Walter Doniger | Subjects
| Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style
Cheyenne: The Bounty Killers | The Law Man
| The Trap | Land Beyond the Law
Bat Masterson: Double Showdown | Cheyenne Club
| River Boat | Promised Land | The Inner Circle
Maverick: The Jail at Junction Flats
The Virginian: The Sins of the Fathers
Feature films: House of Women | Safe at Home!
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| Television Western Articles
Walter Doniger is an American film and mainly, television director.
Walter Doniger: Subjects
Some common features of Walter Doniger's work:
- Criminal empires (town cut off by destroyed telegraph: The Law Man,
town and mine: The Trap, refuge for crooks: Land Beyond the Law, River Boat, Promised Land)
- Criminal conspiracy (cattle rustlers: The Law Man, Who'll Bury My Violence?, The Inner Circle)
- Innocent men framed by authorities (The Law Man, The Trap)
- Men who save the hero's life at start, but who turn out ambiguous as heroes or villains
(The Bounty Killers, The Sins of the Fathers)
- Crooks who reform (arrested man: The Bounty Killers, law man: The Law Man,
townspeople: Promised Land,
ex-gambler, Billy (Frank Ferguson): The Inner Circle)
- Women who plead for their husband's lives (The Bounty Killers, The Sins of the Fathers)
- Payment for human lives (evils of bounty hunting: The Bounty Killers,
jokes about low price on Bat Masterson's head: The Inner Circle,
Adam refuses award for saving ranch's money and hero's life: The Sins of the Fathers)
- Greedy women villains who are part of conspiracies or crime empires (woman runs prison camp: The Trap,
wife: Land Beyond the Law, woman accomplice: Promised Land, rancher: The Inner Circle,
swindler: Six Feet of Gold)
- Kids meet their adult heroes (shoe shine boy and Bat Masterson: Double Showdown,
kids and astronauts: Moon Landing,
kids and New York Yankee baseball players: Safe at Home!)
- Other kids (kids of accused man: The Bounty Killers,
son of law man: The Law Man, kids as hope for the future: Promised Land,
son of astronaut: Moon Probe,
kids of women prisoners: House of Women)
- Kids learn moral lessons (admitting being wrong is part of becoming a man: The Law Man,
telling the truth, class issues: Safe at Home!)
- Kids and baseball (astronaut misses Little League game due to launch, astronomer is former ballplayer: Moon Landing,
kids meet major leaguers: Safe at Home!)
- Street protests and assemblies (against crooked lawman: The Bounty Killers,
mass assembly of townspeople to keep poker match honest and safe: Double Showdown,
finale: Cheyenne Club)
related (nations' representatives around world help hero: Moon Probe)
- Women make Social Protest (petition singing in streets: The Inner Circle, women prisoners protest: House of Women)
- Critiques of the rich (businessmen secretly crooks: The Law Man,
monopoly capitalism leads to corruption: The Trap,
business monopoly protected by violence: Who'll Bury My Violence?,
elite wealthy try to prevent women from getting to vote: The Inner Circle,
ruthless wealthy man prevents banks from lending hero money: Flume to the Mother Lode)
- Good guys who pardon their attackers, exemplifying non-violence (Bat Masterson: The Inner Circle,
the Virginian: The Sins of the Fathers)
- Public service (carpenter builds town's church and school for free: The Bounty Killers,
space program: Moon Probe,
space program: Moon Landing)
- Religion, viewed positively as a key part of life (carpenter builds town's church and school for free: The Bounty Killers,
psalm read: Moon Landing)
- Evolution (praised and space travel seen as next step in: Moon Landing)
Locales and Events:
- Large outdoor locales, often in front of ranch houses (prison mine yard: The Trap,
Shiloh ranch and final gunfight: The Sins of the Fathers)
related (astronauts and kids talk in front yard: Moon Landing,
baseball camp: Safe at Home!)
- Street scenes (The Bounty Killers,
final confrontation: The Law Man,
opening trial: The Trap,
card game finale in Western street: Double Showdown,
whipping, finale: Cheyenne Club,
crossing street at end: Promised Land,
many scenes: Who'll Bury My Violence?,
many scenes: The Inner Circle,
discussion after robbery: The Disappearance of Bat Masterson)
- Underground settings (mine: The Trap,
mine tunnel: Land Beyond the Law,
mine: Flume to the Mother Lode,
tunnel to bank: The Jail at Junction Flats)
- Places where men go for special activities (mining expedition on moon: Lost Missile,
space station and scientific research: Quarantine,
baseball training camp in Florida: Safe at Home!)
- Formidable jails and prisons (The Trap, The Jail at Junction Flats)
regular jails (The Bounty Killers, Land Beyond the Law, woman's prison: House of Women)
related (held captive in a hearse, bank compared to jail: Promised Land)
- Trial scenes (kangaroo court in street: The Trap,
public debate about who owns land: Six Feet of Gold,
parole hearing: House of Women)
- Isolated men on perhaps dangerous journeys (kid traveling alone to baseball camp: Safe at Home!,
outer space: Moon Probe,
astronauts go to moon: Moon Landing,
Virginian carrying money: The Sins of the Fathers)
- Funeral imagery (hearse as kidnapping tool: Promised Land,
casket to hide loot: The Disappearance of Bat Masterson,
comedy about buying cemetery plots: Six Feet of Gold,
on moon: Moon Landing)
- Town or location signs (post of signs with directions: The Bounty Killers, city limits: The Trap,
Trading Dock: River Boat) related (comedy about getting directions: The Law Man)
- Maps (government map, counter map with figurines: Land Beyond the Law,
location information printed out: Moon Probe,
moon photo, globe of moon, transparent map in control room: Moon Landing,
moon globe: Lost Missile)
Walter Doniger: Structure and Story Telling
- Unusual narrative experimentation (worlds-of-if multi-path, direct address to camera: Double Showdown,
narrated spoof non-naturalistic robbery: The Jail at Junction Flats)
- Fantasy showing hero's imagination (Safe at Home!)
- Dan Blocker as bad guy (Land Beyond the Law, The Jail at Junction Flats)
- Andrew Duggan runs bad places (refuge for crooks: Land Beyond the Law,
warden of woman's prison: House of Women) related (vicious bounty hunter: The Bounty Killers,
The Money, Outlaw's Bugle, The Day of the Golden Fleece, The Tide)
- Jean Willes (Double Showdown, The Inner Circle)
Walter Doniger: Visual Style
- Still lifes (carpenter's frames on wall: The Bounty Killers,
cards and poker chips on floor during fight, dried plants in vase in heroine's room: The Law Man,
cards and cane, smashed glasses: Double Showdown,
bucket at finale: The Sins of the Fathers,
globe of moon and rocket model: Moon Landing,
Warren Stevens' lab equipment: Quarantine)
- Lights (townspeople turn lights on on street: Cheyenne Club,
on computers at mission control: Moon Landing)
- Shots through pillared regions, often in streets (architecture on stilts: The Bounty Killers,
pillared covered sidewalks and porches: The Law Man,
pillared covered sidewalks and porches: Double Showdown,
petition booth: The Inner Circle,
three-sided store window, covered sidewalk: The Disappearance of Bat Masterson,
sliding ladder common down from rocket area: Quarantine)
related (through curved lines of transparent map: Moon Landing)
- Rooms with pillars (saloon: The Law Man,
ship room with pillars: Who'll Bury My Violence?)
- Rooms with cages (mine bunk and dining areas with guard cages: The Trap,
casino with cage-like alcoves: Double Showdown,
bank teller cage: Promised Land,
woman's prison: House of Women)
- Depth staging (townspeople: The Bounty Killers,
Cheyenne watched in street at night: The Law Man,
opening with town in background, house seen from mineshaft, women talk with miners between them in background: The Trap,
through stagecoach, characters seen in distance between two men in foreground: Double Showdown,
kids in street seen through window: Promised Land,
the Inner Circle's street gathering, drunken low-lifes: The Inner Circle,
in ground control headquarters before take-off: Moon Landing,
shot of airplane through hangar extension: Lost Missile)
Appearance and Character:
- Camera movements follow man crossing street (Sheriff to carpenter's shop: The Bounty Killers,
Cheyenne moves towards judge: The Trap,
Lundigan moves down room of space station: Quarantine)
- Down row of characters (men seated at NASA conference: Moon Landing)
- Vertical (down ladder to moon: Moon Landing)
- Tied-up men (chains: The Trap,
Cheyenne with hands tied at start: Land Beyond the Law,
handcuffed crooks at end: Promised Land,
men stuck in magician's box: The Disappearance of Bat Masterson,
Maverick, sheriff: The Jail at Junction Flats,
astronaut complains about tight straps on spacesuit: Moon Landing,
the Virginian: The Sins of the Fathers)
- Sophisticated, tricky, well-dressed Englishmen (club member: The Inner Circle,
Dandy Jim Buckley: The Jail at Junction Flats)
- Duded-up gunfighters, sometimes oddly (Les Shore (Rhodes Reason): The Trap,
Joe Epic: Land Beyond the Law,
Bat Masterson in series pilot: Double Showdown,
outlaw in ship's officers' uniform: River Boat,
gunslingers dressed as undertakers: Promised Land,
robbers in long dust-coats and masks: The Disappearance of Bat Masterson,
Adam: The Sins of the Fathers)
- Eye patches (Major: The Jail at Junction Flats,
Patch: The Inner Circle)
- Grooming (Cheyenne washes at pump and mirror: The Law Man,
Cheyenne gets dressed up in suit: The Trap,
Bat grooms in front of mirror and polishes cane: Double Showdown,
astronaut gives son eagle: Moon Probe,
astronauts get help putting on spacesuits: Moon Landing,
Andrew Duggan puts on shiny black robe: House of Women,
kid cleans up in ballpark dressing room in morning: Safe at Home!)
Here are ratings for various films directed by Walter Doniger. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.
- House of Women **
- Safe at Home! **
- The Bounty Killers ***
- The Law Man **
- The Trap **1/2
- Land Beyond the Law **1/2
- Double Showdown ***
- Two Graves for Swan Valley
- Cheyenne Club ***
- River Boat **
- The Tumbleweed Wagon
- A Matter of Honor
- Lottery of Death
- Promised Land ***
- The Desert Ship **1/2
- The Romany Knives *
- Who'll Bury My Violence? *1/2
- The Canvas and the Cane
- The Inner Circle ***
- Flume to the Mother Lode *1/2
- Deadly Diamonds
- Six Feet of Gold *1/2
- The Disappearance of Bat Masterson **1/2
Men into Space:
- The Jail at Junction Flats ***
- Moon Probe **1/2
- Moon Landing ***
- Lost Missile **1/2
- Quarantine **1/2
- The Sins of the Fathers **1/2
Cheyenne: The Bounty Killers
Protests and Non-Violence
The most unusual features of The Bounty Killers (1956) are the scenes of street protest. These are against
a lawman who is considered abusive in doing his job. Such street protests run through Doniger's work.
They mark a notable instance of left-wing public revolt.
The accused man is a carpenter. He is not dressed as a cowboy, or in clothes that seem at all "Western".
Instead, he is dressed in plain working class clothes that could be worn in any era.
He looks strongly working class.
Links to Silver Lode
The Bounty Killers resembles Silver Lode (1954), directed by
Allan Dwan. In both films:
There are differences between the two films, in the back-story of the prisoner; and in later developments of the plot.
- A town resents the taking of a well-liked, respected citizen as a prisoner by a lawman from out of town.
- The townspeople stage a public, mass show of support.
- They form a posse to accompany the prisoner on his journey with the lawman, to ensure no harm comes to him.
There is a fairly elaborate camera movement, in the shot that ends with the hero and the bounty hunter
first entering the Sheriff's office. It moves with the men down the street, to the Sheriff's door.
Then, after a pause, it unexpectedly turns, and gives us a long view of the street.
It shows the townspeople beginning to congregate at the end of the street. It then turns back,
showing us the Sheriff's door again. The revelation of the townspeople gathering seems ominous.
It is emphasized by the way the camera movement reveals this information.
Soon a camera movement will follow the Sheriff slowly across the street to the carpenter's shop.
Short Story to Film
The Bounty Killers (1956) is based on a short story by the well-known Western writer
Steve Frazee. Frazee's tale "The Bounty Killers" (1955) is reprinted in
The Best Western Stories of Steve Frazee (1989).
In many ways, The Bounty Killers is a faithful version of the short story.
It has two principal differences, both relating to politics:
The protagonist in the short story becomes series hero Cheyenne in the film.
Cheyenne already has a noble code of life in the TV series. He doesn't undergo the moral development of the
short story's hero, moving from a rigid fascistic viewpoint to humane, less macho values.
- The street protests are expanded for the film. The townspeople take to
the street in the end of the short story, but more to give the accused man practical help,
than as any sort of protest. The crowds in the film seem political, as well as
offering practical action.
- The protagonist of the short story starts out with an ideology of worshipping strength,
and feeling contempt for weakness in men. This position seems partly quasi-fascist,
partly a rigid macho view of male gender roles. He gradually learns this code is rotten,
and learns a different philosophy which sees other kinds of value in men and in different kinds of behavior.
None of this appears in the film.
The hero of the short story is working for the bounty hunter, because
he initially admires the hunter's "strength". By contrast, in the film Cheyenne goes to work
for the hunter, when the hunter saves his life from outlaws. Cheyenne feels gratitude
to the hunter. But he doesn't really have an admiration for the hunter's values,
or for a concept like "strength" which the hunter might represent.
An odd difference between story and film: the accused man in the story is a cobbler,
specializing in the making of Western boots. His profession has been changed to carpenter
in the film. Perhaps this was to make his job more timeless and less "Western" in association.
Most importantly, the change to carpenter enables a key accomplishment: this man has built
the town's church and school, for free. This relates to the Doniger theme of public service.
Doniger will soon look at the future space program in the remarkable series Men into Space.
The space program can also be seen as a massive example of public service.
Cheyenne: The Law Man
The Law Man (1956) is the most conventional, and least interesting, of Walter Doniger's four episodes of
Cheyenne. It is pleasant enough, but its material seems familiar.
Almost a Criminal Empire
The set-up is close to the Doniger theme of a criminal empire, although the town
is far from fully run by the crooks:
A major character has left being a law man, and turned into a businessman to make money.
Greed is also his motivation for turning crooked. This is perhaps one of Doniger's negative comments
on the wealthy.
- The Law Man shows a town where leading citizens are secretly cattle rustlers.
These secret criminals do not entirely run the town, but they are influential,
and set public policy.
- Innocent men who come to the town get framed, as in The Trap.
- The town moves towards the isolation found in other Doniger criminal empires
when one of the crooks destroys the telegraph wire connecting the town to the outside.
The young boy learns moral lessons: also a Doniger theme. Learning that admitting you are wrong,
is part of growing up and becoming a man, seems like a notable idea.
There is a pillared region in the saloon where the heroine sings.
Outdoors, the town is full of pillared sidewalks, porches and porticos.
Cheyenne: The Trap
The Trap (1956) is another story, in which ordinary people have to defy corrupt law.
Instead of a single bad lawman, as in The Bounty Killers, The Trap has a whole town
and prison full of corrupt officials. Does this make it better? I'm not so sure.
In many ways, The Trap is just another lurid prison melodrama. Doniger started his career, with a series
of prison films for theaters. Still, if one is going to make a prison melodrama,
the filmmakers should have the skill to make it lurid and dramatic - and Doniger certainly know how.
The title illustration, showing leg irons over a prisoner's cowboy boots, is striking.
The opening shows Cheyenne looking at signs of town businesses. They are all owned by the same family.
There is a critique here of monopoly capitalism. Americans used to be deeply concerned by concentrations of wealth.
Unfortunately, today's rotten Libertarianism has encouraged wealth to flow into the hands of a few powerful,
and usually anti-social billionaires.
Soon we will see massively corrupt government in this town.
All the crooked government officials are played by conspicuously older, middle-aged men.
Pillars and Cages
Inside the mine, there are barred cages in which the guards sit. This separates them from the prisoners.
It gives the guards an ominous aspect. These are some of Doninger's barred cages, with tall vertical bars.
Some of the buildings at the prison mine have pillared porches. These are seen in the shots,
but don't play too conspicuous or prominent a role.
The opening has the camera moving away from a city limits sign. The town is now seen in the distant background.
Soon, Cheyenne rides from the front of this shot, to the town deep in the background.
A shot framed by the dark mineshaft entrance, shows the ground outside the mine,
with the house far in the background.
The two women talk outside, while between them, a little way back, are prisoners with a cart.
This depth is not extreme. But the contrast between the women and the prisoners seen between them is striking.
Bob Hover, one of the actors, is better known as a bodybuilder and model for physical culture magazines of the era.
Hover does fine in his small role here. But he had a bigger and better role in another
Cheyenne episode, Big Ghost Basin (1957). This was directed not by Doniger,
but by Joseph Kane.
Most of the men in the prison are in nondescript clothes, both prisoners and guards.
By contrast, Rhodes Reason's gunfighter is duded up to the max. He makes a striking contrast.
He seems to have an unfair advantage, in his appearance.
Cheyenne: Land Beyond the Law
Land Beyond the Law (1957) is about one of those hidden valleys run as havens for crooks. This is a common
Western subject. As in The Trap, the film concentrates on the empire's ruling elite, their nasty
power struggles, and their bizarre romantic entanglements with each other.
Like many such hidden valleys of crime, this one has a secret entrance. In keeping with Doniger traditions,
this one is an underground mine tunnel.
The crime empire is lead by a quasi-soldier, the Major. The Major is obsessed with militarism.
The Major's phony military pretensions echo and contrast with a real Cavalry officer we have just seen
in conference with Cheyenne. The Cavalry officer is briskly confident, and seems utterly "for real".
His business-like normal approach contrast with the Major's airs. The Cavalry officer has a straightforward map
of the hidden valley; the Major has a terrain contour map on a table, with toy soldier figurines
representing troops. It is much more elaborate that the real Cavalry officer's map - and much more boyish
with the toy soldiers, and less serious looking.
Links to Dark Command
Perhaps the filmmakers have been watching Dark Command (1939),
directed by Raoul Walsh. Both films deal with sinister militias; in both the leader
started out life as a schoolteacher; in both the leader has a lavish house, in which he puts his stolen booty
on display in a pointed parody of bourgeois conspicuous consumption.
The villain in Dark Command is a Southerner, modeled on the vicious William Quantrill.
The villain in Land Beyond the Law is a northerner, proud of being part of
Sherman's March to the Sea.
Villain Joe Epic (played by James Griffith) is an unusual character. The film makes him as openly gay as
the censor and mores would allow in 1957. Epic is in love with chief villain the Major, and has a
jealous hatred of the Major's wife.
Epic is duded up in one of the most bizarre costumes in Western films. Western bad guys frequently wore black, so
Joe Epic's all-black costume is within that tradition. But it is also full of kinky features,
including a front leather panel.
Cheyenne is ridden into town at the film's start, under arrest by a Sheriff's posse.
Cheyenne's hands are tied: one of many Doniger heroes who gets tied up. Soon,
we are at that favorite, and related, Doniger locale, a jail.
Like other Doniger heroes, Cheyenne turns the table on the jailer, locking him and his men into
his own cell.
The photographer is in an unusually staged sequence. We see a long take focussing exclusively on him.
Cheyenne is not shown: he is purely an off-screen voice. The photographer comically tries to coax the hero the hero to smile;
the the hero keeps sternly refusing.
When Cheyenne enters the Major's house, a long take camera movement shot ensues.
This is sometimes combined with depth staging, with characters in the background of the screen.
Bat Masterson: Double Showdown
Double Showdown (1958) is the pilot episode of the Bat Masterson television series.
Much is made of Bat Masterson's elaborate costume, including a scene of his boots being shined
and a discussion of the origin of his cane. This relates to the fancy and often strange costumes
for gunfighters that run through Doniger. Bat is often seen polishing his cane, in a symbolic way.
The villain is going to have Bat cheated or perhaps killed, during the poker meet in his saloon.
Bat instead has the poker match held in the street, with numerous townspeople assembled to witness,
to keep it honest and safe.
The assembled townspeople are an example of the mass non-violent assemblies in Doniger's films.
Double Showdown is most notable for its highly unusual finale. (SPOILERS) It violates
story telling norms in two ways:
I have no idea who came up with this finale. It could be the work of series regulars
Frank Pittman & Andy White, who created the story for the episode. But one also notes that
at roughly the same time, Doniger is doing unusual things with the narrative
structure of his Maverick episode The Jail at Junction Flats. It is likely that
a pilot like Double Showdown was filmed earlier than a regular series episode like
The Jail at Junction Flats, however.
- The hero sits down and talks directly to the camera. He goes a bit out of character,
identifying himself as Gene Barry, but still in costume as Bat Masterson.
He talks about the history of the real life Bat Masterson.
- We get a "worlds of if" replay of the finale. This sort of alternative path film is still
unusual. It is startling to see it in an old TV show.
Although the first finale is a card game, it takes place in an outdoor street.
This is a Doniger approach: staging events in large outdoor areas.
Doniger shoots through the stagecoach. This is depth staging, and through a booth-like region.
People are frequently shown in the background, glimpsed through a gap between two characters in the foreground:
The departure of the stagecoach from town has people seen in the distance between it on the left and buildings on the right.
The depth of field is great, showing buildings in the far distance.
- The messenger (Elisha Cook) frequently shows up this way. It is his entrance, in various scenes.
- Bat is seen between the two gunfighters at night. Their paired guns and gunbelts are emphasized.
- The kid appears this way, late in the drama.
- A gunslinger appears when the villain steps aside, near the finale.
Many of the town buildings have covered porticos with pillars.
There are numerous curtained alcoves in the casino.
These can seem a bit like the cages or pillars in other Doniger interiors.
Shots of cards on a table, often include Bat's cane held straight up on the table.
These form pleasant geometric patterns. They form a "still life": objects on a table nicely arranged.
The shots of smashed glasses in the wrecked saloon, also perhaps qualify as still lifes.
However, they are in full motion, not "still".
Bat Masterson: Cheyenne Club
Cheyenne Club (1958) is an amusing story about problems at an elite Western club.
It has a nice mystery subplot, about card cheating at the club.
(SPOILERS) It is most noteworthy for its finale, which can be read as a political commentary,
in favor of non-violent social protest. This scene is unexpectedly moving.
The finale underscores that both women and working class men are taking part in the protest.
It is against a dictatorial rich man.
Bat Masterson: River Boat
River Boat (1959) deals with a gang that hijacks and loots a river steam ship.
The gang is organized as one of Doniger's criminal empires. And after they take over the boat,
it becomes one of Doniger's isolated criminal-run worlds.
Once again, there is a colorful but sinister lead crook, here known as The King.
One of the crooks is uniformed as a ship's officer. This is an example of the
highly dressed-up gunslingers that run through Doniger's work.
The opening sequences at quite interesting, showing the gang's activities on ship.
But River Boat becomes less absorbing after this.
Bat Masterson: Promised Land
Promised Land (1959) deals with another one of Walter Doniger's criminal empires, once
again in an isolated location. But here there is a benevolent, comic twist:
many of the residents are reformed criminals, trying to go straight. They want to run their town on honest lines.
As in Land Beyond the Law, there are elements of parody of bourgeois life.
Promised Land has a sly, comic quality. It is fun to think about what such a town might be like.
The gunslingers all dressed up like undertakers are also entertaining.
They look as if they hare having fun with their impersonation.
Their fancy top hats are phallic symbols. Their Western ties also have a dressy swagger.
The bank has a teller cage inside, which looks like an actual jail.
It is compared in the dialogue to a jail cell, at the end of the show, so the similarity is deliberate.
It is one of several Walter Doniger interiors with a cell or cage inside.
Bat Masterson: The Inner Circle
Women Trying to Get the Vote: Positive Social Movements
The Inner Circle (1959) is still unusual, both for its feminist and social class themes.
This is a fascinating look at the Woman's Suffrage movement (women trying to get the right to vote).
It is told in a sly, comic style, like other of Doniger's works of the era: he amuses, rather than preaches,
as he tells politically pointed stories.
The suffragists have a stand, where they collect signatures in the street. This seems related
to the street protests in other Doniger films.
Villain: John Scott Powers
The suave, comic, but deadly English villain John Scott Powers (played by Philip Baird),
recalls Dandy Jim Buckley in The Jail at Junction Flats. Both are sophisticated, tricky Englishmen.
Powers is dressed to the nines. Like some of Doniger's
gunfighters, his clothes are both very fancy and distinctly odd. While a rich man,
and not a gunfighter, his frequent use of a gun links him to Doniger's gunfighters.
Iconographically, he can seem like one of Doniger's "gunfighters dressed
up in fancy, bizarre and perverse clothes".
Villains: A Critique of the Rich
The villain is a member of a whole elite criminal conspiracy.
This recalls a bit the criminal empires in The Trap and Land Beyond the Law.
However, these people do not run a separate small empire somewhere. They instead are the elite
capitalists of Wyoming. All of these groups have prominent, and corrupt, female members.
The Killer: Doniger Subjects
The subplot about the low-life killer hired to assassinate Bat Masterson, is packed with Doniger subjects:
- The jokes about the small fee needed to kill Masterson, recalls the "costs of human lives" in other Doniger,
such as the evils of bounty hunting for money in The Bounty Killers, and Adam refusing a monetary reward
for saving the ranch's money and hero's life in The Sins of the Fathers.
- Bat Masterson pardons the killer after the attempt and sets him free, like the Virginian pardons
his assailant in The Sins of the Fathers. Masterson's action has positive consequences later,
and sets up a "virtuous circle". The pardon is an example of non-violence. It suggests that
non-violence can lead to social change.
Much of the action takes place in the streets. These scenes show Doniger's skill
with staging events in streets, often featuring large numbers of people.
Some of the shots show depth staging, with actions seen in the far background of deep focus shots.
Both the Inner Circle members with their rival stand, and the crowd of drunken low-lifes,
are both often seen in the background of shots.
Doniger shoots through the booth, with action in the background seen through pillars of the booth.
Shooting through pillars of architecture is a Doniger technique.
Maverick: The Jail at Junction Flats
The Jail at Junction Flats (1958) is the sole episode of the Maverick television series
directed by Walter Doniger.
Narrative Structure: The Opening Spoof
The Jail at Junction Flats does inventive things with narrative structure. The robbery near
the start is narrated as a rollicking adventure, out of an old Western dime novel. It shows comic
- and non-naturalistic - events. It is framed by pictures from a (fictitious) dime novel.
It has old fashioned piano music as an accompaniment,
suggesting that the audience take the events as some sort of non-realistic Old West Show.
The music is a burlesque of the typical piano accompaniment of silent film melodramas.
The giant actor Dan Blocker, soon to gain fame as Hoss on Bonanza,
has an old-fashioned mustache, and behaves in strikingly non-realistic ways.
His jerky arm movements recall speeded-up silent films.
Blocker had previously appeared in Doniger's Land Beyond the Law.
The title jail is formidably guarded. It recalls in a comic way the prison empire in The Trap.
The Jail at Junction Flats caused controversy in its time, with its finale.
There are sly hints that perhaps Maverick is enjoying himself. SPOILER. The Jail at Junction Flats
opens with a sheriff elaborately hog-tied with ropes; it ends with Maverick similarly hog-tied.
This was the last full-scale appearance for the continuing character Dandy Jim Buckley, although
he has a small-but-good later role in Shady Deal at Sunny Acres
(Leslie H. Martinson, 1958). Perhaps the controversy the
show caused with viewers scared the producers from continuing the character.
The Virginian: The Sins of the Fathers
The Sins of the Fathers (1970) is the sole episode of The Virginian television series
directed by Walter Doniger.
It starts out entertainingly, with the Virginian getting tied up, a Doniger tradition.
But soon it veers off into eerie menace. The rest of the show is not good - but it does have weird moments.
The opening resembles The Bounty Killers, with a stranger saving the series hero's life.
Although this stranger initially looks like a Good Guy, the series hero(es) soon begins to wonder
if he really might be a Bad Guy. Despite these misgivings, the heroes feel obligated to support the stranger.
Robert Lipton - and the Counter Culture
Guest star Robert Lipton plays the mysterious-hero-or-villain. SPOILER. The show ends with a bizarre
gunfight between the 26-year old Lipton and the 62-year old series star John McIntire. To make matters more
extreme, John McIntire is in traditional cowboy garb, looking like every film and TV cowboy of the previous
twenty years, while Lipton's cowboy clothes are all Mod. So is his long hair style. It looks like
a duel between generations, or Old School and Counter Culture America. Admittedly, The Virginian
included other Youth Culture characters: good guy regular Tim Matheson played in a flowered cowboy shirt
that looks straight out of the Summer of Love. Still, the contrast between pretty boy Lipton and aging icon McIntire
seems full of allegorical undercurrents. It also looks like an Old Hollywood versus New Hollywood duel.
Gunfighters like Lipton's character, who are spectacularly-but-strangely-dressed, are a Doniger tradition.
Robert Lipton had a better, and more normal, role in the TV version of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing (1973).
The bucket of water near the end reminded me oddly of the water barrel at the end of L'Eclisse
(Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962). Who knows if I'm just imagining things.
But the finale of The Sins of the Fathers does have a vaguely avant-garde feel.
The final gunfight takes place in front of Shiloh ranch. Doniger likes such "large, complex outdoor areas,
full of buildings and landscape features". Doniger's staging utilizes the long, steep slope descending from
the ranch house. The area recalls the prison yard in front of the ranch house in The Trap.
House of Women
Genre: Women in Prison Films
House of Women (1962) is a film about women in prison.
Women's prison movies are among the most low-brow of all film genres. Some are mainly
"exploitation films", designed to flaunt lurid behavior and trashy scenes.
Such material is not absent from House of Women.
However, House of Women is much more like a normal movie, than are many "women in prison" films.
It is more sympathetic to its women prisoners, depicting them as "normal" people.
Several of the convicts are shown as intelligent and sensible. The convicts seem more like
a bunch of regular people you might find working in an office, and less like the lurid caricatures of prison flicks.
The second half of House of Women shows bad governance of the prison from its corrupt warden,
and revolt by the prisoners.
A key scene shows the prisoners protesting policies non-violently. While this protest eventually
escalates into an actual revolt, including threats of violence, the scene itself is one of peaceful protest.
It correlates with other episodes of non-violent protest and political action in Walter Doniger films.
Jack Boyle's only book, Boston Blackie (1919), deals with a sympathetic thief.
In a tale in this collection, "Boston Blackie's Mary" (1917),
Blackie is in prison, leading a fight against a monstrous warden.
Blackie leads a prison strike which he strives to keep non-violent.
House of Women has something of this same tradition.
Safe at Home!
Safe at Home! (1962) is a children's movie about baseball, and one of the few feature films
Doniger directed for theaters.
Safe at Home! has a delightful trailer, showing actor William Frawley chewing out
New York Yankee baseball stars Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who play themselves in the movie.
Frawley is showing these two baseball immortals how to hit a ball! It is quite funny.
Links to Little Fugitive
Safe at Home! recalls an independent film made for children, Little Fugitive (Morris Engel,
Ruth Orkin, Ray Ashley, 1953):
- Both star a little boy, who makes a trip all by himself to a fairly distant locale,
without any adult supervision, and without his parent's knowing.
- Both have the kid wandering around this distant entertainment area, by himself (Coney Island in Little Fugitive,
the New York Yankees' winter training field in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in Safe at Home!.)
- Both have much semi-documentary footage of the locale, which is now a historical time capsule.
- In both the kid spends a night sleeping away from home, and in both, he improvises a clean-up
the next morning in his new locale.
The Baseball Camp
The baseball stadium and camp is a large scale, self-enclosed world. In this it resembles some of the isolated
criminal empires that run through Doniger's Westerns. It is also full of men, most of them in uniform, who
are more macho and tough than most people outside. However, the baseball training camp is full of honest people,
unlike the criminal empires. The baseball camp is an entirely male place, unlike the criminal empires, which tend
to have a woman involved.
The kid hero has to try to sneak into both the heavily guarded stadium and hotel. This recalls the well-guarded jail of
The Jail at Junction Flats.
Safe at Home! lacks any truly experimental story telling procedures. But it does have two brief fantasy
sequences, showing the kid's imaginings on screen.