Monday, August 6, 2012



Those who say there are only six or seven Western plots had better hold their tongues until they’ve seen REDEMPTION: FOR ROBBING THE DEAD.  They haven’t seen this one yet. Although not a traditional Western, it is a legitimate one, focusing on a lawman, an outlaw of a sort, and their relationship.  Most remarkable of all, it’s a largely true story.

In 1862, Salt Lake City lawman Henry Heath (John Freeman) follows up a complaint by a dead outlaw’s brother who, in exhuming his grave to bring the body home, finds that his brother has been buried face down and naked.  Heath, having gone to the personal expense of providing a suit for the bandit, now goes to question the grave-digger, French immigrant Jean Baptiste (David Stevens), and at his home finds the man’s brain-addled wife, and evidence suggesting that the man has robbed hundreds of graves for their clothes. 

Baptiste was involved in the recent burial of Heath’s daughter, a loss that has crushed Heath and his wife (Robyn Adamson), and Baptiste barely saves his own life by convincing Heath that his daughter was not among his victims.  Despised by a horrified community, there is no shortage of people who would gladly kill Baptiste, but his grotesque crimes are not a hanging offense, and to punish him without actually killing him, the ghoul is exiled to Antelope Island, in the center of the Great Salt Lake. 

When someone must occasionally bring provisions to the exile, the job falls upon Heath, and the simple decency he shows in his treatment of Baptiste is all that keeps the banished man alive.  It also soon makes Heath nearly as despised as his prisoner. 

REDEMPTION is a haunting and thought-provoking study of one of the strangest crimes in the history of the American West.  Writer-director Thomas Russell, a Slamdance Award-Winning screenwriter, has told the often queasy-making story with a subtle but eerie tone.  While the only truly humorous moments happen early in the film, later scenes like Baptiste’s oblique evaluation of the clothing of a group of mourners are wonderfully sinister.  And Russell has learned, as Val Lewton and John Carpenter did before him, that the unseen but alluded to crimes are much more troubling in the imagination than if they were directly shown.

The leads, though largely unfamiliar, are up to their challenges, and John Freeman is impressive as the lawman who blames his past sins for his daughter’s death.  David Stevens as Baptiste manages to bring pathos and humanity to a character that is inherently revolting.  And there are very familiar faces giving strong performances in supporting roles.   Edward Herrmann appears briefly as the Governor, and Rance Howard plays the physician who can do nothing to save the lawman’s child.  Jon Gries, creepy Uncle Rico from NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, plays a hired gun.  Margot Kidder, Lois Lane to Christopher Reeves’ Superman, is Baptiste’s ‘tetched’ but endearing wife.  The best supporting role, and performance, is by Barry Corbin, as the judge who explains why Heath must protect Baptiste, in a heartbreaking monologue.

I hesitate to say that this could be classified as a faith-based production, as I don’t mean to suggest that you should lower your expectations.  It is not a preachy movie; it’s just that some of the characters are influenced by their faith. 

The art direction and costuming by Melanie Gardner and Bree Evans bring the Utah frontier to life.  Derek Pueblo’s photography is effective whether showing gloomy interiors or startling action, like Baptiste being dragged by the collar through a cemetery to identify each grave he defiled.  But Pueblo especially excels in some of the startlingly beautiful vistas of the sky over the Salt Lake.  You can certainly understand why Brigham Young saw the Salt Lake Valley and concluded this was the place to build his city. 

REDEMPTION: FOR ROBBING THE DEAD is available now from Monterey Media.


Last Saturday, July 28th, marked the 8th National Day of the Cowboy, and the celebrations are getting bigger and better with every year.  Last year, Western writer J. R. Sanders convinced the Barnes & Noble in Redlands, California to sponsor READ ‘EM COWBOY, to encourage kids to read about the West.  This year there were several READ ‘EM events in California, five in Texas, and others in Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota!

When I went to the READ ‘EM COWBOY event at the Santa Clarita Barnes & Noble, parked in front there was Western wardrobe-designer par excellence Nudie’s customized Cadillac, pulling a wagon he’d designed for Roy Rogers: a sure sign that Julie Ann Ream, who was in charge of the store’s event, was in the building. 

Peter Ford

Just beyond the cash registers was a table where Peter Ford, son of stars Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell, sat signing copies of his book, GLENN FORD, A LIFE (reviewed recently in the Round-up).  I opined that Glenn Ford was one of the screen’s great cowboy icons.  “Thank you.  A lady just came by and bought a book, and said, ‘Your father was one of the three greatest horsemen,’ in her opinion, the others being Ben Johnson and Joel McCrea.  So Dad is in very good company with those two.  He was a quick-draw with his handgun.  Born in Quebec, Canada, it’s about as far away from cowboys and horses and gunplay as you can get, but he became quite proficient.” 

Kid Reno

Farther into the store, a performance area had been set up for a succession of western music-makers.

Ralph and Geri

Ben Costello

On the other side of the store, just outside the speaker’s room, author Ben Costello was signing copies of GUNSMOKE: AN AMERICAN INSTITUTION, the product of five years of research and interviews (soon to be reviewed in the Round-up).  Opposite Ben, DEADWOOD regulars Ralph Richeson and Geri Jewell were sitting, Geri signing her autobiography. 

Authors Mark Bedor and Jim Christina

Peter Sherayko

The speaker’s room was filled with a number of western writers signing their books, including Mark Bedor, Jim Christina, and Peter Sherayko, whose excellent TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS AND THE GEAR and THE FRINGE OF HOLLYWOOD were recently reviewed in the Round-up.  As Julie Ann Ream emceed, a succession of Western-related folks took the microphone.  Among them were THE SEARCHERS star Lana Wood; Republic western and serial star Peggy Stewart; Julie Rogers, who talked about grandparents Roy and Dale, and modeled a Nudie skirt; and Ken Berry, who starred in F-TROOP, a delightful comedic take on the cavalry western.  “I’ve been to a couple of these evenings.  As a matter of fact, Bob Steele (Trooper Duffy) was a dear friend.  I loved Bob.  And I went to an evening that was especially fun; Gene Autry was there.  And I’ve met Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  They meant a lot to me, too.” 

Lana Wood

Peggy Stewart

Julie Rogers

Ken Berry

The very busy Martin Kove, a popular villain and hero, made a splash in CAGNEY & LACEY, and the RAMBO and KARATE KID films.  But his earliest credits include GUNSMOKE and THE WHITE BUFFALO, with Charles Bronson, and westerns have a special place in his heart.  “I was all the way in Beverly Hills, actually.  I said, do I want to show up?  But my commitment is to the rejuvenation  of the west, and trying to do as many westerns (as I can), trying to get our heritage back on track, so kids can remember what it was like when they saw a western, and the values of the western.  So I said, I’ve got to show up; the same reason you beat yourself to death trying to get a western financed; it’s a great uphill battle.  I think from 1920 to 1967, one of every three movies made in Hollywood was a western.  So it’s kind of an over-exposed genre.  I really care about the genre, and the future of it, and I don’t want it to disappear.  This is an indelible part, this National Day of the Cowboy, to keep it alive.”  I asked him about his most recent western project.  “I’m doing an internet series called SIXGUN SAVIOR, (a supernatural western).  I’m going to do a 1950s oil story, called THE FALCON’S SONG.  I leave in about two weeks to go to Montana.”  

Martin Kove

While a group was heading to the local Baja Fresh for lunch – Baja, like the local Ben & Jerry’s, were contributing a portion of the day’s sales to the NDOC – I drove over to the Autry to see how their celebration was going.  There was continuous entertainment in the courtyard, with square-dancing, music by bands like Triple Chicken Foot, and Miss Devon & The Outlaw.  Famed champion gunslinger Joey Dillon was back with his flashing .45 Colt single-actions, and nearby some kids were hammering designs in leather, while others were learning to toss a lariat.  The Wells Fargo Theatre was packed with Saturday matinee fans watching episodes of THE GENE AUTRY SHOW. 

Joey Dillon and a volunteer

Hurry up, kid!   There's a line for that horse!

Curator Jeffrey Richardson

Rarely seen quarter horse!

The gold-panning operators were doing a land-office business, and throughout the museum, docents were giving history demonstrations.  I ran into Jeffrey Richardson outside of the wonderful Colt Gallery, which he curated.  He told me the life-sized Gunfight at the O.K. Corral diorama would soon be closed to make way for an expansion of the gun collection.  I asked him about the importance of the National Day of the Cowboy at the Autry.  “One of the things we like to do here at the Autry, on the Day of the Cowboy and everyday, is let people know that, despite depictions in popular entertainment, cowboys were a really diverse group. It’s a day when people can come and explore the rich history of the American west, specifically seen through the eyes of one of the truly iconic figures of (our) history the American cowboy.”

Meanwhile, J.R. Sanders’ READ ‘EM COWBOY event at the Redlands Barnes & Noble and Starbucks, brought thirteen western authors, had plenty of entertainment for young and old, and featured a Young Writers Cowboy Fiction Contest.

Authors Chris Enss, Nicholas Cataldo and Paige Peyton

Young Writers Cowboy Fiction contest winners, with Jim Meals and J. R. Sanders

One of the very interesting out-of-California events was CRAZY DAYS, at Belle Fourche, South Dakota, the setting for the end of the classic John Wayne western THE COWBOYS (they actually shot it in New Mexico and L.A., but Belle Fourche is where the story is set).  Marking the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, Belle Fourche welcomed five of the original COWBOYS from the cast: Nicolas Beauvy (Dan), Al Barker Jr. (Fats), Steven Hudis (Charlie Schwartz), Sean Kelly (Stuttering Bob), and Steve Benedict (Steve).  Last week’s Round-up featured an interview with Nic Beauvy about the making of THE COWBOYS, and I called him this afternoon to find out how Belle Fourche worked out. 

“Bell Fouche was wonderful!  It was a treat to see the other COWBOYS, and everybody had a good time: we were treated like movie stars.  It was the first time in forty years I’d seen (them).  Everyone was eager to sign autographs and feel important and to know that you were in a movie that people loved.  It’s so revered over there: it’s like GONE WITH THE WIND in the Midwest.  The people who are fifty, sixty years old now, who were kids when the movie came out, they loved the movie so much that they’ve turned their children on to it.  So I met kids who were 8 years old, 12 years old, 15 years old who have seen the movie many, many times, and know it inside and out.  Because their parents love it.   

“It was just a great experience for me in that I met real Midwestern American people.  You know, coming from Los Angeles you don’t meet too many people like that.  They leave the keys of the car in the ignition.  They don’t lock their doors at night.  It’s a different way of life, not such a complicated life.  In some ways they enjoy life a lot more.  It’s beautiful to be around people like that.”  Like cowboys.


"Take that, Javier!"

Work comes from Deadline: Hollywood that Akiva Goldsman has delivered to Warner Brothers a draft of the script for the first part of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER, a sci-fi Western.  Based on eight books by King, the project is planned as three theatrical features and two TV miniseries.  Dropped by Universal when it got too expensive, Warners currently has the option, and should decide whether or not to proceed within the next two weeks.     

Imagine Films director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, the team that won Oscars for A BEAUTIFUL MIND, are at the helm, and Howard is no stranger to the Western form, having starred in THE SHOOTIST before directing FAR AND AWAY and THE MISSING.  Javier Bardem, long attached to the project, is no longer, and the talk is that GLADIATOR Oscar winner and A BEAUTIFUL MIND star Russell Crowe will portray gunslinger Roland Deschain.  Crowe has previously ridden the range in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD and 3:10 TO YUMA. 


On Wednesday, August 8th it’s TEPEPA with Tomas Milian and Orson Welles and YANKEE.  On Thursday THE RUTHLESS FOUR, with Van Heflin, Gilbert Roland and Klaus Kinski, with REQUIESCANT.  On Friday, Sergio Corbucci’s COMPANEROS, with Franco Nero and Tomas Milian, with THE PRICE OF POWER, with Fernando Rey and Van Johnson.  Then Saturday, The Main Event: Corbucci’s DJANGO!  Starring Franco Nero, and Lee Van Cleef in THE GRANND DUEL.  Sunday it’s DJANGO KILL…IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT, and Corbucci’s HELLBENDERS, starring Joseph Cotten. 

That's it for this week!  Sorry I'm posting on Monday morning rather than Sunday night, but I lost the internet at midnight.  On the plus side, I got more sleep than I usually do on a Sunday night.

Have a great week!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright August 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved


  1. Henry- I just love "The Round-up"! Thanks, pal.

  2. Henry, Your work in reporting on cowboy culture, and particularly your coverage of the National Day of the Cowboy is phenomenal and invaluable. Thanks so very much for helping us grow this crusade.