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Monday, November 30, 2020

Plucked From Tubes, Into Your Theatre


Fort Dobbs (1958) Is Clint Walker Standing Tallest

I’m nonplussed by any heavy dumb enough to pick a fight with Clint Walker. He walks into a saloon like Mount Whitney uprooted from the ground, wiser of us ceding space to him, or surrendering where we are quarry he seeks. I never bought “Major Reisman” felling such mighty oak as "Posey" in The Dirty Dozen, even where it’s tougher-than-tough Lee Marvin. Walker was always a gentle giant, quiet-spoken because otherwise he’d scare hell out of anyone on sight, Walker a player who had to underplay lest he overpower the lot. His sort is why kindred Godzilla had to enter cities at such plodding pace. We needed time to absorb his gigantic-ness. Big men thrive best where treading gentle. Randolph Scott’s adopted son wrote a book where he shared advise gotten from Dad, to wit, men of size should not dress flashy … opt instead for dark and conservative. Randy was perceptive enough to go with a safe, if neutral, impression upon people who might otherwise be intimidated by him. Was Godzilla a tranquil green for this sensible reason? At least it softened blows of his burning down Tokyo yet again.

Back to Walker then … imagine him fed up and marching to WB executive wing for a contract showdown. I would not have wanted to be the guy saying no to him. Wonder how he stood up to Jack Warner during well-known contretemps over work burden and pay. Jack surely hid behind a human wall of minions, though we may assume Clint was represented by comparative mite-size agency who’d not frighten bosses out of negotiating space. Fact is, Clint Walker had a congenial relationship with Jack L., and sometimes lunched with him. Any man of average or less size likes having a giant for a pal, especially when wading into space where there are other giants potentially less friendly. I saw Clint Walker at a couple of fan meets, had his gracious help for a Yellowstone Kelly post back in 2010. Overlapping shows hosted Virginia Mayo and Richard Eyer, both from Fort Dobbs with Clint, and you wonder what such reunions were like. Just a nod, maybe a hi, or did they pass without recognition of one another? This was in the nineties, going on forty years after Fort Dobbs folded up. How many specifics do any of us recall from so far back? For me, less every day.

WB cowboys not as robust recalled Clint fixing up a backlot horse stall for a weight room. He could have bench-pressed pick-ups had space been larger. Imagine being Ty Hardin or Will Hutchins, cocks of the Warner walk … then here comes Clint. Latter was obliged to doff his shirt where screen circumstance called for it, or didn’t, Walker seldom a burden upon the wardrobe department. There’s a night scene in Fort Dobbs where Virginia Mayo gazes frankly upon his manly pecs, her naked under a blanket, having woke after he rescued her from river torrent and took off her clothes because, well, she’s soaked and might after all get pneumonia (a handy means in Code movies for heroes to check out goods before committing). Walker was thus there for display purposes, a physical specimen not to be believed, his a male opportunity to realize what distaff staff at Warners (and elsewhere) coped with in order to act in movies, Virginia Mayo's an opposite sex equivalent of career spent painted and posed. She is refreshingly natural and un-made up in Fort Dobbs, and for my money more attractive than where overbaked by costumers and face-alterers. Mayo surely appreciated that for the effective performance she gives here.

Whether Clint could act was less a concern, and who cared, because the man could sure ride, knock heads plumb off shoulders where needed (in fact, fist work was minimal because who had ghost of a chance against him?). Armed with fine Burt Kennedy dialogue, little of that because “Gar Davis” is a man of fewest words. Walker has opposition that is chatty Brian Keith, him a reprise of Lee Marvin as spoken for by Kennedy in Seven Men From Now. When a thing is good enough, you can safely do it again, and again, as Kennedy had, and would, right from ’56 (Seven Men) through ’60 (Comanche Station). Kennedy was asked why his work afterward fell below quality of these from a decade before. He replied that the business had so changed, plus audience feel for how westerners should comport … old standards, codes of honor, swept aside by attitudes altered for keeps. Kennedy, Boetticher, others of the older school, surely felt alone in what was left of a western landscape. Soon enough, the genre itself would winnow out. Fort Dobbs is of pleasing piece with better known Renown projects for Randolph Scott that Kennedy wrote and Budd Boetticher directed, even as the story runs more along Hondo lines. I wondered at first if Fort Dobbs was a remake, or mimicry to go uncredited. Someone’s fresh idea for a western was fated to be grist for others with ideas less fresh, seizing a best of what worked before with hope the homage would not be too apparent.

Came across Fort Dobbs from a TCM broadcast wide and HD, which I recalled little enough so it would seem new, credits settling my right choice via scribe Kennedy, Max Steiner for music, Gordon Douglas the director. Economical yes (negative cost: $886K), but there is sweep to locations, action manifest, plus Warners hand-shaking again with TV, now a partner toward grosses a Fort Dobbs could never get were it not for tube-to-turnstile kids (and grown-ups) who wanted more of Clint Walker and were willing to pay for him. I’d be remiss not to mention these ads and posters. They are, as always, whipped cream on pudding that is Warner work of the late 50’s, whether it’s Walker being sold (here or for Yellowstone Kelly), Jim Garner (Darby’s Rangers), Kook Byrnes (again Yellowstone Kelly … and Darby’s Rangers), or Tab/Nat (sounds like a candy, and is, based on The Burning Hills and The Girl He Left Behind), not ignoring Cash McCall with Jim/Nat. Warners would in fact tickle teen pulse right into the 60’s with Susan Slade and further Troy/Connies. I lived through all this, regrettably in rompers, for what joy it would have been to pant for each jump from couch to concessions (King of the TV-bred lot? I say Rio Bravo, notwithstanding Duke and Dean). Fort Dobbs can be had from Warner Archive.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

And today, November 30, 2020, would have been Mayo's 100th birthday.

7:09 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

When Warners needed someone to have a dustup with Clint Walker, they'd enlist Leo Gordon or Don Megowan. The Warners cowboys made a few appearances at the Lone Pine Film Festival. They were a bunch of nice guys and seemed to enjoy hanging out with each other.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

The world of vintage TV Westerns was a land of giants. Jim Arness, Chuck Connors, Fess Parker and Clint Walker all rode pretty tall in the saddle. And besides height and sheer beef, Clint brought that incredible voice! Love how Walker was used later in SEND ME NO FLOWERS. Not only was he one actor actually bigger than Rock Hudson, but that relaxed, taciturn style contrasted nicely with fidgety, hypochondriac Rock.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It's not the big guys we have to be careful of. It's the small guys. They tend to be either cowards are really tough.

1:49 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Somewhere Warners found somebody big enough to double Clint after his walkout over exhaustive working conditions. It's funny seeing him being doubled for something as simple as walking across the street in those later Cheyennes.

3:34 PM  
Blogger shiningcity said...

Another not bad Clint Walker western is Gold of the Seven Saints (1961), with Roger Moore supporting and Gordon Douglas directing.

10:27 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

As a fan of CLINT WALKER, I have always enjoyed his first 3 films and thought they were his BEST; all 3 from Warner Brothers, who always excelled in producing the best films on the screen--especially their westerns, and especially during that particular era. Now that we all can watch them on OUR own SCREENS at will, let me tell you it was a thrill to say the least, to have been part of a THEATRE audience in 1958, watching BIG Clint on the BIG SCREEN at last (!!), in FORT DOBBS, with GORDON DOUGLAS directing and MAX STEINER'S music (always terrific for our senses), and co-star Virginia Mayo, too! Then came his BEST EVER role and film, YELLOWSTONE KELLY(1959). Later (in 1961) came #3, GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS, which was the only one of the 3 filmed in wide screen (WARNERSCOPE). My only complaint of the 3 was the concern that FORT DOBBS AND GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS were filmed in BLACK AND WHITE! Thank the film Gods for TECHNICOLOR in YELLOWSTONE KELLY! The two filmed in B&W just SCREAMED for color--even WARNERCOLOR (!!?) would have helped with their beautiful locations. Big mistake it was parting ways with WARNER BROS, who could have made him a bigger star in 'action' films following; fortunately his fans would not let him be forgotten. even in forgettable flicks. The rest of his film career, which was a strange mixed batch of lesser product, save a few goodies NONE BUT THE BRAVE (1966), a return to his home studio there, but WHY then the stupid, later western THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY(1969). WHAT A TOTAL BUMMER that was, for CW fans like myself who thought this WOULD be his BIG return to the BIG western scene. But we were wrong. Despite the rest of his later films, an uneven batch of questionable produced titles, CLINT WALKER emerged from it all the BIG guy as well as a wonderful person that he was, and I sure miss the man.

9:50 PM  
Blogger twbrxdx said...

I interviewed Mr. Walker for a book and interacted with him several times. He was a real gentleman. A gentle man. He once modestly told me that he used to jog to the top of the Hollywood hills during his lunch break(!) while filming at Warner Bros. I believed him. Its also true that he liked Jack Warner "a lot," although yes, he said that they used to fight about money.

I have always thought that Clint Walker, in his prime, would have been perfect as Superman

8:02 PM  

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