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Found 19 results

  1. I'd heard about "Little Big Man" since it was released in 1970, but had never seen it until the past two days. After having seen it through, I can say that it's one of the finest, little-known American films, post-1970, that I'm aware of. It's a magical story, and yes, I truly believe that it was a major inspiration for "Forrest Gump"; I don't see how it could have possibly been otherwise. Dustin Hoffman plays 121-year-old Jack Crabb - the oldest man in the world, and the only white survivor from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, i.e., "Custer's Last Stand." Hoffman's grotesque makeup is mercifully shown for only the small parts of the movie; the rest of it is shown in flashback, and what magical flashback it is, too - Hoffman's "right place at the right time" tendencies were surely an inspiration for "Forrest Gump" - once you see it, you'll notice the same thing. You'll meet General George Custer (nailed by Richard Mulligan) and Wild Bill Hickok (Martin Balsam) along the way. This fairly long film (about 2'20") is well-worth the time to watch, and is a wonderful "yarn" (as Roger Ebert puts it). This has a 96% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it deserves it. It is an *extremely* progressive film, dealing with Native Americans as intelligent, philosophical people, and even introducing what surely must be the first-ever gay native-American role in cinematic history (does anyone know of any earlier than this?) Bigamy plays a large role in one scene, and I suspect the two of these really pissed off some conservative critics, but not any more. This is a fine movie, that may be one of the better movies, post-1970, that you've never heard of - do yourself a favor and watch it.
  2. I'd never before seen a single episode of "Gunsmoke," so I thought, well, why not at least watch the pilot, "Matt Gets It." This can be seen, albeit with very poor quality, for free right here on dailymotion.com. Within the first two minutes of the video, you'll notice a couple of remarkable things: * Look who gives the introduction to the series. * Just after the first shot of the cardboard cutout that is Dodge City (a real town in Kansas), Marshall Matt Dillon (James Arness) is giving a soliloquy in a graveyard. Keep your eye on the tombstone at the left of your screen (it's not subtle). Also, note that Chester Goode, Matt Dillon's partner, is played by Dennis Weaver (whom most people know from "McCloud"; you should know him from "Duel").
  3. "For a Few Dollars More" is the second movie in Director Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy" or "Man with No Name Trilogy" (depending on your preference). Unlike its predecessor, "A Fistful of Dollars" (which is completely unrelated in plot), there's a chance you'll recognize an actor other than Clint Eastwood - Lee Van Cleef plays a memorable supporting role as a competing bounty hunter to Eastwood (if - and only if - you've watched "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence," Van Cleef is one of Valence's henchmen in this clip (most noticeable upon exiting the restaurant). Also, instead of two family clans fighting, there is a singular, despicable villain in the character of Indio (Gian Maria Volontè), whom film director Alex Cox described as "the most diabolical Western villain of all-time." Although more concise, and "tighter" in story line than "Fistful," this film is still, as Roger Ebert said, "composed of situations and not plots." If you're a younger reader, and have heard of the term "Spaghetti Western," but don't quite know what it means, all you need to do is watch this trilogy, and you'll understand completely - these movies are to Westerns what strip-mall Chinese-American restaurants are to Chinese cuisine. They're not bad, mind you, but they're really closer in spirit to the Wuxia martial arts films of China, than the beautiful masterpieces of John Ford (think, cheap dubbed martial arts fights with people doing triple somersaults in the air before kicking). Okay, they're not *that* bad, but they're sort of in the same vein. If you're only going to watch one of these first two, make it this one (I don't remember the final film. "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," well enough to comment right now, and after just the first two movies, I'm pretty much "Spaghetti-Westerned out") - it's more coherent, and has better character development and story arc. Clint Eastwood is *perfect* in his roles, and you can easily see how he became a screen legend, but these movies just aren't all that great - they're "fun" for young adults, but I doubt they were serious threats at the Cannes Film Festival. *** SPOILER FOLLOWS *** Can anyone explain why Eastwood left with the sack of money at the end? He was a bounty hunter, yes - a killer - but he didn't come across to me as dishonest. Was he going to give it back to someone?
  4. For those wishing to watch all the films in Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name Trilogy," (or "Dollars Trilogy," if you prefer), all three were released in America in 1967, but they were filmed in Spain in the following order: 1964 - "A Fistful of Dollars" 1965 - "For a Few Dollars More" 1966 - "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" You'll be doing yourself a favor to watch them in order, and to pay close attention to names and faces early on in "A Fistful of Dollars" - Clint Eastwood is quite possibly the only actor or actress you'll know in this film, so it's important to sort things out, and to be mindful of both the Rojo brothers, and the Baxter gang - two rival families vying for control of this nasty little pueblo, the fictional San Miguel, just south of the Texas border. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** Eastwood rides into San Miguel, and immediately proves his prowess with a gun, earning grudging respect from both factions - the Rojos and the Baxters - and spots a deviant way to profit from the situation, pitting one family against the other. It all sounds very interesting, and this movie is rated *very* highly by almost everyone, but 45 minutes into a 1'40" movie, I think it's pretty damned boring. I know this was Sergio Leone's first "Spaghetti Western," and he felt that American Westerns of the late 1950s and early 1960s had become stolid and dull; but so far, I think *this* is stolid and dull. Well, it has another 55 minutes to sort itself out, and it's only the first of a trilogy, so maybe I should cut Leone - a legend - something of a break, given that I have very limited knowledge of the American Western pre-1964. Leone wanted to offer Eastwood's role to Henry Fonda, but couldn't afford him. Then, his second choice was Charles Bronson, who felt the script wasn't very good (so far, I'm in the Bronson camp). Fully *seven* other actors turned down the role, before Leone reached out to Eastwood, a relative unknown at the time who could be hired on the cheap - the fact that he was the *tenth* choice for the role tells me that this movie might be more about "the making of a star" than "the making of a good movie." Okay, I'm going to keep watching with an open mind, 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating be damned - if this movie ends, and I think it's boring, I'm going to come right out and say so. There's no doubt, however, that Eastwood brings a serious panache to the role, and I can easily see how a star was born with this film. I must admit that Eastwood is playing a fascinating, deadly, and profitable game of chess - but he's neither white nor black; he's controlling the chessboard from up above, wearing both opponents down, piece-by-piece, and pocketing some money each time he does. Also, 1'15" into this film, things have *really* picked up. After a *brilliant* gambit, a terrible turn of events resulted in Eastwood getting the Holy Hell beaten out of him, and all bets are now off - this last 25 minutes is going to be about whether he can survive (and of course, he will). But, wow, has this film taken a turn towards the upside. The Baxters aren't exactly saints, but the Rojo clan is pure evil - they have massacred two groups of innocent people in this movie, and deserve whatever punishment and retribution come their way. And come it did.
  5. Well, it looks like right now, I'm in a minority of one. I did some research into the 'Best Westerns of All-Time," and "Rio Bravo" is on many, if not most, lists. I love John Wayne as an actor in Westerns, and have enjoyed several films by Howard Hawks, notably "His Girl Friday" and "Bringing Up Baby" - two screwball comedies that are archetypes for "rapid-fire dialogue" - a technique that was employed around 1940. After one viewing, this is my least favorite of the five John Wayne films I've written about here on donrockwell.com, but I just can't reconcile my views of this film with seemingly every other critic ... except for one. Before the rise of the celebrity American film critic, there was Leslie Halliwell - a British critic known for his impossibly huge book of film capsules. Member Number One and I jokingly used to call him "The Prick," because we could never remember his name, and he was incredibly hard on films - particularly ones which rehashed old material. Halliwell was my reference-standard critic in the days before the internet, and for older films, he's still an exceptionally important voice for me. Halliwell is the only major critic I can find who jibes with my first viewing of "Rio Bravo," saying it's a "cheerfully overlong and slow-moving Western," but was "very watchable for those with time to spare." That's about how I see it. Nevertheless, I've been fooled by great works of art before after only one viewing, so I went so far as to purchase "Rio Bravo" by Robin Wood, and am going to read it before watching the film a second time. On a superficial level, it seemed to me like Hawks was in over his head with the Western genre (I know he directed "Red River" in 1948). I'm hoping for more out of this film, so I'm going to give it a second pass after reading Wood's book about it. Neither "His Girl Friday" nor "Bringing Up Baby" had much going for them other than star power, Howard Hawks, and the rapid-fire dialogue fad (which I could never really get into), and to be honest, I have yet to see anything by Hawks that I've loved. Here's hoping that's going to change after my second viewing.
  6. With Hollywood westerns, a little bit of research goes a long way - in my lifetime, I've had more success with this genre of movie than perhaps any other, all because I do a little research before choosing what to watch. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962) is the twelfth of fourteen collaborative westerns with John Ford and John Wayne (the first and ninth, respectively, being "Stagecoach" (1939) and "The Searchers" (1956)). It is perhaps the most beautiful western I've ever seen. Loaded with famous actors, every single major and minor star outperforms in this deceptively sad meditation upon grief, love, and any of a half-dozen other basic human traits, all attending a costume party in what is most likely mid-19th-century Colorado, and cloaked as a moral dilemma involving the death of another human being. Never have I seen John Wayne play a more important part with less screen time than in this film. Jimmy Stewart is clearly the star - he has to be - but it's Wayne who completes this movie, and who transcends himself in a role so touching that you may feel your eyes moisten in what is one of the most poignant endings of any film I've ever seen. A death itself cannot be considered tragic (everyone who has ever lived, has died), but certain deaths are inherently more tragic than others, and when a piece of history is buried alongside an anonymous hero, lost forever to the earth, and made known only to an audience who desperately wants to jump inside the screen and construct a proper memorial - that cannot be considered a romance, or an action film, or even a western; it can only be classified as a full-blown tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. The next time you and your date are hunting around, looking for a movie to watch, remember this thread: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is required viewing for everyone who cares about great film.
  7. There is a long-forgotten type of Hollywood movie: The Film Serial, popular in the first half of the twentieth century - it was almost like a TV series, except that it took place in movie theaters. One subject was explored, in a series of short films (often 20-30 minutes long), presented as "chapters in a book," so to speak. "Black Arrow" was a film serial released in 1944, and consists of fifteen chapters. The star was Robert Scott, whose real name was Mark Roberts, and "Black Arrow" would be the only starring role of his entire acting career. I watched episode number one: "The City of Gold," which takes place in 1865. It deals with carpetbaggers who arrived in the South too late to join the money party, so they packed up and headed for "The Five Cities of Cibola" (which, in reality, were seven cities, allegedly in Navajo country in New Mexico, and (supposedly) filled with gold for the taking). <--- This is the current territory of the Navajo nation. If you've visited the Four Corners marker - the only point in the United States where four states touch - you've probably seen Native Americans selling Fry Bread on the side of the road: These Native Americans are Navajos, or should be. The last time I went - I've been twice - I bought some at a roadside stand for just a dollar or two, and the kindly lady fried it to order - it was absolutely delicious (albeit not the healthiest thing in the world, as it's made with lard), and didn't need any toppings at all (you can sometimes get them with powdered sugar or honey on top). If you're there, and see it, make sure to buy it and try it: This is the authentic product, and a genuine Navajo staple - you can read about it in the link just above. Also, if you're ever visiting the Grand Canyon, and stumble across a dive roadside Tex-Mex restaurant, you can sometimes find quasi-sandwiches consisting of things like beef, frijoles, cheese, lettuce, tomato (well, essentially a taco salad), but these are placed atop a piece of fry bread which is folded in half and eaten something like a falafel on pita, or an open burrito - if you see this, get it, as your culinary choices in this region are very limited, and this makes for a really tasty and satisfying meal. (See? We really *are* a food site at heart!) Trivia: Fry Bread was named the "Official State Bread" of South Dakota in 2005, the same year this community was founded - I kid you not. This thread, up until this point, must sound *really* weird, because it deals with multiple subjects that people simply aren't familiar with. That's one of the reasons it fascinates me. If you watch this, keep two things in mind: 1) The film quality is fairly poor, as it has not been preserved or restored. 2) It is *very* difficult to distinguish the three men, one from the other, so concentrate on the color of their hats, and pay attention to their names when you hear them; otherwise, they're nearly interchangeable. You'll also quickly detect that the white man and the Indians use the word "savvy?" to mean "do you understand?" *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** Three carpetbaggers (Jake Jackson (their leader), Shaman, and Becker) left the South, and headed out to the city of Big Mesa, to grab their share of gold, but to do so, they'll need to "make friends" with the Indians to finesse information from them. Black Arrow is a Navajo (played by Robert Scott), and his father is the tribal chief who is killed by a white man in a quarrel. The rest of the tribe ordered Black Arrow, out of revenge, to kill Mr. Whitney, the designated U.S. "Indian Agent," and a genuinely good person. Black Arrow refuses, correctly recognizing that Mr. Whitney is the Navajo's friend, and things get a little dicey from that point forward. One thing I appreciate about this first installment is that they treated the Navajos - if not with accuracy - with a degree of respect. Yes, there was "the broken English," the fire dance, the white actors playing the roles of Native Americans, but the Navajo were at least portrayed with some honor, and that's a bit more than I was expecting. I guess that, sometimes, you have to take small victories where you can find them. At the end of the chapter, there was an announcement for "Signal of Fear," Chapter Two in the serial, "in this theater next week!" These film serials were clearly designed to attract weekly customers into movie theaters - a very clever and probably effective tool. It would not surprise me if many were released in the summertime, so people would come into the air-conditioned theaters and escape the heat. *** END SPOILERS *** I found Chapter One, "Black Arrow," on Youtube, and at the very end, Chapter Two, "Signal of Fear," was just about to begin - it's possible that all fifteen chapters are on YouTube, but obviously there are no guarantees, since this is merely one user's account. I cannot in good faith recommend "Black Arrow," but if you have even the slightest interest in film history, it's an important and legitimate genre that would be worth less than thirty minutes of your time (I noticed that Chapter Two is less than twenty-minutes long). If you go to this link, then scroll down a bit, you will find: "Adventures of Black Arrow: Interview with Robert Scott" by Boyd Magers on westernclippings.com And just in case the link ever breaks:
  8. I recently commented on my seemingly non-stop run of good luck with American Westerns, but I've just come across two-in-a-row that I'd say were of the "good-but-not-great" variety: "The Magnificent Seven" and "Firecreek," and this makes me wonder - have I been good at selecting Westerns, or have I simply been selecting movies involving John Ford and Clint Eastwood? One problem I see in "Firecreek" is that there's no strongman (yes, the same can be said about "Shane," but I also didn't like Shane). The lead protagonist is a 70-year-old Jimmy Stewart, and the lead antagonist is a 73-year-old Henry Fonda, neither of whom - even in their physical primes - were particularly imposing. I love both of these actors, but this does conjure up notions of two elderly men shaking their canes at each other in the nursing home. Their age doesn't bother me per se (hell, I'm getting there myself), but we have people being beaten, killed, etc., and there isn't going to be any John Wayne riding into town to save the day. Still, the mere thought of Stewart and Fonda being together in the same picture is enough to give me optimism. Two out of the five bad guys played important roles on "Star Trek" episodes, and it's hard to get their Trek portrayals out of my head: Gary Lockwood ("Where No Man Has Gone Before") and Morgan Woodward ("Dagger of the Mind"): Halfway into the movie, I retract what I said about Stewart and Fonda - the primary antagonist has been Gary Lockwood (by a long-shot), and Henry Fonda has been wounded, and barely even noticeable in the film - so far, this is a classic "Wild One"- or "Born Losers"-type film about a gang coming into town (sometimes on motorcycles, sometimes on horses), and making trouble for otherwise-peaceful people who did nothing to ask for it. I'm pretty sure there's going to be something bad that happens, since there's so much movie left, and Jimmy Stewart seems like the one who may rise to the occasion, overcoming his normally gentle nature (refer to "Straw Dogs"). I'm liking "Firecreek" more than I thought I might - it's not a great film, but it does follow a classic model, and so far, is doing it pretty well. *** SPOILERS ALERT *** Uh, yeah ... something bad happened: Bad guys and whisky don't mix, and they were hammered when I wrote that last paragraph. Man, this "wake" the antagonists have is like something out of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (and I'm talking about the "family dinner" scene) - this is pretty creepy stuff while not completely going over the top. In many ways, this is what I would term a "small film" - a movie that deals with relatively minor issues on a less-than-grand scale. Not a boring, period piece, but just relatively compact in overall size. With that said, the music - scored by the well-known Alfred Newman - is arguably more ambitious than the movie. There are times when you notice the music, but shouldn't, and I'll go far enough to say that in a couple of spots, it's a bit maudlin - when a film's music is in balance, you don't really notice it, but there are a couple of times in Firecreek when you do, and I wish Newman had toned it down maybe just ten percent. The music is good, mind you, but it can be just a touch too amped up for the situation. One example is when Stewart leaves his wife (who is in false labor) and rides back into town - that whole scene is a little too dramatized, aurally, and would be better served by a more pensive score. (Of course, that dramatic music could indicate that something is about to, ahem, happen.) Oh my goodness, my "Straw Dogs" comment isn't all that far off. I don't read critics' reviews until after I finish watching films. I don't care what anyone says - of the previous two Westerns I've seen, neither "The Magnificent Seven" nor "Firecreek" are great, but both are good, and "Firecreek" is the better of the two. [I've now read what scant reviews are out there.] "The Magnificent Seven" is wildly overrated; "Firecreek" is slightly underrated.
  9. I have every intention to watch the classic, 1954, Japanese film "Seven Samurai" by Akira Kurosawa, and since I've been riding so high in the saddle with American Westerns recently, I decided to watch the classic, 1960 remake first: "The Magnificent Seven," pretty-much knowing that Seven Samurai will be better, and possibly a lot better. Now, that I've watched it, I hope "Seven Samurai" is a *lot* better, because "The Magnificent Seven" was merely a good - not great - American Western, even though you'll hear otherwise from plenty of critics. Perhaps I think so because I've watched *so* many great American Westerns lately, or perhaps movie critics are like so many restaurant critics - going for big celebrities, lots of PR, tons of hype, free meals, and God knows what else. Of the so-called "great" American Westerns I've seen, only "Shane" has disappointed me more. Don't get me wrong: "The Magnificent Seven" isn't a bad movie; it's just not a great movie ... it falls somewhere in-between. It was worth watching for me only because I'm recently fixated on the genre, and also as a preparatory exercise for "Seven Samarai." Only two of the seven (plus the villain) get billing before the movie title: Yul Brynner (Chris Adams), Eli Wallach (the bandit Calvera), and Steve McQueen (Vin Tanner). The other four, Charles Bronson (Bernardo O'Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee, the war veteran), Brad Dexter (the mercenary), James Coburn (the knife fighter), and Horst Buchholtz (the kid, Chico), each had their own screen, but were presented after the title. The movie was filmed entirely in Mexico, which helped; I only wish the Mexican actors were either better-trained, or didn't use English as a second language, because it really showed up - granted, this is how it would be in real life, but in contrast with the suave, dramatically and well-versed Americans, the difference in acting - particularly the diction - was rather dramatic. Wow, my first impression is that Calvera is a lot like Negan on "The Walking Dead." *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** The most beautiful scene in the movie was Harry Luck's (Brad Dexter's) dying scene, in Chris Adams' (Yul Brynner's) arms. Each of "The Magnificent Seven" took this low-paying ($20 for six weeks) job for different reasons. Luck's primary reason was that he had always thought that there was something more in it for him than just a measly $20. He said to Chris, "I'd hate to die a sucker. We didn't come here just to keep an eye on a lotta corn and chili peppers, did we? ...." Chris answered, knowing Chris had mere moments to live, "Yes, Harry. You had it pegged right all along," and then told him there was a half-million dollars in buried gold, from which his share would be about $70,000 - it was all a lie to make Harry die with a smile on his face, which he did. Here are the following two stills, less than one-second apart from each other: Make note: Despite Harry Luck being a mercenary, he was a good person, and the "little white lie" told by Chris was entirely appropriate, and absolutely compelling. Harry's last words, delivered during the first photo, were, "I'll be damned." Chris's words, delivered immediately after Harry died, were, "Maybe you won't be." If only the rest of the film could have been this profound, it would have been a great movie. "The Turbulent Three": Nobody in the Seven was more dimwitted, or more wise, than Chico (Horst Buchholtz). As dumb as dirt, he was the only of the seven who walked away with First Prize. For all its hype, and for all its stars, "The Magnificent Seven" was simply not a great film; it was a good film, but it lacked coherence, and dare I say logic? Now I'm *really* hoping that "Seven Samurai" simply didn't transfer well to the Western genre - with the stars and the budget this film had, it should have been absolutely fantastic; it wasn't. It's a good movie, and worth seeing, and that's as far as I'm willing to go - what I'm really hoping is that it will deepen my appreciation for "Seven Samurai," but now I"m wondering whether or not I should see "A Bug's Life" first as well. I hate to come right out and say, "All the critics are wrong," because Rotten Tomatoes uses either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down model, and I have no problem giving this a "thumbs up," but once you get into more nuance than a simple, binary, "yes-or-no," once again, I find myself agreeing with Dave Kehr more than any other active critic: And I know I lack the specific experience to come right out and say that all the professional movie critics are wrong, but ... all the professional movie critics are wrong.
  10. "Broken Arrow" (1950) is Director Delmer Daves' Western in Technicolor, Starring James Stewart as Tom Jeffords and Jeff Chandler as Cochise, the Chief of the Chokonen Band of the Chiricahua Apache Tribe. Though clearly Hollywood-ized, it's also based on a true story, and if the viewer is willing to do some digging, can learn quite a bit from it. I have mixed feelings about watching old Hollywood Westerns for obvious reasons, but for me it's easy, because I generally pull for the Native Americans, and look at any type of "loss" as a tragic element - plus, I learn something, no matter how small, from each film I watch: I know less about Native American history than I do just about anything, and I'm well-aware that these "red-face" movies are filtered through the prejudiced eyes of Hollywood and America, so I adjust accordingly, and invariably walk away more educated. I did not know, for example, exactly where the Chircahua Apaches were based, and that led me to an article entitled "Apache Wars" on wikipedia.com - that's just one example. Not to mention that if you come across a decent one, these movies are action-packed and (dare I say it?) just plain fun. James Stewart played a wonderful character in Broken Arrow, and for someone not to see it just because they were "anti-Native American movies" would be a loss. Stewart plays an ex-Union soldier, Tom Jeffords, who was prospecting for gold before a new Colonel rode into Tuscon to see him. The Apaches were attacking the Pony Express, and Stewart volunteered to go meet with the Apache equivalent of Keyser Söze, Cochise. After Stewart assured Cochise that the Pony Express contained no messages of war (whch were all sent by telegraph), Cochise promised not to attack the carriers, and he kept to his word. Milt Duffield, mail superindendent (Arthur Hunnicut) is the only man courageous enough to test Cochise's promise not to attack mail delivery, and when he returns unscathed, gets a hearty ovation from the townspeople. Incidentally, you might recognize Hunnicutt from one of our favorite Twilight Zone episodes, "The Hunt." Stewart had earlier saved a 14-year-old Apache boy - whose brother and sister were both killed - from dying of thirst, and Cochise returned the favor both by letting him go earlier in the film, and by keeping his promise about the Pony Express - this can easily be seen as a metaphor for larger situations in life. Ben Slade (Will Geer) doesn't understand why Jeffords didn't kill the 14-year-old boy, and is suspicious enough to lead an attempt to *hang* Jeffords after the fifth mail rider returns unscathed - Slade convinced people that Jeffords was spying for Cochise. Not only that, but Duffield, the mail supervisor, thinks Jeffords is daft for wanting to learn to speak Apache - Jeffords wants to meet with Cochise on his own turf, and figures knowing some Apache is the best way to make entry (not to mention the fact that he has fallen *very* deeply in love with an Indian maiden). However, Cochise in no way agreed to end the war - when white soldiers weren't killed in raids, they were tortured to death in unspeakable ways: Of three wounded soldiers, two were suspended from a tree branch while an Apache shot the trunk with a burning arrow, allowing the flames to slowly expand outward, and the third had it even worse: He was buried up to his neck, and his face was smeared with Mezcal juice so the ants would slowly eat his face off. None of this was graphic, of course (it was 1950), but just thinking about it is enough to give anyone the shivers. "They say that cat Cochise is a bad motha-f ..." "Shut yo mouth!" (Name the song! Hint: It's what Native Americans got in this country.) Sonseeahray ("Morning Star," played by Debra Paget), a fictional character - note the pronunciation: "Sun, see a ray" - is experiencing a holy ("coming-of-age") ceremony, and blesses Jeffords' old, wounded arm, saying that it will never hurt again. Jeffords' arm has been a source of constant pain, and this young, beautiful girl looking after him goes straight to his heart. There is a genuinely tender, albeit dated, moment when Jeffords falls in love with Sonseeahray - there is absolutely *nothing* sexual about this (at first); he simply realizes, after seeing her for the second time, and still having strong feelings for her, that he has fallen in love for the first time in his life - this may seem "awkward" to today's woman - a man in his 40's falling in love with a young maiden who probably just turned 15, but it works here, and I found it incredibly touching because Jeffords makes no attempt at physical contact; he merely tells Sonseeahray that, for the first time in his life, he's going to miss somebody. And, because the mail is getting through, but an entire wagon train was slaughtered, Jeffords is - as mentioned above - accused of being Cochise's spy: No good deed goes unpunished. The townsmen, with their mob mentality, go so far as to drag Jeffords out of a bar, string a rope up, and prepare for a public hanging (think: "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street"). This is big-deal stuff - just as Jeffords is about to be hanged, a General (a full-fledged General - Oliver Otis Howard (Cochise is mentioned on his Wikipedia page), known as "The Christian General," and played by Basil Ruysdael) arrives - yes, yes, I know, yet another Deus ex Machina - pulls Jeffords into his office, and tells him that he has authority from President Ulysses S. Grant to make a peace treaty with Cochise. I mean, that is pretty bad-ass, especially considering that the gist of the story is true. Could it be, that Geronimo, whom we *all* know of, but none of us know anything about, is *the* Geronimo who "walks away" in this film? My initial impression, upon seeing the moment, is, 'Yes, he is.' I don't know enough about Geronimo to say for sure, but if he was any type of Apache split-off, then this was most likely him, lending even more historical significance to what is already a great movie. Damn I wish I had been sober enough to remember how it ended. In all seriousness, this is an excellent movie - I have been choosing particularly well of late. If you're in the mood for an action-packed Western, with plot, seriousness, historical importance, and great depth and substance, this would be a good film for you to choose. Pathetically, screenwriter Alfred Maltz was blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten. Hey, if being a commie means I can write this well, color me red any day of the week. Here is an excellent review: Oct 9, 2010 - "Groundbreaking Western" by James Hitchcock on imdb.com
  11. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** "True Grit" is a continuance of 'Hollywood Classics which I've never before seen.' It begins with a surprise murder by Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), then a distressingly *non*-surprising gathering at the Courthouse, where they're going to be hanging three men that day. Why people have always wished to gather to witness others being violently killed is beyond my capability of understanding. And in case you think our species has evolved since the days of the Wild West: Aug 14, 2014 - "20,000 Watched the Last Public Hanging 78 Years Ago" by Mark Murrmann on motherjones.com Hating human beings, but loving cats and dogs, is perfectly justified, don't you think? Hey, I have an idea! Let's all have a get-together, and push our kids on swings while three men await their deaths! Anyway, daughter Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) is understandably furious at the murder of her father, Frank Ross (John Pickard). Mattie is one of the witnesses to the public hanging, and thinks the cold-hearted judge (who "flips the switch") is *just* the man she needs to try the murderer of her daddy, and it's hard to blame her. Interestingly, Kim Darby was 21-years-old when she portrayed 14-year-old Mattie - she really does have a youthful appearance. Mattie reveals to us that she's from Dardenelle, in Yell County, Arkansas, establishing the setting of "True Grit." Frank Ross (Mattie's dad) was killed in Ft. Smith, just west of where the courthouse is, and one of the westernmost places in all of Arkansas. A pretty telling scene occurs when the Sheriff tells Mattie that Tom Chaney is now in "Indian Territory," which is out of his jurisdiction, and only U.S. Marshals can pursue him there. He names three of them for Mattie: the best tracker, the most merciless (Rooster Cogburn, played by John Wayne), and the straightest - Mattie immediately asks the Sheriff where she can find this "Rooster Cogburn" - she's out for vengeance, plain and simple. I'm very curious why Cogburn wears the eye-patch. This seems to have caught on as a generic "tough guy" symbol, and I wonder if this picture had anything to do with it - I suspect some older, pirate-based movie started it before this. Rrrrrrrrrr there any you can think of? Defense attorney Goudy (I didn't name these people) was played by Alfred Ryder, a character actor who was in many television shows, including "The Man Trap" - the first (non-pilot) episode of "Star Trek." (Darby, by the way, had the lead in the "Star Trek" episode "Miri" as the eponymous character - an important role.) In the same scene, there's a man sitting in the very front row of the courtroom, in what can only be described as a "bit part" - non-speaking, uncredited, and only on camera for maybe thirty seconds total. "True Grit," it turns out, was Wilfred Brimley's very first movie, and this is him - I think (but am not sure) that he's the somewhat stocky, somewhat balding man in the beige leather jacket towards the right of the photo: The only reason I even knew he was in here was because Amazon X-Ray listed him - there is *no way* I would have picked this up on my own. Brimley was personal friends with Robert Duvall - who plays Lucky Ned Pepper - and I strongly suspect that's how Brimley got the part - he was born in 1934, so he would have been only 35 when this was filmed. I'm not convinced this man is Brimley, but he's somewhere in the courtroom: When you see this film, concentrate on the initial, extended, one-on-one conversation between Mattie Ross and the Texas Ranger, Mr. La Boeuf (Glen Campbell). This conversation came across as stilted and poorly directed - essentially, an interplay between two inexperienced actors (which they both were) - nevertheless, this one falls on the Director, Henry Hathaway, and he didn't make it work. It didn't ruin the film, of course, but it was simply not a good scene. A very interesting note: I later read, long after I wrote the preceding sentences, in the "Trivia" section of the IMDB website, that Hathaway hated Campbell's performance, calling it "wooden," and only had him in the movie so he could have a hit song associated with it. If this *isn't* the worst scene in the movie, then that worries me. I. Do. Not. Like. Kim Darby in this role. I hope to God she gets better, because I have a feeling this film is going to hinge on her acting abilities. So far, Darby is every bit as "wooden" as Campbell - maybe more so. However, *this* gentleman, Chen Lee (H.W. Gim) knows how to slice bacon! As of right now, I'm 50 minutes into a 2'10" movie, and two of the three leads can't act worth a damn. I know that Duvall is going to show up soon, and so is Dennis Hopper - right now, I'm praying for a miracle, or at least that these two, along with Wayne, can act "louder" than Campbell and Darby - it must be so in order for this to be a good film: fingers, crossed. The film is half over, and we just met two horse thieves: Emmett Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon Dennis Hopper (thank goodness - btw, when is the last time Dennis Hopper has been spotted in a role that involves being very "off?"): Maybe now, we won't have to watch Wayne attempt to carry the entire movie by himself - Wayne was a good actor, but he wasn't good enough to carry a film when he's handicapped with Campbell and and Darby. Well, five minutes later, so much for either Quincy or Moon possibly saving the film. Now, we have to hope for Pepper (Duvall), who will be along shortly. For those of you into biker flicks, Jeremy Slate played the leader of the gang, "The Born Losers," a sub-par but highly influential movie that was the first of the "Billy Jack" enterprise. For those few of you who saw the film, here's a little memory stimulant to help you remember Slate's role, that of gang leader and lead antagonist, Danny Carmody, Billy Jack's (Tom Laughlin's) nemesis and gadfly: With Quincy and Moon gone, and over halfway into "True Grit," I'm painfully reminded that - just as with all the other art forms including the culinary arts, wine, music, and sports - I don't like "movies" per se; I like *good* movies. And so far, this simply isn't one due to the sub-par acting and the plot, which is thus far moving at a snail's pace. Why have I heard so much about "True Grit" throughout my life? I refuse to look until it's over - I'm just going to try and enjoy it, or at least to glean whatever I can from it. The extended, character-developing dialogue that Darby and Cogburn had, about 1:15 into the film, was *so much better* than the dialogue that Darby and La Boeuf had early on, that maybe it was mostly Glen Campbell, and not as much Darby, who was completely devoid of acting talent. I really enjoyed listening to those two talk with each other, and the viewer really learned quite a bit about Cogburn in the process. This is a *very* imposing gang that Pepper has, and that Cogburn, La Boeuf, and Darby are going to have to face by themselves (Duvall is third from the right): The whole, extended attack scene, complete with rattlesnake pit, made up for a *lot* of the film's first half of ennui. It was exciting, dramatic, well-acted by everyone, and just plain fun to watch. In many ways, it might have been an inspiration for "Raiders of the Lost Ark." It is, by far, the high-point of the film, and enough on its own to make the movie arguably worth watching. Yes, it was a long, painful build-up, but it was one heck of an extended piece of suspense - even La Boeuf died a complete hero, winning over the hearts of all viewers. The near-mythical lawyer "Dagget" ended up being played by John Fielder, another famous character actor (who also played in "Star Trek," as Administer Hengst in "Wolf in the Fold.") He, too, deserves his own thread - he has done so much with his career, including being the voice of Piglet in "Winnie the Pooh." Dagget, to a much lesser degree, was to "True Grit" what "Keyser Söze" was to "The Usual Suspects." How do you not at least "like" a film that ends with such a sweet shot?
  12. Let me address this first: There is overt racism in "The Searchers," manifesting itself the most in the lead character, Ethan Edwards, portrayed by John Wayne. If you can't look past Wayne's hatred of the Comanche nation, you will not enjoy this film - for you to watch "The Searchers," you *must* look at the Comanches as "a bear" (you can pick your own bear, but you absolutely must be able to think of them as, simply, "the bad guy"). If you are able to do that, then you're faced with one of the greatest Westerns I've ever seen in my life. You know, maybe I've gotten lucky, because the first Western I ever saw (which was also the first "M-rated" movie I ever saw), was "Two Mules for Sister Sara," in the movie theater, when it was released in 1970. Since that time, I've seen maybe a couple dozen, most of which have been really good, and the older ones I've seen have *also* been really good because I've gone back in time and cherry-picked. I keep hearing about the tremendous number of awful Westerns there are, and there must be, because there really were a slew of them (for example, one of the actors in The Searchers, William Steele, was in *seventeen* Westerns in the year 1917 alone! These must have been what's referred to as "Western Quickies.") Co-Starring with Wayne is none other than Captain Pike himself: Jeffrey Hunter, and boy does he look young! Keep in mind, this is fully ten years before "The Cage" showed as the pilot of "Star Trek." While Hunter clearly is the second-leading character, this film also co-stars Vera Miles ("Mrs. Bates? Is that you?"), Natalie Wood ("West Side Story" (1961)), and features several other famous-but-not-as-famous actors such as Ward Bond, Natalie's younger sister Lana Wood, Harry Carey, Jr., and Henry Brandon in a well-acted but undeniably cringe-worthy portrayal as Comanche Chief Cicatriz (it's almost as difficult for me to look at Caucasians made up to look like Native Americans as it is seeing Blackface). The plot of this film is leisurely, and makes the movie seem longer than its 119 minutes - it's a genuine epic, complete with hero, voyages, subplots, and adventures along the way. Wayne's character is extremely nuanced and complex - perhaps as much as any other Western lead I've seen, right up there with Clint Eastwood's William Munny in "Unforgiven." There's enough action to satisfy the circle-the-wagon fans, but it all takes a secondary role to moral tension and character development, just as it does in various other John Ford westerns. When people say, "They don't make 'em like they used to," or pine away for "the good ol' days," I believe they're talking directly about - as an example - The Searchers' portrayal of a brutal gang-rape and murder. There's no blood, there's no screaming, there's no woman, there's no rape to be seen, there's no mention of the word "rape," and everything is left up to the viewer's imagination and ability to perform some very basic extrapolation based on Wayne's reaction to what he witnessed. It was - and I can't believe I'm saying this about a gang rape - "beautiful," in that the entire thing is implied (albeit obvious), and to watch such finesse and restraint on the screen is a thing of beauty. Yes, the incident is staying with me, but there will be no graphic images to relive, no horror to lose sleep over, no gore to visualize - just an unspeakably sad event that happened in the film. And believe me, in this age of explicit, graphic violence, this scene stands out to me more than if there were bloody close-ups of a girl being violated - if you see it, you'll understand what I'm talking about. That is but one, five-minute moment in an extensive, complex, winding, two-hour, heroes' journey. The Searchers is a great movie, and has been lauded even more than I would personally laud it. For example, in 1963, the pioneer "Nouvelle Vague" French director, Jean-Luc Godard, went so far as to say the film was the 4th-greatest American talking picture in history. More accolades: Named "The Greatest American Western" by the "American Film Institute" in 2008. Ranked #12 on AFI's "100 Greatest American Movies of All-Time" in 2007. Named "The Best Western" by "Entertainment Weekly." The British Film Institute's "Sight & Sound" magazine ranked it the #7 Film of All-Time in 2012. In 2008, the Cahiers du Cinéma ranked it #10 in their list of the "100 Greatest Films Ever Made." That is some pretty high praise. I'll stop here and leave you with a recommendation to see "The Searchers," along with these postcards: :
  13. Yes to Stagecoach! I love westerns too much to pick a top one, or five, or even ten, but Stagecoach is right up there for me, not Shane. I like elements of the Shane story better in Pale Rider with Clint Eastwood, Carrie Snodgrass, Michael Moriarty, and Sydney Penny. I like the supernatural element in Pale Rider.
  14. After reading rave reviews from critics and seeing "Shane" listed as one of the best films ever made, I decided to watch it, with high expectations. I was disappointed. It seemed corny and dated, and several of the actors seemed miscast to me. Am I missing something? I realize it was filmed in 1953, and a lot of Westerns that have come along since may have been inspired by it, but I recently saw "Stagecoach," filmed 14 years earlier, and I think it is a much better film.
  15. "Bone Tomahawk" is a 2015 Western "Horror" film - and I use that term in quotes - which was released late in the year. Its one attribute is Kurt Russell as Sheriff Franklin Hunt. How they got Kurt Russell to star in this film is beyond me, but they did. I wish there was something - anything - else about it that I could recommend to you, but it is pretty much 130 minutes of poorly crafted boredom - at least it's free on Amazon.com, but I can pretty much promise you that your time is worth more than investing 2+ hours of in this movie. It's a very simple story - it was filmed on a $1.8 million budget, yet brought in only $232,000 at the box office - how many box-office losers have you seen that cost less than $2 million to make? Yeah, it's *that* level of movie. The horseback-riding scenes - and there are a lot of them - through the prairie are visually nice to watch, and for me, that was the highlight of the film. I wasn't at all invested in the characters, or the plot, and I didn't really understand (or care to understand) what exactly the hell was going on. Well, I guess I *did* know what was going on, but it was so simplistic that there really wasn't anything to "get." I feel the same way about having spent 2+ hours of my life watching this film as I do when I eat at a terrible restaurant: like I wasted precious moments, and the only possible good I can get out of it is to warn you away. You might not hate it as much as I do (honestly, I still have almost 30 minutes left as I write this), but I urge you to move on from this - it's really amateurish. I'd love to hear a differing opinion, or something from someone who knows about this movie - why did they make it? What was the point? Billing this as a "horror" Western is a bit much - it's not a horror film; there's a group of antagonists for sure, and there are times when it can get suspenseful, but horror it is not - I think that's a misbilling. Making this film could have only possibly hurt Kurt Russell's career - he must have owed a friend a favor or something. You know between the first five seasons of "The Walking Dead," "The Babadook," and "Hush," I'd recently seen three winners that were released straight to streaming-video companies (I don't know if AMC constitutes this or not, but you get my point). "Bone Tomahawk" made me realize just how lucky I've been up until now, and that I cannot randomly throw a dart, expecting to get quality fare from this point forward. I'll be doing quite a bit more research in the future, and not just happily assuming things will be worth my time. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a small role played by the legendary Sean Young (*): Sep 29, 2014 - "Sean Young, David Arquette, Lili Simmons and More Join 'Bone Tomahawk'; Film Now Shooting" by Evan Dickson on collider.com (*) Admit it, sometimes you can never quite tell whether or not I'm serious.
  16. I've never been a fan of Quentin Tarantino because I'm very much against the use of gratuitous violence in film. That said, I've only seen "Pulp Fiction" and (probably all of) "Reservoir Dogs," which are 12 and 14 years old, respectively: There's something about "Django Unchained" which called out to me, despite me suspecting it would probably be Tarantino-esque; violence was terribly real in the days of slavery, and so here was a film in which I could perhaps justify it - perhaps even enjoy it, in a vengeful sort of way - depending on how it was used, and for what purposes. I also had a rough week at the office, and needed some mindless escapism - Tarantino is about as mindless as it gets: A bloodhound gift-wrapped as an intellect. Maybe Django (played by Jamie Foxx) will get some sort of revenge at the end of all this, and shoot the bastards who deserve it. That's the kind of week it has been for me. *** SPOILER ALERT *** It's a safe bet that I'll be discussing things from this point forward that will ruin the movie for you - as usual, I'm writing while watching, so my comments will arrive in mostly chronological order. As usual, I'm writing this as I go, and so far, Dr. King Schultz (played by Christoph Waltz, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), worries me. He has been almost superhuman in killing the Speck brothers, and now he has taken on an entire town, killing the sheriff in cold blood, and getting everything he wanted in the process. He's a little too good to be true, I'm afraid, though I admit it was satisfying to see the poor, chained-up slaves have the final say against the remaining Speck brother - I only hope they followed the North Star as recommended by Schultz. The scene where they were arguing about the eye-holes in the KKK masks was the first time I've ever seen comedy surrounding a KKK meeting, and it was brilliantly done, too - acting both as comic relief, a suspense-builder (for what we dread is about to happen), and most importantly, foreshadowing - for what actually happened. This guy Schultz is no dummy. With almost two hours remaining in the film, Schultz and Django have just partnered, and I'm afraid that things are going a little *too* good - there's plenty of time left for lots of terrible things to happen. I sure hope Schultz isn't guilty of a last-minute betrayal; he sure seems like a decent fellow so far. Okay, this Mandingo fighting is making me physically sick to my stomach (some movie fans will remember the 1975 Blaxploitation Film, "Mandingo"). This is the side of Tarantino I don't like - there's nothing left to the imagination, and if he could do it in 3D, he would, if he could do it so that you could smell the blood, he would, if he could do it so that you were there in the room with fighters, he would, if he could do it so that you felt the pain, he would. There's no subtlety with Tarantino - even in this film, over a decade later, he's still doing body horror under the very thin veil of "high art" - he is the most contemptible of directors: the kind that substitutes gross-out shock value for true artistry. When Leonardo DiCaprio perks up upon hearing the outlandish amount that Schultz and Django are willing to pay for a top-level Mandingo fighter, he just goes to show that even the most heinous, sadistic people will gladly sell their principles if the price is right. This is a universal theme. Tarantino could have made the dog-killing scene much worse, but then the film would have carried an NR-17 rating - I honestly wonder if that's the reason he chose to make most of it impressionistic. Assuming there *were* slave owners as sadistic as Calvin Candie (DiCaprio) - and I assume there were - this is just 165 years ago, and we, as a species, haven't evolved all that far from this. In fact, genetically, we've scarcely evolved at all - there are still people, Americans, who would be doing this if given the right. Maybe Tarantino is a better director than I give him credit for, because he's being quite successful at making me hate people. --- Comic Relief: The Candyland plantation is located in Greenville, MS (trivia: there are more towns and cities named "Greenville" in the 50 United States than with any other name - at least, that's what I remember reading about ten years ago). Greenville is near the Mississippi Delta, and not far from both Arkansas and Louisiana. Some real-life people born in Greenville that you may have heard of are Jim Henson, Shelby Foote (these two men alone have provided PBS with a disproportionate share of talent), George Scott, Frank White, and Mary Wilson. These are the ones I know, but there are others whom you may know that I'm not familiar with. Well, I guess this wasn't really "comedy," but at least it wasn't someone getting ripped to shreds by three angry dogs - back to the film. --- The best scene in the movie so far is when they ride into the Candyland estate, and the elderly butler gives Django the biggest eat-shit look I've ever seen. [Edit: Hoo boy was I wrong, and I had *no idea* this was Samuel L. Jackson at first, either.] Vintage Quentin Tarantino: A director with finesse wouldn't have felt any need to see Broomhilda graphically pulled from the hotbox; (s)he would have simply shown Django's facial expressions the entire time, and let viewers use their imagination. Any excuse for gore, violence, and shock value: That's Quentin Tarantino. I know, I know, it'll make Revenge Time all the more sweet to watch, right? That said, the scene at the dinner table with the wise old butler is suspense at its finest, and I mean it is *masterful*. The entire course of events, from the hotbox up until the handshake was masterful - a flash of brilliance from a sadistic provocateur. Oh, look! A bloodbath juxtaposed with rap - how intellectual. And ... I just stopped watching the film before the potential castration scene - I have no need for this in my life, and shame on Hollywood for a Best Picture nomination for this piece of sadistic garbage. Since I try to always finish what I start, I may or may not finish the film later, but I will most certainly read the synopsis of the plot before I do, because at this point, I no longer care what happens: they can castrate Django ... or not. They can kill Django ... or not. They can kill Broomhilda ... or not. The two can magically escape and ride off into the sunset ... or not. I couldn't care less. Franco Nero in a cameo:
  17. The Shootist begins with a combination of montages and credits as follows: Dino De Laurentis Presents A Frankovich/Self Production The team of Mike Frankovich and William Self lasted just over a year, and produced only 2 movies, both in 1976: "The Shootist" (John Wayne's final film) and "From Noon Till Three" (with Charles Bronson). John Wayne [as J.B. Books: "The Shootist"] Lauren Bacall [as the widow Bond Rogers, The Innkeeper] "in a Siegel film" Don Siegel only worked on several major movies, and was the Director of "The Shootist" THE SHOOTIST The film starts with a montage of date-stamped shooting scenes, quickly taking you through the previous 20 years of John Wayne's life, and accompanied by brief narration: 1871 - Ron Howard narrating (amazing!) "His name was J.B. Books. He had a matching pair of "˜45s with antique ivory grips that were something to behold." 1880 - "He wasn't an outlaw. Fact is, for awhile, he was a lawman." 1885 - "Long before I met Mr. Books, he was a famous man. I guess his fame was why somebody-or-other was always after him." 1889 - "The Wild Country had taught him to survive. He lived his life, and herded by himself. 1895 - "He had a credo that went, "˜I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.'" The film then, somewhat surprisingly, switches from black-and-white to color. Co-Starring Ron Howard [as Gillom Rogers, Lauren Bacall's son] Bill McKinney [as Jay Cobb, a creamery owner (with the original food truck)] Guest-Stars James Stewart [as Dr. Hostetler, the town physician] Richard Boone [as Mike Sweeney, brother of one of Books' victims] John Carradine [as Hezekiah Beckum, the local undertaker] Scatman Crothers [as Moses, a stable keeper] Richard Lenz [as Dan Dobkins, a reporter with "The Morning Appeal"] Harry Morgan [(Colonel Potter on Mash) as Marshall Thibido, the town marshall] Sheree North [as Serepta, an old flame of Books Hugh O'Brian [as Jack Pulford, a professional gambler and marksman] Production Designer Robert Boyle Film Editor Douglas Stewart Music by Elmer Bernstein [unrelated to Leonard Bernstein, but the two were friends] Director of Photography Bruce Surtees, A.S.C. Based on the Novel by Glendon Swarthout Screenplay by Miles Hood Swarthout [son of Glendon Swarthout] and Scott Hale Produced by M.J. Frankovich and William Self Directed by Don Siegel MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE REST OF THE WRITE-UP [Plot summaries bore me to tears, and always have (unless you're cheating the night before a test in high school, reading the Cliff Notes for "Hamlet") - I figure if you're going to watch the movie, you'll do just fine learning the the plot on your own, so allow me to offer up pure commentary] The backbone of the movie now starts as Wayne rides up to a man standing on the other side of a creek. It's January 22, 1901, and the papers are reporting that Queen Victoria died. So, it's the end of the Victorian Era in the wild west of America. The opening scene establishes Wayne as a non-nonsense, "˜don't mess with me, leave me alone and I'll leave you alone' man in no uncertain terms. He then rides into Carson City, Nevada. If you don't remember what made Jimmy Stewart so popular and beloved, all you need to do is watch the brief scene in Dr. Hotstetler's office. Marshall Thibido enters Books' room, at first scared, but then irritatingly arrogant when he learns of Books' impending death. Obviously, Books is a man who is simultaneously feared, respected, and hated by many. The Marshall implied he would piss on Books' grave when he died. Gillom Rogers and Moses discovered Books' true identity from inspecting the brand on his horse - it turns out this man is a nationally famous gunman, and a celebrity. Gillom was eavesdropping, Books found out, and he yanked Gillom through a window (using an impressive, Data-like, one-armed body throw). The viewer starts to get worried when the words "Second Day," "Third Day," etc. occasionally flash up on the screen. Dr. Hotstetler told Books he only had a couple months left (he has "a cancer"), and here his days are numbered, literally. When Dan Dobkins, the mercenary reporter from the local daily newspaper, began intentionally overacting in seeking to write a series about Books, it was not difficult to know that when he left through the front door, it wouldn't be by walking. I understand this has some degree of comic relief to it (up until now, we've dealt with some pretty serious subject matter, without a whole lot of yucks), but I prefer my salve to either be subtle, or so outrageous that it causes belly laughs; this fell somewhere in-between, and didn't do much for me. The scene where Dr. Hotstetler gives Books his bottle of laudanum reminds me of how much I enjoy watching pretty much anything Jimmy Stewart does. He can be the very definition of "corny," but he plays the corn so naturally that it seems to permeate his inner fiber in real life. You know? There is something very Star Trek about this movie, and I can't quite put my finger on why. I know I've been intensely working my way through the first two Star Trek series lately, but the "feel" I get in the saloon scene (where Jack Pulford kills the man), for example, is similar to what I got in "The Royale" (The Next Generation, season 2, episode 12). There have been several moments in this film so far (and I'm only 38 minutes into it) where I've "felt" The Next Generation. Maybe it's because I've been *so* intensely involved with Star Trek that the smallest resemblance seems to scream loudly. Seeing Scatman Crothers haggling with Books over buying his horse made me realize how oddly these characters are cast. Lauren Bacall? Ron Howard? A smug-bordering-on-sadistic Harry Morgan? But it's all knit together beautifully - does anyone know who is responsible for putting together the ensemble, the producer, or the director? Amazingly John Wayne was not the first choice to play Books; Paul Newman was - it's a good thing Newman was committed to another project, because Wayne positively owned this role. The conversation Books and Gillom had about Bat Masterson was a nice touch, and really grounded the movie. This "shooting lesson" was a strong scene, and bonded the two lead characters nicely. Serepta probably reminds a lot of viewers about someone they know. There are a lot of Sereptas in this world. Picture Ron Howard and Lauren Bacall strolling to church in their Sunday finest, when Howard starts whistling Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." Bacall: "You know that kind of music gets on my nerves - especially on Sunday." Good thing you didn't make it to the 21st century, Mrs. Rogers. I'm 1:18 into a 1:37 movie, and I get a strong sense that this is going to have a "Gran Torino" finale. If that's the case, it's remarkable how much these two plots overlap. The Act that begins with "Last Day," and continues with Books looking at his own tombstone is somewhere between morbid and chilling. *Not* a Gran Torino finale! And "The Shootist" is a far superior movie, too. If anyone has seen Gran Torino and liked it, I suspect you'll love The Shootist. Thanks for the recommendation, Joe Riley.
  18. I saw this movie when it first came out, and didn't give it much thought; I saw it again (after having recently watched "Unforgiven" (1992) and "Dirty Harry" (1971)), and *loved it*. I don't know when Malpaso Productions (Clint Eastwood's company) became essentially "Clint Eastwood," but this was clearly part of, if not after, Eastwood's breakout, and I'm only beginning to fully realize just what a megastar he is in Hollywood. "Pale Rider" is based on one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and has religious motifs and sub-motifs throughout. It is a deep-thinking, reflective "Western" full of parable and allegory - like "Unforgiven," it's a "Western" in quotes. There's no question that Clint Eastwood is Hollywood - he's an impresario for the masses, even if his work is on a higher plain than many others, many of whom merely drift around for the money. But for mass consumption, Eastwood has done an honorable job, and in the process, has split many a stone, and broken many a seal. Parts about the ending I found a bit over-the-top (the hand reaching out of the water trough (which incidentally Roger Ebert (who I think was a *fine* critic) felt should have been edited out)), and melodramatic (Megan calling out to Preacher, saying "I love you! Thank you!"), but hey, it's Hollywood. I also find it discussion-worthy and interesting whether or not hydraulic mining was a precursor to fracking.
  19. I've seen "Unforgiven" only once, perhaps when it was released in 1992 (when, to my surprise, it won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Clint Eastwood), Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman), and Best Film Editing (Joel Cox). At the time, I liked, but did not love, the film, and was surprised when it won the Best Picture Award. Nevertheless, Terry Theise, a devout lover of film, raved about Unforgiven as much as he did "The Natural" (Terry is also a hardcore baseball fan), and I've done very well over the years following his recommendations in both film and literature Also, I remember David Foster Wallace (during a Charlie Rose interview, I believe) mentioning that he loved this movie also - It was time for me to give Unforgiven a second viewing. I am stunned at just how little of the movie I remembered. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** I'll be writing these notes, observations, and trivia as I watch the movie, so if you follow along, in sequence, there won't be any spoilers; just don't go beyond what I've written until you've seen that part of the film: * Scrolling, opening notes reveal that the wife of William Munny (Eastwood) - a known thief and murderer - died of smallpox in 1878; her parents assumed he would be the one to kill her, but they were wrong. Although it's impossible to tell at the time, the opening notes take place against a background of a man in the far distance, not far from a crooked shack in the middle of nowhere, doing some type of digging during a lovely sunset - this is Munny working on his wife's grave, and it's really a beautiful shot. * The film is set in the fictional town of Big Whiskey, Montana in 1880, although it was filmed in Alberta, Canada. * The very first scene is a violent, misogynistic knife attack in a brothel (in the upstairs of Greely's Beer Garden and Billiard Parlor (Don't go West, young woman) - okay, okay, the name's missing an "e" for it to have been Horace Greeley). There's still time for you to back out - this movie is not for the faint of heart, and does not lack for cringe-inducing violence. * "Little" Bill Dagget (Hackman), the sheriff, is called in during a downpour. The prostitute will live, but with disfiguring slash marks across her face. He asks for a bullwhip to be brought, despite the protestations of the madame ("Strawberry" Alice, played by Frances Fisher), who's more in favor of a hanging for such a severe crime against one of her own. * (In case you can't already tell, I'm going to be writing an extremely thorough synopsis and commentary of Unforgiven. There's still time for you to back out - this synopsis and commentary is not for the faint of heart, and will not lack for cringe-inducing OCD. Just whatever you do, please make sure not to read ahead, or you'll spoil the movie for yourself.) * "Skinny" Dubois (played by Anthony James), owner of the saloon (and hence the brothel), produces a "lawful contract' between him and Delilah Fitzgerald, the cut whore (played by Anna Levine), clearly showing he cares more about her as property than a human being (but I suppose that goes without saying). When Sheriff Dagget finds this out (knowing that the assilants are from the Bar-T Ranch), he fines one john ("Quick" Mike (played by David Mucci), the one who did the cutting) five ponies as retribution to Dubois; the other, "Davey-Boy" Bunting (played by Rob Campbell) two ponies, and spares them the whipping much to the frustration and anger of Alice. Ain't nobody gonna want a cut-up whore, but Dagget ordered this to be a simple matter of compensation for damaged property. * The next morning, the six prostitutes, led by Alice, figure out how much money they all have - several hundred dollars between the lot of them. Something is up, but we don't know what - for all we know at this point, they're trying to pitch in for a decent plastic surgeon (if there was such a thing back then). The scene then cuts to a hog farm in Kansas [the opening credits, with Munny in the background, seemed a bit too hilly for the Great Plains, so this must have been further east]. * The hog farm is Munny's, and he's tending in the slop to his sick swine (who have contracted a disease) in front of his children, when a young hotshot killer - "The Schofield Kid" (played by James Woolvett) rides up and introduces himself, taunting Munny, hoping to enlist him as a partner in a paid killing. What The Kid didn't realize is that Munny has reformed, and is living the life that he feels his late wife (who has now been gone three years) would want him to live - he hasn't taken a drink, or killed anyone in over ten years. The Kid then reveals that the prostitutes have pooled together a $1,000 reward for anyone who kills the two johns. Munny declines, and The Kid respectfully rides away, letting Munny know how to find him in case he changes his mind - as Munny watches The Kid ride into the distance, he ponders his poverty and his two children. * Cut to the prostitutes' shack in Big Whiskey, where they all live in a tiny commune. The two attackers ride by with their seven ponies, on their way to give them to Dubois, and the prostitutes silently glare at them - this scene is merely seconds long, but summarizes the state of things quite nicely. * Dubois infers that he's going to be taking a third horse from Davey Boy, and Quick Mike is suddenly pelted with what looks like horse excrement, right outside of Simmons & Borley Meat Market - appropriate, since the prostitutes have gathered en masse, and are pelting the assailants. Other stores nearby are a Blacksmith, Big Whiskey Hotel, and German's General Merchants. Davey Boy offers Delilah a pony in retribution (or, to assuage any residual guilt he has), and Alice scoffs at him while the girls begin pelting them again; yet, there's something about Delilah's tranquil expression for this small act that transcends anger. * Back on the hog farm, Munny pulls out a pistol, and fails spectacularly trying to target shoot; then he pulls out a rifle and nails it on the first shot. "Did pa used to kill folks?" his young daughter asked her brother. Munny ponders things in front of the tombstone of his wife, Claudia Feathers Munny (Mar 1, 1849 - Aug 6, 1878), but you can tell his mind is already made up. This time, it won't be whiskey that drives him to kill; it's poverty: Munny decides to leave his two young children for a couple of weeks, but he can't even mount a horse anymore. * At the brothel, Dubois is unsuccessfully trying to shake down his prostitutes, having heard they have some money. Empty-handed, he then goes out to Sheriff Dagget's property and tells him about the bounty, and Dagget seems determined to stand up for the assailants. * Munny rides up to a property where a very surprised Ned Logan (played by Morgan Freeman) introduces him to his wife, Native American Sally Two-Trees (earlier, Munny told his son to ask Two-Trees for help if he needed any during his absence). Munny tries to recruit Logan as a partner-in-bounty-hunting, and is ultimately successful due to the nature of the crime committed (which has been exaggerated due to multiple re-tellings of the tale, like what happens in the childhood phone game). Munny again has trouble mounting his steed, and hopefully this isn't going to be an ongoing attempt at comic relief because it's just not that funny. * Munny and Logan have dinner around a campfire, catching up on old times, and it's clear that Munny hates his past (and yet, he's going out to kill again - this film may be titled "Unforgiven" for a reason). * Cut to a steam train on the (fictional?) Northwest Railroad, with passengers railing (pun intended) about President Garfield's shooting (Garfield died eleven weeks later). Here, we meet "English Bob" (played by Richard Harris) a British gunfighter also out for the $1,000 bounty. When passengers on the train accuse Garfield's shooter of most likely being a "John Bull," English Bob chimes in and says that no, he was probably French (indeed, the assassin was Charles J. Guiteau, an American with a French name) and then proceeds to put on a remarkable display of pheasant shooting, taking $7 in wager money from another train passenger. * English Bob and his biographer (ironically named W.W. Beauchamp (played by the brilliant Saul Rubinek, whom you *must* see in Star Trek (TNG), Season 3, Episode 22: "The Most Toys") take a stagecoach (which inexplicably has "Expressly Muddy Hauling Chandler" written on the side of it) into Big Whiskey, where they pass a little sign that says, "No Fire Arms in Big Whiskey, Ordnance 14 - Deposit Pistols and Rifles. County Office." They pass the prostitutes' shack, and the prostitutes wave at them. In the next couple of minutes, you get a better view of Big Whiskey's layout: on the left, from near-to-far, is Greely's (the saloon and brothel), a bank, and a restaurant; on the right, from near-to-far, is German's General Merchant, what looks like "Bar" (or, maybe it's Barn - all the signs are in all-capital letters), and, ominously, in the far-right distance, Undertaker. From this perspective, English Bob's stagecoach approaches the camera (which is placed right on the main road). * As English Bob and Beauchamp step from the stagecoach, we see a Deputy, Andy Russell (played by Jeremy Ratchford), glaring at them. The deputy approaches them, sternly reminding them about the ordnance, and English Bob glibly tells him they're carrying no firearms. The scene then cuts to the Sheriff's office, the Deputy cocking a rifle, and saying, "Unarmed, my ass." There are several young, ornery men in the Sheriff's office, and they're not the type of people you'd want to cross. English Bob goes to the barber for a shave, and then asks directions to see Strawberry Alice. The barber told him to go "ask for a game of billiards," even though there are no tables there ("they burned the table in '78 for firewood"). * When English Bob and Beauchamp step out of the barber shop, they are immediately drawn down upon, facing three rifles and a pistol. After some awkward silence, Sheriff Dagget says, "Hello, Bob" - well, it looks like English Bob has something of a reputation, and that Little Bill knows what he's doing. "Boys, this here is English Bob," he says. The two know each other well, from the old days, and when English Bob introduces Beauchamp to Little Bill, he knows he's in trouble. Beauchamp reaches into his bag to pull out a book (to show them he's a writer), and all four weapons are immediately cocked for fear he's reaching for a gun - English Bob quietly says, "Uhh, I wouldn't do that if I were you, Mr. Beauchamp," and Beauchamp procedes to urinate himself. English Bob's "peacemaker" is confiscated, and Beauchamp's book is titled, "The Duke of Death." Little Bill then confiscates a second '32 from English Bob (which English Bob was trying to conceal), and then decks him. Then, when English Bob is down, Little Bill proceeds to (perhaps literally) kick the crap out of him, screaming out warnings to anyone who would come into Big Whiskey for non-existent "Whore's Gold" - he is seriously pissed off, wants no part of any southern bounty hunters riding into town, and is making damned sure that English Bob is going to spread the word when he gets back home. * At this point, the action has been centered around English Bob for so long that you almost forget about Munny and Logan, but the action cuts to them leisurely riding on horseback, approaching Big Whiskey, and after what just happened, you're left fearing for them: Little Bob is not someone you want to cross. Then, out of nowhere, they're being shot at (that's got to be one of the scariest things there is, being shot at, and not knowing from where). Well, it turns out that it's The Schofield Kid, and Munny and Logan yell over at him to stop shooting at them (he didn't know who they were). After some quarreling about how to divvy up the bounty, and a hilarious one-liner by Logan (regarding The Kid's rifle - other than Munny being unable to get on the horse, this is the first thing approaching any type of comic relief, and we're fifty minutes into the movie), the three team up, and keep on riding as a unit. * A relatively extended sequence (almost sixty seconds, complete with acoustic guitar over strings) follows of the three men peacefully riding together through the gentle, autumn landscape, perhaps lulling the viewer into a false sense of serenity. This is very lovely cinematography, but after what just happened to English Bob, I'm certainly not going to be letting my guard down anytime soon. * During the ride, Logan deduced that The Kid was nearsighted, which angered The Kid - who proceeded to rip off Logan's canteen and plug a couple of holes in it. Logan and Munny decided that as long as The Kid could see fifty yards, it was good enough. I'm suspicious of this scene, because it came out of nowhere, and is seemingly unrelated to anything else in the film. * Cut to Little Bill at his desk, perusing "The Duke of Death," holding a sarcastic conversation with English Bob (who's injured so badly he can't even talk) and Beauchamp, both locked away in a cell. Little Bill methodically debunks an entire scene in the book where he was present, and reveals English Bob to have cowardly killed a man who was unarmed (literally, unarmed). * Our three protagonists are trying to sleep by a campfire, on rocky ground, and The Kid is as smug as ever. * Little Bill has let Beauchamp out of the cell, and is spoon-feeding him some wisdom about shooting - the fact that a cool head is even more important than a fast draw. English Bob just has to lie there in the cell, listening to everything because he's so badly injured he can't move or speak. An interesting scene occurs when Little Bill offers a gun to Beauchamp, essentially daring him to shoot. He even allows him to offer the gun to English Bob (who wasn't sure whether or not the gun was loaded). English Bob declines, much to Little Bill's amusement - "You were right not to take it, Bob," Little Bill said. "I would have killed you," he added, emptying the live ammunition onto the ground. "We could use some rain, Mr. Beauchamp," Little Bill says. * Cut to Munny, Logan, and The Kid, riding in a downpour. Logan offers Munny a slug of whiskey, and Munny declines. * Beauchamp, sniveling man that he is, switches loyalty from Engligh Bob to Little Bill, and decides to stay in Big Whiskey as English Bob is ridden out of town (Beauchamp is now writing Little Bill's biography instead of "The Duke of Death"). There's a downpour in Big Whiskey, Little Bill's house is leaking like a sieve (he built it himself), and a messenger comes to inform him that three men have just ridden into town, and are at Greely's Tavern - two of them have guns. Earlier, they had ridden right by the warning sign in the downpour, and didn't even see it. * Munny had gotten terribly sick in the storm, and is sitting in Greely's delirious from fever - Little Bill comes in and thinks he's drunk, demanding his firearms. Logan and The Kid are upstairs at the brothel, leaving Munny all by himself in the saloon, surrounded by cocked guns, and having to face an angry Little Bill. It's raining, all right. Little Bill pummels Munny, and word gets up to the brothel that he's been beaten and kicked. Logan and The Kid rush to put their pants on, with Logan (in a moment of much-needed comic relief) tumbles out the window, and rolls down a slanted roof onto the ground outside. Little Bill goes up and slaps Alice for "letting" the two men out the back window. Ned and The Kid find Munny, who had slithered out of Greely's like a snake, doubled over on his horse, and help him out of town and into a makeshift camp. * The Kid, who worshiped Munny, is disillusioned that he could have suffered a beating the way he did (Munny was in an indefensible situation, and probably had a fever of 103). Fortunately, the next day, the rains have passed, and it's sunny outside. The prostitutes - who know full well the three are in town for the bounty - are secretly helping them with shelter and food. Munny remains both terribly ill, and also badly beaten - he is delirious, and not all that far away from death. * Munny has been in-and-out of a febrile state for three days, and when he wakes up, he thinks Delilah is an angel. She tells him Logan and The Kid went out scouting the Bar-T ranch when they saw his fever had broken. An angel-white snow covers the ground now, and Munny and Delilah begin to form a friendship - Delilah tells Munny that Logan and The Kid "have been taking advances" on the bounty by taking "free ones," and then offers Munny a free one. There's a great scene where Munny tells Alice that if he wanted a "free one," he'd want it with her because he thinks she's beautiful - the camera work here is perfect, and as absurd as the situation sounds, it's a wonderfully touching moment between two very scarred human beings. * Our three heroes ambush one of the assailants - Ned only manages to shoot Davey Boy's horse, who falls sideways, and pins Davey Boy, breaking his leg. When it comes time for the coup de gráce, Ned can't pull the trigger (just like Beauchamp couldn't pull the trigger on Little Bill earlier), and Munny reluctantly takes the gun. It becomes painfully clear that Munny, Logan, and The Schofield Kid are about as deadly as The Three Stooges. Munny struggles with shooting the rifle, but manages to connect with his final bullet, but its unclear whether or not its a lethal blow, as Davey Boy crawls behind a rock immediately after being shot. Munny and Logan look at each other - with The Kid yapping non-stop - and realize they don't know what the hell they're doing anymore, and that they shouldn't even be here. As they're riding away, Ned decides he just doesn't have the belly for this any longer, and heads back to Kansas, with Munny promising to drop off his share on the way home. * Word gets around to various people: Little Bill finds out, and sends someone to confine Quick Mike to the Double-T Ranch so he isn't out in the open; a rock comes sailing through the prostitutes' window (only to have Alice scream back, "He had it coming!"). * Ironically, and tragically, they caught Logan riding back to Kansas. Little Bill hauls him into the station, ties him to the jail bars, and whips him like a slave (also ironic, because no reference whatsoever has been made to Morgan Freeman's color during this entire film). Logan doesn't give in despite the tremendous beating, so Little Bill sends someone to fetch the prostitutes in order to compare stories, swearing he'll no longer "be gentle" if the stories don't match up. * At the Double-T, nature finally gets the best of Quick Mike, and he walks to the outhouse. The Kid opens the door, and bushwhacks him while Munny keeps him under cover (What a way to go!) Not unexpectedly, as the two flee, Munny has the same trouble getting on his horse. While Munny and The Kid wait for their payment, one of the prostitutes, Little Sue (played by Tara Frederick) rides up and informs them - to their horror - that Logan has been captured, tortured, killed, and his corpse humiliated. This does not sit well with Munny. As he listens to what happened to Logan, he begins gulping down whiskey - this is the first time during the entire movie that he broke down and drank anything. I would not want to be Little Bill right now. * The Kid swears off killing forever, but Munny is going after Little Bill. He gives The Kid the entire thousand dollars, and tells The Kid to deliver both Munny's and Logan's share to Munny's children, and the rest is for The Kid to keep - to buy a pair of spectacles for his poor vision. If Munny isn't back in a week, then his children are to give half of their share to Logan's widow, Sally Two-Trees. It's pouring down rain, and on the way back into Big Whiskey, the viewer sees, from the point of view of Munny, an empty bottle of whiskey being discarded on the ground. * As Munny enters Big Whiskey, he sees Logan's corpse in a coffin right outside of Greely's, with a sign that says, "This is what happens to assassins around here." As he sneaks into Greely's, Little Bill is buying people drinks, organizing the search party to depart in the morning to chase these "skunks" clear down to Texas. All the viewer sees is the long end of a rifle - the entire bar, full of people, turns around, and there is Munny. * "Who owns this establishment?" Munny asks, pointing his rifle at one of the citizens. At that point, Dubois speaks up, and Munny blows a hole in him. Little Bill looks him in the eye, and says, "Well, sir, you are a cowardly son of a bitch!" (Really? Didn't you just torture someone to death earlier today?) "You just shot an unarmed man!" Munny's - no, *Clint Eastwood's* reply: "Well, he should have armed himself, if he's going to decorate his saloon with my friend." * "All right, gentlemen," Little Bill says, walking towards Munny, "he's got one barrel left. When he fires it, take out your pistols, and shoot him down like the mangy scoundrel he is." * Munny pulls the trigger... * Click. * Little Bill, in his moment of triumph, says, "Misfire. Kill that son of a bitch!" Munny tosses his rifle at Little Bill, giving him just enough time to pull out his pistol. Little Bill gets off a shot, but misses, and Munny nails him. In a superhuman moment that only Clint Eastwood could pull off, he pretty much takes out the entire bar when they start firing at him. Impossible? Of course it's impossible, but it's Clint Eastwood. (Thought of the moment: For a town with such a strict anti-gun ordnance, there sure are a lot of guns.) * "Any man that don't want to get killed, better clear out the back." He lets them go, then slowly walks up to the bar, pours himself a shot of whiskey, and drinks it. He hears a man moaning - it's Beauchamp. "I've been shot!" he said, but he was merely covered with someone else's blood. A complete coward, he starts asking Munny questions about the five men he just killed so he can write about it. * Little Bill's eyes open - he isn't quite dead. Munny shoots some more whiskey, hears Little Bill cocking his pistol, then wheels around and shoots him again. "I don't deserve this," Little Bill says. "To die like this. I was building a house." Munny, looking down at him, replies, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." Little Bill's last words: "I'll see you in Hell, William Munny." Munny, slowly cocking his rifle, says, "Yeah," then points it right at him, looking straight down the barrel into his eyes, fires one last shot right into Little Bill's face, and slowly walks out of the bar, mercifully killing one more person who wasn't quite dead yet. * He walks out, threatening anyone who would dare shoot him, and comes upon Logan's corpse. Exiting the town on his horse, he shouts out orders to give Logan a proper burial, and not to cut any more whores - "or I'll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches." The prostitutes all come out into the pouring rain, silently watching Munny ride out of town. The camera pans back away in the dead of night, leaving only the torches burning by Logan's body visible in the distance. * "Unforgiven" ends just where it began: with the long shot of Munny walking out to his wife's grave in the sunset. He stands in the distance, as the closing narrative slowly rolls up the screen. In the distance, Munny turns, and disappears.
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