Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Five Best Western Directors

Stewart in Winchester '73.
1. Anthony Mann - Mann helped define the "Adult Western" of the 1950s with his seminal work Winchester '73. His output included five outstanding Westerns with James Stewart and classics with Gary Cooper (Man of the West) and Henry Fonda (The Tin Star). His heroes were often hard men with a questionable past seeking redemption (e.g., Bend of the River). He painted his tales against a backdrop of an American West in transition, in which budding towns would compete with the cattle empires.

2.  John Ford - Ford was a dominant figure in the Western genre for four decades. He brought prominence to the Western with Stagecoach, paved the way for Adult Westerns with his Cavalry Trilogy, and directed two iconic films late in his career (The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Ford's incorporation of Western landscapes (he shot several masterpieces in Monument Valley in Arizona) became his trademark. In fact, a popular lookout was named after him: John Ford Point. I suspect many film fans would have Ford at No. 1.

Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More.
3.  Sergio Leone -With Mann, Ford, and Hawks in the twilight of their careers in the '60s, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone reinvented the Western genre visually and thematically. His protagonists were morally questionable men who usually did the right thing, even while portraying themselves as profiteers (e.g., Clint Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More). He showed the big towns, but also the decrepit shacks amid the dusty, windswept plains--where a bounty hunter or an outlaw could buy a shot of cheap whiskey. Like Mann and later Peckinpah, Leone was intrigued with the last days of the Old West and the men who didn't want to tame it.

4.  Sam Peckinpah - An uneven director, Peckinpah was at his best when working in the Western genre. While his films also took place in the dying days of the Old West, they focused on the relationships among the characters:  two old friends in Ride the High Country, a band of outlaws in The Wild Bunch; and an unlikely businessman, a prostitute, and a would-be preacher in his masterpiece The Ballad of Cable Hogue. In the former two films, most of the characters are unwilling to adapt to the coming of civilization. However, the hero of Cable Hogue embraces it and finds happiness in doing so (though the ending is bittersweet).

Delmer Daves' The Hanging Tree.
5.  Howard Hawks and Delmer Daves (tie) - A tie may be a bit of a cheat, but it was impossible to omit either of these two from our list. Neither director specialized in Westerns, but they made important contributions to the genre. Hawks' Red River (1948) paved the way for Mann's dark Westerns. His Rio Bravo is one of the most fondly remembered Westerns of the 1950s. And after other Western directors had hung up their spurs, Hawks continued to make Westerns with John Wayne up until 1970. Delmer Daves, another versatile director, dabbled in the Western genre often, his films ranging from intriguing (the Shakespearean Jubal) to unique (Cowboy with Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford). He secured his place on this list, though, with two beautifully-crafted classics: the thriller-like 3:10 to Yuma and The Hanging Tree, a tale of redemption and love.

Honorable Mentions:  Budd Boetticher, John Sturges, Clint Eastwood, and Henry Hathaway.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Omega Man: Charlton Heston as the Last (Uninfected) Human on Earth

Charlton Heston fires at a window.
The Cafe staff recently conducted a poll on Twitter asking film fans to select their favorite adaptation of Richard Matheson’s sci fi-horror novel I Am Legend. To our surprise, the overwhelming choice was The Omega Man (1971), which starred Charlton Heston as the last man on Earth.

Heston plays scientist Robert Neville, the only survivor of a biological war between Russia and China. Neville injected himself with an experimental serum while the rest of mankind was infected with a plague that turned them into light-intolerant albinos. Even worse, some of the survivors in L.A. formed a cult called "the family" that's dedicated to reinventing humanity—and killing Neville. For his part, the former scientist methodically hunts down the plague-infected creatures and destroys them, earning him the nickname of "Angel of Death."

Rosalind Cash as Lisa.
Neville's mundane existence receives a jolt when he discovers a hip, leather-clad African American woman named Lisa (Rosalind Cash). She appears to be healthy, but Neville later learns that she and a group of others are infected. They just haven't "turned" yet. Taking an active interest in Lisa and her ill brother Richie, Neville dedicates himself to creating a serum from his blood.

The striking opening scene of The Omega Man has Neville driving his red convertible down the empty streets of L.A. as he listens to "A Summer Place" on an eight-track player. Suddenly, he slams on his brakes and empties his automatic rifle at a figure in a window. After the film's credits, a chilling montage reveals the banality of Neville's existence. He selects a new car...and drives it out the showroom window. He watches Woodstock in an empty movie theater as he mouths the dialogue with the people on the screen. He prepares for the nightly onslaught of "the family." There is no joy, no excitement, no feeling in any of these actions.

If this part of The Omega Man sounds familiar, then you have probably read Matheson's 1954 novel or have seen the first adaptation, 1964's The Last Man on Earth. Although the latter is a low-budget effort starring Vincent Price, it's more faithful to the source book in which the creatures are vampires created by a plague. Written by Matheson under a pseudonym, it's also a far better film than The Omega Man.

Anthony Zerbe as the cult's leader.
However, the decision to make the plague creatures disease-riddled cultists, instead of zombie-like vampires, is not what dooms The Omega Man. Although I personally like the vampire concept better, the albino creatures are interesting in that they are more human-like. We can empathize with their plight and understand why they want to destroy Neville and all that he stands for.

The Omega Man falters when the plots shifts to Neville and Lisa. Their interracial romance is no longer as daring as it may have been in '71 and there is zero chemistry between Heston and co-star Cash (her overly hip attitude also seemed dated).  The screenplay turns sloppy as well with characters making boneheaded decisions:  Lisa goes shopping on her own, her brother tries to reason with the family, and Neville forgets to turn on his generators at nightfall. Finally, there's some heavy-handed symbolism in one of the closing shots that seems terribly out of place.

Not surprising, Richard Matheson was not a fan of The Omega Man, but then the same could be said of The Last Man on Earth and Will Smith's 2007 film I Am Legend. Matheson adapted his novel for Hammer Films in the 1960s, but it ran into censorship problems before the production even started. Matheson sold his script, but it was altered and produced as Last Man. It may be flawed, but--as mentioned earlier--it remains the best version of  I Am Legend.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Joan Crawford in a Strait-Jacket

Before the credits even roll in Strait-Jacket (1964), a narrated flashback provides all the background information we need to know. It starts with Frank Harbin hooking up with ex-girlfriend Stella while his wife Lucy is out of town. Frank takes Stella back to the farm for some hanky-panky, even though his daughter Carol is there (and not asleep). Lucy returns early, of course, and peeks through a window to see Frank and Stella asleep in bed. So, she picks up the ax planted in a nearby stump, enters the house, and slaughters the couple while daughter Lucy looks on.

Twenty years later, an adult Carol (Diane Baker) greets her mother Lucy (Joan Crawford), who has been released from an asylum. Carol, a sculptor, lives with her aunt and uncle who have raised her. She is "almost engaged" to nice guy Michael. She realizes her mother faces a difficult transition to "normal" life. As Lucy peers into the chicken coop, she remarks: "I hate to see anything caged."

Still, things seems to be working out except for the two severed heads Lucy claims appeared in her bed. Lucy also hears a nursery rhyme in which her name has replaced Lizzie Borden's. And did I mention two new ax murders....

Joan Crawford as Lucy.
Written by Robert Bloch, who penned the novel Psycho, Strait-Jacket is one of the many B-suspense films produced in the 1960s--mostly by William Castle or Hammer Pictures. This one is a Castle production and, while it pales next to his classic Homicidal (1961), it provides a juicy role for Joan Crawford. She is quite effective as the unbalanced Lucy, who shifts from withdrawn former patient to protective parent to confident, flamboyant woman (who awkwardly comes on to Michael in front of Carol).

One suspects that Crawford was surprised when bigger roles didn't come her way after What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? scored big at the boxoffice. She began filming Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte, but was replaced with Olivia de Havilland (read this Vanity Fair article for more details). She subsequently signed with William Castle to do two pictures: Strait-Jacket and I Saw What You Did (1965).

William Castle is probably best-known as a prolific B-movie producer and for introducing gimmicks such as the life insurance policy given to viewers of the "frightening" Macabre. However, he was also an above-average director, as evidenced by Strait-Jacket. His scene transition from sculptor knife to carving knife shows some Hitchcockian style. The dark slaughterhouse, where two victims meet their ends, provides a stark contrast to the brightly-lit farm. An unhinged Lucy casually striking a match on a record on the turntable is a brilliant touch (it has been clipped for YouTube...more than once).

Diane Baker as Carol.
Naturally, Strait-Jacket features a twist ending, though I doubt if it will surprise many viewers. I must say, though, that it leads to a great scene for one cast member.

Incidentally, Joan Crawford and Diane Baker also played mother and daughter in the same year's Della. They were also guest stars (separately) in back-to-back episodes in the fourth season of Route 66. In Joan's episode, "Same Picture, Different Frame," her character was stalked by a homicidal ex-husband just released from an asylum!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Walter Matthau Plays Hopscotch

When CIA operative Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) lets a Soviet spy get away, his new boss is most displeased. Kendig explains the logic behind his actions, but his explanation is abruptly dismissed. He is banished to a desk job until his retirement. The veteran spy has no intention of complying with that directive, so he shreds his personnel file and heads to Europe.

Kendig links up with Isobel von Schmidt (Glenda Jackson), a retired agent and former lover, who lives comfortably in Salzburg. He is unsure about his next move until a meeting with his Soviet counterpart gives him an idea. Kendig decides to write his memoirs, providing details on botched espionage plots and inept colleagues. After he finishes his first chapter, he mails copies to intelligence agencies in Peking, Bonn, Moscow, London, and, of course, Washington, DC.

Glenda Jackson as Isobel.
Not surprisingly, Kendig becomes a hunted man. As he completes his memoirs (again mailing out copies of each chapter), he has to stay one step ahead of his pursuers. Naturally, he still finds time to exact a little revenge on his former boss (Ned Beatty).

Made in 1980, Hopscotch may appear to be a follow-up to House Calls, an earlier teaming of Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. However, that was not the intent. Warren Beatty was originally cast as Kendig before production delays caused a shift to Walter Matthau. It's the viewer's good fortune that Matthau became the star because Hopscotch is the perfect vehicle for the actor's unique style of humor.

He makes it grand fun to watch the crafty, opera-humming Kendig outmaneuver the CIA at every turn. It's also entertaining to watch him unveil his grand scheme step by step. (Strangely enough, it reminded me of watching Edward Fox's assassin in The Day of the Jackal develop his plan down to the most minute detail).

Sam Waterston as Kendig's protege.
There's a downside to the structure of Hopscotch, however, and that's relegating Glenda Jackson to what amounts to a supporting role. From her opening "meet cute" with Matthau, she lights up the screen with her sophisticated comic timing and is sorely missed when the plot focuses on Kendig's elaborate scheme.

Hopscotch was co-written and based on the novel by Brian Garfield. The author, who died last month, also penned the novel Death Wish. He was very unhappy with the adaptation of that book into the 1974 Charles Bronson film. It's a key reason why he insisted on being involved with the production of Hopscotch.

Walter Matthau in disguise.
In director Ronald Neame's autobiography Straight from the Horse's Mouth, he describes how he and Garfield transformed Hopscotch once Matthau was cast. The original screenplay's serious tone was discarded in favor of a more lighthearted approach. Even Matthau's real-life fondness for Mozart was incorporated into his character. Neame considered Hopscotch one of his favorite films and Garfield also expressed satisfaction with the end results.

Hopscotch is rarely listed as one of Walter Matthau's best works, but it always generates a lot of positive comments when I mention it on social media. It may be a bit of lark for Matthau and Jackson, but it's also a delightful way to spend 106 minutes.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Walt Disney's Adventures of Spin and Marty

Marty arrives at the Triple R.
Although later Mickey Mouse Club serials may be better remembered today, the most popular one--by far--during its original broadcast was The Adventures of Spin and Marty (1955). No, it wasn't based on a famous children's book series like The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure nor did it feature a future Disney superstar like Annette. Yet, it gripped the attention of young TV viewers across the nation and spawned two sequels, a comic book series, and a 45 RPM record.

The 25-episode serial opens with the arrival of Martin Markham at the Triple R Ranch, a working ranch which doubles as a youth camp in the summer. Martin is quickly nicknamed Marty, but he doesn't fit in with the other boys. Having lost both parents, he lives with an overprotective, wealthy grandmother. In fact, she insists that Perkins, the family manservant, stay with Marty for the duration of his stay at the Triple R.

Tim Considine as Spin.
Marty (David Stollery) expresses his displeasure in being shuttled off to the "dirty old farm." He avoids the other lads and lies about being an experienced polo rider--when in fact he's scared of horses. Marty's attitude doesn't sit well with Spin Evans (Tim Considine), a popular boy who worked two jobs to save enough money for a second summer at the Triple R. The two boys eventually clash and it's their fight that initiates a change in Marty's views and in how the other boys view him.

I was surprised with how quickly Spin and Marty became additive viewing in my household. The episodes, each running about 12 minutes, sped by--meaning that we typically watched two (or occasionally three) per day. It's a show about transformation and the episodes skillfully portray how Marty progresses from a defiant outsider to a young man who has found a "home" at the Triple R. 

David Stollery and Tim Considine give incredibly natural performances as the two leads. It's easy to see why so many young viewers related to their characters. It's an impressive feat for Considine because the script is skewed toward getting folks to root for Marty. Spin could have easily become the de facto "villain," but Considine and the writers avoid that pitfall. At the same time, though, I love the fact that Spin and Marty stop short of becoming best pals at the end. They gradually develop a mutual respect and come to understand one another in a way that the other boys don't. It's the beginnings of what could be a great friendship.

Harry Carey, Jr.
Among the adult cast, the standout is Harry Carey, Jr. as a sympathetic ranch hand who works hard to gain Marty's trust. A veteran character actor, Carey, Jr. was a John Ford favorite and appeared in many of the director's famous Western.

As for Considine and Stollery, their careers took different paths. Considine had lead roles in other Disney serials, spent five years as the eldest son on My Three Sons, and even wrote teleplays for other TV shows. Except for an appearance in a Spin and Marty revival in 2000, Stollery retired from show business in 1960. He became an automobile designer and is responsible for one of the Toyota Celica models. On The Adventures of Spin and Marty DVD, he and Considine revisit the real life ranch (located 90 minutes from the Disney studio) where they filmed Spin and Marty in their youth.

J. Pat O'Malley as Perkins.
Following the success of The Adventures of Spin and Marty, Stollery and Considine reprised their roles in two sequels. In The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty, they vie for the affection of Annette Funicello and get involved in a swimming competition. In The New Adventures of Spin and Marty, they join Annette, Kevin Corcoran, and others to put on a show in the old barn. Sadly, only the first serial is on DVD.

If you've never seen a Mickey Mouse Club serial, then you're in luck. The Adventures of Spin and Marty is currently available on YouTube and it's a great one to start with. By the end, you may find yourself building a campfire in your backyard and singing: "Yippee ya, yippee yi, yippee yo."

Monday, January 14, 2019

25 Greatest Classic TV Series

In 2012, I became one of the founding members of the Classic TV Blog Association (CTVBA), a fabulous group of bloggers who celebrate classic television. This year, the CTVBA embarked on its most ambitious project to date: a list of the 25 Greatest Classic TV Series.

Our definition of "classic" was any prime-time TV series that began broadcasting prior to 1990. Each member applied his or her own criteria in nominating series. My criteria were quality, enduring popularity, and social influence. Over 55 shows were nominated in the first round of voting, but only 29 made it to the second and final round.

Here is the final official list of the 25 Greatest Classic TV Series (for more details, check out the CTVBA web site):

1.    The Twilight Zone
2.    I Love Lucy 
3.    The Mary Tyler Moore Show
4.    Columbo
5.    All in the Family
6.    Dragnet
7.    Monty Python’s Flying Circus
8.    Star Trek
9.    The Prisoner
10.  M*A*S*H
11.  The Dick Van Dyke Show
12.  The Fugitive
13.  Dallas
14.  Doctor Who
15.  The Andy Griffith Show
16.  The Defenders
17.  The Golden Girls
18.  Perry Mason
19.  SCTV
20.  The Honeymooners
21.  Alfred Hitchcock Presents
22.  Hill Street Blues
23.  The Odd Couple
24.  The Outer Limits
25.  The Avengers

Honorable Mentions:  Get Smart, The Ed Sullivan Show, Leave It to Beaver, and WKRP in Cincinnati.

I think it's a pretty strong list overall, but there were some definite surprises. I can't argue with The Twilight Zone and I Love Lucy in the top two spots. Both were landmark TV series that are just as good today as when they debuted.

David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble.
However, my choice for #1 spot was The Fugitive. I can think of no other TV series that was as uniformly strong for a three-year period (and the fourth season was also good). This modern-day Les Miserables turned Dr. Kimble and Lieutenant Gerard into iconic characters. The two-part series finale was a national phenomenon, with the last episode earning the highest Nielsen rating of any regular TV series until M*A*S*H eclipsed it.

The Defenders belongs in the Top Five. It boasted superb writing and acting, plus it explored some of the most complex social issues of the 1960s. Indeed, many of its episodes seem just as timely today. I suspect its too-low ranking may have been a case of not enough voters having seen The Defenders.

Beaver and his father.
Leave It to Beaver, which is relegated to an honorable mention, is one of the finest family sitcoms. The dialogue and plots are remarkably realistic and many of my favorite episodes are the ones in which Ward Cleaver admits to one of his shortcomings as a parent. There were many good family sitcoms, but Beaver was one of the best.

While I watched Dragnet (the 1967-70 version mostly), I wouldn't rank it among the greatest classic TV series. Yes, it was one of the first radio hits to make a successful transition to television, the music remains recognizable, and there were some famous quotes. But the repetitious formula caused me to lose interest quickly.

Peter Falk as Columbo.
Likewise, Columbo seems ranked too high. Don't get me wrong, Peter Falk is a fine actor and he makes Lieutenant Columbo one of the great TV characters--but the show's formula also wore thin despite the production of fewer episodes than most series. I suspect I'm in the minority here since Columbo is still in heavy rotation on cable television thanks to Falk and his guest star murderers.

Finally, The Odd Couple was a good show with a funny premise, strong characters, and two terrific actors--but it doesn't belong among the 25 Greatest Classic TV Series.

Of course, any "greatest" list is bound to stir some debate...and that's part of the fun! What do you think of the Classic TV Blog Association's 25 Greatest Classic TV Series list?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Three-Word Movie Game

Today, we're trying out a new game in which we describe a movie in three words and ask you to name it. That sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? Most of the questions below are pretty easy, but there are a few that might pose a challenge. Please answer only three per day so other people can play. There is a "best answer" for question, but other answers may be possible. Let us you know if you enjoy this game!

1. Inn, Vermont, snow.

2. Holmes, phantom, Canada.

3. Vampire, mother, windmill.

4. Newlywed, housekeeper, mansion.

5. Farmer, gunfighter, boy.

6. Binoculars, camera, cast.

7. Robot, diamonds, elevator.

8. Physician, slave, pirate.

9. Dog, orphans, grave.

10. Murder, South (U.S.), slap.

11. Lighthouse, plants, blindness.

12. Painting, deception, bell.

13. Reindeer, questionnaire, computer.

14. Politician, mask, swordfight (yes, it's usually two words!).

15. Museum, bone, song.

16. Opera, globe, sled.

17. Museum, engineer, youths.

18. Murder, poker, revenge.

19. Mermaid, kidnapping, skydiving.

20. Wig, telephone, pirates.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Anthony Mann's The Heroes of Telemark

If not for a small band of Norwegian commandos, Adolf Hitler might have had an atomic bomb before the U.S.--leading to a very different outcome for World War II. The Norwegians' exploits form the basis for the fascinating premise of Anthony Mann's The Heroes of Telemark (1965).

The film opens in Oslo, Norway, in 1942 with the Germans manufacturing "heavy water" in a fortified factory surrounded by snow-covered mountains. The lead scientist. who doubles as spy for the Allies, smuggles a microfilm to guerrilla fighter Knut Strand (Richard Harris). Knut convinces a philandering physicist, Dr. Rolf Pedersen (Kirk Douglas), to examine the evidence. 

Richard Harris and Kirk Douglas.
Pedersen has his suspicions immediately, but cannot confirm them until consulting with British and American colleagues (to include Albert Einstein). Still, it's no surprise when they all conclude that the Nazis are producing water with a greater than normal amount of hydrogen isotope--a product that is used in creating atomic energy.

The Allies quickly decide that the factory must be destroyed, but its proximity to a nearby village creates the first challenge for Knut and Pedersen. A British bombing of the production facility could be deadly for the town's 6,000 residents. However, the factory's location and high level of security make it an almost impossible task for a ground attack. What will they decide?

Filmed largely in Norway, The Heroes of Telemark benefits mightily from the snowy vistas that frame the action. The scenes of the commandos trudging through snow drifts, with the wind whistling in the background, is enough to make most viewers reach for a hot beverage regardless of the time of year. One of the film's highlights is an exciting ski chase that pre-dates later skiing sequences in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and Jean Claude-Killy's Snow Job (1972).

Douglas and Harris amid the snow-covered backdrop.

While Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris inject some star power into the proceedings, both are saddled with one-dimensional characters. That's odd considering that Anthony Mann's 1950s Westerns are noted for their emphasis on characterization over action. It's also difficult to buy Kirk's sudden transition from a university professor to a gun-carrying commando who kills bad guys without remorse. On the plus side, Mann packs The Heroes of Telemark with exciting set pieces: the hijacking of a ship; the explosive raid on the factory; and the sinking of a ferry carrying the heavy water.

Ulla Jacobsson.
Although partially based on the real-life Knut's 1954 book Skis Against the Atom, the screenplay takes some liberties with the actual events. Numerous attacks on the water production facility over a period of several years have been condensed into two raids, which makes for a more streamlined plot. However, the inclusion of a renewed romance between Douglas's scientist and his ex-wife (played by Swedish actress Ulla Jacobsson) adds nothing of value of the story.

Stephen Boyd and Elke Sommer were attached as the stars early in the production planning (when the film was to be called The Unknown Battle). Boyd had appeared the previous year in Mann's The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). After several delays, though, Boyd abandoned the project and, according to some sources, he sued Mann for $500,000 because he missed out on other lucrative roles.

There have been other films, books, and documentaries produced about the courageous men who ensured that Nazi Germany never developed an atomic bomb. The Heroes of Telemark may not be the most accurate version, but it's a well-made, atmospheric adventure that serves as a good introduction--and it looks fabulous on Blu-ray. Sadly, it was also Anthony Mann's last completed film. He died while directing the Cold War thriller A Dandy in Aspic in 1967 with star Laurence Harvey completing it.

Allied Vaughn Entertainment provided a review copy of The Heroes of Telemark Blu-ray.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

James Garner Stars in a Disney Duo

After an immensely successful decade in the 1960s, Walt Disney Productions hit a rut in the 1970s. The quality and popularity of its films, as a whole, took a nose dive. Two of its better efforts during this period are now largely forgotten despite the presence of James Garner. Signed to a two-movie deal, Garner appeared opposite young male co-stars in a pair of above-average Westerns.

The first, and best, is One Little Indian (1973), which focuses on the relationship between a U.S. Cavalry deserter (Garner) and a boy who has been raised by the Cheyenne, but captured by soldiers. A grizzled sergeant and a chaplain name the boy Mark and treat him kindly. However, Mark (Clay O'Brien) just wants to return to his Indian mother. He escapes from the fort and eventually encounters Corporal Keyes, who is on the run to avoid a hanging for his desertion. The pair are saddled--literally--with a pair of camels, an adult female named Rosie and her offspring (who comes to be called Thirsty).

Thirsty and Mark.
This unlikely quartet head towards Mexico with a Cavalry patrol in hot pursuit. Along the way, they narrowly avoid capture, inadvertently cause a cattle stampede, and meet a lonely widow (Vera Miles) and her young daughter (Jodie Foster). But, as the bond grows between Keyes and Mark, the former must decide what to do with his young friend.

Films like this depend largely upon the believability of the relationship between the main characters. That's not an issue in One Little Indian, in which Mark's initial distrust of Keyes gradually evolves into a deep friendship. Much of the credit goes to the always likable Garner and his young co-star O'Brien, whose intense eyes convey as much emotion as his dialogue.

Vera Miles and Jodie Foster.
The use of the camels provides a nice offbeat touch--and, of course, the target of a some humorous Garner wisecracks. Keyes alludes briefly to the Camel Corps, which was created by Jefferson Davis when he was Secretary of War. (At this point, I know some of you are probably remembering Hawmps!, a 1976 film about the use of camels in the West...but I have seen Hawmps! so let's not go there.)

Incidentally, young Clay O'Brien also starred opposite John Wayne in The Cowboys (1972). Under his real name, Clay O'Brien Cooper, he grew up to become a rodeo star, winning seven world championships and earning almost $3 million.

Garner's second Disney picture, The Castaway Cowboy (1974), also pairs him with a young co-star in Eric Shea. It opens with Booton MacAvoy (Shea) discovering the body of a man floating in a cove near his island home. The visitor recovers and reveals that he's a cowboy from Texas named Costain, who was shanghaied and dumped into the Pacific. Although Booton's widowed mother (Vera Miles again) treats him well, Costain just wants to get back to San Francisco.

James Garner and Eric Shea.
His plans change, though, when he learns there are wild cattle on the island. He and Booton's mother hatch a scheme to capture the cattle and sell them to ships heading back to the U.S. There are numerous obstacles to overcome, such as training the island natives to become cowboys and figuring out how to get the steers on a ship since the island has no dock. There's also a local banker (Robert Culp) who wants the plan to fail because he wants to marry the widow and gain ownership of her 10,000-acre ranch.

Vera Miles.
The Castaway Cowboy is lighter fare than One Little Indian and not as engrossing. There are too many comedic scenes of the islanders learning how to ride and rope. Eric Shea, who played Carol Lynley's irritating little brother in The Poseidon Adventure, overacts here, too.

Still, the island setting is a nice touch and Garner and Vera Miles have more scenes this time, which works to the film's advantage. I was also pleased that we actually saw how the steers were transported from shore to ships (as I had some real concerns about that).

If you only see one of these movies, then I recommend One Little Indian. But if you have some time on a lazy day, then you could do a lot worse than a double-feature comprised of these James Garner Disney pics.