Westerns

~Legends of Western Cinema Week Tag~

Ahhh….anything Western just catches my attention and so I came across Caftan Woman‘s Post titled LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: Post 2, Tag (originating at Along the Brandywine here.) And in this European heat wave…a tag is just perfect…especially with the Western theme. Ok, ok, a Western tag is perfect come rain or shine, hot or cold… 🙂

1) Do you tolerate, like, or love westerns?

What kind of question is that???? I looooooove Westerns! But those “traditional” style ones. These new-fangled modern-day Westerns aren’t for me.

2) What do you enjoy about them and, more broadly, the west itself (e.g. the history, accompanying paraphernalia, etc)?

War_Wagon_film_posterI just love that “romantic” notion that the Western movie brings me. There’s something special about a cowboy driftin’ the plains. The honkey tonk music somewhere in a distant saloon where someone is bound to come crashing to the boardwalk through the swinging doors. And then there are the cowgirls, the ladies who can swing into the saddle and wrangle as good as any man. She can hold her own in the dusty west yet always has a tender side.

3) What’s the first western you can remember watching?

The War Wagon with John Wayne on the Super 8 reels my parents had salvaged from a store who was about to throw them out when VHS and Beta Videos came out and the Video Store was born. I think part of my passion comes from that certain something that came with watching movies on our white lounge walls and ever so often having to change burnt out light bulbs or salvage stuck film before it melted.

4) Who are your favorite western stars, the ones whose presence in a western will make you pick it up off the shelf?

Gosh, this is a difficult one. When I was younger, John Wayne (but a young or middle-aged John Wayne) was a definite watch. Gary Cooper and Paul Newman weren’t too bad either. But over the past few years, Gregory Peck has become my favourite. But this too is bound to change. I like modern day actors in Westerns too – Michael Fassbender does a good job as does Karl Urban.

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5) What’s your favorite performance by an actress in a western?

scalphunters3I thoroughly enjoy Sharon Stone in her role as The Lady in The Quick and the Dead. But Shelley Winters as cigar smoking Kate in The Scalphunters is absolutely brilliant.

6) What is your “go-to” western, the one you’ll typically reach for?

Yellow Sky. And now and then The Magnificent Seven (1960). But yes…Yellow Sky. I’d say it is my favourite western.

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7) Do your family/friends share your interest in westerns, or are you a lone ranger (pun completely intended)?

My father loved a good western but these days I’m out on the prairie alone.

8) Pick one western to live inside for a week, and explain why you chose it.

I’d have to pick Yellow Sky…and of course I’d be “Mike” (Anne Baxter) as she’s tough as nails yet behind all that lies a woman who’d love a beautiful dress or that flowery bonnet. And it is just so wonderful how her friendship with “Stretch” (Gregory Peck) develops. Ok…fine, I just love this movie so I’ll admit it…I’d dream of living it…

 

Although, as a little girl I used to see myself as some character in Big Jake and make up my own derivative story.

9) Share one (or several!) of your favorite quotes from a western.

Ha ha…I don’t even need to look this one up: “You can call me father. You can call me Jacob. You can call me Jake. You can call me a dirty son-of-a-bitch. But if you ever call me Daddy again, I’ll finish this fight.” – Jacob McCandles (John Wayne) to his son James (Patrick Wayne) in one of my other favourites, Big Jake.

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Wild Rovers with William Holden

The second round of the Golden Boy Blogathon has arrived. This year I decided to tackle Wild Rovers. Another one my parents had on Super 8 but I honestly couldn’t remember it (I know I’ve watched it though). So, nothing better than a Blogathon for some motivation. Time to give it another watch.

Often, when re-watching, bits come back but not with this one at all…well, except for the last 20 minutes or so. Amazing how some scenes suddenly stick. Oh, and the one where William Holden chases a herd of wild horses.

William Holden plays Ross Bodine, an aging cowboy who dreams of retiring in Mexico but doesn’t have the money to do so. Frank Post (Ryan O’Neal) is half Ross‘ age with dreams of his own. One night the two get involved in a fight at the local saloon and to pay for damages, boss and ranch owner Walt Buckman (Karl Malden) informs the two that deductions will be made from their salary. It is at this point that they decide to rob the bank in town. The rest of the story is about their ride to Mexico with Walt‘s sons, John and Paul (played by Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker respectively) on their trail.

While this isn’t a fast-paced Western, to me, it is more about the journey and decisions made by the two men (and others). William Holden is fantastic as the older, wiser more level-headed Ross. He fits the role perfectly. Being reasonable or firm when he needs to but adding some wonderful lighter moments in other circumstances. He is the perfect balance to Ryan O’Neal‘s arrogant, sometimes thoughtless and wilder Frank. I found myself smiling so often at the way Ross “reels in” Frank when he gets a bit too hot-headed. And William Holden‘s facial expressions are wonderful in this one.

Directed by Blake Edwards, it looks like this western didn’t do too well when it was released. Running at just over 2 hours, this was meant to be a 3 hour epic but never made it and was even cut down to just over 1 hour 40 minutes or so for the theatrical release.

I covered William Holden in The Revengers for last year’s Golden Boy Blogathon. Before you know it, the 3rd one will be upon us. Ok, ok…it’s only April. But can’t wait anyway. Thanks for hosting Virginie.

 

 

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Movie Rob’s Genre Grandeur: Once Upon a Time in the West (Western)

For this month’s first review for Genre Grandeur – Westerns, here’s a review of Once Upon A Time in the West (1968) by Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts Thanks again to Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts for choosing this month’s genre. In case you missed any of this month’s reviews, here’s a recap: Broken Trail – […]

via Genre Grandeur January Finale – Once Upon A Time in the West (1968) – Thoughts All Sorts

Or read it here…

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Movie Rob’s Genre Grandeur: The Magnificent Seven (1960) (Western)

For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Westerns, here’s a review of The Magnificent Seven (1960) by Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts Thanks again to Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts for choosing this month’s genre. Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Sean of SeanMunger.com We will be reviewing our favorite Nautical Film. “Loosely defined […]

via Genre Grandeur – The Magnificent Seven (1960) – Thoughts All Sorts

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Movie Rob’s Genre Grandeur: Open Range (Western)

For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Westerns, here’s a review of Open Range (2003) by Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts Thanks again to Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts for choosing this month’s genre. Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Sean of SeanMunger.com We will be reviewing our favorite Nautical Film. “Loosely defined […]

via Genre Grandeur – Open Range (2003) – Thoughts All Sorts

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Movie Robs’ Genre Grandeur: Broken Trail (Western)

For this month’s first review for Genre Grandeur – Westerns, here’s a review of Broken Trail (2006) by Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts Thanks again to Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts for choosing this month’s genre. Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Sean of SeanMunger.com We will be reviewing our favorite Nautical Film. “Loosely defined […]

western

via Genre Grandeur – Broken Trail (2006) – Thoughts All Sorts

Or read it here…

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The Scalphunters (1968) – Fun Western

Burt Lancaster teams up with Ossie Davis, Telly Savalas and Shelley Winters in this comedic Western directed by Sydney Pollack.

Fur Trapper Joe Bass (Lancaster) is travelling with his latest haul when he is stopped by Kiowa Indian Two Crows (Armando Silvestre) and a group of his men who “trade” Bass‘ furs for their captured slave Joseph Lee (Davis, who was nominated for a Golden Globe in this role). Highly educated and very professional, Joseph Lee and Joe Bass, who can’t even write his name, head off to get the furs back. What they don’t count on is Jim Howie (Telly Savalas) and his band of scalphunters relieving the Kiowa of both the furs and their own hair. Through circumstance, Jospeh Lee ends up with Howie and Joe Bass continues his fur-retrieval efforts alone.

scalphunters3Davis definitely deserved the Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this one. He is absolutely fantastic as the former house slave heading for Mexico, now claiming to have “full Indian citizenship” (He was property of the Comanches before the Kiowa got him). Watching him interact with Lancaster and Savalas is absolutely wonderful. And who better than Shelley Winters as Kate to contrast Savalas as his wife/partner. Oh what a wonderful ensemble who seem to gel so well together.

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Even music, courtesy of Elmer Bernstein, adds so much character to this movie. From the opening credits (which are likewise well done), to the end, aurally, it is a pleasure, with the main theme sticking in your mind long after you’ve finished watching. In fact, the theme is one of the things I clearly remembered now after not having seen this for a good 15 years.

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So, fun Western. Keep a lookout for Burt Lancaster‘s circus background coming through in a “oh really?” moment near the end.

Head on over to MovieRob for his monthly Genre Grandeur series which is the Western genre this month. I’ll be sending my Grandeur-worthy entries to him for publishing at the end of the month.

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The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973)

I’ve had a “love-hate”, hmmm, that’s a bit too strong… rather a “like-dislike” relationship with this movie ever since I can remember watching it. I go through phases where I like it and then dislike it. Having re-watched it again last night, I’m leaning towards the “like” this time round. And I can’t put my finger on what it is that keeps swaying me.

Catherine Crocker (Vera Miles) is running (riding) away from her husband, Willard (George Hamilton) when she inadvertently comes across Jay Grobart (Burt Reynolds) and his gang in process of carrying out a train robbery (the reasons for which will become revealed as the story unfolds). As they flee the scene, Jay tells one of his gang members to capture her horse, however, despite being a “prim and proper” lady, Catherine refuses to give up beautiful steed, so is taken along too. manwholovedcatdancing2Jay, while being tough with his gang and Catherine, is also the one to ensure she isn’t abused by two of his men, Billy and Dawes (Bo Hopkins and Jack Warden respectively), at every lust-filled chance they get. With railroad detective Harvey Lapchance (Lee J Cobb) and his posse, joined by Willard, hot on their heels, they make for Indian territory. As they go, the gang starts coming undone, Jay‘s motivations become clear and Lapchance starts doubting Willard.

manwholovedcatdancing3Based on the novel by Marilyn Durham, directed by Richard C. Sarafian and music by John Williams, I don’t think it a bad movie. In fact, I enjoy watching Catherine Crocker‘s change from side-saddle, umbrella-carrying lady to one who wears pants and takes a stand where needed. I also enjoy Jay‘s kind side. I can’t really pinpoint why I sometimes don’t enjoy it…but could be that every now and then Catherine comes across a bit “needy” or “clingy”. But then, riding off into the unknown from your life of luxury to be taken along with a gang of outlaws, I don’t know how I’d react. Could also be that Willard doesn’t seem to show enough conviction in tracking her down. On the other hand, I quite like that ‘romanticised’ notion of a lady riding with the men.

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Jay is the “The Man who Loved”, but who is “Cat Dancing”? I guess you’ll need to watch this one to find out. It may not be easy to obtain this DVD though – the only way I got it was through the Warner Archive Collection’s Burn on Demand offering at quite a price. But then, I’m glad I got it as it forms part of my collection of movies that I used to watch on Super 8 reels. Thus, this probably becomes a better movie to me purely because of the nostalgia and memories associated with it.

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Not the Grandeur-worthy one that I’m looking for in this month’s Western genre over at Movie Rob‘s Genre Grandeur series. But definitely not bad. I have watched it more than once, after all.

 

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Vera Cruz (1954) – Super Western

As part of finding the Grandeur-worthy Westerns for Movie Rob‘s Genre Grandeur series (head on over to his page if you want to join), I’ve pulled out a whole pile of DVDs from my collection, hoping I’ll get through a fair number of them.

Vera Cruz is one of the westerns my parents had in their Super 8 collection. I always enjoyed watching it and must admit, haven’t seen it for years (10 years, according to my geeky little movie/DVD database I have). Re-watching movies after such a period of time always leaves me feeling a little like it is a new one – purely because I forget some of the scenes and dialogue.

Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster star in this one, together with Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson, amongst others, in smaller roles. Two drifters, Ben Trane (Cooper) and Joe Erin (Lancaster) form an uneasy friendship as they hire on to serve Mexican Emperor Maximilian‘s (George Macready) soldiers, lead by Marquis Henri de Labordere (Cesar Romero), to escort Countess Duvarre (Denise Darcel) to the city of Veracruz. Naturally, things are not so straightforward with lots of back-stabbing and ulterior motives all around. Plenty of good shootouts ensue.

Having been filmed and set in its entirety in Mexico (as per the closing credits), it brings across a different feel from the “typical” Western in having lots of music and fiestas. This is wonderfully juxtaposed with the elegant ball held by Emperor Maximilian.

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Likewise, the two ladies of the story, the Countess and Nina (Sarita / Sara Montiel) contrast each other. I absolutely love the scene with Nina driving the supply wagon out of the ambush. I suppose this is to be expected as our leading men likewise are not similar at all: Ben Trane is the former Confederate soldier who appears to be calm and collected whereas gunslinger Joe Erin is the dirty scoundrel with his bunch of just as dirty scoundrels. Oh, the scenes that show these differences…just fantastic.

What always amuses is the big toothy grin provided by a dust covered Joe Erin. He’s introduced to us in another great scene where he sells someone else’s horse to Ben Trane. Perfect character summary I’d say. But, make no mistake, Ben Trane isn’t totally good guy either. As to be expected, all involved have a reason for their supposed support of the Marquis and Countess.veracruz2

So…super Western directed by Robert Aldrich, despite the sometimes “clipped” dialogue. Almost, almost Grandeur-worthy. A whole lot of fun with great one-liners and/or more comical scenes. Ernest Borgnine also has a knack of bringing fun to the screen. And even Charles Bronson makes me smile as he convinces the band to play on at gunpoint.

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Not bad…In a Valley of Violence

Movie Rob gave me the honour of selecting this month’s Genre for his Genre Grandeur series (head on over to last month’s post if you want to join in). What a perfect excuse to watch a whole lot of Westerns. I’m keeping the ones worthy of the “Grandeur” for Rob to publish at the end of the month. In the meantime, here’s my take on the newest Western I’ve watched:

OK…(releasing my breath)…I’m not sure where I stand with this one but it was an interesting ride. In a Valley of Violence (2016) is pretty much just that…a valley of violence. And into this valley comes stranger Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog Abby (Jumpy). They are just passing through (the reasons are briefly explored) but unfortunately get caught up with the marshal’s son Gilly (James Ransone) and his group of no-good hangers-on . Being left for dead, Paul swears on revenge and won’t rest until every last one of them is taken care of. And everyone who ends up in his way…including Marshal (John Travolta)

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this one but one thing I can say is that the performances were fantastic. From all involved. James Ransone, Karen Gillan (I’d never heard of her and now I see her 3 times in the space of 2 weeks), Taissa Farmiga and the list goes on (although, not too long as there are only 13 credited cast members). Ethan Hawke has redeemed himself in my movie-eyes since seeing him in The Magnificent Seven and Before Midnight, both of which I didn’t really feel for him. In this role, he’s back to showing us what he can do. John Travolta is, well…John Travolta. But the real star is Abby the dog, played by Jumpy…the dog. What a character!

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While the story probably isn’t too original, I must admit that I was holding my breath in suspense to see how this would all unfold. The beginning also left my wondering who this Paul is and what he is up to.valleyofviolence

What impressed me was the fantastic soundtrack. It worked so well and definitely stood out, which isn’t often the case. Oh, and those opening credits were so brilliantly done.

So, all-in-all, not bad.

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My childhood hero in Big Jake and The War Wagon

John Wayne…the first actor I fell in “love” with. Maybe not so much with the man himself but with the on-screen persona. The larger-than-life cowboy. And maybe not so much love but admiration.

The War Wagon (1967) is probably one of the first movies I recall watching. And…I watched it over and over and over and over….at one point I knew most of the dialogue by heart.

Here John Wayne plays Taw Jackson who was wrongfully imprisoned by Pierce (Bruce Cabot) who also takes Jackson‘s ranch on which there is gold. On his early release, Taw Jackson plans to steel gold that Pierce is transporting in an armoured stagecoach (complete with a mean Gatling gun mounted on top) called the War Wagon. Together with Lomax (Kirk Douglas) he plans and executes this job only to have some unexpected change in events. Directed by Burt Kennedy it also stars Howard Keel as Levi Walking Bear amongst others.

What I’ll never forget is John Wayne doing a running-jump-mount onto his horse as only he could do and look good. I must admit, I’m long overdue for a re-watch of this movie. I wonder if so many years later it still holds the same appeal. If anything, it will most certainly take me down a nostalgic path.

The second John Wayne movie I recall so clearly from those days, and prefer it to The War Wagon, is Big Jake (1971). From this one I can still recall the dialogue by heart especially “You can call me father, you can call me Jacob, you can call me Jake, you can call me a dirty son-of-a-bitch, but if you ever call my daddy again, I’ll finish this fight” which he says to his on-screen son James, played by real-life son Patrick Wayne after being called Daddy a few times too many. Throughout the movie there are some wonderful lines which add wonderful character. I’ve just re-watched it this week and still enjoy it as much as I did a number of years ago.

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The story is simple. Little Jake McCandles (Ethan Wayne) is kidnapped by John Fain (Richard Boone) and his gang. Martha McCandles (Maureen O’Hara) says that finding Little Jake  “is, I think, going to be a very harsh and unpleasant kind of business and will, I think, require an extremely harsh and unpleasant kind of man to see to it.”. Enter John Wayne as her estranged husband, Jacob McCandles, the man for the job. Joined by his sons James and Michael McCandles (played by Christopher Mitchum and Patrick Wayne respectively), friend Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) and Dog, they set out to Mexico with a large box of ransom money. What unfolds is a great Western that already shows hints of the new world to come: Michael has a fancy modern looking hand gun and the automobile is already making its film debut. All with the patriarch resisting the change. Directed by George Sherman, I believe John Wayne also had a directing role albeit uncredited. I enjoy watching The Duke being all tough and no-nonsense when he needs to but being the father/grandfather figure in other situations (even if it means being a bit tough and no-nonsense). As much as I’d just love to share some more quotes from Big Jake, I’d rather leave them up to you to discover.

While some may not consider these two the best of John Wayne‘s works, they definitely are the most special to me. And, although there are no cowgirls far and wide, they instilled in me that romantic dream of being a cowgirl. I would have loved nothing better! In fact, to this day, if I could be transported to a “world” of my choosing, I’d be a cowgirl back then.

*Quotes taken from watching the movies

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Girl Week: The Lady (The Quick and the Dead (1995))

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“The Lady”, now that’s a cowgirl. I mean who has such presence that, when riding into a dusty little town, everyone stops to stare? And she hasn’t even done anything yet.

Sharon Stone takes on the role of this mysterious stranger who rides into the town of Redemption to enter the Quick Draw Contest. This tournament is held by ruthless and evil mayor Herod (Gene Hackman) who also takes 50c of every Dollar in town. In return “they gets to live”. The reasons for her being there unfold as quickly as the tournament progresses. A lady of few words, she wants to finish what she came for but things don’t happen as quickly and easily as she’d like them to. In a way, this is her saving as it gives her much needed time to plan. And gives us some insight into this woman. At times, she is hard yet very often we see her nurturing, kind side – she shows this with The Kid (a very young Leonardo di Caprio), Mattie Silk and Katie during various situations. She stands up to the men that need standing up to and is side-by-side with those who earn that of her. What most people don’t see in her is that she’s scared. But then, if she wasn’t, it wouldn’t be normal. Having these qualities brings admiration and support from the town. That says it all.

This Western, directed by Sam Raimi, is always great to watch. Yes, these are some “oh really?” moments, but come on…it’s a movie! Sharon Stone is perfect in her role and comes across as a realistic match to Herod. That said, Gene Hackman must be one of the meanest villains (and mostly verbally so). Leonardo di Caprio, 21 years old, already shows his great acting skills as The Kid who’s mouth is as fast as his gun. And then there’s Russell Crowe as former outlaw turned preacher (and hmmm…the only one who ever mentions The Lady’s real name).

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Dallas Blogathon? Young Guns? Here’s the connection…

Dallas…I’ve never seen an episode in my life so on seeing the Darlin’ Dallasers Blogathon announced I almost passed it by. At the last moment (you know that point that you’re closing down a browser window and something catches your eye?) I saw a vital bit of information: “You don’t need to have seen Dallas”. Yay!

I trawled through IMDB’s cast list and voila I can write about Lou Diamond Phillips, a sidewalk thug in one episode of Dallas and starring in Young Guns (and Young Guns II but I’m not going there). The last time I watched said movie was exactly 10 years ago. How times flies so I think a re-watch is in order…I’ll be back a little later.

A little later…

And I’ve just finished watching. It was so much fun with its 80s music and general feel. Back to the Blogathon topic though…Lou Diamond Phillips. He plays outlaw ‘Jose’ Chavez y Chavez the perfect balance in the bunch of regulators who are out to avenge the murder of John Tunstall (Terence Stamp), the man who took them in. With hot-headed and impulsive William H. ‘Billy the Kid’ Bonney (Emilio Estevez), ever reasoning Josiah Gordon ‘Doc’ Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland) and the remaining gang personalities, Chavez seems to be the calmest of the lot. I’ve always enjoyed watching him think and reason before rushing into a situation. Make no mistake, when required, he’s in the middle of the action, putting his neck (or knives) out for his pals (there’s something elegant and powerful about his knife-throwing skills). And when he’s not in the main foreground goings-on (and visible in the background), notice his facial expressions or actions. I’d say now, as was the case back then, he’s still my favourite outlaw of the gang. Off on a tangent for a moment – I’d totally forgotten about Dermot Mulroney as tobacco chewing/spitting, rotten toothed Dirty Steve Stephens in this one.

loudiamondphillipsI’ve been doing some reading today and found that the movie characters do, in fact, tie up with some of the real members of the Lincoln Country Regulators. Including Chavez. It appears that he was an outlaw from an early age and around his 20s joined the Regulators. He seemed to have quite an interesting lifestyle being at times a murderer, a Deputy Sheriff and even having a death sentence (or two) handed to him. Unlike what is portrayed in Young Guns II, he was not gunned down but actually died of natural causes in 1924, having been long pardoned by this time.

While Young Guns (1988) may not be the best western out there, it is still lots of fun and didn’t even score too badly on IMDB (6.8 rating). It was good to pull this DVD out again and I think I’m going to give Young Guns II a re-watching despite the fact that Young Guns finished off nicely stating fairly realistically what happened to those who survived the final shootout.

PS: I fondly remember how Young Guns was the only western my school friends knew at one stage. If I said I like westerns, it was typically “Oh, Young Guns” to which my response was “No, not really”. I had to laugh.

Some trivia from IMDB: Apparently Tom Cruise is to be seen donning a moustache in the final shootout but as hard as I look, I just can’t spot him.

 

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The 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon – Anne Baxter

Anne Baxter (7 May 1923 – 12 December 1985)

This is an entry for the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon.

(Hosted by Journeys in Classic Film)

Anne Baxter. I’m embarrassed to say that I’d never heard of her before watching Yellow Sky (1948) (but that’s now a good number of years ago and I’m the wiser now). The only reason I came across Yellow Sky was because I was searching for movies that weren’t of the “romance” genre but still had some sort of romance. I have a weakness for Western, Action or Adventure type movies where the main character/s fall in love (and I’m not fussy – I’m happy with an understated romance).

AnneBaxterYS6I was rewarded with what was to become one of my favourite movies but also with an introduction to a really wonderful actress. The story is about a gang of bank robbers who, while fleeing the law, survive a grueling trip across a desert to finally make it to a seemingly abandoned mining town. They discover ‘Mike’ Constance Mae (Anne Baxter) and Grandpa (James Barton) whom they come to suspect as having struck gold. As the gang is stirred up with their own politics (gold can cause tension), so are ‘Mike’ and James ‘Stretch’ Dawson (Gregory Peck), the gang leader.

What a great role to have been introduced to Anne Baxter. I like her because she strikes a chord with me. Ever since I was a little girl I had this romantic notion of being a cowgirl  who could hold her own. And ‘Mike’ does just that. She is tough yet feminine and never clingy or whiny. To top it off, she also stands by her ethics of hard work and honesty (she tells ‘Stretch’ and the gang that they know nothing of building up a life, a dream. AnneBaxterYS2She accuses them of being takers. Which they are I guess. Although, one could motivate each one’s actions). ‘Mike’ is totally dedicated to her Grandpa and will do anything to protect him and what they have worked for together (She almost wants to protect him more than herself). However, just because she lives with her Grandpa and no other company around, she isn’t totally ignorant or naïve, having very natural responses when she encounters ‘Stretch’.  Yes, she can’t immediately pin-point them but she knows he makes her feel good. Despite her pants and gun belt she’s still a lady under all that outer toughness and even has a leaflet of a beautiful dress pinned up in her room. She’s clear on exactly what she wants and what not – rudeness and scruffiness are certainly not going to be accepted and, outlaw or not, she makes that very clear to ‘Stretch’. And he takes it…now that’s a woman. This said, she’s never nasty or mean. Just and fair, I’d say.

Anne Baxter takes on this role with ease and it comes across that she’s not scared to get her boots dusty. I believe that every role finds its relevant actor/actress and this one she most definitely pulls off. I couldn’t imagine another actress from her day taking on this character, so natural and convincing…she’s really ‘Mike’. With the spunk and the looks, she never comes across as a “tart” or ditsy woman. I’d say she’s perfect.

‘Stretch’ tells Grandpa “You’ve got yourself quite a granddaughter Mister”. Absolutely.

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Sombre and Cold: Das Finstere Tal

Das Finstere Tal“Shhwwoooooow” I exhale a breath. I’ve been holding it for two hours now. Make that 1 hour 54 minutes – the approximate duration of Das Finstere Tal (The Dark Valley) (2014). Gee….I’m going to need some time to process this one.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Other than an Alpine Western which I don’t know what it is anyway. All I know is that I have a weakness for Westerns and another for those set in small European towns, where the sets and dialects are authentic, making these movies so special. Something set far away from the mainstream big city lights is so refreshing.

The story, without me spoiling it, is about a stranger finding his way to a small alpine village tucked away in a valley. Predictably, his appearance has something to do with the happenings in the town. You’re in the dark, literally and figuratively, as to the disturbing secret that drives the story. It is very clear though, that something is about to give. I must admit I did have a suspicion as to the reasons for his appearance but on the other hand some scenes caught me by surprise. I also found myself questioning his motives and morals, especially in the last 15 minutes or so. That’s what’s important though – to make me think. To make me question.

From the very first frame (or lack of) it is dark and dreary and you just know it’s going to be heavy. Suspenseful music is heard before you see anything on the screen thus setting the tone for what is to come. Beginning to end. And perfectly enhances just the right scenes throughout.Das Finstere Tal 2

The arrival of the stranger Greider (Sam Riley) is interesting. You first get this Western feeling but with snow-capped mountains which doesn’t seem quite right but you’re still thinking that it may well be somewhere in America or Canada. And then…a typical Austrian alpine village? What? (Ok, fine, I knew it was set in Austria but for a moment I forgot about that) It all makes for a very unusual feel. Add the dialect without which it would have fallen flat (just give yourself time to tune into it). German or even English just wouldn’t have worked. Before seeing the movie I kept wondering what role Sam Riley would have in such a movie*. But that’s the whole point! That’s his role. The American stranger speaking German. It all adds to the mystery.

But oh, the cinematography. It is a work of art. There are amazing shots throughout. From snow-covered mountains, thick fog, fires, white wedding dresses juxtaposed with lots of shadows to generally brilliant capturing of the sombre, cold environment (although, the fact that I was freezing on my couch watching this probably added to the whole feel). Two images, however, are still crisp and clear in my mind: a wonderful close-up of spurs…yes, spurs! and another of smoke “whisping” up from the rifle that Greider has just fired. Despite the horrid theme, it is so beautifully shot.

The acting is something else. Sam Riley is perfectly cast as the mysterious stranger. I’ve seen him in quite a few roles and he never disappoints. I’m not familiar with any of the other cast members but they all came across like they belonged in the village and the acting never felt forced. Some of the leads are Tobias Moretti, Paula Beer (she’s wonderful) and Thomas Schubert. Andreas Prochaska directs.

In closing, this official foreign language film entry by Austria into the Academy Awards is well worth a watch but not if you’re looking for something light and happy.

*Sam Riley is actually an English actor living in Berlin.

Das Finstere Tal is based on the book of the same name by Thomas Willmann.

 

Jane Got a Gun, Slow West, The Salvation and more Westerns

With so few good Westerns coming our way these days, I make a point of watching those that do. And, in the last few months I’ve had quite a choice. In fact, I’m in Western heaven right now…to a degree. In a nutshell, here’s what’s come my way recently: Diablo, Forsaken, Slow West, Jane Got a Gun, The Salvation, The Keeping Room, The Homesman (to watch) and Das finstere Tal (also to watch).

I’ll start with the worst of the lot first so we can move along. In fact, it is barely worth mentioning. It was that bad. I’m talking about Diablo (2015). I had really hoped that Scott Eastwood would bring across some of his father’s magic but…sigh. There is just a certain oomph missing – in fact, from all the actors (Granted, the story itself was poor so I can’t really put all the blame on them). Diablo has Jackson (Eastwood) tracking down his kidnapped wife (Camilla Belle) while the viewer discovers who he really is. The potential for a gripping film was there but alas, it was totally wasted and quickly ran out of direction and depth. Quite frankly, I was close on abandoning the whole shebang especially once Walton Goggins‘ character became clearer….the hope that maybe things would turn out better kept me going…only to see it get worse.

Having got that out the way, I can move on…

Forsaken (2015), starring Donald and Kiefer Sutherland as father and son wasn’t too bad. Kiefer plays former gunslinger John Henry Clayton, who, after many years of absence returns home to make amends with his father Reverend William Clayton (Donald). All this while the town is being tormented by railroad land grabbers. This isn’t an action-filled western but rather a broody/sombre one yet still moving along at a reasonable pace and doing a good job of leaving me wondering when enough was finally enough for John Henry. I always enjoy watching Michael Wincott and was surprised by his character’s actions. Demi Moore and Brian Cox also star. So, altogether, not a bad one but I must admit,  I watched roughly ten minutes, abandoned it and only continued to the end a few days later.

The Salvation (2014) starring ever brilliant Mads Mikkelsen was brutal and heavy. Enjoyable? Not sure. Don’ think  so as ‘enjoy’ is something that makes you feel better. But good it was. I was definitely holding my breath while Jon Jensen (Mikkelsen) sought personal revenge for the murder of his family. The attention to detail, perfectly cast characters and great sets make for superb viewing. The beautiful (South African) scenery, albeit with a few superimposed bits, is the only light relief you’ll get from this one. Well worth the watch.

Now for my favourites. They are the ones that I can’t get out of my mind after watching. The ones I absolutely need in my collection:

Jane Got a Gun (2015) was great despite the poor ratings it has received (personally, I never go by these, I make up my own mind). Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) and Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) made for great partners against Ewan McGregor‘s villain Colin McCann. Jane, married to outlaw Bill, approaches Dan for help in saving her and her family from McCann. But, it isn’t a straightforward case of Jane-asks-Dan-for-help-they-win-everyone-happy. There is more to the story than meets the eye and it unfurls itself at just the right pace, not giving it all away, letting you wait, letting you process, letting you think. At the beginning I was wondering why Jane had done the things she did but by the end, I understood, with the film hitting home. While we often expect the villain to be loud and boisterous, those like McCann who appear calm and collected can be just as bad. He was spot-on and for a moment even showed he had a heart. (Keep a look-out for Rodrigo Santoro – you’ll never recognise him)

And finally….Slow West (2015). Ahhh, what a movie. Refreshing. Brilliant. I was glued from beginning to end. Acting, cinematography, music…everything just right. Once again, a moderate-paced western (seems to be the current trend) but not for a moment did Slow West ever feel slow. Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) comes to America from Scotland to find his true love. Having managed on his own so far yet still “wet behind the ears” he comes across Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) (or, maybe it is Silas who comes across Jay), an outlaw, who so kindly offers to guide him across the dangerous country (naturally there are ulterior motives). Well, they encounter some interesting characters and things are, obviously, not what the seem. I did not see the ending of this one coming. Definitely one for the collection.

Oh, just quickly…The Keeping Room (2014), technically not a Western, was not at all what I expected. Despite the grim topic of three women (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru) left to defend their home during the American Civil war, it was really, really good. If like me, you’ve never seen Sam Worthington in an antagonist role, watch it. He’s uncomfortably convincing as the “bad guy”.

The Homesman (2014) starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank is on my list to watch soon. Hope it is a good one. Das Finstere Tal (The Dark Valley) (2014) starring Sam Riley is also patiently gathering dust until I get to it – I’m intrigued as to what this Alpine Western will bring. I’ll keep you posted. (Update: Sombre and Cold: Das Finstere Tal )

Seeking Revenge with William Holden

These Blogathons are interesting…I was oblivious to William Holden being known as the “The Golden Boy” until I came across The Golden Boy Blogathon (hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema). I’m no connoisseur of his works and only know him from 4 works one being The Revengers, the others Wild Rovers, The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Wild Bunch. The former is the one I remember most of (the others just snippets) despite the fact that it didn’t seem to have done well at the box-office. But then, for me, reviews and box-office stats don’t matter, my enjoyment does and here I’d say is a movie that isn’t half bad. Possibly, remembering William Holden from this 1972 movie is why I didn’t really see him as the Golden Boy as he was already 54, an older (note, not old) version of the handsome man I see in the various Blogathon banners.

The only scene that has always come to mind when thinking of this western was the one with his son’s lifeless body dangling from the loft near the beginning. Clearly time to dust those memory cobwebs before I continued writing and tada…last night was the night! Lucky for me, a few years back I managed to buy the DVD and I had a good evening remembering various scenes. Amazing how the moment they start they become so clear.

The tagline “He bought six men out of hell and they brought it with them” pretty much sums it up, well, to the extent that “hell” was portrayed in those days (these days, I think the equivalent would be more brutal, bloodier and violent). Beginning with wonderful stereotypical western music, all upbeat and fun, John Benedict (William Holden) rides home with a herd of horses to be greeted by his family. Naturally, something needs to happen. Especially with the title The Revengers. And it does. All too soon – naturally. I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen this film but pretty much everything that John Benedict held dear is brutally ripped away from him sending him on a mission to track down the man responsible. From a prison called “The Hole” (hell) he hires 6 convicts to help him do the job. The “prisoner selection” scene is so much fun! They make for a wonderful combination of characters. Especially notable is Ernest Borgnine as William/Bill Hoop. Ah, he balances William Holden’s  ever more serious revenge-driven character perfectly. In fact, all actors make for a wonderful ensemble, each one complementing the other. I’m sure they must have had a good laugh on set. Anyway, the story is about John Benedict’s journey of revenge and therefore one of personal change.

What I really appreciate in this film is William Holden‘s ability to portray a loving father who supports his family. His acting managed to get me to feel with and for him and convinced me that he really was a father. Similarly, as he hardens up and is purely set on revenge, he still manages to bring across to the viewer his emotions and yet again I felt for him, understanding his reactions and decisions even when not necessarily the right ones from an outsider perspective. Especially the scene between John Benedict and Chamaco (Jorge Luke) discussing paternity possibilities brings across such emotion that only great actors can achieve.

All-in-all, a fun western to watch with some great acting.

Directed by Daniel Mann, it also stars Woody Strode, Roger Hanin, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Jorge Martinez de Hoyos and a small role from Susan Hayward.

Random info: If anyone has seen the 2002 film Sorority Boys, you won’t believe that Dave’s dad is the same actor, James Daughton, who plays Morgan, John Benedicts’ son in The Revengers.

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A Kiss is just a Kiss – not with Jeff Bridges or Gregory Peck

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A Kiss is just a Kiss…absolutely not! Well not those that move me. I have a few favourites, but two in the pre-80s really make me giddy. You know, that fluttering, squeezing feeling when you realise the characters have fallen in love? And then, you wait for the kiss. That kiss. One that draws you in, engages your own emotions, that’s a Kiss. The ones that catch me unawares they’re the ones that hit the spot. So, without further ramblings, let me present two stirring kisses (in no order of passion and naturally, there are spoilers here):

The first from a largely unknown movie Lolly Madonna XXX (1973) aka The Lolly Madonna War and no, it is not an x-rated film. In a fairly violent story around mistaken identity, Zack Feather (a very young Jeff Bridges) has been charged with keeping a kidnapped Rooney Gil (Season Hubley) from escaping. LollyMadonnaKissSpending quite a bit of time in the hayloft (what is it about those haylofts?) Zack reaches out to gently mess her hair and then leans in to kiss her…tenderly, sensitively, gentlemanly. In fact, three kisses with the first on her mouth, the second her cheek and the last somewhere along the side of her neck. “Nobody’s ever kissed me like that before” to which he replies “I know that”. It is just so moving how, despite the terrible circumstances, he remains kind and caring and learns to love again (or so I tell myself). Her amazement from that special moment is beautiful. A second group of kisses follows, moments later, just as lovely but cut short by reality. The entire hayloft scene is simply my kind of romance.

Then, the western Yelllow Sky (1948). Ah, one of my favourites (movies and kisses) where Stretch (Gregory Peck), a bank-robbing gang leader and Mike (Anne Baxter), a tom-boy, cross paths when the gang hides out in the ghost town of Yellow Sky. We are treated to that special kiss one evening when she can’t sleep (I wonder why???), leaves her house and waits in a barn watching the gang camping at the spring a little way over. The moment is tenderly built up as she is waiting, anticipating, Yellow Sky Kisshoping and then…he appears. That ensuing kiss is just something. Being a black-and-white movie, the shadows and lighting are perfect as Stretch takes Mike into his arms in that classic-movie-stylised type of way (you know what I mean?) and she collapses backwards into his arms (also, classic-movie-stylised type of way). Finally! I was waiting for that as much as she was. And in that classic cliché (but I like it) she runs off, he grabs her arm and ends up saying “Listen here Lady. This ain’t something you argue about”. I have a weakness for these old movies. Oooh and how he looks at her in previous and subsequent scenes….swoon.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Angel and the Badman, Republic Pictures and John Wayne

Republic blogathon badgeThere’s something about the “old” Westerns. They were (or are) somehow…magical and despite the lack of the technology that makes said genre all-too-realistic these days, the old ones had this gritty, dusty, unique atmosphere that I feel is missing from current ones (well, when we are rewarded with the rare Western coming our way). I think “Western” I think “John Wayne” and in this am guilty of never giving much thought to the production and/or distribution companies that made them possible. Having come across the Republic Pictures Blogathon by chance, I took some notice…I should shouldn’t I – because without these companies we wouldn’t have entertainment? Let’s face it, we’re all just besotted with who’s in front of the camera and that’s about it. I’ll be the first to admit it. I’ve never considered directors, producers and all the other staff, crew and backing companies. Naturally, I did some digging around…I mean, if I’m going to write something about westerns, it can only be about John Wayne and I seriously doubt Republ….oh (raised eyebrows)…hmm…Rio Grande…ok (pause, impressed face), I didn’t know that. Oh, and Angel and the Badman….I think I have that somewhere in my collection – wait – I’ll be right back (rummaging through my DVDs)…ah…yes! thought so…(clutching DVD proudly in hand). I’d better watch this now (10 years after adding it to my collection together with the likewise unseen Stagecoach – so many movies so little time). Next step (I can’t really watch at work even though I’d like to) the web, obviously…let’s see what this Republic Pictures is about…and Angel…

Ah, so John Wayne apparently was almost given up on by Fox who even sold some of his best footage as a contract actor to Republic Pictures. I believe he was eventually doing lots of contract work for Republic (apologies if I’m wrong) in his younger days before they gave him the chance to debut as both a producer and uncredited co-director with Angel and the Badman. Amazing how one never thinks of a young, inexperienced John Wayne waiting for a means to start some sort of stable career that may just take him somewhere – we tend to think of John Wayne the big star (possibly because the works of his established career tend to be more easily obtainable) and to some extent his political involvement. On the whole, this film seems to have been criticised by various reviewers. Well, I’m intrigued now…let me go watch…

So…I’m back. My goodness the Duke is a youngster in this movie! I’ve never seen him so young (don’t cringe at this admission) but generally middle-aged, and once very old (McQ). Bruce Cabot is also in this one. Gosh, they’ve worked together a lot – Big Jake, The Comancheros, McLintock and War Wagon of the ones I’ve seen (and many more of those I haven’t).

I’d also been wondering as to which actress could suitably fill the role of the Angel as I always thought Maureen O’Hara was his perfect on-screen match. Well, I never…the first introduction to Gail Russell as Penelope, the Angel, put all my doubts aside…the way she cracks that whip when she is told to bring the wagon shows she will definitely hold her own!

Now, something I really didn’t quite see coming (and probably still need to get over) is John Wayne fainting. What??? Yes, if you haven’t seen the movie, it is true…who would have thought? Anyway, I’m not going to go into details and spoil the fun for everyone but just say that it is well worth watching. It was nice to watch movie-making of days gone by where the camera movement isn’t as fluid as these days, faster sequences seem a tad to quick, the sound isn’t as crisp, some of the dialogue seems a bit archaic, but all making for the wonderful experience that is Westerns as they were!

I’ve enjoyed Angel and the Badman and since writing this blog, the list of movies to watch  grows yet longer…Rio Grande (also Republic Pictures) definitely promoted upwards, together with all the current releases, old releases and all the ones to come….argh, is there ever an end? Well, hopefully not…who could live without movies?