The first movie production by Murphy-Brown Pictures, a partnership Audie Murphy had formed with Harry Joe Brown. It remained their only movie because of personal differences between the two partners. The Guns of Fort Petticoat was panned by contemporary critics who thought this outlandish story about a petticoat army fighting off an Indian attack didn't combine well with the historic background of the plight of the red man, but the movie seems to have withstood the test of time pretty well and today many think it's one of Murphy's more enjoyable efforts
The story is set in full Civil War time. Audie Murphy is Lt. Frank Hewitt, a guy from Dixie in Yankee service. When some Cheyenne braves leave their territory, Hewitt's commander, the racist Colonel John Chivington decides to punish them by attacking their virtually unprotected village. The result is an infamy known to history as the Sand Creek Massacre. Hewitt knows the Indians will seek revenge by attacking innocent homesteaders and with most men departed to fight in the Civil War, only women and children are left to defend the homesteads. He deserts to warn the women but is first treated by them as a 'blue belly traitor'. Things change when he shows them the dead body of a woman tortured and murdered by marauding Indians. Hewitt and the women entrench themselves in an abandoned mission post to fight of the imminent Indian attack ...
AudieMurphy's real-life experiences (he was one of the most decorated combat soldiers of WWII) always seemed to lend credibility to his screen persona. He is quite convincing as the experienced soldier training the women in combat techniques, slowly turning the colorful troupe into an efficient fighting unit, the Guns of Fort Petticoat. Some clichés are tackled (several women and one child are killed during the attack), others remain intact; there's room for romance and comedy and yes, some of the comedy feels a little out of place, notably a scene of Murphy spanking the hot-headed Kathryn Grant. But let's not forget that many contemporary westerns (including those by the likes of Ford or Hawks) offered vaudeville-like interruptions of a serious narrative.
Director Marshall was no Ford or Hawks but he had a long career in both the western and comedy genre and overall the serio-comic mix works quite well. Only the coda, in which a court-martialed Hewitt is discharged thanks to the intervention of the women (and his commanding officer is charged instead), rings untrue. There's nothing wrong with using historic events as a background of a fictional story, but John Chivington was forced to resign after a thorough investigation by the Congress, and to suggest that his fate was sealed during an improvised military court by a group of women who stood up for the man who had taught them how to fight, is sheer nonsense.
Director: George Marshall - Cast: Audie Murphy (Lt. Frank Hewitt), Kathryn Grant (Anne Martin), Hope Emerson (Hannah Lacey), Jeanette Nolan (Cora Melavan), Sean McClory (Emmett Kettle), Ainslie Pryor (Col. Chivington), Patricia Livingston (Stella Leatham)
Director: Arnold Laven - Cast: Dean Martin, George Peppard, Jean Simmons, John McIntire, Slim Pickens, Don Galloway, Richard O'Brien, John Napier
A bizarre western, if only for casting good old Dean Martin as a villain without any redeeming qualities. It was marketed with the tag line "Who says they don't make Westerns like they used to?" suggesting that this was an old school western with all the classic ingredients. The story about (the lack of) law and order in a small western town, sounds like a fifties western, but the level of violence is more in accordance with the early seventies. When a man in a white shirt is shot his blood runs on the shirt like wine on a napkin, another man is shot in the face, Jean Simmons is beaten up and almost strangled and a hand-to-hand combat between Peppard and Pickens is of a particularly nasty kind.
Martin’s character, Alex Flood, is an ex-lawman gone bad; he is determined to have total control over the town, and therefore wants to own at least 51% of every local business, including the stagecoach line conducted by Molly Lang (Jean Simmons), but Molly refuses. Hell breaks loose with the arrival of two men: Marshall John McIntire (called to town by Simmons) and his best friend, a former lawman turned gambler (George Peppard).
Rough Nigh in Jericho was written by Marvin H. Albert, who adapted his own novel to the screen. The script offers an interesting line-up of characters, played by first rate actors, but they remain largely underdeveloped. McIntire is shot in the leg early on and is therefore confined to a bed for most part of the movie and Simmons is only there because the movie needed a female character. Peppard is quite good as the ex-lawman gone astray, now looking for redemption, but Dino is simply not the right man to play a ruthless villain. Off-beat casting can be effective but it takes a director like Leone to turn a kind-hearted actor like Henry Fonda into the incarnation of evil. Arnold Laven is no Leone.
Nor is he a Peckinpah, for that matter. According to Peckinpah’s biographer David Weddle, Laven and Peckinpah were old acquaintances. Laven had been one of the producers of the TV-series The Rifleman (for which Sam wrote a couple of scripts and directed some episodes) and he had also directed The Glory Guys, scripted by Peckinpah. As far as I know Peckinpah had no hand in Rough Night in Jericho, but towards the end there’s a protracted action sequence with Martin’s men trapped in a town street by the townspeople waiting for them on the rooftops, that will remind many of us of the opening massacre of The Wild Bunch. I’m quite sure Peckinpah saw it and was inspired by it. But don't get over-exited. As said Laven is no Peckinpah. Rough Night in Jericho is an okay watch, but it's no Wild Bunch.
* Rough Night in Jericho is available on You Tube. Apparently the version is cut but oddly enough it seems to leave all the violence intact. I had not seen the movie in a while and have no idea what’s missing.
* For the Laven-Peckinpah connection see: David Weddle, If they move, kill ‘em, New York 1996, p. 136-138 and p. 146-154
When relatively unknown American actors went to Europe in the mid-Sixties to appear in cheaply made spaghetti westerns (and in some cases became superstars), major European actors took the plane in the opposite direction to appear in lush Hollywood productions. With his appearance in Texas Across the River (1966), French superstar Alain Delon tried to establish his name across the ocean; for the occasion he was cast as a Latin Lover and paired with that other Latin Lover - the one from Hollywood - Dean Martin.
Delon is a Spanish nobleman, Don Andrea Baldazar, El Duce de la Casala, who is about to marry a Southern Belle, Phoebe (Rosemary Forsyth). It turns out that she was promised to another man, a cavalrist from the US army who takes his entire regiment to the wedding to claim his bride. When his rival is accidently killed during an incident, Don Andrea is unjustifiably accused of murder and must therefore flee across the border to Texas (not yet an U.S. state). He is joined by a gunrunner (Dino) who is crossing the same border in order to sell guns to a group of settlers who have created a very unsafe haven in the Texan wilderness ...
Delon had been working very hard to remove the distinctive French inclinations from his speech, so he would be able to play all kind of European nationalities in Hollywood productions, but he still sounds French, not Spanish. It doesn't really matter. The film is a spoof and his character a joke. Dino is top-billed and has a couple of funny repartees (especially in a raunchy scene in and around a pool with Rosemary Forsyth: Rosemary: "I can't come out of the water, I lost my clothes!" Dino: "Close your eyes!"), but it's really Delon's movie: In Texas Don Andrea tames a buffalo in the style of a torero, saves the life of a beautiful squaw, fights with Dino over Phoebe, and clears his name by saving the settlement from being raided by marauding Comanches.
Texas across the River is as entertaining as it is forgettable. The jokes come so fast that you really don't mind that a least half of them are graceless and unfunny. Just sit down and relax, enjoy what's enjoyable and forget the rest. Some will no doubt call it sexist and racist but since all sexes and ethnic groups are targeted the humor feels rather innocuous. All people involved seem to have a good time.
1966 - Director: Michael Gordon - Cast: Dean Martin (Sam Hollis), Alain Delon (Don Andrea), Rosemary Forsyth (Phoebe), Joey Bishop (Kronk), Tina Aumont (Lonetta), Peter Graves (Cpt. Stimpson, Michael Ansara (Comanche Chief), Linden Chiles (Comanche Chief's son), Andrew Prine (Lt. Sibley), Stuart Anderson (Yancy Cottle), Richard Farnsworth (Medicine Man)
The border town of Adone is one of a kind: it has no jail, therefore perpetrators are chained to a post in the middle of the town street. This is what happens to two friends, Chris (Audie Murphy) and Bert (Charles Drake), after spending a night in town. Chris was already a bit skeptic about their visit, because his friend has a habit of drinking and making trouble at the card table. Of course his worries come true: a drunken Chris provokes a brawl in the saloon and the two end up in the middle of the street, with an iron collar around their necks.
It's an unpleasant situation, but under normal circumstances they will be released the next day, so Chris tries to get some sleep while Bert is sobering up. Unfortunately, they're not alone: also tied to the pole, is a dangerous outlaw called Lavalle, who forces the others to dig out the pole. After a brief shootout, the 'prisoners' manage to escape and fly into the hills. Chris and Bert decide to go their own way, but they're caught by Lavalle and his men. In town Bert has stolen a few bonds belonging to an old flame, and now Lavalle wants him to go back to convert them into cash. Bert travels to town, but comes back empty handed, infuriating the maniacal criminal ...
Showdown is a stark, grim movie, with a short running time (under 80 minutes), made on a tight budget. The outdoor scenes were shot around Lone Pine, but to save money, the movie was shot in black-and-white, a decision that made Murphy furious. Lone Pine was also a favorite shooting location of Bud Boetticher and there's no doubt that the famous Scott-Boetticher westerns from the Ranown Cycle were a major source of inspiration. There a hostage situation, a strong-willed yet vulnerable lady, and an undaunted hero, who refuses to give an inch. Murphy's Chris is a man who acts on instinct rather than reason: he risks his own neck when trying to save his friend's life, even though Bert has told him he wouldn't ever do the same thing for him ...
The film was almost completely overlooked and panned by those who had noticed it, but recent comments have been more positive. Some have criticized the script (by Ric Hartman, working under the pseudonymous Bronson Howitzer) for being contrived and over-elaborate, and yes it's a bit mechanical, and not all twists and turns are believable, but basically this is a B-movie and scripts for these movies were never meant to be scrutinized methodically. Audie Murphy is his usual steadfast self and there are nice cameos by Strother Martin (as the town drunk) and L.Q. Jones (as a silent member of the gang), six years before they became a notorious couple of scavengers in Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. The one thing that doesn't work, is Kathleen Crowley's part of the saloon girl who once was Bert's sweetheart but is now developing feelings for Chris. Crowley isn't bad - or ugly for that matter - but watching her, it's hard not to think of Sergio Leone's statement that women basically slow a western down.
Ever since I saw her in Luc Besson’s Leon: The professional (1994) I have a soft spot for Natalie Portman. In 1994 she was thirteen, but looking like a child, today she’s 35, but still looking ever so young. In Jane got a Gun she is a young woman who has lost her innocence, but not her vulnerability. She’s the mother of a six or seven year old girl and the wife of a man with a questionable reputation, Bill Hammond (played by Noah Emmerich).
One day Bill comes home with eight bullets in his back. The men who shot him, the Bishop brothers, are on their way to the farm and their arrival will mean even more trouble. The only one who can help Jane and her wounded husband, is their neighbor Dan Evans (Joel Edgerton). Main problem: Dan is not only their neighbor, but also Jane's former fiancé, the man she left to become Mrs. Hammond ...
Jane Got a Gun was a troubled production. At some point, the names of Michael Fassbender, Sam Worthington, Bradley Cooper and Jude Law were all mentioned in relation to the production. The original director, Lynne Ramsey, left a few days into shooting and Edgerton was first cast as the villain but then became the hero after Worthington had left the production. For a movie with this history, Jane got a Gun isn’t bad.
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The film has an interesting setting - the days immediately before and after the Civil War. It also has interesting characters: the three leads, Jane, Bill and Dan, all have their shady sides, and none of them is 'innocent': It soon transpires that Jane did not leave Dan but that, quite on the contrary, he left her, to fight in a war he believed in. Jane then headed West, in search of a new life, joining a wagon train led by two brothers, John and Vic Bishop, and realized far too late that the brothers had special plans with her. She only accepted to become the wife of a man with a questionable reputation because he was the only one who cared when she was in a humiliating, dishonoring situation.
The film was criticized for its complex, flashback-driven narrative and I do agree that this back-and-forth, back-and-forth structure occasionally works a little confusing, but the twists, turns and revelations will surely hold your attention (and the final twist, concerning a second daughter, is particularly surprising). The action moments are often unexpected (and very brutal), but the movie seems to lack a real western ending: the attack on the farm is set at night and if it brings a Peckinpah movie to mind, it's not one of his westerns, but his siege drama Straw Dogs.
Dir: John Ford - Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman, Jr., Harry Carey, Jr., Chill Wills, J. Carrol Naish, Victor McLaglen, Grant Withers, Sons of the Pioneers (as the Regimental Singers), Patrick Wayne
The third part of Ford’s celebrated Cavalry Trilogy, following Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It’s the first of five movies with John Wayne playing opposite to Maureen O’Hara. The story is set fifteen years after the Civil War, but the theme is still (like in Yellow Ribbon) reconciliation. North and South must unite under the US flag and stick together in pursuit of marauding Indians. At a personal level, the theme of reconciliation is reflected by the relationship of an inhibited, stubborn officer, Colonel Kirby Yorke (Wayne) with his estranged wife (O’Hara) and his son, a boy he hasn’t seen since the end of the war. The young man was dropped as a cadet at West Point, but subsequently enlisted in the cavalry and is now assigned to his father’s regiment at the frontier. Soon after the boy, the mother also arrives at the outpost, to buy her son free.
Rio Grande was an adaptation of a story by J.W. Bellah, whose writings had served as the base for all three movies of the trilogy. Bellah’s story, called Mission with No Record, was based on an actual raid executed in 1873. A number of Kickapoo Indians had left their reservation and fled into Mexico; from time to time they were launching surprise attacks from their base south of the border. Eventually an officer from Fort Clark was ordered - unofficially - to put an end to the raids, even if the campaign violated the sovereignty of another nation. The action almost led to an international conflict and reportedly General Sherman was much angered at the operation that was planned behind his back (1).
In the movie the army still crosses the border, but the punitive expedition is turned into a rescue mission when a wagon load of women and children, sent by Colonel Yorke to another fort for savety, is intercepted by the Indians. The children are held captive in a church south of the border and the situation leaves Colonel Yorke no choice: he must act and must act without hesitation. Yorke sends his most daring trooper, Tyree (played by Ben Johnson) forward to infiltrate the Indian camp and protect the children so he can launch a full-scale attack on the camp without putting the children in danger. Tyree is given permission to choose two other troopers to accompany him and to Yorke’s shock his own son is one of the two men chosen ...
Rio Grande is often called the most beautifully filmed of the cavalry pictures, but at the same time many regard it as the weakest of the trilogy. The story of the broken down marriage and the son who grew up without his father is well-handled, but it offers few surprises; of course the two still love each other and of course the young man proves himself in battle. The songs performed by The Pioneers aren’t completely redundant - the 'Kathleen song' neatly illustrates the feelings of the protagonists - but there are too many of them and they’re not well integrated into the movie. The conflict with the Indians lacks a 'bad character' such as Henry Fonda’s Owen Thursday, the irresponsible martinet from Fort Apache who was played off against Wayne’s knowing Sergeant York (then written without the 'e').
As a result Rio Grande is - more then the other parts - a movie of moments: some incredible horse stunts, performed by the actors themselves (*2), drunken Indians performing a death song in the middle of the night, O’Hara opening Wayne’s war chest, finding a music box that plays 'I’ll take you home, Kathleen' (her name in the movie) and above all that majestic scene of Colonel Yorke all alone on a hill, grieving for the past, thinking of what might have been, agonizing the difficult task he has been assigned.
*1) Gary Wills, John Wayne’s America, p. 181-183. The story of Rio Grande is set in 1879, fifteen years after 'Shenandoah’
Of all the oddities of the Western Wonderland of the early seventies, this must be one of the oddest. Like many westerns of the period it was shot in Spain and offers a cast of familiar faces as well as a few surprise appearances; it also tries to outdo the violent and perverted tendencies of the previous decade with lots of blood and a particularly nasty rape scene. With Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin playing the baddies in the style of the Three Stooges, this may sound like a half-baked American pseudo spaghetti, but the film is British, which explains some of the surprise appearances, such as Christopher Lee, Mr. Dracula himself, as a gunsmith, and Diana Dors as a prostitute.
In the opening minutes three outlaw brothers try to rob a bank in a sleepy Mexican border town. It’s an outrageous scene, with so much blood spilled, that it comes close to parody. Director Kennedy had done a few good western comedies (notably the excellent Support your local Sheriff), and the scene was probably meant as a spoofy version of the opening scene of The Wild Bunch, but it’s so gross, and at the same time so stupid, that it fails in every aspect. After all, even outlaws as inept as the Clemens brothers wouldn’t have robbed a bank with a regiment of federales sleeping on the porch of a town building. The next scene is the infamous rape scene, with the brothers not only raping a woman (played by a thirty-one year old Raquel Welch), but also killing her husband and burning down her house. The sequence is filmed with an almost total lack of subtlety or restraint. And again so much blood is spilled & spattered that the killing of the husband looks like a ritual slaughter.
Surprisingly the movie finds the right tone as it goes along. A key element is a strong performance by the much underrated Robert Culp as a bearded and spectacled bounty hunter, hired by Welch to turn her into a proficient gunwoman who can get even with the thugs who ruined her life. He gives her the shooting lessons she’s asking for, warning her at the same time of the ultimate futility of the revenge mission she has planned. Culp’s wonderfully reserved performance provides the movie with exactly the right counterbalance for the outlandish atmosphere. The shooting lessons are wisely nested in a carefully handled interlude involving Christopher Lee as a gunsmith with more children than you can think of. This is all handled with so much care, that we seem to have wandered into another movie. The scene eventually culminates into a bloody shootout with a Mexican gang of cutthroats, which seems a bit thrown in, but also leads the film to its final act, describing Welch’s revenge.
Once past the first ten, fifteen minutes, Hannie Caulder is a surprisingly enjoyable western, although the would-be mystical ending is weak (what’s all this nonsense with Stephen Boyd - dressed in black - supposed to mean?). Even some of the comedy starts to work (Borginine and Martin starting to fight while trying to rob a stagecoach!). Edward Scaife’s lush cinematography of the Spanish locations is admirable. I wasn’t too pleased with Ken Thorne’s score. It occasionally reminded me of Jerry Fielding’s magnificent score for The Wild Bunch, but never seems to find the right balance between classic and modernist influences. Too much old school in a modern context. But of course in this movie everything (direction, landscape & score) plays second fiddle to Welch, and she had never looked better and would never look as good again as she did in Hannie Caulder. A promotion pic of her in her poncho, and no more than a poncho, became one the most iconic images in the history of film making.
Dir: Burt Kennedy - Cast: Raquel Welch (Hannie Caulder), Robert Culp (Thomas Luther Price), Ernest Borgnine (Emmett Clemens), Jack Elam (Frank Clemens), Strother Martin (Rufus Clemens), Christopher Lee (Bailey), Stephen Boyd, Aldo Sambrell, Brian Lightburn, Luis Barboo, Diana Dors (Madam)
A routine western with patriotic overtones that is presented as a homage to John Ford. It was overshadowed by the immensely successful True Grit, released earlier the same year. The story is set in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the script is sprinkled with human-interest stories and colorful peripheral characters, most of them played by familiar western actors such as Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Dub Taylor and others. And of course it stars the Duke, for the occasion paired with Rock Hudson.
The film opens with a remarkably violent and bloody charge, led by Yankee Colonel John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) against a confederate regiment. Overlooking the tragic results of the carnage, the news is brought to the Colonel that the war is over, that the surrender terms were actually signed three days earlier. Thomas is the type of man who will always do his duty, but who also abhors violence and therefore cannot understand why anybody would keep on fighting when the war is over. Hudson's Confederate officer Langdon is almost his direct opposite: he is stubborn and self-righteous, not willing to give up the fight and therefore rather torches his ranch than leave it to Northern carpetbaggers.
Shortly after, both men cross the Rio Grande, Thomas to sell horses to Emperor Maximilian, Langdon to join the Emperor's forces with the survivors of his regiment and their families (*1). Their paths cross on different occasions: together they fight off a gang of Mexican bandits, they relive the hostilities during a drunken brawl at a 4th of July party, there's an interracial love story (involving Thomas' adopted Cherookee son and Langdon's daughter) and eventually they all decide that it's time to go 'home'.
The film's patiotism may feel a bit simplistic today, but in 1969 the country was entangled in anti-war and anti-imperialist demonstrations and Wayne and McLaglen clearly wanted to make a statement. The ending is a bit of an anti-climax, but the theme of reconciliation is well-handled and the large-scale action scenes are quite good, if not always believable: Mexican bandits would of course not attack entrenched Americans in 'Indian' style, but such an attack offers ideal material to fill the widescreen and William Clothier's widescreen cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful. The natural charm of the actors will give you the idea that you're back in the good old days, when heroes were tall in the saddle and solid as a rock. The Duke seems to have a great time, but in reality filming was a difficult, painful experience: he broke three ribs when he fell from a horse and later tore a ligament in his shoulder
* The charactor of Col. Langdon was most probably based on the historic Confederate officer Joseph Shelby, who crossed the border with around 1,000 of his men after the end of the war to seek asylum in Mexico. For their unwillingness to surrender, they were called 'the undefeated'
Dir: Andrew V. McLaglen, John Wayne (uncredited) - Cast: John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Roman Gabriel, Ben Johnson, Lee Meriwether, Antonio Aguilar, Dub Taylor, Bruce Cabot, Harry Carey Jr, John Agar, Marianne McCargo, Merlin Olsen, Jan-Michel Vincent
1971 - Dir: Richard C. Sarafian - Cast: Richard Harris, John Huston, Percey Herbert, Prunella Ransome, Henry Wilcoxon, Dennis Waterman, Ben Carruthers, James Doohan
Like the upcoming The Revenant (2015, Alejandro G. Iñárritu) this movie is based on the real-life story of trapper Hugh Glass, who was left for dead after a bear attack by the members of his party during an expedition through the Northwest territories. The new movie adaptation was also the reason to return to the older one. I had seen it, most probably on videocasette, somewhere in the Eighties and I remember that I wasn't very fond of it then. I thought it was slow and also rather confusing: for one thing I didn't understand why the group of fur trappers led by John Huston were wheeling this large boat (looking like Noah's ark) over the mountains.
In the movie Glass is called Zachary Bass, and he's played by Richard Harris, fresh from his turbulent adventures with the Sioux in A Man Called Horse (1970, Elliot Silverstein). Zachary is the guide of a group of fur trappers who are returning from an expedition up North with a boat (dragged by mules) full of furs. When mauled by a grizzly bear, the leader of the trappers, Captain Filmore Henry is convinced that Zacharay will not survive his wounds. He therefore decides to move on and leave only two of his men behind to bury the dying man. Zachary is even deserted by these two when hostile Indians are ranging the woods, but he miraculously survives his terrible wounds and - after a series of trials - start trailing those who abandoned him ...
Man of the Wilderness was shot in Spain and some have noted that the locations have little in common with the Northwest territories where the events are supposed to take place, but the cinematography of the rugged Spanish terrain is lush and impressive. The film works well - very well actually - as long as it stays with the heavily wounded Bass. The real-life trials and tribulations of Hugh Glass were staggering, almost unbelievable: he had festering wounds, a broken a leg and severe cuts on his back and in his left flank; to prevent gangrene he let maggots eat the dead flesh around the compound fracture of his leg. The movie renders his endurances very well; the first three quarters of an hour are gripping, occasionally (literally) painful to watch.
Unfortunately it does not stay with the suffering, fighting Bass; there are flashbacks to the past, explaining how Bass became an atheist and wanderer (in reality they're so splintered that they hardly explain anything) and the camera also shifts between the crawling man and the party that left him for dead. The real-life Captain Henry (his name was William Henry Ashley) wanted to ascend the Missouri river as part of a fur-trading venture, which explains the boat, but in the movie it all looks absurd. The scenes of the ship on dry land are majestic, but we get an awful lot of them and the movie rambles on and on to an inconclusive ending. We're also supposed to believe that the heavily wounded Bass eventually managed to catch up with the expedition (which would have been an effort of truly superhuman proportions). In reality Glass did not follow their trail but tried to reach the nearest settlement, Fort Kiowa on the Missouri river.
In the end Man of the Wilderness falls into the category of movies that can be described as 'interesting-good-but-not-great'; it has been labeled as an anthropological western (some of the scenes of Indian life are touching, notably a scene of a woman giving birth in the woods) but also as a study in sado-masochism and excess. I'm normally not a fan of Richard Harris but he turns in a very convincing performance and John Huston is also fine as the party leader and lunatic Henry (clearly modeled after Captain Ahab from Moby Dick). The movie dates from the time when the SPCA (Society for Prevention of cruelty to Animals) was still fighting a fierce battle to improve the treatment of animals on film sets; watching the movie it's impossible to imagine that 'no animals were hurt in the making of it'.
* Revenant - Hugh Bass covered more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) to reach Fort Kiowa, which gave the local Indians the impression that he had come back from the other side; he was therefore called a 'revenant' by them, that is a ghost (from the French word revenant, ghost. The French word comes from the verb (it's a participle used as a substantive, a common use in French) revenir, to return, come back from the other side)
The title and the poster of the movie may give you the impression that this is a spaghetti western, but no, More Dead than Alive is an American movie. It stars Clint Walker as a former gunslinger - known as 'Killer Cain' - who has spent 18 years in jail and discovers that it's hard to leave his past behind.
The film opens with protracted (and remarkably bloody) sequence of a jailbreak that ends in carnage. Cain refuses to help the jail breakers because he wants to serve his sentence and start a new life, but when he is finally released from jail, the world he once knew has become a recent memory and he himself a living anachronism. The only person willing to offer him a job, is a showman named Ruffalo, who asks Cain to perform as a sharpshooter in a traveling sideshow. Also working for Ruffalo is a young man named Billy Valance, who soon starts challenging Cain to a duel, in order to prove himself as a gunslinger ...
The name Billy Valance is no doubt a reference to John Ford's, The man Who Shot LibertyValance, the movie that (along with Peckinpah's Ride the High Country) had established the End of the West as a dominant theme of American westerns from the decade. More Dead than Alive is set in a West that is no longer Wild, but the story device of the famous gunfighter who is repeatedly challenged by a younger man, is closer to Henry King's The Gunfighter, a western from Hollywood's glory years. The surprise ending (I won't give it away) also brings The Gunfighter to mind, but what worked marvelously in King's movie, is strangely ineffective here, leaving us with a feeling of malaise.
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Director Robert Sparr mainly worked for television and it shows. This is a routine movie, but it's well-cast and easy to enjoy. Walker and Francis (as the woman who helps him forget the past) are a nice, physically contrasting couple and Vincent Price is as flamboyant as ever as the sideshow barker. Singer/actor Paul Hampton overacts as the immature, psychologically unstable Billy, but the role seems to ask for it. The bloody opening sequence almost feels completely detached from the rest of the movie. In the previous year Bonnie and Clyde had a set a trend and in 1969 we saw various western with excessive bloodletting and a tragic ending in which the 'heroes' were shot to pieces. But movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Wild Bunch were movies about people who had chosen a violent lifestyle; in the case of More Dead than Alive the gory killings seem to undermine the anti-violence message of the movie. But those were the days, and in 1969 cowboys died in bloody fashion.
Director: Robert Sparr - Cast: Clint Walker (Cain), Anne Francis (Monica), Vincent Price (Ruffalo), Paul Hampton (Billy) - Written by George Schenk - Produced by Aubrey Schenk and Hal Klein - Music by Philip Springer