I continue to study the Western genre. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Western films. Listen here
To make a good “revisionist” Western, I believe you have to be in love with the genre. In the case of Peter Fonda’s masterful The Hired Hand, I think his heart was rooted in a deep appreciate of the Western. If Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is one of the best revisionist Westerns, it’s because Sam Peckinpah loved the tradition of the Western and had even served that tradition with his strongest work. But when it comes to Monte Hellman, I don’t think he loved Westerns or even understood them and that’s abundantly clear in The Shooting.
Even at 82 minutes, this film feels long. It plodded along and tried my patience, not because it lacks action (which it does) but because it’s characters are poorly written. Every character is a device, not a real person, and every one of them is pretty flat. Millie Perkins’ character is so non-sensical and annoying that it’s impossible to understand how she might be attractive to Will Hutchins, however simple he might be. Hutchins is committed to his kind-hearted, dimwit but I didn’t believe half of what the writer and Hellman had him do. Warren Oates tries his best but somehow he can’t even make breathe much life into the picture. Jack Nicholson, always fun to watch, might be on every poster for the film but it takes over a half hour for his character to show up. When he does, he had at least adds a little danger to the proceedings but ultimately, his character is another facade, a Western structure with one side only.
So much of this film plays like it was made by someone who had never made a Western before. I mean, does anyone really believe Millie would get away with randomly firing her gun to signal Nicholson as many times as she does before they finally pick up on what she’s doing? Does any Western fan buy the way Hellman stages the showdown between Hutchins and Nicholson? It’s all phony and worse, it thinks it’s smarter and more philosophically advanced than the genre. It’s quite the opposite.
Surprisingly, I liked Ride in the Whirlwind, the other Hellman/Nicholson Western made back to back with this one. I credit that Nicholson, who wrote the script. Once again, I think he truly loved the genre and understood it enough to provide a “revision”.
Watched on Criterion Channel.