It started out as one of those “programmers” that populated post-war theatres in the late 40s, but ended up being one of the best Western films of 1948. And it is coming to DVD on Nov. 3 courtesy of VCI Entertainment!!!
Television wasn’t a commodity as of yet and theatres were packed during the summer of 1948. The war was over and films were needed and prolific filmmaker Ray Taylor, a master of serials (Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Don Winslow of the Navy, The Adventures of Smilin' Jack, etc.) and Westerns — with over 150 directing credits — had the ability to shoot and edit in camera. That was learned craft-skill where he could line up the shots, shoot quickly and then just as quickly move onto the next assignment.
His assignment from Robert L. Lippert Productions that year was The Return of Wildfire and he delivered a quick programmer (much in the style of the half-dozen PRC films that he had churned out earlier in the year), but producer/writer Carl K. Hittleman saw an opportunity to expand Taylor’s efficient work product with additional footage that would flush-out a secondary storyline that would change the film from a quickie programmer to a full-length feature.
Hittleman asked veteran film editor Paul Landres, who was already assigned to cut the film, to shoot additional location and action footage featuring Wildfire (aka: Highland Dale, the future star of the Fury television series of the mid-1950s and who had just scored big time in the 20th Century-Fox release of Black Beauty in 1946).
Landres did so and then brilliantly cut together the Taylor footage, featuring Richard Arlan as a range drifter who comes to the aid of sisters Pat (Patricia Morison) and Judy Marlowe (Mary Beth Hughes) after their father (Stanley Andrews) is murdered in a scheme to take over their horse ranch, with the additional footage of the prized stallion Wildfire leading “his” band of wild horses and battling a rival for dominance of the herd.
The Return of Wildfire, instead of being a 58 to 65 minute Western programmer, was now a full-length feature clocking in at 83 minutes.
Paul Landres, who served as a film editor at Universal Studios for years, used this opportunity to “direct” — even though he received no screen credit for doing so — as a springboard to future assignments. By the mid-1950s he became one of the most prolific television series directors with episode work on such series as Mr. and Mrs. North, Topper, The Cisco Kid, Boston Blackie and The Lone Ranger (and many more).
The Return of Wildfire makes its DVD debut on Nov. 3 under the release banner of Western Double Feature, so film buffs and Western fans not only get this 1948 film gem, but VCI Entertainment has teamed it with Last of the Wild Horses, which has a story all of its own.
Producer Robert L. Lippert was so pleased with Landres work on The Return of Wildfire during the summer of 1948, he offered another opportunity for the Lippert Pictures’ Christmas release of Last of the Wild Horses. Lippert took the producing and directing credit, but one suspects that most of the work here is from Paul Landres (who got credit for film editing).
James Ellison (The Plainsman, The Undying Monster, I Walked with a Zombie, etc.) stars as Duke Barnum, a cowboy who is mistaken for an outlaw and murderer. But with the help of the winsome Terry Williams (played by Mary Beth Hughes) he is able to clear his name and reputation in a climatic courtroom showdown.
Last of the Wild Horses — also feature-length — is not quite in the same league as The Return of Wildfire, but in the context of being the under-bill on this Western Double Feature DVD release it fits perfect. VCI Entertainment has a real winner here!!