Film Review – TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944)

Image result for tall in the saddle 1944Tall in the Saddle (1944; USA; B&W; 87m) ***½  d. Edwin L. Marin; w. Michael Hogan, Paul Fix, Gordon Ray Young; ph. Robert De Grasse; m. Roy Webb.  Cast: John Wayne, George “Gabby” Hayes, Ward Bond, Ella Raines, Audrey Long, Elisabeth Risdon, Paul Fix, Raymond Hatton, Frank Puglia, George Chandler. When a stranger arrives in a western town he finds that the rancher who sent for him has been murdered. Fast-paced tale of deception with a love triangle thrown into the pot. Wayne is in his element as the stranger and Raines is feisty as a rancher’s hot-headed daughter. Hayes provides comic relief and whilst the story becomes more formulaic in its final act, it is never less than thoroughly enjoyable. This was the first Wayne film to be shown on American network television. Based on the novel by Gordon Ray Young. Also available in a computer colourised version. [U]

Film Review – THE SPOILERS (1942)

Image result for the spoilers 1942Spoilers, The (1942; USA; B&W; 87m) ***  d. Ray Enright; w. Rex Beach, Lawrence Hazard; ph. Milton R. Krasner; m. Hans J. Salter, Frederick Hollander, Frank Loesser.  Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Margaret Lindsay, Harry Carey, Richard Barthelmess, George Cleveland, Samuel S. Hinds, Russell Simpson, William Farnum, Marietta Canty, Jack Norton, Ray Bennett, Forrest Taylor, Art Miles. An Alaskan miner and his partner financed by a saloon entertainer, fight to save their gold claim from a crooked commissioner. Rousing, if simplistic, entertainment benefits from star power of its three leads and strong production values. Enright directs efficiently and Wayne and Scott spar well for the attentions of Dietrich. Filmed three times previously (in 1914, 1923 and 1930) and remade again in 1955. [PG]

Film Review – DARK COMMAND (1940)

Image result for dark command 1940Dark Command (1940; USA; B&W; 94m) ***  d. Raoul Walsh; w. Grover Jones, Lionel Houser, F. Hugh Herbert, Jan Fortune; ph. Jack A. Marta; m. Victor Young.  Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Walter Pidgeon, Roy Rogers, George “Gabby” Hayes, Marjorie Main, Porter Hall, Raymond Walburn, Joe Sawyer, J. Farrell MacDonald, Helen MacKellar, Trevor Bardette, Richard Alexander, Roy Bucko, Mildred Gover. A cowpoke becomes a rival for a ruthless renegade.  Strong production values and well directed action sequences cover cracks in this rushed and uneven Western. Wayne is a likeable hero and Pidgeon a charismatic villain who both court rich banker’s daughter, Trevor. Hayes adds comic relief. Plot takes a dark turn as Pidgeon’s guerrilla army loots its way across Kansas and there is a rousing climax. The character of Will Cantrell is loosely based on the real-life Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill. [U]

Film Review – STAGECOACH (1939)

Image result for stagecoach 1939Stagecoach (1939; USA; B&W; 96m) ****½  d. John Ford; w. Dudley Nichols, Ernest Haycox; ph. Bert Glennon; m. Gerard Carbonara.  Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Thomas Mitchell, Donald Meek, George Bancroft, Berton Churchill, Tim Holt, Tom Tyler, Louise Platt, Yakima Canutt, Si Jenks, Chris-Pin Martin, Merrill McCormick. A group of people travelling on a stagecoach find their journey complicated by the threat of Geronimo and learn something about each other in the process. Highly influential western became the first classic of its genre by taking it from low-budget B-picture fillers to something with more substance and no little art. Whilst some of the set pieces and characterisations may now seem overly familiar, it must not be forgotten that this was the film that started it all. Wayne became a star following his imposing performance as the Ringo Kid and Trevor is his equal as a woman trying to escape her past. There is top-class support from Carradine as a dignified gambler with a violent past and Mitchell as a drunk doctor. Spectacular stunt chase sequences and a moodily shot showdown finale add to what is a winning mix. Ford handles the story and characters with his trademark confidence. Won Oscars for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mitchell) and Best Music (adapted from folk songs by Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken). Also available in a computer-colourised version. Remade in 1966 and again for TV in 1986. [U]

Book Review – FIRE IN THE HOLE AND OTHER STORIES (2004) by Elmore Leonard

FIRE IN THE HOLE AND OTHER STORIES by ELMORE LEONARD (2004, William Morrow, 228pp) ***½

Blurb: Originally published as When the Women Came Out to Dance, Elmore Leonard’s extraordinary story collection, Fire in the Hole reconfirms his standing as the “King Daddy of crime writers” (Seattle Times)–a true Grand Master in the legendary company of John D. MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain. These nine riveting tales of crime and (sometimes) punishment–including the title story starring U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, which was the basis for the smash hit TV series Justified–feature all the elements that have made the great Elmore Leonard great: superb writing, unforgettable characters, breathtaking twists, and the sharpest, coolest dialogue in the mystery-thriller genre.

An interesting collection of some of Elmore Leonard’s short stories and two novellas. The key story of interest is “Fire in the Hole”, which became the basis for the TV series Justified. This is one of two novellas included, the other being Tenkiller, which also plays like a modern day western. Sparks (1999, 17pp) ***½  is the story of an insurance investigator looking into a house fire of a property owned by a wealthy widow. It has echoes of Double Indemnity and gets the collection off to a solid start. Hanging Out at the Buena Vista (1999, 5pp) **½ is a short throwaway vignette set in a nursing home where two elderly people are coming to terms with their mortality. Chickasaw Charlie Hoke (2001, 17pp) *** is the story of an out-of-work ex-ball player trying to trade off his name. The story is insubstantial but features strong characters. When the Women Come Out to Dance (2003, 17pp) **** is one of the strongest stories in the collection and concerns a red-headed ex-stripper who has married into money and become Mrs Mahmood. She hires a maid she suspects had killed her own husband with the intention she does the same for her. This story too has some marvellous noir-ish touches and a satisfying twist climax. Fire in the Hole (2002, 56pp) ****½ is the main draw here. It features US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, star of Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, as he returns to his home town in Kentucky and comes across Boyd Crowder, who he “dug coal with” before he became a lawman. Crowder is now a bigoted criminal looking to wage war against black Americans and take control of the local drug trade. Most of the characters used in the TV series are introduced here and this is the best of Leonard’s stories to feature Givens. Karen Makes Out (1996, 22pp) *** features another of Leonard’s popular creations, US Marshal Karen Sisco. This story demonstrates her fallibility when she unknowingly becomes romantically involved with a bank robber. The story plays out in pretty predictable fashion, but Leonard is obviously at home with his characters here. Hurrah for Capt. Early (1994, 17pp) ***½ is a Western story of a returning black soldier from the Cuban war who faces bigotry from cowboys in a town welcoming home a war hero. The story plays out well with a strong, dignified, central character in Bo Catlett. The Tonto Woman (1982, 17pp) *** is also set in the west, where a rancher has his Indian wife living in exile in a log cabin, where she is befriended by a charming Mexican cattle rustler. This story plays out more as a morality tale and has familiar tropes of the genre. The final story Tenkiller (2003, 60pp) ***½ features ex-Rodeo rider now Hollywood stunt man, Ben Webster returning to his homestead to find three criminals have rented the property on which they are stripping hijacked trucks. There is the re-kindling of a romance and a satisfying showdown thrown into the mix. It is a formula that Ace Atkins would explore in his Leonard-inspired Quinn Colson series. This ends a satisfying mix of stories that demonstrate Leonard’s strength with handling plot, characters and dialogue in his distinctive economical style.

Film Review – UNFORGIVEN (1992)

Unforgiven (1992; USA; Technicolor; 131m) ****½  d. Clint Eastwood; w. David Webb Peoples; ph. Jack N. Green; m. Lennie Niehaus.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher, Rob Campbell, Anthony James, Shane Meier, Jaimz Woolvett, Anna Levine, David Mucci, Tara Frederick, Liisa Repo-Martell, Beverley Elliott. A retired Old West gunslinger reluctantly takes on one last job, with the help of his old partner and a young man. Eastwood’s revisionist Western strips away the old mythology surrounding the gunfighters and the lawmen, delivering the vulnerable and violent reality of killing. The film is perfectly paced to capture the nuances in the script and the performances of a wonderful cast, with Hackman, Harris, Freeman and Eastwood all turning in note perfect interpretations. Gentle acoustic score by Niehaus adds melancholy to the mix.  Winner of four Oscars: Best Picture; Actor in a Supporting Role (Hackman); Director and Film Editing. Only the third Western to ever win the Best Picture Oscar. The other two being DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) and CIMARRON (1931). The final screen credit reads, “Dedicated to Sergio and Don”, referring to Eastwood’s mentors, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. [15]

Book Review – AN OBVIOUS FACT (2016) by Craig Johnson

AN OBVIOUS FACT by CRAIG JOHNSON (2016; Penguin; 318pp) ***
An Obvious Fact by Craig JohnsonBlurbIn the midst of the largest motorcycle rally in the world, a young biker is run off the road and ends up in critical condition. When Sheriff Walt Longmire and his good friend Henry Standing Bear are called to Hulett, Wyoming—the nearest town to America’s first national monument, Devils Tower—to investigate, things start getting complicated. As competing biker gangs; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; a military-grade vehicle donated to the tiny local police force by a wealthy entrepreneur; and Lola, the real-life femme fatale and namesake for Henry’s ’59 Thunderbird (and, by extension, Walt’s granddaughter) come into play, it rapidly becomes clear that there is more to get to the bottom of at this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally than a bike accident. After all, in the words of Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Adventures of Sherlock Holmes the Bear won’t stop quoting, ”There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
The twelfth novel in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series is an entertaining read, but shows signs of complacency setting in. Johnson writes engaging characters and witty dialogue, but there is something a little blase about the way they go about their business in this story. The humour is turned up and the thrills turned down and everything feels a little comfortable. The mystery itself isn’t as engaging as the plots in earlier books either. and the whole thing is wrapped up rather conveniently in the epilogue. That said I was never bored and this is probably the fastest and easiest read in the series – the novellas and short stories excepted – just not very challenging. Hopefully, this is not the beginning of a downward turn and The thirteenth novel, The Western Star, will be a return to form.

The Walt Longmire Series:

The Cold Dish (2004) ****
Death Without Company (2006) ****
Kindness Goes Unpunished (2007) ****
Another Man’s Moccasins (2009) ****
The Dark Horse (2010) ****
Junkyard Dogs (2010) *****
Hell is Empty (2011) ****
As the Crow Flies (2012) ****
A Serpent’s Tooth (2013) ****
Spirit of Steamboat (2013 – novella) ****
Any Other Name (2014) ****½
Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories (2014 – short story collection) ****
Dry Bones (2015) ****
The Highwayman (2016 – novella) ***½
An Obvious Fact (2016) ***
The Western Star (2017)

TV Review – LONGMIRE – SEASON 6 FINALE (TV) (2017)

Longmire – Season 6 Finale (TV) (2017; USA; Colour; 72m) ****  pr. Brad Davis, Bryan J. Raber; d. Christopher Chulack; w. Hunt Baldwin; ph. Todd Dos Reis; m. David Shephard.  Cast: Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Cassidy Freeman, Adam Bartley, A Martinez, Zahn McClarnon, Louanne Stephens, Barry Sloane, Graham Greene.  Nighthorse’s problems at the casino escalate. Walt gets an unexpected visitor that helps him with is search for Malachi. Nighthorse is betrayed. An inevitable confrontation leads to lives changed. Ferg tries to mend his relationship with Meg. A long awaited relationship blooms. Satisfying and crowd-pleasing finale to what has been a great modern western series that survived being axed by the network (A&E) after three seasons to see three more with Netflix thanks to a fan campaign. This last season, and this episode in particular, seems to have been written to provide a fan-friendly climax and some of the elements felt a little rushed in the wrap-up. But it is rare these days that a series gets the opportunity to do right by its characters and its audience. No plot strand is left loose and there are many poignant moments. In truth these days, with so many channels and programmers, it is very difficult to keep a series fresh, but this one never outstayed its welcome. Based on the excellent Walt Longmire mysteries written by Craig Johnson. [15]

Film Review – THE WILD BUNCH (1969)

Image result for the wild bunch 1969Wild Bunch, The (1969; USA; Technicolor; 145m) ****½  d. Sam Peckinpah; w. Walon Green, Sam Peckinpah, Roy N. Sickner; ph. Lucien Ballard; m. Jerry Fielding.  Cast: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Strother Martin, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, L.Q. Jones, Emilio Fernandez, Albert Dekker, Bo Hopkins, Dub Taylor, Paul Harper, Jorge Russek. An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the “traditional” American West is disappearing around them. Ultra-violent statement from Peckinpah symbolising the passing of the Old West and the introduction of modern warfare. Immaculately shot and edited with a percussive doom-laden score by Fielding. Veterans Holden and Ryan in particular are superb and are well supported by a strong stalwart cast. Opening and closing shootouts are brutal. [18]

Book Review – THE REDEEMERS (2015) by Ace Atkins

THE REDEEMERS by ACE ATKINS (2015, Corsair, 370pp) ∗∗∗∗

Blurb: He is only in his early thirties, but now Quinn Colson is jobless – voted out of office as sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, thanks to the machinations of county kingpin Johnny Stagg. He has offers, in bigger and better places, but before he goes, he’s got one more job to do – bring down Stagg’s criminal operations for good. At least that’s the plan. But in the middle of the long, hot summer, a trio of criminals stage a bold, wall-smashing break-in at the home of a local lumber mill owner, making off with a million dollars in cash from his safe, which is curious, because the mill owner is wealthy – but not that wealthy. None of this has anything to do with Colson, but during the investigation, two men are killed, one of them the new sheriff. His friend, acting sheriff Lillie Virgil, and a dangerous former flame, Anna Lee Stevens, both ask him to step in, and reluctantly he does, only to discover that that safe contained more than just money – it held secrets. Secrets that could either save Colson – or destroy him once and for all.

The fifth novel in Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is the closest the author has come to emulating one of his writing heroes – Elmore Leonard. The story is populated with the type of characters Leonard employed in many of his crime novels set in the modern west. The plot itself is slight, being centred around a robbery, but the character interaction, double-crossing and the bigger picture of Colson’s mission to put Johnny Stagg behind bars keep the pages turning. Atkins has a great handle on his characters and embellishes them through their salty dialogue. Whilst the plot itself reaches a conclusion, some of the domestic threads that have ran through the series are left loose. there is also a signal in the series taking a change of direction in its final pages. Another strong addition to an excellent series.