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

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 4: True Grit(1969)

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Hope everyone is enjoying the weekend so far. Today, I want us to saddle up for adventure, action, tears and laughter with this 1969 Western.

The film is based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. True Grit is directed by Henry Hathaway, featuring music by Elmer Bernstein.

The film stars John Wayne as the tough, cantankerous, one eyed Marshal, Rooster Cogburn. The Marshal is hired by Mattie Ross(Kim Darby)to track down Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey)her fathers murderer.

The pair are joined by Texas Ranger, La Boeuf(Glenn Campbell) who is also after Chaney for killing a Senator. This trio are all different from each other and disagree more than they agree. As they spend time together they form a bond, with Mattie in particular finding a place in Cogburn’s heart.

At first you think the title refers to Cogburn, but as the film goes on we realise it is Mattie who is full of grit and determination.

Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey, Strother Martin and a young Dennis Hopper, all provide solid support and make quite an impression in their respective roles.

Wayne won his only Oscar for his performance here. At the awards ceremony he joked that he should have put on an eye patch sooner. It’s easy to just say he won this as compensation for never having won an award before, but I really think his performance here actually deserved it.

Wayne makes Rooster a force to be reckoned with, tough and unrelenting. You know you don’t want to cross this man. He gives him heart, and we catch fleeting glimpses of compassion and tenderness beneath that tough exterior.

My favourite scenes are the following. Mattie in her hotel room holding her fathers watch and crying, Rooster telling Mattie about his life as they sit on top of the hill in the dark, all the comic scenes between Mattie and the horse dealer(Strother Martin, stealing every scene he is in) Mattie’s river crossing, the snake pit rescue, and the reins between the teeth shootout.

The music stays in your head, as do several scenes such as the final shootout, Mattie finding Chaney by the river, the shootout inside the hut and the snake pit scene. There is some stunning scenery to behold too.

I like the remake quite a bit, but this one will always be my favourite version. I also think this version makes the characters realistic, people look dirty, tired, edgy, and the film also shows how dark and violent this time period was. The film is dark, but has some very tender scenes too, such as the funeral parlour scene, Mattie and Rooster’s heart to heart conversation, how Rooster gently tends to an injured Mattie, and her distress at what happens to her beloved horse.

Darby is perhaps too old to be playing a teenager, but she gives Mattie so much strength, courage and heart that you believe her in the role. I also think she conveys the reality that young people back then had no choice but to grow up quick, they became adults before their time.

I don’t think Campbell is as bad in his role as some people have made out over the years. I think he’s quite funny in places too.

Any other fans of this? If you’ve never seen it, I hope you check it out sometime.

Page To Screen, Western

The Searchers (1956)

I consider this to be the greatest film ever directed by John Ford. That is saying something, I think, as Ford made so many fine films during his long career. He was one of the finest directors of Western films there has ever been.

When I watch a John Ford Western, I feel as though I have actually been transported back to that time period. Ford’s Western films really bring that era to life for us, and I like how he shows us the cowboy way of life. I consider this film to be a highpoint, 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.

For those who think John Wayne can’t act, I say that they should really watch this film. Wayne delivers one of his finest performances here, as the complex, fearless and fascinating Ethan Edwards.Wayne 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 enjoy and marvel at.

The visuals in this film are absolutely stunning. So many scenes stand out to me in this film. That opening shot of the door, opening to the sequences shot out in monument valley, to the burning home(surely an inspiration for George Lucas when he made Star Wars? I’m thinking specifically of the scene in Star Wars where Luke returns home to see his aunt and uncle and finds their home ablaze),to 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, and 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 a couple of interpretations of mine concerning the opening title sequence, and also that famous final shot of the film. The title sequence sees the opening credits played 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 consider the final shot to be saying that the family we see represent the future of the country. People like Ethan, and the violence and horror he causes and challenges, belong firmly in the past. That family going into the home represent civilised society, and people like Ethan will find that they have no place in such a society.

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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.

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 so to us today, I do think it’s actually a bit more complicated than that.

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 headstone. These graves she sits in front of 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.

It took me a few viewings to pick up on the details above, but that detail now makes me think that is actually the reason for why Ethan hates Indians so much. He doesn’t hate these people for who they are, but 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, if he was simply a racist and hated Indian people for who they are, then I’m sure that he wouldn’t want to be around Martin at all because of his heritage. I think all of this adds another layer to this film and to Ethan’s character. I also like how we see 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 attention. 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 also helps make it a film that is far from a typical Western.

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; have 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 he tells Martin about the woman’s hair in his tent, how could Ethan know that unless he had been present at the event?)

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 shows us how horrible the situation is.

When we find out what happened to Lucy, again we don’t need to see that ,and the way Wayne describes what he found, and his haunted look tell us everything we need to know. 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 atrocities against the Native American Indians. This is depicted in the sequence where the army ride through and destroy an Indian settlement. Ethan and Martin arrive at the settlement and find the inhabitants all slaughtered. That was quite a bold thing for Ford to put in the film.

The heart of the film lies in the desperate attempts to find Debbie(played as an adult by Natalie Wood) Martin fears for her, as 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.

The entire cast are superb, Vera Miles provides good support as a strong daughter of the west who loves Martin. Wayne delivers a fine performance as a complex, bitter man who is needed to confront violence with violence, but 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.

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.

This is 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.

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