Archive for William Holden

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.

Wild Laughter

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2021 by dcairns

FACT: Peckinpah’s legendary four-and-a-half hour cut of THE WILD BUNCH consisted of an hour of dialogue, half an hour of action, and three hours of RAUCOUS GUFFAWING. The 145 minute version now available to us, on the other hand, has an hour of dialogue, half an hour of action, and seven hours of RAUCOUS GUFFAWING.

I exaggerate for comic effect. I’ve always been impressed by the film’s acting and action, but a little dubious about the points its making, but this time round I was more impressed by all of the above — it’s more coherent than I gave it credit for. Though cohesion isn’t necessarily what I look to Peckinpah for. But this one hangs together, is more than a selection of spectacular/beautiful/horrifying set-pieces. Though we do see quite a lot of Ernest Borgnine, irrepressible gap-toothed comedian, and his epiglottis, during the lengthy scenes of bawdy laughter, it’s nevertheless a film of some poetic grandeur.

For the first time I remembered to watch out for and recognize Albert Dekker and Edmond O’Brien. I never clocked Dekker before because we never get to see his bald head, and I never recognized O’Brien because we never get to see his bald face. Also he is playing Dub Taylor’s role in MAJOR DUNDEE, in the manner of Dub Taylor in MAJOR DUNDEE, so I spent three of the two-and-a-half hours thinking he was Dub Taylor. If he’d given us a few bars of “Rock Around the Rockpile,” I’d have known him in an instant.

William Holden periodically doesn’t look recognizable either: his aging, his face-fungus, his manner — part of it is he’s really playing someone different. Though I noticed this gesture repeated from the end of STALAG 17, made a thousand years earlier when he was still a golden boy:

I was surprised at how un-bleak the post-climactic scenes were. I’d forgotten all about Robert Ryan’s rather sweet ending. And as he rides off with a new, slightly milder bunch, I suddenly felt that this was all a metaphor for the life of the filmmaker, swapping gangs but keeping on the go. It won’t be the same, but it’ll do.

Wild West Warren William

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2020 by dcairns

Warren William made two westerns, both times playing the bad guy. He specialised in suavity and fatuity — two qualities seldom found in close conjunction — and was able to apply these traits to a “sweet dude” of the old west just as readily as to a dazzling cosmopolitan. Have any of you seen WILD BILL HICKOK RIDES (1942) with Constance Bennett (!) and Bruce Cabot? Is it any good, at all?

We did sit down en famille and watch ARIZONA (1940), which comes from that period immediately following the success of STAGECOACH when studios rushed to produce westerns for grown-ups. WW plays sweet dude Jefferson Carteret, a preposterously enjoyable name for a smooth western baddie. He gets to push Porter Hall around for most of the movie, which is close to the dynamic they “enjoy” in SATAN MET A LADY, too.

This one is a little unusual since Jean Arthur is the hero, with a young William Holden very much in support. When the final duel occurs, the camera stays with Arthur, the store, picking out the things she’ll need IF her newly married man survives. This approach works nicely, as an Ophulsian approach to duelling, as a way of keeping the focus where it belongs, and as an encapsulation of the film’s big theme — the West got colonized because a bunch of white folks went there and trusted that civilisation would eventually catch them up. Buy supplies for the ranch is an act of faith and a way to will Holden’s character to survive.

(Guillermo del Toro got very excited about this scene on Twitter recently.)

It’s an ambitious film — what I call an epic — stampedes, gunfights, wagon chases — everything but a saloon brawl and a dive off a high cliff. Some actual history like the Civil War gets incorporated into its sweeping tale. There are characters who look to the future when Arizona will be “a great state” or whatever. Edgar Buchanan plays his first drunken judge.

A barely recognizable Holden meets the origin of the great yak fur shortage of 1940.

It’s not excellent — they’ve created an epic backdrop — they seem to have built early Tucson from scratch — everyone is filthy except Warren — it’s a bit too episodic and bits of Arthur’s Calamity Jean act defeat her — William Holden is a little too enthusiastic at this stage — when he became more subdued he became COOL — the more concentrated, less self-consciously important STAGECOACH is MUCH better at chewing what it bites off. But of course, STAGECOACH is John Ford with Dudley Nichols & Ben Hecht adapting a short story, and this is Charles Ruggles’ brother Wesley with his pal Claude “boy meets girl” Binyon adapting a sprawling novel.