Blogathons, Romance, Western

The Second Annual Olivia de Havilland Blogathon: Dodge City (1939)

Olivia and Errol BlogathonPhyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood are co-hosting this special blogathon. This one is all about the actress Olivia de Havilland, and the actor Errol Flynn. Be sure to visit Phyllis and Crystal’s sites to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn were one of the most popular film couples of classic era Hollywood. The pair starred together in eight films. I’ve decided to write about Dodge City (1939); this early Technicolor Western is my favourite out of all of their films. 

Why do I love this film so much? Well, firstly, I really love the changing relationship between their characters in this one. The relationship has a rocky start, but soon neither can deny their growing mutual love. As the film goes on their affection for one another becomes harder to deny.

Both Olivia and Errol really make you believe the feelings their characters develop for one another. They are so tender in their shared scenes together and I love watching their relationship progress. They had a chemistry that is so obvious and makes it easy to believe their characters are falling for one another.

Secondly, I enjoy it very much because I think it’s a very exciting Western. This shows us that people lived and died by the gun back then. You had to be careful of what you said or did incase someone took offence and took a shot at you.

I love the scene in the barber shop, where Wade (Errol Flynn) is cool in the face of intimidation from the local bad guy and his henchman; he calmly stands up and puts on his gun belt (just incase he should have need of it later)and stands his ground. It also shows that life was tough back then and that death was always waiting just around the corner.

I also like how the film shows us the old west changing. The opening scene is very interesting to me as it literally shows the old west being taken over by the new. A train speeds through the open country causing animals to run in terror from the noise. A stagecoach tries to outride the train and fails to match the speed of the locomotive. The trains speed surpasses that of the horse and carriage. In just a short time after this the west of the cowboy would vanish; open country would soon be gone as more towns and cities were built. An entire way of life would soon change forever.

This is a film screaming out to seen on the big screen. There are many shots of vast open country. Plenty of scenes are also made extremely vibrant due to the marvel that was Technicolor. Everything about this film is on a big scale.

The film begins with Dodge City being settled, and with the railroad gaining popularity. It is hoped that this will be an extremely civilised place, somewhere to be proud of and hold up as an example to others.  Moving forward a few years, we see that Dodge City has become the town we know it as today; it has become a place where morals and ethics are none existent, and killing is as common as talking.

Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn) is a cowboy who helped set up the railroad into Dodge City. Wade soon finds himself facing antagonism and hatred from various people. He leads a cattle drive that is also doubling as a protective escort for several settlers.

Two of these settlers are the young Abbie Irving (Olvia de Havilland)and her brother (William Lundigan). When Abbie’s brother gets drunk and starts firing his gun, the cattle get frightened and Wade tells the younger man to stop; this conversation unfortunately only serves to wind the younger man up and he keeps right on firing. This time the cattle stampede and he is killed. Abbie blames Wade for her brothers death.

Wade takes up the job of Dodge City sheriff and faces danger from the local big shot, Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot)and his bloodthirsty henchman, Yancey (Victor Jory). Things are further complicated when Abbie comes back into Wades life and her own life becomes endangered. Slowly she cannot deny her growing feelings for him, even though she is still torn apart by her brothers death. Will Wade clean up Dodge City? Can he protect Abbie? Will Wade and Abbie be able to have a happy relationship? Watch this film to find out.

Olivia is utterly luminous in this film, her character is so innocent and pure. Abbie struggles with her love for Wade, she can’t deny her feelings but she tries not to admit them. Abbie can’t get over the tragedy she blames Wade for causing. Olivia tells us much with her eyes in this film; a besotted look here and there indicates her growing attraction to Wade, her eyes sparkle with the amusement that perhaps doesn’t show on her lips etc. This is one of my favourite films that Olivia ever starred in, she brings so much to each scene.

Errol is at his athletic, heroic and charming best here. He makes Wade a man who knows how to defend himself, but who prefers words as weapons instead of guns; he will and can use them if necessary, but often he doesn’t need to as he can defuse a situation in another way.

There’s fine support from Bruce Cabot as a man who won’t get his hands dirty, but is more than happy to order deaths a plenty. Surrett isn’t a man you want to cross, and he is accustomed to getting his own way. Wade isn’t afraid of him, and that makes him angry.

Victor Jory steals every scene he is in, as the vicious, trigger happy Yancey.

Alan Hale is hysterical as Wade’s outgoing, fun loving best friend, Rusty. The scene where Rusty gives in to his desire to join in a barroom brawl, is one of the best remembered scenes in the film.

A young Ann Sheridan has a small role as a sexy saloon singer.

There’s also a welcome appearance from Henry Travers who plays Abbie’s uncle, Dr. Irving.

My favourite scenes are the following. Wade falling down (much to Abbie’s amusement)in the newspaper office. Surrett arriving at the barber shop for a bath, only to find Rusty in there and Wade telling Surrett that he can’t use the bath until Rusty has finished. Wade and Abbie’s first kiss while they are on horseback. The opening sequence. The barroom brawl. Wade telling Abbie that she is stubborn.

As an added bonus, the following are the five films in which I think Olivia and Errol gave their best performances.

Olivia

     1- The Snake Pit

         2- The Dark Mirror

3- The Heiress

                                4- Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte

               5- Gone With The Wind

     Errol

        1- Edge of Darkness

2- Santa Fe Trail

                           3- The Adventures of Robin Hood

4- Dodge City 

5- Captain Blood

I still need to see Errol in The Dawn Patrol, which I understand is one of his best performances.

Today sees Olivia celebrating her 101st birthday! Happy birthday Olivia, and thank you for so many wonderful film performances. I hope you have a lovely day on this milestone birthday.

I’d love to read your thoughts on Dodge City. Please leave your comments below. I also welcome any comments about that amazing chemistry between Errol and Olivia. What a pair! I never get tired of watching them.

 

 

 

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Page To Screen, Western

The Searchers (1956)

I consider this to be the greatest film that John Ford ever directed, and that is saying something I think because John Ford made so many fine films during his long career. He was one of the best directors of Western films there has ever been as far as I’m concerned.

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John Wayne as Ethan. Screenshot by me.

When I watch a John Ford Western, I feel as though I have actually been transported back to that particular time period. Ford’s Western films really bring that era to life for us.

I consider this film to be a real high point, not only in the Western genre, but also in Ford’s film career. This film is also one of the best films to come out of Warner Brothers Studios during the 1950’s. This film is dark, complex, exciting, epic and powerful.

For those who think John Wayne can’t act, I say that they should really watch this film. He delivers what is possibly his best performance here, as the complex, fearless, and endlessly fascinating Ethan Edwards.

I think that John does such a superb job of conveying the inner workings of this man’s mind to us through his expressions alone.

There’s so much to enjoy in this film. The acting is terrific, the story is thrilling, moving and powerful. In short this film has something in it for everyone to be able to enjoy and marvel at.

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The family home ablaze. Screenshot by me.

The visuals in this film are absolutely stunning. So many scenes stand out to me in this film: That opening shot of the door. The sequences shot out in monument valley. Ethan’s reaction to seeing the burning home(surely an inspiration for George Lucas when he made Star Wars? I’m thinking specifically of the scene in Star Wars:A New Hope where Luke returns home to see his aunt and uncle, and instead finds their home ablaze). That unforgettable close up of Wayne’s face looking in horror, pity and disgust at a group of emotionally damaged white women rescued from captivity amongst American Indians.

The film is based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May. I’ve yet to read the novel, but I am very eager to do so; apparently the ending of the novel is much bleaker than what we get in the film. It will be interesting to compare the book to the film.

I want to take a moment to mention my thoughts concerning the opening title sequence, and also that famous final shot of the film. The title sequence sees the opening credits play out against a backdrop of what looks like a wall. This wall consists of what looks like bricks or big slabs of stone. Homes and communities are of course built using such things.  I think that this was used to convey that the story we’re about to witness is one such story showing what happened during the time towns and communities were being built in the old west.

I’d also like to say a few words about the final scene of the film. I see the final shot as saying that the family we see here represent the future of the country of America. People like Ethan, and the violence and horror he causes, belong firmly in the America of the past. That family going into the home represent the civilised society of the future, and people like Ethan will find that they have no place in such a society.

Ethan Edwards(John Wayne)returns home to Texas, after fighting in the civil war. He goes to the home of his brother, Aaron(Walter Coy). We pick up instantly(without any dialogue to tell us)that Ethan and his sister in law Martha(Dorothy Jordan)are in love, and that they have been for some time.

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Lucy is terrified during the raid on her home. Screenshot by me.

Whilst Ethan is away one day with some neighbours, a Comanche raiding party led by Chief Scar(Henry Brandon)attacks the Edward’s home, burn it to ground, kill Aaron, Martha and their son, and kidnap their two daughters, Lucy(Pippa Scott)and Debbie(Lana Wood).

Ethan sets out to find his nieces. He is helped in his quest by half Indian Martin Pawley(Jeffrey Hunter)who was raised by Aaron and Martha as their son. Also along for the trek are the loveable Mose Harper(Hank Worden),fearless Reverend Clayton(Ward Bond)and Lucy’s boyfriend, Brad(Harry Carey Jr). Will they find the girls?

Many viewers call Ethan racist because of the attitude he displays towards the Native American Indians that he encounters. While his behaviour may seem racist to us today, I actually think that is not the case at all. 

During the scene where Martha tells Debbie to hide in the family graveyard during the raid, make sure you pause the DVD just before she sits in front of the headstones. These graves she sits beside are her grandparents(Ethan and Aaron’s parents). Under the name, date of birth and death dates etc, the headstone inscriptions state that the grandparents were killed by Comanche Indians.

 

    The gravestone that may hold the key to Ethan’s hate. 

Screenshot by me.

It took me a few viewings to pick up on the details above, but that detail now makes me think those deaths are actually the reason for why Ethan hates Indians so much. He doesn’t hate these people for who they are, but he does hate them for what they did. I personally think he would be just as hateful towards anyone who had done that to his family.

It also explains why he lets Martin stay with him on his trek. If he was a racist and hated Indian people for who they are, then I’m sure that he wouldn’t have wanted to be around Martin at all because of his heritage. I think all of this information adds another layer to this film and to Ethan’s character. I also like how we see that he has clearly studied the Comanche culture very closely. Ethan knows more about them than any of the other white men and women we see in the film.

What’s so interesting about Ethan and his issues is that Ford does not spoon feed any of this information to us, it’s there if you look out for it and pay close attention, but it’s not immediately obvious. to the viewer. We are left to make up our minds about Ethan and his attitudes. The ambiguity about his character is part of what makes this such a fascinating film to watch, and I think it also helps make it a film that is far from a typical Western.

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Henry Brandon as Chief Scar. Screenshot by me.

I have also always thought that Ethan and Scar may have had dealings before, the way they look at one another when they meet, and how Ethan’s hatred seems to lift after his confrontation with him has always led me to believe Ethan hated him for what he had done to his family and perhaps for something else he had done.

Listen to what Ethan tells Martin about the woman’s hair they find in Scar’s tent. How could Ethan know that information unless he had been present at the event he mentions?

I also really love how so much of the violence and horror in this film is suggested to us by Ford. The horror Ethan finds at his destroyed home and the state of his families bodies don’t need to be seen by us in detail because we can imagine all too well what has been done to them. The reactions of Wayne and Hunter in this scene also convey to us just how horrible the situation is.

When we find out what happened to Lucy, again we don’t need to see that  in graphic detail. The way Wayne describes what he found when searching for Lucy, and his haunted look when he speaks, tell us everything we need to know about what he came across in that canyon. These are two very powerful examples of how suggestion can be even more disturbing and effective as showing us terrible things in graphic detail.

I also like how Ford shows us that white people also committed plenty of atrocities against the Native American Indians; it wasn’t all one sided with the Indians as the villains they were so often painted as being. This is depicted best in the sequence where the army ride through and destroy an Indian settlement. Ethan and Martin arrive at the settlement later and find the inhabitants all slaughtered. That was really quite a bold thing for Ford to put in the film I think.

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Jeffrey Hunter as Martin. Screenshot by me.

The heart of the film lies in the desperate attempts to find Debbie(played as an adult by Natalie Wood) Martin fears for her because he is starting to believe Ethan may kill her if he ever finds her because she will be so changed. But Ethan is unpredictable and perhaps Martin need not worry so much.

If there is a downside to this film, I think it certainly lies with two things; firstly having white actors play Native American characters is problematic. I totally understand that was accepted acting practice back in the day, but I’ve just never understood why actual Native American actors couldn’t have been cast at the time.

Also the lack of screen time for the female characters bothers me. This story is not only Ethan’s story. I would have liked to have seen more of Martha, Mrs. Jorgensen(Olive Carey), Debbie, and of Laurie. When these characters are on screen the actresses playing them certainly do their best, and they all make an impact delivering solid performances, but it never feels like we get to know them as much as many of the male characters in the film.

I’d also like to have seen a few more scenes of Ethan and the older Debbie reconnecting on the journey home. I also think the film ended a bit abruptly. Debbie faces emotional trauma as she gradually comes to remember what happened as a child. There will no doubt be years of reconnecting with those she hasn’t seen for a long time lying ahead for her. I think it would have been good if we had got a taste of some of that at least. It’s like the film ended a bit too quick, without really addressing the difficult stage that comes next for the characters.

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Vera Miles as Laurie. Screenshot by me.

The entire cast are superb. Vera Miles provides good support as the strong Laurie, the strong daughter of the west who loves Martin. Wayne delivers a fine performance as a complex and bitter man who is needed to confront violence with violence, but who has no place in the civilised world and society that remain after such acts have been finished; hence that famous final shot of the door closing on him. Natalie Wood is good as a young woman torn between two worlds and communities. I just wish we could have seen more of Natalie in the film.

My favourite scenes are the following. The river shootout. Laurie pouring water all over Martin. Ethan being asked what he had found back in the canyon, we see he is traumatised and we can guess what he found. The raid on the ranch. Ethan coming back to find the ranch ablaze. Ethan chasing Debbie.

The Searchers is a thrilling psychological Western, featuring stunning visuals, and a truly magnificent score by Max Steiner.

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That famous final shot. Screenshot by me.

This is John Ford at his best. His film shows us the good things about the old west; such as the strong community bond, people willing to help strangers, people risking all to start new communities. We also see the bad side of the west; such as the violence, the death, and we also get a sense of the old and open country of the west starting to disappear, as white men move out into the land of the Native Americans.

I urge you all to see this one on Blu-ray, the picture is so clear that it looks like it was made today. Seeing this in such good quality makes me long to see this masterpiece up on the big screen as it was intended to be shown.

 

Edit 14.04.2018: I am entering this into Thoughts All Sorts Great Western Blogathon. Find all the entries here. 

I’d love to know what you think of this film. Please leave your comments below.