High Noon [1952)

What’s the point?

Says the old lawman who refuses.

Disillusioned.

I hear you, old lawman.

What is the point?

No one here but me.

What did I do wrong?

I could have been perfect, but I wasn’t.

But we all have little High Noons.

Where we can run, or do the right thing.

There’s a lot more left to the night.

And though my heart is hurting, I have stood fast.

In my own little way.

Sure, I feel pathetic.

But in my own way, a hero.

There was an easier path for me tonight.

And last night too.

But tonight was so seductive.

Mind games.

Of right and wrong.

Here I sit.

With no one to talk to.

I’m really not sure what’s happening.

I feel like Gary Cooper at the table with the bullets.

Just me and the bullets.

I have tried really hard.

Maybe not hard enough.

But I can look back and have pride in some of what I’ve done.

When I mess up, I try to rectify the situation.

And so on and so forth…into infinity.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s strings outline the ticking clock.

What’s the point?

Sure, Grace Kelly looks nice…but a little young.

She doesn’t have that same allure she would have later.

But she does the right thing too.

In the end.

We can despise her, but when the guns start firing, she makes up for it all.

Gary Cooper.

On his wedding day.

Kind of an MS-13 trip.

When we see Lee Van Cleef at the very beginning.

And we realize he’s way down the credits.

It’s then that we know this is gonna be good.

Do the right thing.

You might sense Trump here.

Good.

Gets really complex.

At “high noon”, Kane (Cooper) will be either dead or single.

Which is why he has to dig deep.

What is it that makes him stay?

Perhaps the same thing which makes Kelly eventually turn back?

Katy Jurado is good here.

Married to Ernest Borgnine for four years.

This film is a big metaphor.

No one does a damn thing.

Because it’s too hard.

Lloyd Bridges definitely picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.

Bridges plays the quid pro quo sack of shit that tries to unnerve Gary Cooper.

Hell, Harry Morgan is even in this!

You know, Colonel Potter from MASH!

But it’s pretty much just up to Gary Cooper.

Cooper’s mannerisms would later be carried on by Kevin Costner (to name just one).

But here Cooper was all alone.

Sweating.

Sweat as a motif.

Supposed to be in New Mexico.

Would you have the courage to write a will just before your judgement hour?

That’s a lot of temerity.

Maybe this film really revolves around the uncredited role by Jack Elam.

I don’t know.

But this is a film not to be missed!!!

 

-PD

Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo [1966)

This movie’s reputation does not precede it in one key sense.  Namely, this is a bizarre film.  Of all the far out stuff I watch it therefore takes something special for me to proclaim such.  Maybe, if we are well-informed, we expect weird when we sit down to view Holy Mountain.  With The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly we probably just expect another Spaghetti Western.

Not only does the film under review perhaps epitomize the genre, but it also sets itself apart with a story which must be seen to be truly appreciated.  I will, of course, try to avoid spoiling the drama by giving away too much.

It will suffice to discuss a few general points.  Why do I say this film is bizarre?  We can start with the title(s).  If we translate directly, we would get The Good, The Ugly, The Bad.  Not quite an arresting turn-of-phrase.  Therefore, we ponder the usual translation:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

There are several important concepts wrapped up in this title alone.  First, the direct translation and the “axiomatic” translation (respectively) transpose the word order.  If we were thoughtless, we would ignore this minor detail.  But since this film relies so heavily on a strange (subversion of?) moralizing, we cannot pass over even this aspect.

The literal translation would (literally) have us place “ugly” somewhere between good and bad (or good and evil if we are feeling particularly Nietzschean).

For those of us who root for the underdog (myself included), we might start off rooting for “ugly” (or “the ugly one”).

In the axiomatic translation, “ugly” is an afterthought (so to speak).  It is last in order.

I’m not sure if the Sermon on the Mount was in the back of the minds of the producers of the film (wow…), but we wonder whether the first will be last and the last will be first.

One thing is certain:  the greyscale of life is fully on display in this Technicolor teaching piece.  What is weird (bizarre) is the lesson being taught.  It is horribly (gloriously?) muddied.

The good is not good.  The ugly is also bad (above and beyond ugly).  The bad is, well, bad…

But if bad is only bad in relation to good (Hegel?), then the bad isn’t so bad…

In other words, it doesn’t take a whole hell of a lot to be good in this world.

And so…presented with this trio of characters, we are unsure who will “win”…indeed, has anyone really excelled in their typecast?

I should mention that, in my opinion, ugly is not so ugly.  All three of these mugs are a little rough around the edges.

In fact, the first face we see in the movie is the one we might assume to be Ugly.  He is not.  The real Ugly is merely not-traditionally-handsome (I suppose).  We should also consider the mannerist interpretation:  an ugly manner vs. a refined sensibility.  It could be argued that Bad (here) is much more refined (though he tortures Ugly…literally).  Ah, but NOT literally.  Rather, he has someone do it for him.  Now, isn’t that the height of refinement???

I will give away one thing.  Good is really Good at least once in this film.  A dying soldier…bleeding to death…and Good gives him his coat.  But not only that.  No.  Good gives him a few puffs on a cigar (which, as it turns out, helps him transition more peacefully to the next world).  It is the most touching moment of the film.  To be sure, this is not a Hallmark movie.  It’s a rough, win-at-all-costs affair.  A bit like real life.

And who is the real STAR of this film?  As fate would have it, the most interesting and entertaining character is Ugly (Eli Wallach).  Eastwood is great as always.  Lee Van Cleef is great.  But Wallach is beyond great!  He’s disgusting.  He’s hilarious.  He’s endearing.  He’s vicious.  He’s cruel.  He’s greedy.  He’s human.

Sergio Leone once again outdid himself.  Greed may have never been portrayed in all of its dizzying rush better than when Wallach goes sprinting with joy and anticipation in search of a grave (a long story…).  Morricone’s music is at least another order of magnitude better here than in his previous collaboration with Leone and Eastwood.

This is a damn good film.  Happy viewing!

-PD

Per qualche dollaro in piu [1965)

My oh my.  How time does fly.

If you don’t write, you lose your touch.

And anyway, we lose our nerve.

Nerve.  This film is all about nerve.

This was the second collaboration between Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood.

This time, another strong element was added:  Lee Van Cleef.

The name may not sound familiar, but if you see this film you will never forget this iconic actor.

In truth, this picture is very similar to the first Leone/Eastwood collaboration.

Most of the novelty here can be found in the director having a third variable (Van Cleef) with which to work.

Gian Maria Volonté is back, but he’s not the same villain he was last time.  He is and he isn’t.

Same for Eastwood.  The same, but different.

Leone, though, had grown as a filmmaker.  Maybe not by leaps and bounds, but there are flashes of brilliance which catch the desert sun differently here than in A Fistful of Dollars.

And why do I insist on the Italian title?  Because this really is a sophisticated Western.

In other words, it is foreign to the mainstream of English language movies.

Though the genre is American, the craft is distinctly European.

Klaus Kinski has a relatively minor role in this film as a hunchback.

Really, I would advise starting with A Fistful of Dollars and then moving on to this film.

This one is really for those who couldn’t get enough the first time around.

I count myself among those.

In other words, this film does not necessarily “stand alone” very well unless you have the experience of A Fistful of Dollars under your belt.

I should really mention Ennio Morricone.  He is, without doubt, one of the greatest film composers to ever live.  Witness, for instance, his deft compositional touch as he weaves the film score around the sound of a musical pocket watch which is chiming during a tense standoff.  There is a real magic–a synergy between Morricone and Leone.

Though I could dissect this movie as a precursor to the Reaper vs. Predator drones, I’ll leave that for another time.  Though I could let the title, For a Few Dollars More, lead me into a diatribe about the Greek debt crisis and the venal German/IMF response, I shall leave that for other political film critics reviewing Spaghetti Westerns this week.

What we have here is a movie.  I’m tired.  I don’t want a war.

-PD