Sunday, May 9, 2010



In The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, he played Bob Ford's brother Charley (see photo above). In Cowboys and Aliens, Sam Rockwell will play 'Doc,' a saloon-keeper who joins forces with Daniel Craig in his fight against alien invaders. This is Rockwell's second film in a row for director Jon Favreau, and it was while Favreau was directing Rockwell in the current release IRON MAN 2 that Rockwell voiced interest in the project. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof reportedly re-thought and built up the role for the actor who first gained attention as one of the villains in the PETE & PETE series on Nickelodeon.

Rockwell joins a cast that includes Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and Clancy Brown. Just this past Wednesday auditions were held at Peetzburgh, Peter Sherayko's western movie-town in Agua Dulce (see photo above, right), where actors were tested not only for line-delivery but horse-riding ability as well. Cameras are set to roll in June, when Favreau will be finished with his Iron Man 2 related duties, and the picture is set to reach theatres on July 29th, 2011. And speaking of Peetzburgh, I'll be running an interview with Peter Sherayko, alias Texas Jack Vermillion of Tombstone (1993) very soon!


The film, which top-lines Peter Fonda, and stars Tim Abell as Frank and George Stults as Jesse, will released on DVD on Tuesday, May 18th. Prolific Writer/Director Fred Olen Ray, whose previous films include the western The Shooter (1997) starring Michael Dudikoff and Randy Travis, is now tackling a horror picture, but soon will be doing another western, about the life and death of Billy the Kid. Next week I'll be reviewing American Bandits, aand featuring an interview with Fred Olen Ray.


The Scorcese and Tarantino-associated star whose previous westerns were Buffalo Bill And The Indians (1976) and Il Mio West (Gunslinger's Revenge) (1998) will join Mads Mikkelsen and Roy Dupuis in a remake of the infamous 1972 Spaghetti-and-gore western directed by Joachin Luis Romero Marchent. This time the reins are held by first-time feature director Rodrigo Gudino, publisher of the horror-movie periodical Rue Morgue Magazine. He scripted with fellow Canadian Joseph O'Brien, and says that it was the quality of their script that attracted the actors.

The plot concerns a wagon of convicts being escorted by Cavalry to prison, when they're attacked by bandits. The only survivors are a sergeant, the beautiful daughter he has stupidly brought along, and seven sadistic convicts. Asked by Opium why he wanted to remake this lurid pic, Rodrigo exlained, "Because it has an amazing story at its core and yet is a movie that is far from perfect. I always refered to it as a tarnished gem. ...I also saw a lot of of potential to expand on themes that I thought were bigger than a cult movie, themes having to do with human evil and violence."


Although there is a tendency to think of westerns as ‘guy’ entertainment, they’ve always been popular with women – my sister, Deirdre, took me to all the John Wayne movies when we were kids. In fact, I know of an occasion when that basic knowledge was the undoing of what could have been a major TV western series. My mentor in the film business, producer Saul David (Von Ryan’s Express, Our Man Flint, Fantastic Voyage, Westworld) had, when president of Bantam Books, bought and published Louis L'Amour’s first novels, and it was with Saul that he went to meet with network execs to discuss an anthology series based on L'Amour’s writings. Everything was going well until Louis asked what night of the week they were thinking of, and an exec responded, “Any night but Monday.”
“Oh. What’s wrong with Monday?”
“Louis, that’s Monday Night Football. Men are your audience, and we’d lose them all.”
“Actually, slightly more women than men read my books.”
“No they don’t.”
“I know who reads my books.”
“Men read your books, Louis, and men are the audience for westerns. We know what we’re talking about.”
And with that exchange, the deal fell apart. Louis felt he was being insulted, and by idiots.

I was reminded of this exchange this past week, when I was in the teachers’ lounge of a local school, and overheard a conversation between a group of female teachers, about TV westerns. There were fans of BONANZA, THE BIG VALLEY and HIGH CHAPARRAL, and a lot of discussion about whether Heath was cuter than Little Joe, and what was Blue’s problem anyway, and the inevitability of death for any woman than a Cartwright proposed to – even before the term ‘jumping the shark’ was coined, the producers knew better than to toy with a set-up that was working.

With the understanding that westerns are not just guy entertainment, and in recognition of Mother’s Day, I’d like to invite our female readers to put in comments about what are their favorite westerns, and why.


‘SWEETGRASS,’ the documentary produced by Ilisa Barbash and recorded by Lucien Castaing-Taylor, documenting a sheep drive, contains some of the most startlingly beautiful images ever put on film. From the mountain vistas of Montana,
to the endless green pastures, to the inconceivable number of sheep, the movie is frequently overwhelming. We have seen cattle-drives in the movies, but rarely in such staggering thousands, and besides, these are sheep, and cute as can be, which can’t be said of cattle.

After some minutes on a ranch, where sheep are shorn, and lambs are delivered – all with a roughness that will upset the audience but which doesn’t seem to phase the sheep – the drive begins. There are a handful of men and women at the start, but quickly it is just two cowboys in charge of a seething ocean of wool traveling over the mountaintops. Of course, purists will say they are shepherds, not cowboys, but cowboys is what they call themselves.

The two cowboys are, themselves, quite interesting. The older, more easy-going fellow sings cheerfully, if not melodiously, to his wooly charges. His younger compatriot curses endlessly at the critters, and at the few dogs who generally do an admirable job of guiding the flock. There is an extended sequence where the younger man talks and whines and cries on the phone, and curses such a blue streak you want to shout at the screen, “Hey stupid, do you remember it’s your mother you’re talking to?”

There is fear as well, as when the men, awakened by the dogs' barking, fire guns into the darkness at who knows what -- and when we finally see the target, it's even more frightening.

The takes are remarkably long, usually lasting for minutes, but the action within the frame is so involving that, although we are used to rapid cutting, we do not mind the change. The most curious aspect of the film is the filmmakers’ seeming indifference to whether the audience understands what it is seeing and why it is seeing it. There is no narration. There are no titles of explanation. Here and there you catch bits of conversation, and can piece together what is happening at that precise moment, but just as often you can’t quite catch what is being said. Then, at the very end of the movie, after the fade-out, two title-cards appear: “Since the late 19th Century, western ranchers and their hired hands have ranged animals on public land for summer pasture. In 2003, over three months, and 150 miles, the last band of sheep trailed through Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains.” Why such information is placed at the END of the film, rather than the BEGINNING is baffling to me. Moreover, WHY is this the last sheep drive? Has the wool market disappeared? Are private sheep no longer permitted on public land? I’m not saying that this is what the film should be about, but that a little explanation at the beginning would place the movie in a more understandable context. But any confusion is more than compensated for by the sheer beauty of the images. To see the trailer, and find out more about this extraordinary movie, CLICK HERE.


Sweetgrass starts Friday, May 14th at the Ritz at the Bourse in Philadelphia, and at a Denver area Landmark Theatre.


You may lose your place in the narrative as the story spirals away with the action, but you definitely know where you begin: a crime lord assigns an operative to obtain a map carried on a train and deliver it to a high-paying buyer. Then, unknown to the first, the crime lord assigns a second operative to steal it back, so it can be resold.

And from there, hold onto your popcorn, as you're rocketed through 1930s Manchurian desert in this breathless and exuberant 'Asian Western', as the titles describe it (is this the original Asian title?). Made by South Korean director Ji-woon Kim, from a script he wrote with Min-suk Kim, the tale involves desert warlords, Japanese cavalry, Manchurians, Chinese, Koreans, and is a riot of dazzling color, confusing (to westerners) politics and unrelenting action.

The extended shootouts at the 'Ghost Market' and the unceasing desert chase are each easily worth the price of admission. Although obviously an homage to Sergio Leone, it owes almost as much to the best of Speilberg's Indiana Jones films (i.e., excluding the last one), and by extension to Republic Studios and Yakima Cannut. And as opposed to Sukiyaki Western Django, which is a long series of spaghetti-western references transposed into Japanese, The Good, The Bad and the Weird stands on its own merits: there is no other film you must first have seen to appreciate this one.

The performances of the Good and the Weird are fine. The Bad role suffers somewhat from an anachronistic wardrobe and attitude that mark him as more of a 1960s James Bond enemy than a Lee Van Cleef. The one lesson the filmmakers have not learned properly from Hollywood or Rome -- actualy from Hitchcock -- is to not waste time on the MacGuffin, which is all the map truly is. If you do, you need a payoff on a Maltese Falcon/Lost Ark level, which it lacks. But the it's a minor failing -- the film is a display of astonishing production skills, from action staging to camera movement to editing. I loved it, and I think most western fans will. CHECK OUT THE TRAILER HERE.


It's currently playing at the Ritz At The Bourse in Philadelphia, the Lumiere in San Francisco, the Varsity Theatre in Seattle, the Kendall Square Cinema in Boston, and will open on Friday the 14th at Ken Cinema in San Diego, the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis, the E. Street Cinema in Washington, D.C., and the Midtown Art Cinema in Atlanta.

Note:AMC=American Movie Classics, EXT= Showtime Extreme, FMC=Fox Movie Channel, TCM=Turner Classic Movies. All times given are Pacific Standard Time.


Throughout the month of May, Turner Classic Movies will be showing dozens of westerns, showing a wide range of portrayals of American Indian characters in the movies on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Tuesday May 11th

John Ford directed with gusto from the Lamar Trotti, Sonya Levian script, based on the Walter D. Edmonds novel. Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda star in one of the finest of 'eastern' westerns, a Revoltionary War story packed with Ford stock company greats like John Carradine, Arthur Shields and Ward Bond. In a more normal year, it might have been named Best Picture, but in 1939 it received only two Oscar nominations, for Edna Mae Oliver's comic turn as Best Supporting Actress, and for Ray Rennahan and Bert Glennon's glorious Technicolor photography -- and it won neither. Highly recommended.

TCM 7:00 p.m. NORTHWEST PASSAGE (1940) True story of Roger's Rangers and their fight to open up new frontiers for Colonial America. Stars Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, Walter Brennan. Directed by King Vidor.

TCM 9:15 p.m. LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992)

TCM 11:30 p.m. GERONIMO (1962)

Wednesday May 12th

TCM 1:15 a.m. MOHAWK (1956)

TCM 2:45 a.m. CHUKA (1967)

Thursday May 13th

TCM 4:30 a.m. GUN FURY (1953) A cowboy trails the outlaws who kidnapped his fiance during a stagecoach robbery. Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Lee Marvin. D: Raoul Walsh.

TCM 6:00 a.m. THEY RIDE WEST (1954) A Cavalry doctor defies orders to treat Native Americans. Robert Francis, Donna Reed, Philip Carey. D:Phil Carlson.

TCM 2:15 p.m. GOOD DAY FOR A HANGING (1958)

TCM 3:45 p.m. THE HIRED GUN (1957)

TCM 5:00 p.m. THE UNFORGIVEN (1960)

TCM 7:15 P.M. DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) Actor Kevin Costner's directorial debut won him an Oscar, and there were seven more: best picture; Dean Semler for cinematography; Neil Travis for editing; John Barry for his score; Michael Blake for his adapted screenplay; and Russell Williams II, Jeffrey Perkins, Bill W. Benton and Gregory H. Watkins for sound. Starring Costner as an army officer who befriends the Lakota Souix. With Mary McDonnel.

AMC 8:00 p.m. PALE RIDER (1985) Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a mysterious stranger (can you believe it?) protecting a town from bad guys. Moody and effective, script by Michael Butler and Dennis Shyrack, and featuring Carrie Snodgrass and Michael Moriarty.

TCM 10:30 P.M. THE BLACK ROBE (1991)

Friday May 14th

TCM 12:15 a.m. RUN OF THE ARROW (1957)

TCM 1:45 a.m. WHITE COMANCHE (1968)


TCM 5:00 A.M. DUEL IN THE SUN (1946)

AMC 6:30 a.m. THE STALKING MOON (1968) An aging cavalry scout (Gregory Peck) tries to protect a woman (Eva Marie Saint) and her half-Indian child. Directed by Robert Mulligan from Theodore V. Olsen's novel.

FMC 9:00 a.m. FLAMING STAR (1960) An early film from the soon-to-be-great Don Siegal, working from Nunnally Johnson's script of a Clair Huffaker novel. Elvis Presley, playing a role planned for Marlon Brando, is the half-breed son of white John McIntire and Kiowa Dolores Del Rio, forced to take sides in a local war between white and Indian. Surprisingly good, you realize how good an actor Elvis could have been if Col. Parker hadn't steered him into mostly inane crap. With Steve Forrest and Barbara Eden.

FMC 11:00 a.m. BANDOLERO! (1968)Great fun with Stewart and Martin as feuding brother outlaws. Featuring Raquel Welch, Harry Carey Jr., Jock Mahoney, Don 'Red' Barry, Roy Barcroft, D:Andrew McLaglen, W:James Lee Barrett (If you want to see an incredible list on stuntmen, check out the listing on IMDB)
FMC 11:a.m.

AMC 2:30 p.m. PALE RIDER (1985) Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a mysterious stranger (can you believe it?) protecting a town from bad guys. Moody and effective, script by Michael Butler and Dennis Shyrack, and featuring Carrie Snodgrass and Michael Moriarty.

AMC 8:00 p.m. UNFORGIVEN (1992) Clint Eastwood starred in and directed one of the greatest of later westerns, playing a gunman-turned-farmer who takes on one more job. Costarring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. Script by David Webb Peoples who wrote this: "Helluvah thing. killing a man. Take a away everything he's got, everything he's ever gonna have."


Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They run a GUNSMOKE Monday through Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and on Friday they show two, from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. They're not currently running either series on weekends, but that could change at any time.


Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run THE LONE RANGER at 1:30 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.

It's way too late for me to continue tonight -- I'll try and get the TV listings done on Monday -- make that Tuesday.

Happy Trails,


All contents Copyright May 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

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