Monday, January 31, 2005

Movie review: HOMBRE

Hombre (1967) – It’s hard to believe that this film was made three years after Fistful of Dollars. While few of the main characters here are without a rough edge, there is still an obvious Hollywood sensibility throughout. I suppose we should be grateful that the film ends in the fashion in which it does and we don’t see the Newman & Celino riding off into the sunset together.

The film was adapted by screen writer, Irving Ravtech, from the novel of the same name, written by Elmore Leonard. Four years previously, Newman, Ravtech and director Martin Ritt had all worked together on Hud, a more contemporary western. That one based on Larry McMurtry’s Horseman Pass By.

John Russell (played by Paul Newman) is the son of a white family, kidnapped and raised by the Apache Indians for years until he was adopted, by the Russell family. Finding life among the white settlers unsuitable he returned to the reservation to work as an Indian policeman. When his adopted father passes away he comes to town to sell his father’s rooming house, run by Jessie (Diane Celino). Deciding to leave the area after the sale he finds himself sharing a stagecoach, driven by an old acquaintance Henry Mendez (Martin Balsam), with a number of questionable characters, including Grimes (a great villain role for Richard Boone), Dr. Favor (Frederick March) and his wife Audra (Barbara Rush), along with Jessie, and several other folks. When bandits stop the coach the travelers must fend for themselves and fight off the bandits to protect the money that Dr. Favor had swindled. Mendez and Russell are the only two of the passengers who really have a chance of getting out of the situation alive, but stay with the others for reasons of their own.

Not a great film, but certainly an enjoyable movie for western fans. Boone especially seems to be having a good time in his role, with most of the other members of the cast doing professional if unspectacular jobs. Frank Silvera, as the Mexican bandit, seems to have been studying Alfonso Beldoya in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, in preparing for the role. Two and a half stars.

Friday, January 28, 2005

American Western Magazine

I've added a link to the American Western Magazine feed over on the right. You'll be able to check out articles appearing at that website on the Old West, plus link to the homepage as well. AMW is an incredible resource for those folks interested not only in western fiction, but in the history and legacy of the American frontier. You'll find fiction, poetry, articles and interviews by and about contemporary writers and entertainers.

For those of you interested in Western style fashion, recipes or information on rodeos it is all available at this one site. Like most places of interest on the web, I discovered AMW while doing a search on Larry McMurtry. If you have any interest in some of the things that I post on here, I'm sure you'll find yourself spending a good hour just looking around.

Happy trails!

Review: Dead Man's Walk by Larry McMurtry

DEAD MAN’S WALK by Larry McMurtry – For those folk already familiar with the characters of Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, from McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE, all you need to know is that this book is a prequel. Here we meet Gus & Call as young men, just having met but already forming the bond which will last them all their lives. We also meet the Comanche war chief, Buffalo Hump, the horse thief Killing Wolf and the love of Gus’ life Clara.

McMurtry shows us just how it was that Gus & Call first became Texas Rangers. We see them on their very first adventure where Buffalo Hump almost kills both of them. Here Call earns the hatred of the Comanche chief, barely escaping with his life and discovering just how much he himself can hate. McMurtry introduces us to a large cast of characters in this novel, some of whom we will meet again in the series, and others who will quickly meet their individual fates.

I first became familiar with McMurtry via his novel THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, which was adapted into film by Peter Bogdanovich. Other folks might know him better for the novel TERMS OF ENDEARMENT which was also adapted for the screen. Besides these contemporary novels, McMurtry is considered by many as one the great writers of American westerns. The four novels in the LONESOME DOVE series, his “Berrybender Narratives” (that tells the story of the Berrybender family in the Old West) and a number of stand-alone novels are all prime examples of western adventure.

Young Gus & Call, bored with life in town, hear about an upcoming expedition into Mexico to ‘liberate’ Santa Fe. Under the leadership of Caleb Cobb, a former pirate already well-known to the Spanish/Mexican military, close to two hundred former Rangers and others begin a doomed journey across the desert and into the homeland of Buffalo Hump. It soon becomes apparent that Cobb is incapable of carrying out this adventure as the elements and the Comanches begin taking their toll. Ill-equipped and ill-trained the members of the expedition fall prey to all manner of misfortune. Along with Gus & Call are their comrades Shadrach, Bigfoot and Long Bill, men who have seen their share of folly and lived to tell the tale. McMurtry also gives us the wonderful Matilda Jane Roberts, the whore known as Great Western, who goes along with the expedition in hopes of finally making enough money to buy her own whorehouse in California.

Once I started the book it was difficult to put it down and twice I actually missed my subway stop, so engrossed was I in the story. If that isn’t praise, I don’t know what is?

To be honest, I’ve never read LONESOME DOVE, being familiar with the story only from the television mini-series. I decided it was time to finally read it, but felt that since two novels act as prequels, I would start with those. Having finished DEAD MAN’S WALK, I’m going to start on COMANCHE MOON as soon as I can.

As you can tell, I can’t recommend this book enough. Four stars.

Monday, January 24, 2005

I've added a link to the website over to the right. The link actually goes directly to their "Wild Western" page, since that ties in with my main interest in this blog. However, the site also links to pages related to thrillers, mysteries, current fiction and humorous fiction, among other genres. They also have a 'bookshelf' for current non-fiction books which may be of interest.

The great thing about the site is that not only do they review a wide range of books, but they also have bibliographies and brief bios for some authors. In addition, you can find excerpts of some novels which will give you a taste of a particular author's work. You won't find just bestsellers and you won't have the range of a Barnes & Noble, but you can easily spend a few hours checking out the work of writers you might not normally choose to read.

Happy trails & Happy Reading!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Roger Ebert

While I don't always agree with Roger Ebert's reviews I do appreciate the thought and wit he puts into each one. Even some films which you'd think he could simply ignore, he will spend time telling you just what it is that went wrong or those small things which actually went right in an otherwise forgettable film. That's one thing that I've always liked about Ebert, and equally his late former collegue, Gene Siskle.

Their movie review show was necessary viewing for years at Chez Chaput, especially in those times when I was trying to put together semi-literate commentary in the movie apa, CAPRA. They would quite often make me re-evaluate my own opinions on a particular film, or decide to take a chance on a director or project which I normally would have ignored.

I've put a link to Ebert's website over on the left and recommend you give it a try. Not only will you find Roger's comments on new releases, but also an archive of material on older films. Add to those his "Little Movie Glossary" and "The Answer Man" columns, plus essays & interviews, you'll discover yourself easily spending an hour or more clicking here or there.

In my opinion, Roger is harsher on some genre films than he should be, but he's rarely seen a foreign film that he didn't absolutely love. Still he's probably one of the best reviewers you find on line or in print.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Owlhoots of the Old West

While surfing the net to find information on the 'owlhoot' term I discovered this fun page (link over on the right). There are some stories of several notorious figures from the west, along with a couple of games to waste your time.

Happy Trails!

Desperadoes: a book review

DESPERADOES (Berkley paperback) – Just finished another anthology of western stories. Like the previous one (TIN STAR) this book has a theme with the editors utilizing new stories and reprints to focus on those on the opposite side of the law.

The first item is a reprint of a Louis L’Amour tale, which gets things off to a nice start. Also included are works by Loren Estleman, Bill Prozini, Frank Gruber and Ed Gorman, among others. I’m more familiar with the mystery/detective fiction of Prozini and Estlemen, but both prove themselves more than adept at the western tale. Estleman, of course has garnered a few awards for his stories of the old west. I’m really becoming a fan of both Frank Gruber and Ed Gorman, so I’ll be trying to pick up a few of their western novels when I get the chance.

The individual writers each put their own spin on the idea of the men and women who find them selves riding the ‘owlhoot trail’, as they say in these books. I remember first encountering that term back when I was reading western comics as a kid, but didn’t really understand the concept until I began reading actual western fiction. I’ve tried to discover the origin of the term, but can’t seem to find it listed in any of the dictionaries or encyclopedias I check. I’m going to make it a project to actually try and hunt down the origin. If I do, I’ll let you know.

Like most anthologies of this type there are some weaker stories, but for the most part the editors have chosen some fine examples that cover several decades of western fiction. Maybe I’m just easy to please, but I recommend the book for those who enjoy short story writing, no matter the genre.