Tag Archives: Burt Lancaster

The Homesman

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A spur of the moment decision over summer to watch Howard Hawk’s 1959 Rio Bravo, led to me view a number of Westerns I hadn’t previously seen.

A so-called classic that regularly appears on best of lists of Westerns, Rio Bravo is the story of a small town sheriff (John Wayne) who enlists the aid of a cripple, a drunk and a young gunfighter in his efforts to hold the brother of a local outlaw in his jail.

A lot of people I know love the film but I found it overlong, wooden, and there was zero chemistry between Wayne and Angie Dickinson. I watched Hawk’s earlier effort, Red River (1948), which I enjoyed more, especially Montgomery Clift’s performance, and John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), in which an embittered racist civil war veteran (Wayne again) embarks on a journey spanning several years to rescue a niece (somewhat unconvincingly played by Natalie Wood), stolen in a Comanche raid. It is a terrific piece of story telling, as much for what is not said and shown as what is.

Also on the list was Lawman (1971), a pretty average effort, in which a sheriff (an ageing Burt Lancaster) arrives in a town to arrest all the cattlemen whose celebration in his town the year before resulted in the death of an old man, and the excellent 1959 Andre de Toth film, The Day of the Outlaw.… Read more

The Killers 1964 & 1946

The following is posted as part of Furious Cinema’s Scenes of the Crime Blog-a-Thon. It originally appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of Noir City.

One short story, Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, which appeared in 1927, two film versions.  Robert Siodmak directed the first in 1946. Don Siegel helmed the later in 1964. Both films begin with the premise of Hemingway’s 2951 word piece; two anonymous professional killers hired to murder a man, but in most other respects are completely different.

Siodmak’s movie opens, to the accompaniment of Miklos Rozsa’s brassy jazz score, with the arrival of the killers in a small town. It’s night and all we see are their silhouettes backlit by streetlights. First they check the filling station. Finding it closed, they cross the road, go into Henry’s Diner. You can tell they’re professionals, each enters a different way, cutting off any possibility of their quarry escaping.

In the space of a few minutes, Al (Charles McGraw) and Max (William Conrad), establish a sense of menace and disorientation as good as any classic noir cinema has to offer. After rubbishing the diner’s food and the customer’s small town ways, they tell George, the man behind the counter:

“I tell you what we’re going to do, we’re going to kill the Swede.”

“What are you going to kill him for?

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Hunger and other films about doing time

I haven’t spent a lot of time in prisons and don’t want to. But I won’t deny they make tremendous story settings.

This was brought home to me again over the weekend after watching Hunger, Steve McQueen’s 2008 depiction of the final months in the life of IRA militant Bobby Sands. Sands and 9 other IRA inmates staved themselves to death in 1981 in protest against the Thatcher government’s insistence of treating them as common criminals rather than political prisoners.

I recently reviewed Adrian McKinty’s book The Cold Cold Ground, which dealt with a Catholic cop in a Protestant neighbourhood trying to solve a murder against the backdrop of the civil unrest unleashed by the hunger strikes.

Hunger is about what happened inside the walls of the Maze Prison. It’s a visceral, blistering film, all the more so because it’s made with incredible slight of hand.

It opens with the arresting image of a pair of bloody knuckles being soaked in water. These belong to one of the prison guards and were acquired administering incredibly savage beatings to IRA prisoners in response to their “blanket and dirty protests” in which the prisoners refused to wash and smeared shit over the walls of their prison cells. The guard is subsequently murdered in the aged care home where his mother lives, one of 16 guards killed by paramilitaries in retaliation for the treatment of the prisoners.… Read more