Tag Archives: William Holden

The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah), the director’s cut

The Wild Bunch opens with a methodically executed heist slash shootout sequence. Director Peckinpah quickly introduces cast members, partially due to the dramatic plotting, mostly due to Lou Lombardo’s fantastic editing. All juxtaposed with some kids watching ants kill scorpions. The Wild Bunch opens with one heck of a declarative statement. Peckinpah wants to look at violence and how people treat violence as entertainment.

Unfortunately, he also wants to do a Western about men getting old and being men and bonding even though they don’t like each other because they’re men after all and men stick together. Just look at “villain” Robert Ryan, who is pursuing his old gang–led by William Holden and Ernest Borgnine–and is now stuck with a bunch of low-life bounty hunters. Real men aren’t low-life bounty hunters with bad teeth. Edmond O’Brien, the eldest of the “Wild Bunch,” has bad teeth but he’s not a low-life bounty hunter. He goofs off in the steam bath just like Holden and Borgnine.

After the opening, which is simultaneously exhilarating and horrific, The Wild Bunch does a more traditional first act. There’s setup with Ryan hunting down the gang, there’s setup with the backstory between Ryan and Holden, there’s a full introduction of the supporting cast. Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are brothers and dissenting voices in the gang. Jaime Sánchez is the other guy, who’s apparently been there longer than Johnson and Oates, but not as long as Borgnine. It doesn’t really matter because the characters aren’t deep. They’ll occasionally get deep characterizations from the actors, but the script’s pretty thin. In the script they’re just old, mopey, angry, drunk, tired, horny, or some combination thereof.

For Johnson and Oates, it doesn’t matter. They’re around to be flashy so Holden can dwell on all his mistakes. For Holden and Borgnine, it does matter. Borgnine has almost nothing whatsoever to do except back up Holden, so it’d be nice for there to be a reason more than Borgnine admires Holden. And if not a reason, at least something melodramatic. Something melodramatic would show Peckinpah and co-writer Walon Green carried a little.

Instead, no. It’s undeveloped. Just like almost everything else in The Wild Bunch, except Sánchez’s backstory. Out of nowhere, the film goes from being Ryan hunting Holden and company to Holden and company hanging out in Sánchez’s home village in Mexico and becomes darn likable. Oates goes from ominous and dangerous to affable in about three minutes once they get to the village. Cute even. But Peckinpah doesn’t want the audience to like the characters for too long–at least not without reservations or comprise–so they’re always doing something awful.

There’s some good acting in The Wild Bunch. Holden’s a strong lead and he has a handful of phenomenal little moments. They don’t add up to anything, but they’re real good. And Peckinpah’s on for them too, which is nice. Borgnine’s fine. He really is just support for Holden. Sánchez is fine too; Peckinpah was apparently intentional about making him frequently pout. Oates is wild and crazy and it’s okay. It’s an enjoyable performance, but the character is still exceptionally unlikable. Johnson does a lot with a thin part.

Edmond O’Brien is amazing. He chews scenery, drools or spits it out with his chaw, but always with restraint. Whoever thought of dubbing his laughter over shots should’ve had a different thought, however. After some a lot of imaginative stylization in the first third, the film cools down until the grand finale. And that grand finale just shows the same techniques applied to different content; Peckinpah foreshadows pretty much everything in the spectacular open.

As far as the bad guys, Ryan’s okay. Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones are initially amusing as his most vocal moronic sidekicks. They soon get tiring, once it’s clear there’s no more material for them. Ryan gets it worst in that department, however. He’ll be going along fine and then get some trite, waxing nostalgic monologue. It makes for a long movie.

Jerry Fielding’s music is on the low side of mediocre. It’s kind of all right at times, but Peckinpah and Fielding go for a traditional Western score and it doesn’t bring anything to the film. And then there are the times Fielding does action thrill music, which do not work at all. In fact, they’re unpleasant. You’re sitting around waiting for something to happen and then there’s some action and Fielding kneecaps it.

I know Wild Bunch is a sparse, moody look at the male psyche, violence, and the myth of the Old West, but it should better at doing that thing. Peckinpah neglects his actors; not an insignificant problem since there’s only three or four intricate action sequences. There are a couple more elaborate ones, which have spectacle but not much else. But Peckinpah’s ignoring them when there’s nothing else going on except the characters walking, talking, riding.

Despite some dynamic filmmaking from Peckinpah, ably edited by Lombardo, Wild Bunch just doesn’t add up. There’s not enough for the actors, neither in the script nor in Peckinpah’s directorial attention.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Walon Green and Peckinpah, based on a story by Green and Roy N. Sickner; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Jerry Fielding; produced by Phil Feldman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Holden (Pike Bishop), Ernest Borgnine (Dutch Engstrom), Edmond O’Brien (Freddie Sykes), Jaime Sánchez (Angel), Ben Johnson (Tector Gorch), Warren Oates (Lyle Gorch), Emilio Fernández (Mapache), Strother Martin (Coffer), L.Q. Jones (T.C), and Robert Ryan (Deke Thornton).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 2ND ANNUAL GOLDEN BOY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


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Framed (1930, George Archainbaud)

Framed feels a little like it was a silent turned into a talkie. About half the time, instead establishing shots for scene changes, there are expository title cards. Usually they’re for time changes, as though director Archainbaud couldn’t think of anything else.

It’s hard to say how many of Framed‘s problems are Archainbaud’s fault. Most of the performances are bad, but they’re bad enough it’s not like Archainbaud could have fixed anything.

Lead Evelyn Brent and one of her beaus, Ralf Harolde, remind of particularly bad understudies taking on the roles. Harolde tries so hard to develop his character’s nervous ticks, he forgets to deliver his dialogue well. As for Brent… she’s not any good and worse, she’s annoying.

The picture opens with a good interrogation scene–Archainbaud’s best shot is his first–but then Brent starts talking and the film falls apart. Brent has a lot of problem getting out Wallace Smith’s dialogue. It might not even be here fault; Smith’s dialogue is a constant flop.

Her other beau, Regis Toomey, is a little better. He’s can’t be good–the dialogue–but he’s a little better. Until his scene opposite his father, played by William Holden (no, a different one), and then that scene falls apart thanks to the lousy dialogue.

In the supporting cast, Maurice Black and Robert Emmett O’Connor are both fine. Holden is not.

Jack Kitchin’s editing is weak too, though it’s not like Archainbaud was giving him good shots.

Framed is an insufferably drab bore.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Archainbaud; written by Paul Schofield and Wallace Smith; director of photography, Leo Tover; edited by Jack Kitchin; produced by William LeBaron; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Evelyn Brent (Rose Manning), Regis Toomey (Jimmy Carter), Ralf Harolde (Chuck Gaines), William Holden (Inspector McArthur), Maurice Black (Bing Murdock) and Robert Emmett O’Connor (Sergeant Burke).

Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)

Network lost Oscars. It doesn’t really matter what it lost them to, because the absurdity of the Academy Awards is summed up in that one statement. Network lost Oscars.

I’m not sure what shot is Sidney Lumet’s best in the film, because I’m remembering two of them from the last half. These aren’t necessarily the best shots in the film, but they’re memorable because I can’t quite remember ever seeing anything like them before. The first is for Ned Beatty’s big scene. It’s an amazing scene from Beatty, but Lumet’s composition, the lighting scheme, the cuts to Peter Finch, it’s a singular filmic moment. The second, unfortunately in some ways, summarizes the popular half of Network. It’s the network executives sitting around Robert Duvall’s office, deciding what must be done. It’s been about ten years since I’ve seen Network and I don’t know if I passively remembered the resolution or if, in those ten years, I’ve consumed enough media the resolution just became the most logical thing in the world. Lumet makes enough room for six people in his shot and lets the camera sit. Duvall might even walk into the shot. There’s only one close-up I can remember, otherwise Lumet just lets it sit.

The popular half of Network is the one where people remember the lines, the one acclaimed in modernity as a classic of 1970s cinema. Network is–and I’m only going to talk about this aspect for a second–more obviously true today than it was in 1976. The Saudis buying up America, for example, much more pertinent these days than then. The dehumanizing effects of television, much worse today than then… at least then, television wasn’t apathetic to suffering. It had yet to become the idiot box. It’s funny in that sad, tragic way how much acclaim the sound bits from Network get–the lip service. Makes one wonder if those giving the awards (the American Film Institute) watches the film.

The other half of Network is, much like the non-pioneering half of Citizen Kane, forgotten. And it’s, like Kane, the more important one. In Network, it’s the William Holden side. Holden’s performance–which, incredulously, he reportedly got due to The Towering Inferno–is astounding. Network wouldn’t work if any of the cast couldn’t hold with Holden or Finch or Faye Dunaway. Duvall’s part, in the first half, is the sketchiest, just because of the plot, but Duvall holds it and makes it work and it pays off big in the end. Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting for less than six minutes. Easily deserved it. The combination of Lumet’s direction and Chayefsky’s script for scenes like Straight’s… it’s truly special filmmaking. Everything else aside, all of Finch’s hysterics aside (as well as the wonderfully absurd scenes, like the terrorists worrying about syndication rights), Network is a quiet film.

I could go on ad nauseam–I have not, for instance, discussed Dunaway’s performance or Chayefsky’ script the editing or the sound design–but it’ll turn into a list. Overanalyzing Network isn’t useful, it’s far too consequential.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; written by Paddy Chayefsky; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Alan Heim; music by Elliott Lawrence; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Howard Gottfried; released by United Artists.

Starring Faye Dunaway (Diane Christenson), William Holden (Max Schumacher), Peter Finch (Howard Beals), Robert Duvall (Frank Hackett), Wesley Addy (Nelson Chaney), Ned Beatty (Arthur Jenson), Darryl Hickman (Bill Herron), Beatrice Straight (Louise Schumacher) and Marlene Warfield (Laureen Hobbs).


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Escape from Fort Bravo (1953, John Sturges)

The Western is probably the greatest American contribution to cinema (don’t mention Leone, because Fort Bravo and the like have heart, something Leone was never interested in). Escape from Fort Bravo is an excellent example of the American Western. It’s not just conflict with the untamed West, but also the internal struggle of the Civil War. What matters about the Western, of course, is not these conflicts (if they did matter, there’d be a significant quality change once Westerns started treating the American Indians with respect and there isn’t–of course, did Westerns ever treat them with respect? Kevin Costner doesn’t count for that example either. I’m thinking American Outlaws and Young Guns). Anyway, Fort Bravo.

I first saw Fort Bravo because of Eleanor Parker. This first viewing must have been back in the late 1990s, before I knew who William Holden was, probably, and was only familiar with Sturges for The Great Escape. As a story about people, Fort Bravo is probably Sturges’ peak. Holden runs this film–though John Forsythe is a good alter ego for him–and both sort of fight over Parker. Mostly, Holden fights with himself over Parker (Forsythe, in a nice scene, obviously can’t beat Holden).

There’s no propaganda to Fort Bravo, the Northerners and Southerners are portrayed as soldiers in a war who speak the same language. This lack of propaganda is a significant aspect of the American Western. Even in the Civil War, it’s not about the ideas, it’s about the lives lost. Fort Bravo can get away with it mostly because it never shows what dicks the Rebs were, quite wisely. I can just excuse away the line about the South being right, because the truth is, they were allowed to cede. But it’s not an issue in Fort Bravo, because these interesting folks in a life-threatening situation is more interesting.

A lot of films owe the American Western. Any mainstream action film from Die Hard on is really a Western (allowing for Carpenter action films, which were earlier, but aren’t mainstream enough)–the whole Faulkner concept of man struggling to be better than himself plays out in the American Western. Fort Bravo is filled with gun battles and all sorts of action, but the real conflict is human. I was a little worried–I haven’t seen the film since 2000 at the outside–but I wasn’t wrong about it. It’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Frank Fenton, from a story by Phillip Rock and Michael Pate; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by George Boemler; music by Jeff Alexander; produced by Nicholas Nayfack; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Holden (Roper), Eleanor Parker (Carla Forester), John Forsythe (Marsh), William Demarest (Campbell), William Campbell (Cabot Young), Polly Bergen (Alice Owens), Richard Anderson (Lt. Beecher), Carl Benton Raid (Col. Owens) and John Lupton (Bailey).


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