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.