Seen any good Westerns lately, pardner?
Well, pardners, it’s been a long dry spell between Hollywood water holes. I’m beholden for this dip from the movie well, but I was left slightly parched. In gringo lingo, that means I finally had a western to go see, ‘3:10 to Yuma,’ and walked out less than happy.
Russell Crowe sits a horse really well and everyone is sweaty and dirty like they should be, but in these post ‘Deadwood’ days, this western just won’t fly.
Remember, you are reading a column written by a woman who one night in bed with her husband, who was having trouble falling asleep, piped up that she could put him to sleep in no time. How?
‘I’ll bet I can name 50 westerns in 15 minutes and by then you’ll be asleep.’
Steve should have known better, but he doubted that was possible. Naming the westerns, I mean. Boy howdy, he was dreaming on the lone prairie when I was past 50 and still going.
The quality bar on the American western has been raised, and this movie opted to go under or around and not even attempt to go over it. Anyone who has watched ‘Deadwood’ on HBO knows that series upped the ante quite a bit on what a real western should be. ‘Yuma’ folded early when the opening scenes showed the hero’s wife with perfect teeth that only 2007 capped orthodontics can create.
‘Deadwood’ was a beautiful and torturing hour of shoot-’em-up mayhem. The sheriff was a temper-tantrumed mess of good intentions who could easily beat the pulp out of some hapless victim who irritated his moral sensibilities. The town saloon owner was a Saddam Hussein type who killed anyone who provoked his power, threatened his business or looked too intelligent. In a silver boomtown like Deadwood, you need control of all the greed and evil factions. Even if that control is a rotten mess, too. The neocons who invaded Iraq to remove Saddam obviously never watched ‘Deadwood’ or they would have known better.
The women in ‘Deadwood’ were like a breath of fresh but foul air. They were also sweaty and dirty with a battery of profanity equal to the men. They were unapologetically doing their prostituting, manipulating and surviving as best they could. Some were trying to be decent and raise a few children here or there. Even the children could be lying, cheating little scavengers who were punished and killed for stepping over a constantly moving line.
This was a western full of ambiguity. A good guy may not be good all the way to the bone. A prostitute wants to learn bookkeeping. It could happen. Up until ‘Deadwood,’ we were all being served a watery western stew of clich’s and stereotypes. You can’t get away with that anymore.
Take the shoot-out at the end of ‘Yuma.’ I can’t believe that the hero and antihero crawl along a pine sidewalk for half a mile (I know it is half a mile because the script told us) with EVERYONE in town trying to kill them. They run, dive, rollover in typical stuntman style and end up in a tiny railroad ticket booth still talking and fast becoming great pals. (I am not saying that this movie has a happy ending.) I just wanted Russell Crowe to stand up, face the camera and yell ‘CUT! Please insert the shoot-out that ends one of my previous fine films, ‘LA Confidential!’ ‘
Now there is the perfect shoot-out. Of course, we must overlook the fact that ‘LA Confidential’ takes place in 1950s Los Angeles and not post-Civil War Arizona. Everyone is just cleaner. Two guys who weren’t friends at first now are inside another flimsy wooden structure trying to stay alive while everyone is trying to kill them.
Beautiful choreography and believability shine in this final showdown. Both movies also have a prostitute who has a yen for Russell Crowe. It’s just that I’m fairly sure that most hard-core women of the western frontier didn’t have Est’e Lauder skin and makeup. But whatever. As Gertrude Stein once said, ‘A western is a western is a western.’
And I will go to one in a box. I will go to one with a fox. In a house. Or with a mouse. It doesn’t really matter. I will ride with the posse chasing after the perfect good guy and bad guy movie until I decide to hang up my spurs.