Dawn at Socorro

– Who’s coming after you?

– My past. Every dark, miserable day of it.

I guess that short exchange, coming near the end of the movie, sums up much of what Dawn at Socorro (1954) is all about. It’s a classic 50s western scenario, the hunger for a fresh start, a chance to slay the demons of one’s past once and for all. In the case of this film there’s the added interest of the disguised Earp/Holliday elements in the story, although this aspect is really only peripheral, and I think it’s no bad thing the names are changed and some of the events portrayed are used primarily as an inspiration – it allows the theme to develop without weighing it down with unnecessary historical baggage.

The story opens with a reminiscence, the words of an old man drawing us back into a past he experienced and into the lives of people he was once intimate with. Our point of entry comes in a cheap saloon, one of those basic drinking spots with low ceilings and lit by guttering lamps. The Ferris clan arrives en masse, planning to pick up the youngest member, Buddy (Skip Homeier), and head back to their ranch. But Buddy’s a hot-blooded guy, at that stage in life where he needs to show off in public how much of a man he is. Reluctantly, his kin leave him to his own devices, but still under the watchful eye of gunman Jimmy Rapp (Alex Nicol). The back room is occupied by the Ferris’ mortal enemies, Marshal McNair (James Millican) and ailing gambler Brett Wade (Rory Calhoun), and it’s only a matter of time before Buddy talks himself into a fight, one which will leave him dead and bring the feud between his family and McNair and Wade to a head. What we’re looking at here is a fictional account of the build up to the confrontation between the Clantons and Earps. It culminates in what is essentially the gunfight at the OK Corral in all but name. And the upshot of the killings is that the Holliday figure, Wade, is convinced of the folly of his lifestyle up to this point. He resolves to make a change, to get out of the territory and do something about his weakening health. Sharing a stage to Socorro with a bitter and self-loathing Rapp, he makes the acquaintance of fellow passenger, Rannah Hayes (Piper Laurie). Unknown to him, Rannah has been disowned by a father who believes the worst of her, and chooses to believe her lie that she’s on her way to meet her future husband. The truth is though that Rannah is going to become a saloon girl, working for Dick Braden (David Brian), a gambler whom Wade has clashed with before. It’s the realization of what is actually happening that leads Wade to put his plans to move on to Colorado on hold, to try to regain something of his youthful promise, to halt the waste and do something of worth before it’s too late.

There have been plenty of positive words about George Sherman on this site before, and Dawn at Socorro is another example of quality work from the director. The opening twenty minutes lays the groundwork for the Ferris (Clanton) and McNair (Earp) feud and the subsequent gunfight. The lengthy passage in the saloon, where the character dynamics are clearly defined, is beautifully shot and loaded with atmosphere. Sherman made good use of close-ups throughout the film, but these early scenes see them employed especially effectively. Although this is largely a town based, and therefore interior heavy, film, there is also some nice location work during the eventful stagecoach trip to Socorro. Also impressive is the shooting and composition of the key duel late in proceedings between Wade and Rapp – at the vital moment the camera is positioned high above both protagonists as they face off on the deserted Socorro street. The unusual angle chosen assigns the viewer the role of dispassionate observer gazing down on two regretful men, their individuality diluted by the distance as they become merely a pair of gunfighters on a dusty thoroughfare, their actions mirroring each other and the fatal shots appearing as simultaneous bursts of smoke.

So many westerns have concerned themselves with the dogged pursuit of individuals by the sins of their past, and the salvation, redemption or personal understanding or acceptance which grows out of this. It can be seen as a general western motif I suppose, but in the 50s in particular almost every genre entry of worth features these themes. I may be way off base here (so feel free to pull me up on this if it appears I’m mistaken) but I’m now of the opinion that this phenomenon has its roots in the post-war climate of coming to terms with the events of the past. The world had only recently recovered some kind of equilibrium after years of violence and uncertainty. Those war years represented a loss of innocence for a generation, a time of intense emotional and physical challenge, so it seems natural that the modern art form of the cinema should try to address that. I can imagine audiences of the time would have identified with tales of people struggling to escape the horrors of a violent past and by doing so perhaps regain at least a shred of their former innocence.

The Brett Wade character is very obviously based on Doc Holliday, featuring all the familiar traits which have become associated with Wyatt Earp’s ally in many films over the years. It always provides a strong role for whoever plays it and Rory Calhoun is given plenty to get his teeth into. The combination of swaggering bravado on the outside and corrosive introspection in private automatically rounds out the Wade figure – there’s that essential loneliness and otherness that the more intriguing western characters tend to display. But there’s solidarity too as most of the main players in the drama are consumed with a desire to get back to an imagined idyll, a simpler existence they still recall yet have misplaced through time. When Mara Corday’s disillusioned saloon girl wistfully inquires “How do you turn back the clock?” you know that nobody will be able to hand her a satisfactory answer.

Piper Laurie does some good work too as the young woman rejected by her father and facing a highly uncertain future, trying to convince herself of her suitability for the new life she’s prepared to take on while still dreaming of the one she’s been deprived of. And then we have Alex Nicol, an ever interesting actor, who plays a Johnny Ringo type. Nicol is embittered from the moment we first see him, drinking heavily to deaden some half-defined inner pain, and later overcome and ultimately destroyed by a sense of guilt and inadequacy – I find him the most fascinating figure in the whole movie. The real villain is played by David Brian, a man whose career started off very strong but seemed to stutter soon after. He’s suave, slippery and deadly, a guy with no redeeming features but an excellent foil for the hero. The supporting cast is full of fine actors and it’s pity there wasn’t more for some of them to do: James Millican Lee Van Cleef, Skip Homeier, Kathleen Hughes, Edgar Buchanan and Roy Roberts being the most notable of the long list of familiar faces.

The last few years have seen more and more frequently neglected films from this era getting releases, and Dawn at Socorro is now reasonably easy to get hold of. There was a box set of Universal-International westerns (Horizons West) put out a few years ago and this title was included. There’s also a Spanish DVD, which I have, and the film seems to be available to view on YT as well. I’d imagine a 1954 movie would be shot with some widescreen process in mind – IMDb suggests 2.00:1 – but my Spanish copy presents it full frame, as can be seen from the screen captures above. That aside, the transfer is generally strong, with the Technicolor looking vibrant and the image sharp. There are a few incidences of print damage, but nothing all that distracting. Dawn at Socorro is a western I like very much, with good work by Calhoun and director Sherman. The whole thing has a handsome look, is pacy and well scripted with characterization developed as the story progresses rather than through tiresome and unnatural exposition. One to look out for if you haven’t yet seen it, or to view again if you’re already acquainted.

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55 thoughts on “Dawn at Socorro

  1. Another great-sounding western to catch up with! Thanks for that Colin – I am pretty sure I haven’t sen this one, but I do keep saying that! Re-watched MAN ALONE at the weekend after a very long break and think it still holds up by the way – sorry, an early digression 🙂

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      • I dare say the combination of Republic and Cinecolor don;t help but it is infuriating. I did wonder though if the film might not be better if the opening section int he desert were largely omitted, so there is more mystery about Milland if we just start with the horses arriving at town at night …

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  2. A very well chosen film Colin,and certainly one that deserves to be more well known.

    Just as an add-on to the comment above A MAN ALONE was shot in Trucolor as were all
    Republic Color films. Some of these Republic titles have aged better than others.
    Trucolor as with Cinecolor is problematic especially for re-issue imprints.
    I understand that element problems were why Olive Films bounced the proposed release
    of A MAN ALONE.
    Being somewhat cynical about the whole thing; Olive have bounced lots of Westerns so I think
    poor sales may also be a reason A MAN ALONE,THE LAST COMMAND,WARPATH and
    THE SAVAGE,among others were cancelled by Olive.
    If the mega value “Darn Good Westerns sets from VCI a few years back failed to sell that does
    not bode well.
    I don’t know how it fares for the rest of the planet but so many UK Western fans that I know
    seem perfectly happy with their enormous collections of “off air” films and rarely,if ever buy
    anything.
    Not all Republic titles are in bad shape;someone sent me a copy of JUBILEE TRAIL recently and
    it’s gorgeous (the print,not the film!) better than lots of DVD’s that I have seen.
    A much sought after Republic Western BRIMSTONE is soon to be released by Film Juwelen
    in Germany…let’s see how the Trucolor holds up on that one.
    At lease the clips on Amazon de don’t look to bad. In any case it’s one of the very best
    Joe Kane/Rod Cameron/Forrest Tucker Westerns and one of the few from this German
    imprint to have an English soundtrack.
    Certainly Trucolor problems are what’s holding up the Warner Archive release of MONTANA
    BELLE a very fine Allan Dwan Western. (MONTANA BELLE was originally a Republic title
    purchased by RKO) The Odeon UK release was abysmal and a French version slightly better.
    Warner Archive have released quiet a few Cinecolor films mainly from the Monogram/Allied
    Artists catalog. The quality varies depending on the elements that they are working with.
    Their release of HIAWATHA a few years back is stunning just about the nicest Cinecolor
    that I’ve seen. Furthermore the film was for many years considered “lost”
    The recent Archive release of BLACK GOLD with Anthony Quinn is also a beauty of a transfer
    with lovely Cinecolor,and the film is very good as well.

    Now back on topic.
    I think Blake,myself and others have championed George Sherman both here and elsewhere.
    RTHC is certainly doing it’s bit to spread the “word”
    DAWN AT SOCORRO was a good choice,although not as well known as others,it’s
    certainly one of Sherman’s best.
    I would also like to put in a word for d.o.p Carl Guthrie an “unsung hero” that I really admire.
    His photography is certainly one of DAWN AT SOCORRO’s strong points.
    Equally at home with Noir or Westerns or William Castle Horror; Guthrie was a standard bearer
    for “natural” lighting. Looking at his groundbreaking work on QUANTEZ one would think that
    Bruce Surtees and Clint Eastwood used this as a template on how they wanted their Westerns
    to look.
    Oddly enough Kino have just announced a Blu-Ray edition of GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY
    also shot by Guthrie. The Aussie Blu Ray that I already have is a marked improvement over
    the DVD. Especially striking on the Blu-Ray is the stark opening sequence which was a mess
    on the DVD. As mentioned before the wonderful Explosive Blu Ray of FORT MASSACRE
    (Guthrie,again) is far superior to the DVD version.

    Finally a word regarding David Brian,his glory days were during his early days at Warners.
    An early Warners effort THE GREAT JEWEL ROBBER seems to be on the “missing” list
    as yet and is by all accounts a much sought after Noir.
    Later when his film career faded David Brian became a regular guest star in many classic
    TV shows. I recently saw him in an episode of THE DAKOTAS (Fargo) and I have never seen him
    o9n such blistering form. It’s the old one about the aging gunfighter going blind,with Richard
    Jaeckel (who else!) on his case. Nevetheless its done with real style and Brian is terrific.
    In real life Brian for 45 years was married to lovely and talented Adrian Booth (Lorna Gray)
    one of my favorite of all the “Ladies of Republic”

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    • Yes, i think the condition of the elements, the work needed to get them up to scratch, and the likely returns on that investment is the reason so many Trucolor and Cinecolor films look weak.

      Glad you mentioned Guthrie, John, as I should have done so myself – his photography on this film (and others) is a major plus.

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  3. Great post on a really terrific movie.

    The more I poke around in these movies, the more I’m convinced that the ghost of WW2 hangs hangs heavy on 50s Westerns. I don’t think you’re off-base at all. (I’m sure you could say the same thing about film noir.)

    So glad to see Carl Guthrie being singled out. As I see it, his work on Quantez alone should have put him on the A list. (And I’m really stoked that Gunfight At Dodge City is getting the Blu-ray treatment.)

    Keep up the good work, Colin.

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    • Thanks, Toby, Quantez is a wonderful looking film, it’s all round great in fact, and Guthrie gave it such an evocative feel. It remains a film few people are familiar with and it deserves to be better known and much more widely appreciated.

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  4. Nice post Colin.
    I think you are right about the 50’s theme of seeking redemption for the sins of the past. And I feel it is particularly manifested in westerns.
    But I’m not sure it comes from a national or cultural guilt in general. I see it as a sort of pre-shock to the 60/70’s earthquake reassessment of capitalist values making its first appearance in the artists of the fifties – and film directors and writers would be no exception, with the genre of the western particularly suited to expressing it..

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    • Cheer’s Chris. My own hunch is that all of this stuff is linked, growing and evolving as it went along. The mid-20th century, with first the economic turmoil and then the war, bought about huge changes in society and culture, and that process continued through the 60s and 70s, each development giving rise to another. I still see the war as perhaps the defining moment though – perhaps not so much for the sense of collective shame humanity experienced as the determination to work towards something more positive. Having visited the abyss, there seems to have been a desire among that generation to seek out the better aspects of human nature – after all, they’d just seen the worst.

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  5. I agree, Colin. WW2 resulted in a certain lost innocence, if that’s the right word, and films almost immediately the war was over began to reflect that darker mood. People had seen and experienced horrors that film-making could not deny. Comes through very strongly in both crime dramas and ‘film noir’ but also of course in westerns, as has been said. This harder-edged film making continued right through the 50s and culminated in some of the finest, most mature examples of the different genres. I feel other changes in society(perhaps a lightening of mood as well as political waves) brought new direction from the mid 60s. For me personally, the post-war period through two decades were the zenith.

    On point, great review of a fine example of George Sherman’s craft. And….yet another example of Rory Calhoun’s terrific work in westerns.

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    • Thanks, Jerry, I think such momentous events were bound to effect and find expression in art and culture. Although, as both yourself and Chris note, other factors obviously had a part to play too.

      On Calhoun, I’m still in the process of catching up on his westerns. Of those I haven’t yet seen, I hope to track down Utah Blaine, Domino Kid and The Hired Gun at some point.

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    • I’ve liked all the Calhoun westerns I’ve seen up to now, although most of his late career efforts (I’m talking mid-1960s movies here) remain an unknown quantity to me.

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  6. I too have liked most of Calhoun’s westerns of the 50s. After The Saga of Hemp Brown, I have not find any of his western that appealing. Best regards.

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    • I haven’t seen a lot of Calhoun’s later work, Chris – I thought Apache Territory was fine but suffered lot from the lack of location shooting. The Gun Hawk is very good all round though. I haven’t seen any of the A C Lyles vehicles he then made, but I’ve never been impressed by those 60s Lyles films I’ve seen up to now.

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  7. Just thought that I would chip in with a few,possibly more obscure Calhoun pictures.
    Sadly the versions of SAGA OF HEMP BROWN out there are 4×3 instead of CinemaScope
    and is one of those widescreen Universal pictures that seem to be on the missing list,in the
    correct ratio.
    Was going to mention THE GUN HAWK which you have managed to track down,it’s a very
    studio-bound Western with hardly any location work,rather like THE RESTLESS BREED
    really. Having said that it’s offbeat and interesting and,furthermore Blake Lucas likes it.
    Also I am not mentioning TREASURE OF PANCHO VILLA which I have not seen for ages and
    I am waiting for the Warner Archive remastered version in the correct ratio.(2.0)
    I have seen all the A.C.Lyles Calhouns and remember BLACK SPURS being the best one.
    I would get them all if released purely for Calhoun’s involvement.
    Anyway here goes………

    MASSACRE RIVER John Rawlins (1949)
    Oddly subversive little Western.
    When cavalry officers Rory and Guy Madison are not out chasing Indians they like nothing
    better than “horsing” around in the bath-tub!
    Guy returns to barracks one time to find Rory busy sewing.
    “a woman’s work is never done” sighs Rory.
    Despite having stolen Rory’s sweetheart (Cathy Downs) Guy seems to prefer spending time
    with saloon floozie Carole Mathews.
    An independent production released by Allied Artists,with good production values for this
    sort of thing.

    THE YELLOW TOMAHAWK Lesley Selander (1954)
    The only time Rory worked for Selander.
    Fierce Bel-Air production which was severely cut by the censor.
    Scout Rory tries to keep the peace between whites and the Cheyenne.
    A borderline insane cavalry officer (Warner Anderson) ensures peace is short lived.
    Finally Rory must face his friend Cheyenne warrior Lee Van Cleef in one to one combat.
    In a typical Selander ironic twist,in their climatic duel, Lee is armed with a Winchester and Rory
    a bow and arrow.
    Sadly prints currently in circulation are black & white only.
    A color neg,however does exist.so hopefully some brave soul will consider releasing it.

    RAW EDGE John Sherwood (1956)
    Herbert Rudley tries to turn 1840’s Oregon into a sort of Medieval Fiefdom whereby any
    “unattached” woman becomes the “property” of the first man to claim her.
    Film is far too wacky to be offensive and it does have a terrific supporting cast.

    RIDE OUT FOR REVENGE Bernard Girard (1957)
    Rory this time plays an ex-sheriff who is very pro Indian.
    When his son is killed by the Cheyenne his loyalties are divided.
    Further problems are caused by the local cavalry captain (Lloyd Bridges) who happens to
    be a drunken lout.
    Stark Western nicely shot by Floyd Crosby.
    Produced by Kirk Douglas’ production company,one wonders if this was originally intended
    to star Douglas.

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    • I have Raw Edge and Ride Our for Revenge to hand and was thinking about giving the former a spin the other day as it happens.
      The Treasure of Pancho Villa sounds interesting and I may well go for that whenever WB get around to it.

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  8. Yep! Warners have several RKO Fifties Westerns in the pipeline including
    DEVIL’S CANYON TENSION AT TABLE ROCK.and RUN OF THE ARROW.
    People keep getting on their case about GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING,a lot of interest in
    that one.

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  9. Please spare a thought for an ageing Luddite!
    I now discover that Warner Archive have a you-tube site,page,whatever!
    Anyway according to that RUN OF THE ARROW is due in July!

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  10. Great stuff Colin – I watched it on YouTube, a bit disappointed because it wasn’t the best version, but it’s there so what else do I expect? Nothing wrong with the movie though, and I was suitably taken in by the tension wrought from yet another climactic showdown. Should be hardened to it by now, but of course by then I’d invested enough in the characters to care. Bloody directors, toying with my feelings, etc.

    The only Sherman I own, I think, is HELL BENT FOR LEATHER, which is unwatched but won’t remain that way for too long.

    I’ve never really associated Westerns of the 1950s with a sense of post-WW2 guilt. Clearly Noir was all about that, but maybe there is that element to these films also. What I find really fascinating is that publicly none of this was the case at the time – America had won, their men were the heroes, the Axis vicious monsters. And yet Hollywood tapped into the sensibility that affected many men privately, which I suppose is what made it so bankable and enduring. I wonder if this film, coming when it did, had some element of response to the Hollywood blacklists, with its people guilty of some previous crime and attempting to find redemption, but here I might be really wide of the mark…

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    • Glad you saw it, Mike, even if the YT quality left a bit to be desired.
      The characterization is very strong – Calhoun, Laurie and Nicol’s characters are all well rounded out despite the fairly short running time.

      I’ve come to appreciate Sherman more and more as time goes by, and Hell Bent for Leather is one of his best so you have something to look forward to there.

      I’m not sure about the blacklist point either, although I feel cinema can’t help but be affected on some level at least by events taking place in the real world at the time.

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  11. I second Colin’s support for HELL BENT FOR LEATHER.
    This is my personal favorite Audie Murphy Western.
    Wonderful widescreen compositions and lovely Lone-Pine locations too.

    Now I’m going off-topic for a while but will get back to the thread eventually,well sort of.
    There has been lots of discussion here about Noir and Post-War influence on film in
    general.I don’t want to really add to that except Sherman’s LARCENY is an interesting
    take on Post-War attitudes. With Dan Duryea’s heartless crew of grifters attempting to take
    a sweet natured but gullible widow of a war hero for everything she’s got,the film is acerbic,to
    say the least.
    One of the pleasures of collecting vintage films is finally catching up with titles that have a
    high reputation,that you have always wanted to discover for yourself.
    I have never seen any films in THE WHISTLER series but have always wanted to.
    Can they really be as good as their legendary status among film fanatics?
    On the strength of the first two from Sony’s MOD series the answer is a resounding YES!
    I must say the first two releases THE WHISTLER and THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER far
    exceeded my expectations.
    B Movies,for sure but with the sort of production values only a major studio (Columbia) can
    offer,.I understand Sony are to release seven of the eight films made.
    All but one of these films star Richard Dix a true super-star of the Twenties and Thirties,and
    although these films budget wise are a step down from his glory days they are a fitting end to
    his career.
    To steal a line from Laura,these films are “B Movie Bliss”
    George Sherman directed one of these films and it promises to be one of the very best.
    SECRETS OF THE WHISTLER was Dix’s penultimate film and also stars the mysterious Leslie
    Brooks (BLONDE ICE) Sherman,as noted before was no slouch as far as Noir was concerned
    and the film was pivotal for him as it was more or less his last B Movie as he moved on to being
    a top contract director at Universal.
    On the strength of the first two WHISTLER films the restoration from Sony is superb,but surely
    would it not have been better to release these films is a set,as Warners would have done.
    The high price that these MOD’s go for is made even worse as these films clock in at little
    over an hour. Having said that most Noir addicts will be thrilled to see these wonderful films
    finally get a proper release.

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    • John, those Whistler movies are ones I’m interested in myself and it’s good to hear they look so good and are entertaining – I’ve seen captures on DVD Beaver of a few of them now and the standard does seem more than acceptable. Given their short running times, it’s a pity they weren’t packaged as a box set though.

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      • Yes,Colin those captures look great don’t they.
        Another downside is that the sole Sherman entry SECRET OF THE WHISTLER
        Sony have resorted to the dull “generic” blue grid background with a black & white
        shot for the cover art.
        That’s a shame because there is some terrific artwork on- line for this film.
        This Sherman directed entry is reputedly one of the very best in a generally
        excellent series.

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          • Actually, Colin that’s not as far fetched as it might sound. Recently two top-notch European imprints (Germany’s Explosive and France’s Carlotta) have entered into exclusive deals with Sony regarding the release of classic Columbia titles. The fact that the Sony MOD releases are already remastered in high definition also means that a Blu-Ray set is not off the radar also. As these companies normally answer customer’s requests it would do no harm to e-mail them regarding The Whistler Series appearing as a set.
            I find the Warner Archive Facebook page very useful in asking questions regarding possible forthcoming releases. I have just requested several vintage Warner Bros films that I am very keen to see get released. I asked about HEART OF THE NORTH, ESPIONAGE AGENT, WILD BILL HICKOK RIDES, THE GREAT JEWEL ROBBER and THE LION AND THE HORSE. These fairly obscure films are ones that for a number of reasons I am very keen to see. Warners say they will get released once they have been remastered,so that’s good news, especially as there are no “rights” issues involved.

            Just this morning received the Carlotta Blu-Ray of 3.10 TO YUMA. The transfer looks wonderful with the right amount of grain to give it a “cinematic experience” feel. The French subs are removable BTW. Have not watched the film yet but the extras are very good, and in English. There is an interview with Delmer Daves’ son Michael who explains how Daves’ grandfather emigrated from Ireland and fought in the Civil War. He explains how Delmer as a young man lived among various Native American tribes.
            There is also a feature on a pet subject of mine….lighting in Fifties Westerns. I have spoken much here and over at Toby’s about my admiration for Carl Guthrie and his approach to natural lighting,especially in the Fifties Westerns that he worked on. I am equally impressed, naturally, with the groundbreaking work of Charles Lawton Jr. He was obviously a great favorite of Harry Joe Brown and Randolph Scott and worked on many of their pictures,including some of the very best DOOLINS OF OKLAHOMA, THE WALKING HILLS, MAN IN THE SADDLE. Lawton also worked on some of the very best Scott/Boetticher pictures.
            I have just ordered COWBOY on Blu-Ray also from Carlotta and am very much looking forward to watching this fine film in high definition. There are, as extras, part two of the interview with Delmer Daves’ son and more on Charles Lawton.

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            • Those Carlotta extras sound marvelous, and I’m very tempted to order them now – it’s not secret, I guess, that I’m a big fan of Daves’ work.

              Thanks too for that info on the Sony distribution deal in Europe. I agree that dropping a few suggestions to the companies concerned never hurts.

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  12. Not for the first time you persuaded me to look with fresh eyes at a film I’d responded to with only mild enthusiasm the first time around. And not for the first time I’m grateful for the nudge. I think I missed its quality on the first viewing because the theme/plot is a common one but the atmosphere is anything but. Kind of threw me, but this time I got it. Lovely film that I have a feeling will become a regular on the viewing list going forward. And man, I really wish Piper Laurie had done more than a couple of westerns!

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    • That’s great to hear. Actually, I’m doubly pleased – firstly that you felt like going back to watch the movie again, and also that you had a different reaction to it this time.
      I agree too that it would have been good to see Laurie in more westerns.

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  13. I dearly love DAWN AT SOCORRO and appreciate that this has remained current here long enough for me to make some comments.

    This is one of my favorite Sherman films and you have in some way covered many of the reasons for this, all of them of course related as they should be in any good film. First of all, there is the atmosphere created in which the story plays out. I strongly agree about Carl Guthrie (not even sure that his work in QUANTEZ really surpasses this, though in certain ways it jumps out even more). Lighting in Technicolor with deep black shadows at play with the rich colors is one of the beauties of a film like this, and can especially be expected from this studio in the 50s. I would say that along with Sherman and Guthrie, the art directors and set decorators share some of the credit.

    Genuinely related to the visual look is George Zuckerman’s screenplay from his original story (and I think you might have mentioned him for this imaginative variation on much-traveled territory–he was after all, a brilliant writer who wrote the scripts for Sirk melodramas WRITTEN ON THE WIND and THE TARNISHED ANGELS), because one thing he provided to the film is the three part structure of the two towns Lordsburg in the first part and Socorro in the last part and the stagecoach journey in the middle. It’s truly wonderful that mood and atmosphere of those interiors is so artistically sustained in the middle part of the stagecoach journey, which is no less inspired for color and expressive lighting–its a sombre landscape through which they travel, and that serves the deepening of the story so well.

    Because it’s here that the resonance of Brett, Rannah and Jimmy really takes hold (though it’s felt early in the film, as Jimmy awakes from an alcoholic haze too late to participate in the first act shootout while Rannah paces in front of her hotel window, almost absently taking in her first view of Brett during this sequence too). I think the three characters are equally well-realized, all at a defining moment of their lives. Like you, Colin, I don’t lack sympathy for Jimmy and agree that the high angle in the final gunfight is meant for us to see the two men dispassionately–in ways that Jimmy himself has alluded to in earlier dialogue, they have long traveled down the same road and do mirror each other. And Rannah is the female version of being presented with that possible life that will use her up if she allows herself to give in to it.

    I’m comfortable with Jimmy as the villain, structurally at least, because 50s villains often have a measure of sympathy and a lot of complexity. For me, if there is a weakness in the film, it is that second villain Braden is more fixed, a man with no good moral code and willing to take Rannah into prostitution. He serves the story but that’s all. I’m not saying Brian does not do well with the part, but he doesn’t have the opportunity to become an indelible character as Calhoun, Laurie and Nicol all do and they are all great here.

    As for Sherman’s highly creative response to Zuckerman’s script, I’ll just point out that it’s no surprise. The redemption theme plays strongly for him, especially in his mature films, and this anticipates other of Sherman’s best movies to come–THE TREASURE OF PANCHO VILLA (with another terrific role for Calhoun there), REPRISAL! and THE LAST OF THE FAST GUNS also especially strong in this regard.

    Really, there are good reasons to consider Sherman a major figure, especially in Westerns though his gifts are evident in so many of his other movies too.

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    • As always, plenty of good commentary there, Blake. And yes, you’re right, Zuckerman should have been mentioned in this piece as the script is a strong one and all the other strengths of the movie grow out of that.
      David Brian’s character is pretty one-dimensional – he’s introduced in the saloon as a bad man and continues to be just that all the way to the end with no variation and no hint of how he came to that place in life. Nicol’s part is far more rounded and fascinating – most interpretations of the “Ringo” character tend to be anyway – and he’s certainly worthy of consideration as one of the many wonderful western villains of the decade.

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  14. Want to add a few more comments separately so easy to answer.

    First, re other movies starring Rory Calhoun that were discussed, Calhoun is a favorite actor of mine (so much that my wife and I named one of our dogs “Rory”) so I mostly like all the ones that were named, at least to some extent.

    But I very strongly feel the one you should give priority to is FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (also 1954, it was his next Universal-International movie after DAWN AT SOCORRO). When this title last came up, you hadn’t seen it so just a reminder that it’s waiting for you. This gem is just so hard to beat–everything about it is superb, but especially that Calhoun/Colleen Miller love scene, so lovingly and creatively realized by director Richard Carlson that it runs for six minutes. I yield to no one in my love for RED SUNDOWN, DAWN AT SOCORRO and THE TREASURE OF PANCHO VILLA but for me this is the best with Rory, surpassing even Tourneur’s beautiful WAY OF A GAUCHO and that’s saying a lot (GAUCHO of course is marginal as a Western–best-described as an “Argentinian”–but it shares a lot with the genre, enough to be thought of with those others and also deserves to be treasured).

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  15. I would run out of time if I tried to get in too much to the discussion of the effect of the WWII on Westerns of the postwar period, but just to say I agree with what you said about it.

    I reread what is in your piece and will just remind her that the word “guilt” is not there, and as I understood it that’s not where you were going with this. Rather, I believe as you suggest the experience of the war had a profound effect on how people (especially those that fought in maybe) looked at life and death. In Westerns, it’s taken with a new seriousness–death has weight, and lives given in some way to killing others are not celebrated, so the redemption theme comes in, both for gunfighters and those seeking revenge. Also, audiences are no longer going to accept Indians as being one dimensional savages as they often had before but to see them in a human way, and mostly sympathetic to their culture and the dispossession they suffered as a result of that. That takes hold in 1950 in a strong way, but is anticipated earlier in a movie like FORT APACHE (1948).

    Really, a think a new depth and seriousness begins to gather around the stories, which remain the familiar ones but articulated with a heightened sensitivity, in the seminal year of 1946. I have found it easy to respond positively to every Western I’ve seen from that year and especially feel that Tourneur’s CANYON PASSAGE and Ford’s MY DARLING CLEMENTINE were easily the most mature Westerns yet to be made and the most beautiful too.

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    • Yes, I deliberately avoided referring to guilt, although I understand how others may feel that is or should be a part of what i was alluding to. I think the war experience, whether directly in combat or not, affected the tone of filmmaking, bringing that seriousness you mention and also an attempt to draw something which is ultimately positive from the human conflicts depicted.

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  16. Colin, I don’t know if you saw some comments I made not long ago at 50 Westerns from the 50s, but I was around seeing most of these first-run (first week) in the 50s and never saw 2 to 1. That’s a myth derived from Universal promoting the idea in the studio books but even it could be shown that way, I don’t think anything was ideally composed for that. Yes, wide screen became current but for many U-I movies, my memory is that 1.66 might often have been considered more ideal than 1.85, and that’s based on how they were projected the first week.

    1954 is especially problematical (and some 1955 films too) in that sometimes directors took advantage of full frame and may have composed most ideally for Academy ratio rather than the wider one. I did see DAWN AT SOCORRO first-run and it was fairly narrow, definitely not 2;1 or anywhere near that. As you’ll note from the frame captures here, it looks fine full frame.

    At least it seems to–and I have to acknowledge one thing that is bewildering me because I watched the movie in the “Horizons West” edition just about a year ago. It looked good, but in the climactic showdown hand between Wade and Braden, even though we always knew who was winning, one of Wade’s cards to the left was always just out view. It made me wonder if this was intended wider but then somehow given a full frame image in the transfer–or maybe this is my TV because I know this does not make sense.

    In any event, you’ll see 2:1 in SuperScope (not every film identified and shown that way but most of them I guess). That’s other studios. But this is not a ratio that can be fairly attached to many films of the period. 1.85 is generally comfortable for non-anamorphic but it wasn’t always so.

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    • That’s interesting. The 1.66:1 ratio would, I think, look fine for this film. I know what you mean about the obscured card and I did find that odd too – my guess is we’re looking at a slightly zoomed open matte transfer, which sometimes happens.

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    • Yes, Laura’s piece on the film is an excellent appraisal of its strengths and I’m glad you linked to it and hopefully it will send some readers over there to check out her always astute take.

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  17. DAWN AT SOCORRO has always been one of my top favourites ever since I first saw it on it’s cinema release backin the 1950’s,and Rory Calhoun one of my favourite Western actors. One film which you have not mentioned and which mines a similar Earp/Doc Holliday theme is POWDER RIVER.
    Just of main topic you note above the Cinecolor BRIMSTONE, I recall seeing this on 2 occasions in the 1950’sat local cinemas and both times it was Black and White – no colour.Just last month I was in USA and purchased a 8 Western Collection with CANYON PASSAGE; MAN FROM THE ALAMO;WAR ARROW; LAWLESS BREED; REDHEAD FROM WYOMING; SEMINOLE;GUN FOR A COWARD+ QUANTEZ for $5.00 at a Walmart in Tn

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      • BRIMSTONE (1949) was in fact filmed in Trucolor which was Republic’s color process.
        It may have been shown in the UK in black & white for some reason but would have played in the
        USA in Trucolor.
        Over at Toby’s we have been talking lots about those Republic (and Allied Artists) Westerns
        being released in Germany by Film Juwelen,mostly with German only soundtracks.
        BRIMSTONE was announced as having an English soundtrack but on Amazon.de it’s listed
        as German only.
        At any rate there is a clip of BRIMSTONE on Amazon.de in all its Trucolor glory.
        BRIMSTONE is one of the very best Rod Cameron,Forrest Tucker,Joe Kane Westerns with
        Walter Brennan virtually reprising his “Old Man Clanton” role.

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  18. The “discussion” has been an on-going thing Colin.
    Basically Film Juwelen in Germany have been releasing stacks of old Republic
    Westerns mostly with German only soundtracks,much to everyone’s annoyance.

    Colin,I do see the news and mostly as far as the UK goes it’s mainly about the situation in
    Greece.
    I do hope you are coping OK with regard to cash machines,supermarkets and general day
    to day living.
    Despite all the problems,and I am sure I speak for all the RTHC regulars; its fine that you are
    keeping your blog interesting and fast moving.

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    • Cheers, John. I’m back in NI on holiday at the moment – but my attention has, not surprisingly, been focused elsewhere lately. Thanks for the good wishes though.

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  19. Yes, well-mentioned, John. It must be hard for you, Colin, watching the crisis in Greece unfolding. Whatever is stitched together now, somehow the outcome doesn’t look too rosy.

    On subject, it’s great that this enjoyable thread has taken off again, mainly thanks to Blake wanting to add his as-always cogent thoughts.

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  20. Very late to the party, Colin, but wanted to chip in my two penneth, for what it’s worth. Just caught up with this film and was mightily impressed, for all the reasons you state in your insightful review and were echoed in the comments above. I have to say, I was surprised how good Piper Laurie was in a western setting; I’ve liked her in other genres but wasn’t sure how she’d work here, but she acquits herself very well. Calhoun is always a real treat in most anything he did, but especially westerns. He’s a real cool cucumber here, of course, but also has some meat to chew on. Got a kick out of Edgar Buchanan’s fidgety sheriff and of course am always glad to see the likes of Lee Van Cleef, Skip Homier and James Millican (agree with you that it’d be nice to have seen more from the latter especially). It’s good you point out the lighting and direction in this one; what could have been a lot of dull, functional interiors were given a lot of atmosphere thanks to the craft involved. A strong story, interesting characters and some good action – can’t ask for much more than that in a western…or any movie, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, and don’t worry – it’s never too late to add your thoughts, Jeff.
      It’s great that you got the chance to see the film and liked it too. There are plenty of movies like this which have become a bit obscure due to the limited opportunities, until recently, for seeing them. There are plenty of positives and few negatives on show here – as you say, not much more you can ask for.

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