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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In a Nutshell: The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017)

BalladLeftyBrownLefty Brown (Bill Pullman), “a man who never got anything right”, happens to be alone with his friend and partner Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda) when Edward is shot down. Lefty swears to bring the murderer/s to justice but, on returning to the Johnson ranch is accused of the heinous crime. With the help of his friends, Lefty proves that some people are not who they seem and more importantly, that he does, actually, get some things right.

Having a few shootouts, this isn’t a wild, raucous western but rather a wonderfully paced character study showing how outward appearance/behaviour is not what we should judge on and that circumstances will drive people do to anything…be it good or bad.

Bill Pullman is absolutely superb as Lefty who is by no means as incompetent as people think he is. What a brilliant piece of acting he does. Tommy Flanagan as Tom, Jim Caviezel as Jimmy and Diego Josef as Jeremiah are all Lefty’s friends, while Kathy Baker is Laura Johnson. Excellent acting all round. What a pity these type of movies don’t get a bigger audience.

Thoroughly enjoyable. Well worth the watch. And watch out for that haunting but beautiful ending song “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” by Maiah Wynne.

Westerns and more Westerns…

GreatWesternBlogathon2So, by now you probably know that I’m a big Western fan. Have been so since I was a little girl. I can’t really say what triggered my love for the genre but I suspect that a combination of the first western I recall seeing and the way it was presented have a great deal to do with it.

As many of you might know, my parents managed to “save” a whole stack of Super 8 movies from the junk yard back when the video store came up. Ah, the treasures I found there (so many classics but that’s a post for another day). BUT…The War Wagon was one of them (on 4 reels). And this is the first one I recall seeing. And somewhere during these early years of movies, John Wayne became my first movie star hero (even though my school friends had no idea who he was). And my love for Westerns was born.

Being the host of the Great Western Blogathon I was wondering which one I should write about but I just couldn’t decide. So, here are a few of the Westerns that are my favourites (* indicates additional post so feel free to click the title) or that hold a special sentiment for me (and even getting this down to just a few was really difficult):

War_Wagon_film_posterThe War Wagon (1967)*: it goes without saying that this one started not only my passion for the genre but for movie watching in general. John Wayne is Taw Jackson who, on his release from prison, wants his ranch back from the man who put him behind bars. With some additional help, he also plans to rob the same man of some gold he is transporting in a heavily armoured wagon…the War Wagon. To this day I pretty much know the dialogue word for word. Back as a little girl I watched this so often and had my parents beg me to see what else they had in their reel collection. Not a chance…well, when I eventually did watch something else I found…

Big Jake (1971)*: and wondered why I’d never given it a go before. I even loved it more than The War Wagon. Yes, I’d say when I was way younger, this became my favourite Western. And….as you can guess, I know a large portion of the dialogue too, although being a little older then and having discovered other movies too, I didn’t watch it until the film had almost burnt through. This one is a family affair having John Wayne, Patrick Wayne and Ethan Wayne all playing family. John Wayne is Jacob McCandles, who’s grandson is kidnapped and a ransom requested. Being a “harsh and unpleasant person” as his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara) puts it, he is the perfect fit to bring the poor child back.  This one is worth watching just for this line by Jacob McCandles when his adult son calls him daddy…”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.”

FIveManArmyThe Five Man Army (Un esercito di 5 uomini) (1969): A western with a different feel and back-story to those I was used to. Different, because it was a spaghetti western. There was something I always enjoyed about this one even though it might not necessarily be the best movie out there. I can’t say what it was about this one – maybe back then it was just refreshing to have a different feel. We have a group of bandits, led by Peter Graves who carefully plan a train robbery (gold of course)  on behalf of some Mexican rebels with the goal of having the gold fund the Mexican Revolution. And…I must tell you that this is the only role I’ve ever seen Bud Spencer in.

Other notable Western mentions from my parents’ Super 8 stash (oh I consider myself so lucky to have experienced them in this form): The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing*, Vera Cruz*, The Scalphunters*, Duel in the Sun* and The Revengers*.

Then came the time of DVDs (and by this time I had a student job). We never had a television (and no video cassettes) by choice so other than the movies on Super 8, I didn’t see many new films. The odd one at the cinema but nothing much notable. Well, not in the western genre.

The_Magnificent_Seven_(1960)_theatrical_posterThe Magnificent Seven (1960)*: How awesome that I now had the means to buy my own movies and due to having heard so much about this one, it became one of the first in my collection (The Cowboys being my first ever DVD I purchased). And I fell even more in love with the Western genre. How could you not after having watched 7 men give their everything to save a small Mexican village from oppressive bandits? On first viewing though I had to chuckle as I clearly remember trying to figure out who the 7 were with my dad purely from having heard of the movie. Neither of us had seen it. Back then there was no internet and “all” I had was Quinlan’s Movie Stars book….well, I looked and looked to eventually piece them together…I got Eli Wallach totally wrong through…he was the villain not one of the 7. That got cleared up very quickly when I finally got to watch what is now one of my favourites.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)*: Wow…not much more I can say to this one. Absolutely brilliant. The acting, the soundtrack, the visuals…what a movie. And dare I admit that I only saw it for the first time in 2010? It has the man with the harmonica (Charles Bronson) team up with Cheyenne (Jason Robards) to protect the beautiful widow Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) from one of the biggest villains I’ve come across. And I’m sure you all know the theme tune to this one. And that opening sequence…that’s got to be some of the best movie making…the sounds, the textures…just everything. If there’s one western you watch, this is it!

YellowSkyPosterYellow Sky (1948)*: now for my all-time favourite Western. I only managed to get hold of this one in 2012. And…for shallow reasons at the time…you see, I had this love-hate relationship with Lewt in Duel in the Sun. Well, maybe not Lewt but Gregory Peck and naturally I wanted to see some other westerns with him in. Thanks to the internet and online shopping, Yellow Sky came my way.  It has Gregory Peck playing “Stretch” the leader of a gang who are on the run after having robbed a bank. They land up in a ghost town where “Mike” and her (yes, her) grandpa are the only inhabitants. They suspect that these two are secretly mining gold and try to get to it too. I won’t give away too much here as it really is worth watching. And for those of you who don’t like “black and white” movies…trust me, this one is so colourful.

Notable mentions from my DVD collection (well, the super 8 ones are also on DVD now but I won’t re-mention them 🙂 ): Open Range*, The Cowboys, High Noon*, The Quick and the Dead, Broken Trail*, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, True Grit* (both versions) and Slow West.

Well, that’s about it for now. So many westerns, so little time. But hey, we all find those we are meant to watch.

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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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?