The Shooting (1967)
Awesome, mysterious western. Performances are understated except by Will Hutchins, who maybe tries too hard to be the stupid one, and Millie Perkins, who maybe tries too hard to be the unknowable badass.
Your comic relief: Hutchins of Merrill’s Marauders
Will is hanging out with friend Leland when Leland is shot to death by offscreen persons unknown. Later on, Warren “GTO” Oates rides up looking for Leland, and both of ‘em get surprised by Millie, who hires ‘em to come with her.
The movie never explicitly tells us that she’s looking for revenge on Warren’s evil twin brother and that the men are hired to help track him, and if it had told us it probably wouldn’t enjoy the same cult success. All the carefully hidden information keeps things exciting.
Fastest-gun-in-the-west Jack Nicholson trails them unseen for a long time, then rides openly with ‘em after he’s discovered, just being a huge jerk. Starts to become clear that he and Millie are obsessed with something, and Warren and Will probably won’t make it home… then suddenly they’re hot on the trail of the brother, and a subliminal shootout leaves us wondering what just happened.
Kind of a haunting movie, well paced and shot by reliably weird cinematographer Gregory Sandor (Forbidden Zone, De Palma’s Sisters).
Ride in the Whirlwind (1965)
If you think about their relative effectiveness and beauty and straightforwardness of plot, this movie would seem like the cheapie add-on flick of the two (Hellman and Nicholson went into the desert to shoot a movie and exec-producer Roger Corman said “while you’re out there, why not shoot two movies”). But this one has more actors, more gunshots and more buildings burning down, so it was intended to be the real picture, and cult-classic The Shooting was the “aw hell, as long as we’re here” picture. Funny how things work out.
One of Harry Dean’s first credited movie roles:
Three plain ol’ regular-guy cowhands, not heroes or great gunfighters or brilliant problem-solvers, just plain-damn-ol’ guys, run into some bad dudes who just robbed a stagecoach. The bad dudes (led by eyepatch-sporting Harry Dean Stanton) concoct a story which our men see right through, but both decide to tolerate each other for the night. But oops, lawmen catch up with the baddies and assault their shack hideout assuming our fellas are part of the gang. Otis catches a bullet, so the other two, Vern (chewy Cameron Mitchell, then of Hell and High Water and House of Bamboo, later in Space Mutiny) and Wes (our writer Jack Nicholson, remarkably good at playing a regular guy) flee to the hills.
Otis (the good guy who gets killed) is played by the writer of sci-fi crap classic The Space Children.
The hills and the shack both prove hard to escape. Finally the shack is burned down, and the surviving criminals are hanged. Meanwhile, after some close calls with bullets and cliffs, our two guys find a ranch house populated by stump-choppin’ routine-livin’ dad George Mitchell (of Face of the Screaming Werewolf), his barely-there wife, and their daughter, 27-playing-18 Millie Perkins. Our guys hold ‘em hostage planning to wait out the lawmen, trying not to offend or do harm while remaining threatening enough to be effective.
Rupert Crosse is credited as “indian joe” but I’m not so sure he’s Indian:
This is the best part of the movie, the tense waiting, since all the chases and gunfights are all pretty routine. Checkers are played, the horse stable is visited, and the family is told that our guys are gonna have to steal two horses to get away. When the lawman comes a-calling, George Mitchell tries to get sneaky, resulting in a final shootout which kills Mitchells George and Cameron (no relation?) and leaves Jack riding away (not into the whirlwind; there is no whirlwind).