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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Passing Of The B's At Warner

Stock Footage Stampede in Cattle Town (1952)

Dennis Morgan going out from Warners with a whimper, Cattle Town a drop even from Raton Pass, neither tall in saddle beside westerns WB had done long ago (Cattle's neg cost a mere $594K). Now they merely pillaged off time when likes of Dodge City defined "Big" for outdoor stock (Maltin Reviews calls Cattle Town a "sad echo of a slick western," overlooking ones of us who answer to sad echoes). Had viewers by 1952 memorized Dodge City? --- because they sure got recycling from it. I wonder how many times the outsize barroom fight was used, or the race between wagon and train, or latter on fire set by baddies. And here was the thing: Dodge City itself was back in 1951, on a double with Virginia City, and in black-and-white rather than original Technicolor. Early 50's was disrespected time for oldies, a situation to worsen when Dodge City and whole of the pre-49 library went TV-way a few years later to be sandwich-sliced by local stations, for most part again in B/W. Even color prints of Dodge City would remain substandard for years. What I had in 16mm looked inconsistent, OK at times, faded or soft for most part. It's only recent put right thanks to Blu-Ray release. Best then, to view Cattle Town as an archeologist, and enjoy guess game of ID'ing old footage, a same joy found in Bob Shayne shorts WB did in early-to-mid 40's.

The pleasure in Cattle Town comes in seeing just where corners will be cut. It was virtually last among B's done by Warners as means of trimming overhead and increasing volume. 1952 saw twenty-six features from WB. Arriving as it did at the end of the year, Cattle Town saw out not only Dennis Morgan, but cheapie westerns that wouldn't be re-upped until Warners began doing them even cheaper, and en masse, for television. Being assigned to Cattle Town was surely letdown for most of cast, though Paul Picerni in memoirs said it was fun, even as he realized Cattle was a cheat. Notable is fact this may have been a dead last throwback to singing-plus-sidekicks of yore, Cattle Town braking often for Dennis Morgan to sing, oft to concertina accompany by George "Eight-Ball" O'Hanlon, beloved of the concurrent Joe McDoakes series. Does all this amuse? At times, yes, and there's only 71 minutes of it. Noel Smith directed, if that needs mention, though I was dumb to fact he'd done most of 30's "B" Dick Foran for WB, and dated back, in fact, to teens-era Larry Semon shorts at Vitagraph. If Cattle Town has a precursor, it would be the Forans, for placed side-to-side, I doubt we'd see much vary amongst them. Warner Archive has Cattle Town on DVD, and TCM runs it in HD, that being my incentive to watch.


Blogger MikeD said...

Since you mentioned 'Dodge City a couple of times, can you explain the ending to me? Bruce Cabot and his henchmen are jumping off the burning train onto horses in order to get away from Errol Flynn and his buddies who are on the train. Instead of just stopping the horses or riding away from the tracks, the baddies just ride alongside the train to be picked off like shooting gallery ducks. Even as kid watching it a long time ago on TV, that bothered me. Did I miss something?
Yeah, I know, you're gonna ask me why the Indians just didn't shoot the horses in 'Stagecoach'.

8:26 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Yes, I always thought "Dodge City" kind of fell apart at the end.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Bought CATTLE TOWN from Warner Archive a couple of years back. Boy, it is weak.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Just watched the Blu-Ray of DODGE CITY about two weeks ago. While watching it, I wondered 'why don't I remember the ending?' Then it ended and I remembered why I didn't remember... like you said, a bit of a let down.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I did a big double take when I saw your 1952 ad in the banner: "Directed by Noel Smith?! In '52?!" I always thought Smith packed it in after Universal's GANG BUSTERS serial 10 years before. You learn things at Greenbriar!

This sent me to the IMDB and there it was, CATTLE TOWN. I also noted that Smith absented himself from the Hollywood scene for years at a time. I think I read somewhere that Smith was a real hard case, blunt and insistent, which might explain his occasional absences.

Now we can add Noel Smith to the list of A-list directors who worked steadily in the '20s but could only get cheapies by the '40s: William Beaudine, Christy Cabanne, Elmer Clifton, Lambert Hillyer, and Harry Fraser come to mind.

4:57 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

I don't think it's fair to look down one's nose at any of the Directors listed for having long careers in various levels of the Movie Industry, and I would also question the idea that the Directors mentioned were all "A-List" Directors (actually the only one who would qualify for any reasonable amount of time would have been William Beaudine in the 1920's), what they were were solid, dependable directors of programmers, and the fact that they all continued to perform that function for decades is actually very commendable, their names on any film usually guarantees at least watchability and frequently delivers more.

In an industry where an average career at the top even back then was lucky to last a decade, it says something to their talents and dependability, much less stamina, that they continued working. And if you were a Director of programmers, you were going to be moving to places like Republic, Monogram, and PRC that took up that slack as the major studios quit making that sort of product (and, if you lived long enough, you then moved on into television as places like Republic, Monogram, and PRC also went away, as Beaudine and Lambert Hillyer did).

And don't kid yourself that there wasn't a decent living to be made for these guys, Harry Fraser said he made more money off of WHITE GORILLA than any other film he made, he owned a piece of it and the Weiss's circulated that one forever, and William Beaudine also made a packet off of MOM AND DAD as well.


7:44 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Amen, Mr. Roberts. The directors I mentioned were all skilled professionals, and I share your positive opinion. No slight of any kind was intended (my affection for William Beaudine's work knows no bounds) and I could shake my fist in the faces of the authors who branded Beaudine "One-Shot" because he seemed to bother with only one take of any sense. This of course is hogwash, but people actually think Beaudine's nickname really was "One-Shot."

Both William Beaudine and Harry Fraser are subjects of book biographies, and I recommend both highly.

11:07 PM  

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