Saturday, December 31, 2011

More Christmas swag!

If you were curious as to why Brother Schweier seemed to have taken over the blog the past few days (not that this is necessarily a bad thing; his incisive reviews are always welcome) it’s because I took a short sabbatical while my sister Debbie and her family (husband Craige, daughter Rachel) graced us with their presence this week.  They have since made tracks toward their home base in the Iowa hinterlands, but not before stopping off in Memphis to watch Craige’s alma mater, Vanderbilt University, play Cincinnati in the Auto Zone© Liberty Bowl this afternoon (sister Debbie got them tickets as a Christmas gift).  After their stayover in The River City, it’s back to I-O-Way because my bro-in-law will be participating in the caucus come January 3rd.

Both Deb & Craige and niece Rachel bestowed upon me some Amazon.com gift certificates for presentry this year…which have already been spent on two DVD collections that I have had my eye on for some time now, Season 5 of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the fourth and final season of Dennis the Menace (I told ClassicBecky she’s welcome to my Dennis “rootpeg” set, and I wish I could say her reaction was one of boundless enthusiasm but that would be a lie).  As for the ‘rents, Deb & Craige splurged on a wireless router to allow their laptop internet access, so it will only be a matter of time before both Mater and Pater are zooming down the superinformation highway…and if past trips with my Dad are any indication, he’ll be pulling into some gas station any minute now to ask directions.  But on the off-chance that they do start surfing and stumble across this ‘umble scrap of the blogosphere…well, I’ll probably have to cut back on the profanity…and it wouldn’t hurt to tidy up some, too.

But the big bodacious gift we received here in the House of Yesteryear came from sister Kat and sister-in-law Katie (with financial kicking-in from Deb & Craige, too).  It’s a…wait for it


Viola!  A brand-spanking-new 32” Philips HDTV, which I have to say none of us was expecting.  Craige set this bad boy up last night (a necessary detour had to be made to our local Best Buy, however, because we didn’t have any shelving to sit it down upon) and my mom thinks its supercalifragilisticexpialidocious; it’s the first time she’s been able to read the score of a basketball game in years.  (My father has given it the thumbs-up as well—though there was a brief moment yesterday when I thought we’d have to break out the defib paddles because he was going through withdrawal being denied access to TV while the hookup was underway.)  Not only has Castle Yesteryear been outfitted with HDTV television and wireless internet capabilities, but Craige managed to fix the house thermostat so it comes on more than three times in the evenings.  All in all, it was a true Christmas miracle—the only downside is I’m having trouble sleeping at night because my bedroom is so warm.

This will be the last post here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear for 2011, so I want to wish all the TDOY faithful the happiest of New Year’s and best wishes for a better and prosperous 2012.  We’ve got a real feed planned this evening (my Mom is whipping up her world famous hot wings) and will then probably watch a Bait Car marathon…in HDTV, even.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Guest Review: Double Danger Stories

By Philip Schweier

Cry Danger (1951) is film noir at its finest, starring Dick Powell in a role not unlike his groundbreaking turn as Phillip Marlowe. He plays Rocky Mulloy, who five years ago was fingered in a robbery he had no part of. His alibi hinged on a bunch of Marines he was drinking with at the time, and now one of them, DeLong (Richard Erdman) has become aware of the case and stepped forward to clear his name.

Only DeLong isn’t quite the selfless patriot you might expect. Turns out he wasn’t one of the Marines, but he could’ve been. His hope is Mulloy will be grateful enough that he might share some of the $50,000 that’s been stashed away all this time. Could come in handy, as DeLong drinks most of his money away.

Powell is reunited with Nancy (Rhonda Fleming), who is married to the guy who was Mulloy’s alleged partner in the robbery. He’s also reunited with Castro (William Conrad), a local criminal who’s moved up in the world, bragging to Mulloy he’s 60 percent legit. Mulloy doesn’t care; he just wants half the robbery money. After all, he’s spent the last five years earning it.

On Mulloy’s tail is Cobb (Regis Toomey), a police detective who’s still looking for the robbery money, which after all this time has never surfaced, leading most of the players to believe Mulloy’s got his stashed some place, despite his cries of innocence.

This movie has everything: an anti-hero, a dame who loves him, an injured pal, a sympathetic cop, a manipulative fat man. I could go on, but too many similarities to The Maltese Falcon would give too much away. The only thing wrong with the film is that too much of it takes place in broad daylight. I like my film noir like I like my coffee – dark and bitter.

(Ivan’s ad-lib: “I dated a woman like that once.”)

Five Steps to Danger (1957) is a Hitchcockian thriller wannabe that capitalizes on Cold War era tropes. Ann Nicholson (Ruth Roman) is in a hurry to reach New Mexico, so much so that she picks up John Emmet (Sterling Hayden) along the way. His car broke down and she offers him a strictly business proposition of driving through the night with her. Along the way, Emmet is approached by Helen Bethke (Jeanne Cooper) a nurse who claims that the widow Nicholson is very ill, and so as not to alarm the patient, she would like Emmet to deliver his “fellow traveler” to her hotel in New Mexico.

The next morning, Emmet and Mrs. Nicholson are stopped by a couple of deputies who claim she’s wanted in connection with the murder of a CIA agent in Los Angeles. Despite being handcuffed together, they manage to dodge the law long enough for Mrs. Nicholson to explain things. Her family emigrated from Germany when she was a small child, but returned to dispose of some business interests. War broke out and they were trapped there, and she is the only one to survive. Then she learned her brother Kurt was alive, trapped inside East Berlin. He tries to escape but is captured, never to be seen again. His companion finds her, and gives to her a steel mirror, which under the proper magnification is actually a transcript of German missile research. It is now her job to return to the United States and see it safely into the hands of Dr. Reinhart Kissel (Karl Lindt).

Kissel, and old family friend, is apparently teaching at a university in New Mexico, but when Emmet and Nicholson pay a call on college dean William Brant (Richard Gaines), he denies having ever heard of Kissler. This strengthens the assertion that Mrs. Nicholson is unwell, and Emmet hands her over to Nurse Bethke and her boss, Dr. Frederick Simmons (Werner Klemperer), then heads off to go fishing.

But their adventure together has prompted Emmet to fall in love with Mrs. Nicholson, and when he is approached by CIA operative Edward Kirkpatrick (Charles Davis), he decides Mrs. Nicholson hasn’t seen the last of him. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game of who’s a red-blooded American and who’s a pinko Commie.

Like many of Hitchcock’s movies, it a tale of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. But 50 years later, it is unfortunately dated, and it lacks the star power to make it truly entertaining. As to what the five steps to danger are, that’s never explained. The ending is tidy and efficient, allowing for a happy ending for every one (well, almost).

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Guest Review Double Feature: 99 River Street in The Naked City

By Philip Schweier

John Payne is in for the fight of his life in 99 River Street (1953) when he plays Ernie Driscoll, a former boxer turned cabbie. It seems the boxing commission barred him from fighting due to an eye injury, and now, four years later, he’s driving a cab in New York City. He’s got dreams of owning a gas station, maybe starting a family.

Pauline Driscoll (Peggie Castle), however, has other dreams. She was a showgirl who, with visions of the good life, hitched her wagon to Ernie, only to end up working in a flower shop. This is why she’s taken up with Victor Rawlins (Brad Dexter), a low-life crook. Together, they conspire in a jewel heist that goes wrong, and their intended victim ends up a little dead. Further complicating matters is their intended fence (Jay Adler) backs out on the deal when women are involved.

Rawlin’s sees Pauline as the opportunistic liability she is, and sets Ernie up for her murder. But Ernie’s already got the cops out looking for him. Why? Well, it’s kind of a funny story. Ernie’s friend Linda (Evelyn Keyes) is an actress, and following an audition, she comes running to Ernie – who’s just learned his missus is catting around on him – with a tale of accidental murder. He accompanies her to the theater where, after watching a performance of how the director ended up on the floor, he agrees to dispose of the corpus delecti.

Psych! He’s not dead. It’s all part of her audition! Isn’t that a hoot? Wait, Ernie, why aren’t you laughing? It’s funny!! Isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Ernie proceeds to take out his growing anger on the theater folk, who afterwards swear out a warrant for assault and battery as part of their publicity strategy. Only when a boxer uses his fists in such a way, the stakes are higher. So Ernie’s decided to leave town and resume his boxing career wherever he can find it. That’s when he and Linda find Pauline’s body in his cab.

Ernie’s knows his wife’s lover is behind it, but without even knowing his name, he’s got little chance to find him. Aided and abetted by Linda, he sets out on the thin trail. Unfortunately for Rawlins, he not only got Ernie on his tail, but also his fence whom he has coerced into following through with the deal. The fence wants him dead, but Rawlins is the only one who can clear Ernie. Ernie and the fence converge on Rawlins before he leaves the country for a final showdown.

99 River Street is an excellent crime thriller, and possibly could have been much better received had it featured an A-list cast. Evelyn Keyes has a couple of moments to really shine, one in the theater gag, the other when she enters a riverfront dive in search of Rawlins. I highly recommend it.

Fans of the CSI franchise will enjoy The Naked City (1948), a police drama that follows the basic procedure as Det. Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and his younger partner, Det. Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) investigate the murder of Jean Dexter, a young woman whose life seem to be less on the up-and-up that most of her friends realized. A “person of interest” in the investigation is Frank Niles (Howard Duff), whose iron-clad alibi for the murder is negated by the various lame-brain excuses he offers the police.

Okay, turns out he didn’t do it, but I’m not going to spoil it by revealing the whos, whys and hows. It’s not an earth-shattering conspiracy of epic proportions. In fact, it would be a nothing crime if it weren’t murder. What is not nearly so important as the how: how the police chase down one flimsy lead after another, often ending up in dead ends, often struggling against the frustration at the layers of deceit and misdirection provided by those involved.

Unlike many cop movies of its day, The Naked City isn’t full of square-jawed detectives serving and protecting the citizens of New York City. The lead cop is Barry Fitzgerald, and a more unassuming son of the auld sod you’ll never find. But he is not the star of the film. The star is the city itself, New York City; “Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders…” No, wait, that’s Chicago.

It’s New York, N.Y., it’s a wonderful town. Producer Mark Hellinger makes his point in the opening narration (in lieu of credits) that the city is presented in all its unkempt, ill-bred, bright light, glorious demeanor, as immigrants rub shoulders with bankers on the El, as children play in the fire hydrants on a hot summer day while cops take a brief respite from murder and mayhem to watch. The city lives and breathes by its citizens, each one as vital as the red blood cells that provides life to the larger body.

“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” It’s not a great story; what makes it great is in the telling.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Guest Review Double Feature: Call Northside 777 and Cry Vengeance

By Philip Schweier

Even when a Hollywood movie claims to be a true story, not every plot point in the film should be regarded as true and factual. Events are often compressed and characters are often composites for dramatic purposes. Some are completely fabricated in order to avoid an unfair portrayal. So even though Call Northside 777 (1948) claims to be true, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

The story begins in 1933, when a Chicago patrolman is gunned down in a speakeasy. Two men, Frank W. Wiecek and Tomek Zaleska (Richard Conte and George Tyne), are railroad on flimsy evidence for the crime. Eleven years later, an ad appears in the Chicago Times, offering $5,000 for information that will clear Wiecek.

Reporter Jim McNeal (James Stewart) is assigned to follow it up. The ad was placed by Wiecek’s mother, who has spent the past 11 years scrubbing floors to earn the reward money in the hopes that someone might come forward. McNeal’s human interest story captures the imagination of the Times’ readers, leading to a follow-up, and soon McNeal is convinced there may be something to Wiecek’s claim of innocence.

What follows is high drama (mostly) of the Times’ efforts to win Wiecek his freedom. I say mostly because there are some scenes that seem to drag on forever, such as when Wiecek is undergoing his lie detector test, and McNeal is pounding the pavement in search of the woman whose sole testimony is responsible for his Wiecek’s conviction. I can appreciate that such details were intended to convey the lengths to which McNeal and the Chicago Times go to win Wiecek’s case, but on film, they drag on interminably.

The film’s eventual resolution is a contrived yet effective plot device, but for the filmmakers to claim that it stems from true events is a disservice to the more naïve members of the audience. But that’s Hollywood; just as a newspaper will skew a story in the interest of stimulating public opinion – and thereby boosting readership – so to will Hollywood discard the lesser parts of a story in favor of something more dramatic.

Like the classic axiom of another James Stewart film, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” In other words, never let facts get in the way of a good story. Call Northside 777 is a good story, but it shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

It features fine performances from James Stewart, who by now has perfected his “ordinary man fighting for an idealistic cause,” which we’ve seen in Mr. Smith Goes to Washignton and It’s a Wonderful Life, and Lee J Cobb, who co-stars as McNeal’s editor, Brian Kelly. Henry Hathaway directed the film, and according to the opening credits uses many of the actual locations featured in the story.

Mark Stevens both directs and stars in Cry Vengeance (1954), playing ex-cop Vic Barron. Three years ago Barron was framed for being on the take and was sent up. His wife and daughter were also killed in a car bomb meant which scarred him for life, and he blames crime boss Tino Morelli (Douglas Kennedy). Now that Barron’s out of prison, he’s looking for a little payback, if he can find Morelli.

Barron visits one of the local mob hangouts, where he runs afoul of hoodlum Roxey Davis (Skip Homeier). The old grudges between cop and criminal soon rear their ugly head, and Barron pays a visit to floozy Lily (Joan Vohs). She fesses up that Morelli has “retired” to the small fishing village of Ketchikan, Alaska. Steaming with anger, Barron catches the first plane out of San Francisco.

There, Morelli has settled down to a quiet life with his daughter, Marie (Cheryl Calloway), with lackey Johnny (Mort Mills) keeping him apprised of the business back home. Word reaches them that Barron’s on the way, so they begin to make ready.

Reaching Ketchikan, Barron starts looking for Morelli with a big chip on his shoulder, but that’s soon whittled down to size by a local tavern keeper, Peggy Harding (Martha Hyer). She tries to soften Barron up, while trying to keep him from locating Morelli. It seems Barron is the first man to catch her eye in some time, but she knows he’s on the path to doom and destruction.

Meanwhile, Roxey has orders from San Francisco to go up to Ketchikan and take care of Barron/Morelli problem permanently, and while he’s at it, take Lily along for the ride. He’s only too happy to do so. Only he gets it into his head that Morelli’s the easier target, and with him dead, Barron makes the perfect fall guy.

So while Morelli lies dead in a ditch, Barron pays a visit to his home, where he find little Marie. Having lost his own child, it’s just the tonic to make this Grinch’s heart grow big enough to let go of his need for vengeance. With Peggy’s help, he regains his mental balance and takes care of Roxey to boot.

It’s typical crime thriller fare of the day, trying hard to rise above its mediocre pedigree. It does okay, but Barron’s constant steaming over his desire for revenge becomes a bit tiresome. Peggy is way too attractive to remain single in Alaska for long. Perhaps the caliber of desirable men where she lives is somewhat lacking, but clearly her standards aren’t too high when she takes a shine to a self-destructive and physically scarred ex-convict. For me, the high point of the film was seeing future Mel Cooley Richard Deacon in a bit part.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas swag!


The above is the only thing I asked anybody for this Christmas—the first volume of I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster, the classic (and sadly, short-lived) sitcom starring John Astin and Marty Ingels telecast on ABC from 1962 to 1963.  Even though it’s going to be officially released next April (at Amazon, etc.) I requested this as a gift because those individuals who purchased it early will be acknowledged as “architects” when the second volume of the show is put out later next year.  (Yes, I am starved for publicity.  I would appreciate it if you would transform those piteous looks into something resembling respect.)  Also, by getting in the ground floor on this, I received a free autographed postcard from…wait for it


That’s right, friends and neighbors!  Lee “Catwoman” Meriwether!  You are a little bit more impressed…perhaps a little envious, no?  No?  Not even a little...um…okay.

Other DVD goodies received by yours truly include these two sets…


…released by Platinum Disc Collection, they contain a total of eighty-some B-westerns, something I am a sucker for—and the nice thing about receiving these was there was duplication of content in only three instances: I taped one of the movies (The Carson City Kid, with Roy Rogers) off of Encore Westerns sometime back and two of the Three Mequiteers features (Hit the Saddle, Riders of the Whistling Skull) were previously made available to me courtesy of my pal Rodney Bowcock.  The America’s Greatest Westerns (yeah, a bit of a misnomer) volumes were bestowed upon me by my dear ol’ Dad (probably because I always seemed to be watching one whenever he’d come by the old apartment) and even though the prints contained within are not pristine (I watched a Cisco Kid feature, The Gay Amigo, last night and it’s a little…no, it’s a lot blurry) I know I’m going to have a lot of fun watching these.  (Platinum has sort of compounded its public domain crime by sticking their logo randomly throughout the running time of these films as if to say “Don’t even think about trying to copy our free movies!”)

Also on the western front—my BBFF Stacia gifted me with Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 2.  This means that if there is a Great Beyond she will be feted like royalty, invited to high tea with folks like Bette Davis and Marie Prevost and getting access to all the classic movies and cheesy horror flicks she can handle.  Thanks again for the present, kiddo.

Finally, Mom used one of her valuable Barnes & (Ig)Noble coupons to get me 11/22/63, the new fiction novel by horrormeister Stephen King (I had casually mentioned an interest in reading the book due to its subject matter even though I couldn’t tell you the last time I read one of King’s novels); she also got my father (down goes another coupon) the book that Hardball host Chris Matthews has been shilling like a madman on his program and any other venue that will have him, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero,  Now, because my mother and I have nothing else to do with our evenings but wait patiently in the living room until the heat kicks on, we are also held hostage by Chris Matthews, whose Hardball program is watched religiously by Dad and who has been plugging this book (you can’t even begin to imagine my schadenfreude when I read over at Amazon.com that the book has a few factual errors) above and beyond the call of your normal self-promotion.  Matthews will cut a segment short with his guests (usually when the discussion is starting to develop fatal traces of being interesting) just so he’ll have time to do his “Let Me Finish” segment at the end of the show (if there has ever been a time when someone has not let Chris Matthews finish something, send me that info because that person will be my new best friend) where, admittedly, you have to admire the ingenuity he employs to mention that goddamn book at every turn.  His television chyron should read “Completely devoid of shame”; he even got his wife to plug the book in a cutesy instance last week where she “interviewed” him on the show.

Okay, that was a long-winded wind-up to this: my father asks me what King’s 11/22/63 is about, and I explain to him that the protagonist in the novel journeys back in time to try and prevent the Kennedy assassination.  He pauses for a second, and then says: “If only that were so.  Then I wouldn’t have this book (Matthews’) in my hands.”  (He’s a panic sometimes.)

I also got some mailing envelopes (don’t ask) and a pair of slippers from my Mom.  All in all, it was a splendid Christmas.  And now…Christmas card roundup!

From Stacia:


From faithful TDOY reader Dan O. (don’t everyone “awwww” at once):


From Laura of Miscellaneous Musings fame (love this card!):


From sister Debbie (I love how the dog gets included—Debbie is just inches away from including one of those yearly “newsletters” that some families write…):


And finally—not a Christmas card per se but a picture of my nephew Davis showing off the fact that he’s one of Santa’s close, personal friends (game on, Best Buy):


I hope everyone out there in YesteryearLand had as wonderful a Christmas as I did.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joyeux Noel!


From all of us here at Rancho Yesteryear (myself and the 'rents)...Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwazy Kwanzaa and anyone else I might have left out...Seasons Greetings to you all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My baby loves the western movies

I’m not sure what motivated me during the Thanksgiving holiday into breaking into a Timeless Media Group collection that I bought more than two years ago (The Classic TV Western Collection, released in May 2009), but I watched everything on this box set in its entirety…and came away with a mixed opinion on its contents and presentation.  I’m a sucker for any kind of “Definitive” collection (Mill Creek Entertainment has released a passel of them in the past—this one here touts 600 episodes from various TV oaters) and usually don’t mind the somewhat-less-than-stellar quality (much of the material originated from what my colleague Phil Schweier calls “Public Domain,” and he’s [Mr. Domain] not generally revered for taking good care of his prints) provided I haven’t paid too much.  If you check out some of the reviews for this set at Amazon.com, you’ll detect a lot of unhappy campers…and if they paid the SRP tariff of $39.98, they probably have a legitimate gripe.  (I think I paid less than 20 bucks when it was released—another Amazon commenter mentions he found it for $15 at a Sam’s Club.)  So I will warn you right now—some of these reruns are in very crappy condition.  But some of them also won’t be turning up on any cable channels any time soon, so if you’re curious to check it out you might want to shop around for the best price.

The first two discs of the set are labeled “The NBC Westerns” (Parts 1 and 2), and feature representative episodes from some of the series that were shown on the network during the heyday of the boob tube oaters, including legendary shows such as Bonanza and Wagon Train.  Timeless Media Group inked a deal with NBC/Universal to release a lot of these programs to DVD; they’ve done a nice job with Seasons 1-4 of Train (plus Season 7, the one in color) and Seasons 1-5 of The Virginian (plus the ninth season, aka The Men from Shiloh) but haven’t been as diligent as with some of the others due to the fact that NBC/Universal displays little interest in going the full restoration mile (while Timeless has the go-ahead to release the material on DVD, they often have to track down the prints themselves, usually from collectors).  A breakdown of the episodes:

The NBC Westerns, Disc 1

Laramie – “The Runaway” (01/23/62) While the resurfacing on DVD of this long-forgotten western—a staple on NBC’s schedule from 1959-63—has always been welcome news to classic TV fans, the surviving prints of the show’s episodes are often a hit-or-miss affair…with many of the color episodes fuzzy or washed out depending on the source material.  (The black-and-white shows, from the first two seasons, have a much higher batting average in terms of quality…proof that monochrome is not always a bad thing.)  This outing features Stacia fave James Best as—I know, he’s really flexing his thespic muscles here—a snot-nosed punk who’s attempting to steer the titular character (Jack Chaplain) into a life of cattle rustling until Spring Byington’s Daisy Cooper intervenes and convinces stars John Smith and Robert Fuller to hire him as a ranch hand.

Laredo – “Quarter Past Eleven” (03/24/66) Lee Van Cleef’s presence in this episode is sort of an in-joke because “Eleven” is a comic homage to High Noon…and of course, Van Cleef played one of the bad guys in that western film classic.  Laredo is one of my all-time favorite television guilty pleasures (not to mention my esteemed blogging colleague Scott C. at World O’Crap), a sort of sagebrush combination of The Three Musketeers (with a nod to the B-western movie series The Three Mesquiteers) and Gunga Din that may not necessarily be great television but is a painless way to kill an hour…and personally, I’ll watch Neville Brand in just about anything.  (I liked Peter Brown better on Lawman, though.)

Wagon Train – “The Jeremy Dow Story” (12/28/60) Leslie Nielsen plays a drunk (with a secret past) who gets a shot at redemption.  Meh.  Not terrible, but nothing you need to rush home for, either.  I saw enough Wagon Train episodes on Encore Westerns to really satisfy my curiosity about the series, which is why I’m dreading its eventual arrival on Me-TV (because its presentation will be stymied with commercials like that the one with Henry Winkler trying to peddle reverse mortgages).

Riverboat – “The Fight Back” (10/18/59) – Here’s the nifty thing about this series: if anyone ever asks you who was captain of the Enterprise, you can answer “Grey Holden” and technically you’re right.  (“Holden” is played by Darren McGavin; “Enterprise” the titular vessel.)  I can see why this show had a relatively short run (this episode didn’t really hold my interest, though McGavin is always welcome at Rancho Yesteryear as are OTR vets Ken Lynch and Karl Swenson…with assistance from another Stacia fave, Henry Daniell) but it’s got its share of fans (Timeless released a collection of twelve shows in 2007 that had a few of them cheesed off at the quality) and it was an early TV showcase for Burt Reynolds (who left the series midway in its first season because he reportedly did not get along with McGavin).

Tales of Wells Fargo – “Jesse James” (07/01/57) I mentioned one time in a previous blog post that this show was one of my Mom’s favorites when she was a young’un (and that my father likes to tease her by referring to its star, Dale Robertson, as “Dale Roberts”); this was a pretty good outing (with first-rate video quality) and the titular outlaw is played by…wait for it…Hugh Beaumont!  Former Bowery Boy Bobby Jordan (billed as Robert) is also in this one, playing Jesse’s future assassin, Bob Ford.  (I’ve got the first & second season set on my Amazon wish list but I’m going to wait for a price drop.)

The NBC Westerns, Disc 2

The Deputy – “The Return of Simon Fry” (02/13/60) I did a blog post about this show about the time Timeless released a compilation set; they have since made the entire run of the show available on a collection I sheepishly admit I own but have yet to open...if the video quality of those shows are as good as this one episode (which is in the public domain, so go figure) I think the company has a winner.  I like this series, but I’ll admit I’m more partial to the first season shows when character great Wallace Ford (as the town marshal) and Betty Lou Keim (as Fran McCord, sister of star Allen Case’s Clay [the deputy]) were regulars—they vanished in season 2 and were replaced by actor Read Morgan as cavalry sergeant Hapgood Tasker.  Henry Fonda appeared in this series as Chief Marshal Simon Fry, and in this installment he fakes his death to flush out an assassin.

Restless Gun – “Cheyenne Express” (12/02/57) This is one series that I’d really like to see Timeless take a stab at releasing the complete run because on the basis on this one episode it looks like a sure winner.  It’s a TV adaptation of the James Stewart radio oater The Six Shooter, and this episode finds the show’s main character, Vint Bonner (John Payne), reluctantly protecting a man (Royal Dano) who shot a notorious outlaw in the back.  This show is available in a 3-DVD set containing 24 episodes (including the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars pilot) and while the video quality isn’t pristine it’s certainly more than watchable (and enjoyable).

The Tall Man – “Bad Company” (09/24/60) Timeless has released the complete run of this series to DVD—a collection that I’m curious to own because even though it’s not too hard to dope out why it lasted just two seasons (the series takes a lot of liberties with the story of its titular character, sheriff Pat Garrett, and his apparently best bud, outlaw Billy the Kid) it’s not too bad judging from this one episode (the third in the series).  I’ve always liked Clu “I think this falls into the ‘or what’ category” Gulager, and it’s interesting to see Barry Sullivan not play a delectable bastard.

Cimarron City – “Blind is the Killer” (02/21/59) The best thing about this short-lived show (it lasted just one season, creamed in its time slot by Gunsmoke and Have Gun – Will Travel) is Audrey Totter…and she has very little to do outside of looking concerned that mayor George Montgomery might lose his sight after tangling with snot-nosed punk Robert Fuller.  Fuller’s future Laramie co-star, John Smith, also appeared on this one (as the town lawman)…not to mention Dan Blocker, who played blacksmith “Tiny” Budinger before saddling up on Bonanza.  Which brings me to…

Bonanza – “The Gunmen” (01/23/60) As you may be aware, there are about twenty-some episodes of Bonanza that are in the public domain…and this is one of them; the video quality is fine but the familiar theme music has been replaced by a generic (and risible) western composition because the original tune is still under copyright.  (I know of at least one collection that features the P.D. shows with the original theme—I’m not sure how they got away with it but the fact that I haven’t been able to find the set anywhere since that initial purchase suggests that they didn’t.)  I’m on record as not being a vocal champion of the program but this one was fun to watch; Cartwrights Hoss (Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon) are mistaken for a pair of outlaws (who look exactly like our heroes) and much hilarity ensues.  Some good character actors in this one, too—Henry Hull, King Donovan, Douglas Spencer and the always welcome Ellen Corby.

Disc 3, “Western Heroes of the Small Screen,” contains nice-looking episodes (again, considering their P.D. status the prints are first-rate) of The Lone Ranger and The Roy Rogers Show…not to mention the short-lived 1960 series Tate, which probably should have been grouped under the “NBC Westerns” banner.  Rounding out the disc are individual episodes of Buffalo Bill, Jr., The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Cisco Kid and Annie Oakley; nothing distinguishing at all about these shows (and the prints are sub-standard to boot) save for the fact that Oakley exposes the villain in her story (“Sharp Shooting Annie”) by shooting off his obviously false nose (I swear I’m not making that up).  There’s also a half-hour Red Ryder pilot from 1951, “Whiplash”…which does not feature Allan “Rocky” Lane as Fred Harman’s comic strip creation as indicated in the set’s liner notes but Jim Bannon, who played Red in four B-western features for Eagle-Lion in the late 1940s.  I enjoyed watching this one (despite its all-too-familiar story) because of the presence of character greats Lyle Talbot, Kenneth MacDonald, Monte Blue and Dick Curtis…and one of my favorite bad guys, Robert J. Wilke, is the hombre who picks a fight with our hero in a saloon.

“Life in the West” is the title of disc #4, and kicks off with an episode of The High Chaparral (“Shadow of the Wind”) that is in the public domain (one of two, I believe)…but the print of this outing is a blurry mess, and in black-and-white to boot.  (That aside, it’s still a worthwhile watch, and after seeing it made me sad that this show is not only available on DVD you rarely see it on any kind of cable outlet.)  There’s also the P.D. episode of the Warner Bros. owned Sugarfoot, “The Return of the Canary Kid” (02/03/59), and one of the three The Rifleman installments also in the public domain, “Day of the Hunter” (01/05/60)…which features TDOY fave John Anderson as a mountain man.  What’s interesting about this disc is that the episode chosen to represent The Texan, a 1958-60 series that has been released on DVD by Timeless, is “A Quart of Law” (01/12/59)—which I singled out in the review I wrote about the collection.  The other shows are 26 Men, Range Rider and Frontier Doctor; again, nothing particularly noteworthy about these except that I enjoyed Frontier Doctor because of Rex Allen…who would be in the top three of my favorite film narrators of all time (he voice-overed more Disney docs than most of us have had hot dinners).

Another unsold TV pilot from 1955, “The Texas Ranger,” starts off Disc Five (“The Legendary Lawmen”); this one features Dennis Morgan as the title character and I kind of had to suppress a snicker when he looks at the camera in the beginning and says: “With your permission, I’d like to portray Ranger Harris…”  (“We’ve talked it over, Den…and have decided we can’t allow you to do this.”)  This pilot isn’t anything special…and to be honest, it would have been better if Jack Carson had turned up…but there’s reliable support from John Doucette, Strother Martin (who always seems to be running the cantinas in these western towns) and Paul Burke, before he started investigating those eight million stories in the Naked City.  Another rarity presents itself in the form of an episode of Yancy Derringer, a Christmas-themed episode (“Old Dixie”) from the 1958-59 series that starred Jock Mahoney as kind of a dandified gambler who’s living in the Tara mansion from Gone With the Wind.  (The episode’s content is so-so but it features good performances from Louise Fletcher, Kevin Hagen, Frances Bergen and John Qualen).  Other shows on this disc include Bat Masterson, Judge Roy Bean, Cowboy G-Men (which is worth watching only because Jackie “Uncle Fester” Coogan plays the sidekick), Shotgun Slade and an entertaining episode of Death Valley Days (“Deadline at Austin”) that features future Fugitive David Janssen as a medicine show huckster who helps a small hamlet put one over on crooked bidnessmen (and politicians…they kind of go together) trying to stop a railroad from going through.

There’s also a bonus disc with this collection entitled “The Lost Westerns”—and it’s pretty much multiple trips to Pilot City with a bunch of failed series attempts like Tumbleweed (I can see why this one didn’t make it; its star, Gary Gray, can’t act his way out of a paper bag) and The Adventures of Rick O’Shay…which I was hoping would be an adaptation of the Stan Lynde comic strip (into everyone’s life a little rain must fall, I suppose).  But there are some interesting offerings on this disc, and because of this we come to the screen capture portion of our post:

Diamond Jim – A 1965 pilot (the episode is called “Skullduggery in Samantha”) that features former Tales of Wells Fargo star Dale Robertson as the legendary “Diamond” Jim Brady, here channeling his inner Robert Preston from Blood On the Moon:


It’s not a bad little show—the presence of TDOY fave Walter Burke (as Jim’s retired cop sidekick) and Robert Cornthwaite (Karl Swenson’s also in this one, as is Robert Emhardt) certainly helps in a story that’s remarkably similar to the plot of that Janssen Death Valley Days episode I mentioned earlier.  There’s also a brief bit from this cowpoke before he went riding around with Jed “Kid” Curry:


He’s billed as “Peter R. Duel” in this one.  This series was filmed at M-G-M (which probably explains the better-than-usual production values) and ABC had a piece of it, so why it never made the schedule is anybody’s guess.

“The Frontiersman” – A “back-door” pilot—back-door because while the show stars Gene Evans as a schoolteacher, Otis Stockert, who goes from town to town tryin’ to give kids a little book-larnin’ it also briefly features Joel McCrea as town marshal Mike Dunbar…and a glance at the episode list for McCrea’s 1959-1960 series Wichita Town identifies this as an episode from that show, originally telecast on March 2, 1960.  This particular print doesn’t have any titles indicating it as Town, though; the fact that it also features Evans in a short epilogue at the end talking about the character and the direction the proposed series will go would seem to indicate that they were putting this out to see if they could get a sponsor to nibble.  I’m always up for something featuring McCrea, but his part is pretty miniscule since the show focuses on Evans’ character.

McCrea’s son Jody was also a cast member on Wichita Town (as deputy Ben Masters) even though most classic movie fans know him as “Bonehead” or “Deadhead” or “(Fill in the blank)-head” from the Frankie & Annette Beach Party movies.  But in another busted pilot on this disc, he plays “Moccasin Treads Softly”…though you may call him…Johnny Moccasin!


Believe me, good people…it’s as hooty as its sounds.  McCrea is billed as “Jode McCrea,” and among the tribal elders:


I believe he’s part of the Hekawi tribe


…known to shed a tear if someone tosses a bag of trash out of a moving car…


…and finally John Miljan, whom I believe had to appear as an Indian in every Western—TV and movie—because of a California law at the time.  (I could be wrong about this.)

If you’re curious as to why Mr. Moccasin looks less like a Native American and more like he’s about to hit his board for some tasty waves it’s because the backstory is he’s a Caucasian gent who was rescued by Indians after his family was killed in a wagon accident.  He ends up being captured by a settlement populated by the likes of TDOY fave John Larch and Claude Akins (if you’re quick you’ll also spot OTR veteran Billy Idelson in a bit part)…and of course, as Brent McKee has previously mentioned, appearing in a serious role means that Raymond Bailey loses the rug…



Frontier - A proposed series that I wish had been picked up because the show was created by veteran radio scribes Morton Fine and David Friedkin; the pilot, “The Assassin,” tells the story of gun-for-hire Thorpe Henderson (Chuck Connors)…who is framed for the murder of a man he didn’t kill because the populace of a Western town (led by the reliably nasty John Hoyt) have decided that Thorpe is an anachronism in a society swept up in the throes of civilization and they need to eliminate him.  Frontier, produced by TV legend Worthington Miner, has the same sort of feel as Fine and Friedkin’s radio crime anthology Crime Classics (both of these programs were based on historical accounts)…with a standout cast that includes Malcolm Atterbury and Barry Atwater.  I also like how they don’t sugar-coat the romantic relationship between Connors’ Anderson and the local school marm (played by Isa Childers)—in fact, it’s a plot point later in the drama when she refuses to alibi for his whereabouts (he was in flagrante delicto with her at the time of the killing) for fear of being ostracized from the community.

There are two other pilots on this disc—the first one is called “Night Rider” and the production values on this one are so low-budget it reminds me of one of those instructional films they show after the movies on TCM Underground.  It’s of interest because it features country music legend Johnny Cash in an acting role as a gunslinger who sits down with some cattle drovers (that include another country great, Merle Travis, and Johnny “The Ballad of Paladin” Western) over a campfire for a philosophical discussion…then switches to a saloon where he guns down snot-nosed punk Dick Jones…then back to the campfire where he tells the drovers of his situation by singing his hit Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.  Since Town was a hit for the Man in Black in 1959 I’m guessing that’s when this show was made (it appears to be a segment for a proposed anthology series) but apparently after securing the big-name talent they had to really skimp on the sets for fear of busting the budget.

“Story of a Star,” the last pilot on the DVD, is also of interest to country music fans…


First off, this character known as “Felipe,” who draws his rations early on, is played by none other than “Mr. Teardrop” himself, Marty Robbins…


…and it was bugging me as to where I knew this laconic lawman until it suddenly dawned on me that it was country crooner Carl Smith, whose hits included Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way and It’s a Lovely, Lovely World.  (His character is listed at the IMDb as “Sheriff Carl Smith,” though I recognized him before I saw that.)  “Star” also features old favorites like Harry Lauter, Douglas Fowley, Louis Jean Heydt, Lee Van Cleef and the incomparable Lawrence Dobkin…if the IMDb is to be believed (and why not, considering its reputation for accuracy, he said sarcastically) this is an edited-down version of a B-western entitled The Badge of Marshal Brennan (1957), which stars a pre-Dallas Jim Davis as an outlaw who acquires Brennan’s badge after the Marshal kicks it and decides to use his guns to fight a truly despicable father-and-son team (played by Heydt and Van Cleef) who are attempting to paper over the fact that their cattle are diseased.  So they whittled Brennan down to about half-hour length and included an introduction and closing from Victor McLaglen…providing loads of laughs as he valiantly tries to mask his dependence on cue cards.


So there you have it…a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar in the form of some classic (and far-from-classic) television westerns.  If you can track it down at Sam’s Club for that $15 price tag I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I think you’ll be a happy camper…otherwise, I’d recommend this collection for diehard western fans only.