Friday, June 28, 2024

Junesploitation 2024 Day 28: Westerns




    Shh, don't tell writer/producer/director/co-star Kevin Costner but I was the only person at my AMC evening theatrical screening of his epic western pet project. There was one other guy who came in late, but he slept through most of "Horizon's" three-hour running time. Going opposite the first presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle probably didn't help with previews. Better luck in flyover country over the weekend.

    The opening 45 minutes chronicling a small settlement of pioneers establishing the Horizon community, thriving and then getting massacred by a faction of savage Indians (a later scene makes it clear these attackers didn't represent the whole tribe) is strong, some of the best Costner-directed western material of his entire filmography. It's 'R' violent, but not gratuitously so. Costner doesn't appear on-camera until past the hour mark, and his Hayes Ellison character isn't the most important or driving force of the narrative... so far. Half-a-dozen different plots/sets of characters/eras (era!) are established all over the place (Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, etc.) and only toward the end, during a preview of "Chapter 2," do we get an idea how they will intertwine as a whole. Some choice character actors (Will Patton, Danny Huston, Jena Malone, etc.) haven't quite blossomed yet during the early going, while others (Michael Rooker, Sam Worthington, Jeff Fahey, Owen Crow Shoe, Giovanni Ribisi, Sienna Miller, etc.) are already solid and "Chapter 2" can only make them even more appealing.

    "Chapter 1" has enough breathing room to have a few comedic beats that work (Luke Wilson as an over-his-head leader of a wagon convoy headed toward the titular town, a couple of so-on-the-nose yuppy pioneers not pulling their weight) and to move at its own leisurely pace (a tastefully nude scene involving drinking water). It gets rough at spots and so far Native American characters are getting the short end of identifiable/likable quota; hopefully in August "Chapter 2" changes that. J. Michael Muro's cinematography is attractive and John Debney's score suitably old-fashioned good. "Horizon" is a labor of love for Costner, and that comes across in this initial installment. Worth a trip to the theater, IMHO. 3.85 SHOTGUN BARRELS AS UNDERGROUND BREATHING DEVICES (out of 5).

  2. Rarely do I go farther back than the 1950s for my western watches. Today, however, I desired to experience the genre as it was in the 1940s. Even with violence an integral part of the genre at that time, there is an innocence to the '40s films. That innocence, combined with the celebration of the westward march of "civilization", makes them harder to connect with in the 2020s than the far more cynical revisionist and spaghetti westerns. The status of the western genre today is far from being the ubiquitous form of popular entertainment that it was during the mid-20th century.

    THE WESTERNER (1940, dir. William Wyler)

    Gary Cooper stars in this story of conflict between farmers and cattlemen in Texas. Cooper is Cole Harden, a traveler who gets caught up in a criminal proceeding for stealing a horse in the district controlled by Judge Roy Bean (a real-life Wild West figure). Things happen, the men become friends, and Cole tries to be the arbitrator between Bean, representing the cattlemen’s interests, and the homesteaders who are under attack by the ranchers. Cole also happens to be courting one of the homesteader’s daughters. Walter Brennan memorably portrays Judge Bean. The Westerner is very much of its time, made in Hayes Code Hollywood and celebrating the triumph of American expansion. I was entertained by it, particularly the comedic interplay between Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan.

    MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946, dir. John Ford)

    John Ford is the biggest director in the western genre during the heyday of the classical western from the 1930s until the early 1960s. Though I have watched Golden Age Hollywood films for several decades, I have not paid much attention to John Ford’s westerns. The choice of My Darling Clementine was made to deal with that gap in my knowledge. I have read and heard many praises for it, proclaiming it a masterpiece of the genre. My reaction to it was a feeling of being underwhelmed. My Darling Clementine is one of many cinematic retellings of the 1881 O.K. Corral gunfight In Tombstone, AZ. Henry Fonda portrayed Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature is in the role of Doc Holliday. The historical details about the O.K. Corral shootout are repeatedly ignored for the sake of a more “entertaining" story. The mood is frequently somber, taking away some of the energy the film could have..

  3. A double serving of spaghetti with one of my favorite actors, Bud Spencer.

    Today We Kill... Tomorrow We Die! (1968, dir. Tonino Cervi)

    A wrongfully imprisoned man is released after five years, and he hires four famous gunslingers to go after the gang who framed him and killed his wife.

    I'm not the world's biggest Westerns guy and I wasn't that into this at first, but the last half hour of the two gangs playing cat and mouse with each other is genuinely pretty exciting and entertaining, and of course Spencer is excellent as one of the hired guns. It's not as goofy as I generally like my Bud movies, but at least he gets in a good (if short) bar fight and his heroics in the finale are great.

    Buddy Goes West (1981, dir. Michele Lupo)

    Buddy and Cocoa are ramblers and opportunistic conmen. After they steal a doctor's briefcase, a small town's populace mistake Buddy for a doctor and offer their hospitality. And when he discovers a ruthless gang is terrorizing the town, the duo help rid the town of the criminals.

    Well, this goes full force in the opposite direction, it's one of the silliest Bud Spencer movies I've seen (and that's saying something). The comedy goes really broad, the final fight where the duo takes on the whole gang is almost Looney Tunes-y, the actors mug for the camera and Ennio Morricone's score matches the goofiness. Bud is clearly having fun here, but unfortunately a Moroccan actor plays his Native American sidekick as a bumbling idiot whose "language" is just cartoony gibberish.

    1. How were you introduced to Bud Spencer, Mikko? What language do you watch these films in? Comedy is notoriously difficult to translate into a different language.

    2. Bud Spencer & Terence Hill's movies have always been (relatively) big here in Finland, much more so than in America to my understanding. Pretty much everyone my age knows who they are and I remember watching some of them as a little kid, they were probably shown on tv then. The only versions I have access to are the English dubs, and those are the only ones I've ever seen.

    3. The french dubs were always on tv when i was young. It's the only version i've ever known. A couple of years ago i bought all the dvds i could find with both dudes in them. There was nore with only Hill or only Spencer, but i was only interested in the duo together.

    4. I like some Spencer solo movies too (like Banana Joe and the Flatfoot movies), but his best work was definitely done together with Hill.

  4. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)

    Felt like a good time to revisit a classic. I was surprised at how bare bones of a plot this movie has yet remains compelling throughout. It's really just a look at three unsavory characters and the greed that drives them. Beautifully shot with incredible performances from the three leads. Loooove it

  5. The Shootist (1976)

    The opening Ron Howard narration is an incredibly good unintentional Arrested Development joke. Something in the camerawork during the first 30 minutes or so has the feel of a TV movie, too, which feels odd for a John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall flick, but The Shootist becomes more cinematic as it settles in.

    I thought it was just fine. It's not top tier Wayne, top tier 'Death of the Western', or top tier Don Siegel, but it entertained me.

    I did think it was pretty funny that a guy named Books really didn't want any books written about him, and it took him a week to read one newspaper.

  6. Straight to Hell (1987)

    I wanted to get a little frisky with my choice, so I'm going with Alex Cox's punk rock pastiche of a spaghetti western starring Joe Strummer and Courtney Love, among others.

  7. Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

    Going for the Don Siegel double.

    I think it's my favorite discovery of the month so far. Clint's in classic form, nailing another western role, but it's Shirley MacLaine as the titular Sara, matching his performance all the way, who puts the movie into high gear. Their banter and chemistry may be my favorite from a romantic pairing in a western, aided by the fact that MacLaine isn't just the usual town schoolteacher, boarding house mistress, or whore-with-a-heart-of-gold, but rather an active riding buddy out on the trail. Their exchanges are very funny, always putting a button on action beats, and keeping the slower hangout moments of the movie interesting in the way that the best westerns do.

    I'll be whistling that Morricone score for the rest of the day--a combination of Tenacious D's 'One Note Song' and a characteristically catchy flute melody from the master composer of the genre.

  8. River Of No Return (1954)

    Marilyn Monroe is very, very, very, very, very, very, very good-looking.

  9. True Grit (2010)

    I'm not sure how I missed this one. I think, at some point, I heard it was "lesser Coens," and it's not. It's not at all. I find it odd that I never really hear anyone talking about this film. I really enjoyed it. It's very much a companion piece to No Country For Old Men.

    1. I guess it might not be top tier "Coen" but they've set the bar pretty high. It would probably be top 1/3 of their work for me. I loved how Jeff Bridges was always talking like he was holding a potato in his mouth (or a bunch of pebbles). I've been wanting to rewatch the original. It is personally notable for being one of the first movies my parents let me stay up late to watch with them. It was either True Grit or Airport.

  10. THE GUNFIGHTER (1950)
    Gregory Peck plays Ringo (!), who wants to give up his gunfighting ways to reconcile with his estranged wife, only for some old enemies to show up looking for trouble. It becomes more of a drama and less of an action movie as it goes along, but it’s compelling to watch throughout. I can’t get over how suave Gregory Peck is. How can one person be this suave?

    OUTLAW WOMEN (1952)
    A doctor is abducted from his stagecoach and whisked away to a remote town run entirely by women. It’s a battle of the sexes comedy, mostly told through short vignettes of the characters hanging out in the saloon. This comedy is so low-key, you could call it underground-key. The gunfight finale starts and ends abruptly, as if someone said, “This is a Western, I guess we should do some Western stuff.” Also, I could find no evidence that this movie inspired the “No Man’s Land” episode of Brisco County Jr., but it sure seems that way.

    Bonus Universal Monster-sploitation: REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955)
    The Creature runs amok in a Sea World-like aquarium. It’s not the classic the first movie was, but there’s a lot of great stuff here. I especially like the “sympathetic monster” scenes of the Creature locked up in its tank while pining for the pretty girl.

  11. Horizon: An American Saga - Chapter 1 (2024)

    It's such a sprawling story told at such a leisurely pace that even with a runtime of three hours, and with four installments planned, its narrative feels a bit like pretty brushstrokes separated by large stretches of blank canvas. I can completely understand why some will find it disjointed (and heard several fellow theatergoers express exactly that sentiment during the end credits of our showing)... but I liked it, and I think a lot of western fans will like it. Horizon definitely leans on familiar tropes of the genre, and if you've seen some of those scenarios fleshed out more fully in other westerns, I think that helps to fill in some of the gaps in Horizon's narrative.

    The showing I went to was well attended and felt like it was drawing in Yellowstone fans. We'll see if that bodes well for the prospects of eventually seeing all the other parts released (and for keeping Kev out of the poorhouse), or if folks are turned off by the scattered narrative and don't come back for Chapter 2.

  12. Winchester '73 (1950, dir. Anthony Mann)

    This movie was on the Screen Drafts list of best classical westerns and I fully agree after watching. There's this gun (the Winchester) that kind of keeps changing hands and follows along with the interacting characters. The "plot device" works wonderfully and it's remarkably tightly paced. One of my favourites of the month.

    I've seen a couple of Mann's historical epics (which I loved), but this is the first western of his I've seen, the first of 8 he did with James Stewart. I'm certainly looking forward to watching more of them.

    1. I DO want to see Horizon and give Costner all my money, but I'm not an opening weekend type of person. It was only playing on regular sized screens here anyways, so I can see it in that format a few weeks from now.

    2. You are in for some good western watches with the Mann/Stewart collaborations, Paul. It is only when you start to watch westerns that the vastness of the genre can be comprehended. It seems like one film always lead to another.

  13. Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

    What does that title even mean?!? While you ponder that, I can assure you there's plenty of killing and shooting. I can also assure you this film has nothing to do with the original "Django"-- the title is pure exploitation.

    The plot synopsis on IMDb says, "Various factions, including a half-breed bandit, a gang of homosexual cowboys, and a priest, feud over stolen gold in a surreal town." Tomas Milian, the greatest Italian actor ever born in Cuba, plays The Stranger, who rises from the grave with the help of two Indian elders. He makes his way to a town called, "The Unhappy Place" (which sounds like Melania Trump's bedroom). He's tortured by bats and blows up a horse, and manages to get laid in between killing folks. Oh, and the chief bad guy is named Sorrow and is played by Roberto Camardiel, the Spanish Oliver Reed. And giallo/poliziottechi mainstay Ray Lovelock (so young, he's billed as Raymond) also makes an appearance and shreds some negligees in the process.

    Is that enough for you? Well, there's more craziness here, and it doesn't make a lotta sense, but hey, it's Italian! It's also considered to be one of the most violent Westerns ever. I enjoyed it, maybe you will, too. Now, if I could only get my phone to play that "PEW!" gunshot sound effect when I get a text message....

    1. Was this comment removed? Coulda swore I posted it! I had it copied just in case. What coulda caused this...?

    2. Blogger sometimes operates in mysterious ways. Sometimes it can be a word that the software seems programmed to censor.

  14. JESSI’S GIRLS (1975, dir. Al Adamson)

    File Under: Westerns, Vigilantes, Lethal Ladies, and Revenge.

    It sure looks like it will be a day of sleaze after watching this to finish western day and having some trashy 1980s flicks to choose from for New Horizons. I found this searching through Prime and immediately felt that it would be an appropriate Junesploitation watch. The film lived up to my hunch. After a band of outlaws murders her husband and leaves her for dead after violating her, a young Mormon woman goes on a quest for revenge/justice. Though her name is Jessica, everyone seems to prefer to call her Jessi. When she frees a bunch of ladies on their way to the local prison, she has her own gang to count on for her mission. Jessi’s Girls is a cheap and sleazy production that somehow manages to be a fun exploitation western. Part of the fun is the rough style of the film. It also has one of the best endings of anything I have watched this month. The Professional might have it beat there, though.

  15. Cat Ballou (1965)
    Frequently hilarious Western satire… and what an exploitation cast! Jane Fonda from Barbarella, Lee Marvin from The Dirty Dozen, Dwayne Hickman from How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, John Marley from The Godfather, Michael Callan from Chained Heat, Bruce Cabot from King Kong, Stubby Kaye from Guys and Dolls, and Nat King Cole from the world of popular music. Marvin won the Best Actor Oscar for this!

  16. The Salvation (2014 Dir Kristian Levring)
    Mads Mikkelsen goes after a couple of outlaws after they murder his family. When he and his brother try to leave a cowardly town sells them out the outlaws Brother and his gang which leads to the death of Mads brother. Mads gets revenge. I was really into this movie. The acting, direction and cinematography were all excellent. The only problem is the last 15 minutes seem to fall apart a bit when they start focusing more on Greens character. Its an interesting character and Green plays her well, but her character should have stayed if not evil at least more self serving. Defiantly worth watching though and one of the months highlights for me.

    Hannie Caulder(1971 Dir: Burt Kennedy)
    3 outlaws murder a man and rape his wife. The wife then joins up with a Bounty hunter and learns to shoot to get revenge. This is a weird movie. Its well acted, looks good and the action is solid. Its politics are kind of insane. Its seems to be trying to be a pro feminist western but spends half its time objectifying Ms. Welch and introduces a male character later on whom's only purpose in the film is to show up and save her in a moment that should have been all about Welch. The film also seems to think Strother Martin is the funniest person ever and will let him make jokes or run around squealing for comedic effect at moments when no comedy is needed. During the rape scene for instance Martin is running around whining about his turn and hee-hawing. It gets old quick. I wanted to like this one but the more I get away from it the less I enjoyed it. Still worth watching though for Robert Culps and Welch's performances