The Crusades (1935) D: Cecil B

Loretta Young (Berengaria), Henry Wilcoxon (Richard the Lion Hearted), Ian Keith (Saladin), C. Aubrey Smith (The Hermit), Katharine DeMille–as Katharine De Mille (Alice of France), Joseph Schildkraut (Conrad of Montferrat), C. Henry Gordon (Phillip II, King of France), George Barbier (Sanchez, King of Navarre), Alan Hale (Troubadour)

 “You can lie to yourself, Richard.  You can lie to me.  But you cannot lie to God.”

When we speak of epic films in the classic era, D.W. Griffith is brought to mind as he was basically the father of the cinematic extravaganza.  Those of a younger generation don’t necessarily realize the latter portion of DeMille’s films were also epics, even though they’re not in the widescreen process.  What these people fail to understand is that for that particular era, these motion pictures were extravaganzas, as DeMille put more into his movies than anyone.

A perfect example of this is his film The Crusades, his son John giving him the idea for the movie.  As with all of the helmsman’s pictures, hundreds of hours were spent researching items such as weaponry, clothing, etc., before filming started.

Having used Wilcoxon in Cleopatra, DeMille cast him again, and the two formed a working relationship that lasted until DeMille’s death in 1958.  Young was pregnant during filming, causing DeMille and the costumer designers considerable difficulties.  One of Christian slaves in the film’s opening was Ann Sheridan.

DeMille was truly hated by the former cowboys who served as stuntmen due to his contempt for safety.  The director’s main concern was getting the shot.  Having had many of their friends injured and their horses put down due to the disregards for safety on this film, the men were indignant.  Therefore, they actually planned on killing DeMille by ‘accidentally’ riding over him during a battle scene.  Eventually, the plan was scrapped when it was decided DeMille wasn’t worth prison time.

When the helmsman bellowed at them during an action shot, one stuntman, an expert archer, fired at the director’s megaphone, missing DeMille’s head by inches.  The director left the set for the rest of the day, and from then on, never again gave the stuntmen a hard time.

What makes The Crusades fascinating is that while we pull for the crusaders as they have the proper cause, we don’t care for them personally.  Richard only goes to get out of an unwanted wedding, and when the man does enter matrimony, he sends his sword as his proxy, insulting Berengaria.  The king doesn’t know the meaning of honor, and uses others to his advantage.  By the end of the film, everything has boomeranged on him and Richard is a defeated man.  Yet he’s learned what love is, thus he gained far more that he has lost.  The king (and the audience) consider him to be victorious.

Another interesting aspect is Saladin.  While he’s the military adversary of the crusaders, he’s far from being the villain.  As a matter of fact, the Moor is more appealing than Richard and his allies.  He shows love to Berengaria before Richard ever thinks of it.  Due to his love for the woman, he saves his adversary.  When he has Richard in his grasp, Saladin could finish him off.  Yet he finds a way to end the conflict, proving himself to be the superior leader and better man.

DeMille rightfully took pride that The Crusades was popular in the Middle East, as it was even-handed.  When he and Wilcoxon requested permission to film parts of The Ten Commandments in Egypt in the mid-1950s, Egyptian leaders stated they grew up watching The Crusades and appreciated how Moslem leaders were portrayed.  This, DeMille could have whatever he wanted.

The Crusades contains the best action scenes ever in a DeMille film.  Wilcoxon is perfectly cast as the unlikable Richard, while Young is utterly charming.  Keith is smooth, yet you know he can be dangerous.  Schildkraut oozes evil at all times, and one knows never to trust him.

An interesting look at an intriguing historical period, this is one any person interested in classic movies should watch.

J.M. Harrison is the author of “Ready When You Are,C.B.!”  98 Epic Films You Need To Watch

Blood On the Moon (1948) D: Robert Wise

Robert Mitchum (Jim Garry), Barbara Bel Geddes (Amy Lufton), Robert Preston (Tate Riling), Walter Brennan (Kris Barden), Phyllis Thaxter (Carol Lufton), Frank Faylen (Jake Pindalest), Tom Tully (John Lufton)

                                  “I’ve seen dogs wouldn’t claim you for a son, Tate.”

Frederick Glidden wrote many Western novels, using the pen name of Luke Short, picking the name of an Old West gunman.  As Hollywood tends to stray from the author’s works, studios acted differently with Short’s novels, sticking to them.  Some of the finest examples are Ramrod (1947) and Vengeance Valley (1951).  Yet of the motion pictures taken from the man’s novels, Blood On the Moon, based on Short’s Gunman’s Chance (Which is now published under the film’s title.), stands out.

The film was the second noir Western to star Mitchum, who’d made Pursued  the previous year.  To get the desired visual effect, cinematographer Nicolas Musraca, who’s shot the actor’s Out of the Past (1947) was hired.  His work makes the star’s character nobler and Preston’s Tate all the more evil.

This was Wise’s first ‘A’ picture, and the man proceeded to helm features such as West Side StoryThe Sound of Music and The Sand Pebbles, winning two Oscars and the AFI Life Achievement Award.  While shooting the saloon fight, he had Mitchum and Preston do the scene without doubles.  As a result, the director wound up with one of the most grueling cinematic fistfights, both of the actors being black and blue for several days.

Blood On the Moon is often considered to be Jim Garry’s redemption, but that isn’t so.  The man’s looking for a fresh start, not a clean soul.  When contacted by Tate, Jim knows the score, and understands what they’re doing is wrong.  Yet he needs to make a living, and is confused about what to do.  When things go too far, he can’t deal with it and breaks with his old comrade.  By doing so, he proves his morality is far better than anyone save Amy has judged it to be.

Tate is one of the nastiest so-and-sos ever to grace the Western.  He manipulates the woman who loves him, the smaller ranchers, and the army, all the while having them think he’s doing it for their own good.  In actuality, the man is nothing more than a murderous carpetbagger who doesn’t give one iota if anyone is hurt–emotionally or physically–as a result of his actions.

Blood On the Moon gathered excellent reviews, doing well at the box office.  Mitchum’s his usual stalwart self and Preston makes an excellent oily baddie.  Bel Geddes shows a side of her we rarely were able to see while Thaxter makes you hurt for her.  But Musraca’s the true star in this fabulous, forgotten Western.

J.M. Harrison is the author of “Ready When You Are, C.B.!” 98 Epic Films You Need to Watch

The Bravados (1958) D: Henry King

Gregory Peck (Jim Douglas), Joan Collins (Josefa Velarde), Stephen Boyd (Bill Zachary), Albert Salmi (Ed Taylor), Henry Silva (Lujan), Kathleen Gallante (Emma), Barry Coe (Tom), George Voskovec (Steinmetz), Herbert Rudley (Elroy Sanchez), Lee Van Cleef (Alfonso Parral), Andrew Duggan (Padre), Gene Evans (Butler)

“Go to sleep.  You never hear the shot that kills you.”

20th Century Fox obtained the rights to Frank O’Rourke’s yet-to-be-published book, saying Edward Dymtryk would direct the movie. Yet once things got started, King was the man in charge.  Several writers–including John O’Hara and Richard Breen worked on the script, but only Philip Yordan was credited.  The finished screenplay improved on O’Rourke’s work, as in the book there’s no revenge theme and Peck’s character doesn’t exist.

King at first turned down the The Bravados, wondering why Jim loses his thirst for vengeance at the end, letting Lujan go.  He finally came up with the idea of having Butler as the actual murderer of Jim’s wife, therefore the man’s search has been all for naught and he now sees himself as a murderer.

Although the score was written by Alfred Newman and Hugo Friedhofer, it’s credited to Lionel Newman.  It’s widely believed Alfred Newman gave his brother the recognition due to the man’s overseeing the score overseas recording.    (It was recorded in Germany due to a musicians’ strike.)  Friedhofer actually wrote the majority of the music.

Peck would eventually say he didn’t care for The Bravados as “my character is unbelievably grim and straight faced.”  The actor found the confession scene “very difficult for me to do.”  Peck was proud of his once scene with Silva, stating an actor “does have little ornaments hanging on the tree here and there, work that he’s proud of that maybe no one really noticed.”

The one leading the outlaws away from the posse, Lujan’s the most fascinating character in the picture as he’s Jim’s opposite number.  While the others are perplexed by the moves their pursuer, Lujan never is, as he totally understands the man.  At the cantina, when he sees Jim slay Bill, Lujan has the opportunity to back shoot Jim–But he’s not a killer.  This is why he lets the man who’s chased him all these miles go when Jim invades the sanctity of his home.  Yes, Lujan’s a thief, but never do see him harm a soul.

Discovering those he’s killed weren’t his wife’s murderers shatters Jim’s soul.  True, they were scheduled to be executed–But not by him.  Not by him.  He comprehends too late that when he killed the trio, it was for something they didn’t do.  Thus, his actions have turned him into a mirror image of those he’s hated the last six months and the man doesn’t know how he’ll live with himself.  This is why he turns to the Padre.

Sadly, The Bravados seems to be one of those beautiful motion pictures that has slipped through the cracks with time’s passing.  As always, Peck’s superb, and despite being miscast, Collins seems to work.  Boyd and Salmi are out and out sinister while Van Cleef is marvelous.  But it’s Silva’s work that truly takes the honors.  With Leon Shamory’s exquisite camera work and a stupendous score, The Bravados reminds us that revenge is not a dish we want on the table.

J.M. Harrison is the author of Evil At EnoroMart.

Experiment In Terror (1962) D: Blake Edwards

Glenn Ford (John ‘Rip’ Ripley), Lee Remick (Kelly Sherwood), Ross Martin (Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch), Stefanie Powers (Toby Sherwood), Roy Poole (Brad), Ned Glass (‘Popcorn’), Anita Loo (Lisa), Patricia Huston (Nancy Ashton)

                                         “I hear you haven’t been feeling too good.”                                                                           “Ooooh.  If I was a building, they’d condemn me

Mildred and Gordon Gordon’s Operation: Terror  originated as a serial for the Ladies Home Journal.  They were given $125,000, the most at the time for a suspense novel.  Their Undercover Cat was turned into That Darn Cat! by Disney.  Interestingly, both concerned sisters living alone working with an agent of the F.B.I.

Due to his recent work in comedy, many considered Edwards a strange choice for this type film.  They had forgotten he’d been the creative force behind television’s ‘Peter Gunn.’  The helmsman stated, “I wanted to try something that was . . . away from things I was suddenly finding myself involved in.”  It would be the first of his motion pictures to be in black-and-white, and Philip Lathorp’s camerawork is a masterpiece.

Remick was Edwards’ favorite actress to work with, and they made another picture in 1962, Days of Wine and Roses.  It was set in San Fransisco as well.  Yet they never worked again after this magical year for the duo.

Columbia’s publicity department really went to town went it came to keeping the identity of who portrayed Lynch a secret.  (Edwards went along with this, only revealing Martin bit by bit throughout the picture.)  The actor was escorted to a series of ‘Who is he?’ interviews while gagged and masked and was to be referred to as “Mr. Blank.”  His name not appearing until the end of the picture, it gave Experiment In Terror a great deal of hype.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the picture is the rarity of the romantic aspect between ‘Rip’ and Kelly.  Both are attractive individuals, yet neither’s attracted to the other.  Kelly’s dating another man, which is hinted at here and written about more in the Gordons’ work.  The novel also covers Ripley’s romance with a Bureau secretary, which isn’t in the film.

Experiment In Terror is a remarkable view at the victims of crime.  Kelly’s terrified beyond belief, realizing if Lynch knows she’s contacted the authorities, she’s dead.  Yet her sense of values won’t let her cooperate with him.  As this motion picture suffers from a lack of recognition, Kelly is one of the cinema’s greatest unrecognized heroines.

Sadly, keeping his name out of the press cost Martin a much deserved Oscar nomination.  A tragic mistake on the Academy’s part, for the man was most deserving, and should have walked off with the statue that year.  Bosley Crowthey labeled him “as ugly and repulsive as one could ask any villain could be.”  He set the pace for screen villainy to come, and those who portray roles such as these today can thank Ross Martin for setting the bar.

No one knows why Experiment In Terror has fallen by the wayside.  Yet along with Days of Wine and Roses, it ranks and Edwards’ finest cinematic achievement, showing that in 1962, he and Remick were truly in their stride.  What a pity they didn’t continue to work more as a team.

Henry Mancin’s score is fascinatingly eerie, and the entire cast is on their toes throughout the film, but Martin, in playing a murderous extortionist, was robbed of the Oscar himself.  And Lathrop scores as well.  An unsung gem.

J.M. Harrison is the author of Pass the Popcorn, Please: 87 Watchable Movies You Should View.

Bite the Bullet (1975) D: Richard Brooks

GeGene Hackman (Sam Clayton), Candice Bergen (Miss Jones), James Coburn (Luke Matthews), Ben Johnson (Mister), Ian Bannen (Sir Harry Norfolk), Jan-Michael Vincent (Carbo), Mario Artaega (Pepe), Dabney Coleman (Jack Parker)

                                             “Nothing so hard on a man as virtue.”                                                                                  “How would you know?”

Brooks was one of Hollywood’s most gifted writer-directors, and one who hasn’t gotten the ink others such as Chaplin, Wilder and Sturges have.  He’d earlier delved into the Western with examples such as The Last Hunt and The Professionals.  Learning of an actual race from Evanston, Wyoming to Denver, Colorado sponsored by the Denver Post in 1908, he started on his screenplay.

Then the most popular actor in motion pictures, Charles Bronson turned down the main role of Sam Clayton, opening the way for Hackman, who’d recently made several Westerns.  Bergen had just starred in another outdoor epic, The Wind and the Lion.  Coburn had a long history of Westerns in both motion pictures and television, as did former rodeo champ Johnson.

Bite the Bullet was shot over 68 days in New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, Hackman later saying it was the “toughest film I ever worked on,” yet the actor enjoyed making the movie.  The crew experienced weather ranging from snowstorms to pouring rain to scorching heat.  While they were in New Mexico, Paul Stewart, who portrayed the elder Parker, suffered a heart attack.

Luke is a wannabe scoundrel.  He has the somewhat desire for it, but not the ability.  When Sam takes on Carbo and his pals for abusing an animal, Luke steps in to aid his outnumbered comrade, conversing with him all the while.  When Norfolk must put down his beloved steed, Luke is there to silently give him the weapon to do it.  He can win at the finish, but like Sam, realizes his horse is more important than the prize money.  Like his friend, he’s a man of honor.

A true Westerner, Sam is–unknown to himself–a great man.  Throughout the movie, he aids someone, whether it’s a defenseless jackass or someone he really doesn’t know. Sam’s the one who aids Pepe and comes to the defense of Jones (as does Pepe) when she’s attacked.  He’s the one who goes back for the ailing Mister and waits with him until he perishes.  The cowboy molds Carbo’s character over the course of the race by showing the youngster how he’s heading down the wrong path.  Sam is a maker of men, and a silent hero.

Men such as Mister are those who won the West and untold numbers of them are buried in unmarked graves such as his.  (When the man perishes, Sam states, “Gee Mister, I didn’t even know your name,” realizing the man’s grave won’t have a marker.)  Having done so much, he’s not content.  When he dies, a large portion of Western history fades.  Sam realizes this is his future self, as this is the life of a cowboy.  Where Mister is wrong about himself is wanting to see his name in print to be someone.  With all he’s accomplished in his life, he’s been somebody for a long, long time.

Although Johnson was looked at as the ‘aw, shucks’ type actor, his death scene reminds the audience just how fine a performer he truly was.  From his first appearance in the movie, we’re drawn to his character of Mister due to the simplistic manner in which he’s portrayed.  As Mister expires, Johnson lets us know the man’s life, albeit a lonely one, has been a helluva time, and few others–if any–could have done the scene as well.

Bite the Bullet hits the mark on all aspects, especially with Alex North’s score.  The composer rarely worked in the Western genre, but when he did, he hit the mark, and Bite the Bullet ranks among his finest, not to mention one of the best on Western film history.

Brooks’ script is marvelous, as is the cinematography by Harry Strandling, Jr.  Hackman, Coburn, and Vincent, and excellent, but Johnson walks off with the picture in a performance that should have netted him his second Oscar.  (He wasn’t even nominated, which was a travesty.)  Showing off the beauty of the American West, Bite the Bullet is a splendid motion picture.

J.M. Harrison is the author of Ready When You Are, C.B.!  98 Epic Films You Should Watch