Sunday, May 31, 2015
‘STRANGE EMPIRE’ – Series Review
With little fanfare – or even warning – the first two episodes of a new Western series, STRANGE EMPIRE, appeared on the Lifetime Movie Channel on Friday night. If you missed them, check your local listings, because they’re playing again on Thursday, and you do want to track this one from the beginning.
Set in the 1860s, on the North American frontier between what would become Montana, and Canada, several groups of travelers converge by chance at a stagecoach stop. Kat (Cara Gee) and Jeremiah Loving (Richard de Klerk) arrive at a moment of tragedy – too late for a doctor to save their baby. Wistfully, the same man of God who buries their child marries them. They’re joined by Dr. Bill Blithely (Bill Marchant) and his young wife, an odd but gifted would-be doctor, Rebecca (Melissa Farman), and others. Things get quickly out of hand – they learn a pair of teenage girls traveling with them are on their way to be whores. The local power, a man named Slotter but pronounced ‘slaughter’ (Aaron Poole), arrives with his crew to claim the girls, and is livid when he can’t find them – only Kat has the courage and cool to face him down.
Kat in the cemetery
At night the travelers are brutally attacked, perhaps by Indians, and practically all of the men perish. Then Slotter is back, to ‘rescue’ the women and bring them to Janestown, his headquarters, where he runs the mines, is building a railroad, and his wife Isabelle (Tattiawna Jones) is the brothel madam and a fraud clairvoyant. Slotter is determined to turn all the women to whores to service his men, from miners to influential politicians. Kat is equally determined to find out what’s happened to her missing husband and, with the others, to escape.
Rebecca and the girls
The full title of the series is STRANGE EMPIRE – THE RISE OF THE WOMEN, and you could even add ‘and the fall of the men,’ because this is really Kat, Rebecca and Isabelle’s show – in an amusing nod that isn’t really reflective of the show’s dark tone, the title sequence features the three in CHARLIE’S ANGELS poses. Made by the Canadian Broadcasting Company last year, STRANGE EMPIRE drew a very enthusiastic following, but only lasted one season. We’ll have to see if Lifetime decides to extend it.
Auctioning the ladies
The first two episodes have considerable strengths. Cara Gee as Kat effectively carries a large percentage of the interest, as the sensitive but tough-as-nails heroine. Rebecca seems a bit dippy, but redeems herself in ways I won’t spoil in episode two. So far there is no reason to care about Isabelle’s character. Watching the teenage girls play happily in a field with young boys, and then recalling what those girls are bound for, gives the viewer a twinge in the stomach. Telling us they’re going to be whores is one thing; making us feel it is the work of talented writers and directors and actors.
Mrs. & Mr. Slotter
The action is well done. The art direction and sets are convincing, if at times too seedy. The costuming is not always strictly accurate, but well within the range of acceptability for a period show that’s meant to be dramatically stylish. The photography, from the very first shots of running horses, is often stunning, and makes full use of the beautiful Canadian forest locations.
Kat in the hat
Aaron Poole, recently in the BBC COPPER miniseries, seems slight to be a worthy villain against Kat. He needn’t be huge, but he should be strong. Ian McShane’s Swearengen in DEADWOOD was smaller than everyone around him, but had the gravitas to make him a threat. There will be a new episode of STRANGE EMPIRE on Friday nights.
‘DOC’ – A Film Review
There is revisionist history, and then there is heresy blasphemy, and that’s what a lot of critics and Western fans called ‘DOC’ when it opened in 1971. Just released on DVD by Timeless Media Group, the MGM film was denounced as a Western made by men who wanted to destroy the genre. But not everyone thought so; Roger Ebert gave it a largely enthusiastic review, and the Western Writers of America, no pushover organization, named its screenplay the best of the year. Not perfect, it’s surprisingly good in unexpected ways.
Keach and Dunaway
Starring Stacy Keach as Doc Holliday and Faye Dunaway as Kate (for obvious reasons there is no reference to her being ‘Big Nose’ Kate), the movie focuses on the period when Doc was on his way to Tombstone to meet up with Wyatt Earp, and their time in Tombstone, culminating with the O.K. Corral gunfight. While painting a more subdued portrait of Doc Holliday than we are used to – especially post Val Kilmer’s turn in TOMBSTONE (1995) -- the shocker is Harris Yulin’s characterization of Wyatt Earp. No he-man in the style of Fonda/O’Brien/Lancaster/Russell/Costner, Yulin’s Earp is a cold politician whose interests are purely financial: he wants to be Sheriff because it pays better than being Marshal and gives him more jurisdiction and power. He’s indifferent to how he treats people, innocent or guilty, to get there. The offer he makes the Clantons is shocking because it’s not only anti-heroic, it’s…perfectly practical. Even Johnny Behan is played as a nice guy! This is the movie the ghosts of the Clantons and Maclaurys always wanted to see made.
Yulin and Keach
The first film written by journalist Pete Hamill (FLESH & BLOOD, THE NEON EMPIRE), and directed by Frank Perry (DAVID & LISA, THE SWIMMER, DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE), neither man had made a Western before (or since), and it almost feels as if they’d never watched one either – the film is full of exceptional scenes that you’ve never seen before. Without calling attention to it, almost nothing traditional – or cliché – happens in this film, which is refreshing and frequently exciting.
While the major events are familiar, the story is not. Doc meets Kate when he gets in a card game, putting up his horse against the other man’s ‘wife’, Kate. Doc wins, and in an inexplicably charming way, their romance blooms on the road to Tombstone. Dunaway, when we meet her, is as dirty and unappealing as any leading lady you’ve ever seen. But she sure cleans up nicely – I don’t think I’ve ever seen her more beautiful. The film’s greatest strength is the performances; Dunaway as she tries to make a home for Doc and protect him from Wyatt; Keach as the doomed man finding love too late; Yulin as the manipulator; and Denver John Collins as ‘The Kid’, who befriends Doc against both of their better judgments.
The action is ample and well-done; the gunfight pared down to the time it probably actually took. It’s not a documentary, and some simplification of events will upset even non-purists. And it ends too abruptly. But it’s a very well-made and enjoyable Western with a different take on a story you might have thought you knew too well. You can order it from Timeless Media HERE.
BRIAN LEBEL’S OLD WEST AUCTION WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY!
This Wednesday and Thursday, June 6th & 7th, Brian Lebel’s Annual Old West Auction will be held in Fort Worth, Texas, and as always, the items he has to offer are astonishing. Among the 370 lots to be offered over the two days are so many examples of stunning Indian art, saddles, tack, Civil War and Indian Wars swords, and so many other fascinating items that I hardly know where to begin. So I’m just going to highlight a few items, and encourage you to visit the auction site on-line to learn more, and to bid (my birthday’s the end of June, in case you might be wondering).
Item #245 is an 1879 voucher signed by Bass Reeves, the legendary lawman and first black U.S. Deputy Marshall. The estimate is from $2,000 to $2,500.
Item #283 is a cane made of buffalo bone that belonged to Wyatt Earp, and was given to him by Senator George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst. The estimate is $30,000 to $35,000.
Item #284 is Frank Stillwell’s single-action Colt, which is believed to be the gun he used to kill Morgan Earp, and possibly to maim Virgil Earp. A relic of the famous Wyatt Earp ‘vendetta ride’, the gun was recovered from Frank Stillwell’s body, after he was confronted in a train yard by Wyatt Earp, Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters and John Johnson, who shot the ‘Cowboy Gang’ member to pieces. The estimate is $175,000 to $225,000.
Item #285 is a pastel portrait of Virgil Earp by celebrated artist E.A. Burbank, best known for his hundreds of portraits of American Indians – his portrait of Chief Joseph of the Nez-Perces is also up for bids. The Earp portrait is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000.
To see all of the items going up for auction, go HERE.
And something new has been added! For the first time, Lebel is offering what they’re calling The Rest of the West, fifty-five lots of high quality, but less expensive, items which will be available for bid on-line only, including a framed collection of Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill items, expected to fetch between $600 and $900.
MORGAN FREEMAN ‘BASS REEVES’ MINISERIES SET AT HBO
Folks have been trying for decades to get the story of Bass Reeves, the escaped slave turned lawman, on the screen, and now Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary’s Revelation Pictures has it in development at HBO. Also involved is actor James Pickens Jr. of GREY’S ANATOMY; Pickens optioned the Reeves bio BLACK GUN, SLIVER STAR, by Art T. Burton, on which the mini will be based. It will be written by writer and director John Sayles, twice Oscar-nominated for scripting LONE STAR and PASSION FISH.
‘HELL ON WHEELS’ RETURNS FOR FINAL SEASON JULY 18TH!
The 5th and final season of the series that dramatizes the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, and the life of Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), will return to AMC on July 18th. It will be a split season, with the first seven episodes running this summer, and the final seven some time in 2016. Cullen will find himself in Truckee, California, headquarters of the Central Pacific Railroad, rivals of Doc Durant’s (Colm Meany) Union Pacific in the race to complete the Transcontinental Railroad. Details coming soon!
THAT’S A WRAP!
Have a great week, folks! I’m not even gonna guess what next week’s Round-up is going to be about! Don't forget the new episode of TEXAS RISING on Monday night!
All Original Contents Copyright May 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Monday, May 25, 2015
Updated 5-25-2015 -- See Ft. Tejon Civil War Reenactment
DEDICATED TO LEE POWELL
DEDICATED TO LEE POWELL
This Memorial Day edition of the Round-up is dedicated to all of our fighting men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. And in particular to actor Lee Powell, who in 1938 became the screen’s very first Lone Ranger, starring in the Republic serial. He appeared in several more films, including FLASH GORDON CONQUORS THE UNIVERSE, starring in six ‘Frontier Marshals’ films for PRC, before enlisting in the Marines in 1942. Sgt. Powell saw action on Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian, in the Marianas Islands, where he died on July 30, 1944, at the age of 36. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal with two stars, and the Victory Medal World War II.
Chief Thundercloud, Lee Powell
‘TEXAS RISING’ A Miniseries Review
Henry, Deaf and Anderson
The same production team who brought you the five Emmy-winning HATFIELDS & MCCOYS miniseries is back with the story of Texas statehood, and the formation of the Texas Rangers, TEXAS RISING, beginning Memorial Day night on History. It’s directed by Roland Joffe, twice Oscar-nominated for THE KILLING FIELD (1984) and THE MISSION (1986). It written by Darrell Fetty and Leslie Greif -- Greif created WALKER, TEXAS RANGER, Bill Paxton is back, now as Sam Houston, and this time he just might win the Best Actor award he lost to HATFIELDS co-star Kevin Costner. With so many characters stirring about, he is the heart of the story, just as Olivier Martinez, as General Santa Ana, is the anti-heart, a handsome, swaggering, arrogant swine.
I am not very knowledgeable when it comes to the history of Texas, and I must admit that a character that I thought was so ‘convenient’, post-DJANGO UNCHAINED, that I assumed she was a contrivance, turned out to be not only real, but the basis of the song, ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’, and is played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson.
Santa Ana and Emily
The story opens with the Alamo in ashes, the last few surviving defenders being butchered before the eyes of a handful of their women. Travis, Crockett, Bowie and all the rest are gone, but Travis’ call for help is still travelling, and many, not knowing it is too late, are still hurrying to answer the call. Texians, furious at the slaughter at the Alamo, are eager for Sam Houston to attack, but he issues orders to wait, retreating until they can draw Santa Ana into a position where the Texians will have the advantage. There are accusations of cowardice, and whispers of mutiny.
The focus moves frequently, from Houston and his men, to a young pair of would-be Texas Rangers trying to prove themselves worthy, to a friendly if mis-matched redneck and aristocrat, to a low-life extorting money to help people flee, to Santa Ana and his ‘take-no-prisoners’ advance. There are military battles, Indian attacks, seduction, humor, the occasional throat-cutting and eye shooting. The story doesn’t always move in a straight line, but it moves, with plenty of action.
The cast is packed with talent, including Brendan Fraser as Billy Anderson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Deaf Smith, Thomas Jane as James Wykoff. JUSTIFIED fans will be happy to see Jeff Fahey as Thomas Rusk and weasely Jeremy Davies and Knowles. I got a kick out of seeing Darby Hinton, Dan’l’s son Israel from the DANIEL BOONE series, as Texas President Burnet.
Having seen only the first four of ten hours, I can’t review the show as a whole, but I found the first two nights of the show very entertaining, and I’m eager to see the rest. Not that I am entirely without criticisms. Occasionally the script strains to be vulgar – there is excessive talk about soiling or wetting ones clothes, things to be shoved up orifices, and Bill Paxton must have it in his contract that he gets to urinate on-camera at least once per episode. Ray Liotta, an actor I very much admire, plays an ‘angel of death’ character who has escaped from the Alamo, and is on a private killing spree. He looks great, but when he speaks, his voice is so contemporary that the ghostly characterization evaporates. They had Kris Kristofferson there to play President Andrew Jackson – they should have had him dub Liotta.
Finally, if you have seen the teaser spot where various men and woman are reading Lt. Col. Travis’ ‘Victory or Death’ letter, you know how beautiful Texas looks (even if it’s really Durango, Mexico). It doesn’t look like that in TEXAS RISING at all! Arthur Reinhart’s composition of shots is beautiful, but for some reason, in post-production, some genius decided the entire movie should be in sepia. So all of the color has been drained from the image, and a yellowish overlay added. This sort of ‘make it look like old news photos’ idea works fine in a title sequence, but at least on my screener, the entire movie is like this. I love black and white films, but when you shoot black and white, you use contrast to make up for the lack of color. There’s almost no contrast here – there are no solid blacks, just murky greys at the darkest, and there’s so much haze at times that it hurts the eyes to watch. I’m enjoying TEXAS RISING, and I’ll definitely watch the rest; but I may wear shades.
FT. TEJON CIVIL WAR REENACTMENT MAY 30-31
This Saturday and Sunday, travel to Ft. Tejon State Historic Park to enjoy battle reenactments, a replay of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, as well as vendors, food and cooking demonstrations. To learn more, go HERE .
‘WORD ON WESTERNS’ RIDES AGAIN IN JOHN WAYNE TRIBUTE LAST WEDNESDAY!
Rob Word with Johnny Crawford
Rob Word’s ‘Word on Westerns’ luncheon and film discussion programs, such a hit last year at The Autry, are back, starting with this past Wednesday’s tribute to John Wayne, whose birthday is May 26th. Among those attending and sharing anecdotes were Johnny Crawford of THE RIFLEMAN, who costarred with the Duke in EL DORADO, and Edward Faulkner, a member of the Wayne stock company, who appeared in MCCLINTOCK!, RIO LOBO, THE GREEN BERTS, CHISUM, THE UNDEFEATED and HELLFIGHTERS. Also there to remember were actor Frank Pesce, and music was provided by The Suguaro Sisters, accompanied by Will Ryan. The next event will be in July, and I’ll fill you in as soon as I have the details.
THAT’S A WRAP!
Have a great Memorial Day! On Tuesday, you can buy your own Blu-Ray copy of MAN, PRIDE & VENGEANCE from the good folks at BLUE UNDERGROUND. Next week I’ll have details about a new HBO miniseries about lawman Bass Reeves. And soon I'll have my review of John Farkis' book about the making of THE ALAMO!
All Original Contents Copyright May 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Sunday, May 17, 2015
SHANE TV REVIEW
Many of David Carradine’s fans might be surprised to learn that the tremendously popular KUNG-FU (1972-1975) was not his first Western series. In 1966 he starred in the short-lived but entertaining and commendable SHANE.
Based on the much-loved film SHANE (1953), which was itself based on the much-loved novel SHANE (1949) by Jack Schaeffer, it only lasted for seventeen episodes, but in today’s terms that would be nearly two full seasons. TIMELESS MEDIA GROUP has released the series in a three DVD set, and it is well worth watching.
The movie SHANE is a classic among American films of any genre. The story of a mysterious drifter who allies himself with a family of sodbusters trying to stand up to a wealthy, violent and unscrupulous cattleman, it appeals to the very core of American belief, that one person with courage and skill can make a difference. Director George Stevens, screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr., and actors Jack Palance and Brandon DeWilde were all nominated for Oscars, and cinematographer Loyal Griggs won for Best Color Cinematography. SHANE was also nominated for Best Picture.
So the folks who made SHANE into a TV series had some mighty big boots to fill. The movie starred Alan Ladd as Shane, Jean Arthur and Van Heflin as the sodbusters, the Starretts, and Brandon DeWilde as their young son who idolizes the gunman Shane. Wisely, the series cast newcomers David Carradine as Shane and Jill Ireland as Marion Starrett, who were much closer to the vision in Schaeffer’s book. While there is no fault to be found in the film’s actors, Ladd was 43 and Jean Arthur was 53, noticeably older than their characters, while Carradine and Ireland were both 30. The TV writers wisely killed off the Van Heflin character, making an honorable romance between Shane and Marion possible; in the feature, Shane and Marion were clearly thinking about it, but too decent to act on it. Filling in for Van Heflin was Tom Tully, Oscar-nominated for THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) as Ireland’s father-in-law, with 8-year-old Christopher Shea in the Brandon DeWilde role of Joey Starrett. As Ryker, the villainous cattleman, the movie featured one of the coarsest and most intimidating of screen bad-men, Emile Meyer. The TV producers did surprisingly well with the menacing Bert Freed in the Ryker role.
Bert Freed (l) as Ryker
One of the strengths of the series, continued from the feature, is an ever-present sense of danger. With most Western series, there’s a sense that once you get to the Ponderosa or the Barkley Ranch, you’re safe. But the Starretts are no Cartwrights – they’re very small-time farmers trying to carve out an existence. Ryker despises the Starretts and all of the other ‘nesters’, doesn’t recognize their rights to their land, and will stop at nothing to run them off. Though it’s never addressed directly, we suspect he’s the reason Marion is a widow. In the opening episode, a teacher played by Diane Ladd arrives to start a school for the local children. When Ryker learns that classes will be taught in a barn, he has no qualms about burning them out.
Another unusual element is the growing, mature, largely unspoken romance. Marion isn’t the sort of fantasy girl a Cartwright will date for one episode, until he learns she’s a con-woman. She’s very real, with responsibilities, and baggage. The acting ensemble, not just the family, but Shane and Ryker, and Sam Gilman as Sam Grafton, who runs the saloon and store, are a cut above many of the TV actors of their time. While Ladd played Shane with a wistful toughness, Carradine has a burning rage just below the surface, and you sense the shame he feels for his life, and for loving a woman whom he feels he has nothing to offer. As with the movie, you sense the his hope for salvation lives at least as much in the love of the boy as it does in the love for his mother.
The plotting and the guest casting is often very strong. In one episode, Warren Oates and his brood come to town to kill Shane for killing a family member – it looks like they’ve got the wrong man, but no one wants to listen. In another, a young Robert Duvall plays a family man and farmer whose failures are gradually driving him insane. In one of my favorites, the marvelous character actor John Qualen plays nearly a ghost of a man seeking out Shane, who killed his son.
After the series’ brief run, the stars went their separate ways, the leads to great success. Carradine was a popular and respected actor until his death in 2009. Jill Ireland went on to a long film career here and in Europe, frequently co-starring with husband Charles Bronson. She joked that, “I’m in so many Charles Bronson films because no other actress will work with him.” Sadly, she died at the age of 54 of breast cancer. Tom Tully would continue to work in character roles, frequently for his friend Don Siegel, but had serious medical problems. While traveling with Bob Hope, entertaining troops in Vietnam, he contracted a worm parasite, which would eventually lead to the loss of hearing, and the amputation of a leg. He died in 1982, at the age of 73. Christopher Shea’s face may not be that familiar, but his voice is, and no wonder: he provides the voice of Linus is all of the classic PEANUTS perennials. He also died young, at 52, in 2010.
SHANE is available on DVD from TIMELESS MEDIA GROUP, and can be purchased from Amazon HERE.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ‘SHANE’ STORY EDITOR WILLIAM BLINN
William Blinn at a book signing
William Blinn has had a career that any screenwriter would envy. Among the series he created were THE INTERNS, THE ROOKIES, EIGHT IS ENOUGH, PENSACOLA: WINGS OF GOLD and STARSKY AND HUTCH. He won EMMYS for writing BRIAN’S SONG and co-writing ROOTS. Of late he’s been writing Western novels. He wrote A COLD PLACE IN HELL, and when I tracked him down, he was working on the sequel. When I asked him about an interview on SHANE, he said, “I’ll be happy to, but I can’t do it now. I’m in the middle of a scene, and I can’t get my characters to do what I want them to.” A couple of days later, he’d whipped those characters into shape, and had time to talk.
HENRY: You’ve had, and continue to have, a very impressive career; you won Emmys, you created STARSKY AND HUTCH, you wrote the Prince movie PURPLE RAIN. But you began your career in Westerns, and after writing a RAWHIDE, a LARAMIE, and four BONANZAS, it was still very early in your career – 1966 – when you did SHANE. How did you get involved with SHANE?
BLINN: I did two BONANZAS, and during the third one I said, “I’ll do the rewrite from New York,” and they said, “No, you’ll do the rewrite from out here.” Which was there way of getting me out here, to see if I wanted to be on staff. I came out; they offered me the staff job, which was just about the best thing that could ever happen to a young writer, in terms of education and experience. The guy who was the story editor was Denne Bart Petitclerc. Denne had been a reporter in San Francisco, on The Examiner, and we were about the same age. I started out to be an actor, and had worked as a stage manager, and so I had more of an awareness of the nuts and bolts of how you put a show together. He did not know actors; he did not know the nomenclature. We were like a jigsaw puzzle: we fit together very well. I brought something to the table that he didn’t, he brought something to the table that I didn’t. He was a wonderful writer, wrote a terrific Western novel called RAGE OF HONOUR, and did the screenplay for ISLANDS IN THE STREAM. Terrific guy. He and I hit it off wonderfully because we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We were trying stuff that BONANZA hadn’t done before. It was the first season without Pernell Roberts. The other three actors didn’t like Pernell; they didn’t know how (his leaving) would affect the show. They tended probably to trust us more than they should have. And Denne and I were complimentary parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Got along very well, with our wives we saw each other socially. And he was just a more experienced writer in terms of knowing the literature of the craft. He was a good friend, a little bit of a protégé of Ernest Hemingway.
HENRY: No wonder he wrote ISLANDS IN THE STREAM.
BLINN: And he’s got a picture – well he’s gone, we lost him about a year and a half ago. But there’s a picture coming out in about a year called PAPA that Denne wrote. I read the screenplay and I think it was brilliant. And it dealt with Hemingway’s days in Cuba after Castro came to power. Denne and I were young rebels, but we probably didn’t deserve the term. After that season was over, Denne was offered the job of producing SHANE. He offered me the job of story editor. As I said, BONANZA was a lot of inexperience in the office. The same was true of SHANE. Denne had never produced a show; I had never been a story editor. The executive producer, a dear and talented man named David Shaw, had been the head writer on THE DEFENDERS. And Ernie Kinoy, who I would go on to share an Emmy with on ROOTS, Ernie and David were probably the writing mavens on that show. But David had never written a Western in his life. And there are things you do in a Western that you don’t do in other shows. Maybe that’s a kind of limited focus, but stuff that works in a contemporary, kind of casual cop show becomes more tightly focused in a Western. There’s a reason why Westerns were called horse operas; because the passions were larger, the motivations were larger. The feuds went back for decades and decades, which would seem silly for the twenties and thirties, forties and fifties. But back in the 1860s and 50s, no, not at all; that’s how we rolled. So there were times when David would write a good script, and it just wasn’t a Western. Ernie had the most offbeat and wonderful ideas in the world, and I just used to almost sit at his feet when he came in the office. Because hearing him talk about dramaturgy, and the nature of conflict, and what a character could or could not do or should or should not do – not that he lived by rules, but he had wonderful, insightful instincts. I was 26, 27, 28, and hearing him talk about what could and could not work, and the stories that he came up with – it was a great education, and I got it for free, and probably got to buy a lunch or two. Denne and I, as we were on BONANZA, we wrote some really, really interesting scripts, and the actors were game. We got along well with David and Jill, and Tom Tully and Bert Freed, who was the resident heavy, Ryker. And they were all game – let’s try this, let’s try that. And David was…David’s always been out there, on a limb of his own construction. But he was always professional. And there were just some times when you just had to say, I’m not quite sure what he just said, but I think we’re going to trust him and see how it works, and usually it worked. He was just heading into some pretty heavy chemical abuse, and there are times when it did get in the way. Good guy, I liked him. I must say that the mode of his death did not totally surprise me. It was a very pleasant experience in terms of SHANE.
We got along well with the directors, Bob Butler and a bunch of really good people. The only problem we had was being caught between the Production Company, TITUS, and (ABC). Herb Brodkin was the owner and the executive producer (of TITUS). One of his rules was that you made the show for exactly what the network would pay you, and not a penny more. So when it came to going into deficit, the network would say we need some more action. And the budget people would say, that will cost a little more money. We’re going to be a little short this week because we’re going to have this big gunfight they want. Brodkin wouldn’t pay for it. Absolutely not; we’ll do it for the money ABC pays us. (Note: In television, deficit spending has long been a given. The idea is that the network would pay a licensing fee to show the program in first run. That fee would often not cover the whole cost of making the show, but the producer would own the show, and make his profit in syndication.) He did have rules. He didn’t like the title of the show. That didn’t make any sense, since we were coming off of this big mega-movie hit. His thing was, if you title the show the name of the lead character, you can’t fire him. (laughs)
HENRY: Plot-wise, what would you have if you fired him?
Jill Ireland as Marion
BLINN: He didn’t care. He was a dollar and cents guy, very nice man, but that was his bottom line. We think Paramount said, well, you’re going to call it SHANE because that’s all we’ve got to sell. Nobody knows who David is, and Jill’s very pretty, but nobody knows who she is, either.
HENRY: Looking back, do you have favorite, and least favorite episodes?
BLINN: There was one show, it embarrasses me to think of it. It was a script both Denne and I disliked intensely; we got kind of backed into it by budget problems. We thought we’ll have this terrible script, but the director will come in and say, I can’t shoot this, and then we can make the director the heavy, and rewrite the script. Well, the director was a very nice man named John Brahm, who was German, born in Hamburg. A good director, directed a wonderful picture called THE LODGER (1944) and HANGOVER SQUARE (1945), both wonderful suspense pictures. But again, not a bit of experience or insight into Westerns. He directed the show, and after the first cut, the editor said, are you aware of the fact that we are five minutes short? So we extended scenes endlessly. And there’s one point where Shane, David Carradine, says, “I’m going to ride go into town and talk to Ryker.” Well, I mean to tell you, it was the longest ride probably ever put on television. We covered every mile of the route between the cabin and the town. God, it was an awful show. We did some very good shows. There’s one I remember I liked a lot called THE HIGH ROAD TO VIATOR (SPOILER ALERT!) David and Jill end up in an abandoned saloon, making believe they are at a dance.
Denne and I, it was a great school to go to. The dollar and cents producer was a very gifted man named Buzz Burger. And Buzz had to make some very difficult decisions. I can recall watching him, at one point we had to fire a set designer, and somebody said you ought to pick up the phone and call him. And I remember him saying no, that’s not how you a fire a person. You go to him and look him in the eye, and tell him, this is why we’re letting you go. I remember at the time thinking, so that’s what a producer does. That’s the difference between a so-so guy, and someone who has all his ducks in a row and both oars in the water.
HENRY: Did you consider the series an adaptation of the novel, the movie, or both?
BLINN: Almost totally the movie. At one point they were in the process of hiring composers to do the pilot. And for reasons that to this day I do not comprehend, I was the only person in the office who could remember the theme song. So I’d be rewriting a scene, and I’d be called down to David Shaw’s office, and there would be Lalo Schifrin or Jerry Fielding, and Bill would say, tell him the theme. And I would go, “Dad-da-DA! Dad-da-DA-da….” We didn’t have enough cassettes around.
Tom Tully, left
HENRY: When the movie SHANE was made, Alan Ladd was 43, Jean Arthur was 53; in the TV version, David Carradine and Jill Ireland were both 30. How did having actors so much closer to the characters’ intended ages effect the show?
BLINN: I think it helped the mother-son relationship. Jill had a pretty nice acting relationship with Chris Shea, the boy. And obviously it helped the romantic charisma between Jill and David. And of course at that time she was Charlie Bronson’s girl.
HENRY: I was wondering if she was still married to David McCallum.
BLINN: No, she’d just come off of being David McCallum’s lady and was now Charlie Bronson’s. And if you wanted to watch thirty guys just disappear, occasionally Bronson would stop down on the set to see her. And people would just look at him and say, oh I see, that’s a man, and I’m just a little piece of fluff over here. But he was very nice.
HENRY: One of the big differences going from the feature to the series is that Tom Starrett, the Van Heflin character, was gone, replaced by her father-in-law, Tom Tully. She’s a widow, but it’s never quite said. Did Ryker kill her husband?
BLINN: That was something that was never quite said. We wanted to get into it, had we got more episodes. We thought it would be interesting to open up half-way, for David to find out that Ryker possibly was the guy, but there was no absolute proof. And as long as it was left open, he would still have to find ways to compromise with Ryker even though this dark shadow was hanging off in the wings. We never got there. We hinted at it a little bit, and Denne and I wanted to go there, but we wanted the network to sign off on it first, and the network was gone by the time the question was there to be asked.
HENRY: When SHANE came on-air in 1966, it was in the midst of some long-running hits and hot newcomers – GUNSMOKE, BONANZA, THE BIG VALLEY, HIGH CHAPARREL – all of which you eventually wrote for. How did SHANE distinguish itself from the pack?
BLINN: Well, it didn’t. Our ratings were always frail. We had a very small cult following, people
who said, well, that’s a pretty good show. Largely based on David, who was developing a following. He’d just come off a Broadway show that was highly thought of, ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN. He got great reviews, and he was a wonderful actor. I think it was a shame that he opted to stick totally to film after that. Because he could be a big actor; he had the intensity to go big. He loved acting. At one point we had written a thing that I thought his father would be very good for this. I went to him and I said, how do you and your dad get along? Would there be a problem if we wanted to hire him? He said, I’d be the happiest guy in the world. I love my old man – he’s a great guy. And we tried to, and his father was not available. But it was kind of nice to hear that there wasn’t some dark undercurrent we had to deal with, especially from David. There were intimations of trouble in that guy’s soul.
HENRY: Unfortunately you didn’t get John Carradine, but you did get some very interesting people, old Hollywood people like John Qualen –
BLINN: Yes, in an Ernie Kinoy script that was one of the most imaginative and offbeat kind of things I ever read in my life.
HENRY: I loved that one, and I loved the Robert Duvall episode. Who was your favorite guest star?
BLINN: Probably John Qualen. He was sweet as he could be. And the fact that I was sitting, talking
with someone who was one of the minor leads of the John Ford stock company, I just couldn’t believe my good luck. And Bert Freed; we’d have to talk him into things, but once you talked him into it, he gave you full measure.
HENRY: One of the things that I think is so unusual about SHANE as a series, and due to Bert Freed and the writing, is that there is a tangible sense of menace at all times. There was never a sense that you were safe at any time with SHANE.
BLINN: I would agree, and Denne and I worked hard to accomplish that, and to try and get the reality of the west, not the fictional legend, but the reality, that Bert could kill Shane and probably get away with it. And the only thing that stopped him from killing him from time to time was the fact that he knew he wasn’t physically capable of it. And they were both very good with that. Bert and David certainly did not compete off-camera, but they enjoyed the competition on-camera.
HENRY: Tom Tully was Oscar-nominated for THE CAINE MUTINY. What was he like to work with?
BLINN: Very sweet; probably too sweet. By that I mean, if you wanted him to say, “You sonovabitch, I’ll kill you!” He’d say it, but coming out of him, the words just didn’t click. A very dear man, very pleasant to work with. When Herb Brodkin saw the first day’s dailies, and he saw Tom wearing a pair of half-glasses, he immediately sent a telegram saying, take off those half-glasses – he’ll be looking over those glasses, being cute, for the next forty years. And he was right.
HENRY: Joey Starrett, the Brandon DeWilde character, was played by Chris Shea, and I believe that was the start of that kid’s career. What was he like?
BLINN: He was brand new, out of the box; it’s hard to know what to think of him other than he did what we wanted him to do. He was a happy kid. When I saw that he was signed on to do the voice in the Charlie Brown films, I said that was probably a real good thing for a child actor. Because you’re not on camera, but you’re never-the-less the center of attention, and you have a chance to learn without exploding in front of everyone in the world. When I was doing FAME, we had a chubby girl in the running cast, very sweet, and she went on to be Bart Simpson, and she can now buy and sell half of Calabasas and all of the San Fernando Valley, Nancy Cartwright. A very nice young woman.
HENRY: The town, which is really little more than Grafton’s store and saloon, is a close match for the movie. Was it shot in the same place?
BLINN: No, didn’t get to Jackson Hole, which is where the Grafton’s and the town were shot. So we never got the majesty of the Grand Tetons. But the saloon exterior and interior were damn near to what they were in the feature.
HENRY: Where were they shot?
BLINN: Exteriors were in the San Fernando Valley; we had a road out in front of Grafton’s that was on a soundstage, very well done and, I think, hard to tell.
HENRY: It was a much more convincing green set than most of the ones you see.
BLINN: Well, that and GUNSMOKE I think were the best ones of the era. It saves you a fortune to be able to stay in the soundstage, but it does something to the morale of the crew, I think. But that’s the best we could do with Brodkin saying no, ‘too expensive, too expensive, too expensive.’
HENRY: When you say it does something to the morale of the crew, do you mean in a positive or a negative way?
BLINN: Well, they like to get out. At that time there were no women on the crew; it was a rough and tumble teamster attitude group of guys. You’d say, we’re going out to Lake Sherwood, and they’d say, great! I’ll bring my fishing rod! But that wasn’t available on SHANE.
HENRY: How did your experience on SHANE compare with other later Western shows, such as HERE COME THE BRIDES? And Robert Brown, who played Jason Bolt on BRIDES, was a romantic lead in an episode SHANE.
BLINN: Yes, absolutely. Robert’s a good guy – I saw him four or five years ago at a reunion dinner for HERE COME THE BRIDES. It was very interesting, because the guys who were doing HERE COME THE BRIDES, the producers and executive producer, had been sitcom guys. Very Pleasant, very intelligent, very funny – all good things. But because I did some westerns, there were times when the executive producer would say, ‘And then Jason will say I’m going to do so and so, and we cut to the saloon.’ And I would say no, Jason says I’m going to do so-and-so, and he slams out of the office, and he stomps down the stairs, and he stomps across the street. You do it just like a John Wayne picture, like ‘here comes trouble!’ And they’d be oh, yeah, we can do it that way. Because on a sitcom it was like I DREAM OF JEANNIE – dissolve to kitchen. But they were fine with it.
HENRY: In the last episode, Shane and Marion finally kiss. Where was the relationship going if you got to a second season?
BLINN: I don’t think we knew. It was just, we can’t just keep teasing, teasing, teasing – at some point this has to pay off. Now, the accepted wisdom for that kind of thing was, the two sweethearts should not kiss, could certainly never sleep together. Because if you did that, all of the tension of the relationship would go away. And I think that’s accurate. So I don’t think we took it that far. We just said we’ve gone this far, we’ve got to have them kiss. I know Jill was very pleased about it, not because she liked David – she liked David, but not because of some romantic interest, but because this is what the very sexy womanly woman I am playing needs.
HENRY: It’s interesting comparing David Carradine’s and Alan Ladd’s performances. Alan Ladd’s character was wistful. Carradine’s Shane seemed much more bitter.
BLINN: He absolutely had an edge.
HENRY: Was a lot of that the fact that Ladd had the advantage in a way that his love would have to be unrequited because Jean Arthur was married to Van Heflin?
BLINN: I think that’s true. I also think – I’m mindreading now, because I wasn’t on the set of the motion picture. But when George Stevens did the picture, his first choice for Shane was Montgomery Clift. Now wouldn’t that have been interesting?
HENRY: Oh yeah; a lot more like David Carradine.
BLINN: Absolutely. And Clift in RED RIVER was wonderful; just brilliant. And also in THE MISFITS, which I think is a horribly underrated picture. But they didn’t have Montgomery Clift. Alan Ladd had a presence and a sound and a look. He was not the most facile actor to ever come down the pike. He had a safe place he could go to, and it was very effective. But David was looking to stretch, always.
HENRY: In the novel and the film, Shane’s background was mysterious. Did you invent a whole backstory for Shane?
"I love you, Shane!"
BLINN: The only time we went there, there was an episode where one of the bad guys, in the first act, said, you and I met before. And Shane says no, I never saw you before. And in the second act the guy says, no we did. Was it in Houston? No, I’ve never been to Houston. And finally, at the very end of the show, when there’s been a gunfight, and people dying left and right, Shane walks by him and says, Galveston. And that’s all there is to it. And the Ernie Kinoy script with John Qualen where Shane had killed someone, and forgot it.
HENRY: I found that one of the truly remarkable stories, because it made so much sense, and yet I’d never seen it done.
BLINN: Nor have I, up till then, and not since then. And he was so spiritually appalled by the fact, not that he killed someone – he knew who he was and what he had done. But that apparently he had killed with such regularity that he had actually forgotten one death. And the horror that that brought to him was really wonderfully done.
HENRY: You wrote many Western episodes for different shows, and when we first met five you were writing western novels. What keeps you coming back to the genre? And are you still writing Western novels?
BLINN: I’m waiting to hear about an extension of the first Western novel I did, which is called A COLD PLACE IN HELL. No one is committed to it, but I hope to hear from people in the next three months. I write Westerns just because I like to write Westerns. Again, the story-telling is bigger than life. It’s realistic in a way, and in a way not realistic. It’s large and more muscular emotionally, and it makes sense because my favorite fiction author is John O’Hara, who writes so close to the vest. Almost nothing but dialogue and no description. I don’t think he ever wrote a Western. It just talks to me, and I can’t tell you why.
HENRY: Who are your favorite Western authors?
BLINN: E. L. Doctorow wrote one called WELCOME TO HARD TIMES, which was an interesting, offbeat, dark picture. My friend Denne Petitclerc wrote RANGE OF HONOUR, which is to this day one of my favorite novels. Then I go back to the Zane Grey people.
HENRY: Any last thoughts on the series?
BLINN: SHANE was a very pleasant experience with some very good people.
‘MAN, PRIDE, & VENGEANCE’ REVIEWED IN DVD-TALK – I’M THRILLED!
On May 26, Blue Underground releases their beautiful Blu-Ray version of MAN, PRIDE & VENGEANCE. I’m frankly overwhelmed by Adam Tyner’s review of Courtney Joyner’s and my commentary. “Audio Commentary: The commentary track for Man, Pride, and Vengeance is easily overlooked as it's not listed alongside the rest of the extras, but it's worth the additional couple of button presses over to the 'Setup' menu. Spaghetti western scholars C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke -- who'd previously provided commentary for Compañeros, The Grand Duel, and The Big Gundown -- contribute a tremendous discussion here. Joyner and Parke have forgotten more about Eurowesterns than I'll ever know, and although their familiarity with the genre and this film in particular is beyond encyclopedic, their commentary never once comes across as dry or dull. Their expertise is matched only by their enthusiasm, and Joyner and Parke excitedly tackle most everything you'd hope to hear: the film's clean and almost episodic structure, its editing, the Bazzoni brothers' direction and cinematography, the uncredited score, the course the lead actors' careers took both before and after this film, and what sets Man, Pride, and Vengeance so far apart from the traditional Spaghetti western. A staggering amount of insight and analysis are offered here, and from Django Zhivago to tales of opium being smuggled into Italy inside little Buddha figurines, it's a hell of a lot of fun too.”
Here’s the link to the whole review: http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/67619/man-pride-and-vengeance/
If you'd like to buy MAN, PRIDE AND VENGEANCE from Blue Underground , go HERE.
If you'd like to buy MAN, PRIDE AND VENGEANCE from Blue Underground , go HERE.
‘WORD ON WESTERNS’ RETURNS TO THE AUTRY WEDNESDAY, MAY 20TH!
As noted here a couple of weeks ago, Rob Word’s fun and fact-filled A WORD ON WESTERNS luncheon programs will be returning to the Autry starting on Wednesday, May 20th, with A Salute to Duke. They’re going to be every other month, so the next one will be in July. No word from Word on guests yet, but I’m posting the clip below as a teaser, with Rob interviewing Mariette Hartley about RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY.
‘TEXAS RISING’ PREMIERES MEMORIAL DAY ON HISTORY
A tremendous cast is featured in this ten hour telling of the Texas Revolution and the creation of the Texas Rangers. From the folks who brought you the HATFIELDS & MCCOYS mini-series, it’s directed by Roland Joffe, director of THE MISSION and THE KILLING FIELDS, here is a glimpse of what’s coming. Hold onto your hats!
THAT’S A WRAP!
I’ve just finished my first movie column for True West, which will be in the July issue, and am deep into August. Have a great week!
All Original Contents Copyright May 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved