Spikeopath

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Bad Company (1972)

Say, how'd that Jane Eyre turn out? Bad Company is directed by Robert Benton and Benton co-writes the screenplay with David Newman. It stars Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown, Jim Davis, David Huddleston and John Savage. Music is by Harvey Schmidt and cinematography by Gordon Willis.

Young men dodging the Union Army draft for the Civil War escape to the West in the hope of finding fortune and freedom. What actually awaits them is something completely different.

The 1970s saw a slew of Westerns released that were a far cry from the golden frothy production line of the 1950s. Film makers big into the genre were quick to latch onto more sombre stories or quirky non conformist pieces. The climate of the World was changing and so directors and writers were comfortable in portraying the Wild West as not being romantic or heroic at all. One such gem is Bad Company.

Benton's film quickly sets out its stall with its opening salvo, as Union soldiers round up young boys in child snatching fashion, all that is missing is big chins and lollipops. Enter one young man named Drew Dixon (Brown), a God fearing youngster packed off by his Mum to the West to start a richer life. Soon enough he is falling in with bad company, company fronted by Jake Rumsey (Bridges), the main man for a ragtag band of young thieves.

The West painted here is a dour place, Rumsey's gang think nothing of robbing young children of their pocket money, or tormenting a feral feline. We are often throughout the picture reminded that folk come West for fame and fortune etc, but have found nothing but misery. A man quickly spies an opportunity to solicit his wife out to the young gang for $10 a pop, an elder gang think nothing of robbing the younger upstarts. Weapons have to be traded just for a meal (slop really...), and of course there is no honour among thieves, doing each other over will come naturally. And naturally pain, death and rude awakening are just a heartbeat away.

And yet the pic is not without humour, much needed humour as it bears out the naivety of youth, or misplaced cockiness, or just in fighting camaraderie. There are laughs to be had here, some choice dialogue or a put-down, but given the nature of the story, a shock or heartache scene is never far away.

A Technicolor production, the colours are however stripped down to autumnal filters, this perfectly aids the naturalistic flavours of this particular Western broth. Schmidt offers up a range of piano dirges, flitting between perky and morose as per the scene it accompanies. Cast are great, Bridges and Brown hold court in believable fashion, the other youngsters guided well by their director. Big Joe's (Huddleston excellent) gang consists of reliable character actors who Western fans will be pleased to see, such as Geoffrey Lewis (The Culpepper Cattle Co. High Plains Drifter), Charles Tyner (Jeremiah Johnson, The Outlaw Josey Wales) and Ed Lauter (Breakhart Pass, Dirty Little Billy).

Myths of the West debunked, Bad Company is a must see for Western fans seeking the more earthy approach to Western story telling. 8/10

Westward the Women (1951)

Caravan of graft, guile and stoicism. Westward the Women is directed by William Wellman and adapted to screen by Charles Schnee from a story written by Frank Capra. It stars Robert Taylor, Denise Darcel, John McIntire, Hope Emerson, Julie Bishop and Henry Nakamura. Music is by Jeff Alexander and cinematography by William Mellor.

A most important Western, one that demands to be seen by lovers of the genre. Plot finds Taylor tasked with escorting over 100 women from Chicago to California, their goal is to find marital harmony at Whitman Valley. They must overcome extreme conditions, from that of the natural terrain, hostile invasions, and inner fightings via passions and suspicions. This is a wagon train of some difference.

The key issue here is that this MGM production puts up front and centre the fact that women played a key part in the shaping of the frontiers. It manages to have the expected cute and funny scenarios, but not at the expense of viable assertive drama, nothing denigrates how strong, brave and driven these women were.

Some of the gender politics look a touch suspect today, and occasionally some of the framing devices for the women are over staged. There's also the irritant of stereotyping Nakamura's Asian character, but these are small quibbles all told. For this is a unique and fascinating Western, something of a banner movie for telling a side of the "West" we hardly have ever see on film. 7/10

Lone Star (1952)

I'm frightened. For the first time in my life, I am frightened for the future of the United States. 1845 Texas, Independent, survived Alamo, Goliad and San Jacinto ... But Annexation?

Quite often the joy in being a fan of genre film making, in this case Westerns/Southerns et al, is that a pic can coerce you into reading up on real instances. Thus making this particular picture a requisite requirement for literature delving.

Directed by Vincent Sherman and written by Borden Chase (who would supposedly be irked by the depiction of his writing) and Howard Estabrook, Lone Star comes off as an "A" list film given "B" list production values. Nothing wrong with cast performances, Gable still has charisma in his fifties, Gardner oozes sexuality and Crawford dominates like a great presence should. However, it looks stagy, is overly talky as the makers try to make a politico pot boiler out of a sow's behind, while the action - in spite of a grandiose battering ram finale - just doesn't have an oomph factor.

Romantic love triangle feels pointless in the context of such historical filmic tellings, but this is off set by the Sam Houston and Native American splinter of the narrative. Rendering this as a frustrating whole, not without merits, and above average for sure, but difficult to recommend as one to seek out as a must. 6/10

The Keeping Room (2014)

There are many kind of monsters in the world. The Keeping Room is directed by Daniel Barber and written by Julia Hart. It stars Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller. Music is by Martin Phipp and cinematography by Martin Ruhe.

It's the back end of the American Civil War and 3 women fight to defend their home from 2 Union Army "Bummers"...

Uncle Billy is coming!

As genres go, the Western (Re: Southerns - Civil Wars) are primarily male dominated, but just occasionally female led pictures from this ilk come forth to shine bright. It's refreshing that in this modern era of film making, genre film makers are not afraid to pitch the female angle to remind all that women had a key part in the shaping of the frontiers all those years ago. Or as is the case here, they were not merely token fodder, but often women of strength prepared to take up the fight to protect themselves when under duress.

Daniel Barber and Julia Hart have crafted a magnetic piece, that aside from a daft misstep at pic's finale booms with feminist wiles. Opening with a burst of shocking violence and sexual assault inference, this is merely an attention grabbing appertiser as the pic then settles into a languid realm. The makers are in no hurry here, those expecting an action fuelled piece are in for great disappointment. Not to say further jolts to the system are not forthcoming, they exist and are truly throat grabbing, but tone is set at earthy realism, the sparse locations sidling up nicely with the lives of the women functioning while their loved ones are lost to the war that rages on the edge of the frame.

Performances are top end, the girls superb, the boys frighteningly on the boil for the dark side that the war would bore out. As for the look as per tech credits? With the pic being shot in Romania it is natural to approach this thinking it will lack for period flavours, yet it very much does come up trumps there. Anyone familiar with the Barber and Ruhe collaboration Harry Brown 2009, and liked its aesthetical look, will appreciate the craft on show here, more so as Phipps' musical score compliments like some sort of edgy spectre. Barber has an eye for stunning shots, here with such things as a burning carriage in flight post crime committed, or our heroine on white horse in flight through a lonely tree laden pathway, there is beauty here in a world containing monsters.

*SPOILER*

Resolution of the play is frustrating and rewarding in equal measure, the women strong and correctly earning our admiration - that they have to dress as men to escape the horrors of war just doesn't strike the right chord in a play with such a strong feminine bent - but that could just be me being picky...

Not one for those lacking patience, or misogynistic geezers who expect women in Westerns to be token fodder or punch bags, The Keeping Room has much to offer genre fans embracing this sort of story telling as a whole. 8/10

Johnny Angel (1945)

Gustafson Goings On. Johnny Angel is directed by Edwin L. Marin and adapted to screenplay by Frank Gruber and Steve Fisher from Mr. Angel Comes Aboard written by Charles Gordon Booth. It stars George Raft, Claire Trevor, Signe Hasso and Hoagy Carmichael. Music is by Leigh Harline and cinematography by Harry J. Wild.

Merchant sailor Johnny Angel (Raft) returns from duty to seek out who was responsible for his Father's death...

Fans of film noir as a film making style will get much from this, in fact the story has enough about it for fans of the form to enjoy. Yet peeking through the wonderful fogs and shadows, you find a pretty unadventerous narrative, a routine job where Raft is on auto-pilot and Trevor has you hankering for her other (great) noir endeavours. Still, what do us amateur reviewers know? Film made money at the box office!

Noir shadings in look and narrative twists, Johnny Angel is however lacking in thrills and surprises. 6/10

Flatliners (2017)

Line of flatness for fans of the original - for others not so much. Strictly on a personal level, I always felt that the original Flatliners was average at best. A missed opportunity to use the premise for frightening results, to unnerve, unhinge, whilst intelligently examining the life after death question. So when news of this 2017 remake broke I wasn't in the least bit surprised, the idea at the narrative core was ripe for further filmic delvings.

Niels Arden Oplev's 2017 version is itself problematic, and a long way from being all the things I so wanted from the original film, but at least it has its own twists, a supernatural slant for scares. The makers are also to be applauded for making a truly bold decision in the story, rendering complaints about this not offering anything new as being redundant. Chances are that if you are a fan of the original film you will hate this, if like me you have no affinity to it then this is an ok time waster. While for those not familiar with the 1990 pic can go in for some mild shock and afterlife dalliances. 6/10

Dirty Little Billy (1972)

Pre fame mud and rags telling of Billy The Kid. Directed by Stan Dragoti, co-written by Dragoti and Charles Moss, and starring Michael J. Pollard, Richard Evans and Lee Purcell. Music is by Sascha Burland and cinematography by Ralph Woolsey.

Dirty Little Billy firmly de-glamourises the Billy The Kid legend, well sort of. This is a portrayal of the infamous outlaw before he became just that. Film is telling of what he was before he made his first kill, his weak standing in society, his turbulent family life, and is tentative steps to making friends - where he is clingy extreme. The backdrop is one of mud and rags, there is no showy Wild West here, it very much operates as an Anti-Western, an independent picture firmly offering up a flip side to some of the legends printed as fact. Technically it is just ok, where things are strongly hindered by Pollard simply being too old. Asking a 33 year old man to play a teenager is a stretch, it is with much credit that Pollard gives it his all and nails at the least the village idiot side of Billy pre his fame.

Not a hidden gem by any stretch of the imagination, it does however show up a side to Billy The Kid not often told in the history of film and literature. Worth seeking out for that point of reference, but as entertainment or a viable Western film of note? I'm not sure. 5/10

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

If a man is fool enough to get into business with a woman, she ain't going to think much of him. McCabe and Mrs Miller is directed by Robert Altman and Altman co-adapts the screenplay with Brian McKay. It's adapted from the novel McCabe written by Edmund Naughton. It stars Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, John Schuck, Keith Carradine, Rene Auberjonois and Bert Remson. Music is by Leonard Cohen and cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond.

A gambler and a prostitute become business partners in the remote mining town of Presbyterian Church, as their enterprise booms it comes to the attention of a large mining corporation who want to buy the action.

Altman's grim and dirty slice of the Old West (Northwestern here to be precise) is a divisive picture in Western fan circles. In fact it's been said that it's more beloved by none Western fans and Altman acolytes than actual Western lovers. Put up as a flag bearer for the Anti-Western splinter, a mud and rags Oater for terminology purpose, there is no denying the quality on show across the board.

Set in bleak winter time, Altman and his crew pour on the atmospherics in practically every frame, with the director using his familiar film making trademarks (overlap conversations, realistic movement of characters in framing shots etc) for maximum impact. With Cohen warbling his plaintive tunes at each story juncture, there's a haunting beauty on offer that belies the narrative thrust fronted by losers and dreamers. While Zsigmond brilliantly photographs the extreme difference between the homely feel of the interiors, with that of the cold snowy wilderness outside the doors, where the muted colours ooze period flavour.

Purposely built for the film, the town of Presbyterian Church is a sea of mud, snow and timber, where the weather is perpetually dank, the surroundings enveloping chief protagonist McCabe like an unearthly portent. There are no great pyrotechnics here, and the story is being told in slow and deliberate time, which goes a long way to explaining why it is a divisive film, so any newcomers should be forewarned of this. Beatty and Christie in the title roles are superb, both defrocked of their star status beauty, they perform skilfully for realistic portrayals.

Not an easy watch, but always riveting and fascinating, it for sure is a piece of art. A picture worthy of revisits when the mood is set for total immersion. 8/10

The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)

I'm no good for any man for any longer than a kiss! The File on Thelma Jordon is directed by Robert Siodmak and written by Ketti Frings and Marty Holland. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly, Joan Tetzel, Stanley Ridges and Richard Rober. Music is by Victor Young and cinematography by George Barnes.

Assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Corey) falls for Thelma Jordon (Stanwyck) after she seeks help solving a problem with prowlers and burglars. But is there more to Thelma than meets the eye?

Probably due to availability issues in home viewing formats, this appears to be one of film noir legends Siodmak and Stanwyck's under seen pictures. Which is a shame, for although it is often tagged as something of a lesser value Double Indemnity, it's a noir that noir lovers can get great rewards from.

As we are in noirville the plot isn't at all surprising. Stanwyck fronts up for what we expect is femme fatale duty, Corey looks to be on course for being a hapless loser dude, Kelly is up for some tough copper portrayal, while Rober stalks the edges of the frame as bad news bloke. A despicable crime is at the core of the story, and characterisations are straight out of the dark alleyway (Thelma has murky secrets and ideals, Wendell is unhappily married with a drink problem). Running at 100 minutes in length, the pic does feel a touch too long, especially given that the first thirty minutes is focused on building the principal players, where they are at in their life and the build up of their relationship. This asks for faith in staying with the piece, in hope it rewards for the following hour plus. Thankfully it does.

As the crime arrives, we are treated to noir nirvana as per style of film making. It's the middle of the night in a house menaced by shadows as the wind bashes an open window shutter. For a good twenty minutes, prior to - during - and post the crime, the house is a scary monstrous place, perfect for a dark deed to be enacted. The great Siodmak (The Killers, The Spiral Staircase, Criss Cross) is in his element on this, where aided by the superb photographic skills of Barnes (Rebecca, Force of Evil), the staging of scenes and the visuals enhance the moody machinations of the plot. As does Young's dramatic musical score. So with acting performances comfortably on par for the good, the tech credits are high.

Irks come with that drawn out first third of film, and the ending poses some question marks as well. Personally I would have liked it to have finished five minutes earlier, but as it stands there's a sort of double whammy with the finale. Some will find it contrived, others will applaud the ultimate outcome since it doesn't cop out. Either way, this is a noir film worthy of seeking out for the like minded purveyors of such things. 7/10

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Joyously Bonkers! It is what it is, a nutty premise made in nutty fashion, but for the undemanding horror fan there's a good time to be had here. Action choreography is of a very good standard, as is, perhaps surprisingly, the CGI. The history aspects of the story, one Abraham Lincoln's accent into justifiable legendary status, are of course a mixture of the based on fact and chaotic popcorn, but it's always interesting, exciting and bloody!

I imagine most horror fans have seen it by now, but if like me you are late to it, and like me you go in with low expectation levels, you could well find yourself having a blast and not hating yourself in the morning . All that and Rufus Sewell looks suspiciously like Adam Ant! 7/10

The Secret of Convict Lake (1951)

The Convict Conundrum. The Secret of Convict Lake is directed by Michael Gordon and collectively written by Anna Hunger, Jack Pollexfen, Oscar Saul and Victor Trivas. It stars Glenn Ford, Gene Tierney, Ethel Barrymore, Zachary Scott, Ann Dvorak, Barbara Bates, Cyril Cusack, Richard Hylton, Helen Westcott, and Jeanette Nolan. Music is by Sol Kaplan and cinematography by Leo Tover.

I came here to kill one man. I don't mind killing a couple of others if I have to.

It's winter time here at Diablo Lake, and the five convicts who have survived the escape find themselves holed up in a remote village. Their reasons for being there differ, more notable though is that the men of the village are away prospecting, meaning the village is only currently populated by women.

It's a fine bubbling broth of scenarios, each convict is different, ranging from unstable psycho type, alpha male, twitchy youngster, simpleton and on to the calm likeable one who doesn't appear to belong in this company. So with the reasons for the men being here established, narrative then jostles with the inner fighting of the convicts, and the various emotional strands of the women folk. Suffice to say there is sexual tensions, mistrust, misrule, macho posturing and of course secrets to be born out.

Violence is sporadic but potent upon arrivals (one instance especially grabs you by the throat), and with the mystery of the men's crimes a constant question, intrigue makes for an enjoyable companion. Tech credits are uneven. The studio bound feel of the village sequences which fill out 90% of the pic are an itch, making you hanker for the more expansive snowy terrains that greeted us at story beginning. However, Tover's monochrome photography is suitably mood compliant, even if Kaplan's score isn't, while the lead actors are giving good value to offset some of the histrionics elsewhere.

Perhaps not the firecracker it could have been, given all the elements involved - particularly annoying that a strong feminist bent subsides into token play - this is none the less a most interesting piece that holds attention throughout. 7/10

Once Upon a Texas Train (1988)

These old men get that way by staying alive! Written and directed by Burt Kennedy, Once Upon a Texas Train stars Willie Nelson, Richard Widmark, Shaun Cassidy and Chuck Connors. Music is by Arthur Rubinstein and cinematography Ken Lamkin.

A TV movie that Western fans can enjoy more for nostalgia value than anything bordering must see entertainment. Plot essentially has aged criminals led by Nelson's John Henry Lee, being pursued by aged law enforcers led by Widmark's Captain Oren Hayes. The passing of time a persistent theme as Kennedy throws in fun and sparky dialogue, narrative twists to make characters unlikely allies, while action flits in and out to off set the threat of impending boredom.

Made with love no doubt, and with the likes of Jack Elam and Royal Dano joining the Western roll call cast list, it's a passable Oater for lovers of such. 5/10

Silverado (1985)

Hi Ho Silver! Silverado is directed by Lawrence Kasdan and Lawrence co-writes with his brother Mark. It stars Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum Linda Hunt and Rosanna Arquette. Music is by Bruce Broughton and cinematography by John Bailey.

As a big Western fan it's most interesting revisiting Silverado some 30 odd years after its release. In context of the time it first came out, when the genre was a dead duck, it was a bold and beautiful romp. How wonderful to find that with one or two 1980s irks aside, it is still a fine Western beast beating a true genre heart.

Ok, it's hardly pulling up trees thematically, in the main because it embraces what it homages, every cliche in scene and writing is respectful to its predecessors, the Kasdan's achieving everything they set out to do - entertain like minded film lovers.

Cast are on fine form, clearly enjoying the material and setting of such. The locations are outstanding, the vistas gorgeous, with production design to match. Broughton's musical score is rambunctious and lifts the spirit, even if much of it feels 1980s as opposed to the era of film's setting. Action scenes are expertly staged, the improbable irrelevant for joyous rewards, and stunt work high end as well.

Themes such as prostitution and racism are only given small acknowledgements, but character building is evident at every turn to fully involve audience from first reel to last. Heroes and anti-heroes, psychos, thieves and power hungry villains, no stone left unturned here. This isn't for those after the grim textures of something like Unforgiven and latterly Hostiles, this is more in keeping with something like Tombstone, or even the much divisive Lone Ranger.

Saddle up and enjoy if you haven't already done so! 8/10

Three Hours to Kill (1954)

The Man With The Rope Scar On His Neck! Three Hours to Kill is directed by Alfred Werker and written by Richard Alan Simmons, Roy Huggins and Maxwell Shane. It stars Dana Andrews, Donna Reed, Stephen Elliott, Richard Coogan and Dianne Foster. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.

As solid as a boulder in Death Valley, Three Hours to Kill is a most satisfying Oater for genre fans not expecting boundary pushing. Plot has Andrews as Jim Guthrie, who is wrongly accused by the town folk of murder and promptly condemned to death by lynch mob. Escaping the rope by the skin of his neck, Guthrie bides his time for three years before heading back to the town to clear his name and nail the real murderer. His friend, the Sheriff, gives him three hours to complete his task before the law intervenes.

What unfolds is a whodunit led by Andrews as he interrogates and puts the squeeze on a number of the town's denizens. There's a deliberately downbeat tone that serves the story well, with lost loves, unfulfilled lives and haunted memories of past doings permeating the narrative. The psychological undertones and risque aspects of the story are tantalisingly -frustratingly so - left to just simmer, but mood befits question marks in the plotting to keep one engaged.

Action scenes are in the main no more than competently handled, but a couple are quite striking to raise the pulses. When the pic moves out of the confines of the town, the locales (Lake Sherwood, Sherwood Forest, Hidden Valley in Calif) are most striking and leave you hankering for a more airy picture as a whole. Cast are fine, Andrews toughs up for good perf, but as lovely as Reed and Foster are (in fact Foster is socko gorgeous), they are undone by standard writing and Reed comes off as looking bored.

The ending carries a nice surprise, two fold in fact, to close the deal on what is an above average Oater to be enjoyed as easy sampling by genre fans. 6.5/10

Bandolero! (1968)

One boy goes with Quantrill, the other goes with Sherman. Bandolero! is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and written by Stanley Hough and James Lee Barrett. It stars James Stewart, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch and George Kennedy. A Panavision/De Luxe color production, music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by William H. Clothier.

Initially set in Texas, 1867, the pic in short plot form entails the leading men, ruffian robbers with a glint in their eye, and leading lady, on a road trip of some discomfort. They are being pursued by the law led by George Kennedy, whilst having to deal with internal fighting and a date with blood thirsty Mexican bandits.

Bubbling away in the mix is the tale of two brothers (Stewart and Martin) who went different ways during the Civil War, the conversations of such between the two most potent and worth sampling. Add in Welch for dressage and sexual tension, with Kennedy's stoic lawman in pursuit of both her and the outlaws, and it's got firecrackers simmering in the narrative. Hanging and the threat of sexual assault further stokes the fires, all while we are asked to take seriously guys with names like July Johnson and Roscoe Bookbinder!

McLaglen directs with competent hands befitting the occasion, in other words let your star named cast operate without mugging for the camera - with the visual ticks of Stewart and Kennedy a joy as opposed to doing down the material. Goldsmith's score is a bit too modern sounding for the time period of story setting, but as expected it's a blood stirrer. While locales are most pleasing as the great Clothier cements his status as a Western genre legend.

Ultimately with the cast assembled it really should be a far better film than what it is, but if nothing else, the odd blend of humour and serious themes makes for an intriguing viewing. Whilst as Kennedy slots in to steal the film from his more illustriously named co-stars, it's enough to just enjoy a cast and director comfortably at work. 7/10

The Doolins of Oklahoma (1949)

From Daltons to Doolins. The Doolins of Oklahoma (AKA: The Great Manhunt) is directed by Gordon Douglas and written by Kenneth Garnet. It stars Randolph Scott, George Macready, Louise Albritton, John Ireland, Noah Beery Junior, Charles Kemper and Viginia Huston. Music is by George Duning and Paul Sawtell and cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.

After the fall of the Dalton Gang, Bill Doolin (Scott) becomes head of his own gang of outlaws. But with the law in hot pursuit and his yearning to start a new life, Doolin knows he is greatly up against it.

Since it irritates many, it needs pointing out that if you are searching for a history lesson - a film full of real life fact - then look elsewhere. This is at best an interpretation of Bill Doolin the outlaw, where the makers get some things right and others not so. So just settle in for a Western movie, out to entertain with that bastion of Western, Randy Scott, up front and central.

Standard rules of 1940s/50s Westerns apply, meaning there is nothing new across the dusty plains here, outlaw wants to escape his past but circumstances refuse to let him do so. Cue moral and emotional conflict, chases, fisticuffs, shootings, robberies and macho posturing. The Doolin gang are here portrayed as lovable rogues, with main man Bill particularly exuding that fact, and it's here where the Production Code tempers the promise of something more biting in narrative thrust. The lady characters are unfortunately short changed in the writing, leaving the guys to carry the pic to safety conclusion.

At production level there is much to admire. Lawton's black and white photography is crisp and detailed, the interiors atmospherically photographed, the exteriors gorgeously showcasing the Calif locations to full effect. Stunt work (with legendary Yakima Canutt on point detail) is high grade, exciting and authenticity rolled into one. While the crowning glory comes with the stampede at pic's finale, exhilarating is not overstating it. Cast can't be faulted, the ever watchable Scott surrounding by genre pros who don't know how to soil a Western, and with Douglas in the director's chair you got a man who knows his way around an honest Oater.

No pulling up of trees here, and some familiarity does do it down for those in tight with the genre, but lots to like here. From the gunny opening salvo to the mighty stampede, and encompassing rueful closings, it's a treat regardless of historical lessons. 7/10

The Man from Galveston (1963)

The Soiled Dove Plea. The Man from Galveston is directed by William Conrad and co-written by Dean Riesner and Michael Zagor. It stars Jeffrey Hunter, Preston Foster, James Coburn and Joanna Moore. Music is by David Buttolph and cinematography by Bert Glennon.

Originally shot as the pilot for the TV series Temple Houston, this was ushered out onto the big screen as a double billing entity. What we get is a very competent piece of film making, if ultimately it never ignites into being something remotely thrilling.

Set at the time of the circuit courts in 1800s Texas, it sees Hunter playing Timothy Higgins (Temple Lea Houston in reality). A cunningly bold lawyer who is not without the compunction to use his firearm should the need arise. Herein is the problem as such, the pic doesn't reach out to the gun play angle for entertaining purpose, instead it settles for sedate character play, propped up by the legal by-play as Higgins cements his standing as a man who is at the top of his craft.

Studio bound but boosted by Glennon's crisp photography, as a production it's hard to find fault with, this is certainly no dud. But it sits firmly in the time waster department, not really grabbing the iron out of the fire to give a firecracker telling of the fascinating Temple Houston. But with that comes a major bonus, in that it begs you to read up on the real life Temple Houston (son of Sam Houston), well worth digging into, especially the outstanding Soiled Dove Plea of which this play is formed around. 5/10

Relentless (1948)

The Pursuers! Relentless is directed by George Sherman and adapted to screenplay by Winston Miller from the story Three Were Thoroughbreds by Kenneth Perkins. It stars Robert Young, Marguerite Chapman, Willard Parker, Akim Tamiroff and Barton MacLane. Music is by Marlin Skiles and cinematography by Edward Cronjager.

Young plays cowboy Nick Buckley who after being wrongly accused of murder has to stay one step ahead of the law in order to prove his innocence.

On a narrative basis this can hold its head up as being a touch more realistic than other fare of the decade. For sure there be contrivances and itchy coincidences, but nothing that insults the intelligence. Aside form the most appealing technical aspects, where the vistas and colour photography sparkle, the cast are likeable beings who are easy to engage with. There's a bit of thought gone into not making Chapman's gal role a token one, while the plot strand involving the equines in Buckley's life is both interesting and poignant. Action is competently staged by the wily Sherman, who in turn steers the pic safely to the expected conclusion.

A pleasing Oater that while not pushing any sort of boundaries or psychological depth, is sure to entertain fans of 40s and 50s Westerns. 6.5/10

Suture (1993)

Stitching that burning ring of fire. Suture is written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. It stars Dennis Haysbert, Mel Harris, Sab Shimono, Dina Merrill and Michael Harris. Music is by Cary Berger and cinematography by Greg Gardiner.

Identity is the crisis can't you see - X-Ray Spex 1978

Suture is an unusual film that on the surface hangs its chief premise on a most ridiculous concept. Yet what is most striking about the film's heart and soul is that it embraces a number of staple film noir narrative threads. Photographed in spanking monochrome, and featuring an unnerving musical score, this surreal like play works with a cheeky glint in its eye as it challenges the viewer's perception of the unfurling story.

Wrapped around a suggested agony of identity, Suture revels in films and styles of film making it is influenced by. Name checking them all is folly, but as the amnesia angle blends with surgical reconstruction, and the murder plot betrayal sidles up to the voiceover, other potent pics spring instantly to mind. And yet in a piece heavy on identity, Suture, in spite of its reliance on influences, does have its own identity, very much so.

It's quite a debut from McGehee and Siegel, one that begs the question of why they didn't go on to greater things? Here they have great camera craft, with close ups, overheads and frame blends in action, while there's some striking imagery and noirville shadow play to take in as mood setting accompaniments. It could be argued that much of it is highfalutin, and that the philosophical probing is overkill, but the film remains unique and intriguing, if not as remotely thrilling as one hoped. 7/10

It's in the Bag (1944)

It's in the, erm, dress! Directed by Herbert Mason and written by Con West, It's in the Bag stars Elsie Waters and Doris Waters as two batty sisters who try to track down a dress that has a substantial amount of money sewn into the hem.

It's all very chaotic and sprightly, resplendent with chucklesome slapstick as par for the course. The sisters showcase their music hall background to great effect, backed up by a number of idiosyncratic and ebullient characters. It's all very daft of course, none more so than with the blunderbuss finale played out at a theatre, and in truth the jokes wear thin after a while. But some comedy sequences do bring the laughs (sleepwalking on tacks, wonderful), ensuring this is not a waste of time for fans of this type of British film making. Fans of such will be pleased to see Irene Handl and Esma Cannon put in appearances as well. 5/10

War Drums (1957)

I take the knife, I take the arrow, I take the lance! Red Sleeves is on the warpath! War Drums is directed by Reginald Le Borg and written by Gerald Drayson Adams. Its stars Lex Barker, Joan Taylor, Ben Johnson, Larry Chance and Richard H. Cutting. Music is by Les Baxter and cinematography by William Margulies.

Story pitches Barker as Apache chief Mangas Coloradas, who in spite of his strong friendship with white man Luke Fargo (Johnson), finds himself having to take arms up against his friend and his kind.

Familiar territory on the surface here, it's a story that has featured numerous times in Westerns across the decades. Yet even though the execution is sadly drab, and the ridiculous casting for some of the principal characters is irksome, the honourable intentions withing the story keep it from the dustbin.

The pro Native American angle is played with some feeling, though it required more depth and dramatic verve. Also of note is the deft handling of Taylor's character arc, who goes from being abused by all the men around her, into a warrior woman of substance, giving the pic a strong feminist bent.

Musical score is of the traditional Cowboys and Indians fare so beloved of "B" Western movie makers of the era, sitting somewhat uncomfortably with the more serious strands of the narrative. The Kanab locations in De Luxe Color are most pleasing, as is the stunt work on offer.

Though there's a few servings of action, such as ambush, Apache's fighting each other to the death, even a girl scrap! Pic never really gets out of a low gear for excitement purpose, while the ending just sort of fizzles out without fanfare. But for undemanding Western lovers there's enough here to not class it as a waste of time. 6/10

London Boulevard (2010)

I will hurt someone before they hurt me. London Boulevard is written and directed by William Monahan. It stars Colin Farrell, David Thewlis, Ray Winstone, Ben Chaplin, Keira Knightley and Anna Friel. Music is by Sergio Pizzorno and cinematography by Chris Menges.

After serving his stretch for GBH, Harry Mitchel (Farrell) returns to his manor and finds gangland boss Rob Gant (Winstone) wants him as one of his charges.

Written and directed by the man who co-wrote The Departed, it's not hard to guess what sort of tone London Boulevard is set at. Which for anyone who follows neo-noir will find plenty to like here, not least the stylish and tonally compliant photography of Menges.

However, falling under the neo-noir banner becomes a curse in a way because there are far greater films of this ilk to liken it too. Pic at least does have the courage to not cop out in resolutions, but again there is no surprise factor for the genre faithfuls.

The narrative often meanders, shoehorning in Knightley's (underused) harassed actress as a love interest in the process, and London accents are choppy. It also is criminal to have Stephen Graham and Eddie Marsan in your movie and barely give them screen time!

On the plus side of things, the violence and dialogue is often taut and tart respectively, backed by a scorching rocky hipster soundtrack. Farrell is good value as a tough guy, Winstone does what he does best, menacing of course, while Thewlis steals the film as a wired cool cat with menace surprisingly lurking in is heart.

As a whole it fails to hit all the right spots, but enough in here for neo-noir fans to feed on as an appetiser to a more fulfilling noir meal. 6/10

Stars in My Crown (1950)

Yellow backs in fancy dress. Stars in My Crown is directed by Jacques Tourneur and written by Joe David Brown and Margaret Fitts. It stars Joel McCrea, Ellen Drew, Dean Stockwell, Alan Hale, Lewis Stone, James Mitchell, Amanda Blake and Juano Hernandez. Music is by Adolph Deutsch and cinematography by Charles Schoenbaum.

It's post the American Civil War and we are in the Southern town of Walsburg. Preacher Josiah Gray (McCrea) arrives in town and promptly settles down to become an important part of the community. Soon he will come face to face with two killer diseases, that of typhoid and racial hatred.

First off it should be noted that some plot synopsis' and poster art are off base, McCrea's preacher is not a gun toting dude willing to use guns to further his causes, it's a brief scene flecked with humour. Also note that the Ku Klux Klan is not mentioned in this, the gang at the centre of the race hatred here are called The Night Riders (Nightriders perhaps?).

A veer from what we know as the norm for a Tourneur movie, this only really suffers from being a little too precious and naturally dated in its depictions of small town church life and racial bigotry. But that said, it's such a warm involving picture that is performed and directed with skill, it's almost impossible not to feel good about things come the closure of the play.

Story thrives on community strengths and weakness, delicately blending both to show optimism on offer in spite of human fallibilities. The battle between faith and medicine in nicely played, refusing to force feed one or the other, whilst the key scene as the racial hatred reached its vilest peak is potent and hits all the right notes.

Cliches and stereotypes are within, perhaps unsurprisingly for the era of film making, while Hernandez's black character is written as far too passive to be utterly comfortable. It also would have been nice to have had more of Charles Kemper's ebullient medicine show host, but complaints are small here and Stars in My Crown is a worthy and comfort food kinda picture. 7/10

K-9 (1989)

The super cop and James Belushi. Pursuing crime boss Lyman, maverick cop Dooley is tipped over the edge when a false lead ends up with an attempt on his life. Determined to finally get his man, Dooley enlists the help of a police dog called Jerry Lee (The Killer) to hopefully sniff out the drugs that he knows Lyman is involved in. Trouble is is that Dooley has no idea how to treat a dog and Jerry Lee is more of a maverick cop than he is!

Given its low rating, it's hard to know what sort of film the critics and general movie watching public were expecting with this one. Since a buddy buddy cop movie staring James Belushi and a German Shepherd Dog doesn't say anything other than the film we actually get. By the time of K-9's release it was evident what sort of film would be Belushi's staple money earner, the kind that called for him to play the cocky quipper with a glint in his eye. Belushi would try to abandon his buffoonery roles post Curly Sue (who could blame him after that mess really?), and attempt to be a more dramatic action type actor. It wouldn't work, his excellent performances in Oliver Stone's Salvador and The Principal (the latter also criminally undervalued) were long behind him. So you hear the name James Belushi in relation to films and you by and large think larking about action comedies. Coming a year after Red Heat (it looks like Belushi is wearing the same suit from that film in this one!), K-9 delivers exactly what it screamed out it would from the off.

Technically the film has very few things to recommend, but as a family friendly action comedy it has much to laud. The interplay between man and dog is great fun, they are both members of the animal kingdom, they both got needs and they are both great cops. Yes we are never in any doubt that after a troubled start, this pairing are going to become firm friends, and that ultimately, by hook, crook and paw, they will get the job done. Belushi has a nice line in facial comedy and he also never comes up short in delivering quips with panache, and a confidence that often belies the trouble his characters are often in. The dog too is hilarious (hats of to animal handler Robert Zides). Courtesy of writers Steven Siegel & Scott Myers, this is a dog that eats chili and wants to vie with Dooley for Tracy's affections (Mel Harris as Dooley's frustrated girlfriend). It makes for a number of funny set-ups that both man and beast revel at being involved in. Kevin Tighe as villain Lyman is a touch under written, and the obligatory emotional heart tugger moment now looks like over egging the formula pudding. But this is harmless witty fun that gets in and does its job without proclaiming to be anything other than what it is. 7/10

Father of the Bride (1950)

It was a heady era! The values and all round dated feel of this Vincent Minnelli directed piece could possibly dilute for some what a joyful experience is on offer. Yet it beats such a wonderful heart, a pic that is able to still resonate in this day and age, that to open up to Spencer Tracy's bemused father of the bride (a radiant Elizabeth Taylor) brings joys unbound.

As a whole it comes dangerously close to being an extended sit-com piece, but it gets away with it as the screenplay (Francis Goodrich) has a satirical edge that is for all ages. It helps enormously that Tracy is on superb form, here in we find a reminder of just what a great comedic actor he was. And with Minnelli marshalling the rest of the cast adroitly, we get a film willing to lift the spirit of the downhearted - and of course strike a chord with Father's preparing to give their daughter away to marriage... 8/10

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