George Sherman | Subjects
| Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style
Feature Films: The Tulsa Kid
| A Scream in the Dark | Mystery Broadcast
| The Crime Doctor's Courage | The Secret of the Whistler
| Black Bart | Dawn at Socorro
| Count Three and Pray | Comanche
Rawhide: Incident of the Dog Days
Naked City: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| Television Western Articles
George Sherman is mainly a director of B movies, and largely forgotten
today, like most directors of such films. There is an interesting
discussion of some of his work in Don Miller's book B Movies (1973).
Sherman has contemporary admirers, especially auteurist crtics. See:
Dave Kehr: "In the world of race car movies, here's a plug for George Sherman's Johnny Dark (1954),
with Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie and plenty of Sherman's superb landscape work (in Technicolor, yet)." (davekehr.com, May 24, 2011).
"I agree with Yoel Meranda that "the abstract space and the emotions it creates are very hard to talk about."
I feel that way about many of the B westerns of George Sherman, which I find almost unbearably beautiful for the
way they cover the western landscape, though I have never found a satisfying way of expressing what I feel Sherman is doing.
There is something in the way he uses wide angle lenses slightly tipped up toward the sky that
gives his landscapes the feeling of grand, cathedral-like interiors, quite the opposite of the "horizon line of history" that Andrew Sarris
famously found in Ford's work." (a_film_by, October 4, 2006).
George Sherman: Subjects
- Newspaper columnists (Mystery Broadcast, The Crime Doctor's Courage)
related (ex-newspaperman hero: A Scream in the Dark, reporter: The Secret of the Whistler)
- Artists (pianist: Mystery Broadcast, dancers: The Crime Doctor's Courage,
painters: The Secret of the Whistler, dancer Lola Montez: Black Bart,
hero is skilled classical pianist: Dawn at Socorro,
acting students: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Classical music in lower-brow venues (ballet in night club with music by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: The Crime Doctor's Courage,
hero plays Beethoven in his cheap Western saloon: Dawn at Socorro)
- Performance venues, equipped with high technology
(radio broadcast studio: Mystery Broadcast,
night club stage: The Crime Doctor's Courage)
related (radio jukebox headquarters: X Marks the Spot,
theater in old West: Black Bart,
acting class: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
Minorities, sympathetically treated:
- Women detectives (heroine helps private eye hero: X Marks the Spot,
heroine helps private eye hero: A Scream in the Dark, heroine is main detective: Mystery Broadcast)
- Woman artists (magazine illustrator: The Secret of the Whistler)
- Women in other roles usually restricted to men (woman pirate: Against All Flags)
Characters and Deception:
- Hispanic characters (ranch hand: The Tulsa Kid,
dancers: The Crime Doctor's Courage,
dancer Lola Montez: Black Bart,
at stage stop, hero fluent in Spanish: Dawn at Socorro,
Mexican village at start, film dedicated to Mexico: Comanche,
Mexican witness: Cry Justice)
- Native Americans, sympathetically presented (Comanche Territory, Tomahawk, Chief Crazy Horse, Comanche, Reprisal!)
- Ranches with non-stereotyped minority workers, in otherwise all-white regions (The Tulsa Kid, Reprisal!)
- Other minorities (dark-skinned pirate member of leadership "Captains of the Coast": Against All Flags)
- Heroes with secret pasts and changed lives (pilot: Overland Stage Raiders, The Tulsa Kid, Reprisal!)
related (suspects take on new identities: A Scream in the Dark,
crook with secret identity, outlaws get new jobs: Black Bart,
hero wants to change life: Dawn at Socorro,
villain with new identity and life: Cry Justice,
young drover: Incident of the Dog Days)
- Undercover heroes (undercover hero: Red River Range,
detective undercover as intern: The Sleeping City,
as pirate: Against All Flags)
- Hoaxes (impersonating radio operator: Overland Stage Raiders,
guests told raids are actually staged fun: Red River Range,
phony land claim: The Night Riders,
phony blackout: X Marks the Spot,
private eye and assistant pretend to be busy when customer shows up: A Scream in the Dark,
vampires, disappearance: The Crime Doctor's Courage,
passing princess off as commoner: Against All Flags,
villain pretends to be murdered: Cry Justice,
phenobarbital used to disguise drug theft in hospital: The Sleeping City,
acting stunt: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Servants with prominent roles (housekeeper: The Secret of the Whistler,
cook: Black Bart,
elevator operator: The Sleeping City,
governess Mildred Natwick: Against All Flags,
relative works as servant to be inconspicuous: Reprisal!,
waiter, counterman in diner: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Villainous whole families (Ferris family: Dawn at Socorro,
Shipley family: Reprisal!)
- Men obsessed with a goal or dream (hero wants to build church, be minister: Count Three and Pray,
owning his own land: Reprisal!,
hero works on Supreme Court case for decade: Cry Justice,
controversial trail picked: Incident of the Dog Days,
wants to be actor: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Two cowboys dancing (The Tulsa Kid, Reprisal!)
- Men attacked by lasso (The Tulsa Kid, Reprisal!, kid accidentally lassos hero's horse: The Hard Man)
- Confrontations on sidewalks (sidewalks for shoot-out: The Tulsa Kid,
sidewalk cafe: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Cellars (Mystery Broadcast, The Crime Doctor's Courage)
- New York City location filming (Bellevue, Automat: The Sleeping City, Naked City episodes)
- Sinister alternative governments (Western state ruled as empire: The Night Riders,
pirate enclave in Madagascar: Against All Flags)
- Courts where justice is endangered (murder trial: The Tulsa Kid,
hero tried by pirates' "Captains of the Coast", British sell man into slavery for poaching rabbit: Against All Flags,
racist jury acquits killers: Reprisal!,
hero convicted on flimsy evidence: Cry Justice)
Economics and Business:
- Anti-violence (ex-gunslinger persuade others to give up guns: The Tulsa Kid,
gunslinger wants to retire from violence: Dawn at Socorro,
peace treaty at end: Comanche,
Texas Ranger kills too many men: The Hard Man, gunslinger renounces violence: Incident of the Dog Days)
- Innocent bystanders hurt (backstory: Incident of the Dog Days, opening: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Non-violent activities (people go to church in defiance of town boss: Count Three and Pray)
- Films open with a man stalking another man (The Hard Man,
Incident of the Dog Days, Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
related (opening killing: The Sleeping City)
- Hiring, often with a sinister or controversial aspect (pilots: Overland Stage Raiders,
truck owner hires private eye hero: X Marks the Spot,
first client hires private eye hero: A Scream in the Dark,
artist's model: The Secret of the Whistler,
crooks go to work for Wells Fargo: Black Bart,
hero assigned job as pirate: Against All Flags,
heroine hired as dance hall hostess: Dawn at Socorro,
Native American as servant: Reprisal!,
villain lawyer complains people don't want to hire him: Cry Justice,
lawman hired essentially as killer: The Hard Man,
controversial drovers: Incident of the Dog Days,
New York unemployment office: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Money owed announced (bad guy storekeeper: Count Three and Pray, counterman in diner: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Heroes against stealing food (cattle rustling as a form of food-stealing: Red River Range,
stealing chickens: Count Three and Pray,
phony bill at diner: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
related (cafe owner takes sugar away from cheap hero: X Marks the Spot)
- Transporting materials (tires, illegally in World War II: X Marks the Spot,
gold by Wells Fargo: Black Bart,
barbed wire rolls in wagon: Reprisal!,
cattle drive: Incident of the Dog Days)
- Finance (Wells Fargo brings infrastructure for business and capitalism to California: Black Bart,
hero ordered to work as accountant: Against All Flags)
George Sherman: Structure and Story Telling
- Comic treatments of tough material (hard-boiled sleuthing: A Scream in the Dark,
Western robbers: Black Bart)
- Musical interludes (title song: South of the Border,
O Dem Golden Slippers: The Tulsa Kid,
night club ballet: The Crime Doctor's Courage,
violinists in restaurants: The Secret of the Whistler,
Lola Montez dances: Black Bart,
hero sings ballad at ship's wheel: Against All Flags,
hero plays classical music in saloon: Dawn at Socorro,
church hymns: Count Three and Pray,
recurring song in film: Comanche,
people dance at wedding reception: Cry Justice)
- Viewers deceived about what they are seeing (opening flogging: Against All Flags,
opening raids: Comanche,
opening: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Opening narration, often philosophical (prologue disclaimer with Richard Conte: The Sleeping City,
Cavalry and Sioux: Tomahawk,
historical retrospect: Dawn at Socorro,
talk about the future: Cry Justice,
Gil Favor mediating about getting away and judging drovers: Incident of the Dog Days,
thoughts on theater: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Parallel construction (first half in Lordsburg, second half in Socorro: Dawn at Socorro,
two scenes of hero and villain confronting in offices, two scenes of justice in saloon courtroom: Cry Justice)
George Sherman: Visual Style
Geometry and Architecture:
- Working areas, with rectilinear design
(sidewalks for shoot-out: The Tulsa Kid,
radio jukebox headquarters, mainly rectilinear: X Marks the Spot,
morgue: A Scream in the Dark,
newspaper morgue: Mystery Broadcast,
catwalks: The Crime Doctor's Courage,
hallway in studio building: The Secret of the Whistler,
boxes at theater: Black Bart,
Automat: The Sleeping City,
fences and building facade at Lordsburg shoot-out: Dawn at Socorro,
church: Count Three and Pray,
sidewalk cafe: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street)
- Environments full of curves (cafe at start: X Marks the Spot,
artist's studio: The Secret of the Whistler,
lazy Susan and dishes on Automat table: The Sleeping City,
camp with bathtub and buckets and cookware: Incident of the Dog Days)
- Flashing lights (radio jukebox: X Marks the Spot, night club ballet: The Crime Doctor's Courage)
- Lit signs (Automat: The Sleeping City)
Costumes and Appearance:
- Blue and orange (Mexican village at start: Comanche,
town square barbed wire confrontation: Reprisal!)
- Blue and red (pink stagecoach and hero's blue suit: Dawn at Socorro,
face paint: Comanche)
- Red, blue and yellow (heroine's blue-red-gold-silver gown, finale with villain in red-gold and hero in blue trousers: Against All Flags,
Native American hero at end: Comanche)
- Red and green (opening scene of pirates, garden with heroine in green and hero in off-red: Against All Flags)
- Red and gold (room where hero does accounting: Against All Flags)
- Purple clothes (heroine: Dawn at Socorro,
old man's shirt: Reprisal!)
- Brown, gray and black (Lordsburg scenes: Dawn at Socorro)
- White clothes (morgue attendant: A Scream in the Dark,
doctors, busboy at Automat: The Sleeping City)
- Highly dressed-up men (John Wayne in double-breasted suits: Red River Range,
villain Jack LaRue's pinstripe suit and trenchcoat: X Marks the Spot,
private eye hero sleuths in his tuxedo: A Scream in the Dark,
hero's double-breasted tuxedo, doctor in pinstripes, lawyer in white tie and tails: The Secret of the Whistler,
hero flaunts his success in new community: Black Bart,
hero in suit with collar pin and good tie: The Sleeping City,
hero in suit with shiny vest, other men in suits: Dawn at Socorro,
black preacher suit: Count Three and Pray,
Lorne Greene's boots: The Hard Man)
- Pinstripe suits (John Wayne: Red River Range,
villain Jack LaRue: X Marks the Spot,
doctor: The Secret of the Whistler)
- Buckskins (Van Heflin: Tomahawk, Native Americans, heroine: Comanche)
- Heroes with black leather chairs (hero's office: A Scream in the Dark,
hero's room: Dawn at Socorro,
hero's law office: Cry Justice)
- Disguised characters (vigilante masks and robes: The Night Riders,
veiled woman: Mystery Broadcast,
masked bandit: Black Bart)
- Men clean up (tied-up hero shaved and has hair combed: Against All Flags,
hero shaves: Count Three and Pray,
barber in lobby: The Hard Man,
Clint Eastwood bathes: Incident of the Dog Days)
- Men teach heroines grooming (hero shows heroine uses of patches: Against All Flags,
hero teaches heroine to wash: Count Three and Pray)
Here are ratings for various films directed by George Sherman. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.
Screen Directors Playhouse:
- Overland Stage Raiders **1/2
- South of the Border *1/2
- The Tulsa Kid **
- A Scream in the Dark **1/2
- Mystery Broadcast **1/2
- The Crime Doctor's Courage ***
- The Secret of the Whistler **
- Relentless *1/2
- Black Bart ***
- The Sleeping City *1/2
- Against All Flags **
- Dawn at Socorro **1/2
- Chief Crazy Horse **1/2
- Count Three and Pray **
- Comanche **1/2
- Reprisal! ***1/2
- The Hard Man **
- Incident of the Dog Days ***
- Dust Devil on a Quiet Street **1/2
The Tulsa Kid
The Tulsa Kid (1940) is a Western starring Don "Red" Barry. It has a theme
of non-violence, with the hero being an ex-gunslinger, who tries to persuade others
also to give up their guns.
The ranch the Tulsa Kid aids, is multi-racial, while everyone else in the film seems
to be all-white. A sympathetic Hispanic is one of the ranch hands: George Sherman's films are
full of non-stereotyped Hispanic characters.
There is a nice musical performance of O Dem Golden Slippers.
After the song, Sherman includes some camera movements, following characters into and out of the room.
Rectilinear Environments: The Sidewalks
The final shoot-out is unusual, in being staged on the town sidewalks, rather than in the
street. There seems to be a California law that says all such suspenseful duels have to be mid-street.
Sherman opts for more photogenic sidewalks, instead. The sidewalks are perhaps one of
Sherman's rectilinear areas. They include over-hanging porticos, curbs, and other
features that make them rich in visual design.
A Scream in the Dark
A Scream in the Dark (1943) is a non-series B-movie whodunit.
Our hero is a newspaper man who has just quite his job to open
a private detective agency.
The film shows George Sherman's liveliness. There is his mixture
of suspense, comedy and beautiful sets and costumes. However,
this movie is more cornball than George Sherman's more polished works.
The dialogue creaks, and the characters seem less
three dimensional than in other Sherman films. The film is cheery
and good natured throughout, and will probably be enjoyed by lovers
of old film mysteries who can ignore its technical imperfections.
The world of this tale is less artistic than some of Sherman's
films: there are no characters in the arts, except the journalistic
hero and his sidekick, a newspaper photographer. There are also
no Hispanic characters. In fact, the sheer workaday ordinariness
of some of the suspects in the film is stressed, an ordinariness
that humorously contrasts with the zany surrealism of the situations
they are in.
The film is an odd mix of the private eye and amateur detective
traditions. Our hero, who is completely fresh to the investigator
business, often seems a lot more like one of the amateur detectives
in a traditional movie whodunit than a tough private eye. He is
completely non-hard-boiled. Instead, he is a leading man type,
always dressed in sharp 1940's suits, or his tuxedo. In one sequence,
he is interrupted while dancing at a night club by a would-be
client, and he returns to his office in his tux. For the next
ten minutes, he is sleuthing around in his tuxedo. This is pleasant
wish fulfillment fantasy for an audience. It has little to do
with the hard-boiled world of most 1940's private eyes.
The heroine is secretary to the local Chief of Police, as well as assisting the hero getting
his new business started. She seems at least as intelligent and
professional as the hero. This is typical of Sherman's respect
for women and their capabilities, and recalls the female writer-sleuth
of Mystery Broadcast (1943).
The movie is based on Jerome Odlum's mystery novel The Morgue Is Always Open (1944).
The film recalls the zany world of
Craig Rice. As in Rice, there is a comic
look at hard-boiled material. There is a partnership between men
and women to solve crimes. The hero and heroine are humorous,
knowledgeable city types, good natured, sophisticated and kind
hearted. The black comedy with the corpses recalls such Rice works
as Having Wonderful Crime (1943). There is a surrealist
tone to both. In both Rice's novels and this film, each new crime
echoes the last, in a surrealist manner. The plot eventually builds
up into a big tangle, one that is humorous to contemplate, and
hard to sort out. This is a typical Rice approach.
The costumes are by Republic's long time designer, Adele
Palmer. She has the heroine, the hero's girl friend, in a series
of spectacular 1940's suits.
One scene in the film sets the tone. The hero is shown in his
office, dressed to the nines, and setting in a black leather armchair.
He looks like the last word in sophistication.
Mystery Broadcast (1943) is a non-series whodunit, about
a radio broadcast that stirs up an old murder case. It is one
of 8 B-movies Sherman made at Republic. The film shows George Sherman's
gift for atmosphere. It is simultaneously fun and spooky. There
is plenty of comedy. But the story is eerie, as well, and it is
too suspenseful to called light hearted, or a pure comedy.
The settings of Mystery Broadcast show some of Sherman's favorite locales.
The radio broadcast studio is a high tech performance venue, dedicated
to the performing arts, like the night club that houses the ballet
in The Crime Doctor's Courage. Both locations are very
elaborate, with many technological facilities to enhance the performances.
Both emphasize the importance of sound in the performance, with
the music of the ballet, and the sound effects of the radio drama.
Both films contain behind the scenes, working areas as well: the
newspaper morgue here, the catwalks in Courage. Both of
these areas are non-glamorous, in the sense of containing anything
elegant. But they are filled with visually fascinating rectangular
furniture or objects, which make for complex rectilinear paths
through the room.
A spooky cellar briefly shows up in Mystery Broadcast.
This locale will be developed more fully in Courage.
There are also some character types in common. Both films are
full of intelligent, creative types. Both movies have show biz
columnists, sophisticated, affable men who write newspaper articles,
and who are perhaps hiding something under their smooth facades.
Both have Hispanic artists in the musical arts, perhaps an artifact
of the Good Neighbor policy that led to so many Latin American
musicals during World War II. Here, however, they are in a mystery
tale, not a Hollywood musical. Neither type is at all caricatured.
The columnists are not treated with the satire Roy Del Ruth
displayed in such thirties spoofs of Walter Winchell as Blessed
Event (1932). And the Hispanic artists are dignified and intellectual
acting. Most of Sherman's characters tend to be highly intelligent.
Occasionally they can be eerie, but they are rarely silly or ill-natured.
The Heroine: A Woman Detective
The heroine of Mystery Broadcast is a genuine sleuth. She gets a boyfriend,
and he winds up tagging along on her case, but he is there mainly
to provide comedy relief and romance. It is interesting to see
a film with a woman detective. Hollywood made quite a few series
about woman sleuths in the 1930's and 1940's. The heroine is also
the writer in charge of the radio broadcasts, and an authority
figure in the world of radio. Her leadership role is underscored
by the costume designer, who puts her into dark suits while everyone
else is wearing light ones. Ruth Terry acts aggressively, and
sticks up for her ideas and her sleuthing throughout the movie.
It is certainly an interesting portrayal. The detective is mildly
scared of the dead bodies she encounters, and always screams a
little and winds up in her boyfriend's arms in these scenes. However,
this is mainly treated as a romantic interruption, and soon the
heroine is right back on track sleuthing. The heroine is quite
similar in many ways to the determined feminist heroines of modern
film. The film also emphasizes her intelligence, and her use of
her mind, in a way that is perhaps more typical of 1940's Great
Detectives, of both genders.
Visual Style: Staging against vertical lines and regions
Sherman follows a technique widely used by Hollywood directors.
He frames each actor along a different part of the background.
One actor will be in front of a door, another will be in the vertical
"well" between two windows. This approach tends to highlight
both the actors, and the different background regions behind them.
The actors and the set underline each other, and make each more
noticeable and distinct. There is nothing unusual about this approach.
But Sherman pursues it vigorously, and quite effectively.
Sherman likes his actors to be in corner areas. The place where
the side wall and the back wall meet forms a vertical line; Sherman
often has his chief actor directly along that line. A striking
shot of this sort occurs right in the beginning, when the heroine
is standing up on stage at the radio broadcast. To her left we
see the back wall. with radio actors seated on chairs on raised
platforms, and on the right is the side wall, with the sound effects
woman's desk. The two regions are utterly dissimilar in their
visual appearance. The heroine seems to be the boundary between
the two regions, someone who links the two up, and who is at the
center of the radio broadcast. There is a similar approach at
Stanley's home, where he is seated at his desk. The vertical line
of his body is right along the corner of the set.
Both Sherman's direction and Russell Kimball's sets emphasize
vigorous, long horizontal and vertical lines. The first long shot
of the radio studio is a classic piece of composition. We see
both the broad horizontal lines of the platforms on the stage,
and the repeated vertical lines above them of the curtains, and
what look like some sort of acoustic panels.
It is hard to evaluate Sherman's artistic responsibilities for
these films. Both this film and Courage have well done
sets, photography and atmosphere. Is Sherman personally responsible
for this? Did he merely have the good taste to hire talented people
to work on the films? Or is the truth a combination of both?
Cinematographer William Bradford often does interesting things
with lighting patterns on walls. These sometimes recall film noir,
including one night scene at the heroine's apartment, where the
light patterns fall on a barricaded door. Most striking is daylight
coming through a window in Stanley's study, and shining on a glass
brick wall on the other side. The bright, criss cross grid effect
is unique, something I've never seen in another movie. Film noir
rarely included this sort of effect involving bright daylight.
The Crime Doctor's Courage
The Crime Doctor's Courage (1945) is one of a series of
B detective stories made at Columbia. Warner Baxter stars as the
Crime Doctor, a psychiatrist sleuth, although there is little
psychoanalytic material in the film. The titles of the films tend
to have the words "Crime Doctor" in them, but are otherwise
fairly meaningless: the Crime Doctor does not do anything especially
courageous in this one! There are ten movies in the series, but
this is the only one directed by Sherman.
Design and Photography
This film has some key virtues. Mainly, the production design (John Dala) and the photography
(L. William O'Connell) are staggeringly beautiful. An early scene
shows a society dinner party. The glassware and dishes on the
table glow and gleam. The whole elaborate effect shows exquisite
good taste. It is a very complex still life.
Later scenes show a nightclub. First, we see a dance floor, filled with beautiful
murals and ceiling decorations. Later, we see the rafters above
the stage. Catwalks stretch on all sides, in rectilinear patterns.
It is an irresistibly photogenic area.
The dance number is continuously interrupted by blinding flashes
of light. O'Connell does a good job with these, making a striking
visual effect. The dance number is related to ballet.
It has apparently original music by the classical composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
This is an index of the care that was taken on this obscure B-movie.
O'Connell worked on many of Howard Hawks' silent films,
and Scarface (1932). He then drifted into B movies, including
the 1940 Boston Blackie films, such as Budd Boetticher's
debut film, One Mysterious Night (1944).
This is the only film I can find credited to art director John Dala.
He probably did other Hollywood films, but credits at this B-movie level are often obscure.
This film was made at the height of the film noir era, yet it
shows only a little influence of noir. Like many B detective stories
of the period, it faithfully follows a separate tradition of filmmaking.
It does show the enthusiastic visual polish of many noir films,
however. The beautiful clothes also recall the noir fashions of
the 1940's. However, the evening clothes worn by all the characters
are a bit more upper crust than the suits typically worn by urban
noir players. The men are in double-breasted black tuxedos, the
women in spectacular evening gowns.
Detection: Impossible Crimes
The scriptwriter, Eric Taylor, worked on most of the Ellery Queen
movies (the Ralph Bellamy series) and many of the Crime Doctor
films, as well as some Dick Tracy epics. He is clearly in sync
with Intuitionist school writers, such as Ellery Queen
and John Dickson Carr. This film shows
Carr-like features. There is a locked room mystery, and an attempt
to suggest that two of the characters might really be vampires.
This recalls Carr's mystery novel The Three Coffins (1935),
and its uncanny suggestions of vampirism. As in Carr, everything
at the end is explained naturally.
Taylor's mystery plot ideas are crude compared to the best print authors.
His solution to the locked room involves simple mechanical devices.
Still, he conveys something of the feel of a nice impossible crime story.
It makes for a pleasant movie watching experience.
The Secret of the Whistler
Sherman also worked on Columbia's other 1940's thriller series,
the Whistler. The Whistler films tend to be more suspense films
than whodunits. George Sherman's entry, The Secret of the Whistler
(1946), falls into this category. I found this inoffensive little
film disappointing. The plot is thin and uninteresting.
There is some good witty dialogue about how bad the artist protagonist is.
He and his work are viewed in contempt by the real, professional artists in his studio building.
The protagonist is a dilettante supported by a rich wife.
The Secret of the Whistler takes the other artists fairly seriously.
The Secret of the Whistler does not attack Art: merely this one well-to-do poseur.
The Art Studios
George Sherman does show some of his good taste in the fine sets of the opening
scenes. A party at an artist's studio shows some pizzazz.
The studio has a series of vertically paned windows. This at first sounds like one of
Sherman's rectilinear work areas. But the rest of the studio is
full of spectacularly curved objects: a curved short staircase, circular furniture, round decorations.
The whole effect is vividly geometric.
The hallway outside the studio apartment is indeed rectilinear (fairly typical for Hollywood corridors).
A Woman Artist
A woman artist makes an very non-sexist appearance. She is good at her work, and
reasonably successful: she is working on a magazine cover illustration,
a prestige assignment for illustrators and commercial artists in the 1940's.
She is also a nice person, as well as sophisticated, but not malicious in her dialogue.
I would have enjoyed seeing a whole movie about her.
The Secret of the Whistler is full of woman characters, who are mainly gainfully employed:
Only the hero's very ill wife has no career.
- The disapproving housekeeper at the mansion.
- The professional artist's model who is the leading lady.
- The nice young nurse seen briefly.
A brief picnic scene uses a tilted camera angle. The picnic is more-or-less
part of a montage sequence - and montages sometimes used tilted cameras to mark themselves off
from conventional dramatic scenes.
Like other Hollywood films of its era, the characters are dressed to the nines:
George Sherman frequently stressed extremely dressed-up looks for men.
- The doctor's pinstripe suit is especially sharp, as was Jack LaRue's in X Marks the Spot.
Pinstripe suits, often double-breasted, were the archetypal sharp look for men,
in the 1940's and film noir era.
- The hero's double-breasted black tuxedo isn't bad either.
A Western Comedy
Black Bart (1948) is a Western, about the notorious stage coach robber,
and his (fictional) encounter with real-life exotic dancer Lola Montez.
There is a good article about the film at
Jaime Christley's website.
The cheerful film is loaded with humorous dialogue. Much of the dialogue is exceptionally funny.
Making a movie about a crook is full of pitfalls. It's bad to glamorize crime,
but its also dull to preach for two hours. Black Bart avoids these extremes,
in part by casting everyone's favorite Bad Boy, Dan Duryea. He is always fascinating
as a sly, sneaky and refreshingly comic villain, one whose brashness and insidious schemes
are interesting to watch, but never suggested as any sort of role model.
Black Bart bears some similarity in approach with A Scream in the Dark:
- Both have heroes who are exceptionally dressed up.
- Both take a comic look at characters and situations often treated more seriously in other movies.
Lola Montez is treated mainly as a Spanish Dancer in Black Bart,
whirling around to lively Mexican-style music, and dressed in Spanish-looking clothes.
Her dance numbers are terrific. They show George Sherman's enthusiasm for all things Hispanic.
They recall a bit the lively dancers in The Crime Doctor's Courage.
The three outlaws (one hesitates to call these sympathetic characters "villains") each take on new roles,
a favorite Sherman subject. The protagonist has established a new life as a rancher;
the other two outlaws get new jobs as Wells Fargo men and new social roles as (apparent)
champions of justice.
In addition, the protagonist has a new secret identity as robber Black Bart.
Black Bart emphasizes that Wells Fargo is bringing the infrastructure necessary
for business and capitalism to this part of California. And that Black Bart is threatening this.
Rectilinear Environments: The Theatre
The boxes at the theater are another of Sherman's complex
The Ride to Hangman's Tree: a remake
Black Bart (1948) was remade as The Ride to Hangman's Tree (Alan Rafkin, 1967).
The story is pretty close to the original,
but the feel of the characters and their environment has been changed.
The new material and approaches are usually entertaining.
Not better than the original, but not a routine rehash, either.
After all, there is little point in a close remake of a film - why not do something original instead?
SPOILER. Best feature: a new ending that replaces the dismal, likely censor-imposed finale
of the original.
The Ride to Hangman's Tree was made at Universal. Its production design recalls
the gorgeous color TV Westerns made at Universal in the 1960's, such as
The Virginian and Laredo. This is highly pleasing.
Such works have the bright cheerful color of 1950's Westerns. There is no sign at all
that we are getting near New Hollywood, and revisionist Westerns like
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971). Everything in The Ride to Hangman's Tree
is a pleasantly old-fashioned product of Old Hollywood.
Dawn at Socorro
Dawn at Socorro (1954) is a Western. Socorro is a town, pronounced "suh-CORE-oh".
In mood and atmosphere Dawn at Socorro reminds one of Incident of the Dog Days.
Both films feature a group of people who keep annoying each other, having a series of
small scale conflicts and symbolic battles that threaten to erupt into genuine violence.
Both films are sensitive to their characters' feelings, and delicately atmospheric.
A Legend Transformed
The first half of Dawn at Socorro is a transformed version of the Shoot-Out at the OK Corral.
The hero is like Doc Holliday, a gunfighter who coughs a lot with lung trouble,
and a man who has fallen from a higher, educated way of life.
He aids his friends, a Sheriff who resembles Wyatt Earp, and who is also aided by his brother, just as Earp was.
They get in a fight near a stable yard, like the OK Corral.
They fight a rotten family, also like the OK Corral story. Both fights become famous Western legends.
There are differences: Doc Holliday was consumptive, while the hero of Dawn at Socorro
has a bullet wound in his lung. The hero of Dawn at Socorro is a classical pianist,
not a medical expert like Doc Holliday.
Midway through the film, the hero tries to give up his violent ways,
and retire as a gunfighter. He does this for health reasons.
But there is also a renunciation of a violent lifestyle.
This lacks an explicit political dimension. Still, the hero's attempt to leave
a violent past behind him is heartfelt, and a core subject of the movie. It is suggestive of an
advocacy of political non-violence, even if such politics are not made explicit in the film.
George Sherman films often have heroes with hidden pasts and new identities.
The hero in Dawn at Socorro doesn't hide his past, and he doesn't actually take on
a completely new identity. But he does make attempts to change who he is, in more subdued ways:
- His old past as an educated Easterner and classical pianist seems submerged in his Western gambler-gunfighter role,
at the film's start.
- He tries to renounce his violent way of life, and make a new start. He actually has a funeral for himself.
He talks of being a new person, whose full name is a substitute for the shorter name he used as a gunslinger.
This is a new identity, with a transformed name.
The hero plays Beethoven in his cheap Western saloon. It is quite a contrast.
It recalls the trained dancers putting on a full scale ballet with classical music in
a Hollywood night club in The Crime Doctor's Courage. Both offer a dramatic contrast,
of people whose talent and training is way beyond their low-brow environment.
The discussion in the stage coach gets at the root of the conflict between the hero
and villain Rapp (Alex Nichol). Both men were destined for "better things", but have fallen into low-brow lifestyles.
The hero is trying to change and do better; the villain deeply resents this.
A brief scene in a stage coach stop shows George Sherman's interest in Hispanic characters.
As usual, they are treated with respect.
We also see that the hero is fluent in Spanish. This is treated as a Good Thing.
Parallels in the Two Halves of the Film
Dawn at Socorro opens in Lordsburg, then spends its second half in Socorro.
There are a series of parallels between the two sections. Everything in Socorro is bigger
and more spectacular than in Lordsburg:
- Both are Western towns, in New Mexico. Socorro is bigger.
- A modest stage coach is the way to travel out of Lordsburg. A large train leaves Socorro.
- The hero owns a small gambling hall in Lordsburg. The villain owns a large, crooked casino in Socorro.
- The heroine gets a modest hotel room in Lordsburg, then an ornate, bordello-like room in Socorro.
- Both towns have Sheriffs.
- Both segments climax in shoot-outs in the town streets.
Rectilinear Environments: The Shoot-Out in Lordsburg
The shoot-out takes place in an almost rectilinear environment. A two-story building is
in the background of much of the shoot-out. Its facade is full of doors and windows.
A stable yard full of fences is also prominent.The fences are mainly rectilinear,
but some of them meet at angled corners that are not 90 degrees.
The network of fences remind one of the catwalks in The Crime Doctor's Courage.
Wagon Wheels: The Shoot-Out with Lee Van Cleef
Wagon wheels are everywhere during the shoot-out with Lee Van Cleef.
At one point the camera shoots through a wagon wheel.
This fills the sequence with circular forms, giving it a distinctive look.
Sherman cuts to an overhead angle, in a number of shots:
- The heroine alone in her hotel room.
- The good guy men walking toward the first shoot-out in Lordsburg.
- The final shoot-out between the hero and Rapp in Socorro.
In Lordsburg, the camera moves down the bar during the big "funeral" celebration.
Soon, it also follows the hero and his woman friend across the bar to the piano.
In Socorro. there is a similar shot moving down the bar, a pan accompanying the hero and heroine.
This is soon followed by a 'reverse path" shot,
a track moving back along the bar in the reverse direction from the first shot.
The two sets of shots are perhaps part of the film's parallelism, where events in
Socorro echo those in Lordsburg.
Dawn at Socorro has an unusual construction: it falls into two halves, each set in a different town.
The colors in Lordsburg are remarkably subdued.
They are mainly earth tones, such as browns, grays and blacks.
They make the first half of Dawn at Socorro look almost like the desaturated color
that has been predominant in post-1970 Revisionist Westerns. This is not quite entirely true:
There are subtle color harmonies in the first half, such as light brown walls echoing brown clothes.
This gives a bit of Old Hollywood color design to this half. It is less austere and design-dead
than the simple, brute force desaturation of so many post-1970 Westerns.
Some richer colors emerge with the poker game. The table is green and there are colored chips and cards:
all common in Western films. Even here, care has been made to have things dark.
The green poker table is a dark green, a good deal darker than in many Western films.
The chips are a very deep blue. This is color, but it is a dark, smoldering intense color.
Later, after the shoot out, a recovering good guy has crutches whose top is the same shade of dark green
as the poker table.
The heroine is introduced in an outfit with purple elements. The purple is a
Complementary Color to the yellow of her blond hair. Yellow/purple is actually fairly rare in movies.
It is associated with men in the films of Vincente Minnelli,
often athletic or virile men. It is a bit odd to see it linked to a woman in Dawn at Socorro.
The purple is in keeping with the subdued, dark colors that run through the film's first half.
There is a transition between the film's two parts, in the stagecoach ride.
Much of the stagecoach exterior is a bright pink: an unusual choice.
It sets up a vibrating contrast with the hero's blue suit.
The film's second half largely takes place in a casino in Socorro.
Here the colors erupt into a full scale 1950's palette. Clothes and sets become a riot of color,
in the traditional manner of 1950's Westerns.
George Sherman liked highly dressed-up men. The opening poker game in Dawn at Socorro
is full of men in suits. They seem very grown-up, almost middle-aged, extremely well-dressed.
They make a contrast with the cheap saloon, the other men in the saloon, and the seedy town as a whole.
The men include the hero and the villain. The two will be slicked up in dressy suits
throughout the rest of the movie.
The hero wears shiny Western vests with his suits. Even when he takes off his coat for a gunfight,
he looks slicked up to the max. Such vests are a sign of Western display and machismo.
They are often associated with gamblers. Such suits and vests can also be the signs of a gunfighter.
The hero's vest is further made dressier by being double-breasted. This gives it extra swagger.
Count Three and Pray
Count Three and Pray (1955) is about a man who wants to be a minister, set in the aftermath
of the US Civil War.
Not Quite a Western
Count Three and Pray is sometimes considered a Western. It takes place in the same
post-Civil War period of many Westerns. And the townspeople remind one of characters in Westerns.
However, it actually takes place in the South (South Carolina), not the West.
All of this resembles Stars in My Crown (Jacques Tourneur, 1950),
another film about a minister in the post-Civil War South that has a Western feel.
The minister's dream is to rebuild the town's destroyed church. This makes him one of Sherman's
heroes obsessed with a goal.
The church is one of George Sherman's rectilinear work areas. Its rectangular walls, and regularly
arranged rectilinear pews, make it almost purely rectilinear in style. Only an occasional diagonal board
modifies the effect. Sherman sometimes shoots it from above, so that we see much of the church at once.
It can remind one of the catwalks above the stage in The Crime Doctor's Courage.
The church is made of reddish wood. This gives the whole church interior a red appearance.
The uniform nature of the wood used in the walls and pews, emphasizes the geometric nature of the church.
It is one geometric pattern, executed in the single medium of reddish wood.
The townspeople have to be brave to enter the church, walking past a massive display
of condemnation and money power by the wealthy town boss. Their entrance into the church resembles
the non-violent protests of the Civil Rights era, where people had to defy police power
to sit at a lunch counter or stage a protest. The goals of the people in Count Three and Pray
are different, and have nothing to do with race or Civil Rights. Still, their actions very much
evoke the world of non-violent protest.
Count Three and Pray shows people defying the town's richest businessman (Raymond Burr).
It recalls mainstream literature like Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology (1915).
whose villain is the town banker. Both the banker and Burr's store keeper have their townspeople
under their economic thumb.
The villainous town boss has each person' debt announced as they enter the church. It is an oddly terrifying event.
In some ways, it anticipates a much different scene in Dust Devil on a Quiet Street.
That film has an unusual encounter at a lunch counter, where a man is given a false statement on what he owns for lunch.
This too leads to a public dispute, although of a very different substance and approach.
Comanche (1956) is another of George Sherman's sympathetic looks at Native Americans.
Dana Andrews is a leading man typically associated with contemporary films,
often in professional, upper middle class and intellectual roles. He is only occasionally a Western performer.
His Western roles eschewed cowboys: he was a businessman in Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, 1946),
a doctor in Strange Lady in Town (Mervyn LeRoy, 1955).
In Comanche he is cast as a scout. Sherman used a similar role for Van Heflin in Tomahawk,
another distinguished actor - although Van Heflin went on to make quite a few Westerns.
A Whole Village
Some shots of the village near the start show the whole village at once, in long shot.
This helps the audience see and understand the entire raid.
Some George Sherman films have scenes in which the audience is deceived about what is going on.
One thing is happening, but the audience is led to interpret it in another way.
Nothing quite this radical is happening in Comanche. Still, the opening has meanings
that are not brought out at first. The opening looks like a series of conventional
"Indian raids", of the kind often seen in Westerns, where the Native Americans battle whites.
It is only later that dialogue brings out the historical background and motivation for these battles,
involving scalps. The raids look more sympathetic, and more linked to historical causes,
than a viewer might originally have assumed.
The opening in the Mexican village contains two long camera movements,
that progress from right to left. They display many of the activities in the village.
They seem "exploratory": designed to show a location, it people and activities.
The opening scene in the Mexican village is full of the complementary colors of blue and orange.
They are accents, embedded in a lot of white and other neutrals. There are also accents of yellow,
including yellow flowers mixed in with the orange flowers. One suspects that the value-orange
color scheme adds to the note of tension.
This is NOT like a modern film made in "orange and teal", in which an entire scene might be made entirely of such colors.
The colors in the opening of Comanche are strictly accents, embedded in a sea of whites and neutrals.
Some of the face paint of the Comanches are "red and blue". This is a color scheme
often associated with glamor and dramatic excitement in Hollywood films.
The T-shape of the hero's face paint markings is perhaps a phallic symbol.
The final shots of the Native American good guy are built around his costume in the three primary colors
red, blue and yellow. Even the spectacular horns he wears on his head have a blue-ish tinge.
This color scheme is soothing, reassuring and harmonious.
Reprisal! (1956) is one the most trenchant looks at race relations
in the American Cinema. The film resembles both
Gentleman's Agreement (Elia Kazan, 1947) and
Devil's Doorway (Anthony Mann, 1950). Like
both of these previous works, it gives a thorough look at the sinister system of
racial discrimination. And it puts its fragile protagonist at a key
pressure point, where the system causes the hero to be torn between racial categories
Links to The Tulsa Kid
Reprisal! shares imagery with George Sherman's earlier Western The Tulsa Kid.
Both have heroes who have changed their lives, and who are keeping their pasts hidden.
Both have multi-racial ranch households, in areas that are otherwise all-white.
Both have trial scenes, in courts where justice is being subverted by pressure from
evil societies outside the courtroom.
Both have scenes where men get lassoed. In Reprisal!, this is done by the bad
guys to the Sheriff. In The Tulsa Kid, the hero does this to villains.
Both have scenes in which two cowboys dance to festive music at a party. They dance individually,
with rhythmic body movements, not in unison - but at the same time. No women are dancing.
In both films, O Dem Golden Slippers is being played.
In The Tulsa Kid, these are good guys, at a wholesome celebration; in Reprisal!,
these are bad guys at a drunken celebration of sinister values.
Rectilinear Environments: The Jail, The Town Square
None of the environments in Reprisal! are as complex as in some Sherman films.
Still, the jail is a fairly elaborate rectilinear set.
Much of the action is in the town square, near the General Store. This store has a complex
angled porch. This looks like a standard part of Columbia Studio's Western town, which
shows up in numerous movies.
The hero is followed by the camera as he walks rapidly down the town sidewalk. This is a striking shot.
The big confrontation in the town square over the barbed wire, is designed in shades of blue and orange.
The "orange" includes wood tones, as well as some brownish clothes. The Complementary Colors of
"blue and orange" is a fairly common color scheme in movies.
Other scenes use different schemes. The Native Americans sometimes have bright colors, such as
the old man's purple shirt.
Leading man Guy Madison was known for his good looks, and his previous works often
put him in spectacular clothes: the buckskins he wore as Wild Bill Hickok on his TV series (1951-1958),
the Marine Corps uniform in Till the End of Time (1946). There are suggestions in
Reprisal! that he and the filmmakers are trying to tone down his image,
and put him in simple, practical "everyday" clothes. His clothes in Reprisal!
subtly suggest toughness and realism. Perhaps too, the filmmakers are trying to get audiences
to take Guy Madison seriously as an actor, by putting him in a "realistic" outfit.
Rawhide: Incident of the Dog Days
Incident of the Dog Days (1959) was the first of two episodes George Sherman directed of the TV series,
Rawhide. It was written by the well-known Western author Samuel Peebles.
Incident of the Dog Days shows tension engulfing the drovers, during a difficult cattle drive.
Personal conflicts erupt, often over seemingly trivial disputes. It is a fascinating study in inter-personal relations.
Incident of the Dog Days contains George Sherman subjects:
- It begins with a man stalking another man, planning to kill him.
- The young drover might be a man with a secret past and changed life.
- Hero Gil Favor is a man obsessed with a goal: taking the drive through a dry region,
a move opposed by most of his men.
- Hiring is an issue, with some of the drovers Favor hires unpopular or controversial.
Incident of the Dog Days shows George Sherman's concern about violence:
- A gunslinger renounces violence, based on pleas by his new wife.
- Dialogue about a backstory tells how an innocent bystander got killed.
- Fights among the men are viewed skeptically, and shown to have trivial, non-proportionate causes.
Naked City: Dust Devil on a Quiet Street
Dust Devil on a Quiet Street (1962) was the third of six episodes George Sherman directed of the TV series,
The opening involves a confrontation in a New York sidewalk cafe. This recalls the sidewalk shoot-out that ends
The Tulsa Kid.
The cafe is mainly one of George Sherman's rectilinear environments. The region is rectangular,
and tables are arranged rectilinearly within it. Only some curving scrollwork breaks the rectilinear design.
We first see the cafe from a street around the corner. This street is perpendicular to the street
along which the sidewalk cafe stretches. This corner layout adds to the rectilinear effect of the scene.
The first shot is a pan, following the hero walking down a sidewalk. Some static set-ups follow.
Later, the camera pulls back down the sidewalk, towards the viewer, revealing more police.