Dead Reckoning

Posted on March 24th, 2011 in 1940s, Humphrey Bogart, Film Noir by Colin

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I guess when you watch enough films it’s almost inevitable that a certain degree of familiarity with plot and characters creeps in. Leaving aside the matter of remakes and such, this is often simply a false perception on the viewers part. However, every once in a while, a movie like Dead Reckoning (1947) comes along where familiarity is not just a case of perceived similarity but a clear rehash of characters, themes and even dialogue from earlier works. This picture borrows heavily from two previous Bogart vehicles - The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, the latter being the most obvious with lines of dialogue getting recycled by the very man who made them iconic in the first place. Although Dead Reckoning never manages to attain the heights of its source of inspiration, it remains an entertaining (if slightly cheesy) film noir.

It opens strongly with a battered and desperate Captain Murdock (Humphrey Bogart) dodging the cops along the dark, rain slicked pavements of Gulf City. Symbolically seeking sanctuary, he slips into a Catholic church and melts into the protective shadows. Recognising the returning priest as a former army padre, he takes the opportunity to unburden himself and tell his tale in an improvised confession. This introduces the flashback structure that dominates the bulk of the film’s running time. In brief, Murdock is now running scared in Gulf City as a result of his attempt to locate an old army pal who decided to take a powder rather than face exposure as a wanted man when he learns that he is to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The plot follows Murdock’s efforts to clear the name of his friend for a murder that he believes was out of character. The friend in question ends up burnt to a crisp in a car wreck before Murdock even has a chance to contact him, so he must feel his way in the dark in a strange town and among an assortment of shady figures. The closest link to his friend, and the person most likely to hold the key to his fate, is a husky voiced cabaret singer by the name of Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott). Murdock’s innate distrust of women means he starts off sceptical of the sincerity of this lady, and her apparent closeness to the smoothly repellent night club owner and gambler Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky) merely serves to heighten his suspicions. Throughout the movie Murdock blows hot and cold in relation to Coral, his attitude varying from doubt to acceptance and back again, even as he finds himself increasingly attracted to her. It’s only after Murdock turns Martinelli’s office into a raging inferno that the truth behind his friend’s demise finally comes to light.

Lizabeth Scott & Humphrey Bogart in Dead Reckoning.

Bogart’s character in Dead Reckoning is a detective in the Spade/Marlowe mold in all but name; he frequents the same kind of places, mixes it with the same mobsters and duplicitous types and speaks in the same hard-boiled idiom. He even brings matters to a head in a way we’ve seen before - as he tosses the deadly incendiary grenades around Martinelli’s office to loosen tongues you almost expect to hear him snarl “That’s one, Eddie…”, and the climactic scene with Lizabeth Scott borders on a pastiche of the payoff in The Maltese Falcon. Despite the lack of originality in the script (I’ve also read that the movie was initially planned as a kind of follow-up to Gilda) it still stands up as a medium grade noir. A lot of this is due, I think, to Bogart’s strong performance, his cynicism and toughness papering over the weaknesses in other aspects of the movie. The short scene in the morgue - the one cool place in town - highlights this through its combination of smart-ass dialogue and implied violence. In fact, there’s a good deal of violence in the movie, although much of it takes place off screen. The savage beating Murdock receives from Marvin Miller’s sadistic thug, all carried out to the accompaniment of dance time music, is never shown but the damage to the hero’s face makes it clear enough what’s been going on. Morris Carnovsky’s Martinelli makes for an interesting villain, reminiscent of George Macready’s Ballin Mundson in the aforementioned Gilda, as a lowlife with a veneer of sophistication and mock delicacy. The weakest link in the whole chain is ironically the one person who’s presence ties all the strands together - Lizabeth Scott. She was clearly supposed to act as a kind of surrogate Bacall, a sultry foil for Bogart’s two-fisted protagonist. She looks the part and pitches her voice low enough to promise heaven and honey, but her overall performance is a poor one. At one point she spins Bogart one of those hard luck yarns so beloved of femme fatales and then, not reading the result she wanted in his features, asks if he doesn’t believe her. And that’s the problem; there’s a lack of conviction and credibility when she delivers some of the most crucial lines in the movie. Leaving aside the performers, John Cromwell’s direction is mostly effective and there are some darkly moody scenes. The tense opening and the subsequent flashback power things along, but the return to “normal” time lets the momentum slow a little, and a little too early, before the final reveal.

The R2 DVD from Sony/Columbia is reasonably good but not without some faults. The transfer is generally clean, but there are moments of softness and a few occasions when scratches and light damage prove mildly distracting. The only extra feature offered is a gallery consisting of a few posters. Generally, this is a pretty respectable noir, though not quite top flight material. The script is too much by the numbers and unquestionably derivative of other pictures. Still, it does hold one’s interest and has rewatch value if only to enjoy again some fine, snappy lines. That, and a typically gritty Bogart performance, earns it a recommendation.

Seven Days to Noon

Posted on March 18th, 2011 in 1950s, Mystery/Thriller by Colin

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Tales of terrorists holding civilization to ransom with the threat of weapons of mass destruction have become two a penny. But it wasn’t always so; back in the early days of the Cold War such a concept hadn’t yet been milked for all it was worth. The idea, at that point, was still fresh and perhaps even more terrifying given that the notion of worldwide holocaust was one that people were only gradually coming to terms with. Seven Days to Noon (1950) is a slow burning little picture that adopts a semi-documentary approach, neatly sidestepping gaudy sensationalism in favour of relentlessly rising tension.

The low-key mood is struck from the very beginning, with a postman calmly doing his Monday morning rounds and dropping the day’s correspondence through the mailbox of 10 Downing Street. Among the various items addressed to the Prime Minister is a simple envelope sent by a Professor Willingdon (Barry Jones), and containing an ultimatum that could be either an unpleasant hoax or the stuff of nightmares. The letter in question is passed in due course to the police for further investigation. The man given responsibility for looking into the matter is Superintendent Folland (Andre Morell), and a few simple calls by him establish that this is no leg pulling exercise. Professor Willingdon, the government’s chief atomic research scientist, has disappeared along with a powerful nuclear device. The aforementioned letter lays out his terms: either the government abandons its atomic weapons research or he will detonate the bomb at noon in seven days time, taking half of London with him. That little scene is effectively done with the easy banter between the top policeman and his assistant offering a sense of reassurance, before cutting smoothly but quickly to a close-up of Folland’s suddenly sharpened features as the full import of the words coming down the telephone line dawn on him. With all doubts about Willingdon’s intentions now cleared up, the narrative focus moves to the nondescript little scientist and his trek around the capital. His efforts to remain inconspicuous as the authorities try desperately to locate him make up the bulk of the movie’s running time, intercut with scenes of government departments implementing emergency procedures as discreetly as possible. As Willingdon moves from one seedy lodging to another, all the while agonising over the course of action he’s decided on, there’s a gradual mobilisation underway. The government is in crisis and suspicion is creeping into the minds of a populace still bearing the scars of the recent war. Before panic takes hold the PM addresses the spellbound nation via the radio, and lays the ugly facts before them. It’s interesting that Willingdon finds himself in a museum at the very moment when the government announcement comes. As the PM’s ominous words are broadcast to the grim faced listeners, the little professor stands amid the displays of dinosaur bones - it’s hard to decide whether those old fossils are meant to represent the unyielding determination of the state or the increasingly outmoded humanitarian principles of the troubled scientist pitted against it. The eventual evacuation of the city, as the clock ticks inexorably towards the appointed hour, is an affair of organised chaos, and contrasts with the calm tension of Willingdon as he watches it all in a detached manner with the hapless, tragi-comic woman (Olive Sloane) he’s taken hostage to prevent discovery.

Seeking guidance - Barry Jones in Seven Days to Noon.

The matter of fact tone of direction adopted by John and Roy Boulting is hard to fault. Even as the situation on screen grows more and more desperate the depiction of it remains steady and never descends into hysteria. The evacuation sequence could easily have fallen victim to an overwrought approach, but instead the cool way it’s shown (with only a few minor concessions to mild panic) adds both urgency and potency. The night scenes of the abandoned city are especially effective; the probing beams of searchlights and the tramping of heavy army boots are the only accompaniment to Willingdon’s final flight across London, dodging down darkened alleys and ducking into shadowy doorways. It’s also a snapshot of a now disappeared world, where crowds gather around communal radio sets to hear the latest government pronouncement and massive wanted posters of the fugitive scientist are plastered everywhere. It reminds us that there was an age before rolling news coverage and instant tweets and texts when panic could be held in check for a time rather than openly encouraged. If aspects of the film hark back to an earlier period, then others remain stubbornly prescient. The moral conundrum at the heart of the picture is every bit as relevant today as it was sixty years ago, and questions about the price of progress are still unresolved. Barry Jones was a fine piece of casting as the figure at the centre of the storm, his gentle features indicating an essentially good man driven to the brink of madness by the colossal responsibility he’s borne, the isolation imposed by that responsibility and the moral uncertainties he feels. He’s no wild-eyed fanatic with a grudge but a man with a conscience who’s allowed his sense of balance and proportion to slip. Similarly, Andre Morell, as the policeman tracking Willingdon, is no two-fisted superhero. Instead, we get an assured and competent professional who knows full well the extent of the threat he’s facing. There’s a wonderful economy to his movements that highlights the pressure he’s under and his features have a controlled expressiveness that get the tension across far more succinctly than any amount of histrionic hamming.

Seven Days to Noon is available on DVD in the UK from Optimum. The film was initially issued in a false widescreen transfer (an impossibility for a production of this vintage) but later withdrawn and replaced with a corrected version presenting the image at 1.33:1, as it should be. The transfer is a clean, sharp affair with good contrast and minimal damage. The disc is, however, totally barebones with only the main menu and scene selection offered. Still, it can be had for a very good price and the film is strong enough to speak for itself. It’s a tight little thriller with an intelligent script, solid central performances and offers an attractive combination of the quaint and the timeless. If you’re looking for some food for thought along with your entertainment then this is recommended.

Young Guns II

Posted on March 14th, 2011 in 1990s, James Coburn, Westerns by Colin

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So I’ve come to the last entry in this short series. To be brutally honest, these last two movies have sapped my energy. If anything, I have to say that Young Guns II succeeds in being even more offensive and irritating than its predecessor. The performances are down to, or maybe even lower than, the standards set in the previous film and all semblance of accuracy is cheerfully chucked out the window. I actually reached the point where viewing this became a chore, and that’s a long way from what I regard as the purpose of the movie watching experience.

The story picks up where the first Young Guns left off - the end of the Lincoln County War. The Kid (Emilio Estevez) is now a wanted man by those seeking to put the violent past to bed and get down to the serious business of making money. Billy has taken up with Pat Garrett (William Petersen) and Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater) now that his old gang has broken up. However, the powerful men in the region, Lew Wallace and Chisum (James Coburn), want all those involved in the Lincoln County War rounded up and disposed of. To this end, Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland) is abducted and hauled back to New Mexico to face retribution. Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) is there too, biding his time in a pit in Lincoln. When the cocksure Kid sees a deal with Governor Wallace go sour, he takes it on himself to break his buddies out of stir in one of the noisiest and most ludicrous scenes in the film. There’s also a parting of the ways, with Garrett breaking away to find his own path. However, it’s not long before the former outlaw is recruited by Wallace and Chisum, appointed sheriff and tasked with running down his old friends. The rest of the movie plays out the familiar old story of The Kid running and Garrett chasing until both men meet up in Fort Sumner. The climax is supposed to be one of those ambiguous, did-he-or-didn’t-he, type things that folds into the framing prologue and coda. However, after sitting through an hour and a half plus of mindless gunplay and hopeless mugging it’s very hard to care one way or the other. In a way though, it’s somehow appropriate after serving up an unappetising blend of bad history that the film should end by wheeling out yet one more dubious slice of mythology.

Showing how it should be done - James Coburn as Chisum in Young Guns II

I already listed all the shortcomings of the performances of Estevez, Sutherland and Phillips in my previous review, and I see no need to go over the same ground again here. I will say though that Estevez manages to be even more annoying this time round; his endless whooping and quipping has the effect of leaving the viewer longing for Garrett to put a bullet in him, and that’s surely not the point of any movie about his character. The addition of Slater, Balthazar Getty and Alan Ruck really brings nothing to proceedings, with Slater in particular proving himself in need of a good sound slapping. William Petersen comes off best in the role of Garrett, but even so he has a lightweight quality about him that’s painfully obvious in the scene where he gets himself hired as sheriff. Seeing him seated opposite James Coburn, who played the definitive version of the character, just brings home the deficiencies. While the acting is weak, the jarring soundtrack against which the action takes place is anachronistic and misguided enough to be a major distraction. A very poor effort all round.

One good thing that can be said is that the DVD transfer is fine. The Warners R2 disc presents the movie in anamorphic scope, and it’s clean, sharp and colourful. However, no matter how nice the image is the fact remains that Young Guns II is a turkey and I was relieved when the credits finally rolled.

This series has been something of a roller coaster in terms of quality and entertainment. The high point was most definitely Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, with the two Young Guns features coming in last in every respect. One thing that has become apparent to me is how ill-defined the character of Billy the Kid is, with only Peckinpah’s film really fleshing him out at all. When I did pieces on the Jesse James and Wyatt Earp movies I noticed how much of an impression was generally made by the characters of Frank James and Doc Holliday respectively. The same could be said here; in nearly every movie it’s the figure of Pat Garrett who seems most memorable. I suppose this says something about the way historical figures are portrayed on film but I’m not quite sure what that is, except that it maybe underlines the difficulty of such an undertaking. Anyway, the project’s been a pleasure (mostly) and I hope it’s offered at least a little entertainment for anyone who has been following.

Young Guns

Posted on March 8th, 2011 in 1980s, Westerns, Jack Palance by Colin

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Such is the nature of this series of reviews that we go from the sublime to…well, Young Guns (1988). To be honest, it’s hard for me to find very many positive things to say about this one. It seems to be touted as the most historically accurate movie dealing with the life and times of Mr Bonney, but that’s really only in a superficial sense - events take place out of order, characters are missing or misrepresented, and people are shown to die in ways and at times they never did. But OK, it’s a film and you have to expect some of that. For me, the biggest problem is the poor acting of the “Brat Pack” stars. There’s nothing the least bit convincing about any of the central performances nor is there any real feel for time and place.

The plot deals with the events leading up to and during the Lincoln County War. It starts off with Billy (Emilio Estevez) being taken in by Tunstall (Terence Stamp) and his integration into the group of Regulators (of course they weren’t actually known as Regulators until after Tunstall’s death) that act as hired muscle. Now, there’s a problem here right away; the Regulators were, by all accounts, a bunch of tough gunmen who were ruthless by nature. What the movie presents us with, however, is a collection of soft looking post-adolescents being tutored by the kindly Tunstall. Mind you, this set up does allow the chief villain, Murphy (Jack Palance), to toss out a loaded line about Tunstall’s interest in “educating” young boys. There’s also an allusion made to the Old World grudges fuelling the rivalry - Murphy being an Irish immigrant and Tunstall a wealthy Englishman - but nothing further comes of that. Such bad feelings weren’t the source of the conflict, but it might have made for an interesting plot device if it had been explored in more depth - after all, the script doesn’t shy away from other departures from the truth. With the assassination of Tunstall, the story gets down to the serious business of depicting as many tit-for-tat killings as can be squeezed into the running time. This gives rise to another scripting issue; the action tears headlong from one manic and confused gunfight to the next, with characters popping up and being dispatched before you get a chance to even realise who they are. There’s never a sense that you’re getting to know anything of substance about the leads, except maybe Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) and Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland). And even then the results are nothing to write home about; the former plays out an embarrassingly bad scene where he explains his motivation, and the latter is handed a horribly tacked on romance in between his poetry writing sessions. So the plot charges its way towards the climactic Battle of Lincoln - one of the better staged sequences - before coming to a pretty dumb conclusion.

All guns blazing - Emilio Estevez as the Kid.

Essentially, this film is trying to pack too many events and people into its running time, leading to clutter and an unsatisfactory lack of development. As the Kid, Emilio Estevez comes across as a kind of giggling fool with no character progression whatsoever from the opening until the ending. I already mentioned the low point of Lou Diamond Phillips getting in touch with his angst, but his “mystic Indian” schtick all through the movie is both dull and cliched. I think Kiefer Sutherland probably fares better than any of the other young stars, though it has to be said that the attempts to portray Doc Scurlock as some kind of sensitive and bookish intellectual feel too much like an affectation. Also the romantic subplot involving the Asian girl really serves no purpose other than to show what a bad man Murphy is. In truth, that’s not even necessary as Jack Palance’s presence should be enough in itself. Sure the old-timer leers and hams it up, but even so he still blows the so-called stars away every time he appears. Which brings me to the only positive aspect of the picture, the older generation of actors who make appearances. Terence Stamp brings a touch of class to Tunstall and it’s a pity he wasn’t given more to do. Brian Keith, as Buckshot Roberts, only has one scene but it says something for the man that it’s so memorable. Even Pat Wayne’s little cameo as Pat Garrett stands out and helps illustrate the gulf in class between the nominal leads and their elders.

The R2 DVD from Lionsgate is acceptable but not particularly notable. The film is given an anamorphic transfer that looks a little soft to me. The only extras are the trailer and some filmographies. I saw Young Guns when it was first released, and I wasn’t very impressed at the time. If I hadn’t been doing this series then I don’t think I would have bothered to watch it again. It represents the kind of western that doesn’t appeal to me at all, telling you more about the time it was made than the time in which the action takes place. I’m afraid it’s not a film that I could recommend.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Posted on March 1st, 2011 in 1970s, James Coburn, Westerns, Sam Peckinpah by Colin

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When I started this series of reviews about a month ago I mentioned that one of the reasons why I’d avoided doing it for a time was the variable quality of the films involved. Being aware that you’re going to have to sit through and then try to express your thoughts on movies that you already know are mediocre can be a little discouraging. What I didn’t mention, however, was the fact that the opposite is also true. When a film has a particularly strong critical reputation it’s equally daunting, though for different reasons of course. You instinctively wonder whether it’s possible to say anything that hasn’t been said before, and probably been said better. In the case of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Sam Peckinpah’s last western, I don’t promise to offer any startling insights but I do hope that I manage to at least express my own personal appreciation of this flawed masterpiece.

The film can, and I think should, be viewed as the death dream of Pat Garrett as he relives the defining events of his life, even as that life is slipping away. I ought to say right now that this view is dependent on the version of the film that’s watched - I’ll explain what I mean later, but for now I will simply say that it does have an impact on the way viewers approach the story. It’s 1909 and an aging and testy Garrett (James Coburn) is riding a wagon through New Mexico. His terse, snappish conversation with his companions is violently interrupted by the crack of a rifle shot. No sooner has the first bullet struck home than Garrett’s escort proceed to empty their own weapons into his mortally wounded body. As the old lawman tumbles towards the earth for the last time the scene is intercut with events of almost 30 years before, in 1881, when we see Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) getting in a bit of target practice by shooting the heads off live chickens. What follows sets up the mood of the rest of the film and explains the motives for the characters subsequent actions. Garrett has sensed that the wind has changed and is pragmatic enough to know that he must go with it or be swept away. He’s thrown in his lot with a shadowy collection of big cattle men and business interests, and has been appointed sheriff. The Kid, on the other hand, resolutely refuses to bow to the march of progress and is bent on continuing as he’s always done. Garrett points out that part of his remit is to ensure the removal, by whatever means are deemed necessary, of the Kid from the territory. This is one of the few times both men share the screen until their final fateful meeting in Fort Sumner, but the movie charts the movements of both as circumstances inexorably draw them to their predetermined positions. That early scene in the cantina where Garrett and the Kid lay their cards on the table and both are aware that they will have to face off sooner or later is full of the melancholy that dominates the picture, and it’s pure Peckinpah. From this point the hunt is on. Garrett brings the Kid in after a bloody shootout at an isolated shack and has him locked up in Lincoln to await execution. This leads to a wonderfully realized sequence in the stark jail room where the Kid’s flippant disregard for authority (both earthly and divine) goads his manic, evangelical guard Ollinger (R G Armstrong) into taunting and threatening him - again depending on which version you watch there’s a killer line that may be missed. When the Kid effects his escape after blasting Ollinger apart with his own shotgun there’s a very human side of him revealed. He swaggers along the main street and orders up a horse to take him out of town. What he’s presented with is a wild animal that promptly bucks him clear and lands him square on his ass. Instead of avenging his bruised dignity on the old Mexican who embarrassed him by offering a horse he couldn’t ride, he simply smiles ruefully, steals another and rides coolly off as befits a legend.

Changing times - James Coburn as Pat Garrett.  

In truth, the whole film could be viewed as a series of memorable scenes. That’s not to say, of course, that there’s a lack of narrative structure; the story follows a very definite line and draws to a completely natural conclusion. What I’m trying to say is that there are certain characteristics that mark it out as a western that transcends the run-of-the-mill and elevate it to something grander. A prime example is the segment with Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado - it moves things forward by showing how Garrett’s pursuit is progressing but that’s not really the point. If anything, like one of Ford’s grace notes, the scene exists for the sake of its own beauty and and poignancy. I’m not going to spoil things for anyone who has yet to see the movie but I will say that it’s gut wrenching stuff and I’ve still never been able to watch it without a lump in my throat. The characters grow and develop as we move along too, especially Garrett. His cynicism and self-loathing increase the closer he comes to his quarry and the further he moves from the man he once was. By the end of the movie he has sold himself completely and his disgust at what he has become is a painful thing to witness. It’s also interesting to compare the portrayal of Garrett’s principal backer, Chisum (Barry Sullivan), to the one John Wayne offered a few years before. This is no heroic defender of the common man, instead he’s a coldly dedicated businessman who feels no sentimental attachment to those who worked for him in the past. This Chisum regards Billy as nothing more than a liability, both financially and politically, who needs to be exterminated. Those hands in his employ are shown to be similarly heartless, and it’s surely clear to Garrett that he’s only being tolerated so long as he has a role to play in Chisum’s schemes. In contrast to Garrett, the character of the Kid undergoes less of a change, perhaps because he’s the one who clings more firmly to the old ways. He starts out grinning, nonchalant and oozing self-confidence, and meets his fate with that attitude virtually intact. However, for all his free spirited charm there’s a hard edge there too. The first time I saw the film I was slightly shocked at the outcome of the duel that the Kid and Alamosa Bill (Jack Elam) are unable to avoid. Having said that, I’ve grown to appreciate that little scene more and more for showing that shootouts in the old west were rarely the kind of honourable and noble standoffs that they’re traditionally portrayed as. 

A man out of time - Kris Kristofferson as the Kid.

As I stated earlier, this was to be Peckinpah’s last western and it’s another of his ruminations on the passing of the old west and the dawn of the modern era. It was a troubled production, not least because of the director’s increasingly wayward behaviour, and the end product reflects that in the multiple cuts of the movie down the years. For all that though, it remains very much a Peckinpah film. It’s tempting to think that Sam saw something of himself in both the title characters: the Kid as the wild, anti-establishment figure that he encouraged others to see him as, and Garrett as the disillusioned independent trying to strike some kind of working balance between corporate interests and a free soul that was probably closer to the truth. As such, I think it’s Coburn’s performance as Garrett that drives the film and gives it much of its power. In terms of realism or accuracy he was too old for the part, but in terms of characterization he was perfect. He was of an age where you can easily understand a man’s need to seek out some form of security, that point when you realize that the recklessness of the past is no longer a viable option yet a part of you still yearns for it and rails against the advance of time and the compromises that are involved. Coburn’s lived-in features and grey hair help to get the point across, and the expressive eyes that could flash cold steel one minute and sardonic humour the next see that it strikes home. In contrast, Kristofferson plays the Kid as a devil may care adventurer, but one with a deep sense of fatalism. Even in that early scene in the cantina the twinkle in the eyes cannot disguise the fact that the Kid knows there and then, as surely as the grim faced Garrett does, that there can only be one outcome. Awareness is one thing of course, but the real fatalism is evident in the way the Kid only half-heartedly tries to elude his old friend. He heads for Mexico and safety but it’s clear enough that in so doing he’s hoping to find some excuse to return and play that one last card whatever the consequences. The supporting cast is something like a wish list of western character players and it’s another of the film’s great strengths. I don’t know how this works for those who come to the film without a familiarity with the genre, but for someone like myself it’s akin to meeting up again with a group of old acquaintances and simply revelling in their company. It would be impossible to go through all the people who drift in and out of the story and enrich it with their presence but, as I noted earlier, a special mention must be given to Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado who contribute to one of the finest moments in this picture, or any other for that matter. The only casting decision that doesn’t really work for me is the inclusion of Bob Dylan. I love the way his music blends in and complements the images on screen but his appearance as a character in the story is unnecessary in my opinion and is just too conspicuous.

The DVD release of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, not unlike the production itself, has become a source of controversy. Ever since Peckinpah’s clashes with MGM boss James Aubrey led to the movie being taken away from him and hacked down into a theatrical version that he hated there has been no real director’s cut available. The closest thing is the Turner Preview version, derived from Peckinpah’s workprint. The 2-disc DVD from Warners includes both the Turner version and a new 2005 Special Edition that claims to come closer to the director’s wishes. Now the problem is that the 2005 cut adds some material but, most damagingly, removes or alters key scenes and lines of dialogue from the Turner version - the exact changes can easily be found by running an internet search or just sitting down and watching the two cuts to compare for yourself. The fact that both versions are available is good of course, but it should be mentioned that the Turner cut has not undergone restoration whereas the 2005 one has. My own preference is for the Turner version for a variety of reasons, but the strongest one is the fact that the bookending of the story remains intact. Others will have to decide for themselves. Aside from the restoration, or lack of it, the DVD set contains a plethora of supplementary material that’s most welcome. As for the movie, I hope it’s clear that I hold it in high regard. It’s not only a compelling story, but it’s also a study of fading dreams, vanished innocence and bitter regrets. It’s one of Peckinpah’s best and should rate high in any list of top westerns. Very highly recommended.