Saturday, May 12, 2012

High Lonesome

If there were such a genre as Supernatural Western, then High Lonesome, filmed in color and released in 1950, might have qualified if only the acting hadn't been so overwrought.  With John Barrymore as Cooncat (really?!) and Lois Butler and Kristine Miller as sisters, and all overacting in a plot that was often incomprehen- sible, this movie ended up just being silly instead of spooky.

Ostensibly, the young man eventually named Cooncat is cornered on an isolated ranch one night and is suspected of murder.  But is he turned over to the law?  No!  Instead, after being dragged behind a horse to make him see sense, he is kept on as a ranch hand, where Lois Butler falls in love with him. 

Mix in an old family feud; a soon-to-be-married Kristine Miller; the ranch patriarch who insists on finding out the “truth” about Cooncat; Chill Wills (Bixby in The Biggest Game in the West) as the folksy cook who serves to explicate the plot--such as it is; and two ghostly apparitions, one of whom is played by Jack Elam (Boot Coby in Bad Night in Big Butte) who are more real to Cooncat than anyone else, and well, it’s no surprise that some viewers of High Lonesome might be confused. 

The poor quality of the DVD can’t help make up for being filmed on location near Marfa, Texas — there were many times when dirt was evident on the print and when the sound was almost inaudible.  Fortunately, the movie was only 80 minutes long.  It’s pretty hard to believe that Alan LeMay, credited as the writer and director of High Lonesome, was also the writer of The Searchers and The Unforgiven (the Audrey Hepburn version).

The best part of High Lonesome was actually one of the bonus features.  In addition to text-only bios of the major stars and director, there was a full-length half-hour episode of Stories of the Century, which was a mid-1950s TV show about a railroad detective and his female partner hunting down outlaws of the Old West.  The episode on this DVD was from Season 1, #20, called The Wild Bunch of Wyoming, which makes for a nice tie-in to ASJ.  Although not exactly historically true, the episode itself was fun to watch.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Forty Guns

Forty Guns, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan, is a disjointed, melodramatic mess of a movie.  Revealed by signage on buildings as set in the county seat of Cochise County, that is, Tombstone, Arizona, this 1957 film has so many subplots it’s hard to keep straight what is going on and why.  Mostly, it’s about one man, Griff Bonnell, a Federal marshal who, with his two brothers, rides into town and gets mixed up with Jessica Drummond and the men who ride for her, including her nasty younger brother, Brockie.

The only tie-in to ASJ is actually an interesting one: Griff doesn’t want Chico, his youngest brother, following in his footsteps.  Apparently, although Griff is a peace officer, he also has a reputation as a gunman and is known as “the truest gun in the West.”  Chico doesn’t understand why Griff wants to keep him out of harm’s way by sending him back to the family farm. 

About halfway through Forty Guns, Griff compares himself to a Roman gladiator and tells his brother, “There’s a new era coming…  My kind of making a living is on the way out…  I’m a freak.”  Of course this hints, by about fifteen years, at the scene in Exit from Wickenburg when Kid Curry tells Tommy essentially the same thing.

But that’s as deep as Forty Guns ever gets.  All the gunfights, love stories, natural disasters, double crosses, and familial problems can’t make up for the shallowness of the relationship between the two main characters and as a result, it’s hard to care about what happens to them or any of the other characters.  At 79 minutes, this black-and-white film seemed much longer.