Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Westerns - Jonathan Hertzberg ""

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Underrated Westerns - Jonathan Hertzberg

Jonathan Hertzberg is a longtime personal friend of mine and he runs the Obscure One-Sheet Blog:
He has turned me on to countless films over the years and his lists often contain movies I may not have watched if not for his urging. Needless to say , he is a driven cinephile, constantly seeking out older films to discover. 
Check out his excellent "Dirty Old New York" Series of videos, which are wonderful pastiches of scenes from films shot in old New York City (the way I'd like to remember it):

1) "Dirty Old New York Subway"
2) "Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part I"
3) "Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part II" 
4) "Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part III"
5) "Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part IV"
6) "Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part V"


Gold of the Seven Saints (1961, Gordon Douglas).  The rescue of journeyman director Douglas' oeuvre from deep storage in the vaults seems to have been one of the Warner Archive's major causes in its first few years and it's a good thing because Gold of the Seven Saints is one of my absolute favorite WA discoveries.  Fur trappers Clint Walker and Roger Moore (fresh off his run as Beau Maverick on tv's Maverick) find themselves in hostile territory, having to fend off several aggressively interested parties when it is discovered that the two strangers have a hidden cache of gold. Leonard Freeman (Hang 'Em High) and the great Leigh Brackett, Hawks' longtime collaborator, adapted Steve Frazee's novel.  Fine black and white Scope cinematography from ace d.p. Joe Biroc.

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978, Monte Hellman).  Hellman's Italian-produced, shot-in-Spain Western stars Warren Oates, Fabio Testi, and the lovely Jenny Agutter in a love triangle / lovers-on-the-run narrative. Convicted gunslinger Testi is saved from hanging when he promises the authorities that he will take rancher Oates for a railway company.  Testi can't bring himself to do it and instead runs off with Oates' gorgeous young wife, Agutter.  Oates chews scenery as the revenged-minded husband, while Testi and Agutter offer a little more sizzle than one usually sees in a Western.  Sam Peckinpah makes a rare onscreen appearance as a writer of dime novel Westerns.  Warner Archive has said they are working on getting a DVD out of this film, which has never been seen in a quality edition on home video.  The film was co-written by the late Jerry Harvey of Z Channel fame.  Music is by De Palma favorite Pino Donaggio and lensing is by frequent Fellini collaborator Giuseppe Rotunno.

The Stalking Moon (1968, Robert Mulligan).  Gregory Peck has a solid Western resume, with many fine titles.  Robert Mulligan's The Stalking Moon is for whatever reason one of the lesser mentioned ones, though I think it's quite good.  It's as haunting and moody as you would expect from a Western from '68, with little to none of the guns-a-blazing heroics of Westerns of the preceding years.  Peck is suitably gruff and mysterious and Eva Marie Saint is convincing as a white woman recently freed, along with her half-breed son, from the Native-American tribe who kidnapped her years earlier.  Peck and his native sidekick Robert Forster escort Saint and her son to his faraway ranch so as to protect her from the boy's vengeful father, an extremely adept assassin (the mostly unseen Nathaniel Narciso). Mulligan, Peck, and producer Alan Pakula had previously collaborated on To Kill a Mockingbird. Superb score is only the third ever by the oft forgotten Fred Karlin.  By contrast, top-grade cinematographer Charles Lang was already well into his nearly fifty-year career when he shot this film. Veteran scribes Wendell Mayes and Alvin Sargent adapted T.V. Olsen's novel.  I earlier wrote about Mulligan's uber-dark noirish character piece The Nickel Ride.

Cattle Annie & Little Britches (1981, Lamont Johnson).  Johnson's good-natured, if historically inaccurate, Western crossed with a teen flick received good reviews from Pauline Kael and the New York Times, but like a lot of small movies made by independents and distributed by a major in the early '80s (in this case, Hemdale and Universal), it was not marketed or released very aggressively and after its, no doubt, limited theatrical run and cable showings, it pretty much's never appeared on any home video format (at least in the U.S.).  That's pretty surprising since the superb cast includes Burt Lancaster, Diane Lane (as Little Britches), Amanda Plummer (as Cattle Annie), Scott Glenn, Rod Steiger, and John Savage.  Lane and Plummer's teen vagabonds long to catch on with noted bandit Bill Doolin (Lancaster) and his motley gang, all the while being chased by a determined U.S. marshal (Steiger).  The d.p. was Larry Pizer, who earlier shot cult favorite Phantom of the Paradise. Actor-turned-director Johnson made many highly rated telefilms and at least a few excellent features, including this film and The Last American Hero.

Last Train from Gun Hill (1959, John Sturges).  Well-made, never dull Western morality tale, with Kirk Douglas as a marshal intent on prosecuting the spoiled son (Earl Holliman, who excelled at playing whiny little shits like this kid) of cattle baron Anthony Quinn for murder, despite the fact that he and Quinn are old friends.  I caught this one via a budget-priced DVD several years back and, not expecting much, I was quite impressed.  It isn't the masterpiece that Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock is, but it's at least the equal of some his better known Westerns such as The Magnificent Seven and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  This is the second film shot by Charles Lang to make this list.  The score is by maestro Dimitri Tiomkin who made quite a living scoring oaters like this one.

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