El Dorado (1966, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 8

Starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Charlene Holt, Michele Carey, Christopher George, Ed Asner, R.G Armstrong

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Fun. Endearing. Rousing.

Apparently, its director, the legendary Howard Hawks, claimed this film wasn’t a remake of Rio Bravo, one of his earlier works and one of his best. I’m not sure who he was trying to fool. It clearly is, and more than that, I don’t know why he felt the need. No one’s complaining. At least not now, forty years later. I’m certainly not. Rio Bravo is a bonafide classic. So is El Dorado. It stars John Wayne as Cole Thorton, a gun for hire, who strolls into the troubled town of El Dorado to find an old friend, J.P Harrah (Mitchum), is the sheriff. Harrah fills Cole in on the situation: a greedy businessman, Bart Jason (Asner), is hiring men to bully land away from a local family, the McDonalds. Time passes before anything comes of this situation and when it comes, Harrah has devolved into the town drunk after a woman leaves him. It’s up to Cole, Harrah’s loyal friend and Indian fighter, Bull (Hunnicutt), and a young hotshot named Mississippi (Cann) to protect the McDonald family while helping Harrah to come to in time to turn the tide. Jason has a lot of men led by a mercenary, McLeod (George), who knows what he’s doing. Fantastic classic western made in a time when revisionist westerns ruled, El Dorado is terrific fun. The ending is slightly unsatisfying. Not that it’s a bad ending; it might even be the right ending, but like its characters, I wanted to see Thorton and McLeod face off. As it stands, the good guys basically cheated. Also, you’ll have to ignore a quick interlude in which Caan pretends to be a “chinaman.” Other than that though, this is one of my favorite westerns.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(868)

The King and Four Queens (1956, Directed by Raoul Walsh) English 6

Starring Clark Gable, Eleanor Parker, Jean Willes, Jo Van Fleet, Barbara Nichols, Sarah Shane

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(6-Good Film)

Risqué. Alluring. Tame.

Scoundrel, Dan Kehoe (Gable), wanders into some random, dusty town in the American West and learns about a house full of women guarding an immense fortune that their deceased husbands stole years back. Attempting to worm his way into their house, their hearts, and their pockets proves more difficult than he expects. Not because of the four women themselves but the mother-in-law, Ma McCade (Van Fleet), a harsh, old bird who turns out to be the only one who actually knows where the money is. The setup is there for a fun, bawdy western, and nobody plays a better scoundrel than Gable, but ultimately The King and Four Queens plays it pretty safe and never manufactures much in the way of suspense. Instead, it’s satisfied to merely have Gable flirt with the beautiful ladies on screen. That’s enough to entertain but not to make the film essential.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
(847)

The Last Wagon (1956, Directed by Delmer Daves) English 7

Starring Richard Widmark, Felicia Farr, Tommy Rettig, Nick Adams, Susan Kohner, Timothy Carey, Stephanie Griffin

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(7-Very Good Film)

Potboiler. Thrilling. Simple.

A fugitive, Comanche Todd (Widmark), is caught by a sadistic Sheriff and dragged along with a wagon train of civilians to some town where he’ll be hanged. Comanche Todd, a white man raised by Indians, is given some sympathy by a few of the travelers but feared by most. When the wagon train is attacked by vengeful Apache, Comanche Todd is called on to lead the few survivors to civilization. This is a classic old Hollywood western in a number of ways but manages some moral ambiguity which is rare for westerns of the period. It also depicts Indians as something more than mindless killing machines, which is rarer still. Although a bit hokey at times, all in all, it’s a rousing adventure filmed beautifully in Cinescope by director Delmer Daves who filmed many excellent westerns.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(824)

Man in the Saddle (1951, Directed by André De Toth) English 5

Starring Randolph Scott, Ellen Drew, Joan Leslie, John Russell, Alfonso Bedoya, Richard Rober, Alexander Knox

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(5-Okay Film)

Lackluster. Ill-defined. Dutiful.

Owen Merrit (Scott) has been thrown over by Laurie (Leslie) for a wealthy land baron, Will Isham (Knox), but can’t quite give her up, believing that she still loves him. Isham, for all of his wealth and power, is a jealous, insecure man and he sees Merrit as a threat. Isham’s plot to destroy Merrit leads the latter to hiding out with a schoolmarm, Nan (Drew), and biding his time to get revenge.  Man in the Saddle hits all the familiar notes in unspectacular fashion but westerns, even at their most derivative, can be great fun. Man in the Saddle is not much fun, despite all of its technical competence, mainly because it’s too muddled early on and the characters aren’t distinct enough until too late in the film. By that time, I was pretty bored. The romance/ love triangle is also uninteresting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(787)

The Hired Hand (1971, Directed by Peter Fonda) English 8

Starring Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom, Robert Pratt, Severn Darden, Ann Doran

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Spare. Thoughtful. Poignant.

Two life-long ramblers in the old west, Harry (Fonda) and Arch (Oates), attempt to give up their nomadic lifestyle when the former decides to return home to his estranged wife, Hannah (Bloom) and daughter. Arch goes with him and, as it’s been several years since Harry left her, Hannah isn’t all that excited to see him again. After some coaxing, she agrees to let the pair work around the house as “hired hands” and sleep out in the barn, and thus begins an odd, intriguing triangle between the three lead characters. Dear, loyal friendship between Harry and Arch. Love, responsibility, vows between Harry and Hannah. And a complicated, mostly unspoken attraction between Arch and Hannah (reminiscent of the classic western, Shane). This is a strange, fascinating film. Like many great westerns before it, The Hired Hand is deceptively simple, so much left unsaid. It focuses on a trio of memorable characters and performances and takes it time letting things unfold.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(745)

Rawhide (1951, Directed by Henry Hathaway) English 7

Starring Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Hugh Marlowe, Dean Jagger, Edgar Buchanan, Jack Elam, George Tobias

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(7-Very Good Film)

Violent. Suspenseful. Strong.

Heir to the family business, Tom Owens (Power), is given his ticket out of Rawhide, an outpost in the west dead in the middle of nowhere. His father sent him there so that Tom would understand the business. Just as Tom’s getting ready to leave, however, four outlaws-Rafe (Marlowe), Tevis (Elam), Gratz (Tobias), and Yancy (Jagger)-who’ve escaped from prison show up and take Tom, along with a woman named Vinnie (Hayward) and her baby, hostage, planning to rob a shipment of gold set to pass through the outpost. Complicating things for everybody is the loose cannon Tevis, ready to kill anybody at any second, including his own running mates. Rawhide is an effective, surprisingly suspenseful western that blends in elements of the home invasion subgenre. On one side, you have the crafty heroes desperately trying to find a way to escape, and on the other side, you have a disparate group of villains ready to combust at any minute. Jack Elam steals the show as a sleazy, cowardly, violent criminal, giving Rawhide its sense of danger and edge. I actually wouldn’t mind a remake.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(709)

The Man From Snowy River (1982, Directed by George T. Miller) English 6

Starring Kirk Douglas, Tom Burlinson, Sigrid Thornton, Terence Donovan, Tommy Dysart, Jack Thompson

(6-Good Film)

Old-fashioned. Solid. Appealing,

Australian western made in the 1980s when westerns were beginning to die out, The Man from Snowy River follows Jim Craig, a young man from the mountains, who goes to the lowlands and works for the tyrannical Mr. Harrison (Douglas) while falling for the man’s daughter. It’s a simple story, sweet and earnest. Very old-fashioned, but the Australian accents add a new color.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(537)