Saturday, July 24, 2010

Favourite Guest Star: Morgan Woodward

Tall, rugged Texan with a booming voice, all Morgan Woodward has to do is show up, but he's also a fine actor.

Born September 16, 1925 in Arlington, this veteran of the Korean War, musically inclined former law student entered show business in the 1950s and television fans are the better for that decision.

In the era of episodic television it was possible to see a favourite actor stretch those muscles with varied and interesting portrayals. With more of today's programs are going for the "soap opera" or continuing story arch such feats are less noticeable. For instance, Woodward scored high with his appearances as Johnny Renko on Hill Street Blues (And, by the way, where's his Emmy nomination?), the identification with a core character meant we were denied having him come back as a hard-line police captain or a crime kingpin.

When a season of programming meant 30 plus episodes a year you could count on seeing that familiar face in an unfamiliar situation. Gunsmoke (see my post of April 25, 2008) was a quality series for 20 seasons and used a roster of fine actors to great effect, Mr. Woodward more than most, but it was a happy time if Denver Pyle, Victor French, Royal Dano, Shug Fisher, Jacqueline Scott, Jeanette Nolan, Louise Latham and Nora Marlowe were listed in the TV Guide.

Watching a good actor do their thing is like watching a ballplayer accomplish something amazing. So today, let's look at some of the great catches, amazing slides and inside-the-parkers Morgan Woodard pulled off on Gunsmoke.

Vengeance (1967)
A two-part dramatic episode written by Calvin Clements Sr. and directed by Richard Sarafian. It will leave you depressed for days. As Zack Johnson, Woodward dies slowly and movingly after being shot by town boss Parker leaving his son, James Stacey, hurting for vengeance.

Death Train (1967)
In this episode written by Ken Trevey and directed by Gunnar Hellstrom, Woodward is a millionaire whose private railway car harbours a plague. His money and power are helpless when confronting a germ.

Lyle's Kid (1968)
Woodward is a bitter, crippled gunman who uses his son, Sam Melville as an instrument of revenge in this episode written by Calvin Clements Sr. and directed by Bernard McEveety.

Lobo (1968)
Another one of those compelling downers written by Jim Byrnes and directed by Bernard McEveety. As Luke Brazo, loner and mountain man teams up with Matt to track down a wolf that has become a hazard to cattle. Two of a kind- Brazo and the wolf. Brazo rampages against the town when the wolf's carcass is not afforded dignity, placing Matt in an untenable position.

Stryker (1969)
This episode written by Herman Groves and directed by Robert Totten features Woodward as Josh Stryker, the former marshal of Dodge City. Released from jail he's looking for Matt to pay.

Hackett (1970)
Woodward plays Quentin Sargent, a farmer whose former criminal associate, Earl Holliman, is a little bit on the psycho side in this story by William Kelley directed by Jack Miller. Woodward is quite convincing as a frightened coward.

Luke (1970)
Woodward is dying again. An old-time outlaw seeks to makes amends with his saloon hostess daughter played by Katherine Justice. The episode was written by Jack Miller and directed by Bernard McEveety.

A Game of Death...An Act of Love (1973)
Written by Paul F. Edwards and directed by Gunnar Helstrom this two-parter is one of the long-running series best. Woodward is Bear Sanderson whose wife was murdered, but was it by the Indians now held in the Dodge jail. Matt is not so certain as the townsfolk and convinces a part-Indian lawyer played by Paul Stevens to champion their cause. There is a lot of intense emotion in this episode.

Matt Dillon Must Die (1974)
Woodward is Adam Wakefield in a "Most Dangerous Game" scenario involving Matt.

A bonus for fans is the made-for-TV movie from 1992, Gunsmoke: To the Last Man featuring Pat Hingle as a cattle baron and Morgan Woodward as a sheriff.

Honoured with Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Texas Arts Council and the Wild West Film Festival, Morgan Woodward also has the admiration and affection of fans.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Favourite movies: The Tall Target (1951)

Director Anthony Mann (1906 - 1967) left movie fans many quality motion pictures to enjoy and discover. Among his titles are the best of film noir (Raw Deal, He Walked by Night), groundbreaking adult westerns (Winchester '73, Devil's Doorway) and epics (El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire). 1951 saw the release of The Tall Target, as dandy a thriller as ever to come out of Hollywood. To paraphrase Colonel (M*A*S*H) Potter's thoughts on My Darling Clementine, it has the three things that make a movie great - trains, murder and trains.

The story & screenplay by George Worthington Yates and Art Cohn is based on The Baltimore Plot, the threat of assassination of Abraham Lincoln prior to his inauguration as President of the United States.

Adolphe Menjou, Dick Powell

In our film Dick Powell stars as John Kennedy, a police officer man who believes he has stumbled upon a plot to kill President elect Lincoln, but cannot convince the authorities of the imminent danger. Stripped of his credentials, he faces a lonely and danger-filled night battling the conspirators.

Is there anyone Sgt. Kennedy can trust? The newly-minted Union officer (Adolphe Menjou)?  A newly-minted Confederate West Pointer (Marshall Thompson), his sister (Paula Raymond) or their slave (Ruby Dee)?  The all-knowing conductor (Will Geer)?  The over-bearing authoress (Florence Bates)?  The rambunctious and larcenous youngster (Brad Morrow) traveling with his mother (Barbara Billingsley)?  Certainly not the menacing thug (Leif Ericson). I grew up watching Ericson on his series The High Chaparral and he is an actor who intrigues me. He was one of those Group Theatre lads, but I haven't been able to catch him at it.

Ruby Dee, Paula Raymond, Marshall Thompson

It is not only danger that is faced throughout the long night. The characters played by Misses Raymond and Dee are forced to face their emotional loyalties and political realities. Revelations and acknowledgments are made clear through well-written dialogue and well-acted lines as befits the energetic, crisp 78 minute film.

A thoughtful and exciting edge-of-your-seat thriller, The Tall Target deserves much acclaim and with the recent DVD release through the Warner Home Archives will surely garner more fans and a reputation for, as mentioned above, as dandy a thriller as ever came out of Hollywood.