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.
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.
Alamo, The (1960; USA; Technicolor; 193m) **** d. John Wayne; w. James Edward Grant; ph. William H. Clothier; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Richard Boone, Frankie Avalon, Patrick Wayne, Linda Cristal, Joan O’Brien, Chill Wills, Joseph Calleia, Ken Curtis, Carlos Arruza, Jester Hairston, Veda Ann Borg, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Cliff Lyons. In 1836, as General Santa Anna and the Mexican army sweep across Texas, Colonel William Travis is tasked with defending a small mission on the Mexicans’ route at all costs. Grand spectacle, notably the closing final battle scenes, are the main draw for this exercise in logistics. Wayne handles the whole thing with considerable aplomb. Whilst the inevitability of the story’s conclusion has been laid down by history, there is a sense of admiration for the spirit of the volunteers that only occasionally veers into the overly-patriotic and preachy. Wayne, Widmark and Harvey all bring star quality to the proceedings. Great score by Tiomkin. Wayne assumed huge personal debt to get film finished after United Artists refused funding once budget was exceeded. Oscar winner for Best Sound. Original video release cut to 161m. Remade in 2004. [PG]
Night and the City (1950; USA/UK; B&W; 96m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Jules Dassin; w. Jo Eisinger; ph. Max Greene; m. Benjamin Frankel (British version), Franz Waxman (American version). Cast: Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers, Hugh Marlowe, Francis L. Sullivan, Herbert Lom, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Mike Mazurki, Charles Farrell, Ada Reeve, Ken Richmond. A small-time grifter and nightclub tout takes advantage of some fortuitous circumstances and tries to become a big-time player as a wrestling promoter. Moody and effective noir, if occasionally over-wrought, in which Widmark scores in the lead role and is backed by strong performances from an interesting cast. Great Score by Waxman and atmospheric photography on the streets of London by Greene add to the flavour. Thrilling chase finale through the docks. Based on the novel by Gerald Kersh. Alternative British version runs to 101m with a different score by Frankel. Remade in 1992 with Robert De Niro. [PG]
Murder on the Orient Express (1974; UK; Technicolor; 131m) ∗∗∗ d. Sidney Lumet; w. Paul Dehn; ph. Geoffrey Unsworth; m. Richard Rodney Bennett. Cast: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, Michael York, Colin Blakely, George Coulouris, Denis Quilley, Vernon Dobtcheff, Jeremy Lloyd, John Moffat. In 1935, when his train is stopped by deep snow, detective Hercule Poirot (Finney) is called on to solve a murder that occurred in his car the night before. Strong cast is the main interest in this otherwise standard Agatha Christie mystery, to which the solution becomes very clear too soon. Finney is excellent as Poirot and the script has some lovely humorous touches. Bergman won her third Oscar as a Swedish missionary. Finney, the elegant cinematography and costume design were also nominated for Academy Awards. Twice remade for TV – in 2001 with Alfred Molina as Poirot and again in 2010 as part of ITVs Poirot series with David Suchet. Followed by DEATH ON THE NILE (1978). [PG]
Madigan: The Manhattan Beat (TV) (1972; USA; Technicolor; 73m) ∗∗∗ d. Alex March; w. Roland Wolpert; ph. Jack Priestley; m. Quincy Jones. Cast: Richard Widmark, Murray Hamilton, Ronnie Cox, Tony Lo Bianco, James J. Sloyan, Jennifer Harmon. A police detective is asked to break in a new colleague, a recent college graduate and finds his life in danger in the course of tracking down assault suspects and a possible murderer. Standard TV adaptation of 1968 movie benefits from NYC locations and a strong performance from Widmark. Premiere episode of a short-lived addition to the NBC Mystery Movie series. [PG]
Madigan (1968; USA; Technicolor; 101m) ∗∗∗½ d. Don Siegel; w. Howard Rodman (as Henri Simoun), Abraham Polonsky; ph. Russell Metty; m. Don Costa. Cast: Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, Harry Guardino, James Whitmore, Michael Dunn, Susan Clark, Steve Ihnat, Don Stroud, Sheree North. Two NYC detectives are given a weekend to bring a fugitive to justice. Gritty police thriller is largely a character study of two flawed but driven men – Widmark’s streetwise detective and Fonda’s by-the-book commissioner. Whilst the juggling of perspective reduces the narrative fluidity Widmark is excellent and Siegel directs with a sure hand. Based on the novel “The Commissioner” by Richard Dougherty. Followed by a 1972-3 series of six TV movies.