Film Review – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960, USA, 128m, PG) ****
Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. The Mirisch Company / Alpha Productions; d. John Sturges; w. William Roberts; pr. John Sturges; ph. Charles Lang (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Elmer Bernstein; ed. Ferris Webster; ad. Edward Fitzgerald.
cast: Yul Brynner (Chris Larabee Adams), Eli Wallach (Calvera), Steve McQueen (Vin Tanner), Horst Buchholz (Chico), Charles Bronson (Bernardo O’Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee), Brad Dexter (Harry Luck), James Coburn (Britt), Jorge Martínez de Hoyos (Hilario), Vladimir Sokoloff (Old Man), Rosenda Monteros (Petra), Rico Alaniz (Sotero), Pepe Hern (Tomas), Natividad Vacío (Villager (as Natividad Vacio)), Mario Navarro (Boy with O’Reilly), Danny Bravo (Boy with O’Reilly), John A. Alonzo (Miguel), Val Avery (Henry), Whit Bissell (Chamlee), Robert J. Wilke (Wallace).
John Sturges’ remake of Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) is packed with iconic moments delivered with aplomb by a cast of future stars. A Mexican village is at the mercy of Wallach and his band of outlaws. The farming villagers are too afraid to fight for themselves and hire seven American gunslingers, led by Brynner, to help them fight back. The gunmen train the villagers to defend themselves and then plan a trap for the bandits. The film has become immensely popular over the years, largely due to its cast. Brynner is a commanding presence and McQueen the epitome of cool. Bronson and Coburn also get the opportunity to show their potential and Vaughn’s character is an interesting psychological contradiction. Buchholz is a little excitable as a proud Mexican out to prove himself. There are slow patches to navigate, but the shootouts are well-staged and exciting, if slightly over-choreographed. Bernstein’s rousing musical score has become a classic. Followed by three sequels – RETURN OF THE SEVEN (1966), GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1969) and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE! (1972) – and a TV series (1998-2000). Remade in 2016.
AAN: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Elmer Bernstein).

Film Review – MAN OF THE WEST (1958)

MAN OF THE WEST (1958, USA, 100m, 12) ****
Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. Ashton Productions / Walter Mirisch Productions; d. Anthony Mann; w. Reginald Rose (based on the novel “The Border Jumpers” by Will C. Brown); pr. Walter Mirisch; ph. Ernest Haller (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Leigh Harline; ed. Richard V. Heermance; ad. Hilyard M. Brown.
cast: Gary Cooper (Link Jones), Julie London (Billie Ellis), Lee J. Cobb (Dock Tobin), Arthur O’Connell (Sam Beasley), Jack Lord (Coaley), John Dehner (Claude), Royal Dano (Trout), Robert J. Wilke (Ponch), Joe Dominguez (Mexican Man (uncredited)), Dick Elliott (Willie (uncredited)), Frank Ferguson (Crosscut Marshal (uncredited)), Herman Hack (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Signe Hack (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Ann Kunde (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Tom London (Tom (uncredited)), Tina Menard (Juanita (uncredited)), Emory Parnell (Henry (uncredited)), Chuck Roberson (Rifleman-Guard on Train (uncredited)), Glen Walters (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Guy Wilkerson (Train Conductor (uncredited)), Jack Williams (Alcutt (uncredited)).
This psychological western sees Cooper in fine form as an ex-outlaw aboard a train when bandits rob it. When Cooper tries to intervene, he is knocked unconscious and left stranded in the middle of nowhere with a saloon singer (London) and con man (O’Connell). Cooper leads them to his nearby former home, which is now the hideout for the bandit led by his uncle (Cobb). He must re-join the old gang for one last holdup to save his friends. Mann directs with a sureness of hand and total control of the material. A strong script by Rose, adapted from a novel by Will C. Brown gives Cooper, Cobb and co plenty to get their teeth into. The cast gives excellent performances as the tension mounts between the bandits and their captives. Cooper is splendid conveying a man wrestling with a past he would rather forget, whilst Cobb is frightening as his unstable older mentor. Standout scenes include an exhausting fistfight between Cooper and Lord and a superbly staged shootout in a ghost town as Cooper looks to gain the upper hand. The result is another example of Mann’s mastery of his craft and his ability to elevate seemingly familiar material to new heights.

Film Review – THE LAST HARD MEN (1976)

THE LAST HARD MEN (1976, USA) **½
Western
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox; d. Andrew V. McLaglen; w. Guerdon Trueblood (based on the novel “Gun Down” by Brian Garfield); pr. Walter Seltzer, Russell Thacher; ph. Duke Callaghan (DeLuxe. 35mm. Panavision. 2.35:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Fred A. Chulack; ad. Edward C. Carfagno; rel. 23 April 1976 (USA), 18 May 1976 (UK); BBFC cert: X; r/t. 98m.
cast: Charlton Heston (Sam Burgade), James Coburn (Provo), Barbara Hershey (Susan Burgade), Christopher Mitchum (Hal Brickman), Jorge Rivero (Menendez), Michael Parks (Noel Nye), Larry Wilcox (Shelby), Thalmus Rasulala (Weed), Morgan Paull (Shiraz), John Quade (Gant), Robert Donner (Lee Roy), Sam Gilman (Dutch Vestal), James Bacon (Deputy Jetfore), Riley Hill (Gus), Dick Alexander (Bo Simpson), Yolanda Schutz (Paloma), Alberto Piña (Storekeeper), David Herrera (Indian Policeman).
Violent and often unpleasant revenge Western, which benefits from strong production values. In 1909 Arizona, Heston is a retired lawman whose life is thrown upside-down when his old enemy (Coburn) and six other convicts escape a chain-gang in the Yuma Territorial Prison and come gunning for him, kidnapping his daughter (Hershey) in the bargain. Lots of bloody action and some by-line comments on the passing of the old west without the subtlety of touch to elegantly land the message. Coburn does his best with a one-dimensional character, but Heston delivers a stiff performance as his quarry. Parks is memorable in a smaller role as the embodiment of the changing times, but Hershey has little to do with her role other than scream, fight and run.

Film Review – BREAKHEART PASS (1975)

BREAKHEART PASS (1975, USA) ***
Mystery, Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. Gershwin-Kastner Productions; d. Tom Gries; w. Alistair MacLean (based on the novel by Alistair MacLean); exec pr. Elliott Kastner; pr. Jerry Gershwin; ph. Lucien Ballard (DeLuxe. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Byron ‘Buzz’ Brandt; ad. Tambi Larsen; set d. Darrell Silvera; cos. Tom Dawson, Paula Lynn Kaatz; m/up. Phil Rhodes, Alma Johnson, Evelyn Preece, Vivienne Walker; sd. Gene S. Cantamessa, Frank E. Warner (Mono); sfx. Gerald Endler, A.D. Flowers, Logan Frazee; vfx. Bill Hansard, Don Hansard, William Suhr; st. Yakima Canutt; rel. 25 December 1975 (Finland), February 1976 (UK), 10 March 1976 (USA); cert: PG/PG; r/t. 95m.

cast: Charles Bronson (Deakin), Ben Johnson (Marshal Pearce), Richard Crenna (Gov. Richard Fairchild), Jill Ireland (Marica), Charles Durning (O’Brien), Ed Lauter (Maj. Claremont), Bill McKinney (Rev. Peabody), David Huddleston (Dr. Molyneux), Roy Jenson (Chris Banion), Rayford Barnes (Sgt. Bellew), Scott Newman (Rafferty), Robert Tessier (Levi Calhoun), Joe Kapp (Henry), Archie Moore (Carlos), Sally Kirkland (Jane-Marie), Sally Kemp (Prostitute), Eddie Little Sky (White Hand), Keith McConnell (Gabriel), John Mitchum (Red Beard), Read Morgan (Capt. Oakland).

When diphtheria breaks out at Fort Humboldt, a train is dispatched with medical supplies and relief troops. Also on board are Utah’s governor (Crenna), his mistress (Ireland), a marshal (Johnson) and his prisoner, outlaw John Deakin (Bronson). As the train passes through the mountains, soldiers go missing, telegraph lines are cut, and it is discovered that there is no epidemic. There is a conspiracy afoot, and it is up to Deakin, who is actually a federal agent, to expose it. A mix of traditional Western with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and Alistair MacLean’s “nothing is quite what it seems” school of fiction, this is an entertaining and well shot mystery. The confinement of the train setting adds challenges to the narrative as the narrow corridors make it difficult to buy into the skullduggery. However, a game cast is on hand to make the most of the material and the winter location photography adds a bleakness that is in sync with the material. The shootout finale does seem like a concession to Western fans, but the mystery elements work reasonably well. Although set in Nevada, the film was shot in Idaho.

Film Review – LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962)

LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962, USA) ****
Drama, Western
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Rank Film Distributors (UK); pr co. Joel Productions; d. David Miller; w. Dalton Trumbo (based on the novel “Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey); exec pr. Kirk Douglas (uncredited); pr. Edward Lewis; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (B&W. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; m sup. Joseph Gershenson; ed. Leon Barsha; ad. Alexander Golitzen, Robert Emmet Smith; set d. George Milo; cos. Stanley Kufel, Peter V. Saldutti; m/up. Dave Grayson, Bud Westmore, Larry Germain; sd. Waldon O. Watson, Frank H. Wilkinson (Mono (Westrex Recording System)); st. Bob Herron; rel. 27 April 1962 (UK), 24 May 1962 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 107m.

cast: Kirk Douglas (John W. “Jack” Burns), Gena Rowlands (Jerry Bondi), Walter Matthau (Sheriff Morey Johnson), Michael Kane (Paul Bondi), Carroll O’Connor (Hinton), William Schallert (Harry), George Kennedy (Deputy Sheriff Gutierrez), Karl Swenson (Rev. Hoskins), William Mims (First Deputy Arraigning Burns), Martin Garralaga (Old Man), Lalo Rios (Prisoner).

Douglas gives one of his best performances as a cowboy out of his time who attempts to break a friend (Kane) out of jail and is then pursued through the mountains by the local sheriff (Matthau). The film is played out for the most part from Douglas’ perspective as it laments the passing of the old west, which has been taken over by technological progress. The mix of drama and dry humour may seem jarring to some but adds a sense of realism as the humour is never over-played. There is brutality, represented by Kennedy’s sadistic jail warden. The humour is mainly played out through Matthau’s sheriff’s wilting exasperation at the incompetence of his men. There are symbolic scenes demonstrating the core theme of a modern west with the unforgettable bookends and Trumbo’s screenplay adaptation is well observed, excepting the jailbreak scene, which feels a little too easy. Douglas is superb and gets into the soul of his character and Lathrop’s black and white photography adds to the yearning for nostalgia. The section showing Douglas’s ascent of the mountain with his horse is depicted with authenticity and generates considerable suspense. Reported to be Douglas’ favourite of all his films. This was Carroll O’Connor’s film debut. An overlooked gem.

Film Review – BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955)

52 Before 62 – # 2 Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) | The Last Blog Name On  EarthBAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955, USA) ****½
Crime, Drama, Western
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. John Sturges; w. Millard Kaufman, Don McGuire (based on a story “Bad Time at Hondo” by Howard Breslin); pr. Dore Schary; assoc pr. Herman Hoffman; ph. William C. Mellor (Eastmancolor. 35mm. CinemaScope. 2.55:1); m. André Previn; ed. Newell P. Kimlin; ad. Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; set d. Fred M. MacLean, Edwin B. Willis; m/up. John Truwe; sd. Wesley C. Miller (Mono (35mm optical prints) (Western Electric Sound System) | 4-Track Stereo (35mm magnetic prints)); rel. 13 January 1955 (USA), 17 March 1955 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 81m.

cast: Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings), Walter Sande (Sam).

John J. MacReedy (Tracy), is a one-armed stranger who comes to the tiny town of Black Rock one hot summer day in 1945, the first time the train has stopped there in years. He looks for both a hotel room and a local Japanese farmer named Komoko, but his inquiries are greeted at first with open hostility, then with blunt threats and harassment, and finally with escalating violence. MacReedy soon realizes that he will not be allowed to leave Black Rock; town boss Reno Smith (Ryan), who had Komoko killed because of his hatred of the Japanese, has also marked MacReedy for death. MacReedy must battle town thugs, a treacherous local woman (Francis), and finally Smith himself to stay alive. The film has an excellent script that creates an air of mystery and intimidation, which Sturges maximises through his economic shooting. Tracy is superb as the mysterious visitor and is supported by an excellent cast that includes Ryan as the influential rancher; Borgnine and Marvin as Ryan’s muscle; Francis as the only girl in town whose brother played by Ericson proves to be their weak link; and Brennan and Jagger as the town doctor and drunken sheriff ashamed of their past. The confrontation between Tracy and the townsfolk grows as the story plays out to its inevitable and ironic conclusion. Whilst the ending may seem a little hurried and convenient, taken as a whole, the film is a textbook example of building suspense through character and dialogue.

AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy); Best Director (John Sturges); Best Writing, Screenplay (Millard Kaufman).

Film Review – GUNSMOKE: RETURN TO DODGE (TV) (1987)

Download Gunsmoke, Return to Dodge (Western 1987) James Arness 720p Torrent | 1337xGUNSMOKE: RETURN TO DODGE (TV) (1987, USA) ***
Western
dist. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS); pr co. CBS Entertainment Production; d. Vincent McEveety; w. Jim Byrnes; pr. John Mantley, Stanley Hough; ph. Charles Correll (Colour. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Jerrold Immel; m sup. Robert Drasnin; ed. Ray Daniels; pd. Albert Heschong; set d. Bruce Sinski; cos. Frances Harrison Hays; m/up. Al Magallon, Iloe Flewelling, Byrd Holland; sd. G. Michael Graham (Mono); st. Billy Burton, Brent Woolsey; rel. 26 September 1987 (USA); cert: 15; r/t. 100m.

cast: James Arness (Matt Dillon), Amanda Blake (Kitty), Buck Taylor (Newly), Fran Ryan (Hannah), Earl Holliman (Jake Flagg), Ken Olandt (Lt. Dexter), William Morgan Sheppard (Digger McCloud), Patrice Martinez (Bright Water), Tantoo Cardinal (Little Doe), Steve Forrest (Will Mannon), Mickey Jones (Oakum), Frank Totino (Logan), Robert Koons (Warden Amos Brown), Walter Kaasa (Judge Collins), Georgie Collins (Mrs. Collins), Tony Epper (Farnum McCloud), Louie Elias (Bubba), Ken Kirzinger (Potts), Denny Arnold (Clyman), Alex Green (The Flogger).

Will Mannon (Forrest) is released from a frontier prison and promptly goes in search of the people who put him there some 12 years ago — Matt Dillon (Arness) and Kitty Russell (Blake). This TV movie plays heavily on nostalgia with a few references to episodes from the latter stages of the series’ original twenty year run. This is a sequel to the episode “Mannon”, which aired in January 1969. Forrest picks up where he left off from that show as the villain sworn on revenge and who has no redeeming characteristics. He shares screen time with a secondary plot line involving Holliman, who escapes prison in an attempt to warn Arness, but become embroiled with former gang members looking to chase him down for the bounty. Arness gives a mean and gritty performance and is briefly reunited with Blake, who slips easily back into her role as Kitty. The finale is an inevitable showdown on the streets of Dodge City which harks back to the early days of the show. Filmed not in the wilds of Kansas but in the picturesque Alberta, Canada. Followed by GUNSMOKE: THE LAST APACHE (1990).

TV Review – THE VIRGINIAN: BELOVED OUTLAW (1966)

Sara Lane in “Beloved Outlaw” (5:11) – The Virginian WeblogTHE VIRGINIAN: BELOVED OUTLAW (1966, USA) ***
Western
net. National Broadcasting Company (NBC); pr co. Universal Television; d. William Witney; w. True Boardman; exec pr. Frank Price; pr. Winston Miller; ph. Enzo A. Martinelli (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Jack Hayes, Leo Shuken; m sup. Stanley Wilson; th. Percy Faith; ed. Edward A. Biery; ad. George Patrick; set d. Claire P. Brown, John McCarthy Jr.; cos. Vincent Dee; m/up. Bud Westmore, Larry Germain; sd. Bill Ford (Mono); tr. 23 November 1966; r/t. 75m.

cast: James Drury (The Virginian), Charles Bickford (John Grainger), Doug McClure (Trampas), Don Quine (Stacey Grainger), Sara Lane (Elizabeth Grainger), John Bryant (Dr. Spaulding), James McCallion (Hostler), Bing Russell (Gabe Sloan), John Archer (Paul Nelson), James Beck (Peters), Don Wilbanks (Jenkins), John Harmon (Auctioneer).

(s. 5 ep. 11) A wild white stallion draws the attention of Elizabeth (Lane) who convinces her grandfather (Bickford) to buy it. Against his wishes, she tames and breaks the stallion when Trampas (McClure) is unable to. Her and the stallion become inseparable, but a problem occurs. The standard story of girl falls in love with wild horse and only she can tame him. All the stock story development is used in this tale, but it is done without becoming cloyingly sentimental and Lane delivers a genuinely charming and engaging performance.

TV Review – GUNSMOKE: P.S. MURRY CHRISTMAS (1971)

Gunsmoke: P.S. Murry Christmas - 1971 - Miss Kitty and Marshall Dillon  (With images) | Miss kitty, Gunsmoke, James arnessGUNSMOKE: P.S. MURRY CHRISTMAS (1971, USA) ***
Western
net. CBS Television Network; pr co. CBS Television Network; d. Herb Wallerstein; w. William Kelley; exec pr. John Mantley; pr. Leonard Katzman; ass pr. Ron Honthaner; ph. Monroe P. Askins (Colour. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Richard Shores; th. Rex Koury (uncredited); ed. Thomas J. McCarthy; ad. William Craig Smith; set d. Herman N. Schoenbrun; cos. Alexander Velcoff; m/up. Glen Alden, Irving Pringle, Esperanza Corona, Gertrude Wheeler; sd. Andrew Gilmore, Jerry Rosenthal (Mono); tr. 27 December 1971; r/t. 50m.

cast: James Arness (Matt Dillon), Milburn Stone (Doc), Amanda Blake (Kitty), Ken Curtis (Festus), Buck Taylor (Newly), Jeanette Nolan (Emma Grundy), Patti Cohoon-Friedman (Mary (as Patti Cohoon)), Jodie Foster (Patricia), Erin Moran (Jenny), Josh Albee (Michael), Brian Morrison (Owen), Willie Aames (Tom), Todd Lookinland (Jake), Jack Elam (Titus Spangler), Glenn Strange (Sam Noonan), Jack Collins (J. Stedman Edgecomb), Ted Jordan (Nathan Burke), Herb Vigran (Judge Brooker), Sarah Selby (Ma Smalley), Maudie Prickett (Mrs. Pretch), Rudy Doucette (Barfly (uncredited)), Jimmy Noel (Barfly (uncredited)), Max Wagner (Barfly (uncredited)).

(s. 17 ep. 15) Handyman Titus Spangler (Elam) rescues seven orphans from an overly stern headmistress, Emma Grundy (Nolan), and winds up in Dodge City at Christmas time. This seasonal episode has all the warmth needed to deliver its typically moralistic story. It is helped by a strong guest cast including Elam as the good-hearted rogue and Nolan as the hard and embittered headmistress of the orphanage. Redemption is the keyword here and rest assured all ends happily ever after on Christmas Day in The Long Branch saloon. The peck on the cheek that Kitty gives to Matt in this episode is as close as the two came to an on- air kiss in the twenty years of Gunsmoke on television.

TV Review – GUNSMOKE: CHATO (1970)

GUNSMOKE: CHATO (1970, USA) ****½
Western
net. CBS Television Network; pr co. CBS Television Network; d. Vincent McEveety; w. Paul F. Edwards; exec pr. John Mantley; pr. Joseph Dackow; ph. Monroe P. Askins (Colour. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. John Carl Parker; th. Rex Koury (uncredited); ed. Gerard Wilson; ad. Joseph R. Jennings; set d. Herman N. Schoenbrun; cos. Alexander Velcoff; m/up. Glen Alden, Irving Pringle, Cherie Banks; sd. Andrew Gilmore, Jerry Rosenthal (Mono); tr. 14 September 1970; r/t. 50m.

cast: James Arness (Matt Dillon), Ricardo Montalban (Chato), Miriam Colon (Mora), Peggy McCay (Beth Cooter), William Bryant (Marshal Dan Cooter), Rodolfo Hoyos Jr. (Juanito), Robert Knapp (Surgeon), Pedro Regas (Old Man), Jim Sheppard (Deputy Case).

(s. 16 ep. 1) Chato (Montalban) is a mixed-race Native American with a serious grudge against lawmen. He also has a remarkable athletic ability: he can run and jump over mountain ledges while keeping up a steady fire with his rifle. After an exciting duel, he kills a friend of Matt Dillon’s who was tracking him. Matt (Arness) comes to New Mexico and engages him in a duel of wits with Chato to catch him. Chato’s one soft spot is his common-law wife (Colon). She is shot and severely injured by a group of renegade tribesmen who were also gunning for Chato. Chato calls a truce with Matt so the group can escape and get her to a doctor – but it’s only a truce. Arness declared this episode his favourite of the 635 he starred in. It is easy to see why. This is an intelligent and tense story with fully formed characters and motivations. Montalban is excellent as the proud Indian waging a one-man war against the white man who slaughtered his people. Arness delivers one of his best performances as he hunts down Montalban and then forms a temporary alliance as they both fend off the threat from a renegade tribe. McEveety’s direction is also a great example of how a story can be elevated by the way it is presented. The all-location shoot gives the production the feel of a big-screen feature and Parker’s score perfectly underlines the drama. A real winner of an episode that showcased the series at its best – remarkable considering it was into its sixteenth season. Writer Paul F. Edwards won a Western Writers of America Golden Spur Award for this episode.