The Angry Hills (1959)

Anytime you team Robert Mitchum with Stanley Baker under Robert Aldrich’s direction you have a formula for success. Or so it would seem.

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This turns out to be rather unbelievable WW2 espionage film that sees Mitchum as a war journalist who happens to be given a list of names that the Nazi’s want. Enter Stanley Baker as the head man after Mitchum. With Mitchum on the run he is sheltered and finds time for love with Gia Scala. As with most cinematic war time romances, it’s short. While hanging out with Gia he gets involved briefly with the underground led by Kieron Moore that ends badly for both Moore and many men in the Greek town where Mitchum has been hiding.

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Next up for our hero is hooking up with Elizabeth Mueller who is being coerced by Baker to lead “The Mitch” into his grasp. She can’t quite go through with it just yet and Mitch is about to turn the tables on Baker with the help of Sydney Greenstreet. Scratch that! It’s Sebastian Cabot in full Greenstreet mode.

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It’s really unfortunate that a Mitchum – Baker showdown goes to waste in this rather dull film that obviously had script troubles based on what actually made it to the screen. With Aldrich’s association with tough guys throughout his directing career you would think that he and Mitchum would be perfectly matched to deliver a top notch flick. Then again one would think that John Huston and John Wayne would deliver a box office smash. Problem is they gave us The Barbarian and the Geisha.

As much as I am always singing the praise of Robert Mitchum it’s Stanley Baker who has the best role here. Not unusual when the villain’s character is way more interesting than the hero. Not that I mind as I am also a big supporter of Mr. Baker’s work. Here he is slick and menacing without ever really raising his voice and is resigned to the fate that he knows will eventually await him.

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Overall the biggest problem is that the film seems to lose it’s way and never allows Mitchum much action which is what he is supposed to be. A man of action. Even more so when starring in an Aldrich flick. After all here’s a man who by this time had directed Vera Cruz, Apache and Kiss Me Deadly.

Alas, this ones strictly for Mitchum and Baker fans so quite naturally I had to check it out. Just expected a little more.

Stranger On Horseback (1955)

Surprisingly short western at 65 minutes for a Joel McCrea oater from director Jacques Tourneur.

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While no where near the best from either of these two it does offer a slightly different style western from a story by Louis L’Amour.

McCrea rides into a new town as the film opens. Passing by a funeral he is soon greeted by John Carradine who seems to take a shine to anyone with power. McCrea is the circuit judge who is making his rounds and isn’t about to take anything from Carradine that might be looked upon as a bribe. Be it a drink or the best room in the local hotel.

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What he does want to know is why the man being buried was the victim of a gunfight and the reason there hasn’t been a trial to determine if the victim was shot in self defense or was it a murder.

As is the case with many other westerns the killer is the son of  a powerful land baron who owns practically everything in the town. The son is played by Kevin McCarthy and John McIntire stars here as the father. McIntire expects to have a talk with McCrea and settle everything nice and quietly.

McCrea who has more or less made a career out of playing righteous characters will have none of it. He calmly attempts to put McCarthy under arrest and when that doesn’t work a right hook will. This leads us to a low budget Rio Bravo style standoff where McCrea and long time character actor Emile Meyer attempt to stand off McIntire and crew.

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Soon enough McCrea finds a witness who isn’t about to crumble under the pressure and taunting of McCarthy whose character gets just a little more evil as the film progresses. It’s all just a matter of whether or not McCrea can conduct a trial before the films ultra short running time expires.

I can’t say I really liked the outcome of this title and perhaps that’s because it didn’t end like most other titles of the genre. Despite it being about twenty minutes shorter than most genre films it does give us a solid cast surrounding McCrea. Carradine gives us a little ham, McIntire is solid as usual and McCarthy suits his young hot shot role just fine.

Playing the cousin of McCarthy is an actress known as Miroslava. A new name for me and one that sadly died the year this film was released by her own hand at the age of thirty.

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Spotlighting character actors is of course a favorite past time of mine and this one has a great one in McIntire but how about Emile Meyer. One look at him and all I can think of is Ryker.

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The man that Alan Ladd’s Shane rides in to kill along with Jack Palance in the George Steven’s classic. Meyer has a good role this time out who offers strong support when McCrea needs it most. Keep your eyes open as well for another familiar face when Dabbs Greer pops into camera range.

Tourneur had worked previously with McCrea on the superior western Stars In My Crown in 1950 and has many fine titles under his belt including Out of the Past and some of the Val Lewton chillers like Cat People.

Perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that this effort was actually filmed in color. I snagged this one courtesy of a DVD release from VCI.

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The Thrill of Ben Gardner’s Boat

When it comes to movie memories, I love to reminisce. When your a kid you see the ads on television for the new movies playing at the local theaters and just hope that someday you’ll get a chance to see them. I freely admit I am old enough to recall the days of having to wait a few years to see the network debut of these films as the VHS craze was still in the not to distant future.

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Jaws was THE movie every little boy was talking of. Our imaginations were running wild about the movie with the Great White shark that was wreaking havoc on the swimmers and a little boy on a rubber raft. Scenes would filter down to us from listening in to the “older folks” that had gone to see it.

If my timeline is correct my parents had gone to see the film on it’s first run and I wasn’t allowed to tag along. Not sure but I believe my older sister had already seen it as well by the time I got my chance. As usual the older siblings always beat us little ones to the real cool looking movies we longed to see.

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When my day finally came I think the film was in re-release and I might have been about 8 years old. Like many of my fondest memories of seeing a film for the first time it was with my Father. I recall seeing Frankenstein with him on a late show and watching The Dirty Dozen for the first time. The main reason I think he finally took me to see the film was probably my badgering him coupled with my older sister having some girls get together in the upstairs apartment we rented in those days.

Looking back I don’t honestly remember much about the night itself and my first viewing of a film that REALLY is in my top ten favorites if I had to narrow the field. What I recall vividly is the scene when Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss come across the abandoned chewed up boat of the missing Ben Gardner. The scene is claustrophobic and Dreyfuss is going to descend to the murky depths. Scheider doesn’t want him to go and neither do I. My Father who has already seen the film knows what’s coming and while I don’t really know if it’s by design he announces to me that he’s going for a smoke. Off he goes to leave me in a wide eyed state of dread. Assuming you have seen the film you’ll know what happens when the Dreyfuss character starts examining the ships haul below. For a kid who might have been about 8 it’s a shocker!

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Over my shoulder I begin to look for my Father and there he is standing at the back of the theater where one would go to take a puff in those days and let the smoke drift up so that we could all see it in the projector’s light. I am quite sure he got one heck of a kick watching my reaction from afar.

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Years later I pulled the same stunt on my own son when he sat down to watch it with me on DVD. He was probably about the same age as I had been and as the scene approached I excused myself and went off to the kitchen. From there I gazed at him hidden behind a flower pot to see his reaction and sure enough he jumped just as I did years ago only he was all bundled up on the couch.

It’s these type of moments that help fuel my passion for films and sharing them with my own sons. I am sure we all have our favorite memories from childhood that stay with us. Might be a film or the story behind seeing it for the first time.

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Jaws has always stayed with me and just about a year ago when it was re-released nationally for a limited run my sons and I headed right down to the local cinema to experience it like it was meant to be. On a full sized theater screen. We loved it all over again from the terror to the adventure. Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis story which to me like many others is the films highlight and the line, “That’s some bad hat, Harry” which I love to say when I see someone wearing one that seems a little “off”.

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Any fond memories to share of those earliest cinema experiences or this classic itself?

 

Red Skies of Montana (1952)

A solid cast of male stars dominate this 20th Century Fox film with Richard Widmark leading the way.

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The plot line concerns Forest Rangers and the men who stop the fires that Mother Nature sets when dry season and lightning mix. Widmark opens the film as he and a group under his command parachute in to clear a breaker on an out of control fire deep in the Montana bush. Along for the ride is aging Joe Sawyer who happens to have a son back at the base played by Jeffrey Hunter. When the winds cause the fire to flank the men the group are M.I.A.

Head Ranger Richard Boone flies in to the charred remains of the gutted area and to his sadness begins to find remains of the platoon. Shockingly there is one survivor. You got it! Richard Widmark. Problem is he can’t seem to piece together how he’s still alive and the others are not. This doesn’t sit well back at the base where Hunter is positive that Widmark is hiding the truth and somehow ran out on his men leaving Sawyer to die an agonizing death.

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After some R & R, Boone puts Widmark back on active duty which will of course result in a fiery ending. Literally. Widmark and a platoon including Gregory Walcott and Warren Stevens find themselves battling a raging fire. Soon enough Boone sends in some reinforcements including Hunter which will set off more fireworks than the trees themselves.

Widmark finds himself under attack when the going gets rough and the men get jumpy. This could be his chance to redeem his good character in the eyes of his platoon and allow him to unlock the mystery of the films opening tragedy. It seems the flames are about to flank his group once again.

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In case your thinking it, that is indeed an unbilled Charles Bronson putting a wounded Hunter on his back during the fiery climax.

There is a thankless role here for Constance Smith as Widmark’s wife who knits and worries every time he’s called to duty. After all a leading man of Widmark’s stature needs a leading lady.

Richard Widmark was on a good run here of heroic roles as he continued to shake his debut performance in Kiss of Death. Something film history has never really allowed him to do. Hunter had already appeared with Widmark in The Frogmen and would clock in some solid films throughout the  decade including the classic Ford film The Searchers.

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Joesph M. Newman directed the film and like Widmark was on a roll in the early fifties. He worked with various leading men of the day including Ty Power on Pony Soldier. He also was behind the camera for the memorable sci-fi film This Island Earth.

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Long time character actor Joe Sawyer who plays Hunter’s dad was originally born about forty kms from where I am sitting. In Guelph Ontario. Sawyer is one of those “faces”.  He appeared in countless films from The Petrified Forest to The Killing and dozens of titles in between.

This was a film I recall seeing as a kid with my parents growing up. Nice to see it’s out as a MOD title from 20th Century Cinema Archives.

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Mistress (1992)

From Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions comes this satirical comedy from actor, director, writer Barry Primus.

Robert Wuhl stars as a forgotten film maker who is in his forties when producer Martin Landau gives him a call about a long forgotten script, The Darkness and the Light. From here with a renewed dream in Hollywood the duo along with a young unproven script doctor played by Jace Alexander go about finding backers for the film’s production.

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The script in question is a rather downbeat story of a painter who will not sacrifice his visions for the popular vote and monetary success. Surely this is what Wuhl himself is about to experience as he begins to meet the money men. Each one of them happens to have their own ideas and a mistress who would make one heck of a leading lady.

First up is Eli Wallach who has a young bimbo blonde as his flame. Wallach gets to chew up the trio in a greasy diner. Scenes like this are why I never pass up an Eli performance.

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Then we come to Danny Aiello. An ex Vietnam vet with money. He wants a cheerful film. Not one that apparently will end in the suicide of the painter. Naturally he has a flame that is a recovering alcoholic hoping to get into the picture business.

Our last backer is none other than Robert De Niro himself. He carries a bit of his gangland roles to this one. He’s in it for the money and demands crucial changes to the script as he won’t back some art film that dies a quick death on opening weekend. It’s his way with more “sex and titillation.” His mistress played by Sheryl Lee Ralph is actually acceptable to Wuhl. Problem is she’s a demanding b–ch. Behind De Niro’s back she’s having sex with Aiello and tells Wuhl aggressively, “That’s right. I’m f-ing both you’re investors. So don’t f–k with me!”

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Wuhl is very quickly realizing that his vision is about to be twisted in any number of ways between his backers, their women and his partners. As Landau tells him, “They’re only making this picture to put their girlfriends in it.”

It’s Martin Landau that comes off best in this film as a producer who will do or say anything to stroke the money men and get Wuhl to agree and go along with the flow. He’s past his prime and just wants one more shot at the big time. Landau alone makes this rather rare title worth seeking out.

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The film itself loses it’s way down the stretch with some forced comedy that left me a little cold but the final scene of Wuhl being lured to chase his dream once more is rewarding.

Any film with a cast list like this is always worth a viewing and we even get a couple cameos from Ernest Borgnine and Christopher Walken. Added up, you get a list of heavy hitters in this look at the sacrifices made getting a script bought.

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Fury at Furnace Creek (1948)

One year after the Noir classic Kiss of Death, Victor Mature re-teamed with Coleen Gray in this enjoyable black and white western from 20th Century Fox.

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The film starts with the massacre of an army fort when a band of Indians led by a vicious looking Jay Silverheels ride in under the guise of a wagon train. From here the film jumps to a court martial involving the General who is believed to have made a tactical error resulting in the attack. The General dies in the court room. Most everyone believes he was involved with some underhanded dealings with a load of silver to be mined on the Indian reservation. The attack results in the Indians being relocated and Albert Dekker moving in and becoming a rich man in the silver business.

Clearing the General’s name falls upon his two sons. One a military man played by Glenn Langan and the other a family outcast, gambler and gunfighter played by our leading man, Victor Mature. Both arrive separately under assumed identities with no intention of reuniting as brothers.

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Langan wants nothing to do with Mature while Mature wants Langan out of town as he believes he is closing in on the truth. The key to the mystery is Reginald Gardiner who was the officer in charge of the wagon train before it was overtaken by Silverheels.

Mature has quietly become one of Dekker’s leading gunman after out shooting Fred Clark. It’s Dekker that wants Mature to take out Langan. He’s unaware that they are actually brothers. He only knows that Langan is here to dig into his silver operation. Can you guess who set up the General?

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In between punches and gunplay, Victor takes a little time to romance Gray. When she realizes just who he is and a gunslinger as well the romance takes a turn for the worse. Hopefully when the outlaws are buried and Mature exonerated she’ll come around.

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This mystery western was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. Bruce had directed Mature in I Wake Up Screaming after doing some of the early Charlie Chan’s with Warner Oland. From here he’d move into musicals and Gordon Scott Tarzan films.

For fans of the atomic age, Glenn Langan would eventually become The Amazing Colossal Man in 1957.

Beautiful Coleen Gray was in a both Kiss of Death and Nightmare Alley prior to this effort and would also appear in Red River this same year. A pretty impressive list of titles for a relative newcomer.

Like Gregory Peck says while narrating the trailer, “No theater goer should miss it.”

Anthony Quinn Poster Gallery

Quinn’s passion always seemed to come shining through.

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The first starring role in 1947 opposite his then wife Katherine DeMille.

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Always at home in the western.

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As the Mountain.

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The bizarre side of Quinn?

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Caught up in a dramatic WW2 saga.

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Making spaghetti with Franco.

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One last epic opposite Ollie.

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Always a pleasure to see Quinn do his thing. But to hear him?

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