Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson, was a ranch hand and would travel with his father on the rodeo circuit, as a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's Steer Roping World Champion in 1953. Johnson was inducted into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1973.

His career began with the Howard Hughes film, The Outlaw. Before filming began, Hughes bought some horses at the Oklahoma ranch that Johnson's father managed, and hired Johnson to get the horses to northern Arizona (for The Outlaw's location shooting), and then to take them on to Hollywood.

Once in Hollywood he did stunt work for the movie, The Fighting Gringo(1939), and throughout the 1940s he found work wrangling horses and doing stunt work.

His work as a stunt man caught the eye of director John Ford, who hired Johnson for stunt work in the movie, Fort Apache(1948), and as the riding double for Henry Fonda. During shooting, the horses pulling a wagon with three men in it stampeded. Ben being at the right place at the right time stopped the runaway wagon. Ford then promised that he would be rewarded, Johnson hoped it would be with another doubling job, instead he received a seven-year acting contract from Ford.

His first credited role was in one of my favorite films, 3 Godfathers(1948). Directed by John Ford and filmed (although not set) primarily in Death Valley. The screenplay, written by Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings, is based on the novel of the same name written by Peter Kyne. Ford had already filmed the story once before in 1919 as, Marked Men. The original silent version by Ford is thought to be lost today. The story is a re-telling of the story of The Three Wise Men in a western theme.

Ford suggested him for a starring role in the film, Mighty Joe Young(1949). Ford cast him in two of the three films that have come to be known as Ford's cavalry trilogy, all starring John Wayne: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and a another favorite of mine, Rio Grande (1950). The story is about, Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke, who is posted on the Texas frontier to defend settlers against the attack of Apaches. Col. Yorke comes under stress because of serious shortage of troops.

Too add to his problems Yorke's son, Trooper Jeff Yorke, is one of 18 recruits sent to the regiment. He has flunked out of West Point and enlisted as a private in the Army. Not wanting to give the impression that he is showing favoritism towards his son, Col. Yorke ends up being harder on his son than he is with the others. Jeff is befriended by a pair of older recruits, Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson) (who is on the run from the law) and "Sandy" Boone (Harry Carey, Jr.), who take him under their wings.

In 1950, Ford also cast Johnson as the lead in Wagon Master (1950), a small film that was one of Ford's favorites.

Johnson played in supporting roles in Shane (1953), One Eyed Jacks (1961), Cheyenne Autumn(1964), Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, Junior Bonner (both 1972), Dillinger, Red Dawn(1984), Bite the Bullet(1975), Breakheart Pass(1975).

In the 1966-1967 television season, Johnson performed as the character "Sleeve" in all twenty-six episodes of the Western, The Monroes with costars Michael Anderson, Jr., and Barbara Hershey.

He teamed up John Wayne again, and director Andrew McLaglen, in two films; performing with with Rock Hudson in The Undefeated (1969), and in a prominent role in Chisum (1970).

He acted in four films directed by Sam Peckinpah between 1965 and 1972. In between the four Peckinpah films Johnson would win an Academy Award for his performance as 'Sam The Lion' in The Last Picture Show, directed by Peter Bogdanovich co-starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd.

He portrayed the character Cap Roundtree in the 1979 miniseries The Sacketts.

He also continued ranching during the entire time, operating a horse-breeding ranch in Sylmar, California. In addition, he sponsored the Ben Johnson Pro Celebrity Team Roping and Penning competition, held in Oklahoma City, the proceeds of which are donated to both the Children's Medical Research Inc., and to the Children's Hospital of Oklahoma.

Wagon Master(1950)

Wagon Master(1950). Director: John Ford. Cast: Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Joanne Dru, and Ward Bond.

Learning of their ability as experienced horsemen, Elder Wiggs, hires Travis Blue and Sandy Owens to guide a small group of Mormons across the West to the San Juan River country in southeastern Utah Territory.

Ford came up with the idea for the story, and Patrick Ford (John Ford's son) and Frank S. Nugent wrote the script. Ford and Merian C. Cooper, were co-executive producers, with Lowell J. Farrell as associate producer. Music was done by Richard Hageman.

Ford had been shooting the film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon the year before (1948) in Monument Valley, near the town of Mexican Hat, Utah, close to the locations where he had also filmed Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946), and Fort Apache (1948). He wanted a different look for his next film and drove to Moab. Wagon Master was shot in less than a month, in 1949, for less than a million dollars. Filmed in black and white, on location, mainly northeast of the town of Moab, Utah in Professor Valley (with additional shotting at Spanish Valley southwest of Moab, and a few stage shots were done at Monument Valley).

The television series Wagon Train (1957-1965), starring first Ward Bond and then John McIntire, was inspired by the film. (Ford directed one episode.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Harvey Girls (1946)

The Harvey Girls(1946). Based on a 1942 novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams about Fred Harvey's famous Harvey House restaurants. Director: George Sidney. Cast: Judy Garland, John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Virginia O'Brien, Ray Bolger, and Marjorie Main. It won an Academy Award for Best Song for "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe", written by Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren.

A group of new waitresses for Harvey House restaurants, travel on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad to the little town of Sandrock. Also traveling by train is Susan Bradley, who is is on her way to marry the man whose beautifully written letters letters swept her off her feet. Unfortunately, the man doesn't want to get married, so they agree to call it off. When she learns that the letters were written by the owner of the saloon, Ned Trent, she storms off to confront him and gives him a piece of her mind, which somehow he finds very attractive.

Now needing a job, Susan joins the Harvey Girls, and soon finds herself fighting against Trent's business partner, Judge Sam Purvis , who wants to close them down. Em, who is in love with Trent, sees Susan as her rival and the war is on.. You have to watch to see which girl wins her man.

I thought the film was Beautifully filmed, also..a wonderful supporting cast who all get a moment to shine including Ray Bolger, Virginia O'brien, Marjorie Main, a very young Cyd Charisse and a stunning 19 year old Angela Lansbury.

Fun Facts:
Angela Lansbury, is a singer in her own right, her voice was considered unsuitable for the character she played and her singing in the film was dubbed by Virginia Rees. Cyd Charisse, who had her first speaking role in the film, also had her singing dubbed, by Marion Doenges.

"On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe"
Music by Harry Warren
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Sung by Ben Carter, Marjorie Main, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland and chorus
Danced by Ray Bolger

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Sons of Katie Elder(1965).

The Sons of Katie Elder(1965). Director: Henry Hathaway. Cast: John Wayne and Dean Martin. Filmed in Mexico.

The four sons of Katie Elder all meet in Clearwater, Texas, in for their mother's funeral. They all regret that they have not lived up to her high expectations of them.

The townspeople do not think much of the brothers, John a professional gunfighter, Tom has also ended up on the wrong side of the law as a gambler. Katie Elder was loved by everyone, all knew of her poverty and her love for her sons who neglected her. The brothers want to do something special for their mother, like help her keep her wish to send Bud to college, even though Bud wants to grow up to be like his brothers.

Morgan Hastings, now owns the Elders' ranch after their father death, claiming to have won it from him in a game of cards. He brings in a hired gun, Curley to help protect the ranch. When he learns about the brothers' investigations, Hastings frames them for murder of the sheriff.

I 'm writing this movie review to honor: Dennis Hopper, Dean Martin and John Wayne. Apart from the casting and music, much of the enjoyment of this film comes from the love of the westerns from the 50's and 60's. This film did have its touching moments.. like when they talked about the simple pleasures Mrs Elder found in her beloved rocking chair.

Fun Facts:

When John Wayne is dragged into the river, you can hear a child calling out, "Dad!". This was his three-year-old son Ethan Wayne, who was watching off camera and knew how ill his father was.

In western history, there is a famous Katie Elder: "Big Nose" Kate Elder, a prostitute and girlfriend of legendary gunfighter John "Doc" Holliday.

The hearse featured at the funeral of Katie Elder is currently in front of the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vera Cruz (1954).

Vera Cruz (1954). Cast: Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster, and featuring Denise Darcel, Sara Montiel, and Cesar Romero. Director: Robert Aldrich from a story by Borden Chase and considered one of the most influential Western films ever filmed. The film's Mexican setting, and attitude about violence was thought shocking at the time, and changed the future of Westerns such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, and the films of Sergio Leone.

The story begins as the American Civil War is ending, and Mexico is beginning a revolution against Maximilian, some North American ex-soldiers head to Mexico to offer their services to either side. Ben Trane, who was a Confederate major during the Civil War, and Joe Erin, a western outlaw, meet up in Mexico when Ben has to replace his injured horse. Later, in a small pueblo, Ben receives a very cold welcome from other North Americans who, recognizing Joe's horse, assume that Ben has killed him and are about to beat him up when Joe comes forward. Joe then talks Ben into joining his mercenaries, and they meet with the Marquis de Labordere, who represents the emperor and offers to pay them well. When Ben goes to help a young Mexican woman, Nina, he is rewarded with the theft of his wallet. After Gen. Ramirez, tries to force their hand, Ben, Joe and their men join the marquis to Mexico City. There they attend a society ball at the emperor's home. Joe is very much out of place, but he and Ben manage to charm the Countess Marie Duvarre. Maximilian agrees to pay the men fifty thousand dollars in gold to take on the special mission of escorting the countess through Juarista territories to the port of Vera Cruz, where she will leave for France. The marquis and a troop of lancers led by Capt. Danette, will also join them. Ben and Joe soon believe that the coach is carrying more than the countess...

I thought Vera Cruz, was an excellent film, loved the wonderful score by Friedhofer. My favorite scene was in the plaza, with a great gunfight followed with the meetings of the main characters in the plot including hundreds of revolutionaries and Cesar Romero, whose character is the Emperor of Mexico, Maximillian.

Fun Facts:
Produced by Burt Lancaster's production company for $1.7 million, it grossed over $11million.

Burt Lancaster was quite happy to let Gary Cooper have top billing, knowing that he had more box office pull than he did.

Eli Wallach has said that the Mexican government was so upset about the negative portrayal of Mexicans in the film that they insisted that the making of The Magnificent Seven (1960) be monitored by censors.

This film is sometimes called the "first spaghetti western," due to the influence on the Italian directors such as Sergio Leone who popularized the genre.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Westward the Woman (1951).

Westward the Women (1951) Director: William A. Wellman. Cast: Robert Taylor, Denise Darcel and John McIntire.

In 1851, Roy Whitman decides to take a group of women west to join his lonely men, hoping they will put down roots and settle down in his California valley.

Roy has the women pick their prospective husbands from pictures he has posted to a board. Two saloon girls, Fifi Danon and Laurie Smith, change their clothes when others like them are rejected. Roy is not fooled, but believes they are sincere in trying to change their ways and decides to let them join the other ladies. Roy hires a hardened trail boss, Buck Wyatt, to lead the wagon train.

On the trail, Buck shoots one of his men for raping Laurie. All but two of the trail hands leave in the middle of the night, taking eight of the women with them. This leaves only the Japanese cook, and Jim Stacey, who has fallen in love with an already-pregnant Rose Meyers to lead the train. Buck, decides the group must turn back. The women refuse to accept his decision. Roy believes that the women can learn to do "a man's job". The women go through one hardship after another. Will Fifi's bravery and determination change Buck's opinion of women?

This movie is very entertaining! It's funny, It's touching, It's violent. It's everything you'd expect from a film called Westward the Woman.

Filming locations:
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Johnson Canyon, Kanab, Utah, USA
Kanab Movie Ranch - 5001 Angel Canyon Road, Kanab, Utah, USA
Kanab, Utah, USA
Mohave Desert, California, USA
Paria Canyon, Kanab, Utah, USA
Paria, Utah, USA
Tucson, Arizona, USA

Forgotten Movie :The First Traveling Saleslady(1956)

The First Traveling Saleslady (1956). Cast Ginger Rogers, Carol Channing, James Arness and Clint Eastwood.

The story begins when Rose and her friend Molly, decide to head west to sell barbed wire. Unfortunately, they end up in trouble with the local cowboys. The the cowboys try to run them out of town, certain that the wire will injure the cattle. The women's only friend is horseless carriage inventor Charles Masters.

I thought it was a sweet little film, but no more than that. It was fun to see a Clint Eastwood 26 years old and handsome. He does fit the western mold, although there is little evidence of the figure that Clint would soon become.

Fun Facts:

The script for The First Traveling Saleslady was first offered to Mae West, who declined, and many of the film's reviewers, Rogers might have been wiser to do the same. "Lame, offbeat, an interesting but failed experiment, The First Traveling Saleslady only underlined the emptiness of such backward-looking fare in changing times," wrote Patrick McGilligan, author of Ginger Rogers.

Ginger Rogers would joke that this picture shut down RKO (it was the last film produced by that studio).

Clint Eastwood's first on screen performance with a speaking part.

Happy 80th Birthday Clint Eastwood!!

Clint Eastwood, film actor, director, producer, and composer. He has received five Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and five People's Choice Awards — including one for Favorite All-Time Motion Picture Star.

Eastwood is known for his action and western films. Following his performance as in the TV series Rawhide(1958), he went on to perform as the Man With No Name in the trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s and as Inspector Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry films of the 1970s and 1980s. Eastwood also performed in Every Which Way but Loose and Any Which Way You Can, his two highest-grossing films.

In 1969, Eastwood performed in his only musical, Paint Your Wagon. With Lee Marvin. They played a couple of gold miners who share the same wife. Production for the film had many delays. The film was not a success, although it was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Another favorite film of mine was, Two Mules for Sister Sara(1970) with Shirley MacLaine. The film, is a story about an American mercenary who gets mixed up with a woman disguised as a nun and aid a group of Juarista rebels during the time of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. The film saw Eastwood perform as a mysterious stranger once more, unshaven, wearing a serape-like vest and smoking a cigar.

Eastwood turned his attention towards a story about a love between a middle-aged man and a teenage girl, Breezy(1973). During casting for the film, Eastwood met Sondra Locke for the first time, who performed in many of his films for the next ten years and in his life. Locke, who was 26 and was too old to play the Breezy part, actress Kay Lenz, who had performed in American Graffiti, was cast. The film was not a major critical or commercial success. But, I thought a very interesting story line. I have mixed feelings about this film because the girl is 18 and her love interest is 45.

For his work in the films Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004), Eastwood won Academy Awards for Best Director and for producer of the Best Picture and received nominations for Best Actor. These films in particular, as well as others such as Play Misty for Me (1971), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Pale Rider (1985) and Gran Torino (2008), have all received great success. He has directed most of his star vehicles as well as films he has not acted in, such as Mystic River (2003) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), for which he received Academy Award nominations.

He also served as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California from 1986–1988, tending to support small business interests on the one hand and environmental protection on the other.