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