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Montana Moon

Montana Moon(1930)

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teaser Montana Moon (1930)

Song of the Saddle (1936) was Dick Foran's second Warner Bros. Western as a "singing cowboy" star; the first was Moonlight on the Prairie (1935). In Song of the Saddle, Foran plays a character known as The Singing Kid who is out to avenge the murder of his father. The movie is noteworthy in part because of a supporting cast that includes Roy Rogers as part of the singing group The Sons of the Pioneers. Rogers joins the other "Sons" and Foran in tunes including "Underneath a Western Sky" and "A Happy, Rovin' Cowboy." Within two years Rogers would emerge as star of his own singing cowboy movies. Among other supporting players are child actress Bonita Granville, who played Nancy Drew in a film series of the 1930s and later became a producer of television's "Lassie" series; and former silent-screen star William Desmond, who plays a stage driver.

Foran (1910-1979) was born in Flemington, N.J., and broke into show business as a band vocalist. He made his movie debut in 1934 and appeared in several "B" movies under the name Nick Foran. In addition to his string of Westerns at Warner Bros., he played leads in several of the studio's minor productions and supporting roles in "A" movies. Some of the better-known films among his credits are Four Daughters (1938), My Little Chickadee (1940), Fort Apache (1948) and Donovan's Reef (1963).

Producer: Bryan Foy
Director: Louis King
Screenplay: William Jacobs
Cinematography: Daniel B. Clark
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Original Music: M.K. Jerome, Jack Scholl, Howard Jackson (uncredited), Bernhard Kaun (uncredited)
Editing: Harold McLernon
Principal Cast: Dick Foran (Frank Wilson Jr., aka The Singing Kid), Alma Lloyd (Jen Coburn), Charles Middleton (Phineas P. Hook) and The Sons of the Pioneers: Hugh Farr, Karl Farr, Bob Nolan, Roy Rogers, Tim Spencer

By Roger Fristoe

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teaser Montana Moon (1930)

Men Of Action Blaze A Trail Of Love And Lead As Law And Order Comes To TheOld West!
Tag Line for Harlem Rides the Range

"Hi ho, Stardusk!" was the cry as Herbert Jeffries rode his trusty horsefor the fourth and last time in this rare all-black Western released in1939. Despite the title, the only hint of Harlem in Harlem Rides theRange was to be found in the low comedy provided by Jeffries'sidekicks, Lucius Brooks and F.E. Miller, vaudeville veterans who firstmade their name in all-black theatres. For the rest, the film was a clearimitation of the low-budget westerns of the time, with an emphasis on talk,music and one of the staples of the genre, the chase.

Harlem Rides the Range is a race film, a low-budget picture madespecifically for black audiences and shown primarily in segregatedtheaters. The tradition had begun in the silent days whenAfrican-Americans responded to the vicious racial stereotypes in D.W.Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) by producing movies of theirown with more positive images of black life. By the sound era, most ofthem were produced by white men like Richard C. Kahn, the man behindHarlem Rides the Range. Yet they still served an important purpose.They gave black performers an alternative to the demeaning roles they hadto play in most Hollywood films while also giving black writers likeSpencer Williams and Francis Miller, who wrote and acted in Harlem Ridesthe Range, a rare chance to work in the movies. Williams was one ofthe few black filmmakers of the era who got to do more important work. In1941 he moved into directing, creating The Blood of Jesus, apowerful look at the role of religion in rural black life that has been addedto the National Film Registry. (Williams would achieve his greatest famewith white audiences as Andy in the television version of Amos andAndy, 1951.

Unlike The Blood of Jesus, however, Harlem Rides the Range was a more commercial venture. Jeffries was a cabaret singer who had first jumped into the saddle two years earlier for Harlem on the Prairie. A year later, Kahn cast him as Bob Blakefor the first time in Two Gun Man From Harlem, followed by TheBronze Buckaroo. Each had a simple, formulaic plot, with thelight-skinned Jeffries saving the leading lady from darker-skinned villainswhile also singing a few songs. Jeffries took his Western stardomseriously. He even imitated Hollywood Western stars by outfitting his carwith bronze Western motifs for personal appearances. Unfortunately, hisfilms didn't catch on in northern theatres (they did better in theSouth), and Harlem Rides the Range was the last of the Western racefilms. Jeffries switched from white hat to black tie when he joined theDuke Ellington Orchestra, then moved to France to run a night club. Morerecently, he has appeared in documentaries about the history of black filmand, in 1996, released The Bronze Buckaroo Rides Again, acountry/western album.

Producer/Director: Richard C. Kahn
Screenplay: Spencer Williams, Jr. & Francis Miller
Cinematography: Roland Price & Clark Ramsey
Art Direction: Vin Taylor
Music: Lew Porter
Cast: Herbert Jeffries (Bob Blake), Lucius Brooks (Dusty), F.E.(Francis) Miller (Slim Perkins the Cook), Artie Young (Miss MargaretDennison), Clarence Brooks (Bradley), Spencer Williams (Mr. Watson).

By Frank Miller

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teaser Montana Moon (1930)

Home in Oklahoma (1946) is considered a typical Roy Rogers musical Western -- and one of his best. As a crusading frontier newspaper editor investigating the murder of a cattle rancher, Rogers is surrounded by his usual support group: soon-to-be wife Dale Evans, playing a visiting big-city reporter; wizened sidekick Gabby Hayes, as a ranch foreman; and the ever-faithful Trigger, billed as "The Smartest Horse in the Movies." Songs include the title tune as performed by Rogers, Bob Nolan and The Sons of the Pioneers; "Miguelto," a novelty tune performed by Roy and Dale; and "Hereford Heaven," a tune written by Oklahoma Governor Roy J. Turner and performed by the Flying L Ranch Quartette.

Home in Oklahoma is one of more than two dozen Rogers Westerns directed by William Witney, who had worked his way up through the studio system from messenger boy to a director of serials for Republic Studios. After his tenure with the Rogers Westerns, Witney moved on to direct other action films including The Bonnie Parker Story (1958), Master of the World (1961) and Darktown Strutters (1975). In newspaper interviews and at film festivals, writer-director Quentin Tarantino has championed Witney as an unsung and influential master of filmmaking, particularly in his handling of the Rogers Westerns. Tarantino also has great admiration for Trigger, calling him "the greatest animal actor who ever was."

Producer: Edward J. White
Director: William Witney
Screenplay: Gerald Geraghty
Cinematography: William Bradford
Art Direction: Frank Hotaling
Original Music: Joseph Dubin, Jack Elliott (uncredited), Tim Spencer (uncredited)
Editing: Lester Orlebeck
Costume Design: Adele Palmer
Cast: Roy Rogers (Himself), George "Gabby" Hayes (Gabby Whittaker), Dale Evans (Connie Edwards), Carol Hughes (Jan Holloway), George Meeker (Steve) and Bob Nolan and The Sons of the Pioneers

By Roger Fristoe

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teaser Montana Moon (1930)

The jazz age met the Wild West in Montana Moon (1930), a film that, quite by accident,introduced the singing cowboy to the screen. Originally, another film, Dangerous Nan McGrew, had been slated as the screen's first musical Western, but it got held up in post-production. Ironically, both films were directed by silent-screen veteran Malcolm St. Clair, who went to MGM for Montana Moon after completing the earlier film only to see the later picture hit the screen first.

Of course, making history was far from anybody's mind at MGM when they putMontana Moon into production. They were simply capitalizing on thegrowing popularity of starlet Joan Crawford, who had established herself asthe ultimate jazz baby with her sizzling Charleston in the 1928 silentOur Dancing Daughters. This time out, she plays a Western lassschooled in the East. When daddy calls her home, she chickens out at thelast minute, leaving her train as soon as it hits Montana in hopes ofcatching another line back to the big city. Instead, she falls in lovewith a small-town cowboy (Johnny Mack Brown), only to jeopardize theirrelationship when her city friends show up for the wedding, and she sharesa torrid tango with old flame Ricardo Cortez.

Crawford had made a successful transition to talking films and herthroaty voice added a new dimension to her screen image that made herstand out from the other movie hopefuls who had arrived in Hollywood duringthe '20s. With the singing and dancing skills she'd developed as aBroadway chorus girl, she was a natural for early talkies, which oftenadded musical numbers as a novelty. She had shown her stuff in MGM's earlysound showcase, The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and got to sing againin Montana Moon, though none of the songs made it to the hit parade.At the same time, the film gave her some glamorous gowns from Adrian,beautifully shot by Greta Garbo's favorite cinematographer, WilliamDaniels, to please her growing legions of female fans.

In an unusual move for the period, the studio sent St. Clair and his castto Montana for location shooting (usually Westerns were shot much closer tohome in California). Beyond giving the film some spectacular scenery, themove also helped create a strong sense of cohesion among the cast and crew,who spent most of their off hours together playing games and rehearsingscenes.

But the location shoot also caused problems. Because of delays in gettingthe script through the Production Code Administration, Hollywood'sself-censorship organization, the film was completed before the PCA's head,Col. Jason Joy, could get back to them with the changes necessary to getthe film past local censors. By the time St. Clair got the lengthy list ofcuts, it was too late to go back to Montana and re-shoot the offendingscenes, so the film was literally cut to pieces. Some of the censors'demands make little sense today. In a joke about a miracle medicine thatcured "bronchitis, falling hair, dandruff, eczema, earache, baggy knees,chilblains and pains in the patio," Joy considered the word patio obscene.More understandable, though no less damaging, were jokes about thecowhands' reactions to Brown and Crawford's developing romance. Variousquips and reaction shots as the newlyweds prepared for their wedding nighthad to go. Most damaging, however, was Joy's demand that all shots ofdrinking be eliminated since the country was still under Prohibition. Notonly did this mean cutting perfectly innocent scenes from the weddingcelebration in which people were shown drinking in the background, but St.Clair had to cut the scenes in which Crawford gets tipsy at her ownwedding. Unfortunately, those scenes explained her flirtatious behavior,so instead of seeming foolish, the character comes off as downright promiscuous.

When Montana Moon finally made it into theaters, it faced anotherproblem. By 1930 the early vogue for musicals had passed. Audiences wereavoiding films with musical numbers, and some films were even advertisedwith the line "Not a musical." As a result, the screen's first singingcowboy experienced less-than-enthusiastic response at the box office.Fortunately, that didn't hurt either star. Crawford would go on to one ofher biggest early hits when she replaced Norma Shearer in the romancePaid later that year, while Brown would reach stardom briefly a fewmonths later as the star of MGM's Billy the Kid. As for the singingcowboy, he would become a staple of low-budget Westerns, which delightedrural audiences through the end of the '40s thanks to such stars as GeneAutry, Roy Rogers and even the young (and dubbed) John Wayne.

Producer/Director: Malcolm St. Clair
Screenplay: Sylvia Thalberg, Frank Butler, Joe Farnham
Based on a story by Thalberg and Butler
Cinematography: William Daniels
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Nacio Herb Brown, Clifford Gray, Herbert Stothart
Principal Cast: Joan Crawford (Joan), Johnny Mack Brown (Larry), DorothySebastian (Elizabeth), Ricardo Cortez (Jeff), Benny Rubin (The Doctor),Cliff Edwards (Froggy), Karl Dane (Hank).

By Frank Miller

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