THE LAST WAGON (USA, 1956) ***½
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Release Date: 21 September 1956 (USA), 26 November 1956 (UK); Filming Dates: 17 April 1956 – early June 1956; Running Time: 99m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: 3 Channel Stereo (Westrex Recording System) (5.0) (L-R); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Delmer Daves; Writer: Delmer Daves, James Edward Grant, Gwen Bagni (based on a story by Gwen Bagni); Producer: William B. Hawks; Director of Photography: Wilfred M. Cline; Music Composer: Lionel Newman; Film Editor: Hugh S. Fowler; Art Director: Lewis H. Creber, Lyle R. Wheeler; Set Decorator: Chester Bayhi, Walter M. Scott; Costumes: Mary Wills; Make-up: Ben Nye, Helen Turpin; Sound: Bernard Freericks, Harry M. Leonard.
Cast: Richard Widmark (Comanche Todd), Felicia Farr (Jenny), Susan Kohner (Jolie Normand), Tommy Rettig (Billy), Stephanie Griffin (Valinda Normand), Ray Stricklyn (Clint), Nick Adams (Ridge), Carl Benton Reid (Gen. Howard), Douglas Kennedy (Col. Normand), George Mathews (Sheriff Bull Harper), James Drury (Lt. Kelly), Ken Clark (Sergeant).
Synopsis: When a handful of settlers survive an Apache attack on their wagon train they must put their lives into the hands of a white man who has lived with the Comanches most of his life and is wanted for the murder of three men.
Comment: Widmark gives an imposing performance as a fugitive white man who has lived the life of a Comanche following the murder of his family. He falls in with a wagon train of settlers and looks to guide them through Apache country to safety. Stunning Arizona locations are gloriously captured through Cline’s lens. Whilst the story at times lapses into heavy-handedness – most notably in its final scenes, it is well directed by Daves, who manages to get good performances from his young cast. Its messaging may get preachy, but this is nevertheless a strong Western unafraid to tackle issues of racism and religion.
COMANCHE STATION (USA, 1960) ***½
Distributor: Columbia Pictures; Production Company: Ranown Pictures Corp.; Release Date: 31 January 1960 (UK), 16 February 1960 (USA); Filming Dates: 10 June 1959–26 June 1959; Running Time: 74m; Colour: Eastmancolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Budd Boetticher; Writer: Burt Kennedy; Executive Producer: Harry Joe Brown; Producer: Budd Boetticher; Director of Photography: Charles Lawton Jr.; Music Composer: Mischa Bakaleinikoff (uncredited); Film Editor: Edwin H. Bryant; Art Director: Carl Anderson; Set Decorator: Frank Tuttle; Sound: George Cooper, John P. Livadary.
Cast: Randolph Scott (Jefferson Cody), Nancy Gates (Nancy Lowe), Claude Akins (Ben Lane), Skip Homeier (Frank), Richard Rust (Dobie), Rand Brooks (Station Man), Dyke Johnson (John Lowe), P. Holland (Lowe Boy (uncredited)), Foster Hood (Comanche Lance Bearer (uncredited)), Joe Molina (Comanche Chief (uncredited)), Vincent St. Cyr (Warrior (uncredited)).
Synopsis: A man saves a woman who had been kidnapped by Comanches, then struggles to get both of them home alive.
Comment: The final collaboration between director Boetticher, star Scott and their frequent writer Kennedy. It is a taut, lean story that focuses on a battle of wills between a loner who rescues Gates from her Indian captors in order to return her to her husband and Akins’ gang, who aim to take her from Scott to claim the reward. Frequent bursts of action intersperse with Scott and Akins’ verbal jousts. Typically well-made with a solid cast and great locations well captured by Lawton’s widescreen photography.
Notes: Scott decided to retire after this one, but two years later he was talked out of retirement by Sam Peckinpah for RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962). After that film, Scott retired for good.
BROKEN LANCE (USA, 1954) ****
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: 20th Century Fox; Release Date: 29 July 1954 (USA), 11 November 1954 (UK); Filming Dates: 2 March 1954 –1 May 1954; Running Time: 96m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono (35 mm optical prints) | 4-Track Stereo (35 mm magnetic prints) (Western Electric Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Edward Dmytryk; Writer: Richard Murphy (based on a story by Philip Yordan); Executive Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited); Producer: Sol C. Siegel; Director of Photography: Joseph MacDonald; Music Composer: Leigh Harline; Film Editor: Dorothy Spencer; Art Director: Maurice Ransford, Lyle R. Wheeler; Set Decorator: Stuart A. Reiss, Walter M. Scott; Costumes: Travilla; Make-up: Ben Nye, Helen Turpin; Sound: W.D. Flick, Roger Heman Sr.
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Matt Devereaux), Robert Wagner (Joe Devereaux), Jean Peters (Barbara), Richard Widmark (Ben Devereaux), Katy Jurado (Señora Devereaux), Hugh O’Brian (Mike Devereaux), Eduard Franz (Two Moons), Earl Holliman (Denny Devereaux), E.G. Marshall (Horace – The Governor), Carl Benton Reid (Clem Lawton), Philip Ober (Van Cleve), Robert Burton (Mac Andrews).
Synopsis: The saga of the Devereaux rancher family, set in 1880’s Arizona.
Comment: A well-made Western that is buoyed by a strong cast and a story that, whilst a familiar tale of familial rivalry, remains absorbing throughout. Tracy is superb as the patriarch rancher tough on his sons and those who seek to profit from his land. Jurado gives a subtle supporting performance as his Indian wife, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. Wagner and Widmark slug it out with gusto. It’s all captured in vivid cinemascope by MacDonald with a sympathetic score by Harline. Notable for its plot similarities to King Lear amongst other work. It is the second of three movies written by screenwriter Yordan (who won an Oscar here for Best Story), based on the novel, “I’ll Never Go Home Again,” by Jerome Weidman. The other two were HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949), with Edward G. Robinson, and THE BIG SHOW(1961) with Esther Williams and Cliff Robertson.
SPRING AND PORT WINE (UK, 1970) ***
Distributor: Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors; Production Company: Memorial Enterprises; Release Date: 19 February 1970; Filming Dates: began 28 April 1969; Running Time: 101m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Peter Hammond; Writer: Bill Naughton (based on the stage play by Bill Naughton); Executive Producer: Roy Baird; Producer: Michael Medwin; Director of Photography: Norman Warwick; Music Composer: Douglas Gamley; Film Editor: Fergus McDonell; Casting Director: Miriam Brickman (uncredited); Production Designer: Reece Pemberton; Costumes: Elsa Fennell; Make-up: Bunty Phillips; Sound: Robin Gregory, Barry McCormick.
Cast: James Mason (Rafe Crompton), Diana Coupland (Daisy Crompton), Hannah Gordon (Florence Crompton), Susan George (Hilda Crompton), Rodney Bewes (Harold Crompton), Len Jones (Wilfred Crompton), Keith Buckley (Arthur Gasket), Avril Elgar (Betsy-Jane Duckworth), Adrienne Posta (Betty Duckworth), Frank Windsor (Ned Duckworth), Arthur Lowe (Mr. Aspinall), Marjorie Rhodes (Mrs. Gasket), Bernard Bresslaw (Lorry Driver), Joseph Greig (Allan (T.V. Man)), Christopher Timothy (Joe (T.V. Man)), Ken Parry (Pawnbroker), Reginald Green (Bowler 1), Jack Howarth (Bowler 2), Bryan Pringle (Bowler 3), John Sharp (Bowler 4).
Synopsis: A stern father and lenient mother try to deal with the ups and downs of their four children’s lives in working-class Bolton.
Comment: Bill Naughton adapted his own stage play for the big screen with this battle of wills between the generations within a northern family. The location shooting in Bolton adds a level of authenticity to a script which comes across as a little over-preachy and with a finale that doesn’t feel real. However, a game cast delivers some witty dialogue and whilst Mason was miscast, he makes a good stab at his part of the stubborn family patriarch. Bewes also scores as the insolent son who doesn’t quite have the courage of his convictions and Coupland as the wife torn between loyalty to her husband and her kids. A time capsule caught slightly out of sync.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (USA, 1946) *****
Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Release Date: 16 October 1946 (USA), November 1946 (UK); Filming Dates: 1 April–mid June 1946; Running Time: 97m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: John Ford; Writer: Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller (based on a story by Sam Hellman and a book by Stuart N. Lake); Producer: Samuel G. Engel; Director of Photography: Joseph MacDonald; Music Composer: Cyril J. Mockridge; Film Editor: Dorothy Spencer; Art Director: James Basevi, Lyle R. Wheeler; Set Decorator: Thomas Little; Costumes: René Hubert; Make-up: Ben Nye; Sound: Eugene Grossman, Roger Heman Sr.
Cast: Henry Fonda (Wyatt Earp), Linda Darnell (Chihuahua), Victor Mature (Doc Holliday), Cathy Downs (Clementine Carter), Walter Brennan (Old Man Clanton), Tim Holt (Virgil Earp), Ward Bond (Morgan Earp), Alan Mowbray (Granville Thorndyke), John Ireland (Billy Clanton), Roy Roberts (Mayor), Jane Darwell (Kate Nelson), Grant Withers (Ike Clanton), J. Farrell MacDonald (Mac the Barman), Russell Simpson (John Simpson).
Synopsis: Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil ride into Tombstone and leave brother James in charge of their cattle herd. On their return, they find their cattle stolen and James dead. Wyatt takes on the job of town marshal, making his brothers deputies, and vows to stay in Tombstone until James’ killers are found. He soon runs into the brooding, coughing, hard-drinking Doc Holliday as well as the sullen and vicious Clanton clan.
Comment: The oft-told tale of the gunfight at the OK Corral was never better told than in John Ford’s moody classic. Fonda is superb as Wyatt Earp, whether getting across the lawman’s assuredness as a town marshal or his awkwardness with the opposite sex. Mature may seem at times a little overwrought as Doc Holliday, but his performance is also memorable nonetheless. Darnell also scores as the saloon girl who is Holliday’s woman. Downs actually plays the titles role as Holliday’s long last love from out East who has come to town to win him back. Brennan makes for an effective villain as the head of the Clanton clan Technical attributes are top-notch too. MacDonald’s high contrast black-and-white photography captures the mood perfectly – notably in the night-time scenes and during the stormy opening. Ford is at the top of his game directing his cast and crew to deliver a wonderful Western that certainly bears repeat viewings.
Notes: Songs include: “Ten Thousand Cattle,” traditional, arranged by Fred K. Huffer; “Oh, My Darling Clementine,” music and lyrics by Percy Montrose; and “The First Kiss Is Always the Best, from Under a Broad Sombrero,” composers undetermined. An alternate preview version of this film exists. It was about 8m longer with minor variations throughout and a slightly different ending. Both this archival 103m version and the 97m release version are included on the Fox DVD.
DOCTOR WHO: THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (UK, 2020) ***
Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 16 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Maxine Alderton, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett, Joe Skinner; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Lili Miller (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Nadia Parkes (Claire Clairmont), Jacob Collins-Levy (Lord Byron), Maxim Baldry (Doctor John Pollidori), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Lewis Rayner (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Sarah Perles (Elise), Stefan Bednarczyk (Fletcher), Nicholas Briggs (Cyberman Voice).
Synopsis: The Doctor and gang arrive at the Villa Dioscidati, Lake Geneva, in 1816 – on a night that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats – but the ghosts are all too real. And the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions…
Comment: Another episode that has a lot right with it but still manages to frustrate. The story has a great setting in an old house at Lake Geneva and the premise is obviously geared toward events inspiring Mary Wolstencrof to create the vision for her novel Frankenstein. The house is suitably spooky, populated with quirky characters and some chilling surprises. But yet again there is too little time to cover all the ideas on show and the narrative appears muddled as a result. There are still too many companions to fully justify themselves Cole’s acting has been wooden at best and here he gives possibly his worst performance delivering lines with little conviction or flair for humour. The shoe-horning in of the Cyberman threat – which we could all see coming following pre-empts earlier in the series – raises more questions than are answered here. The closing two-parter will hopefully square these off. Whittaker has the occasional strong moment, whenever she is given more to do than just dial-up the quirky scale beyond Tennant levels. She is very good in the scene close to the finale where she debates the actions she should take with her friends. The series is running out of time to hit the heights we have come to expect but hopefully, the season finale will deliver.
SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (USA, 1956) ****
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: Batjac Productions; Release Date: 15 July 1956; Filming Dates: late September–late October 1955; Running Time: 78m; Colour: WarnerColor; Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Sound Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Budd Boetticher; Writer: Burt Kennedy; Producer: Andrew V. McLaglen, Robert E. Morrison; Director of Photography: William H. Clothier; Music Composer: Henry Vars; Film Editor: Everett Sutherland; Art Director: A. Leslie Thomas; Set Decorator: Edward G. Boyle; Costumes: Rudy Harrington, Edward Sebesta, Carl Walker; Make-up: Web Overlander, Norman Pringle; Sound: Earl Crain Jr.
Cast: Randolph Scott (Ben Stride), Gail Russell (Annie Greer), Lee Marvin (Bill Masters), Walter Reed (John Greer), John Larch (Payte Bodeen), Don ‘Red’ Barry (Clete), Fred Graham (Henchman), John Beradino (Clint), John Phillips (Jed), Chuck Roberson (Mason), Stuart Whitman (Cavalry Lt. Collins), Pamela Duncan (Señorita Nellie), Steve Mitchell (Fowler), Cliff Lyons (Henchman), Fred Sherman (The Prospector).
Synopsis: Ex-sheriff Ben Stride tracks the seven men who held up a Wells Fargo office and killed his wife.
Comment: Tightly directed Western with Scott in fine form as the brooding ex-sheriff hunting down those responsible for the death of his wife during a robbery. Marvin is also excellent as a chancer looking to profit. The bleakness of the subject matter is played out through a desert track and stormy weather. The script is lean and efficient and Boetticher keeps the piece moving at a good pace. Scenic photography and the smitten Russell add to the ingredients, making this one of the finest of the star and directors’ collaborations.
THE FAR COUNTRY (USA, 1954) ***½
Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: Universal International Pictures (UI); Release Date: 22 July 1954 (UK), 12 February 1955 (USA); Filming Dates: 19 August–mid October 1953; Running Time: 97m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/2.00:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Anthony Mann; Writer: Borden Chase; Producer: Aaron Rosenberg; Director of Photography: William H. Daniels; Music Composer: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner, Herman Stein (all uncredited); Music Supervisor: Joseph Gershenson; Film Editor: Russell F. Schoengarth; Art Director: Alexander Golitzen, Bernard Herzbrun; Set Decorator: Oliver Emert, Russell A. Gausman; Costumes: Jay A. Morley Jr.; Make-up: Bud Westmore; Sound: Leslie I. Carey, Robert Pritchard.
Cast: James Stewart (Jeff Webster), Ruth Roman (Ronda Castle), Corinne Calvet (Renee Vallon), Walter Brennan (Ben Tatum), John McIntire (Gannon), Jay C. Flippen (Rube), Harry Morgan (Ketchum), Steve Brodie (Ives), Connie Gilchrist (Hominy), Robert J. Wilke (Madden), Chubby Johnson (Dusty), Royal Dano (Luke), Jack Elam (Frank Newberry), Kathleen Freeman (Grits), Connie Van (Molasses).
Synopsis: A self-minded adventurer locks horns with a crooked lawman while on a cattle drive.
Comment: Third Western collaboration between Stewart and Mann, again scripted by Chase, is unusual in that the setting is the gold prospecting mountains of Alaska (although filmed in Canada). The subtext of Stewart’s character’s struggle with the pull of his desire to fulfil his own personal vision against that of the needs of those who surround him is played out against a tonally shifting script. At times the move from light humour to violent action feels jarring, but this is seemingly part of Mann’s overall message that life is never what you plan it to be. The wonderful locations provide a stunning backdrop and the production is handsomely mounted conjuring up an authentic view of frontier life. The story ratchets up the tension in its final act, which resorts to the familiar showdown and redemption of the hero.
CALLAN (UK, 1974) ***½
Distributor: EMI Distribution; Production Company: Magnum Films / Syn-Frank Enterprises; Release Date: 23 May 1974; Filming Dates: began 29 October 1973; Running Time: 106m; Colour: Eastmancolor; Sound Mix: Dolby (Dolby System®) | Mono (RCA Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
Director: Don Sharp; Writer: James Mitchell (based on the novel “A Red File for Callan” by James Mitchell); Producer: Derek Horne; Associate Producer: Harry Benn; Director of Photography: Ernest Steward; Music Composer: Wilfred Josephs; Film Editor: Teddy Darvas; Casting Director: Lesley De Pettit; Art Director: John Clark; Set Decorator: Simon Holland; Costumes: Ray Beck; Make-up: Freddie Williamson; Sound: Derek Ball, Charles Crafford, John Poyner; Special Effects: John Richardson.
Cast: Edward Woodward (David Callan), Eric Porter (Hunter), Carl Möhner (Schneider), Catherine Schell (Jenny), Peter Egan (Toby Meres), Russell Hunter (Lonely), Kenneth Griffith (Waterman), Michael Da Costa (The Greek), Veronica Lang (Liz, Hunter’s Secretary), Clifford Rose (Dr. Snell), David Prowse (Arthur), Don Henderson (George), Nadim Sawalha (Padilla), David Graham (Wireless operator), Yuri Borienko (Security porter), Peter Symonds (Smart security man), Raymond Bowers (Shabby security man), Joe Dunlop (Policeman), Mollie Maureen (Old lady in the Strand).
Synopsis: David Callan, secret agent, is called back to the service after his retirement, to handle the assassination of a German businessman, but Callan refuses to co-operate until he finds out why this man is marked for death.
Comment: Big screen adaptation on a low budget of James Mitchell’s assassin creation who wrestles with his own conscience. The story was originally written as an hour-long TV play entitled A Magnum for Schneider (1967), which later led to the TV series Callan (1967-72). Woodward reprises his role and delivers a believable performance in this anti-glamourous approach to the genre. Mitchell’s script is strong, padding out his original story initially into a novel and then a screenplay. There’s little in the way of action, save for a wonderful cat-and-mouse car chase. This is a spy thriller that plays on the main character’s self-conflictions as he gets to know his mark. Whilst largely downbeat there are occasional flashes of black humour. Fans of the series will find much to enjoy, whilst others may see this as an antidote to the proliferation of over-the-top spy movies.
SHANE (USA, 1953) *****
Distributor: Paramount Pictures (USA), Paramount British Pictures (UK); Production Company: Paramount Pictures Corporation; Release Date: 23 April 1953 (USA), 4 September 1953 (UK); Filming Dates: July 1951 – 16 October 1951; Running Time: 118m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording) | 3 Channel Stereo (Western Electric Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1/1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: George Stevens; Writer: A.B. Guthrie Jr., Jack Sher (based on the novel by Jack Schaefer); Producer: George Stevens; Associate Producer: Ivan Moffat; Director of Photography: Loyal Griggs; Music Composer: Victor Young; Film Editor: William Hornbeck, Tom McAdoo; Art Director: Hal Pereira, Walter H. Tyler; Set Decorator: Emile Kuri; Costumes: Edith Head; Make-up: Wally Westmore; Sound: Gene Garvin, Harry Lindgren.
Cast: Alan Ladd (Shane), Jean Arthur (Marian Starrett), Van Heflin (Joe Starrett), Brandon De Wilde (Joey Starrett), Jack Palance (Jack Wilson), Ben Johnson (Chris Calloway), Edgar Buchanan (Fred Lewis), Emile Meyer (Rufus Ryker), Elisha Cook Jr. (Stonewall Torrey), Douglas Spencer (Axel ‘Swede’ Shipstead), John Dierkes (Morgan Ryker), Ellen Corby (Mrs. Liz Torrey), Paul McVey (Sam Grafton), John Miller (Will Atkey – Bartender), Edith Evanson (Mrs. Shipstead), Leonard Strong (Ernie Wright), Ray Spiker (Axel Johnson – Homesteader), Janice Carroll (Susan Lewis), Martin Mason (Ed Howells), Helen Brown (Martha Lewis), Nancy Kulp (Mrs. Howells).
Synopsis: A weary gunfighter attempts to settle down with a homestead family, but a smouldering settler/rancher conflict forces him to act.
Comment: All-time classic Western is also one of the best films ever made. Stevens fashions a visual treat utilising the skills of cinematographer Griggs capturing the splendour of the Wyoming landscapes of vast flat valleys and steep mountains. Stevens uses the changing weather to add tone and mood to support each scene and set-piece. He also gets wonderful performances from the cast. Ladd as the mysterious Shane, who is idolised by a remarkable De Wilde, Heflin and Arthur as the farmers Ladd helps against rancher Meyer who is trying to run the farmers off his range. Palance is the embodiment of villainous cool as the hired gunfighter with a reputation. The story builds in tension towards the inevitable showdown climax. But it’s the sub-texts beneath the standard plot that make this stand out as a true classic – from DeWilde’s hero-worship idealism of Ladd’s flawed character to the unspoken conflict of feelings Arthur has between Ladd and her husband Heflin. It’s all delivered with fine nuance and sincere conviction and embellished by an evocative score from Young.
Notes: Won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Final film of Jean Arthur. Followed by a TV series (1966) with David Carradine in the title role.