Western RoundUp: Universal Gems, Part 2

Western RoundUp: Universal Gems, Part 2

A couple of years ago I shared a list of what I called “Universal Gems,” some of the many highly enjoyable Westerns released by Universal Pictures between the late ’40s and mid-’50s.

Universal Westerns are some of my favorite films in the genre: Short, colorful, and entertaining movies with wonderful casts.

Since some time has passed, I thought it would be fun to revisit this topic and recommend a few more of the studio’s Westerns.  Below are brief sketches of a group of relatively lesser-known yet quite enjoyable movies. Several are available on DVD or Blu-ray, while others remain harder to find.


Comanche Territory (George Sherman, 1950)

Comanche Territory (1950) Movie Poster
Comanche Territory (1950)

Comanche Territory may not be a top-drawer Universal Western, but any frontier film starring Maureen O’Hara is pretty much guaranteed to entertain, and this one does. Maureen’s feisty character has a combative relationship with Jim Bowie (Macdonald Carey), whose low-key demeanor belies his willingness to make use of his skills with a knife if needed. Both actors seem to be having a good time as their characters appear headed toward a romance… but first Jim has business in Texas he must attend to, and we all know how that ended. Both O’Hara and Sedona, Arizona, look gorgeous in Technicolor, and the good supporting cast includes Charles Drake and Will Geer. It’s a quick and enjoyable 76 minutes.

The Stand at Apache River (Lee Sholem, 1953)

The Stand at Apache River (1953) Movie Poster
The Stand at Apache River (1953)

The Stand at Apache River has the classic Western theme of a group of disparate travelers under siege from outside forces, in this case, Apache Indians. Stephen McNally plays a lawman who’s just caught a murderer (Russell Johnson) who was wounded by the Apaches. McNally and Johnson arrive at the Apache River stage and ferry station, where they soon meet up with a woman (Julie Adams) on her way to meet her fiance and an Army officer (Hugh Marlowe) who hates Indians. Meanwhile, the absent station owner (Hugh O’Brian) is trying to make it home without being killed by the Indians during his travels; back at the station, his bitter wife (Jaclynne Greene) is clearly more interested in his nice assistant (Jack Kelly). Soon everyone is more concerned with simply staying alive than with their personal issues. This fast-paced film is almost too short, as some of the plot threads don’t get enough attention, but what made it into the film is a typically enjoyable Universal Western with nice color photography.

Seminole (Budd Boetticher, 1953)

Seminole (1953) Movie Poster
Seminole (1953)

This is a handsomely produced film with a great cast and strong production values, including location shooting in the Florida Everglades. Rock Hudson plays a West Pointer serving in Florida under a difficult major (Richard Carlson). Hudson and Anthony Quinn, as the leader of the Seminole tribe, both love Barbara Hale. Quinn’s attempts to achieve peace are thwarted by the rigid Carlson. I found Carlson’s performance over the top, but otherwise, I really enjoyed this visually appealing film. The deep cast also includes Lee Marvin, Russell Johnson, Hugh O’Brian, and James Best.

The Lone Hand (George Sherman, 1953)

The Lone Hand (1953) Movie Poster
The Lone Hand (1953)

Barbara Hale also starred in The Lone Hand, playing the bride of Joel McCrea. McCrea keeps his “double agent” job as a Pinkerton detective secret from his new wife and his little boy (Jimmy Hunt) from a previous marriage, causing them great pain as they believe he’s working with outlaws. McCrea initially marries Hale mainly to make sure his son won’t be orphaned if he’s killed in the line of duty, but he soon comes to realize he’s wed a wonderful woman. The cast also includes Alex Nicol, Charles Drake, and James “Jim” Arness. Beautiful location filming in Colorado is an added plus. If I seem to keep mentioning how good these movies look, it’s because it’s true!

Law and Order (Nathan Juran, 1953)

Law and Order (1953) Movie Poster
Law and Order (1953)

This is a thoroughly enjoyable film with a great cast. Ronald Reagan plays a marshal who has tamed Tombstone and is now ready to settle down with his sweetheart (Dorothy Malone) outside the town of Cottonwood. Unfortunately, when he and his brothers (Alex Nicol and Russell Johnson) arrive in town, they discover that Cottonwood is as bad as Tombstone ever was, thanks to a group of villains headed by Preston Foster, Dennis Weaver, and Jack Kelly. Reagan is very appealing as the genial yet steadfast marshal, and there’s a steamy “Romeo and Juliet” romantic subplot between Johnson and Ruth Hampton, playing Weaver’s sister. I’ve returned to this one more than once.

Take Me to Town (Douglas Sirk, 1953)

Take Me to Town (1953) Movie Poster
Take Me to Town (1953)

This charming family film directed by Douglas Sirk is in desperate need of a DVD release. Ann Sheridan plays saloon gal Vermilion O’Toole (real name, Mae Madison) who escapes from a marshal who arrested her for a crime she didn’t commit. She lands in a frontier town where she chances to meet three cute little boys (Lee Aaker, Harvey Grant, and Dusty Henley) who are looking for a wife for their widowed father Will (Sterling Hayden), a lumberjack. Vermilion goes home with the boys and when their father finally returns home from a stay at a logging camp, he’s quite surprised to find a lovely woman cooking dinner. For her part, Vermilion is also surprised to learn that Will isn’t just a lumberjack, he’s also the town preacher! It’s a delightful film with humor, romance, music, and evocative settings; the church located near a waterfall is particularly memorable. I really love this one.

Star in the Dust (Charles F. Haas, 1956)

Star in the Dust (1956) Movie Poster
Star in the Dust (1956)

Another film with a top cast, headed by John Agar as a stoic sheriff holding a convicted murderer (Richard Boone) in his jail. There’s a battle brewing between farmers and ranchers who are threatening to break Boone out, but Agar and his older deputies (James Gleason and Paul Fix) are determined to hold everyone off and carry out a hanging at sundown. Boone seems to be doing a dry run for his role as a killer in the following year’s classic Randolph Scott Western, The Tall T (1957). Mamie Van Doren and Coleen Gray play the women who love Agar and Boone, respectively, and I especially liked a subplot with Randy Stuart as a former saloon gal who fears her husband (Harry Morgan) will be killed amidst the conflict.  The cast also includes Leif Erickson and a young Clint Eastwood.

— Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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8 Responses to Western RoundUp: Universal Gems, Part 2

  1. Jerry Entract says:

    Another welcome and interesting piece her from our good friend, Laura!

    I know all these films except “TAKE ME TO TOWN” and while none are classic westerns all the ones I know are enjoyable (typically good U.I. westerns) and especially, for me, “THE LONE HAND” & “STAR IN THE DUST”.
    McCrea had a contract briefly with U.I. that produced some very enjoyable westerns, some of his best of the decade. John Agar was perhaps a rather bland actor but “STAR IN THE DUST” brought out more from him than usual and it’s a pity he didn’t do more with the studio.

  2. Jerry Entract says:

    Actually, a major booboo from Jerry by failing to mention my favourite of the westerns in the article, “LAW AND ORDER”. It has a special place in my heart because it was one of the first westerns I ever saw, and certainly the first on the big screen. That was in, I believe, 1953 or it could have been 1954 (Imdb doesn’t help) and I was taken by my parents. I was about 6.
    When I view the film all these years later I STILL really like it.

  3. john k says:

    Like Jerry I’ve seen them all except TAKE ME TO TOWN which I always thought was more Americana than Western. Most 50’s Universal Westerns are available Worldwide providing you have a multi region player. LAW & ORDER is very good I thought, and the supporting cast is great. My most sought after Universal 50’s Western is SADDLE TRAMP which I consider the best of the 6 Westerns Joel McCrea made for them in the 50’s. Sadly SADDLE TRAMP has so far not even had a DVD release. A couple of really good ones that so far are only available in Europe are MAN FROM BITTER RIDGE and A DAY OF FURY.

  4. Law and Order, and Take Me to Town are old friends. I have vague memories of Seminole but the others aren’t ringing any bells and I am looking forward to making their acquaintance. (I wish I had a name like Vermillion O’Toole or Bangles Carson or … I just think it would be swell!)

    Enjoyed the look at all of these movies.

  5. Walter says:

    Laura, another fine write-up of our beloved genre, the Western. Universal-International Pictures have 100’s of very good Western movies to pick from, which is a pleasure for fans. I can’t really add anything to what you wonderfully wrote about these, which I think are “They Might Be Giants In Their Own Way Movies.” I think The Universal-International Westerns of the Post-World War II Era(1946-62) have a distinct studio style that is consistently attractive to the eye with an unassuming artistic flavor of taste. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it just strikes me in that way.

    Also. I really enjoyed your picks of U-I movie posters. They are striking to my eye and I could look at these and other U-I movie posters all day.

    I look forward to your next write-up. Stay safe and healthy.

  6. Laura says:

    Thank you all so much for reading and taking the time to comment! I love hearing from each and every one of you. 🙂

    Jerry, LAW AND ORDER is one of my favorites on this list so I love hearing about your memory of going to see it in a theater as a kid. That’s just wonderful.

    John, I actually debated whether to include TAKE ME TO TOWN as you’re right, it’s definitely Americana, but I decided it had so many “normal” Western components that I’d include it — especially as I’d like more people to know about it. I so wish that there would be a DVD or Blu-ray set with movies like that and SADDLE TRAMP (a pair of family films which would make a great double bill!).

    Patricia, I just learned that SEMINOLE will be out on Blu-ray this December! I recently bought LAW AND ORDER on Blu-ray as I like it so much I wanted to upgrade the print. Sure wish TAKE ME TO TOWN would be released, I’m glad to know you’ve seen it! (And you’re right about the character names!)

    Walter, thank you! “Consistently attractive to the eye” is a great way to describe Universal Westerns (including their title credits and poster art along with the movies). Glad you enjoyed the posters!

    Best wishes to you all!

  7. ludwig jacobson says:

    i only know about seminole and star in the dust. i hope to find them at the local video store so i can buy it. thank you for the very information.

  8. Laura says:

    You’re very welcome, I hope you can track down the movies and that you enjoy them!

    Best wishes,

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