Last Train from Gun Hill is an undeservedly overlooked western from the great John Sturges. The film was made just two years after the successful Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which featured two of the same actors, Kirk Douglas and Earl Holliman. In Last Train from Gun Hill, Sturges wastes no time setting up the plot for us. Catherine Morgan, a full-blooded Native American is brutally raped and murdered while returning home with her son. The boy, Petey, manages to escape with one of the assailants horses and rides to town amidst the shrill screams of his mother. Back in the town of Pawlee, Marshall Matt Morgan (Douglas) is entertaining the local kids with stories of his past adventures. Once his son makes it to town, Morgan frantically rides out to find that his wife has been murdered and that one of the horses bears a saddle belonging to an old friend. Despite the urgings of his father-in-law to seek vengeance, Morgan vows to bring the men who did this to justice. He boards the next train to Gun Hill to pay his old friend a visit.
The Wild Bunch – The Director’s Cut (1969)
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
For breakfast: Biscuits ‘n Gravy
Sam Peckinpah completely demystifies and deconstructs the western in this gritty, beautiful film. I’m a huge fan of westerns and the “myths” that accompany them, but I also have a great appreciation for filmmakers who dare to turn a genre on its head (Kubrick anyone?). I came up with the term ‘poetic brutality’ after watching Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and it more than applies here. From the opening sequence, shootout after shootout plays out more like a graceful dance rather than chaotic destruction. And yet every scene still manages to maintain a level of tension that grips and pulls the audience in. No one, that’s right…NO ONE can put together a shootout like Peckinpah. Up to this point westerns were all about the sharp-shootin’, charismatic hero, but here we get no heroes. We have aging men (played perfectly by one of the best ensembles I’ve seen) in a dying land who live by a code that is dying along with it. Everyone in the film is neither good nor bad, but appropriately colored a shade of gray. They find redemption in the end by adhering to the only set of values they can have in a world that has forgotten them. God I love this movie.
(Note that this was a review written for Film-Talk’s World Cinema Club, so it contains plot information and possible spoilers.)
The second entry into Park’s “Vengeance Trilogy”, Oldboy is the most tragic, Shakespearean story I’ve seen…that isn’t adapted from any Shakespeare. The story of Oh-Daesu (Min-sik Choi) is not unlike that of someone like Hamlet, but we’ll come back to that later. Due to forces beyond his control, our hero is thrust into a situation where he loses everything. Imprisoned for no reason, Oh-Daesu’s only contact with other humans is through his television. He is suspected of his own wife’s murder and his daughter is taken away. His body, his mind, and his spirit are broken until he turns his thinking around and dedicates his time to training his body and plotting his escape and his revenge on those who have taken his life from him.