Rio Bravo (1959; USA; Technicolor; 141m) ***** d. Howard Hawks; w. Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett; ph. Russell Harlan; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, John Russell, Ricky Nelson, Claude Akins, Bob Steele, Myron Healey, Estelita Rodriguez, Malcolm Atterbury, Yakima Canutt, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, Bing Russell. A small-town sheriff in the American West enlists the help of a cripple, a drunk, and a young gunfighter in his efforts to hold in jail the brother of the local bad guy. Superb entertainment with characters you can route for and a near perfect cast. The interplay and contrast between the characters is what makes this so enjoyable. Wayne is at his stoic best as the sheriff; Martin delivers his finest performance as the recovering drunk; Brennan cackles and grumbles his way through his most memorable role as Stumpy and Dickinson oozes appeal as the girl with a past who falls for Wayne. Even Nelson gets through a slightly stiff portrayal of a young gunslinger and has time to share a tune with Martin. Escapist cinema at its very finest. Based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell (Hawks’ daughter). In 2014, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. More or less remade as EL DORADO (1966) and elements were also adopted in RIO LOBO (1970). Inspiration for John Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976). [PG]
Horse Soldiers, The (1959; USA; DeLuxe; 115m) ***½ d. John Ford; w. John Lee Mahin, Martin Rackin; ph. William H. Clothier; m. David Buttolph. Cast: John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers, Althea Gibson, Strother Martin, Hoot Gibson, Anna Lee, Russell Simpson, Carleton Young, Ken Curtis, Judson Pratt, Willis Bouchey, Bing Russell, O.Z. Whitehead, Hank Worden. A Union Cavalry outfit is sent behind confederate lines in strength to destroy a rail/supply centre. Solid Civil-War Western sees Cavalry Colonel Wayne and army medic Holden sparring with their ideals as rebel hostage Towers watches over and gradually warms to Wayne. Ford directs efficiently, handling the action scenes and spectacle with his usual aplomb. Whilst not amongst Ford-Wayne’s classics, this is still a sturdy character study. Loosely based on Harold Sinclair’s 1956 novel of the same name, which in turn was based on the historic 17-day Grierson’s Raid and Battle of Newton’s Station in Mississippi during the Civil War. [PG]
Jet Pilot (1957; USA; Technicolor; 112m) ** d. Josef Von Sternberg; w. Jules Furthman; ph. Winton C. Hoch; m. Bronislau Kaper. Cast: John Wayne, Janet Leigh, Jay C. Flippen, Paul Fix, Richard Rober, Hans Conried, Denver Pyle, Roland Winters, Kenneth Tobey. An Air Force colonel is assigned to escort defecting Soviet pilot and falls in love with her, but she is scheming to lure him back to the USSR. Poorly directed story fails to engage on any level and only the superb aerial photography and flight sequences make this film interesting. Tone veers uneasily from drama to comedy as Wayne and Leigh, who is at least appealing in her Russian spy role, skirt around each other. Filmed in 1949-50, this long held-back movie was finally released seven years later. [U]
Sea Chase, The (1955; USA; WarnerColor; 117m) *** d. John Farrow; w. James Warner Bellah, John Twist; ph. William H. Clothier; m. Roy Webb. Cast: John Wayne, Lana Turner, David Farrar, Lyle Bettger, Tab Hunter, James Arness, Paul Fix, Alan Hale Jr., John Qualen, Claude Akins, Richard Davalos, Lowell Gilmore, Wilton Graff, Peter Whitney, Luis Van Rooten. As World War II begins, German freighter captain Karl Ehrlich tries to get his ship back to Germany through a gantlet of Allied warships. Interesting cat-an-mouse drama set at sea with Wayne in commanding form despite being cast as a German. Turner adds glamour as the love interest. Elements of the plotting are contrived, but the story maintains interest until its finale. Based on the novel by Andrew Geer. [U]
Searchers, The (1956; USA; Technicolor; 119m) ***** d. John Ford; w. Frank S. Nugent; ph. Winton C. Hoch; m. Max Steiner. Cast: John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Jeffrey Hunter, Ward Bond, Vera Miles, John Qualen, Harry Carey Jr., Patrick Wayne, Henry Brandon, Antonio Moreno, Lana Wood, Olive Carey, Hank Worden, Pippa Scott, Ken Curtis. As a Civil War veteran spends years searching for a young niece captured by Indians, his motivation becomes increasingly questionable. Wayne gives a career-best performance as embittered ex-soldier in this truly memorable Western that rightly belongs with the very best of the genre. Gorgeously photographed by Hoch with dramatic Steiner score. Wonderful support cast with Bond notable as Texas Ranger on trail of rampaging Commanches. Ford’s best work as director with bookend shots becoming part of movie legend. Lana Wood played young Debbie Edwards and Natalie Wood, who was Lana’s older sister by eight years, played teenaged Debbie Edwards. Film debut of Pippa Scott. Based on the novel by Alan LeMay. [PG]
High and the Mighty, The (1954; USA; WarnerColor; 141m) *** d. William A. Wellman; w. Ernest K. Gann; ph. Archie Stout; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: John Wayne, Robert Newton, Robert Stack, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, Jan Sterling, Phil Harris, Sidney Blackmer, Ann Doran, David Brian, Paul Kelly, Sidney Blackmer, Doe Avedon, Karen Sharpe, John Smith. When a commercial airliner develops engine problems on a trans-Pacific flight and the pilot loses his nerve. Pioneering disaster movie set the template for much that followed, including the AIRPORT franchise. Its ensemble cast of stock characters may seem cliched today as a result. Initially slow-paced as the cast is introduced one by one, but tension builds in the second half. Tiomkin won an Oscar for his score. Gann adapted his own novel. [U]
Hondo (1953; USA; Warnercolor; 83m) **** d. John Farrow; w. James Edward Grant; ph. Robert Burks, Archie Stout; m. Hugo Friedhofer, Emil Newman. Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, Lee Aaker, James Arness, Paul Fix, Rodolfo Acosta, Leo Gordon, Tom Irish. An army despatch rider discovers a woman and her son living in the midst of warring Apaches, and he becomes their protector. Wayne in one of his best roles as drifter with Indian heritage. Page also impressive as the abandoned mother. Echoes of SHANE released a few months earlier. Great dialogue and well-choreographed action sequences add to impressive tale. Based on the story by Louis L’Amour. Film debut of Page. Originally filmed in 3-D. Followed by a TV series in 1967, two episodes of which were edited into the TV movie HONDO AND THE APACHES (1967). [PG]
KILLER IN THE RAIN (1964) ***½
by Raymond Chandler
First published by Hamish Hamilton, 1964
This edition: published by Penguin Books, 1979, 432pp.
Blurb: None of these eight stories features Philip Marlowe. He came later. But every one of them already has the deadly Chandler elan that made Philip Marlowe the coolest, toughest private eye ever.
These stories were written whilst Raymond Chandler was honing his craft in the pulp magazines of the 1930s. Seven of the eight were published before his fist novel, The Big Sleep (1939). The detective featured in each is a prototype for Philip Marlowe. Chandler’s detective was always used as an observer and a tool to move the plot, rather than a fully fledged character in his own right. As the books progressed Chandler finessed the Marlowe character to make him more rounded resulting in the masterpiece that was The Long Goodbye (1953). Whilst most of Chandler’s short stories were re-published (in collections such as The Simple Art of Murder and Trouble is My Business, these stories were held back until 1964, after Chandler’s death, as the plots had been re-used by Chandler in some of his novels.
The first story, Killer in the Rain (Black Mask, January 1935) **** is recognisable as the blackmail plot element used in The Big Sleep. Here the troubled young Carmen Dravec would become Carmen Sternwood and gain a sister. Dravec is a doting surrogate father and a heavy rather than the proud General Sternwood. Steiner would become Geiger, Joe Marty would become Joe Brody and Guy Slade would become Eddie Mars. The plot would be expanded for the novel, but many of the elements are here making the story a fascinating read. It lacks the rhythm of prose Chandler would bring to his novels, but the bones of his later style are evident here. The Man Who Liked Dogs (Black Mask, March 1936) ***½ is as hard-boiled and violent as Chandler gets. The story is a straight forward search for a missing woman instigated by in centring around a missing police dog. The two are tied in with a notorious gangster and corrupt police force. There are scenes in a bogus medical institution and a finale on a gambling boat with a bloody shoot-out resolution. Scenes would be re-used in Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely and themes in The Little Sister. The story has lots of twists and action, but it again lacks the poetic prose style of Chandler’s later work. Chandler’s detective is named here as Carmady, one of several name try-outs through his short prose. The Curtain (Black Mask, September 1936) **** became the Rusty Regan (here O’Mara) part of the plot for The Big Sleep. It features recognisable version of General Sternwood and his daughter Vivian. A psychotic 10-year old son for Vivian in this story would be replaced by a sister, Carmen, in the subsequent novel – fusing the character of the son with that of Carmen Dravec in Killer in the Rain. Additionally its opening, concerning a drunken acquaintance of Carmady, was to form the central relationship to his best novel, The Long Goodbye. This is an assured story, well-written and containing more obvious examples of Chandler’s prose style. An action-packed finale acted as a rehearsal for that in The Big Sleep. Try the Girl (Black Mask, January 1937) **** is a fast-paced and well-written warm-up for the main plot of Farewell, My Lovely with an giant ex-con seeking his lost girl, whilst Mandarin’s Jade (Dime Detective Magazine, November 1937) ***½ does the same for its sub-plot of the attempted recovery of a stolen necklace. Both stories again feature John Dalmas. In the novel the two stories would be inter-related, showing how cleverly Chandler cannibalised his own plots. Both show Chandler becoming increasingly confident with his prose style. Bay City Blues (Dime Detective Magazine, November 1937) *** is a little convoluted in its plotting of Dalmas investigating the apparent suicide of a doctor’s wife. Elements form the story were used in his novel Lady in the Lake. The next story would be the key basis for that novel and share the same title. Here, however, The Lady in the Lake (Dime Detective Magazine, January 1939) ***½ overly telegraphs the solution to its mystery plot of a man looking to track down his missing and unfaithful wife, but is otherwise a great vehicle for Chandler’s gift with dialogue. Chandler would rework elements of the plot, and characters (here given different names) as well as using the same mountain lake location for No Crime in the Mountains (Detective Story Magazine, September 1941) *** in which he uses the name of John Evans for his LA based PI, but the plot is less successfully developed than in the previous story.
Taken as a whole these stories are fascinating as embryonic versions of what were to become classic and highly influential crime mystery novels.
Island in the Sky (1953; USA; B&W; 109m) **** d. William A. Wellman; w. Ernest K. Gann; ph. Archie Stout; m. Emil Newman. Cast: John Wayne, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Abel, James Arness, Andy Devine, Harry Carey Jr., Regis Toomey, Darryl Hickman, Paul Fix, Bob Steele. A C-47 transport plane makes a forced landing in the frozen wastes of Labrador, and the plane’s pilot must keep his men alive in deadly conditions while waiting for rescue. Well-acted drama with Wayne at his best as the pilot taking responsibility for the welfare of his men. The unforgiving landscape is authentically captured by Wellman and his cinematographer Stout. Abel, Nolan, Devine and Arness lead the rescue search. Gann adapted his own novel based on a real-life event during WWII. Reworked as FATE IS THE HUNTER (1964). [U]
Big Jim McLain (1952; USA; B&W; 90m) *½ d. Edward Ludwig; w. James Edward Grant, Richard English, Eric Taylor; ph. Archie Stout; m. Paul Dunlap, Arthur Lange, Emil Newman. Cast: John Wayne, Nancy Olson, James Arness, Alan Napier, Veda Ann Borg, Hans Conried, Hal Baylor, Gayne Whitman, Gordon Jones, Robert Keys, John Hubbard, Soo Yong, Dan Liu, Peter Brocco, Franklyn Farnum. Two U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee investigators attempt to break up a ring of Communist Party troublemakers in Hawaii. Political messages replace the need for a gripping story in this decidedly dull vehicle for Wayne. The script is laboured and the direction flat. The performances are largely wooden. The love interest sub-plot for Wayne is uninvolving and the whole thing lacks a resolution. One of the few duds in Wayne’s career. Only plus is Hawaiian locations. [U]