"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cowboys & Zombies (Mattia Borrani Productions, 2011)


A genre movie




 
 
The word genre is often used in films. IMDb lists Action, Adventure, Biography, Comedy, Crime, Documentary, Drama, Family, Fantasy, History, Horror, Music and Musical, Science-Fiction, Short, Sport, Thriller, War and, natch, Western, though some of these are dubious as genres and some clearly overlap. One film can be in several genres at the same time, such as the comedy-musical Western Belle of the Yukon, for (unfortunate) example.

I myself am pretty limited in my appreciation of genres. I like Westerns and, um, well, that’s pretty much it. I’ll manage the odd crime or action adventure picture now and then (I like car chases and the occasional exploding helicopter) and rogue CIA agents are quite fun but I never did care for science-fiction or musicals or war films, and least of all horror movies.

Last night, though, I dutifully sat through Cowboys & Zombies on the Horror Channel. It wasn’t Cowboys vs. Zombies (a 2014 epic) or Cowboy Zombies (a 2013 masterpiece) or Cowboys, Zombies & Centaurs (a 2011 TV saga), but Cowboys & Zombies, not listed on IMDB, and I didn’t take notes on the cast and credits, so I’m afraid can’t help you there. But then I discovered that the movie is also called The Dead and the Damned and, as such, is indeed listed on IMDb. It was apparently written and directed by one Rene Perez, who, we are told, is “also the lead singer/ songwriter for the band iDiC and he's proficient in the martial art of Muay Thai”. So there you have it.

Cowboys & Zombies overlaps with yet another genre, soft porn, as the girls involved are big-breasted and often remove their blouses. It’s a cheap production, perhaps straight-to-video, and uses amateur actors of notable awkwardness. The ‘hero’, a bounty hunter who executes his dead-or-alive victims (but it’s alright; it’s to raise money to buy out his girlfriend’s parents’ mortgage or something, so that excuses it, obviously), has a high squeaky voice and quite shocking diction (though it was in English I would have relished subtitles). While he is chasing an Indian, another word-slurrer, for the bounty, some other cowboys dig up and take into Whiskey Town a strange sphere which glows green and turns them all into zombies when one of them, naturally, immediately takes a pick to it. They aren’t real living-dead zombies, though, because they can easily be killed by pistol shots, so there is mucho shooting from there on in.
 

 

These zombies are cannibals and eat an unexplained German, then the heroic Indian. We don’t mind too much about the German (we have never seen him before) but it was rather a shame about the Indian. The survivors pass a horrid night in a deserted saloon under attack from zombie maidens. This is a very bad part because to pass the long night before the zombies attack the characters talk a lot and, as they can’t act, it is pretty painful.

The hero isn’t a proper hero at all because he captures the Indian after his Colt has gone by using a derringer, a very sneaky ploy. Everyone knows derringers are the pocket guns of whores and gamblers. He rides dreadfully badly too.
 

 

Many scenes are reminiscent of video games as you see the pistol at arm’s length in front of the camera and track it as it shoots at zombies and blows them up, one by one.

The zombies walk in that stupid waddle zombies are supposed to use, with their arms held out.

There’s a jangly sub-Neil Young electric guitar score (very sub). Dead Man it isn’t.
 

 

Suddenly at the end the hero dies and the unexplained German comes back. Oh well.

I’d skip this one if I were you. I quite enjoyed Cowboys& Aliens the same year, it must be said, but that was a big-budget Hollywood effort with pzazz and was fun. Cowboys & Zombies is a very low-budget z-movie.

And not my genre.

 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pony Express (Paramount, 1953)


Preposterous twaddle


 


 

 
 
Of all the daft movies which twisted Western history into absurd myth, Pony Express must be one of the most egregious.

Buffalo Bill Cody was in some ways the central figure of the myth of the West. He made it his business (literally) to build up the legend of his past and prowess, and he glorified the popular fallacy of the frontier. Dime novels were being published about his derring-do in the Wild West even while that frontier life was still happening (and the Western frontier as we understand it from the novel to the screen, big and small, was incredibly short-lived anyway, if it even existed at all).

 
William F Cody as a (relatively) young man

Heston as Cody


So it is no surprise that Hollywood has given us a whole series of Buffalo Bills, each sillier than the last, from George Waggner in Ford’s The Iron Horse in 1924, through James Ellison (a rather pale Bill) in The Plainsman in 1936, Joel McCrea as the eponymous Buffalo Bill in 1944, Richard Arlen, Monte Hale, Roy Rogers and many more. Over seventy movies have featured Cody. But none was as bonkers as Charlton Heston’s in 1953.

It is unlikely that Cody ever was a Pony Express rider at all. As a boy of eleven in 1857 he rode as a messenger for a short while but that was not in the official Pony Express, which lasted only eighteen months in 1860 – 61. He most certainly did not found the service with Wild Bill Hickok. Charlton Heston was thirty in 1953 when the movie Pony Express was made and is shown as an experienced (and pretty well invincible) plainsman who invents the Pony Express and sets it all up with his partner Hickok. It’s complete piffle.
 

 

I never liked Heston in Westerns much. He always comes across as a superior, sour, even sadistic type. I make an exception for the great Will Penny, in which he was superb, but from his first oater, the movie The Savage in 1952, then Pony Express in ’53 and the noxious Arrowhead the same year, he sneeringly slaughtered people as if perfectly justified. In films like Major Dundee and The Last Hard Men (not yet reviewed; I must get round to it) he plays a bitter, violent man with few if any saving graces. He swaggers arrogantly about the West and I have invented a new word to describe his persona: swarrogant. I’m sure he wasn’t swarrogant in real life but he certainly appeared so in in his movies.

The ridiculous plot of Pony Express reduces Wild Bill Hickok (fourth-billed Forrest Tucker) to little more than a sidekick. Tucker isn’t bad, in fact, in his frock coat with brace of pistols, butts forward (Heston remains in buckskins throughout) but the script doesn’t give Hickok much of a chance.

 
The excellent Forrest Tucker as Hickok

 
As the screenplay was by Charles Marquis Warren we had the right to expect better of this deeply silly film. One of the creators and a writer/producer of some classic Western TV shows such as Gunsmoke, Rawhide and The Virginian, Warren also worked on the scripts of numerous big-screen Westerns, such as Streets of Laredo, Only the Valiant, Little Big Horn and Springfield Rifle. It is true that none of these was what you would call a great Western and some were decidedly weak but still, he had a considerable track record as a genre writer.
 

Charles Marquis Warren
 

Paramount threw budget at it. It had some stirring Paul Sawtell music, Ray Rennahan Technicolor cinematography and nice Kanab, Utah locations. Jerry Hopper gave the orders; it was his first of only two big-screen Westerns as director (the other was the syrupy The Missouri Traveler) but he went on to do loads of TV oaters. But no one, cast or crew, could overcome the dumb script.
 

 

It isn’t enough for the hero to set up the Pony Express and be threatened by Indians, say, or outlaws. The story invents some twaddle about Californian separatism, with a brother-and-sister team of plotters (Michael Moore and Rhonda Fleming) in cahoots with the boss of the Overland Stage line (Stuart Randall) who fears the Pony Express will drive him out of business. California will secede if Californians see the Pony Express service doesn’t work. I mean, honestly. I know you have to suspend credibility to watch Westerns at all but you’d have to be a moron to swallow this. And this skullduggery aspect means there is a lot of plot and thus a lot of talking, death for a Western. You can tell the brother is a rotter early on, though, because he pulls a derringer.

Naturally Yellow Hand (an uncredited Pat Hogan) has to appear as the Indian arch-enemy. Yellow Hand (who probably wasn’t even named that; he was Heova'ehe or Yellow Hair) actually fought with Cody on July 17, 1876, at Warbonnet Creek in Sioux County in northwestern Nebraska, and some stories tell that Cody scalped him – “the first scalp for Custer”. In Pony Express Cody slays Yellow Hand in ’61 when setting up the Pony Express, and he does so in a rather casual and undramatic way, fortunately not scalping him. Up to then Yellow Hand talks in that irritating way Hollywood Indians so often did, you know, “Ug, me big chief”, and so on.
 

The hand-to-hand combat with Yellow Hand
 

Calamity Jane often appears in Cody/Hickok movies. She doesn't in this one, not by name anyway, but there is a Calamity-like figure, the feisty Denny, whose unrequited love for Cody persists throughout the picture. She is played by a remarkably wasp-waisted Jan Sterling. For me, there was no contest – lovely, elegant Rhonda versus tomboy Jan? But of course Rhonda is a villainess so Jan’s chances get better. There’s a famous scene where the two gals bathe in adjacent tubs, but it isn’t as saucy as it sounds; in fact it’s all very chaste. Sigh.
 

Calamity-like Jan Sterling
 

One good thing: Jim Bridger has a cameo appearance. He’s played by Porter Hall and he is lord of Fort Bridger and a pal of the two Bills. There is of course no evidence that Bridger ever knew or even met William F Cody or JB Hickok.

The actual pony express service doesn’t start till the last ten minutes of the film. But then there’s loads of action as the staging posts are dynamited by the bad guys. (Dynamite wasn’t patented until 1867 but never mind). Then Cody himself rides the last leg of the relay into Sacramento to save the day in the nick of time and foil the evil secessionist anti-American plotters. There’s a last-reel shoot-out. So it isn’t all unalloyed junk. There are some good bits.

But overall, this is a very poor movie.

 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Station West (RKO, 1948)


A noirish B Western from that great year of 1948
 

 


 

 
 
1948 was a splendid year. It saw the birth of Jeff Arnold, Western blogger extraordinaire, for one thing. For another, it produced some of the best Western movies ever made. 1948 was the year of major works like Red River and Fort Apache, masterpieces of Howard Hawks and John Ford respectively. It was also the year The Treasure of the Sierra Madre came out, if you consider that a Western. But it was the time of smaller but still outstandingly good pictures such as Yellow Sky with Gregory Peck, The Man from Colorado with Glenn Ford and William Holden, and Four Faces West with Joel McCrea. Worth a look, too, is Fury at Furnace Creek with Victor Mature.  Noir was in fashion and Westerns such as Blood on the Moon with Robert Mitchum appeared. Randolph Scott graced three oaters, Albuquerque, Return of the Bad Men and Coroner Creek. Blood on the Moon, Coroner Creek and Albuquerque were all filmings of novels by the great Luke Short, and yet another Short story was made into the excellent little Station West, which we’ll look at today. Yup, ’48 was a great year alright. If you include all those Roy Rogers and Bill Elliott pictures, as well as many other programmers, audiences that year were able to see 126 Westerns, no less, on the big screen. Oh, happy day.
 

Annus mirabilis
 

Station West starred Dick Powell. Now Powell (1904 – 1963), who had been a jazz singer before entering movies, played a lot of affable juveniles before discovering a talent for the hard-boiled. In 1944 he starred in the first of a series of gangster noirs, as Philip Marlowe (the first film Marlowe) in Murder, My Sweet, and was Marlowe again on radio. Movies like Cornered, Johnny O’Clock and Cry Danger made him the pre-eminent Hollywood tough guy, and if you wanted a hard private eye, you couldn’t do better. With Westerns a staple of all the studios, big and small, it was natural that this tough-guyhood of Powell’s would be applied to the genre of oater, and, if you exclude the musical comedy Cowboy From Brooklyn (1938), and you would be wise to, then Station West was his first proper Western.
 

Powell doing his tough private eye act
 

Powell played all his Western leads as if he were in a black & white private-eye story, wisecracking and tough-guying all over the set, but in a quiet, understated, powerful way. In Station West he plays an undercover Army man investigating the murder of two soldiers in a gold robbery. The ideal role for Powell, really.

There is a song sung by Burl Ives over the titles, in that wonderfully honeylike voice he had, and he plays the cynical/wise hotel clerk, somewhere between the fool and the chorus, in a charming performance. This was Ives’s first Western and he went on to appear in 23 altogether, including some of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre on TV. His finest Western performance was probably opposite Robert Ryan in the 1959 André De Toth-directed Day of the Outlaw, a superb film.
 

Ives: superb
 

Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, in an unusually tough and non-comic role, plays Powell’s principal opponent and Raymond Burr is the cowardly crooked lawyer in town, Bristow.

 
Burr: well cast as slimy lawyer

 
A young John Doucette is the barman. In true Luke Short fashion (and indeed in a classic set-up in so many Westerns) the hero has two dames (being Powell he probably would have thought of them as broads) to choose between. Jane Greer is particularly good as the conflicted Charlie, the saloon owner.

 
Greer very good

 
It was Greer’s second and last big-screen Western, though she too appeared on Dick Powell’s TV show a few times. Director Lanfield had wanted Dietrich for the part but he was lucky to get Greer. Agnes Moorehead, in her first Western, plays an especially unscrupulous and unattractive mine owner. Director Lanfield called her ‘hatchet face’ and unkind as that was, there was an element of truth to it. She was to be Jesse James’s mother in Fox’s 1958 effort and she was in a lot of Western TV shows but she never really made it in a big-screen oater.

There’s a lot of skullduggery appropriate to what is basically a nineteenth century crime drama which could have been set at pretty well any era but which happens to be a Western. There’s plot aplenty but that doesn’t slow the action down too much.

The best bit is when Charlie gives Bristow a derringer: a classic use, this, of that pocket gun, as a female saloon owner slips one to a crooked lawyer in a suit.
 

Worth a look
 

The movie was directed by Sidney Lanfield, his first Western. He went on to do loads of TV oaters, notably Wagon Train and The Deputy, but this was his only big-screen cowboy film. He didn’t do badly and the pace rattles right along. The writers who adapted Luke Short’s novel were Frank Fenton and Winston Miller. Fenton worked on River of No Return but also on some classy stuff like Escape from Fort Bravo and Garden of Evil. Miller had worked on talkie Westerns since the 1930s. He wrote the tight little Fury at Furnace Creek for Victor Mature in 1948 too, and reached Western heights working on the script of My Darling Clementine for John Ford. Both writers were experienced, more than competent and knew their onions.

So Station West is a taut little Western noir, definitely one of RKO’s better efforts and a worthy contributor to that golden year I so often drone on about.

 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Magnificent Seven Ride! (UA, 1972)


The franchise winds down




 
 
Oft have I waxed lyrical (dig the usage) about The Magnificent Seven, a magnificent Western. I am, however, less enthusiastic about the series of sequels, all pretty poor, which it spawned. The name descended to a mere franchise. In 1966, six years after Chris and Vin led the Seven in defense of that Mexican village against the bandito Calvera (a renegade from the New York stage), Robert Fuller took over from Steve McQueen as Vin in Return of the Seven. It was a pale imitation but at least it had Yul Brynner as Chris again and was directed by Burt Kennedy, so things could have been a lot worse. They were, in 1969, when George Kennedy was Chris in the stodgily-directed and weakly-written Guns of The Magnificent Seven, an eminently missable Western. And then, in 1972, came the last of the (big screen) sequels – or at least the last for the moment – The Magnificent Seven Ride!

Regular readers of this blog, both of them, will know the Arnold Exclamation Point Hypothesis (AEPH), which posits that a ! in the title of a Western almost guarantees low quality. It’s as if they needed to add the punctuation mark to liven up an otherwise moribund story.
 

Yet another sequel
 

In this one we start in the town of Sheridan, Arizona Territory, where a natty-suited Chris (in a rather unfortunate brown) is now marshal, and a pretty uncompromising one too. He is an “important man”, a friend of the Governor, and he name-drops quite a lot. He tells his would-be biographer all about how he and Bat Masterson won the battle of Adobe Walls and how he “outdid” Clay Allison and the Dalton brothers. Slightly odd chronology here, as Adobe Walls was fought in 1874, Allison died accidentally on his ranch in 1887 and the Daltons (most of them) were killed in Coffeyville in 1892. So when is this story set? Well, pardners, who cares?
 

Lee van Cleef does his thing
 

Lee has his pipe (though not the Sharps) from Barquero and all those spaghetti westerns that he was in before and after this effort. He was in that stage of his career that would have been called a late flowering except for the crappy material he acted in. Still, van Cleef is van Cleef and glory, laud and honor be his.

This notion of the biographer who shadows the gunman hero has become a familiar Western trope. Probably the best of them was WW Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) in Unforgiven but think too of Bob Dylan in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid or the similar figure played by Hurd Hatfield in The Left-Handed Gun. The would-be scrivener Dobkins (Rick Lenz) in The Shootist gets short shrift from JB Books, though.

Anyway, where were we?
 

The Seven
 

Well, Marshal Lee has a chick and she is brutally “raped, killed and left for the buzzards” by a vicious gang which includes a young man the marshal set free in a moment of weakness. So much for mercy from now on. Although the quality of Lee’s mercy had already been pretty strained.

Before long, of course, we get back to the tried-and-tested plot line of defending a Mexican village from a marauding bandito. This one is named de Toro but he is such a pale imitation of Eli Wallach as to be transparent. We hardly see him at all and there is certainly no character development whatsoever. Poor direction and writing. The former is by George McCowan, a Canadian who reached the heights of fame directing Starsky & Hutch episodes. Responsible for the latter is Arthur Rowe, a writer of Western TV shows, whose last oater this was.

There’s the cliché of recruiting convicts from the territorial prison. They make up the other five, who, with the marshal and the biographer, constitute the less than magnificent seven.

 
They look like the Daltons in Lucky Luke

 
If you want to know who these nobodies are (though you probably don’t), you have dime novelist Noah Forbes (Michael Callan), gunslinger Mark Skinner (Luke Askew), explosives expert Pepe Carral (Pedro Armendariz Jr.), big ox Walt Drummond (William Lucking), ex-soldier Andy Hayes (James Sikking) and construction guy Scott Elliott (Ed Lauter). Unlike the originals, however, there is no satisfactory delineation of these characters and so when four of them are killed we hardly even notice and don’t really care.

This film was better than spaghetti westerns of the era and occasionally just staggers up to the mediocre.

 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fighting Man of the Plains (Fox, 1949)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dale Robertson as Jesse James
 

 

 
 
Randy participated a couple of times in the Lawrence, Kansas raid during the Civil War. He usually did so reluctantly, a Confederate with principles, often standing up against Reb reprobates who wished to do harm to women and children. See The Stranger Wore a Gun, for example. In Fighting Man of the Plains (a rather silly title) he plays Jim Dancer, a renegade turned sheriff, a classic Western good badman – the sort of role at which Scott excelled. As a railroad worker in Lanyard, Ks. (a sort of Abilene/Dodge), he tries to carve out a new life for himself, lay down his guns and put his past as killer behind him. But of course his true grit comes out and when the elders need a tough marshal to clean up the town, it’s to Randy they turn.
 

Nice remastered print
 

The opening sequences are actually quite surprising. Scott shoots down an unarmed man, believing him to be his brother’s killer. This isn’t what we expect from Randy. And anyway, it turns out to be the wrong man he killed. Oops. So he’s haunted by this and is tracked down by a certain Cummings (good old James Millican), a sleuth from the “Pleasanton” Detective Agency of Chicago, Illinois. Movies often invented euphemisms for the Pinkertons, perhaps because the real Pinkerton agency was still active. In a twist, Randy manages to swap identities with Cummings and takes over the man’s rep as well as ID.

Lanyard, Kansas is a railroad boom town. There is the inevitable crooked town boss. Such bosses are nearly always saloon owners and nearly always Victor Jory, so when we see saloon owner Jory being decent, and nice to Randy too, we are confused. The actual crooked town boss appears to be Slocum (Barry Kelley), the real assassin of Randy’s brother. Coincidence, huh? There are other amazing coincidences and stretches to credibility, such as when Joan Taylor as Evelyn, the daughter of the man Randy shot in Lawrence, happens to live in Lanyard and doesn’t recognize him. In fact she falls for him. But then stretches of credibility were common in Westerns. You have to a bit gullible to follow the whole genre, n’est-ce pas?
 

The cast on the set
 

There are some good bits, such as when Marshal Randy with a shotgun stands down a lynch mob. A bit of a cliché but Westerns were kinda based on clichés, weren’t they? Let’s call them respectful conventions and then they’ll be acceptable. There’s another episode when the steely marshal in black advances implacably on a foe, shoots him down and then snarls at a bystander, “Was it a fair fight?” Well, no, Randy, it wasn’t, not really.
 

Which gal will get him? He decides in the last minute of the movie.
 

A curious feature of the movie is the big build-up given to a virtual unknown, the 26-year-old Dale Robertson, in the part of Jesse James.  It’s little more than a cameo (he only appears twice, 55 minutes in, and for very short times) and it was Robertson’s (credited) screen debut and first Western. In reality, of course, Jesse James was not a participant in the 1863 Lawrence raid (he was only 15) but since when have minor inconveniences such as reality got in the way of a Western yarn? Dale was being groomed for stardom by Fox. He does a decent enough job as an affable Jesse, it must be said.
 

Debuting Dale is Jesse
 

The director for Fox was Edwin L Marin so the film is competently done. He’d directed Wayne in Tall in the Saddle (review coming soon) and had already directed Randy in two oaters, Abilene Town and Canadian Pacific, and would go on to do again in Colt .45, The Cariboo Trail, Fort Worth and Sugarfoot.

The movie was digitally remastered in 2012 and looks nice now, shot in Cinecolor by Fred Jackman Jr. and it has quite stirring Paul Sawtell music. Paul Fix was a co-writer and plays a small part, as Yancey. Randy triumphs, beats the bad guys and gets the girl. Jory may be unfortunately good but he has a derringer. So all’s well with the world.

A goodie.

 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Stagecoach (CBS TV, 1986)


The weakest of the three Stagecoach versions but still just about watchable
 



 

 
John Ford’s Stagecoach, though it was, in my view, far from the best ever Western, is certainly one of the most famous and many people would put it right up there with the greats. It was not the first adult Western, as has been claimed, or even the first adult talkie Western but it was an intelligent ensemble piece, (loosely) based on a decent short story (Ernest Haycox’s Stage to Lordsburg and indirectly and vaguely, through Haycox, Maupassant’s Boule de Suif). It did not introduce John Wayne (Raoul Walsh did that in Fox’s The Big Trail in 1930) but it did bring him back to fame after the previous decade languishing in B oaters and it showcased him alright, and made him a star.
 
The real Ringo, 1939
 
Though over-talky and occasionally slow, the movie did have an actionful climax with Canutt stunts. It is not truly great but it is more than watchable today.

A remake was inevitable. Fox did it in color in 1966 with, on top of the stage, Slim Pickens replacing Andy Devine at the reins alongside stocky Van Heflin in the shotgun messenger/marshal role first taken by George Bancroft. Despite solid (not to say stolid) direction by Gordon Douglas, and William Clothier photography of nice locations (the story was transposed to Wyoming), it suffered from, inside, Ann Margret as Dallas and Alex Cord as Ringo.
 
A pale imitation (sketched by Rockwell, though), 1966
 
They simply didn’t cut it. Bing Crosby was alright in the Thomas Mitchell drunken doctor role but Mike Connors as the southern gambler Hatfield and Red Button as the whiskey drummer Peacock were too weak. The movie is watchable and no worse than many 1966 Westerns but really that’s about all you can say.

Country-singer Westerns became quite a fashion in the 1980s and in ’86 Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson had a go at Stagecoach. The movie opens to the inimitable Willie warbling and he did all the music (I thought I detected an embryonic Borderline in there at one point). Kris gets the Ringo part, though in deference to his 50 years he declines to be known as the Ringo Kid, preferring just Ringo or his more prosaic moniker, Bill Williams.
 
The Ringo Kid in 1986, aged 50
 
Ah, the magic of the Ringo name! Johnny Ringo (John Peters Ringo, 1850 – 1882) was in fact a rather staid, depressive character who probably committed suicide, but on the Hollywood screen (and the small one) he was all that a dashing gunslinger could be. Gregory Peck, Richard Boone, John Ireland and Jim Davis, among many others, gave us their Ringo and pretty ornery and good with a gun he was too. Well, Kris is OK in his version, I guess.

As an actor, though, Willie Nelson made a great singer. In this one he is Doc Holliday, on his way to Tombstone. Yup, he’s the dentist who delivers the baby (though hardly a drunk).
 
Willie as Doc. Yes, well.
 
The story starts in the oriental Saloon in Tonto and they are going to Tombstone, through Geronimo territory. The usual suspects assemble as passengers, or almost. The prostitute Dallas is there, played by Elizabeth Ashley, Nancy Sue in The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday, who is modestly described in IMDb’s biography as “divinely outgoing in personality” but who, in this picture, isn’t. The crooked banker Gatewood also takes his place, impersonated this time by Anthony Franciosa (Rodriguez from Rio Conchos). The pregnant Army wife Mrs. Mallory also makes an appearance (Mary Crosby). The drummer Peacock is Londoner Anthony Newley. The worst actor, though, even worse than Willie, is Waylon Jennings as Hatfield. It's really quite painful to watch.
 
Waylon as the Southern gambler Hatfield. Oh dear.
 
Up on the box, John Schneider from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman is the Overland stage driver and beside him as the Tonto marshal taking a turn as guard is the best actor of the cast, Johnny Cash. Cash was in a lot of TV Western shows and had also been surprisingly effective as a tired gunslinger on the big screen opposite Kirk Douglas in A Gunfight in 1971. Cash’s marshal is tougher than the original and much less sympathetic to Ringo.
 
Schneider at the reins and Cash pretty good as Messenger
 
There’s little subtlety. It’s not an art film. The scene where Gatewood refuses to eat with the whore, for example, is bungled by very experienced TV Western director Ted Post, who should have done better. The characters are more modern and cynical than in 1939 (or 1966), and the Dallas/Ringo relationship is especially hard-bitten and knowing. Just occasionally some attempt is made with the writing to lift it, such as when Willie appears to quote Saki in declaring that “There’s nothing a child hates more than a good example.” The teleplay was written by James Lee Barrett, who had worked on The Undefeated, Shenandoah and The Cheyenne Social Club. All in all, though, it’s a made-for-TV movie, with all that that implies.

The drummer leaves with the Army when they get to Apache Wells and it is Gatewood who is shot with an Indian arrow. At the end it is the four singers who walk down to fight it out with the evil Plummers. The bartenders take the mirror down before the gunfight, in time-honored fashion. It all climaxes with a classic Ringo/Luke Plummer quick-draw pistol showdown.
 
The Highwaypersons, mid-1980s
 
It's the chemistry between the members of The Highwaymen (the supergroup was founded the year before, and this movie functions as a sort of commercial for it) that fuels this film rather than thespian skill, and, as Rolling Stone said, "Stagecoach cracks its whip by focusing on country star power, not necessarily acting ability." Never mind, it's still quite fun, in a B-Western kinda way.
 
 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Howdy


Howdy, e-pards.


Just to say sorry I haven't been online much in November (minor irritations of life such as work have got in the way of the serious and proper matter of Western blogging) but I am back now and aiming to post twice a week for the forseeable future.

So check back. Coming soon:

Dale Robertson as Jesse James, the life of Pat Garrett, the country singer version of Stagecoach, and more!

Meanwhile, happy trails.

Jeff