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Monday, June 28, 2010

Favorites List --- Orson Welles --- Part One

We need to finally and for all time put rout to ideas that Orson Welles finished up a broken and frustrated has-been. Having watched Orson Welles --- The One-Man Band again (it's an extra on Criterion's F For Fake DVD), I've decided this was one happy and continually creating force who never let (so many) reversals get him down. Turns out Orson, according to that fine documentary, generated his own fun making movies virtually alone at home when studios or backers shut him out, and does not appear to have moped unduly over lost opportunities. What we sometimes forget about artists is their ability to keep on generating art, provided senses remain intact. A public's acclamation is secondary to the process itself. Welles had a blast shooting film while his (gorgeous) girlfriend was out of town and surprising her with footage when she got back. The rambling Spanish country house he maintained was location for all sorts of projects OW juggled between acting and commercial gigs. One-Man Band presents an always cheerful Welles excited over what he's currently up to, whether that be a photographed reading of Moby Dick (he and Gary Graver evidently did that largely by themselves) or conjuring another reel of legendarily unfinished The Other Side Of The Wind. Enough of poor Orson, then! We should all be so lucky as to find such joy in what we do, whatever the rewards bestowed or withheld. Of many things I admire about Welles, his never seeming to feel sorry for himself is uppermost.

To (begin to) know Orson Welles is to put aside everything else and submerge in the glut of books written about his amazing life and career. I'll go on a Welles binge from time to time and not come up for a week. Recommended starting points include two volumes so far from Simon Callow, This Is Orson Welles by the title subject and Peter Bogdanovich, an authorized biography by Barbara Leaming, Frank Brady's Citizen Welles, and Joseph McBride's Whatever Happened to Orson Welles ... for starters. Iron man status is achieved upon completion of these, even as I suspect, as would these authors, that but a fraction of Welles' history lays before us. Why does it matter? Well, for Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, if nothing else. Plus all the radio work ... how many Orsonists have listened to all his broadcasting that survives? Do we have sufficient hours left of life to hear the lot of them? More and more I envy Welles his citizenry of the world. Does anyone know how many languages he spoke? To have been a certified genius in childhood was surely a heavy burden. Orson had few friends among peers, according to biographers. His father was said (by Welles) to have turned the boy loose (and alone) on a European tour when he was ten. Now that is hard to imagine, particularly in our modern day when parents won't let their angels go to a mail box unaccompanied. I thought I'd been liberated at ten for venturing solo to watch Castle Of Blood at the Liberty, so all this is icy water in my cosseted face.

I enjoy Welles' shows of humility in late-life interviews, especially when he talks of Boy Genius days. There was always humor in the telling and recognition that here was a youngster too precocious for anyone's good. I'm sure Orson recast much of what was disagreeable about his youth; certainly he did so to the pleasure of his listeners. Maybe he came to believe the revisions himself. Welles liked to laugh and did so boomingly. I wish there was even more footage of him just talking (a good DVD is recently out, Orson Welles: The Paris Interview, done in 1960). There's not much denying the young Welles could be obnoxious ... too many others have testified to that. Well, so was I, and without the license genius confers. Did Orson lack patience with those (nearly everyone) running several ticks behind him? All's Well That Ends Welles, said one of his detractors (my favorite of many putdowns), and the Lord knows, much of Hollywood wanted to see Orson get his own George Minafer-ish comeuppance. Sometimes he spoofed the ego on radio. Those would be fun listening to. Again, it was his mischief and showmanship that delighted OW's public. He did magic acts at state fairs and service camps (commenting later that few people really seemed to enjoy watching him, or anyone, do tricks). Welles squired Dolores Del Rio and married Rita Hayworth, so had to be doing something right. Being such a big guy with a commanding voice made opponents stand down, but that didn't stop many of them knifing him from behind. If Welles' life had a continuing thread, it was recognition that he'd been betrayed by a lot of folks he thought were friends.

There were tales he told and retold. I want all of them to be true. Orson just got better at raconteur-ing as he approached anecdotage. It was a mercy he died before old age robbed him of such remarkable faculties (there was a talk show taped the evening before his sudden passing). That black tent he wore preceded him like circus set-up, and a lavish bow of a tie must have taken forever to get right (did companion Oja Kodar also serve as dresser?). Audiences loved Welles on TV. He may have talked down to RKO brass during Kane-days, but OW surely learned by middle-age how to play mass viewing's fiddle. How many guests were as welcome (recurringly so) on The Dean Martin Show as irresistible humbug Orson? I don't find any of such work degrading, and would submit neither did he. You can tell he liked people. Welles seemed to have been nothing if not social. I never heard of him dismissing anyone who wanted an autograph. The fictionalized cameo in Ed Wood is spot-on for showing Welles' generous nature toward a newcomer. I'm not unaware of a certain notorious tape of him sparring with technicians recording that green peas commercial. Well, who wouldn't get annoyed with such hair (or pea) splitting, especially when you just want to collect the fee, buy raw stock, and get home to read some more Moby Dick for posterity?

Just what made Pauline Kael attack Orson Welles with such ferocity? You wonder how many even remember that confrontation of nearly forty years ago. Certainly less than know Citizen Kane, the object of Kael's broadside. She proposed that Welles wrote none of it and tried rooking Herman J. Mankiewicz out of proper screenplay credit besides. Frank Brady speculated on Kael's own frustrated ambition to pen movies guiding her invective toward Welles. Certainly she seemed bent of hurting the man personally and professionally. It was as if forces resentful of OW when he first arrived in Hollywood were gathered once again to pull him down. To that point, Kael had assist from longtime Welles nemesis John Houseman, his infection having taken decades to fester. I guess Kael used Houseman to lend credence to her bold thesis, while Houseman used Kael to finally get even for wrongs inflicted long before she first dipped quill to acid. Or perhaps her enmity had origins more prosaic. Did Welles overlook or (God forbid) snub this woman in a long-ago theatre lobby or restaurant he (but not she) had forgot? Maybe PK wrote him a letter once and OW failed to respond. That so-called Golden Age of film criticism produced monster egos, if not writing of permanence. I'd just bet Pauline Kael was miffed with Welles over something a lot more personal than a 1941 movie credit. Even allowing for attention she knew such a radical position would generate, still hers was an assault you'd reserve for someone who'd really done you dirt. In Orson Welles' case, it might have been something so banal as failing to accord her respect she felt entitled to.
Also see Citizen Kane --- Parts One and Two at Greenbriar's Archive, plus The Stranger and Why Pick On Orson?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Curiosity That Is Copacabana

I got out Copacabana to watch after running across the above theatre ad. It was a first time after years hearing about it and exposure to stills. Interest Copacabana generates comes largely of its being Groucho Marx's first sans his brothers. If you haven't seen the DVD, I'd recommend taking a look. Artisan issued the disc some time back and they're currently at Amazon for eight dollars (with used ones at five). Quality is excellent ... better than I might have expected. United Artists released Copacabana in 1947. Independent producer Sam Coslow was songwriter/promoter midwife whose project this was. I like reading about indie ventures from that era as so many ended up mired in lawsuits and/or bank-repossessed negatives. Copacabana was product of one Beacon Productions, an entity declared insolvent within a few years of the film's release, and object of disgruntled participant claims. Whatever documentation exist from these would give valued insight into lives and misfortunes of suckers who sunk funds toward producing back when. So many seemed to have gotten trimmed one way or the other (imagine homes, life savings lost when such projects went bust). Was investing in movies ever a safe bet for inexperienced outsiders?

Copacabana seems to have been cast with personalities who could be got for a price. None were at career peaks. I wondered how much of the old Groucho was left by 1947 and how he'd comport in a lead. The army of wits who'd ghosted for him at Paramount are absent here, but still I enjoyed Groucho hardly less than in clover days with Harpo and Chico. He puts greater effort to Copacabana than latter Marx Bros. shows played with clearly less enthusiasm. This being a year after A Night In Casablanca, by all accounts a one-shot the Brothers did not intend to follow up on, Groucho makes the most of what he's given and brings real vitality to a vehicle admittedly not quite worthy of him, though I'd not call these circumstances humbling, his Marxian ripostes mostly amusing if not fall-down funny. It's just nice seeing Groucho in more-or-less command of situations and appearing to have a good time. Too often, especially in reunions with the Brothers, it seemed Groucho was just there to bail someone out (usually Chico) or do a favor (for participants trying to get an independent leg-up?). Copacabana was Groucho's bid for solo headlining to come, so there's no phoning in comedy from his end, whatever limits the film's script or budget imposes. Copacabana too was Groucho's debut minus painted on mustache and brows, maybe a welcome thing in 1947 when comics had toned down to more audience-identifiable shtick. He signs off the discarded image with a last production blowout from Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby's trunk. Go West, Young Man had apparently been written but not performed for a Marx Bros. oldie and comes pleasingly to the aid of Copacabana's final act. Groucho is exuberant singing it (shown here with Copa chorines) in full swallow-tailed glory. For fans of the classic Groucho of Broadway and precode origin, this is in all ways a delightful hail and farewell.

Copacabana got a lot of media notice for being set in the same-named nitery of Gotham fame. Provincials read of its happenings in column blurbs and radio-heard artists broadcasting from there. The Copa became first stop for tourists looking to sample New York high-life and was glamour personified in its chorus line-up. Producer Koslow shot the works on his club set and placed virtually all the action there and immediately backstage. Reviews noted plush environs and treated Copacabana like an A release (there would be $1.1 million in domestic rentals and $357,000 foreign). Co-starring talent rivals Groucho's for offbeat interest. Carmen Miranda was recently out at Fox and essays a dual part in Copacabana. Those who revere the Brazilian Bombshell call this some of her best screen work. She's at the least a singular partner for Groucho. They're enjoyable together in that strange-showbiz-bedfellows way that lend fascination to such eccentric pairings. Cock-eyed too is romantic coupling of ingénue Gloria Jean with swarth-styled Steve Cochran, for whom I'd have watched Copacabana Groucho or no. Steve was a loaner from Samuel Goldwyn, who also put stages at Koslow's disposal ... maybe a supportive gesture to a brother independent? You keep waiting for Cochran to start slapping or shooting. Instead, he's affable (more or less) character support. Gloria Jean voices only one number, and that in a dream sequence. I'd have thought for as appealing as she looked in Copacabana, they'd give this songstress more to do (Scott and Jan MacGillivray tell the off-screen story from her perspective in their book, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit Of Heaven). A sidelines swooner named Andy Russell was so laid-back as to make me think, Hey, I could do that. Did high school boys in the forties aspire to Andy's kind of serenading the way they later would to rock and rollers? Russell was so unpresupposing in Copacabana as to suggest anyone, per Alfalfa, could learn to croon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Still Most Phan-tastic Of Phantoms

How long did Lon Chaney's unmasking prevail as the screen's Great Scare Moment? Did it last through a public's willingness to watch movies in black-and-white? There were years waiting before I finally saw it (back when just one or two of those amounted to an eternity). Everyone's parents or grandparents recalled the Phantom from first-hand exposure or knew someone who'd encountered him in theatres. This fiend in the guise of Lon Chaney (or vice versa) was by far the most famous of monsters. The magazine spun off that designation offered 1925's crucial moment on a one hundred foot 8mm reel for five dollars. The Most Frightening Horror Movie Scene Ever Made was a declaration no one challenged in the mid-sixties when first we spotted the (above) ad. Getting up the sawbuck was something else, for that amounted to ten weeks of allowance, at least for me. Maybe it was better imagining what the big reveal would look like. Certainly we'd seen this Phantom sans disguise, for seemingly not a monster magazine went to press without his image on the cover or elsewhere within. Remarkable that a face then forty years past creation, its enactor dead nearly as long, would so dominate young fandom's consciousness. I'd say without fear of contradiction that Phantom Of The Opera is the most popular and widely viewed of all silent dramas. Can anyone name another that comes even close?

What attached us to this character even as the movie remained so beyond reach? Castle Of Frankenstein's selling arm Gothic Castle offered Phantom Of The Opera complete in 8mm for $41.95, but how could we trust Calvin Beck with that kind of money? More within grasp was Aurora's plastic model for a dollar. I could never get the cape to remain aloft despite repeated application of Testor's glue. A cruelest nature (at least mine) emerged when garnishing the prisoner whose screaming visage adorned the base. I slapped blood red liberally across that face and regretted lack of more explicit means to convey his suffering. Maybe Aurora sensed my need, for in no time there were customizing kits with rats, skulls, and sundries with which we could accessorize models otherwise completed, but lacking a finished touch. I've heard more than one enthusiast call the Phantom his (were there any hers?) favorite of the Aurora group, and I'd venture credit went mostly to that wretched figure behind bars (box art above misleads for showing him at eye level with the Phantom). Maybe parents were justified in their concerns. Certainly there was basis for elder trepidation when Aurora later offered its Guillotine model with sliding blade and detachable head. I took particular relish in applying blood to both stumps and conducting executions ad nauseum for those willing to join me at the tumbrel.

The thing that lit up Blackhawk Films' Phantom release was their inclusion of the fabled color sequence long thought lost. This was excitement unparalled for 8mm collectors during the early 70's and a visual grabber near equal to the unmasking scene itself. Source material for Blackhawk's print was a 1930 reissue version that Universal adapted from its original of five years before. This newer edition began with a shadowy figure voicing introduction as he lurked about catacombs with a lantern. The scene was interminable and not helped by fact we heard nothing of the spoken prologue, these being silent prints Blackhawk was selling. More than once I uttered muted prayer that restless audiences would remain seated rather than bail on this opener. Why didn't I just apply scissors and lessen the agony for them? The purist that guides all collecting paths forbade that, of course. It took years realizing that Phantom Of The Opera circulated in many forms, virtually none authentic to what Universal initially shot in 1925. Their starter version was said to be too horrifying for a timid public's consumption, so out went baser shocks and in came clowning relief with Snitz Edwards and others to becalm spectator nerves. Still this Phantom freaked out a generation and many to come. There was even more color in early prints, but with exception of Blackhawk's discovery, they've vanished since. Universal recognized Phantom Of The Opera as super-est of jewels and got out that refurbished edition in early months of 1930 to capitalize on operatic potentials of a soundtrack newly applied. A good deal of fresh content was shot and even romantic leads Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry were back to record dialogue (their stuff now lost too). Much has been written about the film's jigsaw history by experts who've done books and special edition DVD's on the subject. Certain of these Phanto-masters have dedicated lives to the pursuit. I can well understand their compulsion, for Chaney's handiwork and the film's checkered history has more than once lured me with its siren call to further exploration.

I wish Screen Gems could somehow have gotten Phantom Of The Opera into their "Shock" package for TV. That would have put it among other Universal horror greats and given fans earlier access. As it was, even the 1943 remake was excluded from SG's group. Buying a print was about the only way you could experience the 1925 Phantom. Of course, that only enhanced its caché. The property's rebirth as a Broadway musical kept audiences aware and spurred interest, or at least curiosity, in Chaney's original. I always drew crowds screening it, certainly more than to silent programs generally. Modern viewers tend to enjoy Phantom Of The Opera and certainly they respect Chaney (there's almost a sense among the uninitiated that his monster is the real thing rather than an actor's impersonation, not unlike reaction to Max Schreck's Nosferatu). As with most vintage creepers, atmosphere and art direction easily trump comic relief there to undercut it. Those Phantom sets are just too imposing for anyone not to take seriously, and no amount of cutting or re-shooting was ever going to mitigate their effectiveness. Refreshing too is 1925's resolve not to soften the character as remakes would. He's identified bluntly as an escapee from Devil's Island well versed in the black arts. Whereas Susanna Foster futzed over a pathetic Claude Rains in 1943, the original's Mary Philbin comes right to the point and addresses her Erik as a loathsome monster. Time's not wasted on motivation for this Phantom ... he's deranged and altogether unmanageable. We need not the acid splash to get his engines rolling. Sometimes (maybe always?) horror plays best when relieved of nuance viewers are better thrilled without. Could its welcome simplicity be (further) reason Chaney's Phantom Of The Opera survives best of them all?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Greenbriar's Stagecoach Ride --- Part Two

John Ford seems to have developed projects along lines aspiring filmmakers could only dream of, he and creative pals lounging aboard yachts, conjuring movie magic as they brandished fish poles and cocktail glasses (this revealed in home movie DVD extras). Many a Ford script came to fruition aboard his Araner with passengers in full party gear. Did inspiration also flow from potables downed in Mexican cantinas such as Ford frequented with John Wayne and Ward Bond? Kodachrome glimpses suggest it did. Amidst such convivial setting was borne Stagecoach and Fords that followed, along with our romantic concept of how this band of brothers devised westerns better than anyone else's. Did Stagecoach bring outdoor drama back to roaring life in 1939? Based on its reputation since, you'd think so, but this was a banner year for westerns that really didn't need Stagecoach one way or the other, being crowded with turnstile spinners like Dodge City, Union Pacific, The Oklahoma Kid, and frontier monarch of the lot, Jesse James, which grossed over twice what Stagecoach brought and was more influential besides for giving birth to a badman cycle that other studios copied. Most of 1939's "A" lot outperformed Stagecoach at ticket selling, a shortfall I'd attribute to United Artists' distribution, not lack of appeal in Ford's western. Stagecoach was a hit, but not a smash, earning a million in domestic rentals, which was all the better for its negative cost being apx. half that. Foreign rentals enhanced with an additional $736,000, but didn't such a pleaser deserve more? I delved into the Liberty's 1939 account ledger for a possible (if only partial) explanation ...

Our theatre has been around a long time (still operating), and yes, ran Stagecoach on numerous occasions through years (there were stills for varied bookings I found during storeroom searches). The Liberty first played Stagecoach on Monday and Tuesday of the last week of April, 1939, a short wait for a film that had premiered in Arizona, then opened in LA and New York but a couple of months before. United Artists placed stiffer terms on their features than any other company the Liberty dealt with. Stagecoach carried a flat rental of $120.00, way more than Paramount charged for Union Pacific five weeks later ($83.47), and certainly beyond Metro's price for the "A" Idiot's Delight ($71.50), which preceded Ford's film at the Liberty by days. Did UA price Stagecoach out of territories that might otherwise have used it? For those two days hosting Ford's western (plus Love Taps, a Metro musical short at $7.00 rental and a Paramount newsreel for $3.00), the Liberty collected $147.10 in ticket sales. Combined rental expense of $130.00 for this program, plus overhead factors, wouldn't have yielded much profit from Stagecoach, especially in comparison to a later in the week's run of The Hardys Ride High, for which MGM charged $46.50 flat, and from which the Liberty collected $177.85 for its Thursday/Friday play-off. Did other small venues yield similarly low surplus for having run Stagecoach in 1939?

Impact of Stagecoach would be felt longer than for westerns that out-grossed it. John Wayne was immediately elevated to higher rungs of stardom, even as he was obliged to report back to Republic for continuation of Three Mesquiteer B's. Warners got out trade ads (above) trumpeting reissue of their six Wayne programmers from the early thirties in hopes they'd bring back Stagecoach riders curious to see what a newly-minted A star was doing before lightning struck. Industry folk recognized qualities of Stagecoach unknown to previous westerns, even epic ones (including DeMille's). The film entered a public's memory bank as one of the Great Westerns, deposits made regularly as reissues and revivals kept it in near constant theatrical circulation for a remarkable twenty-five years. The negative had reverted to Walter Wanger after United Artists wrapped general release, and it was Wanger who turned Stagecoach over to Masterpiece Productions for a 1944 go-round to be followed by a 1948 combo with The Long Voyage Home, another Wanger/Ford collaboration in which both had percentages. That program benefited from intersection with a post-war reissue boom that earned first-run bookings in spacious houses (including New York's RKO Palace, their marquee touting "2 John Ford Thrillers" shown below). The director enjoyed Stagecoach income for possibly longer than any other feature in which he had a share. My own microfilm search through near environs found Stagecoach continuing to play drive-ins right through the fifties, an evergreen that showed up often. Winston-Salem's Lincoln Theatre, a scratch-house with three program changes per week, used Stagecoach at least once per year right through 1965, and might have continued doing so but for that house going dark the following year. Interesting here is fact they weren't booking it as any sort of "classic" or repertory piece --- indeed, Stagecoach ran August 26, 1965 at the Lincoln with co-features Half-Human and The Monster From Green Hell.

Writers have lamented bad prints of Stagecoach since original elements disappeared. Actually, there were and still are a handful of stunning 16mm printdowns out there. These were generated within ten years of the film's release and derived from the camera negative itself. The one I used to own had a 1948 edge-code, the year of Masterpiece's second reissue. These printdowns were done for non-theatrical rental, and there were lots of them. Problematic was fact that, being a popular favorite, Stagecoach picked up wear-and-tear not visited upon lesser 16mm titles, and finding one in clean condition posed a daunting task for collectors (mine had splicy sections). But Wow ... did they look a million. Contrast was richer than ever it would be again (including the DVD) and blacks registered deep as pitch, especially during the Lordsburg finish. These initial prints would unfortunately be replaced with ones softer and obviously cobbled from elements far afield of the lost original. Stagecoach was among first A westerns sold to television, and there its reputation continued soaring despite by-now cloudy transmission. By the early seventies when we had it for a college run, Stagecoach was a long diminished shadow of what had so impressed 1939 audiences. It was around this time that Peter Bogdanovich lucked across John Wayne's personal 35mm Stagecoach as they walked through the latter's garage (read Bogdanovich's excellent Who The Hell Made It for details) and that became source, at least in part, for preservation and circulating prints that followed. I'd assume JW's was among elements consulted by Criterion for their Blu-Ray release (although it was primarily a found 35mm nitrate negative from 1942 that was used, according to sources in-the-know). Certainly Criterion's represents the best Stagecoach has looked for many years, and combined with a bounty of extras, the most extravagant Ford package since Fox's massive box set of several seasons back.

Also See Part One of Stagecoach in Greenbriar Archives.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Greenbriar Boards The Stagecoach --- Part One

Somebody please smack me if I repeat Stagecoach lore you've read a hundred other places. Here's one done to death by revisitors, more so lately with Criterion's Blu-Ray in welcome circulation. Is this worth yet another DVD buy? Let sharper analysts speak to that (but a hint --- yes!). Stagecoach is among most democratic of sacred texts. It is, and has been from 1939, a western easy for everybody to like. Once it was familiar as raindrops. Television got all over Stagecoach early on, as did screaming exhibitors incensed by the film's free access there from the early fifties. Anyone setting up a 16mm rental outlet in their basement could license prints for non-theatrical dates. Rights flew in all directions. The camera neg was pillaged for stock footage and action shots cheaper westerns could use. Prints bore consequent scars by the sixties and Tom Dunnahoo of Thunderbird Films, imagining Stagecoach was public domain, took a late seventies whirl at selling it on 8mm and early VHS (but was soon persuaded otherwise by rights holders). There's less of John Ford's original in general circulation today. If ever Stagecoach lists anyplace other than TCM, get prepared for Fox's punk remake of 1966, or worse, a TV movie with country warblers aspiring to roles immortalized by John Ford's ensemble (Kris Kristofferson plays Ringo at age 50 --- right on!). The real Stagecoach was a saddle buster folks remembered for giving John Wayne an early boost and putting him to shootin' Injuns for a near nine minute chase talked about for decades to come. What Ford did with stunt riders and wagon wheels was not to be approached until counterparts paid (knowing?) homage using souped-up autos for likes of Bullitt and The French Connection.

I'm ready now to buy all John Ford's myths, even as I admire writers like Garry Wills who deconstruct them (he calls one chapter about Ford ... Sadist) . By all means Print The Legends, for plain truth of how Stagecoach got made is largely lost to time. Did filmmakers of John Ford's generation ever consider that accuracy would one day matter so much? Imagine Ford under the microscope of 2010's exacting film scholars. He'd appreciate more the Phil Jenkinsons willing to kiss his rear-Admiralty before deeper researching gave the lie to yarns he spun. Was Ford really a cow-puncher during youth, stealing off on a horse when a rancher's daughter set her cap for him? Probably not, but I'll groove with it all the same. Ford anecdotes are better taken as extensions of movies he made, neither strictly based in fact, but both having much to enjoy. Where's the good of fact checking where larger-than-anyone's-life personalities like Ford are concerned?

The fact John Ford didn't altogether discover John Wayne was undoubtedly a rock in the old man's shoe. Encounters with Raoul Walsh at Guild gatherings must have been awkward. Ford took credit for Wayne everywhere they'd listen, but Walsh knew different. The latter's Big Trail wasn't circulating much after 1930 to bear witness (unlike ubiquitous Stagecoach), but those (few?) in the know recognized it was Walsh that gave Wayne his first big chance. Ford liked to tell about rescuing Duke from crummy westerns at Republic, forgetting or choosing to ignore the fact that these were, by 1939, shining Cadillacs among B cowboy models. Yes, Wayne spent the thirties (and most of his twenties) on programmer horseback, but he was by no means obscure, as Stagecoach producer Walter Wanger learned when time came to talk loan-out terms with Republic (like borrowing Garbo, according to Matthew Bernstein's excellent Wanger book). Wayne in fact had a major following, and that wasn't limited to nickel ticket kids. At least down here (and points further south and west), grown-ups filled Saturday seats and made that top earning day at houses for whom Republic stars were among most popular. Ten years serving said patronage accumulated a fan base heading toward a next generation for John Wayne. By Stagecoach time, he promised value to marquees that small town showmen understood, even if higher up food chain Wanger and Ford remained blinkered to Wayne's matinee following.

John Ford had more filming past invested in westerns than Wayne in any case. So what made him spend late 20's and 30's years avoiding them? Ford's silent output was three-fourths cowboy-centric. He guided Buck Jones, Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and most famously, Harry Carey. Did the influence of F.W. Murnau render Ford stuck-up toward westerns? Most of the dozens he made pre-sound are lost. One surfaced recently in France and turned up as a Stagecoach DVD extra. Bucking Broadway makes me weep for others we'll never see, being perhaps more valuable to the Ford scheme of things than further Stagecoach excavation. A perfect world would yield Cheyenne Harry box sets as opposed to just this and Straight Shooting, the till-now lone Ford/Carey in circulation. Imagine all the echoes from Ford silents we'd find in Stagecoach, given rediscovery and access to them. Tag Gallagher tells a story of Harry Carey, Jr. going with his father to see Stagecoach in 1939 and the older man exclaiming over and over, We did that! We did that! Too bad the rest of us can't scrutinize crib sheets Ford consulted in making his first sound western, not to mention gags from way back he'd reuse for ones to come.
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