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 Six: The Tall Stranger & Revenge of the Virgins
The Tall Stranger
The Tall Stranger is the kind of sturdy picture you can expect from Joel McCrea. It’s like an old piece of furniture that was made to last a couple hundred years, not break within just two.
The film never fails to entertain from the first scene to the last but, to my delight, takes some darker unexpected turns in its latter half. The revelation of Virginia Mayo’s past profession and the river fight that follows feels very close to my own Heart of the Gun climax. The moment when McCrea refuses to give in to the villian as he has a little boy hostage is shockingly dark and realistic: after saying the boy will die, the Western star simply responds, “You’ll die too.”
There are some really nice touches to the dialog as well. In Mayo’s final monologue about her history, I love the idea she expresses about “strength”, saying that it isn’t something you’re born with and can build, but something that comes through great pain. Minutes before, when she tells a character (who I didn’t even realize was supposed to be “Native” because he just feels like another of the ranch hands) that he’s wise, the man simply responds, “No. I’m Indian.” The statement feels full of subtext, speaking of the history of white and Native. But all these things are done without being obvious or overbearing. If you blink, you might miss them. One more line I couldn’t help loving: near the end when one character somberly says another is going to die, the wounded person says dryly, “Me? Die? Wouldn’t that be something to see.”
It’s not surprising to that this film doesn’t get more lip service. It’s totally un-flashy, full of subtle touches, and has absolutely no “profound” message or statement about life. It is a true Western, a good one, and it will be just as good in two hundred years.
Seen on Hulu.
Revenge of the Virgins
I’ve had this on my queue for a while now, too curious about its title and concept to pass it by. The film is on one hand ridiculous and cheap; on the other, it’s far better than I could ever imagine it to be.
What makes this part-nudie Western worth watching is its simple plot and execution. Outside of the wandering trip of topless white natives, we follow a group of hopeful prospectors who grow increasingly more tense in their search for gold, eventually leading to their fate. No, this is no Treasure of the Sierra Madre with boobs but it surprisingly held my interest as the characters turn on each other and fight it out in the wilderness.
I would honestly take another one like this over the bloated flashy big-budget Westerns of today like the new 3:10 to Yuma or The Hateful Eight.
Seen on Amazon Prime.