Archive for May, 2015


Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Movies (Contemporary), Television, Westerns with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2015 by travsd

It’s Clint Eastwood’s birthday — I happen to think he’s pretty awesome no matter what genre he works in, and he just gets better with age. But westerns were his foundation and I’ve happened to jot down some thoughts about his work in that field, so that’s what today’s post is about. Warning: we always include spoilers.


Rawhide (1959-1966)

I was too young to have watched this tv series during its initial run, but folks older than me will always have Eastwood’s role on Rawhide as their primary association. The premise for the show was a cattle drive, with an ensemble cast of diverse cowboys driving the drama. Eastwood, a baby of 29 when the show started, quickly became a star of the show as the impetuous, hot-headed young Rowdy Yates. This is the image he would tweak, subvert and build on for the rest of his career.


A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Italian director Sergio Leone based this founding spaghetti western on Kurasawa’s Yojimbo. Clint, as The Man with No Name, wearing a poncho and with a cigar clenched in his teeth, wanders into a desolate town where he somehow decides there’s money to be made. There are two rival gangs, the Baxters and the Rojas. Clint, a supernaturally good shot (he kills everyone he shoots at in one shot and no even gets a chance to shoot back) goes to work for both gangs. In the end he kills everyone from both gangs (which amounts to the entire town) and takes home twice the money. But he’s a little better morally than the gang — at a certain point, he helps a young couple and their child escape. The film is less a story that one follows and more like a collection of memorable scenes and images. Such as Clint making a bunch of guys apologize for insulting his mule, then killing all four of them in about a second. “Make that four coffins,” he says to the coffin maker. Clint accidentally punching a woman in the face. Clint propping up two dead bodies in the graveyard to stand in for a couple of soldiers. A bunch of U.S. soldiers stopping Mexican cavalry that is transporting a coach full of gold; they turn out to be Rojas’ gang. Rojas’ gang setting a house on fire and then shooting everyone who runs out, including the matriarch, laughing all the while. Clint, all of his bones broken, killing two pursuers by crushing them with a wine barrel, and then crawling across town on his belly to safety. Appearing like a magician in the end through a haze of dynamite smoke and then spooking his enemies by seeming impervious to bullets (he has sheet metal under his poncho). And it’s all for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.

et pour quelques dollars de plus per qualque dollaro in piu 1965 rŽal : Sergio Leone Clint Eastwood Collection Christophel

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

This sequel to A Fistful of Dollars has Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef as rival bounty hunters, after a crook named Indio, a guy so evil his wanted poster depicts him laughing. Van Cleef, known as The Colonel, smokes a pipe, and uses a strange gun, a pistol that is adaptable into a rifle. He’s also the kind of guy who pulls the emergency brake to make an unscheduled stop on the train and then terrorizes the conductor when he dares to complain. The bounty hunters decide to team up  after a contest in which they shoot each others’ hats.  One of them must go undercover with the gang as they prepare to rob the bank in El Paso. Indio once killed his friend then raped his friend’s girlfriend (who shot herself while he was doing it). Maybe that’s why he keeps smoking grass to calm down but it only makes him more insane. He plays music in a little watch whenever he fights a duel. The film climaxes with a three-way duel. Of course Indio loses. It turns out the girl he had raped was The Colonel’s sister. This explains why the Colonel turns down the bounty in the end. The Colonel only wanted revenge. Whereas Clint wanted A FEW DOLLARS MORE.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Leone’s third and last film in the Eastwood trilogy. When I first saw it I was alternately bored and scornfully amused by it. Now I think it’s amazing, though merely stylistically. Its cleverness is all directed at aesthetic elements. It doesn’t analyze or critique the human condition or America’s role in history or anything like that. I think the influence of many Italian film-makers on westerns has been in the main deleterious in this respect. Their storytelling makes no judgment between good or bad behavior. Revenge and vendetta are represented as legitimate human pursuits. We are occasionally invited to laugh at the pain and distress of others. It is a cruel universe. Yet many of the details and plot twists remind me of fairy tales: extremely fanciful, almost magical. At any rate, to the film at hand:

The film’s most indelible element is its justly celebrated soundtrack (Ennio Morricone), and the stylish way we are introduced to Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach as the titular characters. Essentially it’s the same story as It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World! The title characters are in mad pursuit of a cache of gold they didn’t even steal themselves (although these guys are plenty crooked already). Their paths keep crossing, the alliances keep shifting. Starts in New Mexico during the Civil War.  “Angel Eyes” (Van Cleef) learns about the gold when hired by one of the robbers to track down one of the others. He kills a guy who knows the name his quarry is traveling under (and his son) and the man who hired him. “When I have a job, I always follow through”.  Meanwhile, enter “Blondie” (Eastwood) and “Tuco” i.e., The Rat” (Wallach in Mexican mode). Tuco is a shifty eyed weasel, the cousin of Wallach’s character in The Magnificent Seven. These  two are partners. Blondie brings Tuco into the authorities for the price on his head, and then shoots the rope when they are about to hang him (shooting everybody’s hats off in the bargain). When Wallach annoys him one too many times, Eastwood takes all the money and leaves him in the desert.

Wallach makes it back to town, washes his face, and goes directly to the gun store, where he gets a gun, whiskey, and a sombrero — and robs the til. Wallach catches up to Eastwood while he is “rescuing” his next partner.  Wallach walks Eastwood through the desert now with no water and no hat, until he is seriously injured by the sun. He is about to put a bullet in his head when a wagon rides up. Everyone inside (they’re all wearing Confederate uniforms) seems to be dead. However, one is alive. He turns out to be the missing robber from the gold heist. He manages to give part of the location to Wallach, who then goes to get him some water and meanwhile he gives the rest of the clue to Eastwood. Then he expires. The two men are now bound together whether they want to be or not. Wallach brings Eastwood to recuperate at a hospital run by his brother, a priest. (They’re wearing confederate uniforms; they’ve disguised themselves as the dead soldiers, since they are actually wanted criminals). They’re then caught by Union soldiers, whom they mistook for Confederates, since they’re covered head to toe in grey dust. That’s one fairy tale twist. Another is that a major figure at the prison camp is Angel Eyes, who tortures Wallach for information, while Confederate prisoners play sweet music to cover the sound. Angel Eyes brings Blondie with him to get the gold. Meanwhile Wallach leaps off a prison train, handcuffed to a guard, knifing him on the way. Unable to get out of the handcuffs, he lays the chain across the railroad track, and waits for next train, which frees him. He catches up with the other two in a fantastic, dreamlike village that has been destroyed by cannon. Someone tries to kill Wallach while he takes a bath. He shoots from under the suds, saying one of my favorite lines: “If you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” Wallach and Blondie team up, shoot several of Angel Eyes’ men, but Angel Eyes escapes.

Their next episode is a digression, perhaps it is only there to bring the characters’ redemption. They encounter a Union battalion that is at a stalemate with their Confederate counterparts. They fight and lose men every day over a bridge they are not allowed to destroy. The two men blow up the bridge. Finally they make it to the graveyard. Wallach, through trickery, gets there first. The other two show up. there is a three way shootout. Angel Eyes dies of course. Eastwood shoots him, having emptied Wallach’s gun earlier. Wallach digs uo the gold. Eastwood makes him put his head in a noose, standing on a very shaky headstone. He then rides away, waiting until the last possible second to shoot the rope.


Hang ‘em High (1968)

I think of this movie as The Ox-Bow Incident squared. It’s supposed to be Oklahoma, 1889, but it really takes place in some weird parallel universe that might be called “Hanging Land”. All anyone has anything to do with in this world involves stringin’ ‘em up. An unjust and botched hanging of Eastwood (definitely based on the one in The Oxbow Incident) launches the story. Then Eastwood goes to work for a hangin’ judge (Pat Hingle), to bring back all them guys who almost hung Eastwood so they can hang ‘em! Meanwhile, the judge does a whole bunch of other hangings, and the whole town gathers in the town square to watch this enormous gallows that dominates the entire town in a manner that seems to echo the guillotine in Paris. (The prisoners are also kept in a huge dungeon that evokes the Bastille). Though American, the film has a strong flavor of spaghetti westerns, including the stylized hyper violence; lengthy shots where nothing in particular is happening, and a cool soundtrack. Other side benefits: Alan Hale Jr is one of the bad guys (exceedingly surreal and weird to see Skipper in this context) as are Bruce Dern and Ed Begley, Sr. who are right in their element.


Coogan’s Bluff (1968)

Just want to give this one honorable mention though its has a contemporary setting. It was an INGENIOUS vehicle for Eastwood, a perfect segue for him from playing cowboys to getting to branch out into detective roles. In the film he plays an Arizona cop who has an assignment to track a man down in New York City. Much culture clash between his western cowboy ways and a modern metropolis. Dirty Harry and its sequels would never have been possible without Coogan’s Bluff. It also became the basis of the tv show McCloud. 


Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

Clint rides in over credits, oblivious to harbingers of danger: a cougar, a sidewinder, a skeleton, a tarantula. He plays his “Man with No Name” in this movie — only this time he has a name: “Hogan”. Hogan encounters three guys in the Mexican desert raping a nun (Shirley MacLaine). He dispatches them all handily.

Hogan proves to be a gentleman with Sister Sara, but only just so far: he makes her bury the guys who were raping her, for example. He prefers that they go their separate ways, but it turns out that she is being pursued by imperial French cavalry. Hogan has a heart, and decides to help evade this band. Then he hatches a plan to take a garrison on Bastille Day with the Mexican revolutionaries she supports and which he sometimes does business with. She knows the layout, and claims to have taught the soldiers Spanish. Bit by bit though we get hints that she is either more (or less) than the nun she claims to be. The film is very well plotted but slow paced, exploring the chemistry/antagonism/growing together of the two characters.

En route, Hogan gets shot by a Yaqui Indian arrow. Sara has to remove it while he gets drunk. Then they blow up a train bridge, in a spectacular but brief shot.  When they get to the town, it turns out that “Sister Sara” is not a nun, but a whore. But there is no time to fight about it. They and the Mexican band invade the French fort and are victorious. Hogan goes back to where Sara is taking a bath — a hint of the final resolution of all this romantic tension. An epilogue has them back in the dessert, Hogan this time carrying all kinds of wedding presents, and “Sister Sara” seriously tarted up. The moral of the story? When in doubt, Shirley MacLaine is always secretly a prostitute.


Joe Kidd (1972) 

Well made, finely focused story with a screenplay by Elmore Leonard, directed by John Sturges. Clint Eastwood plays the title character, the town ne’er-do-well who is nevertheless a man of exceptional abilities. It’s Southern New Mexico, 1902. A group of Mexicans led by John Saxon, are having an insurrection, wanting to take their land back, and wreaking violence through the countryside. The land baron who is holding most of that land (Robert  Duvall) comes into town to hire Kidd, who turns out to be an expert tracker who used to work for the army in Apache country. Kidd refuses at first; he instinctively dislikes Duvall and his men. But he changes his mind when he discovers the Mexicans have killed one of his ranch hands. (He’s a ne’er-do-well who happens to have a ranch, albeit a small one). Kidd rides with the bad guys and quickly learns that they are TOO bad. They have a habit of exterminating everyone. When they get to a small village they threaten to kill five people every day until the insurrectionists give themselves up. They lock Kidd up as well; he’s obviously not with them. Kidd dispatches several of the bad men in quiet, clever ways: an open trapped door, a swinging jug on a rope. He shoots a bunch of them when they try to kill some citizens. Then he goes into the hills and persuades the Mexican leader he needs to give himself up to the law. When they ride back to their town though, Duvall and his men are waiting for him. Kidd actually drives a locomotive into the saloon to take care of a bunch of them. And he shoots Duvall from the judge’s chair in the courthouse!



High Plains Drifter (1973)

Eastwood directs and stars. Much spaghetti influence lingers. The first 10-15 minutes of the film are absolutely delicious. His Unnamed Man rides into a seaside town. Sits at the bar, a gang of guys starts being mean to him for no reason. Gritting his teeth, he saunters across the street to the barber shop for a shave. The guys come over to harass him. Then he shoots them all with a gun hidden under his bib. Next we get to the meat of the story. This is an entire town full of reprehensible people. Yet they urge him to protect them from three recently released criminals. The backstory is this: years ago, these guys bullwhipped the town marshall to death while the whole town watched. Then the town captured the three guys while they were asleep and turned them in. Eastwood accepts the job on the condition he can have whatever he wants. He proceeds to turn the whole town upside down, including making a midget the sheriff and mayor and depleting all the stores of their wares. There is some grumbling. In the end, he kills a couple of townsfolk who tried to kill him. Then he sits back and lets the three guys kill half the town before he steps in and kills the the three bad guys off. (Incidentally he has instructed the townspeople to literally paint the town red and hang signs that say “Hell” and “Welcome home, boys” In the end we are left with a strong impression that Eastwood is the resurrected spirit of the murdered marshall. (He is a problematic hero at best, having raped a woman a couple of times in the film. That ain’t too cool).



The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Another self-directed Eastwood western. It is well-made after a fashion, but doesn’t do much for me. It doesn’t have much heart or thought behind it. Well, that’s ungenerous. It DOES have heart and thought behind it (as evidenced by Eastwood’s commentary on the film). But it doesn’t succeed and we don’t go away feeling or thinking anything, that’s my point. The film I think points the way to the action films of the 80s — just a bunch of violence and vengeance. There is an attempt to tack on a moral about the futility of war, but I don’t buy it. (Interesting to me that people tried to talk Eastwood out of doing a western at this time. They weren’t “being done anymore”. Because the film has little to do with the westerns of the past; it’s just an action film set in the west. In a way, you can think of The Shootist, released the same year, as the “last western”, and this film pointing the way toward the future).

This film is set before, during and after Civil War. Eastwood as Josey Wales is a simple Missouri farmer. His family is massacred by Kansas Redlegs. So he joins up with Quantrille and Anderson. This is already problematic — these characters were as bad or worse than the Kansans in these skirmishes. Most of the gang is rubbed out in a cold-blooded ambush by Federal troops after the war. Eastwood keeps on as a fugitive, pursued endlessly by these same Union troops (don’t they have anything better to do?) and bounty hunters (all of whom of course Eastwood dispatches effortlessly with bullets). First, his companion is Sam Bottoms as a young former compadre, but he gets shot and dies. Then he acquires an ever-growing crew of stragglers who need his help as he heads toward Mexico. Here’s where we see a little glimmer of “heart”. First a “civilized” Cherokee (Chief Dan George), his dog, and a squaw. Then an old lady and crazy young girl (Sondra Locke) from Kansas, then a gang of nice people left in a ghost town saloon in Texas. They go to the ranch the Kansans have inherited and band together as a new family. Wales has nightmares and misgivings about the massacre of his last family so is reluctant to stay. Then he goes and makes friends with a nearby Indian chief who seems about to give them trouble. And he offs (with the help of his new family) other guys who have been looking for him. In the end, we’re not sure if he goes back to the ranch or into the sunset (or will die — he’s been shot in the stomach).

Best parts of the film: Clint actually has to do some acting when he buries his family in an early scene, and he does a fine job of it. Also: the film’s recurring gag is that he spits tobacco juice on everything and everybody: dogs, scorpions, an elixir salesmen, and the corpses of those he has killed.


 Bronco Billy (1980)

Another honorable mention. Not a western, but a terrific meditation on the show biz cowboy and the place of the image in 1980. sweetly anachronistic — seemingly intentionally so. As such it’s a better film than Robert Redford’s The Electric Horseman or even Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians,  I think. Clint Eastwood as the boss of a struggling wild west show. Sondra Locke is a society lady who gets stuck traveling with the show (very Taming of the Shrew like). Also includes Scatman Crothers, Sam Bottoms and — for symbolic freight — John Ford perennial Hank Worden. 



Pale Rider (1985)

Riding high after a comeback brought about by Sudden Impact and Tightrope, Eastwood returned to the genre that made him big and that he had abandoned nine years earlier. (Prior to this comeback he was in a low state, known primarily as the star of the Every Which Way But Loose movies, at least to us young folks). The movie is very effective but somewhat artificial, referencing several classic westerns, not just Eastwood’s Leone pictures, but Shane, Hang em High and others. In fact, it cleaves so closely to Shane that it is occasionally annoying, as though the screenwriters had simply taken a copy of the script for Shane and paraphrased it. Instead of farmers, it’s miners in the California mountains. Instead of a married couple, it’s a couple who are not yet married. Instead of a little boy, it’s an adolescent girl. Instead of a stump, it’s a big rock. Instead of Jack Palance, its seven identical guys. (and also Richard Kiel, James Bond’s “Jaws” as a giant henchman.) (As in Once Upon a Time in the West, the bad guys all wear identical dusters).

The title comes from the Bible: “his name was death”. Eastwood is an unnamed preacher who rides into town and starts helping a group of small pan miners fighting a big mining operation which has been terrorizing them to get them out. Eastwood’s character may be some sort of angel or ghost — he has six or seven bullet hole scars in his back. (Recalls his rope scar in Hang em High. He’s “back from the dead”) Certain of the enhancements work. Making the kid an adolescent girl works very well — deepens the relationship, an interesting twist. On the other hand, the moral high ground is sort of lost by having them be miners. This is most transparently obvious when Michael Moriarity gives the motivating speech that persuades everyone to stay and fight. The idea that even a small pan miner is not motivated by greed is preposterous. Why not sell shoes? The object of gold prospecting is to strike it rich. Period.

Some really funny catchphrase lines: “you boys shouldn’t play with matches”, “nothin’ like a good piece of hickory”. I saw the movie at the cinema when it came out and these lines made us roar with laughter.


Unforgiven (1992)

One of the best westerns ever, bar none. A brilliant, brilliant screenplay (David Webb Peoples), brilliantly acted and directed. It’s set in Big Whiskey Wyoming in 1880. A couple of cowhands are in trouble for drunkenly cutting up a prostitute. (actually one has done the damage; the other one actually stops him and is unjustly persecuted throughout the rest of the movie, just one of the details that help build tension and complexity in this expert screenplay). The sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman) shows up. First he is going to bullwhip the men but then decides not to, just fining them several horses each. (Another great touch. He is normally violent and cruel and uncompromising in his application of the law as we later learn, but his one act of leniency here leads to all sorts of terrible consequences). The prostitutes (really just the head prostitute, who has some unexplained bee in her bonnet that even the victim doesn’t share) are pissed off and pool their money together to hire gunmen to kill the perpetrators. Word gets around.

Two factions, if you will, answer the call. The script has awesome contrast and parallelism, a geometry that reminds me of King Lear. On the one hand, we get English Bob (Richard Harris), a notorious gunfighter, who brings along his biographer, a sort of Ned Buntline character. On the other hand, we have Will Munny (Eastwood), Ned (Morgan Freeman) and the Scofield Kid, who recruits them — he wants to make a name for himelf. Unlike the boastful, stylish English Bob, Munny and Ned are farmers (when we first see Eastwood he is literally wallowing in pig shit). He is a widower who thinks about the wife who reformed him all the time, and has two kids, whom he has raised well. He has put his past behind him. And neither Munny nor Ned both don’t like to talk about their violent pasts. The only reason they are coming out of retirement is to get some money for the kids, and because the crime against the prostitute sounds so dastardly. (Bad as it is, the Kid makes it sound worse). The opposite to the biographer is the Scofield Kid, who is also steeped in the legends. He acts tough and boastful, and seems to have killed some people (the opposite of the cowardly biographer). But there is also a relationship between Little Bill and Will Munny. They both have the same name. We see Little Bill doing carpentry, which makes us think of Munny’s own private life. Both seem nice and decent, but when riled, become savage, killing monsters. Little Bill beats the shit out of English Bob (then runs him out of town, a whimpering crybaby), and literally beats Ned to death. Eastwood becomes almost a soulless monster at the end — what we think of a serial killer. (All the more chilling to think he simply returns to his family and domestic life at the end. But isn’t this what all soldiers do when they come back from war?). Just so much food for thought in this movie. I don’t blame Clint for not making a western after this one. Where do you go after perfection?

20 Random Bob Hope Movies (Sans Bing)

Posted in Bob Hope, Comedians, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , on May 29, 2015 by travsd

Another post in honor of Bob Hope’s birthday — Here are some thoughts on 17 random Bob Hope movies (not counting the ones he made with Crosby, which I wrote about here).


The Big Broadcast of 1938

This was Hope’s feature film debut, though he had been making shorts for Vitaphone and Educational for four years. It’s early in the evolution of his comedy character — here he is broken out of “alimony jail” so he can be master of ceremonies for a broadcast on an ocean liner, all the while on the lam from three ex-wives. It’s the sort of business that could have been given to any number of comedians of the day, and many of his jokes as M. C. are downright stinkers. But it did provide the world with the introduction to what would become his permanent theme song “Thanks for the Memories”, and a magical scene that it is. This and some typically hilarious turns by W.C. Fields are the main reasons for seeing this picture. (It also features Martha Raye and Ben Blue, among others).


The Cat and the Canary (1939)

Originally a 1922 hit play, The Cat and the Canary went on to become a Universal silent film in 1927, becoming one of that studio’s earliest horror films and helping to establish many conventions of the genre. The original is regarded as much more of a classic than the Paramount 1939 remake, which is sillier. (A 1930 talkie version by Universal called The Cat Creeps is now lost). The 1939 version is one of Hope’s first movies (he’d started at Paramount a year earlier) and the first of three that would pair him with Paulette Goddard. It’s an interesting film because both performers are just about to break out as stars but haven’t yet done so. Like most of Hope’s early films, this is an ensemble piece. Others in the cast include Gale Sondergaard and George Zucco. The format is by now a well-worn one: a bunch of relatives and associates are invited to an Old Dark House for the reading of a will…and must stay there overnight, enduring an endless number of artificial and clearly orchestrated frights.


The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Hope is paired with the irresistible Paulette Goddard, here on break between pictures with her then-leading man Charlie Chaplin. Ghost Breakers came out a little bit before Hope became a top star; his character still hasn’t completely gelled. He plays a radio columnist who likes to drop tidbits about gangsters. One day he tells too much and has to take it on the lam. (His stereotypical black servant is played by Willie Best, a.k.a. Sleep n Eat). When ducking into a hotel room (thinking he has just shot somebody) Hope meets Paulette, who has just inherited a castle in Cuba. The people around her seem shady — we know something is off. The two meet again aboard ship: Hope is fleeing town; Goddard traveling to her estate. From here the plot has a bit of everything in the service of spook comedy, indeed a bit too much. We have people trying to kill Goddard. And we go to her castle where we seem to have ghosts and zombies, etc. At the end, the traditional Scooby Doo reveal.


My Favorite Blonde (1942)

Hope’s parody of The 39 Steps and Saboteur, costarring the former film’s Madeline Carroll (whom Hope often mentioned as a sex symbol on his radio show). Hope plays a vaudevillian whose partner is a penguin named Percy. Carroll’s a spy carrying a secret code. Hope of course gets drawn into the intrigue, kicking and screaming all the way. It’s entertaining and adventuresome but not Hope’s funniest in my view – fewer wisecracks and not as strong on the comedy business for my taste…mostly a lot of face-making about how crazy the girl seems until he learns her secret. But it was a huge hit with audiences.


They Got Me Covered (1943)

This one on the other hand is hilarious. It pairs Hope with Dorothy Lamour, and the movie is very similar in tone to the Road Pictures. It is also an awesome contrast antidote to cheap ad hoc WWII propaganda like Air Raid Wardens. Hope is a ne-er do well newspaper reporter who missed the story of Hitler invading Russia. His editor (Donald MacBride, the “jumping butterballs” guy from Room Service) recalls him from the field. Hope is supposed to be fired or suspended but simply acts like he’s still working for the paper. A foreign gentleman shows up with some information about a spy ring and a complicated plot ensues…the stenographer who took down the details of the plot is kidnapped and Hope has to rescue her. The long chain of events winds up with him getting drugged and married to a bimbo at Niagara Falls in an attempt to discredit him. But Lamour saves his skin of course.

The Princess and the Pirate (1944) 

Hope plays a roving jester. The gorgeous Virginia Mayo is a princess on the run from an arranged marriage. And…all sorts of business with pirates. I laughed all the way through this movie, absolutely full of funny lines and bits and Hope is hysterical—at the peak of his form. Really, I’ve seen this movie so twice, and both times I laughed so much I couldn’t be bothered making notes.


My Favorite Brunette (1947)

Hope’s parody of Sam Spade pictures, following up on the success of My Favorite Blonde. Hope is a baby photographer with an office right across from private eye Alan Ladd. This allows him to get mistaken for a shamus himself by Dorothy Lamour. From here, the story gets played too straight for my tastes. Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr play bad guys.


The Paleface (1948) 

Hilarious Bob Hope western comedy (directed by the great Norman McLeod) co-stars Jane Russell as Calamity Jane (working undercover for the federal government to catch a gang of gunrunners to the Indians). She hooks up with cowardly frontier dentist Hope and masquerades as his wife, building up a reputation for him as a tough, unbeatable fighter. As in the best Hope vehicles, he rises to the occasion in the end—with the predictable climax with the two of them tied to burning stakes.

Hope’s cowardly, lecherous character was never in finer form than in this film; when I last saw it a few years ago I don’t think I ever once stopped laughing during the entire movie. The Native Americans, sadly, are little more than plot points however, the usual obstacles to be overcome…though on the plus side there are a couple of real Native Americans in the cast, Chief Yowlachie and Iron Eyes Cody (okay so Cody was fake, but the producers THOUGHT he was real!): 

Lemon Drop Kid LC1 RES

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

The Lemon Drop Kid is a great mash-up of stuff. It’s a Damon Runyon story, not unlike Guys and Dolls.  Hope, must stretch in at least two directions in this film: one, to speak the Runyon patois and seem a streetwise heel, and two, to be heartwarming, for in this department Bob Hope is generally no Bing Crosby. And he pulls it off for the most part. Hope plays a gambler and tout who accidentally causes a gangster (Fred Clark) to lose $10,000. In order to pay it back, he starts an old folks home so he can raise donations. Naturally, along the way he starts to feel bad about the scam, and begins to actually want to help the old folks even as he makes it up to Moose Moran.

Other notables in the film include Jay C. Flippen, William Frawley, and none other than Tor Johnson. Yes! Tor Johnson! If you don’t believe me, look at the picture above! The film was co-directed by Frank Tashlin. An earlier version in 1934 featuring everybody’s favorite, Lee Tracy in the Hope role. 

Because it takes place at Christmas it’s at least sort of “honorable mention” holiday film, and does promote generosity. The film is also the cinematic source of the popular holiday song “Silver Bells”, memorably sung by Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, although Bing had had the hit with it the year before


Son of Paleface (1952)

Though directed by the great Frank Tashlin, this sequel to The Paleface is not nearly as great as the original. Hope plays the son of the hero of the last movie, a Harvard educated dude in white ducks and an automobile. The deceased father has been revised to being (or seeming to have been) an actual frontier hero, one whose shadow the son must now live under. (I’ve never quite understood the appeal of such heros. Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton often played them. I find it very hard to root for spoiled young rich boys, and it is a flaw in this film). Jane Russell returns as his love interest, although oddly she has nothing to do now with Calamity Jane. Roy Rogers plays a law man. There are several extremely embarrassing musical numbers—you could with justification call this a musical. Some of the jokes are very funny. Many more are embarrassing hackwork.


The Seven Little Foys (1955)

When people ask me what my favorite vaudeville film is I invariably say The Seven Little Foys. This bio-pic of Eddie Foy and the kiddie act he created with his large brood wildly distorts Foy’s life and career, making him look like a loser (when in fact he had been a star for decades) until he hits on the bright idea of solving his fatherhood problems by bringing his kids on the road with him. But this is a terrific family film (I first saw it on tv when I was a kid), which does convey many realities of life in show business. Furthermore, it is one of Bob Hope’s best performances. He is actually trying to stretch here, to do some dramatic acting, as well as revive the singing and dancing skills that had served him well in vaudeville and on Broadway. (A pity his films of the 60s and early 70s leave a lasting lasting impression of a guy who’s just coasting, sleepwalking through his lame vehicles. One thing you could not call Hope was lazy). It’s an interesting performance. As so often happens in these kinds of pictures, it is as much about Hope as it is about Foy. He actually conjures that assholey side we’ve often heard about and uses it in his performance. The result is not perfect (he often comes off as just kind of mopey), but is at least interesting. ALSO: Jerry Mathers (the Beaver) plays one of the Foy kids! At any rate, this is one movie this vaudeville dad has often watched with his own kids.


The Iron Petticoat (1956) 

A British Cold war comedy written by Ben Hecht, pairing Bob Hope as an air force officer (just go with it) with Russian defector Kathryn Hepburn! It was originally intended for Cary Grant but he was unavailable. Once Hope was aboard he brought his writers in to beef up the jokes for his part, then he had several of Hepburn’s scenes cut. Since it was originally intended as a vehicle for Hepburn both she and Hecht were furious. The movie was a critical and box office failure.

Hepburn’s character is not a political defector in the film, she is a devout communist, a fighter pilot who leaves Russia because she was passed over for a promotion. Hope’s leave is cancelled so that he can interrogate Hepburn. He is due to marry a British aristocrat but falls in love with Hepburn. She is funny enough, plays it broad and cartoonish, but at this stage I am sorry to say that while she is right for this role (very much seems an inspiration for Cate Blanchett in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) she is not an attractive love interest. (Not that Hope is at this age either). Lots of sex talk in the film but Hepburn is 50 and freckly:  she reminds me of a schoolteacher or grandmother. The movie is tedious, clunky, and square — like most comedies from the period. In addition to the sex plot, Hepburn’s character also gets gradually converted to capitalism.


Alias Jesse James (1959)

Norman McLeod’s last movie (although he continued to direct television after this) and Bob Hope’s last comedy western. One of the last times you see Hope as a cowardly goofball, as opposed to the uptight businessman/ dad he would play through the 1960s, although he’s already beginning to slow down some. He plays a life insurance salesman in the old west — who accidentally sells some life insurance to Jesse James! His boss forces him to follow James out west and protect his life; meanwhile the outlaw uses Hope as a patsy and he is danger of losing his life. I was surprised to find it very funny in spots, and most valuable perhaps is the finale, where several major western stars of the day (plus Bing Crosby) make cameos during a big shoot out. Hope would seldom be this goofy again.


The Facts of Life (1960)

I liked this one much more than I thought I would. It’s his pairing with Lucille Ball, at the time a hotter star because of her hit tv series. The presence of Lucy seems to energize Hope, who’d been coasting for a number of years. And likewise, Lucy brings her A game to her teaming with an American institution. They’re both trying to give good, serious performances with plenty of dramatic moments, and they just about pull it off. They play a pair of friends who are bored with their spouses and have an affair. These were wholesome times, of course. Before they get too far down this errant path, they break it off and go back to their spouses. Other cool stuff: a Saul Bass title sequence, a theme song by Steve and Edie and cast members like Louie Nye and Carolyn Jones.


Bachelor in Paradise (1961)

I have no idea why meat-eating, red blooded American Bob Hope was always casting himself against type as writers in his movies, but he did that a lot. Here, he is a best-selling author of racy sex advice-books from the perspective of a swinging bachelor. He’s on the lam from the IRS so he goes undercover in a suburban subdivision to study the adulterous ways of American housewives. He is vigorously pursued by one (Janis Paige) but truly falls for another one, who is renting him his house (Lana Turner). Lana Turner had many virtues; comedy wasn’t one of them. This was towards the end of her career, when appropriate roles for her were becoming increasingly rare. An interesting element: a young Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss play a newlywed couple. An unbearable element (and a true symptom of how lacklustre a comedy this is): it has one of those “too many suds coming out of the washing machine” scenes.


Call Me Bwana (1963)

I like this movie a lot more than I thought I would. Hope plays an author who represents himself in his books as an African explorer, but it’s fabricated, stolen from the journals of his uncle, an actual explorer. Based on his reputation he is drafted by the CIA to retrieve a fallen space capsule from the jungle before the Soviets can get there. So he has to organize an expedition, using the pretense that he is out to destroy a rogue elephant as a cover. Along the way he gets to juggle two extremely hot babes, Edie Adams (a CIA agent) and Anita Ekberg, a Soviet spy masquerading as an English missionary with her “father” Lionel Jeffries, also a spy. Hope is frequently funny in his cowardice bits…but also frequently creepy in his moments of lechery. A mixed bag, but a great vehicle. It should be remade.

E5MC2J CRITIC'S CHOICE, US poster art, from left: Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, 1963

E5MC2J CRITIC’S CHOICE, US poster art, from left: Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, 1963

Critic’s Choice (1963)

Insufferable insufferable pairing of middle-aged Hope with late career Lucille Ball. Both are horribly miscast as a husband/wife, critic-playwright couple. There’s a feeble attempt at a feminist slant. The pair have a certain chemistry but the lines coming out of their mouths sound all wrong, they don’t possess the necessary intellectuality. There’s a tension between their middle age romance and his dismissal of her play. (He has to review it) Hope’s trying to “act”, to his credit, but the vehicle is kind of dull – so who cares? The stakes are zilch. But also he’s not playing a character…this all American guy does not seem like a theatre critic. Rip Torn plays a young theatre director. Marilyn Maxwell plays Bob’s ex wife. John Dehner is a producer. Soupy Sales has a cameo. Jim Backus as a shrink. And there’s a precocious child.


I’ll Take Sweden (1965)

I’ve known this one since I was a kid (they used to show it on TV) but it’s grown on me a great deal. Hope plays a widowed businessman, Tuesday Weld is his slightly wild daughter who wants to marry her worthless beach bum boyfriend Frankie Avalon. To break the couple up, Hope takes a job at his company’s Stockholm office (first framing Avalon with another girl so the daughter will want to go). Of course when they get to Sweden, the sexual customs are much more advanced than Americans are used to and Weld winds up with a young man whom Hope finds even more objectionable, eventually sending for Avalon. Meanwhile Hope falls in love with a Swedish woman. When I was younger I would have unreservedly called the movie bad, but now I find it has period charm, and this older version of the Hope character works.


Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number (1966)

Hope is definitely in his decline here. The vehicle truly stretches credibility. The premise: when making a phone call businessman Hope is accidentally patched through to the hotel room of Elke Sommer, a movie star who is on the lam because she is tired of having to do nude bathing scenes in her movies. He somehow becomes involvd with her through a series of unlikely interactions (not romantically, but it LOOKS incriminating). FBI and others begin to hound him, and after a while it even appears that he has killed her. (This would have been a perfect predicament for Charley Chase’s screen character). Along the way he is aided and abetted by his maid, Phyllis Diller, who wants to prevent Hope’s wife from finding out. The film’s best moments are when Diller, in black sunglasses and a pink house coat rides around on a motorcycle, her wild hair flowing in the breeze. It’s kind of an indelible image…that alone makes it a memorable movie. Unfortuantely the pace of the film is leaden, stopping potential farce from happening. Slow as molasses and implausible…a bad combination, because if it were fast (as in good farce) you never have time to contemplate the implausibility.


How to Commit Marriage (1969)

A find this film a most enjoyable experience even though Hope is far from his best. He seems really subdued, definitely phoning it in, thinking about his golf game. He and his wife (Jane Wyman) postpone their divorce when their daughter shows up determined to marry her boyfriend (Tim Matheson.) The boy’s father (Jackie Gleason miscast as a cynical, hip and intellectual rock and roll promoter) is against the wedding for being too bourgeois. (He merely lives with his lover, played by Tina Louise, which was pretty racy for back then.)

When the truth comes out about the divorce they decide not to get married but live together. But then the daughter gets pregnant. An Indian guru played by Professor Irwin Corey advises them to put the baby up for adoption. Hope and Wyman pretend to be a Scottish couple and kidnap the baby. Woven all through this is the psycedhelic music of a band called The Comfortable Chair which Gleason’s character represents. (They were a real LA band, produced by John Densmore and Robby Kreiger of The Doors). And there is a lengthy scene in the middle where for some reason a chimp plays golf! In the end, Hope masquerades as the Indian guru and advises the kids to get married and take their baby back. Somehow it all resolves itself (mostly because Tina threatens not to have sex with Jackie Gleason any more unless he does a turn around and sides with Hope and Wyman. You see, so the film reflects the influences of Aristophanes).


Cancel My Reservation (1972)

Bob Hope’s last starring vehicle and, with its terrible script and 4th string jokes, it comes as no surprise. I was alive when this movie came out but never even heard of it until many years later, which should give you some indication of its popularity at the time. Not only is it a hoary murder-mystery-premise ala 1940, it is extraordinarily out of touch with changing contemporary culture. While they throw in perfunctory references to the pill and sex, the entire plot is about “Indians” — and it’s one of those movies that uses Indian stereotypes and never identifies the tribe, to me a sure-fire harbinger of disrespect. (Get it? “Reservation”?) This is two years after Little Big Man. The movie’s idea of being topical is a cameo by Flip Wilson, who shouts his catchphrase, “What you see is what you get!” Still this is a movie I will be glad to watch more than once. Its badness is quite delicious and it is a terrific time capsule of 1972. (The soundtrack is especially groovy). And it is chock full of (mostly gone to seed) stars! Eva Marie Saint! Ralph Belamy! Keenan Wynn! Forrest Tucker! Doodles Weaver! Not to mention Chief Dan George, Henry Darrow, and Pat Morita! And top it off, they revive (exhume) a gimmick from Alias Jesse James (where Bing Crosby and a bunch of other stars make cameos). And if there isn’t enough revisiting of tired material, he brings in the “old guy riding on the back of a motorcycle” business from I’ll Take Sweden and Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number. It’s time to hang up that golf hat.

Now: Bob was 69 when this movie came out. In some respects he looks kind of good — he could pass for 59. But he was no longer comedy star material from this point going forward, at least in feature films. But retirement seems kind of a drastic choice. I like Bob Hope! He would have been great in ensemble comedies, say Disney movies, as the grandpa. Picture if you will, a much tamer version of Little Miss Sunshine with Hope in the Alan Arkin role. I think that would have been great.

Bea Lillie: “Exit Smiling”

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Women with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2015 by travsd


Today being Bea Lillie’s birthday and all I thought I would observe it by paying tribute to one of her very few film appearances, MGM’s Exit Smiling (1926), directed by Sam Taylor and co-starring Jack Pickford

In this wonderful silent comedy, Bea is a wardrobe lady and bit player for a theatre troupe who gets to understudy for other performers, and who dreams of getting to be a star herself…but she is terrible. She dresses in costumes and plays make-believe a lot and presents herself as a star when meeting strangers. When they are stopped at a town for an engagement, she meets a local boy (Pickford) who’s out of a job. She encourages him try out to be the company’s male ingénue. He lands the part. Unfortunately, a real life melodrama transpires. It turns out the boy was suspected of stealing a large sum from the bank, and the company will be playing the town where the scandal occurred.  Bea understudies his part on the stage, then gets to finally play the vamp part she wants so much in real life when she needs to stall someone from blowing the boy’s cover. In the end her unsung heroism pays off for the boy — but not for her. He’s going to stay in the town and resume his job at the the bank – but he loves the leading lady of the company. The “pathos” ending is rather abrupt, but this was an excellent movie, all ’round.

Look for terrific period details about the stage of the time in the film. And Franklin Pangborn plays a flamboyantly gay ham actor, his screen character already well established. And Lillie of course, is a genius. One is tempted to say “she should have made more films” — but she was a creature of the stage, and was mighty successful there. Life, thou art ephemeral!

Watch the film here:

To learn more about birthday girl Beatrice Lillie go here. 

For more on silent comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.



The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man

Posted in Burlesk, Clown, Comedy, Contemporary Variety, Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies, Movies (Contemporary) with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2015 by travsd


I had the highly pleasurable privilege the other day of catching a preview of James Habacker’s new movie The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man. Habacker is the full-on auteur of this magical confection: producer, director, screenwriter, and — in the guise of his alter ego Mr. Choade — the star.


We’ve written about good Mr. Choade before.  He’s one of Habacker’s numerous hosting personae at his Lower East Side burlesque club The Slipper Room. Choade’s name is rich with meaning; I found this explanation very illuminating. Choade is a complex crossroads of the visual (a bit of Snidely Whiplash, a bit of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and the verbal (his vocabulary is studied, ornate, antique and quaint. not unlike W.C. Fields), and the musical (his speaking voice is deadpan and affectless, almost like a child in a school play, living in a jarring juxtaposition with the other two elements in punkish subversion). The latter element is what posits Choade in the present. He looks like he should tie damsels to railroad tracks; but he sounds like he just stepped off the IRT and only put on this costume so he could rob a branch office of HSBC.


The film is a wonderful manifestation of the same sensibility that cooked up Choade. First, it uses Habacker’s club The Slipper Room as the primary location — it’s so perfect that it’s almost like he dreamt up the club just to be the set for this movie. If you’ve been there, you know it’s gorgeous, traditional, candy-colored, and evokes the great era of saloons, with more than a suggestion of the Moulin Rouge. In the film, the club too is playing a character…a combination burlesque club and Grand Guignol…and, baby, that’s a club I want to go to so bad I hope someone starts it.

Choade is the master of ceremonies and proprietor, aided by two henchpeople (Camille Habacker and Arthur Aulisi). Below them in the pecking order is a company of enslaved burlesque dancers who are kept in line through their addiction to a mysterious green patent medicine (the green suggests absinthe; the addiction suggests an opiate). The meat of the performance consists of burlesque dances culminating in ritual sacrifices in the Grand Guignol show, highlighted by silly but gory special effects. When the girls get too troublesome, the fake weapons are replaced with real ones and there’s a lot of blood to mop up. The end game is the feeding of souls to the mysterious Medicine Man (played by outsider artist Joe Coleman), who lives in a little cottage in the woods, just like a witch or a troll. (Since Choade himself keeps a little boy in a cage, he can hardly cast aspersions). The bargain is that if Choade can supply the Medicine Man with enough souls, he will be rewarded by getting to present the best show ever.

That, by the way, is the template for the Robert Johnson myth, and many a fairy tale. Habacker’s visual sensibility, combined with his strict crafting of his narrative does indeed give his movie a storybook quality, and like the best storybook stories (Disney, the Wizard of Oz, the German Expressionists) his film is a genre-defying mixture of comedy, horror, sex, fantasy, freak show, dream and cartoon. On top of that, he has top loaded the film with underground (and some mainstream) marquee names: Matt Fraser (from American Horror Story: Freak Show), his wife, the burlesque performer and choreographer Julie Atlas Muz, Lefty Lucy, Stormy Leather (and among the extras) Carla Rhodes, Gal Friday, Albert Cadabra, and countless others I’ve left out because I wasn’t taking notes. Our Goldilocks/ Snow White/ Dorothy in all this is wide-eyed young Linda (Jillian McManemin), who drops by the club one day seeking a job, much as a fly would drop by a spider web. The rest of the cast (except the extras) can be found here. 


There seems to be something like a movement afoot, a cinematic school if you will, percolating out of the humid swamp of New York’s downtown performance community of which the burlesque and alternative (or “performance”) comedy crowds are subsets. I would include among this mini-movement Lola Rocknrolla and Rev Jen (and by god, I have an ever growing pile of scripts I wanna make, so hopefully I’ll join ’em in the trenches before I become worm food). These film-makers make me deliriously happy, reviving the freshness and freedom and attitude of the likes of Jack Smith and Andy Warhol and John Waters and the Kuchar Brothers — sophisticated, daring, bold, dirty, heroic, playful, defying category, defying the expectations of “the market”, essentially giving the finger to anyone who refuses to comprehend, even as it entertains the hell out of those those willing to go along for the ride. The existence of just one of these film-makers would make me hopeful. The existence of all three makes me confident and optimistic. Something good will come of this in the future.

Habacker’s film hasn’t been released yet, but when it is, I’ll be sure to trumpet the news here. Meantime, there are trailers. See them here:

On the Futility of Labels

Posted in Burlesk, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on May 28, 2015 by travsd


I love this poster because it’s an illustration of the fact that definitions and taxonomy are bullshit, at least around the edges. M.B. Leavitt, considered a pioneer of burlesque, also claimed to have been the first to have started using the term vaudeville. Look at this 1899 poster – – it promises an extravaganza (a pre-cursor of musical comedy), but sure looks like burlesque, plus it says vaudeville at the bottom. It can be all, it can be none, it can be a combination, or as Bishop Berkley thought, it can be an idea in your friggin’ mind. Categories are invented. What is the fundamental? Performer + audience = show. That’s all that matters.

For more about vaudeville  consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


A Timeline of Vaudeville

Posted in Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on May 27, 2015 by travsd


My friend is opening a play with a vaudeville setting in a couple of weeks. She asked me to make a little vaudeville timeline for her program, and it turned out to be a kind of fun, instructive exercise, and a possibly useful one, so I thought I would share it here:


1860s: M.B. Leavitt produces touring variety shows. He later claimed to have been the first to regularly apply the term “vaudeville”

1865: Tony Pastor, the “Godfather of Vaudeville” begins to manage his first Bowery variety saloon

1870: Koster & Bial open their first variety saloon

1881: Tony Pastor opens his famous vaudeville house at Tammany Hall

1883: B.F. Keith opens his first theatre in Boston

1885: Edward Albee begins to work for Keith; they produce the first continuous vaudeville

1886: The Orpheum Theatre opens in San Francisco

1889: Weber and Fields start their first touring vaudeville company

1897: Sylvester Poli builds his New England circuit

1899: Martin Beck starts working for Orpheum, expanding it into a major circuit

1895: Oscar Hammerstein I opens the Olympia Theatre in what would become Times Square

1898: Oscar Hammerstein I opens the Victoria Theatre in Times Square

1901: The Vaudeville Managers Association, a cartel, is formed. The vaudeville performers union The White Rats go on strike. This is not a coincidence.

1901: Percy Williams opens his first theatre in Brooklyn

1904: Alexander Pantages opens his second Seattle Theatre, thus launching his chain

1904: Marcus Loew opens the People’s Vaudeville Company

1906: The United Box Office organization is formed, further consolidating the power of the managers. B.F. Keith merges with F.F. Proctor

1907: Shubert Vaudeville’s first ill-fated attempt at opposition

1912: Percy Williams sells his theatres to the cartel

1913: The Palace Theater opens in Times Square

1914: Victoria booker Willie Hammerstein dies, sealing the fate of that theatre. B.F. Keith dies the same year, leaving his chain in the hands of Albee

1915: The Birth of a Nation is a smash hit at the box office, boosting the popularity of feature-length films, the first of many ominous portents for the future of vaudeville

1916: The second ill-fated White Rats strike

1920: Shubert Vaudeville’s second ill-fated attempt at opposition

1921: Loew’s State opens in Times Square

1926: Network radio becomes a reality, further eating into vaudeville’s box office

1927: The Jazz Singer. Hollywood begins to convert to sound, causing further damage to vaudeville

1928: Joseph P. Kennedy wrests control of Albee’s circuit away from him and converts it to a cinema chain. Initially called “Keith-Albee-Orpheum”, within months it becomes “Radio-Keith-Orpheum”, or RKO

1929: The stock market crash is catastrophic to live theatre

1932: The last two-a-day at the Palace, considered by many to be the symbolic death of vaudeville.

For more on vaudeville history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Vincent Price in a Western!

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Westerns with tags , , , on May 27, 2015 by travsd


In honor of Vincent Price’s birthday (more on him here), we pay tribute to one of his first starring roles — oddly enough, in a western.

In Sam Fuller’s western The Baron of Arizona (1950), Price is aptly (if campily) cast as a real life scoundrel who forges a number of documents (going so far as to spend several years in a Spanish monastery) which paves the way for a claim on the entire territory of Arizona by means of a young Mexican girl he marries and claims is the heir. He causes a major uproar of course, especially when he begins demanding “tribute” from all the property holders in the territory. The government challenges him but not before near anarchy breaks out. The mob wants his blood. This aspect of the film pushes powerful buttons. The mob hates him for trying to take their property of course, but even more they hate him for being an un-American aristocrat (he literally uses the title “Baron”). In the movie’s most amusing scene, Price talks his way out of a noose with the craven, cowardly excuse that they cant prove their (legitimate) claims against him unless his shameless carcass is alive. The flaw in the film is too obvious. Price’s character couldn’t be less sympathetic – he’s practically Richard III. But the film attempts to make him sympathetic at the last minute, by having him fall in love with his wife and confess. In the “happy ending” she is waiting for him when he emerges from prison and they go off to start their life together. I can imagine there were universal groans in the theatre even in 1950.

Look at this photo and tell me you don’t want to see this movie:


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