Category Archives: Revisionist Western

Junior Bonner (1972)

junior 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An aging bull rider.

Junior (Steve McQueen) is a rodeo star whose better days are behind him. As he enters his 40’s, he needs to find other ways to make a living and returns to his boyhood home of Prescott, Arizona where the rest of his family including his father Ace (Robert Preston), his mother Elvira (Ida Lupino), and brother Curly (Joe Don Baker) reside. When he gets there he finds that his father’s home is being bulldozed by his brother’s company in order to make way for a track of newer homes. Junior decides that the only way to make ends meet for both himself and his father is to win the prize money by riding the ornery bull Sunshine during the rodeo competition. He had attempted to ride Sunshine at another rodeo, but was quickly bucked-off and injured, but this time he feels it will be different and convinces the rodeo owner Buck Roan (Ben Johnson) to give him one last shot.

This film is different from any other Sam Peckinpah movie you’ll see and many viewers/critics at the time didn’t know what to make of it. Peckinpah was known and even stigmatized for his violent movies including The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, which were deemed, especially the latter one, quite controversial and to an extent even glorifying violence. To help find a balance he decided to do something opposite from those by making a movie that was laid-back and didn’t feature any fighting except for one moment during a bar fight, which is done with a delightfully comic flair where everyone in the place gets punched except for Junior who goes off to a corner to makes-out with Charmagne (Barbara Leigh) even though he was the catalyst for why it began in the first place.

Unfortunately audiences and critics could not adjust to the extreme change in tone. They came to the theater expecting, based on Peckinpah’s reputation, bloody shoot-outs and got none and the end result is it doing quite poorly at the box recouping only $2.8 million from the original $3.2 million budget, which poisoned Peckinpah’s career as he was now deemed a financial risk and seriously affected the choice of projects he could do afterwards and how much control he’d have over them. Even normally friendly critics like Roger Ebert, who had been a fan of the director’s earlier works, bailed on this one calling it a “flat-out disappointment” and describing the material as being “terribly thin”. Another critic, Gary Arnold, described it as a film that “drifts across the screen and fades from your mind an instant later” and that there was “no compelling reason to see or remember it.”

I’ll admit the way it starts out had me a baffled. The story doesn’t go anywhere even after 30-minutes in and McQueen, normally this energetic, rugged action hero, looks like he’s in his 60’s and appearing perpetually tired. I started wondering whether this was just footage caught from a closed circuit camera that examined the slow way of life of small towns.

Things though do improve by the second act. The rodeo riding is captured in a vivid way making you feel like you’re riding the bull itself. Peckinpah’s uses his patented slow motion, but this time in a humorous vein like when Junior and Ace go riding away from a 4th of July parade and through the backyards of some houses where they inadvertently get caught up in some clothes lines. There’s even a couple of touching moments like Junior’s conversation with his father at a train station as well as Ace’s reconciliation with his wife. I was impressed with Joe Don Baker’s performance as well. I know some film-goers have mocked his acting in other movies, but I believe if given the right material he can be quite good though he wasn’t the director’s first choice as it was originally intended for Gene Hackman, but when his salary demands proved too high it was given to Baker much to Peckinpah’s regret as the two had many arguments during the production, which almost came to blows and only prevented when McQueen would get in the middle and calm both sides down.

For a modern day western this is one of the better ones and precipitated a boon of rodeo style movies  during the early 70’s. While its initial reception was not kind its been viewed in a better light today and even revered as being one of Peckinpah’s better works.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The White Buffalo (1977)

white

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Buffalo haunts his dreams.

Based on the novel by Richard Sale, who also wrote the screenplay, the story, which takes place in 1874, centers around Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) who’s suffering from reoccurring dreams involving a giant white buffalo. He travels to the west in order to find the beast and confront it. It’s there that he meets Crazy Horse (Will Sampson). The two initially don’t get along. Bill is not a fan of Indians and once said “the only good Indian is a dead one”, but the two share a common bond as they’re both after the elusive buffalo in Crazy Horse’s case it’s to avenge the death of his infant daughter who was killed when the beast violently attacked their campsite. Having formed an uneasy alliance the two, along with old-timer Charlie Zane (Jack Warden) go out into the cold, wintry terrain in search for it while debating over whose land this country really belongs to: the white man or the Native Americans.  

Story-wise the film lacks any explanation for why Hickok is having these dreams, or what exactly the image of the white buffalo is meant to represent if anything. The plot goes off on a lot of tangents including a segment where Hickok visits an old-flame (Kim Novak) that doesn’t have much to do with the central story, nor propel the plot along, and could’ve easily been cut. There’s also a few proverbial gun fights though they’re generic in nature, don’t add much excitement, and quickly forgotten. 

Bronson gives his typical wooden performance though seeing him with dark circular glasses and sporting long hair does make him, in certain shots, resemble Ringo Starr. The rest of the cast if filled with familiar B-stars in minor roles including Stuart Whitman and Cara Williams, who have an amusing bit as a vulgar couple whom Hickok shares a stagecoach ride with. Jack Warden, who’s almost unrecognizable, has a fun moment when he takes out the glass eye that he’s wearing much to the shock of Crazy Horse.

The only diverting element is the opening dream sequence that’s done over the credits where the viewer looks right into the eye of the beast close-up. Normally I’m not a fan of outdoor shots done on a sound stage, which always comes-off looking artificial, but in this instance it helps accentuate the surreal elements. The climactic sequence though in which both Hickok and Crazy Horse come face-to-face with the buffalo doesn’t work as it becomes painfully clear that the beast is special effects generated especially when Crazy Horse gets on top of it and repeatedly stabs it, which looks like someone stabbing into a sofa cushion with tacky fur stuck to it. We also never get to see a full-shot of the buffalo, just its head, so it’s difficult to gauge how big it really was. The truly disappointing part is that the illustration of the buffalo on the film’s promotional poster seen above is far more impressive looking than anything you’ll actually see in the movie.

Probably the only interesting aspect about the production is not what occurred in front the camera, but behind-the-scenes. Will Sampson, who’s by far the better actor and the story could’ve been centered around his character alone and it would’ve made it a more interesting movie, refused to read his lines for over 24 hours when he became aware that white actors had been hired to play the roles of the Native Americans and only went back to performing his role once the producers agreed to casting actual Indians for the parts. This then directly lead to the American Indian Registry of the Performing Arts, which he founded. 

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 6, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube (with ads)

 

 

Zandy’s Bride (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A mail-order bride.

Based on the novel ‘The Stranger’ by Lillian Bos Ross the story centers on Zandy Allan (Gene Hackman) a rancher living in the remote frontier of the American west during the late 1800’s. He finds living alone while maintaining a ranch to be an arduous challenge and thus puts an ad in the newspaper for a bride. The inquiry catches the eye of Hannah (Liv Ullmann), a Swedish woman living outside of Minneapolis. She arrives in Zandy’s hometown, but Zandy is initially not pleased as she’s 32 instead of 25 and he feels she’ll be too old to bear him a son. Begrudgingly he takes her on the long horse ride back to his ranch while informing her there’ll be ‘no turning back’. Their relationship starts out rocky as Zandy expects to be able to order her around and have sex with her at will and is routinely abusive, but complains to his mother (Eileen Heckart) that he cannot understand why she doesn’t like him. Eventually the two, after many years and many fights, form a tenuous bond.

The film was directed by Jan Troell a Swedish director and cinematographer whose films The Emmigrants and The New Land gained international acclaim and won him a contract to direct a Hollywood film. Despite the presence of Ullmann, who had also starred in Troell’s other two films, and having the same frontier setting this one did not do as well either with the critics or the box office and culminated in making Troell’s foray into Hollywood filmmaking, which he said he didn’t like since union rules didn’t allow him to man his own camera like he had always done while making movies in his homeland, a short one.

A lot of the reason for this could be that it starts-off with a brutal rape scene, though not as graphic as in some other films, is still quite unpleasant particularly with Ullmann’s pleading blue-eyes and Hackman callously shouting that he ‘has a right’ as he violently strips off her clothes. While one can appreciate the film’s stark reality, as I’m sure in the remote frontier this sort-of thing could’ve easily happened, it still leaves a bad vibe since Hannah softens to Zandy despite his continually arrogant behavior too quickly. Most women would hate a man forever after that, so for the film to take the approach that love could still blossom is a bit hard to fathom. It should’ve at least taken the entire duration for this to occur instead of entering it in already by the second act.

Hackman is fantastic particularly for taking on such a unlikable role. Most other actors who’ve gained leading man status will rarely do this as they’ll feel it will affect their image, so it’s great to see an actor willing to stretch his range no matter the results. Ullmann is quite good too and it’s almost surreal hearing her speak English when I’ve seen so many films of her speaking in her native tongue. Her character though needed better fleshing-out. With Zandy we can see why he behaves the way he does when he visits his parents (Frank Cady, Eileen Heckart) and witnesses the poor way his father treats his mother, which clearly gives him the mindset that treating women that way is ‘normal’, but we get no such backstory with Hannah. Why did she choose to be a mail-order-bride when she’s so beautiful and you’d expect she’d find many suitors back where she lived? There’s no hint of her family history, or why she ended up in the situation that she does. I also felt she was too assertive too quickly and would’ve liked more of an arc where she starts out shy, but after going through the rigors that she does gains an assertiveness that she didn’t think she initially had.

Spoiler Alert!

The film ends on a hopeful note. Whether one feels this has been earned, or deserved is up to one’s subjective perspective though I was happy to see some redeeming qualities from Zandy as sitting through it watching him behave badly and never learning anything from it would’ve been too unbearable otherwise. I couldn’t help though but wonder during the many times that Zandy abandons her for months on end that one of the men from town wouldn’t have proposed to her in the process. In either case this ends up becoming the first and quite possibly only movie that could be categorized as a love story without any romance.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jan Troell

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Pocket Money (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Herding cattle for money.

Jim Kane (Paul Newman) is a not-too-bright modern-day cowboy living in Arizona that is broke and without a job. In desperation he takes an offer from a shady businessman named Bill Garrett (Strother Martin) who promises Jim a lot of money to buy a certain breed of cattle in Mexico and then bring them up to the US. Jim has his suspicions about the deal, but decides he has no choice but to take it. He elicits the help of his longtime pal Leonard (Lee Marving) another down-on-his-luck loser. Together they find the cattle and herd them to the states despite a lot of obstacles along the way, but when they return Bill and his cronies are nowhere in sight forcing Jim to seek him out and right the injustice.

Many people have complained about the film’s slow pace and the script, which was written by Terrence Malick and based off of a novel by J.P.S. Brown, has a lackadaisical quality, but to some extent I really didn’t mind it. Too many Hollywood movies are compelled to rush right into the plot while leaving atmosphere and characterizations behind, but here Laszlo Kovacs cinematography brings the rustic western locations to life. I had traveled just recently to a small town in Mexico earlier in the year and this film captures the same ambience that I saw including all the feral dogs running around, the old rundown buildings that make up the town center, as well as the pot-holed filled roads. It was almost like I can gone there a second straight time.

Newman is brilliant in a rare comedic turn. His character is dopey, but in a funny, lovable way where you laugh at his ineptness one minute and cheer him on the next. Marvin is good too and the banter the between them as well as their contrasting approaches to things help keep things interesting. Reports where that the two did not get along and Marvin even admitted as much in interviews stating that Newman ‘finessed’ him during their scenes and when you get two big name actors with heavy egos this sometimes happens, but they were at least professional enough not to let their animosity show through on the screen. Both Wayne Rogers and Strother Martin, who co-starred with Newman just 5 years earlier in the classic Cool Hand Luke lend great support and in Martin’s case should’ve been seen more.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest beef comes with the ending, which is a complete letdown. The intention was to show the life of two aimless men who are going nowhere, which is fine, but there still needs to be a payoff at the end. Instead when Newman and Martin finally confront Rogers and Martin in a hotel room, after searching everywhere for them, nothing happens. They never get their money, or revenge, or anything. Even losers can have a random moment of small victory, which is what I felt was needed here, and to have nothing of substance occur makes the viewer feel like the joke was on them and sitting through this, despite the marvelous production values, becomes sadly a big waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This was another case of where Leonard Maltin’s review, or whoever wrote it for him, is off from what you end up seeing. He commends the performance by Jean Peters, who plays Newman’s ex-wife, like it’s something special when in reality it’s just a throw-away-bit that lasts for a couple of minutes and isn’t too memorable. He also comments on Marvin’s car, which he states is ‘the damnedest thing you’ll ever see’ even though despite a few multi-colored panels I didn’t see what was so unusual about it. The craziest car I’ve ever seen in a movie is the one the two teens drive in Robert Altman’s 1985 flick O.C. and Stiggs, but again watch both movies for yourself and then decide, but I believe most would end up agreeing with me.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Posse (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everyone has their price.

Howard Nightingale (Kirk Douglas) is an ambitious Marshall looking to run for U.S. Senate and realizes his best bet of winning the seat is by bringing in the notorious train robbing gang led by Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern). Howard manages to kill off the gang by having his posse set fire to the hideout that they were in, but Jack escapes only to be captured later and brought to jail. While on the train ride to Austin where he’ll be hanged Jack comes up with an elaborate escape and turns-the-tables by handcuffing Howard and returning him to the town where they came from and holding him prisoner inside the local hotel. When the posse returns to the town everyone is convinced they’ll free Howard, or will they?

In an era where revisionist westerns were all the rage it’s confusing, at least initially, not to understand why this one, which story-wise goes completely against-the-grain of the conventional western, isn’t propped up there with the best of them and a lot of the blame could possibly be put on the direction. There’s nothing really wrong with the way it’s presented and there are some exciting moments including a realistic shootout as well as a running train being set on fire while also exploding from dynamite, but the rest of it does have a certain static feel. There’s too much reliance on music and not enough on mood or atmosphere as well as actors looking more like modern day people in period costume.

The script though, which is based on a 1971 short story called ‘The Train’ by Larry Cohen is full of many offbeat twists that keeps the viewer intrigued. Of course in an attempt to stretch out the short story into feature length there are some slow spots, particularly in the middle and the emphasis is more on concept than character development, but Jack’s crafty way at escaping is quite entertaining and the surprise ending is one of the best not because it’s a gimmick, which it isn’t, but more because it’s quite believable and yet something that’s never been done in any other western.

Douglas gives his conniving character just the right amount of pompous camp to make him enjoyable and it’s great to see James Stacy in his first movie role after his tragic motorcycle accident where he lost both his left arm and leg. In any other film this handicap would have to become a major issue, but here it doesn’t even get mentioned. The character doesn’t use it to feel sorry for himself nor is he treated any differently than anyone else, which I found to be quite refreshing.

A minor drawback though it that it’s supposed to take place in Texas and my hometown of Austin even gets mentioned a few times, which is kind of cool, but it was actually filmed in the state of Arizona. To some this might not be a big deal, but Arizona’s landscape is much sandier and has more mountains. Their cacti is of the upright kind while in Texas the cactus is of the bushy variety known as the prickly pear. All of which helps to ruin the film’s authenticity. If they didn’t have the funding to film it in Texas then have the story’s setting take place in California or Arizona, but trying to compromise it and hoping that astute viewers won’t know the difference doesn’t work.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kirk Douglas

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Electric Horseman (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging cowboy steals horse.

Sonny (Robert Redford) used to be a championship rodeo star, but those days are long behind him. Now he works as a spokesmodel for a cereal company and his next gig has him in Las Vegas where he’s set to ride a horse on stage while he wears a string of flashing lights. Sonny though has become disillusioned with the business as well as upset to find that the horse has been drugged, which propels him to ride off with it while the authorities and an aggressive TV reporter (Jane Fonda) are hot on his tail.

The story can best be described as a lightly comical variation of Lonely are the Bravebut without any of the strong dramatic impact. The biggest problem is that it reveals its cards too quickly making it too obvious what Sonny is planning to do, so when he finally does y abscond with the horse it’s not surprising or even interesting. I was intrigued at how he would get it out of the casino and past security, but the movie cheats this by cutting from him inside the casino one second to showing him outside on the street in the next frame, which takes away from potential action and excitement of having him fight his way out.

The chase inside a small town where Sonny and his horse outrun a mob of police cars and cops on motorbikes is fun, but it ends up being the only exciting moment in the film. Everything else gets toned down too much where even the bad guy, played by John Saxon, is boring because all he does is sit in a office while getting reports from others as to Sonny’s whereabouts instead of having him actively chase after the renegade cowboy himself, which would’ve heightened the tension.

Fonda’s character comes off like an unwanted house guest who tries to take over the place even when they weren’t invited. Her character is too abrasive and while everyone else is laid-back she comes of as being quite aggressive and otherwise out-of-place with the tone of the movie. Valerie Perrine, who has a much smaller part as Sonny’s ex-wife, does a far better job here and is more in step with the unglamorous, rugged western theme. Had she been the one to chase after Sonny then the romantic side-story that develops would’ve been cute and engaging, but having Fonda become the love interest just makes the whole thing seem forced.

Had the action and humor been  more jacked-up than it might’ve been a winner as Redford himself is quite good. I was a bit surprised too because I initially didn’t think this was the right fit for his talents, but his subtle country accent and brash attitude is fun and Willie Nelson, in his film debut, is quite good in support. Unfortunately the plot never catches its stride and in fact the more it goes on the boring it gets.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Blazing Saddles (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man becomes sheriff.

Classic western parody centers on a new railroad being built during the 1870’s and how an attorney general named Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) connives to have it run through a town called Rock Ridge, but in so doing devises a plan to have the residents run out, so the railroad can be put in. He hires a bunch of outlaws to ride into the town and terrorize the people hoping they’ll be scared off and move, but instead they put in a request to the state’s governor (Mel Brooks) for a sheriff. The inept governor gets tricked into hiring a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) to act as the sheriff, which sends the racist residents of Rock Ridge into an outrage.

The film was known at the time for its outlandish humor, which thanks to political correctness is now considered even more outrageous and would most likely have no chance of being made today. The film’s biggest sticking point deals with its excessive use of the N-word, which writer/director Brooks was pressured to take out by the studio executives (along with many other things), but he resisted insisting that co-writer Richard Pryor and star Little had their blessing to keep it in and that most of the letters he received that were critical of the word being used were from white people. Personally I felt that it was realistic for its setting, which was supposed to be 1874, so in that regard it worked.

The stuff that got on my nerves was the constant anachronistic jokes dealing with people that weren’t even alive when the film’s setting took place. This type of humor gives the film too much of a campy feel and should’ve been scrapped. I was also disappointed when Gene Wilder talks to Little about his past and how he was accosted by a gun-toting 6-year-old, but the film doesn’t cut away to a reenactment of this, which would’ve been hilarious to see, even though it does do this when Little talks about his own past.

The funniest bits that I did find myself laughing-out-loud to where the ones involving Brooks as the cross-eyed governor, but I was frustrated that the streaming video that I watched did not have the scene where Brooks goes to the town of Rock Ridge and mistakes the wooden dummies that are there as being real-people. I remember this scene vividly when I watched it on network TV back in the 80’s and thought it was hilarious, but apparently this segment is only available on the Blu-ray version.

The acting by the supporting cast is great with Korman getting the best film role of his career. Liam Dunn is memorable as the town’s pastor and I got a kick out of Jessamine Milner as a racist old lady who later tries to make amends with Bart, but only under certain conditions. Madeline Kahn is quite good too in a send-up of Marlene Dietrich and rumor has it that she intentionally gave a bad performance in Mame, which was filming at the same time, just so the director would fire her, so she could then get the part here, but still be paid for that one as her contract stipulated guaranteed pay as long as she was terminated and didn’t quit.

The only bad performance comes from Little, who is just too serene and laid back almost like he’s treating the whole thing as a joke and doesn’t get into his part at all. I would’ve expected to see some anger from his character over the way he had been treated by white folks, but none is conveyed and instead he comes off like some guy picked off the street who mouths his lines and that’s about it. The part was intended for Richard Pryor who would’ve given the role the extra edge that it needed.

Spoiler Alert!

As controversial as the film is it’s the bizarre ending that has always had me the most baffled as it breaks the fourth wall and has the characters without warning go from the western time period into the modern-day. When I first saw this years ago I thought it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen and didn’t like it as I felt it ruined the story as I was enjoying seeing the town’s residents take matters into their own hands by literally beating up the bad guys as well as realizing that their racist ways were wrong. Having them suddenly thrown onto a Hollywood backlot made it too gimmicky and took away any possibility for some minor depth/message that the story might otherwise have had.

In retrospect I can only conclude that Brooks did this to show that these characters were never meant to be a part of the true west. In fact the whole reason that attracted him to the project, which was based off of an idea by Andrew Bergman, was because of its so-called ‘hip-talk’, which had 1974 expressions done in an 1874 setting.

If this was the case then the film should’ve started out with the characters in the modern day and then transported them via a time machine into the old west. The movie is so goofy anyways that I can’t see how this funky added element could’ve hurt it and then at the end when they return to the present it would’ve seemed more fluid and less like a cop-out where the writer’s ran out of ideas, so they decided to just go weird.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Kid Blue (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bandit tries changing careers.

Bickford Wanner (Dennis Hopper) suddenly realizes that being a train robber is no longer worth the hassle, so he decides to go straight by moving into the town of Dime Box where he does a variety of menial labor jobs that he finds to be thankless. When his former girlfriend Janet (Janice Rule) shows up he gets a hankering to go back to his bandit days when he was nicknamed Kid Blue and acquired a legendary status throughout Texas.

There were a lot of revisionist westerns during the early 70’s and most of them made an impact, but this one got lost in shuffle. Personally I was impressed with the first 30 minutes where the small town residents are portrayed as being prickly, cold people whose personalities reflected the harsh, dry, desolate landscape that surrounded them. The way Bickford gets treated as an ‘outsider’ simply because he wasn’t originally born there is exactly the way anyone would’ve felt in the same situation and thus it creates an accurate and vivid setting environment.

The counter-culture movement of the late 60’s gets puts it into a western motif giving the viewer a firsthand feel how oppressive the establishment (in this case the town’s citizens) were and what a lonely, frustrating experience it is to somehow try to fit into a system that doesn’t want you to begin with. Having this theme captured outside of the modern trappings makes the message stronger and when Bickford finally does lose his cool you relate to his rage and enjoy seeing him lash out.

Unfortunately it loses focus by the second act as director James Frawley can’t seem to decide whether he wants to turn this into a comedy or gritty drama. Both Ralph Waite and Ben Johnson make for good antagonists, but there’s never a satisfying one-on-one moment where Hopper stands up to either of them in any cinematic way even though you sit through the whole thing hoping that at some point he will.

Hopper looks the part of a young man even though he was already 36 at the time, but the character’s motivations are confusing. This was a man who at one point was supposedly a successful train robber, so why does he put up with all the crap and not go back to his old ways sooner? He tolerates their abuse for far longer than any normal person would and for seemingly no reason. Having the character suffer from a physical ailment that wouldn’t allow him to return to his bandit lifestyle would’ve helped make his situation more understandable.

The ending in which Bickford robs the factory and the whole town gives him chase has strong, colorful potential, but the film doesn’t go far enough with it. It also introduces too much of a bouncy musical score that gives the action a lighthearted/slapstick quality that undermines the realism. The third act should’ve focused entirely on the chase while nixing an ill-advised story thread dealing with a love triangle that adds nothing and seemingly put in solely to pad the undernourished plot. Even though the setting is supposed to be Texas it was actually filmed in Mexico.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Frawley

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Bad Company (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two deserters go west.

Drew (Barry Brown) is a young man living in the south during the civil war who manages to avoid going into the army by hiding from the soldiers when they come to his family home to retrieve him. After they’ve left his mother (Jean Allison) gives him $100 and tells him to go west. When he gets to St. Joseph, Missouri he meets up with Jake (Jeff Bridges) and the two form an uneasy alliance with Drew even getting invited into Jake’s young gang (Damon Cofer, John Savage, Jerry Houser, Joshua Hill Lewis) of youthful outlaws. The six ride off into the west hoping to find adventure and opportunity, but instead meet hardship and violence.

The film’s stark tone would’ve been more compelling had there not been so many other westerns coming out at the same time with a similar theme. Instead of being this refreshing change-of-pace from the old western serial it just ends up creating new clichés from the then budding revisionist  genre. At certain points it seems almost like a carbon copy of The Culpepper Cattle Company, or even The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, which star Brown had been in just before doing this one.

The attempt to mix dry humor with harsh reality works fairly well and placing the setting amidst the sprawling wheat fields of Kansas gives it a distinctive look that is perfectly captured through the lens of cinematographer Gordon Willis although the piano score by Harvey Schmidt gets intrusive. This becomes particularly evident towards the end when the two boys get into a gun battle with a gang of outlaws and the action is choreographed to the beat of the music, which only helped to take me completely out of the story. What’s the use of spending so time creating a gritty realism if you’re just going to suddenly sell-out on it in a cheap attempt to be ‘humorous’ and ‘cute’?

The acrimonious friendship between the two leads is what I liked, but the film misses the mark by not focusing on this enough. The supporting cast wasn’t needed and the film should’ve focused solely on the two stars from the beginning making it like ‘the odd couple of the west’, which could’ve been memorable. Instead it meanders and only starts to gel by the third act, but by then it’s almost too late. I also wasn’t too crazy about the wide-open ending either, which offers no satisfying conclusion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Benton

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Comes a Horseman (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ranchers battle for land.

Recently widowed Ella (Jane Fonda) must struggle to run her ranch in the middle of the desolate west by herself. Frank (James Caan) is her neighbor who is being harassed by Jacob Ewing (Jason Robards) to sell his land and Ewing has also made a strong play for Ella’s property as well. Both refuse his offers and then band together to defend themselves and Ella’s ranch from Ewing and his men who are willing to do anything it takes in order to get what they want.

The film’s main charm is its stunning cinematography by Gordon Willis who captures the expansive western landscape in breathtaking fashion and this is indeed one film that must be watched on the big-screen, or in widescreen to be fully appreciated. Director Alan J. Pakula instills a wonderfully slow pace with a minimum of music, which gives the viewer an authentic feel for what life out in the country during the 1940’s must’ve been like.

I also really liked the fact that Ella and Frank didn’t immediately fall-in-love and jump into bed together. Too many times films made during the post sexual revolution depicted characters from bygone eras as being far more liberated than they really were and here they’re authentically reserved and in fact they don’t even show any affection for one another until well into the story and when it does happen it seems genuine instead of just sexual.

Jane gives an outstanding performance. Usually she commands the screen and gives off a sexual allure, but here she literally disappears in her role of a humble farm woman until you don’t see the acting at all. Former stuntman Farnsworth at the age of 58 makes an outstanding film debut in a supporting role that will emotionally grab the viewer.

The story, which was written directly for the screen by Dennis Lynton Clark, lacks depth and has too many elements stolen from other similar films. Stanley Kramer’s Oklahoma Crude, which came out 5 years has almost the exact same plotline, but done in a darkly comic manner. Both deal with a man moving onto a woman’s ranch to help as a farmhand. The woman initially rebuffs the male’s advances, but eventually softens. Both deal with an oil company pressuring her to sell her land and harassing her when she doesn’t and they both have a memorable scene involving a windmill.  The oil subplot, particularly in this film seems rather unimaginative and like it was thrown simply to create more conflict while Ella’s past relationship with Ewing and the dark secret that they share should’ve been more than enough to carry the picture.

The one thing though that really kills the picture is the ending where Ella and Frank find themselves being attacked and in an effort to build up the tension loud music similar to what’s heard in a modern-day thriller gets thrown in. This had been a movie that had been very quiet up until then and it should’ve stayed that way. The actions seen on the screen was more than enough to horrify the viewer and no extra music was needed. Hearing nothing more than the howling wind on the prairie would’ve made it more effective as it would’ve reminded the viewer how remote the location was and how no one else was nearby to help Frank or Ella. For a movie that tried so hard to recreate the feel of a past era only to suddenly go downright commercial at the very end is a real sell-out.

The fact that all the night scenes were filmed during the day using a darkened filter is another letdown. There have been many films that have been shot in actual nighttime darkness so why couldn’t this one? If you want to see a film set during the same time period with equally captivating visual approach, but stays more consistent in theme then I’d suggest Days of Heaven, which was also released in 1978.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 59 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, You Tube