The second-run houses of my yute-Universal westerns
Gunfight at the Universal-International Corral
Ed here: I saw a lot of these in second run houses where a lot of working class folks saw their movies. I always liked the globe that was the Universal logo at the start of the film. Thrilling. To me the mainstay--not to say the best--of the Universal westerns were the Audie Murphy pictures. (I think) Because of the failure of John Ford's Red Badge of Courage (in which re he was very good). Director Anthony Mann was the genius of the entire Universal enterprise and, for me, a far finer, more nuanced director than John Ford because he didn't buy into the myth of the west. The truly lovely Julie Adams was the resident babe.
By DAVE KEHR for the New York Times
A new five-disc anthology from TCM’s Vault Collection, “Western Horizons,” assembles five of the Technicolor adult westerns that were the bread and butter of Universal-International’s production schedule during the 1950s.
Positioned ambiguously between A and B status — they often featured major stars, like James Stewart and, in this collection, Alan Ladd and Richard Widmark, and production values that could expand beyond the Universal City back lot to include extensive and expensive location work — these films were among the final manifestations of a fully functioning studio system.
This collection covers a whole range of achievements, including a couple of outright mediocrities. With “Backlash” (1956), the hard-working but rarely inspired John Sturges fails to bring out the dramatic intensity of a fine screenplay by Borden Chase, whose work with James Stewart and the director Anthony Mann during this period (“Bend of the River,” “The Far Country”) represents the Universal western at its best. And in “Pillars of the Sky” (1956) the journeyman director George Marshall brings merely a Sunday school didacticism to an ambitious script about frontier race relations originally intended for John Ford and John Wayne.
“Horizons West” (1952) offers the tenebrous Robert Ryan as an impatient rancher who turns to rustling, in one of several “big ranch” westerns of the early ’50s that expressed a populist fear of expanding corporatism in postwar America. Directed in a dark, shadowy style that sneaks up to the edge of film noir, it is one of the best of the early westerns directed by Budd Boetticher, who would become one of the genre’s great figures when he found his definitive voice a few years later with “Seven Men From Now” (1956).
For consistency of vision and sheer filmmaking skill the best film in this set is “Saskatchewan” (1954), a sort of northwestern, set in the Canadian province of the same name and directed by one of the giants of the American cinema, Raoul Walsh. At first the story appears to be a spinoff from one of Walsh’s most famous movies, the 1941 “They Died With Their Boots On,” which starred Errol Flynn as a charismatically overbearing George Armstrong Custer. Here a band of renegade Sioux, encouraged by their victory at Little Big Horn, invade Canada with the hope of enlisting the peaceful Cree into joining their revolt against white domination.
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