Tall in the Saddle (1944; USA; B&W; 87m) ***½ d. Edwin L. Marin; w. Michael Hogan, Paul Fix, Gordon Ray Young; ph. Robert De Grasse; m. Roy Webb. Cast: John Wayne, George “Gabby” Hayes, Ward Bond, Ella Raines, Audrey Long, Elisabeth Risdon, Paul Fix, Raymond Hatton, Frank Puglia, George Chandler. When a stranger arrives in a western town he finds that the rancher who sent for him has been murdered. Fast-paced tale of deception with a love triangle thrown into the pot. Wayne is in his element as the stranger and Raines is feisty as a rancher’s hot-headed daughter. Hayes provides comic relief and whilst the story becomes more formulaic in its final act, it is never less than thoroughly enjoyable. This was the first Wayne film to be shown on American network television. Based on the novel by Gordon Ray Young. Also available in a computer colourised version. [U]
Fighting Seabees, The (1944; USA; B&W; 100m) ***½ d. Edward Ludwig; w. Borden Chase, Æneas MacKenzie; ph. William Bradford; m. Walter Scharf. Cast: John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Dennis O’Keefe, William Frawley, William Forrest, Leonid Kinskey, J.M. Kerrigan, Grant Withers, Paul Fix, Addison Richards, Roy Brent, Jay Norris, Duncan Renaldo, Roy Barcroft, Charles D. Brown. Construction workers in World War II in the Pacific are needed to build military sites, but the work is dangerous and they doubt the ability of the Navy to protect them. Action-packed WW2 drama tells the story of the creation of the Construction Batallion known as the “Seabees”. Wayne is hot-headed head of construction whose methods are at odds with navy commander O’Keefe whilst both fight for the attentions of journalist Hayward. Jingoistic and full of macho banter, it nevertheless is propelled via well-handled battle scenes and strong cast. Also available in a computer colourised version. [U]
Spoilers, The (1942; USA; B&W; 87m) *** d. Ray Enright; w. Rex Beach, Lawrence Hazard; ph. Milton R. Krasner; m. Hans J. Salter, Frederick Hollander, Frank Loesser. Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Margaret Lindsay, Harry Carey, Richard Barthelmess, George Cleveland, Samuel S. Hinds, Russell Simpson, William Farnum, Marietta Canty, Jack Norton, Ray Bennett, Forrest Taylor, Art Miles. An Alaskan miner and his partner financed by a saloon entertainer, fight to save their gold claim from a crooked commissioner. Rousing, if simplistic, entertainment benefits from star power of its three leads and strong production values. Enright directs efficiently and Wayne and Scott spar well for the attentions of Dietrich. Filmed three times previously (in 1914, 1923 and 1930) and remade again in 1955. [PG]
Dark Command (1940; USA; B&W; 94m) *** d. Raoul Walsh; w. Grover Jones, Lionel Houser, F. Hugh Herbert, Jan Fortune; ph. Jack A. Marta; m. Victor Young. Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Walter Pidgeon, Roy Rogers, George “Gabby” Hayes, Marjorie Main, Porter Hall, Raymond Walburn, Joe Sawyer, J. Farrell MacDonald, Helen MacKellar, Trevor Bardette, Richard Alexander, Roy Bucko, Mildred Gover. A cowpoke becomes a rival for a ruthless renegade. Strong production values and well directed action sequences cover cracks in this rushed and uneven Western. Wayne is a likeable hero and Pidgeon a charismatic villain who both court rich banker’s daughter, Trevor. Hayes adds comic relief. Plot takes a dark turn as Pidgeon’s guerrilla army loots its way across Kansas and there is a rousing climax. The character of Will Cantrell is loosely based on the real-life Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill. [U]
Stagecoach (1939; USA; B&W; 96m) ****½ d. John Ford; w. Dudley Nichols, Ernest Haycox; ph. Bert Glennon; m. Gerard Carbonara. Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Thomas Mitchell, Donald Meek, George Bancroft, Berton Churchill, Tim Holt, Tom Tyler, Louise Platt, Yakima Canutt, Si Jenks, Chris-Pin Martin, Merrill McCormick. A group of people travelling on a stagecoach find their journey complicated by the threat of Geronimo and learn something about each other in the process. Highly influential western became the first classic of its genre by taking it from low-budget B-picture fillers to something with more substance and no little art. Whilst some of the set pieces and characterisations may now seem overly familiar, it must not be forgotten that this was the film that started it all. Wayne became a star following his imposing performance as the Ringo Kid and Trevor is his equal as a woman trying to escape her past. There is top-class support from Carradine as a dignified gambler with a violent past and Mitchell as a drunk doctor. Spectacular stunt chase sequences and a moodily shot showdown finale add to what is a winning mix. Ford handles the story and characters with his trademark confidence. Won Oscars for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mitchell) and Best Music (adapted from folk songs by Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken). Also available in a computer-colourised version. Remade in 1966 and again for TV in 1986. [U]
Having just completed my third go-round of all six series of the TV series Justified (2010-2015) and also having recently read all of Elmore Leonard’s printed stories featuring modern-day Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, I have concluded Justified is the perfect example of how to take a literary creation and expand on the character and to create something even better for the TV screen. Even after three full viewings I haven’t tired of the series and will probably go round again in another couple of years. Timothy Olyphant was born to play Raylan, with his laconic no-nonsense delivery and old-west values. Walton Goggins was so charismatic as local gangster Boyd Crowder he was resurrected from the dead, having been killed off in Leonard’s novella Fire in the Hole and again in the adaptation of that novella for the pilot. The supporting cast are all wonderful and the colourful and quirky characters they portray reflect the locale perfectly.
Elmore Leonard created the character of Raylan Givens in his 1993 novel Pronto. This was followed by Riding the Rap two years later. Both novels set the template for the Raylan Givens character, which was closely followed in the TV series. It was Leonard’s third Givens story, the excellent 2002 novella Fire in the Hole, that was the basis for the series, with Raylan being relocated to Harlan County to end the criminal activities of Boyd Crowder. Raylan and Boyd dug coal together in the Harlan mines in their younger years, but now they are either side of the law with Raylan determined to bring Boyd to justice. A fourth book, Raylan, followed in 2012. This was three separate stories linked together by a theme of a female opponent for Raylan. The novel was based on story lines Leonard contributed to the TV series and also allowed him to resurrect the character of Boyd in print.
Justified‘s first series was more a run of singular episodes with an over-riding arc. The stories were therefore episodic, but vastly entertaining. It was the second season where the series really took off with the introduction of the Bennett clan, run by matriarch Mags, wonderfully played by Margo Martindale. The series began a new approach of a continuing story thread with each season bringing a new major character into the story, whilst the regular cast continued the longer arc that would reach its brilliantly written and satisfying conclusion at the end of the sixth and final season. I wrote a short review of each season in an earlier piece I posted and I don’t want to give too much away here, in case anyone has yet to experience what in my opinion is amongst the very best American TV series of all time.
If you have never watched Justified, go seek out the pilot and I guarantee you’ll be hooked.