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 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 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.