Archive for the American Classic Western Category

Last Train from Gun Hill (J. Sturges, 1959)

Posted in 1950s, 8/10, American Classic Western on May 10, 2014 by chrisfilm

Last Train from Gun Hill (John Sturges, 1959)

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.  –Leviticus 19:15

First of all, this is a daring film for 1959. A white protagonist married to an Indian woman. A somewhat explicit attack on this woman resulting in a rape and murder. A lot of very open talk of another character’s life as a prostitute. While much of this is still tame compared to what you can find in movies today, for this time period, it was a bit jarring. It helps the film’s atmosphere tremendously though. This is a hard-nosed section of the far west and no one is living cookie cutter western lives. Additionally, it makes the relationship between the two older protagonists all the more interesting. A relationship built on respect and friendship knifed by a horrible situation that throws each into a heartbreaking set of circumstances. You can’t blame either for reacting the way they do and while justice is warranted, it’s not easy to accept. The film’s plot does drag a bit once it is fully set up, so the momentum of such a grand beginning stutters as it goes. But it comes to a conclusion that fits perfectly and is a solid film that’s not one to miss.  8.25/10

last train from gun hill


Thunder Over the Plains (De Toth, 1953)

Posted in 1950s, 9/10, American Classic Western on January 9, 2014 by chrisfilm

Thunder Over the Plains (André De Toth, 1954)

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  –1 Peter 2:13-15

On the surface, what we have here is a rather simple and unoriginally themed film – an ‘outlaw’ standing up for what he knows is right. However, in this scenario, the outlaw is generally the protagonist, not a side character. Thunder Over the Plains follows the life of an army captain trying to balance his allegiance to both the army and the people of Texas. He has his duties, but he has his friends, one of which is the outlaw. Throw in an interesting love triangle and there’s a lot of interesting relational angles at play.

thunder over the plains

Randolph Scott is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. He is always able to so wonderfully portray a man dealing with a number of issues that rarely lets these issues visibly surface in his persona. When another captain comes to town and quite obviously starts to hit on his wife (well, obvious to everyone except for her apparently), he calmly lets nature take its course until action is required. At first he comes across as weak, but in reality he was just calm, not allowing hate to cloud his judgement until the time was right. Overall, a very interesting character. Additionally, the film’s cinematography is subtly fantastic. The dimly lit sets, use of handheld camera, and closeups are all very rare for a classic western, but very aptly used throughout. Man, I love westerns.  8.75/10

Rawhide (Hathaway, 1951)

Posted in 1950s, 9/10, American Classic Western on November 7, 2013 by chrisfilm

Rawhide (Henry Hathaway, 1951)

Losing your temper causes a lot of trouble, but staying calm settles arguments.  –Proverbs 15:18

A beautiful execution of suspense and hostage. A group of misfit bandits ride into a stagecoach stop literally in the middle of nowhere to begin executing their leader’s master plan. The oddity? These men are just a random group of prisoners who happened to be in the right place at the right time when the mastermind made his escape. But in a short period of time he has them convinced he is to be obeyed and followed at all costs. As the film progresses and we learn small bits of the lead bandit’s life and watch him work with both his cronies and his hostages, while we aren’t overloaded with character definition, enough of the cloak is removed to see how this situation could have realistically unfolded. In more simpler words, the writing of this character is fantastic. Placing this film in one setting, both wide open with its endless plains and claustrophobic with its a one-room entrapment (and some great closeup shots) makes for a beautifully contrasted and multi-layered experience of suspense. Hathaway is quickly becoming one of my new favorite western directors, always caring about his settings and his people and letting everything else fall into place from there.  8.5/10


Blood on the Moon (Wise, 1948)

Posted in 1940s, 9/10, American Classic Western on September 5, 2013 by chrisfilm

Blood on the Moon (Robert Wise, 1948)

Drenched in irony, shadows, and Robert Mitchum suave. And when I say suave, I mean the ability to passionately exude a calm, collected, and natural presence despite being hurled into a deep and complex feud. He is fantastic as a man who doesn’t really know what he’s been called in to assist with but quickly decides there is only one way to handle it. With the protagonist taking a firm stance on one side of the feud, it’s easy to see the film as promoting that side. But I’m not so sure there really is a “good” side in this battle, and therein lies the irony. There is so much confident finger-wagging across the board almost exclusively from characters with as many flaws as those they are condoning. It’s a grand and accurate display of human nature. And speaking of grand displays, the use of shadow here is flawless, and the many other beautifully shot settings (dirt road town, a high-class saloon, a worn-down saloon, snow-covered hills, dust-covered plains, etc) help create an atmosphere that is incredibly easy to get lost in. I just wish I could have found more screenshots.  9.25/10

blood on the moon

Three Young Texans (Levin, 1954)

Posted in 1950s, 9/10, American Classic Western on August 29, 2013 by chrisfilm

Three Young Texans (Henry Levin, 1954)

In a wooded moonlit area, a silhouetted figure rides his horse along the side of a train, engulfed in sight by the darkness and in sound by the rhythmic churning of the train. The mystery man creeps into the traincar, performs a quick and smooth robbery, and ditches out with little alarm. It doesn’t take long to figure out who the robber was, and it doesn’t take much longer to decipher why he did it. But the relational developments that result have a wealth of interesting depth and drive the story in directions that are unexpected yet completely unforced. In the two films I’ve seen from Levin he has no trouble creating people with visible flaws yet sympathetic personas without resorting to uneven presentation of his characters. Three Young Texans has a smaller scope, but it’s an honest depiction of some odd circumstances and very well done.  8.5/10

three young texans

To the Last Man (Hathaway, 1933)

Posted in 1930s, 8/10, American Classic Western on July 16, 2013 by chrisfilm

To the Last Man (Henry Hathaway, 1933)

After being saved from an uncomfortable situation, 20-something backwoods Ellen Colby seeks out her rescuer later that evening while wandering the wooded hills as she no doubt does frequently. After stumbling upon him, she stays the entire night with him, not a sign of her promiscuity, but because she doesn’t know she shouldn’t, innocence and naivety spilling from her pores. This level of innocence and sweetness accompanies she and her rescuer’s relationship throughout the film. The only problem – he’s a Hayden – and their families are feuding! So a bit trite in conflict creation, yes, but Hathaway succeeds in other areas to compensate. The aforementioned relationship is a beautifully portrayed chance encounter, the feud (and the resulting inner family disputes) leads to several haunting and daringly disturbing images, and the rural setting creates a layer of peace and acts as a chance to catch your breath amongst the chaotic events. A fine western and family drama, and even boldly original in places if you can look past some flaws in storytelling.  8.25/10

to the last man

Along the Great Divide (Walsh, 1951)

Posted in 10/10, 1950s, American Classic Western on July 3, 2013 by chrisfilm

Along the Great Divide (Raoul Walsh, 1951)

“Down in the valley, the valley so low; Hang your head over, hear the wind blow; Hear the wind blow, dear, hear the wind blow; Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.”  These hypnotic lyrics soak the background, accompanied by chirping crickets, the clomping of horse feet, and the awkward tension of a traveling party wondering if or when the torture will end. The song, a trigger for past regrets by the US Marshall leading the travels, is sung by his prisoner, a man the Marshall  rescued from a mob only hours before, as a slow and sly attempt to gain his freedom. Slow and sly are good descriptions of this film – one dripping in gorgeous cinematography, each shot allowed to consume as much time as needed to create proper atmosphere. A film so methodical in peeling layers from its characters and smoothly using those to naturally connect and disconnect each, that moral assessments quickly become frivolous. Everything weaves together marvelously as the group puts land behind them on their meditative journey. This is my favorite kind of western and a fine example of the beauty of the genre.  9.5/10

along the great divide