Posts Tagged ‘Western’

Way of a Gaucho (1952)

Dir: Jacques Tourneur | Rory Calhoun, Gene Tierney | Western Drama 97’

Jacques Tourneur arrived in Argentina to make this late addition to Hollywood’s good neighbour policy a bit too early to avail himself of CinemaScope – which would have been well suited to the vast horizontal expanse of the Argentine pampas, seen to good effect thanks to Tourneur’s elegant use of lateral tracks – while the bright red of the soldiers’ caps displays the dramatic potential of Technicolor.

Rory Calhoun – in gaucho pants that would nowadays contravene numerous health & safety regulations – and Gene Tierney in a veil aren’t obvious casting as Latinos, but Richard Boone as usual gives good value as a cavalry officer whose robust view of discipline finds expression in staking people to the ground; while its not every film in which you get to see Everett Sloane as a singing gaucho. Based on a novel by Herbert Childs, Alfred Newman as usual contributes a noisy but appropriate score. @RichardChatten

Inferno (1953) Bluray

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Cast: Rhonda Fleming, Robert Ryan | US Western 73′

Although largely forgotten today, this ‘desert noir’ probably marked the early fifties apex both of the 3D film and the sojourn in Hollywood of director Roy Baker, who glowingly recalled it as “a very good story indeed”.

Robert Ryan, however, plainly had this movie in mind when he lamented that Cary Grant got the glamorous parts while he had to make do with “deserts with a dirty shirt and two day growth of beard” (although he forgot to mention also having a broken leg). Rhonda Fleming as his faithless wife, on the other hand, is dressed to kill in expensive finery throughout.

Shot in gleaming Technicolor by ace cameraman Lucien Ballard in Apple Valley on the edge of the Mojave desert, Baker said the idea appealed to him of making an interior film without dialogue. There’s actually a lot of talk in the finished film (including about what a jerk Ryan’s character was prior to the film opening not really bourne out by Ryan’s engaging performance; although those inclined to get sentimental about cuddly wildlife like rabbits and deer are likely to take umbrage at the way Ryan looks upon them purely as food), and in context such comments as “That’s my Rabbit!” and “Want a ride?” really hit the spot. Ditto the closing line. @Richard Chatten


News of the World (2020) ***

Dir: Paul Greengrass| Cast: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Marvel, Ray McKinnon, Helena Zengel | US Drama 114′

The American Civil War has come to a close and in Texas a virulent epidemic is sweeping through the panhandle. Tom Hanks and German newcomer Helena Zengel star as two lost souls drawn together in the aftermath of the tragedy, this once happened 150 years ago but Greengrass gives a contemporary feel with its migrant central characters.

Set on the wide open panoramas of the Southern desert yet intimate in its personal story of survival, the theme of storytelling is at the heart of this ambitious Western adventure, both for Greengrass and his lead, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. The soldier has seen active service during the war but several years later has turned to ‘newscasting’ – making a crust out of telling spirited, often didactic stories that connect his audiences with the wider world. As he makes his way across the vast desert landscape, Hanks is believable and appealing as the strong and benign warrior.

Piqued with lively action sequences, News of the World is contemplative rather than swashbuckling but impressive nevertheless, wearing its burnished period detail on a war-torn sleeve, this is a well-mounted and poetic frontier adventure, and a departure from the director’s usual slick modern thrillers such as The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93. 

Greengrass quickly establishes his statesman-like hero’s credentials in the opening scenes, a respectable horseman now down on his luck but making the best in his reduced circumstances, he still cuts dash spinning his newsy yarns with languorous dignity during long evenings in candlelit hostelries. One topical item relates to the opening of a new railway line from the Kansas border all the way to Galveston, that was the Pacific Railway’s first foray across Indian reservations.

Essentially a two-hander though with the occasional side-lining vignette, the slow-burning storyline carries a distinct whiff of cultural diversity, the Captain journeying through this lawless territory with a blond 10 year-old he meets while hitching up his waggon in the frontier town of Wichita Falls. And this relationship sets the reflective tone of their odyssey; he is mentor, protector and father-figure, a role Hanks pulls off with a respectable swagger, though the two lack a noticeable chemistry: Johanna is sullen, unreachable, but turns out to be a German orphan raised by a Native American tribe. Hanks finds himself tasked with relaying her to blood relatives in another part of Texas, against her will.

Writing with Bafta-award winner Luke Davies, Greengrass bases his script on Paulette Jiles’ 2016 bestseller that centres on two unlikely companions who gradually develop a mutual bond. Shooting took place in the magnificent scenery of New Mexico by Dariusz Wolski, his jerky intense handheld ‘urban’ scenes contrasting with the feral beauty of big desert countryside where the two encounter all kinds of surprises during their eventful escapade.

It soon emerges that Johanna is subject to some kind of kidnapping and is bound for San Antonio, so Kidd’s wings are clipped by the presence of the minor, who becomes his responsibility in the hostile terrain. The child has been let down by so many adults she proves unruly although vulnerable and lost in this turbulent country where settlers are at war with Native Indians and vice versa. And this milieu of conflict and danger provides a heady atmosphere to the couple’s journey. One episode sees their carriage involved in a terrible accident when the horse loses control over a mountainside. Another involves an ugly skirmish with some Confederate former soldiers (Covino, James and Lilley) who try to ‘buy’ the little girl, and have to be fended off. Johanna’s upbringing in Indian culture brings a spiritual and folkloric element to the Western adventure showing Hanks at his best in a gritty role of guardian for this tough but also thoughtful kid in a surprisingly lyrical piece of Americana. MT




The Horse Soldiers (1959) *** Blu-ray

Dir: John Ford | US, Western

John Ford is renowned for his US cavalry pictures but not for his American Civil War films. On this issue he only made one feature (The Horse Soldiers) a film segment (The Civil War 1861-65 for How The West Was Won) and a TV episode of Wagon Train (The Colter Craven Story.) Arguably the most visceral, though historically limited, of those three is the tragic How the West Was Won episode.

Ford was vocally passionate and highly knowledgeable about the Civil War. He’d always wanted to adapt a biography of Ulysses C. Grant but it never materialised. So we are left with his sole feature, The Horse Solders – containing an opening scene that briefly includes an appearance by Grant. To this day, The Horse Soldiers is unloved by most critics: Ford’s chief biographer Joseph McBride calls it “mediocre”, critic Scott Eyman considers it “a dud” and in Peter Bogdanovitch’s interview book, Ford himself admits, “I don’t think I ever saw it.”

Over the years my reaction has ranged from good but meandering, then better than I’d recalled, to a flawed and underrated film containing deeply felt moments. The passage of time has proved kinder for this production. Although for me it will never be as compelling as other late Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Seven Women) The Horse Soldiers has considerable pleasures. It’s not the big Civil War picture Ford should have made but a considerable and accomplished gem.

In April 1863 the U.S. cavalry lead by Colonel John Marlow (John Wayne) goes on a 600 mile raid through Mississippi into Louisiana to cut railway lines and attack Confederate troops from Grant’s drive towards Vicksburg. Accompanying him is army doctor, Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) who has to put up with Marlowe’s animosity – he’s distrustful of doctors since his wife died, wrongly diagnosed with a tumour, at their hands. En route they encounter the Southern plantation mistress, Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers). She and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) eavesdrop on the officers’ plans to thwart the Confederates and to protect the secrecy of their mission they are taken with them.

No director filmed long lines of men on horseback better than John Ford – place riders on a hill at sunset, singing a ballad or military song, and Ford’s poetry never fails to captivate. His eye for composition was immaculate. There are numerous examples of this in Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It was never macho posturing but an affirmation of folkloric and communal values. Ford’s group formations have a painterly depth. The Horse Soldiers has some of the best photographed patterning of men and equestrian power in all of his work. Ford’s viewpoint is the long shot, or medium long shot that impacts so well with his careful framing.  And William H. Clothier’s photography gives the troops and scenery a lovely autumnal charge. So much so that there are times when you could almost forget the story and characters of The Horse Soldiers and simply delight in a lyrical mise en scene of cavalry expertise.

But the problem with The Horse Soldiers is its undeveloped screenplay. Too much time is spent on the argumentative feuding between John Wayne and William Holden. This is lively and engaging but overdone, causing the film to often be a series of war episodes intercut between the their incessant personal scrap.  Yet if you relax into the rhythm of The Horse Soldiers – which is detached, but not disengaged, then you’ll also discover a sensitive questioning of military and civilian values, the tension of the actual military raid and how war represses feelings of love, shame and regret.

There’s a fine scene where Marlow, in a captured saloon, is talking to Miss Hunter about his wife’s death. It’s so beautifully acted by Wayne – his hurt looking eyes conveying a bitterness and anguish that’s reminiscent of Wayne’s great performance as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. The attack on the Confederate troops, coming in on a train, contains a haunting shot of an apprehensive officer that echoes the barber scene in My Darling Clementine. And the soldiers’ response to the shocking killing of Lukey has a tenderness exhibiting Ford’s compassionate sense of community. Finally perhaps, and most striking of all, is the bizarre skirmish with the boy cadets from a local military school.

Civil War to one side The Horse soldiers, as a cavalry picture, is never as expressive as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or as complex as Fort Apache yet it avoids the musical bombast of Rio Grande. It’s a quieter, restrained, but equally angry and concerned film of personal and military conflicts. We may mourn the fact that Ford never gave us a Ulysses C. Grant bio-pic (though with Grant’s early reputation for heavy drinking that could have been over the top) but we do have Ford’s subdued The Horse Soldiers still riding along, slowly growing in stature. ALAN PRICE    


Rio Grande (1950) ** Bluray

Dir.: John Ford; Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Claude Jarman jr., Ben Johnson; USA 1950, 105 min.

John Ford’s Rio Grande is the final part of the “cavalry” trilogy that started with Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and continues in the same vein: the Indians are dastardly, real men – when on the right side – are above the law, and women get to see what’s good for them, even if it takes them a long time.

Colonel Kirby Yorke (Wayne) is fighting the Indians at the titular river, but the cowards always decamp into Mexico when things get rough. And the high command allows him not to go in hot pursuit, since Mexico is a foreign country. Enter Jefferson Yorke, a son Kirby hasn’t seen for fifteen years. Jeff’ has just flunked West Point, but still wants to be a good soldier under Dad’s command. Hot on his heels comes mother Kathleen (O’Hara) – who has also has not seen Kirby since the latter burned down her family mansion during the Civil War. Kathleen wants to buy her son out of the army, but Jeff is hellbent on following Dad, and earning his spurs. Up comes trooper Tyree (Johnson), who is on the run for manslaughter, but is given a helping hand by the Colonel and his mates. Eventually, the Colonel finds a way to track the Indians down – even if it means breaking the law. But hell, if a certain Lt. General Sheridan is your best friend, you can take a chance or two.

Rio Grande now seems so dated, not only in look but also in theme. And there are many little ‘Trumps’ at work: misogynists for whom the law means nothing. The Indians are shown as a wild bunch who need to be killed lest they further endanger white women and children. The script by James Kevin McGuiness is as vapid as a plume of pipe-smoke, the downtime between fighting scenes filled with songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. DoP Bert Glennon (Stagecoach) does his best, but General Sheridan didn’t need to worry  (“I wonder what history will say about this”): all is now being revealed in the White House today. AS




Comes a Horseman (1978) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Alan J Pakula | Western | US 118′

Alan J Pakula made some outstanding films – COMES A HORSEMAN was not one of them but certainly entertains as an impressive modern day (1940s) Western with a remarkable cast and crew. The Blu-ray release positively gleams in its vibrant Technicolor scenery of Westcliffe Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona and the Coconino National Forest, brilliantly brought to life by the inimitable Gordon Willis.

Jane Fonda and James Caan play Ella Connors and ‘Buck’ Athearn, Montana ranch-owners who join forces against the depredations of her ex-lover, Jason Robards’ ruthless J R Ewing determined to increase his empire no matter what. In the opening scene he confronts her when the dust has settled, taunting her with the possibility of a re-union. The onscreen chemistry between them crackles. An interesting foray into Western territory then, but certainly not as strong as his thrillers.

The film won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for stuntman Richard Farnsworth in the role of a craggy cowhand called Dodger, although another stunt man Jim Sheppard was killed when a horse that was dragging him veered off course. And the script also goes off course slightly too despite Pakula’s able direction. His best known film Klute (1971) was another collaboration with Jane Fonda, and he would go on to make more stylish thrillers such as Sophie’s Choice; Presumed Innocent and The Pelican Brief during the course of a career which concluded with Brad Pitt starrer The Devil’s Own (1997). MT






The Kid (2019) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Vincent D’Onofrio | Wri: Andrew Lanham | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Leila George, Dane DeHaan, Jake Shur | Western US 100′

Vincent D’Onofrio’s first foray behind the camera is a good-looking Western that keeps the camp fires burning with some top tier performances and a contemporary look. The Western genre is still popular, the classics packing some punches with their tales of macho males and simmering molls created by the heavyweights John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill. Some of themes seem outdated and politically incorrect in today’s modern world, but perhaps that’s why they still strike a cord with some nostalgic audiences. The only modern ones that shake a stick at the cult classics are Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), Kristian Levring’s The Salvation (2014) and John Mclean’s Slow West (2015).

The Kid reworks the story of a young boy called Rio (newcomer Jake Schur) who witnesses Billy the Kid’s encounter with Sheriff Pat Garrett – Dane DeHaan and Ethan Hawke playing the respective roles with skilful aplomb. After an unnecessary voiceover introduction we see Rio (Jake Schur) killing his father to prevent him doing for his mother, then scarpering in the direction of Santa Fe with his older sister Sara (Leila George) to avoid reprisals. The pair get holed up on the way in an abandoned house with the charismatic Billy, in a terrific turn by DeHaan, Hawke allowing him all the glory and holding back with a rather stylish performance. Andrew Lanham plays fast and loose with the Garrett/Bonney story and the whole thing looks rather fresh with a cinema vérité twist to proceedings, while still maintaining its traditional tropes. It’s decent but not memorable, if Westerns are your thing. MT


The Sisters Brothers (2018) ****

Dir: Jacques Audiard | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly, Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal | Western | 120’

The Sisters Brothers is a whip-cracking Gold Rush buddy movie that mines a rich vein of gold-plated themes from greed and fatherly dysfunction to the impact of industrialisation on the Mid-West delivered courtesy of Thomas Bidegain’s witty co-adaptation of Patrick Dewitt’s novel.

Jacques Audiard won the Palme d’Or in 2015 with Dheepan. The Sisters Brothers couldn’t be more different. Essentially a feelgood Western for the thinking man, this textured character-piece trots along briskly in 1850s Oregon where the brothers make their entrance in an impressive opening scene lit only by gunshots in the pitch black dusky night. Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly exude a fiery chemistry as the siblings ensuring there’s never a dull moment drama-wise. They play hired assassins pursuing two gold diggers – Gyllenhaal and Ahmed with a new prospecting trick up their sleeves – on behalf of their tricky boss The Commodore.

 The wide-open spaces of ‘Oregon’ are surprisingly lush thanks to the Romanian/Spanish settings and the campfires glow with some good-looking night-time scenes and sparky shootouts.

Joaquin Phoenix and Riz Ahmed add a twist of psychological angst to John C Reilly’s swaggering all American style and the European sensibilities of the directing team make this an invigorating addition to the genre, while those who appreciate the classic style of John Ford and Sergio Leone will go home with a few entertaining nuggets. MT 

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 5 April 2019  VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Winner Best Director 2018

Buffalo Boys (2017) *

Dir.: Mike Wiluan; Cast: Yoshi Sudarso, Ario Bayu, Tio Pakusadewo, Reinout Bussemaker, Happy Salma; Indonesia, Singapore 2018, 102 min.

Mike Wiluan tries hard to make his homeland’s Oscar entry a touchstone for every Western every made. The end result is a stylish but soulless mishmash that reaches new heights of voyeurism, sadism, and violence – with almost continuous sword and gun fights, martial arts, and fisticuffs a plenty.

Even the narrative is over-wrought: Indonesian princes Suwo (Sudarso) and Jamar (Bayu) have been raised in California by their uncle Arana (Pakusadewo), who fled to the USA after his brother Hamza, a Sultan, was killed in Indonesia by Dutch colonial forces, led by the villainous Van Trach (Bussemaker). We are introduced to the brothers learning how to be good cowboys and gun fighters, before travelling with their uncle to Indonesia, to avenge their father in the early 1860s. Siding with suppressed villagers, they soon come to the attention of Van Trach; a pervert who spends his time whipping and raping his servant Seruni (Salma), who turns out to be Arana’s wife. Needless to say, all is resolved in a showdown, when the good ones punish the villains. The less said about this valiant attempt, the better: Performances across the board are one-dimensional and DoP John Radel’s widescreen images are as second-hand as the rest of the ensemble – apart from the sadistic misogyny, which is truly remarkable – even for the Wild West AS


Breakheart Pass (1975) *** | Dual format release

Dir Tom Gries | Writer: Alistair Maclean | Cast Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Richard Crenna | US | 95’

With shades of Narrow Margin to its locomotive setting BREAKHEART PASS is a Western murder mystery that takes place on a stream train at the height of the frontier era, starring Charles Bronson and based on Alistair Maclean’s bestselling novel, who also wrote the script.

Bronson plays an undercover agent who is hotly pursuing a murderous gang during an perilous journey to a remote Army post across hostile wintery terrain featuring marauding Native Indians and some brutal action sequences. None of these men can be trusted to post a letter and moll Jill Ireland realises this, but she can’t be trusted either – at least, not on the romantic front, and ends up switching partners during the action. With a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith and some magnificent set pieces – including one where a entire train careers full length into a ravine – this is a roadie Western with plenty of thrilling twists up its snow-covered sleeve. MT


Ramrod (1947)* * * | Bluray release

Dir: Andre De Toth | | Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don Defore   Western | US | 94′

In 1947 Hollywood produced two remarkable Westerns, Raoul Walsh’s Pursued and Andre De Toth’s RAMROD. Both films prefigure the popular psychological westerns of the 1950s. Their pressing concerns are troubled characters with conflicting desires. If Pursued is the western’s venture into guilt and trauma forcibly shaded by psychoanalysis, then Ramrod is a head-on prairie encounter with contradiction and moral duplicity. Each is strongly noirish: with Ramrod the more talky and perhaps, in terms of all its characters, the more morally conflicted. The casting of Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake points up the tension to come: a seasoned Westerner clashing with a devious femme fatale went very much against the grain of the late forties.

Connie Dickason (Veronica Lake) is the determined daughter of ranch owner Ben Dickason (Charles Ruggles) who is controlled by cattleman Frank Ivey (Preston Foster). This powerful man was lined up, by her father, for marriage to Connie. Yet the man she really loves is shamed by Ivey. Connie forms a gang. As does Ivey. Ranch foreman Dave Nash (Joel McCrea) is hired, along with Bill Schell (Don Defore) to help Connie. Bill’s methods bend the law. Whilst the manipulative Connie seduces Dave and Bill, organises a cattle stampede and pushes on to claim her land.

Unpredictability comes to the fore in Ramrod. Throughout its violence and machinations you are never quite sure who to trust next. Characters act in their own naked self-interest – getting land, getting a partner or getting-back at a parent. Yet Ramrod is a subtly written drama of moral ambiguity. Enhancing the complexity of the scripting is a dense and tightly focused cinematic design. It’s storytelling with numerous in-depth shots, often through windows, that are as dark and troubling as the many moves of the protagonists (A climactic shoot out, executed at night, and accompanied by Adolph Deutsch’s music, has a brooding power.)

De Toth was an expert director of westerns. If not in the same high class B picture league as Joseph H. Lewis, in terms of staging, there are times when he’s not far behind. It’s difficult for a western of moral probity to avoid a strained seriousness (Some later 50’s westerns strayed into this territory.) However Ramrod’s actors obviously relished their excellent script, without ever over-acting, for even the most minor supporting player delivers a carefully considered performance. The film contains sporadic and exciting action that’s appropriate to the plot and reinforces the reaction of people making hard choices over who next to betray, or not, and what property to grab. De Toth’s direction is consistently strong and seriously engaged.

Ramrod is occasionally over-complex and forbidding (Yet, even to say that is more to praise than criticise.) Persevere beyond the ‘closed-up’ opening 15 mins and Ramrod offers you considerable rewards. Such a thoughtful western of chamber music intensity doesn’t come along very often. Ramrod would make a challenging double bill with Pursued. The blu-ray presentation is far superior to its previous DVD issue. BFI Southbank should program a Western season highlighting De Toth, Walsh, Ford and Mann’s use of landscape as they delve nature and mirror frontier psychology. My suggested title – “In Pursuit of a Rugged Dream.” Alan Price©


Damsel (2018) | Berlinale 2018

Dir: David Zellner | Nathan Zellner | Cast: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Robert Forster, David Zellner | Comedy Western | US | 113′

David and Nathan Zellner’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter was a strange and subtly humorous mid-West mystery drama that screened at Berlinale in 2014. The brothers are back at Berlin again this year with a full on comedy Western that totally upends conventions and challenges gender roles. It stars Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Forster.

DAMSEL is playful and beautiful to look at in its stunning Goblin Valley Utah setting, but its efforts to be inventive is really what really appeals, apart from a brilliant off the cuff script and, despite from the gun-toting and the darker themes of lovelorn loneliness, there’s an upbeat frisky playfulness that has much in common with Cat Balloo and Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Millar.

The film opens as a jaded Christian missionary (Foster) is bemoaning his efforts to proselytise the Native Indians, While waiting for a stagecoach back East, a pithy tete a tete plays out with a young man (a thoughtfully appealing David Z) who’s heading West, after tragedy, to look for a new start.  Suddenly something weird then happens and a more carefree mood carries us  through to a windswept beach in Oregon where Samuel Alabaster (a jaunty Pattinson), has arrived with a miniature Palomino pony Butterscotch, and is making his way into a redneck town where he meets up with David Zellner as the newly-styled Parson Henry.

With his jaunty charm and chipper breeziness Samuel is a man a with a mission – he’s got a proposal in mind and wants the parson to come with him, offering a generous reward. The two head off to the remote home of Samuel’s true love Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) where, brimming with excitement, he intends to make her his bride. His cheeky bravado wins the parson’s trust during their eventful treck, but when they arrive at their destination, it soon becomes clear that Samuel has misjudged the mood romance-wise.

Penelope is a feisty individual but sadly she lack depth – and after the cheerful opening credits – where she’s seen dancing with Samuel in better days, Wasikowska soon becomes a storm cloud without a silver lining of any kind. David’s Parson Henry, meanwhile is a man looking for a mother, rather than a mission. He gives a sensitive performance but his character is so sweet and self-deprecating he’s rather to good for this world, and any other – for that matter. So Robert Pattison’s Samuel gets the juiciest role with he pulls of with great charm, and there are some terrific turns from the support cast. The Brothers’ quirky sense of humour is an acquired taste but its certainly unique and some of the comedic incongruity even echoes early scenes from Blazing Saddles. DAMSEL is a real breath of fresh air. MT


Canyon Passage (1946) | Jacques Tourneur Retro | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Jacques Tourneur | 92′ | Western Drama | Susan Haywood, Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Patricia Roc | US

CANYON PASSAGE (1946) is another underrated Tourneur masterpiece that fell from favour for not falling in with the standards of the genre: it is not a Western with a central revenge story nor a roadie or outlaw narrative, and the hero (or cavalry) does not save the town from attacking marauders. CANYON PASSAGE is a story about the community, the nuts and bolts that make the town work. It is a document of values, conflicts, defects and — in the end – a re-affirmation of the way people lived in the newly conquered West.

Tourneur was only confirmed as the director in July of 1945, a month before shooting began in and around Diamond Lake and Medford, Oregon. Before his appointment, Robert Siodmak, Stuart Heisler and George Marshall were all attached to the project. Set in 1856, the central character Logan (Tourneur regular, Dana Andrews ), runs a mule freight line and a general store in the small mining town of Jacksonville. Ernest Pascal’s script (based on the novel by Ernest Haycox), describes his relationship with his friends: George Camrose (Brian Donlevy), a banker, who steals gold from his customers to cover his gambling debts. George’s fiancée Lucy Overmite (Susan Hayward), is secretly in love with Logan; while Caroline Marsh (Patricia Roc) gets engaged to him during a cabin rising. Finally, there is the violent Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), a loner whom Logan suspects of various unsolved crimes. To cover his embezzlements, Camrose kills a miner. He is caught and sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Logan helps him to escape when an Indian uprising causes confusion. George and Bragg are killed, while Caroline gives up Logan, whom she calls ‘restless’. Logan rides off with Caroline to San Francisco.

The way the film resolves conflicts seems rather modern, anticipating certain films by Sam Peckinpah (who would be Tourneur’s assistant on Wichita) and Robert Altman. The denouements are not without regret: Logan speaking George’s epitaph: “There is a fine margin between what could have been and what is…In some other kind of country he might have made the grade.” The peaceful Hi Linnet (Hoagy Carmichael) is a very modern bard who could easily make an appearance in a 1960s retro Western.

DoP Edward Cronjager excels is the poetic night scene where Linnet’s role in the developing patterns of the film are shown in all their complexity. Tourneur uses texture, movement, and his signature light and shadow in same way as in his black-and-white films. The exteriors call to mind Days of Glory, Out of the Past and Berlin Express; their towering heights dwarfing the characters. For example, the shoot-out between Logan and Bragg in the forest, uses the height of the trees to show nature’s indifference to human conflict. Finally, Logan is a true Tourneur hero: his journey has no destination: it is purely motion. And in this way, Logan resembles the later Tourneur heroes, particularly Jeff Bailey in the director’s next film, Out of the Past.


The Man from Laramie (1955) | Bluray release

Dir: Anthony Mann | Cast: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O’Donnell | US | Western | 104min

James Stewart is unusually lean and mean here as a vengeful vigilante on a mission to find his brother’s killer, in a potent psychological  Western which was to be the last of his five collaborations with Anthony Mann and the first to be filmed on CinemaScope and Technicolor capturing the vast expanses and glowing vibrancy of its Arizona and New Mexico settings. The other four were Winchester ’73 (1953); Bend of the River (1953); The Naked Spur (1953) and The Far Country (1955).

Writers Philip Yordan and Frank Burt based their script on Thomas T Flynn’s 1950s story of the same name and the film is scored by a theme song that topped the UK Singles Chart during October 1955, from its UK recording by Jimmy Young.

As Will Lockhart, Stewart becomes embroiled in a small town community of Coronado where he comes up against the powerful Waggoman ranching family – headed by English actor Donald Crisp’s baron and his vicious son Dave (Alex Nicol) – while garnering information about his brother’s death during an Apache raid. This is a powerfully resonant drama that has been likened to King Lear in its involving almost noirish storyline.

Particularly good is Ailine MacMahon as a wise older woman who befriends Stewart’s Lockhart. Whilst Cathy O’Donnell’s romantic love interest adds another dimension, but very much a second fiddle to the virtuoso performances of Stewart, Crisp and Kennedy. MT


Shane (1953) | Blu-ray release

Dir.: George Stevens

Cast: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Brandon de Wilde, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook jr

USA 1953, 118 min.

SHANE is the middle part of George Stevens ‘American Trilogy’, preceded by A Place In the Sun (1951) and followed by Giant (1956). He filmed Jack Schaefer’s novel as an archetypical conflict between cattlemen and homesteaders in the modern West; a theme that was to be taken up again in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and Michael Ciminos’ Heaven’s Gate.

Sometime after the enactment of the Homestead Act in 1862, Shane (Ladd), a professional killer, meets a pioneer homestead family, the Starretts, in Wyoming. Over dinner, they discuss the plight of the families fighting the brutal cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Meyer). Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) offers Shane a job and the latter accepts. Starrett’s wife Marian (Jean Arthur in her last role, her only colour film), develops a rather ambivalent relationship with Shane: on the one hand, she does want Shane to teach her son Joey (de Wilde) how to shoot, on the other hand she looks at Shane in a way which speaks of an emotional conflict. Jack Wilson (Palance), a killer hired by Ryker, taunts “Stonewall” Torrey (Cook jr.) a proud Confederate soldier, and provokes him to a duel which Wilson easily wins against the un-experienced farmer. At Torrey’s funeral, many of the farmers want to sell their land to Ryker, but in the end, Starrett convinces a majority to fight and tragedy ensues for all concerned.

An underrated director, Stevens he was a stickler for detail and had started his career as a DoP. SHANE was shot between July and October 1951, but Stevens took his time over the editing and the film was eventually premiered in April 1953. The film’s budget of 3.1 M$ was so considerable (particularly for a Western), that Paramount tried to negotiate with Howard Hughes to take SHANE off their books, but Hughes pulled out. In the end SHANE made a very decent profit. Strangely enough, the two macho heroes of the film both had their problems: The scene in which Ladd teaches the young boy how to shoot, runs to 116 takes. And when Palance jumps on his horse, it turns out, that the actual shot was of him dismounting the horse, played in reverse. In another scene, Palance was supposed to gallop into the town on his horse, in the finished film, the horse walks slowly towards the camera. And in the grand finale in the bar, when Ladd shoots Palance twice, one can see him blinking. In the rather sentimental good-bye scene at the end, de Wilde crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out. Ladd was so angry that he told the boy’s father: “Make that kid stop, or I’ll beat him over the head with a brick”.

But SHANE is still a very modern film, as the following dialogue proves: when Shane teaches the boy how to shoot, Marian interrupts: “Guns, are not going to be part of my son’s life”. Shane argues, that “a gun is a tool, not better or worse than an axe, shovel or any tool.’”And: “A gun is as good as the man using it.” But Marian insists that everyone would be better off if there weren’t any guns, including Shane’s. AS


The Misfits (1960)

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter; USA 1960, 120 min.

Nearly four month in production, shot in chronological order, THE MISFITS was the most expensive black and white film in 1960, costing 4$m, roughly 31$m in todays money. A stellar cast helmed by John Huston at the zenith of his career, and written by the intellectual giant of the era Arthur Miller – whose script was based on his own short story, what could go wrong? Even Henri Cartier-Bresson was on board, leading a team of nine photographers shooting in the Nevada desert. The result seemed disappointing at the time, even though today THE MISFITS is very much a cult outing, appreciated much more that it was forty- five years ago.

Roslyn (Monroe), a newly divorced night club dancer, fancies the “simple” life away from the city. Unfortunately she meets two cowboys (Gable and Wallach) and a rodeo rider (an intense Monty Clift ), who catch horses with lassoos, just like in the good old days. The men are a cynical bunch, full of macho values and more often drunk than sober. Roslyn soon discovers the reason for their bravado: the men are fully aware the mustangs they catch, are destined for the abattoir, soon to be dog food. Having flirted with the whole trio, Roslyn goes for Gay (Gable), the oldest and most stable, also, perhaps because of his humanity – after one of the most shocking scenes ever committed to film, involving wild horses being savagely rounded up – Gay decides to let the horses escape, even though he knows his career is finished. THE MISFITS is an elegy for an America long lost, profit is the only game in town, and Huston’s poetic masterpiece is a long good-bye, shot in alluring black and white by Russell Metty. The grainy pictures somehow recall a ‘romantic’ Hollywood lost to colourful, spectacular super-productions. THE MISFITS has stood the test of time, a worthy forerunner for many “late Westerns” of the eighties and nineties, which confront a rotten the present with a make-belief past: fables for grownups.

The melancholic atmosphere almost presaged doom, spilling into real life: Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller lived in different hotels during the shooting, and were divorced shortly afterwards; Miller would soon marry Inge Morath, one of the nine photographers present. Montgomery Clift would die an untimely death after a serious accident; Monroe would never finish another film, and Clark Gable suffered a fatal heart attach before the premiere. MT


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