Category Archives: Revisionist Western

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

The Culpepper Cattle Company (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on cattle drive.

Feeling that life on the farm is boring Ben (Gary Grimes), a young teen of about 16, begs cattle company owner Frank Culpepper (Billy Green Bush) for a job on his upcoming cattle drive. Frank reluctantly agrees, but Ben soon finds what a tough and unglamorous job it is and he makes many mistakes that not only jeopardize the safe delivery of their herd, but the men’s lives as well.

The film marked the directorial debut of famed commercial photographer Dick Richards and was hailed at the time for its attention to detail and realism although for the most part there are a lot of inaccuracies including the men using a type of rifle that was not yet invented during the setting’s time period and the cowboys wearing beards even though most of them from that era just had mustaches. There is also an overuse of music. A gritty movie aiming for realism should rely on natural sound for its ambience and not music to create the mood. The melody itself is pleasing, but it’s the exact same score that was used in the The Flim-Flam Man, that came out 5 years earlier.

The story is episodic with a few too many cutesy ironies and dramatic arches. Certain segments aim for authenticity while at other times it gets completely overlooked for instance when Ben has his horse stolen he must walk the rest of the way to the next town, which is several miles and yet when he gets there he doesn’t look all that exhausted or dehydrated. The one part at realism that I did like is when he is shown taking a poo in the open and using tree leaves to wipe himself, which is interesting as that was one topic that has never been tackled in any other cowboy movie that I’ve seen.

The best thing is Grimes who looks like he was whisked away after his stint on Summer of ’42 and thrown immediately onto this one. His tender, wide-eyed gaze is perfect for the part and I enjoyed seeing the begrudging friendship evolve between him and the other men even as he continued to make life harder for them with one mistake after another.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest drawback is the violent ending in a film that had been pretty much lighthearted up to then. The climactic shootout is too similar to the one in The Wild Bunch and seemed almost like a trendy cliché as so many other westerns from that period were reverting to a similar type of climax. The idea that this was to convey that Ben as growing up into manhood as he takes it on himself to single-handedly defend a religious group from persecution of a corrupt landowner gets botched because once the bullets start flying he passively stands around with the same deer-in-headlights look that he had all along and does nothing to help as all of his friends from the cattle drive who came to his aid are systematically killed. Instead of coming off as growing up the character seems more like the same naïve screw-up that he had been throughout and continuing to stupidly get himself and everyone else into dangerous jams making him almost like a curse to anyone who dared befriend hm. The blood bath is not exciting either, but instead quite jarring and the whole thing leaves the viewer with an unnecessary depressed feeling when it’s over.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 16, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)

ballad of cable hogue

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)

life of judge 1

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)

 

lawman

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)

westworld 2

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)

there was a crooked man 2

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