Sunday, January 26, 2014

‘DARK FRONTIER’ REVIEW, PLUS ANTHONY MANN RETRO, AND TARANTINO PULLS THE PLUG!


Updated 2/1/2014 see 'WHEN CALL THE HEART' story 


DARK FRONTIER – Video Review



Australia is a nation whose frontier history parallels that of the United States in many respects, so although the story of DARK FRONTIER does not take place in our West, I think it’s as legitimate for the Round-up to examine such Aussie pictures as it is to examine those set in Canada and Mexico.  Or are you going to tell me QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER isn’t a western?

Just recently released in the United States, DARK FRONTIER, first known as THE LUCKY COUNTRY, was released in Australia in 2009.  It is a dark and brooding story, elegantly scripted by Andy Cox, and dynamically directed by Kriv Stenders, who previously directed BOXING DAY, and has since helmed RED DOG, a true story about a dog’s search for his master, in which he casts some of his DARK FRONTIER stars.



Set in 1902, a year after the formation of the Australian Federation, it’s the story of a family of four that has staked their claim on farm land at the very edge of the frontier.  The father, Nat, has managed to build quite a nice house, filled with their possessions from their old life, but a month ago, his wife, his children’s mother, died.  Now the house seems like a mausoleum, a memorial to her that reminds them constantly of their loss.  His daughter and son, Sarah and Tom, despise the place and the isolation, even as they struggle not to blame their father.  God knows he’s doing the best he can, but his frequent statements of trusting God to provide bring them no confidence. 



In the midst of their trials, and as their few distant neighbors desert their own failed farms for the gold fields, three men ride in, returning from an unsatisfying sojourn with the gold-pan.  They are all recent veterans of the Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, arguably one of the darkest pages in Britain’s empire-building.  Henry is the eldest, or at least the father-figure of the three, Carver his inarticulate second, and Jimmy, perhaps not even out of his teens, is the youngest, and wounded.  The trio ask for shelter – they fear Jimmy will die if he cannot rest for the night.  Though initially suspicious, Nat welcomes them in, and his children, though dubious, go along. 

The presence of the three strong men, and the obliqueness of each one’s different intentions, shifts the power-structure of the six.   Not surprisingly, a desperately lonely teenage girl caring for a handsome, injured young man-of-the-world spells trouble.  So does the slowly emerging fact that one person in the group does possess hidden gold, which could change the fortunes of any one of them.



Most unexpectedly, as the story progresses, the center of it becomes twelve-year-old Tom.  Having just reviewed the first season of THE RIFLEMAN on home video, the comparisons are inescapable.  Both stories are about a widowed father trying to make a new life for his son – and in this case son and daughter – in a new and often savage and unforgiving environment.  Both stories are unusual in realistically showing life from the point of view of the loving son as much as the father.  The difference is that Mark McCain has seen that his father has the strength to do just about anything he sets his mind to.  In DARK FRONTIER, Tom and Sarah long to have that much faith in Nat, but they’ve seen their father fail again and again, and now they’re in a fight for their lives.  Because between gold and guns, not many people are going to survive.  To put it another way, in SHANE, how much chance would Van Helfin have, with Jean Arthur already dead, and no Alan Ladd to help? 



Director Kriv Stenders was fortunate to discover young Toby Wallace to star as Tom, who brings a wonderfully layered performance playing a lad forced to mature long before he is ready.  While his character has plenty to say, much of his performance is in his expression.  Many of his scenes are played alone, yet one never has any doubt of what he’s thinking; except when you’re supposed to.



Undoubtedly a low budget film, the filmmakers have wisely created a small, tight story that uses the limitations to their advantage, rather than trying to be ‘bigger’ than they can afford.  Well over 90% of the film takes place in and around the house, and except for brief glimpses at the beginning and end, there are only six characters.  That’s a lot of responsibility for each, and they are all fine actors.  The father, Aden Young, starred in Bruce Beresford’s wonderful 17th century western THE BLACK ROBE (1991), and plays Victor Frankenstein in the current I, FRANKENSTEIN.  Hanna Mangan Lawrence, lately of the SPARTACUS series, plays the teenaged, miserably unhappy Sarah.  Englishman Pip Miller, of RETURN OF THE JEDI and SLIDING DOORS among many others, plays Henry, leader of the three prospectors, who under other circumstances might be a perfectly nice guy; but he’s done enough in war to be capable of anything in peace.   Neil Pigot plays Carver as a man who says he wants no trouble, but has a huge chip on his shoulder.  And Eamon Farren plays Jimmy, the young romantic with a hard edge.
 


The violence in DARK FRONTIER is not excessive, but it is unflinching.  Cinematographer Jules O’Laughlin, DP on the new BLACK SAILS miniseries, and editor Gabriella Muir handle the visuals and pacing with stylish but unself-conscious skill.  This is a tough, strong, frightening, involving, thoughtful film, and I strongly recommend it.  I will caution that, while the story is about a 12-year-old, I think it would be too upsetting for most 12-year-olds to watch. 



TARANTINO HUNTING FOR ‘HATEFUL A-HOLE’:  SHELVES WESTERN PROJECT!



Director Quentin Tarantino is so angry and depressed at having his script for HATEFUL EIGHT leaked that he’s shelving the project.  Originally set to film in winter, he’s decided instead to publish the script, and direct it in five years or so.   The downside of his nearly deified status among movie nerds is that it becomes impossible to keep wraps on his work until he thinks it’s in a condition to be shown.  The endless on-line analysis of his last two movies’ scripts, for years before the films were shot, no less released, was excruciating.  It’s ‘Round up the usual suspects,’ time and it’s a short list. 

He’s quoted in DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD as saying, “I gave it to one of the producers on Django Unchained, Reggie Hudlin, and he let an agent come to his house and read it. That’s a betrayal, but not crippling because the agent didn’t end up with the script. There is an ugly maliciousness to the rest of it. I gave it to three actors: Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth. The one I know didn’t do this is Tim Roth. One of the others let their agent read it and that agent has now passed it on to everyone in Hollywood. I don’t know how these fucking agents work, but I’m not making this next. I’m going to publish it, and that’s it for now. I give it out to six people and if I can’t trust them to that degree, then I have no desire to make it. I’ll publish it. I’m done. I’ll move on to the next thing. I’ve got ten more where that came from.”  I hope at least one of the ten is a western, but I’m not holding my breath.


ANTHONY MANN RETROSPECTIVE AT UCLA – BILLY WILDER

Beginning on Friday night, January 31st, the UCLA Motion Picture & Television Archive, will present, at the Billy Wilder Theatre, a two-month retrospective entitled Dark City, Open Country: The Films of Anthony Mann.  Best known for his post-war western collaborations with James Stewart at Universal, he also directed many other excellent westerns, as well as gritty crime stories, at all of the major studios as well as the poverty row outfits.  Focusing on his crime films and westerns, the program will open with the double feature THE GREAT FLAMARION (1945), starring Erich Von Stroheim, Mary Beth Hughes, and Dan Duryea; and THE FURIES (1950), starring Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston, and Gilbert Roland. 


On Saturday, February 1st, the double bill will be DR. BROADWAY (1942) and TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE (1945).  February 5 it’s STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944) and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955), February 9th, it’s HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) and THE NAKED SPUR (1953).  February 21st it’s STRANGE IMPERSONATION (1946) and THE LAST FRONTIER (1956).  March 1st it’s DESPERATE (1947) and RAILROADED (1947).  March 3rd it’s BORDER INCIDENT (1949) and THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY (1950).  March 12th, T-MEN (1947) and RAW DEAL (1948).  March 15th SIDE STREET (1950) and WINCHESTER ’73 (1950).  March 23rd THE TALL TARGET (1951) and THE FAR COUNTRY (1954).  And finally, on March 30th MAN OF THE WEST (1958) and THE TIN STAR (1957).

‘HEART’ BEATS STRONG IN EPISODE 4 SATURDAY NIGHT

If you haven’t checked out the Hallmark Channel’s new DR. QUINN ON THE PRAIRIE-styled Canadian Western series, WHEN CALLS THE HEART, Saturday night’s episode is a good place to start.  The series concerns the town of Coal Valley at the turn of the last century, and the school teacher, Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), who has come to serve the town, and finds it full of widows and orphans, as a result of a deadly mining accident.  Episode 3 concerned the mining company’s bought-and-paid-for minister, whose church was burned to the ground while mourners were attending a vigil at the mine.  At the end of that episode, investigating Mountie Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing), sifting through the ashes, finds a clue the Pinkerton Detectives missed: the burnt can of whale oil that started the blaze.  In Episode 4, that can appears to point to a widow of the mine disaster as the culprit.  Is it coincidence, a frame-up, or did she do it?  Find out on Saturday night!  



MASTERS OF THE AMERICAN WEST OPENS FEB.1 AT THE AUTRY

'Mesa Drifters' by Logan Maxwell Hagege

The 17TH annual MASTERS OF THE AMERICAN WEST EXHIBITION AND SALE opens Saturday, February 1, 2014, in the George Montgomery Gallery. This prestigious exhibition challenges nationally recognized artists such as Howard Terpning, Mian Situ, George Carlson, Bill Anton, Tucker Smith, Z. S. Liang, Robert Griffing, Morgan Weistling, Tammy Garcia, and others to exhibit their very best work. The juried exhibition and sale features 80 artists, including established Masters artists and emerging talent. Proceeds from Masters support the Autry’s dynamic educational programs, ongoing collections conservation, and much more.  The exhibition continues through March 16th.

PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS!

Next Sunday’s Round-up will feature my visit to the set of THE MAN FROM DEATH.  Also coming soon to the Round-up, my review of C. Courtney Joyner’s new western novel, SHOTGUN, along with an interview; my review of the new western documentary THE LEGEND OF THE RENO BROTHERS; my review of the new Maryland-based western DAY OF THE GUN; and my review of the just-released THE RED SKELTON SHOW – THE LOST EPISODES (trust me, there is a western connection).

THE WRAP-UP





I’d hoped to review of the new northwestern mini-series KLONDIKE in this week’s Round-up, and I’ve DVR’d all six hours, but I haven’t had a chance to even watch the opening credits.  The trailer looked great.  I placed a request on the Round-up Facebook page for reactions from those who’d seen it.  Here are some of those comments. 

Don D. Wright: “ Great ! I watched all of it !

Chris John Curtis Raring: Loved it, thought it was well done!!!

Caroline Wilson- Sudduth: My family watched the whole thing...awesome...was a little predictable when the man fell thru the ice and lost his gold...jumping on ice that is melting is a  little stupid!..IMO

Roger Manley: Enjoyed it tremendously. WELL DONE!!

Cheryl Dubuque: Only watched parts... wasn't what I thought. I don't think I will use the right word, but it seems more docu-drama or documentary in some parts than I thought it would be... The previews looked great - but don't think the show lived up to the previews. (sorry folks!)

Leta Ann Goldston Burns: Watched it all...Speech garbled..hard to understand..

Tom Betts: I watched the first episode and found it a bit hard to follow, and it's awfully dark both in story and scenery. Seems to want to be part Deadwood part Hell on Wheels. All story with very little action. It's what I would expect from today’s Hollywood.

Col Kurtz: Watched it all and enjoyed it. The scenery, costumes, and props all were excellent. Since it was a mini-series, they didn't have time to develop nuanced characters or plot. But for a show "based on actual events", it was entertaining.

Barbara Moore: Something went wrong with our recorder. We got none of it. Just hope they repeat!

Dan Searles: Was watching Centenial miniseries on encore channel, missed Klondike

Gary Ledoux: I DVR'd it and watched the whole thing yesterday. It was awesome! One of the best mini-series ever. And from what I know about that period, was largely historically accurate. I found one major gaffe but I won't give it out and be a spoiler. Looking at some of the other comments here...yes it was kind of "gritty" like Hell on Wheels and Deadwood... but that's Ok because that time and place was indeed gritty. I was fortunate to have access to some first-hand journals of two men who took that same trip in 1898. Awesome to read.

My favorite two comments are from Sandra Bowers and Leo Pandro, because they touch on two real and growing problems on television in general:

Sondra Bowers: I love the series, but, the commercials make for tedious watching.

Leo Pando: I've been spoiled by HBO and SHOWTIME, shows without relentless commercials. The logos promoting other programs invading the screen are also a distraction. One might be better off watching this when it's available for streaming on Netflix.

So that’s it for this week.  If I manage to find six hours, I’ll let you know what I think of KLONDIKE.  And if you have an opinion, please post it as a comment here on the Round-up!

Happy Trails,

Henry

All Original Contents Copyright January 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved



Monday, January 20, 2014

‘RIFLEMAN’ SEASON ONE REVIEW, PLUS ‘HIGH NOON’ WEST AMERICANA AUCTION!


‘THE RIFLEMAN’ -- SEASON ONE DVD REVIEW



For the first time ever, Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions has issued the complete first season of THE RIFLEMAN in one forty-episode set.  It’s a beauty!  Not only will it bring back great memories, this RIFLEMAN collection is a perfect introduction to the western genre for kids.  Jules Levy, Arthur Gardner and Arnold Laven met during the Second World War, while serving under Warner Brothers Studio President Jack L. Warner, and future President Ronald Reagan, in the Army Air Force Motion Picture Unit at Hal Roach Studios.  They decided to form a production company together when the war was over, and had success with their first movie, an eerie film noir, WITHOUT WARNING! (1952).  The triumvirate worked democratically – when decisions had to be made, they took a vote, and two out of three votes won.  

It worked very well.  While all three men produced, Arnold Laven excelled in directing, helming many movies and hundreds of TV episodes.  While Levy-Gardner-Laven has a long and successful history of producing TV series and feature films – GERONIMO, SAM WHISKEY and KANSAS CITY BOMBER among the latter – they are undoubtedly best remembered for their two exceptional Western series, THE BIG VALLEY and THE RIFLEMAN.

It’s often pointed out that in the late 1950s, there were over thirty western TV series in prime time, and it’s not by chance that today, only a very few of those are still seen regularly, even fewer among the black and white shows: GUNSMOKE, WAGON TRAIN, RAWHIDE and THE RIFLEMAN.  These shows have stood the test of time, and RIFLEMAN is unique in the group, in the sense that a viewer will, over the years, get to appreciate it as two different shows – seeing it first through the eyes of a child, then through the eyes of a parent.   The degree of reality in both the son’s and the father’s world was more than unusual; it was unprecedented.  Chuck Connors, as a widowed ‘Pa’, Lucas McCain, was seen as powerful, wise, and unshakably independent; but even he couldn’t always triumph when the cards were stacked against him, even if, in the long run, good won out over evil.  In the series opener, THE SHARPSHOOTER, Johnny Crawford, as son Mark, is completely unaware of the covert threats made against himself, even as most kids would be while watching the show; but it chills the blood of a father to watch it, understanding how helpless Lucas is.

It scares me every time Lucas looks at me like that!


THE RIFLEMAN pilot premiered on ZANE GREY THEATER, the Western anthology series produced and hosted by Dick Powell, which also served as the birthplace of JOHNNY RINGO, THE WESTERNER, BLACK SADDLE, TRACKDOWN, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, and in a sense, THE REBEL (Dick Powell ordered a pilot of THE REBEL, but when Mark Goodson and Bill Todman offered producer Andrew Fenady a full season commitment, gentlemanly Powell let the project go).  The first season of THE RIFLEMAN itself spawned another series, LAW OF THE PLAINSMAN, starring Michael Ansara as Sam Buckhart, a Harvard-educated Apache working as a Deputy Marshal.  Ansara plays that role in episodes #21 and #37 of RIFLEMAN.

This set begins with the original, Arnold Laven-directed, Dick Powell-introduced version of the show from ZANE GREY, and is followed by the ‘official’ RIFLEMAN version.  Watch them both in sequence and you’ll see the subtle differences.  Most of the footage is the same, but some of the scenes with Lucas and Mark have been re-shot.  In the story, Lucas and Mark, looking for a ranch to buy, find one near North Fork.  A shooting contest is about to be held, and if Lucas can win, he’ll have a sizable down-payment on the ranch.  His main competition is a barely-wet-behind-the-ears professional shooter, callow and cocky but likable, played with startling depth by a very young Dennis Hopper.  Either man could win; but the money behind Hopper is Leif Erickson, who wins all competitions he enters, at all costs.    

It’s a terrific show, both as a stand-alone episode, and in introducing the series.  Sam Peckinpah wrote it, and one can’t help guessing that his involvement in the first season, especially the early shows, had a profound effect on the path the series would take.  He also wrote the second episode, HOME RANCH, where Lucas must stand against a rich land-owner and his thug cowboys who want Lucas’ new ranch for his own cattle grazing.  Sam went on to write and direct four more episodes, three of them in the first season, and THE MARSHALL, episode #5, is of particular interest.  Not only does it introduce the Paul Fix character of Marshal Micah Torrance; it is in many ways a first draft of Peckinpah’s RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY.   It features Abby Dalton in what would become the Mariette Hartley role of the lonely girl impressed and seduced by a suave stranger, with James Drury as that stranger in both TV show and movie.  R.G. Armstrong here plays the girl’s uncle and guardian, and in the movie he will play her father.  And Warren Oates plays Drury’s no-account saddle-mate on the episode, and his no-account brother in the movie. 

Not that Peckinpah was the only standout talent in the writing end of the series.  Episode #3, END OF A YOUNG GUN, was penned by playwright Frank D. Gilroy, who would win the Pulitzer Prize for THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES.  The show guest-stars the very young and effective Michael Landon as a wounded outlaw.  Gilroy, incidentally, wrote many Western TV episodes, and has never lost his enthusiasm for the genre.  In the late ‘80s I had the pleasure of editing test scenes for a western he wrote and was to direct, THE CHALLENGE.  Sadly, the project never went beyond the test stage.



The guest casts are full of surprises.  In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, a small sampling of the fine performers you’ll see include Sidney Blackmer, GILDA-villainGeorge McCready, Cesare Danova, Robert Vaughn, Claude Akins, John Carradine, Katy Jurado, Machael Pate, and dozens more.  Among the other excellent directors are Jerry Hopper and Joseph H. Lewis.

THE RIFLEMAN set is attractively packaged and comes on eight disks, and the image quality is stunningly crisp, with a wide range of grays.  In addition to an episode-by-episode booklet, the set includes some very enjoyable and informative special features, starting with a welcome by Arthur Gardner, who will turn 104 this June!  Along with the ZANE GREY pilot are original promos for the series, featuring Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford, and David Niven, who was one of Dick Powell’s partners in Four Star Productions.  And each of the episodes on disk #1 are introduced by Lucas McCain himself, the late, great Chuck Connors! 

The final disk includes two photo galleries, one of episode scenes, and one of behind-the-scenes activity.  Best of all, there is an interview with Arthur Gardner, actually an excerpt from his career interview for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.   

You can order season one of THE RIFLEMAN at the new official website HERE, or at  http://www.therifleman.net/.  There you will also find plenty of information about the series and the people who made it.  In addition to the DVD set, you can also buy art prints, a calendar, mugs, and Arthur Gardner’s autobiography, THE BADGER KID.  There are five seasons and 168 episodes of THE RIFLEMAN.  I can’t wait for the other 128!


HIGH NOON WESTERN AMERICANA AUCTION – JAN. 25 IN MESA, ARIZONA


Roy and Dale scripts and kid's books



The folks from HIGH NOON scour the country all year for this event, and as always, what they come up with is truly remarkable.  They have beautiful American Indian work of all kinds; saddles, bits, bridles, spurs, silver and leatherwork from Edward Bohlin and all of the other great practitioners – they even have Bohlin’s own saddle; graphic art by Frederick Remington, Will James, James Boren and many others.  And there are items from the real West, the fabled west, and that netherworld in between.

WellsFargo items


Arness' Matt Dillon .45 



Among item of particular interest are scripts, badges and boots once the property of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, lots 1-4 (each est. $400-1000).  A beautiful gold and silver-trimmed Bohlin briefcase that was the property of J. R. Ewing-portrayer Larry Hagman, lot 8 ($7000-11,000).  Lot #52 is several items relating to Wells Fargo (est $1500-2000).  Among the art is a picture of a donkey, entitled ‘A Reluctant Packer’ by James Boren, lot #149 (est. $700-900).  There are several Montie Montana items, including a photo of Montie lassoing President Eisenhower , and the rope it was done with, lot #178 (est. $10,000-15,000). 

Tom Mix chaps


Then there are the top star pieces: Tom Mix’s chaps (#237 est. $12000-16000), James Arness’ Colt from GUNSMOKE (#179, est. $8000-10000), and John Wayne’s saddle from THE SHOOTIST (#235 est. $5000-7500).  To learn more, order a catalog, or see the entire catalog on-line, and place your bids, visit www.highnoon.com

Larry Hagman's Bohlan briefcase


NEXT SATURDAY’S ‘WHEN CALLS THE HEART’ -- A TELLING SILENCE



Episode three of the Hallmark Chanel  series, directed by Michael Landon Jr., based on Janette Oke’s novel pits a pair of preachers against each other: the salaried mining-company minister (Adrian Hough as Rev. Anderson) versus a mine-disaster widow who holds Sunday-school services in a meadow (Chelah Horsdel as Cat Montgomery).  And the shrinking flock of the reverend may reflect something more sinister than it first appears.  After all, the reason Elizabeth (Erin Krakow) is teaching school in a saloon is because the Rev. Anderson’s church, where classes used to be held, burned to the ground the night of the mining disaster.  Constable Jack (Dan Lissing), looks into the possibility of arson, and spots a clue the Pinkertons overlooked.  At the same time, Elizabeth tries to help a little girl (Mamie Laverock) who was struck mute when her father died in the mine disaster. 


‘FIREBALL’ SIGNING AT SANTA MONICA FLYING MUSEUM!





On Thursday night I attended the inaugural book-signing for Robert Matzen’s FIREBALL: CAROLE LOMBARD & THE MYSTERY OF FLIGHT 3, held on the 72nd anniversary, and noting during the presentation, the very minute that DC-3 carrying the actress, just back from a bond rally, and twenty-one other innocent people, crashed into a mountain outside of Las Vegas, killing everyone aboard.  It’s a fascinating story, never before told with this much clarity and original research, and I’ll be reviewing it soon in the Round-up. 



WIN TICKETS TO SEE ENNIO MORRICONE!



The great maestro of cinema music will be presenting two concerts, his first in the United States, to celebrate his 85th birthday!  If you’re near New York City or Los Angeles, enter to win a pair of tickets, and admission to a rehearsal as well!  Go HERE to enter! 



TREASURES FROM THE ‘ALL-AMERICAN COLLECTOR SHOW’



Saturday I dropped into the twice-a-year All-American Collector Show at the Glendale Civic Auditorium.  It’s a great place for antique toys, advertising, movie memorabilia, paper collectibles – you name it.  There’s a dealer who always has hundreds – maybe thousands – of these Swedish candy-cards to sort through.  They were hugely popular with kids from the ‘40s through the ‘70s, and along with a lot of pop music and cartoon items, there are lots of movie and TV items – Western and mainstream.  Here’re two of the 1” x 2” cards I picked up – pretty nice for 50 cents apiece.  The next show will be in August. 


THAT’S A WRAP!

That’s it for this week!  Don’t forget that Monday night is the start of KLONDIKE on the Discovery Channel.  Have a great week!

Happy trails,

Henry

All Original Contents Copyright January 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved


Monday, January 13, 2014

‘LONESOME DOVE’ 25TH ANNI, ‘SWEETWATER’ GIVEAWAY, ‘WHEN CALLS THE HEART’ SNEAK!



‘LONESOME DOVE’ 25TH ANNI TO BE CELEBRATED AT AUTRY’S ‘COWBOY LUNCH’ WEDNESDAY



For a few months now, on the third Wednesday of every month, Rob Word has hosted the ‘Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry’, an informal 12:30 gathering of western movie and TV fans to chow down and then listen to “A Word On Westerns”, where Rob and his guests talk about the making of particular western films.  This Wednesday, January 15th, falls in the month that marks the 25th anniversary of the brilliant mini-series adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s finest novel, LONESOME DOVE.  Rob has put the word out to folks involved in that mini-series, its sequels and series spin-offs, and all of us fans will be chomping at the bit to see who shows up.

Rob Word has a strong track-record with this sort of event, and a history in the entertainment business.  He’s produced documentaries on Roy Rogers, was the creator and producer of YOUNG DUKE, a series built around John Wayne’s early films, and co-wrote and produced the film WYATT EARP: RETURN TO TOMBSTONE, which returned Hugh O’Brien to his most famous role, and was actually shot in Tombstone, Arizona, where the events happened.  Back in 1983, Rob, Pat Buttram and others created THE GOLDEN BOOT AWARDS to honor the stars of the genre, and ran them for a quarter of a century, until they ran out of people to salute.  Since they stopped in 2008, the search has been on to find a regular place for western fans and filmmakers to get together. 

Martin Kove, Robert Duvall, Rob Word


“We’ve been having what I call the Algonquin Cowboy Lunches at the Saddle Ranch Chop House for over five years now.  People keep asking when the Golden Boots are coming back, and they’re not.  When we did the first one in 1982, we didn’t even call it the Golden Boot.  It was a tribute to Bob Steele.  We had it at the old Masquers Club, and the fire marshal turned up and said we had too many people there.  We had to turn one hundred people away at the door.

“We did it for twenty-five years, but it kind of limped along at the end, because after Roy and Gene died, within 90 days of each other, and Clayton (Moore) died a year and a half later, it almost ended right there.  I said no, twenty-one years isn’t a good number.  Let’s keep it going until twenty-five, and end it big.  It’s hard to get the studios involved.  It’s hard to get corporate sponsors when you’re dealing with a genre that’s dying.”

After a few months, Bo Hopkins suggested getting together for lunch at the Sportsmen’s Lodge.  Bruce Boxleitner, Martin Kove and James Gammon attended, telling hysterical stories – that’s where the ‘Algonquin’ part of the name came from.  It grewe too large for The Sportsmen’s, moved to the Saddle Ranch Chop House on Sunset.  Wanting to take it to another level, Rob proposed a series of lectures at The Autry.  The Autry was delighted, because during the week what they mostly get is busloads of school-kids. 



The first event, this past September, was a tribute to the WYATT EARP TV show, coinciding with EARP regular Morgan Woodward’s 88th birthday.  The next month was a tribute to THE LONE RANGER series, and Clayton Moore’s daughter Dawn attended.  “Last month was the weapons of TV westerns.  Hugh O’Brien was there talking about the Buntline Special; Johnny Crawford talking about the RIFLEMAN rifle, of course.  John Strong, a producer, brought the pistols that Wayde Preston had, from COLT .45.”    
The event is open to everyone, and don’t get there late, because last month, folks had to be turned away.  Again, the topic will be LONESOME DOVE, and in February it will be the HOW THE WEST WAS WON TV series.  Better start blocking out the third Wednesday of every month on your calendar. 


‘SWEETWATER’ CONTEST RESULTS!



We have two big winners of the SWEETWATER Blu-Rays!  The names of Devin Sabas of Crystal, Minnesota, and David Moore of Hemet, California, were randomly drawn from my black Stetson full of the names of all the folks who answered all of the questions correctly! 

For those who are curious, or who want to kick themselves for not entering, here, once again, are the questions, but with the answers…

#1.) Lovely January Jones may be best known for MAD MEN, but she is not a stranger to sagebrush.  She’s starred in two previous western films, one made for TV, and the other a modern-day Western.  What are the titles?

Answer: LOVE’S ENDURING PROMISE, a Hallmark movie from the pen of Janette Oke, whose WHERE GOES THE HEART series premiered on the Hallmark Channel last night; and THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA, directed by the excellent actor and director Tommy Lee Jones.  Tommy Lee, incidentally, recently finished directing and starring in the western THE HOMESMAN, co-starring Hillary Swank, Meryl Streep and John Lithgow.  A remake of THE COWBOYS, with Tommy Lee Jones in the John Wayne role, is in development. 

#2.) Ed Harris is also comfortable in the saddle.  Like January Jones, he’s done one western for the big screen, and one for the small.  He also did a film where he jousted on a motorcycle.  Name all three.

Answer: APPALOOSA, RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, and KNIGHTRIDERS, although one entry also informed me of a movie called WALKER, from 1987, directed by Alex Cox, where Harris plays a 19th century American mercenary who became the President of Nicaragua!  I’ll have to track that one down.

#3.) It’s not Eduardo Noriega’s first rodeo either.  What was his previous western?

Answer: BLACKTHORN, where he co-starred with Sam Shepard, who plays Butch Cassidy, living under another name, and hiding out in Bolivia.

#4.) While villainous Jason Isaacs was never in a western before, he was in two films plotted in North America in the 18th century, one set in Canada and one set in the United States.  Name them both.

Answer: BATTLE OF THE BRAVE and THE PATRIOT.

#5.) Stephen Root, who plays a very unpleasant character in SWEETWATER, has the longest western career of almost anyone in the movie, starting with a guest shot in a series in 1990.  He had a regular role in a modern-day western series, voiced Teddy Roosevelt once, did a modern western for the Coen brothers, and did two westerns with Johnny Depp.  Name any three of the six.

Answer: YOUNG RIDERS, HARTS OF THE WEST series, LEGEND OF TARZAN – TARZAN AND THE ROUGH RIDER animation, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, RANGO, THE LONE RANGER.

#6.) Finally, the original story writer, Andrew McKenzie, chose the name of Sweetwater for the town, as an homage to a classic Western movie.  Name it.  (Note: There are actually two legitimate answers to this.  I know which one Andrew intended, but to be fair, I’ll accept either one.)

Answer: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, directed by Sergio Leone from a screenplay by Sergio Donati and Leone, or THE COMANCHEROS, directed by Michael Curtiz and John Wayne, uncredited, from a screenplay by James Edward Grant and Clair Huffaker. 

In ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Frank Wolff is the doomed Brett McBain, the visionary who is trying to build the town of Sweetwater out of the desert.  Sergio Donati has been a mentor to Andrew McKenzie, and in recognition, and because of the obvious parallels in the stories, Andrew named his town Sweetwater in tribute. 

Nobody named the second choice, but I include it because, oddly enough, early in THE COMANCHEROS, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams appears as a gun-runner named Ed McBain, who is travelling to the town of Sweetwater. 


HALLMARK'S ‘WHEN CALLS THE HEART’ EPISODE 2 – A SNEAK PREVIEW



If you enjoyed Saturday night’s premiere episode, Lost and Found, I can give you a hint about what’s coming next Saturday.  In Cease and Desist, the widows of Coal Valley, still recovering from the loss of fifty-seven men, mostly husbands, in a mining disaster, have a new and unexpected problem to face.  Their homes are owned by the mining company, and the women and children must move out to make way for new miners.  While some women accept defeat all too gracefully, others want to put up a fight.  Young teacher Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow)  use her expensive and sophisticated education to search for a legal loophole.  Miner’s widow Abigail Stanton (Lori Loughlin) tries negotiating a dangerous deal that will send the windows into the mines.  Will either tactic work?

DIRECTOR NAMED FOR NERO-STARRER ‘DJANGO LIVES!’



Joe D’Augustine, who worked in editorial on KILL BILL #1 & #2, DEATH PROOF and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and in the extended English-language version of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, and who previously directed the noir-ish comedy  ONE NIGHT WITH YOU, has been named to recommence the Django saga that stopped when Franco Nero last played the role in DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN in 1987.  As Round-up readers know, the premise of DJANGO LIVES takes the ageing gunfighter to Hollywood circa 1915, where he is working as a technical advisor on Western movies, as lawmen like Wyatt Earp and outlaws like Al Jennings really did, and runs afoul of racketeers.  It’s scripted by Eric Zaldivar and Mike Malloy, the men behind the remarkable SCARLET WORM (read my review HERE  )

RUMOR CENTRAL – TARANTINO FINISHES 2ND WESTERN SCRIPT!



THE HATEFUL EIGHT is said to be the title of Quentin’s next sagebrush saga, the title at least presumably an ironic response to the scramble to remake THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.  Deadline: Hollywood further posits that he wants Christoph Waltz and Bruce Dern to star!  They both did well for him in DJANGO UNCHAINED!


THAT’S A WRAP!


Mike Gaglio, me, Joey Dillon on MAN FROM DEATH set


I’m delighted to welcome a new sponsor to Henry’s Western Round-up, OutWest, purveyors of literature, thrilling video, fine music, elegant clothing, and just about everything else that relates to a Western life-style.  You’ll find a link to their on-line store on the top left-hand corner of the Round-up, and you owe it to yourself to take a look, and to visit their store if you’re around Santa Clarita way.  Next week I’ll be sharing my visit to the set of THE MAN FROM DEATH, and reviewing season one of THE RIFLEMAN, which has just been released on DVD.  Have a great week!

Happy Trails,

Henry

All Original Contents Copyright January 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved


Sunday, January 5, 2014

‘SWEETWATER’ BLU-RAY GIVEAWAY, PLUS WESTERNS COMING TO YOUR TV (OR PHONE OR I-PAD OR WHATEVER)!

UPDATED 1/8/2014 - SEE 'WHEN CALLS THE HEART' REVIEW


SWEETWATER  - BLU-RAY REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY






I keep thinking there’s not a big difference between DVDs and BluRays, but when I saw the BluRay version of SWEETWATER, after previously viewing the DVD, I was stunned by the beauty of New Mexico.  And January Jones.  There really is that something extra in the BluRay format.  Not that I’m tossing my DVDs – Hell, I’ve got a couple thousand VHS tapes I’m trying to convert to DVD.  But if I’m given a choice of format, BluRay will win out.

If you, like me, do your best to see every western and neo-western and pseudo-western that comes out, then you know, the problem isn’t finding time for them all, but simply finding them.  And I have concluded that SWEETWATER is the best theatrical western for the year 2013.   That’s why I’m delighted that the distributor has provided me with two BluRay copies to share with Round-up readers.  I’m re-printing my review from October minor changes, and after that I’ll be telling you about the special features, and how you can win SWEETWATER.

You can read my interview with Andrew McKenzie, who wrote the original story for SWEETWATER, HERE .

SWEETWATER – a Movie Review



SWEETWATER, a beautifully produced western directed by Logan Miller and co-written by him and his brother Noah from the story by Andrew McKenzie, opens with a mysterious, babbling figure, in the person of Ed Harris as Jackson, in a breathtaking New Mexico desert, dancing and making apparently religious incantations to the rising sun.  Next we see Jason Isaacs as Prophet Josiah, amidst a phalanx of huge and oddly menacing white crosses, performing his own off-center-of-Christian ceremonies.  These men represent the opposing forces that will butt heads over a murder and, in so doing, tear asunder the lives of January Jones and Eduardo Noriega as Sarah and Miguel Ramirez, a young married couple struggling to farm a future from the sun-blasted desert of New Mexico.  They haven’t a snowball’s chance in Hell.   

To put it mildly, the deck is stacked against the couple.  We quickly gather that the young beauty is a former whore in a town where she used to ply her trade.  Her husband Miguel is an eternal optimist, forever giving people the benefit of the doubt, but his generosity is wasted on people who see in him nothing but a dirty Mexican.  Their paltry savings are stolen by the local banker.  The local merchant is far more interested in voyeuristically pursuing Sarah than in doing business with them.  When Prophet Josiah’s sheep eat their crops, and they suspect he’s killed their dog, the local sheriff is not even indifferent.  He’s contemptuous. 


Eduardo Noriega and Jason Isaacs


And Prophet Josiah who, with his flock, was run out of Utah, soon sets his sights on beautiful Sarah.  Prophet Josiah is the man with the money and the power in this Hellish region, and has the willing support of all the local businessmen and government.  At the same time, Sheriff Jackson has come to town to investigate the disappearance of two men, relatives of the Governor, whom we have seen Prophet Josiah murder for trespassing. 

This is the grim world of the town of Sweetwater.  Brad Shield, a 2nd unit cinematographer on many big movies, has a wonderful eye for simultaneously capturing the full-hued beauty and stark, barren ugliness of the New Mexico desert.  And the stunning but not over-glamorized loveliness of January Jones, who shoulders much of the forward momentum of the story. 

Logan Miller directs with a precision and confidence that mirrors his strongest characters.  Nothing is arbitrary in the telling.  He is blessed with several strong actors, and skilled at drawing performances from them, and he has an impressive control of camera movement.  There is almost a hypnotic sense of menace to the scene where Miguel is threatened by a pair of men who circle him, one on foot moving clockwise, the other on horseback moving counter-clockwise.  It could have easily been overplayed, but it is all the more frightening because it seems natural, as does Miguel’s distraction.  Another scene, a hunt through the maze of a sheep pen, is particularly intense. 



January Jones


Jason Isaacs, who first impressed as the sadistic Col. Tavington in THE PATRIOT, and continued hatefully as Lucius Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER movies, is excellent as the sanctimonious hypocrite Prophet Josiah.  You watch him, knowing that you’d never follow him, but others would. 

January Jones, famous as Betty Francis, later Betty Draper in MAD MEN, compels your interest and sympathy by the strength of her character, and determination against tremendous odds.  She embodies the pioneer spirit.  And rather than modernizing the story to make it ‘relatable’, it stays in period, and portrays the desperation of a lone woman searching a vast land for her missing husband.  There is no phone, no police, no APB, no tracking a cell signal.  Pregnant, alone and searching, she must still plow the land or see the crops die.  She doesn’t have a sidekick to share her thoughts with, so much of her performance is facial and physical, and while she is helped by the occasional camera crane-shot showing the enormity of her challenge, the credit for the performance must go to her.    




Ed Harris and a pair of corpses


But the fun starts whenever Ed Harris appears on the scene.  As Cornelius Jackson, with dapper suit and shoulder-length scarecrow hair, he’s part mystic, part detective and part loony.  At times he plays it so broad it’s like he’s channeling Malcolm McDowell from CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  But it’s sheer pleasure to watch him and Prophet Josiah face each other, especially the dinner scene where Jackson demonstrates his contempt for the religious leader. 

SWEETWATER is a beautifully made Western, with a compelling plot, gripping action, strong performances, beautifully filmed and edited.  It is an ‘R’ for a reason.  In addition to some beautiful nudity on the part of Miss Jones, there is male nudity only a masochist would enjoy, apparent masturbation, sexual cruelty, and some rough language.

I do have some quibbles with moments that seem contrived.  For no apparent reason, a man presents a woman with a parasol, so that she’ll later be able to jab him in the eye with it.  Two men dig up a well-hidden body for the apparent purpose of being discovered doing it.  A character says some revoltingly crude remarks just before being killed, as if to let us know that he’s no loss: believe me, we already knew.  And just once in a while, I’d like to see a movie where a religious character is neither a hypocrite nor crazy. 

‘SWEETWATER’ – THE SPECIAL FEATURES

The BluRay comes with three special features; the theatrical trailer, singer Hudson Moore performing the end-title theme ‘Cold Grey Light of Dawn’, and a ‘making of’ short.  The trailer is solid.  Hudson Moore’s performance is very good – it’s an excellent song, and it’s almost too bad that it’s used over the end credits rather than in the film.  But this is not a ‘video’ per se, but the audio track played over a still photo of the singer.  The ten-minute ‘making of’ short was my favorite of the special features, as it gave so many cast members, from the stars to the supporting players, a chance to speak.  It was also interesting to see Logan and Noah Miller, who are identical twins with matching hair and beards, in action.  Ed Harris tells you which twin has the mole on his face, to tell them apart, but they moved too fast for me to catch it.

‘SWEETWATER’ – THE CONTEST

I have two beautiful BluRay copies of SWEETWATER, and I’ll be awarding them to a pair of Round-up readers, and one of them could be you!  How do you win?  Answer the questions below.

#1.) Lovely January Jones may be best known for MAD MEN, but she is not a stranger to sagebrush.  She’s starred in two previous western films, one made for TV, and the other a modern-day Western.  What are the titles?

#2.) Ed Harris is also comfortable in the saddle.  Like January Jones, he’s done one western for the big screen, and one for the small.  He also did a film where he jousted on a motorcycle.  Name all three.

 #3.) It’s not Eduardo Noriega’s first rodeo either.  What was his previous western?

 #4.) While villainous Jason Isaacs was never in a western before, he was in two films plotted in North America in the 18th century, one set in Canada and one set in the United States.  Name them both.

 #5.) Stephen Root, who plays a very unpleasant character in SWEETWATER, has the longest western career of almost anyone in the movie, starting with a guest shot in a series in 1990.  He had a regular role in a modern-day western series, voiced Teddy Roosevelt once, did a modern western for the Coen brothers, and did two westerns with Johnny Depp.  Name any three of the six.

#6.) Finally, the original story writer, Andrew McKenzie, chose the name of Sweetwater for the town, as an homage to a classic Western movie.  Name it.  (Note: There are actually two legitimate answers to this.  I know which one Andrew intended, but to be fair, I’ll accept either one.)

Please email your entry to swansongmail@sbcglobal.net.  Make sure to include your snail-mail address, and put ‘Sweetwater Contest’ in the subject line.  We’ll be accepting entries until midnight, Sunday, January 12th, 2014.  The two winners will be randomly selected from all correct entries.  Good luck!


NEW WESTERNS ON THE WAY:

‘JUSTIFIED’ RETURNS ON TUESDAY JAN. 7 ON ‘FX’

On Tuesday night, Timothy Olyphant will be back as Raylan Givens, and creepy Walton Goggins will be back as Boyd Crowder for season 5 of one of the best shows on TV, JUSTIFIED.  While everyone involved with the series feels the loss of the great Elmore Leonard, whose story FIRE IN THE HOLE was the basis of it, they are among the best writing, producing, directing and acting talent in the business, and will carry on in a way that would have made Dutch proud.


‘WHEN CALLS THE HEART’ SERIES PREMIERES SATURDAY JAN. 11

On Saturday, January 11th  The Hallmark Channel will premiere their new Western series, WHEN CALLS THE HEART.  The turn-of-the-century story about a privileged young Canadian woman who moves to the frontier to teach children in a mining town, and perhaps to fall in love with a Mountie, the story first appeared on the cathode ray as a TV movie (see my review HERE  ) in October.  Based on Janette Oke’s very popular Canadian West series of romantic westerns, she’s also the lady who created the LOVE COMES SOFTLY series, which proved hugely popular series of movies for Hallmark and for writer/producer/director Michael Landon Jr.  The series has different stars, Erin Krakow and Daniel Lissing, in the leads, but maintained Lori Loughlin from the movie.





‘WHEN CALLS THE HEART’ SERIES PREMIERES WITH STRONG OPENER

Daniel Lissing and Erin Krakow


Good news for Western fans who found the ‘WHEN CALLS THE HEART’ movie pilot a bit unsteady: the premiere episode of the series, ‘Lost and Found’, airing Saturday, January 11th, shows much more confidence, and a pleasing blend of the comic and dramatic.  The Hallmark Channel and Michael Landon Jr. might very well have a winner here, of the ‘Doctor Quinn On the Prairie’ variety.

While the movie had parallel stories, of niece and aunt as frontier teachers in different periods, which did not always mesh well, the series version focuses only on the niece in the beginning of the 20th century.  Elizabeth Thatcher, now played by Erin Krakow, is still a daughter of wealth and privilege, and still at least partially motivated to teach in a frontier mining town by her younger sister’s belief that she doesn’t have the gumption to make a go of it.   And while there still is a Mountie in the story, he’s no longer a friend from home.  Now played by Daniel Lissing, Mountie Jack Thornton is, in fact, a constable who had a much more interesting post until he was transferred to this sleepy town of Coal Valley, perhaps at the request of Elizabeth’s powerful father. 

The funeral.


Only Lori Loughlin, as widowed mother Abigail Stanton, remains from the cast of the movie, and has remained lovely to look at while bringing a strength and solidity to the proceedings.  The episode recaps the final moments of the movie – reshot – where the young schoolmarm arrives in town after having her stagecoach held up, and learns the place is a well of sorrow: an explosion at the mine killed fifty-seven men, making Coal Valley largely a town of widows and orphans.  And with no real school, and the church recently burned to the ground, the learning takes place in a saloon.

In the midst of her first day of class, a trumpet-blast from the mine clears the classroom – it signals that the last of the miners’ bodies have been recovered, and with them, a last goodbye scrawled by a dying miner on a piece of timber.  Determining who wrote it, and hence to whom it belongs, is much of the remainder of the episode, and through the questioning, we begin to meet the townsfolk.  And also through said questioning, Constable Thornton starts to suspect there may be more to the mine explosion than a simple accident.

The western town sets and the quality of the photography are more than pleasing to the eye.  The costuming and art direction are of a much higher caliber and consistency that in the TV movie.  The performances are by and large strong.  Elizabeth’s early mistakes, and occasional catastrophes, are funny and endearing, and if the hostility between her and the Mountie are a predictable ‘cute meet,’ the fact is, it works.

The plank everyone claims.



Based on Jasette Oke’s novel, the plot of the opener serves to set up what is no doubt coming over the next nine weeks, as we learn more about the townspeople and the mine’s management.  There is one inexplicable leap of logic near the end of the episode, but it concerns nothing so crucial as to spoil the story.  I’m looking forward to week two.




‘KLONDIKE’ PREMIERES MONDAY, JAN 20 ON DISCOVERY

Executive Producer Ridley Scott brings a big, brawling tale of the Klondike gold rush, starring Tim Roth, Sam Shepard, Richard Madden and Abbie Cornish.



‘QUICKDRAW’ SEASON 2 SHOOTING FOR HULU

Comedian John Lehr will be back as Harvard-educated lawman John Henry Hoyle in a new season of QUICKDRAW for the internet entertainment site HULU.  I don’t know when the new season will begin playing, but I understand that they are currently shooting at the Paramount Ranch, and will be there until mid-February.  You can read my review of season one HEREand if you don’t know the show, the trailer below, from season one, will serve as an introduction.



GONE WITH THE WIND’S ‘INDIA WILKES’, ALICIA RHETT, DIES AT 98



She only acted professionally once, but it was a pip!  After auditioning for the part of Melanie, which went to Olivia de Havilland, the Savannah-born portrait artist won the role of the sister of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), India.  An appropriate choice for her role, her great-grandfather was Senator Robert Rhett, known as ‘The Father of Secession.’  Offered other films roles, but not thinking herself right for them, she returned to Charleston, and continued with her career in portraiture, as well as painting children’s book illustrations.

The great-granddaughter of U.S. Sen. Robert Rhett, who was known as the "Father of Secession," Alicia Rhett was born in Savannah in 1915 but moved to Charleston following the death of her father, army officer and engineer Edmund Rhett, in World War I.



HAPPY 84TH BIRTHDAY TO TV’S ‘BRONCO’ – TY HARDIN!



Tall, muscular, handsome and modest, Ty Hardin, star of BRONCO, one of Warner Brothers’ great western series of the ‘50s and ‘60s, turned 84 on New Years Day.  He also appeared in war movies like BATTLE OF THE BULGE and PT 109, and did several spaghetti westerns as well.  And true to his Warner Brothers/BRONCO/CHEYENNE/MAVERICK roots, he’s the only guy I know who has TWO poker nights a week!  Happy Birthday Ty!  Click the links below to read my two-part interview with Ty.



SOMETHING NEW FOR ‘SPAGHETTI METAL’ FANS!

Here’s a peek behind the scenes of the Aussie metal band A BREACH OF SILENCE shooting their new video, NIGHT RIDER, which is a tribute to the Pasta West as well as Red Dead Redemption.  Lots of head-banging music, pretty saloon girls, and nice photography, especially the make-up related stuff.  I’m looking forward to the finished video!


THAT’S A WRAP!

I’ll be giving you details very soon about two new westerns that have just wrapped, and reviewing the first authorized set of DVDs of the complete first season of THE RIFLEMAN!

Happy Trails,

Henry

All Original Contents Copyright January 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved