Derik Badman's Journal

2021-08-19 20:32

John Ford's My Darling Clementine seems to get a lot of praise as a western (it's certainly been referenced a ton of times in The Western Reader that I'm reading this week) and it was entertaining, but... it feel a little flat for me. Henry Fonda is Wyatt Earp (yes, it's another retelling of the gunfight at the OK Corall), his youngest brother gets murdered while he and his other brothers are in Tombstone getting... haircuts and drinks. So he decides to become sheriff of the town and then... completely ignore trying to figure out who killed his brother until a clue is almost literally dropped in his lap. He shoots a culprit and then sends one of his brother's after him as the guy rides away. The other brother follows the guy to the house where that guy lives with his father and lots of brother, and for some reason the Earp brother goes into the house after the guy and of course gets shot in the back by the dad. That part is so stupid. Linda Darnell plays a Mexican entertainer in love with Doc Holliday, she's probably the best part of the movie, better than the woman Earp falls in love with (who herself is also in love with Holliday). For some reason Earp still leaves town in the end even though he's in love with the woman (the eponymous Clementine) and she is, by then, in love with him. The plotting just seemed off to me.

Ford's Stagecoach on the other hand, which I rewatched (really I barely remembered any of it, though I know I've seen it before) is a much more interesting and well plotted western. A cross-section of characters are travelling by stagecoach trying to avoid getting killed by Apache's and all after their own interests. John Wayne is probably as least annoying as he can be in a movie (he's very young). The plot nicely puts off any western gunfight until way way at the end, and then barely shows it. We see the bad guys. We see Wayne. And then he leaps to the ground firing his rifle and... cut away to showing the woman he's fallen in love with (prostitute with a heart of gold) hearing the shots. It's kind of anti-climactic in a good way. Though this is after a way too drawn out "Apache chase the stagecoach while lots of guns fire" scene that is the low point of the movie. It all feels a bit like it's been adapted from a novel (was it? I haven't checked) because there is clearly a lot more going on with some of the characters (a banker who seemingly... stole money... a Southern gambler who is using an assumed name for some reason) than we actually learn about, though on the other hand that feels really apropos for the setting, a bunch of people you meet while travelling, who you don't know and won't see after the trip is over.

I got Sam Fuller's Forty Guns from the library, mostly because Barbara Stanwyck is in it (though it came up in some list of westerns), and it is a weird one. Stanwyck is a powerful woman who for some reason has 40 guys who... follow her around? The movie starts with her on a white horse galloping down a trail with all these guys following her. Later, the protagonist marshall guy comes to her mansion to give a warrant to one of her guys and they are all sitting at this ridiculously long table with her at the head. It is hilarious and there's no way Fuller couldn't see that. The movie is punctuated with odd humor (the protagonist's brother falls in love with a young female gunsmith and has a really racy talk with her about guns). There's a bit of an "end of the west" "end of the gunslingers" talk/theme that is a bit undercut by the way shooting resolves most of the situations in the plot. There is also an amazing scene with the protagonist (and I watched the whole movie and am still not sure who the actor was, he is not particularly notable, even the Criterion feature I watched with a critic talking about the movie only talked about Stanwyck and never mentioned the guy) and Stanwyck out on the prairie when a tornado comes through and the old effects are really effective at making it seem dark, windy, and dangerous. Lots of interesting technical/formal elements that show off Fuller's skill. I'm not super familiar with his work (other then Pickup on South Street) and am wondering if I should look into some more. I know the French new wave guys really loved him as one of their auteurs.

I also watched my first Hou Hsiao-hsien movie Flowers of Shanghai. I was aesthetically interested in the movie (the color, a predominance of oranges punctuated by blues is striking) but was a little... meh on it as a whole. I'm not familiar with the milieu in general or specifically, having little experience with Chinese culture/lit/film/history or more specifically late 19th century Chinese "Flower houses", which are fancy brothels, kind of reminiscent of geisha, though we don't get any sense in the film that the women have any real artistic skills (like a geisha would). The movie is slow and requires a good bit of attention particularly because of how similar all the characters look (the men especially tend to have the same haircut which makes things tough). Hsiao-hsien uses long takes, letting a sense play out without any cuts, though he doesn fluidly move the camera around... at one point there is a cut and it took me awhile to realize it was just a cut to the opposite angle on the same room. In the context it was so unexpected that I thought a scene in another location had started. I... don't know how to evaluate my feelings on the movie. I didn't dislike it, but I didn't love it. I'll try some other movies by the director and see what I think.

Was woken up last night after an hour or so of sleep by the screeching alert on my phone about a tornado warning. We ended up getting up and sitting downstairs until the all clear, just so we wouldn't be on the second floor. I don't remember ever having even the inkling of a tornado warning when I was younger, but over the past few years we've had a few. It did give me time to finish the short novel I was reading The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada, which was... weird and disappointing. It had a kind of "is it fantasy, is it just really odd, or is this narrator crazy" aspect to it that was never resolved but also... never really felt like it mattered. I just didn't get the point of it. The blurbs and reviews seem so raving and I feel like it was just... weird and empty.