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In the Western The Last Challenge (1967), Glenn Ford plays a town marshal with a reputation as the fastest draw around. Chad Everett is a young gunslinger who wants to claim that title for himself, and Angie Dickinson is a saloonkeeper who loves Ford and wants him alive. Variety called the picture "good entertainment" with "satisfactory performances, sound direction and a screenplay that keeps its characters credible Richard Thorpe, who handles dual chore of producer-director, maintains a fast pace."
In fact, The Last Challenge was Thorpe's last movie. He retired afterwards to Palm Springs at the age of 71, and he died in 1991 at age 96. Thorpe is not a director who is often written about or remembered today, for the simple reason that most of his movies were unmemorable. He turned out likable and often profitable genre films with no real personal imprint. Perhaps the most interesting fact about him is that he was one of the most prolific directors ever to work in Hollywood. In 44 years, stretching from the peak of the silent era to a made-for-television movie, Thorpe directed 179 features. By comparison, Michael Curtiz directed 164 films and John Ford made 132. Only William Beaudine directed more (182), and as Shawn Levy has written, "even a charitable eye notes that Beaudine was making Bowery Boys comedies and sex education films at a time when Thorpe was working with Joan Crawford, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart and Elizabeth Taylor."
Still, the fact is that in most cases, the pictures Thorpe made with these stars wound up being among their most minor credits. James Mason famously (and bluntly) explained this oddity by saying of Thorpe, "His reputation for only needing one take is why we don't remember his films." Thorpe did work quickly, often covering scenes in only master shots - a purely functional method of directing. It stands to reason, however, that if you make 179 movies, there are bound to be some good ones in there somewhere. Thorpe worked in all genres, and there are a few quite decent credits on his resume, such as Night Must Fall (1937), Cry Havoc (1943), Ivanhoe (1952) and Jailhouse Rock (1957), one of Elvis Presley's best films. His sheer longevity at MGM also created a steady cash flow for the studio; studio executive Benny Thau once told Thorpe that he had made more money for MGM than any other director.
Co-star Angie Dickinson made The Last Challenge immediately after filming John Boorman's neo-noir masterpiece Point Blank (1967). The very solid supporting cast includes Western favorites Royal Dano (Bend of the River (1952), Johnny Guitar (1954), Man of the West, 1958) and Jack Elam (Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Support Your Local Sheriff, 1969).
Producer/Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Albert Maltz (also novel), Robert Emmett Ginna
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Film Editing: Richard Farrell
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Urie McCleary
Music: Richard Shores
Cast: Glenn Ford (Marshal Dan Blaine), Angie Dickinson (Lisa Denton), Chad Everett (Lot McGuire), Gary Merrill (Squint Calloway), Jack Elam (Ernest Scarnes), Delphi Lawrence (Marie Webster).
by Jeremy Arnold