Sunday, May 27, 2012


Mini-Series Review – HATFIELDS & MCCOYS

HATFIELDS & MCCOYS is the History Channel’s first dramatic production, and it would be hard to find a more dramatic subject than the infamous feud that festered and sporadically exploded for twenty-five years along the Tug Fork River which separates Kentucky and West Virginia.  Starting on Memorial Day and continuing for the next two nights, it is an engaging, entertaining, and occasionally horrifying study of two families bent on mutual destruction.

Kevin Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield

Though shot in Romania and Transylvania, there is nothing that gives it away as not being a stateside production, and the green hills and thick forests stand in admirably for the Kentucky and West Virginia back-country. Polish cinematographer Arthur Reinhart, who previously collaborated with director Kevin Reynolds on TRISTAN + ISOLDE, reveals beauty in fields and tumbling shacks; and lurking fear in misty, mazelike forests. 

Hatfield Family Portrait

In trying to elevate the feud to the level of Shakespearean tragedy, it makes kings of the tale’s two patriarchs, Devil Anse Hatfield (Kevin Costner) and Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton).  After a brief but exciting Civil War sequence, the Confederate neighbors meet on the battle-field, each demonstrating bravery, yet their differences are quickly revealed: McCoy pledges his allegiance to his God and his country above all else.  Hatfield scoffs at religion and feels allegiance only to his family and himself.  Seeing the war is about to end, and against their side, Hatfield has no qualms about deserting, to get back to his family and get a leg up on Reconstruction.  McCoy has the chance to put a bullet in what he considers a man without honor, but does not.  It is a decision he will regret to the end of his days. 

Bill Paxton as Randall McCoy

Every ‘period’ movie reflects both the time it portrays and the time in which it was made, and HATFIELDS & MCCOYS balances those times very well.  Beyond minor points like the ability to say ‘bullshit’ in a TV show, the current permissiveness allows a plot element which could never have been portrayed before: one of the early insults that sets the feud in motion is the suggestion that one of the principals has a carnal relationship with his dog!  But even more remarkable today is that this modern production convincingly portrays a time when shame had meaning; when a young woman who had spent a night, unchaperoned, away from her father’s home was ‘ruined,’ and unlikely to ever be married. 

McCoy Family Portrait

The women who stand by their men are Sarah Parish as Levicy Hatfield and Mare Winningham as Sally McCoy, Mare having the more involved – though unenviable – role, and they are both sympathetic and tragic.  The young lovers are Matt Barr as Johnse Hatfield and Lindsay Pulsipher as Roseanna McCoy, and they are utterly convincing as a pair whose youthful self-centeredness puts so much horror in motion.  Yet they are likeable kids, and victims of the malignant forces that surround them.

THE GOOD - Lindsay Pulsipher and Matt Barr

While the leads must be stoic, the most showy roles are a group of loose cannons who manipulate the feud to further their own ends, and they are generally the most fun to watch.  Ronan Vibert plays Perry Kline, a McCoy cousin and would-be slick lawyer who endlessly muddies the waters while trying to get the McCoys ‘justice.’  Lovely Jena Malone plays Nancy McCoy, a heartless tramp whose jealousy leads to more than one death.  Andrew Howard is ‘Bad’ Frank Phillips, former Pinkerton, now a bounty hunter for the McCoys, and trying to get a controlling interest in the family.  Most unexpected of all is Tom Berenger as Hatfield cousin Jim Vance.  All but unrecognizable, with a paunch and a wreath of dense whiskers, the obnoxious, brutal and irresponsible Vance is easily the single most to-blame character in the story. 

THE BAD - Jena Malone

Also cast against western-type is Powers Boothe, as Judge Valentine Wall Hatfield.  Usually seen as a swine in shows like TOMBSTONE and DEADWOOD, here he is the long-suffering, and rarely listened to, voice of reason. 

...AND THE UGLY - Tom Berenger

It is a strong ensemble cast, and tying it together are the performances of Costner and Paxton.  As the feud drags on year after year, with both men surrounded by death, and  neither seeing himself getting closer to his goals, Costner becomes more glum and removed, while Paxton veers ever closer to breakdown.  Kevin Reynolds, who previously directed Costner in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and WATERWORLD, and screenwriters Bill Kerby, Ted Mann and Ronald Parker, give human form and dignity to these real men and woman who have usually been portrayed as mindless subhuman hillbillies whose slaughter was comic rather than tragic. 

If there is a downside to the project, it is that it takes three nights to tell a story that often lacks anyone to root for.  There were a couple of battle scenes towards the end where I realized that, well presented though they were, I didn’t care which side won; I just didn’t want too many people to die.  It would be ‘neater’ to have one, not two, Shakespearean tragic heroes, and with only one fatal flaw.  But the truth is usually not neat, and what we have in HATFIELDS & MCCOYS is probably closer to the truth than any previous portrayal.  I found it mostly fascinating.


Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx

Among the actors glimpsed is the long rumored but never confirmed original Django, FRANCO NERO! Although 62 additional days of shooting are scheduled, producer Harvey Weinstein screened a reel of scenes from Tarantino’s film, which is planned for a Christmas release.  Also seen in clips are Jamie Foxx as Django, plus Christoph Waltz, Don Johnson, Kerry Washington and Leo DiCaprio. 

Noticeably absent were Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Sacha Baron Cohen, who were to play brothers, and Kurt Russell.  Gordon-Levitt ankled a month ago, and Cohen bowed out saying he had to work full time promoting THE DICTATOR (also known as throwing good money after bad). 

More surprising is that Kurt Russell, who acted for Tarantino previously in KILL BILL VOL. 2 and the DEATH PROOF segment of GRINDHOUSE, is abandoning the role of Ace Woody, a fight trainer of slaves at Leo DiCaprio’s MANDINGO-style casino-brothel-plantation.  Ironically, Ace Woody was originally announced to be played by Kevin Costner, who then backed out to do HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (see the review above).  But wait; there’s more irony.  Kurt Russell previously replaced Kevin Costner for Tarantino when Kevin backed out of DEATH PROOF at the last minute. 

JUSTIFIED villain Walton Goggins has a nice if small role in the picture, and the talk (at Ain’t It Cool?) is that his character may be built up to take on a lot of the Ace Woody action.



Natalie Portman in COLD MOUNTAIN

Per the Hollywood Reporter, CAA is busily packaging the film at Cannes.  It’s based on the original screenplay by first timer Brian Duffield, and was a highly touted ‘Black List’ script.  (Note: this ‘Black List’ has nothing to do with politics.  It is a list of highly respected scripts that haven’t been sold.  Stupid name, considering the ‘Black List’ connotation, isn’t it?)  It is to be directed by Lynne Ramsay, helmer of WE’VE GOT TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. 

Portman previously starred in the Western COLD MOUNTAIN (2003).  JANE GOT A GUN is about a woman whose bandit spouse comes home shot to pieces and nearly dead.  When his ex-associates come to finish him off, the woman turns to an ex-beau to save them.


MGM, recently out of bankruptcy, is planning a slew of remakes of already-owned properties, and John Sturges' MAGNIFICENT 7 is one of them. The conjecture is that he would be taking on the Steve McQueen role, but that’s only conjecture.  If they’re going for physical type, the Horst Buchholz seems like a better match.  Thanks to Nilton Hargrave for the tip!


A three-week Spaghetti Western Festival will run for three weeks, from June 1st through the 21st, featuring 26 films, and with repeat playdates for most.  Sixteen feature Ennio Morricone scores.  Directors include the two Sergios, Leone and Corbucci, plus Tinto Brass, Giancarlo Santi, Damiano Damiani, and many more (surprisingly no Enzo Castellari).  The titles: DJANGO; A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; THE BIG GUNDOWN; DEATH RIDES A HORSE; FACE TO FACE; TEPEPA; DJANGO KILL…IF YOULIVE, SHOOT!; THE MERCENARY; A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL; NAVJO JOE; COMPANEROS; HELLBENDERS; THE GREAT SILENCE; FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE; SARTANA; THE PRICE OF POWER; THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY; THE HILLS RUN RED; THE BIG SHOWDOWN; SABATA; CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37; DUCK, YOU SUCKER!; KILL AND PRAY; YANKEE; ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST; and THE RUTHLESS FOUR.  Star Tony Musante will be present for the June 4th screening of THE MERCENARY.  Spaghetti Western maven Arthur Cox will introduce THE PRICE OF POWER on June 7th.  The event is presented in association with CSC-Cineteca Nazionale (Rome), with support from the Italian Cultural Institute of New York.  To learn more, go HERE


More and more, classic TV Westerns are available all over the TV universe, but they tend to be on small networks that are easy to miss. Of course, ENCORE WESTERNSis the best continuous source of such programming, and has been for years. Currently they run LAWMAN, WAGON TRAIN, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, LAREDO, RAWHIDE, GUNSMOKE, THE REBEL, and MARSHALL DILLON, which is the syndication title for the original half-hour GUNSMOKE.

RFD-TV is currently showing THE ROY ROGERS SHOW, first at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Pacific Time, then repeated several times a week. They show a Royfeature every Tuesday as well, with repeats -- check your local listings.

INSP-TVshows THE BIG VALLEY Monday through Saturday,LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE seven days a week, DR. QUINN: MEDICINE WOMANon weekdays, and BONANZA on Saturdays.

WHT runs DANIEL BOONE on weekdays from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m., Pacific Time, but they’ve just stopped showing BAT MASTERSON. They often show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.

TVLAND has dropped GUNSMOKEafter all these years, but still shows four episodes of BONANZAevery weekday.

For those of you who watch TV with an antenna, there are at least a couple of channels that exist between the standard numbers – largely unavailable on cable or satellite systems – that provide Western fare. ANTENNA TV is currently running RIN TIN TIN, HERE COME THE BRIDES, and IRON HORSE.


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. 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.

SATURDAY, June 2nd, see a double bill of Gene's movies, MELODY TRAIL (1935)  and SOUTH OF THE BORDER (1939), noon in the Imagination Gallery's Western Legacy Theater.


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.


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.


That's right, the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable here:

That's it for today's Round-up!  Remember that ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES is available starting on Tuesday, and LONGMIRE premieres on A&E On Sunday, June 3rd.  And in next Suday's Round-up I'll feature my review of the new HALLMARK CHANNEL WESTERN, HANNAH'S LAW, along with my interview with it's writer-producer John Fasano.  Have a great Memorial Day Weekend, and don't forget the men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedoms!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright May 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Just saw the TMC segment. Good job Henry. By the way, Buddies in the Saddle, a website you might enjoy, is reviewing my novel, Scalp Mountain, tomorrow (I think) and posting an interview with me. Don't miss it. Thanks, Julia