Snowbound

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In this movie, there’s actually eight!

With Tarantino’s frosty western gorefest about to splatter all over us in glorious 70mm (it opens in the UK while I’ll be busy shooting my own, much, much smaller film), and with this being the season when I quite like looking at snow without having to touch it, I popped Andre DeToth’s DAY OF THE OUTLAW in the Panasonic, wowing Fiona, who is not normally an enthusiast of the oater. “Am I mellowing, or was that really good?” she asked, afterwards.

The story, credited to Philip Yordan (a talented guy, but he fronted for so many blacklistees I’m never sure he’s the actual author), based on a novel by Lee E. Wells, depends on a silly coincidence — plot #1, a standard cattle men versus farmers fight, with an adulterous love affair thrown in, gets interrupted just as the central figures, including tower of spasming muscle and venom Robert Ryan, square off for a climactic duel. Plot #2 now commences, in which this one-horse town is held hostage by Burl Ives and his band of savages, a Quantrill’s Raiders bunch of psychos, introduced by Ives in a cool/scary/hilarious role call.

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This new plot is much more compelling and high-stakes, and it has the advantage of making the rather unappealing antagonists of plot #1 — fuming near-psycho Ryan and peevish Alan Marshal — become relatively sympathetic, so bad are the bad guys and so awful is their new situation.

For people who don’t care for plot, this movie would serve as a good illustration of the value of a strong dramatic situation. As Billy Wilder put it, “A guy comes in the door, you got nothing. He comes in the window, you got a situation.”

DeToth, that fearsome bullet-headed Hungarian cyclops — many Hollywood directors were tough eggs, not many conspired, as DeToth seems to have done, to get his leading man decapitated (on HOUSE OF WAX), benefits from the script, the cast, and Alexander Courage’s glittering music and Russell Harlan’s cinematography. The landscapes are impressive, but so are the compositions for straightforward compositions. Though DeToth is a little happier to hold a flat two-shot than he ought to be, I think, he also delivers packed and dynamic shots that bristle with tension.

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The empty chairs formerly occupied by Tina-Louise’s husband and child earn their place in the shot as a kind of barrier between T-L and RR.

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Snow!

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9 Responses to “Snowbound”

  1. I am fascinated by White Westerns, westerns set in snow. They are all just bleak as a rule, it’s full of corruption and darkness. Track of the Cat, The Far Country, Day of the Outlaw, The Great Silence and the greatest and bleakest of them all, McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

    Day of the Outlaw feels very different than others. All the characters are ugly and compromised. Robert Ryan is a bit of a villain himself, trying to kill a man and take his wife, and Burl Ives and his band are a bunch of potential rapists and deadbeats. The town they are in seems irredemable. And yet at the end you do feel sympathetic as one by one all those outlaws die and Ryan somehow survives.

    Burl Ives character here reminds me of the character he played in Wind Across the Everglades, also leading an outlaw group but here he’s less romantic.

  2. So glad your brought this up as Quentin’s 70mm (when we can get the projector to work) Folly is basically a DeToth rip-off.

    Do you know DeToth’s Play Dirty ?Absolutely marvelous and a great fave of Marty Scorsese’s.

  3. G. H. Lewmer Says:

    The location filming of the frontier town set on the cusp of the mountains really makes the film works. Instead of being inhibited by studio bound backdrops, nature brings that spectacular element of uncertainty and depth to the performances. Terrific film!

  4. Play Dirty is amazing, with one of the greatest nihilistic punchlines of any war pic, on a par with Night of the Living Dead.

    https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/the-forgotten-sons-of-bitches-of-the-desert

    You’re right, Sudarshan, something about cold weather seems to bring out the bleakness in the American west. Though I guess Bend of the River is no darker than any other Mann western.

  5. henryholland666 Says:

    The Secret of Convict Lake is another good snowbound oater, with Glenn Ford in excellent form, Gene Tierney, Ethel Barrymore and Cyril Cusak as the wonderfully named Edward ‘Limey’ Cockerell.

  6. Play Dirty is terrific and I think it’s one with the nihilism of Day of the Outlaw, the hot desert and the cold snow. It’s one and the same in terms of how De Toth uses the landscape.

  7. DeToth claims Play Dirty features escaped camels from his Almerian second unit work on Lawrence of Arabia, but I’ve never spotted them.

    Will watch out for Convict Lake — great cast!

  8. Michael Winterbottom’s The Claim – Hardy’s MAyor of Casterbridge transposed – had some good moments and the cold was particularly well-conveyed.

  9. The aptly-named Winterbottom is always very keen on the tactile and visceral. This can get achingly predictable — he’ll always film childbirth from the obstetrician’s viewpoint — but you know where you are with him.

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