Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Uneasy Riders

Over on the Shocklines blogsite horror and dark suspense writers and readers have been discussing western fiction for the past three days. Here are my contributions of the seventy-two hours starting off with my response to the news that 3:10 Yuma (a fine Elmore Leonard story) with Glen Ford is going to be remade:
I'm with David Bell. I'm leery of remakes on principle. While not a perfect picture, 3:10 for me was a solid good one. I always remember the two worst remakes I've seen--worst for me because the originals were in my all-time top ten best--Night and the City and Cape Fear. DeNiro went a long way to spoiling both of them by chewing the scenery and Martin Scorcese arrogantly or stupidly chose to disregard the themes and tone that made the originals so memorable. I don't hold out much hope for 3:10. The new filmmakers in Hwood understand how to make pretty pictures but few of them seem to understand how to tell a story or get beyond stereotypes in character. Other than that I think the picture will be hunky-dory.
Hey, great, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. Any movie that begins with a guy picking crabs out of his boxers has just gotta be good. I remember back then dragging various people to see it. They tried to have me put in some time on the violent ward for awhile. But time's vindicated ole Sam. It's one hell of a good strange beautiful true movie.
Since we're recommending westerns I'd like to push "The Silence" a spaghetti western based on a true story. If you don't expect American production values and you don't get seasick watching all the zooms in and out (this was the seventies, remember how we'd start in Chicago and fast zoom all the way into New York City?) it is for me (and not for everybody admittedly) one of the grittiest grimmest most powerful films I've ever seen. Klaus Kinski is sort of the ultimate villain in this one.
Among the best American westerns ever made are those done quickly and inexpensively by director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott in the mid-to-late 1950s. These are among the most celebrated in film history and deservedly so. My favorite is 7 Men From Now because of the ironic relatsionhip between Scott and Lee Marvin. John Wayne owned some of the scripts and was scheduled to star in them but was too busy with his A movies to do Bs so he handed them off to Scott and Boetticher. There aren't any other westerns quite like them. Here's the list written by somebody for a festival:

7 MEN FROM NOW, 1956, Batjac Prod., 78 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. The first of the Randolph Scott Westerns (and Budd’s personal favorite of all his movies), the legendary 7 MEN FROM NOW was long thought to be a lost film – until it was recently restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, with the cooperation of producer John Wayne’s son, Michael. And what a rediscovery it is: Scott stars as a tight-lipped sheriff relentlessly hunting the men who killed his wife, while fending off distractions from lovely Gail Russell and loquacious bandido Lee Marvin.

THE TALL T, 1957, Columbia, 78 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. Tense, sexually ambiguous story of rancher Randolph Scott kidnapped by killer Richard Boone (in a career-making performance) and his gun-happy henchmen. Brilliantly scripted by Burt Kennedy (based on an Elmore Leonard story), THE TALL T switches effortlessly from folksy humor to tragic violence, leaving the viewer literally breathless. "In every one of the Scott pictures, I felt I could have traded Randy’s part with the villain’s." – Budd Boetticher. With Henry Silva, Maureen O’Sullivan.

DECISION AT SUNDOWN, 1957, Columbia, 77 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. The most atypical of the Ranown Westerns, the morally complex DECISION finds Randolph Scott hunting for the man responsible for his wife’s suicide, but realizing he himself may be at fault. Co-starring Karen Steele, Noah Beery.

BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE, 1958, Columbia, 78 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. Scott stars as a former mercenary, carrying $2,000 in blood money, trapped in a border town by a corrupt family. Everyone is willing to trade a dead man’s honor for hard cash in this almost comically remorseless Western. With Craig Stevens, L.Q. Jones.

RIDE LONESOME, 1959, Columbia, 73 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. Complex, poetic revenge tragedy starring Randolph Scott as a sheriff-turned bounty hunter, using a young desperado to flush out his murderous older brother. Scott’s final act of absolution at the hanging tree ranks with John Wayne’s last moments in THE SEARCHERS. With Pernell Roberts, James Coburn.

COMANCHE STATION, 1960, Columbia, 74 min. Dir. Budd Boetticher. In the last of the Ranown cycle, Scott buys a white woman back from the Indians, hoping to find his wife. Instead, he finds himself locked in a lethal struggle with a bounty hunter (Claude Akins) to return the woman to her husband for a large reward.

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