Sunday, March 27, 2011

The King and Four Queens

Clark Gable stars as Dan Kehoe in this 1956 movie as a man who serendipitously learns about a hidden cache of gold and then proceeds to search for it in a town whose only inhabitants are the women who were married to the four outlaw brothers who stole it and the mother of the outlaws.

Three of the four brothers are dead and the fourth may or may not be dead. Their mother, played by Jo Van Fleet, keeps a tight rein on her daughters-in-law but the arrival of Dan shakes things up considerably. Filled with sexual innuendo and little violence, The King and Four Queens runs 86 minutes, giving Dan sufficient time to get to know each of the ladies well enough to decide whom to seduce and also to deduce where the gold is.

There are a couple connections to ASJ but no actors who were in the series appear in The King and Four Queens. The nearest town is named Touchstone, like the one in Everything Else You Can Steal; and one of the widows comments that $100,000 (the haul from the robbery) weighs a lot and would be too heavy for her to move by herself, which harks back to what Heyes tells Alice in The Legacy of Charlie O'Rourke.

 Partway through the film, Kehoe plays a song on the melodeon (a type of organ), in a scene reminiscent of Heyes playing the guitar in The Posse That Wouldn't Quit, except that in The King and Four Queens, he also ends up dancing with the women. The song, "In the Sweet By and By," is a traditional hymn and could have been sung in the time period of ASJ; a link to an instrumental version played on an organ is included below.

It's not clear if the king in The King and Four Queens refers to Dan Kehoe or to the mother of the outlaws, since she rules her household with iron-fisted absolute authority, nor is it completely clear if Kehoe is a crook or merely an opportunist. But it's always enjoyable watching Clark Gable and this movie, while not a masterpiece, is no exception.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Hired Hand

Peter Fonda, the director, calls this 90-minute long 1971 Universal Pictures film "an incredibly different Western," "a revisionist Western." It sure is different from all the others I have seen! Fonda's audio commentary really helps explain what he was trying to do when filming The Hired Hand and makes it obvious that it is definitely a film of its time.

Fonda stars as Harry and Warren Oates as his partner of seven years, Arch. The movie, set in 1881, opens with an oddly-filmed scene along the Rio Grande in New Mexico (the movie was filmed on location). Somewhere along the way, they have picked up Dan, played by Robert Pratt (Billy in Night of the Red Dog); he wants to see California and the Pacific Ocean and since the two older drifters have nothing better to do, they go as well.

However, when they stop at a town in the desert to quench their thirst and see to their horses, bad things happen and plans change. Harry, wearing a slightly fancier sheepskin jacket than Kid, goes "home" to the wife and child he abandoned years earlier, and Arch accompanies him. The rest of The Hired Hand is about the relationship between Harry and his wife, Hannah, played by Verna Bloom, and the relationship between Harry and Arch.

The Hired Hand seems almost like it was filmed in slow motion: Each scene takes its time unfolding and there is a minimum of talking. There are lots of close-ups of faces, lots of scenes filmed in silhouette, and lots of sunsets which are filmed beautifully. There are also many places where scenes are slowly dissolved into each other and the audience sees the two images superimposed, a technique that becomes tedious as the movie drags on. The Hired Hand seems more like a sequence of separate scenes strung together than a film with a cohesive plot, until the violent end when it becomes obvious why it was necessary to have a partner in the Old West who would always watch your back.

Because there were no opening credits for The Hired Hand, it wasn't until the end when the closing credits appeared that I realized Severn Darden (Alan Harlingen and his father, Oscar, in Never Trust an Honest Man) was in this movie. He plays a very bad guy and although I hadn't recognized him at first--I don't think I've ever seen him in anything else--once I knew who his character was, the resemblance was obvious. He looks thinner here, even though his appearance in ASJ was the same year, but his voice is very similar. Ann Doran (Mrs. Simpson in Witness to a Lynching) has a small part as a middle-aged busybody who needles Hannah about her husband.