THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)





"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

THE DOOLIN-DALTON GANG, PART III: The Sound Films

You can read Part I here; and Part II here.






BADMAN'S TERRITORY (RKO, 1946)

DIRECTOR: Tim Whelan;  PRODUCER: Nat Holt;  STORY: screenplay by Jack Natteford, Luci Ward, Clarence Upson Young, and Bess Boyle; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert De Grasse

CAST: Randolph Scott, Ann Richards, George "Gabby" Hayes, Ray Collins, James Warren, Morgan Conway, Virginia Sale, Richard Hale, Chief Thundercloud, Lawrence Tierney, Tom Tyler, Steve Brodie, Phil Warren, William Moss, Nestor Pavia, Isabel Jewell, Jack Clifford, Carl Eric Hansen, Neal Hart, Harry Harvey, Ben Johnson, Elmo Lincoln, Kermit Maynard, Glenn McCarthy, Bud Osborne, Emory Parnell, Buddy Roosevelt, Robert J. Wilke


"See them ALL in action in one picture!" proclaims the poster.  The ALL being a whole host of flea-bitten varmints and owl hoots who, at one time or the other, rode the outlaw trail -- but not all at the same time -- except in this movie (and one other, which we will get to next).  There's Frank and Jesse James (Tyler and Tierney); Bob, Grat, and Bill Dalton (Brodie, Phil Warren, and Moss); Sam Bass (Pavia), Belle Starr (Jewell), Bill Doolin (Carl Eric Hansen); and Charlie Bryant (Glenn McCarthy).

Even Elmo Lincoln (born Otto Elmo Linkenhelt), the screen's first Tarzan, makes an appearance as Dick Broadwell.

And lawman Mark Rowley (Scott) has to contend will all of these bad men and this bad woman who have congregated in the Oklahoma Territory.  Well, of course you have to suspend your annoying tendency to point out historical inaccuracies in films in order to enjoy this one. This is primarily necessary because several of these individuals had already bit the dust well before the Daltons became wanted outlaws.  Belle had been assassinated a year earlier; Jesse four years earlier; and Sam Bass had been gone for over a decade.

As it often happens, Oklahoma looks a lot like California.    

But never mind.  Viewers didn't seem to mind (or know) about historical chronology and the movie did good business at the box office.  The film is also significant in that it represents the beginning of Randolph Scott's transition to full-time western star.



REVIEWS:

"Nat Holt produced this absurdity; history twisted beyond belief.  The "B" antics are actionful, the performers mostly likable, the script bewildering.  Poor, but amusing for the kiddies." -- Western Films: A Complete Guide, Brian Garfield

"The number of featured parts necessarily make for an episodic structure but Whelan's spirited direction lifts the material well above the rut of routine." -- The Western, Phil Hardy

"Solid Western...nonstop fireworks.  Rich characterizations, with Hayes fun as the Coyote Kid." -- Leonard Maltin 

"....it’s a Randolph Scott Western of the 1940s and as such is definitely worth a watch. Put your credulity on hold and enjoy it for what it is. But don’t expect too much. No one would put it at the top of the Randy list." -- Jeff Arnold's West





RETURN OF THE BADMEN (RKO, 1948)



DIRECTOR: Ray Enright;  PRODUCER: Nat Holt;  WRITERS: screenplay by Charles O'Neal, Jack Natteford, and Luci Ward based on story by Jack Natteford and Luci Ward;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: J. Roy Hunt

CAST: Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys, George "Gabby" Hayes, Jacqueline White, Steve Brodie, Tom Keene, Robert Bray, Lex Barker, Walter Reed, Michael Harvey, Dean White, Robert Armstrong, Tom Tyler, Lew Harvey, Ernie Adams, Victor Adamson, Hank Bell, Lane Chandler, Earle Hodgins, Kenneth MacDonald, Bud Osborne, Harry Shannon, Charlie Stevens, Forrest Taylor

We're back in Oklahoma Territory and the usual suspects have been rounded up and Randolph Scott is once again a lawman forced to contend with many of the same outlaws he confronted in BADMAN'S TERRITORY two years earlier.  But he isn't the same person.  Mark Rowley in the former, he is now Vance Cordell in the latter.  But that isn't the only confusing aspect associated with RETURN OF THE BADMEN.  The same kind of inaccurate historical chronologies are as true of this film as were true of its predecessor.  So the viewer is advised to just go with the flow and accept the film for what it is, a work of pure fiction that utilizes the names of real people.      
Here is the outlaw lineup and the actors who portrayed them: 


  • The Sundance Kid (but no Butch) -- Robert Ryan
  • Cole, Jim, and John Younger -- Steve Brodie, Tom Keene (RKO's first B-Western series star at the beginning of the sound era), and Robert Bray
  • Emmett, Bob, and Grat Dalton -- Lex Barker (a year later he would become RKO's Tarzan), Walter Reed, and Michael Harvey
  • Billy the Kid -- Dean White 
  • Wild Bill Doolin -- Robert Armstrong
  • Wild Bill Yeager (never heard of him) -- Tom Tyler
  • Arkansas Kid (ditto) -- Lew Harvey
In addition, Anne Jeffreys is Cheyenne, billed as the "notorious gun girl."  Gun girl?  

Sadly, we have to say goodbye to veteran character actor Ernie Adams who died shortly before this film, his 427th, was released.


Ernie Adams

REVIEWS:

"Ryan is splendid as lead heavy." Western Films: A Complete Guide, Brian Garfield

"Ryan's edginess and Scott's air of assured competence complement each other well and, despite the showier roles of Brodie and Armstrong, they are always at the center of the film.  This is a superior RKO star western. -- The Western, Phil Hardy

"Stand-out is Robert Ryan, always one of the best bad guys available...." -- Jeff Arnold's West


Who is the star of this film anyway?






THE DOOLINS OF OKLAHOMA (Columbia, 1949)


DIRECTOR: Gordon Douglas; PRODUCER: Harry Joe Brown; WRITER: screenplay and story by Kenneth Gamet; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charles Lawton, Jr. 

CAST: Randolph Scott, George Macready, Louise Allbritton, John Ireland, Virginia Huston, Charles Kemper, Noah Beery, Jr., Dona Drake, Robert Barrat, Lee Patrick, Griff Barnet, Frank Fenton, Jock Mahoney, James Kirkwood, Stanley Andrews, Trevor Bardette, Al Bridge, Paul Burns, William Haade, Reed Howes, Lloyd Ingraham, Kermit Maynard, Brick Sullivan


This is the best of the Doolin-Dalton gang films, although the script kills off Bill Dalton at Coffeyville, so in the aftermath of that debacle there is only the Doolin gang. It has a lot going for it, however, not the least being Randolph Scott, who not long ago was a hunter of outlaws in BADMAN'S TERRITORY and RETURN OF THE BADMEN, but now, as Bill Doolin, is the hunted.

The supporting cast is outstanding.  Filling the roles of the other gang members are: John Ireland (always a welcome presence in any western) as Bitter Creek; Noah Beery, Jr. (seems to never give a bad performance) as Little Bill; Charles Kemper, who provides the comedy relief in the Edgar Buchanan/Wallace Ford role, is Thomas "Arkansas" Jones (Arkansas Tom Jones in real life); Frank Fenton is a grumpy Red Buck; and stuntman extraordinaire Jock Mahoney is Tulsa Jack and in his spare time also doubles for Scott.

Louise Allbritton is the Rose of Cimarron who is in love with Bitter Creek. However, the adult actress in no way resembles the real Rose (real name Rose Dunn), who was only a teenager when she and Bitter Creek were keeping company.  Also not in the movie is the fact that in real life Bitter Creek was killed by bounty hunters, who just happened to be Rose's brothers.

There were a couple of other teenage girls who had some association with the Doolin-Dalton gang: Cattle Annie and Little Britches.  Legend has it that they illegally sold liquor to the Indians, stole horses, and scouted for the gang.  In the film, Dona Drake portrays Cattle Annie in an over the top and unrealistic fashion, but Little Britches is nowhere to be seen.

Gordon Douglas does a more than capable job as director in this his first Western.  Making his job easier is the assistance provided by the legendary action director, Yakima Canutt, and such expert stuntmen as Jock Mahoney and Kermit Maynard.  

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Charles Lawton, Jr.'s black and white photography.  He is one of the best.  The film is worth watching just to see the dramatic nighttime chase scene through the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California.

It is also significant that Harry Joe Brown was in the process of replacing Nat Holt as Scott's producer and partner.  It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship that resulted in good times for star, producer, and western movie fans.


REVIEWS:   

Let's first get the negative ones out of the way:

"In this mediocre version there's little, if any, similarity to the facts of the legend." -- Western Films: A Complete Guide, Brian Garfield

"Douglas directs with some style but the plot, which seeks to romanticize Scott as the leader of five lead-spewing gunmen, is too old-fashioned....Only Lawton's stunning cinematography is at all modern." -- The Western, Phil Hardy

And now for something positive:

"The film shows the progression taking place in the star’s work that would lead inevitably to those towering roles in the late 50s and the beginning of the 60s. It also provides evidence of the growing maturity of the genre itself on the eve of its golden decade." -- Riding the High Country 








THE CIMARRON KID (Universal-International, 1952)


DIRECTOR: Budd Boetticher;  PRODUCER: Ted Richmond;  WRITERS: screenplay by Louis Stevens based on story by Louis Stevens and Kay Lenard;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charles P. Boyle


CAST:  Audie Murphy, Yvette Dugay, Beverly Tyler, James Best, John Hudson, Hugh O'Brian, Roy Roberts, David Wolfe, Noah Beery, Jr., Leif Erickson, John Hubbard, Frank Silvera, John Bromfield, Rand Brooks, Gregg Palmer, William Reynolds, Palmer Lee, Frank Ferguson, Harry Harvey, Tristam Coffin, David Sharpe


It is a typical Hollywood whitewash that forces a good man to become an outlaw against his will, but it does have some redeeming qualities. Audie Murphy was beginning to mature as an actor and his screen persona was coming into focus. He gave his best performances in films headed by strong directors, such as the two directed by John Huston (RED BADGE OF COURAGE and THE UNFORGIVEN) and here he is fortunate to be guided by Budd Boetticher, a director coming into his own.

Murphy is Bill Doolin, the Cimarron Kid, although I have never seen any reference to him being known by that sobriquet, and he takes over the remnants of the Dalton gang after Bob (Beery), Grat (Palmer), and Emmett (Brooks), along with Tulsa Jack (Bromfield), die in the streets of Coffeyville. Even though Emmett lived until 1937, Hollywood scriptwriters can't resist the urge to force him to die with his brothers.

In this version of the events, Doolin and two others survive the raid and make their getaway to live and rob another day.  The two who survive are Dynamite Dick Dalton (!) (Hudson) and Bitter Creek Dalton (!) (Best).  The writers have also manufactured a Will Dalton (Reynolds), a brother even younger than the deceased Emmett.  And Bill Dalton, the Dalton in the Doolin-Dalton gang, never makes an appearance.

Anyway, the gang is reformed, now under Doolin's leadership, although Red Buck (Hugh O'Brian with hair and beard dyed red), who always seems to be the dissenting voice in film adaptations of the legend, challenges Doolin for the leadership role but fails to gain any support from the other gang members.

Yvette Dugay, as the Rose of Cimarron, is Bitter Creek's girl.  However, her name is Rosa rather than Rose and she is Mexican rather than Anglo.  Beverly Tyler is Doolin's romantic interest and she pleads with him to give up the outlaw life and to settle down with her.  He agrees to do so -- after one more job -- which turns out to be one job too many.  But in typical Hollywood fashion, Doolin, like Billy the Kid and other outlaws before him, doesn't die at the end. He goes to prison, but he doesn't die.


Murphy and Tyler
The film is worth watching if you are an Audie Murphy fan and because it was the first true western directed by Boetticher, who would later make a series of classic westerns starring Randolph Scott.

And since it is a Universal production, the viewer can always count on superior photography. This time it is provided by Charles P. Boyle, with California once again standing in for Oklahoma. 



REVIEWS:  

"Uninspired formula western." -- Leonard Maltin

"Unexceptional oater is nowhere near as solid a job as the movies Boetticher directed with Randolph Scott later in the decade." -- Western Films: A Complete Guide, Brian Garfield

"Although Stevens' screenplay is hardly demanding, Boetticher and Murphy, who gives a surprisingly confident performance, do what they can....This is a minor, but entertaining film." -- The Western, Phil Hardy

"Films about the Doolin-Dalton gang are fairly thin on the ground, though there are a few....Even rarer is a film about these outlaws that is even remotely close to historical fact. This one is complete balderdash from start to finish. Still, it’s fun, and since when did we watch Hollywood Westerns for a history lesson?" -- 
Jeff Arnold's West 





ROSE OF CIMARRON (Fox, 1952)


DIRECTOR: Harry Keller;  PRODUCER: Edward Alperson;  WRITER: screenplay by Maurice Geraghty;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Karl Struss

CAST:  Jack Beutel, Mala Powers, Bill Williams, Jim Davis, Art Smith, Bob Steele, Lillian Bronson, William Phipps, Irving Bacon, Dick Curtis, Monte Blue, George Chandler, Tom Steele, John Doucette, Tommy Cook, William Schallert, Kenneth MacDonald, Bryon Foulger, Lane Bradford, William Fawcett, Hank Patterson

This double feature second bill has B-Western written all over it beginning with its 71 minute running time and extending to its three lead actors, its supporting cast, its director, its producer, and its screenwriter. And its connection to the real Rose of Cimarron is nebulous to say the least; one might say in name only.

This Rose (Powers) was raised by the Cherokee after her parents were killed by the Comanche.  But tragedy struck again when her Cherokee parents were killed by three white outlaws who were stealing their horses.

This causes Rose and her adopted brother and protector, Willie Whitewater (Davis), to go on the vengeance trail in an effort to find the killers.  As it turns out, the leader of the outlaws is George (but not Bitter creek) Newcomb (Williams), who takes a fancy to the beautiful Rose.

Fortunately, Rose can call on Marshal Hollister (Beutel) for assistance and not only are they successful in avenging her parents' death but she and the marshal fall in love.


REVIEWS:

"Keller's direction has more bite than usual and Steele, star of so many B-Westerns, gives the unlikely hero and heroine solid support.  Nevertheless, the film marks a sad decline from Beutel's debut, THE OUTLAW (1943)." -- The Western, Phil Hardy

"Simpleminded...hack job offers terrible acting but it's speedy and the cast is filled with faces familiar to buffs." -- Western Films: A Complete Guide, Brian Garfield

"ROSE OF CIMARRON was Mala’s first Western and she’s really rather good in it, despite the rather clunky script and direction. Later, she was a regular of TV Western shows. -- JEFF ARNOLD'S WEST










STORIES OF THE CENTURY (Studio City Television Productions, 1954-55)

DIRECTOR: William Witney (30 episodes), Franklin Adreon (9 episodes); PRODUCER: Edward J. White;  WRITER: Maurice Tombragel (22 scripts); CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Bud Thackery


CAST:  Jim Davis, Mary Castle (26 episodes), Kristine Miller (13 episodes)



     
Matt Clark, Railroad Detective
If the above names seem familiar, there is a good reason.  Studio City Television Productions was the television arm of Republic Studios and the series represents its first venture into the world of the small screen.

William Witney had been a long-time director of the studio's serials and B-Western series and since the demise of those genres had become the studio's primary director of its Western features; Franklin Adreon became one of Republic's most prolific directors of serials after Witney moved on to other things; Bud Thackery had been a busy Republic employee for years; Edward J. White had been the long-time producer of both the Roy Rogers and Rex Allen B-western series; and Jim Davis at the time that this series was being filmed had been for some time appearing in practically every western Republic was producing, and nearly all of them directed by Witney.  In most of those films Davis played a heavy, but here he gets to be the hero -- and how!

As Matt Clark, railroad detective, he is in on the capture or killing of famous outlaws every week -- for thirty-nine weeks -- ranging from such notable outlaws as Billy the Kid all the way to L.H. Musgrove.  L.H. Musgrove?  Well, that's why the series lasted only thirty-nine episodes.  Matt and his cohorts had already wiped out all the famous bad guys and gals.

In his herculean efforts, Matt was assisted by a female undercover operative -- first Frankie Adams (Mary Castle) and later Margaret "Jonesy" Jones (Kristine Miller).  Despite the range of years that the series encompassed, Matt and his two female assistants never aged.  In one episode, they infiltrated Quantrill's guerilla band just before the sack of Lawrence, Kansas in the 1860's and had not aged one bit in the Tom Horn episode which takes place early in the 20th century!  Furthermore, in that span of years Matt rarely -- very rarely -- changed clothes!

In episode #9, they were at Coffeyville where they helped the citizens of that community wipe-out the Daltons and in episode #10 they are in Tombstone where they participate in the gun battle near that famous corral and -- well, you get the picture.

In episode #21, Matt and Frankie play a role in capturing Bill Doolin (Leo Gordon).  Then after Doolin escapes from jail Matt is standing beside Heck Thomas when the marshal terminates the outlaw's career with a blast from his shotgun.



Leo Gordon as Bill Doolin

In the very next episode, Little Britches (Gloria Winters) receives her thirty minutes of fame.  For some reason Cattle Annie doesn't make an appearance in the episode, nor does Bill Doolin.  Perhaps Doolin's absence can be explained by the fact that the previous week the series had dealt with him in a decisive fashion.


Gloria Winters in her best known role as Sky King's neice -- pretty, perky Penny





CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES 
(Universal, 1981)


DIRECTOR: Lamont Johnson; PRODUCERS: Rupert Hitzig and Alan King;  WRITERS: screenplay by David Eyre based on story and novel by Robert Ward;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Larry Pizer


CAST: Scott Glenn, Diane Lane, Burt Lancaster, Amanda Plummer, Rod Steiger, John Savage, William Russ, Buck Taylor, Roger Cudney, Redmond Gleeson, John Quade, Michael Conrad


I'm going to go out on a limb here and pronounce CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES to be the best western film released in 1981, nosing out ZORRO: THE GAY BLADE and THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER.  To be truthful I have never seen the former and wish that I had never seen the latter.

What a dismal year it was for a genre that had grown virtually moribund.  Only fifteen titles were released and only six of those were American productions.  It was a sad, sad year for the genre.

As has already been established, Cattle Annie (Plummer) and Little Britches (Lane) were a couple of adolescents who purportedly broke the law by selling liquor to Indians and stealing horses.  Legend has it that they also served as scouts and conveyors of information to the Doolin-Dalton gang.  In this film, however, they play an even greater role by planning some of the gang's robberies.  They are also sisters, which in real life they were not.

Burt Lancaster is Bill Doolin and Scott Glenn is Bill Dalton.  Some of the other actual members of the gang are also characters in the film:
  • Bitter Creek Newcomb -- John Savage
  • Little Dick Raidler -- William Russ
  • Dynamite Dick -- Buck Taylor
  • Red Buck -- Redmond Gleeson
In addition, in a surprisingly restrained performance is Rod Steiger as U.S. marshal Bill Tilghman.  The marshal is successful in capturing Doolin and sending him to jail (which is true), but he escapes (which is true) with the assistance of the two girls (which is not true), and rides away with his men (which is not true because most of them had already been captured or killed). The girls are arrested by Tilghman and sent to a reformatory in Massachusetts (which is true).

Bill Doolin escapes and rides away but we know he has a date with destiny in the person of Marshal Heck Thomas and his shotgun.

Oklahoma gets slighted again.  The movie is filmed in Mexico.

Cattle Annie and Little Britches

Little Britches (Diane Lane) and Cattle Annie (Amanda Plummer)




REVIEWS:


"Excellent camera work on Durango locations, and a primitive but fitting score, help make this comedy-drama one of the more appealing minor westerns of the early 1980s." -- Western Films: A Complete Guide, Brian Garfield

"The film strains too much for its effects and its jollity is accordingly short-lived." -- The Western, Phil Hardy

"...a funny, sweet mock-western that miraculously avoids most of the sentimental traps it sets for itself." -- New York Times, Vincent Canby

"Lancaster looks happy in the movie and still looks tough: it's an unbeatable combination.  Young Amanda Plummer (in her screen debut) gives a scarily brilliant performance. -- The New Yorker






YOU KNOW MY NAME (TNT, 1999)

DIRECTOR: John Kent Harrison;  PRODUCER: Andrew Gottlieb; WRITER: John Kent Harrison; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kees Van Oostrum

CAST:  Sam Elliott, Arliss Howard, Carolyn McCormick, James Gammon, R. Lee Emery, James Parks, Sheila McCarthy, Nataalia Rey, Jonathon Young, James Baker

The year is 1924 and Bill Tilghman (Elliott) has retired from a long career in law enforcement.  In fact, he has become a film producer, director, script writer, cinematographer, and actor.  But the good people of Cromwell, Oklahoma need help. Their oil boom town is overrun by criminals, prostitutes, and ruthless businessmen -- not to mention a crooked, psychotic federal prohibition agent named Wiley Lynn (Howard) who is in cahoots with the criminal element. Tilghman is asked by a group of respectable citizens to clean up their town.

He agrees to take on the job, despite being seventy-years old; and it was his last job.  He was shot and killed by Lynn. A postscript tells us that Lynn was tried, but the court ruled that it was a case of self defense. However, he was dismissed from federal service.

In 1932, Lynn, who was a suspect in a number of crimes, was shot and killed by Crockett Long, an agent for the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation.

Tilghman's greatest claim to fame occurred in the summer of 1895 when he captured Bill Doolin in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  In a brief flashback, Tilghman is shown arresting the outlaw (Baker).  Also making an appearance in the film are Arkansas Tom (Gammon) and ex-U.S. marshal E.D. Nix (R. Lee Emery).     

TNT filmed the TV production in Oklahoma.  Just kidding; it was filmed in Alberta.







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