Sunday, June 20, 2010
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY, PA!
Updated Monday 6/21/2010 - see NAZI WESTERN and JONAH HEX review below.
Happy Father's Day to all of the dad’s who read the Round-up! And let’s have a big round of applause for every westerner’s favorite TV dad, Lorne Green as Ben Cartwright! And in a nod to dysfunctional families, let’s not forget Leif Erickson as Big John Cannon (yes, in the titles, ‘Big’ is his first name), both shows creations of that great father of TV westerns, David Dortort, who is still going strong at 94! (To watch a long and fascinating interview with Dortort, CLICK HERE.)
WAR BETWEEN THE STATES PACKS ‘EM IN!
Folks who attended the Civil War reenactment at Pierce College Farm last weekend had a wonderful time. Prior to battle, visitors could tour the Yankee and Rebel camps and talk with re-enactors who were wonderfully knowledgeable about the Civil War in general and their unit, weapons and uniforms in particular. It was a delight to be surrounded by so many people who know and care so much about U.S. history.
There were more than five hundred re-enactors taking part, with roughly 200 Union and 200 Confederate soldiers, and a hundred civilians, many of them women, representing those who waited and held the fort at home. The battles themselves were realistic, exciting – and deafening. My wife and I could see the battle very well from our position beside the row of Confederate cannon, but afterwards we couldn’t hear much of anything for a few hours!
There was food available for purchase, as well as Civil War related books and souvenirs, and clothes, from $4 children’s kepis to beautifully tailored dress uniforms for hundreds of dollars – not to mention percussion caps and replacement ramrods. This is the first of what is planned as an annual event. If you attended, and enjoyed yourselves as much as we did, CLICK HERE to e-mail Pierce College and let them know. There are more Civil War-related events on the horizon – in Long Beach in the end of July, and in Moorpark in November, and we’ll bring you details as the dates get nearer. (photos from top: cast of BONANZA, cast of HIGH CHAPARRAL, Union Zoave soldier, Confederate soldiers on the march, women wisely fleeing the battlefield, Confederate cannon battery, General Lee giving commands)
MOVIE REVIEW – JONAH HEX
JONAH HEX is not the worst western ever made, but it’s a very disappointing one. I never read the comic books it’s based on, so I won’t judge it in terms of how closely it follows its source material. The story of Hex, a bounty hunter who, after a near-death experience, is able to get information by laying hands on the dead seems very promising, and actually works in several scenes.
In fact, technically, there is much good to be said about the film. The costuming (Michael Wilkinson), art direction (Seth Reed) and cinematography (Mitchell Amundsen) are excellent. The make-up is highly effective. Josh Brolin’s Hex had a branding iron pressed into his cheek, and later he tried to remove the offending monogram with a Bowie knife, leaving a gaping hole in his cheek. It’s so convincing that it’s sometimes hard to look at (and according to Brolin, it hurt like Hell).
It’s hard to tell where problems of story end and problems of casting begin. Brolin is just right for the role, but the script makes it nearly impossible for him to give anything but a one-note performance. John Malkovich plays, as always, John Malkovich, and while he has his trademarked unnerving presence, he isn’t supposed to be a creepy neighbor, he’s supposed to be Quantrill! He’s far too effete to convincingly play a military officer. Similarly, the usually excellent Aidan Quinn is laughably soft as President Grant. The normally very funny Will Arnet has absolutely nothing to do as Lt. Grass. The dynamic Michael Fassbender plays Burke, Malkovich’s cruel right hand, with admirable gusto. But his cocky Irishness is completely undermined by the fact that his face is completely covered in Maori tattoos! I’m not kidding – the filmmakers assume the audience doesn’t know the Emerald Isle from New Zealand! The girl, actually the ho, is played by Megan Fox, who may be the most beautiful brunette to grace the screen since Hedy Lamarr – who, you will remember, could act. Actually, that’s a bit unfair, because in most of her scenes she acquits herself well. But towards the end of the picture, there’s a sequence where she and Brolin are chained to overhead pipes, and one repeatedly sees a smirk appearing on her face, followed by abrupt cuts. One suspects that to get a disciplined performance out of Fox, a more Hitler-like director is required. (Okay, since this is the second Nazi reference in this entry, I’ll explain that Fox was just fired from the next TRANSFORMERS movie for describing her director/discoverer Michael Bey as Hitler-like).
And what an original plot! The Civil War is over, but there’s this Quantrill-like Southern officer with a personal grudge against Jonah Hex (natch) who won’t accept defeat, and he has this incredible secret weapon stolen from the government, and he’s going to use it to attack Washington D.C.! And this secret weapon is (hold your breath) A CANNON THAT SHOOTS GLASS BALLS FULL OF GASOLINE! Will the planet Earth survive? It’s like a rejected pitch for an episode of WILD WILD WEST after they jumped the shark. It’s written by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who were originally supposed to co-direct. When they were dumped, they dropped their first names from the credits, in some sort of half-assed protest, and are billed as Neveldine and Taylor. They were replaced by director Jimmy Hayward of HORTON HEARS A WHO fame.
One reason the super-weapon falls so flat is because we’ve already seen so much fire – every set that Hex exits explodes into flame behind him. As Variety reviewer Justin Chang points out, “Given the relative paucity of Westerns on the current movie-going landscape, it’s somewhat dispiriting to…painstakingly erect a façade of 19th century mining towns, military forts and runaway locomotives…only to blow every one of those sets to yawn-inducing smithereens.”
Some audience members have felt gypped at the movie’s 81 minute running-time, including end credits, but I was just as happy to see it end. If I seem unusually hard on this film, it’s because I love westerns, and I believe every good western makes it easier to get the next one made, and every bad one makes it more difficult for all of us. The irony is that two other westerns have come out this year, both direct to video, and 6 GUNS and AMERICAN BANDITS: FRANK AND JESSE JAMES, are both ten times the western JONAH HEX is, even though their combined budgets aren’t a fraction of HEX’s catering costs.
DAVID ROSE CENTENNIAL
Speaking of BONANZA and HIGH CHAPARRAL, David Rose, the composer of the themes for both shows, as well as the score for HOMBRE (1967), was born 100 years ago this past Tuesday, June 15th. Rose, who died in 1990, was equally well-known for his delightfully bawdy composition, THE STRIPPER. Born in London, he was married thrice, to Martha Raye, Judy Garland, and Betty Bartholomew, with whom he had two children. His star on the Walk of Fame can be found at 6514 Hollywood Boulevard. To hear the theme from HIGH CHAPARRAL, CLICK HERE.
ANTHONY MANN FESTIVAL AT NEW YORK’S FILM FORUM
What a treat for all of you that live East but love West! From June 25th through July 15th, the Forum will be presenting 26 movies – most in double features and a few in triple bills! -- directed by the great Anthony Mann, whose post-war westerns brought a new-found maturity to the form, and gave James Stewart a chance to stretch as an actor as never before. In addition to the westerns being shown, Mann's fine crime and war stories will also be on view. Among the westerns: NAKED SPUR (1953) and WINCHESTER '73 (1950) on Friday and Saturday June 25th and 26th; BORDER INCIDENT (1949) and DEVIL'S DOORWAY (1950) on Wednesday, June 30th; THE LAST FRONTIER (1956) and GOD'S LITTLE ACRE (1958) on Thursday July 1st; MAN OF THE WEST (1958) and a new 35MM print of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955) on Friday and Saturday July 2nd and 3rd; BEND OF THE RIVER (1952) and a new 35mm print of THUNDER BAY (1953) on Sunday and Monday, July 4th and 5th; CIMARRON (1960) on Monday July 5th, THE FURIES (1950) and THE TIN STAR (1957) on Tuesday July 6th; THE FAR COUNTRY (1955) and THE TALL TARGET (1951) on Friday and Saturday, July 9th and 10th. To whet your appetite -- and this is for everyone, not just New Yorkers - CLICK HERE to see trailers of several of the Anthony Mann westerns.
A NAZI WESTERN FILMED IN ARIZONA?
The June 2010 issue of TRUE WEST MAGAZINE has a fascinating article by Joe McNeil, detailing the making of DER KAISER VON KALIFORNEIN, a.k.a. THE EMPEROR OF CALIFORNIA, in 1936. Bankrolled by the Third Reich through a wholly owned film company, it’s the official party version of the life of German immigrant Johann Augustus Suter, or as we know him, John Sutter. He was the man who owned Sutter’s Mill, where a gold find triggered the 1849 Gold Rush, which eventually destroyed him.
There is also a lot of side information on Karl May, the best-selling writer in the history of Germany, whose western stories about Winnetou and Old Shatterhand were favorites of both Hitler and Einstein, and whose stories influenced the western films of German immigrant directors like Fritz Lang, Fred Zinneman, Michael Curtiz and so many other. The article is an excerpt from McNeil’s ARIZONA’S LITTLE HOLLYWOOD: SEDONA AND NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S FORGOTTEN FILM HISTORY, 1923-1973. If you CLICK HERE, you can see a clip from DER KAISER, and even buy the book.
AROUND LOS ANGELES
THE AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER
Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. Currently they have HOMELANDS: HOW WOMEN MADE THE WEST through August 22nd, and THE ART OF NATIVE AMERICAN BASKETRY: A LIVING TRADITION, through November 7th. I've seen the basketry show three times, and am continually astonished at the beauty and variety of the work of the various tribes. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.
HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM
Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.
WELLS FARGO HISTORY MUSEUM
This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.
TV LAND - BONANZA and GUNSMOKE
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.
NEED YOUR BLACK & WHITE TV FIX?
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 getting a little late tonight (Sunday), so I'm going to finish up tomorrow by adding a few items including my review of JONAH HEX tomorrow.
Contents Copyright June 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved