Thursday, June 25, 2009

Early to Budd, early to rise

Since I found myself wide awake this morning shortly after 6am, I decided to mosey out to the living room for a little TCM time—particularly since the channel is continuing their Great Directors Festival with a tribute to Oscar “Budd” Boetticher, Jr., a man who cemented his cinematic fame with a series of B-westerns in the 1950s starring Western icon Randolph Scott and produced by Harry Joe Brown. The lineup included the two Scott-Boetticher oaters I had not seen—Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) and Comanche Station (1960)—plus several other outstanding entries in the Boetticher oeuvre, as well as the documentary Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That. (This doc and the aforementioned shoot-‘em-ups are all available in a DVD box set released last November by Sony; it’s just that I hadn’t gotten around to opening it up yet.)

But before that, I tuned into one of Boetticher’s early efforts, a B-picture entitled Escape in the Fog (1945)—which stars Nina Foch as an honorably discharged Army nurse who for reasons unexplained experiences a recurrent dream in which a gentleman (William Wright) at the hospital she’s staying at is attacked by two other men climbing out of a taxi. Her friend, posing as a psychiatrist, is in actuality a federal agent who’s given an assignment by his superior (top-billed Otto Kruger) to travel to Hong Kong with a valuable list containing the names of those individuals assisting the Allies during WW2. (Konstantin Shayne, Ivan Triesault and Ernie Adams are among the Nazi bad guys trying to stop Wright from completing his task.) This movie starts out on a intriguing note, but about a half-hour in begins to get—as Graham Chapman might have phrased it—very silly…very silly indeed. (It’s actually less plausible than the plot of your average cliffhanger serial, to be honest.) Still, it was worth a glance to see Budd still finding his way—Boetticher had already learned that fog was the B-movie director’s best friend.

Fog is showcased in the Boetticher doc (and includes a clip or two) as is Budd’s first directorial credit, One Mysterious Night (1944)—one of the better Boston Blackie entries that I skipped a) because I’d already seen it and b) because it was halfway over by the time I got out of bed. What puzzled me about A Man Can Do That, however, is that Boetticher’s 1956 police procedural The Killer Is Loose is not even mentioned; Killer is one of my favorite Boetticher flicks, in which Wendell Corey—with the possible exception of Rear Window—enjoys his finest hour onscreen as Leon “Foggy” Poole, a milquetoast teller whose involvement in the hold-up of the building and loan company at which he’s punching a time clock results in the killing of his wife by trigger-happy Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten). At his trial, Poole swears he’ll get even with Sam for croaking his missus, and two years later, uses his trustee status on an honor farm to make a break for it and go after Mrs. Wagner (Rhonda Fleming). This sadly neglected noir has a real nail-biting climax, and appearances from Alan Hale, Jr., Virginia Christine, Michael Pate, John Larch (as Poole’s ex-Army sergeant) and Dee J. Thompson. Catch this one if you haven’t seen it.

After Killer, I sat down and thoroughly enjoyed Comanche Station—though I probably would have enjoyed it more had the Boetticher documentary (which was on beforehand) not ruined the ending for me by showing it among the clips from Budd’s films. I’m not going to be evil and follow in their footsteps; I’m only going to tell you that the plot involves bounty hunter Jefferson Cody (Scott) and his rescue of a woman (Nancy Gates) kidnapped by Comanches; the two later meet up with Cody’s old Army buddy Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his two saddle pals (Skip Homier, Richard Rust)—three men who would appear to be more of a threat than the Comanches that are on Cody’s tail. Station is considered one of the best Scott-Boetticher outings (John DiLeo has very heady praise for it in his book Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery) and while I don’t dislike the film I’m hesitant to call it the best (I prefer The Tall T [1957] or Ride Lonesome [1959]); it’s a bit derivative of the other westerns in the series: Akins’ character—the “doppelganger” to Scott’s “good guy”—is too similar to Lee Marvin’s splendid villain in Seven Men from Now (1956), and much of the dialogue between Akins and Rust is just rehashed from Lonesome. (I did, however, get a kick out of Akins’ Ben Lane’s refrain of “Hello!” when someone calls him by name.) But don’t let my opinion discourage you from seeing it; it’s a most worthy endeavor.

Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), on the other hand, is a real treat—it’s definitely the most offbeat of all the Scott-Boetticher oaters, with an unusually passive Scott (at times it’s like his character wandered into an extended episode of Maverick) finding himself in a corrupt border town run by an equally corrupt family (Barry Kelly, Tol Avery, Peter Whitney) and becoming embroiled in their feud when he attempts to help a Mexican prisoner (Manuel Rojas). Scott’s attitude in the beginning (“Isn’t there anybody in this town who ain’t named Agry?”) to what he calls a “ten-dollar town” (everything, including the price of a hotel room and a steak costs a sawbuck) reminds me of James Garner’s plight in Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), a film that Burt Kennedy (who goes uncredited, but he worked on Buchanan with Charles Lang) later wrote and directed. (For a nice write-up on this one, check out “Uncle” Samuel Wilson’s take here.)

As I write this, Ride Lonesome is about to come to a close and I plan to re-visit Decision at Sundown (1957)—even though I consider it the weakest of the Scott-Boetticher collaborations. But at 5:30pm, I’m finally going to make time to see Bullfighter and the Lady (1951)—a film that has been on my must-see/must-tape list for quite some time now.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I'll be curious to hear what you thought of BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY...bullfighting's not my thing (grin) but I thought it was quite an interesting film.

Last fall I had the chance to ask Gretchen Wayne if she thought it could come to DVD, like the Wayne production of Boetticher's SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, but she wasn't very hopeful. She seemed to think another studio might be mixed up in the rights issues.

Best wishes,