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Six Days On The Road
Six Days On The Road
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Have we been listening to the same CD?, 19 July 2015
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This review is from: Six Days On The Road (Audio CD)
First thing to be said is that somewhere in there was a great live gig, with a group of very experienced musicians, relaxed and very comfortable in their own skins, very competently playing a choice selection of well known tracks from their various back catalogues (primarily Hillman's), to an appreciative and encouraging audience, and having a good deal of fun in the process, as evidenced from the on-stage banter, (or at least what we can hear of it). Highlight has to be a very moving 6 minute rendition of 'Colorado' by Rick Roberts, from his time with the Burritos, and which Chris can be overheard in the background acknowledging is a really good song. Almost worth buying the CD for this alone.
Unfortunately however the recording sounds like it has been made on a cheap tape recorder from a radio which was not tuned in properly to the station in the first place. The background buzz and interference is palpable between tracks, and completely spoils the listening experience. This is one for the headphones, and private listening, and not for playing to your friends to show them how great these guys actually were.
There is a lot of radio broadcast material surfacing at the moment, for well-known artists from the 60s to the 80s, and is to be encouraged, for its historical value, and for what is sometimes a unique opportunity to hear what they actually sounded like live. Some of it is very good, but some of it needs to come with a health warning. As it is likely to be only the real fans and the completists who will be buying this stuff anyway, a bit more clarity as to the quality of the recordings from the distributors would be appreciated. (Can they not access the original tapes from the radio station?) Otherwise wait until you have read several reviews, and then make up your mind.


Fiction as Fact: The "Horse Soldiers" and Popular Memory
Fiction as Fact: The "Horse Soldiers" and Popular Memory
by Neil Longley York
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.50

5.0 out of 5 stars How actual historical events, to the extent that we may ever know them, become transformed, 10 May 2014
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No, the John Wayne character wasn’t called Marlowe, his real name was Grierson. Wayne was clean-shaven, with a commanding screen presence. The historical Grierson was of slight build, sported a dark, bushy beard, and as York remarks, was “anything but physically imposing”, a teacher of music in his civilian life, while Marlowe was portrayed as a railway engineer. Grierson had a brigade of 1700 cavalry under his command, a column which stretched out for 2 miles. (How did you hide that from the Confederates?) The movie had to make do with considerably less, and no it wasn’t the 1st Illinois, the 1st Michigan and the 2nd Iowa Cavalry regiments. Grierson’s brigade was actually made up of the 6th and 7th Illinois, the 2nd Iowa, plus a six-gun battery from the 1st Illinois Artillery. Marlowe didn’t have any canon. They would probably have got stuck in the swamp scene.

There was no running conflict between Marlowe and the regimental surgeon, no intervention by cadets from the Jefferson Military Academy, and no romance with Miss Hannah Hunter of Greenbriar Plantation. But they did both start out from La Grange, Tennessee, they did both make it to Baton Rouge, and whilst en route both did successfully play ‘cat and mouse’ with their Confederate pursuers, whilst successfully disrupting enemy communications by destroying rail track, rolling stock and bridges.
Unless you are extremely familiar with the actual history of the American Civil War however, any knowledge you may have of this daring escapade, is likely to have come from having seen John Ford’s 1959 film ‘The Horse Soldiers’, starring John Wayne, William Holden and a number of the ‘usual suspects’ from Ford’s ‘stock company’ of actors. Also being a Ford movie, it contains a number of typical Fordian features –the celebration of the military, the parading of soldiers and colours, the importance of duty and honour, the stirring, patriotic period music (from both sides of the conflict), repetition of melodies like ‘Lorena’ from previous Ford films, the mix of drama and comedy, the smoking of cigars, and so on.

But Grierson’s Raid, as it came to be known, a 16 day, 500 mile incursion through Confederate territory, did actually take place, a mission which Grierson successfully accomplished through a combination of skilled leadership and, frankly, sheer good luck. What Neil Longley York does, with meticulous attention to detail, is to demonstrate to the reader, how the actual historical events, to the extent that we may ever know them, become transformed as they are displaced from the historical record (surviving original documents, e.g. diaries, letters, memoirs) and contemporary published accounts (e.g. Surby 1865), through the historical storytelling with literary embellishments (Dee Brown 1954) to the historical novel (Harold Sinclair 1956 ), by which time it has become a work of fiction based on an episode in the Civil War, to the screenplay for the film (John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin), to what would eventually be enacted on screen, given that John Ford, once on set, would often make significant spur of the moment changes to the screenplay of his films, (and because with this film he didn’t much like script anyway!)

But in the end, does it really matter? In practice, how many people other than historians start out to discover the past through original documents? And do these tell the whole story anyway? If interest generated by a popular novel or a film acts as the stimulus to find out more about what actually happened then surely that is a good thing. United Artists promoted the movie as ‘fictionalised history’ – ultimately it was still about the Grierson Raid. The essence of the actual event is still there.

Nevertheless, caution is required on the part of the reader or cinema-goer, when a novelist or film director claims to be portraying a historical event, but then proceeds to change the history, for example by removing events, adding events which never happened, or by implanting gross distortions of the actuality purely for dramatic effect, entertainment value, or for some other purpose.

You can of course easily argue that Ford does all of these things in ‘The Horse Soldiers’. But in his own way he is still trying to be ‘true’ to the history. He just wants to tell a good story. When he was asked once why he didn’t just have the indians shoot out the horses in the chase scene in ‘Stagecoach’ (which they would have done in reality), he replied that if he had, he wouldn’t have had a movie.


Yellow Sky [DVD] [Blu-ray]
Yellow Sky [DVD] [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Gregory Peck
Price: £8.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The 'look' is surprisingly modern, 9 May 2014
A motley gang of desperadoes led by Gregory Peck (Stretch) rob a bank, are pursued by the US Cavalry, and escape by struggling across badlands, salt flats and desert (Death Valley National Monument), only to arrive, totally exhausted and starved of water, at a deserted mining town, where they are surprised to find themselves accosted by a spunky Anne Baxter (Mike), toting a six-gun, and not in the least phased by the outlaws. Turns out she lives there with her ailing grandfather, and that they share a secret (shades of ‘The Tempest’).

In tight fitting blouse, figure hugging Levis (did women ever dress like this in the West in the late 1860s?) hair carefully coiffured and straight out of make-up, we are meant to believe it when grandfather says she was raised by the Apaches (Yeh, right!) But although she demonstrates ‘zilch’ knowledge of the ways of the Apache, still she is able to handle these men with sass and authority. Interestingly, Jean Peters refused the female lead, as she thought the role “too sexy.”

For its time, some of the dialogue is quite risqué, and there is little left to the imagination about what some of the gang would like to do to her, given the chance. Peck himself, who also has designs on her, is not averse to taking her forcibly at one point (a nod to his lusty character in ‘Duel in the Dust’ (1946)?), but she thwarts his passion when she tells him he smells, which would have been very true, given that none of these dirty, unshaven outlaws is seen making any attempt to deal with their personal hygeine.

The plot is a bit thin, but the performances are strong, including Richard Widmark in a supporting role (Dude), and the ‘look’ is surprisingly ‘modern’. Joseph MacDonald delivers stark black and white photography, and Wellman also incorporates much of the natural sounds of this harsh environment. The Apaches are also the ‘real deal’ (scary) – genuine native American extras – but are there mainly as background, and there is no interaction with the desperadoes. Only Peck’s double holster tends to date the picture to its period. Also the ending doesn’t sit well with the mood of the rest of the picture. But this did happen back then, as anyone familiar with the ending of Howard Hawks’s ‘Red River’ knows only too well.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 18, 2015 11:18 PM BST


Destination Gobi [DVD] (1953)
Destination Gobi [DVD] (1953)
Dvd ~ Richard Widmark
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly watchable!, 9 May 2014
Reminiscent in style to a number of American films of the 1950s, which attempted to find some new slant on World War II , which would be a combination of entertainment and adventure, satisfy an undemanding audience, and show the US in a good light, the unlikely plot for this low budget ‘B’ movie involves a group of navy weathermen being transplanted into Mongolia to provide weather information, and once they are discovered by the Japanese, having to find their way to safety by crossing the desert wastelands aided by a tribe of Mongols who have given their qualified support in return for an airdrop of US Cavalry leather saddles, allowing them to become the ‘1st Mongolian Cavalry’. You couldn’t really make this up. Cue for stirring music, and lots of adventures on land, and eventually back at sea, which at least finally stops Petty Officer Widmark from banging on about how much he has been missing it.

In lesser hands this might have been a complete dud, but Robert Wise was at the helm, and in his safe and capable hands it becomes surprisingly watchable, both in terms of the plot and the scenic backdrop (Nevada standing in for Mongolia in Wise’s first colour film), and Piute indians for the Mongols. Dating the film however, is the dialogue given to Murvyn Vye as the Mongol Chief. His command of English is surprisingly good for someone from such a remote part of the world, but it is very much of the “Me chief” variety, which was how Hollywood of this era condescendingly treated all native peoples.

Watch out for appearances by Earl Holliman, Martin Milner (Route 66 and numerous other TV credits), and Ford stock company stalwart, Willis Bouchey.


Havana [DVD]
Havana [DVD]
Dvd ~ Robert Redford
Offered by BOOKS-DVDS-TOYS-TECH
Price: £3.27

4.0 out of 5 stars A perhaps unlikely love story, 28 April 2014
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This review is from: Havana [DVD] (DVD)
The setting is late December 1958. In the decadent, brash, glitzy ‘sin city’ that is downtown Havana the casinos are awash with American gamblers and revellers, partying with carefree abandon, and seemingly oblivious to the harsh reality that Batista’s regime is about to collapse, and the Cuban revolutionaries under Castro and Guevara are only days away from entering the capital.

Into this impending maelstrom comes Jack Weil (Robert Redford), a carefree , middle-aged professional poker player, intent on making a killing in a high stakes game. A chance meeting however with the beautiful, idealistic (and much younger) Bobby Duran ( Lena Olin), wife of a Cuban aristocrat (Raul Julia) sympathetic to the revolution, on the ferry boat over from Miami, and a casual offer to help her smuggle some military radio equipment through immigration, will change his life forever. “Were you waiting for me?” she asks at one point. “All of my life”, he replies.

And so the scene is set for a perhaps unlikely love story played out against the events surrounding the fall of Havana. There are shades of ‘Casablanca’, and had the picture actually been made back in the 1950s, rather than 1990, it would have been a natural vehicle for William Holden, or even Frank Sinatra.

Certainly the film seems to have been under development for a number of years, with Jack Nicholson and Jane Fonda originally intended for the lead roles. Sonia Braga and Sharon Stone were also considered for the part of Bobby, and Nick Nolte turned down Jack Weil’s role. Ultimately it would become Redford’s 7th and last collaboration with Director Sydney Pollack.

Pollack had wanted to film in Cuba, but the US Government would not allow any money to be spent there, so the estimated $40 million budget went to Santo Domingo instead, where a lavish re-creation of a Havana street was built on an air force base.
But despite the big budget, a strong cast and a good story the film was not a success at the box office, something Pollack found difficult to explain. Some critics have argued that the ‘chemistry’ was not right between Redford and Olin, others that it just wasn’t in the same league as Bogart and Bergman’.

Whatever. It is still well worth watching, and stands comparison with the other Pollack/Redford joint projects.

And for film buffs, there is one small scene between Redford and Richard Farnsworth, who had spent most of his film career in stunts or as a bit player, before delivering an Oscar nominated performance at age 79 years in ‘The Straight Story’ (1999).


The Clearing [DVD]
The Clearing [DVD]
Dvd ~ Robert Redford
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £3.31

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deserving of a much wider audience, 26 April 2014
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This review is from: The Clearing [DVD] (DVD)
This was the directorial debut of Dutchman Pieter Jan Brugge, whose previous background was in film production. The story, which he also wrote, was loosely inspired by actual events which took place in the Netherlands back in 1987.

Ostensibly it is about the kidnapping of a rich, successful and self-made businessman, Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) by a disgruntled former employee and loser, Wayne Mack (Willem Dafoe), and the attempts by Wayne’s distraught wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) and their two grown-up children, abetted (but not necessarily aided) by the FBI to secure his release.

But it is also about the separate journeys of the three main players as they react to the events which have been set in motion. For Wayne, as he stumbles through the forest with his captor it is a re-evaluation of his love for his wife, for Eileen (an under-stated acting masterclass by Mirren) it is the struggle to remain focussed and strong despite the stress and the unfolding revelations about the true state of her marriage, and for Arnold it is the road to the eventual discovery that what is meant to be his second chance at life, may not turn out to be the salvation he desperately seeks.

Despite the very strong performances from Redford, Mirren and Dafoe, ‘The Clearing’ went straight to the video market in the UK. Perhaps veteran actors in the lead roles were not deemed appropriate for the popcorn guzzlers in the multiplexes, perhaps the plot was too slow moving, too intense and too realistic to have the audience on the edge of their seats, perhaps the non-linear construction was an unnecessary complexity. A great pity, for overall it is a fine film, deserving of a much wider audience.


The Searchers
The Searchers
Price: £3.83

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just another Western!, 25 April 2014
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This review is from: The Searchers (Kindle Edition)
Written back in 1954, by author and screenwriter Alan LeMay, following scrupulous research into many of the surviving accounts of Indian abductions of white pioneer women and children along the frontier of the South Western expansion of the United States, this is the fictional account of the epic quest of two driven and determined white men, an uncle and an adopted brother (after his own family have been massacred) to find 9 year old Debbie Edwards who has been abducted following a murder raid on the family ranch by a Comanche war party.

The sheer power of the novel was certainly not lost on movie director John Ford, who would make the story the basis of his (belatedly) critically acclaimed film ‘The Searchers’, and this is a power which resonates to the present day. This is not just another dated pulp western novel which belongs to a bye gone age. Rather it is a work of great and enduring quality, which gives the reader a real insight into what it must have been like to have lived along the frontier in those violent and dangerous times, whether they were optimistic white settlers intent on building a better future for their families, and prepared to live with the risks, or angry and threatened Indian tribes, faced with the progressive annexation of their ancestral homelands and the mass slaughter of the buffalo herds, on which so much of their livelihood depended.

Today’s reader is likely to come to LeMay’s book through having discovered and enjoyed Ford’s film, most likely on television, and having noted that this wasn’t ‘just another Western’, and that Wayne’s character, the very disturbed Ethan Edwards, is possibly Wayne’s most accomplished and nuanced role in his long cinematic career.

So how does it differ from the film? Well, part of the power of Ford’s film was that he cleverly chose not to show the violence, leaving the cinemagoer to imagine it for himself. LeMay tells you in exacting detail, based on the historical record, the atrocities committed both by the Indians, and by the white men.

The quest takes place over a period of 5 years, so there is much more in LeMay than makes it through to the film, and the ending is also different, but just as valid as the one chosen by Ford.

John Ford could always spot a good line of dialogue, and, for those familiar with the film, it is these words of LeMays’ that leap out of the printed page, time and again, as the reader progresses through the book, because they are also spoken in the film, word for word, though not necessarily by the same characters as in the original novel.

This is a book well worthy not only of being discovered by today’s readers, but also of being re-made as a film, not to eclipse the ‘Fordian interpretation’ that is John Ford’s masterpiece, but to set in modern cinematic terms the sweep, depth and interpretation of the original novel. Clint Eastwood or Kevin Costner take note!


The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend
The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend
by Glenn Frankel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly researched, and a good read, but..., 25 April 2014
The issue I have with this otherwise very fine and meticulously researched book, and why I didn’t award it 5 stars, is the misleading nature of its title ‘The Searchers. The Making of an American Legend’. In a substantive book which runs to 405 pages, the potential reader should be aware that discussion of the actual film does not really start until page 245. Prior to this we get the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, her son Quanah Parker, a mini biography of Alan Lemay who wrote the original novel on which the film was based, and mini biographies of both John Ford and John Wayne, much of which can be found elsewhere. Indeed, Frankel quotes from a number of the best respected sources. That said, it was inevitable that given the thoroughness of his own research, Frankel also comes up with some new pieces of information of his own, which I certainly have not read elsewhere.

Quite why Glenn Frankel devotes so much time to the Cynthia Parker story (though he clearly enjoyed researching it and meeting the descendants of the two sides of the family) is not altogether clear, as he himself admits in the extensive Notes that controversy remains as to whether or not Lemay based his novel on Cynthia Parker’s experience at the hands of the Comanche, or whether his source material was Brit Johnson’s wife, also taken by the Comanche, or Millie Durgan, who was captured by the Kiowa. What is clear is that the taking of white women and children was very common in frontier times.

Frankel, in his Notes on Sources, also laments that there are surprisingly few books on ‘The Searchers’. What a pity then that he could not have devoted a lot more of his 405 pages to the film itself.

My one other quibble, is that although he produces a few previously unpublished photographs, these are sparsely scattered through the text, and small in size. A glossy mid-section, decently produced photographs, is sadly lacking. (Here the BFI Film Classics Series ‘The Searchers’, by Edward Buscombe, shows how it should be done).

For anyone who just wants to read one book about ‘The Searchers’ however, this is an excellent source, and even for the aficionados they will find some new snippets of information to add to their body of knowledge.


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