Tag Archives: Gordon Willis

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

Windows (1980)

windows 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s obsessed with her.

Emily (Talia Shire) is attacked in her apartment by a rapist (Rick Petrucelli) and when the police come to investigate the crime she starts to fall in love with Bob (Joe Cortese) the handsome police captain. Little does Emily know that her friend Andrea (Elizabeth Ashley) was behind the attack. She is a closet lesbian with a secret psychotic obsession for Emily who hired the man to rape her and record it, so Andrea could get-off on listening to the sounds of Emily moaning during the struggle. Now that Emily is going out with Bob it makes Andrea angry and her behavior becomes more dangerous and erratic.

For a thriller this film is extraordinarily low-key to the point that it also comes off like a drama, but fails on both ends. There is no mounting tension and little if any scares. The only one that they do have is when Andrea sticks Emily’s cat into a freezer and later it drops out of it like it was a Popsicle, which is actually unintentionally funny. There is also hardly any music. Ennio Morricone was hired to be the composer, but they don’t use him as much as they should. An amazing amount of the movie deals with the natural street sounds and ambience from life in New York, which is interesting for a while, but does nothing to elevate the tension, or create any excitement. Famed cinematographer Gordon Willis in his directorial debut seems more interested in capturing the New York skyline and creating shadowy interiors than actually making a movie with an original story, or interesting characters.

Shire is so quiet and awkward that she seems to be in a mental stupor. Her screen presence here is transparent and lifeless and it is easy to see why her leading lady status was brief. Cortese is no better as the male lead and the romantic side-story has no energy or chemistry and only helps to bog down an already boring story. Intercutting this with Andrea’s visits to her psychiatrist (Michael Lipton) successfully creates the first thriller to have no suspense whatsoever.

Ashley seems like the perfect choice for a homicidal lesbian, but the part is written in a way that doesn’t allow her to go over-the-top with it, which she should have although you do get to see her wearing quite possibly the biggest pair of sunglasses that I have ever seen. It might have worked better had the viewer not been aware from the start about Andrea’s psychosis and instead only revealed it at the end as a twist.

The climatic sequence between Emily and Andrea would be laughable if it weren’t so mind numbingly stilted and prolonged. The scene goes on for almost twenty minutes and features the two women standing in front of a window with Emily weeping incessantly while Andrea rambles incoherently. How anyone who was involved in the making of this movie would think anyone would flock to see this dull and contrived thing should have their brains checked. Has an air of pretense to it like it is trying to be a ‘sophisticated’ thriller, but it is pointless. If ‘Mystery Science Theater’ were still around this would be a great candidate for it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gordon Willis

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video