Tuesday, June 19, 2007
My tastes have been moulded by a lot of reading about film. Books, movie magazines, movie reviews in newspapers and free weeklies, articles about history as portrayed in movies, whatever comes to hand. Living in Hollywood for so long helped. There was always something neat, or new, or interesting listed in the free weeklies for the revival houses, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian, art houses, the Museum of Art, the Silent Movie House, and so on. For awhile, I was frequenting Mondo-Video-A-Go-Go in Los Feliz Village. It was a cult cinema video rental refuge. They had the entire Sinister Cinema catalog for rent.
Maybe giving a few examples might be better than a list or a vague explanation. Take Meiko Kaji, for example. I may be wrong, but I suspect most of the people who know about Meiko Kaji know about her through Kill Bill. The Bride and certain plot elements of Kill Bill are based on Lady Snowblood, starring Meiko Kaji, and Tarantino used a couple of Meiko Kaji's songs.
Not me! I saw my first Meiko at least a year before Kill Bill came out. I was at the Cinematheque (The Egyptian) on Hollywood Boulevard, I don't even remember what I was there for, and I saw the most incredible, unbelievable, breathlessness-inducing preview I ever saw! It was in Japanese, with no subtitles, with these big red and black Japanese ideographs filling the screen! And it wasn't too hard to figure out what those Japanese words meant. GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE! GANG RAPES GALORE! LESBIANISM! YOU WILL NEVER AGAIN SEE A WOMEN'S PRISON MOVIE LIKE THIS!
I got my money's worth just from the preview!
But because it was in Japanese, I had no idea what it was called. I ran into the lobby, missing a minute or two of the feature film, to find out what the hell that was and when they were showing it. "Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41." I wrote it down. It was a name you could bank on.
And I saw it a few weeks later with a Japanese spy comedy called "Black Tight Killers," a very funny flick, and I think it's intentionally funny. (It's sometimes hard to tell with Japanese cinema. "Black Tight Killers" is kind of like "Casino Royale" (1967) meets "What's Up, Tiger Lily?") But the real draw was "Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41," which quickly became one of my favorite movies.
After Kill Bill came out, "Lady Snowblood" came out on DVD and I finally saw it. And my local video rental place had "Stray Cat Rock Sex Hunter." Then, when I got Netflix, I found that they had a bunch of Meiko Kaji films available, and that's where I get those.
We'll be seeing a lot of foreign films in the next few months, and I found out about many of these particular films from a book I bought when I first moved to Los Angeles. It's called "John Kobal Presents the Top 100 Movies." Kobal surveyed a bunch of movie critics from all over the world, ranked the films based on the responses and wrote a few paragraphs on each film.
I thought it was a good place to start. Living in Hollywood for almost 20 years, I had a great opportunity to see old and classic films on the big screen, and Kobal's book was kind of a guide book. Stuff I wanted to see just to see what all the fuss was about. And I've been trying to see these movies since about 1990. After all these years, I still have about 15 of these movies to see. But now that I have Netflix, it's not so hard. (There are about 5 of these movies that are not available on Netflix.)
Don't dis the list. There's a bunch of movies on here that I don't think I would ever have searched out if I didn't have this book. "The Far Country" with Jimmy Stewart is on the list, and I looked for it for ages before it finally came out on DVD within the last few years. "Ashes and Diamonds," a Polish film about the days immediately after the end of World War II, I am sure I would never have heard of, and it blew me away. Then there's stuff like "Andrei Rublev," "The Scarlet Empress," "The Exterminating Angel," "Paisan," and "Rome, Open City" that I was glad I saw, films that quickly became favorites.
Yeah, there's some films in here that I think are stinkers, like "The Sacrifice," "Vertigo," and "L'Avventura," but there's also a lot of very well known films included on the list that you don't have to be a snooty cineaste to enjoy. No, not "The Matrix" or "Revenge of the Sith" or "The Notorious Bettie Page" or any of those modern classics. I mean films like "Citizen Kane," "Bride of Frankenstein," "Bringing Up Baby," "Psycho," "Night of the Living Dead," "Freaks," "Casablanca" and "The African Queen."
In the next few weeks, some of the films from Kobal's Top 100 that I will be looking at for "I, The Audience" include: "Jules and Jim," "Ivan the Terrible, Part II," and "Empire of the Senses" (also known as "In the Realm of the Senses" and "Ai-No Corrida").
We’re also going to be having a sort of a Rochelle Hudson retrospective. I mentioned that I thought she was quite an attractive girl when I reviewed "Mr. Moto Takes A Chance," and I looked her up and discovered that she was the voice of Bosko's girlfriend in the Bosko cartoon series of the 1930s and 1940s. (Which I've never seen, but I hear they are kinda offensive. I don't doubt it a bit, considering that it was the "Golden Age of Racist Imagery" for American popular culture.) Rochelle Hudson was also in a film from about the same time called "Wild Boys of the Road," which I have to see just from the title. It is not on Netflix, unfortunately.
But Netflix does have lovely Ms. Hudson in "The Savage Girl" from 1932, which I must see because it’s a jungle girl movie, and she's also in a movie with W.C. Fields that I haven't seen. So I put "Poppy" in my Netflix queue.
That is where I find these movies. Anywhere and everywhere. (And right now I'm looking for the name of a movie I want to see. I saw the preview and I thought, I have to see that, but I didn't write it down. It's a Japanese movie about a naked superhero. She knows martial arts and she kicks butt and she wears an elaborate red mask to cover her face and she wears red boots (and maybe gloves) but that's it. She's naked. And she seems to ride around Tokyo on a motorcycle dressed like that. And she waves at people. So if you know the name of this movie, let me know.)
THE SAVAGE GIRL – 1932
This is one goofy ass movie. It starts off with a text prologue. The filmmakers seem to be apologizing for the movie. The last line of text is: "Accept it for its contribution to pure enjoyment."
We will take this suggestion to heart.
Then there's a Great White Hunter lecturing to a New York men's club. And a Rich Drunk tells Great White Hunter that he has a Westchester estate with a pool and a tennis court and polo grounds and he'd really like to have a zoo as well. So they leave the next morning to go to Africa to get some animals for Rich Drunk's zoo.
The Taxi Driver who takes them to the boat mentions that he's always wanted to go to Africa, so Rich Drunk hires him, and they take Taxi Driver and his taxi with them to Africa, and while the rest of the party is guys in pith helmets and native bearers with provisions and equipment on their heads, Rich Drunk is always sitting in the back of the taxi with Taxi Driver motoring him around.
So they go to Africa. No place specific. Just Africa. The screenwriters seem to think Africa is a rather big island located between the Atlantic Ocean and India. (And it looks like Griffith Park.) And in Africa, Rich Drunk meets an American black man named Oscar who is from Harlem and would like to go back to New York. Rich Drunk hires him to follow him around and sleep in front of his tent to keep him safe. When Rich Drunk drives around, Oscar follows along behind, walking.
Great White Hunter finds a German Guy Who Looks Like Joe Biden to be his assistant on the hunt. German Guy Who Looks Like Joe Biden is rather dubious about the area they are going to. It's not a good place for white men. Bad Natives. And there are also legends of something called a "chungle gosch," which is apparently German for "jungle goddess."
"Fiddlesticks," says Great White Hunter, who does not yet understand what sort of movie he is in.
Rich Drunk understands exactly what kind of movie he is in. He has brought a white mouse along as a sort of mascot. The mouse will be used in an experiment to see if elephants are really scared of mice. (Rich Drunk eventually tries it out. I won't spoil it by telling what happens.)
(Rich Drunk is named "Stitch," by the way. And he kind of acts like Stitch too. It was weird. Maybe I shouldn't have brought it up.)
So they go to the certain part of Africa where the Bad Natives are and they catch some lions and things and have some adventures. And Savage Girl starts spying on them. Savage Girl is played by the beautiful Rochelle Hudson, with long black hair all over the place, and a leopard skin that is far too big. Come on, people! This is a pre-Code movie! Let's see some skin!
Savage Girl is friends with all the animals. And she sees white men for the first time and immediately falls in love with Great White Hunter.
Which doesn't stop her from letting all the animals go in the night. Great White Hunter now believes in Savage Girl. So he baits a trap with a mirror and a necklace and she falls for it and falls into a pit and they grab her and lock her in a hut.
German Guy Who Looks Like Joe Biden gets naughty ideas about Savage Girl and pesters her in the night. Great White Hunter knocks him around a bit and kicks him out of camp. Great White Hunter lets Savage Girl go free, but she likes Great White Hunter and hangs around camp anyway, following him into his tent, snuggling with him on his cot, ready for snogging. But he takes her to her own separate hut and tells her to stay there.
Meanwhile German Guy Who Looks Like Joe Biden teams up with the Bad Natives, and they capture Great White Hunter and tie him to a stake while German Guy Who Looks Like Joe Biden goes to the camp to pester Savage Girl some more. (Rochelle Hudson must have been really little, maybe even under five feet. Everybody towers over her.) She screams and screams and manages to fight him off long enough for Rich Drunk, Taxi Driver and Oscar to rescue Great White Hunter from the Bad Natives. (And Rich Drunk lets Oscar sit in the car for the rescue! Isn’t that nice of him!) Fortunately, the taxi seems to be an omen of bad luck to the Bad Natives and they just run away when it drives up, making the rescue rather easy.
And while this is going on, the chimpanzee, who seems to be Savage Girl's sidekick, goes and gets a gorilla suit. This is a really awesome gorilla suit. It doesn't look real, but it's still pretty nifty, big and bulky and hairy with lots of character. I'm sure I've seen it before, but it's not the really terrible one that's in so many Monogram pictures.
So Great White Hunter runs to the rescue and beats up German Guy Who Looks Like Joe Biden. But German Guy Who Looks Like Joe Biden pulls a gun! But he's standing by the window when the gorilla suit, possibly being worn by the chimpanzee, saunters up, reaches through the window, and pulls German Guy Who Looks Like Joe Biden to a presumably horrible offscreen demise.
Great White Hunter finally snogs with Savage Girl and the movie ends.
This movie is exactly why I look so hard and take a chance on so many dumb-looking movies. This movie has a special kind of earnest dumbness that I find irresistible. And that's one of the things I love so much about the films of the 1930s.
"Accept it for its contribution to pure enjoyment."
JULES AND JIM – 1961
Also known as "Jules et Jim," this is a French film about two guys, best friends, who love the same girl, and the difficulties that ensue when she goes back and forth between them. It's set in Europe from just before World War I to the years after World War I, so Jeanne Moreau gets to wear Edwardian fashions (lace, bustles, funny hats) and then 1920s fashions (shorter skirts, funnier hats) and she looks fabulous whatever she is wearing. (And there's one great scene where she dresses like a man, puts on a little moustache with eyeliner (or something) and they all hang out and she challenges Jules and Jim to a footrace on a bridge.)
In Kobal's "Top 100 Movies," "Jules et Jim" comes in at #21. It doesn't rank that high in my book. Yeah, I like it, especially at the beginning. It's very lively, a lotta fun, and it doesn't flinch from the bad part about relationships. Jeanne Moreau's character, Catherine, is very charming with a certain c'est la vie that gives the film a little soup du jour. But she gets a little juneau c'est pas, if you know what I mean. She has good days and bad days. And her bad days are pretty bad. Merde. (Especially at the end.)
For me, the film overstays its welcome a bit. By the time I was watching the last ten or twenty minutes, I didn't much care what happened. I wasn't really bored with it. If I had fallen asleep while watching it on cable, I wouldn't have been too concerned about finding out what happened the next day. (The ending is petty nifty, though. It's just getting through the last few minutes leading up to it.)
It's just not my kind of movie. No one ate a dog or took a taxi to Africa. No pirates, no women in prison, no extravagant revenge schemes. So, ya know, it's actually pretty high praise that I liked it at all. I'm not real big on French films, but every once in a while, I see something really good. Like "The Rules of the Game." Or "A Very Long Engagement." Or, my personal favorite French film, "8 femmes."
Which makes me think they should re-make "Jules et Jim" with Ludivine Sagnier as Catherine.
And then they should make a film version of "Pogo" with Emmanuelle Beart as Churchy la Femme.
YOU'RE TELLING ME – 1934
I was very pleased to find this on Netflix. It is a W.C. Fields movie that had previously escaped my radar. And it's very funny, if not quite of the comedy caliber of "It's a Gift" or "The Bank Dick" or "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break."
Fields plays an inventor named Sam Bisbee. He has a long-suffering, flustered, disapproving wife. (She's not too bad. Some of the wives in these movies are really horrible, such as Mrs. Bissonette in "It's a Gift" or Mrs. Sousè in "The Bank Dick." The latter gave the youngest daughter tacit permission to hit Egbert (Fields) in the head with a rock. Mrs. Bisbee is just about the only wife in these movies who has any affection for the character Fields is playing.) Bisbee also has a hot daughter, Pauline, played by Joan Marsh. She is in love with the son of the richest family in Crystal Springs. The son is played by Larry "Buster" Crabbe, who would soon be more famous playing Tarzan and Flash Gordon.
Well, of course the parents in the other family object to the match. So Fields is hoping to make the family fortune by selling his best invention, a puncture-proof tire that he demonstrates with a pistol and a catcher's mitt (to catch the bullets as they bounce off the tires, natch.) But when he goes to demonstrate his invention, his car has been moved (he was parked in a No Parking zone) and an unmarked police car has taken its place. So not only does he look like a fool when he demonstrates for the executives of the tire company, he is in even worse trouble because he has shot up a police car!
Complications ensue of one kind or another. Bisbee tries to commit suicide on the way home on the train. He befriends a princess traveling on the same train. (She is played by the very pretty Adrienne Ames.) Some of the local gossips see him in the princess' compartment and start saying they saw him drunk with a loose woman. By the time he gets back to Crystal Springs, everybody in town thinks he was drinking champagne from a shoe and cavorting with a Russian fan dancer. Decent women aren't talking to him, but the men all think he's a sheik.
It all comes down to a very funny, if not particularly logical, conclusion. Fields works in the golf sketch from his old Ziegfield Follies routine. The princess shows up in Crystal Springs and helps out her old friend, "Colonel Bisbee." The daughter and her beau are able to get married. There's some very funny stuff with an ostrich.
For fans of W.C. Fields and fans of the films of the 1930s in general.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN III: AT WORLD'S END – 2007
Where did the time go? Seems like just yesterday I was at the El Capitan in Hollywood watching the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and grieving because I was leaving Hollywood for the meth-scented environs of Palmdale. And here it is, almost a year later, I've lived in the Antelope Valley for nine months, and the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie has come out, and seems to be on pretty much every screen at every multiplex. Along with "Spider-Man III" and "Shrek III." Hollywood passed a law or something that only movies with a “III” in them would make money this summer. (Which is why they should have skipped "Fantastic Four II" and made the third one second.)
I love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Yeah, they're loud and dumb and (to some people) a tad confusing. But they are also a lotta fucking fun and very charming. And it's not just Johnny Depp, an annoying meme that seems to be turning into conventional wisdom through repetition and nothing else, much like the latest lie of the week about Al Gore.
I'm not dissing Johnny Depp, no, not by any means. Depp is great. I've seen, and liked, a lot of Johnny Depp's movies. I saw "Nick of Time." I saw "Arizona Dream." Depp kicks ass. He kicks ass in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
But it's just Depp? Huh? Are the people saying this a bunch of noodleheads? What about Geoffrey Rush? The other principal actors are pretty damn good as well. Kiera Knightley is awesome. That evil British guy from the East India Company is pretty goodl. Will Turner, Bootstrap Bill, Davy Jones, Calypso, so on and so forth. This is a great ensemble cast.
And Keith Richards is in it, too!
And to be honest, I don't think the Pirates of the Caribbean movies would be any better if they did make sense.
This is not a formula anybody should be messing with.
Pirates kick ass.
RANDY RIDES ALONE – 1934
I'm trying to decide exactly what to do about these John Wayne movies. You see, I bought a 4-DVD pack of John Wayne movies, 20 movies in all for $5.50. That's less than thirty cents each. What sane person could pass up a bargain like that? But they present a bit of a problem when it comes to reviewing them.
I love John Wayne movies. Even the early stupid ones. John Wayne made a lot of stupid movies. He made dozens of stupid westerns in the 1930s before John Ford turned him a "real actor" with "Stagecoach" in 1939.
The problem is not that they are stupid. Stupid movies are the most fun. I love stupid movies. Anyone who does not embrace stupid movies does not understand cinema. Good movies are more of an accident than anything else. So stupid movies will always be the norm. And those who shun movies merely because they are stupid are missing out on 95 percent of what's great about cinema.
But John Wayne's movies, much as I love them, are characterized by a numbing sameness that sort of sucks all the fun out of making fun of them. Sameness isn't necessarily bad. The Meiko Kaji films are bound by a certain code of excess, and the filmmakers are very creative within those limitations. The films of W.C. Fields have a very enjoyable sameness to them.
When it comes to the great bad movies, however, sameness is a bad thing. I like movies that are bad in an original way. I love "Manos, the Hands of Fate" because it finds a new and original way to be bad every 10 or 15 seconds or so. (And most of the ways that "Manos" is bad are unique to "Manos." You will not see any movie even attempting to repeat the mistakes made by the makers of "Manos.")
Or take something like “Warning From Space.” This is one goofy ass movie. I'm not really sure this is technically a bad movie because it is so much fun. This is not a movie I like because it's bad; I like "Warning From Space" because it's so darn goofy! I'm not laughing at it, but I'm not really laughing with it either. And the dumb stuff is unique to "Warning From Space." There is nothing else like it, and hopefully there never will be.
The John Wayne movies are a different matter entirely. I've seen about four of the early John Wayne films and I like them, they are never boring, and they aren't very good. (They must have been great at what they were trying to do – entertain the Depression-era audiences – because there are so many of them.) But they are very formulaic, and making fun of one of them is like making fun of all of them.
Take "Randy Rides Alone." John Wayne rides into town and finds a saloon full of dead people. He meets a girl whose uncle is one of the dead people. The bad guys are trying to take the land. (And the town mute, who hangs out with the sheriff, is the leader of the bad guys.) Randy is arrested for the murders but the girl helps him escape from jail and he finds the bad guys’ hideout by accident when he goes over the waterfall. He joins the gang and, somehow, everything turns out all right with a rapidity that must be way over the speed limit for a movie plot.
Movie Speed Cop: Pull over, Wayne! Where’s the fire?
Wayne: In my pants, pilgrim. If you play your cards right, you could land on my Plymouth Rock.
It's all very Zen, really. John Wayne always stumbles on the hideout or the bad guys tip their hand by attacking him or something happens that's barely within the realm of possibility. Wayne barely raises a sweat in these things. He never looks for clues or asks questions or does any footwork. Everything just sort of falls into place without any concern over whether it makes any sense or not. It's like the forces of karma start working as soon as Wayne steps on screen. (Which is why I've been calling him Zen Wayne.) The guilty will be punished, Zen Wayne will prove his innocence, the dead shall be avenged, the water will come in time for a successful harvest, the West will be saved for the Anglo-Saxons, Zen Wayne will get the girl.
So far, the early John Wayne movies I've seen have been fun, but nothing really spectacular. I want to see a really good one! I want to see John Wayne's equivalent of "Bowery at Midnight," a low-budget movie that I can watch over and over again.
RIDERS OF DESTINY – 1933
I watched this last night and I've already forgotten what it was about. Let me put on my thinking cap …
John Wayne finds a wounded sheriff. Then he witnesses a stagecoach robbery. The robber is a cute girl. She's blonde, so she obviously has a good reason for robbing the stagecoach, and Wayne lets her go. Wayne goes into town and he looks like trouble so the bad guys follow him and stir things up. The main bad guy owns all the water rights and he's putting the squeeze on the townspeople. And there's a mine. And there's a misunderstanding and the girl thinks John Wayne is working for the bad guys. (And it turns out she did have a good reason for robbing the stagecoach. And Gabby Hayes, by the way, is her father.) And the bad guys blow up a well. And John Wayne chases the bad guy (the one who was withholding water), and the bad guy falls off a cliff and drowns in … water!
The irony, the irony!
THE DEATH KISS – 1932
I saw this (for the fifth or sixth time) a few months ago and I forgot to put it on the list so I didn't review it and, when I realized I had forgotten to put it on the list, I decided not to concern myself with writing it up. I don't always review movies that I have seen before, so I just shrugged it off. But I changed my mind. I'm including it here because this is a fun and inventive little movie that nobody ever talks about that I have watched over and over again with the same wonder and delight every time I see it. This is the effect I want to get from an early John Wayne movie. Not just a fun, one-time viewing. An exciting movie experience, something to watch over and over again.
I saw it late one night on Turner Classic Movies and I was kicking myself that I hadn't taped it. But I later got it from Sinister Cinema.
It's an early example of Hollywood's fascination with itself. It's about a murder that takes place on a movie set, when one of the actors is supposed to be gunned down. But one of the bullets that's fired at him is not a blank! And he's dead!
He was a real bastard, too, so everybody is a suspect. The lead actress (the lovely Adrienne Ames, who we saw in "You're Telling Me"), the director (Edward Van Sloan, famous for playing Van Helsing in the 1931 "Dracula"), the producer (Bela Lugosi), the studio head, the head electrician. Everybody!
The cops focus their attention on the actress, but she has a protector, a smart-ass screenwriter (played by David Manners, who was in "Dracula," "The Mummy," and "The Black Cat") who, with the help of a dopey security guard, is always one step ahead (at least) of the police.
It's a nifty little murder mystery with witty dialogue, clues and motives that don't strain credulity too much, and many fine actors. David Manners especially is a delight. This movie is an excellent example of why I watch these movies and why I love the films of the 1930s so much.
THANK YOU, MR. MOTO – 1938
The Mr. Moto movies are great. In addition to Peter Lorre, this one has Sig Ruman (who dies) and John Carradine (who dies). It's all about a series of Chinese scrolls that, when put together, show the secret location of the tomb of Madeline Kahn. Sorry, I mean, the tomb of Genghis Khan. Everybody wants the scrolls. Sig Ruman (a German Jew playing a Russian) threatens to shoot a guy who looks like a real Asian man to get the scrolls. Sig Ruman is killed by Mr. Moto, played by Peter Lorre, a Hungarian Jew playing a Japanese man. (Lorre also plays a bald caravan worker with a knife (which he uses) and a hollow staff where he keeps one of the scrolls.) This movie also has John Carradine, an American playing an Italian art dealer, who has set up shop in Peiping, for some reason. He gets killed because he knows something about the scrolls. Later, the guy who looks like he is really Asian kills himself because of the scrolls. His mother, who looks like a Caucasian woman pretending to be a Chinese woman, is also killed because of the scrolls. (There's also an American guy who plays an American. Weird, huh?)
Somehow, it all turns out O.K. (Unless you're one of the many, many dead people littering the caravan route and the streets of Peiping after the dust has settled.)
These movies are great. Just don't think about it too hard.
TOKYO MONOGATORI (TOKYO STORY) – 1953
As recently as 2002, this movie was rated among the top ten movies ever made by international film critics. (I believe it's between "Dances With Wolves" and "Top Gun.") It is great. I was really impressed. It's 2 hours, 15 minutes long and it's sub-titled (it's a Japanese movie) and I watched it in one sitting with no restlessness, which is pretty good for me because I don't like long movies, especially where I have to read so much of the film. (I don't have nearly as much trouble if I'm at the theater instead of watching it at home.)
It's a pretty simple story. An old couple from the town of Onimichi travel all the way to Tokyo to visit their son and daughter. The son is a doctor and the daughter is a beautician and they are too busy to spend much time with their honored parents. Their widowed daughter-in-law (who was married to the son who died during the, erm, unpleasantness of 1941 to 1945) takes time off work to show them around Tokyo. She's much nicer to them than their own children. And they take it with an understanding and cheerfulness that is a little unearthly at times. They are pretty awesome. They are a couple of Buddhas.
There's a great scene where the old man finds a couple of old friends and they go out drinking and start talking about their kids. Then, way after midnight, the cops are banging on the door of the house of the daughter who owns the beauty saloon. "Here's your pop and his friend," says the cop, and the old man and his buddy stumble in and crash on the chairs in the beauty shop while the daughter yells at them.
The film is about parents, children, relationships and life. The director, Yasujiro Ozu, is famous for low-camera angles and innovative editing. He is also famous for his almost mundane approach to subject matter, and his focus on contemporary Japanese life.
I can see why it's so highly regarded. I usually run screaming in horror from movies like this. Not my thing, really. But this one is so well-made, such a delight, that I was quite happy to sit through the whole thing, pausing only once to go to the bathroom.
HELL TOWN – 1937
This one's a little different for a John Wayne movie. Wayne is the black sheep of his family and he runs into his successful cousin Tom while traveling from Montana to Idaho. (This left me a little confused. They kept saying stuff like, "We're going to Idaho," and "This is how we did it in Montana." And I'm going, They're right next to each other! How the hell are they going from one state to another and being somewhere that isn't in either state? Are they lost? What's up with this shit?) Tom has a cute girlfriend and John Wayne (playing a guy named Dare Rudd) decides to stick around and do some courting. (She is pretty cute. This movie gets extra points for having her. She looks like the French actress Miou-Miou.) There's one scene where a rattlesnake scares her horse and it runs halfway back to … Montana? Idaho? (This movie gets an F for geography. Even Paris Hilton knows geography better than this movie.) In any case, the horse runs a long way and the girl is such a ninny, she can't get her own horse under control, and Dare has to ride after her and pull her off the horse JUST SECONDS BEFORE THE HORSE DOES A CARTWHEEL. (Whew! That was close!)
(The horse is fine, by the way. This movie has several shots of horses doing acrobatics and they always show the horse getting up and walking away. They didn't want the kids in the audience to be upset. "Mommy?!?! Is the horsey O.K.?")
Well, she falls in love with Dare, but Tom knows he's a shit, so he puts Dare in charge of the cattle drive because he knows Dare will fuck it up and the girl will know he's a shit. The plan works. Dare gets into a crooked poker game and gambles away most of the money that he got for the cattle. But the girl, being a ninny, doesn't care if Dare is a shit. She loves him anyway. So Tom goes into town, takes Dare's place at the poker game, wins the money back and exposes the cheaters. But the bad guys chase them all into the mountains and Tom and Dare bond during the gunfight and then the other guys from the cattle drive show up and save the day and Tom and Dare become partners and Dare gets the girl who looks like the French actress Miou-Miou and he probably gets a good look at her Monument Valley.
Better than some of the other Wayne films I've seen. And it's nice to see them vary the formula a bit. John Wayne looks like an arrogant asshole much of the time. The girl seems like she'd be too smart to fall for this butthole. Maybe she's real impressed with his knowledge of geography.
"You're from Montana? And you're going to Idaho? Gosh, that's far!"