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.

Tinker, Tailor, Puzzle-maker

DATELINE: Cold Warriors

Hardy boy

 Hunky Hardy Boy!

If you want to be challenged by John LeCarre’s masterpiece of espionage during the Cold War, you might well take in the movie version of George Smiley’s hard work in finding a mole that caused the death of Control in the British secret service.

One kingfish at the agency seems to have a direct connection to the Kremlin. Though Smiley (Gary Oldman) has been forced out into retirement with his mentor, Control (John Hurt), he must work covertly to restore the integrity of the Circus.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is for those who enjoy armchair psychology and thought-provoking shades of gray.

Through complex flashbacks, and even more complex human relationships, you will find these are not pleasant men. The cast is stellar beyond compare: Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, are stand-outs.

The sexual peccadilloes are unspoken, but there is a strong scent of blackmail and unspoken ties among the men. It is nearly as much a guessing game about their bedtime bedmates as it is about their political bedmates.

The complexity and subtlety of the film probably makes it beyond the tolerance level of your standard James Bond satire fans. This is the low-key, grubby, office worker mentality of the Cold War. Oldman is particularly wooden to hide his tormented feelings.

Every spy ought to be brought in from this Cold War before their tedious work drives them to distraction.

Oldman plays much older, and the young men (Hardy and Cumberbatch) had better days ahead as superstars. They could not be more stunningly attractive in 2011 and quickly made a mark with this film.


Kudos to the Late John Hurt

  DATELINE: Oddest Couple


With the recent death of John Hurt, we turned to our library of films to find one of his best performances in an under-rated movie. Love & Death on Long Island teamed him with Jason Priestley, playing a teeny-bopper star who casts a spell on a dry, pedantic academic writer.

How could we not like this?

Based on Gilbert Adair’s slight novella, the staid Giles stalks the B-movie star Ronnie Bostock, of Skid Marks fame.  Hurt cannot tell a microwave oven from a VCR. Nowadays, who could? Yet, he sees art where the artless dwells. He wanders into the wrong movie, and therein lies a tale.

The big issue in the movie is whether Giles sets up his teen idol to turn him into Thomas Chatterton, boy poet who commits suicide. Hurt’s strategy seems to put a sexual threat on his boy-toy of academic research.

This film provided Jason Priestley with an opportunity to raise the stakes in jump-starting his lowly TV fame into something bigger. On that level, the move did not work to turn him from artless into art. However, it remains a worthy stab at high drama in the comedy of life.

Hurt does not disappoint in any scene, leaving enough arch of the brow and lilt of the voice to make him Machiavellian. The 1997 film tried to portray them as an intellectual’s odd couple in a comedy of manners worthy of E.M. Forster.

It is delicious viewing.


Dead Stars and Their Death Cars



Quoting Jack Paar:  “Here they are.”

Poor Jayne Mansfield was the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s. Her demise was more horrific than Marilyn. With less talent and better publicity, she gave Monroe a run as a matching sexpot.  But Jayne took the prize with her spectacular death.

Her ignominious end in a ugly car accident has become the stuff of legend, including a hideous photo in one of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood legend books. She was not decapitated, but lost the top of her head. Poor Jayne.

Cary Grant made movies with both Marilyn and Jayne. The movie with Marilyn was one of his best, and the movie with Jayne was one of his worst. That was Jayne’s luck.

Now she has been given posthumous attention in a movie about completely unrelated people after the death car started touring, like James Dean’s crumpled Porsche, the hinterlands.

That brings us to Jayne Mansfield’s Car, starring Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon, and Robert Patrick. It is not only low rent Tennessee Williams, but it may be pretzel-twisted Faulkner. Jayne is there for window dressing.

Written, produced, directed, and starring Billy Bob Thornton, the film tells the story of a patriarch (Duvall) whose wife ran off with an Englishman (Hurt) years before. At her death the Brit husband brings the body back to Alabama.

How does Jayne fit in? As in life and movies, she is used for a little sensation, titillation, and is cast aside in a short scene where the two old men visit a traveling show that featured her death car to have some small talk.

Poor Jayne. She deserves better.


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