Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A week of western films

This Tuesday, a festival of western movies for Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

With my home computers giving trouble I was pretty much off blogging last week. The break gave me a chance to do what I rarely do nowadays—watch western films. I saw six in all, one for each day of the week, well almost. These were Hour of the Gun (1967), Three Men from Texas (1940), The Five Man Army (1969), The Hills Run Red (1966), The Magnificent Seven (1998), and Unforgiven (1992).

The Magnificent Seven is actually a television series that ran from 1998 through 2000. It starred Michael Biehn, Ron Perlman, and Eric Close. I saw the first episode of the first season the theme of which was the same as the 1960 John Sturges classic. It’s worth a look.

For now, I’ll give you my impressions of the initial three movies.


Hour of the Gun is a very well made film about Wyatt Earp (James Garner) and Doc Holliday (Jason Robards) who take on crooked rancher Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan) and his hired guns. In spite of his stature, Ryan doesn't have much of a role, somewhat like his cameo in The Dirty Dozen. It's Garner and Robards all the way.

After Tombstone (1993) this was only the second Wyatt Earp movie I saw. Garner and Robards are vengeful but milder versions of Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer although the end result is the same. One of the things that struck me about Hour of the Gun was the differences between Garner and Robards over how to fight Clanton. It’s all very quiet and never heated. But Robards, in spite of his alcohol-induced ill-health, stays close to his friend often at risk to his life.


While the gunfights in Hour of the Gun are nowhere as loud and violent as in Tombstone, the two versions made by John Sturges and George P. Cosmatos respectively are mirror images in many ways. Garner, 86, is quiet and unsmiling and rather daunting on screen. In my opinion both films are a classic.

Next up was Three Men from Texas directed by Lesley Selander. Renamed as Ranger Guns West, the film is one of many adaptations of stories based on Hopalong Cassidy, the fictional cowboy created by American author Clarence E. Mulford.

Cassidy, once again played by William Boyd, is a clean-shaven and mild-mannered Texas Ranger who refuses to take up an assignment to rid a California town of a bunch of outlaws because he is nearing retirement. Instead, his partner, the impulsive Lucky Jenkins (Russell Hayden), goes in his place and soon finds out that he has bitten more than he can chew. Fortunately, a crooked trail that Cassidy is following takes him to the lawless town where he finally teams up with Lucky and the cowardly buffoon California Carlson (Andy Clyde), and some bandits led by Pico Serrano (Thornton Edwards), to restore law and order.


Andy Clyde stands out with his noisy act in this limited action western film.

I saw The Five Man Army in my school days and haven’t forgotten it since. Big man Bud Spencer (born Carlo Pedersoli) remains a favourite comedian along with his Italian compatriot Terence Hill (Mario Girotti). Together, Bud Spencer and Terence Hill made several comedy films including spaghetti westerns—one used his fist, the other his brain, and all hell broke loose.

Terence Hill does not star in this Italian production made by Don Taylor and Italo Zingarelli. Instead, with Mesito (Bud Spencer) are Dutchman (Peter Graves) who hires him and three other men he knows equally well—Capt. Nicolas Augustus (James Daly), Samurai (Tetsurô Tanba), and Luis Dominguez (Nino Castelnuovo)—to rob a train.

Each of the men has a specialised skill: Graves (planning and plotting), Spencer (fists), Daly (dynamites), Samurai (knives and swords), and Luis (guns).


The Five Man Army is set during the Mexican Revolution. Dutchman leads his ragtag team on an ambush of a heavily-armed train carrying $500,000 in gold that belongs to the Mexican army. In return, he promises his men $1,000 each as reward. Once the gold-laden coach is successfully diverted, the men want more than their promised share, but Dutchman turns the tables and says the gold is to be used to buy arms and ammunition for the revolutionaries. The four men are taken aback and accuse him of betrayal. Dutchman then reveals that although he is a white man he supports the cause because his wife, a Mexican peasant, was killed by soldiers.

The Five Man Army may not hold up today because it lacks the technical superiority of latter-day westerns and the plot is so weak as to seem implausible. The armed soldiers fall like nine pins and the men take over the canon-secured train quite effortlessly. That said, there is a lot of action and comic moment in this spaghetti western that many consider a cult film. For me the key highlights are the music by Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and, of course, the irrepressible Bud Spencer. 


However, watching Bud Spencer without his lifelong friend and co-star Terence Hill beside him is like watching Oliver Hardy without Stan Laurel, or vice versa.

18 comments:

  1. Didn't know there was a TV series of TMS. Love UNFORGIVEN.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patti, I didn't know either. This was the first time I saw UNFORGIVEN.

      Delete
  2. Two televisions series of MAG 7, no less. One on CBS, featuring a much older Robert Vaughn than had been in the film, and a sequel series in original syndication in the US, TMS: THE OUTLAW YEARS.

    Some nice choices, Prashant!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Todd, thank you. I'd a lot of time on my hands. I'm looking at some vintage serials and films that I can legally download and watch as and when I can. I'm spoilt for choice.

      Delete
    2. Nope, I'm wrong! THE OUTLAW YEARS was a sequel series to LONESOME DOVE...though it's somewhat more cartoonish in several (but not all) ways than UNFORGIVEN, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD is another tribute to Leone westerns particularly that has Gene Hackman playing a very similar character, and I think it makes a fine companion to the Eastwood tribute.

      Delete
    3. Todd, I haven't seen either and will try and watch them online. I agree, Gene Hackman's character in UNFORGIVEN is a lot like his character in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, which I saw many years ago. Over the years I've come to expect a certain kind of acting skill from Hackman, as evident in his other serious and tough-character roles in THE FRENCH CONNECTION and MISSISSIPPI BURNING.

      Delete
  3. I've seen Five man Army many years ago. I do remember it being terribly implausible but rather enjoyable anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Charles, THE FIVE MAN ARMY was a riot. Everything happens so fast that you wonder if the director worked with a script at all.

      Delete
  4. I used to watch westerns devotedly many MANY years ago, Prashant. If it wasn't CHEYENNE, MAVERICK, THE RIFLEMAN, THE REBEL, LAWMAN, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, GUNSMOKE, WAGON TRAIN and on and on and on, it was westerns at the movies. As a kid I loved the Saturday Matinee western serials.

    My favorite western movies over time, I suppose, were THE BIG COUNTRY, followed by THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE SEARCHERS. I never saw the movies you're talking about today, though I may have and simply forgot. (I saw SO many.) Still, I enjoyed your post as it reminded me of pleasant days spent at the movies enthralled by horses and handsome, mostly swarthy actors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yvette, I could watch westerns forever. I love this genre of films. Yet, I haven't seen any of the movies you mentioned which shows just how vast this genre is. I have seen THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN many times and my pick of the seven would be the late Horst Buchholz who, I think, is a forgotten actor today. He's one of three who survives and decides to stay back in the village with his lady love.

      Delete
    2. I remember Horst vividly from this movie, Prashant. But I must say that Yul is the THE one for me. :)

      Delete
    3. Yvette, there's no doubt about Yul Bryner. In fact, most Indians who've seen THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN remember it on account of Bryner. There's a Buchholz-like character in the remake I mentioned.

      Delete
  5. Hour of the Gun sounds good. James Garner is a favorite and Jason Robards and Robert Ryan are good too. We have not watched Unforgiven in a long time. Sounds like a good week entertainment-wise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tracy, it was a good week and I hope to have many more which will have to be at the expense of reading. HOUR OF THE GUN is worth seeing as much for the tightly-woven script as for the acting of Garner and Robards.

      Delete
  6. Good group of westerns there. I liked Hour of the Gun. And I'm curious about the mag 7 remake.There are some very affecting scenes in Unforgiven.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ron, thank you. I liked HOUR OF THE GUN too. It is prompting me to watch Garner and Robards in other movies, especially since I hardly remember them even in the ones I've seen. Re. UNFORGIVEN, Eastwood really comes into his own towards the end, after he learns that his friend has been murdered. I also liked the part where Eastwood keeps falling off his horse.

      Delete
  7. UNFORGIVEN is fantastic. I've not seen any of the others though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Col, I agree, and some day I hope to watch it again. UNFORGIVEN also appealed to me because of the many scenes that were shot in the dark. I recommend HOUR OF THE GUN.

      Delete