Friday, February 05, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Younger Brothers (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE YOUNGER BROTHERS (1949) is a colorful Warner Bros. Western recently released by the Warner Archive.

"Outlaw" movies are my least favorite Western subgenre, but I found THE YOUNGER BROTHERS enjoyable as such films go.

Cole (Wayne Morris), Jim (Bruce Bennett), and Bob (James Brown) Younger have served time in prison and are hoping for a pardon from the state of Minnesota, after which they plan to return to their home state of Missouri with their kid brother Johnny (Robert Hutton) and Jim's sweetheart Mary (Geraldine Brooks).

A nasty Pinkerton agent, Ryckman (Fred Clark), hates the Youngers, as they cost him his job. He's a relentless Javert-like character, who doesn't care if the Youngers plan to be honest farmers; Ryckman is determined to put them all back in jail -- or worse -- no matter what it takes. To that end he plots along with Kate Shepherd (Janis Paige), ringleader of an outlaw gang.

It's a given that the screenplay by Edna Anhalt probably contains little, if anything, to do with the Youngers' true history! In this case I particularly appreciated that, as outlaw movies go, this one was happily un-tragic.

The film wasn't especially exciting, but it was a well-paced 78 minutes and I enjoyed spending time with the congenial cast, filmed in Technicolor. It's a lesser Western but fans of the cast and the genre will probably enjoy giving it a look, as I did.

I particularly liked Bennett and Brooks as devoted sweethearts and would have been happy if they'd had even more screen time. Morris as Cole is the wild man of the bunch; he's well matched with Paige's fiery Kate, although since she plays a genuinely bad woman one can probably guess how her story turns out. Brown tended to blend into the background, but Hutton registered well as the brave youngest brother.

Alan Hale (Sr.) has some very nice scenes as the sheriff. The cast also includes Tom Tyler, Monte Blue, and Ian Wolfe.

THE YOUNGER BROTHERS was directed by Edwin L. Marin, who also directed the last Western reviewed here, Randolph Scott's CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949). THE YOUNGER BROTHERS was filmed in Technicolor by William E. Snyder.

The Warner Archive DVD is a nice print with William Lava's energetic musical score sounding great. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Tonight's Movie: Chain of Evidence (1957) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

CHAIN OF EVIDENCE (1957) is the fourth of five titles in the Warner Archive's Bill Elliott Detective Mysteries Collection.

In this entry Lt. Andy Doyle (Elliott) and Sgt. Mike Duncan (Don Haggerty) investigate the disappearance of Steve Nordstrom (James "Jimmy" Lydon), who was just paroled from a low-security prison.

Steve was hit over the head and has amnesia; he then has the misfortune to go to work for Mr. Ramsey (Hugh Sanders), who is killed by the lover (Ross Elliott) of Mr. Ramsey's wife (Tina Carver). Mrs. Ramsey and her boyfriend make sure that the prime suspect is Steve, the amnesiac employee. Andy and Mike manage to sort it all out in 64 minutes!

This may be the least compelling film in the series to date, but there's still quite a bit of fun stuff in it, including the always-terrifying Timothy Carey as the man who hits Steve in the head. Southern Californians will also enjoy the vintage stock shots and the geographical references.

The acting's not always great, but it moves like lightning. I'm going to be sorry when I've finished this set, as I've really enjoyed it. Elliott is perfectly cast as the straightforward detective. I would guess that anyone who likes Jack Webb TV procedurals such as DRAGNET or ADAM-12 would enjoy this movie collection.

Dabbs Greer, best known as Reverend Alden from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, plays a psychiatrist who helps Steve. Meg Randall, Claudia Barrett, and John Close are also in the cast.

CHAIN OF EVIDENCE was directed by Paul Landres. It was written by Elwood Ullman, who also worked on SUDDEN DANGER (1955) and the last film in the series, FOOTSTEPS IN THE NIGHT (1957).

Previously reviewed films in this set: DIAL RED O (1955), SUDDEN DANGER (1955), and CALLING HOMICIDE (1956).

CHAIN OF EVIDENCE is a great-looking print showcasing the no-frills black and white cinematography of Harry Neumann. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Actress Kristine Miller Has Died at 90

Lovely actress Kristine Miller, who played a key role in the classic film noir TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949), has passed on at the age of 90.

A relative has confirmed that the actress died late last year.

In TOO LATE FOR TEARS Miller played the suspicious sister of murder victim Arthur Kennedy, who works with a mysterious stranger in town (Don DeFore) to pin the murder on her sister-in-law (Lizabeth Scott).

Miller had appeared in two previous films with Lizabeth Scott, DESERT FURY (1947) and I WALK ALONE (1948). Both those movies also starred Burt Lancaster, the star of another film in which Miller appeared, SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948).

Miller also played the murder victim in the engrossing SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950) with Zachary Scott and Ann Sothern.

Additional film credits included JUNGLE PATROL (1948) with Arthur Franz, FLIGHT NURSE (1953) with Joan Leslie, HELL'S OUTPOST (1954) with Leslie and Rod Cameron, and DOMINO KID (1957) opposite Rory Calhoun (seen below).

Miller also guest-starred on many TV series before retiring from the screen in 1961.

A detailed obituary appeared in the Monterey County Herald, and there was also a nice story in The Hollywood Reporter.

A memorial service will take place in Carmel, California, this Saturday, February 13th.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Canadian Pacific (1949)

NOTE: This post on CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949) is my contribution to the O Canada Blogathon being sponsored by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings from February 1-5, 2016. Please take the time to click on the blogathon link and enjoy the many interesting contributions by a large number of classic film bloggers!

Randolph Scott stars as a surveyor battling to establish a railroad across Canada in CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949).

CANADIAN PACIFIC echoes DeMille's UNION PACIFIC (1939) of a decade earlier, telling the story of the establishment of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Canadian Pacific was needed to connect British Columbia in the far west with the other Canadian provinces.

As the movie begins, Tom Andrews (Scott) treks through the Canadian wilderness, mapping out the prospective route for the new railroad.

Mission completed, Tom turns down the offer by railroad head Cornelius Van Horne (Robert Barrat) to help spearhead the railway construction, and he instead heads home to his sweetheart Cecille (Nancy Olson), who's been patiently waiting for the past year for Tom's return.

Evil fur trader Dick Rourke (Victor Jory) rallies locals against the train, telling them it will mean the way of their end of life; facing conflict with Rourke and Cecille's father (John Parrish), Tom decides to return to work for the railroad. He asks Cecille to wait another year for him but, despondent, she breaks off their relationship.

Rourke stirs up Indians to sabotage the railroad, leading to all manner of struggles and delays in the railroad's completion. Tom is critically injured when Rourke causes a dynamite explosion, but he's saved by a pretty doctor (Jane Wyatt).

Tom briefly romances the doctor, but her unreasonable pacifist ideals cause considerable conflict with Tom; she even argues against fighting when an Indian enters her railroad car in the climactic battle, intent on killing anyone he can, including her!

Meanwhile Cecille has come to realize the violent plans of Rourke, her father, and others, and slips off, regardless of personal risk, to warn Tom of impending danger; she then joins Tom and the crew as they fight to survive an Indian attack.

CANADIAN PACIFIC was written by Jack DeWitt and Kenneth Gamet, based on a story by DeWitt. As Scott's late '40s/early '50s Westerns go, it's fairly middle of the road; it's not one of Scott's best, but it's engaging enough for fans to find it enjoyable. The storytelling is surprisingly bland at times, given the subject matter, but that's offset by extensive Canadian location shooting and a fiery performance by newcomer Nancy Olson.

To its credit much of the movie was filmed outdoors, shot in Alberta and British Columbia, which gives it a pleasing "fresh air," outdoorsy feel; it's especially nice that it was actually shot in Canada, which was shown on screen in comparatively few films of its era.

The downside is that the movie was shot by cinematographer Fred Jackman Jr. in Cinecolor; while I'm rather a fan of Cinecolor's unusual color palette, it does not show off the majestic Canadian locations to best effect. It's a shame it couldn't have been shot in Technicolor, but according to a post last year at Greenbriar Picture Shows, this was a relatively low budget production by Nat Holt, who had a distribution agreement with 20th Century-Fox. Indeed, it sounds as though if the movie hadn't been shot in relatively inexpensive Cinecolor, it might have been in black and white, so in that light I'm grateful for the Cinecolor!

This was the first major role for 20-year-old Nancy Olson, whose previous screen credit was a scene at the end of PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948). She's so much younger than Randolph Scott that I'd perhaps rather not think about it (grin), yet that potential awkwardness is completely offset by Olson's warm, wild enthusiasm as the resourceful frontier girl. She's completely head over heels for Tom, barely able to keep her hands off him when he returns home, and so she also sells the audience.

Olson's Cecille repeatedly risks danger and being turned out on her own in order to help Tom; Tom, who finally seems to see her completely clearly toward the end of the film, praises her as "a brave woman."

Cecille is tough, standing up to all the men in her life at various times, but she's also loving, loyal, and willing to help Tom despite past disagreement. Her warmth stands in marked contrast to Wyatt's rigid, unforgiving doctor. One can infer a certain amount of bravery in the doctor's character, having become a physician at a time when not many women did, then taking her skills to the untamed West, but hers is a very uptight persona. Indeed, perhaps that "my way or the highway" spine is what got her through medical school, but it doesn't lend her any flexibility when it comes to assessing how Tom should deal with the significant, violent challenges he faces.

Scott's character is by turns genial and determined, as enjoyable to watch as usual. Besides Olson and the location work, the movie owes most of its appeal to his charisma.

The supporting cast includes J. Carrol Naish, Walter Sande, Don Haggerty, John Hamilton, Grandon Rhodes, and Chief Yowlachie.

CANADIAN PACIFIC was directed by frequent Scott collaborator Edwin L. Marin. It runs 95 minutes.

CANADIAN PACIFIC is not currently on DVD, but 50 Westerns From the 50s reports it's due on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber later in 2016. It's also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

The Latest TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements

TCM made several announcements today regarding the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival.

The festival will be held in Hollywood from April 28th to May 1st, 2016.

The biggest news is that there will be a tribute to actress Gina Lollobrigida, who will appear in person at screenings of her films TRAPEZE (1956) and BUONA SERA, MRS. CAMPBELL (1968).

Also announced for the festival: Marlee Matlin attending a screening of CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (1986) and Bruce Brown attending a 50th anniversary screening of his film THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1966).

It was also announced that VOICES OF LIGHT: THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928) will be presented with a live orchestra and chorus.

World premiere restorations to screen at the festival include THE KID (1921), HORSE FEATHERS (1932), SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932), THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943), and THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM (1944).

I'll be sharing more festival updates as they're released!

Previous 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Posts: TCM Announces 2016 Festival Dates and Theme (August 28, 2015); TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements (November 17, 2015).

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...On Wednesday, February 3, Mary Carlisle will turn 102! Fans who would like to send her a birthday card or wish her well can mail her cards care of the address here. Her film MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR (1934) came out from the Warner Archive last fall.

...Great news, Netflix's GILMORE GIRLS revival started filming today! Details are available from Entertainment Weekly. There will be four 90-minute movies, each set in a different season; virtually all of the original cast will return, excepting Edward Herrmann, who died a little over a year ago. Melissa McCarthy, who has her own series, will be written in if her schedule opens up. No word on an appearance by Matt Czuchry, who now stars on THE GOOD WIFE. (February 4th Update: Matt is returning.)

...Speaking of revivals, word is bubbling up again about a possible new LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE movie.

...The O Canada Blogathon is underway! It runs through Friday, February 5th. I'll be participating in the near future!

...It's hard to believe, but almost half of U.S. households have an Amazon Prime membership. Bonus info: Here is a list of older films which stream for free on Amazon, via the Nitrate Diva.

...Last weekend Eva Marie Saint presented Robert Osborne with the Art Directors Guild's new William Cameron Menzies Award for championing classic films.

...Last month I shared news about the brand-new book on Helen Twelvetrees by Cliff Aliperti. It's now been reviewed by Ruth at Silver Screenings, KC at A Classic Movie Blog, and Kristina at Speakeasy.

...Now out from the Warner Archive: Season 4 of LAWMAN.

...Coming from the Criterion Collection on March 15th: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) on DVD and Blu-ray.

...Glenn Erickson, aka DVD Savant, has reviewed Criterion's new release of GILDA (1946).

...Here's critic Michael Sragow on one of my favorite films of the last few decades, LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992). (Via The Self-Styled Siren.)

...KC has just reviewed the new Warner Archive Western releases ROUGHSHOD (1948) and STATION WEST (1948) at A Classic Movie Blog.

...Here's a neat post I missed in December: Kim at GlamAmor on Orry-Kelly's fashion style, as seen in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942).

...Caftan Woman's "One for February" pick is BLUES IN THE NIGHT (1941).

...I hope to see THE FINEST HOURS (2016) soon, Disney's latest inspiration film which stars Chris Pine and Casey Affleck. It received positive reviews from Leonard Maltin and Kenneth Turan. A trailer is here.

...Vienna's Classic Hollywood reviews Faye Emerson in LADY GANGSTER (1942). This one is in my "watch" stack and sounds like fun!

...The 6th Street Viaduct in Los Angeles, seen in countless movies and TV shows, is being demolished as it's decaying from the inside out and must be replaced.

...Dodger Stadium's address is changing from 1000 Elysian Park Avenue to 1000 Vin Scully Avenue!

...For many more recent classic film links, please visit last week's roundup. Lots of new content on the blog this past week, too!

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

TCM in February: 31 Days of Oscar Highlights

It doesn't seem possible, but January 2016 has already come to a close! Which means it's time for 31 Days of Oscar on Turner Classic Movies!

This year each Oscar-nominated film shown is linked to the next movie by a cast member, with the very last film of the 31 Days linking back to the first film!

By its nature, the February schedule on TCM is typically short of lesser-known "discoveries," but it's filled with excellent films. It's always a particularly good month for anyone to catch up with previously unseen classics!

Here are a few highlights from this month's packed schedule! Click any hyperlinked title to read the related review.

...On Monday, February 1st, I highly recommend Doris Day and Howard Keel in CALAMITY JANE (1953). It was such a treat to see this colorful, tuneful movie with an appreciative audience at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival!

...THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), showing on February 2nd, is classic MGM Americana. The Nitrate Diva paid tribute to it in May 2014. The cast includes Mickey Rooney (never better), Van Johnson, Donna Reed, Frank Morgan, Marsha Hunt, James Craig, and Butch Jenkins.

...LITTLE WOMEN (1933) is one of those movies I can't recommend often enough. Katharine Hepburn, Frances Dee, Joan Bennett, and Jean Parker play the March sisters. It airs February 3rd. (It's on my list of "old favorites" to revisit and review here!)

...Another of Katharine Hepburn's best films was STAGE DOOR (1937), showing on February 4th. The amazing cast includes Ginger Rogers, Gail Patrick, Ann Miller, Lucille Ball, and Eve Arden.

...February 5th is one of those days it's very difficult to pick what to recommend! The schedule includes the Technicolor stunners LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) and HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943); the latter was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and his gem THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931) is also on the schedule. And so is IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)..and so is MERRILY WE LIVE (1938). A marathon might be in order!

...Anyone who hasn't yet seen the Rene Clair delight IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944), starring Dick Powell and Linda Darnell, should make it a point to catch it in the wee hours on February 7th. It's a delightful comedic fantasy which may have inspired the Kyle Chandler TV series EARLY EDITION.

...TCM is showing two versions of THE LETTER on February 11th, the 1929 version with Jeanne Eagels and the 1940 version with Bette Davis.

...My DVR is set to record Louis Hayward, Joan Bennett, and George Sanders in THE SON OF MONTE CRISTO (1941) early on February 12th.

...Although I tend to worry when many "newer" films are shown on TCM, I do plan to record HOOPER (1978), which I haven't seen since it came out. I recently reviewed a biography of stuntman-actor Jock Mahoney and read that Brian Keith's character, "Jocko," was based on his old friend Mahoney. Mahoney's stepdaughter Sally Field and daughter Princess O'Mahoney both appear in the film. HOOPER is shown on February 13th.

...You simply can't do better than John Ford's STAGECOACH (1939) on February 15th!

...One of the highlights this month is the February 17th TCM premiere of FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1944), starring Joan Fontaine and Arturo de Cordova. I saw it at UCLA two years ago, as part of a tribute to de Cordova. Incredible Technicolor! (Side note, in March TCM will have an evening of films based on Daphne Du Maurier novels; in addition to FRENCHMAN'S CREEK, Joan's sister Olivia de Havilland stars in MY COUSIN RACHEL. Strangely, they're not also including Joan's REBECCA!)

...HIGHER AND HIGHER (1943), showing on February 18th, is an old favorite I've loved since childhood. It stars a very young Frank Sinatra, and the amazing cast includes Mel Torme, Marcy McGuire, Jack Haley, Barbara Hale, Victor Borge, Michele Morgan, and Dooley Wilson, and watch for Dorothy Malone and Elaine Riley in bit roles. The score includes "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" and the Oscar-nominated "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night." Pure fun.

...Noir bliss on February 19th: Charles McGraw in THE NARROW MARGIN (1952) and Dennis O'Keefe in T-MEN (1947).

...I didn't think the Cinderella film THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (1976) was especially good, but it does have a lovely Oscar-nominated song by the Sherman Brothers, "The Slipper and the Rose Waltz." It airs February 21st.

...The night of February 22nd has a run of favorite films, starting with Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur in THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), then McCrea in Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943), and Robert Montgomery and Maureen O'Sullivan in HIDE-OUT (1934). Make a date for another marathon and watch them all!

...The plot of BLUES IN THE NIGHT (1941) might be a bit murky, but what a title song! It's hard to believe it didn't win Best Song, until you check out the competition, which included "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy," not to mention the lovely "Baby Mine" from Disney's DUMBO (1941). It's shown on February 24th. Stars include Priscilla Lane, Lloyd Nolan, Richard Whorf, and Jack Carson. (Update: BLUES IN THE NIGHT is Caftan Woman's "One for February" pick!)

...THE LONGEST DAY (1962) is one of the best WWII films ever made, with its all-star cast successfully creating "real" characters. Unforgettable performances by Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Richard Todd, and more. It's on February 25th.

...I really enjoy THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938), which will be shown on February 26th. It's a delightful romantic comedy with a stellar cast including Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Paulette Goddard, Janet Gaynor, Richard Carlson, and Roland Young. And get an eyeful of the Flying Wombat!

...Leap Day titles include Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, and an amazing cast in Howard Hawks' ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939).

...The sci-fi classic THEM! will be shown on March 1st. James Whitmore, James Arness, and Joan Weldon star, with a great supporting cast, not to mention terrific L.A. location shooting.

...The final day of the festival, on March 2nd, includes the colorful Jane Powell-Farley Granger musical SMALL TOWN GIRL (1953). This is the one with Bobby Van's "human pogo stick" dance!

For more on TCM in February, please visit the special 31 Days of Oscar microsite or the complete schedule.

Additionally, TCM's 31 Days of Oscar promo reel is on YouTube.

Tonight's Movie: Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Last year I wrote the final review for my 2014 10 Classics list on February 1st. My last review for the 2015 10 Classics list will beat that by one day. Perhaps 2016 will be the year I finish this annual project by New Year's Eve!

The final film seen from my 2015 list was the Greta Garbo-John Gilbert silent film FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926). FLESH AND THE DEVIL also starred Barbara Kent, enjoyed last year in the wonderful LONESOME (1928).

FLESH AND THE DEVIL was an elegant, beautiful film which continued to deepen my appreciation of silent cinema; it contained moments which will long linger in my memory.

Gilbert and Lars Hanson play Leo and Ulrich, soldiers who have been friends since childhood. Ulrich's sweet little sister, Hertha (Kent), crushes on Leo and dreams of attracting his romantic attention.

Leo instead falls for Felicitas (Greta Garbo), not realizing that she's married. We're shown a lingering (and rather hot) love scene, just before Felicitas's husband (Marc McDermott) comes home unexpectedly and catches Felicitas and Leo together in her bedroom.

There's a duel, and then things get really complicated when Leo is banished to serve in the army in Africa for five years. Felicitas, who had pledged to wait for Leo, sets her sights on wealthy Ulrich...

In essence it's the simple tale of a wicked woman coming between two friends, while a good woman looks on helplessly and prays. But, as is so often the case, it's the telling that makes the difference.

There are some incredible visuals, such as Leo lighting a match for Felicitas in a dark garden; Gilbert was actually holding a tiny spotlight, and it's movie magic the way it lights up their faces.

The duel is done entirely in silhouettes, foreshadowing the look of some scenes in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) decades later. All that is seen is the guns fired and the seconds running to the two men...fade to Felicitas trying on a widow's veil, smirking. In that moment, thanks to Garbo's expressions, we first begin to comprehend Felicitas was not just a woman carried away by passion, but something rather more evil.

The full extent of Felicitas' cold heart is seen in church, when she ignores the cautionary sermon of the pastor (George Fawcett), instead fixing her makeup and then ostentatiously taking a nap. When it's time for Communion, she turns the cup so that she'll be drinking exactly where Leo just drank, as she glances toward him, taunting him.

The ending is rather wild but nonetheless appropriate, as Hertha's prayers are answered in an unexpected way.

My favorite scene of all was when Leo and Felicitas say farewell before he leaves for Africa, just because it looks so striking; it's dusk and cold, the pavement is wet and the lamplighter walks by lighting the street lamps. Exquisite.

The gorgeous photography was by William Daniels, with direction by Clarence Brown. The film runs 112 well-paced minutes.

FLESH AND THE DEVIL is available as part of the TCM Archives Garbo Silents Collection. That Silents Collection is also included within the Greta Garbo Signature Collection, which is a much better deal, many more films for about the same price as buying the silents alone!

The film on this DVD contains a superb score by Carl Davis. Extras include a commentary track, featurette, and an alternate ending. I read the director didn't care for the alternate ending, but seeing it left me a more satisfied viewer.

I'm especially glad that my 10 Classics lists have pushed me to try more silents over the last few years, as it's wonderful to have an entirely new world of movie watching opening up before me!

Book Review: Jock Mahoney: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Stuntman

The career of stuntman-actor Jock Mahoney is fully captured in JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN by Gene Freese, published by McFarland & Company.

Although I'd heard his name for years, not least because he was the stepfather of Oscar-winning actress Sally Field, Jock Mahoney is someone I've just begun to appreciate relatively recently.

I'm discovering that in addition to being a talented stuntman, Mahoney was an engaging actor. I thoroughly enjoyed him in the Western SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE (1956), which prompted my interest in reading his biography; in addition to liking his performance, Mahoney's talent as a stuntman was on full display in that film. He made a couple of flying leaps which really wowed me!

I've seen Mahoney in a variety of smaller roles, and I enjoy being able to now pick out his face in early bit roles, even possibly spotting him doubling for more famous actors. I still have some of his starring roles ahead of me to see for the first time, including JOE DAKOTA (1957) and SLIM CARTER (1957).

Mahoney had a busy career as a working stuntman and actor for decades, but given that he wasn't in the top ranks of movie celebrities, I was all the more impressed with the level of detail with which Frees was able to reconstruct Mahoney's life.

Frees includes considerable details on Mahoney's early years as a high school and college athlete and his work as a lifeguard and athletic instructor at the Pacific Coast Club in Long Beach. (Coincidentally, I recently linked to an interesting article on the history of the Pacific Coast Club.) Frees was also able to reconstruct Mahoney's service record as a Marine during WWII and then the beginnings of his career as a stuntman on Charles Starrett Westerns; having made the acquaintance of director Derwin Abrahams, Mahoney taught an actor to ride a horse in a week, and the rest was history.

Mahoney initially felt he didn't have the talent to act and saw stunt work as a way to have a career in the film industry, but as author Frees notes, Mahoney had screen presence from the very start. He gradually worked his way up through the Western ranks as a stuntman, bit player, and supporting actor; offscreen he dated actresses such as Yvonne DeCarlo and Peggy Stewart before marrying Margaret Field. Chapters in the book are devoted to Mahoney's time as a stuntman, his work on the TV series RANGE RIDER and YANCEY DERRINGER, his years as a Universal Western star, his time as TARZAN, and more.

Mahoney passed away in 1989. With his subject dead for over two decades, Frees relied on numerous older articles and interviews, weaving quotes smoothly into his narrative. He also interviewed many people who met or worked with Mahoney, including people who were children at the time such as Don Reynolds, Peter Ford (son of Glenn), and Beverly Washburn. Sally Field's thoughts on her relationship with her stepfather, which had its ups and downs, were gleaned from past interviews.

JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN is a very interesting read and a must for the bookshelf of any dedicated fan of Hollywood Westerns.

JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN is a softcover which is 214 pages long, including the index. It's illustrated with photos printed directly on the book's non-glossy pages; for the most part the print quality of the photos is quite good.

Thanks to McFarland for providing a review copy of this book. The book may be ordered from McFarland at the company website or via their phone order line (800-253-2187). It may also be purchased from other sources including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Actress Elaine Riley Has Died at 98

Actress Elaine Riley, the widow of Richard "Chito" Martin, has died at the age of 98.

Riley, who was born January 15, 1917, died on December 7, 2015.

I learned of Riley's passing thanks to my friend Jerry's post on DIAL RED O (1955) as part of this weekend's Allied Artists Blogathon. At the time I reviewed the film myself earlier this month I was unaware of Riley's death.

Here she is smiling at Bill Elliott in DIAL RED O:

London's Daily Telegraph ran a nice obituary.

Riley appeared in small roles in numerous films which have been reviewed here, with a few representative examples being HIGHER AND HIGHER (1943), THE FALCON AND THE CO-EDS (1943), and THE BIG CLOCK (1948).

As time went on she won some larger roles, appearing as the leading lady in several Hopalong Cassidy Westerns such as THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND (1946), FALSE PARADISE (1948), SINISTER JOURNEY (1948), and STRANGE GAMBLE (1948).

She also starred in RIDER FROM TUCSON (1950) with Tim Holt and her husband, Richard Martin, and in THE HILLS OF UTAH (1951) with Gene Autry. Here she is with Holt in RIDER FROM TUCSON:

She guest starred on numerous TV series throughout the '50s, including multiple episodes of the Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry TV shows. She retired from acting after appearing on an episode of Rod Cameron's series CORONADO 9 in 1960.

Riley had a very long, happy marriage to Martin, best known as Tim Holt's genial sidekick in the series of RKO Westerns beloved by many. Here she is with both Holt and Martin in another shot from RIDER FROM TUCSON:

As I related in a tribute to Martin, Riley described meeting her husband to Western historian Boyd Magers: "But certainly one of the most exciting things that happened to me was the first day I was on the set at RKO when I saw Richard Martin come through a door. That's the most exciting thing that ever happened to me...About ten minutes later, over my right shoulder, I heard this voice...and there he stood. I thought, of all these people, why is this happening?"

A few months later they got to know one another on location in Carmel. They were married from 1946 until his passing in 1994, living for much of that time on Balboa Island here in Orange County, California.

For more background on Elaine Riley, an article by the East Liverpool Historical Society from her hometown in Ohio is of interest; the Society has posted more photos and news articles on her here.