Posts Tagged ‘Raoul Walsh’

My Classic Movie Pick: Colorado Territory

Joel McCrea was one of my grandma’s favorite actors.  She told me that years ago when I was probably 12 or 13 years old.  At age 12 or 13, I had no idea who Joel McCrea was, but when I began to watch classic movies in my high school days, I did find out who he was.  A tall, good-looking actor, often playing in comedies or dramas in the 1930s and 1940s; I could see why he was one of my grandma’s favorites!  In the late 1940s and heading into the 1950s, McCrea was aging and he turned increasingly to roles in Western films.  Colorado Territory was just such a career changing role and it fit McCrea’s persona to a T.

CO Territory

In 1941, famed Hollywood director Raoul Walsh had a huge box office hit with a gangster movie, High Sierra, that starred Humphrey Bogart.   Jumping ahead to 1949, a similarly plotted film treatment landed on his desk, Colorado Territory, written by Edmund H. North and John Twist.  Their screenplay took High Sierra and pushed it back in time to the 1870s.  Walsh loved the story and  got the greenlight from Warner Brothers to make this “newish” version of his earlier film.

In Colorado Territory, we meet outlaw Wes McQueen(Joel McCrea) stuck in a jail in Clay County, Missouri.  He’s a notorious bank robber and train robber and known for being very fast with a gun.  A sweet, little old lady arrives at the jail with a cake and some handknit woolen socks for McQueen, telling the jailor and sheriff that she’s McQueen’s Aunt Georgina(Hallene Hill).  She is informed that she won’t be allowed to see McQueen, but that the basket of goodies will be delivered to him.  As the aunt leaves, she tells the sheriff to give McQueen a message, that his old white horse has been broken to drive buggies by his Uncle Pluthner.  The basket is given to McQueen with the message about his old white horse.  McQueen immediately perks up, because he realizes it’s a coded message and that Pluthner isn’t really his uncle but a former Pinkerton agent turned outlaw.  With an unraveling knitted sock, McQueen is able to escape from his jail cell in a way that would have made tv’s MacGuyver proud!

McQueen starting to unravel one of the socks.

McQueen starting to unravel one of the socks.

The next morning it is discovered that McQueen has escaped.  A bell is rung in the town, and a posse is rounded up.  The chase to catch McQueen is on!  Meanwhile, McQueen has met up with Pluthner(Harry Woods), who tells him that McQueen’s old robbing buddy, Dave Rickard(Basil Ruysdael) is living in Colorado territory and he wants McQueen to help him with one more train robbery, which will yield a large haul of cash, and that they can split it up with Pluthner, and then they can all scatter to do what they want with their lives.

McQueen makes a short stop at his family’s farm.  He sits on his horse, looking wistfully around as he remembers his boyhood there.  The new owner’s son appears, on his way to a fishing hole.  McQueen recognizes the boy and asks him how is his family doing?  The youth answers his questions but when McQueen asks about Martha, the boy’s face clouds up with sadness.  He motions to McQueen that Martha is over yonder, buried in the cemetery.  McQueen is very sad to learn of this news.  He goes alone to pay his respects to Martha and from McCrea’s somber acting, we can tell that Martha was a very important person in McQueen’s life and future plans.  This scene also allows the audience to feel empathy for this outlaw, who went from a mischievious youth to bad choices to now, wanting to just pull off one more robbery and then he’ll pursue a quiet, upright life.  We are rooting for McQueen, hoping he can make this change.

McQueen visiting Martha's grave

McQueen visiting Martha’s grave

To get to Colorado territory and avoid the posse, McQueen takes a stagecoach and meets  fellow passengers, Mr. Fred Winslow(Henry Hull) and his pretty daughter, Julie Ann(Dorothy Malone).  Winslow is a chatterer, and goes on and on about leaving Georgia behind for a rich ranch he has purchased, Rancho del Sol.  Julie Ann is exasperated with her father and several times tells him to stop telling about their personal affairs to this traveling stranger.  McQueen lies, and tells the Winslow’s that his name is Jeff Rogers and that one day he, too, would like to farm or ranch in the West.  When bandits are about to  attack the stagecoach, McQueen impresses all with his ability to defend and defeat the would-be robbers.  At the stagecoach depot, McQueen spies a wanted poster with his picture on it and he deftly tears if off the wall and discards it while accepting the award of a good horse that will help him get to the his next point -an abandoned mission town, Todos Santos, where the rest of the train robbing gang are waiting for him.

McQueen sees the bandits approach while on the stagecoach

McQueen sees the bandits approach while on the stagecoach

Winslow reveals he moved Julie Ann to Colorado to get her away from a scoundrel back in Georgia

Winslow reveals he moved Julie Ann to Colorado to get her away from a scoundrel back in Georgia

Dprpthy Malone as Julie Ann-can she take Martha's place in McQueen's heart?

Dorothy Malone as Julie Ann-can she take Martha’s place in McQueen’s heart?

 

McQueen arrives in Todos Santos and meets his robbery team.  What a bunch of misfits!  There’s the brute, Reno Blake(John Archer), who has brought along a dance hall gal, Colorado Carson(Virginia Mayo)-a half-breed, rough kind of woman.  Rounding out the trio is Duke Harris(James Mitchell) a smart-alecky, psychopathic guy.  James Mitchell is so good in his role-I had only really known him previously from his role as Curly in the dream ballet sequence of the movie version of Oklahoma! and his long-standing role on the soap opera All My Children.  I really think he should have been nominated for a best supporting actor, he does that well with the role of the twisted Duke!

Meeting the robbery gang at Todos Santos: Reno, Colorado, and Duke

Meeting the robbery gang at Todos Santos: Reno, Colorado, and Duke

Duke giving McQueen some more information about the robbery

Duke giving McQueen some more information about the robbery

McQueen having to break up a fight between Duke and Reno

McQueen having to break up a fight between Duke and Reno

McQueen lets it be known that he is in charge of this robbery for Rickard and Pluthner.  Reno and Duke aren’t happy about this, but keep their complaints to one another.  Colorado can tell that McQueen is a better man than Reno or Duke could ever hope to be and she begins to flirt with McQueen.  One night she overhears him murmur Martha’s name in his sleep, and when he awakens, Colorado asks him about Martha, then throws herself into McQueen’s arms, essentially asking him to take her with him when the robbery is done.  McQueen gently refuses her, taking her arms down from his neck and explains that there is someone else he wants to plan his future with, Julie Ann.  He tells Colorado that he’ll make sure she gets a cut of the money and that he will expect her to go off on her own to start her new life.

Colorado realizing McQueen is a better man than Reno

Colorado realizing McQueen is a better man than Reno

Showing McQueen how well her broken leg has healed!

Showing McQueen how well her broken leg has healed!

Colorado begging McQueen to take her with him after the robbery

Colorado begging McQueen to take her with him after the robbery

 

The town’s station agent(Ian Wolfe) visits the gang.  He’s a nervous sort of fellow, and a weakling.  He has arrived to tell them the specifics of the train’s arrival and how much money it will be hauling in the safe.  What he doesn’t tell the gang is that he’s really working with the U.S. Marshall for the region.  The Marshall(Morris Ankrum) has gotten information about the attempted train robbery and he’s pretty sure McQueen’s behind it.  More double-dealings are revealed: Pluthner has arranged with Reno and Duke to keep the money for themselves and to kill McQueen and Rickard, and Reno and Duke have their own plan brewing, to keep the money for themselves, killing McQueen, Colorado, and Pluthner in the process.

The robbery happens but it doesn’t go according to anyone’s plans and McQueen discovers all of the double-crosses that were going to happen.  Unfortunately he is shot in the shoulder and while he and Colorado hide out at the Winslow’s ranch for a bit, McQueen sadly discovers that Julie Ann is not the girl he thought she was and he decides then and there to not plan a future with her as his wife.  Leaving the Winslow’s ranch to head back to Todos Santos with Colorado, he realizes that perhaps Colorado is the woman he really loves.

It's Colorado who McQueen really loves!

It’s Colorado who McQueen really loves!

 

Uh oh! Seeing those smoke signals!

Uh oh! Seeing those smoke signals!

With McQueen and Colorado now planning their new life together at the old mission, with money in their possession and just a short ride over a mountain ridge to Mexico, they suddenly are awakened from their plans by the sight of smoke signals-an Indian that the US Marshall had sent to search for them found them at Todos Santos and sent the signal to let the Marshall and his posse know where McQueen and Colorado are hiding.

One of the film's last images

One of the film’s last images

I won’t reveal the end of Colorado Territory as I want the potential viewers to seek this film out!  It’s a well-acted film, a storyline that doesn’t have any plot holes, and it touches on that philosophical question, can a person really change their life around?

Colorado Territory will be shown on TCM on Saturday, April 25th, at 4:30 pm EST/3:30 pm CST.  It is also available to view on Amazon’s instant rent or for purchase.  I’ll end my blog with a few more movie posters for Colorado Territory and I find them a bit amusing as they all focus on Virginia Mayo over Joel McCrea!

T.his poster I find quite well done

This poster I find quite well done

Two posters, comparing the two main characters of High Sierra and Colorado Territory

Two posters, comparing the two main characters of High Sierra and Colorado Territory

From my limited highschool French, this  movie isn't all about the girl of the desert!

From my limited high school French, this movie isn’t all about the girl of the desert!

CT poster 2

My Classic Movie Pick: White Heat

1949 and James Cagney’s independent movie production company wasn’t faring so well.  Warner Brothers came calling, and he agreed to let them help produce and distribute a movie that they had the rights for and wanted him to star in, White Heat, a film noir and one of my favorites of this kind of film: gangsters, criminals, cops, untrustworthy women, and justice for all at the end.White Heat

Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a criminal leader of a gang.  Cody is married to Verna( Virginia Mayo), his gorgeous and  younger wife.  Also in Cody’s life is his  Ma( Margaret Wycherly).  She is the most important person in Cody’s life, the one woman he always turns to when he has problems as she can usually come up with good solutions.  She is fully supportive of her son’s criminal ways, and when he is hit with those terrible headaches, only Ma can help him through them.

Verna not too happy that Ma Jarrett is a part of her married life to Cody.

Verna not too happy that Ma Jarrett is a part of her married life to Cody.

Ma Jarrett helping Cody as one of those headaches comes on him.

Ma Jarrett helping Cody as one of those headaches comes on him.

Cody and his gang, living in California,  rob a train, killing the engineer and 3 other railroad employees.   The police eventually close in and track Cody and his gang.  Cody wounds Philip Evans(John Archer) a US  Treasury agent  on the chase to bring down Cody Jarrett.   Cody is tricky and smart, despite his ruthless ways and his psychotic antics, and he knows that an acquaintance has committed a robbery in Chicago  the same day as the train robbery in California.  Cody is able to use the robbery in Chicago as his alibi, claiming he did that crime.  He pleads guilty to that crime and gets 1-3 years in an Illinois state  prison.   Evans knows Cody is lying, so he sends in federal agent Hank Fallon(Edmund O’Brien) to pretend to be a criminal newly arriving at the prison and to be Cody’s cellmate.  Fallon is  to try and find out who the “fence” is on the outside, who is Cody sending money to for Ma and Verna and the gang.

Fallon undercover in the prison, trying to get to know Cody.

Fallon undercover in the prison, trying to get to know Cody.

Meanwhile, Verna is tolerating Ma, barely, and  spending time with Big Ed(Steve Cochran), one of Cody’s gang members.  Big Ed tells Verna that he will one day run the gang and to do that, he has someone on the inside at that Illinois prison who will kill Cody for them.  Then they can be together, and get rid of Ma, too.  Unfortunately Big Ed’s plan goes awry, and Fallon sees Cody about to be killed by a prison workplace “accident” and saves Cody in the nick of time!

Verna and Big Ed making their plans.

Verna and Big Ed making their plans.

This film has several memorable scenes and in the prison is one of the best: Cody’s complete psychotic  breakdown when he gets the news that Ma has died.  Cagney didn’t tell the actors in the scene that his big breakdown was coming and the look on Edmund O’Brien’s face is priceless-he is truly shocked and astounded at Cagney’s going berserk in the prison cafeteria.

Here comes that breakdown!

Here comes that breakdown!

After Cody is hauled off to the prison’s infirmary because of  his breakdown,  he sneakily manages a prison breakout, taking Fallon with him.  Cody utterly trusts Fallon, not knowing that Fallon is really a federal agent with the US Treasury Department.  Big Ed learns that Cody is alive and has broken out of jail, and he is very afraid as is Verna.  They try to plan what to do if and when Cody reappears.  It is a great scene when Cody does reappear and confronts Verna, who lies to him about Ma’s death.  Big Ed gets his ultimate reward from Cody and then it is off to the next caper, robbing the payroll of a petroleum plant in Long Beach, California.

Cody gets a criminal pal to steal a tanker truck that picks up products from the petroleum plant.  He tells the gang that they will all hide in the truck, like a Trojan Horse, and be driven into the plant.  From there, they’ll rob the payroll office, and escape in the truck.  Fallon manages to get a message to Evans and a police ambush is set up at the plant, awaiting Cody and the gang’s arrival.  But darn the luck, the driver of the truck recognizes Fallon as an agent who arrested him several years ago!

Fallon manages to escape to the cop side of the oncoming battle at the petroleum plant and  Verna is immediately arrested.  It is now down to a shootout with Cody and his remaining gang members.  The last scene is memorable and Cody’s final line, “Made it Ma!  Top of the World!”,  is a tribute to great screenwriting, direction, cinematography, special effects,  and acting.

"Top of the World!"

“Top of the World!”

I just can’t praise this movie enough.  Yes, some of the characters are horrible people, and you are glad when they get punished.  The acting is so good in this film, and James Cagney is just magnificent as Cody, an  evil criminal with a deep love for his Ma, and those terrible headaches!

White Heat was directed by Raoul Walsh, one of Hollywood’s best, and the screenplay was written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.  The story came from Virginia Kellogg.  Max Steiner created the fantastic music that accompanies the action on the screen.  Kellogg, Goff, and Roberts were nominated for Best Screenplay at the 1950 Academy Awards.  In 2003, White Heat was admitted to the National Film Registry and it is in the top 100 of one of those AFI lists.

White Heat isn’t available on Netflix, but is available to buy or watch instantly on Amazon.  Tuesday, May 21, at 11:45 a.m. (CST) it will be shown on Turner Classic Movies, so set that dvr!

French movie poster for White Heat.

French movie poster for White Heat.

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