Burt Lancaster

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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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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