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 Thirty Seven: The Grey Fox
I have wanted to see this movie for years, actually since my parents first talked about it when I was a kid. We all loved Farnsworth in The Natural and Anne of Green Gables growing up and the fantasy of a Western with him in the lead has lingered in my mind all this time. Thanks to my sister Jessica, I have now finally seen The Grey Fox and can report that it is no longer a fantasy but real… and just as good as I dreamed it would be.
The character actor is in almost every scene of The Grey Fox, showing that he could have led films as well as he supported them. He carries the picture with his usual nuance, quiet strength, and confident ease but here he also has the opportunity to explore more, creating a complex central character. What I loved about the portrayal of Bill Miner is that he seems completely reasonable while doing unreasonable things. He simply cannot stay away from being an outlaw; it’s part of his DNA, yet he goes about doing so in the most logical, gentlemanly fashion.
I also loved the episodic nature of the script, which reminds me of my own Blood Country and a couple of the 12 Westerns. They don’t bridge all the gaps in the story. There are asides and tangents that explore the world and characters without concern for the plot. The photography, even on this mediocre transfer, is simple but breathtaking. A shot with Farnsworth and another on horses, looking down at a man who has cut his own throat and laid up against a barbed wire fence, is one of the most stunning shots I’ve seen in recent memory. The film is long overdue for restoration.
The 80s might be the most overlooked decade for Westerns, giving us truly some of the greats and The Grey Fox belongs on that list. The late 60s and 70s westerns were often too on-the-nose with their revisionist ways. By the next decade, the genre had evolved but also settled in its new ways and able to comfortably make some of the best entries of any era. I may have to write a longer article on 80s Westerns once I have researched more of them.
Seen on DVD.