover for The Hurricane

Goldwyn made a promise to Ford, that he could make the film in the actual South Pacific and even wait for a real hurricane to come along and use footage of it in the film!  With Ford’s love of the sea and his penchant for realism in his films, he jumped at this chance.  Unfortunately,  only a few weeks after agreeing to make the film, Goldwyn contacted Ford and said he’d changed his mind about filming on location.  He told Ford to just put wind machines on a back lot at the studio and film it there.  That  caused Ford to lose interest in the film but thanks to a strong cast, script improvements by Ben Hecht,  and outstanding special effects by James Basevi, The Hurricane was a hit  and it still holds up to today’s audiences.

The two main characters are Dorothy Lamour as Marama, this being only her second film, and Jon Hall as Terangi.  Coincidentally, Hall was the nephew of James Norman Hall, one of the novel’s authors.  Mary Astor is Madame De Laage, the govenor’s wife and Raymond Massey plays the govenor.  C. Aubrey Smith is Father Paul and Thomas Mitchell plays Dr. Kersaint.  John Carradine plays a sadistic jailer and Jerome Cowan plays Captain Nagle.The_Hurricane_Trailer_screenshot_Mary_Astor

The setting is the beautiful island of Manakoora.  Terangi is first mate on Captain Nagle’s trading ship.  Terangi also marries Marama, the daughter of Mankoora’s chief.  There is an elaborate and beautiful wedding ceremony and feast sequence where Governor and Mrs. De Laage are honored guests, and lovely leis are placed upon Mary Astor.  Father Paul is there to pray a blessing of thanks for the trading ship’s safe arrival and to perform the wedding.   The newlyweds happiness is short-lived.  While on a trading ship excursion to Tahiti,  a white man who is bullying Terangi gets a deserved punch in the jaw.  Unfortunately, the bully is a man with influence and he gets a Tahitian official to sentence Terangi to 6 months in prison.  Terangi’s friends go to Governor De Laage, the French Governor of Mankoora.  He is a hard-nosed, no nonsense, follow the letter of the law kind of guy.  He refuses to have Terangi brought back to Mankoora to be pardoned.  Even when Madame De Laage pleads with him to relent and bring Terangi back because his wife is expecting a baby, the Governor won’t listen.  After many escape attempts, Terangi manages to do so, but accidentally kills a guard in the process. He arrives back in Mankoora as a terrible hurricane is heading towards the island and in a selfless act, he ties his wife and daughter to a tree, then he ties a rope from that tree to the church, where  Mrs. De Laage, Dr. Kersaint, and Father Paul are sheltering, along with a large group of islanders.  Governor De Laage is out on the ocean on a schooner, hunting for the escaped Terangi.  Dr. Kersaint manages to head out to a canoe where a woman is in labor and he delivers that baby during the hurricane!  Terangi leads Mrs.  De Laage to the tree and ties her to its upper branches as he has done for his wife and daughter.  Father Paul won’t leave the church behind and tells all of them not to worry about him.  After the hurricane has blown through and utterly destroyed the island, we learn that Terangi and his family have survived, as well as Mrs. De Laage, Dr. Kersaint, and his tiny patient and the mother.  Governor De Laage can see with binoculars that Terangi is still alive, and that he has also saved Mrs. De Laage.  She, in turn, urges Terangi to grab a canoe and sail away with his wife and daughter.  When the Governor arrives at his wife’s side, he sees the canoe in the distance and she tells him it is just a log.  He knows it is Terangi, but embraces his wife and agrees that it is just a log.

In reading about Mary Astor and her career, I learned that she began acting in silent films in the 1920s.  She easily made the transition to talkies and was adept at playing in comedies or dramas.  Her role in The Hurricane was not that of the lead, but one of the co-starring parts.  With her elegance, and calm demeanor, she was the perfect choice to play the warm-hearted wife to a hard-hearted governor, such as the one Raymond Massey portrayed.

Mary Astor as Madame De Laage with Raymond Massey as Governor De Laage.

Mary Astor as Madame De Laage with Raymond Massey as Governor De Laage.

Director John Ford was known to choose one actor or actress to be the one that got “picked” on during the entire production run of a movie.  For whatever reason, Mary “won” that title during the filming of The Hurricane.  She reportedly took his jabs and comments with good humor and later said, “I think ‘laconic’ is a good word for John Ford and for his technique of direction”,…”No big deal about communication with John.  Terse, pithy, to the point.  Very Irish, a dark personality, a sensitivity which he did everything to conceal.”1

For the actual hurricane scene, Special Effects director James Basevi was given a $400,000 budget.  He spent $150,000 to build a native village on a back lot and then spent $250,000 to destroy it! The planning of the scene, the production of it, and the filming took 4 months.   Usually Basevi didn’t like to discuss how he made his special effects magic on any film, but The Hurricane was one film where he was quite open as to how he got that great scene completed.  His village set was 600 feet long with wharves, huts, a church, and palm trees.  The beach ran into a lagoon, which was actually a 200 yard-long tank. Across this tank were put up airplane propellors, mounted on towers to create the fierce winds.  Water from 12 fire hoses streamed in front of the propellors’ blades to send water and spray over the actors and the set.  Wave machines churned up the waters of the lagoon.  To show a tidal wave, Basevi let loose 2000 gallons of water down chutes topped by big tanks.2

A very kind soul has put the hurricane scene up on Youtube and  I have watched it over and over.  Those are really all of the main actors in that scene.  Mary Astor is soaking wet and trying to grasp that rope to safely get from the church to that giant tree, with Terangi leading her to safety.  It is a very impressive scene, and I am delighted to report that Turner Classic Movies will be showing The Hurricane on Wednesday, May 29th, at 11:00 p.m. CST.

To see an exciting film directed by John Ford and one of Mary Astor’s subtle and warm-hearted performances, set your dvrs and  don’t miss The Hurricane!

Terangi attempting to save Madame De Laage!

Terangi attempting to save Madame De Laage!

Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, delivering that baby!  Mitchell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Hurricane.

Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, delivering that baby! Mitchell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Hurricane.

The De Laage's elegant dining room.The De Laage’s elegant dining room.

This blog was written in conjunction with The Mary Astor Blogathon, hosted by two great classic movie bloggers: Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings.  If you visit their sites, you will read other wonderful blogs all about the wonderful Mary Astor.

Sources sited for this blog: 1 Davis, Ronald L., John Ford: Hollywood’s Old Master, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, 1995. Page 88.

2Zinman, David, 50 Classic Motion Pictures:The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Vintage Films From Hollywood’s Golden Age, Limelight Editions, New York, 1992.  Pages 112-113.

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Father Paul(C. Aubrey Smith) and Madame De Laage

Father Paul(C. Aubrey Smith) and Madame De Laage

My Classic Movie Pick: Hondo

Hondo (film)

Hondo (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I fondly remember many Saturday evenings, sitting with my parents and younger brother,  watching a Western on one of the three networks that at that time, in the 1970’s, were the dominant television channels an American could tune into.  My memories seem to tell me that it was NBC that usually aired these Westerns, and of course, the best ones starred John Wayne.   I have seen a lot of Wayne’s Western films over the years, but imagine my surprise  when three years ago on Turner Classic Movies, they aired one I had never heard of before, Hondo.   This technicolor movie  was made in 1953, directed by John Farrow(father of actress Mia, wife to actress Maureen O’Sullivan), with John Wayne in the lead role, as Hondo Lane.    The film was based on a Louis L’Amour short story, The Gift of Cochise.  At 84 minutes, it has an intricate plot, told well at a fast pace that doesn’t lose the viewers interest one iota.

The plot revolves around 4 characters, the remaining cast members adding to the ebb and flow of the minor sub-plots.  Wayne’s Hondo Lane is a half-breed, working as a message runner for the U.S. Calvary stationed at a fort in the New Mexico territory.  The year of the setting isn’t mentioned, but I would guess it’s after the Civil War.  Lane has a reputation for having killed 3 men the previous year, but we can also tell that Lane is an honorable man and we are on his side from the beginning of the movie; we can safely assume that he killed those 3 men in self-defense.  He does mention his first wife, now deceased, from time to time.   She was a beautiful Native American woman, and her death has added a layer of sadness to Lane’s persona, as well as his views on the treatment of the Native Americans by the white settlers and the U. S. Government.   He can see both sides of the arguments, so to speak, due to his unique heritage.

Geraldine Page, portrays the second character of the film, that of Mrs. Angie Lowe.   Her parents were early settlers to the New Mexico territory, and it is their small ranch that she lives on as she was an only child and the sole inheritor of the property.  She has a husband, who was an orphan her parents helped raise, but we do learn later that  he isn’t a model husband.  Angie is a strong woman, smart, but will do what she can to protect her son from the facts about his father’s antics.  Her son, Johnny, age 6, is the only blessing in her life from her marriage to Ed Lowe(played by Leo Gordon, a tall actor, who often played bad guys in Western movies and television shows.)  Johnny, played by Lee Aaker, is a typical 6 year old, and while he doesn’t have a lot of lines to say, a subplot does revolve around him involving the 4th main character of this film, Apache Chief Vittorio, played by Michael Pate.

Chief Vittorio, strong and in command of his tribe, is increasingly worrying about more and more white settlers that are moving into his territory.  He is not happy that there is a U. S. Calvary presence in the area either.  His second in command, Silva(played by Rodolfo Acosta), is a hot-head who Chief Vittorio often has to rein in.   This tribe of Apaches has always been on good terms with Angie Lowe and her parents, often stopping at the ranch due to it’s having a good source of water on it.  The Chief, during one of these visits for water, becomes curious as to why Angie’s husband is never around.  He is impressed with Johnny’s bravery at trying to protect his mother during this visit as Silva makes a crude gesture towards her.  Chief Vittorio decides to make Johnny a blood brother with the Apaches, and he also warns Angie that if her husband doesn’t show up soon, that he will come back to take her and her son and raise her son in the Apache way, so that this brave boy will learn to be man.

Minor characters in the film are: Ward Bond as Buffalo Baker, a fellow message deliverer for the Calvary and Lane’s friend, James Arness(the future Sheriff Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke fame) as Lennie, an Army Indian Scout, Tom Irish, as Lt. McKay, a new Calvary officer, and Paul Fix, as Major Sherry, in charge of the fort.

The aspects of the settlers vs. the Native Americans is portrayed with wisdom, the developing relationship with Lane and Angie is told in a moving way and with restraint.  Geraldine Page indeed, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her part in this film.  There is a tangle Lane gets into with a card player he angered that is central to the plot,  his being mistaken as a Calvary soldier that leads to an unfortunate encounter with Chief Vittorio and Silva, and the news that the Apaches may be preparing for an uprising, all this fits into this very well acted Western.    All in all, Hondo is a  very fine film, and Wayne gives a very thoughtful performance.   If you haven’t seen it, seek it out.  It is available on dvd through Amazon, through Netflix and Netflix Steaming.

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