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Coroner Creek

Coroner Creek(1948)

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teaser Coroner Creek (1948)

An unmistakable product of the film noir era, Coroner Creek (1948) marks one of the closest attempts to meld that shadowy post-WWII style with western conventions as filmmakers struggled with new variations to spin on the tried-and-true oater formulas. Randolph Scott tweaks his good-guy image here playing Chris Denning, who, in the best Cornell Woolrich tradition, vows to hunt down and kill the parties responsible for the death of his fiance, who killed herself when faced with a staged Indian raid. The growingly popular conceit of a single-minded, ruthless protagonist had already infiltrated the mainstream, largely thanks to Alan Ladd in This Gun for Hire (1942), and Scott's increasing willingness to risk alienating his audience results in some fascinating character shading here, coupled with a heavy amount of physical abuse.

Based on a novel by western writer Luke Short (who also provided the source material for other shoot-'em-ups like 1951's Vengeance Valley and 1948's Blood on the Moon), the film was scripted by inventive scribe Kenneth Gamet, best known for a string of solid John Wayne vehicles including Wake of the Red Witch (1948), Flying Leathernecks (1951) and Flying Tigers (1942). Coroner Creek came near the end of the career of director Ray Enright, who started in silent films working on Mack Sennett programmers. After making his directorial debut with a Rin-Tin-Tin vehicle (Tracked by the Police, [1927]), he became a reliable helmer for everything from westerns to musicals; today his best-remembered film is most likely the eye-popping Busby Berkeley musical, Dames [1934].

Virginia-born Randolph Scott had been slowly earning stardom in a variety of genres since the beginning of the sound era, often in light comedies (including co-starring in My Favorite Wife [1940] with roommate Cary Grant). His move to westerns proved the most fruitful, and it was in the late 1940s that he truly came into his own as an actor. His roles remained almost exclusively in westerns until his retirement into private wealth in 1962, capping off his career with his most acclaimed role in Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country. Coroner Creek was also significant to Scott as the first film for him and producer Harry Joe Brown for Producers-Actors, a development company under the auspices of Columbia Pictures. Due to the limited budget, the film was shot in a cheaper two-tone color process called Cinecolor, reminiscent of the earliest versions of WarnerColor.

While Scott provided the marquee value, Coroner Creek marked the star's second teaming with actor Forrest Tucker, following the previous year's Gunfighters (1947). The two men (both of whom clocked in at well over six feet in height) share the most protracted and violent fight scene of the film, making it a highlight of their four films together (followed by The Nevadan [1950] and Rage at Dawn [1955]). Tucker had only begun Hollywood acting in 1940, and while he also made his fair share of westerns, he branched off into other genres like British monster films (The Abominable Snowman [1957], The Crawling Eye [1958]) and quite a few comedic roles, including his fondly-remembered turn as the ill-fated Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside in 1958's Auntie Mame.

The rest of the supporting cast includes a solid roster with two name-value females, despite the limited potential for any romantic interest: frequent character actress and TV staple Marguerite Chapman and, in her next-to-last role, programmer lead Sally Eilers, whose previous film was Edgar G. Ulmer's Strange Illusion [1945], an oddball Hamlet-goes-noir,. Finally, suave villain Younger Miles is played by George Macready, who had already specialized in playing cads and had come fresh off his most famous roles in Gilda [1946] and the cult classic My Name Is Julia Ross [1948]. A reputable performer who remained busy and in-demand on television well into the late 1960s, Macready offers one of his most novel spins on utter evil, even if he's ultimately shown up by the rousing and justly celebrated Scott/Tucker brawling which still makes this a popular television and home video staple.

Producer: Harry Joe Brown
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: Kenneth Gamet, Luke Short (novel)
Cinematography: Fred Jackman, Jr.
Film Editing: Harvey Manger
Art Direction: George Van Marter
Music: Rudy Schrager
Cast: Randolph Scott (Chris Denning), Marguerite Chapman (Kate Hardison), George Macready (Younger Miles), Sally Eilers (Della Harms), Edgar Buchanan (Sheriff O'Hea), Barbara Read (Abbie Miles).

by Nathaniel Thompson

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