Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, August 31, 2009

My Favorite Opening Scenes: There Will Be Blood (2007)

dir. Paul Thomas Anderson


As summer 2009 comes to an end, I can't stop thinking about 2007--my favorite movie year of the past couple decades.

As has been written extensively elsewhere, there was much to love about 2007. Future cult movies such as The Ten and Idiocracy were released (side note: I know that Idiocracy was released theatrically in 2006; but when the theatrical release consists of one theater in the middle of nowhere and some bum’s asshole, I use the dvd release as the official release date). An entertaining documentary about the Helvetica font was released (that’s right, you heard me). Old timers such as Mike Nichols and Sidney Lumet continued to impress. Richard Kelly released his long awaited, psychotically epic failure Southland Tales--truly a thing of ugly beauty.

One of my biggest movie complaints of recent years has been the move toward the middle. Just as fewer masterpieces get made, so too do fewer epically bad movies get made. With Southland Tales, Richard Kelly proved that it was still possible to make a piece of shit so profoundly, ambitiously and awe-inspiringly awful, that I have but a glimmer of hope for the future of film.

Just as Southland Tales fell far short of whatever insane mark it was aiming for, so conversely did a slew of 2007 pictures not only achieve greatness, but could also be named among the best films of the decade: No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Once, Superbad, Ratatouille, Persepolis, The King of Kong, Hot Fuzz, Eastern Promises, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Fuck all the haters. I love this flick) to name a few. Of the movies just mentioned, a good third have the best photography of the decade. If forced to choose, I would have to name No Country for Old Men as my favorite, but Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and There Will Be Blood would tie for a close second.

What with the downturn in the economy and the slew of recent auteur driven passion projects under-performing at the box office (Inglourious Basterds being one of the few exceptions), I doubt we'll have another year like 2007. [I have a terrible record when it comes to making predictions of this sort, but fuck it, I did it anyways.] Averse to taking such risks in the future, the folks with their hands on the purse strings will rather fund the sure-fire blandly audience pleasing fare of The Transformers and G.I. Joe variety. Interesting, off-beat, clever, personal projects will always get made, of course. I just don't see them getting backed by well funded studios at any point in the near future.

It's a situation in many ways reminiscent of the late seventies end of the New Hollywood renaissance. For many years the young auteurs had been given the keys to the kingdom, free to make whatever fanciful art-pictures they desired. Because these flicks kept their producers' wallets happy, producers continued to fund these flicks. After a string of ambitious box office failures (Sorcerer; New York, New York; Heaven's Gate), however, the tap was all but cut off. Hollywood opted instead for the easy, middle of the road blockbusters.

But I digress.

Of all the flicks released in 2007, few had scenes that equaled the bravura opening of Anderson's There Will Be Blood. The almost dialogue free fifteen minute opening sequence would no doubt have made Sam Fuller proud. As the director Fuller stated in his autobiography, "If a story doesn't give you a hard-on in the first couple of scenes, throw it in the goddamned garbage." You gotta grab the viewers by the balls right from the get go if you want them to sustain any kind of interest in your film. Not only does There Will Be Blood's opening grab a viewer by the balls, it also strokes the shaft, which in turn paints a map of Hawaii on the movie's tits.

Set to Johnny Greenwood's beautifully haunting score, prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) mines for gold at the bottom of a nearly endless pit. After climbing out into an almost alien terrain, he dynamites further into the shaft. When climbing back down, a board snaps and he falls, breaking his leg. Lying at the bottom of the pit, he discovers gold. Using all his might, he pulls himself up through the pit and eventually through miles of barren landscape, landing in the closest town, where he gets his leg mended and lays a claim. This is just the beginning of an arduous journey toward becoming an oil barren.

As stated in previous posts, I have always stood in awe of those directors who are able to tell stories without the use of dialogue. As much as I enjoy me some good-ass dialogue (and Anderson's films abound with this), I am primarily a visual person. If a director is not able to show rather than tell, of what goddamn use is he or she as a filmmaker. There Will Be Blood's opening sequence represents one of the best examples of silence in film that I have seen. Anderson takes us through every arduous point of Daniel's journey toward becoming a self-made millionaire. We are put in his shoes. This crucial opening scene informs Daniel's actions throughout the rest of the film. Rightly or wrongly, he feels that he has more than earned his place at the top of a soulless capitalist throne.

Perhaps this opening scene is too good. As great as the rest of the movie is, it almost pales in comparison to this sequence. I still would have enjoyed this flick absent this scene but I don't know that I would consider it among my favorites. Although There Will Be Blood was not my favorite film of 2007, no other picture of that year matched the filmmaking chutzpah on display in Anderson's movie.

[The opening:]

Friday, August 28, 2009

Funniness

Big Fan, the Patton Oswalt starring flick that I've been anticipating for quite some time, is being released (in select cities) today. This seemed as good a reason as any to post some fucking hilarious Patton Oswalt stand-up. Enjoy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Grizzly (1976)

dir. William Girdler


"Kelly, you're a maverick. We don't have room for mavericks."
-Charley Kittridge

Given Jaws deliberately exploitation-aping killer animal set-up, it was no surprise that the drive-ins would be overrun with imitations of this film in the next few years. [Side note: As far as I'm concerned early Spielberg efforts such as Duel and Jaws are infinitely superior to anything he would later film. (Second side note: I have just been made aware that Spielberg is in the process of remaking Oldboy, with Will Smith in the lead. I rest my case.)] The genius of Jaws was that it mined the tropes of trashy horror pictures, while adding a knowing, movie-geek sense of style, film language and film history. He infused his first box-office success, simultaneously, with a New Hollywood attention to characters and with knowing homages to the classic films of his youth.

Exploitation director William Girdler, never one to miss an easily cash-inable genre trend, was one of the first director's to latch onto Jaws' fins, churning out the subsequent year's Grizzly. [Soon after, Girdler would also release the deliciously bat-shit Day of the Animals.] For anyone who has seen Jaws, a description of Grizzly's plot would be redundant. Girdler's film can be summed up thusly: take away the character development and expert camera-work of Spielberg's film; add more gore, and uh, oh yeah, replace the big ol' sea fish with a big ol' land fish, and you have Grizzly.

Grizzly's uninvolving plot is but a shab curtain rod from which to hang, awesomely over the top grizzly bear murders. These man-in-a-bear-suit murders are truly Grizzly's saving grace. Every time it seems as if the movie is starting to lag, fake bear claws attack an unsuspecting camper, or knock the head off a horse (that's right, you heard me). The incongruity of combining majestic, innocent actual bear footage with low budget killer bear effects is a knee-slapping hoot. [Incidentally, some youtuber made a montage of all the death scenes from this flick. I was going to include it here but the clip was un-embeddable. You can view it here.]

Girdler made no attempt to mask his true intentions with this picture. Cheap trashy fun/scares were his ultimate goal. His lack of devotion to plotting, characters, and story, frequently produce hilariously confounding plot developments. Of the many pieces of "What the shit?" moments, perhaps the awesomest is park superintendent Kittiredge's (Joe Dorsey) refusal to shut down the park to campers, despite all the bear maulings. As is obvious, this character is a direct nod to Jaws. Is Kittiredge keeping the park open as a way to continue raking in the tourist dollars? That would be too obvious, and too much of a direct lift from Jaws. It is soon revealed that his motive is political. He hopes that his actions will one day land him an important position in Washington. It is never made clear which alternate universe this film takes place in, that such actions would be considered a positive political boon.

"Yes, I'm running on a tourists-getting-slaughtered-by huge-Pleistocene-era-grizzlies platform. Ain't no one gonna compete with that. What's that you say? This is the exact opposite of the kind of position a politician should run on? Well, I already got all these campaign buttons and bumper stickers made. Sorry, keep the tourists coming." Birthed as his film was in the era of Watergate, Girdler knew enough that political cynicism was a hot commodity at the movie house. He was not savvy enough, however, to deal with the subject in a mature, intelligent manner. [Then again, this plot point makes about as much sense as bringing automatic rifles to town hall debates on health care.]

Girdler takes similarly confounding swipes at the media. Bandying about in misguided, uninformed, poo-flinging, Girdler similarly misses the mark on his media attacks. It is soon revealed that tourists have flocked to this grizzly death trap park because of all the work the media had done to glamorize bear violence. Confronting a reporter near base camp, park ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) lets loose, "You and your cameras made it so exciting, so attractive." Yes, the media frequently does sensationalize and exploit such animal attacks for ratings [I think we all remember the shark summer of a few years back.] Rather than making getting-killed-by-animals all the rage, however, these media attacks tend to have the opposite effect, scaring people into not coming anywhere within ten miles of nature.

Lovers of shit have much to love with Girdler's picture. Incoherency and gore abound. A deliciously over the top rocket launcher induced grizzly death finale (in addition to aiding countless hours of masturbation for a certain former Alaskan Governor/Quitter) is but the delicious icing on an already unhealthily tasteful cake.

[The trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Just Threw Up in My Mouth a Little Bit

I turned 29 this past February. For those who can't do the math, this means that I've got less than a year before succumbing to the ripe old age of uselessness. As we all know from Wild in the Streets, the seminal film on aging, it's only a matter of time before my old ass gets put out of commission and shoved into an LSD concentration camp. Here I will have all the time in the world to vegetate, contemplate on my faded youth, and vegetate. Prepping myself for the days ahead, I've trained myself on bein' one nostalgin-ass motherfucker. When it comes to training for future nostalgia days, I don't fuck around. I can't even write a simple review of a Rutger Hauer blind swordsman action film or a straight to video, intergalactic, small man action picture without bringing the focus back to me and memories from my childhood. Maybe it's narcissism. Who knows? I just like writin' 'bout me I suppose. Does there exist a more interesting subject? I think not.

It's always the little things that seem to trigger the ol' memory thought remembrances. A certain phrase, sound, color, or even a scent can bring them out of hiding. They say that the sense of smell is the one most closely linked to memory. They say, for instance, that the scents associated with one's first sexual encounter will forever bring back memories of that fuckin' experience. [For me, those aromas are cigarettes, whiskey and failure.]

I can't smell hickory without being reminded of my old job Movie Place, the place through which I joined my first and only sketch comedy group, "Group of Names".

I've had a lifelong obsession with sketch comedy. Having feverishly devoured such staples as Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, Upright Citizens Brigade and the like, it seemed only natural to me that I would have soaked up all the funny through osmosis and been funny likewise. I assumed I would be a perfect addition to any sketch group. Unfortunately, my brain lacks one of those things that produces wit. Sure, if I take my time in front of a computer, over an extended period of time, I can construct some humor. But plain, natural, on the spot funniness; that shit is beyond me. Not that it proved a hindrance in my joining the comedy group.

I happened to happen into GoN through Matt, a coworker at Movie Place. I don't quite remember the specifics of our initial conversation on the subject but it probably went something like this [Side note: my memory sucks. It probably didn't go anything like this]:

Matt handed me a flier, "Hey, if you're free next Friday night my comedy group is doing a show at Caroline's."

My ears perked up. "You're in a sketch comedy group?"

"Yeah, my friends and I started it back at NYU. We've been at it a few years now."

"Wow, comedy group. That's awesome. I love sketch comedy. That's really...yeah, whenever I write, most of the stuff is like-"

"Oh, you're a writer?"

"Yeah, I mean I've been writing for a few years now, mostly screenplays. I love to write. Most of it's comedy stuff of course."

"Oh, cool."

"Yeah, you know, that's really the only kind of stuff I like to write, comedy stuff. Yep, short funny comedy stuff."

"Cool, I've actually written a few screenplays too."

"Most of my screenplays are pretty episodic. Yep. When you think about it, you could say that I write sketch comedy bits rolled together in screenplays. Yep, that's what I do alright."

"That's cool."

"My problem is, that my stuff is a little too funny, you know? I think it would be hard to be taken seriously as a serious writer, what with all the funniness of it all and such. Yep, I like to write short funny comedy pieces. Yep, that's what I like."

"You know, if you'd like to come by, we have a meeting in a couple weeks. If you wanna check it out-"

"What? You want me to join? I couldn't."

"Well, I'm just saying, you know if you'd like to come to a meeting, check it-"

"Sure, yeah, I'll definitely join."

Of course, there was another reason I'd felt the need to join a comedy group. Performing onstage seemed a surefire way to overcome my awkwardness/shyness/stage fright-nesss/social retardation-ness (and a way to meet chicks). Before joining this group, the only other time I had appeared onstage was in a kindergarten Christmas special, in which my entire class appeared onstage together and belted out a Christmas tune. It was somewhere between the auditorium and our car, immediately following the show, that I puked my nervous guts out.

Hoping to avoid similar embarrassment with my first performance for GoN, I decided to go with an easy piece, a monologue. Realizing that I might be too nervous to remember this bit, I wrote it in such a way that I would be able to read from my notes while performing. Ain't I the smart one.

"Damn," I thought, "I can't do this shit sober. Maybe I'll have a few drinks to loosen up." By the time my nearly-blacked-out-ass staggered onto the stage, I was unable to read my notes. I don't remember much else about the performance, except that this night likewise ended with vomit. [Side note: I did not meet any girls this night.]

I was not deterred. Continuing to perform, I eventually discovered, through very scientific experimentations, that three pints of Brooklyn Lager consumed thirty to sixty minutes before showtime proved the perfect dosage of courage lubrication, allowing me enough confidence to perform without also rendering me an unintelligible mess.

When I eventually wrote, directed, edited, and acted in a video for the group (why not?), I somehow managed to convince my boss at Movie Place to allow me to shoot in his store after hours. MISTAKE! This sketch, in which I would play an asshole customer at a bookstore, should have been a no-brainer. It was a simple two people set-up requiring few angles, which was great, given my non-existent directing experience and the two hours I was allowed to film in the store before the alarm kicked in and the po-po arrived. Our two hour window proved somewhat of a godsend, actually. It allowed me an excuse not to shoot more than one take of anything. "Goddamn, why would we shoot again from the same angle? We already got this shit recorded. Let's move on. Time's a wastin'."

This sketch would not be a complete breeze, of course, as it would involve some special effects. We had to convincingly simulate a book covered with melted poo. After much contemplation, it seemed that the most logical/effective/quickest way of achieving the doody simulacrum would be to throw a piece of chocolate on a book and pop that shit in the microwave. Problem solved.

It's much more difficult than one might assume (especially after having downed a Colt 45) to explain to a group of angry building tenants, worried that their homestead had been set ablaze, why you felt the need to microwave a book. Some people just can't be talked to. I mean, we did put the fire out, after all. We should have gotten some points for that. But no. It took some doin's and some mighty convincin' persuasions but these folks soon agreed not to call the cops. We were left to quickly finish shooting our piece, after which, we cleaned up any evidence of the night's mishap. None would be the wiser.

Unfortunately, the smell of hickory that punched me in the face when I walked into the store the next day (and, indeed, every day for the next six months) served as a reminder of my momentary lapse in brain function. "There's no point in lying," I thought.

After sheepishly informing him of everything that had happened the night prior; my silent, stone-faced boss eventually replied, "Don't do that again." I tucked my tail between my legs and went about my business.

To say that the filming mishap left me with a dearth of editable material would be a massive understatement. Just about nothing was worth salvaging. Of course, retakes were completely out of the question. Nevertheless, I trudged on and edited the bitch. I would have to make do with what I had. And make do I did. After a quick intro to Final Cut, I went to work. After downing a 40, I was amazed at what I could piece together. "This is almost watchable," I thought. "Actually, it's kind of good. I kinda like this. This is really good. I'm awesome."

I hadn't seen this sketch since I viewed it with the group about three years ago. Perhaps because I like to make myself squirm I decided to rewatch it. Sure, it was an early work, but it might be pretty good. MISTAKE! So many memories and thoughts came flooding to me while watching this abomination unto all that is good: "Holy shit, why did I use to cut my own hair? I'm glad my chinless face has a beard now. I wonder whatever happened to that green coat? I have terrible posture. Is that what my voice sounds like? Goddamn, I slur like a motherfucker after downing some booze. This dialogue is terrible. Why did I think this was funny? These cuts don't match. I can't act for shit. I should never be let in front of a camera again. I can't watch this. I think I'm going to puke."

[Because, apparently, I'm a masochist, I am posting here the video I so lovingly/lazily produced those years back. MISTAKE!]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's All in the Game

I don't know if I've mentioned it here before but I am a Wire junkie. I netflixed the show a couple years ago, and whizzed through the first four seasons in a month or so. By the time the fifth season aired it was damn near impossible to wait a week between episodes. I know a lot of people ain't too keen on the fifth season, and admittedly it is a lesser one (especially coming on the heels of the fourth season, the most masterful piece of drama ever created for television), but I still dug it.

Because we both went through Wire withdrawal after the show ended, my roommate eventually picked up all five seasons on DVD. I have tried to avoid watching it. I've got less than no free time available, and I know if I start I won't be able to stop until I plow through every goddamn episode again. I tried not to give in but it was futile. Having these discs in the aprtment was the equivalent of going to a vacant in the Western, dropping a fistful of red-tops in front of a fiend and telling him, "You don't have to shoot this shit or nothin', but I'm gonna leave it with you anyways. Do with it what you will."

Needless to say, I started watching again a couple weeks ago. Sleep be damned.

Anyways, here are a few of my favorite scenes:





Monday, August 10, 2009

Class Reunion Massacre (aka The Redeemer: Son of Satan!) (1978)

dir. Constantine S. Gochis


"I'm going to really enjoy myself at my high school reunion after putting up with all this nonsense."
-Roger

After John Carpenter's Halloween struck it rich in '78, the imitators quickly came a tumblin' in. So as to distinguish themselves from Carpenter's film, these pictures covered completely different holidays. "Hey look, we gots killin's too but these shits happen on Valentine's Day." [Not that Halloween was the first of its ilk; Bob Clark's Black Christmas is a notable earlier example.] Pretty soon, damn near every event got itself a murder movie. As stands to reason, it would not be long before filmmakers were bereft of ideas and holidays to choose from. They would have to either recycle these events, or choose less relevant ones.

It is thus strange that for Constantine S. Gochis' first and sole directorial effort Class Reunion Massacre, released the same year as Halloween, the random occurence of a High School reunion was chosen as the backdrop for the carnage. Even as far as high school related events are concerned, this is the bottom of the barrel. There was still the prom, after all. Sure, Carrie covered this event two years earlier, but that didn't prevent another prom themed horror movie from being released two years later. Besides, there still existed plenty of other more relevant high school events to be covered in horror films: The Homecoming Dance, Sadie Hawkins, a yearbook committee meeting, etc. You've got a long way to go before you have to resort to the high school reunion.

Not that any of the characters in Gochis' picture are aware of the unimportance of this event. Among the scenes contained in the mindfuckingly bizarre opening section of this film is a montage of six twenty-somethings talking about how stoked they are about the upcoming reunion. They all speak of it in reverential, hushed tones.

Jane, henceforth referred to as Waspy McWasperson, shoots skeet on the grounds of her palatial estate, sips chardonnay, and eagerly anticipates the event. Her husband, Mr. McWasperson, drives his golf cart toward her section of the grounds and asks whether she has decided to allow him the privilege of attending the shindig with her. She refuses. This is an exclusive, once in a lifetime event, after all. She can't bring just any yahoo. The distraught husband huffs off in a rage. Because he never shows up later in the movie, I think it's safe to assume that, unable to deal with the shame of being denied entrance to a high school reunion, he then slits his wrists in a washtub under a pecan tree.

In this film, apparently, a school reunion is the equivalent of a party, headed by Buddha, Mohamed, Jesus, Moses, Ganesha, Xenu, Santa Claus and Bono, in which all those in attendance are granted three wishes. And after the party recovers from the most mind-blowing orgy this side of Perfume, all participants achieve total enlightenment.

Not that a school reunion can't be fodder for a good movie--Grosse Point Blank is a notably awesome example. Instead, here it is used as a ruse for a religious type (who may or may not have a demonic child birthed from a lake [Believe me, this makes even less sense in the movie]) to gather a group of former high school classmates who have sinned in various ways and off them. Yawn.

Nevertheless, Gochis' picture sure gets points for lunacy. It is one of the more bizarre horror movies to emerge from this era. As previously stated, the opening twenty or so minutes is a hodgepodge of seemingly unrelated events only narrowly explained later in the film. I still don't know what the deal was with the demonic-boy-emerging-from-the-lake sequence. What up with that shit? Sure this may be the result of inept filmmaking or studio interference, but I'm feeling generous today. I'm willing to give Gochis the benefit of the doubt and call this film (or at least the first twenty minutes) a masterpiece of surreal horror.

It is in the spirit of events-that-don't-need-horror-movies-devoted-to-them that I present you with a preview of my new movie:

Zoning Board Meeting Slaughter

Six Akron, OH residents made a date for a fun-filled night of zoning and excess. They had a date that night alright. But this date wasn't with zoning. This date was with something far more sinister...and far less fun. What they had a date with that night...was horror.

Meet crafty politician Bill Witherspoon.

"I don't care about promoting businesses and helping the economy. I'm gonna eliminate all billboards from the highway. I just hope no one finds out that I took contributions from the tree and nature lobby. I can do as I damn well please, for I am Akron, Ohio councilman Bill Witherspoon. Mwhaa ha ha." Bill twirls his sinister mustache.

Old Zoney, the mysterious killer with a secret past, don't take to kindly to this, however.

"Bill, you have taken the power of God into your own hands. You have denied the citizens insights into the latest offerings from our beloved corporations. How will the people learn of McDonald's, Gillette, Home Depot or such local businesses as North Hill Auto Sales without billboards. Prepare to meet your maker."

Meet evil rehab tycoon Reginald Tibbs.

"I'm gonna put those hardworking tobacco and spirits companies out of business, see. I'm gonna make it illegal for those mugs to sell and distribute cigarettes and booze to hardworking citizens through drive-thru liquor stores." Reginald lights a cigar with a hundred dollar bill and then lets loose an evil, hearty guffaw.

Zoney has other ideas.

"Reginald, your evil ways have sapped the spirits of Akron-ites for far too long. Without the drive-thru liquor stores, how will working folks drown their sorrows on their way home from soul crushing jobs? Your body is no longer zoned for living."

Meet frumpy, unloved cat-lady librarian Fran Harpenson.

"Because I can't land a man I'm gonna deny all men a chance to be happy. No more porn shops within two mile radii of all libraries."

Zoney is here to teach her a lesson.

"Your revenge on those who don't find you lovely has destroyed the souls of hardworking citizens unfortunate enough to live close to libraries and now out of the reach of much needed porn establishments. Now these folks must waste precious gas, traveling a few miles out of their ways for some simple glory hole action. Prepare to get zoned."

Zoning Board Meeting Slaughter. This city is officially zoned...for terror.

[Incidentally, I was supposed to review Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, the Linnea Quigley starring late eighties crapterpiece, but the disc was scratched. Thankfully, I live next to a dollar store containing a plethora of bargain basement two-for-one dvds. Of course, this title (contained on a disc with a movie named Carnage) beckoned to me.]

[The trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953)

dir. Andre De Toth


"It wasn't part of the plan to murder civilians."
-Jeff Travis

Lawrence, Kansas. Hub of the nation. Birthplace of awesomeness. All things important have sprouted from this Midwestern mecca. Resting smack dab in the middle of the useless flat hell-scape region of America, Lawrence offers much needed respite from Flat Earthers, Birthers, Abstinence Only-ers, Creationists and other such folks of the de-brained persuasion. [ed. note - This portion of the review was brought to you by the Lawrence, Kansas Board of Tourism. Lawrence, Kansas Fever: the one sickness you won't want a cure for.] Not that I've ever been to Lawrence, of course. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sip some Bordeaux, go to an exclusive New York oxygen bar, listen to Animal Collective, expound on the lesser works of Bukowski, and chuckle haughtily as your social betters and I quip wittily on the sorry state of the fly-over states. [Gee whiz, I love this media inspired, broad, regional stereotyping today.]

Lawrence, Kansas is important to me for a few other reasons, though. In addition to the fact that my brother and his wife live there, this city has also been responsible for some good-ass movies. [Incidentally, I hope that said brother and wife can move soon so that I can visit them.] Both Carnival of Souls and the terrifying Nuclear Holocaust TV movie The Day After were filmed there. Lawrence's Civil War era history has also been instrumental in genesizing the plots of various Western pictures.

Because this town, stuck in the battleground state of Kansas, was a hotbed of abolitionism, Quantrill's Raiders, an infamous group of Confederate desperadoes, laid siege to Lawrence in 1863, murdering many of its citizens. Many of Quantrill's Raiders, would eventually form the core of the James-Younger gang, later to become the subject of innumerable films. Although mostly forgotten now, the Lawrence raid marked a sad chapter in American history and was thus featured prominently in the plots of various golden Hollywood age Westerns.

As with Anthony Mann's Western of the year previous, Bend of the River, Andre De Toth's The Stranger Wore a Gun examines the effect that Quantrill's raid had on those who took in part in the massacre. [Ain't that the American movie way, examining historic tragedies from the point of view of the perpetrators of the violence. Those poor murderers, they feel so guilty about all that murderin'.] In De Toth's picture, Randolph Scott stars as Jeff Travis, a man who had spied for Quantrill, thus allowing the bloodthirsty gang the opportunity to lay siege to the city. Unaware of Quantrill's true intentions, Travis becomes wracked with guilt after witnessing the bloodbath. He soon goes on the lam, eventually landing in the lawless town of Prescott, Arizona. Here, Travis works as a spy for criminal Jules Mourret (George Macready), another former member of Quantrill's gang. Jules is now the head of a stage coach thieving outfit whose members include Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin. Mourret remains unrepentant about his previous city-raping ways, but Travis agrees to work for him anyway because Mourret assures him that no such mishigas will happen again. Because Mourret has one of those faces you just gotta trust, Travis takes his word for it. I'm sure nothing bad will come of this.

As is evident, with The Stranger Wore a Gun, De Toth lays down some delicious obviousness. While playing poker with gal pal Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) in an early scene, Travis is unable to concentrate on the game because he can't stop guilticizing over the Lawrence massacre. She tells him to forget about it, to which he smiles and replies, "It's forgotten." Suddenly, a random man at the bar gives the following speech to one of his pals.

"Lawrence, Kansas. It was Quantrill's biggest day. I'll never forget it. Nobody'll forget. That is, nobody who is still alive. They looted and burned the town. Quantrill and his men slaughtered 150. Women and children too. And all because of the work of one spy."

Hoping to assuage his feelings of guilt, Josie continues to reassure Travis that he was not at fault. Playing the suffering-in-silence Josie, Claire Trevor gives a particularly effective performance here. For years pining for platonic friend Travis, the pained Josie realizes that she will never get this man. This being Hollywood, of course, she does land him in the film's conclusion. This relationship (along with the Marvin and Borgnine performances) is but a small saving grace in an otherwise, unusual for De Toth, marred film.

As with De Toth's House of Wax (released earlier the same year), The Stranger Wore a Gun was an early 3D picture. Unfortunately, and somewhat expectedly, TSWAG is marked by early cheesy 3D conventions, such as numerous shots of men throwing punches, chairs, sticks and various other objects at the camera. This picture could have been a rather fun, if disposable, little Western. Unfortunately, like clockwork, we are regularly treated to such audience insulting 3D schlock as this:




The Stranger Wore a Gun is stuck firmly in "hey this 3d sure is a neato gimmick" mode. Such a shame. Although 3D can immeasurably add to the viewing experience if used tastefully, here it just cheapens an otherwise enjoyable film.

[The trailer:]


Dave's Rating: