Seven Samurai (1954) – A Movie Review

Seven Samurai is arguably, director Akira Kurosawa’s most successful work.  It takes place in Japan in 1586 and tells the story of a peasant village that knows the local bandit army is going to rob them of their rice harvest in a few weeks.  They hatch the plan of hiring samurai to defend them from the bandits.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

They’re rebuffed by several samurai who feel that it is beneath their dignity to work for peasants.  Finally, they come upon a samurai who is in the act of saving a child from a thief who has taken him hostage.  The samurai named Kambei Shimada (played by Takashi Shimura) shaves his own head to disguise himself as a monk then during a ruse to get food to the child throws himself at the thief and overpowers and kills him.

After hearing the peasants’ plight, Shimada agrees to take on their war but insists he’ll need at least six more samurai to accomplish the feat.  The next section of the movie is the assembling of the team.  Each of the samurai chosen has distinctive characteristics.  One is an old comrade of Shimada’s (Shichirōji).  Another is a preternaturally skilled swordsman (Kyūzō).  Still another is a skilled archer and master strategist (Gorōbei).  One is a nobleman’s son (Katsushirō) trying to become a samurai.  Another (Heihachi) is a mediocre swordsman but has so much spirit that he becomes the glue that gives the team cohesion.  And finally, there is Kikuchiyo (played by Toshiro Mifune).  He was pretending to be a samurai but his story was laughably false.  The group mocks him and tells him to get lost but he trails them and eventually is accepted as a sort of mascot.  Eventually he shows his worth by the way he can control and organize the farmers into a defense force for the war.  Eventually the story comes out that he is an orphan of a peasant family that was murdered by bandits.

Shimada and Gorōbei lay out the plan for the defense of the town.  They order the peasants to build defensive fences out of timber and to flood some of the perimeter fields.  They also destroy some bridges that span the local river.  Shichirōji, Katsushirō and especially Kikuchiyo drill the peasants in the use of home-made bamboo spears and the tactics they’ll need to support the samurai in their defense against the bandits’ cavalry charges.

After catching a few scouts that show up on their perimeter a sortie is sent out against a fort that the bandits have about twenty miles from the town.  The raid is a success.  The bandit’s fort is burned down but Heihachi is struck by a musket shot and killed.

The next day the bandits attack in force.  For two days the samurai and their peasant troops steadily whittle down the bandits’ numbers through dividing up the cavalry charges and attacking the outnumbered stragglers.  But during one attack Gorōbei is killed.

Finally, the last day of the battle dawns and it is pouring rain.  The samurai let all the bandits into the town for a final pitched battle.  And the village forces are winning the day.  But the bandit chief hides out in the women’s building in the center of town with a musket.  He shoots down Kyūzō.  Kikuchiyo runs toward the building to revenge him.  The chief shoots him in the belly but Kikuchiyo manages to stab the chief to death before he also dies.  And the battle ends with all the bandits dead.

The next day while the villagers rejoice in their victory, Shimada, Shichirōji and Katsushirō walk past the graves of their fallen comrades and reflect that the victory was a pyrrhic one for them.  The real winners were the farmers whose lives can now go on undisturbed by bandits or samurai.

I’ve left out some subplots involving a love story between Katsushirō and a farmer’s daughter named Shino.  There’s also a farmer whose wife was kidnapped by the bandits and turned into a concubine who runs back into a burning building to avoid the wrath of her husband.  And a village elder who rather than abandoning his building to the bandits is killed along with his son and daughter in law.  But these are window dressing.  The story is the war and it is well told.  Now let’s get down to cases.  This is a three and a half hour, black and white movie in Japanese with subtitles.  Those things right there will be disqualifications for a very large subset of Americans.  But if you do not automatically reject such a film then I’m happy to say that “Seven Samurai” is quite a good adventure story.  Kurosawa based the concept of this film on American westerns.  This was black hat outlaws versus farmers and some white hat cowboys.  Think of the Earps versus the Clantons.  In fact, the story was remade as a western called the “Magnificent Seven.”  Of course, each of us has a limit on just how wide our comfort zone is for exotic stories but in my opinion Seven Samurai is well worth the trouble of some of the oddities.  The whining peasants are a little annoying and the pacing at some stages is on the slow side.  But I’ll highly recommend this movie for fans of adventure stories.

Ride the High Country (1962) – A Movie Review

“Ride the High Country” was a 1960s revisionist Western directed by Sam Peckinpah.  It stars Joel McCrea as Steve Judd an over the hill lawman who is taking on a job to guard a gold shipment from a mining town called Hornitos in the Sierra Nevada.  Judd hires his old partner Gil Westrum, played by Randolph Scott, and a young cowboy named Heck Longtree to help him guard the gold on the trip.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Along the way to Hornitos, they stay over at a farmhouse owned by Joshua Knudsen.  And we meet his daughter Elsa, played by a very young Mariette Hartley, who wants to run away from home to marry one of the miners in Hornitos named Billy Hammond against her father’s will.  After the men head out Elsa catches up to them and Judd allows her to ride with them out of concern that she might be attacked by wild animals in the wilderness.  Along the way we see Longtree flirting with Elsa.  But we also learn that Westrum and Longtree plan to steal the gold from Judd.

When they reach Hornitos, Elsa meets up with Billy and the rest of the Hammond brothers.  To say the least they are depraved animals.  Billy marries Elsa in the town bordello with the madame and prostitutes as bridal party.  When Billy passes out before the honeymoon two of the brothers attempt to rape her in the “bridal suite.”  Judd and Longtree hear her screams and rescue her from the Hammonds.  When Billy demands his wife back Westrum threatens the judge who married them to force him to claim that the marriage was illegitimate.

They leave Hornitos with Elsa in tow to bring her back to her father.  The next night Westrum and Longtree attempt to sneak out of camp at night with the gold.  But Judd catches them and takes them prisoner.  He binds their hands and declares that he will hand them over to the law when he delivers the gold.

The next day Billy Hammond and his brothers catch up with Judd and demand to have Elsa back.  Judd agrees to allow Longtree to have a gun and between them they kill two of the Hammonds.  The other Hammonds ride off and Judd and the rest of the company stop for the night.  Westrum escapes on horseback and returns to the scene of the gun battle and retrieves a pistol from one of the dead Hammonds.  Then he begins to follow Judd’s party.

When Judd and Longtree reach Elsa’s home they find her father dead on the ground and come under fire from the Hammonds who have set up an ambush.  Longtree is shot in the leg and Judd is hit in the belly.  But before the Hammonds can finish them off Westrum rides into the scene and tells Judd that he’s returned to help his old partner face off against the Hammonds.  A classic gun duel, with both sides walking toward each ensues and the three Hammonds riddle Judd with bullets but the two old lawmen manage to kill their three enemies in the fight.

Judd tells Westrum that he’s going to die but doesn’t want Longtree and Elsa to see him expire.  He tells Westrum to finish up the gold delivery and also says that he is satisfied that Westrum has come back to his duty and will do the right thing.  Then he dies and Westrum joins Longtree and Elsa to tend to Longtree’s wounds and finish the job.

Although this is supposed to be a modern Western with a blurred boundary between the good guys and the bad, for the most part McCrea and Scott are very close to the quintessential golden age cowboys.  Scott’s turn as a bad guy is shown to be not very deep seated as he comes back at the end to risk his life for his old friend.  There is a lot more realism in the depiction of how depraved the folks in the mining camp were as compared to a classic western.  But for the most part this film still stays pretty close to a classic western.  I’ll say that I quite enjoyed the movie and I recommend it for fans of traditional westerns.  It’s about halfway between the movies made in the ‘30s and ‘40s and the stuff you might see in the spaghetti westerns that Clint Eastwood starred in.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – A Movie Review

I saw this in the movies with a buddy of mine when I was a kid.  It was the first modern western I had seen.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid actually were outlaws at the tail end of the Old West.  Played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford respectively, this pair are still holed up in Wyoming in 1898, robbing trains with their “Hole in the Wall Gang.”  But Union Pacific head, E. H. Harriman gets tired of the gang robbing his trains so he hires the best trackers and lawmen in the country to find and kill Butch and Sundance.  The pair are chased across the Southwest until finally cornered by the posse they have to jump off a cliff into a raging torrent to escape.

Figuring out that they’ll never escape Harriman’s men they decide to head down to Bolivia to steal gold from the miners.  They start robbing banks and mine payrolls until finally they stir up so much trouble that the federal troops organize an ambush and at a small town they’re set upon by a large company of police.  And while they are pinned down a military troop arrives complete with a cannon.  The movie ends with the pair wounded and desperate charging out into a fusillade of lead to their apparent deaths.

This is a revisionist western of the type that came out in the sixties and seventies with anti-hero protagonists and questionable morals.  So, if you’re more of a traditionalist this type of movie might not be your cup of tea.  But in my opinion, this is a highly entertaining film.  Newman and Redford are the quintessential bickering friends.  Newman’s Butch comes up with the wild schemes and Redford’s Sundance reluctantly backs him and bails them out with his unbelievable shooting skill.  I recommend it for the action and for the buddy comedy.

How the West Was Won (1962) – A Movie Review

“How the West Was Won” is a Western extravaganza with enough Hollywood stars for five films.  It consists of five vignettes that are strung together out of the fortunes of a family from the East caught up in the settling of the western frontier.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Karl Malden is Zebulon Prescott, a farmer in New York State who becomes disgusted with his rocky unproductive land and sells it to go west with his wife Rebecca, (Agnes Moorehead) and two daughters Eve (Caroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds).  Along the way they meet fur trapper Linus Rawlings (Jimmy Stewart) who saves them from some nefarious river pirates led by Col. Jeb Hawkins (Walter Brennan) but finally Zebulon and Rebecca are killed going over the rapids on their raft and Rawlings reluctantly gives up his wandering ways to marry Eve and start a farm by the river.

In the next vignette, Lilith has become a show girl and does a song and dance act in St. Louis.  A messenger informs her that a former admirer has left her a gold mine in California.  She joins another woman Agatha Clegg (Thelma Ritter) in a wagon train headed west.

When gambler/fortune hunter Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) overhears her good fortune, he follows her to California.  At first reluctantly and then gratefully, after he saves her life during an Indian attack, Lilith partners with Cleve.

But when they get to California, they discover that Lilith’s gold mine is played out.  Cleve leaves Lilith in the lurch to pursue his gambler’s life.  She receives a proposal of marriage from wealthy rancher Roger Morgan (Robert Preston) but rejects him because she doesn’t want a conventional life as a wife and mother.  But when Cleve overhears Lilith singing on a river boat, he realizes that they will both be happiest if they marry and combine their two adventurous lives together into a partnership.  And they do.

In the next story the Civil War has begun.  To dramatize this we even have a brief look at Raymond Massey portraying Abraham Lincoln.  Eve’s son, Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard) wants to follow his father into battle on the side of the Union.  Eve tearfully says goodbye and Zeb is swept along by the tides of war.

During this episode he manages to save General Grant (Harry Morgan) and General Sherman (John Wayne) from a Confederate soldier who was trying to convince Zeb to desert.  After the war Zeb returns home to find that both his parents are dead.  He leaves the farm to his brother and heads west as a cavalry soldier.

In the next vignette Zeb is a cavalry officer tasked with helping the Union Pacific Railroad cross the Great Plains.  The ruthless railroad boss Mike King (Richard Widmark) is angering the Indian tribes by laying down the track through the Indian hunting grounds.  Zeb has help from buffalo hunter Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda), an old friend of his father.

They convince the Indians to accept the latest route but finally when settlers start filling up the area the Indians revolt and we watch as they stampede a herd of buffalo through the railroad worksite.  Disgusted with the railroad’ treachery, Zeb and Jethro leave for happier circumstances farther west.

In the last episode, we see Lilith as an old woman in San Francisco.  Cleve has died and an auction is proceeding to liquidate their estate to pay off debts.  All that will remain will be a ranch in Arizona that she hopes to retire to with her nephew Zeb Rawlings and his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) and children.

Zeb was a sheriff and while meeting his aunt at the train in Arizona he catches sight of an outlaw Charlie Grant (Eli Wallach) that Zeb put in prison years ago.  He figures out that Grant means to rob the train when the next gold shipment is aboard.  Zeb recruits his old friend Marshal Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb) to go with him to guard the train.

The train robbery scene involves Grant and eight or ten of his men boarding the train and battling Zeb and Lou as they fight them off with rifles and hand guns.  In the ensuing violence the train is battered to pieces and finally derails in catastrophic fashion but Zeb puts a final bullet in Charlie Grant.  Then he returns to take up a peaceful life as rancher with his family.

The movie ends with a panoramic view of California including Los Angeles freeways and the golden Gate Bridge with a stirring speech by the narrator (Spencer Tracy) about the epic adventure that was the taming of the west.

So, you get the picture.  This is an extravaganza.  They put every actor they had into it.  I’ve even left out a few other for the sake of brevity.  So, what do I think?  As far as spectacle, the scene of the raft on the rapids and the buffalo stampede are exciting and in the wide screen of a theater must have been fun for the audience.  Some of the landscapes are truly beautiful.  The plot is very straightforward.  It covers the various stages of the westward expansion of the United States with a personal story.  The performances vary from competent to perfunctory.  This isn’t high drama.  I would restrict my recommendation to saying if you’re in the mood for an epic western movie (and you have three hours to spare) this movie would be fine.

The Westerner (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this western story Gary Cooper is Cole Harden a drifter passing through Vinegarroon, Texas on his way to California.  But Vinegarroon is the home of “Judge” Roy Bean, the only law west of the Pecos River.  Bean (played by Walter Brennan) is a hanging judge who hands out rough justice based on being an advocate for the cattlemen.  If the cattlemen stampede a herd of cattle through a corn field and the farmer shoots one of the steers he’ll be hanged by Bean for the offense.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When Harden appears in the movie, he’s being led to Bean’s court house (saloon) because one of the locals recognized Harden’s horse as one that was stolen from a local.  Naturally the jury will declare him guilty but Harden manages to convince Bean that he is a friend of the famous actress Lily Langtry whom Bean greatly admires.  Claiming that he has a lock of her hair Harden gets Bean to “suspend” his sentence while evidence of his innocence can be found.  While Harden and Bean cement their friendship over bogus tales of Langtry and Bean’s rotgut whiskey the real horse thief walks into the saloon and Harden punches him out and retrieves the purchase price of the horse from his pockets.  When the thief attempts to shoot Harden, Bean beats him to the draw and thus reinforces the bond between the drifter and the hangin’ judge.

After this the movie drifts off into other directions.  Harden leaves town and while travelling through the area ends up working as a field hand for the Mathew family on their farm.  A romance blossoms between and Harden and the daughter Jane.  But we find out that Judge Bean has been persecuting the farmers and intends to drive them off their land through harassment and judicial malfeasance.  The farmers organize and decide to go en masse and shoot Bean to end their problem.  When Harden hears this, he gallops to Bean’s saloon and warns Bean.  Harden and Bean stop the plot and send the farmers away.  But Harden convinces Bean to remove all the cattle from the valley where the farmers live in exchange for Lily Langtry’s lock of hair that Harden claims to have.  Harden manages to get a lock of Jane Mathew’s hair for the purpose and when Bean fulfills his promise to move the cattle, he ceremoniously hands over the hair.

Now the farmers are triumphant and have a celebratory feast.  But while it is going on the cattlemen set fire to the fields and homesteads of the farmers and destroy the whole valley.  Jane’s father is murdered by the cattlemen and she blames Harden for the deeds she attributes to his friend Bean.

Harden forces Bean to admit that he was responsible for the fire and Harden leaves town to get a warrant for the arrest of Bean for murder and arson.  Coincidentally Lily Langtry is in the area for a concert and Judge Bean buys up all the tickets so that he can enjoy a private audience with Miss Langtry.  And the performance becomes the site of a shootout between Harden and Bean.  Eventually Harden fatally wounds Bean but before Bean dies Harden carries him backstage so Bean can see Langtry before he dies.

In the final scene Harden and Jane are a married couple on a rebuilt farm celebrating the return of the other settlers that had been driven out by Bean.

By the description, you can tell this is a very strange western.  The way I can describe it is a comedy for the first half of the movie that switches over into a more conventional melodrama.  From my point of view the comedic portions of the movie are the better parts.  Cooper and Brennan have a weird funny chemistry that makes the movie interesting and enjoyable.  The later romance and drama are okay but clash with the comedic elements.  I’ll recommend the movie based on the scenes with Cooper and Brennan even though as whole the movie is sort of a mess.

Rio Bravo (1959) – A Movie Review

“Rio Bravo” is supposed to have been made in reaction to the movie “High Noon.”  In that movie Gary Cooper is a sheriff who can’t find any townsmen to help him stand against an outlaw gang gunning for him.  Howard Hawks and John Wayne were so affronted by what they saw as the whiny, “woe is me” feel of that movie they decided to make Rio Bravo as an alternative.  Wayne would play the sheriff but with no angst.  Basically, he refuses to deputize a large number of civilians to stand down a gang of outlaws who threaten to kill the sheriff if he doesn’t release the gang leader’s brother.

Wayne is Sheriff John T. Chance.  His sometimes deputy but mostly just alcoholic friend is Dude, played by Dean Martin.  They’re joined in their desperate but light hearted stand by Stumpy, a gimpy and hot-tempered old man played by Walter Brennan and Colorado, a resourceful young cowboy with a fast gun hand and a guitar played by Ricky Nelson.  And finally, Angie Dickinson is a professional gambler who will be the love interest for Chance.  For whatever reason the only name we’re given for her is Feathers.

The setup is as follows.  While involved in an altercation with Dude in the saloon Joe Burdette (played by Claude Akins) kills a man.  Chase arrests Joe and has Stumpy keep guard over him basically for the duration of the movie.  Meanwhile an old friend of Chance’s, Pat Wheeler (played by Ward Bond) arrives in town with his crew and supplies.  When he hears what is going on with Chance, he offers his associate Colorado as a deputy to help Chance hold off the Burdette gang that numbers in the dozens.  Chance declines because he doesn’t want to involve Wheeler in the trouble.  But Wheeler is murdered that night.  After some back and forth in which members of the gang take Chance and Dude hostage more than once, Colorado comes aboard as a deputy.

As a side story Feathers arrives in town to play poker in the saloon but when a wanted poster shows up that seems to implicate her as a card cheat Chance tells her to leave town.  But Colorado defends her saying that another player in the game was cheating.  After catching the cheater with several aces up his sleeve, Feathers tells her side of the story.  The poster was about her and her late husband.  He had gotten into a crooked card game and paid for his crime with his life.  For the rest of the movie whenever Chance and Feathers are together, they maintain an odd and annoying sort of awkward bickering cum flirting.

Meanwhile the climax of the movie arrives when Dude is taken hostage by Burdette’s gang and they demand a swap of Joe for Dude.  The transfer involves the two men crossing a clearing in opposite directions.  Joe is walking away from the barn where Chance, Colorado and Stumpy are holed up and Dude is walking away from the commercial building where the whole Burdette gang is arrayed.  But when they reach each other in the middle Dude tackles Joe and forces him into some cover that is somehow much closer to Chance’s building than Burdette’s.  After subduing Joe, Chance and his deputies begin a lively gun battle with Burdette’s gang.  Eventually Chance’s side gets ahold of some dynamite and he does some fancy shooting to set off the explosives as Stumpy hurls it across the clearing toward the Burdette building.  And finally Stumpy ties several sticks together and the final explosion takes most of the building down and the surviving gang members stumble out of the wreckage and surrender.

All that remains is for Chance and Feathers to complete their awkward courtship and declare their weird and annoying love.

So, this is a strange movie.  It’s part western, part buddy movie and I guess a love story.  Mixed into this is the fact that Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson are allowed to sing a few songs.  I know I haven’t made it sound like a conventional western but the main story around the Burdettes is done extremely well, especially the action scenes.  Wayne, Martin, Brennan and Nelson make for a very interesting team.  I have seen this movie many times and still consistently enjoy this part of the plot.  Now as for the “love story” I don’t know what to say.  It’s just so out of place and unconvincing that I can’t even dislike it.  It’s just this bizarro incursion into an otherwise normal movie.  All I can do is hope that sometime in the future, technology will allow it to be excised from the movie.

I can highly recommend this to fans of westerns and John Wayne.  Even the songs were very much in the tradition of the Roy Rogers, singing cowboy style.  A good western.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) – A Movie Review

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is the third movie in Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy.  As in the second movie, “For a Few Dollars More,” Lee Van Cleef joins Clint Eastwood.  And to round out the three eponymous characters we have Eli Wallach.  Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach are the Good the Bad and the Ugly in that order.  Eastwood is a nameless bounty hunter and con-man.  Lee Van Cleef is a killer for hire that goes by the name of Angel Eyes.  And Eli Wallach is a Mexican criminal named Tuco.

Eastwood’s racket is to capture criminals for the bounty but when the town gets ready to hang the criminal Eastwood shoots the rope just in time allowing the criminal to escape and Eastwood then sells him all over again in the next town.  After several iterations of this Eastwood takes two shots to sever the rope and when Tuco complains about this treatment Eastwood dissolves the partnership leaving Tuco to walk seventy miles through the burning desert and swearing revenge.

Meanwhile Angel Eyes is helping a man locate some stolen army gold that was hidden by a man named Bill Carson.  But then he decides he’d rather keep the money for himself so he kills his client.  He finds out Carson is in the Confederate Army in Texas so he joins the Union forces and searches for Carson among the prisoners.

Tuco survives his trek through the desert and hunts down Eastwood or Blondie as he calls him.  Eventually he catches up with him and forces him to walk bareheaded in the desert until he is close to death.  But just at the point where Tuco prepares to shoot Blondie a Confederate stage coach filled with dead and dying men rolls up to Tuco and he finds Bill Carson dying but willing to tell him the whereabouts of the gold.  Carson tells him it’s buried in a certain graveyard but he withholds the name on the grave until he gets a drink of water.  But when Tuco gets back with the water he finds Carson dead and Blondie next to him.  Carson told him the name before he died.  Now Tuco brings Blondie to a Mexican mission for medical care for his sun stroke and the two men ride to find the gold.  But dressed in confederate uniforms they are captured by Union forces and taken to a prison camp.  By a coincidence Angel Eyes is at this camp and he knows Tuco and when he learns that he is pretending to be Bill Carson he has Tuco tortured to learn the location of the gold.  Tuco tells him the name of the cemetery and tells him that Blondie knows the grave name.

After several escapes and gunfights Tuco and Blondie escape from Angel Eyes and head for the cemetery.  On the way they run into a Union force that is waging a futile daily battle over possession of a bridge across a river.  Blondie is struck by the futility of all these men dying over a bridge that has no intrinsic value.  But it also occurs to him that as long as the bridge is there, they won’t be able to get past the Confederate forces to reach the cemetery so he dynamites the bridge and the two armies end the operation.

Finally, Tuco and Blondie reach the cemetery.  But before the gold can be dug up there is a three-way duel between Tuco, Angel Eyes and Blondie.  The form an equilateral triangle and blast away.  Blondie kills Angel Eyes and Tuco discovers that Blondie took the bullets out of his gun the night before.  So, Blondie reveals where the gold is buried and makes Tuco dig it up.  But while Tuco is rejoicing Blondie has set up a hangman’s noose over one of the grave crosses and force Tuco to climb onto the cross and put his neck in the noose.  After tying Tuco’s hands behind his back, Blondie leaves him suspended there and rides off with half the gold.  But when he’s half a mile away he takes his rifle and shoots the rope and Tuco is freed to scream epithets at Blondie as he rides away.

This is the most entertaining movie of the trilogy.  Although technically Tuco is as much a hardened criminal as Angel Eyes he manages to become a somewhat sympathetic villain probably because of the large dose of comic relief he adds to the film.  Angel Eyes is the sadistic villain but he also is an interesting portrayal by Van Cleef.  And Eastwood’s character is, as always, resourceful, cool under fire and damn lucky.  This movie is highly recommended for fans of westerns and action-adventure films.  And it has a fantastic main theme song.

For a Few Dollars More (1965) – A Movie Review

This is the second movie in director Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy but Clint Eastwood actually does have a name in this story.  He’s called Manco.  This is the story of two bounty hunters.  Manco (played by Eastwood) and Colonel Mortimer (played by Lee Van Cleef) are killing outlaws and collecting bounties when they meet up.  After a contest to see whose marksmanship is better, they team up to take down “El Indio” and his gang.  El Indio is a psychopathic killer whose gang has just broken him out of prison by killing all the guards and the warden.  Indio has a pocket watch with a music box built into it.  When he wants to have a shootout with someone he says, “Draw when the song ends.”  And usually, he kills the opponent.  But the song is so long and annoying I think most of the victims decide to die of gunshot wounds rather than live with the memory of the boredom of that song.

Indo is planning to rob the El Paso bank and Mortimer convinces Manco to join Indio’s gang and act as the inside man to allow Mortimer and Manco to finish off the gang.  The plan sort of works.  Manco manages to kill three of Indio’s men during a diversionary operation and Mortimer is able to gain Indio’s confidence too by helping Indo open the stolen safe using powerful acid to dissolve the lock.

But when Manco and Mortimer try to steal the bank money from Indio they are caught and beaten savagely in advance of their deaths.  Then a bunch of weird stuff happens that has Indo and some of his lieutenants murdering each other to increase their share of the loot.  As part of this plan Indio allows for Manco and Mortimer to escape and they finish off killing the gang.  By the finale it’s just Manco, Mortimer and Indio.  This sets up the duel between Indio and Mortimer.  We discover that Indio murdered Mortimer’s brother-in-law then raped his sister causing her to commit suicide.  The musical watch was stolen by Indio from the sister.  With a little help from Manco the duel is run fairly and Indio is killed.  Then Mortimer tells Manco that he can have all the bounties for Indio and the rest of the gang.  Mortimer just walks away, apparently finishing his stint as a bounty hunter and Manco loads the bodies on a wagon and takes the bank’s money along too.  It’s not at all clear whether he is going to return the money, which is much more than the bounties on the gang, or keep it.

This is a very enjoyable action film.  Eastwood and Van Cleef shoot a lot of bad guys.  The bank heist is a good chapter and little touches throughout the story keep the audience’s interest throughout.  There are several very humorous situations between the “partners” including a scene where Mortimer proves to Manco that a long-barreled gun trumps a Colt .45 even if the pistolero is the fastest draw around.

Indio is such a despicable psychopath that making his death the climax of the movie seems like a reasonable scenario.  But unfortunately, the whole musical watch thing is just too annoying.  It happens I think three times and by the finale I just wanted Mortimer to shoot Indio as soon as the watch started playing and then shoot the watch just to end the torture.

I think this second installment in the trilogy is even better than the first (A Fistful of Dollars).  Van Cleef is a welcome addition to the atmosphere providing a sort of older brother for the Eastwood character.

Highly recommended.

Guest Contributor – War Pig – Favorite Westerns

My favorite western is Once Upon A Time In The West, followed by True Grit/ Rooster Cogburn (I consider them to be part one and two of a whole story), followed by Eastwood’s spaghetti trio. After that I like western comedies such as the Trinity movies with Terrence Hill and sometimes Bud Spencer. Blazing Saddle is a joy but could not be made today. Honorable mention goes to Quigley Down Under as it is set in Australia, and besides Selleck as the protagonist, it has an absolutely smashing musical score. I grew up watching westerns on TV and at the drive in. Roy and Dale. Lash LaRue, Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, Gene Autry, Gabby Hayes, Cisco and Poncho, you name it. I even belonged to the Rin Tin Tin fan club.

Stagecoach (1939) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Stagecoach was considered a classic western at the time it was made.  It also proved to be the breakout performance for John Wayne’s career.

The plot involves a stagecoach making a run straight through an Indian uprising under Geronimo.  The passenger list is a cross section of various types found in westerns.  Driving the coach are a lawman named Curley Wilcox and for comic relief Buck, played by Andy Devine.  There’s a prostitute with a heart of gold named Dallas who’s been thrown out of town by the ladies of the Decency League.  There’s a southern gambler named Hatfield played by John Carradine.  There’s the drunken Doc Boone played by Thomas Mitchell.  There’s the obnoxious town banker Mr. Gatewood who has secretly absconded with the bank’s money.  There’s Mr. Peacock who is a mild-mannered whiskey salesman.  There’s Mrs. Lucy Mallory the pregnant wife of a cavalry officer.  And last but not least, the Ringo Kid played by John Wayne.  Ringo has busted out of jail and is headed to Lordsburg like the rest of them but in his case, it is to find and kill the three Plummer brothers who killed his father and brother and framed him for one of their crimes.

The passengers represent the various class and moral differences that make for friction and hard feelings between them.  The main story is the journey through Apache territory and the gun battle with Geronimo’s men but along the way the drunken doctor sobers up long enough to deliver Mrs. Mallory’s baby.  Dallas and Ringo strike up a romance.  Doc Boone finishes off all of Mr. Peacock’s whiskey samples.  Gatewood and Mrs. Mallory discover that he served under her father the general in the Civil War.

But the final chapter is the showdown between Ringo and the Plummers.  And after Ringo finishes off all three of them (with just three bullets!) he gives himself up to Curley to finish out his sentence in jail.  But Curley decides to take the law into his own hands and frees the Kid and sends him off with Dallas to start their new life together across the state line at Ringo’s family ranch.  The storybook happy ending.

For our generation the story probably seems a little too stereotyped, the acting too broad and the ending too pat.  The idea that a lawman would release his prisoner on his own recognizance to allow him to engage in a gunfight after which he would just walk back into custody to be brought back to prison seems like some kind of fantasy.  The expectant mother travelling on a stagecoach through an Indian attack seems even crazier.  But the movie does provide an enjoyable story.  I wouldn’t consider it any kind of best in class western.  I think it’s a good story with several good actors, especially Thomas Mitchell and John Carradine.  And it’s fun to see a young John Wayne navigating around actors who were much bigger stars than he was at the time.

I recommend this movie to fans of westerns, John Wayne and movies of this era.