Posts Tagged ‘Ward Bond’

A Crazy Classic Movie: Death on the Diamond! AKA, Someone is Killing the St. Louis Cardinals!!!

I was looking over Turner Classic Movie’s monthly schedule for January when a film title caught my eye: Death on the Diamond.  The overview of the film’s plot read that someone was killing off the St. Louis Cardinals during a pennant race.  I had to laugh a bit and began to wonder if the culprits were the Cincinnati Reds or the hated Chicago Cubs-if  you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan, you’re not a fan of the Cubs.  I recorded the movie so buckle in for a review of this short, 69 minute film.   

The movie was made in 1934, and at that time the real St. Louis Cardinals were on top of the baseball world.  That year, they would go on to finish number one in the National League and win the World Series, defeating the Detroit Tigers in seven games.  In Death on the Diamond, the Cardinals are in a 3-way race for the pennant, battling it out with the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs.  The manager/owner Pop Clark, knows his team must win the pennant for him to be able to keep his ownership of the team.  A new potential owner, Mr. Ainsley is waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in and take the team from Clark if the Cardinals fail to win the pennant.

Several horrid events occur during this pennant race before the murders begin.    Two former players who got caught up in gambling are hanging around Sportsman’s Park, trying to get back on the team, greatly annoying Pop Clark.  Then,  St. Louis gambling kingpin Joseph Karnes has bribed the team’s new pitching ace, Larry Kelly.  Wise sports writer Jimmie Downey  warns Kelly not to associate himself with Karnes and the bribery attempt is foiled.  Soon after, someone shoots out the tire on a taxi that Larry is riding in, the taxi crashes into a street construction site,and Larry escapes with a badly injured foot and has to miss 2 weeks of games.  Then, someone was seen exiting the clubhouse by the batboy, Mickey.  While Mickey didn’t get a good look at this person, he did discover that this person messed around with all of the players gloves, as there was some kind of liquid inside of them.  The team’s doctor examines the gloves and discovers that the liquid would have caused severe skin-damage to the players.  Man! Someone doesn’t want the Cardinals to win this pennant race!

Larry meeting Pop Clark, team owner and manager.

A bit of batting practice with Larry and Dunk.

Frances and Larry fall in love-awww!

Don’t eat that hot dog, Truck!!

 

Three murders occur in this film, one right after the other. First, slugger Dunk Spencer is shot dead by a sniper during an away game in Chicago, as he is rounding third base and heading to home. During the second game against the Cubs, pitcher Frank Higgins is summoned to the away team’s locker room to take a phone call. While there, he is attacked from behind and strangled. Lastly, back at Sportsman’s Park, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, loveable catcher Truck Hogan unwittingly slathers his hot dog with poisoned mustard! He doesn’t linger long after consuming the hot dog.

The list of suspects: the two outcast former players, gambler Joseph Karnes, possible new owner Mr. Ainsley, and at one point, even the new pitcher Larry Kelly is thought to be the killer since he and Dunk Spencer were both heard arguing about which one of them was going to date Pop’s daughter, and secretary of the team, Frances.  I won’t give out the who the murderer is  but I was surprised as to who it was and that person puts on an over the top, chew up the scenery rant for the confession!

Death on the Diamond was fun for me to view since I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan and used to live in a suburb of that city for almost 20 years. There’s a banner advertising the now defunct newspaper the Globe-Democrat on the wall of Sportsman’s park. The still functioning St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the newspaper that the newsboy is selling on the street. Actual footage of the Cardinals from the 1930s are used for the baseball game scenes.  While no actual Cardinal players were cast in the film, one of the players speaks with a strong southern accent  with funny lines to quip, and I am pretty sure his character was based upon Cardinals pitching ace Dizzy Dean. Dean was an Arkansas native who was a fan favorite player of the Cardinals for most of the 1930s.

The film was based on mystery writer Cortland Fitzsimmon’s novel of the same title.  MGM purchased the rights to the novel in order to turn the tale into a movie.  Author Fitzsimmons wrote the screenplay, along with Harvey Thew, Joseph Sherman, and Ralph Spence.  The film was directed by Edward Sedgewick and produced by Lucien Hubbard. Cast: Robert Young as Larry Kelly, Madge Evans as Frances Clark, David Landau as Pop Clark, Nat Pendleton as Truck Hogan, Paul Kelly as Jimmy Downey, Joe Sawyer as Dunk Spencer, Robert Livingston as Frank Higgins, Ted Healy as umpire Crawfish O’Toole, C. Henry Gordon as Joseph Karnes, Edward Brophy(later the voice of Timothy the mouse in Dumbo) as Police Sgt. Grogan, DeWitt Jennings as Patterson, and Willard Robertson as Police Lt. Cato.  The young batboy, Mickey, is played by Mickey Rooney and that was fun to see.  Also, playing a bit part as a police guard for the team is Ward Bond.  Also in a bit part is great character actor Walter Brennan, with no lines, as an excited radio sports announcer during a game.    

Death on the Diamond is a wacky bit of film, fast-paced, with the requisite happy ending.  If you’re a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I’d say it’s a must-see.  If you’re a Cubs fan, it may just be a fun fantasy to see! Here’s a link to one of the trailers for the movie that MGM had made to be shown in movie theaters.   The movie is available for purchase at Amazon and at TCM’s Shop.

 

 

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The Olivia De Havilland Centenary Blogathon: Dodge City

Friday, July 1, 2016 one of the last actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age of Movie Making celebrated her 100th birthday! Olivia De Havilland, best known as Melanie in Gone With the Wind, reached that majestic milestone and with that in mind, two wonderful classic film fan bloggers decided to host a blogathon, looking at Olivia’s acting roles.  Be sure to visit Crystal at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies to read other bloggers’ posts about Olivia De Havilland’s films.

olivia-5

Warner Brothers Studio had made a wonderful discovery when their 1935 film, Captain Blood, yielded a big box office profit.  The discovery was that the two young leads, Olivia De Havilland and Errol Flynn, were a popular duo in action/romance films and the studio kept the pair busy, co-starring them in 7 more films.  I decided to review their 5th film, 1939’s Dodge City, and some say the Western that later inspired Mel Brook’s comedic spoof, Blazing Saddles!  220px-Dodge_City_1939_Poster

Dodge City begins in 1866, with a proud Col. Dodge arriving for the celebration to honor him and the fact that  the railway has now built its way to Dodge City.  Amongst the happy crowd are 3 cowboys who helped keep the rail workers fed with their skills at hunting buffalo: Wade Hatton, Rusty Hart, and Tex Baird.  Shortly before the celebration began, these 3 helped the U. S. Marshall catch baddie Jeff Surrett and his gang for illegally killing buffalo, just for their hides, and leaving the remains to rot on the prairie.  This first encounter of the 3 good guys with the baddie will become a major thread throughout the film.

Tex, Wade, and Rusty, the 3 cowboy-heroes

Tex, Wade, and Rusty, the 3 cowboy-heroes

Time marches forward and now there’s a screenshot explaining it is 1872, and that Dodge City is rolling in the dough due to cattle drives arriving there, the cattle then being sold, and tired cowboys, with pay in their pockets, looking for relaxation and fun.  Another screenshot shows a number of saloons that pepper the town, and one, The Gay Lady, is owned by the baddie we met earlier in the film, Jeff Surrett.  Surrett is wealthy and dishonest.  How does he do it? By bidding on cattle, paying part of what he owes for the cattle he buys, and weasling out of paying for the rest of his bill;sometimes the men he owes are shot and die, thus they don’t need to be repaid, others are run out of town and too scared to challenge Surrett for what he owes them.  Surrett’s wealth is also supported by the gambling that happens at his saloon as “the house” never loses much.  Yancey is the head of Surrett’s henchmen, and these henchmen are Surrett’s eyes, ears, and evil force.  Sheriffs for Dodge City have been weak and ineffective at stopping Surrett which means there is no law in the town, just anarchy.  I did have to smile as many scenes show the men in town suddenly pointing their guns in the air and just firing away-reminded me of a couple scenes from Blazing Saddles.  

Surrett, the villain of Dodge City

Surrett, the villain of Dodge City

Yancey, lead henchman for Surrett

Yancey, lead henchman for Surrett

Ruby, bad guy Surrett's star entertainer and girlfriend

Ruby, bad guy Surrett’s star entertainer and girlfriend

20-25 minutes pass before we meet a beautiful lady , Abbie Irving, who will figure prominently in the plot of trying to bring down Surrett and  his gang.  Abbie will also become the main love interest for Wade, of course, as he is the man Dodge City turns to  in a last-ditch attempt to rid themselves of the lawlessness that has gripped their community for too long.  Abbie and her younger brother, Lee, are moving to Dodge City from TX, as their father has died, and he had arranged for his two children(actually young adults) to move in with their aunt and uncle, Dr. and Mrs. Irving.  The two siblings sign up to travel with a cattle drive which just happens to be led by Wade and his 2 pals.  However, Lee is a hazard to the entire group as he is constantly drunk and then carelessly shoots his gun at targets, eventually causing a stampede which ends in his death.  Abbie is heartbroken with this event, and she blames Wade for her brother’s death: Lee, angered at being told to put his gun away, aims at Wade to shoot him and Wade fires back at Lee in self-defense, then the stampede begins.  It looks as if any future romance between Wade and Abbie is doomed.  We can tell Wade is attracted to Abbie as he gallantly offers to carry her heavy bucket of water.  Abbie is feisty, insisting she can carry her own water, but when Wade isn’t looking, she smiles to herself in a knowing way.  Despite her independent air, she is also attracted to Wade.

Lovely Abbie Irving on the cattle drive

Lovely Abbie Irving on the cattle drive

Wade trying to carefully explain to Abbie that perhaps she should stop acting cold towards him!

Wade trying to carefully explain to Abbie that perhaps she should stop acting cold towards him!

Reacting to Lee's death by stampeding cattle

Reacting to Lee’s death by stampeding cattle

Wade, with pal Rusty as his deputy, begins the immense task of cleaning up Dodge City.  Tex, the third amigo in this group of pals, isn’t quite ready to become a deputy as he is having too good of a time at The Gay Lady saloon.  He loves to watch Ruby’s song and dance numbers and he is the cause for one of the best saloon brawls ever filmed by Hollywood!  After being forced to cool his heels in jail, where Wade has locked up at least 60 lawbreakers(the cells are incredibly full), Tex becomes a deputy, too.   Wade imposes several laws: no guns allowed north of First Street-have to turn them in at the sheriff’s office and gunowners can have them back as they leave town, gambling has to stop by 2 am, taxes will be collected.  The laws work wonderfully well, and Dodge City gains a new reputation for being dullsville!  The laws also lead Surrett and his henchmen to plan how they will take out Wade and his deputies, and end the rule of law that has cramped their style.

Will Surrett and his gang succeed in ridding themselves and Dodge City of Wade, Rusty, and Tex?  Will Wade successfully woo and win Abbie?  Will Abbie and her boss, newspaperman Joe Clemens, be able to provide vital evidence through articles as to the corruption and crimes Surrett is behind so that a trial can happen to send Surrett and his henchmen off to prison and probably off to the death penalty? Will Dodge City fully embrace their new “dull” reputation or go back to lawlessness?  Find a copy of this film to find out the answers to these questions!  It is available to watch via Amazon’s instant rent, and Friday, July 8th, it will air on Turner Classic Movies at 2:15 am EST/1:15 am CST, and again on October 1st, at 2:00 pm EST/1:00 pm CST.

What else is there to like about this film,  Dodge City? Well, it was made in 1939, which is often called Hollywood’s best year as so many award winning movies were made then.  It’s in technicolor, theres the stirring musical score by Max Steiner, excellent direction by Michael Curtiz, who could handle action sequences as well as quiet scenes,  and of course the entire cast,  the leads as well as supporting players.  Errol Flynn is perfect as the handsome hero, and gives an intelligent read of Wade.  He doesn’t hide his accent, the plot explains that he is a transplanted Irishman who’s come to the Western US.  Olivia De Havilland is beautiful Abbie, and plays her as a strong woman, not a wilting, weak of heart lady.  It was refreshing to me to see an independent woman in 1872, one who works at the newspaper, and who scoffs when Wade questions her as to why she isn’t at home doing needlework?  Sidekicks Alan Hale Sr. and Guinn Williams are superb as Wade’s pals.  They’re big men, good humored, often with smiles on their faces.  Tex is obviously having a blast during that barroom brawl, and Rusty gets a fun side plot as he’s tired of the bar scene and accidentally wanders into a “Pure Praire League” temperance meeting, and the ladies there all think him quite a catch!  Bruce Cabot, who had played the hero in 1933’s King Kong gives a strong performance as the evil kingpin Surrett.  He squints his eyes, calmly barks out his orders, and they’re carried out.  He tries to make a deal with Wade, but of course, that won’t go anywhere.  Victor Jory plays Yancey, the dark and slimey head henchman.  1939 was Jory’s year to play baddies as he was also the slimey overseer Jonas Wilkerson in Gone With the Wind.   Gorgeous Ann Sheridan, despite her prominence on some of the movie posters, is a minor character in this film.  Her song and dance numbers are good, and she aquits herself well in those scenes.  Only one scene of her and Flynn, when he barges into the saloon and asks if she’s seen Surrett.

The supporting cast is a who’s who of some of the best character actors and actresses: Henry Travers(Dr. Irving), Frank McHugh(Joe Clemens), John Litel(Matt Cole, cattle buyer not afraid of Surrett and dies for trying to get all of his fee), Gloria Holden(Cole’s widow), Bobs Watson(Cole’s son, and can that kid cry!), Ward Bond( a minor henchman who later gets a good scene with Flynn, trying get information about Clemens murderer), William Lundigan(drunk as a skunk Lee,) Clem Bevins as the town’s barber, and Henry O’Neill as Col. Dodge, founder of the town.

For a great Western, glorious and large, with lots of action and a romance that only Flynn and De Havilland could deliver, see Dodge City!  I’ll close out this post with a clip from Youtube of that infamous barroom brawl.

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Tall in the Saddle

The kitchen floor remodeling/painting of the walls/new pantry cupboard/new sink faucets installed is all completed.  It was done in time to welcome the grandparents to our home as we all gathered recently  to celebrate child #3’s graduation from high school.  3 graduated, 4 to go is my mantra currently!  With all of the hubbub done and calmness and serenity back in my life, it’s back in the blogging saddle for me and I know of no better way to do this than to recommend a classic movie. TAll in the Saddle poster 1In April, over at Turner Classic Movies, the star of the month was John Wayne.  The station aired a lot of his famous movie roles

which  I had seen already.  The station also aired lesser movie roles that Wayne played, in B westerns which he acted in before 1939’s film Stagecoach jumped his career path up a notch.  I decided to watch some of those lesser known films and found one that was made in 1944, RKO Studio’s  Tall in the Saddle.  A western, with a touch of noir, 2 ladies in distress, and Gabby Hayes.  What a fast-moving, fun film it was for me to see. Wayne portrays Rocklin, a cowboy who is traveling to a town in Arizona to begin working on a ranch owned by a Mr. Red Cardell.  Rocklin decides to sit up top with the stagecoach driver, Dave, played by Gabby Hayes.  Now,  I had never seen Hayes in a movie before and only knew him from the caricature of him in Mel Brooks’s comedy tribute to westerns, Blazing Saddles, and in the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, Hayes is mentioned in the lyrics.   Therefore, this was fun for me, to see Hayes in action and he didn’t disappoint, as his Dave loves to drink, is a bit hard to understand with his garbled talk(just a bit, not as exaggerrated as it is in Brooks’s film) and his agreeing with Rocklin that women are nothing but trouble.  Also on the stagecoach to the same Arizona town are the lovely Miss Clara Cardell(Audrey Long) and Miss Cardell’s grumpy aunt, Miss Elizabeth Martin(Elisabeth Risdon).   Miss Cardell is immediately attracted to Rocklin, but she is demure about it and her aunt keeps scolding her for looking at the cowboy!  Aunt Elizabeth is such a grumpy, bossy gal that I kept wanting Miss Clara to tell her off and to get out of her life.  The old aunt does eventually get out of Clara’s life, but not in the way one would expect.

Dave and Rocklin, on the way to AZ, discussing women!

Dave and Rocklin, on the way to AZ, discussing women!

Lovely Clara Cardell

Lovely Clara Cardell

Grumpy Aunt Elizabeth

Grumpy Aunt Elizabeth

The stagecoach eventually reaches its destination and Rocklin finds out that his new boss, Red Cardell, has been murdered; shot in the back.  At this point in the film, Rocklin meets the Harolday family.  Stepdad Harolday(Don Douglas) and his two grown up stepkids: Clint, a weakling who loves to gamble(Russell Wade) and the very strong-willed and hot-headed Arly(Ella Raines).   Arly and Rocklin immediately dislike each other, or at least Arly acts like she does, but we can tell she is also attracted to the new cowboy in town.

Rocklin and Arly, fighting off their dislike for one another

Rocklin and Arly, fighting off their dislike for one another

Rocklin confronting the lawyer about Clara's inheritance.

Rocklin confronting the lawyer about Clara’s inheritance.

Rocklin telling the Haroldays his suspicions about Red's murder.

Rocklin telling the Haroldays his suspicions about Red’s murder.

There are a couple plots weaving their way throughout this movie, which make it an interesting one to view.  First, the murder of Red Cardell and the attempts on Rocklin’s life.  Who commited the crime and who wants Rocklin dead?  Second, the lovely Clara has now inherited her dead Uncle’s ranch.  The grumpy aunt and a low-life lawyer(Ward Bond) join forces to try and steal the inheritance out from under poor Clara.  Rocklin suspects they are up to something and wants to help Clara.  Third, the love triangle in the movie.  Clara likes Rocklin a lot, Arly likes Rocklin a lot, Rocklin likes both ladies and is torn between the two.  It gets resolved but in an unusual way.

Tall in the Saddle is available to buy via TCM’s Shop  and it is also available through Amazon.  There are a few clips and the movie’s original trailer are all on Youtube.  From a serialized story written by Gordon Ray Young that was then adapted for the screen by Paul Fix and Michael Hogan, directed by Edwin L. Marin, seek out Tall in the Saddle to see Wayne in an early star turn, dealing with sneaky, double-crossers, inheritance stealers, two lovely ladies, and Gabby Hayes’s inestimable help.

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

For The Great Western Blogathon, 1953’s Hondo

Today’s blog post is for The Great Western Blogathon hosted by classic film fan and blogger Thoughts All Sorts.  Be sure to click on the link to read what other classic film fans have written!

I  remember many Saturday evenings as a kid, 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 four years ago on Turner Classic Movies, they aired one I had never heard of before, 1953’s Hondo.   This technicolor movie was directed by John Farrow(father of actress Mia, husband 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  at a fast pace that doesn’t lose the viewers interest one iota.  

The plot revolves around 4 characters,with the supporting characters 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. One small side mention about Hondo’s character, he has a dog that is always with him, and I am pretty sure it was played by the dog that played Lassie.  It looks like Lassie with some extra, fake fur strapped to it’s back!

Hondo doing his job, delivering a message.

Geraldine Page, portrays the second character of the film, that of Mrs. Angie Lowe.   Angie’s 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, Ed, who was an orphan her parents helped raise, and we  learn later that  he isn’t a good person.  Angie is a strong woman, smart, and will do what she can to protect her son from the facts about his father’s choices.  Her son Johnny is the only blessing in her life from her marriage to Ed( Leo Gordon, a tall actor, who often played bad guys in Western movies and television shows.)  Johnny(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.

Hondo arriving at the Lowe’s ranch for the first time, to ask for water.

Angie is puzzled about this Hondo guy

Chief Vittorio, strong and in command of his tribe, is  worrying over 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.  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.

Chief Vittorio(on the horse) and his aid Silva, warning Angie

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.

Hondo  begins to wonder why Angie’s husband is never around the ranch

Hondo takes on the good father role for Johnny

Angie and Hondo fall in love!

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 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 strong and very thoughtful performance.   If you haven’t seen it, seek it out.  It is available on dvd through Amazon, through their instant rent program, and at TCM’s Shop.