Review: Once Upon A Time In The West

They don’t shoot horses, do they?

An intentionally slow moving, deliberately paced epic “western opera”, Sergio Leone’s now classic Once Upon A Time In The West wasn’t exactly a huge hit back during its 1969 North American release. The film, which was edited for some content (since restored) was probably still somewhat lengthy for audiences of the era and the film’s somewhat glacial pace will be a bit much for some new and impatient viewers.

Interestingly enough, the film is a sweeping and meticulous love letter to the western genre, featuring major and minor visual and aural tips of the hat to many previous westerns. It’s also Leone doing remarkable work with his camera using carefully crafted sets and locations in Spain and some prime locations in Monument Valley to grand effect. There’s also spring loaded tension throughout, such as the brilliant opening sequence where three duster-clad gunmen wait impatiently for a late train to arrive just so they can kill a man (Charles Bronson). Leone uses some humor here to break that tension, having a common fly and dripping water torment two of the men as they wait.

No, he doesn’t do requests…

The would-be assassins fail, save for wounding their target and the film cuts to a man named Brett McBain and his young son hunting birds before taking their catch back home to a ranch named Sweetwater, where the entire McBain family is in turn brutally dispatched by a man named Frank (Henry Fonda!), Then we move to Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arriving via train to the town of Flagstone, where no one is there to meet her (thank to Frank and his men). After the buggy she’s hired to take her to her new home makes an unscheduled stop, we then meet Cheyenne (Jason Robards), an outlaw who’s just escaped from jail and ends up at that spot where he meets his gang. Cheyenne meets a recuperating Bronson, who he dubs “Harmonica” upon seeing and hearing him play while wondering if he can shoot as well. Harmonica initially thinks Cheyenne sent his three of his men to kill him earlier because of the dusters they wear, but he’s soon convinced otherwise. Jill eventually makes it to her new home where we see the bodies of the family laid out and a small group of neighbors waiting to give her the sad news. Before the funeral, evidence of Cheyenne’s involvement in the murders is revealed, but Frank is actually responsible.

The next time he rode a train, he made sure no one would shoot him.

It turns out Frank is working for a very wealthy man named Morton, who’s got a disability and travels in a specially customized train. Morton admonishes Frank for killing the family instead of scaring them off, to which Frank coldly replies: “People are only scared when they’re dying”(ouch). Morton wants Sweetwater for its proximity to the railroad and its water source, both of which will add to his wealth, but he doesn’t realize Frank also has his own plans for the property. Meanwhile, Jill is the sole owner of Sweetwater now that her family has been killed and yes, Frank has plans for her as well. Both Cheyenne and Harmonica figure out what Frank is up to, but both men have their own plans for dealing with him and fate also drops into the picture. The theme of water plays so heavily here that I thought of Chinatown for a moment once the overall story was finally revealed. This is a film that takes its sweet time to fully display its plot, using Bronson’s character as the near-silent observer/detective and his reason for being a bit vengeance minded is finally revealed after a trio of initially hazy flashback sequences are spread throughout the film that eventually tell a tragic tale.

John Ford was here…

There’s a lot more, but we’ll talk instead about how Leone’s superb attention to detail in everything from the sets to costumes to his work with composer Ennio Morricone that make this a film worth watching. The scope of the film is constantly amazing down the finest details to the dozens of extras in full costume for a single scenes. Jill’s arrival in Flagstone goes from crowd shot to crane shot to show of the dusty non-splendor of the growing railroad town and as expected, Leone gets in some truly outstanding closeup shots. Morricone has a theme for each of the four main characters and there’s a few uses of sound design in lieu of score, like how the film opens using a mix of insects, a constantly squeaky windmill and other amplified bits. The film stretches scenes and can be deliberately confusing in spots, but that’s Leone wanting viewers to figure out things out as Harmonica does.

Oh don’t you know, that’s the sound of the men working on the train gang?

In other words, take the time to watch this and you’ll be surprised at how well this film works not only as western, but also as a homage to other past westerns. Hey, if you sat through a three hour Batman film, this will be a cakewalk, right? Cheyenne says make a fresh pot of coffee and have it handy (you’ll get the reference from watching the film). by the way, this post is part of The Foreign Western Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. Pop on by and take a peek at the other submissions for other genre faves!

-GW

The Gift Or: “Where’s Waldo?” Or: “Really Dead Letter Office”

I blame the banana.

Okay, I’ll admit my choice in multiple titles is directly inspired by watching way too many Rocky & Bullwinkle reruns as a kid. But in this case, every chance at humor is a spoonful of sugar in his particularly grim musical case. I first discovered The Velvet Underground’s now classic 1968 album White Light/White Heat on cassette sometime in the early 80’s, but I only barely managed to make it through the first side before tapping out. Between what I thought bask then were some intensely downbeat lyrics and very heavy use of feedback throughout the album, at that time, I wasn’t quite ready for that aural assault (and I hadn’t even heard of Metal Machine Music at that point!).

Flash forward to 1995 and I’m in a record store that was running a closing/closeout sale where I spy the Velvet Underground box set Peel Slowly and See for under $10. I ended up grabbing that, the James Brown box set Star Time and the Little Richard set The Specialty Story all for $20 new, with the cashier rounding the total down because she ran out of change. In any event, the second time was the charm thanks to a few years of broadened horizons and it was when I re-listened to The Gift that I developed a better viewpoint of the band’s output. All I’ll say is that it’s based on a college writing exercise by lead singer Lou Reed, was recorded using a stereo mix that separated the music and vocal tracks (which works quite well when using headphones) and it’s got a killer ending, courtesy of a creative suggestion by Frank Zappa during the recording process.

Not counting the many live concert versions, The song exists in stereo, mono, vocal only, instrumental only, and live instrumental recordings. Take a listen to two of those (or just one, if you prefer your music sans very fuzzy intentional feedback):

Not based on a true story.

And here’s the vocal only version, although I’ll admit without the fuzz, it sounds like a somewhat more frightening campfire story, especially with that well-timed sound effect at the ending.

Still not based on a true story!

Yes, it’s a bit on the macabre side (and how!), but it’s also darkly amusing what with John Cale’s absolutely deadpan reading of Reed’s story. On a side note, YouTube actually has a Lego version of the song that’s definitely not for kids (like the song), uses a live concert version of the tune and yes, here’s a link if you want more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5I43qhtd1M . Er, don’t say you weren’t warned. Although, my overall opinion that a minor issue with the song is the whole Show Biz Bugs nature of it, where if you listen to it once, the shock value diminishes significantly on a repeat. That said, this may be a one-trick pony, but you’ll want to at least ride it through that flaming hoop one time just for that splash in the pool at the end of the jump.

This is another post in Travel Gone Wrong Blogathon, hosted by 18 Cinema Lane. See a list of the assorted entertainment covered in this event HERE!

-GW

Random Film of the Week: The Split (1968)

the split 01

I’d very safely say that her ‘do outdoes his hair here, huh? (say that five times fast).

The Split

Is everybody happy? Well, not for long…

As crime capers go, Gordon Flemyng’s 1968 action/thriller The Split is flawed, but pretty good, even if the big money haul it showcases would be 100% impossible if attempted today. Granted, 2010’s The Town presented a similar heist that was more modern and also successful (until it wasn’t), but in this earlier film, anyone who tries what’s done here today will be in for a few problems from the get-go. You’ll see, but let’s talk about the plot for a bit.

Jim Brown plays Mac McClain, a recently released thief who takes on the task to rob the Los Angeles Colosseum of $500,000 during a football game after he’s led to the job a partner in crime, Gladys (Julie Harris, in a big bouffant hairdo!). After a bumpy but eventually successful encounter/reunion with his ex-wife Ellie (Diahann Carrol). Mac sets his plans into action. Naturally, color plays a big role here, so this first ever R-rated film plays it big on the use of language and insinuations about Mac from a few characters.

the split 07

Lets just say, in the words of one Admiral Ackbar…. (that’s your cue, dear reader)

He recruits four other man to aid him in some rather ridiculous ways, but that gives you the chance to see them react to McClain’s crazy testing. He gets into a big knock down, drag out fight with Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine) in Bert’s office, but splits out a sliding door before the man knows what’s what. Then, he leads shady limo driver Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman) into a car chase where he wrecks Harry’s limo and a nice Corvette in the process. McClain also gives suave shooter Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland) a tryout (the crack shot misses his target, but keeps his cool). And then there’s wily safe-cracker Marty Gough (Warren Oates), who gets a hooker, and a vault that needs escaping as his weird tests. Yes, Mac chooses all four to join in on his plans and as expected, they’re initially not happy about this.

Continue reading

Ghostbusters and Night of The Living Dead Hit Into the Dead 2 as Updates

Nice. In addition to Ghostbusters getting a full-on remaster this year as an updated modern console game for PS4, Xbox One and Switch available physically via your local Gamestop or digitally via their respective online stores, (the PC version is currently only available digitally through the Epic Games store), the upcoming versions of Into the Dead 2 will also be receiving the same nifty time limited additions in the form of its own new Ghostbusters and Night of the Living Dead expansions when the game releases on PC and consoles on October 25, 2019. Check out both trailers above and below and yes, add this fun stuff to your wishlist if you like what you’re seeing (and own one of the systems listed, of course).

These expansions are also or will be available for the mobile version of the popular zombie game for a short time, but this one’s all new to me, as I don’t play games on my phone (Hey, the screen is too small and I’m too busy with console and PC games to have enough time for mobile games, sorry!). I’m guessing over 100 million downloads on mobile devices worldwide is a good thing, right?

-GW

Random Film of the Week: Corruption


 

As mad scientist flicks go, Corruption is something of a forgotten classic in its own crazy manner. You get the great Peter Cushing out of his usual period piece horrors playing a successful plastic surgeon in a more modern 60’s setting, some surprisingly shocking (by mid 60’s standards) content and a laser gone haywire in a finale that may elicit some chuckles from forward thinking Star Wars fans. If you’ve ever wanted to see Cushing go full-tilt, over the top into scenery chomping territory, this one won’t disappoint one bit. While there are some slow expository moments here, the overall film is an interesting slice of horror that while not wholly original, ends up being pretty memorable on a few fronts.

(Thanks, groovemaster!)
 

After the swingin’ credit sequence, we meet Cushing’s Sir John Rowan and his pretty younger fiancée Lynn (Sue Lloyd) at a pretty raucous party. While the good doctor struggles with the mingling, Lynn, who just so happens to be a model, is in the middle of an impromptu photo shoot when Rowan rushes up to stop the snapping away before his squeeze loses all her clothes. Before you can say “Watch out for that hot studio lamp!”, Rowan accidentally knocks said lamp over and it lands on poor Lynn, burning half her face. Ouch! Fortunately, she’s engaged to a very capable plastic surgeon, right? Unfortunately, conventional surgery won’t work this time, so Rowan decides to use Lynn as a guinea pig to try out a little something he’s been working on in secret.

If you’ve seen Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without A Face), you can probably guess things up to a point, For everyone who hasn’t, Répétez après moi, s’il vous plaît:

“What could POSSIBLY go wrong?”(dot dot dot) Continue reading

Planet of the Apes Back on the Big Screen: Not Hard to Fathom At All

Image from impawards.com

Image from impawards.com

 


I think I’ve mentioned this before, but in case you haven’t read that old post, 1968’s Planet of the Apes was the very first movie I saw in a theater. That said, I’m not sure I’ll go to this Fathom Events screening thanks to my backlog keeping my plate full. But to anyone seeing this for the first time or for the first time on a big screen, my glass is raised that your sense of wonder gets the same kick mine did those many years back. If YOU do end up going and are reading this, feel free to drop on by and leave impressions. It’s always fun to hear how modern moviegoers see the classics.

Blu-Ray Review: Spider Baby

Spider Baby Arrow CoverJack Hill’s amusing and mildly disturbing 1964 horror classic Spider Baby finally gets the feature-packed Blu-Ray treatment is deserves courtesy of Arrow Video and MVD and it’s a must for fans of the formerly forgotten flick that became a cult classic. “The maddest story ever told” still holds up today as quite the viewing experience as well as on original little low budget flick that still packs quite a kick in a few places.

The story of the Merrye family’s twisted offspring and their strange caretaker Bruno is, for all the creepy, unsettling antics taking place, quite an emotional tale at heart. Three siblings Virginia (Jill Banner), Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) and Ralph (Sig Haig) live with Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) in a decrepit mansion well off the beaten path with a few other relatives. Thanks to inbreeding among the family, all suffer from a genetic condition that makes them regress mentally into primitive states that make them more than a little dangerous to be around. Bruno does his best to keep his unbalanced charges in line, but after a mailman (Mantan Moreland) is killed and distant relatives arrive to claim the mansion and surrounding property for themselves, things take a turn for the darkly comedic worse. Continue reading

Blu-Ray Review: Retaliation

Retaliation BR_CoverRetaliation (Shima wa moratta), Yasuharu Hasebe’s follow up to his 1967 yakuza flick Massacre Gun is another gem from the director worth a look. Packed with great Japanese actors throwing themselves fully into their roles as gangsters and plenty of full color violence, the film’s only “weak” point is a plot where you can often see what’s coming a mile away. But Hasebe’s technique shines here as the director pulls off some great shots and keeps you hooked in right from the beginning.

Akira Kobayashi plays Jiro Sagae, a gangster fresh out of prison after an eight-year stretch for murdering a rival yakuza. He’s followed from jail by Jo Shishido’s Hino, the brother of the man he killed who’s been planning his revenge for years. As Hino attacks Jiro, Hino’s girl (who’d been following him) rushes in and interrupts the battle, forcing Hino to put off his vengeance until later. Jiro eventually goes to see his aging and indebted to another crime boss Godfather who sends him to pay his respects to his former rival. That Boss makes Jiro an offer he can’t refuse in the form of busting up another gang trying to buy up farmland in a tiny village so a factory can be built. Jiro gets a ragtag group of assistants from a failed actor, a card shark, a pair of singers and amusingly enough Hino, the man who tried to kill him at the beginning of the film.

Continue reading

Movies I (Still) Need To See #1: The Power


 

As I watch a wee bit too much of TCM when I’m not doing anything constructive, I’ve ended up with a mighty long list of films I need to see before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Not all of these films are important or even good, mind you. But I feel it’s my civic duty to entertain myself as much as possible. Or, to quote The Police: “When the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around”. Anyway, I figure I may as well kick of another series of articles about films I haven’t seen yet in the hope that some of you get the idea and start bucket-listing flicks you’d like to see. Anyway, kicking things off is The Power, the George Pal produced 1968 sci-fi thriller that I’ve only seen in the 1967 MGM Lionpower promo feature that pops up from time to time on TCM.

The Power (1968) MP 

That footage made me laugh because the film predates David Cronenberg’s 1981 classic horror/sci-fi hybrid Scanners by 13 years and almost comes off as an influence in a few ways. Granted, Cronenberg’s films stand up well enough on their own. But this oldie looks like it would make a nice companion piece to the newer film (and should certainly be better than the pair of non-Cronenberg directed Scanners sequels that sunk whatever franchise rights the first film had. Not that it needed a sequel in the first place, mind you. Anyway, that’s the first film I could think of, NOT the first one on my list of films. That’s just how I roll, people… randomly. Which, by the way, is a habit I’m trying to break. Back in a bit…

2001: A Space Odyssey Gets a New Trailer. Time Travel Seems To Work After All!


 
Well, if you’re a very lucky resident of the UK with an interest in the classics, you get to see Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece as it NEEDS to be seen – in a nice theater with a huge screen for a short run starting November 28. This trailer is quite nice even though it sort of gives away a lot of stuff to people who’ve seen this one many times. On the other hand, it’s also mysterious and unsettling in a “What the heck is this film about?” manner that may pull in a few younger viewers yet to experience this ultimate trip. Fat chance of this coming out here, as I have no idea who would go see this other than people like me who don’t mind hoofing it out to a theater just to see something already viewed multiple times (to the point of knowing certain lines of dialog and timing almost perfectly. “Ham, ham, ham, ham…”) Eh, given that I’d have to travel far to see this anyway (we’re down to two faraway theaters of questionable quality in this borough, boooo!), in a goofball way, it’s almost worth the airfare to London. But that’s not going to happen, ladies and gents…