Next in our occasional series of Western movie directors is Republic’s Joe Kane. Jasper Joseph Inman Kane (1894 to 1975) was a veritable veteran of the genre. He started as a bit-part actor in a silent Western in 1926 (as “cowhand – uncredited” but we’ve all got to start somewhere), wrote the story for two or three silent oaters, and moved into editing. He worked in that capacity for Mascot on 26 silent and talkie movies in the late 1920s and early 30s.
He directed Republic’s new cowboy star Roy Rogers in Under Western Stars in 1938 and went on to do 41 other Rogers oaters through the 1940s, an extraordinary record. Try Shine on, Harvest Moon or Come in, Rangers! or Days of Jesse James, Billy the Kid Returns, or many others.
He became a completely reliable, if not always very inspired helmsman for Republic Westerns, a go-to for studio boss Herb Yates, who appreciated his capacity for turning in solid movies on time and on budget, and Kane stayed at Republic right through to the studio’s closure in 1958. Yates let him take credit as producer on pictures from 1939 onwards, including on some quite big movies such as Dakota and Flame of Barbary Coast when Yates was trying to cash in on John Wayne’s post-Stagecoach stardom. Joe was also second-unit director to Raoul Walsh on Republic’s big-budget Dark Command.
He seems to have been a stolid character, not known for his flair or artistry but also no prima donna or mini-dictator, as so many directors were at the time. He just quietly got on with the job. Fellow Republic director William Witney (who also started in the cutting room) wrote, “Joe was a tall, gangly man who was very quiet and seemed to me to be shy. He had no sense of humor. He too stayed at Republic for the next twenty years, and when Republic folded he still didn’t have a sense of humor.”
Other commentators have not been quite so kind. Scott Eyman has written that Kane was “a man who made more than one hundred movies without an interesting shot to be found in any of them.” But I think that’s too harsh. The Plunderers (1948), San Antone (1953), Timberjack (1955) and Thundr over Arizona (1956), to name a few, are actually quite well done.
Kane himself liked Westerns. “I like the outdoors. The horses. The cowboys. I like that.” Although of course he worked in other genres, he did more Westerns than any other kind of picture. When Republic closed he worked on many Western TV shows, directing episodes of Bonanza, Rawhide, Cheyenne, Laramie, Broken Arrow, and more.
No one is going to pretend that Joe Kane was John Ford or Howard Hawks. He was not such an artist, but then he was not such a tyrant either. He still contributed hugely to our noble genre, working in one capacity or another on 108 feature Westerns and 50 TV episodes, from 1926 to 1975. It’s a great record. A lot of those Roy Rogers and Gene Autry oaters were very well done, and he was responsible for some memorable Westerns with others stars. Try The Maverick Queen or The Road to Denver, for example. You won’t be disappointed. You won’t be flabbergasted either, but hey.
Wyoming, The Savage Horde, Ride The Man Down, Gallant Legion, In Old Los Angeles, and The Great Train Robbery are all fine products. When did Herbert yates not want to work with John Wayne as a major star? When did anyone not want to work with any major star? AS for The Maverick Queen, and I do know it is fashionable to throw bouquets at or to Barbara Stanwyck, but I thought her miscast and just awful. Which was generally the case in her late career.No picture without Barry Sullivan but you still had to see and hear her.
I rather agree about Stanwyck. Not my favorite Western actor…
But better than Maureen 'O Hara possibly,Jeff.
I do have a problem with Stanwyck in that she somehow reminds me of
Margaret Thatcher…especially in CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA….OUCH!!
Agreed about Maureen and Stanwyck, but O'Hara was a truly great beauty and in two films, at least, how Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man, no add Rio Grande, she was second to none.
I think it's a bit unfair to compare directors like Kane to Ford and Hawks.
I have not got a clue who Scott Eyeman is except to say that he's full of crap!
Directors Like Kane and indeed Witney,Selander,R.G.Springsteen did much to keep
the Western rolling along nicely,and even many of the so called A Listers made
some pretty bad oaters.
Apart from the films mentioned by Jeff and Barry I'm also very fond of BRIMSTONE
and THE PLAINSMAN AND THE LADY,the latter does not sound much but it's actually
very good. A lot of Kane's work especially in the pacing and feel for landscape
reminds me of Raoul Walsh. Interesting take on Stanwyck's later work from Barry,
as always he certainly has a point. I was also interested in Barry's take on John
Ford on an earlier thread and wish that he would expand more. Barry called him a
drunk with a sense of composition,which one cannot argue with really to a certain
With a few notable exceptions, The Plough and The Stars, Mary of Scotland, his work, if not personal hygiene, was exceptional. For a credible description of Ford's behavior I recommend Mark Harris's book, Five Came Back. All seem deeply flawed, impossible to be with or know. Huston was crazy, in a good way. Fun. I disliked William Wyler, but not a bad guy in any classic sense. Nor was George Stevens; just too sensitive, but obviously a fine person. No fun at all. That leaves Capra and Ford. Ford appears to have lived in his own urine, from time to time, lost most of his teeth, apparently from lack of cleanliness and bullied John Wayne on They Were Expendable, to the point Robert Montgomery, a true fighting man, told him never to speak that way to anyone. A friend of mine, Casey Adams did What Price Glory for him and escribed Ford as a Sadist. Taken for what it is worth, this disgusting old man still had an eye for composition that made most of his work beyond beautiful.
Finally, Frank Capra, who managed to make it through life as a more , or less regular guy. How did that happen?
Barbara Stanwyck. Started off like gangbusters, but somewhere along the line, in the mid-forties things went wrong. The light, amusing woman became strident, albeit in watchable pictures such as The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, but The Two Mrs. Carrolls requires defense from kind hearted amateurs. Although Bogart is even worse. Followed by B.F.'s Daughter, Sorry Wrong Number, and Agnes Moorehead part if there ever was one, and not just on the radio, and finally to round out the forties, East Side West Side, about a husband cheating on her. As who would not.
More of the same in the fifties. In Tao Please A Lady there is a masturbation scene, Gable talk her through it, that is unbelievable.
After that, second tier projects, at leas three with Barry Sullivan, who was fine playing opposite his angry momma. And through all of this, her enunciation became more pronounced, along with her New York accent and butch hair cut. But she worked, when others, Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne either returned to the theatre or counted their considerable fortune.
Anyone who want to argue about this, relax. I don't care.
Hope the typos above do not distract too much. I was eating a chicken leg at the time. Stanwyck in later life played a pair of parts that were right for her; Walk On The Wild Side and Roustabout.
Whenever I see Kane's name as director of a picture I'm about to watch I know I am unlikely to be disappointed. He liked westerns and it showed.
"THE SAVAGE HORDE", "WYOMING", "RIDE THE MAN DOWN" just for starters. These are some of my favourite western movies.
Thank you Mr. Kane!
Barry,thanks for your wonderful feedback as always.
Great Montgomery quote as well,never heard that one before,'though I'm sure it's
been often quoted.
My reference to O'Hara was a jibe at Jeff who I know is not Maureen's greatest fan.
Watched her recently in LISBON with Ray Milland and thought she was fine in a
pretty complex role. I also enjoy her in later things like BIG JAKE.
Interesting that you knew Casey Adams,I watched him only the other night in
NAKED AND THE DEAD,arguably, the last truly great Raoul Walsh picture,he was fine
in a more strident role than usual. Cannot argue regarding Barry Sullivan a major
asset to any picture;interestingly Barry and Casey appeared together in DRAGOON
WELLS MASSACRE a favorite among Western fans.