Sunday, December 4, 2011

BATTLE OF THE BEARDS – Five Abraham Lincoln Portrayals Are On The Way!

Many folks surfing the internet this week have seen a shot of Academy Award winner Daniel Day Lewis having lunch wearing his Great Emancipator beard.  He’s currently working for Stephen Speilberg in LINCOLN, a film which will tell the story of how our 16th President steered the Union to its victory over the Confederacy. 

(Daniel Day Lewis - Lincoln at lunch)

In addition to Lewis, who won Oscars for MY LEFT FOOT and THERE WILL BE BLOOD, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, will be played by Sally Field, who won Oscars for NORMA RAE and PLACES IN THE HEART.  Their son, Robert Todd Lincoln, will be played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, soon to be seen in the sci-fier LOOPER and Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.  The cast also features Tommy Lee Jones as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as Secretary of State Seward, Jared Harris as U.S. Grant, Jackie Earle Haley as Confederate VP Alexander Stephens, as well as James Spader, Hal Holbrook, and a host of others.

It’s based on the book TEAM OF RIVALS: THE GENIUS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the nationally known historian and former aid to President Lyndon Johnson.  The other three writers, credited with the screenplay, are Tony Kushner – Oscar nominated for MUNICH and Emmy winner for ANGELS IN AMERICA, John Logan – Oscar nominated for THE AVIATOR and GLADIATOR, and Paul Webb, who has no previous professional credits.   

As revealed in last week’s Round-up (go HERE if you missed it), SONY Television is producing a miniseries entitled TO APPOMATTOX, starring Stephen Lang, who played Ike Clanton in TOMBSTONE and Gen. Pickett in GETTYSBURG, as Lincoln.

(Stephen Lang)

While Speilberg’s LINCOLN is currently in production, and APPOMATTOX is aiming at a 2013 TV release, another, less scholarly biography of Honest Abe is closer on the horizon.  On June 22, 2012 Benjamin Walker, of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, will star in ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER.  The film is being produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmambetov.  The Lincoln make-up is the work of three-time Oscar winner Greg Cannom. 

(Benjamin Walker as Lincoln)

These are not small projects – the Speilberg LINCOLN is budgeted at around $100 million, and the President-with-a-wooden-stake version is not far behind at $70 million.  When, in an earlier Round-up, I quoted a Paramount insider who opined that VAMPIRE HUNTER was a movie that should be made, but by Asylum Pictures, for $350,000, I heard from Asylum honcho David Latt: “Hey Henry! Thanks for the suggestion...and you'll be happy (sad?) to know that ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES is already   in the works. Ours will cost less than $70 million. Promise.” I’m waiting to hear back from him how the project is progressing.

And because I am something of a completeist, also coming soon is FDR: AMERICAN BADDASS, in which HERCULES star Kevin Sorbo will play Lincoln opposite Barry Bostwick’s Roosevelt.  I know I’ll be hearing from historical nit-pickers about the fact that the presidents may never have met, since FDR was born seventeen years after Lincoln’s assassination.

My personal disappointment is that, with all the interest in Lincoln, no one is filming the best Lincoln-related – actually assassination-related – book of the last several years, MANHUNT – THE 12 DAY CHASE FOR LINCOLN’S KILLER by James L. Swanson.  Once optioned by Robert Redford, but dropped when he decided to do the interesting but unsatisfying THE CONSPIRATOR instead, it would make one helluvah movie, even without monsters.


FINDERS KEEPERS CLASSICS is a great place to get hard-to-find movies and TV shows.  Their pricing is very straight-forward: all single disks and many 2-disk sets are $7 each, larger sets are more, and shipping is a flat $6 no matter how big the order.  They just sent me a crate full of interesting westerns from the ‘30s and ‘40s, and I’m reviewing a pair of them today.  Their site is HERE .  Incidentally, Finders Keepers Classics is the work of Martin Grams, an excellent writer and film and radio historian, and author of more than twenty books.  Here is a link to an article he wrote about HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, one of the very few shows to start on television and move to radio: MARTIN GRAMS


As a long-time fan of SKY KING, I was eager to take a look at LAWLESS BREED (1946), starring Kirby Grant, with Fuzzy Knight as his sidekick, Tumbleweed.  While Republic and Monogram and PRC Westerns are easy to come by, B westerns from the majors are rarely seen, and this was the last of seven that Grant did for Universal before moving on to Monogram for his Canadian Mountie series.

At first, I was dubious.  It looked like Universal, knowing it was the last of the series, had decided not to spend a dime on it: the opening scene in a sheriff’s office, where Kirby and Fuzzy try to talk themselves out of a murder charge, is static – Kirby tells his story as a way to introduce endless clips of stock footage, and I started to wonder if they’d ever leave the office.  But once they do, the story -- and the new footage -- takes off.  And you have two innocent victims of blind justice, a gang of serial bank-robbers, a good girl who happens to be the sheriff’s daughter (Jane Adams), a bad girl who happens to be a saucy French saloon chanteuse (Claudia Drake), and delightfully broad character actor Dick Curtis playing brothers, one a stodgy banker who is murdered, and the other a sea captain -- with a parrot -- trying to catch his brother’s killer!  There’s also insurance fraud, grave-robbing, and our heroes tricked into taking on a murder contract with a gun loaded with blanks – not to mention several songs, all in under 54 minutes! 

Kirby is all charm when he’s flirting with the ladies or cajoling the Sheriff, but there’s a grimness to his demeanor when things are bad that’s startlingly convincing.  On the other hand, I was surprised to find what a pleasant singing voice he had, when he and Fuzzy take turns vocalizing in the slammer.  LAWLESS BREED is an often exciting and amusing Western, and John Ford favorite Hank Worden is effective in a small role as a deputy who’s out of his depth when things go awry. 

The print it’s taken from is pretty scratched, and splicey in a few spots, but the contrast is very good, giving you a wide range of grays.  There were a few scenes that I thought were too dark, but when I rewound, turned off the lights and watched again, I saw they were fine.  They were just shot to be seen in a darkened theatre.  Because this movie was from a time before all movies were shot with the knowledge that they’d eventually be shown on television – the reason most movies from the mid-sixties on are a succession of flat-lit close-ups. 


Richard Dix and Victor Jory face off in CHEROKEE STRIP (1940), an 86 minute B+ production from Harry ‘Pop’ Sherman, released by Paramount.  Dix, as Dave Morell, has come as the new Federal Marshal to the town of Goliath, gateway to the Cherokee Strip, once the property of the Cherokee Indian Nation, and about to be opened to white settlers.  But he has a hidden agenda: he’s the head of the Morell Clan, which has been feuding for years with the Barrett Clan, led by Coy Barrett, played by Victor Jory.  The two men have actually signed a formal truce, but neither trusts the other farther than they can spit. 

Jory is now a successful and respectable banker, but that’s just a front to run his clan’s stage-robbing and cattle-rustling activity.  And into the mix comes Senator Cross (Charles Trowbridge) and his daughter and son, Florence Rice and William Henry, who are working as federal census takers, the natural allies of Federal Marshal Dix, even before he becomes sweet on Florence Rice. 

CHEROKEE STRIP is an exciting and smart story, and much of the fun is watching the cat-and-mouse game Dix and Jory play, always polite, but always ready to cut the other to pieces if a fair opportunity arises.  The stagecoach trip they take together is a classic of deadly one-ups-man-ship.  

Producer Sherman, who made his first fortune distributing BIRTH OF A NATION, was a savvy businessman and a gifted Western filmmaker.  He’s the man who bought ‘Hopalong Cassidy’, and cast William Boyd.  Beloved by his crews, who called him ‘Pop,’ Sherman infused his low-budget films with high production values, beautiful locations, top technical credits, and a loyal stock company of actors that made his films many cuts above the average with a similar budget.

Unlike so many stars of his time, iron-jawed Dix had successfully made the transition from silent to talking pictures, and had his greatest success in 1931’s CIMARRON, the first Western to win a Best Picture Oscar (the next wasn’t until Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN in 1992), and for which he was nominated for Best Actor.  Though no longer a top box-office star, his career continued on successfully in the 1940s, and he arguably did his most interesting acting in that period, as the lead in Columbia’s THE WHISTLER series, and as the ‘kindly’ sea captain in Val Lewton’s GHOST SHIP. 

Victor Jory, fresh from his villainous triumph as Tara’s overseer in the previous year’s GONE WITH THE WIND, the former Coast Guard boxing and wrestling champ would have a busy career until 1980.  Also in the cast is Andy Clyde, as an assistant to Dix, but not the traditional sidekick he would later become that same year, when Pop Sherman would cast him as California Carlson, a role he would play in HOPALONG CASSIDY movies, TV and radio episodes for a dozen years.  Among the other stand-out tough guys in the cast were Sherman stock-company actors like Tom Tyler, Morris Ankrum, and Hal Taliaffero, and George E. Stone who, as he did in CIMARRON, plays an obviously Jewish character, someone rarely seen in the traditionally ‘white-bread’ Westerns.

It’s written by Western specialists Norman Houston and Bernard McConville, and directed by Lesley Selander, who directed exactly half of the films Pop Sherman produced – 36 out of 72.  Selander’s work was many cuts above what was done in most B or A westerns, not just in terms of action, but in direction of actors, and creativity – 21 post-World War II Tim Holt Westerns he directed at RKO are among the best B-westerns ever made.  


More and more, classic TV Westerns are available all over the TV universe, but they tend to be on small networks that are easy to miss. Of course, ENCORE WESTERNS is the best continuous source of such programming, and has been for years. It’s not in my current satellite package, which is why I often forget to mention it, but currently they run CHEYENNE, MAVERICK, LAWMAN, THE VIRGINIAN, WAGON TRAIN, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, GUNSMOKE, BRET MAVERICK, CIMMARON STRIP, and HOW THE WEST WAS WON. (I’d get it in a minute, if I didn’t have to buy a huge package of STARZ and ENCORE channels just to get the one!)

But there are several new, or at least new-to-me, channels showing sagebrush fare. GEB, which stands for Golden Eagle Broadcasting, is largely a religious-programming cable outlet that runs at least one Western on Saturdays – the ones I’ve caught have been public domain Roy Rogers and John Wayne pictures – and sometimes have weekday afternoon movies as well.

For those of you who watch TV with an antenna, there are at least a couple of channels that exist between the standard numbers – largely unavailable on cable or satellite systems – that provide Western fare. ANTENNA TV is currently running RIN TIN TIN, CIRCUS BOY, HERE COME THE BRIDES, and IRON HORSE.

Another ‘in between’ outfit, ME-TV, which stands for Memorable Entertainment TV, runs a wide collection: BIG VALLEY, BONANZA, BRANDED, DANIEL BOONE, GUNS OF WILL SONNETT, GUNSMOKE, MARSHALL DILLON (the renamed black and white GUNSMOKE), RAWHIDE, THE RIFLEMAN, and WILD WILD WEST. Some of these channels are hard to track down, but if they show what you’ve been missing, it’s worth the search. 


That's right, the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable here:


Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.


Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.


This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.


A staggering number of western TV episodes and movies are available, entirely free, for viewing on your computer at HULU. You do have to sit through the commercials, but that seems like a small price to pay. The series available -- often several entire seasons to choose from -- include THE RIFLEMAN, THE CISCO KID, THE LONE RANGER, BAT MASTERSON, THE BIG VALLEY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and one I missed from 2003 called PEACEMAKERS starring Tom Berenger. Because they are linked up with the TV LAND website, you can also see BONANZA and GUNSMOKE episodes, but only the ones that are running on the network that week.

The features include a dozen Zane Grey adaptations, and many or most of the others are public domain features. To visit HULU on their western page, CLICK HERE.


Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They've stopped running GUNSMOKE.  INSP is showing THE BIG VALLEY every weekday at noon, one p.m. and nine p.m., and Saturdays at 6 p.m., and have just added DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN to their schedule.


Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run DANIEL BOONE at 1:00 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic. 

AMC has been airing a block of THE RIFLEMAN episodes early Saturday mornings, usually followed by Western features.

And RFD-TV is currently showing THE ROY ROGERS SHOW at 9:30 Sunday morning, repeated several times a week, and a Roy feature as well -- check your local listings.

That's a wrap for today -- I was hoping to include a story on Tombstone's Boot Hill, but that will have to wait until the next Round-up.

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright December 2011 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. I agree about your comment on MANHUNT. This is the best book I've ever read on the assassination of Lincoln and Booth's flight. I was interested to see there was talk about bringing it to film but now that has ended. Too bad as it is the real deal and was an exciting read.