The Tall T (1957)

The Tall TWhile making a trip to buy a seed bull, cowboy Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott) loses a bet with his former employer and has to give up his horse.  Pat starts walking home and along the way, he’s passed by his friend Ed Rintoon (Arthur Hunnicutt), who is driving a stagecoach with newlyweds Doretta (Maureen O’Sullivan) and Willard Mims (John Hubbard) on board.  Ed offers to give Pat a lift, but when they arrive at a way station, a group of three men — Frank Usher (Richard Boone), Billy Jack (Skip Homeier), and Chink (Henry Silva) — holds them at gunpoint and tries to rob them.

Ed tries to reach for his gun, but is shot down.  Willard, who has only married Doretta for her money, tells the robbers that they could get more money by sending a ransom note to Doretta’s father than they could by robbing stagecoaches.  Frank writes a ransom note and sends Willard and Billy to deliver it while the others leave for the robbers’ camp.  Willard and Billy arrive at the camp the next day with news that Doretta’s father has agreed to pay a $50,000 ransom and Willard gets permission to leave camp, but is shot dead before he can get very far.

When Frank leaves to get the ransom from Doretta’s father, that leaves Billy and Chink to keep an eye on Pat and Doretta.  But luckily for Pat and Doretta, their captors are easily manipulated and Pat comes up with a plan to break free.

I quite enjoyed The Tall T.  Randolph Scott is fantastic in it and Budd Botticher’s direction is excellent.  It’s a fast paced story loaded with grit and suspense; there isn’t a single moment that left me looking at the clock wondering how much of the movie was left.  The Tall T is one of those westerns that makes it very easy for people who aren’t typically fans of westerns to enjoy it.  Definitely keep your eye out for this one on the TCM schedule.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Magnificent Seven

In the Mexican village of Ixcatlan, the villagers have an ongoing problem with being raided by Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his band of thieves.  They ride into the village, rape the women, and take most of the village’s food, leaving the villagers to starve.  Few people are brave enough to try to stand up to Calvera, and those who are are killed.  After one raid, three of the villagers decide to put a stop to it.  They visit the village elder for advice, who suggests buying some guns.

The villagers head to a town near the border to buy guns.  When they arrive, they arrive just in time to watch Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen) drive a hearse with the body of a Native American through town.  Some residents don’t approve of a Native being buried in the cemetery and try to shoot at the hearse as it passes, but Chris and Vin have no problem returning fire.  That evening, the villagers approach Chris about buying guns and explain their situation to him.  Even though the villagers don’t have much to offer in the way of payment, Chris offers to round up a team of gunslingers to go to the village, teach some of the villagers to use guns, and help them take care of Calvera.

Chris’ team of gunslingers includes himself, Vin, Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), Britt (James Coburn), Lee (Robert Vaughn), and Chico (Horst Buchholz).  When they ride in to Ixcatlan, the villagers are initially fearful of the gunslingers and all the women hide from them, but they eventually become close to the villagers.  The day after arriving in Ixcatlan, three of Calvera’s bandits are found near the village and it’s believed they had been sent to get information to plan another raid.  The gunslingers get to work training the villagers to fight Calvera.

When Calvera rides into the village again, Chris, Vin, and Britt are waiting for him.  Calvera is unfazed and offers to split the loot with them, but they don’t back down.  A gunfight ensues, but Calvera’s men aren’t ready for one and the gunslingers and the villagers are able to take out many of Calvera’s men.  Later, Chico disguises himself and sneaks into Calvera’s camp and finds out they are low on food so the raid will be coming soon.  Chris plans a raid on Calvera’s camp, but when they arrive, the camp is empty.  Upon returning to Ixcatlan, they find it taken over by Calvera.  This time, Calvera is ready for a gunfight and a number of villagers, as well as Bernardo, Lee, Harry, and Britt, are killed in the battle. Chris guns down Calvera.

The following day, Chris, Vin, and Chico help bury the dead.  Chico decides to stay in the village with Petra (Rosenda Monteros), a girl he has fallen in love with.  Chris and Vin prepare to ride off and the village elder tells them that only winners here are the villagers.  As they leave town, they realize just how true that is.

I feel like every time I write about a Western, I mention that I’m not a huge fan of Westerns.  But every year that I do Blogging Under the Stars, I do end up watching at least one Western that I enjoy and this year, that Western seems to be The Magnificent Seven.  I loved The Magnificent Seven!  It’s one of those movies that just grabs my attention from the beginning and doesn’t let it go until the very end.  With a great screenplay, first rate direction from John Sturges, and a, well, magnificent cast, The Magnificent Seven proves to be an exception to the idea that remakes aren’t a good idea.  I’ve had a copy of this movie for a long time and never got around to watching until now and I’m kicking myself for not taking a look at it sooner.  It’s loaded with thrills and excitement.  Simply wonderful!

Along Came Jones (1945)

When Melody Jones (Gary Cooper) and his friend George Fury (William Demarest) ride into the town of Payneville, Melody is confused and kind of amused when everyone in town seems to be afraid of him.  Melody’s a completely harmless guy, so imagine his surprise when Cherry de Longpre (Loretta Young) informs him there’s a gun pointed at him.  She takes Melody and George back to her ranch and along the way, she explains that everyone Payneville thinks Melody is notorious outlaw Monte Jarrad (Dan Duryea).  Melody and Monte really don’t look alike, but they do have the same initials and share some of the vague characteristics listed on Motne’s wanted poster.

Cherry urges Melody and George to get out of Payneville right away, and naturally, they take her advice.  But once they get a little bit out of town, they realize their departure would be a perfect diversion for the real criminal to escape, so they go back to Cherry’s ranch to see what’s going on.  It turns out Cherry and Monte had been friends when they were children, and even though she doesn’t like what he’s turned into, she still feels obligated to take care of him and has been hiding him in her barn.  To protect Melody, Cherry lets him stay at her ranch for the night.

The next day, Cherry convinces Melody to take Monte’s saddle so he can distract the posse chasing Monte and Monte can get away.  But when Melody goes to town posing as Monte, Melody gets into some trouble and has to be saved by Cherry.  But there’s one thing that Monte left behind and that’s some of the money he stole.  Even more problems arise for Melody and Cherry when other people come to claim it — including Monte himself.

I really wasn’t a big fan of Along Came Jones.  It was nice to see Gary Cooper having some fun with the Western genre, but it isn’t a particularly well written movie.  The basic premise of the movie had potential, but it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.  If you’re looking for a fun Western, definitely go with something like Destry Rides Again or Cat Ballou instead.

The Wind (1928)

Letty (Lillian Gish) leaves her life in Virginia behind to live on her cousin Beverly’s (Edward Earle) ranch in Sweet Water, Texas.  While on the train to Texas, she meets Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love), who lives near Beverly’s ranch.  All the wind in Texas is making Letty very nervous and Roddy tells her the wind often drives women out there crazy.  When she gets to the train station, she’s met by Beverly’s neighbor Lige (Lars Hanson).  Lige takes her to Beverly’s ranch and he likes her a lot, but Letty doesn’t like him at all.

Letty has no problem fitting in with the community.  She and Beverly are very close, his children love her, and  Sourdough (William Orlamond), Lige, and Roddy all want to marry her.  The only person who doesn’t like her is Beverly’s wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming).  Cora is extremely jealous of how close Beverly and Letty are and how much her children like her.  When Roddy, Lige, and Sourdough each declare their feelings for Letty, the only one she thinks is serious is Roddy.  With all these proposals Letty’s getting, Cora orders Letty to accept one and get out of her house.  She tells Roddy that she’ll marry him, but then he tells her he’s already married.  Lige and Sourdough flip a coin to decide which one will marry her (how romantic) and Lige wins.

Lige really does love Letty, but Letty still doesn’t feel the same way and yells at him when he tries to kiss her.  He promises not to touch her again and works to get enough money to send her back to Virginia.  In the meantime, she continues living with them, even though the strong winds in the area are grating her nerves.  When Lige leaves with some other cattlemen, Letty begs him to let her come with him because she needs a change of scenery.  He agrees, but along the way, she gets hurt and is brought back home.  Before too long, an injured Roddy is also brought home for Letty to care for.  He tries to go after her, but luckily Lige comes back in the nick of time.  Lige needs Roddy’s help rounding up some horses, so they head off, leaving Letty alone.  That night, there is a severe wind storm that drives Letty into madness.

The Wind is my favorite Lillian Gish movie.  It showcases exactly what made her so perfect for silent films.  She could convey such a deep inner turmoil using only her eyes.  Lillian called the production of The Wind the most uncomfortable movie set she’d ever been on (she famously burned her hand on a door handle while filming in the Mojave Desert), but her performance certainly didn’t suffer at all.  And I can’t neglect to mention the overall atmosphere of the movie. All the wind and the camerawork paired with Lillian’s performance make The Wind something you experience, not something you simply watch.  The only reason I can’t call it perfect is because I hate the happy ending MGM insisted on tacking on to it.  Lillian hated that ending too, and even said so herself in an introduction TCM includes when they show it.  But even with the forced ending, The Wind remains one of the last truly great films made during the silent film era.

Red River (1948)

Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his friend Groot (Walter Brennan) join a wagon train headed to California, but along the way, they decide to leave in Texas to start up a cattle ranch.  It means Tom has to leave behind Fen, the woman he loves, but Tom has always dreamed of having his own cattle ranch.  He promises that he will send for her someday, but not long after leaving the train, Tom and Groot see that the train they were part of was attacked by Indians and Fen was killed.  The only survivor of the attack was Matthew (Mickey Kuhn as a child, Montgomery Clift as an adult), who finds his way to Tom and Groot and brings a cow with him.

Tom takes Matt and his cow along with them and begins to treat Matt like a son.  Nothing stands in Tom’s way of making his ranch a success and 14 years later, Tom’s herd has grown to over ten thousand.  But after the South loses the Civil War, not very many people can afford to buy his beef anymore so Tom decides the best thing to do would take all the cattle north to Missouri.  It would be a massive undertaking and Tom has to hire extra help to make it happen.  He knows it’s going to be hard and that people will want to quit along the way, but he tells everyone right off that he won’t tolerate anybody quitting.  As soon as he’s got a good crew ready, they set out for Missouri.

Just as Tom predicted, things start getting hard and very dangerous.  There’s a stampede and one of their wagons carrying food is destroyed.  Food has to be rationed tightly, Tom doesn’t have the money to get more supplies, and when some of the men find out that it might be easier to go to Albilene, Kansas than Missouri, they’re not happy when Tom insists on going ahead to Missouri instead.  Some try to desert, but Tom has them brought back, which pushes Matt to the breaking point.  Matt shoots Tom in the hand and takes control of the cattle drive, leaving Tom behind.  But Tom vows to catch up to them someday and when he does, he’s going to kill Matt.  Matt leads the way to Albilene, but they stop to help another wagon train being attacked by Indians, which is where Matt meets Tess (Joanne Dru).  Matt and Tess fall in love with each other, but he leaves her behind just like Tom left Fen behind all those years ago.  After he leaves, Tom ends up meeting Tess, who begs him to not kill Matt.  Tom doesn’t want to back off, but his meeting with Tess gives him a lot to consider.

I figured I’d start Blogging Under the Stars 2012 off with a movie that’s been on my “To Watch” list for a long time now.  Now that I’ve finally seen it, I can safely say that I wish I had seen Red River sooner.  I certainly never thought John Wayne was a bad actor, but his performance in this really blew me away.  His acting in the scene where Tom meets with Tess is definitely my favorite scene of any John Wayne movie that I’ve seen.  Red River was also the first film Montgomery Clift made.  Costarring with someone like John Wayne for your first movie has got to be pretty daunting task, but Clift managed to really hold his own against Wayne.  There were plenty of exciting moments to keep me entertained,  like the stampede scene and the scene where Tom makes his way into Albilene to have his match with Matt.  Overall, I was very impressed with it and that’s a big compliment coming from someone who isn’t too fond of Westerns.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

In 1945, not too many people are coming to the small western town of Black Rock anymore.  In fact, when John Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) comes to town, it’s the first time the train has stopped in Black Rock in four years.  Although he doesn’t exactly expect a warm welcome, he sure wasn’t expecting hostility from every resident of Black Rock.  When he says he stopped in Black Rock so he could drive out to Adobe Flat and see a man named Komoko, everybody gives him the third degree.  He tries to check into the hotel, but Pete Wirth (John Ericson) doesn’t want to give him a room.  When he does get a room, Hector David (Lee Marvin) threatens him for no reason.  Even some of the locals don’t understand why everyone is so on edge about Macreedy being in town.  Macreedy tries talking to sheriff Tim Horn about Komoko (Dean Jagger), but he’s too drunk to be much help.  Even though Tim is the sheriff, Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) appears to be the one running things in Black Rock and tells Macreedy that since Komoko was Japanese, he had been sent to an internment camp during World War II.

Regardless of what Reno had told him about Komoko, Macreedy is determined to make the trip to Adobe Flat anyway, so he rents Liz Wirth’s (Anne Francis) Jeep and drives out there.  The only things he finds in Adobe Flat are a burned down house, a very deep well, and some wildflowers.  When he sees the wildflowers, he begins to suspect that someone is buried beneath them.  On the way back to Black Rock, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) gets behind Macreedy and runs him off the road.  Unharmed, Macreedy gets back to Black Rock and decides to get out of there as soon as he can.  Unfortunately, the train won’t be back until the next day and he can’t get a ride to the next town.  Reno comes to talk to Macreedy again, and he finds out that Reno is horribly racist toward the Japanese.  After this little chat, Macreedy begins to suspect that Komoko is buried under those wildflowers and Reno is the one who put him there.

Macreedy tries to call the state police for help but can’t get through.  Doc (Walter Brennan), one of the few people in town willing to help him, offers him a vehicle to get out of town, but it’s been tampered with.  In a last ditch effort, he tries sending a telegram to the state police to come help.  Since all he can do now is wait, Macreedy stops in at the local bar and Coley and Reno show up to cause trouble for him.  But by now, he’s had just about enough of them and gets into a fight with Coley and tells Reno that he knows he killed Komoko and he couldn’t even do it alone.  The next day, before he was due to leave, Macreedy finds out that his telegram was given to Reno instead of the state police.  Macreedy, Doc, and Tim all remind Reno that it’s a federal offense to do that, but Reno isn’t scared of them.  Once Reno is gone, though, Macreedy tells Doc and Pete that he had come to Black Rock to find Komoko so he could give him a medal awarded posthumously to his son, who had saved Macreedy’s life during the war.  Finally, Pete cracks and admits what happened to Komoko.  Doc and Pete then plot to get Macreedy to safety and to take back control of their town.

Even if you don’t like Westerns, you really shouldn’t be deterred from Bad Day at Black Rock.  It’s much more of a mystery than it is a Western.  And it is one captivating mystery, at that.  There wasn’t a moment in the movie where I wasn’t glued to the screen, eagerly awaiting to find out what on Earth was going on in Black Rock and what happened to Komoko.  Not only is the story wonderful, but you can’t ask for a much better cast than this!  Everything about it was amazing, it’s a real must-see movie!

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Pike Bishop (William Holden) is the leader of a gang of outlaws, but his gang isn’t the typical gang you might think of.  Almost all the guys in his gang are getting up there in years, but they have no delusions about their age.  They’re just looking to pull off one last big robbery that would give them enough money to retire on.  When the gang heads to San Rafael, Texas to rob a railroad office, they’re confronted by a band of bounty hunters led by Pike’s former partner Deke (Robert Ryan).  A shootout ensues that takes out a lot of Pike’s gang as well as several innocent bystanders.

The only surviving members of Pike’s gang are Pike, Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), Angel (Jaime Sanchez), and Lyle and Tector Gorch (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson, respectively).  As if their robbery didn’t go badly enough, they soon realize that they didn’t actually steal any money, they only stole a bunch of metal washers.  They start to head for Mexico, but hot on their trail is Deke and his gang of bounty hunters.  Once they get to Mexico, they begin to see the devastation of the Mexican revolution.  Angel is originally from Mexico, so he is particularly angry to see what has been done to his home village.  When they make it to Agua Verde, the gang meets Mapache, a general in the Mexican Federal Army.  Angel’s anger comes to a head when he sees Mapache, the person responsible for destroying his home, with one of his former girlfriends and he shoots the girl.  To stop Mapache from killing Angel, Pike works out a deal with him where his gang will steal a shipment of guns and ammunition from a train for them and they will be given $10,000 in gold.

$10,000 of gold sounds like a good thing to everybody except Angel.  He can’t bring himself to give them weapons so they can kill more of his people.  Angel gives up his share of the gold in exchange for taking a small part of the shipment and giving it to help people on his side.  When the big heist is set to go down, there’s one little surprise they hadn’t counted on — Deke and his bounty  hunters being on the same train as the guns.  But they pull it off and try to make it so that Mapache won’t notice the missing guns.  However, Mapache is not easily fooled and captures Angel and tortures him.  Pike and his gang are faithfully loyal to each other and try to save their friend, but instead, Mapache kills Angel in front of them.  Not willing to back down, the gang launches into one of the most epic gunfights in film history.

As many of you already know, I’m not the biggest fan of Westerns.  But to me, The Wild Bunch wasn’t so much a Western as it was a gangster movie/thriller that just happened to be set in the West instead of a city like New York or Chicago.  Some of the story elements felt like they could have come straight out of classic gangster or heist films if you just changed “guns and ammunition” to “valuable jewels.”  But even if I felt like I’ve seen some of the story elements before, Sam Peckinpah made them completely his own through his very distinct style.  It’s very taut, thrilling, and action packed.  And there’s no going wrong with that phenomenal cast!  This is one movie I think deserves all the acclaim it’s gotten.

Destry Rides Again (1939)

Back in the day, the town of Bottleneck was ran by Sheriff Destry and his deputy Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger).  But years after Sheriff Destry’s death, Bottleneck has become a pretty rough and tumble town run by saloon owner Kent and his barmaid Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) and Washington has become the town drunk, always reminiscing about the good old days when he was the deputy.  Kent has been running a fixed poker game that he uses to bilk ranch owners out of their land so he can charge cattle owners a hefty fee to let their cattle pass through.  When Kent tries this trick on Lern Claggett, Lern tells Sheriff Keogh and Keogh starts investigating.  Kent kills Sheriff Keogh and the mayor, who has been conspiring with Kent, tells the town that Keogh had to leave town suddenly and gives his job to Washington.  They assume that Washington will be too drunk to do the job properly, but little do they know that a little responsibility is a good thing for Washington.  He gives up alcohol on the spot and calls for Sheriff Destry’s son, Tom Destry, Jr. (James Stewart) to come to Bottleneck and be his deputy.

When Destry comes to town, it seems like he’s all wrong for Bottleneck.  Surprisingly for someone who’s supposed to be in charge of keeping such a wild town in line, he refuses to carry a gun.  He sure knows how to use one, but he just doesn’t believe in using them.  Destry becomes something of a town joke, but he actually manages to win Frenchy over after he breaks up a fight she’s in and she gets into a fight with him instead.  But then he gets to work at investigating Sheriff Keogh’s murder and arrests Gyp, one of Kent’s cohorts.  Kent thinks he’s outsmarted Destry by appointing another one of his cohorts as judge, but it turns out Destry is way ahead of him and has sent for a real judge to come to town for the case.  When Kent finds out, he’s furious and gets a gang of his friends ready to shoot Destry.  Frenchy knows what’s going on and tries to save Destry by having him come visit her at her house and the gang shoots Washington instead.  Now Destry is really mad!  He goes home, gets his father’s guns, and rallies all the gypped ranchers to take down all the outlaws.  An epic shootout takes place that results in Frenchy sacrificing herself for Destry.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m not terribly fond of Westerns.  There are a few that I like, but generally, I’d rather watch one of my cats sleep than watch a Western.  For me to say that I really liked a Western is one of the highest compliments I can give a movie and Destry Rides Again is certainly deserving of that honor.  I probably wouldn’t have sought this movie out at all if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a big Marlene Dietrich fan, but in the end, I’m really glad I gave it a chance because it’s a lot of fun.  It’s much more lighthearted than your typical Western, but it’s also got some very exciting action scenes that are so classically Western.

This was the first Western for both Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.  Of course, Jimmy proved to be a natural fit for the genre, and went on to make many more.  He was definitely perfect for that non-threatening, mild mannered character.  Dietrich actually wasn’t particularly keen on making a Western, but at the time, she was deeply concerned about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany.  Her friend Erich Maria Remarque told her that being in a Western would make her seem more all American and maybe American audiences would be more receptive to what she had to say about Nazis if they thought of her as one of their own.  So she agreed and I’m glad she went ahead with it, because she seemed to be having such a good time with her role.  At first, I was afraid that Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich would be kind of an odd couple, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them together.  Destry Rides Again is just a good time from beginning to end.