Ethan Hawke appears in none of these movies, rather he was interviewed on Criterion to chat about movies in general and about each of these picks, so I watched every minute of that and then went on a Hawke-approved viewing spree.


The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968, Les Blank)

Blank is one of my faves because the photography is grainy but good, the songs and stories play out in full, and he cuts the picture to whatever catches his interest. Hopkins is a versatile player. I see Hawke’s point about watching this to really understand the blues. It kinda worked but I’m still not past the “all the songs sound the same” phase. I’ll get back to those Bear Family comps, maybe.


The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston)

That makes two in a row set in Texas. Paul Newman goes to the lawless part of the state, brags about being a bank robber, is robbed and nearly killed… Victoria Principal (TV’s Dallas) brings him a gun, he returns to the bar and kills all the men, then instates himself as sheriff and hires the next group of guys to wander in (five failed outlaws) as marshals.

I love that the story is partly narrated by dead men who passed through. Grizzly Adams (our director) isn’t permitted to die in town so he moves on, leaving his bear behind. The ensuing musical montage to an Andy Williams song is better than the Raindrops Keep Falling scene, because it’s about Newman and Principal playing with a bear. The only threat to Newman’s authority is Bad Bob The Albino (Stacy Keach) who is killed immediately, until attorney Roddy McDowall turns out to have been playing the long game, getting elected mayor and turning the tables on the power structure. After 20 years in exile, Bean returns to round up the gang (and grown daughter Jacqueline Bisset who doesn’t seem to mind having been abandoned for two decades) and stage a fight to the death between the wild west old-timers and modern society’s highly flammable oil-well town. Ethan says that everyone now admits the postscript ending is bad, in which Bean’s actress idol Ava Gardner arrives in town too late and only gets to meet Ned Beatty. Roy Bean was a real guy who often shows up fictionalized on screen – he’s been played by Walter Brennan, Andy Griffith, Tom Skerritt, and returning to the legend with a casting promotion, Ned Beatty.


Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman)

Judge Roy Bean was mostly set in 1890’s, we’re in 1880’s now, with a nightmare font on the opening titles. Sadly, for our second revisionist comedy western we’ve left Texas (set in Wyoming, filmed in Canada) but we’ve still got Paul Newman, now with an aged Dude appearance as a famed cowboy running a wild west show. Major Kevin McCarthy delivers Sitting Bull to the show (interpreter Will Sampson of Cuckoo’s Nest does all the talking) but his role and attitude are mysterious. Meanwhile it’s the usual Altmanny bustle of activity (I’ve missed it), featuring sharpshooter Geraldine Chaplin taking aim at living target John Considine, producer Joel Grey handling a visit by President Cleveland and his new wife (Shelley Duvall!) and I’m afraid I didn’t buy Harvey Keitel, the same year as Taxi Driver, playing a meek flunky. Everyone gets uptight and embarrassed in turn, and in the end, the president refuses to hear Sitting Bull’s requests, and Newman roams his oversized quarters talking to ghosts (predating Secret Honor by eight years). This won (?!) the golden bear in Berlin, against Canoa and Small Change and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

I was supposed to go out and see Nightmare Alley, the first of a wave of Christmas-week movies, but the 3pm show was filling up and I didn’t want to be around other humans, so watched this on the TV instead. Obvs, I liked it.

1925 Montana, gentle friendly rancher Jesse Plemons weds sad widow Kirsten Dunst who has bookish son Kodi Smit-McPhee (Young Nightcrawler in the last X-Men), and they all move in with Jesse’s alpha-bully brother Benedict Cumberbatch. Seems like it’s all going in an unpleasant direction, but as BC begins to soften, the kid calmly plots revenge on Benedict for driving Kirsten to drink.

Sophie Monks Kaufman in LWL:

Campion is a master of intertwining character and plot, so that a revelation of one nudges the other along. In this, her first film explicitly centring male psychology after a career of female character studies, she makes observations about masculinity and power that defy classification. She has blown these subjects wide open and we can but stand still and try to catch the fragments as they rain down.

Great movie with a dream cast, my first time watching it in HD. Absolutely loopy cannibal western horror comedy with no bad scenes and about ten great ones, it’s unbelievable that this went through three directors and didn’t turn out incoherent.

MVP Jeffrey Jones. I’ve seen the drunk with the big mustache and the blonde soldier in five other movies each, and the curly-haired religious guy in seven others, still don’t recognize ’em.

A bunch of silliness in the first half which escalated wonderfully in the second. At the beginning Cowboy and Indian try to construct a last-minute birthday gift while Horse takes piano lessons with a cute female horse. But pretty soon they are all enslaved by snowball-prankster kung-fu scientists within a giant arctic penguin robot. Plastic toy stop-motion!

The rare studio-compromised movie with sloppy enough edits that you can witness the butchery. Who knows what this movie, which the director and star both said was good before the editors got hold of it, could’ve been in its original form, the same year Ray made Rebel Without a Cause. But all we’ve got is what we’ve got, and it ain’t much. MVP the soft-spoken town doctor (Welles regular Gus Schilling), runner-up a grinning Ernest Borgnine, who arrives late as a bank robber, and third place townsperson Squinty McGee, aka Jack Lambert of the same year’s Kiss Me Deadly.

Squinty pulls a knife:

Per Filipe Furtado: “Cagney’s perseverance in front of a life of disappointments is the best use of the actor’s mature strengths in any of his post war roles.” Playing a twice-falsely-accused man, Cagney becomes sheriff of a nowhere town, falls for a Swedish woman (Viveca Lindfors, star of Swedish cinema in the 40’s with a long successful Hollywood run ending in Stargate). Cagney spends most of his time trying to rehabilitate 20-year-old lost soul John Derek (Scandal Sheet), who is simply too handsome for common morality and ends up joining Borgnine in the robbery that leaves Cagney’s new father-in-law dead. The Swede’s dad was probably fourth place – actually Danish, Jean Hersholt had costarred in Greed. Cagney kills the kid, better late than never.

The law of the land, wielding a carved wood gun:

Good-looking movie with a nothing-special ending. Played the commentary for a while – Robert Wise came up as editor, cut Kane and Ambersons, then while working for Val Lewton he started directing, and this was his first A picture. He’s either well-prepared or has a great memory.

Robert Mitchum is set up as an innocent wandering into a feuding town – his camp is wiped out by a cattle herd then he’s given a shitty welcome by a bunch of suspicious fucks led by Tom Tully. Mitchum is just passing through, so they let him drift, but really he’s a hired gun for old buddy Robert Preston (The Music Man himself). But Preston proves to be a villain, and Mitchum falls for Tully’s daughter Barbara Bel Geddes (Vertigo‘s Midge), while her own sister is helping the enemy, whose plot involves getting Tully’s cattle confiscated by the law and buying it back himself. When Walter Brennan’s son is killed, it’s not just a money game anymore, and Mitchum and Bel Geddes (rifleman lovers who met playfully shooting at each other) go out and get bloody revenge.

Wicked Preston and mixed-up kid Phyllis Thaxter:

Reading my notes after the fact, it’s hard to piece the plot back together – a lot happening in 80 minutes, but it all made perfect sense at the time. Lange was working for a smalltime publisher named Batala, a scam artist and rapist. Lange just wants to write silly westerns and see them published. His dreams are working out, his stories gaining popularity, the cute Valentine is in love with him, but when Batala’s interference tries to bring it all crashing down, Lange kills him and goes on the run. Good movie, and commie film critics give it extra points for showing the publishing workers taking over production.

Lange is plain-looking René Lefèvre of Le Million. Valentine is Florelle of Lang’s not-great version of Liliom. This movie is set at a hotel where these two are crashing while fleeing for the border after the murder, most of the action shown as flashbacks as Valentine tells the story to the locals so they won’t turn Lange in. Jules Berry, who plays the villain, later costarred in Le Jour Se Leve – another film written by Jacques Prévert in which Berry is murdered and we learn the full story as the killer is hiding out in the aftermath.

Opens with a William Blake quote,

features Gary Farmer… and solo guitar music (by William Tyler, not Neil Young)

and has in Cookie the most self-conscious man in the West since Depp in Dead Man.

Even the trappers lining up to eat homemade “oily cakes” recalls the Billy Bob & Iggy campfire scene.

Soooo I liked it very much.

Cookie and King Lu stay together to the end, neither one taking the money and running. We already knew their fate from the surprise Alia Shawkat opening scene, but it’s still a shock to see friendship trump greed in this sort of movie. Adam Nayman’s article in The Ringer is the one to beat.

Grotesquely happy, murderous singing cowboy Tim Blake Nelson explains that he’s not a misanthrope in the Coens’ most self-referential piece yet, before he’s killed by a Hail Caesar singer.

James Franco gets hanged for his comically failed bank robbery, then again after escaping on account of Indians killing the guys hanging him, the point of the episode seeming to be the joke where he turns to another guy getting hanged and says “first time?”

(Nearly?) mute Liam Neeson wheels a monologuing human torso (Harry Melling) from town to town until tastes change and Neeson finds new entertainment that’s cheaper to feed. A haunting and cynical segment – wonderful looking, with rich storybook color, as are they all.

Tom Waits as an ol’ prospector, the role he was born to play, just searching for gold in a gorgeous river valley amongst deer and owls. The lead character has died at the end of every segment so far, so I was afraid for Tom, but he turns the tables on would-be thief Sam Dillon.

Finally it’s a woman’s turn to meet a sorry end: nervous Zoe Kazan, a wagon train widow who is very nearly protected from Indians by Bill Heck and Grainger Hines.

Then five mismatched people in a coach, like a Stagecoach parody, ending up like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors with all of them already dead.

Watched at the Landmark, and reserving further comment until I either rewatch and get some sweet screenshots, or order that Adam Nayman book.