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.
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’ve been meaning to return to The Tin Star (1957) for a while now, an under appreciated Western by Anthony Mann without James Stewart, his first Western without Stewart due to a falling out between the two of them. I wonder how he would have approached this role, making it the 8th together. Instead turning to Henry Fonda, a longtime friend of Stewart’s making for the film we have today. Paired opposite a young pre-Pyscho Anthony Perkins which itself makes for interesting reading.
I could come at this review as a could have been different with James Stewart but that would be doing a dis-service to decent film that takes on the apprentice/master relationship. Something that has been done countless times, to become a man you must be able to defend yourself. Here however you don’t need the guns to do so. They are simply tools, something that fresh-faced Sheriff Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins) has to learn the hard way. When bounty hunter Morgan ‘Morg’ Hickman (Henry Fonda) arrives with bounty in tow he wants only to collect his money and leave, keep to himself and cause no trouble. His very presence in the town causes a stir with the establishment and business that have supported Ben who took over at little notice. “This is a law and order town” is mentioned a few times to warn Hickman off interfering on his way. This is not the Clint Eastwood bounty hunter whose very presence scares those he’s about to shout down and collect on. This town has moved on from this model of keeping law and order. It’s follow the law and live by the law. Yet we still have the classic Dead or Alive posters which contradict that thinking. criminals are still wanted, however the arrive is a different matter. Hickman’s presence spreads fast through the town, no rooms at the only hotel, no room for his horse at the livery stable (on the edge of town). They don’t want him to stay, he’s a reminder of a different time, he’s outmoded.
Instead of being filled with rage, like many of Stewart’s roles, there’s no build up of emotion, not big release that leads to great dramatic scene. Instead he holds his own in a town that resists him. Taking up lodgings with another outsider Nona Mayfield (Betsy Palmer) and her mixed race son Kip (Michel Ray) a curious boy who wants only to play with others. Not having many friends due to his Native American heritage (which isn’t really mentioned outside the house). Getting off to a rocky start, it could have increased in tension however it’s dealt with calmly the next day surprisingly well.
The main focus of the film is making a sheriff out of Owens who wants to assume the role with more confidence, something that he is lacking. This could also be seen in the actors hidden sexuality, hiding him true-self on-screen to conform and get work. Can only a heterosexual male become a sheriff? His skills with a gun are rough around the edges, it takes Hickman’s presence, a former sheriff himself to help him. It’s a reluctant help, after being pleaded by the sheriff, not the image we’re used to in our law enforcement out in the West. He’s still a boy who needs to learn the ways of being a man. It takes another to teach him. We get the classic target practice scene, not played so much for comedy, more to see how far he has to go. He wants to prove himself to the town and his woman – Millie Parker (Mary Webster) who wants him to take off the badge to live a safer life, unlike her father who died with it on.
Another test comes in the form of Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand) one of the ugliest men you could get caught up in a fight with. A man who should really be wearing the badge, instead he tests the sheriff to the limit. When a posse’s formed to catch two men responsible for the deaths of two elder men, he leads the mob mentality, which is stirred up. Owens seems powerless to really do much about him. If Ben can overcome him, stand up to the brute he has come a long way, learning how to hold himself in public and as the law. The bully of the playground has no one left to push around.
The real test comes as the posse are out chasing no-one after setting a light, Hickman has resisted the lure of the reward on the two wanted brothers Ed and Zeke McGaffey (Lee Van Cleef and Peter Baldwin), again mixed race with Native American heritage, these two face the full force of racism, whilst young Kip joins in from a distance playing sheriff on his new horse. Hickman is able to put his drive for money to one-side when he knows Kip’s caught up, becoming a father figure to him. Not forgetting his sheriff in-training Ben who just wont listen to reason, stay out of it and be safe. The life he wants is fraught with danger and heartache, which can be avoided. Instead he’s headstrong and blinkered, riding in to prove himself. Ultimately, no guns are used to safe the day and bring in the two men. Even when they face a lynch mob, guns are threatened not used, showing that can be used as tools not just weapons for protection.
Tin Star is the beginning of a decline for Mann who had made some classic Westerns with Stewart, this could have been up there. Gary Cooper makes for a strong replacement in The Man of the West (1958). However from there on in it’s down and out, if we ignore a tense The Heroes of Telemark (1965) for a brief return to form. Here however we have a small budget film that tries to get into the characters, some more successful that others. There’s a lot going on in this 80 odd minute film, it’s tight with a bit of excess around the edges. I know I’ll be revisiting in future thanks to a fine performance from Fonda which gives it some weight and experience.
A few months ago I caught Jackie (2016) which for a prolonged scene/montage we saw Jacqueline Kennedy beginning to grieve, preparing for her late husbands funeral. Playing throughout the scene and on the soundtrack is the stage version of Camelot as performed by Richard Burton. We learn later on that JFK saw himself as Camelot, clearly inspiration for him politically and ideology. The track – Camelot stayed with me for sometime after I came out of the cinema. I had to download it to satisfy the ear-worm that was now taking up residence in my head. It’s been about 6 months since I saw both the film and first listened again to the track. It’s been on a number of times in the car. Listening to the track out of context of the musical which I knew still nothing about. I find myself singing along to the track, picking up odd lines, still not ready to take it to karaoke yet – I will be one day. Listening to the lyrics I began to understand part of what the world that Richard Burton was trying to paint to his Guenevere, as if he was selling her his form of paradise. The climate in the kingdom of Camelot is ideal throughout the year. It’s all in decree by the king himself, making sure its all orderly, very British, allowing us to get one with the more important things – like afternoon tea.
Translating this back to the later film I have already got a better understanding of the film and the short-lived presidency of JFK, who dreamed of a utopian new America, which a large number bought into during the cold war, that’s ignoring his many critics who would rather him be out off office. Still that leads into the realm of conspiracies which I’m not going into/entertain. Anyway moving away from the more recent film connection, I first attempted to watch this musical over a year ago. It didn’t go well if I’m honest, it lasted less than 5 minutes before I gave up. The idea of Richard Harris singing it didn’t sit with me beyond the description in the listings. Then somewhere down the line I saw Paint Your Wagon (1969) where again I found actors who aren’t really suited to this world of the all singing and dancing numbers. But I stayed with it due to my curiosity for the film. Both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood would never have claimed to be singers. They were passable with a lot of training to put it politely, they were having a ball making the film. The much can be said for Camelot, a cast that is not really known for their singing abilities.
I think this time around with Camelot (1967), with the later film and the curiosity again I actually told myself to sit through it, plus wanting to see Camelot and sing along to the number above. It’s not really a song that on the surface is too hard to sing (not suggesting training went into the performance) however it has that William Shatner sound of talking the words which he aced with his rendition of Rocket Man. Could this be a speaking musical – if such a term exists? The main casting of this film is rather unusual yet I stuck with it. I found Harris to be a decent King Arthur without chewing up the set. Vanessa Redgrave‘s Guenevere wasn’t such as easy fit, more suited to drama’s I guess this was a finding her style role, seeing if she could, which to a certain extent she does. The musical numbers aren’t the grandest songs in musical history.
I did find myself still drawn to the Jackie connection, how did the Kennedy’s connect to the musical? For me it was the idea of uniting all the counties, each fighting among themselves. Arthur decides to unite the fighting knights to fight for right. Inviting all the knights of the realm/country to join him, lay down their arms and join him around the famous round table. One that I saw a recreation in Winchester a few years ago, hanging up and looking like a precursor to a dart board. Flyers go out across the country and before too long we see men riding in full armour towards the kingdom. Thats not before one of the flyers reaches France into the hands of Lancelot Du Lac (Franco Nero) yes a french knight played by an Italian whose not even trying to do the accent, probably because it would have sounded worse. I for one was constantly thinking about him dragging a coffin through a town in Django (1966). He just was poorly cast for a Frenchmen, probably seen as way to boost his international profile Hollywood. Better working with Sergio Corbucci, the role would have been better served by Omar Sharif in terms of accent – maybe. However Nero did bring an air of mystery, the practically unknown to everyone until Arthur remembers what Merlin Laurence Naismith predicted that he would sit with him around a table (not knowing it was round). This is naughty love interest for Guenevere that soon takes hold as she starts to pit others against him in hopes of driving him away or to prove to herself if he’s worthy of her affections, that were too quickly won by Arthur and his selling of paradise.
It’s this idea of paradise that he wants to spread across the country, the start of modern Britain, lawmakers and government not just by one monarch which is essentially a dictatorship without the advisors. Bringing all these knights likes Senators of the 50 states of America together in Washington for greater good than they’d been doing before obviously inspired. Was JFK essentially dreaming of a better world that was now entering the 2nd decade of the Cold War. He oversaw the Cuban missile crisis, encouraged the space programme among other things. Now the use of Camelot in Jackie makes a lot more sense, enriching the film in terms of the relationship that’s now being grieved for. It’s a reminder of what’s essentially a reminder, a memento of stage production, and inspiration for a man. I come away with all of this after a film that is definitely watchable, lots if a fun and songs you don’t really need to have a great voice to have fun with.
Now this is a rarity, a review of a superhero film. Previously I’ve seen a few superhero films, I could give a list – mainly X-Men, as I grew up with the cartoon as a child. Only a few months ago I caught Deadpool (2016), yes I’m a bit slower when it comes to the costumed characters. When I heard this film in the same breath of the Western I was more interested in seeing Logan (2017) billed as being Hugh Jackman‘s final outing as the angry clawed loner. Also to be the first and possibly worthy film for the character – which I can’t really comment on.
I can however draw on my understanding of the Western in relation to Logan, which will take up the majority of my time here. So let’s get under, saddle up and ride on out. Or in Logan/James Hewlett (Jackman) is a limo driver in the year 2029, living in Mexico. He is clearly tired and ravaged by time, the years haven’t been good to him. The once virile mutant filled with rage really doesn’t want to get into fight, he’s become reluctant to draw out the adamantium that have become more of a curse than before. The feeling of immortality has long faded, age and time is catching up with him. Much like in The Gunfighter (1950) – Johnny Ringo (Gregory Peck) who wants to lay down his gun, tired of killing and running, wanting a normal life. His celebrity has long-lost it’s appeal, now a target for young wannabe’s hungry for that trophy and title “I shot Johnny Ringo”. Wolverine/Logan is our gunfighter who has gone into hiding, nursing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) whose suffering with dementia, needing medication to keep him lucid. Any drop in dosage can unleashed his now uncontrolled mental abilities can be felt on an almost planetary scale – it’s just not worth thinking about.
So if Logan is the gunfighter, Xavier is the elderly parent who once took him under his wing, brought him up to be the man he hoped to be like. It would be wrong to compare Xavier to a Walter Brennan character who acted as the older sidekick whose life experience’s are shared with our hero. We also have a mutant tracker, an albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is the unwitting sidekick who keeps both in check. We have the first of our principal characters in place now.
The film begins as it means go on, setting the tone, its hard language and bloody violence, not through Logan wanting to deliver it. Coming from a place of self-defense of self-preservation, showing that there is a place for violence in the comic book universe beyond imaginary buildings and cities being blown up in a computer. The violence leaves little to the imagination, even quick editing we are still left feel slightly queasy at the body parts being cut into and off into multiple victims throughout the film. It’s also the first time that I’ve heard Stewart swearing and as coarsely. I’m reminded of Unforgiven (1992) that sees violence rise from the embers of once prolific gunfighter William Munny (Clint Eastwood,) who picks his gun up hopefully for the last time, a big pay off that will support his family. Turning back to an old undisturbed part of his life, thought to be tamed by his dead wife. What we see is a resurgence in those aggressive emotions, the death of his friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) a line has been crossed, up to this point he’s been rusty with his rifle, not able to mount a horse without assistance, a shadow of his former self. Logan is Munny just with a adamantium skeleton – no need for the rifle here.
The films director (James Mangold) has been pretty blatant in his sources of inspiration – namely Shane (1953), the titular gunfighter played by Alan Ladd who enters into civilisation if only briefly to free a town from the strangle hold of Ryker (Emile Meyer) threatening the homesteaders who were trying to make a life for themselves. Then there’s the annoying kid Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde) who looked up and adored the man with a gun, who could handle it with such finesse and skill it put his own father Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) to shame, he was not the man who he wanted to look up to. That was something he had to learn and accept. The acts of violence that Shane commits are held back to the end of the film, allowing us to see this strong stoic figure who only shoots when he really needs to. This skill is more than just that, it’s a form of defense that stops him functioning in society. He ultimately has to ride on away from the homesteaders who have chosen a peaceful life. The link’s seen in a few scenes Logan, we see it literally on TV, supposed to be nearly 100 years old (76 years, but whose counting). Showing that it still hows the power to hold the attention of an audience. The scenes carefully chosen to include Shane.
Our Shane is clearly Logan whose followed by his own kid (spoiler!!) a young Mexican girl – Laura (Dafne Keen) herself on the run from an army of men and mutant who want to capture her. Her own existence is very similar to Logan’s, through no fault of her own plagued by this mutation that has been engineered, thanks to mad scientist – Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), a connection to the X-Men cannon. One of a new generation who are on the run, the gunfighter of the Marvel universe start even younger. No need for guns, they were born with their own gifts (if you can call them that.
Away from the Western connections and themes we have that of family, having only Xavier and Caliban as Logan’s family, its dysfunctional, a father figure who has become the receiver of care. Family isn’t something that comes naturally to him, the violence in him does not allow it to really happen. All he’s ever had has either left him or been killed. With the unwanted arrival of Laura his world starts to change, his perspective on life, he softens up towards the end if only reluctantly. She also acts as a way of the character carrying on in future films and the wider Marvel comic universe which I know little about. Here she’s just a child, but one with more than her share of issues to conquer in order to function. The baton’s passed here as characters die, passing them onto new ones.
I’ll end where I began, I’ll probably never again review another comic book film, this however spoke to me, my passions, the ideas in the western are very strong. You could say the comic book super hero is just another gunfighter, their adventures chronicled in the pulp that made them. The dime novels of the 1800’s did the same for Buffalo Bill and Jesse James and numerous others, the legends were being printed, the truth being blurred with each publication, which is referenced also in the film with a subtle self-awareness that doesn’t take you out of the film. You could say it’s a Western, just with an angry guy you don’t want to cross.
If I’m honest I wasn’t going to write about Rawhide (1951) I was only watching it as it sounded good from the description so there I went and recorded it on a whim almost. It doesn’t even conform to the themes I’m exploring in my work at present, or the exploration of that film I’ve mentioned far too often recently. It also bares no relation to the later long Western TV series (1959-65) which introduced us to Clint Eastwood the rest they say is history in regards that show. The film of the same name is much more forgotten today, with two actors that I have to admit aren’t my favourite either, Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward are two that have never really excited me. It seems the more I explore I find myself going in directions I never imagined. Part of that’s down to the film’s director Henry Hathaway who never failed to deliver a decent film which this is.
It’s a Western in the classical form which is something I’ve not been watching a lot of recently, wanting or finding more in the films I’ve been choosing. It’s a good old-fashioned good versus bad which is the foundation of the film, the setting of a stagecoach station is more familiar after both Comanche Station (1960) ans more recently The Hateful Eight (2015) which itself has stronger connections with the spaghetti Western The Great Silence (1968) which are more obvious and far stronger, I can’t say too much as I have yet to see the film, for now I’ll let this video do the explaining.
I can instead draw on the slightly weaker connections to Rawhide, so there will be a few spoilers here. Again most of the action takes place in a stagecoach station, yet we start at very different points. There’s a mythical introduction of the Overland Express, a stagecoach that ran from California to St Louis and back again, taking only 25 days. For the time revolutionary, today it’s incredibly slow, the nearest we’d get today is a bullet train, how times have changed. That establishes the world are going to spend the film in before moving into the characters that are treated more unconventionally. Unlike Quentin Tarantino‘s film that merely uses the stagecoach as a form of transport to bring half the characters to Minnie’s where they’re snowed in for the rest of the film. We don’t have that claustrophobia or collection of colourful characters in the earlier film which allows the characters to move more freely.
Where it really begins to show comparisons is in the big reveal in Eight when we have the long flashback and the previous parts are revealed. When the work that the four we meet at the making preparations to the guests who are yet to arrive. Of course its more overt in the later film, with the older its only a small portion of the film as Rafe Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe) and his gang of fellow in-mates who have just escaped are preparing for the evening stage to come in. The act of fooling the passengers whilst Tom Owens (Power) and Vinnie Holt (Hayward) who are held prisoner have to fight for freedom, hopefully getting word to the morning stage which is carrying the gold that Zimmerman is waiting for.
Moving away from that connection I have to look at how the characters are dealt with, the order which they’re killed off, which is rather out of traditional sequence. We begin with Stage boss Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) who is usually the drunk comic relief, I’d have hoped he would have had more screen time looking at his billing in the film, compared to others. Shot down in the first 10 minutes which is quite brave for a popular supporting actor. Then at the end of the film (yes more spoilers) Zimmerman’s shot by one of his own men Tevis (Jack Elam) who is woman hungry and uncontrollable, leaving the last gunfight to take place between Tevis and Owens. Traditionally this should have been between Owens and Zimmerman, however a risks taken here, its more realistic to see infighting of a gang that crumbles at the end when it becomes all too much.
There is no real clear hero, at least a male hero as we find when the final shots come from the only woman (Hayward) in the film, much the same as Marshal Will Kane’s Quaker wife Amy Fowler Kane (Grace Kelly) who saves her husband. These two women break the mold of gunfighter’s, picking up a gun and saving the day. Owens is too much f a coward, dropping his gun at the sight of a child being shot at, instead of preventing that atrocious act being seen through. What this shows it a few things, that not all men are built to carry a gun and fight with it. Women are more than able to defend themselves. Children were also involved in these dangerous gunfight’s, something we also see in The Deadly Companions (1961) where a child’s death is at the centre of the film. The child in the earlier plays a much smaller part, which is built up for tension at the end, dangers being directed at the little girl whose in the care of her Aunt who was only trying to bring her to her paternal grandparents. This is years before we have women and children thrown into the action of The Wild Bunch (1969). Tame for sure but you have to start somewhere.
Looking quickly at the Susan Hayward who as beautiful her screen presence is she’s easily suits the West, adding both beauty whilst not being afraid to muck in as we see her digging a hole. Most women of the West are either farmers wives or dancers, she is clearly neither of those types. A single woman who takes a big risk to travel across the country with a young child in tow. I might be looking out for more of her work in future. The rests of the cast are all well-defined, I see similarities in Gratz (George Tobias) and O.B. (James Parks) yet the latter is more educated than the Mexican who simply follows orders and can’t see what is really going on around him.
Made at the beginning of the 1950’s we have a decade of more emotion and psychology entering the genre. Its a small injection of something different to the genre that is about to be shaken from its classic form to reveal more exciting imagery and ideas.
This is one film I have been either putting off or just plain avoiding. The very idea of both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood two heavy leading men in Westerns just put me right off for years. It took a “what the hell” moment to take the plunge what this comedy Western Musical, yes three genres for the price of one. I knew from past visual research the film had some connection with the gold-rush, a mass of wooden structures and tent across a river up and down on either side littered with figures. I didn’t really pay much attention to its source, just the content for the gold-mine I was researching in 2012. That’s where I come from when it came to Paint Your Wagon (1969) knowing it would be nothing like The Simpsons parody but quietly hoped it was. I think my sister and I have added another line “Gonna used turpentine, gotta keep those brushes clean” unless there’s another clip I can’t find.
OK so moving away from my thoughts going into the film before the release of the film there really wasn’t many gold digging films before 1969, looked at only briefly as only an aspect of frontier life. Not the setting for a whole film, just a passing location. Not as focused as The Spoilers (1942) which is just off the top of my head. Films usually centering around greed and power that the yellow metal can produce once found. We don’t really leave this once location for long. Instead we become immersed in this male dominated world, in a male dominated genre that sees women pushed to the sidelines. This very aspect of the genre’s poked and prodded for the first hour.
Taking a step back to having both Marvin and Eastwood in the same film which would be a dream come true if it was a straight Western it would be too much to handle. Instead I have to settle for a musical which if I’m honest has encouraged me to write a review and consider the genre in a different way once more. As much it is a chance for escapism and a sing along. I couldn’t imagine either two of these actors really singing or taking it seriously. I know that Marvin had a hit with Wand’rin’ Star not really wanting to believe that fact until I see it. As an audience we don’t really expect them to sing not perfect even before the days of auto-tune. Instead they do hit the notes but they aren’t blowing me away. Saying that, it doesn’t matter as this s out of the ordinary, much like Mama Mia (2008) we don’t want sopranos or trained professionals. They instead do the job fine and have fun doing it.
Thinking like that it means that, the film’s aimed at two audiences, with music for the music lovers and the actors for the rest, it’s a win-win situation. Added that you like Westerns you are getting an extra treat.
Going back to the themes of the film, a overally masculine film which knows it can stay that way, I wouldn’t call it modern though, thinking of progress in frontier terms. The male dominated gold mining town of No Name needs women to satisfy certain urges and needs that have been going without for so long. With the arrival of a Mormon and his two wives, one being the headstrong Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) who under the laws of the goldmine’s sold to the highest bidder – Ben Rumson (Marvin) who in turn shares with her with his mining partner Pardner (Eastwood). The morals of the day are mocked and trivialized. The power of religion’s mocked at the beginning, living by their own laws that work in a male dominated society under mining laws, all finds are filed and legal, It makes sense in the days before California was given statehood have to fend for themselves. I found Seberg’s involvement in the film odd at times, coming more from a world of French New Waves to a big-budget musical. Working off two actors who as big as the genre who work well opposite her. She’s no longer the free-loving girl of Breathless she has grown up.
As the film progresses the need for women increases as two men live with a similar arrangement to Mormon’s. The society adopt and adapt whatever ideas that make life easier for them and why not if everyone is happy. All this leads up to the boom-town that all gold-mines have become before they climax and collapse. With the kidnapping of French prostitutes times are indeed a-changing and for the better for a time. A town grows over night, gold is making this town come alive, more come to take advantage of the delights and sins that are within the mountains. Enter the Parson (Alan Dexter) whose mocked at every turn up the very end of the film. With the arrival of winter storm Elizabeth takes in a religious family who are innocent to the sins of this town. We see both Pardner and Elizabeth change overnight almost whilst boisterous and un-tamable Rumson who opens the eyes of the oldest to what can indulge himself, sins that make him a man of the frontier.
It’s a musical that mocks the genre at time when it had grown tired and for time it raises it up to become something bigger and magical. Songs that to me aren’t largely important. They move the film forward, mainly light and celebratory in tone. Based on folk songs of the period larger than life pieces that stop the film for five minutes as one character sings their heart out. They do uplift without a doubt with a heavy dose of humour which ensured I stayed the course of the film as it falls into farce meeting reality as the town collapsing and people begin to move on to the next boo town so the cycle would begin again.
I can certainly see how American Sniper (2014) has become Clint Eastwood most successful film. It’s easy to see why after finally watching it for myself after deciding to let it pass me by. Not really the biggest fan of Bradley Cooper whose more of a pretty face than Academy standard, which I just can’t fathom really, a personal thing really. However here he does get my attention here, I’ll explain why below.
So why is Sniper Clint’s best film, at least in terms of box-office, I still see Unforgiven (1992) as his masterpiece, a film he’d been working up to for years, waiting until he was old enough to play the lead. Sniper to a Brit comes across as a piece of propaganda bought and paid for by the Republican party. It could easily have been made during World War two, it’s so heavily laden with patriotism that there are times there is too much to handle. I’m used to the that in American war films that celebrate the armed forces or the chosen individual. These are their heroes and right want to praise their actions, with commendations, medals and much more in their honor. There’s definitely a culture clash going on here when I’m watching this, probably for anyone whose not American. It’s American to its core, which ensured its success. Allowing Clint to now pull of his biggest coup to date, luring Doris Day out of retirement to work with him. He really can do anything he wants.
A biopic about the most decorated sniper Chris Kyle who also holds the highest death count when you think about it is not something we in the UK would want to celebrate. Doing his bit for Queen and country would really just be kept safe from those wanted to kill them. The public would never hear of them, kept behind the Official secrets act they would have signed. There’s also the depiction and celebration of guns which after a short time becomes too much and I began to shut off from the sight and sound of them, I probably saw more of the guns than I did of Cooper at times. Without the weapons we wouldn’t have the film.
The films job is to celebrate the career, the life, the kill-count (probably) and his legacy. He starts as your average red-neck wannabe cowboy who feels he can do so much more than just bring it the cattle. It’s not until he sees the troops under attack, he feels compelled to enlist. There’s no other history or drive behind this decision which makes it rather knee-jerk to me. He’s just another man who wants to serve his country, nothing new there. We have a weird training sequence before they’re called into action after 9/11. This is an important moment on two levels, its one of those moments which transcended the possibilities of film which is now contained in a film, that drives and changes the course of Kyle’s life.
Taking us then back to the very beginning of the film where he is on a rooftop, that now over-played scene from the trailer. His first few kills are then carried out. Where we basically remain for the rest of the film, bang, bang, bang and bang another terrorist, guy with a missiles brought down. It felt like an extended advert for the N.R.A. Yes It was too much even for me. Part of me was wanting to watch Enemy at the Gates (2001) again that built up the man to be the hero for the Russian as morale booster. I admit that with the raids it did break up the repetition you are reengaged with the action as they fight terrorism on ground level.
We did spend time away from the front line of modern war-fare, his private life with Taya (Sienna Miller) who becomes his wife and mother to his children who is left at home. Which would have been more so unless they didn’t have her phone calls to the war-zone which I still can’t fathom if they really happened. Your husband off to war, just calls in in-between killing someone. It feels like a really silly way to get her into the film. The phone calls do allow her into Kyle’s world, she can understand/experience his world if only in terms of audio. To me it’s just too silly to be believable.
I think I’ve said all I can say about Sniper, it’s basically a tribute more than a biography to the soldier who became and American hero. We do see his human side after returning, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, showing he’s just as fallable and human as the rest of us, put in situations we can only imagine. Its a film that only America could, can and did make and love, which is far enough, for a British guy its just too much.
I found out a few weeks ago that the origin of the saying “Paint the Town Red” which I saw taking on a literally meaning in High Plains Drifter (1972) has roots in my home county. The town of Melton Mowbray to be more specific.
It is said that year is when the Marquis of Waterford and a group of friends ran riot in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, painting the town’s toll-bar and several buildings red.
If the history is correct or not in terms of origin of the phrase, it does change the my perception of the phrase which is known today more for having a good night out. Going back to the film which the man with no name Clint Eastwood ordered the town of Lagos painted red, and renamed Hell. Which this bright tone of red does conjure up.
The idea that a colour in block form can change the tone of a location is something I want to look at in a future piece. My initial thoughts are to build a model set that’s painted white, before being re-lit in different light. Being initial this would be a quick response that would ignore colour theory, the power that certain colours create and signify. I may even make a few trip to Melton, making a site-specific piece. It’s very early days and I have a few other pieces that have been quietly waiting to take form in the studio. My next piece could be a performance I made earlier this year. I need to see how that works out. Also I am considering a piece that pits both John Wayne and Clint Eastwood against each other.
Before any of those ideas can go any further than my head I need to complete my short film as the new year begins.
My first encounter with this film was on my birthday during the install of my degree show. I was recommended to watch it by a friend who knew I would like it. That’s an understatement, I loved it. My memory of High Plains Drifter (1973) has long since faded, all I could remember was the ghoulish red town and the whipping flash-backs which stay with you long after the credits have rolled. In terms of the western genre this has more in common with its Italian cousin, the spaghetti western which strictly speaking are not westerns, they have the form of the genre but don’t really have the language of the American full-breed which if I’m honest are less violent during their greatest period. The violence was exploited and amplified. Once you get over the dubbing of all but the American star of the film (Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood et al.) you have this pumped up action film with more sex and violence than you’d have found to that point in the home of the genre. They didn’t carry the legendary status in the characters as subtly as Shane (1953), having built them up in the opening titles as these already fastest guns in the west-types such as Django (1966) where we are treated to another installment. Back home they’re stirred into action, not wanting to fight and draw their guns so easily, having more progression in the gunfighters.
Looking at Clint Eastwood’s influences his time with Sergio Leone strongly influenced him, the violence the stranger with no name, the anti-hero who you end up routing for comes out on top. His first western behind the camera he is still find his own unique voice, one he is adopting from the persona of the man with no name. The tone of Drifter is very European, its hard to sum up in a few sentences, the town looks freshly built, making it more become a backdrop that standout, it’s a newish town that is trying to sustain itself. Laying it’s foundations next to a lake that seems too close for comfort, suggesting it could all be washed away in stormy night. It all becomes very fragile. The town of Lago is actually another character that’s abused in the film (more about abuse later) which we see is transformed, blown up and eventually burnt down. Its part on the film is on some levels more important than the people who inhabit it.
Turning to the townspeople I’m reminded of Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) a town with a dark secret that is bubbling on the surface ready to spill over. Except we don’t have a strong replacement for the mean Robert Ryan who did actually scare the life out of Spencer Tracy (during filming) who was the outsider looking for the truth. The secrets a lot looser here as the film takes on more of a horror tone, Clint’s not giving us a straight Western, it’s a Western-Horror complete with flashbacks which you don’t really see in genre, that plague your mind. A sequence which is played out at least twice but feels a lot more in the mind. It’s the conscience of the town put on the screen.
There is also a strong influence of The Magnificent Seven (1960) or should I say more precisely The Seven Samurai (1954) a cowardly town turn here to one outsider (not seven) that is more dangerous than the men they have been home to for at least a year that have played host to that have just been killed. Except these are all Mexicans who are fighting off bandito’s, they are American citizens who should by rights be able to pick up a gun and fight without fear. They seen off the Mexicans and almost solved the “Indian problem“, why are they so afraid? They need Clint’s stranger who doesn’t really care for them at all. Which leads me back to the flashbacks which are very important in our understanding of who he is, or in fact was. He is not so much flesh and blood as he has ghostly presence, he knows more about the town than he lets on. I believe he is ghost of the whipped town Marshall Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn) who we see in versions of the same scene that we’re reminded off. It’s the reason that The Stranger is here, the reason the town’s scared of the men who will be riding back for revenge after a year in prison. We follow these men back, they are ruthless in their journey, killing for horses, clothes and fun, these are dangerous men for sure.
The Stranger’s presence in Lago shakes everything up, from his first hours he has raped a woman Sarah Belding (Verna Bloom) which is brutal to watch, yet filmed from the woman’s perspective a glimmer of what is to come from Unforgiven (1992) nearly 20 years later. As much as Eastwood is a feminist he wants to come across as the revengeful type who will take what he wants. Maybe this was Duncan’s lover, we just don’t know. We do know that she vocal in her experience to the law who simply want to pacify her modern views that wont be accepted until the next century. We don’t linger as much on the rape as we do in Eastwood’s later film which hinges on request of the prostitute who places a bounty on the man who disfigured her. From a lower position in society they are exerting more power than the men who want to keep both cases quiet. Ironically their next encounter is much more consensual after working his charm and danger, as if he has broken a horse in, now he simply has to ride it when he wants (yes I know it’s a poor analogy but suits the film).
Here in Lago having The Stranger in town is very much to their advantage who abuses that power. From the beginning he turns things on there head. With a free card to do as he please, have what he wants he makes the much small person Mordecai (Billy Curtis) the sheriff and mayor of the town, the butt of the jokes, is placed in the strongest position behind the stranger. He’s not there for comedy with Clint who wants to play with these people who are fighting themselves more than they had before. It’s chaos in Lago. In-fact Mordecai’s built up, from being this typically comedic role to one of great importance, he uses his position to abuse those who have given him s*** for years, now it’s his turn. He is also another way into the past of the town, he too has a connection to the late Marshall, which may lead to his role in the film being so prominent.
I could go on forever about this film there is a lot going on so I’m going to turn instead to the ending which once again got me thinking of another piece I could make in the future, as the town is literally painted red, bringing new meaning to the phrase, which ironically has roots in my home county of Leicestershire in the town of Melton Mowbray when the Marquis ran riot causing mayhem and literally painting the town red in places. This is too strong to be coincidence, turning the idea on its head so the townspeople are causing the mayhem, they are preparing themselves, practically inviting the trouble. Renaming the town Hell, which has move to the surface of the Earth. The town can be seen far quiet a distance now, in one uniform colour of bright fake-blood.
All brought about by Eastwood’s ghost which is more than just showing up the town. He is getting revenge on them all, luring them into a false sense of security before deaths unleashed upon them. The role of the gunfighter’s turned on its head, no longer is he the gun for hire or protector of the people he is using his position to induce fear and draw it from his own past. Could he be the devil as the film draws to a close, he rode literally out of nothing and back into nothing, as if the ghost can now rest peacefully knowing that he has settled his unfinished business. Eastwood early on is showing that the standard western has to change, with his Italian influences and the changing language of cinema. You could say this is more fun than the formulaic Western but that would be ignoring the level of violence and rape that goes on. He is definitely pushing the boundaries of what you can do with the genre which he is reshaping in his image.
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (westernsontheblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter as Social Commentary (thewesternwordslinger.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.co.uk)
- Clint Eastwood’s film High Plains Drifter (1973) (tim-shey.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (sonofcelluloid.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (commonsensemoviereviews.blogspot.co.uk)
- HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) (cinefilestv.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (Universal, 1973) (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.co.uk)