Archive for the ‘James Coburn’ Category

Ride Lonesome

26 Oct

Ride Lonesome – directed by Budd Boetticher. Western. 73 minutes Color 1959.


The Story: A bounty hunter must bring in a murderer and encounters mortal danger inside and outside his posse.


Randolph Scott was for decades one of the most popular stars in Hollywood, and towards the end of his long career he made seven excellent films with Boetticher, of which this is the next to last and one of the best.

Scott came from a well-to-do Virginia and North Carolina family, and made a great fortune from films. He exuded the demeanor of a Southern gentleman too well bred to surrender to the admissions of the actor, but in time he loosened up internally and became an object of riveting registration. He is 61 when he makes this picture; his face has become marbleized; he is a national monument; he is stalwart, shrewd, and physically flexible when on horse; watch his body move. He is careful about what he laughs at, but contains a droll humor. When he is on screen all attention goes his way because he works the moral drift. Probity leads him. And that leads everyone else. Unlike Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, he is never hollow; he is without bombast. Burt Kennedy wrote this script, as he did for other of Scott’s best pictures, and knew Scott’s instrument and wrote fine music for it.

This is a trek movie. Like Stagecoach and many another it involves a long, tense, journey.

Accompanying Scott is the weak-minded young prisoner Scott has captured. But two other men go too, both interested in killing Scott so they can bring in the prisoner themselves and collect their own reward. They are interesting, because their reward would be amnesty from their past crimes and because they are played by James Coburn in his film debut, as a young lunkhead who idolizes the other one, played by the redoubtable Pernell Roberts. Roberts was the best Petruchio I have seen; he did it at The Phoenix in New York on Second Avenue back when. He had the kind of masculinity and big theater presence and great voice you found in Robert Preston. The fifth wheel in this posse is played by Karen Steele (Boetticher’s mistress at the time), an actress in whom our interest is stifled by her pyramid titties, immaculate beauty parlor appearance, and stiffness. Lee Van Cleef is, of course, the arch villain tracking them down.

The precision of the film gives us the story in all its timeless conventions and necessary taciturnity, and the director has given it to us in the spectacle of the taciturnity of the rocks amid which it is shot. It is sensational to look at. It would be wonderful to see this picture on the big screen, it must have been marvelous to witness it there at the time of its release. It’s still good to see it now.



02 Jun

Midway – Directed by Jack Smight – WW II War Action. Vast armadas clash at sea in a turning point battle in 1942. 132 minutes Color 1976.

* * * *

All the male stars, and there are many, make grim faces, and so they all look alike. The only one to whom a grim face comes naturally is the great Toshiro Mifune, but when he opens that face to speak, what few lines he has are dubbed. Anxious, fearful, watchful – the others are all the same: Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, Robert Webber, Edward Albert, and, of course, the star, Mister Grim Mouth himself, Charlton Heston. This tends to level the playing field, or rather it makes it possible for certain actors to rise above the monotony of the waters and shine: James Shigeta, for instance, in radiator paint grey hair, who makes a telling character of the wise Admiral who sank the US fleet at Pearl Harbor now attempting to seize Midway Island which has become a US airbase for the bombing of Tokyo. It is a beautiful performance, perfectly calibrated to suit the ravages of fate, as the huge Japanese Navy, spearheaded by four carriers, sets out for the invasion. And Hal Holbrook, who makes a merry wag of the decoder who tracked down the target of the Japanese mission, which no one knew until the day before. Chance, dumb luck, craft, skill, experience, ineptitude, and ruthlessness on all sides come into play in this story which is a pretty good civics lesson overview of the personalities, strategies, and odds at play. The Japanese had a huge advantage, for the US Pacific Fleet had been generously destroyed by them at Pearl Harbor. The director and writer have endeavored to show these forces honestly and fairly, and we are never in doubt as to the names of the specific pilots on the specific missions which failed or succeeded. Oddly this keeps things impersonal, since we never get to know any of these characters well. But it does keep us informed as to the doings of the battle, and the chances of choice or of weather, for instance, which played such a notable part in the outcome. For huge vessels in fleets wallow around upon the fabric of a vast sluggish ocean trying to destroy one another, and doing so. All this manipulated by Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii. And Admiral Yamamoto on his battleship 300 miles away. Lots of color footage of the battle lend their flare to the story, and while the human relations are clunky, the relation to the personalities at play on the circumstances and events is influential beyond measure. It’s a worthwhile movie, highly dramatic, and clear, and necessary to know.[ad#300×250]



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