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A Solid Documentary
I stumbled on this by accident and couldn't stop watching. Apart from one ridiculous blooper - General Crook's troops did not have automatic weapons in the 1870s! - this is fascinating and well-documented. The blending of monochrome movie clips with fascinating contemporary photos works well and gives a solid feeling for the genuine Old West.
Having seen the wonderful TV series, Deadwood, it's interesting to see how close the Jane Canary character came to the historical truth. It would be fascinating to see similarly detailed documentaries on other western characters such as Earp and Custer and Geronimo The narration is calm and sensible and I rate this film highly.
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.
A fine episode with a satisfying ending
I enjoyed this episode. It was refreshing to escape the standard Gunsmoke studio set for the great outdoors. It's well acted and has a welcome appearance by the underused Diana Muldaur, who I seem to remember hassling cop Duke Wayne in McQ.
For me, the standout performance is Shug Fisher as the lonely Aboriginal sheep herder who helps Dillon and the others on their trek back to civilisation. His many credits include 27 Gunsmokes and singing with the Sons of the Pioneers.
There's a surprise ending and a neat cameo by Paul Fix as another lonely man, this time a doctor in a tiny dead-end town. Loneliness is what this episode is about. The guy Dillon's taking in (well played by Mario Alcalde) is the loneliest of them all, not to mention the lonely senior heavy and his equally lonely daughter (Muldaur).
Gunsmoke: The Jackals (1968)
Not so bad!
I liked this episode more than kfo9494. It has the standard revenge plot that we've seen a thousand times and without which the western movie would never have existed.
The locations are superb, including the rocks of Lone Pine, California, used so atmospherically in the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott Ranown series - Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station etc. For me, it was a welcome change from the claustrophobic air-conditioned Radford Avenue studio set seen at least once in almost every episode and which is one of the major downers in Gunsmoke. When the action moves into the open town set, as it does briefly in some episodes, it's literally a breath of fresh air. I presume it was simply cheaper to use the open air set as little as possible.
Anyhow, I liked this episode. It had plenty of action, despite dragging a little in places as kfo9494 says. When Dillon faces down the bandidos amongst the desert rocks, there's a gentle nod to the similar sequence in the underrated The Professionals, with Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster.
Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994)
Last ever Gunsmoke
It's amazing there's only one review of James Arness's last western outing. I guess it shows how far the TV western, not to mention the feature version, has sunk since the horse opera's heyday in the late '50s and early '60s. I'm making it two!
I won't 'spoil' the story. I'll just say that Mr Arness was looking a little creaky by '94 - not that it matters, of course. There's still a flavor of the indelible character and he seems to be enjoying himself. He said how annoyed he was that the studio didn't let the TV saga wind down with a final, goodbye episode. If it had, I guess one-offs like this would have looked foolish.
As it is, enjoy it for what it is - a last hurrah for one of TV's great characters, Marshal Matt Dillon of Dodge.
The Dakotas (1962)
Best TV western of all
Well said, patmyhill. I agree with all your points. Jack Elam was simply one of the best western actors of all time. It's so sad that public reaction to the Sanctuary at Crystal Springs episode shot such a fine series dead in the dust. The Dakotas makes other TV oaters like Gunsmoke and Bonanza look like soap operas. The episodes I've seen take me right back to '63. It's the only time I ever remember people on the bus talking in hushed tones about the episode shown the previous evening. As I recall, the blokes were delighted and a little shocked at the shootout, but I can't remember which episode they were discussing.
Does anyone know if the twentieth episode, Black Gold, is available on DVD or videotape? What a treat it would be to catch this missing segment. If only it had gone on to become the long-running series it deserved to be. Long live JD Smith!
Cimarron Strip: The Battleground (1967)
A fine reminder of '60s TV westerns at their best............
I hadn't seen this segment of Cimarron Strip since its first airing in early '68. There was always a buzz when the credits came up, with Stuart Whitman, the young John Wayne, riding past those moonlike rocks near Lone Pine, California, to the strains of Maurice Jarre's soaring theme music.
The Battleground has a superb cast alongside the four series regulars. There's a brilliant performance from the late, definitely great Warren Oates, with a hint of his part in the groundbreaking The Wild Bunch less than two years later. RG Armstrong plays a part reminiscent of his turn in Peckinpah's masterly Ride The High Country, and Robert Wilke, who took on James Coburn's knifeman in The Magnificent Seven and lost hands down, is a snarling, disgruntled cattleman. Like the rest of the case-hardened cast he makes acting look so damned easy. It ain't. Not at all.
There was action aplenty in those days, long before the PC brigade nibbled away at the raw edges of TV entertainment. Stuart Whitman and his gang went for the action like nobody else on TV except for The Dakotas, and in The Battleground, like the other series segments, it fits perfectly with the story. You couldn't do the Cimarron land-grab and its simple politics any other way. If only TV westerns hadn't died out in the '70s. That's a goldarned shame, pardner.
Bill Harding - January 2007