"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Review of the year 2019

Farewell, the 2010s

Well, as the year trickles to a close, and the decade with it, let’s have a brief look back over what tickled our Western fancy in 2019. Which were the most popular posts on Jeff Arnold’s West?

Numbers of readers have continued to increase. There have been well over a million page views on the blog now and we are averaging a thousand hits a day. December was a record with over 33,000 page views. Of course that could be Bart or someone clicking 33,000 times but I don’t think so. Especially as the vast majority of readers come from the US - understandably, I guess. Other Anglophone countries follow up, notably the UK and, increasingly, Canada. But France, Germany, Spain and Brazil are also well represented, according to the Google stats.

Most read by far was the article I wrote on the sad news of the death of Brian Garfield. Thousands of people seem to have perused it. Brian was evidently a popular guy. He’s been a sort of guru for me for many years, and his quirky and opinionated (in a good way) book Western Films: A Guide is still a vade mecum, battered and annotated as my edition is. I have enjoyed some his novels too. He was a great loss to the world of the Western.

The most popular review of a specific movie was that of The Magnificent Seven. I get that. I’m not the only one for whom that Western holds a special magic. The fact that it’s the most widely shown movie on American TV (after The Wizard of Oz) is a testament to its enormous popularity, and I wouldn’t mind betting that it’s high up the TV rankings over here in the Old World too. As John Carpenter said, “Is it the greatest Western of all time? No. Is it the most transforming Western? No. Is it the most fun? YES!”

I wrote overviews of the Western careers of several actors in 2019 and the most popular were those of Harry Carey Sr., Richard Widmark, Rory Calhoun and, especially, Audie Murphy. So many people still have a soft spot for Audie. I admire the way he defied trends and went on making ‘1950s’ Westerns right through into the mid-60s.

The most popular bio was that of the disreputable Bill Longley, Texas gunman. There is an abiding interest in the real-life characters of Western figures, especially the bad guys, and the historical facts as contrasted with the screen representations can make entertaining reading.

The most widely-read of the book reviews was the article on Cole Younger’s implausible autobiography, Cole Younger, By Himself. Once again, interest in outlaws like the James gang and the Youngers never seems to go away.

And what’s coming up in 2020? Who knows, is probably the most accurate answer, as I tend to go the way the wind blows, reviewing what takes my fancy, what is recommended to me, what I happen to come across. I will be looking at Hell on Wheels, though, and returning to Red Ryder in his various guises, among other subjects. So keep on clicking, e-pards. Come back soon!

Meanwhile a very happy Roaring Twenties to you all.


Monday, December 30, 2019

Slow West (Lionsgate/A24, 2015)

As opposed to Fast West

I was going to review for you today The Fighting Lawman, the second Wayne Morris oater of 1953, and I know millions of you were hanging on with bated breath to read that, but I am sorry to disappoint you. The DVD wouldn’t work. It barely loaded the first of the ‘double feature’ program, The Marksman, but eventually did, reluctantly. However, it would not play the second movie for love or money. I have sent a sharp e-mail to the supplier, Rarewaves in the US, a sort of you-shall-smart-for-this message, and we shall see if they furnish me with a product that actually works. It’s annoying when you lay out hard-earned $$$ (well, $$$ anyway) for a Western you REALLY NEED to see and can’t then watch it.

The good news is that a kind Christmas present from a nephew did work and not only that, it turned out to be a really good Western. So today we shall get Slow West, instead.

Odd title. Perhaps it refers to the pace of the movie, which is far from accelerated. In a good way though: it’s one of those Westerns that gradually builds tension, and in any case there are flurries of action and violence to satisfy the action-Western freak (yup, me too). Slow burn, you might say. Or maybe it comments on the nature of the journey (for it’s a quest-Western), which was necessarily slow. The film moves at the pace of a walking horse, or occasionally man. We are in pre-railroad 1870 Colorado (1873 Peacemakers abound but that’s par for the course) so it’s not a high-speed affair.

Kodi is the naive youth

We meet a young man, just a gangly boy really, Jay Cavendish (Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee, who was Viggo Mortensen’s son in The Road) who has come to the American West from Scotland in pursuit of the love of his life, Rose (South-African/New Zealander Caren Pistorius) who fled there with her father John (true Scot Rory McCann) after a murder (I think). This kid is from a posh family and educated (he has read Darwin, speaks French and knows the constellations) but he's green as all get out, yet somehow lives a charmed life. Armed only with a malfunctioning pistol, and absurdly, a manual bearing the title Ho! The West, he somehow survives all manner of white lowlifes, Indians and natural dangers with nary a scratch.

Cruelty and desolation
He comes across a hard-bitten tough-guy, wise in the ways of the West, Silas Selleck, played by Michael Fassbender, a German-Irishman (you see, it’s a very international cast) whom I remember from Inglourious Basterds and 12 Years a Slave but was apparently also one of the X-Men. He’s rather good in this. He seems to suit (and relish) the role of the cynical and wry character he portrays. The innocent young traveler hires Silas (who takes pity on the lad as “a jackrabbit in a den of wolves”) as guide. Poor boy. Little does he know (how I love that phrase) that Silas isn’t just helping him out of kindness, or for pay, but because he holds a wanted bill on Rose and is after the $2000 reward. He knows the kid will lead him to his quarry.
Fassbender hard-bitten

Death is everywhere, casual, sudden, unexpected. Three soldiers hunting an Indian for sport, a storekeeper held up by some starving Swedes, the Swedes themselves, a burnt-out Indian village. One good thing, the Swedish wife shoots the storekeeper with a derringer, so that sent the picture up in my estimation. Silas and Jay leave all the corpses in the store but outside find two fair children, non angli sed angeli, as Pope Gregory might have said, but the two traveling companions do not know what to do with them, and so do nothing, and leave.

You wonder why they bothered. Surely the boy doesn't shave yet?

There’s a curious interlude when Jay leaves Silas (in disgust) and, alone, comes across a man with a wagon (but apparently no horse to pull it) in the middle of nowhere. Is this a nod to Anjelica Huston in Seraphim Falls? Probably not. This fellow, Werner (Andrew Robertt) seems to be an anthropologist of sorts, writing a study of the aboriginal peoples before they are wiped out, or their culture is, by conversion to Christianity. The two exchange philosophy and friendship. Jay speculates that mankind will build a railroad right to the moon, and kill any natives unfortunate enough to live there.

“So now, East. What news?” Werner asks.
“Violence and suffering.” Jay replies. “And West?”
Werner looks at him. “Dreams and toil.”
It’s not the sunniest of outlooks. When Jay wakes the next day, it seems that Werner has absconded with everything, including Jay’s clothes. Only Jay would have been naïve enough to believe Werner’s blandishments. No one is to be trusted, I suppose is the message. Luckily, Silas comes up to him again, and is re-engaged. He has Jay's horse and possibles. Jay asks him if he killed Werner. Silas says no, but you don't know if it's true.

Curious interlude

Many other bounty hunters are after Rose, including a minister in a clerical collar with a large gun case containing a Sharps (Tony Croft, I think; the credits aren’t very good) and a gang of outlaws, who seem to have adopted the two children, led by a certain ruthless Payne, a homophonic name if ever there was one, in a bulky coat that references several other Westerns (I think especially of the assassin Butler in McCabe & Mrs. Miller) and we are told that Silas used to be part of Payne’s gang but left it. Payne is played by Ben Mendelsohn, the only other actor after Fassbender that I knew. He was the best player on the set of Netflix’s Bloodline, and comes near to stealing the show here too as the charismatic gang boss.

Mendelsohn the stand-out

The outlaw gives them absinthe. Though la fée verte was a Swiss invention it became all the rage in nineteenth century Paris. It seems to have got to Colorado too. Jay and Silas wake up next morning with the worst imaginable hangover when a flash flood strikes, and, yup, their guns are gone. Payne!

Jay invents a novel but effective way of drying their clothes.

The friends (for we sense that though an odd couple, they are slowly becoming friends) come across the remains of a man crushed by a tree in the woods, the hands outstretched either side of the trunk, one hand grasping an axe. In the battle of Man v. Nature, Nature sure won that round. It’s bleakly funny.

New Zealand's South Island stands in for Colorado

Silas finally shows Jay the wanted poster. “It means dead or dead, kid.” The poor boy is crestfallen. We now come to a pristine cabin, inhabited by Rose and John Ross. Cabins in Westerns are always shown as old but they must have been new at some time, one supposes, and this one is brand spanking. Everyone, Jay and Silas, the homicidal clergyman and Payne’s gang are all closing in on this domicile. There will be blood.

John and Rose have a friend, Kotori (Kalani Queypo, a real Indigenous American), whom they treat well (i.e. like a human being) and thus earn his undying (or dying, actually, as it turns out) gratitude. Rose will be pretty quick with a firearm. The trio, with Jay and Silas attempting to assist them (with only limited success) will combat the massed ranks of the would-be killers. My lips are, as ever, sealed as to the outcome, for of spoilers shall there be none. I will say only that there are casualties… And that the final shoot-out is deftly staged, brilliantly shot and skillfully edited.

Rose no slouch with a pistol

There’s a whiff of Coen brothers about the whole thing, sardonic being an adjective that comes to mind, and indeed, on one of the DVD extras the director/writer makes a specific reference - obeisance really - to the Coens. What no one mentions in the interviews but I found unmistakable was a comparison to Jim Jarmusch. The wide-eyed innocent and wily guide making a dreamlike journey through the murderous West reminded me much of Johnny Depp and Gary Farmer in Dead Man. Said writer/director is John Maclean (not the Die Hard one; that’s a different spelling), who formed the folktronica Beta Band and the more psychedelic Aliens and made their music videos. In 2009 he made (on his mobile phone) a short with Fassbender, Man on a Motorcycle (which is on the DVD). It’s interesting that his first big film should have been a Western, and I am only glad that Westerns, good ones at that, are still considered cool enough to make in this brave new century of ours. Hoorah!

Maclean looks a bit perplexed

Maclean shot it in New Zealand, managing to find a part not infested with hobbits and orcs, I guess, with the Scottish flashbacks filmed in his native Scotland. 90% of the footage is exteriors. I must say the photography is very fine. The DP was Irishman Robbie Ryan, Oscar-nominated for The Favourite in 2018. And New Zealand manages to look convincingly Coloradoish. Stephen Holden in The New York Times talks of “the disparity between the rugged majesty of the landscape and the savagery of its outlaws and adventurers, who resemble vermin scuttling through the underbrush of a perilous no man’s land.”

Superbly choreographed final shoot-out

Given Mr. Maclean’s background, it is not surprising that music plays a big part in the picture. Australian composer Jed Kurzel (who apparently put the score together in three days) went down the jangly faux-folk route and it’s really good. There are a few songs too. One, a Gaelic ballad, was left on the cutting-room floor. You can see it on the outtakes. It was rightly excised…

It all has the feel of a ‘proper’ Western but perhaps with added emotion and it’s somehow ‘younger’. It definitely has aspects of the coming-of-age movie, though in the end young Jay doesn’t become the worldly Silas; Silas becomes Jay. It’s a love story, with black humor (especially in the basic fact that Rose doesn’t love Jay at all). It’s cleverly edited and the end-result is sometimes oblique, allusive, implied. Though it has garnered very positive critical acclaim (there are a million reviews on IMDb) I read that it grossed less than $230,000 in the US. A pity. It deserved better. It’s really very well done, by cast and crew. It’s what a 21st century Western ought to be. Full marks, boys and girls. Forget all the other plaudits: you earned a four-revolver Jeff Arnold's West rating. That doesn't happen every day.


Friday, December 27, 2019

The Marksman (AA, 1953)

Wayne is a crack shot

Earlier this month I reviewed a Wayne Morris Western, The Desperado, and found Wayne to be rather good, I would almost say surprisingly good, as a hard-bitten gunfighter. So I thought I’d have a look at another couple of his oaters and see if I need to re-evaluate his trail-cred – for I have been dismissive in the past of blonds as Western leads. They don’t cut it, you see. With rare exceptions. So today it’s a picture from the year before The Desperado, 1953, still Allied Artists though, and still black & white, The Marksman.
Wayne as Western hero

What a remarkable year in our noble genre 1953 was. Not only did we get major oaters such as Paramount’s Shane, Warners’ Hondo and MGM’s The Naked Spur, and of course wagonloads of series Westerns from lesser studios, there were also some really good examples in between – think of those ’53 Westerns with Randolph Scott (3 of them that year), Audie Murphy (3), George Montgomery (3), Rock Hudson (2), Rory Calhoun (2), Robert Taylor (1), Rod Cameron (1), Glenn Ford (1), and more. We can only dream now of such a year

The Marksman wasn’t perhaps quite in the class of some of those pictures but it is still eminently worth a viewing.

Not the greatest Western of 1953 but OK

Marshal Bob Scott (I Stanford Jolley), who wears a rather silly 1940s fancy gunbelt borrowed maybe from the Durango Kid or Bob Steele, hires Mike Martin as a deputy because he is durn good with a rifle. Martin doesn’t really like this idea: being taken on pretty well as executioner. He has always dreamed of being a proper US Marshal, righting wrongs and bringing justice to the downtrodden, and such. But he takes the job, and with his marksmanship he brings in dead or alive, mostly dead, all sorts of malefactors.

One of the reasons that Deputy Marshal Martin is so uncannily accurate with his rifle is that it is fitted with a telescopic sight. Such equipment is rarely seen in Westerns, unless they are Westerns set at the end of the nineteenth century or beginning of the twentieth. Yet Wikipedia tells us (so it must be true) that the first documented telescopic rifle sight was invented between 1835 and 1840. Gun News Daily (I am sure your subscription is up to date and you will have seen this) tells us that “Union snipers generally favoured the breech-loading Sharps rifle – becoming 'Sharpshooters' – whilst their Confederate adversaries preferred the powerful yet rare British Whitworth rifle, which many credit as being the most accurate rifle in the world at the time and the first modern sniper rifle.” So I wonder why more movie gunslingers didn’t use them. Actually, one knowledgeable reviewer says that the firearm used in the movie is a 1949 Remington hunting rifle. Oh well.

That's why he's a crack shot

When the marshal goes undercover, as a prospector, searching for a gang of rustlers, and disappears (in fact he is killed in the line of duty, but Martin doesn’t know this yet) Deputy Martin talks the governor (Tom Powers) into letting him go under cover too, also as a prospector, to find the missing lawman.

Well, he meets a lady novelist, Jane Warren (Elena Verdugo), out West researching her next book, and she is duly impressed at the tall, handsome ‘prospector’ who knows the ways of the West.

Not the first (or last) lady novelist in a Western

Now, who should be the leader of the rustlers, posing as an innocent rancher who has also suffered losses, but our old pal Frank Ferguson. Excellent. Frank was versatile, being equally at home as avuncular goody and two-timin’ bad guy. He is the latter here. He has henchmen, naturally. They were de rigueur. They are Santee (Rick Vallin) and Kincaid (Robert Bice). There’s quite a tradition of Western characters being named Santee, most notably Santee (Glenn Ford) in Santee. But this Santee is a lightnin’-fast gunslinger ready to kill for his boss.

Frank Ferguson is soon revealed as the bad guy

Well, I can’t tell you how it pans out because that would be a spoiler. Perish the thought. But I can reveal that Frank uses the lady novelist as a human shield, the cad, and there is a Johnny Guitar-ish lair. At any rate you won’t find it too hard to guess the outcome. And the lady writer promises that she will desist from penning lurid Western dime novels and instead turn her attention to cookbooks, thus satisfying 1950s expectations of what a good wife should be.

I say nothing.



Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Wildwood Boys by James Carlos Blake

"Quantrill sometimes spares. Anderson never." 

James Carlos Blake (left) writes very well. There is a ‘literary’ tone to his prose, and while he is not Cormac McCarthy, he can perhaps be compared to, say, Charles Frazier, with a dash of Larry McMurtry thrown in. The trouble with his books is not the writing. It’s that his central characters are so loathsome. The Friends of Pancho Villa is a fine book (click the link for a review) but it tells the life of the perfectly detestable Rodolfo Fierro, Villa’s private executioner. Blake also wrote The Pistoleer, a fictional life of the also repulsive John Wesley Hardin. If the author’s aim is to get the reader to identify with these characters, understand them or even sympathize with them, he makes an odd choice of dramatis personae. Wildwood Boys (Harper Collins, 2000; paperback Perennial, 2001) is the story of William T Anderson, Bloody Bill, the Confederate guerrilla leader and bandit, who was certainly one of the Civil War's most savage and bitter combatants and may even have suffered from delusional paranoia, which exacerbated an already sadistic personality. At any rate, a nice man he was not.

As often with paperback editions, quotations from enthusiastic reviews of the hardback pepper the opening pages. “A superb and engrossing novel,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel calls it. “A captivating … fascinating read,” trumpets the San Diego Union Tribune. It has, according to the Tampa Tribune, “more than its share of lyric beauty” (I wasn’t aware that lyric beauty was shared out, but anyway). They may be right, these reviewers, but my reaction is always skeptical. I’ll be the judge of that, I say.

Still, once engrossed in the pages (and the book is engrossing) you have to admit that it is pretty lyrical. Does he even overdo it? Take this passage: 

The moon grew plump and pale as a peeled apple, waned into the passing nights, then showed itself again as a thin silver crescent in the twilit western sky. The shed of leaves became a cascade of red and gold and after a time the trees stood skeletal against a sky of weathered tin. The land lay bled of its colors. The nights lengthened, went darker, brightened in their clustered stars. The chilled air smelled of woodsmoke, of distances and passing time. Frost glimmered on the morning fields. Crows called across the pewter afternoons. The first hard freeze cast the countryside in ice and trees split open with sounds like whipcracks. Came a snow flurry one night and then a heavy falling the next day, and that evening the land lay white and still under a high ivory moon.

Perhaps I am being unkind, or expecting overmuch, but it just seems to me that the writer is trying a bit too hard. I am reminded of Dr. Johnson’s dictum, “Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

Yet there’s no denying that much of the description is poetic and occasionally brilliantly phrased.

The narrative is linear, with no flashbacks or trendy flitting about between the (then) past and future. Blake does, however, occasionally slip into present tenses for a passage and then revert to the past simple. It works, stylistically. We get the story of William T Anderson (no one knows what the T stood for; possibly Thomas because there were Thomases in his family) from his birth to his death. This straightforward approach is actually quite refreshing now and then.

We read about him growing up in Kansas (where his family removed from Missouri, Blake suggests because Anderson père had got too fond of horse rustling). We are told that the boy had a gift of communicating with dogs. He understood them and ‘spoke dog’, as it were. OK. We are also given an account of an incestuous relationship he developed with his sister Josephine, who throughout the novel is the love of his life, even after her death in the 1863 collapse of the house in which she was imprisoned (it is this which turns Anderson implacably towards revenge). It doesn’t make very pretty reading, but then nor does 99% of Anderson’s curriculum vitae. I don’t know what evidence, if any, there is for either of these things, the canine communication or the sister-love, but that’s the privilege of a novelist writing a life, I guess. You don’t need evidence.

Photographed in the guerrilla shirt and classic long hair

When his hero does join the Confederate guerrillas, Blake does not shy away from the atrocities and war crimes, though he does emphasize those of the Union militias in such a way as to if not justify, then at least partially explain the brutal actions of Anderson and his confrères. He has a point: bushwhackers or jayhawkers, it was often hard to tell the difference, for both were as close to bandits as you get, both were ruthless and brutal, and both committed massacres. The looting and burning of Osceola in 1861 by Jim Lane’s men was remarkably similar to Quantrill’s attack on Lawrence in 1863, though Quantrill’s assault was considerably worse in terms of number of lives lost.

The local Missouri and Kansas population had to engage in a deadly guessing game when blue-uniformed men arrived on their farms and demanded to know their loyalties, for it was the habit of the Confederates to dress in captured Union uniforms. The wrong answer could leave the farmer hanging from a tree and his buildings in flames. To the sufferers, it often made little difference which side their tormentors were on; the result was the same.

Taken in Sherman, TX for his wedding

Blake does not mention some of Anderson’s worst crimes. For example, it is generally accepted that after Confederate forces under General Joe Shelby conquered Glasgow, Anderson traveled to the city to loot. He visited the house of a well-known Union sympathizer, the wealthiest resident of the town, brutally beat him, and raped his 12- or 13-year-old black servant. Anderson indicated that he was particularly angry that the man had freed his slaves, and trampled him with a specially trained horse. The man later died of his injuries. Anderson killed several other Union loyalists and some of his men returned to the wealthy resident's house to rape more of his female servants. This would be hard to have your book’s hero do if you want to retain a modicum of sympathy for him.

The most famous photograph. The infamous Bloody Bill.

Famous guerrillas who rode with Quantrill and Anderson enter the pages of the book but fairly peripherally, and they are not central characters. Cole Younger, for example, is first mentioned on page 119 of my edition, appearing as “a beefy red-haired man”, quite jovial but with a strong streak of ruthlessness, and he reappears from time to time in the narrative, but only incidentally. Arch Clement is portrayed as particularly vicious. Similarly, Frank James is introduced on p 190 and pops up occasionally thereafter but he does not really emerge as a character. His younger brother Jesse, who was not at Lawrence (though he is often shown there in Western movies) and only joined the guerrillas in the spring of 1864, gets a bit more page-space from Blake, after his first appearance as a seventeen-year-old beardless youth on page 319.

As for Quantrill (and that spelling is used) he comes across as educated - given to using Latin tags and quoting “Sir Bacon”, presumably Francis of that ilk– and he is credited with insisting that no woman be harmed at Lawrence, so he is something of a Southern gentleman. It is true that Quantrill had been a schoolteacher for a time, also taking up a job in the lumberyards, unloading timber from rail cars, in order to support his family, in debt after the death from TB of Quantrill père. But he was hardly a gentleman in the then understanding of that word.

Quantrill looks young, bemused.

In the book Anderson and Quantrill get on well at first but gradually become estranged, especially when Quantrill objects to Anderson’s marrying Bush Smith (who looks, according to Blake, extraordinarily like his sister Josephine). This was perhaps dramatically useful. It is, though, possible that in reality Anderson always harbored a resentment of Quantrill, who claimed to have encountered a band of renegades in July 1863 and rebuked them for robbing Confederate sympathizers. These bandits were led by a certain Bill Reed but William Anderson and his brother Jim were prominent members of the gang.

While wintering near Sherman, Texas, 1863/64, Anderson and Quantrill appear to have fallen out seriously when Quantrill expelled one of Anderson’s men for stealing, and then Quantrill’s men killed the thief when he attempted to return. Anderson then rode to Sherman and told General Cooper that Quantrill was responsible for the death of a Confederate officer; the general had Quantrill arrested and taken into custody but he soon escaped. Anderson was told to recapture him and gave chase, but he was unable to locate his former commander and stopped at a creek. There, his men briefly engaged a group of guerrillas loyal to Quantrill, but no one was injured in the confrontation. None of this appears in the book, though.

Novels are not supposed to be true biographies, though you do sense that Blake has read deeply in his subject. This is a romance, and romances should be taken for what they are and not criticized for not being something else. I found this book to be extremely readable, and you will, probably, too.

Photographed dead
And a Happy Christmas to all our readers! Here's looking forward to a Western 2020.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday (AIP, 1976)

Comedy Westerns are very hard to get right

A not-very-funny comedy Western from the mid-70s, this picture is saved only by Lee Marvin. One might think Mr. Marvin obvious casting for the lead, after Cat Ballou (1965) and Paint Your Wagon (1969) but in fact he was not first choice: the role was written with James Garner in mind – and you can see how that might have worked too. Marvin commendably resists the temptation to ham it up, and plays the part with an attempt at dignity, very unlike his co-star, Oliver Reed, who is completely over-the-top, and in the last resort not very successful, as the Harvard-educated Indian Joe Knox.
OK if you like that kind of thing

There was a mini-genre of 70s/80s slightly raunchy comédies, or Westerns with semi-comic leads, starring famous but aging Western actors. One thinks of Marvin’s own The Spikes Gang or Cattle Annie and Little Britches with Burt Lancaster. What you might call Old Reprobate Westerns. They featured prostitutes largely because you could now (up till then such professionals had always had to be referred to as 'singers') and it was considered funny, and ever-so-slightly risqué. Viewed these days, though, these pictures are not all that hilarious.

This one was directed by Don Taylor, who helmed only this and a 1969 spaghetti, as far as Westerns go (he was better known for the likes of Escape from the Planet of the Apes and The Island of Doctor Moreau). The direction of The Great Scout is a bit meandering. Perhaps the movie could have done with sharper editing.

Don directed

The screenplay was by Richard Shapiro, who wrote Dynasty but this was his only big-screen oater.

Reed was a famously boozy Brit who was unsuited to Westerns but appeared in three big-screen ones (none of them any good) as well as being Dunnigan in Return to Lonesome Dove. Of the rest of the cast we have Robert Culp seeming slightly uncomfortable as a roguish politician/chief bad guy, and Strother Martin, about the best actor on the set after Marvin, in his usual role of scruffy and scurrilous old-timer, Marvin’s partner Billy.

Reed tries to outdo even Strother

The leading ladies were Kay Lenz, quite sparky as the titular Thursday, Elizabeth Ashley as the foul-mouthed wife of Culp (and ex of Marvin), and Sylvia Miles as the brothel madam Mike. There’s quite a tradition in Westerns of women named Mike. Think of Claire Trevor in Texas, Anne Baxter in Yellow Sky, Jane Russell in Son of Paleface, and Mike Learned in Gunsmoke: The Last Apache. You may be able to think of other Mikes.

Culp's wife and Marvin's ex is on the hood

Culp is the bad guy

It was filmed in Mexico by Álex Phillips Jr., who shot a few Westerns there, such as The War Wagon, Buck and the Preacher and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (if you consider that a Western; I do). The print of The Great Scout today is of good quality, with attractive Technicolor.

It’s set in 1908 Colorado and is quite ‘modern’ for a Western. There are plenty of automobiles, for example. William Howard Taft is running for president.

The whole thing is geared to the slapstick, with pratfalls galore. The climactic last-reel fight seems to have been ‘borrowed’ from McLintock. The humor might be called ‘broad’ rather than subtle. It’s not really my cup of tea, though it might be yours.
Lee saves it