Lesley Selander | Lost Canyon | Tomahawk Trail

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Lesley Selander

Lesley Selander was a Hollywood film director, especially of B-Movie Westerns.

Lost Canyon

Lost Canyon (1943) is a little Western film featuring Hopalong Cassidy. William Boyd, who played Cassidy, was a huge Western star at one time. His films are not much watched nowadays, although his name still has a familiar ring. At one time, there was a Hopalong Cassidy comic book.

Folk Songs and Dancing

Lost Canyon contains a sequence set at a Western dance. The dance is held in the barn of a ranch, and is a very gentle, affecting scene. It is full of ideas that will eventually be very popular in the United States. These ideas will affect not just adults, but the curriculum of school kids around 1960, when I went to school. I feel lucky I was exposed to such concepts as a kid.

The dance sequence starts off with a square dance, called out by the band leader. In this film square dancing is associated with ordinary Western people of the 1800's. But it would become very popular among many different groups and classes of people. By the time of Stanley Donen's film Indiscreet (1958), square dancing is being performed by Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman at a fancy society party in London. Donen gets a little comedy out of the incongruity of London sophisticates square dancing in evening clothes and ball gowns, but everyone in his film looks as if they are having an unironical good time. The kids at my Michigan school were also taught to square dance in the early 1960's. It was a regular part of our gym classes, one I looked forward to immensely. We were given very elaborate lessons, and taught to execute many intricate maneuvers. Square dancing is easy and fun, and everyone can do it well. I was also fascinated by the mathematical permutations possible in the dance sequences.

The dance numbers in Lost Canyon are set to American folk songs. Folk singing too would become a huge national craze by the 1960's, with the popular TV show Hootenanny among others. We were regularly taught folk songs in school, including many of the numbers in Lost Canyon. John Ford began including folk songs in his post 1945 Westerns, both over the titles and as part of dance sequences. These seem to be a little bit after Lost Canyon, however. Ford also included highly memorable Western dance sequences in My Darling Clementine (1946) and Fort Apache (1948). The latter film has the elaborate Virginia Reel dance in it. This is a complex group dance related to square dancing. We learned how to do this in grade school too.

Hopalong Cassidy asks the heroine (Lola Lane) to dance, at the start of one number. She accepts, they hold out their arms to each other, and they very gently begin to move along to the music. It is a beautiful moment. The beginning of movement, emerging out of stillness, is a fascinating and ultimately mysterious thing. This number is not a square dance. It is a very soft, flowing tradition couples dance. Both Cassidy and the heroine and the other couples move with the gentlest, most relaxed motion possible, but still one with a steady rhythmical pulse, in time to the music. The song is "Sweet Betsy from Pike", one of the most beautiful of all folk songs, and a favorite of mine since I learned it in school as a kid.

Neither hero nor heroine moves here, till they start dancing together. There is no sweeping flourish to mark the start of the dance, no line of demarcation. One moment they are both still, the next moment they have started dancing. The dancing is in the exact same style as the rest of the dancing over the next two minutes.

The shots in this sequence are full of couples in motion. The delicacy of these dances make one feel one is watching a film by Max Ophuls, not a dance number in a little Western. Hopalong Cassidy and the heroine begin one shot in motion, and continue dancing throughout its course. This sort of "cutting on movement" is always fascinating to watch in film.

Jingle Jangle Jingle

After the dance number is over, a group of musicians sing a modern Western song. "Jingle Jangle Jingle" was a huge hit in its day. It is sung here in an intricate arrangement, with counterpoint between two groups of musicians. Woven into this, is a rhythmic accompaniment allegedly produced by rattling spurs, according to the pictures on screen, although I suspect it is actually produced by regular percussion instruments. This is an unusually complicated musical arrangement for any Hollywood film, let alone a little Western supposedly aimed at children. Counterpoint pops up in a number of pop songs, notably "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls, and "Rhythm of the Night", a delightful song from the 1980's. Still, it is uncommon in popular music.

The singers are billed as "The Sportsman Quartet", which seems odd, because there are actually five of them.

Tomahawk Trail

Tomahawk Trail (1957) is a Western, dealing with conflict between the Apache and the US Cavalry.

Tomahawk Trail is unusually left wing. It seems to be part of a trend of liberal films and television, made in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

Tomahawk Trail expresses skepticism about war and the military. It also preaches racial brotherhood, with its dignified Apaches.

Chuck Connors gives an excellent performance, as the Cavalry Sergeant. He seems to be warming up for his lead as the liberal, articulate Rifleman, which begins the next year. This seems to be one of Connors' few performances in Cavalry uniform.