Sunday, March 14, 2010


I’ve always wondered why David Canary got special billing in Everything Else You Can Steal and this movie, in which he has a small role, does not answer that question. He plays a stagecoach robber and his character doesn’t appear until about 45-50 minutes into Hombre. He’s only on-screen for a short while and I would not have recognized him had I not known the name of his character in advance as he looks very different from both the sheriff in Everything and from the doctor in The Strange Fate of Conrad Meyer Zulick.

Hombre is really about John Russell, played by Paul Newman. It was strange to see Newman in the role of a half-white, half-Indian White Mountain Apache, especially when his hair was long in the beginning of the film. The plot revolves around what happens after the stagecoach he and a number of other passengers are on gets held up. They are left without water or horses and have to survive on their own in the mountains and desert. Russell, as a man who grew up on the San Carlos reservation, takes charge. Ultimately, everyone, including the robbers, ends up at a deserted mining camp.

The scenery was beautiful. There was little background music, which added to the sense of being outdoors. People were realistically dirty from trekking for miles on end. However, when one of the robbers is shot in the stomach, he is still able to clamber up and down the hillside and talks and laughs as if nothing had happened. There’s a very strong female character, Jessie, played by Diane Cilento, in Hombre, whom I liked very much; she reminded me somewhat of Beegee (JoAnne Pflug in Only Three to a Bed). The ending of this 1967 movie was a surprise.

Some parts reminded me of a couple ASJ episodes. Early in Hombre, a group of people is sitting in the waiting room at the stage depot and an unsavory-looking man comes in and wants to buy a ticket. However, there are no tickets so he offers to buy one from another passenger. That man refuses and then is called out by the one who wants a ticket: shades of Wrong Train to Brimstone as well as Stagecoach Seven.

Also, a major character in Hombre is Dr. Alex Favor, played by Fredric March, who is an Indian agent; he initially seems somewhat sympathetic to the Apaches he oversees on the reservation but his wife is disdainful and, mimicking Mrs. Fielding in Six Strangers at Apache Springs, uses her handkerchief to wipe the sweat from her brow.

One of the lines that stands out for me, uttered by Jessie, is, “I’ve been wedded and bedded and loved and let down.” At just under two hours, Hombre did not let me down.

Website of the White Mountain Apache Tribe:

Monday, March 1, 2010

King of Heists

Subtitled The Sensational Bank Robbery of 1878 That Shocked America, this 2009 book by J. North Conway (ISBN 978-1-59921-538-9) makes me wonder if Glen Larson knew of George Leslie, who was known as the "King of Bank Robbers" and was never caught.

Leslie has some similarities with Heyes: a talent for planning elaborate robberies that did not involve explosives; an aptitude for figuring out how to crack a safe; an aversion to violence; a taste for the finer things in life, including the ladies. He was an architect with a university degree from Ohio who, for some unknown reason, decided to go to New York City and become a bank robber. He worked with a self-picked gang and moved seamlessly between the criminal underworld and the upper crust society of New York.

Leslie planned and carried out robberies up and down the East Coast and throughout America as far west as California. It took him three years to plan the robbery of the Manhattan Savings Bank, which netted $2,747,000--according to the author, equivalent to about $50 million today. This of course, brings to mind the scene in The Man Who Broke the Bank at Red Gap, where Kid and Heyes discuss how they will be hunted with more enthusiasm now that they've carried out the most successful robbery west of the Mississippi. But the amount of that robbery, $80,000 in cash and $500,000 in negotiable bonds, pales in comparison.

A couple more ASJ connections: On P. 155, it's stated that "Leslie had always relied on the notion that the public didn't care about bank robberies, since it was only the wealthy who suffered." That's exactly what Roger Davis says in his intro as the opening credits roll! And, on P. 157, two men who committed a bank robbery in Massachusetts and another who'd robbed a bank in Ohio were sentenced to twenty years in state penitentiaries. So Heyes and Curry were correct in saying that's what they faced if they were ever caught and convicted.

King of Heists describes, in great detail, life in the Gilded Age. The book begins with background information about Leslie and then moves on to his life in New York City. It explains how, without any contacts, he met not only rich society folk but also the woman who would help and support him in his criminal enterprises, known as Marm Mandelbaum.

The author vividly recreates the world of the latter part of the 19th century, and it is fascinating. He explains the economic forces of the day, the corruption and greed that permeated New York City politics, the machinations of the robber barons, the lives of the teeming masses in city tenements, the workings of the gangs of New York, and the methods of the police and Pinkertons, all in prose that reads like a suspense novel.

Many of the major bank heists that Leslie was involved in--he was responsible for over one hundred robberies--are described in intricate detail and provide excellent source material for writing fanfiction. What makes this book even more interesting are the numerous period newspaper articles interspersed throughout, which create a "you are there" atmosphere for readers. Even though the setting is not the Old West, King of Heists is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the time period of ASJ or about robbing banks in the late 1800s.

1879 article from The New York Times about the robbery (contains spoilers):