Category Archives: Revisionist Western

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate man finds water.

After he is betrayed by his two friends (L.Q. Jones, Strother Martin) and forced to survive in the middle of the desert without the benefit of food, water, a gun or even a horse Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) goes on a mad search for an oasis. After four days in the heat he collapses and just as he is ready to die he suddenly finds water in the most unlikely place. He uses this untapped spring to create a way station for the stagecoaches that travel through the area and becomes quite rich, but deep down he harbors the dark desire to get revenge on the two who wronged him and one day he finally gets his chance.

Theoretically a person can survive up to 4 ½ days, or 100 hours, without water if they are in a climate with a temperature of 72, but in much hotter conditions such as the one shown here it would be far less, so having the character survive like he does seems to be a an extreme stretch, but if you can get past that then the film is quite enjoyable at least at the beginning. The script was written by John Crawford and Edmund Penney who spent the majority of their careers working as character actors in B-movies and this was their one and only foray as writers. The story’s biggest asset is the main character that is expertly portrayed by the gifted Robards. His determination to beat long odds and find success even as he starts from rock bottom should resonate with most viewers and the character’s grit meshes well with director Sam Peckinpah’s perennial theme of rugged individualism.

The addition of David Warner as a dubious minister who helps Cable build his station is excellent and the film could’ve been an engaging buddy movie had it remained at this level. Unfortunately it felt the need to add in a love interest in the form of Stella Stevens, sans make-up, who portrays a whore that takes a liking to Cable. Stevens is not as strong of an actor as Warner and doesn’t know how to carry a scene like he does, so her time in front of the camera is boring and does nothing but bog down the pace while pushing Warner’s character out, which severely hurts the film’s rugged but whimsical chemistry.

Spoiler Alert!

Strother Martin’s character becomes yet another issue. He again gets straddled with the creepy, cowardly bad guy role of which is plays to perfection, but eventually made it seem almost like typecasting. To some extent I was happy to see him become humanized as it went along, but I didn’t like how Cable decides to leave his way station to him instead of the Warner character as he was the one who helped build it. Maybe Cable realized that with the invention of the automobile his station would no longer be prosperous and he would then be sticking Martin with a stinker instead of the goldmine that he thought, which is okay, but then he saves Martin’s life just a few minutes after he was ready to kill him, which became too much of a contradiction.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film has some funny moments, but I didn’t like the fast motion running as it made it seem too cartoon-like. The numerous potshots at religion and those that expound on it are hilarious and I enjoyed how Peckinpah looks at capitalism from both sides where it is shown to greatly benefit an individual who is able to take advantage of a market demand, but also how it can coldly abandoned that same person the second that demand goes away.  The first 40 minutes are great, but then the story loses steam with comical moments that become too drawn out and have little to do with the main story as well as a protracted ending that really fizzles.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He rules the town.

Roy Bean (Paul Newman) rides into a lonely western town that is being ruled by a group of violent vagrants that attack and rob him as he enters their saloon and then they tie him to an end of a wagon and drag his body through the dusty desert landscape. Fortunately for him he manages to survive the ordeal and gets his revenge by returning to the saloon and killing off the others. After which he appoints himself as the judge who oversees all issues of law and order in the vicinity, which quietly begins to prosper under his leadership.

Although based on an actual historical figure the script by John Milius goes wildly off-the-mark that has no bearing to anything that actually occurred and ends up becoming highly fanciful in the process. There are certainly some amusing bits here and there, but the tone is too whimsical and loses any semblance of grittiness until it doesn’t seem like a western at all. The story also lacks a plot and the overall theme that is way too similar to The Ballad of Cable Hogue, which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and came out just two years before this one.

During my trip this summer I traveled to Langtry, Texas where the real Judge Roy Bean lived and where most of this movie was filmed.  I was surprised to find how interesting the true events of his life were and how the movie would’ve been much more fascinating had it just stuck to what really happened instead of making it all up. In real-life Bean entered the town in the spring of 1882 where he opened up a saloon and soon was appointed the Justice of the Peace by the state since the next nearest court was 200 miles away. The jurors for the cases that he heard were made up of his own bar patrons who were required to buy drinks in between court hearings. No one was sent to jail since he did not own a cell and all those accused were simply fined in the amount of cash that they had on them at the time.

I also found it was amusing at how different the performers looked in comparison to their real-life counterparts. Newman shows some resemblance to the actual man, but Victoria Principal, who plays Bean’s Mexican bride Maria Elena, clearly looks far sexier than the real one did.

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Overall, the film is passable for those wanting nothing more than an evening of light entertainment. The scene where Bean travels to San Antonio so as to meet Lily Langtry (Ava Gardner) a stage actress who he adores his quite good as it takes the character, who had by then achieved almost a mythical quality, and turned him back into being quite mortal when he fights through the city crowds and becomes nothing more than just another-face-in-the-crowd to the people there.

I also enjoyed seeing the town grow into a big oil boom city although in reality this never happened and the place as of today only has a population of 18 people. Stacy Keach’s cameo where he wears heavy make-up to resemble an albino renegade who rides into town and challenges Bean to a gunfight is quite amusing, but it’s probably Principal’s performance in her film debut that ends up becoming the film’s most enduring quality.

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(The actual saloon where Judge Bean tried heard his cases, which still stands today.)

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released:  December 18, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Huston

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Lawman (1971)

 

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He does not compromise.

Aging western marshal Jarrod Maddox (Burt Lancaster) rides into the town of Sabbath determined to retrieve five ranchers whose drunken revelry the year before resulted in the death of one of his town’s older citizens. The marshal of Sabbath (Robert Ryan) is reluctant to help Maddox while informing him that the town is ruled by land baron Vincent Bronson (Lee J. Cobb) with a judicial system that is less than stellar. However, Maddox refuses to compromise on any issue no matter what odds or obstacles lay in the way.

During the ‘70s there was a trend to reinvent the western by instilling storylines that did not go along with the age-old, black-and-white formula while questioning the cowboy heroes of yesteryear and putting a grittier slant to the realism. Typically these newer westerns proved to be a refreshing change-of-pace and more in-tune with a hipper generation, which I normally would applaud, but in this rare case I wished that it had fallen back to the old ways.

For one thing Lancaster was still identified with the older film-goer and not in tune with the younger ones. His stiff and detached manner was a better fit to the film’s rigid character and quite frankly I was just plain intrigued to see how this man was somehow going to get all of these other men back to his town to stand trial when everyone else was entrenched to stop him.

Director Michael Winner however decides to switch gears on it and in an apparent attempt to make it more ‘relevant’ to the modern viewer slows the pace down to an almost screeching halt by implementing long-winded conversations and containing the action to only brief interludes while having an initially strong-willed character turn weak and indecisive. To me it was like slashing a tire and watching the air slowly drain out of it. The showdown at the end is anti-climactic and any potential tension is lost by a talky script and a bad guy (Cobb) who is dull and benign. The supporting cast of old pros is the only thing that saves it and I enjoyed the way each of them one-by-one got caught in bed with a prostitute at the town’s local whorehouse throughout the course of the film.

The Maddox character does indeed become an interesting enigma and even going against his supposedly upstanding nature by not only stealing two horses out of a nearby ranch when his is shot dead, but also at one point shooting an unarmed man in the back. Maybe this was the filmmakers attempt to show that western heroes where really human like the rest of us and full of the same contradictions, which could’ve elicited more discussion had the script been tighter.

This also marks the film debut of Richard Jordan a gifted character actor who died much too young, but managed to make some memorable movie appearances along the way. Here he portrays an young gunslinger attempting to stand up to Maddox, but unable to and at one point displays a cut on his face that looks more like a red leech stuck to his cheekbone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Westworld (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cowboy robot goes berserk.

Peter and John (Richard Benjamin, James Brolin) are two buddies who decide to take the vacation of a lifetime by visiting an amusement park that replicates the old west. The people inside the park are actually robots who are so lifelike that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart from humans. Gunfights, barroom brawls and even whorehouses are the name of the day. At first both men enjoy their stay, but then the robots begin to act erratically especially the nameless gunslinger (Yul Brynner) who chases Peter throughout the park determined to kill him and no one, not even the technicians running the place, are able to stop him.

Michael Crichton’s directorial debut is a smashing success. The film is compact making for maximum use of tension and excitement and I liked how some sequences were done in slow motion. What I liked most about the film though is the way it gives the viewer a three dimensional viewpoint. Not only do we see things from the perspective of the main characters, but also the technicians behind the scenes and at one point even the robots.

The story brings out many interesting themes. Most people will jump on the man-versus-machine concept, but the one I liked better was how we have these suburbanite males living otherwise cushy lifestyles deciding they want to ‘prove their manhood’ by roughing it in some sort of adventure setting. However, pretending to be ‘rough and tough’ cowboys means nothing when ultimately it’s all still in a safe and contained setting where ‘nobody gets hurt’. In the real west there was no such things as ‘time outs’ or ‘safe places’, which is why I actually found it quite amusing when the robots do go berserk because it was the one thing that kept these suburban softies egos in-check and gave them a true taste of what the west was REALLY like.

A few things though that did bother me was the scene where Peter has sex with one of the female robots and enjoys it, which seemed weird to me because I would think having intimacy with a machine would have to feel way different than one with a human. We are told earlier that the only way to tell these robots apart from real people is by looking at their hands, which the technicians apparently haven’t yet been able to perfect and yet they were somehow able to get the vagina ‘just right’?!

I also found the idea that these robots would be given guns with real bullets to be absurd. Apparently the humans are also given real guns, but they’re equipped with sensors that detect body heat and therefore will shut off if aimed at a real person and if that were the case then the robots guns would do the same and therefore the scene where the gunslinger shots and fatally injures one of them would be negated.

I also found it equally preposterous that these same techs who were able to create such brilliant life-like robots would be dumb enough to make a control room that would lock-up when the power shut off and not allow them to escape. Certainly someone during the building stage would’ve had the brains to think up a secondary, emergency route to use should that situation occur, which makes the scene where they all suffocate seem quite laughable.

Having the robots all malfunction due to some ‘contagious-like disease’ that runs rampant amongst them didn’t really register with me either. To me it’s an overblown concept that would’ve worked better had it just been the gunslinger robot that goes crazy and relentlessly chases the two. He may even kill others who do try to stop him, which I think would’ve heightened the menacing quality of the Brynner character, which is already strong, even more.

Overall though it’s still a great movie with a terrific performance by Brynner as well as Benjamin playing a sort-of everyman who seems wimpy at first, but eventually learns to survive by using his brains over brawn.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 21, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

There Was a Crooked Man…(1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Money in snake pit.

Paris Pittman (Kirk Douglas) is a rugged bandit who at times can be quite charming, but also cunning and ruthless. When he gets sent to an escape-proof Arizona prison he becomes determined to find a way out while using the skills of his fellow prisoners, who he has all promised will get a share of some stolen loot that he has hidden in the desert, to help him do it. Woodward Lopeman (Henry Fonda) is the prison’s new warden. He’s on to Paris’s manipulative ways and becomes equally determined to stop him from escaping while also subtly attempting to reform him.

During the social/sexual revolution of the late ‘60’s many film genres took on society’s new attitudes while also taking full advantage of the new found freedoms by showing things that had previously been taboo. Comedies, dramas, action films and even sci-fi movies were suddenly breaking new ground, but the western for the most part remained entrenched with the old-school values at least until the ‘70’s, but this film is one of the early entries into what became known as the revisionist western where age-old dramatic trappings where suddenly given a whole new spin and the caricatures of good and evil became much murkier.

Here the ‘good guy’ is to some extent the bandit who works outside of the system while seeing all the hypocrisies from those still working within it. The people getting robbed are no longer ‘God-fearing’ innocent town folk, but instead the greedy establishment who enslave blacks and use the façade of religion for their own self-interests.  Woman are no longer virginal maidens waiting to be properly married, but instead sexually oppressed young ladies eager to pursue their horny desires behind their parents back if they can get away with it. Those that still remain loyal to the old ways of doing things such as with Fonda’s character are now seen as being out-of-touch and unreasonably rigid to an inflexible, dated system.

Watching the western genre suddenly ‘grow-up’ as it where and show things that only a few years earlier would’ve been unthinkable is a lot of fun and the script meshes in a good amount of snarky humor, which keeps things consistently lively and comical. Even the music score gets a new slant. Typically music themes in westerns had a booming, orchestral sound, but here it’s much jazzier and modern.

Douglas is engaging and makes a great adversary to Fonda. Fonda, who just a year earlier shocked filmed audiences with his brilliantly creepy portrayal of a psychotic gunman in Once Upon a Time in the West goes back to his old form as the stoic good guy and does it quite well although I was confused why he is seen in the first half walking with a limp and a cane due to being shot only to go without it and walk normally during the second half.

The support cast, all men in their 50’s and 60’s and seen for years in the old fashioned westerns, but now clearly relishing the chance to be bawdy and irreverent are in fine form as well. Burgess Meredith is quite funny as an old codger who has worn the same underwear for 35 years and refuses to take it off even for a bath. Hume Cronyn lends equally good support and I loved the scene where he adds giant tits onto a drawing of an angel. This also marks the film debut of Pamela Hensley who became best known for her work on the TV-shows ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ and ‘Matt Houston’.

There are clearly other comical westerns out there, but this one, with a script co-written by Robert Benton, manages to still have a good story, some very exciting moments and even a great twist ending. The prison used in the film was built specifically for the production and great effort was put in to make it seem authentic to the period. The detail that was put into it along with the rock quarry where the prisoners work in is impressive and worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

J. W. Coop (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodeo star makes comeback.

J.W. Coop (Cliff Robertson) has just spent 9 years in prison. After finally being released he finds that the world has changed quite a bit. He’s no longer the big rodeo star that he once was and younger, more educated men have now taken his place. There’s also the new hippie movement that he isn’t quite sure what to make of. With his mother (Geraldine Page) growing senile and no other friends to turn to he decides to take one last stab at the rodeo circuit and determined to beat the odds and become the champion because for him second place is the same last.

The film has a wonderfully gritty quality to it that fully immerses the viewer into the western rodeo landscape and lifestyle. The rugged characters and conversations seem authentic without ever being condescending. The film reveals a lot about the inner toughness needed to survive in that environment as well as the competiveness and eventual loneliness.

Robertson’s stab at directing is flawless and convinced me that he should’ve done more movies behind the camera. He uses several techniques that make the rodeo experience vivid for the viewer including filming a point-of-view shot from on top of the bronco as well as even more impressively showing one taken from underneath a horse as it is running. I also liked the shot where the screen gets split into four squares with each of them showing some of the many hotels that he stays at during his travels on the circuit, which visually hits home how exhausting life on the road can be. There’s also a haunting segment shot late at night at a lonely oil rig that is brief, but quite memorable.

Former model Cristina Ferrare, who is probably best known as being the ex-wife of automaker John DeLorean as well as host of ‘Home and Family’ gets a rare turn at acting playing a hippie who falls in love with Coop.  Her performance is solid even though I found it hard to believe why such a young woman would fall for a man who is so much older, less educated and having not much more money than she does. Their relationship goes on far longer than I realistically would expect, but I still liked the idea of how two people from two very different backgrounds and generations can still manage to connect. Robertson’s performance is equally good and the film also has the novelty of casting Page as his mother even though in real-life she was actually one year younger than he was.

The segment where a throne of teen girls jump out of a trailer and beg for Coop’s autograph as well as the ending in which Coop, with his leg in a cast, attempts to ride a bull are the only two times that it overreaches in a film that is otherwise quite honest and uncompromising and particular good at mixing subtle comedy with stark drama.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Cliff Robertson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Soldier Blue (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They massacre the Indians.

Two survivors of a Cheyenne Indian attack, the young and beautiful Cresta (Candice Bergen) and Honus (Peter Strauss) a private from the Calvary must travel through treacherous western terrain avoiding other attacks while also finding the Calvary’s base camp. Along the way the two start a romance despite wide differences in their temperaments and perspectives. Honus supports the position of his country and government without question while Cresta is more sympathetic to the Indians, but this all comes to a crashing halt when they witness an assault by the U.S. army on a peaceful Indian camp, which shocks Honus and changes his perspective on things forever.

The film is mainly known for its notoriously violent ending, which at the time was unprecedented for its use of explicitly savage imagery and remains controversial to this day, but before we get to that I’d like to go over what I did liked about the movie, which for the most part is still watchable.

Filmed in Mexico in October of 1969 the stunning views of the wide open terrain  is sumptuously captured by cinematographer Robert B. Hauser, which is enough to keep one enthralled with it despite its otherwise flimsy plot. I also enjoyed Buffy Sainte Marie’s rousing opening title tune, but the rest of the music score by Roy Budd seems misplaced. During the attack that starts out the film it is booming and orchestral almost like it wants to replicate the sound and mood of a conventional western even though this is supposedly a revisionist one. At other times it takes away from the potential grittiness by being played when it was not needed and sounding too modern for the time period.

Strauss in only his second film is marvelous and makes his naïve and rigid character believable and likable, but I was perplexed how someone lost in the wild for days and weeks and sometimes without food or even a gun could still remain clean shaven. Bergen as his female counterpart is great as well and beautiful. The fact that she is foul mouthed and very self-sufficient while Honas is more timid makes for a nice reversal of the sexual stereotypes, which helps propel the film during the first half. However, it eventually gets overplayed as Bergen’s character starts to display too many attitudes and behaviors from someone that was ahead-of-her-time until it seemed like she was really a late ‘60’s student radical that somehow got pulled into a western setting instead of a person that had actually lived during that era.

Donald Pleasence, a highly talented character actor who played many varied roles during his career, gets one of his best ones here while wearing false teeth that make him almost unrecognizable. His chase of the two when they destroy his wagon lends some much needed tension in what is otherwise a dull romance.

The Indian massacre that climaxes the film is based on the Sand Creek Massacre that occurred on November 29, 1864. Although the film incorrectly states during its denouncement that is was led by Nelson A. Mills it was actually U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington who ordered a band of 700 men to attack a peaceful Indian village where between 150 and 200 Indians were killed most of whom were women and children.

The film portrays Bergen’s character as being the only white person outraged at the slaughter, which isn’t true as many people from the era where appalled by the news when it was found out and the attack was condemned by the army after it was investigated.  Chivington was then forced to resign where he lived out the rest of his life in almost total ostracism by every community he moved to. There were also two officers in the Calvary who refused Chivington’s orders to attack and told the men under their command to hold their fire, which doesn’t get shown at all.

Although the movie does leave some effective haunting images it would’ve worked better had it been a documentary, or a reenactment that concentrated fully on the attack while also showing its aftermath and what lead up to it. It should’ve also been better researched, accurate and balanced instead of feeling the need to pander to the political fervor of its day with stagy over-the-top dramatics and a clumsily attempt to tie it into the My Lai Massacre that has forever stigmatized this as being nothing more than dated emotionally manipulative propaganda.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Region 2), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man in the wilderness.

            Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) is a man who wishes to live life alone in the snowy mountains. His peaceful existence comes to an end when after riding through a sacred burial ground of the Crow Indian he becomes the target of young male warriors who attack him one-by-one when he is not expecting it to avenge his ‘desecration’. Jeremiah manages to defeat every warrior that challenges him turning him into a legend among the native tribes.

The film’s on-location shooting is outstanding and one of the chief assets in watching the movie. It was shot entirely in the state of Utah and there are many majestic long-shots where all you hear is the wind blowing and makes you feel like you are outdoors yourself alongside the character. The barren, empty winter landscape is well captured and while watching Jeremiah trudge all alone through the snow it was hard for me to imagine that there was actually a film crew present. The ambience of the natural surroundings is breathtaking and grabbed me immediately. I enjoyed the slow, quiet pace at the beginning and wished there had been more of it. One of the most enjoyable scenes is watching Jeremiah trying to catch fish with his hands out of a river, which could have been more entertaining had it been extended.

The story is loosely based on the real life exploits of fur trapper John Johnston who was known to cut out and eat the liver of every crow warrior that he defeated. There is nothing like that here and in some ways that is part of the problem. The ruggedness and reality seem to have been compromised by 70’s sensibilities with too many quirky scenarios and characters thrown in making the film’s structure reminiscent to Little Big Man, which was released just a few years earlier. That film seemed refreshingly cerebral, but here it becomes imitative and derivative.

Robert Redford is high in the looks department, but so-so in acting. He has always had too much of a detached presence and his range of emotions is limited. In some films this may work, but here the part needed more charisma and flair. The character was more like a modern day, touchy-feely male transplanted from Hollywood and into the wild than an actual 18th century hermit. For a man living off the land far from civilization he has to have the whitest most straightest teeth I have ever seen.

The supporting cast fares better. I loved Will Geer as the aging fur trapper Bear Claw. This guy has all the panache that Redford lacked and the movie would have been better had it made him the focus. Allyn Ann McLerie has a small, but riveting role as ‘the crazy woman’ who is unable to cope, or accept the fact that her family has been slaughtered by an Indian attack.  Stefan Gierasch has his finest hour as Del Gue a fur trapper that Jeremiah comes upon. During the first half you see him as bald only to have him return in the second half with a full head of hair. The scene where he is shown buried in sand up to his head is amusing and disconcerting at the same time.

My biggest issue with the film is when Jeremiah starts to fight off all the Indian warriors who attack him. I just could not believe that one man would be able to defeat and kill so many of them. I could understand maybe a few, but eventually odds would have to catch up with him. There is never any special skill shown for why Jeremiah seems to always get the upper hand during these battles. The fights themselves are not exciting as they are much too brief and edited in a way that it is hard to follow the action. It seems like it takes only a few seconds from when the Indian jumps him to when Jeremiah already has him on the ground dead. Jeremiah is also the only person I know of who can have a large spear pierce his body and all he does is pull it out and go on living without any noticeable injury.

The first half is more compelling than the second, which had me feeling bored. The side-story of having him take on an Indian bride as well as a young boy who does not speak has potential, but doesn’t go far enough with it. For an adventure story there is very little action outside of the Indian battles that to me seemed phony. The best sequence is a wolf attack that is nicely edited and graphic. The Crow Indian burial scene is effectively moody and starkly photographed.

The screenplay by John Milius and Edward Anhalt was written using material from two different novels and the lack of cohesion shows. Part of it wants to be a gritty nature drama while the other half plays like a mystical fantasy, but this uneasy mixture never gels, or works.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Hannie Caulder (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hannie gets her revenge.

Three outlaw brothers (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Strother Martin) on the run from a botched robbery come upon an isolated house in the dessert. There they kill the husband and then gang rape the wife whose name is Hannie Caulder (Raquel Welch). They set the house on fire and then ride away laughing.  She manages to escape the blaze and makes a personal pledge to get her revenge. She has never used a gun before in her life, but with the help of a kindly bounty hunter named Thomas Price (Robert Culp) she learns the art of being a gunfighter.

The film nicely symbolizes the emerging force of women in 70’s society while using it inside a western motif. When we first see her she is in the kitchen with an apron on and cooking.  She learns though how to survive in a man’s world, do everything they can, and earn their respect in the process. It follows the same formula used in later cult hits I Spit on Your Grave and Ms. 45 except those titles were far more explicit and violent.

Critic Leonard Maltin, in his review of the film, called it a ‘bizarre, mystical western’, but I saw little of that.  In a lot of ways it was very routine with the only difference coming in the fact that it was a women single-handily seeking revenge instead of a man. There were only a few offbeat qualities that stood out enough to be mentioned. One was detailing the making of a gun, which I found to be interesting as well as the Hannie’s training and the different, subtle techniques that a gunfighter uses. British horror actor Christopher Lee is cast as a Mexican gunsmith. There is also one shootout segment that is done in slow motion, which is very cool.  Otherwise the majority of it is standard fare that is adequate, but not real impressive.

The idea of having the bad guys play it up as comical goofballs was a mistake.  It hurts the tension because we should want to see Hannie get her justice on these guys.  It also seems to minimize the savage act that they do and make the brutal subject matter seem lighthearted and silly when it shouldn’t be. Now, with that said, I still found some of the lines Strother Martin was given to be amusing and he almost became a scene-stealer

Raquel is looking gorgeous and wears a few revealing outfits, but there is no actual nudity, which would have helped. I still feel her acting ability is a bit lacking and the range of characters that she can play is limited. I did like her attempt at portraying a gritty character and taking a role that wasn’t glamorous. For a leading lady she has very few lines of dialogue. It wasn’t until the end when she says a few snappy one-liners at the bad guys that her part begins to click.

Robert Culp is all wrong as the bounty hunter and love interest. He can be a good actor in certain roles.  I always liked him as Peter Falk’s main nemesis in the Columbo series, but here he just doesn’t seem rugged enough. He wears glasses and is middle-aged and looks like a tenured college professor instead of a gunfighter.  The budding romance between the two doesn’t work either. He was about 12 years older than Raquel and always behaved more like a father to her right from the start.  The scene showing them holding hands while walking along a beach seemed almost creepy.

To me the film doesn’t come together until the end when she tracks the outlaw brothers down one by one in unusual locales. One is at a whorehouse, the other in a ladies clothing store, and the third is in an abandoned prison. This is the best moment as the prison itself is very isolated and the sound of the blowing wind and the late afternoon sun gives the scene a lot of atmosphere.

This is not a bad movie, but it is not a particularly good one either.  It is quite compact, running only 85 minutes, and the pace is quick. Despite the subject matter it runs pretty much on the light side. Western and Welch enthusiasts may find this more interesting than others. Borgnine fans may also like it as he is effectively slimy here.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Burt Kennedy

Studio: Paramount

Available : VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video