Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Forty Seven: Conagher
Conagher is probably one of the first Westerns I saw, probably at the age of 7 or 8 while living in Africa, and I haven’t seen it since. But in the recent months, I’ve had a strong desire to watch it again. Like Quigley Down Under, I found a VHS copy at the Lonesome Coconut Ranch where I’m staying during production on my Westerns so I popped it in the VCR for a fresh look.
What I discovered was something quite different than I remembered. It has far more action that I recalled, probably not enough to keep the attention of a child. I thought it was mostly a “talking movie” and was surprised to find the fighting to be terse and powerful, from the attack of the tribesmen on her cabin to the altercations Conagher has with the rustlers. Though impressive, my attention these days is more directed towards story and character and this film contains plenty of both.
For it’s first half, Conagher is a near masterwork. The way it balances the stoicism of a John Ford film and the simplicity of a Budd Boetticher picture with dark handheld photography and a romantic undercurrent is sublime. But then something happens about half way through the movie… bit by bit, it’s narrative starts to stray and get muddled. Conagher’s chase after the rustlers is at times exciting and other times redundant. He makes one too many trips to the woman’s cabin and I began to wait for the inevitable instead of hoping to see it come. The conclusion of the movie is particularly odd as we see Katharine Ross’s character in town for the first time, her appearance random and not natural to the world we’ve been living in. It feels like a rewrite really screwed this film up and it’s a damn shame. I still give it four stars but the impact of its first half is ultimately tainted by the sloppiness of its second. On one last note, I wish Reynaldo Villalobos, a cinematographer who directed only this an done other movie, had made more Westerns with Elliott. They were a good team here, a better fit than I’ve seen for other movies with the Western actor.
Seen on VHS.