After Little Big Horn, the Sioux head North.
The Northwest Mounted Police, “without whose help Canada could not have survived.” A tenuous position magnificently portrayed in every detail, the voice of sweet reason pleading and prevailing.
Superintendent, inspector, sergeant, constables, under canvas in the wilds of Saskatchewan and very much under the sign of John Ford not long after Gideon of Scotland Yard, the three-man ambassade to the Sioux Nation is to be sure from Fort Apache (Alan Crosland, Jr. exactly reproduces the effect in “The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms” by Rod Serling for The Twilight Zone, Kennedy repeats the shot at the approach to the herd of stray or wild or purloined horses), there is a question of The Searchers.
If the Queen’s peace is kept the Crown is amenable, a shady hardbitten Montana rancher takes up arms against the Red man as a horse thief.
The essential New World motif. Cp. Devil’s Doorway (dir. Anthony Mann). Tony Richardson remembers the squaw and the rancher quintessentially in The Border.
Constable Springer on “the difference... your side o’ the line an’ ours” (cp. The Wonderful Country, dir. Robert Parrish).
Kennedy’s first film, the year after writing Comanche Station (dir. Budd Boetticher), cinematography Arthur Ibbetson, score Douglas Gamley (conductor Muir Mathieson), on location where it happened.
The work is adorned by Teresa Stratas “of the Metropolitan Opera”, whence no doubt Evelyn Lear in Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians (two famous Lulus).
Begorra such landscapes, extending in color the work of Powell & Pressburger (49th Parallel).
Critics having failed to grasp this between Wellman’s Buffalo Bill and Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn (not to mention Arnold Laven’s Geronimo and Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man), it remained for Penn to take even more explicit note in The Missouri Breaks.
Andrew Sarris describes this in The American Cinema as a “false start”.
Eugene Archer of the New York Times, “suggests that unless a radical new approach is discovered soon, the reliable old Western format may be reaching the end of a long hard trail.” TV Guide, “lackluster direction and misused locations”. Time Out, “a completely inferior film.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “dreary, stumbling semi-western”.
Lost Sheep, Lost Shepherd
A vision of Christ in the town of Gavray is gradually realized out of the chaos following the breakout from Normandy (which is represented in the prologue by combat footage and narration).
The town is under German occupation, everyone herded downstairs in the church, where a German unit monitors Allied communications. The squad get a ride there on a tank driven by a seminary outcast who is tormented both by his failure to become a priest and by the killing he’s done.
An old priest hears his confession, the only man left out by the Germans to deceive passersby. Loosely wearing the priest’s cassock, the tanker prays at the church, is discovered and opens fire with a .45, killing several and killed himself. “Nous sommes libres,” the townspeople shout, as the tanker dies at the altar.
Far from the Brave
Following on the death of his BAR man, Sgt. Saunders gets a replacement for him, a forty-year-old cook’s helper two years out of basic training, when he qualified for the BAR.
Kirby wants the job, knows the weapon, Saunders doesn’t care. He was close to the dead man, would rather go by an abstract of the book.
The platoon is rear guard against enemy armor as the battalion falls back. Braddock finds a chicken and prepares to cook it in Billy’s helmet. Billy drops the pin on his grenade, Littlejohn palms it, puts it back and gives the grenade to the replacement.
Sgt. Saunders is knocked down by enemy fire, the BAR man bravely and foolishly advances toward it and is hit. He lobs the grenade and dies.
Saunders has now, from these unhappy circumstances (and after extensive field experience) found a middle way between reliance on personal relationships and impersonal classifications, “it’s wrong to ask a man to die without knowing his name.”
A rapid recap details the action seen since D-Day, a succession of villages and shelling, at last there is a respite at the GI resort of “Avaranchee”, Avranches, a ruined town with cold showers and no sports equipment without a requisition.
At this juncture, a new man arrives, one they all know, the best pitcher in the league, a professional athlete mistakenly assigned to front-line duty and very shortly offered a transfer to Special Services. In the interim he is called upon to pitch against L Company in a bet arranged by Kelly. A monumental shot pulls out from camouflage netting that serves for a backstop and up to show it is hung between two tank barrels. A practice session is broken up by a German bombing raid, all scatter for cover except the pitcher, who looks at the planes until Billy knocks him down into safety. A man receives an arm wound, the pitcher suddenly realizes his vulnerability. He’s spent years climbing the rungs, a wound could finish him.
An easy assignment on the back of a truck carrying weapons in need of repair goes awry when German stragglers open fire. A flanking maneuver by Saunders depends upon the pitcher to fall back and intercept an enemy soldier heading past. The result is debated by Lt. Hanley and Sgt. Saunders, the latter rues his reliance on an untested soldier in close fighting. Hanley contradicts this, there is no way to predict the outcome, the pitcher froze, Billy was gravely wounded.
On his second visit to the base hospital, the pitcher drops a signed baseball at the sight of an empty bed. He accepts his company posting, the unit moves forward.
They are under a barrage of artillery fire, it is necessary to eliminate an observation post directing the German guns. Saunders and three men move uphill on bare ground with charred trees and some rocks, he takes the pitcher with him toward the German position in a ruined building, coaching him precisely. A machine gun knocks Saunders down, the pitcher is isolated under fire, he resolves to stand and hurl a grenade, which evokes a remark from Kelly, “is that an arm, or is that an arm?” The camera closes on the silent ruin silhouetted atop the hill line.
Kennedy’s very dry brand of humor is exhibited in a script not his own, among guffaws. Littlejohn and Billy discuss the “lucky wound” that ends the war, there is no other life for Billy, Littlejohn observes, after he is awakened with this exchange,
BILLY: You asleep?
Tab Hunter delineates every degree of the character’s dilemma, the burden of fame and the shades of fear.
Next in Command
Corporal Cross saves the day with his bazooka, he’s a difficult customer.
Killed his sergeant by misadventure, it comes out over the wine in another farmhouse like the one before.
A strange equation, can’t shoot anybody, suspected, dies killing Germans on the attack.
A recondite little number from an expert.
Billy and Littlejohn and Tom Stoppard’s bicycle.
The tale is simply that of a soldier whose legs carry him from an unequal fight, and who then returns to fight a guerilla war of his own. This is magnified by the venue, an underground cavern in France, so that the picture may be identified with Bacon’s “cave of self”, a limiting idiosyncrasy.
Madness is dereliction of duty. “Take off your hat,” says Littlejohn to disbelieving Billy, the cave is full of bats.
A vertical cross and a fallen retable identify the cemetery in the woods that is the rendezvous point.
The strict command is to obtain a prisoner for interrogation, the nameless soldier is a solitary hunter divided from his patrol. The cave has a back entrance, he uses it.
Saunders and Hanley divide their patrol. The soldier covers a retreat, dying.
Hanley reports all names on the lost patrol’s dog tags to HQ in a down-angle from a crane shot.
The Walking Wounded
A captain in the Army Medical Service is diagnosed by Sgt. Saunders as a case of combat fatigue. “Have you any idea what it’s like to stand by and watch a man die, knowing there’s nothing you can do to save him?” The nurse who has worked with him since his civilian days as “a bold surgeon” says, “yes, yes I do, Will.”
Gary Merrill has the useless bitterness of melancholia. Saunders is wounded by sniper fire in an assault on an empty machine-gun nest, tumbles downhill into barbed wire. He limps aboard an ambulance where the doctor is morosely attending a hopeless patient. At Orré (Auray), the aid station is empty, a German air raid knocks Saunders out, a small dog licks his face, the ambulance is empty save for the patient, Saunders changes his plasma bottle, drives through the town, finds doctor, nurse and driver.
Angry words about “playing God” are designed to goad the captain into “fighting back”. Saunders drives through an Allied barrage against advancing German troops to reach a field hospital, observed by a marveling officer.
The doctor marvels too in a dour way when a rainy night is spent in a barn and the ambulance stuck in the mud is pushed by four German soldiers next day while Saunders waits for them to dislodge it before opening fire.
At the 23rd Evac. Hospital, both patients recover.
Mail Order Bride
“Wagons, Wheat Seed, Wheelbarrows, Whitewash,” Kennedy proposes the joke right out of “a Monkey Ward order book... Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back”.
The matter of taming the young proceeds from Flying Leathernecks (dir. Nicholas Ray) and The Hunters (dir. Dick Powell), the province of a good woman and so forth (cp. Holiday, dir. George Cukor).
Jack Nicholson’s Goin’ South is naturally related, another line of thought on criminals evading the altar is to be found in Dieterle’s Fashions of 1934 and Shavelson’s A New Kind of Love (cf. Fritz Lang’s You and Me), doubtless the sonnets of Shakespeare figure in.
Town of Congress, Montana, whence a rogue saying “you left your jackass in Congress.”
Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “Mail Order Bride and The Rounders were low-key folksy exercises on the sexual mores of the New West...”
Howard Thompson of the New York Times, “almost makes it.” Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “uneven Western”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “an engaging and involving western drama.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “mild western comedy drama.”
Kennedy’s masterpiece of the cowboy life is enough to win a bet anywhere, there’s nothing to it but ridin’ and ropin’ and fendin’ off cowpokes who don’t know nothin’ and accomodatin’ exotic dancers from New York who ain’t used to Las Vegas ways, and the Sedona Rodeo.
The Money Trap
Hang a whore, lose the dividend (Albee’s Everything in the Garden).
Nemerov’s “The Sparrow in the Zoo” is all but cited, ironically.
No bars are set too close, no mesh too fine
To keep me from the eagle and the lion,
Whom keepers feed that I may freely dine.
This goes to show that if you have the wit
To be small, common, cute, and live on shit,
Though the cage fret kings, you may make free with it.
A terribly precise masterpiece, unutterably so, its positions are as absolute as may be, in the face of things all along the line.
Howard Thompson of the New York Times had a field day, chucking this out with John Ford’s 7 Women.
Variety blamed a “cliché-plotted, tritely written script”, by Walter Bernstein out of Lionel White.
Halliwell’s Film Guide reports it as “competent at the lowest level.”
Return of the Seven
The seven return because Chico and the other men of the village have been taken away to serve as slave labor for the rebuilding of a ruined church. Chico was played by Horst Buchholz in the original, his replacement here is perfectly capable, but the MacGuffin is weakened thereby, not from the standpoint of the film itself but of the first audiences, who missed the point somewhat.
Kennedy’s approach is very similar to Leone’s, except that Leone will employ the flashback technique to introduce new material bodily, and Kennedy does not. This makes the central megillah partly expository by dialogue alone, and this is a further difficulty.
The structure is a remarkable mirror-reversal of Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, and this is the most difficult thing of all (it’s prepared by having Vin meet Chris at a bullfight under the guise of claiming a bounty on him of 500—“Dollars?”, Chris wants to know, “Pesos,” Vin answers him). After levying several men from jail, anticipating Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, the seven ride to the site of the church and face the usurpers down. These latter ride off, regroup, and return in attack.
The density of the megillah makes it hard, even though it serves the role of developing the perfectly satisfactory image of the ruined church before the final revelation. It’s all stated in the dialogue, but is repeated here to clarify its function. Lorca (Emilio Fernandez) is not a bandito but a protector of the villagers, he and his men have chased away and fought marauders and renegades over the years, he’s bitter that good men have died for the ungrateful peones, who now, in his view, “have it coming.” Moreover, his two sons died, he wants to rebuild the church as a memorial to them, but Chris reveals that they had sought to kill Lorca and hired Chris for the purpose, because their father “ran roughshod over them”. Chris was allowed to go free, but the fate of the boys was to be honored in this manner.
A secondary deployment of dialogue material has one of the seven (Claude Akins) tell a tale of marauding Comanches besieging him and his wife, one bullet left, the wife begs him, he obliges. This purely spoken device serves to reinforce the delicate matter of the church involved in such doings (the priest is helpless).
In one artful shot, two of the seven ride away to outflank the opposition, and young Manuel in the foreground steps back and knocks over a crate which bursts open and reveals sticks of dynamite. In the climactic battle, the villagers, who had previously explained to the vastly outnumbered seven that they could not help because they were “cowards,” now rise to the occasion on the walls of the ruined church and hurl dynamite down on the enemy, who are destroyed.
Emilio Fernandez is dubbed by an actor whose voice sounds familiar, but what you see is an unexpected resemblance to Luther Adler. The very name Lorca evokes the surprising paradoxes and twists of the film, none of which justify its shabby reputation, on the contrary, though they do demonstrate how such a film slips past those who ought to know better. You can’t ask a critic to figure anything out, he either gets it or he doesn’t, he’s like the professional girl whom Lenny Bruce asked to read an autobiographical manuscript, and who replied in despair that she’d honestly prefer to fornicate, because as Dorothy Parker once said, you can take a critic out but you can’t put him in the picture.
Kennedy enlarges the discourse with a varied dolly-out in three shots: a close-up of a flamenco dancer in a shower of sparks revealed to be on a trestle stage with firework-wheels for an outdoor fiesta, a distinctive camera-car rendition of Chris riding down a narrow lane between houses as the seven join him one by one on their way South, and a down-angle of the villagers among the comprehensive ruins of the church (looking as if it may have lit a spark in Peckinpah’s mind for The Wild Bunch, which significantly utilizes the theme of a captured compadre).
Kennedy sagely introduces a dissolve to the spire of the old church at the conclusion of one discussion, directly preparing the conclusive image of the church “rebuilt” a long way from T.S. Eliot, perhaps, but certainly “militant”.
Welcome to Hard Times
A sermon on the sack of Rome, a great one, “the spirit of life” is in a place or it is not, “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”
This is specifically addressed to those who repine or pine for vengeance, and to such a degree as to leave no doubt.
The nemesis Bosley Crowther of the New York Times considered trifling, “even I, with a .22 rifle, could have got him,” the film too. Variety excoriated “lack of depth and perception in script and direction.”
Time Out Film Guide takes it for a preachment against liberal sob sisters, i.e., weak democracy, Halliwell’s Film Guide finds it “curiously likeable, almost symbolic.”
The War Wagon
A pivotal masterpiece with a decisive and direct influence on John Huston’s The Life & Times of Judge Roy Bean (note the spittoons the sheriff’s lackey is cleaning at the beginning) and George Roy Hill’s The Sting, especially in some curious details such as Kirk Douglas’s card manipulations, setting the stage for Hill’s revelation with this sequence, Douglas dismounts in a narrow pass, uncoils a lasso, hurls it off-camera to a high eminence, where it evidently lodges (this is where the director cuts to the stunt man, usually), Kennedy tracks the camera on him continuously as he strides to the rocky wall of the pass and climbs up using the rope with ease (the camera tilting) to the top (Jackie Chan puts this to good use in Armour of God). When Bruce Cabot tries out the war wagon’s Gatling gun, he effectually demonstrates the transition from Aldrich’s Vera Cruz to Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.
Ebert at the time noted almost unconsciously the secret of great technique revealed, if that’s the word, by Kennedy. There are a number of famous gags and jokes, and some less familiar by reason of his prodigious sangfroid in the telling of each as a rule, a flexible rule that avoids reaction shots as superfluous but not entirely, having as its main guide a plucked-string sense of dryness supporting a panache of staring outright fantasticality. In other words, Kennedy achieves a rare break with even the cresting wave of Keaton’s deadpan, by casting jokes like anchors into hidden depths. He comes out even with this ploy, as striking and inevitable as it is.
John Wayne is making a nighttime raid on his own home, which has been taken over by Cabot. Guards stand watch over the grounds, oblique light just illuminates one by striking his crossed bandoliers, he’s a very formidable figure but he’s subdued in an instant. This is the characteristic control of the material exerted by Kennedy, who leaves nothing to chance when it comes to evaporating hilarity. Now compare this to the Oriental Palace saloon, where Douglas is ensconced with two girls who happily speak no English, in robust frontier rooms, himself wearing a shirt of black leather and a canary kerchief tied to one side around his neck. In one of the famous jokes, he opens a door and finds Wayne, who is wearing long johns, shaving himself with his pistol belt on. Douglas, wearing over his pants a short black silk Japanese robe decorated with a golden dragon on the back, returns to his room and takes off the robe, revealing his own pistol belt.
It’s not far from this to Terence Young’s Red Sun. Kennedy’s way of filming this owes its debt to Keaton (Douglas is first seen in the robe facing the camera, he turns incidentally to give the screen that dragon) and yet is so efficient as to do justice to its model by determinedly vaporizing the comedy.
This swiftness gives results. A tense saloon scene anticipating the finale of The Sting is interrupted by Howard Keel, who blusters in and demands a drink at the bar. Indians are not served, he is told, and where Michael Winner begins Chato’s Land with a gunfight, Kennedy dissolves the scene in a general brawl.
There is a close thematic link with Howard Hawks in his later Westerns, and this too pays homage in kind (the drunk, played by Robert Walker, Jr., is an explosives expert). The conclusion is a similar understanding of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and there again is a preparation of The Wild Bunch.
It’s pretty clear now what Kennedy meant by The Good Guys and the Bad Guys. From there, you move on to The Train Robbers, which is one great joke transcending them all.
The classic Western is consciously admired in The War Wagon. It’s a thing of thundering hooves in tracking shots out in the middle of nowhere, and also sometimes of horsemanship brought to virtuosity. Douglas lights from his horse onto a tall rock easy as you please, he elegantly surpasses Roy Rogers (another tribute) in a way by leaping into the saddle from behind and to the left, quickly throwing a leg over. Between two horses, he places a hand on each and bounces into place, all of which prepares the last shot, a lazy man’s leap over two horses to a third right in front of the camera, which never misses a thing. All of this is underdone so as to be almost unnoticeable, by comparison for instance with Lancastrian bravura, a running joke exhibiting the Kennedy finesse as well as the Douglas aplomb, and defining the tightlipped comic stare of the film’s style throughout.
The title ballad, which is sung by Ed Ames, has the composer and the lyricist of Zinnemann’s High Noon back for an encore.
Support Your Local Sheriff!
The opening shot is of a wagon driving headlong over the camera, with a quick cut to a team of horses racing westward, held in medium close-up as a tracking shot. It depicts a land rush as the sequence unfolds during the credits, and prefigures the end of The Good Guys and the Bad Guys.
The film begins on a fine down-angle of the swarming, brawling town, and a good trick pans the camera right at street level slowly to the signboard of Madame Orr’s House. This is essentially repeated as Jason McCullough (James Garner) rides down Main Street with the camera tracking on his right, and storefronts to his left (behind him), with one sign reading Constitution Hall and the next The Original Dixie Restaurant.
A chorus of civic leaders (Harry Morgan, Henry Jones, Walter Burke, Willis Bouchey) ponder the town and its need for progress (again anticipating The Good Guys and the Bad Guys), with an especial need for a sheriff.
What follows is taken from Ford’s My Darling Clementine to establish McCullough as the new sheriff. You can’t get a quiet meal in town, even at exorbitant prices out of a slop-bucket, he’s on his way to Australia and needs money, a hand-lettered advert says Apply at Perkins’ General Store.
The rest is a wonderful parody of Hawks’ Rio Lobo, with Walter Brennan as the villain, and Jack Elam opposite him in the role created by Brennan in To Have and Have Not and Rio Bravo and then played by Elam in Rio Lobo (and by Arthur Hunnicutt in El Dorado).
Kennedy’s serene aplomb is in McCullough’s application scene. What are his qualifications? He tosses a coin up in the air of the general store and draws his pistol and fires, the coin comes down (after a cut) with Giotto’s O in it. The mayor pastes a bit of paper over the hole, up the coin goes again, and this time there is no cut before it comes down, shot through.
The advantage of the construction is to give a sense of vocation, so that in its way Support Your Local Sheriff! (the title figures as a banner across Main Street by and by) is one of the great mysteries devoted to its subject, like Montagne’s The Reluctant Astronaut, behind its panoply of Ford and Hawks.
Young Billy Young
Hawks’ Rio Bravo is the object of this study, with Dickinson in the same part, and Mitchum from El Dorado.
The main problem of taxes unpaid (cf. Sherin’s Valdez Is Coming) extends further to a case of homicide.
The action is mainly in Lordsburg, setting out from Bisbee, with obtruded memories from Dodge City.
These last resemble Leone’s flashbacks, still more the Niven Busch Westerns, and there is Mitchum (Walsh’s Pursued).
The stunning fact is, Bosley Crowther speaks of “a hill of beans”, and Variety would have trimmed it as nothing worth.
It opens magnificently with an up-angle from a floating position in front of a Mexican railroad train, craning to look past the chuffing smoke over the several cars in motion, and this is the cue for young Billy Young’s exploit south of the border.
Another of the great ballad Westerns following on Zinnemann’s High Noon, itself a memory of the cowboy singers (Mitchum crooning).
The Good Guys and the Bad Guys
Kennedy’s excernment of a realpolitik in Western guise (cf. Gaudier Brzeska’s story about the little bird that fell out of its nest in Russell’s Savage Messiah).
Nowadays when the terminology has been revived, it’s instructive to consider this epic investigation of the matter from the standpoint of a small but growing town at the turn of the twentieth century, a variant of Hathaway’s finale to How The West Was Won, with overall reference to High Noon.
Dirty Dingus Magee
The mayor is a madam.
John Wesley Hardin, the notorious outlaw, plays the harmonium at her wedding to the sheriff.
Dingus the “part-time assbreaker for the Overland” steals from Hoke and has to raise the ante when the latter becomes sheriff.
The best customers are the cavalry, off to Little Big Horny. The mayor needs an uprising.
Dingus and Anna Hot Water flee her people, bringing on the deluge.
“That broken glass looks like Chinese jade of the Ming dynasty.”
Echoes of The Kissing Bandit (dir. Laslo Benedek).
Kennedy goes to Italy and Spain for a Clair Huffaker Western about a captain who leaves the damn U.S. Cavalry to hunt Apaches on his own and leads a raid on a war party south of the border.
That’s just about sufficient to tell the tale, Howard Thompson of the New York Times woke up and wrote of “the steady, keen-edged direction of Burt Kennedy.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide could not follow this, “muddled”, it says.
A distinct impression is created in the final battle scene that a sincere homage to Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is partly the point, on the other hand, the Italian style is effectively seen in the sudden eruption of an Apache sneak attack into a Battle of Cascina on the second.
The special detachment that fords the Rio Grande is a ranger unit of the title character’s own devising, made up of hand-picked “volunteers”.
The Army cannot fight the Apaches, John Huston as General Miles orders the raid to prevent the destruction of the Southwest.
Support Your Local Gunfighter
The first article of film criticism is that what cannot be understood at first glance by l’homme moyen intellectuel must be vituperated. It’s sure to be found in the guild rules, though one derives it from observation. In the case of Support Your Local Gunfighter, the film begins by ignoring all the rules governing sequels, in fact it’s not a sequel at all. Then, with some of the audience and most of the critics reeling, it becomes a developing comedy of such complexity as to make Support Your Local Sheriff! appear simple by comparison. Add these two circumstances together, and you get the Chicago Sun-Times review.
Kennedy is well aware he’s on the home ground studied by the Italians, it gives him leverage to poke fun. This derived position, cinematographically speaking, is figured in the wooden Indian and Oriental Chop House sign of a certain shot. Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was looking in the same direction as Leone’s Per un Pugno di Dollari.
That’s where Kennedy’s looking as well. It’s about the nightmare of history, and the Wild West as a fresh start. The town of Purgatory (a foretaste of Hell in Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter some ways) offers this, somewhere between its muddy torpor and its wildcat, Patience (Suzanne Pleshette), who takes a potshot at a man for proposing to her.
Latigo (James Garner) has a comfy but loud mistress (Marie Windsor), and her name tattooed across his chest. He has his faith, an indomitable obsession with the number 23, sorely tried at the roulette wheel, and loses. He needs money, certain townsmen (Harry Morgan, Walter Burke, Willis Bouchey) need a gunman, and they think he’s Swifty Morgan.
The real Morgan (Chuck Connors) shows up later, like Gogol’s Inspector General. In the meantime, Latigo persuades shambling Jug (Jack Elam) to take the job, splitting the proceeds. The problem is a mining tycoon (John Dehner) whose underground demolitions shatter the town’s peace nightly.
There’s a nice extension of the theme with Latigo first working a con on the owner (Joan Blondell) of a saloon called Jenny’s Acme. The characteristic sign language of Support Your Local Sheriff! is continued and further developed, as when Latigo leaves the bar after losing all his money a second time, and the two signs behind him (to his left) as he walks read “Open All Night” and then “Shorty’s Wagon Yard”, respectively.
Altogether, a completely different film from Support Your Local Sheriff!, but with a certain number of thematic links and undercurrents, and some returning cast members, all of it pure Kennedy in its style almost to paroxysm. That, too, is part of the structure, just at the moment when the whole thing becomes blindingly funny, Doc Schultz (Dub Taylor) takes one more drink at the bar and topples right over.
She’s burned out of home and hearth by thieving assholes.
A bounty hunter takes her south of the border where a new weapon is forged (no-cock double trigger).
She hunts the assholes and kills all three one by one (whorehouse, perfume shop, old prison), meets up with a gunslinger, they ride together.
The Train Robbers
Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan.
The main idea comes from Laven’s Sam Whiskey and is treated straightforwardly as a matter of course, moreover Kennedy buttresses the structure on the implied suggestion of Farrow’s Hondo.
Greenspun and Ebert were offended and perplexed by the conclusion, which Siegel and Boetticher derived from Cook’s A Big Hand for the Little Lady and worked out in Two Mules for Sister Sara.
Even so, a deeply mysterious film, a tale of idlers on a do-gooding expedition (“something to do”) who forgo the reward and find out they’ve been had.
All the Kind Strangers
Homage to Walker Evans and James Agee.
A New York photojournalist on his way to California gives a small boy a lift and becomes Pa to a gaggle of orphans with a similar captive as Ma.
Several escape attempts precede the calling of witnesses among the family.
Stacy Keach, Samantha Eggar, John Savage leading the children, and Lebanon, Tennessee.
The Killer Inside Me
A psychological foundation for the social wreck, essentially worked from Hitchcock’s Marnie. The scene is Central City, Montana, a copper-mining town, for the flavor of a Western manqué.
The conservative town boss and the liberal district attorney are running for mayor, the boss’s son is an “ape”, a deputy sheriff straddles the fence into dementia præcox.
The exceptional screenplay is entirely structural, the dilemma is figured in the least of its parts.
Critics do not seem to have perceived anything of Kennedy’s film, a masterpiece if ever there was one, if Time Out Film Guide can be taken seriously with “hopelessly stodgy and psychologising”.
Very deep casting, great score.
The questions are raised toward the end, can the disease be worse than the cure, and is this not a general decline as of age?
Kennedy makes a great study of the town an essential part of the picture.
The Wild Wild West Revisited
The atom bomb and a bionic couple are the first inventions, in 1885, created by the son of Dr. Loveless, whom West refers to as “Junior”.
Junior’s object is to rule the world, he has kidnapped Queen Victoria, King Alfonso, Tsar Nicholas and President Cleveland for this purpose, doubles rule Britain, Spain, Russia and the United States, furthermore bombs in every capital are meant to force surrender.
A sort of futuristic gizmo, the bomb, yellow with red appointments and silver fittings.
Female agents from the foreign intelligence services take a hand, and so does the ambitious nephew of the Secret Service chief.
Junior has doubles of himself around the world, too, so the case is closed, hardly.
Such a debt to Casino Royale (dirs. Huston et al.) is repaid by its really integral analysis.
West is at home when called, defending his wives from banditos infesting Tecate, Gordon a strolling player with the Deadwood Shakespeareans on the stage in Kansas City.
A young fellow haunts West at every turn seeking a gunfight to avenge his father, killed in a Secret Service raid.
Down from Montana on their way to Hollywood they’re in Nashville preyed upon as private eyes to solve the case of the wounded wannabe.
Prime humor at the Opryland Hotel, behind the scenes at the Country Music Wax Museum, and assembled with Roy Acuff, Ray Stevens and Barbara Mandrell in person.
It starts with a crooked poker game Reed and Selleck pull down like Samson, then Sangster has them hobo to anywhere in a boxcar.
More Wild Wild West
A superb portrait of Dr. Henry Kissinger as Harrison’s Secretary of State Dr. Henry Messenger, mirrored in the madman Albert Paradine II.
West and Gordon are suspended above tigers in a proto-Circus Circus, while invisible Paradine seeks a world at odds and evens and Dr. Messenger goes down in history.
A Canadian hunting party, “fall of 1976”. A deserter (vd. Kennedy’s earlier film) from the 82nd Airborne, cf. Polanski’s Death and the Maiden, “take Nam. The killings. I didn’t stand by and watch. I was part of it. I liked being part of it.”
Cf. Kazan’s The Visitors, “I’m not afraid of Charlie.” Something of a masterpiece on the Second Hundred Years War dating back to the Hun.
Cf. in various respects Collinson’s Open Season, Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.
Screenplay by the director (with JFK in view), cinematography Alex Phillips, Jr., score Ken Thorne.
Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “turkey” (as The Honor Guard).
Betty Grable Flies Again
Simon & Simon
A B-25 pilot learns that his old plane is running drugs. Kennedy’s dispassionate view is partly conditioned by the final chase scene, which involves a private helicopter attempting to down the Betty Grable. A gag from Stanley Donen’s Arabesque concludes it.
The very funny script has A.J. as a mock German asking Rick for a translation of “kitschig auf Englisch.” The answer is “funky”.
Bubba the battleaxe is offered a phony run south of the border. “Pass,” she says, “I’m allergic to bananas.” The pilot, “Irish” Dan Kelly, introduces the pair as “Simon & Schuster, Private Eyes.”
Kennedy finds time at Arch’s Hangar to establish a restaurant scene in fine CBS style. A hood says, “you’re not going to shoot me here!” Rick asks Arch if it’s all right with him. “Sure,” says Arch, “just let me lock the doors.”
The Trouble With Spys
A lovely little forerunner of Schepisi’s The Russia House, as charming as can be and, owing to critical neglect, something of a secluded getaway.
A perfectly brilliant film that apparently fell afoul of the distribution system or certain aspects of the political arena at the time, but is not to be missed by admirers of Burt Kennedy or the cinema in general.
“Let’s do it undercover, let’s take our love on the lam.”
Effectively a remake of Gilliat’s Left Right and Centre.
Once Upon a Texas Train
A very mysteriously fairy-tale construction upon a parable akin to Kafka (Aphorism 109) and Beckett (the mirlitonnade “à l’instant de s’entendre dire”), summing up the entire expression of Kennedy’s ideas with especial reference to The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, The War Wagon and The Train Robbers, and modestly couching this in a tribute to Edwin S. Porter.
Everyone knows the latter half of Kafka’s aphorism, exacerbated by Beckett, the rest of it posits life itself as a form of belief, inexhaustible and self-affirming.
Kennedy traces the steps from Baudelaire (“L’Âme du Vin”), Cocteau (“Les Voleurs d’enfants”), Renoir (Le Carrosse d’or), his Christ among thieves wants no burnt offerings, his God is no Texas lawman. His good guys and his bad guys are old, at the summit of human experience, and impart to young outlaws the teaching of this film.
Structurally this is a significant recomposition of The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, maintaining the situation but reduced in scale to amplify the exploration of the formula: old guys good and bad versus young bad guys. All the elements receive and merit equal attention, which is not exhaustive by any means but fugitive and quicksilver. Where Kennedy draws his lasting colors from is his deep structural idea of how to make a movie.
He tries out his moonlight effect by a campfire. It shines obliquely on the side of a horse parallel to the camera. At night in the ghost town, this blue gel floodlamp strikes the outdoor set largely, and he catches it right. Again, in concert with fires and lamps, it sets up the moonlight disquisitions of the various parties before the shootout at sunup. Kennedy takes his time with this, and there is a revelation of the good guy/bad guy animus, but it’s moonlight writ large.
Crucial details are handled to obtain precise effects. Richard Widmark as the Texas Ranger captain is driven by jealousy over his wife. He pulls from his saddlebag her picture, a sufficiently authentic presentation card with Angie Dickinson’s daguerreotype, and looks at it lengthily. That’s enough to depict the theme, but Kennedy dissolves to his memory of a ball and her flirtation with the bad guy, Willie Nelson.
Superficial impressions, precision treatment, hallmarks of his style. And through it all, superb medium shots of desert scrubland, very surprising and natural—not backgrounds but elements of composition, amid mountains serving that general purpose.
Where all this leads him is Dickinson emerging in a violet dress from a stagecoach with yellow wheels, in that landscape (an effect from McLaglen’s The Ballad of Josie).
The subtle opening and close are also a signature in the general form of a variant, if you like, of The Train Robbers.
It takes off from Brooks’ Spaceballs territory and takes on the essential ball of shit, New Hollywood.
“Pure simian crystal… worth more than all the money in China.”
The funniest thing that ever hit Tinseltown II.
A pure spoof of everything the market holds dear.
The genius of a film director such as Kennedy is exhibited here for the patrons to get their money’s worth.
There is no other. “Hey, this isn’t a cultural powwow here.”
The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, a great illuminating satire, pales in comparison.
William Blake’s flea descends from outer space as bounty hunters after Hulk Hogan Space Warrior rusticated on Earth, so there.
It’s an award-winning architectural firm. “Talk about cheap construction!”
One of the greatest directors of his epoch in full flight, with ultimate reference to Bergman’s Monostatos. Even Martinson’s Batman must take precedence and no more over this masterpiece of cinematic art.
If it isn’t Bergman’s The Seventh Seal with Shelley Duvall and Christopher Lloyd as the suburbanites (and Larry Miller as their comical employer), you are a monkey’s uncle.
All the genius there is in the cinema, Kennedy expended upon it, but he had a lot of dullards to send up, no end of them but this.
Joseph Cates’ The Fat Spy is the only thing worth comparison.