Posts tagged ‘Movie Quotes’

May 22, 2010

The Girls of Westerns, part 1; or, The Quick and the Dead

by cowboylands

I’m on a quest to find kick-butt cowgirl heroines, and although I appreciate the girl-next-door look of the singing cowgirls and I love-love-love the whip of Linda Stirling in Zorro’s Black Whip, I find that while there are many cowgirls that are hawtness personified, there are none with the on-screen charisma of a Clint Eastwood.

Is my search quixotic? Is the woman of western film doomed to stay the schoolmarm, the tart with heart, and otherwise merely a muse for the man’s civilization/wilderness conflict?

I never wanted to see The Quick and the Dead, the Sharon Stone vehicle from 1995, assuming that it was as terrible as the reviews said, but I decided to give over 107 minutes to watching it because

1.) Lists of western films with women as protagonists invariably include it.

2.) Sharon Stone looks hot.

2.) She’s a gunslinger, which is pretty macho.

3.) It had lots of western porn, as in shots of leather chaps, dusty boots, and silvery spurs that go ching. Always a plus.

I had my own checklist:

  • Does the woman protagonist follow or subvert the elements of a western movie hero or anti-hero? Or is she one more traditional example of a woman who wants her man to hang up his guns?
  • Does she look awesome in western duds, whether using gunslinger or rancher props?
  • Does she have the charisma that makes a viewer identify, at least just for the space of the movie, with her and her actions? As in, do your fingers twitch when she shoots those Colts?

In the Quick and the Dead, Stone as “The Lady” has the chiseled, golden look of a western star, like Clint’s steel-jawed Man with No Name. She has the same sort of murky past and the jet-pack propulsion of the desire to wreak vengeance. Her eyes can blaze with fire or seem as cool as ice. Her speech is laconic, her stride sure. She is of the mold of the classic gunslinger type, from her hat to her oh-so-gorgeous boots. Her guns spin nicely, and her narrowed eyes can drop wayward townspeople back on their heels. But she’s XX, not XY. She has to put up with men pawing her (her cool response is both funny and effective), and her visceral disgust when a lecherous man takes advantage of a young girl comes from some sort of story truth–The Lady might have had to overcome her own abuse at the hands of a lecher. She also cries, and confesses to be scared to a trusted confidant. Maybe a little too girly? Or a welcome change from heroes with improbable balls of iron? This jury is still out on that question.

Bent on vengeance, The Lady returns to the town where she had once lived. (Vengeance plot point #1) No one recognizes her. (Point #2) She has a special ability, being an ace gunslinger. (Point #3) She finds the town awash with hardcases, all ready to shoot each other for cash, a contest proposed by the object of her hatred, the killer of her father, John Herod. She joins the contest, looking for ways to kill her nemesis without being killed herself. Along the way she befriends a frenemy of Herod’s, cleans up nicely for a dinner with Herod, kills a few people who deserve their death, and becomes the savior of the town. (Plot point #4) Refreshingly, in the American version of the film she doesn’t have sex with anyone. Supposedly, they shot a sex scene but found it extraneous. I’d say that’s a tip of the hat to most westerns, which are about fetishization, not consummation.

Clint knock-off or homage?

Sharon Stone, who also co-produced the film, is joined by a fit Russell Crowe, who is a distracting, bizarre shade of brown, a scrawny Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gene Hackman, who could be villainous in his sleep and be excellent at it. While DiCaprio is a little unlikely as The Kid, every other actor fits his or her type, from blossoming towngirl to dirty convict. Everyone seems to have rolled in mud except the women and Gene Hackman. So the movie again takes the side of the spaghetti western style, with every detail lustrous in the camera’s lens, from rust crusting a clock’s minute hand to shiny gold front teeth.

Stone can walk the walk and often talk the talk, but what she has to say is one of the least compelling stories I’ve seen in a western. Westerns do well when the story is simple, the characters’ development adding resonance, the scriptwriter adding self-reference or subtleties, the director’s style giving the look. In this case, The Quick and the Dead’s story welters in a protracted gunfight. Yes, westerns are all about the freaking gunplay, but when it’s all spurting blood and spinnng bullets, one starts to yawn.

Her mysterious past is slowly revealed through flashbacks, leaving the quote-unquote shocker until the last minutes of the last reel. Unfortunately, one important aspect of the character that is held until the end, the reason she is scared to pull the trigger against the nasty Herod, is the reason you would give a shit about her. Without that information, she seems fickle, hot and cold, inconsistent. Yeah, yeah–I can hear it now–like a woman. Sigh.

A director’s style can pull a stupid movie off the dunghill of history. The Quick and the Dead would probably have stayed on its dunghill, except that The Lady is one of the rare women protagonists who is more chaste and vengeful, like the Victorian-style knightly cowboys, than a cringing girl or a hussy with low-slung chaps. The movie’s an homage to spaghetti westerns, from its close-ups of squinting eyes to the grubby gunnies that line up to shoot each other just for a chance to make money. But the direction is all  film-school enthusiasm, and little skill. Quick zooms on a canted POV do not a Leone film make. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was created as parody; The Quick and Dead killed the humor, and the genius, dead.

Altogether, I’ll include it on my list, with some caveats. It takes itself way too seriously, from its ham-fisted shots to the title weighted with biblical reference. The story has a cruelty that neither is redeemed nor has deeper meaning. But Sharon Stone can pull a gun with the big boys. My fingers twitched, all right.  Oh, they twitched.

Ellen: [female gunslinger walks up behind a preoccupied bartender] How about a room?
Horace: Whores next door.
Ellen: [carefully sets her cigar down] Say that again.
Horace: I said whores next door.
Ellen: [kicks the stool out from under him, catches his liquor bottle as he falls, & pours herself a drink] Now, do you have a room available?
Horace: Uh, room and bath, yes, ma’am, coming up!

The Quick and the Dead (1995), directed by Sam Raimi

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May 16, 2010

West World; or, BP versus Spencer Tracy

by cowboylands

The world around us is getting Westy, a crazy combo of tantalizing Gold Rush-type possibilities with a shadow side of hubris-based epic fails. Got BP, anyone?

In films and literature of the Wild West, there are small number of basic plot structures–whether you’d call them stereotypical or archetypal depends on how you swing. One structure, based on pulp writer Frank Gruber’s seven essential western plots, is the “empire story,” or what happens when you do a mashup of small cowboy/ranchers with–no, NOT zombies, sheesh–with greedy-guts ranchers or railroad magnates or bankers (or the poster child of the month for greed and incompetence). The conflict is of the David versus Goliath variety, with the everyman winning.

Enter my deepest desire, when the world gets all Westy on me, to retire from the daunting and depressing accounts of empire-building, biosphere-stomping corporate malfeasance to see good versus evil at a safe remove on the silver screen, with excellent western gear, and stories that turn out all right in the end.

Usually when I need a western movie fix, I turn to Netflix, my local video store, or trusty YouTube. But the cavalry is coming just in time: Some big-screen western action is coming to NYC this summer.

This week and next, May 21-27,  the Film Forum is providing jaded New Yorkers with John Sturges’s Bad Day at Black Rock, a dark, politically savvy western from 1955 that lifts the rock on scuttling bugs of racism in a small town. Yes, it’s a real western with guns and cowboy hats and languid, laconic men draping themselves in front of CinemaScope vistas. It has Spencer Tracy, the dogged pursuer of justice. It has Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, and Robert Ryan as sneaky, nasty specimens. It has a slow but inevitable trail to truth, justice, and the American way. You know, the American Way that honors all people, regardless of economic situation, ethnicity, or gender? Yeah, that one. It’s a story of what happens to a society lost in complicity and conformity. It would be totally depressing, but, well, the everyman does win. But thanks to this stellar example of a nuanced approach to the western film genre, the victory comes with a bite: Unless you have taken a stand, you are complicit.

Dang. Maybe I better go back to some simple black-and-white Roy Rogers…

Bad Day at Black Rock, directed by John Sturges, 1955

Liz Wirth: What do you care? What do you care about Black Rock?
John J. Macreedy: I don’t care anything about Black Rock. Only it just seems to me that there aren’t many towns like this in America.     But… one town like it is enough. And because I think something kind of bad happened here, Miss Wirth, something I can’t quite seem to find a handle to.
Liz Wirth: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
John J. Macreedy: Well, I know this much. The rule of law has left here, and the guerrillas have taken over.

N.B. I actually could not find a single reference from Frank Gruber’s mouth or pen about the seven essential Western plots, but everyone says they exist. Do they really? I dunno–I got distracted by a really excellent author site for David Whitehead with delicious pics of western covers, a very fine overview on the genre, some history, and real-life western pseudonyms for a British author of westerns. Check it out. Another Wild Western Web find! And I still don’t know if Frank Gruber really, truly wrote the following list:

  1. The Union Pacific Story
  2. The Ranch Story
  3. The Empire Story
  4. The Revenge Story
  5. The Cavalry and Indian Story
  6. The Outlaw Story
  7. The Marshal Story
May 11, 2010

Cowgirls Gone Wild; or, I Can Has Cheezcake?

by cowboylands

Western porn.

Linda Stirling as the Black Whip in Zorro’s Black Whip, 1944, from http://www.wantedcowgirls.com

For me western porn is film stills and posters and book covers of hunks and hunkettes loaded down with western gear like holsters and chaps and cowboy boots and spurs and Colts and maybe a hard-edged stare or two.

And, oh yeah, I was doing some serious research to find some cowgirl heroes, the gunslinger or lawgiver kind.

And lo, I found both on Wild Western Web site Wanted Cowgirls. It has everything for the western fetish–strong women, especially. It’s got movies and pics, from straight-up singing cowgirls like Dorothy Page to recent fails like Penelope Cruz (my opinion, folks, put your guns back in your holsters).

It’s got movies and TV shows and pulse-pounding cowgirl pulps. It’s got arcade cards with winsome starlets and album cover hotties.

OK, maybe Cowgirl Catfight Outtakes gave me a stomachache, but it’s all in good, clean (kinda) fun, with a dose of healthy red-blooded lust and respect for these six-shooter-wearing goddesses.

My fave cowgirl? Barbara Stanwyck of Forty Guns and The Furies, a warrior woman who takes no prisoners…including any man she loves.

In Forty Guns you first see her riding a black horse at the head of a column of hard-bitten gun-toting cowboys. Awesomeness. I can’t do better on making a love capsule for Forty Guns than this, at Lightning Bug’s Lair.

Jessica Drummond: I’m not interested in *you*, Mr. Bonnell. It’s your trademark.
[gestures at his gun, purring]
Jessica Drummond: May I feel it?
Griff Bonnell: Uh-uh.
Jessica Drummond: Just curious.
Griff Bonnell: It might go off in your face.
Jessica Drummond: I’ll take a chance.

Forty Guns, directed by Samuel Fuller, 1957

May 9, 2010

Betrayal! Rage! Vengeance! Lust! Kiss!; or, Life as a Movie Poster

by cowboylands

Nothing can beat a lurid western film poster.

What is it about a holster looped around hips, the frozen snarl of a villain, the gimlet eye of the hero with the thousand-yard stare, the heaving bosoms of the love interest? And all in vermilion, cadmium yellow, and cerulean blue, traced in black, shot with white. Yum.

Even relatively complex films lose their ambiguities in the posters, like this one from The Searchers.

Over a fiery sky, John Wayne’s character’s motivations is repeated in script, simultaneously

a.) reducing his character to a one-dimensional need and

b.)emphasizing the all-consuming, potentially lethal nature of his mission.

A treasure trove of posters, found on 50 Westerns from the 50s, include a display of a grim Randolph Scott highlighted in stark high-noon glare. Stagecoach to Fury shows a runaway stagecoach backlit by fiery bloodred sunrise (punctuated by an awesome two-exclamation-point punch!!)

Westerns distill real life’s myriad  of conflicting/complementing/enhancing emotions to calls and responses, simple and potent.

Betrayal! Rage! Vengeance! Lust! Kiss!

Life, be that simple!

Homework assignment: Create your own movie poster. Make sure to add a love interest showing off his or her gams, and a pithy tag line.

From The Searchers, by John Ford, 1956

[Reverend Clayton delivers a prayer at the Edwards’ funeral for Aaron, Martha, and Ben]
Ethan: Put an amen to it!
Reverend Clayton: I ain’t finished yet.
Ethan: There’s no more time for praying! AMEN!

April 12, 2010

Lonely Are the Brave; or, Hearting/Hating That Brave Cowboy Thing

by cowboylands

Another movie for the Iranian president to see, or any other person who yearns to be a movie-type cowboy instead of a real one.

Lonely Are the Brave, filmed in 1962 with Kirk Douglas as the drifter rejecting the modern West, and the great Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau as his costars.

It was based on The Brave Cowboy, by Edward Abbey, written over twelve years before Desert Solitaire. In its pages his unsentimentality about the West and humanity’s cherished dreams crashes into pretty-sunset-cowboy-romance pictures with forty tons of steel and the shriek of air brakes, literally two short pages before the last line.

The Brave Cowboy, by Edward Abbey, cover illustration by Roy Gifford, Pocket Books, 1957. from the collection of E. Smith

The book begins like most other mid-fifties western novels, with a cowboy drifter in the mountains, at peace with himself and his surroundings. “He was sitting his heels in the cold light of dawn, drawing pale flames through a handful of twigs and dry crushed grass,” Abbey writes, letting the drifter then enjoy a smoke under a juniper, scour his pan with sand, and then cajole and outsmart his horse, Whiskey, “the bitch”–a pastoral of the human as one with the wilderness. But the book ends with this elemental being struck from the face of the earth, as “…the traffic roared and whistled and thundered by, steel, rubber, and flesh, dim faces behind glass, beating hearts, cold hands–the fury of men and women immured in engines.” Damn that Abbey. If it weren’t such a good book, I would’ve sank into depression the size of Hells Canyon, Idaho.

Blowing through the text is a deep ambivalence about humans’ place in the wilderness and the movie kept that uneasy love/hate relationship with the mythic cowboy.

Although Jack Burns (Douglas) boldly proclaims his manifesto…

A westerner likes open country. That means he’s got to hate fences. And the more fences there are, the more he hates them…. Have you ever noticed how many fences there’re getting to be? And the signs they got on them: no hunting, no hiking, no admission, no trespassing, private property, closed area, start moving, go away, get lost, drop dead! Do you know what I mean?

…he’s fully aware (okay, okay, the scriptwriter is aware) that that drifty thing comes with a steep price:

Know what a loner is? He’s a born cripple. He’s a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself. It’s his life, the way he wants to live. It’s all for him. A guy like that, he’d kill a woman like you. Because he couldn’t love you, not the way you are loved.

(Note that “you” was Gena Rowlands–honestly, I would hang up my spurs for her. That Burns guy was nuts.)

So there’s a movie for the Human Beings Versus the West and the West Wins Category.

BTW, it’s not a movie from the fifties though; if you want one of those, check out *Wild Western Web newflash50 Westerns from the Fifties, which promises to reveal plenty of undervalued gems.

July 22, 2008

Fight Like a Girl

by cowboylands

The Wonder of Linda StirlingHow to follow up the menace of Jack Palance in Shane? Only by providing a cowgirl sexpot, thanks to a Batboy42 comment, which I, with my itchy trigger finger, mistakenly deleted. Bad Bucko. 

The star of Republic’s 1944 Zorro’s Black Whip, Linda Stirling thrilled young boys with her sultry, glamorous derring-do. 

First off, there’s no Zorro. Nope. Nada. Instead we get a plucky heroine who inherits spangly getup from her brother who was killed, and she takes on his persona. it’s top secret, so much so that even when bad guys fight her in hand-to-hand combat they can’t guess she’s a woman. Now that’s equality of the sexes!

It’s pre-statehood for Idaho, and the Black Whip is fighting for the right of the populace to vote for the future of their territory, against the greedy-guts who have a firm grip on the money, power, and therefore future of Idaho. An interesting spin on the typical role of women in Westerns, who also try to persuade their men to fight for the cause of civilization, but are usually armed with tears and wringing of hands, not pistol and bull whip. 

At one point she is nearly unmasked (unmanned?) but government agent Vic assumes the identity of the Black Whip in the knick of time so she can continue in her secret role of manly woman. As Batboy42 says in the lost post*, there is a bit of cross-dressing going on. Woman to man, man to woman to man to woman. To man.

Next time I need to fight like a girl, I’m dressing like her. 

     

Hammond: Barbara Meredith, she’s the Black Whip!

Baxter: She couldn’t be! The Black Whip’s got to be a man! He’s outshot us, outrode us, and outfought us, stopped at us every turn!

 
 Chapter Nine, Zorro’s Black Whip: Avalanche

 

*Lost but not forgotten. Take heart. Abraham Lincoln’s “Lost Speech” in 1856 helped launch the Republican Party and drew the figurative line in the sand between those for and those against slavery. 

June 1, 2008

What Would Gary Cooper Do?

by cowboylands

When life appears frustrating, demeaning, terrifying, unfixable, and/or immutable, it is helpful to ask: “What would Gary Cooper do?”

His example—and that of other western celluloid heroes—provides an antidote to the life of the office drone, the frustrated housewife/husband, or the cog in the machine. Following the Cowboy Way allows one to stand tall in the land of mediocrity.

Why, with the herds of movie stars available, would I pick the Coop? Because he said it best in Along Came Jones (1945): “You gotta look like you’re somebody and act like you’re somebody….You do that, pretty soon you are somebody.” (OK, it’s a comedy and he’s spoofing his cowboy image, but still a good line, dammit!) 

 How to  look like you’re somebody:

  • The boots. Whoever has walked less than a mile* in cowboy boots knows that the steady thud of their stout heels provides a degree of self-assurance that borders on guarantee.
  • The belt buckle. When you wear one, you are the champion. Of the world.
  • The hat. You have to fill the dome with—if not brains—than hot air. Talk like you own the ranch and you will.
  • Which brings us to the talk. Do you have the garrulity of Andy Devine or the laconic impact of the Duke? (Note that one is always the sidekick, and one is the movie star.)
  • The action. Like a quarter horse, you’ve got to be able to turn on a dime and be ready for the shootout, the showdown, the barroom brawl, the attack (doesn’t have to be Apache), the wagons-in-a-circle maneuver, the cutting-a-bullet-out-of-your-leg routine, the lip-lock with the beautiful/handsome love interest, or the ride-into-the sunset trick. Life, fast and furious, isn’t scripted, so it’s good to bone up on the possibilities.

Katy Jurado’s character, the widow Helen Ramirez, describes Gary Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane in High Noon (1952): He’s a man. And it takes more than big broad shoulders to make a man.

Following in the Coop’s footsteps is more than embodying a swaggering cowboy diplomacy, or carrying a big stick/gun/chip on your shoulder.  It’s about striving to take an idealized high road in conduct, as well as looking good on a horse. And not being a good rider myself, I have to add that you don’t necessarily need the other outer trappings (boots, belt buckle, hat), although they are stylish.

All is right in the Western World, then, right? Wrong. Trouble can ensue when following the Cowboy Way. But that’s a subject of another post…All images copyright 2008

Happy virtual trails. 

*If you walk more than a mile you aren’t really a cowboy, as you obviously do not have a horse, ATV, or pickup to your name.