The Bravados (1958, Directed by Henry King) English 8

Starring Gregory Peck, Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd, Henry Silva, Lee Van Cleef, Albert Salmi, Barry Coe

The Bravados - Film | Park Circus

(8-Exceptional Film)

Surprising. Violent. Gripping.

Sheriff Sanchez: We want you to know we’ll always be grateful… and in our hearts always.

Jim Douglass: Thank you… and in your prayers, please.

The Bravados begins as so many exceptional westerns do, with a mysterious stranger riding into town. Here, the mysterious stranger is Jim Douglass (Peck). We know his name but not his motives and he arrives in town not long after a gang of violent thugs are arrested. The suspicious townsfolk wonder if he’s there to help the bad men escape, but once they do escape, Douglass is called on to recapture them. Having his own private reasons for wanting the criminals dead, he accepts. Gregory Peck is surely one of the best of the old stoic leading men. No matter how colorful his supporting cast or surroundings, he’s never upstaged. This is a juicy role for the actor and not quite his typical heroic lead. Douglass is a violent, complicated man. Perhaps one of the few antiheroes Peck ever played. The story’s also a good one; gripping and ultimately surprising.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(909)

The Gunfighter (1950, Directed by Henry King) English 8

Starring Gregory Peck, Jean Parker, Helen Westcott, Millard Mitchell, Karl Malden, Skip Hoemeier, Richard Jaeckel

THE GUNFIGHTER (1950) - Local bad boy (Skip Homier) trues to goad ...

(8-Exceptional Film)

Thoughtful. Serious. Affecting.

Peggy Walsh: When did you get this idea, Jim?

Jimmy Ringo: Well I didn’t get it, it just kinda’ came over me. The way gettin’ older comes over ya. All of a sudden you look at things different than the way ya did five years ago. All of a sudden I knew this was the only thing in the world I wanted.

I’d seen The Big Country and Duel in the Sun. I’m a fan of both, but those felt like anomalies in Gregory Peck’s filmography. I’ve never looked at him as an actor fit for westerns. Over the past week, I’ve watched three films that have changed my mind. The first was The Gunfighter and it’s likely the best. He plays the notorious Jimmy Ringo. Ringo wanders into town looking to talk with his estranged wife and son. He’s older now. Being a famous quickdraw isn’t as appealing as it once was. Everywhere he goes, some young gun wants to kill him; to take the mantle from him. Essentially, he has death following him and he can’t outrun his reputation. It was pointed out to me, and it’s an interesting point, that The Gunfighter would seem to be material typically portrayed in a film noir. Classic westerns are generally fun, adventurous, shoot ’em-ups. The Gunfighter is a foreboding character piece. The hero is a world-weary criminal. It’s one of the best of the classic westerns with a strong central performance by Peck, filled out by an excellent supporting cast (particularly Millard Mitchell).

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(908)

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)