Wednesday, March 3, 2010

3 Hawks Westerns

We come to another end, my faithful readers. Howard Hawks, one of the greatest directors of the "classic" Hollywood studio era, has had a full working over by me, and I'd say for the most part it's really positive. Not only because he remained independent and freelance when most filmmakers were considered "employees" by their studios, but also because he made some awesome, fun films that truly bring out a sense of who he was. I'm not quite sure if Westerns are the best place to get to his greatest films, maybe The Big Sky (1952), which is actually kind of hard to find, but he knew what he wanted. Which is why the three Westerns here are basically the same movie with slight variations.

Rio Bravo, 1959
Dir: Howard Hawks

Probably the best of the three, despite the fact that this is kind of caught up in John Wayne's Republican bullshit. I mean, when Dean Martin is the best actor in your movie, that's kind of a problem. He actually does a pretty good job as a guilty drunk who gets a job as a deputy sheriff, and does a bunch of weird stuff that you wouldn't expect a pop celebrity to do in a film. Wayne is the sheriff in a town where a powerful rancher (John Russell) wields a great deal of influence. When his brother gets arrested for killing a man, the Hawksian buddy gang of Wayne, Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan must defend the jail from cowboy lackeys and such. That is not a terrible setup for a Western, but you can find clips of Tarantino on the web of him talking about how this is one of the greatest "hangout" movies ever made, so you can guess a lot about what is going on. The banter and zingers aren't nearly as sharp as most of Hawks' "Golden Era" stuff. Ricky Nelson as "Colorado" Ryan is kind of a throwaway. He put out a single to coincide the release of this film called "Restless Kid". The only problem is that the character is anything but, or at least we never know because Hawks doesn't seem to be interested in anything like that. And Brennan. Yeesh. You've heard me bitch about him too much though. You could nit pick the script and characters to death, but Hawks visual choices are actually really interesting. A fun movie, if not "the best western ever," as many claim.


El Dorado, 1967
Dir: Howard Hawks

The jail scenario is reworked first here, with the drunk being the sheriff (Robert Mitchum) and the hired gun (Wayne) being the more responsible one, though he has a bizarre relationship with a much younger woman which is never consummated and Wayne seems perplexed by. It's a common "lonesome cowboy" thing, but it always works, at least for me. He also doesn't play fair at the end in his showdown, which is interesting. In the young gun role, James Caan plays Mississippi, a knife wielding river boy who came out West looking for the men who killed his friend and mentor. Oh yeah, Arthur Hunnicutt > Walter Brennan any day of the week for me. He seems like a much more legitimate fuck up. Plus his The Tall T story of always being drunk on set by shooting vodka in oranges with a needle is incredible. Wayne is hired by a powerful rancher (Ed Asner) to help him win a land war with the Thompson family. All goes wrong at the beginning, as Wayne agrees to back out of his deal at the request of Mitchum, but word does not get to the Thompsons fast enough. One of the sons shoots at Wayne in a panic, and is gunned down by the quicker pro. This misunderstanding perpetuates a hatred from Joey (Michele Cary, a seemingly forgotten pin-up), a Thompson tomboy. Joey eventually shoots Wayne when he leaves, but she doesn't kill him, and is taught a lesson not to fuck with The Duke. The film changes the jail scenario slightly too, as the rancher himself gets put away, and the one coming after the jail is another hired gun (Christopher George). The film then unravels the same way as Rio Bravo, with some differences here and there. Just as fun. Maybe a little weirder too? I don't know. Another decent Western.


Rio Lobo, 1970
Dir: Howard Hawks

Maybe the most bizarre coda to a career ever. It, of course, feels more like a John Wayne vehicle than a Hawks films, which means it's retarded. If you loved The Thing (1951), I'm sure this will float your boat. It is, interestingly enough, the last time Wayne ever portrayed a character from the Civil War. The acting is atrocious, the directing odd and the sum of its parts just too sloppy. It can basically be broken down into three parts. The first part is at the end of the Civil War when Wayne and his Union men are charged with getting some gold via rail through some rough territory. The train is high-jacked by Confederates, but they are all eventually caught. Wayne, for some reason, strikes up a friendship with two of them, and learns that two Union men had sold the info about the train to them. I smell revenge coming! The second part is a slow, lumbering faux-Western surrounding reuniting with one of the Confederate dudes and their getting to Rio Lobo in Texas. That sets up a strange third act, which is the jail scenario. It really plays like a Spaghetti Western, what with sadistic men, blood, horrible acting. Sometimes the badness gets comical but not too often.


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