Thursday, April 29, 2021

Randolph Scott and Ella Rains traverse “The Walking Hills”

The Walking Hills (1949) is a modern American western directed by John Sturges and starring Randolph Scott and Ella Raines. The cinematography was by Charles Lawton Jr. (The Lady From Shanghai, 3:10 to Yuma). The stars are supported by William Bishop, Edgar Buchanan, Arthur Kennedy, Josh White, and John Ireland.

Nine men of different ages and backgrounds, search for a lost treasure supposedly lost in the shifting sands of Death Valley. One of the men is a detective looking for a fugitive who may or may not be among the treasure seekers. To complicate matters further, a woman named Chris Jackson (Raines) joins the group where she attempts to sort out her feelings between Dave Wilson (Bishop) and Jim Carey (Scott), two men she had relationships with in the past.

Will the search for the lost treasure unite the seekers or turn them against each other?

Randolph Scott, William Bishop, and Ella Raines

John Sturges (1910 - 1992) was an American film director. He started his career in Hollywood in 1932. During World War II, he worked on training films and documentaries for the United States Army Air Forces. After the war, Sturges made a string of B movies before establishing himself as an A-list director. He had great successes with Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and The Great Escape (1963). Other films he directed include The Old Man and the Sea (1958), The Halleluja Trail (1965), Ice Station Zebra (1968), and The Eagle Has Landed (1976).

Ella Raines, Randolph Scott, and director John Sturges (back to us)

Randolph Scott (1898 - 1987) was an American film actor whose career spanned over three decades. Scott started out in silent films in some uncredited roles and on the advice of Cecil B. De Mille, he performed on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse where Hollywood took notice. In the early stages of his career in the 1930s, Scott acted in comedies, musicals, and adventure films. He established himself as a dependable leading man in the 1940s but achieved his greatest success in the late 1950s starring in a string of popular westerns directed by Bud Boetticher including Seven Men from Now (1955), 7th Cavalry (1956), and Ride Lonesome (1959). During this period, Scott was a top box office draw often ranking in the top ten.

Ella Raines (1920 – 1988) was born in Washington State where she studied drama at the University of Washington. Howard Hawks spotted her in a college production and signed her to a contract. Right out of the gate, she starred in some big movies, including Preston Sturges’s Hail the Conquering Hero and Tall in the Saddle (both 1944) where she shared equal billing with John Wayne. As her movie career declined in the 1950s, Raines worked in series television starring in Janet Dean, Registered Nurse (1954-55). She appeared on the cover of Life magazine twice, once in 1944 and in 1947.

The Walking Hills trivia:

  1. Regarded as a film noir western along with Pursued (1947) and Blood on the Moon (1948)
  2. Filmed in the Alabama Hills of California and Death Valley National Monument. Sturges would revisit this location for Bad Day at Black Rock.

To watch the film on YouTube click on the link below.

To join the discussion on May 4, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation to join the discussion with a link to the meeting on Zoom.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did this film remind you of any other films you’ve seen?
  2. What do you think motivated the characters in their quest?
  3. Was the love triangle between Scott, Bishop, and Raines believable? Did it add to or take away from the narrative?
  4. Did you have a favorite character actor?
  5. Were you surprised by the ending? Was it satisfying or disappointing?

Focus on Josh White (1914 - 1969)

Joshua Daniel White was an American singer, guitarist, actor, and civil rights activist. He sang blues, country, gospel, and social protest songs. In 1931, he moved to New York where he found success on Broadway, radio, and film. He also expanded his musical repertoire to jazz and folk songs.

In the 1940s, White shared the stage with Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Burl Ives, and the Golden Gate Quartet. His tours with Led Belly were enormously successful and White was tagged the “Joe Louise of the Blues Guitar.” His recording of “Sucking Cider Through a Straw” was a million-selling record, the first by an African-American male artist. Other artists including The Andrew Sisters and Bing Crosby recorded cover versions.

Unfortunately for White, he was caught up in the anti-communist Red Scare during the 1950s. He was labeled a communist which hurt his career.

Interestingly, White’s character in The Walking Hills is that although his part is small, he is an equal partner with his white cohorts. In some ways, his character acts as a Greek chorus for the film. During the late-1940s, Hollywood was starting to grapple with racism and the depiction of people of color on the screen. In this film, the subject of White’s race is never brought up. Not the case with the Native American character Cleve, however, who is maligned by Chalk the character played by Arthur Kennedy.

White’s legacy in music runs deep. He was considered a mentor to Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, and influenced a generation of singers including Pete Seeger, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Harry Belafonte.

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