Tag Archives: Jack Palance

I Died a Thousand Times (1955, Stuart Heisler)

Going into the third act of I Died a Thousand Times, the film is in great shape. It’s got a strange pace but it’s all working out, mostly thanks to lead Jack Palance’s peculiar and strong performance, and it doesn’t seem like it could do anything wrong enough to screw things up. Unfortunately, the resolution is one giant choke. One where Palance is basically a bit player (or less) and the script fully embraces the casual misogyny it’s been flirting with the entire time. It seemed like it had gotten over it–Thousand’s casual misogyny has highs and lows, what with slut-shaming female lead Shelley Winters and then damsel in distress Lori Nelson’s arc from sweet young girl to callous, shallow tease (the film’s also got issues with the young people and their fast music, eventually—and perfectly—personified in an uncredited Dennis Hopper, who Palance sadly doesn’t beat to a pulp). But for the finish, when the film’s drained everything positive like sap, it brings back that casual misogyny. It’s not just disappointing and beneath W.R. Burnett’s script, it’s also annoying.

The film opens with Palance driving through the desert, headed west. We get the ground situation in pieces. He’s an ex-con bank robber, paroled after eight years. He’s not hostile so much as guarded. But he lets his guard down right away with kindly old couple Ralph Moody and Olive Carey. And not only because of their fetching, though club-footed and shy granddaughter Lori Nelson. Palance and Moody have a good rapport, which may or may not get some context in the script later on. Writer Burnett’s got some really big first act dialogue problems—when Palance and Winters first meet and shoot really bad slang at each other–but the script’s got a really delicate arc for Palance. It makes some leaps and bounds, particularly with the relationship with Palance and Winters, but it doesn’t ever seem rushed, just truncated. Lots of the credit goes to Palance, whose performance is initially as much about presence as delivery.

We meet Winters after we get the setup—courtesy cop turned crook James Millican (it also doesn’t help the film’s take on law enforcement takes a 180 for the third act)—crime boss Lon Chaney Jr. (who’s delightful) pays to get Palance pardoned so Palance can knock-off the jewelry stored at a swanky mountain resort. Even in 1955 dollars, I imagine it must have cost Chaney a lot to get Palance pardoned—despite being in for life—from a federal penitentiary. Probably more than the heist is worth. And if it was so expensive, why not have good backup for Palance? Instead, Chaney’s hired young punks Earl Holliman and Lee Marvin. Not only do they like fast music, they also bring along a dame—Winters. Ostensibly she’s there with Marvin, but she’s also keeping Holliman on a low boil. It’s because she’s manipulating the young sociopaths Palance lets her stay. See, Palance is actually a big softy. We know it with Moody, then we really know it once he friends the puppy at the tourist cabins where they’re all staying. He never entertains Winters, but he doesn’t disrespect her. He trusts her to handle the boys. It’s a very interesting relationship between them, because every time Palance seems like he’s warming up, he pulls back immediately, no warning. It’s a really nice performance.

Winters has her hands full, in the first act, with Marvin and Holliman (despite not having many scenes with them). Died has that weird structure I mentioned earlier. The first and second acts almost overlap because two such distinct things are going on. There’s Marvin, Holliman, Winters, and inside man at the resort Perry Lopez goofing off at the cabins, then there’s Los Angeles with Chaney and Millican, but also kindly old folks Moody and Carey (not to mention Nelson). When they’re finally gearing up to pull the heist, there’s a shock because there’s been no expectation of seeing Holliman or Marvin actually having to participate. They seem way too passive, not just in their behavior, but also in how the film positions them.

Though, actually, they’re in the background of the heist, just like they’re in the background of Palance and Winters. So it seems Heisler and Burnett agree. Or just didn’t want them in the way during the heist, which is fine. Marvin and Holliman are fine, but they’re not interesting to watch. Palance, Winters, even someone with a lesser performance like Nelson or Millican… they’re interesting to watch. A lot of Died takes place outside, often on location, and the film just feels more natural outdoors—another irony given the ending. Heisler rarely has ambitious shots outside the location shooting, but he and cinematographer Ted D. McCord succeed with that location shooting so credit there—but he’s more interested in the cute puppy than the relationship between aging career criminal Palance and girl with a past Winters, though Heisler does perk up a little once they’re making face. Because Winters falls hard for Palance. He’s a big tough guy who occasionally poetically describes the human condition and likes puppies and is kind to old people.

Winters doesn’t get the best part. Like, her exposition feels like it’s been given a G rating when it needs to be an NC-17. Because 1955. But Winters gets it across. The strongest thing, which the film doesn’t pursue, is how Winters interacts with Palance after she’s realized he’s a sweetie. The end fails the hell out of her too. It’s a real bummer.

I Died a Thousand Times—which actually makes no sense as a title since Chaney at one point talks about how you can “only die once”—really needs a better third act. It’s not even as competent, technically speaking, as it ought to be. Because it’s foreshadowed from the first or second scene, only in a really obvious way where they shouldn’t have really gone for it. Especially not since there’s another bookending device sitting there available, apparently just a passive addition to serve the plot but with a lot more possibility than the actual ending.

Is it worth seeing? Yeah. If it had a solid ending, it would’ve given Palance an amazing lead performance and possibly a great supporting one for Winters. It’s just… a real bummer.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; written by W.R. Burnett; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by David Buttolph; produced by Willis Goldbeck; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jack Palance (Roy Earle), Shelley Winters (Marie Garson), Lon Chaney Jr. (Big Mac), Earl Holliman (Red), Lee Marvin (Babe Kossuck), Ralph Moody (Pa Goodhue), Olive Carey (Ma Goodhue), Lori Nelson (Velma), Perry Lopez (Louis Mendoza), Howard St. John (Doc Banton), James Millican (Jack Kranmer), and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (Chico).



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Young Guns (1988, Christopher Cain)

Young Guns is an Emilio Estevez vanity project, which was once a thing. Estevez lacks the screen charisma and acting ability, but it’s a confusing part. He’s Billy the Kid and he’s playing him like a manipulative but somehow still likable psychopath. For about half the film, John Fusco’s script can keep up with Estevez–director Cain is utterly incapable with his cast and does nothing to assist Estevez or reign him in when need be–but it all falls apart in the end. It doesn’t fall apart from very high, but it does fall apart. The script gets worse, Cain responds to the different pace of the film by abandoning all his nods to pretense, which the first half is littered with. They’re not good, but they’re diverting.

Fusco’s script is interesting in how it characterizes the Young Guns of the title. Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland (he’s the sensitive one), Lou Diamond Phillips (he’s the soulful Native one), Charlie Sheen (he’s the godly one), Dermont Mulroney (he’s playing Pigpen from Peanuts only with some bigotry), Casey Siemaszko (he’s the loudmouthed but soulful little guy). Fusco writers the characters for Mulroney, Siemaszko and Phillips as caricatures; he’s nicer to Phillips than the other two, but there’s still no character development. Sheen, Sutherland and Estevez should get it too, but they just get plot points and costume changes.

Terence Stamp is good. Terry O’Quinn is sort of good; his part is just terribly written. Cain doesn’t seem to understand doing his washed-out Western–Dean Semler’s photography is desaturated, which has good and bad results–but Cain doesn’t realize the parts aren’t fitting. Not just the acting–and Cain’s direction of it–but the script and the stupid music. Young Guns has a sax-heavy smooth jazz thing going on. It’s very eighties. In all the bad ways. What’s sad is it’s tolerable in all those defects until the last act; the result of previous hundred minutes don’t add up to what the film closes with. Very obliviously, because Cain tries to ape Sam Peckinpah to risible result.

Young Guns is a bad movie with some earnest and bad performances. But it should’ve been better; throughout its runtime, it shows it should’ve been better. I mean, Christopher Cain wastes a Patrick Wayne cameo. How can you screw up a Patrick Wayne cameo?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Cain; written by John Fusco; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Jack Hofstra; music by Brian Banks and Anthony Marinelli; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Cain and Joe Roth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Emilio Estevez (Billy), Kiefer Sutherland (Doc), Lou Diamond Phillips (Chavez), Charlie Sheen (Dick), Dermot Mulroney (Dirty Steve), Casey Siemaszko (Charley), Terence Stamp (John Tunstall), Jack Palance (Lawrence G. Murphy), Terry O’Quinn (Alex McSween), Sharon Thomas Cain (Susan McSween), Alice Carter (Yen Sun) and Patrick Wayne (Pat Garrett).


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City Slickers (1991, Ron Underwood)

City Slickers is a mid-life crisis comedy. I had forgotten about that aspect of it. All three principals–Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern–start the movie in a funk. Well, actually only Crystal. The other two’s problems reveal themselves throughout. Especially Kirby. His backstory takes so long to reveal, it strains believability. It’s not believable his friends would know so little about him.

Anyway, in order for the movie to work, it has to be believable these problems will work themselves out at the end and the trio will be able to happily get on with their lives. It’s a comedy after all.

Except it’s not really about the three of them, it’s about Crystal. So if Crystal’s problem can work itself out… the movie works itself out.

And, within the constraints of the film, it does work. Underwood is able to sell it. It doesn’t make up for the dragging parts of the film, but it does make it work. In fact, it’s a somewhat strange resolution. It’s not subtle, though they never verbalize it; verbalizing it would make Crystal’s character a little… unlikable actually.

Underwood does a good job except when he’s repeatedly zooming in for effect. It just doesn’t work.

Crystal, Kirby and Stern are all good. Crystal gets better when he’s dramatic. Jack Palance and Crystal are great together. The supporting cast in general is strong.

Marc Shaiman’s music is a weak spot.

City Slickers has its ups and downs but it’s fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Underwood; written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Marc Shaiman; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Irby Smith; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Billy Crystal (Mitch Robbins), Daniel Stern (Phil Berquist), Bruno Kirby (Ed Furillo), Patricia Wettig (Barbara Robbins), Helen Slater (Bonnie Rayburn), Jack Palance (Curly Washburn), Noble Willingham (Clay Stone), Tracey Walter (Cookie), Josh Mostel (Barry Shalowitz), David Paymer (Ira Shalowitz), Bill Henderson (Dr. Ben Jessup), Jeffrey Tambor (Lou), Phill Lewis (Dr. Steven Jessup), Kyle Secor (Jeff), Dean Hallo (T.R.), Karla Tamburrelli (Arlene Berquist) and Yeardley Smith (Nancy).


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