Friday, April 7, 2017

Another Look: ARIZONA BUSHWHACKERS (1968 Western starring Howard Keel)

For a long time I rather arrogantly ignored the string of low budget Westerns produced by A.C. Lyles in the mid/late 1960s as sub par movie fare starring has-been actors and actresses in features no better than what was regularly playing on TV in those days.
I was wrong.

True, not all of these features are gems; also true that most of the starring roles are filled by veteran performers no longer in their prime or at the peak of their popularity. But right there is the key to what makes these features work to the extent that they do --- which is better than what I used to give them credit for. Now that I am a veteran of many things and also past my prime in numerous ways, I see things a little differently. And Westerns of a quality as seen in the better of the bygone TV shows would be a welcome change on the big or little screen as opposed to much of the crap currently available.
In short, I've been watching and enjoying several of these A.C. Lyles Westerns lately and have been left feeling a little guilty about my former dismissal of them.

ARIZONA BUSHWHACKERS, despite its rather bland title, is one of the best of what I've seen so far. Starting out with a voiceover narration by James Gagney (uncredited, but it is Jimmy Gagney, a well known friend of Lyles, sure as shootin') it tells the tale of former Confederate officer Lee Travis, now a galvanized Yankee, sent to "clean up" a small, corrupt Arizona town in Indian territory while the war is still going on. In truth, he still has allegiance to the Confederacy and is working undercover to try and secure a cache of much-needed guns and ammo hidden somewhere in the town. It all gets a little corny and a lot complicated with anti-Reb sentiments, double-crosses, good and bad characters not turning out to be what you first thought, and even an Indian raid at the climax. But the actors play it straight and sincere and elevate it higher than the material they have to work with.
Howard Keel, in the lead role, does a particularly good job. As does John Ireland.
With other veterans like Yvonne DeCarlo, Brian Donlevy, Barton MacLane, Marilyn Maxwell, and Scott Brady backing them up, it's a solid cast brought together in a good old-fashioned shoot-'em-up.
If that's what you're in the mood for --- and if you're not, you should be, at least from time to time --- you could do a lot worse.

Monday, April 3, 2017


I'm writing about this film not because it's particularly good, but rather because of the interesting back story.
It is built from two different episodes of the old Virginian TV series, edited and spliced together to form this feature-length movie. The reason? To take advantage of Charles Bronson's peaking popularity --- especially in overseas markets --- in the late '60s/early '70s after his appearance in hit films like THE DIRTY DOZEN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and RIDER ON THE RAIN.

Bronson's Virginian episode, titled "Nobility of Kings", was done in 1965; another episode, titled "Duel at Shiloh", made in 1963 and starring Brian Keith, was coupled in to fill up sufficient time. The resulting THE BULL OF THE WEST was released overseas in 1972. Whether or not it was ever shown in theaters in the U.S., I don't know. But it is currently being shown regularly on cable, mainly on the Western channel.

The parallel stories thus brought together involve two ranches bordering Shiloh, the centerpiece for the TV series. One is a small start-up affair run by Bronson, a tormented widower, since re-married, who has previously faced financial ruin and is obsessed with making a success this time around. The other outfit is run by a high-spirited, ruthless woman who has Keith as her ramrod. He is a cocky Texan with a fast gun and a fast lip and a seething hatred for the barbed wire being introduced to section off the different ranch properties in the valley.

Bronson's role makes him alternately sympathetic due to his plight yet sometimes unlikable due to the way he obsessively drives his wife and son. Keith's role is a scene-stealer every time he's on screen. (Though you'd never know it by the various movie "posters" that often don't even feature his name.)

The overall result is watchable, even mildly entertaining. There is some choppy editing, as you might imagine, and a few incidentals that don't get fully explained, but mostly it hangs together. In the end, Keith and his boss get their just deserts; Bronson endures some tragedy yet still comes out of it with some hope for the future.
In addition to the regular series cast members (including stalwart Lee J. Cobb), there are some additional "guest stars" on hand who lend some mighty strong support to the proceedings --- George Kennedy, Ben Johnson, Lois Nettleton, Geraldine Brooks, and DeForest Kelly.
With a cast like that, it would be hard to go completely wrong. I just hope those involved in the original productions got some kind of fair shake for this re-packaged presentation.

Worth the price of a theater ticket or even a low-cost DVD? Not likely. But, if you catch it on cable, like I said, it's watchable and mildly entertaining.
And now, to borrow a phrase, you know the rest of the story ...