Pike Bishop and The Wild Bunch

We’re not gonna get rid of anybody! We’re gonna stick together, just like it used to be! When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal, you’re finished! *We’re* finished! All of us!

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Give ‘em hell Pike!

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Now you listen to me, Lyle – You get up off your ass and help once in a while, I wouldn’a got caught near s’easy.

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Why not?

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“They”? Why, they is the plain and fancy they, that’s who “they” is! Caught you, didn’t they? Tied a tin can to your tail. Led you in and waltzed you out again. Oh my, what a bunch! Big tough ones, hunh? Here you are with a handful of holes, a thumb up your ass, and a big grin to pass the time of day with. They? Who the hell is “they?”

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Any insult to my family while we are here and I will kill you!

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Well, how’d you like to kiss my sister’s black cat’s ass?

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If they move, kill ‘em!

The Wild Bunch

The Racers (1955)

From 20th Century Fox comes this Henry Hathaway directed tale of life on the fast lanes. It seems every decade casts a major star in a plot centered around car racing. This time out we have Kirk Douglas cast in a role not too distant from his Midge Kelly role in Champion and Jonathan Shields in The Bad and the Beautiful. Having said that don’t get that idea that this film can compare to those two classics.

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Kirk is a hungry up and comer in the racing game who is about to land a spot in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Things don’t work out in the trial run but fellow racers Cesar Romero, Gilbert Roland and money man Lee J. Cobb take notice of his skills behind the wheel. So does Bella Darvi who figures to becomes Kirk’s romantic interest in between races.

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As was customary with many Douglas roles during the fifties his ego is on the rise and nothing will stop him on his drive to the top of the rankings. Not friends, fellow racers or lovers. It’s win at all costs where Kirk is concerned. We do get some tight races and car wrecks along the way. All done with back screen projections and our trio of goggled racers trying to fight each other to the finish line.

This is pretty much a formula picture that doesn’t offer anything new and proved nothing more than a payday for Mr. Douglas. There is some location footage for the racing car enthusiasts but I am under the impression the actual cast never stepped foot overseas.

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Looking for the positives we do get another chance to see Gilbert Roland play his friendly “Amigo” character. It’s practically impossible not to like Gilbert Roland on screen from about 1948 onwards. He had actually appeared with Douglas in the excellent Bad and the Beautiful in 1952. Gilbert had an incredibly long career appearing in films from the twenties in to the decade of the eighties.

Both Lee J. Cobb and Cesar Romero are well known figures in classic films and television. Cobb just might be the actor that perfected the menacing bully who raises his voice to intimidate those around him. Romero gets a leading lady of his own here in the form of Katy Jurado.

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According to Kirk Douglas’ autobiography, Darryl F. Zanuck cast his mistress Darvi in this film with hopes of furthering her career. It didn’t work out that way as Bella became another lost soul in the world of film making passing away at the age of 42 by her own hand.

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While this is largely a forgotten film in both Kirk’s and Hathaway’s career it isn’t that bad. It’s just not memorable. Surprisingly it’s their only film together and not every film can be a classic. With Douglas, Romero, Cobb and Roland one could do a lot worse in selecting a film to check out. I have this on an old VHS tape so it’s out there for those willing to look.

Stewart Granger Wrap-Up

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I would imagine that seeing Stewart Granger in The Wild Geese at the inception of the VHS era might be the first time I recall hearing my Mother pointing him out to me and telling me of his many adventurous roles in the 1950’s. Naturally I am looking at him in a film from 1978 as a rather arrogant grey haired back door politician who turns out to be a double crossing snake. It’s also the era of Roger Moore as Bond. At the time I see this film in the mid 80’s, he and Richard Harris are my primary interest.

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Over the next decade to the turn of the century I slowly caught up with many of his roles through television viewings and some of his more well known titles on home video. Mom was right. Plenty of movies to enjoy. At this moment I now currently have 28 of his titles in my library and still haven’t seen them all yet. Perhaps another 5 straight days of Granger titles is in order.

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While selecting the films I focused on, I wanted to mainly stay with his MGM years. I am quite aware that he filmed mainly abroad in the sixties and will have to make an effort to view some of those titles as well. I did go looking on youtube for some lesser known films. If you have a look you can catch his Sherlock Holmes from the 1971 made for TV production of Hound of the Baskervilles. I had seen this years ago and took another look. I think he suits the role in this lesser production with a bumbling Bernard Fox as Watson and even William Shatner as Stapleton! I also noticed a mid sixties spy film I’ll have to have a peek at, Spies Against the World with Lex Barker and Klaus Kinski.

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For many years I have had a soft cover copy of his autobiography Sparks Fly Upwards. A very good read. Earlier this year I was at a rummage sale and came across a nice condition hardcover copy and was very surprised to see it was a signed edition. So other than discovering some new film titles with Mr. Granger this year and revisiting some favorites, I am happy to see that not only was he a very good actor but had nice penmanship as well.

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Scaramouche (1952) Stewart Granger Fest Day 5

As Scaramouche Stewart Granger was allowed the rare opportunity to play the “ass.” Admittedly while masked. A stark contrast to the brooding character he becomes due to the events that unfold in this colorful MGM production.

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Granger stars here as a poet, a Casanova of sorts who takes life’s pleasures as they come. He delivers a very lively performance in the films first half hour chasing his paramour Eleanor Parker. It’s an on again/off again love affair that is both playful and torrid. “I oughta be burned at the stake for loving you,” Parker purrs between kisses. “Burned to a cinder.”

Parker is part of an acting troupe touring around France with the leading character Scaramouche as it’s central figure. It’s during this carefree part of his life that Granger meets up with beautiful Janet Leigh and a hint of what is to come.

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The film’s tone and Granger’s character are about to take a sharp turn when his best friend Richard Anderson is “murdered” in a duel against pompous Mel Ferrer. Ferrer is an expert fencer leaving Anderson little chance of actually winning the contest let alone surviving it. Granger swears vengeance and makes himself an enemy to Ferrer and the aristocracy. During his escape he comically ends up behind the mask of the title character on stage opposite Parker. A star is born.

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On one hand the film maintains it’s serious tone with the arrogant Ferrer and Granger’s passion for revenge. On the other it’s comedy quotient remains at a high level while the troupe performs and Granger plays the ass against the extreme beauty of Parker.

While not on stage Granger is learning to master the sword despite the jealous nature of Parker. The adventure leads them to France where both Parker and Leigh vie for his affections while Ferrer condemns him. There’s swordplay coming and the climatic duel ranks with some of the greatest captured on film.

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While sounding like a straight forward plot there are a few twists and turns along the way and a few surprises for the first time viewer. This MGM technicolor production from director George Sidney is practically begging to be restored on blu ray. Should we be so lucky I’ll have to add it to my collection and replace my VHS version. Sidney directed a number of films including working with Granger the following year on Young Bess.

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Mel Ferrer is an actor I have never warmed to. Perhaps it’s because he plays the pompous villain so well and I have a hard time separating the actor from his character. That in itself should be a credit to the performer I suppose.

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Eleanor Parker is not only beautiful but could hold her own opposite stars like Granger and seemed to do best playing the feisty woman of their dreams. Dare I say mine too? Janet Leigh was just getting started and films like these gave her an opportunity to be seen as more than just a damsel in distress. She has a playfulness that comes through despite her mixed feelings for the two men at odds.

Lewis Stone appeared in the 1923 silent version opposite Ramon Novarro and here plays the father of Anderson. His final 3 films before his death are this, The Prisoner of Zenda and All the Brothers Were Valiant. All three were opposite Granger and remakes of silent films. Two of which Stone starred in.

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This was a role well suited for Granger’s talents at this point in his career. He’d come to MGM and along with Robert Taylor headlined many of their costume adventures in the fifties. Scaramouche allotted him a role that gave him a wide berth in playing it broadly in one scene and tightly knotted the next with vengeance on his mind. He’s both playful and brooding. While I haven’t seen Granger’s entire catalogue of titles I can’t recall him playing such a physical role in a comedy vein. The masked character of the title gives him that chance.

If for no other reason than Stewart Granger in fine form this is a title worth seeking out from MGM’s glorious years of costume adventures. Just don’t overlook the contribution of Eleanor Parker.

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Footsteps in the Fog (1955) Stewart Granger Fest Day 4

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Stewart Granger and then wife Jean Simmons journeyed to Shepperton Studios in England to star opposite each other in this cross between a Hitchcock murder mystery and a Hammer Films thriller. According to Granger it was “mulishly” directed by Arthur Lubin in reference to Lubin’s association with the Francis the Talking Mule series.

Both stars play against type in this fog shrouded tale of murder and blackmail. The film starts with Granger attending the funeral of his wife looking distraught and emotionally ravaged. Publicly at least.Things are about to take a severe turn when servant girl Jean Simmons implies she knows exactly how the mistress of the house died.

She’s quickly promoted to the job of head mistress within Granger’s high society home. He doesn’t exactly like the fact that she’s holding a dark secret over his head. It just might be time to get rid of her. Permanently.

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The plot takes a major twist when following Simmons through a deep fog Granger strikes. He leaves the body just as he’s discovered and returns home. He’s just dug his hole a little deeper when he finds he’s killed the wrong woman. It’s a tale of cat and mouse from here on out till the endings nice little twist of circumstances.

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Granger and Simmons were married for the decade of the fifties and this was their second film together during that time. The first being Young Bess. They work well together in this eerie tale where he’s downright villainous and she has a rather warped sense of adulation. Hang in for the ending as they both get what they deserve.

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There’s a really good thriller in here and at times it surfaces despite Lubin’s “mulishly” styled direction. This is one of those features that really could have been better had it been in the hands of the “master” himself. We then wouldn’t have to call it Hitchcockian. A little tightening of the script in a few spots could have gone a long way in making this lesser known thriller remembered more fondly if at all.

Considering the run of big budget extravaganzas Stewart Granger was on through this part of his career Footsteps in the Fog is a rather low budget affair. This shouldn’t really be much of a surprise as he was on loan out to Columbia studios where Harry Cohn was known to squeeze a buck. Despite being a technicolor film the fog doesn’t help the medium although Simmons looks gorgeous in a red dress at one point in the film. For me Simmons was quite possibly the most beautiful woman in films during this era. I am always joking that I first fell in love with her while watching Spartacus on television at an impressionable age.

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This title turns up occasionally on TCM if you’d like to get a look at it and see a real life married couple bringing out the dark side in the other.

 

 

The Crooked Road (1965) Stewart Granger Fest Day 3

Focusing in on Stewart Granger has allowed me to catch a Robert Ryan film for the first time as well during my run of Granger titles.

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It’s a black and white film made in Jugoslavia as the final screen credit points out at the film’s conclusion.

Ryan stars here as a tough newspaper man out to bring down a Duke with a shady background and corruption in both his past and foreseeable future.Granger is of course the Duke who is a man of means in his home country and appears to be ready to run for office.

When Ryan arrives in Granger’s homeland the stakes are going up. Not only is Ryan out to bring down our silver haired leading man but he was once passionately involved with Granger’s wife played by Nadia Gray. Granger would like nothing better than to have Ryan bought off and bury the evidence that Ryan is about to unleash through the media of Granger’s shady dealings.

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To ensure Ryan’s cooperation Granger arranges a murder where the implication is that the “American” is guilty. Perhaps if Mr. Ryan would surrender the documents the local police might be persuaded by Granger’s Duke to look for a suspect elsewhere.

Ryan isn’t one to back down and this will lead to the inevitable clash of wills between our two fading leading men whose prime years were the previous decade although Ryan had a couple of triumphs still to come like his role as Deke Thornton in The WIld Bunch.

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Stewart Granger was equally adept at playing both hero and pompous villain and dabbled in both. During his younger years he played the dashing  hero more often then not in a variety of genres. As age caught up to him he seemed to take on a meanness in his features that lent themselves to playing roles with a tinge of arrogance about them. His later film appearance in The Wild Geese is a perfect example of this.

For this role he’s slippery with money and a noble position to lend itself to his desire for power and being a law unto himself which comes forward in his discussion with Ryan over ethics and responsibilities of those in a position to better the world for others or selfishly use them for one’s own gain.

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There’s nothing overly wrong with this feature from director Don Chaffey but it’s strictly a B film. On the flip side Ryan and Granger make for an interesting combination on film. Going in I assumed that if there was to be a good guy vs. bad guy scenario I would have expected that Ryan was going to be our go to villain of the piece. So the fact that it turned out to be Granger gives it a bit of a twist.

No classic but definitely something a little different from our two leading men of whom I consider myself a fan.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) Day 2 of Stewart Granger fest.

“Fate doesn’t always make the right man King.”

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Stewart Granger takes on the dual role in this technicolor version of the famed story fifteen years after Ronald Colman essayed the role.

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MGM decorates this film with not only a wonderful palette of colors but a first rate cast to surround Granger as well. Our film starts with Granger arriving for a fishing trip one day before a coronation is about to take place crowning his lookalike to the throne. When he is approached by Louis Calhern and his double it is found he is a far distant relative and enjoys a night of drinking with the soon to be King. Problems arise when it is learned there are evil forces at work and our leading man must take the place of the real heir to keep the country in line and the throne from falling to the wrong hands.

The wrong hands belong to Robert Douglas who is the brother of the heir to the throne. The true highlight in this Richard Thorpe directed film is James Mason as Douglas’ right hand. Mason is in fine form here and chews the scenery quite nicely. He actually plays it as an arrogant SS officer in the German army. He’d like nothing more than to rule from behind the throne and capture Jane Greer as well. Trouble is she sees through him and loves Douglas despite his evil plotting.

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The romance angle thickens when Granger the impostor meets the Queen in waiting. It’s beautiful Deborah Kerr. She senses a change for the better in the man she knew and is swept off her feet by the wrong Granger. He in turn has fallen for her beauty and grace.

The plot really takes a turn towards adventure and swordplay when Mason and Douglas put the real King on ice. Granger the adventurer along with Calhern seek to find his whereabouts and end the charade by putting the correct man in his rightful place. Even if it goes against his heart and losing Miss Kerr.

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The scenes between Granger and Mason are what gives this film it’s drive. Their at odds from the beginning and will of course engage in an action packed duel towards the conclusion. Their banter both in the lead up and during the actual fight add that extra “something” to the spectacle. “Queen’s uniform and the old school tie,” Mason taunts when it comes to chivalry.

The screenplay here is credited to John L. Balderston who horror film fans should know as the writer of Universal’s Dracula, Mummy and Frankenstein originals that kick started the horror genre.

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Richard Thorpe is one of those directors that never gets mentioned despite having a long and successful career. He worked with many of the top tier stars of the day and helmed a few costume pieces including Ivanhoe, Knights of the Round Table and Quentin Durward. All with Robert Taylor. He also directed both Granger and Taylor in 1953’s All the Brothers Were Valiant.

Granger and leading lady Kerr had also previously appeared in the successful remake of King Solomon’s Mines in 1950. Aside from Kerr it’s Jane Greer who I thought had the better female role in this adventure. She has a little more to do than just look radiant and swoon at Granger’s touch. She is after all in love with one villain and desired by the other.

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And yes indeed that is Kathleen Freeman near the start of the film. The same lady who to my delight would one day be cast as The Penguin in The Blues Brothers bringing her yard stick down mightily on the boys.

Noteworthy is the casting of Lewis Stone as the Cardinal. Stone had played the Granger part in the 1923 silent. This was his second last film. The last being the Granger-Taylor teaming of 1953. Stone is of course widely known as Judge Hardy in the long running Mickey Rooney series.

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Where this version of the story ranks compared to the other versions (including a Peter Sellers spoof) isn’t the point here. It’s to encourage you to check this one out and see Granger at the top of his game right alongside James Mason.