George Waggner | Rankings
| Red Nightmare
Northwest Passage: The Secret of the Cliff
Maverick: The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot
Cheyenne: The Rebellion | Gold, Glory and Custer
| Home Is the Brave | The Idol
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George Waggner is a Hollywood director, who worked in both film and television.
He is often billed in credits as "george waGGner". One can only speculate why:
perhaps this was his humorous way of emphasizing that there are two G's in his last name.
Common subjects in George Waggner:
- Political films (Red Nightmare,
Gold, Glory and Custer, Home Is the Brave)
- Legal decisions (military tribunal trial scenes: Red Nightmare,
buffoonish show trials by rebels: The Rebellion,
military tribunal trial scenes, Native American council: Gold, Glory and Custer,
Town Council, townspeople petitions: Home Is the Brave,
gunslinger sentenced for killing innocent bystander: The Idol)
- Suppression of means of communication by dictators
(permit needed for phone calls: Red Nightmare,
printing presses suppressed, smuggled: The Rebellion)
- City with a non-standard kind of governance (Communists take over: Red Nightmare,
comic look at unusual sheriff: The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot,
Mexico run by tyrannical French, rebels: The Rebellion,
oppressive town government: Home Is the Brave,
town controlled by outlaws: Day's Pay,
town controlled by outlaws: The Idol)
- Women who support evil social systems to gain prestige
(Julie Adams: Gold, Glory and Custer,
doctor's wife: Home Is the Brave)
related (wife supports Communism in nightmare: Red Nightmare)
- Religious settings, sometimes under siege (church closed by Communists: Red Nightmare,
Native American burial grounds: Gold, Glory and Custer)
- Burial (Native American burial grounds: Gold, Glory and Custer,
burial of war hero: Home Is the Brave,
Native American burial grounds: Johnny Brassbuttons,
grave marker carver: You Can't Beat the Percentage)
- Heroes with nightmares (hero dreams of Communism: Red Nightmare,
gunslinger dreams of killing innocent bystander: The Idol)
- Men kind to boys (hero's father-son banquet: Red Nightmare,
gunslinger and teacher's son: The Idol)
- Boys and their fantasy life (Westerns, spacemen: Red Nightmare,
kid idolizes gunslinger: The Idol)
- Men working on machinery (hero on assembly line, repairs machine, kids working on car: Red Nightmare,
Cheyenne working on fixing his wagon: The Idol)
- Episodic construction (Red Nightmare,
Gold, Glory and Custer)
- Mix of non-fiction and fictional scenes (Red Nightmare,
Gold, Glory and Custer)
- Narrator who is aggressively political in his commentary (Red Nightmare,
Gold, Glory and Custer)
- Moral offered by hero at end (Jack Webb speech: Red Nightmare,
anti-war mongering: Gold, Glory and Custer,
Civil Rights: Home Is the Brave)
- Uniforms (Philip Carey in naval whites: Operation Pacific,
Russian: Red Nightmare,
18th Century French: The Secret of the Cliff,
Cavalry: Gold, Glory and Custer, Cavalry: Home Is the Brave)
- Characters who take on the roles and costumes of political enemies
(Russians have fake American town: Red Nightmare,
hero disguised in dress uniform of French officer: The Secret of the Cliff,
Cheyenne in disguise: Gold, Glory and Custer)
related (Cheyenne pretends to be friend of bad guy in saloon: The Idol)
Here are ratings for various films directed or written by George Waggner.
Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.
- The Rebellion *1/2
- Gold, Glory and Custer ***1/2
- Home Is the Brave ***1/2
- Day's Pay **
- The Idol **1/2
- The Red Coat *1/2
- The Secret of the Cliff **1/2
- The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot **1/2
- You Can't Beat the Percentage **
Red Nightmare (1957) is Waggner's most off-trail film. It is a
half-hour short, produced by Warner Bothers, and packed with their stable of TV actors.
It was made as an Army training film. It was eventually released to the public,
and widely screened in schools. It is perhaps the most politically rich of all the
anti-Communist films of the Cold War era. It is also original in its story telling technique.
Not a Right Wing Film
While Red Nightmare is fervently anti-Communist, it is not a right wing film -
unless one regards anti-Communism in and of itself as evidence of right wing politics.
Notable in Red Nightmare is the strong pro-labor union stance. The hero serves on
a union committee at his factory, and labor unionism is seen as the kind of civic involvement
that Americans should be taking part in, to preserve their democracy.
The narrator in Red Nightmare is also careful to promote Freedom of Religion in general. While the church is
plainly Protestant Christian, it is referred to as "a house of worship". This is a term that could refer
to any of the great religions of the world. The depiction of the Communists converting the church
into a museum is historically accurate. For example, when the Soviets occupied Lithuania, they turned
the national cathedral St. Casimir's into a "Museum of Atheism". The Stalinist propaganda film
Bezhin Meadow (Sergei Eisenstein, 1937) glorifies a full scale
attack on a church.
The Soviet officer (Peter Breck) in the park praises "conformity to the Soviet system".
Conformity was a major worry to liberals of the era: here this hated-by-liberals concept is linked to Soviet propaganda.
Red Nightmare combines anti-Communism with liberal values.
Red Nightmare is inventively perverse, in its treatment of the hero's potential son-in-law.
It shows George Waggner's interest in uniforms. The scene with young Peter Brown in a sharp dress uniform,
recalls the equally young Philip Carey in his naval whites in Operation Pacific.
Both men offer a swaggering sexual defiance to an older hero.
The early scenes in the fake town, have been much imitated in spy fiction.
Northwest Passage: The Secret of the Cliff
The Secret of the Cliff (1959) is an episode of the TV series Northwest Passage.
It is a spy adventure. The hero gets involved with a beautiful woman who is a double agent.
The title The Secret of the Cliff sounds like a Hardy Boys adventure, but the film is
actually more like James Bond.
The Secret of the Cliff was reedited into the feature film Mission of Danger (1959).
It forms the final third of that movie.
George Waggner liked films, in which the hero takes on the role and dresses in the costumes of his enemy.
This is a prominent part of The Secret of the Cliff. Hero Keith Larsen goes undercover as a
French officer. The 18th Century dress uniform is spectacular, both elegantly simple,
and very dressy in detail. Larsen is the sort of good-looking young man who is often in uniform in
George Waggner films.
The French Marquis has an even more elaborate outfit, more aristocratic than Larsen's but less macho.
Maverick: The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot
The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot (1959) is an episode of the TV series Maverick.
In it Maverick is forced into becoming the Sheriff of a wild-and-wooly Western town,
and expected to clean it up.
The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot relates to other Waggner, in that it looks at
how a community is governed. Like Red Nightmare and Home Is the Brave,
it shows a city, one with a non-standard kind of governance. Unlike those works,
The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot is apolitical. Instead, it offers a comic
variation and subversion on how Western Sheriffs should run towns.
The first half of The Sheriff of Duck 'n' Shoot is probably better than the second.
Watching Maverick deal with Western rowdy Bimbo in an innovative fashion is a hoot.
By contrast, he seems denser than usual in the second half's bank sequence, which spoils the fun a bit.
Cheyenne: The Rebellion
The Rebellion (1959) looks at Mexican rebels battling against the French occupiers of Mexico.
It is a political film - it is especially interested in the way that both the tyrannical French and different factions
of Mexican rebels govern. This political aspect makes it in line with George Waggner's personal interests.
However, it is mainly a misfire. While one group of rebels is led by a noble, idealized Mexican leader,
another is quite cartoonish, making the whole project something hard to take seriously.
It sails too close to stereotypes.
Also personal for George Waggner: the show trials the cartoonish rebels put on, of captured French.
These recall the sinister show tribunals that Communist conquerors put on in Red Nightmare.
One aspect, at least, of The Rebellion is impressive: the emphasis of the importance of the
printing press to democracy. The Rebellion shows its suppression by the dictators.
Cheyenne: Gold, Glory and Custer
Gold, Glory and Custer (1960) is a two-part episode of the TV series Cheyenne, broadcast 1-4-1960 and 1-11-1960.
It is one of the more audacious political TV episodes of its era. It offers
a strongly negative look at Custer, and white treatment of Native Americans in general.
Gold, Glory and Custer was written by Gerald Drayson Adams, who has a history of
writing pro-Native American Westerns. His Tomahawk Trail (Lesley Selander, 1957)
is one of the most interesting (if low budget) pro-Native American tales of the Cavalry:
just like Gold, Glory and Custer.
Links to Red Nightmare
Gold, Glory and Custer has some approaches in common with Waggner's Red Nightmare:
Both works are also little known today, perhaps because of their marginal status:
Red Nightmare is an Army training film, Gold, Glory and Custer is a TV episode.
- Both are audacious political films.
- Both are episodic in construction.
- Both mix non-fiction and fictional scenes.
- Both have a narrator who is aggressively political in his commentary.
- Both include trial scenes and courtroom drama in their mix.
- Both trials are military tribunals.
- Both include uniforms.
- Both have characters who take on the roles and costumes of political enemies,
often in striking and surreal ways.
- Both have religious settings, the church in Red Nightmare,
the Native American burial grounds in Gold, Glory and Custer, which are fascinatingly elaborate.
The Native American council also reaches decisions after hearing witnesses. It too can be considered
a "legal decision making body", like the Army tribunal in the courtroom scenes.
Cheyenne: Home Is the Brave
Home Is the Brave (1960) is an episode of the TV series Cheyenne, broadcast 3-14-1960, shortly
after Gold, Glory and Custer. George Waggner contributed the original story, but did not direct it.
The director was Emory Horger, a forgotten figure with only a handful of TV credits to his name.
Home Is the Brave seems to be Horger's final directorial effort. It is highly professional,
and would do credit to a far more experienced helmer. Emory Horger had a longer career as Dialogue Director
in Hollywood. The script is by the famous writer Richard Matheson.
Home Is the Brave starts out as a mystery story of sorts. Cheyenne is sent into a small town with
a seemingly innocuous mission, but encounters strenuous opposition from the townspeople. He, and the viewer,
only slowly learn why. The mystery is solved halfway through. The second half becomes one of the more
impressive political films of the era. It reflects the political filmmaking found in other Waggner shows.
The name of the town is perhaps a clue to the mystery - at least symbolically.
Gold, Glory and Custer showed Native American burial grounds. The plot of Home Is the Brave
centers on burial.
Both Gold, Glory and Custer and Home Is the Brave are a bit atypical of Cheyenne,
in that they show Cheyenne working for the US Army, specifically the Cavalry. In most episodes, hero Cheyenne
is an unattached drifter, or working as a town Marshal or ranch foreman. Both of these episodes debate policy
on the national, US government level, so Cheyenne's position is appropriate.
Much is made in Home Is the Brave of the decisions of the Town Council, and legal petitions made
by townspeople. Such legal decision making echoes the trial scenes in other Waggner films.
Both the Julie Adams character in Gold, Glory and Custer and the doctor's wife in Home Is the Brave
are eager to support bad social systems, in order to gain prestige. They exemplify the support women sometimes
give to evil right wing systems. Neither is at the center of such systems or their main cause -
but both contribute to the system's survival and power.
Both Gold, Glory and Custer and Home Is the Brave end with the hero offering "morals" to the story.
Cheyenne's remarks are remarkably trenchant and forceful in both films. Both offer pointed social criticism.
Both also state that the problems dramatized in the shows, are going to go on and persist, for a long time to come.
Cheyenne: The Idol
The Idol (1962) deals with one of those gunfighters eager to escape his lifestyle and
weary of being constantly challenged. Jeff Morrow, a fine looking man who was 54 at the time of shooting,
is convincing as a man who wants out. He expresses both an exhaustion, and repentance for his past life.
The Idol is full of folksiness, in its folklorish portrait of traditional Western life.
It is based on cliches, given a pleasant treatment: the aging but decent gunslinger, the schoolmarm,
starchy but decent and constructive, the little boy full of hero worship for the gunslinger,
monster villains who control a town, including Leo Gordon, no less, in all-black desperado's clothes, comedy in a saloon.
The gunfighter makes flamboyant hand gestures: ordering a bottle in the saloon by raising and snapping his fingers,
throwing his luggage up to Cheyenne.
The town terrorized and run by bad guys, relates to other locales suffering under anti-democratic rule in Waggner.
The gunslinger's perhaps unfair prison sentence for killing an innocent bystander,
seems related to other judicial proceedings in Waggner. Unlike most such Waggner trials, this one is off-screen
and in the past, although it is much discussed.
Unlike some other Waggner, hero Cheyenne does not take on the clothes of his enemies. But he does go undercover
to a degree in a saloon, pretending to befriend the chief bad guy. These funny scenes show him manipulating the bad guy,
getting him drunk, something both odd, perverse and comic. This is unusually devious, for the normally straightforward
Cheyenne. This sort of perverse power fantasy recalls Red Nightmare.
Also like Red Nightmare, the gunslinger has bad dreams. These are personal dreams arising out of his character and history,
unlike the political dream-device in Red Nightmare designed for storytelling.
Cheyenne is shown working on his wagon at the start: the way the hero of Red Nightmare works on his factory machinery.