The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Cold Bishop
Joined: Tue May 30, 2006 9:45 pm
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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#801 Post by Cold Bishop » Mon Sep 16, 2013 6:03 am

In trying to finish up the first volume of my Shaw project, I came across some old stuff and figured I'd clean house. Forgive the sometimes purple prose... I think I was reading ol' Cormac when I was writing this. Maybe I can find the time to finish those other partially-written pieces for the Musical Project (The last few Berkeleys, I Love Melvin).

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Day of the Outlaw (André De Toth, 1959)

I. Roll the bottle…
In the midst of the Wyoming wilderness, in a flat clearing laden with snow, overlooked by a crown of glacial mountains that touch down from out the horizon in cloaks of alpine, stand the signs of civilization blindly groping its way out of barren nature. You couldn’t call it a town; just a scattering of cabins propped up sparsely above the frigid ground in uncertain but near proximity to one another. In essence, a trading post, servicing the farmers brave enough to cultivate the surrounding land. But their comings-and-goings have begun to breed a sense of familiarity, of security, bringing with them the faces of even women and children… and the hopeful desire for a future of family, enterprise and community. Perhaps once the winter ends and the snow thaws, this bleak outpost may spring forth with life, stronger than what came the spring before, bringing it one more incremental step towards township. But looking at it, one may also feel that all it would take is one storm, one blizzard rolling down from those indifferent mountains, to level the village back to frozen earth and stop civility dead.

Come the storm does, but it’s not gales of wind and cold that threaten the hamlet, but something far more insidious. Riding into town, as if announcing the storm, is Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan). He views this quietly growing town, almost farcical in its naïve persistent, with open hostility, fearful of what it entails. The last of the hard men, he has civilized the wild, and as always, civilization has found his hardness no longer necessary, obsolete. His name alone speaks to how anachronistic he has become in his wintry surroundings, even as it accurately reflect the turmoil simmering within and around him. Society has passed him by and is now threatening to sweep him away. When word gets out – the virgin country is to be sliced through with barb-wire – it is one step for progress too far: blood will be drawn to protect his way of life, the hard man will turn on the society he fought to create.

During the Westerns List Project, at one point, zedz categorized the opening third of this film as something along the lines of soap-opera hokum, all of which thankfully falls to the wayside the moment survival becomes imperative. In many ways, its easy to categorize this opening as a wonderfully manipulative piece of misdirection, especially with its love triangle trappings, much like the rambling, comical opening to The Tall T (which this film rather resembles). Yet, to me, the opening clearly doesn’t work as a bait-and-switch; rather, it is the key to the entire film that proceeds from it. Above all else, Day of the Outlaw is a film in three movements (which I’ll roughly outline), and while the first may seem the slightest, it nonetheless develops all the themes and motifs that get worked out extensively in the next two. To most clearly delineate the way the opening movement folds out into the next two, one has to reach back, to De Toth’s other great Western, made 12 years prior: 1947’s Ramrod (see here). That film, a tragedy about a town that violently destroys itself in a range war, plays out many of the same elements that appear here, namely the dispute over territory, women and plain old male dominance. At one point, a characters warning (“That gun he carries is mostly bluff. You call his hand, it'll be plain murder.”) echoes the act that initiates Ramrod’s downward spiral. Here we find ourselves at the start of that vicious cycle: the particularities may be different, but there can be no doubt the outcome will be the same.

Ryan’s big speech on the bar stairs places the opening conflict in its proper context, beyond a simple case of adultery:
You got a big mouth, farmer. You got big eyes, too. You came here a year ago in your broken down wagon looking for a choice spot to settle and you think you found it. But you never stopped to think what made it such a good place. When Dan and I came here, Bitters was a nesting place for every thief and killer in the territory. A man's life wasn't worth the price of a bullet. No woman was safe on the streets, let alone in a lonely farmhouse. It took more than a big mouth to get rid of the lice who infested every bend of the road you ride so safely on. I'm not saying Dan and I did it alone, but we did more than our share. We hunted them down in the freezing cold while you sat back in the East hugging your pot-bellied stove. Nobody thanked us. Nobody paid us. We did it because we felt we belonged. We earned the right to belong. And all you've done is ride in here and put down your stinking boots. And now you tell us that you belong and we don't. Mr. Crane, you said you'd fight to keep what you want. Well, I've been doing that for twenty years and I intend to keep doing it, and no pig-belly farmer is going to stop me!
Starrett is a man who has fought to create what is now a town, and now feels robbed of his stake. Even his love affair isn’t simply frivolous human weakness: in the frontier, women are a rare commodity, if not the very force by which civility springs forth: with security come the women, with women come the family, with family comes society. In Bitters, women are few – only four, one still a girl; the latter, in fact, clamors for the town’s growth precisely so she can find a husband. It is a town that has yet to make that leap to the “family” step. By disrupting the Crane household, he has in essence disrupted that proliferation, just as much as he has by disrupting the claiming of the Crane land. This is no longer a simple love triangle; the moment Starrett picked up his gun, it became something else entirely. For a town this nascent, a civilization so tentative, the threat of violence will throw everything into chaos. An act of killing will, in essence, destroy all the inroads to civility that Starrett espouses in his monologue. It will turn Bitters (not so subtle) back into the lawless Wild West it has seemingly climbed out from.

And so we reach the end of the movement, in the middle of a saloon, where Westerns tend to find themselves. On one side, Starrett, a man who has been surviving the unforgiving wild for twenty years, who has killed many men for that very bar to stand where it does. At the other end, three farmers, each with a gun at their side: they’ve never killed, but they have strength in numbers. Maybe Starrett can drop them all, maybe he can’t. Either way, blood will be shed and that must always be answered for. He turns to his number two, Dan, drunken, despondent, obviously apprehensive of what is to transpire. He doesn’t ask him to back him up; Starrett has one simple instruction: “Roll the bottle.” When that bottle breaks, the gunmen will draw. And, in one of the great shots in cinema, De Toth’s camera tracks horizontally from behind the bar counter as the bottle rolls… slowly… slowly… slowly drawing to the end, where it will roll off, shatter, and take the town of Bitters down with it…

II. A Bitter Occupation
…Yet, as the bottle reaches the end of its course, with nothing left but to tumble and crash, the unexpected occurs: the door swings open, swatting away the bottle, and with it, wiping away the trajectory of the narrative hitherto taken. But this interruption in the story is not a disavowal of all that came before, but the complete consummation of all that concerns and troubles the first movement. While disquieting and grim, one would hardly think to call this a horror-western; yet, it uses that ordering system most favored by the horror film: the Return of the Repressed. It’s not the first time De Toth’s made extensive use of it – in 1948’s Pitfall (see here), Dick Powell’s suburban family man must face off with his double in the form of Raymond Burr’s private eye, MacDonald: an amalgam of all the repressed urban alienation, violence and sexual perversity of the post-war era. The gunfight between Starrett and Crane looses a violence whose very suggestion threatens the stability of the frontier town. That internal conflict, in this moment, becomes final and crystallized, but above all else, externalized, in the form of the outlaws, led by Burl Ives’ Bruhn. Like some inadvertent piece of witchcraft, the rolling bottle conjures a monster out from the snowy deep… and like all great horror monsters, it only feeds off the tensions and anxieties already present in its surroundings. When the door swings open, crashing against the bottle, glass against glass, the clang has the distinct cadence of a gunshot. The duel doesn’t dissipate; it simply transfers its destructive power onto a foreign body.

It is in this second movement that the film settles into the pattern of the hostage film, one of the privileged narrative forms of 1950s American cinema. While some, like dominoharvey, may blast films like this, The Hitch-Hiker and The Tall T for being puerile or unpleasant (all while giving a pass to, say, The Desperate Hours), these films can’t be said to have arrived to their tone arbitrarily. The decade saw a proliferation of this type of film, all speaking towards some collective anxiety (suburban flight, McCarthyism, the Cold War, etc. – those old chestnuts). Yet, even without its increasing play for political allegory, the Western was the perfect vehicle for the hostage film. For the genre’s chief concern is the clash between civilization and wilderness, the way law and order asserts itself over lawlessness… and the way lawlessness can so easily pull society back into its mire. Day of the Outlaw, chief of all, seems to be a textbook example of the latter. It also distinguishes itself from the pack in essential ways. Unlike The Hitch-Hiker and The Tall T, De Toth’s film is a study of communal, not personal, survival. The town, so eager to turn on itself in the beginning, is suddenly bound together in the face of its own destruction. One criticism that can be leveled at the hostage film is the manner it argues for a certain debasement: the only way for the captives to survive their captors is to descend to the same level of violence. Here, the rules of engagement are different. Very quickly, something of a cease-fire is called – the townspeople are separated from their captors, and Bruhn promises to not harm them – and a feasible, tangible end-date is even assigned – once the storm clears, the bandits will ride out of town. This isn’t a story about hostages biding their time, waiting for the moment where they can outwit – and kill – their captors. Here, rather, is an uncertain peace which both sides must strain to maintain. In some odd distortion of the pacifist western, here is a hostage situation in which violence, from both sides, must be avoided at all costs, must be contained.

If Bruhn’s outlaws act as the town’s double in that they represent all the town must deny in order to flourish (which is to say, its opposite), Bruhn himself becomes a double to Starrett (the de-facto leader of the townspeople) in the way they carry the same heavy weight of authority and responsibility. The likeness extends even further. If Starrett begins the film in risk of starting a range war, whose end goal is the annihilation of the frontier town, Bruhn is someone who has accomplished that on a grander scale: it’s not difficult to imagine the nature of the Mormon massacre briefly alluded to, and Bruhn carries its memory with a tremendous unspoken guilt, a guilt his arrival spared Starrett from sharing. They are also both men who have become anachronisms in their surroundings. Starrett is a gunfighter, no longer needed by the civilization he forged out of the wild. Bruhn is an army captain hunted by the army, fighting a war whose command he has long been stripped of (shades of Quantrill’s Raiders). It is this latter point that distinguishes Bruhn. He holds himself to a higher standard of civility than his men. A gang of cutthroats, he nonetheless tries to organize them under the banner of an army unit. However, gutshot and living off borrowed time, he slowly watches as his authority starts to wane and the true savagery of his men emerge, the pretension of military discipline crumbling away. In many ways, for this second movement, it is Bruhn who is the true protagonist. He’s the character with the greatest agency, the largest influence on the course of the story, and he’s provided with biggest moral dilemma. When Starrett disobeys and Bruhn stands ready to kill him, Starrett manages to stay his execution with one sentence: “…I don’t believe you can hold your men.” Bruhn may try to shrug it off, but there is no doubt the question gnaws away at him as much as the tearing in his lungs.

It is fitting that the single thing that most threatens this unstable peace is the single thing that most civilizes the wild: the women. If one was to criticize the film for unpleasantness, certainly they would start at the threat of rape than hangs over the entire film. But it’s not something that can be brushed aside; no one can deny the threat of rape constitutes one of society’s primal fears. Whenever atrocity turns civilization back into ruins, history shows that rape makes its presence known. And for the frontier town, where women enjoy a special place of privilege, the element that turns pioneers into homesteaders, outposts into towns, this anxiety can only be magnified tenfold when threatened. Even Starrett, earlier when pleading his case, highlights that before he came “[n]o woman was safe on the streets”, their security being intrinsic to the coming of civilization. The threat of rape, taken seriously by De Toth (who has always brandished his films with a certain hard-won sympathy for women), serves to backslide civilization back to its primordial chaos. If it were to occur, it would be a complete severing of the social contract that had allow Bitters to exist, and required for it to continue to exist. Not only that, but the transgression could only serve to loose more violence upon that violence, the catalyst leading to the absolute destruction of Bitters. Throughout the entire second movement, both parties tiptoe around this reality with hushed terror. It is this threat that most panics the townsfolk, but ultimately leads them to comply. It is also this possibility that most stir up the bandits, until they start to disobey the iron-fisted command that had controlled them until then. Even Bruhn, fearful of the possibility of rape, can no longer deny it, but, with his pretensions of military order, thinks he can contain it. This culminates in the grand set-piece of the second movement, bringing it to its conclusion: the dance.

In the Western genre, dances and other social gatherings have a special place of privilege. They announce the ultimate triumph of civilization over wilderness: the arrival of society and all it entails. One need only look at the cinema of John Ford and the special emphasis he places on communal rituals. The church-raising in My Darling Clementine which, even before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, fulfills all the promises of a community freed of the vice and criminality that had previously strangled it. Or look at the wedding at the end of The Searchers, often called anti-climactic, but which provides the ultimate salve to the nightmare of frontier violence, racism and miscegenation that preceded it. The social affair springs forth from an abundance of civilization the way a mountain emerges from an abundance of earth. Yet, here in Day of the Outlaw, De Toth takes the Fordian dance and, from it, creates a distorted, taunting grotesque. It’s a bravura segment, constructed in a series of long takes – wide, revolving pans rotating around the circle of dancers. The technique brings to mind Max Ophüls. But if Ophüls pans were always elegant and fluid, moving with same refined steps as his dancers, De Toth’s movements are coarse and slightly reckless. It as if the camera is spinning out of control; as each pan progresses, we watch the dance descend slightly further into orgy and rape, all pretense of the social evaporating. The movement of the camera will stop, the shot end, as order briefly asserts itself. But the camera will rev up again, synching with the player piano, spinning like some forsaken engine spitting exhaust into the violent air. Bruhn, whether he realizes it or not, thinking he can pacify his men’s lust with a simulacrum of sociability, erodes both his authority with his men and the confidence of his hostages. His command, until then unchallenged and unquestioned, is called out when one of his men nearly pulls a gun on him. Starrett, on hearing what’s occurring, unthinkingly marches straight to the saloon, where the trouble all began. He instinctly knows that the dance cannot progress any longer, that some floodgate has been breached and will not hold much longer, not long enough. To end the madness, he makes an offer, and weighs his life against those of the women and the town. He points the outlaws to a passage that does not exist and agrees to accompany them into the frozen nothingness.

III. Ride Into Oblivion
If Day of the Outlaw qualifies as an unusually bleak and austere Western, a culmination of the fifties trend away from the romantic towards the psychological, it is worth noting that it eventually, in its own circular fashion, arrives at one of its romantic myths. The traditional western hero, the gunfighter, through the use of righteous violence, clears the frontier for civilization. Yet, by the virtue of that very violence, he also ostracizes himself from civilization. So to fulfill his mythic function, the Western hero performs one final act: the gunfighter rides out. Once again, take the ending of The Searchers – John Wayne’s silhouette vanishes into the red-clay unknown, a door closing on him, forever sealing him off from the world of domesticity he restored. If we return to the first movement of this film, we find a clear example of the dilemma that occurs when, having performed his role in that myth, the gunfighter chooses not to ride out. As the town grows, a bitter gulf appears between Starrett and the coming settlers - they fear him for his tyrannous violence, he resents them for their unearned sense of entitlement. Yet, as the forces of lawlessness, once thought vanquished, return, Starrett is brutally reminded of what he once fought for. Likewise Bruhn, on the eve of his death, must come face to face with his legacy, embodied by a group of killers that he will be soon unable to control and who will soon be free to “rip this town apart”. Both men must assess their responsibility to civilization, that is, their role in the romantic Western myth. Both men decide that, for the greater good, the age of gunfighters and bandits must come to end. And in doing so, both men decide to finally ride out. Yet, in De Toth’s hand, the Western myth appears not as an act of romantic stoicism, but of pure fatalism. In order to separate themselves wholly from civilization, they have no choice but to ride into oblivion, taking the outlaws with them into a certain death.

If De Toth drains the mythic of its romantic proportions, it is perhaps not surprising that he drains his climax off all the suspense and sensationalism that would accompany it in a more typical Western. From the outset, both men are aware of the suicidal nature of the journey and both men resign themselves to their fate. We’re not watching expecting our hero(es) to find a way to escape; rather, the entire movement plays out like a cold fact, like some station of the cross that has been entirely predetermined and must play out as written. It’s constructed in a series of vignettes, linked together by a constant series of fade-in’s and out’s. Each vignette maintains the same sobering, quiet tempo, unchanging even as the violence escalates, so that each piece seems equalized on the same plateau of inevitability. The dominating visual motif is the all-encompassing white of the snow, always glaring blind-white, so that even the night scene barely register as different that those at the height of day. Likewise, as the movement progresses, Alexander Courage’s music recedes, so that by the end of the movement, the dominating sound is not the orchestra but the incessant hiss of the snowfall. The effect can be best described as drone-like, the entire segment characterized linked by a drowsiness that borders on the delirious.

If the first movement represents society cracking under its own repressed propensity for violence, and the second movement shows that society threatened as that violence breaks loose, the third movement follow that violence as it finally comes free of the shackles of civility. The passage undoubtedly owes something to Treasure of the Sierra Madre, namely in its re-appropriation of Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale”, but it pushes into more unsettling waters. For here is the "Westward Journey" reimagined, not as a journey of expansion, of civilization establishing itself from the wilderness, but the "Westward Journey" as a degenerative journey back to man’s primal state. It’s a notion that, along with its hazy and disorientating tone/structure, anticipates many Westerns to come, right up to Dead Man and Blood Meridian. And once again, in some twist on the pacifist western, Starrett outlives them all without firing a shot or even raising a fist. The further they stray from civilization, the further they fall subject to the law of Nature, destroying each other, and ultimately, being consumed by the barren, unforgiving landscape itself.

Yet, by pure, reckless chance, Starrett somehow survives this regression back into savagery. He emerges from the lethal cold, and for a moment, we have what appears to be a happy ending. He first greets Gene (David Nelson), the blacksheep outcast of the killers, now seemingly accepted into the fold… young Ernine will have her husband, and Bitters may yet see that proliferation of family and community it has pinned its hopes on. On greeting him, Starrett takes away his gun – “Then you won't need this” – a seeming disavowal of the violence he was so eager to use at the outset of the film. Yet, has anything truthfully been resolved? The issue of the barb-wired fences has yet to be settled, and for Bitters to grow as a town, the issue must be raised again. Earlier in the film, when confronting him, Bruhn warns Mrs. Crane: “Mrs. Crane, when my men and I leave here, there will be a showdown and you will be a widow.” Starrett’s love affair with Helen Crane, not to mention the bruised egos resulting thereof, are still present in the community like some bandaged wound. If the whole proceeding is initiated by the refusal of a gunfighter to ride out - and then seemingly resolved when he finally decides to do just that – it’s an ironic twist of fate that Starrett ends up back in the community, perhaps right back at square one. As always, De Toth refuses to provide answers to those problems which can never be unequivocally answered, which is to say, human problems. All he can do is explore a crisis wherein his characters confront their human failings and the failings of those around them, wherein they must assess their responsibility to themselves and those around them… but where they’re ultimately left adrift and uncertain, with the audience only able to speculate whether they’ve found the moral strength to carve out their own parcel of peace and happiness.

When Day of the Outlaw opens, it’s with a wide panning shot, first of absolute wilderness, then rightwards towards the town in the distance. What we notice is how ill-fitting it is in its surroundings, encircled on all sides by the cruel and frozen wild, vulnerable to whatever threats, natural or otherwise, that may be hiding among the trees or mountains. It is only moments later that a similar shot unfurls, this time from within the town, panning right once again until Bitters is completely obliterated by white snow, grey skies and black streak of trees that dwarfs it in scale. This time, the shot is reframed in a window, we pan back and see Blaise Starrett, strapping on his gun, a moment before he marches downstairs to the gun battle he’s initiated. At that moment, it’s as if something violent and chaotic in that wilderness has leaped through that window, transferring into Starrett, the first signs of the contamination that is about engulf the town. At the end of the film, at his return, this same shot, perhaps the same take, replays itself. It’s an interesting choice… a more appropriate, conventional one would have been to reverse the shot, to emphasize, at its triumph, the town over the wilderness. Or use a different take, one where the sun has begun to shine, the snow to thaw, the first movement of the spring the town so desperately needs. But not here. By reusing that earlier shot, De Toth emphasizes that the town is still on the edge of wilderness, that the very elements that allowed this crisis to occur is still existent in the community. Even Courage’s music, ending on a note of pounding drums and blaring horns, seems use the very last seconds of the film, not to bask in the glory of Starrett’s heroic homecoming, but to remind us of the nightmare that has just occurred out in that forest. The storm has only passed, but the winter is still there. The day of the outlaw may be over, but it’ll be another day before one can tell if Bitters will flourish.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#802 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jul 01, 2014 7:47 pm

Finch wrote:Thanks to whoever brought up Delmer Daves' The Last Wagon - we just finished watching it, and it's going on my list. What a great find this was: the cinematography was just stunning; I particularly loved the many overhead and long shot compositions in the opening and the gorgeous panorama shots throughout the film: this really begs to be released in high definition, as good as the DVD is. What impressed me most about the picture was how the writers succeeded in making it about the struggle against prejudice and hatred of any kind, and to fight it with tolerance and acts of compassion without being preachy or sentimental. The film even managed to get in bits of cheeky humour (Billy mounts the horse and Julie says "Put your arms around me" and the little bugger goes "You bet I will") which made us laugh out loud a few times. Loved every minute of this film.
For whatever reason I haven't kept updating this or the musicals or the noir lists with new viewings, but I will break a bad habit by weighing in on the Last Wagon, which is easily the best western I've seen since the days of this list being active and it is a straight-up masterpiece. Right away, from the opening pre-credits shot of an unidentified man on horseback getting blown away by Richard Widmark, we are prepped for this being an extraordinarily violent entry in the genre, and Daves amps up the body count in vicious and visceral ways throughout-- how Widmark dispatches with one of his enemies while tied to a wagon wheel is especially brutal and audacious, and the film's aforementioned references to sex are also pretty eyebrow-raising (it comes up a lot and the film gets as close to letting Widmark get lucky the night before the big showdown as any movie of this era could). But the greatest thing going for the film is the terrific forward momentum, as Widmark's wanted criminal projects real menace in the role of the reluctant savior leading the survivors of a Christian wagontrain through the ominously named "Apache Canyon of Death." This is hardly a new idea, but Daves, in what I can now say with surety is his greatest western, delivers all of his points of interests-- young love, racial discord and discrimination, distrust and reevaluation of authority figures, and so on-- along the way in lovingly colored detail. The Last Wagon is a bonafide western classic and one hell of a good time throughout-- would make an ace double feature with Backlash!

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#803 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Aug 10, 2014 10:03 am

Just caught Firecreek on the BBC this afternoon. It's a magnificent Western which will certainly get a top ten place on my Western list vote if we do it again, about the ambiguous line between appeasement and cowardice, which leaves a whole community tainted. The best description I could come to would be either Yojimbo or an anticipation of Straw Dogs (the claims that Straw Dogs is just a Cornish transference of Western tropes seems very much strengthened by this film in particular). There's also a little bit of what would come later in Dogville in there too.

We get to see the clashing of James Stewart (as thoroughly morally compromised and trashing around in a moral morass as much as in any of his Hitchcock, Preminger or Anthony Mann roles. There has to be a potential for a book in there somewhere about the way that the likeable Stewart was able to portray superficially decent men compromised and driven almost mad by the conflicting demands of the society around them) as the laissez faire Sheriff against the sympathetic but similarly ruthless when pushed gang leader played by Henry Fonda (in a role that feels anticipatory of his Once Upon A Time In The West role). Both our main characters are completely undermined and eventually betrayed by, whilst at the same time tied to, the groups they have allied themselves with, either the townsfolk or the gang, dashing their hopes for having a particular role in life.

Firecreek is full of fascinating and difficult ideas such as family versus community; a couple of female characters who start relationships with the band of bandits who shack up in Stewart's town (the whole role of women in this film is beautifully observed, with the characters variously being passive objects to be taken; to turned on willing participants; to reluctantly caught up in a doomed romance); notions of mob rule versus mandated 'justice' (is one any better than the other, and did Stewart in some ways cause the situation by ineffectually refusing to run the gang out of town when they were just drunkenly larking around? Did he in some ways need the murder as a justification for the action climax as much as the gang need righteous vengeance for the same?); rituals, in this case of a wake, being turned into grotesque sham parodies into which everyone has to participate; notions around race; and sexuality (much like principles) being a destructive guiding force.

Most of these themes feel as if they anticipate Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, but Firecreek is just as powerful as it is amazing to see such a fundamentally disillousioned film played out with high profile stars and on such a lavish canvas. In some ways (as in Straw Dogs) the action climax is simultaneously a disappointingly blunt collapsing of all of the previous tensions into pure violent shootout confrontation (an almost mandatory finale for a Western film), and the inevitable only way to in some ways purify the characters through total cathartic destruction. The morality and notions of justifiable retribution have become too muddied up into a lawless grey area and so in some ways has to get reduced to a conflict between a man with a gun against other men with guns.

This is also something that I guess Tarantino has been trying to get at with his cathartically violent climaxes to Death Proof, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, but the difference is that Tarantino ends up celebrating a similar kind of final slaughter unambivalently, usually by homaging a bluntly sudden ending B-movie motif, while a film like Firecreek has the cathartic gunfight but then, even whilst still ending abruptly (where my Yojimbo comparison comes in), still shows its main character riding off leaving the now safe yet fundamentally exposed as corrupted, duplicitous and amiguous townsfolk in his dust under the end credits.

It is also an astonishing ending if you compare it even to a modern film like Kevin Costner's Open Range, which despite many similarities does show a good woman in the town and has a happy ending of the rootless settling down after winning the respect of a cautious townsfolk. I like Open Range but if you watched it back to back with Firecreek, its nostalgic, rose tinted approach would be entirely undermined by Firecreek's firery polemic against the insular nature of small town communities!

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Lighthouse
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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#804 Post by Lighthouse » Wed Sep 03, 2014 2:49 pm

Colin, what you describe is what Firecreek could have become, but as it is, it is for me a total turkey. A pretentious mess.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#805 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Sep 18, 2014 9:47 am

Bend of the River (Anthony Mann, 1952)

A very interesting film tackling difficult themes. The puritanism of the saintly new settlement community is contrasted against the corruption of the gold rush towns that they are leaving behind them. The settlers are moving towards a promised untainted land, yet they represent the leading edge of civilisation destroying the beauty of natural America as well.

It is also a film that throws up interesting moral dilemmas spread amongst a great ensemble cast. Once you are 'compromised', by money, the excitement of the big city, having to kill to survive and so on can you ever go back to a pure life, or are you forever tainted by corruption?

While James Stewart's character is the nominal lead, concerned about his new farming life being tainted once his previous raider lifestyle is uncovered, the really interesting character has to be the one played by Arthur Kennedy, first encountered about to be hung by some Native Americans for stealing a horse (i.e. bad guys that we can feel good about killing to save the white guy, although we later find that Stewart's character has his own reasons for saving a man from hanging) and from then on constantly walking the morally ambiguous knife-edge between self-interest and maybe just having a more pragmatic moral code than anyone else. The turn his character has to make into pure corruption to motivate the final section of the film is disappointing but I guess necessary to hammer home the moral lesson of the influence of money on a man. And provide a big action climax. And let James Stewart get the girl. Although admirably the father does soften on his viewpoint that there is no redemption for some in the final moments of the film, which was a great addition.

Rock Hudson turns up in a supporting role to act as the redeemable younger version of the Arthur Kennedy character, getting to anachronistically flash his pearly whites at the camera and out-prettify the leading lady.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#806 Post by domino harvey » Fri Dec 26, 2014 7:43 pm

I doubt anyone will be as excited about this as I was, but I was visiting the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and it turns out Walter Brennan had gifted the museum all three of his infamous Oscars, which were only a mere couple of inches away from me

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#807 Post by domino harvey » Sat Jan 03, 2015 1:23 pm

Was in a bit of a Western Mood:

A Ticket to Tomahawk (Richard Sale 1950) Oh my God, I found it. Here it is. A Western Comedy that needs no asterisks, no apologies, no excuses. This is a capital G Great film, and I encourage everyone to seek it out in time for the next Westerns round next year. Anne Baxter stars in an immensely charming lead perf as a rough and tough Deputy US Marshall who is tasked with leading the first steam train through Colorado safely. Sounds simple enough, but the film introduces complications at every turn of the bend, including the troubling realization that for much of the journey, the train tracks haven't been built yet! Accompanying Baxter and her posse is Dan Dailey as the train's first and only paying customer. Dailey's "drummer" is literally railroaded into braving the dangerous journey against time, as the railroad's agreement specifies a paying customer must make the trek in order to secure the longterm contract. As if fending off savages and mechanical failure wasn't enough, members of the posse who are double-agents for the local stagecoach company and covertly try to wreck the voyage at every turn. And through all the ingenious solutions to the problems that arise, the film keeps a light, airy touch that I eventually recognized as wit. This is a terribly smart and clever film, and you could show the brilliant last five minutes as a museum piece on cinematic wit. It should be noted that the film nearly falls into the Westerns Musical clause to explain its greatness but there are only two musical numbers, meaning the film survives as a shining achievement of the rarest kind: a successful comedy western. This film could legitimately make my Top Ten next year, it's that good.

I liked the film enough to look into Richard Sale a bit more, as I suspect a film this clever and satisfying may be the work of an unsung auteur (he directed and co-wrote this pic). I'd already seen two of his other films but they come down on opposite sides for me: in the plus column was his Fox musical the Girl Next Door, also with Dailey and also a fantastic work of filmic art (I believe I called it the best musical I specifically saw for the last Musicals List Project) and similarly brimming with a visual and narrative wit. However, he also made the snoozefest of Let's Make it Legal, which complicates effusive praise at this juncture. Sale apparently was a prolific pulp fiction author and only directed a handful of films (he also wrote the Hollywood poison pen piece the Oscar), but few part-time directors manage at least two masterpieces so I am eager to explore his brief oeuvre further.

Der Schatz im Silbersee (Harald Reinl 1962) German-language adaptation of Karl May's western characters Old Shatterhand and his Indian blood brother Winnetou, the first in a series and it's easy to see why audiences would clamor for more: this is a remarkably entertaining western. It does not attempt revisionism or exploit violence or sex like the later Italian westerns. Rather, it seems more concerned with exploring the tropes and themes of the American Western in a faithful, respectful way. Sometimes homages really do get a lot right, and the pic is as inspired by the movie serial tradition that fueled Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars to similar (admittedly more) popular heights. This is another exemplar of the One Damn Thing After Another film, and I honestly thought the film was over halfway through because it had cycled through enough plot and action for an entire feature in fifty minutes! The plot concerns Old Shatterhand, a well-known folk hero who helps those in need with the aid of his Indian buddy Winnetou, trying to stop a hotheaded young man from getting himself in dutch with the marauders who murdered his father for his half of a treasure map. The storyline is creaky stuff, but the film works due to its willingness to introduce novel elements at every turn (my favorite being a tomahawk fight where the two participants are tied to opposite ends of a rope while the war drums beat the tension into the audience). Available on region-free Blu-ray in the original German with English subs and recommended.

Ramrod (Andre de Toth 1947) I know it has its fans, but I found this Joel McCrea/Veronica Lake mess confusing at best. I guess it gets called a noir western thanks to the rampant fatalism of the film's action, and on that front I admire a lot about the film. There are good elements in play, and the questions the film raises as a result of Lake's breaking of the rules in order to level the playing field with the bad guys are compelling. But the movie is, as stated, a mess, with weird pacing issues and characters who aren't defined with an eye to differentiation, making the film a muddle and not a merry one.

Silver City (Byron Haskin 1951) This is a C-Grade Western concerning Edmond O'Brien's silver mine assayer helping out a local father and daughter who've struck it rich while fending off the villainous advances of the landlord who foolishly leased the mine out without realizing the riches within. This is not a good film, and it has such serious problems with pacing and blocking and pacing that it's barely a movie. Yet, there are some interesting elements in play: I liked Barry Fitzgerald's strangely meek baddie, who is kind of a passive-aggressive villain (I especially liked the scene where he sets up a murder for hire as casually as one decides what's for dinner) and there's some clever attempts to frame not-quite innocents for the bad deeds of others. I also enjoyed the weird scene where O'Brien starts a bar brawl by standing outside the saloon and handing out clubs to the drunkards as they get thrown out. But these are mostly examples of keeping myself entertained by grasping at straws as I sit through the nth unsuccessful western of the era.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#808 Post by domino harvey » Sat May 02, 2015 2:20 pm

Bite the Bullet (Richard Brooks 1975) Old fashioned entertainment along the lines of Huston's the Man Who Would Be King from the same period, wherein old school Hollywood directors buck the ugly 70s aesthetic of American films to show the whippersnappers how it's done. And this is a good if not especially notable entertainment, a western take on the Great Race et al style flicks, with a large group of colorful characters, led by Gene Hackman and James Coburn, gradually winnowing themselves down. Brooks' screenplay is studiously crafted and executed, and there are several memorable set pieces, including most strikingly an alternate reading of the film's title. I'm not sure this was worth the forty bucks it cost me from Twilight Time when it first came out, but I did enjoy it.

Hang 'Em High (Ted Post 1968) Straddling the new freedoms of post-classical era American cinema and the conventions of the studio system, this is a bit of an odd duck. Clint Eastwood is wrongly accused, hanged, rescued, deputized, and sent out to lawfully capture the men who tried to execute him. The film is episodic by design and is mostly entertaining in its fashion. Lots of stars past, present, and future pop up and out of the film (including Dennis Hopper in a weird cameo), and they like everything else in the film keep things moving at a steady clip.

the Scalphunters (Sydney Pollack 1968) Is there any greater fear known to man than the realization after starting a film that one is watching a comedy western? Such is life. Burt Lancaster's trapper finds himself stuck with Ossie Davis' runaway slave in forced exchange for his winter's worth of furs, which then get stolen again by a group of titular outlaws led by Telly Savalas. Along the way Lancaster and Davis exchange some muted, half-hearted racially tinged interplay that is somehow less incisive than similar films made a decade earlier. As far as comedy westerns go, eh, it's somewhere in the middle. Like most similar films, it operates on the false premise that men engaging in outrageously protracted and messy fistfights are hilarious. The rule on that one should always be if your film is not the Quiet Man, then don't bother.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#809 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Jul 08, 2015 9:37 pm

domino harvey wrote:Cat Ballou (Elliot Silverstein 1965) Not particularly funny (though I did enjoy the little runner about an ex-congressman who gave talking tours about how Indians are really a lost tribe of Israel), but well-directed and staged, and mostly entertaining. And since it's a Western Comedy that isn't unbearable, it goes without saying that technically, given the frequent commentary by Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole's minstrels, this is a musical. I like Lee Marvin and was expecting big things from him here, but I was pretty disappointed with both of his characters. How he swept all the big acting awards this year is why actors pay publicists.
Even though I had some of the same qualms that Domino did, I largely loved seeing an original print of this on the big screen tonight. Has there been any discussion about why this isn't on Blu-ray yet??

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#810 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jul 09, 2015 1:36 am

It's with Sony, so it'd either have to come from Mill Creek or Twilight Time

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#811 Post by domino harvey » Tue Aug 11, 2015 6:44 pm

Big Jake (George Sherman 1971) Absent father figure John Wayne tracks down the kidnappers who've taken for ransom the grandson he never knew he had. Along for the ride are Wayne's adult sons, who sporadically try to punch Wayne, only to be punched, over and over, back in return. There is so much punching in this movie, my stars. The film borders on Western Comedy, so you already know it's not very good, but at least the finale has a few stray moments of tension. The film also opens with some newsreel-type expository info, almost none of which is relevant to the proceedings. Though I guess it's only fitting for a film as irrelevant as this to begin in such a fashion.

the Cheyenne Social Club (Gene Kelly 1970) Cattle herder James Stewart discovers he's inherited a whorehouse, to predictably unsatisfactory comic results. I don't even know what to muster up about this one, other than to say Shirley Jones sure got a whole lot more mileage out of playing a prostitute ten years prior than she does here. If you ever wanted to see James Stewart grope a woman's breast, this is the film for you. It's so sad to work through the remaining films like this in those big Warners Signature sets and think of all the good films that got subsequently dumped into the Archives while forgettable dreck like this merited a pressed release. Come back, DVD Heyday, come back!

Firecreek (Vincent McEveety 1968) A confused film that exhibits none of the haughty ideas in practice identified by Colin in his full-throated defense above. If anything, the film sort of bides its time, building tension and unease, only to present cop-out after cop-out in the final twenty minutes. And gee, how about the comely young blonde who is almost raped and then when she is given a $5 piece for her troubles decides she is attracted to her rapist? Great. It hardly even matters, though, since the film isn't interested in this beyond mild provocation as accompaniment to the main attraction of, uh, wait, what's the reason for this film's existence again? I don't understand why James Stewart pays so much lip-service to the town and then doesn't let it burn, and the dark ending described above doesn't really match with what we see. A mean-spirited failure with no excuse for its nastiness.

Gettysburg (Ronald F Maxwell 1993) I dutifully watched all four and a half hours of this in one sitting, and despite critic and advertising claims to the contrary, I'd estimate maybe twenty minutes of that is devoted to actual battle scenes. The rest is filled with name actors in stage beards taking turns belting out "insightful" monologues that are so toothless and safe that the only impression one takes away from the time is that everyone was a perfect little would-be hero. Four and a half hours with a bunch of scruffy Mary Sues is a lot to take, and I kept hoping any of these real life characters would exhibit a personality trait beyond excessive angelic resolve. No such luck. Claims on the film's accuracy are a joke. What this movie really does is make all the Civil War fetishists dreams come true by presenting a sanitized vision of war that reinforces every noble idea fans of the era already hold. Points awarded to the producers for knowing their audience, but this is pretty weak for the rest of us. It is quite possible my copy of Gods and Generals will be the last film I ever get to in this quest to deal with my unwatched backlog.

Hondo (John Sturges 1953) John Wayne befriends the wife of an absent homesteader, Geraldine Page in her first film and in a role that netted her the first of eight Academy Award nominations. I like Page but she's not particularly well served by this Apaches versus Civilization yarn. Originally filmed in 3-D, so there's lotsa tomahawks thrown at the screen and so forth. Completely forgettable. By this point I've learned my lesson and skipped the Maltin intro, but I'm sure he thinks it's one of the five greatest films ever made based on his track record in that Paramount set.

McLintock! (Andrew V McLaglen 1963) A Western Comedy, so already a strike against it. And one that operates under the false belief that people pretending to be drunk and people participating in long, drawn-out fist fights are funny. They are not. Oh lord, how they are not funny. That said, this Western riff on the Taming of the Shrew is fairly well-made otherwise, and while like the source material the sexual politics are cringe-inducing, I've still seen worse from this genre. Still, it would have been nice for a comedy that runs over two hours to have at least one laugh in it. Oh well, at least it gave us one of the better Kids in the Hall interstitial skits

the Shootist (Don Siegel 1976) John Wayne's final film concerning a famed gunslinger who tries to retire to a rented room in a small town and pass away his final days before cancer kills him. Of course there's some real-life parallels here that give it a sense of gravitas, but this never rises far above "Okay," and other than Wayne belting out some mild swears, doesn't seem all that removed from the films he was making decades prior. I guess that's a bit of the point, but with a film like this, you know exactly how it's going to end and this one never quite justifies the journey to get there. I mean, better Wayne go out with this over McQ, but still.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#812 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 30, 2015 3:29 am

Bone Tomahawk (S Craig Zahler 2015) The other verbose and violent western starring Kurt Russell released this year, this low budget Western/Horror hybrid somehow attracted a good cast to star in a less than good film. Writer/director Zahler suffers from Nunnally Johnson Syndrome and so his characters just go on and on and on with Zahler too in love with his not particularly clever lines to cut anything. The film is long at nearly two and a half hours and feels twice that. Pacing a film like a miniseries from the 90s is rarely a good idea! There are a few bits of creative and gruesome gore, including one sequence so tasteless and graphic that I would not be surprised if half of the copies of this thing that get sold are a result of gorehounds on message boards writing variations of “Dude, you gotta blind buy and check out that scene, brah!” (in between fellating Code Red and slobbering over scream queens, no doubt), even if whatever appeals the picture holds fall more on the lopsided Western aspects, however flawed they are here.

Fort Massacre (Joseph M Newman 1958) Zero budget b-western starring Joel McCrea as a reluctant commanding officer who must lead a weary and skeptical cavalry through hostile Apache territory. While visually unaccomplished, the film compensates by bolstering some crackling dialog in the first act and presenting an ambiguous protagonist whose trajectory is in plain sight and yet still not entirely expected due to the picture’s playful toying of the western genre conventions. A film just a little bit better than it needed to be, and much better than I expected going in.

Hannie Caulder (Burt Kennedy 1971) Early entry in the rape-revenge cycle of films so prevalent in the 70s. Raquel Welch can't act but she looks good in leather pants as she enacts her revenge on the trio of men who killed her husband and left her for dead. Along the way she meets Robert Culp's bearded marksman who teaches her the ways of the gun. This movie never quite works, and Welch is a non-entity as the central figure, though Culp's understated performance hits the right notes more often than not.

Navajo Joe (Segio Corbucci 1966) Burt Reynolds plays the titular halfbreed who like a proto-slasher villain is able to pop up anywhere he needs to be in order to slay a victim in this slight but diverting spaghetti western. Perhaps best known now for its catchy and oft-referenced music (which has popped up everywhere from Kill Bill Vol 2 to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), the film does offer some mild charms outside of the earworm score.

the Revengers (Daniel Mann 1972) Shamelessly cribbing from the Wild Bunch to the extent of lifting several of its stars wholecloth, this mediocre western exercise in revenge offers only errant charms, most coming from Ernest Borgnine's comic perf as a proto-Ryan O'Reilly lickspittle who switches sides and allegiances so many times that it's unlikely even his character knows his own true affiliation. William Holden looks so very tired in this, thank God for Network a few years later, eh?

Wanda Nevada (Peter Fonda 1979) Peter Fonda tries to make his own Paper Moon, but needless to say, he’s no Bogdanovich. After winning thirteen year old Brooke Shields in a poker game from her pimp, Fonda sets out in search of gold in dem thar Grand Canyons, all the while dragging the makeuped moppet around like a Make Me Pretty ragdoll. To borrow the phrase that got Graham Greene exiled, Shields is completely totsy here, adult in everything but demeanor or personality, and every male in the movie wants to fuck her and makes sure to vocalize this (interspersed with the occasional attempted sexual assault). As far as I can tell, Fonda thinks this passes as good-humored or amusing or anything other than horrifying and/or gross to witness. There’s none of the surrogate father-daughter dynamic of Paper Moon here, and replacing it with one of romantic coupling between Fonda and Shields is just a jaw-droppingly awful decision. In a film where the last third of the picture is occupied with actual indian ghosts who harness their spectral energy from lightning bolts and use it to shoot magic arrows (I wish I was kidding), the central relationship easily tops all other bad ideas in this film.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#813 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jan 26, 2016 10:34 pm

Recent viewings:

Ace High (Giuseppe Colizzi 1968) Pleasant-enough diversion about two affable drifters who spend most of the movie tracking down Eli Wallach’s thief, who keeps stealing and then spending their money at every turn. The light comic touch here helps immensely, and there are some memorable stylistic flourishes in the finale.

Bad Company (Robert Benton 1972) Benton’s directorial debut begins as something of a Vietnam statement (the Union rolls around with a wagon, plucking up draft dodging teenagers and forcing them into the war), but it quickly settles down into a more period-specific exploration of the de-romanticized West. The film does a good job of showing the other side rarely seen by Hollywood westerns of earlier decades by plucking its teenage hoodlums down in the elements and showing how, one by one, they succumb to the environs or the assorted human dangers waiting for the weak out in the Plains. This is a pessimistic film, on par with Heaven’s Gate in its demystification of the Western mythos, but it never feels heavy-handed or preachy. Recommended.

Breakheart Pass (Tom Gries 1975) The literal last thing I expected from a Charles Bronson-toplined western was for it to turn out to be an Agatha Christie-esque mystery, but that realization proved to be just the first of many moments of delight as this played out. And I suspect our old friend QT probably stored the basic plot here away for the Hateful Eight, as it features a similar construction and premise. Highly recommended.

Companeros (Sergio Corbucci 1970) Delightfully entertaining spaghetti western featuring two of the biggest stars of the subgenre, Franco Nero and Tomas Milian, for their only on-screen appearance together. Things definitely get off to a good start with Morricone’s fabulous opening theme, which hasn’t left my head yet. I liked Jack Palance’s weirdo one-handed villain, and the constant novelty of the back and forth between our two protagonists as they make their way across and back from the border keeps things moving along. My favorite SW yet (though I still have a lot to go) and highly recommended.

Drums Along the Mohawk (John Ford 1939) Just about everything I hate about a bad John Ford film is present here: the awkward humor, the sloppy plotting, the questionable sexual and racial politics… and it’s all at the service of nothing entertaining or involving. Ford’s first use of color is uninspired and drab, and the film is a tedious slog. There is a real dearth of good American Revolution films, and this film didn’t help.

the Far Horizons (Rudolph Mate 1955) I hardly ever laugh derisively at even the worst of films, but this Hollywood take on the Lewis and Clark expedition has some amazing howlers that really transcend the usual Hollywood fare. I honestly could care less about accuracy, but this may very well be the least accurate historical film Hollywood ever made, and the film isn’t nearly good enough to make up for its galling liberties. I sort of recommend it on the strength of how misguided the whole endeavor is, but only if you’ve literally seen every other movie you want to watch first. At the very least watch the amazing scene where Charlton Heston dresses Donna Reed’s Sacajawea as “a white woman” and then decides her name is too hard to pronounce and calls her “Janey,” the latter aspect of which may be factual but still makes for one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen (I was in tears from laughing so hard by the end of it).

Frontier Marshall (Allan Dwan 1939) An entertaining but unexceptional take on the Earp story from Dwan, overshadowed by Ford’s My Darling Clementine but ultimately about as good a film— and hey, Ward Bond’s here too!

Fury at Furnace Creek (H Bruce Humberstone 1948) Fox’s usual noir contract stars Victor Moore and Coleen Gray star in this slapdash, borderline amateurish b-western that is shockingly shoddy for Fox studio fare from this era. The plot mostly takes a backseat to watching a series of first takes, a novelty that quickly outstays its entertainment value.

Gun Fight (Edward L Cahn 1961) Disposable programmer about brothers on opposite sides of the law. One of the last films to be released by MGM on pressed disc, though God knows why it beat out any other western in their vaults for that distinction.

the Gunfight at Dodge City (Joseph M Newman 1959) Solid cookie western featuring Joel McCrea doing another of his late career westerns as Bat Masterson, orchestrating the bad guys and the good guys to fit his will. Though there’s nothing exceptional at work here, I was entertained and enjoyed it for what it was (ie like I said, it’s a cookie western)

White Feather (Robert Webb 1955) Co-written by Delmer Daves, this film (unsurprisingly, considering its author) paints a sympathetic and complex view of native americans, exemplified by the unusual finale revolving around characters playing up, to, and around the personal codes the dangerous yet honorable Indian antagonist operates within. Robert Wagner is as ever dull as hell, but he’s the right kind of bland for the part of a white man who ingratiates himself with two members of a local tribe (One played by Jeff Chandler). There’s a brief but intriguing sideplot involving a potential love interest who is discarded once it becomes known that she was a rape victim, though its brief screentime suggests an earlier version paid it more attention.

the Wonderful Country (Robert Parrish 1959) As soon as Robert Mitchum opened his mouth and a Mexican accent came out, brother, I knew I was in for it. A tedious and uncaptivating mess soon followed, and I could barely be moved to care about anything here while it played out. Unlike Mitchum’s accent, this film didn’t even have the decency to be memorably bad. Just a huge zero.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#814 Post by Altair » Thu Jan 28, 2016 9:09 am

domino harvey wrote:Recent viewings:
Drums Along the Mohawk (John Ford 1939) Just about everything I hate about a bad John Ford film is present here: the awkward humor, the sloppy plotting, the questionable sexual and racial politics… and it’s all at the service of nothing entertaining or involving. Ford’s first use of color is uninspired and drab, and the film is a tedious slog. There is a real dearth of good American Revolution films, and this film didn’t help.
I have to disagree. While its politics are pure Ford (i.e. rather wince-inducing), the colour cinematography is breathtaking and I'm still procrastinating over purchasing Twilight Time's release as no one else seems to have picked it up. It's truly one of the great colour films of the 'thirties: see this Beaver cap

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#815 Post by Revelator » Thu Mar 10, 2016 7:41 pm

Yojimbo wrote:
domino harvey wrote:the Hanging Tree (Delmer Daves 1959) This is an enjoyable but ultimately minor western from Daves, which at times flirts with presenting no positive characters at all but eventually relents in the end. Gary Cooper's last non-cancer addled performance is of his usual quality, and Karl Malden has a hoot as a dirty old man (talk about usual performances!)...
I think the unrelentingly bleak mood is perfect for the theme; and Cooper's pinched, pained face its perfect complement.
I hated that ending, though...
Are they both available on DVD now?
The Hanging Tree is available on DVD from the Warner Archive (http://www.wbshop.com/product/hanging+t ... 0330496.do). I would class it as a near major Western, or at the very least a very good film in need of a wider audience. Definitely more deserving of a Criterion release than Jubal.
Dave Kehr wrote that Cooper's performance was "among the finest work Cooper ever did, touched with dignity, strength and mystery" and called the film "a delicate and quite moving work [that] deserves to be much better known." (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/movie ... -tree.html)
In terms of composition, I liked the ending. George C. Scott's character seems pretty half-baked--his role must have been bigger in the source novel.

Moving onto other westerns: Has anyone in this thread mentioned King Vidor's Billy the Kid (1930)? It's precode and filmed in 70mm, but only the cut-down version survives, albeit with plenty of scenic photography left. A minor Western which tells a weirdly amiable version of the story (a more violent but lost ending was used in Europe). Good-old-boy Johnny Mack Brown is Billy, who enjoys playing games with Wallace Beery's low-key Pat Garrett.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#816 Post by domino harvey » Sun Nov 06, 2016 2:43 am

Well, here we go again! I’ve seen a handful of great Westerns in the six years since we last started this, and at least two will be shaking up my Top Ten (the Last Wagon and A Ticket to Tomahawk). I’m excited to delve deeper into my Westerns’ Unwatched Canyon of Death as we revisit one of the greatest genres. This new iteration of the list should be interesting, as many of the prominent posters who participated last round are no longer with us. A good mix of fresh blood plus indelible old hands should make for a nice crew over the next couple months.

Given the spectacular fallout from my attention to depictions of women in Westerns in the last round, I thought it only fitting that my Spotlight should fall in line:

the Keeping Room (Daniel Barber 2015) Last year was a great year for Westerns, but the Keeping Room deserves more attention than it received. The film offers a fascinating dichotomy: it is a conservative feminist film. Can these two stances be reconciled? The film argues convincingly that they can. Anchored by a strong central performance by the ever-talented Brit Marling, the film looks at the obstacles faced by the women left behind during the Civil War. It is a film of constant sexual threat and violence, but the presence of these aspects is not mere provocation. Marling's involvement should be the first clue that the film has something relevant to say about rape. Marling has often talked against the crutch of using rape as cheap empowerment or a screenplay cheat for character motivation, and her participation here should signal the presence of more than the cheap Straw Dogs invocations that the critics greeted this film with. This is a film that, like its beleaguered characters, takes a stand and refutes the notion of victimization that has inundated modern thought. The three female protagonists face a never-ending series of traumas (and for the slave, the anguish started long ago), but the film makes a bold and unwavering stand: the preservation and furtherance of life doesn’t allow for wallowing in self-pity. The film thus embodies many of the most appealing notions of the Western, in its self-sufficiency and head-on confrontations with antagonism. But it does so in a blunt, unromantic fashion. And above all else, the film feels honest. I got more insight into the plight of the characters and the roles they all play within their society with one unforgettable line—
SpoilerShow
After Hailee Steinfeld complains that she’s being forced to do “Nigger work,” Marling responds, ”We’re all niggers now”
—than I have in countless films that only pretended to explore this period of American life. The Keeping Room gives us ugly truths and does so with respect for our intelligence and our ability to process its brutal methods. (Available on RA Blu-ray from Drafthouse)

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#817 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Nov 06, 2016 7:11 am

Well, glancing back through the thread in preparation for some viewings was a surprise as I'd forgotten I'd actually participated in the discussion. Ah, those carefree days in your mid-twenties when you try to rankle the local marxist by arguing that his favourite marxist spaghetti western is really a gay allegory! But, seriously, is there a more homoerotic Western than A Bullet For the General?

Coincidentally, my wife really wanted to to be introduced to some Sergio Leone westerns, so I've been rewatching them with her after six or seven years of not having seen them. We've got through the Dollars trilogy so far, and my opinion of it remains unchanged: they are grand fun, with The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, I am very happy to discover, remaining one of my very favourite films and no doubt the one that'll top the list I might make, time permitting.

Next up, Once Upon a Time in the West, another old favourite I hope to discover I still love.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#818 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Nov 17, 2016 7:08 pm

The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1968): One of the more heralded spaghetti westerns by one of its more fondly regarded directors did more or less nothing for me. I mean, it was fine, really: the snowy landscape was novel, even if it wasn't filmed with any particular eye for landscape; the lead actors were very good; and the ending sure is something (and might even be earned). But otherwise, there was a evident lack of craft to this one. The plot is a mess; there's no discernible structure, just a number of spaghetti western cliches patched together. And Corbucci, who can put together handsome images when he wants to, is content to rest on crude, basic techniques. Perhaps the weather was too difficult to film in, I don't know (it really does look miserable--the weather, that is), but I was expecting something with more visual energy. What the movie has going for it is not enough to sustain it.

Four of the Apocalypse (Lucio Fulci, 1975): this has to be a shallow sub-genre if this movie ranks near the top. I think the idea was to make a picaresque about four tossed-together strangers wandering a surreal, menacing landscape that shades into nightmare and eventually apocalypse. I can't really tell, tho', because this was made by Lucio Fulci instead of Monte Hellman, so there's not enough competence to judge intent. There's little that's surreal or dreamlike about it, unless you count the occasional jarring narrative leap and non-sequitur plot point that could just as well be indifferent filmmaking. The film's reputation, I would guess, comes mainly from its random sleaze (if you want to watch Tomas Milian skin a guy, feed everyone peyote, then rape a pregnant woman in graphic detail while Michael Pollard watches and slobbers all over himself, this is, like, the Vertigo of that). I can't imagine it comes from much else. It's such a slow, boring, pointless movie without plot, character, or imagination. Even the characters succumb to this movie's boredom. I mean, everyone's reaction to finding out they inadvertently cannibalized Michael Pollard's left ass cheek is just to go 'huh'.

True Grit (Coen bros., 2010): I hadn't seen this since it came out and my reaction now is the same as then: a fine film, rich in atmosphere and character; better probably the the original. I especially liked the unexpected moments, like the odd traveling dentist, or the gentle bearing of Ned Pepper, or the Texas Ranger's puzzling lack of social awareness.

Bone Tomahawk (S. Craig Zahler, 2015): I thought this was going to be about a slasher villain named Bone Tomahawk lurking in the brush, somehow, not The Hills Have Eyes...Italian Western Style. It works, tho'. Unlike Domino earlier in the thread, I liked the rambling nature of much of the dialogue during the journey sections, especially as it comes out of character rather than general logorrhea. Some characters are chatty by nature. The old kook in particular, the most developed character, is allowed to reveal unexpected depth behind the inane prattle. Brooder is a fun character as well, pitched somewhere between a preening dandy, cold sociopath, and courageous hunter. And that one ending scene easily outdoes the entirely of Eli Roth's recent cannibal pastiche. Jesus. Not as effective or oddball as that other modern horror western, Ravenous, but generally enjoyable.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#819 Post by HJackson » Sun Nov 20, 2016 10:37 pm

Re-watched Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. I've seen Fort Apache four times now, but this was only my second viewing of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (the first on the new Warner blu, which is a significant improvement over the Universal DVD). Yellow Ribbon seems to generally be the preferred film in Ford's calvalry output, but I much prefer Fort Apache. The later film has certain advantages, most notably the quite beautiful colour photography and an unusually vulnerable Wayne performance, but I actually find it quite meandering. Fort Apache develops in a pretty logical manner, establishing the domestic life of the fort before exposing it to the external threat of the Native Americans and - more importantly - the misguided sense of military valour possesed by its own leader. It's also filled with little mysteries like the ambiguous ending and the past relationship between Thursday and Collingwood which suggest a hidden depth behind what's on screen. Yellow Ribbon starts with the military endeavour and later scenes of domesic tomfoolery like McLaglen's bar brawl seem less well integrated as a consequence.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#820 Post by Cold Bishop » Sun Nov 20, 2016 11:31 pm

Fort Apache is one of Ford's masterpieces in my eyes, so you'll see no dissent from me. It's been too long since I've seen it to write up specifics, but I feel the ending alone makes Liberty Valance largely redundant.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#821 Post by Rayon Vert » Mon Nov 21, 2016 12:16 am

Same here. Just rewatched it too in the past week-to-2-weeks, along with The Searchers. I love Fonda in Ford, and he was a perfect choice to play the martinet. His character is remarkably nuanced, inspiring both sympathy and horror, and the rest of the film is also top notch. I think you find everything there is to like in Ford here: Monument Valley galore, a strong story yet various pleasant digressions, strong performances (Fonda, Temple, Wayne), extremely potent and clear, non-fancy visuals, the remarkable recreation of a community, great side characters, plenty of Irish ethnicity and jokes, strong action sequences. A moral tale framed in mighty entertainment. Ribbon is not in the same league, and Rio Grande lesser still.

Regarding The Searchers, this has to be one of the most consistently pictorially beautiful films ever made. It contains some of Ford’s most stunning shots, even by his standards. It’s a film full of darkness and tragedy, but there’s just as much comedy and leisurely moments as in any other Ford film, and the whole thing just works. Those comic scenes and moments are really amusing and charming. Ford’s players also come up this time with some truly stand-out characterizations, like Mose Harper (Hank Worden) and Charlie McCorry (Ken Curtis). Vera Miles is also terrific.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#822 Post by Drucker » Mon Nov 21, 2016 11:36 am

One of the best things about The Searchers is certainly it's humor. I took a friend to see it in 35mm, and she is generally not interested in classic American cinema, but she remarked at the end that she was surprised at how quickly the film moved along and how funny it was.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#823 Post by domino harvey » Mon Nov 21, 2016 3:36 pm

Fort Apache doesn't work for me at all until the ending. Unlike Cold Bishop, I think the Man Who Shot Liberty Valence renders this superfluous, not the other way around. And while I'm disagreeing, I'd rank the Cavalry films in the opposite order of Rayon Vert's estimation: Rio Grande is tremendous, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is quite good, and Fort Apache is a miss.

Recent viewings:

Arizona (Wesley Ruggles 1940) Jean Arthur and William Holden fall in love amongst the scenic vistas of Tucson in this weirdly cheesy and phony western, one made with no artistry or sense of genre conventions. Studio films of this era actively undercut a woman’s volition and worth to that of a housewife once paired, so it’s hardly novel here. But rarely have I seen this standard narrative trope exercised so illogically as it is in the Holden and Arthur pairing. The only interesting aspect in the entire film, found all the way at the end (and this film is over two hours for some godforsaken reason), is the climactic gunfight, which takes place entirely off-screen with no clue as to who is firing the bullets or who is getting hit with them (well, I mean, the outcome is obvious, but the process isn’t). Like the state itself, I have no interest in ever paying Arizona a return visit.

Canadian Pacific (Edwin L Marin 1949) Mediocre programmer with Randolph Scott’s railroad surveyor going up against anti-railroad Canadian Indians and roustabouts. Contains exactly one memorable scene, a wonderfully tasteless sequence right out of Looney Tunes in which J Carrol Naish gives a group of Indians sticks of dynamite under the auspices of being cigars, lights them as they puff away, and then gleefully backpedals as they all “lose their heads.”

the Gun Hawk (Edward Ludwig 1963) An otherwise completely forgotten western that was only on my radar due to Godard inexplicably placing it on his yearly Best Of list for Cahiers. As ever with the films Godard chooses, it’s not always clear what appealed to him. This is a decent programmer, with some interesting uses of tone and space throughout, and a notable finale in which all traditional forms of Western masculinity are undermined by a torrent of tears and pigheaded suicidal behaviors driven by personal codes. Why Godard was drawn to this over any other Western released during the last gasp of the studio era is a mystery, but aren’t the tastes of the Young Turks almost always?

Quantez (Harry Keller 1957) Group of robbers and one of their women hole up for the night in an unexpectedly abandoned town as they make plans for the morning. The dynamic between the various criminals is effectively menacing, and this is a good title to seek out if you’re interested in depictions of women in westerns, as poor Dorothy Malone’s character is just about the unluckiest gal to ever find herself adrift in the West. Recommended.

Texas (George Marshall 1940) I’m sure other things happened in this movie besides William Holden’s 90s Skater Kid-inspiring bowled hair, but I couldn’t tell you just what.

Villa Rides! (Buzz Kulik 1968) Gross Classic/New Hollywood straddling tale of the immortal Pancho Villa and his ragtag group of assholes. No one in the film is likable or interesting, especially not Yul Brynner as the titular hero of the people. Robert Mitchum is the ostensible protagonist, but other than about five minutes near the end where he sells out and just steals all of Villa’s money, he leaves no impression. Co-written by Sam Peckinpah, which may explain the overall negativity and cynicism. Add to that Olive’s hideous presentation on Blu-ray and this is an all-around skippable misfire.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#824 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Nov 23, 2016 9:48 pm

Face to Face (Sergio Solima, 1967): This ought've been a longer movie, playing out over years as we watch relationships change and characters harden. As we have it, the film has to telegraph too much, making the changes abrupt and what they signal unearned and unsatisfying. Volonte's character suffers from this especially. After masterminding only a single disastrous heist, he becomes almost immediately, and far too enthusiastically, a fascist dictator. I see how he would've got there, but it happens in too short time to be believable. His becoming a gunfighter in the first place was handled with more plausibility. Indeed, the first half of the film in which that takes place is the strongest. Milian's character also changes rather abruptly after a single moment of violence whose impact on him isn't prepared for sufficiently. I mean, this is a good Western, but its narrative clumsiness makes me feel it has more potential than it manages to realize. I like it less than Solima's other two Westerns, for all its ambition.

Requiescant (Carlo Lizzani, 1967): Spaghetti Westerns are always trying to one-up each other with ever more bizarre variations on the preternatural lone gunslinger. Here, he's a deeply religious man who utters a prayer after every death he causes. As played by Lou Castel, he's blank faced and without much presence. The real fun of the movie is the over-the-top aristocratic lunacy of Mark Damon's villain, who stomps through the movie with relish, doing all sorts of evil things while giving speeches about the superiority of the southern gentleman and the virtues of slavery. It's a lively performance that really lends the movie energy. The plot is a typical quest for identity culminating in vengeance that's handled well and with a minimum of beside-the-fact nonsense. It has one of the most novel duels I've seen in a Western, done with a pair of chairs and nooses and a ticking clock. One of the best non-Leone Spaghetti Westerns.

The Gunfighter (Henry King, 1950): a superb moralistic western. Perhaps it'd be a stronger film if it remained an examination of the melancholy of loss and the impossibility of getting what you want even after you've gotten it, but embraced the fatalism of its narrative rather than the obvious moral point about the cost of violence. But that aside, this is a mature and structurally interesting Western. Mature in that it weighs the cost of a life dedicated to celebrity and violence, with a character capable of introspection. It's a melancholy western, and those are my favourite kind. Structurally interesting in that it's essentially static, almost a play, revolving mainly around waiting in a saloon. It surrounds that, however, with the constant expectation of death in one form or another--the three cowboys bearing down are the encompassing threat and determine the time-frame of the film; the man with the rifle is the immediate suspense, a more local reminder but also another instance of the pitfalls of ill-gained celebrity; the young kid is the moral point, the embodiment of Ringo's trajectory and fate: always the victim of those he inspires, a victim of himself more or less (in inferior versions, anyway, until they're not). An exciting and moving film that I'm glad to've finally seen.

Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann, 1950): I loved the dual structure where we follow the gun, and the stories of who carry it, in parallel with Stewart's arc. As with any Mann film, always look for novel methods of violence. Here, it's the ability of superior gunmen to set up lethal ricochets. I'm not sure I have overmuch to say here, as the movie is, for all its style and excitement, a straight-forward revenge movie without the moral complexities of The Naked Spur and Man of the West. Its strength lies in the variety of its scenes and characters rather than the content of them either on their own or as a whole. No doubt a great Western that'll figure in my top 20, but not quite Mann's best.

40 Guns (Samuel Fuller, 1957): This is a gorgeous movie to look at. Not just the youthful energy Fuller always brings, but the expert widescreen compositions and the way Fuller can move people and objects within the frame both energetically and with precise formal and pictorial control. Not sure what I think of the plot as, in the end, it's one more woman with strength and power sacrificing all for a man, with a love story I'm not sure I buy. It sure is excitingly filmed, tho'. I'm going to put it on my list nevertheless.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#825 Post by knives » Mon Nov 28, 2016 1:40 am

Forty Guns
Is this the earliest death of the west film (versus being about how horrible the west is generally)? The little speech about being seen as a freak sums up so many other films that they seem a bit redundant now. It spells it out perfectly. This era, or at least what it is becoming remembered for, is an outlier that can't be repeated or else. In the ace of this haunting aura of loathing Fuller seems to have a lot of joy in working with all of this money. Almost to the point of detracting from the film he has Stanwyck be this romantic ideal of a devil while at the same time he strips the western to a nasty core of familiar sights and a load of deaths. Fuller seems to be quoting everything from Pat Garret stories to a few movies here and there uch as The Wind (though I wouldn't call this a cinephile film).

This isn't the best of Fuller, but it certainly is the most of him. It has some of the most effective uses of his ticks particularly with a few real ugly closeups and a genuinely haunting opening that probably inspired too many Godard films. In a lot of ways this becomes just a parade of ugly behavior as everyone is out to do over someone else with even the hero being comfortable just dealing out death as justice. Only the intense disgust with which he holds everyone and everything gives any sign that he's the good guy (no wonder seemingly he was taken wholesale for Hackman's character in Unforgiven). All of this should make for a great film, but there a ton of little things done wrong like the silly sing along. Also, and this shouldn't reflect the film, but I could not tell most of the actors apart utterly confusing a number of plot points for me. A second careful viewing helped clear up a lot of things, but still I need more variation in the faces.
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I'm not sure if I entirely agree with Sausage's claim about Stanwyck's role. I do feel that there's something off about the handling of the character so I won't belabour the point. Assuming he's talking about the ending, it seems to me that everything was already (halfheartedly) sacrificed on the brother and going with the man was just a matter of why not since everything was lost anyway.

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