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|Index||57 reviews in total|
Henry Hathaway was a versatile director whose Westerns have been as
variable in quality as his other films...
Hathaway's best Westerns have all come in the fifties, beginning with the very credible 'Rawhide,' with Tyrone Power, and continuing with 'Garden of Evil,' the highly enjoyable burlesque 'North to Alaska,' most of 'How the West Was Won,' 'The Sons of Katie Elder,' 'Five Card Stud,' and 'True Grit.'
Hathaway's strong points are atmosphere, character and authentic locations... The little known 'From Hell to Texas' is quoted by those who have seen it as Hathaway's best Western on these three counts, a film directed with profound feeling for the deliberate pace and loneliness of the real West...
'Nevada Smith' is actually a strong and revealing study of the regeneration of one man... The film makes an excellent double bill with Marlon Brando's sole effort as director, 'One-Eyed Jacks.'
'Nevada Smith' is an exciting premise, taught and tight... It is not a motion picture to dismiss or forget... It is one of the first films to apply the contemporary standards of sex and violence to an Old West setting... The film is based on a story by John Michael Hayes, two-time Academy Award nominated screenwriter for 'Rear Window,' and 'Peyton Place.'
The film lingers in the mind because of its visual beauty and the intensity of some of its scenes, particularly between McQueen and Malden, two knowing actors playing together with the skill of champion chess players...
Hathaway sets up his atmosphere of dramatic tension right at the start... With a horse, a rifle, and 8 dollars, McQueen is a half-white teen-aged whose only desire is to hunt down his parents vicious killers... All helpless, he vows to dispatch the three 'bravados' one by one... He even gets himself thrown into prison just to gun one of them down...
With the help of a gun merchant (Brian Keith), McQueen learns how to shoot a gun and sets out the chase where the money is... He rides off alone, blinded by a compulsion that obscures his other motive for living: 'I don't see nothing, except my father laying on a covered-floor all burnt and cut with the top of his head blown to pieces, and my mother split up in the middle and every square inch of her skin ripped off.'
Steve McQueen recreates the type of role he had played in 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.' He is effective in his hesitant, self-conscious way, eager to be a firm gunfighter and almost as inept... He has little more sense of character than Ladd in Edward Dmytryk's 'The Carpetbaggers' but has a tension which made the film interesting to watch...
Brian Keith is excellent as the father figure who adopts McQueen... He is sincere in warning the young avenger that in order to catch and kill these men, he will have to comb out every saloon, gambling hall, hog farm and whorehouse, and become just as despicable as they are... Keith comes out a star with his quiet, sure, graceful underplaying... As he instructs McQueen, it was clear that he knows not only his guns but human nature..
Suzanne Pleshette, standing knee deep in water, is the pretty girl, able to escape from the terrors of her environment into the poetry of her reveries... Both a sinner and a saint, Pilar adds humanity to Max world...
With a knife in his hand, and a scar on his neck, Martin Landau is the psychotic womanizer, a morose, evil character, caught in Abelene dealing cards in a saloon...
Arthur Kennedy - friendly, smiling, charming and smooth-talking on the surface, weak and corrupt underneath - is the frightened villain swamped by a storm of revenge...
Karl Malden is the cynical badman who depreciates his gold before his executioner...
Raf Vallone is the good priest who wants his young avenging hunter to take a deep look into his heart...
Pat Hingle is the prisoner in custody with gun and whip, who takes great pleasure and delight in breaking his companions by beating them up...
Howard da Silva is the ruthless warden who assures his prisoners that the swamp is their wall... Miles and miles of it, filled of dirty water, quicksand, razorbacks, poison snakes, mosquitoes and malaria...
Janet Margolin is the dance hall girl uncertain of the identity of one of the dangerous murderers...
Joanna Cook Moore is the grateful saloon girl who offers herself to Max...
Rick Roman is Cipriano, the bandit who warns seriously his companion not to harm Father Zaccardi...
Ted de Corsia is the bartender who wants the two contenders to calm down in order to find out the truth..
The expertise before the cameras and behind it, plus McQueen's dynamic presence, makes 'Nevada Smith' a respectable entry in the annals of the best Westerns...
This was a western with a good cast and another intense, interesting
revenge story. It's fairly long at 130 minutes but Steve McQueen is
usually charismatic enough to carry a film, and he does so here, too.
As the title character, "Nevada Smith," McQueen is joined by a number of well- known actors of the 1960s: Suzanne Pleshette, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Arthur Kennedy, Raf Vallone, Martin Landau Janet Margolin and Pat Hingle.
McQueen plays a man who is totally dominated by thoughts of revenge. It motivates his every move. I don't recommend that attitude, but it makes for a good movie.
It was nice to see this in 2:35:1 widescreen. Even though I owned a new tape, that nice western photography made the DVD purchase worthwhile.
The problem with any Steve McQueen western is that none measure up to
The Magnificent Seven, his best cowboy role and one of the best
westerns of all time.
Nevada Smith is not a perfect screenplay but it is nonetheless entertaining. It is the tale of a young boy who seeks revenge on three men who viciously tortured and murdered his parents. It has a predictable plot and some directorial flaws, but overall it meets the criteria for a good film; it is entertaining.
At age 36, McQueen is a bit hard to believe as a 'kid'. The story obviously spans many years in Max Sand's life and if the writers had played this up more McQueen's age would not have mattered. Even showing Max and Alex Chord in a winter setting followed by spring, something to show an extensive passage of time would have helped make McQueen's age more fitting (if he'd lost weight prior to filming it would also have helped). More emphasis should have been placed on his progression from illiterate, green half-breed to savvy gun slinger. The passage of time while he learned to read, use firearms, kill his first victim and recover from wounds at the Indian village, should all have been used more extensively to make Max Sand age into the character portrayed by McQueen.
But regardless of McQueen's actual age, by the time Max kills the first of the three men he is tracking and then gets himself thrown into a Louisiana prison to find another one, his character's age and looks are believable.
A superb cast of supporting actors backs up McQueen. Brian Keith is the perfect father figure who takes Max in and teaches him to use firearms and tells him about life and how to find the men who killed his parents. Suzanne Pleshette cannot be made to look bad no matter how hard the make up department tries. Even dirty and sweaty in the swamp, her natural beauty and class shine. These traits and her unique voice and soft movements steal any scene she is in. She almost upstages McQueen. Martin Landau, Arthur Kennedy and Karl Malden are as bad as any movie villains I ever saw.
POSSIBLE SPOILER: In the end, Max does the right thing. He purges his hate and embraces the bigger meaning of life. He doesn't forgive the murderers; he just elevates himself above them. He doesn't kill Fitch, instead after wounding him severely he walks away from a life of violence. For some reason, I believe he returns to the Indian tribe of his birth and to Neesa, the Indian woman who truly loves him. In any case, ultimately the film works.
This sidebar story from Harold Robbins THE CARPETBAGGERS was given class treatment by Paramount as a vehicle for McQueen, who lends some authenticity to a rather routine character motivated by a quest to avenge the brutal slaying of his parents at the beginning of the picture. Henry Hathaway lends visual elegance to what's basically a drawn-out, seedy revenge tale. Alfred Newman provides the rousing music. Moderately engaging.
Two things stand out in a positive way in this rather grim, overblown
revenge western: Cinematographer Lucien Ballard and Brian Keith in a
winning, low-key supporting role. Otherwise it's one of those films
that leaves you thinking about what might have been.
Steve McQueen stars as Max Sand, teenaged son of a white man and a Kiowa woman who sets out to revenge his parents' murders at the hands of three bad men in search of gold. The killers prove hard to find. On his search for revenge, Max meets up with an assortment of people that testify to the broader possibilities of life, but he can't shake the determination to inflict vengeance - whoever suffers.
It's a good concept for a story, maybe not a new one in 1966, but still worthy of in-depth treatment. But McQueen is all wrong for the main part, too old and unbelievable as a half-breed, and much of the action that takes place is highly contrived. Director Henry Hathaway and writer John Michael Hayes, working from a concept developed around a character featured in the novel and later film "The Carpetbaggers", toy with the question about whether Max's quest to settle scores is a bad thing in itself, but never develop it.
"You're a dirty low animal!" Max is told at one point by a woman who he misled in order to confront one of his parents' killers. But even when he lets innocent people die so he can make a beeline for the worst of the bad guys, Tom Fitch (Karl Malden), the film doesn't bother to suggest Max as anything other than a noble avenger. Perhaps McQueen didn't want to play a Western anti-hero. Too bad he didn't wait a few months - Clint Eastwood would have shown him how it's done.
There are a lot of problems with "Nevada Smith", but the big one I suspect - with no secondary info to back me up - was that it was conceived and largely shot as a roadshow western, then got scaled down as the producers realized they didn't have "Lawrence of Nevada" on their hands. Weird go-nowhere scenes chew time, like Max buying a can of peaches and having an inane conversation with a chuckling storekeeper, but you also get abrupt story shifts. One second Max is sitting helpless in a Louisiana swamp; the next he's leaning on a corral fence hundreds of miles away.
The film is constructed in three parts, one for each killer, but there's no reason any of them should run longer than 20 minutes. Instead, the whole film runs over two hours.
As a McQueen fan, it's distressing seeing him pressing so hard, overemoting when he confronts one of the other killers, played by Martin Landau: "Jesse Coward! Jesse Murderer! Jesse Woman Killer!" McQueen didn't scream well on camera. He also hooks up with two different women, Janet Margolin as a Kiowa maiden and Suzanne Pleshette as a Cajun laborer, neither of whom are remotely believable in underwritten roles and seem sops to McQueen's growing female fanbase.
At least there's some good moments amid the chaff, like a sequence where McQueen beats the stuffing out of a cowhand to win an amused Fitch's respect. Lucien Ballard's full-screen compositions show why he was the lensman for so many classic 1960s westerns, including Hathaway's later "True Grit". And Brian Keith as Jonas Cord, a gun dealer who befriends Sand, steals every scene he's in with gentle digs and sighs that reminds one of how terrifically Hathaway used John Wayne in "Grit": "You don't drink? Where you're going' you better study up!"
But when Keith's not on screen, "Nevada Smith" is no fun to sit through. It's an odd western, overbaked but underdeveloped, lacking the courage of whatever passes for its convictions. "You're yella! Ya haven't got the guts!" is the last line we hear before the credits roll...sadly appropriate.
What makes this movie so much better than most westerns is the cast. Every speaking part is handled by a true professional and although the story line has been much used over the years, everyone should view this movie to enjoy one great performance after another. Steve McQueen, Brian Keith, Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy, Susan Pleshette, John Doucette, you just don't get a finer cast than that. This is a must see for all serious film buffs. I rated this an 8.
What I think is the biggest problem with Nevada Smith is casting a 40 year old blond with blue eyes to play a 16 year old half Native American. It is distracting throughout the whole story. Sometimes it is even ludicrous because a couple of times people seem to recognize on sight that he is Native American. Couldn't they have at least dyed his hair black and give him some contact lenses for Pete's sake? And what was supposed to be a sweet "coming of age" scene with the young Native American girl just looked WRONG. Steve McQueen was a good actor and all, but throughout the whole movie I was using my imagination replacing him with a young Bronson or someone a little more appropriate to the character he was playing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Good scenery, great cinematography and good music score do not a movie make. Good plot, but executed in a strange way. STEVE MCQUEEN is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH to old for the role. He also kind of "sleep walks" thru this. Maybe he didn't have much faith in the script. SUZANNE PLESCHETTE is wasted in a nothing role. In fact she's totally miss cast. The three villains score my vote for good performances. An uncredited JOANNA MOORE has a nice bit in a hotel room with MCQUEEN. Picture could have used more of her. SPOILER ALERT: Now for the worse part. How did MCQUEEN get out of the swamp and get out of his prison chains and end up in California with no one noticing??? A real plot hole here unless there was a giant cut in the final edit. If so, that was DUMB. Picture was OK until that point, and what follows is pretty bad. Again maybe to jagged editing. Nothing makes much sense. Too bad as NEVADA SMITH has the makings of a good film.
Though there isn't much here that you haven't seen before in a western
revenge drama, it's pretty well done. You can understand why the protagonist
turns away at any chance of a normal life and instead concentrates on
nothing but revenge. And it is undeniably satisfying to see him enact his
revenge any chance he gets.
It's good for what it is, though there are some problems, that if tweaked, could have made the movie even better. For one thing, casting McQueen as a half-Indian? And casting this mid-30s actor as a character that's supposed to be young enough to be called "Kid"!?!? Plus, the escape from the swamp doesn't seem finished; in fact, with the short sequence where one of McQueen's pursuers commenting on the bullets he has left makes me believe that several minutes were edited out before the movie was released.
Henry Hathaway directs this successful, but lumpy, wayward western-drama scripted by John Michael Hayes, featuring a title character originally introduced in Harold Robbins' book "The Carpetbaggers" (making this film a prequel of sorts). Steve McQueen is the young half-breed avenging the deaths of his parents by heartless cowboys Karl Malden and Arthur Kennedy; Brian Keith plays a mentoring, sympathetic gun-salesman who teaches Steve how to shoot; Suzanne Pleshette is a love-interest from the backwoods. Overripe scenario gets big boost from charismatic McQueen, excellent as usual. The supporting work from the men is also strong, though attractive Pleshette hasn't gotten a handle on her role and remains a puzzlement. The story strays all over the place, but Hathaway's pacing never drags and it's quite a good show for both western-buffs and soap fans. **1/2 from ****
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