Tag Archives: Jack Elam

Count the Hours (1953, Don Siegel)

It took me a second to remember what the ominous theme in Count the Hours reminded me of—Plan 9 from Outer Space. Count the Hours seems like it was done on the cheap, something about the first half’s composition suggests Siegel had to be real careful with what he got in (or kept out of) the frame. But he still does a fantastic job (more on it later). The music, though… the music undoes important scenes every time Siegel uses it. Stock music would have done a far superior job. And the movie’s from 1953, so some of the familiar chords had been in use in science fiction movies for three years at least. It just sounds silly.

The other big problem–besides John Craven, who’s awful and in most of the scenes for the first twenty minutes–is the writing. Count the Hours is the small-town legal drama about the man defending the client only he knows is innocent against the town’s wraith. It’s like Boomerang!, only not good. The script has dumb locals who turn in to evil locals, who are then expected to be forgiven their maliciousness once the accused is proven innocent. The dialogue’s poor, but the plot twists are decent–with the exception of Teresa Wright, Count the Hours plays a bad lawyer television show. Macdonald Carey’s lawyer isn’t a very good one–I mean, he’s really terrible–not Carey… the lawyer. Carey gives a great performance (he’s undone a little by the resolution, but so’s a lot). Wright’s good, but it’s her standard performance. She’d be the special guest star if it were from the 1970s. Besides Carey–well, I guess Adele Mara is amusing… she’s not good, but her performance is a lot of fun–Jack Elam turns in the other really good performance.

But the movie’s real selling point is Siegel’s direction. He’s got some great moves–not just the fantastic courtroom montage sequence, which is awful expositional storytelling, but technically beautiful–and he keeps it going.

For a seventy-six minute movie, Count the Hours really does seem endless. I was trying to work in an “hours” joke, but I’m not interested enough. The culprit’s the script for the most part–while the mystery develops in an interesting way, nothing else does. I mean, if the real murderer had been the irradiated, mutated spaceman the music suggested… well, it’d be something. Instead, Count the Hours is a weird one. Not a lost gem, but still a technical success.

Except that terrible, terrible music. I kept looking around for paper plates on strings.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Doane R. Hoag and Karen DeWolf, based on a story by Hoag; director of photography, John Alton; edited by James Leicester; music by Louis Forbes; produced by Benedict Bogeaus; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Teresa Wright (Ellen Braden), Macdonald Carey (Doug Madison), Dolores Moran (Paula Mitchener), Adele Mara (Gracie Sager, Max Verne’s Girlfriend), Edgar Barrier (Dist. Atty. Jim Gillespie), John Craven (George Braden), Jack Elam (Max Verne) and Ralph Sanford (Alvin Taylor).


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Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969, Burt Kennedy)

From the first scene of Support Your Local Sheriff!, I thought of one thing: Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks lifted the tone of the frontier townspeople scenes, just giving them ribald dialogue. In Sheriff, the humor poked at the Western stereotypes is smarter and funnier. The characters themselves are–in character–aware of the absurdities of the genre (without having to drive off set). It’s surprising, as Sheriff is on DVD, no one else has ever made this observation about the two films….

Sheriff sets itself firmly in a traditional Western context with its cast. In addition to having Walter Brennan in it, it has Harry Morgan and Jack Elam. Seeing Brennan do comedy is a wonderful sight. James Garner is great in the lead and he just walks through the film. It keeps him busy and keeps him funny and Sheriff reminded me there once was a Western comedy genre. The Western used to be such an American film staple, it had room for its own subcategories. The Western–with a reusable set–used to be enough. Get some actors, a script, and you could turn out a good (but not great) film. Kevin Costner basically followed that principle when he made Open Range, only applied his more developed reasoning of the genre to the principle–and he made a great film there.

Maybe no one ever recognized Sheriff because it’s a comedy, not a spoof. You’re laughing at the characters and situations or along with the characters, not along with the actors and there’s a substantial difference. Since it is a comedy, Sheriff has a number of nice character relationships going. Actually, all of the character relationships Garner is involved in (with his boss Morgan, his sidekick Elam, nemesis Brennan) are great. More, there’s the romance with Joan Hackett, who’s hilarious as Morgan’s clumsy daughter. Her scenes with Garner have this playful dialogue where each statement goes through an examination by the other character then a reexamination by the original speaker. It’s hard to explain, but it’s quite funny. Also funny is Bruce Dern as Brennan’s dimwitted son who sets off the film’s series of events. I never knew Dern could be so funny. He should have gotten an Oscar for it.

Support Your Local Sheriff! operates on a level anyone with a reasonable knowledge of Westerns can understand (you need to know Walter Brennan and recognize Jack Elam). Or maybe not. My fiancée doesn’t know Walter Brennan’s Western films (I don’t think), but she did recognize Jack Elam, and she was laughing throughout….

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Burt Kennedy; produced and written by William Bowers; director of photography, Harry Stradling Jr.; edited by George W. Brooks; music by Jeff Alexander; released by United Artists.

Starring James Garner (Jason McCullough), Joan Hackett (Prudy Perkins), Walter Brennan (Pa Danby), Harry Morgan (Olly Perkins), Jack Elam (Jake), Henry Jones (Henry Jackson), Bruce Dern (Joe Danby), Willis Bouchey (Thomas Devery), Gene Evans (Tom Danby), Walter Burke (Fred Johnson), Dick Peabody (Luke Danby) and Chubby Johnson (Brad).


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