Essential: THE BOYS (1962)

JL:

We open in a courtroom with four 17-22 year olds on trial for the murder of a 70 year old garage attendant named Arthur Baxter. The Shadows, a very popular rock instrumental group that often did lighter fare with England’s “Elvis” a.k.a. Cliff Richard, provide a most somber mood piece to let us know this is a story of doom and gloom without the usual happy ending.

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Animated arrows pointing to each name in the cast, reminding me of Saul Bass’ work in Hitchcock films and other classics, suggest that our approach will be very analytical as each name is called to provide details. We will have plenty of flashbacks interrupting our courtroom trial and quite often they will repeat in action and words so that we can view them from the perspectives of different characters involved, a clever device that works surprisingly well even if it may lengthen the running time a bit.

Two big name stars here are battling two sides of the trial– Richard Todd and Robert Morley.

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Todd plays the accusing Victor Webster with considerable aloofness. Perhaps he plays his part with too much aloofness? I suspect that this was done on purpose because director Sidney J. Furie doesn’t want us to actually like him but just accept him as part of the “justice must be served” law.

Usually in dramas involving battling lawyers, the one who gets the most to say and has the longest soliloquy in the finale is the one whom director and screenwriters tend to agree more with or at least find more interesting as a character study.

In this case, Morley’s Montgomery gives a rather passionate speech about how young men don’t just become cold blooded killers, but unfortunate circumstances lead them to do it. Being a naturally whimsical actor, I am not entirely sure that Morley himself is particularly well suited to his role, but he does give another great stand-out performance (besides the speech) when he counsels his foursome and, responding to the moody remark of “aren’t you supposed to defend us?” he displays great exasperation: “What have you given me to defend?!! You throw a man’s tail right across a bus! What are you using a knife on the top of a bus? Cleaning your nails?”

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Basically the dramatic flux consists of one eyewitness after another taking the stand as we make a trip backward in time, followed by each of the boys involved telling their stories. Not all of the witnesses are particularly memorable, but they all have familiar and memorable faces. Most notably, we get the wonderfully fussy bus conductor played by Roy Kinnera who labels the guys as “teddy boys” even though he only has time to read the Daily Mirror and isn’t sure what a “teddy boy” is. Others like Wilfred Brambell (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT), Allan Cuthbertson (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE) and Colin Gordon (THE PINK PANTHER) have a few memorable key lines in their recollections, all representing the stuffy “older generation” that has no patience with these young punks.

What I find surprisingly odd is that we learn so little about the victim, unless he was featured and the film I saw had edited cuts. Does he have family who mourn him? No tears displayed by anybody on screen. Did I miss anything here?

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TB:

I don’t think you missed anything. They did keep the victim’s situation somewhat nebulous. I don’t think we were supposed to focus on the victim, but instead to focus on how the judicial system will handle it. If there had been no conviction at the end, then I think they would have been compelled to show the victim’s story more, through a surviving relative or friend.

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JL:

Gerald Gibb’s camera is mostly focused on Dudley Sutton’s Stan Coulter here since he has the most at stake…and accepts his fate with little struggle. His sweaty curly hair and round crablike features make him appear quite innocent and “boy”-ish. We see him tender and caring with his mother suffering from lung cancer. I especially like how Gibb often poses him close to windows with bar-like shadows to suggest that he always felt like he was in prison.

There is considerable focus on Stan’s sexual frustrations, which I find most interesting and I suspect that his need to “get off” (pardon my blue language) was a key reason he went into the dark side. In one flashback, an attendant thinks he is looking at the safe, but he is actually eyeing the nude model pin-up and wishing he could have her. As usual, he is looking for love in all the wrong places and tries to hook up with a beehive blonde more interested in dancing with her brunette girlfriend, later being observed by him going up to their shared flat window. (Lesbianism was the newest taboo “thing” in cinema by 1962: THE L-SHAPE ROOM was concurrent to this, as were U.S. imports like THE CHILDREN’S HOUR and WALK ON THE WILD SIDE.)

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This is your trademark “kitchen sink” drama with bountiful urban city sinks on display. All of these characters feel trapped by their lives much like they do in other working class gloomies that were popular on Brit screens then. As much as I love the visual aspects, the clever editing tricks and Gibb’s cinéma vérité style, there is a certain shallowness to the story with more milked than necessary with razzle dazzle tricks typical of Brit’s “new wave.”

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TB:

The director for THE BOYS, Sidney J. Furie, has a very interesting filmography. He would do another kitchen sink drama in 1964 called THE LEATHER BOYS.

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JL:

There’s an interesting trivia footnote on Wikipedia. A few of the boys– Sutton and two others (Jess Conrad and Tony Garnett) had a cast reunion in 2017. The fourth boy, Ronald Lacey (the one with the pre-Brian Jones light bangs), passed away earlier. What I found strange was that these guys had not seen each other in the intervening decades. Did they not care all that much about their shared experience to want to discuss it after filming completed?

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I guess this adds to some of my…well…indifference to this film. I don’t get the sense that the creators genuinely care all that much about their characters since we don’t get enough evil on screen to showcase the “why” of the final verdict but also don’t get a lot of emotion displayed on screen either. Maybe I was spoiled by Pilar Seurat in THE YOUNG SAVAGES and was expecting something similar in the courtroom here?  I don’t think typical Brit “chip chip” keep the upper lip fortitude is to blame here.

Sometimes I thought of this as a Basil Dearden drama but lacking the trademark Deardanian focus. For example, SAPPHIRE clearly comments on Britain’s racism and VICTIM pleads for fair treatment of gay men, but it isn’t clear what message is being delivered here apart from a general dissatisfaction for the death penalty. Obviously we are not supposed to agree with the final verdict since we have not seen anybody behave as bloodthirsty villains deserving it.

However you may think this is what makes this film highly innovative. Sometimes movies are done as experiments that sometimes work and sometimes don’t but are still interesting experiments. THE BOYS is interesting in that it dares to be a little different in its approach.

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TB:

I want to address Morley’s speech at the end. I think it wasn’t to place him above Todd’s character. I think it was to place him below Todd, to show that a liberal impassioned speech is futile since the boys (three of them) are still held responsible and one is going to face death.

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I feel the film is ultimately on the side of Todd’s character, because it shows how Morley is duped by him into re-calling the boys to the stand after the testimony had been finished. This enables the prosecution to poke a big hole in the defense, since that final testimony becomes very incriminating. It was as if Todd’s character might have, on some level, expected that to happen. Also, that he was aloof only as some sort of masquerade, since he was quite sly and determined to make sure that justice, the only Justice allowable, would prevail. At least that’s how I looked at it. So Morley ends up a buffoon in court. If this is an accurate interpretation, then Morley’s “light” more jovial persona works here, because he is clearly not to be taken seriously as a “real” brilliant legal talent the way Todd is.

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I should point out that the director, Sidney Furie, served as producer. But I am wondering if he was forced to give it the ending he gave it, with Todd winning, because that would have been seen as morally responsible to the establishment of law and order in Britain, in addition to this approach ensuring favorable box office returns. It was probably made for middle to upper middle class parents, not for the lower classes or the younger people whose story it tells.

The film goes out of its way to explain or give plausible reasons that the boys might be innocent and misunderstood. But then it pulls the rug out from under that false assumption of innocence. The part about the knife is most revealing. We are supposed to think that the knife is only used to clean the boy’s fingernails, but a murder did occur. And later on the stand, the murder is confessed. So obviously the weapon was carried around with a possible intent to kill, not a possible need to clean under the nails.

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Interestingly, in Great Britain right now, there is an alarmingly high rate of knife crime and youths being killed by knives. So this situation has only increased since 1962.

You mentioned the actors not meeting up again until 2017. I don’t quite believe that, to be honest, since most of them continued to work as actors and would have bumped into each other at various auditions over the years. They probably just didn’t stay close, perhaps due to personality clashes on the set. The fact that they reunited to do commentary when the film was finally being put on DVD indicates to me that it is considered a seminal work in their respective filmographies.

At any rate, I consider THE BOYS a cleverly made “think piece” to subvert liberal politics. Your remarks about Dearden are interesting to me, because I think if he had done it, then yes it would have been more transparently in favor of the defendants. We would have been made to sympathize with the boys. But instead, we’re just supposed to sit back, almost detached, see how they carry on with their pranks, their attention deficit issues, and their general clownishness and inability to fit into society properly. Then watch these boys get hauled into court, and inevitably they are carted off to prison.

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THE BOYS may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: THE YOUNG SAVAGES (1961)

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TB: Our first theme in March is “Teens on Trial.” We’re starting with a John Frankenheimer picture called THE YOUNG SAVAGES. It was released in 1961. At this stage of his career, Frankenheimer was known primarily as a television director, having cut his teeth on live anthology shows. Typically, he focused on social message dramas and quickly made a name for himself. In 1957, his first feature had been released. It was a modestly budgeted tale about juvenile delinquency called THE YOUNG STRANGER. This effort was similar to Nicholas Ray’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), with teenager James MacArthur in the James Dean role.

THE YOUNG STRANGER was a good way for Frankenheimer to demonstrate that his skills could transfer from the small screen to the large screen. In 1961 he is once again covering the topic of juvenile delinquency in THE YOUNG SAVAGES. But instead of the story focusing on just one troubled teen, there is a motley assortment of intercity gang members. In fact, there are two rival gangs. So as the story unfolds, we learn not only about a kid named Danny, but about some of the other troubled youth in his neighborhood, too. Incidentally, this was the first time Frankenheimer and producer-star Burt Lancaster worked together. They would collaborate several more times in the 1960s.

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JL: The opening shot of street hoods walking in front of cars, expecting not to get hit, reminded me of some comment a family member once made four decades ago (so you have to take that into consideration) when somebody of a different race walked in front of the car in much the same way. “It is not like I am prejudiced or anything, but sometimes *they* do such things to express their attitude.” This is the story of people who “stick to their own kind” and have plenty of attitude to spare. The guys featured have their own opinion about race too (or, as we discover, two of them do). One demonstrates this by overturning a toy carriage containing a darker skinned doll; these boys all being Caucasian.

TB: In a way, I think the actors cast to play the white gang members seem a little too old. They are probably meant to be in their last year of high school, but it is clear some of the actors are in their 20s. They look very adult, which pulls me out of the story a bit. But they are all fine performers.

JL: Released four months before WEST SIDE STORY by the same distributor (United Artists), this first collaboration between John Frankenheimer and Burt Lancaster involves a mostly Italian-American street gang known as The Thunderbirds. The boys are often fighting with Latino “Horsemen” and during a skirmish, one blind boy of the latter group gets killed.

TB: The murder happens rather swiftly. I expected to see a bit more conflict developed between the two gangs, before we were handed such a violent altercation. But the focus is really not on rival factions in the intercity, the focus is more on how “justice” will be served for the killing.

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JL: Lancaster is a much nicer variation of Officer Krumpke…well, not exactly. Hank Bell is actually a district attorney who is put on the investigation. Danny, one of the boys that is involved in the scuffle, is the son of Hank’s ex-girlfriend Mary (Shelley Winters), although Hank has long since moved on with a beautiful wife, Karin (Dina Merrill). They have a teenage daughter (Roberta Shore) who is not much younger than the hoods being accused of murder.

TB: I found it a little too coincidental that of all the cases he is given to investigate, this one just so happens to revolve around the son of Hank’s ex-girlfriend. There is a scene after the investigation is underway, where Hank and Mary reminisce. Of course, she can’t help but mention that Danny could have been their son, not her son with another man who has long since abandoned her.

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JL: Mary is convinced her son Danny (Stanley Kristien) has moral ethics and was not involved with much of his gang’s bigotry. A little boy, José, confirms this and there is a flashback involving an incident at the public pool where José was defended by Danny. Older boys were bullying José, for being “too dark to share our pool.”

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TB: The flashback that occurs detailing what transpired at the city pool is rather lengthy. Though I must say I rather liked it, because I felt it gave us some background on the teens. Plus José is a rather likable kid, and it’s a shame that he wasn’t in very many scenes. They could have made a separate movie about him, or at least told more of this story through his eyes.

JL: Hank’s first confrontation with Danny hardly presents him at his best. Danny calls Hank all kinds of names, even homophobic slurs (“You look kinda fruity to me”) and later accuses him for “shacking up” with his mother (obviously not true). The method acting here is interesting, because the under-30 youth displays a certain frustration with the older generation and, despite how sweet Lancaster as Hank is, there is a certain controlling mentality of the over-30 and in-power group who think they have the most honorable intentions.

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JL: This film does not pick sides. The residents in the Horsemen section of the city are just as uneducated and ill-informed as their strictly English speaking counterparts. One kid that Hank is interviewing even drops the “N” word without hesitation.

TB: Good point. Let’s go back to Mary for a second. I found her a bit clingy. And to be honest, I felt that Shelley Winters, who is a very professional and competent actress, to be a bit miscast here. The role requires an actress who can convey vulnerability and a certain naive quality. While I think Winters has the skill to play that, I don’t think she is naturally the naive type. She seems too smart to be stuck in this kind of environment. In LET NO MAN WRITE MY EPITAPH, she was playing a drug addict. But here she’s a fully functioning woman, and something tells me she would have found another guy like Hank, and would have gotten herself and her son out of the ghetto. Especially since she is afraid for Danny’s future and his propensity for getting into trouble.

JL: Mary to Hank: “I don’t know…I always heard that a boy got into trouble because he didn’t have love. I love Danny more than anything in the world. You just thank God, Hank, that you did not have to raise your kid on these streets.”

TB: That line seemed a bit over the top, to me. Aside from the quick murder scene at the beginning, we are not really given any shots of the neighborhood at night, or when seedier elements are operating.

JL: What strikes my interest here is not so much the performances but the fashion sense. All of these “older generation” men wear hats and sports coats.

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JL: The new president taking office in 1961 defied convention as the first to often refuse to wear hats and this prompted a huge change to men’s fashion. Therefore, this filmed-in-1960 production catches America at a rather interesting transition period.

TB: Interesting. I feel like the film is not fully in the 1960s. A lot of what these characters are expressing, seems like leftover sentiment from the late 50s. Again, it’s very much influenced by the teen angst dramas that came out a few years earlier.

JL: Aside from the film’s youth social conscience angle, post-REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and the new fifties criticism of an America divided by race/culture/economics (and it is obvious that the Spanish speaking community isn’t as well off as the side they are often in conflict with)…this basically boils down to your standard murder investigation drama not unlike the many preceding it over the decades.

TB: Only it’s a murder investigation drama with a bit of soap opera thrown in, since Hank is in this sort of “triangle” with his wife and with Mary.

JL: We get the usual questioning like “can you tell me what you saw that night?” and “this girl said she saw something that glittered” (later proven not to be a knife but a harmonica).

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TB: One subplot that gains a bit of traction is the story involving Hank’s wife Karin (Dina Merrill). Actually I found Dina Merrill a much more fascinating presence in THE YOUNG SAVAGES than most of the other cast. Even more than Winters and possibly Lancaster as well. She’s playing a well-to-do, but not haughty, wife who has purpose outside the home. She is the voice of the people in a way. She demonstrates a conscience about what’s not working in society. At first Hank is too busy investigating and too busy focusing on the specific activities of the gang members to see the bigger picture. But Karin’s remarks eventually get through to him and focus him. And Karin is not without her own baggage, or personal drama.

JL: At one point, Karin is tormented a bit by a trio of punks, prompting Hank to confront those whom he is sometimes trying to defend. Later Hank himself gets caught in a gang skirmish and ends up in the doctor’s exam room. I find these story elements particularly interesting because we usually have the investigator as an entity separate from the world he is investigating, but Hank is physically involved in multiple ways. Even his marriage is put to the test with husband and wife bickering more than we often expect them to in these storylines; usually the wife is merely a prop supporting everything her husband does.

TB: Exactly. There is quite a bit of dimension to the Hank-Karin marriage in this movie.

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TB: Care to comment on some of the supporting cast? For instance, we have Telly Savalas in quite a few scenes with Lancaster. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue per se. He’s playing a rather “quiet” police detective. Of course, this was a decade before Savalas became a household name on television as Kojak.

JL: Telly Savalas has an occasionally comical role as fellow Detective Gunderson. We also have Larry Gates as Randolph. a man investigating those on trial with Hank; he is a character mirroring Hank in his need to get to the truth. A bit later there’s Pilar Seurat giving a highly emotional scene in the court room. She lashes out at the gang trio accused of murder, namely Arthur the leader (John Davis Chandler).

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TB: What did you think of the story’s political slant?

JL: Edward Andrews is a pill popping district attorney hoping for higher office and wanting Hank to get this over with soon. He is slimy enough that Hank’s wife Karin expresses her opinions about him, quite eloquently, at a party. We see her opinions justified by the way he is using some of the publicity of the murder trial to his advantage.

TB: It’s a “liberal” film, so of course, Karin’s viewpoints have to be validated. And I am rather glad they are, because it gives the film purpose and some sense of urgency.

JL: You mention this being a “liberal” film, but I wonder if it is because the star himself tended to lean towards liberal politics, because I don’t think of this film necessarily swinging one way or the other in the political spectrum. I see it more as a product of “anything can be fixed with common sense.” It was obviously made before Vietnam and all of the sixties unrest eroded away at that same self confidence. It also addresses the human need to belong to a group out of a genuine fear of being alone. Danny, who sports sunglasses in his first scenes to hide his true self, is a witness to murder willing to take the rap because he is so desperate to feel wanted by others.

TB: I feel it’s a “liberal” film in the way that the character of Hank reverses himself by the end. He eventually he drops the hard-line approach and adopts his wife’s more compassionate viewpoints. Lancaster’s personal politics are part of this, because if the story ultimately upheld a conservative view that these kids deserve what they’ve got coming, I don’t think he would have made the film. And neither would Frankenheimer have agreed to do it.

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JL: In the end, Hank does not feel that the “eye for an eye” revenge between the opposing cultures is the answer. The mother of the victim asks “What about my son. Is this your justice? Is this your justice for a dead blind boy? What about the animals who killed my son?” Hank’s response: “A lot of people killed your son, Mrs. Escalante.” In other words, a society rather than individuals is responsible.

TB: Right. And that dialogue means society is ultimately on trial, not exactly the boys who committed such a violent crime. It’s a “stab” at what makes the boys in this neighborhood turn out like they do. In some regard, they are absolved of what they have done, because the system is to blame, not them specifically.

THE YOUNG SAVAGES may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: PARASITE (2019)

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It didn’t really remind me of a Capra film. But I do think the goal was to present an anti-capitalist meditation on an emerging western society in an Asian country. In that regard, the film’s themes were quite deep. And it was expertly accomplished with a hybrid of several different genres. I really loved the scenes with the kid and later the adults playing cowboys and Indians as it underscored the western elements that are present in South Korean society.

Spoiler ahead…

When they go into the tunnel down in the basement, I thought it was going to become an all-out horror film but it didn’t exactly go that direction. It did, however, bring in a lot of post-war North/South history which was a pleasant surprise.

The scenes I would have cut or shortened were the ones where they are trying to prevent the former housekeeper and her husband from sending a text to the owners. I thought that was a little too drawn out and while amusing wasn’t exactly very funny. All we needed to see was how they got control of the phone and deleted the potentially damaging text/pics.

I think the part he could probably most expand is the owners going off on their trip. We didn’t see where they went or what they did. Also, we could certainly see more of what happens to the lower class father when he escapes. Similarly, we could see more of the housekeeper’s husband earlier, like her taking food down to him and her being a lot more upset when she’s abruptly fired and has contact cut off from him.

The love story between the lower class son and the upper class girl could be expanded. And I would say that we could see more with the little boy being afraid of ghosts.

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More could have been done with the housekeeper. I think she was my favorite character because she was so buttoned up and conservative looking initially, then comical and pitiable after the stuff with the peaches and her firing…when she returned to the house, she became desperate. Then ultimately unhinged. Finally, she softened and had a tender death scene. She totally ran the gamut.

The Morse Code stuff was not really foreshadowed or developed much…it just felt like it came into the story all of a sudden. The little boy did not seem afraid of much in his early scenes. So that could be enhanced more in the miniseries.

I kind of wanted to know about the guy that had given the lower class son the reference for the job in the first place. I expected him to show up later, but he had gone off to America and just disappeared. After all, he had plans to start dating the upper class daughter, but nothing came of it.

We also don’t know what happened to the upper class mother, daughter and son after she sold the house. Where did they go after the father’s death? We weren’t told anything about their fate.

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I think the upper class wife/mother was the least developed of all the characters. She was kind of a stereotype. The actress was great, but her role was rather shallow. The writing didn’t help us understand why she was the way she was. The times when Bong Joon-ho could have done something with her, like the ending after her husband died, she was neglected or her perspective altogether ignored. The only thing I learned about her is that she was willing to be a bit kinky and use cocaine while having sex. Hardly important, mostly inconsequential and farcical.

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Even the scene when she’s riding in the back of the car and smelling the odors coming off the driver, she was still inconsequential and farcical. This is where I think a female director or at least a more feminist director would probably have helped focus that sort of character.

Essential: DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959)

TB: This weekend we are continuing our theme of westerns directed by Andre de Toth in Oregon. What impresses me so much about THE INDIAN FIGHTER and DAY OF THE OUTLAW is how the director and his cinematographers give the landscape such reverential treatment, to where the setting is almost as much a main character as the people in these stories.

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DAY OF THE OUTLAW was shot in black-and-white in a cold wintery period of the year, which makes it bleaker than most 50s westerns. It also features more criminal elements than we typically see in the genre, indicating de Toth’s predilection for noir and to some extent, horror, which he delved into with HOUSE OF WAX. So DAY OF THE OUTLAW is perhaps a bit edgier than THE INDIAN FIGHTER.

JL: One defining characteristic of his that ties these two titles together is his love of dramatic horse shootings with screaming brays on the soundtrack. Plus mountain landscapes. Russell B. Harlan’s black & white cinematography includes a few morning fog scenes to add to the nice you-are-there 19th century atmosphere, this being a story about one particular winter of discontent.

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TB: I don’t think de Toth could have found a better cast to tell this type of story. With the exception of TV star David Nelson in a supporting role, the cast is comprised of Method actors. In a way Nelson’s naive quality and wholesome charm is a perfect contrast to the others, and since his character is a crook that is redeemed by love, it makes sense why he was chosen to play that role. But the others are much rougher…they’re heavy hitters.

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JL: Robert Ryan and Burl Ives are the big names here. Ryan’s character, Starrett, initially is waging a local war against homesteaders who are plopping their wired fences everywhere, when he feels he was the one who fought initially to establish this community. He even threatens to kill one particular homesteader, Hal Crane (Alan Marshal), who happened to marry his ex-girlfriend Helen (Tina Louise). Yet the arrival of some “rogue” cavalry men disrupts this mini conflict and starts up an entirely different one.

TB: I love how the story suddenly makes a sharp turn. We are lulled into this sense of complacency almost…that we have a fairly routine western on our hands, a story about a land war. But then suddenly these rogues show up, led by Ives, and there are bigger problems to deal with that make Starrett’s issues with his neighbors now seem much less important. They will have to band together against these violent outsiders that have come into their community.

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JL: Burl Ives plays Jack Bruhn, a most shady former member of the “law” (U.S. Cavalry), now turned “rogue.” In a way, he is no different than the corrupt cops that populated the 1970s, disobeying the system. (Let’s admit the obvious fact: westerns were only phased out in the sixties and seventies merely to be replaced by inner city “easterns” with so many familiar stories recycled in a different setting.)

TB: What’s interesting here is that Ives’ character represents a sort of anarchy that wouldn’t really be seen in American society until after Kennedy’s assassination, which was at least three years off.

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JL: Ives’ character keeps his men disciplined but also teases that he will allow them to take advantage of the women to their aggressive pleasure if he doesn’t get his way with Starrett. Since Bruhn is suffering from a bullet wound from an earlier bank skirmish (and it tickles me just how often Ives plays characters ready to die and taking an awful loooooong time to do it), Starrett wonders if it is better to just hasten his demise to save the town.

TB: tarrett’s approach seems justifiable given the circumstances. Basically Starrett has to kill Jack Bruhn, before Bruhn and his men wreck civilization as they know it.

JL: This is your standard “should we wait to see what these villains do” or “should we have a showdown?”

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TB: And it does look like a showdown will occur on the main street of town. But then that gets scuppered, since Bruhn is now in need of surgery to remove the bullet. It isn’t until after Brunh’s operation, which occurs at the same time his men are having a dance with the women, that Starrett convinces them to follow him into the mountains to get away.

JL: Yes, we do get some high adventure in the mountains, with horses struggling to get over giant drifts of snow and everybody but the “good” guys dying off in various ways. Although much of this makes use of gorgeous Oregon posing as the Wyoming territory, there are a few giveaway shots done in interior settings and painted backdrops late in the film that certainly would have been a little too obvious if shown in color. I must admit this works best without color like 19th century photography befitting its setting.

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TB: Let’s talk some more about the supporting cast. You mentioned Alan Marshal, who plays Crane– a cowardly, rather pitiful man. Crane is a far cry from the types of roles Marshal did earlier in his career, such as the heroic leading man opposite Irene Dunne in THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER. We also have David Nelson, whom I mentioned earlier. He plays one of Bruhn’s rookies, a tender hearted guy who probably doesn’t have the resolve to stay on the run with his extremely villainous, dangerous pals. As I said, I think David Nelson provides a perfect counterbalance. Then we have Tina Louise as the leading lady.

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JL: Tina Louise plays against her bubble-head Ginger role from Gilligan’s Island; I think this was one of her greatest performances.

TB: She really shines in the elongated dance scene between Ives’ men and the women. I love how de Toth is not in a hurry to wrap it up, so as the dance continues, we see how increasingly uncomfortable and jarring it is for the women to endure such beastly “affection.” I thought for sure one of the ladies would be sexually assaulted but the film never quite goes there which adds to the tension. It’s a brilliant scene.

JL: The doc here, Dabbs Greer, later played the minister in Little House on the Prairie, although his role is among the smaller ones like Elisha Cook Jr. (also seen in THE INDIAN FIGHTER). Meanwhile, Starrett’s cohort is played by Nehemiah Persoff, who had guest appearances on many shows including Gilligan’s Island and Little House.

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Venetia Stevenson is the ex-Brit actress getting the most lines apart from Louise…she falls for the “nice” younger member of the rogue gang (Nelson). Off screen, she pretty much retired after she married an Everly brother instead of a Nelson brother.

TB: Anything else you’d like to add?

JL: A little research reveals that the music score was done by Alexander Courage of Star Trek fame. It is highly enjoyable, if also very loud and pounding. He was a particularly talented Old Time Radio musician on many classics I listened to over the years, effectively creating that “theatre of the mind” with the right instruments and cues so we listeners can create images when there are none available.

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However, here we have horses struggling over snow with much human whipping involved and he lays the thudding orchestration on pretty thick when the visuals are probably enough to show that this is no easy-going Aspen Ski Resort experience.

TB: So it sounds like you enjoyed DAY OF THE OUTLAW…?

JL: Yeah, kinda. Mostly it is the cinematography that maintained my interest. This late fifties period made good use of rustic settings and I am reminded of other favorites of this period like ANATOMY OF A MURDER where the monochromatic widescreen adds to a certain blah working class or rural farm land setting that the characters are eager to escape from but can’t.

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DAY OF THE OUTLAW may currently be viewed on YouTube and on Amazon Prime.

Essential: THE INDIAN FIGHTER (1955)

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TB: A few weeks ago I sent a note to Jlewis, telling him I had found some interesting westerns on YouTube, directed by Andre de Toth. As you may know, de Toth is respected for his work in crime dramas and when he began to make westerns, he brought a noir-ish sensibility to the genre. Similar to how Jacques Tourneur did.

In 1955 and in 1959, there were two westerns made by de Toth that were filmed in Oregon, which is where the director had a home when he wasn’t staying in California. It’s clear that de Toth loved the Oregon landscapes, since he and his cinematographers capture the splendor and beauty of the terrain in a way that is unmatched. They elevated these stories and made them something the audience would want to see in the theater, when studio-bound westerns were quite plentiful on television.

Another thing I should mention is that when Jlewis and I decided to do this theme– which we’re calling “Filmed in Oregon by Andre de Toth”– we had no idea that Kirk Douglas, the star of our first selection, would pass away at this time. So it seems highly appropriate that we begin with THE INDIAN FIGHTER as a tribute to Kirk.

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JL: This was Kirk Douglas’ second feature in glorious CinemaScope (after a certain Disney submarine flick co-starring James Mason) and the first for his Bryna Productions, released through United Artists. This indy company would soon be responsible for some of the finest social commentary pieces of the fifties and sixties.

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He plays Johnny Hawk who has a tempestuous but friendly relationship with the Sioux, headed by Red Cloud (Eduard Franz) as the primary chief. The tribe warn him of what may happen between opposing races if the “whites” invade the territory for gold. Johnny later winds up assisting an Oregon bound group, but must play the role of negotiator between two cultural worlds.

TB: I am glad you started by discussing the main conflict of the story. In some ways it’s a routine western drama– the encroachment of white settlers, the displacement of natives, resisting of course. We’ve seen similar situations play out in other westerns of the period, most notably in RIDE OUT FOR REVENGE (1957). And like the later film which stars Rory Calhoun as a white man sympathetic to native customs, we have Kirk Douglas here in this film as a man who is not a bigot and tries to understand the differences between the opposing cultures. This is underscored by the fact he falls in love with a native woman, just like Calhoun does in the other western. Of course the villains are slightly different. In the later film, Lloyd Bridges is a corrupt sheriff with an unchecked hatred for natives. Here, we have Walter Matthau as the trouble-making white man.

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JL: Walter Matthau’s Wes gets accused of murder (but we are not entirely sure if he is responsible at first) and he is brought to execution by Grey Wolf (Harry Landers). Yet Johnny saves him with a negotiating fight. Wes decides to act all-sarcastic by saying “I never felt so nervous in my life” and Johnny punches him in the face with a line of “that will settle your nerves.”

TB: It’s a great scene. We see at once that while Wes is a loose cannon, Johnny is quick to gain control of the situation. But Wes isn’t the only problem, as you know. There are other bad white men in the story.

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JL: Lon Chaney Jr.’s Chivington is one of the heavies at the fort who is quite vocal in his racial bigotry, but he is not alone as we get plenty such talk coming from multiple characters. Even the children are easily influenced and one senses Johnny is eager to educate little Tommy (Michael Lew Winkelman) in an effort to prevent him from growing up to be the next Wes, Chivington or Grey Wolf (“There can be no friendship between Red Man and White. The fight is to the end.”).

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TB: I should point out that young Winkelman also appears in RIDE OUT FOR REVENGE. Again he has a very significant role in the similarly themed story. Winkelman was a gifted child actor who audiences probably remember more for his long-running role on the classic rural sitcom The Real McCoys. 

Okay, let’s go back to the theme of THE INDIAN FIGHTER. Any thoughts on why de Toth would choose to make a story of this sort?

JL: I think a key reason quite a number of westerns of the fifties were revisiting this theme of “white” versus “red” in the 19th century was to, in a roundabout way, pick apart the contemporary problems of the mid-20th century without rocking the boat too much.

TB: Interesting theory.

JL: After all, the civil rights movement was only just getting started, with Rosa Parks making history the same month this film was released to theaters. The stories, this one being an original by Robert L. Richards, could be viewed as both quaint history lessons about the way we were back then, while also addressing the way we are now.

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TB: I agree. Though I wonder if audiences in 1955 realized the themes were connected to modern-day concerns. My guess is they probably just saw it at first as another tale of westward expansion, where the natives were in the wrong. But of course, de Toth and Richards are going to subvert the formula.

JL: Johnny tells the photographer (the wonderfully neurotic Elisha Cook Jr.) who is eager to “open up” the west to “civilization: “To me, the west is like a beautiful woman. MY woman. I like her the way she is. I don’t want her changed. I am jealous. I don’t want to share her with anybody.”

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He seductively watches his main focus, Sioux maiden Onahti (Elsa Martinelli), wash herself in the river and literally grabs her for affection in another scene. Yet she likes it enough to accept him as a boyfriend…their later roll around in the creek being pretty hot even for today’s viewers. No, such scenes may not be appropriate for the modern day era and, yes, I can only guess how impressionable male minds back then thought this was the proper way to “get the girl.” Yet she dominates him equally by tying their legs together.

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TB: My interpretation of that scene, of the whole ‘courtship’ if you will, between the lead characters, is that we were supposed to see Douglas as a potent hot-blooded male. He is going to tame her and love her, the way a man is supposed to (right?)…though as you say, she gets the chance to dominate him in return. So there’s a playfulness that develops. It’s not quite the Taming of the Shrew, but it is still a taming nonetheless. However, he often has to leave, because his work as a scout and peacemaker means he must traverse great distances and she cannot leave her settlement.

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JL: There is the suggestion that this is an “inter-racial” relationship, despite how close their skin tones are, which causes considerable comment back at the fort. In this respect, it predates SAYONORA, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER and other films covering this material.

TB: What did you think about Susan, the domesticated Civil War widow?

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JL: She is played by Diana Douglas (actually Kirk’s ex!). Susan wants Johnny but she may have to settle with somebody like equally settled Will (Alan Hale). Johnny is a bit too rough and likes his women who are as jealous of him as he is of them. Onahti is fearful he will not stay committed, but Johnny already knows Susan is not the one for him when he sees her dancing with another.

TB: Anything else you want to address?

JL: I have to bring up a little censorship adjustment regarding the couple. Johnny first suggests to Red Cloud that the two are expecting a “son.” Then he looks at her to say “I am sure that some day you will give me a son.” They still have not been married in a church that approves of interracial marriage yet and we can not assume that they did anything but kiss in the creek. However they do swim naked over the final credits as they watch the wagon train move forward through Oregon landscape and, well, cleanliness is next to Godliness as they say.

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TB: So to some extent, we can infer they are having a sexual relationship without the benefit of a white man’s marriage. But I suppose we can say they have a spiritual union. And Johnny does love Onahti, just as much as he loves the great outdoors.

JL: There is a very “tough” love that Johnny expresses for the west. He is rather quick to blast a rattlesnake who is not causing any trouble for anybody, which I found silly and unnecessary with Tommy showing off the rattle. (Later he kills a horse, but that is done to put it out of its misery.) I guess if some killing is necessary to maintain peace and tranquility for the living, then so be it. Even if it includes getting the burning arrow in the back.

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Yet the killing needs to stop eventually. As Johnny tells a vengeful Red Cloud towards the end “Burn all at the fort. Will your brother live again? Will The Spirit be happy that another war’s started?”

TB: This is where I thought the story became a bit preachy. But yeah, I do agree that while they are taming the west, these settlers have to look at the violence that is occurring. And the natives have to look at the ramifications as well.

JL: This is an ambitious production with full scale battle scenes and scrumptious cinematography that must impress in a higher definition copy. I enjoyed it overall. Franz Waxman’s music is good in aiding the action on screen. By the way, I detected a borrowed rift from “Riders Of The Sky,” a popular hit in 1949.

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TB: Final thoughts?

JL: There are aspects here that constantly remind me this is a ’50s film dressed up to look 1860s-ish. Everybody is well manicured, the natives hardly looking Native American with Elsa Martinelli looking more like a fashion model. There is also a short reference to Davy Crockett (who was quite the craze then), but cutie-pie Winkelman describes him as an Indian Fighter like the title while Fess Parker played him on TV and on big screens at this time as more friend than foe just like Johnny. Like the Disney series and a number of other westerns of the era, a popular comic book version was made for the younger set: Dell’s Four Color version No. 687 of THE INDIAN FIGHTER was in stores by March 1, 1956.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. I appreciate your taking the time to go over this film with us today.

THE INDIAN FIGHTER may currently be viewed on YouTube.