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Saturday, October 20, 2012

THE JAYHAWKERS (1959)

Melvin Frank took a break from his Bob Hope & Danny Kaye comedies to make this large-scale Western. And it sure looks great with Loyal Griggs’ VistaVision lensing giving the locations a depth & clarity that unfortunately expose the soundstage exteriors as mock-ups. But handsome outdoorsy views can’t make up for the amateurish action sequences and a dark, misshapen story that might have used a touch of comic relief. Perhaps Frank thought if he was humorless it would, ipso facto, make his pic serious. Fess Parker, tall, dark & dull, dull, dull, is an escaped prisoner who joins a gang of Kansas marauders led by Jeff Chandler’s would-be Nietzschean superman who is planning to take over the territory. With a few too many loving glances at Napoleon’s bust & Fess’s torso, the prematurely grey Chandler doesn’t know he’s headed for a fall since Parker’s secretly working to take him down and win himself a full pardon. He’s hoping to restart his life with a pretty widow & her kids. But he’d better hurry since Henry Silva (trying for that Jack Palance SHANE/’53 mojo), jealous at losing Chandler’s trust, is right on his tail. Hey, this sounds pretty good! Alas, Frank has zero feel for the genre; you keep expecting dialogue to take a turn toward Bob Hope’s cowardly character. But give Frank credit for hiring Jerome Morross to write the score, then closing his eyes & ears when he got leftovers & reworkings from the music Morross wrote for William Wyler’s THE BIG COUNTRY/’58, about the best damn traditional Western score ever written.

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