Friday, July 26, 2019

Rancho Notorious (1952)

I watched this Western with Arthur Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich, and Mel Ferrer, and directed by Fritz Lang, on Amazon prime... and um... wow.  That's not necessarily a good wow.  More like, what did I just watch?  Ranch Notorious is a very strange viewing experience.

This is movie that doesn't quite know what it wants to be.  It has a good cast saddled with a standard revenge plot, but with some other character arcs and settings that should have elevated it.  This should have been a good movie... and it is just a head-shaker instead.

Let's start with the opening title song. I'm afraid it doesn't stand up to time's passage.  It is cheesy and silly.  It would be okay if it were just a theme song, but it turns out that this song continues throughout... it's not just a theme song, the singer ends up being a narrator who moves the plot along.  Silence would have been better.  It's just jarring.

But then the movie gets serious, and we meet Arthur Kennedy's character Vern and his fiancee. They share a nice happy moment.  But he heads out and two robbers arrive in town.  One fancies the fiancee... and yeah, that ends in the worse way possible.  Vern swears revenge and takes off to find the men.  Annnnd, the narrating singer is back.  And then, as Vern keeps searching for the murderer of the love of his life, he keeps meeting people who tell him stories about Marlene Dietrich's character, Altar Keane (!).  Now there's a name for you!  It is very clunky storytelling.  Worse because some of the flashbacks show stuff the teller isn't there to see.

Finally, Vern meets up with Frenchy (Mel Ferrer).  Vern's desperate enough to break the law to get to meet Frenchy, so Frenchy can lead him to Altar Keane, where he hopes to find info about the murderer.  We finally meet Marlene Dietrich in real time.  She runs a safe house for outlaws.  They give her ten percent of whatever illicit gains they've made, and she provides sanctuary.  Now, this is quite a fascinating setup.  This is cool.  Particularly as the murderer is indeed there, taking advantage of the safe house.  All these characters thrown together... this part should shine.  It doesn't.  It falls weirdly flat.  I think we just don't know enough about the characters to care about them, so all this promising stuff goes nowhere.

So, this was a movie full of potential that just sort of comes apart at the seams.  I watched this mostly because Arthur Kennedy was in it, but sadly, not even he can save this one.

This has been an entry for the Legends of Western Cinema Week, hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine, Hamlette at Hamlette's Solioquy, and Olivia at Meanwhile in Rivendell.  Check here for the master post.  Lots of good posts listed here if you love Westerns!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Legends of Western Cinema Week Tag

Here are my answers to the Legends of Western Cinema Week tag

1) Do you tolerate, like, or love westerns?
I love Westerns.  Probably my favorite genre of movies.

2) What do you enjoy about them and, more broadly, the west itself (e.g. the history, accompanying paraphernalia, etc)?
Everything.  I need wide open spaces in my life, I need land untouched by mankind.  I need unpopulated vistas full of beauty and danger.  I need horses and skies full of stars.  Movie Westerns are also full of characters I relate to, most have a code of honor, there's a lot of protection of something or other going on.  I love the themes of Westerns.  Love the settings.  Westerns are just a whole package deal.

3) What's the first western you can remember watching?
I've been watching Westerns since I was a child, so no memory of a first.  There have always been Western movies in my memory.  Though I do have a strong memory of a calvary/Indian fight from an unknown movie as one of my early cinematic memories.  Lots of gunfire, arrows, falling horses...

4) Who are your favorite western stars, the ones whose presence in a western will make you pick it up off the shelf?
Kevin Costner.  William Holden.  Richard Boone.  Richard Widmark.  Arthur Kennedy.  Barbara Stanwyck.

5) What's your favorite performance by an actress in a western?
Not sure what my absolute favorite is, but I do love Felicia Farr in 3:10 to Yuma and Anne Baxter in Yellow Sky and Claire Trevor in Texas.  For a more modern performance, Annette Bening in Open Range is fabulous.

6) What is your "go-to" western, the one you'll typically reach for?
I have many go-to Westerns, depending on my mood. There isn't just one.  How can there be one?  Or even two?  There are so many flavors of Westerns!  But for a movie it would probably be one of the following:  Big Jake, Slow West, The Lone Ranger, Hour of the Gun, Cowboys & Aliens, The Frisco Kid, Salvation, Open Range, Quigley Down Under, or Cat Ballou.  Otherwise, I'm going to grab any "Have Gun Will Travel" episode or "Big Valley" episode for something short.

7) Do your family/friends share your interest in westerns, or are you a lone ranger (pun completely intended)?
My family and friends all share my interest, except for my sister.

8) Pick one western to live inside for a week, and explain why you chose it.
The Ox-Bow Incident.  I'd join Dana Andrews, make sure he gets a receipt for those darned cattle, and I'd be there armed and awake when the lynch mob shows up to make sure they don't try anything, and if they do, I will shoot first and ask questions later.

(Not on MY watch!!)
9) Share one (or several!) of your favorite quotes from a western.
"I thought you was dead."  "Not hardly." (Multiple people, Jacob McCandles (John Wayne) - Big Jake)
"Let's drift." (Silas (Michael Fassbender) - Slow West)
"I smell a water hole!" (Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) - Cat Ballou)
"I'm drunk as a skunk." (Jed (Dwayne Hickman) - Cat Ballou)
"Don't talk about snow." (Chief Gray Cloud (Val Bisoglio) - The Frisco Kid)
"I don't want to hurt you; I just want to eat you." (or "I just want to make you kosher.") (Avram (Gene Wilder) chasing a chicken - The Frisco Kid)
"You bring horses?" (Tonto (Johnny Depp) - The Lone Ranger)
"All right, let's do this." (John Reid (Armie Hammer) - The Lone Ranger)
"The horse can fly?" "Don't be stupid." (John Reid/Tonto - The Lone Ranger)
"I said I didn't have much use for one. Didn't say I didn't know how to use it." (Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) - Quigley Down Under)

And a zillion other quotes.  If I'm with the family, there are a ton from Cat Ballou and Frisco Kid that we use regularly.  If I'm with Hamlette, then Lone Ranger and Slow West take over... :-D