Brandon DeWilde: Gone 45 Years Ago

DATELINE: Memories

Audie with Brandon DeWilde

Audie Murphy with Brandon on set of Night Passage

Forty-five years is a long time, no matter how old you are.

It is especially long when you think that young actor Brandon DeWilde died on a road in Denver that many years ago. He’s buried in East Farmingdale, New York.

Brandon is likely remembered as the little boy in the movie Shane who cried, “Come back, Shane, come back!” as the mysterious gunman kept on riding his horse into the clouds.

Our personal favorite movie with Brandon was Hud, though when he stood up to father figure John Wayne, his costar for In Harm’s Way, he gave another interesting performance. Challenging the man playing your father is not an easy trick when it’s the Duke.

Julie Harris starred on Broadway in 1950 and in the movie version of Member of the Wedding, largely forgotten nowadays, with Brandon as her little friend. She once told us in an interview that their bare feet would be so dirty after a stage performance of pretending to be outdoors in the Old South. For years afterward, he would greet her by announcing his feet were clean. She remembered him fondly as her costar on stage and in film.

Who didn’t adore Brandon?

He glowed in every performance, not like so many insipid child actors.

Brandon was such a scene stealer that, when he costarred with dangerous war hero Audie Murphy in Night Passage, he was knocked on his keester by Audie, wearing a black hat and black leather vest for this bad guy role, in one scene. Yes, it was in the script.

You could put Brandon up against Warren Beatty and Paul Newman—and he matched their intensity.

DeWilde is now a trivia piece of history for many movie fans. But his demise so long ago was a shock when it happened. He rode off into the clouds, leaving us to cry out, “Come back, Brandon. Come back.”

Alas, he can only do it in his marvelous movie roles.

 

 

 

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Depp is Really a Dope

 DATELINE: Actors & Politics

Tonto Means Dopey Depp Johnny Dope

They don’t call him Johnny Dope for nothing.

The semi-intoxicated movie star named Johnny Depp called for the assassination of President Trump at a British music festival this week. He compared himself to another actor named John Wilkes Booth.

That comparison raises Depp a few steps above his talent range.

Wilkes Booth was a noted actor of stage, known for his good looks and his explosive talent. Depp has always fallen short on both levels.

Booth, of course, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln with a group of misfits he assembled. There’s no doubt the Depp probably can muster up a group of misfits from his devotees. That’s his likely fan club.

As far as actors killing presidents is concerned, we believe Booth was a better actor, but as Depp brags: he’s a better liar than Booth. Heavens, there is no end to his talent: until now.

Threatening to kill a president you disagree with is a new low even for Hollywood liberals.

John Wilkes Booth was a great Shakespearean actor even at a young age. However, Booth was dead at 27, after a manhunt by authorities. Depp is still alive and kicking and pushing 60.  After his recent comment, nobody will be chasing him, especially film producers.

We also believe the Depp has never really tried Shakespeare, which separates the actors from the drunken liars.

The Secret Service is said to be aware of Depp’s Kathy Griffin moment. If we are lucky, the man who has played Tonto will be sent into retirement, not a moment too soon. His performance was an insult to all Native Americans.

In case you’re wondering, Tonto is Spanish for stupid. That may be the highlight of Johnny Dope’s career. Put it on his tombstone.

Director Remakes His Own Classic

DATELINE:  Horse Opera Noir

colorado  Forgotten Western

In 1949 flamboyant director Raoul Walsh remade his classic film High Sierra as a western. Instead of Humphrey Bogart in a star spin, he chose Joel McCrae as the prison escapee who is called upon to lead a train robbery in this odd version.

The biggest drawback of the film is McCrae who is never scary, but all the characters quake in his presence.

Walsh made his great psycho crime drama White Heat around the same time with James Cagney and Steve Cochran. Either one of those actors would have brought enough menace to the role of Wes McQueen to bring the picture into the darker realms of Western Noir.

The film’s title Colorado Territory is a little misleading, as the story is not set in Colorado. In fact, Colorado is the name of the half-breed Indian prostitute played by Virginia Mayo (also a Raoul Walsh favorite from White Heat) with appropriate heavy tanned make-up. She is her usual voluptuous, but sordid, floozie. She is no man’s land. Well, no man’s Colorado Territory.

The film contains a number of familiar faces from movies and TV of the 1950s. You’ll recognize so many of them. But you won’t know any of their names. They are a great cast of second bananas.

The film is one of those post-World War II films that entertained audiences cynical from the war years. Don’t expect happy endings. We don’t think we are spoiling anything because you know how these things must turn out.

The film features unusual characterizations, including a loquacious young man played by James Mitchell. He has no interest in Virginia Mayo and is never McCrae’s rival, but he pontificates with a gay lilt in his voice voice. It’s rather unexpected, but shows a modern sensibility, giving the film part of its strange appeal.

Overall, the film is low-rent Colorado territory. It’s a shame because it could have been so much more than drive-in double-bill material.

John Wayne’s Legend Returns in Legend of the Lost

DATELINE: Treasure of the Libyan Desert

wayne & loren lost

It’s been lost for years.

Now John Wayne’s classic treasure hunt movie, Legend of the Lost, has returned to DVD, available to Lost fans.

Written by Ben Hecht and directed in manly form by Henry Hathaway, this is the sort of boys’ adventure that was meant to put H.Rider Haggard to shame. And, it does a good job of it.

Wayne might as well be fighting Indians for all his character is concerned with the Tuareg Arabs. He’s stuck at the ends of the world in Timbuktu when morally righteous Rossano Brazzi shows up looking for a guide to find a lost city in the Sahara.

When big money is involved, a local beauty and prostitute, in the person of young and voluptuous Sophia Loren is bound to tag along.

James Mason turned down the Brazzi role, which is a shame, and Wayne suffered a broken leg during filming in Libya. But, the desert vistas are worth it—as is the ghostly lost city.

Most young viewers have likely not seen this one, featuring the legendary Duke Wayne at the peak of his powers, playing with wry humor. It’s also plain to see why Loren was about to explode onto the American screen.

The foreshadowing is fairly heavy handed, but who’s to quibble or even notice the augurs when Loren is seducing each man in turn.

We were also amused that the bottle of whiskey keeps being broken—and replaced with an endless supply. One mule must have been carrying nothing but booze. Who needs water in the Sahara?

This movie was a popcorn muncher in its day—and we are happy to say, it still is.

 

Jeremiah Johnson Was a Revenant

DATELINE:  Mountain Men Wantedrevenant

 

Forty years ago Robert Redford played the legendary Revenant. Of course, he was an “Indian killer.” Today, the violence is committed mindlessly by the soldiers—and the Native Americans are victims. So, the new Revenant movie takes a different tact.

The rest of the story is copied shamelessly. Death of wife and young son sets off a mountain man. This time it is Leonardo di Caprio braving the cold, a bear attack, and other assorted injuries. Despite all he suffers, frostbite or hypothermia is not among the problems.

Like Redford’s character, this one is based on trapper legends. Instead of meeting Will Geer in his fur get-up, DiCaprio dresses like Will Geer, down to the jaunty fur cap. Many incidents between both films are shuffled like a deck of script pages (fishing by hand in the rapids, etc.)

You could probably match scenes for scenes between the films.

This time the bloody rage is more vivid, with splurting blood.  Yet, the majestic and sublime Nature remains the powerful backdrop to the survival of the fittest in both Jeremiah Johnson and The Revenant.

The picaresque adventure of revenge remains the centerpiece of both movies. In DiCaprio’s version, he must seek out the double-crossing varmit (Tom Hardy) who kills the Pawnee son of Revenant (Forrest Goodluck).

The callow Goodluck as Hawk is a scene-stealer, but we doubt he will transcend that stereotype of playing the “good Indian” as his career unfolds. Typecasting lives.

In keeping with modern stereotypes, the worst group in the new version is the French Canadian trappers. White men, all.

Well directed and produced, the film still falls short in its message. Jeremiah Johnson carried a satisfying wallop. The Revenant merely carries on.

Alternative History of Hollywood Murder!

DATELINE: New movie book challenges true story!

One of the more interesting, great untold stories about Hollywood concerns the murder on location when John Wayne was filming The Alamo in 1959.

Most books on Wayne assiduously avoid the topic, but Wayne’s progtege, actress LeJean Ethridge, was given a larger role in the picture by Duke Wayne—and one of her roommates, a man named Chester Harvey Smith, stabbed her to death.

Wayne testified at a hasty hearing—and the subject was buried almost as fast as the unfortunate actress. Chester Smith was given a 30-year sentence—and the story was allegedly over.

Now comes an alternative history book called MURDER AT THE ALAMO, which pulls no punches with its speculative look at what may have precipitated the controversies around the movie.

Wayne apparently lost control of his film—and nearly lost his personal fortune. Casting problems and egotistic costars dogged Duke. It’s no wonder he had John Ford come to the rescue to film scenes and give the star a break. It was too much to star and to direct under such pressures.

The book looks at how a rival star seemed to exacerbate Wayne’s troubles. We can’t tell where the truth ends and fictional speculation begins. And, if you can’t tell, perhaps the difference no longer matters after 50+ years.

The story is told in press releases, news reports from minor newspapers, and gossip columnists. And, there is a who’s who of appearances of notable figures to weigh in on the controversy.

A fascinating tale, this re-telling of tragedy and movie history compels the reader to wonder why the killer was let out of prison 4 years later with a large stipend of money that he parlayed into a radio network empire.

Now available on Amazon.com for ebook and soon as paperback by 1960s gossip columnist Dam Chewy.

Billy the Kid Up-ends His Tough Teen Movie Image

DATELINE: Way Outted West

Featured image Fops Out West

You probably have seen the newly confirmed photo of Billy the Kid.

He was the sociopathic killer and dime novel hero of the great American West.  As a dangerous desperado who shot 21 people down, at his minimal serial killer standard, he may have taken a hit to his image with the discovery of his picture playing croquet.

A few people have hinted that now it is clear that Billy was a pantywaist who murdered people to bolster his gun size. Others think he proves that the Old West was not a home for fashion plates.

The subject of 200+ movies, Billy wears a cardigan sweater like a Yalie on holiday at the dude ranch, the Yves Saint Laurent devotee looking like a fish out of water. We can hardly wait for the updated Billy western where he plies his wares with a croquet mallet.

Billy would not have passed muster as a model for Abercrombie and Fitch. His chin is big enough to hang a kettle on, and his acne seems to defy the New Mexico sunlight.

Of course, the news accounts are slightly wrong. There is at least one other photo of Billy, though some still dispute it, but the same points of facial recognition have been counted. He was not the most handsome of young men. And if you are not good-looking at 21, time has run out on the star meter.

Many are making a great deal of noise over the croquet mallet, which easily could become a club and weapon of choice in a robbery while playing the game most favored by matrons of elite 19th century leisure.

Imagine adding hustler to the litany of Billy’s crimes. Billy’s gang of male escorts? That’s why we love Americana.