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Doc says I'm better now, I'm free to roam in society again :-)
Me? Middle aged British punker who is heavily in love with anything punk related circa 1976 - 1982. Film fanatic who indulges in any genre of film but specialises in film-noir, westerns, war and big - bold - historical epics.
I like writing reviews, even having some published in British newspapers and I have received nice emails from people associated with films that I have reviewed. While my mantra here is quite simply lets be here to learn and share.
The Director Titans
Alfred Hitchcock Robert Aldrich Anthony Mann Sam Peckinpah Jacques Tourneur
The Director Gods
John Ford Budd Boetticher Robert Siodmak Billy Wilder Joseph Losey
The Director Royalty
Edward Dmytryk Nicholas Ray Fritz Lang John Sturges John Carpenter
The Director Gurus
Preston Sturges Frank Capra Howard Hawks Marcel Varnel Carol Reed
Modern Director Legends In Waiting
David Fincher Michael Mann
Stay Cool Peeps, See You On The Boards.
Cattle King (1963)
It's a fence off and Prez Chet has to get involved!
Guns of Wyoming (AKA: Cattle King) is directed by Tay Garnett and written by Thomas Thompson. It stars Robert Taylor, Robert Loggia, Joan Caulfield, Robert Middleton, Larry Gates and William Windom. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by William Snyder.
A range war looms large in Wyoming...
Fronted by the ever reliable Western presence that was Bobby Taylor, this pic follows a familiar and slight formula. Which ultimately is fine for those who love the prolific line of Westerns produced in the 50s and 60s.
Thematically it's strong, where we find Taylor's hard working and honest cattleman desperately trying to protect his land from the free grazing movement - something which brings into play nefarious characters. Sam Brassfield (Taylor) fences off his land and Clay Matthews (Middleton) - with henchmen in tow - cuts them down, simultaneously putting the word out that it's Brassfield who's doing the snipping! Naturally there's romance in the air, which causes friction from more than one quarter, and into the mix comes a visit to this part of Wyoming by President Chester A. Arthur. Who, as it happens, is a key player in spite of his limited screen time (Gates regally excellent).
There's a dark edge bubbling away in this one, which is capitalised upon with a genuinely shocking turn of events. If only the finale could have given us a barnstormer of the kind the story kind of demands. Elsewhere there's no problems in the cast, all perform goody/villain/pretty gal characters with measured form, the location photography in Kernville, California is most appealing, whilst the screenplay is without fuss and pointless filler. True enough to say it's hardly essential viewing for Western fans, and action junkies will be left hankering, but Taylor fans are appeased and it remains watchable from first frame to last. 6/10
The Hallelujah Trail (1965)
Quirks, Quandaries and Quicksand.
The Hallelujah Trail is directed by John Sturges and adapted to screenplay by John Gay from the novel written by Bill Gulick. It stars Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Jim Hutton, Pamela Tiffin, Brian Keith, John Anderson, Martin Landau and Donald Pleasence. Music is by Elmer Bernstein and cinematography by Robert Surtees.
Depending on who you talk to about The Hallelujah Trail, it will either be called an ass numbing bore or a misunderstood gem, such is the reputation of it, it kinda demands to be seen so as to evaluate why so divisive.
It flopped on release and was savaged by critics, while it was a tough production from the off, one that badly over ran and was expensive to film. Cast members not getting on, bad weather, bad location provisions for cast, and the awful death of stuntman Bill Williams during one particular scene. Add in that lead man Lancaster looks bored - working at a time that he called his slavery period - then it felt doomed at an early stage.
Its failure has been contributed to a number of things, such as timing (comedy Western, and an epic one at that, too early? too late?) but really it's takes too many bites of the pie, rendering the whole as something resembling a garbled mess. The thin plot is stretched unbearably to fifteen minutes shy of three hours, thrusting a number of character groups to trudge around with a screenplay that ironically - given the temperance/alcoholic basis of story - feels like it was written by an inebriate.
Yet I personally would be a born liar if I said there wasn't a lot to like in the mix. Filmed not just in Technicolor and Panavision, but Ultra Panavision 70 no less! Pic looks terrific, with Surtees bringing the Gallup locales to vivid life, and Bernstein provides another technical highlight with his rambunctious score, big bold brass and percussion thunders around the settings. Some of the comedy works, when the cast get chance to come alive, and even though some aspects no doubt give the PC brigade kittens, the likes of Martin Landau as an Indian called Chief Walks-Stooped-Over are a joy. While for the red blooded among us, the huge running time at least allows for plenty of the positively yummy Remick...
So it's a tough call, I think its harsh to call it a bore, yet it's awfully messy. So with that I sit on the fence, where just one of my butt cheeks gets numb... 5/10
You can't steal from a man just because you don't know his name.
Catlow is directed by Sam Wanamaker and adapted to screenplay from the Louis L'Amour novel by Scott Finch and J.J. Griffith. It stars Yul Brynner, Richard Crenna, Leonard Nimoy and Daliah Lavi. Filmed in Metrocolor/Panavision, photography is by Ted Scaife and music by Roy Budd.
One time buddies in the Civil War, Catlow (Brynner) and Cowan (Crenna), are now on opposite sides of the law. Let the shenanigans begin!
Catlow is one of those Oaters that is - in spite of its ordinariness - so harmless to the point it's near impossible to dislike with genuine displeasure. Essentially it finds Brynner and Crenna as pals constantly playing cat and mouse with each other, all while they are entangled in danger (courtesy of Mexican soldiers, Indians and Nimoy's vengeful gunman) and affairs of the heart (Lavi and the beautiful Jo Ann Pflug).
It's all very formulaic, and directed as such, but there's still a lot going for it. Everybody seems to be having a good time of things, with some hamming it up on purpose - obviously with a tongue in cheek nod to Spaghetti Westerns - others relishing chances to exude ebullience (Lavi) and gruff meanness (Nimoy). There's some truly funny moments, with witty dialogue to match, and the action scenes are as solid as the rock formations that boom out of the Almeria locations.
Budd's musical score is a bit hit and miss, often sounding like it belongs in an episode of Alias Smith and Jones as opposed to a full feature length film, while there's a lack of an edge to make the finale be anything other than run of the mill. Tis fun though! Pic looks lovely, with TCM HD channel showing a print that extols the virtues of having a top cinematographer on lens duties. Harmless and enjoyable enough, even if ultimately it's forgettable once over. 6/10
All'ultimo sangue (1968)
Bury them deep just for jolly.
Bury Them Deep is directed by Paolo Moffa and written by Enzo Dell'Aquila. It stars Craig Hill, Ettore Manni, Giovanni Cianfriglia (as Ken Wood) and José Greci. Music is by Nino Fidenco and cinematography by Franco Villa.
Essentially it's a buddy buddy spagwest, with the plot seeing Hill and Manni as an unlikely pair brought together in the search for stolen gold. The booty, robbed from the army, has been hidden by renowned tough guy Billy The Gun (Cianfriglia). It's very much a collage of other genre movies, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun and exciting, because it is - that is on proviso you are not a hard core spagwest fan hoping for something to reach your best of lists!
First half of pic is more sedate than the second, as the makers build the jittery relationship between the two protags. Aided by Fidenco's schizophrenic - irritatingly catchy - musical score (woodwind and percussion on acid sometimes), tone always suggests a tongue in cheek approach. Not to say there isn't violence, since there is lots of it, shoot-outs, an extended knife fight and general raucous bad behaviour fill out the story, all completed with spagwest traditions such as exaggerated dives and punches.
There's some nifty scenes and inventive camera shots, where we like see-saw hangings, great escape from being trussed up, and up-tilt shots of horses leaping. The stunt work is good dollar, with plenty of deaths from heights (cliffs and windows of course), this certainly doesn't lack for human efforts. The villains, in among shifting allegiances and mistrust, are a roll call of laughing hyena Mexicans, or in Cianfriglia's case (looking suspiciously like Burt Reynolds here!), very cool and measured. All in all it's not top line spaghetti, but filling enough for those after a fun genre time waster. 6.5/10
The Last Frontier (1955)
Allegorical awakenings at Fort Shallan.
The Last Frontier (AKA: Savage Wilderness) is directed by Anthony Mann and adapted to screenplay by Philip Yordan and Russell Hughes from the novel, The Gilded Rooster, written by Richard Emery Roberts. It stars Victor Mature, Guy Madison, Robert Preston, James Whitmore and Anne Bancroft. Music is by Leigh Harline and cinematography by William Mellor.
When Chief Red Cloud (Manuel Dondé) - who has had enough of the army's incursions onto his land - evicts three mountain men from the region. Led by untamed Jed Cooper (Mature), the men head to Fort Shallan and take employment as army scouts...
By the time that The Last Frontier appeared on the great Anthony Mann's CV, he had established himself considerably in film noir and Western movie circles. Here he manages to get the best of both worlds incorporated to provide an interesting and entertaining piece.
Filmed on location at Puebla, Mexico, with the Popocatépetl Volcano providing a beautiful and imposing backdrop, the hiring of Mellor is astute, ensuring the CinemaScope/Technicolor aspects boom from the screen. However, it's not just the beauty that demands to be observed, but also the ruggedness - cum - wildness, to which all things that marry up perfectly to the thematic and allegorical beats pulsing away in the story. Of course, nobody who loves Mann's Western work will be surprised by this.
It's a little disappointing that this ultimately isn't a grandiose adventure epic, because all the elements are in place for such, but action exists - with the final battle against Red Cloud's hordes - particularly exciting, but the emotional turmoil, repressed passions and army insanity that resides within Fort Shallan, more than compensates via characterisation weight. Mann throws in some tricksy camera work and neat framing shots to keep the visual experience still further away from the mundane, while Harline provides a compliant and non intrusive musical score.
Cast are doing dandy work. Mature turns in one of his best, blending macho strains with confused sadness, Whitmore is a reassuring presence by being believable, and Preston overcomes his usual woodenness to breathe life into his perf as martinet Colonol Marston. Bonus, and taking the acting honours is Madison, who as Captain Riordan never over does things, ensuring his fulcrum character is the glue holding all together. Bancroft looks wildly out of place, her look and the costuming most strange, yet it's testament to her ability that her key character is no token female role, nailing it without histrionics.
The ending, sadly, is rubbish, completely at odds with all before it, so it's no surprise to find that it was studio imposed and against Mann's wishes (vision). Still, forgive them for they know not what they do eh... 7/10
Due volte Giuda (1968)
Due volte Giuda (Twice a Judas/Shoot Twice/They Were Called Graveyard) is directed by Nndo Cicero and written by Jaime Jesús Balcázar. It stars Antonio Sabàto, Klaus Kinski, Pepe Calvo and Franco Leo. Music is by Carlo Pes and cinematography by Francisco Marin.
An amnesiac wakes up in parched land next to a dead body, he must now find out what has (is) happening and who the hell he is?!
It has something of a mixed reputation among Spaghetti Western fans, and for sure it's a tricky one to recommend with great confidence, so really you have to roll the dice and take your chance. Personally I'm glad I did.
The amnesia angle is most interesting seen in the spag-western sphere, whilst ensuring as it does that there's a huge mystery element to the narrative. For two thirds of the pic it's slow going, with a story cross stitched in near complex terms so as to ask the viewer to follow closely. Trickily there are some threads that don't really make sense since they serve no evident purpose to the story as a whole, which is frustrating even if it adds to the dreamy feel of the plot.
Once the character dynamics are set up - well sort of - film kicks on a pace, unfurling the flags of double crosses, greed, mistrust and machismo fuelled behaviour. Kinski (splendidly edgy and unsympathetic) Sabàto (likable performance blending cool and confused) leading the way as pic plays its hands. The action is well staged, with barn yard and canyon shoot-outs most appealing, while the addition of an awesome canine and the use of some sort of ball-bearing blunderbuss take the final third up another notch. Pat on the back as well to the stunt men, nifty work on show chaps.
Photography and musical score are safe enough, with the print I viewed on British cable in very good order. It asks for patience and forgiveness for its silly sins, but all told it's a rather good pasta piece worthy of viewing. 7/10
Copper Canyon (1950)
Smoke and Mirrors.
Copper Canyon is directed by John Farrow and written by John Latimer. It stars Ray Milland, Hedy Lamarr, Macdonald Carey, Mona Freeman and Harry Carey Junior. Music is by Daniele Amfitheatrof and cinematography by Charles Lang.
In the bitter period after the Civil War a band of Confederate veterans hoped to start life anew in the rich copper country of the West. They were prepared for the hardships of nature - but not for the greed of men.
Much of this production is beautiful and handsome, tech credits are high end, the Technicolor sizzling, costuming sharp, the locations (Vasquez Rocks/Red Rock Crossing/Cathedral Rock et al) a joy for the eyes. Then of course there's the stars, Milland with his elegant looks, Lamarr cute as a button with blood red lips, and Freeman, a classic beauty if ever there was one. So it's with a touch of sadness to report that prettiness is what you ultimately remember most about the pic.
Story relies of a filmic Civil War trait that has Yankees and Rebs still feuding post the war, on this occasion the Union people are trying to drive out the Confederates who are trying to make hay (copper) while the sun shines on copper canyon. Enter Milland, who is thought to be an ex Confederate leader now plying his trade as a magician/entertainer/marksman etc. Denying he is the ex soldier in question, he nonetheless gets well and truly involved in things, including courting Lamarr, who may or may not be the axis of the pain brought down on the Confederate miners.
The mystery angle involving the principals remains intriguing for the most part, and as old hat as it is, the good guy bad guy shenanigans (Mac Carey of course on chief villain duties) is fun viewing. There's splashes of action, with shootings and chases, the best of the latter unfurling through magnificent scenery, while the big battle at film's end is action packed - even if it is sadly a false dawn since the big face off is a damp squib. But in spite of the beauty and the highlights it still remains a nothing piece, a bit of dressage over substance.
It really should have been something more, something other than a pretty play kinda going through the motions. Frustrating. 6/10
We're the scum of the United States Army. Colonel.
Chuka is directed by Gordon Douglas and adapted to screenplay by Richard Jessup from his own novel. It stars Rod Taylor, John Mills, Ernest Borgnine, Luciana Paluzzi, James Whimore, Louis Hayward and Victoria Vetri. Music is by Leith Stevens and Pthe Color photography by Harold E. Stine.
1876 and Fort Clendenon is host to a bunch of army misfits and a lovelorn gunslinger, hardly a group capable of defending the Fort against an impending Arapaho attack...
A super cast and a rather gorgeous colour print can't avert this being a distinctly average Siege Oater. Prodution wise it's a hodgepodge, an uneasy blend of stuffy looking studio bound sequences, matte paintings and airy locales, while the acting, sparse characterisations and general reliance on non meaty chatty filler scenes, all make it an odd viewing experience.
The chat angle is most frustrating, not so much because there is so much of it so as to make this a 90% talky piece, but in that there are moments of great dialogue, where interesting character arcs are dangled, but alas they are threads that are never pulled to the benefit of all. Action is sparse but what there is is competently staged, with the siege itself - while not worth the wait - has enough moments of excitement and intelligence so as to not annoy.
A very good and intriguing ending further adds to the strange mix of poor and good of it all, but ultimately it's average and hardly essential for fans of Westerns and the stars involved. 5/10
The Great Sioux Uprising (1953)
Directed by Lloyd Bacon and collectively written by Melvin Levy, J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater. Starring Jeff Chandler, Faith Domergue, Lyle Bettger, Peter Whitney and Stacy Harris.
The grand title sadly doesn't match what is actually put on screen, since Bacon's film is more a thinker than a thugger. Plot has Chandler as an ex-Union surgeon who takes up with ranchers and Indians in fighting the good cause against Bettger's horse baron and nefarious rebel rousers.
Undeniably the intentions and thought as per the screenplay are honourable, the anti-racist currents coupled with thematics involving the false deals laid at the Native American's doors, these are interestingly played and keep the pic from sinking below an average level. Action is in short supply, but there are moments of muscular brawn and bravado, while the Oregon locations and Technicolor photography (Maury Gertsman) provide pleasing surroundings.
Chandler and Bettger get roles for which they were known and suited, but Domergue - radiant in that "just made love" look she had - just ends up as more token interest than the feisty intelligent business woman that the story threatens to unleash. Whitney and Harris deliver good foil as stoic friend and unscrupulous fiend respectively. While John War Eagle and Glenn Strange offer up a firm backbone in the secondary support slots.
The story and ideas have been done far better in far more well known Westerns, thus rendering this as hardly essential. But some merit exists and for Chandler and Bettger fans it's a decent time waster. 6/10
Cow Country (1953)
Beef and Beauty.
Cow Country is directed by Lesley Selander and adapted to screenplay by Adele Buffington from Curtis Bishop's novel "Shadow Range". It stars Edmond O'Brien, Helen Westcott, Robert Lowery, Barton MacLane, Peggie Castle, Robert Barrat, James Millican, Don Beddoe and Robert J. Wilke. Music is by Edward Kay and cinematography by Harry Neumann.
Texas ranchers led by floating cowboy Ben Anthony (O'Brien) fight to save their land from crooked banker Marvin Parker (MacLane) and his hired thugs.
We are at the beef collapse of 1875 and this forms an interesting narrative backdrop. Pic is conventional, though, yet it never lacks for in efforts to entertain. There's a ready amount of chases, punch-ups and shootings, all laced with nefarious or heroic deeds, and although the ladies are beautiful, they unfortunately fall foul of under written romantic arcs - though we do get a quite glorious whipping sequence courtesy of Melba (Castle).
It's all very routine but there's enough here for the undemanding Western fan to enjoy, with good casting and performances helping things along. 6.5/10