“Tombstone” (1993) starring Kurt Russell & Val Kilmer

Doc Holliday: Forgive me if I don’t shake hands. (Isn’t this relatable after quarantine life!? LOL!)

After success cleaning up Dodge City, Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) moves to Tombstone, AZ, looking to get rich. He meets his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton), as well as his old friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer). A band of outlaws- The Cowboys- are causing problems in the area w/ random acts of violence. In time, The Cowboys (who wear red sashes on their waists) come into confrontation with Holliday and the Earps, leading to a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. I had forgotten that there were two (legendary) actors here- Charlton Heston (the elderly rancher Henry Hooker) and Robert Mitchum (the narrator)- wow!

Morgan Earp: Look at all the stars. You look up and you think, “God made all this and He remembered to make a little speck like me.” It’s kind of flattering, really.

There are so many good actors in this movie (and I heard ALL the mustaches were real)- some famous and others more known for character roles. The villains are headed up by Curly Bill (Powers Boothe- who formed part of the ensemble in Deadwood), Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn- went to the Univ. of Arizona for several yrs), Stephen Lang (Ike Clanton), and his lil bro Billy Clanton (Thomas Haden Church- who usually does comedy). Wyatt’s wife Mattie (Dana Wheeler Nicholson) has become addicted to laudanum. Virgil’s (much younger) wife Allie (Paula Malcolmson) is a Irish immigrant; this actress was also in Deadwood (her real accent is Irish). Morgan’s wife Louisa (Lisa Collins) was married to Billy Zane (who plays Mr. Fabian, the actor). Wyatt’s love interest is the independent-minded actress- Josephine Marcus (Dana Delany). The mayor of the town is Mr. Behan (Jon Tenney); this actor has appeared in many cop shows. A chubby Billy Bob Thornton plays a hot-headed (but also cowardly) gambler. 90210 fans will get a kick out of seeing Jason Priestly (a young deputy). Doc Holliday is joined by his lady friend/fellow gambler Kate (Joanna Pacula).

Wyatt Earp: [Vigil has agreed to become Tombstone’s town marshall, upsetting Wyatt] What in the hell are you doin’? I told you we weren’t gettin’ involved!

Virgil Earp: You got us involved when you brought us here.

Wyatt Earp: Now you hold on a minute, Virg!

Virgil Earp: Hold on nothin’! I walk around this town and look these people in the eyes. It’s just like someone’s slappin’ me in the face! These people are afraid to walk down the street, and I’m tryin’ to make money off that like some goddamn vulture! If we’re gonna have a future in this town, it’s gotta have some law and order!

Russell (who has worked in Hollywood since a young boy) said that after original director Kevin Jarre (also the screenwriter) was fired, he directed a majority of the movie. George P. Cosmatos (who was not very comfortable w/ the English language) oversaw the filming, though he has directing credit. The film was nearly cast with Richard Gere as Wyatt Earp and Willem Dafoe as Doc Holliday- LOL! All the actors do a fine job, though Kilmer probably has the best lines. Both Holliday and Ringo are educated men; they even argue in Latin.

Wyatt Earp [to Morgan]: In all that time workin’ those cow towns, I was only ever mixed up in one shootin’, just one! But a man lost his life and I took it! You don’t know how that feels, and believe me boy, you don’t ever want to know. Not ever!

As Wyatt explains to his younger (idealistic) brother Morgan, there is really nothing exciting about killing another person. Wyatt is reluctant to take on a lawman role again; his older brother Virgil is the one who changes his mind. Once his brothers are affected, Wyatt quickly springs into action! This is a fun, action-packed, yet also touching story about brotherly/familial love, friendship, romance, and justice. I esp. liked the various horse riding scenes, which go from playful/romantic to quite tense/dangerous.

[1] Throughout the entire film, his [Kilmer’s] acting and character embellishments are so nuanced and well done that by movies end, we feel his loss in a very personal way. Credit must also go out the the costumers and make-up artists for their contribution to the overall effect of his role. All the way through the film, he looks sickly, pale and world-weary. His mannerisms and intensity of gaze profoundly establish this character as a focal point in this production. …I consider this role as probably the very best for Val Kilmer. It required subtlety and careful restraint and made the viewer believe that we weren’t watching an actor merely regurgitating lines and hitting their foot-marks. I, for one, was entranced by the carefully studied body language and facial expressions…the sweaty desperation of a man who sensed his own mortality but strove to enact his own justice for justices sake. This was just very well done!

[2] …speaking as a woman, this is by no means just a guy’s flick. It’s been one of my favorite films since the day it came out. It’s got everything- drama, romance, action, and an honest to goodness story. There are even interesting themes, like the moral dilemma that Wyatt finds himself in– Is he compelled to help fight the Cowboys even though he’s “retired” and just wants to live out his life in peace? Is there a moral equivalence between killing for justice and killing for retribution? How far can a man go to sacrifice his own integrity and better judgment?

The love story simply served its purpose in helping viewers to better understand the character of Wyatt. Also the friendship between Wyatt and Doc was portrayed tenderly… And okay, as a woman, let me just say that there is no one sexier than Sam Elliot. Man alive, if there ever was a person born to portray a cowboy, that guy is IT. If you’ve never seen a Western, or are not a fan, try this movie. It will make a believer out of you.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“3:10 to Yuma” (1957) starring Glenn Ford & Van Heflin

Alice: It seems terrible that something bad can happen and all anybody can do is stand by and watch.

Dan Evans: Lots of things happen where all you can do is stand by and watch.

After a stagecoach robbery/shootout, notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) is captured in a small town by a sheriff and few locals. One of them is a struggling rancher/family man, Dan Evans (Van Heflin), who volunteers to escort Wade to the nearest town w/ a railway station. Dan desperately needs the $200 which the stagecoach company’s owner offered as a reward. Once the two men are holed up in the hotel to await the 3:10 to Yuma, a battle of wills ensues. All the while, Ben’s gang is gathering to break him out.

Emmy: Funny, some men you see every day for ten years and you never notice; some men you see once and they’re with you for the rest of your life.

Even if you’re not a big fan of Westerns, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this must-see film! The screenplay (which includes sly moments of humor) was adapted from a story by Elmore Leonard. There are gorgeous shots of the desert, intimate close-ups, music, exciting action sequences w/ horses and guns. Although most Westerns by this time were being produced in color, director (Delmer Daves) and cinematographer (Charles Lawton Jr.) chose to shoot in black and white.

I thought all the actors (including the supporting ones and two boys) hit the right notes. Ford was originally offered the role of Dan Evans; he refused and suggested himself for the role of Ben Wade. This is one of Ford’s (rare) bad guy roles; he’s still charming and likable. Heflin (who worked on many Westerns) and Ford play off each other very well. Ford has sparkling chemistry w/ Felicia Farr (the beautiful/lonely barmaid, Emmy). There are touching scenes between Heflin and Leora Dana (his devoted/refined wife, Alice).

Ben Wade: I mean, I don’t go around just shootin’ people down… I work quiet, like you.

Dan Evans: All right, so you’re quiet like me. Well then, shut up like me.

The scenes of Contention City were shot in Old Tucson, which is not far from where I grew up. Some critics/viewers consider this a film of a man reclaiming his masculinity. I also see it as a community struggling to do the right thing, though under enormous threat. This film, along w/ High Noon (1952), was a deciding factor in Howard Hawks deciding to make Rio Bravo (1959), a return to more optimistic Westerns. This is one of Patton Oswalt’s favorite movies; he introduced it on TCM several years ago.

 

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.” 

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).   

 

 

 

Hostiles (2017) starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, & Wes Studi

The quietest moments of his [writer/director Scott Cooper’s] movie are often the best. Wow, Majors, what a find! He had the ability to command the screen w/o showboating. -Grace Randolph (Beyond the Trailer)

It has everything I want in my modern revisionist westerns. It’s slow-paced and quiet, beautifully filmed, uses realistic graphic violence and is extremely sad from the opening scene to the end credits. -Kellen Quigly (YouTube)

This is a movie is about PTSD in the Old West. It’s about the harshness of war. Captain Joe Blocker is introduced as a man who represses any feeling that isn’t hatred, guilt, grief or wrath. War has tortured his soul and landed him in a pit, and for a long time, instead climbing out, he just continued to dig the hole deeper and deeper… -Mark Mirabella (YouTube)

Synopsis: In 1892, after almost 20 yrs of fighting the Cheyenne, Apache, and Comanche natives, US Cavalry Captain, Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is ordered by his superior, Col. Biggs (Stephen Lang), to escort an elderly/ailing Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi)- the man he MOST despises- and his family from New Mexico to the chief’s ancestral home in Montana (Valley of the Bears). Joseph’s unwelcome assignment is complicated when a grieving widow, Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike), joins his band of soldiers and travelers. Then, an aggressive pack of Comanches attack and other dangerous events occur. On a path filled w/ hostiles, can this soldier complete his final duty w/ his life (and mind) intact? 

Director Scott Cooper, who was at the helm of 2009’s Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaalseems VERY comfortable w/ the Western genre. This film (which I missed seeing in theaters late last Fall) contains MANY beautiful wide shots of landscapes. Cooper’s characters are much more complicated than what you’d find in a typical (think John Ford/John Wayne) Western. Though it’s well-made, it can seem slow and (according to some critics)- a BIT self-indulgent. I feel that about 10-15 mins could’ve been edited out. The themes here are quite dark, so if you’re looking for an escape, this is NOT the film for you! From the first scene of Hostiles, viewers know that things are going to get real. 

The performances of the ensemble of actors is the main reason to see this film, along w/ its dialogue (some of which is quite deep and unexpected). Rosalee, though she suffered so much and is racked w/ grief, still held to her faith in God (as she explains to Blocker in a quietly effective scene). I thought Pike (as usual) did VERY well w/ her role; Rosalee  grew and changed over the month-long journey. Traveling w/ the Indians, she came to see them as real people, NOT merely savages to be feared. I was pleasantly surprised by how well a bearded Rory Cochrane (Blocker’s oldest friend- Master Sgt. Thomas Mertz) portrayed a depressed soldier. He often drinks heavily, suffers from PTSD (as does Blocker), and feels that life is NOT worth living anymore. A grad from West Point, played by up-and-comer Jesse Plemons (Lt. Rudy Kidder), is articulate, capable, BUT maybe too kind-hearted for his own good. There are a few light moments involving Timothee Chalamet (Philippe DeJardin, a French immigrant turned Army private); his role is VERY minor. The standout soldier (and actor) is newcomer Jonathan Majors (Corp. Henry Woodson- a strong/loyal/religious African-American who has served yrs under Blocker). Majors has that X factor; the viewer’s eye is drawn to him even when he’s NOT saying anything. He gets to have one of the best scenes in the 3rd (final) act opposite Bale.

On this journey, we also meet Ben Foster (disgraced soldier/murderer Philip Wills); he and Blocker served together yrs ago. Wills (wearing chains and stripped of his rank) ran away from his post and brutally killed several innocent people. At a small town, Lt. Col. McCowan (Peter Mullan) asks Blocker to escort Wills to a fort for his punishment (hanging), and Blocker quickly agrees. It’s obvious that Blocker feels contempt for Wills, BUT the prisoner is quick to point out that they’re BOTH killers, and the roles could be easily reversed. Foster (a quite gifted actor) should’ve gotten some more to do. There is a volatility and sense of unease which he creates w/ Wills.

The native actors, incl. Canadian Adam Beach (who has appeared on many films/TV shows) and Q’orianka Kilcher (The New World- also co-starring Bale), don’t have a LOT of dialogue, BUT are portrayed in a realistic/sympathetic manner. Studi (who is a film/TV vet) has a kind of solemnity, strength, and can also be vulnerable. He has come a long way from the villainous/warrior Magua viewers loved to hate (The Last of the Mohicans). This tale is (mainly) about the personal journey of one white man- Blocker- who comes to see the natives as fellow humans.

The film rests on Bale’s (always capable) broad shoulders, and he doesn’t disappoint. He even learned some of the Cheyenne language, which he speaks w/Studi (who I wished had been a BIT more developed). MANY of us have watched Bale grow-up onscreen; he has evolved from a slim/fresh-faced/wide-eyed teen to a muscular/middle-aged/powerhouse actor. For his portrayal of Blocker, Bale has tapped into his dark side; there is anger, resentment, hate, worry, and (in time) empathy and kindness on his face. Rosalee (w/ whom he forms a connection) is a catalyst for change in his life, as is the suicide of Mertz. I thought that Blocker’s change of heart was TOO abrupt, BUT this film is worth a watch.