The Far Horizons

Talkie of the Week: The Far Horizons

USA 1955, 108 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Rudolph Maté, Written by Winston Miller, Based on the novel Sacajawea of the Shoshones by Della Gould Emmons. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Charlton Heston, Donna Reed, Barbara Hale, William Demarest, Alan Reed, Eduardo Noriega, Larry Pennell, Julia Montoya, Ralph Moody, Herbert Heyes, Lester Matthews, Helen Wallace, Walter Reed.

Plot summary: After purchasing the Louisiana Territory in the early 1800s, President Jefferson sends Meriwether Lewis and William Clark out West to explore the new territory and claim the adjacent land leading to the Pacific Ocean for the United States.

The_Far_Horizons_1955Review: There are a lot of things one could say about Paramount Pictures’ The Far Horizons, historically correct is not one of them. As one of the few features (if not the only) ever made about the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-06), the film is a piece of fiction rather than a serious rendition of actual events. Dominated by a dramatic love story, the film borrowed an exciting setting to weave a colorful story around an adventure that in itself bears enough material for two feature-length adaptations. Based on Sacajawea of the Shoshones though, a novel by Della Gould Emmons, The Far Horizons falls sadly short of paying tribute to a now famous team of brave explorers.

Sacajawea, although praised as a key figure of the successful expedition, is but a mere shadow of the actual historic figure. Donna Reed – refurbished with a wig, her skin a deep made-up brown – did a decent job transforming herself into a native teenager who, as fiction would have it, falls in love with Charlton Heston’s philandering Lieutenant Clark. But the spark is strangely missing. Reduced to an unfortunate loser in love, Fred MacMurray did his best to flesh out his version of Meriwether Lewis, a man who (in real life) presumably committed suicide a few short years after completing his expedition but was on friendly terms with his fellow explorers. Barbara Hale played Julia Hancock, a young woman who choses Clark over Lewis in the beginning of the movie and has to deal with her fiancé’s change of heart when he returns to Washington in the end. Although none of the heartache ever happened, Barbara Hale’s scenes with the main characters are heartbreaking and one of the reasons to give this picture an honest chance. It’s also a plus to see this film released in widescreen format on DVD. Produced in Technicolor and VistaVision, the nature shots are beautiful and even breathtaking at times, the quality genuinely mid-1950s.

In general, The Far Horizons is not the kind of film you may turn to more than once (unless you are a fan of one of the above mentioned actors). Rated by Time Magazine as one of top ten historically most misleading films in 2011, the plot definitely leaves a lot to be desired. It is still a film, however, that – despite its many controversies – also has acting highlights towards the end and even offers discreet comments about society, including the status of the female sex.

Watch the original trailer here.

True Grit

Talkie of the Week: True Grit

USA 1969, 128 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Henry Hathaway, Written by Marguerite Roberts, Based on “True Grit” by Charles Portis. Cast: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, John Fiedler, Jeremy Slate, Alfred Ryder, Ron Soble, James Westerfield, John Doucette, Donald Woods, Edith Atwater, Carlos Rivas, Isabel Boniface, H. W. Gim, John Pickard, Elizabeth Harrower, Ken Renard, Jay Ripley and Kenneth Becker

Plot summary: 14-year-old Mattie Ross hires Marshall Rooster Cogburn to hunt down her father’s murderer and bring him to justice with a little help of Texas Ranger La Boeuf.

Review: True Grit was my first John Wayne Western, a fact I admit with some shame because he was such a heavy weight in Hollywood and a talented star in his fifty years on the silver screen, I should have started exploring his work much earlier than I did. But there are so many beautiful classics out there, so many favorites whose work I haven’t completely gotten my hands on just yet, John Wayne somehow fell behind as a priority. Once I did see him in True Grit, however, I felt inveigled to put him up high on my list. After all, his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn spoke to me much more than the only recently celebrated interpretation by Jeff Bridges.

Remake or original, that may be the question here to ask. Although, in 1975, John Wayne himself already reclaimed the part that had brought him his well-deserved Academy Award. In Rooster Cogburn, he starred with Katherine Hepburn, chasing after the murderer of her father, a plot that may sound slightly familiar to everyone who has seen True Grit in 1969 or 2010.  So was it so bad for the Coen Brothers to re-imagine this John Wayne classic? Well, it probably depends on how fond you are of contemporary interpretations. I didn’t like True Grit much when I saw the adaptation from 2010, but liked it better with John Wayne, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby. That said, I should add that the story itself is not my favorite, not so much for its general content, but for the character of Mattie Ross. But the original film in general is a real gem, telling the story of an interesting journey with an interesting end. So for anyone who enjoys a Western without any Indians, do pick this one as your after-dinner treat. You may be surprised how fast two hours can evaporate by watching a decent movie.

Available on DVD and BluRay. True Grit trailer available here.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Talkie of the Week: Sorry, Wrong Number

USA 1948, 89 minutes, black & white, Paramount Pictures. Director: Anatole Litvak, Written by Lucille Fletcher, Based on the radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number” by Lucille Fletcher, Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Harold Vermilyea, Ed Begley, Leif Erickson, William Conrad, John Bromfield, Jimmy Hunt, Dorothy Neumann, Paul Fierro

Plot summary: Leona Stevenson overhears two men plotting a murder of a woman who turns out to be herself.

Review: Today, the lovely Barbara Stanwyck would have celebrated her 105th birthday. In dear memory of an unforgettable leading lady, I have thus decided to present Sorry, Wrong Number, a film noir for which she received her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1949.

Originally a radio play that featured Agnes Moorehead in a solo performance in 1943, Sorry, Wrong Number was turned into a screenplay by Lucille Fletcher, the playwright herself, and conquered the silver screen in the fall of 1948. Starring Barbara Stanwyck as invalid Leona Stevenson who overhears two men plotting a murder on the phone, the story is dark and suspenseful in writing, as well as in effect. Told in real time with the use of explanatory flashbacks, Leona’s desperate attempt to inform the authorities are as futile as her effort to reach her husband. The phone, as her only medium of communication with the outside world, turns into a beacon of hope and sorrow when she finally realizes
that the victim is going to be herself. Haunting in her desperation, Barbara Stanwyck’s performance is never quiet but rather striking in its fierceness and color. Supported by an excellent co-star, Burt Lancaster, as Henry Stevenson and an overall convincing cast, Ms. Stanwyck’s fear and constriction reaches an almost tangible level with every phone call she places, every secret she learns. Her face reflects the horrid situation she finds herself trapped in, the mere panic she begins to absorb. It is the music by Franz Waxman and the expert use of shadows and light which does the rest, affecting the audience with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Reclaiming her role as Leona on CBS’ Lux Radio Theater in 1950, Barbara Stanwyck showed her full range of emotions in a part that was the last to get her the attention from the Motion Picture Academy until she finally received an Honorary Oscar in 1981. As one of her many films that left a mark until today, Sorry, Last Number is a classic that never gets old but has the potential to attract an entire new generation of fans. With its enthralling style and Ms. Stanwyck’s powerhouse performance, the film is perfect to bring sunshine to an autumn-like July and a beautiful way to honor her today.

Available on DVD, CD and as radio podcast.

Buckskin

Talkie of the Week: Buckskin

USA 1968, 97 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Michael D. Moore, Producer: A. C. Lyles, Written by: Jimmie Haskell. Cast: Barry Sullivan, Joan Caulfield, Wendell Corey, Lon Chaney Jr., John Russell, Barbara Hale, Bill Williams, Barton MacLane, Richard Arlen, Leo Gordon, Jean-Michel Michenaud, George Chandler, Aki Aleong, Michael Larrain, Craig Littler, James X. Mitchell, Emile Meyer, Robert Riordan, Leroy Johnson, Manuela Thiess

Plot summary: Marshall Chaddock tries to bring order to a remote Western town which has been controlled by local crook Rep Marlowe. He seeks the support of the homesteaders who are ready to sell out and take flight until Chaddock proves to be willing to risk his life to fight for justice.

Review: Buckskin is a film made in true Western tradition featuring a full cast of well-known Western names and faces. Barry Sullivan leads the excellent group of actors as Montana Territorial Marshall Chaddock who comes to Glory Hole as an outsider with his halfbreed son Akii (Jean-Michel Michenaud). Their introduction to local homesteaders (wedded acting team Barbara Hale and Bill Williams, as well as their on-screen son Michael Larrain) is awkward and almost painful to watch, but not because the performances would lack depth or appeal. It’s the characters’ hardship that’s rather apparent from the get-go. The homesteaders have long given up on expecting help from anybody, let alone outsiders coming in with a promise to turn things for the better. It takes some drastic measures to convince them to support a man who finally lives up to what he says…

Buckskin is a typical tale of the lone Western hero, beautifully told with a touch of the late 1960s and thus a slight political undertone. Barry Sullivan gives a convincing performance of his character’s stubborn effort to win allies in an area that once belonged to his son’s forefathers and is now controlled by a greedy crook. When he ultimately succeeds, the fight for justice does not come without sacrifice for those who have struggled with unfortunate circumstances all their lives. Supporting cast members Barbara Hale and Bill Williams give strong performances as homesteaders Sarah and Frank Cody whose lives are affected by both, Chaddock and Marlowe, in unfortunate and unpleasant ways. Joan Caulfield gives an equally convincing portrayal of school teacher gone barmaid Nora Johnson. Her fate contrasts Sarah Cody’s, but strangely resembles it in a way. Both of their lives have been severely influenced by the men surrounding them, which adds a mild sense of women’s rights to the story.

All in all, Buckskin is a worthy pick for everybody who enjoys to watch a mature cast of fabulous actors in a Western scenery with a moral in the end to pass on to your kids. A great flick for a rainy Sunday afternoon, tissues included if you are as hooked on powerful yet subtle emotional scenes as I am.

Available on VHS.