Archive for Walter Hill

Borderline

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2021 by dcairns

It’s a shame about EXTREME PREJUDICE (1987). As with SOUTHERN COMFORT, the cutting is terrific, the action is well staged (minimal but telling use of slomo), but it’s not as engaging or efficient as a story. Maybe the combination of Hill and John Milius, who’s credited with coming up with the story, is too much macho bullshit for me. (Curious that for a long time Hill and Milius, “right-wing anarchists” — libertarians? — were very popular with liberal UK critics, at least until Milius took it all too far with RED DAWN, a deeply silly film). But there’s also quite a bit wrong with the way the movie interweaves its plot threads, and the central one just isn’t very interesting.

The subplot, which comes on like the main plot and is consistently more interesting, is the illicit activities of a CIA squad consisting of men officially dead, and whose leader (Michael Ironside, yay!) has gone rogue and is using his men to destroy evidence of his corrupt dealings with drug lord Powers Boothe (astonishing, an underused cinematic resource). The main plot is the old one about the cop and crook who grew up together. Here, Boothe is paired with Nick Nolte as a Texas Ranger (the setting is Tex-Mex border) but the trouble is their relationship doesn’t change from beginning to the end, and also Nolte for some reason is playing it like Judge Dredd, emotionless and flat. The two antagonists also share a girlfriend, Maria Conchita Alonso, but she has nothing to do except be objectified. Hill heroines mainly fall into two camps, the leading ladies with unsatisfying stereotype roles, and the characters written as guys in the first draft who he changes into girls — ALIEN’s Ripley, written as a guy by the original scenarists, is the most famous example, but Amy Madigan in STREETS OF FIRE is another. These gals are pretty exciting though it’s occasionally apparent that they’re the writer in drag.

To celebrate Nolte’s recent weight loss (a result of kicking the booze, I think) the movie has him fight a lot of fat guys. One is even called Chub.

These two stories butt up against each other throughout, usually by means of violent action, which is as impressively ouchy, at least at first, as the mayhem of SCOMFORT. But they resolve messily — the Wild Bunch last stand of the CIA guys is a spectacular climax, but it’s followed by Nolte versus Boothe which is tedious by comparison, and the two don’t sufficiently affect or complicate one another. There’s a fun early turn by Rip Torn in perpetual sneer (“State legislature, shit! Only thing worse than a politician is a child molester.”) but he gets taken out of the picture in bloody fashion much too soon, leaving Nolte to interact, or inter-nonreact, with faceless subordinates for the rest of the show.

But the airport scene at the start, setting up the CIA good/bad guys, is one for the books. I haven’t seen Hill’s later westerns but I have BROKEN TRAIL on DVD. Guess I’ll take a look.

Bayou Kill Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2021 by dcairns

Fiona’s emotional reaction to Walter Hill’s SOUTHERN COMFORT was so extreme I’m a little scared to show her any other Hill films. From jolting and gasping at each bit of violence, to demanding I hold her hand for the suspenseful climax, this was more the kind of thing I expect from the missus when we’re out at the movies (the loud “SHIT!” during JURASSIC PARK when surrounded by small children was a good moment).

The other reaction I think of is my friend Paul Duane’s, who sees the movie as a brilliant riposte to Boorman’s DELIVERANCE, a film he has big problems with. I can understand those problems — DELIVERANCE’s mountain men can be seen as xenophobic caricatures, unmotivated evil forces embodying a wild otherness in contrast to the citified heroes — but I have a harder time seeing Hill’s film as the antidote.

But let’s consider: Hill’s troop of national guardsmen are a flawed bunch — they’re the cause of their own misfortune, provoking the Cajun backwoodsmen in a number of ways, and escalating the situation at every turn, until it’s too late to back down. True, the two main characters, Keith Carradine and Powers Booth, gradually become very sympathetic, but it’s easy to see their opponents’, admittedly extremely hostile, point of view.

Still, I always felt Boorman was somewhat critical of his macho holidaymakers. They don’t DESERVE their fates, but they seem to be presented as trespassing fools, quite ignorant of the forces they’re trifling with. Boorman is pretty weird — he told Michel Ciment that nobody who was in tune with nature would break his leg the way Burt Reynolds’ character does in this film. I always found that a peculiar attitude: you hit a rock, you break your leg, is the way I see it. But at any rate, Boorman doesn’t wholeheartedly take his heroes’ side, and I never felt he expected us to view the rustic characters entirely through their eyes. Their attitude to the banjo-playing kid is unpleasant: “Talk about genetic deficiencies-isn’t that pitiful?” In fact, he then surprises them with his musical skills, the first of many surprises they’re in for, and the only pleasant one.

Hill and cowriter David Giler go all-in making their national guard goons dumb and nasty, to the point where they risk the viewer disengaging. We were happy to see most of them killed, except it was so unpleasant. And their attitude to their enemy is to persistently underestimate them.

Of course, Hill & Giler set their story in 1973, eight years before its release date, for a reason. It’s a Viet Nam movie that avoids certain controversies by avoiding Viet Nam. But the mistakes/crimes committed by the guardsmen relate quite closely to the mistakes of that war. Going where you have no business going, for a start. Using the locals as a resource, regarding them as subhuman, failing to communicate with them, terrorising them, torturing them. Also, making a war film in which Americans fight Americans is certainly interesting. You could say the film is simultaneously provoking and dodging a series of questions about its meaning.

All this is presented via Hill’s unconventional coverage and cutting, which has a lot to do with the film’s striking intensity. A bear trap is triggered, and snaps TWICE, for emphasis. Hill doesn’t neglect the atmospheric landscape, but he tends to fragment the conversations into disconnected heads — but he maintains coherence. His style seems like a precursor to the later, shittier action films, but looks refreshing now. (You can see Hill’s influence as exec producer on ALIENS, I think, which has a lot in common with this, and the presence of Franklyn Seales also reminds us of Carpenter’s THE THING from around the same time.)

During the film’s last section, the surviving “heroes” wash up in a Cajun town, where the suspense builds around the question of whether they’re safe here. The sequence last long enough that we become pretty sure they’re not, although the prospect of the whole citizenry going 102,000 MANIACS on us is floated then abandoned. In fact, we never see what the reaction of the locals would be to the murderous attacks by the original gang of wild men would be, which is very slightly a cop-out. Having stoked our paranoia about these friendly-seeming but othered folks, Hill leaves the question hanging. Probably they’re fine, but I think it’s best we leave…

SOUTHERN COMFORT stars Wild Bill Hickock; Alexander Haig; Gus Grissom; Jimmy Smith; Nauls; Perfect Tommy; Bufe Coker; Keys; Slug a tough; and Leon Kowalski.

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.