Rating: The Good – 92.5 Genre: Western Duration: 119 mins Director: John Ford Stars: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles
Bookended by perhaps the greatest opening and closing shots of any film, the image of the great western frontier captured from the dark recesses of the family homestead says it all. The Searchers is an awe-inspiring and sweeping meditation on family and uncharted territory (both physical and spiritual). It begins with the return of civil war veteran, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), to his brother’s home only for the family to be massacred a short time afterwards by a Comanche war party out for revenge. All are killed except for his young niece who they kidnapped instead and Ethan sets out after her but not necessarily with the intention of taking her back. Aware of this, his part Indian nephew sets out with him in order to ensure that his sister is rescued and not killed by the bitter and deeply prejudiced Ethan. The Searchers is a complex and deeply profound examination of love, devotion, and bitterness shot magnificently by a master director at the height of his powers. It also gives us the Duke’s best performance as he towers over everyone else on screen in both the physical and acting sense. It’s not an easy watch in parts but those darker moments are offset by some genuinely funny moments such as the fight between Martin and the fiancé of his would-be bride. But when it does return to darker territory the result is one of the most complicated and fascinating movie going experiences.
Rating: The Good – 85.3 Genre: Western Duration: 123 mins Director: John Ford Stars: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin
John Ford didn’t do one dimensional westerns and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is certainly no exception. James Stewart plays a senator who returns to the town where he made his reputation by killing a local villain years earlier. The film then jumps back to that time as he beings to recount the tale of how he made his name and of his complicated relationship with the one man who the outlaws were afraid of (John Wayne of course!).
The early scenes are beautifully crafted and set up the sentiments of the back-story in a touching and patient manner. There’s a wonderful sense of familiarity as we’re brought back to the time when the now booming town of Shinbone was ruled by gun law. Stewart is terrific in the lead and Lee Marvin made a mean outlaw but John Wayne is the most memorable as the fearless gunfighter forced to make a sacrifice.
As most of the action takes place in the town, we don’t have the wide sweeping shots that defined Stagecoach and The Searchers. However, this is still a great looking film as Ford gives Shinbone a character of its own through his trademark staging and use of light. All told, this is a more pensive and slow burning Western than we typically see but no less rewarding.
Rating: The Good – 90.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 109 mins Director: Alfred Hitchcock Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam
In many ways, Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock’s most audacious film. Not content with the controversial shower scene, he gloriously defies two major cinematic conventions with one fell swoop. One involves the switching of leads and the other, the switching of genres right at the end of the first act. The film starts off with Janet Leigh hightailing it out of the city with her boss’ money to start a new life with her man. Weather interrupts her journey and she takes shelter in the isolated Bates Motel tended by good old boy Norman Bates. Whether you’ve seen the rest or not, you know what happens but in getting there, Hitchcock brings us on a completely enthralling and original trip. Janet Leigh is perfect as the decent but desperate criminal on the run. There was always an alluring maturity to the way she carried herself on screen and it adds real substance to her character’s sudden capitulation to whimsy. Anthony Perkins does an outstanding job as the quietly charming motel attendant with a dark streak about a mile long. There’s a chilling believability to his character’s personality swings and of all the crazed murderers we’ve seen on screen, it’s fair to say his seems one of the most realistic. Martin Balsam pops up as he does in nearly every classic from around that time while Vera miles and John Gavin round off the cast nicely. Ultimately, however, Psycho is all about Hitchcock’s understanding of film, his innovation, and one of cinema’s most memorable scores courtesy of the equally legendary Bernard Herrmann.