Sunday, July 27, 2014
For the life of me, I don’t know why director John Sturges’ (a magnificent director of westerns) Hour of the Gun (a film that says more happened after the gunfight at the OK Corral) isn’t heralded as a sterling example of how to direct a western about Earp without necessarily all-the-way glorifying him. Oh, he’s considered justified in sense for seething with a desire for vengeance considering his brother, Virgil, is crippled after being shanghaied by Ike Clanton’s hired guns and another brother, Morgan (running for election as County Marshall) is shot-gunned from behind while playing pool (and waiting for election results which, tragically, dictated he had won, when up against one of Clanton’s paid politicians) in a saloon. A local in Tombstone saw the Virgil shooting but Wyatt promised to keep his testimony secret so it isn’t presented in a court of law. So the gunmen involved in two shootings are dispersed, either to kill Earp or to “disappear”. Clanton has his own posse work as deputies while the marshal, Spence is “excused” to leave Tombstone “on a business trip”.
After watching the whole movie, I believe the film's critics will point to the pacing "issues" (I wasn't bothered by this but I have seen the word "tedious" used, so viewer beware) because there are confrontations with those involved in murders that impacted Earp. An early scene has Ike at the front of a funeral procession thanks to his encouraging the gunfight due to his defiance of Earp and his deputies. Ike loses a brother and takes two from Wyatt, fueling the rest of the film. There's a journey from territory to territory as the big hunt of the killers has Earp and Doc in pursuit, accompanied by handpicked posse of a most unusual sort. I can't imagine, though, that those accustomed with Leone epics can't withstand the pacing of Hour of the Gun. Jerry Goldsmith (I believe you can hear Rambo in this score along with other western dramatic touches following Earp's adventures) lends a memorable score and cinematographer Lucien Ballard's work is especially impressive early on.
Clanton has a joke murder warrant for Wyatt’s arrest which is only issued so that Earp would be killed before trial. So Doc Holliday (played as a cool, honorable-to-a-fault character by Jason Robards; he also serves as a type of “moral compass” for Earp) will form his own posse for Earp, but they’re not exactly the most efficient or textbook examples of “fine law-abiding deputies”. On the run but also provided his own warrants (federal not state) for Clanton’s hired guns that killed his brothers, Earp “attempts” to arrest them, but ultimately each fall to the gun. Before long, Doc starts to serve as a voice against how Earp is handling the on-the-lam criminals, loosely (very) abiding by the law to ascertain them for trial. “County Marshal” Spence was involved in a stagecoach mine payroll robbery and tries to kill Earp, so he winds up another dead body.
If the criminals are killed, the reward money doesn’t go to those trying to arrest them. So Doc begins to drink and worsens in his aggravation towards Earp. As the film continues, Doc gradually succumbs to failing health and alcoholism. Robards steals the film as Doc. Garner is intense, embittered, brooding, and scowls angrily as Earp. He does imbue Wyatt with a sense of justice (“the law”) and loyalty to those who are “on his side”, but that festering need for revenge subtly surfaces as a matter of convenience, “allowing events to result” which gives him “permission” to kill those who wronged him. But when he kills Warshaw (who watched both brothers die for $50 but didn’t shoot), basically enforcing a shootout he’d know he’d win, Earp’s upholding of the law is called into question by Doc.
Fueled by booze, partially, and disappointment in a man he respects, Doc calls Wyatt out for his “transgressions”. His advanced Tuberculosis starts showing itself so Doc, when back handed by Earp for chewing him out as a gunfighter using warrants to kill, falls to his knees which lets us know he’ll be a goner soon. Learning that Ike moved off to Mexico (prospering on a ranch with stolen breeds), Sheriff Bryan left to his own (which means he was “finished”), and the posse “paid off” by Tombstone’s politico, Earp (with a tag-along Doc Holliday who figures he’s going to take down Clanton in Mexico) plans to meet with federales and arrest his nemesis. Earp is up for Chief Marshall of Arizona and Tombstone’s lead law officer while Doc knows his days are numbered. Eventually Ike will square off with Earp but this isn’t the kind of Sergio Leone gunfight the film builds up to, so I guess the climax might feel a bit of a let-down.
This, I figure, will be of interest to Garner fans because the typical wide-smiling charmer with a radiating personality is absent. Earp is a mostly introverted, expresses very little, emoting reserved and confined, but that need to set right what Ike did wrong (by killing his brothers who were “following the rules”) pushes him to confront Clanton, with Doc riding alongside of him because of a loyalty, not by his usual standards of money (which says just how he feels about Earp). While the film opens with what a lot of western fans expect when Earp is produced on screen—the gunfight at OK Corral—this adaptation of the legendary lawman and his boozing buddy is more of a build-up to Wyatt and Ike facing each other one last time. Two heated rivals in a run-down Mexican hacienda finally settling a score. Doc has plenty of room here to be a star (as was Kilmer in the Kurt Russell Earp film, Tombstone) and Robards makes damn sure to make the most of it. He’s the voice in the wilderness that Wyatt is a different man than him and should follow the protocols and standing of his badge and law-abiding philosophy. I think this could have easily had been retitled “Wyatt and Doc” because truthfully both are treated with equal screen time. Robards is that good and Garner, normally an actor who does his own scene-stealing, can play Earp straight and dead serious. No matter how sick, though, Doc’s still better than anyone else at poker.
Friday, July 25, 2014
I was quite sad about James Garner’s passing, and because he’s an actor I enjoy (I think his work in various types of comedies, whether romantic, western, or drama, speaks for itself), so a dedication him on the blog seemed appropriate. I write mostly about horror, sci-fi, erotica, and cult, but I also have quite a fondness for westerns. One of my favorite roles portrayed by Garner was his intense, gritty Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun, quite a different type of character and performance than what you would see in his “Support Your Local…” western comedies. While I did think Robert Ryan was wasted in Hour of the Gun, seeing Garner in a part that required this serious, brooding side rarely seen by him—unlike his charmer television classic characters in the likes of Maverick & The Rockford Files—was neat. I have a second western I’ve never seen I will be reviewing for the blog called A Man Called Sledge I’m looking forward to. I’m even planning to review television episodes of The Rockford Files for the blog. It’s the least I can do to honor Garner in memoriam. His kind of actor is someone I always enjoyed watching in films. He was fun. We still have his resume—an extensive one with lots of roles yet discovered. He seemed to play off any actress with ease and great timing, too. There was even a cult film or two…try They Only Kill Their Masters if you can find it.
Monday, July 21, 2014
My favorite scene in Final Destination 5 doesn’t necessarily feature a gruesome, imaginatively staged death, but it factors exponentially in how frightening “death’s design” can be. Unlike a human mastermind such as Jigsaw and his protégés in how they design death traps that require their “specimens” to act on potential escape methods, FD series doesn’t technically allow such rescue of themselves. Sure it’s possible that one can “replace their fate with someone else handy” but most of the time this isn’t in the cards. The scene I loved was the hero’s walking through a kitchen in the back of a restaurant as he prepares to cook. All the “tools of trade” are seen as weapons of mass destruction. The presentation of these cooking tools would indicate that they are harbingers of doom. I was tickled at how macabre they were established.
FD is a popular series almost exclusively because of how death executes victims. Typically (and FD 5 is no different), the victims are all right off the cover of Pretty People magazines and due to their lack of Major Star recognition often are plundered from television where they make the rounds before the call up to a movie that will exploit their good looks. They make perfect fodder for whatever death does to them. It really all comes down to how inventive and grotesque the death sequences are. We are provided the compounding score that illustrates to us the possibilities of what death has in store for victims. Screws loosening, water puddling, a fan jittering uncontrollably, fires flaming up from candles after they’re tipped over, invisible wind directed to the spots needed to jumpstart something really bad ahead: death’s design is purported to us with sound and eventual fury. An unfortunate victim falls on acupuncture needles, becomes trapped in a therapy room where massage isn’t necessarily applied by Asian babes thanks to a fire setting off, and has his head splatted by a smiling Buddha statue (!). There’s typically quite an uncomfortable death sequence (like the showstopping tanning bed sequence in FD 3) in the series and that would be the laser eye sequence in this film. Sure an eyeball falls out and is run over after the victim flies out a window from several stories to her death. Flying debris stab faces and a hook used in construction impales a victim; this was during an employee’s altercation with his boss (one of the survivors of death’s initial attempt to kill him who happens to escape again when his construction worker is “pulled in the way”). One of the cast shows a disturbing desperation after he realizes that a person “marked by death” can escape death’s return by “finding a substitute”. He will target someone else, but when a murder happens in front of this film’s hero and heroine (boyfriend/girlfriend), this executioner will need to remove any witnesses. The film provides that exciting climax where death isn’t the only killer out to claim victims…this scene also shows how death itself might get involved (a gun falls on a stove eye and begins to heat). There’s even a clever tie-in to the first film which brings death full circle. Though, I didn’t buy that the film took place in 2000…just saying.
Horror buffs, we get Tony Todd as a coroner with an understanding of how “death works”. It’s his mere presence that is needed. He can show up (in the right movie, with the right director) and not say a word and Todd is utilized especially well. What is sad, to me anyway, is how poorly used Todd has been in a lot of films for which he’s appeared over the last twenty years. Candyman (and its sequel) are pure examples of how magnificent he can be (he’s also good in The Crow), but so often he’s stuck in the likes of Wishmaster (a film with its fans, me not one of them) and The Graves where he’s embarrassed. Often he’s been a cameo guy like Lance Henriksen, but here in FD 5, I think he is presented as a type of symbolism for death’s follow up. He’s the guy that is around once death has called its next victim.
Fans of this series know what to expect and are looking for creative kill scenes where characters are destroyed innovatively. There’s an entire sequence dedicated to killing a gymnast. We see it all play out, believing the intended victim might step on a nail on a balance beam or perhaps fall to the dangerous fan, only to die in a whole different way that involved parallel bars. The special effects for the aftermath after the body is mangled and twisted are ghoulish and unforgettable. This is what patrons paid to see for five films…death doing what it does best and that is through elaborate destruction. I could tell you of the characters' ambitions, their concerns about careers and life ahead since they are young and feel undeserved of death's pursuit, but ultimately if they don't die somehow, the viewer (s) would be disappointed. This is kind of disturbing in itself...that we are little concerned about who these people are but more interested in how they'll die.
Friday, July 18, 2014
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"... perhaps we invent artificial terrors to cope with the real ones."
--host, Donald Pleasence, Terror in the Aisles (1984)
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--Alone in the Dark (1982)
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