Sunday, January 8, 2012

John Wayne's Gothic Westerns

This just in from the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History:

John Wayne rides again in the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History’s Lone Star Westerns film festival — a triple-shot of the Duke’s favorite movies from his earliest years of stardom during the 1930s! Selected from Monogram Pictures’ Lone Star series by Hollywood historian Mike Price, the films capture John Wayne in his youthful prime as a maverick lawman at large in a lawless frontier, fighting murderers and land-grabbers on their own ruthless terms in Randy Rides Alone (Jan. 15), The Star Packer (Jan. 22), and Blue Steel (Jan. 29). As a novice player working in modest circumstances, John Wayne was the genuine article – serving Monogram Pictures’ Lone Star Westerns series as a grimly resourceful protagonist who was not above stooping to the villains’ level in order to thwart their treacheries…

Each film will play at 2 p.m. in the Museum’s Oak Room, with introductory remarks from Price’s interviews with John Wayne. Admission is FREE with Fort Worth Stock Show/Moo-seum Experience admission. Films include:

2 p.m. Sunday, January 15, 2012 RANDY RIDES ALONE (Monogram Pictures; 1934)
Undercover lawman Wayne is gathering evidence on an outlaw band when he finds himself accused of murder in connection with a barroom massacre. He breaks jail and tracks the criminals to their lair. A principal role belongs to George Hayes, who had not yet transformed himself into the beloved Western-film sidekick “Gabby” Hayes.

2 p.m. Sunday, January 22, 2012 THE STAR PACKER (Monogram Pictures; 1934)
Another outlaw mob (“What a nest of hornets!” says Wayne) led by a mysterious boss attracts the attention of U.S. Marshal Wayne. The follow-up to Randy Rides Alone emphasizes action from start to finish, with a spectacular array of stunt falls and a terrific struggle between Wayne and stuntman Ed Parker. George Hayes reappears as a character leading a secretive double life.

2 p.m. Sunday, January 29, 2012 BLUE STEEL (Monogram Pictures; 1934)
An attempt to drive settlers from a supposedly worthless townsite inspires heroic teamwork by John Wayne and George (not yet “Gabby”) Hayes. The picture is as distinctive for its extravagant stunt-action routines and imposing scenery (California’s rugged Alabama Hills) as for the showcase it allows John Wayne as an emerging star.

BACKGROUND: The Lone Star series of Western movies of the Depression years represents a cornerstone in the Hollywood career of John Wayne. Despite a promising break in 1930 as the top-billed star of a big-studio picture, The Big Trail, Wayne remained a struggling actor until tiny Mascot Pictures put him to work during 1932-1933 as the star of three low-budget action serials. These brought Wayne to the attention of Warner Bros., which cast him in the earliest Lone Star pictures, combining recycled silent-film footage with new scenes.

After six of those patchwork films, Warner Bros. ceded the Lone Star franchise in 1933 to Monogram Pictures, which developed 16 entirely new features. Our selections come from the Monogram Lone Star series — a turning point for Wayne, and for Western movies as a class.
Wayne’s portrayals, in conflict with criminals in an untamed frontier, were consistent with a formula followed by such established stars as Buck Jones and Ken Maynard — but Wayne brought such innovations as a breezier manner and an ability to develop new standards of realism on extremely small budgets. With director Robert N. Bradbury and stuntman-actor Yakima Canutt, for example, Wayne created a style of make-believe fighting that eliminated the risk of physical impact while appearing authentically strenuous. This method has remained in use by generations of action-stunt players.

By the later 1930s, Wayne had graduated to greater prominence as part of the Three Mesquiteers ensemble of cowhand heroes, though still in the low-budget sector. His big-studio star power reasserted itself in 1939 with the breakthrough of John Ford’s Stagecoach. The Monogram Lone Star Westerns were among Wayne’s most fondly remembered assignments.

ABOUT MICHAEL H. PRICE: Hollywood historian Michael H. Price began researching the long-obscure early films of John Wayne in 1967 after meeting the star during a promotional tour for The War Wagon. Having learned that Wayne relished the experience of making the Lone Star Westerns at the dawn of his career, Price secured television-syndicate prints of Randy Rides Alone and The Star Packer, among other Lone Stars, and found them rich in inventive cinematic technique and pioneering stunt-action tricks — the very source of the dynamic screen presence that Wayne would convey in such bigger films as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Quiet Man. Price and fellow author George E. Turner have chronicled the Lone Star Westerns for the American Film Institute’s Catalogue of Feature Films and the American Society of Cinematographers, in addition to their own studies of American independent filmmaking.

Price is a founding archivist of the Tyler, Texas, Black Film Collection at Dallas’ Southwest Film & Video Archive; a consultant to Los Angeles’ Gene Autry Museum; curator/presenter of the quadrennial Van Cliburn Film Festival in connection with the Cliburn Piano Competition; and founding president of the Fort Worth Film Festival, Inc., forerunner of the Lone Star International Film Festival. His film programs include the John Wayne postage-stamp cancellation ceremonies (2004) at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and a long-running American Cinema series at the Carter Museum. Price’s books include five volumes in the Forgotten Horrors series of movie encyclopedias and (with George Turner) Spawn of Skull Island: The Making of King Kong.

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