Wild 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. 
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.
Seven Men from Now (1956; USA; Colour; 78m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Budd Boetticher; w. Burt Kennedy; ph. William H. Clothier; m. Henry Vars. Cast: Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed, John Larch, Don ‘Red’ Barry, Fred Graham, John Beradino, John Phillips, Chuck Roberson, Stuart Whitman, Pamela Duncan. Ex-sheriff Ben Stride tracks the seven men who held up a Wells Fargo office and killed his wife. Tightly directed Western with Scott in fine form as the brooding ex-sheriff and Marvin also excellent as a chancer looking to profit. Scenic photography and the smitten Russell add to the ingredients, making this one of the finest of the star and directors’ collaborations. [PG]
Hollow Point, The (2016; USA; Colour; 97m) ∗∗ d. Gonzalo López-Gallego; w. Nils Lyew; ph. José David Montero; m. Juan Navazo. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ian McShane, James Belushi, Lynn Collins, John Leguizamo, Nathan Stevens, Michael Flynn, Karli Hall, Heather Beers. A new sheriff of a small town along the U.S. & Mexico border investigates a drug cartel deal that went horribly wrong. Dark, violent modern Western. Efficiently made but the sensationalist script leaves us with no-one to root for and there is little in terms of scope outside of its formulaic chase thriller premise. McShane fails to convince as a Texas sheriff and Wilson struggles to hit the right note as his deputy. 
Long Chase, The (TV) (1972; USA; Technicolor; 74m) ∗∗½ d. Alexander Singer; w. Roy Huggins (as John Thomas James), Dick Nelson; ph. Gene Polito; m. John Andrew Tartaglia, Pete Rugolo. Cast: Ben Murphy, Roger Davis, J.D. Cannon, Rod Cameron, Buddy Ebsen, Marie Windsor, James Drury, Laurie Ferrone, Dave Garroway, George Keymas, Frank Sinatra Jr., Larry Storch, Sally Field. This is actually three episodes (“The Long Chase”, “High Lonesome Country”, and “The Clementine Ingredient”) of the classic wild west cowbuddy show of the Seventies Alias Smith and Jones edited into one TV movie. Two reformed criminals are constantly on the run from the law. The story strands are loose and clumsily edited, but there is still undeniable charm in the characters. [PG]
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969; USA; DeLuxe; 110m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. George Roy Hill; w. William Goldman; ph. Conrad L. Hall; m. Burt Bacharach. Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Cloris Leachman, Jeff Corey, George Furth, Kenneth Mars, Ted Cassidy, Donnelly Rhodes, Jody Gilbert, Timothy Scott, Don Keefer. Two Western bank/train robbers flee to Bolivia when the law gets too close. Newman and Redford establish a charismatic chemistry and make the most of Goldman’s witty screenplay. Hill’s direction is spot-on capturing the end of an era in the American West through his use of visual dynamics emphasised by Hall’s evocative cinematography. One of the great Westerns that bears repeated viewings. Sam Elliott’s feature film debut. Won Oscars for Screenplay, Cinematography, Music and Song for “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”. Followed by a prequel BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS (1979). [PG]
Alias Smith and Jones (TV) (1971; USA; Colour; 73m) ∗∗∗½ d. Gene Levitt; w. Glen A. Larson, Douglas Heyes; ph. John M. Stephens; m. Billy Goldenberg. Cast: Pete Duel, Ben Murphy, Forrest Tucker, Susan Saint James, James Drury, Jeanette Nolan, Earl Holliman, Dennis Fimple, Bill Fletcher, John Russell, Charles Dierkop, Bill McKinney, Sid Haig. A pair of outlaws seeking amnesty from the Governor must stay incognito and out of trouble in a town while a friend pleads their case. The wait is complicated by a lovely bank manager and the arrival of members of their former gang. Light-hearted spin on BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID coasts on the charm of Duel and Murphy who are backed by a strong guest cast. Holliman scores as dim-witted gang leader. Pilot for subsequent TV series (1971-73), which ran for three seasons and 50 episodes with Roger Davis replacing Duel midway through second season following the actor’s tragic suicide. [PG]
Day of the Outlaw (1959; USA; B&W; 92m) ∗∗∗∗ d. André De Toth; w. Philip Yordan; ph. Russell Harlan; m. Alexander Courage. Cast: Robert Ryan, Burl Ives, Tina Louise, Alan Marshal, Venetia Stevenson, David Nelson, Nehemiah Persoff, Jack Lambert, Frank DeKova, Lance Fuller, Elisha Cook Jr., Dabbs Greer, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Helen Westcott, Donald Elson. Cowboys and ranchers have to put their differences aside when a gang of outlaws, led by army captain Jack Bruhn, decide to spend the night in a little Western town. Grim, relentless western immaculately shot in bleak snowy conditions against a scenic mountain range backdrop. Strong performances from a capable cast – notable Ryan and Ives. Based on the novel by Lee E. Wells. [PG]
Sons of Katie Elder, The (1965; USA; Technicolor; 122m) ∗∗∗½ d. Henry Hathaway; w. William H. Wright, Allan Weiss, Harry Essex, Talbot Jennings; ph. Lucien Ballard; m. Elmer Bernstein. Cast: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman, Michael Anderson Jr., Martha Hyer, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, George Kennedy, James Gregory, Paul Fix, Jeremy Slate, John Litel, John Doucette, James Westerfield, Rhys Williams. Ranch owner Katie Elder’s four sons determine to avenge the murder of their father and the swindling of their mother. Enjoyable, if overlong, Western with Wayne in fine form supported by a strong cast including Martin, Holliman and Anderson Jr. as his brothers. Kennedy also good as a hired heavy. Rousing score by Bernstein. Filming was delayed after Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer. [U]
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1973, Corgi, 150pp) ∗∗∗
Blurb: They whipped the last sheriff to death in the middle of the Main Street. Now a year of breaking rocks had made them hungry for revenge on the whole town. But first they had to deal with the stranger, a man with a lot of lean lightning on his hip – and a gut-urge to use it!
In the 1960s and 70s, before the advent of home video, paperback novelisations were the only way you could revisit a movie without waiting 5 years for a TV premiere or a re-release. They pretty much faded away once movies became readily available, firstly through the rental market and ultimately through retail. Tidyman’s High Plains Drifter is a solid example of how a novelisation could flesh out a screenplay, but could not always recapture the elements that made a movie special.
The novelisation of Tidyman’s screenplay for Clint Eastwood’s Western was published in May 1973 – a month after the release of the film. Tidyman had written the original screenplay during the early summer of 1972 and assigned Phillip Rock (uncredited here) to adapt the screenplay into a novel manuscript, which Tidyman would then edit. The book, therefore stays very close to Tidyman’s original draft. Eastwood saw the opportunity to add some mystical elements – suggesting the stranger was a re-incarnation of the murdered town marshal. Dean Reisner had been hired to add these elements into a final draft screenplay – although Tidyman retained sole credit on screen following a WGA ruling. It is these additional elements and Eastwood’s persona that made the film stand out from other westerns. The novel is, therefore, a much more straight forward tale. Most of the elements of Tidyman’s screenplay were used in the final version of the film, but in the novel there is no real suggestion of a link between the stranger and the marshal. The reader is left to ponder on the stranger’s motives. As a result, the novel – though well written and never less than engaging – does not stand out from the crowd in the same way as the movie.
Note: Phillip Rock wrote the novelisation of Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in 1971.