Sunday, July 1, 2012

HEATHENS AND THIEVES Hit the Screen Today!

HEATHENS AND THIEVES – a film review

I have nothing against big budgets, and I have high hopes for upcoming films like DJANGO UNCHAINED and THE LONE RANGER.  But I’ve noticed over the past couple of years that some of the best Westerns I’ve seen have been made with modest budgets, but a lot of heart, a respect for authenticity, and an understanding of what can be accomplished with the money they’ve got. 

Such a film is HEATHENS AND THIEVES, a noir-ish, suspense Western written by John Douglas Sinclair and co-directed by Sinclair and Megan Peterson.  A pair of men on the run – whether they’ve escaped from prison or simply from enemies is never quite clear – find themselves near a farm, recently bought by a ‘Chinaman,’ where, it is rumored, gold stolen en route to a bank is hidden, perhaps without the Chinaman’s knowledge.  Bill, the more experienced and brash of the two (Richard Doyle), is all for charging in and demanding the gold.  His less violent partner Saul (Andrew Simpson), offers to go in alone, looking for work, to see if he can gain their confidence and locate the treasure.  The man, Zen Hui (Boyuen) is skeptical; his wife, Kun Hai Hui (Gwendoline Yeo) is even more so, but Saul eventually worms his way into their trust. 

But talk has spread about the gold, and that night the most disreputable collection of treasure-hunting scoundrels since THE MALTESE FALCON – bandits, lawmen of various agencies, representatives of the wronged bank – descend upon the farmer, his wife and their tiny baby, and Saul is forced to decide where his loyalties must lie.  With the coming of daylight, many gold-seekers will be disappointed, and many more will be dead. 

Rather than opening up the story, the filmmakers have, after a forest and a saloon scene, isolated the characters at the farm-house, letting the claustrophobia help create the tension as relationships are made and broken.  It’s like THE DESPERATE HOURS if you couldn’t be sure who to root for. 

HEATHENS AND THIEVES is an exciting and satisfying Western suspenser that packs plenty of gunplay, makes excellent use of locations, and has a horse-stampede the likes of which, for sheer numbers, you haven’t seen in years.   Sinclair’s wise script is strong in the plotting, and amusing in subtle ways – like when Saul plays husband versus wife to get hired, and when he’s pleased to maneuver his way into a breakfast invitation, only to find out what they eat for breakfast.  More importantly, the characters are rounded and varied, and like real people, there is more to each of them than meets the eye.  There is not a false note in the entire cast of characters or actors.  Particular standouts are the beautiful Gwendoline Yeo from BROKEN TRAIL; Richard Doyle as Saul’s exuberantly untrustworthy partner; and Andrew Simpson as Saul, an actor with virtually no previous screen credits, who must carry most of the picture, and does so with startling skill. 

And because the villain must be worthy of a hero, special attention must be given to Don Swayze, in the plumb role of Col. Sherman Rutherford, late of the Union Army, currently represented the wounded party, i.e., the bank.  It’s a bravura performance that nears the edge but never goes over-the-top, and because so few bad guys truly know they are bad guys, he is particularly enjoyable trying to justify to himself and others the terrible things he does.  Also noteworthy is Michael Robert Brandon as Moses.  If Sidney Greenstreet made fat sinister, Brandon makes baldness creepy. 

No film is perfect, and here and there are story points that are a bit of a stretch, and there were times when the long night seemed a little too long.  It runs 110 minutes, and might be a little better at 100.  But overall the film is extremely satisfying, and the direction by Sinclair and Peterson is excellent – with nothing to suggest that it was not the work of a single vision.

Of particular note is the cinematography by Pyongson Yim, shooting with a Red 1 camera.  With so much of the story taking place indoors at night, the look is crucial.  The flat and artificial lighting of TV Westerns of the 1960s gave way to the ‘realistic’ but hideously dark lighting of so many later Westerns, where you simply can’t distinguish characters or make out what’s going on.  Yim sometimes leans towards noir-ish shadows, but she always allows enough light to make the scenes understandable.  Without calling attention to itself, much of her composition is original and stunning.  Together with the production design by Kyle Peterson, art direction by Erica Headley and Abigail Potter and costuming by Elaine Montalvo, this films visuals establish a beauty and reality that you accept without question.

And the good news is, you may be able to see HEATHENS AND THIEVES right now.  Starting today, July 1st,  Phase 4 will begin a limited cable VOD release via Cox, Cablevision, Comcast, and Insight, and it will be released much more broadly in November.  And if you’re going to be in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 11th, you can see it on the big screen, as part of DOWNTOWN FILM FESTIVAL L.A..  It’s showing at 7:30 at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live Stadium, and you can learn more, and buy tickets, here:

Incidentally, I interviewed writer/co-director John Sinclair today, and will be featuring the interview in the Round-up shortly.


With surprisingly little fanfare, on May 23rd, the U.S. Postal Service issued a series of four stamps honoring great American movie directors.  Frank Capra, John Ford, Billy Wilder and John Huston were the very worthy men chosen, and it is a testament to the ‘melting-pot’ theory of American society to note that of the four, only two were born in the United States: John Huston, in Nevada, Missouri; and John Ford in Cape Elizabeth, Maine (why did I think he was born in Ireland?).  Frank Capra was born in Sicily, and Billy Wilder was born in Austria-Hungary (now Poland). 

Though both Capra and Wilder both came to the U.S. speaking little or no English, they both quickly became masters of the American vernacular, and while neither man ever made a Western, their contributions to American film, comedy and drama, cannot be overstated.  John Ford’s contribution to Westerns is legendary, from STAGCOACH to THE SEARCHERS to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, and so many more.  John Huston’s period and modern Westerns include THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (writing and directing Oscar), THE MISFITS, THE UNFORGIVEN, and THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE.

Each stamp features a portrait of the filmmaker, and a vignette from one of his most famous works: Ford’s shows John Wayne walking away through the doorway at the end of THE SEARCHERS, Capra’s shows Claudette Colbert teaching Clark Gable how to stop a car without using her thumb from IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, Wilder’s features Marilyn Monroe with her ukulele from SOME LIKE IT HOT, and Huston’s shows Humphrey Bogart examining ‘The stuff that dreams are made of,’ from THE MALTESE FALCON.


From July 13th through August 12th, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program present seven Budd Boetticher double-bills featuring many of his finest Westerns and gangster films.  Prominent are the films from the Ranown cycle, produced by the Randolph Scott and Harry Joe Brown company, starring Scott, and considered by many to be the best series of Westerns ever made.   While much is rightly made of the Boetticher/Scott collaboration, it should be remembered that it was a three-man collaboration: Burt Kennedy, later a successful director in his own right, wrote four of the six screenplays, and they are clearly the strongest films of the group.


 Alexander Roman’s fascinating 40 minute documentary about Peter Ford, son of Hollywood stars Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell, will run at Laemmle 7 North Hollywood from Friday, June 29th thr...ough Thursday July 5th, to qualify for Oscar consideration. Read my write-up of the film here: Read my review of Peter Ford’s book, GLENN FORD: A LIFE, here:

The showings are at 12:50 pm every day, the tickets are $8, and on Sat., June 30 and Sunday July 1, Roman and Ford will be present for a Q&A.


On Saturday night, July 14th, Quentin Tarantino will host a DJANGO UNCHAINED panel in Hall H. There will be clips, and there will be cast members on the panel, but no names have been announced yet!

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, RAWHIDE, GUNSMOKE, THE REBEL, and MARSHALL DILLON, which is the syndication title for the original half-hour GUNSMOKE, and starting Monday they're bringing back BONANZA.

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 Roy feature 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. They often show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.

TVLAND has dropped GUNSMOKE after all these years, but still shows four episodes of BONANZA every 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.


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:


Here I am, trying to pick up a gal at Knott's Berry Farm

I've managed to stretch my birthday to about two weeks of celebration, between being taken to Knotts, being taken to Glen Campbell at the Hollywood Bowl, with gifts and cake in between.  It's been a largely Roy Rogers-themed time for me, between catching up on several of the RFD episodes, seeing SAN FERNANDO VALLEY at the Andres Pico Adobe (more about that next week), and finally getting to see Roy's last movie, MACINTOSH ANDT.J. (don't know where my wife found that for me!)  Best of all, I've had some time to work on my own screenplays -- I can't leave everything in Tarantino's hands! Hope you're having a great summer!

Happy Trails,


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


  1. Heathens and Thieves sounds very good. The basic plot sounds similar to one from a story I read a few years ago -- I think it was a Max Brand story, about someone trying to recover money or treasure from a farmer by getting a job on the farm, but I may be incorrect in my remembering. I can't recall the story title. I'll scratch my head some more. Meanwhile, thanks for sharing the great review!

  2. 11/26/12 - The DVD has now been released. We watched with an investor on Saturday night and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I'm not sophisticated - I watch for escapism and I had no trouble getting involved with the plot, characters and locale. I read mysteries, histories and spy novels - and this had most of it. It will make great Christmas presents for families with pre-teen kids and adults who remember shoot 'em up movies without a lot of disgusting blood & gore for blood & gore disgust.