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Twelve-year-old Jeff Blaine lives in the small western town of Plainsville where he is being reared by his aunt, Ruth Sewall, who operates a tinsmith business. Jeff's mother died when he was four months old and his father Nate left shortly thereafter and became an outlaw. One day, Nate returns and tells Ruth that he has recently been involved in a gunfight. Realizing that his days may be numbered, he asks to see his son again. After Jeff rejects Nate as his father, Ruth, who does not welcome Nate's visit, returns the small amount of money he has sent for Jeff's support and asks him to leave the next morning. In town, when Nate meets old friend Marshal Elec Blessingham in the saloon, Elec chooses to ignore the fact that Nate is a wanted outlaw. The next day, unknown to Ruth, Nate ingratiates himself with Jeff by showing him how to shoot his Colt 44. Later, Ruth reluctantly agrees that Nate can stay a few more days. Soon, Jeff is calling Nate "Paw," but runs into trouble at school when another boy, Ben Jorgenson, says that Jeff's father is a murderer. Jeff tells Ben to get his father's gun and meet him later. Instead, Ben brings his father, who beats Jeff, who is wearing Nate's gun. Nate, Elec and Ruth arrive soon after and, after Nate slugs Jorgenson, Ruth blames Nate for involving Jeff with guns and swears she will kill him if he returns again. Later, when Ruth comes to town to obtain some medicine for Jeff, Nate tells her that he is leaving and intends to take Jeff with him. Soon after, two former associates of Nate, Bill Somerson and Ed Wyatt, rob the Plainsville bank and kill the manager. Ruth, the sole witness to the robbery, lies to Elec that Nate was the perpetrator in order to prevent him from taking Jeff. Nate is arrested and when Jeff visits him in jail, Nate, believing now that his son is better off without him, lets Jeff believe that he is guilty. Outwitting a deputy, Nate escapes from jail and rides away. Ten years pass and Jeff is still living with Ruth and is now working as a security agent for the stagecoach line, but is embittered by the town's ostracism of him. Jeff is courting two young women, the prim Amy Wentworth and the more adventurous Lila Costain, who runs a ranch she inherited from her father. When Jeff assists Elec and a posse in foiling a stagecoach robbery, they shoot three of the robbers, including Ed Wyatt. As he dies, Wyatt recognizes Jeff as Nate's son and tells him and Elec that he and Somerson committed the bank robbery, not Nate. After Jeff confronts Ruth, she admits that she lied to prevent Nate from taking him away because she wanted Jeff to grow up to be happy and decent. Jeff then leaves Ruth's house and decides to find Nate. Although Lila tries to dissuade Jeff and asks him to stay with her, he is obsessed with joining his father, who has continued his criminal career, in exacting revenge against the townspeople. Somerson contacts Jeff with a proposal that they and two others set up a payroll robbery based upon Jeff's knowledge of the stage line's operations. Later, Nate visits Ruth and reveals that he never told Jeff that she had lied because he wanted the boy to stay with her. While Nate is at the house, Jeff enters with Lila and Nate informs him that he has heard about the intended robbery and forbids him to participate. In the ensuing fistfight, Jeff beats up Nate and rides off. Nate then begs Elec to help him prevent the robbery. When Nate and Elec thwart the holdup, Somerson and another gunman take Jeff hostage, blaming him for Nate and Elec's intervention, and flee on the stage. Nate rides after them and, as Jeff and Somerson struggle inside the coach for possession of a gun, Nate shoots the outlaw driver. Nate then jumps on board, taking over the reins of the runaway stage, but is attacked by Somerson who has knocked out Jeff. Somerson overpowers Nate and brings the stage to a halt, intending to shoot Elec and the others who are following. Nate prevents Somerson from shooting by hurling a knife into his body, but is in turn mortally wounded by the outlaw. Later, as Nate dies in Ruth's house, Jeff tells him that he intends to change his ways and Ruth agrees to help Jeff once more. Lila then comforts Jeff for the loss of his father.
Joseph "bucko" Stafford
Eddie Foy Iii
Anna Marie Nanasi
Jack T. Collis
Earl C. Cooper
Wesley V. Jefferies
Howard W. Koch
John F. Schreyer
Richard Alan Simmons
This seems all the stranger once you look at his filmography - though his wary, streetwise Brooklyn personality might suggest a range of possibilities, and a number of noirs did occupy him in the late '40s, Clark made a lot of westerns in the '50s. Cagney and Bogart did their fair share of oaters, too, since the genre was for decades a reliable audience favorite and relatively inexpensive to produce. But the transposition of urban-bred East-coast-neighborhood ethnic men into the frontier paradigm of the western always clanged with a surreal dissonance, or at best required viewers to simply buy the apparent cultural anomaly and move on.
Clark came off in his prime as a kind of proto-Cassavetes, a shifty-eyed street lug in permanent, if private, disagreement with the world. With his lipless mouth pinched in contained rage, his fists always nearly clenched, and his emotional state seemingly always close to maddened tears, Clark could be a hypnotic character. (He always looked guilty of something.) In Outlaw's Son, as in his other westerns, Clark's simmering persona is the pivot upon which the story turns, as he plays the titular frontier crook returned to his son Jeff that he had had to abandon 12 years earlier. Now mothered by his dead wife's sister (a scene-owning Ellen Drew), the boy (Joseph Stafford, who's tiny career ended right here) is at first bitter, but then loves having his deadbeat bank-robber dad back, much to the chagrin of Drew's anxious matriarch and the rest of the rather small town. The story, based on a novel by forgotten western novelist Clifton Adams, ropes in a sudden bank robbery for which Clark's yearning outlaw dad is framed (he escapes anyway), and then leaps forward a decade, focusing on the now-grown Jeff (Ben Cooper), who's a rookie lawman given to beating prisoners and toying with the local womenfolk. (Lori Nelson, as a flirtatious ranch maiden, is as beguiling as Cooper is drippy.) Eventually, news of his father's unjust arrest is delivered from a dying stagecoach hijacker's lips, and Jeff spirals out toward a life of crime, forcing his errant father's return.
Fueled by paternal angst in ways that speak volumes about the difference between Hollywood pop culture before WWII and after (come the '50s, everyone was used to plot stakes being much higher than Roy Rogers had ever allowed), Outlaw's Son shows the influence of George Stevens' Shane (1953), but it also radiates the concern for internal combustion and acting realism that permeated the culture, epitomized by "the Method" style of performing exemplified by Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean. The film's narrative is nothing if not "modern" and unmythical in its depiction of family conflicts and frontier machismo, but having Clark stand, brooding and suspicious and seething with memories, at the center of a visually standard genre milieu (the town and its rooms look recycled from a thousand other films and TV shows) naturally pushes the tired old genre reflexes beyond their clichés, and toward the kind of exposed psychodrama that dominated American culture at the time, crystallized in various media by the work of Brando, Cassavetes, Tennessee Williams, Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet, Joanne Woodward, Edward Albee, Saul Bellow, and others.
Outlaw's Son doesn't shine in the memory, but it's stratigraphic proof of the rise of sophistication and realist ambition in mid-century Hollywood. The contents-under-pressure presence of Clark is part of that story, and also its own illusory dynamic. Clark, it turns out, was hardly a demiurge toiling on Skid Row, but just an unpretentious journeyman (with a law degree) whose resonant screen profile does not reflect the man terribly well. He did, after all, thrive for decades thereafter doing over a hundred workaday spot roles on many dozens of TV series, for everything from The Twilight Zone to Murder, She Wrote, and nowhere did a tortured artist or a conflicted man emerge. Often enough, movies present their own unique vision of individual humans, and the actor we think we know we do not know at all. Initially, Clark appeared to us as the inheritor of the John Garfield intense rebel prototype, but only after many films and TV episodes, it became apparent that he was just a capable character actor blessed with a quick look and tongue, and a reasonably happy man.
By Michael Atkinson
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Ellen Drew, 1914-2003
She was born Esther Loretta "Terry" Ray on November 23, 1914, in Kansas City, Missouri. The daughter of a barber, her family moved to Chicago when she was still an infant and she lived a very quiet childhood far removed from the glamour of Hollywood. She was encouraged by some friends to enter a beauty contest when she was just 17. After winning, she tried her luck in Hollywood, but found that they were no immediate offers for her particular talents.
She eventually took a waitressing job at C.C. Brown's, a famed Hollywood Boulevard soda fountain, and had virtually abandoned her dreams as a starlet when William Demarest, a popular actor's agent and well-known character actor, spotted her. Demarest arranged a screen test for her at Paramount, and she was promptly placed under contract for $50 a week.
For the first few years, (1936-38), Drew got only bit parts, and was often uncredited. When she finally got prominent billing in the Bing Crosby musical Sing You Sinners (1938), she decided to change her name, from Terry Ray to Ellen Drew. She earned her first major role in Frank Lloyd's If I Were King (1938) opposite Ronald Colman, yet for the most part of her career, rarely rose above "B" material and second leads. Still, she had some fine exceptions: Preston Sturges' enchanting comedy Christmas in July (1940), with Dick Powell; Tay Garnett's lighthearted war romp My Favorite Spy (1942) co-starring Kay Kyser; Julien Duvivier's taut The Imposter (1944), holding her own with a brooding Jean Gabin; and Mark Robson's chilling low-budget chiller Isle of the Dead (1945) opposite Boris Karloff. Drew made some notable television appearances in the late '50s including Perry Mason and The Barbara Stanwyck Show, before retiring from the entertainment industry. She is survived by her son David; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Ellen Drew, 1914-2003
This film's working titles were Gambling Man and His Father's Gun. According to a September 7, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Marsha Hunt, who was originally cast as "Ruth Sewall," had to withdraw due to a theatrical commitment and was replaced by Ellen Drew. The Variety review incorrectly lists child actress Anna Marie Nanasi as Ann Maria Nanasi.