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An Eclectic Mix
on 8 March 2009
This is quite an eclectic mix of movies. We have a Spaghetti Western encompassing much of that genres style, and with quite a few of its own. We have a contemporary Western with age old themes, and we have a much more traditional American Western. It is quite an unusual and imaginative mix which seems to work quite well and represents pretty good value.
"Once Upon a Time in the West"(69) directed by the one and only Sergio Leone, is in most peoples opinion the finest Italian Western ever made, many believing it to be the finest of all. I would certainly agree with the first assertion. It is far superior to the Dollar Westerns and is by far the most ambitious Italian Western ever made. It charts the progress of a railway being built in the West. Around this wide subject matter we have a great deal of double dealing and death is never far away. We have a superb cast. Charles Bronson is the stone faced Harmonica with a score to settle, and Henry Fonda appears memorably as the evil Frank. The Fonda character first appears in the film callously murdering a family. Quite a shock to Fonda fans! Jason Robards is also excellent as a bandit. The film is magnificent to look at with some spectacular scenes. The opening is hugely impressive. The characters were actually choreographed to the the wonderful Ennio Morricone music score, so it has an almost balletic feel to it. Leone spent many hours watching Westerns and his love of them shows. I dont believe it is the finest Western ever made, but for its sheer bravado it has to be in any top ten list. A classic of its type.
"Hud"(62) directed by Martin Ritt is a very different beast. It is a contemporary Western based on "Lonesome Dove" author Larry McMurtry's book "Horseman Pass By". Paul Newman plays Hud Bannon a cowboy living on his Fathers ranch. He is totally unprincipled and selfish, also a liar and a womaniser. He has no redeeming features. His father Homer Bannon is played by Melvyn Douglas who won a best supporting actor oscar. Homer is everything his son is not. A man of integrity with deeply ingrained principles. This of course leads to a clash. Caught in the middle is Homer's grandson Lonnie and also Hud's nephew, who has to choose between the two. Lonnie in a tragic finale makes his choice. The film is very well acted with a strong cast. Douglas is impressive as the patriarch and Pat Neal is excellent as the housekeeper. The story is an old one with the son who turns out bad. I recall "The Big Country"(58) where Burl Ives shoots his own son gone bad. It doesn't come to that because this film is much more subtle. It is a well crafted and well acted film.
"Gunfight at The OK Corral"(57) directed by John Sturges is another take on the famous gunfight which took place in Tombstone on October 21st 1881 in which three members of the Clanton gang were killed by the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Incidentally there were many other shoot outs where more persons were killed, but this is the one that has gained notoriety. The screenplay was provided by "Exodus" writer Leon Uris. John Ireland is on the Clanton side as he was in Ford's "My Darling Clementine", this time playing a hired gunman Johnny Ringo. Burt Lancaster plays a granite jawed Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas plays a moody Doc Holliday. Dennis Hopper crops up as a very scared Billy Clanton. Other support is provided by Lee Van Cleef and the ever reliable Jack Elam. DeForrest Kelly also appears as Morgan Earp. Ten years later as Doctor McCoy he and the crew of The Enterprise bizarrely had to face the Earps in an episode of Star Trek called "Spectre of the Gun". Sturges actually made a sequel to his film ten years later called "Hour of the Gun" where James Garner played Wyatt Earp. The film moves along at a good pace. Sturges always appeared more comfortable directing Westerns. Helped with its strong cast it is an enjoyable film. It is not a classic but is a very watchable film.
This boxset represents good value. It has two exceptional films and one good one. Recommended viewing.