1960s, actors, movies, westerns

Burt Lancaster: A Pair of Westerns

Burt, Claudia, Lee, Robert Ryan, Woody Stole

As I grazed on a bowl of chocolate-dipped pretzels last night, it occurred to me that the movie I watched had much the same texture and flavor. The Professionals (1966) was directed by Richard Brooks. Filmed in technicolor against the crunchy backdrop of Death Valley, California, Lee Marvin, and Jack Palance were the salty bits while Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale were the sweet chocolate glaze. Who doesn’t like salty-sweet combinations? I think Brooks knew his audience and gave them what they wanted. I know I enjoyed watching Burt Lancaster scale up the side of a cliff with a rope and no stuntman and snappy one-liners like this one:

Rico (Lee Marvin): So what else is on your mind besides hundred-proof women, ‘n’ ninety-proof whiskey, ‘n’ fourteen-carat gold?

Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster) Amigo, you just wrote my epitaph!

The film received Academy attention for Best Direction and Screenplay (Richard Brooks), and Best Cinematography (Conrad L. Hall). The story is about a rich Texan who hires three talented mercenary misfits to rescue his beautiful wife from the Mexican bandit Jesus Raz (Jack Palance). The problem arises when the rescuers realize Mrs. Grant (Claudia Cardinale) wasn’t kidnapped by Razu, but running away from her Texan husband (Ralph Bellamy). 4/5
An easy-breezy film that triggered a memory from my youth when male relatives watched and chuckled on late Sunday morning while waiting for the football game to start.

Ulzana’s Raid (1972) is a serious tale starring an older Burt Lancaster, Richard Jaeckel, Bruce Davison and Joaquin Martinez. It is set in the late 1800s and filmed at the Arizona/Mexico border. The terrain is hard and unforgiving but there’s no sweet glaze this time to balance out the harshness of Apache savageries like gang rape, brutal killing, and torture. Burt keeps his feet on the ground and isn’t supplying witty one-liners. Instead, he’s the mentor to a young Lieutenant who grapples with preconceptions of Apache way-of-life, hatred for them, and aspiring to be an effective commander. Ulzana (Joaquín Martínez) and his men escape from the reservation station and Lt. Garnett DeBuin (Bruce Davison) is assigned to bring them in. Director Robert Aldrich takes Alan Sharp‘s script and creates a memorable film. The character Ke-ni-tay (Jorge Luke) is stuck in the middle as the soldier scout who tries to explain to Lt. DeBuin the Apache man needs the power, the essence of a man to be strong. Living on the reservation makes men weak and goes against what Apache stands for. Ke-ni-tay was the most interesting character in the story. I would have preferred to see the plot pan-out through his perspective and know his backstory. However, the film is interesting enough except for the distracting, ill-matched score by Frank De Vol. For instance, after each horrific encounter between white settlers and the Apache, the music resumed with a happy, bouncing Magnificient Seven-ish theme. If you like your westerns with bite, you would enjoy Ulzana’s Raid. 4/5 Sorry, Burt, in this film you seemed tired and uninterested.

actors, Film Spotlight, movies

The Wild Bunch vs. The Man from Colorado

Every winter, I devote some time exploring a film star I know little about. This year, I’ve decided upon William Holden and began with two westerns, separated by twenty years of his career.

The Man from Colorado is a 1948 western-psychological drama film directed by Henry Levin and stars Glenn Ford and Ellen Drew.

I was surprised how much I liked the film. Two Civil War officers and friends return after the war to their hometown. The friendship sours as it becomes clear Colonel Devereaux (Ford) is mentally unstable and Capt. Stewart is tasked as watchdog with disastrous results. Glenn Ford’s hair is a symbol of the rage which threatens to overtake him. His nervous journal entries to himself about the beast within is right out of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Ford’s bulging eyes can’t keep up with the wild hair.

Del Stewart (Holden) has a crush on Carolyn (Drew) but loses her when she decides to marry Col. Owen Devereaux after he is appointed judge. Her role is one-dimensional and that’s unfortunate. Depicted as cooing and unaware her husband is a maniac, when she cries “Help, help!” there’s Stewart, and he steps in to save the day. The film needed a script that showed a better, complex love triangle. As it is, she’s a mere prop instead of a dynamic character. Despite the criticism, the climax is exciting and Holden and Ford are interesting to watch. PTSD affected every veteran in every war. This psychological dimension was unique for the genre. This is a film I would love to see as a remake; I think in the right hands, it could be as successful as 3:10 to Yuma (2007) starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

The Wild Bunch is a 1969 western drama directed by Sam Peckinpah. It has a cult following, admired for its quick-cut editing and varied use of slow and normal motion. I would not be surprised to learn Quentin Tarantino was influenced by the renegade director, Peckinpah, and “borrowed” Sam’s style for graphic violence and morally bankrupt, larger-than-life characters.

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The film opens prophetically and could be added to the discussion as one of the Best Opening Scenes . Ants take down and rip apart a scorpion. With morbid fascination, the children watch the scene like Roman citizens watching a gladiator dying in the Colosseum. And that pretty much describes the film. There’s no plot. Just aging outlaws who try for the last time to steal enough money to retire from their professions as robbers and outlaws. William Holden was the leader of the nine man band with Ernest Borgnine as his right-hand man.

the-wild-bunch-movie-poster

I was surprised how little I liked the film. Other than the editing and the opening scene, and the show down, I couldn’t get into it. Nihilistic stories show nothing redeemable about human nature. If life is meaningless and society useless, if there’s no point to anything, if resistance is futile, it’s hard to “like” a story when all characters are devoid of any likable trait like friendship, loyalty, or integrity. Nihilism is a drag. I saw no tenderheartedness under the gruff exterior. Losers condemned to death, anti-heroes banding together and going out with a bang–I’d rather watch The Dirty Dozen. 

What do you think about Holden’s performances here? Help me understand why I should like The Wild Bunch.