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 Twelve: The Deadly Companions & Support Your Local Gunfighter
The Deadly Companions
This was my first encounter with Peckinpah’s feature debut. I can see why many have ignored the film or left it out when discussing the filmmaker’s work. However, for all its flaws, The Deadly Companions still has a lot of worth.
The major problem lies in the heart of its best plot point: the idea that a man accidentally shoots an innocent boy and must help his mother bury the child. It’s a great, conflicted beginning for a Western. The trouble is, I never quite believed that Brian Keith, as good of an actor as he is, was truly haunted by this act. This would be devastating and that’s never reflected. He seems far too accepting of the mistake, certainly determined to help her but never grasping the finality of what he’s done. The whole film could have mostly been about that and it would have been far more effective as a character-drama/western.
Instead, it frequently gets distracted, especially with its two villains, Steve Cochran and Chill Wills. I never believed these guys and they fall quite short of the scallawags Peckinpah would go on to create in other films. Wills is definitely miswritten and misplayed. He isn’t once scary, just a lazy buffoon. It is also never explained well nor quite plausible that he wouldn’t recognize Brian Keith (the whole purpose of the revenge plot). Cochran is a little better but, except for his harassment of Maureen O’Hara, isn’t really that bad. If what I read last night is true and Peckinpah wanted Keith to kill Cochran, I have to admit the studio and/or O’Hara’s version is better. Ultimately, these two “bad guys” deserve to bumble their way into death.
The best parts of the film are the interplay between Keith and O’Hara, the Apache’s hunt for both of them, and Keith’s insistence on never taking off his hat (I won’t spoil that one).
This Western had some surprising similarities to one I wrote years ago and that will be part of my 12 Westerns. It’s called Heart of the Gun.
Seen on Amazon Prime.
Support Your Local Gunfighter
This film I chose specifically to start studying Western Comedies in preparation for a film I’m making: A Guide to Gunfighters of the Wild West. It has been too long since I saw Blazing Saddles so that one is definitely do for a re-watch and so is the underrated (at least that’s how I remember it) Mel Gibson version of Maverick.
But this is where I started. James Garner’s sometimes amusing romp was worth a watch more to see what not to do than an example of good practices. For one, I witnessed how too many bonkers performances in the same movie can be overwhelming. There isn’t really a “straight man” in this film; Garner is the closest it gets but really, everyone is just plain nuts. Something doesn’t quite work about that because there’s no one to react to all this madness in a logical way. Along those same lines, the comedy is all in your face. The one or two subtle moments of comedy are a breath of fresh air for what is mostly just a series of loud, in your face jokes.
There certainly is one amazing element of this film and that’s Jack Elam. He steals every scene he’s in, the best being when he decides to hold his ground and face a true gunfighter.
Some others have moments and Garner certainly carries it but the whole thing feels like they pushed too hard when they could have just let it play.
Seen on Amazon Prime.