Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Westerns - Colin McGuigan ""

Friday, March 28, 2014

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.


Anonymous said...

Some great choices here Colin though I have never seen "Quantez" and really will have to seek it our - cheers mate.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Colin, I agree, this is an excellent list of westerns I have never seen. "Last Train from Gun Hill" is the only one I've heard of. I saw Douglas and Quinn together in LUST FOR LIFE based on van Gogh's life and Irving Stone's novel.