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I share Bob’s skepticism.

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You can’t tell here but in these intro cards each of these guys smile then *wink*!

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The 3 return.  Always a different line up with these guys.  Glad to see our friend Bob Steele in the crew this time.

Wanna take a guess where they shot it?

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And Bob Steele!

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This feels like the Bob Steele from “With Davy Crockett at the Fall of the Alamo.” That was 1926.  This is 1941.

I know that “The Three Mesquiteers” series (like many b-western series of the time, including that of the Durango Kid) exists in radically different time-periods, film to film.  “Prairie Pioneers” exists in the Golden State during the transition from the Ranchos to the new settlers.  I have a good amount of respect for the specificity of the mythic California that these characters inhabit.  I’ll be revisiting this series soon, with whatever threesome is on the screen, in hopes of finding more set at this time.  But I sure hope Bob Steele is one of the 3.

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Love that dude!

 

I’ve kicked up a bunch of dust in previous posts on the subject of ‘Forrest Tucker belongs to us!’  Fans of other genres may have a fair claim to the man, but I stand tall and resolute in my belief that his work as a character actor in Western films is beyond par.

The question remains: what do we do with F-Troop?

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First billed, you know.

I couldn’t be bothered with this show as a kid.  It was low-brow even for an 11-year-old me.

Revisiting it, my opinion hasn’t changed that much.  I know there are people out there (including many of you, my dear readers) who really dig this show.  And I can see that.  Sometimes it feels like “Batman” and the better jokes are for the adults.  Sometimes the physical comedy is inspired.  And, fuck it, Bob Steele is in the thing!

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So let’s focus on Forrest.  He is really good in this!  He’s spry!  He’s lively and light on his feet.  And he seems to be having fun.

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The alternative reality is deadly.  Poor Tucker grinding through each episode with a pained expression, hating every pratfall, ever dopey turn by Ken Berry and Larry Storch (a genius!)  Instead he appears to be loving it.

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Where’s his damn Emmy?!

1965.  The smallest of parts in the briefest of scenes.

A guard for a Union prison train.

His one line: “Captain?”

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!

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.

Six minutes into this 1973 film, the camera follows a bank guard across the lobby of the small town bank that Walter Matthau and his gang are about the rob.  He’s an older gray-haired man.  There’s nothing much about him to catch your eye.  Unless you happen to notice the pearl handled six-shooter in his belt.

Matthau pulls a gun on the bank manager, a masked accomplice bonks the guard on the head and he goes down.  Moments later, the guard takes advantage of a commotion outside to grab his gun and shoot a robber, before he’s cut down in a hail of bullets.

And thus ends the second-to-last role of Bob Steele’s long career.  The former B-Western star would play another uncredited role in the cheapo horror “Nightmare Honeymoon” before hanging up his six-guns for good.

“Charley Varrick” is directed by Don Siegel, who directed Audie Murphy in “Duel At Silver Creek” early in his career.  Was his casting of Steele here, and the anti-poetry of his death, an homage to the dying breed of cowboy stars?  Or was he giving an old guy a day’s work?

For me, Bob Steele’s final role will always be his touching performance in a 1970 episode of TV’s “Family Affair.”  We miss you, Chaps Callahan.

The reluctant lyncher.

The repentant lyncher.

The unjustly imprisoned and dying lyncher.

Bob Steele appeared on the big screen a couple more times after this TV guest spot in 1970, but, for me, this is his last real role.  It’s called “The Old Cowhand.”

Steele plays a client of Uncle Bill’s, a foreman on a ranch in Pennsylvania.  A long time ago, he was Chaps Callahan, cowboy star, and his films still play on TV.  Freckle-faced Jody is a big fan.  The show features footage from some of Steele’s westerns.  (Anyone know which ones?)  In one scene, Jody and his pals are glued to the TV where Chaps saves a guy from hanging by shooting the rope.  I would guess that the dialogue is not authentic. “That’ll teach you to try and hang an innocent man,” sounds forced, even by B-Western standards.

There is a moment in the show that strikes a note of reality.  When Chaps visits the family for dinner, Jody knows the plots and titles of Chaps’ films better than he does.  Charles Starrett often related the story of how fans would gush about a film like “South of Arizona” or “West of Cheyenne” and he’d have to tell them that the titles were added to his films later, that the only title on a script on set was a number.

As corny as this device is, the plots of the films that Jody recounts sound a lot like real B-Western plots and, later, when Chaps and Jody recruit a reluctant Buffy to help them act out a scene from one of his films, it feels like scene you could easily imagine Bob had played before, maybe more than once.

The episode of “Family Affair” also follows a familiar Western plot.   An aging gunfighter is living on his reputation.  He’s out-drawn by the new kid in town and has to win back the respect of his community.

Here’s how that goes down.  At the park, Chaps regales Jody’s friends with tales of the West, using cowboy lingo like “ornery sidewinder” and “let’s put on the feedbag, pardner.”  He gets goaded into a quick draw contest and humiliated by Jody’s asshole friend, Larry.  He loses the one thing that really matters to a cowboy star — his audience, in this case, Jody.

Uncle Bill lays out the lesson, as he always does, and the lesson is this:  Time changes people but it doesn’t destroy them.

Having lost face in his playground theatrics, Chaps redeems himself in Jody’s eyes with a display of…humility.  Jody: “You’re still the best cowboy I ever saw!”

This really is an awesome role for Steele and he shines in it.  He basks in Jody’s awe, he gets caught up in his own hype and ultimately projects hard-won self-knowledge in his final scenes.  Bravo, Bob.  I’ll watch “something big” and “Nightmare Honeymoon”, but this will always remain my favorite of your final roles.

NOTE TO FUTURE BOB STEELE HISTORIANS; In the TV-show-within-the-TV-show (the one Jody watches and they re-enact a scene from later), Chaps final film was made in 1939.  In it, he rode a horse named Thunder and faced off with a crooked guy named Archer.  Good luck finding it and let me know when you do!

When Steele traded his cowboy hat for a fedora, he ditched the “Bob” and went with “Robert.”  As the leader of a two-man hit team, he’s in charge.  When they target a witness in police custody, his buddy holds the rifle.  He shouts “Now!”

This 1956 film stars Humphrey Bogart.  It’s full of great character actors, including another actor with a great face and a career which lurched from leading to supporting roles and back again.  Mr. Zero Mostel.

This crazy movie treats the very concept of Organized Crime as a brand-new discovery for the seasoned policemen and DA men on the case.  Witnesses say “hit” and “contract” and the cops scratch their heads like, ‘what do these words mean?’  One high-ranking detective even says, “I’ve never heard them in connection to a murder before.”

Steele is great in this role.   Nice swagger.  Cruel smile.  He tells a guy “you don’t have to worry, you’ll be taken care of” before gunning him down.

And, check it out.  That’s Steele doing a very balletic death.

Nice film.  Wish “Robert” had more scenes with Bogie.