Posts Tagged ‘Charles Kemper’

“Order in the Court!” The Classic Courtroom Movies Blogathon: Intruder in the Dust

Today’s post is for  “Order in the Court!” The Classic Courtroom Movies Blogathon.  This genius idea for a blogathon was created by wonderful classic film fans Theresa at Cinemaven’s Essays From the Couch and Lesley at Second Sight Cinema.  Be sure to visit their blogs to read the great pieces about classic films that involved courtroom scenes, law, justice, etc.

My son’s English teacher told me at Parent-Teacher conferences this year that he was tired of presenting the book To Kill A Mockingbird, and then showing the movie, to some of his English classes.   I told the teacher that he should consider having the classes read William Faulkner’s novel Intruder in the Dust and then  show them the 1950 film version.  I added that it’s  a Faulkner novel with a happy ending!  This intrigued him, especially to learn that there was a happy Faulkner novel.   I  also pointed out  that the movie was  filmed in Faulkner’s  hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, and that he helped to write the screenplay.   Similar to  To Kill A Mockingbird, the setting is a small southern town  and while there isn’t an actual courtroom scene, there is the threat of a looming trial, a lawyer agreeing to defend the underdog, and some intrepid teens and one old lady who help to save the day.

Intruder in the Dust-book cover

 

Dust-poster

MGM paid Faulkner $50,000 for the rights to make a movie from this novel, which was published in 1949.  Clarence Brown was chosen to direct.  Faulkner helped to write the screenplay along with Ben Maddow.  The outstanding cast: Claude Jarman Jr., Juano Hernandez, David Brian, Elizabeth Patterson, Porter Hall, Charles Kemper, Will Geer, and Elzie Emanuel.

There are a good number of characters in this film but here are the main ones: Lucas Beauchamp(Juano Hernandez) is a black man who has made a nice life for he and his wife along the river that runs near the small town of Jefferson, Mississippi.  He minds his own business, conducts his life on his terms, and doesn’t want to cause any trouble.   Chick Mallison(Claude Jarman Jr.) is a typical teen boy, tallish, thin, gawky, who goes to school, and likes to hunt when he has free time, with his buddy, Aleck(Elzie Emanuel), a black teen, who is also tallish, thin, and gawky.  Then there is Miss Eunice Habersham(Elizabeth Patterson) the respected old maid Sunday School teacher, who has a stubborn streak a mile wide.  She’s petite, yet a powerful presence against the evil that will appear in this sleepy town.  Rounding out the main characters is lawyer John Gavin Stevens(David Brian), who also happens to be Chick’s uncle.  He’ll be called upon to take up the defense case for a man the majority of the town thinks is 100% guilty of murder.

The movie opens with Lucas Beauchamp being herded to the County Courthouse and Jail, as he’s been charged for the murder of one Vinson Gowrie(David Clarke), co-owner of the lumberyard.  A huge crowd of onlookers presses in  around Lucas as Sheriff Hampton(Will Geer) tries to get Lucas into the jail.  Chick Mallison happens to be in that part of town and when Lucas sees Chick in the crowd, he tells him to please go and get his uncle, Lawyer Stevens.  Chick hustles away and finds his Uncle John, and tells him that Lucas Beauchamp needs his help.  With that, a  flashback ensues, to explain how Chick came to become friends with Lucas.

The film is B&W, but here is a lobby card that would have advertised the film, and it's part of the mob scene where the sheriff is trying to get Lucas to the Courthouse and Jail.

The film is B&W, but here is a lobby card, in color,  that would have advertised the film, and it’s part of the mob scene where the sheriff is trying to get Lucas to the Courthouse and Jail.

Chick watching Lucas being taken away to the jail

Chick watching Lucas being taken away to the jail

It would be an unusual relationship, for a man of 6o to befriend a boy of 15, especially adding into the mix that they are of different races, and live in a time when the races were to be treated in a segregated environment.  Faulkner’s telling of this friendship is fairly simple: Chick and Aleck were out rabbit hunting one Saturday morning in November and Chick accidentally fell into the freezing cold river.  Aleck knew they were near Lucas Beauchamp’s home, so he ran there for help and Lucas rescued Chick.  Lucas then  took Chick to his home, put him to bed, made sure he had dry clothes to change into, made sure that the wet clothes were dried, and had his wife give Chick some food and drink after he woke.  Chick felt very awkward about thanking this black couple for their kindness, and awkward in telling Lucas thank you for saving his life, so when his clothes were dry, he put them on and just left!  Later, he does tell his mom about it and she admonishes him for not thanking the Beauchamps.  She insists they buy the couple some gifts and leave them at their doorstep as a way to say thank you.  In wanting to thank the Beauchamps anonymously, that action of supposed thanks only helps to illuminate the uncomfortable feelings the two races that make up the demographics of this town are consumed with.

Chick, sullen and unsure how to thank this man for saving his life

Chick, sullen and unsure how to thank this man for saving his life

Chick also tells his Uncle John one more anecdote about Lucas.  Lucas had been in the local hardware/general store one afternoon and Chick happened to be there too.  Some men in the store began taunting Lucas, who decided to stand his ground and ignore them.  This angered  Vinson Gowrie, and he tried to hit Lucas, but the men in the store stopped him.  Some of the townsfolk think that Lucas was mad enough at Vinson to shoot him. Chick tells his Uncle John that he knows Lucas wouldn’t kill anyone, and Uncle John agrees to take on the case.  He and Chick walk over to the jail to talk to Lucas.

The hardware store incident

The hardware store incident

 

Uncle John and Lucas meeting at the jail

Lucas and Uncle John  meeting in the jail cell

 

Lucas is adamant that he didn’t shoot Vinson Gowrie.  Lucas admits that he was visited and beaten by another white man, the other  lumber yard owner, as he  wanted Lucas to reveal who he had seen stealing lumber from the yard: Lucas had seen the murder victim, Vinson, stealing lumber.  Lucas won’t talk anymore about the incident, but after Uncle John makes his way out of the cell, Lucas hisses for Chick to come back.  He asks Chick and Aleck to go and dig up Vinson’s body, get the bullet out of it, because that bullet isn’t one from Lucas’s gun and will prove he’s not the killer.

Miss Habersham is also adamant that Lucas Beauchamp couldn’t be a killer, and she finds out what Chick and Aleck are planning to do, and with that matter of fact way of hers,  she announces to them that she’ll help them in their quest for that bullet!  As the trio finally unearth the coffin, they discover that Vinson’s body isn’t in it!

I’m not going to reveal anymore of this murder mystery by one of the South’s finest writers.  A kind soul has put the entire film on Youtube.  I will add, the scene where Miss Habersham alone defends Lucas from being lynched by a mob, is tense!

Juano Hernandez, listed 4th in the credits(I think he should have been listed 1st) is outstanding as Lucas.  He’s a wise man and it shows in his eyes, as do his other emotions.  He’s world-weary, and for every question and criticism he receives from Uncle John, his defense lawyer, he has a ready answer that counters the “whites” way of thinking about any sitution.  The other character that stands out to me is Elizabeth Patterson’s Miss Habersham.  She looks so prim and proper, but she is not one to fit into that cookie-cutter assumption as to how an old white lady from the South should act or think.   Carl Jarman Jr. is fine as Chick, at first wary to let anyone in his family know that he’s friends with Lucas, and then rising to his friend’s need in urging his Uncle John to take the man’s case.  I am not as familiar with actor David Brian’s other films, but he is good as Uncle John:stoic, practical, and it is he and the Sheriff(Will Geer, a small part but he’s great in it)who come up with the plot to catch the real murderer.

For an alternative to the film To Kill a Mockingbird and it’s book version, treat yourself to William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust and it’s movie version!

Here is the trailer that movie goers in 1950 would have seen in advertising this film.

 

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Wagon Master

I like Westerns.  I like the horses and the cowboys and the sheriffs who have to deal with the baddies and get them out of town.  I love seeing the landscapes in the outdoor scenes: those wide-open spaces and the outcroppings of distant mountains.  Whether the western was  filmed in black and white or in technicolor, it doesn’t matter much to me, I pretty much like most of this genre.   I am pretty well aware that the late  director John Ford was often tagged with the title of best westerns director and a couple weeks ago, TCM aired a western directed by him that I had never heard of.  Ford made a tight little film in 1950 with no big name stars assigned to it.    Wagon Master was the title bestowed on this film  and even more curious is that the main plot was about a group of Mormons trying to get to a certain river valley in which to establish their new community.

Made by Argosy Pictures( a studio created by John Ford and producer Merian C. Cooper, the man responsible for 1933’s King Kong) and released by RKO, Wagon Master employed  a lot of the actors and actresses that were known as “John Ford’s Stock Company”, meaning that these people were in a lot of Ford’s movies.  Usually John Wayne or Henry Fonda were the lead male actors in Ford’s films but not in Wagon Master.  The two main male leads were Ben Johnson playing Travis  and Harry Carey Jr. playing Sandy.  220px-WM_Poster Wagon Master

The movie opens with a wanted ad for the Clegg’s : a murdering Uncle  and his 4 murdering nephews.  This want ad is superimposed over a scene that dissolves into the Clegg brutes(James Arness, Charles Kemper, Hank Worden,Fred Libby, and Mickey Simpson) holding up a store and its employees.  As the gang leaves with the money, one of the clerks rushes behind the counter, grabs a gun, and shoots at the gang, wounding Uncle Shiloh Clegg(Kemper) in the shoulder.  The gang re-enters the store and Uncle Shiloh cracks his whip, telling the store clerk that he shouldn’t have done that.  He aims his gun and as the store clerk pleads for his life, the camera turns away as gun shots ring out.  The next scene we see  is the film’s opening credits rolling, with  conestaga wagons traveling west, through a  river, with a song by The Sons of the Pioneers ringing out.  There is a lot of music in this movie, even for a western, and The Sons of the Pioneers recorded the songs; Richard Hageman created the score and Stan Jones was the composer who wrote the lyrics and music for 4 of the songs in the movie.  A Mormon hymn is even sung at the end of the movie.

Next, the movie introduces the two male leads, Travis and Sandy.  They are young, ambitious, and are in the horse selling and trading business.  They’ve just arrived in a town to ply their trade and sell the sheriff a horse that will try and throw the rider if certain kind of whistling sound is whistled.  Of course, they don’t tell the sheriff this until after the sale is completed and Sandy whistles!  Soon, the two young men are approached by two Mormon men, Elders Wiggs and Perkins(Ward Bond and Russell Simpson.)  The Elders ask if the two young men know the area of the country their group will be traveling to the next day.  Travis replies to Elder Wiggs that they do know the area and a good way to get there.  Elder Wiggs asks them to consider being the Wagon Master for their group’s trip.  Travis thinks about it and turns the offer down.  Sandy thinks they ought to reconsider as he is immediately smitten with Elder Perkin’s daughter, Prudence(Kathleen O’Malley) who had accompanied her father and Elder Wiggs on their trip into town.   After a day in the town, and watching the Mormon travelers leave town and start heading in the wrong direction, Travis has a change of heart and he and Sandy ride to catch up with Elder Wiggs to let  him know that they’ll gladly lead the group to their destination, the San Juan River Valley in Utah.

Director Ford loved location shooting and much of the film was shot near Moab, Utah.  The scenery is gorgeous in the film, and a lot of credit should be given to Bert Glennon, the Director of Photography.  One scene that impressed me was when Travis accidentally rides near a group of Navajoes who give chase, and he and his horse have the ride of their lives in trying to get back to the wagon train ahead of the angry Navajoes.  Ben Johnson had been a ranch hand and a rodeo rider before getting into acting and knew how to handle a horse so  it’s really him  in that incredible chase sequence.

As Sandy plants his horse near Prudence’s wagon, Travis actually leads the group and soon they hear music playing in the distance with no town or house nearby.  The travelers soon find the wagon of a traveling medicine show and the troupe of  4 thirsty entertainers.  They ran out of water on their attempt to get to California.  With only the elixir to drink that they sell, they aren’t too sober.  One of the entertainers, a Miss Denver(Joanne Dru) is quite pretty and Travis is smitten with her immediately.  She faints off of the back of the wagon’s backboard and lucky for her and him, he manages to catch her.  Seeing the troupe’s dire plight, and having to convince Elder Perkins, Elder Wiggs announces that this troupe can travel with them until the trail for California emerges and they’ll share water and food with them.  This gives Travis a chance to size up Miss Denver, to “court” her and there is a sweet scene as the troupe breaks away to go out on the California trail and he follows them, catches up with Miss Denver, and explains that he has his eye on some land in Texas for a cattle ranch and he’s going to need someone to help him on the ranch with the cooking and cleaning and to help him fight against loneliness.  It’s a bittersweet scene because we can tell he is sincere, and Miss Denver knows that going on to California and staying with the medicine show isn’t any form of a good life to live.  She is touched and honored by Travis’s proposal of sorts, but then turns him down!

Of course, the baddies show up, The Clegg Gang, and they try to hide who they really are but Travis and Sandy recognize them from wanted posters.  They keep their guns close just in case as Elder Wiggs agrees to let these travelers join up with their group.  Uncle Shiloh Clegg and his nephews know there is a posse out looking for them and what better place to hide than with a bunch of Mormons?  Dr.  Hall(Alan Mowbray) from the medicine show is forced to help Shiloh’s shoulder wound and three of the nephews begin eyeing the ladies of the wagon train.  This of course puts Sandy and Travis on the alert.

There is the aforementioned run in with the Navajoes, of which legendary athlete Jim Thorpe plays a role, a Clegg gets punished for trying to get too close to a Navajo woman, and then there is a dangerous crossing for the wagons and the ultimate showdown with the Clegg’s.

A brisk western that ties things up nicely, I found Wagon Master an enjoyable gem from director John Ford.  Wagon Master, should also be noted, as the inspiration for the television show Wagon Train.  You can buy Wagon Master via Amazon.com for a very low price, at TCM’s shop in a special dvd with 3 other John Ford directed westerns, and it is available on a long list of Ford films on Netflix.   A kind soul put the entire movie on Youtube and you can watch it via that form.  I’ll close out my blog with some scenes from Wagon Master.

The Clegg Gang

The Clegg Gang

Opening shot, the wanted poster

Opening shot, the wanted poster

Sandy and Travis come to town.

Sandy and Travis come to town.

The sheriff saying he'll be glad when the Mormons leave town and the Clegg's are caught.

The sheriff saying he’ll be glad when the Mormons leave town and the Clegg’s are caught.

Elder Wiggs asking Travis to consider being their Wagon Master.

Elder Wiggs asking Travis to consider being their Wagon Master.

Jane Darnell as Sister Ledyard,sounding her horn to get the trip underway.

Jane Darnell as Sister Ledyard,sounding her horn to get the trip underway.

Travis proposing to Miss Denver

Travis proposing to Miss Denver

Travis being chased by the Navajoes.

Travis being chased by the Navajoes.

Encounter with the Navajoes

Encounter with the Navajoes