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.

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Seminole

Talkie of the Week: Seminole

USA 1953, 87 minutes, color, Universal Pictures. Director: Budd Boetticher, Written by Charles K. Peck Jr., Cast: Rock Hudson, Barbara Hale, Anthony Quinn, Richard Carlson, Hugh O’Brian, Russell Johnson, Lee Marvin, Ralph Moody, Fay Roope, James Best, John Dahaim.

Plot summary: When Lt. Caldwell returns to his Florida home to serve at Fort King, he is faced with a strict commander who endangers the peaceful co-existence with the Seminole Indians.

Review: Set in 1835, Seminole tells the story of Lt. Caldwell who is accused of murder of a sentry at Fort King near the Everglades where the Seminole Indians lived in peace with the white settlers until Major Degan took command. Played by Rock Hudson, Caldwell is an honest soldier who grew up in the area and thus knows the Everglades as more than just hostile land. Familiar with the territory, he is a helpful asset to Fort King, but it is his love for Revere Muldoon (Barbara Hale) that actually made him return to his childhood home. Originally a peaceful tribe in the region, the Seminole Indians are now fighting the soldiers at Fort King, first and foremost by their leader Osceola (Anthony Quinn). Seeking a way to negotiate with Osceola, Lt. Caldwell finds his plans thwarted by Major Degan (Richard Carlson) whose misguided ambition poses a threat not only to the settlers and Seminoles, but also to his own men. With the help of Revere, Caldwell tries to avoid a conflict before it gets out of hand, only to find himself charged with murder at the end of a gory battle in the midst of the swampy Everglades.

Blessed with a convincing cast, Seminole was primarily shot in the Everglades National Park in Florida, a place that added to the sweltry atmosphere of this unusual Western. Led by Rock Hudson as handsome and righteous Lt. Caldwell, the actors did a wonderful job breathing life into characters whose destiny is connected and tied to the swamps, especially Osceola’s. Anthony Quinn, always strong as a “noble savage”, shined particularly in the presence of Barbara Hale whose Revere Muldoon is a heroine on her own merit, alluring and strong.

Available on DVD, the film is the perfect treat for anyone who enjoys an ensemble of good actors whose leading stars created a sizzling chemistry on screen. The story itself is suspenseful and dramatic, turning this classic into a perfect gem, especially for those of us who prefer some romance over a blanket to keep ourselves warm in this cold October season.

Seminole trailer

Dragnet

TV classics: Dragnet

USA 1951-59, 8 seasons,  276 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, black & white. Narrated by George Fenneman and Hal Gibney, Created and produced by Jack Webb. Cast: Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Recurring cast members: Olan Soule, Vic Perrin, Ralph Moody, Walter Sande, Harry Bartell, Art Balinger, Jack Kruschen, Art Gilmore, Herb Vigran, Barney Phillips, Herbert Ellis, Virginia Gregg, Bert Holland, Lillian Powell, Natalie Masters, Victor Rodman, Harry Morgan et al.

Plot summary: Based on real cases, the crime show offered an insight into the challenges of the police force in Los Angeles, following the daily work of Sergeant Joe Friday and his partner(s).

Review: Following his small role in the movie He walked by Night from 1948, Jack Webb created a crimes series of his own liking. Researching real police work and driving night patrols with police officer and technical film advisor Marty Wynn, Webb sought the endorsement of the LAPD with a promise to depict their work in a realistic and unbiased way. Supported by NBC for a small number of episodes, Dragnet entered America’s living rooms on radio in 1949 before it also premiered on television two years later.

Not an immediate hit, the show did well as soon as it conquered the small screen, weekly featuring a new drastic case. Introduced by a narrator who assured the audience that the story they were about to see was true, each case was built around Sgt. Joe Friday, his partner(s) and the different types of crime they were confronted with. Often mentioning the specific situation in L.A., the series showed a very different side of the city’s police force and was sometimes criticized for leaving out internal problems. All in all however, Dragnet gave a well-rounded introduction to general police work and looked at crimes from an investigative point of view.

Starting out with “The Human Bomb” in 1951, Joe Friday was supported by a variety of well-known regulars and guest stars of the time until the show ended in 1959. It was picked up again in color eight years later and lasted another three seasons, earning criticism as well as praise for its depiction of the so-called counterculture of the late 1960s. Today, the show offers a great look back at a time that was different in some, but not in every way. After all, Los Angeles, like any big city, has never been a cushioned place to live in.

Selected episodes available online in public domain. Sample episode, “The Human Bomb”, season 1, episode 1 (with Raymond Burr).