Monday, March 14, 2016
‘KILL OR BE KILLED’ REVIEW, PLUS MILES SWARTHOUT TRIBUTE, ‘WORD ON WESTERNS’, ‘HIGH CHAPARRAL’ REUNION!
KILL OR BE KILLED – A Movie Review
It’s not by chance that, although it was shot in Texas, filmmakers Duane Graves and Justin Meeks have the main credits playing over vista shots chosen to look like Almeria, Spain locations impersonating Texas. The titles themselves are in the Spaghetti Western style, and the fine score by John Constant and Nick Durham, while not blatantly imitative, is surely influenced by Ennio Morricone. KILL OR BE KILLED is a Texas Western with roots in Tabernas.
Graves and Meeks have co-directed and co-written, and Justin Meeks stars as Claude ‘Sweet Tooth’ Barbee, in this story of the aftermath of a train robbery. It seems the robbery went well, and everyone escaped except for ‘Slap’ Jack Davis (Paul McCarthy-Boyington), who managed to hide the loot near Galveston before his capture. The gang – to call them a company of rogues is to put it generously – springs ‘Slap’ Jack from a prison railroad construction gang, and they head back to Galveston to claim their booty.
They have many adventures along the way, with messengers, ventriloquists, parsons, whores, lawmen, children, families, doctors – many of whom they kill. But then, the gang members themselves start being killed off in eerie ways. Will any of them be left to find the hidden cache of gold?
A low-budget indie Western that belies its small cost, the film is highly professional in all technical aspects, with convincing production design. It’s beautifully shot by Brandon Torres, who makes full use of the richly varied landscape of Texas, from mountain to desert to ocean to forest. A Horror film as well as a Western, it is unflinchingly brutal: the camera goes in, not away, for dangling entrails and bullet-hits to the head.
The cast, though largely unfamiliar, are convincing in their roles, and there are a couple of well-known faces: Pepe Serna as a man who runs a strange family business out of his home, and Michael Berryman – the terrifying gargoyle from THE HILLS HAVE EYES – as a kindly town doctor!
There is a growing, creepy fascination to the tale as it wends its way. But the story has one striking flaw: with absolutely nothing redeeming about any members of the gang, there is no one for the viewer to care about, or root for, except for some of the victims.
KILL OR BE KILLED is available on Amazon and other VOD services, and on DVD from RLJ Entertainment.
WEDNESDAY’S COWBOY LUNCH – WESTERNS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
Wednesday, March 16th Rob Word again presents A Word on Westerns at the Autry’s Crossroads West Café, his every-other-month luncheon, get together and discussion of Western movies, featuring the folks the folks who made ‘em. This time the topic is Westerns You Might Have Missed, and his guests include actor Tom Bower, whose Westerns include BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ (1982) , Louis L’Amour’s SHAUGHNESSY (1996), and APPALOOSA (2008). Also on board is Mitch Ryan, who starred with Lee Marvin and Jack Palance in MONTE WALSH (1970), THE HUNTING PARTY (1971), and THE HONKERS (1972) with James Coburn. Rand Brooks Jr., whose father was Scarlet O’Hara’s first husband in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) will be there to discuss his father’s career as Lucky Jenkins in the HOPALONG CASSIDY movies. And for your musical entertainment, there will be Will Ryan and the Saquaro Sisters. As always, the event is free – you just have to buy your own lunch. The fun starts at noon, and if you plan to attend, get there early, because they always have a packed house for Rob’s events!
Rob attended, and recorded, the ceremony where composer Ennio Morricone received his much-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Take a look. And incredibly, he shot this on his I-phone!
‘HIGH CHAPARRAL’ REUNION STARTS THURSDAY MARCH 17TH!
March 17th through the 20th, Old Tucson Studios, the original home of the HIGH CHAPARRAL series, where Big John Cannon’s ranch-house still proudly stands, will be the site of the HIGH CHAPARRAL REUNION 2016! Returning to their old galloping-grounds will be series stars Don Collier, Rudy Ramos and BarBara Luna. They’ll be joined by a posse of stars from other Western series, including Robert Fuller from LARAMIE and WAGON TRAIN, Darby Hinton from DANIEL BOONE and the recent TEXAS RISING, Roberta Shore from THE VIRGINIAN, frequent John Wayne co-star Eddie Faulkner, and Stan Ivar from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Also on-board are HIGH CHAPARRAL producers Kent and Susan McCray, and writers and historians Boyd Magers, Charlie LeSueur, Neil Summers, and Joel McCrea’s son Wyatt McCrea.
Even if you haven’t made your reservations in advance, you can still attend! You can find your options by visiting the official site HERE.
And here’s something special for all HIGH CHAPARRAL fans, and it’s free! Last year the Reunion inaugurated a live Webcast of the event. It was not cheap, but it was very entertaining and informative. HIGH CHAPARRAL REUNION Top Hand Penny McQueen has decided that this year’s Webcast will be FREE! You’ll be able to watch it HERE starting Thursday!
‘THE SHOOTIST’ SCRIPTER MILES SWARTHOUT DIES
Me interviewing Miles at the Cowboy Festival
All of us in the Western writing community were stunned and saddened to learn of the death of Miles Swarthout. A Western novelist in his own right, most recently with the fine THE LAST SHOOTIST, Miles was also the son of legendary authors Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout. He was a man of humor, and of strong opinions, and mentor to a number of now-successful writers. I’m re-posting the interview I had with Miles at 2014’s Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival at Melody Ranch, at the OutWest Buckaroo Bookstore.
MILES SWARTHOUT INTERVIEW
HENRY: It gives me great pleasure to introduce Miles Swarthout, a very talented author whose writing about 90% of you have appreciated, even though you haven’t read it. Because he’s a screenwriter. This is the man who wrote the screenplay for THE SHOOTIST, John Wayne’s final film, and one of his finest. And in scripting THE SHOOTIST, he had the rare challenge not only of adapting a great novel, but a great novel that his own father, Glendon Swarthout, had written. Glendon wrote sixteen novels, and several became movies, including 7TH CAVALRY, starring Randolph Scott; THEY CAME TO CORDURA, starring Gary Cooper; BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN, WHERE THE BOYS ARE, and premiering this May at the Cannes Film Festival, THE HOMESMAN, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, and starring Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep. Welcome, Miles. Can you tell us a little about THE HOMESMAN?
MILES: THE HOMESMAN was a novel that my dad wrote, and came out in 1988. That year it swept the Western genre awards, winning The Wrangler Award, from the Western Heritage Association, affiliated with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, and the WWA Spur Award for the Best Western Novel of 1988. Paul Newman was the original director who bought the film rights to THE HOMESMAN. I worked on the original drafts, adaptations for Paul Newman. But Paul jumped around studios; the Writer Guild Strike intervened in 1988 for about six months, and several other screenwriters later on got attached to the project doing different drafts. Paul became too old to play the title role any more, as the rugged frontiersman, and had different stars attached to play the lead role. It just didn’t happen. He sold the rights back to SONY PICTURES/COLUMBIA, when he had Bruce Willis attached to play the homesman, but it fell into what’s called ‘development Hell.’ Nothing happened to it for a number of years – they couldn’t get it financed. Paul Newman died of cancer a few years after that. But Tommy Lee Jones was looking around to direct and star in another Western, and he had the same talent agency (as Paul Newman), Creative Artists, that remembered this book that Paul Newman had tried a number of times to get made with different stars. Tommy got the financing from his buddy, the French director Luc Besson, who has his own films studio outside of Paris, and his own film distribution company. Luc also financed Tommy Lee’s last western that he directed in 2005, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA. That was a contemporary western shot down in Texas. That won a couple of awards at Cannes in 2005. Creative Artists helped Tommy put together the cast for THE HOMESMAN. It’s fantastic: Hilary Swank, the two-time Oscar winner is Tommy’s co-star. Tommy Lee Jones is an Oscar winner for THE FUGITIVE with Harrison Ford, Best Supporting Actor. And they’ve got Meryl Streep in the movie – she’s got a cameo role. And Streep’s youngest daughter, her name is Grace Gummer; she has a bigger part in the film. John Lithgow, two-time Oscar nominee is in it. James Spader, who’s in the NBC hit THE BLACK LIST is in the film. They’ve got an Oscar-nominated cinematographer, and a two-time Oscar-nominated composer, Marco Beltrami, has done the music.
HENRY: Speaking of the cast, I understand that Barry Corbin is in the film. Hasn’t he worked with Tommy Lee Jones before?
MILES: He was in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, playing Tommy Lee’s father in that.
HENRY: The premise of THE HOMESMAN is a little outrageous. Could you give us a summary of it?
MILES: The Homesman is a claim jumper. It’s set in the 1850s, the Great Plains state of Nebraska. He’s a claim jumper, and some of the local residents take offense that he’s sitting on one of their buddy’s claims, while their buddy has gone back east to find a wife. They blast him out of this sod home that he’s roosting in, and almost hang him, and a spinster woman, Hilary Swank, comes along. She decides to let him go, because she’s just been chosen by a lottery system by the community, in this small frontier farming town on the Great Plains, to drive back east four women who have gone insane after this very hard winter. They’ve gone crazy, and they can’t take care of them in this remote area, so someone has to drive them across the Missouri River, the Big Muddy, and back to civilization.
HENRY: Have you run into any complaints about sexism – why do the women go crazy, and not the men?
MILES: Historically some of the men went crazy, too. They became raving alcoholics; they couldn’t keep them in the local jails. If they were disruptive and making people angry or uncomfortable, somebody’d just shoot them, but they wouldn’t do that to a woman. This is a very unusual story, a female-oriented Western, a mismatched couple running this wagon east with some women who have gone insane.
HENRY: Let’s talk about THE SHOOTIST. What was it like to adapt a novel to a screenplay with a man, not just the author, but your father, looking over your shoulder?
MILES: Well, that was my first screenplay adaptation, and you’re talking with the creative genius who made up the story in the first place, so he’s got a lot of good input. My dad did not write screenplays. He worked on the very first one for six months at Columbia Pictures, his best-selling novel, THEY CAME TO CORDURA. He was out in Hollywood, and he got job offers after that, to work for Burt Lancaster’s company Hecht, Hill and Lancaster, but he turned them down. He said no, I’m going back to Michigan State in East Lansing, to teach honors English. And I’m going to write other books, and I don’t want people telling me how to make changes and how to write stuff. So he gambled, and that turned out very well for him. His second novel was WHERE THE BOYS ARE, 1960, and it was a big hit for MGM, with Connie Francis singing the theme. But your question was about adapting THE SHOOTIST. And of course I showed him drafts, and we discussed stuff. I did get a screen credit on that. They did make a lot of changes. Don Siegel, the director, had another writer that he’d worked with before, a guy named Scott Hale, who was making changes on the set constantly, for Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, and big stars with big egos who wanted things adjusted and changed. So he wrote just enough of the rewritten script to get screen credit on the film. But luckily, it turned out, even though it was a very difficult shoot, in Carson City, Nebraska, and on the backlot at Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank. They had a lot of problems; Wayne came down with the flu and an ear infection. And he was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. They shut down filming, and he came back and got sick again, and they put him back in the hospital. They didn’t know if he was going to live, and if they could even finish the movie. So a lot of stuff had to be adjusted. It was the last film he ever made. His health deteriorated after that, and about two years later, John Wayne died. But the movie, even though he was feuding all the time of the filming with this tough director, Don Siegel, turned out very well. They had a great supporting cast. John Wayne was playing a gunfighter who was dying of cancer in the film. It was prostate cancer in the film. But Wayne had lost one lung a couple of years ago to lung cancer, and he knew at the time of shooting THE SHOOTIST that his cancer had come out of remission, and he didn’t tell the doctors and he didn’t tell the filmmakers. So he was obviously in some pain while making this movie. He’s playing a gunfighter dying of cancer, and he’s got cancer at the same time: talk about a movie that was hand-tailored for a famous actor as his last film. It just turned out very well.
HENRY: It certainly did. As you said, your father did not write for the screen, but by the time he wrote THE SHOOTIST, he was well aware that he had a real good chance of having his novels filmed. He’d had several movies already done very successfully. Do you think he had a movie in mind as he was writing the book? Do you think he thought of John Wayne?
MILES: No, he didn’t think of John Wayne. The original guy that the two producers, Bill Self and Mike Frankovich wanted to play the Shootist, was George C. Scott. And George C. Scott read the book and screenplay and said, “I’d love to do this. Don’t change one word of the script.” We thought that sounds great. But the producers took it around to all the studios with George C. Scott attached as the shootist. And all the studios went, ‘No, General Patton can’t be a cowboy.’ He’d already won his Oscar playing Patton, and they wouldn’t bankroll it. But Wayne at the same time had heard about this story, and he started lobbying for the role, because he was the right age, and with Wayne attached as the shootist, they got half of the eight million dollar budget from Paramount Pictures, for the North American rights. And they got the other half of the money from the famous Italian producer Dino de Laurentiis. He made that big monkey movie with Jessica Lange – KING KONG, and a whole bunch of other movie. Dino didn’t speak English very well, so he couldn’t read it; they had to tell him the story. And he said, “John Wayne, cowboy? Ya, he be good.” The Duke was cast, and then a whole bunch of really good ‘name’ supporting actors – Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Hugh O’Brien, all worked at lower than their normal salaries to be in this, because word had gotten around that Wayne’s health was pretty shaky, and it might be his last picture. Hollywood supports its own – particularly its legends like John Wayne. So that’s how they got a great cast, and the rest is film history. It’s now considered to be one of his five best Westerns. It’s past the test of time.
HENRY: I was just reading where Harry Carey Jr. was saying that while John Wayne got his Oscar for TRUE GRIT, and deserved it, he deserved it even more for THE SHOOTIST.
‘THE SHOOTIST’ SPOILER ALERT!
HENRY: The book is a very tight 158 pages, but still, no book reaches the screen without edits. What sort of changes needed to be made, to make it into a movie?
MILES: You have to cut out some of the characters. You have to trim it to get about a 120 page script – about a page a minutes. The ending of the novel is different than the ending of the movie. John Wayne dictated the ending of the movie, and there was a lot of controversy over this. In the ending of the movie, John Wayne has this big shootout in this fancy saloon. And he shoots Hugh O’Brien, and he shoots Richard Boone – who was a late addition. That was a different character than the character in the book. And John Wayne, after shooting these guys, and being wounded, and already knowing he’s dying of cancer – sort of committing suicide – the bartender comes out with a shotgun and shoots him – blows him in the back. So he’s dying, when Ron Howard comes into the saloon, the bartender is reloading. Ron takes Wayne’s Remington .44, and shoots the bartender, and kills the guy who shot John Wayne. And then, as dictated by the Duke, Ron throws the gun away. This is a kid, the Shootist is his hero, and he wants to be a gunfighter, too. But now that he’s killed a man, he throws the gun away, renounces violence, and goes home with his mother, played by Lauren Bacall. The problem with this ending is there’s no possible sequel. Hollywood loves sequels. In the book, John Wayne is dying. The kid doesn’t shoot the bartender, but John Wayne asks Ron Howard to kill him, ‘Finish me off.’ And the Ron Howard character says ‘okay,’ and he shoots him – it’s a mercy killing, and Wayne asked for it. And they had already made a deal in advance that Ron gets his two Remington .44 pistols. He takes them, and walks outside of the saloon – it’s a great ending passage. And people are asking if they can buy the guns, and what happened in there. The Shootist has killed all the hard-cases in El Paso, and suddenly, the kid is the one who killed The Shootist. And that’s the sequel –
HENRY: If I ever heard one! Somebody should write it!
MILES: (laugh) My new novel is called THE LAST SHOOTIST, and it’s coming out in October from Forge Books-MacMillan in New York City. And it’s the next six months in this kid’s life. The Shootist is dead, but this kid has got John Wayne’s matched pistols, and he’s got to flee 1901 El Paso, because the sheriff is after him. The sheriff wants those guns because they’re very valuable. The kid’s on the run, and he goes through various adventures in New Mexico with a wannabe novelist, and then on to Bisbee, Arizona, which was a copper-mining boom-town at that time. The character of the Shootist, my dad loosely based on John Wesley Hardin, who killed 44 men, and was a real gun-spinner. Hardin in real life had a special vest made up with leather pockets, so that he could cross-draw his guns. They tried to do that for John Wayne in the movie, made a special vest for him, but Wayne was overweight and too big, and couldn’t get the guns out easily from under his overcoat, so they had to go back to the six-guns in holsters on his waist. But I’ve changed that in my sequel. The kid is eighteen years old and has terrific hand-eye coordination, and he is the last Shootist. If you like the original, hopefully you’ll like my sequel.
HENRY: Speaking of your novels, I notice you have another, THE SERGEANT’S LADY.
MILES: That was my first novel. That was based on an extension of one of my dad’s short stories for the old Saturday Evening Post, and that won a Spur back in 2004 as the Best First Western Novel of the Year, from the Western Writers of America.
THE LAST SHOOTIST is now available, and if you’d like a preview, go HERE, to Miles Swarthout’s site, where you can read the end of THE SHOOTIST and the start of THE LAST SHOOTIST.
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
Just as I was going to post, I heard that Robert Horton, who played scout Flint McCullough on 187 episodes of WAGON TRAIN, has died at age 91. He was a fine actor, with an amused twinkle in his eye, and the only one who was never intimidated by Ward Bond’s Seth Adams. I’ll have more to say about this versatile actor, and his other roles, in the next Round-up.
All Original Content Copyright March 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved