My dad has the idea that Marilyn Monroe was no good as an actress which is true…to a point as I have found with her last film The Misfits (1961). I believe she unfairly earned this title due the directors she worked with, taking advantage of her, the film industry creating an image she couldn’t live up to and the pressure of public live being labelled a sex-symbol. And this is before the days of the internet when she would have surely suffered far worse under the gaze of the media. You have to look at earlier roles such as her small bit part in All About Eve (1950) where she was more a character role with a few lines, playing the blonde for a scene. Playing up that persona before it really took root a few years later. Another stronger example in Niagara (1953) where she’s paired against Joseph Cotten, yes the very same who found fame thanks to Citizen Kane (1941) and a strong of thrillers, a credible actor from the theatre who made the transition to Hollywood. It seems a very strange pairing on the face of it today. Yet it’s not really, take a pretty young thing who knows no better to bring in the audience and an established actor and there you have on-screen couple for a film. It happens sadly to this day, Hollywood really hasn’t broken that mould. Hopefully as more actresses speak out about the sexism in the industry we may finally get change,
As much as Monroe plays more to the classic femme-fetale this time, the blonde who can really drop a few knocks along the course of the film, getting her husband George Loomis (Cotten) all tied up, Not long out of a psychiatric hospital the couple are taking a break at the iconic resort of Niagara Falls, it’s not really what the doctor ordered for the Loomis’s who are further apart than ever before, just about able to stand each other in their cabin. On the face of this all American location dark secrets are beneath surface ready to seep out in the blazing Technicolor film-noir. George’s troubled by feelings of jealousy which consume him, unable to move on, which is pushing the couple apart. As Rose (Monroe) has gone to the arms of another man already whilst on holiday.
We discover the Loomis couple have out-stayed their welcome when The Cutler’s arrive on their “honeymoon” something that is never really explained. Promised that cabin the Lomis’s are still occupying, the two couples an uneasy friendship, the Cutlers aware of the Rose’s overt sexuality towards the other guests staying at the resort, playing music that stirs up George to the brink. I found the Cutlers to be underdeveloped as a couple, first meeting them at the border, before we learn they are not really newlyweds, so what are they, just a couple taking a holiday. Ray (Max Showalter) is hoping to meet his boss Mr. J.C. Kettering (Don Wilson) and his wife, hoping to take advantage of the situation. However it’s Polly (Jean Peters) who has the most excitement, discovering more than she expected whilst enjoying the attractions.
Polly’s caught up in the mess between George and Rose as things get messy, the disappearance of George before turning up dead a few days later. The all American holiday destination’s tinged with death, lies and alteria-motives that Polly is tangled up in unable to her herself free unlike her husband Ray who is harder to persuade. You could say its a classic Hitchcock where all this dark activity is going on, and only one person really knows the truth. Both of the Loomis’s are very different people, the very definition of opposites when it comes to a couple, the honeymoon period’s indeed well and truly over.
Henry Hathaway has taken the film-noir genre and brought it into the light of day, the all-American couple is no longer going on a happy holiday where you lie on the beach and get-drunk, a place where you can forget your troubles, they come with you and never leave. He has cleverly cast Monroe as the femme-fetale, using her beauty to distract us from what is going on inside her. Whilst Cotten is sometimes out of place, probably too old to really be her husband (like I said earlier a symptom of Hollywood) he’s possessed with jealousy and anger, not to the same level of darkness of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the anger within him has come from a different place as they couple tear shreds out of each other. Hathaway also makes great use of the bells throughout really adds a sense of dread. On first hearing them they are to taunt us, as they ring out a previous song. Before acting as a foundation for more powerful scene that is both brave and daring in full colour, relying on the audiences memory to complete the scene as we’re distracted by the murder below.
This really was a surprising, a rare colour film-noir, with the addition of Monroe before the mid-fifties when her fame was cemented for very different reasons. We see what she could have become in this beautiful location that is synonymous with what is great with America. It’s very classic in it’s form, tinged with darkness. You’ll never go on holiday and feel the same again.
I thought I’d give this lesser known Gregory Peck western, made during a time when tests were indeed change, the very style of the western had taken two paths, the dying classic and the revisionist. This falls into the first, a form that allowed old favourites such as Peck, John Wayne, James Stewart and their contemporaries to continue working, there was indeed still an audience and that is still here to this day, however there is a sense of tiredness, the actors aren’t spring chickens, audiences had also become more sophisticated. It shows in Shoot Out (1971) the change in tone of language from the beginning when ex-convict and bank robber Clay Lomax (Peck) is released from prison. The genre wants a new audience, even with younger characters that are employed to bring him in un-harmed.
With a simple set-up it should be straight forward, as the younger men lead by Bobby Jay Jones (Robert F. Lyons) are put to work in an older man’s world. The classic west still exists, allowing new life to breathe in it. Time has not been kind to the older men, one fresh out of jail, a saloon owner Trooper (Jeff Corey) an ex-soldier is now in a wheel chair, whilst the Jones employer Sam Foley (James Gregory) having made his lives fortune sits in waiting. Acting also as a new generation in waiting to make their own mark in film and the genre.
For Lomax he begins his freedom set out to exact revenge, yet before long he is in delivered a package that he had not bargained for, a reminder of his past, a possible daughter Decky Ortega (Dawn Lyn) who steals every scene she’s in, making up for genre that looks tired, a lead actor, whilst giving his best is just too old for the role. This coming from a period in films when older men were still being seen as fathers of young children. When in reality their own had grown up and left home. However you can still feel the drive to get to his destination and exact revenge against Foley who shot him in the back, landing him in jail for seven years.
It’s the young men who follow him who deliver most of the violence, as they stalk the man and girl across the same country that director Henry Hathaway used in True Grit (1969). If only a few more shots had been fired before Lomax finds them on his trail. A trail that sees him begin to beyond with the outspoken young girl who is already showing signs she’s seen and learned somethings in her short life, all courtesy of her now dead mother. Whilst he wants the best for her, he knows the open road is not a life for her, he starting to try and palm her off before settling for a life with her in it.
Having the children is highlight of this film, with her we have all the comedy, and the vulnerability. Yet without her we would have more danger than we have, even towards the end when everyone is at the Farrell ranch, the William Tell fun and games which delivers the real danger. It’s rare to see children being brought into the adult world of western violence, usually running for cover, or starring from the sidelines. The children do allow for different kind of violence, making us think about contemporary domestic lives, when we see children caught between adults, here directly in the firing line. Even violent crime where the child is put at risk. Bringing out the best and the worst in the characters to ensure justice is delivered at the end of the film. I just wish that after all that we had the showdown between Foley and Lomax thats where the real argument was supposed to be. It’s as if they ran out of film and made the best of the ending they could there is literally no shoot out between the two older men, more so the young and old, the kids sadly get in the way.
- Shoot Out (Universal, 1971) (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- Shoot Out (1971) (every70smovie.blogspot.co.uk)
- THE CLASSIC WESTERN IN TWILIGHT: SHOOT OUT by Fred Blosser (newimprovedgorman.blogspot.co.uk)