Friday, May 30, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Roundup (1941)

Thanks to my friend John Knight I was able to enjoy a rarely seen Paramount Western, THE ROUNDUP (1941), directed by Lesley Selander. I've liked numerous Westerns directed by Selander, and THE ROUNDUP was no exception.

As the film begins, Greg Lane (Preston Foster) rides up to a ranch just in time to see the wedding of Steve Payson (Richard Dix) and Janet Allen (Patricia Morison).

The genial Greg is something of a ne'er-do-well who had been thought dead, and his reappearance comes as a shock to Janet, who had been in love with him. Janet finds herself torn between her steady, quiet husband and the livelier Greg, who takes advantage of the opportunity to escort Janet around Denver for a day when Steve must leave their honeymoon trip early.

When Greg gets into trouble at Denver's gambling tables, Janet impulsively offers the diamond ring Steve gave her to bail him out with weasely Wade McGee (Jerome Cowan) -- which McGee in turn uses to blackmail Greg, knowing he'll do anything to keep Steve from finding out why Janet's ring disappeared.

The love triangle is the spine around which a great deal of action unwinds, including multiple gunfights and Indian battles. It's to the film's credit that the interpersonal conflicts are believable and interesting rather than cliched; the leads are simply flawed people with problems to work out, with no too-obvious villains.

While the basic story may be tried and true, THE ROUNDUP is told with flair, with richly drawn characters and a fine cast. There are some creatively plotted, well-done scenes involving how the sheriff (Don Wilson) handles Steve shooting a man who had mistreated Janet; some lovely black and white location scenes shot in Lone Pine and the San Jacinto Mountains; and songs performed by the King's Men, who included the great choral arranger Ken Darby.

I don't think the stolid Dix (SKY GIANT, TWELVE CROWDED HOURS) will ever be my favorite actor, but he's right for the role as Janet's thoughtful husband. While nursing jealousy and pain at the thought Janet might decide to leave him, he's also guilty because before the wedding he hid from his wife the news that Greg would be returning to town.

Foster is excellent as a man who genuinely loves Janet, but he can't quite make up his mind if he's a good-for-nothing rascal or the hero who rescues a little girl, Mary (Betty Brewer), from an Indian attack. Eventually he turns to drink, before making one last grand gesture. Greg's final scene is well-written and genuinely moving.

The orphaned Janet meanwhile worries people will think she married Steve for his money, when she truly cares for him. Although it's not spelled out, the fact she had been alone for many years also causes her to accept raising the orphaned Mary without question when Greg leaves the child at Steve and Janet's ranch.

Patricia Morison (LADY ON A TRAIN), with her beautiful eyes and long dark hair, is stunningly beautiful in this film. She was about 25 when this was filmed, and she would go on to find fame as a Broadway musical star in KISS ME KATE and THE KING AND I. As a child I saw her as the Baroness in a '70s stage production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC which starred Sally Anne Howes as Maria and Werner Klemperer as Uncle Max. She is now 99 years old and lives in Los Angeles. She's seen here in a still from TARZAN AND THE HUNTRESS (1947).

Ruth Donnelly is around for comic support as Miss Polly, Steve's longtime housekeeper who is sweet on the shy sheriff. The cast also includes Morris Ankrum, Douglas Dumbrille, Lane Chandler, and Richard Curtis.

THE ROUNDUP runs 90 minutes. The strong script was written by Harold Shumate, based on a play by Edmund Day. Shumate's later work included the fine Westerns BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948) and SADDLE TRAMP (1950).

It was filmed in black and white by Russell Harlan.

Like so many other Paramount films of the '40s, THE ROUNDUP has been kept out of circulation by its owner, Universal. It's past time for Universal to start regularly releasing their library in an MOD program such as the Universal Vault Series. These films are part of our American cultural heritage and deserve to be accessible to the public.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura
I am really pleased you have been able to see "THE ROUNDUP", courtesy our mutual friend, John K. It's a nice film and Dix and Foster worked together several times successfully ("The Arizonian" in 1935 for RKO & "American Empire" in 1942 were the other two westerns).

The latter was the first of 3 westerns Dix made for Harry Sherman Productions and I am especially fond of "The Kansan" and Dix is excellent in it.

I agree Dix could be a tad stolid but it seemed right for his western roles at least.

Thanks for doing such a good review and using it to send a message to Universal. There are lots of us out there who want these films!
Best wishes,

8:35 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I've just forgotten to mention another Dix western for Pops Sherman - "Cherokee Strip" (1940), another very nice one, also directed by fave Les Selander.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Sounds really good based on what you say about it. I've been enjoying seeing more of Selander lately, partly thanks to you, Laura (Selander/Camerons beginning with "Panhandle").

While I don't want to get into a fight about this, I love Richard Dix. I guess he may not have the most range of any movie actor, but the things he does have always work well for his roles for me. When someone has a presence I like a lot, and believability, that goes a long way.

Speaking of Preston Foster (and triangles in Westerns, too) , I sure would like to see the well-regarded "Thunderhoof" (Phil Karlson), one of these days. Hope it wll surface sometime.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I would love to see the other Dix-Foster films! And THUNDERHOOF, mentioned by Blake. I just read a little about it, and it sounds most interesting.

It's kind of interesting, Dix doesn't do much for me to this point yet I keep finding him in movies with stories, casts, and directors which interest me. I'm not sure what that says about him but I am certainly open to seeing more of his movies. I should be reviewing him in MEN AGAINST THE SKY in the next couple weeks.

Best wishes,

4:51 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I don't think I have ever seen "Thunderhoof", Laura. Would very much like to though.

I suppose, for me, Richard Dix falls into that category of leading men that could be described as having a grim visage at times and laconic. Randolph Scott would also be described thus in his Ranown series. I happen to like that quiet dignity and I feel Dix has it too.
He impressed me a great deal in the "Whistler" series that he closed his career with (prematurely) in the 1940s. It was his strong presence that made the films.

4:23 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

There's a wonderful family movie called MY DOG SKIP (2000) which is set in the 1940s. One scene has the kid going to see a western and I couldn't identify it. When they emerge from the theater, the marquee reads THE ROUNDUP. I always assumed it was just a generic western sounding title they came up with.

So thanks. Laura, for bringing this one to my attention. It sounds very interesting. I like Richard Dix and Preston Foster, so this one sounds like a must-see for me.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, thanks for sharing your Dix thoughts! My dad recently saw him in IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD and thought it was wonderful.

Kevin, thanks so much for sharing that, I'm so happy to have solved the mystery of that movie title for you!! That's terrific.

Best wishes,

11:49 PM  

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