Archive for Walter Hill

Shorter’s Better

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2020 by dcairns

There’s a spoiler for THE DRIVER just past the next picture.

I remember being impressed by the text at the start of THE GREY FOX which tells us that the titular Old West bank robber was credited with inventing the term, “Hands up.” And realizing that he’d come up with a snappy and effective way of saying what he wanted, at gunpoint. “Put your hands up,” takes too long.

OK, in WHEN THE DALTONS RODE has them saying “Reach!” but that only works if the customer has heard the expression “Reach for the sky!” otherwise they could be thinking “Reach for what?” and then you’d have to shoot them. Worse, they might reach for the wrong thing, and shoot YOU.

So it was fun to read in Bruce Dern’s memoir, Things I’ve Said and Probably Shouldn’t, that when tasked with saying the line, “You’re under arrest,” at the end of Walter Hill’s THE DRIVER, he remarked to his director, “OK, but shorter’s better.”

“What do you mean?”

“Shorter’s better.”

“Just say the fucking line, OK? ACTION!”

Dern, flanked by a great many cops, has Ryan O’Neil surrounded.

“Gotcha.”

Hill called “Cut!” and the crew applauded.

Then Hill said, in effect, Okay, smartass, but since this film is going to say Screenplay by Walter Hill, not Screenplay by Walter Hill with Additional Dialogue by Bruce Dern, do it again and this time say the fucking line as written. So he did.

I told this story to a few people and they all said, “Which version’s in the film?” And I couldn’t remember.

So I bought it secondhand for like 50p.

It’s “Gotcha.”

No wonder Bruce looks kinda smug.

Gumshod

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2019 by dcairns

THE DROWNING POOL — 1975 — so it took them nine years to make a sequel to HARPER — I think that officially qualifies as belated. This time the director is Stuart Rosenberg who also did COOL HAND LUKE which I have some fond memories of. Maybe it was the first film I saw as a kid with a downbeat ending. I was fired up with the injutice of it!

Not so much to get fired up about here. Newman is introduced having seatbelt trouble with his rental care, another bit of “relatable” humour to get us on his side. The script is credited to three guys, Walter Hill, Lorenzo Semple Jr and Tracy Keenan Wynn, so I was disappointed that it wasn’t a cross between ALIEN, FLASH GORDON and THE LONGEST YARD. Maybe as a result of its patchwork authorship, the film moves a little disjointedly, with scenes fizzling out or lurching into new locations in wats that seem disorienting in unintended ways.

Always nice to see Andy Robinson

Gordon Willis, Prince of Darkness, shot this one so it has a super-gloomy look, more modernist than its glossy predecessor. I found myself preferring Conrad Hall’s work, by a hair. Willis is pushing what the film stock can do, resulting in those milky blacks I never warmed to. (I recall Julia Phillips’ triumph, in her score-settling memoir, when she found a cinematographer who disapproved of Vilmos Zsigmond’s stock-pushing — “If you have good film stock, why would you do that?” But look at the work those guys did, at their best! They more than satisfied Howard Hawks requirements — provide a couple of great scenes and your allowed a few ordinary ones and one bad one.)

My favourite performer in it was Murray Hamilton as a demented bad guy — his attempt at water torture, hosing Newman down in a disused asylum, leads to the film’s titular highlight, as Newman and his fellow prisoner attempt to escape by flooding the room so they can float out the skylight… which then refuses to break open, threatening them with drowning. It’s very exciting and well staged and I like the logic of it. Fritz Lang would have recognised it.

HARPER starred Butch Cassidy; Vivian Rutledge; Eleanor Vance; Charlotte Haze; Dr. Jeremy Stone; Dr. Carl Stoner; Marion Crane; Scarlett Hazeltine; Number Two; Juror Twelve; Kid Twist; and Mulvihill.

THE DROWNING POOL stars Butch Cassidy; Beatrice Hunsdorfer; Polo Pope; Mr. Robinson; Dorcas Trilling; Charlotte Haze (II); Linda Forchet; Chuck Jefferson; the Scorpio killer; and Mercy Croft.

Hill’s Angels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2015 by dcairns

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Fiona and I both flashed on the same minor detail in Walter Hill’s THE LONG RIDERS — a dog defecating in the main street of Northfield, Minnesota. There’s realism for you. John Ford sets up STAGECOACH with a stray horse cantering through town. Hill goes one better. Did he get lucky, or train the dog to squat on command, or wait like David Lean for his mythical perfect sunset, in the form of dog poop?

There’s also the steam-driven abstraction that putters through town just before the James-Younger Gang’s raid. The outlaws just stare at it in sullen bafflement. It’s a symbol of their obsolescence, I guess.

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Hill’s gimmick of casting real sets of brothers (David, Keith and Robert Carradine, Randy and Dennis Quaid, Stacy and James Keach, Christopher and Nicholas Guest) arguably depends on the audience being in on the gag, since no sets of brothers ever looked less alike (the Guests achieve a kind of resemblance only because they’re styled as a matching set). But it’s still fun, and all of those actors are excellent actors. Pamela Reed maybe beats all of them, though, as Belle Starr. I’ve been obsessed with her since THE RIGHT STUFF, but somehow never saw this properly before (another brown western, I thought, catching snippets on TV) and then got her confused with Joan Allen. She’s really quite different — earthier, for one thing. She had these huge, lizard-lidded, wide-spaced eyes, like the kind you might find looking out of a dwarf. Too big for the skull trying to contain them. Amazing. It’s funny when Michael Beck from THE WARRIORS turns up as her hubbie, still wearing a waistcoat with nothing underneath.

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Hill usually admits to being uncomfortable writing for women, so the fact that he didn’t script this himself is a blessing. Compare Deborah Van Valkenburgh’s translucent-topped tart in THE WARRIORS (“She was a nasty little shit-stirrer, wasn’t she?” said Fiona) with Reed’s complex, intense, angry human being here. The actor and script even manage to find a wholly unfamiliar attitude to take — ambiguous, defiant — when her rival menfolk prepare to fight over her. The potential pitfalls of obnoxious cliché are so numerous here it’s a miracle the movie negotiates them, but it does.

Bill Bryden, a Scottish writer who had been running the BBC Scotland Drama Department, initiated this script, and my main takeaway from it is that bank robbers are fools and everything these guys did was destructive and counter-productive. It could be seen as an entirely negative film. But it has some kind of affection for its characters in spite of everything, and a love for the kind of Americana it wallows in. Hill’s long collaboration with composer Ry Cooder never yielded anything else as marvelous as this, a score to rank with Bob Dylan’s for PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID and Joe Strummer’s for WALKER.

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Hill’s debt to Peckinpah (he scripted THE GETAWAY) is certainly evident in the action scenes, which look seriously dangerous to both man and horse. The lensing of talk isn’t always fluid or interesting — Hill’s comic book approach comes through here, with players locked into stand-and-deliver mode, the framing static and life supplied only by staccato cutting patterns. It verges on the televisual — but then Hill’s restless editing can make a tense stand-off out of a few flat closeups and one begins to admire how far he can push a limited technique.