Sunday, August 17, 2014


(Updated 8-18-2014 -- see KARL MAY story)

As you may have read in the June 15, 2014 Round-up (and if you missed it, HERE is the link ), the 4th Annual Almeria Western Film Festival was cancelled because Tabernas Mayor Mari Nieves Jaen stole it from its creators!  She registered the Festival name under her own name, and proceeded to plan her own event, one which would presumably be politician-friendly, and more dedicated to photo ops than film history.   

I don’t know if her festival is going to proceed, and could not care less!  But I was delighted to hear from Original fest co-creator Danny Garcia.  “We've decided to carry on and we'll celebrate this year’s Almeria Western Film Festival next September 11-13.  We'll have a new website and a new name as we'll add 'International' to the name to make it different from the fake one.”

The very next day I heard from the star/writer/director of the excellent LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE (click HERE for my review), Tanner Beard, with news about his next Western film.  “6 BULLETS TO HELL will have a European Premier in Almeria, Spain on September 12th.  We are finding out about our US premier, which should be happening sometime in October, and there is another European screening at the Aberdeen Film Festival in early October.” 

Crispian Belfrage

There can be no more fitting place for the film to premiere, since its conception is tied to the Fest, when Tanner attended in 2012.  As Danny Garcia, both the Fest’s co-creator and the film’s exec producer, explained to me in 2013, “The first contact between us and Tanner happened at the… Festival, where Tanner won the audience prize with THE LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE.”  They started talking story, and before you knew it, they had a movie in the works.  “We used Mini Hollywood (the set built by Leone for the film FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) and Fort Bravo (used in hundreds of Spaghetti Westerns as well: DEATH RIDES A HORSE, BLINDMAN, CHATO’S LAND, etc.) and we shot in the desert of Tabernas and the mountains of Abla for the epic final duel.” (You can read more details about the production HERE )

Tanner Beard

6 BULLETS TO HELL is a revenge tale, about a peaceful man who must put on a badge and track down the men who destroyed his world.  It’s made very much in the spaghetti western manner and style.  It was shot in Spain and edited in the U.S.  It has five credited writers: Chip Baker, Jose L. Villanueva, Tanner Beard, Danny Garcia, Russell Quinn Cummings, and it’s co-directed by Tanner Beard and Russell Quinn Cummings. 

Don't let them in!

The stars are Crispian Belfrage as the lawman, Tanner Beard as an outlaw with no conscience, and Magda Rodriguez, Aaron Stielstra, Russell Quinn Cummings, and long-time Euro-western regular Antonio Mayans.  I had the pleasure of watching the first half hour of the film (note: they didn’t hold back on the rest of the film; I just couldn’t get the rest to play.  I HATE watching movies on-line!), and enjoyed it a helluvah lot!  Spaghetti Western fans will be ‘all in’ as soon as they see the titles roll, and hear the first dubbed line of dialogue!  It manages the very dicey balancing act of being enough of an homage to bring the knowing smiles, while still maintaining its own integrity as a dramatic story.  I’ll have more information on the Festival in the coming weeks.  


On Wednesday, August 20th, at high noon, Rob Word will present, as he does on the third Wednesday of every month, the Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry, which this time out will celebrate that legendary location for Western films for 99 years, Melody Ranch!  A working ranch from the 19th century, and a movie ranch since 1915, it was the stomping ground of silent stars like William S. Hart and Tom Mix, and with the coming of sound, it became Monogram Ranch.  Incalculable sagebrush sagas were shot there, and it gained its greatest fame when Gene Autry bought the property in 1952, and rechristened it Melody Ranch after his long-running radio show. 

In addition to Gene’s own movies, just about every western TV series shot episodes there, and among the many series that called the lot home were GUNSMOKE, BRET MAVERICK, and DEADWOOD.  Hundreds of features have been shot there, including the recent DJANGO UNCHAINED, and currently the miniseries WESTWORLD is lensing there. 

Among the guests attending will be one of the great child stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Jane Withers, who starred with Gene Autry in SHOOTING HIGH!  The event is free, but you have to buy your own lunch, and I’d advise you to get there early, as the tables do fill up.  The good news is, if you end up at one of the outdoor tables, there will be a live video feed.  See you there!

Gene and Jane in SHOOTING HIGH!


Thursday night at 8 (tho’ the doors open at 7), Cowboy balladeer John Bergstrom will be celebrating the release of his fourth CD, BUTTERFIELD STAGE, with a concert at The Rep, a.k.a. The Repertory East Playhouse, 24266 Main St., Newhall, CA 91321.  Tickets are just $20, and you can buy them by calling 877-340-9378. This concert is being presented by the excellent folks at OutWest Western Boutique and Cultural Center, our sponsor with the logo at the top left of the page – and you can buy all of John Bergstrom’s CDs at that site. 

But wait – there’s more!   I caught OutWest honcho Bobbi Jean Bell in such a good mood that she told me she’ll give away two free pairs of tickets to the first two folks who email me and ask for them!  Just send me a note at, and be sure to put ‘John Bergstrom’ in the subject line, so I don’t think you’re one of those Nigerian Princes who keeps contacting me!


At noon on Saturday, August 23rd, The Autry will screen a pair of Gene’s movies in the Imagination Gallery, BOOTS AND SADDLES (Rep. 1937) and GOLD MINE IN THE SKY (Rep.1938).  In BOOTS, an English kid inherits a ranch, and wants to sell it, but Gene wants the boy to become a westerner, and help him raise horses for the Army.  Another man wants to buy the ranch, and when his and Gene’s bids are the same, they decide to settle it with a race.  The best part is, the kid actor, New Zealander Ronald Sinclair, would in fact give up his acting career to join the U.S. Army when war broke out, and would return to be a very successful movie editor.  And the other bidder is played by Gordon Elliot, who would become a big star a year later, when Republic changed his name to Wild Bill Elliot.   In GOLD MINE troubles ensues when Gene is made the executor of a will, and has to decide who a high-spirited heiress may and may not marry!  Both co-star Smiley Burnette, and are directed by Republic action-ace Joe Kane.  


GENE AUTRY ENTERTAINMENT continues to release four-packs of Gene’s films, and I’ve just received volume 5 (I’ve also received 6&7, which I’ll be reviewing in the near future).  Made from 1949 to 1953, they’re all Gene Autry‘Productions released by Columbia Pictures.  As always, each features a beautiful female lead – Barbara Britton, Elena Verdugo, Virginia Huston, and Gail Davis.  And they all feature Champion, the World’s Wonder Horse.  Two star Pat Buttram, one stars Smiley Burnette, but in the first, Gene rides sidekickless!

LOADED PISTOLS (Col 1949) is an unusual Gene Autry entry in a number of ways, most noticeably that it’s a legit murder mystery, opening with a shooting when the lights are switched off during a crap game.  There’s even one of those fun THIN MAN-styled, “You’re probably wondering why I brought you all here tonight,” scenes where the crime is reenacted!  The victim is a friend of Gene’s, and the suspect is such a jerk that you realize Gene is stepping in more to make sure the guilty party doesn’t get away, rather than to see the innocent jerk freed.  This is the first Autry I recall seeing without a sidekick, and much as I like Smiley and Pat, it’s an interesting change.  Barbara Britton, the beautiful female lead, had already made an impression opposite Joel McCrea in THE VIRGINIAN, and done a pair of films with Randolph Scott so, unlike his other ladies, she receives title-card billing with Gene.  She’s probably best remembered for costarring with Richard Denning in the MR. AND MRS. SMITH series.

Also of note in the cast are Chill Wills as a lawman who keeps confiscating Gene’s guns; old western leading man Jack Holt; Robert Shayne before he’d become Inspector Henderson on SUPERMAN; ace geezer character actor Clem Bevans; and one of my favorites silent movie comedians, Snub Pollard, he of the handlebar mustache, and he even takes a pratfall – pretty impressive at sixty!  This is truly an outdoor picture, with little time wasted between walls.  Full advantage is taken of the beautiful Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, and the beautiful Champion.

As the title suggests, GENE AUTRY AND THE MOUNTIES (Col 1951) shifts the action north to Canada, or actually to heavily pine-forested Big Bear Lake.  In a story that today would be described as ‘suggested by actual events,’ Gene and Pat pursue into Canada a group of French Canadians who are heisting U.S. banks to fund a Canadian Revolution.  The boys encounter a startling world where Mounties are reviled and despised.  When their Mountie friend Terrie Dillon (Richard Emory) is nearly killed by the bandits, the nearest help is lovely Marie Duvol (long-time Universal starlet Elena Verdugo), whose juvie brother (Jim Frasher) and uncle (Trevor Bardette) are among the Mountie-haters.  And wouldn’t you know, their ring-leader Pierre LaBlond (Carleton Young) has plans for Marie that make her shudder.  

Unusual for the amount of seething hatred in the story, even easy-going Gene loses patience with the brother who is mean to his own dog.  When the kid asks if Gene plans to beat him up, he says it wouldn’t be fair for a grown man to beat a boy.  But he adds, never changing his smile, “If I were your size, I’d skin you alive.”  Directed by John English, as is LOADED PISTOLS, there’s a very dramatic out-of-control fire sequence towards the end. 

Again reflecting history, NIGHT STAGE TO GALVESTON (Col 1952) focuses on the days after the Civil War, when the Texas Rangers were disbanded, replaced by a corrupt State Police service, in the movie run by suave but villainous Robert Livingston.  With the support of newspaper publisher Porter Hall and his daughter Virginia Houston, Gene and Pat gather criminal evidence from ex-Rangers.  But Livingston won’t go down without a fight.  By turns effective and cloyingly adorable is twelve-year-old Judy Nugent as a child orphaned by the homicidal State Police.  Nugent would do two films for Douglas Sirk, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION and THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW, at twenty be a continuing character on the Billy the Kid series THE TALL MAN, and later marry, and divorce, GUNSMOKE star Buck Taylor. 

Almost unrecognizable without his mask in a small, uncredited role, is Clayton Moore, THE LONE RANGER (Robert Livingston was also the Lone Ranger in a Republic serial).  Moore had been dropped from his series over a salary dispute in 1950, and while John Hart was wearing the mask for 54 episodes, generous men like Gene Autry gave Clayton small roles in movies and TV episodes, often unbilled or as ‘Clay Moore’, until the LONE RANGER producers came to their senses and brought him back. 

The final movie in the set is one from Gene’s last year of filmmaking, GOLDTOWN GHOST RIDERS (Col 1953).  The story of a gold-rush town built on a foundation of fraud, it’s an unusual entry for a number of reasons.  Gene plays not only a rancher, but a circuit judge.  Also, the story is told largely in flashback – the tale begins with a man looking for revenge after being imprisoned for a decade, and most of the story concerns the events that led to his imprisonment.   It also raises an interesting legal quandary that would be revisited in 1999’s DOUBLE JEOPARDY: if you’ve already served a term for the murder of someone who it turns out is alive, is it then legal for you to kill them?  There’s even a supernatural element; Smiley Burnette tells the story of an ethereal pack of ‘Ghost Riders’ who haunt the area and jealously guard their claims. 

The film features Gene’s nemesis from GENE AUTRY AND THE MOUNTIES, Carleton Young; a very young Denver Pyle; and as a young Mexican miner whose claim is jumped; Neyle Morrow.  A favorite of the great ‘guy story’ filmmaker Sam Fuller, Morrow would appear in fourteen of his crime thrillers, war movies and westerns.  The female lead is Gene’s lovely frequent co-star Gale Davis, who would soon shed her gingham in favor of fringed buckskin and star for Gene’s Flying A company as ANNIE OAKLEY.    

Special features with each movie include a montage of stills and posters, inside info from producer and film historian Alex Gordon, an episode of the GENE AUTRY MELODY RANCH RADIO SHOW, and Gene and Pat doing on-camera introductions from MELODY RANCH THEATER, a TV series they hosted on The Nashville Network in 1987.  Personally, I like to listen to the radio shows on my computer, but you can also run them on your DVD player.  My favorite of this group is one where Jack Benny is guest, plugging his switch of radio networks.  The TV intros are fun and informative; the boys have a lot of amusing memories of performing in Canada.  Also there’s a surprisingly direct discussion of the importance of non-whites in the settling of the American West.  Released by Timeless Media Group, this and the other  Gene Autry Collections are available from OutWest HERE and other fine retailers.

Lost in Translation: Germany’s Fascination With the American Old West
HERE is the link --  I’m sure you’ll find it fifteen minutes very well-spent!


That’s it until next week!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright August 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

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