Monday, June 12, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 12: Westerns!



    The elation I felt at the end when "Timerider" pulled off its feat of being entertaining and unique is the fuel that powers my Junesploitation! dreams. A present-day-in-'82 time travel experiment catches motocross-in-a-souped-up-tech-bike rider Fred Ward, who gets sent back to 1877. Everything you expect would happen (scared Mexicans thinking Fred's red jumpsuit is 'the devil', bad guys wanting the 'horseless carriage,' a damsel in rape-danger distress, 80's appropriate rocking score, etc.) happens, including a grandmother paradox conundrum and the unique wrinkle that none of the main protagonists are aware they're caught in a time travel loop. Ed Lauter's padre shooting a church bell with his shotgun is badass, and Peter Coyote (the same year "E.T." came out) crushes it as the leader of a gang of outlaws. "Timerider" is basically an extended feature version of one of the better episodes of Spielberg's "Amazing Stories" TV show, one with a strong female protagonist (Belinda Bauer) that complements Ward's and Coyote's pitch-perfect hero/villain dynamics. I LOVE THIS MOVIE! :-D 4.5 GREEN KMART GLOW STICKS (out of 5).

    Sam Peckinpah's MAJOR DUNDEE: EXTENDED VERSION (1965/2005, ARROW BLU-RAY).

    You don't need to tell me that Charlton Heston and Richard Harris (whose out-of-control eyeliner and lack of Southern accent are amazing! :-P) didn't get along during the notoriously difficult production of Peckinpah's first big studio western. It comes across every scene they share, but the beauty is that said tension benefits this flawed-but-still-compelling compromised 136 min. version re-released in '05. Essentially "Moby Dick" in the US/Mexico frontier during the dying days of The Civil War (with Sierra Charriba's blood-thirsty Indian army as one-dimensional background McGuffin), the constant bickering and dick-measuring-contest between Union Major Amos (Chuck at the height of his post-"Ben-Hur" stardom) and Confederate Captain Tyreen (Harris in his diva phase) is gripping stuff. A murderous' row of Peckinpah regulars (Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, L.Q. Jones, Dub Taylor, etc.) and talented supporting thesps (James Coburn, Jim Hutton, Brock Peters, R.G. Armstrong, Slim Pickens, Mario Adorf, etc.) makes sure stock western roles of up-his-own-ass lieutenant, drunk horse wrangler and ass-kicking preacher come across as well as they could be made back then.

    Shame that Senta Berger gets caught between the stars' clashing egos and her performance/role suffers from a lack of focus. Is Teresa in love with Dundee or Tyreen? I swear I read it as she loved Tyreen for real early on but went with Dundee because the latter had the power. The portrayal of Native Americans (including the ones on Dundee's regimen) is super troubling, but that's Hollywood for you in the mid-60's. Not quite a full-blown epic, "Major Dundee" is still bloody (that opening massacre! :-O) and Peckinpah-enough to earn 4 MEXICAN RIVERS TURNING RED FROM BLOOD (out of 5).

    Edward L. Cahn's FLESH AND THE SPUR (1956, TUBI)

    A typical-but-well-made poverty row western. John Agar's twin brother is murdered by an escaped outlaw that steals a unique gun for which Luke has a matching pistol. Teaming up with vendetta-consumed Mike 'Stacy Dogget' Connors and Maria 'Wild Willow' English, Luke chases after the Checker Gang to get his brother's gun back and avenge his killing. The story and supporting characters (Raymond Hatton's patriarch Windy, Joyce Meadows' penchant-for-liking-bad-boys daughter Rina, etc.) are so predictably generic they could have been written better by current-day AI tools. But the camera angles are perfect without being John Ford pretty (it's a B&W low-budget pic shot in Southern California), the acting decent across the board and the shoot-outs/betrayals decent. It's a prototypical 50's western, for ill (rapey vibes, casual racism) and good (a fist fight with spurs). 3 ANTHILLS AS TORTURE DEVICES (out of 5).

    1. I watched Major Dundee as well but unfortunately not the extended version. I liked it quite a bit less than you. Why do so many Peckinpah films get completely derailed by extended scenes of partying in Mexico? Oh wait, I understand. Anyways I appreciated Heston and Harris, and I thought it was interesting that Dundee basically fails his way through this story all the way to the end. I agree the shoehorning of a "love story" was disastrous.

    2. Not a great Peckinpah western, but the extended version at least breaths a little better. 🙂😎

    3. The fight at the end with all the equine stunt animals was something to behold. I'm not sure whether I watched the extended or regular version, but I don't even remember the love story, so it can't have been very impactful.

  2. One of the days I most look forward to. The western is a genre that I always intend to explore more than ever get around to doing. There are still so many well-known entries in the genre that I have not even watched yet and many others that have not been seen in decades.

    BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE (1958, dir. Budd Boetticher) – With this sitting on the DVR since last summer, it was one of the first films on my list for the month. Tom Buchanan (Randolph Scott) rides into a California border town and inadvertently uncovers its seedy underbelly. Scott, as always, is an engaging lead. What begins as a straightforward western becomes increasingly convoluted toward the conclusion. The tone of the film stays light throughout, though. Although Buchanan Rides Alone is an entertaining film, there are other Scott/Boetticher collaborations that I prefer. If you like the westerns of this period, there should not be any disappointment with this.

    TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA (1969, dir. Don Siegal) – I usually watch a Euro-western for Junesploitation, but I was in a Clint Eastwood mood today. This is one of his films I have intended to watch for a while. With Clint channeling his Man-With-No-Name persona, an Ennio Morricone score, and director Siegal utilizing spaghetti western style, I at least got a taste of the genre. Clint is a mercenary in 1860s Mexico helping out nationalist forces trying to end French control of Mexico. (It is a part of Mexican history from which the Cinco de Mayo thing comes from.) The nun- played by Shirley MacLaine- that he rescues becomes an integral part of his mission. I had a lot of fun watching TWO MULES. The comedic angle of the interactions between Eastwood and MacLaine works. With a genre that frequently depends on locations to create an atmosphere, TWO MULES.. benefits from the unique vibe the Mexican settings and landscapes impart. Recommended.

  3. My Name Is Nobody (1973, dir. Tonino Valerii)

    Jack Beauregard is a feared gunslinger with a perpetual target on his back, but all he wants is to retire and travel to Europe. A young but skilled gunman, only known as "Nobody", is Beauregard's biggest fan and tries to maneuver him into one last glorious battle against the Wild Bunch, an outlaw gang 150 men strong, which would earn Beauregard a place in history books.

    Henry Fonda brings gravitas to his role as the ageing hero and Terence Hill plays his typical Western character who outwits and outguns everyone with one hand tied behind his back. When they're together on screen (which isn't often enough), they make a fun "buddy cop" duo. The script is filled with ridiculously entertaining and entertainingly ridiculous setpieces (makes total sense that there's a haunted house attraction, complete with recorded spooky voices, in a small Western town in 1899). Ennio Morricone's music makes the movie about 80% better that it would be otherwise (the quirky main theme is one of my all time favorites). Hill's frequent screen partner Bud Spencer gets a cameo as a fairground attraction dummy made to look just like him (whether intentionally or not).

  4. DUEL IN THE SUN (1946, d King Vidor)
    First-time watch on Kino BluRay, 8/10.
    The sprawling epic of a founding family in decline wraps itself around a damaged romance. Kindly Lillian Gish welcomes half-Indian Jennifer Jones into the family to the consternation of crabby Lionel Barrymore. Lawyer-in-training Joseph Cotton, the good son, feels trapped outside the boundless nastiness of his carousing brother, Gregory Peck.
    Pre-1960s cinema is possibly my largest weak spot, but I have ever-increasing respect and admiration for it. I understand the complaint (not criticism) that some things just aren't realistic when it comes to matte paintings or seam-visible composites. But this is actual horseshit unless you're talking about purely reality-based modern work or maybe Dogme 95 flicks. Even then, you've often got what feels like an encroaching refusal to have actors actually driving somewhere in an actual car, which feels no less alienating to me than rear-screen projection, just less charming in its pose of realism. We know the state of modern CGI is advanced, but inconsistent. We also know that a movie gets what it can afford.
    All this to say that I marvel at the grandeur of a picture's handmade artifice when it's matched by the scale of the real things set before the camera. DUEL IN THE SUN isn't THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, but it delivers some truly beautiful moments the likes of which we might hope to see transmogrified into a STAR WARS movie as far as scale.
    They literally don't make 'em like they used to.
    “Yes, Laura Belle, a little relaxation is mighty pleasant after a man’s been chasin’ Satan all the way from here to Austin.”

    dir. Russ Meyer

    I thought this would be fun to watch.
    I was wrong.

    Boobies. Western wear. Pistols. Outhouse practical jokes. More boobies.
    A Peter vs the Giant Chicken-esque fight. Bad jokes. And more boobies.

    Not even quote worthy.

  6. New-to-me: HELDORADO (1946)
    Roy Rogers was (is?) one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but I can't figure out which of his movies are supposed to be the good ones. This was my pick because it had the coolest-sounding name. Roy plays a character named "Roy Rogers," a ranger investigating counterfeit bills in the early days of Las Vegas. It's cowboys versus gangsters! Roy is a block of wood, but I found his co-star/real-life wife Dale Evans very feisty and charming. I had fun with this, but I'm in no hurry to watch another of these.

    Old fave: SILVERADO (1985)
    A winning combination of nostalgic Western tropes combined with rockin' 80s action. Everybody in the ensemble cast brings their A-game. Kevin Kline and Scott Glenn are the heart, Danny Glover is a badass, and Kevin Costner is a full-on movie star as the comic relief. I don't know what else to say other than I love this movie and I can put it on at any time.

  7. Dragon Blood (1982)

    John Liu’s first kung fu lessons came from his grandfather but the flexible kicks that he became famous for were from his lessons with “Flash Legs” Tan Tao Liang, who put him through a rigorous training regime — Drunken Master-style pain like resting each foot on two piles of bricks — to improve his skills.

    He started off as an actor in several Hong Kong movies — Secret Rivals, The Invincible Armor, Snuff Bottle Connection — before directing and writing four quite baffling movies: Zen Kwan Do Strikes Paris, Made In China (AKA Ninja In the Claws of the CIA) and the unfinished — until 2021 — New York Ninja. Years later — and after his acting career ended — Liu developed Zen Kwan Do, which he claimed was popular in France

    Man, those four movies.

    Man, this movie.

    As always, John Liu plays John Liu, except this time he’s in 1886 Mexico. He’s the son of the best fighter in China, a man who was given two gold dragons by the Emperor to prove just how talented he was. Those dragons, however, were a curse. He had to fight anyone who came his way. His last challenger, however, just wanted to fight him for honor. But during that fight, John’s father gets jumped and killed. With his last words, he makes the honorable martial artist the guardian of his son and of one of the dragons.

    After his guardian is killed — fighters kept showing up and one finally killed him — John takes all the fighting skills he has known, the gold dragons and himself to the New World, where he wants to protect the Chinese who are fighting racism and the slavery of working on building railroads.

    That sounds like a movie that makes a fair amount of sense.

    Well, this is a John Liu movie.

    Once he arrives in Mexico, he battles a gang of outlaws. They overcome him with their guns and push his face into a blazing campfire. Now blind as a result of his pride, he gives up. The woman he once saved — Paulette (Cyrielle Clair, Sword of the Valiant and another major film I’ll get into in a minute) — trains him with a series of tests, like a mobile that makes sounds, a cactus he must defeat with his feet and even being able to catch knives blind that she throws at him with no warning. There’s another scene where she throws a series of eggs at him and while blindfolded, he knocks every one out of the air before they touch him.

    There are enemies in wait. There’s a killer (Phillip Ko Fei) sent by the Chinese government. There’s a karate fighter (Roger Paschy) who is the guardian of a large chubby child who may never learn martial arts. There’s a scene where the kid nearly wipes himself out with nunchucks.

    Paulette and John alternate training with arguing, including one time when she goes to town without telling him for two days and leaves him alone. When she returns, he asks why she didn’t leave a note. She tells him he couldn’t read it anyway. A pause and he yells, “Because I’m blind!”

    Read the rest at

  8. Cemetery Without Crosses - 1969, dir. Robert Hossein

    Arrow has a pretty solid track record with the obscure euro westerns they’ve released and this has been on my watch list for a while. After hearing Elric Kane discuss this title on Pure Cinema, I immediately slotted it for this day and lemme tell ya, it’s a banger. Robert Hossein (‘Rififi’) co-wrote (with Argento), directed, and stars in this bleak tale of futile love, nihilism, and simple revenge.

    As the opening credits slowly transition from black and white with a jaunty Audie Murphy-esque song (sung by “30 Century Man” Scott Walker) to a starkly silent, colorized “Not-Your-Grandpa’s-Western” murder cold open, it’s clear the film has more in common with the French New Wave films of Hossein’s home than the spaghetti westerns of Argento and Leone, or the other paella westerns shot in the same Almerian dessert as this film’s eerie ghost town. It’s a bit tough to follow at first considering the dialogue is as sparse as the landscape and every character is likewise rough, dirt covered, and unshaven. What you ultimately get is a widow seeking out her could-have-been lover, now a spectre haunting a saloon swallowed by the dunes, to give her the simple revenge of having the men that murdered her husband give him a proper burial. Of course it’s not that simple and what we get is a pile of dead bodies and more double-crosses than every iteration of ‘Yojimbo’ combined.

    At first, Hossein comes across as a corny mope with his one black killin’ glove but ultimately gains a hefty amount of sympathy as we realize how truly broken he is from the amount of violence he’s committed over the years. Michèle Mercier (‘Black Sabbath’) is likewise magnetic as you begin to realize the exact nature of her relationship with loner Manuel. She comes across as a woman who’s just… tired. She’s tired of the hard scrabble rancher’s wife life, she’s tired of her husband’s stupid schemes with his shitheel brothers, she’s tired of having to always pick up the pieces. As the two of them descend into a hell of their own making, it’s interesting how they stubbornly keep the wedge between them.

    Despite the slower pace and incredibly desolate narrative (this would make an incredible double with ‘The Great Silence’), it’s a film that’s absolutely worthy of sitting on the top shelf with Leone, Hawks, and Ford.

  9. The Searchers (1956)

    First time viewing. My biggest blind spot when it comes to movies is, without a doubt, Westerns. I've seen very few of them, so this year, I decided to finally watch one that shows up on a lot of "Best of" lists. (By the way, Patrick, articles like the 24 Hours of Westerns that you posted this morning are really helpful.) I just have such a hard time getting past the distinctively different acting style of the time period. Plus, I'm no fan of John Wayne. I'm happy, at least, to cross this one off the list. The scenery's gorgeous, the pacing is good, but I'll be happy to return to less prestigious fare in the upcoming days.

    1. I had a hard time at first with the different acting style of pre-60s movies, but it's gotten easier with time and now I hardly notice it. I like war movies, and there were lots of good ones made in the '40s and '50s so that was what got me watching. I love the score for The Searchers.

  10. HUDSON RIVER MASSACRE (aka REBELS IN CANADA, 1965, d. Amando de Ossorio)
    First-time watch on MVD BluRay, 6/10.
    Okay, so it's technically a Paella-Northern, but Eurocine's name & partial Italian funding make this into who-knows-what kind of continental breakfast. George Martin joins French-Canadians revolting against the Brits when his brother is framed by a rich Limey. Diana Lorys thinks Martin will be tempted by hostage Giulia Rubini, but staunch rebel Pamela Tudor will die for the cause. Interesting slant on the politics, but I didn't love this one. It was plenty entertaining, but I s'pose some part of me was hoping for the Blind Dead to emerge from a raft of furs.
    A technical note: the MVD Visual BluRay looks about as good as something from VCI, so purchasing the DVD might save you some bucks if you want to own this one. I bought it on one of MVD's great sales, so it's no loss for me. It's also on Tubi right now.

  11. THE CHEYANNE SOCIAL CLUB (1970), dir: Gene Kelly
    James Stewart and Henry Fonda play two old ranch hand friends in Texas who find out Stewart has inherited property from his estranged brother in Cheyanne, Wyoming. So they go up there and find out the property is a popular brothel by the railway. The conservative John (Stewart) wants to turn it into a respectable boarding house but no one in town is in favor of that.

    The movie could have and probably should have gone more into James Stewart flirting and being taken with the ladies and the club madam (Shirley Jones), because that's what you imagine and hope the movie (a comedy) is about. But it can't quite get there and doesn't take advantage of the premise and the laughs it could. It's almost more about Stewart and Fonda, how old they are, their friendship and even their politics. There's a really funny scene when Stewart finds out about his inheritance. He proclaims he will now become a republican because he owns property. Fonda says "but don't you always vote democrat?" And Stewart says "yeah but don't ever tell anyone." The movie was worth it for me for that scene alone.

  12. HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962)
    A story involving one family spanning through five chapters of history: The Rivers, The Plains, The Civil War, The Railroad, and The Outlaws. It's such an epic, I don't even know where to start talking about it. It's one of the most romantic movies. I have mixed feelings about romanticizing parts of our history like this. It's false in many ways, misleading, and I think every culture does it to some extent. It's also incredibly effective.

    The impressive buffalo stampede scene made the movie for me. I read that they shot it twice because the first time the buffalos stampeded in the wrong direction. They got lucky that the buffalos circled and came through the shot the second time because they're supposedly near impossible to control.

    The overture includes "Shenandoah". That song always makes me think of my grandpa and miss him so much. Which is so funny to me because he was an Irish man who lived in New Jersey, nowhere near Missouri, and Shenandoah isn't remotely an Irish word. I still don't understand how my mind makes that connection. But I chalk it up to the romanticism.

  13. High Plains Drifter (1973)

    I've been circling this for the past few Junesploitations and this time I finally pulled the trigger (pun intended).

    A nameless gunman arrives in a mining town and immediately starts to act like a complete bastard, essentially taking over the place overnight. But as the plot unfolds and thickens, we slowly learn that his real goal is to rub the whole town's face in its own hypocrisy and depravity, and make the townsfolk pay for their past sins.

    Clint (doing his best Sergio Leone behind the camera and his best Clint Eastwood in front of it) goes on a bit of an ego-trip here - his character is the epitome of cold detachment, always stays in total control of the situation, possesses near superhuman levels of skill and awareness, and of course ladies find him absolutely irresistible. I really appreciated the dark (at times darkly comedic) tone, the contrast between beautiful open vistas and the stifling atmosphere of the tiny town, and how the lines between villains and victims get really blurry by the end. A nasty, nihilistic movie with a nasty, nihilistic antihero in the center.

  14. THE SHOWDOWN (1940, d. Howard Bretherton)
    First-time watch on Platinum DVD, 6/10.
    Something like 15 years ago, likely in the glory days of BestBuy's movie section, I bought a fancy tin lunchbox full of 15 Hopalong Cassidy movie, having never seen one before. Duh. So this picture, my first of its kind, is the 28th Hopalong movie & the earliest one in the set. It's a perfectly fine hour of western fun. Cassidy's mostly black outfit looks like it should be the bad guy's duds, but perhaps that's what made him so cool. The biggest question of this adventure is why it's taken me so long to watch so many hour-long movies...
    "Oh boy! A girl!"

  15. In a Valley of Violence (2016)

    It's a western that only Ti West could make.

  16. Evil Roy Slade (1972)
    Genuine Made-For-TV obscurity, there’s a lot to love in this parody of Westerns made two years before Blazing Saddles. John Astin plays the title character with relish AND a moist ache to twirl. The script was by Jerry Belsen and Garry Marshall. The cast contains a murderer’s row of funny character actors: Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle, Dom DeLuise, Dick Shawn, Henry Gibson, Larry Hankin, Edie Adams, and Penny Marshall. I laughed out loud ten times.

  17. OPEN RANGE (2003)
    I watched this for the first time after reading Patrick's column today, and I absolutely loved it! This is totally one of those "they don't make them like they used to" movies.

    The sequels get a lot of flack, but I love them both unabashedly, and Part III especially. I'm a sucker for time travel movies and westerns, so why not both??

    THE OLD WAY (2023)
    The script and setup was giving me very much John Wick vibes, though the film never really commits to showing us why Nic Cage is so feared amongst outlaws and lawmen alike.

  18. El Mariachi (1992) dir. Robert Rodriguez

    I had previously only known about the extremely shoestring budget, nothing about the actual movie. It had plenty of surprises and delights because of that. I can see why it was a phenomenon even if I wasn't totally blown away.

  19. Red Sun(1971 Dir. Terrance Young)
    Alan Delone(Le Samourai) doubles crosses Bronson after a train robbery and Bronson teams up with Mifune to retrieve his share of the gold and a sword meant as a gift for the President. Bronson spends the movie bonding with Mifune but also trying to convince him not to kill Delone before Charlie can get his gold back.
    I don't know who decided to go back in time and remake Shanghai Knights with Charles Bronsan and Toshiro Mifune but I'm glad they did.
    After Pearl this may be my favorite watch of the month so far. An awesome mix of a western and a samurai flick with two stars that just ooze cool and toughness out of their pores.

  20. Pale Rider (1985, dir. Clint Eastwood) was a very entertaining, if a little by the numbers, movie. Some people are being bullies. Stranger comes to town. Stranger shoots the bullies. It was shot on location in Idaho and is full of gorgeous landscapes. I want to watch more Eastwood directed movies.

  21. Continuing in the trend of watching movies Ive never seen, yesterday was

    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

    And wow, what a movie, peak Clint Eastwood, it was very fun. I dont really know what else to write, its already such a popular movie, everything has already been said about it.

    Its sad to think they released a cut of the movie that was only 95mins long, it needs to be 3hrs !