Friday, November 4, 2011

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.13

Montana Belle (1952)

Jane Russell plays Belle Starr, who is about to be lynched, but is rescued by the Dalton gang (because she’s hot I guess), and the two Dalton brother argue over her for the rest of the movie while they team up to rob banks. The gang branches out by having Belle pretend to warm up to a wealthy saloon owner in order to bilk him out of his money. I guess they might as well use her hotness to their monetary advantage. Pretty lifeless and uninteresting, except for Jane Russell’s scowls and the occasional zinger. Directed by Allan Dwan, and Andy Devine provides comic relief.

Pretty decent color transfer. It’s in a turquoise-y two strip technicolor process (like Brimstone), but it looks like there were color problems with the original print, like one of the strips was faded, so that the color bleeds at times or goes way overboard into green or blue. Either way, it’s perfectly watchable, but a little strange looking. Previously available on VHS.

Run For Cover (1955)

James Cagney and a newly befriended young man named Davey are shooting at birds as a train is approaching. Two bank employees think the pair are bandits trying to rob the train, so they throw them the bag of money they are guarding, accepting defeat in in record time for a train robbery. But hey, they are insured out the wazoo. The pair are shot at and brought in as criminals, but the truth is quickly revealed. However, Davey is recovering from gunshot wounds, being tended to by Swedish farm daughter Viveca Lindfors. Cagney had a son that died at roughly the same age as Davey, so he wants to see him survive, and becomes a father figure to him. Viveca and Cagney fall in love as Davey recovers, so they become a defacto family unit, reminding me of a comparable family unit that develops in director Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (released the same year). Cagney eventually becomes sheriff of the town and always looks to do the right thing, and even makes Davey his deputy. However, Davey is not so keen on becoming the man Cagney wants him to be, and seems to resent being molded.

Lindfors and Cagney are both excellent individually, but their differing acting styles and difference in age make the romance a bit implausible. The setup is also pretty absurd, but perhaps intentionally so, considering Ray’s other films, and it seems to drag a bit in the middle. However, this is worthy as both a western and as a portrait of shifting dynamics within a makeshift family unit that is particular to Nicholas Ray.

The image is perfectly watchable, but it is cropped from about 1.85:1, and the colors are pretty dull. The movie was originally filmed in Vistavision, so the picture quality is a bit of a disappointment, considering what it could have been. It would probably look pretty fantastic in a properly restored print. I don’t think the movie was ever released on home video in the U.S..

Warpath (1951)

Edmond O’Brien hunts down and kills one of three men responsible for murdering his wife, but not before the man reveals in his dying gasp that the other two murderers are in the Cavalry. So, Edmond joins the Cavalry under Custer in order to track the other two men responsible for the death of his wife. So, in order to avenge a murder, he wants to go undercover and help mow down waves of Indians. I guess that makes sense. Anyway, this first act is wrapped up by minute eight in a 94 minute film, so what little mystery plot that exists is unmercifully stretched over the rest of the run time. Most of the movie is spent on Edmond’s several year career as a member of the Cavalry, despite it only being a ruse in order to get at his wife’s murderers. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but if it takes several years to prepare, it’s better just to order some take out and hope a meal of justice gets served on its own. Boy, these fortune cookie sayings just keep getting more and more complicated. Maybe I just wanna eat a goddamn cookie.

Very good technicolor transfer, although there does seem to be some occasional fading at the bottom of the print. Never released on home video. A Paramount production.

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