Friday, May 6, 2016

Monte Walsh (2003 Remake)

Review | Alias Smith and Jones in the Movies & More About the Old West

I shouldn’t have resisted watching this movie for so long!  I hesitated viewing this remake of Monte Walsh because I really enjoyed the original version and didn’t think a made-for-TV show could equal it.  But it did and, in some ways, I liked it even better.

Tom Selleck stars as the eponymous character in this 2003 Monte Walsh.  The opening was completely different here but just as amusing.  It starts off in a town – a title card says Antelope Junction, 1892.  After some hijinks by a couple boys and a practical joke on the lawyer in the town, Monte Walsh and Chet Rawlins (Keith Carradine) are seen riding into town.

After the opening scenes, most of the rest of this Monte Walsh is the same as the 1970 movie.  The plot concerns a group of cowboys in Wyoming who are slowly being forced into new ways of life because the era of “cowboying,” as they put it, is coming to an end.  (Which is, of course, the same reason Heyes and Curry get outta their business.)  The same characters populate this version and it’s interesting to see how different actors play them.

There are a few significant changes in this Monte Walsh.  The first is a long fight scene between the cowboys and a group of railroad men, which I don’t recall from the original film.  Another change revolves around Monte breaking the horse that Shorty (George Eads) tried and failed to do: In this movie, it all happens during the daytime instead of at night. 

I still felt real sorry for the shopkeeper who lost most of his inventory when the horse rampaged through his store.  Likewise, the climactic shootout occurs in the daytime and didn’t take nearly as long.  It was less suspenseful, though, because it didn’t last nearly as long but the accompanying music was just as effective. 

However, the biggest change was the ending – the gunfight wasn’t the end!  In this version, there was an epilogue.  I won’t spoil it by revealing what happens but I will say that it left me with quite a different feeling than my final reaction to the original Monte Walsh.

One thing I really liked about this movie was the cinematography: It almost looked like this Monte Walsh was filmed in Technicolor because the color in the outdoor scenes was very vivid and bright.  All in all, this 117 minute long remake is definitely worth seeing.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Rough Riders in Arizona Bound & Below the Border

The Rough Riders are the Three Musketeers transplanted to the Old West.  Just as many people nowadays have a romanticized view of America in the late 19th century, and have co-opted the phrase “three musketeers” to signify three friends who stick together through life’s adventures, the Rough Riders were Monogram Pictures idealized version of the trio that saved people from harm.  The Rough Riders in Arizona Bound was the first of eight feature films produced by the studio in the early 1940s.

Arizona Bound packs a lot of action into this black-and-white, 53-minute long movie.  It opens with the main Rough Rider, Buck Jones, sitting outside at his Arizona ranch gazing at the stars and telling his companion how glad he is to have hung up his guns.  The other man doesn’t believe him and is proved right when a telegram comes seeking Buck’s help in Mesa City, where a stagecoach line keeps getting robbed of its gold shipments and US mail.

Next we see the various townspeople introduced; some are good guys, some not, and it’s pretty clear from the beginning who is who in Arizona Bound.  A lot of the action takes place in a saloon and when a preacher enters, he does so with a bang—literally.  He tries to get a man who has crossed him to do a dance but this scene ends differently from the one in The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone where Kid Curry eventually does a jig, although at one point, the preacher in this movie does say, “They’re getting better every minute.”

This preacher, however, turns out to be another Rough Rider, played by Tim McCoy.  The third member of the trio is played by Raymond Hatton.  Naturally, before Arizona Bound is over, there are several confrontations with the bad guys, deceptions by the good guys to trick the bad guys, good guys who get mistaken for bad guys, and a climactic showdown accompanied by overwrought and melodramatic music typical of movies of this time period.  And, of course, a happy ending with all the loose ends tied up, along with the bad guys.

As the first in a series of Rough Riders movies, Arizona Bound sets the stage very well.  The song opening and closing the movie provides background information.  One feature of this franchise is that the audience doesn’t know at first that the three men are working together, so the explanation in the end scene that explains how they all came together to solve the problem in Mesa City is helpful. The rallying cry, “Looks like here’s where the Rough Riders ride again!” is heard for the first but definitely not the last time.

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If only the condition of the print on the DVD I watched was better!  Rough Riders: Below the Border has a lot of positive features but sound and picture quality were not among them.  Sometimes it was hard to hear what characters were saying and often the picture was blurry or perhaps there was ghosting of images, which made it difficult to completely enjoy the movie.

Rough Riders: Below the Border is a 57-minute black-and-white film from 1942.  It stars Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton, who were famous B-Western stars of the early 20th century.  Although the movie’s duration is approximately the same as that of a TV show, there is so much action happening and so many characters that it seems “bigger” than a TV show.

The movie starts off with a scene of two Mexican women and an American man on a stagecoach, which shortly thereafter gets robbed by bandits.  We also see a sheriff and some townspeople talking, and it appears that something shady is going on although it is hard to tell due to the poor audio quality.  Then there’s a scene of an Anglo man driving a buggy into town, which is named Border City, and it turns out he is there to pick up the ladies; it also turns out he is sweet on the younger one.

Each subsequent scene reveals a little more of what is really going on but Rough Riders: Below the Border takes its time letting the audience know.  Several scenes occur in a saloon and revolve around the swamper.  If after listening to how the Jordan girls (Lisa and Cindy Eilbacher in The Posse That Wouldn’t Quit) described their days on their ranch, including swamping out the place, one wasn’t sure what that meant, the character in this movie makes it abundantly clear.  One scene was similar to the one in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry when Heyes and the Kid were trapped in the cave.  However, in this film, the outcome was quite different.

Interestingly, the Rough Riders, who turn out to be a gang of three lawmen who work undercover, hail from Wyoming, Arizona, and Texas, all places that episodes of Alias Smith and Jones were set in.  There is also a theme song, sung at the beginning of Rough Riders: Below the Border and again at the end, which explains who they are and what they do.

This film is one of a series and there were eight Rough Riders movies.  It’s a shame that the poor quality of the DVD detracted from my enjoyment of the move but since the plot was well-paced, I may seek out the other films anyway.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Monte Walsh (1970 Original)

Review in ASJMovieWesterns blog
Monte Walsh is a sad, depressing film interspersed with a few flashes of humor.  It also includes an out-of-place opening theme song sung by Mama Cass and a jarring climax.  With Lee Marvin and Jack Palance starring, the acting is of course great. 

Ted Gehring (Seth in Going, Going, Gone and Jorgensen in 10 Days That Shook Kid Curry) has a small comedic role in the first half of this 1970 movie and it is easy to see how he got the role of Seth as a result.  The movie is based on a book by Jack Shaeffer, who also wrote Shane.

The opening scene of two men riding along, whistling, reminded me of the opening of The Bounty Hunter, although in Monte Walsh they were in a forest, not the canyonlands of the Southwest, and are returning to town after spending the winter in a line shack.  Monte and Chet are partners and when they spot a wolf in the distance, they dismount and Monte prepares to take a shot.  But he hesitates and then launches into a monologue about someone he knew – this scene also reminded me somewhat of the beginning of The Fifth Victim and the banter when Heyes and Curry are tracking the mountain lion.

Then they arrive in town (called Harmony, in a stroke of ironic brilliance) and from there, things slowly and inexorably go downhill.  Monte wants to get a drink but the foreman of the ranch they work for wants to talk to them first.  Chet is all ears but Monte wants a drink.  Chet ultimately persuades him to hear the foreman out. 

This is just the first of many times when things don’t go Monte’s way.  Turns out the ranch they work for was bought out by a big conglomerate.  The foreman offers them jobs but Monte isn’t sure he wants to work for a faceless company; Chet, however, persuades him it’s a good deal.  In Monte Walsh, Chet is the character who sees clearly that their way of life is ending.

Monte is in denial, though, and the reminder of Monte Walsh places him in situations designed to show how he is a relic who doesn’t fit into the new, more modern world around him.  A younger ranch hand boasts about his prowess at breaking horses – something Monte apparently was known for – and there is an on-going conflict between the two men as a result.  In between, Chet settles down and Monte continues his relationship with a prostitute (played by Jeanne Moreau!). 

But nothing ever turns out well for Monte.  Partway through Monte Walsh, the film takes a very dark turn that sends Monte on a vendetta.  The climax is sad and unexpected, made more so by the great music accompanying it, which is far better and more appropriate for the mood of the movie than the theme song.

Filmed partially at Mescal and Empire Ranch in Arizona, Monte Walsh is an existential 106-minute long movie that makes one wonder if the real cowboys of the 19th century knew they were becoming anachronisms.  I didn’t realize it until the end but the drawings in the opening credits sequence were by Charles M. Russell, adding yet another hint of the vanishing way of life Monte represented.