Monday, December 28, 2015
Kurt Russell & Samuel L. Jackson
THE HATEFUL 8 – A Film Review
In Wyoming, in the dead of winter, a chartered stage-coach is flagged down by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter with a stack of frozen outlaw cadavers – he needs to get them to town for the rewards. But the renter of the coach, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), wants no more passengers, living or dead: he’s already transporting murderess Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whom he intends to hang, and the company of another bounty hunter holds no appeal. John Ruth finally gives in, and the trio of passengers are barely on the road when who else appears, thumbing a ride, but Sheriff Clay Mannix (Walton Goggins), the new lawman at the town where both Ruth and Warren are expecting to collect their bounties.
Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
The group arrives at a stagecoach stop, and find it full of an interesting and sinister mix of characters: Bob (Demian Birchir) is minding the place while the owners are away; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) is a British traveling hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is a hard-looking cowboy and would-be writer; and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) is a former Confederate officer still clinging to his past status.
Guess what? They’re snowed in: everyone will have to spend the night. This concerns John Ruth because he’s convinced that someone, perhaps more than one someone, is not who they say. Someone is there to free Daisy Domergue, and will willingly commit murder to do it. And he’s right, of course. From there, 99% of the movie takes place in the one big room of the log house stagecoach stop, as characters confront each other, secrets are revealed, and people die.
That’s right, it’s what’s known in the TV vernacular as an ‘elevator show’ or a ‘bottle show.’ It’s a funny and audacious decision by Tarantino to do a big-budget theatrical feature version of what is done on TV to save money. Tarantino explained in an interview with DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD that his influences were series like THE VIRGINIAN, BONANZA, and THE HIGH CHAPPARAL. “Twice per season, those shows would have an episode where a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage. They would come to the Ponderosa, or go to Judge Garth's place — Lee J. Cobb played him — in The Virginian and take hostages. There would be a guest star like David Carradine, Barren McGavin, Claude Akins, Robert Culp, Charles Bronson, or James Coburn . I don't like that storyline in a modern context, but I love it in a Western, where you would pass halfway through the show to find out if they were good or bad guys, and they all had a past that was revealed. I thought, 'What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.”
Samuel L. Jackson & Walton Goggins
What happens, very entertainingly is the HATEFUL 8 – it’s full of the droll characters and crackling dialogue that helped make Tarantino famous. And this kind of claustrophobic DESPERATE HOURS sort of story is the kind that he excels in, as he proved in RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). Are the characters over the top? Sure, but they’re meant to be: this is stylized story-telling, not docudrama, and the ensemble is a delight to watch.
Tarantino loves to shock us, of course, and there is a lot of blood and vomiting, and there is an extended sadistic story-telling sequence where Warren psychologically tortures General Smithers with what may be a real story, or one as invented as the characters’ identities. It’s too ugly, and too long, but at least its flashback gets us out of the cabin for a bit.
Of course, Tarantino has fun with his inside jokes. Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Major Marquis Warren, is a nod to novelist, independent Western filmmaker and screenwriter Charles Marquis Warren, a protégé of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was one of the great story talents behind GUNSMOKE, RAWHIDE and THE VIRGINIAN series. Tim Roth plays Oswaldo Mobray as a delightful impression of British character Alan Mobray. And Michael Madsen’s Joe Gage character is a wink at Nick Adams’ character, Johnny Yuma, from THE REBEL series, a former soldier roaming the West and writing about his experiences.
The acknowledgment of THE REBEL is particularly interesting because, while this sort of snowed in ‘Zane Grey meets Agatha Christie’ story can be found in other series – the STOPOVER episode of THE RIFLEMAN, directed by Budd Boetticher and written by Arthur Brown Jr, is particularly memorable – an episode of THE REBEL, entitled FAIR GAME (1960), written by Richard Newman and directed by Irvin Kershner, is unexpectedly close to HATEFUL 8. It’s fascinating to see what Tarantino does expanding what was a thirty-minute plot to 168 minutes. The entire run of the exceptionally good THE REBEL series is available from Timeless Video, and after you’ve seen the feature, it’s definitely worth your time to watch the short, as well as the whole series.
One of the great joys of HATEFUL 8 is the new score by the maestro Ennio Morricone. Although he made his name putting music to Sergio Leone’s ‘man with no name’ films, he hadn’t scored a Western since MY NAME IS NOBODY, forty years ago.
One of the great virtues of HATEFUL 8 is the beauty and grandeur of its outdoor visuals for the brief time that the story is out of doors. Thrice Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson has shot several other films for Tarantino, as well as for Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone: he knows how to get details and definition out of what could simply be a whited-out snowscape in other hands. It may seem like a crazy film to shoot in 70mm Panavision, but that decision halted Kodak’s plan to shutter their movie film stock production entirely.
The whole presentation sentimentally harkens back to the time of road-show movies of the 1950s and ‘60s, when seeing a big movie was a big deal, like going to the real theatre. People dressed up, the seats were reserved, there was a musical overture, and an intermission. Moviegoing, like the rest of life, is less ‘special’ today. People go to real theatre today attired in a way I wouldn’t dress to mow the lawn. So, see HATEFUL 8, and if you can, see it in the longer road-show version, with the overture and intermission. And maybe dress up. Just take off your Stetson when the lights go down and the curtains part.
THE KEEPING ROOM – a Film Review
Brit Marling takes aim
In 1865, in a location identified only as ‘The American South’, three women survive on a crumbling plantation, trying to keep body and soul together, and just barely managing. Augusta (Brit Marling), perhaps twenty, is the daughter of the plantation’s owner who has gone off to war. She hunts rabbits for stew. Mad (Muna Otaru), a young slave, searches the overgrown fields for edible vegetables. Louise, (Hailee Steinfeld), is sixteen, Augusta’s baby sister, and unable or unwilling to face the realities of war; she refuses to work, and seems at times to drift into a fantasy world, donning her late mother’s elegant clothes when she should be dressed for picking and planting. When asked by her sister to work, she refers tersely to the woman who helped raise her. “The nigger should do it.”
Her sister Augusta responds, “Like I told you, Louise. We all niggers now.”
Unbeknownst to the three women, greater danger than starvation is on its way. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman is coming, cutting his bloody slash “…from Savannah to the sea.” And in advance of his army come his foragers, or as they were known, ‘Bummers,’ men sent to seize supplies or destroy them, to prepare the ground for invasion. Mostly they are unregulated, many of them destructive, sadistic, and homicidal. A pair of them, Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) introduce themselves with an apparent rape and several murders that mark them as men without conscience.
Back at the plantation, the power shifts between the three women with each challenge they face, until everything comes to a head with a potentially disastrous accident: Louise is bitten by a raccoon, and they lack the medicine to treat the infected wound. Augusta heads to town looking for medicine – the ‘town’ being a single business, a store, saloon and brothel – and comes to the attention of the Bummers. She barely escapes, and soon the Bummers are on the hunt for Augusta and the other women.
Not a traditional Western or War Movie by any measure, THE KEEPING ROOM is also a suspense and adventure story, and above all a character study of three finely drawn, very different women. Elegantly written by first-timer Julia Hart, it’s directed by English-born Daniel Barber, whose previous Western, the short THE TONTO WOMAN (2008), from the Elmore Leonard story, garnered Barber an Oscar nomination.
Cinematographer Martin Ruhe, known for filming crime thrillers like HARRY BROWN (2009 – directed by Barber), and THE AMERICAN (2010), worked with natural light and source light – lanterns and candles – to give an authentic and often beautiful look to the interiors. The exteriors, forest and field, are equally convincing. Remarkable to think that they were found not in Georgia but in Romania, where COLD MOUNTAIN (2003) and HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (2012) were also filmed.
The structure is unusual, and often admirable. Among the highlights are a pair of intercut sequences where the women are separately stalked. Author Hart has a fine ear for dialogue, and the script is at times unexpectedly generous, allowing a humanizing of the Bummers, and raising intriguing questions of how life might have been, had the characters met under different circumstances.
The cast is tiny – only seven actors have speaking parts, and only two scenes have any extras at all. This serves to make the story intimate and personal, and it also puts a great burden on a very few individuals to carry the entire story, which is fraught with tension and suspense. Fortunately, the triumvirate of actresses are up to it. Muna Otaru, a relative newcomer, seems all the more powerful for her halting, soft-spoken performance. Hailee Steinfeld, playing a weak and self-centered character diametrically opposed to her Matty Ross in TRUE GRIT, turns us off, then wins us over when her character rises to the occasion. And blonde and beautiful Brit Marling, half Matty Ross herself, and the better half of Scarlet O’Hara, is who we all wish we’d be when the chips are down.
Of course, no film is perfect. The smallness of the cast can be a problem: would Sherman ever send just a two-man force, and if he did, why didn’t the Southerners just pick them off? And as smart as Augusta is, why does she keep ignoring warnings to leave the store, and why does she keep making eye contact with men she should know to avoid?
Highly recommended, THE KEEPING ROOM, from Alamo Drafthouse, will be available on VOD in early January.
PLENTY HAPPENING AT THE AUTRY IN JANUARY & FEBRUARY
Kenneth Turan, renowned film critic for The Los Angeles Times and NPR, will be introducing the first two film programs for 2016 in the Autry’s monthly What is a Western? series. On Saturday, January 16th at 1:30 pm he will introduce the John Ford/John Wayne classic THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962). On Saturday, February 13th, at 1:30 pm he will host a double feature, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956) and RIDE LONESOME (1959). Star Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown had formed the Ranown production company, and these two films are part of the fabled ‘Ranown cycle’ of exceptionally fine, tiny budget Westerns, all starring Scott, all directed by Budd Boetticher, and written by Burt Kennedy.
Also screening at the Autry on February 27th at noon are a double-bill of Gene’s films, BACK IN THE SADDLE (1941 Republic) and RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING PINES (1949 Columbia).
On Wednesday, January 20th at 12:30 pm, Rob Word will present the Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry. After lunch it’s Rob’s A Word on Westerns discussion. This time the topic is KINGS OF THE COWBOYS, and as we get closer to the date I’ll let you know what exciting guests Rob has lined up.
For folks who still remember how to read (there are still quite a few of us), One Book, One Autry is a year-long series of programs focusing on Owen Wister’s genre-creating THE VIRGINIAN. The first two events are Saturdays, Feb. 20th & 27th, with more to come. If you don’t have your own copy, you can get one at the Autry Store. (And you can read it, and learn that the great HIGH NOON is actually plagiarized from the last seven or eight chapters).
Sunday, January 3rd is the last day to see the magnificent exhibit Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and The West. From February 6th through March 20th you can enjoy Masters of the American West, and if you have deep pockets, you can buy!
Between book signings, performances and other events, I’m barely scratching the surface. You can learn more by visiting the official Autry website HERE.
And admission is free on Monday, New Years Day, and free Saturday and Sunday, the 2nd and 3rd, to Bank of America card holders.
THAT’S A WRAP!
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas (see above, a favorite gift from my wife), and I wish you a Happy New Year! I’ve got a lot of stuff cookin’ but I don’t want to say too much and jinx myself. But I’m very excited that I’ll be a guest of Jim Christina and Bobbi Jean Bell on THE WRITERS BLOCK radio show on Thursday, January 7th at 8 pm, when the BIG guest will be LONGMIRE creator Craig Johnson! If you haven’t tuned in to this entertaining and informative interview show about the art and craft of writing, here’s the link: http://latalkradio.com/content/writers-block.
All Original Content Copyright December 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
THE RIDICULOUS 6 – A Film Review
Adam Sandler plays Tommy, a boy whose father disappeared, and whose mother was murdered before his eyes when he was a child. Adopted by Apache Chief Screaming Eagle (Saginaw Grant), he has taken on their ways, adopted the name White Knife, and has developed a phenomenal skill with knives. He is on the verge of marrying Smoking Fox (Julia Jones) when his bio-father (Nick Nolte) reenters his life. Dad was an outlaw, but is now old and dying of consumption, and wants to make amends. But suddenly Dad’s old gang, led by Cicero (Danny Trejo), appears, wanting the loot Dad absconded with. They take him away, and Tommy, sure his father cannot come up with his own ransom, sets out to raise the missing money to buy his father’s life. On his quest he meets his five half-brothers, and they join forces to save their father.
On a recent JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE appearance, Adam Sandler described THE RIDICULOUS 6 as, “A real Western, but funny.” He’s right. Look at that plot-line – if you drop the name Smoking Fox, it’s the plot of a straight Western. And straight is how Sandler plays it. Although the film is very funny, he’s loaded the cast with other comedians because his character makes few jokes in the film. His relationship with his fiancé, his Apache father, his mixed feelings about his real father, and the feelings of loss for his mother, are played with utter seriousness.
Sandler’s buckskin costume is somewhat Indian-ized version of Alan Ladd’s in SHANE. His few jokes are big and physical – he does some astonishing – actually impossible but very funny – acrobatics and knife tricks that are heavily influenced by Terrence Hill’s LUCKY LUKE films, and by Jackie Chan as well. Not bad influences, to be sure.
Sandler’s stable of half brothers includes Terry Crews as a well-hung saloon pianist, Jorge Garcia as an unintelligible strangler, Taylor Lautner as Gomer Pyle with a lobotomy, Luke Wilson as Abe Lincoln’s contrite bodyguard, and Rob Schneider as the Mexican brother who plays it as straight as Sandler, but is hysterical. Among the delightful supporting players are Harvey Keitel, Will Forte as the head of a one-eyed gang, comic and COMANCHE MOON star Steven Zahn as a man who wants to join the one-eyed gang (go figure), Jon Lovitz, Steve Buscemi, Norm MacDonald, Chris Parnell, and the voice of Robin Leach. Then there are the cameos of historical characters: David Spade as Custer, Blake Shelton as Wyatt Earp, Vanilla Ice as Mark Twain, John Turturro as Abner Doubleday, and Chris Kattan as John Wilkes Booth.
Raise your hand if Nick Nolte is your dad.
At a minute under two hours, the movie is long, especially for a comedy, but if some scenes could be trimmed, they don’t drag. Director Frank Coraci has helmed several Adam Sandler and Kevin James comedies. Sandler co-wrote with Tim Herlihy, who has written several Sandler comedies, and wrote on 139 SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE episodes. Aussie DP Dean Semler is no stranger to the Western: he lensed both YOUNG GUNS films, CITY SLICKERS, THE ALAMO (2004), APPALOOSA, and won his Oscar for DANCES WITH WOLVES.
During the shooting of RIDICULOUS 6, the film was criticized by several American Indian actresses who found the writing demeaning, and walked off the film. They made their point: the most offensive material described at the time did not make it into the movie.
RIDICULOUS 6 was long assumed to be a MAGNIFICENT 7 parody, but it is in title only. While it is very funny, and often pretty coarse – frankly I find the frequent burro diarrhea gags more revolting than amusing – the drama that grows out of Sandler’s and Nolte’s scenes is the core of the movie’s strength. It’s available exclusively on Netflix.
C-BAR – A Film Review
C-BAR, the movie, borrows its title from the ranch where the story takes place. It’s set in Arizona Territory in the 1860s. It’s the home of the aging cowboy Dockie Barnett (Mark Baugher), his wife (Sande Comenzind), and their son (Adam Newberry) and daughter (Robin Grande), both in their twenties. They come upon a young woman (Marissa Neel) who’s been unspeakably abused, and whose family has been slaughtered by a local outfit, led by one Buck Montgomery (played by Buck Montgomery). While Dockie would prefer to leave the case in the hands of the frankly ineffectual local law, his offspring are determined to track down the killers.
Dockie reluctantly agrees, and leads his kin as they run the bad men down, on the way picking up for assistance several of his old compadres, whom his son refers to sarcastically as, “All my uncles that I’m not related to.” It becomes clear that while Dockie and his old friends were not as bad as the folks they’re tracking, in their youth they were no angels. If they were, they wouldn’t be much use in this kind if lethal work. When they catch up with Montgomery, the bloodshed and repercussions begin.
The story is just that simple and straightforward. It’s both taut and tight – the movie runs just sixty minutes. The work of first-time filmmakers, it’s unexpectedly impressive and entertaining. The screenplay is by Mark Baugher, adapted from his own first novel, and yes, he also stars. The director and cinematographer is Patrick Ball, late of Ball State University in Indiana. And, unbilled, he plays one of the worst of the gang. The retiree and the college kid make a remarkably strong team. While clearly working with a non-pro cast – the female lead was found working at a feed store – the script has been written and scenes assembled to work convincingly within the abilities of the actors. The speeches are short; the story is told largely through visuals. The faces are just right, and everyone rides like they live in the saddle. The format is roughly Panavision in shape, the cinematography by Ball and co-camera Aaron Newton is beautiful when it should be, barren or grim when it needs to be. In a rare combination of jobs, Morgan Stehr is both editor and composer, and the juxtaposing of image and sound is at times striking.
Of course, no film is perfect. A sombrero-wearing character only has a Mexican accent half the time, and the woman whose victimization sets the story in motion doesn’t look bad enough. But these are churlish criticisms of a fine piece of work.
A CHAT WITH ‘C-BAR’ CREATOR MARK BAUGHER
Mark Baugher as Dockie
Sixty-five year old retiree never intended to get into the film business. “I’ve had different business adventures; I’ve been a horse shoe-er for years and years. I dealt in real estate, I owned a transmission repair business, I was a stockbroker. I was a farm-boy from Illinois, and my my whole goal was to some way make enough money so that I could move out to Arizona, buy some real estate, and do the things I wanted to do rather than have to do.”
He had a story he wanted to tell. “I’d written the novel and put it out on Amazon. And his (Patrick Ball’s) girlfriend found it, gave it to Patrick and said, ‘Read this.’ He read it and called me on the phone, and asked me, ‘Have you thought about making a movie based on your characters?’ Immediately I said, yes, though I hadn’t. We met in a restaurant in Sedona, and we just hit it off. I went home, wrote the script. Thirty days later we started pulling (the film) together, and it came together effortlessly.”
Mark’s been a voracious reader all of his life, but he wasn’t a trained screenwriter any more than he’d been a trained novelist. “I just went on the internet, and found a program that lines it out, formats it for you, paid $25. Somebody asked if I was going to take classes. I said I’m afraid to. It seems to be working with what I don’t know. I’m afraid to learn something that might get in the way.”
Bromance! Baugher kisses director Patrick Ball
when they win a cinematography award
Shooting the movie was not a fast process. “It took eight months to shoot thirty-eight days, and the reason was, everyone was working. No one was being paid; we had to work around everything and everybody. It was always a matter of when can I get all these people together at one time.” It didn’t help that the actors were not professionals. When the original actress wasn’t up to the part, Marissa Nell, who was originally the acting coach, had to step into the role of the victim. “We probably had three days of reshoots, because of actors that didn’t work out.”
Surprisingly, the filmmakers went to crowd-funding not before, but after the film was made. “We used Kickstarter, and raised enough money to buy all of our own equipment. We’re self-sufficient now: I’ll do the writing, Patrick will do the directing and cinematography. We have everything we need, except we do need to have some money this time, because we could never ask for people to do for free the second time, what they did the first time. We’re looking for someone who wants to partner up with us.
“Here’s the plan. I didn’t want this to be a one movie thing and done. I really want this to be episodic, same characters, and bringing in more characters, as a web series. So what we’re doing is we’re going to give away our first episode to anyone who will watch it. And that will get a quicker audience. Hopefully they’ll get involved with us, and it’s the second episode we’ll charge two dollars for.” If you’d like to see C-BAR, for free, visit the official C-BAR WEBSITE, and send Mark a message that you’d like a link sent to you. And let the Round-up know what you think of it.
OUTLAW JOSEY WALES – Forty Years Later
In November I had the pleasure of introducing a screening of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES at the Autry Center, in the Wells Fargo Theater; part of the Museum’s monthly ‘What is a Western?’ series. It’s hard to believe the film will be forty years old in June of 2016. In researching for my presentation, I learned so much about this remarkable film, and its making, that I decided to expand my talk into an article for the Round-up.
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is one of Clint Eastwood’s finest movies, and finest Westerns. His work both in front of and behind the camera is exceptional. It’s one of his personal favorites, and a film that is not shown nearly enough. Eastwood had become a star playing the ‘Man With No Name’ in his three Sergio Leone films, and played similar mysterious avengers in several others. Eastwood said, “Josey Wales is a hero. You see how he gets to where he is, rather than just having a mysterious hero appear on the plains, and become involved in other people’s plight.” He liked the idea of playing a man with a name and with a past, and a reason for the things that he does. It’s one of his finest performances.
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is a rare story, which examines parts of the Civil War that are usually skipped over. It focuses not on the famous battles, but on the guerilla war fought in Kansas and Missouri between two brutal and vicious armies, neither with official standing: the Union loyalists, known as Red Legs because of their ‘uniform’ of red stockings, and the Confederate-loyal Bushwhackers. Most of the story centers on the immediate post-war era, and the disenfranchisement of the Southerner by the less forgiving and more opportunistic elements of the government and the Army. While it focuses mostly on one man, Josey Wales, who had no part in the war until his family was slaughtered by the Red Legs, leading him to join with Bloody Bill Anderson and his Bushwhackers, it also casts a light on the plight of Indians, particularly the Cherokee, and the others that comprised what are known as the Five Civilized Tribes – Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cree and Seminole, who sided with the Confederacy, and were singled out for particular abuse by a vengeful Federal government. It’s a very brutal story at times, but also one with a great deal of humor, romance, and a startling degree of heart.
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES was released in 1976. As Sondra Locke said to me, “I’m shocked at how long ago it was.” At its core it is the vision of two men: the author of the novel, Forrest Carter, and the director and star, Clint Eastwood. Also of tremendous importance is the work of screenwriters Phillip Kaufman and Sonia Chernus, who adapted the page to the screen. JOSEY WALES is a story of people rather than big events. It’s told in many small, intimate scenes and moments, and reading the novel reveals what a masterful job the screenwriters did in preserving the very words and ideas of the author, seamlessly turning description into dialogue and action.
Clint Eastwood needs no introduction, of course, but he deserves one. One of the brightest stars in the history of movies, he began as a contract player at Universal in 1955, working his way up from uncredited bits in films like REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE IN THE NAVY, and TARANTULA. Of course his first big break came in 1959, when he was cast as drover Rowdy Yates in RAWHIDE. His second big break came when RAWHIDE was on hiatus, and he went to Spain to star in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). They say that success has a thousand fathers, and failure is an orphan. If you want proof, in more than five years of writing about Spaghetti Westerns, I have never spoken to an actor, screenwriter, or director who was NOT the person who suggested casting Clint Eastwood in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. While continuing his enviable career as an actor, he branched out into directing in 1971 with PLAY MISTY FOR ME. He’s earned four Oscars: Best Director and Best Picture for UNFORGIVEN (1992); Best Picture for MILLION DOLLAR BABY(2005); and The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He was additionally nominated for Best Picture for MYSTIC RIVER (2003), LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2007), and last year for AMERICAN SNIPER (2015). He was nominated for Best Director for MYSTIC RIVER and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, and twice nominated for Best Actor, for MILLION DOLLAR BABY and UNFORGIVEN.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal in 2011, Eastwood described JOSEY WALES as an “antiwar” film, and his own military experience colored his viewpoint. “I was drafted during the Korean War. None of us wanted to go…It was only a couple of years after World War II had ended. We said, ‘Wait a second? Didn’t we just get through with that?’ An atomic bomb, the pacification of Japan…and here we are back in it again…But everybody went. You objected, but you went. You said OK, this is what you’re supposed to do.
“As for Josey Wales, I saw the parallels to the modern day at that time. Everybody gets tired of it, but it never ends. A war is a horrible thing, but it’s also a unifier of countries.”
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, released in 1976, was Clint Eastwood’s fifth feature film as a director, his second Western; the first was HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, three years earlier. Now, thirty-nine years later, Eastwood is 85 years old, and he’s directing his 35th feature, SULLY, starring Tom Hanks as hero pilot Chesty Sullenberger. He was on the news recently, commenting on how happy he is to be back at his original studio, Universal, and still considering another acting role, if something good comes up.
JOSEY WALES author Forrest Carter was not an educated man. According to his autobiography he was orphaned at the age of four, and raised by his Cherokee grandmother and half-Cherokee grandfather. They died when he was ten, and he’d been on his own ever since. A natural story-teller, he was convinced by his Indian friends to turn his stories into a book. He did, called it THE REBEL OUTLAW: JOSEY WALES, and it had a grand press-run of seventy-five copies. He sent one to Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Company, but like most film companies, it was against their policy to read unsolicited non-pro material – the chances of a lawsuit were too great. But producer Robert Daley was so moved by the cover-letter that he decided to give it a read, and was immediately hooked. Daley told Eastwood, “This thing has so much soul to it that it’s really one of the nicest things I’ve read.” Eastwood read it and was equally impressed. He bought the film rights.
The original novel
As Eastwood prepared the film, the book got a much larger press-run under the title GONE TO TEXAS, a title Eastwood disliked because he thought it was too regional. Even more were printed under the title THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES.
As the popularity of the book grew, so did the fame of its author. He also published his memoir, THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE, about his childhood and upbringing by his Cherokee grandparents. Forrest Carter was interviewed on THE TODAY SHOW by Barbara Walters. It was the first time he’d been seen on television. And some people thought they recognized him, but they knew him by another name. A short while later, an article appeared in the New York Times, and revealed that in the 1950s and 60s, Forrest Carter had been known as Asa or Ace Carter. He was at that time a prominent member of, and spokesman for, the Ku Klux Klan, and a virulent racist and anti-Semite. But feeling the Klan was too ‘soft’ – I’m not kidding – he started his own off-shoot branch. In a dispute over the finances of the group, he shot two of his associates, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, but the charges were dropped. He was a speechwriter for Alabama Governor George Wallace. He wrote, among many other speeches for Wallace, the infamous inaugural “Segregation now; segregation tomorrow; segregation forever,” speech. He split with Wallace when he decided the governor had become too soft and liberal, and actually ran against him for the governorship. He lost, badly, 4th place in a field of 4, and quietly faded away, until more than a decade later when he reappeared as Forrest Carter.
Some of Carter's most creative fiction.
The memoir was pure fiction; he was not orphaned, he was not any part Cherokee, and Cherokees who’ve read LITTLE TREE say that the supposed Cherokee words in the text aren’t real. But Mr. Carter has turned out to be something of a Teflon Imperial Wizard. LITTLE TREE became a best-seller, and the New York Times, the folks who exposed Carter in the first place, had to be reminded to move it from the non-fiction to the fiction best-seller list. It has won literary awards, and was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, although she rescinded when she learned the whole story. It’s popular in schools all over the country. It was made into a film by Paramount in 1997, starring James Cromwell and Tantoo Cardinal as the grandparents, with a screenplay by WALTONS creator Earl Hamner Jr.
Carter also wrote a novel sequel to JOSEY WALES, THE VENGEANCE TRAIL OF JOSEY WALES. Clint Eastwood initially optioned the book, but dropped it. It became a movie in 1986, as THE RETURN OF JOSEY WALES, screenplay by Forrest Carter, starring and directed by Michael Parks who, interestingly, shot his own career in the foot when he endorsed George Wallace for President back in 1968. Rarely seen, it’s not a bad little Western. Parks is good as Wales, and directs the mostly unfamiliar cast well. Although shot with care at the handsome Alamo Village in Bracketville, Texas, the audio quality is weak, and the image is worse, as it was recorded on video tape at a time before film-quality video cameras had been developed.
But Carter did not live to see these later successes. He died in Abilene, in June of 1979, at the age of 53, of a heart-attack, allegedly brought on by a fist-fight with one of his sons. He was a hateful man in many ways, and a fraud in many ways, but there was nothing fake about his literary talent. JOSEY WALES is a remarkable, uplifting novel.
The film has a fine cast. In addition to Eastwood, Sondra Locke, the female lead, was making her first of six features and one TV episode with Eastwood. All but two – the two with Orangutans – were directed by Eastwood. In 1968 she’d made a tremendous splash with her debut role, as Mick in THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER. She was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. But after following up with female leads in COVER ME BABE and WILLARD, she’d been mostly relegated to playing waifs on TV episodes until Eastwood cast her in JOSEY WALES. After a very public break-up and protracted lawsuits with Eastwood, she would move behind the camera, and direct four features.
Discovered by the Comancheros
No hero is better than the villain he faces, and JOSEY WALES boasts some gems. Fletcher is played by John Vernon, he of the ice blue eyes and melodious baritone – he did hundreds of cops and criminals on film and TV, but is best-remembered as the ineffectual mayor in DIRTY HARRY (1971), and as Dean Wormser in ANIMAL HOUSE (1978).
The leader of the Red Legs, Terrill, is played by Bill McKinney, who is chilling as a degenerate mountain man who sexually assaults Ned Beatty in DELIVERANCE.
Sam Bottoms and Clint
Among the much more likable characters is Jamie, the young partner who idolizes Josey, played by Sam Bottoms. In his first film, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971), he was the simple-minded kid who never spoke, and was always sweeping the streets. And feisty little Paula Trueman, who plays Sondra Locke’s grandmother, started out in Vitaphone shorts in 1929, appeared with Eastwood in PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969) and would go on to appear in MOONSTRUCK (1987) and DIRTY DANCING (1987).
Clint & Chief Dan George
The three major roles played by American Indian actors are strikingly un-cliché’d. Chief Dan George, Oscar-nominated for LITTLE BIG MAN (1970), plays Lone Watie, and has a wonderful monologue, really a soliloquy, describing his and other Cherokees attempts to be civilized, and the way they were treated as a result. Clint Eastwood said of Chief Dan George, “He says the simplest thing, and it sounds like an important statement.” George was not a trained actor, was 77 years old, and had trouble memorizing his lines. This caused some problems in the editing, because often the camera caught Clint mouthing George’s lines along with him. Will Sampson, who was the silent Indian in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST (1975), plays Comanche Chief Ten Bears. Geraldine Keams, who made her film acting debut as Little Moonlight in JOSEY WALES, has no lines in English, but never stops talking.
Will Sampson as Ten Bears
And there are some very special appearances for us Western crazies. Bloody Bill Anderson is played by LAWMAN (1958-1962) star John Russell. Folks appearing as gunmen, bounty hunters and Rangers include John Mitchum, John Davis Chandler and Bobby Hoy. And who turns up as denizens of a ghost town but prairie-trash Matt Clark; Western stalwart and the voice of Abe Lincoln at Disneyland, Royal Dano; and Clint’s long-time RAWHIDE co-star Sheb Wooley. If you look quick, you can even spot an unbilled Richard Farnsworth as a Comanchero, and Josey’s wife briefly seen at the beginning is Cissy Wellman, daughter of director Wild Bill Wellman.
Behind the camera, Cinematographer Bruce Surtees certainly had the right pedigree. His father was three-time Oscar-winning director of photography Robert Surtees. Bruce Surtees had been camera operator on a pair of Eastwood-starring films directed by Eastwood’s mentor, Don Siegel, COOGAN’S BLUFF (1968) and TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA (1970). Siegel boosted Surtees to D.P. for his creepy Civil War noir, THE BEGUILED (1971), and Eastwood had Surtees shoot his directorial debut, PLAY MISTY FOR ME. Surtees was equally elegant on Westerns and crime films. He and Eastwood would be associated on fifteen films, including the westerns JOE KIDD (1972), HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), and PALE RIDER (1985). Working again for Don Siegel, Surtees would film John Wayne’s final movie, THE SHOOTIST (1976).
Jerry Fielding’s bold and stirring score for OUTLAW JOSEY WALES was his third, and last, to receive an Oscar nomination – the other two were for STRAW DOGS (1971) and THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and, incredibly, he never won. Starting out on radio as orchestra leader on programs like THE JACK PAAR SHOW and THE LIFE OF RILEY, he moved on to early TV shows like YOU BET YOUR LIFE, with Groucho Marx. Then he ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Never a communist himself, nonetheless he refused to name anyone he suspected, and was blacklisted in Hollywood. He relocated to Las Vegas, where he led the orchestras for Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Betty Hutton and Abbott & Costello. In the 1960s, when McCarthyism had abated, Betty Hutton got a TV series on CBS, and insisted Fielding be her orchestra leader. He returned to Hollywood, was hired by Otto Preminger to score ADVISE AND CONSENT (1962), and his career was soon back on track. He began a long association with three directors: Sam Peckinpah, Michael Winner, and of course Clint Eastwood, with whom he collaborated on THE ENFORCER (1976), THE GAUNTLET (1977), and ESCPAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979).
The film was shot in autumn, Eastwood’s favorite time of year to film westerns, in Wyoming, California, and several locations in Utah, including Kanab Movie Ranch, and several in Arizona, including Old Tucson and Mescal movie ranches. It was shot in 8 ½ weeks, had a reported budget of about $3.8 million dollars, and if you know anything about Eastwood, you know that it came in on-time and under-budget. He is considered not only one of the industry’s most talented directors, but one of its most efficient. A personal note here. A couple of years later, I was in Phoenix, watching the filming of my first screenplay, SPEEDTRAP (1977); Clint Eastwood was filming THE GAUNTLET, and we were all based at the same Ramada Inn. There’s always product placement. Our deal was with Schlitz beer, and Eastwood’s was with Jack Daniels, so you can tell which was the prestige film. On our set, a dozen cases of beer were delivered every morning, and gone by noon. On his set, a case of Jack Daniels was given to every crew member on the last day of filming. You can probably guess which film’s editors didn’t have to deal with any out-of-focus footage or mics in frame.
Although his company, Malpaso, was producing the film, Eastwood had not intended to both direct and star. He’d hired Philip Kaufman to adapt the book, and to direct. Four years earlier, Kaufman had written and directed the Western THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID, a very tough, unromanticized look at the James gang and the Youngers, starring Robert Duvall and Cliff Robertson. While script development went well, Kaufman and Eastwood started having artistic differences early into the shooting.
Sondra Locke recalls in her book, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE VERY UGLY, “Within a week the tension that had been growing between Phil and Clint came to a head…. Kaufman had an entirely different approach than Clint to making a film. He is very meticulous and thoughtful and layered about each shot – an intellectual as well as a visual approach. Clint is all guts and instinct. He, a ‘big picture’ person in life as well as in filmmaking, is not at all interested in details. ‘If they’re looking at that, then the film’s not working, and the audience is bored,’ I heard him say many times… To Clint, the differences in these two approaches mean time and money. Kaufman’s approach took more time and therefore more money, and with Clint, that was an impenetrable impasse. Clint’s legendary ‘shoot the rehearsal’ approach did not work for Kaufman.”
There were also personal problems. Locke says in her book that it was love at first sight for her on the set with Eastwood, and their ten-year romance began. Of course, he was married. So was she. So was Philip Kaufman, who was also making a play for Locke – and he had his wife on the set. But that didn’t stop him, which didn’t endear him to Eastwood. “I don’t like the way he touches you.”
When Eastwood started talking about firing Kaufman, who had worked hard in pre-production, Directors Guild President Robert Wise, of SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) and WEST SIDE STORY (1961) fame, flew out to try and convince Clint not to do it. The Guild was especially upset with the idea of a star-producer firing the director and taking over the job himself. The Guild tried hard to get Eastwood and Warner Brothers to back down, and when they failed, they imposed a $50,000 fine on the production. That was real money in the 1970s. This led to a new addition to the DGA agreement, known as the Eastwood Rule or amendment, which says that if a director is fired, they must be replaced by a director who is not associated with the production, or the Guild can impose punishing fines on the film company.
While Kaufman undoubtedly resented being fired, it was not a major career setback for him. He would go on to write and direct THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), RISING SUN (1993), THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (1988), HENRY AND JUNE (1990), and many others. Perhaps his most lucrative success was when he and George Lucas developed all of the characters for the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK/INDIANA JONES franchise.
The other credited screenwriter was Sonia Chernus. It was her only feature film credit, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t an important writer, and important in the film and TV industry. Starting as a secretary, the legend is that she promoted casting Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates. She wrote one RAWHIDE episode, was story assistant on others, and when Eastwood created his Malpaso production company, she was his story editor for many years, and found many of the properties that became his movies.
Sondra Locke generously shared the following memories of the making of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. “Altogether the filming of JOSEY was a wonderful experience. It has left a warm place in my heart. JOSEY and BRONCO BILLY are my favorite films I made with Clint. It was the first of six films I made with Clint.
“It is the only western film I have had the luck of making. Living in that period alone was a great experience - the horses, the primitive nature of everything. I mostly recall the beautiful countryside. Lake Powell at sunset was amazing. The cast of JOSEY WALES was full of such good actors. I will always recall Paula Trueman, who was 80 years old at the time, and how feisty she was. She put me to shame with her somersaults! Yes, she could still do them at 80! She loved to show off now and then on the set.
“And, of course, working with the great Chief Dan George gave such an authenticity to the experience. He was a wonderful person and told great tales of times gone by. In between takes I always found myself moving my chair near his so I could hear his words.
“I have nothing but great memories of the making of JOSEY. I wish I could be with you all at this screening. I haven't seen it in quite a while. Your honoring it makes me want to see it again. Have a great event.
“All my best,
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is available on BLU-RAY and DVD from Warner Brothers, and can be streamed from Amazon and watched on Netflix.
…AND THAT’S A WRAP!
I’m still getting used to this every-second-week schedule for the Round-up – I didn’t see Christmas coming, and it’s almost here (I’d better start shopping)! Thank you all for your continued readership in 2015! We’re read in over 100 countries, and today I added a new one to the list – welcome Nepal! There have been nearly 250,000 hits on the site, and 605,000 pageviews (sometime I’ve got to find out the difference between hits and pageviews), and this week I’ve had as many readers in Russia as in the United States! Thank you again, and whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanza, Festivus, any other, or none at all, have a wonderful one!
All Original Material Copyright December 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved