Posts tagged “Jason Robards

Hour of the Gun (1967) Revisited


Hour of the Gun (1967)All I really remembered from The Hour of the Gun (1967) is mainly the blue skies and the train scenes which inspired a platform shelter I made a few years ago in the studio. After revisiting The Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) I knew I would ultimately be taking a look at the later take on the Wyatt Earp biopic’s that was also directed by   John Sturges which I’ve never known why.  John Ford never thought to return to the town of Tombstone after My Darling Clementine (1946). Maybe it was a chance for Sturges to rewrite what he made a decade earlier. Feeling he could have served the legend more respectfully. I suppose he could have also wanted to carry on the legend beyond the gunfight at the infamous corral where the Clanton/Earp war came to a head.

I wonder what these two films would be like if played back to back? As one finishes at the gunfight, the later begins just before, no bravado, just silent build up, no dialogue, a few meetings of the eyes as both sides meet. Already the second half is more mature, we lose the big screen personalities of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas for actors who can really be lost in the roles. James Garner (Earp) and Jason Robards (Doc Holiday) who are more suited, it’s not about the image of the actor, more about the legend which is being retold and extended. Going into more detail to the events after the gunfight that up to that point had been forgotten. That’s one thing film can do, draw on forgotten parts, all with a touch of Hollywood magic of course.

The first real attempt at full of realism of the events in both films comes in Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994) I still can’t decided which is the better film. Back to John Sturges gunfight we are now looking at the consequences of what was ultimately a questionable act by lawmen, who killed the Clanton’s with such force, the gunfight is over before you even realise it’s begun. We do still have Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan) who is out for revenge and power throughout the film. Even thought Ryan comes from the golden age of film, due to his age he’s better suited to the, never quite making it to the star status of his contemporaries but could easily act the socks off of them.

Looking at this as part of two the Wyatt Earp legend the characters are paired down to just a few brothers. We loose Holiday’s mistress friend Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming), written out completely, not even being mentioned. Its all about that important relationship and seeking revenge for the deaths and attacks on his family. Using the framework of the law to get revenge, loosely called justice, or his version of justice. Holiday becomes Earp’s conscience as Earp is more ready to release the lead from his six-shooter. And you can’t blame him. The law and order he has built up is being under-mind. His family at the receiving end of violence. What started out as a cattle war becomes a family war, there’s more at stake, more drama when blood is involved, both sides have been hurt here.

If I’m honest, this is not my favourite incarnation of the legend, however it does start to really explore what these two iconic men of the Wild West. They are not just cooped up in the towns the helped bring law and order to, We explore their lives beyond, as they travel the Arizona territory, trying to stay alive and settle the wrongs that have been made. The Hour of the Gun (1967) is a maturer take on a historical figure that he had not yet received. There are not great big set-pieces in this film that focuses more on character and fact which works in it’s favor. Maybe Sturges has matured also as a director, wanting to bring more truth the legend that has become that facts that everyone takes for granted.


The Wild Bunch (1969) Revisited


The Wild Bunch (1969)Yet another western I have been meaning to revisit to better understand. My first reading of the film was completely off, as I realised after listening to a lecture from Richard Slotkin, now I really do have a far better understanding of The Wild Bunch (1969) which does indeed overshadow the rest of Sam Peckinpahwork, when he has so much more to offer to cinema. Instead of going over the plot I want to more analyse the film interns of how I read it, looking at certain elements and quotes which really do stand out for me, which probably shows why it stands out more so than others. It’s not just the violence that he wanted to amplify to the audience, Peckinpah, hated violence (not that you’d know it from his films) almost glorifying it, yet this has a knock on effect as we see the action, the deaths, the falls shot in slow-motion, we’re forced to look at the image for longer, it’s a form of torture, you want violence, here it is, in all of its bloody form, you look on staring at this beautiful image not really comprehending that you are seeing someone die before your eyes. At full speed and on the streets we don’t have that luxury, our memory replays the moments of real violence in real-time, or sped up we have no time to really process what has happened until it’s over in a flash. Peckinpah stretches those moments to allow us to process, to understand and if we want…enjoy the brutality.

With the more obvious element that stays with you long after the credits have rolled I want to focus on the Wild Bunch themselves, who in history were really Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and their gang. Taking the title and placing it on to an equally dangerous group of men, lead by Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his right hand man Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), playing old men who lead a bunch of gunfighter’s who we meet in the close of their era and the death of the West. Their time is almost up and they know it. Hoping that they will be carrying out no more jobs after the bank-robbery, which leads me onto my first quote which struck me.

 If they move, kill ’em! – Pike Bishop

To be honest Pike delivers most  of these lines, this one is led with such military precision, there is no thought for the casualties. Those held up in the bank are collateral damage they just don’t matter in the mission, get the money and go. It’s cold blooded. Yet we spend most of our time with these men, much like most westerns, focusing on the heroes, these are reversed, leading us to believe the heroes lead by Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) who was once a member of this gang, given a chance to redeem himself. He is the anti-hero (of sorts) that are ordered to lead a gang of misfits, the scum of the earth in search of the wild bunch. Thornton has his own lines which such as

We’re after men. And I wish to God I was with them. – Thornton

There’s a yearning to even for him for the old days, for the male companionship he no longer has, surrounded by idiots who can’t even shoot the right men. Yet they are his only hope of ensuring his freedom which is in the hands of a railway man. He wants to feel alive, to be a man, to have some honour again.

I found that over the course of the film it wasn’t just a swan-song to the classics of the genre, such as John Ford’s, Hathaway’s, and Hawks etc that focus on the hero of the hour, there are no heroes here, their words and ideas are flawed, not those of men with honour that you would look up to. An argument between Pike and Dutch about a man’s words is a great example of this moral western that takes the violence by the throat and shakes it up.

What would you do in his place? He gave his word – Pike

He gave his word to a railroad. – Engstrom

It’s his word. – Pike

That ain’t what counts! It’s who you give it *to*! – Engstrong

The idea of a man’s word is a powerful masculine idea, a man’s word is worth more than a signature on a legal document to some people. It’s on the same level as the strength of a man’s hand-shake, a judgement I use myself, it’s a greeting with a stranger, or a positive start to an interview etc. A man’s word is a step further, a promise that binds two men together intrinsically. What’s being discussed here is who Thornton gives his word to, the enemy that is the railroad man (HarriganAlbert Dekker who employs him, making him a traitor to Dutch who was like a brother to Thornton, this is a betrayal much like a partner having an affair and living with them. You could say; sleeping with the enemy. Where it becomes blurry is Pike arguing the point of the fact he still gave his word, it doesn’t matter who to, he;s accepted that he has changed sides and has to live with that, respecting him. Giving your word and keeping it shows the sign of a strong man. 

Another quote to look at is

(talking about the railroad) There was a man named Harrigan. Used to have a way of doin’ things. I made him change his ways. A hell of a lot of people, Dutch, just can’t stand to be wrong. – Pike  

Pride. – Dutch 

And they can’t forget it… that pride… being wrong. Or learn by it – Pike

How ’bout us, Pike? You reckon we learned – vein’ wrong, today? – Dutch

I sure hope to God we did. – Pike

The glory days of their ability to strike fear into people, forcing them to change, to act fast. They are glorifying themselves as being almost gods, people to fear. Harrigan has become a man to fear as he has finally come after him, taking the law into his own hands, that at the start of the film caused countless innocent victims shot in cross-fire. Pike and Dutch are also reminiscing of better times, the height of the gunfighter that they were a part of it is no longer there. They encounter the latest vehicles that even outmoded the horse, a form of transport they have come to rely on and is synonymous with the western. Ironically used to kill Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) in The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) the good old days are over.

I want to touch one other aspect that is the US Army that is never portrayed in a positive light throughout the film. Traditionally the cavalry are the trooping the colours, riding in, sounding their bugles before quelling and pacifying the enemy in no time. Peckinpah portrays them as incompetent, even the main men think little of them. This could easily reflect Peckinpah’s and many other liberal directors who wanted to hit out at the Vietnam War, a divisive war, reflected into the countries own domestic past we see a different army that is unable to get up and react to weapons being stolen from under their noses. An embarrassment for any army, filled with raw recruits unaware of what they have to do.

It may have took a few attempts to really understand The Wild Bunch  for me is a morality western, a Neo-Western if you want to be picky as its questions the genre and the countries past, taking it and reforming it to be viewed by an audience who is drawn by violence and the legend that has blurred the countries past, the two myth and fact is intertwined, only those who study American history (before 1900) really know what happened. I am slowly seeing the connections and the differences between fact and film fiction. I can see why this film overshadows the rest, the characters are painted on a wider canvas, morality is blurred and the violence is heightened. It’s a sweeping western that doesn’t even show a Native American, replaced with the Mexican Army who are more intelligently depicted than before, they are not just drunk gringos who sleep out in the afternoon sun with a sombrero covering their faces. They are fully formed people, which is something we don’t get from the Natives. The main cast is filled with actors who have hugely played the good-guys in westerns, here playing cold killers who have their own moral code that if you think about it would frighten you. Should we really listen to what these cowboy role models oft he silver screen have told us?

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The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)


The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)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 Devinethe 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.