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A dark Western comparable in its pessimistic tone to Fred Zinnemann's classic High Noon (1952), Westbound (1959) depicts a violent power struggle in 1864 America, between the North and the South during the Civil War. It was also one of the few Hollywood films set during the Civil War which actually chose sides and treated the North as virtuous and Southerners as villainous.
Union Captain John Hayes (Randolph Scott) is ordered by his Army superiors to set up a stagecoach delivery route to transport gold from California to Union forces back East. But in the small Colorado town of Julesberg, where he supervises the gold run, Hayes encounters violent resistance from the pro-Confederate locals dominated by the town's ruthless hotel owner Clay Putnam (Andrew Duggan) and his vicious gang of outlaws led by the malevolent Mace (Michael Pate).
Teaming up with a local farmer, a young Union soldier Rod Miller (Michael Dante), and his beautiful wife, Jeanie (Karen Steele), Hayes assembles the horses, coaches and lodgings to operate his Overland stage line. But soon another, smaller war has broken out between North and South, as Hayes' allies and Putnam's thugs battle for dominance. The Putnam gang stops at nothing to intercept the Overland's booty -- including murder. In one shocking scene, a stagecoach which the gang knows carries a mother and her young daughter as passengers, is nevertheless mortally attacked, symbolizing the gang's disregard for human life.
Complicating affairs is the still-smoldering relationship between Hayes and Norma Putnam (Virginia Mayo), now married to the wealthy, corrupt Clay Putnam, but beginning to question her husband's shady business.
But in Oscar "Budd" Boetticher Westerns, it is typically the violent struggles between men, not romantic imbroglios, which compose the central action of the picture. Boetticher creates an atmosphere of stifling tension from the moment Hayes arrives in the town and is publicly humiliated by the horsewhip-brandishing Mace. Even the town's women, standing at the sidelines, laugh at Hayes' shame, in an indication of how bitterly Boetticher views these Southern sympathizers. The film's atmosphere is unrelentingly grim -- even the war-maimed Rod is shown no mercy, ostracized and taunted by the town thugs and served tainted food by a local restaurant owner.
The Western is known for its pairings of actor and director, like John Wayne and John Ford, or James Stewart and Anthony Mann. And Boetticher's films boasted a similar union, of director and star Randolph Scott, who also appeared in Boetticher's Ride Lonesome, the same year.
A prototypical Western hero with his tall, lean, rugged good looks, Scott's presence helped define seven of Boetticher's classic B-Westerns made between 1956 and 1960 and produced by the independent Ranown company.
Though less known than John Wayne or James Stewart today, Scott was a perennially popular Hollywood box-office draw in Boetticher's Westerns and retired from the business one of Hollywood's wealthiest men with multimillion dollar holdings in oil wells, real estate, and securities.
Beloved by connoisseurs of the genre, Boetticher was known primarily as a director of Westerns, though he also branched out into bullfight films (Boetticher once worked as a professional matador in Mexico) and the occasional gangster picture (The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960). Boetticher's tension-driven Westerns of the Fifties are nimble, tight productions, and Westbound is characteristic of the director's best work in the genre which stood at the divide between the classic era of John Ford and Anthony Mann, and the darker cycle ushered in with the more violent, pessimistic Westerns to come from Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah.
Director: Bud Boetticher
Producer: Henry Blanke
Screenplay: Berne Giler, Albert S. Le Vino (story)
Cinematography: J. Peverell Marley
Production Design: Howard Campbell
Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Randolph Scott (Capt. John Hayes), Virginia Mayo (Norma Putnam), Karen Steele (Jeanie Miller), Michael Dante (Rod Miller), Andrew Duggan (Clay Putnam), Michael Pate (Mace), Wally Brown (Stubby).
By Felicia Feaster
Run of the Arrow (1957)
Navajo Joe, the lone survivor of a massacre, promises payback for the outlaw gang that slaughtered his Indian tribe. He soon gets to avenge his people when the citizens of a small Western community appeal to him for protection from the same marauding gang. Joe quickly accepts their offer of one dollar for each outlaw scalp delivered and goes to work eliminating his enemies one by one, saving the outlaw leader until last.
After the surprise success of A Fistful of Dollars (1964), producer Dino De Laurentiis decided to produce his own spaghetti Western with an American actor who could rival Clint Eastwood in popularity. For the lead in Navajo Joe (1966), De Laurentiis needed someone who could pass as a Native American and Burt Reynolds was the ideal choice. Not only was the actor part Cherokee but he had also convincingly played other minorities on two popular TV series; in Gunsmoke, Reynolds played Quint Asper, a half-breed who worked as the town blacksmith, from 1962-1966 and in Hawk (1966-1976), he was cast as a full blooded Iroquois Indian working as a cop in New York City. Although Reynolds had his doubts about a Western in which he killed about a hundred men single handedly, De Laurentiis convinced him to sign on to his first and only spaghetti Western.
Although Navajo Joe is considered one of the better spaghetti Westerns by fans of the genre, it fared poorly in the U.S. where it was block-booked without fanfare as a second feature at drive-ins and less discriminating movie houses. Reynolds was particularly unkind about the film and often said it was the worse movie he ever made. In fact, the actor remarked that it was "so awful, it was shown only in prisons and airplanes because nobody could leave. I killed 10,000 guys, wore a Japanese slingshot and a fright wig." Obviously, Reynolds had no appreciation for this unique genre and ignored the obvious virtues of Navajo Joe: the rousing music score by Ennio Morricone (credited under the pseudonym Leo Nichols), Silvano Ippoliti's unconventional cinematography and Sergio Corbucci's tightly paced direction. Corbucci, who had helmed some of the most successful Italian sword and sandal epics like Duel of the Titans (1963) with Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott, would go on to direct two of the most influential and acclaimed entries in the spaghetti Western genre - Django (1966) and The Great Silence (1968).
Producer: Luigi Carpentieri, Ermanno Donati
Director: Sergio Corbucci
Screenplay: Fernando Di Leo, Ugo Pirro (story), Piero Regnoli
Cinematography: Silvano Ippoliti
Film Editing: Alberto Gallitti
Original Music: Ennio Morricone
Principal Cast: Burt Reynolds (Joe), Aldo Sambrell (Duncan), Nicoletta Machiavelli (Estella), Simon Arriaga (Monkey), Fernando Rey (Rattigan), Tanya Lopert (Maria), Cris Huerta (El Gordo), Franca Polesello (Barbara).
by Jeff Stafford
Run of the Arrow (1957)
A revisionist Western that makes complex statements about the nature ofrace, identity, and loyalty, Run of the Arrow (1957) is a key film in theoeuvre of renegade director Samuel Fuller. Though Fuller was oftencriticized for lacking a social conscience - his taste for lurid pulpfiction usually excluded it - this picture paints as open-minded an image ofthe American Indian as you're likely to find in 1950s cinema. The maincharacter, played by Rod Steiger, actually sides with the Indians for thebetter part of the film, a stance that runs decidedly counter to what JohnWayne and his ilk had been doing for the previous 20 years.
Steiger plays Pvt. O'Meara, a Confederate soldier who fires what turns outto be the final shot of the Civil War. A Union lieutenant named Driscoll(Ralph Meeker) is on the receiving end of the bullet, but he recovers fromhis wound. Unwilling to accept the "death" of his beloved South once thepeace treaty is signed at Appomattox, O'Meara heads West. There, afterestablishing his worthiness through an endurance test known as "the run ofthe arrow," he joins a Sioux Indian tribe. Eventually, he falls in lovewith a beautiful maiden named Yellow Moccasin, played by Sarita Montiel, whose voice was dubbed by RKO contract player Angie Dickinson!
Tension mounts when the U.S. Army, lead by Lt. Driscoll, builds Fort AbrahamLincoln just beyond the edge of a hallowed Sioux hunting ground. When apopular captain (Brian Keith) is killed by an enraged Sioux warrior (H.M.Wynant), Driscoll uses that as an excuse to attack the Indians. This leadsto a failed peace-keeping attempt by O'Meara, and an exceptionally bloodybattle in and around the fort. The ambiguous finale suggests that O'Mearais finally done with his personal Civil War, but remains torn between theSioux and the world he left behind.
Steiger never met a piece of scenery he couldn't chew, but he's actuallywell-suited to Fuller's bulldozing method. Though he seldom enjoyed theluxury of a big budget, Fuller pushed the boundaries of what could beaccomplished by commercial filmmakers, with a blunt primitivism that waschampioned by the French New Wave critics of the 1960s, and ultimatelyinfluenced such directors as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Theoften hysterical melodrama of Fuller's scripts can overshadow just howbrilliantly he employs his camera. Run of the Arrow is as fluidlyand economically shot as any of his films.
In Sam Fuller: Film is a Battleground by Lee Server, the director recalled the sequence toward the beginning of Run of the Arrow where Steiger says goodbye to his mother: "The Confederate in that scene who sang the song against the Constitution was played by a Southerner, whose hobby was collecting folklore and ballads. He loved it, being a Southerner and against the damn Yankees. My art director on the picture was a very virulent Yankee. I'm only telling you this because there's an evil streak in me that I like. I thought it would be wonderful to get them together in my office. I'll never forget it; it was the most wonderful moment of my life to introduce these two men who despised each other. They immediately got into a tremendous argument. I heard the whole Civil War fought all over again in my office." Fuller also commented on the famous "run of the arrow" sequence: "I shot that scene without my star. Steiger sprained his ankle right before we shot it, and he was taken off to the hospital. I used a young Indian in his place. Nobody noticed it. They thought I was being highly creative, highly artistic: "Imagine! Almost a boy wonder, a genius! Sensational! The way he shot it by just showing the feet!" Well, I would have shot about eighty per cent of the scene with just feet anyway, because that's the whole idea of the Run. But occasionally I would have liked to whip up with the camera and show Steiger's face."
Movie buffs will note the similarities between Run of the Arrow andKevin Costner's Oscar-winning epic, Dances with Wolves (1990). Bothfilms feature disheartened lead characters who journey West at the end ofthe Civil War, only to find new strength in the culture and teachings of theSioux Indians. In due course, both men are forced to test their new-foundbeliefs when other war veterans arrive on Sioux land, guns at the ready.Fuller, however, is somewhat more inclined to let bullets and tomahawks dothe talking than Costner is. After all, he was making B-pictures, notsensitivity training films.
Though supporting actor Tim McCoy was an Indian agent who started his filmcareer as a technical advisor on silent Westerns, it seems unlikely that hedid much advising on Run of the Arrow. The Sioux, for instance,would never kiss on the lips as shown in the movie. And, though Fullersuggests they're ready to skin a person alive at one point, they were neverproponents of torture. There's certainly overstatement in the finished product, but Fuller refusedto pull punches at a time when his much more honored peers were busy mindingtheir manners. His white-hot passions permeate Run of the Arrow,making it one of the more fascinating entries in a truly American body ofwork.
Producer/Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Film Editing: Gene Fowler, Jr.
Original Music: Victor Young
Cast: Rod Steiger (O'Meara), Sarita Montiel (Yellow Moccasin), Brian Keith (Capt. Clark), Ralph Meeker (Lt. Driscoll), Jay C. Flippen (Walking Coyote), Charles Bronson (Blue Buffalo), Olive Carey (Mrs. O'Meara), H. M. Wynant (Crazy Wolf), Frank DeKova (Red Cloud).
By Paul Tatara