Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vera Cruz

If the word “frenemy” had been around in the late 1860s, it would have certainly described the relationship between Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster), an outlaw, and Ben Trane (Gary Cooper), an ex-Confederate Army colonel.  When they first meet each other in Mexico at the beginning of the movie, Erin and Trane engage in some horse trading but, unlike the scene in Wrong Train to Brimstone, the outcome in Vera Cruz is rather different and it nicely sets the tone for the rest of the film.  Erin has a gang of men working for him, one of whom, Tex, is played by Jack Elam (Boot Coby in Bad Night in Big Butte).

In Vera Cruz, Cooper and Lancaster play two Americans who take sides during Benito Juarez's uprising against Emperor Maximilian—and note the use of the plural "sides."  Caesar Romero (Senor Armendariz in The McCreedy Bust, The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone, and The McCreedy Feud) plays a noble in the service of Emperor Maximilian and it was very interesting to see him portray a Frenchman. 

He is all dolled up in military finery; his wife, a countess, wants to return to Paris so, naturally, he hires a group of misfit Americans who have demonstrated their prowess with rifles to accompany her and her large retinue to the coast, where she will embark on a ship at the port of Vera Cruz.  Of course, all sorts of twists and turns and treachery occur before they reach their goal.

Filmed completely in Mexico, including, amazingly, a scene at Teotihuacan, this 1954 movie is jam-packed with action, which I occasionally found difficult to follow as it did not always make sense to me.  The DVD I watched was grainy but that did not detract significantly from my enjoyment of the movie. 

The central plot of Vera Cruz can be likened to the main plot of The Girl in Boxcar #3, although the outcome is not exactly the same.  Be sure to watch the melodramatic theatrical trailer after watching the film as it is quite amusing.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Study in Colors

It is commonly believed that the TV show Alias Smith and Jones was created as a direct result of the success of the blockbuster movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Both productions featured two winsome young men as anti-heroes, one blond and the other dark-haired.  They were partners; one man was a gunhand, the other the brains of the outfit.

But what if ASJ was not derived from that popular 1969 movie but from much earlier source material?  What if ASJ’s ancestry was Sherlock Holmes and John Watson instead?  Having become enamored of the recent BBC Sherlock TV series, I began to read Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and noticed several similarities between Homes and Watson and Heyes and Curry.

Aside from the obvious fact that their surnames begin in "H," both Sherlock Holmes and Hannibal Heyes are keen observers of the human condition and are master manipulators.  Heyes as a high-stakes poker player and leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang and Holmes as the world’s only consulting detective who has no qualms about using people to achieve his often opaque ends.  Holmes solves crimes no one else—certainly not the police—can solve (A Study in Pink and The Sign of Four).  Heyes, a self-proclaimed genius, commits robberies that no one else ever attempted, as witness his success at opening the Pierce & Hamilton ’78 safe (How to Rob a Bank in One Hard Lesson).  Heyes also makes the cognitive connection, after reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, that fingerprints can determine who killed Mr. Henderson (Something to Get Hung About). 

In that respect, he very much resembles Sherlock Holmes, who also sees things dull, ordinary people miss.  Neither has much respect for the law although both do have one friend in law enforcement: Detective Inspector Lestrade for Holmes and Sheriff Lom Trevors for Heyes.  Also, both men are fastidious in their eating habits; food does not seem to be very important to either of them.  In terms of clothing, Sherlock Holmes, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch, wears a blue scarf and Hannibal Heyes, as played by Pete Duel, wears a blue bandana.  In one respect, though, the men are complete opposites: Sherlock Holmes can go days without speaking (A Study in Scarlet/Pink) but Hannibal Heyes often seems never to shut up (The Bounty Hunter).

Kid Curry and John Watson have a lot in common, too.  Both are thoroughly familiar with guns and are superb shots (Curry in Exit from Wickenburg and Smiler with a Gun, Watson in A Study in Pink and The Hounds of Baskerville).  Watson watches out for Holmes and has his back; Curry does the same for Heyes.  Neither man is stupid but each sometimes has a hard time keeping up with the intellectual leaps of their partner. 

Both Curry and Watson are willing to call their partners out when they disapprove of something they've done: Curry questions Heyes’ logic, a trait Heyes is proud of (The Reformation of Harry Briscoe) and Watson tells Holmes he’s an idiot (A Study in Pink) and a dick (The Reichenbach Fall).  Both Curry and Watson like the ladies.  Curry is always helping the damsels in distress, often to Heyes’ displeasure, and Watson has a series of girlfriends, much to Holmes’ annoyance.  Also, Curry wears a sheepskin coat with wool lapels and Watson wears a parka with fur trim around the hood.  One difference between Curry and Holmes, however, is that Curry is younger than Heyes whereas Watson is older than Holmes.

Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah “Kid” Curry have so many similarities with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson—as the characters are portrayed in both the original stories and the 2010 BBC TV reboot—that it seems more than just a coincidence.  Alias Smith and Jones is certainly in excellent company if it were indeed based on such an iconic literary duo as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.