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.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Westerns, again

Joan/Vienna plays as the posse arrive ...
We like a good western here at the Projector, as per previous posts on them (Westerns label). THE SEARCHERS turns up frequently on our TCM channel - we always like seeing Martin Pawley and Debbie and Laurie, and Wayne and that very emotional climax
 and then the door closes, its a western poem really with those landscapes and characters ... and they are showing JOHNNY GUITAR (left) again tomorrow, naturally I will have a front row seat, it is after all the first film I ever saw aged 8, and I love every delirious minute of it, as per previous posts.

Now that 1962 behemoth HOW THE WEST WAS WON is getting quite a few screenings and its fun to drop in and watch it for a while now and then. First thing to say is it looks terrific now on HD widescreen television - before it looked cramped and the joins of the 3 screens (used for Cinerama) were obvious and it looked liked it needed restoring. So it looks terrific now as we watch several generations of that family headed by Karl Malden and Agnes Moorehead heading west. with the daughters Carroll Baker and Debbie Reynolds. The score is terrific here too as Alfred Newman and Ken Darby's majestic music takes the pioneers through every conceivable encounter in the West, from fighting off river pirates to hazardous rapids on their raft ... 
It is of course a star-studded western taking in great panoramas and sweeping events, as we follow the pioneers in their covered wagons, mountain men, trappers, the railroads and the outlaws and desperadoes who formed the west. Spencer Tracy narrates and the directors include Henry Hathaway and George Marshall, John Ford does the civil war segment, and stars like James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck are well used., the script is rather simplistic though. George Peppard has a central role and Richard Widmark is good value too in the terrific Railroad sequence, with that stampede by bison as the Indians fight back against the iron horse taking over their lands. Thelma Ritter is a pioneer woman and Debbie ages nicely as she ends up out west with Peppard and his family while Eli Wallach has fun as that nasty villain .... Thats just a thumbnail precis of this always entertaining spectacle, perhaps the biggest hit of the Cinerama fad, apart from 2001. Later westerns of course  like McCABE & MRS MILLER, LITTLE BIG MAN and THE WILD BUNCH debunked this version of how the west was won as the new violence took hold in the '70s.

A couple of western treats: the run of the mill GUN FURY in 1953 is a pleasing Raoul Walsh oater with the good teaming of Rock Hudson and Donna Reed (right) fighting badman Phil Carey, and young Lee Marvin excels here as he does in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, reviewed here recently. Ty Power and Susan Hayward are teamed in Hathaway's tense RAWHIDE for Fox in 1951 more of a thriller than a western as Hugh Marlowe and his gang, including Jack Elam at his most loathsome, hold up a stagecoach station while awaiting a gold consignment to be delivered. Can our warring couple outwit the gang and keep alive?

A nice treat yesterday was TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN which I vaguely remember going to with my father but I hardly remembered it, its a handsome 1956 western by Robert Wise (just after his HELEN OF TROY - he certainly excelled in all genres). 

Jeremy Rodock is a tough horse rancher who strings up rustlers soon as look at them. Fresh out of Pennsylvania, Steve Miller finds it hard to get used to Rodock's ways, although he takes an immediate shine to his Greek girl Jocasta. 

The interest here is the debut of Greek actress Irene Papas as Jocasta, years before her great Greek roles, playing opposite James Cagney - it should have been Spencer Tracy but he objected to being away on location. Its a handsome production with great landscapes (like that other discovery last year, THE VIOLENT MEN which had Edward G Robinson in a similar role) with a rather predictable storyline and some jarring back projections towards the end, but certainly an enjoyable time out west.

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