Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Poseidon Quickies: I Just Need to Axe You!

The winter blahs usually equate to an extra amount of bundling up on the sofa and watching more TV than usual. And I remain on the lookout for unusual fare that I haven't already seen. Recently, I picked up a set of eight (!) westerns on DVD for $4.99, which seemed more than reasonable (I can handle $0.62 a film. Ha ha!) That they were all directed by the same man, a name I've heard many times before, clinched the deal. I felt they were with checking out, albeit with low expectations of quality or grandeur. First up was today's featured flick, Jesse James vs The Daltons (1954.) My laptop is still basically out of commission, so, sadly, I was unable to obtain caps from the DVD, which was remarkably beautiful! The examples below are from a substandard online copy.

Going into this movie blind, it certainly didn't take long to recognize that it had initially been released the theater screens in 3-D!

The director, William Castle, didn't come up with 3-D, but he rarely could resist a gimmick. More famous for his horror flicks, he often came up with amusingly crazy schemes that would help drum up business or provide extra shocks to viewers.

In this case, it was mainly the typical concessions to 3-D viewing in which objects (like this battering ram) plunge off the screen and into the faces of moviegoers.

Likewise, this noose would have hung before viewers' faces as they watched a town about to serve up a lynching. Having battered the jail door down and obtained their prey, the townsfolk drag their victim towards the gallows.

This is certainly no ordinary hangin', however. As visiting Brett King is soon aware, the intended subject is a woman!

Dress shredded and flailing for her life, Barbara Lawrence is dragged up onto the platform.

Not only was this an unusual scenario, but also Miss Lawrence was really wrangled around as she made her unwilling way from the jail to the noose! Fortunately for her, King intervenes and manages to get her free.

In another unusual touch, the town pastor lines the street out of town with all the wives and children who live there, ensuring that King and Lawrence make a clean getaway.

Once clear of the danger, King stops near the river for a rest.

King offers her a change of clothing (his own from a saddlebag!) and she heads to the riverbank to clean up.

Here, at last, we get a decent look at them. King was utterly unfamiliar to me despite his having been in a dozen prior movies along with countless television episodes.

Lawrence I had at least heard of and seen in a couple of things over the years.

Many of you may be like me and chiefly recall Barbara Lawrence from The Star (1952), in which she is the hot, new movie prospect in Hollywood who is swarmed with admirers while a nearly forgotten Bette Davis sulks alone on a nearby couch. (In truth, even then Lawrence had been acting on screen for a decade!)

We are informed that King may be the illegitimate son of famous outlaw Jesse James. He is desperate to find out for certain (as well as locate some long-hidden loot of his "father's.")

To that end, he sets out on a scheme to bring The Dalton Brothers out of hiding so that he can ascertain whether James was his father while also ferreting out the money.

Ultimately, King, Lawrence and the Daltons wind up at an abandoned cabin once used by Jesse James. John Cliff, in the green shirt, plays Grat Dalton, who develops an interest in Lawrence.

King heads out to chop some wood for a fire. I thought to myself, "With his shirt on? That's not how it's done...!"

But then, right on cue...

Meanwhile, Lawrence heads to the lake for some water.

Cliff happens by, catches a glimpse of her, and has his own axe to grind...!

He decides it's time he sampled Lawrence's wares.

Her screams alert King to what's happening and he's soon off and running to her.

The burly Cliff has hardly had a chance to maul Lawrence...

...when King appears on site and begins to brandish his weapon.

Before you know it, Cliff has picked up his own axe and the fight is on.

They size each other up, circle one another...

...and proceed to try to hack one another in half!

Early on, Cliff chops the head of King's axe completely off!

King has to use what's left of the handle to ward off Cliff's blade.

Meanwhile, moviegoers have a sharpened blade jutting out at them in 3-D as they're munching on their popcorn and Raisinets! 

The remnant of King's axe is finally flung away.

But when Cliff's next swing finds his axe embedded in the dock, the brawl turns mano a mano.

Before you know it, the fight has taken to the water for Act III!

So far as I could tell, there were no stuntmen used for this wild and woolly showdown! These actors did everything from the axe-wielding to the wrestling to the punches to the watery finale.

Finally, King manages to subdue the husky, horny Cliff and stops just short of drowning him.

As King exits the lake, we get a little tan line across his waist.

Jesse James vs The Daltons only runs 1 hour and 4 minutes (!), so it was certainly not a massive time commitment. The stars were competent and attractive. Lawrence was given only two costume: the tattered dress at the beginning and then this manly get-up. King had one costume, so it was nice that he got to lose the shirt for a little while.

In some of the medium shots, Lawrence had a Lauren Bacall thing going on, believe it or not. Within three years, she would be out of the movies, though she did work on TV until 1962. A mother of four, she lived until 2013 when kidney failure claimed her at age 83.

I was today years old when I discovered that it is she who plays Gertie, the hilariously obnoxious rival for Gordon MacRae's affection in Oklahoma! (1955.) You might recall her scene-stealing laugh, which annoyed Shirley Jones in the film.

Cliff had a wildly busy career in countless westerns, both on the big-screen and TV. He also played various bad guys, soldiers, guards and policemen along the way. He acted until 1973, but lived until 2001 when cancer took him at age 82.

King, most often found in westerns (including multiple guest roles on Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Zane Grey Theatre, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson) also played various soldiers in his career. As an aside, one one 1959 episode of Yancy Derringer, he portrayed Jesse James! After a 1967 two-part episode of The Green Hornet, he moved his family to The Bahamas where he embarked on a successful career as a hotel operator. He died in 1999 of leukemia at age 78.

This publicity photo shows Lawrence's hair without benefit of the fall that was applied for the film. 

Generally, if a 1950s actress' hair is gathered up into combs or a twist near the top of her head, the locks falling down her shoulders beneath that is a wig. Sometimes this is pulled off well, sometimes it can be glaringly obvious. I thought hers was a good match in this and was often pretty.

The extended scuffle between King and Cliff made its way onto some of the lobby cards.

This hilariously stilted and studio-bound publicity pic manages to capture a moment that has no representation in the actual film. King looks totally checked out/uncommitted to the shot. By the way, there's a long ago post I did once, filled with actors and axes. Take a look if you wish to. 

And with that I think I'll cut out for today...


harlow said...

I will have to check this one out for the beefcake, that being Brett King and John Cliff! I do remember Barbara Lawrence I think the first thing I saw her in was A Letter To Three Wives playing Linda Darnell's sister.

hsc said...

This post has *so* much to offer-- it's got:

1) William Castle *before* he locked into the gimmicky horror films (and ROSEMARY'S BABY) we know and love him for;

2) 3-D!!!! (and thanks for framecapping the shots that exploited the effect);

3) Beefcake, of course. You NEVER fail us on this!!!

I'd never heard of leading man Brett King, but he looked good with his shirt off. Co-star John Cliff might not have been in as good shape as King, but from what peeks out of his collar, it looks like he might have had a heavy torso pelt for contrast.

(King has that chest hair pattern with only a small amount on the sternum that looks like more under a slightly open shirt. A site I visit dubbed this "chestal pluft" for some reason.)

4) AXE FIGHT!!! This scene looks like it would've been a real lulu in the theater in 3-D-- especially with that shot of a blade going right into the camera!

And of course, William Castle went into full-on "axe-sploitation" mode in ten years with Joan Crawford in STRAIT-JACKET, which advertised the "warning" that the film "vividly depicts ax murders!"-- and he even gave out cardboard axes in some theaters.

(I wonder if Joan shared Grandmama Addams' sentiment expressed in ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES, when she sighed: "An axe! That takes me back..." during Debbie Jellinsky's slide show?)

Even though I knew William Castle was a prolific B-feature director before hitting it big with MACABRE in 1958 and changing course-- and even though I read his autobiography "Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America!"-- I'd only seen one of his "pre-horror" films.

I caught SERPENT OF THE NILE (1953) on a 12" B/W set with a rabbit-ear antenna back around 1970, but from what little of it I remember, it might be worth consideration for a visit if you can find a print worth using.

It was originally made in Technicolor by Columbia as a low-end version of the historical "epics" that were starting to catch on. This one has Rhonda Fleming as Queen Cleopatra to Raymond Burr's Marcus Antonius, with Fleming maligned as the title "serpent" by scheming William Lundigan as Lucillus.

The only thing I actually still remember, though, is an early appearance by Juile Newmar-- still "Newmeyer"-- as a pre-GOLDFINGER vision in body paint and not much else, performing an exotic dance. (And that's probably the only thing *anybody* remembers from this film, since reviews never fail to mention it.)

Still, with that cast and that director and that plot, it's probably enough of a campfest to provide fodder for a post.

Thanks again for yet *another* great post and for all you do, Poseidon! Love to all, and be safe and well, everyone!

Poseidon3 said...

harlow, I saw "A Letter" SO long ago, that I had forgotten about Lawrence being in it. When you watch this movie, I hope you enjoy it!

hsc, wow, I'm glad you enjoyed this post so much. I did notice that King's shirt wrote checks for chest hair that his body didn't cash! LOL We're on the same page with that observation. Funny term you came upon! BTW, can you imagine Joan C. in 3-D?! The eyelashes alone....! So far, none of the WC westerns in my 8-film set have been as enjoyable to me as this first one, though one - "Klondike Kate" - was campy enough to hold my attention fairly well. And another - "Masterson of Kansas" - had the caveman from "Dinosaurus!" in a role! I feel like I either saw - or tried to sit through - "Serpent of the Nile" one time and it all seemed like it was shot in someone's four-car garage with a lot of draperies in the back!!! LOL I'll take a look at it sometime again and see. Thank you!