Author Topic: Westerns  (Read 11276 times)

1SO

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #260 on: February 09, 2018, 12:21:31 PM »
It's amazing how we match sometimes.

According to ICM, I watched Ramrod June 1, 2014. I also failed to write up a review. The only comment I could find is...

I didn't like Ramrod and Lake's limitations are a major part of that.
9. Ramrod

I was going to use your post as an excuse to refresh my memory, though I'm now even less interested in reminding myself more about why I don't like the movie.


Glad to ride alongside you again with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. That's in my Top 150. Something to consider when you write about it. For many, the Oscar-winning performance by Walter Huston is the one and only time they've seen him. This will be your 5th film with him this Marathon, so you can contrast his work with the persona created in his previous films. (Many mix this work in with the typical Walter Brennan western performance.)

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #261 on: February 09, 2018, 12:40:02 PM »
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)

When I embarked on this trail, this wagon train west, there weren't very many on my list of 300+ films which I had seen before, but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was one of those films. The journey began, in part, because of my love for this film. I don't want to overstate it, the film is one I had seen once and enjoyed a great deal. No, what I mean is that the Western genre was a blindspot for me, despite having seen a sampling of its greatest films and finding myself endlessly impressed, entertained, and intrigued by the genre's possibilities. So I decided to revisit the few films I had seen before as a way of putting them into context with the new films I was discovering. And while I entered this viewing of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with a four-star, masterpiece rating, the fact I exit with a lower appreciation for the film than before, does not mean it is not also one of the best in the marathon through nearly 50 films.

Fred Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is a down on his luck American who finds himself begging for meals in a town in Mexico when he comes across fellow American Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), who faces similar difficulties. Soon the pair find themselves swindled out of pay they worked hard for, but manage to strike up a conversation with an older, more eccentric American gentleman (Walter Huston) in the bar who claims he knows what it takes to strike it rich in gold by prospecting. Luckily having enough money to outfit themselves, the trio of strangers trek to the Sierra Madre mountains to make their fortune, only to find the difficulties that come between men when money is involved. They will be lucky to get out of the mountains with their hard earned money, let alone with their friendship or even their lives.

Despite holding it in high regard, I had very little recollection of the specific details of this film, other than knowing it was about prospecting for gold. I have often been curious about the US gold rush of 1849, and yet, there doesn't seem to be any films about it. There is Chaplin's The Gold Rush, which focuses on the rush to Yukon Territory, and there is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which deals with men seeking gold in Mexico. I suppose that will have to suffice (but seriously, someone make a great Gold Rush movie. I would watch the hell out of it!). That subject matter is so fascinating for many reasons, reasons which are highlighted in John Huston's film here. Principle among them are greed. The character of Dobbs and the performance of Bogart in the role are wonderfully demented. Following his cursed journey is a wonderful psychological trainwreck.

The trio carries the film, with few other characters. Bogart is perhaps best among them, and his character takes much of the focus, but this is an ensemble. Walter Huston, who won the Oscar for Supporting Actor for this performance is a wonderful balance between comic relief and moral voice. I was a little more than annoyed by his fast paced mumble, which was often hard to translate, but he gives an otherwise great performance. Tim Holt is the nothing of the three, seeming more like a passenger and a mediator between Dobbs and Howard. But as I said, focus on the demented performance and character arc of Bogart/Dobbs. His performance here is like a warm up for In a Lonely Place, where Bogey reaches peek rage.

But money does strange things to people. Dobbs goes from a man begging for money on the street to a man not knowing when enough is enough, a man who can't trust anyone because his paranoia won't allow it. His vices do him in, meanwhile the film ends with Bob and Howard laughing hysterically after discovering their gold dust has blown away with the wind. Perspective goes a long way in defining a man and his actions. We don't get much on Dobbs before we find him begging on the street, but one can only assume what led him to that point in his life. Meanwhile Howard for example talks of being rich and poor in alternating epochs in his life with no regrets.

Bogart's performance is central to this film's success, but Huston's turn matches him ying to yang, black to white, dark to light. Huston's camera is also on strong display here, but the dichotomy between Dobbs and Howard is everything. Man is this film entertaining. It just flows so nicely from start to finish, featuring a strong story and strong performances from the whole cast.

★★★ 1/2 - Great
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Corndog

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #262 on: February 09, 2018, 12:45:29 PM »
Glad to ride alongside you again with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. That's in my Top 150. Something to consider when you write about it. For many, the Oscar-winning performance by Walter Huston is the one and only time they've seen him. This will be your 5th film with him this Marathon, so you can contrast his work with the persona created in his previous films. (Many mix this work in with the typical Walter Brennan western performance.)

I would say Huston's performance is very much on par with Walter Brennan and his best. It's odd to see Huston again. He doesn't stick out too much in any other role I've seen him in. The only one I can easily remember without referencing it in Law and Order, a film we differed on some. To compare what I remember of that performance to this one is night and day. I remember him as wooden and unexciting. Here he is very animated, which works very well to chew up scenery (in a good way). Still don't appreciate the auctioneer mumbling.
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1SO

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #263 on: February 09, 2018, 03:10:49 PM »
You have one more Walter Huston film coming up and in it he locks horns with Barbara Stanwyck. Something to look forward to.

Sierra Madre is one where I understand it being called a Western, but I see it as more of an Adventure. You could move the film into the Amazon jungle and change very little. It was once in my Top 100, but what I like about the script is also what I don't like. The set-up is like a lengthy preamble, which builds a lot of the characters and their desperate situation. There's the begging for food (from the film's director) and the job where they work hard and get hustled. It's awhile before they get to the prospecting. The section is wonderfully written and there's a nice build to it, but it's why I don't rewatch the film so much. The story doesn't really begin until Walter Huston enters.

I wish I could think of who would be better in the Tim Holt role. He's not a bad actor, just outclassed on both sides by two legends doing some of their best work.

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #264 on: February 16, 2018, 02:09:50 PM »
Fort Apache (John Ford, 1948)

Hard to believe (or is it?) that this is already the fifth John Ford film in my Westerns marathon, though the man, the master was notoriously prolific, so perhaps it should be surprising that Fort Apache is merely his fifth. John Ford truly is a master, and reason to get excited anytime one of his films comes along in this marathon (I even get the pleasure of another just around the corner with 3 Godfathers). His successes have helped define the genre, from top to bottom. Thus far I have posted favorable reviews of The Iron Horse, 3 Bad Men, Stagecoach, and My Darling Clementine, with a few of those likely to end my westward trek on my list of essentials for the genre. So what might the master hold in store for me this time out, with the aid of Henry Fonda, John Wayne and Shirley Temple?

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) has just been transferred to Fort Apache, in no man's land Arizona, a post he begrudgingly accepts with no other offers on the table. Hoping to move along to greener pastures in the US Army, Thursday believes himself above the post, but still hopes to whip his soldiers into shape and confront the pesky Apache Nation, which seems to want to do anything but accept the terms of their US treaty. Bringing along his daughter, Philadelphia (Shirley Temple), Thursday butts heads with Capt. York (John Wayne) and Sgt. Maj. O'Rourke (Ward Bond), whose son (John Agar) is actually a higher ranked officer fresh out of West Point, who despite treating the military as Thursday expects from his officers, comes at odds with the Col. due to a budding romance with his daughter. Soon though, Thursday's ambition and disregard for the prowess of the Apache comes to a head.

It'd be too easy to simply say this is a film which works because John Ford is afforded the opportunity to work with the likes of Fonda, Wayne, Temple, et al., and while part of that is true, it would be a disservice to what Ford is doing here. Before we get to that though, Fonda, Wayne, Temple, et al.! Seriously, they all give such great performance, especially Fonda and Temple. Wayne feels somehow marginalized in this film, appearing only on the sidelines and when called upon. But Fonda on the other hand shines as an anti-hero. Not quite a villain, he means well, but his ambitions are ill-fated and misdirected. Temple is the real surprise here, having never seen her appear in an "adult" role. She is doe-eyed and charming as the wonderfully named Philadelphia. What a shame that we didn't get to see what kind of career she could have crafted had she stuck to acting.

But as good as the actors are, John Ford is the central force in this film which propels it above just another western and makes it an exciting adventure and tale of folly. Nobody can quite shoot western action like John Ford. The sprinting of horses and beautiful backdrop of Monument Valley allows for an unmatched canvas on which this film can unfold. But with Ford it is always so much more than just the visuals and action flare. His narrative prowess allows plenty of time for the characters to develop, perhaps a slight fault in Fort Apache, which elevates the stakes to untold heights when it comes time for the action to crescendo, as it does here in the final act.

But at its core, this is a film about the arrogance of man, the misstep of underestimating your enemy and failing to give them the respect they might be due. In a marathon full of US Army v. Indian confrontations, it is interesting to chart how these films treat the Native American people. In some early films, there is clearly racism. Even in some of the later films there is an air of superiority between the two. In Fort Apache, Thursday represents the government which underestimates and disrespects the birth rite and natural gifts on the Indians, while York, who has been stationed there for some time, has come to respect them, appreciate them for what they are, albeit different. Ford's treatment of this is to demonize Thursday, to show his hubris and arrogance in a decidedly negative light. This treatment is most assuredly a strength of the film.

I will say that the film feels lengthy, with little to no action for the best part of the film before the aforementioned final act. All of this serves to better suit that sequence, but it doesn't make it any more exciting or particularly intriguing to watch. In retrospect, I appreciate those moments more and more, despite the oftentimes awkward humor which I just can't fully get on board with it seems. It is hard to call the slow pace of the film its greatest fault, but it is. For even in these moments we get the quaint courtship of Philadelphia and O'Rourke, the interplay among soldiers, the look into the life of a soldier's wife (or in this case daughter). These are the moments which keep the film alive, and make Ford one of the most fascinating and capable American film director, especially within this genre where he is able to pair that insight with the thrilling sequences which come at the end of the film, the flashier sequences he is most well known for. Don't sell the man short though, he is a complete filmmaker.

★★★ - Very Good
« Last Edit: February 16, 2018, 02:11:57 PM by Corndog »
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1SO

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #265 on: February 16, 2018, 09:56:59 PM »
Hard to believe (or is it?) that this is already the fifth John Ford film in my Westerns marathon, though the man, the master was notoriously prolific, so perhaps it should be surprising that Fort Apache is merely his fifth. John Ford truly is a master, and reason to get excited anytime one of his films comes along in this marathon
With my own Marathons I've noticed a case of perspective. When I Marathon a Director, I end up comparing the films to the director's other work, which creates a more critical focus. When I Marathon a Genre, a master filmmaker looks good compared to the other directors even if it isn't that master's best work. For example, with Horror I'm not a fan of Dario Argento, but compared to other Giallo filmmakers he's a master.

There's an interesting chemistry between Wayne and Fonda. I've seen them both in Westerns and both in Westerns directed by Ford, but Fonda takes an underwritten part and carves out a nice space for himself, ends up quietly stealing the movie without appearing to take any of the spotlight off of the John Ford ensemble.

Do you have any comment about John Ford's use of songs. I don't think this has been brought up yet, but it's been an (dare I say) intrusive part of Stagecoach and Clementine. I don't think this is the one that drove me crazy with too many cowboy songs, but it's something he uses to great effect once or twice in a film, but destroys the pacing when he turns the film into a cowboy musical with Barbershop Quartet songs like "Sweet Genevieve" or Rio Grande, which I believe features a lot of sons by Sons of the Pioneers.

Sandy's review convinced me this is one of John Ford's best looking movies.


While I'm taking detours, let's talk about Hank Worden (on the far left), because spotting him in these films is more fun than a Hitchcock cameo. His biggest role by far is as Mose in The Searchers, but he's in over 100 Westerns including 7 for John Ford and 17 with John Wayne. In Fort Apache he's the new recruit who shows everyone else how to ride a horse without a saddle, and his brief appearances get to be a real treat.


In a marathon full of US Army v. Indian confrontations, it is interesting to chart how these films treat the Native American people. In some early films, there is clearly racism. Even in some of the later films there is an air of superiority between the two. In Fort Apache, Thursday represents the government which underestimates and disrespects the birth rite and natural gifts on the Indians, while York, who has been stationed there for some time, has come to respect them, appreciate them for what they are, albeit different. Ford's treatment of this is to demonize Thursday, to show his hubris and arrogance in a decidedly negative light. This treatment is most assuredly a strength of the film.
Ford is often dragged through the sagebrush for his racist depiction of Indians, but there is plenty of evidence to show the truth is far more complex. Really, I don't know what to think myself. His depiction of Indian relations varied depending on the needs of the story, so much so that they don't seem to come from a personal belief. However, it would be easy to say the genre favored demonizing Indians and Ford would try to subvert that when he could.

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #266 on: February 20, 2018, 12:11:22 PM »
Four Faces West (Alfred E. Green, 1948)

The joy of this marathon, when I can keep up with it, is watching these movies back-to-back-to-back, etc. etc., as it affords me the opportunity to compare and contrast these films to their contemporaries (another reason I like to marathon chronologically). I bring this point up as a point of comparison between this film, Four Faces West, and the previous film in the marathon, Fort Apache. Fort Apache was a film which fells more and more impressive the more I think about it, and especially after having seen Four Faces West. This may make the reader believe Four Faces West is a subpar entry in the western genre, quite the contrary. In fact, I enjoyed the film quite a bit for everything it does differently from many other films in the genre. But I must say the quality of the film and filmmaking is stark. Now, getting the chance to see Fort Apache on Blu Ray versus a second rate DVD release for Four Faces West may have something to do with it, especially after seeing the high quality screen captures of the latter, but John Ford is still operating on a different filmmaking level than his contemporaries, which includes Alfred E. Green.

Ross McEwen (Joel McCrea) is not your typical outlaw or bandit. No, he is simply down on his luck and in need of a $2,000 loan, a loan he takes by force with no collateral at a nearby bank at the same time the heralded lawman Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford) is being treated to a welcome festival across the street. After getting away with the cash, McEwen hops a train and meets up with a friendly nurse named Fay Hollister (played by McCrea's real life wife Frances Dee), who mend's McEwen's snakebit arm, and Monte Marquez (Joseph Calleia), who quickly learns of McEwen's secret, but decides to help him evade Garrett and his posse. But Garrett and his men eventually catch up with McEwen, and only then will the measure of the man be truly tested.

I found this film fascinating for more than a couple of reasons. It is obviously a much smaller film than anything John Ford might do, but the West needs small stories too, and sometimes the smaller the more interesting. By containing such a small story to this film, Green is able to make a rather taut and efficient film, which runs just under the 90 minute mark. But the narrative on display here is also unique in that McEwen is a lovable outlaw. There has been some mild outlaw worship thus far in the marathon, perhaps most notably Angel and the Badman and The Outlaw, but this is also different than that because, well, is McEwen even that bad of a man. Sure he "robbed" $2,000, but he took it as a loan. What were his motivations? Why is he planning on repaying? Why couldn't he swing a real loan? Is it his lack of collateral? All signs point to McEwen being a good, reasonable man who wants to work hard and earn an honest living, he just needed a bit of a jump start on the process.

Unique too, and perhaps just as unexplained, are Monte Marquez's motivations for helping McEwen. Joseph Calleia turns in one of my favorite supporting performances of the marathon thus far as Marquez. I can't put my finger on his performance, or his motivations, but Calleia turns in a warm and welcoming performance, which somehow reminds me a bit of Clark Gable with his charm. I think what held be back most were those motivations, of both Marquez and McEwen. Otherwise, this was a small film which captured my attention easily from start to finish. Those mysteries surrounding their pasts are never revealed, and perhaps some might think the film better that way, but I kept anticipating, watching the film to figure it out, and to be left with nothing other than McEwen stole the money because he wanted to steal it and Marquez helped hide his secret because he wanted to hide it just felt a little off to me. Still, it makes the film no less entertaining to watch, and would perhaps motivate me to revisit it at some point to delve even deeper into these two men.

While it would be easy to say I wish every film was as big and important as Stagecoach, or My Darling Clementine, or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, what makes both this marathon and the Western genre so magnificent is small films like Four Faces West, little films which work as vehicles for smaller stars like Joel McCrea and character actors like Joseph Calleia. They add the type of color to the genre that is necessary for it to remain fresh and not some regurgitation of the same 7 stories over and over and over again, just with different names, or different actors, or even the same actors but at varying stages of their careers. Four Faces West will not likely make my essentials list when this marathon is complete, but it is one that perhaps I should consider, as it would be a deep cut I would recommend to any fan of the genre.

★★★ - Good
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1SO

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #267 on: February 20, 2018, 12:44:51 PM »
Do you remember how FFW ended up on your list? I don't think this came from me though I think it's Okay and it's going to be interesting watching you track Joel McCrea in Westerns as this goes on. (He doesn't get mentioned as much as John Wayne or Gary Cooper and his films haven't endured, but he definitely put his brand on the genre.)


The joy of this marathon, when I can keep up with it, is watching these movies back-to-back-to-back, etc. etc., as it affords me the opportunity to compare and contrast these films to their contemporaries
I'm wondering if you're also setting up your upcoming Red River review. Charles Bickford's Pat Garrett could be compared to Wayne in River. Someone so driven it wouldn't have been too hard to push the character into single-minded obsession, but Bickford wisely stops just short, creating a character with more going on behind the words.


My favorite performance in the film is also Calleia. I love the way he quickly learns what's going on and plays along for his own benefit without ever directly confronting McCrea.


Four Faces West will not likely make my essentials list when this marathon is complete, but it is one that perhaps I should consider, as it would be a deep cut I would recommend to any fan of the genre.
In my own review I said "this has some fine Western basics for genre tenderfoots and enough original moments for leathered cow punchers." Sounds about the same.

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Re: Westerns
« Reply #268 on: February 20, 2018, 01:14:13 PM »
I'm not sure how it ended up there. I wondered whether you had even seen the film since it is not logged on Letterboxd. Here I thought I was going to have one up on you, something to recommend to you. How naive of me!

I imagine it was one some other list I consulted. I went though a number of westerns lists and basically added everything on them, so it could have come from any number of sources.
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Re: Westerns
« Reply #269 on: February 20, 2018, 02:29:37 PM »
Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)

This 300+ film marathon has two motives. One was a way to get to all the Western classics I had missed for all these years, while the other was to explore the genre at a deep, deep level, covering more than just the classics. Red River is considered a classic of the genre, so it would fall into that first category. I could have just as easily watched the "greatest hits" first and then moved on to the deeper cuts of the genre, but being able to see the large with the small, the great with the not so great is a good way as any to better understand the genre and the dynamics which make it one of the more American-specific representations of filmmaking (though we will get to the Italian spaghetti westerns in due time). So I'm supposed to love Red River, revere it, hold it up as a western classic. I know I am only 50 films into the marathon, with a few more later on the trail that I'd seen previously, but I came away from this viewing with a different opinion than I was supposed to.

Dunson (John Wayne) is am ambitious frontiersman who decides to break away from his wagon train with his good friend Groot (Walter Brennan) and head south to Texas to build his cattle empire, even as that means leaving his loving lady. As they approach the Red River, they realize the wagon train has been raided by Indians, who massacred everyone, except a shook young man named Garth (Montgomery Clift), who joins up with Dunson and Groot. Making their way south into Texas, the trio stakes their claim to a vast stretch of land. Over the years, they build their cattle ranch empire. Now the time has come to drive their beef to market in Missouri, but Dunson soon exercises his powers past their welcome, causing unrest among the cowboys, including Garth who is now grown. Can they make the long journey to the railway and survive their differences?

John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, and Walter Brennan are awesome. Howard Hawks is awesome. But Red River seems like less than the sum of its parts. It's a good, solid western, that much I will not refute. I enjoyed the film while watching it. However, nothing about it really screamed "classic" to me, and perhaps those expectations hampered my experience slightly, but the point remains that I found Red River to be a good, enjoyable western, but not a great one. It's director Howard Hawks' first foray into the genre, and he will appear again later on down the line with other revered films like Rio Bravo, and perhaps I will have better luck with those films, perhaps Howard Hawks will have something more to offer. The cattle drive story has potential to be compelling, and even the character dynamics which lead to the rifts on the drive are compelling, but I found the characters themselves to be lacking.

Dunson, our hero turned fallen hero brings no sympathy from me. He was always a hardened, heartless man and nothing changes in his arc. Bringing on the young and promising Garth is nice, but Dunson attempts to bend him to his will, a point that Garth later pushes back against. Their relationship, that of a father/son dynamic, doesn't ever seem manufactured or insignificant, and the changing of the guard can be seen as both noble and a long time coming, but that doesn't change the fact that Dunson is a bad man, a man who dares to bury a man and then read from the Bible over him. There is nothing righteous about his ways. Which brings me to Groot, the loyal sidekick who has been with Dunson since they left the wagon train. Why? What are Groots origins and his motivations? Why does he cling to Dunson, because he never had to courage to stand up to him, as Garth eventually does?

The performances as are good, especially Clift, who I wish was in more of the upcoming films on my list. And the film has good production values. Even the concept is compelling to me, as we have not truly explored what it takes to undertake a cattle drive from Texas to Missouri. The hurdles these men must jump, the incidents they encounter, and especially the undue stress placed upon them by Dunson is all real world drama, and Hawks handles the elements very well. And yet I failed to connect to the narrative at the core of the film, the relationship dynamics between Dunson, Garth and Groot, the changing of the guard from old man to young man. The film resolves itself in a very quick and tidy endings, so I will do the same with my review:

Red River is a good, enjoyable western, one with much promise, but also one which doesn't quite live up to its lofty reputation. I hate framing good movies in a negative sounding light, but there you have it.

★★★ - Good

P.S. I have now reached a milestone for this marathon: 50 films down!
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