Thursday, June 2, 2022

Junesploitation 2022 Day 2: Westerns!



    Bernard Girard's GONE WITH THE WEST (1974, Amazon Prime 4K, 92 min.)

    You know you've got something special when a then-modern American western actually bores you to death with its wildly inconsistent tones (silly and light-hearted one minute, cruel and sadistic the next), yet you want to recommend it with every fiber of your being for having the balls to do batshit crazy things you've never seen a western pull off before. James Caan, fresh off his "The Godfather: Part II" resurrection for that memorable next-to-final scene, plays Jeb, a man just released from prison after being framed for killing his family by Mimmo (Aldo Ray), who actually did the crime. Taking his sweet time to exact revenge and leaving the heavy lifting to his Indian sidekick Little Moon (Stefanie Powers, who is doing proto-manic pixie dream girl shtick to great effect; I fell in love with Little Moon early and hard), Caan proceeds to torture, abuse and set the town that Mimmo runs under siege. Did I mention Sammy Davis Jr. plays a hired mercenary Mimmo contracts to kill Jeb, but Kid Dandy's too busy drinking and gambling to leave the saloon... EVER? :-P

    Make no mistake about it, "Gone With the West" has major pacing, editing and tone issues. At one point the characters completely break the fourth wall for no apparent reason other than it was the '70's and experimentation with genre deconstruction was cool. I can see anyone hating this flick all the way through. As a decade-long veteran of "Junesploitation!," though, the final act of this flick goes balls-out nutso with Jeb and Little Moon pulling off Q-like contraptions (catapults, kites with bombs, etc.) that end up leveling Mimmo's town to ashes. The filmmakers were clearly given permission to burn the sets and film them, resulting in Caan and Also Ray (or their stuntmen) having shoot-outs and fist fights in front of collapsing burning structures that looks stunning... even in the shitty transfer that somehow Amazon calls 'UHD 4K' on Prime despite looking like ass. I wish I could rate it lower, but there's no way I can't give "Gone With the West" anything less than 3 CAAN DOING TARZAN YELLS/ROPE SWINGS... IN THE MIDDLE OF THE EFFIN' DESERT! (out of 5).

  2. CRY BLOOD, APACHE (1970, Amazon Prime 4K, 82 min.)

    A movie-length flashback by an old cowboy reminiscing about the time he (as a young man) and his thug white friends raped and murdered a family of Native American tribesmen for the gold they were carrying, killed a mother and her baby (all this within the first five minutes!) and kept an Indian woman hostage (Marie Gahva) so she could show them where her tribe got the gold. Despite the bulk of the narrative being about the kidnapped woman's brother/husband (we're never told) chasing after her kidnappers to free her, "Cry Blood, Apache" focuses on these bunch of unlikable losers (particularly Jack Starrett's religious fanatic Deacon) to the point I wanted to turn off the film an hour before it was over... on an 82-min. running time. It has a meant-to-be-gut-punching next-to-final scene, but it's like the rest of this mean little disposable flick: way too little far too late. 1 "THEY LIVE"-TYPE FIST FIGHT THAT SEEMS TO GO ON FOREVER NEEDLESSLY (out of 5), one of the low points of my Junesploitation! career. :'(

  3. MONTANA STORY (2022, theater, 114 min.)

    Just saw this yesterday afternoon as it's about to leave theaters in NYC. Not technically a western (but eff it, I'm putting it here), more like a slow-burn family melodrama about two estranged siblings (Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague, both terrific) reconnecting when their bastard of a parent falls into a coma after having a stroke. Forced to sell the ranch they grew-up in and contemplating putting down the last old horse left alive (Mr. T), Erin and Cal have a couple of days in which to say and patch a lot of unsaid things they don't feel comfortable talking about. Despite a couple of too-convenient dramatic beats (Chekov's power outage during a storm) "Montana Story" uses its impressive visuals to highlight and frame the distance between the once-inseparable siblings being as large as the Big Sky myths Erin once believed. It borders on misery porn cliches without crossing them, mostly thanks to Gilbert Owuor playing a grounded caretaker that serves as undrafted arbiter to the family turmoil going around the comatose patriarch he's assigned to take care of. I'm a sucker for a well-made drama, and "Montana Story" fits the bill AND gives me all the Montana I'd need and want to last me a while. 4 VERIZON PHONE PLANS (out of 5).

  4. THE PROFESSIONALS (1966, dir. Richard Brooks) – Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, and Robert Ryan star in a tale of the Mexican Revolution. Also in the cast is western stalwart Woody Strode, Jack Palance, and Claudia Cardinale. Cardinale is the wife of a wealthy American who disappears in Mexico during the late 1910s. An outfit (Lee Marvin and company) is hired to get her back from the Mexican revolutionary who has kidnapped her. Things do not quite turn out as they expect. Coming three years before The Wild Bunch, The Professionals, though nowhere near as nihilistic, has some similar themes as that iconic film. Besides being a western, The Professionals is also a good “men-on-a-mission” story. A hearty recommendation for this.

  5. Renegade Gun (1971 – Giuseppe Vari)
    It’s Western Day – and you know what that means! Renegade Gun brings everything you want from an exploitive Spaghetti Western production: One of two films that were produced simultaneously, several international distribution names (e.g. Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead), just a few locations to shoot, beautiful girls and one bigger name as the morally corrupted lead (Klaus Kinski), exactly 90 minutes long. Tarantino named this one of his favorite Spaghetti Westerns, and you can draw the influence from this movie to his masterpiece THE HATEFUL EIGHT (there is a similar set-up in the first half). I enjoyed the movie for how simple and effective it is.

  6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, dir. George Roy Hill)

    One of those movies I knew a lot about through cultural osmosis even though I'd never seen it. The ending, the Raindrops song, "The fall's probably gonna kill you", a movie's hard to avoid when it's this iconic.

    Still, I'm really glad I finally got around to watching it. What I didn't know was how many funny lines there were, and Newman and Redford's deadpan delivery makes them even funnier. Those are two charming guys. I mean, obviously, duh.

    I'm not a huge Western guy, but this one gripped me and just flew by.

  7. RED SUN (1971) on YouTube

    This is a western for people who love the heavy hitters of 50s, 60s, and 70s cinema, but can’t quite get into westerns (I’m talking about you, Letterboxd crowd). For starters, it has an all-star cast. Charles Bronson (The Great Escape, Death Wish) teams up with Toshiro Mifune (Rashomon, Seven Samurai) to take down Alain Delon (Purple Noon, Le Cercle Rouge). Along the way, they pickup Ursula Andress (the original Bond girl, reuniting with Dr. No director Terence Young) to do the typical Western morality tale of honor and revenge.

    If that cast doesn’t do anything for you, then I don’t know what to tell you.

    But it’s more than just some likable folks doing the western tropes - it’s got some decent buddy cop humor from Bronson, a little Samurai taste from Mifune, and Ursula bringing down the testosterone levels just when the movie needs it. It’s got everything Western fans love, with enough elements from other great films mixed in for those that need a gateway to the genre.

  8. Waterworld - The Ulysses Cut

    Bit of a stretch to call this a western, but it's got a lot of the tropes and my arrow western box set didn't arrive in time.

    Why does everyone hate this movie? A friend of mine watched it recently and started ranting about various things they claim make no sense and aren't explained. But watching it, all of the things my friend claimed were very well explained in the movie. It's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot of fun even at its ludicrous runtime and I'm kind of in awe of how it was made and the effort put into it. Far from the disaster everyone claims.

    1. Ok. I love the idea of Waterworld as a western...

    2. hell yeah - it's got an outlaw lone ranger; roving bandits; an arid desert (of seawater); small towns... It's definitely got more in common with post-apocalypse movies generally but I think that genre took a lot from westerns to begin with. Also I need to justify my weird choice for Westerns day.

  9. Companeros (1970)

    The last of the Corbucci/Nero Westerns, Tomas Milian is arguably more the lead here since his character gets an actual character arc. At least one site I looked at seemed to suggest this focus on Milian was part of the reason for the breakdown of Corbucci and Nero's partnership, which given the horrifically racist role Milian would go on to play in Corbucci's The White, the Yellow, and the Black, might have been for the best for Nero.

    Morricone provides a pretty fun theme for this one, and the rest of the score is solid, but not too flashy. My favorite of the Morricone scores I've listened to thus far this month.

    1. There is no lack of Ennio Morricone scores for today's theme, Ross. So many great ones to choose from.

  10. RED SUN (1971, dir. Terence Young) – Being a big Charles Bronson fan, I knew I would eventually get to this one. The rest of the high-profile cast has already been discussed here. I had higher expectations than the film actually meets. Red Sun is more of a The meandering script and pacing were the primary issues for me, but the film does get better as it goes along. A couple scenes of gratuitous nudity add an exploitative element appropriate for the month. I appreciated that Charles Bronson got a chance to be comedic. (Watch From Noon Till Three for another comedic Bronson performance in a western.) Hearing Toshiro Mifune speaking English was also interesting.

  11. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
    "Billy, ya want a woman? She's got an ass like a 40 dollar cow and them tit? I'd like to fill it full of tequila." - one of the craziest damn lines I've ever heard in a movie.

    What a beautiful damn movie. I've heard Peckinpah called a nihilist. He's not a nihilist. He believes in something... he believes in masculinity. He believes that there is deep meaning to be found in the masculine identity. What makes this point of view interesting and important is that he's not simplistic about it - in most of his movies, and especially in this one, he explores all the ways masculinity is goddamn horrible... He views rape as maculine and not in a good way, he views the cops as masculine and not in a good way, he views patriotism as masculine and not in a good way... But he also views the path to heroism in masculinity. He's not politically correct... Hell, he might not even be correct correct... but fuck me if he ain't interesting.

  12. The Searchers (1956, dir. John Ford)

    "That'll be the day"

    I had been wanting to watch this for some time, and wasn't disappointed! A tale of revenge and obsession, it opens with a door opening and the camera follows a woman outside to the most stunning landscape ever and a man approaching on horseback. I liked how the movie ended with a view of the same man walking away through a similar doorway and cuts to black as the door closes. This John Ford guy really knows how to direct! What a picture!

    A cowboy investigates the murder of his identical twin brother, running into all kinds of sleazy characters. This is another Western/noir hybrid they made in the '50s, with unsavory criminals doing unsavory things in unsavory ways. Standing stalwart against them is John Agar as the awesomely-named Lucius Random. He's great, and it's too bad we didn't get a whole series of movies with him as this character.

    Bonus Lloyd Kaufman-sploitation, day 2: THE BATTLE OF LOVE'S RETURN (1971)
    Kaufman plays a young man who gets fired and then wanders the city, meeting and interviewing various people. Lloyd was still in intellectual New Yorker mode at the time, but here we can see hints of the oddball Troma humor showing through. So there's serious speeches about how to find happiness in life, but there's also Catskills gags and Chaplin-esque slapstick. It's as if Mel Brooks and Salvador Dali collaborated on a micro-budget indie film.

  14. Timerider aka Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982, dir. William Dear)

    Thanks to Anthony for the recommendation!

    Offroad racer Lyle Swann (RIP Fred Ward) drives his motorcycle where he's not supposed to and ends up in the middle of a time travel experiment, which lands him in the Old West. There, he scares an old man to death, falls in love, gets his bike stolen, and has to rescue his new girlfriend from bandits. But will he get back home?

    It's a fun, silly premise that the movie treats just seriously enough. This might be the only time travel movie I've ever seen where the time traveler never figures out what's happened, the whole movie he's just wondering why people are acting weird and don't know what a phone or a motorcycle is. Fred Ward is always great and Tracey Walter was made for Westerns. The movie's full of "that guy" actors, very familiar faces I couldn't name to save my life.

    Why was no spinoff tv show of this ever made? Just add an s to the title and you're good to go.

    1. This movie is bonkers and I kind of love it and your part about how Swann never figures out that he's travelled in time is spot on.

  15. Keoma (1976) - I've seen this described as the last great spaghetti western and man, I cannot disagree with that. This is a terrific tale of family drama, a town under siege by toughs, Franco Nero being a badass and the great Woody Strode being, well, Woody Strode. Just wonderful and sad and some of the best uses of slo-mo I've ever seen.

  16. Hannie Caulder (1971)

    Raquel Welch stars as a woman who gets brutally assaulted by a gang of idiot bandit brothers and later strikes an odd-couple relationship with a rugged bounty hunter who becomes her reluctant mentor in the ways of badassery and eventually (understandably) starts falling for her. But Hannie's got only one thing on her mind: good old fashioned revenge, and she's gonna get it no matter what.

    This British production looks and feels a lot like a spaghetti western (and features a title theme that's suspiciously reminiscent of the theme from The Magnificent Seven) but its edges are much softer. It is also an interesting mishmash of tones, with the main woman-on-a-mission story interspersed with moments of comedy (despite the horrific acts they commit, the inept villain trio are treated almost as comic reliefs) and even romance (sunset on a Mexican beach). Most importantly, our heroine is a compelling figure you really want to root for, from the violent inciting event to the suspenseful finale at an abandoned fortress. Highly recommended.

  17. The Quick and The Dead (1995, dir. Sam Rami)

    Love that authentic western feel where people have perfect skin, perfect hair and perfect teeth.

  18. Extreme Prejudice (1987, dir. Walter Hill)

    They should have just called this Testosterone: The Movie. Manliest cast imaginable: Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe (and Maria Conchita Alonso). Oh, and Walter Hill directs from a John Milius script.... Characters don't speak in conversations, they retort trailer lines at each other until the shooting starts. Everyone is drenched in sweat for the entire runtime. Highly recommended.

    1. "Extreme Prejudice" just came out on Blu-ray for the Vestron Collection for $11.99 at Best Buy and a few other places (Amazon, etc.). Just bought it, based entirely on your review Matt. :-D

  19. The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972, dir. George McCowan)

    The fourth ‘Magnificent’ film in the series, and the quality of the production has fallen from Masterpiece of the Western Genre to TV Movie Western. Lee Van Cleef plays Chris (the role that Yul Brenner originated) who is now the sheriff of a small Arizona border town. Chris rules with an unmerciful hand. But when his fetching young wife cajoles him into pardoning a young outlaw, it immediately blows up in his face and the wife gets capped. With nothing to lose, he tracks down and murders the outlaws, only to get roped into helping a small Mexican village from DeSoto and his [sigh] bandits.

    Odd that this film kind of turns into The Magnificent Suicide Squad, because Chris recruits his team of Seven from the murderer’s row in the county jail (whose notable members include James B. Sikking, Ed Lauter and William Lucking). Chris and the Seven make an elaborate killbox near Vasquez Rocks and repel DeSoto and his bandits: all cannon fodder without a scintilla of interiority. Outside of Chris as the protagonist and hapless village tower defense, the only thing that makes this movie ‘Magnificent’ is the Elmer Bernstein score. Even that no longer sounds bombastic and epic, but now plays like the orchestra was called in on its’ day off.

    The whole franchise is running on fumes here, and the filmmakers have almost nothing new to offer the audience. For Magnificent completionists only.

  20. AND GOD SAID TO CAIN (1970)
    D: Antonio Margheriti
    Pardoned, Klaus Kinski (rarely the protagonist) strikes out to avenge himself against bigwig Peter Carsten as a tornado looms. Margheriti's less-than-flamboyant style is well-suited to this gothic spaghetti western. It starts out just fine, getting better & better as the spiral of revenge turns ever tighter. Most of this thing takes place at night, lending a hint of slasher to the proceedings.
    Arrow BluRay

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  22. The Grand Duel (1972) dir. Giancarlo Santi

    A solid Lee Van Cleef outing that I’d started a few days back and decided to dig back into in honor of the day. Maybe not the best thing to break up into two sittings, as I kept falling out of attention, but the theme is undeniable (QT seems to agree)- probably my favorite non Morricone score.

    The Quick and the Dead (1995) dir. Sam Rami

    Oh boy, this is a whole lotta “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore”- and that’s not even factoring in the franchise basket currently monopolizing all of Sam’s eggs. Everyone here is firing on all cylinders, and fully embracing being in a Rami movie. If I had one nitpick, it’s probably the score, which isn’t bad but plays it safer than just about anyone or anything else in the picture.

    See y’all on the streets of Shaolin tomorrow!

  23. Death Rides a Horse (1967, dir. Giulio Petroni)

    The Morricone score is great, Lee Van Cleef kicks ass and water is wet.

  24. MANNAJA (1977, dir. Sergio Martino)

    I love this spaghetti western starring Mauricio Merli but couldn't totally focus today. Here's hoping things get better tomorrow.

  25. The Homesman (2014, dir. Tommy Lee Jones)

    I didn't know anything going into this movie and I'm glad. I wasn't prepared for the kind of film it is and that's a good thing.

  26. Il prezzo del potere (1969)

    The Price of Power (AKA A Bullet for the President) is an absolutely deranged idea for a movie. It uses the attempted assassination of President James A. Garfield in 1881 to work out the feelings of the death of President John F. Kennedy just six years earlier.

    Except that it’s a Western.

    Made in Italy.

    The idea came from commedia all’italiana director Luigi Comencini’s brother-in-law Massimo Patrizi, who wrote the script with director Tonino Valeri (Day of Anger, My Dear Killer, My Name Is Nobody) and Ernesto Gastaldi, whose writing credits include All the Colors of the Dark, Torso and The Suspicious Death of a Minor.

    Bill Willer (Giuliano Gemma, a true star of the Italian west thanks to turns as Ringo and Arizona Colt) is trying to get revenge for the death of his father while trying to save the life of Garfield from the Pinkerton agency.

    The Pinkertons may be heroes elsewhere, but in Pittsburgh, you can drive past the two adjoining cemeteries of St. Mary’s and Homestead where remains of six of the seven Carnegie Steel Company workers killed are buried, the bloody aftermath of the Battle of Homestead on July 6, 1892, when Henry Frick tried to use the agency to break strikers with violence.

    Van Johnson plays the idealistic Garfield, who is coming to Texas to speak to people who have no interest in hearing what he has to say, yet he believes in the goodness in everyone. Of course, he’s killed and the Lee Harvey Oswald figure is Jack Donovan (Ray Saunders), a black man, which adds even more of a connection to the way the world of 1969 was looking, what with Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King being killed and the start of the Years of Lead in Italy. And I’m not certain that the scars in America’s psyche had yet healed, so I doubt anyone was ready for a movie they surely saw as escapism having MarĂ­a Cuadra play Jackie Kennedy and follow her exact movements in Dallas. She’s even given red roses, just like the President’s widow was.

    The joy of the Italian west is in finding movies that explore not only the way that film depicts a time and place we can never go to — indeed, many of the filmmakers had not even been to America — and even find that an alternate version of history can tell us so many things about the world we live in today.

  27. The Dalton Girls (1958, Dir. Reginald Le Borg)
    When sisters of the recently deceased Dalton gang kill a lecherous undertaker in self defense they go on the run and become outlaws. Joined by their two younger sisters the ladies go on a series of heist, always complicated by the Gambler Illionois who keeps having this fortune and misfortune of always being in the women's path. When little sister Columbine falls for the gambler and starts to doubt her older sisters violent ways it threatens to pull the sisters apart. Its a brisk watch at 71minutes and a nice little alternative to the standard western leads putting the Ladies in front even if it still hits all the best tropes.

    The Stranger and the Gunfighter aka Blood Money(1974, Dir. Antonio Margheriti)
    Shaw Brothers superstar Lo Lieh heads to America after his uncles death to find a warlords money that was given to the uncle. Lee Van(i'm not bald my hair is scared of me) Cleef is the unlucky robber who accidently killed the uncle and knows the vault was empty. Lieh and Van Cleef team up to find the money, the catch? Clues to the location are tattooed on the bottoms of four different women spread about old west California while being chased by a crazy bible verse spouting mad man and his gang. A buddy comedy its heart with some gunfights and some decent Kung Fu peppered in that I had a good time with it. Theres some amusing scenes with some chuckle worthy jokes But it was made in the 70s and its Margheriti so of course there is some slightly some offensive stuff but its a generally a genial movie and nothing seems to be to mean spirited to detract to much from having a good time I found it on Tubi

  28. A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof (1968)

    I honestly don't have much to say about this one. It's a thoroughly 2.5 star movie, but I felt obligated to at least post here that I watched it (posted about it on Twitter too, which is seeing a lot of Junesploitation posting this year it feels like).

  29. Tombstone (1993)

    First time watch! I liked it, but I didn't love it, and I can't quite place why. The cast was incredible (Val Kilmer giving my favorite performance in the film), but I just wasn't totally feeling it.

  30. Cut-Throat Nine (1972)

    First time watch. A bleak and bloody Euro-Western that goes for the gore! By today's standards of gore, not so much, but in 1972 it was probably a bit over-the-top. It's a pretty fun Western/Horror.

  31. Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead (1971)

    I wasn't that into it. Klaus Kinski as the black hat sounded promising, and there were some fun moments, but overall it felt a little disorganized with some plodding stretches.

    I'm sort of feeling 0 for 2 to start Junesploitation with my picks, but I have faith that Kung Fu is going to turn things around!

  32. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
    Iconic. Sublime.