Category: Westerns

01/07/09


"sheer entertainment from start to finish"

Support Your Local Sheriff 1969
Directed by Burt Kennedy
Starring: James Garner, Joan Hackett

While hardly the first Western spoof to ride out of Hollywood, Support Your Local Sheriff is easily one of the best. James Garner plays the confident, cool-headed cowboy who strolls into a wild gold rush town on the way to Australia and takes the job as sheriff. Like a parody of My Darling Clementine by way of Rio Bravo, he arrests the hotheaded but hopelessly confused son (Bruce Dern) of a ruthless ranching magnate (Walter Brennan). Stuck with a half-built jail (where he keeps his prisoner penned up with pure psychology and a few spatters of red paint), a rummy sidekick (google-eyed Jack Elam in one of his first comic turns), and a disaster-prone tomboy (Joan Hackett), he takes on a succession of gunfighters with increasing exasperation. "Sure is a childish way for a grown man to make a living," he laments before chasing one gunman out of Dodge by pelting him with rocks. Directed with laconic ease by veteran Western director Burt Kennedy, it's a clever spoof of familiar conventions in a lighthearted vein, more understated and affectionate than Mel Brooks's outrageous farce Blazing Saddles. It inspired a slew of imitators, including a decade of silly Disney Westerns that sank the genre in slapstick shenanigans, and was followed in 1971 by Kennedy's pseudosequel Support Your Local Gunfighter, which reteamed Garner and Elam in a more mercenary story of con artists and gunslingers. --Sean Axmaker



Categories: Westerns

"This frontiersman ain't itchin' for no hitchin!"

Many Rivers to Cross 1955
Directed by Roy Rowland
Starring: Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker

With Jeff Richards and Rusty Tamblyn playing Eleanor Parker's frontier brothers and a few leftover green sets from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a viewer is forgiven for half expecting the entire cast of Many Rivers to Cross to break out in hearty song or perform a lively jig at any given moment. That, of course, never happens; instead you get a sort of post-Revolutionary War Taming of the Shrew with Miss Parker as the absolute center of attention. But just when you think everything is coming up roses, those pesky Shawnees attack again, in a giant cave to boot, and the comedy becomes positively physical with Miss Parker mistakenly hitting hubby Robert Taylor over the head instead of the marauding "Injuns." It is all a bit silly but the Cinemascope landscape is breathtaking. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide


12/27/08


Classic Western spoof


Support Your Local Sheriff 1969
Directed by Burt Kennedy
Starring James Garner, Bruce Dern

While hardly the first Western spoof to ride out of Hollywood, Support Your Local Sheriff is easily one of the best. James Garner plays the confident, cool-headed cowboy who strolls into a wild gold rush town on the way to Australia and takes the job as sheriff. Like a parody of My Darling Clementine by way of Rio Bravo, he arrests the hotheaded but hopelessly confused son (Bruce Dern) of a ruthless ranching magnate (Walter Brennan). Stuck with a half-built jail (where he keeps his prisoner penned up with pure psychology and a few spatters of red paint), a rummy sidekick (google-eyed Jack Elam in one of his first comic turns), and a disaster-prone tomboy (Joan Hackett), he takes on a succession of gunfighters with increasing exasperation. "Sure is a childish way for a grown man to make a living," he laments before chasing one gunman out of Dodge by pelting him with rocks. Directed with laconic ease by veteran Western director Burt Kennedy, it's a clever spoof of familiar conventions in a lighthearted vein, more understated and affectionate than Mel Brooks's outrageous farce Blazing Saddles. It inspired a slew of imitators, including a decade of silly Disney Westerns that sank the genre in slapstick shenanigans, and was followed in 1971 by Kennedy's pseudosequel Support Your Local Gunfighter, which reteamed Garner and Elam in a more mercenary story of con artists and gunslingers. --Sean Axmaker


10/30/08


A Classic American Western

Only the Valiant 1951
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lon Chaney

Originally conceived as a Gary Cooper western, Only the Valiant reached the screen with Gregory Peck in the lead. Peck plays Richard Lance, a strictly by-the-book Army captain. Though hated by his men, Lance is respected for his military know-how. This comes in very handy when Lance and a detachment of troops attempt to reach, and then hold, an unguarded Army garrison in the middle of Apache Country. Among the film's he-man contingent are Ward Bond, Gig Young, Lon Chaney Jr., Neville Brand, Jeff Corey and Steve Brodie, all delivering topnotch performances. The nominal leading lady is Barbara Payton, whose real-life tragedies were far more dramatic than any film she appeared in. Only the Valiant was based on a novel by Charles Marquis Warren. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide


10/08/08


"Crackling Western Melodrama"

The Furies 1950
Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Houston

Seconds into Anthony Mann's hardboiled horse opera, Barbara Stanwyck absent-mindedly plays with a pair of scissors. Not to worry: she'll put them to use soon enough. Until that time, Stanwyck's volatile heiress, Vance, alternately flatters and manipulates her egotistical father, T.C. Jeffords (a feisty Walter Huston in his final performance). It's the 1870s and T.C.'s ranch, the Furies, inspires envy throughout the New Mexico territory. If Vance picks a suitable husband, T.C. promises her a handsome dowry. Unfortunately, she chooses brutal gambler Rip Darrow (Rear Window's Wendell Corey). If it wasn't for Vance's friendship with Mexican-American squatter Juan (Gilbert Roland), she wouldn't inspire much sympathy, but Vance stands up for the Herreras when financiers pressure the Jeffords to throw them off their land. Then, T.C. takes up with scheming socialite Flo (Rebecca's Dame Judith Anderson), and the tense relations between father and daughter explode into all-out war. By the end, those scissors end up in someone's face, leading to a cycle of revenge-oriented violence. Adapted from Niven Busch's novel by Red River's Charles Schnee, The Furies isn't as deliriously over-the-top as Busch's Duel in the Sun, but it plays more like Shakespearean tragedy than Technicolor camp, and Stanwyck owns the screen from start to finish. The excellent extras include erudite commentary from film historian Jim Kitses, a terrific 1967 interview with Mann for British TV, a playful 1931 chat with Huston, remembrances from Mann's daughter Nina, an essay from critic Robin Wood, and a new printing of Busch's original novel. --Kathleen C. Fennessy



"visually alive and beautiful to see..."

Treasure of Sierra Madre 1948
Directed by John Huston
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston

Ranked at No. 30 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 all-time greatest American films, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a genuine masterpiece that was, ironically, a box-office failure when released in 1948. At that time audiences didn't accept Humphrey Bogart in a role that was intentionally unappealing, but time has proven this to be one of Bogart's very best performances. It's a grand adventure and a superior character study built around the timeless themes of greed and moral corruption. As adapted by writer-director John Huston (from a novel by enigmatic author B. Traven) it became a definitive treatment of fate and futility in the obsessive pursuit of wealth. Bogart plays Fred C. Dobbs, a down-and-out wage-worker in Mexico who stakes his meager earnings on a gold-prospecting expedition to the Sierra mountains. He's joined by a grizzled old prospector (Walter Huston, the director's father) and a young, no-nonsense partner (Tim Holt), and when they strike a rich vein of gold, the movie becomes an observant study of wretched human behavior. Bogart is fiercely intense as his character grows increasingly paranoid and violent; Huston offers a compelling contrast as a weathered miner who's seen how gold can turn men into monsters.

From its lively opening scenes (featuring young Robert Blake as a boy selling lottery tickets) to its final, devastating image of fateful irony, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre tells an unforgettable story of tragedy and truth. With dialogue that has been etched into the cultural consciousness (who can forget the Mexican bandit who snarls "I don't have to show you any stinking badges!") and well-earned Oscars for John and Walter Huston, this is an American classic that still packs a punch. --Jeff Shannon


10/02/08


Czech New Wave

Czech Republic

All My Countrymen 1968
Directed by Vojtech Jasny
Starring: Vlastimil Brodsky, Radoslav Brzobohaty

"Banned by the Soviets for almost 20 years, this major contribution to world cinema is available on DVD for the first time. During the Prague Spring, that brief flowering of freedom that preceded the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Vojtech Jasny directed this impassioned account his country’s tragic relationship with the Soviet Union. Set in a small Moravian village, the story follows the lives of several characters from the era of Czech independence after WWII to the communism of the late 1960s—that is, from an idyllic rural community to a depressing agricultural collective. Small wonder that communist authorities banned the film and ordered all prints confiscated. Jasny was forced to flee his country…taking with him one 16mm print. " Facets
Czech dialogue with English subtitles


09/18/08


"...stands the mythology of the Old West on it's ear..."

McCabe and Mrs. Miller 1971
Directed by Robert Altman
Starring: Julie Christie, Warren Beatty

Iconoclastic director Robert Altman (Nashville, M.A.S.H.), deconstructs and demythologizes Hollywood's typically romantic vision of the Old West in this haunting, breathtaking masterpiece. A stranger, McCabe (Warren Beatty's best performance), the film's nonheroic protagonist, rides into a dead northwest mountain town (to the mournful sounds of Leonard Cohen), possessing ambitious entrepreneurial dreams of expansion. As the town grows, Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie's finest role, as well), a tough madam, arrives and convinces McCabe to join her in a partnership. Neither are typical Western archetypes: McCabe's an insecure braggart, bumbling lover, and horrible businessman, while Mrs. Miller, hardly a whore with a heart of gold, favors her opium pipe to her partner's romantic advances. Altman, meanwhile, buries these central characters within the town's complex, richly detailed tapestry of characters, preferring to eavesdrop on their overlapping conversations and study the bleak, harsh conditions of their lifestyles. At its core, the film addresses the sacrifices of individualism needed in order to build a community, an American concept that the independent Altman views with skeptical irony. The inevitable final shoot-out underscores the theme. Because McCabe refuses to sell the town he built to a corporation, hired bounty hunters are sent. Instead of a showdown at high noon, the finale--one of Altman's most beautiful set pieces--takes place in the snow, guerilla warfare style. As McCabe runs and hides for his life, the town he created preoccupies itself with saving a burning church instead of their creator, while Mrs. Miller, stoned and grinning, detaches herself from either concern. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond captures the town's brutal textures in luminous Cinemascope. --Dave McCoy


09/10/08


"one of the finest achievements from the Western's golden age"

Man of the West 1958
Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring: Gary Cooper, Julie London

In his last true Western, Anthony Mann matched the archetypal title with a story about a hero's effort to descend into his outlaw past so that he can exorcise it from his present. Mann initially makes light of Link's discomfort with civilization, before isolating him, saloon girl Billie, and gambler Sam in the wilderness, where their entrance into Dock's dark outlaw lair reveals Link's family-trained past as a hardened criminal, a past abandoned for upstanding married life. Underlining Link's psychological state as he plans to kill the gang, the widescreen landscapes move from more verdant surroundings to the rocky Mojave Desert and a ghost town, as Link's obsessiveness matches his enemies' psychosis. Along with a fistfight and the climactic shootouts, Mann emphasizes Western brutality through the sexual violation of Billie, as she is forced to strip on screen and raped off-screen by Lee J. Cobb's twisted patriarch. To be a defender of civilization, Link must kill his past family, revealing the moral relativity of the no-longer-unquestionably-heroic man of the West. Man of the West was widely overlooked by American critics, although then-film critic Jean-Luc Godard named it one of 1958's best films in the influential French film journal Cahiers du Cinema. ~ Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide


09/08/08


Categories: Westerns

"His Guns Were the Only Law"

Law and Order 1953
Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring: Ronald Reagan, Dorothy Malone

Law and Order is a solid, entertaining western that showcases Ronald Reagan as a leading man. Reagan gives an almost John Wayne-esque performance (you could almost call him John Wayne Light in this one). Reagan is tough, but very likeable in the role and shows the charisma that would help him in his political life just a decade later.

The story itself is something of a re-working of the Earps VS the Clantons, and it even starts in Tombstone. Reagan is Frame Johnson, tough, no-nonsense Marshall of Tombstone. He decides to retire to a nearby town to start a ranch and marry his girl, but he finds the town run by another rancher and soon Frame and his brothers are in conflict with that rancher and his family. There is plenty of good western action, and a solid story in Law and Order. Erik Rupp


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