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’Neath the Arizona Skies (Blu-ray Review)

8 Aug, 2016 By: Mike Clark



Olive
Western
$14.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated
Stars John Wayne, Sheila Terry, Shirley Jean Rickert, Yakima Canutt, Gabby Hayes.

Until a grand-nephew unearths a mint print from some dead projectionist’s refrigerated garage of Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour for high-def transfer and consumption, the mental exercise will go on to name the cheapest-looking movie to have rated a Blu-ray release — or at least the cheapest-looking movie with any kind of marketing angle. As one of 16 “Lone Star” ’Neath the Arizona Skies should remain right up (or maybe down) there as a contender. If this one even had a budget-line item to cover cleaning up after the horses, it would be a surprise.

The Lone Stars were filmed in about half-a-week on budgets in the $10,000 range, which seems hardly enough to have kept featured player George “Gabby” Hayes (said to have been a natty dresser in real life) in spats. There’s a creek here, also a barn, a lot of open space for pursuits, an Indian agent’s office, Wayne’s hotel room (or some such dwelling), the obligatory ingénue’s living room, a shanty of a hideout where the good guys are forced to keep breaking window panes — and that’s about it. Even this sounds more elaborate than anything you’ll find in, say, 1962’s Eegah, but really … these settings are meager. Of all the theories advanced about Wayne’s draft evasion during World War II, the most credible to me is that he was 34 at the time of Pearl Harbor, already had a lot of children at the time (four, I think), and — through the God’s gift of Stagecoach — had miraculously extricated himself from the kind of non-career these cheapies represented when it had been all but certain that this just wasn’t going to happen.

Still, this is Wayne in his formative years, so by definition a fun view — as long as you don’t contribute to your own non-career by slogging through the voluminous home releases of the entire pre-Ringo-Kid oeuvre. Cast as “Chris Morrell” (as in “what the hell is my screen name this week?”), Wayne is buddy/protector to the young daughter from a fleeting white guy/Native American union (Shirley Jean Rickert, an “Our Gang” participant as a child and exotic dancer as an adult, in case you think your own resumé is noteworthy). Awarded 50 grand from mom’s oil lease by one of the few honest Indian agents I can ever remember seeing on screen, young Rickert (as “Nina”) and her stash are pursued by all kinds of thieving lowlifes, including one played by stuntman and frequent Wayne co-star Yakima Canutt. Wayne’s travails in keeping her away from these cruds includes his getting cracked on the forehead with a gun — and this is an unusual ‘B’-Western where the hero still feels the physical fallout from this shock to the system after the passage of time (usually, movies of this type conveniently ignore the injury).

Industry-wise, Wayne and Canutt earned some dusty-street cred for choreographing fisticuffs in ways that made them more convincing than what had been previously seen; in other words, punches sometimes look as if they’ve actually connected with someone’s face instead of empty air that’s maybe two inches away from the target. This said, Lone Star expenditures apparently didn’t extend to sound effects, so that even when the punches do connect, we hear no audio ka-pow nor even the recipient muttering offering a cleaned-up curse (a bizarre effect). Overall, though, Skies’ sound quality is more robust than expected, while, visually speaking, someone came up with a very decent print for distributor Olive’s benefit. Archie Stout, in fact, was the Skies cinematographer — an eternity before he shot Hondo, The High and the Mighty and the second unit stuff for The Quiet Man (for which he shared an Oscar with d.p. Winton C. Hoch).

It’s all subjective when you’re in the kind of moviegoing trenches this cheapie represents, but for me, the most interesting feature is co-lead Sheila Terry, an actress who wound up a penniless 1957 suicide (per IMDb.com) and in a pauper’s grave. Her character is, by apparent genre demand, the sister of a onetime Wayne buddy who now turns out to be deceased (if it isn’t the sister in this kind of Western, she’ll be the father of some old hero compadre). Usually, this kind of character is either a cute but aggressive tomboy or a simpering twit, but Terry is different. Instead of jeans or at least slacks, she sports a necklace, print dress and slightly haughty air, as if she’s about to go to her book club for an afternoon of crust-less bread sandwiches and discussion of the latest Fannie Hurst novel. And whereas many love interests of the genre comes off as sexless, Terry kind of gives the impression that she might really dig doing it — an impression enhanced by Skies’ final scene.

Go for it, Duke.


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