(John Ford, 1956)
John Wayne is the man. He is larger than life and here he is no different. There is no question that he is the star of the film and coupled with John Ford they make a great team. The masculinity that is dealt with in this is great stuff. I could easily imagine composing a lengthy paper on it for a film class. John Wayne is what a man could and should be in the west. Throw in his sidekick Martin Paulie and you have an interesting discussion. The relationship between Martin and Laurie was good fun to follow. You could tell how they felt and you pretty much knew how it would end, but it was the journey, just like the main plot.
Ethan’s (Wayne) brother and his family get raided by Comanche, but the two little girls are spared, but taken hostage. The story plays out over a number of years where Ethan and Martin follow the trail looking for them, to rescue them. The filmmakers create such tension and suspense, even when casually progressing the story many months or years. And the sign of a true cinematic master, Ford is able to incorporate humor and romance effortlessly. The score, while maybe not great, is very good and compliments what Ford is doing with the camera very well.
The major thing I take away from this one is how beautiful it is. The scenery, the cinematography, is breathtaking. In addition, Ford and cinematographer Winton C. Hoch find ways of presenting the material in such a fine way. The framing in particular was astounding, I thought, every shot was thought about and framed just right, for my eye at least. The ending is quite good and I was left immensely satisfied by my first experience with Wayne and with Ford. Loved the bookending first/last shots too, great touch. Top 100 material? Time will tell.
**** – Masterpiece
A Fistful of Dollars
(Sergio Leone, 1964)
My introduction to Sergio Leone and spaghetti westerns was a good one, but not a great one. It very much had a Godfather feel to it I thought. I know that it is an Italian film, which I find odd, but thus spaghetti western I guess. And I was troubled slightly by the dubbed voices because it was obvious that the actors were not always saying the words that I was hearing, but I can forgive it that.
Much like John Wayne in The Searchers, Clint Eastwood is a star of the screen, larger than life character as the Man with No Name, whose name is Joe (what?). The opening credit sequence is very cool; it’s the earliest film I have seen do something like that. It then goes into one of the greatest set-up’s I have seen. The set-up with Eastwood in San Miguel is wonderful film, and the first shootout is my favorite scene in the film. Leone manages to get comedy in there along with the tension and suspense that is aided so well by the Morricone score, which is just astounding. The cinematography was quite good, though I wouldn’t rank it with others I have seen. The framing was good, but what caught my eye was the movement of the camera. It was so smooth and pretty, which, I think, added to the great pacing of the film, which made this story seemingly fly by as I watched.
The story on the other hand was only average I thought. Not bad, but after the first shootout and all the politics, so to speak, began, I only maintained a mild interest in what was happening, concentrating instead on the beautiful look and sound of the film. I have always said that I am a story first, look second, acting (in the sense that it’s great and not just average) third kind of guy when it comes to film. As such, while I enjoyed it, I would stop short of calling it great, though I would call the final ten minutes of the film great. Good introduction into the director and the genre, however.
*** – Very Good
For a Few Dollars More
(Sergio Leone, 1965)
Like A Fistful of Dollars, it has great table-setting, opening sequences. And I say sequences because you have the very beginning, then you have Mortimer’s opening and Clint’s. Honestly, and it kind of pains me to say it, but I think Eastwood got out manned by Mortimer in this. Mortimer is just a straight bad ass in the flesh. They are both bounty killers and are both super cool dudes, but Mortimer has more of an aurora than Clint in this. It opens with him stopping the train to get off at Tucumcari and then later he shoots down some dude with a cool gun and then he lights a match off the back of someone’s neck. Badass. El Indio was a great villain too. He was just deliciously evil. And I liked his flashback story, though I found it odd how it was used.
The visual style and tonal feel of the film are very similar to Fistful and I love that. It is so slick and cool. The score from Morricone I don’t think was as good, but it is still pretty good, especially in the final scene. One thing I had a problem with was the hand-to-hand fight scenes. They were choreographed so poorly and the sound design for them was not good.
As for the story, it was stronger than Fistful because of the dual heroes and the great villain, but I would still say it is not my favorite story ever. I found this film to be a great example of something that I really liked and had a lot of fun with, something that I would definitely go back to and watch again, but also something that I would fall short of calling great, though it comes close, and would not include anywhere near my top 100 probably. Maybe a second viewing of these will change my mind though; there was a lot to like. But in short, a perfect example of the criteria for a three star film in my book.
*** – Very Good
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
(Sergio Leone, 1966)
Given all of the hype I was going in with pretty high expectations. The very first second of the film I recognized the famous them, so amazing. But what was even more, is the opening shot of the film. What Leone does is create great shots of people by using different angles and close-ups that I haven’t seen before. As much as these films are landscape westerns, Leone’s great shots are really not of the landscapes like a lot of films resort to for great cinematography, it’s remarkable. I mean the close-ups that the film is famous for really set the tone and feel of the film as rough, sweaty and gritty. And the shot near the end as whoever it was is reaching down towards his gun is one of my favorite shots of all time now. I was sitting in my room watching it by myself and it caused me to say “Wow!” out loud. Watching this film, as opposed to the first two in the “trilogy”, really made me see how much it influenced Tarantino. It really is evident, but I don’t blame him for modeling his films after this one.
The score is probably one of the greatest I have ever heard, no doubt. That’s really all I can say about that, Morricone is amazing. What I noticed with this one was how patient of a filmmaker that Leone was. To his credit, he was able to build such suspense and tension by slowly revealing things and letting the scene sit stagnant with the viewer to mull over. He also created some very nice, reflective moments, like Eastwood and the fallen Confederate soldier and Tuco and his brother. I loved it so much; however, it probably did make the film longer than it needed to be. In addition, I really noticed the choreography of the scene. Leone is able to position the players in each scene so well and so epicly.
The last thirty minutes of the film are perfect, so far as I can tell. The opening of the film is perfect, so far as I can tell. The middle? Not as perfect but still pretty good. I guess I didn’t really get the whole involvement of the Civil War in all of it. I found it to be unnecessary and thought that it probably took too much time and made the movie longer than it needed to be. I wanted to see more Angel Eyes (Van Cleef) too! The story plodded along much like the other “Dollars” films and like Ebert said, there isn’t so much of a plot, but rather a collection of great, memorable scenes that are strung together. I can agree with that. I really liked the film, it’s a great film, but I think that this is something that will get better with repeat viewings. But right now, it was a great capstone on my Western mini-marathon.
***1/2 – Great
I loved watching these films. I had never really seen or gotten into Westerns before (other than watching “Bonanza” with my dad) and now I have a desire to seek out and watch all of the great classics. I see it as a genre that I could easily come to love. I also feel more like a man now. Let’s go out west and grow scruffy facial hair, wear ponchos and participate in shootouts. I even hear Morricone sometimes now when I am just walking around. Epicness surrounds me everywhere I go. I had a lot of fun with this and it was definitely good seeing these classics finally. I hope everybody enjoyed my reviews.