A little catching up

Finally saw Man of the West in widescreen (and a good transfer)–sure makes a difference. It’s a goddam dazzling movie, which I never thought before; just wish someone else had starred even though Cooper tries to do something like modern acting. First-rate gang of outlaws, including Royal Dano as a mute gunman who makes his first sound only when he’s been mortally wounded, and Robert Wilke, who 20 years later would play the craggy vengeful foreman on Sam Shepard’s farm in Days of Heaven. The landscapes here even overshadow Mann’s other Westerns. There’s one shot–the gang’s wagons pulling out of the emerald-green valley where their hideout is, with a mountain range in the far background–that’s one of the most beautiful location shots I’ve ever seen.

Also, The Amazing Mr. X, a noir-ish mystery about phony psychic Turhan Bey. I know how that must look and it does have a stale first half, but it gets better as it goes on, and it shows some unexpected imagination (and integrity) when it takes time to show how the guy does his tricks. Another one shot by John Alton, and one of his best; you sit there gaping through the stupidest scenes just because they’re so spectacular looking.

The 2005 King Kong–not as bad as I expected, and in a couple places I was surprised how moved I was. Fantastic score.

A pair of mutts: The Heroes of Telemark (Mann’s last completed film, shot on location in Norway and based on a pretty amazing story about WW II saboteurs, but the script just lays there and the filmmaking doesn’t have any crackle) and Desplechin’s Kings and Queen (please!–life is just too damn short).

Somewhere in the middle: Raoul Walsh’s Western sex comedy The King and Four Queens. Clark Gable hunts gold hidden on a ranch occupied by the four widows of an outlaw gang that got wiped out–it’s overseen by Jo Van Fleet, the outlaws’ mother, again expertly doing her crusty matriarch thing. (She was the old woman in Wild River, too. I didn’t know until after I watched it that she was only 46 at the time–she looks 70 there if a day.) In this one the gals have barely seen a man in two years so having Gable in their midst turns things into Black Narcissus Goes West. Clark necks and dances with, among others, Eleanor Parker, who makes it hard to believe she was Sinatra’s wheelchair-bound sister in The Man with the Golden Arm, and Barbara Nichols, better known as “Cigarette Girl” from Sweet Smell of Success. It’s mellow and human and looks great, but it’s never quite hilarious and it’s barely even a story–pretty darned low-key.

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