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 Twenty Five: Breakheart Pass & From Noon Till Three
More of a thriller in a Western setting than a “true Western”, Breakheart Pass is nevertheless a solid achievement in storytelling. I watched this film mainly because of its director, Tom Gries. I worked with his son Jon on my film Durant’s Never Closes and I have great affection for another of his Western films, Will Penny.
It takes a little while to get going but once it does, this mystery becomes quite suspenseful. Once Bronson is in full detective mode, I was wondering from one second to the next what might happen.
The stunt work and practical effects are outstanding and add so much to the building of tension. The action is well-staged and effective. In many ways, this feels like the precursor to Stallone and Bruce Willis movies that would come around a decade or more later like Cliffhanger and even the Die Hard series. But here, as in most cases, the original is better than those imitations because it keeps the action concise, not overblown, and focuses on story and character more than anything.
The final shot is great. Though Ireland was his wife, I am happy that Bronson expressed restraint with this conclusion, making it much more memorable and even poetic.
Seen on Amazon Prime.
From Noon Till Three
Coming off a good experience with Breakheart Pass, I thought I’d give this film a chance. Watching the trailer and reading a little about it, I expected an offbeat choice for Bronson and a mildly successful Western at best. What I discovered instead is a lost gem, an underrated masterpiece.
I cannot recommend this film enough, but only to viewers who can approach a movie without a preconceived idea of what it should be or the rules it should follow. This film moves in the most unpredictable ways, shifting from romantic comedy to a more sentimental romance and then somehow (amazingly) transitioning into a full blown satire. The latter genre is so hard to pull off and Frank D. Gilroy walks that fine line from scene to scene until the hilarious, dark ending.
Bronson perfectly subverts his action star persona without overplaying it. In fact, I’ve never seen him overplay a scene in any movie. This man deserves a career re-appreciation and this film would be one of the first to start with. Ireland, who often feels miscast or placed into Bronson’s films, is a perfect fit in this one. From her proper manner to her lustful desires and then her righteous attitude, the actress nails it.
I have written all this and barely discussed the film in terms of the Western genre. It is a Western, one that explores the legend of the West with a critical eye but without feeling pretentious or self-indulgent for a second.
When I finished From Noon Till Three, I was filled with that incredible energy that comes only after seeing cinema at its best. I have been thinking about it for days since.
Seen on Amazon Prime.