Each Monday, I share reviews of Westerns I’m studying 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 Thirty Three: Five Fingers for Marseilles & Invitation to a Gunfighter
Five Fingers for Marseilles
Not a perfect film by any means, Five Fingers for Marseilles is nevertheless one of the most interesting Westerns to be made in recent years for two reasons: 1. It’s an African Western. 2. It mixes modern and period style.
Both of these elements provide a fascinating landscape and environment to explore a Western story. Also, I like the set up with the five friends, the incident that tears them apart, and the idea of bringing them back together decades later. All of this is good but unfortunately the narrative that follows is quite uneven.
The film feels strong as it re-introduces us to the grown up versions of the characters but then quickly loses its way with the “Ghost” villain, an evil force who is never really explained nor does he ever seem to fit in the story, just an antagonist plugged into the plot. I kept waiting to hear how he connected to the characters’ journey only to reach the end of the film still with no clue. For lack of a better example, it reminded me of the recent poorly written Last Jedi/Star Wars film that strings you along with all this mystery about its villain and then boom… he’s dead and we’re led to believe he never really mattered in the first place. Some people call that clever and unconventional. I call it lazy storytelling.
I digress. The point is, Five Fingers for Marseilles has a lot going for it (including some well-staged action, strong cinematography, and solid performances) but it cannot rise above the flaws of its script to be much more than a unique twist on the Western genre.
Seen on Amazon Prime.
Invitation to a Gunfighter
This is my kind of Western: a slow burn, a psychological study, with minimal but explosive action, unpredictable and uncompromising. Whatever weaknesses this film has are made up by its ambition to do different with the Western genre.
It may not seem that different at first but Invitation to a Gunfighter moves in very daring ways as it explores the aftermath of the Civil War, the lives of soldiers on both sides as they return home, the mindset of a gunfighter, loneliness/infatuation in that same gunfighter, and the way a town of diverse people reacts to all of this.
It features striking and surprising scenes such as the first encounter between Segal and Brynner which did not go in the way I expected or the memorable sequence where Yul destroys as much of the town as he can with his own bare hands.
The most evident flaw in the film might be in the casting. George Segal is a good actor and I like him in many things but once again Hollywood fails to depict a Southern character here. He’s doing some kind of accent in the first part of the movie which doesn’t work and seems to soon vanish. I don’t buy Segal as a rebel soldier and honestly I struggle to see him in a Western setting at all. Some actors are just a better fit in urban/modern day environments.
But overall, this film has a lot of power and it has guts. That does a long way for me.
Seen on Amazon Prime.