One of my favorite types of movies when I was growing up was the Western. At the time, there were quite a few TV series based on Westerns. In fact, the show Star Trek was pitched by its creator, Gene Roddenberry, as “Wagon Train to the stars”. A description that would no doubt earn me a blank look from most young people today.
However, much as I loved the genre, I didn’t really dig into it until I reached college, where I took courses that gave me a great appreciation for classics like Stagecoach, Fort Apache, The Searchers, High Noon, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. All great movies that I can talk about later.
After years of hearing about how great Red River is, I finally broke down and watched it. I’m happy to say it lived up to its hype.
The story is about Thomas Dunson (played by John Wayne) who’s striking out West to start a cattle ranch with his trusty sidekick Nadine Groot (played in characteristic mumble-mouthed manner by Walter Brennan). Dunson decides to depart from the wagon train he’s been following, leaving behind the woman he loves, but taking Groot with him.
Both of them wanted to go, but Dunson insisted the woman stay with the wagon train. A decision he comes to regret after the wagon train is attacked by Indians and everyone in it slaughtered.
Everyone except for one boy—an orphaned child named Matthew Garth. Garth is played as a boy by Mickey Kuhn and as an adult by Montgomery Clift at his most handsome. The boy wanders into their camp, dazed and disoriented, but quickly comes around after being slapped in the face a bit. The best treatment for shock, as we all know from these movies.
The setup for future tension between Dunson and Garth is handled economically in the early scenes between Wayne and Kuhn, with Brennan serving as part comic relief, part Greek chorus. But most of the action takes place between the older versions of these two characters. This is after Dunson and Company have crossed the Red River into Texas and Dunson decides to essentially make a land grab.
So, years later, after Dunson, Groot, and Garth (Dunson’s “adopted son”) raise a bunch of cattle (along with catching and branding a few strays belonging to others, now and then), Dunson’s plans to make a fortune must be adjusted to account for the widespread poverty in the South after it’s loss in the Civil War. Dunson hires several men who, along with Groot and Garth, will drive his cattle to the railhead in Sedalia, Missouri.
What the hired men don’t count on is that Dunson will run his crew like an army platoon. Those who screw up will be punished severely. Those who choose to drop out will be considered deserters, whose should be shot. After the introduction to Garth early in the movie, it isn’t hard to imagine how he responds to this—he resists Dunson’s tyrannical ways. In fact, Garth pulls off what would be in military terms a mutiny.
What I loved about this movie was that it wasn’t just another cowboys and Indians flick. It’s a story of fathers and sons and the love-hate relationship that can exist between them. I was singularly impressed by the writing, and how the story maintained the requisite level of tension throughout the middle (the cattle drive). And if the ending is a bit … well … expected, it takes nothing away from the film as a whole, which resonated deeply with me on many levels.
This is an awesome Western/psychological drama that I’m awarding two thumbs up!
This week kicks off with an old Roger Corman goodie! Yes, if you click that link, you’ll see that Roger is still alive and kicking! The man survived the
mass celebrity slaughter year 2016! 🙂 Now, that’s saying something.
And speaking of
failed early efforts early attempts at short film, here’s a video I made for a Valentine’s Day challenge. It required capturing a story about love (happy or sad) in five seconds — tops! Not counting the intro or outro. It’s called Modern Love.
Yep, I have no shame, at this point! 🙂
This is one of those movies that hammer home points about modern living with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, yet somehow are hard not to love. The film is a crime thriller, in which a high-placed corporate executive, Tom Gruneman, disappears and, after a six-month investigation, the police have yet to find him.
It’s at this point that fellow high-muckety-muck executive, Peter Cable, brings private investigator John Klute (played ever-so-stoically by Donald Sutherland) in on the matter. Cable provides Klute with the amazing results of the cops’ six-month investigation—one obscene letter from Gruneman to a prostitute named Bree Daniels (played with snide aplomb by Jane Fonda). Apparently, Daniels received several such letters from Gruneman.
What follows is a story that is such a reflection of the cynicism of the early 70s that, at times, it seems to overplay its hand a bit. Klute follows Daniels—even going so far as to tap her phone—and we get to see her ply her trade, in delightfully voyeuristic detail. Small wonder that this film has been called the first of Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” (along with The Parallax View and All The President’s Men).
The glimpses into Daniels’ life don’t stop with her clientele interactions. We also get to sit in on her sessions with her shrink. These sessions not only reveal Daniels’ most secret thoughts, but demonstrate (in a somewhat over-the-top way) the Zeitgeist of that time. Freedom vs. commitment; job satisfaction vs. financial gain; and conformity vs. individuality.
The best part about this movie is watching Klute ever-so-slowly gain Daniels’ trust—despite her initial repulsion to the man. Not to mention some of the priceless lines that Fonda gets to toss off, such as these: “What’s your bag, Klute? What do you like? Are you a talker? A button freak? Maybe you like to get your chest walked around with high-heeled shoes. Or make ’em watch you tinkle. Or maybe you get off wearing women’s clothes. Goddamned hypocrite squares!”
Warning: This video may contain quick spoilers.
Ripostes like that sum up the anti-establishment feel of the movie. At the same time, as Klute steers Daniels down the rabbit hole of her life, she’s forced to face her own ambivalent feelings about it.
As for the solution, it comes. And, without revealing spoilers, I’ll just say that it fits the anti-establishment, corporate paranoia theme. But, if you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense.
Regardless, Jane Fonda gives an amazing performance—it won her an Oscar. Perhaps that’s why I love this movie so much, despite whatever failings the plot may have.
That’s why I’m giving it two thumbs up!
And now … for the big finale of this
bizarro lame-o unusual B-movie … it’s Part Five of Bowery at Midnight!
This movie was based on the eponymous novel by Jim Thompson, directed by Sam Peckinpah, and co-stars Steve McQueen. I guess it’s fair to say it’s a crime action movie with neo-noir tendencies, not to mention a healthy amount of misogyny.
McQueen plays “Doc” McCoy, a prisoner who’s been denied parole. He tells his wife, Carol (played by the hapless Ali MacGraw), to do whatever it takes to make a deal for his release with corrupt bigwig Jack Benyon.
In what must be the crappiest deal ever brokered, Doc is paroled on condition that he commit a bank robbery with two of Benyon ‘s henchmen—Frank and Rudy. So when Rudy tries to double-cross the others, Frank gets whacked. But Doc beats Rudy when it comes to their shootout. Unfortunately, he fails to kill him.
Then Benyon tries to double-cross Doc, but Carol shoots him. After which, in some unspoken way (perhaps a Jedi mind trick?), Doc realizes that Carol had to bump uglies do the nasty have sex with Benyan to secure his release. And how does he show his gratitude? By slapping her around.
So … let’s just say the story follows Doc and Carol, as they run like hell from both the law and a very pissed off Rudy, who’s kidnapped a veterinarian and his wife (played, respectively, by Jack Dodson and Sally Struthers—the latter of whom played a character so annoying, I wanted to shoot her myself).
Doc continues to be all ticked off at Carol, even though sleeping with Benyon would hardly qualify as a delightful experience. Honestly, I found it the tiniest bit hard to believe that Doc couldn’t see that having sex with that slug to get her man out of the joint wasn’t a total sacrifice on Carol’s part.
Be that as it may, the couple is on the run with the money. And the double-crossing Rudy is in hot pursuit. Along with Johnny Law and whoever else. This leads to more chase scenes and shootouts. And a hellish ride for our heroes (??) buried in garbage in the back of a dump truck. However, apparently sharing a dump truck ride while encased in garbage is the kind of experience that brings people together. For afterward, they decide, “This marriage can be saved!”
Given the time when this movie was originally released and the fact that it’s a Peckinpah film, the overwhelming misogyny isn’t exactly a huge surprise. So if you can stomach that, it’s actually a rather exciting and entertaining movie to watch.
Warning: this video contains spoilers!
Steve McQueen is awesome—even if he plays a kind of dislikable character. The score by Quincy Jones was nominated for a Golden Globe. Ali McGraw holds her own well, against McQueen’s not inconsiderable star power. However, McGraw looks at times (not so surprisingly) like she’d rather be dying of cancer in a love story then being beaten by her co-star for doing what he asked her to do.
If you’re not squeamish about violent movies and take this one with the knowledge that it’s a Peckinpah film—i.e., a movie about bad men doing violence to each other in a world where women are angels or whores—I recommend this one!
The #OCanada Blogathon – It’s a Wrap! 🙂
It was an awesome #OCanada party!
Thank you for sharing your insights and your research, as well as your interest in Canadian filmmakers.
We learned a lot from you. You explored all eras and genres – from the silents to recent releases, and from comedy to horror.
We’re throwing another bash next February, and we hope to see you then.
In the meantime, here a few final, but fabulous, entries.
The Movie Rat Brendan Meyer, Part Three
(In Search of Other Dimensions)
The Wonderful World of Cinema
Discovering Paul Dupuis