Sunday 30 June 2013
Irrespective of whether or not one considers Warlock as his best work, Edward Dmytryk is possibly best remembered for this tense psychological Western. This was, at once, an intriguing account of a complicated friendship between two men, a tale of wits and psychological duel between warring personalities, and an observation on the inevitable demise of the Old West and its replacement with law and morality. The titular town, besieged by regular instances of anarchy because of a gang of cowboys led by Abe McQueen (Tom Drake), hires the renowned and suavely dressed gunslinger Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda) as its marshal. Along with him arrives Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), Clay’s loyal and crippled friend who protects his back. Meanwhile Johnny Garson (Richard Widmark), a member of Abe’s gang decides to go straight and volunteers for the vacant job of the town’s Sheriff. Complications arise when Tom tries to eliminate Clay’s former flame in order to have no one between their “friendship”, only to find Clay falling for an attractive citizen of the town (Dolores Michaels). The film wasn’t short of its share of stand-offs and gunfights, but its most implosive moments were created through Clay and Tom’s complex alliance that would surely have made the audiences then uncomfortable in their seats. It was darn interesting to see Widmark in an uncharacteristically honest and honorable role, while Fonda too was at the top of his game. But the most memorable performance was provided by Quinn as Fonda’s slippery, unpredictable and hero-worshipping sidekick. Few overdone plot moments and the operatic climax notwithstanding, this managed to be quite a taut, gripping and a so-called “thinking man’s Western”.
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Genre: Western/Psychological Western
Wednesday 26 June 2013
Made right after Ride the High Country, Sam Peckinpah’s much maligned and misunderstood Cavalry Western Major Dundee served as a preamble to his bona fide masterpiece, TheWild Bunch. Wacky, violent and audacious, the film chronicled the story of a seemingly foolish but ultimately successful quest by the US Army to destroy a feared Apache band. The titular Major (Charlton Heston), a simultaneously authoritarian and rebellious man, now relegated to prison command, forms a make-shift force comprising of Union guys, Confederate prisoners-of-war, and local thugs and criminals, in order to move deep into Mexico and crush the band of Apaches led by its tactically brilliant chief who have recently massacred an American colony. Among others, his army comprises of friend-turned-foe Captain Tyreen (Richard Harris). They despise each other, and things become further complicated when both men get attracted to a beautiful and voluptuous Mexican lady (Senta Berger). The situation further escalates when they antagonize the French troops in the process. Apart from the personal and political rivalries among the American soldiers, the film provided a damning portrayal of the amount of devastation that accompanies any act of aggression, and in turn the morality of that act. Heston’s towering personality made the enigmatic, glory-grabbing Dundee a darn interesting character, while the fine cinematography and terrific operatic score made this a great audio-visual experience. The fine ensemble cast also comprised of James Coburn as a one-handed native with dubious loyalties. The film’s troubled production history added darkly ironic layers to its theme and content.
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Genre: Western/Cavalry Film
Tuesday 25 June 2013
Adapted from Larry McMurthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the acclaimed and ambitious 6-hour miniseries Lonesome Dove told a heart-warming tale of friendship, love (particularly of the unrequited kind), honour, courage, and facing nature’s brutalities. The amiable and gregarious Captain Augustus “Gus” McCrea (Robert Duvall), and the gruff and taciturn Captain Woodfrow F. Call (Tommy Lee Jones), ageing former Texas Rangers, long-time friends, and residents of the titular Texan town, decide on one last adventure before they retire for good – an incredibly arduous 3000 miles trip to Montana trip with a horde of stolen cattle and horses with the intent of setting up a ranch there. The story alternated between the debilitating challenges thrown on their path in the form of difficult terrains, harsh weather, sickness, death, vicious outlaws, and fearsome Indians, and the personal journeys of the two likeable protagonists. Sub-plots too abounded in the form of a mild-mannered Sheriff (Chris Cooper) going out to find his wife who has fled, an ethereally beautiful hooker (Diane Lane) who falls for the much-older Gus who in turn hopes to reunite with his former sweetheart (Angelica Huston) while a young member of the group is hopelessly in love with the fragile young lady, Call’s difficulty in acknowledging his son (Ricky Schroder), and so forth. Upon Gus’ death, Call makes the entire journey back with his friend’s body which made for a fascinating final chapter. The basic story was, understandably, highly reminiscent of Hawk’s Red River, albeit minus its dark psychological aspects. Though not bereft of weaker moments and a fair share of avoidable sentimentality, the sheer scope of this wonderfully enacted and gloriously photographed piece should make it a must watch for any Western aficionado.
Director: Simon Wincer
Genre: Western/Romance/Buddy Film/TV Miniseries
Sunday 23 June 2013
Arthur Penn, who would go on to earn worldwide renown with Bonnie & Clyde, made his feature debut with The Left-Handed Gun, based on the fabled life of Billy the Kid. Though tad inconsistent and not without its flaws and moments of indulgence, the revisionist Western managed to be psychologically engaging on account of its honest delving into the psyche of the near-mythical outlaw and demythologizing him in the process. The film begins with blue-eyed drifter William Bonney (Paul Newman) being recruited by cattle baron Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston), who goes on to become a father figure to the troubled, illiterate and psychologically unstable young man. When the kindly old man is brutally slain, Billy vows revenge against those responsible, and gets two slow-witted and equally unstable guys in his team. Eventually his nemesis turns out to be another father-figure in his life, viz. Pat Garrett (John Dehner). The Kid’s relationships with these two men, his friendship with his two sociopathic pals, and his adulterous affair with a beautiful and older Mexican lady (Lita Milan) whose husband too deeply cares for him, added layers to the smiling, rebellious and unpredictable youth who, unwittingly, became a pop-culture icon and a symbol for counter-culture. Newman made the tragic character highly endearing with his boyish grin, charm and tomfoolery, while also marvelously capturing his angst, intensity, pig-headedness and darker impulses; he easily towered over all his fellow actors and is reason enough to watch the film. No wonder, the role had been initially planned with James Dean in mind. The score, and particularly the mellifluously sung title song, deserve special mention.
Director: Arthur Penn
Genre: Western/Revisionist Western/Biopic
Friday 21 June 2013
Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue was made between two of his most violent and nihilistic films – the revisionist Western masterpiece The Wild Bunch and the highly disturbing Straw Dogs. Yet, interestingly, this light-hearted, gently moving, humorous and satirical dramedy couldn’t be more antithetical to the two sandwiching it. The picaresque storyline follows the fascinating life of its cranky, roguish and enterprising protagonist Cable Hogue (Jason Robards Jr.). Robbed and left to die in the middle of the Arizona desert, Cable, after walking for days without food and water stumbles upon a water source in the middle of nowhere. Realizing the value of this serendipitous discovery once he has quenched his thirst, he goes about building a place for stagecoaches and travelers to stop. While in this entrepreneurial endeavour, he makes the acquaintance of the delectably vulgar and libidinous Rev. Joshua Sloane (David Warner), and falls for Hildy (Stella Stevens), the pretty hooker he “befriends” with the first money he has earned. The love story between these two outsiders provided an affecting emotional core to this darkly comic film. Revenge formed a running theme as, despite his growing prosperity and the passing years, his desire for getting even with the two men who had robbed him many years back is never diminished. Meanwhile, the advancement of civilization, depicted by replacement of horses with automobiles, added another key subtext, and provided for a memorably ironic finale. Both Robards and Warner were excellent in their deadpan portrayals, while the lilting folk-ballads and leisurely pacing provided the right quantum of mellowness to the amusing plot developments and natural crudeness of the characters.
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Genre: Western/Revisionist Western/Social Satire/Romance