Jeremiah Johnson – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched 1972’s The Candidate, and it failed to get my vote.

The Choice

It was Tim’s choice this week, and he was pretty clear about his intention to stick with Redford. His shortlist was narrowed down to 1966 film The Chase starring Redford as a convict captured by Marlon Brando’s sheriff, Downhill Racer from 1969 which is about skiing, and Jeremiah Johnson, a Western from 1972.

We’ve recently watched a couple of 1972 Westerns – Pocket Money and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Neither were particularly good. So bearing in mind the law of averages, Tim went ahead and picked Jeremiah Johnson. And that’s why I’ve had Chandler Bing singing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” stuck in my head for a week.

Jeremiah 01

The Link

It’s Redford again. See the last few posts for more on him. Here’s a couple of related facts though… Apparently he owned 600 acres of land in Utah where much of this was filmed. And at one time or another he has declared it to be his favourite of his own films.

Jeremiah Johnson and me

This is another I hadn’t heard of before scouring his filmography for this very blog. The poster made me think it was going to be a very slow affair with lots of handsome cinematography.

Jeremiah 03

Spoiler: I was right about the handsome cinematography

IMDb says

Jeremiah Johnson (1972): A mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit becomes the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians, and proves to be a match for their warriors in one-on-one combat on the early frontier. 7.6 stars.

I says

Let’s just take a moment to break that IMDb blurb (which I read before watching the film) down.

‘A mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit’ – this is set up in the first couple of minutes.

‘becomes the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians, and proves to be a match for their warriors in one-on-one combat on the early frontier.’ – this is the last twenty minutes of the film. Thanks IMDb.

Jeremiah 02

Impressive crags

So as Redford’s Johnson (snigger) bumbled through his first weeks in the mountains, then became adept, then saved a young boy who became a surrogate son, then was gifted a wife by a tribe of native Americans who he at first struggled to communicate with then finally they fell for each other, all I was doing was waiting for him to become ‘the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians etc etc etc’.

I mean it wasn’t necessarily unpredictable, but they could have give me a chance. Hey ho.

So spoilers aside, what did I think? The Westerns of the 70s that we’ve watched (the two from 1972 mentioned above plus The Ballad of Cable Hogue) all have a very broad sense of humour. Jeremiah Johnson doesn’t feature the sped-up-Benny-Hill style bits of Cable Hogue or Roy Bean, but there are a some quasi-slapstick moments. That’s juxtaposed next to some really bleak stuff about a woman driven mad by her family’s slaughter and other such sobering stuff. The trouble is, when the vendetta begins and solo assassins come for him, it’s faintly comical. One hides in a snow covered bush and bursts forth, only to be clobbered by Redford’s Johnson (double snigger). Perhaps that’s the aim and I just don’t get the 70s style/sense of humour. But my impression going in was that it would be slow and handsome; to its credit it was indeed the latter, but not the former.

Moving on, it’s always tricky to know whether to judge some aspects of films by the standards of today or not, so I’m just going to ponder a casting decision quickly as I don’t think it’s something to ignore. Not all the Native Americans are played by Native Americans. This isn’t particularly surprising I suppose. I’ve started working for a union and have been thinking more about this (being white, male and cis casting opportunities is not something I’ve had to contend with much in my own life).

The union I work for deals with the entertainment industry in the UK, and our casting policy is that, where there are groups that are in need of equality (such as minority ethnic, disabled, LGBT+) and a particular characteristic of that minority is integral to a role, people who have that characteristic should be seen. So a recent example (not within our jurisdiction) is the casting of Bryan Cranston as a wheelchair user. There was a fair bit of press and some terribly dull thinkpieces were published. The union’s position is not to comment on the ultimate casting decision (the creative process has many pressures, after all), but to comment on the casting process. Were disabled actors seen for the role? If not, if there wasn’t any opportunity for disabled actors to get the role (when they are almost never considered for non-specifically disabled roles) then there’s a problem.

Jeremiah 04

Jeremiah Jonson and his… Native American… spouse

So bearing all of that in mind, I read that for the role of Johnson’s wife, a Native American girl who has something approaching a character arc, 200 Native American women were seen (yay). And yet they cast someone of completely different heritage. And the actress went on to do precisely one more bit of acting, in an episode of Two and a Half Men some 30 something years later. I’m sure none of the Native American actresses were right for the part…

Oh, also worth mentioning is that the film is based on a couple of books, one of them a biography of Liver-Eating Johnson, the Crow Killer. So, uh, there’s that.

The Verdict

I’ve now seen Robert Redford’s Johnson; I’ve seen better.

Coming Attractions

I’m up next. I’m giving serious thought to finishing our Redford season by picking The Sting and getting back to Newman. But I’ve not seen Sneakers in a long time, Brubaker is tempting and so is All Is Lost.

We shall see…

@BornToPootle

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

It’s been Newman season, so we tackled four Paul Newman films and The Prize took the prize.

The Choice

How much Newman is too much Newman? That’s the question. The great thing about devoting mini-seasons to a single actor is that you can get a nice cross section of their work, and it can throw up some glorious surprises – take a look at me waxing lyrical about Gregory Peck, for example. What a treat! On the other hand, there’s the risk that, for an already beloved actor, we might restrict ourselves to justifiably lesser-known films and so end up with a slightly tarnished view of them. Weighing up the pros and cons of continuing Newman season in that context, and bearing in mind that the last Newman film we tackled was a bit of a dud, I decided we needed a guaranteed hit. Something to really start 2019 with a bang. And that film is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The Link

Paul Newman, duh! I wrote a little about him last week, so will save you this time around. But while I’ve been finding images and gifs and the like, it’s become apparent quite how many of his films involve lingering shots of him topless.

newman chest 1

That reminded me of the fairly shoe-horned section of The Prize that saw his character try and hide in a nudist meeting, only for villains to steal his clothes. Any excuse…

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and me

Man, there’s the film I want! Stick me in there with Paul Newman and Robert Redford please!

There have only been a handful of films we’ve tackled in the CRFC that have already been favourites. Fifth Element springs to mind. Starship Troopers too. But Butch Cassidy is slightly more totemic. It’s a film Tim and I have bonded over together in the past. I bought him a poster of it perhaps a decade ago, and it’s sitting framed in his living room. In terms of pedigree, it’s written by the late William Goldman, who also collaborated with director George Roy Hill on The Great Waldo Pepper which has been a standout of CRFC… But, and whisper this, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion Tim likes Butch Cassidy more than I do. I always remember the damn bicycle bit really breaking the flow of the film and dragging on. Is that just my memory playing tricks?

Add to that a poor run of western biopics in CRFC, particularly those taking a lighter tone, and I had a bit of a worry that it might not live up to expectations. Did it? Let’s find out…

IMDB says

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): Wyoming, early 1900s. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are the leaders of a band of outlaws. After a train robbery goes wrong they find themselves on the run with a posse hard on their heels. Their solution – escape to Bolivia. 8.1 stars.

I says

I can’t ride a bike. Tried when I was a kid, fell into some rose bushes, scratched my leg up quite badly, and gave up. Gave it a half-hearted go about five years ago – nada. When I was still acting I had a fear that I’d land an amazing film role, turn up to the first day of filming and Speilberg would turn to me and say “Now Jon, this scene is gonna have you riding this bike down the street…” So perhaps my antipathy towards the bicycle scene, in which Paul Newman’s Butch does a load of tricks while riding a bike for presumably the first time, is simply jealousy.

butch 03

What a colossal show-off

It’s good, gang. It’s really good. Phew.

butch 04

That Newman and Redford made only two films together is, and this isn’t a controversial opinion, criminal. They are a properly sensational double act. The scene in which our heroes(?) are on the run and have to decide between making a stand or leaping off a cliff is a two minute slice of heaven. Honestly, it really is. Katharine Ross is wonderful as well (as she always is, let’s be honest) stoking something that thankfully never quite becomes a love triangle. The first scene between her and Redford is a wonderful bit of misdirection.

butch 01

Spoilers ahead…

Are they heroes? Well, no. But they’re not just thugs, at least. Butch’s confession that he’s never shot anyone about two thirds of the way through is lovely. Though he swiftly gets over that particular hurdle. They are problem solvers. Obstacles are hurled into their path – ornery gang members, bolshy security guards, those guys – and at every turn Butch and Sundance find solutions. They overcome their obstacles until the obstacle is so large that it can’t be bested. Until it’s a whole damn army lying in wait for them. And then, even then, we don’t see them fail. We don’t know. The film freezes and fades to sepia as gunfire sounds, Butch and Sundance running out into the open… And maybe just maybe they survive?

butch 02

They’ll be FINE

Maybe?

WHY CAN’T YOU LET ME HAVE THIS?

And yes, I still agree with myself that the bicycle scene is a tad overlong. It just keeps going and going and that bloody Burt Bacharach song plays over the top for some reason… BUT… it happens much earlier in the film than I remembered, so it doesn’t break the flow at all.

Butch Cassidy came out in 1969, a year of three big end-of-the-West films. The Wild Bunch I covered recently. True Grit is the third spoke of the triumverate. Funnily enough Strother Martin is in all three (he’s the mine foreman in Bolivia here), but that’s by the by.

butch strother

Oh brother, it’s yet another Strother

When it came to Oscars time though, it was a fourth cowboy film that took Best Picture and Best Director – Midnight Cowboy. I suppose that’s also about the end of the myth of the West as well, in a more allegorical way. I like Midnight Cowboy. I’ve not seen it for a few years, but I remember really liking it. But it’s too sad to rewatch, I think. Butch Cassidy I would rewatch in a heartbeat.

A final notable thing – Sam Elliot, he of the fine ‘tache and beautiful voice, appears at the beginning of this as Sundance’s card playing adversary. He’s pretty unrecognisable.

butch elliott

Where’s Sam Elliott?

butch elliott2

There he is!

He would go on to marry Katharine Ross 15 years later, and married they still very much are. So Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid does have a happy ending really.

The Verdict

Even the devil’s transportation device can’t dent my enjoyment of this. It’s a proper ol’ masterpiece.

Coming Attractions

Well. Do we carry on with Newman? Do we swap to Redford? After all, we can always get back to Newman with The Sting… It’s quite the pickle, but fortunately it’s Tim’s choice next so I’ll let him fret.

@BornToPootle

New Year? Newman – Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched three Strother Martin films in a row and regretted (some of) our life choices.

The Choice

It’s a quartet of films this week: The Prize, Harper, Torn Curtain and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. It’s another season dedicated to one actor (hmmm, who could it be?). I know, following the underwhelming and downright maddening previous season why do another? Two reasons:

Firstly, and most boringly, Tim and I are both are lot busier at work these days, so the merry hours of scrolling through filmographies are slightly harder to come by. Narrowing the focus for a bit makes life easier.

Secondly, it’s a really plucky actor…

The Link

paul newman

Hubba hubba

It’s only Paul bloody Newman! One of the most handsome men to ever walk the planet, and with a tasty line of salad dressings and sauces to boot. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a stone cold doozy, as is The Sting. His snarling turn in The Hudsucker Proxy is a joy (as is everything about that film). I’ve seen him eat dozens of eggs and lounge around like… someone looking at a cat on a hot tin roof, I guess. He’s also in loads of stuff I’ve never heard of, so will this tarnish his brilliance or make his lustre ever brighter? Here goes…

The Prize, Harper, Torn Curtain, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean and me

The Prize and Torn Curtain were my choices, so I’ll start with them. I’d never heard of The Prize before – it was a complete unknown with a mediocre IMDb score. But it co-starred Edward G Robinson and sounded fun, and that’s been sorely lacking. Torn Curtain is a Hitchcock film, and I’m really never quite sure how I feel about Hitchcock. There are usually some very captivating moments, but the sum of the parts never quite comes together, for me. Though Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window are both immense.

Tim picked Harper and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. One’s a private dick film – how wrong can you go? – and the other a Western biopic. We’ve not had much enjoyment from Western biopics in CRFC before, but there’s always a first time. And despite McLintock’s shadow, Tim does love a Western…

IMDB says

The Prize (1963): As the Nobel Prize winners come to Stockholm to receive their awards, their lives are overturned and perturbed in various ways. 6.8 stars.

Harper (1966): Lew Harper, a cool private investigator, is hired by a wealthy California matron to locate her kidnapped husband. 7 stars.

Torn Curtain (1966): An American scientist publicly defects to East Germany as part of a cloak and dagger mission to find the solution for a formula resin before planning an escape back to the West. 6.7 stars.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972): In Vinegaroon, Texas, former outlaw Roy Bean appoints himself the judge for the region and dispenses his brand of justice as he sees fit. 7 stars.

I says

Well it’s not a repeat of the Strother Martin debacle, so that’s good.

The Prize was the real surprise of the bunch. Paul Newman plays a booze-soaked writer, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. In the hotel where the winners are all staying a cold war plot starts to play out, but no-one believes Newman’s unreliable witness.

newman prize

Having been down on Pocket Money last time for being pretty dull, strangely enough this time round I was almost disappointed when the plot kicked into gear in The Prize. Newman’s writer is being guided chaperoned by Elke Sommer, gets into an escapade with the wife of one of the other nominees and has a couple of lovely conversations with the hotel staff and Edward G Robinson’s scientist character. It’s all light and nicely played and I could have watched a whole frothy film about that with a big smile on my face. I don’t mean to be downbeat about the plot – it was absolutely fine cold war thrillery stuff – it’s just I was having such a good time without it in the first place! It’s not a life-changing watch, but is a hearty recommendation. It’s a shame it’s not better known.

Harper (or Moving Target as it’s also known) was… fine.

newman harper

It’s a private eye movie and it does all the things that private eye movies do and not a lot besides. Funnily enough Strother Martin turns up again (he was in quite a few Paul Newman films).

strother harper

Your Strother from another mother… or something

My favourite things in Harper were a couple of montages of 60s dancing. Worth it for those alone, I’d say. It’s written by the late William Goldman (adapted from a novel), but does not rank with his best.

Torn Curtain is probably the most frustrating of the bunch, as it featured some really good stuff, and some really terrible stuff (classic Hitchcock!).

newman torn

“Some really good stuff,” he says…

There’s a protracted silent fight sequence that really doesn’t gloss over the heroes killing a villain. It’s a pretty hard watch, but intentionally so. And it doesn’t have to pull the smug Funny Games trick to make you think a little about violence.

Where the film fell down somewhat was in the decision making of the characters, making them stunningly stupid to ensure the plot moved on. And there’s a whole chunk that should and could have been excised without necessitating any other changes. While Paul Newman’s scientist is on the run from the Stasi with his wife (Julie Andrews), he is told a name and address. He doesn’t quite catch it and asks again. And is told again. Then in the next scene he can’t remember the address and we’re treated to a truly terrible ten minutes that only detracts from the film, and any tension, as a passerby offers help and a long sob story about needing to get out of East Germany. The actress was a friend of Hitch and the scene was not trimmed at all. It should have been. In its entirety.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean proves that we really should just avoid Western biopics.

newman roy bean

I don’t mind films based on real stuff twisting the truth a bit to make a better film (unless it’s presented as the unvarnished truth), but this one took the cake. From the real Roy’s Wikipedia page:

In one case an Irishman named Paddy O’Rourke shot a Chinese laborer and during the trial a mob of 200 angry Irishmen surrounded the courtroom and saloon. They threatened to lynch Bean if O’Rourke was not freed and after looking through his law book Bean ruled that “homicide was the killing of a human being; however, he could find no law against killing a Chinaman” dismissing the case.

In the film this is reversed. The killer turns up saying that there’s no law against killing Chinese people, and good ol’ Roy decides that the law treats all men equal so it is in fact a crime. I guess my frustration is why on earth make it about a real person and then so fundamentally reverse that kind of decision? Just make it about a fictional person instead… The bear from Gentle Ben turns up at some point so… there’s that.

The Verdict

The Prize takes the prize!

Coming Attractions

It’s my choice next. Having decreed we should avoid Western biopics, I’m going to pick a Western biopic. But this is different. This is one I know is good. It’s better than good. It’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

@BornToPootle

Strother Martin – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We managed the ton! Our 100th film was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance which suffered by comparison to our recently watched Big Country.

The Choice

With Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin to choose from there were almost too many options. So Tim nixed them all and we ended up at The Wild Bunch via Strother Martin. In fact we stuck with Strother twice more, tackling McLintock! and Pocket Money in quick succession. I’ll cover them all in this post.

The Link

strother martin valance

Strother Martin is one of those character actors who usually has a meaty enough role but is never quite the lead. Both in name and performance he’s pretty unforgettable though, with a screen persona like a wussier M Emmet Walsh. Given the number of Westerns he’s in perhaps a better comparison is Strother being a more scheming Walter Brennan. In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance he played a giggling goon as likely to feel the back of Lee Marvin’s hand as Jimmy Stewart’s.

The Wild Bunch, McLintock!, Pocket Money and me

The Wild Bunch is one of those classics that I’d never seen but probably pretended to have during playground and pub conversations. I’ll be honest though, knowing Sam Peckinpah’s record for animal cruelty I’m always in two minds about whether I want to watch his films.

A long time ago I saw ten minutes of a John Wayne western on TV and really enjoyed it. It was a scene of Wayne sitting outside a woman’s room, either guarding her or being a creep (I can’t remember) but it was funny and silly. Given the poster for McLintock! I thought this might be the one… spoiler: it wasn’t. Got any ideas?

Pocket Money was Tim’s choice. I hadn’t heard of it, but a Paul Newman/Lee Marvin double header seemed like a sure bet. Right?

IMDB says

The Wild Bunch – An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the “traditional” American West is disappearing around them. 8 stars.

McLintock! – Wealthy rancher G.W. McLintock uses his power and influence in the territory to keep the peace between farmers, ranchers, land-grabbers, Indians and corrupt government officials. 7.3 stars.

Pocket Money – Broke and in debt, an otherwise honest cowboy gets mixed up in some shady dealings with a crooked rancher. 5.5 stars.

I says

The Good

Oof. Well let’s start with the best of the, ahem, bunch… The Wild Bunch. Yes, Peckinpah did seem to revel in animal cruelty so I think that’s it for me and him. And there was definitely some punishment of women going on. But otherwise (and that ‘otherwise’ is doing a lot of work) it’s all solid enough. A gang of rogues go up against a villainous ruler and no-one comes out of it well. It’s all muscular machismo which wore a little thin but Ernest Borgnine is a loveable grump and Strother Martin reprises his giggling goon act nicely.

strother martin wild

At the time it was apparently a revolutionary approach to a western, and John Wayne thought it would kill the myth of the West (along with his career). These days we’re so soaked in grimdark/realistic portrayals of violence that it perhaps doesn’t make the impact it did at the time.

The Bad

Pocket Money was written by one Terry Malick, it turns out, before he became Terrence. And while I’m a fan of Badlands and The Thin Red Line he does seem to have disappeared somewhere with himself with his last few films. This is more conventially narrative then his recent ouvre (and he didn’t direct this), but its two leads are so conflict-averse as to rob the film of much interest. Paul Newman is the cowpoke, Strother Martin the scheming mastermind and Lee Marvin the comedy sidekick acting through a series of mannered ticks. They pootle south. They pootle north again. There’s almost some trouble and Paul Newman gets slung in prison. But then it’s resolved and they pootle off again. It reminded me a little of The Scarecrow, which we tackled in the very early days of CRFC. But that had Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman’s drifter characters change a little along the way. Pocket Money… doesn’t really.

The Ugly

McLintock! was a difficult watch, I’ll be honest. The last ten or so minutes feature John Wayne’s titular landowner, a boorish drunk, pursing his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara) through town to give her a spanking. The townsfolk hoot and holler him on, pointing out where she’s hiding. As her struggle to escape becomes more desperate parts of her clothing are ripped to tatters. She flings herself through a plate glass window to escape. But eventually he catches her and gives her a spanking. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s just the tonic, and they end the film on happier terms. It’s like the Terminator lurching through the West to administer domestic violence. It may be based Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, but it looks pretty horrible now. I’m utterly gobsmacked at its rating on IMDb. I think it ousts the rapping Hamlet part of Renaissance Man as the worst thing we’ve seen in CRFC.

strother martin mclintock

Meanwhile, on Strother-watch, Strother Martin played a slightly different kind of whiner in this one – an uptight big city man with a stick up his butt. I don’t think it suited him as well as his lowlife characters, but to be honest I was distracted by everything else going on. The only good news is that they didn’t copyright it correctly when it came out, so the film has entered the public domain and presumably no-one’s been able to make much money on it.

The Verdict

This was a wild bunch and no mistake.

Coming Attractions

We ended with Pocket Money. Pocket Money stars Paul Newman. I point blank refuse not to have a Paul Newman season next. So there.

@BornToPootle

Gregory Peck – The Chain Reaction Film Club

One of the great things about IMDb is that the URL for people betrays how early they were added to the database. For example, the first person on the IMDb, with the url ending ‘name/nm0000001/’, is Fred Astaire. There’s another film club to be had around that idea, now that I think about it.

Last time I wrote about the rather strange Last of Sheila, then waxed lyrical about two Gregory Peck fims. Anyway, so taken was I with Gregory Peck, and so enticed by the fact that he’s got a relatively small filmography for someone of his fame, that a season beckoned. And now after ten Peck films in a row I am a dedicated fan. Even though I’ve written about two of them before, I’ll look at the whole season here, because Peck deserves that sort of treatment.

From Last of Sheila we linked via James Mason to The Boys From Brazil. I enjoy Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives (the original, obvs) so another Ira Levin-based ooky thriller seemed like a safe bet. Laurence Olivier is a Nazi hunter (and the 59th person added to the IMDb), and Gregory Peck is the fiendish Joseph Mengele (and number 60, conveniently enough. The first hundred or so seem to have been added in alphabetical order!).

Peck Boys from brazil

It wasn’t great (nor was James Mason’s accent come to that), but I thought Gregory Peck was outstanding. Looking up trivia afterwards, it turned out that Olivier was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, which seemed terribly hammy to me. Peck on the other hand was critically mauled. Perhaps it’s time and acting styles passing on that have affected my view, perhaps it’s just down to taste, or perhaps it’s that I wasn’t saddled with the view of Peck that critics of the time had. He was, by all accounts, almost always cast as the good guy, the moral authority. But I can count the number of Peck films I’d previously seen on the fingers that I’d hold up at the President if I saw him.

The previous films were Roman Holiday and The Omen, neither of which I remember him from particularly. In fact, in my head Cary Grant played the lead in Roman Holiday, so what do I know!

Peck Designing Woman

It definitely wasn’t all top quality stuff in the season. Designing Woman was a fun enough romp, but would have benefited from Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant in the lead, with their screen personas more able to invite laughter at their expense. Spellbound and Mirage were a pair of duff Hitchcock and Hitchcock-wannabe thrillers. The former is notable for a Dali-designed dream sequence, the latter for an excellent Walter Matthau interlude.

Peck Mockingbird

But everything else was gold. To Kill A Mockingbird and Cape Fear both came out in 1962. Even without seeing any other Peck films, those two alone should be enough to cement an iconic image. A man of unwavering moral authority, brought to breaking point. A man for whom morality is the ultimate arbiter. I think Cape Fear is one of the very best we’ve watched as part of the Chain Reaction Film Club.

Peck Cape Fear

I’ve not seen the remake (I mooted it as a way to end the season, as Peck turns up in it, but Tim was less keen) and am a little scared of it now. I found Robert Mitchum to be skin-crawlingly horrible enough. I’m not certain I want to see where De Niro takes it.

Then there was The Gunfighter, a stripped down Western that would work well as a stage play. It’s largely set in one bar as a weary-of-fame gunfighter waits for the woman he loves and tries to fend off young hotheads and horrified matrons. It’s good stuff. The Guns of Navarone is one of those Sunday afternoon standards that I somehow missed growing up, and its band of plucky misfit soldiers assaulting a Nazi base seems to have laid the blueprints for parts of the original Star Wars trilogy.

A war film with a different tone, Twelve O’Clock High had Peck taking over a bomber unit suffering from low morale. Determined not to get attached to the men for their own good, it’s another great example of his moral strength being tested. Bouncing back to another western, The Big Country is as handsome as they come.

Peck Big Country

It’s here where Peck’s archetypal quiet competence and morality seemed to find their most natural home. Thrust into the middle of a feud which is about to bubble over, Peck outwardly takes the moral high ground, using brain over brawn. At the same time he tackles physical challenges on the quiet, determined not to use those as a means of proving himself to others.

After ten films, almost a fifth of his entire filmography, I am absolutely converted to the temple(ton) of Peck. Is he the greatest actor? No, I don’t think so. There is an unbendingness to his performances that suits his most notable roles. I think that’s also why he excelled as Mengele – a man who believes as unwaveringly in his (horrendous) actions as Atticus Finch believes in the law.

After leaving Peck behind we tackled The Ballad of Cable Hogue, then via Strother Martin we watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Made four years after The Big Country, it was a similar story of Jimmy Stewart’s moral man forced into a world where the rule of law is seemingly meaningless. When we started the Peck season I thought of him as an also-ran compared to the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Watching Liberty Valance I was struck by how much I would have liked Gregory Peck to be playing the lead instead.

It turns out that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was the 100th film in the Chain Reaction Film Club, so I’ll have a little look through what we’ve watched so far and pick out a few choice morsels. And if you haven’t looked at my post about some exciting writing news, then maybe tiptoe over here and see what’s going on.

Wild Bill – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 44: Wild Bill

Wild bill 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

Last time we watched Streets Of Fire on the big screen at the Prince Charles Cinema. It’s one of the few films that would have been improved by being a musical.

The Shortlist

Colors (1988)

Night Shift (1982)

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)

Hollywoodland (2006)

Wild Bill (1995)

Rumble Fish (1983)

 

The Choice

A relatively long shortlist this time round, and it was, by all accounts, tricky to narrow it down to seven. There were great lists to be had just from Willem Dafoe or Diane Lane’s filmographies. This time around neither of us remembered seeing any of the choices, and they’re a varied bunch.

Night Shift is a comedy about a brothel in a morgue starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton! Colors is a tough cop film set in gangland LA, with Sean Penn the hot-headed rookie to Robert Duvall’s experienced cop.

I didn’t go to see The Lincoln Lawyer at the cinema because I wasn’t really a fan of Matthew McConnaughey. Fast-forward a few years and I have a massive man-crush on him, so totally up for this.

I’ve been meaning to see Rumble Fish and Hollwoodland for years. Eddie and the Cruisers stars Michael Pare, so I’d love to see if he’s any better in it than he was in Streets Of Fire.

And then there’s Wild Bill, a Western biopic. I’ve been underwhelmed by both biopics and westerns recently, and especially by a western biopic.

So of course that’s the film Tim chose.

The Link

Wild Bill 03

Diane Lane in Wild Bill

Diane Lane is the shared actor between Streets Of Fire and Wild Bill. In Streets Of Fire she’s a rock singer who gets kidnapped by a biker gang. She’s also in Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, both of which involve gangs and came out around the same time as Streets…

I haven’t actually seen her in that much, apart from Judge Dredd (the Stallone one), Trumbo and Man Of Steel, all of which I’ve tried to forget. She’s one of those names that I’ve always been aware of though. She didn’t have that much to do in Streets Of Fire, so I’m hoping Wild Bill might give me a bit more of a feel for her style.

Wild Bill and me

I don’t know much about this film, other than I almost shortlisted it myself before. It’s directed by Walter Hill (Warriors, Streets Of Fire) and stars Jeff Bridges which is pretty enticing. And it’s a biopic of Wild Bill Hickock. That’s about it…

As far as my knowledge of Wild Bill Hickock that’s at a similar level. In the TV show Deadwood (my gosh I love Deadwood) I remember he dies relatively early on. Shot in the back during a card game. And I’m pretty sure he joined a circus for a bit… Well hopefully even if the film isn’t great I’ll be able to learn a little more about the man himself – much like The Aviator recently.

IMDB says

The early career of legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickock is telescoped and culminates in his relocation in Deadwood and a reunion with Calamity Jane. 5.9 stars.

I says

Wild Bill 04

The man himself

Well then. I’ve now watched the film and done a little bit of research. And I am Not Happy. Here’s an overview of the film (spoilers, but honestly I’m saving you a couple of hours of your life):

Wild Bill goes to Deadwood. A young man there is abusive towards him. Turns out years previously that Bill had a relationship with a woman who had a son from a previous marriage. They split, amicably. The woman’s life went downhill. The woman’s son blamed Wild Bill for his mother’s state and, guess what? He’s come to Deadwood to set things straight. After much to-ing and fro-ing the young man hires some goons, then can’t quite go through with it. Bill kills said goons but lets the young man live and buys him a drink. Young man shoots Wild Bill in the back.

Fine. Whatever. It wasn’t brilliantly told – the flashbacks were heavy handed – but was functional.

However. That’s not how it went down. The chap that killed Wild Bill in reality was someone who was angry about losing to him at cards the previous night. So the central pillar of the film is just a load of guff. At that point you might as well change some names and fictionalise the whole shebang and maybe we could all have a bit more fun.

The film is based in part on the book Deadwood, and in part on a play called Fathers and Sons. It’s the latter which is I think where this fictionalised version of events comes from. There’s an almost interesting scene in the film when the young man and his goons burst into a saloon where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are, and then… it’s a bit of a stand off. The young man could kill Bill, but doesn’t quite have the gumption. They stay in deadlock all night, before the man and his goons flee. That’s when Bill chases after them before bringing the boy back to the bar.

And that, as the whole film, could be quite interesting (if it stopped purporting to have any resemblance to reality). Turns out I think that’s what the play was. All the set-up and flashbacks in the film distract from this interesting and potentially tense night.

So I watched a mediocre film and came out actually knowing less about Wild Bill than I knew going in. Crumbs.

And Diane Lane? A relatively thankless role as Miss Perfect in flashbacks. What the hell did she ever see in Wild Bill? Or this script?

A final thought – Wild Bill was 39 when he was shot. I pointed out in my Wyatt Earp post that Doc Holliday died at 36. It was a shit old life in the West.

Wild Bill 02

The Dude himself

The Verdict

“You ought to know better than to touch another man’s hat,” says Wild Bill in the film. But apparently it’s fine to mess around with another man’s life story.

Coming Attractions

Loads of interesting people in this – not just Jeff Bridges and Diane Lane (plenty of her films on the longlist sounded worth a watch), but John Hurt, Keith Carradine, Ellen Barkin and Bruce Dern.

One thing is clear though: I won’t be picking a biopic. Or a western.

Although I do still have a hankering for Tombstone…

@BornToPootle

The Chain Reaction Film Club: Silverado

Film 40: Silverado

Silverado 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film almost every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously on…

Last time we watched Wyatt Earp, in which Kevin Costner spent three hours ten minutes running up behind people from out of shot and clubbing them over the head. And occasionally shooting them. And being generally grumpy. It was a laugh riot.

The Shortlist

This is unusual in that we’re trying to get to a specific film for next week. So rather than take my pick from the filmographies of Costner, Hackman, Quaid, Madsen, Rosselini, Sizemore (who has 30 projects currently in development, who knew!) and a bar-room full of notable character actors, I can only choose things that will be a direct conduit to The Fifth Element. So bearing that in mind, here’s the shortlist:

Bringing Up Bobby (2011)

Big Night (1996)

Silverado (1985)

Planet Terror (2007)

True Romance (1993)

Rush Hour (1998)

The Choice

I had two main conflicting thoughts here. Tim doesn’t like doing things by halves, so when it’s his turn to choose he looks through the entire filmographies of pretty much everyone. And any film he hasn’t heard of he’ll read about. I’m slightly more laissez-faire, and if there’s a lot of choice at a glance I won’t get too bogged down in the bit-part players.

Given that the next choice is already made for us – The Fifth Element – it means he doesn’t have to waste his life spend the time doing this. So I could pick something that would otherwise have given him nightmares because of the incredible casts, and help ease his blood pressure. Alternatively, isn’t that a waste of a great cast? Why pick Big Night, and then not let him use Stanley Tucci or Tony Shaloub? Silverado has a ton of great names in, as does True Romance.

Even Bringing Up Bobby, which neither of us had ever heard of, has a brilliant cast – it’s Famke Janssen’s directorial/writing debut so I imagine there are a few favours going on.
So, like the song says, it’s tricky. I’ve seen True Romance and Planet Terror before. Tim’s also seen Rush Hour and Silverado. But all of these are on the table for a rewatch….

Ultimately I narrowed it down to Silverado and Big Night, and, seeing as we just watched a disappointing Lawrence Kasdan western starring Kevin Costner, I opted for Silverado. It’s a Lawrence Kasdan western starring Kevin Costner.

Silverado and me

Whilst I’d heard of Silverado, up until I added it to a shortlist a couple of weeks ago I thought it was a classic-era Western. A John Wayne or James Stewart vehicle. Or maybe a musical – there’s something about the name that wants to be sung.

But it’s neither of those, it’s an 80s film with Kevins Kline and Costner, John Cleese, Jeff Goldlum and a raft of other notables. There are three or four shared actors with Wyatt Earp (the official link I’ve picked is Jeff Fahey), and for The Fifth Element it’s Brion James.

IMDb Says

A misfit bunch of friends come together to right the injustices which exist in a small town. 7.2 stars.

Silverado 03

I Says

Like Wyatt Earp last week this was co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. He also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark and oh boy am I pleased that Silverado is closer to the latter than the former. Where Earp was ponderous Silverado is light as a feather. There’s a blend of comedy and action very reminiscent of Indiana Jones, with Kevin Kline stealing the show as a Jake Gyllenhaal-resembling grizzled-yet-optimistic gunslinger (though there’s stiff competition from Linda Hunt’s saloon matriarch).

The action does take over in the second half, and the comedy all but vanishes. There’s excitement and fun though. Jailbreaks, posses, John Cleese playing a sheriff with an English accent – there’s a lot going on.

The main draw is our quartet of do-gooders picture above – Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and Kevin Costner. In Wyatt Earp Costner was a wooden plank. Here he’s an explosion of energy, a great counterpoint to the more traditionally terse Scott Glenn. What happened in those 9 intervening years to rob Costner of that sense of fun?

Now, this is weird. This film was on the shortlist as I saw it had one shared cast member with The Fifth Element – Brion James. I double-checked on the day we were due to watch it, and spotted that he was listed as ‘uncredited’. Following a bit of frantic googling it looked like he did indeed have some lines – originally his part was larger, but it mostly ended up on the cutting room floor. Turns out he was in two or three scenes with a chunk of dialogue in each. And yet uncredited. Bizarre.

Silverado 02

Here’s Brion James, most definitely in the film!

There are other telltale signs of more lost to the edit – Rosanna Arquette’s character is somewhat shoehorned in as a not-quite love interest. Jeff Goldblum, Cowboy pimp chic aside, makes an uncharacteristically bland impression. But if some elements were lost to keep the pace sprightly then it was probably a sensible choice.

The Verdict

A ripping cowboy yarn, and one I wish I’d seen sooner.

If you’re in the mood for more Kevin Kline it’s worth checking out the version of Pirates of Penzance he starred in – here’s a taster.

Coming Attractions

Lilu Dallas Multipass.

Autowash.

Big badaboom.

It’s going to be the Fifth Element.

@BornToPootle

The Chain Reaction Film Club: Wyatt Earp

Film 39: Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp 1

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film almost every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

Last week was Apollo 13. It was never going to be less than fine with that cast and director, and indeed it was not less than fine. It wasn’t much more either… This time around it’s Tim’s choice.

The Shortlist

The Big Picture (1989)

Cast Away (2000)

Terminal (2004)

Absolute Power (1997)

Frailty (2001)

A League of Their Own (1992)

Tombstone (1993)

Wyatt Earp (1994)

The Choice

The Big Picture is a Christopher Guest film which stars Kevin Bacon and neither of us had heard of. I’m still puzzled as to why Tim didn’t pick it. Having confessed my youthful disdain for Tom Hanks last week it may not be that much of a surprise that I haven’t seen Cast Away or Terminal, the former of which has been on shortlists a couple of times before. Absolute Power is probably the film that we’ve shortlisted most without yet picking… we’ll get there! Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood facing off against each other has a certain appeal.

I read about Frailty in Bill Paxton’s obituary and it’s been on my radar ever since. Tim felt it would be a bit dark for such a warm sunny evening. And then there’s A League Of Their Own. Tim keeps shortlisting it and I’m scared he might actually choose it one day.

Tombstone we’d both seen before but fancy a rewatch. Wyatt Earp seems like it covers the same territory, but takes three hours over it. And so, our film-watching time being limited, Tim chose the three hour version.

Wyatt Earp 2

Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, Kurt Russell and…  Oops, wrong film. This is actually Dennis Quaid, Linden Ashby, Kevin Costner and Michael Madsen

Wyatt Earp and Me

I don’t recall being particularly aware of this at the time. As far as three hour westerns starring Kevin Costner go, I saw Dances With Wolves once and have never felt the lack of more. So I haven’t specifically avoided this film, but, as you can probably tell, it’s not one I would have picked.

IMDb Says

Wyatt Earp is a movie about a man and his family. The movie shows us the good times and the bad times of one of the West’s most famous individuals. 6.6 stars.

I Says

Two weeks ago we watched Sunset, which starred James Garner as a twinkly-eyed older Wyatt Earp in 20s Hollywood. My verdict was that it didn’t overstay its welcome. The same can’t be said of Kevin Costner’s three hour plus biopic.

I don’t know much about Earp – I’ve seen Tombstone but only really remember Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday purring ‘I’m your huckleberry’. Given a bit of time I reckon all I’ll remember of this film is Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday. Even if he sounds like Hoggle from the Labyrinth in one scene. Doc Holliday is the Mercutio in this story, the one everyone really wants to be rather than the staid hero.

Doc Holliday

He’s your huckleberry… probably

And about that hero. I’ve not revisited a 90s Costner film since… I guess the 90s. How did he rise to such prominence? He’s so wooden – there must have been some kind of mass delusion. Something in the water.

The first hour and a half of the film features all the traditional story beats – starting with young Earp wanting to run off to the Civil War we get the inciting incident, the mid point shift, the dark moment, the resolution… and then… we do it all over again. There’s a scene 30 minutes in of a house burning down. 40 minutes in we get a flashback of the house burning down. How could they have trimmed that running time down, I wonder?

The supporting cast is pretty good and features the standard variety of face furniture you’d expect in this sort of thing. It’s all very nicely shot too. There’s more of an attempt at grittiness than I was expecting, but post Deadwood it has to be more than an attempt to really register. Suffice to say that all is not OK after the O.K. Corral shootout.

Also, Adam ‘Jayne Cobb’ Baldwin turns up. And him dressed in cowboy clothes just makes me want to watch Firefly gorram it…

The Verdict

Exactly as good as one would expect a three hour plus film about Wyatt Earp starring Kevin Costner to be.

Having now done a little research I was gratified to see Costner won a Razzie for his performance. Not only that, but he left Tombstone to work on this and tried to block distribution of Tombstone. Guess which fared better at the box office? I’ll give you a clue, it was the one without Kevin Costner in.

Coming attractions

Ok. Full disclosure.

For the first time we’re actively trying to get to a specific film. That’s not our usual modus operandi and it feels slightly shameful in a way. But screw it, we’re going to watch The Fifth Element on the 20th anniversary of its UK release. We’re both fans and neither of us saw it on the big screen (oh, I should point out that we watch CRFC films on a rather lovely HD projector, so we get a quasi- cinematic experience).

On that basis the next film, my choice, needs to link to The Fifth Element. Will narrowing down the options like this mean we’re stuck with a turkey? We shall see!

@BornToPootle