Archive for the ‘Edgar Buchanan’ Category


20 Sep

Shane –– produced and directed by George Stevens. Western. A stranger pitches in to help some homesteaders in Montana and finds himself caught up in their struggle and destiny. 118 minutes Color.


Sam Peckenpaugh said it is the greatest Western ever made, and it probably is, for this reason: Westerns both begin and end with it. For it is a movie about how we see Westerns. It is told through the eyes of an eight year-old boy. He sees the Western hero as we as all have seen him and desired him to be, gone to Westerns to contemplate, desire, and idolize him. What’s important is that the boy is eight; he is at that stage where his pheromones are open to drink in what he must become as a male, what is inherent in the gender, where the gentleness of a gentleman is housed and demonstrated. As Alan Ladd plays it, he is nothing if not a gentleman. For him guns are the last resort, and Stevens, who had seen World War II and its guns and the criminality that war is, uses a cannon when guns go off to shock the audience into the knowledge that a gun is dreadful. And by hooking Elijah Cook Junior up to a jerk line that knocks him backward off his feet violently when he is shot, shows that when a man is shot a life dies in a crude, sudden, ugly way. Stevens sets it under the mountains of The Grand Tetons, which he films with a telephoto lens to bring them forward as cold, distant Gods sitting in their tremendous chairs watching the little doings down there in the vast valley, and he mats his adversarial faces as beautiful against a scripture of clouds scrawling across a huge blue sky. Never in a film has spectacle and intimacy been so strikingly joined. Jean Arthur brings to a close her great film career playing the pacifist wife laboring in dirty shirts to make a home for her husband and boy. She is so naturally plaintive that you cannot but respect her decency in that and in her attraction to Shane himself. Van Heflin as her homesteader husband fills the role with full value. He is one of those actors, like Charles Coburn, who satisfies a part by never slacking and never overloading it. He is a lesson to all actors of how modesty of technique can achieve the role of moral authority that a certain role requires. When Shane takes down Jack Palance (in his first screen role), it is Brandon DeWilde as the boy spying agog who stands in for us as we have always been spying, adoring the Western hero in films, prizing the gun-skills, justifying the slaughter because of its elegance and daring and aim. We have watched Westerns all our lives as DeWilde’s Joey watches Shane. We call ourselves into question because of the habit. How real are these heroes in us and to us? Westerns changed forever after Shane. Cowboys could no longer sing once this song was sung.


Penny Serenade

11 Jul

Penny Serenade – directed by George Stevens. Women’s Weeper. A married couple try raising a family and are met with internal and external obstacles. 119 minutes Black and white 1941.


If you can prepare yourself to suffer through the insufferable Irene Dunne and through this gluey soap opera, there are splendid rewards. Edgar Buchanan as the crusty sidekick and family friend has such perfect timing and governance of his instrument that none of it is noticeable. What a treat he is! And there is the beautiful Beulah Bondi as the adoption official. She hardly moves a muscle, but boy does that project itself as the truth of movement of each situation her character is in. Finally there is Cary Grant in another of his skillful light hearted rapscallion roles. There are movies Grant has not been particularly notable in, but this certainly isn’t one of them. He carries the film on the shoulders of his believability. You go along with it because he brings validity to every scene, a validity already in him. A true cinema actor, whose instrument defined screen acting for his era, modest in its effects, attentive, and personal. He plays in this film probably the greatest scene he ever played in movies. We do not think of Grant as an emotional actor, but it is a long scene, of great emotional power. Despite the fact the writing is banal, his sustainment and modulation of the emotion of this scene, which culminates in an enormously long speech is one of the greatest I have ever seen in film. Watch his body. It scarcely moves. Think of how Sean Penn would have over-miked it, good as he is an actor. In his life, Grant never won an Oscar, but was nominated twice; this was one of those two times. Dunne is 6 years older than Grant, and isn’t convincing as a 20 or even 30 year old. Grant and she had had two big successes together before this, and it must have been hard for her. She was at this moment in her career at the peak of her popularity, as a result of those two hit comedies. In her day the age of certain actresses did not necessarily count as determining their casting, once their hold on the public was secure. Dunne was never a jeune fille; she was a woman, in the way that Susan Sarandon always was a woman and Julia Roberts never has been. So, she was already a grown-up and could be cast as one, her real age being irrelevant. There is something to be said for her as a screen presence. Not having much of sense of humor helped her in being a foil for the rapscallions playing opposite her. She sometimes condescended to be lady, which was both ghastly and futile: Greer Garson had seized the throne. But, as here, she was one of the few stars who could actually play a good woman; Colbert could do it too. Loretta Young could not. Think about it. Meryl Streep could do it; Glenn Close could not. But Glenn Close could play a saint, and so could Loretta Young. If you want to see Irene Dunne at her best, see Showboat or, another George Stevens film the wonderful I Remember Mama, a perfect role for her, suitable to her age and stolidity, a part in which she is simply superb. She is a very good example of a hard-working actress who took her craft seriously and was sometimes moved by the tides of studio casting into waters where she could barely swim. If in this film she suffers too daintily, that may be as a corrective to the lugubrious nature of the material, a weeper, like her famous one with Charles Boyer, remade many years later with Grant and that other lady actress Deborah Kerr.


The Talk Of The Town

10 Jul


The Talk Of The Town – directed by George Stevens. Comedy Of Justice. An escaped prisoner hides out in the summer home of a famous law professor, and both fall for their landlady. 118 minutes Black and White 1942.


I laughed a lot and I loved it. Grant is really good as a lower class type  (which is what he was), a rabble-rouser, a trouble-maker, and general bad boy from the other side of the tracks. He is sly and outspoken and not a gent – but bright and seeking justice. The great matinee idol Ronald Coleman plays the academic legal wizard in whose house he takes secret refuge. And Jean Arthur is the befuddled landlady. She’s just wonderful – exasperation was her comic specialty. As a comedy, like all comedies, the script has a serious center (for a dramatic version of the story see Lang’s Fury), and the legal eagle and the con become friends and expatiate on the law. The film is beautifully shot and the supporting people are first class: the great Glenda Farrell once again as the town floozy, Edgar Buchanan as the foghorn voiced lawyer pal of Grant, Charles Dingle as the contriving factory owner. The themes continue on into A Place In The Sun and Shane. It is, as are most of Stevens’ films, a story of values – not American values, but values in a broader sense, such as, in this case, fairness in love and law. But all this Stevens is able to weave back and capture us by a small town American flavor, the familiar collisions of Main Street, the flimsy bias of free people, the barking of dogs on a hot summer night under the elms. He had a genius for it. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards.


Sea Of Grass

21 May

Sea Of Grass — directed by Elia Kazan. Western. A husband and wife wrangle and separate because he is more devoted to the great plains than to her. 123 minutes Black and White 1947.


Conrad Richter, whose works I read at the time because of this movie is not much read any more, I’m afraid. His take on this old walrus material of the settlers vs. the cattlemen is a beautifully written, sub-heroic, that is to say, a personal non-formula version of the material and the characters. It rustles like the grass itself. Alas, the only rustling done in this movie is the theft of the book as vehicle for its two stars, Tracy and Hepburn. For, instead of a location shooting, the backlot at MGM is the prairie, and the whole venture looks like the settings for a musical in which you might expect a chorus of girls led by Jane Powell to leap over the fence in poke bonnets and pinafores, singing thrillingly. Indeed, the story might make a good musical, but a good western it does not make. I didn’t think this way at the time I saw it, aged thirteen. I was taken by compassion for the infidelity of the wife, and the romance at stake in that deed and its consequences. Kazan was earning his chaps in Hollywood, for this was his second film, but the entire production was already manufactured for him by the time he arrived on the lot. Katherine Hepburn’s costumes by Plunkett are multitudinous and inexplicably fancy for the setting. She looks like she had never lived in any one of them before the particular scene. Sydney Guilaroff does her hair beautifully, but he also must have lived on the ranch. Harry Stradling’s camera registers the impeccable dust impeccably. Kazan’s direction is flaccid, for he admits he gave up after the first day. He liked them, mind you, but he felt Hepburn and Tracy and Melvin Douglas, as The Other Man, were miscast, and I suppose they are. Here’s what, in various places, he says about Spencer Tracy as the cattle baron: “He looked like a comfortable Irish burgher in the mercantile trade. He wasn’t an outdoorsman in any sense of the word. He wasn’t a man who liked to leave Beverly Hills and the comfort of his home. His shoes looked like they had just been shined. I never could get him to stretch himself. Do you know Irishmen? They have this great inertia. Indifference. A man can have a way of making himself unapproachable. He’s a male and not to be tampered with. The man was absolutely commanding when he acted on a simple level that he understood. Where the confrontation was direct, Tracy was tremendous. When the thing was right for him, he was absolutely believable.” As to Hepburn: “She’d committed herself to a particular tradition of acting. Personally she was a marvelous woman, but she aspired to be like Katherine Cornell. Stars of that ilk had a duty to their audience to uphold, a certain image of glamour, heroism, and bravery. A star never did anything wrong. Essentially it’s the tradition of the 19th Century, carried over, milked down, and transposed.” (Kazan was a Virgo). By this time their off-screen relationship was like an old shoe. We sense no fragmentation, no newly weds getting-used-to, no sexual attraction. We sense they are technically collusive with one another. Individually she is highly reflexive, he weighty. They are good in some scenes, off-base in others. Better in comedy than drama. Harry Carey, Edgar Buchanan, Russell Hicks give fine support. Phyllis Thaxter plays the daughter, and her technique is to play an emotion, rather than a moment, so the voice is pitched to a twinkle when she is supposed to be endearing, or a constant yearning when that is the tone targeted. The film comes alive only in the third act when Robert Walker appears as the rapscallion son. It’s a super part, well written, and played with a swift indifference to the conventions of the role. Suddenly the entire screen comes alive with the juice of an actor’s imagination. Sea Of Grass is worth seeing because of him.


When The Daltons Rode

30 Mar

When The Daltons Rode – Directed by George Marshall. Comedy Western. Will our hero remain faithful to his friends, the wronged Dalton boys, or will he not?  81 minutes Black and White 1940

* * * * *

And rode and rode and rode.  This is one of George Marshall’s comedy/romance/westerns, a genre at which he was a master. Destry Rides Again and Texas are two notable examples of his craft and sense of fun. Here the fun is supplied by the jalopy-voiced Edgar Buchanan once again and the heaviness once again by George Bancroft. The inestimable castrati-voiced Andy Devine gives us a wonderful town silly to whom all the females in the movie are drawn. He himself is stretched between his love of food, his love of the Dalton boys, and his love of these giggling females. Marshall’s style is in full play here: during a daring escape from a lunch counter, Brian Donlevy steals a pie, and during the ensuing daring stage-coach chase, he gives it to Andy Devine, the driver, to eat, but after one bite, it is shaken from Devine’s hand, and he nearly goes overboard after it. Marshall had a genius for comic set-ups; it is one of his most endearing gifts. But watch how brilliantly he stages crowds in violent motion, and groups in mayhem. The stars are bashed around like mad. The gunfights and chases are remarkable for their conviction. Also take in, if you like, the range of stunts performed here. The gang actually does jump from a cliff onto the top of a moving train. No joke, that. Randolph Scott is the lead as a man caught up in the bandit gang, as he also is in The Stranger Wore A Gun. He exhibits a fine sense of humor, just right for Marshall’s shenanigans and set in perfect balance by the script, which, as is usual in Marshall films, is better than you might expect. It gives forceful and realistic love scenes for him to play with the elegant Kay Francis, who herself is a game gal in a dustup. Mary Gordon does the minute Irish mom of the Dalton boys to a T. The picture has brilliant passages of horses in motion, and color does not interfere here with the beautiful spectacle of black and white photography. Marshall’s cast is deep on talent: Broderick Crawford is super as Kay Francis’s love interest and pal of Scott. This is a film the whole family can watch together with pleasure.




01 Mar

Texas – directed by George Marshall – Western. A pair of ex Confederate soldiers drifts west where one goes wild and one goes good. 93 minutes black and white 1941.

* * * * *

What a trip to see William Holden young.  He was never young. He was always the drained, middle aged, bourgeois-hearted one, without zest, without joie de vivre, without spontaneity and bounce, often cast in parts he was too old and inwardly defeated to deliver (Picnic, Sabrina), although, to tell the truth, these very qualities led to parts in which he was very successful, such as Sunset Boulevard. Yet here he is, before the war, in his early twenties, almost unrecognizable, full of the ready improvisation of the actor and the fluid responsiveness, full of inherent hope. Hope?  Can you believe William Holden ever knew such a thing?  But here it is. Lovely. Here he is with a young Glenn Ford, a couple of years older, and with his puppydom in full display and also his earnestness, as the lesser of the two points of interest —  the real point of interest in this picture being the style of the director George Marshall, which you can also see in full display with When The Dalton’s Rode, and that style is both romantic and humorous and comedic and cowboy. So all the story moves are worked out in terms that are commented on with humorous asides. For instance, the spectacle of a terrible stampede through town is given a momentary aside by a cow walking into a room with a man taking a bath. Marshall directed Destry Rides Again his most famous of these cowboy/comedy larks. He has strong supporting people headed by the jalopy-voiced Edgar Buchanan and the massed authority of George Bancroft. Claire Trevor is present as the love interest in an underwritten role and an over-written hair-do. When such movies came out, parents could not afford baby sitters, so they brought their kids along. We kids stayed awake or not, but if we watched the picture, we saw a show that offered entertainment without sordidness — nothing wrong with sordidness but we kids wouldn’t have known what we’e looking at. Likewise, families today can sit down together and watch this tip-top, beautifully produced and written western. It’s in black and white which spares us the color of blood, but affords us the greater color of George Marshall’s fun.


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