Farewell 2011

December 31, 2011

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Meet John Wayne, Singing Cowboy.

Two minutes (and one formless melody) into this 1934 film, Wayne puts away the guitar and draws his gun in the coolest way I’ve ever seen.

He saves the sheriff.  Gabby (here George) Hayes has a proposition for him.  Go undercover at a crooked rodeo and find out riders keep ending up dead.  This is not Utah – Lone Pine, maybe?

This is one of those weird westerns where you suddenly realize it’s not set in the old west.  Those telephone poles are not mistakes.  There are cars but most people travel by horseback.  Stagecoaches?  Shoot-outs on mainstreet?  This is 1934?  If you’re looking around the edges, there’s all sorts of clues – an airfield in the background of a rodeo scene, loudspeakers in another…

John Wayne looks very young.  I’m not sure if Gabby Hayes was ever young.

Rare is the B-Western whose title fits the action of the film.  This is one of those lucky few.  Most of this film is set at a rodeo (pronounced row-day-o) and John Wayne is announced as “The Man From Utah.”

There’s also some pretty cool action in this one.

I humbly submit for your perusal a study in contrasts.  The year?  1959.  The actor?  Bob Steele.  The films?  “Atomic Submarine” and “Pork Chop Hill.”

The Gorham Production of “Atomic Submarine” starred one Arthur Franz.  “Pork Chop Hill” featured a fellow by the name of Gregory Peck.  Spencer Gordon Bennett (“Killer Ape”) directed the sub flick.  Academy Award winner Lewis Milestone (“All Quiet on the Western Front”) directed this film about the final days of the Korean war.

See-saw.

“Pork Chop Hill” is a good old-fashioned WW2 film.  Watching this film, I kept hoping that Steele’s character would have a corny back-story like Gavin MacCleod who’s eager to rotate home because he just won a Caddie in a raffle. Or the soldier who’s having a lousy birthday.  Or maybe he would perform some awesome heroics like injured Robert Blake who takes a machine-gun nest single-handed, is ordered off the battlefield yet returns to fights some more.

No.  BS has one scene.  It lasts about 30 seconds.  He has 2 lines, 3 sentences.  Here they are:

“Lieutenant, prepare to counterattack Pork Chop Hill if necessary.  You got that?”

“You understand this is only an alert?”

And yet, he has 7th billing.  Gregory Peck is on the first card, this is the second.

Bob Steele!

Lately, I’ve been watching some of the final films of my favorite b-western stars.  “The Yesterday Machine” is one of Tim Holt’s penultimate roles.  1963.  After this, there would only be a guest spot on “The Virginian” and a Herschell Gordon Lewis flick!!!

Holt plays Louisiana police detective Lt. Partane, a by-the-book public servant like the Naval Investigator that Holt plays in his previous film, “The Monster That Challenged The World.” But this hard-ass is folksier, and he has a big imagination.  With very little evidence to go on, he makes the connection between the disappearance of a local girl with the detritus of a strange-looking machine his patrol found in a German concentration camp.  These remaining elements of an evil Nazi plot lead him to decide that the whole thing involves time travel.  He relates the details of this bizarre moment of his military career in his drab office as if he were telling it for the thousandeth time, but without the baggage of one thousand incredulous reactions.  Perhaps he incites this incident during every investigation he oversees and just gets lucky this time.

Tim is heavy with Jackie Gleason eyes.  He affects a remarkably under-stated Louisianan accent for a boy born in Beverly Hills and raised, in part, near Fresno.

I’d be very interested to discover how Tim Holt found himself in “The Yesterday Machine” because this film has EVERYTHING!

A haunted house!

Confederate soldiers!

A skanky lounge singer!

A sexy time travel machine!

An evil Nazi Scientist!

An ancient Egyptian servant girl!

A physics lesson!

This goes on for nearly 10 minutes!

A leaf-camouflaged entrance to an underground Nazi lair!  Hey Scooby!

Yes, this film has everything AND a 44-year-old Tim Holt who goes pretty much ape-shit at the end of the film.

I’m gonna track down Tim Holt‘s final two appearances, so check back here soon, okay?

This one was a real chore to watch.  It’s a lame comedy starring Zero Mostel and written by Mr. Funny himself, William Peter Blatty, the creator of “The Exorcist”.

But anything for you, dear reader.  I would walk barefoot over broken glass that was ON FIRE to chronicle one of Bob Steele’s final roles.  For you!

This turns out to be an audition for his role as Bank Guard in “Charley Varrick.”  Here, he’s credited as First Bank Guard, though he isn’t the first guard we see.  But that’s him, just over Claude Akins’ shoulder.

Despite this inauspicious introduction, he does have a name.  It’s Duffy.  Duffy spends most of his time in this flick playing cards and acting crabby.

If you were watching “The Great Bank Robbery” from Duffy’s perspective (and who would do that?!) here’s what you’d see.  He works at an impenetrable bank so he doesn’t sweat his job too much.  He’s grown to resent the grunt work, like bringing a subordinate coffee.  He’s mostly invested in the poker games with his fellow guards where he cheats.  He actually has some good instincts and could be a better guard and a better man, were he challenged by his job.  Possible salvation comes when he detects a flaw in the bank robber’s plan – a slight delay in the timing of an explosion in the vault matching the ceremonial cannon fire outside the bank.  He squanders this information as a ploy to get a peek at another guard’s cards.

We never see Duffy again and the robbery is a success.

Once again, a sad end to the narrative of the bit player.