Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (Buena Vista, 1967)

 

Quite fun

 

A Disney live-action comedy Western from the late 60s, The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, based on the book By the Great Horn Spoon! by Albert Sidney Fleischman, is mildly entertaining. The most remarkable thing about it for me was that Karl Malden in it wasn’t too bad.

 

 

It was directed by James Neilson, not really a name to stir the blood among Westernistas. He only helmed two other oaters, one being when he took over from Anthony Mann and made the disappointing Night Passage with James Stewart. But he was OK on this light-hearted froth.

 

James at the helm

 

The picture starred former child actor Roddy McDowall, as Bullwhip Griffin, one of those perfect English butlers who goes out West to look after his young master Jack Flagg (Bryan Russell, taking the sort of part McDowall himself would have done twenty years before). Jack has stowed away on a California-bound steamer, aiming to recover his Boston family’s fortunes by striking it rich in the goldfields. McDowall aged 13 had been Huw, the youngest child of the miner in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley in 1941 and went on in the 40s to do many other juvenile roles such as in My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home.  He did a handful of Westerns: after this one he was in Five Card Stud and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.

 

Posh butler

 

The boy Russell, in his final film, is probably best remembered for another Disney picture, when he was Emil in Emil and the Detectives in 1964. Westernwise, he had a small part as Karl Malden’s son in How the West Was Won in ’62. This time though, Malden, third-billed, was the hissable villain Judge Higgins and no relation.

 

Young Jack

 

I have made no secret on this blog of my lack of admiration of Malden as a Western actor. He did nine feature oaters, starting with being the bar tender in The Gunfighter in 1950, when he didn’t overact too much, but then embarked on a career of Western scenery-chewing which included The Hanging Tree (in which he was absolutely dreadful), One-Eyed Jacks (ugh), How the West Was Won (a clunker), and then Cheyenne Autumn and Nevada Smith in which his hysterical screaming and ranting would have been laughable if it had not been so embarrassing. However, and I never thought I’d say this, in Bullwhip Griffin, which I happened to see on TV yesterday, he was actually quite amusing. I suppose the one-dimensional melodrama villain role suited his ‘talents’. Also in the story he is a master of disguise so has license to overact as a Chinaman, etc.

 

Malden still giving it plenty but this time under license

 

Young Jack’s lively sis Arabella (Suzanne Pleshette, who found fame in Hitchcock’s The Birds but would also be in Nevada Smith, as well as A Distant Trumpet and Support Your Local Gunfighter) follows on the next boat so we get a family adventure.

 

Upper-crust Boston girl becomes saloon singer

 

Jack and his butler manage to get hold of a map which shows where the mother lode is but evil Judge Higgins succeeds in grabbing it. The family gives chase and Arabella, much to the proper English butler’s disapproval, gets a job singing in a saloon while they all set about thwarting the villain and getting rich.

 

Meanwhile, and short of cash, the butler, who, it turns out, is something of a Queensbury rules pugilist, challenges the huge and hulking Mountain Ox to a prize fight for a purse of $2000, put up by smarmy saloon owner Harry Guardino, in his only big-screen oater. Good news: the referee of the bout is Arthur Hunnicutt and the timekeeper Dub Taylor. The fight is certainly the best scene in the film, with athletic Griffin dancing round the lumbering Ox.

 

 

Partly this was because the butler’s opponent was played by the great Mike Mazurki, 6’ 5” of granite, unforgettable as Moose Malloy in Murder, My Sweet, a hulking heavy in a host of films but actually a highly intelligent, very well read and a witty conversationalist.

 

Mazurki the Great

 

You may guess who wins.

 

The live action, often speeded up, has occasional cartoons superimposed, fairly amusingly, such as a cupid who flutters across the screen when Arabella kisses Bullwhip to revive him after a Mazurki k.o.

 

I understand that there were some racial slurs, as they are called these days, but these have been cut out for present-day TV viewing.

 

The whole thing now is harmless and reasonably entertaining. Roger Ebert said, justly, “All the characters are exaggerated stereotypes, of course. That’s always half the fun of a Disney movie. Never was there a butler more proper, a sister more pure and beautiful, a judge so villainous or a youngster so heroic as in Bullwhip Griffin, and that is exactly as it should be.”

 

At one point their stage is held up by bandido Pedro Gonzales Gonzales

 

6 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree with yuo more about Malden. What a bore. On the other hand, cutting racial slurs and protecting the rest of us from harm just pisses me off. The picture is what it is intended to be. That is reality, not stupid censorious fantasy.

    1. Yes, Malden not the greatest Western actor.
      I suppose times change and what is considered acceptable changes with them. You wouldn’t really want racist remarks in a Disney movie but back in the 1960s they weren’t considered so offensive (though by ’67 that was becoming less so).

      1. I want racist, sexist, or anything else that affects the artist’s viewpoint. I cannot be offended by a goddam movie, never have been. This is just fashionable crap. If just exploitation, that can be fun as well. Get offended by a movie? I am offended by guys in the girl’s washroom. No woke shit is my current mantra.

  2. I’m sure I watched this on TV years ago – adolescent me had a “thing” for Suzanne Pleshette, never missed an episode of The Bob Newhart Show – but I have zero memories of this movie. Guess a casual watch is in order if I can find it online or from the library.

    This review did spark a thought, especially since our 7 year old granddaughters are here for spring break, maybe an article on introducing children to Westerns? I’m going to do some thinking on what I’d recommend but Jeff has a much deeper and broader knowledge of the serials and “youth oriented” B movies than I do…

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