I’m hoping to see 4 of Sam Peckinpah films, Straw Dogs (1971) is the first one out of the gates, and very much by chance too. I remember reading about the film long before I really considered seeking it out – the article focused on the infamous rape scene which is probably one of the most violent scenes I have ever watch on screen. It was also a chance to see how the director, a few years after the success of The Wild Bunch (1969) and the quirky melancholic musical Western The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) with far less violence than it’s predecessor. Moving forward he would be going across the Atlantic to a completely different environment – Great Britain, involved in no conflicts, yet struggling with rolling strikes and blackouts. The summer of love is long behind us and things are looking bleak.
Mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) has moved to rural Cornwall to be with his new wife Amy (Susan George) who from the first few minutes is very much seen from the male gaze, the camera pans down to focus on her chest, clearly not wearing a bra. Partly out of women’s liberation and easily seen as a directorial decision to engage the male before they’re shocked later on in the film. They have just bought a hunting trap, Peckinpah has sewn a seed early on for what to expect later on. You can’t remove the potential image for violence, a man caught within the teeth of the trap that for most of the film’s fixed to the wall. I notice early on, children are dancing in a graveyard, whilst local pedophile Niles (David Warner) looks on quietly at them, not fully aware of what he’s capable of. I’m wondering where he fits into the dynamic of the film, hovering in the background used as a minor character. Warner is sadly not even credited for his role which is staggering when you see his role increase at a pivotal moment in the film.
We learn that Sumner decided to move into his wife’s family home to allow him to study and write his book, something he really wants to focus on. Having escaped his own countries violence, he can finally begin with hopefully fewer distractions. That’s not considering the sexual distraction of his newly wed wife, who sees the world around her far differently to the naive American intellectual whose still finding his feet in this foreign world. They have employed roofers who leer over Amy at any chance they get. The only attractive female in the film, she’s the only object of desire her even though she’s married, it doesn’t stop their actions. David is oblivious to all of this until he is forced to confront what is only going to be an increase of violence against the couple. I’ve not even touched upon Tom Hedden (Peter Vaughan) who spends the first half of the film in the local pub, seen as the town drunk. We don’t yet know how much power he yields over the men in the village. He’s the Cornish equivalent to a gang leader, a translation of the Western villain to British countryside. His influence and position in the community allow him a certain freedom, he’s probably never left the village since he was born.
Diversionary tactics come into play, taking David away from his wife on what is a very British past-time; Pheasant shooting, a right of passage for those in the country and part of society. The same men who have been work on the barn roof for the couple take him away, into a civilised arena of violence. Hoffman again plays the innocent, useless with a gun at first. Instead of shooting a man, who can potentially defend himself he aims at the defenceless birds who can’t seem to kill at first. When he finally kills he’s repulsed by what he has just done. Instead of taking home his kill for dinner he leaves the lifeless bird in peace. Juxtaposed with the rape scene which the film is now known for, the build up to the attack is pretty calm, as Charlie Venner (Del Henney) whom she previously had a relationship with, moves in to forcibly seduce. It becomes increasingly uncomfortable to watch as he gains control, ripping her clothes from her body before he rapes her. Where it becomes blurry for me is when it moves from what looks like rape to possibly consensual, she somehow accepts him and allows him to make love (in the loosest possible terms). Has she given in to his forceful actions, her past feelings overwhelm her working in his favour. The changes with the introduction of Norm Scutt (Ken Hutchison) carrying a rifle, he want a part of her, he wants a share of the action. Amy returns to being an object to be abused, returning her to a victim. I feel uncomfortable again, the sweaty bodies, is not just sexual joy, but pure terror and transfer of empowerment from woman to the men who have violated her. During the scene we have the first flourishes of slow-motion – the Peckinpah signature, here it’s to display the pain and violence towards Amy who has lost her freedom.
This experience naturally stays with Amy and the audience for the remainder of the film, we are forced to experience the imagery in a packed village hall. As she’s forcing herself to try and return to normality, it’s too. She can’t comes to terms with it during the course of the film, events won’t allow her to. When Hedden’s daughter Janice (Sally Thomsett) who we see leading Niles away to try and take advantage of him. She wants to abuse his innocence, unaware of his true nature she meets a fate similar to Lennie Hall’s victim in Of Mice and Men. Unaware of either’s power it ends fatally for Janice, the first victim of the night.
The finale of the film is long and drawn out, from what begins as a car accident develops into a full blown home invasion as Hedden on the look out for Niles now in the care of still innocent Sumner who wants to defend his house turns into a homestead under act from the natives who use all their forces to try and break through. A once civilised man is broken as he turns to violence, doing all he believes is necessary to protect his home from outsiders who want to kill his guest and obligation, wanting to do the right thing becomes very dark and murky. I’m reminded of the farmer Tony Martin who shot dead a burglar after entering his property. He too went to fatal lengths to ensure the safety of his property, sparking a nationwide debate. A real-life parallel, not as extreme as the Hollywood depiction, we can still see the lengths that even a quiet man will to.
We don’t truly get to see what happens to the last men standing, where do they go from here. Have the images of a war that have been broadcast daily on his TV been subliminally brainwashing him to pick up a gun a shoot. Has his countries love for guns become part of his identity, laying dormant ready to be awoken. I leave the film shaken by the imagery, the intensity of violence an intense and relentless barrage that we are more than glad to end. I’m now interested to see how the violence couple dynamic is carried through to The Getaway (1972), a modern day Bonnie and Clyde (1967) who get a thrill from violence, unlike the Sumner’s who used it as a last resort.
With a very distinctive visual style and portrayal of violence, I knew I was in for something both beautiful and gloriously violent. That’s not to say that Sam Peckinpah enjoyed violence for which he will always be remembered for, in fact it was quite the opposite, hating it with a passion. Increasing the volume greatly from The Wild Bunch (1969) which can seem tame in comparison to the much later Cross of Iron (1977) on the Nazi battlefield in Russia.
It’s very rare that we actually sympathise with a German soldier, something I have only done twice before; All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Das Boot (1981). Again it doesn’t really matter what side these soldiers are on, seen more as men in the midst of a war they are loosing. Focusing on their dynamics rather than the politics of the conflict as the began their retreat from Russia in 1943. The main conflict is between the decorated and rebellious Rolf Stiener (James Coburn) and the Prussian Captain Hauptmann (Maximilian Schell) who wants the Iron Cross medal, an iconic and sought after piece in the Third Reich. A personal fight for glory is being waged between two men. A clash of class ideals is going on between these influential men on the Russian front.
The opening titles of this film are fascinating, matched to a frantic succession of images that depict the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi army, as if they are playing a game, just children taking over the playground. Tinged with cynicism of the weary soldier characterised by Coburn who gas grown to hate all that is about the war and probably Germany. Still he carries out his orders and looks out for his men throughout. Even pitying a young prisoner they find, not having the heart to kill a boy in uniform, which would amount to murder not a legal killing in his and the mens eyes.
Theres a battle within the structure of command, between the colonel Oberst (James Mason) and his assistant Captain Hauptmann (David Warner). Both weary of the war, knowing they have all but lost, wondering when they will surrender. Warner plays a depressed captain whose hopes have been all but lost to the ravages of war, whilst the colonel is holding together his command. Handling a glory hungry upper-class Prussian who will stop at nothing in gaining the Iron Cross, unable to return to his family without one.
A lot of subject matter is discussed here, from the ethics of prisoner treatment to the glory of fighting, philosophy of the individual. By no means is this just a find the enemy and shooter dead kind of a film. It’s both intelligent and thought-provoking as we see the injured soldier, how they are treated by the higher ranks, the mental stresses of war, dramatically seen in slow-motion flashbacks. Whichever side of war you are on, it’s never easy for the simple soldier out there fighting. Who can lose that sense of purpose, killing, running and following orders that lose all meaning with all the death and destruction around them.
The violence found within The Wild Bunch was for its time controversial, by the time of Cross of Iron we had grown used to it all. The very setting of the latter film delivers us more studies of death as they slowed down to not enjoy but be horrified by. Cinematically we see a life coming to an end in far more than a flash of an explosion or a round of bullets piercing flesh and blood. Being forced to see such brutality makes death a spectacle to watch in awe. It’s just a trick, whilst in reality it’s anything but. This heightened experience of war makes it more real and at the same time hype real, what is over in a second we now see for 10 seconds.
It’s ultimately about two men at logger heads, at either end of the social spectrum placed into a world that a power struggle. No one really wins as we leave them when the Russians once more advance. I’m cheering for no one at this point, drained by all the violence that has been spewing out of the screen. All the tired men just trying to live another day as best they can. Isn’t that we are all trying to do, get through the day the best we can, making the most of what we have? Ok maybe a bit extreme there, I’m not in a war zone not knowing if I’ll be alive by the end of the day. For me I’ve just discovered a hidden gem of Peckinpah’s that deserves more praise than it receives, understanding his subject matter, always following the underdog at his demise, just what he does best.
- Film Review: Cross of Iron, 1977: Directed by Sam Peckinpah starring James Coburn & Maximilian Schell
- Cross of Iron (misterneil.blogspot.co.uk)
- 0032 Cross of Iron (popcornnights.wordpress.com)
- #64 – CROSS OF IRON (warmoviebuff.blogspot.co.uk)
- Cross of Iron (nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- Cross of Iron: Short of Greatness (swordofelysium.wordpress.com)
- Slow Motion in Sam Pekinpah’s Cross of Iron (ardfilmjournal.wordpress.com)
- World War II Marathon: Cross of Iron (1977) (billsmovieemporium.wordpress.com)
My first encounter with this sci-fi classic and cinematic innovation Tron (1982) was when Homer Simpson found himself in a computer generated universe, a early treehouse of horror which has never left me, due in part due to the big departure and experimentation made from the traditional hand drawn animation of The Simpsons to C.G.I. was incredible, the same year as Toy Story (1995). I always wondered what Homer was going on about, something that only Chief Wiggum did too.
I next encountered Tron whilst watching a Pixar documentary which saw the progression of the small start-up company right through to Wall-E (2009). A small mention was made of this film from the eighties, my attention was reignited my interest in this film which I have finally caught. I knew already that both the dude Jeff Bridges and David Warner were somehow involved in this C.G.I. world that turned out to be a gaming universe created by Encom, with Ed Dillinger (Warner ) sitting at the top complete with a powerful computer system that responds to his voice. For the 1980’s this is impressive and as I realised quite prophetic in some-ways too. Learning that the Master Computer (Warner also) wants total control, especially when an independent program is being developed and a hacker/ex employee Flynn (Bridges) is trying to get hold of his files. You can already sense that a powerful man-made force is trying take over the company, something that even Dillinger is unsure of this move by a program that believes its experience alone makes it more powerful.
To stop the number one hacker getting into the system all level 7 people are locked out of the system, unable to develop games and programs, such as Alan Bradley’s (Bruce Boxleitner) new program Tron which runs independent of the master computer, an wanted threat. Whilst down below in the development centre we find Dr Walter Gibbs (Barnard Hughes) and Lora (Cindy Morgan) working on something that is out of this world, pure science fiction, transporting matter to replicate it in the digital world of the computer. I already was starting to put two and two together, but wasn’t sure how it would work out. Needing to get Flynn back into the building to take down the master computer. Now spending his time as one of the best players of computer games, wowing kids at his skills.
Once breaking into Encom with Lora and Alan the fun really begins for our heroes as soon enough we are transported into the world of video games. Having already had a few tasters of this world that looks dated to a modern audience, still having the power to spark the imagination even now at the possibilities of this world that sees humans in a virtual world for the first time. It does look clunky now, with the occasional Mickey Mouse moniker thrown in. We see our heroes move from the trials of the game, as a man who helped create this world turns against it to ensure it’s very freedom from the powerful Master Computer, who wants total control of it and players who have a belief system of the user.
A man made program fights for supremacy with figures from the outside world who gave it the power in the first place, and populating it. There is so much to consider in the new world that sees a milestone in film-making, made possible by Disney who have been known for pushing the visual boundaries for entertainment, making us wonder what if. Maintaining that we, the players of the games and in life are in control, not a higher power who wants our obedience. Leaning towards being agnostic at times, trying more to install a sense of self-assurance in ourselves to determine our destiny, be it in the real world of virtual.
Then what seems to come out of nowhere is a sequel, moving and updating the action to the 21st century. It wouldn’t have been Tron Legacy (2010) without Jeff Bridges returning as Kevin Flynn the first of many, many nods to the classic which are there in an updated more stunning form. It seems C.G.I. has caught up with the concept of Tron.
With the loss of the master computer in the original a new foe is needed for Kevin who we catch up with after first meeting his 27 year old son Sam (Garret Hedlund) who we learn was left in the care of his grandparents after Kevin left and never came back one night. There are many rumours to where he went, even suicide. Something that Alan Bradley never believed. Who after receiving a page, yes a page, he tell the son and head of Encom now releasing new software in a direction far from what Flynn ever dreamed of. Younger Flynn has gone of the rails in the years after loosing his father and eventually grandparents, living alone. Not the life we expected for the boy who was the son of a CEO of a tech company.
After some convincing and a bike rider later, Sam finds his dads old arcade which leads him to a world that is even beyond the imagination of the audience who remember the clunky C.G.I. of the early eighties. To find a polished world that could have easily come out of a PS3 game. This is one of the few films where I feel that C.G.I. is warranted free rein, being a computer game that has become so much more, steeped in history as we learn. Once again a Flynn is thrown into the arena of gaming, fighting for his life, which doesn’t last long once he meets Clu (Bridges) a younger version of Sam’s dad, having never aged. Something that visually doesn’t gel when we meet the real Kevin who lives off the grid, away from the world he created years ago.
With father and son reunited it’s time to understand the world we are in and its history, the whys and hows that make the film so deeply rooted with the original and not just a reboot, which it could easily have been, looking at the time gap between this and the original. Filling in the gap between where we left off and pick-up this film. It doesn’t feel like an excuse to make money (which is probably was) but as return to something that is loved and respected, and that’s what I get from this film, with all the flashy special effects, even the scary young Bridges who was shaved and made younger on the computer. With a funky techno soundtrack courtesy of Daft Punk who also put in an appearance as d.j.s fitting right into this ultra modern world. They have embraced Bridges persona into the film, with all the things that worked, updating others for a new audience who may have never seen the original, there is enough to enjoy just here.
- WIWLN: Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010) (moviequibble.wordpress.com)
- Tron  (eraserhead69.wordpress.com)
- Tron: Legacy (themusesguild2014.wordpress.com)
- Soundtrack Sunday- Tron Legacy (totallytrueadventure.wordpress.com)
- Tron (1982) (zegatrap.wordpress.com)
- Old Grid, New Grid – Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010) (hokahey-littleworlds.blogspot.co.uk)
- Revisiting The Grid….. (Tron:1982, Tron Legacy:2010) (thearchivis.blogspot.co.uk)
- TRON (1982) v. TRON: Legacy (2010) (kreatedbykrause.blogspot.co.uk)
- Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010) reviews (rimoviecorner.blogspot.co.uk)
It’s taken me too long to get around to watching The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) I don’t know why really either, not knowing what it was really about until I thought, just stick it on, sit back and relax. And relax I did as another turn of the century Sam Peckinpah western unfolded. A more gentle affair from a director known for his bloody violence that will always be associated with him, which overlooks the rest of his work. which includes this.
A man who is left to die has to go on a journey that begins with survival and revenge becomes so much more when he Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) finds what he has prayed for the last few days, dehydrated and desperate for salvation. Not really a religious man he turns to God, who is directed towards the water that he has been praying for. Leading him once back into civilization and financial success in the form of a stagecoach station that he hopes to construct. Taking the opportunity to reap what he has been given.
This gift of water is something he isn’t so easy to give away, charging everyone at first just drink from it, costing one man his life and a philandering preacher man Joshua (David Warner) an uneasy hand in friendship.
It seems whatever Hogue has to do gain respect and trust he has a fight on his hand, with the little he has he later reaps from those who love him. Especially one prostitute Hildy (Stella Stevens) who he sees so much hope and love in, he will go to the other side of the Earth for her. Who we are first introduced to in most masculine way, that is forever burned in the viewers mind. We are seeing a flawed and imperfect man who wants to make his mark, to be known by a few.
The majority of the film takes place in the stagecoach station/stop, as people come and go. A light sweeping piece of film, but remains true to the genre of the wild west. Peckinpah is more comfortable, playing with the fabric of the film, manipulating its speed for comic effect, which today could be seen as dated, yet works for the film that doesn’t take itself to seriously. And when it does, its graceful in showing the passing of time, through a musical number of the overlapping of images, he wants us to be lost in what made the western so great, always returning to the stagecoach, which was the first real form of travel for the masses, and first updating the genre in Stagecoach (1939). Fleshing out the drivers of the vehicle, mainly in the form of Slim Pickens that clearly references the original driver from Stagecoach’s Andy Devine, the overweight and grumpy but loveable driver.
I felt there was a need for Peckinpah to respond to the earlier film The Misfits (1961) that saw the death of the cowboy from the modern world perspective. In Hogue it’s a chance to see this at a much earlier date, when a stronger romantic air was around. We have a group of character who don’t fit into society, not wanting to conform to the ways of civilization until they really are forced to in their own ways. The introduction of the automobile scares those who have not seen it, a greater danger than before to be reckoned with.
Lastly there is a re-teaming of Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones who were the comic relief in The Wild Bunch (1969) that were brought back into different characters, but very much the same on the surface. Very much in the steps of John Ford and his stock company of actors who played similar roles in numerous films, a gesture is being made in his direction. And the real test of the man for Hogue who at the beginning was stranded alone in the desert by these two. They test each others strength as men, and in the end Hogue is the stronger man for waiting for them to return, having learnt a lot over the duration of the film. Whilst the double act learn when to give up and accept their place. Before a low-key and poignant end to the film that sums up where we have come from and now to.
- The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) (every70smovie.blogspot.co.uk)
- Peckinpah’s wistful look at the dying of the West (eddieonfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- Is Water a Right?: The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Environmental Law (ecocinema.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) (ojosdeaguilafilmreview.blogspot.co.uk)