Saturday, November 14, 2020



Bruce Dern, Michael Welch, Cam Gigandet


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



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 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:


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:



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:


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

And that’s a wrap!

Happy Trails,


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


Friday, July 31, 2020



James McBride’s 2013 novel, The Good Lord Bird, about John Brown, the abolitionist firebrand who tried to trigger the Civil War, will reach Showtime as an eight-part limited series beginning October 4th.  Hawke, in addition to portraying Brown, created the series about one of the most fascinating and controversial men in American history.  Considered a great hero by some, a lunatic by others, and a lunatic hero by quite a few, in May of 1856, Brown and his followers went to Pottawatomie, Kansas, and attacked slavery supporters, hacking six of them to pieces with swords. This was followed by his famous attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory in Virginia, to get arms for the fight.  He was eventually captured, tried, and hanged. 


Also in the cast is Daveed Diggs, who created the roles of Marquis de Lafayette, and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton, will play Frederick Douglass, and Oglala stuntman and actor Mo Brings Plenty will play Ottawa Jones.  The story will largely be seen through the eyes of Onion, a fictional runaway enslaved boy played by Joshua Caleb Johnson.

Joshua Caleb Johnson and Ethan Hawke

The idea of John Brown conjures up different images in different minds.

Here is how artist John Steuart Curry saw Brown.

Here is Thomas Hovenden's view in "John Brown's Last Moments."

There have been few film portrayals of John Brown.  Sterling Hayden played him in the The Blue and The Grey miniseries, but Raymond Massey is best-remembered as Brown, and in fact played him twice.  The first time was for director Michael Curtiz in the 1940 Warner Brothers film The Santa Fe Trail.  To get the required crazed look, Massey wore solid black contact lenses, and could not see a thing through them.  He played the role again fifteen years later in 7 Angry Men. A low-budget Allied Artists film, it is not easy to find – I’ve only seen clips.  It was directed by Charles Marquis Warren, the man who adapted Gunsmoke from Radio to TV, and created Rawhide.   Below is Massey from Santa Fe Trail, delivering Brown's gallows speech.



This past Wednesday, July 29th, The Cowboy Way, the reality show that follows the real lives of working cowboys Bubba, Booger, Cody and their families, returned to INSP for season 7. And the amazing thing is, you can watch it all RIGHT NOW!  Since July 15th, not only the new season, but every episode of every season of Cowboy Way has been made available on INSP.COM, across any kind of screen you’ve got, and also on YouTube.  Why drop the entire season at once?  Doug Butts, SVP of Programming for INSP explains, “The program’s many loyal viewers simply can’t get enough of the series. As soon as one season ends, we begin receiving countless requests (asking) when the next season will debut. In addition to viewers on INSP, this series has found a following among those who have discovered past episodes on various streaming platforms. In an effort to give the fans what they want, and to expose our guys to an even larger audience, we made the decision to make The Cowboy Way available digitally before the new season premieres on INSP.” 

Personally, I like the traditional model of one-a-week, mainly because I don’t like to use up all the new shows so quickly – I want to eke them out.  But I think it’s great that INSP is giving us the option to view the show any way we want.



Although 1953’s Shane was undoubtedly the high watermark of Alan Ladd’s Western career, he still had some important and impressive work ahead of him in that arena, notably 1958’s The Badlanders, and 1956’s The Proud Rebel.  Based on the The Journal of Linnett Moore by John Edward Grant, who scripted The Alamo, The Comancheros, and Hondo (and don’t correct me on Hondo  – Grant wrote the screenplay and Louis L’Amour wrote the paperback tie-in from it), Samuel Goldwyn Jr.’s  production of Rebel is the post-war story of former Confederate soldier John Chandler (Alan Ladd).  His young son, David, has been struck mute, unable to speak since the wartime trauma of seeing his mother killed, and Chandler roams the country, his one goal to find a doctor who can help his son. 

David is played by Alan Ladd’s real-life son David Ladd, who was around ten, and making his third appearance with his father.  When father and son arrive in a Northern town, looking for help for the boy, they run afoul of Jed Burleigh (a very young Harry Dean Stanton), who comes from a sheepherding family, and covets the Chandlers’ remarkable sheepdog.  Chandler is bullied into a fight, railroaded to jail, and he and his son are rescued by Linnett Moore of the story’s title, in the person of Olivia de Havilland, as a lady farmer who is also being bullied by the Burleigh family – led by nasty Dean Jagger. 

It’s a beautiful and moving story, strengthened by uncharacteristic performances.  Ladd is notably subdued; de Havilland is so unglamorized, and plays with such a deep voice that she’s unrecognizable at first; and young David is remarkably natural and affecting, without being cloying or pathetic.  Also impressive in support are Cecil Calloway as the Quaker doctor, Henry Hull as the prejudiced judge, Mary Wickes as the gossip, Percy Helton as a photographer, and John Carradine as a travelling salesman. 

Sadly there is no credit for the trainer of the dog, King.  The entire story revolves around possession of King, and King’s performance is astonishing in its details: you’ll have no doubt that men would kill to own him.  Michael Curtiz’s direction is as masterful as it is invisible.  Cinematographer Ted D. McCord makes creative use of color and shadow.  The screenplay by Joseph Petracca and Lillie Hayward gives full life to all of the characters, which is particularly striking in the final, complex gundown.

This is a Public Domain film, so quality tends to be uneven, but the Alpha Video version is among the better prints I’ve seen.  Incidentally, David Ladd would go on to star in Dog of Flanders and other films, and have his greatest success as a film producer, and production executive at M.G.M. and other studios.


All too often dismissed as Sam Peckinpah’s first halting directorial effort (not counting his TV work), Deadly Companions is much more.  Produced by star Maureen O’Hara and her brother for a slim $300,000, it is an intimate study of a woman’s pain, a man’s guilt, and their ultimate redemption.  It would be one of her three collaborations with co-star Brian Keith, along with the Disney comedy The Parent Trap that same year, and the Western The Rare Breed five years later. 

Peckinpah and Keith were just coming off their excellent but short-lived TV collaboration, The Westerner, and in fact there is precious little difference between Keith’s portrayals in each (and no difference in wardrobe at all).  Except that here, Keith’s character, a former Union Sergeant known as Yellowleg for the stripe on his pants, has more than a little larceny in his soul.  He rescues crooked gambler Turk (Chill Wills) from being hung, just as he would have in The Westerner. But here it’s because he wants Turk and accomplice Steve Cochran to help him rob a bank. 

No, Brian Keith's outfit is not really the color of a banana!

But another gang robs the bank ahead of them, and in the ensuing shootout, Yellowleg accidentally kills a boy, the son of saloon entertainer Kit Tildon (Maureen O’Hara). And in a foreshadowing of key elements and images from both Django and Lonesome Dove, Yellowleg helps Tildon transport her son’s coffin through Apache country so he can be buried in the town of Siringo, beside his father.  It’s a small film, and a sad one, but well done and worth watching. The script by Albert S. Fleischman, from his own novel, gives plenty of drama to O’Hara and Keith, let’s Strother Martin be surprisingly likable as a minister, and lets Chill Wills be repugnant as never before.  Cinematographer William H. Clothier, D.P. on over twenty John Wayne pictures, knows where and how to use the camera for maximum effect.  The biggest weakness is the music. O’Hara sings the forgettable theme, and Marlin Skiles’ score, usually one instrument, sounds like it was recorded in a phone booth.



Jack London got the Giallo/Spaghetti Western treatment when Lucio Fulci, director of Four of the Apocalypse and House by the Cemetery, took on White Fang.  As the cover-notes in this Alpha Video release point out, this film was a response to the popularity of the 1972 Charlton Heston version of Call of the Wild, so perhaps this DVD release is a result of the 2020 Harrison Ford version.

The problem with adapting White Fang to the screen has always been that the novel’s story is told largely from the point of view of a wolf, something extremely difficult to film.  This version retains some characters and situations from the novel, but is largely the humans’ story.  And the wolf is played by a German Shepherd.  That being said, White Fang is an enjoyable and entertaining movie, and while some early supposed snowy exteriors are laughable, the various Norwegian and Spanish locations stand in well for the Klondike.

An Inuit has trained White Fang, but when he and his son take him to Dawson, greedy ‘Beauty” Smith (beloved Eurovillain John Steiner) kills the man for his dog, and journalist Jason Scott (Franco Nero, the star of the film) searches for a witness who will testify to the crime.   There are dog fights and other competitions, cruelty to humans as well as animals, and it gets pretty brutal, no surprise with Fulci at the helm.  In one of the greatest imaginable wastes of natural beauty, lovely Virna Lisi has a large role, as a nun in full habit. Although said to be a hit among Italian kids at the time, it is certainly too rough for children by modern standards, and much of the plot, about a drunken minister (Fernando Rey) who has lost his faith, a fallen woman (Carole Andre), would not interest a kid, but Franco and the dog are always fun to watch.

The success of White Fang led inevitably to a sequel, White Fang to the Rescue. While the smaller budget is obvious in the casting – villain Henry Silva is the only name, and Meruzio Merli is the star based on his resemblance to Franco Nero, it is in some ways better than its predecessor. Not saddled with an unadaptable book, this one’s writers, Sandro Continenza and Giovanni Simonelli, come up with a clever premise: when White Fang’s owner, Benjamin Dover (as in “bend over”) is murdered for his gold, his friend Burt Halloway (Merli) finds and buries the body, takes on the dead man’s identity (his own reputation is none too good), and heads to town with White Fang, carrying the dead man’s gold claim, and hoping to discover his killers.  When he arrives, he is amazed to learn that he is a father: Dover’s wife has died, and the son, who has not seen his father since infancy, has been sent to live with who he thinks is his father. 

Directed by Tonino Ricci, Lucio Fulci’s frequent second unit director, the film does a better job of balancing the light and dark elements than its forerunner.  Shot largely in the Italian ski-resort town of Cortina d'Ampezzo, it’s beautiful to see, and the ending is surprisingly satisfying (though violent).  One interesting footnote; visual effects are by Carlo Rambaldi, who would gain great success, and two Oscars, for his creations for Alien (1979) and E.T. (1982).


Have a great start to August, and I'll be posting again in a few weeks!

Happy Trails,


All Original Material Copyright July 2020 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved


Saturday, June 20, 2020



On Sunday night, Fathers Day, Kevin Costner returns to the Paramount Network for a third season of Yellowstone, the contemporary Western family drama that pits the Dutton family against the government, developers, American Indians, and anyone else who’d try to wrest away control of their humongous ranch.  It is the most beautifully photographed show on the air today.  Co-created and largely written by Taylor Sheridan, who brought you Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River, it’s a highly entertaining, slick, loud update of the Dallas type of TV drama, and the body count is truly amazing.

On Tuesday I took part in a virtual screening and group Q&A with Kevin Costner, presented by Deadline Hollywood, and moderated by Peter Hammond.  I had already covered much of what was discussed in my interview with Costner for True West magazine (you can read it HERE), but there were a couple of interesting questions about what he takes away from the role of John Dutton, and the appeal of the whole Dutton clan.

"It's a dysfunctional family, and what your take away is that if you don't pay attention, your children can go in (all) directions; and nobody's perfect. I want to try to avoid that kind of drama in my own life. And I probably don't need to be killing anybody in my life either. But what do I take away? Maybe just the joy of knowing that I have been able to do things that other people wish that maybe they had been able to do. I'm really aware of how lucky I've been.

“I think people enjoy watching a level of dysfunction. They enjoy hearing outrageous things come out of somebody's mouth in a really critical moment. There are moments in time we wish we were saying what these characters are saying. All of us are confronted with daily issues and we usually have to walk away from them. And it's only in walking away when we decide what we wished we would've said to somebody who really deserved it. In Yellowstone, we actually get to say things to people that I think people (at home) wish they could say to somebody else. I think one of the reasons why Yellowstone has caught air, is that we live in a world where, when we have problems, people turn to their lawyers to solve it. We turn to our agents to arbitrate a problem, to PR people to try to clean something up, when there's really nothing to clean up, when really in our own life, I'd like to confront the person who is really bothering me personally. We put so much distance between being able to find a level of justice that we feel is appropriate for somebody who is really bugging us. To be honest, I think that people would like to arbitrate their own problems. So when we see somebody like John Dutton arbitrating his problems, sometimes we can live precariously through people like that. I wish we could do that; I wish I would've said that; I wish I would've smacked that guy myself. I think that Taylor captures that level of escapism. It's tapping into a nerve where we wish we could solve some of our own problems. That might feel really good to tell somebody who's been bothering us really what time it is.”


You may remember that back in March I told you about A SOLDIER’S REVENGE the post-Civil War tale of a former Confederate soldier, Frank Connor (Neal Bledsoe), whose PTSD has made him unable to adapt to civilian life util the unwanted responsibility thrust upon him by a chance meeting with two desperate children leads him to uncover a gun-running scheme operated by former friend and comrade-in-arms Briggs (Rob Mayes).  

This week the film arrived in your choice of DVD and Blu-Ray at Walmart, Best Buy, and all of the major VOD platforms, including Apple and Amazon.  If you missed my interview with Director Michael Feifer (or are just dying to read it again), go HERE.  And you can order it direct from its distributor, Well Go USA Entertainment, HERE.


A Blu-Ray Double-Feature Review

Director William Castle is so beloved for his delightfully schlocky horror movies – Homicidal, Straight-Jacket, I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are – that few fans realize what a range he had.  As a producer, he brought you Orson Welles’ Lady From Shanghai, and Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.  As a director of B programmers at Columbia, he honed his considerable skills on The Whistler and Crime Doctor series, gave Robert Mitchum his break with the noir When Strangers Marry, and directed a slew of Westerns (HERE is a link to the 8 film collection, Fastest Guns of the West, from Mill Creek Entertainment).

Bookending his 1950’s Westerns are a pair of noirish stories that Mill Creek has beautifully restored and released as a Blu-Ray set, Hollywood Story (1951) and New Orleans Uncensored (1955).  Hollywood Story, scripted by Frederick Kohner (who penned Deanna Durbin musicals, created Gidget, and also wrote the first screen version of Donovan’s Brain, 1944’s The Lady and the Monster), and Frederick Brady (a prolific early-TV writer), it’s the story of independent producer Larry O’Brien (Richard Conte), who is looking for a story to film, and stumbles into the true unsolved case of a director who was shot while making a film, just at the dawn of talking pictures. 

And more people start dying when O’Brien pulls together all the survivors who were associated with the film, a terrific cast that includes Henry Hull as the screenwriter, Paul Cavanagh as the aging leading man, and lovely Julie Adams as the daughter of the leading lady (you can read my interview with the late Julie Adams HERE), plus non-comic performances by Jim Backus and Fred Clark, and Richard Egan as the cop.  Clearly inspired by the truly unsolved murder of Director William Desmond Taylor, this is Castle’s Sunset Boulevard, and he peppers the film with cameos by silent stars like William Farnum, Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, Helen Gibson, and Elmo Lincoln.

The story and performances are solid, but in a way, the biggest star is the locations.  Though a Universal film, it was mostly shot at the quaint old Charlie Chaplin Studio on La Brea, plus scenes during 1950’s Santa Claus Lane Parade on Hollywood Boulevard, and in the chic, now gone, restaurants in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, all captured in wonderfully crisp black and white by Carl E. Guthrie.  Edited by Virgil E. Vogel, it’s a pleasure from beginning to end.

New Orleans Uncensored is, sadly, not in the same league.  An expose’ of longshoreman’s rackets in New Orleans, this poor man’s On The Waterfront is ploddingly plotted. It is cast with a mix of non-actor government and Union officials playing themselves, badly; and cultured actors like Arthur Franz, William Henry and Stacy Harris laughably miscast as tough-guys.  Beverly Garland and Helene Stanton are pretty to look at, and Michael Ansara and Mike Mazurki are believably tough, but not enough to save this bore.  On the plus side, like Hollywood Story, its location work features landmark’s like CafĂ© du Monde.  I recommend the set, but Hollywood Story is the fun one.  You can order it from Mill Creek HERE


Big, handsome, intimidating actor Gregg Palmer died on Halloween, 2015, at the age of 88.  The son of Norwegian immigrants, he was a cryptographer during the Second World War.  Afterwards he became a radio announcer, then decided to give acting a try, was a contract player at Universal for a while, and much more successful after he decided to freelance.  Although he acted in all genres, he’s best remembered for his Westerns.  He did four with his friend Audie Murphy: The Cimarron Kid (1952), Column South (1953), Murphy’s autobiographical To Hell and Back (1955), and The Quick Gun (1964). 

Wardrobe test from Column South

He was particularly lucky to become part of the John Wayne stock company, and do six films with the Duke: The Comancheros (1961), The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970), Rio Lobo (1970), The Shootist (1976), and the one he’s best remembered – and reviled – for, Big Jake (1971).  He’s the one who shoots John Wayne’s dog!

Last weekend there was an estate sale at his beautiful Hollywood Hills home.  I was happy to pick up a couple of his scripts, from episodes of The Lawman and Gunsmoke.   But I’m sure glad I didn’t have my heart set on a mug.  Starting in the 1960s (I think), John Wayne famously commissioned a commemorative coffee mug for each movie, with a personalized mug going to each and every cast and crew member.  They had four, Gregg’s mugs from Big Jake, Chisum, Undefeated, and Rio Lobo.  I asked to see them, and they handed them to me in a shoebox.  How much, I asked?  $5,000.  Each.  I gave them all back.  I told my daughter one would make a great Fathers Day gift, but I think I’m getting a necktie.

In case you’re interested in seeing what they had, I’m including a link to the estate sale HERE, but it’s just for your curiosity; the sale is over.


INSP’s The Warrant premieres on INSP on Saturday night.  The new Western stars Neal McDonough and Casper Van Dien as former Union soldiers who now find themselves on opposite sides of the law: McDonough is a lawman, and Van Dien runs a band of outlaws still fighting the Civil War.  And just to be clear, although Van Dien’s character is nicknamed The Saint, there is no connection with the Leslie Charteris detective stories.  In the previous Round-up (the last Round-up sounds too ominous), I interviewed McDonough (HERE).

Here is my interview with Casper Van Dien.  I told him that it was a beautiful day to be quarantined in Los Angeles, and asked him where he was.

CASPER VAN DIEN:  I'm in Florida and it's just beautiful down here. I moved out of California.

HENRY PARKE: You're happier in Florida?


HENRY PARKE: Let me just say at the outset that I've always enjoyed your work. When I told my daughter at the interviewing you today, she said to ask you about Starship Troopers and I had to admit I hadn't seen it, so I watched it yesterday afternoon. What a picture!

CASPER VAN DIEN:  Oh yeah! That's actually just like a Western in space. That's was a fun movie to do. And your daughter told you to see that? That's awesome.

HENRY PARKE: I particularly loved you riding on the back of that huge bug and throwing the grenade into it.

Van Dien and a bug in Starship Troopers

CASPER VAN DIEN:  It's almost like the hull of a boat but upside down, on top of a Caterpillar truck, moving around on four pistons, going side to side, backward and forward. And I think the reason I was able to ride it at such a high speed -- and I did it for three days, like 12 hours a day -- was because I ride horses. So I think that helped. I also sail, and I surfed a little but, so I had a couple of different things that helped me to be able to stand up on that. I mean, I fell down a lot, and had wires attached so I wouldn't fall off  because I was twenty-five feet up in the air on this thing while it was going. But it was a blast to do.

Dr. Quinn can tell Van Dien's up to no good

HENRY PARKE:  So that just goes to show that The Warrant is not your first Western.  But then again you did a Western Western even before Starship Troopers didn't you? I'm thinking of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.

CASPER VAN DIEN: Yes, I did a Dr. Quinn. Cattle Drive (1994); I was a cattle rustler. And then they came to me after two days of filming, and said they want to make this a two-part special. Can you work next week? That was a lot of fun for me. And then I got to do Aces 'N' Eights (2008), which was with Ernest Borgnine and Bruce Boxleitner. Which was a lot of fun to do as well. It was co-written by one of the guys who wrote Pale Rider (1985), Dennis Shryack. That was fun Western to shoot, too. I loved meeting, working with Ernest Borgnine, just being on set with him and hearing his stories. He was quite a character.

HENRY PARKE: Terrific actor. So, you had experience with horses?

CASPER VAN DIEN: I did. I had my own horse for a while, and I love riding. I rode for years over by the Equestrian Center in Burbank.

HENRY PARKE: Growing up, were you a fan of the Western genre?

CASPER VAN DIEN: Yes, very much so. I loved John Wayne, John Ford films. I just love Westerns; I watch them all the time. Edward Neumeier, who wrote Starship Troopers, and Robocop (1987), he is a huge John Wayne, John Ford fan. And we do little homages to them in that movie. We did things from They Were Expendable (1945) and Westerns like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). When I was reading the scripts, because I read all the different versions he wrote for that, and it was just amazing, because he'd write these different homages to different John Wayne and Ford films. And I was like, oh my God, you did that? And he's like, yeah: you remember everything! But it was fun for me because I just love old Hollywood and John Wayne's my favorite actor. So I love being a part of that. It was just a blast to be in The Warrant, because for me it's just like a wholesome, old fashioned Western.

HENRY PARKE: From Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers to the Saint in The Warrant, you've played a lot of characters with a military background. I read that you attended military school.

CASPER VAN DIEN: I did; I went to Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida.

HENRY PARKE:  Did that experience help you playing characters with a military background?

CASPER VAN DIEN: I think it helped. I grew up in a family with a lot of men who served in different branches, Marines, Air Force, and I was in the Coast Guard as well. My grandfather, my father, my grandfather that I didn't get to meet was in the Navy, too. My brother-in-law was in the Army up until recently, and my cousin was in the Army Air Corps. My dad's a Navy pilot, so I grew up in that lifestyle. And I think it was a great, solid upbringing and helped me playing each character, and also just being an actor. So I attribute that a lot to military school and military family.

HENRY PARKE: You've played a wide range of characters, even a werewolf recently. But considering Johnny Rico and Tarzan especially, I usually think of you in good guy, hero roles. With that in mind, how did you like playing the villain in The Warrant?

CASPER VAN DIEN: I think The Saint, he has a lot of depth, and a lot of history. The way he's written, there was probably something a little bit askew with him from the beginning. But the tragedy that happens, the man he turns into, I had a lot of sympathy for him, and I think that helped me be able to play the character.

HENRY PARKE: That tragedy, of course, is the death of your son from a Confederate bullet, and you go AWOL to seek revenge. The scene where John Breaker has brought you back, and is lecturing you about how you shouldn't be going after revenge, and you break down. Your scene is, to me, the dramatic high point of the picture.

CASPER VAN DIEN: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. That scene was the one that really sold me on the picture. And when we were doing it, there was a Vietnam vet there, a relative of the guy who was in charge of our guns. He left the set while we were filming. And later he said, I'm sorry, I had to leave. You took me back to a place where -- I don't cry. But I did twice, once was for the guys in Vietnam, and the loss of my wife was the other time. I was sorry I, just had to leave, and I just want to say thank you. I appreciated that a lot. You know, you get older, you live through losses, and divorces, and life experience that helps you bring more depth to certain roles. You're not grateful for some of the things that happen in your life, but when you get to certain scenes in a movie, you can hit something like that, and where'd that all come from? You can feel it. I guess you learn to appreciate life's journey in doing that. But yeah, that scene was a day. My wife was, was there on-set, too, and she was just like, I was nervous, afraid that you were just going to be really destroyed. Afterwards I was okay. When you're doing a physical thing, all the fights and things, at the end you're just physically tired. But when you something where you cry, and you really go there, that's more draining. You get more exhausted from something like that.

HENRY PARKE:  You also have some physically demanding scenes. You have a lot of good fighting. Did you enjoy that?

CASPER VAN DIEN: Yeah, and Neal really wanted to go with it. When you have an actor who steps up like him -- I'm a huge fan of Neal -- he's a really solid actor, and he really put everything into it when we were doing a fight sequence. We had so much fun doing it.

HENRY PARKE:  With Neal as the hero and you as the villain, did you feel like you were playing each other’s parts?

CASPER VAN DIEN: Usually I would play the John Breaker role, but when they offered me The Saint I was really grateful for the opportunity. There's a lot to that character. You know, 32 years as an actor right now, and when somebody says something like, that's the highlight of the movie, that means a lot; I appreciate it.

HENRY PARKE: Any other people that you worked with on the shoot, that were memorable? Any other memorable events?

CASPER VAN DIEN: Well, I loved working with everybody on this movie. I mean, Steven R. McQueen, who's the grandson of Steve McQueen.  I really loved Gregory Alan Williams, my sidekick or my partner or whatever. He's an actor who's been around a while, and I really just wish I had had more with him, but I liked all the characters that they had. I didn't get to work with Annabeth Gish, but she's awesome. But you know, it's good to be in the movie with her. There's a lot of good people in there.

HENRY PARKE: You've certainly done a lot of contemporary stories, as well as futuristic ones and period stories. Do you have a preference?

CASPER VAN DIEN: I think I probably watch more old Westerns than a normal person, (laughs), so I would probably say I liked period best. Because I love history. I look at history of films. Our film industry almost went belly-up during the Great Depression, and the only thing that kept us alive were Westerns. I think of Star Wars as like a Western. Paul Newman and Robert Redford -- I got my daughter to watch them in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and she just loves them, and watched all of their films. There are so many wonderful Westerns, from Blazing Saddles to Tombstone to Shane. I just love watching them, and I'm thrilled to be a part of them. Director Brent Christy is a great guy, and I'd love to work with him again, and do more Westerns. He started out as a cinematographer, and he had such beautiful shots; I only wish we had more time, and I think everybody always says that on films. And I wish I was on it for longer, but I was thrilled to be a part of it.

HENRY PARKE:  Now this is completely off The Warrant, but in Sleepy Hollow (1999), you worked with two of my absolute film heroes. No offense to Johnny Depp, but I mean Hammer horror stars Michael Gough and Christopher Lee.

CASPER VAN DIEN:  Well, I didn't work with Christopher Lee, but Michael Gough was amazing. Johnny was amazing on that film, and I got to ride a horse in that one. And funny enough, when I went over to England (to film), my horse was the original Black Beauty from the TV series. Steve Dent was the horse coordinator on Sleepy Hollow, and the horse's name was Sam. And then when I did an Outer Limits, we did a scifi Western thing called Heart's Desire, and the horse in that was also called Sam; that was in Canada.  I had a horse for two and a half years, I rode her every day, and she was Sam. So I've, I've had a lot of experience with Sams. I did another movie not too long ago called Roped. There were all these Cowboys around, but I wasn't a cowboy, which was frustrating. I'm not the lead, I'm the father of one of the leads. It was a lot of fun. Modern day, so they're all modern-day cowboys, which I don't mind either, but I like the old west. I like that genre; I like that time period. And The Warrant was fun to do because we had the Civil War, and we had Civil War reenactors. And they have all their authentic gear, and uniforms. That's a cool part of our history. (laughs) I mean, it's cool that we got through it.

HENRY PARKE: The country survived it. The reenactors are great to work with because they just bring so much knowledge onto set

CASPER VAN DIEN: And they love it. They love being a part of the movie. They want it to be authentic, and they have so much pride and that's awesome. Sometimes you hire extras, and they're not that into it. I mean, most people want to do a good job acting. But when it's reenactors, it's just another level of commitment. I once had somebody at a convention going up to me and asking what do you think of these people that come to these cons and dress up as characters? And I'm like, what do you mean, what do I think of that? That's what I do for a living. (laughs) That's my job. I think that's awesome. Here's these people that're doing their reenactments because they really love it. I think that's just beautiful. And I get to hang out with them, and they were really supportive.

If you don’t get INSP, or if you’d like to own a copy of The Warrant, you can buy it at Walmart, or direct from Mill Creek Entertainment HERE.


Ida Lupino directing

And maybe it’s a little early, but check out my article in the July/August 2020 issue of True West magazine, about the fistful of women who’ve directed Westerns, HERE.
And I hope all you dads out there have a wonderful Fathers Day!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright June 2020 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved