Apr 082014
THE RETURN OF WILD BILL is another adventure for "that easy-going stick of dynamite", as one of the characters refers to Wild Bill Saunders, played by Wild Bill Elliott. No matter what the name, Elliott's characters were mostly the same, affable good guys who liked to proclaim, "I'm a peaceable man," just before beating the crap out of some bad guy. In this one, he's summoned home to discover
Apr 012014
(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on July 7, 2007.) BANDIDAS isn’t your typical Western, although it has some of the traditional elements of one. You’ve got financiers and railroad tycoons plotting to steal land from poor farmers. You’ve got a pair of noble outlaws who fight back by becoming bank robbers, like Frank and Jesse James. You’ve got an arch-villain (Dwight
Mar 112014
FIRECREEK is another of those James Stewart Westerns I somehow never saw. That's even more surprising when you consider that Henry Fonda, another favorite, is also in it. Stewart plays a farmer who is also the part-time sheriff of the little town of Firecreek. Fonda is the leader of a group of hired guns who stop over in the town on their way from one range war to another. Their horses need
Feb 252014
THE FAR COUNTRY is another Western collaboration between star James Stewart and director Anthony Mann, and it's a good one. Stewart, playing the same sort of hardboiled character that he does in his other films for Mann, is a cowboy taking a herd of cattle to Alaska for the Klondike gold rush. He runs into all sorts of trouble along the way, most notably a corrupt lawman played by John
Feb 112014
I've mentioned before that I appreciate Richard Widmark as an actor more now than I did when I was a kid. He's the star of another of those Westerns that I missed somehow, THE LAST WAGON, and does a fine job in a pretty hardboiled role. He plays an outlaw known as Comanche Todd, so called because he was raised by the Comanche after he was the only survivor from a massacre. As THE LAST WAGON
Feb 042014
I have a vague memory of watching this movie on TV at my sister's house around 1970, but that's all I remembered about it. So when we saw it recently it was almost like watching one I hadn't seen before. BEND OF THE RIVER was an early collaboration between James Stewart and director Anthony Mann, and it's a strong entry in the series of Westerns they did together. Stewart plays a tough but
Jan 282014
I'd never heard of AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS until it popped up on a Netflix recommendation. I'm not surprised that it didn't get much attention when it was released. It's not really designed to be a big box-office blockbuster. But that doesn't mean it isn't a pretty good film. This movie is pure redneck noir, set in Texas during what appears to be the 1970s, although the time is never
Jan 212014

Once again I'm stretching the definition of "overlooked" to include a movie that many of you surely have seen already. Some of you probably saw it when it came out. I remember watching previews for it at the Eagle Drive-In, a quarter of a mile up the road from where I lived. But I never watched it until now.

Now, I'm no Edgar Allen Poe expert. Not even close. But it seems to me that the screenplay for THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (which was written by Richard Matheson) borrows elements from several other Poe stories as well as the one from which it gets its title. Englishman Francis Barnard shows up at the Spanish castle of Don Nicholas Molina, who was married to Barnard's late sister. The sister died mysteriously, and Barnard wants to get to the truth, which proves to be a lot more complicated than it appears at first because Matheson keeps throwing in flashbacks and plot twists which culminate in a suspenseful sequence involving the infamous torture device.

It's a smart little movie, creepy for the most part and grisly when it needs to be, and very briskly directed at 80 minutes by Roger Corman. Despite the budget limitations of being an American International Production, it looks good, with a mixture of stark shadows and bright colors. A movie like this really was made to be seen on a drive-in screen. I could almost hear a mosquito buzzing in my ear as I watched it.

Nobody in the cast is very good except Vincent Price as Don Nicholas, but Price is wonderful. He really threw himself wholeheartedly into these parts. I think there are more of those AIP horror films I haven't seen. I'm going to have to look into that. But for now, if you somehow missed THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM like I did, you should give it a try.

Jan 142014
I'm not quite sure how I missed so many good Westerns over the years, but here's another of them. On my list of all-time favorite actors, James Stewart lands in third place, right behind John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart. In this one he plays Mace Bishop, a drifter whose brother Dee (Dean Martin) leads an outlaw gang. When Dee and his men are captured after a botched bank robbery and sentenced to be hanged, Mace knows he has to try to rescue Dee even though he doesn't approve of his brother's life of crime. He succeeds in doing so and then accompanies the gang as they flee into Mexico with a beautiful hostage (Raquel Welch) and are pursued by a doggedly determined sheriff (George Kennedy).

That's the plot of BANDOLERO! There aren't any real twists. It's just straight-ahead Western noir with plenty of action and an occasional moment of dark humor to relieve the tension. The real strength of this movie is its cast. I'd watch and enjoy Jimmy Stewart in anything. I just love to listen to him talk. I've always liked Dean Martin in Westerns, too, although I know some people don't. Kennedy is a great supporting actor, and he's not the only one. Andrew Prine does a good job as a young deputy. Will Geer, who usually played kindly old grandpas, is appropriately sinister as an outlaw in this one. Townspeople include Denver Pyle and the iconic Republic Pictures bad guy Roy Barcroft, and one of the members of the posse is Harry Carey Jr.

BANDOLERO! was directed by Andrew McLaglen, son of the great character actor Victor McLaglen. The younger McLaglen helmed a number of John Wayne's pictures in the Sixties and Seventies, and I've always found him to be a dependable, underrated director. His films are never flashy, there's no fancy camera work, but his storytelling is excellent. There are often interesting little bits of business going on in the background if you know to look for them, and his action sequences are top-notch (assisted on this movie by legendary stunt coordinator Hal Needham).

BANDOLERO! is very entertaining and certainly well worth watching. I'm glad I finally got around to it.

Jan 072014

I missed the comic book series on which this movie is based, and I didn't see the film version which came out several years ago until now. As I recall it didn't make much of a splash, which qualifies it as overlooked as far as I'm concerned because I thought it was pretty good.

As the movie opens, The Losers aren't really losers at all. They're an elite team of Special Forces operatives (I think; their official designation isn't really clear) about to take out a jungle fortress belonging to a drug overlord. But things go bad, they're double-crossed by their CIA handler, and everybody thinks they're dead.

Actually, though, they've escaped, and they want revenge on the man who betrayed them. They're contacted by a beautiful, mysterious woman whose agenda seems to coincide with theirs, and when she offers to hire them, they're willing to go along with it.

From there, lots of stuff Blows Up Real Good, there are numerous plot twists and more double-crosses, and over-the-top action scenes abound. THE LOSERS bears a definite resemblance to THE EXPENDABLES, although it's not as bloody, the plot is slightly more realistic, and there are no big names in the cast, just solid actors like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, and Chris Evans. The script also features a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor that had me laughing out loud a few times.

I was also pleased to see a mention in the credits of Andy Diggle, the creator and author of the comic book series, and the artist Jock, rather than the usual "Based on comics published by Vertigo/DC Comics" or some such. I'm always glad to see the actual creators get some credit, not just the corporation.

THE LOSERS is a pretty entertaining film. If you like action movies and haven't seen it yet, you might want to give a try.

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