Archive for The Scalphunters

He Shot Movies, Didn’t He?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2008 by dcairns

We were saddened to hear of the death of Sydney Pollack today. Always an enjoyable presence as an actor, he also directed some memorable movies. Not necessarily great art, but great movie-movies, intelligent entertainments that exuded the professionalism and confidence of a skilled craftsman.

The Pollack film I have most affection for is THE SCALPHUNTERS, which impressed me at an age when I found most westerns boring. The outsize charm of Burt Lancaster (a new thing to me at the time), the dignity of Ossie Davis, and the amusing pairing of Telly (Savalas) and Shelley (Winters)… it comes from that period when American westerns were trying to deal with the Italian newcomers, either by attempting to absorb some of that brio and vulgarity or by standing on their dignity and defining themselves against the Eurotrash. THE SCALPHUNTERS is of the former camp, but it doesn’t try too hard to be cool. It doesn’t need to. And it climaxes in a viciously dirty skirmish between Lancaster and Davis, all eye-gouging and ear-biting, which you’d be unlikely to see in a modern family entertainment. Like a Raoul Walsh brawler, it makes this disgraceful behaviour inoffensive and amusing. Whether that’s altogther a good thing, I don’t know, but to a little brat like me it was HEAVEN. I wasn’t a very physical kid but I’ve always responded to physical comedy (although maybe my tastes have matured).

It’s all a fantastic contrast to CASTLE KEEP, Lancaster and Pollack’s next collaboration, a weird piece of fringe theatre enacted on a grand scale with an absurdly high pyrotechnics budget. It’s like Spielberg’s 1941 as written by a team consisting of Kurt Vonnegut, Harold Pinter and William Peter Blatty. It would make the ideal Fever Dream Double Feature with Blatty’s THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, which is even freakier and also features the esteemed Scott Wilson. The pictures here come from it, and I’ve been meaning to post them since January.