Spellbound

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I’ve heard Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) described as a tale of the lunatics taking over the asylum, and that’s actually not a bad summation. Despite sounding like a glib dismissal, it neatly encapsulates the basic premise of this movie. Exploiting the then fashionable trend for psychoanalysis, and enthusiastically supported by firm believer David O Selznick, it’s a romantic mystery served up as a kind of Freudian stew – and a very tasty one at that. Like all of Hitchcock’s films made for Selznick the producer’s fingerprints are visible everywhere, but there are plenty of instances of that familiar visual flair to ensure that you never forget who directed it.

Amnesiacs always make good protagonists in any movie, the blanked out memories that need to be recovered before any sense of order can be restored automatically generate mystery, and so it is with Spellbound. Our hero (Gregory Peck) is referred to variously as Dr Edwardes, JB, and finally as John Ballantyne (I’ll stick with JB for the purposes of this piece as that’s the moniker he carries for most of the running time) while he struggles to find out his real identity, and more crucially whether or not he’s a murderer. His arrival at a New England psychiatric hospital posing as the new director is initially taken at face value. There are a few comments passed regarding his relative youth for such a responsible position, but there are no other eyebrows raised. What it does spark though is an unsuspected passion in the emotionally repressed Dr Constance Petersen, thus providing JB with one priceless ally. Such a deception cannot hope to endure long though and, sure enough, it’s inevitably revealed that the real Dr Edwardes is in fact dead and the impostor taking his place is very likely his killer. So, still in search of who he is and what he did, JB goes on the run with Constance joining him after a short interval. It’s here that the picture comes into its own, as Constance, with the aid of her old tutor Dr Brulov (Michael Chekhov), employs Freudian psychoanalytic techniques in a race against time to probe the depths of JB’s subconscious and discover the truth. It all culminates in the famous dream sequence, designed by Salvador Dali, whose interpretation lays bare all the secrets. The whole thing is pure, escapist hokum but it’s executed with such style and conviction that you’re completely drawn in. It’s a good illustration of how, apart from his technical achievements, Hitchcock was masterful at taking stories that were essentially tosh and coaxing the viewer into accepting their credibility for the duration of the movie.

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I mentioned earlier Selznick’s enthusiasm for the subject matter, and I’d say that’s directly responsible for the film’s biggest weakness. Such was the producer’s zeal that he insisted on the involvement of an adviser on all things psychoanalytical. The result is an overly pious attitude towards the science depicted, from the cloyingly reverential foreword to the kind of mangled dialogue that even Ben Hecht was hard pressed to shape into something presentable. The contrast between the kind of clumsy exposition that Selznick wanted and Hitchcock’s talent for economical storytelling is clear to see in one scene near the end. In the space of a thirty second montage, consisting only of close-ups of Ingrid Bergman’s increasingly desperate features and a few imploring lines, the the trial, conviction and sentencing of JB is dealt with fully. Similarly, the whole, lengthy sequence at Brulov’s house could have proven intolerable in the hands of a lesser director. Instead, through the combination of a wonderfully idiosyncratic performance by Michael Chekhov, Hitchcock’s arresting visual style and the scoring of Miklos Rozsa (alternating between lush romanticism and the unnerving strains of the theremin), it stands as the strongest section of the entire film. Of course, in other places, some of the bravura touches could be said to serve no better purpose than to draw attention to their own inventiveness: the revolver discharged directly into the camera at the end springs to mind, but that’s such a memorable shot that it feels uncharitable and unnecessarily sniffy to complain about it.

It’s said that Hitchcock originally wanted Cary Grant for the lead, and Peck’s performance has been criticised for being a touch too aloof. I can understand where that’s coming from, Peck had yet to find his feet fully in cinema, although I also feel he was actually right for the part. Had Grant been cast I have a hunch he would have brought too much of himself, that innate self-confidence, to the role and thus rendered it less believable. As it stands, Peck had just the right measure of insecurity about him to get across the edginess of a man who doesn’t even know his own name let alone whether or not he’s a criminal. Whatever reservations anyone may have about Peck, it’s hard to fault Ingrid Bergman’s Constance Petersen. She brings real charm and innocence to the part of the slightly uptight academic who gradually learns that there’s a vast gulf between theory and practice when it comes to matters of the heart. There’s nothing the least bit goofy about her, she’s clearly a highly intelligent and capable woman but there’s also a touching vulnerability as a result of her sheltered lifestyle. Aside from the principal performers, there are a couple of excellent cameos in the mix too – the middle-aged cop and his partner discussing the issues he’s having with his mother who are in some ways reminiscent of the travelling salesmen in The 39 Steps, and Wallace Ford as the persistent pest in the hotel lobby – these don’t add anything at all to the narrative but they do enrich the whole experience.

Spellbound has had a variety of releases on DVD in different territories; my copy is the old Pearson release from the UK, which I think has been repackaged and subsequently issued by Prism. I guess there may be better versions out there but that old UK disc is pretty good to my eyes. There aren’t any problems with the transfer, which is clean, sharp and free from damage. There are a range of extras, from text bios and trivia to a gallery and a few clips of Hitchcock interviews etc – I’m pretty sure the latter is replicated on the other Hitchcock titles from Pearson. The movie itself is one of Hitch’s better than average 40s offerings, not as good as Notorious or Shadow of a Doubt but still technically accomplished and very entertaining. There are the familiar motifs (the wrong man on the run and the blonde Girl Friday) and the psychoanalysis angle is quite enjoyable. Like most of the director’s films, it has a high rewatch value regardless of how familiar the plot may be – recommended.

 

Diplomatic Courier

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In the past I’ve done a few write-ups on those thrillers that take advantage of the devastated world of post-war Europe. The uncertainty evoked by time and place, the dreams of a better future coupled with the knowledge that the dangers of the past are no further away than a glance over the shoulder, is a strong foundation on which to build tales of intrigue and deception. In the late 40s and early 50s, as the chill of the Cold War was spreading, there was an abundance of such movies. I think the appeal of these pictures, despite the patriotic trappings required by the contemporary political climate and the inevitable loss of immediacy with the passage of time, lies in their ability to tune into the despair and disillusionment of those displaced and damaged by war and the subsequent carving up of a continent. Diplomatic Courier (1952) is one of the lesser known examples of this sub-genre, despite its boasting a strong cast. This film is not without its flaws but, taken as a whole, it remains a slick and atmospheric espionage thriller.

It starts off with one of those voice-of-God narrations, extolling the virtues of dedicated government agencies, which I tend to find irritating but quickly settles down to telling the story in a more traditional way. In short, a coded document originating in Romania needs to be passed to a courier in Salzburg for transportation back to the US. Sounds simple enough in itself, and thus our courier, Mike Kells (Tyrone Power), is promptly dispatched to do the business. Of course, things don’t quite run according to plan and Kells’ contact winds up dead on the railway line outside the city, without having completed the exchange. The circumstances leading to the murder aren’t clear as they were preceded by a series of cat and mouse shenanigans aboard the train involving a couple of heavies (one of whom is Charles Bronson in a blink and you miss him role) and an unidentified blonde. Kells now finds himself high and dry, and his only lead is the blonde, a Czech refugee called Janine Betki (Hildegard Knef), on her way to Trieste. His only option is to travel to the Italian city, track down Janine, and hope that she can lead him to the missing document. Again, the errand seems uncomplicated yet Trieste is a nest of spies and assassins, with danger lurking and ready to pounce within its ruins and darkened courtyards. Trying to run down one female in an unfamiliar and hostile locale ought to be problem enough, but Kells faces the added complication dealing with the attentions of an amorous American pleasure seeker, Joan Ross (Patricia Neal), who he met after falling asleep on her mink clad shoulder en route to Salzburg. What emerges is that both these women have a central role to play in the mystery, the question though is which one, if either, can be trusted.

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The whole thing moves along at a brisk pace under Henry Hathaway’s direction, but I do feel the script could have used some tightening to cut down on the kind of disposable dialogue that just serves to slow the momentum. Also, there are a few too many convenient arrivals at crucial moments. Having said that, Hathaway, aided by cameraman Lucien Ballard, creates some nice images and takes full advantage of the European locations. The best scenes are those with Kells blundering around Trieste following up clues that frequently leave him even more confused than ever. By this time, Tyrone Power had left his swashbuckling days behind him and was exploring more varied roles. I thought he was pretty good as the messenger boy thrown in at the deep end and unsure of who’s really on his side, apart from a faithful but hyperactive Karl Malden. Both Patricia Neal and Hildegard Knef gave strong but very different performances – the former oozing a kind of feline sexuality, while the latter tapped into a credible blend of vulnerability and grit. Of the two, I’d say Knef produced the the better work, probably due to her character benefiting form greater depth. I mentioned earlier a fleeting appearance by Charles Bronson, and it’s also worth pointing out that’s there’s a small part for Lee Marvin in there too.

Diplomatic Courier is available on DVD from Fox in Spain – the only release of the movie anywhere that I know of – in a pretty good edition. The print is quite clean and crisp, but there is a fair bit of grain in evidence early on. Actually, I can’t work out if it’s genuine film grain or some kind of digital noise; I have a hunch it’s the latter but I’m not expert enough to call it for sure one way or the other. Whatever, it fades after the first ten minutes or so. The Spanish subs are removable via the set up menu, and the extras are limited to a gallery and some text based cast and crew info. This was my first viewing of the film, a total blind buy, and I enjoyed it a lot. I did have some issues with the script, but the acting is good overall and the direction and location photography are very stylish. Yet another picture that deserves a wider audience.

 

So Long at the Fair

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We spend a lot of time these days bemoaning the lack of originality in cinema, citing the number of remakes and the fondness for rehashing plots and concepts. However, the truth is that this isn’t an especially new phenomenon; it’s been going on for almost as long as people have been going to the movies. So Long at the Fair (1950) is an example of a film that’s based on a hoary old tale, an urban myth if you like, which has been used in a number of productions – The Lady Vanishes (1938), Dangerous Crossing (1953), and an early episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, to name a few, have all borrowed to a greater or lesser extent from the same basic idea. The point I’m trying to make here is that a perceived lack of innovation in the central plot theme is not necessarily always a bad thing – the real test is in the execution of the script. Even the most familiar of stories can still grip the viewer as long as they are presented in an interesting way.

Events in the film revolve around the Paris Exhibition of 1889, and a young brother and sister, Johnny and Vicky Barton (David Tomlinson and Jean Simmons), who happen to be visiting the capital. Thinking themselves lucky to have secured accommodation when all the city is awash with tourists, they proceed to enjoy their first night out on the town. The bustling, thronged atmosphere is nicely conveyed through scenes of cafe life on the pavements of Montmartre, and later at the Moulin Rouge. These two young people, having sampled the cosmopolitan night life, return exhausted to their hotel to get some rest and prepare for further excitement the next day. However, that’s not to be. When Vicky awakes she finds herself confronted with a situation that at first arouses puzzlement, but soon descends into despair and fear. What has happened is that Johnny has disappeared, but that’s only the half of it. As soon as Vicky starts to ask questions she’s presented with the even more perplexing problem that not only does nobody seem to remember seeing her brother but they insist, to a man, that he was never there in the first place. As if that’s not bad enough, there’s the downright chilling discovery that the room Vicky remembers her brother occupying doesn’t even exist, despite her having visited him in it. The unfolding of this nightmare scenario is nicely handled, with each new shock being added incrementally and the girl’s panic growing accordingly. Finding no solace at the hotel, Vicky turns to the authorities, the consulate and the police, who both display sympathy but also a healthy, and understandable, dose of scepticism. While the distraught girl witnesses one possible avenue of inquiry after another relentlessly closed to her, and her belief in her own sanity being stretched to the limit, the viewer is made subtly aware that something dark and inexplicable is taking place behind the scenes. Enter George Hathaway (Dirk Bogarde), an artist struggling to make a go of his new-fangled impressionist works and an unlikely but welcome ally for the increasingly desperate Vicky. With the backing of someone who’s willing to take her story at face value our heroine now has the opportunity to get to the heart of the mystery. The solution, when it comes, may seem a little contrived but it is logical and ties up all the loose ends in a very satisfactory manner. Added to that, and perhaps most importantly, the whole thing is achieved both stylishly and without any relaxation of the tension.

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Terence Fisher shared the directing credits with Antony Darnborough, and the sumptuous and stylised sets bring to mind the look of the Hammer films that the former would go on to make his name in. Despite a number of outdoor scenes, there’s a real sense of claustrophobia to the whole production that emphasises the shortage of options open to Vicky. When the action returns to the ornate, overdecorated interior of the hotel this stifling feeling is heightened even further – the intricacy of the decor being highly suggestive of unpalatable secrets that need to be disguised by an opulent exterior. There are also two fine set pieces that grab the attention, the first being a horrific accident that befalls a hot air balloon carrying the one person who may be capable of corroborating Vicky’s unlikely story. The other is an extended sequence that sees Hathaway stealing through the hotel by night in an effort to secure evidence that will convince the authorities to act. Fisher really piles on the suspense as the young artist slips in and out of shadow along corridors and staircases, narrowly avoiding the staff as they go about their regular nightly rituals, to get his hands on the tell-tale receipt books.

Jean Simmons was asked to carry the picture for long stretches, and she brought it off very well. She had that doe-eyed innocence that almost guarantees sympathy and used it to maximum effect. However, there’s more to her performance than mere pouting for the camera; her mounting feeling of hopelessness as one door after another slams shut in her face is always believable. Dirk Bogarde’s role was a good deal more straightforward, but he too played it to perfection. There’s a nice mix of the gauche and the determined in his portrayal of an unexpected knight in shining armour. As for the supporting cast, there are welcome turns from familiar faces such as Felix Aylmer, Andre Morell and a young Honor Blackman. The strongest work though is done by Cathleen Nesbitt as the forbidding hotel manageress, whose sour features are perfect for conveying a very subtle menace.

So Long at the Fair has just recently been released on DVD in the UK by new label Spirit, although they are an affiliate of ITV/Granada. The transfer is a reasonable one without being especially remarkable. The film doesn’t appear to have undergone any restoration and there are the usual age related artifacts to be seen, but they’re never particularly distracting. If anything, the image is a little too soft but I wouldn’t call it a fatal flaw either. The disc itself is completely barebones, no trailer, no subtitles, just the movie. Despite that, I think the film is very entertaining; even if the plot is one that you’re largely familiar with it still holds the attention throughout. For those who have no acquaintance whatsoever with the story it ought to prove even more gripping. In brief, there’s a genuine puzzle plot, fine performances, and tight, smooth direction. I give it my recommendation.

Vera Cruz

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Reputations are a strange thing. They tend to wax and wane as the allegiances of critics shift over time and fashions change. Some directors have seen their stock rise dramatically while others have toppled from once lofty positions. There are those though who never seem to be celebrated excessively nor wholly forgotten, they simply exist in that shadowy periphery where both praise and criticism are always heavily qualified. One such man is Robert Aldrich, a director who made some memorable and stylish films yet continues to be granted only a kind of grudging respect. Vera Cruz (1954) was one of his early efforts and has traditionally been viewed as a good action picture, but that’s about it. It’s also been cited as the inspiration for the following decade’s spaghetti westerns, and I fully agree with that assertion. I see it as occupying an odd place among the westerns of the 50s; it doesn’t probe dark psychology like an Anthony Mann film, and it has none of the sparse leanness of Boetticher’s work. Instead it leaps over all of this and presents, or maybe even glorifies, the kind of amoral characters who would come to populate the western from the mid-60s onwards.

The story takes place in 1866, during the Franco-Mexican war, when the followers of Juarez were struggling to wrest control of their country back from those forces loyal to the puppet Emperor Maximilian. The focus is on two Americans who, as the prologue informs us, are among those who have drifted across the border after the Civil War to sell their services to the highest bidder. These men are Ben Trane (Gary Cooper), a southern gentleman ruined by the war and Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster), a reckless adventurer and a stranger to the notion of ethics. The early scenes where Erin sells Trane another man’s stolen horse set the tone for the rest of the picture, where double-crosses, lies, betrayals and greed come thick and fast from every side and no one seems to spare a thought for anybody but himself. When it looks as though Maximilian’s people offer the better chance for profit, both men throw in their lot with them. This sets up a nice sequence at the Imperial palace as Erin’s men show themselves up for the uncouth, rag-tag bunch they are. Of course, the aristocrats that they casually offend and outrage are seen to be no better, displaying no qualms whatsoever as they calmly scheme to dispose of their new employees as soon as their purpose is served. The purpose in question is to escort, and ensure the safe passage of, a French Countess (Denise Darcel) and her coach from Mexico City to the port of Vera Cruz. Finally, it would seem that there’s some honour to be seen. After all, risking one’s neck to ensure a woman is able to travel unmolested through treacherous country infested with Juarista rebels on the rampage is not an unworthy enterprise. However, at no point in this story is anything really as it appears on the surface. The whole mission is nothing but a blind on the part of the monarchists to smuggle a shipment of $3 million in gold out of Mexico to buy military aid and , by extension, some time for the crumbling regime. Naturally, everyone wants the money for themselves – Erin, the Countess, Trane and even the Juaristas in order to further their political aims. The fact is that of all those eyeing the fortune, the only one (barring the Juarista general) who has even a shred of decency motivating them is Trane. He sees the money – or at least as much of it as he can bargain for – as a means of restoring his devastated plantation and those who have grown dependent on it. After a succession of ambushes, broken promises and a desperate assault on the Emperor’s forces, everything comes down to a simple duel between two very different men in a dusty Mexican courtyard.

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As I said earlier, I’d have to agree with those who claim that Vera Cruz is a major influence on the spaghetti western. In fact, it’s a virtual template for the flood of Euro westerns that hit cinemas within ten years. The south of the border setting is the first thing that comes to mind, and when you factor in the strife torn political background the parallels become more apparent. The difference of course is that in Aldrich’s movie the politics really only forms a backdrop to facilitate the narrative without impacting directly on it. The film isn’t making any particular ideological point, except perhaps that greed overrides everything and corrupts everyone, but concentrates on entertainment albeit with a cynical twist. The main characters, Erin and Trane, profess to have no interest in anything beyond money when they start out. However, as the story progresses, Trane does exhibit something approaching a conscience. Both Cooper and Lancaster’s roles can be viewed as a blueprint for the upcoming anti-heroes from Europe. In a way, the Italians ended up presenting a kind of hybrid of these two men; a mercenary figure who hasn’t abandoned himself totally to amorality, a taciturn man with a personal code of honour (Cooper) who retains a sort of capricious flamboyance (Lancaster). It’s Lancaster’s grinning, black-clad rogue who has the greatest impact, but Cooper’s steadiness plays a significant part in keeping the film balanced. For all Lancaster’s scene stealing bravado, Cooper still holds the attention – his little grimaces at key points have a great understated quality to them. As for Aldrich’s direction, his handling of the action scenes is exemplary. The climactic assault is a well executed sequence that’s perfectly paced with just enough establishing shots to ensure the geography remains clear throughout. Aside from the big set pieces, he uses the wide screen well and mixes up the long, medium and close shots to good effect. He also throws in a variety of angles, and the final duel between Trane and Erin is yet another example of the film’s influence on the likes of Leone. While the lingering, operatic quality is missing, the basic iconography that would become so familiar is certainly present in the angles and the cutting.

Vera Cruz was shot in 2:1 Superscope and the UK DVD from MGM retains that ratio. The anamorphic transfer is a reasonable one, colours are strong and there’s no serious damage to the print. The only extra provided is the theatrical trailer. The film is due out on BD this coming June and it’s the kind of production that ought to benefit from the upgraded picture quality. As a movie, it’s not exactly a typical 50s western; in tone, it almost bears comparison to a 60s WWII extravaganza – big, brash, colourful and noisy. While it may not have the depth of the best from its decade, it is still an influential piece of work. Moreover, it offers an hour and a half of first class entertainment. I like it a lot and think both the film and its director deserve some renewed attention.

 

The Secret of Convict Lake

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One of the joys of collecting and watching movies is that, from time to time, you chance upon a little neglected gem. Sure, there are the disappointments too but that’s more than balanced out by the buzz of seeing something previously unknown for the first time and liking it. The Secret of Convict Lake (1951) was a movie I’d never heard of before I acquired it. Anyway, I thought I’d give it a go for a number of reasons: the cast was great, the title was evocative, and the cover looked quite cool. Having seen it now, I have no regrets about this particular purchase and it’s a film I can see myself revisiting. It’s a compact little western with noirish undertones and good performances all round.

Any western involving snow inevitably gets the thumbs up from me, and this one opens with a group of men fighting their way through a white, mountainous landscape. The voiceover informs us that we’re looking at six convicts (soon to be five as one freezes to death) who have broken out of prison and are trying to keep ahead of the pursuing posse. When a blizzard forces the hunters to abandon the chase, the remaining fugitives find themselves on a ridge overlooking a small settlement. After the hellish trek the collection of small dwellings with soft lights spilling from them look very inviting. A quick reconnaissance reveals that the only inhabitants are women, their men having yet to return from prospecting. Right away the conflict at the centre of the picture is before us: a bunch of frozen and half-starved criminals fresh out of prison are confronted with a community of frontier-hardened females who aren’t shy of guns but nor are they without compassion. An uneasy compromise is struck whereby the convicts are to be fed and lodged long enough to allow them to regain enough strength to continue on their way, but they must keep to their assigned quarters. The women are dominated by a trio of well-defined stock characters: Granny (Ethel Barrymore) is the tough old matriarch, Rachel (Ann Dvorak) a spinster who hears the clock ticking louder every day, and Marcia (Gene Tierney) an outsider with a questionable past who’s engaged to Rachel’s brother. The balance of power among the fugitives rests uneasily between Canfield (Glenn Ford) and Greer (Zachary Scott), with the latter counting on the greed of the others to bolster his position. The thing is that Canfield was convicted of robbery and murder, and the $40,000 he is said to have stolen has never been recovered. Greer wants that money badly but Canfield wants something else, the man whose perjury delivered him to the hangman. The rest of the convicts comprise a thug, a bragging Englishman and a mentally unstable young man with a penchant for killing women. Factor in the added complication that the man Canfield’s seeking happens to be Marcia’s betrothed and the situation bristles with explosive potential. The film’s hour and twenty minute running time packs in a powerful mix of sexual tension and the looming threat of violence before coming to a satisfying conclusion.

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The Secret of Convict Lake comes near the mid-point of director Michael Gordon’s career, one derailed by the blacklist. Until then he’d been making B programmers and a few noir pictures, the enforced break would be followed by a move to glossy Ross Hunter/Robert Arthur productions. While this isn’t a straight film noir Gordon’s direction, Leo Tover’s moody photography and Sol Kaplan’s doom laden score all combine to create a darkly atmospheric western. The casting of Ford, Tierney, Scott and perennial heavy Jack Lambert add to the noir feel of proceedings. Glenn Ford was able to play these kinds of uncomfortable outsiders with his eyes closed and Canfield is another in a long line of basically right guys who’ve been screwed over by circumstances. He’s a man who’s been brought face to face with death and has only his quest for justice or vengeance to keep him going. Zachary Scott, on the other hand, is all slime and self interest, prepared to use everyone to get what he wants. His calculating seduction of Ann Dvorak’s frustrated old maid is both creepy and (from her point of view) tragic. Gene Tierney’s natural beauty could never quite mask the demons struggling inside her, but that often worked in her favour on screen. Her Marcia is a similarly troubled soul, a woman with a past she desperately wants to leave behind and who is on the point of marrying a worthless man in order to try to make a fresh start. Canfield’s arrival and his subsequent revelations offer hope and despair in equal measure. Ethel Barrymore gives another variation on her wise old owl turn with a hint of that mischievous eccentricity peeping through – I always appreciate her presence in a movie. A word too for Cyril Cusack, not an actor you expect to see in a western, whose talkative cockney provides Canfield’s ruthless comrades with their most human and sympathetic face.

As far as I’m aware the only release of The Secret of Convict Lake on DVD at the time of writing is the Spanish disc from Fox/Impulso. The film hasn’t had any work done on it but, fortunately, for the most part the image is very strong. There are cue blips and some very minor damage but the elements are generally in good shape leading to a sharp picture with contrast levels that looked fine to me. The downside is that it appears to be interlaced, although I didn’t find that a huge problem to be honest. The mono soundtrack is clear and the Spanish subs are removable by deselecting them via the main menu. Extras are limited to text bios and a gallery. I found the film to be a very entertaining and tightly paced production. There are fine performances all round and, as I mentioned before, a welcome hint of film noir in the script, casting and direction. It’s a strong movie that really ought to be better known, and it gets my approval.

Dead Reckoning

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I guess when you watch enough films it’s almost inevitable that a certain degree of familiarity with plot and characters creeps in. Leaving aside the matter of remakes and such, this is often simply a false perception on the viewers part. However, every once in a while, a movie like Dead Reckoning (1947) comes along where familiarity is not just a case of perceived similarity but a clear rehash of characters, themes and even dialogue from earlier works. This picture borrows heavily from two previous Bogart vehicles – The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, the latter being the most obvious with lines of dialogue getting recycled by the very man who made them iconic in the first place. Although Dead Reckoning never manages to attain the heights of its source of inspiration, it remains an entertaining (if slightly cheesy) film noir.

It opens strongly with a battered and desperate Captain Murdock (Humphrey Bogart) dodging the cops along the dark, rain slicked pavements of Gulf City. Symbolically seeking sanctuary, he slips into a Catholic church and melts into the protective shadows. Recognising the returning priest as a former army padre, he takes the opportunity to unburden himself and tell his tale in an improvised confession. This introduces the flashback structure that dominates the bulk of the film’s running time. In brief, Murdock is now running scared in Gulf City as a result of his attempt to locate an old army pal who decided to take a powder rather than face exposure as a wanted man when he learns that he is to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The plot follows Murdock’s efforts to clear the name of his friend for a murder that he believes was out of character. The friend in question ends up burnt to a crisp in a car wreck before Murdock even has a chance to contact him, so he must feel his way in the dark in a strange town and among an assortment of shady figures. The closest link to his friend, and the person most likely to hold the key to his fate, is a husky voiced cabaret singer by the name of Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott). Murdock’s innate distrust of women means he starts off sceptical of the sincerity of this lady, and her apparent closeness to the smoothly repellent night club owner and gambler Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky) merely serves to heighten his suspicions. Throughout the movie Murdock blows hot and cold in relation to Coral, his attitude varying from doubt to acceptance and back again, even as he finds himself increasingly attracted to her. It’s only after Murdock turns Martinelli’s office into a raging inferno that the truth behind his friend’s demise finally comes to light.

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Bogart’s character in Dead Reckoning is a detective in the Spade/Marlowe mold in all but name; he frequents the same kind of places, mixes it with the same mobsters and duplicitous types and speaks in the same hard-boiled idiom. He even brings matters to a head in a way we’ve seen before – as he tosses the deadly incendiary grenades around Martinelli’s office to loosen tongues you almost expect to hear him snarl “That’s one, Eddie…”, and the climactic scene with Lizabeth Scott borders on a pastiche of the payoff in The Maltese Falcon. Despite the lack of originality in the script (I’ve also read that the movie was initially planned as a kind of follow-up to Gilda) it still stands up as a medium grade noir. A lot of this is due, I think, to Bogart’s strong performance, his cynicism and toughness papering over the weaknesses in other aspects of the movie. The short scene in the morgue – the one cool place in town – highlights this through its combination of smart-ass dialogue and implied violence. In fact, there’s a good deal of violence in the movie, although much of it takes place off screen. The savage beating Murdock receives from Marvin Miller’s sadistic thug, all carried out to the accompaniment of dance time music, is never shown but the damage to the hero’s face makes it clear enough what’s been going on. Morris Carnovsky’s Martinelli makes for an interesting villain, reminiscent of George Macready’s Ballin Mundson in the aforementioned Gilda, as a lowlife with a veneer of sophistication and mock delicacy. The weakest link in the whole chain is ironically the one person who’s presence ties all the strands together – Lizabeth Scott. She was clearly supposed to act as a kind of surrogate Bacall, a sultry foil for Bogart’s two-fisted protagonist. She looks the part and pitches her voice low enough to promise heaven and honey, but her overall performance is a poor one. At one point she spins Bogart one of those hard luck yarns so beloved of femme fatales and then, not reading the result she wanted in his features, asks if he doesn’t believe her. And that’s the problem; there’s a lack of conviction and credibility when she delivers some of the most crucial lines in the movie. Leaving aside the performers, John Cromwell’s direction is mostly effective and there are some darkly moody scenes. The tense opening and the subsequent flashback power things along, but the return to “normal” time lets the momentum slow a little, and a little too early, before the final reveal.

The R2 DVD from Sony/Columbia is reasonably good but not without some faults. The transfer is generally clean, but there are moments of softness and a few occasions when scratches and light damage prove mildly distracting. The only extra feature offered is a gallery consisting of a few posters. Generally, this is a pretty respectable noir, though not quite top flight material. The script is too much by the numbers and unquestionably derivative of other pictures. Still, it does hold one’s interest and has rewatch value if only to enjoy again some fine, snappy lines. That, and a typically gritty Bogart performance, earns it a recommendation.

 

Seven Days to Noon

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Tales of terrorists holding civilization to ransom with the threat of weapons of mass destruction have become two a penny. But it wasn’t always so; back in the early days of the Cold War such a concept hadn’t yet been milked for all it was worth. The idea, at that point, was still fresh and perhaps even more terrifying given that the notion of worldwide holocaust was one that people were only gradually coming to terms with. Seven Days to Noon (1950) is a slow burning little picture that adopts a semi-documentary approach, neatly sidestepping gaudy sensationalism in favour of relentlessly rising tension.

The low-key mood is struck from the very beginning, with a postman calmly doing his Monday morning rounds and dropping the day’s correspondence through the mailbox of 10 Downing Street. Among the various items addressed to the Prime Minister is a simple envelope sent by a Professor Willingdon (Barry Jones), and containing an ultimatum that could be either an unpleasant hoax or the stuff of nightmares. The letter in question is passed in due course to the police for further investigation. The man given responsibility for looking into the matter is Superintendent Folland (Andre Morell), and a few simple calls by him establish that this is no leg pulling exercise. Professor Willingdon, the government’s chief atomic research scientist, has disappeared along with a powerful nuclear device. The aforementioned letter lays out his terms: either the government abandons its atomic weapons research or he will detonate the bomb at noon in seven days time, taking half of London with him. That little scene is effectively done with the easy banter between the top policeman and his assistant offering a sense of reassurance, before cutting smoothly but quickly to a close-up of Folland’s suddenly sharpened features as the full import of the words coming down the telephone line dawn on him. With all doubts about Willingdon’s intentions now cleared up, the narrative focus moves to the nondescript little scientist and his trek around the capital. His efforts to remain inconspicuous as the authorities try desperately to locate him make up the bulk of the movie’s running time, intercut with scenes of government departments implementing emergency procedures as discreetly as possible. As Willingdon moves from one seedy lodging to another, all the while agonising over the course of action he’s decided on, there’s a gradual mobilisation underway. The government is in crisis and suspicion is creeping into the minds of a populace still bearing the scars of the recent war. Before panic takes hold the PM addresses the spellbound nation via the radio, and lays the ugly facts before them. It’s interesting that Willingdon finds himself in a museum at the very moment when the government announcement comes. As the PM’s ominous words are broadcast to the grim faced listeners, the little professor stands amid the displays of dinosaur bones – it’s hard to decide whether those old fossils are meant to represent the unyielding determination of the state or the increasingly outmoded humanitarian principles of the troubled scientist pitted against it. The eventual evacuation of the city, as the clock ticks inexorably towards the appointed hour, is an affair of organised chaos, and contrasts with the calm tension of Willingdon as he watches it all in a detached manner with the hapless, tragi-comic woman (Olive Sloane) he’s taken hostage to prevent discovery.

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The matter of fact tone of direction adopted by John and Roy Boulting is hard to fault. Even as the situation on screen grows more and more desperate the depiction of it remains steady and never descends into hysteria. The evacuation sequence could easily have fallen victim to an overwrought approach, but instead the cool way it’s shown (with only a few minor concessions to mild panic) adds both urgency and potency. The night scenes of the abandoned city are especially effective; the probing beams of searchlights and the tramping of heavy army boots are the only accompaniment to Willingdon’s final flight across London, dodging down darkened alleys and ducking into shadowy doorways. It’s also a snapshot of a now disappeared world, where crowds gather around communal radio sets to hear the latest government pronouncement and massive wanted posters of the fugitive scientist are plastered everywhere. It reminds us that there was an age before rolling news coverage and instant tweets and texts when panic could be held in check for a time rather than openly encouraged. If aspects of the film hark back to an earlier period, then others remain stubbornly prescient. The moral conundrum at the heart of the picture is every bit as relevant today as it was sixty years ago, and questions about the price of progress are still unresolved. Barry Jones was a fine piece of casting as the figure at the centre of the storm, his gentle features indicating an essentially good man driven to the brink of madness by the colossal responsibility he’s borne, the isolation imposed by that responsibility and the moral uncertainties he feels. He’s no wild-eyed fanatic with a grudge but a man with a conscience who’s allowed his sense of balance and proportion to slip. Similarly, Andre Morell, as the policeman tracking Willingdon, is no two-fisted superhero. Instead, we get an assured and competent professional who knows full well the extent of the threat he’s facing. There’s a wonderful economy to his movements that highlights the pressure he’s under and his features have a controlled expressiveness that get the tension across far more succinctly than any amount of histrionic hamming.

Seven Days to Noon is available on DVD in the UK from Optimum. The film was initially issued in a false widescreen transfer (an impossibility for a production of this vintage) but later withdrawn and replaced with a corrected version presenting the image at 1.33:1, as it should be. The transfer is a clean, sharp affair with good contrast and minimal damage. The disc is, however, totally barebones with only the main menu and scene selection offered. Still, it can be had for a very good price and the film is strong enough to speak for itself. It’s a tight little thriller with an intelligent script, solid central performances and offers an attractive combination of the quaint and the timeless. If you’re looking for some food for thought along with your entertainment then this is recommended.

 

Young Guns II

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So I’ve come to the last entry in this short series. To be brutally honest, these last two movies have sapped my energy. If anything, I have to say that Young Guns II succeeds in being even more offensive and irritating than its predecessor. The performances are down to, or maybe even lower than, the standards set in the previous film and all semblance of accuracy is cheerfully chucked out the window. I actually reached the point where viewing this became a chore, and that’s a long way from what I regard as the purpose of the movie watching experience.

The story picks up where the first Young Guns left off – the end of the Lincoln County War. The Kid (Emilio Estevez) is now a wanted man by those seeking to put the violent past to bed and get down to the serious business of making money. Billy has taken up with Pat Garrett (William Petersen) and Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater) now that his old gang has broken up. However, the powerful men in the region, Lew Wallace and Chisum (James Coburn), want all those involved in the Lincoln County War rounded up and disposed of. To this end, Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland) is abducted and hauled back to New Mexico to face retribution. Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) is there too, biding his time in a pit in Lincoln. When the cocksure Kid sees a deal with Governor Wallace go sour, he takes it on himself to break his buddies out of stir in one of the noisiest and most ludicrous scenes in the film. There’s also a parting of the ways, with Garrett breaking away to find his own path. However, it’s not long before the former outlaw is recruited by Wallace and Chisum, appointed sheriff and tasked with running down his old friends. The rest of the movie plays out the familiar old story of The Kid running and Garrett chasing until both men meet up in Fort Sumner. The climax is supposed to be one of those ambiguous, did-he-or-didn’t-he, type things that folds into the framing prologue and coda. However, after sitting through an hour and a half plus of mindless gunplay and hopeless mugging it’s very hard to care one way or the other. In a way though, it’s somehow appropriate after serving up an unappetising blend of bad history that the film should end by wheeling out yet one more dubious slice of mythology.

Showing how it should be done - James Coburn as Chisum in Young Guns II

I already listed all the shortcomings of the performances of Estevez, Sutherland and Phillips in my previous review, and I see no need to go over the same ground again here. I will say though that Estevez manages to be even more annoying this time round; his endless whooping and quipping has the effect of leaving the viewer longing for Garrett to put a bullet in him, and that’s surely not the point of any movie about his character. The addition of Slater, Balthazar Getty and Alan Ruck really brings nothing to proceedings, with Slater in particular proving himself in need of a good sound slapping. William Petersen comes off best in the role of Garrett, but even so he has a lightweight quality about him that’s painfully obvious in the scene where he gets himself hired as sheriff. Seeing him seated opposite James Coburn, who played the definitive version of the character, just brings home the deficiencies. While the acting is weak, the jarring soundtrack against which the action takes place is anachronistic and misguided enough to be a major distraction. A very poor effort all round.

One good thing that can be said is that the DVD transfer is fine. The Warners R2 disc presents the movie in anamorphic scope, and it’s clean, sharp and colourful. However, no matter how nice the image is the fact remains that Young Guns II is a turkey and I was relieved when the credits finally rolled.

This series has been something of a roller coaster in terms of quality and entertainment. The high point was most definitely Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, with the two Young Guns features coming in last in every respect. One thing that has become apparent to me is how ill-defined the character of Billy the Kid is, with only Peckinpah’s film really fleshing him out at all. When I did pieces on the Jesse James and Wyatt Earp movies I noticed how much of an impression was generally made by the characters of Frank James and Doc Holliday respectively. The same could be said here; in nearly every movie it’s the figure of Pat Garrett who seems most memorable. I suppose this says something about the way historical figures are portrayed on film but I’m not quite sure what that is, except that it maybe underlines the difficulty of such an undertaking. Anyway, the project’s been a pleasure (mostly) and I hope it’s offered at least a little entertainment for anyone who has been following.

Young Guns

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Such is the nature of this series of reviews that we go from the sublime to…well, Young Guns (1988). To be honest, it’s hard for me to find very many positive things to say about this one. It seems to be touted as the most historically accurate movie dealing with the life and times of Mr Bonney, but that’s really only in a superficial sense – events take place out of order, characters are missing or misrepresented, and people are shown to die in ways and at times they never did. But OK, it’s a film and you have to expect some of that. For me, the biggest problem is the poor acting of the “Brat Pack” stars. There’s nothing the least bit convincing about any of the central performances nor is there any real feel for time and place.

The plot deals with the events leading up to and during the Lincoln County War. It starts off with Billy (Emilio Estevez) being taken in by Tunstall (Terence Stamp) and his integration into the group of Regulators (of course they weren’t actually known as Regulators until after Tunstall’s death) that act as hired muscle. Now, there’s a problem here right away; the Regulators were, by all accounts, a bunch of tough gunmen who were ruthless by nature. What the movie presents us with, however, is a collection of soft looking post-adolescents being tutored by the kindly Tunstall. Mind you, this set up does allow the chief villain, Murphy (Jack Palance), to toss out a loaded line about Tunstall’s interest in “educating” young boys. There’s also an allusion made to the Old World grudges fuelling the rivalry – Murphy being an Irish immigrant and Tunstall a wealthy Englishman – but nothing further comes of that. Such bad feelings weren’t the source of the conflict, but it might have made for an interesting plot device if it had been explored in more depth – after all, the script doesn’t shy away from other departures from the truth. With the assassination of Tunstall, the story gets down to the serious business of depicting as many tit-for-tat killings as can be squeezed into the running time. This gives rise to another scripting issue; the action tears headlong from one manic and confused gunfight to the next, with characters popping up and being dispatched before you get a chance to even realise who they are. There’s never a sense that you’re getting to know anything of substance about the leads, except maybe Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) and Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland). And even then the results are nothing to write home about; the former plays out an embarrassingly bad scene where he explains his motivation, and the latter is handed a horribly tacked on romance in between his poetry writing sessions. So the plot charges its way towards the climactic Battle of Lincoln – one of the better staged sequences – before coming to a pretty dumb conclusion.

All guns blazing - Emilio Estevez as the Kid.

Essentially, this film is trying to pack too many events and people into its running time, leading to clutter and an unsatisfactory lack of development. As the Kid, Emilio Estevez comes across as a kind of giggling fool with no character progression whatsoever from the opening until the ending. I already mentioned the low point of Lou Diamond Phillips getting in touch with his angst, but his “mystic Indian” schtick all through the movie is both dull and cliched. I think Kiefer Sutherland probably fares better than any of the other young stars, though it has to be said that the attempts to portray Doc Scurlock as some kind of sensitive and bookish intellectual feel too much like an affectation. Also the romantic subplot involving the Asian girl really serves no purpose other than to show what a bad man Murphy is. In truth, that’s not even necessary as Jack Palance’s presence should be enough in itself. Sure the old-timer leers and hams it up, but even so he still blows the so-called stars away every time he appears. Which brings me to the only positive aspect of the picture, the older generation of actors who make appearances. Terence Stamp brings a touch of class to Tunstall and it’s a pity he wasn’t given more to do. Brian Keith, as Buckshot Roberts, only has one scene but it says something for the man that it’s so memorable. Even Pat Wayne’s little cameo as Pat Garrett stands out and helps illustrate the gulf in class between the nominal leads and their elders.

The R2 DVD from Lionsgate is acceptable but not particularly notable. The film is given an anamorphic transfer that looks a little soft to me. The only extras are the trailer and some filmographies. I saw Young Guns when it was first released, and I wasn’t very impressed at the time. If I hadn’t been doing this series then I don’t think I would have bothered to watch it again. It represents the kind of western that doesn’t appeal to me at all, telling you more about the time it was made than the time in which the action takes place. I’m afraid it’s not a film that I could recommend.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

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When I started this series of reviews about a month ago I mentioned that one of the reasons why I’d avoided doing it for a time was the variable quality of the films involved. Being aware that you’re going to have to sit through and then try to express your thoughts on movies that you already know are mediocre can be a little discouraging. What I didn’t mention, however, was the fact that the opposite is also true. When a film has a particularly strong critical reputation it’s equally daunting, though for different reasons of course. You instinctively wonder whether it’s possible to say anything that hasn’t been said before, and probably been said better. In the case of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Sam Peckinpah’s last western, I don’t promise to offer any startling insights but I do hope that I manage to at least express my own personal appreciation of this flawed masterpiece.

The film can, and I think should, be viewed as the death dream of Pat Garrett as he relives the defining events of his life, even as that life is slipping away. I ought to say right now that this view is dependent on the version of the film that’s watched – I’ll explain what I mean later, but for now I will simply say that it does have an impact on the way viewers approach the story. It’s 1909 and an aging and testy Garrett (James Coburn) is riding a wagon through New Mexico. His terse, snappish conversation with his companions is violently interrupted by the crack of a rifle shot. No sooner has the first bullet struck home than Garrett’s escort proceed to empty their own weapons into his mortally wounded body. As the old lawman tumbles towards the earth for the last time the scene is intercut with events of almost 30 years before, in 1881, when we see Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) getting in a bit of target practice by shooting the heads off live chickens. What follows sets up the mood of the rest of the film and explains the motives for the characters subsequent actions. Garrett has sensed that the wind has changed and is pragmatic enough to know that he must go with it or be swept away. He’s thrown in his lot with a shadowy collection of big cattle men and business interests, and has been appointed sheriff. The Kid, on the other hand, resolutely refuses to bow to the march of progress and is bent on continuing as he’s always done. Garrett points out that part of his remit is to ensure the removal, by whatever means are deemed necessary, of the Kid from the territory. This is one of the few times both men share the screen until their final fateful meeting in Fort Sumner, but the movie charts the movements of both as circumstances inexorably draw them to their predetermined positions. That early scene in the cantina where Garrett and the Kid lay their cards on the table and both are aware that they will have to face off sooner or later is full of the melancholy that dominates the picture, and it’s pure Peckinpah. From this point the hunt is on. Garrett brings the Kid in after a bloody shootout at an isolated shack and has him locked up in Lincoln to await execution. This leads to a wonderfully realized sequence in the stark jail room where the Kid’s flippant disregard for authority (both earthly and divine) goads his manic, evangelical guard Ollinger (R G Armstrong) into taunting and threatening him – again depending on which version you watch there’s a killer line that may be missed. When the Kid effects his escape after blasting Ollinger apart with his own shotgun there’s a very human side of him revealed. He swaggers along the main street and orders up a horse to take him out of town. What he’s presented with is a wild animal that promptly bucks him clear and lands him square on his ass. Instead of avenging his bruised dignity on the old Mexican who embarrassed him by offering a horse he couldn’t ride, he simply smiles ruefully, steals another and rides coolly off as befits a legend.

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In truth, the whole film could be viewed as a series of memorable scenes. That’s not to say, of course, that there’s a lack of narrative structure; the story follows a very definite line and draws to a completely natural conclusion. What I’m trying to say is that there are certain characteristics that mark it out as a western that transcends the run-of-the-mill and elevate it to something grander. A prime example is the segment with Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado – it moves things forward by showing how Garrett’s pursuit is progressing but that’s not really the point. If anything, like one of Ford’s grace notes, the scene exists for the sake of its own beauty and and poignancy. I’m not going to spoil things for anyone who has yet to see the movie but I will say that it’s gut wrenching stuff and I’ve still never been able to watch it without a lump in my throat. The characters grow and develop as we move along too, especially Garrett. His cynicism and self-loathing increase the closer he comes to his quarry and the further he moves from the man he once was. By the end of the movie he has sold himself completely and his disgust at what he has become is a painful thing to witness. It’s also interesting to compare the portrayal of Garrett’s principal backer, Chisum (Barry Sullivan), to the one John Wayne offered a few years before. This is no heroic defender of the common man, instead he’s a coldly dedicated businessman who feels no sentimental attachment to those who worked for him in the past. This Chisum regards Billy as nothing more than a liability, both financially and politically, who needs to be exterminated. Those hands in his employ are shown to be similarly heartless, and it’s surely clear to Garrett that he’s only being tolerated so long as he has a role to play in Chisum’s schemes. In contrast to Garrett, the character of the Kid undergoes less of a change, perhaps because he’s the one who clings more firmly to the old ways. He starts out grinning, nonchalant and oozing self-confidence, and meets his fate with that attitude virtually intact. However, for all his free spirited charm there’s a hard edge there too. The first time I saw the film I was slightly shocked at the outcome of the duel that the Kid and Alamosa Bill (Jack Elam) are unable to avoid. Having said that, I’ve grown to appreciate that little scene more and more for showing that shootouts in the old west were rarely the kind of honourable and noble standoffs that they’re traditionally portrayed as.

As I stated earlier, this was to be Peckinpah’s last western and it’s another of his ruminations on the passing of the old west and the dawn of the modern era. It was a troubled production, not least because of the director’s increasingly wayward behaviour, and the end product reflects that in the multiple cuts of the movie down the years. For all that though, it remains very much a Peckinpah film. It’s tempting to think that Sam saw something of himself in both the title characters: the Kid as the wild, anti-establishment figure that he encouraged others to see him as, and Garrett as the disillusioned independent trying to strike some kind of working balance between corporate interests and a free soul that was probably closer to the truth. As such, I think it’s Coburn’s performance as Garrett that drives the film and gives it much of its power. In terms of realism or accuracy he was too old for the part, but in terms of characterization he was perfect. He was of an age where you can easily understand a man’s need to seek out some form of security, that point when you realize that the recklessness of the past is no longer a viable option yet a part of you still yearns for it and rails against the advance of time and the compromises that are involved. Coburn’s lived-in features and grey hair help to get the point across, and the expressive eyes that could flash cold steel one minute and sardonic humour the next see that it strikes home. In contrast, Kristofferson plays the Kid as a devil may care adventurer, but one with a deep sense of fatalism. Even in that early scene in the cantina the twinkle in the eyes cannot disguise the fact that the Kid knows there and then, as surely as the grim faced Garrett does, that there can only be one outcome. Awareness is one thing of course, but the real fatalism is evident in the way the Kid only half-heartedly tries to elude his old friend. He heads for Mexico and safety but it’s clear enough that in so doing he’s hoping to find some excuse to return and play that one last card whatever the consequences. The supporting cast is something like a wish list of western character players and it’s another of the film’s great strengths. I don’t know how this works for those who come to the film without a familiarity with the genre, but for someone like myself it’s akin to meeting up again with a group of old acquaintances and simply revelling in their company. It would be impossible to go through all the people who drift in and out of the story and enrich it with their presence but, as I noted earlier, a special mention must be given to Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado who contribute to one of the finest moments in this picture, or any other for that matter. The only casting decision that doesn’t really work for me is the inclusion of Bob Dylan. I love the way his music blends in and complements the images on screen but his appearance as a character in the story is unnecessary in my opinion and is just too conspicuous.

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The DVD release of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, not unlike the production itself, has become a source of controversy. Ever since Peckinpah’s clashes with MGM boss James Aubrey led to the movie being taken away from him and hacked down into a theatrical version that he hated there has been no real director’s cut available. The closest thing is the Turner Preview version, derived from Peckinpah’s workprint. The 2-disc DVD from Warners includes both the Turner version and a new 2005 Special Edition that claims to come closer to the director’s wishes. Now the problem is that the 2005 cut adds some material but, most damagingly, removes or alters key scenes and lines of dialogue from the Turner version – the exact changes can easily be found by running an internet search or just sitting down and watching the two cuts to compare for yourself. The fact that both versions are available is good of course, but it should be mentioned that the Turner cut has not undergone restoration whereas the 2005 one has. My own preference is for the Turner version for a variety of reasons, but the strongest one is the fact that the bookending of the story remains intact. Others will have to decide for themselves. Aside from the restoration, or lack of it, the DVD set contains a plethora of supplementary material that’s most welcome. As for the movie, I hope it’s clear that I hold it in high regard. It’s not only a compelling story, but it’s also a study of fading dreams, vanished innocence and bitter regrets. It’s one of Peckinpah’s best and should rate high in any list of top westerns. Very highly recommended.