For Your Awareness: The Terror Of Tiny Town (1938)

For the final installment of this month of westerns I figured I would have to go with the most absurd and nonsensical film for the coup de grace.  I have found that film in what can only be describe as a film whose very existence defies all logic, as well as all reason for demand or conventions in the cinematic structure.  Of course, it is a film that has obtained its own deserved cult status, in its genre hybridity, perhaps the most intense thus far, as well as being billed, I kid you not, as "the first all-midget western."  This movie in question is none other than The Terror of Tiny Town and as it may well suggest is not in fact about a town of miniature sets in which people diagnosed with dwarfism run through the streets, although they do indeed have miniature ponies, which is glorious in its own right.  Instead, it is a town full of little persons who navigate a western town in which everything is of normal size, begging the question as to why the title was not something like...say The Trouble in Enormous Town.  This digressions is a bit necessary on my part because I really cannot fathom what I could possibly offer to this movie that would not boil down to calling it a bit of wild exploitation, which were it not for the opening moments of the film in which an announcer warns viewers as to what they are about to watch, one could make the argument that it is actually a film that never states, again aside from credits, that it is a film about little people.  The world they occupy is entirely there own, one that assumes many of the tropes of the western, and treats the individuals as the adults they are never appropriating a childlike stature upon them and mocking their moves, which is a big surprise considering that many of the people involved within this unusual little (no pun intended) film, were first seen as the "loveable" munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.  The Terror of Tiny Town packs a pretty narrative heavy punch for only being an hour in runtime, which is rather surprising for a film that begins by embracing the wacky and bizarre nature of its very existence, of course, the narrative is by no means inventive, so much as those who are allowed to act out its scenes.

The Terror of Tiny Town as a film certainly exists within many genres, one could assume that it was to show the diversity, of what I assume to be a performing troupe that consisted entirely of little people.  As such it pulls in some decidedly comedic parts, while also forcefully included far too many musical numbers, most of which were dubbed by a terrible version of Bing Crosby.  What it does do right within the western is create a clear distinction between a decidedly evil character and his good counterparts, even going so far as to play upon the particular guile of the villain and his ability to turn rational, good-hearted individuals against each other by exploiting what is assumedly some latent capitalist greed that forces them to value their monetary possessions over any sort of friendship, a foolish frame of mind that is not counteracted until the films closing moments.  Furthermore, it includes a believable love story of a lone cowboy falling for a young woman with a wonderful singing voice, not to mention that it also includes a heightened final scene whose jump cuts to a soon to explode dynamite have a certain degree of Keaton intensity to them.  Ultimately, it becomes a question as to whether or not a viewer is able to get past the schtick of the film in that it is to be unusual because the persons occupying the narrative space are non-normative bodies, and while I would like to say I could completely detach myself, I am not that fair-minded and certainly found things humorous of which I was not proud, but I am aware and that is the best I can offer.  With that beings said I do think the film offers the possibility to create a narrative that has non-normative bodies and deals with them in a brilliant and non-exploitative way and one that is from the 1930's no less.  Therefore, while The Terror of Tiny Town has obtained cult status, it should also receive much deserved critical attention for its surprisingly revolutionary offering.

This movie is available on YouTube and is well worth at least checking out a few minutes to be aware of its existence.


Nobody Learns Without Help: Jubal (1956)

The melodrama and the western exist as a sort of sibling pair which I will avoid gendering, because that would be a bit heteronormative and unnecessary, but, regardless, it is impossible to ignore the sort of relationship the two have cinematically and historically, one that is often overlooked due to the subtle nature of their shared methodologies.  Of course, when it becomes noticeable it is often quite excellent, as is certainly the case with Johnny Guitar, but also holds true for my recent viewing of Delmer Daves' Jubal a film that is beautifully shot in technicolor, focuses on the very genre subject of cattle life and also happens to be a masterful bit of melodrama, at times on a level close to that of Douglas Sirk.  I assumed based on the vague images I had seen upon the initial announce of its release via Criterion that it would be an all out action film, one more in line with the original 3:10 To Yuma another film by Daves, yet aside from perhaps a handful of gun firing scenes, this is easily the most dialogue heavy film I have engaged with thus far, and I certainly lend that to its decided reliance on the melodramatic tradition.  Early on in my movement towards cinephilia I would have dismissed such a stylized and classicist composition, still blinded by the showiness of of Tarantino and Fincher film, which while excellent, do owe their very extravagance to the aforementioned elements of melodrama.  I ramble about this to say that Jubal manages to be both a sleeper classic within terms of the western genre, as well as one of the melodramas that I am quite surprised is only now making it onto my docket, especially since I spent a couple weeks earlier this year purposefully seeking out the classics of melodrama.  Jubal is a textbook classic that has a cult following and is only now making its reputation well-known.  I am thrilled that it is getting a second wind via Criterion and while I know I am not the most read blog on the internet I hope that my adoration for its perfect structure will, in some small way, help to extend its voice to a couple more viewers, because in its classicist simplicity it manages to hold a wait equal to that of a Leone or Ford film with little effort whatsoever.

Jubal centers on the title character, played by Glenn Ford, a wandering cattle hand who has inexplicably found himself passed out in the land which belongs to rancher Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) a likable and well meaning man who takes Jubal on as an employee without question.  Appreciative of the opportunity, Jubal works diligently to pay off his debt and quickly earns the admiration of Shep who makes him a ranch hand, much to the frustration and anger of the lecherous Pinky (Rod Steiger) who immediately goes about trying to destroy Jubal for no other reason than he just hates his presence.  While it is impossible to immediately find fault with Jubal, Pinky realizes that the new ranch hand, much like the other members of the crew, has taken a liking to Shep's wife Mae (Valerie French) who seems as equally interested in running away with the suave and stoic Jubal.  Pinky is immediately aware of this development and uses it as a means to plant a seed within Shep's head as to Jubal being a person lacking in trust, despite Shep making it quite clear that he is fond of the man and his work ethic.  Furthermore, it is revealed that Pinky and Mae have shared a previous relationship together adding a layer of jealousy to Pinky's seemingly inexplicable actions.  Yet, it takes a heavy amount of arm pulling for Pinky to make Shep suspicious continually prodding at him until the paranoia seeps in and he rides in a fury of ungrounded jealousy back to his ranch thinking he might catch the two in the act and confront his cuckolding.  While Jubal has already denied Mae's advances out of respect for Shep, not to mention the burgeoning of his own relationship with another woman, Mae betrays him by calling out his name when Shep enters the house, leading to what Shep assumes to be verification of their past relations.  This leads to Shep going out in search of revenge upon Jubal finding him unarmed in a bar.  Jubal hoping to avoid confrontation, tries to stand down, but when Shep fires multiple shots at him, he has no choice but to fire back and then take flight to avoid the death that a foolishly self-rightous Pinky wants to exact.  Of course, Jubal is far more clever than Pinky and leads him on a winding chase before returning to the ranch, where he manages to get Mae to admit to the misunderstandings and problems, although Pinky violently attacks her resulting in her death moments later, however, with the information cleared up in is Pinky who goes on trial and Jubal is allowed to leave with a degree of his dignity intact.  Unfortunately, he is left to continue wandering the world, yet this time he has a companion to make the journey far less dreary.

While I wanted to avoid gendering either genre, I can say that in terms of Classic Hollywood rhetoric, one often associates the western with masculinity, as has been well established this month on the blog, and I have certainly written about "women's films" in the past, in which melodrama was deemed a filmic tradition with a decided push towards the femininity.  What makes Jubal so exceptional is that it manages to pull these assumed gender traditions within each and mash them forcefully together, instead becoming a film about ethical decisions as opposed to one of gendered presumptions.  In some of the more traditional set-ups men would be unquestionably rational and concerned with justice, while women would be inclined to fits of "hysteria" and illogical behavior.  In this context, viewers are still allowed these images, but they are no longer specifically gendered, sure Mae acts a bit irrationally in her feelings to Jubal, but it is made clear that she is frustrated by her own being seen, literally, as cattle to the well-meaning but inextricably misogynist Shep.  Furthermore, Shep's own moral turpitude is not a result of anything aside from his inherently bad nature, detracting it from the melodramatic assumptions that he is somehow a scorned man, if anything, he is a person perpetually engaged in the scorning of others.  The heightened emotional scenes in this film do not film viewers minds with a hope and longing that two characters who are "destined" to be together will be afforded the opportunity, even if fleeting.  Jubal is not An Affair to Remember, Brief Encounters or even All That Heaven Allows, because it is also a western, which means that loss and failed desire very much factor in, which could be blamed on the lack of law in the western setting, almost entirely personified through Pinky, but it could also reflect upon Jubal's own entrenched sense of justice and respect which is one of the tropes this film seems most comfortable with relying upon, almost to the point of banging it upon viewers' heads.  Again, this is a melodrama as well as a western so repetition and overstatement are merely customary.  While these two genres make for a beautiful hybrid, Daves does not stop there and even goes into a bit of expressionist zeal with Jubal's recounting of a traumatic childhood experience that has a level of Freudian implications that have hardly been shown thus far in my marathon.

Key Scene:  I mean as evil as a character as Pinky proves to be, he is played wonderfully by Rod Steiger and when he engages in a scene he manages to outshine all those involved by miles.

This was just released by Criterion and while I watched it On Demand, the aspect ratio was off, therefore I would suggest the 4K bluray that is now available, I can only imagine how wonderfully it pops off the screen.


My Father Taught Me To Kill The Sunflower: The American Astronaut (2001)

I am always surprised what I am able to dig up on Netflix in regards to independently produced cinema, it often ranges from the decidedly unwatchable The Pleasure of Being Robbed to the excellent and extremely low-budget Lo.  Of course, indie films are a hit or miss by their very existence alone and it is more so the case when the indie film attempts to exist within the space of a genre. The American Astronaut, a heavily experimental and noticeably independent film manages to move freely between the genres of the western (thus explaining its inclusion this month), the space travel film and even a bit of a musical as well, without ever seeming awkward or ill-advised.  Indeed, if I were to be shown this film without any explanation or context, I would be willing to posit that it was a newly discovered early work by either David Lynch or Guy Maddin, or, at the very least, somebody who is heavily and properly influenced by the aforementioned filmmakers.  What viewers are provided with The American Astronaut is nothing short of exceptional, between a maddening vision of a desolate and decidedly masculine future and the dreary black and white cinematography that allows for the darkness that clearly seems to be consuming the characters to stretch out and, at the very least, graze the eyes of those viewing this film.  It sticks to a vision and while it travels between locales at no point does the intensely dark, and at times comedic nature of the narrative world crack even in its most absurd and unusual moments.  What writer/director/actor Cory McAbee offers in his film is a prophetic, chiaroscuro vision of all that could go wrong with the future, should individuals not be willing to accept their absurd reservations in regards to socially liberal frameworks or prudish assumptions about the nature of sexuality and expressions of the self which are non-normative.  Each character exists in the space of The American Astronaut to be deconstructed, dismissed and ultimately reconsidered within a context of some "future" world which has institutionalized them to be disconnected, but as the film manages to cleverly suggest, perhaps this future is far less a distant even than a viewer might like to assume.

The American Astronaut centers on the travels of one Samuel Curtis (Cory McAbee) a sort of space bounty shipper, willing to move about the various planets transferring goods, both living and non, as a means to keep himself financially secure.  Viewers are introduced to Curtis as he is delivering a cat to a seedy space bar, where he meets up with his former dance partner The Blueberry Pirate (Joshua Taylor) who is purportedly in possession of a "real life girl" one that he hopes to trade a duplicitous overseer of a factory planet for a young man whose claim to intergalactic fame is that he had the great fortune of seeing a woman's breast.  It is explained that this young man will be then traded to the women of the planet venus to be used as their veritable sexual toy to procreate on the planet in return for their former single male figure who has died and needs to be returned to his family.  Given this seemingly absurd set of requests, Curtis is completely willing to engage with the actions, even seeming to embrace the task at hand, if only to get away from a planet that seems to take joy in capturing pictures of the traveller using the restroom.  Along the way Curtis continually runs into his nemesis the maniacal and death obsessed Professor Hess (Rocco Sisto) who appears quite focused on eventually killing Curtis because it is his "birthday."  Nonetheless, Curtis undertakes his missions with relative success, even helping to teach The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast (Greg Russell Cook) about living outside of his worker colony, engaging with him as though he is to be a son that will take on his job after his inevitable passing.  Along the way, the two person crew stops off in a floating barn and find themselves in contact with 1800's Nevada silver miners who have inexplicably existed in a floating space void and have given birth to a child known only as Body Suit (James Ransome) who they hope will be allowed to venture along the way with Curtis.  Curtis agrees in exchange for Body Suit's supply of cigarettes and chocolate.  Upon their arrival to Venus, Hess awaits Curtis now hoping instead to kill The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast, but realizing his tricks and having created a son out of him, Curtis tricks the women into believing that Body Suit is indeed their new male, abandoning him on the planet and fleeing from an infuriated Hess.

Sure that description makes it seem as though The American Astronaut is the farthest thing possible from a western, but this is simply not the case, especially considering that the travel takes on a sort of frontier element about it, not to mention many of the locations hearken back to the names and imagery of the old west, the only difference being that they exist in the floating world of outer space, and the clothing on the characters, while almost steampunk in its composition certainly embraces the genre as well.  I do not want to spend the whole time defending its westernness, but instead want to mention how insanely masculine this film is, not in a misogynist sense, but in a clearly deconstructionist one, McAbee is clearly playing with the nature of male interactions in a world that is assumedly void of female figures.  While it may play far too heavily into heteronormativity, The American Astronaut does want viewers to consider how stupid it is to believe that a idealized frontier that is entirely composed of patriarchal figures really proves to be on paper.  While Curtis is a decidedly rational individual, he also seems highly preoccupied with consummating a relationship with a woman, much as his pal The Blueberry Pirate and certainly the owner of the factory planet prove to be as well.  Hell, even a rejection of masculine desire in the context of The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast is entrenched within his own embodiment of a masculine classical Greek figure, not a movement towards any embracing of the femininity.  Body Suit, of course, represents the most heightened of this lack of a female presence, indeed becoming frail and hermit like as a result, as opposed to be hyper-masculine as those who embrace maleness seem to assume would be the case with an all male commune or environment.  Of course, the all female colony on Venus is no better, in its misguided composition, being shown as feverish and foolish, again rejecting any notions of segregation or separation within a new space.  Sure The American Astronaut is a space western, but this filmic choice, helps viewers transcend a restrictive notion of gender politics, only to realizes that a separation is as foolish as an assumption that all is inherently equal all the time.

Key Scene:  The talk with the man in the barn is creepy and certainly one of the more hauntingly oeneiric portions of the film.

Netflix Watch Instantly...do it now, there is a high chance that it will not stay there forever.


Time Never Stands Still, Especially Happy Time: Tears Of The Black Tiger (2000)

I am fully willing to admit that Thai cinema, amongst a ton of other regional cinemas has proven to be one of my most under viewed areas, and while I have seen at least one Thai film to date I do not recall being in the right frame of mind to appreciate its deliberate pacing and focused narrative, which is a shame because I am certain that with a different frame of reference I would have absolutely adored the work.  Nonetheless, when I discovered Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger hiding in the deep caverns of Netflix watch instantly it looked far too excellent to pass up as an inclusion on my entire month of westerns.  Of course, I fully expected it to be a traditionalist work within the framework of non-western bodies, but what I got with this film was something wildly its own and visually captivating, possessing what may well be my new favorite color palette for a film.  It is a highly pastel based backdrop, almost indicative of the sixties era east asian post-cards and album covers that involve light green and pink patterns to a high degree, a style that would become embraced by the punk movement only years later.  Furthermore, all of the love for Django Unchained, deserved as it may be, often forgets to remember that all Tarantino really does is copy and paste his films together based off of a ton of crazy things he has already encountered in his vast and surprisingly well-rounded film diet.  It is easy to see where a filmmaker like Tarantino, as well as many Korean and other contemporary East Asian auteurs would have borrowed from Sasanatieng's cult classic, both in its decided embracing of the non-linear narrative, while also making decided use of the glossy, high cinema respect that comes with the western genre.  Each rawhide fueled swelling of the soundtrack pairs magnificently with the simple, yet earnest, love story that emerges within Tears of the Black Tiger and never seems forced or repetitive, despite being a film that essentially recreates encounters between specific characters over a varied length of a couple of decades.  Suffice it to say, if this is what I have been missing out on by not engaging with Thai cinema, consider it a new point of reference and the next area of focus when I do one of my marathons reflecting on works that I have failed to catch up with up until this point.

Tears of the Black Tiger is not exactly the most straightforwards of narratives, but it nonetheless does have a degree of linear structure.  The film focuses on a rural area in Thailand that is subject to a particularly rough group of bandits that have been very frequently and very violently scouring the hillsides for money.  Their main figure is that of Dom (Suwinit Panjamawat) a reluctant bandit whose only real passion in life is to make a name for himself in order to assure a life with the upper crust Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi) of whom he has been quite fond of since childhood when the two took a canoe ride together.  In a particular shootout between Dom and a group of police officers, wherein Dom is attempting to make contact with his love, he is trapped by the  officers and dealt with personally by the lead officer, who indeed is slated to marry the young woman, per the bequest of her father who sees the upstanding officer of the law a much more ideal fit for his daughter than any lowlife, and impoverished thief.  Already facing the trouble of authorities down his back, doubly so when his intentions with Rumpoey are fully acknowledged, things are made far worse for the suffering Dom when his own gang members suspect him of engaging in duplicitous behavior and in the process turning their own guns against him.  All the while Dom is dealing with apparent deja vu as he finds himself defending Rumpoey against a group of wily men who mock him for his aspirations with such a woman, but the difference between their initial encounter in Dom's youth and their recent one is a decided disconnect from concerns for harming those antagonizing him and he proves himself an ideal match for Rumpoey in his willingness to sacrifice himself for her well being.  Of course, no amount of establishing his love for Rumpoey, nor her returning of such feelings, can allow for Dom to find solace, because he is still forced to deal with his maniacal gang members and in a poetic final shootout, Dom attempts to reach for a picture of Rumpoey to explain why his actions have been so unusual, only to be shot by a member assuming that he was reaching for his gun.  Dom dies and in the closing moments all that is left is a visual memory of the bond between the two star-crossed lovers, one that was never to be based solely on unjust class divides.

This film is a visual experience, between its heavy use of pastel colors and fiery, almost incandescent lighting, Tears of the Black Tiger fails to have any visual competitors, maybe with the exception of the equally stylized Pedro Almodovar, who films are very much cinematic pop art.  Furthermore, it is precisely in this comparison that I want to talk about the manner with which Tears of the Black Tiger deals with the trope of violence within the western.  Almodover, a well-established director, often uses his highly stylized and comic stripe style visual elements to suggest something humorous, if not out right absurd about sexuality and gender performance.  This sort of detachment allows for viewers to become comfortable with the topic only to have the director eventually slap a very real and ethically fueled dilemma into the discussion, one that refuses to embrace conservative values.  I would extend this frame of reference to Sasanatieng's film, especially considering that it is a film that makes heavy, if not excessive, use of egregious and gratuitous gore.  Although given the pastel wash that lays upon the film it is, like Almodovar, quite humorous and almost laughable when men's heads explode into pink ooze, only to be completely ignored and moved away as though a simulacrum or virtual experience completely detached from human loss.  The notion of death and loss is quite frequent within the western as a genre and what Sasanatieng does within Tears of the Black Tiger is not new per se, he is simply the first one to do it in such a sensational and absurd manner.  Yet, if this violence were to merely go unchecked I would find this film to be far more problematic, but that is far from the case and, again, like Almodovar, Sasanatieng makes sure to incorporate the reality of loss beyond the corporeal within the final moments of the film, depicting the images of both Dom and Rumpoey in picture frames and the credits begin to roll.  Sure viewers are allowed to revel in the excess and violence while the film rolls, but it is not a reality which one should subscribe to for any reason, and the closing credits suggest that violence in cinema, most notably westerns has a degree of falseness about it, but memories do linger and for many in the world they are very much a result of an insane and unwarranted act of violence.

Key Scene:  Shooting a bullet through coin.

Again this is available on Netflix watch instantly, you should bump it way of in the queue immediately.


Hey Pilgrim, You Forgot Your Pop-Gun: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Leave it to 1962 to be the year that repeats the most during my month of westerns and even more  impressive is that it has further proven to be a year of excellent pieces of cinema, both How The West Was Won and Lonely Are The Brave vying for my favorite film of the entire month long marathon.  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance could easily compete with these films on many levels, precisely considering that not only does incorporate the Ford/Wayne combination which carries the same sort of admiration and validity as Leone/Eastwood, yet what makes Valance particularly notable is that it also includes James Stewart, who is putting on some of the best work of his entire career as a wide-eyed and overly idealistic character, which he would make a career out of, but, nonetheless, takes on a new level within this film.  As I have come to realize as I have gotten through this entire month of films, I am realizing that one of the main things of westerns post 1960 is the manner with which they will first set up the expectations of the traditional western, only to immediately deconstruct them in wild and unimaginable ways.  While Valance does not deconstruct the genre in the ways the El Topo or Sholay it does reconsider the types of masculinity that not only occupy the space of the west, but, more importantly, who is respected based on their varying degrees of masculinity.  Of course, the notion of masculinity has always been of huge importance within the western, but it is decidedly so for Ford, one only needs to reflect on his classic Stagecoach and the introduction of Wayne in this film to really realize that fact.  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance manages to perfectly divide itself between the shootouts and gunslinging notable for a Ford western, including excellent performances by both Lee Marvin and Lee Van Cleef to heighten the intensity, as well as being what could be a theoretical prequel to Mr. Smith Goes To Washington where a beleaguered politician realizes the world of back door deals within the most minor of political interactions.  What Valance is, aside from a great western, is a prophetic and established statement on the way society interacts with itself on an intimate, as well as large scale.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starts in the future with the return of Ransom "Ranse" Stodard (James Stewart) to the town of Shinbone, along with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) in what initially appears to be a minor political move to meet with the constituents for his former town.  Yet when they arrive at a funeral home it becomes clear that they are indeed their to pay their respects to their late friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) who has died assumedly of old age.  During his reflections on his time in Shinbone, Ransom begins recalling his initial trip to the west, quoting Horace Greeley in the process, yet it is during his initial arrival to the city when Ransom's stagecoach is robbed by the notorious Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).  This interaction leads to Ransom promising that he will assure that Liberty meets justice sometime in the future, an act that leads to mocking on the part of Tom upon Ransom's arrival, Tom believing that the only way to undermine the gunslinger is through the use of lead, knowing full and well that law will never retain the devilish individual.  As Liberty continues to ransack the town, Ransom and Tom come to odds about the proper way to deal with the criminal, all the while their town, along with the larger state, attempt to push to statehood and endeavor that draws in Liberty who wants a say in the endeavors with the hope that it will afford him more power for his cattle business, and a larger influence over the community he has instilled a great fear within.   Ultimately, Ransom realizes his legal threats hold no water against the wild and irrepressible Liberty leading to a shootout in the streets of Shinbone that lead to Ransom being injured, but, ultimately, to the death of Liberty.  This heroic act leads to Ransom becoming the icon of the town and a heightened political figure, one who is elected to senate on the basis of him being the "man who shot Liberty Valance," which is to some a point of praise, while to others it is a vilified action.  Yet when Ransom is second guessing his own respectability as a politician, Tom informs him that he may have helped a bit in the downing of the gunslinger on that fateful night, adding a fire to Ransom's political aspirations, so much so, that he makes a career of it, being certain to return to Shinbone to thank Tom for his help upon his death, not to mention forever being hesitant to embrace his hefty moniker.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance certainly falls with the "traditionalist" framework when discussing it as a western.  It includes the definitive good guy figure, as well as the obvious and unquestionable bad guy figure.  However, where it takes a decided departure is when it comes to consider who is the better of two goods, as opposed to the more often considered lesser of two evils.  One is hard pressed to decide who they are expected to like more between the stoic and determined Tom and the idealistic and equally determined Ransom.  They are approaching ethics and justice from two completely opposing spectrums and Ford devours the possibilities, often having the presence of Liberty's threats be at the very least secondary to the action occurring within the film, in fact, for a film that bases its title upon the killing of such an assumedly central figure, Liberty Valance essentially serves as a concept with which the two good guys must conceptualize how to properly deal with an issue.  Tom is fully convinced that the only way to counteract Liberty is through an equal, and, therefore, greater use of led, hoping to gun him and his wild posse down in the streets, whereas, Ransom believes that like a secular preacher he can raise his authoritative book of laws and by some form of magic they will essentially stop the possessed man in his tracks.  Of course neither Ransom or Tom is completely right, one being so inclined to use violence that he completely overlooks its very real effects on a community that must repair every bullet hole or lost life in the process, whereas the lack of immediacy with Ransom's political threats result in a grey area of time where lawlessness is allowed in hopes of future reprimands.  In typical Ford fashion everything is realized by the end, but it proves a burden for both men to acknowledge that their embraced ways of life are inevitably predicated on their own reliance, even if minimal on the belief systems of the other.  Tom is forced to embrace the power of a political voice to stretch beyond the confines of a city and exact moral change to the masses, while Ransom comes to realize that when seeking justice in some cases it is absolutely necessary to break a few bad eggs, often with necessary voice, a framework that Ford cleverly extends to the political process.  In essence, neither framework is completely correct, but viewers are certainly assured that Liberty was completely wrong.

Key Scene:  The entire "steak" ordering scene is acting and editing at some of its finest of the era.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly and while a small computer can be a bit oppressive to its large statement, it is certainly worth watching in this format as soon as possible.


Perhaps There's A Difference Between Man And Coin: Sholay (1975)

Oh boy...Sholay is something all its own and absolutely stunning in every sense of the word.  While admittedly this seventies Bollywood film was initially nowhere near my list of western viewing for the month, it was also completely out of my consciousness completely.  Yet, as I move my way through the enlightening and disparaging (in that I realize how many movies I have yet to see) Story of Film: An Odyssey, I am confronted with global works that I was completely unaware of, a fact that is baffling considering that I find myself to be rather attuned to the world of film.  Sholay is primarily an action-adventure film, but within that framework it leaves very much open the possibility to define it as a western, even being referred to as a "curry" western given its regional local.  As a Bollywood classic, often defined as the "Star Wars of India" Sholay incorporates wide character arcs, a perfectly executed heroes quest and a whole lot of song and dance, all of which pops off the screen in colorful excitement and with stellar cinematic exuberance rarely captured in American, or really any Westernized, filmmaking.  Of course the available copies of this somewhat under-appreciated film are not of the greatest quality, so my engagement with it was similar to that of Pather Panchali, where the available copies are clearly ripped from video recordings and have less than perfect subtitling.  Sholay's biggest lack, strictly speaking in terms of this DVD release, comes in the way of the musical numbers not having any subtitling, but considering that the situations involved in each moment is rather obvious the words are not necessary.  Again it is visually spectacular, therefore, some of the lesser transfer qualities are not so great as to ruin the watchability and, indeed, the film still pops with all the wonder and draw necessary to make a successful action film.  The acting is stellar and properly executed, moving between comedy and drama, even spiraling into tragedy at one point, without losing a beat.  Hell, it is not everyday that a film manages to include lengthy sub-narratives and still manage to be watchable in all of its three and a half hour spectacular envisioning.  How it has taken me this long to see, let alone hear about Sholay is beyond me, but I am certainly glad to have discovered it because it is very much a new favorite of mine and only hope that it can be rediscovered and, subsequently, rereleased in a proper format.

Sholay centers on the epic adventures of two bandits out to make money any way that they know how, the duo consists of the suave and somewhat secluded Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) as well as the brutish and somewhat clumsy Veeru (Dharmendra).  Together the two move through the rocky hills of rural India in some undesignated era finding riches, only to come under the fastidious watch of a officer named Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar).  Finally catching the duo, Thakur hopes to permanently place them in jail, yet when the train they are riding is attacked they are freed to help fight off the attackers, an event that leads to Thakur being shot, only to have Jai and Veeru deliver him to safety.  This gesture, and the realization that the two are rather great with firearms and shootouts, leads Thakur to not arrest them upon their next meeting, but to hire them as aides in taking on the infamous and Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan).  This task does not, however, happen immediately as Gabbar has taken to the mountains and comes to the village irregularly to pillage for his posse, who has taken to living in the mountains.  As such Veeru and Jai find themselves settling within the village, each taking a liking to a particular woman within the village, Veeru finds himself interested in the garrulous, but sultry horse-cart driver Basanti (Hema Malini), while Jai is drawn to the silent widow Radha (Jaya Bhaduri).  There passions emerge, just as Gabbar's men invade the town, leading to an epic shootout, one in which both Veeru and Jai realize that Thakur was completely nonexistent during.  When berated about his failure to engage in the battle Thakur recounts a tale about how Gabbar's maniacal behaviors led to the loss of his family, and, subsequently, both of his arms after the bandit sought personal revenge on the officer.  This realization of both emotional and physical loss leads to Jai and Veeru both refusing to take money for their job, instead, deciding to do so out of a clear sense of justice.  Eventually, Gabbar captures Veeru and forces Basanti to dance on broken glass to keep him alive, only to be saved by Jai at the last moment an endeavor that leads the duo to a shootout, where Jai stays behind while Veeru returns to town for supplies.  While Veeru speeds back it is too late and Jai dies at the hands of attacking bandits, leading to a new drive for vengeance on the part of Veeru who along with Thakur take to beating down Gabbar, Thakur even donning special shoes that double as a weapon.  The police eventually arrive and finally arrest Gabbar, while Veeru and Basanti leave to take up their new life together, keeping Jai in their memories.

Sholay is a magnificent film that borrows from all the possible elements of action films, even borrowing heavily from the comedic tradition, mostly slapstick, although there is an entire section that is an obvious and loving tip of the hat to Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator.  What tropes it does borrow from the western a quite impressive, using the cop chasing robbers narrative and even doubling it with a train robbery scenario simultaneously, is something that can only be seen to be realized in its grand vision.  Yet it is not a film that is fully set in the western tradition, because their are indeed vehicles used throughout, specifically a motorcycle with sidecar, a item that has emerged in other westerns this month, but again out of an American context.  I would contest that some of this revisionism is tied to it being a non-westernized western (which is a great concept if I might add) so much so that it does not have to borrow from American tropes, because the west is not necessarily a historical location for the Eastern world.  The colonized body is also on display here, but they are in positions of authority, therefore, allowing them to openly reject the idea that white figures of power have any degree of authority, even mocking the language during Veeru's faux-suicide scene.  Of course, some of the more ethical elements of the western genre do still emerge, particularly a seemingly universal sense of justice, or what would become known as the golden rule globally, perhaps more in line with the idea of karma as it pertains to this film.  Both Veeru and Jai during their respective hero quests must come to odds with their wrong behaviors and embrace the life of minimalism and sacrifice that occurs within Thakur's village, which affords them the ability to settle down and think about marriage, as well as reject the earning of money that comes at the cost of exploiting others.  It is here where the film takes its own unique "curry" western turn, in that the film becomes a romantic comedy of sorts, where preoccupations with attaining marriage approval outweigh fighting Gabbar, a fact that holds true even for Thakur who serves as an advisor on the endeavors.  In a westernized western, this would not be the case and male lone wolf behavior would be the way of acting, leaving a woman to woefully suffer until  his return.  It could be the heavy genre hybridity at work here, but it seems to be a decided difference within this film, but even that has its tenuousness considering the rather clear and openly acknowledged homoerotic bond between Jai and Veeru throughout, making his death that much more heightened and poetically grand.

Key Scene:  The festival of colors followed immediately by the village raid may be some of the greatest ten minutes in the history of film.  I cannot even fathom how it looks in high definition, not to mention the alleged 3D version in the works.

This is a magnificent work one of a uniquely epic scale.  I would suggest buying a copy, but considering that the transfer is a bit rough, it might be ideal to rent it until a new transfer comes into existence.


Only Two Types Of Men Get Shot: Criminals and Victims: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

It only figured that after some amount of time what would be my desire to find the farthest stretches of western revisionism would result in a film that completely failed on all accounts.  To think that I seriously considered going out of my way to spend money on seeing Cowboy & Aliens in theaters upon its initial release is absurd, something I am glad I did not do, because it could have clouded my opinion of many of the film's actors, as well as director Jon Favreau, who is clearly more of a puppet to producers visions than the voice that would create the ever-enjoyable Iron Man.  While it does borrow heavily from the western genre tradition, it is far from a well delivered film, in fact, I would argue that the film is nothing more than a set of events paired together by a Hollywood think tank whose only concern for the film was that it had an appropriate amount of action and managed to make the most use of Harrison Ford as possible.  If you pay attention during the opening credits the executive producers and writers for the film appear to essentially be the same group, and the nod to Steven Spielberg as a producer is evidenced when one realizes that the film is, essentially James Bond and Indiana Jones versus E.T. and his friends from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Again it is within the framework of the western genre, so my point of contention is not there by any means...trust me I wanted to enjoy this film.  Yet, if one considers that such a large amount of money was dumped into this film ($163 Million to be exact) it is frustrating to see the visual deliveries come across as cheap, repetitive and lacking in the sort of grandeur one might assume that is ostensibly borrowing from two of the most cinematic genres known to film history.  I mean, imagine how many films Shane Carruth could make with that kind of money, especially considering that the vision that was Primer was executed on a budget of seven thousand dollars, yet has more visual magic than any scene in Cowboys & Aliens which is further baffling when you consider that pretty much every moment in the film cost well over seven thousand dollars to make.  While it serves its place in the post-modern 21st century moviegoing canon, Cowboys & Aliens fails in regards to pretty much everything its sets out to do on screen.

Cowboys & Aliens primarily focuses on Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) a loner and ex-criminal who inexplicably awakes in the desert with a deep wound in his stomach and a hunk of metal attached to his arm.  Needing medical attention Jake moves quickly to the nearest town, Absolution, where he meets a local preacher who treats his wounds.  After awaking somewhat healed Jake makes his way out to the town, only for it to be in the midst of a semi-shootout started by the young Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) after being berated by the local saloon owner Doc (Sam Rockwell) who is fed up of Percy using his connections to Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), an infamous gunslinger,  to bully the town.  Jake stepping into the action unaware of these elements, puts Percy in his place, resulting in the sheriff showing up and placing him in jail, despite the concerns of the townsfolk and it is during this time that people realize that Jake is indeed a wanted criminal, also leading to his being jailed.  Both Jake and Percy are to be shipped to the marshall, only to have Woodrow emerge and attempt to stop the event from happening, however, it is also during this confrontation that aliens attack the town capturing men and women in the process, both Percy and Doc's wife among the group.  During the battle, Jake realizes that his metal bracelet is capable of releasing huge burst of destructive energy which he uses with a bit of success against the aliens.  Jake and Woodrow are initially at odds with one another, but when it becomes apparent that they will need one another's help they join forces, eventually getting the help of the town prostitute Ella (Olivia Wilde) who later reveals herself to be a different species of alien hoping to help Earth survive the attack.  Eventually, a set of memories Jake has been having allow for him to better understand the nature of how to attack these aliens, specifically once they find their ship buried into the ground mining for gold.  After a battle both within and outside of the ship, the aliens are destroyed and Jake retains his previously lost memory and the various captives are returned to their loved ones.  The group returns to Absolution to begin rebuilding, but Jake decides his life should exist somewhere else, his departure occurs with a promise by Woodrow and the sheriff to claim that Jake had died during the invasion, as to avoid any trouble with his past in the future.

If that plot description sounds a little brief, yet incredibly all-over-the-place that is because it is precisely how Cowboys & Aliens exists as a film.  At no point is any commitment made to make the alien element of the film a complete hybrid with the western genre that dominates the films narrative.  In fact, if you took out that element to this film it would still have a similar narrative flow, all be it equally basic and misdirected.  There are a ton of western tropes incorporated within this film, but as soon as the film sets any single one of them up for analysis it is immediately knocked down to move onto the next "important" sequence in the film, which may or may not deal with aliens, in most instances it has very little to do with the latter portion of the title.  In fact, from what I have read Favreau and the others working on the film were invited to Spielberg's house for screenings of a variety of classic western and the director gave them suggestions on what they could include in the script.  It is really a shame that Spielberg was not involved beyond this point because it is clear that they appeared to take the suggestions as not "possible" options, but instead "necessary" ones, blowing past very key social commentaries and even deeply engaging religious inquiries, again to seemingly more important narrative task.  If it were just dealing with these tropes that proved problematic I would chalk it up to a relatively refined palette, certainly more so after nearly a month of westerns, but it is the case for every damn element of this movie.  For example, there are way too many characters in this film, many of which purely serve as veritable canon fodder for the main characters to go on their quest.  Doc would be seemingly content to bemoan his life from behind the counter of his saloon were it not for the loss of his wife, just as Woodrow would appear to remain cantankerous and vile, a state of mind that drastically alters when he is faced with not only the very real possibility of losing his son, but his grandson as well.  Hell, even Jake, a character who could benefit from a vague storyline, is given just enough information for a viewer to consider empathizing with him, but the focus on returning his memories only to have them prove rather arbitrary in the films closing moments.  When he leaves town it is supposed to be the into the sunset scene that is both stoic and heartbreaking, but in the case of this, at times, insufferable film, his departure is welcomed because it is quickly followed by the credits.

Key Scene:  If I had to chose something I guess the underwater shot of a camp being attacked by aliens is one of the few well-executed moments in the entire film.

Avoid this film, there is really no reason to engage with it and I can think of a ton of films from both genres individually that are much more worth one's time.


Maybe You'd Be Better Off If They Caught You: Lonely Are The Brave (1962)

It was not long before the inception of my entire month of westerns that I was made aware of Lonely Are The Brave, which was sold to me as being about "a cowboy trying to live in the modern world," and when I inquired whether or not it was in the same vein as Midnight Cowboy I was told that it was not a urban flick that just happened to have a guy wearing cowboy clothing, but was indeed a western that just happened to exist in the space of modern America.  It is quite coincidental on my viewing order, but terribly pertinent that Lonely Are The Brave was released in the same year as How The West Was Won, because one could make a very grounded argument as to why the former does everything in its power to reject the sort of idyllic, historical longing for the past whereas the latter, while maintaining an equal degree of cinematic scope completely dismisses and literally destroys the possibility.  Directed by David Miller, Lonely Are The Brave is a vision to behold, with its fantastic use of black and white cinematography every image constructed by Philip H. Lathrob could stand as its own singular lesson in frame composition, only made the more captivating by the jagged and chiseled figure that is Kirk Douglas.  Every person involved in this film is clearly going at it with a level of commitment and compassion that is seemingly lost, much like the figure of this narrative, in a milieu of indifference and half-assed attempts to get through whatever task they are faced with.  Despite it breaking out of one of the rather obvious constraints of the genre, Lonely Are The Brave is very much a film that adheres to Western traditionalism where a man's word is his life and the value of a horse is often higher than that of a human life, it is inconceivable to me how this film has not managed to attain a higher cultural status and be placed with the likes of its contemporaries, although it does at its very core defy a genre categorization and much like Charles Laughton's single work masterpiece Night of the Hunter spent a great length of time in obscurity only to reemerge as a one of the most important achievements in the history of cinema.  Lonely Are The Brave has that degree of power and possibility, if only it can continue to be pushed outward from the throughs of the forgotten.

Lonely Are The Brave focuses on Jack Burns (Kirk Douglass) a wandering and roaming work-for-hire ranch hand whose living off the land and travelling by horse is proving from the get go to be incongruous with modern life, evidenced by an early scene when he and his horse, Whiskey, are almost side-swiped by an oncoming car when they unsuccessfully attempt to cross the road.  It is revealed that the only reason Burns has ventured into the modern world is to visit his a friend's wife named Jerry (Gena Rowlands) as well as her son, who is at school upon his arrival.  It is while he is there that Jerry informs Burns that her husband, and his friend, Paul (Michael Kane) has been arrested for aiding illegal immigrants crossing the border, leading to a diatribe on Burns part about the absurdity of blocking people from free movement in every sense.  It is at that point that Burns vows to break into jail in order to help Paul break out a task he undertakes by going to the local bar and hoping to get booked for being drunk, however, after being forced to fight a one-armed man Burns is booked for drunken disorderly conduct, yet his apologetic ways lead the officer on duty to suggest he get a free pass.  Burns knowing that he needs to get into the jail proceeds to attack the officers until he is finally thrown in jail, where he finds Paul, as well as a particularly oppressive guard named Gutierrez (George Kennedy).  After a bout with Gutierrez, Burn and Paul, as well as other inmates proceed to file down a bar and break out, although in the last moments Paul decides to remain jailed, and ride out his sentence, as opposed to forever being a vigilante.  Frustrated, Burns still leaves and after meeting up with Jerry to confess his love takes to the hills to flee to Mexico, which leads to a pursuit by the wily and wit-filled Sheriff Johnson (Walter Matthau) who takes great pride in creating a unstoppable tracking force including cars and helicopters.  Burns, however, continually proves an evasive subject, even using his skills to shoot the helicopter out of the sky and trick Gutierrez with a distraction while he sneaks up behind him and knocks him unconscious.  In the end, after nearly being caught, Burns escapes into the woods and is close to the Mexican border and freedom, only needing to cross a road to make it there, yet this task proves his downfall as an oncoming truck knocks both him and Whiskey off the road.

Lonely Are The Brave by some sort of tribal magic manages to be both incredibly Western as well as decidedly anti-western.  Much of this is directly a result of the figure of Burns who viewers are quickly drawn to with his sort of endearing idealism and defined presence.  He is a figure who would win out in the most intense of classic western shootouts and would have, aside from his jail breaking actions, proved to be an excellent marshall.  Viewers assume this for that small moment when he is in the natural world and void of any threat to modernity.  The moment he steps into a world with technology however, he becomes a foolish figure, one whose idealism is deemed ignorant and misguided, especially his foolish belief that he can break a friend out of prison with little concern for its underlying problem's to both his and his friend's futures.  Similarly, he is foolish enough to assume that some code of gentleman's honor still exists that allows for him to simply ask the instigating one-armed man to stop pestering him and all will be fine, or in the same scene that since he has agreed to fight the man that he should do so with only one hand to assure it is a fair encounter, never mind, that he was not the person who started the bout.  This also emerges in the way he deals with his fleeing to Mexico, which is where the image of Burns becomes convoluted, because on one hand it is worth praising his expertise and ability to move about rocky landscape without little hesitation, even taking an expensive and impending helicopter out of the sky with a set of well place rifle shots.  In a traditional western, or a contemporary action film these acts would be praised as skillful and indicative of adept individual, although figures like this, mostly in an espionage sense, aim to kill.  This is where it becomes anti-western to a degree, because when Burns is given a clear opportunity to end the life of Gutierrez who has already been established as a threat to Burns's life and well beign, he choses to afford him a chance to live partially because of his begging to survive, as well as Burns knowing it would be against an unspoken set of rules to shoot a man from behind the back.  As it stands Lonely Are The Brave depicts the absurdity of attempting to exist between two spaces, while also reminding viewers that a person attempting to live in a liminal median will eventually meet their demise, in some cases by a literal oncoming truck.

Key Scene:  I was a sucker for the closing shot...it was a good one and made me wonder if Lonely Are The Brave was not essentially the same thing for westerns as Chinatown was for the film noir genre.

This DVD looks fantastic and is a reasonable price.  Trust me when I say grab a copy, it is worth viewing and sharing with friends.


Acting Out Their Dreams, It Came To Be: How The West Was Won (1962)

Epic of epics...all is epic.  I begin with this play on the classic Bible verse because I am rather certain that How The West Was Won may well define the greatest of filmic endeavors.  Sure a ton of people love Gone With The Wind, but it also has a tone of social problems and suffers from historical detachment, where as this sprawling western, even in its set of troublesome imagery, is so grand and epic in proportion that it required an entirely new filming style all its own to be undertaken.  Shot in Cinerama, a film and projection style that required three cameras of film to be recorded and, subsequently, projected separately, to view this film is to see something break the very wide boundaries of the cinematic western landscape.  I have a nice television and one of decent size and even I found myself hoping that it would extend beyond the edges just a bit more, as though my widescreen television was somehow preventing this film from reaching its full potential.  If this new style were not enough, How The West Was Won is also set up in an episodic format showing a somewhat connected history of information answering the statement in the title.  With directors like John Ford offering segments, as well as sections including a veritable who's who of Classic Hollywood stars, How The West Was Won is easily one of the greatest achievements in the dwindling days of the old style system that would be turned on its head only years later.  Borrowing heavily from the cinematic experimentation of Abel Gance and the desire for the grand of D.W. Griffith, How The West Was Won is definitively and undoubtedly a masterpiece.  I really wish I had saved this as the last film of the marathon, because it is easily the culmination of all that is glorious and adored about the western as genre, is a what one should think of when considering a film to be "sweeping" in its narrative.  It has a two and a half hour runtime, but with the intermissions, fully realized storyline, even if segmented and some of the most awe inspiring cinematography I have seen in a film in quite some time, the winding down of this film and its brilliant burst into the future came all to quickly and left me hoping for another set of stories.

How The West Was Won, as noted, is a series of stories, all focused on creating narrative as to how the west, or more specifically, the expansion westward influenced the persona and history that would be America.  The film begins with a story entitled The Rivers focus on Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden) and his family as they make their way west via a large raft, making said journey along with another family.  Along the way they meet a fur trapper named Linus Rawlings (Jimmy Stewart) who one of Prescott's younger girls takes a liking to, despite Rawlings's suggestion that he is not the marrying type. Although when their paths repeatedly intersect it becomes clear that marriage is a necessity. The next story The Plains  centers on another member of the Prescott family Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) living as a showgirl in St. Louis, only to discover that she has obtained through the donation of a wealthy admirer a stake for gold in California, which leads to her being followed by gambler and pseudo-admirer Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) whose debonair manners woo many women, but he proves to need real feelings to eventually win over the suspicious Lilith.  The next section focuses on The Civil War and the experiences of young soldier Zeb (George Peppard) whose parents are Linus and Eve (Carroll Baker) of the earlier river story.  He, despite Eve's reluctance joins the war effort and becomes a hero after taking down a rebel deserter who infiltrated the ranks of the Union in order to assassinate high ranking officers, one of which is played brilliantly by John Wayne.  Next the section called The Railroads focuses on the invasion of the "iron horse" into the plains and its particular affect on the native populations, a group which wild man Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda) attempts to protect, only to realize that he can only promise natives safety and trust for himself and not the entirety of the colonizing white man.  Finally, the film ends in a section titled The Outlaws in which Zeb who is now a marshall in a western town takes on an infamous enemy and outlaw named Charlie Gant (Eli Wallach) resulting in an intense and high-paced shootout on a moving train.  After Zeb slays Gant the film focuses on Lilith and the rest of the Rawlings family returning home, before the film takes to a visual flight from the desolate landscapes of the old west to the modernized and skyscraper heavy modern world of Los Angeles suggesting an evolution over a length of time, but one that is always tied to the endeavors of the early settlers.

I cannot get How The West Was Won out of my mind and it is almost entirely due to its unusual cinematic style.  The triptych style of Cinerama filmmaking allows for the narrative to unfold as something very much out of a story book, each character moving throughout the space from being minor almost incomprehensible characters in the background of shots to larger than life figures occupying the space at the center of the screen.  The sort of wide-angle/fisheye visual style that results form this particular filmmaking style also intensifies the emotions of characters within the narrative, Jimmy Stewarts fumbling suaveness heightened to a point of inescapable charm, or Debbie Reynolds's ethereal beauty consuming the entire space of a shot, making each scene melt behind her.  Similarly, it allows for an understanding of how truly consuming the landscapes of the west would have appeared to  the initial settlers, with plateaus and valleys seeming to stretch on into some eternal distance, again a result of the way the juxtaposed images create a new degree of depth.  What is also magical about this particular style is that it captures action and movement in a degree that arguably has the same effect as 3D or IMAX in that the images pop-out of their space when coming into the screen, although Cinerama has an extra layer, because it will also as easily pull a viewer into the centrifuge of a piece of action, the oncoming train scenes and the barrel rolling wagon scene serve as two opposing examples of the possibilities that this new depth allowed.  It was a brilliant choice to cast huge names in these roles, even in uncredited parts, such as Lee Van Cleef and Harry Dean Stanton, because their larger-than-life personas match the intensity and grandiose nature of the filmmaking.  Think here of John Wayne's presence, even if incredibly brief, he steps into the room occupies the space and seems so at ease that one forgets that he is only occupying one of three possible frames.  However, what proves to be the most rewarding element of this style is the moments when the films flicker differently if ever so briefly. My favorite one being a moment when Lilith is dancing and she appears to leap through a frame without touching the ground, these accidents, could be chastised as problematic, but in this context they add a layer of mythology and adoration to something that is decidedly larger than life.  Cinerama aimed at blowing the lid of of filmic possibilities, and in the same vein How The West Was Won aimed to do the same for the genre.

Key Scene:  While every moment is excellent, I would say to get a full feel for what is made better by the choice to use Cinerama then The Railroad section is perhaps the best example of all the elements working simultaneously.

While I watched this on the DVD version, I cannot begin to imagine how much better it would look on bluray, particularly since it offers the option to watch it is "smile box" format which aims to recreate the feeling of attending an original Cinerama screening of this work.  I mean look how much I had to minimize these pictures just to fit them into the blog format.


People Gotta Talk Themselves Into Law And Order: High Noon (1952)

High Noon was a film that stood high on my shame list for having not seen, particularly considering that it was perhaps the most often recommended western, when I did my initial search and planning for viewings, not to mention being one of the highest ranking westerns on the greatest films of all time lists, usually breaking into top fifty in many cases.  In fact, at #27 it is the highest ranking western on the AFI Top 100 movies list, which is a respectable feat, considering the other worthy films it is beating out for the honor.  I knew that I would enjoy this film some combination of Grace Kelly, Gary Cooper and Fred Zimmerman assured that this would be a great film and when I received my bluray from Netflix in the mail I was admittedly baffled by its relatively short runtime of eighty odd minutes a initial hesitation that was contradicted when I realized that this particular western is filmed in near real time, each even building within the course of a few hours and edited in such a way as to allow for the paranoia and nervousness of an impending shootout to tick away like the pendulums of the clocks that occupy the film continually.  In fact, if I am to concede to The Furies being the best shot film in the entire month, then it goes without saying that High Noon will prove to be the most well-edited, between repeated shots to empty train tracks awaiting the arrival of the film's antagonist and the continual use of close-ups that quickly jump to empty chairs and desolate town streets drive the feeling of this film to another level, only aided by a maddening soundtrack.  If all of the magnificent elements of the film's composition were not enough, High Noon proves to be one of the greater realizations of Cold War cinema, with perfect metaphors to the McCarthy Hearings, as well as a set of characters who possess a deep rooted fear of an impending crisis, one that causes them to be incredibly self-invovled and indifferent to law and justice in the face of their own survival.  High Noon, again, does all of these things perfectly and in such a concise manner that it is hard not to completely adore this work, each shot being a vision of filmmaking whether casting an aura of over the ethereal Grace Kelley or feverishly capturing the piercing eyes of a very young Lee Van Cleef.

High Noon begins with a marriage between the aging Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and his younger Quaker wife  Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly).  Their marriage is a point of happiness and joy for the town, who are proud to see their martial who has served them with great zeal and dedication discovering his own happiness, even if it is with a woman of a somewhat unusual religion.  Yet, given the minutia of law rulings, Will's next marshall appointment will occur the following day, technically, leaving a gap of a day in which no law figure will be present within their New Mexican town.  Normally, the event would be irrelevant since the town is stable and well-behaved, but the announcement that a man Will convicted named Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has been pardoned and is returning to the town to exact his revenge changes his outlook and his initial promise to Amy to put down his badge immediately after their marriage.  Will initially leaves hoping that the town will be fine when Frank arrives and cannot find his nemesis, although, Will's paranoia and concern for reprimanding those who have done wrong leads to his belief that returning to the town is inevitable, despite Amy's many requests that he just put his past forever behind him and begin their life together.  When they return, it is discovered that Frank will arrive just before noon and with that news Amy tells Will that she will be leaving on the noon train herself, his decision to join is entirely his own.  Frank, who attempts to recruit the help of his former townsfolk to no success, knows that his standing up to Frank is of a higher purpose than anything else and will set in course, in Will's grand vision, the entire state of law in the nation for decades to come.  At first, Amy accepts his decision and leaves knowing that she can never pull the lawman from his past, yet when it is revealed that the entire town has bailed on Will, fearing for their lives, she returns as a form of emotional support, and eventually goes against her staunch religious beliefs to save her husband by firing a gun at one of Frank's posse.  Will wins out in the end, but not without some physical injuries, ultimately, throwing down his badge in disgust, understanding that he has sacrificed himself far too long for an ungrateful town.

I know that the closing moments of this film would suggest something against the sort of out and out idealism of jingoistic nationhood that would influence cold war era cinema, particularly in the fifties and sixties, where a constant fear of nuclear fallout or a "red" invasion factored into every action, leading to government breeches of privacy and culture as they deemed fit to correct any message that might remotely suggest a support for communism.  Of course, the unusual nature of High Noon is that it digs down to ask who is really sacrificing their lives and images in a war that is ostensibly non-combative.  While most American's during the era spouted their disdain for Russia and a support for democracy, and, subsequently, capitalism, few were willing to standup and take action, only yelling and judging those around them, hoping to catch them in any at that could be deemed un-American.  Extend this to what is perhaps America's most notorious case of censorship and othering in the McCarthy hearings and one can consider the value of law and justice, when it is used in a divisive and problematic way.  The overly zealous and profusely misguided Joseph McCarthy took it upon himself to clean house on Hollywood and the arts in general, picking off any individual who even remotely envisioned something that was not wholly democratic.  This did not fair well for Jewish-American's working in motion pictures, nor anyone who was from Europe.  Fred Zimmerman, who was born in Vienna clearly had a frustrating experience with this ordeal and felt the willingness of his colleagues to betray others in the name of their own safety to be a complete destruction of all notions of justice and honesty, and High Noon, particularly, the character of Will exist to celebrate those who were willing to sacrifice their careers and personal advancement to call attention to the stupidity and absurdity involved in the entire set of McCarthy hearings.  Beyond this, the film deals with the manner in which a paranoia of "invasion" led many to betray ideals of justice.  The threat of Frank and his gang is somewhat inconceivable, much like the Russian invasion, therefore, the visions of destruction were blown out of proportion causing each family to wall itself off from its neighbors and entrench themselves in the belief that anybody going against the status quo to be trouble.  The townsfolk see Will as trouble and, ultimately, betray him for their foolish attempts at safety.  High Noon paints a picture of the Cold War ideology, arguably without realizing it, and uses the western to do so, much like Casablanca it is a film whose traditional execution manages to transcend its cinematic space and speak to a zeitgeist, even if one that is not fond to reflect upon, which perhaps helps to explain its seminal place in the history of American cinema.

Key Scene:  Each cut to the empty train tracks is so heightened that when the train finally emerges in the shot it has a power almost equal to that of the Lumiere Brothers first use of a locomotive to challenge moviegoers assumptions about the possibilities of film.

Buy this now...on bluray of course.


I Don't Think I Like Being In Love. It Puts A Bit In My Mouth: The Furies (1950)

Anthony Mann's The Furies is easily the most richly shot films I have encountered in this marathon.  Somewhere between between the deep grays and blacks and the way shadows explode and evaporate in his wide shots it is hard not to fall in love with the seeming sumptuousness of the film.  Of course Anthony Mann who I first encountered, fittingly enough in a Film Noir course for his work Border Incident, creates a landscape in his films that while beautiful, represents a decaying and fractured society and extends to reflect the psyche of those individuals existing in the space.  In fact, just like the previously mentioned Border Incident I would be inclined to call this film something of a film noir text, although it is also a woman's melodrama, in that Barbara Stanwyck whose presence alone is almost its own film noir trope, is playing a character who falls foolishly and blindly in love, an act that proves unusual for the actress who made a career as a femme fatale.  In its modernist blending of genres to create something spectacular, The Furies is a piece that is as captivating and it is jarring, the unusual soundtrack is more reminiscent of an Igor Stravinsky number than the swelling and sweeping violins of the traditional melodrama.  Everything about The Furies begs to be heavily considered and analyzed, no character throughout the film is purely of one mind frame or ethical framing, often contradicting their previous actions or betraying the very elements of respectablity which the western genre so heavily hinges itself.  The films possesses pseudo-villians, anti-heroes and even a reconsideration of who can occupy the space of such a good and evil dichotomy.  Sure the narrative gets a bit convoluted at the end and sloppily ties itself back together, but it is a work that wants to embellish its own fractured style, at times the slightest of alterations to the focus of the frame makes the scene blurry in the most inconspicuous of manners, nonetheless, suggesting a frame of reference that is, like the characters of The Furies, melting and sweating under its own heated paranoia.  Were this film not to be so heavily invested in the use of natural sets, one could easily place this among the greatest of expressionist masterworks.

The Furies, focuses on the farm and land for which the title borrows its name.  The land is located in the New Mexico territory and is compared to being a feudal ran area, which is fitting because the patron of the land T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston) navigates the world as though he had a certain degree of regal authority about himself.  T.C., as the narrative establishes, is far from in control of his situation and indeed owes a considerable amount of money to various lenders, while also struggling to keep a group of previous residents turned squatters from occupying his land.  All these issues come to the forefront while T.C.'s own daughter Vance (Barbara Stanwyck) attempts to assert her own presence on The Furies, hoping one day to own the entire land for herself, without the societally assumed ties of another male figure, preferably a husband.  To make matters slightly more convaluted Vance also has a strong relationship with one of the squatters named Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland) for whom her father does not approve, nor does the larger extent of society.  In enters Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey) a wealthy banker and loan shark, who has a considerable grudge with T.C. over name calling and wrongs in the past.  Yet, Rip is a powerful man and could free T.C. from his economic woes by marrying Vance, who takes an instant liking to debonaire gentleman.  Of course, Rip is far from Vance's ideal man because he is neither submissive nor interested in marrying her, even taking a bribe gladly not to mary her from T.C.  During her struggle to obtain the reigns of The Furies, Vance is blocked by T.C.'s mistress of sorts Flo (Judith Anderson) who has her own vision of what the ranch will become, a notion so infuriating to Vance that she violently attacks Flo with a pair of scissors.  After a final dispute over land, T.C. kills Juan and his men, pushing Vance to the edge, allowing her to remove all barriers from her desire to overtake her disillusioned father, using his blind economic ambitions against him and eventually tricking him into submission, an act that results in T.C. congratulating his daughter and allowing her control over the land.  Yet T.C.'s previous egregious behavior inevitably leads to him being gunned down by the remaining members of the Herrera family and act that leads Vance and her now fiancé Rip to plan on naming their first child after her late father.

It is no mystery that Westerns often borrow their narratives from other well established literary or filmic works, in many cases films borrow directly from Wagnerian operas or from classic samurai flicks.  Anthony Mann, on the other hand, had a very well-documented and feverish desire to create the perfect King Lear adaptation.  To a degree The Furies is almost a King Lear adaptation, in the blind patriarchal ambition and it is in this particular devotion to Shakespearian figures that one can find western tropes within The Furies being embrace and rejected, at times, simultaneously.  The King Lear figure is decidedly a masculine one, and those he is attempting to pass his land along to are decidedly male as well.  Mann in his quest for the appropriate replacement for the figure, creates an absurdly blinded vision of Lear that is highly metaphorical and not the literal "let him smell his way to Dover" one of the play.  The absurdity is no less present though, particularly in his refusal to allow his daughter to run The Furies despite a clear and established ability to do so successfully, it is this very issue of gender that both bends the idea of domestic roles, as well as the figures within the classical text.  Shakespeare who was no denier of gender bending, think The Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it would not be unreasonable to consider a version of Lear where the son's are replaced by daughters, or in this case at least one daughter who is attempting to assert herself as a masculine figure.  Stanwyck performs this role masterfully, moving through spaces in an erect and assertive manner, however, the narrative falters when she meets Rip who knocks down any assumptions she has about her ability to be a patriarchal figure and assert her authority.  This is perhaps where Mann loses his ability to commit to a real possibility for a new consideration of Lear.  What could have been a revolutionary statement of domesticity and classic adaptations flails in the end to tie up lose ends in a traditionalist notion, one that would allow for audiences to embrace the film without the confusion of a somewhat familiar story ending in a new way.  Ultimately, Mann succeeds more than he fails in his particular adaptation, it should just be noted that his reliance, even if minimal, on western genre tropes result in a failure to grasp the final rung of perfection in the films closing moments.

Key Scene:  The shootout between T.C. and the Herrera family is wonderful and really speaks to the psychological divisions of the film, as well as showing the wonderful way a world was filmed under Mann's direction.

This is a must grab, almost solely because Criterion puts more effort into a transfer and supplements than is remotely necessary.  The article provided is especially excellent, not to mention the inclusion of the book for which this film was based.


You Can't Buy Your Way Out Of A Bad Impression: Pocket Money (1972)

While many times I just grab a quote that I find to be funny, poignant or cool as it relates to a movie, there is the rare treat of one of the pieces of dialogue perfectly summarizing everything about the film, unfortunately for Pocket Money the quote above reminds me of the ways in which Pocket Money fails. On paper, it should be absolutely perfect.  First, it stars Paul Newman who is a brilliant actor and certainly puts on a show here.  Second, it is directed by Stuart Rosenberg who I will always adore for creating my second favorite film ever Cool Hand Luke.  Finally, if these two high selling points were not enough the film was the result of a screen play by Terrence Malick, then simply known as Terry Malick.  You would think given my adoration for Malick (I thoroughly enjoyed To The Wonder and hope to review it come June) that it would be a selling point, especially since like Lynch, Malick has a way of capturing the midwest, as it is envision in this pseudo-modernist western.  All of these pieces would fit together brilliantly were it not for the tragic flaw in the execution of this film.  While Malick's script is clearly interjected with a degree of humor, it is not, I would argue, intended to be played out so comedically and Pocket Money, for all intents and purposes, is expressly a comedy.  Much like Badlands, the humor that pops up throughout is intended to highlight the ignorance of the young couple attempting to make it on their own in the vast wild world.  What is funny is only so because if viewers are not to laugh they will be forced to deal with the crippling tragedy of the innocence lost and decaying of American identity.  Much the same Pocket Money should not have been played so heavy-handedly for its laughs, instead allowing viewers to come to each encounter by way of self-reference and poetic simplicity.  Malick, Rosenberg and Newman could certainly have provided viewers with such a film and it would easily have been heralded as a great cinematic gift, perhaps even trumping each of the respected artists other works. Yet, this is not the case and Pocket Money goes the way of traditional comedic structure, making the critiques of modernity invading lower class America and the false notions of transparent borders seem absurd, when, in fact, the tragedy is so great that to laugh would also mean to share in a defeated agreement.

Pocket Money focuses primarily on the experiences of Jim Kane (Paul Newman) a cowboy and rancher whose recent trouble with a set of horses from Mexico has led to him becoming twisted in debt and looking for any means to escape with his head still attached.  Knowing full and well that he must take money from any avenue possible, Kane agrees to become involved with some under-the-table cattle purchasing for the slimy, drawl Bill Garrett (Strother Martin) and his lackey Stretch Russell (Wayne Rogers).  Given a wad of cash and the promise of reimbursement for expenses the men send Kane to Mexico to purchase a large head of cattle and ship them inconspicuously back through the American border while avoiding quarantine checkpoints and the like.  Upon arrival to Mexico Kane meets up with Leonard (Lee Marvin) whose presence seems almost absurd as he is, at best, a pseudo-ranch hand with his wide ties and hat more reminiscent of a fedora than a cowboy hat.  The two, nonetheless, work beautifully together knowing the magic of bartering often playing off of one another for their respective strengths to get proper deals.  Yet even as the two seem flawless at their jobs a variety of issues get in the way, mostly as a result of language barriers and disgruntled employees, leading to various issues, primarily Kane's brief arrest as a result of fighting a former worker whom Kane fired for his flippant attitude and lazy work habits.  Nonetheless, after scraping enough money together and getting the cattle to the border, Kane and Leonard manage to get them on an train and then on trucks to the meet-up point, of course, cheating their way out of having to pay considering that they have exhausted all resources and have yet to hear back from their employers.  Yet, a chance encounter with Stretch allows for Kane to get some of his money back, as well as discovering the location of Garrett's hotel.  Kane exacts some justice to get his money back, although it proves a bit futile because Garrett too has taken a hit due to quarantine regulations.  Ultimately, the pair of Kane and Leonard are shown awaiting a train to return home, defeated and broke, embracing what very little hope they have entirely in the strength of their relationship.

So while I am not overly thrilled by this movie and am quite frustrated by its genre execution, I am quite adoring of the commentary it is trying to bring forth, primarily the manner with which modernity has alienated the cowboy identity.  Kane is a person who expressly explains his own ignorance, often shying away from lengthy talks or shuffling about his engagements with brokers.  We are shown Kane engaging with a bank executive with such shyness and awkwardness one is led to believe that, psychologically speaking, Kane might be suffering.  Of course, he proves later to be rather adept and quite smart, it is simply a fear for the modern and non-traditional that troubles him.  This is further explained in his his encounters with the livestock auction.  Kane's unable to sell his horses because of some unusual blood issue that has resulted in their being quarantined, although the narrative seems to suggest that they will be fine upon release it is simply a precaution, if an excessive one at that.  The notion of modernity slips in here because Kane, a man who seems to come from a world of bartering and handshakes is baffled by such an precaution, especially since everything seems to suggest that the horses will be fine, perhaps only a decade earlier such paranoia would not have led to their unnecessary quarantine, instead; an agreement to take the horses on loan would have been worked out until they were healthier.  Furthermore, Kane clearly moves through a modernized world of drive-thrus and hotel swimming pools as an outsider, beautifully composed shots of Kane in the foreground, donning his sweat drenched cowboy hat are juxtaposed with children jumping in and out of a pool, Kane's refusal to move into this world, literally marking him as different and suffering as a result.  Of course, this is not to suggest that all of Kane's attachment to the past is to be embraced, in fact, his traditionalism also seems to afford him a belief system that degrades and others the Mexican community he encounters, talking in a foolish form of Spanglish and rejecting the food offered to him by a group he deems fit to dismiss.  In this case modernity has allowed for the advancement of a people and a huge boost in their own self-worth wherein Kane's refusal to adapt is ignorant and self-involved.  Perhaps the best moment of proper rejection on Kane's part comes after his semi-beatdown of Garrett. Kane understands that no amount of traditional talk will allow him to get to Garrett's wallet, therefore, he chucks the hotel television out the window, both a rejection of technology, as well as the reliance on such devices that Garrett and others seem to have.  Finally, it is implied at both Kane and Leonard, in all his city slicker glory, are the last vestiges of traditional western identity and as such desire to ride off into the sunset, but as the closing suggest modernity demands that they wait on a train in order to do so.

Key Scene:  The hotel beatdown is fun and one of the few moments that is acceptable as being played comedic.

I would discourage you from seeking this film out, despite its set of excellent elements they simply do not add up to what one would assume to be brilliant filmmaking.  There are other westerns, other Newman performances and certainly other Malick films well worth checking out instead.