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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Columbia Mounts Cinemascope Saddle


The Violent Men Is 1954's Grown-Up Western


Richard Jaeckel About To Be Sorry
He Bullied Glenn Ford
Glenn Ford could only be pushed so far. He was go-to for outraged decency. The man wants to mind his own ranch and here comes "Anchor" baron E.G. Robinson, hydra-head Barbara Stanwyck, plus dog/puppy heavies Brian Keith/Richard Jaeckel, to force a fight to finish. Old movies had way of seeing justice was done, not so nowaday with Breakings Bad and other nihilist trend-setters, getting away with evil a modern rule rather than exception. Code pics seem quaint for dogmatic reward of good, punishment of bad, but folks felt better leaving Bijous, with at least hope that life will imitate art. That would change by late 60/70's (were there ever so many bummer endings as during that era?). Shows like The Violent Men fit Roy Rogers mold in dressier terms, "adult westerns" careful to assure that right would somehow will out. A Glenn Ford getting even was the more satisfying for its longer wait. He'll exhaust all peaceful avenues before taking up a gun. By time GF squares with sneering Jaeckel, we're a full-on cheering section.


Brian Garfield of splendid book Western Films said Ford was the best natural horseman on film. Better even than Joel McCrea?, asked someone, to which I say could-be, after seeing flat-out riding inserts Ford does across Lone Pine location of The Violent Men. Brakes applied were Code-mandated. Glenn and men stage an ambush of barn burners, killing but a handful despite force enough to take down a small army. "Only show violence where necessary to advance plot" was understood rule, so desire to see villainy really get theirs is frustrated. Men shot in the back go down bloodless, even as George Stevens showed a year before how much death can hurt at point of gun in Shane. The Violent Men was a first in Cinemascope for Columbia. They had drunk heady potion of record-breakers From Here To Eternity, On The Waterfront, The Caine Mutiny ... it seemed the Torch Lady had all of sudden lit brightest B.O. fires.

Never Trust Barbara Stanwyck To Hand Off Needed Crutches
During a House Fire

Columbia was for grandeur where affordable, but cut most corners they'd approach. A cattle stampede looks like stuff of bigness, but hadn't we seen those same cows run in Paramount's Branded of a few years before? --- and wasn't some of action a borrow from Columbia's own The Desperadoes, their first Technicolor western from 1943? The Violent Men was shot largely at majestic Lone Pine, its snowy background peaks having enhanced westerns since 1920 and Roscoe Arbuckle in The Round-Up. All this was no impossible distance from home, a location that looked far-flung, if not foreign, but actually wasn't (it stood in for Gunga Din and a Khyber pass on occasion). Even B's could afford to shoot there. What too suggested size was Max Steiner's throbbing score, this a freelance job for Columbia (along with The Caine Mutiny) after years at Warners. Steiner could make a small film large, and a large one ... well, seem epic. It's his contribution above all that gives The Violent Men its stature. That plus Cinemascope we can finally enjoy (plus HD), now that The Violent Men streams occasional on the Sony channel and/or Amazon, Vudu, I-Tunes.


A lot felt westerns had been in short pants too long. Sex became an element pushed hard after the war. The Outlaw and Duel In The Sun would pioneer at that. Leave simplistic cowboys to Saturday youth and juice up your "A" oaters. But wasn't The Violent Men more of the same cattleman vs. homesteaders stuff? And hadn't Shane just covered, and definitively so, that topic? To play down obvious comparison, Men went over to opposite sex for novelty. There'd be a bad (or at least unworthy for Glenn Ford) girl, her counterpart in despot Robinson's daughter, and then ultimate bad of Stanwyck doing Double Indemnity on range terms. Hapless Ford had hands fuller of women than guns. Columbia sales pitched The Violent Men direct to a distaff market that wouldn't otherwise bother with westerns, unless they simmered with battle of sexes as here. Merchandising instinct proved right for $1.9 million collected in domestic rentals. That plus whatever derived from foreign would put The Violent Men safely in profit.

1 Comments:

Blogger radiotelefonia said...

For me, this is a typical western of its times. It used to play a lot on Saturday afternoons on television but I saw it for the first time complete in, of all channels, HBO. All of those version, including VHS editions, were always pan and scanned. Although in recent years it began to be available in its original format, it is a show that has been so overexposed that I prefer to watch other movies instead.

1:36 PM  

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