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Archive for the ‘Samuel Wilson’s movie reviews’ Category

TallT1

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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Warlock1

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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by Samuel Wilson

Buster Keaton grew up on trains. Travelling from town to town with his vaudevillian parents as The Three Keatons, Buster might have been expected to take trains for granted, but his movies demonstrate a continuing sense of wonder about them. While his ultimate train movie, The General, is a fantasy of power and destruction, in his earlier Our Hospitality a train figures in the young hero’s rite of passage. The film, co-directed by Keaton with John G. Blystone, is a mock epic that slowly and slyly reveals its parodic character, opening with a deadly earnest prologue explaining the feud of the Canfields and the McCays. The little tale of mutual murder in a rainstorm, the darkness illuminated by lightning and gunshots, with a third man’s good intentions curdling into vendetta and a new widow recoiling in sheer terror from a new corpse, is genuinely horrific. The intertitle narrative retains the prologue’s portentous tone even as Keaton’s imagery undermines it. His resort to a footnote claiming that a forthcoming vision of 42nd Street and Broadway circa 1830 as a barren hinterland derives from “an old print” is a jab at D. W. Griffith and others who asserted authenticity in that pedantic fashion. Throughout the funniest section of the picture, Keaton exaggerates the primitive state of the country and its youthful feebleness that makes 1830 America an analogue for his character, a McKay scion raised in safety far from the feud yet returning to the kill zone to claim an inheritance – and vice versa. (more…)

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by Samuel Wilson

The Man Nobody Knows, one of the best-selling non-fiction books of the 1920s, described Jesus Christ as the ultimate salesman. That idea may have been floating in the mind of Hal Roach’s title writer H. M. Walker when he introduced Big Business as “the story of a man who turned the other cheek, and got punched in the nose.” But who is the man? Is it Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy or their antagonist James Finlayson? Which of them turns the other cheek? This is Big Business, after all – arguably Laurel and Hardy’s best-remembered silent comedy and a definitive example of the team’s “tit for tat” trope. “Tit for tat” is the opposite of turning the other cheek, it would seem, so what’s Walker trying to say?

Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy are trying to sell Christmas trees in California, a proposition that seemed more ludicrous in 1929 than it may today. Finlayson is their third stop of the day, after an embarrassing but uneventful encounter with a single woman and a confrontation with a hammer-wielding but otherwise unseen homeowner. Finlayson gives them another flat no, and that’d be the end of that, except that the boys’ sample tree gets stuck in his door. This happens twice but things might still have ended peacefully had Stan not gotten a “big business idea,” rung Finlayson’s doorbell yet again and asked whether he’d reserve a tree for next year. The title of the picture has been invoked, so maybe Stan’s the man the title writer means. Maybe turning the other cheek means not taking no for an answer. That’s the way of a salesman, and that might be a kind of martyrdom, depending on your point of view. Attention will be paid to such men. (more…)

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