Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Watching The Outlaw Josey Wales solidified my appreciation of Clint Eastwood as a great Western actor.  He does a terrific job as the eponymous main character, creating a role that is very much a pretty good bad man.  He’s a farmer in Missouri whose family is slaughtered by a band of Kansas Red Legs (see link below) during the Civil War.  Sounds kinda familiar, right?

One day while sitting at the grave of his wife, Bloody Bill Anderson, played by John Russell (Lom in The Day the Amnesty Came Through and Witness to a Lynching and Deputy Marshal Bart in Which Way to the O.K. Corral?) and barely recognizable with a beard and mustache, appears with his guerrillas.  Josey joins them on their murder spree until the war ends, with scenes of skirmishes between North and South shown in a blue tint.  All this happens before the end of the opening credits.

The movie reverts to full color when the men are offered pardons by the Union—an amnesty, one man calls it—and all but Josey accept.  He watches the ceremony from afar and the audience learns that Terrill, a Red Leg who opposes Wales, is dispatched to hunt him down and bring him to justice.  Terrill is played by Bill McKinney (Lobo in the Pilot, Return to Devil’s Hole, The Man Who Murdered Himself, and The Biggest Game in the West), who appeared in several Eastwood films.  This section of The Outlaw Josey Wales sets up the remainder of the movie, which lasts 135 minutes in all.

Chased by soldiers and bounty hunters who want the $5,000 reward out on him, Josey at first rides with a young bushwhacker who decided at the last minute that he didn’t want the pardon offered by the Union.  Josey encounters many people on his journey south to Indian Territory, where he thinks he will be safe.  Among them are a quack doctor selling an elixir, who is much slimier than Dr. Snively in The Day the Amnesty Came Through; an old Cherokee who was forced to travel the Trail of Tears—he makes a great political speech about the history between whites and Indians; a heavy-handed trading post owner and a young Navajo woman who works for him and doesn’t speak English; various bounty hunters and soldiers; and finally two pioneer women, one elderly and the other rather young, who were attacked by Comancheros as they travelled by wagon to a better life. 

The former Southern bushwhacker is a veritable Pied Piper as he just tries to stay alive!  Throughout these scenes, The Outlaw Josey Wales does an excellent job of showing how tough the living conditions of the period truly must have been.

Josey lives in a violent time and he is a violent man who knows only one way out when he’s pinned down, which happens on a fairly regular basis.  After meeting the two white women, The Outlaw Josey Wales shifts and becomes slightly more homespun, as viewers see all the people whom Josey has collected to him settle down on a homestead by a stream outside of Santo Rio, Texas.  They are threatened by Comanches but Josey resolves that situation.  However, serenity doesn’t come easily to Josey and there is a climactic shootout before this 1976 movie reaches a satisfactory conclusion.

There are some interesting bonus features on the DVD of The Outlaw Josey Wales.  The first comprises several screens of text describing the evolution of the movie: its origin from the book to its production by Clint Eastwood.  The second bonus feature, titled “Eastwood in Action,” is seven minutes of explanation of how Eastwood made the movie; the narration is pretty corny but since it’s short it doesn’t matter. 

The last bonus feature is the most interesting; titled “Hell Hath No Fury,” it’s a half hour “making of” featurette that shows the cast and crew behind the scenes as they filmed the movie.  It also includes interviews with the stars of the movie, including Bill McKinney, and it was very interesting to see him as a much older man as this bonus feature was made in 1999.  Immediately following the credits for this bonus feature are scenes of Josey Wales spitting tobacco, which he does throughout the movie, and Eastwood explaining the meaning behind the actions; it’s quite funny and worth waiting for.  And definitely completely different than Kyle Murtry chewing tobacco!

A couple other notes: Part of The Outlaw Josey Wales was filmed in Kanab, Utah, which apparently filled in for Texas, just as Moab, Utah, filled in for Wyoming in ASJ.  The soundtrack really enhanced the period atmosphere and links to two of the songs showcased in the movie, the Rose of Alabama and The Sweet By and By, are provided below.

Listen to The Rose of Alabama:
http://www.civilwarheritagetrails.org/American_Civil_War/Rose_of_Alabama.html

Listen to In the Sweet By and By, recorded in 1908:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgBQuUrcKUA

Article about the Kansas Red Legs:
http://www.legendsofkansas.com/redlegs.html

Monday, July 1, 2013

Will Penny

I don’t know why it took me so long to watch this—Will Penny is a very good movie!  Starring Charlton Heston as the title character and Joan Hacket (Alice Bannion in The Legacy of Charlie O’Rourke) as Catherine Allen, this 1968 film also introduces Lee Majors (Joe Briggs in The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone) in his first credited film role.  His face was immediately recognizable. 

Another co-star is Slim Pickens (Mike the bartender in Exit from Wickenburg; and three sheriffs in The Man Who Murdered Himself, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, and The Strange Fate of Conrad Meyer Zulick), whose voice is recognizable anywhere, plays a chuck wagon cook.

The beginning of Will Penny was very reminiscent of 21 Days to Tenstrike: We first see Will on a cattle drive; then at dinnertime around the chuck wagon, where the cook’s personality reminds me of Gantry; the trail boss—who seems to also be the ranch owner—offers the drovers a bonus if they can get the herd to their destination by a certain time; and there’s a fight among some men over nothing important.

But the plot of Will Penny was primarily concerned with what happens after the cattle drive ends.  Will and two friends decide to ride together and encounter some very unfriendly people in the form of a mad preacher, played by Donald Pleasence, and his three sons.  Later Will, who is not a young man, goes his own way and ends up working for a cattle outfit as the caretaker of a line shack for the winter. 

But there’s a surprise: Joan and her young son, H.G., who were abandoned by the guide who was taking them to Oregon to join her husband, are squatting there and refuse to leave.  The remainder of the film is about the burgeoning relationship between Will, Catherine, and H.G..  It is not a spoiler to say things do not go smoothly.

Catherine is a civilizing force on Will, just as Alice was on the boys in ASJ; she even wears her hair in much the same way although otherwise in Will Penny she looks different.  There’s a funny scene where she tries to get Will to take a bath.  He replies that he bathes eight or nine times.  Catherine asks, “A month?”  Will says, “A year!  Well, what’s wrong with that?  It’s as much as anybody.”  To which Catherine retorts, “Well, not everybody.”  Clearly, not all men in the Old West were as fastidious as Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry!

How Will Penny ends is an unexpected surprise but it is a stronger movie as a result.  In one of the two bonus features, the 20-minute long Remembering Will Penny, Charlton Heston says this was the best Western he ever made; other people interviewed also had high praise for the movie.  The other bonus feature, The Cowboys of Will Penny, was much shorter and included reminiscences of the actors who played cowboys in the movie.

The scenery in Will Penny was beautiful and the ending credits stated that part of the movie was filmed in the Inyo National Forest in northern California.  The music was very 1970s; it reminded me, in a good way, of the song Take a Look Around in Return to Devil’s Hole.  At 98 minutes, this is a film not to be missed.