Thursday, May 24, 2018

A more advanced list of western movies

Ride the Whirlwind
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A no-budget western from Monte Hellman for Roger Corman. Jack Nicholson and Cameron Mitchell as a pair of itinerant cowboys who become the targets of a trigger-happy posse when they get caught up with a gang of robbers. Naturalistic dialogue and a deceptively languid pace in which the suspense keeps getting cranked up. Harry Dean Stanton and Rupert Crosse are also in the cast. A little gem of a flick. 

The Great Silence
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Italian western with French and German stars. It's directed by Sergio Corbucci so don't expect it to make a whole lot of sense. But it's simply gorgeous to look at and unusual for a spaghetti as it's set in the dead of winter. Lots of action and atmosphere and casual cruelty. Jean-Louis Trintigant as 'Silence' and Klaus Kinski as the kind of whacked out killer he always plays. 

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A truly "adult" western from director Edward Dmytryk. Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn play a pair of "town-tamer" lawmen ala Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. The twist here is that Quinn is in love with Fonda in an unrequited homosexual romantic kind of way. The cruelest part of this is how Fonda both ignores this aspect of their relation while using it to manipulate Quinn as a deadly pawn. The ending is highly unusual for an "A" western. 

My Darling Clementine
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Another take on the Earp legend from western master John Ford. This movie is long on atmosphere and repressed emotion. It takes its time getting to the O.K. Corral but the ride is enjoyable througout with Victor Mature's most nuanced performance as Doc Holiday and Ward Bond's boisterous Virgil Earp. And Walter Brennan as Ike Canton. Nuff said. 

The Shooting
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Another no-budget oater from Monte Hellman. Warren Oates heads the cast as a cowpoke with a shady past that looks to be catching up with him. Jack Nicholson's also here as an enigmatic fast gun in a script he wrote. A mysterious quest takes a mixed band of misfits deep into the desert in search of an outlaw. Will Hutchins and Millie Perkins also featured. 


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Sidney J. Furie directs Marlon Brando in a spare story that takes place along the Mexican border. While American-made, it seems to have been influenced of Italian westerns. Perhaps it was a two-way street. The dialogue-light story's pacing may have been just as big influence on Euro-western directors. Brando is Brando and owns  every scene even while villain John Saxon works his ass off trying to steal attention to himself. 

Run, Man, Run
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Another spaghetti. Tomas Milian is the hapless Cuchillo, a bandit and ne'er-do-well who's in trouble with the law and other bandits when he's not on the run from his vengeful wife. Sergio Sollima keeps the action moving in what sometimes becomes a western parody. But it's all in fun despite shootings, stabbings and scenes of torture. Milian plays the same character here as he did in The Big Gundown but it's not clear whether this is a prequel or a sequel or perhaps it doesn't matter.

Once Upon a Time in the West
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Sergio Leone's Last Word on westerns and an epic scale revenge story with simply unforgettable scenes. Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards lead the cast but the movie's real star is Claudia Cardinale. One of the very few times a Euro-western had a female lead. Bronson is Harmonica, a mystery man determined to face a truly evil Fonda in a one-on-one duel. How they get to that fateful meeting is a chess game played out against a majestic background of Monument Valley. Features Ennio Morricone's greatest musical score. 

Hangman's Knot
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Randolph Scott in what appears to be a meat and potatoes standard oater but contains enough twists and nuances to set it above the usual 'B' western. Scott leads a gang that includes Lee Marvin and Frank Faylen (Dobie Gillis' dad!) that's chased by a posse to a lonely stagecoach station where they hole up with a half dozen hostages for a standoff. Tensions of all kinds arise with Marvin trying to put moves on hostage Donna Reed. You already know how that's gonna sit with Scott. Cranks up the suspense in a solid give-and-take shoot-out climax. 

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Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine and Rod Steiger in what starts as a pretty standard ranch western but things ratchet up real fast as clearly psychotic Borgnine decides he hates Ford's guts on sight. Delmar Daves creates a story that's both sprawling and claustrophobic. With Felicia Farr, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, Valerie French and Noah Beery Jr.

Missouri Breaks
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Brando and Nicholson together this time in an Arthur Penn movie from a Thomas McGuane script. Jack's a rustler and Marlon's a regulator hired by the ranchers to stop him. But Brando's bounty hunter is a few steers short of a herd, if you know what I mean. He seems more psychotic killer than lawman. Contains some of my favorite western movie dialogue like, "The closer you get to Canada, the more things'll eat your horse." Harry Dean Stanton shows up again.

Cat Ballou
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A terrific comedy western that manages a feather-light touch throughout. Jane Fonda as the reluctant outlaw of the title waging a war against the railroad tycoons who killed her dad. Lee Marvin won an Oscar for the twin roles of recovering alcoholic gunfighter Kid Shaleen and his own mortal enemy Tim Strawn. Using a device I usually find annoying, the scenes are tied together by musical interludes by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye as a kind of on-screen Greek chorus and they add a real resonance to the proceedings in perfect keeping with the movie's genial tone.

Rancho Deluxe
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A modern western that  updates a standard western plot line to the 1970s. Specifically, the same general plot line as Missouri Breaks. Not that surprising as both are scripted by Thomas McGuane. Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston are great as a pair of slacker rustlers looking to get by on just enough to keep themselves in liquor and girls. Rancher Clifton James brings in a famed stock detective played by Slim Pickens to run the boys to the ground. Marvelously constructed humor pieces and loads of unexpected turns in the kind of morally-conflicted nihilistic story the 70s are famous for. Harry Dean Stanton is here as well in a fine comedic performance. Is Stanton some kind of sign that a western is a goodie? It very well might be. 

Man Without a Star
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I'm such a sucker for this movie. Solid plot about a usually genial cowpoke who REALLY hates barbed wire. And well-helmed by veteran director King Vidor. But it's Kirk Douglas' performance that lifts this above most genre fare. He's alternately fun-loving and vicious as man who won't back down from anything. A portrayal with depth and Douglas makes us believe this guy has a real past behind him; the sense that we're joining him the middle of a fascinating story rather than the beginning. Kirk even sings and plays the banjo and pulls it off with aplomb. Richard Boone is his rival. Nuff said. 


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