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Tom Horn

14 Jul

Tom Horn — directed by William Wiard and five others. 98 minutes Western. Color 1980.
★★★★★
The Story: Hired to scrape a rash of rustlers from the Wyoming territory, a famed human tracker is framed by the worthies that hired him.
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You won’t want to see this picture when I tell you what I like about it.

From first to last, I was impressed by the sets, costumes, and locations. On the streets of the 1903 western town lies horse manure. Structures look lived in and added onto. The characters have worn the the costumes for years, their colors are drab, they fit the shoulders, and are not recently pressed arrivals from the costume shop sewing machines. The interiors smell right. The landscape is widespread, spectacular, and convincing. I’ve never seen it in a Western before, or a Western like this.

The film is well directed, written, and shot by John A. Alonzo — unique in story and treatment — in line after Shane.

The actors are male — with the exception of Linda Evans, who is misdirected or chooses to play on first sight of the hero her strong suite of blue-eyed devotion. Otherwise she is fine, as are all the other actors and they are many, and include Elisha Cook Jr., Slim Pickins, and Richard Farnsworth, the blue of whose eyes convince you of his own and everyone else’s innocence at all times.

Steve McQueen plays Tom Horn. His head is maned in platinum curls. He always played characters a lot younger than what he actually was. But here he is fifty years old and looks every day of it. This is one of McQueen’s final films. He is like to die.

As a super-star McQueen had a few peers, but he was one. He operated with a self-possession unrivaled — except once, by that of Edward G. Robinson’s opposite him in The Cincinnati Kid.

He housed a quality of irresistibility present in every cell of his rather slight blond figure. He was irresistibly sexual and knew it. His irresistibility was also born to prevail in such mortal combat as his films frequently threw him against.

He was also irresistible to himself. One senses in him the vanity of an actor who knew what suited him on camera, what he could do best, and what the camera best liked about him.

For he was also irresistible to the camera.

He had a face potential with events. The mobility of it, the wrenched muscles, wrinkles, dimples, lines, crevices, crannies, and corners of it gave his face a mobility entrancing to behold, watch, wait for, catch up with, and envy — as did James Dean and Clark Gable and Sean Xavier. Watch it scrinch up to fire a rifle. He had an up-to-his-ears smile to win any bet. His eyes searched or threatened with the intensity of a blue spear. He had the impishness of a boy and the bashfulness of a delinquent girl. He is never likable, but he is always desirable. His technique is believable, imaginative, and limited to his guts, for everything is played from below the navel. Thus he never plays a “character”. He can’t. Only roles. For he is always a powerhouse of dangerous charm. He is always untamed.

This last makes Tom Horn a perfect part for Steve McQueen, a misfit born. The writing is so well gauged that you never know what will happen next. McQueen produced the film himself, and it is one of his best efforts. If you have never seen it, gather round. It was not a success at the time of its first release in 1980 the year he died. It is a success now.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, Elisha Cook, Steve McQueen

 

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