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Sunday, March 29, 2015

From Noon Till Three (1975)



FROM NOON TILL THREE 

Dir: Frank D. Gilroy - Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Douglas V. Fowley, Stan Haze, Hector Morales, Damon Douglas 

More a romantic comedy than a western. It was intended as a career move for Bronson, who was in his mid-fifties and felt that he was getting a bit old for the type of action stuff that had made him a star, but when it turned out to be a box-office failure, he went back to making (successful) formula movies.

Bronson is an amateur bank robber, Graham Dorsey, who’s having premonitions about the next heist ending in disaster and therefore tricks his partners so he can spend three hours in the company of a rich widow while his friends are trying to rob a bank. The two feel attracted to each other and they’re still cuddling when the news comes that the heist has gone wrong. Dorsey rides off to saves his friends from being hanged but is killed when his trail is picked up by the members of a large posse - at least that’s what the lady thinks. With the help of a newspaper journalist she turns the little liason into the romance of the century and her mythmaking is so successful that Dorsey becomes a romantic legend and the mansion in which the romance took place a tourist attraction.

Dorsey, who didn’t ride off to save his friends (because he didn’t care about them) and therefore wasn’t killed, finally shows up at the tourist attraction, making the tour incognito, only to discover that the legend has become more important than the facts: the lady is totally absorbed by the image she has created in her book - that of a man who’s everything Graham Dorsey is not: tall, brave and handsome - and only recognizes him after he has shown her that one body part she could not describe in a 19th Century dime novel. She then decides to preserve the legend, leaving it to Dorsey to reclaim his identity - a job that’s far beyond him, and will eventually drive him crazy.

From Noon till Three was pulverized by contemporary critics and no, it's not a great movie, but it’s not as bad as those sour comments on Mr. & Mrs. Bronson’s thespian talents might suggest. True, Chuck and Jill aren’t the greatest of actors, and true, their comedy talents are limited, but ironically their clumsy efforts to be funny add a touch of believability to those scenes of their uneasy flirtations. After all they’re supposed to be a very odd couple, a small time crook, a good for nothing who never knew true love, and a woman who married a much older man for safety, who never knew real passion. It’s also an advantage that Bronson and Ireland were a real-life couple: they must have been physically attracted to each other, which makes it more plausible that the two would have a quick liason under the given circumstances.

Beginning with a nightmare and ending in madness, the script has a nice circular structure, and the central theme of myth-making is intriguing and witty. But the movie fails to come up with a central idea to bundle all these scattered ideas about identity, false heroics and self-delusion. The Lady’s decision to preserve the legend is no doubt a nod towards the famous line - “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend!" - from John Ford’s The Man who Shot Liberty Valence and there are a couple of references to other movies: the scene in which Bronson fakes impotency (to win the lady’s sympathy) echoes a similar scene (with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe) in Some Like it Hot and Bronson’s nightmare about the heist going wrong, looks like a spoofy version of the opening scene of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Jill Ireland’s character is by the way called Mrs. Starbuck, another reference to Peckinpah’s movie: the opening massacre of The Wild Bunch took place in a Texas border town called Starbuck.


BOTTOM LINE:
A comedy (rather than a western) that isn’t great, but has its moments. Some nice references to classic movies add to the fun. 
6/10

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bandolero! (1968)



BANDOLERO! 

Dir: Andrew V. McLaglan - Cast:  James Stewart, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch, George Kennedy, Denver Pyle, Will Greer, Harry Carey Jr, Don “Red” Barry, Andrew Prine - Screenplay by J.L. Barrett, based on a story by Stanley Hough 

An enjoyable piece of nothing, as one critic put it. Dean Martin & James Stewart are cast against type as bandit brothers, Dee & Mace Bishop, and they’re not the kind of rascals who steal from the rich to help the poor. They’re selfish, mean and lethal, but note that the movie is basically a comedy. Dino is as charming as ever, smiling his trademark winning smile, while Jimmy is mainly poking fun at himself, walking and talking slowly, commenting his own and his little brother’s actions with a knowing smile.

The first thirty minutes or so, with Jimmy impersonating a hangman, are the best part of the movie. After Dee and his gang are arrested in a border town, we watch Mace overhearing a conversation in an open air bathhouse, where a self-sufficient hangman is bragging about his job and the upcoming hanging in the town of Valverde. When Mace finds out who’s about to be hanged, he joins  the hangman outside of town, has a conversation with him about the finer points of the profession and ... the next moment we see him riding into Valverde, wearing the hangman’s top hat and frock, complimenting the sheriff with the fine job he did, both in arresting the gang and in building such a wonderful scaffold, the perfect platform for the show he’s determined to give.

Of course Mace saves his brother and his men from the gallows, but before riding out of town, he also robs the bank. With virtually all townspeople in hot pursuit of the escaped convicts, it seemed a logical thing to do, as he explains much later into the movie:

“The bank was there and I was there, and there wasn't very much of anybody else there ... so it just seemed like the thing to do.

The kind-hearted sheriff (Kennedy) is on the trail of the two brothers, not only to arrest them and get the townspeople’s money back, but also because he has the hots for the woman they took with them as a hostage, Mrs. Stoner (Raquel), the richest women in the area after the gang has shot her husband. And then there’s also a gang of Mexican bandits, the bandoleros who gave the film its title. They all meet in a small Mexican town for large-scale shootout that will leave very few alive.

Raquel has other qualities ...
Both script and direction leave a lot to desire. Mrs. Stoner seems to enjoy herself a lot in the company of the men who have just shot her husband, but before we may start frowning, we’re told, by the lady herself, that Mr. Stoner had bought her from her poor father ‘for five cows and a gun.’ Andrew V. McLaglen’s direction is very workmanlike, almost absent in some scenes, but then again, Dino & Jimmy know how to play a scene without any director and Raquel, well, she has other qualities. The main problem of Bandolero! is that the second half is less compelling than the first. There’s too much talk and riding around and that grand finale with the bandoleros attacking the Mexican town, has a lot of spectacular stunt work (Hal Needham  coordinating), but also looks quite chaotic. William Clothier’s cinematography of the landscape is impressive, but too many scenes are shot against a blue screen.

Note: Some have suggested that the movie was influenced by the spaghetti westerns. In spite of the comedy it is quite violent and the soundtrack, by Jerry Goldsmith, is dominated by a laconic whistling theme and some of the upbeat tunes we know from Morricone’s scores for the Dollar movies. There are a few similarities to the Enzo G. Castellari’s caper movies in spaghetti western style (often starring an American B-actor like Edd Byrness, John Saxon or Frank Wolff) such as Any Gun Can Play or I came, I saw, I Shot, but they had not yet reached American cinemas when Bandolero! was filmed (*), so it might all have been coincidence.

* Any Gun Can Play was released in September 1968 in New York City, three months after Bandolero!

BOTTOM LINE
A unpretentious but colourful comedy western with a great cast and some fine cinematography. 
6/10