An Unusual Western: William Wyler’s The Westerner (’40)

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To view The Westerner click here.

In 1940, immediately following his adaptation of Wuthering Heights (1939), William Wyler directed his first major full-length Western, The Westerner, starring Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan. Although he hadn’t yet made any Westerns for producer Samuel Goldwyn, this wasn’t Wyler’s first time working in the popular genre. In the 1920s, in the early years of his career working for Carl Laemmle at Universal, Wyler was a crew member on countless Westerns, eventually working his way up to director. Finally in the director’s chair and still under contract with Universal, Wyler only directed Westerns. It wasn’t until the 1928 comedy Has Anyone Seen Kelly? starring Bessie Love, that he was able to break free and experiment with other genres outside of the Western. Returning to the genre after a long absence gave Wyler a renewed perspective, allowing him to apply his artistic vision and constantly evolving camera techniques to something he was quite familiar with.

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The Complicated Morals of a Revisionist Western

HOMBRE (1967)

In 1961, legendary author and screenwriter Elmore Leonard released his critically-acclaimed modern Western novel Hombre, a story about a white man, John Russell, raised by Apaches and his eventual return to civilization, with its complex politics and rampant prejudice. Russell struggles with deep moral conflict and reluctance to live as a white man after witnessing the horrific treatment of the people who raised him as one of their own. Five years later, director Martin Ritt (The Sound and the Fury [1959], Hud [1963], The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [1965]), with an adapted screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., brought a faithful adaptation of Leonard’s story to the big screen in one of the greatest, underrated revisionist Westerns of all time.

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What’s it all about, Monte? The Shooting (1966)

SHOOTING, THE (1967)

His horse rears up his head and looks around, as if something is amiss. The horse’s rider, Willet Gashade, looks around too and as the first notes of a flute make their way into the viewer’s ears, a wave of disquiet has already inundated the surroundings. Something’s not right. Things seem… off kilter. Uneasy. Unsure. The rider makes his way to his destination but soon enough will realize it’s only a starting point to a journey that may or may not end with any sense of meaning or purpose whatsoever. Thus begins Monte Hellman’s extraordinary 1966 film, The Shooting, one of the best films of the 1960s, or any decade, really.

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Stranger Than Fiction: The Baron of Arizona (1949)

The Baron of Arizona (1950)  Directed by Samuel Fuller Shown: Vincent Price

“In the movie business, a good ending must sometimes hold sway over the truth.” – Samuel Fuller, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking

Before Samuel Fuller wrote and directed his own films, he was a gutsy go-getting newspaperman. Fuller first worked at the New York Journal as a copyboy and eventually graduated to the role of crime reporter for the New York Evening Graphic, a tabloid newspaper that naysayers nicknamed the “pornoGraphic” due to its explicit content. During the Great Depression, he took his journalism skills on the road and traveled west collecting sensational stories about America, the current crisis it was facing and the rich history that preceded it. One of the stories that captured Fuller’s imagination during his cross-country journey was the strange tale of a nineteenth-century con man named James Reavis. Reavis forged a string of false documents asserting he owned over 18,000 square miles of the Arizona Territories and went to great lengths to convince the U.S. government of his claim. The story of Reavis and his remarkable crimes became the basis of Fuller’s second film, a quasi-fictional account of the events titled The Baron of Arizona (1949).

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Farewell to the Frisco Kid

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The much-mourned passing of comic actor, writer, and director Gene Wilder on June 11, 2016 was one of the saddest shocks in a year already full of them. A master of both physical and verbal comic timing as well as an underrated dramatic actor, Wilder will be honored on Thursday, September 29, with a four-film sampling of his formidable talents including Young Frankenstein (1974), Start the Revolution without Me (1970), and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), plus a double airing of his one-hour Role Model interview episode from 2008. Of course, you could easily program an entire day of Wilder without covering everything, so hopefully this will be enough to either get fans back in the mood to explore his output or awaken newbies to the riches in his filmography, which also includes such milestones as Blazing Saddles (1974), The Producers (1967), and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). [...MORE]

Print the Legend: Barbarosa (1982)

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In 1982 Universal Pictures quietly dumped the Willie Nelson-Gary Busey Western Barbarosa into a few drive-ins. After low turn-out, they pulled it from distribution. There may have been more critics to see it than paying customers, and it was a strong notice from Gene Siskel condemning the studio’s treatment of the film that led it back into theaters six months later. The damage was done however, and Barbarosa sunk from view despite accruing a string of rave reviews (from Pauline Kael, Janet Maslin, and Dave Kehr, among others). A new DVD and Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing gives viewers another chance to see this engagingly shambolic revenge film, the first American feature directed by Aussie Fred Schepisi (Roxanne).

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The Shooting

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Made on roughly the same budget as The Blair Witch Project (1999) and shot shortly after the assassination of J.F.K., Monte Hellman’s The Shooting (1966) is a western very much of its time that was not properly released in its time. It’s informed by films like The Virginian (1962), One Eyed Jacks (1961), Stagecoach (1939), and My Darling Clementine (1946), yet infused with an aesthetic not far from L’Avventura (1960) or Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It stars Warren Oates, Jack Nicholson, and Millie Perkins. It also stars a ghostly and lunar landscape that ceased to exist with the completion of the dam on the Colorado river in 1966. Strange to think kids partying on a houseboat atop Lake Powell now skim water a hundred or so feet above the totemic panorama that gives The Shooting so much of its visual power.

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June 18, 2016
David Kalat
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Border Incident

There’s an old joke about a comedians’ convention. Comedians have come from around the world to gather in each others’ company, and they are such experienced veterans of the joke trade that instead of telling each other jokes, they just list them off by number. “7!” (polite applause); “122!” (respectful chuckles); and so on. Then one comic takes the mic and boldly declares “516!” and the house erupts in laughter. A journalist covering the event asked the comedian why that last one got such an outsized reaction. “Oh, they hadn’t heard that one before,” he replied.

I started obsessively watching movies because I fell in love with their magic. I fear turning into one of those jaded convention goers, content with hearing familiar numbers read aloud, and only occasionally surprised by the unfamiliar. But it happens—I’ve seen so many movies, their tricks do become routine, their contours become as familiar as old socks. I grow cynical and jaded. And then out of nowhere, when I least expect it, someone throws me a 516 and I have to boggle at the surprise.

I submit to you: Anthony Mann’s Border Incident. It is very nearly 70 years old, but it feels fresh and relevant. It is hard to classify (we’ll go with “film noir” for the lack of anything better). It is a taut B&W thriller from 1949, made on a stingy budget, and largely forgotten today. But this is one to seek out and treasure, and it is full of surprises.

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KEYWORDS: Andre Previn, Anthony Mann, Border Incident, Howard da Silva, Ricardo Montalban
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Twilight of the B-Western: White Horse, Black Hat

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C. Jack Lewis saw a lot in his 84 years. A Marine Corps veteran of three wars, he was also a self-described “reporter, drunk, editor and hobo” who spent decades on the fringes of Hollywood. A fan of Westerns since childhood, he broke into screenwriting just as the B-Western business was collapsing, thanks to the arrival of television. He managed to sell a few scripts for budget stars like Lash LaRue and Johnny Mack Brown, but would spend the majority his career as a journalist for horse and army publications (he was the founder of Gun World magazine). During that time he met all of the stars of his youth as they sank down the Hollywood food chain, making a living as extras on TV Westerns or as special attractions at traveling circuses. In his affecting memoir White Horse, Black Hat, published in 2002 by Scarecrow Press, Lewis wrote thumbnail portraits of these faded stars, a collection which captured the end of the B industry and the itinerant careers of the low-budget cowboy.

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Six degrees of Wild Bunch separation

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Tomorrow, TCM puts a spotlight on Warren Oates, and as tempted as I am to write about The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) I see that fellow Morlock Greg Ferrara has covered that epic western in five different posts. So I’m taking a different tack and, instead, will take this opportunity to dust-off my copy of Alex Cox’s 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director’s Take on the Spaghetti Western. The idea here is to share with TCM readers excerpts from the six Spaghetti Westerns that Alex cross-referenced to The Wild Bunch. It’s also fitting to remind readers about Alex Cox in regards to westerns because, not only did he direct a few (ie: Straight to Hell and Walker), but he is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for his next film: Tombstone Rashomon, which will present five radically different stories of the OK Corral Gunfight. [...MORE]

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