|Page 1 of 3:||  |
|Index||30 reviews in total|
In southern California at the start of the twentieth century, a young
indian man gets into a violent dispute over a girl. This triggers a
Director Abraham Polonsky was making his comeback to mainstream cinema with this film, eighteen years after being blacklisted by the UnAmerican Activities Committee. He also wrote this screenplay, which strikes a defiant note in favour of the lone hero against the forces of intolerance and repression. It is not too fanciful to see the indians, with their alternative sensibility and distinct code of values, as a metaphor for artists and free thinkers. Minorities are always in danger, suggests the film, from the urge to hound and victimise manifested by some elements in society.
Polonsky skilfully uses the camera to tell his story. We follow the complex movements of the various characters around the fiesta fairground without the need for spoken dialogue. The silent meeting of Coop and Willie tells us everything about these two men, and their mutual rivalry and respect.
The wonderful topography of the Mojave Desert is superbly captured in Panavision. In particular, the showdown on Ruby Mountain offers some gorgeous images. The film's four leads are excellent: Robert Redford is a wise and humane Coop, the sherriff obliged to lead the inappropriate manhunt: Robert Blake is perfect as the nihilistic, elemental Willie: Doctor Elizabeth Arnold is played by Susan Clark, developing nicely the ambivolence of a woman who needs Coop sexually but despises herself for it: Katharine Ross is the spry, athletic Lola, the young indian girl who becomes Willie's 'wife by capture'.
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
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.
This under-rated gem of an anti-Western deserved much better than it got.
Abrahom Polonsky's return to film-making was swept under the carpet, as are
so many heartfelt, thoughtful films (even in 1969). Robert Blake, with the
exception of In Cold Blood and Electra Glide in Blue was never more
determined or intense as Willie. Redford gives a subtle and layered
performance. Katharine Ross is gorgeous but doesn't look like a Native
American (her eyes are bluer than Paul Newman's).
An 8 out of 10. Best performance = Robert Blake with able support from Barry Sullivan, Susan Clark, and Charles McGraw. I'm sure this flick must have it's own cult following by now. If not, it should.
This lesser known Redford film has been recently, exploitively unearthed in the wake of co-star Blake's real-life arrest and trial for murder. Blake plays a Peyote Indian in 1909 who kills in self defense and is tracked all over the desert by a small posse led by sheriff Redford. Notable as the return to directing by a man who was blacklisted for 18 years prior, it has strong social commentary and the characters really represent aspects of a more contemporary society (namely the one that went on a Communist witch-hunt in the 1950's!) The film, though the plot line is fairly straightforward, isn't always easy to understand because many of the characters' traits and motivations are blurry. No one in the entire film, except possibly Lipton, is a sympathetic character. Everyone is either violent or stupid or manipulative or a combination of the three. There is some degree of suspense and tension in the film, but it doesn't really come off as wholly successful. Redford is an anti-hero, this time on the side of the law after previously playing a fugitive himself in "The Chase". Blake is a highly troubled soul who can't fit in to either the world of the reservations or white man. As his love interest, Ross is hilarious. With her anachronistic hair and slathered on redface make-up, she is the least likely Indian imaginable unless they had put Mamie Van Doren in the role. Why they bothered to cast her and give her second billing is a mystery anyway because one can not see her face in this movie!!!!!! Her hair in CONSTANTLY over half her face, she is photographed through brush and tall grass, behind hanging clothing, with wet hair all over her forehead and eyes, head hanging down, etc...to the point of hilarity. Clark's character is very enigmatic...sharing a lust/hate relationship with Redford. They strike some interesting notes, but their story isn't fleshed out properly. This is worth checking out for the occasional tension, the cat and mouse aspects of the chase and for it's camp value concerning the Indian characters, but the overall impact is not what was intended.
I consider Robert Blake's performance in this movie to be one of his
best, and this comes from someone who has always thought he was a fine
actor. Robert Redford, too, shines here as the sheriff, and almost all
the supporting cast keeps up with the two male leads.
Blake's character is a Paiute Indian who is the object of a manhunt which is sensationalized by the press because of its concurrence with a visit by President Taft. The sheriff is pressured into hunting down the Indian and the girl he loves but whose father has forbidden the match.
It's a good solid early-1900s Western with much better-than-average acting. But it's not so much an action film as it is a character study -- of Blake's character and, to a lesser degree, Redford's. It brings to life the racism and exploitation that white Europeans brought with them to America.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was one of the westerns made in the 1960s and 1970s, including
Ford's CHEYENNE AUTUMN and LITTLE BIG MAN which presented the westward
expansion as the disaster it was to the Native Americans. Ford's film
concentrated to the attempt of an entire tribe to flee to Canada to
avoid being cooped up on a reservation. LITTLE BIG MAN looked at the
long series of insults and thefts suffered by the Native Americans
leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn (their great victory
over the politically ambitious Custer - in this film - and the point
where their doom got sealed). Those films occur in 1876 - 77. TELL THEM
WILLY BOY WAS HERE occurs some three decades later (1909), and shows
the hopelessness of their situation.
The screenplay is not quite even. It is notable that the author of the original novel, Harry Lawton - who died a few weeks ago - was writing the script with director Abraham Polonsky. This may explain the uneven handling. Polonsky, who was a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist, was notable for his radical point of view (best shown in his 1947 John Garfield film FORCE OF EVIL). But he was an expert screenplay writer, and his view of the rights of Native Americans would be similar to those of Lawton. According to Lawton's obituaries he remained committed to Native American rights and culture throughout his life.
Willy Boy (Robert Blake) kills a man who was bigoted and goaded him. He is pursued by a posse led by Robert Redford, which is determined to get the young man because of his background. Redford, a bit more fair minded, wants to just catch him to bring him to trial, but one gets the impression as the film continues how hopeless this hope is. It would be sort of like Henry Fonda being in charge of the lynch mob in THE OX-BOW INCIDENT to try to control their passions (and probably as unsuccessful).
To confuse matters, the killing takes place near an inn that newly elected President William Howard Taft is visiting on a political trip. Taft's presence in the locale makes the newspaper reporters wonder if they are getting the full facts from the sheriff. Why so much intense searching for this Indian? Is it (as they are told) that he killed a local man and he is quite adept at hiding in the deserts of Utah? Or, is he part of a massive conspiracy of Indians planning to kill Taft? To us, knowing the actual incident, it seems ridiculous, but keep in mind that since 1865 three U.S. Presidents were assassinated for political reasons, the last (McKinley) in 1901. Also, while thirty three years since Little Big Horn, and nineteen since Wounded Knee, the possibility of an Indian uprising was not hard to dismiss (the great chief Geronimo died in 1905, shortly after attending Theodore Roosevelt's inauguration - we were that close in time to the period when he was on the warpath).
The film goes to it's tragic conclusion - a long, hard chase to the death of a representative of a defeated people. But the final victory is Blake's. In the end Willy Boy becomes the legend of the Native American who would not surrender.
Beautifully filmed, the movie creates the same edge-of-your-seat
tension to see the outcome as the book by Harry Lawton, and, indeed,
the real events must have engendered.
Too bad Hollywood once again played with the truth. While much of the film appears to fairly closely follow history, with a few excusable abbreviations, two crucial incidents and Redford's character are Hollywood inventions. They add to the drama and mystery of the sad story, but considering most people know only the history they see on film, it's a shame to see the truth corrupted.
Blake is outstanding. Redford is uncomfortable trying on the cowboy persona at that early stage. Ross is completely unbelievable as an Indian.
The movie captures the essence of this turn-of-the-last-century western environment transitioning from horse & buggy to automobile, from cowboy to urbanite, from the remaining blend of Indian autonomy side-by-side with encroaching white man encroachment and ultimate domination.
The fact that it took several posses of 75+ men on horse, with supplies, days and nights of tracking to catch up with one Indian on foot without more than a rifle, a few shells and only what food he could scrounge, speaks volumes for the Indian-vs-white fight for survival and the tactics used.
Quietly intense, the movie is dramatic, captivating, and over-ridingly sad at the unavoidable outcome of the decidedly unbalanced "battle."
TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE has top-notch color photography by Conrad
Hall, a thinking man's script that is character driven, and good
performances all around by a cast that includes ROBERT REDFORD, ROBERT
BLAKE, SUSAN CLARK, BARRY SULLIVAN and KATHARINE ROSS. But it's a
lumbering tale that takes a good hour before the dust begins to settle
and we get some action along with the character development of both
Blake and Redford.
Every scene is painfully slow in getting to the payoff so that the film seems a lot longer than one hour and thirty-six minutes. The first hour is devoted to the manhunt for an Indian killer (Blake) and then the plot involves the arrival of President Taft in 1909 California and the effort to protect him from any kind of assassination attempt.
Redford's role as the reluctant sheriff is never too clear since he's a man of a very few words (a regular Gary Cooper type), so it's up to Blake to carry much of the film and he does. He's terrific as the Indian lad who's trigger happy when the posse starts getting too close.
The last twenty minutes should have been a model of suspense as they close in on Willie Boy, but it's allowed to drag out interminably.
Summing up: Character driven tale had the potential to be a fine western, but badly paced direction of Abraham Polonsky is no help nor is the sluggish script. Film was released after BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID put Redford on the map but was never a big box-office success.
An excellent, small, telling film, ahead of it's time. Well acted and directed, a taste too of turn of the century Southern California, with mention of Riverside, Morongo, Victorville, San Bernadino, etc. Blake is excellent and Redford is rough and empathetic. The final scene between the two of them has several solid images and powerfully evokes the situation and the environment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
this movie let me down. the beginning credits were great as we see Robert Blake, as an Indian named Willy Boy, walking into a small town. the setting is the West as this is a Western and there is prejudice against Indians and Blake plays the part of a disliked rogue unliked by the white man "baddies" in a laid back natural confident air. and after he, Blake, is accused of a murder and is on the run, chased by the "good cop" played by Robert Redford with a meaner posse in tow, we don't get enough of Willy Boy's plight. the film centers more on Redford's love story and it's quite a bore - and common. then when we do follow Blake he has his girlfriend (or wife) with him (played by Katherine Ross who DOESN'T look at all Indian), who's also a Native American, and it brings the whole chase down to a slow moving snail's pace, for now we are dealing with Redford's relationship with Susan George and Blake's relationship with Kathrine Ross instead of centering on a pre-FIRST BLOOD like mountain chase. this movie was okay i guess, but could have been much, much better. there should have been way more Willy Boy... for as some of us know, Robert Blake is a GREAT actor (IN COLD BLOOD, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, BLOOD FEUD) and very underrated, and this would have been a better film had it been Blake's, not Redford's. Robert Redford is a good actor but we have plenty of films with him as the centerpointe. and since the movie is named after Willy Boy, well... I think you get my point!
|Page 1 of 3:||  |
|External reviews||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|