Thursday, May 26, 2011

FATAL PULSE (1988) - the movie where a chick gets murdered with a LP...that should be all the convincing you need

Some slasher movie villains just care a little more than others. Where as your typical Jason types just want to dispatch their victims as quickly as possible with whatever’s at hand, the killer in
Fatal Pulse respects the audience enough to tear off a girl’s shirt beforehand, sticking her breasts into the camera before offing her in some elaborately stupid way.

Take an innocent young sorority girl, attending college to better herself, as opposed to using it as an opportunity to lapse into a beer bong coma on her parent’s dime. Her sorority sister is murdered, with others soon to follow, and this drives this sweet girl into a deep, neurotic depression. A dynamic young dreamer is resigned to weeping while stroking her cat, and occasionally engaging in some amateur Flashdance-trocity. She decides to go out jogging to feel better, kissing her pussy with one final goodbye before quickly being accosted on a dark, lonely sidewalk.

Most killers would quickly slit her throat and get on with their daily routine, at least sparing her the indignities of further suffering. Not this guy. Like a snuff torture MacGyver, he rigs up some electrocution bondage contraption out of a metal bed frame, egg timer, and some chicken wire. Poor Cassie is strapped in and zapped until her gums bleed, and eventually, her precious little heart caves in under all that voltage. While she's being electrocuted, he cuts open her shirt with a pair of rusty scissors, a stream of tears glistening off her supple mammaries. By 1988, the slasher was in its death throes, and this was the sort of innovation that was needed to lure the few cough syrup junkies that were still awaiting some more hack n’ slash cinema (via VHS technology). After all, America is built on innovation.

Only one other killing doesn’t fit this formulaic combination of mammary goodness and brutal homicide, in which the rock aerobic girl is tricked by the killer into showing up for a band audition. She plans on becoming a superstar, but instead has her throat slit by a record (a vinyl record, not some Guinness book shit). This is a rather alarming revelation. I’ll make sure to be careful from now on when pulling out my
Falco’s Greatest Hits LP.

The “drama” of the story centers on Jeff, our comatose lead and unfairly pegged suspect. He’s dating sorority blonde Carol, but they’re having relationship issues, what with her being super hot and him being a lifeless putz. Not to mention, loose cannon Brad, he of the leather jacket and Flock of Seagulls mullet, is trying to break them up and pin the murders on Jeff. If that isn’t enough turmoil, all of Carol’s sorority sisters are being murdered, and this is contributing to her stress level (not to where she’d move out though). However, things start to become rectified via one of those bike riding love montages, featuring the smash hit “Give Love a Brand New Start”. Jeff seals the deal with a kiss (actually he fucks her), leaving a poem and an origami dove behind the next morning (it’s one of those sensitivity deals).

Thankfully, Jeff has a friendly shoulder to lean on in the form of his wacky stoner buddy, who is accompanied by cartoon noises and carries a bong at all times. Not only that, his uniform seems to consist of the wackiest shit he could find at the Salvation Army. He combines a Thor hat with a blue bandana, and also wears a Superman snow cap with bermuda shorts, and not to mention those wacky window shade glasses that people only wore in the 80’s (I don’t think they actually blocked out the sun, so they probably just gave you the illusion that the entire world is a window you’re peeping into). This is later replaced by a red bandana, backwards hat, and a T-shirt that proclaims “what it is”, which I guess is some kind of stoner retard koan. Still later, he morphs into some dime store superhero named “Captain Marvelous”, not so much to stop the killer and save the day, but to further sodomize the viewer’s brain into cheez whiz. This descension into noodle disarray is no doubt anchored by the synth-funk holocaust score.

Fucking hipsters.

So, is Vietnam vet Joe Estevez the killer? Or, just a red herring caretaker that likes to peep into sorority windows while twitching profusely? Jeff thinks the former, and even uses Carol as sexy time bait to try and trick Estevez into stabbing her, thereby proving his guilt. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the killer turns out to be a character that has nothing to do with anything, namely the college professor that would occasionally pop in and play chess for no reason. After a rather lackluster final girl showdown between Carol and the prof, Estevez pops in and becomes the hero, reestablishing his status as an all-time top three Estevez (Charlie and Martin Sheen don’t count, of course). I think the lesson here is that using little gook boys as target practice may be a tad shady when viewed through the prism of foreign policy, but its gravest consequences are the side effects it incurs. Former gook pluggers end up suffering through bouts of sweaty mumbling and suspicious twitching, only to find psychological cleansing through an act of goodwill (or, in some cases, they just shoot up a department store).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.3

The Black Whip (1956)

Supposedly co-written by Sam Peckinpah (although he isn't credited on IMDB, and you wouldn’t know it just watching the movie anyway), this concerns a gang, including the titular whipper, who plan on kidnapping the governor. They are surprisingly aided by an apparent dance hall girl in disguise, who breaks one of them out of prison. The local "dance hall girls/maybe hookers" (including Angie Dickinson and Coleen Gray) are resultingly exiled from the town by the sheriff, only to be accosted by the gang, eventually leading to a big shoot out. Excellent widescreen framing subtly pits the women against each other.

Very good anamorphic 2.35:1 B&W transfer. Never released on home video. Director Charles Marquis Warren also directed Copper Sky (1957), also with Coleen Gray, which is available on Netflix instant, but is unfortunately panned and scanned from 2.35:1.

Coleen Gray also starred in several other rare westerns on Netflix instant:

The Vanquished (1953) - never released on home video
The Twinkle in God's Eye (1955) - only released on VHS, starring Mickey Rooney
The Wild Dakotas (1956) - never released on home video
Frontier Gambler (1956) - never released on home video

Cole Younger, Gunfighter (1958)

Frank Lovejoy, in his final film, plays Cole Younger. P&S from 2.35:1, never released on home video

Denver and the Rio Grande (1952)

Shady railroad workers (led by bearded slimebag Sterling Hayden) try to undermine legitimate workers in the race to build and own precious railway during the western expansion. Sterling is a lot of fun, and there are some snappy fist fights mixed with clunky dialogue. The film is mostly known for the head on collision between two real trains, a truly awesome stunt that seems a bit out of place (not to mention expensive) for a 50’s B-western, but hey. For Sterling Hayden completists or train crash fetishists.

Only released on VHS, the color transfer is very good, except for the scratches and speckles that permeate the print.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

YOUNG GUNS II (1990) - the legend of Billy the Kid; his mullet-trocities and gunslinging juvenilia

Here's Bon Jovi's fake cowboy ballad that plays over the end credits, certainly one of the highlights of the film. Perhaps that's a bad omen.

“This is the west, sir. When the legend become fact, print the legend.”

This quote from John Ford’s
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has been said to reflect Ford’s own feelings on the western genre. It's a wise and succinct way of pointing out his own complicity in molding America's history. Notice how nowhere John Ford is quoted as saying “make sure the legend includes a mulleted Emilio Estevez”, and for good god damn reason. The Sheen/Estevez clan defines the modern era, whether through their party ready follicles or nonsensical coke brain verbal spew. This, alas, is out of step with the stories of the American west.

Hair historians have noted that Emilio’s mullet works perfectly within the framework of the underrated
National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, as it functions as a parody of Mel Gibson’s mullet from Lethal Weapon. While the layman might think these two mullets are interchangeable, the true follicle connoisseur recognizes that Emilio’s overblown goofball mullet sharply contrasts with Gibson’s overblown serious mullet, with the latter properly dramatizing the character of Martin Riggs. Call Gibson whatever you may, whether a racist, a sexist, or "Captain Christbeater", he works a mullet like nobody's business.

Young Guns II is another one of the approximately 80 gazillion Billy the Kid movies. He was a legend of his time, so these films end up being a series of endless variations on a legend. Here the legend is given a bit of a modern (circa 1990) tweak, in the sense that Billy the Kid is presented as a product of celebrity. He murders not out of psychopathic rage, but because his outlaw ways are celebrated and rewarded in a sense. His catch phrase "I'll make you famous" shows us how he values celebrity over human life, and also conveniently doubles as a catch phrase (natch), which is needed to sell the movie to sitcom leveled America. However, he comes across as a seven year old boy that was never told that murder is wrong, and instead is constantly told how awesome he is. If you imagine that this dynamic would produce a character who's loathsome and extremely annoying, you would be right. The movie wants us to sympathise with this version of Billy the Kid as an ultra cool rebel type, yet get angry about how the media can create human monsters that commit evil to gain notoriety. In other words, they want us to love the player and hate the game. I hated both.

Obviously a sequel to
Young Guns (which I haven't seen, and this might invalidate the entire review), it also symbolically functions as a prequel of sorts to the Mighty Ducks franchise, a transitional piece between Emilio’s days as an 80’s rebel of sorts (Repo Man, Wisdom, etc.) to everyone’s favorite mulleted schlub of the 90’s. Unfortunately, as hinted at earlier, this cuts into the film’s effectiveness as a period piece. I guess the short lived Young Guns franchise was an attempt to revive interest in the western genre by appealing to youths at the time, but the casting of Emilio and Christian Slater proves disastrous in this regard, as they simply resort to their typical schtick. You might be able to argue something similar for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a "postmodern" variation on the western genre that intentionally features two wise cracking Hollywood stars in legendary outlaw roles. However, Young Guns II seems to be attempting to be more realistic and conventional, where as Butch Cassidy is tonally breezy and attempts to comment on the western genre. Newman and Redford come across as bemused and charismatic visitors to the cinematic western, where as Slater and Estevez are annoying party crashers lost in a sea of genre confusion.

Curiously, the movie begins and ends with a wraparound where an elderly man named "Brushy" Bill Roberts is claiming to be Billy the Kid, that he was never actually killed by Pat Garrett (played here by William Petersen in the only truly interesting and nondistracting performance). If you watched
Unsolved Mysteries as much as I did, you’d know that this was based on a real case. However, it seems to have since been dismissed by most historians. On paper, this sounds like it could work as a another layer showing how legends are reshaped when new information comes to light. Instead, it plays as a Titanic-esque framing device (which extends throughout the film with intrusive and terrible voice over) where Emilio, in maybe the worst old age performance in movie history, reminisces about the good old days where people thought he was awesome for shooting people. Hey old timer...hurry up and die. Thank you.

Despite my ranting, I can't completely discount any movie that features Jenny Wright as a spunky whorehouse madam. Her performance is foot stompingly loud, possibly a fiery extension of her glorious red hair. How fiery?

That fiery, people. Perhaps she's also an incongruous fit within the wild west, but she makes up for it by getting on a horse naked and riding off, for no discernible reason (I mean the naked part). Not that I really require a reason, of course.

So, in closing, if you're a fake cowboy, embrace it. Don't try to pass yourself off as a real one. One person that truly understands this is Jon Bon Jovi, who sings of "steel horses" and cowboy metaphors while never claiming he actually did any of this shit, unlike your Toby Keith asshole types who sing about gunslinging and wrestling bulls. Bringing it back to the hair discussion, check out the video for "Wanted Dead or Alive" and notice the teased Jersey chick hair on prominent display. Of course I'm talking about the band members, who understand that rocking bad 80's hair needs to be done within the appropriate era...or never. Either one.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.2

Those Redheads From Seattle (1953)

Sort of The Harvey Girls on the cheap, this has Agnes Moorehead as the mother of four daughters who are forced to survive without a father figure amidst the Yukon gold rush. They sing and dance their troubles away, and the youngest girl is even an aspiring burlesque dancer (!), easily the most wholesome, cutie pie stripper in all of moviedom (I know, I know, burlesque dancers aren’t strippers…I apologize). The whole thing is pleasant and adorable, with some pretty decent songs and not much more.

A very good technicolor transfer that is a little limited by the fact that it was originally shot for 3D (!). Of course, this is the 2D version. Never released on home video. Check it out if you really liked The Harvey Girls, or enjoy technicolor fluff, or have a (big) thing for redheads, or you have a thing for ultra wholesome burlesque dancers. If you have a thing for all four, I recommend staying away, as viewing this film may cause your prostate/ovaries to implode from within.

Town Tamer (1965)

Dana Andrews plays a badass marshal out to simultaneously “tame a town” (drive out the hooligans) and get revenge on a gang leader who killed his wife. Only mayor Lon Chaney Jr. is on his side, as even the local judge seems to want to maintain this current level of lawlessness (more business for him I guess). Andrews, 56 or so at the time, is pretty laughable in the role (amusingly, his stunt double looks even older than the already too old Andrews), sort of making this the A View to a Kill of the “town tamer” genre. The caked on makeup certainly doesn’t help matters. Few male actors (if any) were caked in more makeup during color films of the era. Maybe these makeup departments were trying to cover up some skin disease. Look no further than Hot Rods to Hell, where Dana flirts with drag queen territory. Having said that, this is vaguely entertaining in it’s goofiness, as our geriatric hero is attacked by some bandit cronie every other scene, quickly dispatching of them. My favorite scene is when Andrews saunters into a hotel when he’s attacked by Deforest Kelley, nonchalantly beating the shit out of him before calmly requesting a room for the night.

Directed by Lesley Selander, and never released on home video. The transfer is unfortunately panned and scanned from 2.35:1. However, the seemingly artless compositions here don’t seem too destroyed, but admittedly, it’s tough to tell.

Arizona Bushwhackers (1968)

Howard Keel is a confederate who’s forced to join the union army, and then becomes sheriff of a lawless town, trying to uncover the person responsible for selling arms to the Apaches. Interminable geriatric foolishness from producer A.C. Lyles, responsible for a series of these “over the hill” westerns in the 60’s (including Town Tamer). There's at least a vaguely entertaining final shoot out with the Apaches, where a wave of rifle toting Indians are no match for a couple of geezers standing still in full view. Prolific western director Lesley Selander’s final film.

Previously released just on VHS, this is horribly panned and scanned from 2.35:1, complete with constant jerky scans that will give you a headache.

More rare “over the hill” westerns produced by A.C. Lyles for Paramount on Netflix instant watch:

Apache Uprising (1965, P&S from 2.35:1, previously released on VHS)
Fort Utah (1967, never released on home video, P&S from 2.35:1, also directed by Lesley Selander)
Stage to Thunder Rock (1964, never released on home video, P&S from 2.35:1)
Young Fury (1965, never released on home video, P&S from 2.35:1)
Black Spurs (1965, never released on home video, P&S from 2.35:1)
Waco (1966, never released on home video, P&S from 2.35:1)
Hostile Guns (1967, previously released on VHS, P&S from 2.35:1)
Buckskin (1968, previously released on VHS, 1.33:1 transfer looks very good and, at worst, may only be slightly cropped)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981) - kids are assholes, as they have yet to learn what it means to be human

If your gonna take a serious stab at making a killer brat movie, it helps to have a stellar cast: Susan Strasberg, Jose Ferrer (admittedly “cashing el senor paycheck“, but hey), Julie Brown (from MTV, but not "downtown" Julie Brown, i.e. not "urban”; read: honkey), and of course, Lori Lethin, who actually starred in three slasher type movies (this, The Prey, and the spoofy slasher Return to Horror High), a rare feat indeed. Usually after starring in two slashers (or one for that matter), actresses can no longer find work in the industry and end up retiring and starting a family, or hanging themselves, or getting into porn (or god forbid all three).

The prologue shows three kids being born at the hospital during a lunar eclipse, which somehow means they will all grow up to become pint-sized homicidal assholes. I’d like to expound further, but I shit the bed in astrology class. Flash forward to present day, and we have the ubiquitous couple making out, with the not-so-ubiquitous temerity to head to the cemetery and start fucking in a grave. I’m pretty sure they’re toast. At the scene of the crime, the local pork chop patrol finds a jump rope that was used to hang the girl. Naturally, they conclude that a young child was involved in this vicious endeavor, so lieutenant pork sandwich visits the local elementary school and asks the kids if anyone happened to commit double homicide with a skipping rope. Three particularly evil looking tykes glance at each other, as if to say “Holy shit! The fuzz is on to us!" One of these tykes happens to be the daughter of the cop, which may appear to be ironic had I not repeatedly fallen asleep in literature class.

If potentially being a munchkin murderer and the offspring of some bacon badger isn‘t unholy enough, the blonde girl charges the other two evil fucks to peep in on her older sister getting dressed (Julie Brown). She promptly appeases these perverts (and the audience) by doing a striptease in her bedroom to an appalling song that sounds like something Bob Seger might have recorded after having his testicles replaced with kumquats. The blonde moppet girl then tries to kill her cop dad by sticking a skateboard on some steps and letting him trip. When that doesn't work, her Aryan midget buddy whacks him in the back of the head with a baseball bat and simply drapes his body on the skateboard, making it look like an accident. We then get one of those god damn pretentious dead pig funerals with all that Jesus talk and what have you.

While the police and adults are baffled and/or retarded, the younger brother of Lori Lethin swiftly gets suspicious of these assholes. The evil ones catch on that he is catching on, and resultantly becomes a target of their munchkin malfeasance. They lock him in a fridge at the local junkyard at one point, but he ingeniously escapes.

Later, the psycho smurf with the glasses steals his parent’s gun and visits the home of his teacher (Susan Strasberg). He pulls the gun on her, and this upsets her to no end, leading her to sternly proclaim "if you bring that gun to school one more time, I will confiscate it!" He stands up for his right to bear arms by filling her with lead for no reason. Well, our munchkin hero confronts Mr. Glasses in the playground and pummels him. The damage would have been more severe, but Glasses was partially saved by those black pieces of rubber padding that look like puzzle pieces, whatever the hell those things are. The hero then heads to the junkyard, and his sister follows him. The kids try to run Lori over with a car, and the munchkin at the wheel is wearing a sheet with the eyeholes cut out, apparently attempting to pin the crime on the KKK. This infuriates Mr. Glasses to no end, so he grabs his trusty piece and roam the neighborhood, looking for potential victims, just because, you know…why not. Luckily, he comes across two naked teens getting it on in the back of a van, and promptly makes them pay for not wearing protection (that would be Kevlar).

We finally get to the titular "bloody birthday", a combo party for the three maniacs (if you’ve been paying attention, you would remember that it’s revealed in the prologue that they were born on the same day…stoner). Glasses gets the bright idea to put ant poison in the birthday cake, which seems like a rather underwhelming move for a guy that’s built up the resume he has up to this point. He is thwarted by our plucky heroine amidst some gratuitous background Jose Ferrer paycheck cashing. Julie Brown finds her sister’s collection of newspaper clippings of the threesome’s crimes and shows this to mommy, and, for her trouble, gets the old arrow through the eyeball trick. There is of course a funeral for JB, and thankfully, it is decidedly less pretentious than the first funeral. The presence of Michael Dudikoff (star of a bunch of horseshit ninja movies) as a mourning extra is indicative of this.

The kids then unsuccessfully attempt to kill Louise and her brother via bow and arrow, but just end up impaling a Van Halen poster instead (thankfully pre-Hagar). Later, Julie’s mother and her fraulein smurfette daughter run away, this after the other two murderers are presumably brought to justice (i.e. 4 years in juvie). The movie ends with the revelation that the girl is still a murderous little cretin, leaving the viewer to ponder an important lesson (apart from the obvious “kids are usually assholes”): don’t ever get knocked up nine months before a lunar eclipse, unless you have one of those awesome after morning pill, in which case, have at it.

my one year anniversary, or time has a funny way of blurring nonsense together

Well, it was one year ago that I decided to start this blog. I had written on slasher films and 80's trash, but didn't know what to do with this stuff. Forever the idiot, I think I thought that movie blogging was only for recent news, and probably cost money. However, I investigated and saw how easy it was to start a blog and, having just seen Kick-Ass, decided to spew henceforth.

I initially wanted to call the blog "Indoor Bullstuff" (a Joe Bob Briggs reference; look it up folks), but another blog already had that URL ("Thrivin' at the Drive-In"), so I settled on "Movie Bullstuff". I soon changed it to "Cinema Gonzo", which I thought was more appropriate, as I wasn't just reviewing B-movies. It's also a tribute to a personal hero of mine, Hunter S. Thompson.

Well, after almost 40,000 page views and 160 odd posts, I'm still sane and alive, and will continue to word spew despite the governing laws of logic and taste. Expect many more reviews of 80's trash (spilling over into the early 90's) and slasher films (my forte, I guess), along with reviews of more "normal" movies (whatever tickles my fancy across the great cinematic spectrum). It's sort of a 50/50 split, art and trash, blah blah.

For the record, I've had a picture of Suzy Putterman from Terror Vision (played by the esteemed Diane Franklin) on this blog in some form or another since day one. I'd like to think of her as the official mascot around these parts, an effervescent valley girl that incorporates the musical aesthetics of the day (whether new wave, punk, or metal) into a glorious cacophony of color and form that sends a laser shot directly into the crotch. If you could enter into my noggin, it would all make perfect sense. Also, she fucking rocks.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

ALIEN OUTLAW (1985) - if you're travelling light years just to shoot some rednecks in the woods, perhaps you need a hobby

Here's the awesome poster. Righteous! Dude...totally sold.

We all know movie aliens can be complete assholes. Despite the pretense of a higher intelligence, they usually come to earth just to kill humans. Typically, they'll have some motive in mind, whether harvesting their organs to create fossil fuels, or to prevent us from using nuclear weapons and ruining the galaxy’s atmosphere (editor’s note: writer is not a cosmologist). However, there are a few cinematic aliens that can’t even bother with a motive, and show up to earth and start killing humans just for personal entertainment. The most famous example would be the alien in Predator, and there’s also the alien from the Predator precursor Without Warning. Lost to time and taste in the “aliens being assholes for no reason” genre is Alien Outlaw, a backyard sci-fi/horror 80’s opus recalling the likes of Fred Olen Ray, but shittier, cheaper, and more nonsensical. Let that sink a little bit…a poor man’s Fred Olen Ray. Some might quip that a poor man’s Fred Olen Ray would mean that we are left with nothing but a blank screen. Sadly, I am not one of those people.

Usually, an asshole movie alien will simply use their superior technology to eradicate humans, whether ray gun or a ham radio that makes bubbles (see Robot Monster). However, with particularly low budget schlocky killer alien movies, they can’t afford amazing laser effects or ham radios, or maybe they want to appease the bloodlust of the gluesniffers that rent these movies on VHS, so they have the alien rip apart or claw it's human victims to death instead. However, Alien Outlaw is the one killer alien flick to avoid these two attack plans, instead opting to have the aliens use some six shooters they conveniently happened upon, plugging any random victims who happen upon the woods where they dwell (with some inexplicable alien rape thrown in to appease viewers who also inhale paint thinner). While original, this is also extremely unexciting (not including the rape), as the aliens stalk their prey, only to end up shooting them. Imagine if Jason Voorhees ran around the woods shooting teenagers. Pretty boring if you ask me (writer’s note: those who can’t write edit).

Well, these guns are an attempt to add some western flavor to the backyard sci-fi/horror film, along with some horseback riding (one of the aliens even rides a horse at one point) and appearances from 40’s B western stars Sunset Carson and Lash LaRue (who looks suspiciously here like the grandpa from
Silent Night, Deadly Night). The most important forced-in western element is our heroine Jesse Jamison, sort of an Annie Oakley with her ass hanging out.

She ends up besting the final alien in a western duel, which may seem like a moment of female empowerment, but, keep in mind, aliens don’t know shit about guns and dueling, so the alien was probably an easy target. Either way, Jesse is the sole reason to stay awake through 90 minutes of this foolishness, her sleek gams perpetually poised to thrust as she remains ready to cock her weapon. There are also some forced-in tits presumably to keep the audience awake (including some post-alien rape tits, if that counts). Did I mention the movie was 90 minutes long? A little tip for filmmakers: if you’re gonna go over 70 minutes, have a fucking plot. Thanks.

This is meant to distract us from prolonged backyard alien boredom. Of course, I'm referring to her hair.

P.S. There are other western/sci-fi B-movie hybrids out there, the best one probably being Oblivion (1994).

P.P.S. Alien Outlaw is not to be confused with the Galactic Cowboys, one of the most underrated bands ever.

P.P.P.S. Director Phil Smoot was also responsible for the much better The Dark Power (still crap, but much better), which has a similar flavor to Alien Outlaw, but consists of a group of young nubiles in a typical "spam in a cabin" plot. They are attacked by Native American zombies (must be one of those Indian burial ground deals), and Lash LaRue pops in to save the day with his trademark whip. Here's the trailer. Tom Bob says check it out...the trailer I mean.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.1

It has been said by many a wise man that a country's history is best traced through how the country's fables and legends of the past are presented through it's popular entertainments (actually I may have just made that up, just now). Running with that credo, I will be exploring America's history through previously rare westerns that are available to view on
Netflix Instant Watch (mostly B-movies from the 40's through the early 60's). I expect to fail horribly in my quest, but this is mostly irrelevant, as it is the journey that is important, not the destination. A bit of an eastern approach to the western genre, if you will.

For the record, I am only considering westerns that have never been released on DVD, so no
High Noon or The Searchers or An American Tail - Fievel Goes West or anything like that. Also, some of these films are available as part of a studio's "burn on demand" DVD-R program, but I don't include those in the "released on DVD" category, if for no better reason than that I make the rules around here. I will also mention the transfer (these things are hit and miss in this department) and the film's home video availability, if any (keep in mind that I'm always referring to U.S. home video).

P.S. This will probably bore the pants off of most of you, but consider the boredom a welcome respite from the nonstop excitement around here. As far as I'm concerned, as long as the pants come off I'm a happy guy.

Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (1957)

Sort of “
The Man From Laramie meets We’re No Angels”, this has Randolph Scott, James Garner, and Gordon Jones as Cavalry men who are forced to go undercover as Quakers to find the man responsible for the death of Scott’s brother. This brings them to the town of Medicine Bend, which is run by corrupt businessmen who, in effect, control the town through underhanded business related chicanery (I guess power is money and vice versa). On paper, this may sound like a goofball western farce, which is normally a recipe for unfunny hokum, but I found the script to be sly and satirical, with the overt comedic moments nicely interwoven (especially Randolph’s many quips). The three heroes maneuver through this mini-society, switching identities between men of law, men of religion, and kind vigilantes seeking justice, while characters around them (including Angie Dickinson in an early role) define the trio by their outward appearance.

The B & W transfer is very good, and the movie was never released on home video. This one
doesn’t seem to have much of a reputation, but Tom Bob says check it out.

Alias Billy the Kid (1946)

Sunset Carson goes undercover, attempting to infiltrate a gang of bandits headed by Peggy Stewart. She’s less a
villain than a badass female Robin Hood of sorts, and ends up teaming up with tall mumbler Sunset, completely overshadowing him with tough quips and Johnny Guitar-esque danger postures. See it for Peggy if you see it at all. Don’t see it for Billy the Kid, since he’s nowhere to be found.

Pretty decent video transfer, but it’s got a scratchy soundtrack that sounds like it was ripped from an LP that was being viciously humped by a wayward cat at the time. Perhaps I’m
exaggerating. Previously only available on VHS.

Other rare Sunset Carson westerns on Instant Watch:

Code of the Prairie (1944, only released on VHS, also with Peggy Stewart)
Call of the Rockies (1944, only released on VHS)
Sheriff of Cimarron (1945, only released on VHS)
Oregon Trail (1945, also with Peggy, never released on home video)
Rough Riders of Cheyenne (1945, Peggy too, only released on VHS)
Rio Grande Raiders (1946, never released on home video)
El Paso Kid (1946, only released on VHS)
Red River Renegades (1946, + Peg, never released on home video)

Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958)

A group of Cavalry men and some cowboys are
separately attacked by Apaches, and they end up teaming, trying to make it out of Indian territory with their scalps intact. It turns out that the Apaches are trying to steal their cache of rifles, hoping to upgrade their weaponry to make killing white men easier, I guess. Clint Eastwood’s first major role in a western, he does manage to show off some of that patented charisma that could be seen in full force in just a few years with A Fistful of Dollars. However, the movie seems to mostly consist of a lot of poorly acted yelling between the two groups amongst a cheap western valley set, sort of coming across as a “hey, we’re surrounded by asshole Indians, what do we do?” high school play with Clint awkwardly inserted. Speaking of which, Eastwood declared that the movie was “the worst western ever made”. Close, but not quite. Apparently he hasn’t seen Paint Your Wagon (oh wait…).

A VHS quality transfer that, appropriately, was only previously released on VHS, and brutality panned and scanned from 2.35:1.
Occasionally a movie P&S from 2.35:1 down to 1.33:1 will remain watchable, but this is not one of those occasions. Also, the movie sucks, which doesn't help matters, but, then again, we're only getting half the picture, so maybe the missing half is a work of genius. Probably not.

In tribute to Clint, here a clip of Sledge Hammer! where they parody Magnum Force. A bit of a stretch maybe, but I work in my Sledge Hammer! clips wherever I can.