Red River (1948) starring John Wayne & Montgomery Clift

[1] The film is considered a Western take on The Mutiny on the Bounty. The relationship between Tom Dunson and Matt Garth is deeply complex. Although they’re prepared to kill each other, deep down they still respect for one another. This relationship is based on control, idealism, respect, and trust.

[2] Wayne and Clift play beautifully off against each other. Father and surrogate son, first working together and then having a big difference of opinion on the cattle drive. Clift started a film career in Red River playing sensitive people who you can only trod on just so long before they take action. 

[3] If anyone doubts John Wayne as an actor of note then they need look no further than his performance here as Dunson. Tough and durable in essence the character is, but Wayne manages to fuse those traits with a believable earthy determination that layers the character perfectly. With Wayne all the way, matching him stride for stride, is Montgomery Clift as Matthew Garth, sensitive without being overly so, it’s the perfect foil to Wayne’s machismo showing. Walter Brennan and John Ireland also shine bright in support, while a special mention has to go to a wonderful turn from Joanne Dru as Tess Millay…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Fourteen years after starting his cattle ranch in Texas, Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) is ready to drive his 10,000 head of cattle to market (1,000 mi. away in Missouri). Back then Dunson, his sidekick Nadine Groot (veteran character actor Walter Brennan) and a teenage boy, Matthew Garth (an orphan/survivor of an Indian attack on a wagon train) started off with only two head of cattle. Dunson is a harsh task master, demanding a great deal from the men signed up for the drive. Matt is a grown man now (who fought in the Civil War); he has his own mind and soon runs up against Dunson who won’t listen to advice from anyone. One of the drovers, Cherry Valance (John Ireland), proposes that they head toward Abilene. When the cattle stampede, Dunson goes to “gun-whip” one of the hands, but Matt intervenes. The men start taking sides and Matt ends up in charge w/ Dunson vowing to kill him. In the scene where Clift tells him he’s taking over the drive, Wayne turned his back on him and said in a low voice, “I’m gonna kill you, Matt.” This went against director Howard Hawks’ idea to have Wayne cringe, but the actor refused to appear cowardly and played it his way. The improvised moment left Clift astonished, but Hawks liked it (and it was used in the final cut).

Bet I ate ten pounds in the last sixteen days. Before this shenanigan is over, I’ll probably eat enough land to incorporate me in the Union. The state of Groot. -Groot complains (re: traveling through dirt roads)

You’re fast with that gun, Matt. Awful fast. But your heart’s soft. Too soft. Might get you hurt some day. -Cherry comments / Could be. I wouldn’t count on it. -Matt replies

There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good… Swiss watch? Cherry jokes w/ Matt

This is the kind of Western for the classic movie fan who avoids (or doesn’t usually enjoy) the Western genre! After seeing Wayne’s performance, rival director John Ford commented to Hawks: “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act.” This led to Ford casting Wayne in more complex/multi-layered roles, incl. The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Hawks originally offered the role of Dunson to Gary Cooper, but he declined it (b/c he didn’t believe the ruthless nature of the character would’ve suited his screen image). This was the debut of Clift (26 y.o. during filming and looking gorgeous), who was known as a talented theater actor. He learned to ride horses while at military prep school, but that was a different kind of riding than this role. Hawks always had high praise for how hard Clift worked (on his cowboy skills) for this picture. After seeing the final version of Red River, Clift found his performance mediocre, but recognized it as a star-making role. He later said: “I watched myself in Red River and knew I was going to be famous, so I decided I would get drunk anonymously one last time.” Burt Lancaster (a former acrobat) was first offered the role of Matt, but he had already signed on to star in the iconic film noir, The Killers (1946), which was his debut. 

There was concern that the leads (Wayne and Clift) would’t get along, since they were opposed on all political issues and both were outspoken on their views. The actors agreed not to discuss politics during shooting. Clift sometimes joined Wayne and Hawks in the nightly poker games they organized. Clift later said: “They tried to draw me into their circle, but I couldn’t go along with them. The machismo thing repelled me b/c it seemed so forced and unnecessary.” In Life Magazine, Wayne described Clift as “an arrogant little bastard.” 

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Reviews of Recently Viewed Films

Terminal Station (1953) starring Jennifer Jones & Montgomery Clift

Last week, I saw this rare little gem of a movie one afternoon (on TCM); the David O. Selznick cut is titled Indiscretion of an American Wife. Then, I decided to check out the slightly longer version from the Italian director, Vittorio De Sica(Amazon Prime); it contains a a few more (ambiguous) lines/scenes. De Sica’s films are known for romantic neo-realism. My parents (fans of Sophia Loren) really enjoyed Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage Italian Style (1964) which both won Oscars. 

If my art seems pessimistic, it is a consequence of my continuing optimism and its disillusion. At least I have enthusiasm. It is necessary to all professions to have enthusiasm in order to have success. -Vittorio De Sica

Why did you come with me? -Giovanni asks Mary

You didn’t look very wicked. I’m not an imaginative woman. It was you. It was Rome! And I’m a housewife from Philadelphia. -Mary replies

A married American woman, Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones) has been involved for a month w/ a slightly younger Italian-American teacher, Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift), in Rome while visiting relatives. One rainy morning, Mary suddenly decides to return home to her husband and young daughter, but w/o telling anyone (aside from her nephew, played by a young Richard Beymer). She goes to the (newly built) train terminal, realizes that she is not at all sure about leaving, and agonizes over her decision. Giovanni joins her at the station, very confused and hurt, as she had just told him “I love you” the previous night.  

[1] This is such a contained, focused film, and demands so much of its two actors, every little nuance matters in a kind of exciting dramatic way. The closest thing this compares to, as two lovers or would be lovers talk in a train station, is Brief Encounter (1945), and that’s a masterpiece of acting and cinema both. Here, with Montgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones, it comes close.

[2] Jennifer Jones, beyond radiant in her prime-of-life womanhood, exudes a sensuality that both contrasts strikingly with her 1950s-prim exterior and celebrates the troubled woman within…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

There is plenty of drama behind this film! Producer Selznick (then married to Jones), wanted to have a slick romance depicted; De Sica wanted to show a ruined romance (which was fully supported by Clift). De Sica favored realism, so wasn’t interested in Hollywood-style close-ups; Selznick eventually hired cinematographer Oswald Morris to film some of these. Each day on the set, Selznick had critical letters for De Sica (who didn’t know English). The script was altered several times, as the two men had such different visions. Two scenes were written by Truman Capote, who gets screenplay credit. 

The Violent Men (1954) starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, & Edward G. Robinson

Never meet the enemy on his terms. -John says to his ranch hands

I’ll fight for the privilege of being left alone. -John explains to Lee 

A former Union Army officer, John Parrish (Glenn Ford), fully recovered from his war wounds, plans to sell his ranch to the wealthy owner of Anchor Ranch, Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson) and move east w/ his fiancee, Caroline (May Wynn). However, the low price offered by Wilkison, and his hired mens’ bullying tactics, make Parrish think again. When one of his young ranch hands is murdered, he decides to stay and fight, using his battle know-how. At Anchor Ranch, Lew’s shrewd wife, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), has been having an affair w/ his handsome younger brother, Cole (Brian Keith), who has a Mexican girlfriend, Elena (Lita Milan), that he supports in town. Lew and Martha’s 20-something daughter, Judith (Dianne Foster), has become distant and angry; she has suspected deception in her home.

I know what you’re thinking- whoa, there are a lot of ladies in this Western! I was watching this at my dad’s; even he noticed this fact. Well, not all of these women are well-developed. Caroline seems like she’d marry any guy to get out of her hometown. Elena loves Cole desperately, but we don’t know much about her; her sudden/violent action at the end is quite unexpected (bordering on soap opera). Judith, who’s very much a “daddy’s girl,” is intrigued by Parrish, yet also abhors the violence that ensues during the stampede. Some viewers commented that in order to get a big star like Stanwyck, the role of Martha must’ve been bulked up by the writers. Who doesn’t like Stanwyck!? But I was expecting this film to be more about Parrish. 

[1] The Fifties was the age of the adult western, themes were entering into horse operas that hadn’t been explored before. There’s enough traditional western stuff …and plenty for those who are addicted to soap operas as well.

[2] …the actors in question deserved a better story from which to work from, it is, when all is said and done, a plot that has been milked for all it’s worth, and then some. …still a very rewarding film regardless of the missed opportunities evident with the production.

I learned that this film was shot partly in Old Tucson; my dad noticed this before I did! The cinematography is well done, which is a must for a Western. The best action scene is the one between the unapologetic/violent cowboy, Matlock (one of Lew’s men), and Parrish in the saloon. Ford plays it so cool; he can handle himself w/ a gun man-to-man. This isn’t quite a hit, but worth a look.

The Candidate (1972) starring Robert Redford

…one of the many great movies about the world of politics. It holds up as well today as it did in 1972 (maybe even better). 

A sad commentary on the way things work. Very relevant. I recommend it for fans of Robert Redford or anybody interested in politics 

It’s fair to say that many Americans are fed up w/ politics these days- LOL! It’s refreshing to take a day (or even a few hours) avoiding the news, even if you’re a news junkie (like me). This film was recently shown on TCM; I’d heard much about it, but never watched it. Also, who doesn’t love Redford!? Peter Boyle plays the political expert who convinces Redford to run for Senate (Democratic side, of course). Look out for cameos from journo Mike Barnicle (currently seen on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) and Redford’s real-life pal, Natalie Wood (playing herself).   

 

 

 

The Magnificent Seven (2016) starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, & Ethan Hawke

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story in MGM and Columbia Pictures’ re-imagining of The Magnificent Seven (based on Seven Samurai). With the town of Rose Creek under the control of evil robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople (“simple farmers”), led by young widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns: warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), card playing Joshua Farraday (Chris Pratt), former Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Bible-quoting bounty hunter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), East Asian knife fighter Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee- a star in his native South Korea), wanted outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo- a Mexican actor), and young Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As this motley crew prepare the town for the violent showdown w/ Bogue and his (many) hired men, these mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.

Right off the bat, we realize that Bogue is a cartoonish villain, unlike Eli Wallach’s bandit leader in the original. Bogue shoots a farmer, Matthew Cullen (Matt Bomer), who stands up to him outside the town church. That’s NOT even a smart bad guy move, as the reviewers on What the Flick!? said. Don’t look for much characterization in this movie, though it’s nice to see Denzel and Hawke’s chemistry onscreen many years after Training Day. I wanted to know more re: how they were connected, aside from one scene. I thought Haley Bennett did well; her character ends up fighting (w/ the Seven; in the original, it was a young Mexican man from the town.

The cast is diverse, which has a contemporary edge, as Mark Kermode noted. Vasquez repeatedly calls Faraday “huero;” Faraday asks what it means, but receives no reply. It’s a Mexican racial slur meaning “whitey.” Considering the ethnic make up of the Seven in 1879, the fact that this is the only racial slur directed at any one of the Seven during the entire film is somewhat of an anachronism. The two former Confederates (Faraday and Robicheaux) and African American Chisholm would likely have at least some animosity. Horne who has taken “300 Comanche scalps” would certainly make Red Harvest feel wary. D’Onfrio (who also worked earlier w/ Hawke) is playing an eccentric, over-the-top character, yet pulls it off so well that you want to know more. The way he speaks is so unusual, too. As for the Asian, every race looked down on them at this time in US history! However, the men’s mutual respect for each other as fighters may go some way to explain lack of racial tension.

I’m NOT a fan of Chris Pratt; the jokes he is given (mostly) fall flat and NOT that funny. In moments, his way of talking and attitude comes off as TOO modern (as Jeremy Jahns observed). As for Pratt’s screen presence and charisma factor, sorry, BUT I fail to see it. Fuqua cast him in the Steve McQueen role, BUT he just doesn’t measure up. I don’t see how this actor keeps getting big roles! I applaud him for losing weight/getting healthier after age 30. I heard that he and Denzel became quite friendly on the set; maybe Pratt picked up some tips from the veteran actor. We can hope, right?

This film embraces cliches and the typical things you expect from the Western genre. The action here is bigger, louder, and longer (in part to the incorporation of the Gatling gun in the third act). OK, I was NOT expecting that, which made the stakes higher and created even more danger for the heroes and the townspeople. Aside from the action, one of the reasons to see this movie is its music. Fuqua explained that James Horner’s team visited him on set in Baton Rouge, one month after the composer’s accidental death, to deliver the completed score. Horner liked the script so much that he composed the entire score during pre-production (WOW)! Almost each time there is a shot of Vasquez, we hear a reused cue from Horner’s score for The Mask of Zorro (1998). I knew this sounded familiar, then saw this bit of info on IMDB. From the moment when Faraday gets his horse and rides away, there are some beats from the original movie’s theme song, but with different instruments. In the closing credits the entire original theme song is heard.

There are some great wide shots in this film (which you can see on Amazon Prime). It aims for entertainment, NOT critical acclaim. It’s got some nice moments, BUT I expected more. There are a few lines (of Denzel’s) that I thought were quite fitting for the genre and his character. He does a fine job (as usual); he has an all-black costume, yet plays it cool (restrained), as Yul Brynner did. We eventually learn that Chisholm wants revenge against Bogue b/c of what happened years ago to his family. Finally, Emma gets to kill the man who took her husband from her. Only three of the Seven survive the fighting: Chisholm, Vasquez, and Red Harvest- this may be subversive (as Kristy Lemire said).

Hell or High Water (2016) starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster & Jeff Bridges

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

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Tanner (Ben Foster) and Tobey (Chris Pine) drink beer on their ranch.

This is (most likely) the “dark horse” in the Best Picture category in the Oscars, BUT if you like fine films, you need to check it out! I heard great reviews of it on 2 different podcasts, BUT finally saw it tonight (thanks to Redbox). This film takes you on a journey (not TOO long or short); it has interesting characters (including the bit players); and Jeff Bridges is in it (so what’s NOT to like!?) 

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Deputy Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner.

Deputy Marcus Hamilton (Bridges- one of my faves) is 3 weeks from retirement when he gets VERY interested in a curious case. Two men have been robbing branches of a particular West Texas bank for moderate sums of cash. These men are our main protagonists- brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Tobey (Chris Pine) Howard. Tanner is a loud-mouthed ex-con ONLY out of jail for a year; he enjoys robbing banks.  Tobey is more quiet, and his reluctant partner. Though they are VERY different men, they love and protect each other. 

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Tobey Howard (Chris Pine) has his eyes on the future.

This is labeled as a crime drama and a Western, BUT I feel it defies genre conventions. There is much humor, thanks in part to Bridges and his Native American/Mexican partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). There is easy chemistry between Foster (a bundle of energy and volatility) and Pine (somber, scraggly haired, and unglamorous). I NEVER saw what the fuss was about Pine until this film! The music and cinematography (by Giles Nuttgens, who has worked w/ BOTH Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair- two of my fave directors) are VERY well-done; too bad I didn’t see it earlier on the big screen.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

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Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brynner) drives the hearse while Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen) provides cover.

I’m not of the can-kicking, shovel-carrying, ear-scratching, torn T-shirt school of acting. There are very few real men in the movies these days. Yet being a real man is the most important quality an actor can offer on the screen.  -Yul Brynner

I saw this movie for the second time a few days ago; the first time, I didn’t pay much close attention.  The large ensemble cast is lead by Yul Brynner, undoubtedly one of the first leading men in Hollywood to transcend race.  Though his famed bald head is covered here, his unflinching gaze and deep authoritative voice (w/ its hard-to-place accent) are on full display.  In The Magnificent Seven, Chris is referred to as a “Cajun” by his old friend, Harry Luck (Brad Dexter).  It turns out that Yul’s paternal grandfather was of Swiss-German origin; his paternal grandmother was Russian, and was said to be of part Mongolian/Buryat ancestry.

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Calvera (Eli Wallach, one of Hollywood’s most respected character actors) is the ruthless Mexican bandit leader.

I’ve never lost my appetite for acting; it’s innovative and challenging.  -Eli Wallach

Speaking of “exotic” men, the main villain in this story is played by Eli Wallach, the Brooklyn-born son of Jewish immigrants from Poland.  He grew up in an Italian neighborhood; he would go on to play Italian and Mexican characters in his six-decade career. 

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Eli Wallach is the main reason you should watch “The Holiday” (2006).

My wife says that stage acting is like being on a tightrope with no net, and being in the movies, there is a net – because you stop and go over it again. It’s very technical and mechanical. On stage you’re on your own.  -Eli Wallach on film vs. theater acting

Wallach (who died in 2014 at age 98) studied “The Method” alongside Marlon Brando at The Actor’s Studio; this style would’ve differentiated him from several of his co-stars in The Magnificent Seven.  He learned to ride a horse for this role, w/ help from the Mexican stuntmen. 

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Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) is a Mexican/Irish gunfighter becomes a hero to 3 young boys of the village.

Acting is the easiest thing I’ve done, I guess that’s why I’m stuck with it.  -Charles Bronson

Speaking of 1st gen Americans, Charles Bronson (best known for his tough guy roles in Westerns) was the son of Lithuanian parents who settled in Pennsylvania.  You probably don’t recall seeing him as a young man, since he was a latecomer to Hollywood.  Bronson worked in the coal mines at age 16 to help support his family, then served in the Army as a young adult, then used the GI bill to study art- VERY cool! 

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In this film, Bronson has a rare good guy role.  Three boys in the village grow close to him, much to his surprise and bemusement. These kids admire his skills, but (in one pivotal scene) Bernardo explains that gunfighting is NOT what makes a man “brave.” 

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Britt (James Coburn) is skilled w/ a knife AND gun.  Catch him in “The Great Escape” (also w/ McQueen & Bronson).

I came from dust bowl folk — ordinary people who were stultified by the American Dream. 

I’m a jazz kind of actor, not rock’n’roll.

-James Coburn

Tall and lanky character actor, James Coburn (who hailed from Nebraska), is here more for his presence.  He has only a FEW lines on dialogue, and his usual big grin doesn’t come out (NOT apropos for his quiet, no-nonsense character).

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Lee (Robert Vaughn) suffers from PTSD as a runaway from the Civil War.

With a modest amount of looks and talent and more than a modicum of serendipity, I’ve managed to stretch my 15 minutes of fame into more than half a century of good fortune.  -Robert Vaughn

The relatively-unknown Vaughn was suggested for his role thanks to college buddy, Coburn.  There was an actors’ strike going on also, so director (James Sturges) was open to the idea.  He’s more known for TV than film; you’ve probably seen him in commercials for law firms (all over the US).

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They youngest of the bunch- Chico (Horst Buchholz)- attempts to motivate the frightened farmers.
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Chico discovers that the young unmarried women of the village are hiding in the woods.
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Chico watches for Calvera’s gang while Petra (Rosenda Monteros) admires him.

The one member of the seven that provides some humor (as well as romance) is Chico, a young/inexperienced Mexican man who has something to prove.  Chris recognizes this, as well as his fast reflexes, and he joins in protecting the village.  Horst Buchholz is the German actor who was sought after to play this role.  The film was a hit, first in Europe, then was re-distributed in the US (earning high profits).  His accent does NOT match w/ that of the Mexican-origin actors, BUT that’s just something you have to ignore to enjoy this film.

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Hmmm… what to say re: Vin (Steve McQueen)?  He’s got that trademark tan, gorgeous blue-gray eyes, and GREAT skills on a horse.  The way he gets on and off his horse is even cool!  I liked this role for him, as it has hints of humor.  However, I think he shines even more in The Great Escape (which I saw a few weeks ago for the first time).  You can’t deny that this actor has screen presence!    

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The Mexican farmers await the arrival of Calvera’s gang.

Donald Trump (ugh) would NOT like this film!  Why is that?  The Mexican villagers in it are portrayed like REAL people- they venture out to another town to hire gunmen, show kindness and hospitality, and (eventually) take up arms to stand up for themselves.  Being border people, they speak English VERY well, too (gasp)!  The three leaders of the village decide that they won’t be victims anymore, then convince everyone else to join in the effort to get rid of the bandits.