Saturday, September 11, 2010

A couple of Westerns

When I'm feeling melancholy, I turn to music. I find it interesting, that in these moods, it is invariably Jerry Goldsmith, and specifically, his Western film/tv scores I turn to. 100 Rifles, Rio Conchos, The Loner, Take a Hard Ride, Bandolero, Hour of the Gun... these are what I crave most, where I find my solace, the music I want to turn up and crawl inside until I become one with the notes. I'm not sure why.

I tend to turn to Western films for viewing as well. I watched two new ones this past week, both with Richard Widmark.

Cheyenne Autumn (1964). Big star cast, great scenery, okay movie. This one I liked mostly for Richard Widmark. He's playing a good guy here, a genuinely good guy, and as much as I like him when he's smirking and evil, I really really like him when he's good, and I wish he'd had even more screen time. He's one of the few characters sympathetic to the Cheyenne plight, who is working to help them within the constraints of his position as Army captain. I particularly like his scenes with Patrick Wayne, who starts out not the least bit sympathetic, and I would really have liked to have decked him myself. He makes his own foolish mistakes though and comes around, though. Sean McClory played my other favorite character, a doctor who finally stands up to Karl Malden. Sean McClory's one of those very underrated actors that deserves more appreciation.

(I want Richard Widmark's jacket.)

The movie has an odd section in the middle with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (Jimmy Stewart and Arthur Kennedy, respectively) that is comedic and just a bizarre interlude in the middle of everything else. Pick that section up and put in another movie, and I'd probably really like it -- it's very funny -- but it sure didn't belong here. Edward G. Robinson shows up in a small but pivotal role and manages to steal every scene he's in. But he does tend to do that.

The thing I liked least about the film was the score. I'm afraid, I am just not an Alex North fan. There is not one score he's written that I even remotely like. I was also mad that the streaming video on Netflix was not widescreen, other than the opening credits. What's up with that? Grrrr.

Yellow Sky (1948) - now why the heck haven't I seen this movie before?? I loved this movie! Gregory Peck plays the leader of the outlaw band. They rob a bank and flee into the desert, barely make it to a ghost town where an old prospector and his granddaughter are living alone. The granddaughter is played by one of my favorite actresses, Anne Baxter, and boy howdy, I LOVE her in this movie. She's packing and she can use rifle and pistol very well -- and fists! One of my favorite moments -- she slugs Gregory Peck in the jaw! Dude! Gregory Peck! She's young and pretty and tough and vulnerable, and she really carries a lot of the weight of the film. There's a lot of scenes where she says nothing, and you can tell exactly what she's thinking. She is wonderful. If she wasn't one of my favorites already, this movie would have put her there.

Richard Widmark is a well-dressed, smart, sly, double-crossing gambler ruled almost exclusively by his own greed. He's back in top bad guy form, and he's great here. The opposite of his Captain Archer in Cheyenne Autumn. That smirk and giggling laugh of his are so perfect when he's lounging about contemplating wrong doings. His character would have come out on top, too, except for one big flaw... he's hasty. He needs a little more patience. All that gold could have been his.

A lot of this one was filmed in the Alabama Hills, Mt. Whitney and the glorious High Sierra in the background. Gorgeous country, and those rocks are always a great place for a bit of cat and mouse. I've hiked the Alabama Hills, and that place just never loses its magic. Yellow Sky was entertaining start to finish. Almost a bit noirish, more character-oriented than usual, with the outlaw band turning on each other when confronted with a fortune in gold and one woman, their strengths and weaknesses brought out by the situation. The other supporting characters are all strong. I particularly liked Charles Kemper as Walrus, who fills his canteen with whiskey instead of water... and then gets stuck without water in the desert. He was very believable throughout the film.


  1. I NEED TO SEE YELLOW SKY. It looks amazing!

  2. I love this movie. Coincidentally I just read another post about it at the blog Riding the High Country which you might want to check out. As I mentioned in a comment there, a couple years ago when we stopped in Lone Pine we used a map and sought out locations from this film. Really fun. I love to spot the "Movie Rocks" in various films.

    There are some great moments in this film -- I especially noticed the use of sound and lack of music at certain spots, where instead you hear the wind or other noises.

    Reading about the movie is making me want to revisit it!

    Best wishes,

  3. As Laura mentioned, I did a piece on Yellow Sky myself recently and it really is a keeper of a movie. The more I see of Wellman, the more I feel he's never had the critical appreciation he deserves.

    Coincidentally, I also did a write-up on Cheyenne Autumn maybe 18 months ago or so. I had exactly the same problem you had with the Wyatt Earp interlude (I was doing a short series on Earp movies at the time) and it just sat awkwardly with the serious content of the rest of the film.

  4. Anonymous9:05 PM

    I agree with all of you about the Stewart/Kennedy sequence coming out of nowhere — and that it feels like a reel from another movie spliced in by mistake.

    Only thing is, I really like it there.

    Sure it bogs down an already LONG movie, but it lets two of my favorite actors really have at it.

    Ford put stuff like this in a number of his pictures. That almost-wedding and fight in The Searchers, for instance.

    And as oddball as those sequences are, I can't imagine either film without them.

  5. Millie - yes, you do! It's great!

    Laura - I go through Lone Pine all the time. I love hiking through the Alabama Hills, gazing up at Mt. Whitney. That is the neatest area.

    Colin - Thanks to Laura, I discovered your blog, and I love it! I did find your Cheyenne Autumn review too.

    fiftieswesterns - you know, it's funny, but you're right. The part I remember most about Cheyenne Autumn is the Wyatt Earp interlude. It's out of place, but it is funny, with some great dialogue, and it's what stayed in my mind after the movie was over. I'm also a big Arthur Kennedy fan, so any chance to see him is a good thing.

  6. Hey your collection is outstanding; I never see such a type of collection before. Thanks for sharing it with us. Keep it up.Marketing communication strategy | Advertising as a profession in Estonia | Advertising professional in Estonia