Sunday, January 26, 2014


Updated 2/1/2014 see 'WHEN CALL THE HEART' story 

DARK FRONTIER – Video Review

Australia is a nation whose frontier history parallels that of the United States in many respects, so although the story of DARK FRONTIER does not take place in our West, I think it’s as legitimate for the Round-up to examine such Aussie pictures as it is to examine those set in Canada and Mexico.  Or are you going to tell me QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER isn’t a western?

Just recently released in the United States, DARK FRONTIER, first known as THE LUCKY COUNTRY, was released in Australia in 2009.  It is a dark and brooding story, elegantly scripted by Andy Cox, and dynamically directed by Kriv Stenders, who previously directed BOXING DAY, and has since helmed RED DOG, a true story about a dog’s search for his master, in which he casts some of his DARK FRONTIER stars.

Set in 1902, a year after the formation of the Australian Federation, it’s the story of a family of four that has staked their claim on farm land at the very edge of the frontier.  The father, Nat, has managed to build quite a nice house, filled with their possessions from their old life, but a month ago, his wife, his children’s mother, died.  Now the house seems like a mausoleum, a memorial to her that reminds them constantly of their loss.  His daughter and son, Sarah and Tom, despise the place and the isolation, even as they struggle not to blame their father.  God knows he’s doing the best he can, but his frequent statements of trusting God to provide bring them no confidence. 

In the midst of their trials, and as their few distant neighbors desert their own failed farms for the gold fields, three men ride in, returning from an unsatisfying sojourn with the gold-pan.  They are all recent veterans of the Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, arguably one of the darkest pages in Britain’s empire-building.  Henry is the eldest, or at least the father-figure of the three, Carver his inarticulate second, and Jimmy, perhaps not even out of his teens, is the youngest, and wounded.  The trio ask for shelter – they fear Jimmy will die if he cannot rest for the night.  Though initially suspicious, Nat welcomes them in, and his children, though dubious, go along. 

The presence of the three strong men, and the obliqueness of each one’s different intentions, shifts the power-structure of the six.   Not surprisingly, a desperately lonely teenage girl caring for a handsome, injured young man-of-the-world spells trouble.  So does the slowly emerging fact that one person in the group does possess hidden gold, which could change the fortunes of any one of them.

Most unexpectedly, as the story progresses, the center of it becomes twelve-year-old Tom.  Having just reviewed the first season of THE RIFLEMAN on home video, the comparisons are inescapable.  Both stories are about a widowed father trying to make a new life for his son – and in this case son and daughter – in a new and often savage and unforgiving environment.  Both stories are unusual in realistically showing life from the point of view of the loving son as much as the father.  The difference is that Mark McCain has seen that his father has the strength to do just about anything he sets his mind to.  In DARK FRONTIER, Tom and Sarah long to have that much faith in Nat, but they’ve seen their father fail again and again, and now they’re in a fight for their lives.  Because between gold and guns, not many people are going to survive.  To put it another way, in SHANE, how much chance would Van Helfin have, with Jean Arthur already dead, and no Alan Ladd to help? 

Director Kriv Stenders was fortunate to discover young Toby Wallace to star as Tom, who brings a wonderfully layered performance playing a lad forced to mature long before he is ready.  While his character has plenty to say, much of his performance is in his expression.  Many of his scenes are played alone, yet one never has any doubt of what he’s thinking; except when you’re supposed to.

Undoubtedly a low budget film, the filmmakers have wisely created a small, tight story that uses the limitations to their advantage, rather than trying to be ‘bigger’ than they can afford.  Well over 90% of the film takes place in and around the house, and except for brief glimpses at the beginning and end, there are only six characters.  That’s a lot of responsibility for each, and they are all fine actors.  The father, Aden Young, starred in Bruce Beresford’s wonderful 17th century western THE BLACK ROBE (1991), and plays Victor Frankenstein in the current I, FRANKENSTEIN.  Hanna Mangan Lawrence, lately of the SPARTACUS series, plays the teenaged, miserably unhappy Sarah.  Englishman Pip Miller, of RETURN OF THE JEDI and SLIDING DOORS among many others, plays Henry, leader of the three prospectors, who under other circumstances might be a perfectly nice guy; but he’s done enough in war to be capable of anything in peace.   Neil Pigot plays Carver as a man who says he wants no trouble, but has a huge chip on his shoulder.  And Eamon Farren plays Jimmy, the young romantic with a hard edge.

The violence in DARK FRONTIER is not excessive, but it is unflinching.  Cinematographer Jules O’Laughlin, DP on the new BLACK SAILS miniseries, and editor Gabriella Muir handle the visuals and pacing with stylish but unself-conscious skill.  This is a tough, strong, frightening, involving, thoughtful film, and I strongly recommend it.  I will caution that, while the story is about a 12-year-old, I think it would be too upsetting for most 12-year-olds to watch. 


Director Quentin Tarantino is so angry and depressed at having his script for HATEFUL EIGHT leaked that he’s shelving the project.  Originally set to film in winter, he’s decided instead to publish the script, and direct it in five years or so.   The downside of his nearly deified status among movie nerds is that it becomes impossible to keep wraps on his work until he thinks it’s in a condition to be shown.  The endless on-line analysis of his last two movies’ scripts, for years before the films were shot, no less released, was excruciating.  It’s ‘Round up the usual suspects,’ time and it’s a short list. 

He’s quoted in DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD as saying, “I gave it to one of the producers on Django Unchained, Reggie Hudlin, and he let an agent come to his house and read it. That’s a betrayal, but not crippling because the agent didn’t end up with the script. There is an ugly maliciousness to the rest of it. I gave it to three actors: Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth. The one I know didn’t do this is Tim Roth. One of the others let their agent read it and that agent has now passed it on to everyone in Hollywood. I don’t know how these fucking agents work, but I’m not making this next. I’m going to publish it, and that’s it for now. I give it out to six people and if I can’t trust them to that degree, then I have no desire to make it. I’ll publish it. I’m done. I’ll move on to the next thing. I’ve got ten more where that came from.”  I hope at least one of the ten is a western, but I’m not holding my breath.


Beginning on Friday night, January 31st, the UCLA Motion Picture & Television Archive, will present, at the Billy Wilder Theatre, a two-month retrospective entitled Dark City, Open Country: The Films of Anthony Mann.  Best known for his post-war western collaborations with James Stewart at Universal, he also directed many other excellent westerns, as well as gritty crime stories, at all of the major studios as well as the poverty row outfits.  Focusing on his crime films and westerns, the program will open with the double feature THE GREAT FLAMARION (1945), starring Erich Von Stroheim, Mary Beth Hughes, and Dan Duryea; and THE FURIES (1950), starring Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston, and Gilbert Roland. 

On Saturday, February 1st, the double bill will be DR. BROADWAY (1942) and TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE (1945).  February 5 it’s STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944) and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955), February 9th, it’s HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) and THE NAKED SPUR (1953).  February 21st it’s STRANGE IMPERSONATION (1946) and THE LAST FRONTIER (1956).  March 1st it’s DESPERATE (1947) and RAILROADED (1947).  March 3rd it’s BORDER INCIDENT (1949) and THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY (1950).  March 12th, T-MEN (1947) and RAW DEAL (1948).  March 15th SIDE STREET (1950) and WINCHESTER ’73 (1950).  March 23rd THE TALL TARGET (1951) and THE FAR COUNTRY (1954).  And finally, on March 30th MAN OF THE WEST (1958) and THE TIN STAR (1957).


If you haven’t checked out the Hallmark Channel’s new DR. QUINN ON THE PRAIRIE-styled Canadian Western series, WHEN CALLS THE HEART, Saturday night’s episode is a good place to start.  The series concerns the town of Coal Valley at the turn of the last century, and the school teacher, Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), who has come to serve the town, and finds it full of widows and orphans, as a result of a deadly mining accident.  Episode 3 concerned the mining company’s bought-and-paid-for minister, whose church was burned to the ground while mourners were attending a vigil at the mine.  At the end of that episode, investigating Mountie Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing), sifting through the ashes, finds a clue the Pinkerton Detectives missed: the burnt can of whale oil that started the blaze.  In Episode 4, that can appears to point to a widow of the mine disaster as the culprit.  Is it coincidence, a frame-up, or did she do it?  Find out on Saturday night!  


'Mesa Drifters' by Logan Maxwell Hagege

The 17TH annual MASTERS OF THE AMERICAN WEST EXHIBITION AND SALE opens Saturday, February 1, 2014, in the George Montgomery Gallery. This prestigious exhibition challenges nationally recognized artists such as Howard Terpning, Mian Situ, George Carlson, Bill Anton, Tucker Smith, Z. S. Liang, Robert Griffing, Morgan Weistling, Tammy Garcia, and others to exhibit their very best work. The juried exhibition and sale features 80 artists, including established Masters artists and emerging talent. Proceeds from Masters support the Autry’s dynamic educational programs, ongoing collections conservation, and much more.  The exhibition continues through March 16th.


Next Sunday’s Round-up will feature my visit to the set of THE MAN FROM DEATH.  Also coming soon to the Round-up, my review of C. Courtney Joyner’s new western novel, SHOTGUN, along with an interview; my review of the new western documentary THE LEGEND OF THE RENO BROTHERS; my review of the new Maryland-based western DAY OF THE GUN; and my review of the just-released THE RED SKELTON SHOW – THE LOST EPISODES (trust me, there is a western connection).


I’d hoped to review of the new northwestern mini-series KLONDIKE in this week’s Round-up, and I’ve DVR’d all six hours, but I haven’t had a chance to even watch the opening credits.  The trailer looked great.  I placed a request on the Round-up Facebook page for reactions from those who’d seen it.  Here are some of those comments. 

Don D. Wright: “ Great ! I watched all of it !

Chris John Curtis Raring: Loved it, thought it was well done!!!

Caroline Wilson- Sudduth: My family watched the whole thing...awesome...was a little predictable when the man fell thru the ice and lost his gold...jumping on ice that is melting is a  little stupid!..IMO

Roger Manley: Enjoyed it tremendously. WELL DONE!!

Cheryl Dubuque: Only watched parts... wasn't what I thought. I don't think I will use the right word, but it seems more docu-drama or documentary in some parts than I thought it would be... The previews looked great - but don't think the show lived up to the previews. (sorry folks!)

Leta Ann Goldston Burns: Watched it all...Speech garbled..hard to understand..

Tom Betts: I watched the first episode and found it a bit hard to follow, and it's awfully dark both in story and scenery. Seems to want to be part Deadwood part Hell on Wheels. All story with very little action. It's what I would expect from today’s Hollywood.

Col Kurtz: Watched it all and enjoyed it. The scenery, costumes, and props all were excellent. Since it was a mini-series, they didn't have time to develop nuanced characters or plot. But for a show "based on actual events", it was entertaining.

Barbara Moore: Something went wrong with our recorder. We got none of it. Just hope they repeat!

Dan Searles: Was watching Centenial miniseries on encore channel, missed Klondike

Gary Ledoux: I DVR'd it and watched the whole thing yesterday. It was awesome! One of the best mini-series ever. And from what I know about that period, was largely historically accurate. I found one major gaffe but I won't give it out and be a spoiler. Looking at some of the other comments here...yes it was kind of "gritty" like Hell on Wheels and Deadwood... but that's Ok because that time and place was indeed gritty. I was fortunate to have access to some first-hand journals of two men who took that same trip in 1898. Awesome to read.

My favorite two comments are from Sandra Bowers and Leo Pandro, because they touch on two real and growing problems on television in general:

Sondra Bowers: I love the series, but, the commercials make for tedious watching.

Leo Pando: I've been spoiled by HBO and SHOWTIME, shows without relentless commercials. The logos promoting other programs invading the screen are also a distraction. One might be better off watching this when it's available for streaming on Netflix.

So that’s it for this week.  If I manage to find six hours, I’ll let you know what I think of KLONDIKE.  And if you have an opinion, please post it as a comment here on the Round-up!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright January 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Klondike gets a storming B from me. Have a few niggling complaints. I'm sick of seeing brass-framed lever guns in late-period stories. The prop department must have got a deal on a few Henry Golden Boys. Sigh.

    I share the distaste for constant commercials and the obnoxious bugs on the screen for coming attractions. Almost ruined it for me.

    REALLY liked Abbie Cornish.

    Good, old-fashioned adventure that I'll probably watch again some day

    Jim Cornelius