Ride the High Country (1962)
In this beautiful and poignant story, two old lawmen take on one last job, bringing the gold down from a mining camp in the California mountains. Along the way, they pick up an unhappy young woman who thinks her happiness can be obtained my marrying a good-looking miner she had once met. When the miner is less than a prince, they must get both the girl and the gold back to town safely. The cinematography is matchless and the acting by two western veterans, Joel McCrae and Randolph Scott, was never better. Directed by Sam Peckinpah who later directed the ultraviolent western classic The Wild Bunch.
Check out the original New York Times review; read a recent review on the Western Wednesdays column of The Flick Cast; and visit TCM’s website to watch a movie clip, watch a trailer, or view photos.
My Darling Clementine (1946)
This is one of the best, although probably not the most accurate, movies about Jesse James and the OK Corral. Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) rides into town with his brothers, meets a hard drinking Doc Holliday, almost immediately gets on the wrong side of the Clantons and shyly woos a young lady. John Ford directed this beautifully filmed black and white movie. My favorite scene is when Fonda dances with his lady love against the background of the wide open western sky. With Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, and Walter Brennan. I have a fond memory of a MASH episode where the doctors and nurses watch My Darling Clementine and the old film keeps breaking and needs to be spliced.
Breakheart Pass (1975) PG
Starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, and Ben Johnson, Breakheart Pass is a combination of mystery and action and is set in the old West. It was adapted from an Alistair MacLean novel. Many of his titles have been adapted for film – The Guns of Navarone, Force 10 from Navarone, and Where Eagles Dare are among the most famous.
A crowded troop train is on its way to Fort Humboldt to relieve the fort. At a brief stopover, two of three officers on the train mysteriously disappear and the train acquires two new passengers, John Deakin (Bronson) an accused murderer and arsonist and in the custody of marshal Pearce (Johnson). Along the way, more people disappear or die mysteriously. Who is the killer and why are people being murdered?
I think this is one of Bronson’s best films and one of the best murder mysteries I have ever seen. (Do not read the back of DVD because you will the find the film more enjoyable and the mystery more difficult to solve.)
The photography in this film is beautiful and the film score gives the feeling of a moving train. The film may also interest sports buffs as Archie Moore (former light heavyweight champion), Doug Atkins (former Chicago Bear), and Joe Kapp (former Minnesota Viking) all have supporting roles – and all three performed well in this film.
If you like mysteries or westerns, you will enjoy this film.
Spotlight: Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry, author of 29 novels, has also written more than 30 screenplays. Predominantly set in the American Southwest, McMurtry’s works are as much about the place as about the people who live there. The TV miniseries Lonesome Dove (1989) is McMurtry’s epic tale of a cattle drive full of action and unforgettable characters; the book won him the Pulitzer Prize. The story follows two longtime friends and former Texas Rangers, Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae (Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall) at the end of the 1800s. Their lives as cattle ranchers along the Rio Grande have lost the excitement of their younger lawman days so they set off on a long and difficult cattle drive to Montana.
At his best when he thoroughly removes romanticism of the American West, McMurtry’s immense talent takes the myth out of the cowboy legend. His ability to create believable and lovable characters, no matter what the setting, may be the reason his movies are so successful. And McMurtry’s explanation of this phenomenon? “I can write characters that major actors want to play, and that’s how movies get made.”
He is perhaps best known for the film adaptations of his work, especially Hud (1963) (from the novel Horseman, Pass By), starring Paul Newman and Patricia Neal; the Peter Bogdanovich directed The Last Picture Show (1971); and James L. Brooks’s Terms of Endearment (1983), which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture (1984).
In 2006, he was co-winner (with Diana Ossana) of both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for the screenplay of Brokeback Mountain (2005).
The Sheepman (1958)
This 1958 comedy western stars Glenn Ford and Shirley MacLaine. There are a lot of funny moments in this film. In one scene, Ford tells Edgar Buchanan that he is looking for a man who is completely without honor, a man who is willing to sell out anybody and everybody for as little as fifty cents. Buchanan tries to look offended but when Ford starts to walk away, Buchanan says, “My price for that sort of thing starts at least a dollar.”
The story is pretty familiar to western fans but the first 15 minutes are full of surprises. (Do not read the back of the DVD case or you will spoil the surprise.) The chemistry between Ford and MacLaine is delightful. The photography in this film is beautiful and the musical score is both tender and heartwarming. If you like westerns with a bit of romance and a lot of laughs, this movie is for you.
Union Pacific (1939)
This epic starring Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck, and Robert Preston tells the story of the building of the Union Pacific railroad which met the Central Pacific in Promontory, Utah, in 1869. There is plenty of hard-hitting action and some very impressive special effects (which garnered the film an Academy Award nomination). McCrea is the troubleshooter for Union Pacific and sees to it the company succeeds despite the efforts of Preston and his cohorts to sabotage the railroad.
It’s also a romantic triangle between McCrea, Stanwyck, and Preston. Preston loves Stanwyck but she loves McCrea. However, she agrees to marry Preston to save McCrea’s life.
Union Pacific is not the best movie I ever saw, but I enjoyed it more than any other movie I’ve seen this year. Somehow this movie has been overlooked, probably because it came out in 1939, which is certainly the most celebrated year in American film history.
Check back on Friday for a more about the movies of 1939.
Paul Newman perfected the role of the anti-hero. In Hombre, Newman plays a white man who had been raised by the Apache Indians and adopted their way of life. When John ‘Hombre’ Russell unexpectedly inherits a lodging-house, he sells it and heads to Bisbee, Arizona. He joins a party on a stagecoach – travelers who are incapable of protecting themselves or coping with the Western badlands. He becomes the natural leader of the group in its survival against a robber band headed by Richard Boone. In doing so, he becomes the hero, the guy who can handle things and defend the weak.
This could just be the best western ever made! Critics praise the performance of Newman and the writing of Elmore Leonard. All of the performances are excellent, making it an intelligent and important entry to the Western genre. It gets better with time, and the message is universal brotherhood.
Rawhide: Season 2 (1959-1960)
Somehow I missed this exciting western when it was on television in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I am glad that I did, since I now have a new western television series to watch.
This TV series is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Eric Fleming brought a lot to this series, as did his young costar Clint Eastwood, along with a very able supporting cast. Some of the stories are very fresh and creative, and even the more traditional plots are done very well. Season 2 (32 episodes) has a surprising number of stories dealing with the supernatural, with almost a Twilight Zone feel. Some of the villains are females and they are very good at being very bad.