Tag Archives: Westerns

Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981)

cattle annie and little britches

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She needs a spanking.

Based very loosely on actual events this film looks at Annie McDoulet (Amanda Plummer) and Jennie Stevens (Diane Lane) two adolescent girls traveling in the Oklahoma Territory of the late 19th century looking for excitement and adventure. Annie becomes transfixed with the stories that she reads about the western outlaws particularly the ones about Bill Doolin (Burt Lancaster), but when they finally do catch up with his gang they find the men to be old, haggard, and tired as well as just one-step ahead of the relentless pursuit of famed western lawmen Bill Tilghman (Rod Steiger).

Plummer, in her film debut, is nothing short of electrifying. She is the daughter of Christopher Plummer and actress Tammy Grimes and she makes her presence strongly felt here. Her vulgarity and tenaciousness are infectious and help propel the film and easily steal every scene that she is in. She has her mother’s distinctively reedy voice and although not beautiful in the conventional sense her facial features still have an alluring quality that she makes the most of.

Lane as her cohort is good as well although not as strong, or riveting. Her plus is the fact that she is simply beautiful with perfect and delicate features of a young lady blooming into adulthood. The fact that her character is more shy and unassuming plays off well against the abrasiveness of Plummer’s and the tussle that the two have near the end is fun.

Lancaster is badly miscast. For one thing the real Bill Doolin was much younger and in fact was shot dead at the young age of 38 and yet here Lancaster was already 66 when he did the part. I also felt that the character was a little bit too good to be true. It just seemed too hard to believe that a rugged western outlaw would be so kind, gentle, understanding and wise. I suppose his fans wouldn’t want it any other way and the part seems to be written to conform to his star status, but the effect hurts the film’s overall authenticity.

Steiger on the other hand is quite strong and director Lamont Johnson makes perfect use of Steiger’s legendarily intense manner. In fact I was disappointed that he wasn’t in more of the film as his presence helps create some much needed tension in a film that at times seems too slow and laid back. His finest moment, and the best part in whole film, comes when he tackles Annie and gives her a nice long hard spanking.

The score, like the film, seems unfocused and creates an unnecessary mish-mash of moods. The vocal ballads done with a minimum of instruments is good as they have a country twang and fit the period, but there are other points when a jazzed up score with modern rock elements is played, which takes the viewer completely out of the setting. There is also too much music played when the natural sound and ambience would have been better especially with a western.

Watching the girls interacting with the gang as well as surprising them with their unexpected toughness is what makes the film interesting. The climatic sequence in which the two decide to go by themselves to get Bill out of jail and the very brazen and clever way that they do it is special. Why Universal decided to abandoned what is otherwise a pleasing little western is baffling. This film is long overdue for a DVD/Blu-ray release and fans of the cast should let the people in charge know as well as taking the studio exec, if he is still around, who decided to put the kibosh on this movie and throw him into a lake.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Universal

Available: None

Oklahoma Crude (1973)

Oklahoma Crude

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They want her land.

Lena Doyle (Faye Dunaway) runs a wildcat oil rig on land that she owns in Oklahoma. She is convinced that there is oil there and protects it with a feisty independence. Her father Cleon (John Mills) decides to hire Mason (George C. Scott) a lazy drifter that he picks up in town. Mason’s job is to guard against the impending invasion of the oil company headed by Hellman (Jack Palance) who wants the land and potential profits for themselves. Lena and Mason do not get along at first, but when Hellman and his men seize the land in a hostile takeover Lena and Mason form an uneasy alliance in an attempt to take it back.

Director Stanley Kramer can be considered overrated by many and I am pretty sure that he and critic Pauline Kael never exchanged Christmas gifts. However, this film has an edginess to it that I liked. The script, by Marc Norman, is full of original scenes and snappy dialogue. The on-going banter between Lena and Mason is particularly good with their conversation of how Lena wished she could be both a man and woman at once and which sexual organ she would favor being the best.  Although the line where is states “You gutless men don’t know your balls from teabags” is good too.

The movie nicely mixes in the feminist issues of the 70’s within the western motif and approaches it in an even keeled way. It was very in vogue at the time to arbitrarily label the male as the chauvinist, but here it examines the strengths and weaknesses of both sides while ultimately showing how both need to rely on the other to succeed.

Dunaway has always been a personal favorite of mine no matter what that silly Hilary Duff says. Is anyone going to remember Miss Duff in 20 or 30 years? I think not. Sure Dunaway can have her bitchy side, but maintaining a career in Hollywood can sometimes create that. Either way her bitchiness is put to terrific use here. Her pouty, icy cold stares that she gives to Mason were alone worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Scott was always known to have a strong and stubborn personality both in front of and behind the camera, so seeing him play a character that is meek and aloof is fun. His performance here rates as his most amusing second only to the one he did in Dr. Strangelove.

Palance again scores as the bad buy. He played a lot of heavies during his career, but this one is his best. There is just something about his deep, raspy voice and leering grin that make him a memorable villain.  Having him wear a bowler hat and black suit along with all of his henchman is perfect.

Mills comes close to stealing the film. The man has some very endearing moments and I felt the idea of pairing his refined British sensibilities along with Dunway’s caustic and vulgar manner was interesting. The scene where he climbs to the top of the oil rig in order to reattach the cable while Hellman and his men busily shoot at him is quite intense.

Why this great movie has never been released on VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray is a mystery. It has many fans and sure to gain more once they see it. The version existing right now on Amazon Instant Video is excellent. It is a widescreen with vivid colors and clarity. It nicely brings out the barren wide-open landscape and although it was not actually filmed in Oklahoma still gives one a good idea as to why the region is called ‘Big Sky Country’.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Texas Across the River (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A cheek slapping showdown.

This is a silly western spoof that borders on the inane and is just an excuse to give Martin another vehicle this time in a western setting. The story deals with the wedding between Don Andrea (Alain Delon) and Phoebe (Rosemary Forsyth) being stopped by the arrival of the U.S. Calvary headed by Captain Stimpson (Peter Graves). When they charge Don with murder he escapes to Texas and Phoebe tries to follow him later on. There she meets Sam Hollis (Dean Martin) and his Indian sidekick Kronk (Joey Bishop). Sam becomes smitten with Phoebe and when he later meets up with Don the two become instant rivals while reluctantly working together to allude the Calvary, which arrives in Texas to celebrate its statehood.

In many ways the production takes on Martin’s persona as everything is half-hearted. The humor and scenarios are quite standard. There are a few chuckles here and there, but more misses than hits. It’s so obvious when the actors are standing in front of a blue screen or using a stunt double that it almost looks like an amateur college production. The biggest insult though is that it is all about Texas and yet wasn’t even filmed there. It was done in San Diego and it shows. This is almost like deceptive advertising and for punishment the producers should be forced to spend a summer in the REAL Texas without any air conditioning.

Delon’s presence is good simply because he is French and he gives it a unique flavor, but the film doesn’t portray him as such and instead tries to pull off that he is SPANISH!! He also gets to be too much of a brawny do-gooder and in the end he becomes like Dudly-Do-Right with a French accent.

Bishop is funny simply because he is playing himself. The credits may say he is playing an Indian, but really it’s just Joey in a silly Indian get up. His headband alone looks like it was taken from somebody’s unwanted tie collection. In fact the overall portrayal of the Indians is badly stereotyped and if the film was better known it might merit protesting.

Forsyth gives the film’s best performance. However, having Martin pursue her looks off-kilter since he was old enough to be her father and her and Delon made a better couple. Of course since this is Martin’s vehicle he ends up with her no matter how forced or unnatural it looks.

If you are really easy to please or just a Dean Martin fanatic then you might find this film more passable. The cheek slapping showdown between Martin and Delon is cute and the running joke involving that ‘Texas Tea’ isn’t bad either.

Look carefully for Richard Farnsworth is his first major role as he is almost unrecognizable as the Medicine man.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Michael Gordon

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

The Scalphunters (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t steal his furs.

Joe Bass (Burt Lancaster) is a trapper who has all of his furs stolen from him by a group of Indians. In return they give him Joseph Lee (Ossie Davis) a very educated black slave. The two do not hit it off right away and Joe becomes determined at getting his property back by following the Indians and waiting for them to get drunk off the liquor that he had hidden with the hides that they took. Just as he is ready to make a move the Indians are attacked and killed by a group of scalphunters led by Howie (Telly Savalas) who take Joe’s pelts for themselves. Joe chases after them determined to get back what he feels is rightfully his and plays a crafty game of cat-and-mouse with Howie and his group. Joseph Lee on the other hand decides to travel with the group and become the personal servant to Howie’s grouchy wife Kate (Shelly Winters) as they plan on going to Mexico where slavery is outlawed.

This is a highly engaging and amiable comedy/western. It is hard to dislike this movie, or not to be entertained by it. The performers play their parts to the hilt. Lancaster is perfect as the not-so-bright, but highly resourceful trapper who has the perseverance you gotta love. Savalas has always done well in villainous roles and the fact that he adds some comic touches to it as he consistently finds himself outsmarted by Joe and nagged by his wife is funny. Winters always shines in caricatures of desperate and pathetic people and this one proves no exception. However, it is Davis that really makes the film work. This is probably the best role of his career. The amusing way he deals with everyone who are all quite convinced that they are smarter than he is, but aren’t is what really makes the movie fun. His bantering and arguing with Joe is good as well.

The comedy is nicely balanced as it stays consistently humorous, but manages to avoid becoming farcical. There are still enough gritty elements to call it a true western, which is good. Some of the best moments though are Joe’s ongoing ‘negotiations’ with Howie as well as an avalanche of rocks that Joe creates on Howie’s caravan when he refuses to give him his furs. I also enjoyed the long and stretched out fist fight between Joe and Joseph at the end that continues even as a bloody Indian attack occurs all around them. The two end-up tumbling through a muddy lake and seeing their bodies and faces covered in thick, caked-on mud is a hilarious sight.

Director Sydney Pollock is in fine form. I loved the way he captures the surrounding landscape, which is lushly photographed with a wide lens. It was filmed on-location in Mexico and a wide variety of picturesque locales were chosen.  The DVD version is an especially clear transfer with bright, vivid colors that make you feel you are right there alongside the characters.

Although I found this enjoyable I still felt that the script by William Norton seemed to be missing something. The scenario is a little too simple and one-dimensional and I was hoping for something more maybe even a side-story, or added twist. The movie is sufficient for entertainment, but lacks the added element to make it a classic. There was potential, but it’s kept it at a mild level making it fun, but not memorable.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour, 42Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Sydney Pollock

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Mackenna’s Gold (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all want gold.

This is a sterile western with some irrelevant offbeat elements thrown in for good measure. The story consists of Mackenna (Gregory Peck) coming upon an old Indian man with a map showing the whereabouts to some gold. Feeling that the map is meaningless he burns it and tries to move on. He becomes entangled with outlaw Colorado (Omar Sharif) who feels that the map was legit, and since Mackenna was the last one to see it, forces him to come along with him and use his memory to show him the location. Ultimately they meet a wide assortment of other characters all searching for the same thing.

The cheap special effects are one of the main drawbacks. They are awful and help bring down the whole movie. The scene involving Peck being tied to the back of a horse and then lead across an old rickety bridge has to rate as the worst as the wide shots clearly shows a miniature bridge with a toy man and toy horse. The climactic sequence involving the cataclysmic destruction of an entire valley is so tacky that it is almost painful to watch. There are also other shots spliced in throughout that were done on a different film stock and this difference in grain is obvious and distracting. Even simple shots of Peck riding his horse are laughable as it becomes obvious that he is not on a real horse, but instead one of those mechanical ones that bop him up and down in perfect rhythm.

Only when the film features its stellar supporting cast does it get interesting. Unfortunately this legendary line up was only given about ten minutes of screen time a piece and then very quickly killed off one by one in ways that are particularly gruesome and demeaning.

Peck is okay in the lead and acts as a sort of stabilizer. This was the film where he starts to look elderly with some gray hair showing and a handle bar stomach. He was also not as agile as his younger costar Sharif.

Julie Newmar as Indian lady Hesh-ke is a stand out and even sexier than she was as Catwoman on the TV-show ‘Batman’. She also displays a real vicious side and this probably rates as her best performance despite the fact that she never says a single word. Camilla Sparv as Inga is almost as sexy and the two share a fun ongoing rivalry.

The film is watchable and has some nice, even exciting, aerial shots. However as a whole it is pretty ordinary. Things added to make it seem unique really end up hurting it. Jose Feliciano’s singing is out of place and the music score overall is bad. Victory Jory’s narrative is unnecessary and a feeble attempt to make the production seem like an epic, which it definitely isn’t and the mystical ending just doesn’t work.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1969

Runtime: 2Hours 8Minutes

Rated M (Brief Nudity)

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video