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Heaven's Gate (1980)
A Vision of Greatness
I agree with Jack Landman. Twenty years ago I saw a butchered version of Heaven's Gate on a 23 inch TV screen. In retrospect, it was pointless. Despite being a film buff I don't remember if the film was shown on the big screens here in Blighty. Finally, thirty-seven years after its release, I've seen the 217 minutes version on Blu-Ray on a 56 inch Cinemascope TV screen with digital sound. It's a magnificent achievement and I salute the late Cimino for having the guts and persistence to hold out for his personal vision and artistic creation.
I'm not sure where to begin. Yes, there are longeurs, in the roller-skating scenes, for example, and yes, some dialogue is difficult to pick up. Nevertheless, the set design, acting, particularly by Kristofferson, Huppert and Walken, and landscape photography by Vilmos Zsigmond and Cimino's directing are flawless. The film is beautiful, moving, disturbing and sometimes exciting. Cimino makes us care about his characters and shows us something of what frontier life must have been like in the final years of the 19th century. There's a backbone of fact in the grim events of the Johnson County War that makes a reading of contemporary historical accounts essential.
Heaven's Gate is all a great film should be. It has the sweep of David Lean and touches of Sam Peckinpah in the final battle scenes. They rank with those at the end of The Wild Bunch. Praise doesn't come much higher than that!
Apart from a superb performance by Buddy Ebsen and excellent support from cowboy veteran Ben Johnson, what makes this episode stand out is the magnificent location photography. The IMDd information is wrong. This was not shot in the studio but in southern Utah, around Kanab. The final scenes were filmed in the abandoned town set in Johnson Canyon. There's been no attempt to preserve the place and it's gradually collapsing into the desert. How do I know? I've been there and seen it myself.
There's a touch of sentimentality in the way the script treats the small boy and it's slightly at odds with the revenge aspects of the story. Even so, Drago is a standout. Even the almost total absence of Matt Dillon himself doesn't matter. This is as good as anything'70s TV westerns had to offer and, as a previous poster points out, makes Bonanza look pale in comparison.
I agree with the poster from Buffalo. This is a wonderful "little movie" and convinced me I was wrong to write off Bonanza as a soap opera with holstered guns. Like the poster says, it belongs to Rodolfo Acosta, who's played more Indians and crooks than many an actor. He had a regular slot as Vaquero on High Chaparral.
The entire cast is perfect, and that's rare. Apart from Acosta, Shug Fisher stands out. He's just magical in a small but important role. I recognised him recently in a Gunsmoke episode. It must be hard to be moving in a series TV western. Somehow Shug pulls it off with so much written on his face. He's a superb actor and deserved wider recognition.
Two more movie names are here; Pepe Hern, who was in The Magnificent Seven, and Jaime Sanchez, whose death in The Wild Bunch kicks off the final, massive gun battle.
The Mexican town set makes a refreshing change to the usual locations. Bonanza improved when it left Paramount's fake western set and moved to Warner's. Good though it was, Gunsmoke suffered from its stuffy stage set with its wooden street. I wonder how many towns in the old west had wooden streets!
I was surprised there was no tying up of loose ends or any kind of goodbye to the characters. In that respect, it was the same as the end of Gunsmoke. It's not a bad episode, with plenty of the usual superb location photography. All the main players were on top form. I wonder how sad they must have felt after four years in the saddle. For Henry Darrow and Leif Erickson the series was something of a high point in their careers. It was also good to see western stalwart Myron Healey in a small part, one of an amazing 316 credits, mostly in TV westerns and features.
I for one remember The High Chaparral with affection. Here in the UK it was one of the first TV westerns broadcast in colour and the episodes helped establish the fledgling BBC2 channel. For some reason many of the Gunsmokes were not broadcast until years later. Long live The High Chaparral!
Bonanza: The Underdog (1964)
I had the great pleasure of watching Charlie Bronson at work on Death Wish 2 in June '81. The film's terrible, but Bronson was a much better actor than he was given credit for. He underplayed, which actor friends tell me is much harder than it looks. Charlie was one of the greats and is sadly missed. He had a distinguished war record that most of his fans know nothing about.
This Bonanza episode is perfect for Charlie, who was often cast as a half-breed or an Indian, as in Drum Beat and Run of The Arrow. He was often the 'underdog' in his TV appearances, but that all changed in the early '70s when he became the superstar he deserved to be.
I agree with grizzledgeezer
Warmed over Bonanza crap is exactly what this is. Ed Begley's performance is fine, but the extended and totally predictable final sequence is so boring it's hard to keep watching. The obvious indoor desert set is distracting and, as it does so often in the series, gives proceedings the feel of an amateur dramatics show. The same can be said of many of the old Rawhide episodes, but Rawhide went out on location enough to balance out the stuffiness of the phony sequences.
I've asked this before and will ask it again. WHY did Ken Curtis always have his right ear folded awkwardly under his hat? It must have been uncomfortable for the actor and makes the character seem a little, er, slow. Perhaps that's exactly the point. Maybe I missed an explanation way back when Curtis joined the cast.
Can anyone explain? Anyone?
Trackdown: The Brothers (1958)
I agree with what you say. It's interesting to see the soon-to-be-legendary Steve McQueen just before he became one of the all-time great Magnificent Seven. Trackdown also reminds us all what a fine actor Robert Culp always was.
This is low-budget TV western material at its best. I much prefer it to glossy soaps like Bonanza, which had about as much to do with the old west as Bob Hope did in Paleface.
I guess we western fans are dying out now, but it's good to know a few others still enjoy these shows. I'll certainly be watching more Trackdowns and wishing the TV western had not died in the mid-'70s.
Bill Yorkshire England
I, too, remember The Outlaws from when I was a junior western buff back in the early '60s. It's wonderful to hear of it again and put it into the history of TV westerns. The theme was superb and the underrated Don Collier was a kind of earlier version of Sam Elliott. Both of them could have been genuine western stars if born in different times. As a poster says above, Don could have been a B-western actor, and if he'd been born a few years earlier, Sam could have appeared in some of John Ford's later westerns. Both men have something of the real west about them.
I hear Don is still appearing at western conventions. I hope someone interviews him in depth before all he experienced in westerns small and large is forgotten for ever. Good on you, Don!
A Solid Episode
The story's fine, the acting excellent, and the flashes of action well-handled. Steve Forrest makes his vain, unhinged gold-hungry heavy into a memorable character. He gives Kitty and the Doc some serious stick and the disgust is etched on Milburn Stone's face.
There's one major let-down, however. This episode is a perfect example of just how stuffy and confined the Dodge City set can be. Shortly before the final showdown one of the soldiers runs along the street and his boots thud on wood, not good old earth; a wooden street in the Old West? Hmmm....
As in many Rawhide episodes, the obvious studio scenes emphasise how free and fresh the wonderful outdoors locations are. When either of these excellent series leaves the cramped studios it's literally a breath of fresh air. What a shame that so many Gunsmokes didn't escape the stale air and horse smells on Radford Avenue. There are first-hand comments on this by crew members out there if you look for them.
Four Guns to the Border (1954)
Surprisingly effective little western
I'm a western nut who's been watching horse-operas since the '50s and somehow I'd never heard of this before a TV showing here in England. The cast is superb, including Oscar-winner Walter Brennan in a more restrained performance than usual. Each of the four bank robbers has his own little quirks and it's fun to see Jay Silverheels in a more lively part than his legendary Tonto act, which was often so wooden you'd pick up splinters just from watching it. There's a familiar face playing the tiny role of the town barber - Paul Brinegar, who found TV fame five years later as trail-cook Wishbone on Rawhide.
Richard Carlson's direction is surprisingly effective. It's a darn shame he didn't do much else, though his 1964 low-budget Kid Rodelo was nowhere near as nifty a job as Four Guns, which must be filed as "underrated and worth a look." Both movies came from Louis L'Amour stories.