Friday, June 01, 2012

War and Oates

God bless TMC!  For fans of Sam Peckinpah, think of this as a warmup to The Wild Bunch, but with Joel McCrea in the William Holden role.  Ride the High Country is a fine Western centering on a girl who joins up with three guys transporting gold from a mining camp, but it's also a meditation on morality.  The girl, played by Mariette Hartley, finds herself between a rock and a hard place, morally speaking.  I won't say which is which, but she's caught between her domineering, Bible-thumping father (R.G. Armstrong) and a slippery slope named Billy Hammond, played by James Drury, who kinda looks like he could be Gregory Peck's kid!  At first she thinks she wants to travel to the mining camp to marry Billy.  Then she actually does it.  Very soon after, she realizes what a huge mistake it was.  Kind of a shame, because the speech delivered by Judge (Creighton?) Tolliver was a pretty good one; the ironic hipsters in the crowd will surely appreciate this very much.
I'm no expert on the subject, but there's one point in the film where Elsa Knudsen changes from her work clothes into a pretty dress.  She has her back turned to the camera, she takes off her shirt, and we see her naked back and can't help but notice she's not wearing a brassiere.  I think that was probably groundbreaking at the time, but I'm probably wrong about that.  Well, we film critics gotta notice details like that.  It also happened in Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course.  The other main character in the film is Steven Judd, played by Joel McCrea, a lawman getting on in years who embarks on one last score, so to speak.  Arguably, his first scene in the bar is groundbreaking in its own way, as they allow a young man to act so openly flirtatious on-screen... I'm showing my ignorance, aren't I?  My viewing companion speculated that William Goldman borrowed from this movie for Butch Cassidy, specifically the part where Butch and Sundance become payroll guards early in the third Act.  Probably!  To further compound my ignorance, I was never terribly aware of John Davis Chandler until seeing him in Mad Dog Coll.  Now I'll probably see him everywhere.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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