Thursday, February 17, 2011

Marked for Murder (PRC, 1945)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

On Monday night Charles and I had watched a considerably less exalted movie: Marked for Murder, a 1945 PRC production which despite its noir-ish title was actually a “B” Western starring stalwart Tex Ritter (who’d played a singing cowboy in a series for Grand National in the 1930’s — and though neither was a major studio, there was a considerable gap between a quality-conscious independent like Grand National and a grind-’em-out company like PRC whose few quality films seem to have come about almost by accident) and PRC regular Dave O’Brien in yet another tale about the war between sheepherders and cattle ranchers. Local attorney Tex Haines (Tex Ritter), when he isn’t hanging around his office leading folk-music sings (he and a pair of tall, gangly young men billed as the Milo Twins open the movie with a quite nice version of the folk song “Froggie Went A-Courtin’” — odd that there’d be a song recorded by both Tex Ritter and Bruce Springsteen! — and though the rest of the songs in the film are a bit disappointing after that one, they’re still a lot of fun to hear), is working with Texas Rangers Dave Wyatt (Dave O’Brien) and Panhandle Perkins (Guy Wilkerson) to forestall a range war — only they get lured out of town and decoyed and the war nearly starts anyway.

It’s not much of a movie but it’s strikingly directed by movie veteran Elmer Clifton — some of it’s plainly shot in the manner of a million “B” Westerns before it but some of it looks almost noir (but then Ritter was prone to that sort of thing — one of his better Grand National films, Rollin’ Plains, features a climactic sequence in which actor Hobart Bosworth is made up as a ghost to try to force a confession from the no-goodniks who tried to kill him, and it’s one of the spookiest things ever put on screen in what’s ordinarily considered a pretty inoffensive genre) — and it’s fun, though it’s at its most entertaining when Ritter and/or the Milo Twins are singing. Ritter had a long career and his most famous film is one in which he didn’t actually appear on screen: High Noon, in which he sang the famous song throughout (and sang it beautifully, with a chilling restraint absolutely appropriate for the movie and a far cry from Frankie Laine’s strained, overwrought dramatics on the hit record on Columbia); in 1962 he recorded an album with Stan Kenton for Capitol, and in the 1970’s, when country violinist Charlie Daniels gave a typically snotty interview in which he said he’d pay $10,000 to any jazz musician who could make a decent country record, Stan Kenton’s manager sent him a bill for $10,000, a copy of the Kenton/Ritter LP and a note from Kenton saying, “It was a real pleasure to record with Tex Ritter. He was a real gentleman” — as compared to he didn’t have to say whom!