Seminole (1953) Budd Boetticher

Seminole titleThe Seminole Indian tribe were the original Floridians. They most likely have been there since long before Jesus Christ walked on this earth. The tribe controlled Florida long after the first European settlers arrived in the New World. By the 1700’s both British and Spanish settlers began to move into what would become known as the Sunshine State. Pretty soon the natives were being tortured and murdered. The Seminoles were losing their lives and their land. In 1821, The U.S. acquired Florida from the Spanish.  In an 1823 treaty the U.S. gave the Seminoles about 100,000 acres of land in the Everglades. Continue reading

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Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964) Howard Hawks

In a CBS Sunday Morning segment a while back, there was a piece on Cary Grant where Director and Film Historian Peter Bogdanovich told a story about how Grant and some friends went to a show one evening. Grant forgot his ticket and said to the ticket taker, “Excuse me, I forgot my ticket, I’m Cary Grant, is it okay if I go in?” The ticket taker took a good look at Grant and replied, “You are not Cary Grant!”  This leads me to what is the most obvious problem with Howard Hawks 1964 comedy, “Man’s Favorite Sport?” starring Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss, which is, it needs Cary Grant, instead we get Rock Hudson, and Rock Hudson, with all due respect, is not Cary Grant.  Then again, who is?

Howard Hawk’s was one of the masters of screwball comedy. Back in its heyday of the 1930’s and 1940’s Hawks made some of the best in this sub-genre with films like “Twentieth Century,” “Bringing up Baby,” “His Girl Friday” and “I Was a Male War Bride.” Three of these four films happened to have starred Cary Grant. Grant was romantic, suave, debonair, and yet he could take a pratfall just about as good as Chaplin or Keaton. He also had a way with a line of dialogue that made even average lines sharp as a switchblade. He would have been perfect to play the bumbling Roger Willoughby in what would turn out to be Hawks final comedy. Grant and Hawks almost came to an agreement to work on the film together however, before signing contracts Grant opted out to make “Charade” instead with Audrey Hepburn.  Continue reading

Seconds (1966) John Frankenheimer

The biggest problem John Frankenheimer’s 1966 movie “Seconds” had at the time of its original release was having Rock Hudson in the lead role. Hudson was still a huge star (he was one of the top 10 most popular stars from 1957 to 1964), however his fans were not interested in seeing him in such a dark science fiction/psychological film, and fans of this type of film were not going to see a “Rock Hudson movie.” The results? “Seconds” died a quick death at the box office. In retrospect, while Hudson was no Robert DeNiro he does gives one of the best performances of his career in a film unlike anything he ever did before or after. Frankenheimer had been on a roll since the beginning of the 1960’s. In the previous five years, he made “The Young Savages,” “All Fall Down,” “Birdman of Alcatraz,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Seven Days in May” and “The Train” followed by “Seconds,” though he would soon embark on a more erratic course from which he would not recuperate from until the 1990’s with a series of excellent TV movies.

 Man is never satisfied with who he is or what he has in his life. What if your family life had lost its purpose, your job had lost all meaning, and your entire life was one big disappointment. What if you were given the chance to change your life, erase it all and start all over again?  What if you could live the life you have only dreamed about?  For Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) this chance happens when he meets an old friend, presumed to have died year’s earlier, who arranges a meeting that puts Arthur in contact with a secret group only known as “The Company.” The Company offers wealthy bored individuals a chance at a completely new life. They will fake Arthur’s death, provide extreme plastic surgery and give him a totally new identity, in Arthur’s case, as an artist known as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). Continue reading

Winchester ’73 (1950) Anthony Mann

This review contains Spoilers!

Was it his personal war experiences that changed James Stewart? Did he come back a changed manl; most men do.  Many of Stewart’s post World War II roles began to take on a darker side with haunted ambiguous characters motivated by revenge or other desires. Maybe a steady diet of Frank Capra’s Capra-corn did not have enough substance anymore, after all life was not that simple (Stewart’s darker side was touched upon slightly in “It’s a Wonderful Life” but he was soon back to his sweet genteel self).  “Winchester ’73” was the first Mann/Stewart collaboration, a joint effort that would produce some of the most mature westerns ever made.

Fritz Lang was originally on board to make this film, however soon bowed out. After a screening of Devil’s Doorway Mann’s first western starring Robert Taylor, Stewart agreed to work with Mann.   The Winchester of the title was a special, “one of a thousand” type made in 1873. President Grant owned one, so did Buffalo Bill, and now Lin McAdams (Stewart), He wins one in a 4th of July celebration shoot out exhibition in Dodge City. His closest competitor is Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally), his brother who shot their father in the back, though we do not find this out until toward the end of the film. For most of the story we never understand why Lin is so determined in going after Dutch.

The rifle itself gets passed around throughout the film becoming almost a character, or a link, in the film as it moves on from Lin, who won it in the shooting contest, to Dutch who steals it in a fight with Lin, to  an Indian gun runner, to an Indian Chief (Rock Hudson) to the cowardly fiancé (Charles Drake) of Lola (Shelley Winters) the only female in the cast, to gunfighter Waco Johnny Dean (Dan Duryea) then back to Dutch and finally back to Lin.

Just about every male character in the film drools over the perfect piece of equipment, an obvious symbol of virile masculinity. The men who possess it show it off, and the men who want it are envious. Guns in general are seen as phallic symbols. Later after successfully fending an attack by Indians, Lola returns to Lin a pistol he gave her to defend herself during the attack  with the understanding that the last bullet she should use on herself rather than fall into the hands of the Indians. Returning the gun and the bullet Lin suggest she may want to  keep the bullet. Without hesitation she says “I want it!” leaving no  uncertainty in her tone and look that she is talking more about sex and a life with Lin than just an old bullet.

Though the story is fiction, original screenwriter Robert L. Richards, later Mann brought in Borden Chase to do a rewrite in the first of their collaborative efforts, surrounds the story in real western mythology; Dodge City where an elderly though respected Wyatt Earp (Will Geer), Doc Holiday and company run a tight ship allowing no one to carry guns while in town. The Civil War has recently ended and General George Armstrong Custer was most recently overrun at Little Big Horn all of this invoking a strong sense of time and place in history.

This was the only western collaboration of Mann and Stewart filmed in black and white which may account for some of the noirish lighting in a few scenes, particularly in the fight between the two brothers in the hotel room where Dutch and his boys take the Winchester from Lin and beat it out of town.

As with “The Naked Spur” the theme of revenge is significant in this film as it motivates Lin in going after his brother. Family or the sense of family is also important here, the two brothers whose family was destroyed by the actions of one. Also between the prostitute Lola who is thrown out of town by Wyatt Earp, and the cowardly Steve. Both are outcasts who attempt to have a life together. Finally, and most prominently in Dodge City where an older Wyatt Earp is the friendly but strong willed patriarch (no guns allowed in town) who oversees the family friendly 4th of July celebration where the shooting contest is held with the winner getting the Winchester ’73.

This western is far from the type generally made at the time, more psychological, character driven with a conflicted dark hero. An excellent example occurs early in the film in Dodge City, after Lin surrenders his gun to Wyatt Earp, he enters a bar and finds his nemeses and brother at a card table. The reaction of both brothers to seeing each other is to crouch down and draw their guns. Thanks to Earp neither man has a weapon and a shooting is adverted but it is a disturbing scene as we watch the “hero” react in a way no better than the villain. Still, there is plenty of the standard action audiences would expect, Indian attack on the Calvary, cheating at cards, gunfights, Indian gun trader, a planned bank robbery and a woman in distress.

With this film Anthony Mann found his own John Wayne in James Stewart. Stewart collaborated with other directors (Hitchcock and Capra notably) but in Mann he found his alternate mantra that of an ambiguous hero verging on obsessed, unhinged, psychologically driven behavior.  Ford’s heroes were generally more straight forward white hat types though late in his career Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers” and to a lesser extent Tom Doniphon in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” are certainly characters who struggle with life’s complexities and Edwards specifically is a man driven by traits that are both good and bad.

Stephen McNally as Lin’s evil brother is convincingly evil and just about as driven as his sibling. Noir favorite Dan Duryea also is adept at playing a malicious outlaw who hooks up with McNally for a bank robbery.   Look for newcomers Rock Hudson as the Indian chief who for a while is in possession of the Winchester and another unknown actor at the time , one Anthony “Tony” Curtis who has a small role as a Calvary solider prominently seen during the Indian raid scenes. James Best also has a small role.

*****