7th Cavalry

Talkie of the Week: 7th Cavalry

USA 1956, 75 minutes, technicolor, Columbia Pictures. Director: Joseph H. Lewis, Written by Peter Packer, Based on the story “A Horse for Mrs. Custer” by Glendon Swarthout. Cast: Randolph Scott, Barbara Hale, Jay C. Flippen, Frank Faylen, Jeanette Nolan, Leo Gordon, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey Jr., Michael Pate, Donald Curtis, Frank Wilcox, Pat Hogan, Russell Hicks, Peter Ortiz.

Plot summary: After Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn, Captain Benson returns to Indian territory to bring back the bodies and atone for his absence from the doomed battle.

7th Cavalry posterReview: When Tom Benson returns to Fort Lincoln, he learns about General Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn. The Captain himself was absent from the crucial battle in Indian territory. With Custer’s permission, he accompanied his young bride Martha Kellogg on her journey to their new home. Accused of cowardice and misguided loyalty to his mentor Custer now fallen from grace, Captain Benson volunteers to retrieve the bodies of his fellow men. With a group of unlikely heroes, he returns to what the victorious Sioux consider sacred ground to execute the President’s orders to give the fallen soldiers a decent burial.

7th Cavalry, like many Westerns, is a story based on historical facts but not faithfully so. Adapted from a story by Glendon Swarthout, the film depicts the aftermath of the Battle of Little Big Horn without focusing on General Custer. Although an absentee main character, Custer only serves as a background figure to introduce the film’s actual hero, Captain Tom Benson. Played by Randolph Scott, Benson is the outcast survivor of a battle he didn’t attend but cannot escape. As a soldier, he doesn’t only have to cope with the the loss of his company but also with the downfall of his fallen superior, a man whom he has admired for his decency and expertise. Confronted with mistrust and criticism by a military Board of Inquiry led by the father of his wife-to-be, Benson masters the art of walking the fine line of duty and allegiance, convincingly stressed in Scott’s performance. Supported by a gracefully devoted Barbara Hale as Martha Kellogg, the actor led a decent ensemble in a film that captivates with words rather than action. Calm and slow paced, 7th Cavalry is not a John Wayne Western, nor a movie for an impatient crowd. It is a movie with a charm of its own, made for an audience who doesn’t mind following a wide array of dialog until the hero finally takes off to follow his destiny.

Beautifully cast and shot in Mexico, the film offers a look back at a time when films were not yet dominated by special effects and CGI. Although lengthy and verbose for some, 7th Cavalry has its definite perks for anyone who’s fond of a quieter performance style and demure storyline. Blessed with the talents of Western veteran Randolph Scott, as well as Barbara Hale’s often underestimated naturalness and warmth, the film deserves to be preserved for an audience who appreciates uncelebrated classics and their place in film history.

Get a glimpse of 7th Cavalry here.

Fury

TV classics: Fury

USA 1955-60, five seasons, 116 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, black & white. Cast: Peter Graves, Bobby Diamond, Jimmy Baird, William Fawcett, Roger Mobley, Ann Robinson.

Plot summary: “The story of a horse and the boy who loved him.”

Review: As an orphan, Joey Clark never had an easy life. When Jim Newton witnesses a fight the boy wins over a bigger rival, both of their lives change forever. Jim lost his wife and son to an accident and has lived alone since. Brining Joey home to his Broken Wheel ranch, he doesn’t only show him a life of hard work, freedom and adventure, but also introduces him to a wild Mustang called Fury. Independent in spirit and dangerous to experienced horsemen, the horse calms down in Joey’s presence and becomes the kind of friend Joey never had.

As one of those children’s favorites that re-ran for years after the show’s conclusion, Fury is dearly remembered by anyone who grew up with classic, quality shows. Value-laden, innocent and exciting, each episode focused on Joey’s friendship with the dark horse and the lessons the boy learned from his substitute father, farm hands and weekly adventures. Intelligent, heroic and gentle with his human friend, the Mustang was the main attraction of a show that allowed each child to be a cowboy for a while, inviting them to ride along with Joey every week. Available now on DVD as an incomplete collection, the show still has the potential to fire the imagination of members of all generations.

Don’t you already hear Joey calling out Fury’s name? Aren’t you already looking for your Fury lunch box in the basement and feel like dusting it off for your (grand)kids?! I don’t know about you, but with a gem like this on my shelves, I cannot wait to feel like a kid again – if only for a moment – and then pass it on to the next generation.

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.

Big Valley

TV classics: Big Valley

USA 1965-69, 4 seasons,  112 episodes, approximately 45-50 minutes each, ABC, color. Created by: A.I. Bezzerides and Louis F. Edelman. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Long, Lee Majors, Linda Evans, Peter Breck

Plot summary: In the heart of California, widowed matriarch Victoria Barkley, her adult sons and stubborn daughter Audra live a wealthy and influential life in the Big Valley.

Review: The Big Valley is a Western show. If you don’t like the genre, you may possibly not enjoy this program. If you find yourself biased however, do try to give this series a chance. It has a stellar cast, led by Hollywood legend Barbara Stanwyck. In true Golden Hollywood star tradition, her portrayal of Victoria Barkley is eye candy and ranges from up-lifting to draining, depending on the plot of the episodes she was allowed to shine in. Lee Majors is another worthy reason to pick this show who earned his stripes starring on this program before he became TV’s Six Million Dollar Man and Fall Guy in the 1970s and 80s. These two screen favorites are successfully surrounded by Linda Evans’ early talents (before she butt heads with Joan Collins on Dynasty), Richard Long and Peter Breck.

The Big Valley is one of those gems whose cast sparks off each other on screen. It is a real joy to watch their characters hunt down evil-doers, catch cattle or fist fight to make a point. Victoria Barkley as the family matriarch is a real lady who dotes on her sons and always has a wise remark. Her only daughter Audra has her poise and a lot of temper, and to her mother’s disdain, a rather free spirit. The Barkley sons, including the late Thomas Barkley illegitimate son Heath (Lee Majors), are all alike in their dedication to the family ranch, while their characters couldn’t be any more different. Nick, the hothead, Jared, the politician and Heath, the handyman. Together they form an invincible team, in spite of their arguments and dissimilarities in approaching trouble. Another treat is definitely California and the scenery that was chosen for the show, always breathtaking and beautiful.

Unfortunately, after four short seasons and in spite of its popularity, the show was canceled in 1969 due to pressure from the network to replace it with modern programs. Westerns were regarded as an outdated genre, one of which is dearly missed these days and successful in reruns or on DVD.

Available on DVD.

Bill Williams

To those of you who are as enthusiastic about classic TV gems as I am, the name Bill Williams will ring a bell as one of television’s most charming leading men gone frequent guest star.

Career: Born in Brooklyn, New York on May 21, 1915* as Hermann Katt, Bill Williams started his career as a dancer in Vaudeville. Picking up on his expertise as a professional swimmer, he appeared in aquatic underwater shows before he broke into film business. Following army service, he started out working as an extra and played small, often uncredited parts in the mid 1940s before he finally landed a contract with RKO.

As a contract player, he was frequently cast as a budding co-star, opposite Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward or wife Barbara Hale. Bit by bit, he got a chance to show off his talents as the handsome leading man, mostly starring in entertaining B movies from all genres, including Westerns and film noir.

In the 1950s, Bill turned his attention to TV and landed the lead in The Adventures of Kit Carson for a four season run from 1951 to 1954. The show was a great success and turned him into a household name and Western hero, especially idolized by children. In 1957, another TV show followed, Date of the Angels, in which he starred opposite TV darling Betty White. Although promising, entertaining and a lot less strenuous to work on, the show unfortunately did not last longer than a season. In 1960, Bill gave TV another shot as a leading man, putting his efforts into an underwater adventure show called Assignment: Underwater, a program modeled after Sea Hunt.

Apart from working on feature films and TV movies, Bill Williams had successful stints as host and guest star on numerous popular TV programs in the 1960s and 70s, including his wife’s smash hit Perry Mason and family friend Raymond Burr’s follow-up show Ironside. In 1981 then, Bill retired from acting completely and retreated to pursuing his many interests outside of Hollywood.

Characters: Although originally a city boy, Bill Williams was frequently cast as a convincing and handsomely talented cowboy. With his boyish grin, tender eyes and natural athletic charm, he was the perfect ‘good guy’, a true mother-in-law’s dream. He worked hard at doing most of his own stunts, oozed honesty and a down-to-earth mentality. It’s not really a surprise that he memorably worked his way into the hearts of an entire generation of kids when he starred as TV’s Kit Carson. It would be a pity though to remember him for only that.

Not unlike his marvelous wife, Bill is often remembered for his one career-defining role. Now I’m here to ask you to check out more of his work. Go beyond his favorable Western show and check out his other work, feature films and TV guest stardom, either way. You will not regret it, especially if you have a look at the lovely programs and projects he starred in with Mrs. Williams aka Barbara Hale.

Family business: On RKO grounds ca. 1944, Bill Williams met fellow RKO contract player and actress Barbara Hale. According to a Movie Stars Parade article from 1948, they were introduced by acting coach Lillian Albertson, although later articles suggest that they met on the set of West of Pecos which was released in 1945. Either way, Bill and Barbara got married in June 1946 and started working together on a frequent basis.

Together they had two daughters and one son, actor William Katt, born in 1947, 1951 and 1953, and several grandchildren. For the most part, they lived a rather quiet simple life in the San Fernando Valley area, enjoying forty-six years of matrimony until Bill Williams passed away on September 21, 1992 at the age of 77.

Bill and his wife starred side by side in several movies and TV projects, including West of Pecos, A Likely Story, The Clay Pigeon, Young Couples Only, Slim Carter, her TV hit show Perry Mason, Buckskin, Insight, The Giant Spider Invasion and Flight of the Grey Wolf.

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Barbara Hale

Most people who are familiar with the name Barbara Hale will probably remember her as Perry Mason‘s ever loyal and faithful secretary Della Street. Only few people know that she had a movie career going before her most prominent role determined so many years of her life.

Career: Originally from Rockford, Illinois, Barbara Hale started out as an art scholar who began to model for fellow students while she was attending the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Soon after, she started modeling for a comic strip called Ramblin’ Bill and found additional work as a fashion model before she was sent out to California to test for RKO where she received a six-month tryout contract with the studio which included singing and dancing lessons. After a couple of uncredited appearances in RKO movies, Barbara got a full contract and made her debut as a supporting actress opposite Frank Sinatra in 1943’s Higher and Higher.

In 1944, she landed her first big part in the Zane Grey Western West of Pecos, opposite Robert Mitchum, and secured herself bigger parts in six more movies, including First Yank into Tokyo and The Window, as well as in A Likely Story and The Clay Pigeon alongside her newly wed husband Bill Williams, before she left the uncertain RKO studio situation in 1948. She managed to win a new contract with Columbia and convinced the studio of her talents opposite Larry Parks in Jolson Sings Again. In 1949, she reunited with former RKO colleague and Lady Luck co-star Robert Young for And Baby Makes Three, before she starred alongside James Stewart in The Jackpott one year later. In 1950, Barbara reunited with Larry Parks for Emergency Wedding before she managed to get the lead in Lorna Doone. In 1953 then, Barbara returned to making Westerns and was cast for Last of the Comanches. A couple of other successful Westerns produced by Columbia and other studios followed, including Seminole and The Lone Hand in 1953, The Far Horizons in 1955, 7th Cavalry in 1956, The Oklahoman and Slim Carter in 1957.

After the birth of her children, Barbara slowly cut back on her film career and, starting in 1953, took on more and more TV work, also to support her husband’s flourishing career as TV’s Kit Carson. In 1957, after a number of guest appearances on popular shows, she was finally cast as Perry Mason‘s infamously steadfast secretary Della Street. Although reluctant about accepting a regular supporting role at the time because her children were still small, Barbara signed her contract without imagining that the show would last as long as nine years. The part of Della Street did not only earn her worldwide recognition and fame, but also two Emmy nominations, including one win for best supporting actress in 1959.

After Perry Mason was terminated in 1966, Barbara reclaimed her guest starring qualities and starred in several popular TV shows of the time. In 1971, she became the television spokesperson for Amana kitchen supplies while she continued working as a supporting actress on a couple of movies, including Airport in 1970 and Big Wednesday in 1978, before  Perry Mason successfully returned to the small screen in 1985 for another ten-year run. Since the completion of the Perry Mason TV movies in 1995, Barbara unfortunately has not appeared in any other TV or movie role. However, recent interviews with her are available on the 50th Anniversary of Perry Mason DVD.

Characters: Barbara’s most iconic character, without a doubt, is Della Street, the always devoted secretary to Raymond Burr’s equally iconic Perry Mason. It is also the most recognized one, both by the industry and by a worldwide TV audience who has cherished her talents, as well as her on-screen chemistry with her lifelong friend Raymond Burr. Della Street, although smart and independent, is also very different from the characters Barbara Hale used to play before committing herself to that part.

In the 1940s and 50s, Barbara’s film characters were strong, opinionated women. Stubborn at times. But rarely as quiet as Della Street used to be. Her parts differed from movie to movie, something she greatly appreciated. She was a tough army nurse in First Yank into Tokyo, who does her best to cope with the harsh realities of war captivity. In West of Pecos, she was a stubborn but lively upper class city girl who tries to adapt to the Wild West by posing as a boy. In A Likely Story, she portrayed an artist who not only took care of her baby brother, but also came to New York to have her big break before she falls in love with a stranger. In The Window she played a hard-boiled lower Est Side mother of a boy with a very vivid imagination. In Emergency Wedding she was a doctor whose profession means more to her than being married or settling down…

The list is endless, the variety of her characters’ backgrounds, stories and attitudes is as vast as the genres she starred in: film noir, Western, drama, comedy. She mastered them all with her congenial on-screen presence, her Midwestern charm and genuinely warm voice. She easily handled the stories about the all-American women she so often played: housewives, pioneer women, academics, working girls or divorcees. And despite these different characteristics, her parts all have one thing in common: Barbara Hale’s warmhearted depiction of them. No matter how tough, demure, funny or hysterical a character supposedly was, Barbara showed their emotional side without exaggeration. She made them believable, down-to-earth. Turned them into real people. Something that mattered most to her.

Although not every role allowed her to use her radiant smile, Barbara always managed to find a way to add diversity and empathy to her parts. Something that makes the audience feel for her characters, side, cry or laugh with them. In The Houston Story for instance, which is a rather unusual example for Barbara’s work, she starred as platinum blonde Zoe Crane, a nightclub singer who is basically trying to survive in a criminal world she cannot really control. Although sultry and manipulative, Zoe Crane wins over the sympathy of her audience. She is not going to be pigeonholed. And the same goes for Barbara’s many other characters who always showed an alluring mix of heartiness, skill and and energy. Not that Della Street didn’t, but as the 1950s secretary, her attitude had to be way more subtle, more dignified, and a lot less bubbly than most of Barbara’s other memorable characters. In the 1980s and 90s however, Barbara also got to add a little more spice to her longtime alter ego which tied in beautifully with her genuine sensibility, her great intuition for supporting Perry Mason.

Family business: In 1946, Barbara Hale got married to fellow RKO contract player Bill Williams whom she had met on studio grounds in 1944. They were happily married for 46 years and lived a rather “quiet” life in the San Fernando Valley area until Bill died in September 1992. Together they had three children, born in 1947, 1951 and 1953, and several grandchildren.

Barbara and her husband starred together in several movies and TV projects, including West of Pecos, A Likely Story, The Clay Pigeon, Young Couples Only, Slim Carter, Perry Mason, Buckskin, Insight, The Giant Spider Invasion and Flight of the Grey Wolf.

Barbara also starred alongside actor son William Katt in Big Wednesday and The Greatest American Hero, as well as in nine Perry Mason TV movies.

Filmography:

  • 1985-1995 Perry Mason Returns (TV movies) – Della Street, 30 episodes
  • 1982 The Greatest American Hero (TV series)  – Who’s Woo in America (1982)
  • 1978 Big Wednesday
  • 1978 The Young Runaways (TV movie)
  • 1976 Flight of the Grey Wolf (TV movie)
  • 1975 The Giant Spider Invasion
  • 1974 Marcus Welby, M.D. (TV series) – The Faith of Childish Things (1974)
  • 1973 Chester, Yesterday’s Horse (TV movie)
  • 1972 The Doris Day Show (TV series) – Doris’ House Guest (1972)
  • 1971 Adam-12 (TV series) – Pick-up (1971)
  • 1971 Ironside (TV series) – Murder Impromptu (1971)
  • 1970 The Most Deadly Game (TV series) – Model for Murder (1970)
  • 1970 The Red, White, and Black
  • 1970 Airport
  • 1969 Lassie (TV series) – Lassie and the Water Bottles (1969)
  • 1969 Insight (TV series) – A Thousand Red Flowers (1969)
  • 1968 Buckskin
  • 1967 Custer (TV series) – Death Hunt (1967)
  • 1957-1966 Perry Mason (TV series) – Della Street, 9 seasons, 271 episodes
  • 1955-1959 G.E. True Theater (TV series) – Night Club (1959), The Windmill (1955)
  • 1958 Desert Hell
  • 1957 Slim Carter
  • 1957 The Oklahoman
  • 1956-1957 Playhouse 90 (TV series) – The Blackwell Story (1957) (unconfirmed), The Country Husband (1956)
  • 1956 7th Cavalry
  • 1956 The Millionaire (TV series) – The Kathy Munson Story (1956)
  • 1956 Crossroads (TV series) – Lifeline (1956)
  • 1956 Star Stage (TV series) – The Guardian (1956)
  • 1952-1956 The Ford Television Theatre (TV series) – Behind the Mask (1956), Remember to Live (1954), The Divided Heart (1952)
  • 1956 The Houston Story
  • 1956 Damon Runyon Theater (TV series) – The Good Luck Kid (1956)
  • 1956 The Loretta Young Show (TV series) – The Challenge (1956)
  • 1955 Climax! (TV Series) – The Day They Gave Babies Away (1955)
  • 1955 Science Fiction Theatre (TV series) – The Hastings Secret (1955), Conversation with an Ape (1955)
  • 1955 Celebrity Playhouse (TV series) – He Knew All About Women (1955)
  • 1955 Screen Directors Playhouse (TV series) – Meet the Governor (1955)
  • 1955 Studio 57 (TV series) – Young Couples Only (1955)
  • 1955 The Far Horizons
  • 1953-1955 Schlitz Playhouse (TV series) – Tourists–Overnight (1955), Vacation for Ginny (1953)
  • 1955 Unchained
  • 1955 Young Couples Only (TV short)
  • 1953 A Lion Is in the Streets
  • 1953 Footlights Theater (TV series) – Change of Heart (1953)
  • 1953 The Lone Hand
  • 1953 Seminole
  • 1953 Last of the Comanches
  • 1952 The First Time
  • 1951 Lorna Doone
  • 1950 Emergency Wedding
  • 1950 The Jackpot
  • 1949 And Baby Makes Three
  • 1949 Jolson Sings Again
  • 1949 The Window
  • 1949 The Clay Pigeon
  • 1948 The Boy with Green Hair
  • 1947 A Likely Story
  • 1946 Lady Luck
  • 1945 First Yank Into Tokyo
  • 1945 West of the Pecos
  • 1944 The Falcon in Hollywood
  • 1944 Heavenly Days
  • 1944 Goin’ to Town
  • 1944 The Falcon Out West
  • 1944 Prunes and Politics (short)
  • 1943 Higher and Higher
  • 1943 Around the World
  • 1943 Government Girl
  • 1943 Gildersleeve on Broadway
  • 1943 The Iron Major
  • 1943 The Seventh Victim
  • 1943 Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event
  • 1943 Gildersleeve’s Bad Day

Availability:

  • DVD: Higher and Higher, The Falcon in Hollywood, The Falcon Out West, West of Pecos, The Boy with Green Hair, The Clay Pigeon, The Window, Jolson Sings Again, And Baby Makes Three, The Jackpot, Emergency Wedding, Lorna Doone, The First Time, Seminole, A Lion in the Streets, Young Couples Only, Unchained, Far Horizons, Crossroads, The Oklahoman, Perry Mason TV series, Airport, Ironside, Adam 12, The Giant Spider Invasion, Flight of the Grey Wolf, Big Wednesday, The Greatest American Hero, Perry Mason Returns
  • VHS: The Seventh Victim, A Likely Story, First Yank into Tokyo, The Jackpott, The Last of the Comanches, The Houston Story, 7th Cavalry, Perry Mason, Buckskin, The Red White and Black, The Giant Spider Invasion, Flight of the Grey Wolf, Big Wednesday, Perry Mason TV movies
  • Online: Adam 12 – “Pick-Up”, Custer – “Death Hunt”, The Doris Day Show – “Doris’ House Guest”,  Insight – “A Thousand Red Flowers”, Ironside – “Murder Impromptu”, Young Couples Only

Personal recommendations (in alphabetical order):

  • Adam 12 – “Pick-Up”, 1971
  • Buckskin, 1968
  • The Clay Pigeon, 1949
  • The Falcon in Hollywood, 1944
  • The First Time, 1952
  • Ford Television Theatre – “Remember to Live”, 1954
  • G.E. True Theater – “Night Club”, 1959
  • G.E. True Theater – “The Windmill”, 1955
  • The Houston Story, 1956
  • Insight – “A Thousand Red Flowers”, 1969
  • The Jackpot, 1950
  • Jolson Sings Again, 1949
  • A Likely Story, 1947
  • The Lone Hand, 1953
  • The Oklahoman, 1957
  • Perry Mason TV series, 1957-66
  • Perry Mason TV movies, 1985-95
  • The Window, 1949

Sources for more information on Barbara Hale: