Monday, February 21, 2011

The best (or not) westerns


I just re-watched a movie called The Undefeated. I didn't particularly like it when I saw it years ago, but I saw it through new eyes today.

The Civil War's over, but John Wayne's former Union band and Rock Hudson's former Rebel band are friendly but still warring in their own way. I won't give away the ending, but I loved it. Frankly, I understood it better than I did 30 or 40 years ago.

Is it one of Wayne's better westerns (The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stagecoach, Red River)? No. But, this time, I liked it.

***

I'm re-watching one of my favorite westerns, Angel and the Badman. It's funny, but I'm noticing things I saw later in other westerns. Laredo Stevens climbs a tree to avoid a stampede, which I later saw again in City Slickers.

It was one of John Wayne's best early movies.

I loved the name of Harry Carry's character in the movie: Marshal Wistful McClintock.

***

It's not really a western, since Legend of the Lost is set in the Sahara Desert. Still, it has John Wayne, Sophia Loren, Rossano Brazzi and mules, and it feels like a western.

They go into the Sahara to find Brazzi's dad's treasure. They only find trouble. Brazzi's character turns on them, and Loren's character has to kill him.

It's a sad movie in many (most) ways, but it has a hopeful ending. And I like it.

***

My wife and I were just watching The Sons of Katie Elder, and I just recently watched City Slickers. At the time, I thought City Slickers had a great soundtrack. Then I realized tonight that the two movies have almost the same soundtrack at one point.


Actually, I realized later tonight that they'd used a variation of the Katie Elder soundtrack in a portion City Slickers. There are probably lots of themes used in there, since the three amigos do Rawhide and Bonanza music at different points.

I'm curious how many themes they used. Did they sneak Shane and High Noon music in there, too? How about the Magnificent Seven?

***

I've been watching the western Nevada Smith lately. Actually, I've been struggling to watch it.

Three different times in the last few days I've called it up on Netflix and watched awhile. I'm probably two-thirds the way through it. Maybe it's not a great western, even with a cast like Steve McQueen, Brian Keith, Arthur Kennedy, Suzanne Pleshette, Pat Hingle, Howard Da Silva, Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Gene Evans and others.

The funny thing is that I still want to find out how it ends.

ADDED: It's funny what I wrote about the ending. I just watched it, and it was magnificent. It was worth all the trouble I had getting through the first two hours.

Nevada Smith was at its best when Karl Malden was onscreen. Originally, I gave it three stars (out of five). I increased it to four stars after watching the ending.
 
***

We watched the John Ford western 3 Godfathers again tonight. It's sad in a way, but it's also uplifting. Three bandits battle mightily to protect a baby, Robert William Pedro Hightower.

It's an update of the story of Jesus and the Three Wise Men. Two of them die, but John Wayne's character survives, and the movie has a wonderful ending.

Is it as good as The Searchers or Stagecoach? I don't know. Probably not. But I like it.


***

My wife Holly and I just finished watching Conagher again. It's the teleplay of a western book written by Louie L'Amour, and it's one of my favorite westerns.

I believe it was a TV movie, with Sam Elliott (Mission: Impossible), (his real-life wife) Katherine Ross (The Graduate) and Barry Corbin (Maurice on Northern Exposure) as the stars.

What do I like about it? There's drama, but there's really only one evil man in the movie (Kiowa Staples), and that's realistic. There's also romance and humor.


***

We were watching over-the-air television tonight and found Rio Grande on Grit TV, and she's still watching it. Me? I have to go to bed. It's a great movie, though. I've often heard that John Ford had to make Rio Grande before they'd let him make his pet project, The Quiet Man, also starring John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara and Victor McLaglen.

They were all wonderful (as were Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Chill Wills and others), and J. Carrol Naish made a terrific Philip Sheridan.

*** 

My wife Holly and I had a double feature the other night. We watched Angel and the Badman, followed by Stagecoach. That's a pair of great John Wayne movies, two of his best.

I wanted to watch McLintock as well, but I couldn't keep my eyes open.
*

I love westerns, as you may have noticed, and I just found a top-notch western. Riding Shotgun (1954) is a Randolph Scott movie that has more drama than even some great westerns. Scott is mistakenly on the wrong side of the law until the last two or three minutes of the movie, and it appears the townspeople will misjudge him until the end.

Joan Weldon is the female lead. A pre-stardom Charles Bronson, as Charles Buchinsky, may be most recognizable face in the crowd, although he doesn't top the credits.

It was much more than I could have hoped for.

***


I've often said that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance might be the best western ever. It's certainly one of them.

I just watched it again today (Nov. 1, 2012) and enjoyed it as much as ever. John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart were wonderful together, but Edmond O'Brien made the movie. He was one of the best character actors, ever.

***


I just watched High Noon again (Oct. 30, 2012), and I have to admit that it was better than I remembered. Would I compare it to The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Shane? Maybe. I don't know.

I can't imagine, though, that a Quaker in the 1800s would look anything like Grace Kelly.

I was glad, though, when Grace gunned that guy down.

***


I've seen dozens of mistakes in John Wayne movies, and I can overlook most of them. Just now, we were watching The Sons of Katie Elder, and Wayne was battling James Gregory in the exciting concluding shootout. Without reloading, Wayne fired 11 shots from a six-shooter.

That's a talented man. And a mistake by whoever was taking care of continuity.

***

I came across another western today on Netflix: Montana. I believe this was the only time Errol Flynn, an Australian, actually played an Australian. They carry the drama to the last second.

Does it match up to Stagecoach, The Searchers, Shane and The Magnificent Seven? No. But it's entertaining, and Flynn is amazingly believable as a sheepherder invading cattle territory.

***

If you're a fan of westerns, check out the movie Seven Men From Now, starring Randolph Scott, Gail Russell and Lee Marvin.

Marvin steals the show as a bad guy who isn't all bad (unlike his bad guy in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). This character is polite, and he even saves Scott's character, Ben Stride.

In the special features, they talked about "legendary" director Budd Boetticher. I don't think I'd heard of him before. He sounds interesting, but I knew a lot more about Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder and Steven Spielberg than I did about Boetticher. But I was glad to finally "meet" the legend.

***

I've turned into a fan of Joel McCrea, and I just found another McCrea movie on Netflix. It's called Saddle Tramp, the story of a man who was happy with his carefree life. Then he visits a buddy, a widower who has four sons. The widower dies, and Chuck Conner (McCrea) is stuck with the boys and a young woman who has run away from home.

You have to sympathize with Conner and hope his situation works out. It's a good cast, with John McIntire, Jeannette Nolan and John Russell (you'd recognize the face; he was the bad guy in El Dorado and Pale Rider) in it.

SPOILER ALERT: Conner/McCrea never makes it to California.

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Pale Rider: I was just watching the end of the Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider, and the end reminds me of Alan Ladd and Shane. The girl hollers as Eastwood rides into the mountains, echoing the end of Shane. She just doesn't get tiresome about it, as Brandon De Wilde did. Shane, come back. Shane.

***

I recently rewatched a movie called "Duel in the Sun," featuring James Garner and Sidney Poitier. It's not a great movie, but there's drama, some romance and a little humor, and it's a good one. Garner and Poitier are not like I've seen them before, which is good.

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