Archive for Sam Peckinpah

Here comes the cavalry

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 28, 2021 by dcairns

Stephen C. Horne and I collaborated on a video essay for Neil Snowden’s production of Arrow’s release of MAJOR DUNDEE. A fun job! Farran Nehme has contributed a booklet essay which I can’t wait to read, and Glenn Erickson is on commentary duty.

Went into it absolutely sure I was going to tell Charlton Heston’s story of being provoked to the point where he murderously charged Peckinpah on horseback, but then figured it was going to be covered everywhere else. So I found other things. The hardest part was adjusting back to the twenty-minute form after making a feature-length piece for WEIRD WISCONSIN: THE BILL REBANE COLLECTION. But it’s impossible not to have some fun in the mad world of Peckinpah: vicarious insanity.

Cowboys will be boys

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2021 by dcairns

Blake Edwards’ other big roadshow flop, besides DARLING LILI, and made right after it, is WILD ROVERS. Maybe a kind of film maudit, a way of saying nobody likes it except us.

The movie is impressive, in an uneven kind of way. Shot by the versatile Philip H. Lathrop, who had done EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, THE PINK PANTHER and WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? for Edwards, and POINT BLANK, FINIAN’S RAINBOW and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN for others, it’s one of the handsomest westerns I’ve ever seen. And it has a marvelous score by Jerry Goldsmith which I’m still humming.

The script, written by Edwards alone — he ALWAYS had co-writers, otherwise — isn’t as strong as the visual side, upon which endless expense seems to have been lavished. An incredible range of tricky location shots. This is a seventies western so it attempts to get in on the whole revisionist bit — there’s sexual vulgarity and the west is a place of dangerous anarchy and nothing ends well for anybody. But it doesn’t seem to have a critique in mind, either of westerns or the old west. It’s a conservative film that just happens to be following seventies trends rather than fifties ones. So we get slow motion and a freeze frame and lap dissolves — the full FIDDLER ON THE ROOF panoply of nouvelle vague tricks expanded to the Panavision epic format. Interesting how this stuff was picked up particularly by the more “white elephant” branch of Hollywood cinema — there are jump cuts in FUNNY GIRL.

Penniless, ne’er-do-well cowpokes William Holden and Ryan O’Neil realise they’ll never get rich poking cows, so they rob a bank (using the same technique deployed in Barry Levinson’s BANDITS: hold the manager’s family hostage). Karl Malden, their former employer, takes this personally and sets his sons, Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker, on their trail. (It’s a great cast: add in Rachel Roberts as a shotgun-wielding madame and Moses Gunn as a dog-loving veteran, then keep adding…)

Holden and O’Neil’s characters are thoughtless idiots, addicted to boozing, brawling and whoring: a story with a clear point to it would show how their criminal career change sets off a chain of events that destroys them and a lot of others. But Edwards too often resorts to coincidence: encounters with a cougar and a suspicious and violently-inclined gambler lead to disaster. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a range war with sheepmen causes tragedy, but this has nothing to do with our protagonists’ actions.

Peckinpah has set the scene for this movie — the slomo violence and the randomness of life in the old west are milked/resorted to. As Joe Dante says, Peckinpah evoked the death of the west through the deaths of old character actors. And this caught on — even Duke Wayne started dying. The death of the western dramatised itself: the stars had grown old with the genre, which found it couldn’t outlast them. Notably, Holden doesn’t pass on his spurs to O’Neil here. And O’Neil gets shot in the same leg as in BARRY LYNDON.

The heroes aren’t as charming as Edwards seems to think, though Holden the actor certainly brings a lot of appeal. The stars apparently bonded, something not everybody can do with Ryan O’Neal, seemingly, and their camaraderie is convincing. But the tragic presence seems to be “stupid people can’t stay out of trouble” and that’s not enough, somehow. There’s more going on with their pursuers, and Skerritt and Baker are good — they’re not in any way worse humans than the heroes, but they’re not seen as charming. The key seems to be that our heroes think they’re in a comedy, and they’re wrong, while the posse know they’re in a generational tragedy. Or Skerritt does. The reliably dyspeptic Baker just thinks the whole manhunt is a terrible drag. The trouble with these scenes is they’re repetitive.

I’m glad I saw the extended version, but it’s longer than it needs to be. The beautiful snowy horse-wrangling scene, which may be the one that fully earwormed the score into my brain, goes on so long you become aware that were intercutting a medium shot of Holden, no doubt riding a mechanical bull affair with a stuntman on a real horse. Later, we can see some snow is fake. Problems that could have been solved if Edwards hadn’t seen “long” as a cardinal virtue.

But I think you should see this! Image and score are so good, and there’s something going on here, even if not all of it is fully compelling or original.

Phantom Phones

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2021 by dcairns

More from Goin’ Crazy with Sam Peckinpah and All our Friends by Max Evans “as told to” Robert Nott.

Not many people know that Sam Peckinpah was a mystic, though Fern Lea, his only sister, said once that only she and I knew about it. About ten days after his return from the Major Dundee shoot, he asked me to go into town with him to meet some industry people for a business lunch at a place that was called either the Steak ’n’ Ale or the Scotch ’n’ Sirloin. We were driving down Highway 101. He was driving a Corvette at the time. A car was coming straight at us in our lane, but it was quite a ways off. Then a phone in Sam’s car rang, and then again—except there was no phone in the car. Lord.

And just at that time the car coming at us went right through us—head on.

Sam looked at me and said, “Did you hear the phone?”

“Yeah.”

“Twice?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you see what just happened?”

“Yeah.”

It was a miraculous metaphysical phenomenon. We were sober. It happened. I don’t care what anybody else thinks.

This fascinates me partly because it’s so cinematic. And yet I can’t think of a single really mystical scene in a Peckinpah film, though scenes like the departure from the village in THE WILD BUNCH have a kind of unstated magic to them.

Since Sam didn’t discuss this with anyone, apparently, I guess when he worked with Ida Lupino on JUNIOR BONNER he probably never learned that she;d received a mysterious phone call from a family friend, the mystery being that said friend had hung himself three days before.

Sam expected his friends to know what he was thinking. After that phone incident, he would often say to me, in a crowd or during one of his business luncheons, “Did you hear the phone?” to tip me off that he wanted something to change. Sometimes I would catch on; sometimes not. If he was in a business meeting with some industry people he didn’t like, and he wanted it to end, and I was there, he would turn to me and say, “Did you hear the phone?” and I was expected to find a reason to end the meeting there and then.

This jibes with L.Q. Jones’ remark that Peckinpah would get frustrated with actors and crew because he’d have thought he told them to do something when he really hadn’t. Maybe he’d used telepathy and it hadn’t worked. Or maybe, as Jones suggests, he’d been thinking about each project for so long her assumed everyone else understood it as thoroughly as he did, and would know what was required.

Not long afterward, while Pat, the girls, and I were still living in Studio City, the four of us were going down to Sam’s Broad Beach house for another mandatory weekend. Pat was carefully driving the twins and me from Studio City, where we lived, to Broad Beach. The road down to Broad Beach was a narrow pavement drive with what I would call “land waves” up and down along its surface to the front or back of the houses along Broad Beach. There was only one dangerous spot on this Broad Beach road, right at the bottom of the last of the “land waves,” just before the turn parallel to the beach. As Pat navigated the car at this point, a phone rang in our car three times, so loudly it shocked the hell out of all of us.

There was no phone in our car. The twins stood up in the back seat and peered over the front to double-check, wide-eyed—they wanted validation.

Pat slowed to a stop as we hit the turn. Just then a huge car came our way at a great, reckless speed, missing us by about six inches. We were all stunned and thankfully silent as Pat stopped our Buick sedan. That phone sound saved our nice little family from becoming a pile of hamburger meat—and we were thankful. Without any doubt, we were still alive because of that nonexistent ringing phone.

We didn’t talk about it at all that day—except for when Pat and I decided not to bring it up to the girls again since it was something we could not explain. We were justified in this silence as the twins slowly adjusted to similar “happenings” as they grew up. Varied beyond-the-norm incidents became a part of natural life for them over the years.

I told Sam about the incident. He wasn’t surprised. “The ringing is saving us for something, huh?” he said with a smile. “We better get after it.”

What Evans and Peckinpah wanted to get after was a film adaptation of Evans’ novel of the cowboy life, The Hi-Lo Country, to star Lee Marvin. The magic moment when Lee was available, his star riding high, and Peckinpah was employable, never quite materialised. Stephen Frears filmed the book in 1998 with Woody Harrelson. The invisible phone didn’t ring to stop him, or if it did, he never heard it.

One image is from THE GETAWAY, a Sam Peckinpah film, the other from VANISHING POINT, not a Sam Peckinpah film, but a mystical one.