StarChoice 13: SADDLE THE WIND

 (Aka:“Lo sperone insanguinato”, “Más rápido que el viento”, “Libre comme le vent”, “Vom Teufel gerittenColour – 1958)

Freddie Mercury, the lead lyricist and vocalist of Queen once said, “When I’m dead, I want to be remembered as a musician of some worth and substance.” Today, October 18, I remember Hollywood actress Julie London, who took to heavenly abode in 2000 and rests in peace at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California, I think of her not only as a beautiful actress but also as the girl with the “come hither” voice who was voted one of the top female vocalists of Billboards in 1955, 1956, and 1957.

Born on Sept 26, 1926 in Santa Clara, California, the gorgeous Julie (aka. Julie Peck) with flaxen hair and eyes as blue as the South Sea Lagoons, was discovered by talent agent Sue Carol, wife of actor Alan Ladd. She made her first appearance in Nabonga (1944) and would go on to capture the attention of movie audience with a career that spanned about 35 years starring in movies and TV series such as “The Return of the Frontierman”, “Voice in the Mirror”, “Man of the West”, “Emergency!” . Always radiating charm and friendliness, Julie was once married to TV executive Jack (Dragnet) Webb and later to composer/Jazz musician/actor Bobby Troup and had led an unscandalous life raising five children (Stacy, Lisa, Kelly, Jody and Reese) from both marriages.

When we think of great ballads and love songs by some of the finest singers of the 50s and 60s, the “Liberty Girl” Julie, with her husky, intimate and sexy voice, stands up to the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, June Christy, etc, with songs such as “Cry Me A River”, “In The Middle of A Kiss”, “I’ll Remember April”, “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”, “Can’t Help Loving That Man”,… all those wonderful songs which came one after the other. Those songs with the musical accompaniment of Barney Kessel (guitar) and Ray Leatherwood (bass) exemplified the intimacy and warmth of Julie’s voice and style, appealing to a legion of music lovers, though she never felt her sensual voice special and always endeavored to demote her talent and professionalism.

Sometimes I’d like to saddle the wind

And ride to where you are.
We may meet in a valley or on a green hill.
Will I be yours? You know I will!…

In particular, many would remember those lyrics (written by Jay Livingston with his chief musical collaborator Ray Evens) as the title song of a western movie called “Saddle the Wind” which Julie sang, to the melody of Elmer Bernstein, the movie in which she performed as the saloon singer Joan Blake, although she is not given credit for that song in the movie.

A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production, directed by Robert Parrish (John Sturges who is said to have directed segments of the film is uncredited), “Saddle the Wind” is a western melodrama based on a screen story written by Thomas Thompson and adapted by Rod Serling (Novelist and Academy Award Screenwriter Daniel Fuchs’ (“Love Me or Leave Me”) contribution is uncredited).

 

Synopsis: A lush, picturesque western valley in the Colorado rockies (presented by cinematographer George J. Folsey in CinemaScope and Metrocolor) was shared by the Sinclairs of Double S Ranch and another cattle ranch owner Dennis Deneen, the undisputed law in that valley. Healthy and handsome Steve Sinclair is a man of rectitude and stability. He had retired from the life of a ruthless gunslinger and had returned to the valley to settle down and lead a peaceful life on his ranch. Steve’s younger brother Tony, a charming but restless hot-blood believed he’s the fastest draw in the town which inevitably sets off a series of tensions for Steve. Hopeful that he could lift his kid brother above the low height of the waist holster of his gun, a low height for a man, Steve had tried to “bend that kid”. But despite his efforts to make the young extrovert soft, Tony was not cut that way – and would not accept anyone’s definition of his life. He would rather define his life.

 

One marked thing in Tony was that he adored his elder brother Steve, whom he considered numero uno, who had been his father and mother since the age of four. But that doesn’t mean Tony would be a kid brother much longer, rather a full-partner with a thirst for gun play – to make a name for himself. Things get trigger-happy complicated when gunfighter Larry Venables comes to the quiet community of ranchers seeking Steve, the killer of his brother. Although Tony knew about Steve’s gunslinger days, he doesn’t believe that Steve is still a faster draw in protecting himself. As for Tony himself, he is of age and no one will bully him into silence.

 

On the home front a problem had started to brew when Tony returned after selling their herd at the market in Jewelton, with beautiful Joan whom he wished to marry. He had also brought a six-shooter which Steve didn’t approve of. It would soon dawn on Joan that Tony is not the kind of man she hoped to marry and start a new life with. A further problem presented itself when Yankee squatters Clay Ellison and family, popped up in the valley, and asserted their right on a strip of land, pitting Tony against them to tragic consequences.

Keeping the film in the traditional pitch of the genre, director Robert Parrish had elected to illustrate the psychological aspects of the characters through visual communication, though Rod Serling’s colourful and exciting script revolved around a good measure of derisive and thoughtful dialogue. With seldom a dull moment to blur the sparkle, Parrish’s conscientious direction also brings out moments of inspiration by his ease and panache in handling both action and characterization ably assisted by assistant directors, Robert (Bob) Saunders & Mickey McCardle (uncredited).

Parrish (Bob Parris) who had won an Academy Award for film editing for Robert Rossen’s “Body and Soul” (1947), was known as a “nice gentleman” and never rose to the “front ranks” in Hollywood. A lover of big Macaws he kept with his wife Kathie, Parrish had directed “Fire Down Below” (1957) starring Rita Hayworth and Robert Mitchum, and would helm the direction of another western titled “The Wonderful Country” (1959) pairing Julie London with Robert Mitchum. In between those movies, he directed “Saddle the Wind” with “good two shoes” Robert Taylor and young dynamic John Cassavetes.

The performance of Robert Taylor gives the essential ruggedness to the role of Steve who, despite intense provocation, refused to revert to his past life of violence. The reason Robert Taylor came into “Saddle the Wind” has something to do with the state of M-G-M at that time. Trouble had started for M-G-M with the enactment of the government antitrust law allowing the cinemas to show any film they liked, unlike the earlier law which allowed them to show only material produced by their sponsoring studio. This change also altered the way films were produced, distributed and exhibited. As the studio system failed and the number of audience reduced, Hollywood’s output had naturally dwindled. Meanwhile a change took place in the preference of the audience when the popularity of television reached for them through cheaper imitations. The studio’s attempt to recover their position with smart moves such as releasing movies to television companies, or making sci-fi movies to cater to the increased number of teenage audience, did not bring a satisfactory profit and the studio was heading towards their first ever loss they will suffer in 1957, the year Louis B. Mayer, the legendary force behind M-G-M, would die.

Determined as ever to get back into the top position and save themselves from the path towards the loss, they wisely turned to their brightest stars, created by the star-makers of M-G-M who lauded their motto “….more stars than there are in heaven” (MGM publicity slogan coined by Howard Dietz). Like all major Hollywood studios, M-G-M was juggling around their contract performers, directors, writers and other technicians in different productions. They decided to use their leading stars more effectively to pull in the crowds.

By the early 1956, there were only few stars on long-term contracts with M-G-M: Robert Taylor, Leslie Caron, Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Cyd Charisse of which Grace Patricia Kelly was getting ready to quit to prepare for her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, an event that would be called “the Wedding of the Century”. It was at this juncture that M-G-M decided to cast Robert Taylor, the most romantic reigning star of Metro whom Louis B. Mayer once told “the son he had always wanted”, as the leading man in “Saddle the Wind”, a decision that would prove right as the movie would become a box-office sensation. Ever subservient to Mayer who guided him for 17 years, Taylor never refused to star in a picture his father figure Mayer personally asked him to do.

Robert Taylor (1911-1969) (aka. Spangler Arlington Brugh) was a “punk kid” (according to Taylor himself) from Filley, Nebraska. When he joined with M-G-M and signed for a seven-year contract, he was the lowest-paid actor in the history of Hollywood with $35/- a week. Though he had acted in some memorable roles, it is “Magnificent Obsession” that would make him a prolific leading man. As he had turned to middle-age, Taylor’s boyish looks had turned sulkily handsome, sending aching shivers through the hearts of female viewers while his gay audience found his pretty boy looks fascinating.

Married to actress Barbara Stanwyck and later to Hamburg born German actress Ursula Theiss, he went through a string of romantic liaisons including actress Eleanor Parker but not as notorious as Frank Sinatra about whom his contemporary Dean Martin once remarked: “When Sinatra dies, they’re giving his zipper to the Smithsonian*.

In an era where all leading stars like Cary Grant, Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor had black hair, shining with brilliantine, many believed that it would be the durable and hardworking Taylor who would shoulder the mantle of Valentino but that honour would fall on Tyrone Power who would have a more meteoric streak of success than Taylor.

No sooner than Taylor finished Richard Thorpe’s “Tip on a Dead Jockey”, he (together with his wife Ursula Theiss) went to film location at Rosita (little rose in Spanish), a silver mining town founded in late 1872 (now a ghost town) in Custer County in Colorado, where “Saddle the Wind” will be shot through July 1957.

 

Julie London, looking younger than springtime, had arrived at the Colorado location with her daughter Stacy and fiancée Bobby Troup while the media was abuzz with speculation with the question if Julie really will be Troup’s altar candidate.

 

New York based method actor John Cassavetes (1929-89) who later became an experienced director, looks a bit odd in the western settings. Given that Taylor’s and Cassavetes’ acting styles provide an interesting contrast to the film, Cassavetes bequeath a human touch to the interesting role of Tony Sinclair who, despite his reckless ways, is still cared for by Steve.

 

British screen actor Donald Crisp (1880-1974) who performed in the role of Dennis Deneen, the undisputed law in the valley, had been working in Hollywood from 1906 with D.W. Griffith and had directed some silent movies, before he decided on acting from 1930 onwards. RKO stock player “hellraiser” Charles McGraw, as Larry Venables, is aptly menacing as the gunslinger out to kill Steve but meets his fate from the bullet from Tony’s gun. Other supporting actors with the familiar faces are:  Royal Dano, Richard Erdman, Douglas Spencer, Ray Teal, etc. All of the cast in the main roles, including those in main supporting roles, have provided commendable performances.

The film is produced by Armand Deutsch and others in the credits are: Film Editing: John McSweeney Jr.; Art Direction: William A. Horning & Malcolm Brown; Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Otto Siegal; Makeup: William Tuttle; Hair stylist: Sydney Guilaroff; Costumes: Helen Rose (for Julie London) and Stunts: Henry Wills & Jack N. Young.

The score for “Saddle the Wind” was originally provided by M-G-M’s staff composer/arranger Jeff Alexander (Jailhouse Rock). This score was not used when M-G-M subsequently subjected the movie to a number of post-production pickup shots and recuts and as a result, Elmer Bernstein’s (1922-2004) superior score was used for the movie. Bernstein had experimented in several genres such as: jazz (The Man with a Golden Arm), comedies (Airplane!), epics (The Ten Commandments), action (The Great Escape) and westerns, of which his score for “The Magnificent Seven” in 1960 would earn him his first “Western Heritage Award”. He would also receive several Academy Award Nominations for Best Original Score during his life time.

 

Even though the final climax set in the high country could have been improved, all the same, “Saddle the Wind” is an intelligent, well-written and well-acted movie that will keep your ears chasing the dialogue and keep you fervently involved in the colourfully portrayed story content, ensuring the movie’s status as a worthwhile western entry of the 50s. Undeniably, this fatalistic oater is very much a picture of Robert Taylor and John Cassevetes since Julie London’s part, being auxiliary, is underdeveloped. Nevertheless, it offers a good opportunity to reminisce Julie in her youthful beauty and husky voice when she sings that song two times in different styles.

Dearest one,my place in the sun
Is by your side, I know;
So if I could I’d saddle the wind.
Some starry night I’ll saddle the wind,
And straight to your arms I’ll go!…

 

There is something in that voice so sweet, the words so tender that it clings to us long after the DVD (available now with major dealers) is removed from the player….. like a memory of past happiness. And remembrance is, after all, what “Manningtree Archive” is all about. Ciao, Jo

   

(*Read: ”The Fieldson Guide to American History for Cynical Beginners: Impractical Lessons for Everyday Life” by Jim Cullen – Page: 132)

 

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

5 thoughts on “StarChoice 13: SADDLE THE WIND

  1. What a beautiful film(they don’t make them like this anymore, or do they!?), beautiful actors, beautiful Julie singing this sweet haunting melody. We miss you – you made millions of your fans very happy. And now, I am going to play (and sing) “Sometimes I would like to saddle the wind….”

  2. Her version of “Cry Me a River” is the best ever. I’m always disappointed when I hear other versions because I’m anticipating her voice with its unbroken flow of smoke and subtle vibrato. Gorgeous.

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