Rupert Pupkin Speaks: March 2014 ""

Monday, March 31, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag: James Cagney - THE OKLAHOMA KID and HERE COMES THE NAVY

THE OKLAHOMA KID(1939; Lloyd Bacon)
Cagney plays the titular outlaw rascal in this great little western set during the Oklahoma land rush (surprised I haven't seen more films use this setting, but I am sure there are several out there). The Kid gets himself in hot water early on when he steals some money consigned to pay Native Americans for their land from thieves Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) and his gang. McCord (great name) has one purpose with the land rush proceedings getting underway - to be a"sooner" and sneak out ahead of everyone else to claim land in a territory that is set to become a new town. With his land claim he wishes to leverage the gambling and saloon rights in the new settlement (what will be Tulsa). I love me some Bogart and he always plays a great villain as well as a hero. I occasionally forget how versatile an actor he was. He has a sneer to end all sneers. He's full-on suited up here in the prototypical black outfit (with hat to match) and he carries it off perfectly. It's always pleasing to see Cagney and Bogart go head to head in any film, but this as an refreshing change of pace from the gangster stuff. Cagney's Jim Kincaid is a very interestingly progressive dude. When everyone else stampedes off to claim land after the rush is  started, he stays behind and has himself a quiet drink. When asked why he isn't interested in grabbing land and being a 'proper american' he expounds a cynical but truthful theory about the strong taking from the weak and and the government and politicians being at the top of that food chain. Fascinating and still prescient. Kincaid is avery affable and charming fellow though, quick with a gun and always trying to go for the smart play. Overall the movie is (mostly) pretty breezy, carried tonally in no small part by Cagney. It has a couple unexpected turns which are always welcome and a solid showdown. Well worth checking out.

HERE COMES THE NAVY (1934; Lloyd Bacon)
HERE COMES THE NAVY makes no real bones about the fact that it is pretty much a straight Navy recruitment film. The stock footage of battleships under the opening titles combined with the triumphant march music that underscores it, declares that the Navy is the place to be in a much more uplifting way than the Village People ever pulled off. James Cagney, Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh play sailors "Chesty", "Biff" and "Droopy" respectively (great names). Basically, Chesty and Biff have a bit of a vendetta against each other after a few incidents and a fistfight. Being a guy who really commits to his revenge plots, Chesty joins the Navy to come after Biff. As Homer Simpson once taught us, revenge is not the right reason to do something, so Chesty must learn that on his own and eventually become a proper sailor. Along the way, he falls for Biff's sister (played by the lovely Gloria Stuart) and becomes good pals with Droopy. Frank McHugh always delivers on his second fiddle roles and this film is no exception. The movie has a fun climactic bit with a dirigible. Cagney and O'Brien are good foils for each other and they elevate what would be a rather average movie otherwise.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


There have been many interesting movie titles used over the 100-plus years cinema has been around. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is easily one of the best and most memorable of them. I think I first heard it mentioned as a throw away joke from Chevy Chase in FLETCH. It would be some years after that until I finally saw the film. And it would take a few viewings of the movie before it really hit me how great it is. I had the same experience with Scorsese's MEAN STREETS. Watched it once and it was just okay as far as I was concerned. When I came back to it, it blew me away. Apparently it's been said of all his films, ALFREDO GARCIA was the one that came out the most as he had intended. It would make an interesting double bill with a previously released Twilight Time title - THUBDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. Both films are existential road movies in a way. THUNDERBOLT being far lighter in tone, but both feeling like movies that were a product of the wonderful 1970s.  ALFREDO GARCIA is easily one of my favorite Peckinpah films. It's right up there with my other favorite, THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE. Both films have fantastic character actors as their leads. Jason Robards and Warren Oates are two of the greatest actors of the latter half of the twentieth century (for my money). Robards was given a tiny bit more opportunity to shine in more prominent roles, but neither man got enough parts at the center of a movie. Oates has one of those faces that is just remarkable. It is a timeless face. The face of a modern day man or an authentic cowboy from the 1800s. Faces like his don't exist too much in modern movies today. We've traded in character for youth and good looks and it has hurt movies as a whole in my opinion. They being said, Oates is really the only man for the job in this case. This movie, which can be tough to watch at moments, would be far less palatable without him. What Oates brings to movies with his presence is some kind of melange of charisma and other elements that make you just wanna watch him. It's been said that Oates is playing a version of Peckinpah himself here and that alone makes the movie very intriguing. Peckinpah is one of those directors that gives a sense of the life he lived via his movies. He's a man, like Sam Fuller for example whose films truly benefited from the life experience he had outside of filmmaking. And like Fuller, you can almost feel Peckinpah bursting through each frame he ever committed to celluloid. There's an underlying sense of authenticity and gravitas to the characters he portrayed as well as the grittiness of the worlds they inhabited. His films carry with them the air of machismo that Peckinpah himself was known for, but also carry the feeling that the lifestyles these characters propagate often don't lead to the promised land they may have been seeking. 

This Twilight Time Special Edition has lots of nice supplements. It truly rivals or surpasses and Criterion release from this year. First off, it has not one, but two commentary tracks. The first is with Nick Redman and Gordon T. Dawson (who was one of the writers on ALFREDO GARCIA as well as a producer). This is a very neat track in that Dawson is a man who knew Peckinpah pretty well and his working relationship with him started back on MAJOR DUNDEE and went all the way through ALFREDO GARCIA. As a result, he has remarkable first hand accounts and great stories about Peckinpah as a man and as a director. It's rare that you get this kind of thing as much these days and its quite insightful.
The second track is with Film Historians Paul Seydor (editor os such films as WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP, COBB & others), Garner Simmons, David Weddle (writer/producer of the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA TV Series, FALLING SKIES & others) and Nick Redman. Both Weddle and Seydor have written books on Peckinpah and are clearly great authorities on the man. This track is a lively academic discussion that offers many scholarly and thematic observations and is quite a lovely listen.
Also, "Passion & Poetry: Sam's Favorite Film" a 55-minute retrospective documentary cover Peckinpah the man and ALFREDO GARCIA - includes interviews with Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Isela Vega, Gordon Dawson, Katy Haber, Lupita Peckinpah and more.  

Plus, there's also "A Writer's Journey: Garner Simmons with Sam Peckinpah in Mexico" (26 mins) - wherein Peckinpah biographer Garner Simmons talks about the inspiration for his pursuit of the director and his time with him while he was working on ALFREDO GARCIA. He talks about his take on Peckinpah the man and how he was a fellow who was often testing people to see what they were made of and the hurdles he had to get over to get his book done. It's a single-shot interview, but it's pretty fascinating.

EQUUS (1977; Sidney Lumet)
EQUUS is a movie that had eluded me for a long, long time. It was spoken of often by an old co-worker of mine at the video store in L.A. I used to work at. He turned me onto many interesting movies and helped me appreciated many actors and actresses I wasn't as aware of. One of those actresses that he loved was Jenny Agutter. This was due in some part to the fact that she was one of the stars of LOGAN'S RUN, which was his favorite movie of all-time. I had seen and been captivated by Ms. Agutter in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but that was about it. I had yet to see her in WALKABOUT, CHINA 9 LIBERTY 37, the aforementioned LOGAN'S RUN or EQUUS. EQUUS was certainly a lesser-seen film it seemed and one that was most often remember for the fact that Agutter had a nude scene in it. One thing it had going for it was that Sidney Lumet directed it. He had directed NETWORK the year before and would follow it with THE WIZ in 1978. Some have called EQUUS a big step down from DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) and NETWORK (1976). It's hard to top those two films though, let's be frank. They are perhaps his best movies (along with PRINCE OF THE CITY, THE VERDICT and DEATHTRAP).
EQUUS is interesting though. I kind of see it as Lumet's SPELLBOUND. Perhaps the focus on the psychology of one character is what makes me think of it. It is maybe a little but more like a Hitchcock version of ORDINARY PEOPLE (even though this film is much more emotionally raw than anything Hitch ever made). It opens, rather compellingly, with a fourth wall breaking scene of Richard Burton talking directly to camera. He's playing a psychiatrist who is recalling one of his more unique patients. It's hard not to pay attention at least a little bit when an actor with the gravitas of Burton is addressing you. Director Lumet has a great talent for mounting stage-y material in an interesting way. This particular film is adapted from a play by Peter Shaffer and I'm often weary of these kinds of things, but Lumet has a flair for making the uncinematic into cinematic experiences. He starts with the fourth wall break and uses Burton as the film's narrator throughout via the same device. It gives the movie a certain kinship with a hard boiled film noir (Burton's character is trying to solve the mystery of a young boy's psychology). It reminded me a bit of Altman's SECRET HONOR at the start. Lumet also employs interesting flashbacks with characters playing themselves at their current age in a scene where they were clearly much younger at the time of the incident. There's many uses of sound bridges as characters discuss something in one scene whilst we see shots from another. Very simple technique, but one I've always loved. Lumet also features lots of shots that move across photographs or paintings. Lots of insert shots. Lumet uses a wide range of cinematic tools to tell an effective story. His films are great for study for their exemplary nature in this way. He's very much employing the technique I once heard Scorsese describe as basically the essence of his style. It's the idea that the director can grab you by the eyeballs and show you the things you should pay attention to - through camera moves or cuts. Lumet's style is of course far less frenetic than Scorsese's, but it's still comparatively cinematic. EQUUS feels to me like a great director's exercise in how to take some very tally material and make it quite interesting. Another way to make this sort of stuff interesting is to out a Jenny Agutter in it. Especially as with as little clothing as possible. Always a wise choice. 

This EQUUS Blu-ray, on top of looking nice, includes a commentary track from Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman (who of course is one of the gentlemen behind Twilight Time). It's another solid track with Kirgo and Redman doing their usual bang-up job. They cover playwright Peter Shaffer as well as details of the original stage production and of course much detail on the film, its making and the actors involved.
Also as a supplement here is the feature length (2 hrs) documentary IN FROM THE COLD? A PORTRAIT OF RICHARD BURTON (1988). This is a great extra feature and gives a remarkably comprehensive picture of Burton as a person and an actor.

Twilight Time Blu-rays can be purchased through Check out their facebook page for news and updates:
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Arrow Video - WHITE OF THE EYE on Blu-ray

WHITE OF THE EYE was a movie that wasn't even really on my radar until last year. It started with a mention in Killer POV, one of my favorite podcasts and then my attention was brought to it again when Cinefamily here in LA did their amazing United States of Horror midnight series. I missed the screening at Cinefamily, but by that time I feel like I had caught wind of Arrow putting out this Blu-ray. WHITE OF THE EYE had been a bit difficult to see prior to this. That's obviously part of the reason I was less aware of it. I should have looked it up at some point though because I have been intrigued by Director Donald Cammell's film PERFORMANCE ever since I first read about in one of Danny Peary's Cult Movies books. Funny enough that WHITE OF THE EYE and PERFORMANCE should hit Blu-ray one week apart! Anyway, having finally gotten around to seeing PERFORMANCE just recently, I was very curious what WHITE OF THE EYE would be like (especially because I'd heard that PERFORMANCE was more a Nicolas Roeg film than a Cammell film).
From the very opening frames it's clear that Cammell has something impressionistic in mind. The use of blue cards for the cast and crew credits at the front is a unique choice I don't think I've seen before. Each time he cuts to one if them it's a bit jarring and yet it sends this subtle message that this movie is going to be different than other Cannon films you've become accustomed to seeing. I had forgotten that Cammell only made 3 or 4 films in his career and that his previous movie (DEMON SEED) had been a full decade prior. From what I gather, the process of making that film was so difficult, it may have out him off making movies for a time (or at least making movies for a major studio). I would imagine that working for a studio like Cannon allowed him at least a little more autonomy and it shows.
David Keith (or the poor man's Patrick Swayze) and Cathy Moriarty headline this movie and their are an interesting duo with interesting chemistry. My experience with Moriarty is mostly limited to RAGING BULL and my oddball favorite NEIGHBORS so this is a different kind of thing. Donald Cammell chooses to portray their relationship in lots of flashbacks that conjoin with the present. Cammell's structural choices in general always make his films stand out to a certain degree. Here the film waivers between a more traditional murder mystery and some kind of surreal dream-like observation of time and space loose and unstuck from each other. It's a unique mixture, and though not entirely successful, it weaves a very specifically Cammell-esque tapestry of a movie. Between this film and PERFORMANCE, Cammell country is a place worth visiting.

Special Features:

  • Brand new high definition digital transfer of the film from the original camera negative.
  • Audio commentary by Donald Cammell biographer Sam Umland.
  • Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance – This feature length documentary by Kevin Macdonald and Chris Rodley (originally broadcast by the BBC in 1998) looks over the life and career of the rebel filmmaker and features interviews with Cammell and his closest friends, family and colleagues including Nicolas Roeg, Mick Jagger, Kenneth Anger, James Fox, Barbara Steele, Cathy Moriarty, Elliot Kastner and many more. This doc starts with Cammell's brother reading his obituary from the Hollywood Reporter (after his death of a self-inflicted gunshot wound). This sets a rather somber tone for an absolutely fascinating portrait of a young artist turned filmmaker. The documentary touches on the circumstances surrounding all 4 of Cammell's feature films (including his last one WILD SIDE, which Cammell ended up taking his name off of). Overall, the doc gives a compelling sense of this man who was certainly a visionary filmmaker and how difficult it can be for such a man to get films made as he sees them in his head. 
  • The Argument – a 1972 short film by Cammell, gorgeously shot by Vilmos Zsigmond in the Utah Desert. Rediscovered and assembled by Cammell’s regular editor Frank Mazzola in 1999, it is viewable with optional commentary by Sam Umland.
  • Rare deleted scenes, newly transferred from the original camera negative, with commentary by Sam Umland.
  • The flashback scenes as originally shot, prior to the bleach bypass processing that they underwent in the final film.
  • Alternate credits sequence
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh.
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Brad Stevens and Sam Umland, and a previously unpublished extract from the memoirs of producer Elliott Kastner, illustrated with original archive stills. 
  • Friday, March 28, 2014

    Warner Archive Instant Cult Picks - AMERICATHON

    I'm a big big fan of Mike Judge's film IDIOCRACY. I think it's kinda brilliant. I am a big fan of dystopian comedies in general. Something about science fiction and comedy together is kinda peanut butter and chocolate for me. If your a fan of 80s comedies and spoofs, you may be familiar with Neal Israel. He was a rather prolific writer throughout the 1980s and was responsible in part or in whole for things like BACHELOR PARTY, POLICE ACADEMY  and MOVING VIOLATIONS. He basically gets a pass from me for all of eternity based on his involvement in REAL GENIUS alone (which is one if my favorite comedies of the 80s or any era). Israel kind of helped define a certain kind of zany r-rated comedy that many of us have come to recall fondly from the 1980s. 
    AMERICATHON opens in a fun way with Peter Riegert (an actor I adore btw) waking up in his car/home in a sort of trailer park with a bunch of cars/homes. He goes through his morning routine and then hops on his bike and gets on the "bike freeway" with the other walking and biking commuters to go to work. You see, the film posits a future scenario (it is set in 1998) where the energy crisis of Jimmy Carter's presidency has lead to the exhaustion of all fossil fuels. It's a good setup and it's one of Neal Israel's more ambitious ideas. The film is buoyed by a lovely voiceover narration from the great George Carlin who is a nice choice for such a thing especially in a movie like this. It gives the movie an instant kinship with BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. Carlin lays out the current state of America for us - The U.S. is flat broke and in need of money to pay back a $400 Billion dollar loan to NIKE (which now stands for National Indian Knitting Enterprises). This future includes passing fads like clown shoes and high-fashion roller skates and everything has a little coin slot attached to it for pay-to-use purposes (telephones, elevators etc). John Ritter plays President Roosevelt, elected on his "I'm not a schmuck" platform and he wears it proudly. Ritter, Riegert and other comedy pros like Fred Willard, Harvey Korman, Howard Hessman, and Jay Leno round out a nice, jovial cast. Watch for smaller roles from Meat Loaf, Elvis Costello, and Tommy Lasorda. The movie throws a whole lotta crap at the wall and as you might guess, not all of it sticks. Even if it isn't entirely successful on a comedic level, it is still a film that is oddly prescient for some reason even 35 years later and there's much fun to be had in watching it. 
    So as I said, I really enjoy IDIOCRACY and I'm pretty sure Mike Judge must have at least looked at AMERICATHON during the making of that film if it's not a straight up direct influence. It's hard to not see a similarity in the setup of the White House, the president and his cabinet. Both films depict such a ridiculous chaos at a government level that it is indeed laughable and yet, there some part of me that wonders how chaotic it really can get inside the oval during any presidential term. This movie is worth a look and it is currently streaming via Warner Archive Instant:
    (which has a 2 week free trial if you haven't jumped on board yet)

    Check out this very 'News On The March'-ish trailer for the film:

    And this Clip from the movie:

    Underrated Westerns - Colin McGuigan

    "My name's Colin McGuigan. I'm originally from Northern Ireland but resident in Greece for many years now. I've been a fan of classic Hollywood as long as I can remember and caught the western bug early on - watching Randolph Scott on Saturday afternoons on TV probably sealed it for me. It's a vast genre, always offering up new surprises and even the stuff I've become most familiar has the ability to reveal different aspects and perspectives. I've come to love the westerns of the 50s most of all, even though I can and do appreciate every era, and feel that decade saw the genre at the peak of its maturity and sophistication."

    Colin's Blog is 'Riding The High Country' - found here:

    Colorado Territory (1949)
    One of those rarities, a remake of a movie by the same director. Raoul Walsh had already made High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. However, he returned to the story, turned it into a western and cast Joel McCrea as the aging, doomed outlaw and Virginia Mayo as the girl he gradually falls for. Much as I like the original, this easily surpasses it and the chemistry between McCrea and Mayo is terrific. It's dark and bleak and the ending is powerful, gut-wrenching stuff. If nothing else it proves that remakes shouldn't just be dismissed out of hand as inevitably inferior to the originals.

    Quantez (1957)
    A genuine chamber piece located in a western ghost town. A group of outlaws are on the run and find themselves holed up in an abandoned settlement slap in the middle of Apache territory. The setting may be limited and claustrophobic but it focuses attention on the shifting relationships and the group dynamic. Fred MacMurray absolutely nails it as the mysterious, taciturn gunman and was rarely better. This is a film few appear to have seen but it's a wonderful slow-burner that draws you in and builds the tension expertly.

    Last Train from Gun Hill (1959)
    Mention Kirk Douglas and John Sturges and most film fans will first think of Gunfight at the OK Corral. Now that's a pretty polished movie and very entertaining, but it lacks the punch and pace of this later collaboration. Douglas is the wronged man up against his old friend Anthony Quinn and it's a relentless, driving and intense work that grabs your attention from the harrowing opening and never lets up till the credits roll. Douglas' quest for justice is both terrible and righteous. One of the most memorable scenes sees Douglas holed up in a hotel room and relishing the chance to explain to Earl Holliman exactly what fate awaits him when he brings him back to hang for his crime. A lean, mean neglected masterpiece.

    The Hanging Tree (1959)
    Gary Cooper's last western, and one of his finest and most moving roles. The greatest westerns all featured redemption as their core principal, and this movie explores the concept beautifully. It's a story of gold and love, and of hope restored. Cooper is immense as the doctor who's detached himself from life, who's buried his soul in a past filled with hurt and betrayal. Only by caring for Maria Schell, playing the abandoned and initially helpless immigrant, does he come back to life. The way this hollow character is restored, renewed and redeemed is handled with the utmost sensitivity by the actors and director Delmer Daves. One would have to have a heart of solid granite to fail to be moved by the final fade out - a perfect, wordless composition accompanied only by Marty Robbins' rendition of the title song.

    Rio Conchos (1964)
    One of the films that I see as evidence that the spaghetti western wasn't so much a revolution as an evolution. This tale of the hunt  for the men supplying arms to the Apache shows the way the US western was already starting to move towards the inclusion of amoral and nihilistic elements in the genre just as the Euro western was taking off. In a way it forms a kind of bridge between what some would have you believe are two irreconcilable approaches to the western. The film indicates a gradual move away from the redemptive positivism of the 50s western and nudges its way towards the more violent and visceral form that was emerging in Europe. Aside from its significance as a stepping stone in the development of the genre, it's a fine film in its own right, featuring an uncompromising and brutal performance by the great Richard Boone.

    Thursday, March 27, 2014

    Underrated Westerns - Hal Horn

    Hal Horn is a longtime friend of Rupert Pupkin Speaks and has contributed many many lists over the past few years. I love his blog, The Horn Section( and give it my highest personal recommendation!

    Forrest Tucker Edition

    The Horn Section’s patron saint, Forrest Tucker is best known to today’s audiences as Sgt. O’Rourke on the 1965-67 TV comedy classic F TROOP.  But prior to landing the hit sitcom, Tucker was a fixture in action films for over two decades.  His contributions to the Western genre made him part of the inaugural class of 24 to receive the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Golden Boot Award in 1983.  

    HELLFIRE (1949)
    “Man by his misdeeds kindles his own hellfire.”  So begins this unusual Wild Bill Elliott vehicle that combines born-again Christianity with secular feminism.   Elliott is a crooked cardsharp whose life is spared when a minister H.B. Warner takes a bullet meant for him.  In gratitude, Wild Bill vows to honor Warner’s dying wish: to raise the funds needed to build a church and to do so “strictly by the Good Book”.  Meanwhile, female bandit Windsor has a $5,000 reward on her head, money that could be the means to Elliott’s goal.  The reformed gambler has competition for the reward from marshal Forrest Tucker, who we learn is married to Windsor’s sister.

    A western about an outlaw who gets religion might sound like a preachy, tiresome endeavor.  HELLFIRE is far from it, deftly avoiding the potential pitfalls.  Elliott’s fundraising attempts consistently meet with indifference and contempt.  According to director R. G. Springsteen, Elliott told him HELLFIRE was his best picture.  In addition, it may well contain Marie Windsor’s finest performance.  Recently removed from Netflix Instant, HELLFIRE is currently streaming on Epix Instant.

    Filmed in my home state of Oklahoma (McAlester), ROCK ISLAND TRAIL was Tucker’s graduation to leading man following his breakthrough role in the prior year’s SANDS OF IWO JIMA.  He plays railroad pioneer Reed Loomis, drawing the ire of steamboat owner Bruce Cabot by providing competition both professionally and personally (for the hand of leading lady Adele Mara).  While Keokuk Princess Adrian Booth tries to woo Tuck away from Mara, Forrest convinces Mara’s father Grant Withers to invest in his railroad.  Meanwhile, Cabot attempts to thwart the path of progress by hook or crook.

    ROCK ISLAND TRAIL gave Tucker the opportunity to play an unreserved hero for once.  He inspires undivided loyalty to the extent of keeping Booth’s friendship after sidestepping her pass.  It isn’t Tuck’s best by a longshot, but ROCK ISLAND TRAIL is a fast-paced saga that takes a kitchen sink approach: a race between the train and a stage, an exploding bridge, several fist fights, the inevitable Indian attack, and in a truly inspired moment, a duel between Tuck and Cabot using mops dipped in boiling soup(!).  There’s even a courtroom trial with the railroad represented by young Abraham Lincoln (played by Jeff Corey).  

    Tucker and Jim “Jock Ewing” Davis are uneasy partners in a Maricosa saloon, and also in competition for beautiful eastern transplant Adele Mara.  Unbeknownst to Tuck, Davis is also in partnership with stagecoach robber Bob Williams, Mara’s brother.  After Tuck appears to gain the upper hand for Mara’s affections, Davis frames his partner for his extracurricular activities.

    Both Republic western vets get plenty of sharp one-liners in James Edward Grant’s screenplay, and Estelita Rodriguez gets a meatier part than usual (and two songs, “Goin’ Round in Circles” and “Second Hand Romance”).  Slightly offbeat, with Tuck’s truculent Mike Prescott almost an anti-hero and a suspenseful final reel in the foggy mountains.  CALIFORNIA PASSAGE is also currently streaming on Epix Instant.

    THE QUIET GUN (1957)
    It is surprising to learn that of the hundreds of Western novels written by the prolific Lauran Paine (1916-2001), only two (to date) have landed on the big screen: OPEN RANGE (2003) and this tight, effective sleeper directed by TV vet William Claxton.  Tuck is the sheriff of Rock River, and if the arrival of hired gun Lee Van Cleef doesn’t give him enough on his mind, he also has to deal with the town busybodies, who are outraged that Tuck’s friend Jim Davis is cohabitating with underage half-Indian girl Mara Corday on his ranch.  (Side note:  Mara Corday!!  I wouldn’t be casting stones, myself…)  Davis is eventually forced to shoot an attorney in self-defense over the accusations, and Tuck has to apprehend him before a posse of vigilantes can get to him first.

    Claxton (who helmed 56 episodes of BONANZA) delivers a lean, mean 79 minutes, with no redemption for the townspeople who caused a double tragedy, but no sermonizing either.  THE QUIET GUN may be brief, but it’s ambitious, tackling McCarthyesque witchhunts, racism, and powerful people manipulating morality for personal gain.  Short and sweet, with a great cast, THE QUIET GUN is scheduled for a long overdue release on DVD and Blu-Ray by Olive Films in 2014.

    BARQUERO (1970)
    The very first film to inspire me to ask “Why the Hell isn’t this on DVD yet?”.   Warren Oates and Kerwin Mathews are the leaders of a band of ex-military mercenaries.  Their carefully thought out plan?  Looting and massacring an entire border town, then escaping with their booty across the deep river to Mexico after disabling the lone form of passage, Lee Van Cleef’s barge. The latter doesn’t go so smoothly, as Van Cleef gets a timely assist from mountain man Tucker and a standoff ensues with Oates stranded on the American side (with the cavalry surely coming) and Van Cleef and friends on the Mexican side with the barge.  

    Director Gordon Douglas (a replacement for the late Robert Sparr) lacks the flair of a Leone or Peckinpah, but BARQUERO is still an ultraviolent, action packed guy movie if there ever was one, and an allegory for U.S. involvement in Vietnam to boot.  Screenwriters George Schenck and William Marks were daring in making psychotic, callous and wrongheaded Oates their metaphor for the American in this regard.  He kills prostitutes immediately after sex, underestimates an enemy carrying out guerilla tactics, turns violent when transparent monetary offers are rejected, and stubbornly sticks to his strategy after a changed situation renders it obsolete.   

    BARQUERO was Tucker’s final theatrical Western.  As Mountain Phil, he all but steals the film, which isn't an easy task with Van Cleef and Oates around and eye candy provided by Mariette Hartley and a sharp-shooting, cigar smoking Marie Gomez (THE PROFESSIONALS).  Still yet to be released on home video in the U.S. despite its cult-worthy cast, it is well worth setting your DVR for and frequently turns up on Encore’s Westerns Channel.

    Wednesday, March 26, 2014

    Underrated Westerns - Toby Roan

    Toby Roan runs the blog '50 Westerns From the 50's':
    His focus, as you might guess, is on Western cinema of the 1950s. Great site, well worth following. Also, Toby appeared on my friend Todd Liebenow's Forgotten Films Podcast a while back to talk about LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (which he mentions below):

    Toby can also be found on Twitter here:
    I took a good look at the lists that came before mine, and tried to offer up some stuff no one had gotten to yet. And I limited mine to the 50s. There are so many underrated 50s Westerns, and these are just a drop in the bucket.

    The Showdown (1950)
    Directed by Dorrell & Stuart McGowan 
    This overlooked Republic Western stars Wild Bill Elliott (his last for the studio), Marie Windsor, Henry Morgan and Walter Brennan; opens with Elliott digging up his brother's grave; and even though it takes place on a cattle drive, was shot entirely on a soundstage. The fact that it works, and works really well, is a testament to everyone involved.

    Apache Drums (1951)
    Directed by Hugo Fregonese
    Producer Val Lewton’s last film (and only color one). He takes every bit of the mood and suspense we know from his I Walked With A Zombie (1943) andThe Cat People (1942) — and easily finds it a home in the Technicolor old west. The final Indian attack is something else. Stars Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Willard Parker, Arthur Shields and James Griffith.

    A Lawless Street (1955)
    Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
    Randolph Scott made so many terrific Westerns in the 50s, especially in the last half of the decade. So it makes sense that a few good ones would get lost in the shuffle. In A Lawless Street, Randy's a worn-out town-tamer who rides to his next job and finds his estranged wife singing in the saloon.

    The Last Hunt (1956)
    Directed by Richard Brooks
    One of a number of Westerns released in 1956 that dealt with racism — others included George Sherman’s 
    Reprisal! and John Ford’s The Searchers. In The Last Hunt, Robert Taylor is a crazed buffalo hunter who really enjoys his work, mainly because he’s taking food away from the Indians. Taylor’s performance is remarkable, and the buffalo-hunting scenes were shot during the actual thinning of the herds. This is as dark as the Western got in the 50s.

    A Day Of Fury (1956)
    Directed by Harmon Jones
    A bit reminiscent of High Plains Drifter (1973), with Dale Robertson the mysterious stranger who comes to town and turns everyone against each other. Robertson said he read the script, decided his character was the Devil, and played it that way. That may not have been what everyone intended, but it sure works.
    Fury At Showdown (1957)
    Directed by Gerd Oswald 
    John Derek returns to the family ranch after a year in prison, determined to hang up his guns and help his brother (Nick Adams) make a go of things. Of course, those guns never seem to want to stay hung up, do they? Director Gerd Oswald made this mini-masterpiece in just five days. If he'd had five months, it wouldn't have been as good. Adams is excellent.

    The Quiet Gun (1957)
    Directed by William F. Claxton
    Maybe the best of the Regalscope Westerns, cowboy movies cheaply and quickly made to fill out all-Scope bills for 20th Century Fox. Forrest Tucker plays a sheriff who sees through the town's self-righteous stand against a rancher who's shacking up with an Indian girl. What a cast: Tucker, Mara Corday, Jim Davis, Lee Van Cleef and Hank Worden.

    The True Story Of Jesse James (1957)
    Directed by Nicholas Ray
    Robert Wagner is Jesse James, Jeffrey Hunter his brother Frank. This was a great, great movie — till the studio got ahold of it. While Ray’s original non-linear structure was almost completely removed, it’s made up of very good scenes. Hunter is terrific, and Ray’s incredible use of CinemaScope is worth the price of admission. In my opinion, this is the Magnificent Ambersons of 50s Westerns.

    Last Train From Gun Hill (1959)
    Directed by John Sturges
    Much of the cast and crew of Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) re-unite and make an even better film. Kirk Douglas comes to Gun Hill to get the man who murdered his wife -- and leave on the last train. Dark, mature and incredibly suspenseful -- if Hitchcock had made a cowboy movie, it might've been like this.
    Face Of A Fugitive (1959)
    Directed by Paul Wendkos
    Fred MacMurray’s an aging bank robber on the run, hiding out in a small border town and starting to make a new life for himself. He gets caught up in the sheriff's dispute with a local cattle baron, eventually torn between avoiding capture and doing what's right. James Coburn has a great early role, and things get very tense in the last reel. MacMurray made some outstanding Westerns in the late 50s; try Quantez (1957), too.

    Tuesday, March 25, 2014

    Severin Films - PATRICK on Blu-ray and the OZPLOITATION TRAILER EXPLOSION

    PATRICK (1978; Richard Franklin)
    Richard Franklin is a director I've been fascinated with since I was a kid and saw CLOAK & DAGGER for the 1st time. I had no idea who Alfred Hitchcock was nor that Franklin was a disciple of his, but CLOAK & DAGGER was hugely suspenseful and frightening to me as a youngster and I loved it. I love it to this day and even have a framed one-sheet from the film in my office at work. PATRICK was Richard Franklin's first serious feature after a couple sex comedies (softcore) he made in 1975 and 1976. Franklin was one of the directors to ride the wave of Australian exploitation cinema of that period to a career as a Hollywood filmmaker a few years later. His next feature, ROAD GAMES is his masterpiece in my opinion (though I obviously adore CLOAK & DAGGER). Truly it was "REAR WINDOW out the front windshield of a truck" in a away and an extremely effective thriller. PATRICK shows the beginnings of the filmmaker to come with it's memorable style and suspense. In that its main character is basically inert and silent throughout the movie, there is certainly a filmmaking challenged presented there, but between De Roche's script and the way Franklin handles the material they keep it lively for sure. Telekinesis is a pretty cinematic thing, so that helps a bit. I love the tagline on the Severin Films box: "The Original Comatose Killer Classic is Back". Watching Franklin's progression as a director from PATRICK to ROAD GAMES to PSYCHO II (which must have been kind of a dream gig for him) is a fascinating thing. I recommend watching all three close together. 
    Upon first glance, one might think that PATRICK was written and designed as a response to the success of De Palma's CARRIE, however Everett De Roche says the script had been floating around for close to five years before it was made. I think it's interesting to note that the writer of PATRICK, ROAD GAMES, LONG WEEKEND and RAZORBACK, four seminal films of Australian cinema was actually born in the U.S. I had always assumed he was Australian or British until watching the special features on this discs. Speaking of which...

    Special Features:
    -First up is a lovely commentary track from the late great Richard Franklin himself. As not only a big fan, but also a student of movies, Franklin has lots of cool insights into his process, and the details surrounding the making of the film as well as his experience with the actors and so forth. A nice track. Wish he'd lived to do one for CLOAK & DAGGER.

    -Vintage Interview with director Richard Franklin (21 mins)
    This is a very neat little short documentary on Franklin himself. It touches on his history as a film student at USC and how he assembled retrospectives of both Hitchcock and John Ford while there. It also features him talking about directing the Australian show Homicide and how it was a great training ground for him as a filmmaker (showing some clips from the show as examples). There's also a lot from an on camera interview with Franklin talking about PATRICK and ROAD GAMES and the techniques he employed when constructing those movies. Franklin also speaks extensively about his experiences being a co-producer on THE BLUE LAGOON.

    -Interviews from NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (60 mins)
    This set of extended interviews comes straight from Mark Hartley and they were done for his film NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. It includes interviews with the cast and crew - Richard Franklin, Everett De Roche (writer), Antony I. Ginnane (producer) and Susan Penhaligon  & Rod Mullinar (stars).

    In the tradition of great trailer collections like the 42ND STREET FOREVER series, this disc offers up a wonderful entree of Australian trailer delights. It's obviously a great companion piece to Mark Hartley's NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD documentary and the two should be placed back-to-back in your dvd collection. I really hope we see more releases like this from Severin's wonderful Intervision subsidiary (if you haven't checked out Intervisions previous movie releases, do so ASAP!).
    The trailers are broken down into three sections you can play: "Sexploitation and 'Ocker' Comedies", "Horror and Thrillers" and "Cars and Action", plus there is a
    Play All" feature as well. Each of the three sections has a breakdown of each trailer so you can jump right to the one you want to see. The program runs 165 minutes so you've got a nice chunk of trailers to run with friends or in a party situation in the background (which this is ideal for).

    The Trailers included are:
    Sex Comedies:

    Horror and Thrillers

    Cars and Action