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Frontier Uprising

Where's the California history?
Apart from the shortcomings about stock footage, poor acting, and use of scenes from earlier film, something needs to be said about how this film violated California history in 1846. i teach California history, and any student who uses this film in answering an essay question about the Bear Flag Republic and the events surrounding the start of the U.S. Mexico War would earn an F for not reading the course textbook! The entire plot about Mexican officers selling guns to the Shoshone is preposterous. News of the outbreak of war between the U.S. and Mexico arrived in California when Commodore Sloat showed up in July. No wagon train would have made it across the continent to reach California by early summer. A pitched battle between the people in the wagon train, the U.S. dragoons, and the Shoshone ever occurred. The only interesting thing I liked about this movie was actor Jim Davis who fortunately ended his acting career as Miss Ellie's husband in the "Dallas" TV series.

North of the Rio Grande

great surprise in this film
At 14 minutes into the film Gabby Hayes is bragging about his piano-playing talent, but he is challenged to prove it by playing "The Wearing of the Green," as demanded by Bull O'Hara. This scene was a set-up that surprises the viewer as Hayes shows he can play the piano, and everyone in the saloon--cowboys, dance-hall girls, good guys and bad guys, not only dance to the tune, but they sing it as well. Clearly, everybody has fun in this four-minute sequence. Later on, starting around 18 minutes, another song and dance takes place with "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," a number that makes Bull O'Hara weep. Incredibly, everyone in the saloon seems to be Irish!

I don't think these sequences detract from the film, they enhance it and elevate the movie from the usual Hoppy film into something stronger, helped by the performance of Faro Annie and Hoppy. This is one of the best of the Hopalong Cassidy films made in the 1930s and if it's not on the Cable Channel again, it's on Youtube.

The Frontiersmen

Interesting flag salute
At 53 minutes into the film, the children in the ceremony salute the flag and give the pledge of allegiance in the way it was given when the film was made in 1938--saying "I pledge allegiance..." and raising their right hand in a salute that would be discontinued when the U.S. entered World War II as the salute too closely resembled the fascist salute. I know of only one other film, Remember the Day starring Claudette Colbert, in which the same salute is given as the time was 1916. The pledge goes back to 1893 when it first appeared in the magazine Youth's Companion and went through several revisions until the present version was established in 1954.

Slaughter Trail

a waste of 78 minutes of my life
Brian Donlevy and Gig Young must have signed up for this film without first reading the script (if there was one). It's a mess that can't decide what kind of film it should be--a musical western, cowboy vs. Indians (referred to in the film as "Redskins" and "Injuns," reflective of Hollywood's view of Native people at that time (1951), stage robbers vs. cavalry. Also where the film should be taking place--location scenes vary from the hills around Chatsworth to some barren deserts. The cavalry wear out their horses looking for the Navajos, but the Navajos have no problem in getting to the Fort. Most of the Indians don't look like Navajos, and I don't think Navajos wore war bonnets. Mention is made of Custer's defeat, so the time in which this film takes place has to be after 1876. By then the Navajo Nation was no longer at war with the whites--they'd had enough of resistance after Bosque Rodondo. Virginia Grey is lovely to look at, but that red lipstick (!) looked garish and out of place in a film that takes place in the old West. The singing was so intrusive I took the liberty of using my remote to speed past the songs, except I was stuck with the "Hoofs on the Ground" that seemed to run on forever. I counted some three dozen Indians shot off their horses in the big battle scene. What tribe would sacrifice so many warriors and then call it quits because the three bad men were killed in the battle? Don't waste your time watching this film!

Bluff City Law

Decent People Fighting for Justice
Someone not mentioned in the reviews is the role of Scott Shepherd as George Ball, the wrongly convicted man who was finally exonerated after spending six years in prison. The scene at the cemetery where he meets the mother of the dead girl was stunning. Ball's struggle to adapt to a society that left him behind for six years is an ongoing subplot that creates an empathy lacking in other prime time show.

The Great Meadow

a realistic view of pioneer times
It would be easy to relegate this 1931 film as outdated and with wooden acting, but its strength comes from depicting the sacrifices made by women who accompanied their husbands and families to Kentucky during the Revolutionary War. There is very little glamour in this film, but lots of interesting little scenes in which women do the cooking laundry, spinning of cloth, candle-making, and other tasks that women must surely have done in the 18th century frontier. I haven't seen any other film in which women took center stage. The women demonstrate their courage in fighting back against Indian attack, in enduring the hardships of freezing weather, starvation, and other challenges. This film is worth anyone's time in seeing just how realistic the scenes were shot.

High Barbaree

A film that stays with you a very long time
I am amazed at the reviewers who wrote negative descriptions that make me wonder if they paid attention to the film or even watched it. Van Johnson pilots a PBY badly damaged in an attack on a Japanese warship. Cameron Mitchell is not the co-pilot but is the plane's flight engineer. They are not stranded on a tropical island but are stuck in the plane with a broken radio that prevents them from radioing their location. Most of the crew was killed in action. Mitchell is cynical regarding their chances of survival; Johnson keeps the faith by telling about his childhood romance that finally came together when he saw June Allyson just before taking off on their patrol. Mitchell's cynicism does not make Johnson's recollections boring.

I saw this film on TV back in the 1960s and it has stayed in my memory all these years. That said, none of the reviewers mentioned that the film is based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, authors of the "Mutiny on the Bounty" trilogy. I read the novel as an adult and was surprised to find that the ending in the book was very different from the film.

The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen: Empire of Liberty
Episode 4, Season 1

TV narrators make poor historians
It is difficult to understand how historians with academic credentials could appear on television and narrate what clearly is a tale burdened by numerous inaccuracies. Case in point is the final hour of "The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen" that glorifies John C. Fremont and General Stephen W. Kearny in the Battle of San Pascual, December 1846.

There are numerous history works on California and also specifically the U.S.-Mexico War that discuss this battle with attempts at making their narrative as accurate as possible. Not so David Miller (UC San Diego), David Eisenbach (Columbia U.), Walter Borneman, and Hampton Sides. At this battle there was NO Mexican Army, certainly not in resplendent uniforms, beating on drums. The people who fought Kearny's little army were Californios, residents of California who were defending their homeland against an invasion by the United States. One of the main leaders of this resistance was Andres Pico who goes unmentioned in the film, yet it was Pico who sat down with Fremont and drafted the Treaty of Cahuenga that ended the fighting in California, January 1847. The war elsewhere, that is, in Mexico, went on for another year.

Pico's forces were not an army, they were civilians who rose to resist an invasion. They defeated Kearny in a battle that lasted five minutes, during which a third of Kearny's forces were killed or wounded. Kearny himself took a spear in his buttocks, a serious wound that contrasts with the video showing an apparently unwounded Kearny after the battle. The Californios achieved this victory because they were experienced horsemen and lancers (who practiced their ability by hunting wild boars).

The video depicts Kit Carson as undergoing uncredible hardship in getting to San Diego where reinforcements would come and relieve the beleaguered Kearny. The video makes no mention of two other men on the same errand, Edward Fitzgerald Beale and an unnamed Indian.

Regarding the news of the gold discovery in California, the video credits Carson with going across the county to deliver the news to President Polk. In fact, Beale and Lucien Loeser brought this information to Washington, D.C.

The video overlooks the rash choice made by Fremont in his insistence that he owed his loyalty to Commodore Robert F. Stockton even though Kearny held the higher rank and had credentials to prove his authority. For his insubordination, Fremont was court-martialed and would have faced some serious punishments had not his father-in-law, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, used his influence to get Fremont off the hook.

Fremont was not popular in California as is evidenced by the fact that when Fremont ran for President in 1856, voters in the Golden State rejected him.

Enough said here, other than to note the danger historians face in going before TV cameras and speaking off the cuff in supporting a version of history that may make for exciting television, but in the end is just plain bad history.

Lafayette Escadrille

This film goes down in flames
Anyone assuming this film is about World War I aviation will be seriously disappointed. More than half the film is about Thad Walker (Tab Hunter) who deserts from the Lafayette Escadrille to be with his French girl friend. The only footage of a dogfight is almost at the end of the film and lasts about three minutes. Walker improbably is forgiven for his desertion and gets a commission (!) in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The film overlooks the little detail that while he was with his girl friend the other pilots were all undergoing training; no mention of how Walker learned to fly a plane during his desertion, though the film may have skipped over a time period for this to happen. The movie ends on a note so implausible that it fools no one, and issue other reviewers have noted was due to the studio putting in an ending that differed from William Wellman's version (he quit). I am in sympathy with Wellman who after all directed the Academy award-winning "Wings." "Lafayette Escadrille" is NOT the film Wellman really wanted to make, done in by a mediocre script and a low budget.

The Good Doctor: Sacrifice
Episode 10, Season 1

outstanding episode
The roles of Manny Jacinto as the game player and the (apparently) uncredited janitor demonstrate the fine writing and acting in this series. When told he has a brain tumor, Jacinto faces the news without speaking, letting his expression change from shock to acceptance to courage, finally saying he's had a good run. When the janitor finds Murphy in the storage closet, and is asked about the quality of his life, the janitor, only on screen for a minute or so, reflects on his life and decides that he has had a good life. Both of these scenes were exceptionally moving.

I would like to add that we have a family friend whose son is a person with autism, and Murphy's meltdown at the end of the episode was not only astonishingly realistic, it mirrored the occasional meltdowns our friend's son has experienced. This is one of the best program on TV I have ever watched.

The Blot

Has some interesting relevance to society today
I found this an enjoyable film and was surprised to find it was filmed in Boyle Heights--in the early 1920s a very fashionable neighborhood; some of the houses are still there.

At one point in the film an article in Literary Digest for April 30, 1921, "Impoverished College Teaching," is shown. I put this information on Google and found that all of the articles in Literary Digest have been digitized, and I had no trouble downloading and printing this one. I must disagree with the reviewer who said that university professors are paid pretty well today. Maybe some are at the university level, but community college professors, especially adjuncts, are notoriously underpaid--the article has relevance on this issue almost a century later.

I only knew of Louis Calhern from his later films such as The Asphalt Jungle and Athena, so it was interesting to see him early in his career.

It was also interesting that the women in this film have clothing rather different from Weber's film of the same year, Too Wise Wives, where they are very overdressed. Of course, the styles would drastically change when the Flappers showed up a few years later.

The Head of Joaquin Murrieta

not enough history, too much legend
At the end of the video there is a notice that "no human cadavers" were used in the film. Throughout the film Valadez lugs a box with the alleged head of Murrieta in large jar, but the viewer never sees the contents of the box except for a fraction of a second when Valadez is about to bury the box in the desert. No provenance is provided as to the authenticity of the jars contents, which according to the note at the end of the film isn't of a human head anyway.

Lori Wilson's excellent The Joaquin Band evidently was not used as a source for this film. She provides considerable evidence there was more than one "Joaquin" operating in California, and they were not Robin Hoods, just criminals willing to rob and kill anyone, not just Anglos but anyone who might have anything of value they would want.

Valadez spends considerable time in this video discussing how Anglos stole the land from Mexican Americans after the U.S.-Mexico War, but in discussion with a university professor exploring his family's genealogy he has to admit that his own ancestors stole the land from the Indians. He also discusses injustices performed on Mexicans in south Texas, but given the title of the video, this is a topic that merits its own film.

Maybe Valadez didn't have enough information on Murrieta to fill his half-hour film--he uses Ridge's Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta and the Hollywood film "Joaquin Murrieta", not the best sources if one is looking for historical accuracy rather than legend. Anyone wishing to learn more about Murrieta should take the time to read Wilson's excellent book.

The Gun That Won the West

an insult to the historical record
Any resemblance in this film between historical accuracy and what you see in the picture isn't coincidental, it's downright unintentional. The fact that Sam Katzman produced it should have been a warning that this film would be made as cheaply as possible, with lots of stock footage borrowed from "Buffalo Bill" ("Pony Soldier" borrowed the same battle scenes) and Indian "war" dances. The fact is that Red Cloud (who lived into the 20th century) made numerous visits to the White House to plead the cause of his people. The Bozeman Trail, supposedly the reason for the U.S. Army to escort railroad builders, simply isn't true; no railroad was built into the area at that time. Red Cloud succeeded in getting the Bozeman trail forts abandoned, a detail not mentioned in the film. Lots of anachronisms, including a Wild West show taking place in the 1860s, Jim Bridger actually in his dotage by then, and demeaning references to Native people ("Redskins") unacceptable today. The fight between Bridger and the Indian in the river comes straight out of "Buffalo Bill" in which Joel McRae as Buffalo Bill fights Yellow Hand played by Anthony Quinn to the death. I wasted 1:15 watching this film; should have taken the time to read a book.

Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, this movie wasn't a comedy
I can't see why so many people liked this movie. There were far more depressing scenes than comedic ones. The plot wavered between absurdity and sadness. There is the scene where the rock star says Doris would be ideal for the cover of his next album, and his photographer agrees with every other word an f-bomb. This is followed by a scene where Doris poses for the album cover in some very un-Doris like poses. Then--nothing. We don't see where this interesting if improbably story line went, because it went nowhere. Also unsatisfying were the stereotypical portrayals of young New Yorkers as shallow and uninformed, Doris rather like Peter Sellars in "Being There," soaking up all their trivial comments.

But worst of all is the ending (I clicked "Spoiler Alert" above) which is so illogical it made no sense. Logic would have suggested that John and Brooklyn reconcile after Doris confesses she sent the nasty Facebook posting. Instead, John declares he really likes older women and gives Doris a big smooch. Really? There were several scenes, mainly earlier in the film, where Doris fantasizes about John loving her, and the penultimate scene in the film is one of those fantasies, replaced by a "reality" where John says he really likes her. Another fantasy? This is the worst relationship/comedy since "Grandma."

Harmon of Michigan

a fictional biography with some interesting highlights
Although highly fictionalized, this film has a few interesting scenes that are surprisingly relevant to today's concerns over football injuries. Made in the summer of 1941, the movie creates a fictional wife (Peggy Adams) as Harmon's childhood sweetheart. Harmon didn't get married until 1944 when he married a film actress. They had three children, with son Mark achieving great success in several TV series, especially NCIS.

When the film was made the attack on Pearl Harbor was still months away, so the "future" of Harmon in the film is entirely fictional. Apart from the introductory scenes of Harmon playing football for the University of Michigan, all of the colleges and pro teams in the film are fictional as are most of the people Harmon encounters. However, it's interesting to see Knox Manning, Sam Balter, Wendell Niles (noted radio and sports announcers), and others play themselves. Harmon's greatest success in real life would be as a sports announcer and newscaster.

Of interest in the film is the scene in which Harmon and his (fictional) wife discuss their future. Peggy, like Harmon, is a college graduate and a skilled writer. She wants to pursue a career in journalism, but Harmon shuts this down by proclaiming that no wife of his will work-- interesting for 1941, but fascinating from the viewpoint of 2016.

Another episode in the film deals with football injuries. Fictional Harmon devises a controversial and rather illegal play that results in serious injury to one of his players. Harmon himself suffers three broken ribs during one of his (fictional) games. What with the issue of concussions to quarterbacks, now highly publicized in the film "Concussion" starring Will Smith, this early film clearly showed that football could be hazardous to the health of its players.

Finally, there is the (fictional) scene where honeymooners Tom and Peggy stop at a gas station and ask the attendant (film pioneer Chester Conklin) to fill up the tank. The cost: $1.60. Ah, the good old days!

Lone Star

so-so film, poor history
This review contains a spoiler.

Reviewers should proofread what they write before submitting it to IMDb- -case in point, the review that says "1945" instead of "1845." That said, the historical background for this film is so inaccurate as to be pointless. The facts are that Texas was a republic after its victory against Santa Anna at San Jacinto in 1836 and had its president, congress, ambassadors to other nations, and a navy for nine years.

The film is set in 1845. Andrew Jackson died on June 8, 1845. But the U.S. Congress had already approved annexation on February 26, the Texas legislature approved annexation in July, Texas residents approved annexation in October, and Texas was officially made a part of the United States on December 29, 1845.

So the film's plot about Texas becoming a republic makes no sense, since it already was for the past nine years. The business of a treaty between Texas and Mexico makes no sense either, because Mexico never recognized the independence of Texas. The official annexation of Texas may have heightened tensions between the United States and Mexico, but it did not in and of itself start the U.S.-Mexico War which began when U.S. and Mexican troops clashed in the area between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers in March 1846, and Congress declared war in April 1846.

The end of this film strains credibility. After pro-annexation and anti-annexation forces spend considerable effort to kill each other, Sam Houston shows up escorted by Mescalero Apaches(!)and makes an impassioned speech that ignites super-patriotism among the conflicting groups, and the film ends with the former rivals, including Broderick Crawford doing a sudden and unbelievable about-face, off to fight Mexico. Presumably they are riding over the corpses that littered the streets during the battle.

Gable, Gardner, and Crawford do what they can with this mess. At least we get to see some fine actors---Moroni Olsen, Beaulah Bondi, Russell Simpson, William Conrad, William Farnum--in supporting roles.

The Arizonian

interesting casting of African American roles
This film is rather unusual because of the two African American characters. Although Willie Best had no choice other than to portray the stereotypical black shuffle a la Stepin Fetchit, Etta McDaniel has a very strong role and participates in the climax of the film in an extremely unusual and satisfying way (no spoiler intended here). It's a shame that McDaniel, as with other African American actors and actresses, was limited to roles such as maids or nannies. Etta McDaniel makes the most of her time on the screen. The film ends with Richard Dix and Margot Grahame heading off to California in a covered wagon, and a second wagon is being driven by McDaniel--an indication that her character played an important role in the film.

The Saddle Buster

a little gem of a western
Unlike the usual B Western shoot-em-up films, this one is a little gem--no gunfights, no stereotypical bad guys, just a well-written story about a bronc rider who must overcome his fears to ride the unrideable horse.

Yakima Canutt was in charge of the stunts, the name speaks for itself in their quality. The supporting cast look and act as if they were real cowboys wearing work clothes, not dandified outfits. No one wears a gun. The bronco-busting scenes are excellent and carry a strong sense of accuracy, down to the comments of the men who help the rider onto his horse while it is in the chute.

TCM ran this film with other Tom Keene films in September 2014. Hopefully, no one will have to wait another ten years for their being shown again.

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