The comics are better?

Paramount Ranch

February 23, 2011

My daughter and I visited this state park in Agoura, CA. It was once the shooting location of many a Paramount picture from the ’30s and ’40s (and a bunch of varied stuff since then.)

Charles Starrett never shot here, but Buck Jones did.  So did Buster Crabbe .  And Gary Cooper was here a lot!

Here is IMDB’s list of films shot at this location.  At 202 films, I’m sure that it is incomplete.

Our old pal, Bob Steele.

Can I call you Bobby?

The Hitching Post

February 17, 2011

Steve Harvey has a great piece on a “Westerns Only” movie theater on Hollywood Blvd in the 40’s.  It was just a short ride from Gower Gulch.

Meanwhile, “Outlaws of the Rockies” remains one of the weirder Starrett films, abetted by music and acting from balladeer/murderer Spade Cooley.

When Bob Steele starred in this Mascot picture in 1932, he was twenty-five and already a veteran actor of twelve years and three dozen films.  He’s your classic Hollywood Kid — his father was a director, he was a child actor, he grew up in pictures, he went to High School in Glendale with John Wayne.

“Law of the West” is directed by his father, Robert N. Bradbury (Bob’s real name is Robert Adrian Bradbury.)  The film is pretty high-concept for a B-Western.  Check it out.  An embittered rustler steals a marshal’s toddler son.  Seventeen years later, he’s Bob, the youngest member of the Morgan Gang.  He thinks his abusive kidnapper is his abusive dad.  He’s planning on escaping with his gal and her father to California.  But “dad” has a sick plan, to pit Bob and his real pa in a shoot-out!

It’s a classic Mascot film — shot and staged like the serials the company was known for.  There is plenty of fuzzy ADR and some odd off-screen action within scenes.  Not the worst production I’ve seen, but far from the best.

Bob Steele is the Anti-Starrett.  He’s 5′ 5″, fit and barrel-chested.  He’s got a roundish face and a curly mop of black hair.  I like him.  He reminds me of Mark Wahlberg.  Folks say about this sort of guy, “he can take a punch.”  And Bob can and does repeatedly.

And he rides.  A lot.  Cool stuff too, up steep slopes, down impossible scrub-covered bluffs.  He knows a lot of cool tricks on how to get into a saddle.

He’s also fast on the draw.  A real cowboy’s cowboy.   His voice is maybe an octave too high, but he’s a sturdy lead.

The remarkable thing about this film happens in the last shot.  It’s a wonderful and rare emotional moment with a close-up of Bob holding his mom who he hasn’t seen in seventeen years.  He speaks one word, “Mother.”  FADE OUT.

We should not take this lightly — not many western stars would touch a moment like this, let along know how to handle it.  Not only can Bob Steele ride convincingly, he can act, as evidenced by the raw emotion he brings to this final image of the film.

Bob Steele would go on to have a long career, mainly as a western star, but with the occasional solid character roles in films like “The Big Sleep” and “Of Mice And Men.”  He also had small roles in later films like “Charley Varrick” and Martin and Lewis’ “Pardners.”

I like Bob Steele.

Rex Allen looks like a lot of people — former Daily Show host Craig Kilborn, movie icon Alan Ladd and even Inception‘s Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

He was a rodeo star who entered the game late, making his feature debut in 1950.  He would make 19 films for Republic in the next five years.  The final film would be 1954 “Phantom Stallion” which is arguably the last Singing Cowboy western film.  This makes him the Last of the Singing Cowboys.

Though Allen disavowed his first film as a “turkey”, he was stuck with the moniker “The Arizona Cowboy” for the rest of his (short) career.  And it’s not a bad picture.  Rex plays a rodeo rider just back stateside from a three year tour of South America and Australia.  His dad has been framed for robbery and sabotage so he heads down to Dusty Acres (Iverson Ranch) to investigate.

An early shot of Allen is a cool echo of the Ringo Kid’s introduction in “Stagecoach” — a tracking shot through a truck’s windshield up on Allen standing in the middle of the road holding his suitcase and waving over his head just like Wayne did it.

Rex Allen appears to be a natural actor.  He would have hardly spent any time on set before this film, and yet he’s already sure-footed and easy.  He’s also real natural handling horses and the producers wisely use this in crafting the story.  There is a small bit of business where Allen calms a wild horse by rubbing him with a stick.  That’s production value that you can’t buy with money.

Allen also famously provided his own horse and wardrobe.  Republic apparently paid him $500 a picture for the rental of said.

Rex sings three songs in his agile baritone and does some yodeling as well.

Starrett fans will recognize Edmund Cobb in the role of Sheriff Fuller.  He shared the screen with Charles on 47 occasions, from his first western, 1935’s “Gallant Defender” to one of his last, 1951’s “Cyclone Fury.”

There is a lame Haunted House ending with a eerie organ accompaniment that seems out of a different film all together.

But all in all “The Arizona Cowboy” is not a bad debut for this movie cowboy.