A little like the western, the crime story has remained one of the constants of genre filmmaking down the years. Any story which involves elements of crime has plenty of drama built-in so it’s only natural that cinema should take advantage of that. The western had long been the dominant genre in both cinema and TV until its gradual decline in popularity began in the mid-60s, and it was at that point that the crime yarn started to edge its nose in front. The detective/cop thriller really came into its own in the 1970s on the big and small screen. Madigan (1968) was one of those pictures which played a significant part in the flowering of the genre at that time, even inspiring its own, short-lived, television series a few years later.
Dan Madigan (Richard Widmark) is a New York detective, a veteran with a variable reputation. It could be said that his superiors regard him with a mixture of respect and suspicion. He has a distinguished record on the job but also the kind of casual attitude towards rules and regulations that rubs some up the wrong way. One of those is Commissioner Russell (Henry Fonda), the dry, straight arrow who has to try to juggle his police background with the political demands of his position. The ambivalence of Russell is borne out by the punchy opening section which sees Madigan and his partner, Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino), screw up what ought to have been a routine bust. The upshot is a dangerous suspect manages not only to elude arrest, but also relieves the two bulls of their service revolvers. This sets up the situation which dominates the rest of the film: the search for the dangerous fugitive and the consequent pressure placed on the shoulders of Madigan and Bonaro to atone for their initial carelessness before matters deteriorate further. Allied to this is the personal stress experienced by both Madigan and Russell, in the case of the former due to strained relations with his wife (Inger Stevens) while the latter finds his almost puritanical approach to life tested by the actions of colleague and childhood friend Chief Inspector Kane (James Whitmore).
One of the regular visitors and contributors to this site (you’ll know who you are) just recently remarked that he doesn’t see himself as one who subscribes to the auteur theory of filmmaking, and also cited Don Siegel as one of his favorite directors, comments which provided me with food for thought. In the past I was reluctant to embrace the notion of the auteur, feeling that it was largely an affectation of the more academic critics and too pat to be applied to so collaborative a task as making movies. Another of our regulars (who will probably recognize himself too) challenged me on this position and made me wonder if perhaps my own interpretation wasn’t too narrow. To cut a potentially long story short, I found myself reassessing my view and coming to the conclusion that the notion of the auteur in cinema needn’t necessarily be a restrictive one. I’m more comfortable now with the term in a broader sense, both in the way it’s used and the people it may be applied to. In short, I think Don Siegel can be referred to as an auteur.
A director such as Siegel is a product of the studio system, working his way up through the ranks and honing his talents in a variety of roles on a range of genre pieces. As I said, I’ve moved away from thinking of an auteur as some domineering presence impressing his vision relentlessly on the films he works on. Instead, I’ve come round to the idea of the auteur as the most influential member of the creative assemblage, someone whose distinctive mark can be discerned on the finished piece. And I think this can be said of Don Siegel; it’s common to consider him primarily as an action director but there’s usually something of himself, or at least his interests, on view in his films. It’s difficult not to be aware of his examination of authority and authority figures throughout his career, and Madigan is no exception.
Siegel’s touch is visible enough to me, and he’s helped in leaving it there by the talents of accomplished cameraman Russell Metty, the writing of Abraham Polonsky and Howard Rodman, and a cool lounge score by Don Costa. While those individuals were all busy pooling their abilities to achieve the best results possible, it appears producer Frank Rosenberg’s contribution was less welcome. On the other side of the camera, both Widmark and Fonda gave the kind of coolly assured performances one would expect of actors with their experience and talent. Widmark’s trademark air of ambiguity is a good fit for the detective who treads the fine line of legality with the sure-footedness of a tightrope walker. Similarly, Fonda does stiff and prissy very well, and it’s all the more effective when the audience is aware both of his internal conflicts and the hypocrisy of his overt moralizing. Inger Stevens had the meatiest of the female roles (although Susan Clark and Sheree North had parts of note too) and runs with it, getting across her dissatisfaction and frustration very successfully. In support, there’s uniformly good work done by Harry Guardino, Steve Ihnat, James Whitmore and Don Stroud.
Madigan has been available on DVD from Universal for a good few years now. The UK release I own presents the movie in anamorphic scope and uses a good print. Colors are strong and there’s good detail in the image. Additionally, there is no noticeable damage on view. Sadly, there aren’t any extra features offered, but I guess the film is the main thing and it does look very nice. I’ve always been a fan of detective/cop thrillers, regardless of whether they’re films, television shows or stories on the printed page, and Madigan is a prime example of good they can be. It’s tough, pacy, entertaining and has enough human interest to raise it above more mundane, one-dimensional fare. All told, it’s a polished piece of work from a top director, cast and crew. Recommended.
83 thoughts on “Madigan”
A good writeup — thanks. The TV series is (or was the last time I looked) available on YouTube.
Thank you, John. I wasn’t aware of the TV show being online anywhere, must look around and see what I find. The show has had a DVD release via Universal in France of course.
Wonderful write-up for this production, Colin. Richard Widmark remains a longtime favorite, could perform good, bad and in-between with ease, and this role fit like a tee. Don Siegel, as well, was a fine one to helm such a work. Always thought well of Inger Stevens, too, and it was unfortunately rare she’d get material this meaty. She passed away way too early. And yes, find those ‘Madigan’ episodes, my friend. 🙂
Thanks, Michael, I think this was one of those happy occasions when just about everybody (cast and crew) was in the ideal role.
And yeah, Stevens’ career and life ended far too soon, very sad and tragic.
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A very fair review of an entertaining movie with one of my favourite actor Richard Widmark. Am looking forward to viewing it again. Best regards
Thanks, Chris, you can’t go wrong with Widmark, and he works well with Siegel.
Weirdly, I think I saw the TV show before the movie! In his autobiography, this is the film that I think Siegel sees as the beginning of when he began to have enough experience, authority and clout to be considered an auteur – certainly, despite his exceptional work on BODYSNATCHERS, it is with this and COOGAN’S BLUFF that he really seems to come into his own and of course would start literally ‘signing’ his output as “A Siegel Film”.
Yes, I think you’re about right on the place Siegel was in his career at that point. Before this movie he had been doing a lot of TV work (must watch Stranger on the Run some time soon) and I suppose all the pieces simply started to come together for him.
Not sure I’ve seen “Stranger on the Run” or “The Hanged Man’ either actually … (and am a Siegel fanatic, though I can live without JINXED)
I’ve seen The Hanged Man but it was an awful long time ago and I wouldn’t mind revisiting it if the opportunity arose. Guilty pleasure time: I thought Rough Cut was fun last time I caught it and would happily buy it should it ever escape onto the market.
Truly a man made of sterner stuff than I … 🙂
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No, I’m just apt to throw good taste out the window on occasion. 🙂
Seeing as I was crediting some people for piquing my interest and encouraging a different attitude etc, I should also mention that your regular posts about Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels not only got me into the books but also stirred what had been a dormant interest in cop shows/movies such as this one.
Yeah, I’ll totally take the credit for that one 😉
Well you did help nudge things along in that direction, not that I’m complaining or anything mind. 😀
One critic saw Siegel’s downturn when he self-consciously applied “A Siegel Film” signature to the credits. Something lost between the brilliant craftsman to self-appointed auteur. Ironically, in what should’ve been his decade, his post Dirty Harry work is populated with indifferent, impersonal star vehicles. And as a place where auteurs go to die, his AD on JINXED! was Peckinpah.
I’ll have to disagree with you there, Bill. I know I mentioned Rough Cut in a humorous comment earlier, but I feel that was the first seriously poor film after Dirty Harry, although I’ll grant you The Black Windmill is pretty weak and forgettable.
In my opinion, both Charley Varrick and The Shootist are two of the best moves of the 70s and would be up there in any decade for that matter.
VARRICK for sure, who helpfully reminds us he’s “The Last Of The Independents”. But my point remains – just when DIRTY HARRY should’ve pushed him into a distinctive creative arc, he seemed lose his mojo. Whether it was cuz he became the Siegel who now was signing his films, or more willing to compromise , I dunno. Bur you’d be hard pressed to find him in ROUGH CUT, BLACK WINDMILL, TELEFON.
Yeah, that’s fair enough, Bill – The Black Windmill is, as I say, a weak effort and Rough Cut won’t have too many defending it, I referred to it as a guilty pleasure and it’s a very guilty one at that.
I always thought Telefon was an entertaining bit of Cold War hokum but I agree it’s not something to take too seriously.
Despite my remarks, I’m more reverently auteurist than others here. If you handed the same scene script to Hitchcock, Ford, Welles, Spielberg, to pick four obvious examples, you’d have four completely different scenes in terms of camera angles, lighting, actor placement, line reading. This is not to slight any collaborators, but only to emphasize that for the personal directors, the buck really does stop with them.
Yes, I guess that’s close to the view I’ve come round to myself over time. “Personal directors” is a good term and imparts something of that quality of leaving a little something of themselves visible in a movie.
I would disagree as CHARLEY VARRICK is possibly his best film and I think THE SHOOTIST is also really impressive too
Yeah, that’s close to my own thinking too.
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A Richard Widmark film I haven’t seen. Must rectify that after reading your fine review..
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It’s a good film under any circumstances, but even better for fans of Widmark as he’s well cast and completely on top of his game.
Great piece Colin,and as always a fine choice. Yes…Colin….I know who I am!! 🙂
Will have to give the Auteur theory more thought and may comment later. I was very taken by an article written by Ken Tynan many moons ago deconstructing the auteur theory. Tynan is now best known for the first person to use the F word on UK TV but there is much more to him than that.
I’ve sort of got a mini collection of Siegel films on Blu Ray and am waiting for a high def version of MADIGAN with hopefully a raft of extras. I also am desperate, more or less, to see HOUND DOG MAN, which I have never seen. I guess when it does get released it will be a horrid Fox MOD 4×3 version of a CinemaScope film. This is the sort of UNRELEASED Fox Film that I wish Kino-Lorber would hone in on.
Backtracking a bit most folks that I know who subscribe to the Auteur theory are only interested in “cult” directors or The Masters Of Cinema. They would never consider taking seriously say a George Sherman or Lesley Selander. Perhaps its “Auteurists” I don’t like as opposed to the theory itself. Our friend Blake has certainly changed my views somewhat regarding this.
Now I don’t know how Colin feels about contributors giving “plugs” on this blog but I would like to give my highest recommendation to the recent Explosive Media Blu Ray of COMANCHE STATION. Let me just say that it’s the best high-def treatment that I have seen,thus far of a Fifties CinemaScope Western.
As an extra there is a 30 minute Q & A session with Boetticher with a German audience…..English is spoken throughout and German subs are easy to remove. Boetticher has never hidden his intense dislike for TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA and he really goes to town in the Q & A session. He is also none too complimentary about his “friend” Clint Eastwood. Interestingly he is far more complimentary about Mr Scorsese. He had no intention of seeing UNFORGIVEN but is full of praise regarding GOODFELLAS. Scorsese stated that as a 14 year old he wanted to be either Randolph Scott or Boetticher. The reason he never made a Western was because of an extreme allergy to horses. The German Q & A session was from 1995.
John, as I said in the piece above, I’ve shifted my own position regarding the auteur theory – snobbishness and/or narrow-mindedness has never held any attraction to me and any kind of film criticism that goes down that path turns me off very rapidly. It is, in my view, important to keep an open mind and restricting oneself by excluding certain figures from the get go serves no useful purpose.
And I’m all for plugs when they relate to high quality product. That Comanche Station release sounds very attractive and tempting.
On reading your fine piece, I suddenly realised that Fonda is playing a character not too different from the one in FORT APACHE, which had never occurred to me before – thanks for that.
That’s true, and I hadn’t thought about it too much either. It’s a softer, more human portrayal though and the character is not a self-destructive one. But yes, Fonda could play the reluctant to bend type perfectly.
Was this Polonsky’s first official credit post blacklist?
I believe it was, yes.
We definitely find a Craftsmanship in film making from the Studio System – in the whole production – from Writing to Concept to Casting – to Direction – that is at it’s apex resulted in Classic Cinema – sadly lacking (for the most part) in today’s movies. They trained and developed Actors and Directors – everybody. Screen testing was an important feature that discovered Charisma and Talent (and quality of Character?) I often decry a lack of Star Power today – particularly evident when they do Remakes.
Oh yes. I do think the kind of solid apprenticeship offered by the studio system greatly benefited almost everybody, audiences included. I realize that it was restrictive for many industry people too but I’m looking at it mainly in terms of the results we got/get on screen.
A fine review of a good film, Colin. Of course with Widmark, Fonda and Inger Stevens in the leading roles you are never going to go far wrong and with Siegel at the helm that makes it a cert, pretty well.
This ‘auteur’ thing is something I had never given a great deal of consideration in all honesty but I do love that the discussions on these threads throw up all kind of subjects for debate. I don’t know but it strikes me that most successful films have something of the team effort behind them. I wonder how those Ranown pics would have come together so well without it. Boetticher was undoubtedly a good director but really it was the combination of his work with Burt Kennedy ‘s writing AND co-producers Randolph Scott and Harry Joe Brown that made them the classics they are.
I’m sure there are folks out there who can argue rings round me on this but a lot of my favourite films are that because of a combination of factors.
My problem with the whole auteur concept in the past was the way it (or maybe as John mentioned before, the way those talking about it) frequently appeared to ignore or skate over the collaborative aspect of filmmaking in favor of focusing on the individual. I pay no attention to that now, having changed my mind and seeing that this kind of separation doesn’t need to exist. The Ranown movies you brought up, Jerry, are of course a product of collaboration; the auteur theory, as I see it these days, refers mainly to the way Boetticher as director influences the tone of it all or the leaves his personal imprint on the finished movie.
I definitely don’t think of myself as an ‘auteurist’ somehow.
Very interested though in JCAlberta’s comments about the studio system. I would say an overwhelming majority of my favourite movies were made under the studio system or at least, during the years it operated. After it changed I tend to find film quality could be erratic in general. That is just the view of this crusty old film fan.
The studio system certainly helped shape cinema in its formative years and I do think there were more benefits arising from it than drawbacks. From a filmmaker’s point of view, it was obviously preferable for established figures in the industry, in both financial and creative terms, to have more freedom and independence. I’m unsure how well that fracturing has served us since then; I’m a fan of the studio era too but I certainly appreciate what came out as the system broke up.
I’m very glad you reviewed MADIGAN for several reasons.
First, it provides a nice context to answer John Knight on comments about Don Siegel in the last thread that I just couldn’t find time to get back to. John, I love Don Siegel–can’t imagine there was never a point where I said so in one of these discussions. I can’t argue with this as a choice for favorite director, given so distinctive a style and sensibility.
I see there is some disagreement about when Siegel was really good so will throw in my two cents on this because for me Siegel is one of only two directors who were outstanding in classical studio system years (the 1950s) and then had an equally great period in the late 60s and into the 70s after things changed. (I might add Robert Mulligan though he made only one film in the 50s and hit his stride in the mid-60s). Most of the other great directors of classical American cinema (not only Hitchcock though his case is the most depressing to me) seem to become unmoored after the mid-60s, though they are generally sympathetic to me and some of their late films are good, and even occasionally great. But the Siegel of MADIGAN through ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ is almost consistently outstanding (I can’t defend ROUGH CUT or JINXED). That said, he has as many strong films earlier (RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, PRIVATE HELL 36, THE LINEUP, BABY FACE NELSON, FLAMING STAR, and HELL IS FOR HEROES, and especially INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS). Interestingly, in his case, there’s a divide with those mid-60s TV years at Universal , where he was undervalued until MADIGAN. The other comparable director of the two is Robert Aldrich–he too had great periods before and after the mid-60s sea change of American cinema. Could talk about this more when one of his films comes up again.
I don’t know that Siegel has a wide range in which to thrive. He really seems most in his element in the urban crime drama, though INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is one of the greatest classics of 50s sci-fi, HELL IS FOR HEROES an outstanding war film, FLAMING STAR an especially tough Western in the Indian/prejudice cycle of that period (easily the best movie of Elvis Presley too)–I would say all three of these movies tie in well with the kinds of characters and themes that stimulate Siegel. He can seem bored and disengaged when assigned something that doesn’t. That’s not a severe criticism and I believe many directors have more flair for certain kinds of films and we should value them for what they do well. It’s only a relative few who seem to find themselves in anything they do and make it personal.
John, where I likely disagree with you is not about Siegel but about the director he mentored, Clint Eastwood, who I’ve increasingly come to feel is overrated and has not lived up to the promise of earlier years, even as he’s come to be considered an American master and has a wider reputation than Siegel. Siegel may seem to work in a narrow range, but he is subtler in the way he sees character, directs action so much more precisely, and is really more interesting in his overarching vision. Eastwood certainly has some gifts but he peaked with his one great film UNFORGIVEN and has become less and less interesting to me since–I might say I was once kind of entranced but now am kind of bored with him even as an actor in many things (though not three out of four of his Siegel movies of which only TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA is more of a disappointment). Again, I like that period of Siegel though arguably the best two from those years are not those with Eastwood but the two that bookend his–MADIGAN and CHARLEY VARRICK.
MADIGAN is my favorite Siegel movie. I’ve seen it many times–it moves me and is always satisfying, the way its elements are so well interlaced in that script and the way Siegel builds to a climax that Colin didn’t mention, but without giving anything away I will. The antagonist, memorably played by Steve Ihnat, is powerfully established in the opening scene and one kind of waits for him to come back, which doesn’t happen until the film is almost over. Then there is a shootout between Widmark, Guardino and Ihnat–I won’t say how this turns out but I consider it arguably the most brilliantly realized and stunningly effective shootout ever in a modern crime movie–all over in about 20 seconds as opposed to what you’d see now–and that’s all Siegel’s mastery at how to do this scene. It really pulls this movie to a very high level.
I guess I might say that even if Richard Widmark was not playing Madigan, but can’t say this was not a key element. An ideal Siegel player (as, in different ways for so many directors) his edginess, and the sympathetic side that goes with it, really draws you to the character. No secret I know that I consider him one of the half dozen greatest male leads in American cinema. That said, this whole movie is beautifully cast. Really, I just love MADIGAN. Fortunate are those who have not yet discovered it and will.
Colin, of course, I recognized myself in what you wrote. I’m pleased if I could get anyone to reconsider auteurism and if you have done so. I don’t feel the need to go over this too much more right now because I know I’ve done it before. The key point is that auteur theory does not need to be a limitation on criticism and for me it is exactly the opposite. The best thing originally was to find continuity in the works of directors who, like most in American cinema, worked in a system and were often assigned–they too could be artists, just like anyone else in world cinema (Don Siegel a great example of course). But it’s very unfortunate that for some this narrowed to not acknowledging that movies are also collaboration and that they could be effectively collaborative even as they are also works of an individual director, who under all normal circumstances will most deeply inflect a style and sensibility at every stage. Naturally, the collaborators are also creative people, who are all important, and directors himself would be the first to say so–one thing that I personally admire about most of the directors I love (John Ford, most conspicuously) is that they always bring out the best in the people they work with, both in front of and behind the camera and at every stage of work. Those people respond and bring their best to the work because of the inspiration the director brings–really the collaborators become more, not less, in looking at it this way.
So this is for me a way to most deeply engage a work. Looking for “auteurs” is not part of that. I never use the word “auteur” about a director, but prefer to be very specific about each director. They all inflect their works–and if they are unimaginative and relatively passive in doing so, that informs the work too. There was a really good example in the APACHE TERRITORY thread where it was compared to another Apache siege movie APACHE DRUMS–were the premises of these two movies really so different? Yet the great superiority of the beautiful APACHE DRUMS here does not owe simply to Val Lewton as its producer or to a studio hitting its aesthetic stride with Westerns, even if we don’t discount those things. The beautiful shadings and inflections of director Hugo Fregonese, so often subtle, are consistently evident in the film, while in APACHE TERRITORY Ray Nazarro has a comparable opportunity but just doesn’t have the same depth of sensibility or cinematic artistry, much as he might do a conscientious job. Yet both of these films were simply opportunities offered to these two directors, not initiated by them as personal projects. So that’s a good example of why auteur theory is meaningful on every level of filmmaking.
Blake, that’s another superb comment that contextualizes Siegel and his body of work most succinctly and eloquently.
There’s much here I could respond to, and might return and do so again, but for now I just want to say how much I liked that final paragraph. Fregonese and his work on Apache Drums is an excellent example of how the concept of the auteur can be applied to the kinds of filmmakers that casual observation would suggest are never considered worthy of such attention. Fregonese isn’t alone of course in this respect, and others could be used to illustrate the point.
In addition that comment in the penultimate paragraph relating to how a strong, engaged director tends to encourage and elicit top quality work from those working alongside him is a very valuable one.
“…(though not three out of four of his Siegel movies of which only TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA is more of a disappointment)”
Sorry to be careless there. Of course I was thinking of the four with Eastwood from 1968 through 1971 and not ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ made later.
I read it as referring to those 1968-1971 movies anyway myself – but it doesn’t hurt to clarify it.
Ooh! Another to add to my ongoing Richard Widmark kick! I just saw RUN FOR THE SUN and THE LAST DAY, and I see that I have this one in my digital collection, but I wouldn’t have thought of it. This has a great cast, and though the 60’s aren’t really my fave era for this sort of thing (I’m a 70’s man; the 60’s still had too much ROUTE 66 in even the hard stuff for it to be satisfying to me), I LOVE this cast. Even Don Stroud is a good draw to me.
Thanks for the pointer!
I think you’ll like it. It’s not a 70s cop movie but it has toughness, heart and style, and the cast has certainly got marvelous depth.
Clint Eastwood. Part one
Firstly before I get into this-a disclaimer.
Up until 8 years ago when I lived in London I used to visit
the cinema on a regular basis. Firstly there is the enormous
choice of cinemas in that city.
Now away from London the choice of cinemas is very limited.
Furthermore lots has changed in those 8 years,
the arrival of Blu Ray for the ultimate (thus far)
high definition viewing experience.
Add to that the labels like Criterion,Screen Archives
Olive,Kino Lorber and others releasing the films now
ignored by most of the major studios-Warners and Universal
being the exceptions.
Furthermore there are some great European imprints
like Koch,Explosive and Elephant offering a high quality
Finally there is the great work being done by Warner Archive
giving many obscure,minor films a DVD release.
Blake and I have had this discussion before but I feel it’s
worth one more trip to the well as it were.
I am somewhat bemused how Blake feels Clint Eastwood
If anything I feel he is unfairly picked on by various critics,
and bloggers. I’ve heard his films referred to as “Oscar bait”
and worse Eastwood referred to as an “Oscar whore” which to me
No-one cares how many Oscars the likes of David Fincher,Oliver
Stone,Christopher Nolan or Ridley Scott win.
When Eastwood wins one there is a huge element that feel this
is totally undeserved.
I guess this possibly goes back to Pauline Kael.
I also don’t know what sort of influence she holds these days.
I don’t know much about her and frankly I don’t want to.
Her comment that the only suspense in watching Fifties Joel
McCrea and Randolph Scott Westerns was if they could still get
on their horse.
This statement is frankly ridiculous. I’m not the only person
underwhelmed by Keal;Alan Parker called her a “demented bag lady”
At any rate Eastwood has his defenders notably Richard Schickel,
Todd McCarthy and Peter Travers three critics/writers that I have enormous
admiration for. If Clint’s good enough for those three he’s
certainly good enough for me!
I guess a lot of the negative vibe to Eastwood is political certainly
the UK’s Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw
gave in my opinion a very inept and political influenced view of
AMERICAN SNIPER. Furthermore Bradshaw loved
THE HOMESMAN and THE HATEFUL EIGHT two films
I felt were dreadful beyond belief.
I much preferred The New Yorker’s David Denby who quiet rightly
called AMERICAN SNIPER a devastating War Movie and a devastating
Anti War Movie.More about AMERICAN SNIPER later……………
Have at it, John! It’s always good to hear a range of views on these people.
Clint Eastwood……….part two.
The reason for breaking this rant down is due to my
own ineptitude-I am in the habit of losing epic replies.
As much as I admire Blake and his writing I am bemused at
how he feels Eastwood got less interesting as the years went on.
I also am bemused by how Blake can feel UNFORGIVEN is
Eastwood’s sole great film.
I may be wrong here but I remember the aforementioned
David Denby of The New Yorker saying at the time that UNFORGIVEN
was Eastwood’s sixteenth film and the only one that he had liked.
If it was not Mr Denby that wrote that then I’m truly sorry
but that statement I do remember from the New Yorker review.
My own favorite Eastwood film is THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES a
film that I consider a masterpiece and as Blake knows one of my
top ten Westerns of all time.
Until AMERICAN SNIPER most Eastwood films that did not
actually star Eastwood failed at the box office. The only
exception to that was MYSTIC RIVER which did pretty good
business. AMERICAN SNIPER of course was Eastwood’s biggest
box office hit of all time-the top grossing film in America in 2014
and taking over a half billion worldwide.
One of Eastwood’s most underrated films was FLAGS OF OUR
FATHERS a box office flop and receiving lukewarm critical response.
I found the film totally wonderful-a beautifully crafted gem.
Circa 2006 before Colin,Toby,Laura,Kristina and indeed Blake entered
my life (how DID I exist in those days!) I used to “dabble” with comments on
imdb. I said of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS that I found the combat scenes
recalled the films of Fuller,Walsh and Siegel. An amusing reply said
“I think they used to sort out my tax” 🙂
When interviewed back in the Seventies at London’s National
Film Theatre Don Siegel’s only negative thing he mentioned regarding
Eastwood was that he wished that he would source better scripts.
Apart from that Don’s admiration for Eastwood was enormous.
Since UNFORGIVEN certainly,Clint has employed a far better class of
To me at least MYSTIC RIVER,CHANGELING and MILLION DOLLAR
BABY offer a masterclass in direction and great film-making.
As explained in my opening disclaimer there are Eastwood titles
that I have yet to see purely because of the lack of cinemas where I live.
I have yet to see the Hoover bio-pic,HEREAFTER and JERSEY BOYS.
I will track them down eventually.
I am very much looking forward to Eastwood’s forthcoming SULLY
with Tom Hanks-the trailer looks most impressive.
Like our friend Laura I love aviation pictures.Laura e-mailed me
to say she will be reviewing Anthony Mann’s STRATEGIC AIR
COMMAND in October. We are both very excited about this release
because up until now the film has never even had a DVD release.
Furthermore It’s one of the few Anthony Mann pictures that
I have never seen.
Finally and a return to Eastwood I’ve always found it most impressive
how people who work with him have nothing but good to say.
The very wonderful Laura Linney (getting to be an Eastwood regular)
stated that she would happily be an extra in one of his pictures.
Kevin Bacon stated that once you have worked for him you don’t want
to work for anyone else.
On UK TV recently Matt Damon promoting the latest in the Bourne
series,stated what a great experience it was working with Eastwood.
As I have stated before I have enormous admiration for Blake’s
wonderful writing. It’s just that we approach Eastwood from different
perspectives but when all is said and done it’s our differences really
that make our love of film in general so worthwhile.
Just think if we all loved the same stuff how boring it would all become.
That’s a good robust defense, John. I suppose I tend to approach Eastwood on a film by film basis, and pick which of his works I might want to see – he’s ranged widely and everything doesn’t interest me as far as subject matter is concerned.
John, just to say–what you say about negative views of Clint Eastwood, especially in your first reply–has nothing to do with my own views. They are completely my own.
I know he works professionally and effectively and collaborators like him and I know Don Siegel was proud to mentor him, but that doesn’t mean I have to feel that way, does it?
I like a number of his movies before UNFORGIVEN, especially BRONCO BILLY and HONKYTONK MAN–I wrote a glowing essay for Magill’s Cinema Annuals on the latter film, which was a commercial flop. So I was with him up to a point but after UNFORGIVEN found him less and less inspired–though still a decent director with some films (as recently as GRAN TORINO).
Still, I believe Don Siegel was much better. And you won’t hear that much. You shouldn’t be too disturbed by that since Siegel is your favorite director.
John, I loathe Pauline Kael–as much as you do I’m sure and for many of the same reasons. She is not my idea of a good critic, not in any way. I don’t care anything about Academy Awards one way or the other–they are meaningless in terms of what films are good or bad. John Ford won four but it has nothing to do with why he is my favorite director.
Just to emphasize the point, I don’t think is Eastwood is a bad director, just overrated. In America, he is taken for a master and that’s a bit much for me, since the American cinema was Ford, Hawks, Walsh, that level of cinema.
I feel that way about a lot of contemporary directors. Eastwood is better than most of him. But he mostly bores me now. I don’t understand why you are “bemused” by this John because I know his body of work and have thought about it. We just see him differently.
BTW, I know I promised something on “The Hateful Eight” a long time ago, and will get back to it sometime. Maybe I just don’t like thinking about it. I’m pretty sure I hated it more than you did, John.
I’m very much enjoying this little debate on Clint and reactions to his work, and the the possibility of both you guys pointing out just how hateful you found The Hateful Eight at some stage whets my appetite.
It’s also interesting that neither Hitchcock or Cary Grant
won an Oscar.
Very interesting feedback regarding Kael.
When I saw Clint at London’s National Film Theatre
in 1984 an audience member asked him regarding Oscars,
Clint’s response “I’m in the film-making business….
that’s politics” the world had changed since then.
Poor Blake………I’m not done with him yet…will he ever
speak to me again…I sure hope so! 🙂
Backtracking on the comments regarding APACHE TERRITORY/
Hugo Fregonese’s Universal pictures are all of a high
standard.Furthermore APACHE DRUMS I suppose would
have had a similar budget to a Joel McCrea/Audie Murphy
early Fifties Universal Western around $750,000
APACHE TERRITORY would most certainly have been less than
half of this.
Ray Nazarro was compromised by the extensive daylight scenes
in obvious studio backdrops.
Nazarro worked better certainly in SOUTHWEST PASSAGE which
had lots of rugged action filmed in attractive locations.
CRIPPLE CREEK where Nazarro had a larger budget than usual
is also more impressive,certainly in terms of production values.
What I’m trying to say is that Fregonese had far more
to work with in spite of creative abilities.
Certainly Blake and I surely agree that Fregonese was by far the
better director but let’s not write of Nazarro totally.
I recommend THE DOMINO KID where Nazarro’s direction is chock full
of “arty” little touches.
John, I feel nothing but friendship for you, I assure you. I am always fine to disagree, and we agree much more than we don’t–especially about modest levels of production and the riches to be found there, and we’ve both had a lot of experience of this.
I do like to kid you when you say you’re not an auteurist because you certainly are–you always characterize directors in any film you bring up; at least it seems that way to me.
I thought APACHE DRUMS/APACHE TERRITORY was a good comparison for the reasons I said, and had already been noted in the previous thread–APACHE DRUMS was a handsome production it’s true but hardly some prestige “A” picture, more of a programmer and probably any other Fregonese could be described that way too. That said, I like plenty of Westerns (and other works) made on lower budgets than either of those movies. A director’s artistry will always shine through I believe.
I don’t dismiss Ray Nazarro. I feel kind of moderate about him–on his level of production there are directors I usually like better but some not as much too. I’ve seen THE DOMINO KID a couple of times but not for years now–my memory is that I liked it better the first time. I don’t care that much about what you call “arty touches”–it’s how it is artistically as an organic whole that is always my main concern.
This kind of friendly sparring and interesting debate really makes these threads such a great read (and fun too!).
My meager twopenn’orth would be that in this day and age of CGI-filled ‘epics’ I am grateful for film-makers such as Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and one or two others who make films adults can enjoy. I agree with John’s comment regarding “FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS”, a beautifully-told depiction of a piece of relatively recent history. At 86 years of age he seems to still display amazing energy and grasp of his skills.
(If I had any negative about Clint it might be his judgement re a certain Mr. Trump!) I too am interested to see what his new movie “SULLY” turns out like.
I’ve always liked this film but to be honest, it’s mainly because of Widmark. I haven’t seen it in a few years but somehow always considered it a lead in to what lay ahead for Siegel with Dirty Harry. Reading thru some of the other comments, I will say that I am a fan of The Shootist and plainly refer to it as the best swan song in film history. Duke in part has to thank Siegel for this.
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I completely agree on The Shootist, Mike. Siegel’s direction and Wayne’s frank performance resulted in a wonderfully touching film which capped a career better than anything else I’ve ever seen.
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Clint…..finally….I hope! 🙂
Great reply Blake and nice to see Jerry chipping in too.
Being a Brit i probably,wrongly, feel Eastwood is underrated in America.
I guess Blake and I read from differing pages regarding this.
Over the last couple of decades,at least his reception in the UK
has been lukewarm at least.
As far as I am concerned only in France does he seem to be revered.
Oddly enough I watched TRUE CRIME last night,a film that failed at the
box office and received mixed critical response.
Todd McCathy liked it a whole heap though.
I found it better this time round than when I saw it at the cinema.
A great newspaper yarn with James Woods on blistering form.
Colin’s fave subject “redemption” is skilfully handled here…bittersweet
ending and all. Clint’s films often are like some fine wines…they improve
Funnily enough if asked to name my favorite directors I would cite,apart from
Siegel,Tourneur,Fuller,Joseph H Lewis,Mann,DeToth,Karlson and so on.
The “masters” stand alone,and Clint is from a totally different era a film-making.
By “the masters” I am talking of course Ford,Hawks,Walsh and Hitchcock.
Blake,by “arty touches” in Nazarro’s THE DOMINO KID I was talking about
some nifty camera angles,interesting interior shots involving mirrors
and a striking opening gunfight filmed in “first person” aspect.
Blake do try CRIPPLE CREEK and SOUTHWEST PASSAGE.
Colin I think I have discussed THE HATEFUL EIGHT elsewhere,possibly
over at Toby’s. Had I still been living in London I would have sought
out the film in 70mm which I believe is some 20 minutes longer.
The violence in Tarantino’s films has never bothered me but this time
depravity filters into the mix.
Tim Roth’s English fop who in fact turns out to be quiet common is a
pale shadow of Richard Harris’ masterly “English Bob” creation in
UNFORGIVEN. Apart from this the film is incredibly boring I was
watching my watch especially in the second half.
Sadly,Tarantino now believes his own hype.
Good to see Mike bring up THE SHOOTIST The Duke’s swan song
could not have been better.
Randolph Scott ended his career with TWO masterpieces
COMANCHE STATION and RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY.
RTHC should have been McCrea’s swan song as well.
I agree completely on McCrea. He ought to have bowed out with Scott, it was a perfect opportunity and nothing he did afterwards was worth coming out of retirement for, least of all the extremely trashy Cry Blood, Apache.
Never been sure why McCrea did carry on (sort of) because he was among the richest men in Hollywood, as I understand it so surely did not need the work. Not many actors went out on a “high” when you look at the facts but Wayne certainly did and Scott double-did, as John so rightly says. McCrea could have.
As John says below, part of it was down to helping out his son, and I guess maybe he just liked being involved (even in a limited way) in the filmmaking business.
In all fairness Colin,McCrea’s role was nothing
more than a cameo,and the only worthwhile minutes in
the entire film. It was another failed attempt to turn son
Jody into a movie star,hence McCrea senior’s involvement.
I was speaking to Jerry the other night and we both agreed
that it was good that Joel never appeared in an A.C.Lyles
Western. Joel was good friends with A.C. and it’s pretty much a given
that he would have been offered one of them.
I understand Jody appeared in one of them and caused lots
of trouble with his on set antics.
CRY BLOOD APACHE was an early effort from Jack Starrett;
well everyone’s got to start somewhere.
Starrett is best know for cult classic RACE WITH THE DEVIL.
I am desperate for someone to release Starrett’s THE GRAVY
TRAIN (aka The Dion Brothers) with West Virginia brothers
Stacy Keach and Frederic Forrest on a crime rampage.
This forgotten Seventies gem has Keach,Forrest and Margot
Kidder,in their prime,at the top of their game.
Another great Starrett effort is the epic TV movie MR HORN
with David Carradine and our poster boy Richard Widmark.
MR HORN needs a DVD release and has Widmark at his
best as a veteran scout with a very dim view of the military.
In spite of the fact most of these A.C.Lyles Westerns are pretty
poor I’d still love to see some of them get released on DVD or Blu Ray.
Have you noticed that Olive Films,after a lay off of several years are
now releasing titles from the Paramount library. (as opposed to
Paramount/Republic) I.m very enticed by STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND
and VILLA RIDES on Blu Ray. After a brief arrangement with Warners
Paramount now seem to be turning to Olive Films for their releases.
I’m mildly intrigued by LITTLE FAUSS & BIG HALSEY if for nothing
else the Johnny Cash soundtrack.
Hopefully other Paramount titles that have not even had a DVD release
would follow especially HELL’S ISLAND,SHORT CUT TO HELL,
THUNDER IN THE SUN,THE DESERTER and THE STRANGE AFFAIR.
I’d certainly give a couple of the Lyles Westerns a go Techniscope looks
awesome in high definition.
Yes, John, I know McCrea’s small role in Cry Blood, Apache was motivated by the involvement of his son but it is such a lousy picture.
I did notice the renewed Olive/Paramount output, which I certainly welcome. I’d be delighted to see those titles you mention, and I’d love to see some of the material that it seems hard to figure out if it’s a Universal or Paramount property. I’m thinking of things like Calcutta, Saigon, I Walk Alone & Kiss the Blood Off My Hands.
Colin, Universal own all the Paramount titles
up to 1949 or perhaps 1950. I guess most
of the titles you mention are with Universal.
Speaking of Universal their Vault MOD series had
quiet a wave of Paramount Ladd pictures recently.
Yeah, John, lots of Ladd stuff out there now.
The only reason I mentioned those ones, there are a few others too, is that there are some titles from those years (about 1948-50) which seem to cause a little confusion regarding the rights. I know about the Universal deal which bought up the Paramount library but some stuff, maybe due to certain producer credits and so on, seemed to fall through the cracks.
Most notably lost is Ladd’s Gatsby ’49. Not even part of the Universal/Paramount library, I think.
That’s another title that can be had on DVD from Italy, not sure how the quality is as some titles from that imprint are excellent (just got a copy of George Sherman’s Relentless the other day and it looks quite fabulous) while others are less so.
Not to butt in, but I recently saw CALCUTTA…very good, I thought.
I’ve only ever seen pretty horrible prints of the movie, Clayton, but it is entertaining for all that. There’s an Italian DVD which came out a while ago but I’ve not heard anything good about it, unfortunately.
I understand the Ladd GREAT GATSBY was recently
released in Australia. Import CDs have it at $14.
Ladd completist Nick Beal (if he’s reading this) will
surely have this so,over to you Nick.
Well I’d certainly welcome any feedback on that one from Mr Beal, or any other source for that matter.
I see Blu-ray.com have done reviews of the two Randolph Scott titles – The Cariboo Trail & Canadian Pacific just out in the US and they look fine indeed.
Thanks for that Colin. They look pretty good,as you know Cinecolor is always problematic. These are hardly top drawer Scott but I still want them-at any rate this is as good as they are ever likely to get-image quality wise. It will be very interesting to see how these two do sales-wise, it may well serve as a yardstick as to future Kino Lorber releases of vintage Westerns
Just to return to the Paramount theme other films that haven as yet not received even a DVD release. Firstly two Cornel Wilde films in color and VistaVision. MARACAIBO an oil well fire fighting drama. Secondly, THE DEVIL’S HAIRPIN, a racing drama. Both films directed by Wilde as well. Then there is the much sought after historical adventure WHERE’S JACK. This film was a pet project for the great Stanley Baker who is the bad guy and is on top form. Sadly, the film did not perform well at the box office which is a shame because I remember it as being very good indeed. At the time I saw it on a double bill with BUCKSKIN the very last of the A.C.Lyles Westerns. I feel we have more chance of seeing these films,and the ones I mentioned previously than the sort of Paramount fare being released by Hollywood Scrapheap. It looks as if Paramount have perhaps got on Hollywood Scrapheap’s case as future releases are no longer listed on their site.
BTW Colin, have you noticed that LAWMAN (recently a RTHC review) is being released in Germany on Blu Ray for a mere nine Euros. From the graphics on Amazon de it seems to be an “official” release..not a bootleg.At any rate it’s licensed through Hollywood Classics which means it’s official.
Yes, John, I did hear about the Lawman release, and I agree that’s a tempting price. On a related note, there have been doubts expressed about the legitimacy of some Spanish releases so it’s good to see both Sturges’ Hour of the Gun and Hathaway’s Garden of Evil coming on Blu-ray from above board sources.
Those Wilde films, and the Baker movie, you mention are new to me but sound very interesting indeed. I agree too that the sales performance of the Scott titles, especially seeing as they are more minor affairs, might be significant. As such, I hope they do well.
What I remember about WHERE’S JACK apart from Baker’s commanding performance is the wonderful production design perfectly capturing a very Hogarthian
18th century London. Directed by the always interesting James Clavell. I’ts amazing how these films go off the radar when they have been denied even a DVD release.
I recently broke the bank getting the Twilight Time release of GARDEN OF EVIL always a favorite of mine. Now,from what you sat it’s getting released on a more
price friendly imprint… cannot source the details though. With HOUR OF THE GUN I have the Aussie version on Blu Ray released several years back and it’s lovely. I avoid those Spanish “bootlegs” which turn out to be BD/r. The only way really to beat the bootleggers is for companies to load their Blu Ray’s with extras, which the Spanish cannot source a Spanish soundtrack for.It’s a shame whats happened in Spain-,several years back there was an interesting imprint called Impulso which issued lots of fine DVDs unavailable elsewhere.
The Twilight Time products are priced too high for my limited budget, I’m afraid. Therefore, it’s nice when a (legitimate) alternative does turn up. The new release of Garden of Evil is a DVD/Blu-ray combo and as can be seen from the cover on Amazon carries the official logos on the spine, which generally indicates it’s been properly licensed.
These days I’m tending to go more for quality over quantity. I do have to sell stuff on Amazon to finance my purchases. I also am able to sell unwanted
items to friends so that helps,basically many DVDs I have purchased in the past now finance my Blu Ray habit.
Furthermore and I kid you not I’ve recently downgraded from wine to cider and the next step is mineral water :),really my Blu Ray habit is my only indulgence I don’t drive, I don’t own a computer, I don’t even own a mobile phone. I only have a couple of Twilight Time releases, and of course over time they do end up elsewhere far cheaper. I will however be getting Twilight Time’s forthcoming release of THE GLORY GUYS which does have an attractive load of extras.
If I were as young as you Colin, I would be far more cautious in my purchases – it’s just at my time of life I tend to be more reckless money wise. Furthermore, with today’s non existent interest rates there is little point hoarding the loot.
I hope we will be drinking something a little more interesting than mineral water if we do manage to meet up in London in October, John??!!LOL
I was going to see MADIGAN some weeks back right after watching CHARLEY VARRICK but took a detour into the West. After catching up with this post and reading through all the comments I’ll be getting to it asap! Such great discussions here and leads on new things to watch 🙂 just need time to watch them all! Best
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That’s wonderful, it means I’ve done something right! And a big thank you once again to all those folks who contributed here and created such a fascinating discussion.
..plus I’ll have to add some unseen Eastwoods to my list now too! I learn so much from all of you
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Which neatly encapsulates all that’s good about the “world of blog”, in my opinion – we all learn new stuff and get pointed in new and unexpected directions by each other. What’s not to like!
Well that’s just it and listening in to a gang like this who see/know/love so much about movies is my idea of a master class.
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Indeed. It’s hard to beat the kind of recommendations you get from folks whose judgement you can trust.
Jeepers, this is another one I need to re-watch. It must be a couple of decades since last I took this one in. Thanks for the reminder. I recall seeing this at the drive in back in the day.
The kind of film it’s easy to recommend, Gordon, not really requiring the kind of qualification you often have to bear in mind with other movies. A really solid thriller with everyone doing good work.