Jack McCall, Desperado (1953, directed by Sidney Saklow)

On August 2nd, 1876, the legendary western lawman “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota Territory.  His murderer, who shot Hickok in the back, was Jack McCall.  McCall was known for being a local drunk and it is believed he shot Hickok because he had lost money to him in a previous game.  After shooting Hickok, McCall attempted to flee but ended up falling off of his horse.  When McCall was put on trial for Hickock’s murder, he clamed that it was revenge for Hickok having murdered his brother in Kansas.  Since no one knew much about McCall’s past, he was acquitted.  (Modern historians believe that McCall grew up in Kentucky and never had a brother.)

Unfortunately, for McCall, it was later determined that the Deadwood courts didn’t have legal authority to try anyone and he was hauled into federal court.  After first claiming that he had been too drunk to remember why he shot Hickok, McCall then claimed that he was actually wasn’t Jack McCall at all and that the wrong man had been arrested.  The judge didn’t believe either one of McCall’s claims and Jack McCall was subsequently hanged on March 1st, 1877.  It’s believed that he was 24 years old.

The life and murder of Wild Bill Hickok has been the subject of many books and films, the majority of which have portrayed Hickok in a heroic light while Jack McCall has typically been portrayed as being a low-life coward.  Jack McCall, Desperado, however, takes the opposite approach.  In this film, George Montgomery plays McCall as being an upstanding hero while Douglas Kennedy portrays Hickok as being a cruel and sociopathic murderer.

Jack McCall, Desperado comes up with a backstory for McCall and Hickok, one that I don’t think has ever been suggested by any of the many books written about Hickok’s life and death.  The movie portrays McCall as being a Southerner who, during the Civil War, joined the Union Army.  Because of his Southern heritage, he is distrusted by most of the other men in his unit.  When a group of rebel spies trick McCall into revealing the location of the Union army’s headquarters, McCall is accused of treason and sentenced to death.  McCall manages to escape but, upon returning to his family’s plantation, he discovers that both his mother and his father have been killed by Hickok and Jack’s cousin, Bat (James Seay).  When McCall discovers that Wild Bill and Bat have headed up to the Deadwood, plotting to swindle the Native Americans out of a gold mine, and that they’re accompanied by a former Confederate who can clear Jack’s name, Jack purses them, intent on getting revenge for his family and justice for himself.

It’s a pretty standard western, one that is notable mostly for its portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok as being a bloodthirsty outlaw.  While Hickok may not have been the hero that he was often made out to be (and let’s not even talk about the reality of Wyatt Earp), he probably wasn’t the mustache-twirling villain that he’s portrayed to be here.  Still, Douglas Kennedy is an effectively dastardly villain and George Montgomery is an adequate hero.  Even if it’s in no way based on fact, the Civil War subplot, with Jack supporting the Union cause despite his Southern heritage, is occasionally interesting.  If you’re already a fan of B-westerns and not a stickler for historical accuracy, Jack McCall, Desperado is a decent enough way to pass the time.

A Movie A Day #317: Flashpoint (1984, directed by William Tannen)

November 22, 1963.  While the rest of the world deals with the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, a man named Michael Curtis drives a jeep across the South Texas desert, heading for the border.  In the jeep, he has a $800,000 and a high-powered rifle.  When the jeep crashes, the man, the rifle, and the money are left undiscovered in the desert for 21 years.

1984.  Two border patrol agents, Logan (Kris Kristofferson) and Wyatt (Treat Williams), are complaining about their job and hoping for a better life.  It looks like they might get that opportunity when they come across both the jeep and the money.  A bitter Vietnam vet, Logan wants to take the money and run but Wyatt is more cautious.  Shortly after Wyatt runs a check on the jeep’s license plate, a FBI agent (Kurtwood Smith) shows up at the station and both Logan and Wyatt discover their lives are in danger.

Though it was made seven years before Oliver Stone’s JFK, Flashpoint makes the same argument, that Kennedy was killed as the result of a massive government conspiracy and that the conspirators are still in power and doing whatever they have to do keep the truth from being discovered.  The difference is that Flashpoint doesn’t try to convince anyone.  If you’re watching because you’re hoping to see a serious examination of the Kennedy conspiracy theories, Flashpoint is not for you.  Instead, Flashpoint is a simple but effective action film, a modern western that uses the assassination as a MacGuffin.  Though Kris Kristofferson has never been the most expressive of actors, he was well-cast as the archetypical gunslinger with a past.  Rip Torn also gives a good performance as a morally ambiguous sheriff and fans of great character acting will want to keep an eye out for both Kevin Conway and Miguel Ferrer in small roles.

A Movie A Day #42: Hero and The Terror (1988, directed by Steve Tannen)

hero_and_the_terror_posterDanny O’Brien (Chuck Fucking Norris!) is a tough Los Angeles cop who has been nicknamed Hero.  Danny hates it when people call him “Hero.”  Maybe if Danny knew what people usually call cops, he would not complain so much about his nickname.  Three years ago, Danny captured Simon Moon (Jack O’Halloran), a neck-breaking serial killer nicknamed “The Terror.”  After he was captured, The Terror faked his own death and disappeared.  He ended up living in a deserted theater and not bothering anyone until the Mayor of Los Angeles (Ron O’Neal, Superfly himself!) decides to tear down his new home.  The Terror does not take kindly to urban renewal and goes on another killing spree.  Can Hero track down and beat the The Terror while also making it to the hospital in time to see his girlfriend give birth to their baby?

Not surprisingly, Hero and the Terror is one of the films that Chuck made for Cannon Films in the late 80s and, along with Chuck and Ron O’Neal, it features Cannon regulars Steve James and Billy Drago.  (Billy Drago actually plays a good guy, for a change.)  It’s obvious that Chuck was trying to broaden his horizons with Hero and the Terror: with the exception of the final confrontation between Hero and the Terror, there’s less kung fu action than in his previous films and a lot of the movie is dedicated to his relationship with his girlfriend and his struggle to handle her pregnancy.  That’s all good and well and the Chuck Norris of Hero and The Terror is a much better actor than the Chuck Norris who could barely deliver his lines in Breaker, Breaker but, ultimately, a Chuck Norris movie with more human interest and less roundhouse kicks just feels wrong.

(On Netflix, there’s a whole documentary about how Chuck Norris’s roundhouse kicks led to the collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s communist dictatorship in Romania.  It’s called Chuck Norris vs. Communism.  Communism didn’t have a chance.  Hopefully, Chuck will never turn against capitalism because, if he does, it’ll probably lead to another stock market crash.)

I once read an interview with Gene Hackman, in which he was asked to name his least favorite of the movies that he had made.  Hackman selected March or Die.  “I can’t believe I was in something called March or Die,” Hackman said.  If he thought March or Die was a bad title, he should be happy that he didn’t end up in Hero and The Terror.  Give Chuck Norris credit.  Even if he’s not Gene Hackman and even if the movie does not really work, he is the only actor who could credibly star in something called Hero and the Terror.