Cinema Station

Western Impressions: The Good Old Boys

May 13, 2015
Leave a Comment

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)

good-old-boys

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.

Advertisements

Western Impressions: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

February 19, 2015
2 Comments

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)

86a

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
Leave a Comment

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)

Poster_of_the_movie_Springfield_Rifle

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
3 Comments

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)

600full-ulzana's-raid-poster

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
2 Comments

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)

3-godfathers-movie-poster-1948-1020174235

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.


Westerns: The Big Country

October 7, 2010
1 Comment

Westerns: The Big Country

Of all the genres in cinema my two favorites are musicals and westerns. Both are out of favor at the moment so few films are made in either. Still I want to talk here about the western in general and about one film in particular.

I think one of the reasons I like westerns so much is because it is the genre I grew up watching in the 1950s. In those days it seemed like every other film was a western. And the stars, all the big stars, had to make at least one western as a sort of career rite-of-passage. So even some definitely urban types like James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart wound up in westerns. The most interesting and amusing is The Oklahoma Kid (1939) in which Cagney plays the title character and Bogart is his nemesis Whip McCord. The fun of this film is watching these two out-of-their-element dynamos playing their roles with such vitality and brio that they absolutely bring it off. I once showed it in a class and at the end the students applauded. Others who made westerns included Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Sea of Grass (1947) directed by Elia (On the Waterfront) Kazan of all people. Even the recently deceased Bronx heart throb Tony Curtis starred in a western once (The Rawhide Years – 1955). The genre was so ubiquitous we couldn’t get away from it even if we tried.

The other reason I love it is because it is so flexible. It can accommodate virtually every other genre as well. So over the years we’ve had Sci/Fi western ( The Beast of Hollow Mountain-1956), horror (Curse of the Undead -1959) , musical (Oklahoma – 1955),Mystery ( 5 Card Stud-1968), Psychological (Invitation to a Gunfighter -1964), Greek tragedy (The Furies-1950),epic (Duel in the Sun-1946),comedy (Paleface-1948),social realism (High Noon-1952),African American (Posse-1993) and the list goes on. One offbeat title would include Terror in a Tiny Town (1938) the all midget musical comedy western and there are others as well. But I don’t have time to go into them here.  The point is the western appears to be the “Everyman” of the genres. But as I said before it’s very much out of favor. The only western of note in the last few years is Appaloosa (2008) with True Grit by the Cohen Brothers on the horizon.

One of my favorite westerns is one that isn’t much remembered today, The Big Country (1958). It is a big, sprawling, epic- like film that plays like the adaptation of a literary masterpiece or towering work. But it was derived from a modest sized novel (under 200 pages) by Donald Hamilton author of the Matt Helm spy series. So what we have with The Big Country is a film that expands the novel rather than compresses it as films adapted from books usually do. And interestingly enough this expansion doesn’t come from adding more narrative or deeper characterizations. It comes from the deliberate pacing of the film which clocks in at 2 hours and 47 minutes. And with the multiple camera set-ups that the director William Wyler employs in presenting each scene. Where another director might give you 3 perspectives Wyler here gives you 7 or 8, sometimes even more. Contemporary audiences when viewing this film often get impatient with it and wish sometimes audibly that things would just move faster. But when I think about when I first saw the film way back when, many in the audience then felt the same way. I wasn’t one. I like the pacing. I think it’s one of the film’s big virtues.

The plot is simplicity itself. In the middle of a vast expanse of territory (thus the title) two ruthless patriarchs the Major Henry Terrill and Rufus Hannassey are fighting for control of the water rights to a strip of land that separates their property. In the middle of this comes Jim McKay (Gregory Peck), an easterner who is preparing to marry the Major’s spoiled daughter and is told that he has to take the Major’s side in this blood feud. But McKay resists because he is not a man of violence. His father was killed in a duel that he thought was pointless. So with the best intentions he attempts to broker a peace between the two warring factions and finds his philosophy of non-violence tested in a variety of ways.

This film has a terrific all-star cast and that is one of its virtues. The two old buffalos are played by Charles Bickford (Terrill) and Burl Ives (Hannassey), a folk singer turned actor who later abandoned acting for singing. He won an Academy Award for his performance in the film. In a surprisingly small supporting role is Charlton Heston as Steve Leech the Major’s right hand man. Heston at first refused the film but was later persuaded to take it by his agent. It was a smart move because it got him the lead in Wyler’s next film (Ben Hur-1959).It was good casting here because he’s set up as Peck’s rival and they balance each other out well on screen. Former professional athlete (basketball and baseball) Chuck Connors gives a terrific performance as Rufus’ loutish son Buck. And Carol Baker, fairly new to Hollywood at the point, this was her 4th film, plays the willful daughter of the Major. And lovely Jean Simmons plays Julie Maragon, the down to earth schoolteacher who owns the land that both men covet.

Some things to savor in this film are the wonderful use of the wide screen vistas that illustrate the title throughout. The Academy Award nominated score by Jerry Moros. Then there are the confrontations, the gun duels, the fist fights, the hard riding sequences so loveably and excitingly photographed along with just the sheer scope of the entire picture. This is a film that dazzles with its expertise, its professionalism, its confidence in the story and in the manner it is being told.  Gregory Peck who was the main producer on the film has the least interesting role in this gallery of colorful characters. But he brings it off with the grace and quiet confidence that kept him a star for nearly six decades. When the film came out in 1958 there was a kind of grudging acceptance of its excellence from the critics. It was even nominated for the Academy Award as Best Picture that year. But in the ensuing years the film has pretty much been forgotten in the gallery of great westerns. Now it’s no masterpiece like High Noon (1952), Shane (1953) or Unforgiven (1992) but it does have its fans. Mel Gibson, for example cites it as one of his inspirations while making Braveheart (1995). It may not be much remembered but it is still one of the best westerns made.

-GE