Short Takes: Recent Viewings

Grandma (2015) Paul Weitz

Grandma_for-oldiesStrained relationships, the kind we all face at one time or another in life with both family and friends, is at the heart of this small comedy/drama. It centers around the quirky and crotchety Ellie (Lily Tomlin), an aging poet who has not been able to write since her lesbian lover of more than thirty years passed away. Into her life comes her grandchild, young and pregnant. She wants to have an abortion but has no money.

The characters are well drawn and nicely performed though Lily Tomlin’s performance is a real standout. She’s just wonderful. Some jokes went over the head of the folks I saw the film with, particularly the one when they arrive at the abortion client and Tomlin quips about The Bad Seed who socked her in the face, No one else in the audience got the joke but me who busted out laughing amongst an audience of quietness. Continue reading

The Ox Bow Incident William Wellman

ox-bowAt this point in his career, Henry Fonda was not happy with most of the films he had made. Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, was certainly one he was proud of, and thanks to John Ford, he got the role of a lifetime. Like Brando as Stanley Kowalski, or Cagney as George M. Cohan, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else fitting the role of Tom Joad other than Henry Fonda. But there was a price to be paid for getting that part. 20th Century Fox honcho, Darryl F. Zanuck would only give him the role if he signed a contract with the studio. One of the films he made for Fox during this period was The Ox-Bow Incident, based on Walter Van Tilbert Clark’s extraordinary novel. Directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman, the film is an oddity in westerns of the period. In 1943, the war was on and most films focused on lightweight escapist entertainment, a two hour break from worrying about husbands, fathers, sons and the horrors of what was happening in the world. The Ox-Bow Incident was not lightweight entertainment, it was a downbeat, ugly look at humanity with little gun play. Instead it focused on vigilantism, group mentality that reduced men to the lowest primal level of thoughts and deeds.  It is arguably the first psychological western ever made. Continue reading

3:10 to Yuma (1957) Delmer Daves

310Yuma1957FordHefflinThere is a moral compass to 3:10 to Yuma that some may find, sadly, a bit dated. We have a man who stands up for what he believes in; what he believes is morally the right thing to do. There is a similarity to High Noon. Like Gary Cooper’s Will, Van Heflin’s Dan is one man, basically all alone (he does have one alcoholic townie who stays with him, but is killed before the final shootout), fighting off a coming evil as the rest of the town decides to give up, run and hide. Time is another element the two films have it common. For Gary Cooper, there a high noon deadline when his former adversary, recently released from prisoner, is expected to arrive in town on the noon train. For Van Heflin, it’s also a train arriving at 3:10 that forces a final confrontation. In both films, clocks or watches are constantly seen building the tension as the deadlines to a deadly shootout come closer. Continue reading

Rawhide (1951) Henry Hathaway

Rawhide3 Though written by Dudley Nichols, Rawhide is no Stagecoach. Still, the film is interesting despite the fact it never manages to rise above the norm. The setting is a stagecoach relay station in the middle of nowhere. Tyrone Power is Tom Owens, the son of the station’s owner, who has come west to take over the family business with old timer Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) teaching him the ropes. When the stage pulls in one day, among the passengers on board are Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) and her very young niece. Soon after, a Calvary patrol stops by warning everyone that four men have recently broken out of the state prison and are in the area. Due to the potential danger, and company regulations, the stage driver refuses to take Vinnie and the child any further. They are forced to remain at the relay station which turns out to be more of a danger than had she been allowed to continue on her journey with the stage. Continue reading

My Darling Clementine (1946) John Ford


In John Ford’s 1962 late career masterpiece, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” there’s a line quoted by the town’s newspaper editor, Maxwell Scott, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And that’s just what John Ford was best at, recording the west not as it was, but as more of a mystical fable of how we want the west to be best remembered. Ford and his screenwriters play loose with the facts, still it is one of the most visually stunning of westerns, a black and white canvas of the west as it never existed, but we all wish it had.

Earp’s career has been idolized, revised and sanitized many times over. He was only a lawman for about eight years, and in Tombstone, it was Wyatt’s brother Virgil who was the Marshal with Wyatt and Virgil his deputies.(1) Not to bore you dear reader with the facts, but neither Doc Holliday nor Pop Clanton died during the short thirty second battle. Wyatt actually met Doc Holliday in Dodge City back in 1876 five years before the O.K. Corral shootings.  When they left for Tombstone, John “Doc” Holliday followed. If you want a somewhat more realistic, though still not totally accurate, version of what happened back in 1881 at the O.K. Corral and its aftermath, check out John Sturges “Hour of the Gun.” Oh yeah, a couple of other things, when Wyatt visits the grave of the youngest Earp, James who was killed by the Clanton’s early in the film, his tombstone reads he died in 1882 instead of ’81 when the shootout occurred. And as for Clementine Carter, well she is a purely fictional character. Continue reading

The Far Country (1954) Anthony Mann

James Stewart’s dark side is on full display in this upper north western. As usual with an Anthony Mann western the landscape plays an important part, the Canadian Rockies are majestic, though here the landscape is a combination of the natural beauty and artificial backlots whereas Mann’s other westerns were filmed entirely on location. This gives “The Far Country” a more ethereal tone that fits in with Stewart’s character, Jeff Webster, a man who isolates himself from all others in the film except for Ben Tatum, Walter Brennan’s old timer, whose death will trigger him into action.

Stewart’s Jeff Webster is a loner by choice, anti-social, he lives by his own code and depends on no one. “I don’t need help, I take care of me,” he tells Ben, the only person in the film he lets in anyway get close to him. They have been good friends for many years and Ben is very fond of Jeff. Yet, like the Canadian landscape, where much of the film takes place, Stewart remains cold and isolated from everyone else. Continue reading

24 Frames at Movie Fan Fare Blog

My review of Anthony Mann’s The Man From Laramie has been given a guess blogger’s spot at Movie Fan Fare. Click here to see the review.