Archive for October, 2013


by Samuel Wilson

John Wayne was the matchmaker. His production company teamed Randolph Scott with writer Burt Kennedy and director Budd Boetticher for Seven Men From Now (1956). Everything went well, except for the theme song, then considered an obligatory feature of a western, of which all three principals reportedly despaired. When Scott hired Kennedy and Boetticher for his own production company, there would be no theme songs.  Boetticher would direct five films for Scott, as well as a Scott feature for Warner Bros.; Kennedy wrote three of them and did some uncredited doctoring on a fourth.  What difference did Scott make as a producer? Between The Tall T and Decision at Sundown the actor appeared in Richard L. Bare’s Shootout at Medicine Bend as an actor only, and it is dreadful. At a minimum, you can guess that after all his years in the business, Scott knew what he didn’t want. As it happens, his Boetticher films are often acclaimed for their stripped-down simplicity and efficiency. There’s definitely more going on, if not too much, in Westbound, the film Scott and Boetticher did for hire at Warners. On their own, they and Scott’s producing partner Harry Joe Brown understood that less could be more, that peeling away layers of convention and cliché revealed something more essential and universal. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 75m) not on DVD

The dreaded Norther

p  Lillian Gish, Victor Sjöstrom  d  Victor Sjöstrom  w  Frances Marion, John Colton  novel  Dorothy Scarborough  ph  John Arnold  ed  Conrad A.Nervig  m  Carl Davis  art  Cedric Gibbons, Edward Withers  cos  André-Ani

Lillian Gish (Letty Mason), Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower), Montagu Love (Wirt Roddy), Dorothy Cummings (Cora), Edward Earle (Beverly), William Orlamond (Sourdough),

This is the story of a woman who came into the domain of the winds” the opening captions read and, if ever a film could be described as tempestuous, it’s this one.  One of the last great silents of the American screen, along with The Wedding March, The Crowd and Docks of New York it represented the final zenith of that soon to be outmoded art form.  The coming of talkies seemed predestined to arrive in time for the post 1929 depression, and the cinema would once more push art aside in favour of entertainment.

Letty Mason is travelling from her Virginia home to her cousin’s small ranch at the desert post of Sweet Water (did this influence Leone’s like-named ranch in Once Upon a Time in the West, where Claudia Cardinale is travelling by train in the opening sequence?).  Arriving, she immediately causes her cousin’s stern wife to grow jealous, the latter accusing her of trying to lure her cousin from his wife.  Letty is proposed to by two local hicks, Lige and Sourdough, though she rather prefers the attentions of scoundrel Wirt Roddy (anagram of ‘dirty word’).  But when she shows up to marry him, he tells her of his previous marriage and she is forced to marry Lige.  However, in refusing to allow him to consummate their marriage, Lige is driven to desperate measures to raise money to send her off back where she came from.  Roddy, meanwhile, has designs of his own. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

This isn’t based on reality, all the characters have familiar names, but the characteristics are my invention.

Sorry for the small size, zoom in if necessary.

 1. INT. SLEEPING QUARTERS - NIGHT                                

          A narrow aisle between two rows of cots with men either          
          lying down or sitting is the only place where JAIME GRIJALBA     
          seems to be able to walk through in search of his cot. It’s      
          a hot night, everyone is sweating and it’s all very dusty,       
          as in most westerns. We hear some conversations from the         
          people sitting down as Jaime advances.                           

                              SAMUEL WILSON                                
                    ...Sergio Leone saw this film and                      
                    thought of Henry Fonda first as his                    
                    Man With No Name and finally, once                     
                    he had the clout to get him, as a                      
                    more evil and more doomed                              
                    representative of that “ancient                        
                    race” in Once Upon a Time in the                       
                    West. Watch Warlock and you                            
                    understand what Leone was after.                       
                    Fonda’s slow-burning yet commanding                    
                    performance heads a deep ensemble                      
                    ranging from the eccentric Quinn                       
                    and the redemptive Widmark to                          
                    DeForrest (Dr. McCoy) Kelley giving                    
                    perhaps his greatest performance in                    
                    a relatively small role...                             

                              DENNIS POLIFRONI                             
                    ...to be frank.  I don’t think it’s                    
                    a western at all.  Yes, it has all                     
                    the visual and textural trappings                      
                    of a classic western.  The film                        
                    takes place in the valleys and                         
                    deserts that have become signature                     
                    backdrops to the work of Mann and                      
                    Leone and John Ford.  The                              
                    production design is reminiscent of                    
                    all the old clapboard towns that                       
                    many a villain and hero rode into                      
                    in pictures like MY DARLING                            
                    CLEMENTINE and THE GOOD, THE BAD                       
                    AND THE UGLY.  It’s populated with                     
                    characters straight out of the                         
                    classic western repertoire and, at                     
                    any given moment, you might find                       
                    yourself facing off with                               
                    gunslingers, Mexican “Banditos”,                       
                    whore-house hookers, tin-starred                       
                    lawmen and old dog kicking drunks                      
                    hitting you up for a coin to waste                     
                    away on another shot of hard                           
                    whiskey.  Yet, with all of these                       
                    trappings, BUTCH is not really a                       
                    western...       (more…)

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Screen cap from 12 YEARS A SLAVE, a staggering masterpiece that leaves one shaken and overwhelmed.

Pat Perry et all

Pat Perry and pal Flo Finer flank Sam and Jeremy near Marriott Marquis in Manhattan (photo by Lucille Juliano)

John Grant

Author John Grant (left) at Watchung Bookstore with Sam on Wednesday night.

by Sam Juliano

The western countdown continues to move forward successfully, with impressive numbers in both page views and comments confirming relevance with readers.  The third week featured some exceptional essays on some eclectic titles.  As always, Dee Dee has been linking up to her ‘ning’ site on the sidebar daily, offering up some fantastic posters and lobby cards of every film appearing on the countdown.  The project will continue for the next seven weeks, ending in early December.

Lucille, Sammy and I attended a seminar at the Watchung bookstore on Thursday evening.   The topic concerned prospective authors and their various obstacles in getting published.  The panel included John Grant (Paul Barnett), the author of a new encyclopedia on Film Noir.  Grant, who previously engaged in on-line conversation with our own Tony d’Ambra (d’Ambra had reviewed at the volume at FilmsNoir.net two weeks ago) informed Tony that he would be appearing in Montclair to speak on the subject and to bring along copies of his new volume.  We picked up our own copy and later met with Grant, his lovely wife Pam and another fan at a local Irish Pub for a delightful chat. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Best Picture The Tree of Life, US (6 votes)

Best Director Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life (7 votes)

Best Actor Jean Dujardin, The Artist (4 votes)

Best Actress Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia (6 votes)

Best Supp Actor Hunter McCracken, The Tree of Life (5 votes)

Best Supp Actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia (8 votes)

Best Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life (14 votes)

Best Score Ludovic Bource, The Artist (7 votes)

Best Short It’s Such a Beautiful Day, US, Don Hertzfeld (2 votes)


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by Sam Juliano

A mountain man’s a lonely man 
And he leaves a life behind 
It ought to have been different, but oftimes you will find, 
That the story doesn’t always go that way you had in mind. 
Jeremiah’s story was that kind. . . 
Jeremiah’s story was that kind. 

An extraordinarily diverse and eclectic New York cultural maven opined in 1932 that “the strong silent man is the heir of the American pioneer, the brother of Daniel Boone whom James Fenimore Cooper immortalized as the American type for Europe.  In what was truly to be a redefinition of this quiet but resilient recluse, the mountain man Jeremiah Johnson is given some directions – “Ride due west as the sun sets and turn left at the Rocky Mountains and then proceeds to embark upon a lifetime journey that takes him to a place of beauty and terror, a land ruled by a savage ethic and populated in large measure by those no longer invested in the land of the living.  Jeremiah is the title character and central focus of Sydney Pollack’s Jeremiah Johnson, a 1972 western starring Robert Redford at the peak of his appeal, a film that’s narratively straightforward but is underscored by a mythic ethos and a pulsating spirituality.

Jeremiah Johnson is one of the most compelling documents on film that purports to examine the ferocious, yet entrancingly beautiful outer reaches of American civilization –  a wilderness where peril and uncertainty lurk at every turn.  As captured by cinematographer Duke Callaghan the mountains evince a visual duality – bathed in golden sunshine, yet at other times capped by milky white snow that serves as a kind of ominous portal that beckons less precautionary adventures to their demise.  The specter of the mountains also serves as a challenge for even the most rugged of men, reminding them that there is no way to defeat them.  One must co-exist and rely on favorable timing and sheer good luck.  The film is one of three westerns that makes powerful use of it’s snowy terrain (the others are Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence and Andre de Toth’s Day of the Outlaw)   Yet, Jeremiah Johnson is the only one of the three where the raw and unforgiving terrain serves as the backdrop for what ultimately plays out as a meditative solo odyssey focused on a search for the meaning of life, one played out as a kind of re-creation of how the mountain man lives within the thematic parameters of man vs. nature a la Jack London.   Conservationist actor Redford had relocated to Utah in the late 60’s and he purchased a ski resort in Provo Canyon.  Located within a stone’s throw of a national forest and the Rockies, the region showcased natural beauty that at the end of the day was a godsend for Pollack and Callaghan, who set up camp with the cast and crew for the coming winter shooting schedule. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

Hiya fellas! I’m so so deeply sorry to all of you because I’ve failed you in so many forms that I can’t even count them. First of all, I’m sorry because I wasn’t able of having a review ready for this small series last week, I promised you a new obscure western every thursday, and I wasn’t able of watching and reviewing said western last week. Also, last week was also the announcement of the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, which was awarded to canadian short story writer Alice Munro, someone I wasn’t familiar with, but whose reputation I had actually heard about. I used to do some investigative reports on the writers who won the prize, and actually managed to do a bunch of posts on a lot of books written by Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, but was stopped many times because I lost the books or took a long time to finish them. But this time I’m keen on doing something about Alice Munro, but I started badly, take this as an apology and also an announcement that maybe some day I’ll restart the Nobel series with the chronological review of the works of the winners (either be Llosa, Tranströmer, Yan or Munro, two of these unavailable due to untranslated first works). But in the meantime I have these westerns to review, this one this week is an italian spaghetti western from the late 60’s on the heydey of the genre, when Sergio Leone was making his best work and everyone was just crazy for this stuff. As you might remember, or not, from last time, I have a ranking system for this films, which you can revise after the jump, as well as start reading the review of this particular and relatively unknown western. (more…)

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hg 1

by Allan Fish

(USA 1980 219m) DVD1

In principle, everything can be done

p  Johann Carelli  d  Michael Cimino  Michael Cimino  ph  Vilmos Zsigmond  ed  Tom Rolf, William Reynolds, Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald Greenberg  m  David Mansfield  art  Tambi Larsen, Spencer Deverill, Maurice Fowler  cos  Allen Highfill

Kris Kristofferson (James Averill), Isabelle Huppert (Ella Watson), Christopher Walken (Nathan D.Champion), John Hurt (Billy Irvine), Sam Waterston (Frank Canton), Brad Dourif (Mr Eggleston), Joseph Cotten (Rev.Doctor), Jeff Bridges (John L.Bridges), Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Elizabeth McGovern,

Among a host of monumental films that bombed at the box office, stretching back to Intolerance through La Fin du Monde and Cleopatra, Heaven’s Gate surely still holds pride of place.  Even now the very term ‘a Heaven’s Gate’ is synonymous for financial debacles in the movie industry.  For here was a director, Michael Cimino, fresh from the almost universal praise allotted to his The Deer Hunter, given carte blanche to make whatever film he liked by a studio – United Artists – that would come to regret it.  For all the endless vitriol and critical mutilation (one recalls Pauline Kael sharpening her poison quill with “it was easy to see what to cut, but when I tried afterward to think of what to keep, my mind went blank”), Cimino’s film deserves placing altogether higher in the eyes of posterity.  To these eyes, it’s a far better film than The Deer Hunter, for all that film’s merits.


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© 2013 by James Clark


 Taking the measure of a Coens’ film (Miller’s Crossing [1990]) right after immersion in a film by Wong Kar Wai (and closely following brushes with Terrence Malick, Quentin Tarantino, Nicolas Refn, Kim Nguyen and Lars von Trier) induces a sense of the former effort having a somewhat stand-offish comportment to its revelations. Blood Simple (1984), their first, would be quite unique in soaking up the surreal features of Malick’s Badlands (1973), so redolent of that contrarian and intimate reservoir, Kiss Me Deadly, and so struck by a masterwork of Surrealist filmmaking, namely, Robert Bresson’s, Mouchette. This link would also be introducing eventuation very conversant with solitary consciousness. As thus pitched, the initial and solitary inspiration (from Malick) impinges upon an enterprise having chosen a brotherhood duality of discernment.

    The Surrealist enthusiasm of the freshmen brothers comes unstuck in the course of their subsequent extremity, Raising Arizona (1987), a film far more stridently absurdist than effectively inhabiting the prospect of attaining to the intimacy of the surreal. After that slightly bilious romp, they turned to what was eventually to become Miller’s Crossing (during development tentatively referred to as “The Big Head”). In trying to right their ship of discovery along lines of blue-chip investigation, they came up empty at the preparatory stage (a case of twofold writer’s block). Hence they shifted to a study of another collection of perverse irritants (Barton Fink [1991 release date]—the writing of which they managed to whip off in three weeks—no blocks in that area—with an icing of David Lynch’s surreal, Eraserhead.) And then they returned to their attempt to find a cogent tuning for Miller’s Crossing. How did they do? (more…)

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by Samuel Wilson

Oakley Hall’s 1958 novel Warlock was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and promptly picked up for adaptation by Twentieth-Century Fox. Robert Alan Arthur wrote the screenplay and Edward Dmytryk, who had helmed the solid Broken Lance in 1954, directed the film. If Warlock is the most underrated western of the genre’s golden age, it may be because two films aren’t enough to build a cult around Dmytryk as a genre specialist. When we think of Fifties westerns we think of the directors: Ford (who actually didn’t make many that decade), Mann, Boetticher, Daves. Dmytryk may not belong in their company as a director of westerns, but his film belongs in the company of their films.

Novel and film alike are revisionist westerns. Warlock is a critical riff on the Tombstone legend with all the names changed. Consciously or not, Dmytryk symbolized his film’s revisionist intentions by casting Henry Fonda, an actor who had played Wyatt Earp in Ford’s My Darling Clementine, as the novel’s counterpart to Earp, Clay Blaisdell. The citizens’ committee of Warlock, a Utah mining town, summons Blaisdell to become their marshal and tame the local cowboys who work for Abe McQuown (Tom Drake) and make short work of sheriffs. With Blaisdell comes Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), a deadly dandy with a limp who’ll take over one of the local saloons.  Blaisdell thinks about the future and courts a local lady, Jesse Marlow (Dolores Michaels). But the pasts of Blaisdell and Morgan haunt them in the form of the vengeful Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone), and Morgan is quickly eager (with very good reason) to move on. In time, the townsfolk wonder whether the cure was worse than the disease. (more…)

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