Strother Martin Wednesday #12 The Magnetic Monster

This was a fun choice today because of the odd film and the manner in which it was selected to go on the project. There are already posts on most of Strother’s major films from the 70s, and the 60s’s films are also mostly complete. There will still be entries in the future covering those films and the small role he played in them (The Villain and Nightwing are a couple of examples), but if I am ever to get to all of the credited roles he played, I have to cast the net a bit further and this one came up in today’s catch.

To find and select this film, I simply went to Amazon Prime and entered Strother Martin in the search box. Plenty of films came up, many of them need to be purchased or rented to view, or perhaps you could start a free trial of a streaming service. I simply scrolled down to one that was available on Prime itself, which I already subscribe to, and picked a film I had never heard of before.

“The Magnetic Monster” is a 1950s Science Fiction film, that postulates the dangers of radioactive research without creating a monster which is a guy in a suit. A new element has been created by bouncing radioactive gamma rays at an existing rare element, and the resulting product is a dangerously voracious consumer of electricity that is changing magnetic polarity and may eventually cause the Earth to spin out of orbit from the Sun and kill us all. First however, it has to be a threat to smaller numbers of humans so that we have a story.

This film was done on the cheap, using existing footage of scientific experiments with magnetism and some sets that look like they used up most of the budget, but then budget was small to begin with. This was directed by Curt Siodmak, the screenwriter of numerous sci/fi and horror films, most noably the original “The Wolf Man”. It was only his second credited feature as director (The First was “Bride of the Gorilla”).

Strother’s role is that of the co-pilot on a commercial plane, which happens to be carrying the dangerous element and is at risk of complete electrical shutdown at any moment. It is surprising that as the second in command he gets most of the lines spoken in the cockpit, but that results from the fact that he is the radio operator as well and is in contact with the scientists on the ground, taking their direction and passing them on to the pilot.

The set is a few steps up from the rickety “Plan 9 from Outer Space” cockpit, but the interior shots of the plane are almost as bad. This is only one sequence in the middle of the film and Jay is in the shots for a very few minutes. He has to share the screen with his pilot, played with very little energy by a low key Douglas Evans. Evans would go on to an extensive career playing forgettable characters on numerous TV shows. Not to put him down, but when you watch these scenes it was easy to see that Strother was a more compelling actor and that he had an interesting career in front of him.

Strother did get some close ups in his scenes and once again, the facial reactions are were the gold is in his performance. He did have one funny line, when informed that the plane might shut down at any moment, he says “It’s a good thing we aren’t flying over the Rockies”. A little understatement to layer on top of a cheesy situation to begin with.

Like I said, most of his characters connection to another person is through the radio on the plane, so the reaction shots are just a natural opportunity for him to give this slightly interesting, low budget, silly dialogue script, something to enjoy.

I was a little concerned as the film came to an end that he would not get an on screen credit. The main cast was listed in a scroll, some of whom had far less to do in the movie than Strother, but finally there was a credit frame in the end titles that magnanimously identified him as “Co-Pilot”.

Not an essential Strother Martin performance but it is widely available and worth a look. The dialogue and character development make it cheesy, but it is an interesting take on the “science gone wrong” genre of atomic fifties films.

Strother Martin Wednesday #11 The Shaggy Dog

This film came out when I was just a year old, so I know I did not see it at that time. I am pretty sure I did see it in a theater at some point but the real reason I remembered it, and that Strother was in it, was that I had a paperback novelization of the movie when I was in Middle School and it had a picture of Jay in it. I’m sorry to say I have no idea if I still own that book, maybe out in the shed in California, but I do have access to the movie as do all of you who have Disney +.

His name does appear on the clever title credits, which included some animated elements of a furry mop dog chasing after a grasshopper and wiping each title card off as the dog runs by.

This is a children’s film featuring a boy who magically turns into a dog and overhears the plans of the spies in a house down the street from where he lives.

Strother plays “Thurm”, the inside man at a missile plant in the town where the events take place. He shows up at the door of a renown art scholar who has taken over as curator at the local museum. We don’t know why he is there at first, the scene simply shows him arriving and being escorted upstairs. Francesca is the daughter of the man and the object of interest to the two teen boys in the story, one of whom will soon be transforming.

Fred MacMurray and Jean Hagen are listed as the stars, but they are simply the names. Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran are the sons in the family and they have most of the action. Kirk was a child star who made several Disney films, including “Old Yeller”. He passed away just a year ago.

Strother’s part in this film is relatively minor, but he did show up more than I had remembered. Once the spy subplot kicks in he is in several shots.

He arrives with a widget from “Section 32”, yes even Disney Kid’s pictures can have a MacGuffin in them. The dog overhears the plot to steal this secret and the rest of the story revolves around MacMurray’s dog hating mailman, trying to convince the authorities to believe he got his information from his son the dog. The daughter gets dragged away by the spies as they try to escape with the stolen secret.

There is a chase scene with the dog driving a hot rod and later a police car, trying to catch up with the spy ring before they get away. Actually, the talking dog effects are pretty good and the mix of puppets, real dogs well trained and even a guy in a dog suit, works just well enough to keep us from groaning at the silliness of it all.

The crooks end up trying to escape by boat, which gives the hero dog a chance to knock Strother into the water, jump on the boat and foil the escape as well as rescue the girl.

For us, the final important shot is one that is befitting a former diving champion. Strother is struggling in the water to get back up on the pier to be taken into custody by the police.

“The Shaggy Dog” is not a great movie but it is kind of fun for the family. Strother would usually remain a supporting character but those characters would have better lines and development as his career went along. This was one of the earliest films I could brag about to my friends that my cousin Strother Martin was in, at least they would have seen it.

Strother Martin Wednesday #10 Cowboy

This is only the third film on the summer project that I’d not seen before. It is also a film where Strother does not receive a screen credit, despite having a great death scene and being the focus of attention for everyone on screen for a couple of minutes. Of course the cast was pretty full of what were bigger names at the time, including: Brian Donlevy, Richard Jaeckel, Dick York and James Westerfield. Strother was probably better known as a TV actor in these days, having appeared in 15 episodes of television series in the same year that this movie came out.

He shows up driving the wagon that is going on the cattle drive. It may be that he was supposed to be a cook as well as a cowhand. He certainly appears to be much younger than in many of his more famous roles. This film stars Jack Lemon as a hotel clerk who buys his way into a cattle drive, headed by veteran cowboy Glenn Ford. The story revolves around the travails of a drive down to Mexico and back to Chicago. Lemon’s tenderfoot has to learn along the way, how unforgiving the trail can be.

Dick York plays a cowboy in the drive who has a way with the ladies and he and Strother discuss the aroma of horses as a attractant to the ladies. He also admires Jay’s boots and that becomes a minor story point in a later scene. Although there is no title card with his name on it, he is recognized by name on the back cover notes of the Blu Ray that I acquired for this entry. This was a Twilight Time Edition of the film. Twilight Time was a specialty company that produced exceptional versions of films in a limited run. This boutique manufacturing usually ended up with about 3,000 copies of any title. The company no longer exists but once in a while on ebay, you can find some of their product.

Strother is only in this early sequence and another one that comes up just a few minutes into the cattle drive when it starts.

You can see him here in the background, washing up the dinner dishes, another indication that he may be the trail cook. Unfortunately, his character does not have a name. On IMDB, he is listed as Cowhand Bitten by Snake, which gives away immediately why he has only the two scenes. In a moment of macho levity, the cowhands are tossing a rattlesnake at one another and they accidentally end up wrapping it around Strother’s neck.

The snakebite goes right into the vein, meaning there is nothing they can do for him. They end up making mundane small talk while he dies on the ground while the group is helpless. It is a pretty chilling scene.

Lemon’s character is flummoxed over what seems to him the casual way that the cowboys receive death. When Richard Jaeckel’s character starts to remove the boots that had been admired earlier, Lemon’s character takes umbrage and a fight starts but it is finished pretty quickly by trailboss Ford.

The notes in the Blu ray box are similar to those you would find in a Criterion release, something thoughtful, written by a film expert. I did not copy the whole page, but here is the relevant Strother passage.

Glen Ford then confirms that Strother has died,

and the movie moves on. The film is actually very good. There is a growing respect from Ford toward Lemon’s character, and Lemon learns some lessons too well from his “partner”. There are stampedes, and fights, and Indian attacks throughout the rest of the film, but none of them is accompanied by the familiar voice or face of Strother Martin.

Strother Martin Wednesday #9 True Grit

I’m proud to say that Strother Martin was a part of the film that finally won John Wayne a long overdue Academy Award. There are some who believe this was simply a sentimental make good for years of great work and that the performance itself was not particularly deserving. That hypothesis should disappear as you watch the movie and see the range of Wayne’s work in this story and the sincerity with which it was committed to the screen. In addition to the Duke, you will get a Strother Martin Performance that is limited to two scenes, but for which there is simply no comparison. Dakin Matthews is a prolific actor with an appropriately withered tone in the 2010 Coen Brothers version of Tue Grit, however his part, while effective lacks the sparkling humor that Strother provides here.

As you look at the opening credits above, you will see a heady list of actors in supporting roles in this Wayne vehicle. Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey should give you plenty of links for your next game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. Jeff Corey also appeared in another 1969 western that featured Strother Martin, the biggest box office hit of that year “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. We may get to that film on this summer project, where Strother was onscreen with both stars. In this film, all of his role is played against a single actor, Kim Darby, playing the young Mattie Ross.

In his opening introduction, Strother as Col. G. Stonehill, Licensed Horse Trader, he struts confidently down his porch stairs to the corral where Mattie is admiring the horses, and he begins a sales pitch, much like a car dealer does with folks who wander onto a car lot. He believes at this point that he has the upper hand. Oh how he is mistaken.

In an instant, he goes from an authority in a position of strength, to a victim of a sustained legal attack that he was clearly not anticipating. You can see the doubt creep into his expression immediately, beginning a process of advancing and retreating that will make up the nature of his exchange with Mattie for the rest of their scenes.

Basically, young Mattie is making demands of Coil. Stonehill, regarding the deal for horses that her dead father had made. She is also seeking compensation for the horse stolen by her father’s killer, which was being stabled at Col. Stonehill’s livery. The Colonel thinks his position is unassailable, but Mattie is not an ordinary 14 year old girl. She persists.

One of the differences between this version of the story and the one told by the Coen’s is that there is a transition from an exterior scene to an interior of the Colonel’s office. You can see the resignation on Jay’s face here as he chooses to retreat to the interior as a way of regaining the upper hand. It is not a successful strategy.

Retreating behind his desk must have seemed like a good idea, but you will notice from the actor’s expression, that the character has not found strength in the dominant territory he expected. The line readings at this point quietly thunder with the antipathy that Col. Stonehill feels toward the young woman who is getting the better of him.

Col. G. Stonehill: I’ll take it up with my attorney.

Mattie Ross: And I will take it up with mine – Lawyer Daggett. And he will make money and I will make money and your lawyer will make money… and you, Mr. Licensed Auctioneer, you will foot the bill.

After flummoxing the Colonel with her threats and negotiating skills, she produces the release document and puts it in his hand as he requested, and he knows he has been got the better of because she already had it prepared.

When she returns to complete their arrangement by picking up her father’s saddle, she reengages in an attempt to purchase one of the ponies that she has previously sold back to the horse trader. Upon her arrival he makes a comment that is incredibly funny in how it reveals his attitude toward her reappearance on his doorstep.

Colonel Stonehill: I just received word that a young girl fell head first down a fifty foot well on the Tolson Road. I thought perhaps it was you.

Mattie Ross: Do you know a Marshal Rooster Cogburn?

Col. G. Stonehill: Most people around here have heard of Rooster Cogburn and some people live to regret it. I would not be surprised to learn that he’s a relative of yours.

He gives her some advice that she feels she does not need and they conclude their business with him once again capitulating in complete surrender to her approach.

The film is not a comedy, but it does have some compelling comedic elements. The greatest amount of laughter to be had from the movie occurs in the few minutes that Jay is on screen.

This is the complete first scene, containing much of what I just described. Enjoy, don’t laugh too loud.
Closing Credits

This may be my favorite performance from Strother. If it is not his best it is his most entertaining, and it came in the year that he starred in three of the greatest Western ever made.

Strother Martin Wednesday #8 The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance

There are other versions of the song above that are available on YouTube, but they include clips that give away key information about the film, so I took the one that follows the song best but does not identify what happens. The song will give you enough of the story that you can follow along with these comments without having had to see the film.

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance”, as far as I can tell, is the first of the six films he made with John Wayne. He had already worked with Lee Marvin a couple of times, including an episode of the Twilight zone. Lee Marvin (Liberty Valance), Strother Martin (Floyd) and Lee Van Cleef (Reese) had all previously appeared together in The Twilight Zone: The Grave (1961), which aired on October 27, 1961.

Strother did not make the top ten in billing for this film, but you can see from the company he was keeping, that was no slight, rather it was a great cast of character actors who all got listed after title cards featuring the main stars of the film. I don’t see that he ever worked with Lee Van Cleef again, but as we have already seen, he did work with Lee Marvin again in “Pocket Money“.

If his character name Floyd is ever used in the film, it was just in the background, and I can’t remember hearing it. In this story he plays Lee Marvin’s toady, a psycho who seems to derive pleasure out of other’s suffering.

At one point, hard-drinking newspaper editor Dutton Peabody refers to the bad guys as “Liberty Valance and his Myrmidons.” The Myrmidons were figures of ancient Greek mythology, skilled warriors in Homer’s Iliad commanded by Achilles. Because they were known for their fierce loyalty to their leader, the term came to be used in pre-industrial Europe almost as “robots” would be today. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term has since come to mean “hired ruffian” or “a loyal follower, especially one who executes orders without question, protest, or pity–unquestioning followers.” (IMDB Trivia)

When we first meet the crew, you don’t see Strother’s face because the gang is masked, but his diminutive height and shifty eyes give him away. Later, when the gang arrives at the dinner house and takes over a table already occupied, you can see he is the number two man in Liberty Vallance’s crew, but he ends up being more noticeable for a couple of lines and his gleefully deranged expressions.

As we have explored before, his reaction expressions are priceless and one of the things that made him a valuable asset to film makers for the three decades he was active. The shot above is when he notices Jimmy Stewart in the café for the first time, after having participated in his beating during the hold up at the start of the story. A couple of minutes later, he gets kicked in the ass by John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon, and he comes up off the floor pissed but powerless.

Strother had worked in Westerns plenty of times, and in many of the TV shows he was cast in, he played the grungy miner, cowhand, or criminal. Floyd seems like a combination of those types, maybe lacking the dirty face of a lowly mule riding desert vagabond, but definitely not someone of status. His clothes mark him as the working stiff of the gang, nothing fancy that would compete with his peacock of a boss, Liberty.

The scene where Liberty and his gang tear up the newspaper office and beat Mr. Peabody the editor to near death, has Strother heaving and smiling and licking his lips at the sadistic treatment of the newsman. In an interview he did a short while before his death, Strother said that Director John Ford, recognized that Strother was playing a sex psychopath in his scenes and seemed to deeply approve of it.

Strother’s biggest moment in the film occurs at the delegate election meeting where he is the one who steps up and nominates Liberty Vallance to be a delegate to the state convention. It’s so funny when they take the vote of all the men attending the meeting, and Liberty manages to get only two votes.

The conclusion of the film begins with the death of Liberty Vallance and Floyd calling for the Doctor as Liberty lays in the street.

It seems Floyd is the only one who truly morns Liberty’s death. Strother gets a another scene right after this where he and Reese (Van Cleef) are insisting that Stewart’s Rance Stoddard be lynched for killing Vallance.

Tom Doniphon, who knows what really happened and is devastated by the effect it will have on his romantic life, shuts the two of them up and tosses Floyd out the barroom doors. The last we see of Strother is him crawling on the street.

Once again Strother was not the star in billing, but he was when it came to acting and making an impression.

No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Strother Martin Wednesday #7 The Champ

Strother had four features and a TV movie released in 1979, this was near the end of his career and unfortunately his life. 1980 held only two minor features and his appearance on Saturday Night Live. “The Champ” was a pretty successful film financially, but Strother is a very minor part of the story.

His name was enough to earn him a co-starring title card, but the role barely registers as part of the events depicted in the story. His character is Riley, a horse trainer at the track where Billy Flynn (Jon Voight) and his son T.J. (Ricky Schroder), live and work. His most engaging scene is right at the start of the film where we learn that Voigt was a former boxing champion, while he and Strother walk through the training yard.

They reminisce about Billy Flynn’s career for about thirty seconds. So he does not have much screen time but you can see the charisma on the screen as he steals the scene from the star, before almost disappearing from the film.

The film is a remake of the 1931 classic that won Wallace Berry the Academy Award for Best Actor. The character here has been out of boxing for seven years, and coincidentally, his son is eight and his wife has supposedly been dead the whole time. In the course of the melodrama, we learn about the Mom and sad career that Flynn left for booze and gambling. When you watch the story play out, it is a wonder that anyone has any sympathy for the negligent Billy, who forces his child to play nursemaid to a drunck who won’t keep his promises.

We maybe start to have a change of heart when after a drunk, and a lucky run at the craps table, Billy buys T.J. his own horse, that they plan on racing at the Miami track. Jay has no lines here, he just gets upstaged by the horse as he brings it out as a surprise for T.J.

Although there are several more scenes set at the racetrack, we don’t encounter Riley again in those environments. I suspect there were scenes that were cut for time and my guess is that Strother would have been in a couple of those.

Faye Dunaway shows up in the film and she turns out to have a “surprise” relationship to the father and son team [Do you think you can guess?] There are then a whole series of events that go back and forth between Voight and Dunaway, with Ricky Schroder as the ping pong ball. When Billy risks the horse that belongs to T.J. on a gambling debt, you will really wonder why we are supposed to root for the character.

Ultimately, Voight decides that to provide for his kid better than he has done, he is going to make a boxing comeback. Elisha Cook Jr. and Jack Warden play characters in this part of the story, and I was prepared for Strother to be excluded from the film at that point, but low and behold, in the climactic boxing match, Strother shows up and he is there for the close of the film as well.

Jay shows up in the audience at the boxing match, and once again shows how good reactions are good acting. He has no lines, and just a few inserts but his facial expressions tell you how the match is going at any given point.

SPOILER AHEAD

If you are unfamiliar with the story and want to see the movie without having the end given away. Stop reading here;

Strother Martin Wednesday #6 Pocket Money

So we are halfway through the 12 entries I committed to for the Summer with this post, and we have our first repeat co-star with Strother, Paul Newman. Most of you know that Jay was in at least six films that starred Newman, he was in a like number with John Wayne. Strother also worked with Lee Marvin several times and this is an entry that put the three of them together.

Newman plays an amiable cowboy type, trying to scrape together a living trading horses and cattle at the margins of the Southern border. A contemporary film (at least for 1970), the world of horses and cattle is different from what you might have seen in a traditional western, but there were still snakes in the story and Strother gets to play one of them.

Strother is Bill Garret, a cattle broker with a shady reputation who is working with middle-man Stretch Russell, played by Wayne Rogers. Stretch is hooking up Newman’s Jim Kane with Garrett to arrange a deal for cattle to be used in rodeos, a market Kane know next to nothing about. Rogers, Strother and Newman were all in “Cool Hand Luke” back in 1967, directed by the man who also directed this film, Stuart Rosenberg.

Jim has been warned by his Uncle to stay out of the deal because Garrett is known as a slick operator, but Kane has committed his life to following his first instincts and decides the job is probably worth it. He felt OK with Garrett and decides to trust him. He is a little cautionary however as the deal is being struck, and the following exchange takes place:

Jim Kane: Boy, if anybody cheats me, I’m gonna hit him with a Stillson wrench and shove him in a coal hopper

Bill Garrett: [chokes on his scotch-on-the-rocks] Well, if you’re gonna talk like that…

Jim Kane: Hmm?

Bill Garrett: [nervously; shuffling away a bit more] Well, if, ah, if you’re gonna talk like that, I’m, I’m-a just gonna move down the line.

I’ve heard it said that acting is really reacting, and Strother is a master of the reaction shot as you can see in the above image. Suddenly he goes from the confident business man with all the answers to a squirming suspect, defensively counter attacking as a way to get out of an uncomfortable situation. Still they proceed with their arrangement, conducting business in Garrett’s Cadillac.

Garrett proudly shows off his money-belt as he and Kane agree to the arrangement in his mobile office. It is an odd character moment, but it does increase the curious nature of Jay’s character. As is often the case in his roles, Strother’s character has an inflated opinion of himself, but he regularly reveals his insecurities in moments like this. At the end of the story, the knowledge that Bill Garrett keeps a stash in a money-belt becomes a point of action in the story.

For at least the third time in this summer blog series, Strother Martin appears in the opening and closing acts of the film only. Most of the movie takes place in Mexico, where Kane connects with his old friend Leonard, and the two of them try to acquire the cattle and move them North, while encountering the exotic business practices of another culture. Hector Elizondo appears in this sequence as a Mexican businessman that the two encounter. Leonard thinks he understands it all, but he frequently gets it wrong, and Kane just does what he thinks is right, but that does not always go down well in this world.

When the problems pile up high on the trail, and the cattle end up quarantined, just as a herd of horses that Kane had brought up from Mexico before the deal, Kane has to go looking for Stretch and Garrett to make amends with his expenses. This is where it gets around to the slippery nature of the characters. Neither has outright lied to Kane, they instead use their professional relationship as a shield to try and indemnify themselves from the bad luck. Newman is having none of it and he and Leonard start to play it a little rough to get satisfaction.

Garrett tries to pass it off as the tough luck that everyone has now and then, but his brush off does not deter Kane from pursuing him. In a confrontation in a hotel room, the four principles all face off with one another in what is certainly a moment of great star power.

Kane tries to keep it simple,…”You owe me money!” A little rough housing occurs and Newman ends up straddling Jay on the floor, looking for the money-belt and the $517 he feels is still owed to him.

Garret is a master of passive-aggression, he deigns himself as the wronged party. He wonders who Marvin’s character is and why he is being physically abused.

Jim and Leonard never get their money, and they spend what is left of the film, visualizing how they might have gotten some revenge on Garrett, but it is all talk. There is really not much to the plot, there is no real resoulution and no moral to the story. This is simply a shaggy dog story about a group of losers, tring to make due with the schemes they come up with. No one is really evil, even Jay’s character is just craven, not dangerous or cruel. He is just looking out for himself and that’s what everyone in the film is doing, but not very well.

Strother does not get a title credit, heck only Newman, Marvin and the Film Title are listed at the start of the movie. Strother and Wayne Rogers shared a frame during the end credits, and that makes Jay the third lead. The second frame here is a little unique, it does list Strother as a Co-Star and this frame is from the trailer, so there must have been some cashet to his name.

Strother Martin Wednesday #5 Fool’s Parade

Western Director Andrew McLaglen produced and directed this film with his star from Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart. McLaglen was also the director of McLintock! from our post two weeks ago.

This is a hard to find gem, as far as I can tell there is no legitimate DVD or Blu Ray available for the movie. You can stream it with commercials on a couple of sites. When I first was looking for it, streaming was not nearly as accessible as it is now. I bought a TCM bootlegged copy on ebay.

The story involves three released convicts who are in possession of a check for $25,452.32, a sum that would be more than a half million dollars in today’s world. In 1935, the idea that a convict could accumulate that much in prison from the pittance they earned is a stretch, but that is the set up. A corrupt prison guard and the bank manager plot to keep Jimmy Stewart’s character Matty Appleyard from collecting.

Strother is Lee Cottrill, Matty’s friend and partner in a general store they plan on opening. Their young associate is played by Kurt Russell.

George Kennedy and Strother have basically changed roles here from their previous collaboration in “Cool Hand Luke”. Now Kennedy is the evil Captain Doc’ Council, and Jay is the prisoner under his thumb. Lee is a cooperative ex-con who dreams of nothing more than stocking his store with the products he discovers everyday, looking for quality items that the public will want. He and Johnny, Russell’s character, follow Mattie’s lead and no one wants trouble, but the corrupt banker is determined that they will be stopped, at the point of murder if needed.

They meet a mining supply salesman who turns out to be a drunk, and they end up with his stash of dynamite while fleeing from Council and his two hired thugs. Lee is a failed bank robber and Strother plays him as a naïf, focused only on the items he adds to his list constantly, and only slowly aware of the dangers they face. As it becomes more apparent that they are in deep trouble, Strother dons his anxious and feckless persona and becomes a creature one could pity out of his simplicity.

Of course Lee can easily be distracted and when Anne Baxter shows up as a madam with a floating bordello/gin joint, Lee can’t really resist and gets the three men tangled up in another plot complication while trying to escape.

We all know that if dynamite is introduced in a story, it is going to be used in the film somewhere. The explosion that takes place on the river is pretty spectacular and Strother’s character gets a couple of comic lines that are maybe a little light given the destruction involved.

At one point, the three have separated from one another and Lee and Johnny have several scenes together. I’m pretty happy about this because I am a big fan of Kurt Russell and he is basically playing straight man to Strother.

This is a very substantial part in one of the last films that Jimmy Stewart was the featured star. The story works pretty well and the outcome is satisfying. The bad guy gets what is coming to him but we see it in a pretty indirect way.

This was a great role for Jay with Jimmy Stewart having worked with him in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance” and two years later they co-starred in a TV show called “Hawkins”, which only ran for one season but was highly rated critically [Jay was nominated for a Golden Globe for the series.]

Strother Martin Wednesday #4 The Deadly Companions

Let me start with an apology for the images on todays edition. I watched this on Amazon Prime and the edit they have is simply awful. I saw some other images on-line that looked better, but none of them featured Strother, and I’m not sure I want to buy a copy of the film on DVD.

“The Deadly Companions” is the first of the three films that Strother did with Director Sam Peckinpah, and it was Peckinpah’s feature debut after directing a number of TV Western episodes. Frankly, it is not a very well made film. It seems like a learning experience for the director, but in his defense he was unhappy about the lack of control he had over the project, so maybe there was a better film in his head.

The premise of the film has ex-union soldier Brian Keith, stalking a Rebel soldier who had tried to scalp him five years earlier during the Civil War. After luring the unsuspecting “reb” into a plot to rob a bank, they get to the bank too late, another group has already started and a shootout occurs. In the cross fire Keith accidentally shoots and kills an innocent, and he tries to salve his conscience by helping transport the body across Apache territory to be buried in a far off abandoned town.

Brian Keith, Chill Wills, and Steve Cochran

The previous entry in “Strother Martin Wednesdays” was “McClintok!”, which included Maureen O’Hara in the cast. This film was a few years earlier and it is the first time Jay shared the screen with O’Hara. She plays a dance hall girl who has a tragic past and present and it is she who must cross the territory to complete the burial. Strother is the Parson in the town and he has only three scenes, but as usual, he makes the best of them.

After he walks in to the bar, which is serving as the church for Sunday Service, he greets the three strangers and Kit, the character played by O’Hara, as new congregants, and admonishes the men to remove their hats. That confrontation is complicated by Steve Cochran’s character pressing advances against Kit and her standing up to him. The Parson admires her fortitude and largely ignores the tut tutting of the townswomen who don’t approve of Kit.

As the story progresses, Kit is determined to transport the body to the abandoned other town for burial in a cemetery where she has loved ones. The town Mayor and the Parson arrive at the funeral parlor to try and dissuade her from undertaking the journey. The townsfolk apparently feel a bit of remorse at their treatment of Kit after the tragedy, and seem to be trying to make amends.

Sometimes Jay’s voice can sound like it is uttering platitudes, but he modulates it really effectively to make sincerity the emotion that comes through and this is one of those scenes where he manages to do that.

Much like “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”, Strother is in the opening section of the film and then reappears in the closing act. Unlike that other Peckinpah film, Jay’s part in the last act is not central to the events but he does have one very good line that helps close the film and satisfy the emotional reconciliation with the town and O’Hara and Keith’s characters.

After arriving with the posse chasing after the two bank robbers that had abandoned Keith and O’Hara on their journey, the Parson assures the laconic vengeance seeking Keith, that he will say the right words over the grave of the departed that everyone has traveled so far to deposit in this spot.

“I’ll say the right kind of words”

The middle act of the film is the journey, fraught with betrayal by evil companions Steve Cochran and Chill Wills. Wills also appeared with Strother and Maureen O’Hara in “McLintock!”, there he was the usual avuncular companion. In this film, he plays the prairie scum part that Strother would later own, and he was quite reprehensible in the role.

Strother was Fifth billed in this film, after the main lead actress and the three men who accompany her on the journey. This film came out in 1961 and Strother was not established as a name figure at the moment, but he was rapidly moving in that direction. An indication of how his status had changed over the years can be found on the packaging of the DVD where his name actually appears on the cover.

“and Strother Martin”.

As a side note, the screenplay was written by Albert Sidney Fleischman, supposedly based on his book, although it appears that the book grew out of the screenplay. Regardless, I think he was better known as Sid Fleishman, the author of children’s books. Fleischman was also a magician and an acquaintance of my Father, Magician Kirk Kirkham. I have a copy of one of my favorite childhood books, “Mr. Mysterious and Company”, about a magician and his family in the old west, that was signed for my Dad by the author. Just a coincidence that I found interesting.

Strother Martin Wednesday #3 McLintock!

What a cast of old timers and Hollywood Royalty, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, as if their characters in “The Quiet Man” were transported to the old west and were still battling over manners and customs. “McLintock!” is a comedy western that focuses on the troubled relationship between Wayne’s George Washington McLintock and his estranged wife, Katherine. Basically everyone in town gets involved and that includes Strother Martin as the Indian Agent of the government, Agard.

Gordon Jones and Strother Martin

When it comes to Western stories, Jay famously described most of the characters he played as “prairie scum”. There are a number of Western characters however that were not degenerates but rather, self important bureaucratic types, and the Indian Agent Agard is one of them. Dragged into a continuing feud between a local rancher with government connections, Matt Douglas played by Gordon Jones, and G.W. McLintock himself, Agard is an ineffectual, over his head, lightweight who is used for comedic effect in almost every scene he appears in. Strother adds to his character the glasses that become the butt of several jokes, along with his usual tone of voice that strains to exert power when he can’t.

One of the very first of those comedic moments occurs when he attempts to mount a horse and accompany the townsfolk out to where a group of newly arrived settlers are planning on stringing up a local Indian, based on the suspicion the Indians have kidnapped a young woman from their group.

Of course it does not go well for the officious Agard, who ends up on the ground, glasses askew and looking ridiculous as a public official. At least he managed to keep his hat on.

The big comic set piece of the movie is the all out fistfight that takes place as McLintock tries to calm down the settlers and stop a lynching of an innocent Indian who is also a friend of his.

Of course Jay is right in the middle of it, trying to maintain his dignity and even attempting to hold back Kate from getting involved on her husbands side.

Strother and Maureen O’Hara, waiting to join the fray.

Strother’s character is singled out repeatedly in the film for special acts of degradation, so of course he does not join the fight willingly, and in fact, escapes any fisticuffs but does end up in the mudhole that all the characters visit in the scene.

Agard is going to end up down there with everyone else, but he gets deposited there in a way that is unique. He is lifted up and deposited into a mine car that is on a track leading directly to the hole. Agard is no Indiana Jones however, and he does not possess the ability to get the cart to do what he wants, it simply heads to the edge to make sure his moment of comedic glory is special.

You can pretty much be assured that if someone is going to be humiliated on a regular basis in the film, it is Strother’s character. There are a couple of incidents that come up at a party when Jay gets doused with his own beer or knocked down into a shed when he gets between two young men fighting. His character is the very definition of comic relief being punctuated with an exclamation point.

About the only scene he appears in where he is not the butt of a physical gag is at a hearing of government officials, who have gathered to determine the residential status of the local Indian tribe. Although he is not physically abused in this scene, he is still something of a comic figure, reduced to being in the background during this moment of bureaucratic stupidity.

If ever there were a “type” in movies of feckless official power, it can be pointed out in a western by looking at the costuming and the casting of the part. The bowler hat and the checked suit call out Strother Martin as an outsider to the real cowboys of the film, and make him almost an Eastern dude, lost among the real men of the west.

In a cast that includes Edgar Buchanan, Chill Wills, Jerry Van Dyke, Bruce Cabot and Perry Lopez, once again Strother Martin stands out and all eyes and ears will be on him when it is time for us to laugh.