Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Westerns I love: Johnny Guitar / North to Alaska

A western double bill!

was the very first film I saw, aged 8 - what a vivid introduction to cinema, I was mesmerised by the woman in white about to be hanged, and that other woman in black shooting down the lamps and setting the place on fire. Then of course later when I knew which film it was repeated viewings made it more delirious and desirable than ever. I just simply love it. Nice now to have good dvd showing that odd Republic Technicolor, with an introduction by Marty Scorsese, no less (as good as his one for EL CID).

Then there are those tales of the feud between Joan and Mercedes on set, it is all though oddly poetic as directed by Nick Ray. Joan is perfect as Vienna "sitting at her piano in her own home" waiting for the railroad to come so she can sell out. McCambridge is Emma Small the vicious town boss who is oddly drawn to the Dancing Kid, or perhaps it is Vienna she is drawn to and cannot act on it? The men - even Ward Bond - are just stooges here, as Emma and Vienna dominate. Events move at a pace as the two women face up to the climax. Sterling Hayden is sterling again as the quiet Johnny - his scenes with Vienna as they try to recapture their lost love are just so perfect. Then the lynch mob arrive ... For a child of 8 it was a marvellous experience and led to my being taken to other westerns that year: THE COMMAND, DRUM BEAT, SITTING BULL and other movies like A STAR IS BORN. Looking at it again now the architecture is fascinating: Vienna's large casino, the waterfall hiding the way to the mountain cabin - and what a perfect cabin it is... one almost wants to live there.

Moving on to 1960, that perennial comedy western NORTH TO ALASKA is thankfully a tv staple - one simply never tires of it. Henry Hathaway directs and 20th Century Fox producton values ensure it looks good - that early sequence with the tree loggers at their picnic is not really necessary at all but all part of the lazy rambling structure of the film. Wayne here, after those iconic roles in THE QUIET MAN, THE SEARCHERS and RIO BRAVO the previous year (and those perfect 50s programmers like THE SEA CHASE and LEGEND OF THE LOST), is having fun as is Stewart Granger - good to see them together, Fabian is the younger brother (he was cute then after HOUND DOG MAN in '59) and there is the running joke of him continually being manhandled by exasperated Wayne, especially when Capucine arrives as the replacement girlfriend. Cap is delightful here and holds her own well with Wayne and joins in the knockabout.

That muddly climax at the end has them all fighting in the mud - with Ernie Kovacs as the shady operator and lots of fun all round. It shows frontier life then almost as well as in McCABE & MRS MILLER! So, a fun film with people I like! Wayne and Granger are as adroit as ever at this late stage of their careers but they were not winding down yet - while Capucine and Fabian show comedy skills and provide the eye candy. What's not to like?

Edit: It won't let me reply to the Comment, so here is what I wanted to add:

Indeed - Johnny Guitar is so vivid it plays almost like a cartoon - very accessible for a child seeing his first movie!
Capucine is indeed a very independent woman in Alaska, holding her own with the men, even if she is playing a haughty "saloon girl" but she is not a pathetic one like Lee Remick was in the '59 western "These Thousand Hills".

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. You are so right about "Johnny Guitar" being mesmerizing to both a child and to an adult on different levels. I hadn't thought of the film that way before.

    The fun quotient for "North to Alaska" is high, and it starts with the theme song. Capucine really does give a strong, standout performance among all those fellas.