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Run for Cover (Blu-ray Review)

28 May, 2012 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars James Cagney, Viveca Lindfors, John Derek, Ernest Borgnine.

Sandwiched between Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without a Cause in the spotty but (in seven or eight instances) glorious career of director Nicholas Ray, Paramount’s indoor/outdoor Western from the early days of VistaVision isn’t too peggable as anyone’s auteur work, though it does have a couple things going for it. One, of course, is VistaVision itself, which adds a few hundred sacks of currency to a film set in New Mexico but shot to significant degree in glorious Colorado. In fact, when the picture was re-issued in 1962, its title was changed to Colorado

The other key virtue is seeing James Cagney in his peak career-year of middle-age — looking more attuned to blue jeans than Mitt Romney ever will (though, of course, not when it comes to a svelte fit). Up to this point, Cagney had made only one Western in his career: 1939’s The Oklahoma Kid, in which he went for what would later become the Dr. Demento demographic by singing “I Don’t Want To Play in Your Yard” (all this and bad guy Humphrey Bogart in a black hat, too). A year after Cover’s release, Cagney would go West once more — after director Robert Wise and MGM canned Spencer Tracy from Tribute to a Bad Man, and Cagney took over in a troubled production that had already lost its intended second male lead (Robert Francis) to a plane crash. His role here, however, is the one I think of when the subject of Cagney Westerns comes up because it taps into both the pugnacious side of his screen personality (a little) while also plopping him behind a plow in a scene or two (later in real life, Cagney became a kind of gentleman farmer). Cagney also takes well to the mentor role his character is asked to take on — when he struggles to improve the lot of a callow youngster (John Derek) who’s been shot by an overzealous sheriff (Ray Teal, in the kind of dim-bulb role he always owned).

This nicely staged action scene opens the picture as a pair of jokers who work for the railroad (perhaps forgivably gun-shy because they’ve previously been robbed) simply toss money off their train in fear that lightning is about to strike again when they spot new acquaintances Cagney and Derek on horseback near the track. The posse finds these older/younger innocents with the loot they’re on their way to return — but not before permanently injuring one of Derek’s legs. Despite his fetid first impression of the town, Cagney elects to stick around after he and Derek are cleared because a) he feels duty-bound to the kid; b) has been offered Teal’s job (no wonder) and c) develops an eye for a slim Swedish immigrant (Viveca Lindfors) who resides on the farm where Derek is grinding out the healing process. Lindfors’ father, no laugh riot he, is played by Jean Hersholt of Oscar’s famed Humanitarian Award. It was his final screen appearance before his death, a tad more than a year after this movie’s release.

With Cagney pushing 55 in real life and looking it, the slow-ebbing courtship scenes bog down the drama after a promising start. But eventually, a couple bad-guy authentics show up (Ernest Borgnine, Republic Pictures mainstay Grant Withers), with the latter especially intimidating during his somewhat High Noon-ish molestation of church services — a scene in which the new sheriff’s complex past is exposed. Working separate tracks, the two invading outlaws then ply their trade and kick off a posse pursuit — one that exploits what movie trade magazine reviewers used to laud as “scenic values”: bright blue skies, keen visual framing of a snake-ish river and a desert windstorm that would just about finish you off were you wearing contact lenses. One never senses that this is a movie that Ray really had his heart in, but it’s also apparent that the exteriors were shot by someone who had a camera eye. The interiors, though, are on the pedestrian side — surprising, given that interiors were usually in Ray’s wheelhouse. (Someone once said that if you got someone who shot exteriors like Anthony Mann and interiors like Ray, you’d have the perfect director.)

This is one of the most satisfactory VistaVision replications that Olive Films has issued to date, and Cover’s handsome visage is its No. 1 selling point (Borgnine’s puss notwithstanding). With its perfect double-feature running time of 92 minutes, this would have been have been a prototypical drive-in movie in its day (or even a component in a triple bill, assuming a weekend booking and a projectionist who was popping pills). It was the opening salvo in a remarkable year for Cagney, who, after having appeared in no movies the year before, resurfaced here in early May — just before a summer run of Love Me or Leave Me, that great dancing cameo with Bob Hope in The Seven Little Foys and Mister Roberts. By the time, the pre-1949 Warner Bros. library was released to TV a year or two later to launch a new generation’s Cagney tutelage, this compact string had already helped him pick up some young fans, and I was one of them.

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