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The Flame and the Arrow 1950 – Burt Lancaster

This was a real Adventure film that all us youngsters loved when we were lucky enough to see it at the local cinema. Plenty of action and adventure in Technicolor

The Trailer gives us a taste of what is to come

When you viewed this, you just had to go and see it

After this film. I always think that Burt Lancaster became more and more unpleasant and, as we say, got too big for his boots

He could appear brutal on screen, and he sometimes seemed that way behind the cameras too.

He was the boss as well as the star and British directors often seemed to fall foul of him. Charles Crichton (the ex-Ealing comedy director whose credits include The Lavender Hill Mob and A Fish Called Wanda) was sacked a few weeks into the shooting of ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’

Lancaster was equally savage with another Ealing comedy director, Sandy Mackendrick, firing him from the George Bernard Shaw adaptation The Devil’s Disciple (1959.)

“Sandy was a very clever director and a very nice guy but he took one helluva lot of time,” Lancaster later said. At least, by then, Mackendrick had directed Lancaster in one of his greatest performances, as the columnist JJ Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success (1957.) Ironically, that film seemed remarkable precisely because of Mackendrick’s inventive camerawork.

It helped, too, that Mackendrick made known an aspect of Lancaster’s character that had hitherto only been hinted at – his capacity for bullying.

One film Director that he didn’t bully or even try to bully was Byron Haskin who directed him in ‘His Majesty O’Keefe’ – and had directed him a few years before in ‘I Walk Alone’ – he just wouldn’t even try or even dare because Byron Haskin had the measure of Burt Lancaster

Byron Haskin with Burt Lancaster #His Majesty O’Keefe’

ABOVE – Don’t mess with me, Mr Lancaster

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The Shaggy Dog 1959

Walt Disney had started his ‘Live Action’ films in 1950 with ‘Treasure Island’ 1950 and the ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ 1952 which were very successful – and made in England. Then to ‘The Sword and the Rose’ and ‘Rob Roy The Highland Rogue’ and these two were not anywhere near the previous two at the Box Office. So he then started production in Hollywood with ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ which did really well – However the decade finished with, up to that time, the most successful film he had had with ‘The Shaggy Dog’ – it was a surprise to all because it didn’t have a big budget and the expectations were, at best, normal run of the mill. What a surprise when this one struck gold with Cinema-goers just loving it.

I have read that Fred McMurray was Walt Disney’s favourite actor

In many ways, The Shaggy Dog launched a new style for Walt Disney’s live-action films.

 The Shaggy Dog was the most profitable film at the box office beating out the likes of Some Like It Hot, North by Northwest and even Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Only Ben-Hur ruled over The Shaggy Dog at the box office in 1959. The crazy plot element combinations kept young audience entertained.

What other film at the time could give you talks of the Cold War, plotting Russian spies, a rivalry over two different girls, and a horror fantasy about a teenage boy morphing into a dog from a magical ring

Only Walt Disney could pull this off and keep the insanity going with many more films that shared a similar theme of ” A story that treated the younger generation and it’s problems in a light-hearted manner,” as said by Walt Disney. 

The Shaggy Dog 1959

It may have been a surprise hit but it certainly made Walt Disney and his colleagues look anew at projects – they were always pretty adept at reading their fans and what those fans wanted – but this one took them aback

They were quick learners though.

Another really great Walt Disney film of 1959 was ‘Darby O Gill and The Little People’ but it did not do anywhere near as well – in my view it deserved to

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War Bonds Tour

I have just come across this very interesting item

James Cagney, Lucille Ball, Fred Astaire, Greer Garson, Paul Henreid, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton, Harpo Marx, Marjorie Stewart, Sergeant Barney Ross, Kay Kyser, Mickey Rooney, Rosemary LaPlanche on The Hollywood Cavalcade War Bonds Tour.

Film Stars of the day embarked on these USA tours to raise money for the War Effort.

This newsreel below give us a good indication of these nationwide tours organisation and who went on them

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The Tingler 1959

I remember going to see this at our local Ritz Cinema – a Vincent Price film

The Tingler

The Tingler is a 1959 horror thriller starring Vincent Price, and is one of his lesser known films. The film revolves around parasites that live inside human beings and feed off their fear, which causes a spine-tingling sensation. While this film is not one of Vincent Price’s best, the kind of marketing gimmicks used to sell it were just plain bizarre for 1959. The film is considered a cult classic. 

This film is best known for one particular gimmick used to sell it, where some rows of the Cinema Seats vibrate at set times during the film, to make people think they’d been infected with the parasite.

Fake screamers and fainters were even hired to throw fits and pass out during film screenings, with fake doctors on hand to look after them. 

William Castle the Director had given us ‘The House on Haunted Hill’ a year before this and that was filmed in the ‘Emergo’ process – another of his gimmicks where we saw a skeleton emerge from the screen at one particular stage of the film – and then ‘The Tingler’ was made in ‘Percepto’ which could be felt if you were in one of the seats wired up for a mild electric shock when The Tingler appeared.

You really have to hand it to William Castle – he knew how to pull the crowds in

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William Witney

I purchased his Autobiography a few weeks ago,

William Witney
(May 15, 1915 – March 17, 2002) 

William Witney and Cheryl Rogers on the set of Trail Of Robin Hood (1950). A Roy Rogers Film

William Witney was born 108 years ago. He was a true innovator in how action makes its way to the screen. He was working at Republic Pictures, and while on location for the 1937 serial The Painted Stallion, the director, Ray Taylor, was too drunk to work so a very young William Witney took over – he was just 21.

Watching Busby Berkeley put together one of his famous dance numbers, he quickly realised that fight sequences could be choreographed and shot the same way.

After serving in a Marine combat camera unit in World War II, Witney returned to Republic for his last serial, The Crimson Ghost (1946), then took over the Roy Rogers films.

He bought us more action, putting less emphasis on the music and bringing in a decidedly darker, more violent tone, William Witney breathed new life into Roy’s final films.

He was a genius, and his contribution to the cinema has been very under-appreciated.

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Dennis Price

One of the great British Film Stars of the Forties and Fifties, his greatest achievement was as the elegant killer in Ealing Studios’ Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). His portayal of Louis Mazzini, murdering his way through the upper-class family the d’Ascoynes (all played by Alec Guinness), was just perfect as he combined his polite and well mannered style which masked a clinical and calculating killer

Kind Hearts and Coronets

It’s the film he is best remembered. Alec Guinness seemed to get the plaudits for his eight-role display but in my view – and I have said this often – Dennis Price is the real star who narrates the story and appears in nearly every frame of the film.

What a performance – deserving of an Oscar in my view

I now have a biography of Dennis Price, who was “very nearly Britain’s biggest film star.” Born into an upper-class family who expected him to enter either the Army or the Church, he broke away in the mid-30’s, getting himself sent down from Worcester College, Oxford, and got into films as an extra.

The Biography is very well researched and is well written and very detailed and well worth buying – The Authors are Elaine Parker and Gareth Owen and I say Thank You to both of them, for the work they have put into this first class book

After an early star role for the visionary director Michael Powell in A Canterbury Tale (1944), he starred in several of the popular Gainsborough melodramas—but unlike James Mason and Stewart Granger, they did not lead him to Hollywood.

As it turned out the film The Bad Lord Byron (1948), in which he starred as the scandalous poet and had high hopes for, was a critical and commercial disaster.

He played a murderer in the film ‘Holiday Camp’ another favourite of mine – and that was a film that was successful and had quite a string of well known actors.

By the mid-50’s, Dennis Price was drinking heavily, had been messily divorced, declared bankrupt and was largely starring in B features; it all led to an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

He turned to comedy to revive his career, becoming a member of the Boulting Brothers’ company (Private’s ProgressI’m All Right Jack) and turning up on radio, such as guest spots on The Goon Show and a sitcom.

In 1966, Dennis Price’s fortunes seemed to be restored when he starred as Jeeves in the BBC’s The World of Wooster, and then he went bankrupt again, and left Britain to live in tax exile on the tiny Channel Island of Sark which limited his later appearances/

There was a last good role as a critic called Hector Snipe in the splendid Theatre of Blood (1973), led on by Diana Rigg to being butchered by Vincent Price; but that year, he died in a public ward in a Guernsey hospital from cirrhosis of the liver.

ABOVE – Dennis Price and Joan Rice in ‘The Horror of Frankenstein’ 1970

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Shane 1953 – Alan Ladd – Rodd Redwing and Jack Palance

In terms of Classic Westerns, they don’t come any bigger than this one

Shane (1953).

Directed by George Stevens

Starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon deWilde, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson, Edgar Buchanan, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook Jr., Douglas Spencer, John Dierkes, Ellen Corby

I am pretty sure that Jack Palance was billed as ‘Walter Jack Palance’- either way he plays a cruel, sadistic killer

The filming took place between July and October 1951 but it was not released until 23 April 1953 – this was due to the fact that Paramount wanted the print stretched and cropped to wide screen as, by now, Cinemascope was very much in vogue

Shane’s fancy gun twirling in the climatic showdown was actually performed by Rodd Redwing. Earlier, when Shane demonstrates his prowess for Joey, and it is clearly Alan Ladd himself on camera, the actor had been given a different, easier-to-use revolver for the scene and had had lessons from Rodd Redwing

In England Princess Margaret (1930-2002) meets actor Rodd Redwing (1904-1971), 1968..

Rodd Redwing ABOVE meets Princess Margaret In England in 1968 and during this visit I remember him appearing on British Television on, I thought, The Eamon Andrews Show in which he thrilled us with his use of the Western Six Shooter and demonstrated his quick draw technique. It was impressive

Many realistic shooting scenes were pioneered by Rodd Redwing. He first showed the violent impact of a .45 Colt cartridge.

While filming Shane (1953), Rod Redwing attached wires to a chest harness worn by Elisha Cook Jr., jerking him violently backward when he was shot down in the street by Jack Palance in one of the most brutal murder scened ever put on film

I have always thought that Jack Palance played a very similar role in ‘Barabbas’ where he played a Roman Champion Charioteer in Biblical times, who cruelly murders his victims in a Roman Arena in front of a baying crowd. He mows them down, or nets them and crashes them against the arena walls and then turns and acknowledges the cheers of the crowd.

That is until Barabbas ( Anthony Quinn ) appears and he has a plan – and that fight to a finish is one of the most gripping duels that I have ever seen.

What a film !!!!

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The Woman in Question 1951 Jean Kent

Jean Kent had a pretty big film career mainly in British Pictures and she was always able to give good performances in roles where she played strong characters – some of them not particularly appealing as in this one – and in one of my favourites ‘The Browning Version’ where she plays School Master Crocker-Harris’s cruel, heartless and unfaithful wife. Actually that was the film she made after ‘The Woman in Question’



A fairground fortune-teller, Agnes (Jean Kent), is found strangled in her home The police interview the people around her, but quickly establish that everyone saw the murdered woman in a different way. … Only when the police delve into the woman’s life and background, is it possible for them to learn the motive for her murder, and then unmask the killer

Duncan Macray ABOVE – plays the detective trying to unravel the mystery

Jean Kent

Jean Kent is excellent

Anthony Asquith directed the film – Robert Morley said that he always appeared on the Studio floor dressed in a Boiler Suit. His nick name was’Puffin’ Asquith

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Whispering Smith 1948 – with Alan Ladd

Just a little bit before the Fifties this one, but it had Alan Ladd at the peak of his career starring in his first Western and his first film in Technicolor. Of course his peak would last a few more years with ‘Shane’ released in 1953 as maybe, his most successful film

Rail company detective Luke “Whispering” Smith (Alan Ladd) reconnects with his old friend Murray Sinclair (Robert Preston) while on a mission to track down the Barton Brothers gang. When he finally catches up with the bandits at a telegraph office, Smith is wounded but kills two of the three outlaws.

Smith recovers at Murray’s house, reigniting his passion for his lost love Marian (Brenda Marshall), who is now Murray’s wife.

Smith doggedly goes after Blake Barton, the sole surviving brother, and finds him hiding under the protection of influential landowner Barney Rebstock (Donald Crisp) and his gunslinger henchman Whitey Du Sang (Frank Faylen). Smith starts to suspect that his friend Murray, who runs the rail company’s local wrecking crew, may be involved in sordid business with Rebstock. With his allies Bill Dansing (William Demarest) and George McCloud (John Eldredge), Smith starts investigating Murray and Rebstock, creating a deep rift in a lifelong friendship as well as romantic complications.


Paramount Pictures


Nebraska & Pacific 4-4-0 #19 belches black smoke during a scene from Whispering Smith.  This engine was most likely purchased by Paramount from the Virginia & Truckee railroad in Nevada and filmed on the Paramount Ranch back lot.

Based on the novel by Frank H. Spearman, Whispering Smith is a superior western.

Directed in Glorious Technicolor by Leslie Fenton. Paramount constructed a large western town complete with an active railway for Whispering Smith, and the set became a much-used stage for many later productions.

Here is created a town nestled against mountains and nature, with several highlight scenes featuring 1870s-era trains

For anyone interested in ‘train; films, this is on to look out for It uch in keeping with a previous, famous film Union Pacific  of 1939. 

Co-incidentally both films featured Robert Preston as the hero’s friend who turns out to be rather unpleasant  

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The Horse Soldiers 1959 – and a Tragedy on the Set

Directed by John Ford
Starring John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers, Althea Gibson, Judson Pratt, Ken Curtis, Willis Bouchey, Hank Worden

Tragically a stunt man was killed while on location for this film which really knocked the stuffing out of John Ford and he lost his enthusiasm for the film after that.

I had started this article to focus on the film itself but the I learned that shocking news that one of the stunt man Freddie Kennedy and experienced and veteran stunt man

In her first Western film, 1959’s The Horse Soldiers, Constance Towers found herself in the middle of two Johns: the masterful director John Ford (seated) and the most famous cowboy actor of all time, John Wayne (standing). –

Lovely Constance Towers became a star after she played the female lead in two John Ford Westerns.

She later said “Pappy ( John Ford ) had a way of looking at women: she was to be respected, kind of on a pedestal. But she had to have a lot of spunk and fire. She was feminine, but had a backbone and was always a lady.”

John Ford insisted that Constance Towers be treated that way while filming. “No one ever used bad language around any women on any Pappy Ford set. We had tea in the afternoon, and it was all very gentlemanly. He treated you like a lady wants to be treated; but you had to have a sense of humour, because if you didn’t catch the subliminal things that went by you, it was a big disappointment to him.”

In The Horse Soldiers, Constance played Southern belle Miss Hannah Hunter, whose home is occupied by Union troops under Col. John Marlowe (played by John “Duke” Wayne). Hunter does her best to sabotage the colonel’s plans, though she gradually becomes romantically drawn to him, and to his medical officer and nemesis, Maj. Henry Kendall (William Holden).

“I was singing in the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel [New York City] and [Producer] Martin Rackin saw me and invited me to Hollywood to meet John Ford. The fact that I was Irish probably didn’t hurt. He screen-tested five of us. I had a call from an assistant to be at the Blessed Sacrament’s Church Monday afternoon. I was to sit midway in a pew and wait. I sat, and someone behind me whispered in my ear, ‘You got the part.’ It was Ford, and he insisted on leaving and not talking to me, which was typical of him. It was always intrigue.”

For three months, John Ford filmed exterior scenes in Mississippi and Louisiana, with Towers starring opposite two of Hollywood’s most dynamic leading men, Wayne and Holden. “They were delightful to work with,” she says. “They took care of me.”

She refutes claims that the two didn’t get along. “They even took an evening off. They cooked up a scheme to enable them both to have a night out on the town – they came in the next day not in the best condition

“But they were very different personalities. John Wayne was as big, friendly, as open as he was on the screen; terrific with fans. He’d be riding all day and acting, come back mud-caked, and he’d stand and talk to young people.

“Bill Holden was the opposite. He was very shy, and he believed strongly that the performance he was paid to put on the screen was all he owed the public. People would ask him for his autograph, and he’d refuse. He was the nicest, most polite gentleman, but he was just the opposite of Duke.”

A fatal fall shocked the cast of The Horse Soldiers and none more so than Constance Towers. When she ran up to Fred Kennedy, who was doubling for William Holden, to embrace him with an “Oh, my darling,” she found the stuntman unconscious. He died on the way to the hospital. He appeared in seven films with John Wayne, who Kennedy stands next to, shirtless, in this still from Rio Grande.

The shoot was enjoyable, but not easy. “Louisiana has swamps, and anything that happened on my horse, I had to do, except for one horse fall into the water. They had a stuntman do that,” she says.

John Ford appointed two men to look after her whenever she was on horseback. “Freddie Kennedy and Slim Hightower were wonderful old stuntmen. In the film, one’s ahead of me and one’s behind me, but we rode through a forest going what felt like 100 miles an hour through these trees. It was a tough location, but wonderful.”

On the very last day on location, during the very last shot, an unexpected tragedy occurred.

“Freddie was doing his last fall,” Constance says. “It was a simple shoulder fall, and Duke had told me to stand behind the camera and to run in. And they wouldn’t call ‘Cut’ until I had given Freddie a kiss on the cheek. I ran in, and when I picked up his head, I realized that he was mortally hurt. He’d fallen and broken his neck, so I really was the last person to hold him. He died on the way to the hospital, which certainly cast a pall on the closing shot of the location.”

She loved the stuntmen and remembered especially how John Ford looked after them: “Pappy didn’t pay them until their last weekend, so they would take money home. He gave them enough per diem to survive, but on location, there wasn’t much you could do with it, but gamble.”

After nearly 50 years, Constance Towers takes great pleasure in her memories: “You take it in your stride, then later look back, and it’s just amazing. To be in my first big, big film, with those actors, and have it be just joyous all the time, and John Ford guiding everybody. It was a rare and wonderful experience.”

In her first Western film, 1959’s The Horse Soldiers, Constance Towers found herself in the middle of two Johns: the masterful director John Ford (seated) and the most famous cowboy actor of all time, John Wayne (standing). – All The Horse Soldiers photos courtesy United artists –
Freddie Kennedy – the Stuntman who sadly died during the making of this film

John Ford’s ‘The Horse Soldiers‘ is a better picture than it gets credit for being, and getting better and better looking on video is a great way to crank up interest in it — and hopefully a bit of a reappraisal

A fatal fall shocked the cast of The Horse Soldiers and none more so than Constance Towers. When she ran up to Fred Kennedy, who was doubling for William Holden, to embrace him with an “Oh, my darling,” she found the stuntman unconscious. He died on the way to the hospital. He appeared in seven films with John Wayne

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