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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Set Strife On a Small, Now Cult, Western

1961 Saturation First-Run for The Deadly Companions in L.A.

The Deadly Companions Comes and Goes in 1961 and 1963

The ring contestants as picked in various interview/bios: Sam Peckinpah directing his first feature, and cameraman William Clothier has his back. In opposite corner are "a bunch of idiots" (Clothier's words) that include star Maureen O'Hara's producing brother and an "ex-prizefighter" for set managing. Some pics make better behind-scenes reading than watching: The Deadly Companions is one. O'Hara said in her book that Peckinpah was incompetent in all ways and his legend status undeserved. There was fighting over, of all things, rattlesnake extras, and surprise! --- support player Steve Cochran couldn't ride a horse (it's known, or should be, that Steve belongs in pinstripes with the holster on his shoulder, not hitched around his pants). Companions is stately, sometimes mournful (that given emphasis by odd-choice music), and yes, Peckinpah's direction left holes along the desert trek. Brian Keith, Chill Wills, and ones of Peckinpah stock company to come are along for the scope/Pathecolor ride. Companions was made for around a half-million --- dirt cheap for an early 60's western with meaningful names.

 
The Deadly Companions got a second wind two years after 1961 first-run when a consortium of Midwest exhibitors picked it to support indie-made racecar actioner The Checkered Flag, the duo designed to relieve critical product shortage hard-tops and drive-ins were experiencing. It wasn't uncommon for theatre men to roll up sleeves and produce movies as means to fill dates for friends and themselves. Exploitation cheapies were a usual result, these thought easiest to sell among not-choosy patronage. "Motion Picture Investors" was the venture's name, and they'd sink $150K into The Checkered Flag, which was by no one's reckoning good merchandise, but would display well enough on marquees and moonlit screens. The Deadly Companions got a title change (Trigger Happy) and new advertising, plus shortening of length (The Checkered Flag ran 110 minutes). Variety said Trigger Happy was "nothing compelling," but even at that, "several jumps ahead" of The Checkered Flag. Forty prints of the pair were fanned across Midwest dates, eight of them to Kansas City for July 4, 1963 weekend, its yield a "bang-up" $25,000 from participating theatre/drive-ins. 100 bookings through Missouri and Wyoming filled a next thirty days, MP Investors' hope that satisfactory business would yield a national distribution deal with one of the majors (didn't happen). Turned-red, if not vinegar, 35mm prints of The Checkered Flag were likely junked or chain-sawed decades ago, their usefulness having ended shortly after those mid-'63 dates. The film does survive, having been released on DVD by Sinister Cinema. Synopses make it sound somewhat like Red Line 7000 of a couple seasons' later. As to fate of The Deadly Companions, it disappeared for a most part and shows up infrequent now (a TCM run was where I caught it), although there is a Region 2 disc, and VCI has more recently made it available in the US.

3 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

The jump from not-bad Deadly Companions to genuinely great Ride the High Country is about as high as any director ever jumped from first to second feature. What I'd like to see, but seems impossible to, is the TV series, The Westerner, that Peckinpah and Brian Keith did before he went into the movies. I take it for granted that anybody who worked in series TV wasn't incompetent-- they might be mediocre, but they didn't last if they didn't get it done-- and beyond that, has anyone looked for Peckinpah themes in that apprentice period?

4:08 PM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

Any idea when this transferred to TV? Seem to recall airings with Brian Keith as the draw name,perhaps due to a few years of Family Affair going into syndication. ...

7:03 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Not sure about syndication date, but I don't think it had any network run. TCM plays it occasionally.

11:32 AM  

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