Cast & Crew
In 1865 while riding through Colorado, former Union soldier Ned Bannon is bushwhacked by the leader of a gang of cattle rustlers and left for dead. When he regains consciousness, Ned discovers that he is in the care of an attractive widow, Ellen, and her young son Will, members of a wagon train heading for California. Ned becomes suspicious of the train's guides, Mort Harper and his partner Purcell, when he realizes that they are leading the train on a dead-end route that ends at Bishop's Valley, which is owned by Ned's half-brother, Hardy Bishop, with whom Ned hopes to reconcile. Hardy and Ned became estranged after Hardy accused Ned of causing his son Billy's death during the recently concluded Civil War. Meanwhile, Hardy has been alerted that the wagon train is approaching, led by a man in a Union soldier's uniform, and assumes that he is Ned. Hardy has been unable to forgive Ned for being involved in the capture of his son, who was with Quantrill's Raiders and was subsequently executed. After the wagon train sets up camp in one of Hardy's outlying meadows, Ned becomes even more concerned because he knows that Hardy is likely to kill anyone attempting to cross his land. As Ellen and Ned get to know each other, she tells him that after her husband was killed in the war, she decided to start a new life in the West. Ned's suspicions are confirmed when Harper tries to convince the settlers not to proceed, but remain where they are and build homes, arguing that the land is government territory open to homesteaders. Ned then tries to warn the members of the wagon train that they may all be killed, but is ordered to leave at gunpoint by Purcell. Ned rides on to Hardy's ranch to attempt to persuade him not to harm the settlers and, after beating Hardy in a fistfight, forces him to listen to his explanation about Billy. Hardy's foreman, Stark, is sympathetic to Ned and tells Hardy that Billy was a reprobate and that Ned acted correctly. The next day, Hardy tells Ned that he is willing to forget their dispute over Billy, but states that he plans to drive off the wagon train. Ned persuades Hardy to give him a few days to find out what Harper is up to and heads back to the camp. Meanwhile, Zarata, the Mexican, renegade rustler who shot Ned, meets with Harper who agrees to give Zarata and his gang cattle in exchange for their help in taking over Hardy's land. After Ned rides to the camp with three of Hardy's men, he asks the homesteaders to leave peacefully and offers them provisions and help to reach the Humboldt trail to California, warning them that, unless they leave peacefully, Hardy will send twenty of his men to evict them. Harper claims that Ned is lying and provokes Red, one of Hardy's men, into a gunfight during which Red accidentally kills the wife of one of the settlers. Ned and the others leave but that night, Ned returns to take Ellen and Will back to the safety of the ranch. When Ned tells Hardy that he is willing to stand with the settlers, Hardy gives him more time to try to peacefully resolve the situation. Later, Ellen tells Ned about her disreputable past as a dance hall girl, and after admitting that she was never married to Will's father, states that she wants her son to have a promising future. In an attack on the ranch house, Harper, Zarata, Purcell and some of the settlers kill several of Hardy's men. Although Hardy is mortally wounded by Zarata, he manages to strangle Zarata to death. Taking Ellen and Will hostage, Harper forces Ned to drop his gun and orders him to bring him a horse. Sensing that Harper may be out of bullets, Ned bluffs him and, recovering his own firearm, shoots him. Later, Ned checks with the new leaders of the settlers, Cap and Adam Judson, who apologize for not heeding his advice and tell him that they are moving on to California. Ned then invites them all to remain in the valley, as he has inherited the land. After Ned learns that Ellen and Will have already started north in their wagon, he rides out after them.
George J. Lewis
Allen K. Wood
The Tall Stranger
One element lifting The Tall Stranger above television fare was the presence of two bonafide movie stars -- Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo. Although he had scored hits in a variety of genres, including the high-quality dramatic productions of his first mentor, independent producer Sam Goldwyn, and classic Preston Sturges comedies such as Sullivan's Travels (1941), McCrea had confined himself almost entirely to Westerns since the mid-'40s. With his 6'3" frame and affinity for horses (he had gotten into films as a trainer and stunt rider), he was a natural for the genre. Increasingly, he found outdoor filming more suited to his tastes. He also preferred the Western's simple moral tales, even as concessions to maturing audience tastes led to his character's involvement with an unwed mother (Mayo). He had been working with the film's producer, Walter Mirisch, since Wichita (1955) and would continue working with him until his first attempt to retire from the screen after The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959).
Like McCrea, Mayo had started her career with Goldwyn, arriving at his independent studios in time to co-star in one of his most prestigious dramas, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), in a rare unsympathetic role. Most of the time, however, he had used her to glamorize his musical productions, usually casting her opposite Danny Kaye. She moved to Warner Bros. in 1949, where she teamed with McCrea for the first time in Colorado Territory (1949), a Western adaptation of the classic gangster film High Sierra (1941). Despite another memorable villainous role, as James Cagney's cheating moll in White Heat (1949), she continued as glamorous set dressing in musicals, action films and Westerns, with her blonde beauty particularly suited for Technicolor location shooting.
The Tall Stranger was an early adaptation of one of Louis L'Amour's best-selling tales of the old West. His first screen success had come with John Wayne's Hondo in 1953. In fact, ads for The Tall Stranger sold the current film as "Savagely written by the author of Hondo." For the occasion, the long short story was re-published as a paperback novel with McCrea on the cover. That edition is the one most frequently sold by dealers in vintage books, with some copies going for as much as $75.
Much of the talent used in The Tall Stranger came from the new medium of television. Director Thomas Carr, despite a long career directing low-budget features, was already a pioneer in the development of the television Western, having worked on such series as Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, Hopalong Cassidy and Annie Oakley. He was also a popular director with the management at Allied Artists, which released The Tall Stranger. There he had directed many of Wild Bill Elliott's final low-budget Westerns, helping to cap the cowboy star's two-decade career in the genre.
Filling out the cast of The Tall Stranger were reliable character actors like Barry Kelley, Whit Bissell and James Dobson, who would soon find most of their employment on the small screen. The film even featured one of the stars of the new medium. Syrian-born Michael Ansara, cast as the renegade outlaw making life miserable for McCrea and the wagon train, had already achieved fame as Cochise on the TV version of the pioneering drama Broken Arrow.
The Tall Stranger marked a gradual winding down for McCrea, who would star in only three more films before ending his regular involvement in motion pictures (he would make a notable comeback in 1962's Ride the High Country), but it was just the beginning for producer Mirisch. He and his brothers had started in the movie industry producing low-budget films, including the adventure series, Bomba the Elephant Boy starring Johnny Sheffield after he grew too old to play Boy in the Tarzan films. Within a few years, however, they would move into big-budget productions with the trend-setting Western The Magnificent Seven (1960), which would pave the way for a string of prestigious films including the Oscar®-winning West Side Story (1961) and In the Heat of the Night (1967). Eventually Mirisch would end up buying United Artists and becoming one of Hollywood's most respected producer/distributors.
Producer: Walter Mirisch
Director: Thomas Carr
Screenplay: Christopher Knopf
Based on the story by Louis L'Amour
Cinematography: Wilfred M. Cline
Score: Hans J. Salter
Art Direction: David Milton
Cast: Joel McCrea (Ned Bannon), Virginia Mayo (Ellen), Barry Kelley (Hardy Bishop), Michael Ansara (Zarata), Whit Bissell (Judson), James Dobson (Dud), Ray Teal (Cap). C-83m.
by Frank Miller
The Tall Stranger
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
She was born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis, Missouri on November 30, 1920, and got her show business start at the age of six by enrolling in her aunt's School of Dramatic Expression. While still in her teens, she joined the nightclub circuit, and after paying her dues for a few years traveling across the country, she eventually caught the eye of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. He gave her a small role in her first film, starring future husband, Michael O'Shea, in Jack London (1943). She then received minor billing as a "Goldwyn Girl," in the Danny Kaye farce, Up In Arms (1944). Almost immediately, Goldwyn saw her natural movement, comfort and ease in front of the camera, and in just her fourth film, she landed a plumb lead opposite Bob Hope in The Princess and the Pirate (1944). She proved a hit with moviegoers, and her next two films would be with her most frequent leading man, Danny Kaye: Wonder Man (1945), and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). Both films were big hits, and the chemistry between Mayo and Kaye - the classy, reserved blonde beauty clashing with the hyperactive clown - was surprisingly successful.
Mayo did make a brief break from light comedy, and gave a good performance as Dana Andrews' unfaithful wife, Marie, in the popular post-war drama, The Best Years of Their Lives (1946); but despite the good reviews, she was back with Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song Is Born (1948).
It wasn't until the following year that Mayo got the chance to sink her teeth into a meaty role. That film, White Heat (1949), and her role, as Cody Jarrett's (James Cagney) sluttish, conniving wife, Verna, is memorable for the sheer ruthlessness of her performance. Remember, it was Verna who shot Cody¿s mother in the back, and yet when Cody confronts her after he escapes from prison to exact revenge for her death, Verna effectively places the blame on Big Ed (Steve Cochran):
Verna: I can't tell you Cody!
Cody: Tell me!
Verna: Ed...he shot her in the back!!!
Critics and fans purred over the newfound versatility, yet strangely, she never found a part as juicy as Verna again. Her next film, with Cagney, The West Point Story (1950), was a pleasant enough musical; but her role as Lady Wellesley in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), co-starring Gregory Peck, was merely decorative; that of a burlesque queen attempting to earn a university degree in the gormless comedy, She¿s Working Her Way Through College (1952); and worst of all, the Biblical bomb, The Silver Chalice (1954) which was, incidentally, Paul Newman's film debut, and is a film he still derides as the worst of his career.
Realizing that her future in movies was slowing down, she turned to the supper club circuit in the 60s with her husband, Michael O'Shea, touring the country in such productions as No, No Nanette, Barefoot in the Park, Hello Dolly, and Butterflies Are Free. Like most performers who had outdistanced their glory days with the film industry, Mayo turned to television for the next two decades, appearing in such shows as Night Gallery, Police Story, Murder She Wrote, and Remington Steele. She even earned a recurring role in the short-lived NBC soap opera, Santa Barbara (1984-85), playing an aging hoofer named "Peaches DeLight." Mayo was married to O'Shea from 1947 until his death in 1973. She is survived by their daughter, Mary Johnston; and three grandsons.
by Michael T. Toole
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
This film's working titles were Walk Tall and The Rifle. The onscreen credits read "From a story by Louis L'Amour;" however, the short story "Showdown Trail," the basis for the film, was written under one of L'Amour's early pseudonyms, "Jim Mayo." The story was rewritten and republished as "The Tall Stranger" in 1957. The print viewed was missing approximately eleven minutes. A May 17, 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Barry Kelley had replaced Ward Bond, who had to withdraw due to a conflicting commitment. Other May 1957 Hollywood Reporter news items indicated that exteriors were being shot at the Triunfo Ranch in Ventura County, CA and at the Morrison Ranch near Agoura, CA.
Released in United States Fall November 1957
Released in United States Fall November 1957