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Based on true events, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, tells the story of one of the last Western manhunts, in 1909. Willie Boy, a Native American, kills his girlfriend's father in self defense, and the two go on the run, pursued by a search posse led by Sheriff Christopher Cooper. Written by
Jon Hertzberg <email@example.com>
Did you see that crazy Calvert go by?
Ate his dust.
When did you get back to Banning, Willie Boy?
Five o'clock freight.
Goin' to the fiesta?
Is that where you're goin', Tom?
Trailin' Mr. Calvert with a tow just in case he breaks down - or breaks his neck.
Well, I guess that's where I'm goin'.
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I guess the cable companies have rediscovered this film in light of Robert Blake's legal woes. And I'm glad they did. It's an extraordinary example of filmmaking. Though not w/o its share of mistakes & weaknesses, they are all honestly come by.
The film covers several genres & comments upon them in interesting ways: it is a Western w. conventional themes (turned upside down & inside out) of Indian savages vs. white civilizers; it is a historical drama that chronicles the rise to power of the industry elites in late 19th century CA. (illustrated in the subplot of Pres. Taft's visit to the Riverside Inn). While this is a Western, it might be better termed an anti Western. Every character (including Blake's Indian) is weak, vacillating & morally changeable, which makes for a wonderfully complex tale.
Blakes dialogue gives us the film's title: "Well, at least they'll know that Willie Boy was here." He says this in responding to Katherine Ross' comment asking why he is willing to keep running, even though the whites will eventually trap & kill him. This scene conveys the film's elegaic tone about the death of the "romantic" West & the rise of the homogenized, white, industrial CA. that would arise in the 20th century. Willie is compelled to stand up for his own individuality even though in actuality few will mourn his passing & even fewer remember that "he was here." But Polonsky, the filmmaker, tells us that someone will indeed remember Willie beyond those tracking him down & exterminating him: Polonsky himself & the viewers of the film. Really cool stuff!
Another powerful layer of history is Abraham Polonsky's involvement. As a Hollywood 10 member, the script seems to comment indirectly on the Hollywood Blacklist era. Blake the hounded Indian is much like the renegades of the Hollywood 10. Willie Boy tries to stand up for the principle of honor & freedom in the face of insurmountable social odds. Yet, he is never seen as a romanticized or one sided character. Even Willie Boy is pig headed, monomaniacal and self-destructive.
I think Blake does a great job in this role. It makes you remember how good he could be in film roles (remember "In Cold Blood?") before "Baretta" came along. And it makes you weep for his recent descent into hell & wonder at what might have been if his life & career had taken diff. turns.
I didn't mind Katherine Ross as much as some viewers. She was much less bothersome & stereotypical than in some of her other roles ("The Graduate" & "Butch Cassidy"). During the film I was actually realizing how much I liked her in her role which surprised me.
I highly recommend this film.
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