One Mysterious Night
The Blue Star of the Nile, purloined with chewing gum and a sister’s purse.
Boston Blackie, fresh from his life of crime, dragooned by the cops to fetch it back.
A lady reporter for the Bulletin, fetching.
The two pawn shop dummies who pulled the heist with an inside man, “small-time chiselers”.
The proprietress of a hotel for women who won’t let Inspector Farraday inspect the joint.
“Over my dead body,” says she.
“Don’t be so modest, lady,” Sgt. Matthews says, “there’s still plenty of life in you.”
A.W. (New York Times) published an absurd review claiming unreality, a blank, “crime should pay”. Ellery Queen and Banacek for television take careful note of the style.
The Missing Juror
An astounding wartime mystery, every detail counts, the war is never mentioned.
The condemned murderer didn’t shoot his fiancée in bed, it’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” in a steam bath (recited by Mike Mazurki), his jurors are being killed off one by one, twelve in number.
The reporter is a feature writer now, direct to the publisher, nevertheless the editor takes an interest.
“Minor puzzle piece”, says Halliwell’s Film Guide. “Mainly for the specialists,” says Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “I suspect.”
Escape in the Fog
A literal nightmare, one that figures in Coppola’s The Conversation, the quintessential nightmare of the war, man attacked on two fronts, lady screaming.
The Hitchcockian element (from The Man Who Knew Too Much) finally coalesces on a small device used in Family Plot (false brick), where the location is San Francisco again.
An exacerbation of nightmare, the entire film.
A certain adumbration of Polanski’s Chinatown...
“Forgettable”, says TV Guide, “no clue...” Halliwell’s Film Guide finds it “muddy”.
The Fleet that came to stay
Beginning of the very end at Okinawa, “a struggle between men who want to die, and men who fight to live.”
“The kamikazes—it was weird, it was savage.”
“For week after vicious week, the most devastating air-sea battle of all time wore on.” O.W.I., War Activities Committee, Motion Picture Industry.
The New York Times expert wrote with exemplary vividness, “it is one of the most vivid documentaries of the war, and it is, moreover, an expert example of movie-making.”
Behind Locked Doors
Undercover in a madhouse to ferret out a crooked judge on the lam, the man who runs the place is a crony of sorts.
“So you think you’ve got a beef with the world. Hmph.”
With Richard Carlson, a variant of Siodmak’s Fly-By-Night.
La Siesta Sanitarium, the authors of this film have seen such a place, “a rotten disgrace”, two months later came Litvak’s the snake pit.
“You came here to be cured? You’re more likely to be killed.”
The structure of the vaudeville crazy house, and thus the madness of love, a god that abscondeth (which is how Fuller arrives at Shock Corridor).
Boetticher does all anyone can do to convey it. Jim Rockford has such a case (“The Competitive Edge”, dir. Harry Falk), also Pabst (Cose da pazzi) and Russell (The Fall of the Louse of Usher), from Edgar Allan Poe. “What kind of a joint is this?
Terrific film with a commanding technique and very funny on top of that, a masterpiece that is a main foundation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (dir. Milos Forman).
Leonard Maltin, “pretty good grade-B film noir”.
Bullfighter and the Lady
Art of the torero, which is to direct the bull onto the muleta.
A film by a practitioner, recounting the steps.
“El hombre propone, y Dios dispone.” They that go down to the sand in lights.
“¡Música! ¡Música! ¡Música! ¡Música! ¡Música!”
The ritual performed, the meaning of “stature” in Mexico. The cruciform structure of bullfighting, on the horizontal plane those who enter the corrida, on the vertical those who have gone before.
The influence is perhaps felt in Joshua Logan’s Sayonara.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “if only the hero of the romance were less of an absolute myth! Well this is a Republic picture, and you know what happens to their heroes when cattle get into their films!” Variety, “Boetticher keeps it punching at all times.” Leonard Maltin, “the movies’ best treatment of this subject.” Film4, “one of the best treatments of bullfighting on film.” Geoff Andrew (Time Out), “a surprising fiasco of almost unbearable tedium.” TV Guide, “a fine film”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “for aficionados only.”
The Cimarron Kid
He’s had a “cold-deck shuffle” all his life, he turns criminal and gets drummed into him just what a tomfoolery the outlaw way is. Why, in the end he’s suckered into a scheme to turn lead right into gold, it just can’t get any plainer.
A genius Western, overlooked like much else in the Boetticher canon.
One of the bedrock formations behind Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) and George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and John Milius (Dillinger), to name a few.
Red Ball Express
The expressive symbol of the enterprise is a burning town through which trucks laden with fuel and ammunition race to supply a forward position reached by Gen. Patton’s tank corps, so the film resumes itself as, from the beginning, a military objective and dull or soft duty found to be hazardous and exhausting, a precedent for the Berlin Airlift.
The most brilliant screenplay imaginable is provided by John Michael Hayes, well up and truly inspired (echoes of it are found in Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen), extremely funny and almost too fast to be serious.
O.A.G. of the New York Times denounced it as hackwork. “Why, oh why, did the creators of this fraud feel that they had to re-heat the ancient device of having the lead an officer hated by his men?”
Hawks, Ford, Wellman, all speak this same language very articulately, as Boetticher does, and if the fine comedy was lost on the Times, so were vivid performances by Charles Drake and Alex Nicol among the superb cast, though Chandler and Poitier were praised.
A “western empire” built on cattle-rustling and sharp business practices amounting to the same, abetted by payrolled lawmen and judges, ends at its headquarters in the Zona Libre after the murder of Austin’s prosecuting attorney.
City Beneath the Sea
Poe’s “The City in the Sea”, where the Lady Luck has foundered in a hurricane, sought by the American Beauty and the Volga Boatman for her bullion.
That is only the overall view, a great deal of attention is paid to the minutest image and the greatest themes essayed, though it’s only two deep-sea divers on a salvage job (the locale is Jamaica).
The New York Times reviewer H.H.T. could understand not one whit of it, “about as banal and uninspired as they come.” Variety felt it was “not necessarily logical” but welcome for its good humor. Halliwell found “little to stir the interest”, Geoff Andrew in Time Out Film Guide correctly admired the performances but dismissed Boetticher’s film as “well below average”.
Practically a Robert Frost view, “oh, yes, he showed John the wheel pit all right,” and the rebuke of honor from the savage red.
The resemblance to Anthony Mann’s The Last Frontier is by way of the weather and the common source in John Ford’s Fort Apache.
The great study of an outclassed major, and an inexperienced though greatly knowledgeable lieutenant, both from West Point, and the girl at the trading post between two worlds in the Everglades, and Osceola, of course, a great damned leader treading on quicksand.
Extraordinary dramatic skill has been noted in reviews, less so the accuracy of costuming and scenic effects, which goes far to establish the drama of Floridians settling matters amongst themselves.
The Man from the Alamo
Boetticher has several themes to work with, first the Alamo in a very clear analysis followed by the terrible bombardment, this is a superb construction in itself and takes no more than a quarter-hour.
The title character finds the wives and children dead, the homes burned. He is thought to be a coward and nearly lynched. He joins (cp. West of the Divide, dir. Robert N. Bradbury) the bandit gang of Americans disguised as Mexicans (cp. The Gay Amigo, dir. Wallace Fox) and is all but killed protecting the wagon train of evacuees whose military escort is called away by General Sam Houston. He arms the women, hides the children, defends against the bandit attack and sends the bandit leader over a waterfall.
This is several classic Western themes combined for a tour de force to accomplish the singular feat of bringing the highest and lowest together, his harshest critic finds himself placed by circumstances in the same boat irretrievably, all at once the truth that cannot be believed is made manifest to him, and all is well (cp. The Wild North, dir. Andrew Marton).
H.H.T. of the New York Times remained a harsh critic.
Wings of the Hawk
A state in northern Mexico, 1911, federales vs. insurrectos, Galleger the gold miner in-between.
His mine is seized (he’s offered half), there is no succor in Mexico City.
The insurrectos are others in like plight, the bandit Orozco proposes an alliance.
The rebel “general” is one Raquel.
Boetticher’s eloquence in 3-D looks up in the hoosegow to see a .45 caliber six-shooter descending on a rope.
One of the films that goes into the making of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, very close on structural grounds.
It meant nothing to H.H.T. of the New York Times, “nothing to write home about or leave home to see.”
Film4 agrees, “familiar territory”.
The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “bogs down... until... the final showdown”.
Leonard Maltin has the plot muddled.
Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide) praises “the always-inventive direction of Budd Boetticher.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “routine bang-bang.”
East of Sumatra
Mining tin for bronze and beer cans.
The decisive image is at the start, a drunken miner in Malaya takes over the steam shovel and rains down mayhem on the rest below, gleefully roaring “banzai!”
The previously uncharted island of the title bears tin, a population like the Javanese, a king named Kiang (Anthony Quinn) and the half-white princess whom he is to marry, Minyora (Suzan Ball).
To find tin there is to make the acquaintance of the princess and excite the king’s jealousy.
Events re-ignite the feelings of a girl (Marilyn Maxwell) disaffected since Hong Kong and now engaged to the boss (John Sutton).
Besieged in a temple, the miners and the princess observe a royal combat between Kiang and their contractor (Jeff Chandler).
The Magnificent Matador
A matador goes to the Virgin in existential anguish. The drawing of the bulls (led by “jezebels” into isolating stalls) is filmed twice at two angles, to cinch the deal. Boetticher’s elegant, geometric décor sets off his matador like a votive flame. The beauty of Mexico is seen in swift cutting as backgrounds, from the Toreo to hacienda-hotels and finally to the bare countryside, before the return.
The brief record of a flamenco dance given by Boetticher is of a rare sinuous type, all cricket-castanets and slow undulations.
The Killer Is Loose
A married schnook might pull an inside job at the loan company and go to prison, but if his wife is killed in the gunplay he’s liable to come apart at the seams and murder his way from honor farm to the house of the cop who is responsible, after his wife.
And so you have the extraordinary circumstances of this “third-rate crime film” (Bosley Crowther, New York Times) and “potboiler” (Halliwell’s Film Guide) with “not much credibility” (Time Out Film Guide).
Truffaut’s review is an error, also his estimation of Boetticher’s Westerns “from 1948 to 1955” as “inane (if sometimes very handsome)”.
Seven Men From Now
Here is the exact opposite of the epic Western, its terseness is of a piece with its laconicism, within the dimensions of the classic form.
Ah, but the form is made up of vast planes brought into sharp apposition.
The remarkable dialogue and remarkable filming have a remarkable structure of the same stamp.
The villain (Lee Marvin), a sprightly moron with a trace more of cunning than the low, murderous outlaws he outwits, has the mirror image of the hero’s swath, and the two of them are alone in the end, briefly.
Any film with Randolph Scott, not necessarily a Western, is a work of genius, that is his stock in trade.
Lang’s Rancho Notorious shows the girl dead at the scene of the crime, Boetticher and Kennedy resolve the thing to a man’s rightful place.
The Tall T
The title refers to Tenvoorde’s ranch. The top hand and ramrod has struck out on his own. Tenvoorde wants him back.
There is no surreal connection, even, with the events that follow, not a suspicion of it. And that’s the beauty, the title alone tells the story.
One of the great masterpieces of the Western art, with its beautiful broken theme that extends from a swing station to Contention to an old mine amid the desert rocks, and it’s always the same, unelaborated, as near unstated as it can be and yet vivid as a .45 in the sun.
War of the Silver
A stunning Boetticher Western to open the series.
Echo Springs has a de facto boss who owns the mines worth having and the newspaper and just about everything else, he just likes to win so he cheats at cards in a regular game.
By God, by the time Bret Maverick rides out of town the fraud is exposed, the mine owners have had a rich strike, the miners work better hours for better pay, there’s no hard feelings and Maverick is just a bit richer than when he rode in, several times richer.
Furthermore, there’s the whiskey-soaked judge fallen from the bench who is raised to the seat once again by a skillful election campaign run by Maverick, who likes decent manners and everything in its place, also there’s a young girl heading off to Boston who gives him her address, all managed by observation, patience, cleverness, daring, and playing the cards perfectly right.
There’s no hotter, dustier, forsakener town than Bent Forks, “a hole” in a word.
It has a good sheriff, and the saloon runs an honest game, Bret knows all the angles so he’s hired to keep it that way.
A pretty gal and the banker’s nephew plan to blow his face off with a shotgun and disappear with the cattlemen’s money.
There’s no future in it, but even Bent Forks has some redeeming qualities to keep a girl interested.
Fast as a card hand in a quick game of poker. “Lady, I never worry about anything.”
Bret’s hired out of jail after skunking a saloon practical joker with the antebellum “belt game”, all in good fun and for a grubstake.
According To Hoyle
Even a bad poker player can clean out a good one with a few tricks short of cheating, and if you can’t beat ‘em (broke in New Orleans), join ‘em (partnership in St. Louis, bound for Wyoming).
The Golden Bucket (Wagon Wheel, Wyo.) fleeces ‘em, the partnership dissolves for a merger, leaving Maverick out in the cold, so he presses on, reads the marked cards out loud so all the suckers can hear ‘em, and the merger goes smash, leaving The Square Deck in its stead.
Decision at Sundown
The wife gone astray and the town under a strong man’s heel are one and the same, it’s the same man in both instances, her husband shows up for vengeance and has another think coming.
This is the moral abstraction referred to by Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) as “essential viewing,” she wasn’t worth much in herself, maybe, and she ended up a suicide, but you can’t force a woman that way, or keep a town from its citizens without their consent, not even a town called Sundown.
“Routine small-town western,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, “efficiently done.”
Buchanan Rides Alone
It’s one of the purest and most poetical of all Westerns, because it all stems surrealistically from a single slight in the opening scene.
The film undoes the ruling apparatus of Agry Town, sets up a fairly decent man in charge, and finally lets Buchanan go his way to West Texas.
The furious complexities of plot are nothing, incidental observations, the Agrys run their town to please themselves, they have to go.
No stress is laid on that point, it just works out that way, with one Agry vying with another to be the greediest son of a bitch, worthless and corrupt.
Boetticher shows almost at once what an elegant film he could have made if he had wanted to, the rest is a complete satire that drills every impediment right through in this hick border town run by crooks.
As perfect a Western as could be, though the theme is somewhat out of the ordinary, Civil War gold from California to the Union through Rebel territory on the Overland Stage Lines, shepherded by a captain and former line boss.
There’s a corporal who’s invested an arm in his wife and farm, and a former flame now wedded to a line employee who’s rich and at war with the Union, helped by a band of cutthroats so bad even the Southern sympathizers roundabout take up arms against them.
Perfect settings, cinematography, everything.
“A minor programmer” (Time Out Film Guide, typifying the critics).
Backshooter, bounty hunter, outlaws, swing station widow, backshooter’s brother and his gang, Mescaleros, filmed all but insignificantly amid the wonders of the Southwest desert.
The bounty hunter’s wife was murdered on the “hang tree” that burns before him with its curiously feminine shape in the last shot.
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond
The unbeatable gangster, the gangster who couldn’t be killed, just wears out his welcome with life, that’s all, the new syndicate eliminates him.
Ganef in jail, thief of thieves, gangland war power, amazingly self-absorbed, cunning, toadying, bullying, vile rat.
Howard Thompson of the New York Times thought he was too nicely painted, as a character.
“The tone is almost existential” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide).
“Alas, stars and style were equally lacking” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
The jewelry heist from a neighboring movie house is borrowed by Thompson for 10 to Midnight.
If Cézanne made Westerns... it takes place on the moon, in California, Autry-Boetticher country. Alive or dead is the rule, money’s the deciding factor for some.
Eastmancolor and CinemaScope. The long approach to water is seen by the horses and mules as the trees approach and shade and finally the river.
The idiots (Richard Rust, Skip Homeier) follow their way and are lost. The bastard (Claude Akins) with an eye on the reward tries his hand and fails. The wife (Nancy Gates) held for trade by the Comanches gets back to her husband. Her rescuer (Randolph Scott) rides off.
“There are no interior scenes at all,” as Variety observes, but plenty of George Catlin and Frederic Remington right off the picture plane.
A Time for Dying
You could only wish it longer to have more of the same, yet it is complete and perfect.
The assassination of President Kennedy is written all over Nellie’s pink dress in blood.
That is the surprising conclusion that lends all the rest of the film its more or less definite circumstances and significance.
The acting has been falsely criticized.
The great matador in retirement to breed bulls with fascinating points thereon, his return as a rejoneador in the Portuguese variation of “the world’s most demanding art”, a toreador on horseback.
“A magnificent documentary” (Roger Greenspun, New York Times).
Score by Raul Lavista.