Showing posts from 2015

Dark Command (1940)

Dir: Raoul Walsh - Cast: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Walter Pidgeon, Gabby Hayes, Roy Rogers, Porter Hall, Marjorie Main, Raymond Wallburn
"We gotta saying down in Texas ..."
An early John Wayne western, made one year after the monumental Stagecoach. With a budget of $750,000, Dark Command (1) was quite a prestige object for its production company, Republic, in those days best known for B-movies and serials. It also features singing cowboy Roy Rogers, in a surprisingly dramatic role as Claire Trevor’s trigger-happy younger brother. The story is set in Lawrence, Kansas, on the eve of the Civil War, as the political tensions between the states are growing. Some elements of the plot are (very loosely) based on the historic Quantrill's Raiders. The finale is a romantisized representation of the infamous raid on Lawrence that took place in full wartime, on August 21, 1863.

The film opens with the arrival in town of Doc Crunch, a traveling dentist, and his assistan…

Flaming Star (1960)

Dir: Don Siegel - Cast: Elvis Presley, Dolores Del Rio, Steve Forrest, John McIntire, Barbara Eden, L.Q. Jones, Richard Jaeckel, Rodolfo Acosta
Flaming Star is arguably Elvis Presley’s best movie (most people will tell you Jailhouse Rock comes nearest in quality). The screenplay, by Nunnaly Johnson, was based on a novel by Clair Huffaker, but Johnson had written it with Marlon Brando in mind. When Brando dropped out, it was rewritten for Elvis by no other than Huffaker himself.

The movie is a late entry in a series of westerns from the Fifties that tried to shed a new light on the clash between the white and the red man, between those who saw the continent as the New Land and those for whom the New Land was their Old Home (1). Like John Huston’s The Unforgiven (1960) it tells a story of a mixed (red-white) family torn apart when hostilities flare up between the Indians and the settlers.

Elvis Presley is Pacer, the half-breed son of a Texas rancher, Sam Burton, and a Kiowa…

Rough Night in Jericho (1967)

Director: Arnold Laven - Cast: Dean Martin, George Peppard, Jean Simmons, John McIntire, Slim Pickens, Don Galloway, Richard O'Brien, John Napier 
A bizarre western, if only for casting good old Dean Martin as a villain without any redeeming qualities. It was marketed with the tag line "Who says they don't make Westerns like they used to?" suggesting that this was an old school western with all the classic ingredients. The story about (the lack of) law and order in a small western town, sounds like a fifties western, but the level of violence is more in accordance with the early seventies. When a man in a white shirt is shot his blood runs on the shirt like wine on a napkin, another man is shot in the face, Jean Simmons is beaten up and almost strangled and a hand-to-hand combat between Peppard and Pickens is of a particularly nasty kind.

Martin’s character, Alex Flood, is an ex-lawman gone bad; he is determined to have total control over the…

Alvarez Kelly

Director: Edward Dmytryk - Cast: William Holden, Richard Widmark, Janice Rule, Patrick O'Neal, Victoria Shaw, Roger C. Carmel, Richard Rust, Arthur Franz, Don 'Red' Barry 
Supposedly based on actual events, this Civil War drama tells the story of an Mexican-Irish adventurer (look at the name of the titular character) who is contracted to deliver a herd of about 2500 cattle to the Union. The herd is brought to a Virginia plantation, but the mistress of the mansion is conspiring with one-eyed Confederate Colonel Rossiter, who wants to steal the cattle to feed the starving soldiers who are defending the town of Richmond. So with the help of the lady, Kelly is kidnapped at night and forced to drive the cattle to its new destination. When Kelly refuses to go along with the scheme, Rossiter shoots off one of his fingers, threatening to shoot off another one for every day he refuses to cooperate ...

This is one of the two westerns directed by Edward Dmytryk in the f…

Support Your Local Sheriff

Dir: Burt Kennedy - Cast: James Garner, Joan Hackett, Jack Elam, Bruce Dern, Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, Henry Jones, Gene Evans, Dick Haynes
A delightful comedy western, using the popular theme of the stranger taming a lawless western town. The town is the Old West frontier town of Calendar, Colorado, the stranger is Jason McCullough (James Garner) a fortune seeker on his way to the promised land (No, not California, Australia).

Calender has fallen prey to the hysteria of a gold rush after the mayor’s daughter discovered gold in an open grave during a funeral ceremony. It has become a boomtown, but the only transportation route is controlled by the villainous Danby family and they ask a large fee for every shipment of gold brought out of town. The Mining Association urges the Town Council to appoint a new sheriff, but that’s easier said than done: three sheriffs were appointed in recent memory, two of them were killed, the third one ran off after no more…

Fort Massacre (1958)

Dir: Joseph M. Newman - Cast: Joel McCrea (Sgt. Vinson), Forrest Tucker (Pvt. McGurney), John Russell (Pvt. Travis), Anthony Caruso (Pawnee), Francis McDonald (Old Piute Man), Susan Cabot (Piute Girl)

Although it’s a minor production, shot on a reduced budget, this is one of the better ‘Indian westerns’ from the Fifties. It tells the familiar story of a small group of survivors who must try to get back to their outpost after an Indian attack. But if the premise is familiar, the execution is thoughtful and uncommon. The film is set in the last decade of the 19th Century, when the Apaches were fighting a desperate war in order to survive. The war has marked those who were involved in it - red or white - for life.

The soldiers have lost their Captain during the attack, and the highest person in rank, who now becomes their new leader, sergeant Vinson, is an Indian hater and a stubborn, inflexible person to boot:

"Do you think the Apaches are still following us, Serg?" “I don't…

Lawman (1971)

Dir: Michael Winner - Cast: Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Sheree North, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Duvall, Albert Salmi, Richard Jordan, Ralph Waite, John Beck,  William C. Watson, J. D. Cannon
Lawman was helmed by British director Michael Winner. It was his first movie in Hollywood. It’s a cynical, brutally violent western and therefore many critics will tell you that the film was influenced by the spaghetti westerns. Others will tell you that it’s a remake of Man with the Gun (1955), a western directed by Richard Wilson and starring Robert Mitchum. Both statements are not without any foundation, but only tell half the truth.

Burt Lancastar is Marshall Jered Maddox, an unyielding man of the law who rides into the town of Sabbath, looking for seven cowpokes who were involved in an incident in which an old man was killed. The seven had gone on a drunken spree after they had paid a visit to the local saloon (after a hard day’s job) and there’s no doubt that the killing was accidental. The…

From Noon Till Three (1975)

Dir: Frank D. Gilroy - Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Douglas V. Fowley, Stan Haze, Hector Morales, Damon Douglas 
More a romantic comedy than a western. It was intended as a career move for Bronson, who was in his mid-fifties and felt that he was getting a bit old for the type of action stuff that had made him a star, but when it turned out to be a box-office failure, he went back to making (successful) formula movies.

Bronson is an amateur bank robber, Graham Dorsey, who’s having premonitions about the next heist ending in disaster and therefore tricks his partners so he can spend three hours in the company of a rich widow while his friends are trying to rob a bank. The two feel attracted to each other and they’re still cuddling when the news comes that the heist has gone wrong. Dorsey rides off to saves his friends from being hanged but is killed when his trail is picked up by the members of a large posse - at least that’s what the lady thinks. With the h…

Bandolero! (1968)

Dir: Andrew V. McLaglan - Cast:  James Stewart, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch, George Kennedy, Denver Pyle, Will Greer, Harry Carey Jr, Don “Red” Barry, Andrew Prine - Screenplay by J.L. Barrett, based on a story by Stanley Hough 
An enjoyable piece of nothing, as one critic put it. Dean Martin & James Stewart are cast against type as bandit brothers, Dee & Mace Bishop, and they’re not the kind of rascals who steal from the rich to help the poor. They’re selfish, mean and lethal, but note that the movie is basically a comedy. Dino is as charming as ever, smiling his trademark winning smile, while Jimmy is mainly poking fun at himself, walking and talking slowly, commenting his own and his little brother’s actions with a knowing smile.

The first thirty minutes or so, with Jimmy impersonating a hangman, are the best part of the movie. After Dee and his gang are arrested in a border town, we watch Mace overhearing a conversation in an open air bathhouse, where a self-suffi…

Showdown (1973)

A western telling the familiar story of two friends ending up on different sides of the law. It was the last western for both Dean Martin and Rock Hudson and the only time they appeared together in a movie. They play two  childhood friends, Billy Massey and Chuck Jarvis, who have already drifted apart at the film’s start: Chuck (Rock) is a married man and a rancher, Billy (Dino) has become a drifter and a train robber of sorts. Billy has spent some time in Mexico, but after his return to Texas, he robs a train not too far away from where Chuck lives, not realizing that his former buddy has become the local sheriff.
The story of the two friends is shown in a series of flashbacks, nicely introduced by black and white stills. We see how they grew up together, virtually becoming brothers. They went separate ways after both men had fallen in love with the same woman, Kate (played very well by Susan Clark, charming as ever). Kate initially fell for Billy, the more charming of the t…

Breakheart Pass (1975)

Dir: Tom Gries - Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Richard Crenna, Ben Johnson, Charles Durning, Ed Lauter, Bill McKinney, David Huddleson, Roy Jenson, Eddie Little Sky, Robert Tessier, Archie Moore 
In 1870 a diphtheria epidemic has broken out in the army outpost of Fort Humboldt. A train is on its way to the fort with medical supplies and troops to replace the soldiers who have fallen victim to the disease. Also on board are the Governor and his niece plus a sheriff and his prisoner, a man called Deacon (Charlie), who was arrested for cheating at the card table and identified as a fugitive with the help of a newspaper. As the train approaches its destiny, it becomes clear that things are not what they seem ...

I had never seen this movie before. I’m not a fan of runaway train movies and the idea of a western with a mystery plot in the style of Agatha Christie (The Orient Express inevitably comes to mind) didn’t sound inviting at all. To my surprise the movi…