It's that time of year Gang, so we whet your appetites with program notes for some of the films to be seen at this years Cinevent, starting with this:
LAW BEYOND THE RANGE
It’s getting darn near time that Cinevent should start running the occasional “B” Western from the 1930’s and 40’s, that genre has, in the last few decades, become a forgotten and neglected one, the collectors and fans who grew up seeing them at Saturday Morning Matinee’s were indeed die-hard, and as time passed, they have also unfortunately died-off, leaving no new generation to find a way to fall in love with these films in the same fashion.
Today’s mostly house-bound film buff finds little or no pleasure in the outdoor locations, and the guns make them nervous, or perhaps that is all they are interested in. Politically, both sides of the spectrum seem to deliberately miss the point of much of these oaters, in many of them, the villains are usually the ones with the most money, local robber barons setting townfolk against townfolk as they gobble away all the land, water rights, cattle, mining claims, or what have you. How many Sheriff’s clean up a town by taking away everyone’s guns within the City Limits? The message of so many westerns is actually far from the rugged individualist, the idea is more that to survive is to work together, no matter what one believes, sheep man or cattle man, in a new wilderness or frontier that is as unforgiving of mistakes as it is uncaring of one’s personal survival, all who live there must stick together. These westerns remind one that the road to civilization is to remove the gunplay, add the morals and ethics, and let the kindness and courtesy then common rule the day. Which of our polarized modern sides of thinking want to hear any of that today?
Okay, enough preaching, the point is that it has come to the point where the Western’s popularity has so dimmed even among silent and early sound film aficionados that one of the Internet Cinenerd Brain Trust recently referred to them as “Bastards of Filmdom”, ironic, because if one does the real research, one comes to the inarguable conclusion that the western stars of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s were some of “Filmdom's” major stars, even more than some of the people the revisionists want to revere today. In the era when the majority of the US population still lived in rural areas, the likes of Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Hoot Gibson, Fred Thomson, etc., were raking in more coin than the Garbo’s, Swanson’s. and Valentino’s, especially in the small towns. Erich Von Stroheim was a hard sell in Dupree, South Dakota, but the latest Jack Hoxie packed ths house, and the Studios knew it. Tom Mix paid the bills while F. W. Murnau ran them up, and wowed the East coast critics.
In the 1920’s, Tim McCoy was a big enough star to make films for M-G-M, coming to the studio in 1926 and joining films with an impressive non-theatrical career already behind him. Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy was born April 10, 1891 in that far-out Wild West town of Saginaw, Michigan, the Son of the Saginaw Police Chief. While attending St. Ignatius College in Chicago, McCoy went to a Wild West show and was immediately entranced by it. Leaving school, McCoy roamed and settled in Wyoming, after finding work at a cattle ranch, Tim soon became an expert horseman and roper, and he became well versed in the languages and customs of the local Wyoming Indian tribes. He was working the Rodeo Circuit when America entered World War One, and Tim enlisted in the U. S. Army where he was commissioned and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Returning to Wyoming after the Armistice, McCoy was soon called by Governor Bob Carry to assume the post of Adjutant General of Wyoming’s National Guard, carrying the brevet promotion of Brigadier General, reportedly making McCoy the youngest General in the U. S. Army.
This commission called on McCoy’s Indian experience in his numerous dealings with the Wind River Reservation tribes, both Arapahoe and Shoshone, and in 1922, his reputation for diplomatic working with Native-Americans brought him to the attention of Jesse Lasky, who asked him to be the liaison for and to provide several hundred Indian extras to work on Paramount’s historical epic, THE COVERED WAGON, McCoy, as so many others did, found the Movie business exciting, and after completing his work on the James Cruze film, he resigned from his state position and took off for Hollywood, bringing several Indians with him to be used in a live prologue Paramount used to introduce the feature. McCoy toured with this group and the picture all over America and Europe, and returned to Hollywood afterwards to secure further work as a technical advisor with an eye to becoming an actor.
McCoy appeared in Paramount’s THE THUNDERING HERD before M-G-M signed him in 1926 to star in a series of “historical” films ( Louie B. Mayer just couldn’t bring himself to think his studio was making “westerns”) and McCoy quickly became a popular M-G-M star, earning $4,000 a week making these “historical” films that seemed to have a lot of shooting and riding in them, no matter what wigs they were wearing, and gee, even an occasional “historical” film where they wore cowboy hats.
The coming of Sound caused most studios to make some bad judgement calls, and one of them apparently was that talkies were going to make the shooting of westerns and other outdoor location shooting too difficult and expensive to bother with, a foolish idea that was quickly disproven (in fact, Universal proved it very quickly as both Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard made successful sound westerns in the 1929-30 season), but unfortunately it caused the cancellation of a number of contracts, including Tom Mix and Buck Jones at Fox, Ken Maynard at First National, and Tim McCoy at M-G-M. In 1929, McCoy found himself unemployed, with an uncertain future. Carl Laemmle came to the rescue, hiring McCoy to headline their all-talking western serial, THE INDIANS ARE COMING in 1930. This serial was a huge hit for Universal, and they followed it up by starring Tim in a non-western chapterplay, HEROES OF THE FLAMES in 1931.
The talkie era’s ringdown on major studio western programmer output didn’t kill the western, its popularity in the rural and big-city neighborhood theaters created a demand vacuum that needed to be filled, and the enterprising independents rose to fill that gap. Enter Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures, a smaller but growing independent who jumped on the idea of producing sound westerns, especially when there was a lot of major western talent looking for work. Cohn had snatched up Buck Jones for the 1930-31 season and Jones’ first Columbia westerns had hit big with audiences. In 1931, Cohn added Tim McCoy to the roster, and suddenly had two of the most popular western series coming out of his studio.
The Columbia westerns of the early 30’s are quality horse operas indeed, Cohn not only had some of the best actors of the genre, but he also picked up some of the top at-liberty behind the camera talent as well, old pros like Lambert Hillyer, D. Ross Lederman, B. Reeves Eason, and Ford Beebe to make them. Hillyer went back to William S. Hart, and would be one of the most prolific film directors of all time, working in many genres apart from westerns. Lederman had been directing the Rin-Tin-Tin movies for Warner Brothers before sound called halt to that “all-barking” series, but he proved adept at westerns and other programmer material, and like Hillyer, would work steadily into television in the 1950’s. B. Reeves Eason was considered one of the best second unit directors and stunt coordinators (he had staged the chariot race scene in M-G-M’s BEN-HUR (1926)) and would continue for decades handling such B product as well.
Ford Beebe started in the Industry in 1916 as a writer at Universal, also scripting the Helen Holmes serials produced and directed by J. P. MacGowan, that experience made Beebe able to move in 1920 to writing and directing western two-reelers for Universal featuring Hoot Gibson and Leo Maloney. Beebe and Maloney struck up a friendly working relationship that led to Beebe following Maloney over to the western star’s own Malobee Productions in 1922, where Ford wrote and directed Maloney’s self-produced short and feature westerns for Pathe’ release.
Beebe continued to work for Maloney throughout the Silent Era, later working more as a writer and co-director to Maloney. This relationship lasted up to Maloney’s last film, OVERLAND BOUND, generally credited as the first sound B western (though Hoot Gibson’s THE LONG LONG TRAIL beat it into theaters by nearly a month, Maloney’s film, released independently, had been made and previewed first). Sadly, Maloney died soon after the film’s release, sending Beebe job-hunting where he ended up at Nat Levine’s Mascot Pictures, where he co-wrote and directed some of that company’s best serials, THE VANISHING LEGION (1931) and LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1932) with Harry Carey and Edwina Booth, and SHADOW OF THE EAGLE 91932) with John Wayne. Beebe continued with Mascot, seemingly happy to either write or direct, until he moved over to Columbia in late 1934 to work on the Tim McCoy series. Remaining there until the end of McCoy’s Columbia contract, Beebe headed North over the Hollywood Hills to Universal in 1936, where he would remain for over a decade, helming some of that studio’s most memorable serials including ACE DRUMMOND (1936), JUNGLE JIM (1937) , FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO MARS (1938), BUCK ROGERS (1939) , THE GREEN HORNET and THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN (both 1940).
Universal segued Beebe back to features in the early 40’s where he straddled many genres, including horror films like NIGHT MONSTER (1942) and THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1944) . When the studio became Universal-International in 1946 and ceased it’s serial and most of its programmer production, Beebe once again packed up and went over to Monogram, where he would also remain for nearly a decade, adding the “My Dog Shep” and “Bomba the Jungle Boy “ movies to his resume’. Beebe said bye-bye to Monogram, now Allied Artists in 1955 as they wound down programmer production and tried his hand at Television, helming six episodes of the Gene Autry produced “The Adventures of Champion” wonder horse series before deciding he was getting too old and too rich for this sort of nonsense. Nearing seventy, Beebe wound down the fifties with the occasional television script, but his was a long and happy retirement. Ford Beebe passed away November 26, 1978, in Lake Elsinore, California, at the age of 90.
One of the other reasons we want to re-introduce some of the better B-Westerns of the 30’s and 40’s is that there are a heck of a lot of really good ones. As with any long-lasting genre’, there are plenty of winners and loser, but as usual, the current “wisdom”(sadly perpetrated in the main by the same sort of cinephile internerd who hasn’t actually bothered to watch too many in the first place) is that most sound B-westerns are the same shoot-em-up plot done to death, with white hats and black hats fighting over various damsels in distress, but more in love with their horses in the end. The truth upon viewing a number of the films shows that western filmmakers varied the same human themes that could also be dressed up in horror, science-fiction, detective mysteries, what have you. Remember, Hollywood was still making films about people back then, not just comic book characters, this is why you are just as likely to discover the Hopalong Cassidy you’re watching has a good who-done-it plot in it, or that Tom Mix actually has a Death-Ray or the Hoot Gibson is also a good comedy.
LAW BEYOND THE RANGE is actually a newspaper/political drama masquerading in the sagebrush, Tim McCoy plays Tim Mcdonald, who is dismissed from the Texas Rangers for letting his friend Johnny Kane (Robert Allen) escape when he is accused of murder. So Tim sets-off to a town where the local newspaper is run by his friend George Alexander, who dies mysteriously as his paper is taking on local robber baron Daniel Heston and his mob. To save the paper, Tim becomes its Editor-in-Chief, and continues the crusade against Heston, even getting involved with the local election and Alexander’s nifty Daughter (Billie Seward).
Director Beebe, working from a Lambert Hillyer story and script, fills LAW with all sorts of interesting character touches and plot twists, one favorite is the geezer greek chorus that follows McCoy around through the film, commenting on his actions and reactions, made up of Walter Brennan in “teeth-out” mode, Si Jenks, and James B. “Pop” Kenton, Father of Director Erle C. Kenton. McCoy, who usually presents a more serious, stoic westerner in the William S. Hart vein, had always allowed his character to exhibit a dry wit, and its here in spades. Billie Seward is a fetching feminine lead, who can be forgiven if her country dresses are perhaps a bit too form fitting and low-cut for period wear, who are we to complain? LAW BEYOND THE RANGE shows the Columbia western production team hittin’ on all cylinders with a good script, tight direction, crisp cinematography by the reliable Benjamin H. Kline, a long-time Columbia employee who was Just as at home lensing an A feature, western programmer, Boston Blackie mystery, or a Three Stooges short.
And the film, like so many B westerns of the period, is peopled with the regulars who became old friends to anyone immersing themselves in the genre’: Harry Todd, who went back to Essanay in the teens when he was Mustang Pete in the Snakeville comedies, George Chesbro, another longtime silent film veteran, former leading man then standard snarling henchman with a five o’clock shadow in hundreds of westerns and serials, Charles King, who was in BIRTH OF A NATION, was a silent comedy star in the 1920’s, then in the 30’s through the 50’s was busy hopping from Columbia to Universal to Republic to Monogram to PRC and back again when he became one of our and the studios favorite prairie pricks. Tom London, Lew Meehan, Jack Mower, Slim Whittaker, look `em up in the imdb and you’ll see they all numbered hundreds of credits riding the trail, and Silent Comedy Fans with a sharp eye can even spot Max Davidson playing a little old man in the crowd.
LAW BEYOND THE RANGE was actually one of Tim McCoy’s last Columbia westerns, his five year contract was expiring, and he was looking to move elsewhere. His fellow Columbia Cowboy Buck Jones had moved to Universal for the 1933-34 season, the same year that Harry Cohn had decided to put McCoy in different hats and star him in an action series of features where he played policemen, firemen, auto racers and interestingly, newspaper reporters. Though McCoy proved himself capable in these different roles, Jones’ departure and McCoy’s own love of the West returned him to boots and saddles for 1934-35. This last season had produced some of Mccoy’s best films, yet Tim perhaps unwisely signed with Producer Sigmund Newfield to make independent westerns for his Puritan Pictures for the 1936-37 season. Mccoy would get the same money he had gotten at Columbia, but the films cut corners in lower production budgets, though they are still solid westerns and McCoy’s fine acting skills keep them interesting.
However, the western film industry was once again changing, the new and biggest cowboy star was Paramount’s Hopalong Cassidy series starring William Boyd, and Republic had cornered the new singing cowboy craze with Gene Autry, with Roy Rogers quickly riding in on his bootstraps. The early 30’s western superstars, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Tim McCoy, Hoot Gibson, still had their following, but found themselves working more and more for the independents, Grand National, Larry Darmour, Puritan, Colony, becoming big fish in the little ponds that had kept second-level cowboys like Bob Steele, Tom Tyler, and many others in gainful employ in the early 30’s.
McCoy then also made the same mistake that many of his fellow cowboy stars made in the 30’s that guaranteed bankruptcy, he formed his own touring Wild West show. These moving money-holes had also wiped out Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, and Buck Jones, McCoy was no different, after several years with it, he was forced to close and return full-time to the movie business. By 1940, the western market was tighter than ever, and the Hopalong Cassidy three-man trio formula: older star, younger romantic hero, and comic sidekick, became a popular trend in B westerns. The older stars found themselves close-out packaged into team series like Republic’s popular Three Mesquiteers franchise. Both in need of funds and careers sagging, both Tim McCoy and Buck Jones signed with Monogram to find themselves triple-billed with silent-film-veteran Raymond Hatton playing a crusty-but-capable comic sidekick as the “Rough Riders”, three Texas Rangers who would ride into town in-cognito and clean it up. This series turned out to be both amazingly good and very successful for the 1941-42 season, but it sadly ended with the untimely death of Buck Jones in the Copacabana Nightclub fire in Boston in 1942, and Tim McCoy’s reactivation of his Lieutenant-Colonel commission at the start of World War Two. McCoy was already tiring of the movie business, an unsuccessful political campaign as the Republican nominee for Wyoming Senator would have removed him from the series had he won. McCoy remained in the military until the end of the war, and in the late 40’s found himself yet again a civilian so he returned to touring in Wild West Shows which he would continue to do into the 1970’s. In the 50’s, he would host western movie showings on Los Angeles television, and film his own 30 minute TIM MCCOY SHOW in 1952 where he would talk on all aspects of western and historical lore. He also made occasional movie appearances like his cameo in Mike Todd’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956) and supporting role in RUN OF THE ARROW (1957). McCoy also had operated and lived on a Bucks County, Pennsylvania farm he had bought in the 1940’s, where he had met his second wife, the jet-setting Swedish news photographer and journalist Inga Arvad, and they later moved to a new home in the Southern part of Arizona between Fort Huachuca and Nogales, where he wrote his autobiography, TIM MCCOY REMEMBERS THE WEST in the mid 1970’s. He passed away in Fort Huachuca on January 29, 1978.
RICHARD M ROBERTS
SOUND MOVIE MAIN is the spot to discuss non-comedy SOUND films. Go figure.
3 posts • Page 1 of 1
Gary Johnson wrote:Ford Beebe retired wealthy? How did he manage that........invest in ranch land?
Didn't say he was wealthy, said he was rich enough to retire in his 70's and live till be was 90. If he was living in Lake Elsinore when he died, he wasn't hurtin.
Then again, anyone living in Los Angeles who made it through the first part of the Twentieth Century and had any amount of investment sense (or just bought land) most likely did allright for themselves.
RICHARD M ROBERTS
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