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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Twilight On The Praries:

I sat through Aces Wild thinking Harry Carey was old as dirt by 1936, forever in westerns, a pre-dater to John Ford and seemingly everyone who'd saddled up on screen ... then come to find he was my age when AW got done on customary ten-day (if that) B schedule. Does passage of time weigh lighter for current generations? Carey struggled up, built a ranch on silent stardom, then saw it flooded. Constructed again using talkie funds, this time the place burns to the ground. Maybe he kept at westerns against probability of life's next disaster, final of which I'd long understood to be a black widow spider's bite that killed him. Turns out that's a dad-blasted myth, but who started it? Harry Carey cowboy'ed before Bill Hart and possibly had a longest western run of all, his string taut from Griffith and Biograph to Howard Hawks and Red River (stills here are from silent-era Careys). HC set/crews gathered during 1910's resemble gold-rushers from a century before. His gestures were famously copied by John Wayne, who'd gone to see Carey's alter-ego, Cheyenne Harry, as a boy. John Ford helmed a bucket of these starting out. Was the by-30's famed director aware of his friend still pulling Cheyenne duty for humble Commodore Pictures Corp? Aces Wild is Carey/Cheyenne past exertion of silent days. A 30's public mightn't have been so patient with cowboys this far along had not Dad told them Harry was real stuff. I'd in fact bet middle-agers brought offspring to Aces Wild for recapture of youth-going flicker magic. Did toiling-at-B's Duke Wayne consult HC's twilight rides for backward glance and maybe further pointers toward his own emerging persona? By the mid-thirties, just showing up was enough for Carey, accumulated stature did the rest. Almost never does HC skin his sidearm here ... that's left for less cool heads. He's even bested in fights with younger opponents. It's old man's wisdom and judgment that wins Aces Wild's hand. Harry might have made an even better role model in maturity for reasoning ways out of trouble, though admittedly that makes for leisurely pull over 63 minutes seemingly longer. Better-backed cowboys chased along desert and rock pleasing to look at. Ones like Aces Wild on short tether made do with flat roads and brush, cameras distant or skewed to avoid tire tracks and power poles. These I'd call Scrubby Westerns. Sometimes a plane will be overheard, or a motorized something-or-other headed unexpectedly for the location. Carey's Cheyenne Harry is here settling a score gone way back. You wonder if maybe Aces Wild was a sequel to one Ford directed long before, with Carey putting late-date coda to it. Being past romantic eligibility, HC volunteers as rancher daughter's protector and avenger of her father's death. Aces Wild is about getting even for old wrongs, believable when it's Carey and varmints he opposes look as saddle-sore. Republic did a service putting youth on horseback and stunt guys who'd speed things up. Much as I sympathize with valedictory turns like Harry's, it's clear his kind of western wasn't going to renew the brand for changing audiences.


Anonymous DBenson said...

In the Hitchcock/Truffaut interview, Hitch talks about trying to get Carey to play a villain -- he was impressed that Carey had "great horny hands, like the devil." If I recall correctly, Mrs. Carey ripped into the director for even suggesting her role-model husband do anything wicked onscreen.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

You're not alone, John... I just saw THE VANISHING LEGION and realized Harry was my age.

It may be worth noting that most studios that made series Westerns needed new faces to sell every year. When a producer has just delivered eight Tom Tylers in a row, the exhibitors expect him to come up with a new attraction for the next cycle. So Tyler moves on to another outfit, and Bill Cody takes over at Tyler's old stand. At the end of Cody's hitch, Rex Bell comes in. Everything a year at a time: during the mid-'40s Universal replaced Johnny Mack Brown with Rod Cameron, who was in turn replaced by Kirby Grant. (Your library of trade periodicals probably has any number of full-page ads promising "8 Bob Bakers" or "10 Johnny Mack Browns" or somesuch.)

This sort of thing happened a lot on Poverty Row: the Weiss Brothers hired Billy West to star in a series of two-reel comedies; when the year was up, they hired Snub Pollard to be their headliner; when his year was up they got Ben Turpin.

Anyway, I suspect that's why Harry Carey turned up working for William Berke in the mid-'30s. Berke needed someone to headline a short-term series for Commodore (Berke's concurrent Jack Perrin series went out through Reliable), and Carey had a trusted brand name that neighborhood theaters would gamble on.

4:23 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald, I'd read about Olive's nix of the "Saboteur" role for husband Harry. Too bad he missed out ... that would have been some memorable casting.

Scott, you really know your westerns. I'm getting deep into these myself, and have recently ordered the Tim Holt DVD set from Warner Archive, which looks to be very nice.

5:23 PM  
Blogger mikelambert1 said...

I had never seen Harry Carey in anything, but his long shadow had loomed in The Searchers' respectful tribute. I had read about him in various Ford biographies. Then, very recently, I watched Branding Broadway and was immediately charmed by the man. He WAS a great star of the early western sky.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Dugan said...

I have to put in a plug for "Bucking Broadway" 53 minutes long and a lot of fun.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Carey's bit part in Red River.Angel and The Badman and a super 8mm blackhawk print of Musketeers Of Pig Alley were my introduction to the man..

3:06 AM  
Blogger Arizona's Little Hollywood said...

John, for my money the best of Harry Carey's sound Westerns is THE LAST OUTLAW, a "dramedy" made in 1936 by RKO that co-stars Hoot Gibson and Tom Tyler. Based on a story co-written by John Ford, he intended it to be his followup film to THE INFORMER. As it turned out, RKO removed him from the modest LAST OUTLAW after he won the Best Director Oscar for THE INFORMER and replaced him with Christy Cabanne, but the picture still turned out quite well; even the New York Times reviewed it (a rarity for a lowly B Western) and raved. THE LAST OUTLAW is not easy to find on home video these days but well worth the effort.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Just watched Harry in TRADER HORN again. Now that's a bizarre, creepy movie.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I remember seeing Trader Horn back in high school daze one night and being severely creeped by the white jungle goddess

11:34 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Christopher, watching TRADER HORN, I have the same feeling as if I were watching WHITE ZOMBIE.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I'd love to find a copy of it..don't know why its not floating around anywhere,It used to get almost as regular a run as White Zombie..I'd seen alot of things before Trader Horn,but there were certain things about it that I found "disturbing".

6:15 PM  

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