kitparkerfilms

Posts Tagged ‘Lloyd Bridges

 

Al Parker #101152015

 

“I was born to ride…”

In 1953 Robert L. Lippert commissioned a feature film to be directed by noted film editor, Elmo Williams (Academy Award winner for “High Noon”), who is still alive at 102.  It was to star Lloyd Bridges, Lee J. Cobb, Marie Windsor and Luther Adler.  Lippert, always interested in getting talent to work cheap, got three of the stars at a bargain rate because they were HUAC-tainted, and needed work.

Production commenced in Deming, New Mexico, and local real-deal cowboys were retained as wranglers.  Among them, L.B. “Beau” Johnson, Robert Johnson, Ross May and Darrell Hawkins.

Both Williams and his wife, Lorraine, were fascinated by the cowboys who worked on the picture, and she envisioned a full-length documentary about cowboy life featuring the same cowboys who worked in “The Tall Texan.”  The estimated budget was around $50,000 (under $500,000 in 2014 dollars), low because there was no need to pay for stars, sets or sync sound.  The meager budget, even by Lippert standards, may account for why the penurious producer sprung for filming in color.

Both movies turned out very well, and made money.  “The Cowboy” was particularly successful in the Southwest.  Later, when it was released in 16mm, it became a perennial favorite at Indian reservations.

In 2004 I purchased the Lippert film library, and envisioned a DVD release of “The Cowboy” with the usual special features VCI Entertainment and I specialize in.  But, what special features could I come up with?

Later on I got a phone call from Bridget Kelly who worked with filmmakers in New Mexico, asking if the movie could be shown to an audience in Deming.  Of course I said yes, and inquired if she knew what became of the cowboys.  She replied that four of them were coming to the screening!

A commentary track featuring the actual cowboys looking at the movie a half-century later…yessss!

It was arranged to get them together for a recording session.  My wife, Donna, and I went to Deming and awaited the cowboys.  The first one, Beau Johnson, arrived with his wife in an old car that didn’t look as if it had been through a car wash in 15 years; papers all over the dash, license plate hanging on for dear life. There he was, complete with faded Wrangler’s, old boots, sweat-stained hat, and a big silver buckle, speaking authentic “cowboy,” of course.  Was he ever a warm and wonderful character.  His passion was race horses, and he owned them…why bother with a new car when you own championship horses?  Next came Beau’s brother, Robert, Ross May and finally Darrell Hawkins, great guys all.  Hawkins even gave me a lesson on trick roping.

I had prepared for the recording session with lots of notes and questions to toss out to keep the guys talking throughout, hoping they’d make comments about what was occurring on the screen without much prompting from me.  We rolled tape and Ross May, who had retired as a school teacher, took the lead as moderator…he was a natural…knew just how to keep everyone going as if he’d done it a thousand times.  Tossed my notes in the garbage…didn’t need ‘em.

The result was great…a group of engaging old-timers reminiscing, often humorously, and with cowboy jargon, about an era that has, for all intents and purposes, long since passed.

 

Donna and I recently got a call out of the blue from Beau Johnson.  Hadn’t spoken with him for many years although I had thought about him.  He had been in the hospital, and I guess had survived a couple of brushes with death.  His brother, Robert, is fine, but Ross and Hawkins are gone.  Beau, still his jovial self, told us how much our friendship meant to him, which was totally unexpected, and touched us very much.   He said he even kept a ribbon from a bottle of wine Donna gave him.   Beau had another reason to call…a favor…asked if we’d call Elmo Williams and wish him a happy 103rd birthday.  (It isn’t until next year, but we’ll be sure to call).

When we signed off, Beau told me he was born to ride a horse, and I told him “The Cowboy” commentary was the most fun I’ve ever had producing a special feature.

 

COWBOY, THE

 

Additional DVD bonus features:

“The Making of The Cowboy” by Elmo Williams

Video booklet

“Ghost Towns of the Old West – the Deserts” narrated by Rip Torn

 

Photos:

Top: Beau and Robert Johnson from “The Cowboy”

DVD cover:  Beau Johnson

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When I think of movies like “Hellgate” (Lippert/1952), directed by Charles Marquis Warren, and “The Tall Texan” (Lippert/1953), directed by Elmo Williams (Oscar-winning film editor on “High Noon”), I marvel at how  directors like that were able to produce really entertaining films on a minimal budget (and an even more minimal shooting schedule.)

David Schecter does the same, only he thinks of the composers, in this case, Paul Dunlap and Bert Schefter.

“Monstrous Movie Music” is the name of David’s company.  He specializes in producing CD’s with music scores from lower-tier science fiction films, but there are a few “A” features as well. These movies were helped immeasurably by the gifted composers, who like their director and producer counterparts, relegated to the demands of low budgets and extremely tight production schedules.

Some bring back fond memories of my going to the movies as a kid at the State and Rio Theatres in Monterey, CA:  “The Blob” (Paramount/1958) composed by Ralph Carmichael; “The Last Man on Earth” (AIP/1964), composed by Paul Sawtell and Bert Schefter; “The Brain From the Planet Arous” (Howco/1957), composed by Walter Greene.  I remember as the end title on “Arous” came on the screen and thinking I’d just wasted $.50.  My disappointment was forgotten after watching the co-feature, “The Alligator People” (API-Fox/1959), composed by Irving Gertz, exemplifying there is no accounting for the taste of an 11-year-old.

David Schecter is a champion of composers, especially the lesser-known ones, many of whom he knew personally, and dedicates himself to making their scores available.  He and his staff have gone to the trouble of re-recording the scores utilizing renowned symphony orchestras in Poland and Slovakia when they aren’t releasing original soundtracks.  He write superb liner notes as well.

Monstrous Movie Music:

http://www.mmmrecordings.com/index.htmlb

The movies themselves are available on DVD from VCI Entertainment:

http://kitparker.com/buy.php

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“Hellgate,” starring Sterling Hayden, Joan Leslie, Ward Bond, and James Arness (one of my favorites), directed by Charles Marquis Warren, is part of the two-disc DVD collection titled, “Darn Good Westerns”  Volume 1, featuring five additional titles, “Panhandle” (Allied Artists/1948) with Rod Cameron, in “glowing Sepiatone,” and four from Lippert Pictures, “Fangs of the Wild” (1954),  with Charles Chaplin, Jr., and underrated actress Margia Dean in one of her best roles, “The Train to Tombstone” (1950) which is a Don “Red” Barry western, “Operation Haylift” (1950) with Bill Williams and Ann Rutherford, and “Wildfire – The Story of a Horse” (1945) starring Bob Steele, in Cinecolor, which was the first production from legendary exhibitor turned producer, Robert L. Lippert.

“The Tall Texan,” is a solid western starring Lloyd Bridges and Lee J. Cobb, with cool special features, including “The Making of ‘The Tall Texan’” by Elmo Williams (still alive at age 100!); audio reminiscences by Ross May, a wrangler for the movie; the original theatrical trailer, and Chapter 1 from “Secret Agent X-9” (1945).

On the subject of Elmo Williams, I highly recommend “The Cowboy” (Lippert/1954), a feature length documentary filmed in color.  Both “The Tall Texan” and “The Cowboy” were made in Deming NM where in 2005 my wife Donna and I went to produce the commentary featuring reminiscences of four of the original cowboys who starred in the film.  Listening to these authentic cowboys fifty years later is a hoot…worthy of a blog of its own.

*Usually credited as a Lippert production, it was actually an independent film from producer by John C.  Champion (brother of Gower), under his Commander Films banner.  Champion also produced “Panhandle.”

http://fiftieswesterns.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/50s-western-scores-by-paul-dunlap-and-bert-shefter/

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https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLHjjG-o5Ny5BDykgVBzdrQ .

 

 

 

Samuel Fuller’s “I Shot Jesse James” (1949)

 

Before Roger Corman there was Robert L. Lippert.

Producer/Exhibitor Robert L. Lippert’s low-budget productions are sometimes called Grade “C.”  Personally, I’ve never seen one below “B-,” and in fairness, he did put out some “B+,” “nervous A,” and who can call “The Fly” (1957) anything but an “A”?

Lippert felt there was an unmet demand for “B” product for his circuit of theatres, so in 1945 he and John L. Jones formed a production company, Action Pictures, and distribution company, Screen Guild Productions.   The first and sole release for 1945 was “Wildfire – The Story of a Horse,” in Cinecolor, starring Bob Steele.  Regular releases followed, and in 1949 Screen Guild , became “Lippert Pictures,” and in the final count, cranked out over 125 low budget movies, and released many more acquisitions and reissues.  He produced many more films for release by 20th Century-Fox…more about the Fox deal later…

The early Lippert productions were unremarkable B movies (okay, there may have been some C’s), with a few notable exceptions.  Things changed in 1949 when he rolled the dice and took a chance on a feisty independent newspaper reporter by the name of Samuel Fuller. Lippert gave Fuller, who had no movie experience, virtual free-reign, and his name above the title, to create a film about Jesse James’ assassin, Bob Ford.   It was released as “I Shot Jesse James” (1949), and became a critical and box office success, and today it is considered a classic, notable, among other things, for its extensive use of close ups.  Soon after, Fuller directed his second film, “The Baron of Arizona” (1950), a true story about a swindler who seized much of Arizona by forging Spanish land grants.  Vincent Price played the “Baron,” and many years later claimed it was one of his very favorite roles.  Truly, the Lippert/Fuller magna opus was the classic Korean War drama, “The Steel Helmet” (1951), which garnered first-run dates at prestigious theatres.  The three Fuller films are out on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Lippert’s cause célèbre was to produce films as cheaply as possible, and still offer at least some entertainment value, particularly for the more unsophisticated movie patrons. No Lippert movies were allowed to go over budget.  Not egotiable…even for Fuller.

Robert L. Lippert, Jr. told me a story about filming of the climactic ending of “The Steel Helmet,” where a Korean temple is to be destroyed, and it almost didn’t come to be…  Fuller had shot all but the ending, and production was about to go into overtime. Lippert came on the set and literally pulled the power switch to shut down production.  Fortunately, after he left the set, Fuller turned the power on and filmed the finale.

In 1950, Lippert gave himself a challenge…produce a series of six Jimmy “Shamrock” Ellison-Russell “Lucky” Hayden westerns, all at the same time, using the same casts, sets, crew, and so on.  In one movie an actor may play a bad guy and a bartender in another.   A camera was be set up in the saloon, for example, and the saloon scenes for each movie would be shot sequentially, with actors rushing about changing costumes between each roll of the camera.  It must have been a nightmare for the script girl!  Robert L. Lippert, Jr. told me it was his father’s proudest achievement!  VCI released this series as a set under the “Big Iron Collection” banner.

Despite the puny budgets, minor classics resulted, including “Little Big Horn” (1951) and “The Tall Texan” (1953), both starring Lloyd Bridges.  There was also a distinctive film noir series filmed in Great Britain starting in 1953 when Lippert formed a production alliance with his British distributor, Exclusive Films, soon known as Hammer Film Productions.  Under the arrangement, Lippert would provide an American “star,” on the way down, but who still had some name value, plus cash to pay for part of the production.  Exclusive/Hammer and Lippert divided up the distribution territories.  The result was a series of good thrillers, supported by solid English casts, and many directed by Terence Fisher, in his
pre-horror film days.  The Lippert-Hammers are all available as part of the “Hammer Noir” collections released by VCI Entertainment.

Lippert, like Roger Corman after him, was able to gather together producers, directors, screenwriters, composers, and, of course, actors, willing to work on tight schedules for minimal pay.  There were stars who had lost their major studio contracts (Paulette Goddard, George Raft) or who had problems with the House on Un-American Activities (Lloyd Bridges, Lee J. Cobb).   Even Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicolson had roles in later Lippert productions.

Lippert was a master marketer.  When producer George Pal set out to mount a big budget Technicolor production of “Destination Moon” (1950), based on the science-fiction book by Robert A. Heinlein, Lippert saw an opportunity.  He capitalized on Pal’s media campaign by throwing together his own low (of course) budget “moon” (he changed it to “mars” to avoid a lawsuit)  picture,“Rocketship X-M” (1950).  It beat Pal’s movie into the theatres, stealing a good deal of the Technicolor epic’s thunder.   I’m told Mr. Pal was not amused.

Trouble, and opportunities, lay ahead for Lippert.

To be continued…

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