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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Columbia's Suggestive Selling for 1958

Cowboy's Trailer Puts a Pox On Lousy Old Westerns

Twilight Time recently got out a Blu-ray of 1958's Cowboy. Directed by Delmer Daves, Cowboy came of that period when studios drew thick line of demarcation between theatre (read, better) westerns and long-in-tooth ancients playing round-clock on TV. Columbia did a Cowboy trailer to point up then-now of sagebrushing, central gag played at the expense of oldies (and at You Tube here). "Adult in every sense of the word" brags on-camera Jack Lemmon over this freshest of product not to be confused with kid stuff on the home box. Ignored is glaring fact that Columbia produced much of that kid stuff once upon a long past, and had glutted tubes with same since early in the fifties. Cowboy's preview starts with a disgruntled viewer clicking his remote control from identical action of one western to another. As with Gregory Peck's 1956 household in The Man With The Gray Flannel Suit, there seems no relief from saddle sores inflicted by television. "I'm plumb sick of childish westerns," he says, to which Jack Lemmon replies, "Me too," both fed up, as are we, or at least we should be, right? But wait, didn't this anonymous viewer, Jack Lemmon, and in fact, a whole of their generation, grow up with the very westerns they now disdain?

50's adults cared less to recapture youth. Maybe because growing up for them (a Great Depression, with war on both ends) was no rose garden like for offspring that thrived in a postwar boom, and have sought since to relive it. One trip back they did have, and cherish, was to action Saturdays of small-town Bijou setting, memories that fueled lifetime love for "childish" westerns Columbia asked them now to renounce. In fact, it was largely adults, and predominately male, sitting day-night for Ken Maynard, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson, on broadcast loop, heroes that Cowboy proposed to replace with Glenn Ford, Jack Lemmon, and Technicolor on a wide screen. There was room for the latter, and a ready enough audience, but nothing would erase sentiment for front rows from which senior class of cowboys were seen, and revered. Men who renewed contact with old favorites on 50's television would tighten embrace of their past as the 60/70's ushered in nostalgia publishing, western fan conventions, and gather of 16mm westerns re-printed for TV use (film collecting, at least in the South, revolved largely around cowboys). These were really the pioneers of old movie love that expresses itself today through TCM, Blu-Ray sales, and festival/cruises to feed nostalgia's appetite.


Blogger MikeD said...

Is that disgruntled anonymous viewer B cowboy Dennis Moore? I can't be sure but he bears a resemblance and sounds like him.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

You're right on with the perception of "old movies" back then. Writer Tad Mosel ("The Out-of-Towners," "All the Way Home"), talking about how the small TV plays influenced the types of movies that emerged during that decade, said, "Movies were looked down upon until then. Famous writers got drunk and went to work in the movies. It didn't become an art form until after television. Those movies that we look back on and say, 'Oh, those wonderful movies in the thirties' were not considered so wonderful in the fifties."

1:07 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

If memory serves, Lemmon had a bit in "The Apartment" where channel surfing yielded nothing but westerns.

Idle question: About what percentage of B westerns and serials involved a local big shot running settlers off their land so he could foreclose and sell it to the railroad? Even cattle rustlers and stage robbers often seemed to be pawns of the guy who smoked cigars and owned the saloon ("Pity about your herd/payroll, Joe. Guess you'll have to default after all").

Also: The railroads themselves were usually neutral offstage presences. Did we get any number of villainous railroad barons before the 60s, when the railroads were losing their clout and "establishment" baddies were coming into vogue?

4:54 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

There was also a gag in Tex Avery's "TV of Tomorrow" where a TV viewer finds only westerns on every channel. He turns off his set in disgust and heads for the cinema, expecting to see a romance, but is greeted with more galloping cowboys.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

"Also: The railroads themselves were usually neutral offstage presences. Did we get any number of villainous railroad barons before the 60s, when the railroads were losing their clout and "establishment" baddies were coming into vogue?"

One of the things that I've discovered going to festivals like Cinesation (RIP) and Cinevent is that there was, in silent days, a mini genre of railroad movies much like westerns (and for the same reason, the outdoors gives you visual splendor on the cheap). These railroad movies could be counted on for certain things:

1) A poor but plucky lad who ran the Hicksville station, or helped as his father did
2) A railroad, with a president who is a decent and admirable sort, who has a beautiful daughter
3) A railroad vice president, who has a mustache, the hots for the daughter, and a secret plan to sell weapons to the Indians, or something else nefarious

Mustaches are an invariable predictor of evil in such movies. In any case to answer your question, the railroad and its president was always decent-- it was just those vice presidents with mustaches who were bad news.

11:11 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

And Columbia STILL made their 30s Westerns available to theaters in the 50s!!!!(Note reissue credits seen on prints of same on GET TV).

11:19 PM  

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