Tag Archives: Manhunts

A Man Alone

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 5, 2014

A Man Alone—Ray Milland, Mary Murphy, Ward Bond, Raymond Burr, Lee Van Cleef, Alan Hale, Jr.  (1955; Dir:  Ray Milland)


Although he’s frequently dirty and sometimes unshaven, Welsh-born Ray Milland still seems like an unusually fastidious cowboy with an eastern-ish accent.  Wesley Steele (MIlland) is a known gunman, but not exactly an outlaw, stranded in the desert.  He stumbles on a robbed stage, where six people have been killed, and then into a bank robbery in Mesa, a town controlled by Stanley (Raymond Burr).  He is blamed for both, and the hunt is on for Steele in earnest.

As he escapes, he seeks refuge in the basement of a house that turns out to be owned by local sheriff Gil Corrigan (Ward Bond) and his daughter Nadine (Mary Murphy, best known for her role as Marlon Brando’s girlfriend in The Wild One two years previously).  The sheriff is incapacitated with yellow fever, and the house is quarantined.  Steele wins Nadine’s confidence by helping to care for her father, even though she knows the whole town is looking for Steele. 

ManAlone2 Nadine and Steele.

It turns out that both the bank robbery and the heinous stage robbery were carried out by Stanley and his henchmen (including Lee Van Cleef).  Steele has to win over the recovered sheriff, who, once persuaded, lets him go and is then about to be lynched by irate townspeople.  Steele re-appears and saves him.  Steele gets the girl, who seems much younger than he.

In color, especially Murphy’s blond hair, at 96 minutes.  A rare western with Ray Milland, directed by Ray Milland, and it’s watchable, with a good supporting cast.  For Milland in another western, see Copper Canyon (1950), with Hedy Lamarr.

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The Moonlighter

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 3, 2014

The Moonlighter—Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Ward Bond, William Ching, Jack Elam (1953; Dir:  Roy Rowland)


Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck had been making movies together since 1940’s Remember the Night, and of course their best-known collaboration was in one of the screen’s all-time greatest films noir:  Double Indemnity (1944).  This time they’re in a western, and, while pleasant enough to watch, it’s not in the same category as Double Indemnity.  It’s probably the weakest of their four films together.

The film starts with Wes Anderson (MacMurray) in jail, having been arrested as a moonlighter—one who rustles cattle by moonlight.  He is in fact guilty, but an irate rancher wants to lynch him.  Circumstances conspire so that they hang the wrong man (as in The Ox-Bow Incident), and a black man in the jail sings spirituals so we’ll get the connection with more modern lynching in the American south—also like The Ox-Bow Incident. 

Anderson escapes and arranges for a funeral for the supposedly deceased Wes Anderson, robbing those who attend to pay for the festivities.  He takes some revenge on the spread that did the lynching and heads home for Rio Hondo after a five-year absence with a wound in his shoulder.


His brother Tom (William Ching) works respectably in the local bank and has finally convinced Wes’ former girlfriend Rela to marry him.  However, Tom gets fired, and Cole Gardner (Ward Bond), an old outlaw acquaintance of Wes’, shows up with a plan to rob the bank.  Wes tries to keep Tom out of the plan, but Tom now insists on being included.  As they escape, his former employer pulls a hidden gun and shoots Tom in the back.  Wes and Cole make their escape in the bank president’s horseless carriage, placing the time of this movie around 1900.

As Wes and Cole hole up in a remote cabin, a posse searches for them ineffectively.  But Rela knows where they probably are, and she convinces the sheriff to deputize her.  Meanwhile, Cole decides he doesn’t want to share the loot.  He and Wes fight, and, hampered by his wounded shoulder, Wes is knocked out and tied up.  As Cole descends the mountain, Rela spots him and a gun battle breaks out between them.  Rela eventually wins, finds Wes and unties him.  She insists they go down the dangerous way. 

As Rela and Wes cross under a waterfall, Rela slips and falls in a pool.  Wes could escape but chooses to rescue her and he takes her back to the remote hideout.  They have a discussion with lots of “suddenly I realized …” on both sides.  Rela always loved Wes and he loves her.  Now he’s decided to turn in himself and the money so that he and Rela can be together when he gets out of jail.  (He’s ignoring the fact that under the felony murder rules, he is likely to be accused of Tom’s murder, since it happened in the commission of a felony in which he was participating.)  Anyway, the second ride down the mountain goes smoothly, and they fade out.


The action sequences (the jailbreak and lynching, and the fight between Cole and Wes, for example) are good.  But all of the sudden realizations are not convincing.  At the least, they needed more time to develop.  It brings to mind the ending of Remember the Night, which was not quite as unsatisfying.  MacMurray and Stanwyck rekindle their relationship in 1956 in Douglas Sirk’s melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow.  And MacMurray is better in 1957’s Quantez.  In black and white.  Short, at 77 minutes.  Like John Wayne’s Hondo and Raoul Walsh’s Gun Fury, The Moonlighter was originally shot in 3-D during Hollywood’s brief flirtation with that technology in the early 1950s.

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Nevada Smith

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 29, 2014

Nevada Smith—Steve McQueen, Brian Keith, Karl Malden, Suzanne Pleshette, Arthur Kennedy, Martin Landau, Janet Margolin, Paul Fix (1966; Dir:  Henry Hathaway)


This episodic vengeance western is one of Steve McQueen’s few works in the genre.  Uneducated young Max Sand (McQueen) is the product of a mixed marriage—a white father and a Kiowa mother.  He finds his parents brutally killed by three outlaws and sets out to kill them all.  On the way he runs into gunsmith Jonas Cord (Brian Keith), who teaches him to shoot, along with various other survival skills. 

The first of the killers he finds is a gambler in Abilene, Jack Langley (real name Jesse Coe, played by Martin Landau).  Sand kills him in a knife fight, although he is badly wounded himself, saved only by the McGuffey reader stuffed in his shirt.  He is nursed back to health by Kiowa dance hall girl Neesa (Janet Margolin). 


Young Max Sand (Steve McQueen) being instructed by Jonas Cord (Brian Keith).

He learns that Billy Bowdre (Arthur Kennedy) is in a prison camp in the Louisiana swamps, after an unsuccessful bank robbery.  Sand gets himself thrown in prison to find Bowdre.  Sand and Bowdre escape through the swamps with the help of young Cajun Pilar (Suzanne Pleshette), who is bitten by a snake and doesn’t make it. 

The third is Tom Fitch (Karl Malden in a bad-guy role) in the California gold country, where he has an outlaw gang.  Sands has tracked him down calling himself Fitch’s brother, but Fitch is now paranoid about Max Sand.  Fitch’s men bust him out of jail and all but kill him when they find he isn’t the outlaw.  They leave him for dead and he is nursed back to health by a Catholic priest.  He joins Fitch’s outlaw gang for a big job, and in the middle of the job takes after Fitch, whom he shoots to pieces but can’t bring himself to finish off.  Presumably then he joins up with Jonas Cord again. 


This is based on two characters (Jonas Cord and Nevada Smith) from a sleazy Harold Robbins novel, The Carpetbaggers, which had been a successful movie two years earlier.  (Nevada Smith was played by Alan Ladd in that one, in his last movie role; he doesn’t look half-Kiowa, either.)  Well-produced and directed by old veteran Henry Hathaway, it looks good but the plot doesn’t hang together real well.  Characters feel manipulated (or tossed away) rather than developed except perhaps for Sand.  Cinematography by Lucien Ballard; music by Alfred Newman.  Watchable but not terribly memorable. 

Blond, blue-eyed McQueen at 36 seems old for the young Sand, and he certainly doesn’t look half Kiowa.  Brian Keith may be the best actor in the film; Howard da Silva is good as the Louisiana prison camp warden and Pat Hingle as a prison trusty.  Iron Eyes Cody, Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones have uncredited bit parts.  A dark-haired Loni Anderson has an uncredited bit part as a dance hall girl in the first half of the film.  Filmed in the Owens Valley desert and in Inyo National Forest.


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The Showdown

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 25, 2014

The Showdown—William Elliott, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan, Jim Davis, Marie Windsor, Rhys Williams, Yakima Canutt, Charles Stevens (1950; Dirs:  Dorrell McGowan and Stuart McGowan)

ShowdownPoster ShowdownBelg

Not a terribly meaningful title for a cattle drive movie.  Stoic actor Wild Bill Elliott starred in a lot of B-type westerns and crime stories in the late 1940s and 1950s, including several as Red Ryder, but he was kind of stone-faced and not very charismatic.  If you want to watch one of his westerns to see what he was about, you could do worse than trying this one. 

William (Wild Bill) Elliott is Shadrach Jones, an ex-Texas State Policeman looking for his brother’s killer.  The movie opens with Jones digging up his brother’s body, to find that he’d been shot in the back with a small-caliber gun.  Figuring the killer to be one of the hands on a trail drive to Montana, he signs on as the trail boss for owner Cap MacKellar (Walter Brennan) of the Circle K after he has to kill Big Mart (Leif Erickson), the existing foreman.  Marie Windsor (queen of the B-movies) is Adelaide, saloon owner and partner to MacKellar, with perhaps a romantic interest in Jones.  She shows up to go on the drive, theoretically to protect her investment but really to have a female on screen through the movie.


Adelaide (Marie Windsor) and Shadrach Jones (William Elliott).

[Spoilers follow.]  The drive has the usual vicissitudes (stampedes and related deaths), with the added element of somebody killing various participants as the drive moves along.  Finally an accident gives MacKellar a mortal injury and he admits that he did the shooting of Jones’ brother, leaving a number of loose ends in the plot. 

There are some spots where the background is too obviously painted, and the supporting cast is stronger than the lead.  Walter Brennan gives the best performance in the film as McKellar, the owner of the herd.  Charles Stevens (grandson of Geronimo) is another of his Indian Joe characters.  Harry Morgan is good as Rod Main, a gunhand hostile to Jones from the start.  Rhys Williams is Chokecherry, the one-handed cook and chuckwagon driver.  On the whole this seems slightly better than a B movie, with a better than average script.  A Republic film with a low budget and some noir elements, but it’s better than it deserves to be.  Black and white, 86 minutes. 

Not to be confused with either Showdown (1963) with Audie Murphy, or Showdown (1973) with Rock Hudson, Dean Martin and Susan Clark.  Not to mention Fury at Showdown, Showdown at Boot Hill, etc.

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The Proposition

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 21, 2014

The Proposition—Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, David Wenham, Emily Watson, Richard Wilson, Danny Huston, John Hurt (2005; Dir:  John Hillcoat)


This Australian western features terrific performances from Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley and Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns, a captured member of the outlaw Burns gang headed by his brother Arthur.  In the 1880s, the Burns gang has long been pursued ineffectively by Captain Stanley, raiding, plundering, ravishing women and then disappearing into the outback.  Finally, in the wake of the rape and murder of the Hopkins family, Stanley captures the two younger Burns brothers:  middle brother Charlie and his mentally-impaired 14-year-old brother Mikey (Richard Wilson).  But he really wants oldest brother Arthur, who runs the gang.  Stanley gives Charlie the Proposition of the title:  He’ll turn Charlie loose and give him nine days to kill brother Arthur.  If he doesn’t do that within the nine days, Stanley will hang brother Mikey on Christmas Day.  Charlie has to choose which brother will live–the sweeter and not-responsible-for-his-actions Mikey, or the intelligent and charismatic but violent, nasty and wild Arthur.  And he will be the instrument of the death of whichever dies.

PropositionWinstoneWinstone as Capt. Stanley.

Pearce heads into the outback, not sure what he’ll do or how he’ll do it.  Meanwhile, Stanley is overseen by government bureaucrat Eden Fletcher (David Wenham) and deals with the fragility of his cultured wife Martha (Emily Watson) in this rough setting.  The more we see of the Burns gang, in flashbacks and in current action, the more we realize what a horrible bad guy Arthur is, and our sympathies start shifting around.  Maybe Arthur could somehow get the government bureaucrat, and then Stanley could get him?  But it doesn’t work out that way.  Arthur and what’s left of the gang continue their furious, and almost mindlessly violent, depredations. 

Charlie encounters possibly-mad bounty hunter Jellon Lamb (John Hurt).  He is captured and wounded by aborigines, but is rescued by Arthur and the gang.  As he recuperates from his wounds he has to come to terms with how he’ll react to Stanley’s Proposition.  In the end, the Burns gang comes to Stanley (violently–they do everything violently), and Charlie is appalled by it all.

By hearing the premise, you’d think that Stanley is a monster and Pearce not much better, but they turn out to be the most sympathetic characters in the film.  There is marvelous cinematography by Benoit Delhomme and excellent use of the bleak Australian outback landscape, which becomes one of the characters.  The loathsome government bureaucrat is well-played by David Wenham.  You feel it when Winstone’s plot breaks apart.  Winstone and Pearce are excellent in as Capt. Stanley and Charlie Burns.  The production design is very good, too. The effective music was composed and performed by musician Nick Cave (who also wrote the script) and violinist Warren Ellis.

PropositionGang The remaining Burns gang.

The film is not without its weaknesses; the pacing, for example, is too slow.  It has some of the weaknesses of spaghetti westerns, i.e., lingering tight close-ups on faces, flies and dust that don’t advance plot or character understanding much; and there are strange and loathsome soldiers/police/townspeople without giving us much understanding of them.  Emily Watson’s character (the cultured wife of Captain Stanley) is a little spooky, although she’s written that way.  That is, Watson is a good actress and the weakness is in the writing and direction.  It makes her too much just a symbol.  There is poor linking of motivation with the actions of Arthur Burns (Danny Huston, son of director/actor John Huston and grandson of  actor Walter Huston).  Is he just a psychopathic monster, despite his obvious intelligence and literary flair?  He’s interesting in a way, but just too unintelligible.  There is too much dust and not enough exposition, perhaps.  Too much strong language.  The biggest problem:  Over-the-top graphic violence.  It makes Arthur Burns seem like Freddy Kruger.  It is rated R for the violence and language.


Brothers Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Arthur (Danny Huston) at the end.

There are echoes of Sam Peckinpah in the graphic violence, and of Sergio Leone in some of the ways the film was shot.  Roger Ebert gave it 4 out of a possible 4 stars, describing the film as a “A movie you cannot turn away from; it is so pitiless and uncompromising, so filled with pathos and disregarded innocence, that it is a record of those things we pray to be delivered from.”  Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called it “A pitiless yet elegiac Australian Western as caked with beauty as it is with blood.”

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Shoot Out

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 13, 2014

Shoot Out—Gregory Peck, Patricia Quinn, James Gregory, Jeff Corey, John Davis Chandler, Arthur Hunnicutt, Dawn Lyn, Paul Fix, Susan Tyrell (1971; Dir:  Henry Hathaway)


A revenge story, like Peck’s The Bravados more than ten years previously.  One of Henry Hathaway’s last movies, and a late western for Gregory Peck, who plays Clay Lomax, released from Colorado’s Canon City prison after seven years for bank robbery. 

During the robbery, Lomax’s partner Sam Foley (James Gregory), shot him in the back, left him for dead and made off with the loot.  He has since prospered in Gun Hill with his ill-gotten gains, but he’s worried about Lomax.  He sends three senseless young gunmen led by Bobby Jay Jones (Robert F. Lyons) to follow Lomax and let Foley know where he’s headed.  Initially, Lomax takes the train to Weed, where he was shot, to ask crippled local saloon keeper and whoremaster Trooper (Jeff Corey) where Foley is to be found.  Unable to restrain themselves from violence, the three gunmen following kill Trooper and take Alma (Susan Tyrell), one of his prostitutes, with them. 


Lomax meets the train from Kansas City, expecting $200 from a “lady” there.  Instead, she’s dead and Lomax is handed her daughter Decky (Dawn Lyn), six or seven years old.  He tries to palm her off on anybody else, but there are no takers.  Finally they head off for Gun Hill, and Lomax discovers they’re being followed by the three ne’er-do-wells.  He takes their guns and rides on. 

In the rain, he and Decky come to the ranch of widow Juliana Farrell (Pat Quinn) and her son.  They seem to hit it off very quickly, for no very good reason except that he’s basically decent and so is she.  The three bad guys burst in on them and terrorize them until finally Lomax gets the upper hand.  Bobby Jay’s two stupid confederates are dead after this confrontation, and he heads directly for Foley with Lomax in pursuit.  When Foley pays him off, he shoots Foley and takes the rest of his money just as Lomax gets there.  Lomax wins the extended shootout, as we knew he would, and heads back for the widow and Decky. 


This has good character actors, such as Corey, Fix, Tyrell and Hunnicutt.  The child (Dawn Lyn) isn’t bad, though occasionally foul-mouthed.  Use of the child should make it a family film, but there’s violence, brief nudity and some foul language, so it doesn’t come together well.  The bad guys are stupid, loud and annoying, as well as bad.  This has a pretty meaningless title that could apply to almost any western.  Lomax’s use of the word “punk” seems anachronistic.  There are a couple of shots of Lomax and Bobby Jay supposedly riding, where it’s obvious they’re not really on horses.  Altogether, this is a mildly disappointing effort from the same director (Hathaway)-producer (Hal Wallis)-writer (Marguerite Roberts) team that had made True Grit a couple of years earlier.  It’s not as bad as Peck’s other late westerns McKenna’s Gold or Billy Two Hats, though.  For a better Gregory Peck revenge story, see The Bravados.  Excellent score by Dave Grusin.  Based on a story by Will James.  Filmed in Cerillos, New Mexico.  In color.

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The Bravados

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 28, 2014

The Bravados—Gregory Peck, Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd, Lee Van Cleef, Albert Salmi, Henry Silva, Andrew Duggan (1958; Dir:  Henry King)


A revenge/manhunt story.  Gregory Peck is Arizona rancher Jim Douglass, who has spent the last six months tracking down four miscreants (as he puts it, “two white men, a half-breed and an Indian”).  Now they have been caught while robbing a bank in the small town of Rio Arriba and are to hang.  Douglass, who has been hunting them for raping and killing his young wife while robbing his isolated ranch, comes to witness the hanging. 

One of the two white men, the leader Bill Zachary (Stephen Boyd), admits to having a weakness for women; the other, Ed Taylor (Albert Salmi), is a backshooter with a fondness for cards.  The halfbreed is Alfonso Parral (played by Lee Van Cleef), and the Mexican Indian Lujan is played by Henry Silva.  They’re all good in these roles, playing bad guys. 

BravadosPeck Hunting bad guys.

In Rio Arriba, Douglass encounters Josefa Velarde (a young Joan Collins) whom he had earlier met in New Orleans and had asked to marry him.  She’d turned him down and now regrets that decision.  The hangman, Mr. Sims (future stooge—of the Three Stooges–Joe DeRita), turns out to be a fake and a confederate of the four outlaws.  He is killed in helping them to escape, and he almost kills the sheriff.  The escapees also take along as a hostage the daughter of Steinmetz, the Jewish general store owner. 

Douglass joins the posse, and it quickly becomes clear that he’s the best manhunter among them.  Initially, the outlaws leave behind one of their number to hold a pass and slow down the posse.  He rejoins them, and now that they’ve identified Douglass as a particular threat, they leave Parral behind to ambush Douglass.  It works the other way around and Douglas ruthlessly kills the halfbreed, although the death isn’t shown.  Next it’s Taylor who’s left behind to get Douglass, but that doesn’t work any better and Douglass captures and kills him, too.


Douglass, reconstituting his family, but with Joan Collins’ Josefa Velarde this time.

Meanwhile Zachary and Lujan with their captive Emma Steinmetz (Kathleen Gallant) have arrived at the cabin of a prospector, John Butler (Gene Evans), only four miles from Douglass’ ranch.  While there, Zachary kills Butler, Lujan grabs a leather bag of money from him, and Zachary rapes Emma.  As the posse (now including Josefa) closes in, they find Butler’s body and the sobbing Emma in the cabin. 

Urged on by Josefa, Douglass’ determination is renewed.  The two remaining outlaws have stopped at Douglass’ ranch and taken the last fresh horses.  The posse comes to the Rio Grande and has to stop there, except for Douglass.  Crossing into Mexico, he finds Zachary at a cantina in San Cristóbal and shoots it out with him, killing him and just missing Lujan, who flees on horseback.  Douglass tracks Lujan to the remote cabin where he lives with his wife and sick son.  There Douglass sees the leather sack with the loot and recognizes it as what was robbed from his ranch months ago.  Since Lujan took it from Butler, it’s now obvious that Butler raped and killed Douglass’ wife, not the four outlaws he’s been tracking for months and has mostly killed.  Back in Rio Arriba, he’s hailed as a hero but he seeks comfort and perhaps absolution from the Catholic priest, played by Andrew Duggan.  And he finally gets together with Josefa.


The plot has some similarities with John Ford’s The Searchers:  a relentless, even obsessive, hunt for killers, with the focus on the effects of the hunt for revenge on the hunter.  What will be left of him when the hunt is done?  The story is a grim one.  Peck is fine as Douglass, the outlaws are persuasively rotten and most of the townspeople of good in their roles.  Young British Joan Collins’ acting skills are limited, especially in her passionate speech when she finds the violated Emma and urges Douglas to kill them all, and her accent is slippery.  In color, highly watchable, with Leon Shamroy as cinematographer.  Shot on location in Mexico   Music by Alfred Newman.  Based on a story by Frank Rourke.

Henry King had been directing movies for a long time, since 1915 in the early silent era.  He’d already been an actor-director for ten years when he made The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), with Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky–and the first notable movie for bit player Gary Cooper.  And he’d directed Gregory Peck in one of his previous best westerns, The Gunfighter (1950).


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The Deadly Companions

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 24, 2014

The Deadly Companions—Brian Keith, Maureen O’Hara, Chill Wills, Steve Cochran, Strother Martin (1961; Dir:  Sam Peckinpah)


A low-budget revenge western, this is Sam Peckinpah’s first movie after an apprenticeship as a writer and director of television westerns.  Mostly it’s slow moving, with a minimal guitar score for music. 

Yellowleg (Brian Keith) was a Union soldier in Missouri during the Civil War.  A rebel sergeant tried to scalp him, and he’s been hunting for the rebel for the five years since the war ended.  He also has a rifle ball near his collar bone which impairs the functioning of his right (shooting) arm.  In the movie’s opening scene, he saves Turkey (Chill Wills) from being hung as a card cheat, and persuades Turkey and his gunslinger companion Billy Keplinger (Steve Cochran) to join him in robbing the new bank in Gila City, Arizona Territory. 

Once in Gila City, they find another gang in the process of robbing the bank.  In the ensuing shootout, Yellowleg’s impaired arm causes him to accidentally shoot and kill the son of saloon girl Kit Tildon (Maureen O’Hara).  She feels rejected by the respectable elements of Gila City and is determined to bury her son next to his father in the ghost town of Siringo in Apache country.  As penance Yellowleg determines to help her and dragoons Turkey and Billy into joining him.  Kit understandably despises them all. 


When Billy attacks Kit, Yellowleg drives him away, and Turk slips away, too.  Yellowleg is forced to steal a horse from the Apaches, and one of them starts hunting him, killing his horse.  Eventually Kit kills the Indian with a shotgun, and Kit and Yellowleg finish carrying the boy’s coffin to Siringo.  There Turk and Billy get the drop on them, now having robbed the bank in Gila City themselves.  Kit tries to talk Yellowleg out of taking his revenge on Turk, who is the rebel he’s been hunting.  Eventually, Turk and Billy shoot each other, and Yellowleg almost scalps Turk.  But he quits in disgust, just as the Gila posse shows up to take possession of the increasingly deranged Turk.  (Billy’s dead.)  Yellowleg and Kit complete the burial and ride off together. 


Brian Keith was cast as the lead in this because of his success with Maureen O’Hara in The Parent Trap.  He had also starred in Peckinpah’s short-lived western television series The Westerner, and he used his influence to bring in Peckinpah as director.  Maureen O’Hara and her brother Charles Fitzsimons had a role in producing the film, and that’s O’Hara singing the film’s theme song over the opening and closing credits.  Peckinpah did not get on well with Fitzsimons, beginning his well-earned reputation for avoiding and clashing with producers.  Peckinpah at first thought that Fitzsimons was hiring him to do work on the script and arrived at their first meeting with pages of edits, only to be told that changes were not wanted.  The first-time director also tried to minimize some of the more obvious flaws of the script, such as the problem of carting a dead body for five days across a hot desert.  He said: “At least I kept off [the dead body] enough that we weren’t too conscious off it.  To do it realistically would, I suppose, have been a lot of fun.  You’d have buzzards flying all over them and wearing masks and so on.”

Similarly, Peckinpah was not allowed to participate in the film’s final edit.  The editing’s a little disjointed in places, and there are some strange camera angles.  Sometimes the action is hard to see in the dark, and the music seems cheap.  The plot takes a back seat to the development of the relationship between Yellowleg and Kit.  Strother Martin is the preacher in Gila City.  The violence here is more muted than would be the case in future Peckinpah westerns.  The movie is kind of slow and gloomy in tone.  Cinematography is by William Clothier.  In color. 

This is notable at all only because it was directed by Peckinpah.  Peckinpah’s second film, Ride the High Country, would be clearly superior in just about every respect—one of his two masterpieces, in fact.

Because producer Fitzsimons forgot to put a copyright notice on the film, it slipped into the public domain.  That’s the reason that, until recently, it was available only on a variety of awful DVDs.  As of May 2013, a new edition released by VCI Entertainment and produced by the archivist Cary Roan had the best picture quality and sound for this film yet seen on home video.  The picture is much better, but the sound still has a lot of hiss on the track.

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Joe Kidd

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 24, 2014

Joe Kidd—Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, John Saxon, Don Stroud, Stella Garcia (1972; Dir:  John Sturges)


One of the last films directed by John Sturges, with a screenplay written by Elmore Leonard.  The plot is similar to that of Valdez is Coming, which was also based on a novel by Leonard and made about the same time.  This is more predictable than Valdez, mostly by having Clint Eastwood playing Clint Eastwood in the title role but also by having a less organic plot.

This story is set in pre-statehood New Mexico Territory in 1912, starting in the small town of Sinola.  Joe Kidd (Eastwood) is a former bounty hunter and tracker hired by big rancher Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall) to help his band of well-armed thugs find Luis Chama (John Saxon), a local Latino bandit chieftain/freedom fighter/land-reform agitator.  As Harlan shows himself to be merciless and his thugs brutalize those of Latino descent they come across, Kidd realizes his mistake.  He’s fired by Harlan before he can quit, and manages to escape with Chama’s girlfriend Helen Sanchez (Stella Garcia), only to find that Chama is not as noble as the native populace would like to believe, either.  There’s a great chase through the mountains, as Kidd hunts Harlan, who’s hunting Chama and Kidd.


Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood) uses an unusual modern pistol to defend himself and Helen Sanchez (Stella Garcia).

Helen Sanchez:  “He is right.  We must give ourselves up, don’t you see?  There is no other way.”

Luis Chama [clearly not a proto-feminist]:  “I do not care what you think.  I take you along for cold nights and days when there is nothing to do.  Not to hear you talk.”

Kidd leads Harlan and his men back to town, where the fight concludes in a not-terribly-believable fight, with lots of bullets flying and an improbable train crash.

Interesting elements:  (a) The brick-red pants Eastwood wears throughout the movie.  This must be an early 1970s thing.  Compare them with the red pants worn by Jim Brown in Take a Hard Ride, for example.  (b) The specialized “modern” firearms used by Harlan’s men, including the Mauser C96 pistol-with-a-stock (1896) used by Lamarr Sims (Don Stroud) and the long-range rifle–a Remington-Keene sporter (1880)–used by Olin Mingo (James Wainwright).  Special care is also shown with Frank Harlan’s Custom Savage 99 (1899) and Joe Kidd’s Cased Ross Rifle model M-10 (1910).  Apparently Elmore Leonard was behind the scrupulousness about period weaponry.  (c) Harlan’s repeated deliberate mispronunciation of Chama’s name (as “Louis Chayma”).  It gets irritating, as perhaps it’s meant to do.

JoeKiddMauser C96 “Broomhandle” Mauser

Set in 1912 New Mexico, and shot at Lone Pine and Old Tucson.  This is not one of Eastwood’s best, or Sturges’, although it’s watchable.  Apparently director Sturges commented in 1978, “There are a lot of holes in Joe Kidd–some in the script that were never fixed and some resulting from cuts made because scenes just didn’t play.”  The Harlan thugs are too unrelievedly bad and despicable, and the plot is a bit outlandish (the big finale involving a train and a not-well-choreographed shootout).  With the Sturges-Eastwood-Duvall-Leonard team, one hopes this would be better than it turns out to be.  Not a long movie, at 88 minutes.  The score is by Lalo Schifrin, who did the memorable Mission:  Impossible theme.  For another western interested in post-frontier technology and weaponry, see Big Jake, set in 1909 and made about the same time as this one.

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Four Faces West

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 27, 2013

Four Faces West—Joel McCrea, Frances Dee, Charles Bickford, Joseph Calleia, William Conrad (1949; Dir:  Alfred E. Green)


An independent production, in which McCrea had a hand.  This is an excellent part for him, using to good effect the basic decency he always projected.  The title’s not great; it’s not clear who the four faces are.  It’s kind of a generic title that doesn’t fit the story.  Presumably McCrea (as Ross McEwen), Frances Dee (McCrea’s real-life wife, playing romantic interest and nurse Fay Hollister), Charles Bickford (as Pat Garrett), and Joseph Calleia (as Monte Marquez, looking nefarious but maybe not).  Look for William Conrad in a bit part as a sheriff pursuing bank robber McCrea.  Based on a story (“Paso Por Aqui,” first published in 1926) by Eugene Manlove Rhodes.  From a vantage point sixty years after its release it seems to have a sentimental Christian morality from the era about it.  (Compare it to John Ford’s 3 Godfathers, for example.)  Not much seen these days, but it’s good.


McEwen (Joel McCrea) meets nurse Fay Hollister (Frances Dee) on a train and is immediately taken with her.

Ross McEwen is escaping from having robbed the bank in the small New Mexico town of Santa Maria.  He committed the robbery when the bank refused to lend him the money he needs to help his father–$2000, for which he leaves an IOU signed “Jefferson Davis.”  He is bitten by a rattlesnake shortly before boarding a train, and on the train he is tended by railroad nurse Fay Hollister, with whom he falls in love.  She figures out that he is the man wanted for the bank robbery as they travel together on the train to Alamogordo, and she urges him to turn himself in.  He gives her a ring and a kiss but takes off for the border.

Although he took only $2000, the vengeful banker has offered a $3000 reward for McEwen, dead or alive.  Much of southern New Mexico gets involved in the manhunt, it seems.  An ambiguous Mexican gambler Monte Marquez (the Malta-born Joseph Calleia), whom he also met on the train, ends up helping McEwen and being helped by him.  When McEwen wins a substantial amount of money at Marquez’ gambling tables, he sends much of it back to the bank in Santa Maria to start repayment of what he took. 

After an arduous pursuit, it looks like McEwen will get away, but he stumbles on a Mexican family dying of diphtheria and loses his chance at escape by taking the time to nurse them back to health.  The family turn out to be cousins of Marquez.  Sheriff Garrett is moved by this sacrifice to help McEwen resolve his affairs in the most favorable way possible.  In the 1940s and 1950s, even sympathetic not-so-bad guys were seldom allowed to escape punishment, even when the whole movie has been geared toward getting the audience to want that.  (Just look at 3 Godfathers for a similar case and a similar result.  And, if you’re into Christmas movies, look at what happens to Barbara Stanwyck’s character at the end of 1940’s Remember the Night.) 


Nurse Hollister tries to talk McEwen into giving himself up.

At the end, it looks like he’ll go to jail, but maybe not for long.  And Nurse Hollister will wait for him.  As a western, this is better than average and well worth watching, despite the slightly snarky tone of this summary.  It’s visually arresting.  The cinematographer was Russell Harlan, who did Red River and many others as well.  And no actor looked better on horseback than McCrea did.

Four Faces West

McEwen risks diptheria and capture.

Interestingly enough, the film’s end is different from that of the Manlove story on which it is based.  While the film ends with Garrett taking McEwen into custody, albeit with humane intentions, the original story ends with the two men gathering firewood together and not acknowledging each other’s true identities.  A nurse from the East learns that this is the way of the West.  The story’s end is better.

The story takes its time developing, and it is the sort of thing that would not be made today, more than sixty years later.  But it’s good.  This is the better of two westerns in which McCrea stars with his real-life wife Frances Dee.  For the other, see Wells Fargo (1937).  For another good western with the excellent Joseph Calleia as a maybe-not-so-bad guy, see him as a Mexican bandit chieftain in Branded (1950), with Alan Ladd.

Not to be confused with 1940’s Three Faces West, starring John Wayne, or Two Flags West from 1950, with Joseph Cotton, Jeff Chandler and Linda Darnell.  In the John Wayne film, he’s the leader of a town in the 1930s that takes in a doctor fleeing the Nazis in Europe with his attractive daughter.  The entire town has to flee the dust bowl of the southern plains and head for Oregon.  Or Four for Texas, a ratpack western from the 1960s with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.


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