Monte Walsh


1h 46m 1970
Monte Walsh

Brief Synopsis

An aging cowboy faces changes in the West with the rise of civilization.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Western
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Oct 1970
Production Company
Palladian Pictures
Distribution Company
National General Pictures Corporation
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Monte Walsh by Jack Warner Schaefer (Boston, 1963).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In the late 1880's Monte Walsh and Chet Rollins, two aging cowboys, ride into the town of Harmony, and manager Cal Brennan offers them a job at the Slash Y Ranch. There they meet an old friend, Shorty Austin, and the three men ride into town where Monte visits Martine Bernard, his mistress, at the local saloon, while Chet courts Mary Eagle, a widow who has inherited a hardware store. Soon after Shorty loses his job at the ranch, he becomes involved in a saloon brawl and kills a man who turns out to be a marshal. Chet, who marries Mary Eagle and settles down to work in the store, tells Monte that the day of the cowboy is gone and that he, too, should settle down. Martine, however, has moved to Charleyville to work in a more prosperous saloon. Monte follows her and proposes marriage. As he leaves Charleyville, the drunken Monte comes upon a wild horse that is part of a Wild West show and decides to tame the stallion. The owner of the show offers Monte a job, but Monte is too proud to become a carnival attraction and turns him down. He mounts the horse and destroys a large part of the town during the wild ride. Upon returning to Harmony, Monte is informed that Chet was killed by Shorty during a robbery of the hardware store. Monte sets out in pursuit of Shorty but learns that Martine is very ill. He rides to Charleyville to find Martine dead and Shorty waiting for him. The two men stalk each other throughout the town until Monte finally kills Shorty.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Western
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Oct 1970
Production Company
Palladian Pictures
Distribution Company
National General Pictures Corporation
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Monte Walsh by Jack Warner Schaefer (Boston, 1963).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Monte Walsh (1970)


Although these days, The Wild Bunch (1969) is often considered the final word on the subject, Hollywood wouldn't be done pondering the demise of the Old West (and, not incidentally, the Western genre) for a few years after Sam Peckinpah's blood-filled meditation hit the screen. William A. Fraker's relatively little-known Monte Walsh (1970) somehow fell between the cracks of The Wild Bunch and Robert Altman's elegiac McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), but it's still an impressive film that benefits greatly from Fraker's experience as an A-list cinematographer.

Fraker, who photographed such memorable films as Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Bullitt (1968), paints a picture of the West that is at once romanticized and surprisingly decrepit. As was the case with most of the movies in this anti-genre, the frontier often looks beautiful in Monte Walsh. But the characters don't notice the beauty. They're just trying to survive in an unforgiving environment.

Lee Marvin plays the title role, a down-and-out ranch hand whose life intersects with some old riding buddies, Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) and Shorty Austin (Mitch Ryan), in the thoroughly misnamed town of Harmony. You know this is a more modernized Western than the 1940s archetype when the nominal hero has his life thrown into disarray by bankers foreclosing on a ranch. Hardcore capitalists always seem to play a role in these pictures, intimating that the traditional cowboy game was over once bad guys started running conglomerates rather than merely firing pistols.

Rollins eventually marries into a conservative family, and tries to convince the hard-drinking Walsh that maybe it's time to hang up his spurs and settle down. But with Lee Marvin in the title role, it takes an inevitable murder to finally seal Walsh's standing as one of the last of the old-fashioned cowboys. The story is nothing earth-shattering, but Fraker pulls sturdy performances out of his cast, and the picture in general displays a healthy distaste for standard Hollywood conventions, just like its star, Lee Marvin.

Fraker – who, lest we forget, was a first-time director – knew Marvin liked to drink. But he decided to nip the star's penchant for drunkenness in the bud while shooting Monte Walsh, even if it might mean losing his job.

One morning when production had just gotten underway, Fraker was driving up to the film's central location outside of Tucson, along with a battalion of other trucks transporting the cast and crew. As the trucks approached, everyone could see Marvin standing grandly on a large rock, in full costume, with a bottle of beer in his hand rather than the more appropriate six-shooter. Realizing he needed to establish himself as the one-and-only head honcho, Fraker recklessly approached the actor and told him it was too bad he was so loaded because now they had to cancel the entire day's shoot - at six in the morning!

Marvin insisted that he was fine and knew his dialogue. Fraker, though, argued that Marvin knew everybody's dialogue – he always did – but was still so plastered he actually appeared cross-eyed. Finally, Fraker informed Marvin that Monte Walsh would not contain a single frame of film in which the lead actor was "smashed." Then all the trucks turned around, and Fraker, despite the huge expense, called it a day.

Fraker returned to his hotel and told his assistant to pack his bags, since he believed the studio would be relieving him of his duties at any minute. When the call finally came, the producers congratulated Fraker on standing his ground against Marvin. The move also apparently worked for Marvin, who, from that point on, never again showed up drunk on the set. That's not to say he gave up drinking completely, but even risk-taking first-time directors can't have everything.

Director: William A. Fraker
Producer: Hal Landers, Bobby Roberts
Screenplay: Lukas Heller, David Zelag Goodman (based on the novel by Jack Schaefer)
Editor: Richard Brockway, Robert L. Wolfe, Ray Daniels, Gene Fowler, Jr.
Cinematographer: David M. Walsh
Music: John Barry
Production Design: Albert Brenner
Art Design: Ward Preston
Costume Design: Albert Brenner
Makeup: Emile LaVigne
Cast: Lee Marvin (Monte Walsh), Jeanne Moreau (Martine Bernard), Jack Palance (Chet Rollins), Mitch Ryan (Shorty Austin), Jim Davis (Cal Brennan), John Hudkins (Sonny Jacobs), Michael Conrad (Dally Johnson), Tom Heaton (Sugar Wyman), G.D. Spradlin (Hal Henderson).
C-99m.

by Paul Tatara
Monte Walsh (1970)

Monte Walsh (1970)

Although these days, The Wild Bunch (1969) is often considered the final word on the subject, Hollywood wouldn't be done pondering the demise of the Old West (and, not incidentally, the Western genre) for a few years after Sam Peckinpah's blood-filled meditation hit the screen. William A. Fraker's relatively little-known Monte Walsh (1970) somehow fell between the cracks of The Wild Bunch and Robert Altman's elegiac McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), but it's still an impressive film that benefits greatly from Fraker's experience as an A-list cinematographer. Fraker, who photographed such memorable films as Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Bullitt (1968), paints a picture of the West that is at once romanticized and surprisingly decrepit. As was the case with most of the movies in this anti-genre, the frontier often looks beautiful in Monte Walsh. But the characters don't notice the beauty. They're just trying to survive in an unforgiving environment. Lee Marvin plays the title role, a down-and-out ranch hand whose life intersects with some old riding buddies, Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) and Shorty Austin (Mitch Ryan), in the thoroughly misnamed town of Harmony. You know this is a more modernized Western than the 1940s archetype when the nominal hero has his life thrown into disarray by bankers foreclosing on a ranch. Hardcore capitalists always seem to play a role in these pictures, intimating that the traditional cowboy game was over once bad guys started running conglomerates rather than merely firing pistols. Rollins eventually marries into a conservative family, and tries to convince the hard-drinking Walsh that maybe it's time to hang up his spurs and settle down. But with Lee Marvin in the title role, it takes an inevitable murder to finally seal Walsh's standing as one of the last of the old-fashioned cowboys. The story is nothing earth-shattering, but Fraker pulls sturdy performances out of his cast, and the picture in general displays a healthy distaste for standard Hollywood conventions, just like its star, Lee Marvin. Fraker – who, lest we forget, was a first-time director – knew Marvin liked to drink. But he decided to nip the star's penchant for drunkenness in the bud while shooting Monte Walsh, even if it might mean losing his job. One morning when production had just gotten underway, Fraker was driving up to the film's central location outside of Tucson, along with a battalion of other trucks transporting the cast and crew. As the trucks approached, everyone could see Marvin standing grandly on a large rock, in full costume, with a bottle of beer in his hand rather than the more appropriate six-shooter. Realizing he needed to establish himself as the one-and-only head honcho, Fraker recklessly approached the actor and told him it was too bad he was so loaded because now they had to cancel the entire day's shoot - at six in the morning! Marvin insisted that he was fine and knew his dialogue. Fraker, though, argued that Marvin knew everybody's dialogue – he always did – but was still so plastered he actually appeared cross-eyed. Finally, Fraker informed Marvin that Monte Walsh would not contain a single frame of film in which the lead actor was "smashed." Then all the trucks turned around, and Fraker, despite the huge expense, called it a day. Fraker returned to his hotel and told his assistant to pack his bags, since he believed the studio would be relieving him of his duties at any minute. When the call finally came, the producers congratulated Fraker on standing his ground against Marvin. The move also apparently worked for Marvin, who, from that point on, never again showed up drunk on the set. That's not to say he gave up drinking completely, but even risk-taking first-time directors can't have everything. Director: William A. Fraker Producer: Hal Landers, Bobby Roberts Screenplay: Lukas Heller, David Zelag Goodman (based on the novel by Jack Schaefer) Editor: Richard Brockway, Robert L. Wolfe, Ray Daniels, Gene Fowler, Jr. Cinematographer: David M. Walsh Music: John Barry Production Design: Albert Brenner Art Design: Ward Preston Costume Design: Albert Brenner Makeup: Emile LaVigne Cast: Lee Marvin (Monte Walsh), Jeanne Moreau (Martine Bernard), Jack Palance (Chet Rollins), Mitch Ryan (Shorty Austin), Jim Davis (Cal Brennan), John Hudkins (Sonny Jacobs), Michael Conrad (Dally Johnson), Tom Heaton (Sugar Wyman), G.D. Spradlin (Hal Henderson). C-99m. by Paul Tatara

Monte Walsh - Lee Marvin in MONTE WALSH on DVD


It's still something of a mystery as to why the celebrated Hollywood films of the homely, thorny, sometimes haywire Nixon/'Nam era, blooming as they did in the midst of a worldwide youth culture siege, were so overwhelming interested in the lostness, melancholy and frayed edges of middle age. Think about it - today we're beset by literal teenagers and aging actors who never seem to age out of high school, but in the magical New Wave era of 1967-77, the ascendent stars were people like Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, Ellen Burstyn and Robert Redford, all in their 30s or older, and none of them mistakable for a kid. Movies then constantly took menopausal turmoil as their meat and potatoes, basked in the gritty light of no man's land Middle America, and zeroed their attentions, more often than not, on working-class crises and lifestyles. It was as if movies themselves, after decades of studio formula and gloss, had resolved finally to grow up.

What happened? You couldn't blame it on the fading lions in charge of production for greenlighting films that echoed their own demographic - the hot young directors out of film school were focused, too (consider that The Conversation was Francis Ford Coppola's pet project, enabled by The Godfather), and the audience turned out in passionate troves. Of course, the window had to close, and by most perspectives it closed in 1977, with Star Wars, easily seen now as a film intended for children. Consider that the biggest grossing film before that was The Godfather, which no child was allowed to see without the accompaniment of a presumably deranged adult.

But for a span the grown-ups had their heyday, and theaters were stocked with modest, wise movies like William A. Fraker's Monte Walsh (1971). This forgotten anti-Western is a prototypical tissue sample from its day and age, adapting Jack Schaefer's novel into a dawdling, small-bore riff on the mundanities - pleasurable and maddening both - of cowboy ranch life in the Old West. It's not unlike a rowdy John Ford oater but without the Indians and gunfights. The New Wave priority of realism over glamour or showbiz baloney is here in unceremonial form: Lee Marvin and Jack Palance are aging, unexceptional cowhands coming off a long winter's stint, hired on at one ranch as another goes bankrupt, and wondering how much more deeply into their middle years they'll be able to sustain their freelance, nomadic lifestyle.

It's a movie about midlife anxieties, but the soul-searching is minimal: the boys' life is consumed with horsing around (literally and otherwise) with the half-dozen other ranch-hands in their bunk, and finding solace in brawls and women. (Jeanne Moreau, as a secretively consumptive whore, is Marvin's indulgent nowhere girl.) It's up to us to see the bleak destiny awaiting this oblivious men. (Palance's amiable cowpoke shruggingly decides to quit and marry a store-owning widow, but, being a cowboy, never quite articulates his reasons.) The tiny and perfectly nice town they frequent begins to feel, before long, like a unsatisfying, undramatic dead end. Amid the cheap bravado - the characters' and the actors' both, all of it in a minor key that feels a little pathetic - the story dallies on life opportunities long lost, and when the tragic plot turn comes, it pivots not on epochal events but on an economic downturn, cowboy unemployment and poverty.

Fraker, debuting as a director here, was a pivotal cinematographer of the Hollywood New Wave (he shot Rosemary's Baby, Bullitt, Rancho Deluxe and Dusty and Sweets McGee), but his choices here are often mushy: the Way We Were soft-focus filters, the reliance on post-Ford barroom humor and corny macho simplicity. Still, none of the hokey details get in the way of the film's primal thrust, dressing down as it does the heroic myth of the American West in a way comparable to the bloodbaths of Sam Peckinpah, though far gentler. Alongside David Miller's underrated Lonely Are the Brave (1962) and several of Peckinpah's elegiac monsters, it's a heartrending statement about the loss of an entire frontier and the culture that went with it.

Lee Marvin's starring vehicles from this period almost always seemed to reflect his own persona and lifestyle - lazy, drunken, laconic and rueful, with the ever-present feeling that whatever the story entailed, the plot (like the film production itself) was simply something getting in the way of what he'd rather be, or should be, doing. This hardly implies criticism - Marvin was no sweaty Method actor, but he was unarguably one of the most mesmerizing, original presences American movies have ever known. With his torpedo-shaped head, alligator eyes, snoring-dinosaur voice and lightning-strike body English, Marvin was born for the movies, and in a sense postwar Hollywood and the American New Wave grew up with him, as he graduated from snarling villains in the '50s to a supercool outsider man's-man who looked like a real person, and a real person you'd cross the street to avoid.

The surprise of Monte Walsh is Palance, whose career seemed etched in bad guy stone because of his post-WWII-plastic-surgery puss, with cheekbones like gargoyle wings. Like Marvin Palance aged into our fondness and empathy, too, and in Fraker's movie he smiles more than in the rest of his films combined, emerging organically as the story's hauntingly sad heart.

The new Paramount DVD comes with merely a trailer as a supplement

To order Monte Walsh, go to TCM Shopping.

by Michael Atkinson

Monte Walsh - Lee Marvin in MONTE WALSH on DVD

It's still something of a mystery as to why the celebrated Hollywood films of the homely, thorny, sometimes haywire Nixon/'Nam era, blooming as they did in the midst of a worldwide youth culture siege, were so overwhelming interested in the lostness, melancholy and frayed edges of middle age. Think about it - today we're beset by literal teenagers and aging actors who never seem to age out of high school, but in the magical New Wave era of 1967-77, the ascendent stars were people like Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, Ellen Burstyn and Robert Redford, all in their 30s or older, and none of them mistakable for a kid. Movies then constantly took menopausal turmoil as their meat and potatoes, basked in the gritty light of no man's land Middle America, and zeroed their attentions, more often than not, on working-class crises and lifestyles. It was as if movies themselves, after decades of studio formula and gloss, had resolved finally to grow up. What happened? You couldn't blame it on the fading lions in charge of production for greenlighting films that echoed their own demographic - the hot young directors out of film school were focused, too (consider that The Conversation was Francis Ford Coppola's pet project, enabled by The Godfather), and the audience turned out in passionate troves. Of course, the window had to close, and by most perspectives it closed in 1977, with Star Wars, easily seen now as a film intended for children. Consider that the biggest grossing film before that was The Godfather, which no child was allowed to see without the accompaniment of a presumably deranged adult. But for a span the grown-ups had their heyday, and theaters were stocked with modest, wise movies like William A. Fraker's Monte Walsh (1971). This forgotten anti-Western is a prototypical tissue sample from its day and age, adapting Jack Schaefer's novel into a dawdling, small-bore riff on the mundanities - pleasurable and maddening both - of cowboy ranch life in the Old West. It's not unlike a rowdy John Ford oater but without the Indians and gunfights. The New Wave priority of realism over glamour or showbiz baloney is here in unceremonial form: Lee Marvin and Jack Palance are aging, unexceptional cowhands coming off a long winter's stint, hired on at one ranch as another goes bankrupt, and wondering how much more deeply into their middle years they'll be able to sustain their freelance, nomadic lifestyle. It's a movie about midlife anxieties, but the soul-searching is minimal: the boys' life is consumed with horsing around (literally and otherwise) with the half-dozen other ranch-hands in their bunk, and finding solace in brawls and women. (Jeanne Moreau, as a secretively consumptive whore, is Marvin's indulgent nowhere girl.) It's up to us to see the bleak destiny awaiting this oblivious men. (Palance's amiable cowpoke shruggingly decides to quit and marry a store-owning widow, but, being a cowboy, never quite articulates his reasons.) The tiny and perfectly nice town they frequent begins to feel, before long, like a unsatisfying, undramatic dead end. Amid the cheap bravado - the characters' and the actors' both, all of it in a minor key that feels a little pathetic - the story dallies on life opportunities long lost, and when the tragic plot turn comes, it pivots not on epochal events but on an economic downturn, cowboy unemployment and poverty. Fraker, debuting as a director here, was a pivotal cinematographer of the Hollywood New Wave (he shot Rosemary's Baby, Bullitt, Rancho Deluxe and Dusty and Sweets McGee), but his choices here are often mushy: the Way We Were soft-focus filters, the reliance on post-Ford barroom humor and corny macho simplicity. Still, none of the hokey details get in the way of the film's primal thrust, dressing down as it does the heroic myth of the American West in a way comparable to the bloodbaths of Sam Peckinpah, though far gentler. Alongside David Miller's underrated Lonely Are the Brave (1962) and several of Peckinpah's elegiac monsters, it's a heartrending statement about the loss of an entire frontier and the culture that went with it. Lee Marvin's starring vehicles from this period almost always seemed to reflect his own persona and lifestyle - lazy, drunken, laconic and rueful, with the ever-present feeling that whatever the story entailed, the plot (like the film production itself) was simply something getting in the way of what he'd rather be, or should be, doing. This hardly implies criticism - Marvin was no sweaty Method actor, but he was unarguably one of the most mesmerizing, original presences American movies have ever known. With his torpedo-shaped head, alligator eyes, snoring-dinosaur voice and lightning-strike body English, Marvin was born for the movies, and in a sense postwar Hollywood and the American New Wave grew up with him, as he graduated from snarling villains in the '50s to a supercool outsider man's-man who looked like a real person, and a real person you'd cross the street to avoid. The surprise of Monte Walsh is Palance, whose career seemed etched in bad guy stone because of his post-WWII-plastic-surgery puss, with cheekbones like gargoyle wings. Like Marvin Palance aged into our fondness and empathy, too, and in Fraker's movie he smiles more than in the rest of his films combined, emerging organically as the story's hauntingly sad heart. The new Paramount DVD comes with merely a trailer as a supplement To order Monte Walsh, go to TCM Shopping. by Michael Atkinson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed near Tucson, Arizona.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1970

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1970