Streets of Laredo

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Late 40s westerns are always of interest, existing as they do on the cusp of the genre’s golden age. Some are very clearly products of their era, combining elements that look back feel more light-hearted, while also displaying some of the complexity that would dominate and define the coming decade. Streets of Laredo (1949) fits comfortably into this category by virtue of being a remake of a 30s film (you can read Paul’s take on the original, The Texas Rangers, here), and also the fact that the overall tone of the movie shifts quite dramatically at or around the mid-point. It’s almost as though we’re seeing two different films playing out, though the contrast works quite well and helps focus the spotlight on the journey the characters undertake over the course of its running time.

Streets of Laredo tells the story of three outlaw partners – Jim Dawkins (William Holden), Lorn Reming (Macdonald Carey) and Wahoo Jones (William Bendix). These three have established a profitable line in holding up stagecoaches, and whatever other opportunity comes their way. Theirs is an easy-going partnership, one where friendship reigns supreme and binds them together. The film concentrates on how that friendship is put under pressure by circumstances and is finally broken. The impetus arrives early, but its full import is not realized until later. The fate of these three men is dictated by their stumbling upon a raid on an isolated holding. A man and girl are holed up in a shack while a group of rustlers lay siege. Our three heroes, sensing an opportunity to make a killing at the expense of one party or the other, ride in and drive off the attackers. It turns out the girl, Rannie Carter (Mona Freeman), is the sole survivor in the shack. The gunmen who have been sent packing are led by Charley Calico (Alfonso Bedoya) and are running a protection racket. in the territory. Reluctantly taking the girl along, the trio set off in search of a place where they can leave her safely and satisfy the consciences. However, that encounter with Calico sets in motion a train of events, beginning with an ambush that sees Reming separated from his two friends. In the years that follow, their fortunes are just as divergent as their paths – Reming gains increasing notoriety as a successful bandit while Dawkins and Jones come close to starving. While chance forced the men apart, it reappears and unites them again, albeit briefly. The years alone have cemented Reming’s determination to live outside the law. Dawkins and Jones, while not reformed characters by any means, have yet to become so hardened. The latter two join the Texas rangers, with far from noble aims at the beginning, while Reming plans to use these inside contacts to facilitate his life of crime. Sooner or later, a reckoning must come with the old enemy, Calico, and it’s this which forces all of them to reassess their motives. In brief, Dawkins and Jones have learned that doing the right thing is sometimes reward enough in itself, while Reming has become so used to the outlaw life that he cannot or will not abandon it. And so an uneasy truce is agreed between these men, but can it last? Dawkins and Reming find their approaches pulling them in radically different directions, and the fact that both are attracted to the grown-up Rannie adds even more strain. What remains to be seen is whether the bonds of friendship are strong enough to withstand the pressure of very different sets of priorities.

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Along with Whispering Smith, director Leslie Fenton arguably did his best work in Streets of Laredo. These two films saw him collaborating with cameraman Ray Rennahan, and while Streets of Laredo is perhaps not quite as sumptuous, it’s still a handsome looking production. The exteriors, mainly shot on the Paramount ranch as far as I can tell, always look attractive and lend an air of authenticity to the story. And it’s that story (with a screenplay by Charles Marquis Warren), or rather its shape and development, that makes the film worthwhile. The first half of the movie concentrates on the friendship of the three main characters, and does so in a very light and humorous fashion. The comedic aspects of their relationship are played up and take center stage. It’s this section that harks back to earlier films, but the switch takes place at almost exactly the halfway mark. A this point the trio see their easy amiability gradually tested as they begin to drift further apart. Everything takes a much darker turn as Reming starts to reveal the ruthlessness that his eloquence masks. Simultaneously, Dawkins takes his first steps towards eventual redemption, spurred on both by his growing love for Rannie and also his awareness that honesty and ethics have some meaning for him.

William Holden was just about to turn his career around and enter his most successful period at this time. His performance, particularly in the latter half of the movie, looks ahead to that success and also foreshadows the kind of morally challenged heroes that would pop up all through 50s westerns. Holden still had that youthful air about him, but he was also starting to exhibit more of the weariness and self-doubt that he would soon put to good use. It’s easy to see him visibly questioning himself and his previous philosophy as the situation changes around him. As the story progresses, Holden very naturally grows into the part and the Jim Dawkins we see at the end is a very different man to the one who was first introduced. I think that, while the other performances are not without merit, it’s Holden who makes the film what it is. Macdonald Carey was never an actor I could say I was overly impressed by. I don’t mean to say he was poor, but he had a certain blandness that always put me off somewhat. The role of Lorn Reming was a much showier one than Holden was handed, but it was also considerably less complex. Right from the beginning, there’s a glib shallowness about the character, and it therefore requires no great leap to see him stick firmly to the villainous path. However, within the confines of the part, I think it’s fair to say that Carey does pretty much all that’s asked of him.

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Frankly, I love watching William Bendix on screen. The man had a wonderful ability to move effortlessly from comedic lug to something altogether more sinister with ease. Bendix was blessed with an extraordinarily expressive face and the camera was able to capture a wide range of emotion there. Streets of Laredo was one of his very few western parts, and I guess my own familiarity with seeing him in totally different settings meant he seemed a little out of place on the frontier. Having said that, he played his part fine; most of the time he’s there for comic relief but he also achieves a measure of soulful pathos that makes his ultimate fate all the more affecting. I was less impressed by Mona Freeman, an actress I haven’t seen an awful lot of to be honest, but that’s maybe down to the way her character was written. She starts out very naive and immature and, despite growing up as the film goes on, never quite loses some of the more irritating traits. The strong supporting cast is filled out by the likes of Ray Teal, Stanley Ridges, Alfonso Bedoya and Clem Bevans.

Streets of Laredo is one of those Paramount productions whose rights now reside with Universal. I don’t think it has seen a DVD release in the US to date. However, there are editions available in various European countries and Australia. I have the German release from Koch Media, which is quite reasonable. Colors appear quite strong and true but the image can be a little soft in places. The print used for the transfer doesn’t seem to be restored as there are various instances of damage visible, although none are especially serious or distracting. The disc offers either the original English soundtrack or a German dub, and there are no subtitles at all. Extra features are a couple of galleries and a booklet (in German) that reproduces the original poster art on the back cover. Generally, I d have to rate this as a satisfying little picture that acts as a bridge between 40s and 50 westerns. The story unfolds nicely and adds layers to the characters as it does so. Factor in a well-drawn performance by William Holden and the result is a better than average example of the late 40s western.

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45 thoughts on “Streets of Laredo

  1. Sounds great Colin – another one to add to the list. I always forget how long Holden was in movies after GOLDEN BOY before his career really took off int he 50s – must be one of the slowest boild this side of Richard Farnsworth!

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  2. This looks like another good one, Colin – nice review as ever! I agree with you that William Holden just seemed to get better and better as he got older and allowed his cynical, world-weary side to show through. As for Macdonald Carey – well, I haven’t seen much of his work to judge, but I remember thinking him adequate, if too old, for his part in Joseph Losey’s THE DAMNED.

    I tend to enjoy nearly any western I see, and there are many wonderful westerns pre-1950, but I must confess to a personal preference for those from the 50s and 60s for their generally more complex themes and wonderful widescreen vistas. By the way, if those screen grabs are from the German DVD, than it looks like a damn fine transfer, with nicely-rendered Technicolor. Thanks as always for including detailed info regarding DVD availability in your reviews.

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    • Thanks Jeff. Holden aged quite fast when he hit about 30 but that was actually a benefit to him on the screen. It allowed him to play those tougher roles which helped make his name.

      I tend to favor westerns from the 50 and 60s too, but there’s lots of good stuff from the earlier period too. The mid-late 40s is a particularly strong time, with some very interesting work being done.

      Yes, those images are taken from the German DVD. The technicolor is indeed nicely reproduced and the transfer is generally pretty good. As I said though, there are times when it is a little soft and there’s sporadic print damage to be seen too.

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  3. I haven’t watched STREETS OF LAREDO for some time. Currently, I only have it as on off-air recording from the 90s but since the Koch German disc is obviously pretty good, I will be ordering it very soon. William Bendix is indeed a very watchable screen actor. In my well-thumbed copy of “The Movie Treasury : Gangster Movies” (1974) the author memorably referred to him in this way :- “Bendix is the menace with the mostest. If there is a guy to be coshed or a hand to be stamped on, Bendix is your boy.” Seeing him in a less serious role is always rewarding. I’m looking forward to revisiting this one. Thanks for the review Colin.

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      • You can’t go wrong with Bendix in the cast!
        A very pleasant surprise on the French edition of Tennessee’s Partner is a half hour TV spot directed by Allan Dwan, a Screen Director’s Playhouse segment called High Air, with Bendix and young Dennis Hopper as father and son, working on the construction of an underground tunnel. It’s a taut, exceptionally well made and economical little thriller. The picture quality is very good too.

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  4. Great stuff,as always Colin,I must say as much as I like STREETS OF LAREDO I still
    prefer the original THE TEXAS RANGERS.
    Never too sure about Mona Freeman,she always seemed a little too fey to appear in
    Westerns but she sure appeared in some really good ones: COPPER CANYON,
    BRANDED,DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE and THE ROAD TO DENVER.
    I really liked her in a couple of Britflicks that I am in dire need of upgrades for: SHADOW OF
    FEAR and DIAL 999 (a.k.a. THE WAY OUT)
    Chris,that extra on the French version of the Dwan movie sounds really interesting,
    in fact I never knew that he did some TV work.

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    • John, I like The Texas Rangers well enough too, and it has a very fine cast. Still, I think the remake, mainly as a result of Holden, shades it.
      As I said, I haven’t seen much of Mona Freeman – Copper Canyon and Branded are the only two of those you mention that I’m familiar with – but “fey” is pretty good description of her.

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  5. More Mona: I should have mentioned that SHADOW OF FEAR is also known as BEFORE
    I WAKE;these title changes are really confusing.
    Forgot to mention that Mona also appears in one of my “most wanted” titles THUNDERBIRDS
    a Republic picture concerning a Native American combat unit;awesome cast or what!

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    • John, I paused for a moment when I first read Shadow of Fear. There is a Renown DVD of that title, which I have, but it’s a different movie altogether – a British B thriller from 1963 in fact. Those alternative titles, and shared titles, are definitely a pain.

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  6. You got me, Colin–a post-1946 Western I haven’t seen! It’s been high on my list for awhile and I have seen and liked THE TEXAS RANGERS but could easily like this better given when it was made and sounds from what you write like Warren’s script revamps the original somewhat unless I’m just not remembering it well. Also, I thought Fenton did well with WHISPERING SMITH.

    Though in many ways the genre seems to round more fully into form in 1950 (Anthony Mann’s first Westerns, THE GUNFIGHTER setting a template for hero wanting to lay down his guns Westerns and BROKEN ARROW and DEVIL’S DOORWAY for the pro-Indian cycle), I mark the year 1946 as a watershed year and the real beginning of maturity, especially for MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and CANYON PASSAGE but for most other Westerns I’ve seen for that year. For me, 1946-1962 is the Golden Age and the next four years 1963-1966 interesting as transition classical/modern.

    Colin, have you actually not seen ANGEL FACE? I would have guessed you’d have made a point of it–Mona Freeman has a major role there. She’s not very sympathetic there–somehow, it’s the case in a number of her movies even though she is a “good girl” type (maybe that’s the problem); but I’ve seen her enough to have warmed to her over time after initially not liking her much. She can be an effective actress.

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    • Blake, I have a feeling this may be the first and last time I manage to hit on a classic era western that’s eluded you so far. Warren’s script does revamp the story, as you said, and in doing so leaves the remake feeling a bit more worthwhile than can be case when it’s something of a shot for shot retread. I think you would enjoy this one as I know you like, as I do myself, to track the way the movies of different eras feed into and off one another.

      And I don’t know how I forgot Mona Freeman was in Angel Face – it’s not as though I haven’t seen the film often enough. However, thanks for blowing away the cobwebs and reminding me. I may feature it here now that we’ve spoken about it.

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  7. Great review. And one I haven’t seen. I had a look at the German Amazon site but found it a bit daunting! I thought I might end up ordering the wrong thing!
    Good comment about Holden. At 22, he was costarring with Jean Arthur in ARIZONA. and then at the age of 32,he’s starting a run including SUNSET BOULEVARD, UNION STATION, BORN YESTERDAY,STALAG 17,EXECUTIVE SUITE,ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO.
    I’d love to know if Holden was Wilder’s first choice for Sunset Boulevard and Stalag 17 – he was so good.
    I quite like MacDonald Carey though haven’t seen many of his films.

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    • Thanks Vienna. I have no idea if Wilder always had Holden in mind, but I agree that he makes those roles his own to such an extent that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing them. I haven’t seen an awful lot of Carey either and certainly don’t actively dislike him. It’s just that I find him a bit colorless and I don’t feel he was right type to take on leading roles. For example, William Castle’s Cave of Outlaws is soon to be released in Germany by Koch Media. Now there’s a movie with an interesting storyline and unique locations, yet I think it suffers by having Carey in the lead.

      BTW, the Amazon.de website isn’t quite as daunting as it first looks. If you have an Amazon account anywhere then your details are stored across all their sites – you log in with the same ID. The buttons are all the same as on the UK/US sites too – I mean in the same position.

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    • I believe Montgomery Clift was first choice for SUNSET BOULEVARD–it turned out to be ideal for Holden. I guess we can understand why Wilder wouldn’t have thought of Holden first because the persona that emerges with that role hadn’t really been there yet. As Colin says he had been getting there, but I wouldn’t have pictured him in so cynical a role. I assume after his success there that he was first choice for STALAG 17.

      Interestingly, Clift was also Hawks’ first choice for Dude in RIO BRAVO, the idea obviously being to reunite Wayne and Clift. Clift turned it down and I really think that was the film’s gain as it ultimately ended up with Dean Martin in what is surely one of the great performances in American cinema.

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      • Now that certainly is interesting. I think Sunset Boulevard would have been a very different picture had Clift been cast. It’s true that the movie was something of a departure for Holden at that stage, but Clift had an entirely different persona; I doubt he could have tapped into the bitterness that Holden was so adept at conveying.
        Again, it’s hard to see how Clift would have bettered the work Dean martin produced in Rio Bravo.
        Clift was an excellent performer and added a lot to Red River, so he could do westerns but I don’t believe cynicism was his strong point.

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  8. I first saw this in the 50’s and it has been on British TV several times in the 80’s and 90’s. It always was one of my favourite Westerns. I was always shocked though by the scene where the ranger “Pipes” is found after being “raked” by Calico – for a Movie of this era it seemed a little excessive

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    • Hi Bruce. Yes the scene you refer to is pretty gory, and a little unexpected in a film of this vintage. It’s hammered home further when Holden goes to Calico’s hideout and finds the ropes which held the victim in place, the rake itself, and the fresh blood stains on the wall. I guess the point was to highlight how evil Calico was, and add further motivation for Holden’s character.

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  9. Great post here Colin! (And thanks for the plug.) I have yet to find this one due to it’s inaccessibility, but perhaps someday soon. With my love of both westerns and William Holden this would clearly be something that I would watch again and again. I look forward to finding it one day soon. Thanks again Colin.

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    • Paul, it was my pleasure to link into your post on The Texas Rangers.
      There seem to be a significant number of Universal properties in particular – OK this is a Paramount movie but the rights now belong to Universal – that are unavailable on DVD in the US while they’re on sale widely in Europe. I have no idea why this should be as there ought to be a big enough market in the US to support their release.

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  10. Its one of the great westerns from the late 40s. I would also rate it to be the best western from William Holden. I also agree with your comment on Macdonald Carey. Macdonald was quite entertaining in Comanche Territory with Maureen OHara. As usual your analysis of the film was spot on. Best regards.

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    • Hello Chris. Holden’s best western – that’s high praise indeed. You would rate it above The Wild Bunch? Personally, I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and thought Holden was excellent in it, but wouldn’t rate it as highly as that. Frankly, I’ve liked all the westerns I’ve seen Holden in with the exception of The Revengers, which I feel is extraordinarily poor.

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  11. Music is such an integral part of film that an inappropriate musical soundtrack can destroy the enjoyment of a movie. The Western genre, in particular, provides the composer with a wide range of sensations and emotions in which they are permitted to express their talents. On occasions these composers turn to traditional songs and melodies of the old West, for inspiration.

    I have always liked the traditional song, “Streets of Laredo”, and this was what initially attracted me to Leslie Fenton’s film, many years ago. I was not disappointed; Victor Young, prolific composer and arranger, (“Shane” -1953), incorporated the melody into the soundtrack of “Streets of Laredo” with amended and more appropriate lyrics by Livingstone and Evans. As sung by actor Dick Foote with a chorus it was another highlight of this film, for me.

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    • Rod, you’re quite right that the way music is used in movies is important in establishing mood. Like yourself, I enjoyed how Victor Young integrated elements of the traditional song of the title into his score. I’m only disappointed he didn’t feature it even more prominently.

      By the way, I still reckon the best rendition of that song is Marty Robbins’ version –

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  12. I prefer it to The Wild Bunch as the latter was too violent and gory. It is what you would call typical 40s and 50s westerns i.e a good old fashion western with a PG rating. It is more or less in the same vein as those acted by John Wayne.

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    • Fair enough. The visceral nature of The Wild Bunch isn’t to everyone’s taste. However, looking beyond the violence in Peckinpah’s film, Holden gave a wonderfully mature and heartfelt performance.

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  13. Yet more Mona;
    Thought I would check out my off-air copy of BEFORE I WAKE,its in better nick than I had
    previously thought.As these sub-Hitchcockian things go its quiet amusing with lots of cloning
    of The Master.28 year old Mona most convincing as the 20 year old imperiled blonde.
    I like Monas other Britflick DIAL 999 (1955) with the normally likable Gene Nelson
    playing a real heel this time.I enjoyed the shot of Mona getting on a 137 bus in South London.
    Colin,as you no doubt already know Network in the UK are releasing a load of titles from
    the old Anglo-Amalgamated back catalog. There is all that Edgar Wallace stuff plus the excellent
    SCOTLAND YARD series all remastered. There are some great thrillers in that mix all with
    American leads but so far Network have no plans to release them;I hope that they change
    their minds. Apart from DIAL 999 here are some of the other goodies,as you probably know
    I am a total sucker for this stuff.
    Alternate titles in brackets.:

    DANGEROUS VOYAGE (Terror Ship) 1954 William Lundigan,Naomi Chance
    LITTLE RED MONKEY 1955 Richard Conte,Rona Anderson
    TIMESLIP (The Atomic Man) 1955 Gene Nelson,Faith Domergue
    COUNTERFEIT PLAN (1957) Zachary Scott,Peggie Castle
    MAN IN THE SHADOW (Violent Stranger) Zachary Scott,Faith Domergue

    Also several cuts above the rest is a very fine early Joseph Losey film:
    THE INTIMATE STRANGER (Finger Of Guilt) 1956 Richard Basehart,Mary Murphy

    Network like customer feedback,if anyone craves these titles why not send them an e-mail
    they can be contacted at http://www.networkonair.com

    Now back to STREETS OF LAREDO
    Did you know that the song evolved from an old 18th century ballad “The Unfortunate Rake”
    about a soldier dying from an STI.
    This crossed the pond and evolved into the blues standard St James Infirmary;more I believe
    about a rounder dying from too much booze.It later evolved into the Cowboy ballad we
    all know and love.Totally agree Colin regarding Marty Robbins wonderful rendition of
    the song. The best version of St James Infirmary I have ever heard is by American guitar
    genius (a term I rarely if ever use!) Tony Rice,chilling stuff.

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    • Yes, Network now have access to a huge amount of stuff. I’ve already acquired Scales of Justice, Scotland Yard and the first four volumes of the Edgar Wallace sets – really entertaining stuff that I haven’t seen for years.

      Thanks for that background on the song too. I never knew any of that, and it’s always great to hear how these folk ballads evolved.

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  14. Wow Colin,thats a pretty awesome shopping list you mentioned regarding the Network product.
    So far I have only purchased the SCOTLAND YARD set,and was really amazed that the final
    episodes of the series are presented in widescreen.Someone told me that all the Edgar Wallace
    titles are in widescreen too.

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  15. Sorry, Colin, but having just seen STREETS OF LAREDO, I wasn’t very impressed. I found it overlong and the characters didnt involve me much.
    I prefer two other films with similar storylines ie friends or brothers who end up on different sides. – SOUTH OF ST LOUIS, with Joel McCrea, Zachary Scott and Douglas Kennedy , or SANTA FE, with Randolph Scott,, John Archer, Jerome Courtland.

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    • Aw, I’m sorry to hear the film didn’t quite measure up for you. The theme of former friends ending up on opposites side of the law and so forth is a strong one that has, as you say, been explored a number of times. I’m guessing the slowness you mention was most noticeable in the first half. I do sympathize, but I also think it makes the shift in tone in the second part more dramatic and more effective. Still, if we all reacted in exactly the same way to the movies then there wouldn’t be much fun in discussing them, would there? So thanks for taking the time to get back to me and sharing your thoughts on this one.

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    • I don’t think it’s a very well known film, even with western fans, so I’m not surprised it’s unfamiliar to you. An pretty enjoyable and attractive looking movie.

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  16. Pingback: Copper Canyon | Riding the High Country

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