High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane (1980, directed by Jerry Jameson)


One year after throwing his tin star to the ground and riding out of town in disgust at the cowardice of the citizens who he once served, former Marshal Will Kane (Lee Majors, stepping into the role that won Gary Cooper an Oscar) returns to Hadleyville with his bride, Amy (Katherine Cannon).

Hadleyville has a new sheriff.  When Kane angrily left, he was replaced by J.D. Ward (Pernell Roberts), a corrupt tyrant who runs the town with an iron fist and who is more interested in making money than upholding the law.  Ward is determined to collect the bounty on Ben Irons (David Carradine), a reformed outlaw who swears that he’s innocent.  Kane decides to try to help Ben escape from Ward and his posse, which leads to potentially disastrous consequences for him.  Will the town finally show the courage necessary to stand behind Kane or will he once again be forced to go it alone?

High Noon, Part II is a made-for-TV movie.  It was obviously designed to be a pilot for a potential television series, one that would have featured the weekly adventures of Will Kane in Hadleyville.  As far as made-for-TV westerns are concerned, it’s about average, neither particularly good nor bad.  Lee Majors may not have been a great actor but he was believable in western roles and both Pernell Roberts and David Carradine give good performances as well.  Jerry Jameson directs in a workmanlike manner.  The story’s predictable but it’s a western so what do you expect?

The main problem with the film is that it’s set up to be a sequel to a film that never needed one.  When Gary Cooper threw that star in the dust and climbed up on that wagon with Grace Kelly in High Noon, the whole point of the story was that Will Kane was never going to return to Hadleyville because the citizens of Hadleyville deserted him when he most needed them.  Hadleyville didn’t deserve Will Kane.  That’s what set High Noon apart from other westerns.  Having Kane return to Hadleyville and once again pick up the tin star negates everything that made High Noon so effective.  The whole point of the ending was that Will Kane was never going to return but, according to this movie, he did and forgave the town for the unforgivable.  It’s impossible to watch High Noon II without thinking about how it goes against everything that the first High Noon was all about.

Oddly enough, the film’s forgettable screenplay was written by the great Elmore Leonard.  Leonard did better work before this film and he would do better work afterwards.

 

Four Rode Out (1970, directed by John Peyser)


In this self-conciously hip western, former Lolita Sue Lyon stars as Myra Polsen.  Myra has a reputation for being the town tramp and, when her father discovers Myra in bed with wanted outlaw Frenando Nunez (Julian Mateos), it leads to her father having a violent breakdown which ends with him shooting himself and Frenando escaping into the desert.  (Before anyone comments, that’s not a misspelling.  The outlaw’s name actually is Frenando.)  World-weary U.S. Marshall Ross (Pernell Roberts) heads into the desert to try to capture Frenando.  Accompanying him are Myra (who still loves Frenando) and the mysterious Mr. Brown (Leslie Nielsen!), a detective who is obsessed with Frenando and who says that he’ll kill the outlaw as soon as he sees him.

Also accompanying them is a ghostly folksinger played by Janis Ian, of At Seventeen fame.  Ian sings songs that comment upon the story and they’re just as empty-headed and bad as you would expect them to be.  Janis Ian’s presence marks this as being one of the handful of new wave westerns that were released in the wake of Easy Rider, The Wild Bunch, and the films of Sergio Leone.  These westerns attempted to appeal to the counter-culture by sympathizing with the outlaws and featuring crooked lawmen.  The addition of Janis Ian and her songs is Four Rode Out‘s way of saying, “This may be a western but this is a western that gets it.” Instead, it just comes across as artificial and forced.  There’s a lot of room for both moral ambiguity and political subtext in the western genre, which was something that Leone and Sam Peckinpah proved.  There’s less room for a hippie folksinger, as Four Rode Out demonstrates.

Other than Janis Ian’s songs and some dialogue that tries too hard to be profound, Four Rode Out isn’t bad.  Sue Lyon really digs into the role of Myra and even Pernell Roberts gives a good performance.  Of course, if you’re watching this movie in 2020, it’s probably going to be because of Leslie Nielsen.  This movie was made before Nielsen recreated himself as a comedic actor and it’s interesting to see how the same things that made Nielsen so funny — the deadpan delivery, the overly serious facial expressions — also made him a good villain.  For modern audiences, it can be difficult to look at Leslie Nielsen without laughing.  That’s how much we associate him with comedy.  But once you accept the fact that this is Leslie Nielsen playing a bad guy, he’s very convincing in the role.

One final note of interest: Four Rode Out was based on a story idea from the actor Dick Miller.  Yes, that Dick Miller.  Unfortunately, Miller himself is not in the movie.

I Shot Billy The Kid (1950, directed by William Berke)


Sheriff Pat Garrett (Robert Lowery) tells the story of his friendship and later pursuit of Billy the Kid (Don “Red” Berry). As Garrett explains it, Billy could be a charming and likable outlaw but he just refused to go straight.  After Billy rescued Garrett from an Indian attack, Garrett even tried to arrange for Billy to get a pardon from New Mexico’s governor, Lew Wallace (Claude Stroud), but when the pardon didn’t arrive in time, Billy felt had been betrayed and continued his life as an outlaw.  Eventually, it fell upon Garrett to track down and put his old friend out of commission.

This film really should have been called I Shot Billy The Man because Don Berry was nearly 40 when he played Billy and he looked like he was closer to 50.  Berry makes the mistake of wearing  hair piece, which just makes it seem as if George Constanza somehow got cast as a notorious western outlaw.  As was true in even his worst westerns, Berry is a convincing gunslinger but he’s just not a very convincing kid.  Meanwhile, Robert Lowery is a boringly upright Pat Garrett.  There’s none of the moral ambiguity that’s present in some of the better retellings of the life of Billy the Kid.

Tom Neal, an authentic tough guy who is best remembered for starring in Detour and for sabotaging his own career by nearly beating actor Franchot Tone to death, appears as a member of Billy’s gang.  Neal was almost as old as Berry but it still seems like the film would have worked better if Neal has played Billy, Berry had played Pat, and Lowery would have taken the less important role of Charlie.  Neal would have brought some authentic toughness to the role while Berry’s onscreen charisma would have countered how boring the film’s version of Pat Garrett comes across as being.  As it is, with Berry miscast and Lowery giving a bland peformance and the entire movie limited by its low budget (it was produced by Robert Lippert, who made Roger Corman seem extravagant by comparison), I Shot Billy The Kid is one of the more forgettable films about the life of William Bonney.

At Gunpoint (1955, directed by Alfred L. Werker)


When a gang of outlaws attempt to rob a bank in the small frontier town of Plainview, the local sheriff is one of the first people to get gunned down.  It falls upon two local men, George Henderson (Frank Ferguson) and storeowner Jack Wright (Fred MacMurray), to run the outlaws out of town.  While most of the gang escapes, Jack and Henderson manage to kill the gang’s leader, Alvin Dennis.

At first, Jack and Henderson are declared to be heroes and Henderson is appointed sheriff.  However, when Henderson is found murdered, the town realizes that Alvin’s brother, Bob (Skip Homeier), has returned to get revenge.  The inevitable confrontation is delayed by the arrival of a U.S. marshal who stays in town for two weeks to maintain the peace but everyone knows that, once he leaves, Bob is going to be coming after the mild-manned Jack.  The townspeople go from treating Jack like a hero to shunning him.  They even offer Jack and his wife (Dorothy Malone) money to leave town but Jack refuses to give up his store or to surrender to everyone else’s fear.

At Gunpoint is a diverting variation on High Noon, with Fred MacMurray stepping into Gary Cooper’s role as the upstanding man who the town refuses to stand behind.  What sets At Gunpoint apart from High Noon is that, unlike Cooper’s Will Kane, MacMurray’s Jack Wright isn’t even an experienced gunslinger.  Instead, he’s a mild-mannered store owner, the old west’s equivalent of an intellectual, who just managed to get off a lucky shot.  If he can’t find a way to get the cowardly town to back him up, there’s no way that he’s going to be able to defeat Bob and his gang.

At Gunpoint features an excellent cast of Western character actors, including John Qualen, Irving Bacon and Whit Bissell.  Especially good is Walter Brennan, playing one of the only townspeople to have any integrity.  While this western may not have the strong political subtext or the historical significance of High Noon, it’s still a well-made example of the genre.  It’s a western that even people who don’t normally enjoy westerns might like.

Cinemax Friday: Wild Orchid (1989, directed by Zalman King)


Emily (played by blank-faced model Carrie Otis) is a lawyer who can speak French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Italian but who has never spoken the language of love.  A high-powered New York firm hires her away from her former employer in Chicago on the requirement that she immediately head down to Rio de Janeiro.  Claudia Dennis (Jacqueline Bisset) is trying to close the deal on buying a luxury hotel and she needs a lawyer now!

Claudia, however, has plans for Emily that go beyond real estate.  As soon as Emily arrives, Claudia arranges for her to go on a date with the wealthy and mysterious James Wheeler (Mikey Rourke).  Wheeler is single but he’s so far refused all of Claudia’s advances.  She wants to know if he’s adverse to all women or just her.  Wheeler is very taken with Emily but he’s been hurt so many times in the past that he can’t stand to be touched.  Instead, he gets his thrills by being a voyeur.

It leads to a trip through Rio, where everyone but Emily is comfortable with their sexuality.  When Wheeler isn’t encouraging her to watch a married couple have sex in the back seat of a limo, Claudia is encouraging Emily to disguise herself as a man and enjoy the nonstop carnival of life in Rio.  There’s a lot of business double-dealing, many shots of Mickey Rourke riding on his motorcycle, and a final sex scene between Rourke and Otis that is one of the most rumored about in history.  For all of the scenes of Wheeler explaining his philosophy of life, Wild Orchid doesn’t add up too much, though it certainly tries to.

Wild Orchid was a mainstay on late night Cinemax through most of the 90s.  This was Carrie Otis’s first film and to say that she gives a bad performance does a disservice to hard-working bad actors everywhere.  There’s bad and then there’s Carrie Otis in Wild Orchid bad.  She walks through the film with the same blank expression her face, playing a genius who can speak several languages but often seeming as if she’s struggling to handle speaking in just one language.  She looks good, though, and all the movie really requires her to do is to look awkward while Rourke and Bisset chew up the scenery.

On the one hand, Wild Orchid is the type of bad movie that squanders the talents of actors like Mickey Rourke, Jacqueline Bisset, and Bruce Greenwod (who has a small role as a sleazy lawyer) but, on the other hand, it’s a Zalman King film so it may be insanely pretentious but it’s also rarely boring.  Visually, King goes all out to portray Rio as being the world’s ultimate erotic city and the dialogue tries so hard to be profound that you’ll have to listen twice just to make sure you heard it correctly.  My favorite line?  “We all have to lose ourselves sometimes to find ourselves, don’t you think?”  Mickey Rourke says that and he delivers it as only he could.

Wild Orchid may have been a box office bust but it was popular on cable and on the rental market, largely because of that final scene between Rourke and Otis.  Mikey Rourke later married Carrie Otis.  Neither returned for Wild Orchid II: Two Shades of Blue.

Terror at Black Falls (1959, directed by Richard C. Sarafian)


When Sheriff Cal (House Peters, Jr.) both fails to prevent the lynching of the son of Juan Avila (Peter Mamakos) and also manages to shoot off Avila’s hand, Avila swears vengeance.  After serving a prison sentence for horse theft, Avila returns to Cal’s hometown.  Avila and his two remaining sons enter the local saloon and take everyone hostage.  They announce that, until Cal comes down to the saloon, they’re going to kill one person every ten minutes.

Cal, who is still haunted by the death of Avila’s son, knows that if he goes to the saloon, he’ll be killed and then there won’t be anyone left to keep Avila from killing everyone in town.  Determined to try to wait Avila out, Cal stays in his office.  Avila, however, keeps his promise and starts to kill the people in the saloon one-by-one.  With everyone in town hiding behind closed doors, Cal’s son, Johnny (Gary Gray), heads down to the saloon to try to take care of things himself.

This low-budget, independent western was made in 1959 but it wasn’t released until 1962.  It was the directorial debut of Richard C. Sarafian, who would go on to direct the cult classic Vanishing Point in 1971.  It’s an attempt to create a thinking man’s western, with Sheriff Cal constantly regretting that Avila was turned into an outlaw by circumstances out ofAvila’s control.  Most of the towns people are portrayed as being just as bad, and in some cases even worse, than Avila.  The first man to die in the saloon, for instance, is a roughneck who angrily objects to a Mexican being allowed to drink indoors.  Though the film’s heroes may be Cal and Johnny, its sympathies are with Juan Avila.

Unfortunately, the message of Terror At Black Falls is often obscured by preachy dialogue and amateurish performances.  Peter Mamakos, especially, overacts to the extent that it’s hard to take him or his character seriously.  Even though it’s barely an hour long, the film is full of slow spots and it’s never a good sign when you need voice-over narration to explain to the audience how they’re supposed to feel about what they’re watching.  The story has potential and Sarafian later developed into a good director but Terror at Black Falls never really comes together.

Five Guns To Tombstone (1960, directed by Edward L. Cahn)


Outlaw Matt Wade (Robert Karnes) escapes from prison and rejoins his old gang.  They ride out to Tombstone, Arizona, stopping off at the ranch of Matt’s brother, Billy Wade (James Brown).  Billy used to be an outlaw but eventually he hung up his guns, settled down, got married, and now he’s raising Matt’s teenage son, Ted (John Wilder).  Ted, who thinks that his father has just been paroled, is excited to see Matt but Billy doesn’t want Ted being led into a life of crime.  When Matt and the gang rob a bank, they frame Billy for the crime.  With the townspeople looking to lynch him and Ted drifting towards the wrong path in life, Billy has no choice but to pretend to be a part of the gang until he can dig up the evidence to clear his name.

If this sounds familiar, thank you for reading yesterday’s review of Gun Belt.  Released seven years after Gun Belt, Five Guns To Tombstone tells the exact same story as Gun Belt and, in many case, it features the exact same dialogue.  The only difference is that some of the names have been slightly changed.  The gang leader in Gun Belt was named Ike Clinton.  In this Five Guns To Tombstone, his name is Ike Garvey.  Billy Ringo becomes Billy Wade and Wyatt Earp because Marshal Sam Jennings.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much the exact same film.

Which one is the better film, Gun Belt or Five Guns To Tombstone?  Both films have plenty of two-fisted, gun-slinging action and a good cast of western character actors but I’d probably have to give the edge to Five Guns To Tombstone because John Wilder is more convincing in the role of the outlaw’s son than Tab Hunter was in Gun Belt.  Tab Hunter was young and callow and annoying but John Wilder is the type of confused kid that anyone could relate to.

Five Guns To Tombstone was one of the 9 films that Edward L. Cahn directed in 1960.  As with most of Cahn’s films, the action seems rushed but that’s appropriate for the story that Five Guns To Tombstone is telling.  (It’s also understandable.  When you’re directing 9 films a year, you don’t have the luxury of taking your time.)  Like Gun Belt, this is hardly a classic but western fans should enjoy it.

Gun Belt (1953, directed by Ray Nazarro)


Outlaw Matt Ringo (John Dehner) escapes from prison and reunites with his old gang.  Riding out to Tombstone, Matt tracks down his son, Chip (Tab Hunter).  Chip is now living with his uncle, Billy Ringo (George Montgomery).  Billy was once a member of Matt’s gang but he’s gone straight, he’s given up his guns, and he now has a ranch of his own.  Billy tries to keep the naive Chip from idolizing his father but Chip is bored with life on the ranch.  Matt not only works to turn Chip against his uncle but he also frames Billy for a bank robbery.  With the town convinced that Billy has returned to his outlaw ways, Billy has no choice but to reach out to the most honest lawman in town, Wyatt Earp (James Millican).

The most interesting thing about this western is the way that it blends real people, like Wyatt and his brother Virgil (Bruce Cowling), with characters who were obviously fictionalized versions of the participants in the gunfight at the OK Corral.  The Ringos are obviously based on Johnny Ringo who, as anyone who has seen Tombstone has seen you, never went straight in real life.  Meanwhile, the head of the gang is named Ike Clinton.  Did someone misspell Ike Clanton’s name while writing the script or was the name really changed for some unknown reason?  Ike Clanton wasn’t around to sue over the way he was portrayed in the movie.

Beyond the mix of a little truth with a lot of fiction, Gun Belt is a traditional western with bad outlaws and upstanding lawmen and a naive cowpoke who has to decide whether he wants to follow the path of good or evil.  George Montgomery has the right presence to be a believable as both a retired outlaw and rancher and James Millican brings quiet authority to the film’s version of Wyatt Earp.  Western fans will be happy to see Jack Elam in the role of one of the gang members.  The only really false note is provided by Tab Hunter, who comes across as very young and very callow and not believable at all as someone who could work on a ranch or successfully pursue a career as a professional lawbreaker.

Seven years after it was released, Gun Belt was remade as Five Guns To Tombstone.

Music Video of the Day: It’s Alright With Me, performed by Tom Waits (1990, directed by Jim Jarmusch)


Tom Waits recorded this version of Cole Porter’s It’s Alright With Me for Red Hot + Blue, a compilation album that was put together to benefit the Red Hot Organization, a non-profit organization that raises money for AIDS relief and education.

Probably the best known of the songs to come off of Red Hot + Blue was U2’s version of Night and Day.  However, Waits also brought his own unique style to Porter’s lyrics.  This video was directed by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who has also featured Waits in several of his films.

Enjoy!

Gun Street (1961, directed by Edward L. Cahn)


During the closing days of the Old West (people ride horses and form posses but they also use hand-crank telephones), a notorious bank robber (played by Warren J. Kemmerling) escapes from prison.  Everyone fears that the outlaw is heading for his home town, where he’s sworn that he’s going to get revenge on all of the people who he blames for his imprisonment.  It’s up to Sheriff Chuck Morton (James Brown, not that James Brown) and Deputy Sam Freed (John Clarke) to alert all of the outlaw’s potential victims and to put together a posse to ride into the desert and hopefully end his reign of terror once and for all.  Complicating matters (though only slighly) is that the sheriff and the outlaw grew up together and used to be friends.

Yet another B-feature from the very active director Edward L. Cahn (he was credited with having directed 127 films, 11 in 1961 alone!), Gun Street plays out like a lesser episode of Gunsmoke.  Imagine High Noon, just without the red scare subtext and no Gary Cooper.  James Brown and John Clarke are both believable as western lawman and they have a good rapport.  Sandra Stone plays the outlaw’s sister, who now owns the local “dance hall” and, in her scenes with Brown, I thought it seemed as if the film was suggesting that she and the sheriff were once more than just friends.  Unfortunately, that’s one of many potentially intriguing subplots that the film suggests without bothering to explore.  Obviously made to be a second feature on a double bill, Gun Street is barely over an hour long, which doesn’t leave much time for anyone else in the film to make much of an impression.  The short running time also means that the film moves so quickly that certain plot points go unexplained.  Probably the most disappointing thing about Gun Street is that, after all of the build-up about how tough and dangerous this outlaw is, the film ends not with a bang but with an anti-climatic whimper.  Did they run out of money during filming?  Did Edward L. Cahn have to leave so he could go direct another film?  We may never know.

If you’re looking for a good western about one town awaiting the arrival of an outlaw, rewatch High Noon.