Archive for Vera Cruz

The Bad, The Bad and the Bad

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2019 by dcairns

FOUR FOR TEXAS is the Aldrich movie which sent him running back to hagsploitation. Apparently he didn’t have a good time with Frank & Dino. Frank & Dino were enough to make Bette & Joan look like a rest holiday. Frank & Dino together in a western is altogether too much of a disputably good thing, I think — it matters in RIO BRAVO that Dino has Duke to balance out the goombah energy with some more “authentic” movie-cowboy attitude.

Talk about spaghetti westerns. In fact, the first ten minutes of this one, a stagecoach raid and a series of reversals with the two stars pulling guns on one another over a carpetbag full of loot, plays quite Leonesque. Cynical, amoral, with a cold-hearted attitude to the little guy, who in this case is Percy Helton so maybe we can say it’s justified? But it’s the “zany” Leone of MY NAME IS NOBODY, all trick opticals and flippancy. Still, it really feels like a miniature dry run for the Italian west, just as VERA CRUZ feels like a more coherent and successful early clue to the new direction.

Then, however, the film gets REALLY bad. It follows the basic pattern of anything that’s died: stinking, bloating and decaying before your watering eyes. Sure, lots of familiar Aldrich faces show up, including V. Buono and that irritating va-va-voom fucker from KISS ME DEADLY. Who tragically doesn’t get blown up in this one.

Admittedly, I was watching a 4:3 DVD (why do such things exist?) but once the movie moves into town and indoors, the effect becomes very televisual, apart from one or two eyeball-searing sets. I can’t be fair to the film having seen it in the wrong ratio, but somehow I don’t WANT to be fair to it.

“Ekberg! Dead ahead!

“Why does this film sound like Batman?” asked Fiona, wandering in like a small child. I looked up Nelson Riddle, composer — her diagnosis was spot-on. I could wish it sounded EVEN MORE like Batman, had the Batman TV theme tune, in fact, and maybe starred Adam West as Batman. Was Buono ever a Batman villain? Any speculations as to his probable villain name are almost certainly going to make me sound fattist, and I’m not skinny enough for that look.

(Here’s how you figure out your Batman villain name: you pick something you always do, and put “‘er” on the end of it and “the” on the front.)

New Batman villain: The Flasher.

The movie is written by a woman, Teddi Sherman, a western specialist. Aldrich liked to selflessly claim the blame for the script also, and IMDb has the great W.R. Burnett playing some kind of wisely uncredited writing role.

The women are all costumed as if for a porno western.

Charles Bronson is maybe the only performer to emerge with credit, and it makes sense that Leone selected him.

Maybe watch the first reel but then avoid avoid avoid.

Everyone’s in it! I really found myself hating the leads. Phonetic transcriptions of Ursula Andress’s line readings would be the only way to get any pleasure out of this one.

“I’m glat you feels zat way. Main who worry about little sings bo-arr me.”

“I like main whoh wurr about me.”

“I was afraid off der disaternoon you may sink my gown wuss too raivealing.”

“Ope erhaps you fail like most American mendoo.”

It’s not clear that the Three Stooges are CORRECTLY UTILISED.

FOUR FOR TEXAS stars Tony Rime; Matt Helm; the killer nun; Honey Ryder; Paul Kersey; Edwin Flagg; Daggoo; Pablo Gonzalez; ‘Knuckles’ Greer; ‘Moose’ Malloy; Lt. Pat Murphy; Dehlia Flagg; Wilma Lentz; Grandma Walton; Alamosa Bill; Miss Hearing Aid; Dr. Lehman; Mr. Peevey; ‘Dum-Dum’ Clarke; Og Oggilby; and Not Themselves.

The Good The Burt and the Gary

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2018 by dcairns

So, it was a Robert Aldrich double feature, in fact. I wanted to re-see VERA CRUZ, having always enjoyed it and having recently acquired a second-hand copy on DVD. Fiona’s not big on westerns, generally needs them to have a female element. This is disorienting to me since my mum loves westerns, so I grew up thinking, Yeah, westerns, women’s pictures, right. Not right, apparently!

My mum’s view of it does make sense. Westerns are full of things women often like to see. Scenery, animals, men, activity, travel, justice. By getting the female characters well out of the way on the sidelines, it makes it easier to ogle John Wayne or Richard Widmark (her favourite). But this logic doesn’t seem to hold up for a lot of female viewers.

So, the presence of Denise Darcel was my means of persuading Fiona to try this (plus, she was well up for an Aldrich double). Darcel (“Why was she always in westerns?” asked Fiona, thinking of WESTWARD THE WOMEN, which she loved) was a French actor burlesque dancer and starlet with a husky frame and stereotypically Gallic delivery. Here she plays a pure noir character, a scheming betrayer. She doesn’t win in the end, but she gets away with it.

Almost as gratifying from the female interest perspective was the presence of Sara Montiel, previously enjoyted in SERENADE. Mainly she brings astonishing beauty and glamour to a role that sees her doing a lot of double-crossing too, but on the side of good.

But of course the men do most of the hard riding. Great support work from Cesar Romero, George MacReady (the Emperor Maximilian!), early supporting villainy from Jack Elam, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson (still going by Buchinsky at this point). Gary Cooper in the lead, hiring himself out to the wrong side, an early indication of the moral complexity/confusion engulfing the western hero, and Burt Lancaster turning a bad guy role into a star turn. You could imagine an earlier film where his grinning brute turns round and shows a heart of gold — he could do a Captain Renault. But not here. His heart is merely set on gold. This is a proto-Leone hero. When the villain is allowed to get more charismatic and interesting than the villain, a big reversal may be imminent.

Sergio Leone (no women’s director, he) would act as AD for Aldrich on SODOM AND GOMORRAH, and so he must have seen this. Besides, I think he saw every western there was to see. The quest for concealed gold, though far from unique to this film, seems to inform THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Burt starts to say “Why you dirty son of a b–” and is cut short by a blast of music (diegetic in this case), as Eli Wallach would be at the end of that film. The Mexican setting suggests DUCK, YOU SUCKER, as does the presence of a stiff-necked Prussian officer.

There’s also a “shoot when the music stops” scene directly informing the musical watch duels of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE…

Best of all is the bit I remembered most clearly — Burt and Gary and Cesar and almost everyone else find themselves outgunned by juaristas, who have crept up silently in Red Indian manner and in vast numbers, surrounding them. As the camera circles Burt, we see them rising slowly from every rooftop, their appearance timed precisely to sync with the camera movement itself.

We get a good chunk of the shot at the start of the trailer.

Leone picks this shot up and carries it forward in time to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but here, as the camera orbits Frank Wolff, the movement reveals — nothing. Only the eerily silent prairie, a space from which enemies WILL come, but are as yet invisible. The shot has been transformed from a very flamboyant but typically American conception — a movement displaying the actions of characters — to a European (specifically Italian) one — exploring space, both geographical and psychological, motivated by something purely internal…

Shot starts at 5.39 in this clip.