Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Flaming Star

What a surprise this 1960 color movie was! Elvis Presley stars, playing a half-white, half Kiowa man who is forced to choose between the "civilized" life of his white father and stepbrother, or the Indian ways of his mother. His torment over what to do propels Flaming Star to its haunting conclusion.

Flaming Star is a fast-paced movie filled with action as well as philosophical comments about whites settling on land in Texas that traditionally belonged to the Kiowas, who have been steadily losing it to the newcomers. It's 1878 and the Burton family, with John McIntire as the father, Dolores Del Rio as the mother, Steve Forrest as stepbrother Clint, and Elvis as Pacer, are celebrating Clint's birthday with friends who have gone to their homestead for the evening.

But tragedy strikes some of the guests upon their return home, and that is the catalyst for everything else that happens in the movie. Despite the Burtons' well-meaning attempts to find a peaceful solution to the problems, another calamity occurs and as a result, everything worsens exponentially. Caught in the middle, Elvis doesn't know which people he "belongs" to, and the pain he feels is palpable. Elvis is excellent and completely believable in this role.

Ford Rainey (appearing in six episodes of ASJ, most notably as Warren Epps in Exit from Wickenburg, Christine's father in Never Trust an Honest Man, and the rancher Collins in The Biggest Game in the West) and L.Q. Jones (Clint Weaver in Stagecoach Seven and Peterson in McGuffin) have small roles as a craven doctor and one of the birthday guests, respectively. Barbara Eden plays a sympathetic role as a girl who tries to help Pacer.

The stark landscape is filmed in a beautiful, severe manner. Elvis sings two songs in Flaming Star. At one hour and forty-one minutes long, the film is tautly directed and well worth the time. There are no bonus features except two trailers for other Elvis movies.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Outrage

This 1964 movie, based on Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, faithfully transplants the story to the Old West. If you haven't seen that film, watch it after seeing The Outrage and compare both movies. To go from Samurai Japan to the American West of the 19th century really isn't a stretch when you consider the similarities between the two societies. The Outrage, in black and white, also uses shadows and light to great effect during its 97-minute running time.

Like its progenitor, The Outrage begins with two characters stranded at an isolated and abandoned railway station, but are soon joined by a third person. William Shatner plays a preacher, fascinating in a role that pre-dates his Star Trek work and who vaguely resembles Reverend Spencer from The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone; Howard Da Silva is a prospector who both goads and protects the preacher from the third person, Edward G. Robinson, excellent in the role of a con man who is the catalyst for the retelling of the outrage that gives this film its name. After a while, the prospector begins to relate the story of a rape and a murder, disturbing in its details and, as different characters offer their own perspectives, its inconstancy over what really occurred.

Paul Newman plays Juan Carrasco, a Mexican outlaw who is a pretty bad bad man. With Spanish accent and dark hair, the actor doesn't look at all like Paul Newman in his later outlaw incarnation as Butch Cassidy. Carrasco intercepts a man and a woman riding in a buggy through a desert, which reminded me of the desert in The Legacy of Charlie O'Rourke, except that saguaro cacti replaced the innumerable Joshua trees.

Claire Bloom is wonderful as the female character at the heart of it all and Laurence Harvey is her husband. Each time the tale is told from a different character's point of view, the story changes. One of the versions is related by an Indian played by Paul Fix (Clarence the miner in Night of the Red Dog), wearing such heavy makeup he is unrecognizable, though a couple times his voice sounded familiar.

At the end, the audience still does not know for sure what really happened. But the moral of The Outrage surely is: Don't stop to talk to strangers you encounter on the road!