Monday, September 30, 2013


The Great American Western (Though sometimes they make 'em in Korea) (Post 12 of 12)

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Today's movie questionnaire...

Are you a fan of Sergio Leone films? (Check)

Do you think an updated homage (even including the three man final shootout) might be something to your liking? (Check)

Do you appreciate more recent Asian action films to American ones? (Check)

Well, that's three for three. The Good, the Bad, the Weird is well on its way to getting a thumbs up from me.

And a general thumbs up to most of the Western genre films that I've watched this month.

Friday, September 27, 2013

DEAD MAN (1994)

The Great American Western (Post 11 of 12)

Dead Man

"My Name is Nobody"

Shot in glorious black and white and punctuated by Neil Young guitar riffs, this Jim Jarmusch indy Western takes the old story of the meek easterner, an accountant named William Blake (Johnny Depp), who through a series of strange events becomes a wanted outlaw and turns into a most dangerous man.

There's a lot of laughs here, too. Many provided by Gary Farmer as the Indian who thinks Blake is actually the poet of the same name.

And you got to like any movie that has both Iggy Pop and Robert Mitchum in it.

"Every night and every morn, some to misery are born. Every morn and every night, some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to sweet delight; some are born to endless night."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


The Great American Western (Post 10 of 12)
The Wild Bunch

Sam Peckinpah's finest and most famous hour. The Wild Bunch is the story of a group of outlaws past their prime and looking for a big final score. A setup causes their heist to go awry and they spend most of the movie getting tracked by a group of largely incompetent bounty hunters.

They later get caught up in the Mexican revolution where they participate in one of the most memorable (and violent) final shootouts ever filmed.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


The Great American Western (Post 9 of 12)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

"Who are those guys?"

"Think you used enough dynamite, there Butch?"

"Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals."

"He'll feel a lot better after he's robbed a couple of banks."

Lines from William Goldman's script from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

After I watched this film for the first time in years, I listened to the commentary track by the outspoken screenwriter, William Goldman. It was almost as entertaining as the movie. You can give credit for this movie's success to the stars, the directors or whoever, but it ultimately comes back to Golman's script (punctuated by his years of research on the subject) that truly carries the day here.

"You just keep thinkin', Butch. That's what you're good at."

"If he'd just pay me what he's spending to make me stop robbing him, I'd stop robbing him."

"You should have let yourself get killed a long time ago when you had the chance. See, you may be the biggest thing that ever hit this area, but you're still two-bit outlaws. I never met a soul more affable than you, Butch, or faster than the Kid, but you're still nothing but two-bit outlaws on the dodge. It's over, don't you get that? Your times is over and you're gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where."

Thursday, September 19, 2013


The Great American Western (Though sometimes they make 'em in Italy) (Post 8 of 12)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When I was growing up, it seemed the term "spaghetti western" was used rather derisively. The three movies in the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood dollars trilogy (Which is probably what most of us think of when we think of the term spaghetti western) were all hits in Europe when they were first released and later were hits in the United States. They weren't, however, an initial hit with critics. New York Times reviewer Renata Adler famously said about this film that...

Anyone who would voluntarily remain in the theater to see this movie in its entirety is not someone I should want to meet in any capacity ever!

But time has certainly been kind to the reputation of this film. Check out and you'll see how the critical opinion has gone from "love it or hate it" in the 60's to mostly "love it."

Well, I'm a certainly a Leone fan, but let me just see if I can pick out...

Ten memorable moments from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

10. Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes quietly sits down and has a meal with a family that he is about to gun down.

9. For some reason I love the scene where the soldier with no legs gives Angel Eyes information, Angel Eyes eyes gives him some coin and the "half soldier" happily goes into a bar and orders a whiskey.

8. Any time Clint Eastwood (as Blondie) shoots someone's hat off,

7. Eli Wallach (as Tuco) takes Blondie out into the desert to slowly kill him.

6. Tuco's verbal confrontation with his religious brother tells us all we really need to know about Tuco's background.

5. When Tuco and Blondie blow up the bridge dividing the battling armies it's pretty cool as well as an important plot device.

4. Tuco's in the gun store is funny, and despite his brashness you somehow root for him.

3. Blondie offering a dying soldier a smoke and a wrap is an unusually poignant moment.

2. So is the band in the prison camp playing while Angel Eyes has Tuco beaten up.

and the number one moment from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the three way gun duel at then end...and the part right before...and the part after. I could almost do a top ten list of memorable moments from the final duel scene alone, but the whole final scene is a helluva finale to one great horse opera.

So that's the good. So what's the bad?

Well, it really does tend to stretch the imagination that these three characters seem to keep running into each other throughout the film, even if they are trying to get to the same place. But I'm willing to overlook it. Poetic license if you will.

And the ugly...
There are basically no women in this movie! The only woman I can think of with any lines here is Bill Carson's girlfriend, who mostly gets slapped around by Angel Eyes in her one scene. However, one of the end credits could read that Sergio Leone will compensate for his lack of women in this movie with the appearance of Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

HOMBRE (1967)

The Great American Western (Post 7 of 12)


Long before Little Big Man or Dances With Wolves, Hombre depcited a white man who was raised by Indians and took to their ways over the ways of the white man. It's interesting to note that Newman's stoic performance in Hombre is completely the opposite of his later personable Butch Cassidy character, but equally effective.

It's also interesting that the film's villain isn't really the gunman played by Richard Boone seeking to rob the stagecoach. The real bad guy is the intellectual financier played by Frederic March who swindled the Apaches with a pen, not a gun.

The supporting cast also includes Martin Balsam, who was also in Little Big Man. No reason was given why Kevin Costner didn't want to cast him in Dances With Wolves to complete the trilogy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

RIO BRAVO (1959)

The Great American Western (Post 6 of 12)
Rio Bravo

I saw an interview with Quentin Tarantino where he rated Howard Hawks'Rio Bravo as one of his three favorite movies (Along with Blow-Out and Taxi Driver). This persuaded me decide to go ahead and give it a look since I'd never seen it.

The plot is basically local sheriff (John Wayne) and his often drunk deputy (Dean Martin) try to thwart a villain (the bad guy who is always out of town but coming in soon to settle some old scores) with the help of the limping sidekick (Walter Brennan, of course) and a teen heartthrob (Ricky Nelson).

What's interesting is that although the plot is not epic in nature, the movie clocks in at a healthy two hours and twenty-one minutes. That's twice the time of many Westerns of the time (Ride Lonesome for example). It does have action, especially towards the end, but what is really has a lot of and what makes the movie stand out is the character development. The writing (Jules Fuhrman and Leigh Brackett) has to be good to hold the viewers interest for that long and the small but well-cast ensemble work well together. I'm guessing the dialogue might be one of the main reasons that it is on Tarantino's "best of" list.

We even get a song or two from Martin & Nelson accompanied by the harmonica stylings of Mr. Brennan. Thankfully, John Wayne doesn't join in the chorus.

Oh, I almost forgot. Angie Dickinson is Wayne's (much younger) love interest. Her presence adds further depth to the story and she looks great in her undergarments.

Note to self: Watch De Palma's Blow-Up and to Dressed to Kill real soon.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Starring: Miss Edna, Boo Spanyer Wilma Spanyer
Directed by Steven Somebodyortheother

On Saturday, Sept. 14, the documentary “Who Are You People?” will be shown at the Crescent Theater in Mobile. It’s a new film that revisits the time when Hollywood came to Mobile, Alabama to make the science-fiction classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

In the meantime, I have the pleasure of recounting the reminiscences of one of the STARS of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ms. Wilma Jo Spanyer, who played…I’ll just let her tell you.


My grandfather and grandmother got jobs as extras when they came to Mobile to film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There was a casting call and they went to it (being retired and all) and soon they were working on it at Brookley Field. My grandfather, who never met a stranger, soon had my dad, and my sister and myself working on the movie, too. Papa made friends with some of the Hollywood folks and the whole family was in on it. I don't know why my mom did not get in on it. She was with us on the set, just not in the movie. It was the coolest experience of my life. We were lowly extras, but getting big checks for kids back in that day and time. My grandfather was one of the people involved in the Mayflower project on the dark side of the moon part of the film, and my dad was one of the guys in jumpsuits there, too. In some of the earlier versions of the film, you can she the little aliens touching him when they came out of the ship. My sister, Boo, and myself were the two little kids in the back of the farmer's truck near the beginning of the movie.

We got to meet everyone - Steven Spielburg, Francois Truffaut, Terri Garr, Roberts Blossom (he played our dad the farmer), Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, the camera people, everybody. I would say we met Carey Guffey but he was so little I doubt he would remember it! It was so much fun to be involved in this. It's funny now thinking back, how some of the extras that had like, one line, thought they were so important. Then when you see the finished movie, half of the stuff you did has been cut out, chopped up and it's all rearranged. The most important people there were some of the most humble acting. Francois Truffaut, Richard Dreyfuss, and Roberts Blossom were some of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. They just act like anyone else.
It was exciting to see how movies are made, but it's nothing like you think it will be. Nothing is filmed in order and they waste so much time. One whole entire night they shot close ups of my sister and I with the fans on us, blowing our hair, and none of that is in there. I guess when they are editing it they need a lot of extra stuff for continuity. It really seems like they waste a lot of time and money, though.

All in all, it was a great experience. We had a wonderful summer, made great money, ate some delightful food (they had wonderful caterers) and had an experience that lots of folks will never get. Then when the movie finally came out, my whole class went and cheered when we appeared on the screen. They even put something about us in our school yearbook. It was my fifteen minutes, I guess, and it was a lot of fun. Gave me some good memories. Recently, there has been a documentary about the making of the movie in Mobile in the works, and I hope we will all get to see that one day soon. I would love to see the interviews with all the Mobile people in it.

-Wilma Jo Spanyer

And I want to give a special thanks to Ms. Spanyer for her recollections.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Starring: Boo Spanyer, Miss Edna, Wilma Spanyer and Richard Somebodyortheother

Friday, September 13, 2013


The Great American Western (Post 5 of 12)

Ride Lonesome

Ride Lonesome (which is only 72 minutes long) seems like a typical B-Western about a aging bounty hunter (Randolph Scott) bringing in a wanted criminal for a reward. But as the film progresses, we begin to see some slight variations on the typical themes. Two cowpokes riding with the bounty hunter also want to bring in the desperado for their own ends (That is if they can figure out what the word amnesty means). But they come to the aide of the bounty hunter more than once, even though they know that a confrontation may be looming between all of them. A pre-Bonanza Pernell Roberts and a wonderfully dimwitted James Coburn play the cowpokes.

Of course, the motivation of the bounty hunter himself isn't all that it first appears to be either. Throw in a beautiful widow, and you got yourself a pretty good entry in the genre.

We also have as baddies a pre-Dukes of Hazzard James Best and the always menacing Lee Van Cleefe.

And If part of my 1001 Movies Before You Die goals is to see a Randolph Scott movie before I die, I can now check that one off of the movie bucket list.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

HIGH NOON (1952)

The Great American Western (Post 4 of 12)

High Noon

One of the sparsest and most intense Westerns I've every seen. The anticipation of the inevitable closing gunfight is much better than the gunfight itself. Still a classic of its type and a welcome additon to the 1001 movie list.

Speaking of sparse (And I am trying to keep my comments sparse here), I can't get that clunking but catchy theme song from High Noon out of my head.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


The Great American Western (Post 3 of 12)

Rio Grande

One of the more interesting aspects of the last of the John Ford/John Wayne cavalry triology is that it shows how military life effects the family. You pretty much know in the first scene when Lt. Yorke (John Wayne) mentions that he hasn't seen his son in fifteen years, it's only a matter of time before the son shows up under Yorke's command. We also see Yorke's wife (Maureen O'Hara), whose conficting emotion about the father and need to protect the son are two of the moves focal points.

Speaking of Family Issues: Isn't it funny how Indians, even in many of the classic Westerns (like Rio Grande, Winchester '73, Ride Lonesome as well as Rio Grande) never seem to have families that are shown? I'm guessing this is because the audience might identify with them or start to think that maybe the cavalry shooting their firesticks at them might not be such a nice idea. This idea did catch on in later revisitations of the genre, but not in Rio Grande. We do see the cavalry coming to a truce with Mexicans, but that's only to conspire together against the Apaches.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


The Great American Western (Post 2 of 12)

The Paleface

If you grew up during the 70's, it was hard to miss Bob Hope if you ever turned on your television at all. And the seasonal Bob Hope specials seemed like a big deal at the time. Bob would always goof around with famous old friends like Jimmy Stewart or Gregory Peck or Jackie Gleason. He'd also make inappropriate inneundos to Charro (Wow! I haven't thought about Charro in years! Thanks for the memories, Bob!).

I always liked Bob introducing the all-American football team while making quips. Then there was the Bob Hope Desert classic golf tournament and the Texaco commercials. And let's not forget his unscheduled "walk-ons," on seemingly every talk show of the era which he would do at anytime to anyone. I guess nobody ever told him that that was kind of rude. All of it seemed pretty funny to a little kid.

The best thing about Bob Hope during the 80's was the SCTV bits with Dave Thomas as Bob Hope and Rick Moranis as Woody Allen where they just didn't quite seem to get each other. (Note to self: Go back and watch some old SCTV shows when the opportunity presents itself.)

The real Bob Hope didn't fare as well during the 1980's. Granted, he was in his 80's then, but his timing just wasn't there anyomore and the endless guest appearances by Brooke Shields made me long for the days of Charro. But, a legend he still was. But there was a day, a day long ago, even before there was television where Bob Hope was a pretty good movie comedian with great comic timing.

The one 1001 movie listing for Bob Hope is the comedy Western The Paleface, which also offers the beautiful Jane Russell and includes the famous song Buttons and Bows (One of my mother's favorite songs). But the chief draw of The Paleface is Hope. There are some good routines here(and some pretty good comic writing). I liked when Bob the dentist is working on a patient while peeking over his shoulder at a textbook as he goes along. I probably wouldn't label The Paleface a classic, but it was good to see the "old Bob" again when he was still in his comedic prime.

A Bob Hope movie should be on the 1001 list, though I'm not sure I would have chosen this one. It's not bad, as I said, but I might have gone for one of the Hope/Crosby road movies. I guess the book couldn't just say "Pick a Bob Hope movie of your choosing, any will do as long as its not one with Phyllis Diller!"

Sunday, September 1, 2013


The Great American Western (Post 1 of 12)
Stagecoach vs. The Searchers
The American Film Institute put out their first 100 Years…100 Movies of the 100 best American movies list in 1998. The John Ford directed Western Stagecoach, (starring John Wayne) placed at number 63. The John Ford directed Western The Searchers, (again starring John Wayne) was also on
the list, though placed at a more modest number 96.

Ten years later, AFI put out another list and Stagecoach was nowhere to be seen. The Searchers, on the other hand had moved all the way up to number 12!

So why has the reputation of Stagecoach gone down and The Searchers stock risen so highly?

Stagecoach has the reputation as being the beginning of a more advanced storytelling in Westerns and by all accounts this seems to be true. So why is it not on the list? I'm guessing it may just seem a little too old fashioned now. The battle between the Apaches and the members of the stagecoach doesn't seem to date too well. Also, the cavalry coming to the rescue is now a cliche. It really doesn't matter that it wasn't a cliche at the time. Our modern sensibilities may also react a bit negatively to portraying the Apaches or any Indians without any depth (or families).

Where Stagecoach really gels is in the ensemble cast headed by John Wayne as the Ringo Kid and Claire Trevor as Dallas, the hooker with the heart of gold. We truly get a feel for all of the characters (the southern gambler, the drunken doctor, the mild-mannered whiskey drummer, etc.) and this character develpment really sets it apart.

The Searchers reminds me a little of Saving Private Ryan out West (Saving Natalie Wood?). This film does feel like a more modern Western, so maybe that's one of the reasons that the reputation of The Searchers is on the rise. John Wayne is clearly the star of this one and he is as tough and unrelenting as they get. He even has his own memorable signature line (That'll be the day!).

The Indians (The Commanches) in The Seachers are better drawn out than in Stagecoach. We see they have motivations (and even families!) of their own!

John Ford's Monument Valley does look quite wonderful in color and I certainly wouldn't argue with The Searchers being on the 1001 movie list.

But my vote between the two would still be for Stagecoach, though apparently I'm in the minority now.