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.
Experimental video looking at the male dynamic of the main characters in Rio Bravo. Emphasising Stumpy’s (Walter Brennan) role for comic effect. Whilst the other characters are muted.
An experimental video that removes the dialogue from the final shoot-out in Rio Bravo (1959). Tightening up the action that remains in place.
I had completely forgotten that William Wyler directed this sweet classic of a Western that I allowed into my heart a few years ago. Based on the imagery and the tenderness of this western that I needed to be reminded off. What I took away from The Westerner (1940) originally was Lily Lantree and a historically accurate saloon of Judge Roy Bean and his own makeshift courtroom where he assumes the role of the law, sheriff and judge of Vinergaroon, Texas. A keen supporter of the cattlemen in a state that was founded on upon. With the influx of homesteaders who legally claimed land and as history tells us erected fences soon went up to protect the crops they sewed. So the with cattle wars raging in other states we have a conflict between cattlemen and homesteaders, both reaping the vast open land that is slowly being ringed off.
All this is fact (more or less), in with Gary Cooper and Doris Davenport we begin to rewrite that into myth and even folklore, An actor of Cooper’s stature, with so many classics already behind him. The stoic cowboy who stands tall, unfazed by what he’s faced with, nothing scares this man, he is a hero of the silver screen. Placed on the frontier again he can do no wrong, well he can when he’s caught between two sides of a conflict that has been going on since the end of the Civil War, peace and hope develop and war starts over as we fight for what we believe in. From the moment we first see Cooper as Cole Harden he’s accused of being a horse thief. Not fazed by the charge, knowing he’s innocent, the audience don’t even doubt it. Entering a part of the country that’s ruled by the fear of cattlemen, shot-gun trials that always end in a hanging. Surely there’s no escape from his almost certain fate until the only female Jane Ellen Mathews (Davenport) character in the film storms into his defence.
What I did forgot for sure was how effectively Harden manipulates Judge Roy Bean (Walter Brennan) who falls under the spell of his lies that he concocts under his nose. These are beautiful scenes of comedy that have the audience almost believing them until we look into his eyes, almost winking to us. We see the gullible side to Bean who adores an actress Lily Langtree (Lilian Bond), an early star to travel America. Elevating her to goddess like status without even meeting her. Harden uses this to his advantage at every opportunity to manipulate the powerful yet stupid judge who eats it all up. Harden is creating his own myth for Bean just as much as Wyler is adding his own pages to the myth of conquest, taking a fact and repackaging it for the screen, complete with conflict and even a love interest that thankfully is played down to an extent.
The real love story is between Harden and Bean, admittedly one that is hopefully to each others advantage, both have something they want. One wants peace in the town, the other wants that lock of Langtree’s hair. That in itself is a lie that is ultimately taken to the grave and only known the audience. All part of the myth-making process, when we are presented with an object, a history or origin can easily being written into it orally or through out-right lie. If told with enough authenticity and confidence we can swallow it.
Turning to the other more conventional love story that is very much played down between Harden and Jane a very modest homesteader who will not give up easily in the face of Bean. Very much a frontiers woman that are usually found on their own is here with his father and others making a go at farming. You can see Harden working his charm on her, with more sincerity than with Bean who has met his match. You could say that at one point he is using her to help his relationship with Bean – the lock of hair which he has to produce to ensure his own safety.
I found that scene with the homesteaders share some of the warmth that we find in John Ford‘s films of the same period, thinking of My Darling Clementine (1946) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), there’s a strong sense of community and religion in those scenes as they work and play together. However I don’t think that Ford would have even looked at Bean as a subject matter for a film. As they work together to fight the fire that eventually drives them out, we see some incredible fire scenes that show the real power of the cattle men who are behind that act. Its an image that is photographic in silhouette towards the end.
You could say its a fairy tale Western, you have the hero, the villain, the damsel in distress, the oppressed people who need the hero to stand up for them. Instead of resorting to gun straight away he attempts diplomacy, the method of the 20th century man in a 19th century world that knows only violence. Its the beginning of the end as the gunfighter are all being caught, the law is sweeping through the land. There is only a few gunfights in this short and ever so sweet film that that is more a fairy tale than a legend, its too soft to be seen as hardened chapter of the West. That’s not a negative but shows how versatile the genre truly is.
- The Westerner (mrmovietimes.com)
- The Westerner (1940) (buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Westerner (1940) (fredrikonfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Westerner (1940) (chickflickswesterns.blogspot.co.uk)
- Short Takes: The Hard Way (1943) and The Westerner (1940) (twentyfourframes.wordpress.com)
- The Westerner (1940) A Film Review (haphazard-stuff.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Westerner (1940) (2009and-scene.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Westerner (MGM, 1940) (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Westerner: If only Judge Bean had a blog (cinemaocd.blogspot.co.uk)
I still stand by the fact that El Dorado (1966) is a remake of Rio Bravo (1959) and to an extent an imitation. Then I think part of that is unfair when you think that John Huston remade The African Queen (1951) with Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957) so it’s not new to see directors of Howard Hawks generation remake a winning formula, you know the old phrase, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”. These two took that more seriously when it came to film making, of course I’m not saying that El Dorado and Rio Bravo are word for word, scene for scene the same film just made 7 years a part. There are subtle differences which I have picked up the second time around.
Of course you can’t forget that it was Rio Bravo that was originally set to be a reunion John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and Walter Brennan, Only the older two returned from Red River (1948). Clift was unwilling after the friction between himself and The Duke, two very different men who didn’t get on behind the camera’s. Moving forward after Rio Bravo to find an older Wayne who was hitting a successful stride in the 1960’s, sustaining a record as one of the decades biggest draws, is only original to return for this film. Playing opposite contemporary Robert Mitchum, taking the drunken sheriff role, that was originally Dean Martin, to have both actors return would not be clever thinking. Here we have an actor who has more talent an experience to draw on for the darker roles, and even more time in the western genre. Whilst Brennan’s roles taken over by Arthur Hunnicutt who I have said before is an easy fit for the ageing law-man, and providing gentle comedy throughout.
The dynamic between these men alone is steady and very masculine, bouncing off each other. Enter the Ricky Nelson of the film played by James Caan, a very early role in his career as the young up-start, wanting to prove himself as a man to the elders. There is no longer that dynamic of Bravo which was more about getting the job done and male bonding. Dorado’s is more mature, with older men who are having to accept their physical problems. The main actors are all older, the original concept has grown up, whilst at the same time not taking it self seriously all the time. There is plenty of comedy, even at the expense of them all.
Instead of having a group of men who are the best, we find men who in someway handicapped. Early on gun for hire Cole Thornton (Wayne) is shot in the back, causing temporary paralysis throughout the film, impact on his performance. Still very much a man of his word, honest and true to his friend and sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) who turns into a drunk half way through the film. That’s I find the strongest similarity between Mitchum and Martin’s respective character, drunk lawmen who are assisted by Wayne’s in both films. Also both films are filmed in the same location and backlot, but so were a great number of Wayne’s later films.
Moving away from the compare and contrast that has dominated this review I turn to the plot which is pretty straight forward as two sides are pitted against each other, one the Macdonald’s who are fighting against Bart Jason (Edward Asner) and his men over water. It’s a man’s world that is broken by Joey MacDonald (Michele Carey) who shoves her way into help fend off Jason’s Men.
This time around I found El Dorado more enjoyable, I let myself see it with fresh eyes, not see the characters as replacing older characters, of course to an extent they were, tweaked just slightly to be out of their comfort zone in one respect or another. Having Mississippi (James Caan) a young man who is a dabb hand with a knife rather than a gun, making him different and dangerous, even more so with a gun, a weapon unfamiliar to him. Allowing for some comedic moments, which mainly comes from Wayne and Mitchum who have great on-screen chemistry. It will never the clever classic which Rio Bravo has, with it’s moments of male bonding and explosive action, not forgetting Angie Dickinson. The rest of the films formula is there and in tact, I just wonder how Rio Lobo (1970) fits into this loose trilogy of films.
A few years ago I reviewed Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) not really understanding what was really going on in this early neo-western. With my ever-growing knowledge of the genre I was hungry to re-watch this short but ever so sweet and tense western that gets to the point and scratches it like a rash until it bleeds allowing the truth to come out of the town that John J Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), the first stranger to step off a train into this tumble weed of a town that has stood still.
From the first moment that Macreedy steps off the train he is met with cold opposition from nearly everyone he meets. All he wants to do is find a Japanese man named Komoko. Is he investigating him for a crime, the strangers purpose is not fully explained until the last act, We and the town are left guess who this guy is, what does he want? We are all on tenterhooks as to what is going on.
A town led by Rene Smith (Robert Ryan) who is hot on the tail of a man who won’t b budged in his search for a man we soon learnt no longer lives out on adobe flats. Smith is a cold calculated man who has everyone under his thumb, able to incite fear in them, reminding them of four years ago, the last time that they saw Komoko who we are told was taken to a relocation centre in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour. 4 years on there is still a strong hatred for the enemy who they have been fighting for four years. Mostly in the form of Smith’s resentment for not being accepted into the forces. Feeding out into the town taking the form of fear that pits the strong against the weak.
The weak don’t stay down for long, with the local doctor Velie (Walter Brennan) who has had enough of the strangle hold on this old western town that has been lost to the ravages of time. Kept alive by a few, some of the old ways never die. It seems that the silent and weak won’t take anymore. Glad to see someone shake things up for them and boy does Tracy shake things up, even a veteran with only one arm can still stand his ground in this masculine world that seems to be lost in the wake of the recent horrors abroad.
We have all the regulars of the west transported to not so distant period in modern history, with as shirt, jeans and that classic hat we are back in the west, out in the middle of nowhere, a perfect place for the truth to be hidden. Made at a time when the fear of communism was at a high, livelihoods in Hollywood on the line in the “witch hunt”. The atmosphere of fear to speak up or stay quiet was at its height. Changing the themes to fears of Japanese Americans, fearing they were once the country’s enemy.
You can feel the tension in the classic western, with tight acting from all of the cast, a broad spectrum of character to represent the nation in a state of fear, The truth is a powerful weapon in the hands of both the weak and strong. Its how we handle it is what matters, making for a film that is on fire as we wait to see who will crack under the pressure of a stranger just wanting to do the right thing.
- GSK Faces a Bad Day at Black Rock (tfoxlaw.wordpress.com)
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) John Sturges (twentyfourframes.wordpress.com)
- Two screen-specific scenes from Bad Day at Black Rock (filmschoolthrucommentaries.wordpress.com)
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1001films.wordpress.com)
I remember seeing My Darling Clementine (1946) very early on when I started to watch all these classic films which now inform my work. I wasn’t aware at all of what this film was really about. Seeing a man come into town taking the marshals job to ensure that he could seek out revenge for his brothers murder. It’s only with the passing of time, and seeing more film adaptations of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral that I can see a lineage going on here, as new information is found new films are made. Different directors give their spin to the events, John Sturges gave us two interpretations Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Hour of the Gun (1957) which expanded vasty on the events that we all know of. Here however in the events are told from the true perspective of Wyatt Earp who once met John Ford who’s version stands heads above the others I have seen, telling him how the shoot-out actually happened, making the audience wait until the end.
The build up is really non-existent as we drift from scene to scene, even over the short running time of the film, a lot actually takes places, from the very start we are introduced to the Earp brothers who are not as we expect them, out in the open country with cattle it feels out of place, yet strangely not, they just are. We are introduced to the Clanton’s lead by Walter Brennan who fitted easily from role good to bad guy with ease. Whilst Henry Fonda personifies the up standing Marshall Wyatt Earp who reluctantly takes on his old job in Tombstone to give him licence to avenge his brother James’s death. His remaining brothers follow.
Tombstone is not the classic boom-town that we know from later films, located once more in Monument Valley a location that becomes John Ford country in years to come. Photographed as a mythical land where these events take place, creating instead a small town in the middle of nowhere, far away from civilisation which is creeping up on the people of the town. Lit as a classic film and heavy lighting you could easily mistake it for a film-noir or one of Ford’s earlier films such as The Informer (1935) in the streets of Ireland. The lack of music is eerie at times, whilst other times you hardly notice it, swept away by the people who inhabit this small town.
The main characters of course are all there, from Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) taking on a more adversarial role, competing to enforce the law, whilst still suffering from tuberculosis. All of the Earp and Clanton brothers are present, with the addition of two women who create tension for the two lead men as they try and see eye to eye. Is this the truth or just a Fordian touch to the legend?
It’s classic Ford at his best, writing his own passages of American legend that easily tips into fiction into facts with a sense of grandeur with the lightest of touches. We can see a love for the open country and the people who helped shape it. Defined here by the stars of the day who were seen as god like figures who graced the screens. With breathtaking scenery and by chance shots of the sky that encapsulate everything that Ford is known for. This is what I missed the first time around with this film, all the little touches from the first shot of Earp/Fonda from below, a historical figure and hero of a not so distant past. Complete with the homely touches of the Ford Stock Company who becoming like a travelling band of actors who bring to life the ideas and visions of Ford. I love the director more now than I did a day ago.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a cockle warmer by Frank Capra and to be honest I could have waited a lot longer after seeing Meet John Doe (1941) which sees Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for the first time. I think all of Capra’s work will always be held up to his most successful picture It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), of course it was It Happened One Night (1934) which won all the Oscars, but it’s the James Stewart classic which sums up Capra as great director which every-time brings so much warmth into your heart it hurts when you cry just that little at the end.
Yet going over the films of his I have seen, comparing them full of warmth and values of a period in time and film history. I feel by the time of John Doe‘s release Europe is very much at war and America is watching from a safe distance, and the public is wondering when they will be drawn into the bloodshed that was WWII.
The set-up of journalist Ann Mitchell (Stanwyck) who will types out her last piece for a newspaper that has made her redundant, sparks a national outcry when a fictional letter of a man on the edge of life, fed up with the state of America and life declares that he was going to commit suicide on Christmas eve. This single letter sparks a reaction in the nation that wants this life to be saved, to speak out for the values that are in decline. Most importantly to raise circulation for the paper. Ensuring Mitchell’s job security and that of another man to become the face of this campaign. They pick John Willoughby, now known as John Doe (Cooper) who is accompanied with the suspicious ‘Colonel’ (Walter Brennan) who always brings Willoughby to account, to remind him of his hobo roots, to understand what money can do to a man if he lets it go to his head.
It takes a while for the campaign of John Doe to really settle in the mind of a would be pro baseball player, now giving his all to a cause that encourages the average joe of America to reach out and help their neighbour. These are very Christian values that underpin the film. Whilst in the background the owner D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold) of the paper is using the campaign to engineer a third political party to go against those in Washington.
There are moments of schmaltz that are synonymous with Capra which are immediately forgive, yet the tone of the film is too political, even in the wake of Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939). When the power of the downtrodden man is brought across. However they are not half as emotive as past efforts such as You Can’t Take it With You (1938) where everything about those scenes is just right. I feel by the time of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) everything that made a Capra film came together and sparkled, once more with his best leading man, began to crumble with his next film State of the Union (1948) which was extremely political and sadly outdated, even with one of Hollywood’s greatest on-screen partnerships.
For me all of those thoughts and ideas overlook heavily what could be a much greater film, there are moments but very few that see both Cooper and Stanwyck sparkle on screen in films to follow. John Doe will never harm Capra’s legacy which will be one of happy feel good films that touch the audience in a special place and speak of traditional values from a bygone era that to today’s audiences is a gateway to another time.
- Meet John Doe (1941): Frank Capra Takes On Facism (classicmoviesdigest.blogspot.co.uk)
- Meet John Doe (1941) – Film Locations (dearoldhollywood.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Nazis and ‘the People’ in Capra and Riskin’s Meet John Doe (ayearinthedark.wordpress.com)
- Meet John Doe (rheaven.blogspot.co.uk)
- Meet John Doe (1941) (anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- Notes on two films by Frank Capra: Meet John Doe (1941) and It´s a Wonderful Life (1946) (shomingekiblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- Meet John Doe (1941) (and-scene.blogspot.co.uk)
- Meet John Doe (1941) (nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
I’ve been eager to watch/revisit Red River (1948) for a few weeks now, last night I finally took the time to sit down and watch this epic western. I remember the first time being drawn to Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) after killing a man, buried him and read the bible over them. A guilt ridden man who at first wants to do right after leaving the love of his life in an ill-fated wagon train up north to settle on open ground north of the Rio Grande river, taking with him a cow, a bull and Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan). And not soon after a massacre survivor Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift in his debut role).
We catch up with these men and young boy 14 years later, after seeing a dream of a successful cattle ranch had taken root in the land, strewn with graves of Dunson’s enemies. We learn he has been affected by the civil war that left the south almost penniless. Meaning a massive drive up north to Missouri of 10,000 cattle was the only answer.
Joined by an impressive supporting cast who all become victims of Dunson’s drive and anger to finish the drive north. A hard task-master to say the least. A complex man riddled with guilt anger and determination to make good to survive. Along the way he begins to really unhinged and break down in front of the men who can see he’s going “plum crazy”. Moral breaks down as the men are treated almost like the cattle they are moving on the dangerous trip over the Red River, over open land filled with danger in the form of Native American, to themselves scaring the cattle into a stampede at night. Red River is jam-packed with it all.
Dunson, the natural leader and respectable man begins to lose his grip, everyone can see this, especially those close to him. His actions become irrational, as he stops sleeping becoming consumed with making the drive, pushing the men to extremes and break point. They begin to turn on him. Going back to the shoot and bury action which runs through the film, it becomes away to right a massive wrong, to ensure some justice and righteousness is maintained. Which loses all meaning, how can you kill a man out of anger, then bury him?
Throughout the film there is time to pause and reflect as the character digest the days events over the long journey, as they set up camp, allowing for strong character development. we also see a cast of actors who become synonymous with the genre, such as Harry Carey. Jr, John Ireland, and Hank Worden to name but a few. Director Howard Hawks leaves his mark on the genre, showing that the scale of drama can and does apply to the Western. Complex characters can exist in a simplistic world, developed more in the following decade by the likes of Anthony Mann and John Ford.
Red River is more than just a cattle drive is the growth of the men as well, namely Dunson and Garth, both polar opposites of what a man can be in the west, but can still survive and earn the respect of each other.