August 1, 1953: Don’t Take Your Guns to Town

In 1953, a new type of western hit the movie screens. Moviegoers were looking for something more complex than the head-em-off-at-the pass, white hat/black hat fare that Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers had been dishing out through the forties. They felt more sophisticated and shaneworldly, and they wanted their cowboys to be more sophisticated and worldly as well (even though most cowboys never strayed beyond Montana).

A gun-toting drifter with only one name rides down out of the rugged Teton Mountains into a fertile valley where a family of homesteaders – a man and wife, and their only son — eke out a living.  Shane as played by Alan Ladd is conflicted, a basically good man who lives by his gun, anxious to give up his wandering and get a normal life. Well, that’s fine, but the local cattle baron and his thug Jack Palance aren’t about to let that happen. At the end of the movie, Shane realizes he can’t escape his past, and in a great cinematic moment, rides off wounded (mortally?) past the gravestones on Cemetery Hill, and out of town, into the sunrise, with the young boy calling after him: “Come back, Shane!”

Gary Cooper gave us another nuanced hero during the early 1950s in the masterful High Noon.

And if you want to talk nuanced, there’s John Wayne:

“Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”

“Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”

“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”

Or maybe not.

July 3, 1954: Whoops, There Goes the First Prop

In 1954, a gaggle of Hollywood VIPs boarded a DC-4 airliner headed from Hawaii to California. Their troubled flight made a bit of film history — in Cinemascope, no less. The High and the Mighty premiered on July 3, 1954, with a roster of stars that included Claire Trevor, Robert Stack, Laraine Day, Phil Harris, and shepherding them through the sky, John Wayne.

Introducing the scenario that would be used so successfully by the Airport movies of the 1970s as well as countless other disaster movies, the film details the lives and interactions of the passengers and crew when calamity strikes the flight. Calamity comes in the form of a ‘whoops there goes the first prop’ moment and another, followed by a nasty engine fire. Co-pilot Wayne leaps to the fore and (spoiler alert) guides the plane to its destination. And what happened to the pilot, you ask. The pilot, played by Robert Stack goes all squishy and useless (probably because Wayne produced the film and Stack didn’t).

Stack, incidently, showed up in a 1980 film that brought the air disaster genre to its illogical conclusion. In Airplane he stays on terra firma trying to talk an experienced pilot through a landing: “Striker, listen, and you listen close: flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes”.

Composer Dimitri Tiomkin won an Academy Award for his original score of The High and the Mighty.  The title song was nominated for an award but did not win.

Miami Wit

Dave Barry, born July 3, 1947, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and humorist who wrote a nationally syndicated column for The Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005. He has also written numerous books of humor.

• The word user is the word used by the computer professional when they mean idiot.

Dave-Barry-

• If you were to open up a baby’s head – and I am not for a moment suggesting that you should – you would find nothing but an enormous drool gland.

• Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it’s open to anybody who owns hideous clothing.

• Scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid.

• Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects.

• Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear.

• The simple truth is that balding African-American men look cool when they shave their heads, whereas balding white men look like giant thumbs.

• Thus the metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet.

February 22, 1956: Not Your Typical Barbarian

You can pretty much be certain you’ve got a turkey on your hands when you’ve got actors such as Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead (Endora on Bewitched), and John Wayne (!) playing Mongolians, when the entire film is shot in one location in a desert in southern Utah (haven’t we seen that rock before?) and when you have such dialogue as:

“Joint by joint from the toe and fingertip upward shall you be cut to pieces, and each carrion piece, hour by hour and day by day, shall be cast to the dogs before your very eyes until they too shall be plucked out as morsels for the vultures . . . pilgrim.”

The Conqueror, released on February 22, 1956, was the epic story of a 12thconqueror century Mongol warlord who worked his way up the barbarian ladder to become the infamous Genghis Khan. Produced by Howard Hughes, it was meant to be his crowning cinematic masterpiece. The film cost $6 million to film in Cinemascope and Technicolor and is frequently ridiculed in the same breath as Plan 9 from Outer Space, another 50s flop which cost about $2.99 to make. Hughes spent another $12 million to buy back every single print of the film after its disastrous release.

The Conqueror not only destroyed RKO, the studio that made it, but wiped out a good number of the cast and crew. The shooting location turned out to be downwind from Yucca Flats, Nevada, where the government was merrily testing atomic bombs, and the cast and crew received far more than the recommended daily allowance of radioactive fallout. Nearly half of them, including Wayne, were later diagnosed with cancer (although Wayne also smoked six packs a day).

February 22, 1907: Hey Youse

sheldon_leonardThose who remember his screen appearances at all are most likely to recognize him as Nick, the surly bartender who gives George Bailey and Clarence the heave-ho in  It’s a Wonderful Life. As an actor, Sheldon Leonard, born on February 22, 1907, specialized in playing supporting characters, most often gangsters or or other tough guys with names like Pretty Willie, Lippy, Jumbo, Blackie, or, notably, Harry the Horse in the 1955 film of Guys and Dolls. He spoke with a thick New York accent, usually delivered from the side of his mouth.

His many appearances in movies and television spanned six decades. But it was as a producer and director that Sheldon Leonard really made his mark. He began a new career as a television producer in the early 50s and turned out a succession of hit series — The Danny Thomas Show (Make Room for Daddy), Gomer Pyle: USMC, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show (winner of 21 Emmys). He had another success in the mid 60s with I Spy, the first series to cast a black actor (Bill Cosby) as an equal co-star with a white actor in a dramatic role.  Leonard is also informally credited with having invented the spin-off,  the practice of using an episode of a series as a backdoor pilot for a new series.The character of Sheriff Andy Taylor was introduced in an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, which led to the series The Andy Griffith Show. 

Sheldon Leonard died in 1997.

 

It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse. ~ Adlai E. Stevenson

August 1, 1953: Don’t Take Your Guns to Town

In 1953, a new type of western hit the movie screens. Moviegoers were looking for something more complex than the head-em-off-at-the pass, white hat/black hat fare that Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers had been dishing out through the forties. They felt more sophisticated and shaneworldly, and they wanted their cowboys to be more sophisticated and worldly as well (even though most cowboys never strayed beyond Montana).

A gun-toting drifter with only one name rides down out of the rugged Teton Mountains into a fertile valley where a family of homesteaders – a man and wife, and their only son — eke out a living.  Shane as played by Alan Ladd is conflicted, a basically good man who lives by his gun, anxious to give up his wandering and get a normal life. Well, that’s fine, but the local cattle baron and his thug Jack Palance aren’t about to let that happen. At the end of the movie, Shane realizes he can’t escape his past, and in a great cinematic moment, rides off wounded (mortally?) past the gravestones on Cemetery Hill, and out of town, into the sunrise, with the young boy calling after him: “Come back, Shane!”

Gary Cooper gave us another nuanced hero during the early 1950s in the masterful High Noon.

And if you want to talk nuanced, there’s John Wayne:

“Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”

“Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”

“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”

Or maybe not.