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Posts Tagged ‘western’

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If ever there was a director who polarised audiences, it’s Quentin Tarantino. Some people love his gratuitous swearing and gore, while others detest it. I fall in the former camp – I’ve never seen a Tarantino film I didn’t like, and I think it’s because whatever you think of the visceral way he tell his stories, they are brilliant stories, which I always find myself getting drawn into.

This particular film is set just after the American Civil War. Racist attitudes are rife, crime is high, and life is tough out in the wild West where most of the characters come from. But don’t be fooled – after the opening scenes, showing the journey of some of the characters to Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they seek shelter from a particularly nasty blizzard, all of the action takes place in just one room. It’s a form of storytelling that I particularly enjoy…one location, shot in almost real time.

Anyway the story…the hateful eight of the title consist of John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter known as the hangman who is bringing his latest quarry Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Lee) to the town of Red Rock. He is hoping to claim the $10,000 bounty which has been put on her head; After Daisy herself, there is Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) a former Confederate Soldier who is bringing his own bounty to Red Rock for a reward, but unlike Daisy, the two men he captured are dead; Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the racist new Sheriff of Red Rock, travelling there to start his new job on the right side of the law; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) a hangman at Red Rock, who informs Daisy that when she hangs for her crimes, he will be the man at the other end of the rope; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) a loner cowboy who is heading to see his mother for Christmas; General Smiths (Bruce Dern) a older racist who has come to pay his respects to his long-lost-son; and Bob (Demian Bichir) a man who is in charge of Minnie’s Haberdashery in the owner’s absence. Trapped with them is O.B. (James Parks) who was driving the stagecoach which brought some of the characters to their refuge.

Before long, tensions rise between the characters, many of whom were on opposite sides in the Civil War, and then it becomes apparent that some of the people may be there for an ulterior motive.

I’m not going to say any more about the plot – I went in with a limited knowledge of the storyline and this helped my enjoyment massively. What I will say is that yes, the film is extremely violent and bloody – there’s a lot of swearing and offensive language as well, but it’s also incredibly well told, beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted. Standout performances for me were from Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth and the always wonderful and criminally under-recognised Walton Goggins. Jennifer Jason Leigh was also fascinatingly revolting.

So…if you are squeamish or object to foul language, this may not be the film for you. But if you have previously enjoyed Tarantino, and like dark comedy, definitely give it a try. It’s almost three hours long, but doesn’t feel like it. I loved it and will certainly be watching this again in the future.

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Year of release: 2015

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Main cast: Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Lee, Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Birchi, James Parks

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In this incredibly charming film set in colonial America, William Holden plays David Harvey, a widower who marries a servant girl named Rachel (Loretta Young), so that his son Davey will have a mother figure, and so that she can keep their cabin clean and tidy, provide meals, etc.  It is a marriage of convenience, but when David’s friend Jim (Robert Mitchum) comes to visit and shows an interest in Rachel, David comes to realise what she really means to him.

I only watched this film because it starred two of my favourite actors – William Holden and Robert Mitchum – and what a lucky lucky girl Rachel was to get to choose between the two! However, I was pleasantly surprised, because this is an absolute gem of a movie!  The always excellent Holden perfectly captures the sadness that David feels after the loss of his beloved wife, and Young is great as the woman who feels unwanted, save for the chores she does.  Mitchum is also wonderful as David’s easy-come easy-go friend.  Rounding out the main cast is child actor Gary Gray as little Davey.

The story is gentle and sweet, with some surprising moments of humour, and one of the funniest fight scenes I have ever seen!  It held my attention throughout and I really liked all of the characters.

This film doesn’t seem to get many outings on television, but I would urge anyone to try and catch it if they can.  It is really rather lovely, and I highly recommend it.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Norman Foster

Producers: Jack J. Gross, Richard H. Berger

Writers: Howard Fast (story ‘Rachel’), Waldo Salt

Main cast: William Holden, Loretta Young, Robert Mitchum, Gary Gray

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In this Western, Paul Newman plays John Russell, a man raised by Native Americans. On a stagecoach journey, his fellow passengers shun him because of his life with the Native Americans, but when the stagecoach is robbed by a group of outlaws, the passengers realise that their only chance of survival lies with John…

I’m not really a fan of Westerns, and probably wouldn’t have watched this one, if it wasn’t for the fact that Paul Newman is in it, and also that it is considered one of his great films. Anyway, I’m glad I watched it (and would like the chance to watch it again in the future).

Newman plays the moody, broody and reticent John Russell perfectly; I think he was made for this kind of part. Not only is he alienated by other people, but he also seems to want to alienate himself from them. He is not necessarily a nasty man, but he is certainly not your typical hero, and the question remains over whether he will risk his own neck to help others save theirs.

The supporting cast are all excellent too, particularly Richard Boone, who plays the ringleader of the outlaws, and Frederic March, who plays one of the stagecoach passengers.

The film is beautifully photographed, showing off the beautiful but unforgiving land where the passengers find themselves at the mercy of the elements, as well as the band of criminals who are determined to stop at nothing to get their hands on the money which they know is in the coach.

As someone who would never list Westerns as a favourite genre, this film was a pleasant surprise, and one I would definitely recommend.

Year of release: 1967

Director: Martin Ritt

Producers: Irving Ravetch, Martin Ritt

Writers: Elmore Leonard (novel), Harriet Frank Jr., Irving Ravetch, Diane Cilento, Barbard Rush, Martin Balsam

Main cast: Paul Newman, Frederic March, Richard Boone,

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This film, set in the Northwest American states, features Robert Mitchum as widower Matt Calder, newly released from prison and hoping to live a quiet life on his farm, with his young son Mark. Gambler Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun) and his girlfriend Kay (Marilyn Monroe) arrive at the farm, racing to get to the nearest town so that Harry can register his claim to some land which he won in a poker game. When Calder refuses to let Harry take his only rifle and his horse, Harry steals and leaves Kay behind with Matt and Mark. Unable to defend themselves against an impending attack by Native Americans, Matt, Mark and Kay are forced to take a dangerous journey down the river, on the raft that Harry left behind. Hostile territory, the ever-present threat of ambush, and a clash of personalities guarantee that this will not be an easy journey…

Considering that this film stars two movie greats – Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum – one might wonder why it is not better known. I suspect that it’s because it isn’t anywhere near the best film from either star. I’m personally in two minds about this film, and would compare it to eating cheap chocolate – you know that it’s not really very good, but you can’t help enjoying it all the same! Because that’s the thing about this movie…despite the hokey storyline, Marilyn’s less than stellar performance, and some very dodgy stereotyping of Native Americans, it is still quite an enjoyable movie. And while it’s not a great performance from Marilyn, it is interesting to see her playing (somewhat) against type. She may be a bar room singer, but she doesn’t play the whole dumb blonde thing here – instead, she’s a resourceful, feisty woman. Robert Mitchum meanwhile, is fine in his role, which is no more than you would expect. Rory Calhoun plays only a small part as Harry Weston, but he makes the most of it, and young Tommy Rettiq is impressive as Mark Calder.

The making of this film was not without its problems. Monroe and director Otto Preminger fell out during filming, and would only communicate through Mitchum (who had originally met Monroe back when she was Norma Jean Baker). Mitchum meanwhile was arrested for Marijuana possession during the filming of the movie (perhaps he needed it because of his role as go-between!)

All in all then, this is certainly not a memorable film, and if you want to watch either Mitchum or Monroe, then there are better films to see either of them in. However, it’s entertaining in its own way, and an enjoyable enough way to fill an hour and a half.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Otto Preminger, Jean Negulesco

Writers: Frank Fenton, Louis Lantz

Main cast: Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Tommy Rettiq, Rory Calhoun

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This Western is loosely based on a real story.  Gregory Peck plays notorious gunslinger  Jimmy Ringo, who is tired of the life and has come to Cayenne in the hope of reuniting with his estranged wife, and the young son who has never known him.  However, Jimmy’s reputation has preceded him, and there are plenty of young men willing to risk a showdown with Jimmy in order to make a name for themselves.  The woman of the town object to him even being there at all and call upon the Marshal to remove Jimmy, and on top of all that, three vengeful cowboys from a town that Jimmy has just left are hot on his trail.

This film was more enjoyable than I had expected; the only reason I watched it was because Gregory Peck was in it, but I ended up enjoying the story.  Peck is perfect as the weary and cynical Jimmy, who isn’t allowed to forget his former life, as much as he would like to.  He’s gorgeous as always – even with his moustache!  Millard Mitchell was also great as the sympathetic Marshal Mark Street, who has known Jimmy for years.

The whole thing has a moody and somewhat sombre atmosphere, although there was a very amusing scene in the Marshal’s office, when the ladies in the town come down to demand that he removes Ringo.

Far more than a shoot-em-up Western, this is an intelligent and worthwhile examination of a man trying to change the direction of his life.

Year of release: 1950

Director: Henry King

Writers: William Bowers, William Sellers, Andre De Toth, Nunnally Johnson

Main cast: Gregory Peck, Helen Westcott, Millard Mitchell, Jean Parker

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Gregory Peck heads up the cast of this terrific Western (‘terrific’ and ‘Western’ being two words I rarely use in the same sentence).  He plays Jim Douglas, a man who comes to the sleepy town of Rio Arriba, to witness the hanging of the four men who he believes raped and murdered his wife.  However, the night before the hanging, the four men escape and the townsmen ask Jim for his help in getting them back.

I’m not a big fan of Westerns, but I am a big fan of Gregory Peck, which is the reason I watched this movie – and I’m so glad that I did.  It has everything, a suspenseful storyline, a great main character, and a fabulous actor playing him.  This is really Peck’s movie – despite the star billing of Joan Collins (playing Josefa, an old flame of Jim’s), the rest of the cast are really supporting actors.  And Peck plays the brooding, obsessed man to perfection.  He really does have (as one of the criminals notes) the eyes of a hunter, and it’s clear that his desire to see these men dead has completely overwhelmed him.

There’s also an underlying debate in the storyline – when people use the excuse of justice to justify revenge, are they not lowering themselves to the level of those they judge?  For the most part though, this is simply a riveting storyline, with a great actor in the  main role.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Henry King

Writers: Frank O’Rourke (book), Philip Yordan

Main cast: Gregory Peck, Joan Collins

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This is a fun film from 1953, with Doris Day as famous sharpshooter Calamity Jane and Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok.  Calamity promises to bring a big singing star to Deadwood, but through a case of mistaken identity, brings the wrong person.  However, the girl she brings – Katie – turns out to be a hit and stays in Deadwood.  Problems ensue when both the Lieutenant and Wild Bill fall for Katie…

Well, if you’re looking for historical accuracy or to learn more about the real Calamity Jane, this film is not the one to watch!  However, if you’re looking for some uplifting tunes and a great deal of fun, then I’d recommend watching it.  Doris Day is as gorgeous as ever in the lead role, and even though none of the men in Deadwood see Calamity as anything other than one of the guys, it’s impossible to cover up Doris’s beauty to the viewer.  She hams up her part and seems to have a lot of fun with it.  She portrays Calamity as a woman capable of holding her own against any man, but also nursing vulnerabilities that she’s afraid to show.  But apart from her beautiful song ‘Secret Love’, this film does not dwell too much on serious matters and instead just provides pure entertainment.

Howard Keel was great as Wild Bill.  I far preferred his part in this to his role in Kiss Me Kate, and Bill was a great foil to the adorable feisty Calamity.  The two leads have great chemistry together and their duets The Black Hills Of Dakota and I Can Do Without You work very well.  I also really liked the aforementioned Secret Love, and the opening song The Deadwood Stage (Whip Crackaway).

Overall some good laughs, likeable leads, the lovely Doris Day, and a singalong score – definitely worth watching, especially for fans of musicals, or light hearted Westerns.

Year of release: 1953

Director: David Butler

Writer: James O’Hanlon

Main cast: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie, Philip Carey

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Click here for my review of Willenhall Musical Theatre Company’s 2013 stage production.

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