Deadly Companions Before Parent Trap

DATELINE: Steve Cochran Died 55 Years Ago!

Steve Cochran with Brian Keith.

Before Walt Disney cast them as estranged parents of Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap,  Sam Peckinpah wanted them as the estranged couple in The Deadly Companions.

Even in 1961, it was rare for a woman to be the top-billed star in a Western. It happened rarely, usually with Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford.

This time Maureen O’Hara, the best leading lady for a half-dozen big stars like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, took on the role of hard and angry dance hall girl.

In the Deadly Companions, Brian Keith shoots O’Hara’s son by accident, killing him. When she wants to take the coffin to bury him in a dangerous town across Apache Territory, no one will help her –except Brian Keith. They are not boon companions.

Joining them somewhat unwillingly are Chill Wills and Steve Cochran as a couple of ex-Rebel bank robbers.

The reasons for the assorted bunch to stick together is hardly altruistic—or particularly believable. It does make for a singular Western in sea of oaters ending the decade. It predates the Clint-Leone spaghetti versions by a few years—and is the first film directed by Peckinpah who would turn to violence as a motif to keep up with the meatball brigade in the next ten years.

You have a chance to see that Keith was a solid leading man, not a TV star, and that Steve Cochran was cast perfectly as a  scoundrel. He was gone too soon after this film, and Chill Wills phones in his usual seedy kook bird version of his usually likable uncle.

We are reviewing the film on the 55thanniversary of Cochran’s death in 1965. He still looked youthful here and was always a classic bad guy. His death was peculiar in the movie and in real life too, as he was on a yacht floating for ten days because no one aboard could sail it to a port.

Orson Welles in a Western?

DATELINE: Have Horse, Will Travel.

 Orson, Horse Optional.

When we saw the listing, it was beyond credulity! Can it be that Orson Welles made a Western?  Even worse than that, the film is listed as a “tortilla-Western,” made in 1969.

The film is called Tepepa. It would appear that the film never made it to the United States for release—probably to Orson’s great relief.

Well, if there was a chance to see Orson on a horse, we needed to view it and give a report to faithful fans. No, he did not direct this Spanish-Italian production. It was made when he took all kinds of roles for the money to bankroll his own films. This was done for a few dollars more without Sergio Leone.

You cannot expect much—or have we grown too cynical? The film is a dubbed mess, some of it in English, some in Spanish, and some in Italian. Dubbing was optional.

Welles does not appear on a horse. The tortilla setting is Mexico, beautifully filmed in clean, clear settings. And, the Western is actually set in 1920. This gave Welles the chance to ride around in an antique red automobile, obviously a man of the future.

He plays some kind of prison commandant, or colonel of the villainous order. He is the foil to Tomas Milian who plays some kind of revolutionary folk-hero in the Che Guevara mode.

The movie’s director reported that Welles was most disagreeable on the set—and particularly nasty to his costar. Yet, they had merely a few scenes together. Mostly, Welles appeared opposite blond John Steiner who played a British doctor who also wants to kill the revolutionary hero who raped his girlfriend.

One of the main characters is a Mexican boy who serves as a ping-pong ball between the other actors. As for Welles, you’d expect he’d phone in his scenes and act with nonchalance. Though he mumbles some lines in disdain, he actually gives a nuanced performance, as if he can’t help himself. He clearly enjoys playing the baddie and savors each moment. He chomps on a stogie and is half-apologetic for his evil.

No, this isn’t Citizen Kane,and it’s not even For a Fistful of Dollars, but it is an hysterical historical gem with Orson Welles. We hooted openly.

Bronson’s Land

DATELINE: Death Wish Out West

By 1971, Charles Bronson began to make the revenge picture his personal genre.

It’s also the year he met Michael Winner who became his John Ford, shaping a series of films, hardly great but full of fury and impact.

The first was a Western done in Spain called Chato’s Land. You might think it’s a spaghetti Western, but it is something far more American: a metaphor for pointless commitment to deathly war and racist attitudes.

It’s not a classic by any means, but it borrows from American classics and thus becomes part of the derivation formula. It seems to take its cue from The Ox Bow Incidnt, made thirty years earlier: a dour Henry Fonda picture about a lynch mob that hangs anyone it can put its hands on. It was led by a fool in a Confederate uniform of past glory.

This time it’s Jack Palance donning the Confederate officer garb—and leading an all-star gang of terrible Western settlers who want to hang a “half-breed” who has killed the town sheriff.

The cast will bowl you over: there’ Ralph Waite as the worst of the worst before he became Daddy Walton.

There’s Simon Oakland and Richard Jordan as his brothers. You will also be treated to James Whitmore and Richard Basehart as older men who should know better.

Charles Bronson turns the tables. And when he goes into full loincloth mode, his body puts body builders to shame. He was pushing sixty, said some, when he did this film. He claimed to be fifty.

There is a death wish pick off, one by one, of rapists and mayhem’s henchmen. Michael Winner wallows in rape and cruelty—and it would become worse over the next decade. Yet, this film is sharply in focus, however cruel, and it started the revenge movie in the urban jungle, starting in the American West.

 

 

 

Paint Whose Wagon?

DATELINE: Don’t Fence Clint In!

  A couple of song and dance men?

Back in 1969, Clint Eastwood had just returned from his stint on the spaghetti western circuit. He wanted to break molds—and went on Mr. Ed,then made a musical Western. It’s not easy to turn Clint into Tab.

Paint Your Wagonhad credentials to stagger into a gold-digging mode. Josh Logan directed another 1951 classical musical from Broadway. Paddy Cheyevsky (urban TV legend) wrote the screenplay—another unlikely figure out West.

The only true singer in the cast allegedly was Harve Presnell who stops the movie with his stunning rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria.”  Even Logan in his inepti director style could not screw that up.

As far as Clint singing, we had forgotten that in 1962, on the heels of every TV and movie actor with heart-throb fan clubs made a musical album:  as we recall, Sal Mineo, Richard Chamberlain, Tab Hunter, and even Clint Eastwood sang.

The big difference was that Clint’s album of country-western tunes was actually a hit. You need to hear his version of “Don’t Fence Me in.”

Lee Marvin also sings in the style of Rex Harrison—and he is witty and delightful. He also dances cheek-to-cheek with Ray Walston, which certainly puts Fred and Ginger to the test.

The film is an all-male homoerotic gold rush until Jean Seberg shows up: beautiful and damaged. We cannot imagine what off-screen between-takes conversations went on during this production.

There are enough offensive ethnic stereotypes to make this film about as incorrect as any Western of the 1960s. And, in a true 1960s mode, the film is nearly three hours long—really.

If you like surprises and changes of pace, you cannot go wrong with this Western that seems to be the exclamation point and end punctuation to the era of Hollywood westerns.

 

 

 

 

Missouri Breakage! Classic Brando/Nicholson

DATELINE: Them’s the Breaks, Pardner

 

Mother Hubbard aside? Smile when you say that! 

Return with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear when Marlon Brando teamed up with and up against Jack Nicholson to make a Western. It’s called deceptively The Missouri Breaks.

It was 1976, and both Godfather and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were history.

What’s left is the new frontier of two highly-charged actors going head-to-head.  However, like most of these superstar confrontations, the actual meetings are limited to some off-beat actors’ studio hambone. Brando actually has a small role and does not appear during the first half-hour.

Nicholson plays a horse thief whose gang falls under the observation of a “regulator.” It’s Brando in a dress and looking less zaftig than usual.

We may see parallels to The Left-Handed Gun in that adolescent world of cowboys because Arthur Penn is on board to direct the strange antics.

If there is a surprise, it is that Brando looks much younger than you’d expect, and Nicholson looks somewhat older.

You should expect the usual Brando laundry list: he has an inexplicable Irish brogue and other quirks that characters disdain (lilac cologne? walking under ladders?).  It is doubtful they could have switched roles like Burton and O’Toole in Becket. When Brando inexplicably wears a Mother Hubbard dress, you figure Nicholson surrendered the prize.

There is some wry humor interspersed and some outlandish details to take the Western into the Far Country. In case you are wondering, the Breaks in the river Missouri can be found in Montana.

We cannot imagine that Brando and Nicholson rehearsed any of this stuff, probably trying to shock the other’s performance. Already Brando is self-limiting, but there is no later laziness in his performance. He is up against the high-stakes gunslinging Jack Nicholson. And, perhaps, he saw this as High Noonfor the age.

Since this movie cannot be enjoyed on any conventional Western level, you take it as a psychedelic trip down memory lane. Don’t even think about the symbolism of Jack pulling a gun on Brando as he sits in his bubble bath.

With so many desperadoes (Harry Dean Stanton, Randy Quaid), you can count the deserving bad ends for western villains. It’s a romp.

Wildest Bill Hickok

DATELINE:  Madison, Olyphant, and Bridges

Somewhere between the TV series Deadwood version of Wild Bill Hickok (limned by Keith Carradine) and the TV series Wild Bill(limned by Guy Madison), you have the version from Walter Hill and played by Jeff Bridges as the wildest Hickok of all.

As a Western on the tale end of movie westerns, this one is a classic mostly undiscovered. Wild Bill has a wonderful cameo cast and is filled with comedic violence.

In this version, Keith Carradine is Buffalo Bill. Ten years later he would join Timothy Olyphant in the HBO series for a few episodes as Wild Bill.

Here, the rootin’ tootin’ Calamity Jane is Ellen Barkin, and one of Bill’s Brit friends is a biographer played by John Hurt.

The bad guys lining up to be dispatched in colorful fashion include such as Bruce Dern and David Arquette.

Wild Bill traipsed through the litany of Western venues from Abilene to Deadwood, making appearances as a ruthlessly violent marshal who’d shoot you in an instant if the matter called for breaking lawbreakers.

James Butler Hickok found himself trapped in celebrity and became Wild Bill as a profession, requiring certain behaviors and attitudes.

The film, utterly timeless depiction of a Western legend, provides us with a conspiracy theory behind the tale. It would seem that the sniveling coward Jack McCall was, perhaps, hinted at an illegitimate son of Hickok.

You may find that the Olyphant-McShane profanity laced TV series owes much to this film—and it’s done with a modicum of the bad language of bad guys.

The Lonely Man, 1950s Latency Period

DATELINE: Another Oddball Western

not so lonely Tony Meets Jack at Gay Bar?

The Western lone rider is the loneliest guy this side of the Maytag repairman in the 1950s.

After appearing as the despicable gunfighter in Shane, there was only one place to go for Jack Palance: revisionist hero from hell. So, he was cast as the good guy in The Lonely Man. This was a trend, as Ernest Borgnine had just transformed into an Oscar-winner after a villainous streak. Rod Steiger was around the corner.

In 1957, the way to do this was to play either a wronged teenage son or a well-meaning father. The James Dean phenomenon was at work: so, they cast Anthony Perkins as the fey son, long separated from his gunslinging father (called an ‘aging’ gunfighter).

Perkins plays it so silly as rebel with a cause that James Dean would have laughed. He likely would have laughed too that mid-30s Palance was considered aging as a father to mid-20s Perkins. It could have been Tab, but Tony will do.

Yet, that was the style of those days. Daddy didn’t know best, but he tried.

And, you use the baritone country music of Tennessee Ernie Ford instead of Tex Ritter.

Some bad guys are unremitting: Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, and Elisha Cook.  They are planning on gunning down Palance first chance that comes their way. Elisha Cook’s revenge comes after Palance gunned him down in Shane.

Brand would turn goodie on TV within a few years, but it would take Van Cleef more than a decade to turn to goody-two-shoes roles. All are in their evil-doer prime here.

If you have a strong sense of homoeroticism in this movie, you are not paranoid. Palance “picks up” his son in a bar for the price of a drink. Perkins boasts anyone can have him at those prices. These guys are all interested in their male on male relationships over all else.

As a piece of Hollywood Western ersatz history, this film is a true curio.

 

Posse: Political Western by Kirk Douglas

DATELINE: Anti-Western from 1975

Posse

When star Kirk Douglas went all out to become the Orson Welles of Westerns, he chose a highly political topic in the age of Nixon and corrupt politics in 1975. It’s called Posse.

In this sagebrush tale, Douglas is Howard Nightingale, a marshal running for U.S. Senator in Texas. He will be elected over the dead body of a notorious outlaw he chases and catches straw man named Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern).

Therein is the rub.

Douglas knew how to make action movies. After all, he worked with some of the great directors—and he decided to produce and direct as well as star as the anti-hero, or outright villain of hypocrisy. He is pure Kirk and that is highly watchable.

Traveling with a photographer taking shots of his great moments, the marshal hopes to run for President of the United States down the road. He even has an affable relationship with the bad guy.

It’s his posse that is the Achilles heel.

Like all political leaders, he relies on his staff (underpaid, less than scrupulous, and even corrupt). The marshal treats his men worse than the outlaw treats his. There’s a message in there about your politicians.

As the bad guy Dern states, there are enough types like the marshal already in Washington. They don’t need another.

The cast is right out of 1970s supporting actors. David Canary doesn’t last long, but Bo Hopkins is there—and James Stacy, after losing an arm and leg in a motorcycle accident, and later jailed as a pedophile, plays a newspaperman who contends that Kirk Douglas is in the bag for the railroads.

 

This is a violent and cynical Western, likely meant as an antidote to Clint and Duke. However, its politics is so negative that we blanch at its modern attitude. It is also clean and well-produced, like a classic 1950s movie, which is also out-of-date for the era in which Douglas made this movie.

 

Strange and idiosyncratic, this film is as watchable as well as execrable.

Deadwood Passes Deadline

 DEADLINE:  the Un-Deadwood Movie

Olyphant Olyphant

The movie sequel to the three-season HBO series Deadwood is not dead as a doornail after all. It’s not even moribund.

HBO gunned it down ten years ago in a shootout shout-out, and it took as much time for writer/producer David Milch to resurrect it with nearly the entire original cast. (Powers Boothe left us a few years ago, and he is not noticed or mentioned here).

For two weeks we have heard the words “Shakespearean” applied again and again to this Western. Yes, they talk funny with Swearingen leading the way with swearing in iambic pentameter. Ian McShane is the scene-stealer emeritus.

An odd thing happens when a show tries to reset after the sunset: actors either look like they have aged twenty years, not ten, or others look like they had to step out of a time machine to reappear.

A few flashbacks remind us of how much the actors have changed in a decade.

We won’t spoil it by saying who looks ancient, and who held up. That may be the real suspense. Suffice it to say that boyish Timothy Olyphant has aged into Western star Sam Elliott, one of his old villains from Justified.

Others like William Sanderson and Jeffrey Jones have looked perennially old for 30 years. No news here.

As for the characters and characterizations, everyone is the same, just moreso. Perhaps that is the real secret of aging: you just get worse in your worst habits.

As for the script that has rankled some fans, you will have to understand that these kind of shows usually center upon birth, marriage, funerals, auctions, and deaths. Yup, we have them all in spades.

Deadwood’s statehood celebration is crashed by Gerald McRaney, the house villain, who returns as a California Senator Hearst who brings the 19th century Internet with him: yes, he is putting up telephone poles for profit.

Fear not. It is still the wilder West and shoot-outs are bound to occur near the local bordello.

Robin Weigert’s Calamity Jane looks like she is caked in dirt, but she was already an international celebrity by the time of this show (1889).

Many characters don’t have much to do—and do it for a few lines.

We wouldn’t have missed this reunion show for the world of kindling wood, nor dead heroes. It even beats having Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty show up twenty years after their show Gunsmoke ended in a sequel movie.

The West never loses its allure.

Stagecoach to Lordsburg, Re-Take Three or So

DATELINE: Where’s Bing?

merritt  Merritt Shortly Before his Untimely Death.

 You may think you already saw a great, classic western with John Wayne as Ringo and directed by his mentor and most brilliant collaborator, John Ford.

Actually, you haven’t if you tune into the color, 1986 version that manages to remake the film. Unlike most revisions of the better original, this film is truly a curio, interesting on its own level.

If the first great Western had not been made with Duke Wayne, and you never heard of it, this little film might actually have been an amusing vanity project by well-known performers.

Actually, Stagecoach of 1986 is a television movie and could be better called a Country-Western. Yes, pardner, the stars apparently felt the story held its own without Wayne and Ford. So, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson, take on the key roles. No, they do not sing. Nelson did the title tune over the credits, but we guess they might have hummed a few notes between takes. That might have been more interesting.

Since singers were the motif, they also brought in Anthony Newley—and Bing Crosby’s daughter, Mary.

The cast is not bad—and you can throw in John Schneider with a perfectly coiffured beard. Anthony Franciosa plays a corrupt banker, and Elizabeth Ashley sounding like a ghetto girl, and even the under-rated Merrit Buttrick as a cavalry officer.

The story has something to do with a stagecoach making a desperate and dangerous trip with Geronimo on the warpath.

Kristofferson takes on the thankless role played by John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. Cash is some kind of marshall, and Willie Nelson is Doc Holliday.

These guys are pros—and their fans will hoot and love every scene, but we kept thinking: wait a second, wasn’t there another remake—with Bing Crosby??? It also starred Ann-Margaret, Mike Connors, Red Buttons, Van Heflin, Robert Cummings, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens.

We don’t think Bing was the Duke, but we had to go to IMDb as our memory banks are corrupt lately. And, yes, there was such a film in 1966—made with old TV stars in the key roles! It is not generally available, but we will search hither and yon to find it.

 

Nobody’s Name Is More Well-Known

DATELINE:  Somebody is Big!

somebody Fonda Somebody!

When Terrence Hill, a pretty-boy actor from Italy, received top billing over Henry Fonda in the spaghetti Western, My Name is Nobody, you know the pasta won’t stick to the wall.

Though Sergio Leone’s name is pinned to this comedic western mess, he is not the director: but his style is shamelessly copied to the point that even scenes of Clint and Lee Van Cleef from A Few Dollars More are repeated here.

It is a western territory that has nothing to do with the West, except horse pucky and dust. It’s a social milieu that is a fun-house version of the noble Western. Indeed, much action takes place in a fun house with mirrors, a la Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai.

Stealing from the best seems to be the motto of this unfunny occasional slapstick, or burlesque, movie. It’s more Fellini than John Ford.

This Western comes several years after Fonda made a spectacular villain in Once Upon a Time in the West. Here he is Jack Beauregard, aging gunfighter wanting to retire, and Nobody is Terence Hill, an unfunny stalker who deserves to be shot for his shameless mugging. His pretty eyes notwithstanding.

We could not figure out their real relationship, but suspected it was father/illegit son. Each encounter is filled with some kind of oddball paternal bond.

R.G. Armstrong, Leo Gordon, Steve Kanaly, and Geoffrey Lewis are names you may not know, but their faces will strike you immediately for their Western roles. Here they lend their faces.

The humor is on a level of finding “Sam Peckinpah” on a tombstone in one desert cemetery. It mirrors Eastwood finding Leone’s name on a marker in one of his movies. Nothing original survives here.

However, this is ultimately Henry Fonda’s movie, a farewell and ode to the Old West, where he ends the movie with writing a letter about how it is all disappearing. He steals the movie by being Henry Fonda. Well, if this movie is the evidence, the West not only has gone with the wind, but was pushed out of the picture by bad jokes.

 

 

 

 

Calamity Jane: Other End of 19th Century

DATELINE: Deadwood, or Bust!

Calamity- 2 days before death  At Wild Bill’s gravesite.

The world of manners and civilization of the East and Europe would take 50 years to head out to the Badlands and Deadwood.

With a new TV movie updating the old series with Timothy Olyphant due soon, we figured to find the true story of Calamity Jane: Legend of the West. It’s an effective French-produced film. She was one of those rare women who lived by her own values in the Victorian Age.

The augurs were not sympathetic for Martha Canary, her real name: her mother was an alcoholic and her father deserted the family along the Oregon Trail. Martha was indentured or adopted and began a life of dubious morality.

Though some might hold her up as a transgender model, she never tried to pass as a man: she was always “Jane,” in men’s clothes, hunting, fighting Indians, and carousing. Indeed, sometimes at night she traded her buckskins for petticoats and survived as a sex worker.

She spoke a good game, told great yarns, and found herself the attraction of journalists. Some back east took her name and created a Deadwood feminine cowboy named Calamity Jane.

In reality, she and Wild Bill were only able to tolerate each other, though their love/hate relationship last a few years till his death in a notorious saloon shooting.

From there it was downhill: drinking, arrests, and endless wandering. She was a common law wife on occasion but married one abusive man to be father to her daughter whom she gave to nuns to raise.

Unfit for most jobs, she regularly went into show business, meeting people, selling photos of herself and a pamphlet story of her life. She even Buffalo Bill, but they worked separately at the Pan American Exhibition of 1900.

She had grown most unhappy in the East, and she returned to Deadwood in 1903. She looked like an ancient but was only 47. Hard drinking and hard living took a toll. The West had become gentrified, not to her liking.

Two days before her death, she went up to Wild Bill Hickok’s grave where she had her photo taken. Within a week, the people of Deadwood put her in a grave next to him.

After all, they were legends—and Westerns were about to hit the big screen with the advent of movies. Calamity would ride on forever, even unto a new TV cable movie, Deadwood, this summer. 

 

 

 

 

John Wayne Revisited, 50 Years Off the Saddle!

DATELINE:  Too Late for Words!

Duke, Duck!Duck, Dodge, and Hide, Duke!

Fifty years after John Wayne gave an interview to Playboy, it has been re-discovered and has become an interesting, revisionist historical document that berates black people, Native Americans, and gays.

Wayne was home on the range but would be shocked by today’s brave new world. He would have punched Trump in the nose for suggesting America is no longer great.

Actors have never been known for their giant brains. You have only to look at stories about Jussie Smollett to learn that hard lesson.

So, it is not surprising that an interview given by Duke Wayne in 1971 is rife with frightful prejudice against black people and Native Americans. You should add women to the list.

Wayne played an array of Union soldiers and military heroes often in defense of America, popular ideas in his movies. He was in real life only one step to the left of J. Edgar Hoover and not much removed from a political Know-Nothing.

If you put his statue in front of a Confederate stronghold, the rebels would have ripped it down.

John Wayne refused to work with “liberal” Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood on a movie.

Well, the shocks mount up like Wayne on a charging steed with the reins in his teeth and six-shooters firing at will.

Young anti-Vietnam war Americans of the “hippie era” hated John Wayne for his backward view of politics. He was right up there with Bob Hope as a supporter of war in its many forms.

Now that generation of youth, regarded as wayward and drug-addled, is older than Wayne when he gave his notorious interview of 1971.

Back in the 1970s, liberals laughed at Wayne and threw snowballs at him when he was in a Cambridge parade and received the Hasty Pudding Man of the Year at Harvard.

He also went on TV to guest star on Maude, Bea Arthur’s liberal bastion series. She promised a shootout with Wayne at High Noon.

Of course, Maude was a half-baked hypocrite and she melted when John Wayne told her he never discussed politics with a woman. They ended up in a waltz.

The problem that faces the old Bernie Saunders liberal types who are pushing 80 (and soon to be pushing up daisies) has more to do with an old Bette Davis quote.

She said of her hated rival Joan Crawford: “They don’t change just because they’re dead.”

People should remember that Davis was only partly correct. She should have said: “You can’t change your mind once you’re dead.”

John Wayne in a Woman’s Picture?

 DATELINE: Duke Takes on Shane’s Girlfriend

not a chance Witless Comedy.

Well, at least John Wayne is not yet in women’s lingerie in 1943. A Lady Takes a Chance is not exactly High Noon. We hate to say it, but don’t leave this film to chance. Just leave it alone.

Jean Arthur was a big star, and John Wayne wanted to be a big star. Despite his accolades and sensational performance in Stagecoach, Duke Wayne needed to cross-over to become super big. So, he even drives a car.

Someone at the studio figured that he needed to widen his audience to include adult women who admired working-class heroine Jean Arthur, the everyday spunky girl of America.

How would John Wayne do with spunky women? You have an early answer here. He treats them like horses. If we recall our Hollywood history: they shoot horses, don’t they?

Among the pallid jokes is to have Duke don an apron, or to watch Jean Arthur try to sleep uncomfortably under the prairie stars.

Yes, this was a time when you went west on a bus. Jean Arthur must ultimately choose between bookish Hans Conreid, paunchy Grady Sutton, or virile John Wayne! Some choice.

Someone failed to plug this movie. Pull the plug, please.

This early misuse of John Wayne is absolutely fascinating as a studio-system miscalculation. Or was it? Then again, we like disaster movies too. We wanted to see Phil Silvers (Sergeant Bilko) with the classic military cowboy.

The only other time we saw John Wayne in a woman’s comedy, he did a guest star role in the 1970s on Maude with the high-shootin’ Bea Arthur. It was a real showdown. Yeah, he outdrew that Golden Girl of cynical womanhood.

Jean Arthur is the queen bee/big star here, hypocritical with her multiple boyfriends in New York, but indignant that Duke Wayne has a few girlfriends from the rodeo circuit. She treated Alan Ladd just as badly in her next Western, Shane, as Brandon de Wilde’s mother.

If producers were aiming for frothy, as in beer suds, most of it stuck to Jean Arthur’s upper lip. Literally.

Sad Hill Unearthed! Fake Cemetery

 DATELINE:  Restoring the Un-Dead to Fake Life

sad hill trio Famous Trio at Sad Hill!

In Burgos, Spain, an amateur group of archeologists located the place where the climax of the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was filmed in 1966.

You have to love the spaghetti western (and it is hilarious horse opera with Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, and Clint Eastwood). Its climactic graveyard shootout is magnificent film-making—and its restored grandeur is stunning.

It is called Sad Hill Cemetery (not real), except as reel film history.

The responsible men are descended from locals who worked as extras in the movie, and they find the place is magical. It had been lost and buried under six inches of dirt. They dug up to find the circular stone center. Around it were mounds where the fake graves once stood with crosses.

It took much work, and many volunteers. They sold gravesites, with your name painted on a wooden cross, to finance the excavations.

A few survivors of the movie:  film editor and composer Ennio Morricone gave interviews. The film documentary is enhanced with behind-the-scenes photos—and movie clips. Old interviews with Sergio Leone are also a treat.

It was backbreaking work to restore the concentric circles of Leone’s visionary shootout scene among the crosses, row on row.

When finished, the magic returned. A large crowd showed up in the rural area where an orchestra played the film score, the archeologists re-enacted the shootout. It went on for ten to fifteen minutes in the film, and Clint even sent a recorded thank you message to the assembled crowd.

restored reel cemetery Restored at Last!

If you love this classic Western, you need this companion piece to history, myth, and movie magic.