Monthly Archives: July 2014

Two Flags West

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 31, 2014

Two Flags WestJoseph Cotten, Cornel Wilde, Jeff Chander, Linda Darnell, Arthur Hunnicutt, Noah Beery, Jr., Jay C. Flippen, Dale Robertson, Harry von Zell (1950; Dir: Robert Wise)

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This is a large-budget cavalry western with a good cast and a generic title.  The two flags referred to are north and south during the Civil War, as Col. Clay Tucker’s Confederate cavalrymen (they rode with Jeb Stuart) are recruited by Capt. Mark Bradford (Cornel Wilde) from a prison camp in Rockford, Illinois, to fight Indians out west as galvanized Yankees in autumn 1864.

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Col. Tucker (Joseph Cotten) and his men, in a Union prison in Rockford, Ill., are recruited to fight Indians.

They are headed for Fort Thorn in New Mexico Territory, to serve under Major Henry Kenniston (Jeff Chandler, the same year he played Cochise in Broken Arrow).  The ambitious Kenniston escaped from the famous Libby Prison in Richmond, and, in escaping, ruined his right leg so that he has been assigned out west instead of to duty in the main war.  His brother was killed at Chancellorsville, and he consequently hates Confederates.  The brother’s widow Elena Kenniston (Linda Darnell), a Spanish beauty returning home to Monterey, California, is temporarily staying with her brother-in-law at the post while she waits for a wagon train to California.  She becomes the center of romantic interest for the major, Capt. Bradford and even now-Lt. Tucker (Joseph Cotten). She seems to favor Bradford, and Tucker has other things on his mind dealing with all the conflicting loyalties, plots and counter-plots in this frontier post.

The primary source of tension in the film is whether the former Confederates will desert to Texas as soon as they get a chance, and it seems they will.  Major Kenniston assigns the southerners to carry out the execution of two men convicted of selling guns and booze to the Indians, only for the ex-Confedrates to discover after the two are dead that they were southern agents.  There are more southern agents, one of whom convinces Tucker to return to Fort Thorn until a later time when he can help carry out a larger plot.  After duty escorting a wagon train part of the way to California, Tucker brings back Mrs. Kenniston, who was escaping her brother-in-law’s domination, so that the major will trust the southerners.

[Spoilers follow.]  Finally, Tucker gets the signal to leave and does so with his men.  However, the angry, wrong-headed major (who refers to the Indians as rebels, so we know who he’s really thinking about) needlessly antagonizes the Kiowas by angrily and gratuitously killing Kiowa chief Satank’s son.  Given a choice by circumstances, Tucker and his men, instead of heading for Texas, return to the aid of the fort.  Beseiged by 1500 Indians, things look grim for the remaining troopers.

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Major Kenniston (Jeff Chandler) decides to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

After one day of fighting, Bradford and many others are killed, and things look even more hopeless.  With the stockade in flames, Kenniston decides to give himself up to the overwhelming Indian force to save what’s left of the fort and its defenders, and Tucker is left in command.  It appears that Tucker and Elena may make a new life together, although things are left ambiguous between them as they learn that Sherman has split the south and the end of the war is imminent.

Director Robert Wise didn’t make many westerns (Blood on the Moon, Tribute to a Bad Man); he was more known for such large-budget productions as The Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Sand Pebbles and the first Star Trek movie.  However, there are signs here of movie-making intelligence at work.  Some of the shots are reminiscent of John Ford:  see the southern soldiers racing back to the fort, for example, with a low camera angle that captures them along a ridge against a luminescent black-and-white sky.  Later, as Major Kenniston marches (with a limp) out of the stockade gates to his certain doom, he is shot from behind with a low camera angle, making it look as though he is walking upward, although we’ve already seen that the gate is on level ground.

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Linda Darnell and Joseph Cotten engage in some badinage between scenes.

Cotten and Darnell were at the peak of their careers, and Wilde and Chandler were first-rank movie stars at the time as well.  Darnell was allergic to horses, was not happy about her role in this western and reportedly didn’t get along well with either Wilde or Cotten, but she looks lovely and is fine in a better-than-average-female-in-a-western role.  She also wears one of the better hats seen on a woman in a western.  (Compare it, for example, with Donna Reed’s ineffective hat in Backlash.)  With her dark good looks, she was often cast as an Indian (Buffalo Bill) or Hispanic (The Mark of Zorro, My Darling Clementine) beauty.

This is Cotten’s best role in a western; he generally seems a modern, urban actor, and he didn’t make many westerns (Duel in the Sun, The Last Sunset and a few others).  Although he was born into a southern family in Virginia, his Georgia accent here is elusive and sporadic.  The supporting actors (Hunnicutt, Beery, Flippen) are excellent, too, particularly the horse-faced Arthur Hunnicutt as the Confederate Sgt. Pickens.  This is a good cavalry western, but not much seen these days.  Filmed on location in New Mexico in black and white, at 92 minutes.

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For other cavalry westerns featuring Yankees and Confederates fighting Indians together, see Escape from Fort Bravo (1953) and Major Dundee (1965).  For Chandler in another role as a not-so-admirable commander, catch him in 1959’s The Jayhawkers!

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Buffalo Bill (1944)

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 29, 2014

Buffalo Bill—Joel McCrea, Maureen O’Hara, Anthony Quinn, Thomas Mitchell, Linda Darnell, Moroni Olson (1944; Dir: William Wellman)

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Director William Wellman directed some very good westerns, such as The Ox-Bow Incident, Yellow Sky and Westward the Women, but this isn’t one of his very best.  It has an interesting cast, but the story suffers from lack of a strong and cohesive story arc, as is often the case with biopics.   And, as with many historically-based movies in the 1940s, it takes numerous liberties with the real history involved.

The movie starts in 1877, with young Bill Cody (Joel McCrea) hunting buffaloes and rescuing a wagon of dignitaries and Sgt. Chips McGraw (Edgar Buchanan in heavy makeup, playing much older than he really was) from attacking Cheyennes with his excellent shooting.  Among those rescued are Senator Frederici (Moroni Olson) and his nubile daughter Louisa (Maureen O’Hara), with whom Cody is immediately taken, and writer Ned Buntline (Thomas Mitchell).  Cody is sympathetic to the Cheyennes and has friends among them, including chief’s son Yellow Hand (Anthony Quinn) and school teacher Dawn Starlight (Linda Darnell in a strange role).

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Stills of supposed Cheyennes Yellow Hand (Anthony Quinn) and Dawn Starlight (Linda Darnell).

When railroad interests try to force the Cheyennes off part of their land, Dawn Starlight tells Yellow Hand to take the senator as a hostage.  Cody rescues him, but the Cheyennes forge an alliance with the Sioux for a new war.  Cody and Louisa marry, and Cody scouts for the Fifth Cavalry against the Cheyennes (and against Louisa’s objections).  The advance scouts for the cavalry and the Cheyennes meet at War Bonnet Gorge, and in order to give the rest of the column time to come up for support, Cody takes on his blood brother Yellow Hand in single combat.  Cody wins, and Dawn Starlight is killed in the resulting battle as well.

Cody scouts for the Russian Grand Duke Alexis on a buffalo hunt, taking Louisa along.  Louisa tells him she’s pregnant, and they head for home.  The baby arrives before they get there, and Louisa bears a son named for Kit Carson with the help of an aged Cheyenne woman.  However, she won’t stay out west and takes their son to Ohio, where he can have the benefits of civilization and be kept safe.

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Cody goes to Washington, D.C. with Buntline to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for War Bonnet Gorge, only to receive word that Kit is dying of diptheria in Ohio.  He arrives just after Kit’s death, and leaves again.  In his bitterness, he takes on the venal railroad interests, and in turn is vilified with his role in the recent war questioned.  Alone and penniless in New York, he takes a job in a sideshow as a sharpshooter; Louisa shows up and demonstrates her faith in his marksmanship.  And Buntline conceives the idea for a Wild West show, giving rise to a montage in which Cody’s show performs before European monarchs and Cody ages decades in a few minutes, before riding off into a figurative Technicolor sunset with Louisa.

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Joel McCrea looks very good in long hair and goatee as Bill Cody, although he does not seem as outgoing and flamboyant as the real showman Cody was.  Even as a lowly scout and buffalo hunter in 1877, we are to believe that Cody wore outrageous pants.  Some of his actions with Indians, such as greeting them with “How!”, are jarring now, but were maybe less so when this was made.  He is depicted as having strong sympathies with the Indians and speaks up for them, although he always fights with the cavalry.

Red-haired Maureen O’Hara is appropriately fiery as Louisa Frederici Cody, although she seems inherently unreasonable in some of her attitudes.  Thomas Mitchell as Ned Buntline is much the same as he was as Doc Boone (in Stagecoach), as Plato Beck (Silver River) or a number of other heavy-drinking, classically-educated populist characters he played in westerns over the years. Anthony Quinn is good as Yellow Hand, but he stands out against other actors who are more clearly Indians.  Linda Darnell is a curious and unnecessary (but beautiful) character, an Indian school teacher in supposedly traditional Cheyenne dress—a carrier of civilization who has not herself fully partaken of various of its benefits.

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With teacher Dawn Starlight.

The supposed chronology of the movie doesn’t work well.   Although the movie is said to start in 1877 and a year or two passes before we hear of Crook’s defeat (actually more of a draw) at the Rosebud and Custer’s defeat on the Little Big Horn, those battles took place in 1876.  Cody did take on and kill Yellow Hand, but their relationship is exaggerated here.  Louisa Frederici’s father was not a senator, and they were married in the mid-1860s, not the late 1870s.  The Codys’ separation did take place, but they were estranged for most of their married life and never really got back together.  Cody started his first theatrical endeavors without Buntline in 1872, well before 1877, and briefly came back to the frontier after Custer’s defeat.  His manager/partner in the Wild West show was Nate Salisbury, not Ned Buntline.  He did have financial ups and downs with his shows, and he did love children as the movie shows.  At the turn of the 20th century, he may well have been the most recognizable celebrity on earth.  William Tecumseh Sherman is here claimed to have made the comment that the only good Indian is a dead Indian, but another general, Philip Sheridan, was supposedly the originator of that famous phrase.  As you might guess, there are other contenders for that honor, as well.

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Director William Wellman, star Joel McCrea and editor James B. Clark on the set.

Cody’s Medal of Honor was awarded in 1872, for service as a civilian scout to the 3rd Cavalry, displaying “gallantry in action” at Loupe Forke, Platte River, Nebraska, not for Warbonnet Gorge.  After Cody’s death in 1917, Congress revised the standards for receiving the Medal and removed from the rolls 911 given to civilians and others that would not be awarded by the new standards.  Among those removed was Cody’s.

This was a large-budget production in its time, with an excellent cast.  As a whole, elements of the film don’t work all that well; the weakness is largely in the structure and story.  Shot in color at various locations in Arizona, Utah and Montana, at 90 minutes.  For another interesting view of the Cody marriage (with a young Anthony Quinn as another Cheyenne warrior), see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman (1936).  In They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Anthony Quinn was Crazy Horse and got to kill Custer and make off with the 7th Cavalry’s banner.  For a revisionist look at Cody as a showman and the supposed history of the West, see Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976), with Paul Newman as Buffalo Bill.

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McCrea as Buffao Bill, with Maureen O’Hara; the real W.F. Cody in theatrical gear, ca. 1875.

As an historical artifact, the real Cody made a film with footage of from his show in 1908 near the end of his career.  Four minutes of the footage can be seen at http://moviessilently.com/2013/10/19/silent-movie-time-capsule-105-years-ago-buffalo-bill-cody-appeared-in-a-movie/

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McLintock!

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 26, 2014

McLintock!—John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Yvonne De Carlo, Stephanie Powers, Jack Kruschen, Patrick Wayne, Jerry Van Dyke, Chill Wills, Strother Martin, Bruce Cabot, Hank Worden, Michael Pate, Leo Gordon (1963; Dir: Andrew McLaglen)

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Variations on a theme of The Taming of the Shrew.

Many find this John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara western comedy enjoyable; others claim it has no plot and is just a string of situations that worked in previous Wayne movies (Rio Grande, North to Alaska) put together without a real story keeping them together.  With all the familiar actors in familiar roles, it does feel like we’ve seen much of it before.  The exclamation point in the title is not a good sign, either.

George Washington McLintock (known to most of his neighbors, friendly or not, as GW or just McLintock) is a local land and cattle baron in an unspecified territory out west near the turn of the 20th century.  That makes it either Arizona, New Mexico or Oklahoma, which were the only territories left then, and there are references to the Mesa Verde and Comanches.  GW’s wife Katherine (Maureen O’Hara) hasn’t been living with him for some time (years, in fact), and he is given to drunken roistering.  When he comes home to his ranch from that, he tosses his large hat at the house’s third-story weathervane and it generally lights there.  Whichever of the Mexican boys gets to it the next morning can have it.  By the end of the movie, he’s made 310 tosses in a row without a miss.

Things are happening in the town of McLintock.  Homesteaders are arriving to settle the Mesa Verde, the local Comanches on the reservation are restless, the Comanche chiefs are coming home from exile, GW’s daughter Becky (Stephanie Powers) is coming home from school in the east, and various anti-McLintock forces (developers, the territorial governor, bureaucrats) are making things more difficult. Early in the movie GW hires young Devlin Warren (Patrick Wayne), son of a recently-deceased homesteader, as a hand on the ranch and his mother Louise (Yvonne De Carlo) as the ranch cook.

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Stills of the estranged couple (John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara) and the young lovers (Stefanie Powers and Patrick Wayne).

During the remainder of the movie, taking place around the town’s traditional July Fourth festivities, GW argues on behalf of the Comanches before a commission headed by the territorial governor; participates in a rollicking fight at a local mudhole involving homesteaders, ranchers and an unfortunate Indian agent (Strother Martin); watches his daughter flirt with the clearly unfit son (Jerry Van Dyke) of someone he has long despised while it become obvious that Becky and Devlin should be together; and tries unsuccessfully to get back together with his estranged wife Kate.

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“Somebody oughta belt you in the mouth.”

GW McLintock:  [Yelling at homesteader played by Leo Gordon.]  “You’ve caused a lot of trouble this morning.  Might have got somebody killed.  Somebody oughta belt you in the mouth, but I won’t… I won’t.  [Reconsiders]  The hell I won’t!”  [Knocks the man down a muddy hill, precipitating a free-for-all.]

By the end, Louise Warren resigns to marry the local sheriff, Becky and Devlin are engaged and, in a taming-of-the-shrew fashion, GW and Kate are reconciled.  Even the Comanches may get a fairer shake from the government, although that is not established.  There are way too many characters and too many situations, leading to a lot of loose ends.  If you enjoyed all the action and supposed good humor without inspecting it too closely, you had a good time.

Becky McLintock:  “You are my father, and if you do love me, you will shoot him [indicating Devlin].”
GW McLintock:  “I’m your father, and I sure love you.”  [Grabs a pistol from his cabinet and shoots Devlin point-blank in the chest.]
Becky McLintock:  “You shot him!  You really shot him! If he…..
GW McLintock:  [Interrupting Becky]  “If he dies, he’ll be the first man killed with a blank cartridge. [Brandishing the pistol]  We use this to start the races on the Fourth [of July].”

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Mud fight, with Edgar Buchanan, Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne.

Director Andrew McLaglen was the son of Irish actor Victor McLaglen, long a friend of John Wayne’s mentor John Ford and of Wayne himself.   Andrew had gotten into the industry through directing television, especially episodes of Have Gun Will Travel.  With his comparative youth and inexperience, he was cheaper than Wayne’s first choice, Henry Hathaway, who had directed North to Alaska three years earlier.  There are evidences of his television background in the rollicking music, played very obviously to signal that the fight or whatever else is happening is not serious.  It’s a little heavy-handed.  The screenplay was written by James Edward Grant, another Wayne favorite, who also wrote and directed Angel and the Badman and had written The Alamo, Wayne’s big-budget production from three years earlier.

Of the large and rambunctious cast, Yvonne De Carlo and Jack Kruschen are particularly good as the new cook Louise Warren and Jake Birnbaum, the local Jewish merchant who is a long-time friend of GW.  Stefanie Powers and Patrick Wayne are fine as the young lovers, but Jerry Van Dyke plays Junior much too broadly for him to be considered a seriously competing suitor.  Chill Wills as GW’s majordomo Drago is less irritating here than he is in The Alamo, for example.

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If you enjoyed North to Alaska, you’ll probably want to watch this as well.  But you may have a hard time remembering the plot afterward.  More likely you’ll remember it as a series of vignettes, like the mud fight or the two spanking-with-a-coal-shovel episodes.  It’s like an extended television sitcom.  That spanking probably won’t play well with modern feminists, either.  This was the fourth of five films in which Wayne and O’Hara starred together, and the estranged married partners shtick was wearing a little thin without real issues.

In color, 127 minutes.  The lively theme song “Love in the Country” is sung by the folk trio The Limeliters.

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Revisionist Westerns

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 25, 2014

Revisionist Westerns

What’s so revisionist about revisionist westerns?  They started out in the late 1960s, partly as a reaction to all the westerns and western traditions that had come before them, and partly in connection with the anti-authoritarian, anti-military and anti-traditional sentiments of the baby boomers as they came of age in the era of the Vietnam War.  Whatever the traditional way of looking at the West and its development had been, the new generation wanted to look at it differently.  There was a strong streak of nihilism in them, suggesting that there was no real meaning in traditional western tales.  The heyday of revisionist westerns was the 1970s, with a new style of cinema taking over generally at the theaters.  Most revisionist westerns haven’t aged well, but as a group they remain interesting cultural artifacts of their era.

As a reaction against traditional themes, some of them wanted to emphasize, in a back-to-nature sort of way, the nobility of the Indians and their mistreatment by whites (see Little Big Man, for example).  Others, in a reaction to the John Ford school of looking at the military patriotically, wanted to show the cavalry as similar to the tainted US military in Vietnam (Soldier Blue).  Some wanted to show that traditional institutions are inherently corrupt (There Was a Crooked Man, Posse).  And some just wanted to do away with any sense of nobility or purpose connected to the western expansion of the United States.  Some did that by undermining traditional western heroes, like Wyatt Earp (Doc).  They tended to have R ratings because they showed the gritty West “the way it really was”–the down and dirty way they imagined it to have been.

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These are not great movies generally, like most films that have an ideological or cultural ax to grind.  But you should see some of them if you’re a fan of westerns.  The best of the genuinely revisionist westerns is probably Ulzana’s Raid, although many place McCabe and Mrs. Miller on the list of great westerns.  Little Big Man is interesting for Dustin Hoffman’s performance and its depiction of the Cheyennes.  Clint Eastwood’s magnum opus Unforgiven is not of the 1970s and is in a category of its own.  But it is revisionist in stripping away any supposed nobility from the image of western lawmen and killers, even while it tells a gripping story.

Even while the revisionist westerns were in vogue, traditional westerns tended to be bigger hits when they were good.  The 1970s also saw John Wayne in The Cowboys and The Shootist, and Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales.  They were great westerns, and not remotely revisionist.  The western story retained its power and popularity when it was done well.

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Little Big Man (1970).  Based on a novel by Thomas Berger, this is successful, if not completely accurate, in its depiction of the Cheyennes.  It is less so in its trashing of a succession of venal white characters, including Custer.

Soldier Blue (1970).  Portraying the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 as a counterpart of the American military action in Vietnam.  As a cavalry movie, it’s less successful than Duel at Diablo by the same director, Ralph Nelson.

There Was a Crooked Man (1970).  Kirk Douglas, in his anti-authoritarian mode, spends most of the movie jousting with the authorities inside and out of a prison.  Everybody’s corrupt.

Lawman (1971).  Directed by Englishman Michael Winner, this has some good performances (Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan), but is not very successful in making the law seem inherently corrupt.

Doc (1971).  Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp get the revisionist treatment in this little-seen version of the story of the gunfight in Tombstone.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971).  Warren Beatty is the gambling anti-hero, and Julie Christie a prostitute without the proverbial heart of gold in Robert Altman’s famous western.

Ulzana’s Raid (1972).  This remains respectable because it is even-handed in its depiction of both Indians and cavalry tending to savagery in the Apache wars.  Burt Lancaster is excellent as the old scout trying to teach a young eastern lieutenant about guerilla warfare in the West.

Dirty Little Billy (1972).  Michael J. Pollard is Billy the Kid, the dirty little Billy of the title.  While the title may be correct in its description of Billy, it is not terribly watchable or historically accurate.

The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972) This is a coming-of-age story, with Gary Grimes as the young man in question on a cattle drive with dirty, smelly cowboys.  He learns some undesirable things, as many cowboys probably did.

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The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972).  Robert Duvall as Jesse James and Cliff Robertson as Cole Younger head the cast of this highly fictionalized account of the James Gang’s 1876 disaster.

Bad Company (1972).  Jeff Bridges as a young man falls in with companions aptly described by the title

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972).  The titular “Law West of the Pecos” is played by Paul Newman in this John Huston-directed biopic.  (Compare Newman’s performance with Walter Brennan in 1940’s The Westerner or Ned Beatty as an even more highly fictionalized Bean in 1995’s Streets of Laredo.)

The Spikes Gang (1974).  Another coming-of-age story with Gary Grimes, this one with Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith, too.  They get tutored in bank-robbing by Lee Marvin, who turns on them.  Everybody dies.

Posse (1975).  Kirk Douglas is a marshal with a permanent posse and political ambitions, who spends the movie chasing outlaw Bruce Dern.  Dern then demonstrates the futility of it all.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976).  Paul Newman is Buffalo Bill in Robert Altman’s second western.

The Missouri Breaks (1976).  Arthur Penn’s pro-rustler look at Montana ranching conflicts, with Jack Nicholson as the primary rustler and a wildly quirky Marlon Brando as a frontier hit man (or “regulator”) in the only movie in which they appear together.

Unforgiven (1992).  Neither the lawman (Gene Hackman) nor the gunman (Clint Eastwood) is admirable in this bleak story.  But Clint Eastwood does tell a compelling tale.  If this is revisionist, it’s the most completely successful of the revisionist westerns.

Wild Bill (1995). Excellent westerns director Walter Hill makes a fictional hash of a framing story of Wild Bill Hickok’s last days in Deadwood, while telling other elements of his story in flashbacks and opium dreams.  Jeff Bridges as Wild Bill is excellent, but the movie is not.

Post-Revisionist Westerns:

Dead Man (1995).  Jim Jarmusch’s surrealistic portrayal of a journey toward death in the West isn’t reacting against traditional westerns, so much as starting over with a blank slate.

Slow West (2015).  Michael Fassbender stars as a bounty hunter chaperoning a young Scot seeking his love in a coming-of-age and coming-of-death story with a slightly European sensibility.

 

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Lust for Gold

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 23, 2014

Lust for Gold—Glenn Ford, Ida Lupino, Gig Young, William Prince, Edgar Buchanan, Paul Ford, Will Geer, Arthur Hunnicutt, Jay Silverheels (1949; Dir: S. Sylvan Simon)

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This mystery-noir western is a retelling of the story of the Lost Dutchman Mine on Superstition Mountain in Arizona.  It has a modern (ca. 1949) framing story with the supposed grandson of the Dutchman, and the historical portion of the film, which takes place in 1886 and 1887, features a sordid romantic triangle and several murders.  The movie starts with a certification from the governor of Arizona that the events of the film are true “according to the histories and legends of Arizona.”  This is about as truthful as most such movie declarations are.

In modern times, Barry Storm (William Prince), the grandson of German-born Jacob Walz, is hiking on Superstition Mountain when he hears a gunshot and finds the body of adventurer Floyd Buckley (Hayden Rorke), shot with a hunting rifle.  He reports this to the Sheriff Lynn Early (Paul Ford) in Florence, Arizona, and leads an expedition to retrieve the body.  Revealing himself to be the grandson of Walz (the Dutchman after whom the mine is named), deputies Ray Covin (Will Geer) and Walter (Jay Silverheels), an Apache, go back to the site with him and tell him the history of the mine and show him a couple of the landmarks associated with it.  Storm goes off to a retirement home in Phoenix, looking for more of the story.

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Walz (Glenn Ford) and Wiser (Edgar Buchanan) follow the last of the Peraltas to the lost mine.

Long known by Apaches, the fabulous mine was rediscovered by the three Mexican Peralta brothers around 1850.  Manuel Peralta and his miners are killed by Apaches led by Cochise, however.  More than thirty years later, Ramon Peralta returns to Superstition Mountain (about 40 miles from Phoenix) with an American partner (Arthur Hunnicutt), who can file on the claim.  They are followed by Wiser (Edgar Buchanan) and his friend Jacob Walz (Glenn Ford), who trail them to the mine.  Once there, they kill Ramon and his partner and Walz kills Wiser, leaving the three bodies in a ravine.

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Walz cashes in the first of his gold.

[Spoilers follow.]  Walz takes his initial load of gold back to Phoenix, where gold fever builds.  Among those affected is Julia Thomas (Ida Lupino), who tells her ineffective husband Pete (Gig Young) to disappear while she gets to know Walz.  She’s successful, and Walz is infatuated with her, while Pete becomes a local laughingstock.  Walz makes five trips to the mine, returning each time to Julia.  After the fifth trip he sees Julia and Pete together and realizes he’s being played.  He gives Julia a map back to the mine, and Pete and Julia arrive there before him.  Walz takes their mules and supplies and traps them at the mine without water.  Finally Pete runs out of bullets and Julia tries to go to Walz.  Pete stops her, and she stabs him in the back (literally, with a knife).  As Julia climbs toward Walz, there’s an earthquake and she’s crushed by rocks;  Walz is also killed and the entrance to the mine buried.

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Julia Thomas (Ida Lupino) is trapped at the mine.

Storm now thinks he can find the mine, and he heads back to the mountain.  However, there is still Buckley’s killer, who has apparently killed a total of four men over two years.  The killer also finds Storm, and they fight.  It is deputy Ray Covin, who is larger than Storm.  During their lengthy fight, it appears that Ray is winning until he is bitten by a rattlesnake and falls over a cliff.  It develops that Lynn Early had his suspicions about Ray but could not prove them until he could use Storm as bait.  Storm still hasn’t found the mine, though.

The structure of the movie is a bit complicated, with its multiple flashbacks, but it works if you’re paying attention.  This film has a large cast of good actors and a very noir feel, with few admirable characters.  British-born Ida Lupino is particularly effective as the faithless Julia Thomas, and Glenn Ford is appropriately moody as a Walz who is alternately sympathetic and murderous.  Ford’s German accent is slippery.  The weakest link in the cast is William Prince as Barry Storm; but he’s not terrible and spends most of his time narrating.  This was based on Thunder God’s Gold, a 1945 book by the real Barry Storm that renewed interest in the Lost Dutchman Mine, but there are many versions of the story.   The real Jacob Walz supposedly died of pneumonia in 1891 after flooding on his Arizona ranch.  Author Storm was not in fact a grandson of Walz, and sued the studio.

There are some painted backgrounds and obvious studio shots, and the earthquake sequence does not look particularly real.  But the movie is nevertheless quite watchable.  This was director S. Sylvan Simon’s last film; he died a short time later of a heart attack at 41.  Shot on location in Arizona, in black and white by Archie Stout; 90 minutes in length.

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Face of a Fugitive

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 21, 2014

Face of a Fugitive—Fred MacMurray, Lin McCarthy, Dorothy Green, Alan Baxter, James Coburn, Ron Hayes (1959; Dir: Paul Wendkos)

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In the 1950s Fred MacMurray was in a series of low-profile westerns that tended to be in part meditations on community and in part a consideration of whether a bad man can walk away from his past.  They included At Gunpoint, Quantez, Good Day for a Hanging, The Moonlighter, and this one.  Partly they work because MacMurray could project the kind of decency he did later as the father Steve Douglas in the television show My Three Sons in the 1960s.  Partly they work because he’s also good at portraying somebody on the edge, who could go either way.  His greatest movie role was as Walter Neff, the insurance investigator who gets pulled to the dark side by his fascination for bad woman Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944), one of the best films noir ever made.  We know how that one ended up, so we’re always aware that he could go that way again.

As in The Moonlighter and Quantez, here he’s a man with a past.  Jim Larsen (MacMurray) is a bank robber in the custody of a deputy marshal on a train, being taken to prison.  He overpowers the deputy and gets away, just as his younger brother Danny (Ron Hayes) arrives with horses to give him help he doesn’t need or want.  The deputy pulls a hidden gun and shoots Danny; Danny shoots back and kills the deputy, putting Larsen in bigger trouble than he was in before.  Larsen and his wounded brother get on the rear car of a train and try to sort out their situation.

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They have a patchy family history, with a father who looked out for himself and a mother who wore herself out and died young.  Larsen left home when she died and harbors continuing resentment against his father.  As he tries to figure a way out, Danny dies and Larsen stuffs his body in a mail bag and tosses it off a bridge into a river.  At a railroad switchyard, he pretends to be Ray Kincaid, mine inspector, and eludes capture until he arrives at the town of Tangle Blue.  (This picturesque name is the name of a lake in northern California’s Trinity Alps, but there’s no overt connection with this location in the movie.)

His seatmate is six-year-old Alice, who lives in Tangle Blue, where her mother Ellen Bailey (Dorothy Green) is a widow and her uncle Mark Riley (Lin McCarthy) is the new sheriff.  The plot takes its time developing, as Ray makes the acquaintance of Ellen and witnesses a confrontation between the young sheriff and Reed Williams (Alan Baxter), a large rancher who wants to fence off public land.  Ray can’t leave town because the passes have been shut down while the search is on for Jim Larsen.  So he applies to Mark for a job as a deputy.

At the dance in Tangle Blue that night, the answer on the job is no.  But Williams shows up with several of his men, including Purdy, to threaten Riley.  Ray steps in to back Williams off, and Riley gives him the deputy job.  As they talk about the nature of responsibility, law and family life, Ray talks Riley into marrying his long-time girlfriend, even with the uncertainties of his life as sheriff.

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Helping the sheriff face down the bad guys.

Mark Riley:  “Are you trying to tell me I should ask her to marry me now? Tonight?”
Jim Larsen/Ray Kincaid:  “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
Mark Riley:  “Don’t you realize that I might be killed in the morning?”
Larsen/Kincaid:  “Anybody can be killed… any day.”
Mark Riley:  “Anybody is me!  Any day is tomorrow!”

As Ray takes Ellen home from the dance, they see that the body of a young man has been found in a local stream, stuffed into a mail bag.  (Of course, we knew it would show up.)  Ray and Ellen seem to have a relationship developing, but he still has to get out of there.  In town, Williams’ men jump him in a bar.  He beats Williams, but Williams’ men pound him.  (Reminiscent of Robert Ryan’s fight against the outlaws in Day of the Outlaw, the same year as this film.)

Early the next morning Ray and Riley are guarding the pass out of town.  Ray tries to talk Riley into either backing off with Williams, or as an alternative, taking it to him hard.  Riley, who is about to become a lawyer, is stubborn in rejecting both of these, and heads off to cut down Williams’ fence, which will precipitate some form of showdown.  Purdy draws on Riley when he moves to cut the fence, but Ray is in the rocks above and displays extraordinary marksmanship with a rifle, hitting Purdy’s gun and cutting the three strands of wire with shots.  Riley leaves to get the wanted flyers from the train that will show Larsen’s likeness on them, and Ray starts to cut Purdy loose from his entangling wire when Williams’ men ride up.  Ray gets away to a small ghost town; he’s badly outnumbered but he starts to get Williams’ men one by one.  However, as he runs across a rotted roof, he falls through and breaks a leg.  As he drags himself into another room of the building, Purdy follows and Williams comes into the abandoned building through the front door.  It’s dim, and Williams shoots Purdy by mistake.  Riley, Ellen and deputies arrive, and it’s not clear whether Ray gets Williams or Riley does, but Ray has wounds in addition to his broken leg and is past caring for the moment.

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Ray (Fred MacMurray) cuts Purdy (James Coburn) loose.

Ellen Bailey:  “What’ll they do to him?”
Mark Riley:  “I don’t know.  But I’ll be there in court to tell them what he did here.”

In the 1950s, of course, outlaws in westerns weren’t allowed to get away with their crimes as they might be now.  (See the end of The Moonlighter, for example.)  There’s still the dead deputy to account for, even with Ray’s subsequent heroism in Tangle Blue.  It makes for an equivocal and mildly unsatisfying ending.

Mark Riley:  “You might say it’s the same man, but then again, you might not.”

MacMurray and Coburn (showing up here after his introductory role in Ride Lonesome) are very good, and Dorothy Green is good enough.  Ron Hayes is good in a brief role as Danny Larsen before he dies.  The rest of the cast isn’t as strong, particularly Lin McCarthy as the stubborn sheriff Mark Riley and Alan Baxter as the principal bad guy.  Both these roles could have used more nuance in their development, but the movie’s budget probably wasn’t big enough to get better actors for these roles.  MacMurray is really the only significant name in the cast.  By now he is not thought of as a star in westerns, but he was in several good ones in the 1950s.  This and Quantez are probably the two best, but they’re all worth watching.  This was MacMurray’s last western.

In general, the writing is good but not flashy, as Ray develops relationships in town.  As he is treated decently, he responds the same way and is better than he has to be, convincingly.  The pacing is good as the plot and relationships develop, heading toward the inevitable conflict with Williams.  Director Paul Wendkos spent most of his career in television, but he also made one of the Magnificent Seven sequels (Guns of the Magnificent Seven) and three Gidget movies.  Music is by Jerry Goldsmith.  In color, at 85 minutes.

For a similar good story of a man with a past riding into town under a false identity and helping out a beleagured sheriff against considerable odds, see Richard Egan in Tension at Table Rock (1956).

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Broken Arrow

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 18, 2014

Broken Arrow—James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget, Basil Ruysdael, Will Geer, Arthur Hunnicutt, Jay Silverheels (1950; Dir: Delmer Daves)

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In 1870, former Union soldier and scout Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) is a prospector in Arizona Territory, where Cochise’s Apaches have been at war with the Americans for ten years.  Jeffords gives a wounded Apache boy medical attention, and is spared by Geronimo when he attacks another band of prospectors.  In Tucson, Jeffords is asked to scout for Col. Bernall against the Apaches and declines, tired of war and fighting.  He makes a bet that he can get five mail riders through Apache Territory and spends a month learning Apache language and culture.  He is supported by his friend Milt Duffield (Arthur Hunnicutt), who manages the mail and offers to be the first rider.

Juan, Jeffords’ teacher in Apache ways, speaking of Cochise:  “Remember this: if you see him, do not lie to him… not in the smallest thing.  His eyes will see into your heart.  He is greater than other men.”

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Not even Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) is safe in Apache Country.

Jeffords makes a trip to Cochise’s stronghold to ask for the chief (Jeff Chandler, in one of his signature roles) to let the mail riders through, promising that they will carry no military information.   After getting to know Jeffords, he accedes to the request.  Meanwhile, Jeffords meets Apache maiden Sonseeahray (Debra Paget, everybody’s favorite 1950s Indian maiden).

One-armed Gen. Oliver O. Howard (Basil Ruysdael) comes west and joins Col. Bernall on a raid into Apache territory.  Bernall rushes into an Apache ambush and his column is all but wiped out by Cochise’s forces.

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Jeff Chandler as the wise and powerful Cochise.

Back in Tucson, Jeffords gets into fights with Indian haters, particularly with Ben Slade (Will Geer), whose ranch was burned by Apaches with his wife still in the ranch house.  As Jeffords is about to be lynched, he is rescued by Gen. Howard.  Although Jeffords is suspicious at first, Howard explains that, motivated by his Biblical beliefs, he wants to make peace with the Apaches, and he wants Jeffords to set up a meeting with Cochise.

Jeffords goes to Cochise, who calls in other Apache leaders for the conference with Howard. Meanwhile, Jeffords marries Sonseeahray. The Apache leaders vote for a provisional peace with a three-month trial period and Cochise symbolically breaks an arrow, but Geronimo (an uncredited Jay Silverheels) leads a dissenting Apache faction that will continue to raid. During the trial period, Geronimo attacks a stage, but Jeffords leads Cochise’s men in a rescue. Ben Slade’s son leads Jeffords and Cochise into a trap to kill him; Jeffords is wounded and Sonseeahray is killed, as are Slade and his son. Cochise remains committed to the peace, and it endures—for now.

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Jeffords (Stewart) and the young Apache maiden (Debra Paget).

Cochise to Jeffords: “As I bear the murder of my people, so you will bear the murder of your wife.”

Tom Jeffords (closing narration):  “His words meant very little to me then, but as time passed, I came to know that the death of Sonseeahray had put a seal upon the peace.  And from that day on wherever I went—in the cities, among the Apaches, in the mountains—I always remembered my wife was with me.”

The film was a breakthrough in its time because it depicted Indians in a sympathetic light.  Director Delmer Daves had a background as an anthropology student, and some scenes of Apache ceremonies and beliefs have an interesting anthropological bent.  In the 65 years since its release, however, it has sometimes been criticized because some of the Indian roles, including Cochise and Sonseeahray, are played by white actors.  Jeff Chandler as Cochise is the ultimate noble savage, depicted as a far-sighted civil leader and a great military mind.  He received an Oscar nomination for the Best Supporting Actor for his work here.  Daves went on to create several more excellent westerns during the 1950s.

This film was the forerunner of such Indian-sympathetic films as A Man Called Horse (1970), Little Big Man (1970) and Dances With Wolves (1990).  It’s not perfect; it can seem a little stiff and politically correct for modern times, but it still makes good watching.  And mostly it’s historically accurate, as it claims in the opening narration, describing a peace reached in 1872.  That peace lasted only until 1875, when the Apaches were forced onto a reservation. Cochise died in 1874, still friends with Jeffords.

The Apache wedding words pronounced over Sonseeahray and Jeffords, often used since in many weddings of whites, are not authentic in the sense that they are not part of a traditional Apache ceremony.  They were written for this film.

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The movie was shot in 1949 but released in 1950, after Stewart’s first western with Anthony Mann, Winchester ’73.  Both were very successful.  Stewart at 41 is 26 years older than Debra Paget, who was 15 when filming began.  Based on Elliott Arnold’s novel Blood Brother, Albert Maltz wrote the screenplay but was blacklisted as one of the Hollywood 10, and the screenwriting credit is given to Michael Blankfort as a front for Maltz.  Music is by Hugo Friedhofer.  Shot in Technicolor (but not widescreen) in Sedona, Arizona.  93 minutes.

The movie’s world premiere was held in the Nusho Theater in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  Jeff Chandler and Jay Silverheels would reprise their roles as Cochise and Geronimo in The Battle of Apache Pass (1952), a sort of prequel to this film.  Another western classic depicting Cochise as a gifted military leader is John Ford’s Fort Apache (1948).

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Masterson of Kansas

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 16, 2014

Masterson of Kansas—George Montgomery, Nancy Gates, Bruce Cowling, James Griffith, William Henry, Jay Silverheels, John Maxwell (1954; Dir: William Castle)

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Badly written and clunkily directed, this B-movie western takes such historical figures as Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and does completely fictional things.  The best acting here is done by James Griffith as Doc Holliday, but that’s always a juicy role.  As in Frontier Marshal and My Darling Clementine, Doc Holliday is depicted as a medical doctor (patching up a wounded Virgil Earp), instead of the dentist he was.  George Montgomery as the titlular Bat Masterson is so stiff you can see why he eventually gave up acting for furniture design.  Bruce Cowling (the cuckolded Irish trooper in Ambush) is a curiously ineffective Wyatt Earp.  Everybody in this movie wears two guns in 1950s-style rigs. The cast now seems lacking in star power.

A supposed enmity between Bat Masterson, the sheriff of Dodge City, and Doc Holliday is the background for a plot to lynch Indian sympathizer Amos Merrick (John Maxwell) so that white cattlemen can get Indian land.  Nancy Gates (the rescued wife in Comanche Station) plays Merrick’s daughter Amy, the romantic interest for Masterson, but she seems largely extraneous.  She persuades Doc, despite his feud with Masterson, to help in the search for Clay Bennett, who testified that he saw the murder.  Jay Silverheels shows up as Yellow Hawk, chief of the Comanches (or Kiowas or southern Cheyennes).  William Henry is Charlie Fry, the nefarious cattleman behind the lynching and all the bad goings-on.

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In the end, it’s Masterson, Wyatt and Doc striding down the main street of Hays City, shooting it out with a horde of gunmen.  None of it makes a great deal of sense, and there’s a lot of improbable shooting.  Director William Castle was better known for low-budget horror pictures, but he made his share of westerns as well, none of which are particularly notable.  In color, at just 73 minutes.

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Bite the Bullet

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 14, 2014

Bite the Bullet—Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Candice Bergen, Ben Johnson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Dabney Coleman, Ian Bannen (1975; Dir: Richard Brooks)

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This is the story of a newspaper-sponsored endurance horse race (700 miles in seven days) in the early days of the 20th century (1905), with a variety of contestants including old friends and former Rough Riders Gene Hackman and James Coburn.

Reporter: “Two important regulations. Rule One…”
Carbo: “Win!”
Reporter: “Rule One: each horse must carry no less than 160 pounds including rider, saddle and extras.  Rule Two:  You’ll be issued a compass and a map for each leg of the race.  On it, you will find the safest route.  You don’t need to take it.  You do have to make every checkpoint.  Miss one, you’re disqualified—out of the race.  Any questions?  Jump off time: six in the morning.”

Sam Clayton (Hackman) is a sort of horse-whisperer type; Luke Matthews (Coburn) is a gambler, in the race purely for the money.  The other contestants seem to be a variety of stereotypes:  Carbo, the Kid who’s not really the cowboy he pretends to be but comes of age during the race (Jan-Michael Vincent); the dying but sympathetic Old-Timer (Ben Johnson); Jones, the Gritty Babe with a Past (Candice Bergen); the Competent Mexican (Mario Arteaga); Sir Harry Norfolk, the Sporting Englishman (Ian Bannen); Jack Parker, the Distasteful Magnate (Dabney Coleman); and others.  The story develops in seeing them get winnowed out while eventual winners, and a couple of non-winners, demonstrate their worthiness.

Character gets established early in the film.  Clayton has been hired to deliver a thoroughbred to the train transporting race participants, and he misses the connection while saving a colt.  Carbo has a big mouth and doesn’t treat animals well.  Clayton sticks up for underdogs; Matthews sticks up for Clayton.  Jones makes connections with her former madam and establishes general competence despite her background.  The Mexican has a bad toothache but can’t get it attended to because of social prejudices.  The wealthy Englishman is a good sport who cares about his horse; the wealthy American less so.

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The loutish Carbo (Jan-Michael Vincent) punches out a donkey.

Miss Jones: “For a family who don’t know a jackass from a mule, you sure know a lot about the West.”
Jack Parker: “We don’t have to know about it. We, ah, we own it.”

The plot feels organic, up to a point.  Backstories on most of the contestants are revealed bit by bit, but some of them remain more enigmatic than others.  The movie is most interested in Sam, Luke and Jones, with perhaps more of Carbo than the audience needs to see.  There are a couple of changes of heart that are not entirely convincing because they happen so fast.

Carbo: “That sonofabitch [Clayton] tried to kill me.”
Luke Matthews: “Oh, he couldn’t a tried very hard.”

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Miss Jones (Candice Bergen) defends herself in the desert.

Near the end of the race, it develops that Jones is in the race to help her bank-robbing boyfriend Steve (Walter Scott) escape from a chain gang.  Her eyes are opened when Steve brings along two others, kills guards unnecessarily and steals horses from contestants in the race (the Mexican, Sam and Luke).  The various parties—Jones, Sam, Luke, Carbo and even the American magnate—cooperate in getting them back, with Luke maniacally driving the newspaper’s motorcycle.  This rehabilitates Carbo’s careless character, who redeems himself with this and by taking care of the Old Timer’s horse.

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Sam (Gene Hackman) and Luke (James Coburn) give chase on a modern contrivance.

There are only three contestants still in the race at the end: Sam, Luke and the thoroughbred rider. The grueling race has taken its toll on them, and the conclusion is fairly satisfying.  It’s not entirely clear what happens to the Mexican and the thoroughbred.  Jones leaves after her role in abetting the escape becomes obvious, although it is clear that she remains good-hearted and didn’t intend the nasty things Steve did.  She’s well rid of him.

Gene Hackman and James Coburn were at the peaks of their careers in this.  They were well-cast for their parts, and they form the center of the film.  Candice Bergen was great to look at, not a superb actress but able to do what is required of her here.  Well written, this makes pleasant enough watching, but it’s not quite as good as writer-director Brooks’ previous effort in The Professionals (1966).  It may be better than Brooks’ seldom-seen The Last Hunt (1956).  The social attitudes seem quite current for a film now forty years old, but maybe we’re just now catching up with Hollywood liberals of the 1970s.  The point is made a couple of times about technology overtaking the horse, with a recurring motorcycle.  Music is by Alex North.  In color, at 131 minutes.

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Things just aren’t working out.

Lest the title seem too arbitrary, there is an actual bullet bitten in this movie.  When the Mexican can’t get dental attention for his tooth, Jones lances the infection and Clayton fashions a temporary crown for the tooth out of a bullet casing.

For another endurance race featuring a westerner (albeit a race in the Arabian deserts), see Hidalgo, with Viggo Mortensen (2004).  Historically, there were several endurance races like the one in this film.  The most famous took place in 1893, a 1000-mile race from Chadron, Nebraska, to Chicago, promoted by Buffalo Bill Cody in connection with the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The best-known participant was horse thief Doc Middleton.  The race in this movie is said to have been inspired by the 1908 700-mile cross-country horse race from Evanston, Wyoming, to Denver, Colorado.  It was sponsored by the Denver Post, which offered $2,500 in prize money to the winner.

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Hangman’s Knot

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 11, 2014

Hangman’s Knot—Randolph Scott, Donna Reed, Lee Marvin, Claude Jarman, Jr., Frank Faylen, Ray Teal, Guinn Williams, Jeanette Nolan, Richard Denning, Clem Bevans (1952; Dir: Roy Huggins)

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A Civil War Confederates-after-Yankee-gold film, and one of Randolph Scott’s best from his pre-Boetticher period.  (Note that the producers here are Scott and Harry Joe Brown—later the combined “Ranown” of the Boetticher-Scott films.  At this point they still needed to find a reliable director and writer for their team, although Roy Huggins does well in both those roles here.)

Eight Confederate soldiers from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia are in Nevada, led by Major Matt Stewart (Randolph Scott).  As the movie starts, they’re planning to steal a shipment of Union gold to save their all-but-defeated southern cause.  They waste no time in carrying out that plan, killing the Yankee soldiers and taking the $250,000 in gold the Yankees are transporting.  Unknown to them, however, the Civil War has ended a month before the attack, and they just hadn’t heard about it.  Now they’ve killed a bunch of Union Nevada volunteers, are in possession of a lot of gold in the middle of hostile territory, and are liable to be hung when they get caught.  The five survivors of the raid agree to try to get back south with the gold and perhaps split it up.  Stewart doesn’t want to become an outlaw, but Rolph Bainter (Lee Marvin in one of his first significant movie roles) wouldn’t mind at all.

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Capturing the gold wagon is only the start.

They can trust no one, and Rolph impulsively kills Capt. Peterson, their contact who he thinks has been holding out information on them and plans to take the gold for himself.  They take Peterson’s medicine wagon with Stewart driving.  When they encounter a posse, Stewart tells them the Confederates have already been captured in a town behind them, and they move on.

That’s fine until the wagon is ruined in an accident.  The Confederates flag down a stagecoach and take it over.  The two passengers inside are Molly Hull (Donna Reed), a former Union nurse, and her fiancé Lee Kemper (Richard Denning), a cattle trader who is not all he seems.  They all take refuge in a stage line way station in a rocky mountain pass and are trapped there by the posse of “deputies” (read: gold-hungry drifters) led by Quincey (Ray Teal).  It’s pretty clear that they intend to kill the remaining Confederates and anybody else in the station and take the gold for themselves.  They capture Cass Browne (Frank Faylen), one of Stewart’s men, and drag him nearly to death.

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Stewart (Randolph Scott) drives the getaway stage.

Stewart’s men are now besieged in the way station, with the aging stationmaster Plunkett (Clem Bevans) and his middle-aged daughter Mrs. Margaret Harris (Jeanette Nolan), whose husband was killed at Gettysburg and whose son was in the Union patrol guarding the stolen gold; he’s now dead, obviously.  Molly helps care for a badly wounded Confederate while the others try to figure out how they’re going to escape.  Stewart, under the guise of trying to make a deal, plants the seed with the posse that the gold is back where they left the medicine wagon.

After taking their captives’ word not to yell out, the Confederates try to escape through the back door.  But Lee breaks his word, and Stewart’s men are forced back inside.  In exchange for two bars of gold, Lee gives Stewart a token that he says will enable them to get horses, supplies and passage from the local Paiute Indians.  Molly isn’t really his fiancée, but now she’s even more disgusted with him.  Both Stewart and Rolph have eyes for Molly, but Stewart is much more gentlemanly in his approach, as we would expect from Randolph Scott.

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Rolph (Lee Marvin) finds his brand of charm doesn’t work on Molly (Donna Reed), or on Stewart (Randolph Scott), either.

At one point, the “deputies” put a noose around Cass Browne’s neck, and Stewart uses dynamite for a distraction to rescue him. (Anachronism alert:  Dynamite wasn’t patented until 1867 and was not used during the Civil War.)  Some backstory emerges on young trooper Jamie Groves (Claude Jarman, Jr.):  he watched his family killed and their farm burned by Sherman’s men in Georgia, and, although he was in the raiding party after the Yankee gold, he’s never shot any one during his brief military service.  Rolph tries to seduce/attack Molly, until Stewart pulls him off. They fight, and Rolph, when he’s losing, tries to shoot an unarmed Stewart.  Jamie shoots Rolph—the first man he has ever shot.  Now they’ve lost one of their best (but most unscrupulous) fighters.

The “deputies” now try a short tunnel under the station’s floorboards, but that doesn’t work.  The second night they set fire to the station, just before a brief downpour cuts visibility.  The first out the door is Lee, who is shot down while trying to make a deal.  Taking what they can of the gold, the three remaining Confederates make a break for it.  Some of the deputies leave to hunt for the gold supposedly left by the medicine wagon; Quincey shoots Smitty (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams) and is shot and then dragged himself.  Cass Browne is shot while trying to get to the posse’s horses, but he gets another posse member.

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The way station falls in flames.  From left to right:  Claude Jarman, Jr., Randolph Scott, Jeanette Nolan, Clem Bevans, Richard Denning, Donna Reed and Frank Faylen.

Finally, it’s only Stewart and Jamie left.  Now that they could actually get away with it, they choose to leave the gold at the station for Molly to turn in.  Plunkett and Margaret give them a couple of stagecoach horses for their escape and offer Jamie a place with them if he wants to come back.  Stewart and Molly make plans to reunite, too.

The film is very well-cast, and the writing (by director Roy Huggins) is very good.  Randolph Scott looks good in his dark clothing, light-colored neckerchief and worn leather jacket.  That leather jacket is one of the trademarks of Scott’s later career, like his dark palomino horse Stardust; look for him wearing it in many of his movies from this period, including Ten Wanted Men and Ride the High Country (his last film).  Marvin is very effective as a villain in an early screen role, and even Claude Jarman, Jr., known principally as a child actor in The Yearling, does well with his small part, in one of his last significant movies.  All the Confederates seem well-defined and distinct, with their own personalities, and some of the posse as well.  This is a small gem, one of the best of Randolph Scott’s pre-Boetticher years. This is rare for a movie from the early 1950s in that it allows Stewart and Jamie, at least, to get away without having to surrender to the authorities, if not with their loot intact.

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Molly and Stewart, finally together, featuring Randolph Scott in his trademark jacket..

The action is good, since the stunts were overseen by second-unit director Yakima Canutt.  The stunt double for Scott during his fight scenes with Lee Marvin is a little too obvious.  Writer-director Roy Huggins never directed another movie but took his talents to television, with Maverick, Cheyenne, The Fugitive and eventually The Rockford Files.  Shot in the Alabama Hills at Lone Pine, in color, at just 81 minutes.

For other Confederates-after-Yankee-gold westerns, see Virginia City (1940) with Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott, Westbound (1959), also with Randolph Scott, and The Black Dakotas (1954).  Even Rio Lobo (1970), Howard Hawks’ last movie, may fit into that category, although it’s not a very good film.  For more Lee Marvin as a bad guy, see him in Seven Men From Now (1956), again with Randolph Scott, in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), with Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan, and The Comancheros (1961), with John Wayne, before he gets to his ultimate villain role:  as Liberty Valance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

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