Evil Dead and a greedy family haunt the Redford Theatre

Our friends at the Redford Theatre are treating Detroit horror fans to two frightening classics this weekend. On Friday October 26th only, there will be a midnight showing of Evil Dead (1981), the now-classic story of the doomed trip to an isolated cabin in the woods undertaken by a group of college students. The film has quite a few Michigan connections. Writer/director/producer Sam Raimi and star/producer Bruce Campbell both hail from the Mitten, and a rough cut of the film, then known by its working title Within the Woods, was shown to potential investors at the former Punch & Judy Theater in Grosse Pointe Farms.

Most importantly for Friday’s showing, Evil Dead was first shown at the Redford Theatre back on October 15, 1981, and went on to become one of the best-loved and most influential horror movies ever. Don’t miss this opportunity to see all the blood and gore (it’s rated NC-17 for a reason) on the big screen. The organ overture begins at 11:30pm. Tickets are $5.00.

936full-the-cat-and-the-canary-posterIf goofy monochrome horror is more to your taste, never fear, the Redford has you covered too. On Saturday, they’ll be showing the rarely-seen silent, The Cat and the Canary, starring Laura La Plante. Heirs to a fortune find themselves spending the night at a menacing mansion, where mysterious and eerie things happen throughout the night. La Plante can only inherit her old relative’s money if she is declared sane in the morning.

Tony O’Brien will accompany the film on the Barton Theatre Pipe Organ, and as a bonus, the silent short The Haunted House starring Buster Keaton will precede the feature. The evening begins at 8:00 p.m. Tickets for this showing are $12.00 for adults and $8.00 for children 12 and under.

Universal horror at the Redford Theatre

On Saturday, October 20th, Detroit’s Redford Theatre is showing a Universal Studios horror double feature: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943).

Poster of The Bride of FrankensteinIn Bride, a sequel to the wildly successful Frankenstein (1931), Boris Karloff returns as the Monster and Colin Clive reprises his role as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. This installment of one of the first horror movie franchises sees Dr. Frankenstein forced by another mad scientist to make a match for the Monster, with scary and sad results.

By 1943 Karloff had given up the mantle of the Monster, so Universal passed it to another one of their horror icons, Bela Lugosi. It seems as if the studio felt that one creature was good, but two was even better. So the film has the Monster facing off against the Wolfman, played by Lon Chaney Jr.

Seeing these two excellent examples of Universal horror classics is particularly appropriate this Halloween season as 2012 is the studio’s 100th birthday. And while you can see these movies at home (The Bride of Frankenstein is included on the newly released Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection box set), seeing them on a big screen, like the Redford’s, adds much to the experience. Why not see these films as they were seen when they were first released —in a movie palace?

Reckless Review: THE AVENGERS (2012)

The Avengers is a very good film. If I had a rating system, I’d give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Yes, it is that good. If you haven’t seen it, go now…I’ll go with you. Seriously. I don’t know if the world can stand one more person waxing eloquent about this movie, but I’m going to go for it anyway. Some thoughts…

Clark Gregg is like a different person when he’s playing Agent Coulson. His whole face tightens up.

Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson; Clark Gregg as himself

 

I still say that if I was an actress, I would want Scarlett Johansson’s career…from child actress to indie darling to action movie star…this year it’s a big comic book franchise and a sci-fi picture, next year she’s in some indie directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A versatile talent.

I don’t have anything snarky to say about Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

 

Playing the villain is always more fun, and that’s exactly what Tom Hiddleston looks like he’s having throughout the film. His Loki is also more proof that it helps to get Genuine Thespians for these comic-book action blowout extravaganzas. There’s a lot of talent here, including a bunch of Oscar nominees and winners, and they can make even the most potentially ludicrous lines sound good.

I am Loki and I am here to mess you up…with my flawless diction

 

I’m throwing down the gauntlet…I’d put our Detroit shawarma (that is the correct spelling) up against any in the world. That’s right, the world.

I just can’t stay away from the topic of food

 

One of the themes in Joss Whedon’s work is the mismatched, bickering team that, through hardship, becomes a family, and the Avengers are a perfect example of this. Their bipolar bickering and eventual unity really reminded me of the crew from Firefly. And it is greatly to Whedon’s credit that in a 2-1/2 hour movie (as opposed to an entire season of a TV show), each major character is a three-dimensional person I cared about. The regular-person-ization starts right away with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) chatting with Coulson (he’s not just a suit, he has a girlfriend…she plays the cello!) and doesn’t end until after the credits (stay until they kick you out). Let’s put it this way, the unexpected (at least by me) death in Avengers affected me as much as the one in Captain America did.

One big happy? family

 

Captain America (Chris Evans) is my favorite Avenger. So sue me. If you’d been asleep for 70 years and woke up to find the world was completely changed, your girl was gone, and your favorite music/movies/food/cars/clothing had all been replaced by other stuff, you’d probably be pretty quiet too. Seriously…what do you think Captain America thinks of the sagging pants look?

You call that music?

 

I’ve only got two complaints overall about the film: With all the great lines Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) got, at times the film seemed like Iron Man 3. Not that RDJ doesn’t maximize them…I like him and the character…I guess I should have gotten a clue when I saw the poster. And second, the ending reminded me quite a bit of the ending of X Men: First Class. But these are minor complaints to me. Apparently there’s going to be 30 minutes of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray. That means there’s more awesomeness! I can’t wait to see.

So…what did you think of The Avengers? Leave me a comment.

 

Reckless Review: The Hunger Games

Because there’s been so many reviews of The Hunger Games, I know there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t been said already, but I do have a few thoughts. NB: I haven’t read the books. POSSIBLE SPOILERS.

I really enjoyed this movie. While some of the suspense is negated by knowing that there’s 2 more books after this and the heroine will survive no matter how harrowing the circumstances, I was literally on the edge of my seat almost the entire time. I have to agree with my friends Ruth at Flix Chatter and T at Focused Filmographer that it deserves 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
  • The actual Games themselves are horrifying and yet very familiar. The way they are presented in the film is pretty standard for reality TV. Just like American Idol, HG has a smarmy host, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), a live audience, and ubiquitous promotion (does Panem TV show anything but HG?) The swooping shots of the riled-up crowd and the banter between the host and contestants are too much like AI and America’s Got Talent et al to be a coincidence. Once the Games begin, alliances are made and broken, like on Survivor. And like all reality shows, the Games’ storylines are set and the contest is manipulated for ratings — “They just want a good show” is the motto of Katniss’ mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). I believe we are closer than I realized to a society where a TV show like this is possible. I’ve often thought that it will be only a matter of time until somebody gets killed on a reality show, and from there, it seems like it’s not much of a leap for contestants killing each other to become a show’s main goal. I hope I’m wrong.
  • Another similarity is that of Panem and contemporary US society. Like those in the Capitol, some people in the US are doing extremely well, and proportionately more people are much worse off, like those in District 12. (Much like the denizens of the Firefly universe were caught in the 1800s, only with more technology, D12 seems to have rewound to the Great Depression and gotten stuck there.) In the US in 2012, the gap between rich and poor is widening and coal mining accidents, like the one that killed Katniss’ father, are still happening. So it seems to me that Panem’s situation isn’t really all that different from ours.
  • Squirrel tastes like chicken. In case you were wondering.
  • Sometimes supporting players really put a film over the top. There’s no way I’d have given this picture as high of a rating without the fabulous work done by Tucci, Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz.
  • Can anyone do an action or fight scene these days without dizzying close-ups and jittery handheld-style camerawork? That’s kind of a dumb question….the answer is obviously not! But I think it’s an appropriate choice for The Hunger Games, most of the time. It accurately conveys the disorientation of a teenager fighting for his or her life. The one exception where I thought it was completely bewildering was the fight scene atop the Cornucopia near the end. That was so fragmented that it was difficult to tell what was really going on for too long.
  • I see a similarity between Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, and Peppy Miller, and I hope that it’s a trend brewing. Not just that I enjoyed all of these characters’ films, although that is true. All of them are independent and resourceful women, and all of them save others’ lives. What people see in films and TV and read in books has an effect on their real-life expectations, and so I believe a variety of female characters—not just the passive/reactive ones— is a good thing.

 

Leave me your thoughts about The Hunger Games below.

EDIT: I want to make it clear…I WATCH REALITY TV. Seriously, I do. If there’s any judgement, it’s on myself as well.

Reckless Review: Thirteen Women

Back in December, TCM had a day of Myrna Loy films and I recorded a bunch of them, including a goofy little pre-code picture called Thirteen Women (1932). I have to say, though Loy is excellent in it, this is an extremely odd picture. She plays a mysterious psychotic named Ursula who was bullied at a posh school by a bunch of mean girls and has set out to get revenge on them. This she does in a peculiar and ludicrous way. Capitalizing on the spiritualism craze of the time and the mighty power of suggestion, Ursula sends each woman a fake astrological chart, accompanied by a letter predicting death, dismemberment, or other calamity. She signs the letters with the name of the fake swami she works for. Each recipient then becomes so obsessed with her letter that the prediction comes true.

The look that kills: Myrna Loy as Ursula in Thirteen Women

I always knew Loy’s beauty was spellbinding, but in this, despite five pounds of spackle, she actually hypnotizes men. Fixed in her gaze, the “swami” passes out. Ditto the chauffeur she employs to do her evil bidding later on. She forces him to send Irene Dunne’s son poison candy, but Mom has the sense to get it tested at the police lab. The chemist says, “This candy is fine but it was tampered with. If anyone had eaten it, they’d have died.” Then it isn’t “fine”!The film is full of odd moments like that: The first classmates/victims are two sisters in a trapeze act..sort of a weird career choice for alumnae of the type of upper-crust school they were all supposed to have attended. And if you actually count, only 10 women are accounted for. I remember reading that 15 minutes were cut from the film somewhere along the way. Single moms who have the nerve to be happy, career women, and sex talk remain, so God only knows what was cut. Maybe it would make more sense with the missing piece. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

The film keeps asking us to identify with the sorority girls, portrayed by Irene Dunne, Kay Johnson, Florence Eldridge, and Peg Entwhistle, among others. But it also keeps showing us the remains of this group’s adolescent clique-y-ness and their complete gullibility, so that, though the maniacally evil Ursula has the most exaggerated eyeliner caught on celluloid until Divine made his debut, she is the most consistently watchable and interesting character. Mostly the film is a soap-y curio from a time when every house had a Ouija board. Don’t try to make too much sense of it, just suspend your disbelief and enjoy this showcase for Loy’s gorgeous looks and make-the-best-of-it dramatic talents.

January Movies (whew!)

I seem to be perpetually short on time so I thought I’d make a nice list instead of those long, drawn-out posts I like so much 😉

Dude, get out of there! Hurry!

I really liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (4 out of 5 stars). I usually like espionage movies, and of course there is the cast (some of whom are wearing some pretty great suits). Even if just any two of these guys was in it, I’d have gone, plus I am no longer ignorant of Benedict Cumberbatch. (Don’t judge the gaps in my knowledge! OK, go ahead…but at least leave a comment.) There isn’t a lot of shoot-’em-up behavior, but it is suspenseful nonetheless, especially if you get nervous when spies are spying on each other. Shoot-’em-up is fine too, though. This Means War? I’m so there.

I really liked Shame, but in a different way (4.5 out of 5 stars). It’s nearly perfect in itself but I don’t think I could see it again. I found it as depressing as I thought it would be from reading the script, although a lot of stuff in the version I read didn’t make it into the finished film. There’s no question that Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan deserved Oscar nominations. Both actors suggested so much in a non-showy way, without much dialogue, and I believe those performances are actually what kept Academy voters away (in addition to the subject matter). I’d have given it 5 stars if there had been just a little bit more backstory about Brandon and Sissy. What is the significance of “New York, New York?” Why is Brandon obsessed with the Standard Hotel? You know that cool girl in your high school that wore vintage years before it was cool and always looked fabulous? That’s Sissy…but what happened to her after that? You won’t find out in this interview Fassbender did on Canadian TV show The Hour but I’m throwing it in here because it’s pretty interesting.

Charlotte Rampling as Mary (center)

I really liked The Mill and The Cross (4 out of 5 stars). I wish there was a movie like this for every painting. It’s difficult to describe it. Again…not a lot of dialogue. It basically shows Brueghel’s (Rutger Hauer) inspiration for each figure and situation in the work. It’s a meditation on the creative process, a record of the human condition in Flanders in the 16th century (hint: lousy), an invective on humanity’s inhumanity, and a powerful statement in favor of the separation of church and state. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen, definitely go. Much will be lost on even the biggest home TV.

I loved The Artist (5 out of 5 stars), it’s just brilliant. It’s also laden with homages and tributes to Old Hollywood and the early 20th-century silents — a feast for classic movie fans. Still working on a larger post on this theme.

This month I also decided there should be ejector seats in cinemas (5 out of 5 stars). People who are talking/yelling, chomping loudly on gum, crinkling candy wrappers, talking on a cell phone, texting, tweeting or IMing can be removed in a speedy and efficient manner. Alternatively, should ejector seats prove too costly, perhaps two auditoriums can show the movie at the same time — talkers in one, silent types in the other. I’m kidding…sort of 😉 The stillness of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Mill and The Cross was almost wrecked. That was my non-classic moviegoing month of January 2012, how was yours?

 

 

 

Review: A Dangerous Method

I was a bit reluctant to see A Dangerous Method. Carl Jung’s ideas about the collective unconscious, synchronicity, archetypes, and the anima/animus were revolutionary at the time and still make a lot of sense to me. If you’ve ever taken a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that’s based on Jung’s concept of extroverted vs. introverted personalities. But the trailer sort of made it seem like I was going to have to title this review “Carl Jung Did More Than Feud with Freud and Sleep with His Patients.” Though Jung did have differences (and a messy breakup) with his onetime mentor Sigmund Freud, and at least two extra-marital relationships, there is so much more to the life and work of one of the 20th century’s greatest minds. And thankfully, A Dangerous Method is a better film than its trailer.

It is true, Jung was unique in his time for his emphasis of feminine consciousness, and he had many female patients, students, and colleagues, many of whom worked closely with him when they became analysts and/or researchers in their own right, well before women were the norm in the field. Method is about the relationships between Jung (Michael Fassbender); a woman who was all of the above plus Jung’s mistress, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley); and both of their relationships, a kind of intellectual triangle, with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Also in the mix are a couple of polar opposites —Emma, Jung’s rather uptight wife (Sara Gadon), who knows all, and Otto Gross, a libertine student of Freud’s (Vincent Cassel), who avoids repression of any urge.

Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein.

Sabina Spielrein was the first patient Jung attempted to cure with Freud’s “talking cure,” the basis of modern psychoanalysis. The danger of this method is transference, in which the patient transfers their feelings, often romantic or erotic feelings, to the therapist. The film opens as she’s in the midst of a nervous breakdown, being admitted to the Burghölzli, a psychiatric hospital at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, where Jung is assistant director. She’s volatile and disturbed, but she’s smart and educated, not to mention beautiful, and she responds well. Because her stated ambition is to become a doctor, she is soon helping Jung with his research, while he’s still treating her. She is admitted to a university and they work together. Eventually, Jung and Speilrein become lovers.

Freud and Jung before it all went downhill.

At the beginning of the film, Jung and Freud haven’t yet met. When they do, they have a 17-hour conversation and Jung is deemed heir apparent to Freud. “I’ve simply opened a door,” Freud tells Jung. “It’s for the young men like yourself to walk through it.” But as their collaboration continues, it seems like Freud would rather slam the door shut than let Jung take over. Freud thinks all neurosis has a sexual cause, and Jung believes that there are other factors, including spirituality and individual personality. Freud, almost 20 years older and set in his ways, is more and more reluctant to hear the younger man’s ideas. We see the authoritarian, almost tyrannical, side of him, and the cold and ruthless streak in Jung. Spielrein is caught in the middle — her love is with Jung but her mind takes her nearer to Freud.

The acting is uniformly great. Fassbender and Mortenson are excellent of course. Gadon is appropriately controlled. Cassel has an interesting cameo as Gross, who sets the stage for Jung and Spielrein’s relationship. Gross seems like a representation of Jung’s desires; we never see him talking to anyone else and he says so many things that Jung wants to hear.

But the real surprise to me was Keira Knightley. She shows you Sabina’s struggle, intelligence,  and persistence. Even when she’s in full breakdown mode, she manages to suggest that there’s something more there, whatever it was that allowed a mental patient to become an analyst herself. I even liked her accent. I figure that’s what a Russian immigrant in Switzerland would sound like. I thought she deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination but with the field so crowded with excellent performances, I knew it was a long shot.

Jung’s ideas are fairly abstract but the movie does a good, if somewhat sensationalized, job of explaining both his and Freud’s ideas. Christopher Hampton wrote the screenplay, an adaptation of his own play The Talking Cure, sometimes using Jung’s and Freud’s exact words. The language is beautiful and delivered well, be it smooth, violent, or repressed. Ultimately the film is beautifully shot but never fully sheds its stage-play origins. That’s a small price to pay though, when you’re witnessing a revolution.

PS: If anybody wants to read up on Jung, I highly recommend Introducing Jung written by Maggie Hyde and illustrated by Michael McGuinness. It’s like a comic book and it really explains things in an effective and painless way.

 

 

 

 

Film Noir Friday – TOUCH of EVIL

I’ve had a horrendous case of writer’s block this week, trying to come up with something original to say about Orson Welles’ 1958 film noir masterpiece, Touch of Evil. As I noted last August, it’s practically impossible to say anything that hasn’t already been said about Welles and his work. After all, there are countless books and movie blogs rightly singing their praises, and Touch of Evil has long been regarded as a great of the film noir genre. But I’ve got to add my $.02 because Detroit Film Theatre is showing the film on Saturday, January 14 at 4:00 p.m. as part of their DFT 101 series. So I’ll just list why I’m so looking forward to this opportunity to see it as it was meant to be seen:

  • Touch of Evil is arguably the last in the film noir classic cycle. Welles’ own Citizen Kane is considered an important influence on what would eventually come to be known as film noir, and it’s clear that he had mastered the elements of film noir style, exemplified by his use of chiaroscuro lighting and subjective camerawork. Welles also wrote the film’s script, which contains most of film noir’s thematic elements. A hero (Charlton Heston as a Mexican narcotics officer named Mike Vargas) lost in a labyrinth of shadiness and duplicity, shadowed streets, corruption, and seedy characters. In Welles’ hands, it’s a feast for the eyes.
  • Welles also stars in this, his last American film, taking on the role of corrupt, alcohol-soaked cop Hank Quinlan. Quinlan’s jurisdiction is Los Robles, a seedy town on the Texas side of the U.S.-Mexico border where all sorts of crime occurs, but Quinlan seems to be the worst. We see him slowly losing even the pretension of moral authority, as he conspires against Vargas, endangers Vargas’ wife (Janet Leigh), plants evidence, drinks to excess, and generally acts as judge and jury, convicting anyone he doesn’t like, usually a Mexican.

 

  • It will be a joy to see the film’s opening sequence, a three-minute, 20-second long take, on the big screen. We are shown a bomb being armed and concealed in the trunk of a Cadillac, which we then follow over the border in an amazing continuous shot, that ends with the explosion of the bomb.
  • As Tana (Marlene Dietrich) might have said about the 1958 version of Touch of Evil, “Honey, you’re a mess.” Welles wasn’t allowed to control the film’s final cut. The studio’s version placed the credits over the long take, added a musical soundtrack to it, and added some scenes to the rest of the film —  apparently the film’s plot was deemed to intricate for the average moviegoer. Thankfully, DFT will be showing the 1998 restoration, which was based on a painstaking 58-page memo Welles sent to the head of Universal Studios (who ignored it), so that what we see on Saturday will be as near to what Orson Welles intended as possible. Don’t miss it!

The DFT is located on the John R side of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Avenue. To purchase tickets, call 313.833.4005 or visit the DFT Ticket Info page.

Eames: The Architect and The Painter

This weekend I had the good fortune to see a film that, though of recent vintage, will appeal to those who appreciate the classics of design. Eames: The Architect and The Painter profiles the highly influential American designers Charles and Ray Eames, who participated in and influenced just about every form of art and design there is…print design, film, interiors, furniture, photography, packaging, toys, etc. This documentary is the first about the Eameses and, and as promised, traces “their personal lives and influence on significant events in American life – from the development of modernism, to the rise of the computer age.”

If you ever saw the film Powers of Ten (or one of the many versions that followed), you’ve seen the work of the Eameses. (If you haven’t seen it, take 9 minutes and watch it. It’s all the more mind-blowing when you realize it was made in 1977.) Charles and Ray were a married couple (not brothers, as I thought when I first read about them) who managed to combine life and work into one seamless existence. The film is pretty honest about the complexities of their relationship; among other issues, contemporary society’s perception of women left Ray in the background at times. But it is also a celebration of two uniquely American geniuses whose united creativity and resourcefulness yielded innovations that will live on forever. Highly recommended for design junkies, history buffs, and anyone who wants to understand how those super-cool chairs came to be.

The documentary is quite impressive on the big screen, but if you missed it in the theatre, you can still catch it on PBS as part of the American Masters series. It will on air on WTVS-56 on Monday, December 19 at 10 p.m.

Kudos are in order to Cass City Cinema (CCC) for picking Eames up for the only Detroit-area theatrical showing. CCC is a new venture set up in the same location as the Burton Theatre, a former elementary school in midtown Detroit. It’s only been open since Halloween but has featured some interesting films. It offers an appealing cinema experience in a small vintage auditorium, complete with hardwood floors and old-school seats, and fresh popcorn and Faygo or Mexican Coca-Cola to complete the scene. The staff are dedicated film bufffs and really interested in featuring what people want to see. Upcoming films include Gus Van Sant’s Restless showing November 25-27, and Christmas favorite Love Actually for Midtown Detroit’s Noel Night, December 3.

CCC is located at 3420 Cass Avenue in Detroit. Tickets are $5 and are available at the door a half-hour before showtime or online by using CCC’s contact form.

Stagecoach

Westerns were some of the first movies ever made, and they never really seem to go out of style. Look no further than your multiplex for confirmation — Cowboys and Aliens is opening this weekend. And at the Detroit Film Theatre on Saturday, there is also the opportunity to see one of the most significant and influential of the genre on the big screen: Stagecoach.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Westerns, but it is rare that one is as influential as Stagecoach. This is one of those movies that seems cliché-ridden because it has been borrowed from so many times. The plot may sound familiar even if you haven’t seen it: In the 1870s, a group of people from all walks of life board a westbound stagecoach. Everyone is worried about Geronimo’s Apaches attacking, but for various reasons must make the trip anyway. They are escorted by a marshal and along the way pick up an outlaw, the Ringo Kid, who has escaped from prison to avenge the murder of his family.

The characters are familiar: the disgraced doctor (Thomas Mitchell), the outlaw (John Wayne), the woman of ill repute (Claire Trevor), the society lady (Louise Platt), the dim bulb (Andy Devine), the pompous bank manager (Berton Churchill), the marshal (George Bancroft), the gambler (John Carradine), and the fastidious city gent (Donald Meek). Its conventions have been adopted, not only in westerns, but in nearly every other genre as well. For instance, the idea of people from varied walks of life being thrown together in life-threatening circumstances has been recycled endlessly. I am reminded of the Airport movies and Blazing Saddles; other reviewers have mentioned Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, The Maltese Falcon, Hotel, and Joss Whedon’s unfortunately-short-lived TV series Firefly. And Orson Welles allegedly screened it 70 or more times before he made Citizen Kane.

But the same elements that we now take for granted would have seemed novel when the film was released in 1939, as did its social commentary, which hadn’t really been employed in a Western before. The stagecoach is rife with socio-economic tensions. The lady refuses to sit with the prostitute. The Civil War wasn’t that long ago; the gambler and the doctor were on opposite sides. Director John Ford’s sympathies clearly lie with the outcasts — the doctor, the prostitute, and the outlaw — and there is much here that questions whether “civilization” is really civilized.

And something about it stays fresh. The characters manage to transcend their stereotypes, mostly due to sophisticated storytelling and great acting. The drunken doctor and the city gent redeem themselves. The secret, possibly scandalous connection between the society lady and the gambler is only ever hinted at, with looks and gestures. The outlaw leads by example.

Wayne, as the outlaw, gives one of his best performances. Sometimes his later Western characterizations seem almost self-parodying, but this one is fresh and likable, and he has solid chemistry with Trevor. It’s interesting that reportedly producer Walter Wanger was reluctant to cast Wayne because The Big Trail, Wayne’s first starring role, also a western, was a big flop. Wanger may also have been reluctant to increase his risk because Westerns were less popular since the advent of sound, due to the difficulty of recording outdoors. Ford pushed for casting Wayne, and then, rumor has it, so stressed him out during the filming, that Wayne forgot he was acting with more lauded talent like Trevor and Mitchell. Whatever Ford did, it worked. Wayne held his own, and this film, the 80th of his career, made him a star.

This film was and is also remarkable for its setting. John Ford loved Monument Valley in Arizona; this is the first of many films he eventually shot there. Whether it was the stunning natural beauty of the area or its remoteness from studio interference that took his fancy is anyone’s guess. But it is certain that the setting and the film will both look their best on the big screen, as they were meant to be seen.