Monday, November 24, 2014
‘LONGMIRE’ TO RETURN ON NETFLIX, PLUS ‘APACHE’, ‘HILLS RUN RED’ DOUBLE-BILL REVIEWED!
‘LONGMIRE’ TO RETURN ON NETFLIX
Craig Johnson’s lawman LONGMIRE has received a reprieve of his A&E death sentence not from the Governor, but from Netflix. Three months ago, fans of LONGMIRE, the modern-day Western that has attracted A&E’s best drama ratings for three years running were stunned to hear that it was being cancelled in spite of its popularity, because its audience was ‘too old’, and its fans’ money has pictures of dead presidents, instead of that dopey symbol on bitcoins.
No date is set yet on when Longmire will make its appearance on Netflix, but it will be sometime in 2015, and it will be a ten episode season. The story will continue moments after the cliffhanger ending of season three. Leads Robert Taylor and Katee Sackhoff are back, but being a cliffhanger, they’re playin’ it cagey about whether everyone will be back. More info as I get it.
‘THE HILLS RUN RED’ AND ‘APACHE’ – a DVD Review
While they’re an arbitrary pairing – one an American-made Western biography from 1954, the other a Spaghetti Western from 1966 – APACHE and THE HILLS RUN RED are an eminently enjoyable Western Double Feature from the MGM library, released by the Timeless Media Group.
Every Russian I’ve ever discussed Western movies with invariably tells me that his favorite growing up was APACHE, starring Burt Lancaster. While the film doesn’t have that big a reputation stateside, having now seen it, I concur with the comrades: it’s very good. I can also understand why the Soviet government allowed their citizens to watch it: it wouldn’t make you want to defect to the U.S. APACHE is the substantially true story of Massai, the last Apache warrior to be captured following the surrender of Geronimo. After escaping from the train transporting him to a reservation in Florida, Massai goes stealthily back, carrying on a one-man guerilla war against the Army and its associates. He also goes back to seek revenge against his one-time woman whom, he believes, betrayed him. Instead, they go off together, complicating his one-man war even further.
The film is produced by Hecht-Lancaster, the partnership of Burt Lancaster and dancer-turned- choreographer-turned-producer Harold Hecht, and their collaboration would produce some of the finest films of their time in many genres. They’d already made THE CRIMSON PIRATE, and they followed APACHE with the spectacular VERA CRUZ, and then the four-Oscar-winner MARTY. Later triumphs, many starring Lancaster, would include THE UNFORGIVEN (1960), BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962) and ULZANA’S RAID (1972). Based on the novel BRONCHO APACHE by Paul Wellman, the screenplay was by James R. Webb, who started out scripting Roy Rogers pictures at Republic, and would win an Oscar for his screenplay of HOW THE WEST WAS WON.
APACHE was the first important feature from a talented young TV director named Robert Aldrich, who would of course go on to make his mark on hyper-masculine films like VERA CRUZ, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE LONGEST YARD and, tough in a different way, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? This was no minor production. In addition to familiar California shooting locations like Vasquez Rocks, where the film opens, and Corriganville, for the fort sequence, the crew travelled as far as Arizona and New Mexico. Cinematographers Ernest Laszlo (Oscar for SHIP OF FOOLS, and seven other nominations) and uncredited Stanley Cortez (FLESH AND FANTASY, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) made full use of the beauty, and occasional desolation, which surrounded them.
The sequences of Massai’s single-handed guerilla war are original and energetic as only an acrobat like Lancaster could make them. And there are a number of sequences and plot elements that I’ve never seen before. Massai’s meeting with a westernized Cherokee is a standout, as is the scene where Massai, having escaped the train, finds himself, for the first time, in a town full of white people, and where virtually every object is unfamiliar and menacing.
True to the time of production, there are no actual Indians playing major Indian roles, although all of the performances are strong, and in no way demeaning. In addition to Lancaster, his woman is Jean Peters, Geronimo is Monte Blue, and Hondo, a despised Indian scout and traitor to the Apache is Charles Buchinsky, later Charles Bronson. The motley crew of white people, officers and accomplices, include John Mcintyre and radio’s Paladin, John Dehner. Lt. Col. Beck, the only soldier with a noticeable sense of humanity, is Walter Sande. The ending could not be further from what you would have predicted from the beginning, but make perfect sense.
In THE HILLS RUN RED, the Civil War has just ended, and pair of Confederate soldiers has fled in a wagon with a Union payroll. Their elation is momentary – the theft has been discovered and a detachment of bluecoats are gaining on them. Reasoning that there might be a chance for one of them to escape, they draw cards: high card to jump off the wagon with the saddlebag of money and hide, and low card to keep driving the wagon, and hope for the best.
Low Card, Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter), is caught by the soldiers, savagely beaten, and serves five years at hard labor for the robbery. When he gets out, he returns to find his homestead in ruins, his wife and son gone – and evidence that his ‘friend’ High Card – Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo), rather than telling the family that he’s in prison, has told them he’s dead! He also learns that his wife has died. (Niagara Falls! Slowly I turn!)
Jerry sets out to track down and punish Ken. Meanwhile, Ken has invested the stolen money and built a beautiful and prosperous ranch. His sister Mary Ann (the exquisite Nicoletta Machiavelli) lives with him, and has no idea her brother built his wealth by theft, and by letting a friend rot in prison. Ken knows when Jerry is getting out of jail, and sends his top gunman, Mendez, to find and kill Jerry.
Nicoletta Machiavelli & Henry Silva
Already a solidly plotted story – sounds a bit like a Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott movie – but it really takes off when Mendez appears, in the person of Henry Silva, in a wonderfully over-the-top performance, strutting around in black leather and cackling maniacally – and coveting his boss’s sister. Lucky for Jerry, Mendez underestimates him, sending a pair of flunkies to do a man’s work. They end up dead, Mendez determines to take care of the job personally, but Jerry has gotten himself an unexpected ally – a drifting cowpoke named Winny Getz, played Dan Duryea.
Duryea is one of several Hollywood stars, like James Stewart and Robert Taylor, who got better at tough-guy roles, especially in Westerns, as their faces took on some deep lines and signs of wear. Duryea, always a likable performer, had already teamed thrice with Audie Murphy in Westerns, most memorably in SIX BACK HORSES, and his lazy confidence with a deadly edge is a welcome addition.
Jerry makes plans, with Winny’s help, to infiltrate his old partner’s operation, and in a nod to history that’s unusual for films of its time, there are no photographs of Jerry, so Mendez and company only have Ken’s description to work with. There are a few moments that strain credulity, but plenty of action, and a satisfying conclusion. It’s a solid entertainment, straddling the American Western tradition, which was winding down, and the European model, which was in its heyday, coming the same year as THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and DJANGO.
Top-billed, Savannah-born Thomas Hunter had only previously appeared in WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? as ‘American G.I. #3’, but producer Dino de Laurentiis, who loved to pair big stars with new talent – witness FLASH GORDON, starring Max Von Sydow and Sam J. Jones – saw something special in Hunter, and would use him in several more films, including ANZIO.
Hunter is perfectly adequate in THE HILLS RUN RED, but did not become the star Dino had hoped for. Returning to the U.S. in 1969 for an episode of GUNSMOKE, he continued to act mostly in Europe, and later became a screenwriter, he and Peter Powell co-writing THE HUMAN FACTOR and THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. His last screen credit was acting in 1984’s THE ACT.
Nando Gazzolo, the villain of the piece, is fine in his role, but is hard for English-speakers like myself to fully appreciate because he distinguished himself starting in the 1960s as a voice-actor, for cartoon characters, narration, and looping actors who needed a better sound. Busy on TV and in features from 1958 until 2002, he was active in Westerns, sword and sandal films, comedies, and in 1968 starred in a miniseries as Sherlock Holmes. He turned 86 in October.
Director Carlo Lizzani, working under the awful American pseudonym of Lee W. Beaver, had been nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar for RISO AMRO (BITTER RICE) in 1949. He would go on to direct seventy features, documentaries and TV shows, mostly in Italy, but came to the U.S. in 1974 to direct CRAZY JOE, starring Peter Boyle as mobster Crazy Joe Gallo.
Screenwriter Piero Regnoli penned possibly the first Italian horror film – thus helping create an industry – LUST FOR A VAMPIRE in 1957, and after HILLS would help write the entertaining Sergio Corbucci directed, Burt Reynolds starrer, NAVAJO JOE. When he retired in 1994, he had 112 writing credits, in every genre of film Italy produced, among them a pair of Jack London-based WHITE FANG films, starring Franco Nero and Robert Woods.
The terrific score is by Leo Nichols – pseudonym for Ennio Morricone: need I say more?
This Western Double-Feature is available for $9.99 from Shout Factory HERE.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRANCO NERO!
As the unforgettable original Django turns 73 today, he is busily filming DJANGO LIVES!, playing his legendary character as a retired gunman, now livening in 1020s Los Angeles, working as a technical advisor on Western movies.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN DEHNER!
The Disney animator-turned-DJ-turned-actor who died in 1992 is best remembered by radio fans as PALADIN on the radio version of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. He also starred as the London Times reporter visiting the American West on FRONTIER GENTLEMAN; his distinctively rich baritone voice never tried to adopt an English accent, and no one ever asked why. On TV he appeared frequently on GUNSMOKE, RAWHIDE and THE VIRGINIAN, and turned up on just about every other Western series, as well as detective series and comedies – he was a regular on THE DORIS DAY SHOW, and appeared in many movies where a suave, mustachioed villain or good-guy was needed.
THAT’S A WRAP!
So, HELL ON WHEELS is done for the season, but we have one more season, with fourteen episodes, to look forward to on AMC. LONGMIRE will be back, on Netflix, and JUSTIFIED returns to FX , for its final season on January 20th! Next week I’ll be reviewing a book about a really long-running series, BONANZA – A VIEWER’S GUIDE TO THE TV LEGEND, by David K. Greenland.
Have you seen THE HOMESMAN yet? You should! Funny thing, I’ve had a few messages since my review, saying they’re sorry they missed it, or asking me if it will play again. I must repeat: it is a real big-screen, movie-theatre-type movie!
All Original Contents Copyright November 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Resereved