Thursday, August 23, 2012

Minute By Minute...Mile By Mile

30-year-old David Janssen, already a familiar face to audiences from 77 episodes of RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, stars as a rural police officer in MGM's RING OF FIRE (1961), a thrilling B-picture shot on location in Oregon and Washington.

Verisimilitude was the order of the day for director Andrew L. Stone (CRY TERROR), who filmed in tiny Vernonia, Oregon (population 2000) and used the townspeople as extras. The miniature and optical effects are good (Stone incorporates footage of a real forest fire), and it sure looks as though the stars are very close to real flames. Even the (real) barn where the police interrogate a suspect is perfect.

Sgt. Steve Walsh (Janssen) and his colleague Joe Pringle (Joel Marston) pick up a trio of juvenile delinquents in the downtown cafĂ© on a charge of robbing a filling station the night before. On the way to the police station, Frank (Frank Gorshin, later the Riddler on BATMAN), Roy (James Johnson), and Bobbie (Joyce Taylor) overpower the cops using a pistol stashed in Bobbie’s shapely waistband and force them to drive out to the Olympic Mountains. Leaving Pringle cuffed to a tree, the teens ditch their four-wheeled transportation and head into the forest on foot, taking Walsh as a guide and hostage.

Shooting completely on location was probably hell on Stone’s production schedule, but the effort was worth it. William H. Clothier’s (THE ALAMO) color photography is wonderful, and Stone’s insistence on realism hikes up the suspense. RING OF FIRE’s biggest action sequence finds Janssen and Taylor trying to save the town from a roaring fire by herding the citizens onto an abandoned train and across a blazing bridge, and it’s a real corker of a climax.

Janssen hits the right notes as a lawman used to dealing with drunks and speeders, rather than armed psychos. In one sequence, sexy jailbait Bobbie (though actress Taylor was in reality just a year younger than Janssen) tries to vamp Walsh into letting her go free. Instead of playing Walsh as a man tempted, Janssen goes for confused—during training, nobody taught me how to react to a young girl who ignores my gun and tries to kiss me! It’s an interesting choice that says a lot about Steve Walsh and how far over his head he may be on his own with three fugitives.

MGM also had ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT, which co-starred Taylor, and one wonders whether it ever played a twinbill with RING OF FIRE. To sell the thrilling climax, Stone destroyed a real train and trestle, and the remains of the locomotive and two passenger cars still lay at the bottom of that gorge more than fifty years later. RING OF FIRE eschews a musical score to enhance the realism, though Duane Eddy (“Rebel Rouser”) composed and performed the title song, which was released as a 45 on MGM Records with “Bobbie” on the flip side.


Jeff Mclachlan said...

I've been sort on an Andrew Stone kick recently, and I finally got around to watching this (glad I waited for a nice copy). It's good, and I really think Stone is an undiscovered suspense auteur. From the early fifties to the late sixties, he just cranked out one crowd-pleasing corker after another, from the Airport-anticipating Julie, to the incredible Last Voyage.

This one is worth watching just for the actors--well, not the small town actors, the main ones-- but that climax is a real corker. Sort of funny though that the happy ending finds Janssen in the arms of the underage girl he was denying having anything to do with earlier in the movie. Wonder where that relationship ended up?

Jeff Mclachlan said...

I just realized I used the word corker twice in the previous post, and I don't think I've said that word more than three times in my life. Weird.

Marty McKee said...

Don't fret--I used it too.

Jeff Mclachlan said...

Ha! So you did. I may have been subliminally influenced. I guess it's official though---the climax is recognized and seconded as a corker.

Anonymous said...

My uncle played the mill foreman who volunteers to help in the manhunt. He had many takes trying to get out of a car wearing a hat and carrying a rifle, and as I recall they cut to having him walk up to the police station. He said that the catering was done by the local ladies, who made great pie.

Bunky said...

I grew up in Vernonia. That movie was the most exciting thing that happened in our little town. I was a 5th grader. I have to say the movie was a disappointment.