W.C. says: American westerns celebrate gratuitous movie violence and
Neanderthal attitudes about the opposite sex. They've done so since
the Italians taught us how to make them.
Before that, there was _The Outlaw_ (1943), of course, starring Walter
Huston, directed and produced by Howard Hughes, and introducing Jane
Russell (she of the bodacious mammaries). Hughes apparently
engineered a grass-roots decency campaign, which called for the film
to be banned before release on the basis of depicting sex without
redeeming social value and which paradoxically provided more than
enough publicity to make it a success.
... so I guess you'd say the propensity for a good trash wallow has
always been part of American cinema.
During this festive season, I've tried to focus my DVD viewing on
holiday favorites. I even watched _Ben Hur_ (1959).
I remember my parents read the book to my brother and me. It was
published in 1880, outsold _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ (1852), and remained
the best seller of all time until it was surpassed by _Gone with the
Wind_ (1936). The novel was written in Santa Fe. It's author was
Hoosier Civil War General Lew Wallace who was serving as Governor of
New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881. Wallace, like his
protagonist, was persecuted, perhaps unjustly. Wallace lived under a
cloud in real life for bringing up his division to the Battle of
Shiloh by a circuitous route. He later served as ambassador to the
Ottoman Empire in Constantinople from 1881 to 1885, but his lasting
fame (and personal fortune) was due to this one book among the several
others that he wrote. I recall it as a ripping good story, but I
remember little else except that my parents were impressed by how well
it was put together and how carefully and apparently historically
drawn the characters of disparate cultures were.
I'm not sure the 1959 film stands up so well. It's shocking nowadays
to enjoy seeing any political cooperation between Jews, Arabs, and
Christian Egyptians against the bad guys, the Romans in this case.
It's possible that this is in the book because the book antedates the
British, American, and Russian intrigues in the Middle East beginning
upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and continuing through Peak
Oil. The movie _Lawrence of Arabia_ (1962) immortalizes the ealier
part of this epoch.
As a Christian trash wallow, though, _Ben Hur_ can't be beat.
I rewatched _Holiday Inn_ (in black and white, 1942), starring Bing
Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, and Virginia Dale, which
features show tunes by Irving Berlin, including "White Christmas," the
first popular secular Christmas song. There are many older
traditional songs such as "Jingle Bells" of course, but "White
Christmas" proved that Christmas was not the exclusive property of
Christians. Berlin was a Jewish immigrant.
People seem to regard "White Christmas" as an eponym of the later
movie by that name (in Technicolor, 1954), which was a post-war
release with much higher production values, starring Bing Crosby,
Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, but for my money
_Holiday Inn_ is the more satisfying production even though you have
to grit your teeth through the regrettable black-face number.
Remember that the older movie was in production during the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor and is coming up on 80 years old. I always
love a good trash wallow, particularly a patriotic one.
Finally, for Christmas this year, I bought myself a set of Blue-ray
disks holding the three Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns by Sergio
Leone. The death of the American western in cinema has been
repeatedly proclaimed. Suffice it to say that the industry was a
little moribund when these three Italian films debuted in this
country. This was after anti-communist sentiment had all but petered
out, and new creative breezes were blowing in Hollywood. The
spaghetti westerns of Leone are picaresques mostly devoid of character
development and without any purposeful moral point of view. Quickly,
other American filmmakers copied their violence and subversive,
nihilist, anti-establishment outlook, and the "westerns" in this
country drew a revitalizing breath.
Leone certainly was not alone among Italian directors filming
"westerns" overseas for release in America, but his are the earliest,
the most famous, and the most well received films in that genre.
Curiously the first one, _Fistful of Dollars_, is a retelling of the
Japanese film _Yojimbo_ (1961) by Kurosawa.
Apart from the three starring Clint Eastwood — _Fistful of Dollars_
(1967 from _Per un pugno di dollari_ in 1964) with Gian Maria Volonté,
_For a Few Dollars More_ (1967, from _Per qualche dollaro in più_ in
1965) with Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonté, and _The Good, the
Bad, and the Ugly_ (1966, from _Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo_ in
1966) with Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef — Leone made three other
films — _Once Upon a Time in the West_ (1969, from _C'era una volta il
West_ in 1968) starring Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson, _Duck, You
Sucker!_ aka _A Fistful of Dynamite_ aka _Once Upon a Time ... the
Revolution_ (1972, from _Giù la testa_ in 1971) starring Rod Steiger
and James Coburn, and _Once Upon a Time in America_ (1984, from _C'era
una volta in America_ in 1984) starring Robert De Niro and James
Woods. All of them come with iconic music tracks composed by Ennio
These have been packaged and repackaged for in-home viewing. I've
coveted a restored copy of _The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly_ for
several years but never got my hands on a good DVD. The copy I have
now is part of _The Man with No Name Trilogy_. You can get it at
Walmart for $13:
The UPC is 8-83904-30192.
What an excellent bargain! Three trash wallows for the price of one.
There's a 2004 bonus in the bonus features on the disk for _The Good,
the Bad, and the Ugly_ about the restoration of the film by Triage
Labs. Reeky's very own Thumper, who owned the company that did the
restoration in 2002—2003, gives an overview of the technical details.
Here's a review of a similar but different package containing the same
... and yet another that mentions the same thing, including the
interview with Paul Ruben [sic]: