Tag: Western

August 17, 2010 / / Main Slate Archive

Winchester ’73 – 1953 – dir. Anthony Mann

It has been said that this film has every western cliché in the repertoire: dance hall floozy who’s a good girl at heart, trusty sidekick, shooting contest with incredible demonstrations of marksmanship, heroic stand by the Calvary, noble but inevitably defeated Indians, climactic shootout for two… even Wyatt Earp. Yet, Casablanca-like, the film gets away with a bevy of stock situations and even stock characters because every performance is so strong. The subtleties of the most subsidiary characters come across in a believable and refreshing way.

March 22, 2010 / / Main Slate Archive

By Melvin Cartagena

Stray Dog – 1949 – Akira Kurosawa

The parallels between Kurosawa and Scorsese, and more specifically between their leading men, Toshiro Mifune and Robert DeNiro, are so close that the worn accusation of Kurosawa being ‘too Western’ by conservative Japanese film scholars becomes a somewhat fair one. Regardless, Kurosawa crafted majestic dramas with universal themes, experienced at a human scale, but seen against a larger backdrop that both played against and complimented the subjects of his signature films, his leading men. In the same way that Scorsese showed us how the fading Little Italy of his youth produced men like Charlie and Johnny Boy in Mean Streets (1973), in Stray Dog (1949) Kurosawa presents a  multi-leveled action drama that plays itself out in the ruins of post-war Japan, the backdrop that spawned men like Murakami (Mifune) and Yusa (Isao Kimura), his nemesis and mirror image.

June 30, 2009 / / Main Slate Archive

By Peggy Nelson

The Last Picture Show – 1971 – dir. Peter Bogdanovich

The Last Picture Show (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1971) presents the enigma of the old western wrapped in the mystery of the new.  Set in the early 1960s in a windswept Texas town — the kind of small town that springs up on the way from somewhere to somewhere else — the story focuses on two high school seniors, Sonny and Duane, co-captains of a football team so monumentally inept that at one point they manage to lose 121 – 14.  The future they face seems as bleak as the empty streets in the town and the endless flat plains of the surrounding land.  They sense it as they stumble through the paces of late adolescence: girlfriends, jobs, uncertainty.

May 19, 2009 / / Main Slate Archive

By Melvin Cartagena

The Wild Bunch – 1969 – dir. Sam Peckinpah

It doesn’t matter that the credits state that it’s a screenplay written by Sam Peckinpah and Walon Green, a fiction developed from a story by Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner. It doesn’t matter that Pike Bishop’s (William Holden’s) command to his men in the robbery that opens the film is “If they move, kill ‘em.” And that this is followed by DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH, simultaneously a bold statement and a way to defuse Pike’s order. It doesn’t matter that the fight sequences are entirely subjective in their staging and editing, we want to believe that there were once guys like these running around loose. We want to believe that these weary, battle-scarred men are the cowboys that made the west wild, as their name implies.  They are not above shooting civilians (as they do, when we see the parade marchers mowed down in the crossfire between the Bunch and Harrigan’s bounty hunters), but they’d rather not. They stand by each other against the world, and in their circumscribed universe (which is shrinking with the paving over of the west) that is the loftiest ideal they can hope for. It’s this commitment to each other that drives Pike and company to forsake their retirement score and engage in a suicidal shootout with Mapache’s men after Mapache slits Angel’s throat.

September 3, 2008 / / Film Notes


By Kris Tronerud

Once Upon A Time In The West (C’era Una Volta il West) • 1968 •  Directed by Sergio Leone

In 1966, after the commercial failure of his first two movies, (and well before the smash international success of The Conformist and Last Tango In Paris), fledgling director Bernardo Bertolucci found himself at a professional and personal dead end, and fled, as he often did, to repair to the movies and re-energize himself. He decided on a screening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and, in one of those happy coincidences that seem to figure in the back stories of so many film classics, present in the projection room were, not only TGTBATU’s newly successful director Sergio Leone, but a young critic looking for an ‘in’ in the film industry, future horror great Dario Argento. When asked by Leone why he liked the film so much, Bertolucci blurted out that he admired the fact that Leone, like John Ford, rather than prettifying horses in profile, filmed ‘their arses from behind”. After a stunned silence, the Ford-worshipping Leone replied “We must make a film together sometime”. While this suggested partnership might have gone against the grain of the young Marxist’s usual filmic tendencies, Bertolucci was (like his entire generation of European directors) also an infatuated Hollywood film buff; and, as he later admitted, “I dreamed… of making a film that (simply) gave pleasure to everyone”. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, as the film which grew out of this chance meeting was arguably (with the possible exception of Ford’s The Searchers) the greatest Western ever made: the epic, astonishing and mesmerizing Once Upon A Time In The West.

May 5, 2008 / / Film Notes

By Kris Tronerud

The Good, The Bad, and the Uglydir Sergio Leone – 1966

In 1965, as Sergio Leone’s For A Few Dollars More was enjoying a runaway success in Italy (it was the most profitable Italian Film to date), its screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni brought his good friend Ilya Lopert of United Artists to the Supercinema Theater in Rome to see see FAFDM. Greatly impressed by the vocal enthusiasm of the packed-to-the-rafters audience, Lopert offered three times what producer Alberto Grimaldi was expecting for the rights to FAFDM, and, in true Hollywood fashion, sought to secure the rights to Leone’s ‘next film’ in advance. There was no ‘next film’, but with an assenting nod from Leone (who spoke little or no English) Vincenzoni began to riff… The story, he said, concerned three rogues in search of a treasure at the time of the Civil War. To which few words Lopert replied: “Okay, we’ll buy it.” And so, after one of the shortest pitch meetings in film history, was born one of the great westerns of all time, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

May 5, 2008 / / Film Notes

By KJ Hamilton

The Magnificent Seven – John Sturges – 1960

The first time I saw this film; I didn’t really pay attention to it. I was a kid, there was one TV in the house, and I wasn’t allowed to change the channel when the Westerns were on. I didn’t inherit my father’s love of classic, Hollywood Westerns, so I barely remembered the plot.

It’s a classic tale: a poor village in Mexico is terrorized by Calvera (Eli Wallach); who justifies his actions by explaining that he has to have a way to feed himself and his men. The villagers wish to reclaim their crops and their village, but the only thing they know how to do is farm land. So, they seek the advice of an elder, who sends them north to the United States to buy guns. Instead, the men decide to hire gunslingers to help them. Enter Chris Adams (Yul Brynner), a man who is not afraid to go against an entire town to bury a dead Native American who, even in death, was shunned. The villagers are fascinated with his confidence, and seek him out. They plead with Adams to help them win back their village. Adams accepts their offer and immediately hires more men to join him: Vin (Steve McQueen), Bernardo (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughn), Harry (Brad Dexter) and Britt (James Coburn). Chico (Horst Buchholz) is a young wannabe gunslinger who rides along behind the group, and is eventually accepted. The Seven rides into town, but the villagers are so afraid of outsiders that they only come out to greet their heroes after provocation.

June 14, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kris Tronerud

USA, 2005. Rated R. 121 min. Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam, Melissa Leo, Julio Cedillo, and Levon Helm; Music: Marco Beltrami; Cinematography: Chris Menges; Produced by: Luc Besson, Michael Fitzgerald, Tommy Lee Jones, Pierre Ange-Le Pogam; Written by: Guillermo Arriaga; Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

From the time of its release, Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut’s unconventional structure, quirky shifts in tone, ambiguous resolution and very title seemed to guarantee that it would not find a large following at the neighborhood multiplex. Which is not to say that Three Burials is a failure. First-time director Jones has delivered a film which, though flawed, is richly observed, beautifully performed, always engaging, and stunning to look at.