“Do ya feel lucky, Pilgrim?” What Dirty Harry Could Have Been


Paul Newman as San Francisco Police Detective Harry “Dirty Harry” Callahan?

Today, it sounds unthinkable that the outspokenly liberal Newman could ever have been a contender for the role of Harry Callahan, a police detective who is quick with a quip but even quicker on the trigger.  As everyone knows, Clint Eastwood played Harry and, as a result, he finally became as big of a star in the United States as he already was in Europe.  Today, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Clint Eastwood torturing the Scorpio Killer for information and then announcing himself to be “all torn up about his rights.”  Just try to imagine Paul Newman snarling as reflexively as Clint Eastwood did upon hearing that the whiny guy in the liberal office taught constitutional law at Berkeley.  Try to imagine Paul Newman calling someone “a punk” or bragging about the power of his gun.  It can’t be done.

And yet, as hard as it is to believe, Clint Eastwood was not the first choice for Harry Callahan.  In fact, Eastwood apparently wasn’t even on Warner Bros.’s list of contenders when they initially bought the rights for the script that would eventually become Dirty Harry.

Written by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink, that script was originally called Dead Right and it took place in New York.  In the original script, Harry Callahan was world-weary, veteran New York cop, in his 50s and just a few months away from retirement.  In the original script, Harry pursued a serial killer named Travis.  When Warner Bros. bought the script in 1969, they viewed it as being a potential vehicle for Frank Sinatra with Irvin Kershner directing.  (Kershner is probably best remembered for later directing The Empire Strikes Back.)  As was his habit, Sinatra immediately demanded rewriters.  John Milius wrote three drafts, each one expanding on the idea of Callahan as a rebel against the system.  Terrence Malick (yes, that Terrence Malick) was also brought it and came up with a storyline in which the serial killer would specifically be targeting mobsters and other people who had escaped justice.  Somewhere, amongst all the rewrites, the action moved from New York to Seattle.

After all that effort, why didn’t Frank Sinatra play Harry Callahan?  Reportedly, he broke his hand and, as a result, he was told that he wouldn’t be able to hold a microphone or a gun or anything else while it was healing.  Since you really can’t have Harry Callahan without a gun, Sinatra left the project and Irvin Kershner went with him.

While trying (unsuccessfully) to recruit Sidney Pollack as their new director, Warner Bros. searched for a new leading man.  Reportedly, the script ended up on John Wayne’s desk.  Wayne later said that he turned down the role because he felt the violence was gratuitous.  Other sources indicate that John Wayne actually was interested in the role but that the studio didn’t consider him to be contemporary enough.  (After the success of Dirty Harry, Wayne would play a similar cop character in McQ and would provide a hint of what Dirty Harry starring John Wayne would have been like.)  Burt Lancaster turned down the role because he didn’t like the script’s politics.  Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum both turned down the role because they refused to play cops.  George C. Scott reportedly refused the role because of the violence.  Marlon Brando was considered but, probably wisely, was never approached.

Having been turned down by all of the older tough guys, Warner Bros. went with the younger tough guys.  Steve McQueen turned down the role because he had already played a cop in Bullitt and he felt the critics would accuse him of repeating himself.  (He was probably right.)  Paul Newman refused the role on political grounds but, as he often tended to do whenever he turned down a role, he also recommended another actor for the part.  That actor was Clint Eastwood who was an old friend of Newman’s and who, obviously, had no problems with the film’s politics.

(Let’s take a moment to give some respect to Paul Newman, who was reportedly one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.)

Once Eastwood was on board, his requested that his friend and frequent collaborator, director Don Siegel, be hired to direct the film.  The script was again rewritten, moving the action to San Francisco and making Harry into a far less talkative character.  The serial killer known as Travis became the serial killer known as Scorpio.  The idea of the killer targeting criminals was abandoned at Siegel’s insistence, though Eastwood liked the idea enough to use it for Dirty Harry’s first sequel, Magnum Force.

Audie Murphy

Originally, James Caan was approached for the role of Scorpio but Caan turned it down (which, of course, left him free to play Sonny in The Godfather).  Perhaps most intriguingly, Audie Murphy was offered the role.  Murphy was one of the most decorated combat soldiers of World War II.  He had gone from the Army to appearing in movies.  By the time Dirty Harry went into production, Murphy was largely appearing in B-westerns and was as known for his temper as his films.  (He was acquitted of attempted murder shortly before filming began on Dirty Harry.  Murphy said that his anger issues were largely due to the trauma of World War II and he was one of the first prominent people to openly speak about what has since become known as PTSD.)  Murphy undoubtedly would have been an intimidating Scorpio but he died in a plane crash before he could accept or refuse the role.

Instead, the role went to Andrew Robinson, who an unknown at the time.  He was also, in real life, a pacifist who had difficulty not flinching whenever he had to fire a rifle in the film.  That said, Robinson gave a brilliantly unhinged performance as Scorpio and reportedly had to get an unlisted telephone number because of all the angry and threatening phone calls that he received after the movie was released.

Now, I have to admit that I personally find the idea of Frank Sinatra/James Caan or, for that matter, a John Wayne/Audie Murphy police procedural to be kind of intriguing.  And goodness know, I would certainly like a chance to see Marlon Brando doing the “do you feel lucky, punk?” speech.  In the end, though, I think things turned out for the best.

Scenes That I Love: “I Love The Smell of Napalm in the Morning” from Apocalypse Now (Happy birthday, John Milius!)


Today, the Shattered Lens celebrates the 78th birthday of the iconic screenwriter and director, John Milius!

While director Francis Ford Coppola definitely put his own stamp on 1979’s Apocalypse Now, the film started life as a script written by John Milius and the film itself is full of dialogue that could only have been written by Milius.  The most famous example is Robert Duvall’s monologue about the smell of napalm in the morning.  Actually, the entire helicopter attack feels like pure Milius.  Reportedly, Duvall’s character was originally named Colonel Kharnage but, by the time the movie was made, his name had become Kilgore.  It’s still not exactly a subtle name but it’s not quite as obvious as Kharnage.

(When James Caan read the script, he loved the role so much that he was offended to not be offered it and, as a result, he turned down offers to play not only Willard but also Kurtz.)

Happy birthday, John Milius!

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, directed by John Huston)


During the lawless day of the old west, a drifter named Roy Bean (Paul Newman) wanders into the desolate town of Vinegaroon, Texas.  When he enters the local saloon, he meets the vagrants who run the town.  They beat him, they rob him, and they tie him to the back of his horse and leave him to die.

Bean, however, does not die.  Instead, he’s nursed back to health by a beautiful young woman named Maria Elena (Victoria Principal).  Carrying a gun, Bean reenters the saloon and promptly kills nearly everyone who previously attacked him.  (“I’m not done killing you yet!” Bean yells at one fleeing woman.)  Bean sits down in front of the saloon and waits for justice.  Instead, he’s visited by a lecherous traveling preacher (Anthony Perkins), who buries the dead and gives Bean absolution.  Bean declares that he is now the “law of the West Pecos.”  As the preacher leaves, he looks at the audience and says that he never visited Bean again and later died of dysentery in Mexico.  He hasn’t seen Bean since dying so the preacher is sure that, wherever Bean went, it wasn’t Heaven.

Judge Roy Bean dispenses rough and hard justice from his saloon and renames the town Langtry, after the actress Lillie Langtry.  Bean has never met Langtry or even seen her perform but he writes to her regularly and pictures of her decorate the walls of his saloon.  Bean hires outlaws to serve as his town marshals and sentences prostitutes to remain in town and marry the citizens.  Lawbreakers are left hanging outside of the saloon.  Bean enters into a common law marriage with Maria and, for a while, they even own a bear, who drinks beer and helps Bean maintain order in the court.  Bean may be crazy but his methods clean up the town and Langtry starts to grow.  As Langtry becomes more civilized and an attorney named Arthur Gass (Roddy McDowall) grows more powerful, it starts to become apparent that there may no longer be a place for a man like Judge Roy Bean.

The real-life Judge Roy Bean did hold court in a saloon and he did name the town after Lilly Langtry.  It’s debatable whether or not he was really a hanging judge.  Because he didn’t have a jail, the maximum punishment that he could hand out was a fine and usually that fine was the same amount of however much money the accused had on him at the time of his arrest.  Because of his eccentricities and his reputation for being the “only law west of the Pecos,” Roy Bean became a legendary figure.  The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean acknowledges from the start that it’s not a historically accurate, with a title card that reads, “Maybe this isn’t the way it was… it’s the way it should have been.”

Based on a script by John Milius and directed by Hollywood veteran John Huston, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is one of the strangest westerns to ever be released by a major studio.  Featuring multiple narrators who occasionally speak directly to the camera, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is an episodic mix of low comedy, graphic violence, and syrupy romance.  (The film’s sole Oscar nomination was for the song that played over scenes of Bean and Maria going on a romantic picnic with their pet bear.)  Familiar faces show up in small roles.  Along with Perkins and McDowall, Tab Hunter, Ned Beatty, Jacqueline Bissett, Ava Gardner, and Anthony Zerbe all play supporting roles.  Even a heavily made-up Stacy Keach makes an appearance as an albino outlaw named Bad Bob.

Jacqueline Bisset in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

Milius has gone on the record as calling The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean a “Beverly Hills western” and he has a point.  He envisioned the script as starring Warren Oates as a less likable and much more morally ambiguous version of Judge Roy Bean and he was not happy that his original ending was replaced by a more showy pyrotechnic spectacle.  Milius envisioned the film as a low-budget spaghetti western but Huston instead made a Hollywood epic, complete with celebrity cameos and a theme song from Maurice Jarre and Marilyn Bergman.  Milius said that his experience with The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is what led to him deciding to direct his own films.

Again, Milius has a point but John Huston’s version of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean has its strengths as well.  Though he may not be the madman that Milius originally envisioned, Paul Newman gives a good, grizzled performance as Roy Bean and the role served as a precursor for the type of aging but determined characters that Newman would specialize in during the final phase of his career.  Due to its episodic structure, the film is uneven but it works more often than it doesn’t.  The chaotic early scenes reflect a time when the west was actually wild while the later scenes are more cohesive, as society moves into Langtry and threatens to make formerly indispensable men like Roy Ban obsolete.  Even the cameo performances fit in well with the film’s overall scheme, with Anthony Perkins standing out as the odd preacher.  Finally, the young Victoria Principal is perfectly cast as the only woman that Roy Bean loved as much as Lily Langtry.

Though it’s impossible not to wonder what Warren Oates would have done with the title role, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a good end-of-the-west western.

A Movie A Day #165: Big Wednesday (1978, directed by John Milius)


If there is a male bonding hall of fame, Big Wednesday has to be front and center.

This episodic movie follows three legendary surfers over twelve years of change and turmoil.  Jack Barlowe (William Katt) is the straight arrow who keeps the peace.  Leroy “The Masochist” Smith (Gary Busey) is the wild man.  Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent) is the best surfer of them all but he resents both his fame and the expectation that he should be some sort of role model for the younger kids on the beach.  From 1962 until 1974, the three of them learn about love and responsibility while dealing with cultural turmoil (including, of course, the Vietnam War) and waiting for that one legendary wave.

After writing the screenplays for Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now and directing The Wind and The Lion and Dillinger, John Milius finally got to make his dream project.  Big Wednesday was based on Milius’s own youth as a California surfer and he has said that all three of the main characters were based on different aspects of his own personality.  Expectations for Big Wednesday were so high that Milius’s friends, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, exchanged percentages points for Star Wars and Close Encounters of  The Third Kind for a point of Big Wednesday.  The deal turned out to be worth millions to Milius but nothing to Lucas and Spielberg because Big Wednesday was a notorious box office flop.  Warner Bros. sold the film as a raunchy comedy, leaving audiences surprised to discover that Big Wednesday was actually, in Milius’s words, a “coming-of-age story with Arthurian overtones.”

I can understand why Big Wednesday may not be for everyone but it is one of my favorite movies.  It is one of the ultimate guy films.  Some of the dialogue and the narration may be overwrought but so are most guys, especially when they’re the same age as the surfers in Big Wednesday.  We all like to imagine that we are heroes in some sort of epic adventure.  The surfing footage is amazing but it is not necessary to be a surfer to relate to the film’s coming-of-age story or its celebration of the enduring bonds of friendship.  Katt, Vincent, and Busey all give great performances.  Considering their later careers, it is good that Big Wednesday is around to remind us of what Gary Busey and Jan-Michael Vincent were capable of at their best, before their promising careers were derailed by drugs and mental illness.  Be sure to also keep an eye out for infamous 70s character actor Joe Spinell as an army psychiatrist, a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund, playing a fellow surfer and providing the film’s narration, and Barbara Hale, playing the patient mother of her real-life son, William Katt.

One final note: At a time when the shameful stereotype of the psycho Vietnam vet was becoming popular and unfairly tarnishing the reputation of real-life vets, Big Wednesday was unique for featuring a character who not only joins the Army but who appears to return as a better person as a result.

4 Shots From 4 Films: James Earl Jones Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Happy Birthday to the man with the imposing presence: James Earl Jones

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

The Hunt for Red October (dir. by John McTiernan)

The Hunt for Red October (dir. by John McTiernan)

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (dir. by John Badham)

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (dir. by John Badham)

Song of the Day: The Leaving/The Search from Conan the Barbarian (by Basil Poledouris)


Conan the Barbarian OST

If there’s been one constant in this site right from the beginning it’s been my love for the film Conan the Barbarian and it’s equally great orchestral score that was composed by the very underappreciated film composer Basil Poledouris. Sure, everyone loves John Williams and rightly so. Then there’s the inexplicable love and worship of Hans Zimmer. Zimmer does some good, and sometimes, great work, but his overall work all tends to sound the same.

Basil Poledouris, on the other hand, seem to have been pushed to the sidelines despite creating some very iconic pieces of film scores in his lifetime. The peak of which will always be the orchestral score he composed for John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian.

I’ve chosen some key pieces from this soundtrack throughout the years. From the Carmina Burana inspired “Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom” to the rousing “Anvil of Crom” intro all the way to the melancholy and introspective “Orphans of Doom/Awakening”. I think in time every piece of music from this score will make it onto this site. That is just how great this soundtrack from start to finish really has become. Even it’s weakest moments have elements of to them that make them stand out from the latest Zimmer.

Today, it shall be the section of the score for the film that accentuates Conan’s decision to take on a quest that will finally bring him to the very warlord who destroyed his people and killed his family: “The Leaving/The Search”.

Song of the Day: Orphans of Doom/The Awakening (by Basil Poledouris)


Basil-Pictures-2

We’re closing out another year and it’s always time to reflect back on the events the we all experienced.

Here in Through the Shattered Lens we saw a new writer join the ranks with the arrival and addition of Alexandre Rothier. We also saw more and more of our writers grow in confidence with their writing. This didn’t just translate into more writing from them, but better as well. There’s Dazzling Erin with her constant surprise of finding new artists to share. Then leonth3duke who finally made the jump to truly appreciating horror. Leonard Wilson continued to find his voice with each new review he wrote.

I can’t forget necromoonyeti who continues to be my source of all things music and with each new band written I pick up something new to experience. Semtex Skittle showed the world his appreciation not just for the franchise of Final Fantasy but Sailor Moon as well and to that otaku are grateful. Speaking of otaku there’s the site’s own big bear of one with pantsukudasai56 who always brings in his choice recommendations in anime.

Then there’s Dork Geekus giving us his thoughts on things comic book. We also have trashfilmguru gracious enough to take time to share his unique take on horror, comic books both high and low-brow who also keeps the rest of us from drinking the Marvel Kool-Aid wholesale which makes for a better site.

Finally there’s my co-founder and partner-in-crime Lisa Marie Bowman who upped her game as she literally propped up the site at times with her voluminous, insightful and unique brand of writing. I will be forever grateful for her continued support and for becoming one of my closest friends.

I’ve chosen the latest “Song of the Day” as an analogue to what I saw myself and this site go through this year of 2014. I had just lost my father at the tail end of 2013 (it is a loss still felt even today) and then had fallen deathly ill around the holidays. Through it all I was thankful and proud of the work my fellow writers were able to do in my absence through my grief and sickness.

Basil Poledouris remains an artist I’ve admired from the moment I heard his music transform John Milius’ screen adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian barbarian from just your standard violent sword-and-sorcery matinee piece to something close to a perfect blend of epic fantasy and primal storytelling. Poledouris would go on to make other memorable film scores, but it’s his work in Conan the Barbarian that always remains his most iconic piece of work.

With the final denouement that follows the climax of the film we have a somber piece titled “Orphans of Doom/The Awakening” closing off the film. I chose this piece to symbolize the year Through the Shattered Lens went through. The piece begins on a somber note with the use of a choir adding a layer of the ethereal, but as the piece continues to it’s conclusion it gradually segues into something triumphant with hope for the future.

This song perfectly encapsulates Through the Shattered Lens circa 2014 and it’s my hope that brighter future awaits me and mine as the new year dawns.

Review: Red Dawn (dir. by John Milius)


“I don’t know. Two toughest kids on the block I guess. Sooner or later they’re going to fight.”

[guilty pleasure]

Anyone who grew up during the 1980’s would say that some of the best action films were made and release during this decade. I won’t disagree with them and probably would agree to a certain point. This was the decade when action films evolved from the realism of the 70’s to the excess and ultra-violence of the 80’s. This was the decade which ushered in such action heroes as Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. It was also the decade which released one of the most violent films ever released by a major motion picture studio. It’s a film that has been remembered through the prism of nostalgia. I speak of the 1984 war film by John Milius simply titled Red Dawn.

John Milius is one of those filmmakers who never conformed to the stereotype of liberal Hollywood. He was an unabashed Republican (though he considers himself more of a Zen anarchist) in a liberal studio system who happened to have written some of the most revered films of the 1970’s (Jeremiah Johnson, Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry). He came up with a follow-up to his hugely successful Conan the Barbarian in the form of a war film set in current times (mid-80’s) America that he called Red Dawn. It was a story which takes an alternate history of the Cold War where Soviet forces and it’s allies launch a successful preemptive invasion of the United States. Before people think that this was the idea born of a conservative, warmongering mind it’s been documented that Milius’ inspiration for this film was a real Pentagon hypothetical exercise of what would happen if the Soviet Union conducted a conventional invasion of the United States and how the government and it’s population would react and resist such an occupying force. The  story would finally get it’s final treatment with major input from screenwrtier Kevin Reynolds’ own story which added a certain Lord of the Flies vibe to the group of teenagers who form the bulk of the film’s cast.

The film actually starts off with an impressive sequence of your typical Midwestern high school day with students seated in their classrooms. One moment this Rockwellian image gets a surprise from soldiers parachuting in the field outside the school. Thus we have the beginning of the Soviet invasion with one of the teachers being gunned down for trying to peacefully interact with the airborne troopers. The rest of the film is about a group of highschoolers led by senior Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) and his younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) as they flee with a handful of their classmates the massacre at their school and soon their whole town as well.

Red Dawn uses the first half of the film to show the confusion and chaos created by the sudden appearance of foreign soldiers on America soil attacking civilians and, soon enough, whatever American military response that manages to react in the area. We’re put in the shoes of Jed and his band of teenagers as they try to survive the roving bands of Soviet and Cuban soldiers patrolling the plains and countryside surrounding their hometown of Calumet, Colorado. We see American civilians packed into re-education camps and rumors of KGB secret police making certain troublemakers disappear and worst. It’s the America Cold War nightmare scenario where the Soviet Evil Empire has taken a foothold on US soil and the government and military nowhere in sight to help it’s population.

The second half of the film solves this scenario by arming the teenagers led by Jed into a sort of teen guerrila force using their school’s mascot as their rallying cry. It’s the shouts of “Wolverines!” which has become part of American pop-culture as we get to see these teenagers conduct hit-and-run strikes on enemy patrols and forward bases while at the same time arming those they free from camps. It’s during this part of the film where the violence gets ramped up to an almost ridiculous level. It’s no wonder that for almost two decades this film would be considered by Guinness World Records as the most violent film ever put on the big-screen. Milius and his filmmaking crew do not skimp on the use of blood squibs as Jed and his ragtag band of teen fighters gun down Soviets, Nicaraguans and Cuban soldiers by the score every minute during a long montage in the middle of the film.

Red Dawn in terms of storytelling is actually quite good in the grand scheme of the narrative being told, but even through the prism of nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses the characters in the film get the short-end of the stick. With the exception of Swayze’s eldest teen Jed as leader of the Wolverines the rest of the band’s teenage characters look like your typical casting call stereotypes who fill in the required roles in any ensemble cast. There’s Darren Dalton as the high school class president jealous of the group’s leader Jed, but unable to act on it. We have C. Thomas Howell as Robert the mousy one when the film begins who becomes a hardened and cold-hearted killer as the film goes on. Everyone fits in neatly to their assigned role and noen of the young actors (at the time) bring much to their characters.

This film continues to be remembered fondly by it’s fans both new and old because of the “what-if” scenario being played out on the screen. I would say that if there ever was a pure American film I would think Red Dawn manages to fit the bill. It’s a film which highlights the so-called individualism and can-do attitude Americans see for themselves. How it’s up to each individual to fight to protect their loved ones and for what is theirs. Some have called this film as a conservative’s wet-dream, but I rather think it’s a film that should appeal more to Libertarians as it focuses on individual liberties and self-preservation when the government and military tasked to protect them have failed.

John Milius has always been a maverick in Hollywood and his unpopular political beliefs have kept him from doing more work in the film industry, but one cannot deny the fact that he made one of the most iconic films of the 1980’s. Whether one agreed with the film’s politics and thought it to be a good film or not was irrelevent. Red Dawn has become part of American pop-culture and will continue to be a major example of the excess of 80’s action filmmaking for good or ill. Plus, even the most liberal people I know find the basic story of fighting to protect the nation from invaders something that feeds their innermost fantasy of playing the good guys fighting the good fight. Red Dawn is a great example of the underdog film that just happens to have teenagers kicking Soviet military ass.

Scenes I Love: Conan the Barbarian


Just been watching The Social Network on Starz and I couldn’t help but think back to this important scene from one of my favorite films of all-time. It was the film which propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger from just being a bodybuilding icon but into superstar film icon. The scene occurs during the part of the film where Conan has just gone through years of becoming the best pit-fighter in all the lands and now repaing the accolades from other warriors, warlords and women. One of the warlords (looking like a Mongol horselord) asks the important question that everyone should be asking: “What is best in life?”

The scene finishes with Conan answering this important life question. An answer which actually has it’s roots from a much more detailed quote from the greatest conqueror in history: Genghis Khan. A quote that goes like so…

“The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.” – Genghis Khan

Conan’s answer is quite similar but has been simplified for the film, but still retains it’s impact. This is a life lesson everyone should live by. Mark Zuckerberg definitely lives by them.

Review: Conan the Barbarian (dir. by John Milius)


Khitan General: “Conan, what is best in life?”
Conan: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!”

1982 premiered what has to be one of my favorite films ever. It was a film that was year’s in the making and had as one of it’s producers the eccentric and powerful Hollywood icon, Dino De Laurentiis. It also starred who was then a very much unknown Austrian bodybuilder-turned-actor in Arnold Schwarzenneger. To round out this unusual cast of characters producing this film would be the maverick screenwriter-director John Milius not to mention a young writer still fresh from Vietnam, Oliver Stone. During it’s production there were conflicts between producer and director as to the tone of the film right up to who should actually play the lead character. It’s a good thing that Milius was the ringmaster of this group of characters as his personality was able to steer things to what finally ended up as the film legions of fans have known and seen throughout the decades since it’s release. Conan the Barbarian was, and still is, a fantasy film of quality which still remains as action-packed and full of flights of fancy in the beginning of 2011 as it did when it premiered in 11982.

Milius and Stone adapted the stories of Robert E. Howard while adding their own flourishes to the iconic Cimmerian character. While many Howard purists were aghast at how these two writers had turned a character who was muscular but also athletic and lean into the hulking muscle-bound one Schwarzenneger inhabited the final result would silence most of these critics. The film kept the more outlandish backstory of Howard’s writing, but left enough to allow the film’s story and background to remain something out of Earth’s past prehistory. It was a film which was part origin tale for the title character, part coming of age film and part revenge story.

The film begins with a sequence narrated by iconic Asian-actor Mako as he tells of the beginnings of his liege and master Conan and the high adventures which would soon follow. Conan the Barbarian actually has little dialogue in the very beginning outside of that narration and a brief interlude between a young Conan and his father about the meaning of the “riddle of steel”. Most of the film’s beginning is quite silent in terms of dialogue. This didn’t matter as film composer Basil Poledouris’ symphonic score lent an air of the operatic to the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film. It’s here we’re introduced to James Earl Jones’ Atlantean-survivor and warlord in Thulsa Doom whose barband scours the land trying to find the meaning to the “riddle of steel”. The destruction of Conan’s village and people is the impetus which would drive the young Conan to stay alive through years of slavery, pit-fighting and banditry. He would have his revenge on Thulsa Doom and along the way he meets up and befriends two other thieves in Subotai (Gerry Lopez) and Valeria (Sandahl Bergman whose presence almost matches Schwarzenneger’s in intensity and confidence).

The rest of the film sees these three having the very tales of high adventures mentioned of in the film’s beginning narration and how an unfortunate, albeit succcesful robbery of a cult temple, leads Conan to the very thing he desires most and that’s to find Thulsa Doom. It’s here we get veteran actor Max Von Sydow as King Osric in a great scene as he tasks Conan and his companions to find and rescue his bewitched daughter from the clutches of Doom. In King Osric we see a character who may or may not be a glimpse into Conan’s future, but as Conan’s chronicler says later in the film that would be a tale told at another time.

Conan the Barbarian is a film that was able to balance both storytelling and action setpieces quite well that one never really gets distracted by the dialogue that at times came off clunky. Plus, what action setpieces they were to behold. From the initial raid by Doom and his men on Conan’s village right up to the final and climactic “Battle of the Mounds” where Doom and his men square off against Conan and his outnumbered friends in an ancient battlefield full of graveyard mounds. The film is quite bloody, but never truly in a gratuitous manner. Blood almost flows like what one would see in comic books. Conan is shown as an almost primal force of nature in his violence. In the end it’s what made the film such a success when it first premiered and decades since. It was Howard’s character (though changed somewhat in the adaptation) through and through and audiences young and old, male and female, would end up loving the film upon watching it.

This film would generate a sequel that had even more action and piled one even more of the fantastical elements of the Howard creation, but fans of the first film consider it of lesser quality though still somewhat entertaining. The film would become the breakout role for Arnold Schwarzenneger and catapult him into action-hero status that would make him one of the best-known and highest paid actor’s in Hollywood for two decades. It would also catapult him to such popularity that some would say it was one of the stepping stones which would earn him seven years as California’s governor at the turn of the new millenium.

In the end, Conan the Barbarian succeeds in giving it’s audience the very tales of myths and high adventures spoken of by Conan’s chronicler. It’s a testament to the work by Milius and Schwarzenneger couple with one of the most beloved and iconic film scores in film history by Basil Poledouris that Conan the Barbarian continues and remains one of the best films of it’s genre and one which helped spawn off not just a sequel but countless of grindhouse and exploitation copies and imitation both good and bad. The film also is a great in that it helped bring audiences to want to learn more about the character of Conan and as a lover of the written word the impact this film had on Howard’s legacy is the best compliment I can give about this film.