50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 7

This disc is also available separately as a four-movie one-disc pack. At $4 or less, I’d buy it–for the first movie on each side, primarily for the true classic that takes up most of the B side. The second movie on each side…well, nobody’s forcing you to watch them.

China 9, Liberty 37, 1978, color. Monte Hellman and Tony Brandt (dirs.), Warren Oates, Fabio Testi, Jenny Agutter, Sam Peckinpah. Original title Amore, piombo e furore. 1:38 [1:32].

It’s a Spanish-Italian Western: Good production values, good background music, some odd accents from some of the actors, and in this case at least an unhurried plot marked by two or three big gun battles. The sleeve description almost gets it right. A condemned gunfighter Clayton Drumm (Testi), just about to be hanged in China (a tiny little Western town, 46 miles from Liberty), is reprieved so that he can shoot down Matthew Sebanek (Oates), a rancher, on behalf of the railroad that wants Matthew’s land. Only Clayton doesn’t do it, meets Matthew’s whole clan (three brothers)—and when he leaves, Matthew’s wife Catherine (Agutter) (who knifes Matthew in self-defense and mistakenly thinks she killed him) catches up with him.

This is all pretty slow-moving: lots of talk and essentially no action. Then the sleeve goes awry: “an enraged Matthew joins forces with the equally peeved railroad company to hunt the pair down.” Not exactly. Matthew and brothers try to gun down Clayton (and fail), and Matthew takes back his wife—but later, the railroad stooges are trying to get rid of both Clayton and Matthew, resulting in a 2.5-way gun battle that’s interesting and a little above the usual gunplay. Not to provide spoilers, but Clayton and Matthew (and Matthew’s wife) all wind up alive, with a fair number of other corpses around.

In the middle, there are some nice little side-plots, including Sam Peckinpah as a dime novelist trying to buy Clayton Drumm’s story—or, rather, lies—to sell to the folks back east, and a non-animal circus (acrobats, little people) whose head wants to hire Drumm as a sharpshooter/showman. If you can get past Clayton’s accent (explained by some dialogue about him coming over from Europe as a child) and the rather curious acting of the bride, it’s a decent flick if you like the slow, sometimes languid, actually fairly naturalistic style—which I do. $1.50.

Gone with the West, 1975, color. Bernard Girard (dir.), James Caan, Stefanie Powers, Aldo Ray, Barbara Werle, Robert Walker Jr., Sammy Davis Jr.. 1:32 [1:30].

Great cast. Good filming, decent print, good color, OK sound. Interesting acting. Stefanie Powers as an odd woman of unclear heritage is, well, odd, manic, amusing. Sammie Davis Jr. as Kid Dandy, a fast-draw artist, possibly a Marshal, mostly a pool player, is as subtle and convincing an actor as in Rat Pack outings. Aldo Ray is loud and stupid. James Caan is relatively subdued—but no scenery went unchewed in the making of this flick.

Remarkable last ten minutes or so. Lots of barroom brawls—indeed, a barroom that seems to be nothing but hysterical brawls and breaking furniture, a nonstop riot frequently spilling out to the streets of a really bad town full of really bad people. Repeated over-the-top operatic singing at barroom funerals, or maybe it’s the same footage used several times—there are a lot of deaths in this flick. Long catfight. Long “wrestling” match. Also some of the worst writing and editing I’ve ever seen in a professional production.

For the first three-quarters of the movie, I couldn’t make any sense of the plot at all. I guess it comes down to this: James Caan saw his homestead burned out and wife and children killed by the town bad man (Aldo Ray), who also molested Powers’ (Native American? Come on!) character. He comes back and, with her help (when he’s not kicking her in the backside or otherwise showing unspoken affection) does everyone in, little by little. Since the townspeople are caricatures of the worst of the old west, I guess that’s OK. I’m supposed to get from the very start that this is a spoof, a sendup of westerns. That certainly becomes clear, when James Caan and Powers are walking back into the mountains and Powers—who up to now has spoken mostly some tongue Caan doesn’t know—says in clear English “You killed everybody except the cameraman”—and Caan turns around and shoots the cameraman. It’s just not a coherent spoof. It is, to put it bluntly, a mess. An amusing mess, I guess, but a mess. Balancing the good, the incredibly bad (one insightful reviewer says it was edited by a Mixmaster) and the empty, I’ll give it $0.75, at least when viewed sober.

The Outlaw, 1943, b&w. Howard Hughes (dir.), Jack Buetel, Jane Russell, Thomas Mitchell, Walter Huston. 1:56.

Sometimes, they really are classics! I’d never seen Howard Hughes’ story of Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Pat Garrett and Rio McDonald before, and I’m glad I finally did. I expected a spectacular, with lots of action—and got a well-played story of four people’s trails and how they cross, mostly a low-key psychological drama.

Fine acting, solid production and direction, fine screenwriting. I can’t imagine why this movie was considered defiant of the Hayes Code, censored, and banned in some countries—unless there’s even more somewhere than the 116 minutes on this DVD. (There may be—IMDB mentions a 20-minute scene between Billy and Rio—but what’s on the disc is the 116-minute version, not the 95-minute cut version.) Walter Huston is particularly fine as Doc Holliday, but Jack Buetel (Billy the Kid) also does a first-rate job, and the other major characters aren’t half bad. The music works, making extensive use of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony (first movement) and “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie,” although it’s sometimes a bit much.

After writing most of this review, I made the mistake of reading the IMDB reader reviews. I suppose if you’re looking for a shoot-‘em-up or hot sex, this would come off as pretty awful: In fact, the major shooting scenes aren’t won by the fastest draws and, at least in this cut, there’s very little explicit sex. I’ll stick with my original judgment: This is a fine movie, well acted and well filmed. It just isn’t a traditional western. This is definitely one I’ll watch again—atypical as a western but first-rate as a movie. Generally a very good to excellent print as well, although the sound is slightly edgy once in a while. That slight flaw is all that keeps this from getting the highest possible rating. Instead, it gets $2.25.

Arizona Stagecoach, 1942, b&w. S. Roy Luby (dir.), Ray Corrigan, John King, Max Terhune, Elmer, Nell O’Day. 0:58 [0:52].

On one hand, the print’s choppy—you lose lots of syllables and whole words, maybe more than that. On the other, it doesn’t much matter: This one’s so ludicrous that a pristine print wouldn’t help much. Where do we begin? How about with a mock lynching—but it’s a white guy, so it’s OK Turns out it’s just the devil-may-care Range Busters forcing one of their own to make good on a bet—to sing a song while upside down, in this case hanging from a tree. We’ve got three characters, all using their own names—Ray “Crash” Corrigan, John “Dusty” King and Max “Alibi” Terhune—oh, and Elmer, a ventriloquist’s dummy that acts as a lookout while the boys are chatting (!) and is later the only occupant of a house, chatting away as they enter. It’s Another Range Busters movie, one in a series (of 20!)—the opening and closing credits leave no doubt about that—and it’s bizarre.

Some elements are standard: The good guys always wear white (except when they’re pretending to be bad guys). The bad guys always wear black, which makes it easy to spot the apparent good guys that are actually bad guys—naturally with one of the prominent citizens being bad-guy-in-chief. Wells Fargo wagons to and from an Arizona town are consistently getting held up: consistently, much as though the bad guys knew whenever there was going to be a payload on the stage. So, of course, Wells Fargo doesn’t hire security to ride along with the stage, or maybe investigate the local Wells Fargo agent—no, they hire this bunch of clowns to look into it.

We have an “old west” where people are only too happy to string other people up on the spot—but where these three Range Busters (always in spotless dude attire) laugh and joke around as they drink their presumably nonalcoholic drinks in the tamest saloon I’ve ever seen in a western. The chief bad guy, when he’s listening at an open window and realizes the stagecoach driver’s spilling the beans (of course the holdups are inside jobs—that may be a spoiler, but this one’s pretty rotten already), doesn’t shoot the driver through the open window. Nope, he rides off to join the other crooks in a hopeless shootout with the good guys, then manages to ride off on his own after his group is mostly shot down. Just awful, even as they ride off, turn around and say “See you next time.” (Incidentally, the sole IMDB review is nonsense, misstating what little plot there is.) I’m being charitable at $0.50.

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