I’m probably committing some crime against Westerns and even the Duke himself. Ever-since I’ve read the Charle Portis source material – I’ve felt that the Coen Brothers remake was actually a better film. At least in terms of being true to the book. However much you have the Dude – Jeff Bridges riding high with his eye-patch. Yet there’s something in John Wayne’s performance that stands the test of time. Ok he may have won the Oscar based on years of being unnoticed by his peers. There’s a magical quality in his turn as Rooster Cogburn that Bridges couldn’t recapture. However I feel it’s time reassess those thoughts as I revisit both films to see if I’ve changed my mind or am I committing a crime of some sort.
John Wayne’s ride to Oscar glory apparently started during the filming of True Grit (1969),something that director Henry Hathaway notice on set. This time the duke wasn’t working for his own production company – Batjak, instead on someone else’s time, maybe this led to a better than usual performance for a a director he’s worked with throughout his career. There’s also a lifetime of experience that the Duke brings to the role of the Marshall Rooster Cogburn from Fort Smith. He’s a curmudgeonly older man who knows what he likes and takes a lot to persuade him otherwise. Charles Portis’s text was a perfect fit, easy to both read and deliver on-screen. A grandfatherly figure who you wouldn’t want to mess with.
I noticed on this viewing that this was more than just a standard Western. OK you have a Glen Campbell as Texas Ranger La Boeuf trying out an acting careering, doing an admirable job opposite a heavy-weight of Wayne however with the help of the text they create a buddy movie of sorts, not quite a road trip with strong elements of comedy through out. For a one time actor Campbell delivers a cheeky yet confident performance opposite a veteran of the screen. He doesn’t look intimidated at all. Instead enjoys the chance to try something new. It doesn’t hurt that he also delivers the theme song for the film.
Another comedic role goes to one of my old favourites – Strother Martin even in his few scenes as horse salesman Col. G. Stonehill, who during this period is enjoying great success in film. Holding his tongue opposite the difficult Kim Darby (Mattie Ross) who tries not only her luck but also the patience of those around her. They have some great scenes that attempt to get the best of him. They help in forming how strong willed the young woman Mattie is, unafraid of what she has to do to get things done. A confidence beyond her years that has the potential to get her in trouble. I admire the character for holding her own, having the agency to go after justice herself instead of just leaving it to a man to do for her. However a little maturity would help her in how she communicates with people in the town. At first timid, she grows in confidence to the point that she can point and shoot the gun of her late father who she’s avenging. It’s known that Wayne didn’t get on with Darby and it’s visible on-screen, which here works to the scripts advantage. Creating a tension between the two leads.
The first half of the film is set in Fort Smith, with a short prologue that sets-up the who Mattie is and a glimpse of her father. Coming to this film having read the book (as I mentioned earlier) added another layer, staying true to the original text in both versions. Using olde English adds more authenticity the film, pushing the actors to work with different dialogue. It’s richer for it.
Tonally the film is probably far lighter compared to contemporary Westerns which would go far darker with villainous characters like Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) and Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall). We’re mostly surrounded by lush green valleys and mountains, something that Hathaway is known for. The more I watch the film the more I feel at home with the film as it gently plays out over the course of two hours. With touches of violence that could be darker as Mattie enters into the adult world of criminals who roam the open country. A path she’s chosen when two men with experience could easily save her from the danger that awaits her.
It’s hard to forget how iconic the role of Cogburn was for Wayne who commented on accepting his only Oscar, “If I’d have known that I’d have put that patch on 35 years earlier” could that be a joke a jibe at the academy. An actor who had grown ever since he broke out with Stagecoach (1939) all the way through to 1970. We have “Fill your hands you son of a b****” that will forever be associated with him. The role is his and no one can take that away from him. He did so well he came back to reprise it in 1975 opposite Katharine Hepburn, which holds up pretty well too, both very different people who had the greatest respect for each other.
It seems I still hold this film in great esteem, it maybe light in tone, with an actress who has the ability to rile everybody. Yet that’s part of the magic of the film, she’s the wise beyond her years but in-experience holds her back at times. Something that the Coen Brothers address in the 2010 remake. How will I feel about that now.
It’s been a little over four weeks since I saw the original, I caught the remake last night. I must first correct myself, even working from memory of Portis’s book it feels like it wasn’t so faithful in terms of original text. However that doesn’t mean tonally it wasn’t the same, if not more authentic of the period. Westerns have grown up in terms of set dressing and costume, more inspired by the period than of contemporary designs. True Grit (2010) is a solid Western on its own terms, even before you look at how it compares to The Dukes version that rode him to Oscar glory. No such luck for Jeff Bridges in the same role, who was nominated but lost out to Colin Firth’s King George VI who didn’t need to wear and eye-patch in the role. It also wouldn’t help that Bridges had already won for Crazy Heart (2009) the previous year.
Awards aside I need to see the film on it’s own terms, than just a remake. Even though The Coen Brothers had already tried to update The Lady Killers (2004),a British classic to become a silly overly sly film that just lacked the charm of the Ealing comedy. There a few flourishes of Coen-esque comedy and darkness that sneak they’re way through into the film, which I really enjoyed, an extra layer of dark humour to the proceedings. Something they carried through to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018).
Structurally the film is told in retrospect from an older Mattie Ross (Elizabeth Marvel) where the strong-willed nature of the character feels more suited. Hailee Steinfeld is a worthy and more welcome actress to the role, bringing both maturity with the right balance if being a child that is overwhelmed at times by the situations she puts herself in. The opening narration does away with the establishing scene in Hathaway’s version that sets up who Mattie is and her relationship to Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who we meet in the second half of the film, allowing us to paint our own image also wanted in Texas. The relationship between Rooster and Ross is the real focus here, at the expense of LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) whose written out for an act whilst the Marshall and young employer get to know each other. It feels like a waste of Matt Damon whose character is relegated to swoop in and save the day.
There’s been a conscious effort to try not to repeat Hathaway’s Grit, however there are scenes which you just can’t run away from how they are almost shot for shot. But for the most part it’s very much an original Western that uses the text more than just being seen as a remake. They haven’t so much expanded on it as James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma (2007) expanded. Here we have a clever reworking of scenes even adding new ones for comic effect that built up who Cogburn was. Dialogue has been altered to sound more pleasing on the ear and loose the repetition. It’s more of a stretch for Bridges working with the Coen’s for the second time, he has to deal with both Portis’s text and the expansion of the brothers. And more importantly making the role work for him away from the tall shadow of John Wayne. It’s very much on my mind for the first few scenes before I settle in and see him as the Rooster Cogburn.
Now the question is, which film is better, the Duke’s or the Dudes? Honestly they both have their strengths, one has reached iconic status with a rich history behind. It’s regularly heralded by his fans as a classic. It’s highly enjoyable and just needs you to sit back and enjoy, you know what you’re getting with John Wayne, who rarely failed. Whereas with the Dude you are entering the world of the Coens with a unique and cine-literate language, which to work you need to understand Joel and Ethan’s work to really enjoy it. They didn’t just remake they re-molded the text to suit their needs, to work for them, dropping in some nice little changes. I did miss the interaction between Rooster and LaBoeuf that added to the charm. However we still had the main plot points with extra darkness if the world that they lived in. Whereas Hathaway’s was far cleaner and rose tinted – a product of its time. So which is better? Neither really, they both responded to the text in different ways. The originals more truthful to the text, carried by film history to a status that supposedly leaves it untouchable. Where the modern version does something different that I equally enjoy. It’s a stalemate from me and I can’t see anyway that I’m going to break that soon. As much as I have a soft-spot for The Duke I enjoy the Coen’s vision and the world they inhabit.
I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.
The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.
Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.
The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.
Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.
Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).
Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.
Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.
A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.
The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.
Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.
Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.
I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.
Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.
The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.
So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.
I’ve been waiting to catch the Japanese remake of Unforgiven (1992), wondering how it would compare, which I can’t help but do. On the face of it these two films are the same in terms of the basic plot, the three men who ride into avenge a prostitute has been attacked. There is however more added depth to Unforgiven/Yurusarezaru mono (2013) with the added strand of their countries civil war between the now samurai and Shoshon in the 1860’s, which mirrors the American civil, I don’t remember that in Eastwoods western at all. (However I haven’t seen it in 4 years) which gives the characters more of a back-story, not just gunfighters who left a trail of death and destruction in their wake. Much the same goes for the two elder men Jubei Kamata (Ken Watanabe) and Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto) who start out on one last job in hopes of collecting the reward money. Something that Jubei has long since given up since his days of killing to survive. To raise a family and work a small farm. You could say on the surface that he is a changed man who is simply struggling to keep his family alive in the 1880’s. Whilst Kingo is willing to go on one more job.
With Jebei’s wife long dead he soon gives into his friends persuasive words, riding out a while later. Its still very much the same film, switching 19th century America for Japan, its’s that simple. Of course the dialogue is different, at times I can’t read the subtitles as some bright spark decided to make them white in a font that becomes invisible in the snow. Moving on we soon meet up with a younger man who wants to join up with the veteran swords men, ready for another killing. Even his back story is fleshed out more, finding out he is a Anui a race that the then Emperor was trying to reduce, much like the taming of the Native American over the other side of the Pacific.
Add into the mix the small town where all the action takes places we have the sherif who exerts more power than necessary. Using violence to quell violence. Much younger than Gene Hackman‘s Little Bill Daggett who mirrored by the far younger sherif who doesn’t care who he hurts, using the law to shield himself. Whilst the group of prostitutes are struggling to be listened to. You could say it’s a feminist film, but I’m not too sure, as much as there women are willing to defend themselves, they still pay for men to do the dirty work. They are hiding behind the strength of a man and his gun/sword.
I think to really compare both films I need to re-watch the original Eastwood classic to truly understand what is going on. I think there was a conscious effort to make this version stand alone, whilst the main story elements are the same, it would;t be the same without the final showdown which was shaken up and completely different. I didn’t feel the terror at the transformed man, maybe it was the snow that soften it, not as dramatic as the rain on the soaked ground. Again I have to see for myself. It was however interesting to see once more the relationship between American and Japanese cinema. Before it was Kurosawa‘s Yojimbo (1961) and Seven Samurai (1954), who influenced Sergio Leone and John Sturges The compliment is being returned from Clint Eastwood by Sang-il Lee.
Moving onto or backwards to the original as directed by Clint Eastwood I found myself understanding both in greater detail and his own observations of the western as a genre, how it formed. The violence of the west and the gunfighter which has recently seen his latest film American Sniper (2014) becoming the most successful war film of all time (probably to be beaten later his year). Focusing always on the man behind the violence, not the act itself, what drives man/person to act in such a brutal and dangerous way toward others. Scaring those around you, in order to have power, dominance, material wealth, and self-confidence.
When a man gives up that violence as we find with both Jubei and William Munny they are tamed by wires who have died by the time we meet them. Now a shadow of their former self’s, trying to do good by their family. Before we have seen the lone gunfighter’s come into town, not looking for a fight, always walking into it by the films end. Which happens here in great style. And in great tradition of the aged gunfighter Eastwood carries that on, in his last western role, becoming then too old to really so it justice. I can see strokes of El Dorado (1966), The Gunfighter (1950) and The Shootist (1976) they are no longer the young men they once were, struggling to get on a horse or even walk without some ailment holding them back. Time is their only true enemy. Munny is no longer able to shoot straight without changing weapon at least once.
The legend of the gunfighter and the west itself it question the form of travelling writer/biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) who arrives with English Bob (Richard Harris) one of the last great gunfighter’s who legend is bigger than himself. A status constructed by the writer and a lot of creative license to mythologize the untamed west, glorifying a man to become more than his actions. Creating a history that sells to the masses, attracting tourism and money. The very foundations of the genre, which can sometimes be based more on fact if in the right hands. Beauchamp spends most of his time discussing the events of English Bob’s gunfights with Daggett who puts the writers book to shame, the truth behind the legend which. The facts are sometimes harder to swallow than fictions. We discover that the man now in jail had only survived so long was down to pure luck Drawing your gun first was never a sure way to win a gunfight, it takes skill and thinking to win at a draw. Draw your gun first as your aim is not always right, giving the other a chance. Add to that the alcoholic element for Bob who is painted in a far darker insidious light, is more malicious in his killings. Not the brave man who saved the day, more of a lucky drunk who could’t stop shooting. The skill of the gunfighter in the pages of dime novels or the screen is a romanticised vision of an age of survival; kill or be killed.
This is also a macho trait which we find in the youngest of the two men in ride with Munny to avenge the prostitute. The ‘Schofield Kid’ (Jaimz Woolvett) creates his own legend, first recruiting Munny to join him on what could be an adventure, a quick job that itself had been blown out of proportion. Stating that he has killed 5 men before they start even begin, knowing his youth is holding him back to match Munny’s record which is never really totted up. A very masculine trait to “big” yourself up to look and feel better, reputation is a very important part of masculinity. This doesn’t wash with Munny who eventually joins up with on friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) who then all join up. I can see even at the start, the subtle changes that were made between this and the Japanese remake to have its own identity, to not just be a scene for scene copy unlike I Died a Thousand Times (1955) which allows it to be the same in terms of structure whilst having its own identity, its own culture.
Both have these built-in myths of past fighters, with swords or guns who have had great battles which have been constructed around the events which were probably bloody and full of horror, alcohol, and fear. If you deconstruct both films down to their main points we have a male figure who has lead a violent life, which has a built in legend and reputation that others have built up and admired. Without the facts to hand we have no idea what really happened, the trauma, the horror, more importantly the shame they now carry with them. I remember from my first review a few years back of the Eastwood original I focused on how the violence in a man can be tamed or even suppressed, able to reform. Until it’s triggered we don’t know how dangerous we can still. Eastwood’s gunfighter will always be more terrifying cinematically, probably because I am a great western fan than of samurai which is almost equal in its horror of the slaughter of the men. The changing of the end is what I was most critical of, going for the sherif first was a wrong footing, the main villain is always killed last.
Whatever these two films are, they do carry on that great tradition of that American/Japanese cinematic relationship of informing each others story telling. Showing the western is not dead and both countries have very different but similar histories which at the heart of human. All cultures create legends out of historical figures from moments they would sooner forget.
- Unforgiven (2013) (disasteryear20xx.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (2013, Japanese) (yacowar.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (rogersworst.blogspot.co.uk)
- Sound in Unforgiven (1992) (tdf165.wordpress.com)
- 4. Unforgiven (1992) (maltinsworstratings.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (haksreviews.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (coffeebeancinema.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (unitedstatesofcinema.blogspot.co.uk)