Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.20

El Paso (1949)

John Payne is a lawyer that heads to El Paso to get a judge’s signature, when he finds out that the town is being held in terror by Sterling Hayden, who strongarms citizens by employing a crooked justice system. The judge is a drunk pushover, and Hayden makes himself and his cronies jury members in order to unfairly imprison people who don’t follow Hayden’s law. Payne sees this corrupt process at work and tries to reason with everyone, explaining how a proper law system needs to function. He gets bored with reason, so he trains with a Mexican gunfighter named “Del Nacho” (that’s Spanish for “of the nacho”) and becomes a double barrel ass kicking machine. Way too long at 103 minutes considering the slight plot, but the movie does make a considered attempt to explain what makes a fair justice system, and that vigilantism is not a good long term solution. The movie is also beautifully photographed (in Cinecolor), and there are some nice stylistic flourishes, like the fast cut gun training montage, and the final shootout in a windstorm.

The transfer is excellent most of the time, but certain sections look “off” in different ways (either grainier, or with orange skin tones, or looking washed out). Never available on home video. John Payne also starred in two other rare westerns on Netflix instant that have never been released on home video: Passage West (1951) and The Vanquished (1953)

The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951)

Glenn Ford is smitten with a redhead he spots in a dancehall, but little does he know that she (Rhonda Fleming) is a confederate spy sent on a mission to provide secret information to a confederate official about a Union gold shipment. In pure North by Northwest fashion, a liaison of Rhonda is murdered by getting knifed in the back, and he happens to stumble into Glenn, who then becomes framed for the murder. He is forced to flee with Rhonda as he tries to prove his innocence, with Rhonda being the only witness who knows he wasn’t the murderer. Along the way, they bump into numerous shady characters using spy passwords and secret meetings to talk to people along the spy chain while avoiding shady characters trying to intercept the information about the gold shipment. This could be categorized as a noir western, but strikes me more specifically as a 39 Steps-esque “on the run” spy thriller transplanted to the Civil War. Not quite Hitchcock-esque, mind you, but overall a tense, twisty, and very watchable western thriller that is fairly unique, and Ford is pretty excellent in the “innocent man” role. Highly recommended, and definitely not your standard B-western.

The black and white transfer is pretty solid, but has ghosting issues and could be sharper; it’s certainly watchable. Never released on home video.

The Lawless Nineties 1936

Anti-democracy marauders threaten townspeople in Wyoming to keep them from voting, and John Wayne and his buddy come to town to take care of the leader of the outlaws. Wayne hooks up with and protects the owner of a newspaper (Gabby Hayes) who is trying to use the paper to expose corruption and help Wyoming become a state (also, he has a beautiful daughter, played by Ann Rutherford, that catches Wayne's eye). The Duke’s partner is killed by cronies of the “committee of law and order”, which is actually a democracy smashing front, and Wayne kicks ass and takes names and wins Ann’s hand in the process (although you probably saw that coming). A fairly raucous and exciting B-western with an interesting villain that opposes democracy for selfish reasons, but under the guise of “law and order”. However, the movie occasionally stops to showcase “comic relief” from Hayes’ two black servants, a bit more egregious than usual and extremely forced. Otherwise, this is probably a good example of the kind of B-westerns Wayne made before Stagecoach made him a star.

Previously available on VHS. The transfer is pretty good, several notches above VHS, and certainly acceptable for a B-western from the mid 30’s.

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