Sunday, September 27, 2015

The War Wagon (1967)

Despite being a big John Wayne fan, and a bigger Kirk Douglas fan, this is a film I'd only seen once, back in high school.  I barely remembered anything about it, but a friend recently reminded me of it by quoting the famous line and rejoinder:

"Mine hit the ground first."
"Mine was taller."

And that put me in the mood to revisit this film.  I had to watch it twice, only because I didn't particularly like it on my first viewing, and so I wanted to see it a second time, see if it improved.  It did.

The war wagon of the film's title is a specially armored coach, completely with gatling gun and thirty guards, that ferries large quantities of gold between town and the railhead.   John Wayne recruits a few people to stop and rob that wagon.  That's essentially the plot.

The best parts of this movie for me are the cast, the snappy dialogue, and the Durango, Mexico scenery.  I'm not fond of the plot, but that's only a matter of personal taste.  Sure, there's a thirty-second exposition bit about how John Wayne's character, Taw Jackson (worst name ever), was framed and sent to jail so the bad guy, a smarmy Bruce Cabot as Pierce, could steal his ranch and the gold mine on his land, but watching Wayne on the wrong side of the law just doesn't sit well.  It also makes the movie both a wee bit of a revenge tale and a heist tale... neither of which I'm fond of.  (Clarification: I'm very fond of revenge tales when someone's avenging murdered family members, etc., but when wronged parties go after the person who wronged them, and it's solely about self, it never quite works for me... move on, already!)  And heist movies, with all their careful timing and experts in various fields working together against high odds to steal a lot of whatever... it's just not my thing.  So, plotwise... this movie does not push my buttons.

But then there's the cast, and they almost make up for it.  John Wayne is his normal solid self, wearing a famous outfit that I had on a poster.  Never knew what movie that poster's pic was from!  Now I do. :-D  He's great in this movie and his dialogue is perfect John Wayne dialogue.  His character is highly entertaining, despite the lousy name.

Howard Keel shows up as Levi Walking Bear, and he amuses me no end in the role, particularly his entrance, all tied up and being shot at for getting caught cheating at poker (which he feels is perfectly justified). Cracks me up.  He gets some very funny lines as well.

Robert Walker Jr. is around as their drunk explosives expert, and his presence always makes me uneasy. I'm so used to him playing psycho characters that I have the hardest time trusting him.  I keep expecting him to go off the deep end at any moment.  Poor guy!  Talk about being typecast.  And he's fine in this role too, as a non-pyscho, which is why the second viewing helped.  I could stop worrying about him flipping out.

Bonus points for Emilio Fernandez, who has a small part as bandit leader, Calita, and who I instantly recognized from The Wild Bunch, where he plays corrupt General Mapache.

But the main thing I like about this movie is Kirk Douglas.

He plays gunfighter Lomax, who has some unpleasant history with Jackson, but they put that aside for the sake of stealing all that gold.  He is sassy, smirky, confident, and all tons of smooth, physical grace.  Seriously, I could watch this movie just to watch him leap across other horses to mount his own, or climb cliff faces, or generally show  off his high level of fitness.  I also just really enjoy his interactions with Wayne.  The two actors play very well off each other, and they get the best dialogue.

Favorite moments:
  • Jackson and Lomax's rescue of Levi.  
  • The spectacular barroom brawl, cuz barroom brawls in Westerns never get old, and this one is a doozy.  I love Jackson's "Oh no!" as he gets jumped by multiple cowboys at once, and I love Lomax leaning against the bar watching the whole thing.
  • Nitro glycerin, because TNT is great fun, but nitro is just plain cool.  Watching everyone get jumpy around it makes me grin.
  • Any time Kirk Douglas gets up or down off his horse.
It's not a movie I need to own, but after the second viewing made me appreciate it more, I definitely won't be waiting another thirty years before I see it again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Our Man Flint (1966)

This is a movie I grew up on.  In fact, I can't even remember when I first saw it; it's one of those that has just always been there.  It's the first thing I saw James Coburn in, and it remains my favorite role of his, just because his Derek Flint is the epitome of self-assured, suave, smooth, butt-kicking awesomeness.

 (I love Galaxy's uniforms.  They're snazzy and cool and James Coburn looks great in one.)

Our Man Flint is a spy movie that parodies the Bond films.  A trio of scientists threaten the world by controlling the weather.  Lee J. Cobb plays Cramden, the head of ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage).  His other agents have failed to stop the scientists, and so he must reluctantly call on super duper super spy Flint.  He's not fond of Flint.  Flint doesn't follow orders.  Flint is not a team player.  Flint is constantly showing him up.  But, he is the best spy on the planet, and the world needs the best spy to save the day...

Flint tracks down the bad guys, of course, to their very strange volcanic island lair.  Where he proceeds to single-handedly wreck the entire joint and save the world (without ever using a gun... shooting people is not Flint's style).  This is not a spoiler.  He's Flint!  Of course he will prevail.  In style.  That's what makes this movie so much fun.

 (Galaxy's crazy island)

When you also grow up on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Flint fits right in.  Both are Fox, both use many of the same sets, footage, and crazy science fictiony plot.  If no one's written a cross-over fanfic, I'd be surprised, as they all seem to inhabit the same version of the world.

Favorite things about this movie:

Any time Flint speaks in his own special code.  "It's based on..."  "I can imagine what it's based on..."

Flint's special lighter gadget, with 82 functions.  83 if you wish to light a cigar.

"It disappeared into thin air."

Flint napping (by stopping his heart) while stretched out plank-like, feet on one chair, head on another.  And his watch alarm.  Dude, I want one of those.

The red presidential phone and its famous ring.

Agent 0008.

Lee J. Cobb's constant, immense frustration with the Perfection that is Flint.

The fight between Rodney (Edward Mulhare) and Flint.

(Edward Mulhare and Scientist Bad Guys)

Barrels and the swan dive.  I think this may have been the part I waited for most when I was young.  Sheer awesomeness.

"Stall!  Flint is alive!"

The anti-American eagle.  "It's diabolical!"

Jerry Goldsmith's outstanding, swinging score.

My favorite scene goes along with my favorite cue, which kicks in when Flint starts climbing the multi-level outdoor ladder.  And goes up and up and up.  Although really, I adore the entire ending, from when he escapes execution to when he escapes the island.  He trashes the place, evades bad guys, fights bad guys, wrecks things, blows things up, and rescues his girls, and it's just great, cheesy, actiony, stylish fun.

(Favorite cue in the score, and a taste of Flint in action)

Yes, he has girls.  Four of them.  He takes them all out to dinner, dances with all of them, pays attention to all of them... None of them are jealous. However, every other male in the movie is clearly envious.  It's quite amusing.

(Flint and his beautiful companions, with Gila Golan as Gila)

There is a sequel, In Like Flint, that is also amusing, but not quite as much fun as the first one.