Thursday, May 6, 2021

‘WILD WEST CHRONICLES’ PRODUCERS TELL ALL, TCM FEST STARTS TONIGHT! PLUS DUELING BILLY THE KIDS!

 

THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL IS ON RIGHT NOW!

The TCM Festival began today, Thursday, May 6th, at 5 pm Pacific time, 8 pm Eastern time, with West Side Story.  The real one, not the one that hasn’t opened yet.  For the second year in a row the Festival is, of necessity, virtual.  They have a terrific line-up of films, both on TCM itself, and on HBO Max.  HBO Max is doing it as a so-called ‘hub’, which apparently means that they list all of their programming, and you can watch any of it whenever you wish, not just during the four days of the festival, but for the entire month of May.   

Following West Side Story, TCM has gathered three of the film’s stars for a reunion: Rita Moreno, who appeared in a lot of Westerns TV series in the 1960s, often playing an Indian; George Chakiris; and Russ Tamblyn, who of course starred in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, as well as the Spaghetti Western Son of a Gunfighter. 



The Western offerings are a little light this year.  Friday morning at 8:45 Pacific time, TCM is premiering a 4K restoration of Irving Berlin’s musical Annie Get Your Gun, from the original Technicolor negative.   It should look great, but it’s a rather stagey musical, and while poor Betty Hutton, the rushed replacement after Judy Garland was fired, works like crazy to please, it’s pretty disappointing.   


Saturday morning at 7, Pacific time, it’s arguably Sam Peckinpah’s finest Western, Ride The High Country, starring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, and introducing Mariette Hartley. (Mariette was such a wonderful discovery that two years later, Alfred Hitchcock would also introduce her in Marnie.) The ideal supporting cast includes James Drury, LQ. Jones, Warren Oates, John Davis Chandler, John Anderson, R. G. Armstrong, and Edgar Buchanan.  HBO Max will be featuring John Ford’s The Searchers, which will include a discussion by Ben Mankiewicz and Bruce Springsteen.  That’s it for Westerns.  For the whole TCM Festival schedule, go HERE.

 

‘WILD WEST CHRONICLES’ PRODUCERS TELL ALL!


Every couple of years, a cable channel announces a new series with a title like Old New True Legendary Outlaws Lawmen Gunfights of the Old West.  They’re usually okay; they throw a little income to western movie-town operators, reenactors, and historians.  They’re also interchangeable and forgettable.  When producers Craig Miller of the INSP Network, and Gary Tarpinian of MorningStar Entertainment got together, men who specialize in documentaries and reality shows, they might have done something awfully similar.  In fact, they meant to.  Gary calls it, “How we went from non-fiction to fiction in three shows.”

They were well into preparing just such a show, Craig recalls, “When Gary sent over a short list of the expert historians and authors that he wanted to use.  And these people are great, literally the world's greatest experts on the West.  But you know what? I've seen them in three or four other series already. So why do we want to do this? Is there a way to not use talking head experts, and still do a docu-drama?”

Byron Preston Jackson plays Bass Reeves

Another concern was, “we needed to stay on-brand for INSP, which means to not leave the 1800s.”  Craig explains, “Our viewers like to surf into INSP and get lost in the old West. And every time you put a talking-head historian in there, you're snapping them right out. So I called Gary and I said, what if we had a frontier reporter? And instead of talking-head experts, they're interviewing eye-witnesses to the West's most notorious events?”

Gary liked the idea, even though, “We were going to shoot (our experts) in about a week at The Autry. My partner thought I'd lost my mind when I said to her, we've been wanting to get into ‘scripted’ (shows) for a long time.”


From The Real Lone Star Ranger

Craig remembers, “Gary, a stickler for accuracy and truly an expert on the West, came back with was the solution.  He said, ‘there was a real guy who did this. His name was Bat Masterson.’”

What they’ve created with Wild West Chronicles is a lot less like those previous documentary series, and a lot more like the half-hour Western anthology series of the 1960s, like Zane Grey Theatre and Death Valley Days.  Actually a good deal like Stories of the Century was meant to be, had it stuck closer to the actual history. 

“I knew we would be pretty good at it,” Gary says.  “We are very well equipped to tell a story that's based on a true story, with real people, in a certain time period, faithfully reproduced, based on our research, and tell the story accurately. Because when you're doing non-fiction, that's what you do.  We've taken creative liberties, no doubt about it. We weren't there, so we're putting words in their mouths. But other than that, we're trying to tell the stories accurately and to show how much we love this world and these people, these characters.”


In Wild Bill Hickok and the First Quick-Draw Duel,
flirtation, and a gold watch... 

Another problem they avoided while moving away from the standard talking-heads docudramas was to not be a ‘greatest hits’ show: so far at least, they are NOT doing Jesse James and Billy the Kid and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  “I'll let you in on a little inside baseball,” Craig shares. “When we first created the concept, we actually focus-tested three of the episodes and almost unanimously, the respondents said what they were interested in were stories they had never heard, about little-known characters of the West. Or if we were going to tell the story of a famous character, they wanted it to be a little-known story about that famous character. We intentionally kept our format to a half an hour. Because we don't want to do a birth-to-death biography of each character. We just wanted to take one slice of life, one story. And then that also allows us to do multiple episodes with the same characters.”

“Exactly,” Gary agrees. “And we think the audience is going to love it, because we're going to have the same actors play those people. For example, one episode we have a coming up is on the death of Dora Hand, in Dodge City, at the hand of Spike Kenedy. And one of the guys in the posse is Bat's deputy Bill Tilghman. And later on, Bill Tilghman's one of the Three Guardsmen (of Oklahoma), going after Bill Doolin. So it's the same actor.  And Bass Reeves -- there are so many great stories we can do with him, how we used his head to capture people, the story of him going after his own son, who was involved in domestic violence.  It has been particularly enjoyable working with INSP. Diversity is very important to us at Morningstar; my partner is not only a woman, she's Chinese. We met in film school at Loyola Marymount here in LA, and we’ve always felt that it's important to send a proper message and that just meshed perfectly with what the network wanted to do. That same focus group (said) we'd like to hear more about black cowboys, and women.   In season one we've been able to do Bass Reeves, Stagecoach Mary.  We're doing Elfego Bacca, probably the most famous Mexican-American law man. (Pioneer doctor) Susan Anderson.”

...lead to a showdown.

Craig adds, “This sense of diversity also includes the types of stories.  Because this is an anthology series, it allows us to do a wider spectrum of stories from the West. For instance, the last episode this season is on Charles M. Russell, the cowboy artist, and probably not something you're going to see in a traditional series that’s all Jesse James and Billy the Kid. It allows us to paint, no pun intended, a more accurate picture of what the West was like.”

Wild West Chronicles stars Jack Elliot, who doesn’t look or dress much like Gene Barry (who starred in Bat Masterson from 1956 to 1961), but looks a lot like the photographs of the real lawman-turned-journalist.  The episode Dr. Susan Anderson – Frontier Medicine Woman, airs Friday at 9 p.m., Pacific Time.  On Sunday at 2:30 p.m., Pacific Time, Bat Masterson & The Dodge City Deadline, Part 1, premieres.

Jack Elliot as Bat Masterson

If you’d like to read some of Bat Masterson’s actual writing, his collection, Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier is available from Dover Books, and other publishers.

 

JUST ONE MORE THING...

COMING SOON – DUELING BILLY THE KIDS!


Emilio Estevez, who was unforgettable as Billy the Kid in 1988’s Young Guns, and 1990’s Young Guns II, has spread the word that he’s coming back!  Screenwriter John Fusco, who wrote both Young Guns films, is hard at work on Guns 3: Alias Billy the Kid, which Estevez will direct as well as star in.  And this week the Epix Channel announced an 8-part limited series about Billy, to be written and produced by Michael Hirst, of The Tudors and Vikings fame.  Updates on both projects coming soon!

AND THAT’S A WRAP!


And please check out the May issue of True West, on newsstands now. It features my interview with author Paulette Jiles, whose News of the World is the basis for what many – including me – consider the best film of the year!

Happy Trails,

Henry

All Original Contents Copyright May 2021 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 21, 2021

INSP’S ‘ULTIMATE COWBOY SHOWDOWN’ RETURNS WEDNESDAY – INTERVIEW WITH TRACE ADKINS; WESTERNS FRANCAIS – INTERVIEW WITH ‘SAVAGE STATE’ DIRECTOR DAVID PERRAULT; PLUS DVD REVIEWS!

INSP’S ‘ULTIMATE COWBOY SHOWDOWN’ RETURNS WEDNESDAY



On Wednesday, February 24th, season two of The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown returns to INSP.  Some of the best working cowboys from around the country compete in teams and as individuals in a wide range of challenges – riding, roping, driving cattle, and complex relay-races.  Country music legend Trace Adkins is once again the host and, with the input of experts in various specialties, the ultimate judge, and Trace sends at least one competitor home every week. This time the field of competitors is larger – fourteen instead of a dozen – and the already valuable winnings are bigger as well: the last man standing wins a $50,000 herd of cattle, a Rawhide Portable Corral, an Arrowquip Q-Catch 87 Series Cattle Chute, not the mention the coveted Ultimate Cowboy Showdown belt-buckle, and a lifetime of bragging rights. 

I had the opportunity to talk with Trace Adkins about the new season, and also spoke with Jennifer Hudgins, one of this season’s four female competitors.

HENRY PARKE:  Back in 2019, I visited you on location in Alabama. And now the shows moved to Texas. Why the move?

TRACE ADKINS:  They just wanted to do it in a different place this time. And we had a lot, a lot open ground out there in Texas that we could utilize.

HENRY PARKE:  How did the change of locale change the show?

TRACE ADKINS:  We were planning on shooting it in March, and then COVID happened.  We finally got everything figured out, how we could do it during COVID. That took until the 1st of July. So doing this show in Texas in July was challenging, I'll tell you: it was hot.

HENRY PARKE:  I'll bet. Were you folks all quarantined?

TRACE ADKINS:  Yeah, once everybody got there, the first day everybody took tests, and then quarantined, and when all the tests came back negative, we just stayed in our little bubble and did our thing.

HENRY PARKE:  What's the best part of doing the show?

TRACE ADKINS:  Just the opportunity to watch these professionals at work. I mean, it's still amazing to me. There are still working Cowboys in this country that still do it, the old school way. And it's just really fun to watch.

HENRY PARKE:  Has the success of season one changed the kind of competitors you get?

TRACE ADKINS:  Yeah, and I knew that it would. As I went around last year, after the first one came out, I ran into a lot of cowboys that were like, “You didn't have no good cowboys on there! I could do that.” And I was like, come on, we're gonna do another one. You can throw your hat in the ring and see what you got. Nothing against the contestants that we had the first season. But, once you got down to that cream of the crop last year, those final four we had; we started out with 14 of that caliber at the very beginning of this season. So it was a horse of a different color this year.

HENRY PARKE:  On every show, after the elimination competition, you send at least one cowboy packing. In addition to being the host, you're also the ultimate judge. When you question the competitors in the arena before announcing your decision, are you actually making your final determination based on their answers?  Or have you decided who's going out before you come out and tell them?


TRACE ADKINS:
  It was different; it could go two ways.  Either I would go into the arena at sundown pretty much having made up my mind, and then it was going to be up to them to fight, to stay, or to say something that was going to change my mind. Or sometimes I would go in not knowing who was going to go, and not even leaning toward anybody. And then it was totally up to them as to how they conducted themselves in the arena, as to who was going to go home. It was always my decision.

HENRY PARKE:  Your father was a rodeo cowboy. Does this show bring back a lot of memories?

TRACE ADKINS:  Well you know, he quit riding before I was old enough to remember. I think my mother probably told him he needed to stick with that good job, and stop chasing those rodeos around. But he was a good horseman: he was the real deal.  I know that he would've really enjoyed this show.

HENRY PARKE: Did you ever compete?

TRACE ADKINS:  No.

HENRY PARKE:  If you were as young as the contenders that you have on the show, what competitions do you think you'd have done best in?

TRACE ADKINS:  Probably just the strong back and the low skill level type chores. (laughs)

HENRY PARKE: In the first episode of this new season, someone says that it's pasture cowboys versus arena cowboys. Is that accurate?

TRACE ADKINS:  Yeah, some of it. But the way that the competition was structured, nobody really had the upper hand because the tasks were so varied.

HENRY PARKE:  How life-changing do you think winning the herd, the ranch equipment, and of course the buckle, can be?

TRACE ADKINS:  Oh, I think it means a great deal to these folks. That's why they just poured their heart and soul into trying to win. It was very, very important to them.

HENRY PARKE:  Was there anything you learned from season one not to do in season two?

TRACE ADKINS:  That's been the case and throughout most of my career: the best lessons I've learned have been what not to do.  But I don't think in this case that was applicable.

Incidentally, I also spoke to Trace about his Western movie career – you can read about that soon in True West.  He has two more Westerns in the can, Old Henry and Apache Junction, and is currently shooting a third, The Desperate Riders, in Nashville. 



I watched the first three episodes of the new season of Ultimate Cowboy Showdown, and saw Jennifer Hudgins get roughly stomped on by a large calf, that left her hurting.


Jennifer Hudgins

HENRY PARKE:  How are you feeling? The trampling that you took looked pretty rough.

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  It was pretty rough, and I was pretty sore right after, but I'm good now.

HENRY PARKE:  Very good. Pretty early on, someone makes the point that the competition in a sense is arena cowboy versus pasture cowboy. Is that true?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  In a lot of ways, it kind of was.  You know, so many of the challenges were kind of geared towards the arena, and the pasture cowboy is kind of a little different game.

HENRY PARKE:  Where do you fit in?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I'm definitely more of pasture cowboy rancher.  I'm not that much of an arena cowboy, and haven't been for several years.

HENRY PARKE:  What exactly is a cow boss?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  A cowboy. Most people refer to the cow boss as the guy who kind of runs things on the ground. The cow boss is the person you're going to look to when you're gathering cattle, when you're sorting in the pens; day-to-day, hands-on type operations like that.

HENRY PARKE:  What’s a top hand?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  A top hand would be somebody that sure enough good at what they do. Good horseman, good cowboy, knows how to handle cattle the correct way. Keep things quiet and get things done efficiently.

HENRY PARKE:  Do you know how much competition there was to make one of the 14 spots in the show?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I really don't. At one point I heard that thousands of people applied and sent in videos, but I never heard an exact number.

HENRY PARKE:  How did you audition? Did you send in a video?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  They called me. A friend of mine had given them my information and they reached out to me and then we did a Skype interview. I did two or three Skype interviews, I believe.

HENRY PARKE:  Did you do anything special to prepare for the competition?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Not really. I wouldn't say I did anything that I don't really do all the time. I just tried to really prepare mentally more than anything.

HENRY PARKE:  How do you prepare mentally?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Sometimes you just have to put your big girl panties on and get your game face on and know you're going down there to win.  And you're going to be competing against people that are just as good or better than you. You really don't know. And you just have to get yourself in the right head space.

HENRY PARKE:  Sometimes there's touchiness us about terminology. Do you prefer cowboy, cowgirl or something else?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I prefer the term cowboy. There's nothing wrong with the term cowgirl, but when you say it, people automatically picture in their head like you're a rodeo queen type person. And while that's fine, that's not who I am. I'm day-to-day doing a man's job in a man's world, and can do it just as well as they can. So I feel like I should be on the same level.

HENRY PARKE:  As a dad of a daughter myself, I love what you said about working with your dad being your daycare. Tell me a little about growing up with your dad in the cattle business as a kid.

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  You know, my dad has been in the cattle business my entire life.  He is definitely old school cowboy all the way to the core. And he's a tough man. He expected a lot out of us growing up. From the time I was little bitty, he took me along with him. He might be catching wild cattle for people, and he wasn’t going to put me in harm’s way.  He'd tell me, “Stay right here on the back of this pickup, and do not get off for any reason.” And by gosh, I stayed there. I'd have my crackers and my pop and toys and just play there, as long as it took. Now on the days I could go, I had a pony, and that pony knew to stay right behind my dad and I just went everywhere they went.

HENRY PARKE:  Growing up, what sort of things were you learning to do on your ranch?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  We learned a little bit of everything. My dad, he's pretty versatile.  He knows how to run a cow calf operation. He knows how to run yearlings. And we did all that my entire life. I grew up learning how to ride a horse, how to gather cattle, how to rope, how to sort, learning how to do all those things correctly and keep the cattle quiet. We learned to process cattle the right way. I have a younger brother, and any aspect of ranching, we grew up watching my dad do that and we just tried to mimic him.

HENRY PARKE:  Well now forgive me, because I'm a Brooklyn-born city slicker, so there's a whole lot that I don't know about cowboying. I didn't know you're not supposed to ride your horse in front of somebody, but I sure learned it from the show.  Why not?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  That's a big no-no. You don't ever ride in front of another person like that. It's a major respect thing. When you're out there gathering cattle, everybody has their spot and everybody needs to stay in their spot. Because if we go to try and jump ahead, then we're leaving holes for the cattle to get away from us. And by riding in front of another cowboy, you're basically saying, you're not doing your job, so I'm going to ride up here in front of you, cut you off because I feel like I need to be here, and you don't. It's incredibly disrespectful.

HENRY PARKE:  From the brief biography I read, work-wise it sounds like you have a pretty full plate. Why did you decide to enter this competition?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I was kind of back and forth on whether I really wanted to do it or not, because you just don't know what to expect. I'd never in my life done anything like that. I had seen the previous season of the Ultimate Cowboy Showdown, but I was a little leery, but then my dad kind of pushed me and was like, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  You go down there and win it and you've got $50,000 worth of cattle, and that's a big deal.

HENRY PARKE:  And the equipment that comes with it must be very valuable,

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Like the portable set-up pen, those can be a game changer, that can open opportunities for getting more land where there weren't pens available, and not having to invest a bunch of money right off the bat in building a full set of pens, because you have that portable corral.

HENRY PARKE:  The show starts with 14 contestants, 10 men and 4 women. Have you made any friendships? 

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I really got to know Morgan and have a lot of respect for her.  She comes from a totally different part of the country (Shell, Wyoming), and the way they do things and the way we do things here in Oklahoma are vastly different, but I had so much respect for the kind of cowboy that she is.  I got to be really good friends with Ora (Brown) and JP (John Paul Gonzalez) and we still keep in touch. We still talk two or three times a week. Really good guys, good family men. And I will cherish those friendships for life.

HENRY PARKE:  I'm pretty sure you made at least one enemy with Tyler Kijac.

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Yeah, Tyler is probably not my favorite person, but at the end of the day, this happens when you're ranching and you have guys come day-work for you. Sometimes there's a class clash of personalities, like in any job in an office setting, or in the middle of the pasture gathering cattle. Sometimes things get heated, you have somebody that doesn't really know what they need to be doing, and they can't take direction and it generally will get you in a bind. And that happened many times with Tyler. He's not a pasture cowboy. He doesn't know how to read cattle. He's not ever in the right spot when you're gathering or sorting. And so that causes a problem for everybody trying to work with him. And I did get in the middle of him a few times, but when it's all said and done, I just leave it there. I don't carry it with me.

HENRY PARKE:  Have you ever tried out for any other TV reality show?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  No, I have not. But yes. I love reality TV. I probably watch more reality TV than anything.

HENRY PARKE:  Were you disappointed that there was no rose ceremony?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  At the end of the day when Trace calls us all down there to the arena and sends someone home, that was a pretty intense situation at times.  They didn't need to give me a rose. I was happy to go sit on the fence. (Note: if Trace tells you won’t be eliminated, you go sit on the fence.)

HENRY PARKE:  How does cowboying in Texas compares with Oklahoma?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I would say there's a lot in common.  The way they do things there is very similar to the way we do things here.  It gets really, really hot in the summertime and it was that way there. Extremely hot. So you kind of have to work around that, so you don't stress the cattle and you're not overworking your horses. The heat does come into it.

HENRY PARKE:  How did you like Trace Adkins?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  He was really, really intimidating at first. He's such a big guy and he has such a deep voice.  When he first walked up, I was like, Oh my gosh!  A very commanding presence.  But after the first few days, when we were around him a little bit more, he really seems like a good guy. He joked around with us a time or two, kind of laid back and pretty easy going for the most part. But when, when he gets down there in that arena at elimination time, he means business.

HENRY PARKE:  Can you tell me anything funny or interesting that happened that we might not see in the show?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  When I got trampled by the calf, it ripped my pants pretty much completely off of me on one side. So I don't know how much of that will actually be on the TV because, literally, my whole butt is hanging out and here it is like our first immunity challenge. That was something that you just have to laugh about it and go on; you can't change it.

HENRY PARKE:  Did you learn anything of value from your competitors?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  There were a lot of things that I took away from the competition.  I have a lot of respect for some of my fellow competitors that they are outstanding arena cowboys. They're good at what they do, and being able to watch them in their element when we had that type of challenge, you can really take a lot away from that. Maybe they don't do what I do, but that doesn't mean they're not good at what they do.

HENRY PARKE:  Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently in the competition?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  After it's all over with, you can always see your mistakes. I think there's some things I would've done a little differently. Maybe thinking things out a little longer instead of just reacting.

HENRY PARKE:  Were there any big surprises?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Going into it, I don't think any of us were prepared for how mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting it would be. We know we have to work hard, because we do every day. But being in that situation, you’re away from home, away from the people that you care about that, are your support system. And you're thrown in with all these strangers in this competitive environment. It can be very, very mentally challenging at times. And I don't think any of us were prepared for that.

If you’d like to start with season one, you can find every episode at INSP.com,  HERE https://www.insp.com/ultimate-cowboy-showdown/?=homepage_hero

If you’d like to read what I had to say about season one, including my earlier interview with Trace, go HERE.


 https://henryswesternroundup.blogspot.com/2019/10/ultimate-cowboy-showdown-premiere.html

SAVAGE STATE – A NEW FRENCH WESTERN

Several European nations have had a long association with Western filmmaking – Germany, Italy, Spain.  But France is among them.  True, many Spaghetti Westerns were international co-productions that included French financing and therefore some French cast members.  But aside from a pair of Brigitte Bardot films, 1965’s Viva Maria, and 1971’s The Legend of Frenchie King, there are very few Westerns from French filmmakers.  So I was surprised and delighted to learn that Samuel Goldwyn Films had acquired a new French Western, Savage State, which is now available On Demand and Digitally. 

It’s the story of a French family in Missouri at the start of the Civil War, who make the tactical error of allying with the Confederacy.  They quickly determine their safety demands that they return to France as quickly as possible.  They hire a mercenary to lead them, and find themselves confronting not only Union soldiers, but the former associates of their mercenary.  The cast includes Alice Isaaz, Deborah Francois, Kevin Janssens, and Kate Moran.  With striking exteriors, from town to forest to snow-covered fort, and elegant interior sets, particularly a ballroom where a celebration goes startlingly all to Hell, Florian Sanson’s art direction and Christophe Duchange’s cinematography combine to make one of the most beautiful Westerns in recent memory.

Writer-Director David Perrault first garnered admiration for his 2013 film Our Heroes Died Tonight,  a 1960s crime drama about a man who leaves the Foreign Legion to drift, reluctantly, into a career as a masked wrestler.   Savage State is a heavily atmospheric film, sometimes almost dream-like, and with that dream-like feel are some apparent lapses of logic.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Perrault, and learning about his passion for the genre, and his adventures making Savage State.

 

HENRY PARKE: I was surprised to learn that Savage State is not your first Western – that was No Hablo American.  France has produced great filmmakers since the Lumiere brothers, but not usually Westerns.  Why have you chosen this genre twice?

DAVID PERRAULT: I love westerns since I was a child. I had a Super 8 projector, and one of the 3-minute reels was the Indian Attack in John Ford's Stagecoach. Much later I discovered his films and he remains the greatest American filmmaker for me. Even though in writing and filming Savage State, I tried to forget all of those classics and move towards something almost radically opposed. We cannot redo what has already been done, it is unsurpassable!

HENRY PARKE: Is there actual history behind your story?  Were there French nationals in the U.S. who thought it best to leave when the Civil War broke out?  Are your characters based on real people? Or are they your invention?
DAVID PERRAULT: While writing the screenplay, I researched French settlers during the Civil War. The demand for neutrality by Napoleon 3 during the conflict is very real, for example. On the other hand, the characters are completely fictitious.

HENRY PARKE: I thought you actually shot in the U.S., but IMDB says you filmed in Canada, France and Spain.  Have you been to the United States, specifically the American west?
DAVID PERRAULT: Yes, that was the challenge of making people believe in the United States by filming in such different places. My wife has an American aunt so it's a country that I know well. But I know it especially through the films and in particular the classics of the Hollywood golden age.

HENRY PARKE: I believe your previous film, Our Heroes Died Tonight, while period, was not so long ago, and was shot in town.  Savage State, by contrast, is set 150 years ago, in a foreign land, requiring all manner of difficult-to-find costumes and props and locations, and was filmed in three countries, on two continents.  What were the biggest challenges?  What sort of unexpected problems did you have to overcome?

DAVID PERRAULT: The biggest challenge was the weather. You never knew what to expect. In Canada, for the final shootout scene, it was snowing and extremely cold. The team was going crazy in these extreme conditions. The guns, the kerosene lamps, the filming equipment… everything started to freeze. The camera was covered with a survival blanket, but the optics froze too!

HENRY PARKE: The film is beautifully lit and shot, wonderfully atmospheric, sometimes almost dreamlike.  What look and mood were you going for?  Do you storyboard extensively? 

DAVID PERRAULT: No storyboard. I am an extremely visual person, I have the film in my head and when I arrive on the set I adapt to the actors, to the weather. At one point in Savage State, we see the convoy going through the haze, it was not planned, but I jumped at the chance to make an iconic shot. Overall, I wanted it to have a gothic feel, close to fantasy cinema. As you say, the film is constructed as a daydream, sometimes nightmarish. This was really the line I wanted to follow.

HENRY PARKE: You have such a strong cast, so many talented women.  Is it hard to find performers who are convincing in historical stories?  Can you say something about the casting process?

DAVID PERRAULT: I wanted to create a very strong group of women on screen. So I chose actresses from very different horizons to create relief. During the casting, I am very sensitive to the voices and the way they go together. It's a very musical way of working.

HENRY PARKE: I understand why the smugglers were masked during crimes, but why were they masked even when sitting around the campfire, and presumably eating?

DAVID PERRAULT: It's an unrealistic bias that takes part in the nightmarish and hallucinatory atmospheres that I wanted to give to the film.

HENRY PARKE: Do you have plans for your next movie?  Is it a Western?

DAVID PERRAULT: It's not a western, nor a movie. It's a TV show about dreams precisely.


DVD REVIEWS

DON RICARDO RETURNS – or, if Zorro and the Cisco Kid had a baby…


With his story The Curse of Capistrano published in 1919, Johnston McCulley created Zorro, the prototype for the swashbuckling Mexican hero in Westerns for years to come.  Douglas Fairbanks played him to great success the following year, and he would later be portrayed by Tyrone Power, Guy Williams, Alain Delon, and twice by Antonio Banderas, among others.  McCulley would continue to write until his death in 1958, and many of his stories were turned into movies.  He was only credited with one produced screenplay, ironically based on another writer’s famous character: Doomed Caravan (1941), starring William Boyd as Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy.  

In 1946, P.R.C. released Don Ricardo Returns, original story by McCulley, about a wealthy young nobleman, Don Ricardo (Fred Coby), who is Shanghaied, and when he escapes and returns to Monterey, learns that the culprit, his cousin Don Jose Luerra (Anthony Warde), has had Ricardo declared dead, and is trying to claim his property, and woo his intended, the lovely Dorothea (Lita Baron, aka Isabelita), who is handy with a sword herself.  While the film is itself a poor cousin to 20th Century Fox’s Mark of Zorro (1940), and Fred Coby is no Tyrone Power, it is an entertaining 63 minutes, with good dialog and swordplay. 

Look quick, and Fred Coby looks like Tyrone Power.
That's the San Fernando Mission behind them.


Rather than being studio-bound, director Terry O’Morse
  makes ample and effective use of two historical landmark locations, The San Fernando Mission, and the Andres Pico Adobe, both of which are happily still standing, and open to visitors.

Of particular interest is that the screenplay is co-written by Renault Duncan, the nom de plume of actor Duncan Renaldo, famous for his portrayal of O. Henry’s the Cisco Kid in eight movies and 157 TV episodes.  Renaldo also was associate producer on the film.  He would go on to write three more swashbucklers, Bells of San Fernando (1947), The Lady and the Bandit (1951), and The Highwayman (1951), all with cowriter Jack DeWitt.  Don Ricardo Returns is available from Alpha Video HERE. https://www.oldies.com/product-view/8366D.html

THE PHANTON PINTO – my first car

I’ve always had a fondness for Westerns made during World War II, where the characters were simultaneously fighting range wars and Nazi spies.  In the tiny budget Phantom Pinto, when rancher Wade (Milburn Morante) balks at selling apparently worthless land for a high price to German accented Kurt Hank (Sven Hugo Borg), he turns up dead.  Wade’s daughter (Dorothy Short) is eager to sell, but dad’s old confidante Jim (Dave O’Brien) and Wade’s 10-year-old son Buzzy (Robert “Buzzy” Henry) smell a rat, or maybe a Schweinhund, and discover Hank and his minions want the land to mine valuable deposits of strontium!  Jim says that’s something used to make fireworks, but the remarkable thing is that this film was released in May of 1941, long before the U.S. entry into the war, and Strontium 90 is a radioactive isotope produced during nuclear explosions!  I don’t know who screenwriter E.G. Robertson was listening to, but it was someone who talked too much!


Buzz Henry as a kid.


So cheap and crudely made that it seems more like an early 1930s rather than ‘40s film, it even features silent-movie style open-air sets pretending to be interiors, the most appealing thing about it is Buzzy Henry.  A talented for-real child cowboy, in addition to riding and roping, he gets all the best lines: “Get along there, you un-American polecat,” and “C’mon, Mr. Hand-kisser!  You’ve got a date with Uncle Sam!”

As an adult, Buzz Henry would become a much in-demand stuntman and stunt coordinator, and was second-unit director on Our Man Flint, The Wild Bunch and Macho Callahan, and in 1971 was doing the same job on The Cowboys when he was killed in a motorcycle accident, at age 40.  The Phantom Pinto is available from Alpha Video HERE.

https://www.oldies.com/product-view/8377D.html 


And that's a wrap!

Please check out the current True West, February/March 2021, featuring my interview with actor Graham Greene.

Happy Trails,

Henry

All original contents copyright February 2021 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved


 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

BRUCE DERN IN ‘SIEGE AT RHYKER’S STATION’ - FIRST WESTERN MOVIE SET WITH COVID PRECAUTIONS, PLUS KENNY ROGERS BIO, LAST OF THE P.R.C. WESTERNS, ‘COMEBACK TRAIL’ TRAILER, AND MORE!

 


Bruce Dern, Michael Welch, Cam Gigandet

A VISIT TO ‘SIEGE AT RHYKER’S STATION’ - FIRST WESTERN MOVIE SET WITH COVID PRECAUTIONS

At first I thought maybe Western films could go on even as the rest of the film industry screeched to a Covid-19 halt.  After all, in a Western, it’s no shock when a gang of masked men burst into a bank with drawn guns. But when the bank tellers are also masked, you know something’s wrong.   So, it’s been a waiting game, and the great news is that the waiting is over, and cameras are, cautiously, rolling again! 

Last week I had a chance to drive out to Peter Sherayko’s Caravan West Ranch, and watch some filming on what I am pretty sure is the first Western to shoot in California since March.  Here’s how the director of Siege at Rhyker’s Station, Michael Feifer, tells the story. “This movie is about a girl named Jocelyn Miller (Skylar Witte), who marries a kind of pretentious, impetuous, annoying young man named Jody Callahan (Michael Welch). And right after the wedding, Jocelyn hears her father-in-law (Bruce Dern), and brother-in-law (Cam Gigandet) talking about how they actually killed her father. She had no idea. So she takes off -- she just gets on a horse and leaves. And they go after her.”  Reminds me a little of Mariette Hartley and James Drury’s wedding in Ride the High Country.  The Callahans and their gang catch up with Jody at a stagecoach stop, Rhyker’s Station, where she’s befriended Billy Tyson (Brock Harris), Red Lindstrom (Peter Sherayko), and Joe Rhyker (David DeLouise), who aren’t about to hand her over without a fight.  

On the set, everyone on the show was Covid-tested twice a week – videos of actors having cue-tips driven through their noses and seemingly into their brains are on Facebook – and masks are everywhere.  But one of the real health advantages is that Westerns are, as John Ford called them, “outdoor pictures,” with plenty of circulating air: the Monday before I was there, there was so much wind that sets were blowing over. 

I arrived at 3 in the afternoon, in time to watch several takes of a half-dozen bad-guys galloping their horses down a hill, firing away, then stopping, regrouping, and heading back.  For the first time on a set, I watched a mortar repeatedly fired for explosive effects.  Though convincing on camera, especially with sound effects, the mortar is powered by compressed air, and fires a mixture of Fullers Earth and chunks of cork.  Best of all, I got to obliquely watch, but clearly hear, Bruce Dern shooting his final scene of the film.  Dad is none too pleased at all the trouble his briefly-wed son has made for the family, and hearing Bruce Dern blow his top will long be a favorite memory of my film-set visits.  It was met with thunderous applause by the crew.  Oh, and Dern was cracking jokes constantly between takes. 

Michael Feifer has directed an astonishing 67 feature movies since 2005.  I’d first met him back in 2012, when I visited the set of his first Western, Wyatt Earp’s Revenge.  He’s directed quite a few since then, especially in the past year or so.  I asked him about the challenges of making a film during the COVID crisis.

Michael Feifer directing Caia Coley

MICHAEL FEIFER:  Well, nothing stops me. I shot a movie in July in Georgia. I shot a movie in August in Wyoming, and now here we are in October, shooting another movie in Los Angeles. And what more perfect movies to shoot during COVID than Westerns? The one in July was not a Western, it was like a Lifetime thriller. I've been averaging about six movies a year. Hopefully this year I'll end up with five. So it's slowed me down. Right before this whole thing. I was shooting a movie in Hawaii in February, and then we get on the plane to go home and people start wearing masks and it's starting to happen. So at least I was in Hawaii right before it all happened.

HENRY PARKE: I understand Siege at Rhyker’s Station is one of a group of Westerns.

MICHAEL FEIFER: I don't know if I'd call them a series, but a company hired me to make three Westerns in a row. By the way, (post production for) Shooting Star is going to be done in a week or two.

HENRY PARKE:  And that’s another Western, not part of the group of three.  I’d love to see it.

MICHAEL FEIFER: It's pretty cool. Do you know it's in black and white?  It's beautiful. So, I had three Westerns in a row to do.  The last one was called Catch The Bullet. This is called The Siege at Rhyker’s Station. And then the third one is called Desperate Riders. They're not related to each other, but it's an opportunity, and we like making westerns. I like them when they're not in the cold and the wind, but otherwise. 

HENRY PARKE:  For this one, what particular challenges are you facing?

MICHAEL FEIFER: This one is challenging because there's a lot of characters stuck in this little stagecoach station. There's a lot of characters up on the hill shooting at them. A lot of disparate moments and actions. It's easy to shoot a scene where you have a finite beginning, and a finite end, and dialogue that sort of resolves itself. You understand what the characters are doing and what their points are. When you're shooting an action scene where one person shoots here, one person shoots there, another person's shooting from over there, it makes it a little harder to keep the continuity of the scene, the consistency of it. A lot of that material, I'm going to shoot over a period of time, but I only have Bruce Dern for a short time and Cam Gigandet for a time. So that makes it more challenging.

HENRY PARKE: Have you worked with Bruce Dern before?

MICHAEL FEIFER:  I have not, and he's been a joy. I've heard more Hollywood stories in two days than I've heard in my entire life, except for maybe when I worked with Peter Bogdanovich,

HENRY PARKE:  What did you direct Bogdonavich in?

MICHAEL FEIFER:  A movie called Abandoned, starting Brittany Murphy, Dean Cain, Mimi Rogers, and Peter. Super-nice guy. One of the few actors that, when we finished, he says, Mike, you have everything you need? Are you good?  Just a really giving guy, really nice.


Cash Parrott keeps firing!

HENRY PARKE:  Tell me a about shooting Catch the Bullet in Wyoming.

MICHAEL FEIFER: Actually it's kind of interesting. I made a deal with a ranch in Wyoming called the TA Ranch. It’s 8,000 acres. Kirsten Giles, her family owns it. I didn't scout it ahead of time. I had somebody else scout it, so I'd seen pictures, seen video. When we got there, Peter Sherayko and I were sitting out by what they call the milk house, a building you'll see at the beginning of the movie, with Tom Skerritt, that looks out over their ranch, And Kirsten, who runs the ranch says, you know, this is the location of Johnson County War.  Peter's like: what? She says, this is the exact location. The barn here is where they actually fired guns from. She showed us the bullet holes. She showed us the holes where they put the rifles through.  I swear Peter almost cried because you know, the history means so much to him. Peter has one scene in that movie, and I made his scene start off in the barn.  It was a neat moment, to see Peter so affected.

HENRY PARKE:  Your previous Western, A Soldier’s Revenge, was released in June. 

MICHAEL FEIFER:  We just won The Wild Bunch Film Festival.  We won best picture, best director, best produced feature, best ensemble cast, best actress, best lead actor.

HENRY PARKE: You've cleaned the slate.

MICHAEL FEIFER: We did quite well there. I was very appreciative of Rock Whitehead and his wife, what they put together, and we had a good time. Soldier's Revenge came out on DVD, so people can pick that up. And if you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free.

 

Peter Sherayko and Mike Feifer

Peter Sherayko and I sat down – at least six feet apart – and I asked him if this was his first time working with Bruce Dern.  It was not. 

PETER SHERAYKO: No, it's the fourth. We did Badland last year, and we did Hickcok couple of years before.  And Traded.  So it's my fourth time working with Bruce.

HENRY PARKE: So what's he like to work with?

PETER SHERAYKO:  You know, he is really good, and he's a wealth of stories on the old west, and on different movies that he did.

HENRY PARKE:  Who are you playing in this picture?

PETER SHERAYKO:  Actually the third lead, a guy named Red Lindstrom who runs a freighting outfit.

HENRY PARKE: I've never been on a film set where you were acting, where you weren't also doing a few other things. What else are you doing on this picture?

PETER SHERAYKO:  The costumes, the location and the guns; I'm the armorer. Kevin (McNiven) came down from Wyoming with the horses, he and Addie (Ardeshir Radpour) are the wranglers, and all the guys that they hired to ride are The Buckaroos (Peter’s group of horsemen).  They can ride and shoot, so that's what they're doing. And Dan Dietrich brought the stagecoach in from Shingle Springs, California.  He taught me how to drive the wagon, which I hadn't done in 20 years, and I totally was inept then. But now I feel very competent.  We have a three-picture deal to do for the same company. The Desperate Riders is the third one, probably in December and probably in Arizona. We were going to do Rhyker’s (in Wyoming), but one day it was 90 degrees, two days later we had five inches of snow, and Mike said, I can't film here.

HENRY PARKE:  Not good for continuity.

PETER SHERAYKO: (laughs) There's no continuity. It's bad enough here with the wind yesterday, fog in the morning, today's a totally different day than yesterday.

Bruce Dern

(At that moment, Molly the costumer appeared to ask Peter if he has a pair of 1880s period glasses, the kind with circular lenses, for one of the actors.  He assured her he’d bring them the next day.)

PETER SHERAYKO:  This is why I started the business. Because as an actor, I always brought whatever props I needed. I would look at my character, saying this I want, this I want. I want to have a match-safe with matches, or I want to have a cigar or I want to have glasses. Or a walking stick. So I would bring them. And I started bringing my own guns, talking to the director saying, can I use these guns? It drives me crazy when actors come in and then all of a sudden, they go, can I have this? Especially on small budget movies that we do, the prop people have no time to pull everything for every character. There's one actor I've worked with six times. We've been friends for 30 years. And when we're working on a movie, I'll call and I'll say, Marty, what do you want? And he'll say, I don't want anything.  The day he's there, oh, can I have this? Can I have that? It's not in the script. So that's why I started the business, because I wanted to make things more efficient.

HENRY PARKE:  How many pictures have you done with Michael Feifer?

PETER SHERAYKO: Eight; the next one will be the sixth one as an actor. I like Michael because he doesn't shoot fast, but he gets everything he wants done.  We had a nine o'clock call today and we'll be out of here by six.


David DeLuise waiting for "Action!" The power
lines will not be in frame.

(We were interrupted a few times by phone calls.  A man wanted to rent props.  Another wanted to rent the ranch to shoot a rock video.) 

HENRY PARKE: You’ve got your ranch working all the time.

PETER SHERAYKO:  You know, on a normal year without COVID we do 40 to 60 shoots: commercials, music videos, TV, movies. Last year we did six movies, and they brought two stagecoaches in for one of them. We keep on working because everybody knows that I'm cost-effective. A producer called me this morning; he's having a hard time raising $500,000 to do a movie. He used to work for Showtime, and now he's been trying to independently produce. He said a couple of years ago, shows were a million and a half. Now the low budget shows are all down to four, five, $600,000. They're not bigger than that.  Even all the shows for Hallmark are way down. This year, their budgets had to go up $2 million just for COVID testing. And they had to cut a lot of other stuff because Hallmark says, no, we're not giving you any more money. So they had to really pull back, all those networks: USA, Lifetime, all those movies are less than a million dollars.  A couple of years ago they were one or two million dollars. He says, the biggest budget you can have is a million two. If you go over a million two, they won't be able to recoup the money, because there is so much product out there.

HENRY PARKE:  That's very interesting. I'd never thought that protection from COVID would be pulling money directly out of a budget, that that would not be something added on.

PETER SHERAYKO:  Well, they already have a budget, and a budget is a pie, cut up in pieces. Line producer says, okay, camera's going to get so much. We have so much for props. We have so much for costumes. We have so much for talent. We know that we have to have your A-list person, your major star, or you're not going to sell it. We were going to film this movie a couple of months ago, but the money people gave Michael a list of 10, 12 actors. You have to get these. Some of them turned it down because it wasn't enough money. Bruce was on the list, and we had to increase his pay to to get him, or they wouldn't get the money (for the movie).

All photos from Siege at Rhyker's Station are by www.barryjholmes.com.

 

‘THE COMEBACK TRAIL’ DECEMBER 18TH!



Back in 1982, a very talented, quirky filmmaker name Harry Hurwitz, who’s The Projectionist (1970) became a cult classic, made the wonderful but rarely seen black comedy, The Comeback Trail. It starred Chuck McCann as a failed movie producer who tries to get rich by hiring a broken-down former Western star, played by Buster Crabbe, to star in a movie, insure him for a fortune, and kill him.  It’s been remade, and while I usually don’t get excited about remakes, the trailer looks hysterical.  And it stars, as the producers, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Zach Braff and, as the broken-down Western star, Tommy Lee Jones. 

 

ALPHA VIDEO’S BOB STEELE, EDDIE DEAN, ‘END OF AN ERA’ RELEASES

Alpha Video always seems to come up with something unusual, and this pair of new releases is no exception.  After 120 starring roles in B-Westerns since 1927, Thunder Town, a 1946 Producers Releasing Corporation film, would be Steele’s last.  Two years later, P.R.C.’s The Tioga Kid would not only be star Eddie Dean’s final B-Western, it would be the last B-Western that P.R.C. would ever make.

Steele had begun his career as a kid, co-starring with his twin brother in a series of shorts, The Adventures of Bill and Bob, directed by their father, Robert N. Bradbury, who would later direct John Wayne’s Lone Star Bs.  Bob starred in Western Bs for fly-by-night outfits, as well as Poverty Row ‘majors’, often one-offs, but also in series like The Trail Blazers for Monogram, Billy The Kid for P.R.C., and in the final years of The Three Mesquiteers at Republic. 

Though not so well remembered as his contemporaries, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy, Steele was extremely popular in his day, especially with young boys. Their sisters may have liked his good looks, warm smile, and wavy brown hair, but the boys loved Steele because, while standing no more than five and a half feet tall, he could convincingly whip the tar out of six foot six villains. 

He was also a far better actor than most B-Western stars.  In 1939’s brilliant Lewis Milestone production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, he plays hateful Curley Jackson, working amongst some of the finest of America’s stage and film actors: Burgess Meredith, Betty Field, Lon Chaney Jr., and Charles Bickford.

In his final B, Thunder Town, Bob Steele plays Jim Brandon, who receives a cold reception in his home town when he returns from prison on parole.  Of course, Brandon says his bank-robbery conviction was a frame-up, and although his ranching partner committed suicide, supposedly over guilt in letting him take the rap alone, Brandon thinks it wasn’t suicide, but murder.  And who might be behind it all but the Duncan brothers, led by the older brother, played by hissable villain Charles King.  And Duncan just happens to be legal guardian to Brandon’s girlfriend (Betty Morgan), and is pressuring her to marry his kid brother. 

It’s an interesting film, and a nice performance by Steele, who is shunned by many and, being on parole and having to keep out of trouble, has to eat a lot of dirt.  This is one of the few times he wears a mustache, which not only makes him seem all of his 39 years, but makes him resemble J. Carrol Naish. Syd Saylor is adequate as the sidekick.

After Thunder Town, Steele’s next part would be arguably his greatest A role, in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.  Acting opposite – and beating up – Humphrey Bogart, he plays Canino, the sadistic henchman who grins as he bullies Elisha Cook Jr. into drinking poison.  Maybe Steele, about to turn forty, wanted to move to character roles in bigger pictures.  Sadly, it didn’t happen. He would work steadily for years, but mostly lending support in Bs until they petered out.  Surprisingly, in the 1960s he achieved his most enduring fame, and showed his comedy skills, on F-TROOP, playing Trooper Duffy, who endlessly bragged about his time at The Alamo.  The Golden Boot Awards, which from 1983 to 2007, celebrated the contributions of actors and crew members to Western film, was the brainchild of Gene Autry’s sidekick, Pat Buttram.  He created them specifically to acknowledge Bob Steele, whom he felt had not gotten the credit he deserved.  Along with Thunder Town is a fascinating short also from 1946, Shanghai: The Falling Horse, featuring ace stuntman Fred Kennedy training his horse to take convincing falls without being injured.  You can buy Thunder Town here: https://www.oldies.com/product-view/8361D.html

 


Eddie Dean, maybe the best singer of all the singing cowboys, stars in 1948’s The Tioga Kid as himself, a lawman; and as the outlaw he’s sent after, the infamous Tioga Kid.  The movie opens with a montage of the Kid’s privations, and PRC must have lifted shoot-outs, chases, bank-robberies, and blown-up houses from a dozen movies, some of them silent, and including an outstanding nighttime train wreck, interspersed with Tioga Kid newspaper headlines.  With the help of sidekick Roscoe Ates, Eddie tries to save the ranch of feisty and lovely Jennifer Holt, and bring his evil twin (might they really be brothers?) to justice.  A remake of Dean’s 1946 film Driftin’ River, much of the cast and plot – and footage – was repeated.  The one song that is added, “Ain’t No Gal Got a Brand on Me,” is definitely the best of the three featured. 

It would be P.R.C.’s last B-Western not because of collapse, but because of a change of business model. The studio was absorbed into British filmmaker J. Arthur Rank’s Eagle-Lion Pictures, to produce low-budget second-features to be teamed with their British releases.  While superior competitor Republic would continue making B’s into the 1950s, it was the end of the trail for most.  While sidekick Roscoe Ates would move to Republic for a time, and have a very busy career in television, Dean would never do another movie, and precious little TV, aside from an unsuccessful try at a Western series, The Marshall of Gunsight Pass, costarring with Roscoe Ates, which you can find on Youtube, if your eyes can take it.  It was Jennifer Holt’s last film as well.  Tioga Kid is accompanied by a 1949 short, Hold ‘Em Cowboy, featuring cowboys preparing for a rodeo, and some very interesting early footage. 

You can buy Tioga Kid here:  https://www.oldies.com/product-view/8363D.html

 

BIOGRAPHY – KENNY ROGERS – A DVD REVIEW




The A&E biography of music superstar Kenny Rogers, who passed away this March at the age of 83, is built around his 2017 Farewell Concert in Nashville, and its cavalcade of stars paying tribute to Rogers.  The 86-minutes film traces his career from his early days with The New Christy Minstrels, splitting off to form the more rock-oriented First Edition, his ups and downs professionally as he struggled to make it as a single, and his career-making shift from rock and pop to country.  The interviews with former bandmates, producers, and songwriters are illuminating, and his friendships with Lionel Richie and Dolly Parton are illuminating, not only of Rogers’ character, but of his professional technique. 

But the gaps in this telling of his story are jarring. An ex-wife is interviewed, their child mentioned, and Rogers’ widow is seen, though not spoken to.  But Rogers had five wives and leaves five children.  While too much time is spent on some songs, other important hits like “Coward of the County” are not even mentioned.   Neither is Rogers’ hugely successful (for a time) foray into the restaurant business, the Kenny Rogers Roasters chain. 

Much is made of his hit song “The Gambler”, and the fact that it was made into a TV movie.  Not mentioned is that there were four sequels, a film based on “Coward of the County”, as well as the Westerns Wild Horses and El Diablo, a couple of crime dramas, and the theatrical film Six Pack.

In addition to being a wonderful singer and entertainer, Rogers also had a sense of humor, and put up with friend Johnny Carson’s frequent needling about his chicken restaurants.  And while he had a well-crafted image that he was careful to maintain, he could still laugh at himself. In an article about performers and plastic surgery, he confided to TV Guide that he’d had so many face-lifts that his sideburns were now behind his ears, requiring him to shave there.  In fact, in later years he had so much plastic surgery that if not for his voice, he would have been unrecognizable.  As an informal celebration of Kenny Rogers’ music, the documentary is very entertaining.  As a biography, it falls short.

One more thing…

A lot of famous people have passed away recently, including the great Sean Connery, and Jeopardy host Alex Trebek.  But often, important people who work behind the scenes pass away with little notice.  Screenwriter William Blinn died in October, at the age of 83.  He created several TV series, including Starsky and Hutch, wrote the groundbreaking mini-series Roots, and Brian’s Song.  He wrote for a number of Western series, including being the story editor on the short-lived but excellent TV series Shane, which starred David Carradine and Jill Ireland, and is available from Shout Factory.  He gave me a great interview about his Western writing career.  Here is the link: https://henryswesternroundup.blogspot.com/2015/05/carradines-shane-series-plus-interview.html

 

And please check out the November issue of True West magazine, featuring my interview with Earl Holliman!

And that’s a wrap!

Happy Trails,

Henry

All Original Contents Copyright November 2020 by Parke – All Rights Reserved