Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.14

Thunder in the Sun (1959)

A group of wine grower immigrants travel through Indian country, hoping to settle a new vinocracy. Among them are strong hero Jeff Chandler, and foot stomping, Flamenco dancing, sassy French lady Susan Hayward (to be fair, she always stomps her feet). They are repeatedly besieged by Indians, including some that seem to jump off of trampolines and into the frame. At one point, one of the settlers combats an Indian by hitting him in the head with a ball hurled with one of those jai alai rackets (whatever they’re called). A standard story is handled melodramatically (bordering on camp at times) with these and a few other odd touches, and the results are fairly entertaining. The compositions by DP Stanley Cortez are very good, but sometimes the studio shots and the location shots are badly mismatched.

Okay color transfer is a notch above VHS. Never released on home video.

The Jayhawkers! (1959)

The “Jayhawkers” are a group of enterprising young men trying to take control of Kansas, led by Jeff Chandler, who has a Napoleon complex (he’s not short, he just thinks he’s Napoleon). Fess Parker breaks out of prison and returns home, only to find that his wife is dead and his ranch has been legally acquired by a French woman who has two kids. The woman adopts him as a defacto husband, since she needs a man around the house to do things like chop wood and teach her kids English (the kids learn how to say “y’all be fixin’”). She must be desperate for a man to immediately hook up with a stranger that just broke out of prison. Anyway, Fess is offered a pardon by the governor of Kansas if he kills Chandler, and he also finds out that Chandler had a relationship with his wife while he was in prison, and then killed her because he was “bored with her”. You’d think this would setup a clear case of a hero out to get revenge against a scumbag villain at all costs. However, Fess goes undercover and joins the jayhawkers, developing respect for him along the way, despite the pleas of his new French girlfriend that Chandler is an murdering, woman-hating dictator. If you can get over the curious non-revenge plot and the apparent misogyny, this is a well done, well filmed take on the “go undercover to catch the crook” plot. Look for Harry Dean Stanton in a tiny role, and Henry Silva as Chandler’s slimy heavy.

Originally shot in Vistavision (1.85:1), the transfer is cropped and dull, but is perfectly watchable. Previously released on VHS.

Pawnee (1956)

George Montgomery plays Pale Arrow, a white man raised by Pawnee Indians. He saves some white people from a stagecoach attack by other Pawnees. His “father” Wise Eagle doesn’t want to fight the white man, but Arrow’s rival Crazy Fox (who gets sweet with his love Dancing Fawn) wants to wipe out the honkeys. Pale Arrow goes undercover as a white man (i.e. rubs off his face paint) in order to go into town and gauge their feelings (“the heart of the white man”). Crazy Fox follows him into town to snoop, believing him to be a turncoat. George tries to get frisky with a white woman who has another man after her (mirroring the trio with Fawn and Fox). George then agrees to be a stagecoach scout while Crazy Fox sends the Pawnees after the stagecoach, as Wise Eagle had recently passed away, and George/Pale Arrow is caught in-between. Cheap and sloppy, but I found the two love triangles cute and appealing, and Montgomery makes an interesting central figure torn between several different conflicting entities, despite the silly transition from Indian to white man.

Decent transfer has dull colors and some ghosting problems during movement, but is certainly watchable.

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