Each Monday, I am sharing reviews of Westerns I studied to prepare for making 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 Ten: Doc & The Eagle and the Hawk
Alex Cox told me about Doc while we were making Tombstone-Rashomon. He was quite a fan of the film and I can see its influence on that film I helped create. On the other hand, my friend and mentor Gus said it wasn’t very good. Now that I’ve seen the film, I can see both perspectives.
Doc begins with a lot of promise. It feels very much of the time (not in a good way), reminding me in its first half of The Hired Hand, Peckinpah’s work, and other 70s revisionist Westerns. What stands out the most is Faye Dunaway. She really brings a life to Kate and hers is the only character who makes sense and stays consistent for the runtime of the film.
Keach gives a committed performance but he never quite feels at home as Doc. For a man dying, he looks far too healthier, better off even than Wyatt and most of the other characters. I like Harris Yulin as the famous lawman. The way the character is written and played is a fresh take on Earp but I can’t help wonder if the film had been more successful with casting flipped: Keach as Wyatt and Yulin as Doc.
Ultimately, it isn’t the acting that leads the film astray. It’s the script and the direction. The movie really loses its way in the second half, becoming jumbled and rushed. Motivations, especially with Doc, become confusing and inconsistent. I don’t buy his decisions in the latter half of the film. They certainly aren’t justified through everything we’ve seen.
It’s a good idea to make a film where Wyatt and Doc are not the heroes they’ve been made out to be. I love the lines near the beginning where Doc says, “We sound like bad people, Wyatt,” and the lawman responds, “We are”; I just wish they were in a better film.
Seen on DVD
P.S. If you get the DVD, notice that the menu art is not from Doc at all. It’s a shot from The Long Riders!
The Eagle and the Hawk
John Payne might be the most underrated talent of his generation. I think he stands up against any of the movie stars, especially in Westerns and Film Noir work.
About twenty minutes into this film, I could tell it wasn’t going to be bad and it wasn’t going to be very good either. It rides right down the middle and for that reason, there isn’t a whole lot to say about it. The film is mildly entertaining, mildly humorous, and in the end… just kinda mild.
And then for a few minutes, it becomes spectacular. Payne’s arms and legs are tied by the bad guys between two horses. The idea is to set the horses off running and that eventually his limbs will be torn from his body. It’s a pretty brutal concept for a film of this era. The movie just erupts with life in this scene and becomes thrilling for the first time. Dennis O’Keefe, who plays Payne’s buddy in this “Buddy Western”, sees him and dashes in on his horse to save the day. I won’t tell you what happens but in these five minutes the movie comes alive and even strikes an emotional punch.
Two thoughts about my own Westerns after watching this one: 1. I don’t really have a “buddy” film at this point and that might be worth considering. 2. I am definitely going to consider taking inspiration from that thrilling sequence. It would be quite a stunt to pull off (the original film used mostly rear projection) but hell, it would be memorable if I could do it!
Seen on Amazon Prime.
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