Cinema Station

Western Impressions: The Good Old Boys

May 13, 2015
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As a precursor to our film project, 12 Western Feature-Length Films in 12 Months, which Running Wild Films and 5J Media will start producing in 2016, director Travis Mills shares his thoughts on films from the genre as he studies Westerns in preparation for our own. Follow the project here on Facebook

This series of short blogs is titled “Western Impressions”.

The Good Old Boys (1995)

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Tommy Lee Jones’s first Western as a director is just as good as his second, though they couldn’t be more different from each other. This is so low key and wonderful. It shows that westerns don’t need to be driven by action. This one just follows these beautifully drawn characters from event to event and by the end of the picture I feel like I know them as friends. And damn, is it romantic.

Lasting impression: The scene where Spacek tells Jones about her love that died and he says “He didn’t look like me, did he?” before he kisses her for the first time.


Western Impressions: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

February 19, 2015
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As a precursor to our film project, 12 Western Feature-Length Films in 12 Months, which Running Wild Films and 5J Media will start producing in 2016, director Travis Mills shares his thoughts on films from the genre as he studies Westerns in preparation for our own.

This series of short blogs is titled “Western Impressions”.

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

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I had only seen the new one. I suspected something better but I did not suspect a masterpiece. Glenn Ford is such a charmingly bad son of a bitch in this. I feel for him when he’s with the woman, I hate him when he’s trying to talk Heflin down, and I love him when he makes the decision at the end. Heflin is the heart of the picture, he’s the foundation. Even if Delmer Daves never made another Western, he would be one of the great Western masters just for this film alone.

Lasting impression: When the woman tells Glenn Ford, “Funny, some men you see every day for ten years and you never notice; some men you see once and they’re with you for the rest of your life.”


Western Impressions: Springfield Rifle

February 19, 2015
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As a precursor to our film project, 12 Western Feature-Length Films in 12 Months, which Running Wild Films and 5J Media will start producing in 2016, director Travis Mills shares his thoughts on films from the genre as he studies Westerns in preparation for our own. Follow the project here on Facebook

This series of short blogs is titled “Western Impressions”.

Springfield Rifle (1952)

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It was more adventurous than the De Toth pictures I’ve seen, lacking that starkness. This is the first time to my recollection that I have seen a “spy Western”, though I must admit that this is just as much a war film as it is a western. In fact, it’s more of a war film in a Western setting.

Last impression: It shouldn’t have been called Springfield Rifle.


Western Impressions: Ulzana’s Raid (1972)

January 8, 2015
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As a precursor to our film project, 12 Western Feature-Length Films in 12 Months, produced by our company Running Wild Films and 5J Media which will begin production in 2016, I have decided to share my thoughts on films from the genre as I study Westerns in preparation to make our own.

This series of short blogs is titled “Western Impressions”.

Ulzana’s Raid (1972)

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It wasn’t what I expected. Sharp’s writing is there but overshadowed by a sentimental and overabundant need to question the “Apache’s” intention. Aldrich’s tough cinema isn’t quite as tough as I always hoped it would be. The best part was the end, Lancaster under a wagon, getting shot and shooting Apaches and wanting to just die out in the desert.

Lasting impression: The final shot of Lancaster licking the cigarette paper.


Western Impressions: 3 Godfathers (1948)

January 5, 2015
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As a precursor to our film project, 12 Western Feature-Length Films in 12 Months, produced by our company Running Wild Films and 5J Media which will begin production in 2016, I have decided to share my thoughts on films from the genre as I study Westerns in preparation to make our own.

This series of short blogs is titled “Western Impressions”.

3 Godfathers (1948)

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I was surprised at this one, somehow I had avoided it, turned off by the “baby” plot and the impression that it wasn’t a “serious” work of Ford’s. But it has much more weight than I guessed and also far more than it gets credit for. While the film may lean towards “comedy”, people die in this film. Tragedy rides alongside comedy from beginning to end and thus the film has a deep resonance. In some ways, these deaths feel more like the death of Howard Hawks professionals, doing their best until they just can’t anymore.

Lasting impression: Harry Carey Jr. singing “Shall We Gather at the River” with all three godfathers in silhouette on the top of a sandhill during their funeral for the baby’s mother. Beautiful moment that stands among Ford’s best.


Not Quite Western

October 20, 2010
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Along with Noir and the Musical, the Western is a genre of the past. There have been entries in the last forty years on television and the cinema that serve the Western well, notably Appaloosa, Open Range, Lonesome Dove and some of the films of Clint Eastwood. For the most part it is an unused side of cinema, regrettably so, a distinct American creation that dominated the first half of 20th century moviemaking and still holds a gallery of some of the greatest films ever made.

Near the end of the sixties, directors were still playing with the genre. Playing is the operative word. What many of these late Westerns achieved was a purposeful rejection or reaction to the values and ideas that make up the Western. Robert Altman turned it into a dark landscape full of Leonard Cohen folk songs in his great McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Sydney Pollack experimented in the mountain-man sub-genre with his Jeremiah Johnson. Peter Fonda made his Hired Hand and Michael Cimino tried for epic size glory with Heaven’s Gate. These films contain shoot-outs, men in hats, and horses; still they are not quite Western.

Again, whether on purpose or by accident, they ignore or refute the principles of the Western. Though there were endless variations of this genre before it faded, certain qualities exist throughout. The idea of code, in the law and against it, is consistent in the work of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Budd Boetticher and others. There is a lack of code or a corruption of code in the late sixties experiments. And in the Spaghetti Westerns that followed (and have grown more popular amongst current audiences than the films that spawned them), code is practically abandoned and replaced with a focus on style and sensationalism. Though the Westerns of old had style too, and never ignored the visual, most of them were focused on something else: the characters and what they held true and how that affected their conflicts with others. In that light, it seems that Spaghetti Westerns are hardly Westerns at all, but skeletons wearing the clothes and the hats, holding guns.

Of these “Not Quite Westerns”, there are some magnificent films. As mentioned before, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is haunting and beautiful. Heaven’s Gate possesses some extraordinary moments in its four hours. And of all the Sergio Leone movies, his Duck You Sucker is his best and his closest to being authentic.

Bad Company (1972)

I recently watched my favorite of these films: Bad Company, directed by Robert Benton in 1972, starring Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown. Brown plays a young man dodging the Civil War draft. He goes West and soon stumbles into a gang of young ruffians, led by Jeff Bridges. Together they go through a series of trials and misadventures.

On the surface, the movie sounds like a light, Western adventure. But this is no ordinary West. There are no beautiful landscapes. The background is drab, a dreary mid-west setting of dead grass and naked trees. The colors are dark grays and pale yellows. There are startling moments of violence. Take for instance a scene where the youngest of the group, just a kid, tries to steal a pie from a window. Someone shoots him in the head with a rifle.

At one point, the young men buy quick rounds of sex with another traveler’s wife. There’s something pitiful about the scene. They betray and lie to each other constantly. Everyone in the picture is starving, and the phrase “Who told me to go West?” is repeated often. Even the villain, a fast-slinging gunfighter played by David Huddleston is the opposite of the traditional Western bad guy: he’s obese, he acknowledges that he’s the leader of a band of idiots, and even his most impressive “gun trick” is not impressive at all. Near the end of the picture, he calls himself “the oldest whore on the block.”

The final shootout is at once thrilling and violent and completely absurd. The piano score spins a Marx Brothers feel while the characters awkwardly kill each other. It’s an odd moment, but in its own not-quite-Western way it works really well.

The best part of the picture is Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown. Their struggle for friendship is an interesting reverse of the usual Western companionships (John Wayne and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, or Henry Fonda and Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine). Bridges was and is a great presence on screen. He is unpredictable, yet he avoids any sign that he is acting. Barry Brown, an actor I wasn’t familiar with until this picture, carries the whole thing. He is as authentic and natural as Bridges and together they make a great pair.

I was sad to read that Barry Brown committed suicide in 1978, not ten years after he made this film. He had a short career but however short, something of him is left in this great movie, not really a Western, but still great nonetheless.

Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown, not long after the Bad Company shoot.

-TM