Another day, another Western, I’ve not written so much in a week in a long time. My third Western in a row, something must be going on for me to write such volume in over a year. If I’m honest I’ve been avoiding Rango (2011) for years, thinking that the combination of Johnny Depp and Westerns was going to be a bad idea. That was after the awful The Lone Ranger (2013) that saw him turn the iconic character of Tonto into nothing more than a bloated stereotype, showing that he had no or little respect for a nation that he claims to have family heritage. Both directed by Gore Verbinski But before catching him in a far more interesting multi-layered quirky Dead Man (1995) which breathed some new life into the genre thanks to Jim Jarmusch a director that I’m beginning to warm to. So you have a director to thank, oh and a very brief trailer for this film that made me think, maybe, just maybe I should give this film a chance.
For a kids film it’s a pretty good introduction to a genre that is generally watched by an older generation that grew up with it during the classical period of the genre. Something I am still very jealous about. I do however had good access to some of the best films that the genre produced and the opportunity to read into and beyond the images that captivated a whole generation and a country that holds as part of their culture. So what does Rango do that captivated me so much tonight. Beginning in a contained space I was reminded of a very early Pixar short, a snowman trying to get to the attention of a girl sunbathing in another snow-globe across the shelf. Rango is very reverential of both animation and film as a whole. It’s a spoof with real heart.
The titular Chameleon is essentially a dreamer who has everything he believes he needs in life, escape to his own fantasy world. That’s until his glass world’s smashed, his whole world is literally brought crashing down into the middle of an Arizona/Utah highway where he meets what looks like an Amardillo on its last legs, complete with trye tread running through its body. Advising him to cross to the other side of the road to find water. For some reason – common sense he doesn’t, after seeing what happened to the soon to be dead animal. Early on you can see that the quality of animation is incredible, not knowing at this point that more animals are going to be find in the Wild West town of Dirt, remember this is a kids film.
The town of Dirt works on two levels, one set in the desert with little to no water left to keep the assorted animals that would populate the desert come to inhabit this town that mixes classic 19th century with contemporary features. It’s all done with love and a heap of fun so adults and kids can really enjoy this old Western town. We’re told that we’re witnessing the final days of the dreamer Chameleon who somehow lands on his feet. A stranger who walks into town, soon becoming the sheriff – following a long line of failed men who have died in quick succession trying to keep this dying town alive.
A clever reflection of both the present and past, the lack of money’s mirrored in the drought that has become the sole currency that these animals know and need in order to survive and live. Controlled by the puppet master mayor Ned Beatty – a voice I shall never forgive for being Lotso the Bear in Toy Story 3 (2010), a perfect bit of casting for the turtle that has Dirt in the palm of his hands. Rango has used his gift of performing to his advantage, talking his way into a new life that could very easily come undone in the wrong situation. Depp here is perfect in the role, you could say it’s another version of his bumbling Captain Jack Sparrow who finds his way in and out situations based purely on luck really.
In the West you need a little more than luck, you need a mirage that takes produces a charming tribute to Clint Eastwood when his likeness is found not far from a golf buggy. Known as the The Spirit of the West (Timothy Olyphant) our not so heroic Chameleon has to save the day. It would be a bit much to ask a young audience to buy a mirage of The Duke sadly. The world that Rango’s inhabiting continues to delve into nostalgia of the genre, set around Monument Valley where the animals adventure to find the water that we learn has been stolen, a fun alternative to the classic gold that has been, if you’ll pardon the pun “mined to death” in the genre. It becomes more accessible to kids who may no little or nothing about the West beyond cowboys and Indians that have come to be the defining image of the genre.
Overall Rango is really good fun, which you want for a kids film, with beautifully detailed scenery, the modelling of the characters is equally strong. They are each unique and come with their own backstory, I can remember a chicken dressed as a veteran confederate soldier with an arrow going through one eye and come out around the back of his head. The very logic of his being is even mentioned, these are just citizens to be seen in the background they are integral parts of the town of Dirt. I come away from the film thinking, why did I wait so long for what is a loving animated romp that works for both adults and kids. Sure it’s not a classic, all I know is, I wont be avoiding it in future, instead looking forward to catching it.
It’s always refreshing to see a different side of the Western, a genre dominated by the male, who according to cinema tamed the West for civilisation to out and make it home for everyone back east. However that’s not really how it went. Of course there are plenty of notable male figures who went out there and mapped out the uncharted landscape that was once home to Native American tribes that were more than just an obstacle to overcome (not as the genre would have you believe). Women were part of the families, the farmers, the homesteaders that came out West and made it their own along with the men. Westward the Women (1951) may take certain creative licence in the making of the film. However they too are an essential part of the American story that needs to be addressed and celebrated. Sadly not as much as we would hope. Seen as the figures that stay at home, the dancers or prostitutes that need to be saved, or stay out of sight until they need to save our hero from himself. They have been able to tame their men, not so much the landscape that they would’ve had to travel in the process. These women are the un-celebrated pioneers that made it possible to pit down roots out West and unite the States. Westward the Women goes someway to redressing the balance of their depiction on screen, even within the confines of the early 1950’s I can see some boundaries being crossed.
A land populated with just men was obviously not going to work for long, 4 years was long enough for those in California around 1851 – set exactly a century ago, we see an America that has just started to really be discovered, the fur trade had come to an end, the Cattle trails were about to take off, we had left the gold rush behind. Waiting for the civil war to break out a decade later. There’s a group of men who have been working for Roy E. Whitman (John McIntire) who has been able to make a success of the valley he has cultivated and worked for years. His men need what they have been lacking for quite sometime – sex. There’s no amount of drinking, gambling or fighting can substitute the loving of a good woman. Reinforcing the union of marriage on-screen, we see Whitman recruit the only man who could possibly bring a wagon train of women from back East to marry 100 sex-starved men. Turning to Buck Wyatt (Robert Taylor) who wants nothing to do with women, the prospect of bring back a large number alone is not something he would freely sign up for. We all know he doesn’t need much convincing when a large fee is waved in front of him.
Next thing we know we are in a hall in Chicago, recruiting 150 single women, prepared to travel across dangerous open country to marry men they have never met. Warned of the dangers, we see that not even half of them are prepared for what is ahead of them. The civilised life is all they know, wanting to shake it all loose for something new and unexplored. There not all your typical American’s we have a more international cast, reflecting the different nationalities that made the West their home. I was wondering how the process of recruiting would be carried out, freely signing up and warned of the dangers is what should be expected, not one woman balks at the prospect. Showing that these women at least are willing to meet the men on a level playing field. Before we leave to make the long journey men are recruited separately by Wyatt with one rule – stay away from the women, which makes perfect sense. As little interaction between the guides and passengers would stop any trouble breaking out. Touching on the potential drama that could arise.
Wagon’s begin to roll, there’s a sense of purpose and drive in the women, about to set off for a new life. The easy part is now over. After a few days in wagon train boot camp they set off. It’s a rather muted affair, there’s not soundtrack that lifts the mood, in-fact we have none throughout, a brave choice that allows the women to own the film and the journey. It’s a journey that could easily have taken the route of Red River‘s (1948) long and torturous cattle drive. Seeing Wyatt begin to take on the hardened leader that won’t see his rules broken. Ultimately he’s left with a few men to see them through. Along the way we see the women encounter multiple obstacles that are each given decent time to unfold. That includes the obligatory romance for Wyatt and one of the women – French woman Fifi Danon (Denise Darcel) which feels unnecessary at times. We even have moments where the film could easily pass the Bechdel test, with men restricted they’re forced to talk about the trail and all the trials that come with it.
There’s another journey that Wyatt goes on, that of a growing respect for the women he’s been leading. It’s not easy to learn either, as they take on more and more of the work, to the point that they have to support a wagon that looses a wheel on an alkaline desert, whilst a woman’s in labour (yes we see a pregnant woman on-screen – she wears a larger shirt). They all know what needs to be done and just do it. Shocking the two remaining men in the party. Depicted on-screen as equal if not better than the men at times, having had to prove themselves in the male gaze.
Meeks Cuttoff (2010) is one of the few films that depicts strong women having to make the perilous journey West. Far bleaker than this earlier film that does it’s best to show the women to not be weak, feeble creatures who can’t compete with the men. Kelly Reichardt‘s later film depict women who are more than capable of working alongside the men and even surpassing them. William A. Wellman‘s film is far broader in approach, there’s little time for character studies of all the women in the wagon train. We do however see that they can pull their weight, they are no longer supporting players in the plot or the film as a whole. Ultimately they only relinquish their gender roles for a few months before entering a life of domesticity. Even when they choose the partner from just a photo, they’ll have little control once they settle down into married life.
With over 50 years between both films we have seen as massive change in the depiction of women in the Western. They are no longer just the stay at home wives, they are part of the fabric and history, able to stand up and be as good as the men, sometimes better. Sadly the quality of the films today is still patchy – Jane Got a Gun (2015) with all it’s good intentions is a mess of a film, wanting to give the woman more agency and lot of baggy, fragmented backstory. Unlike the more refined focused Brimstone (2016) that allows a mute woman Liz (Dakota Fanning ) who see defending herself and her family to a satisfying conclusion, her back story is broken up into a more cohesive form with religious overtones that makes sense as the film progresses. Westward the Women is at the beginning of a small strand of the genre that focuses on women that has been lagging behind for far too long. It’s a shame it’s taken so long.
I’ve recently started to re-watch the Richard Slotkin lectures on the Western genre, he goes into great detail about how the genre was reborn in 1939. From spending the majority of the 1930’s in the obscurity of the B-movie, it was regenerated as part of re-engerising the country during the great depression, encouraging the public to look back and celebrate their recent history. In the past I’ve looked at both Stagecoach and Dodge City, even Union Pacific that were all released during that prolific year in Hollywood history. Another lesser known piece is The Oklahoma Kid (1939) that was part of Warner Brothers attempt to breathe new life into the Western. Slotkin didn’t really have many kind words for the film, putting it down to mis-casting of both James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart who were known more for their gangster roles during the decade. Criminals fighting back against an unfair system. The genre itself was a reformed Western in a different guise, brought up-to-date with tommy guns and speakeasy’s in place of Winchesters and saloons.
I had to see for myself just what The Oklahoma Kid was all about, seeing a younger Cagey and Bogart who are clearly out of their comfort zones. Having previously seen Bogart paired opposite Errol Flynn (who suited the genre) in Virginia City (1940) an unspoken sequel to Dodge City released the previous year. Set up as another chance to see the dashing Aussie in the West, with only a few lines of dialogue to explain his accent, allowing the audience to easily accept him in the Wild West as we wait for him to ride in and save the day. He’s nowhere to be found in The Oklahoma Kid, the other Warners production of 1939. A smaller production that had spent more money on having two big actors share the screen.
It didn’t take long for me to see that Cagney was not really playing the cowboy, he was still the gangster out for himself. We first meet him as he robs sacks of gold meant for the Cherokee nation who had just been forced off thier land in what was fast becoming Oklahoma state. The Kid (Cagney) is seen lurking in the rocks, waiting to make his move on men lead by Whip McCord (Bogart) who have just left a stagecoach. One bad-guy steals from another, there’s no sense of respect for each of them. You admire the Kid’s ingenuity but left wondering whose side is this guy on. He steals money from thieves, why didn’t he join the other men? Does he only work alone like Ringo the Kid (John Wayne) who we know would never commit such a crime. Oklahoma seems to lack any sense if morality. We have yet to learn what McCord is all about, beyond the fact he wants to steal money meant for the poor.
The film is again set-up as a historical Western, much like Dodge City and Union Pacific, allowing us to believe that these events could have happened, we are transported to the era when America was progress, long before the Great Depression. We are nearing the close of the frontier now, set in the mid 1890’s, where not so many future Westerns are set unless it serves a different purpose thematically to the film. We are present at the birth of a new State, settlers have gathered for a land-rush that grounds the film in some sense of history, real or fictional, it sets the scene for progress and the film to unfold. A lot of work goes into the storytelling of both Dodge and Kid the backdrop is seen to be very important.
In most films of the Golden age there is usually a clearly defined hero, however in both Dodge and Kid the heroes are reluctant, more so The Kid as he wants to only help when it serves his own purpose. Leaving our screens to focus on corruption to set into the young town of Tulsa after McCord blackmail’s town founder and future mayor Ned Kincaid (Harvey Stephens) allowing for vices to co-exist with virtue, becoming just another Wild West town full of gambling, alcohol and sex, with the church pushed to the back. Progress is still a long way off for this young town. Bogart’s gang have laid the foundations to own the town of Tulsa, even explaining as much before the land rush is even over. Bending the rules for his own ends.
We meet The Kid again living in a hut, there’s a baby crying, we are led to believe that this could be his baby, who we learn is Mexican as he sing to them in Spanish. Before learning that this is just a hideout, as there’s a $500 reward for him, not that bothers him. Riding into Tulsa to find his father’s Ned Kincaid has been framed for murder, under the penalty of hanging, the traditional punishment in the West. How can this upstanding citizen who ran for mayor be capable of committing such a crime. The Kid or as we learn is the son of Kincaid, the bad son who was left to lead a life of crime. The Kid puts family above all other priorities, as we see his drive to clear his father’s name sees him push for his own form of justice. However his guns only get him so far, when the advice of Jane Hardwick (Rosemary Lane) tells him that he needs the law on his side to do things the right way.
What follows is a showdown that stretches the length of the West as McCord’s men are tracked down and killed. Just like a gangster driving around led by rumours as he tracks down those who have wronged him. The Kid has only his horse and tracks to follow and that’s enough to see him leave only McCord for the final showdown. Staged just like a gangster film we know we aren’t far from the urban streets of the Chicago or New York when it comes to these two leads. Both actors are very much out of their comfort zone here resorting to fisticuffs until one is shot. We never really left the 1930’s, not with Cagney and Bogie together. Run for Cover (1955) sees a far more at ease actor in the genre, having broken free from the tropes and language of a genre that define and typecast him for a decade. Whilst Bogart came into his own during the 1940’s as Film noir and darker roles beckoned for him.
I can see that the money was spent on Dodge City, with the large set pieces and far expanded cast. The Oklahoma Kid still clings to the language of B-Westerns, the sped up horse chase across the open country, the costumes and characters that are mostly 2 dimensional, the running time doesn’t really allow much to happen when we cross so much time during this film. Now I’ve seen practically all the major Westerns of 1939 I can see that some are still trying to make the leap to the big budgets and concepts that allowed it last for over 30 years.
If I’m honest I’m lost for words having just finished Phase IV (1974). I’m not sure I can even deliver 1000+ words on my thoughts on Saul Bass‘s sole feature film directorial credit. I can see why he didn’t make any more either. I wish I wasn’t that harsh about a man who redefined the language of how a films begins. His title sequences are sought after and enjoyed on a level that is equal to the films he worked on. Leaving his own signature on another directors works. A very unique and distinctive style that defined films of the 1950’s and 60’s. Maybe it was his rumored direction of the shower sequence in Psycho (1960) that gave him a taste for creative control over a film. The fact is, it was only his storyboards that helped shape that seminal sequence of film history. Could Phase IV have been his long gestated idea that finally made it to the screens?
The concept reminds me of a 1950’s b-movie, seeing oversized creatures – including ants that wreak havoc before science finally saves the day. Bass however wasn’t limited to cheap special effects that took months to film. Instead he’s invested in he whole budget almost in either training ants or animating them, either way they are spookally effective. For a low-budget first feature you have to admire the creativity that went into producing what is clearly a unique vision. The opening of the films is eerily dialogue free, focusing on the ants deep underground organising themselves. Somehow effected by an eclipse that energising these usual pest at a picnic to making their way up to being enemy number one in the world. We are taken into this underground world of what can’t be train ants, as we are advised by Dr Ernest D. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport ) informs us, different species of ants have come together and begun to work alongside each other. No longer are they our pests but working together, breaking the laws of nature to disturbing, no that’s the wrong word, lets try strange effect. We accept that these ants are not just putting differences aside due to global warming, something else is afoot. What could have been shot inside a glass container feels far more expansive.
All this happens before we even catch a glimpse of a human, two scientist – Dr Hubbs and James Lesko (Michael Murphy ) who previously was able to speak to whales. The two man team set-up camp as close as they can to these mutated ants that are nearer than we even know. Based on a ghost town of a 1960’s failed dream development, perfect for trouble to happen unseen from the prying eyes of the world at large. A single family remains, you could say they are stubborn, unwilling to give into the rumors if killer ants below. The truth is too hard to believe for some, even a request to evacuate is ignored, this family are staying until the bitter end. Their presence is felt above ground in the form of a series of totems that have shot out of the ground. Too alien to be human, the work of a higher power that has yet to be understood. Still these are soon shot down in what is part of phase I of the film.
Nigel Davenport’s Dr Stubbs reminds me of other driven B-movie scientists, who will stop at nothing to get to the truth. Understanding what drives the ants. Even when his partner, who is clearly more focused on the task of first communicating with the insects before any really solid action is taken. Two very different methods of investigation, one driven by a logical methodology and the other driven by impulses and emotional instinct. The differences in practice are soon displayed when they are investigating after a night of killing the ants. Stubbs’s view of seeing the family caught up in the chemical attack of just collateral damage to him. Scaring not just Lesko but the audience, how far will this man go showing no or little regard for ethics.
What keeps this film moving along is that drive to communicate and understand the ants, the very idea that a film is devoted to talking to ants is very obscure, yet we go along with it due to the believable images of ants fighting back, adapting to their situation in order to survive. Understanding any race in order to communicate is at the core of science fiction, if you can’t communicate you can’t understand the enemy or friend. As the film progresses they slowly begin to understand the ants. It’s the added element of Kendra (Lynne Frederick ) the only other survivor, we see what effect she has on the investigation. Her emotion driven responses are a variable that can’t be controlled. Stubbs is heading for his own demise after getting bitten I wonder if he is destined for the same fate as Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum ) who falls prey to his own science.
Stubbs’s instinct to learn takes a dark turn that I don’t see coming leading to a conclusion that really makes no sense and completely abrupt. A film that was tainted by the hands of the studio. Obviously an attempt to save this film from being a total failure can’t really save this from making much sense at all. All the effort to understand and communicate is not even wrapped up convincingly. I needed more before I left this low-budget film that somehow had me hooked, well intrigued as to what would happen. The addition of ant shots and odd special effects involving lights somehow work, now very dated we can see a director putting everything into making this film work but caught short by the material and budget that could have saved this film. It has the potential to be so much more, becoming a victim of the queen ants that run the studio who got their hands on it, trying themselves to understand just what the hell is going on. I left the film scratching my head and massively disappointed it could have been so much more, becoming one of the many films where the directors visions become blurred by studio interference, but here it was with good intention.
I made the mistake of thinking this The Quick and the Dead (1987) was the Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman film released under the same name 7 years later. Then again I can’t really see Sam Elliott sharing the screen with those two. Saying that, he was one of the Earp brothers in Tombstone (1993) released just before. In the past I’ve been recommended to look at Sam Elliot’s work, like many others, to me he’s the stranger at the bowling alley bar talking about the Dude in The Big Lebowski (1998), a man whose at peace with himself, radiating life long experience and one to listen to. A bar-room fly that you’d sot next to for hours as you sip on your beer. Elliot surely is a man with some stories to tell or words of wisdom to bestow to anyone who cares to listen.
Taking this as my first Sam Elliot film as a lead, The Quick and the Dead was a real surprise. I can see he takes his cues for his persona in the Wild West from a number of sources, yet very much his own man. He’s Sam Elliot in the Wild West, leaving his light touch on the genre. A combination of Randolph Scott’s stoicism and John Wayne’s delivery, but taking his own lead. Playing Con Vallian a frontiers man who soon sympathises with a family of homesteaders, not unlike the Starrett’s in Shane (1953). However this family the McKaskel’s are still very much on the move to their final destination. It’s a clever reshuffling of the elements of the original whilst very much being it’s own film.
With the McKaskels being in the move, they soon move into trouble when their horses are stolen by Doc Shabitt (Matt Clark) and his men. Not knowing that they have a guardian angel in the form of buckskin wearing Vallian who starting hovering around the family who he believes are out of their depth. When Duncan McKaskel (Tom Conti) does what the audience thinks is impossible in retrieving his horses, with a little luck behind him he invites a whole lot of trouble too. Shabbit and his men are after them, whilst aware that they are getting help from somewhere. The opening gunfight comes close to the miracle quality, not unlike the Clint Eastwood’s Preacher in Pale Rider (1985) the silent type who don’t see until the act is done. Vallian is far from holy, or a performer of miracles, he knows how to stay safe in a gunfight, the son of a mountain man and a Blackfoot squaw he has the ability to blend into the surroundings. He has something that neither the homesteaders or gunfighters have – he’s one with nature. The other that’s able to return the civilisation from time to time.
Now I’m careful not to apply the term gunfighter to Vallian who may possess the skill to take out his enemy just as well, however he doesn’t have the same temperament that they generally come with. Maybe it’s his laid back nature, his ability to give advice without a second thought that it won’t be taken. He doesn’t carry with him the reputation of Shane who wears it like a badge that he hides just out of view. Even when he takes a shine to the McKaskels he doesn’t show off his skills, train the boy (whose not annoying). Instead he’s a more humanised figure, his lack of interaction with civilisation is about right. He can defend, kill and hunt without producing an aura of fear in others. Is he the ideal man of the West, or just a civilised mountain man?
Staying with the Shane connection, the relationship between Shane (Alan Ladd) and Marian (Jean Arthur) that is merely touched upon. Shane won’t allow himself to get to close, there’s a spark between them which he won’t ignite as he knows it will only bring trouble for him and those around him. Vallian is more overt with his feelings towards Susanna (Kate Capshaw) which naturally annoys Duncan, the compliments soon wear thin. A woman of such beauty doesn’t belong in West. She’s like a rare jewel that has yet to be discovered. The old phrase of “you can look but you can’t touch” is broken here, they allow themselves a moment or two of romantic danger. Think how more dangerous Shane could have been if both Marian and Shane were caught just kissing by Joe (Van Heflin) would that have been enough to make this cowardly man pick up a gun and shoot his rival, the wrong one for him, loosing his and our concentration as the film reaches it’s final act. Censorship of the 1950’s would ultimately have played a role in film preventing things getting too heated.
Having the family move through open country in The Quick and the Dead allows Vallian to try and dissuade the family from the fate which awaits them. If it’s not the riders in pursuit it could be Native American’s still roaming free. They don’t truly know how Wild the West is. It doesn’t put them off, even the news of Little Bighorn, which brings the death of Susanna’s soldier brother who served in the 7th cavalry. Nothing will stop them making their way to live their American dream. Eventually they have to and want to defend themselves against the riders who finally (diminished in numbers) arrive to threaten their way of life. Their who journey’s fueled by greed and lust, one that takes them through various terrain, how could they remain so focused and driven to get their hands on what potentially is not their.
With all the violence in The Quick and the Dead it’s a pretty chilled out journey as we travel West for a new life, one that see’s a family forced to defend themselves and take up arms. We are in pretty safe company with Elliot who casually saves the day. He has a strong and relaxed screen presence that’s perfect for a film of this length. I can’t imagine him playing the role any darker or light, it’s just right, a chilled out Western that aims to get you from A to B with a few nice jolts along the way that stir things up for everyone. I’ll certainly be looking out for his work in the future.
I’m about to embark on what could be quite foolish or very exciting. Either way I’m going to see what happens. I’ll be taking a look at both the first one of the most recent Godzilla films to see just how much the Japanese has evolved and how much so. Since the release of the first in 1954, seen as a clear expression of the H-Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1946 that finally drew to a close WWII. The relentless attack of the Japanese was brought to an abrupt end that’s still questioned to this day. America won’t or have yet to apologise for the bombings that the country are still reeling from through the radiation that came with the bombs. Of course they are now strong allies. Just last year the US was standing by Japan during North Korea’s missile tests that were dropped over the skies of a now peaceful Japan. A lot has changed in the intervening years that has assured long-lasting peace between these two nations.
Godzilla/Gojira (1954) was a clear and blatant expression of the tension between these two countries during the first decade after WWII. The number of times the bombs are even mentioned shows that the events are still playing on the minds of the film-makers and the Japanese public who were still recovering from those horrific events. The idea of radiation having an effect 8 years on with such dramatic effect had to be seen. Part of the tradition of B-movies we begin with seeing very little of the monster that will make it self known to us all very soon. Until then we are given images of it’s power. Every fishing vessel that had ventured out to the dangerous waters was suddenly struck with fire and sunk in a matter of minutes. Only having time to start a morse code message. It’s a powerful build up from nothing to something we can only imagine at this stage, the audience attention has been grabbed.
Sticking to convention it’s the scientists who are first on the scene, the comforting face of Takashi Shimura as a doctor of paleontology Kyohei Yamane-hakase whose able to piece together the superstitions that have been going around the little fishing island of Odo. The myth that has become true of Godzilla. They remind me of the islanders on Skull island that treat King Kong as a god who for years have been sacraficing women to the giant gorilla in order to stay safe on the island. Little did they know he was only one of a number of fantastic creatures. Kong would later return to fight the giant Japanese lizard in one of many VS. films that bring the iconic beast back to the screen.
The paleontologist and the audience don’t have to wait long for proof, first foot prints dripping in radiation before the beast raises its head from afar. It’s a classic reveal that still leaves you wanting more. There’s a lot to wait for as we return to Tokyo to decide the fate of the revelations. Leaving the hands of science to the unsecure politicians who have the power to manipulate the information if they had their way. The idea of hiding a destructive dinosaur from the public wasn’t really going to fly for long, with the help of the press it soon gets out. Once again following the standard B-movie plots science has to fight to be heard in order to move forward. Sometimes forcing them to work away from even the military until the last minute when they are taken seriously. Scientific power is usually trampled over by politics and military until everything has been exhausted.
When the death and destruction is finally let loose over Tokyo Bay the special effects team are really allowed to play with their set-pieces. Their man in a dinosaur costume wreaking havoc in a model miniature version of the bay. Explosion after explosion occur, caused by what looks like a radiation ray that sets a-lite the bay. At the time of release it would have been a frightening spectacle that reminded a generation still coming to terms with American air-raids and the two H-bombs. Godzilla is essentially America on two legs making it’s way through the country, destroying everything in it’s path. Today that same analogy holds true, the special effects far more ropey, we know that this was made on a shoe-string budget. Personally it doesn’t bother me as I’ll be going back into that aesthetic in some form or another in the coming months. These effects show how they have attempted to combine both live action shots with special effects made on a sound-stage. Godzilla itself could now even be a Toy a child plays with. It’s child’s play and there’s nothing wrong with that.
What makes this b-movie stand above the rest of those made in Hollywood is that emotional struggles that the lead characters go through to reach a resolution. Kyohei Yamane-hakase would rather keep the creature to study rather than kill. Whilst his son DaisukeSerizawa-hakase (Akihiko Hirata) is conflicted by his accidental discovery of what you could call the O-bomb that he has sworn his sister Emiko Yamuna (Momoko Kôchi) who has witnessed the power of this device. It’s a domestic dynamic that raises the film to another level, beyond the scientist saving his lover (which is here too), giving us something on the ground among all the death and destruction to hold onto.
I’m now wondering how the latest film Shin Godzilla (2016) compares to this b-movie classic that really understand the social conscience and goes town with it. Will there be a domestic dynamic or will it be another romantic relationship that must be maintained as well as saving the day. Lastly – special effects, which I know are far more advanced, how do they compare to the originals improvisational aesthetic.
It’s been a few weeks since I watched the first Godzilla film, the one that started a whole string of films, a genre devoted to this lizard from the sea. Reading the description for Shin Godzilla (2016) I thought I was going to get something rather slow. If anything is as rather different. Taking some of it’s cues from the original. I couldn’t say how many of the films in between kept close or not. Whilst still having a very contemporary style and language that allows this Godzilla to wreak havoc on Japan once more. If Hollywood allows monsters of all variety on New York or Los Angeles, Tokyo is strong fair share when it comes to the number of attacks.
The latest incarnation was a shock in terms of the speed that we first glimpse the creature, from it’s first presence to the fast pace of the political reaction that we switch back and forth constantly, you don’t have time to breathe in the first act as the Prime Minister and his cabinet and advisers scramble to try and understand what’s going on. Contrasting between the orderliness of government to the chaos that’s rumbling on the ground below. Jumping from location to location, I didn’t have time to take in both the subtitles and location titles above, simply not giving too much time to the above, Instead focusing on the more important dialogue. Devil is really in the detail of this version. The scientific community aren’t even seen until half-way through the film.
We waited far longer back in 1954 to catch a first glimpse of the beast, here we have a redy-brown bloody substance that’s left in the wake of the creature which at this point (once it emerges from the water) more like a less evolved crawling creature from another prehistoric era. Just crawling through Tokyo Bay it wreaks destruction. That’s before we see the creature change before our eyes. Changing from poorly designed draft of the creature to the next stage. There’s a lot of background written into this character that again has no voice beyond it’s prehistoric cry.
Our hero is a young advisor Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) whose able to first see beyond the obvious safer explanation to the less plausible and horrifying explanation that’s soon confirmed. Surrounded by a system of elders who follow a strict command structure of legislation and bearacurcy which holds him back and even the audience at times. We want to see Godzilla on the ground doing his thing. However with just a whiff of the Americans with Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara) who wants the Japanese to find her exiled father who unlocks the puzzle and the science that will lead the final outcome.
There’s strong recognition of the original, from the original theme being used numerous times if only for nostalgia, we know that the director understands what he’s working with. As much as it leans far too much toward the government which, the lineage allows you to see beyond and wait for the next extended scenes of mass evacuations, explosions and ultimately Godzilla wreaking havoc. They understand the beast far more than before. Bringing together more scientists (even some token Americans) to look for a more scientifically driven solution. Unlike the American one that reminds us of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to add Tokyo to that list is too much to bear. Even as a UN backed decision, the people below the Prime Minister can’t swallow that. Having to stand up for themselves to find another solution with international cooperation. Not letting America lead them to a less than positive outcome – history must not be allowed to repeat itself.
Looking at these two films I can see that the creature hasn’t really changed all that much. Sure it’s grown, the nuclear element at it’s core driving the plot. The threat of a Nuclear fallout natural or man-made is just not one to consider. Special effects have also come along way. Even the low-budget and sometimes ropey CGI looks really fun. You can that they are having a lot of fun making this film unlike the original that was really working in the dark, making up new techniques as they were filming. It has lost the pathos of the original, the visual cues may still be there. The world has changed for sure. The political take on the defence of the country is used not just to show self reliance in these uncertain times but shows that even during times of great emergency politicians will use any situation for personal gain. That was nowhere to be seen in 1954. Maybe I have a soft-spot for classic films and a cynical view of the present, then again who trust those in power today?
It’s been a few years since I’ve really sat down for a “cockle warmer”, a film that really warms you at the heart, leaving you all soft inside and happy. It takes a lot to beat that feeling, a feeling that for a period of time Frank Capra was able to achieve film after film. Working during the golden age of Hollywood, reaching the masses during the Great Depression. From It Happened One Night (1934) all the way through to his crowning achievement It’s A Wonderful Life (1947). More than a decade of warming an audiences hearts. I’ve not seen It’s A Wonderful Life since I wrote my film talk about it. My eyes were opened to the directors thinking, his position in film after his time away at war, in charge of propaganda for the US armed forces. The country was then in a far different state. A country brought to it’s knees by the effects of a broken economy, to the highs of winning a war, which itself came with a heavy cost both financial and emotional. His own industry had grown up, his fellow directors who were out in the field of battle would never produce the same work again, each deepened by what they saw.
Now lets back track a few years to the midst of the Depression and look at one of his earlier films – Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) his fourth big feature film and second large success. Even after all this time I could start to see the themes and ideas that run through his films. Most notably we have a number of recurring actors. Deeds was the first outing for both Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur, it was Capra’s relationship with James Stewart, which would be the most successful. We can see that Capra was able to work with actors he saw as either the every-man who could easily be transported to an unfamiliar world, turning his life upside down. Whilst the women, usually Arthur who his femme fetale (not that he would use that term) who turned the men’s lives upside down. This even works when the men come from the upper class to explore the working class. That’s another clear theme the blurring of class boundaries that his protagonists are brought into. Here Deed’s inherits 20 million dollars, which when inflation is taken into account is a very tidy sum at $357,281,159.42. Even now that’s too much money to even think about. For poet Longfellow Deed’s is nearly blows his minds. Instead of letting it all go to his head he decides to see what it’s all about. Taking with him a healthy dose of reality and his down-to-earth nature which in turn keeps him grounded. We see the same a few years later in You Can’t Take it With You (1938) when Tony Kirby (Stewart) who comes from money can see past his own trapping of wealth to love his girlfriend Alice Sycamore (Arthur) and her struggling family (who only have their own eccentricities and music to see them through the worst of times). Both men are grounded emotionally and financially enough to see what is in front of them.
Cooper seems to a be a man who seems as if he can easily be duped. Taking on the fortune, trying to make the best of it. He naively starts going out with the only girl that talks to him, all the time she’s a journalist trying to get a big scoop on the new rich man in town. It’s Babe Bennett’s job to potentially bring him down, going as far as giving him the name Cinderella Man, whilst her own paparazzi hide in a taxi or the bushes. In a later film Cooper becomes the face of a fictional newspaper story lead by Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) in the less success Meet John Doe (1941) which ultimately pushes and pawn in the newspapers hands to the brink of suicide. An act we finally see in Capra’s masterpiece – It’s A Wonderful Life when the ultimate every-man has been pushed to the limits of life for so long that he finally cracks and nearly gives up.
Apart from Wonderful Life they are all grounded in reality (ignore Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)) they acknowledge the country they’re set in, whilst hoping for a better life. Capra celebrates the working man, this is where he could be the communist and socialist leanings could easily be found. Probably why the films are still celebrated, they focus on the hard-working man. Raising them above all the corruption of government, the protectors of the law, even the Newspaper man whose job is to reveal the corruption to the public. There are quite a few journalists in Capra’s world, from the “wise guy” Peter (Clark Gable) out for the story of his life all the way to critic Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) who are all pushed out to find the stories that are to make their careers. That also includes trying to believe that even your aunties are capable of mass-murder. The hardworking man are seen either en-mass or in microcosm, this is always for the extra emotional punch. Deed’s is a god-send to the poor who are piling into his house as he plans to give all his money away to anyone whose willing to work a farm for at least 3 years. Whilst George Bailey ensures the residents of Bedford Falls (small town America) have a decent crack at life. Not living under the shadow of Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore) the very epitome of capitalist America, the “communist Capra” fights back with Bailey ensuring that they can all own their own homes. Bailey’s the extension of Deeds intentions.
We see a man at his very breaking point in Bedford Falls, a 2nd class angel comes to the rescue of the troubled man. His actions don’t lead to the threat of being institutionalised – showing how dark that Capra’s prepared to go. Stewart plays a more convincing man on the edge, it took an audience over a few more years to see Cooper brought to the brink. We have a classic court room finale that allows us to look back and question Deeds actions over the course of the film. The suggestion of Manic Depression is made by the his own lawyers, who are out for his fortune at any cost. The idea of bipolar disorder is treated lightly, the commonly known highs and lows, or the depressive and manic states are used to try and blind the court with psychobabble without having analysed the patient, it’s used as a blunt weapon in hopes of stupifying the judges and the public. We all know that Deeds is the clearly sane with his own unique eccentricities that define him. Whilst throughout Wonderful Life we see a build up of events that see dream after dream crush a man who tried so hard threaten to jump. Only to have some fairy dust sprinkled over by the director who could only go so far. In his defence we do have a clear image of Deeds uncle who drives of a bridge, directed to be a very intentional act. Had all that money driven him to the edge? Was he a Mr Potter who’d had enough? It comes down to a layman’s definition of insanity – Pixelation that saves him as nearly everybody is suffering from it.
I could literally be here for hours, write 1000s of words about what makes Capra’s films work. They of course tug at the heart strings, some more overtly than others. Expressing his own view of America, an immigrant who had to be politically careful of what he said. Almost confined to his films that whilst being very American we can see the Sicilian view of a country, all the goodness that the dream he had been living that could easily be taken from under his feet. You could argue he was naive to the world around him. The working man being essentially good, whilst those in positions of power are corrupt. Most foreign directors played with this idea to some degree, such as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock. A view that’s shared by the rest of the world even to this day, that’s why Capra’s still respected, his work still holds up and you return to his films time and time again – the very definition of a classic. Now I’ve seen Mr Deeds I can really see what’s going on in his work. Maybe it’s time to revisit his work again.
If you look at my most recent film reviews you’d think I’m stuck in the 1960’s at the moment. It’s just so happen to have gone that way recently. I chose this film purely on the basis of the director Robert Aldrich who has a varied and interesting filmography, who during the 1960’s had a really strong period of directing, OK there’s a few missteps but no-ones perfect. Most known for his work concerning the darker sides of relationships and the tensions within their dynamic. With The Killing of Sister George (1968) he makes a return to the theme of fading/faded fame. After the success of rival sisters in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) that pitted two women both no longer relevant to the public, relying on their past for currency to try and restore themselves. Of course more famous for bringing together Bette Davis and Joan Crawford who famously hated each other. Together on-screen they produced fireworks, on set a few more went off too. Brought to life recently in Feud: Bette and Joan that dramatised the events leading up to their only film together and there after. It seems that Aldrich couldn’t shake the theme, returning to it after the success of The Dirty Dozen (1967), which allowed him to set-up his own production company. Sister George if often cited as he favourite film and you can see why, a lot of energy has clearly gone into it.
The fictional soap Applehurst, all looks rather quaint now, aging actress June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) fears that here role on a long running soap opera’s being killed off. The worst fear for a lot of aging actors even today. William Roach, the longest-serving actor in Coronation Street feared he’d never recover from his stroke, only to be killed off. Now in his 80’s you could easily understand why. Yet fans of the longest running soap still love this character, even if the actor now takes a less prominent role in the soap. It’s the fear of the unknown, not having control over a character that you have shaped, breathed life into for the est part of your career – such as Roach who has made the role his own and probably the only one of his career, in short he knows little else in terms of his acting career. To be cast-aside without even consulted, the sense of belonging and power you have believe you have on the program is nothing. We are a few steps away from Jane Hudson (Davis) whose own career was cut short by puberty and fickle audience tastes. A theme that anyone in the entertainment world can easily related to.
This fear of lack of relevance, having to start over again brings out the worst in June as we find out, a regular drinker and alcoholic we see her reach new lows that don’t go unseen by the BBC. Sending round Mercy Croft (Coral Browne) to put the fear of god in her. June takes out her frustration on who I first believed to be her long-term lodger a much younger woman – Alice (Susannah York) who takes a lot of abuse. June’s in fact the male of a lesbian relationship. Part of the controversy caused by this film on it’s release in the late 60’s, a year after homosexual sexual offences had been de-criminalised. Of course aimed at men, the subject would still be very raw for the general public, getting used to seeing more overt displays in public of homosexual men. Women were pretty much ignored, making this film slightly easier to make and depict women more than co-habiting. The open secret relationships of the entertainment world are the first to be revealed. An industry generally more excepting of people’s private lives.
June or George’s downward spiral is long and dramatic, mirroring a character from a modern day soap, not the twee show she was soon to be axed from. An alcoholic who gets herself in trouble with the Catholic church to making her lover do unspeakable acts in fits of rage. A woman whose clearly passed her prime and in denial about it, needing the approval ratings to boost her delicate ego that’s supported by her drinking. Ruining everything that matters around her. Unaware that the world around her has changed. When Croft arrives we see another side to her, one that wants to please yet ultimately suspicious of the power that she holds.
There are clear comparisons to Jane Hudson who we see long after the carpets been pulled from under her. Here it’s just about to happen, this is the beginning of the fall-out professionally and emotionally. desperately needing to be taken seriously, to not having to be voicing a cow in her next job. A major difference between the two women in this later film is the relationship, one that’s sexual with undertones of fractures, whilst the Hudson sister’s based on a rivalry that has been boiling over for years ready to explode. Aldrich has taken the same dynamic and sexualized it to great effect, we don’t need to men for fireworks to go off. As we have seen more recently more female-centric films (still not enough though) allowing for drama that’s not revolving around a man.
I have to mention the sex scene towards the close of the film between Croft and Alice, as awkward as it is at times to watch, it soon becomes Count Dracula sitting over his next victim who waits to be liberated from one life to start another. Croft who has been eyeing up her latest prey for the duration of the film is now ready to swoop down and take a bite. Easily read as seeing Lesbians still as group a people to be feared unlike gay men who are now to be seen and ridiculed on-screen.
Both leads are well suited for their roles, York’s Alice the younger woman whose perfect for the role, after being turned down by Julie Christie, who he’s clearly still looking for when he found York who portray’s a victim of domestic abuse yet still able to break free of the cycle which would only get worse. Whilst Reid is clearly enjoying the role of George, the insecurities of an aging actress are all there, the ego, the resentment and bitterness that comes when your passed over or tossed aside. A role that was turned down by Angela Lansbury and eyed up by Davis on the hunt of her next Oscar, something Aldrich wanted no part of for a third time. I can see where the controversy that surrounded the film. A clear shift in tone for Aldrich who was well aware of changing tastes in America and France, wanting to push boundaries himself. A year before the release of Midnight Cowboy (1969) that made the depiction of Sex and Drugs acceptable to the modern audience. The Killing of Sister George was one of those ground-breaking films that paved the way for American New wave to get underway in the 1970’s.
Since delivering a film talk about A Kind of Loving (1962) I’ve been exploring the kitchen sink dramas of the early-mid 1960’s a purely British genre of films that explored modern life for the average person. Generally set up north and generally involving getting someone pregnant out of wedlock – a big deal back in the day. The backdrop to all of this was the gritty urban back-streets, the factories that were the backbone of modern Britain. Most produced by one studio – Woodfall and three directors who had varying success before moving in different directions. Definitely a collection of films to look out for, drama without the budget and still having an impact.
One of those Woodfall films – A Taste of Honey (1961) a comedy drama about a teenage girl Jo (Rita Tushingham) who falls pregnant after a cheeky romance with a black sailor Jimmy (Paul Danquah) whilst on shore-leave. Who was both exploring her burgeoning new adult feelings and giving into these new urges without really considering the consequences of the romance that ultimately left her pregnant and needing to then support herself. Whilst at also struggling to put up with her alcoholic mother Helen (Dora Bryan) who brought real comic timing to the film, both acting as relief and the reality of her home life not being as perfect as films of the time would have you believe. Yes you can find the odd alcoholic parent on film, but not the extent they are seen having an effect on a young daughters life.
So after a year of exploring this brand of British I noticed a more unusual film The Trap (1966) starring Tushingham also and Oliver Reed in a pioneer era Western, and even more unusual it was a British production. Set during the same era as The Revenant (2015), Man in the Wilderness (1971) and Jeremiah Johnson (1972) a pretty much untapped source for Western genre story telling. Instead focusing on post Civil War era. There’s a lot of history pre-civil war to be explored. The Trap is a rare look at British settlers in the undeveloped San-Francisco – the landscape still untouched from the gold mining boom that was probably going on elsewhere in the landscape of this film. Instead we focus on the trappers – namely a French trapper La Bete (The Beast) played by Reed with a confused accent which you learn to live with.
What really drew me to the film was the idea of a mute girl – having seen The Shape of Water (2017) on it’s release, which was a performance more reliant on acting skills than the delivery of dialogue, it allowed Tushingham to really push herself and rely more on reactions to her acting. Playing a young woman once rescued from Crow who rapped and killed her family. The shock of the events left her mute for the rest of her life. You wonder whether she will ever get over the shock and find her voice to speak again. Yet the magic of these mute roles is that a big part of you doesn’t want her to speak, it would just ruin the effect. All the build up to be destroyed with her voice. Probably raspy at best and strained, why inflict an audience with that reveal. Like most mute characters the condition comes from a place of childhood or past truama leaving them mute. The doomed hero of The Great Silence – Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is left with a permanent scar and disability after witnessing his families murder. Whilst more recently Eva Green‘s Madeline in The Salvation (2014) has her tongue cut out by the hands of her captor Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The muteness of these characters does not comes from a natural disability, but one inflicted through a violent past that they must learn to live with.
For Eve (Tushingham) she is forced into a marriage of circumstance to save a family from ruin. When La Bete comes for a large sum of money from the richest man in town – (Rex Sevenoaks) whose more than willing to hand over the money to save his family. Whilst his wife (Barbara Chilcott) taking on the role of the man here uses her questionable inititative and hands over the help – Eve a woman whose unable to question her position or task. Her class does not allow her to. We see other women earlier on being auctioned off to the highest bidder, brought over on a steamboat solely for the wifely property to the local men. However this transaction is free and ensures a families future – not picked up again at the end of the film either. Leaving Eve in the care/custody of La Bete, a brute of a man who knows everything about hunting, trapping and how to survive in the wild and little about women beyond his yearning for a wife. A perfect match for the overly masculine Reed who chews up the part with relish. Life in the wild is not something that comes naturally to Eve, who slowly adapts to life in the wilderness.
Her wits are needed when a traumatic hunting accident leaves La Bete at her mercy and care. Having first to fend off a pack of wolves, before becoming a nurse and ultimately his wife in more than name. It’s a challenge that fills the third act of the film. Being pushed to her own limits to ensure that Le Bete survives the Winter. Coming out in Spring to be closer than before she has still suffering from her past that prevents her from truly being his wife. Sending her out further than she imagined, out in to the arms of her old enemy – The Crow who are more Christian than she would expect. Their depiction may not be the best, however they are shown in a more positive light, as they rescue her and nurse her back to health. Not all Native American’s are the same as the film suggests. Would this be enough to break her self inflicted muteness or will she remain silent forever. A scene near the close of the film shows potential for an outburst from Eve who later realises what she needs to be happy in life.
The Trap is not best Western, let down by it’s budget mainly. It does however allow for a focus on pure acting from a then young Tushingham who is mainly all smiles and frowns. Her face is straining to express emotions at times. Usually these roles really show what a actor is made of, here we can see she’s at the edge of her range. There are times she does rightly carry the scene, however others she’s clearly struggling most of the time opposite the literal giant of Reed whose loving being out in the elements. It’s another take on the woman as victim at the hands of the savage. The savage becomes a white trapper here who understands the land just as well as his Native counterpart. A curio of a Western that has to be seen to see how a foreign country views the American West, instead of focusing the traditional they switch to the Davy Crockett era that’s refreshing for the audience.
If I’m honest I had no reason before now to really return to Rio Conchos (1964). It was inspiration for an early piece of work that I’ve made. The unfinished mansion of the confederates who had fled after the surrender at the end of the civil war. I could see the potential in the building, even looking at how it was first framed, from behind the pillars on the porch we have no idea what state the new home is in. The focus of the work has been put into the entrance, emphasising the need to display the power they had once lost back over the border. A need to assert power and stature in a foreign country was clearly essential for Col. Theron Pardee (Edmond O’Brien). This time around I wasn’t so much drawn to the mansion, that drive has been fulfilled, allowing me to focus on what was just a chance to return to a curio of a Western that had faded in the memory.
The memory had become so fragmented that the mansion was really all I remembered. Leaving me to truly rediscover what is really another chance to explore the influence of The Searchers (1956). From the opening scenes I could see clear comparisons between them. We see a number of Apache’s being gunned down just as they are about to pay their respect to the dead they have brought out to cremate. We find James Lassiter (Richard Boone) hiding from view. He enjoys the killing, showing no respect for these Native Americans wanting to say good-bye. If there were more Apache’s he would surely have carried on until he had no more rounds of ammunition. Much like Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) whose stopped by Reverend Clayton (Ward Bond) who can see that this same emotion is all-consuming in the man on a mission of search and destroy.
The very next seen we found Lassiter sleeping in the burnt out homestead when he’s found by Union Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman) and his men. Not so much for killing the Apache’s, more so the gun he used. This could easily have been an alternate version of The Searchers – Edwards, a Confederate solider who we learn wasn’t present at the surrender. Also he could have been so grief-stricken that he stayed in the also burned out homestead and avoided the 7 year search, which would mean no film. It’s a version of events that’s taken up in Conchos instead, who without a supporting community and family a search was never carried out. Lassiter does however know who killed his family, not that we learn this until the final act of the film.
Brought into face justice at a military outposts that doubles as refuge for families making their way West. Everyone is living in a world if fear, something that Lassiter has experience first-hand, changing his outlook on life. A selfish shell of a man who resents the union for winning the civil war and the Apaches for killing his wife and child. Left to rot with his old friend and partner Rodriguez (Anthony Franciosa) who I saw as another Mexican stereotype whose allowed to be a little more than the sidekick at times.
Now for the subplot, the rife used by Lassister had previously stolen, before being sold on. Captain Haven want’s to track down these stolen weapons, hoping to use a gunpowder as bait to bring them to the guns. Something he feels he can achieve if he enlist the help of his newest prisoner. An unorthodox method that sees them cross the border. The prisoner sees this as an opportunity to test his luck, bribing them to also release Rodriguez, a ruthless man who will do anything as long as he gets his own way. Waging his own war against the victors of war as he carries out one last campaign.
Made during the early days of the civil rights movement we have Jim Brown’s Sgt. Ben Franklyn a rare Black soldier, depicting progress in the Union army, a victory for the freed slaves and taking note also of Sergeant Rutledge (1960) which had an all black unit of men. Here they’re mixed, reflecting the hope for better integration within the contemporary U.S. army. Here Franklyn, named after one of America’s founding fathers plays a fairly decent sized role for a traditionally white-centric film and role. He’s able to freely express himself to his superior, no fear of reprisal, carrying out orders and most importantly he gains the respect of Lassiter who a few years before fought for his continued life as a slave.
Moving the focus back to Lassiter whose not afraid to make personal sacrifices, he’s on a mission, one that even he doesn’t really know about. We finally begin to see a more human side of him when they’re surrounded by a band of Apaches who surround another burned out house. A house that only holds reminders of a past that he has yet to resolve. When we see him turn from killer to protector. He becomes the other in order to help them get away. Even their captor, a Squaw – Sally (Wende Wagner) who he begins to see more as a woman and human being to protect. She loses the image of Mexican Apache to become someone to be protect. She’s the Debbie of the film, whilst Boones – Ethan Edwards has begun his long journey to redemption and hopes of moving on. He faces one last challenge, to fight his Confederate past when he’s brought to Rio Conchos, the new base for Pardee’s men south of the border. Becoming Confedardo’s. Hoping to rebuild and return for another chance of glory that has rejected them.
The final act is full of emotional and physical pain for everyone left alive. Visually it’s a little hard to make out at times what is going on, shot in day-for-night conditions for the finale as they tied up men who by this point has been dragged by Apache horses. A form of torture ordered by Blondebeard (sounds more like a pirate than a Native American name) Kevin Hagen who we learn killed Lassiter’s wife and child. The Scar of the film is finally revealed and is just as mean as his white opposite who came for him. It’s a dramatic fiery mess that draws to a close what has been not so much boiling over but simmering for a while. Boone plays the sneaky under-hand kind of man, layered with grief and anger, not quite a hero or anti-hero, he just wants what is justice in his eyes and that’s all that matters.