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Wagon Master

John Ford’s favorite western of his own work is a curiously gentle, endearingly simple hark-back to the verities of silent filmmaking. Mormons crossing the desert are encumbered by show people and beset by a nasty outlaw family — but don’t worry ’cause the Sons of the Pioneers will still be singing backup for ‘The Chuckawalla Swing.’ Ford rodeo discovery Ben Johnson returns with Harry Carey Jr. and every other Ford stock player not nailed down, and the marvelously direct cinematography is keyed to Ford’s idealized vision of life on the frontier.

Wagon Master

Blu-ray

Warner Archive Collection

1950 / B&w / 1:37 flat Academy / 86 min. / Street Date August 13, 2019 / available through the WBshop / 21.99

Starring: Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru, Harry Carey Jr., Ward Bond, Charles Kemper, Alan Mowbray, Jane Darwell, Ruth Clifford, Russell Simpson, Kathleen O’Malley, James Arness, Francis Ford, Hank Worden.

Cinematography: Bert Glennon

Film Editor: Jack Murray

Original Music:
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The Last Command

The ‘other’ Hollywood studio version of the Alamo story is quite good, with strong production values, exciting stunt battle action and something Republic Pictures didn’t manage very often, a solid screenplay. Sterling Hayden is Jim Bowie, this version’s central hero, with great backup from Anna Maria Alberghetti, Ernest Borgnine, J. Carrol Naish, and Ben Cooper. But best of all is that old hay-shaker Arthur Hunnicutt, as the movies’ best and most natural Davy Crockett.

The Last Command

Blu-ray

Kl Studio Classics

1955 / Color / 1:66 widescreen / 110 min. / Street Date December 11, 2018 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Richard Carlson, Arthur Hunnicutt, Ernest Borgnine, J. Carrol Naish, Ben Cooper, John Russell, Virginia Grey, Jim Davis, Eduard Franz, Otto Kruger, Russell Simpson, Roy Roberts, Slim Pickens, Hugh Sanders, Morris Ankrum, Argentina Brunetti, Robert Burton.

Cinematography: Jack A. Marta

Film Editor: Tony Martinelli

Original Music: Max Steiner

Special Effects: Howard
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Along Came Jones

Big star Gary Cooper kids his screen image as an infallible hero in a western that almost plays as a screwball comedy, complete with the ultimate grouchy sidekick, William Demarest. Loretta Young’s attraction to Coop’s goofy ‘bronc stomper’ seem glowingly authentic. The jokes are funny, and the sentiment feels real, right up to the unexpectedly violent ending. . . for 1945, that is.

Along Came Jones

Blu-ray

ClassicFlix

1945 / B&W / 1:37 Academy / 90 min. / Street Date January 16, 2018 / 39.99

Starring: Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, William Demarest, Dan Duryea, Frank Sully, Don Costello, Walter Sande, Russell Simpson, Arthur Loft, Willard Robertson, Ray Teal, Lance Fuller, Chris-Pin Martin.

Cinematography: Milton Krasner

Film Editor: Thomas Neff

Original Music: Arthur Lange

Written by Nunnally Johnson from the novel by Alan Le May

Produced by Gary Cooper

Directed by Stuart Heisler

At the end of WW2 came forth a burst of new independent film production companies headed by actors and directors.
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They Were Expendable

John Ford's best war movie does a flip-flop on the propaganda norm. It's about men that must hold the line in defeat and retreat, that are ordered to lay down a sacrifice play while someone else gets to hit the home runs. Robert Montgomery, John Wayne and Donna Reed are excellent, as is the recreation of the Navy's daring sideshow tactic in the Pacific Theater, the 'speeding coffin' Patrol Torpedo boats. They Were Expendable Blu-ray Warner Archive Collection 1945 / B&W / 1:37 flat Academy / 135 min. / Street Date June 7, 2016 / available through the WBshop / 21.99 Starring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond, Marshall Thompson, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Langton, Leon Ames, Donald Curtis, Murray Alper, Harry Tenbrook, Jack Pennick, Charles Trowbridge, Louis Jean Heydt, Russell Simpson, Blake Edwards, Tom Tyler. Cinematography Joseph H. August Production Designer Film Editor Douglass Biggs, Frank E. Hull Original Music Earl K. Brent, Herbert Stothart, Eric Zeisl Writing credits Frank Wead, Comdr. U.S.N. (Ret.), Based on the book by William L. White Produced and Directed by John Ford, Captain U.S.N.R.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

They Were Expendable has always been appreciated, but hasn't been given a high roost in John Ford's filmography. Yet it's one of his most personal movies, and for a story set in the military service, his most serious. We're given plenty of service humor and even more sentimentality -- with a sing-along scene like those that would figure in the director's later cavalry pictures, no less. Yet the tone is heavier, more resolutely downbeat. The war had not yet ended as this show went before the cameras, yet Ford's aim is to commemorate the sacrifices, not wave a victory flag. By 1945 Hollywood was already rushing its last 'We're at War!' morale boosters out the gate and gearing up for production in a postwar world. Practically a pet project of legendary director John Ford, They Were Expendable is his personal tribute to the Navy. Typical for Ford, he chose for his subject not some glorious victory or idealized combat, but instead a thankless and losing struggle against an invader whose strength seemed at the time to be almost un-opposable. They Were Expendable starts at Pearl Harbor and traces the true story of an experimental Patrol Torpedo Boat unit run by Lt. John Brickley (Robert Montgomery), his ambitious second in command Lt. Ryan (John Wayne) and their five boat crews. The ambience is pure Ford family casting: the ever-present Ward Bond and Jack Pennick are there, along with youthful MGM newcomers Marshall Thompson (It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Cameron Mitchell (Garden of Evil, Blood and Black Lace) being treated as new members of the Ford acting family. Along the way Ryan meets nurse Sandy Davyss (Donna Reed). Despite their battle successes, the Pt unit suffers casualties and loses boats as the Philippine campaign rapidly collapses around them. Indicative of the unusual level of realism is the Wayne/Reed romance, which falls victim to events in a very un-glamorous way. There's nothing second-rate about this Ford picture. It is by far his best war film and is as deeply felt as his strongest Westerns. His emotional attachment to American History is applied to events only four years past. The pace is fast but Expendable takes its time to linger on telling character details. The entertainer that responds to the war announcement by singing "My Country 'tis of Thee" is Asian, perhaps even Japanese; she's given an unusually sensitive close-up at a time when all Hollywood references to the Japanese were negative, or worse. MGM gives Ford's shoot excellent production values, with filming in Florida more than adequate to represent the Philippines. Even when filming in the studio, Ford's show is free of the MGM gloss that makes movies like its Bataan look so phony. We see six real Pt boats in action. The basic battle effect to show them speeding through exploding shells appears to be accomplished by pyrotechnic devices - fireworks -- launched from the boat deck. Excellent miniatures represent the large Japanese ships they attack. MGM's experts make the exploding models look spectacular. Ford's sentimentality for Navy tradition and the camaraderie of the service is as strong as ever. Although we see a couple of battles, the film is really a series of encounters and farewells, with boats not coming back and images of sailors that gaze out to sea while waxing nostalgic about the Arizona lost at Pearl Harbor. The image of civilian boat builder Russell Simpson awaiting invasion alone with only a rifle and a jug of moonshine purposely references Ford's earlier The Grapes of Wrath. Simpson played an Okie in that film and Ford stresses the association by playing "Red River Valley" on the soundtrack; it's as if the invading Japanese were bankers come to boot Simpson off his land. Equally moving is the face of Jack Holt's jut-jawed Army officer. He'd been playing basically the same crusty serviceman character for twenty years; because audiences had never seen Holt in a 'losing' role the actor makes the defeat seem all the more serious. The irony of this is that in real life, immediately after Pearl Harbor, Holt was so panicked by invasion fears that he sold his Malibu beach home at a fraction of its value. Who bought it? According to Joel Siegel in his book The Reality of Terror, it was Rko producer Val Lewton. John Wayne is particularly good in this film by virtue of not being its star. His character turn as an impatient but tough Lieutenant stuck in a career dead-end is one of his best. The real star of the film is Robert Montgomery, who before the war was known mostly for light comedies like the delightful Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Montgomery's Brickley is a man of dignity and dedication trying to do a decent job no matter how hopeless or frustrating his situation gets. Whereas Wayne was a Hollywood soldier, Montgomery actually fought in Pt boats in the Pacific. When he stands exhausted in tropic shorts, keeping up appearances when everything is going wrong, he looks like the genuine article. Third-billed Donna Reed turns what might have been 'the girl in the picture' into something special. An Army nurse who takes care of Wayne's Ryan in a deep-tunnel dispensary while bombs burst overhead, Reed's Lt. Davyss is one of Ford's adored women living in danger, like Anne Bancroft's China doctor in 7 Women. A little earlier in the war, the films So Proudly We Hail and Cry 'Havoc' saluted the 'Angels of Bataan' that stayed on the job, were captured and interned by the Japanese. Expendable has none of the sensational subtext of the earlier films, where the nurses worry about being raped, etc.. We instead see a perfect girl next door (George Bailey thought so) bravely soldiering on, saying a rushed goodbye to Wayne's Lt. Ryan over a field telephone. Exactly what happens to her is not known. Even more than Clarence Brown's The Human Comedy this film fully established Ms. Reed's acting credentials. The quality that separates They Were Expendable from all but a few war films made during the fighting, is its championing of a kind of glory that doesn't come from gaudy victories. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, the Navy, Army and Air Corps units in the Northern Philippines that weren't wiped out in the first attacks, had to be abandoned. The key scene sees Lt. Brickley asking his commanding officer for positive orders to attack the enemy. He's instead 'given the score' in baseball terms. In a ball club, some players don't get to hit home runs. The manager instead tells them to sacrifice, to lay down a bunt. Brickley's Pt squadron will be supporting the retreat as best it can and for long as it can, without relief or rescue. Half a year later, the U.S. was able to field an Army and a Navy that could take the offensive. Brickley's unit is a quiet study of honorable men at war, doing their best in the face of disaster. According to John Ford, Expendable could have been better, and I agree. He reportedly didn't hang around to help with the final cut and the audio mix, and the MGM departments finished the film without him. Although Ford's many thoughtful close-ups and beautifully drawn-out dramatic moments are allowed to play out, a couple of the battle scenes go on too long, making the constant peppering of flak bursts over the Pt boats look far too artificial. Real shell bursts aren't just a flash and smoke; if they were that close the wooden boats would be shattered by shrapnel. The overused effect reminds me of the 'Pigpen' character in older Peanuts cartoons, if he walked around accompanied by explosions instead of a cloud of dust. The music score is also unsubtle, reaching for upbeat glory too often and too loudly. The main march theme says 'Hooray Navy' even in scenes playing for other moods. Would Ford have asked for it to be dialed back a bit, or perhaps removed from some scenes altogether? That's hard to say. The director liked his movie scores to reflect obvious sentiments. But a few of his more powerful moments play without music. We're told that one of the un-credited writers on the film was Norman Corwin, and that Robert Montgomery directed some scenes after John Ford broke his leg on the set. They Were Expendable is one of the finest of war films and a solid introduction to classic John Ford. The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of They Were Expendable looks as good as the excellent 35mm copies we saw back at UCLA. This movie has always looked fine, but the previous DVDs were unsteady in the first reel, perhaps because of film shrinkage. The Blu-ray corrects the problem entirely. The B&W cinematography has some of the most stylized visuals in a war film. Emphasizing gloom and expressing the lack of security, many scenes are played in silhouette or with very low-key illumination, especially a pair of party scenes. Donna Reed appears to wear almost no makeup but only seems more naturally beautiful in the un-glamorous but ennobling lighting schemes. These the disc captures perfectly. Just as on the old MGM and Warners DVDs, the trailer is the only extra. We're told that MGM shoved the film out the door because victory-happy moviegoers were sick of war movies and wanted to see bright musicals instead. The trailer reflects the lack of enthusiasm -- it's basically two actor name runs and a few action shots. The feature has a choice of subtitles, in English, French and Spanish. On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, They Were Expendable Blu-ray rates: Movie: Excellent Video: Excellent Sound: Excellent Supplements: DTS-hd Master Audio Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? Yes; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish Packaging: Keep case Reviewed: June 6, 2016 (5135expe)

Visit DVD Savant's Main Column Page Glenn Erickson answers most reader mail: dvdsavant@mindspring.com

Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson
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My Darling Clementine + Frontier Marshal

We've already got a fine domestic disc with both versions of John Ford's fine Henry Fonda western. This Region B UK release duplicates that arrangement with different extras, and throws in a fine HD transfer of an earlier Allan Dwan version of the same story -- with strong similarities -- called Frontier Marshal. It stars Randolph Scott, Nancy Kelly, Cesar Romero and Binnie Barnes and it's very good. My Darling Clementine +  Frontier Marshal Region B Blu-ray Arrow Academy (UK) 1946 / B&W / 1:37 flat Academy / 97 + 103 min. (two versions) / Street Date August 17, 2015, 2014 / Amazon UK / £19.99 Starring Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature, Cathy Downs, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt, Ward Bond, Alan Mowbray, John Ireland, Roy Roberts, Jane Darwell, Grant Withers, J. Farrell MacDonald, Russell Simpson. Cinematography Joe MacDonald Art Direction James Basevi, Lyle Wheeler Film Editor Dorothy Spencer Original Music Cyril Mockridge Written by Samuel G. Engel, Sam Hellman, Winston Miller Produced by Samuel G. Engel,
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Two-Time Oscar Winner Cooper on TCM: Pro-War 'York' and Eastwood-Narrated Doc

Gary Cooper movies on TCM: Cooper at his best and at his weakest Gary Cooper is Turner Classic Movies' “Summer Under the Stars” star today, Aug. 30, '15. Unfortunately, TCM isn't showing any Cooper movie premiere – despite the fact that most of his Paramount movies of the '20s and '30s remain unavailable. This evening's features are Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Sergeant York (1941), and Love in the Afternoon (1957). Mr. Deeds Goes to Town solidified Gary Cooper's stardom and helped to make Jean Arthur Columbia's top female star. The film is a tad overlong and, like every Frank Capra movie, it's also highly sentimental. What saves it from the Hell of Good Intentions is the acting of the two leads – Cooper and Arthur are both excellent – and of several supporting players. Directed by Howard Hawks, the jingoistic, pro-war Sergeant York was a huge box office hit, eventually earning Academy Award nominations in several categories,
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Rare Black History Sample, Chinese Spider-Women, Capra Silent by Accident: Sfsff 2015 Highlights

African-American film 'Bert Williams: Lime Kiln Club Field Day.' With Williams and Odessa Warren Grey.* Rare, early 20th-century African-American film among San Francisco Silent Film Festival highlights Directed by Edwin Middleton and T. Hayes Hunter, the Biograph Company's Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913) was the film I most looked forward to at the 2015 edition of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. One hundred years old, unfinished, and destined to be scrapped and tossed into the dust bin, it rose from the ashes. Starring entertainer Bert Williams – whose film appearances have virtually disappeared, but whose legacy lives on – Lime Kiln Club Field Day has become a rare example of African-American life in the first years of the 20th century. In the introduction to the film, the audience was treated to a treasure trove of Black memorabilia: sheet music, stills, promotional material, and newspaper clippings that survive. Details of the
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Three 1930s Capra Classics Tonight: TCM's Jean Arthur Mini-Festival

Jean Arthur films on TCM include three Frank Capra classics Five Jean Arthur films will be shown this evening, Monday, January 5, 2015, on Turner Classic Movies, including three directed by Frank Capra, the man who helped to turn Arthur into a major Hollywood star. They are the following: Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can't Take It with You, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; George Stevens' The More the Merrier; and Frank Borzage's History Is Made at Night. One the most effective performers of the studio era, Jean Arthur -- whose film career began inauspiciously in 1923 -- was Columbia Pictures' biggest female star from the mid-'30s to the mid-'40s, when Rita Hayworth came to prominence and, coincidentally, Arthur's Columbia contract expired. Today, she's best known for her trio of films directed by Frank Capra, Columbia's top director of the 1930s. Jean Arthur-Frank Capra
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New on Video: ‘My Darling Clementine’

My Darling Clementine

Directed by John Ford

Written by Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller

USA, 1946

In John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), it is remarked that, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This seems especially apt when it comes to the treatment of the Arizona city Tombstone and the historic western yarn of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the renowned confrontation between the Clantons on one side and the Earps with John “Doc” Holliday on the other. This famous battle, lasting all of about 30 seconds, took place the afternoon of Oct. 26, 1881, and in recalling this skirmish, multiple variations and interpretations have resulted in a cinematic legend in the making, with repeated appearances of its setting, characters, and actions. When the dust settles, one of the greatest depictions of the event, its decisive individuals, and the surrounding area and occurrences (true or false
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