Riding the Rails

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I was amused by this in-joke in Hal Ashby’s BOUND FOR GLORY. Charles Mulvehill is the film’s associate producer (“An associate producer is anyone who will associate with a producer,” – Billy Wilder) and production manager. The churchman who has acquired his name is explaining to hobo Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) why he isn’t about to corrupt him by giving him a free meal out of charity. It might stave off malnutrition, true, but what would it do to his self-respect.

The horrible, smug priest isn’t the only ersatz Mulvehill. The big detective who pins Jack Nicholson down while Roman Polanski performs impromptu rhinoplasty on him is called Claude Mulvihill. Screenwriter Robert Towne knew CM from their collaboration on THE LAST DETAIL.

One has to wonder what it is about Mr. Mulvehill that inspires such backhanded tributes? I think the jibes are probably intended with affection, and anyhow we can say that CM got his own back for the character assassination by feeding info to Peter Biskind for his big gossip book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (or Hollywood Babylon Revisited, as I call it).

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BOUND FOR GLORY is quite a piece of work — if Biskind’s book had a positive effect, it was in spearheading a reappraisal of Ashby, and yet his biggest production still seems like the most neglected of his seventies films. It has epic cinematography by Haskell Wexler, with special effects by Albert Whitlock: new wave photography yoked to an epic theme, matte painted landscapes and Melinda Dillon all make this a kind of prequel to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

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And that’s a very endearing performance from David Carradine, who otherwise rather wasted his career doing trash — even after KILL BILL he plunged straight back into barrel-scrapers for the remainder of his days. Maybe because Tarantino didn’t actually give him any good writing on that one — his stuff felt lazy, derivative and wanky to me — but part of me suspects that Carradine actually liked doing filler, maybe because the expectations were lower? He’s wonderful here, anyhow.

 

9 Responses to “Riding the Rails”

  1. Second-Hand Hearts — kind of ueneven and ennervating, but weird and unusual and ultimately clinging to some kind of appeal. I think I actually prefer it to Shampoo, which I never warmed to. It’s as much a Warren Beatty film as a Hal Ashby, and I’m iffy on Beatty.

  2. James S Says:

    One day I will see Second Hand Hearts, either on youtube or on long overdue DVD. And I bet I’ll love it. Looks like just my sort of thing.

    I’d also like to see (to a lesser extent) Ashby’s last TV film with Graham Chapman, Rik Mayall and the talking lobsters. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mOoJC427nY

    If we’re talking underrated Ashby I’d put in a word for The Landlord. And while 8 Million Ways to Die is flawed, I think it has some good moments. Even though they took it away from Ashby, they couldn’t cut the mood.

  3. James S Says:

    Also the Charles Mulvehill scene in Bound for Glory reminds me of the currrent American healthcare problem, where many of the richer haves talk about giving poorer people their “self respect” and “dignity” rather than actual help

  4. Absolutely. In the UK we have a guy called Iain Duncan Smith who was so horrified when he saw housing schemes full of hopeless unemployed people, he resolved to “help” them by taking away their benefits, forcing them into unpaid “volunteer” work, etc.

    I think The Landlord is terrific — one of my favourite Ashbys along with The Last Detail, Harold and Maude, Bound for Glory. Coming Home and Shampoo are the ones whose high reputation always baffled me.

  5. Second-Hand Hearts is the ne plus ultra of film maudit.

    I’m not “iffy” on Warren at all. She’s been shooting his Howard Hughes movie for several weeks now, you know.

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