Tag Archives: Revisionist Westerns

The Missouri Breaks

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 4, 2015

The Missouri Breaks—Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Kathleen Lloyd, John McLiam, Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest, Randy Quaid, John Ryan (1976; Dir: Arthur Penn)

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The title refers to an area of rough terrain along the Missouri River in north central Montana, where a variety of rustlers, wolfers, outlaws and other undesirables found refuge during the ranching era of the 1880s.  Marlon Brando was generally thought to be the greatest film actor of his generation (roughly 1950 to 1972), and Jack Nicholson was the personification of the new American cinema of the1970s.  Here they star together for the only time, under the direction of Arthur Penn, who had helped usher in the new era with Bonnie and Clyde (1967).  It was the 52-year-old Brando’s first film since the back-to-back successes of The Godfather (with a Best Actor Oscar) and Last Tango in Paris three years earlier; and Jack Nicholson had just won the Best Actor Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).  It made for a highly-anticipated movie.

Range baron David Braxton (John McLiam) is frustrated by mounting stock losses to rustlers, now up to 7% (a number repeated more than once).  As the movie opens, Braxton and his men are hanging a young rustler, to the distress of Braxton’s independent-minded daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd).  In response to that hanging, the rustlers hang Braxton’s foreman Pete.  So Braxton sends for a range “regulator”—Robert E. Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando) from Wyoming.

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Marlon Brando as Lee Clayton, as he first appears in The Missouri Breaks; and Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson) surrounded by the others in his gang,

About the same time, Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson) and Little Tod (Randy Quaid) rob a train in a quasi-comic sequence.  Tom, the leader of a gang of outlaws that include rustling among their pursuits, seeks out Braxton for his advice on starting a ranching operation, which he does using the proceeds of the train robbery.  The rest of his gang, led by Cal (Harry Dean Stanton), take off north to steal 60 horses from the Canadian Mounties.

Tom finds that he likes farming/ranching, and may be good at it.  Jane Braxton conceives a sudden fondness for him, and they work out the terms of a dalliance.  As Jane watches from the Braxton porch, two apparently riderless horses approach over the hill.  As the horses arrive, Lee Clayton’s head pops out from under the lead horse’s neck.  The regulator has arrived, wearing a beautiful white leather jacket and a headband and sporting an inexplicable Irish accent.  He meets various Braxton neighbors, including Tom Logan.

Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson):  “Regulator?  Ain’t that like a dry gulcher?”
Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando):  “Well, that’s not the softest term you could use, I’d say.”
Tom Logan:  “Well, Regulator, correct me now if I’m wrong.  Isn’t a regulator one of these boys that shoots people and don’t never get near ’em?”
Lee Clayton:  “That’s it.”

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Jane Braxton (Kathleen Lloyd) and Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson) get to know each other better.

[Spoilers follow.]  As the rest of Logan’s boys return from Canada with their stolen horses, they are ambushed on the American side of the border by the Mounties, who take back their horses.  Clayton, now sans Irish accent and claiming to be Jim Ferguson, meets Little Tod and drowns him in the Missouri.  Braxton can’t control Clayton and tries to call him off, to no effect.  One by one he picks off the others in Logan’s gang, often leaving his trademarck 50-caliber rifle shell.  Finally, as Cal sleeps in the cabin, Clayton, dressed as a woman and referring to himself as Granny, firebombs it and captures Cal.  After talking with him, Clayton kills him with a strange tomahawk/throwing knife.  Tom knows that he will be next.  As Clayton hunts him, Clayton goes to sleep at his camp and awakens suddenly to find Logan next to him.

Tom Logan [to Clayton, whispering]:  “You know what woke you up?  You just had your throat cut.”

Logan then confronts Braxton, intending to kill him, only to find that Braxton, upon hearing Jane tell him she was leaving, is now reduced to helplessness (perhaps by a stroke)—until he grabs a pistol and shoots Logan.  Whereupon Logan shoots back, killing Braxton.  As the movie ends, Jane and Logan try to figure out if there’s a future for them together, perhaps in Montana’s Little Rockies in a few months.

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The assassin as Granny:  Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando) inexplicably dresses in drag.

The movie was not well-received on its release, grossing only $14 million in the U.S.  Leonard Maltin called it “a jumbled, excessively violent pseudo-event; a great director’s worst film and one of the worst ‘big’ movies ever made.”  Brando’s flamboyantly over-the-top (and often unintelligible) performance was singled out.  Vincent Canby, in his New York Times review, wrote that Brando’s performance “had no apparent connection to the movie around him.”  “The American press is always running him [Brando] down,” director Penn told one interviewer, “but he’s a great actor and a true professional.”  In Penn’s view, The Missouri Breaks flopped not because of Brando, but because “The American public isn’t ready for a film that doesn’t have a big shootout at the end.”  No, it was pretty much Brando; the ending actually works.

In the last couple of decades, there have been some attempts at re-assessment.  Upon Arthur Penn’s death in 2010, critic David Kehr referred to The Missouri Breaks as “a surreal western with moments of brilliance but a meandering tone.”  The Harvard Film Archive at a recent showing provided this synopsis:  “Featuring the incredible pairing of Jack Nicholson as a feckless cattle thief and Marlon Brando as the Irish ‘regulator’ hired to hunt him down, The Missouri Breaks is a rollicking and highly unusual Western that, in typical Penn fashion, strains the boundaries of the genre.  Penn’s empowerment of performers is taken to a wonderful furthest extreme by the subversive presence of Brando’s cross-dressing and unpredictable assassin, who effectively turns codes of masculinity and narrative continuity upon their heads.  Once dismissed as an ‘oddity’ in Penn’s career, The Missouri Breaks has been reevaluated as one of the more ambitious and original Westerns of its time, placing it in the company of Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand and Monte Hellman’s The Shooting.”  Such a neo-revisionist view of a revisionist western is not entirely convincing, however.  “Penn’s empowerment of performers” really meant that he couldn’t get Brando to accept direction and eventually gave up trying.  Brando’s scenery-chewing, constant ad-libbing of dialogue and unfathomable accents and costumes made Jack Nicholson look restrained by comparison; Nicholson does well in the film, although his presence always adds a note of subversion to a western.  It was said that, despite their multiple scenes together, Nicholson and Brando were only on the set at the same time for one day.

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Cal (Harry Dean Stanton) shows Tom Logan regulator Lee Clayton’s trademark 50-caliber shell, left on Little Tod’s horse.

Among the supporting players, Harry Dean Stanton is the best, as Cal, the other senior member of Logan’s rustler/outlaw gang.  Kathleen Lloyd is also good as Jane Braxton, and it’s a bit surprising that she didn’t have more of a film career. This just wasn’t the movie to build such a career on.  This was the last leading role of Brando’s career, although he was only 52.  Producers became warier of him, his politics got in the way, he seemed less interested in acting generally, and he had started to put on substantial amounts of weight.  He could still be excellent when he wanted to, though; his future still included smaller roles such as a cameo as Superman’s father (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), a brilliant comic riff on his Godfather role in The Freshman (1990), and the caper film The Score (2001), with Robert De Niro and Edward Norton.

Although this was released the same year as The Shootist and The Outlaw Josey Wales, this movie partakes much more of the revisionist western trends of the time than those films do.  Director Penn had established himself squarely in that stream with Little Big Man in 1970, and the anti-death penalty stance here was very much in line with the progressive times of the anti-authoritarian 1970s.  Jane Braxton’s feminist and sexual attitudes also seem more of the 1970s than the 1880s.  The outlaws are more humane than the authorities, such as they are, and are somewhat more charming than they would have been in real life, to make them more sympathetic.

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Co-stars Brando and Nicholson were together on the set for at least one day.

This has what is sometimes called a “literate” screenplay, meaning that the dialogue often sounds like characters in a book rather than real people talking.  It was written by novelist Thomas McGuane, known also for the films Rancho Deluxe and Tom Horn, with an uncredited rewrite by script doctor Robert Towne and extensive ad libbing by Brando.  It sports an early (and successful) film score by the prolific John Williams.  Filmed in color by Michael Butler at various locations in Montana (Red Lodge, Billings, Virginia City, Nevada City), at 126 minutes.  Rated R, for violence, hangings and sexual references.

Author McGuane obviously based the screenplay on some actual historical events and persons.  David Braxton reminds us of Montana founding father and rancher Granville Stuart, who built the DHS Ranch near the Judith River.  In 1884, he led a group of vigilantes known as Stuart’s Stranglers, who cleaned out rustlers in the area, killing up to twenty of them.  Stuart then lost his ranch after the Big Die-Up, the horrific winter of 1886-1887 that killed many of the cattle on the northern plains.  He was known for his fondness for books and his extensive personal library, and he spent his last years as the head librarian at the Butte Public Library.  Some aspects of Lee Clayton are based on Tom Horn, the most famous of the “range detectives,” including his marksmanship and penchant for killing at a long distance, and his leaving a trademark (in Horn’s case, usually a stone under the victim’s head).  Horn was eventually executed in Cheyenne in 1903 for a killing he may or may not have committed.  Tom Logan’s name seems to come from a famous family of Montana outlaws; Lee Clayton calls attention to that when he makes a reference to Lonnie Logan, a Montana outlaw of the 1890s who was one of the brothers of Harvey Logan–the Kid Curry of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

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Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando) using his specially-fitted Creedmoor long-range rifle.

The film remains controversial forty years later, a colorful artifact of its time.  Even if it’s a failure, it’s a notable one, joining such epic bombs as Duel in the Sun and Heaven’s Gate.  Like Heaven’s Gate, it will continue to be subjected to re-examination from time to time now that the passions surrounding its making and release have faded.  Among the colorful details of the film are Lee Clayton’s exotic weapons, including an engraved pistol with the front sight filed down, his silver-chased Creedmoor long-distance rifle, and the strange throwing hatchet/knife (supposedly invented by Brando) with which he kills Cal.  The film was put on the American Humane Association’s “unacceptable” list because of its treatment of horses: at least one was drowned in the Missouri River, another crippled by a tripwire (commonly used in movies at one time), and several others injured during a stampede sequence.

This was Brando’s third and final western, after One-Eyed Jacks (1961) and The Appaloosa (1966).  For Jack Nicholson in other westerns, see Ride in the Whirlwind (1966), The Shooting (1966) and Goin’ South (1978).  As for Kathleen Lloyd–well, she never made another movie worth noting.

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There Was a Crooked Man

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 5, 2015

There Was a Crooked Man—Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith, John Randolph, Lee Grant, Alan Hale, Jr. (1970; Dir: Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

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A cynical revisionist western prison movie, featuring Kirk Douglas in red hair as Paris Pitman, Jr., a convict wanting to get out to retrieve his stash of loot—half a million dollars he put in a rattlesnake pit in the barren mountains.  Although the title refers to one crooked man, its point of view is that everybody is at least a little crooked.  Pitman spends the movie conniving with everybody in sight (including the warden) and alternatively trying to orchestrate a break-out with a number of his imprisoned compatriots.

Eventually a new warden comes in, former sheriff Woodward Lopeman, played by Henry Fonda as the embodiment of Christian rectitude with a commitment to rehabilitation and fair treatment of the prisoners.  Pitman continues to foster havoc and confusion at the prison until, finally, he is successful at breaking out, tracked by Warden Lopeman.

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Paris Pitman (Kirk Douglas) spars verbally with new warden Woodward Lopeman (Henry Fonda).

Nobody is very admirable here, although the Fonda character tries until the end, when he succumbs to the lure of the loot.  There are a couple of shots of Douglas’ butt (in great shape at age 53), with other gratuitous nudity.  Although it seems to have been trying for humor, the movie has a pretty thoroughly amoral feel to it.  The comedy here is black, sometimes overly obvious, and it now seems dated.  Hume Cronyn and John Randolph play an obviously gay pair of con men, probably an innovation in movies at the time.  It’s from about the same time as Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and there are some similarities in tone.  Not as good as it should have been, with inconsistencies of tone.  Seen in a pretty dingy, beat-up print, but if you watch it on TCM, for example, the print they use is bright and clear.  Rated R.

Douglas himself, in his memoir The Ragman’s Son, noted that “The picture was very cynical and did not do well–everybody was crooked, nobody to root for.”  Douglas seems to place at least some of the blame on director Joseph Mankiewicz, who had directed All About Eve and Cleopatra, among others.  “He was much more at home with a scene in a library.”  Douglas did have high praise for the script, though, which would seem to be at least as much at fault.  This was one of the last films made by Mankiewicz, and his only western.  The screenplay is by David Newman and Robert Benton, not long after their first effort, Bonnie and Clyde.  For another cynical revisionist western from the early 1970s with Kirk Douglas, see Posse.

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Wild Bill (1995)

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 2, 2014

Wild Bill—Jeff Bridges, Ellen Barkin, John Hurt, Diane Lane, David Arquette, James Gammon, Christina Applegate, Keith Carradine, Bruce Dern, Marjoe Gortner, James Remar, Steve Reevis (1995; Dir: Walter Hill)

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This film sports an excellent cast with Jeff Bridges as Wild Bill Hickok, Ellen Barkin as Calamity Jane, and, best of all, one of the greatest living masters of the western movie, Walter Hill directing.  Should be great, right?  It doesn’t seem to be, though.

Jeff Bridges does look terrific as Wild Bill; there is very good production design on this film.  At the start of the movie, there are brief vignettes from his career as a lawman:  battling cavalrymen from the Seventh Cavalry in a bar in Tommy Drum’s saloon in Hays City, Kansas, killing several of them; killing Phil Coe and, accidentally, his own deputy Mike Williams, in Abilene; and jousting with and killing Sioux chief Whistler (Blackfoot actor Steve Reevis) on the plains, at Whistler’s insistence.  All those incidents get him to the rough mining town of Deadwood, Dakota Territory, in August 1876.  He hasn’t been a lawman for five years, and he’s 39 years old.  He makes his living as a gambler (badly, apparently).  His eyesight is going, thanks to glaucoma.  He may be suffering from a venereal disease.  And he drinks a lot and takes refuge in smoking opium.

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Jeff Bridges as Wild Bill Hickok; Ellen Barkin as Calamity Jane.  One looks pretty authentic, and one less so.

As soon as he gets to Deadwood, he encounters old friend Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin), who makes it plain she’d like to renew an old relationship and even take it farther.  He doesn’t reciprocate, although he still values the friendship.  Jack McCall (David Arquette) is the none-too-smart son of Susannah Moore (Diane Lane), whom Hickok had once promised to marry.  Instead, he went off to scout for the army and, when he came back six months later, she had a relationship going with Dave Tutt.  Hickok killed Tutt in a gunfight in Springfield, Missouri, in 1865, and Susannah died in an asylum.  McCall announces he intends to kill Hickok, but Hickok, who has already demonstrated that he doesn’t have much fear when it comes to guns, doesn’t seem unduly concerned.

Bill hits the opium den, and smoking the stuff takes him back to other events in his life.  Sometimes those are in color, as with his gunfight in Cheyenne with a crippled Will Plummer (Bruce Dern), with Bill tied to a chair.  Usually, the flashbacks are in black and white, often with a skewed angle, as when Bill encounters a band of Cheyenne dog soldiers.  He remembers the McCandles fight that made his reputation as a gunfighter and almost killed him.  He remembers his brief and unsuccessful theatrical career with Buffalo Bill (Keith Carradine in a cameo).  He remembers Susannah Moore and Dave Tutt, as well.  McCall finds him in the opium den relatively helpless under the effects of the narcotic, but he’s not as helpless as he seems.

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Cheyenne dog soldiers in an opium dream.

Finally McCall and several desperadoes, including Donnie Lonnigan (James Remar) and Jubal Pickett (Stoney Jackson), get the drop on Hickok as he and Calamity Jane are dallying in No. 10 saloon.  Hickok friends Charley Prince (John Hurt, apparently an English version of actual Hickok friend Charley Utter) and California Joe (James Gammon) join them, as well as a prostitute on whom McCall has a fixation (Christina Applegate).  We know how this is going to end, and it takes a while getting there with all these extraneous characters.  Finally, Bill gets some of the desperadoes and chases off the rest.  But he’s holding black aces and eights, and the weaselly McCall shoots him in the back of the head with a derringer, to be hung himself later.  Nowhere does Bill’s recent wife, Agnes Lake, show up, nor is she referred to.

Jeff Bridges is an excellent actor, and he looks good in the part.  He communicates Hickok’s fearlessness and a powerful personality.  But it’s not an attractive period in Hickok’s life, and the performance seems a bit over the top.  The Hickok gunfight scenes are very effective and believable.  Ellen Barkin is much more attractive than the real Calamity Jane, as is usual in a movie about Hickok.  Although there are a number of good character actors (Bruce Dern, John Hurt, James Gammon, Diane Lane), many of them seem extraneous to what’s going on, especially during that overly-extended final sequence in the bar.  Hurt’s character talks too much, meaning the writing isn’t as good as it could be.  Arquette’s McCall is probably intended to be as weaselly as he is here, but he’s on screen too much.

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The real James Butler Hickok and his murderer, Jack McCall, the first person executed by federal authorities in Dakota Territory.

Director Walter Hill has made what may be the best movie to date about Jesse James (The Long Riders), as well as an underrated film about Geronimo (Geronimo: An American Legend) and the really excellent made-for-television Broken Trail.  He has a genuine feel for westerns, but this is probably his weakest.  The movie claims to be based on a good novel by Pete Dexter, Deadwood, and the play Fathers and Sons by Thomas Babe, but it certainly doesn’t keep very closely to the novel.  Hill himself wrote the screenplay, so he has no one else to blame for that.  It was not a success at the box office, costing more than $30,000,000 and making back only $2,168,000 domestically.

Cinematography, mostly in color but also occasionally in sepia tones and black and white, is by Lloyd Ahern (Broken Trail).  Music is by Van Dyke Parks, who also did the music for the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit (2010).  Perhaps that’s why the song over the opening and closing credits is the same as that used as the theme music for True Grit:  the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  Jeff Bridges starred in that one, too, as Rooster Cogburn.  Wild Bill is only 98 minutes, but it feels longer, which is not a good sign.  However, if you’re particularly interested in cinematic versions of Wild Bill Hickok, Jeff Bridges’ work in westerns or the career of Walter Hill, you’ll want to watch this, too, if only for the sake of completeness.  This doesn’t keep particularly close to the facts of Bill’s life, but neither do most movies featuring Wild Bill Hickok.  In particular, McCall had no relationship with Hickok.  He was just someone who had lost money to Hickok the night before and killed him opportunistically by shooting him in the back of the head with a .45 (acting alone).  The movie is rated R for violence and seaminess in language and sexual matters.

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Walter Hill directing Jeff Bridges.

Hill was also involved in the making of the cable television series Deadwood, which had some of the same gritty feel, directing the first episode (2004).  That one featured Keith Carradine as a world-weary Wild Bill for several episodes.  For an earlier and more adulatory version of Wild Bill’s myth, see Gary Cooper as Bill in The Plainsman (1936).  The definitive Wild Bill movie probably has yet to be made.

If you want the real historical background on James Butler Hickok, look for the biography by Joseph Rosa, They Called Him Wild Bill: The Life and Adventures of James Butler Hickok (1974).

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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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The Spikes Gang

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 22, 2014

The Spikes Gang—Lee Marvin, Gary Grimes, Ron Howard, Charlie Martin Smith, Noah Beery, Jr., Arthur Hunnicutt (1974; Dir:  Richard Fleischer)

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Both a coming-of-age and a coming-of-death movie (perhaps similar to The Shootist in that regard, also with Ron Howard).  Lee Marvin is Harry Spikes, outlaw mentor to young friends Wil (Gary Grimes), Les (Ron Howard) and Tod (Charlie Martin Smith).  After helping the wounded Spikes when they first encounter him, the young men have left home and bungled a bank robbery when they cross paths with Spikes again.  He apparently takes a liking to them.  They need considerable mentoring in simple survival out in the world, and Spikes leads them into a course in advanced bank robbery as well. 

In the end, they all die in a burst of 1970s iconoclasm, with Wil and Spikes killing each other in a shootout after Spikes turns bounty hunter and betrays the youngsters.  Marvin is effective as always (with a really good turn-of-the-century mustache), and the three young men are good as well.  There’s some good writing, but ultimately there’s also some slow pacing and a lot of nihilism here.

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Three-fourths of the gang:  Ron Howard, Lee Marvin and Gary Grimes.

Available on DVD as of 2011.  As with other movies from the early 1970s, the blood looks a lot like paint.  There’s some good writing in the dialogue, although the plot is a downer (kind of like The Culpepper Cattle Co. from the same era, also starring Grimes, who, for a brief period in the early 1970s specialized in coming-of-age movies).  There a tone of unspoken regret, perhaps repentance, in the end.  The film is obviously influenced by The Wild Bunch and Bonnie and Clyde of a few years earlier.  Arthur Hunnicutt, in his last film, and Noah Beery, Jr., are good in brief roles.  Shot in Spain.

 

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Fort Massacre

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 16, 2014

Fort Massacre—Joel McCrea, John Russell, Anthony Caruso, Denver Pyle, Forrest Tucker (1958; Dir:  Joseph M. Newman)

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This is a grim psychological cavalry western, with Joel McCrea as Sgt. Vinson of Company C in southwest New Mexico in 1879, a variant of the “lost patrol” story. 

At the start of the film, the captain and lieutenant of Company C have been killed by Apaches, and the decimated company is trying to get back to Fort Crane under the leadership of Sgt. Vinson.  Forrest Tucker is Pvt. McGurney, a particularly malcontent Irishman; Anthony Caruso is Pawnee, the patrol’s sardonic Indian scout.  Vinson is experienced but influenced by the death of his wife and son at the hands of Indians.  His men gripe and seem on the point of mutiny the entire film, but he forges ahead, attacking the Apaches twice with the resulting reduction in his own numbers. 

Only Pvt. Travis (John Russell) becomes something of a reluctant confidant for the embattled sergeant.  “Fort Massacre” is the name given by the men to the cliff dwelling where they take refuge, only to have a war party of Apaches show up.  In the end, Vinson is shot by the last of his own men, Pvt. Travis, when Vinson tries to shoot a couple of non-hostile Paiutes at the cliff dwelling. 

FortMassacreMen Sgt. Vinson and Company C.

In some ways this can be compared with They Came to Cordura, released about the same time.  It’s a cavalry movie with a revisionist view of the cavalry.  Joel McCrea being who he was, we keep waiting for him to reveal his good side, but it’s apparently not there in this movie.  In some ways, McCrea toward the end of his career seemed to be looking for roles that were more varied than he had tended to play for the previous decade. 

The movie is short at around 80 minutes; in color.  Filmed at three locations:  Gallup in New Mexico, Red Rock State Park, New Mexico, and Kanab, Utah.

For a couple of other variants of the mutinous patrol story from the late 1950s, see 7th Cavalry with Randolph Scott (1956) and They Came to Cordura with Gary Cooper (1959).

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Posse (1975)

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 14, 2014

Posse—Kirk Douglas, Bruce Dern, Bo Hopkins (1975; Dir:  Kirk Douglas)

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A 1970s revisionist western—anti-establishment, anti-authority, anti-military, anti-railroad, although more watchable than most such.  The message, when we get down to it, is that there is a very fine line between the outlaws and the men who hunt them—perhaps no line at all. 

Howard Nightingale (Kirk Douglas) is a Texas marshal with political ambitions, leading five uniformed men as his regular posse.  At the movie’s start, they are in pursuit of Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern) and his gang.  They burn down the barn in which the gang is sleeping (also burning down $40,000 in loot in the process), but Strawhorn escapes.  He quickly recruits another gang as the posse closes in on him again.  In the ensuing battle, the others in the gang are killed and Strawhorn surrenders. 

PosseMarshals Nightingale’s posse.

He is taken to the town of Tesoto, where Strawhorn earlier had killed the town sheriff who tried to arrest him.  With Strawhorn in custody, Nightingale takes the opportunity to give a campaign speech for his election as senator, and his men make free with the local women.  The local newspaper is run by Harold Hellman, missing his right arm and leg (James Stacy, who’d lost them two years earlier in a motorcycle accident), who doesn’t much like Nightingale.  Nightingale is self-serving and too cozy with the railroad but doesn’t seem overtly bad or unduly corrupt. 

As they take Strawhorn away on their private train, he contrives to escape and, as they pursue, he takes the train and Nightingale as a prisoner and heads back to Tesoto.  With Nightingale as hostage he demands the posse pay $40,000 for Nightingale to remain alive.  They ruthlessly take all the money in the town, about $30,000.  Strawhorn hands it back to John Wesley (Bo Hopkins), head of the posse and invites them to mount up and join him.  All but one do, and they ride out of town as Strawhorn’s new gang. 

PosseDernDern as Strawhorn.

One of Douglas’ last westerns, this cynical film should be compared with the anti-authoritarian There Was a Crooked Man from 1970, with greater ambitions, a bigger budget and bigger cast.  This is better, although very much a creation of the 1970s.  Douglas produced, starred and directed.  Dern is pretty good as Strawhorn.  The plot reversal at the end isn’t entirely believable, but it’s well done.  Shot in Old Tucson.  A movie with the same name was made by Mario Van Peebles in 1993 with a mostly ex-slave black posse.

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Little Big Man

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 3, 2014

Little Big Man—Dustin Hoffman, Chief Dan George, Faye Dunaway, Richard Mulligan, Aimee Eccles, Jeff Corey, Martin Balsam (1970; Dir:  Arthur Penn)

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“I am, beyond a doubt, the last of the old-timers.  My name is Jack Crabb.  And I am the sole white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn, uh, uh, popularly known as Custer’s Last Stand.”

This is one of the two most prominent revisionist westerns of the early 1970s, together with McCabe and Mrs. Miller.  Both were made by directors who did not otherwise direct many westerns, and both were concerned more with the “revisionist” than the “western.”  Both were inundated in the social currents of their time and using the western format to express them.

Based on a 1964 novel by Thomas Berger, this is one of those westerns that uses its main character as a ping-pong ball to bounce around the west of the post-Civil War era meeting actual famous characters from history and fictional characters meant to be picaresque (as with some of the works of Larry McMurtry, for example, or Forrest Gump).  Even the actual historical characters in this have a lot of the fictional about them.

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Dustin Hoffman (age 33) as young Jack Crabb, and in heavy makeup as Old Jack Crabb.

As the movie starts, Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), 121 years old and in heavy makeup, reminisces about a period of his life as a young man when he alternated between living among the Cheyennes and white men.  The entire movie is a flashback to that period of his youth.  On the whole, the movie tends to be more successful in its depiction of the Cheyennes than when it deals with white men, who are usually shown as venal, hypocritical, dishonest or crazy.

As a boy, Jack is taken by Cheyennes and raised by Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George), whom he addresses as Grandfather.  The most successful single aspect of the movie is its depiction of the Cheyennes, who refer to themselves as the Human Beings, and their culture.  They are not quite as authentic-seeming as, say, the Lakota Sioux in Dances With Wolves, but the portrayal is engaging.  Jack makes friends, but some enemies, and he becomes a warrior despite extraordinary ineptitude and receives the name Little Big Man.

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Crabb is taken for a Cheyenne on the battlefield, understandably enough.

After a battle with white soldiers, he is taken back to white society, where he is adopted by the Pendrakes, an outwardly religious couple in which the wife (Faye Dunaway) seems obsessed with sex.  Jack refers to this as his “religious period,” and he meets his real sister Caroline, a Calamity-Jane type, who teaches him to shoot a gun, whereupon he enters his “gunfighter period” and meets Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Corey).  Jack seemingly has the skill but not the temperament for gunfighting.  He’s never good at any kind of fighting.

Jack takes a Swedish wife Olga and starts a dry goods store with a partner who turns out to be a thieving scoundrel.  Responding to impromptu advice from Gen. George Custer (Richard Milligan), they head west, only to have their stagecoach attacked by Cheyennes.  Olga is abducted, and Jack goes to the Cheyennes in search of her.  Captured by whites again, he becomes a muleskinner for Custer until Custer’s attack on the Cheyennes, where Custer and his men indiscriminately kill women and children.  Jack discovers a young Cheyenne widow Sunshine (Aimee Eccles) giving birth, and she becomes his wife, along with her three widowed sisters.

Old Lodge Skins has become blind, but he still has prophetic dreams and powers that enable him and Jack to survive another Custer massacre, this time on the Washita.  Sunshine, her child, and her sisters are all killed.  Jack makes his way to Custer’s camp, intending to kill him, but he loses his nerve and becomes instead the town drunk in Deadwood.  Wild Bill Hickok gives him money to clean up but is himself killed.  Jack finds Mrs. Pendrake working as a prostitute.  “Well, Jack.  Now you know.  This is a house of ill fame.  And I’m a fallen flower.  This life is not only wicked and sinful.  It isn’t even any fun.”

LittleBigGunfighter Crabb in his gunfighter phase.

After a period as a hermit and trapper, Jack spots Custer’s cavalry on the move and joins them as a scout.  Custer figures he can believe the opposite of what Jack tells him as they head for the Little Bighorn.

Jack Crabb::  “General, you go down there.”

General Custer:  “You’re advising me to go into the coulee?”

Jack Crabb:  “Yes sir.”

General Custer:  “There are no Indians there, I suppose. 

Jack Crabb:  “I didn’t say that.  There are thousands of Indians down there.  And when they get done with you, there won’t be nothing left but a greasy spot.  This ain’t the Washita River, General, and them ain’t helpless women and children waiting for you.  They’re Cheyenne braves, and Sioux.  You go down there, General, if you’ve got the nerve.”

General Custer:  “Still trying to outsmart me, aren’t you, muleskinner?  You want me to think that you don’t want me to go down there, but the subtle truth is you really *don’t* want me to go down there!”

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With Custer at the Last Stand.  Note the large back pad on Richard Mulligan as Custer.  He’s about to get a couple of arrows in the back.

Jack is standing next to the demented Custer during the last stand and is saved by a Cheyenne friend-enemy.  Back at the Cheyenne camp, Jack accompanies Old Lodge Skins to a mountain top, where the old man intends to die. 

[Old Lodge Skins, who has laid himself down to die, wakes up as it starts to rain.]

Old Lodge Skins [opening his eyes]:  “Am I still in this world?”

Jack Crabb:  “Yes, Grandfather.”

Old Lodge Skins:   [groans] “I was afraid of that.  Well, sometimes the magic works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.”

They return to dinner.  And Jack dismisses the oral historian with whom he has been sharing all this, to be left alone with his memories.

This has been a long synopsis, but it’s a long movie at 139 minutes, with a lot of back-and-forth between Indians and whites for Jack.  Dustin Hoffman is good as Jack Crabb, and his old-man makeup for the framing story was innovative for its time.  The best performances in this film are by Chief Dan George (nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) and Aimee Eccles as Sunshine.  (Marlon Brando, Paul Scofield and Lawrence Olivier had turned down the Old Lodge Skins role, according to reports.)  Chief Dan George was even more excellent as the Cherokee Lone Watie in The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Aimee Eccles was cast as Bert Lancaster’s young Apache wife in Ulzana’s Raid, although she hardly appears on screen.  While this movie’s depiction of the Cheyennes is not entirely authentic, it is entertaining and more real than movies had tended to be previously.

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Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins and Aimee Eccles as Sunshine.

Its treatment of Custer and the flow of events generally is much more cavalier.  Washita (1868) and Little Bighorn (1876) appear to be only months apart.  In fact, they were eight years apart.  The lunatic Custer on the battlefield is intended to be satiric, not accurate.  The anti-military feeling is pure 1970s, although it is surprisingly similar to Dances With Wolves more than twenty years later.  How much you enjoy this movie will depend on how you feel about the 1970s as a film era generally. 

This and Bonnie and Clyde (1967) are generally seen as the high points of Arthur Penn’s directing career.  Little Big Man‘s revisionism was not universally well-received on its release.  Vincent Canby of the New York Times complained that the film “wears its social concerns so blatantly that they look like war paint.”  Pauline Kael, who had championed the violent Bonnie and Clyde, thought that Little Big Man was a “hip epic” and “just crude, ideological filmmaking.”  However, it was generally a critical and box-office success in 1970.  More than 40 years later there seems to be a little creaking in the Vietnam-era joints.

In the novel, the old Indian dies at the end.  Penn deliberately decided against playing it that way.  “We thought long and hard about this and in the first draft of the script he does die, but this death would have introduced an element of sadness into the film and we didn’t want this.  The film would have become dramatic, even melodramatic, instead of being picaresque.  I also wanted to show that not only were the Indians going to be destroyed, but they were also condemned to live.  On the whole, audiences like their entertainment dramatically compact and homogenous, but I want the opposite.  A film should remain free and open, not with everything defined and resolved.”

LittleBigAuthentic The real Little Big Man, Oglala Sioux.

Historical Note:  The real Little Big Man was not a Cheyenne or a white man, but an Oglala Sioux, related to Crazy Horse and involved in his death at Fort Robinson in 1877.

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Lawman

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 30, 2013

Lawman—Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Sheree North, Robert Duvall (1971; Dir:  Michael Winner)

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This features an implacable and almost superhuman Lancaster as Jared Maddox, the titular lawman from Bannock, which looks to be in the southwest, despite the name.  (The Bannocks were an Indian tribe that ranged mostly in Idaho.)  The movie was shot in Durango, Mexico.  Cowboys in the employ of Vince Bronson (Lee J. Cobb), returning from a cattle drive, shoot up Bannock and an old man is accidentally killed.  (The suggestion is that his life was less valuable because he was old.) 

Months later (in 1887), Maddox comes to their town Sabbath with a list of people he wants to take back to Bannock for trial.  Vince Bronson offers Maddox restitution and a deal to leave them alone, and Maddox refuses to talk about it.  The inference is that Maddox is harder on Bronson and his boys than any Bannock court will be.  While Maddox isn’t wrong in his interpretation of the law, he’s not entirely right, either.  His nature is indicated by an always-buttoned black leather vest he wears.  His character plays a flute alone in his hotel room to indicate a hidden sensitivity in his nature. 

lawmanLancaster Lancaster as Maddox

Robert Ryan in one of his last movies is Cotton Ryan, the over-the-hill lawman in Sabbath; he basically works for Bronson.  Much is made about how Cotton has been backed down before in several locations, but he seems to have more balance than Maddox, if not the same strong moral purpose.  This also has an early western role for Robert Duvall (in the same general time frame as True Grit, Joe Kidd) as Adams, a small rancher involved in the drive.  And an early role for Richard Jordan, who also appeared with Lancaster in Valdez Is Coming the same year. 

Running through this film is a sense of problems with traditional authority and values, very common in the early 1970s.  There is a good setup of moral quandaries, especially with the Cobb character.  The resolution, to the extent things get resolved, is less convincing.  There are questions on the climactic shootout, but this is better than average.  It was a good year for westerns starring Lancaster, with this, Ulzana’s Raid and Valdez is Coming.  

lawmanLancasterRyan Ryan tries to mediate.

There are attempts to depict moral shades of gray among various characters.  Cobb’s Bronson isn’t that bad a person; he’s not trying to avoid reasonable consequences, and he’d make restitution if Maddox would let him.  Crowe Wheelwright (Jordan) is a young Bronson gunslinger who comes to see some of Maddox’s view.  Ryan can see both Bronson’s and Maddox’s view; he tries to broker a deal between them, which Maddox refuses.  Ryan is the foil to whom Maddox makes the comments most revealing of him. [Note that Ryan uses the word “gunsel,” normally associated with Dashiell Hammett’s work from a later time period, especially The Maltese Falcon.]

The townspeople seem actually to like Bronson (as opposed to being oppressed by him), and some take up arms against Maddox.  Some of the cowboys are as inflexible in their way as Maddox (e.g., Harvey Stenbaugh, played by Albert Salmi), and they’re the first ones to push things to violence; some are cowards or backshooters.   In some ways there may be too many characters.  There’s not enough explanation about Lucas (Joseph Wiseman), the crippled local saloon-bordello owner who has some history with Maddox.  He’s an interesting character, and a counterpoint to Ryan in some ways—some one who has not lost his edge despite reason to have done so.

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Such moral complexity is unusual in a western.  Maddox is world-weary and sees the fruitlessness of it all:  “It’s always the same.  If you post a man, he has to come into town to prove he’s a man.  Or you kill a man, he’s got a friend or kin — he just has to come against you… and for no reason… no reason that makes any sense.  And it don’t mean a damn to the man already in the ground.  Nobody wins.”  But he does it anyway because it’s his job.  As he goes out for the final shootout, he fatalistically says to Ryan:  “A man gets caught in his own doing.  You can’t change what you are.  And if you try, something always calls you back.”    

At the end, there seem to be some cracks in the implacable Maddox façade, but he’s forced into a shootout where there’s no room for hesitation.  It pushes him back into his black-and-white role and outlook.  After dealing with action forced by several others, Maddox shoots down the fleeing J.D. Cannon when he doesn’t really have to.  It certainly de-glamorizes the showdown.  Although Maddox comes out alive, nobody wins.  A rigid adherence to the letter of the law doesn’t make things turn out right.  In some ways, this is a story of obsession, like The Searchers, as well as a variation on the High Noon theme. And it’s said to be a remake of 1955’s Man With the Gun.  (All those are better movies, though.)

The print sometimes seen on the Encore Westerns channel isn’t in good shape, grainy and with washed-out colors.  British director Winner was better known for the Death Wish movies with Charles Bronson, and also made the western Chato’s Land with the same star; he’s said to be overly fond of camera zooms.  Sometimes this one is viewed as a violent relic of the early 1970s overly influenced by spaghetti westerns (unnecessarily violent, for example, as emphasized by the poster); others see it as a gem of moral complexity with excellent performances.  Ryan is said to have preferred this movie to The Wild Bunch.  Not many others would make that claim, but this is worth watching even though there is a residual feeling of director Winner wanting to make a statement more than tell a story that was real to him.

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Unforgiven

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 5, 2013

Unforgiven—Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Jaimz Woolvett, Richard Harris, Saul Rubinek (1992; Dir:  Clint Eastwood)

A bleak and unyielding western, one of the two westerns that won the Best Picture Oscar in the early 1990s—a period not otherwise noted for its production of westerns.  It’s a great western, but it’s not where you’d start if you weren’t already familiar with this genre.

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This is the movie that established Clint Eastwood as one of the premier directors of his time, and not just of westerns.  Eastwood is said to have approached a script that had been kicking around Hollywood for 20 years, with the intention of making the last western.  It obviously wasn’t the last in a literal sense, but it feels like it has a note of grim finality.  And Eastwood himself hasn’t made or appeared in another western since.

unforgiven1  Eastwood as William Munny

Eastwood’s performance as reformed, then unreformed, gunman William Munny is the linchpin of the film, but Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman are superb as well.  Hackman won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as sadistic sheriff Little Bill Daggett.

Farmer, widower, family man and former gunman William Munny is “a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition,” although you wouldn’t know it to see him initially in his role as a pig farmer.  He is reluctantly brought out of retirement by a young man who calls himself the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) to collect the bounty a group of prostitutes have put on some cowboys who cut up the face of one of them in Big Whiskey, Wyoming.  Over the course of the movie Munny reverts more and more to his previously cold-blooded self, especially when his long-time sidekick Ned Logan (elegantly played by Morgan Freeman) is killed by the vicious Little Bill.  Ultimately, for Munny there is no going back to pig farming this time.  It’s a fascinating journey as the characters make their choices and play them out, their free will pitted against an increasing sense of grim inevitability.  The most moral character is probably Freeman’s, and he ends up dead.  For least admirable character, it’s kind of a toss-up between Eastwood and Hackman, and the winner is the one who’ll be the most ruthless.  It’s powerful stuff.  William Munny recognizes what he’s doing, but is relentless in doing it anyway.  “Hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”

There’s running commentary by Little Bill himself, as he kind of adopts nebbish scribe W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) to explain his tactics and motivation in trying to maintain some kind of order in the violent town of Big Whiskey, while the bounty attracts all kinds of undesirables.  Among them is bounty hunter English Bob (Richard Harris), of whom Little Bill makes short work.  Beauchamp has come west in search of western stereotypes he thinks he knows, only to find that the real thing is a lot more daunting and dangerous.  Munny becomes more hard-bitten and even less verbal as the movie goes on, although he doesn’t seem to mind explaining himself to the writer, either, so far as there is an explanation other than “I’ve always been lucky when it comes to killin’ people.”  Finally, there’s a futility about it.  From the dying Little Bill:  “See you in hell, William Munny.”  “Yeah.”

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For a movie whose subject is killing, with the cost of killing to both those killed and those doing the killing, this movie nevertheless carries quite a kick without anywhere near the body count of less gritty fare like Young Guns or, obviously, such classics as The Long Riders and The Wild Bunch.  For those who think of westerns as all action, beautiful horses, impressive landscapes, quick justice and the adventure of blazing guns with no introspection, this is kind of an antidote.  From Hal Herring:  “These are collisions set in motion on a grand scale that remain extremely human and comprehensible.  There has never been a set of characters so believable, yet so extreme, and, even with all of the cruelty, so likable.  You never know, exactly, who to root for.”

This is unsurprisingly rated R for violence and language.  It seems impossible to make a western with modern cinematic standards for gunfights without having an R rating, and this one is particularly grim.  This may not be a movie that one will love, but one has to see it if one loves westerns.  For the second time in three years (and only the third time ever), the Oscar for Best Picture went to a western when Unforgiven won it, and Eastwood won for Best Director.  With his respect for tradition, Eastwood dedicated the movie simply “To Don and Sergio”–his film-making mentors, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel (director of his Dirty Harry movies and Two Mules for Sister Sara).

This is the most recently-made of five westerns on the AFI’s list of the 100 greatest American movies, where it appears along with High Noon, The Searchers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Wild Bunch.  (There are six if you count Treasure of the Sierra Madrehttp://www.afi.com/100years/movies10.aspx)

Note:  Don’t confuse this one with the overblown, John Huston-directed The Unforgiven from 1960, with Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn (as an adopted Kiowa sister) and Audie Murphy.

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