Sunday, December 29, 2013
‘MAGNIFICENT 7’ RE-DO LOSES CRUISE, GAINS ‘ALAMO’ SCRIBE/DIRECTOR, PLUS NEW AUTRY COLLECTION, HOLLYWOOD MEMOIR VOL. 2
JOHN LEE HANCOCK TAKES OVER WRITING CHORES ON 'MAGNIFICENT 7'
MGM, not satisfied with TRUE DETECTIVE creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto’s script for the remake of the John Sturges 1960 classic THE MAGNIFICENT 7, scripted by William Roberts, which is itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic SEVEN SAMURAI, have hired a new writer, and Tom Cruise is no longer attached to star (we never found out if he was going to play Steve McQueen or Yul Brynner – or Toshiro Mifune).
The new scribe is writer/director John Lee Hancock, director of the current SAVING MR. BANKS, who also wrote and directed THE BLIND SIDE, garnering a Best Picture Oscar nom, plus a Best Actress nom for Sandra Bullock. More to the point, in relation to doing ‘7’, he scripted and directed THE ALAMO (2004).
GENE AUTRY DVD COLLECTION 4
Volume four of the Gene Autry DVD collections has been released, and it features four musical westerns Gene made at Republic between 1938 and 1942, all with the Republic Tower logo (if you’d like to learn about the history of Republic’s many logos, check out the site HERE ). The four delightful films, THE OLD BARN DANCE (1938), BLUE MONTANA SKIES (1939), SIERRA SUE (1941) and COWBOY SERENADE (1942) all feature sidekick Smiley Burnette, America’s wonder-horse Champion, and a beautiful, spunky girl -- Helen Valkis, June Storey, and Fay McKenzie twice, respectively.
The plots are varied, and as usual with Gene’s pictures, a bit more inventive than most of the B westerns of the era – and the titles almost never give you a clue. THE OLD BARN DANCE does feature a barn dance, but it’s about the conflict between unscrupulous tractor sellers and horse-traders like Gene. It’s directed by arguably the best action-director Republic ever produced, Joe Kane. BLUE MONTANA SKIES takes Gene north into snow and onto dog-sleds, and concerns pelt-smuggling and murder, and features villainous Glenn Strange. MONTANA is directed by B. Reaves ‘Breezy’ Eason, who started helming films in 1915, and is considered by many to be the greatest director of big action scenes in Hollywood history. In addition to his own films, he often did uncredited second unit direction of chases and battle scenes, including the chariot race in the original BEN HUR (1925), as well as action scenes in CIMMARON (1931), THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941). He also directed Gene in his Mascot Serial, THE PAHNTOM EMPIRE, which made Gene a movie star. Needless to say, the snow-bound action is well-handled and exciting.
SIERRA SUE features Gene and Smiley as state inspectors trying to stop an outbreak of ‘devil weed’ that could poison the cattle, banging heads with farmers who don’t trust new, scientific methods. There’s a memorable stampede in this one. COWBOY SERENADE tells the story of an innocent young cattle-man who’s given the chance by Gene to negotiate the sale of a herd, and is swindled by card-sharps and con-men. Gene has to set things right. The young man is Rand Brooks, who in 1939 played Scarlet O’Hara’s first husband in GONE WITH THE WIND, and would become a sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy in the late 1940s, a TV co-star of Rin Tin Tin in the 1950s, and starting in the 1960s, built what would become the largest and most respected ambulance service in the country.
From the frozen north to the Sierras, a highpoint of all of the films is the stunning, breathtaking photography in dramatic locations. Back then they knew how to shoot black and white, using contrast to create every bit as much beauty as you could with color. All the films run about an hour each, and have been beautifully restored, taken from Gene’s own copies. They are complete and uncut. If you’ve ever had the disappointment of seeing 53-minute bootleg versions of Gene’s films, in addition to the often poor image quality, you knew right away what was lost in the ten-minutes of missing footage: Gene’s musical numbers!
Here you get not only the whole movie, with the proper titles, and good audio quality, but special features that set the mood as well. Each of the movies is accompanied by a gallery of images, both stills, lobby cards and posters, from the film. Each has what is described as ‘Trivia & Movie Facts’, but they are much more than that. Alex Gordon, who was the President of England’s Gene Autry Fan Club, came to the U.S. in 1947, and had a considerable career as a film producer at American International Pictures. He was also advance-man for Gene Autry’s cross-country tours, and worked for Gene for many years. He wrote the ‘Trivia & Movie Facts’, which are fascinating time-capsules of what was going on behind the scenes at the time of each film’s production. Each movie is accompanied by an episode of the Gene Autry Melody Ranch Radio Show, featuring Gene, Pat Buttram or Smiley Burnette, and guests like the Cass County Boys, and fellow singing cowboys like Eddie Dean and Jimmy Wakely.
My favorite special features come from back in 1987, when The Nashville Network, a now-gone cable channel, featured a series, MELODY RANCH THEATER. There, Gene and Pat Buttram, sometimes with guests, would introduce one of Gene’s movies. These introductions, the middle break, and wrap-up, are included for each movie (they can’t find the OLD BARN DANCE intro, so another interesting one has been substituted). The boys were pretty long in the tooth when they did these, and it sometimes takes them a while to get the stories out, but it’s a real pleasure to hear them reminisce about the old days and their co-stars. You can see that Pat Buttram’s preparation and research are extensive.
I found this four-film collection a delight, with pristine copies of exciting films, great music, and packed with the sort of special features I just gobble up. Here's the link to the official Gene Autry site: http://www.geneautry.com/musicmovies/dvds/geneautrycollection4.html
LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HOLLYWOOD by Michael B. Druxman
A Book Review
Michael Druxman’s new memoir, whose full title is LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HOLLYWOOD; MORE OF MY WACKY ADVENTURES IN TINSELTON, comes with a very unusual caveat: don’t read it until you’ve already read his previous memoir, MY FORTY-FIVE YEARS IN HOLLYWOOD…AND HOW I ESCAPED ALIVE (here’s my review of that tome: http://henryswesternroundup.blogspot.com/2011/06/unsinkable-debbie-reynolds.html).
It’s good advice, and I strongly recommend reading both books. Druxman has plenty of good, often great, and frequently outrageous stories to tell, and rather than repeating himself, he’s eager to plow ahead.
Michael Druxman has had several careers, all of them aiming at a career in Hollywood. He acted and directed plays in Seattle, met and worked with dozens of actors when he became a publicist in Hollywood, wrote several books about the film industry, became a successful playwright of one-man shows about movie stars, and finally became a successful screenwriter and director for Roger Corman. He has not won Oscars, but he has made a living writing fulltime, and has written some outstanding screenplays, including the excellent CHEYENNE WARRIOR.
It’s not all about stars – several chapters deal with his experiences directing plays, without big names, in small theatres in Seattle. But these are the experiences that made him the writer and director he would become. A born self-promoter, being a publicist came easy to him, and his stories about those in front of and behind the camera who hired him are many and varied, from the very funny to the frustrating to the sad.
He did well for, and was a close friend of Michael Ansara. He tried to do as well for the great director Budd Boetticher, who had worked so hard to protect his star, Randolph Scott, and his material, but still got screwed out of directing TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA. He did well for Eddie Dmytryk, but not as well George Sherman, who John Wayne hired to direct BIG JAKE. The veteran director got the interviews he wanted, but his criticism of Mexican film crews didn’t endear him to the Duke or the Mexican government. Director Paul Landres had a long and successful career directing western TV series. He was particularly successful directing difficult animal shows like FLIPPER and DAKTARI! But when those shows got cancelled, he had a helluvah time getting any work at all: he’d been typed as an ‘animal’ director!
Actors he represented, some of whom he loved, and others he hated, include Reed Hadley; Gale Gordon; Mike Farrell, whom he regrettably dropped as having no future; voice-actor Daws Butler, who introduced him to Bud Abbott; Edd ‘Kookie’ Burns; Stanley Myron Handleman; Abe Vigoda (loved him); HILL STREET BLUES’ Michael Conrad (hated him); and among his favorites, Steve Kanaly, Henry ‘Manolito Darrow, and Michael Ansara.
Among the writers he grew to know in Hollywood were the author of LITTLE CAESAR and creator of the gangster movie, W. R. Burnett; Christopher Isherwood; screenwriting comedy legend Henry Ephron; MUSIC MAN creator Meredith Wilson; and Tennessee Williams.
On a lighter note, one chapter deals with some of the…uh…bigger stars in Hollywood, like Uncle Miltie, Forrest Tucker, Gary Cooper, and especially Rock Hudson. Later chapters are particularly informative about matters like working for Roger Corman, trying to get plays produced, and pet projects Druxman has tried tried to make ‘happen’ for years. Of particular interest to writers, later chapters deal in a very informative and ‘nuts-and-bolts’ sense with the business of getting your book published, print-on-demand publishing, e-books, and audio books. I personally learned plenty, and was encouraged, by these chapters. Michael even takes the reader into the business of self-publishing and autograph shows.
An eye-opening memoir full of great stories and sage advice, LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HOLLYWOOD is published by Bear Manor Media, and priced at $19.95. Here's the link to the Bear Manor site: http://www.bearmanormedia.com/index.php?route=product/search&filter_name=life%2C%20liberty%20%26%20the%20pursuit%20of%20hollywood
THAT’S A WRAP!
I hope you’ve all recovered from Christmas, and are ready for New Years! This is nothing western, but when I was a kid growing up in New York City, every New Years Eve a local channel would show the Jack Benny comedy THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT (1945), which I consider a perfect New Years movie. Jack plays an angel sent to New York City to blow Gabriel’s trumpet at midnight, and destroy the planet. It’s a great Warner Brothers comedy with a wonderful supporting cast: Alexis Smith, Guy Kibbee, Allyn Joslyn, Reginald Gardner, Bobby Blake, Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Mike Mazurki. The art direction in Heaven is stunning, and it’s directed with great verve and enthusiasm by Raoul Walsh.
Nonetheless, it was a bomb, that pretty much ended Jack Benny’s career as a movie star. Anyway, I have a DVD dub of a lousy, commercial-filled VHS copy off of channel 5 twenty years ago, and it’s a grand tradition at our house to watch it on New Years. Although, to be really honest it’s become a grand tradition for me to watch it by myself – my wife and daughter are sick to death of it. Luckily, my dog has only seen it once, so I may have some company. If you get a chance to, some time, watch it! Hey, are there any good New Years westerns?
All Original Contents Copyright December 2013 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Monday, December 23, 2013
BOOK/DISC SIGNING BRINGS OUT THE CELEBS
Saturday afternoon’s book signing at Burbank’s Dark Delicacies produced an interesting crowd on both sides of the tables. Last-minute Christmas-shoppers and die-hard fans filled the place. First at the table was Michael Druxman, longtime Hollywood publicist-turned-screenwriter and director for Roger Corman. CHEYENNE WARRIOR, which he wrote, is one of the best western films of the last twenty years. He was signing his short-story collection, DRACULA MEETS JACK THE RIPPER AND OTHER REVISIONIST HISTORIES, plus his Basil Rathbone biography, and his newest volume of memoirs, LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HOLLYWOOD, which I’ll be reviewing soon in the Round-up.
C. Courtney Joyner and Michael Druxman
Next to him was C. Courtney Joyner, whose first Western novel, SHOTGUN has just been published. The press has been excellent (you’ll be reading my review shortly), and publisher Pinnacle is delighted – they’ve already signed Court for several more. Court was also signing the Grindhouse Releasing new release of Sergio Sollima’s THE BIG GUNDOWN, starring Lee Van Cleef (read about it HERE), which Court wrote the liner notes for. Court and I did the audio commentary on BIG GUNDOWN, and he kept signing them and sending them to me. It was my first time signing autographs, an ego-swelling experience! And who turned up for a couple of copies of SHOTGUN by Bob Murawski, Oscar-winning editor of THE HURT LOCKER, and President of Grindhouse Releasing.
Bob Murawski getting SHOTGUN signed
L.Q. Jones and Courtney Joyner
Sitting beside Court was the biggest draw of the event, Western screen legend L.Q. Jones. Beloved and remembered for dozens of eccentric and frightening characters, from CASINO to THE WILD BUNCH – where he and Strother Martin played the most revolting bounty hunters in history – many fans don’t realize he’s a very accomplished writer and director as well. He was signing new BluRay releases of three of his films, THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, A BOY AND HIS DOG (and featuring interviews with Jones and story author Harlan Ellison), both written and directed by Jones, and THE BEAST WITHIN, in which he costars. Beside L.Q. Jones was BEAST WITHIN director Philip Moran, who also directed the Australian western MAD DOG MORGAN. Beside Moran was actor Paul Clemens, also of THE BEAST WITHIN.
John Gulager, L.Q. Jones, Paul Clemens, Philip Moran,
Courtney Joyner; seated, Dave Del Valle
Signing BluRays of his new movie ZOMBIE NIGHT, starring Anthony Michael Hall, Daryl Hannah and Shirley Jones, was director John Gulager. John is the son of Western legend Clu Gualger, who also dropped by for the event. Also by to get some books signed was prolific writer-director Rolfe Kanefsky. He told me that STAND YOUR GROUND, now retitled DOC HOLLIDAY’S REVENGE, which he scripted and David Decoteau directed, is now edited and ready for release from Lionsgate. I’ll have more details on this project, including my interview with Rolfe, in the near future.
Clu Gulager signing a scroll
LONE RANGER CONTEST – THE WINNERS!
I am truly impressed with my Round-up readers’ knowledge. I didn’t want the contest to be ridiculously easy, so I did the match-the-Ranger-to-the-Tonto, figuring most folks couldn’t answer it off the top of their heads – I know I couldn’t. Well, I posted at 11 p.m. on Sunday night, and at 1:50 a.m., Monday morning, I received my first entry – and it was a winner. The next entry, a 5:15 a.m., was also a winner, and as the entries began to come in faster, I kept checking them, and after a dozen, I saw that every one was correct!
For the record, here are the correct answers:
1. 1. Robert Livingston, B. Chief Thundercloud in THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN (Republic serial, 1939)
2. William Conrad, F. Ivan Naranjo in THE TARZAN/LONE RANGER/ZORRO ADVENTURE HOUR (1980 Filmation animation)
3. Brace Beemer, E. John Todd in THE LONE RANGER radio show (WXYZ Radio in Detroit, from 1933)
4. Lee Powell, A. Chief Thundercloud in THE LONE RANGER (Republic serial, 1938)
5. Clayton Moore, A. Jay Silverheels in THE LONE RANGER (TV series and movies, 1949-1958)
6. Klinton Spilsbury, C. Michael Horse in LEGENED OF THE LONE RANGER (ITC, Wrather Productions 1981)
7. Armie Hammer, D. Johnny Depp in THE LONE RANGER (Disney, 2013)
8. John Hart, A. Jay Silverheels in THE LONE RANGER (TV series 1952-1953)
And now, the winners! The first winner of the LONE RANGER set, including a Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital copy in Ronald Wallace of Rochester, New York! Our second winner is Yusuf S. Nasrullah of Boston, Massachusetts! I will be sending them their prizes as soon as they come from the Walt Disney Company, and I’m grateful to them, and to everyone who entered. Aside from movie premiere tickets a couple of years ago, this is our first giveaway, and I’m happy to say we’ll be doing more very soon. But now, having had a little experience, I think I have a more fair way of choosing winners than just the first correct entries. Instead, I’ll be accepting entries for several days, and randomly choosing winners from among all correct entries.
MY APPEARANCE ON ‘AROUND THE BARN’ AVAILABLE ON PODCAST!
I had a wonderful time on Saturday, December 14th, as a guest on ‘Around The Barn,’ on KHTS radio 1220 AM in Santa Clarita. The topic was ‘It’s all about Gene Autry,’ the regulars were hosts Nancy Pitchford-Zhe and Bobbi Jean Bell, and Roy Rogers’ and Dale Evans’ granddaughter Julie Fox Pomilia. The guests were Gene Autry Enterprises President Karla Buhlman, and myself. We listened to some of Gene’s great Christmas music, and discussed his music and TV career, and also spoke quite a bit about me and the Round-up. I was fascinated! If you, too would like to be fascinated, follow the link below and you can hear the podcast: http://hometownstation.com/on-air-features/podcasts/around-barn/around-barn-december-14-2013-39565
Julie Fox Pomilia, Nancy Pitchford-Zhe, Karla Buhlman, Bobbi Jean Bell
SONY MOVIE CHANNEL PLANS WEST FESTS IN JANUARY
In addition to showing Westerns scattered throughout their schedule all through the month, Sony Movie Channel is offering a fine mix of sagebrush binge-viewing fun! On New Years Day, starting at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time, and running for about twenty hours, they’ll be playing THE LONGEST DRIVE (from the 1976 series THE QUEST, starring Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson); three Randolph Scott’s, THE NEVADAN, THE TALL T, and COMANCHE STATION; two Karl May Winnetou westerns, FRONTIER HELLCAT featuring Elke Sommer and RAMPAGE AT APACHE WELLS featuring Terrence Hill when he was still playing villains, and both starring Pierre Brice and Stewart Granger; three Columbia westerns starring Philip Carey before he became the boss on LARDEO, MASSACRE CANYON, WYOMING RENEGADES, and THE NEBRASKAN; Louis L’Amour’s THE SHADOW RIDERS starring Tom Sellick and Sam Elliot as the Traven brothers; Richard Brooks’ exuberant BITE THE BULLET, starring Gene Hackman, James Coburn and Candice Bergen; and ending with MACKENNA’S GOLD, featuring a great cast, including Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas and Julie Newmar – she told me it’s her favorite of all her western appearances.
Then on Saturday, January 25th, through Sunday the 26th, starting at 5:10 a.m., they reprise
BITE THE BULLET; FRONTIER HELLCAT; RAMPAGE AT APACHE WELLS; then add THE TEXICAN, Audie Murphy’s only Spaghetti Western; LAND RAIDERS, a Budapest-shot Western starring Telly Savalas, George Maharis and Arlene Dahl; THE LONGEST DRIVE; THE SHADOW RIDERS; Lawrence Kasdan’s SILVERADO, starring Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline and Scott Glenn; THE MASK OF ZORRO starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Katherine Zeta Jones; THE SHADOW RIDERS; CONSPIRACY (don’t know which movie this is); THE LONGEST DRIVE; THE NEVADAN; THE TALL T; COMANCHE STATION; Richard Brooks’ brilliant THE PROFESSIONALS, starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, and Claudia Cardinale; Martin Ritt’s contempo western MURPHY’S ROMANCE, starring James Garner and Sally Field; A MAN CALLED SLEDGE, a James Garner Spaghetti Western co-directed and co-written by Vic Morrow; and MACKENNA’S GOLD one more time.
WESTERN LEGEND AWARDS JOINS SO. CAL. MOTION PICTURE COUNCIL AWARDS
On Monday night, December 16th, movie makers and movie fans gathered at the famous Sportsmen’s Lodge for the Southern California Motion Picture Council’s Halo Awards. Begin in 1936, the Council is one of the oldest civic-minded industry organizations in town, and annually they give out their Halo lifetime achievement awards. Julie Ann Ream has been presenting her Western Legend Awards for several years, a tradition she began to honour her late uncle Rex Allen, the last of the great singing cowboys. For the first time, the Western Legend Award has been made a part of SCMPC’s awards, and Julie is delighted at the prospect of Western Legend having a permanent home, as it has been hopscotching across the nation. The Western Legend to be honoured that night was actress Angie Dickinson, the award presented by her POLICE WOMAN co-star Earl Holliman.
I’ll have details about that part of the event later (I’m waiting to get my hands on some photos), but I had the great pleasure of chatting with a pair of stars who were ‘Halo’ honorees that night, Stuart Whitman and Julie Newmar. Whitman, who had come with his lovely wife from their home in Santa Barbara, still with still-boyish smile and clear, cultured voice, is best remembered by Western fans for two roles; as Paul Regret, opposite John Wayne – who keeps calling him ‘Mon-sewer’ – in THE COMANCHEROS, and as Marshal Jim Crown in the short-lived but excellent CIMARRON STRIP; you’ll never see any actor sit a horse better than Stuart Whitman in the opening credits of that series. But of course, he didn’t start with those leading roles.
Stuart Whitman (not a great shot, but my head-on
shots were all washed out. I'm asking Santa for a new camera)
HENRY: I was just watching a ROY ROGERS SHOW, and so surprised to see you in it. Did doing shows like that, like THE RANGE RIDER, kid stuff, help prepare you for the more adult, serious Westerns later on?
STUART WHITMAN: Oh, absolutely. That’s where we learned to do it all.
HENRY: Did you like westerns when you were a kid?
STUART WHITMAN: Oh yes. And what was that theatre on Hollywood Boulevard? The Hitching Post. And we could bring our cap-guns. I’d just come from New York. I was born in San Francisco, I’d just come from New York. And wow, we could have our cap-guns! Pow! Pow! Shoot all the bad guys and the Indians. Henry, I understand there’s a bar around here.
A few minutes later, beautiful Julie Newmar, the best Catwoman of them all, appeared. I tried to think of her Western credits. She was lovely in 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS, and she was positively stupefying in LI’L ABNER (okay, a stretch for a Western).
HENRY: What is your favorite of all your westerns?
JULIE NEWMAR: MACKENNA’S GOLD! In the most beautiful part of America, Utah, Arizona. Even Robert Kennedy came there to visit us. He was there with a family of about thirty people. Omar Sharif, Gregory Peck, Edward G. Robinson – marvelous cast!
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
Here’s wishing you a very Merry Christmas! I hope everything you want the most turns up under your tree!
All Original Contents Copyright December 2013 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Sunday, December 15, 2013
If you had told me that 2013 would bring a more controversial Western to the screen than the previous year’s DJANGO UNCHAINED from Quentin Tarentino, I’d have said you were crazy. But 2013’s THE LONE RANGER, directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, ruffled more feathers than any other Western I can recall in decades. As a matter of fact, Tarantino himself surprised many when he put LONE RANGER on his own ‘ten best list’ for 2013. "The first 45 minutes are excellent… It was a bad idea to split the bad guys in two groups; it takes hours to explain and nobody cares. Then comes the train scene—incredible! When I saw it, I kept thinking, 'What? That's the film that everybody says is crap? Seriously?'"
There is one shameful omission in the film which I missed at the screening, but caught watching the BluRay: when the credits roll, nowhere are the names of Frank Striker and George W. Trendle, the men who created the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and in the case of Striker, wrote hundreds of radioplays refining the characters. It is a disgrace that neither name appears on the screen, and should be remedied.
LONE RANGER is coming to home video this Tuesday, December 17th, and the good folks at Disney have given the Round-up a pair of BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL Combo-Packs to award to two lucky Round-up readers. You’ll find the contest below, after all the review-type-stuff. (If you want to skip to the contest, and read the rest of this later, I’ll understand.)
LONE RANGER Movie Review
Originally posted July 1, 2013
It looks like director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and writers Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, and Justin Haythe have done what no one else has managed to do in decades: make a new Western that will delight and satisfy die-hard fans of the genre and the characters, and introduce the form to a young and fresh audience who will hopefully want to come back again and again.
Among the fine major Westerns of the last several years, 3:10 TO YUMA (2007), APPALOOSA (2008), and DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) were rated ‘R’. TRUE GRIT (2010), like LONE RANGER, was ‘PG-13’, and featured a child protagonist in Mattie Ross, but there was no great ‘reach-out’ to a younger audience. But ‘The Lone Ranger’, since its inception in Depression-era radio, through two Republic serials and 217 TV episodes and three feature films, has always been for kids, and this new version, as the same production team did with their PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN franchise, has built a movie that will draw in the interest of kids while exposing them to the classic elements of westerns, which have delighted audiences for generations, nay, for over a century.
I know there will be classicists who will accept no substitutes for Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, and I can only tell them that they’re missing out on something they would thoroughly enjoy – a Western made with so much money that there is nothing left out because of budgetary restraints, made by people who have a clear love, respect for and knowledge of the genre, and who flex the art and craft they’ve honed for years. Is it perfect? No. Will you love the best parts so much that you’ll forgive its imperfections? Hell, yeah! This is not a museum piece, it is living, breathing – sometimes hyperventilating – art that builds on the past without requiring a knowledge of the past to be appreciated.
The story opens, unexpectedly, at a carnival in San Francisco in 1933, perhaps not coincidentally the year The Lone Ranger premiered on WXYZ radio. Will, a little boy with astonished and astonishingly large brown eyes, all dressed up in a cowboy suit and six-guns, is visiting a nearly-empty side-show, examining the stuffed bison and other displays, and jumps with surprise when an ancient Indian figure sitting outside a tepee, a crow atop his head, suddenly comes to life, and seeing the boy with a black mask on, addresses him as “Kemo Sabe.” It is, you guessed it, Tonto, looking easily ninety. They talk, the boy frightened at first, but soon fascinated, as Tonto tells him the story of his relationship with John Reid. Soon the old Indian’s words take on visuals, and the story of how Tonto and John Reid met, and how Reid becomes the Lone Ranger, begins.
Most of the story revolves around Promontory, Utah, and the upcoming driving of the golden railroad spike that will complete the laying of track for the Transcontinental Railroad, linking the East and West coasts of these United States together. As a demonstration that peace and civilization have come to the frontier, railroad magnate Cole has ordered that the most despicable of villains, Butch Cavendish, already sentenced to die, be brought there by train, to hang. Also being transported is a lesser criminal named Tonto. A group of Texas Rangers are on the way to assist, while the Cavendish gang is on the way to thwart the law. On the train is John Reid, a young lawyer from a family of lawmen, coming out west to reunite with his family.
When all of these people with differing plans collide, you have one of the two tremendous train-bound extended action sequences that book-end the movie, and it is so beautifully constructed that it’s exalting to watch – it’s everything you’re hoping for, and more. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say they don’t get to hang Butch Cavendish that day. The hunt for Cavendish and his gang, and his hostages, and the search for an insidious conspiracy, drives the movie through two hours and twenty minutes of thrills, action and humor.
Much has been said, in anticipation of this film, about the diminishing of the Lone Ranger to build up Tonto. That isn’t what happened. Instead, the story is, as it always has been, about the creation of the man, the identity, of the Lone Ranger; but this time, it is told from Tonto’s point of view. And it works – after all, Tonto is who he always is. It’s John Reid who takes on the new identity, and telling the ‘why’ is the purpose of the film.
The original masked man and faithful Indian companion had little back-story, and these have been expanded, giving more heart and humanity and motivation to the characters, and not a few surprises. John Reid still has a brother, Texas Ranger Dan Reid, but there is also a woman in his heart, who just happens to be, awkwardly enough, not his wife, but his sister-in-law. We learn about John Reid’s background early on, but only discover the astonishing truth about Tonto as the story races along. The mask is there. The silver bullets are there, but while they were a minor part of the story of the original Lone Ranger, they take on startling significance in this telling.
Johnny Depp’s characterization of Tonto borrows nothing from Jay Silverheels, which is good, because we don’t want an imitation, we want a performance, and we get it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen Depp do before, diametrically opposed to his theatrical-to-swishy personification of Captain Jack Sparrow. But it is still Depp, and his dramatic work, as well as his comedic timing, are spot-on as always. More poker-faced then stoic, he reveals his emotions with his words and actions, almost never his expression. Depp is virtually unrecognizable in his two distinct make-ups, as the young, and as the very old Tonto, and the masterful work by the make-up department under the direction of Joel Harlow is worthy of Oscar consideration. Incidentally, Depp’s previous westerns are the highly regarded DEADMAN, directed by Jim Jarmusch, and last year’s animated RANGO.
As the man who transitions from by-the-book lawyer to masked crime-fighter, Armie Hammer impressed as twins in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and as J. Edgar Hoover’s lover in HOOVER. His look of doe-eyed innocence works perfectly with his character’s self-assured arrogance early in the story. But in addition to the comedy, and he does play Costello to Tonto’s Abbott, he has a sincere believability which makes the pain of his many personal losses in the story moving to the audience.
Striking British actress Ruth Wilson is effective as brother Dan Reid’s wife and mother of their son Danny (Bryant Prince), and projects that sort of inner strength we associate with frontier ladies. She also has a lovely face for period stories. James Badge Dale plays John’s more down-to-earth and down-and-dirty brother, Ranger Dan Reid, with the traditional restraint of the western hero, but with heart and courage.
Among the less likable characters is Tom Wilkinson as Cole, the railroad mogul more interested in profit than progress. As Butch Cavendish, William Fitchner, star of the series CROSSING LINES, excels, portraying a character so revolting in his passions that I wouldn’t dare spoil things by giving it away here. His make-up, including a hair-lip is, like Depp’s Oscar-worthy.
Other performances of note include Helena Bonham Carter as Red, a madam with valuable information and an ivory leg. Barry Pepper plays the dashing Fuller, a character modeled on Custer. No stranger to westerns, he was Lucky Ned Pepper in the TRUE GRIT remake, and even turned up on episodes of both LONESOME DOVE spin-off series. Saginaw Grant impresses as Chief Big Bear in a scene where the Lone Ranger learns about the earlier life of Tonto. Mason Cook, who plays the little cowboy in the introductory scene is, surprisingly, a western veteran, having well-played a key role in last year’s WYATT EARP’S REVENGE.
Leon Rippy, who plays the key role of the tracker Collins, is disguised from his DEADWOOD fans (where he played Tom Nuttal) with a revolting spray of facial hair, gives a sometimes comic, sometimes emotional, and dramatically critical performance. And though it’s just a cameo, it’s nice to see Western veteran Rance Howard as a train engineer.
From the moment the action moves from Depression San Francisco to the old west, the delights are many, with extra kicks for we western nerds. The filmmakers express their reverence for Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST frequently, and in a way that cleverly extends the honors farther still. The building-of-the-railroad through Monument Valley echoes not only Segio Leone’s similar use of the location in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but also reminds us that Leone was paying his respects to John Ford. An early scene at a railroad station brings back not just the opening of IN THE WEST, but it’s homage to Zinneman’s HIGH NOON. A later scene of growing menace in an isolated farm acknowledges not just IN THE WEST, but Leone’s love of George Steven’s SHANE. For that matter, when a train-board revival meeting features, “We Will Gather At The River,” it’s not just a salute to Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH, but to John Ford and all of the other filmmaker who’ve used it. And if you don’t know that guns will be drawn before the end of that hymn, then this must be your first rodeo.
Are there some flaws? Sure. It’s funny when it should be, but sometimes it gets too jokey, and after you’ve been emotionally involved, you’re pulled out of the story by the silliness. There’s a visit to ‘hell on wheels’, a traveling amalgam of sinful entertainments to entice the track-layers, that is amusing, but grinds the action to a halt for too long.
I saw the movie at Disney Studios, with an audience of other press and industry types, but mostly with families with exuberant kids who just ate it up. The one criticism I heard the most? “The Lone Ranger spends too much time being stupid.” Dramatically, it’s logical to delay the transition from dope to hero for as long as possible, but for those of us who knew what must ultimately be coming, the wait was sometimes frustrating. But don’t worry – you do get the William Tell Overture in the nick of time, and from that moment on the film is an enthralling gun-battle and two-train chase to the finish.
Yugoslavian-born cinematographer Bojan Bazelli shoots like he’s been doing westerns all of his life. Hans Zimmer’s score is big and grand as it should be, and while there are musical motifs that are a nod of respect to Ennio Morricone, they are nods, and not imitations. Art Director Jeff Gonchor was nominated for an Oscar for TRUE GRIT, and continues to do meticulous work, including the three trains and two towns which were all built from scratch. Penny Rose, who has done the costumes for all of the PIRATES films, has a beautiful eye for westerns as well. I’ve seen five big new summer movies in the past week, and THE LONE RANGER is miles ahead of all the rest! Hi-yo Silver! Away!
LONE RANGER – The Special Features
There are three featurettes included, all of them entertaining and informative.
ARMIE’S WESTERN ROAD TRIP lets the star provide an overview of the movie’s many locations – Monument Valley, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Comanche Country – and a sense of the challenges the cast and crew faced in each.
BECOMING A COWBOY details the ‘boot camp’ experience of the actors being trained with horses and guns for the film.
RIDING THE RAILS OF ‘THE LONE RANGER’ is the most interesting of all the special features, documenting the building of the trains, the laying of five miles of track, and the work of the gandy dancers who swung the sledges.
Additionally, there’s an amusing BLOOPER REEL, and a single DELETED SCENE, but like nothing I’ve seen before, as the scene is done entirely in 3D animation – fascinating!
THE CONTEST: MATCH THE ‘RANGER’ AND THE ‘TONTO’
Here’s what you need to do to win one of the two LONE RANGER BluRay/DVD/Digital sets!
On the left are numbered the names of the men who played the Lone Ranger, and on the right are lettered the men who played Tonto (I left out an unsold pilot version, but hopefully didn’t miss any others). And no, it’s not a mistake that some of the ‘Tontos’ appear more than once.
Match the correct Rangers to the correct Tontos, and in an email, type them together (9J for example), include your name and mailing (snail-mail) address, and email your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org . The first two entries I receive that do all of the match-ups correctly will win the LONE RANGER sets. This contest is for readers in the domestic U.S. only – the discs wouldn’t play correctly in other regions anyway. Good luck, Kemo Sabe!
1)Robert Livingston A)Jay Silverheels
2)William Conrad B)Chief Thundercloud
3)Brace Beemer C)Michael Horse
4)Lee Powell A)Jay Silverheels
5)Clayton Moore D)Johnny Depp
6)Klinton Spillsbury E)John Todd
7)Armie Hammer F)Ivan Naranjo
8)John Hart B)Chief Thundercloud
Winners will be announced in next week's Round-up!
THE COMPLETE ‘GENE AUTRY SHOW’ ON DVD!
A Home Video Review
One season at a time, Gene Autry Enterprises has been overseeing the restoration of THE GENE AUTRY SHOW. It’s been a long-term commitment, a tremendous undertaking by the Timeless Media Group, Shout! Factory, and Gene’s own Flying ‘A’ Pictures Incorporated. Now they’ve gathered all five seasons together and released them in a complete 91 episode, 47 hour set!
Depending on your age, and where you grew up, these shows may be entirely new to you, or fondly remembered pieces of your childhood. Either way, they stand up beautifully 63 years after the series first ran. And the more I see of murky, shaky, duped prints, the more I admire the vision of Gene Autry, who acquired the rights to all of his movies and TV shows, to make sure that they were maintained in the highest possible quality.
Gene spent more than two years studying the difference between movies and television before shooting his first episode, analyzing questions like what is the best way to show action on a tiny, blurry screen. He concluded that his television movies would have less long-shots, more close-ups, and more side-to-side rather than head-on action.
Why was Gene, just back from the war, eager to get into the new market? In Gene’s own words, “Like everyone else in show business, I had become very much interested in the possibilities of television. And, in addition, I had a special reason for wanting to hit the video channels. During my three and a half years in the service, a whole new generation of children had been born. These youngsters are still too young to attend many movies (if at all), but they’re not too young to watch television. And in these days, cowboy fans, like charity, begin at home.”
Gene wanted to build a pipeline of new fans from the TV series to his films at the movie theatres. But movie exhibitors, whose venues were disappearing with the competition of the new medium of television, were not at all pleased when he decided to make shows directly for TV. Some even cancelled their contracts to play his pictures, saying no one would buy a ticket to see him when they could watch him on TV for free. To show how different the show-biz world of the 1950s was from today, Gene correctly countered that by-and-large, only rural areas played his movies, while only big cities had TV stations, so his films and TV shows were serving almost completely different markets. He further pointed out that his new Columbia-produced films were not getting the playdates they should, because exhibitors, to save money, were instead booking his pre-war Republic films, which he didn’t own (yet).
One thing that set THE GENE AUTRY SHOW apart from its competitors was that the episodes were approached as self-contained mini-movies. In THE ROY ROGERS SHOW, THE LONE RANGER, or HOPALONG CASSIDY, the identities and relationships of characters were always the same. In Autry’s series, just like in his theatrical movies, Gene could be a lawman or a ranch hand or a well-known entertainer, and sidekick Pat Buttram could be an old compadre, or someone he just met. Sometimes Pat is the sheriff who hires Gene as his deputy! It made for a wider variety of story possibilities. And also consistent with Gene’s features, there is always music, a not preachy but clear core of morality, and comedy supplied by Pat Buttram, who is very . And there’s plenty of fighting and riding action, what Gene Autry Enterprises President Karla Buhlman calls ‘the five minute rule’ – that’s the maximum time allowed between fistfights!
The shows often do feel like a very tight little movie rather than a TV episode, and the casts are peppered with actors who had worked with Gene in features, or would star in the shows he produced. Dickie Jones, who would star in both THE RANGE RIDER and BUFFALO BILL JR. series; Gail Davis, who would do a number of features with Gene before he cast her as Annie Oakley; Myron Healy, a smug villain with more than 300 acting credits; Denver Pyle; SUPERMAN villain Ben Weldon; Abbott & Costello’s ‘Mike the cop’, Gordon Jones; and Harry Harvey, who almost always the sheriff both to Gene, and in Roy Rogers’ town of Mineral City. There are also actors just starting on their career ascent like Denver Pyle, and Lee Van Cleef – in the season 3 episode, Gene beats Lee within an inch of his life!
In addition to about six episodes per disc, most of the fourteen discs include a special feature selected to place the shows in a historical context. Among the entertainments are photo-galleries of Gene on vending cards; Gene starring in MELODY RANCH RADIO SHOWS; a photo gallery of Gene’s 1953 tour on England; and Gene’s movie trailers.
And even if you’ve bought all of the individual seasons, there is one disc you do not have. Back in the 1970s, in order to raise money to buy the rights to some of his features, Gene sold off the rights to the four other TV series he produced. Although Autry Enterprises no longer owns them, the bonus disc includes two episodes from each of those series, all of them period westerns. ANNIE OAKLEY, starring Gail Davis, was the most popular of Gene’s other productions, especially with girls who loved that Annie was the hero, and in charge, without anyone needing to comment on how unusual it was. She was also beautiful. THE RANGE RIDER starred Jock Mahoney and Dickie Jones, two of the best horsemen and stuntmen in the business. The shows were non-stop action, and thrilling to watch. Dick Jones followed up as BUFFALO BILL JR., which was more small-kid-aimed, but still a lot of fun. THE ADVENTURES OF CHAMPION starred Gene’s horse, with 12-year-old Barry Curtis as the only kid who can ride him, and former ‘Red Ryder’ Jim Bannon as his dad. There is a pair of episodes from THE GENE AUTRY SHOW as well.
If you’re an adult watching for your own enjoyment, you can watch the shows any way you want – binge-view a season, watch them chronologically, jump around randomly. After all, each show stands up well on their own. But if you’re going to show them to kids, I have a suggestion: start with season five. While all the rest of the shows are in black and white (except for two from season one), the thirteen episodes of season five are in beautiful color. Over the years I have introduced literally thousands of schoolkids to Laurel & Hardy, when a class had worked hard all day, and had earned a treat for the last twenty minutes of the school day. But I learned that I had to use the colorized versions – they simply wouldn’t look at black and white. But once you’ve got them hooked – on Gene or Laurel & Hardy – they’ll not only watch black & white, they’ll even listen to the radio shows!
After re-reading the above, I fear I have shortchanged Pat Buttram, who is Gene’s sidekick in the series. Pat was a very bright and clever guy, and seamlessly mixing ‘dumb-guy’ humor was a wry, observational wit. Incidentally, there was one time during season one when Pat was nearly killed by a prop cannon. For the next several episodes actors Fuzzy Knight, Alan Hale Jr. and Chill Wills took turns donning Pat’s duds and filling in for him (you can learn more about this HERE in my review of PAT BUTTRAM, ROCKING CHAIR HUMORIST).
If you’re looking for a highly enjoyable way to spend forty-seven hours, I highly recommend THE COMPLETE GENE AUTRY SHOW. And if you’d like to learn more about Gene Autry, and how he ran his business, please read my interview with Gene Autry Enterprises President Karla Buhlman HERE .
KARL MAY – HITLER’S FAVORITE COWBOY!
Once again I have to thank Karl Tiedemann, who never misses a thing on BBC radio. Here’s a half hour podcast about the world’s most popular western writer, German 19th century author Karl May. Virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, everywhere else he’s the King of the Cowboys. Here’s the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03jz22h
ENNIO MORRICONE TO MAKE U.S. DEBUT IN MARCH!
Back in October of 2009, many of us followers of the great maestro of the Italian cinema – especially of the Leone spaghetti western – were crushed when, due to health concerns, Morricone had to cancel his Hollywood Bowl performance. Now, under the sponsorship of TCM, the brilliant composer with over 520 scores to his credit, will have his first United States tour in March, starting with an appearance at the Los Angeles Nokia Theatre on March 20th, followed by a New York appearance three days later. It’s not yet clear whether more dates will be added. He will be working with a 200 piece orchestra and choir. It’s not something you see – or hear – every day. You can learn more HERE
‘BILLY JACK’ STAR TOM LAUGHLIN DIES AT 82
Just as I was about to post, I got word that Tom Laughlin, writer, director and star of the BILLY JACK movies of the 1970s, has died. A self-made filmmaker and movie star, Tom loved Westerns, and in addition to the contemporary BILLY JACK films, where he played an American Indian with martial arts skills, he also appeared in THE MASTER GUNFIGHTER, THE LITTLEST HORSE THIEVES, and did a cameo as a member of the Butch Cavendish gang in 1981’s LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER. I had the pleasure of hearing him and his wife and partner Delores Taylor talk about their lives and careers in October 2012, when he was honored with a SILVER SPUR AWARD. You can read what he had to say, and the rest of the article, HERE .
THAT’S A WRAP!
I had a terrific time Saturday morning, being a guest on the ‘AROUND THE BARN’ chatting with these charming ladies – Roy Rogers’ and Dale Evans’ granddaughter Julie Fox Pomilia; host Nancy Pitchford-Zhe; Gene Autry Enterprises President Karla Buhlman; and OutWest purveyor and host Bobbi Jean Bell, on KHTS 1220 AM in Santa Clarita. We discussed Gene Autry, what’s coming in the Round-up, and we heard a lot of Gene’s great Christmas music. I was given a pair of delightful Gene Autry Christmas CDs, and my wife and I loved listening to them as we drove to and from a Christmas party that night. It doesn’t begin and end with RUDOLPH and HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS – there’s also FREDDIE THE LITTLE FIR TREE, and many more. Bobbi Jean has them all HERE
If you missed AROUND THE BARN, or if you want to hear it again and again (and who can blame you?), I’ll be posting the link as soon as the Podcast is available.
All Original Contents Copyright December 2013 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved