Western RoundUp: Western Film Book Library – Part 7

Western RoundUp: Western Film Book Library – Part 7

Every year or so I share some interesting titles on the Western film genre in this column. Here’s my 2023 look at a mixture of brand-new and vintage books on Westerns!

There’s an exciting new series of paperback books on Westerns, “Reel West,” which has recently debuted from the University of New Mexico Press.

Blood on the Moon by Alan K. Rode and Ride Lonesome by Kirk Ellis

The publisher describes them as “short, well-designed volumes exploring individual films across the whole history of the Western,” also calling them “smart, incisive examinations.” Having now read the first two books in the series, I found the descriptions accurate. I’m enthused about the titles I’ve just read, and I’m looking forward to reading forthcoming titles.

Blood on the Moon by Alan K. Rode

Blood on the Moon is a 99-page book on the 1948 film of the same name. It was written by film historian Alan K. Rode, whose other books include excellent biographies of Michael Curtiz and Charles McGraw. Charles McGraw, incidentally, appears as a rancher in the film, memorably wearing a bearskin coat.

The new book concisely yet thoroughly details the history of the 1948 Western, doing an admirable job recounting details of the movie’s production while also placing the film in a wider context. Readers will come to understand how the movie fits in Western, film noir, and RKO studio history, as well as in the careers of filmmakers such as director Robert Wise and rising star Robert Mitchum.

The book also delves into the history of author Luke Short, whose book was the basis for the screenplay; over the years his novels were filmed on numerous occasions.

There are detailed chapter notes and a bibliography, though not an index. The book contains numerous interesting black and white photos, many of which were new to me. While an index would have been handy for referring back to the book in the future, I felt it lived up to the publisher’s promise of a “well-designed volume,” including a three-page spread neatly detailing the film’s credits.

Blood on the Moon is a very engaging read which I devoured over the course of a single airplane flight. Fans of Westerns and classic films alike should find it quite enjoyable and informative.

Ride Lonesome by Kirk Ellis

It was a pleasure to unexpectedly meet Kirk Ellis, the author of Ride Lonesome, at a recent film festival – all the more so as I happened to have the book with me and was able to have him sign it!

At 207 pages the Ride Lonesome book is about twice the length of Blood on the Moon. It follows the same style, with chapter notes, bibliography, and a number of black and white photos, but no index.

The 1959 film Ride Lonesome is my favorite of the seven Westerns in which Budd Boetticher directed Randolph Scott, and I’ve also been to the film’s Alabama Hills locations several times, so it was quite a treat to read an entire book on this beloved Western. I also appreciated that Ellis describes trekking to the Alabama Hills himself to see the locations firsthand.

In his introduction Ellis describes Ride Lonesome as “one of the starkest, leanest, and most unrelenting films in any genre of the period.” It certainly is all that – I love the short 73-minute running time and the memorably bleak ending — though I also find it rather optimistic in the way that outlaw Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts) ends up working with Randolph Scott’s Ben Brigade, and just maybe going on to a better life after “The End.”

The author’s personal relationships with both Boetticher and screenwriter Burt Kennedy gives his knowledgeable text an added dimension. He shares both men’s personal stories along with the production history of the film; he places Ride Lonesome in the context of the other “Ranown” Westerns and also offers excellent critical analysis of both Kennedy’s script and the finished film. He offered so many insights that I’m anxious to pull this film off the shelf again in the near future and watch it with this fresh perspective. In short, I loved and recommend this book.

Heroes, Heavies, and Sagebrush is a 1972 book by Arthur F. McClure and Ken D. Jones. I discovered it thanks to my friend, film historian Toby Roan; I immediately sought a copy, as the authors’ 1970 book The Films of James Stewart has been on my bookshelf since I was a pre-teen, when I found it on a closeout table in the attic at Pickwick Books in Hollywood.

Heroes, Heavies and Sagebrush by Arthur F. Mc Clure and Ken D. Jones

It’s a photo-filled 351-page hardback packed with biographical information and credits for a wide variety of Western supporting players. Examples of a couple pages are seen below. While a considerable amount of the biographical data — especially death dates — has become outdated in the half century since it was published, the book still contains a great deal of value.

The many photos are useful to help identify Western players by name, and for me such photos have also always sparked interest in films to search out for future viewing. This is a delightful read and reference source for Western fans.

I was browsing the film book section of my favorite used bookstore on a recent visit to see family in Eugene, Oregon, when I happened across the amazing 1992 reference Sweethearts of the Sage: Biographies and Filmographies of 248 Actresses Appearing in Western Movies.

Sweethearts of the Sage: Biograhies and Filmographies of 258 Actresses Appearing in Western Movies by Buck Rainey

This 632-page book by Buck Rainey, published by McFarland, is truly remarkable, and it was certainly worth what I paid, as I’ll be referring to it for years to come.

As seen in the page spreads above, the book features biographies of varying lengths; some are quite detailed, and in all cases the book is a great way to learn more about Western leading ladies. The book also contains an extensive film title index at the back.

While I’m on this topic, I’d like to remind readers of books about Western heroines which I’ve covered in the past: Westerns Women and Ladies of the Western, which I wrote about here in July 2019, and The Heroine or the Horse, which I wrote about last summer.

I’ll wrap up this month’s column with two books on Randolph Scott, who coincidentally starred in the previously discussed Ride Lonesome.

The first title is The Films of Randolph Scott by Robert Nott, published by McFarland in 2004. I wrote about Nott’s 2000 book Last of the Cowboy Heroes: The Westerns of Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, and Audie Murphy, here in January 2021.

The Films of Randolph Scott by Robert Nott

This time around Nott explores Scott’s entire career, beginning with bit parts. He provides film credits and plot outlines, production history and critical response, as well as including his own takes on the titles. Examples are seen in the page spreads below.

Some of the information necessarily overlaps with Last of the Cowboy Heroes, but it’s all very useful and I quite enjoyed reading about Scott’s other films and placing his Westerns in the context of his full career. Nott pulls together facts about each film to provide a smooth and interesting read about each title, and the book is nicely illustrated with high-quality black and white reproductions on the book’s pages. Scott fans will want this book, especially if they don’t have the earlier title.

The other Scott title, Randolph Scott: A Film Biography, is an older book, originally published by Empire Publishing in 1987. Empire also published David Rothel’s book Tim Holt which I shared here in November 2019.

Randolph Scott, A Film Biography by Jefferson Brim Crow III

Randolph Scott: A Film Biography was written by Jefferson Brim Crow III and runs 303 pages. It’s a heavy book with glossy pages.

The text is lighter than Nott’s book, with a strong focus on photographs. There are also several pages of reprints of original Scott movie reviews which are fun to peruse — those with aging eyes may want a magnifying glass – and there’s a lengthy section of film credits at the back of the book.

The photos are very enjoyable and make this book a nice supplement to Nott’s writings on Scott.

I hope the above suggestions will be useful for my readers! For more ideas on Western film books, please visit my lists from July 2019November 2019May 2020January 2021July 2021, and August 2022.

Thanks to the University of New Mexico Press and editor Andrew Patrick Nelson for providing review copies of Blood on the Moon and Ride Lonesome.

– 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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2 Responses to Western RoundUp: Western Film Book Library – Part 7

  1. Jerry Entract says:

    Really interesting reviews of some very interesting books, Laura! The two new publications are by respected writers and the films are both personal favourites. “BLOOD ON THE MOON” touches my two favourite genres of film plus RKO Studios during a concise period post-WW2 made a good number of films I hold close. Another plus is that it is an adaptation of a Luke Short story.

    Three of the other books are in my own collection and all are held dear. Having read Robert Nott’s LAST OF THE COWBOY HEROES (and loved it) I just had to get his next book devoted entirely to Scott. I knew that a hardback book of that size would probably be expensive to import to the UK and it so happened that my wife and I were going to New York that year (2006) and I ordered it online at Barnes & Noble in NY to have the book held under the counter until I could pick it up. That worked out just fine.

    I don’t have the Buck Rainey book but do have two other of his books, one being the sound pictures of Buck Jones. I understand Mr Rainey adopted the name ‘Buck’ himself in tribute to his favourite film star.

  2. Walter S. says:

    Laura, these are all very interesting books and well worth reading. I’m especially interested in Kirk Ellis’ RIDE LONESOME(2023), because I’m a longtime fan of Randolph Scott’s work with director Budd Boetticher and screenwriter Burt Kennedy.

    Thank you for giving your readers a heads up about these books.

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