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I’m Your Huckleberry: 5 More Top Westerns

No Spoilers

The Magnificent Seven (original) ©

Most of the Westerns I favor fall into what are usually considered the sub-genres, with some of them not even taking place in the American West, for example, but containing the iconic character motifs and themes present in Western films. Sometimes called “Spaghetti Westerns” and sometimes classified as “Action & Adventure,” all these films still resonate with elements that make the Western iconic in Hollywood, and imitated worldwide.

My top Western films and mini-series are sometimes set in the American West; often they are not. But their characters, storylines, and themes make them powerful films that I watch over and over. They don’t always end happily, but they end honestly, with the finale of the movie developing out of the characters’ natures, their conflicts, and the decisions they’ve made previously.

And, yes, Deadwood — the series — is one of my favorite Westerns of all times, and can read about it in detail in No One Gets Out Alive, but it’s a series, and I’ve dealt with it in detail elsewhere. This group of five westerns originally appeared in a post about 10 films, but I shortened that post to update it, including trailers and availability, and so that people might have a chance to explore the films without feeling overwhelmed. The top five films are in I Ain’t Like That No More: Top 5 Westerns. Here are the remaining of my five top Western films.


Red River
(1948)

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John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, and Walter Brennan, Red River ©

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big John Wayne fan. Whether Hollywood pushed him into “The Duke” mold or whether audiences simply preferred that role, many of Wayne’s films portray him playing basically the same character. (That kind of thing always leads the viewer to wonder if the actor is acting or just being himself.) But Wayne’s early work in Westerns was much more daring as well as varied. In fact, he should have received Oscar nominations for quite a few of his early Westerns, rather than the token one he received (and won) for playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.

One of Wayne’s finest roles and one of his best Westerns is 1948’s Red River, directed by Howard Hawks.

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John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, Red River ©

Starring Walter Brennan (Groot) and Montgomery Clift (Matt) along with John Wayne (Dunson), Red River is a fictional account of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. As a boy, Matt — sole survivor of an Indian attack — joins Dunson’s group and is adopted by Dunson. Though Matt is his adopted adult son, Dunson is continually forcing Matt to prove himself, leading to many conflicts, as well as to a split in the group on the cattle-drive.

Dunson is tyrannical and angry; Matt, who is fair and stalwart, rebels, taking many men with him. Dunson sends a posse after the group, intending to force his authority on all of them, but especially on his adopted son. The final showdown is stunning and effective.

Red Riversome of the best acting that Wayne and Clift ever did, is available for rent, starting at $2.99, from Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube. Free for Starz subscribers.


Open Range

(2003)

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Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall, Open Range ©

Beginning as a relatively quiet film that deals with free-grazing, or individuals or small groups with small herds grazing on public lands, and who come into conflict with larger corporations or ranchers who want the land exclusively for themselves, Open Range (2003, directed by Costner) is a powerful statement on individual rights, expansion in the west, land ownership, and power.

Kevin Costner (Charley) and Robert Duvall (“Boss”) as the free-ranging partners are the principals, with an excellent supporting cast which includes Annette Benning as the town Doctor’s sister Sue, who becomes Charley’s love interest, and Michael Gambon as the ruthless and powerful Irish immigrant rancher Baxter who “don’t want no free-grazers” and uses violence and murder to terrorize them into leaving the area.

Though Boss, Charley, Sue, and other characters don’t seek violence, it becomes inevitable as they must defend their lives, property, freedom, and individual rights, which incorporates many of the themes of the most enduring Westerns.

Open Range, which was both a critical and box-office success, is available for rent ($2.99-3.99)  from Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube.


Tombstone
(1993)

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Bill Paxton, Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, and Val Kilmer, Tombstone ©

Concentrating on the story of the Earp family — all three brothers and their wives — and Doc Holliday after their move to Tombstone AZ, this movie usually ranks high in any Western “Top Ten” list, not just because of the historical characters and events, but because of its fine acting and production values.

Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) convinces his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) to join him “for retirement” in Tombstone, where Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer, in his Oscar-winning, and most brilliant career performance) is already settled and winning outrageous amounts at gambling.

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Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, Tombstone ©

The Earp brothers “acquire” interest in their own gambling establishment, and seem only to want to make money and live comfortably with their wives. Their gunslinger pasts, however, cause them to come into conflict with a red-sashed gang, The Cowboys, and with the Dalton Gang. Once the Earps become lawmen, they are bound for the historical confrontation at the OK Corral.

The film’s unique and interesting interpretation of historical characters and events, along with plenty of action and love interest, make it worth watching. But Kilmer’s Oscar-winning performance as Doc Holliday is mesmerizing. Tombstone is available for rent ($2.99-3.99) from Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube.


The Magnificent Seven
(1960)

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Cast of The Magnificent Seven, including from L to R, Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn (4th), Charles Bronson (5th), and James Coburn (last) ©

Based on Japanese filmmaker’s Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai, these seven are transformed into gunslingers and hired to protect a small Mexican village from a notorious bandit who is extorting money, livestock, and grain from the villagers, leaving them to starve. Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Robert Vaughn are among the magnificent seven, each of whom has a past he’s running away from.

Though notorious or shady in their previous lives, they are convinced to help protect the villagers for virtually no pay whatsoever, reluctantly showing their moral side as the film progresses.

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Eli Wallach, The Magnificent Seven ©

As the seven teach the villagers to defend themselves against the bandit Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his gang, the 7 become emotionally attached to their charges. Some of the scenes with the young boys and Charles Bronson’s character are among the most amusing yet moving.

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The Magnificent Seven ©

Set to a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein, the film embodies the iconic Western theme of the strong protecting the weak, and landowners (or townspeople) defending themselves against villainous intruders (or outsiders).

McQueen was apparently envious of Brynner’s mega-stardom [from The King and I] and was constantly trying to upstage him, even standing on his tiptoes to be taller than Brynner [who was shorter than McQueen in any event]. Producers eventually supplied a box for Brynner to stand on when they were in set scenes together, to prevent McQueen’s antics. The Magnificent Seven is available for rent ($2.99-3.99) from Amazon and YouTube. Free for Starz subscribers.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

(1966)

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, top to bottom, Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef ©

No list of great Western films would be complete without Sergio Leone’s classic “Spaghetti Western” (because shot by the Italian director) The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, supposedly represented by Blondie (Clint Eastwood), Tuco (Eli Wallach), and Angel Eyes (Lee van Cleef), respectively, as each searches for stolen and buried Confederate gold during the American Civil War. They need each other because none has the complete list of clues as to the gold’s burial place.

As you might guess, nobody trusts anyone in this film, least of all the three protagonists who, despite the title and the heavy-handed identification as “good,” “bad,” and “ugly,” are actually all comprised of those characteristics. This combination of good, bad, and ugly in each of the major protagonists makes them some of the most fascinating characters in any Western.

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Lee Van Cleef (back to camera), Eli Wallach (kneeling), and Clint Eastwood, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly ©

Besides many memorable images and music, Eli Wallach supposedly improvised one of the film’s most famous lines. While bathing, his character is confronted by other gunslingers who argue with him about revealing the gold’s location, and explain repeatedly that they’re going to kill him if he doesn’t reveal it. Wallach’s Tuco raises his gun out of the murky bathwater and kills them all, stating afterward to their corpses: “If you’re going to shoot, shoot: don’t talk.” (In interviews, Wallach still expresses surprise that such a simple line garnered so much attention.)

The final showdown and gunfight in the cemetery, accompanied by an unforgettable score by the venerable Ennio Morricone, make The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly a classic. Available for rent ($2.99-3.99) from Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube.

My original Top 10 Westerns post 
If You’re Going to Shoot,
Shoot: Don’t Talk

is now divided into two posts,
updated with official trailers and film availability:


We All Have It Coming:
Top 5 Westerns

and


I’m Your Huckleberry:
5 More Top Westerns

(originally films #6-10)

Related Posts

It Ain’t How You’re Buried That’s Important:
3 Western Coming-of-Age Films

I Ain’t Never Been No Hero:
More Great Westerns

No One Gets Out Alive:
Why You Need to Watch HBO’s Deadwood

Deadwood Strikes Gold!
Again! Still!

The Sutherlands’ Forsaken Is No Unforgiven,
Though It Tries to Be

My Favorite Film & TV Villains

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Filed under Actors, Classic Films, Classics, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Historical Drama, Movies/Films, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Westerns

HBO’s Chilling Westworld

No Spoilers

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Even if you’re familiar with the 1973 film Westworld, written and directed by bestselling Michael Crichton, and starring Yul Brynner as the Man in Black, you’re in for a treat with HBO’s revamp of the Wild West theme park. Like Crichton’s subsequent novel, which was adapted into Spielberg’s classic film Jurassic Park, Westworld is a place where filthy rich tourists — newcomers, in this series — come to spend some time in the Old Wild West, where they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want (as long as they’re not other theme park guests), without any consequences to themselves. In the original film, as in last night’s premiere, something goes wrong. Unlike the 1973 film, however, the surprise is not discovering that most of the major characters are robots or beings with Artificial Intelligence. The message of Westworld, the series, is much more chilling.

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The Premise

Westworld is a theme park, where wealthy guests, i.e., “newcomers,” pay mega-bucks to pretend they’re in the Wild, Wild West. They dress the part, have six-shooters, drink in a saloon, and can do whatever they want to the inhabitants, i.e., “hosts,”  of the theme park, including committing rape and murder. The theme park “hosts” have only one function, whether they know it or not: to make sure the guests have the time of their lives, tell all their friends and acquaintances about the great time they had, and return on a regular basis since each experience in the theme park is unique. The newcomers cannot be hurt, since that would be bad for business, but the newcomers can hurt, savage, and even kill the “hosts,”  but only in theory, since the hosts are rebooted each day to start again.

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The Lovers

“The Original” opens with a reunion between Teddy (James Marsden), who arrives on the train coming into Westworld, and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who lives with her parents on their ranch. The two obviously know each other; moreover they seem to care deeply for each other. Pretty quickly, viewers forget about who’s a guest and who’s a robot: instead, they become emotionally connected to the characters, especially to these two lovers.

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The Man in Black

Of course, there has to be a bad guy in Westworld, and that means even in the theme park world. A cadaverous and threatening Ed Harris is the Man with No Name, The Man in Black, the Big Bad Wolf of the Wild Wild West in a place where he’s been coming for 30 years to act out his own sadistic fantasies.

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The Westworld Management Team.

In a twist on the original Westworld, viewers are introduced to the theme park aspect of Westworld relatively quickly. After all, the series is about more than the shock of learning that your favorite character is not even human. It’s about the people who created the hosts, the people who take care of them, the people who write their scripts and manipulate the hosts’ lives.

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Jeffrey Wright plays Bernard, a programmer at Westworld, who reveals that the new computer program for the hosts is allowing them to access “memories” from prior programming.

Yeppers, that means something is bound to go wrong.

And if you still doubt that all is not well in Westworld…

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Enter the “mad scientist” who created it all: Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who seems to like his creations even more than he likes his co-workers, and who tends to get philosophical about the human condition, insisting that humans have reached their apotheosis, which ain’t looking too good since there’s a lot of political maneuvering going on already.

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Throw in one of the Administrators, Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is stressed to the max just anticipating something going wrong in the theme park, if only because nothing has gone wrong for at least 30 years, and who apparently has a lot of power to shut things down, even if all the other administrators do argue with her.

Just for good measure, throw in Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who probably wanted to be a novelist but wasn’t good enough to get traditionally published: he ends up writing the scripts at Westworld, and some of them are pretty corny. But he has greater ambitions, and he wants to team up with Cullen if there’s a shake-up in management.

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Back at The Theme Park

Throw in a few other characters, like Maeve (Thandie Newton, above), a whore at the local saloon;

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Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), another whore at the saloon, with lips to rival those of Angelina Jolie. Clementine has been updated, so she’s already accessing “memories” of previous incarnations, resulting in more natural “movements” and gestures;

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causing theme park employee Elsie (Shannon Woodward) to be sexually attracted to Clementine.

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Just for fun, let’s add some more baddies to the mix, like Wanted-Dead-Or-Alive-Poster-Boy Hector (Rodrigo Santoro),

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and his tattooed sidekick Armistice (Ingrid Bols Berdal), who have already killed a Marshall and have no problem upping their violence-quotient “on demand.”

Add a few unnamed theme park guests, including a kid who’s downright cruel to the hosts, and you’re in for a thrill ride at Westworld.

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The Themes

Westworld has all the classic themes that have concerned artists for centuries, all handled in a way that is sure to intrigue viewers, rather than have them feel like they’ve been hit over the head with “bigger issues.”

What is the nature of good and evil?
Who or what is God?
Does God have a moral responsibility toward his creations?
Can man become like God?
If man does become like God, in that he can “create” life, albeit artificial life, does man have a moral obligation to his own creations?
Are there then different levels of “god-ness”?
Is God good, evil, or indifferent?
What makes us “human”?
Are humans the top of the evolutionary pyramid?
Do other life forms, even if artificial ones, have moral rights?

And those were the themes I found in “The Original,” which was only the first episode. Whew.

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Last, but not Least

Now throw in sex and violence and (alluded to) violent sexual acts, and what more could any guest at a Wild Wild West fantasy theme park hope for?

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The acting by everyone involved is top-notch, and some of the actors, like Luis Hertham as Dolores’ father Peter Abernathy (below), are downright astounding.

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Writing and pacing are beyond great, and, despite my noting some of the major themes, the symbolism is intricately woven into a fast-paced story. Westworld is chilling and fantastic, scary and fascinating. You’re going to like it, my Lovelies.

Westworld airs Sundays at 9:00p.m. ET on HBO and repeats throughout the week. HBO subscribers can watch the premiere free. Rated Mature for Graphic Violence, Nudity, and Sexual Situations. Even the official trailer is Mature, so be warned.

(all photos & video courtesty HBO)

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Filed under Actors, Fantasy, Film Videos, Horror, Movies/Television, Review, Science Fiction, Violence, Westworld

“If you’re going to shoot, shoot: don’t talk”: Top 10 Westerns

My original Top 10 Westerns post If You’re Going to Shoot, Shoot: Don’t Talk is now divided into two posts,
updated with official trailers and film availability:

We All Have It Coming:
Top 5 Westerns

and

I’m Your Huckleberry:
5 More Top Westerns

(originally films #6-10)

Related Posts

It Ain’t How You’re Buried That’s Important:
3 Western Coming-of-Age Films

I Ain’t Never Been No Hero:
More Great Westerns

No One Gets Out Alive:
Why You Need to Watch HBO’s Deadwood

Deadwood Strikes Gold!
Again! Still!

The Sutherlands’ Forsaken Is No Unforgiven,
Though It Tries to Be

My Favorite Film & TV Villains

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Actors, Movies/Films, Movies/Television