|Index||7 reviews in total|
Gary Cooper delivers, with a formidable supporting cast, an excellent performance which struck a cord with audiences who had seen it way back when. Victor Fleming adds life and mobility to the camera that many directors were struggling to find through the cramped constraints of the early talking picture. Fleming knew that disc recording wasn't going to make it in the movies for much longer and decided to use the improved Western Electric sound-on-film system. $425,000 later, it proved a decision he was glad he had made. Mary Brian is gorgeous as the loved but lonely heroine from Vermont, stranded and alone in a world so wide open and unpredictable that Coop's presence (after much deliberation) proves warm and protective. Richard Arlen, who was billed way above Coop in "Wings" (1927) makes a fine supporting character in the role of Steve, a cocky cattle rustler thirsting for adventure in all the wrong places, much different from David Armstrong, the character he portrays in "Wings". This proves his ability to adapt to different roles, which is to me, a film-maker myself, one of the most important qualities an actor can possess. Such is the case of Walter Huston, who doesn't even LOOK or SOUND like Walter Huston here. Of all the actors in the picture, I think his performance is probably the best; his make-up, his voice, his devilish smile make him a formidable adversary for our man Coop. This picture deserves a DVD release for more reasons than I care to list, if only to lend itself to a new generation of an audience. If you happen to find it in any format, I hope you shall agree with me on at least giving it a DVD release.
"The Virginian" is one of the first well-known western "talkies." Released
in 1929 and starring Gary Cooper who later became one of the great heroes
the western genre, this movie contains all of the archetypal elements of
classic western films. There is a lone hero who answers to his own moral
code defined by his environment(the frontier). A "schoolmarm" from out
comes to civilize the West through education, and her values come into
conflict with the hero she falls in love with. And there is a villain who
abides by no moral code, who must be defeated by the hero to uphold his
honor and his values.
The classic representations of good and evil through black and white are used extensively and effectively in this film. Cooper always wears white, the villain(Huston) always wears black. However, the most morally ambiguous character, Cooper's friend Steve, always wears a mixture of the colors, and as he continues down a dark path, his colors become darker and less ambivalent.
This is a pretty good movie, particularly the hanging scene, the shootout at the end, and basically any interaction between Cooper and Huston. What makes the movie even more entertaining and fascinating to watch is its context. This movie is considered to be one of the very first westerns to represent the classic elements of the western genre, and its influence on later westerns is quite clear. For film students and fans of the western genre alike, this is a fun film to watch and thoroughly enjoyable. (Note: very interesting comparisons can be made to later westerns, particularly "Shane" and another Cooper film, "High Noon")
Although I particularly like the 1946 version of this classic western
story with Joel McCrea, this 1929 version of The Virginian has a lot to
recommend it, not the least of which is Gary Cooper in the title role.
From the first silent version of the story that Cecil B. DeMille directed until a 2000 made for television film that starred Bill Pullman as the cowboy who's only known by the state he originally hails from, this is the story that set the standard for the western novel that has come down to this day. Owen Wister (1860-1938) was a classmate and close friend of Theodore Roosevelt and when the book came out in 1902 it was dedicated to the new president who was in his second term of office.
Both Wister and Roosevelt were easterners who had gone west at critical portions of their lives and made careful note of the mores and customs of the people living there. Roosevelt went to the Dakota territory and Wister was in the new state of Wyoming just in time to view the famous Johnson County range war. It certainly was a period where certain folks did make up their own version of the law out in Wyoming and in this Wyoming setting of The Virginian as law and order was usually days if not weeks away, lynching lawbreakers was an accepted if not honored practice.
And that's what happens in The Virginian as Gary Cooper catches old friend Steve played by Richard Arlen rustling cattle of the Box H ranch where he is foreman. It's unfortunate that he did not catch gang leader Trampas played by Walter Huston, but the incident sets the scene for the inevitable western showdown.
There was western literature before The Virginian, popularized by writers like Ned Buntline. They were called 'penny dreadfuls' as a commentary of their cost and worth. Usually they took real western characters and made up these fantastic unreal stories about them. Real western historians in fact are still trying to separate truth from myth about all these people because of these stories.
Wister was a careful chronicler of what he saw and what he saw set the standard for later writers like Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, Luke Short, etc. All the western clichés we've grown to expect in films got their start right here.
The Virginian set the standard in literature and film for a whole genre of entertainment. Any version of the story should not be missed.
I have to admit, the Western genre usually isn't up my alley, but this
one grabbed me when I saw it as a teenager on Christmas break in 1973,
and so when I saw it was for sale on DVD-R I bought a copy. My memories
did not deceive me - it is still a very good Western whose technique is
seemingly unencumbered by the youth of sound technology in 1929.
Some things are rather obvious Western clichés, such as the fact that the hero - The Virginian (Gary Cooper) - is always wearing a white hat and generally a light colored shirt. Trampas (Walter Huston), the villain, is always wearing a black hat and black shirt and has a kind of Yosemite Sam black mustache that is so large and cartoonish that Walter Huston is almost unrecognizable underneath it. Steve (Richard Arlen), the Virginian's friend, starts out wearing gray looking clothing. This indicates Steve is no hero but not an outright villain either - he just longs for some easy money. He wears more and more black as Trampas seduces him with the possible big scores of cattle rustling. Then there's the famous line "Smile when you say that" uttered by the Virginian to Trampas. Many people think that line originated here, but it was used in westerns before this. Among those that still exist there's 1925's "Go West" with Buster Keaton being given this command and who would comply if only his facial muscles would let him.
However, Paramount, the studio that in the early talkie era employed Lubitsch, Chevalier, and Dietrich and made so many sophisticated precodes was also capable of making one of the best of the early sound westerns. The emotions here are real - including the hanging of some rustlers, some who meet their end with courage and others who meet it with cowardice. Those hanging them are without malice - it is just something they have to do or else they'd be overrun by the lawless and starve to death.
Civilized America is symbolized by schoolmarm Molly Stark (Mary Brian), imported from Vermont to teach the pioneers' children and increasingly horrified by the savagery of the place. She just doesn't get that you can't expect some imaginary police force to come to your rescue. The romance between her and the Virginian has many parallels in "High Noon" made 23 years later.
Not to say this one is all serious though, there are plenty of laughs to be had especially in the first half of the film. Especially charming and funny is the scene where Molly and the Virginian discuss Romeo and Juliet with the Virginian giving insight into the soul of a pioneer with his interpretation of the story. Then there's Eugene Palette as a cowpoke. Palette like Cooper had been around during the silent era, but the coming of sound increased their value as performers. I'd recommend this to fans of the early talkie whether Westerns are normally of interest to you are not. This is really a good and interesting film.
"WOW, is this movie ever outdated!", I thought to myself as I started to watch The Virginian. It's weird how the early sound films can seem older than the silent movies made five or ten years before them. But as the movie went on I was genuinely caught up in the story of man's man Gary Cooper romancing schoolteacher Mary Brian while trying to fend off the evil deeds of cattle thief Walter Huston. It's fascinating watching Cooper's best friend Richard Arlen slip into Huston's ring of thieves. Both friends are "wild" and "ornery" but Arlen has less of a sense of himself and his morals and his weakness is his downfall. Talented director Victor Fleming keeps things going despite the technical limitations. *** out of ****
The coming of the talkies is often looked on as a sad time, when silent
stars were washed up, stalwart filmmakers tried and failed to fight the
change, and movies in general became a little awkward. But for every
tragic failure there was a success story, and there were just as many
actors and directors who were able to adapt and even thrive in the new
One such star was Gary Cooper. Coop had been around a while, working his way up from bit parts in the silent era, eventually garnering a few lead roles but not making a huge splash. The Virginian was his third sound picture but it was the one to make him a star. The title role allows him to show off the two main facets of his appeal an assertive (but not uncouth) manliness, and a charming shyness around the opposite sex. However it is the quality of his voice that completes the persona, one of the warmest and most trustworthy voices ever recorded. You would happily follow that voice into battle, or let it talk to your kids. Such is Cooper's effortless demeanour and naturalism, you could believe he is an old pro, and he shows none of the stiltedness associated with early talkie performances.
On the other side of the camera we have director Victor Fleming, a man who has been largely ignored by film historians despite his importance, although thankfully that trend is starting to be reversed. Fleming did not compose the most elegant shots or weave in clever bits of symbolism, but his pictures are almost invariably excellent. His overriding principle seems to have been to never let the audience get bored. It's documented that Fleming coached his actors a fair bit, and it appears the main thrust of his coaching was to make them act at a snappy pace. There are few pauses in a Fleming picture, and sound is particularly useful to him, because we can hear the actors spit their dialogue at each other or punctuate the drama with gunshots and slammed-down whiskeys. Whenever a scene threatens to drag, Fleming literally keeps it moving. For example, when Cooper and co. first meet Mary Brian, the train she is on keeps chugging along, keeping some constant movement in the shot. Whenever the actors stand still, he has a horse or an extra trot past in the background.
But Fleming is wise enough to know when to calm things down, and indeed the more sedate scenes have a greater impact after the usual flurry of action. When Cooper and Brian sit together among the trees, the only movement is the wind gently rustling their clothing, giving a quiet tenderness to the moment without quite allowing things to be completely still. The real highlight is the overwhelmingly poignant hanging scene, composed almost entirely of facial close-ups, highlighting the different emotions. The sequence seems eerily drawn out, but again without the drama slowing to a standstill.
The view of the Old West we get in this version of The Virginian is not quite the romantic evocation of freedom tinged with danger that we normally see in the genre. While the picture does display a kind of moral simplicity (notice for example how all the good guys wear white, and the bad guys black, with the occasional moustache just to clarify) it is an incredibly mature and almost bitter portrayal. Fleming, Cooper and the rest of the cast have really brought out the tragic aspects of Owen Wister's novel, the sense of loss and betrayed friendship. But this is far from a melancholy meditation. They have also given punch and excitement to the presentation, something which works equally well for action sequences like the tense final standoff, as it does for dramatic scenes, such as the verbal showdown between Mary Brian and Helen Ware. You will not be bored for one minute. And who says the talkies were static?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Trampas:"I'd tell you something if I'd wanted you to know you long-legged son of a-" The Virginian:(pulls his gun) "When you say that to me,smile!" Trampas:(smiles) "When there's a gun next to my belly, I...I always smile! Ha, ha, ha, ha!" This is one of the most legendary lines in Western movie history as exchanged between Gary Cooper and Walter Huston (Cecil B. DeMille's 1914 version also has a variation of this dialogue in the intertitles). The story of a ranch foreman who has to hang his best friend Steve for stealing cattle under Trampas and the schoolmarm Molly who loves him is still a compelling story to tell for the early talkie era though it might seem old-fashioned today. There is, however, an interesting exchange between the schoolmarm (Mary Brian) and an old pioneer woman (Helen Ware) about violence vs. pacifism that still seems relevant today no matter if you're conservative or liberal. Cooper is a natural in his talkie debut as is director Victor Fleming with live outdoor filming. Walter Huston is great as the villainous Trampas. There are some interesting musical interludes at the beginning and interesting dialogue between Cooper and Brian about Romeo and Juliet. There's also the amusingly gravelly voiced Eugene Palette as Honey, one of Cooper's friends. If you're a fan of early talkie westerns, by all means seek this one out!
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