Tuesday, February 28, 2006

It seems like every two days or so Caitlin is posting about movies I haven't seen. I'm staggered by the constant reminders these days of large quantities of interesting movies I've not seen, particularly movies made in the past three decades. So, realising that there're still over three hundred movies on them that I haven't seen, I've gone back to my TCM tapes.

On Saturday, I watched Anthony Mann's Man of the West. A film with some beautiful, very widescreen colour photography of Western vistas, and with one decent action sequence. But it was a movie I had a lot of problems with.

Gary Cooper stars as Link Jones, a former outlaw who now lives peacefully settled down with wife and kids in a small community. As the movie begins, he's taking a train to the big city in the hopes of hiring a teacher and bringing her back to his remote town.

But the train is robbed by young hooligans, and Link is left stranded on the tracks without his gun and without the money the town had entrusted to him. Also stranded is a small-time hustler and a woman who was possibly a prostitute or possibly merely a waitress at a bawdy saloon. Sometimes it's hard to tell what filmmakers are trying to hint at through the censors.

Anyway, Link leads the trio to his former hideout where he finds his former mentor and former partner in crime, Doc Tobin, in charge of the gang that had accosted the train. Link's ostensibly brought back into the fold, though he isn't given a gun. They don't trust him, and for good reason, as Link is merely playing along so that he and his new companions aren't killed. Things lead then to wagon travel and plans of a heist in a town called Lasso.

Now, the first problem I had with the movie was Link himself. Gary Cooper was simply wrong for the role, and not just because he looked too old--and was too old--to be Doc Tobin's protégé. Never at any moment did I even slightly believe that he used to be a ruthless bandit. Gary Cooper exudes far too much unmitigated honour and decency from his little finger. And he essentially plays the same guy in all of his movies. Now, if it'd been John Wayne in the role, that might have worked. Wayne showed in The Searchers that he was as capable of injecting a bit of loathsomeness into his performance as he was at being a plain straight arrow.

Another problem is that the movie's an experiment in portraying slightly harsher circumstances than movies had previously allowed--this being during the era of the old studio system, but after the defeat of the Hayes production code, when filmmakers were flailing about slightly, trying to decide how far they could go. Unfortunately, movies that push the envelope purely for the sake of pushing the envelope don't age well after said envelope becomes irrelevant. So a scene where an unruly gang member forces the lady to start undressing doesn't make you feel, "Oh, that's so incredibly indecent!" so much as it makes you think, "You know, in real life, the whole gang would've raped her already."

Then the movie has some formulaic fight scenes, and the small-time hustler is rather mechanically gotten rid of at one point. But the end of the movie does have a decent gunfight in Lasso, a rundown little town that appeared to have been completely constructed for the movie.

For the most part, though, the movie was a series of weak, insubstantial notes.

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