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Eagle's Wing [DVD] 
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The West, the way it really was before the myths were born. This lyrical western, set among the savage yet beautiful canyons and plains of New Mexico, Stars Martin Sheen as city-bred Pike, an army deserter, who travels to the badlands with experienced trapper Henry (Harvey Keitel) to buy pelts from a Commanche chief. Ambushed and pursued by White Bull (Sam Waterston), a vicious Kiowa brave, and with Henry dead, Pike is left alone to fend for himself in the wilderness in his quest against White Bull for the wild stallion Eagle s Wing. Eagle s Wing is an intelligent, original and realistic movie.
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The Lion In Winter
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The film concerns the story of two traders/ trappers in 1830's New Mexico, played by Harvey Keitel and Martin Sheen. The two have an unfortunate brush with Kiowa Indians, one of whom is played passably well by Sam Waterston. This leaves Sheen who is the more inexperienced to fend for himself in the wilderness. This is reminiscent of Sydney Pollock's "Jeremiah Johnson". Sheen then has the good fortune to come into possession of a magnificent white stallion from a dead Comanche chief, a horse that can fly like the "Eagle's Wing". But the horse is also coveted by the cunning Waterston. The two begin a long duel for the horse over endless plains and a burning sun. Only one man can win.
The story although simple enough, is enlivened by sub plots involving the kidnap of a young girl by Waterston, and her subsequent pursuit by Spanish Americans. There are further complications when Comanche braves once led by the dead chief, also set off in pursuit of Sheen. The script by the American writer John Briley, who was also responsible for "Ghandi", can be best described as spare, which is in keeping with the film. So spare in fact, that Waterston does not have to utter a single word. The director Harvey marshals his cast with authority, and for a man with no experience of westerns does a very good job indeed. He is probably best known for the historical drama "The Lion in Winter". The filming was made on location in Durango Mexico, a place much beloved of American film makers. As a result of this the cinematography is simply stunning for most of the films running time. A special mention should also be made of the very beautiful and haunting musical score.
This is not a British western in the vein of "The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw" or "Carry on Cowboy". Yes, I can hear you laughing! This was filmed with a mainly American cast, on location in an area much used by American westerns. This gives it more of an international flavour than a British one. It is not a masterpiece by any means, but it is certainly unique. There is not another western like it in feel and atmosphere. It is this and the sumptuous visual feast that lift it above so many others in the genre. I enjoyed the film from beginning to end. It is one that deserves to be much better known. A very comfortable and deserved four stars. Given the high price and the scarcity of DVD versions the VHS is still a very good bet. Some are very reasonably priced at the time of this review.
Somewhere in the 1850s, certainly well before the War Between States, on USA-Mexico border four separate groups of people are travelling through the wilderness, each minding their own business:
- two white fur traders, Pike (Martin Sheen) and Henry (Harvey Keitel), are looking for a group of Kiowa Indians they are supposed to make business with
- a group of Kiowa Indians, led by a great war chief who I believe is called Red Sky; the Kiowa are on their way to meet white fur traders; Red Sky rides a precious and beautiful white horse called Eagle's Wing; this splendid animal can outrun any other horse...
- a middle aged stunningly beautiful and clearly very rich Mexican widow (Stephane Audran, fabulous) travels by coach in company of her brother in law, her two handmaidens, an American Catholic priest (John Castle) and the sister of the latter, a cute young girl named Judith (Caroline Langrishe), who is kind of a spoiled brat. Following the coach rides a hearse carrying the body of her deceased husband...
- a Comanche war party looking for trouble, murder and loot; amongst the Comanche "bravos" is an exceptionally tall and strong half-breed named White Bull (Sam Waterston, of "Law and Order" fame); he clearly is respected for his abilities but disliked because of his origins...
That covers like first 5 minutes of the film. Those four groups will of course meet and interact in various interesting ways and then some other players will also appear, but I will say no more about the story. It is worth to be discovered by yourself.
Being a British western, this film is of course an atypical and even exotic treat, but against all odds quite tasty indeed. Visually it is splendid. Scenario is not half bad. Lot of attention was given to details of costumes, weapons and vehicles. There is a lot of nice chasing, tracking and tricking in this film. All actors did a great job too - I was particularly impressed by Stephane Audran, who is amazing in this film, even if her screen time is very short.
I must however warn you here that Harvey Keitel appears for only a limited amount of time. In 1979 he still played second roles, but of course he became a major star since and therefore when this DVD was released, well, they put him on the cover next to Martin Sheen for commercial reasons. In fact Sam Waterston and young Caroline Langrishe should replace him on the cover...
It is also fair to warn you that there is NO subtitles of any kind and that includes the moments when people speak Spanish (a lot) or Indian langauges (not so much) - so parts of conversations are quite cryptic...
Another fair warning - there is no heroes in this film, as two main characters (Pike and White Bull) are both really kind of @holes. The only characters I could really relate to were Judith (in the second part of the film) and the horse...
All those points notwithstanding I really like this atypical but quite charming film. It is not a masterpiece, but a very honest watch. ENJOY!
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