I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Hang ’em High

tn_hangemhighRecently I made a list of all Clint Eastwood’s movies (as an actor) that I haven’t seen or don’t remember. The list is surprisingly long, and I carry it in my wallet now in case I’m at the video store and don’t know what to rent. So hopefully this will be the first of many upcoming doses of Eastwood medicine. (pun)

(you get it, it’s a play on Eastern medicine, that’s why it’s a pun. Needs work I guess.)

HANG ‘EM HIGH opens with Clint by himself moving some cattle across the plains. Soon he runs into some deputies who question him and don’t believe anything he says. You know how cops can be. He got pulled over for cattledriving-while-Clint.  What we don’t know yet is that the cattle really are stolen property. The guy he bought them from was not who he said he was. The real owner was murdered, and that’s why the lawmen are hassling Clint.

mp_hangemhighSo they throw a rope around his neck and string him from a tree. But after they leave one guy comes back and cuts him down. Clint is still alive. So he’s brought into the Fort Grant jail and, after some time, Judge Pat Hingle says his story checks out and lets him go.

Clint used to be a lawman himself, and clearly plans to go after the pricks who lynched him. Hingle convinces him to take a job and do it all legal-like.

See, it’s a set-up like that that makes me think originality is overrated. Yeah, I like a stunning new vision as much as the next guy, but a classic is a classic. I can’t name a movie with that exact revenge situation, but I figure it’s so perfect it can’t be the first one.

Surprisingly though it doesn’t go the way you expect it to. It would be satisfying if he just tracked those guys and killed them one by one. But in his first American western Clint – by way of his production company, Malpaso – made an entertaining western with a message about American justice. And it’s one that’s almost more relevant today. I know, I know – a lonely Nigerian kid tried to light his underwear on fire on a plane on Christmas. Shit is dangerous. Enemies could come from anywhere. I don’t like it either. We gotta be careful, we gotta do what we can, but we don’t gotta go Old West like Bush always wanted to. HANG ‘EM HIGH will remind you: a motherfucker needs a fair trial, otherwise you’re just making things worse.

Those lawmen had a good reason to assume the guy with the cattle was the killer, but they were wrong. They didn’t have to believe him, but they should’ve given him a trial at least. They made a mistake and what’s their suspect doing now? Coming after them for revenge. They created a new killer. Without what they did he would’ve been out on a ranch somewhere not hurting anybody but cows (and maybe the feelings of a woman somewhere – they always treat the ladies terribly in these westerns).

When Clint finds his men he doesn’t follow the Bush Doctrine, he doesn’t execute them on the spot or declare them unlawful combatants and lock them up without charges. He does the pain in the ass work of hauling their asses to the jail. He catches the rustlers who really killed the owner of the cattle and drags them back to Fort Grant like only Clint could. And he’s hailed as a hero. But he doesn’t think 2 of the 3 should hang, because he thinks they were sort of dragged into the rustling, that they didn’t do the murder and he knows they saved his life by not helping when the other guy tried to subdue him and escape. Unfortunately Clint’s not allowed to make his case at the trial.

The day of the hanging shows you how the movie really feels about hanging ’em high. It’s a huge event, people coming into town from all over, filling up all the hotels, like it’s a big college football game or something. And as the proceedings commence in the crowded town sqsuare the people sing beautiful hyms, as if religious ritual can hide the ugliness of what’s going on here.

Clint wants no part in it, and I honestly thought he was gonna have some plan to rescue the brothers he’d helped unfairly condemn. But no- instead he finds a hooker and treats her bad. I told you, these guys in westerns always gotta treat women bad. Whatever happened to romance? Anyway, he knows the high hanging of ’em is wrong, but there’s nothing he can do.

So vigilantism failed, and now the system failed. Fuck. The judge himself argues that only statehood can fix this problem. He knows one man deciding the fate of all suspects is a bad way to do it, even though he’s the one man. But that’s what he’s stuck with for now. So, ironically what this Clint character needs is more red tape. HANG ‘EM HIGH and DIRTY HARRY actually end with pretty much the same conclusion (that the system is fucked) but the two characters have different responses (in DIRTY HARRY to throw away his badge, in this to go off and continue the fight, trying to do it as right as he can).

The director is Ted Post, who also did MAGNUM FORCE. He’s no Leone, but he’s solid. The cast includes some of your usual western guys like Bruce Dern and L.Q. Jones. But also Dennis Hopper, one year before EASY RIDER, has a small role as a crazy dude flipping out at the jail (he’s called “The Prophet”).

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 at 3:40 am and is filed under Reviews, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

86 Responses to “Hang ’em High”

  1. Never was a fan of this one. Too slow. Too dull. Too much like some crappy TV show of the time with its poor lighting on cheap sets. Eastwood turned down the role of Harmonica in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ to appear in what amounts to nothing more than a half-baked amalgamation of the Spaghetti Western and the American Western. ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara’, while nothing great, was a better attempt at doing an American Spaghetti.

  2. Vern, I’ve been kinda doing the same thing at my website, except I haven’t been bery vigilant about it. Recently I just watch Play Misty For Me and The Outlaw Josey Wales. I also have Where Eagles Dare and The Eiger Sanction in my Queue.

    Here’s a link to my Clint page. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas to which Clint movies you might wan to tackles next:

    http://thevideovacuum.livejournal.com/tag/clint+eastwood

  3. Cattledriving-while-Clint . That’s discrimination right there . Fuckin’ cops.

  4. Absolutely no coffee in my system = Gratuitous spelling errors in my post.

  5. Eastwood’s politics are pretty fascinating. On the one hand he seems like a pretty progressive guy, someone who supports changes in the system and equality. But then he makes a movie like High Plains Drifter where he rapes some girl Peckinpah style Z(i.e. she like it). Same with this sort of movie where he rails against vigilantism only to then turn around and make Dirty Harry. Like I said, fascinating.

  6. Vern – does this mean we finally get a WHERE EAGLES DARE review? About bloody time. But you can skip THE ROOKIE.

    David Lambert – The story I always heard was that Eastwood by that time was fucking sick and tired of working with Sergio Leone. Notice he never worked with the guy again after GOOD, BAD & UGLY. Well of course Leone only made 3 movies after that, but still.

    Really those westerns Eastwood initially made in his “return” to Hollywood were an awkward mixture of Eastwood trying to keep the gritty fists-on-face attitude of the Leone westerns, while stuck with the old Hollywood sets and production values.

    COOGAN’S BLUFF was maybe the only interesting one, a prototype for DIRTY HARRY and that theme of the “wild west cowboy” going contemporary in the big city.

    Brendan – You should’ve tried to cite THE BEGUILED as part of Eastwood’s “politics” too? Only time I remember him playing a villain.

  7. I have never heard of the Beguiled. Any good?

  8. I’ve sort of been doing the flip side of what Vern has been doing, by trying to see all of Eastwood’s directorial efforts. Thing is, my girlfriend likes Clint but hates westerns, so I have no trouble getting her to see BLOOD WORK or BIRD or the Dirty Harry movies, but I have to carve out private time if I want to see THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Kinda sucks.

    Although not Eastwood directed, I’ve been meaning to see this one forever, and have been stymied for the same reason listed above. I need to figure out a way to break her on this western thing… she liked the new 3:10 TO YUMA but fell asleep during THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY (!) and pretty much won’t sit through any others. Anyone have any suggestions on how I can change her mind on westerns.

  9. You could always show her Paint Your Wagon Dan…..

  10. Unforgiven seems to be universally loved even by people who aren’t traditionally fans of Westerns. TGTBTU may have been an overdose for someone not conditioned to appreciate Sergio Leone. Better to start with Fistful and then gradually progress to TGTBTU and Once Upon a Time in the West.

  11. Lee Marvin: I’m gonna paint this wagon, I’m gonna paint it fine,
    I’m going to use oil-based paint
    because this wood is pine.

    Women: Ponderosa Pine!

  12. Brendan,

    Although even FISTFUL may be a little too savvy for someone not familiar with the genre… like TGTBATU, a lot of its entertainment is predicated on recognizing the way Leone takes the cliches and stock elements of westerns and heightens and exaggerates them.

    I’ve tried to get her to watch UNFORGIVEN, but she just has no interest, even though she likes Clint.

    I was wrong though, there is one other western she really likes: MY NAME IS NOBODY. Which makes me think I might have some luck if I get her to watch some western comedies. So any recommendations on that front would be appreciated.

  13. If your girl isn’t too fond of westerns all you need to do is sit her down and pop in Back to the Future 3 and watch your problems vanish.

  14. Dan Prestwich: Most women I know have enjoyed THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES, no doubt due to the hunkiness factor. I also know some women who like HBO’s DEADWOOD.

    I suppose you could go really far afield and try LEGENDS OF THE FALL. I know it’s not a western, but it’s kind of facinating how the more rugged manly aspects of that film sit alongside some real melodrama.

  15. dieselboy,

    Very clever. She does like that movie quite a bit, however… c’mon. It’s not REALLY a western.

    Jareth,

    Weirdly enough, she came home while I was watching ASSASSINATION this weekend and caught the last 20 or 30 minutes of it and said she thought it was interesting. But I’m guessing the overall movie may be a little slow paced and artsy fartsy for her.

    Is LEGENDS OF THE FALL any good, though?

  16. Just to spur further discussion/recommendations, I’d like to hear what people’s all time favorite westerns are. In no particular order, I would name:

    THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY
    ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
    UNFORGIVEN
    EL DORADO
    MY NAME IS NOBODY
    THE SEARCHERS
    SHANE
    THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

    but I feel as though I am forgetting some…

  17. Brendan – THE BEGUILED is very good. Shit its great. Eastwood a Union soldier wounded in the South during the Civil War, taken in by a local girl’s school. Eastwood starts out as well, likeable rugged Eastwood. Then along the way the movie goes sorta insane with Eastwood becoming an outright bastard villain who takes over the school, the headmistress who may or may not have had “intimate” relations with her brother who she may or may not have murdered, lesbian innuendo, you name it.

    Really, I can’t forgive Harry Callahan for the turtle scene. Clint, what did that turtle ever do to you?!?

    Don Siegel apparently considered BEGUILED the favorite among his directorial works. Yes even more than DIRTY HARRY and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

    For some reason or another, its been rather obscure since Universal buried it before release this side of Miramax and Equilibrium. But its a fucking must see. I GUARANTEE THIS SHIT!

  18. “Is LEGENDS OF THE FALL any good, though?”

    Good god, no. No, no, no. But it’s got some interesting elements, like the performances and the almost-hilarious list of calamities that befalls the family. And I guess it’s well shot.

    Think of it as a gateway drug.

  19. Dan Prestwich: No EL TOPO on your list?

    I’ve only ever seen the shortened version of MY NAME IS NOBODY. Is there much difference between the two versions?

  20. I thought 3:10 to Yuma (new one) was really great. Good characters, good script, good action, great ending. I love love love High Plains Drifter. Just a beautifully told ghost story with some of my favorite badass manuevers ever. The whole movie is one awesome badass manuever. “Welcome Home Boys” indeed.

  21. Hi Dan

    All time favorite western

    Pat Garret and Billy the Kid.

    from Sam Peckinpah.

  22. TOMBSTONE’s one I’ve came to really appreciate recently, especially now I can recognise just how good a cast it has. And Russell’s “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” is fully of cheesy win.

  23. Jareth,

    I guess I don’t really consider EL TOPO to be a western, even if it plays with the imagery. But if we do include it in the category, then it would probably go on my list too.

    I didn’t realize there was more than one version of MNIN, so I’m not sure which version my DVD, or what the differences are between the two versions.

  24. THE WILD BUNCH! How could I have forgotten that one? Love the Bunch.

    I’m not the biggest fan of Assassination of Jesse James. The film’s gorgeous and filled with great performances, but the last half hour kind of goes downhill. The Narrator just lectures the audience for a half hour about what happened after Jesse got shot, and the film just stumbles to a close.

  25. I’d been trying to catch all of Clint’s films in a starring role for a while. The only one I have left now is Paint Your Wagon, but i’m in no hurry to catch up with that because Clint even said he wasn’t a fan of it. I thought Hang ‘Em High was OK. I didn’t find it too satisfying in the end, but I’ll definitely watch it again to catch anything I may have missed.

  26. Vern-
    I’m sure you’ve seen them a million times so they might not qualify for this, but I don’t think you’ve ever reviewed any of Leone’s movies. What the fuck man? That’s some prototypical badass cinema. As for favorites, I always go back and forth btw TGTBATU and Once Upon a Time in the West, but right now I’d say OUATITW narrowly gets the win.

  27. Brendan and Zeez,

    WILD BUNCH is a movie I seriously need to rewatch. I remember liking it when I saw it, but not necessarily being blown away. I was young then, though, and I fell like I might be more open to it if I saw it now. I’ve heard good things about PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, but I feel like maybe I owe it to the movie gods to see THE WILD BUNCH again before I move on to the lesser known Peckinpahs.

    Josh,

    I’m pretty sure Vern has reviewed both FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and DUCK YOU SUCKER before, so you should look those up. And speaking personally, I love both TGTBATU and OUATITW and would have trouble deciding between the two, but ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA is Leone’s masterpiece.

  28. Dan- Wild Bunch is definitely a movie that lends itself to rewatching. It’s great because (like Fistful) it takes pretty much every cliche known to the Western genre, then completely screws with them and twists them in on themselves.

    After you watch Wild Bunch, you should totally catch the Getaway. Steve McQueen being a smoking badass, Ali McGraw being super hot (and doing giving an actual layered performance) great shoot outs, great badass tricks and turnarounds. There’s a scene in a car involving Al Letteri as a gunman, Sally Struthers as his not-totally-unwilling kidnap victim, Struthers’ boyfriend and hot wings that gets crazier and crazier as it goes. A weird combination of funny (because of the slapstick and surrealness) and terrifying (because you legitimately believe Letteri is about two seconds from killing everybody). Great movie.

  29. Once Upon a Time may be Leone’s masterpiece, but I would much rather watch GoodBadUgly. I think that movie is just way more entertaining.

  30. Peckinpah’s films really suffered from some brutal cuts over the years. I don’t know the current status of his oevre, but the first version of PAT GARRET & BILLY THE KID that I saw had about 45 minutes cut from it.

  31. Brendan – a young Walter Hill wrote THE GETAWAY, didn’t he?

  32. Brendan,

    I will put THE GETAWAY on my queue. Thanks for the recommendation.

  33. I’d say my fav westerns are

    THE SEARCHERS
    THE WILD BUNCH
    ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
    LITTLE BIG MAN
    A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS
    PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID
    HIGH NOON
    THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALENCE
    MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
    THE PROFESSIONALS
    THE PROPOSITION
    UNFORGIVEN
    and of course, SHANE

    the weird thing about the Western genre is its one of the most vaguely defined. Does LAST OF THE MOHICANS count? Does DEAD MAN count? What about GIANT or RED ROCK WEST or WAY OF THE GUN? I had a professor who argued that even HIGH NOON shouldn’t be considered a Western because Gary Cooper cries at one point. In some ways, they’re so narrowly defined, but then there are outliers which have so much in common it seems ludicrous not not count them. Because they tend to be pretty similar, I think a lot of people’ “Favorites” list looks pretty similar, because only a limited number rose above the pack. There are tons of perfectly decent ones like LAWMAN or A MAN CALLED HORSE which sadly tend to blend together for most people because of their similar achetypical elements.

  34. I would also throw the first 2/3rds of RED RIVER in the pot for consideration of greatest westerns ever. Damn shame how the movie falls apart in the final act.

    Subtlety,

    I know what you mean. In certain respects western is almost like an Over-genre that can encompass other genres like drama, action, comedy, arthouse, what have you. Or maybe it’s more like western can be a subgenre for all those other genres, I don’t know.

    Personally, I would be inclined to categorize modern-day western type movies, like RED ROCK WEST or WAY OF THE GUN like you mentioned, or other stuff like FOUR BROTHERS or ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, as a separate genre. If for no other reason, because they borrow just as much thematic material from thrillers, action movies, noirs and crime films as they do from the western.

  35. does Bruce’s Last Man Standing count as a western? If so, I’d like to throw it into consideration.

  36. Yes RRA, Eastwood was sick of Leone’s working style at that point. Apparently, Leone wanted Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach to be the 3 gunmen at the start of ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ who get shot by Harmonica. Everyone agreed but Eastwood and the idea was scrapped (which is good, because that was a dumb idea. Not to mention the fact that ‘Any Gun Can Play’ did the gag first).

  37. My favorite Westerns are:

    ‘The Wild Bunch’
    ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’
    ‘Shane’
    ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’
    ‘The Searchers’
    ‘My Darling Clementine’
    ‘Winchester 73’
    ‘Ride the High Country’
    ‘Red River’
    ‘The Tall T’

    Also, I’d recommend EVERYONE here check out the Silent work of William S. Hart. He’s the first stoic bad-ass on film and his Westerns are the most authentic ever made.

    My favorite Spaghetti Westerns are:

    ‘For a Few Dollars More’
    ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’
    ‘The Mercenary’
    ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’
    ‘Duck You Sucker’
    ‘Keoma’
    ‘Blindman’
    ‘The Big Gundown’
    ‘The Great Silence’
    ‘If You Meet Sartana…Pray for Your Death!’

  38. I attended the star-studded screening of ‘The Wild Bunch’ in L.A. a few months ago. Amid celebs like Billy Bob Thorton and Malcolm McDowell, I only got flustered around the guy that did the squibs for Peckinpah (including the Bob Ollinger scene in ‘Pat Garrett’ where you can see the dimes flying out of the barrel). That guy was a fucking artist.

  39. biomechanical bell end

    January 27th, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Paul Newman was pretty badass in Hombre, i’m also a fan of Jeremiah Johnson(one of the first DVDs i ever bought), all the mountain man characters seem crazy but there’s a certain appeal to their way of life.

  40. RRA- Yeah, originally they got the guy who wrote the book to write the screenplay, but McQueen hated the ending so he hired Walter Hill to change it. Thank God, because every movie could use a little Slim Pickens.

    Dan- A word of warning, the soundtrack sucks. McQueen ordered it changed at the last minute, so Quincy Jones came up with a jazzy score that has little to no relationship with what is actually occuring on screen. It isn’t a dealbreaker because Peckinpah’s filmatism is that strong and also it’s the 70’s so there are huge stretches where it’s all diagetic sound.
    For a really good write up on the film and it’s merits head over to AICN where Quint spotlighted it in his Movie a Day column.

  41. Nice to see Pat Garret and Billy the Kid creeping into your lists.

    @Jareth

    There’s a director’s cut out which contains the missing scenes. But I loved the movie in its cut version as well. Wild Bunch is indeed more accessible. Pat Garret is the one more re-watchable, even in the original mutilated version. I have watched it dozens of times, though not lately. I should get it. I can’t stop thinking about it now.

    For all you Bob Dylan fans out there, he has the cameo of the century in this movie wherein he is ordered to read the labels of the cans of foodstock during a tense moment. Dylan puts on his glasses and reads:

    “Beans, beans, baked beans, beans, beans in tomato sauce….”

    Dylan also wrote Knocking on Heaven’s door for this movie. You actually got to see where the lyrics come from.
    “Mama put my guns in the ground, I can’t use them any more”

    That’s an old lawman who just got shot after a gunfight. He is bleeding to death and gets cradled by his Indian wive. In the background the theme to Knocking on Heaven’s door. That scene is heartbreaking.

    AAAhh, Vern…please review this one, the whole class re-watch it and we can have the best talk back ever (in my opinion).

    But seriously, flawed as it is the movie is a serious work of art that makes the hidden death theme of the western genre explicit.

  42. biomechanical bell end, if you liked ‘Hombre’ check out ‘The Tall T’. They have similar plotlines, are both based on books by Elmore Leonard, and have Richard Boone as the villain. For the record, Elmore Leonard disliked the remake of ‘3:10 to Yuma’ and I agree with him. Overwritten in every way.

  43. I agree with Zeez. Vern, please review ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’

  44. …more correctly ‘…hidden death wish theme…’

  45. biomechanical bell end

    January 27th, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    David Lambert, i only mentioned Hombre because i watched it earlier on film 4. Newmans such a bastard in it, but you get why he’s that way. Then he does the decent thing at the end and it all goes tits-up for him.

    My dad was always into John Wayne so i never really saw alot of Randolph’s films, but i’ll keep an eye out for that, cheers.

  46. Man all this talk of favorite westerns and NOBODY mentions ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’???

    Newman and Redford are one of the best on screen duo’s of all time. Redfords got that cool sexy killer thing going on, and Newman is both hilariously aloof and a daring criminal mastermind. Plus it has that great cross-state chase, and one of the most iconic endings of all time. I’m with everybody on most of those other westerns being up there, but somebody has to show some love for Butch and Sundance.

    Ok I’m finished.

  47. What, no love for PALE RIDER? Truly the forgotten Clint Western, it seems.

    (Also, I’m sure I’m not the first to observe this, but wouldn’t a Clint Eastwood Western be an “Eastern”? I’ll be down in the pun pit if you need me, Vern. Workin’ on my game.)

  48. Lots of great westerns listed here. I’m gonna throw in a word for Day of the Outlaw which stars Robert Ryan, Burl Ives (as a leader of a gang of outlaws who spends the entire movie with a bullet lodged near his heart) and Tina Louise (yes, Ginger). It’s got some starkly beautiful black and white photography and takes place almost entirely within a secluded mountain town. Ives and his bandits have holed up there while on the run from the cavalry. Ives is an interesting villain; ruthless yet not completely unsympathetic. It’s a pleasure (and tense) to watch him try to keep his men under control. The picture perfectly captures the cold and the dread of living in an isolated town hidden away in the Wyoming mountains. It’s a great movie.

    Someone earlier mentioned Last Man Standing which definitely has western elements, but was actually a gangster-ized remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo which was also remade by Leone into Fistful of Dollars. I’m not sure I’d classify Last Man Standing as a western though. I think we need to maintain some form of rigidity in our standards. If that’s a western I guess we have to call Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 a western since it was a sort of remake of Rio Bravo. Doesn’t really work for me. Speaking of Rio Bravo, that’s a great movie except for Ricky Nelson who was just too damned pretty to be believable. Too clean cut, too clean, too unruffled. Too pure of voice. Oh well, it’s almost perfect.

    Love the Peckinpah westerns and second the recommendation (from above) for Ride the High Country. It’s pretty much perfect.

  49. Technically DIRTY HARRY is a western too.

  50. I think three of the best classic westerns (not revisionist) are Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy;
    Fort Apache
    She Wore A Yellow Ribbon
    Rio Grande (the best)
    These movies are about the building of American legends and how the people carved a destiny for America in the “wild west”. So in that vain they are a little idealistic, but tough as nails. The casts are also unbelievable, hell, all three films have Victor MacLaughlin in them.
    An amazing Peckinpah film is Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Gracia. Set in modern times, it is, nonetheless, a hard ass western.

  51. I nominate Pursued (dir Raoul Walsh) starring Robert Mitchum as a fine western – a crazy mix of film noir and cowboy picture.
    Features the starkest black and white cinematography I’ve ever seen.

  52. And while we’re at it, Rio Bravo.

  53. Zeez: An English professor named Stephen Scobie wrote a book on Dylan’s work that attempts an interesting reading of his “Alias” character, arguing that much of what the character says in the film can be fairly accurately used to describe Dylan’s self-constructed public persona. The book in which this arguement is made is also called “Alias.” It’s a good read if you’re a Dylan fan.

    And of course Dylan wrote two of the best songs-that-are-almost-western-movies ever written: “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” and the devastating “Brownsville Girl.”

  54. Brian,

    Agreed on the Ricky Nelson comment. If you haven’t seen it, you should check out EL DORADO, a remake of RIO BRAVO that Hawks and Wayne made about a decade later. The Ricky Nelson role is played by James Caan, which I think you’ll agree is a vast improvement. Also, Robert Mitchum fills in for the Dean Martin role, which I also think is an improvement, although I realize that’s a slightly more controversial opinion.

  55. jsixfingers: My local independent video store has a good section for westerns, with many of the films listed here. They file BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID as a comedy. The staff are smart enough for this to not be a mistake. They also have RUMBLE IN THE BRONX in the comedy section. They told me that they do this with certain popular genre movies because that is where the general public begin looking for them.

    This same store also tried to implement a filing system where all the great directors were given their own sections. They had to ditch this system due to complaints from customers who weren’t as saavy as us film buffs.

    The guys at the store also told me that many customers aren’t just confused by distinctions like “film noir” and “cult,” but are also easily confused by generic distinctions like “comedy” and “drama.” Apparently they get requests all the time to just lump everything togther in one section.

    So I guess BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID is a western, a comedy, or just a movie, depending on who you talk to.

  56. Mattman – good pick on Pale Rider. It has the most amazing cinematography and feels like you’re really there (that is, outside really feels and sounds like outside, same with indoors) and seems very authentic – even more than Unforgiven.
    The story is essentially High Plains Drifter channels Shane, though.

  57. I deliberately left BUTCH CASSIDAY AND THE SUNDANCE KID off my list, since even though it takes place in the west (well, the first half does) I think stylistically and thematically it has little in common with the kind of films which I’d consider “Westerns”. It’s a great film, though. I’ve always maintained that Newman was King Shit of Fuck Mountain, and that film is probably the definative proof of that hypothesis.

  58. Jareth, am I being captain obvious when I mention that ‘Brownsville Girl’ is a Western? It’s called THE GUNFIGHTER and it’s amazing. And don’t forget Dylan’s other great Western songs: ‘John Wesley Harding’, ‘Rambling Gambling Willie’ and ‘Romance in Durango’.

    Alias was the actual name of one of Billy the Kid’s gang, and Dylan himself used to go around saying he thought he was the reincarnation of Billy the Kid (could you imagine the DONT LOOK BACK-era Dylan as Billy the Kid? It would be amazing). If you haven’t already, pick up the bootleg ‘Pecos Blues’. It’s the PAT GARRETT soundtrack outtakes featuring a bunch of other great songs (like ‘Goodbye Holly’). One of the outtakes titled ‘Rock Me Mama’ was covered (and rewritten) by Old Crow Medicine Show and released as ‘Wagon Wheel’. Apparently, it’s popular amongst college kids.

  59. I can’t get behind the PALE RIDER or BUTCH CASSIDY recommendations. PALE RIDER always seemed to be a half-baked SHANE retread with elements of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER thrown in. BUTCH CASSIDY is just too smug for me. It’s as if William Goldman thought he was above the genre and that rubs me the wrong way.

    I can second the PURSUED recommendation though.

  60. With the Jeff Bridges starring remake of TRUE GRIT coming around the corner, why don’t we re-assess Bridges’ Western output? BAD COMPANY is fucking great, only let down by some shitty anachronisms I won’t go into because I’ll look like a fucking dork. HEAVEN’S GATE is a maligned film I’ll defend to my death. Despite its problems, I think it’s truly an amazing film. Bridges plays one of his distant ancestors and actually owns the cabin from the film. WILD BILL features an excellent performance by Bridges as the titular gunman, although the awful script lets it down. Walter Hill actually considers it his best film! It’s not even his best Western (that goes to THE LONG RIDERS, which was the best Jesse James film until ASSASSINATION).

  61. THE LONG RIDERS is notable for the ferocious insanity of its final shootout. It’s on the scale of a 70’s or 80’s action movie with a ridiculous hail of gunfire, only instead of cars they are crashing horses through the windows of storefronts. It’s fucking awesome.

  62. Agreed Dan. That gunfight is almost on par with the opening to THE WILD BUNCH. A guy named Paul Hunt worked on THE LONG RIDERS which is important because before that he directed one of the worst Westerns of all time called REVENGE OF THE WILD BUNCH (aka MACHISMO: 40 GRAVES for 40 GUNS). What’s interesting about it is it features a final shootout that looks like a template for THE LONG RIDERS, only with squibs as big as pie tins, axe fights, and dynamite thrown in the mix. It’s amazing how incompetent it is in terms of storytelling, but how amazing it is in terms of action. Search it out if you can find it. I put it behind only the finale of THE WILD BUNCH when it comes to Western shootouts.

  63. One could imagine DESPERADO re-set in the old west (or at least old west era Mexico) without the story changing a whole lot.

  64. David Lambert – Yeah count me as another HEAVEN’S GATE admirer. That movie at times is narcicistic obnoxious in its self-loving, nevermind the same for the editing. But dammit when that movie works….its great.

    Dan Prestwich – Yeah THE LONG RIDERS was fucking good. Not just good or decent, but FUCKING GOOD. I never understood why it never got much critical reception then and now. Anyway, read somewhere how allegedly Johnny Cash was a big fan of the movie.

    Stu – I dont like DESPERADO. There I said it mother fuckers, I don’t like it. On the other hand, I really liked EL MARIACHI. Funny how a $5,000 movie has a more compelling (and exciting for that matter) narrative than its “big budget” clone/brother.

  65. Interesting to know that Johnny Cash was a big fan of THE LONG RIDERS. Cash later played Frank James to Kris Kristofferson’s Jesse in a mediocre TV movie.

    Anyone ever see Robert Duvall’s turn as Jesse James in THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID? A weird film that was.

    If anyone wants to know anything about Jesse James but doesn’t want to pick up a book, I suggest a triple feature of RIDE WITH THE DEVIL for Jesse’s early days (even if he isn’t an actual character in the film), THE LONG RIDERS for his robbery days, and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES for his final days.

  66. David Lambert – I would also add, for those still hungry, Sam Fuller’s “I Shot Jesse James,” which explored the homoerotic subtlety between the outlaw and his buddy/judas Robert Ford several decades before ASSASSINATION.

    Of that triple feature, I think ASSASSINATION is probably the best or at least most interesting. I liked the notion (apparently true) that Jesse James, one of the more famous men in America (and even more known after his death), was able to glide through public in several communities as a gentleman without being recognized.

    I bet Osama is jealous.

  67. As big a fan I am of Fuller, I didn’t really like I SHOT JESSE JAMES too much. I also didn’t include it because while the other 3 films paint a relatively accurate picture of the man, I SHOT JESSE JAMES is wrong on just about everything (which has nothing to do with why I don’t like it…just so you don’t think I demand movies be accurate). Also, Jesse’s in it for what, 5 minutes?

    I do recommend reading THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES book by Ron Hansen. It’ll make the film so much richer. His earlier work DESPERADOES (about the Dalton gang) is just as amazing.

  68. “paint a relatively accurate picture ”

    Lambert – Reminds me of when WYATT EARP and TOMBSTONE came out about a year or so from each other. EARP had the respected Oscar-nominated auteur (Lawrence Kasdan) with a hell of a cast out to make the “real deal” about that badass (full of shit) legend.

    And maybe it would matter if Kasdan actually had done something interesting with it. But the way he structured that script, I believe to quote Ebert: “Like focusing on the young boring years of King Lear.” EARP flopped hard and Kasdan never really recovered.

    And TOMBSTONE, also got a kickass cast, another popcorn western. Also had that notorious hellish production when the director got fired, Kurt Russell had to ghost direct through that George Cosmatos shell, and somehow pulled a popular hit movie (still on TV alot) out of his ass. Good job Mr. Plissken.

    Asides questioning the filmatic qualities of both, why did the public get beyond one but not the other?

    “Print the legend!”

  69. On the I SHOT JESSE JAMES front, while I agree that it’s not a good movie (probably the worst Fuller film I’ve seen), I noticed that ASSASSINATION does seem to contain a few references to the earlier film. Notably, both films have a part where Ford stares at Jesse from behind while Jesse bathes in a washtub (although the context in both films is somewhat different), and both films have a scene where Ford is in a bar and someone starts singing about “the coward Robert Ford” and he does not react well.

    Or maybe they aren’t reference. David Lambert, were these scenes in the novel? Are they based on historical fact? What do you think, was the author of the book making reference to Fuller’s film, or was it Andrew Dominik? Or is it just a coincidence?

  70. RRA, what’s funny about WYATT EARP is that all of those boring years the movie focuses on are barely true. TOMBSTONE, for all its corniness, is actually a really detailed retelling of Earp and co. in Tombstone, Arizona. Unfortunately, I think both films kind of suck on the dramatic front (has there ever been a worse female character in a Western than Dana Delaney’s Josephine Marcus? And that fucking ending where they dance in the snow? Jesus!) . In terms of history, TOMBSTONE gets all the little details correct (the costuming, for example, is spot-on) but gets the characters all wrong (Doc Holliday was not some consumptive 19th Century James Bond and Earp never tried to get away from being a lawman) while WYATT EARP has some big historical boners, but gives a better idea of what the characters were really like.

    Anyway, like I said, accuracy (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter to me in the slightest. My favorite Earp film is MY DARLING CLEMENTINE after all. I just can’t unknow what I know, y’know?

    Side note: for a few interesting retellings of the Earp legend where the names have been changed, check out the original LAW AND ORDER (an amazing Western from the 30s), Sam Fuller’s 40 GUNS, and to a lesser extent, WARLOCK.

  71. Dan, I noticed the similarities and I’m sure Ron Hansen was making reference to them in his novel. I don’t think there’s any evidence that those events happened though. I think in many ways Ron Hansen was inspired by Fuller’s film. I recall he said that watching it was the first time he ever felt sympathy for Robert Ford. The last half of the book is a twisting around of Fuller’s film (it’s also a more historically accurate account of Ford’s last days). In the book, Soapy Smith was a big antagonist (and he was a shitty dude who later got murdered in real life) and Ed O’Kelley was a fucking nut who had been ‘insulted’ by Ford after the assassin accused him of stealing a ring (in the book Smith pushes O’Kelley into doing Ford in…O’Kelley, like Smith, Ford, and James, was also killed by gunfire). In Fuller’s film, both characters are sympathetic (or outright heroes). Fuller later said he thought Ford did a good deed and that he wanted to show Jesse James as a murderer and a coward, but he certainly didn’t achieve that, and Ford is portrayed as slightly lessy douchy than most films show him, but still a lot douchier than the real guy (who was still kind of a douche).

  72. David,

    I should maybe read the book some time, but what’s interesting to me is it sounds like one of the film’s most powerful moments (the very end) is much different in the book. What I loved about the ending of the film is the way Ford is unceremoniously killed by a man the audience hasn’t even met before, a perfectly meaningless death that underlines the film’s themes about celebrity worship and the desire for attention. But it sounds like in the book, his murderer is fleshed out as a character, so I imagine the death sequence comes off much different.

  73. The movie is essentially a truncated version of the book. What they share is nigh identical, even down to the narrator reading direct passages from the novel, and the screenplay using the book’s exact descriptions in setting up the scenes. Ed O’Kelley is given a little backstory but not much. I’m not sure if Dominik’s trimming of O’Kelley’s backstory was a conscious artistic choice to underline the themes of celebrity or he just considered it narratively unnecessary (probably a bit of both), but Ford’s death is handled the same, with the same final line.

    But do please read the book. It’s great.

    Ever read THE SHOOTIST?

  74. Sir, I have not. I haven’t really read ANY western novels, except LONESOME DOVE a long time ago. They made SHOOTIST into a John Wayne movie, yes?

  75. Does anyone know what the name of this western was:
    I think it was about a famous gunfighter who was being hounded by a younger guy who wanted him to agree to duel him so he could kill him and get into the history books, but they end up becoming friends by the end and one of them helps the other do something big to get their name made permanently, then helps him fake his death by staging a gunfight at the end(“Well I’m in the history books. Now how do I get out of them?” “You have to die, publicly”. Anyone?

  76. I believe that is MY NAME IS NOBODY, a spaghetti western comedy that I mentioned earlier I am a big fan of.

  77. It’s an amazing book. More similar in tone to UNFORGIVEN than the Don Seigel-directed Wayne film (which is good in its own right). In fact, UNFORGIVEN jacked a lot from the novel (along with TAXI DRIVER it was David Webb Peoples’ biggest inspiration when writing the script). I’d recommend it to anyone. Speaking of UNFORGIVEN, anyone ever notice the nod to the underrated Charlton Heston Western WILL PENNY (the main character’s name is WILL MUNNY, and his kids are named WILL and PENNY)?

    Anyway, you mean to tell me you haven’t read BLOOD MERIDIAN?

  78. The only Cormac McCarthy I’ve read is ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and, just like every other motherfucker on the planet, THE ROAD. I’ve heard BLOOD MERIDIAN is a tough read, I was thinking of maybe trying SUTREE or NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN next time I tried a McCarthy novel.

  79. I can’t believe that no one has mentioned BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA.

  80. SUTTREE is just as difficult as BLOOD MERIDIAN so I’d just go with the latter.

  81. For the love of God, people.

    YOUNG GUNS.

    Best sepia intro of all time.

    And OPEN RANGE has the best gun battle.

  82. Vern’s FIREFOX review should be interesting. I mean Clint Eastwood’s sole big budget summer blockbuster, with a then-hefty $20 million pricetag and even FX designed by John Dykstra.

    If you ask me, Eastwood and WB got ripped off by Dykstra.

  83. YOUNG GUNS? Git outta heah!

  84. The Long Riders, Heaven’s Gate, Bad Company and Jeremiah Johnson! Yes! Sam Fuller, I Shot Jesse James and Forty Guns! (which really does have one of the greatest openings of all time.) Yes!!

    What was that crazy, obscure western with Robert Stack and Raquel Welch hunting down the gang of rapists? Tarantino’s a big fan, claims it influenced Kill Bill…

    I’ll throw in a word for Budd Boetticher’s terrific 7 Men From Now.

    And don’t forget John Milius and John Huston’s The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean. And Peckinpah’s The Ballad Of Cable Hogue.

  85. CC, you’re thinking of HANNIE CAULDER.

    I like all of BOETTICHER’s Westerns and 7 MEN FROM NOW is no exception. COMANCHE STATION is another one of his greats.

    THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE is great, but then I like all of Peckinpah’s Westerns, even really flawed work like MAJOR DUNDEE and THE DEADLY COMPANIONS (his TV show THE WESTERNER is also wonderful).

    THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN has some excellent bits (like that crazy, ball-shooting gunfight in the bar), but doesn’t work as a whole for me.

  86. Yeah, everybody agrees JUDGE ROY BEAN doesn’t really reach it’s full potential. Milius himself says that John Huston wasn’t the right guy to direct it, and Paul Newman wasn’t really the right actor for it, and that the whole tone of the thing is just not what it should be. Huston was in that early 70s, “Whatever, I’m just here for the paycheck” period of his career when he treated filmmaking as more of a part-time job then a passion, and you can tell he was kind’ve not taking it very seriously–even though he was a fan of Milius’ original script.

    Still, the scope of it’s vision is really impressive and inspiring, and the parts that work REALLY work. I’d say it’s a success, albeit a frustrating one.

    But if you want to see what one of Milius’ scripts could ultimately be in the hands of a director who really took the time and effort to make the best film they could, look no further then Milius own CONAN THE BARBARIAN, Sydney Pollack’s JEREMIAH JOHNSON, and of course, Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW. Hell, even his early EVIL KNIEVAL script probably came off better! (it’s got a GREAT ending.)

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