Monday, November 24, 2014
‘LONGMIRE’ TO RETURN ON NETFLIX
Craig Johnson’s lawman LONGMIRE has received a reprieve of his A&E death sentence not from the Governor, but from Netflix. Three months ago, fans of LONGMIRE, the modern-day Western that has attracted A&E’s best drama ratings for three years running were stunned to hear that it was being cancelled in spite of its popularity, because its audience was ‘too old’, and its fans’ money has pictures of dead presidents, instead of that dopey symbol on bitcoins.
No date is set yet on when Longmire will make its appearance on Netflix, but it will be sometime in 2015, and it will be a ten episode season. The story will continue moments after the cliffhanger ending of season three. Leads Robert Taylor and Katee Sackhoff are back, but being a cliffhanger, they’re playin’ it cagey about whether everyone will be back. More info as I get it.
‘THE HILLS RUN RED’ AND ‘APACHE’ – a DVD Review
While they’re an arbitrary pairing – one an American-made Western biography from 1954, the other a Spaghetti Western from 1966 – APACHE and THE HILLS RUN RED are an eminently enjoyable Western Double Feature from the MGM library, released by the Timeless Media Group.
Every Russian I’ve ever discussed Western movies with invariably tells me that his favorite growing up was APACHE, starring Burt Lancaster. While the film doesn’t have that big a reputation stateside, having now seen it, I concur with the comrades: it’s very good. I can also understand why the Soviet government allowed their citizens to watch it: it wouldn’t make you want to defect to the U.S. APACHE is the substantially true story of Massai, the last Apache warrior to be captured following the surrender of Geronimo. After escaping from the train transporting him to a reservation in Florida, Massai goes stealthily back, carrying on a one-man guerilla war against the Army and its associates. He also goes back to seek revenge against his one-time woman whom, he believes, betrayed him. Instead, they go off together, complicating his one-man war even further.
The film is produced by Hecht-Lancaster, the partnership of Burt Lancaster and dancer-turned- choreographer-turned-producer Harold Hecht, and their collaboration would produce some of the finest films of their time in many genres. They’d already made THE CRIMSON PIRATE, and they followed APACHE with the spectacular VERA CRUZ, and then the four-Oscar-winner MARTY. Later triumphs, many starring Lancaster, would include THE UNFORGIVEN (1960), BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962) and ULZANA’S RAID (1972). Based on the novel BRONCHO APACHE by Paul Wellman, the screenplay was by James R. Webb, who started out scripting Roy Rogers pictures at Republic, and would win an Oscar for his screenplay of HOW THE WEST WAS WON.
APACHE was the first important feature from a talented young TV director named Robert Aldrich, who would of course go on to make his mark on hyper-masculine films like VERA CRUZ, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE LONGEST YARD and, tough in a different way, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? This was no minor production. In addition to familiar California shooting locations like Vasquez Rocks, where the film opens, and Corriganville, for the fort sequence, the crew travelled as far as Arizona and New Mexico. Cinematographers Ernest Laszlo (Oscar for SHIP OF FOOLS, and seven other nominations) and uncredited Stanley Cortez (FLESH AND FANTASY, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) made full use of the beauty, and occasional desolation, which surrounded them.
The sequences of Massai’s single-handed guerilla war are original and energetic as only an acrobat like Lancaster could make them. And there are a number of sequences and plot elements that I’ve never seen before. Massai’s meeting with a westernized Cherokee is a standout, as is the scene where Massai, having escaped the train, finds himself, for the first time, in a town full of white people, and where virtually every object is unfamiliar and menacing.
True to the time of production, there are no actual Indians playing major Indian roles, although all of the performances are strong, and in no way demeaning. In addition to Lancaster, his woman is Jean Peters, Geronimo is Monte Blue, and Hondo, a despised Indian scout and traitor to the Apache is Charles Buchinsky, later Charles Bronson. The motley crew of white people, officers and accomplices, include John Mcintyre and radio’s Paladin, John Dehner. Lt. Col. Beck, the only soldier with a noticeable sense of humanity, is Walter Sande. The ending could not be further from what you would have predicted from the beginning, but make perfect sense.
In THE HILLS RUN RED, the Civil War has just ended, and pair of Confederate soldiers has fled in a wagon with a Union payroll. Their elation is momentary – the theft has been discovered and a detachment of bluecoats are gaining on them. Reasoning that there might be a chance for one of them to escape, they draw cards: high card to jump off the wagon with the saddlebag of money and hide, and low card to keep driving the wagon, and hope for the best.
Low Card, Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter), is caught by the soldiers, savagely beaten, and serves five years at hard labor for the robbery. When he gets out, he returns to find his homestead in ruins, his wife and son gone – and evidence that his ‘friend’ High Card – Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo), rather than telling the family that he’s in prison, has told them he’s dead! He also learns that his wife has died. (Niagara Falls! Slowly I turn!)
Jerry sets out to track down and punish Ken. Meanwhile, Ken has invested the stolen money and built a beautiful and prosperous ranch. His sister Mary Ann (the exquisite Nicoletta Machiavelli) lives with him, and has no idea her brother built his wealth by theft, and by letting a friend rot in prison. Ken knows when Jerry is getting out of jail, and sends his top gunman, Mendez, to find and kill Jerry.
Nicoletta Machiavelli & Henry Silva
Already a solidly plotted story – sounds a bit like a Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott movie – but it really takes off when Mendez appears, in the person of Henry Silva, in a wonderfully over-the-top performance, strutting around in black leather and cackling maniacally – and coveting his boss’s sister. Lucky for Jerry, Mendez underestimates him, sending a pair of flunkies to do a man’s work. They end up dead, Mendez determines to take care of the job personally, but Jerry has gotten himself an unexpected ally – a drifting cowpoke named Winny Getz, played Dan Duryea.
Duryea is one of several Hollywood stars, like James Stewart and Robert Taylor, who got better at tough-guy roles, especially in Westerns, as their faces took on some deep lines and signs of wear. Duryea, always a likable performer, had already teamed thrice with Audie Murphy in Westerns, most memorably in SIX BACK HORSES, and his lazy confidence with a deadly edge is a welcome addition.
Jerry makes plans, with Winny’s help, to infiltrate his old partner’s operation, and in a nod to history that’s unusual for films of its time, there are no photographs of Jerry, so Mendez and company only have Ken’s description to work with. There are a few moments that strain credulity, but plenty of action, and a satisfying conclusion. It’s a solid entertainment, straddling the American Western tradition, which was winding down, and the European model, which was in its heyday, coming the same year as THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and DJANGO.
Top-billed, Savannah-born Thomas Hunter had only previously appeared in WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? as ‘American G.I. #3’, but producer Dino de Laurentiis, who loved to pair big stars with new talent – witness FLASH GORDON, starring Max Von Sydow and Sam J. Jones – saw something special in Hunter, and would use him in several more films, including ANZIO.
Hunter is perfectly adequate in THE HILLS RUN RED, but did not become the star Dino had hoped for. Returning to the U.S. in 1969 for an episode of GUNSMOKE, he continued to act mostly in Europe, and later became a screenwriter, he and Peter Powell co-writing THE HUMAN FACTOR and THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. His last screen credit was acting in 1984’s THE ACT.
Nando Gazzolo, the villain of the piece, is fine in his role, but is hard for English-speakers like myself to fully appreciate because he distinguished himself starting in the 1960s as a voice-actor, for cartoon characters, narration, and looping actors who needed a better sound. Busy on TV and in features from 1958 until 2002, he was active in Westerns, sword and sandal films, comedies, and in 1968 starred in a miniseries as Sherlock Holmes. He turned 86 in October.
Director Carlo Lizzani, working under the awful American pseudonym of Lee W. Beaver, had been nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar for RISO AMRO (BITTER RICE) in 1949. He would go on to direct seventy features, documentaries and TV shows, mostly in Italy, but came to the U.S. in 1974 to direct CRAZY JOE, starring Peter Boyle as mobster Crazy Joe Gallo.
Screenwriter Piero Regnoli penned possibly the first Italian horror film – thus helping create an industry – LUST FOR A VAMPIRE in 1957, and after HILLS would help write the entertaining Sergio Corbucci directed, Burt Reynolds starrer, NAVAJO JOE. When he retired in 1994, he had 112 writing credits, in every genre of film Italy produced, among them a pair of Jack London-based WHITE FANG films, starring Franco Nero and Robert Woods.
The terrific score is by Leo Nichols – pseudonym for Ennio Morricone: need I say more?
This Western Double-Feature is available for $9.99 from Shout Factory HERE.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRANCO NERO!
As the unforgettable original Django turns 73 today, he is busily filming DJANGO LIVES!, playing his legendary character as a retired gunman, now livening in 1020s Los Angeles, working as a technical advisor on Western movies.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN DEHNER!
The Disney animator-turned-DJ-turned-actor who died in 1992 is best remembered by radio fans as PALADIN on the radio version of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. He also starred as the London Times reporter visiting the American West on FRONTIER GENTLEMAN; his distinctively rich baritone voice never tried to adopt an English accent, and no one ever asked why. On TV he appeared frequently on GUNSMOKE, RAWHIDE and THE VIRGINIAN, and turned up on just about every other Western series, as well as detective series and comedies – he was a regular on THE DORIS DAY SHOW, and appeared in many movies where a suave, mustachioed villain or good-guy was needed.
THAT’S A WRAP!
So, HELL ON WHEELS is done for the season, but we have one more season, with fourteen episodes, to look forward to on AMC. LONGMIRE will be back, on Netflix, and JUSTIFIED returns to FX , for its final season on January 20th! Next week I’ll be reviewing a book about a really long-running series, BONANZA – A VIEWER’S GUIDE TO THE TV LEGEND, by David K. Greenland.
Have you seen THE HOMESMAN yet? You should! Funny thing, I’ve had a few messages since my review, saying they’re sorry they missed it, or asking me if it will play again. I must repeat: it is a real big-screen, movie-theatre-type movie!
All Original Contents Copyright November 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Resereved
Sunday, November 16, 2014
THE HOMESMAN Press Conference
On Monday, November 10th, myself and at least a dozen other press types were ushered into the 8th floor ballroom of the Beverly Hilton to attend a press conference with HOMESMAN star Hilary Swank, and star and writer and producer and director Tommy Lee Jones. Also on hand were several members of Swank’s family, including her proud father whom, Hilary told us, had neither read the book nor seen the movie yet. We all agreed not to give anything crucial away.
Well, with that many reporters, you never get to ask all the questions you’d like, but most of the questions were interesting, and the answers were revealing – as you’ll see. Although I didn’t get to talk to him about it, Tommy Lee Jones is a very accomplished director of Westerns, having helmed three – more than any other Harvard man. In addition to THE HOMESMAN, he directed the modern-day THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA and the period THE GOOD OLD BOYS. With GOOD OLD BOYS he co-wrote the teleplay with J.T. Allen, adapting the great Elmer Kelton’s celebrated novel. It earned a Best Supporting Actress Emmy nomination for Tommy Lee’s COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER co-star Sissy Spacek. Similarly, with THE HOMESMAN, Tommy Lee co-wrote the screenplay with Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley A. Oliver, adapting the classic novel by Glendon Swarthout.
Q: The cinematography that you and (cinematographer) Rodrigo Prieto have created is a story unto itself. What were your considerations in the visual design that you created?
TOMMY LEE: Well, it was a journey eastward, and the destination had to look a lot different than the origin. And I got really tired of trying to figure out how we were going to make Galisteo, New Mexico look like bosky woods. We thought of everything, and all manner of computer-generated imaging, and phony trees, and it didn’t work. And we were very lucky to find Lumpkin, Georgia, where a man with a considerable amount of discretionary income tried to buy every 19th century home in Georgia and Alabama. He made a little town. It was perfectly suited to our purposes – we were very, very lucky to find that facility, because of the contrast between Nebraska and Iowa. We wanted the end of the journey to have a very different look and feel from the beginning of the journey. Pretty simple.
Q: How did you achieve the striking authenticity in the look of Nebraska in the 1800s?
TOMMY LEE: The first thing I should do is mention an itinerant photographer who traveled around Nebraska in the mid 19th Century, making his living taking photographs of people and their houses. He had a motif usually; he had a pretty wide lens, and he would feature 100% of the house, which is very useful to us in providing architectural details when we began to build these houses ourselves. And the people lead very isolated lives; photography was not a part of their lives. If they had a chance to have their picture taken, that was a big deal. The whole family would get out in front of the house with their best clothes on. And if they had a good crop of watermelons that year, they’d put a table, put watermelons on the table and cut one in half. If they had a piano or a melodeon, they’d bring it out of the house and get that in the picture. Granddad would be in the middle, and they’d all be there, posing with their guns – anything they were proud of. Wonderful record of costumes, hair, make-up – very useful to us.
HILARY: I just want to add that my aunt, who is sitting right behind (the reporter), and my family over here, they’re from Iowa. I was born in Nebraska; I come from a generation of farmers, too. My dad gave me accounts of our history, where our family goes to the early 1700s in Iowa, and there is one account that is shockingly similar to the story (of THE HOMESMAN), but I only read it three days ago, that my jaw dropped. And I just thought – wow! (To Tommy Lee) I couldn’t wait to tell you that. One of the things was, Indians shot one of my ancestors, John Swank, nineteen times, but he was against a rock, and he stayed upright, and they fled because they thought he was a spirit, because he didn’t fall over.
DUMB Q: But he was dead, right?
HILARY: No, he was a spirit. And he’s in this room right now.
Q: Hilary, you’re playing a character with so many layers of emotion, and you’re both showcasing them and holding them back. What toll does it take on you, physically and emotionally to play such a character?
HILARY: The things that Mary Bee was working through are not dissimilar to what we all work through in our lives. We all struggle to find how to be the best people we can be, and try to find love along the way. And that’s why to me it’s not just a period piece; it really parallels everyday life for a lot of people. And I relish the opportunity that I get to play these real slices of life, because even though it’s not based on a true story, in a lot of ways, as I was talking about in my account of my family’s history, it is real life stuff, and getting to do it alongside someone as esteemed as Tommy Lee, who has been doing it for so long, is such an honor as an artist. To me, Mary Bee is a woman who has manners and morals and values, and she wants to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. And we, in my opinion, have really lost touch with that as a society today. So there’s so many reasons why I love her, and so many reasons why I relate to her. Because, I’m an independent woman myself, who people would probably call bossy. I have a real clear idea of how I see the world, and how I want to live, and I want to see my dreams realized; I want to continue down my path. And so finding a man to walk shoulder to shoulder with me can be challenging. I think women today have that challenge. There’s a lot of reasons why I love her, and love the vulnerability of her.
Q: Hilary, can you talk about working with Tommy Lee as an actor, and working with him as a director?
HILARY: I’m not just saying it because he’s here, but he truly is extraordinary. Tommy Lee, he comes alive in a different way when he’s in that element of doing what he loves. With me it’s hard enough just figuring out my character, let alone wearing all the hats he wore as the co-writer and the director and the actor -- being at helm of all of those thing. I have to tell you that I didn’t want this to be over. I wanted it to continue going on. TV’s not my medium, only because I like to play a character and let it go, and find the next character. But if this could have gone into TV series I’d have been really happy. Because I really enjoyed it in every level as an artist, and all the things I was able to sponge up from this veteran, being under his guidance. Also when your director is also acting with you, there’s a shorthand; he knows how to say something in a few words, to get his point across.
Q: I am Japanese, and in Japan, everyone knows you as ‘Alien Jones’. (Note: Tommy Lee Jones has for some years starred in a very popular series of commercials for a canned coffee drink called BOSS, from Suntory. He plays an extraterrestrial studying Earth and humans, and is usually baffled or disappointed by everything he finds except for BOSS. This link will take you to a ton of the ads on Youtube: http://youtu.be/39MILG4txBk ) You are really funny in that TV ad, but in movies, you are kind of grumpy-ish. Which is the real you?
TOMMY LEE: I’m not sure that I understand your question. You’re asking about a dichotomy that I don’t see. I really love doing those commercials in Japan. I’m leaving in three weeks to make some new ones. It’s the most successful campaign in the history of Japanese advertising.
HILARY: (Clarifying the reporter’s question) Is it easier to be funny in those, or serious in your movies?
Q: (To Hilary) Thank you for translating.
TOMMY LEE: I don’t know; comedy is deadly serious business. It’s scary. I love being an actor; I’m always happy to have a job.
HILARY: I think what’s great is that he can do both. Because when people talk to me about Tommy Lee, they say, ‘He’s so serious and intense.’ Yet, maybe that’s what he wants to portray at that moment; you don’t have to show all the facets of yourself at one time. And that’s the great thing about being an actor; you get to share all the different sides we have in us. But I don’t think everyone can show all those sides, so it bespeaks of his talent that he can show all those sides and do it so well.
TOMMY LEE: Hilary, I want you to go with me for the rest of this –
HILARY: (agreeing) Deal!
TOMMY LEE: Deal. Because only you can both ask and then answer the questions. I’m sticking with you.
Q: Mr. Jones, how do you feel your experience as an actor prepared you to be a filmmaker, and how does it inform your work as a director and a writer. And what did you learn from your last experience as a director that you were able to bring onto this film?
TOMMY LEE: (to Hilary) What did he say? (after the laugh) My education as a filmmaker has been entirely practical. I started working professionally in the film business in 1970. And I’ve been at it steadily since; and I’ve paid a lot of attention. I’ve worked with some very good directors, and some very bad ones, and I’ve learned a great deal from both. From the bad, untalented people, you learn what not to do. And when you work with highly talented people, you want to emulate them. So as I said, my education has been practical, or on-the-job training. And every day is a bigger, broader, brighter day than the day before.
Q: And did you learn anything from the last film that you directed.
TOMMY LEE: It gets easier to budget my time, hour by hour. I suppose that’s a learning process.
HILARY: You learned not to give me a horse between takes because –
TOMMY LEE: Because you’ll leave!
HILARY: They started with a horse-wrangler, but he became a Hilary wrangler.
TOMMY LEE: I don’t want to talk about you as if you’re not here. She didn’t know a lot about riding horses or driving a team of mules, or plowing with a double-shovel. She worked at it until she could make a very convincing picture of all of those. And between takes, or when we did a turn-around – shooting this way, and then it takes a little while to turn the camera and look the other way –
HILARY: -- I was like Yee-haw!
TOMMY LEE: It got so I had to send a wrangler with a radio on his belt, to make sure she didn’t fall off in an arroyo somewhere, or have a wreck, or not know when to come back.
Q: So you learned to keep Hilary Swank on a short leash?
TOMMY LEE: No, I turned her completely loose, but I sent somebody with a radio.
Q: Hilary, your character has such a defining moment – I know your father hasn’t seen it yet, so no spoilers – but I wonder, when you read the script, did that change your opinion of her, and how you played her?
HILARY: It made me realize just how truly human she was, and how vulnerable. I say she goes where angels fear to tread. And with all these valiant attributes to her, there’s still that underlying need for love, and she’s human. And it made me realize I loved her all the more, not because of the choice she made, but because it’s relatable.
Q: There were several scenes where Hilary sang. Did you know that she sang, and was that a factor in her casting – (to Hilary) – because you sing so beautifully.
TOMMY LEE: No. The important thing is Mary Bee’s loneliness, and her hunger for some kind of culture. There’s a very telling moment in the early part of the movie, when she’s playing this scenes so beautifully with John Lithgow. She looks out the window through this beautiful light, and in this abstracted way says, “I don’t think I can live much longer without real music.” And that becomes telling. That’s more important -- we didn’t have any musical auditions. The important thing was Hilary’s sensitivity to Mary Bee’s character.
Q: Hilary, you were singing live for all those shots.
HILARY: Tommy Lee didn’t want to cut a lot. He said ‘I’m not going to cut around this. I’ll do two different set-ups of this, but I really want it all in one.’ I take great pride in the opportunities I get, and I didn’t want to let him down. So I tried my hardest, but I didn’t know how I was going to sound like.
TOMMY LEE: I think you sang that song six times, to get that scene. The essential thing about that scene was a dolly track that moved 180 degrees from this profile, to head-on, to that profile. We did that in two different sizes, medium and close, going in both directions. What saved us from editing was thorough shooting. Originally there were three verses to that song, but the movie doesn’t have time to stop and listen to all three of them. So it was edited to one third of its length, one verse and part of a chorus. It’s a beautiful scene. But what makes it work is that 180 degree dolly track. The camera’s always moving; there’s always something happening. As the camera moves, the candle gets behind her head and backlights her hair beautifully. You can’t take your eyes off of her in that scene.
Q: What were the elements of the story that motivated you to devote so much creativity and time to making this happen? And how easy was it to zoom in on Hilary as the right actress to play this role?
TOMMY LEE: There’s two questions. The answer to the first one is that the book offered us the chance to make a screenplay with some originality to it. And of course, our lives as filmmakers are a never-ending search for originality, desperately crawling for originality. Not always readily available. We worried about Hilary for probably two or three seconds. We met, and it was immediately obvious to me and to Michael Fitzgerald that Hilary was absolutely perfect. Of course I had seen all of her films before meeting her. But I knew immediately that if we could talk her into playing Mary Bee Cuddy, half of our job would be done.
HILARY: I actually read the script and emailed Tommy Lee, and he sat down with me. So there was no talking me into it.
Q: Is it a whole different challenge to you to direct the actors and actresses who do a whole lot of talking, and the three actresses who do practically no talking at all?
TOMMY LEE: No sir. Talking is just one of the things that actors do. Movement is another one. There are a lot of moving parts to the job of acting. But really, directing someone who doesn’t talk as opposed to someone who does; not a lot of difference. What you want is to get the feelings right. Sometimes words help. Sometimes they don’t.
HILARY: Most of the time you’re trying to figure out what’s happening between the lines, because that’s really the reality, other than what you’re saying.
MILES SWARTHOUT INTERVIEW
This interview took place before an eager audience during this April’s Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, at Melody Ranch, at the huge OutWest Buckaroo Bookstore (run by the same fine folks whose ad and link are found at the top of this page!).
HENRY: It gives me great pleasure to introduce Miles Swarthout, a very talented author whose writing about 90% of you have appreciated, even though you haven’t read it. Because he’s a screenwriter. This is the man who wrote the screenplay for THE SHOOTIST, John Wayne’s final film, and one of his finest. And in scripting THE SHOOTIST, he had the rare challenge not only of adapting a great novel, but a great novel that his own father, Glendon Swarthout, had written. Glendon wrote sixteen novels, and several became movies, including 7TH CAVALRY, starring Randolph Scott; THEY CAME TO CORDURA, starring Gary Cooper; BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN, WHERE THE BOYS ARE, and premiering this May at the Cannes Film Festival, THE HOMESMAN, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, and starring Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep. Welcome, Miles. Can you tell us a little about THE HOMESMAN?
MILES: THE HOMESMAN was a novel that my dad wrote, and came out in 1988. That year it swept the Western genre awards, winning The Wrangler Award, from the Western Heritage Association, affiliated with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, and the WWA Spur Award for the Best Western Novel of 1988. Paul Newman was the original director who bought the film rights to THE HOMESMAN. I worked on the original drafts, adaptations for Paul Newman. But Paul jumped around studios; the Writer Guild Strike intervened in 1988 for about six months, and several other screenwriters later on got attached to the project doing different drafts. Paul became too old to play the title role any more, as the rugged frontiersman, and had different stars attached to play the lead role. It just didn’t happen. He sold the rights back to SONY PICTURES/COLUMBIA, when he had Bruce Willis attached to play the homesman, but it fell into what’s called ‘development Hell.’ Nothing happened to it for a number of years – they couldn’t get it financed. Paul Newman died of cancer a few years after that. But Tommy Lee Jones was looking around to direct and star in another Western, and he had the same talent agency (as Paul Newman), Creative Artists, that remembered this book that Paul Newman had tried a number of times to get made with different stars. Tommy got the financing from his buddy, the French director Luc Besson, who has his own films studio outside of Paris, and his own film distribution company. Luc also financed Tommy Lee’s last western that he directed in 2005, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA. That was a contemporary western shot down in Texas. That won a couple of awards at Cannes in 2005. Creative Artists helped Tommy put together the cast for THE HOMESMAN. It’s fantastic: Hilary Swank, the two-time Oscar winner is Tommy’s co-star. Tommy Lee Jones is an Oscar winner for THE FUGITIVE with Harrison Ford, Best Supporting Actor. And they’ve got Meryl Streep in the movie – she’s got a cameo role. And Streep’s youngest daughter, her name is Grace Gummer; she has a bigger part in the film. John Lithgow, two-time Oscar nominee is in it. James Spader, who’s in the NBC hit THE BLACK LIST is in the film. They’ve got an Oscar-nominated cinematographer, and a two-time Oscar-nominated composer, Marco Beltrami, has done the music.
HENRY: Speaking of the cast, I understand that Barry Corbin is in the film. Hasn’t he worked with Tommy Lee Jones before?
MILES: He was in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, playing Tommy Lee’s father in that.
HENRY: The premise of THE HOMESMAN is a little outrageous. Could you give us a summary of it?
MILES: The Homesman is a claim jumper. It’s set in the 1850s, the Great Plains state of Nebraska. He’s a claim jumper, and some of the local residents take offense that he’s sitting on one of their buddy’s claims, while their buddy has gone back east to find a wife. They blast him out of this sod home that he’s roosting in, and almost hang him, and a spinster woman, Hilary Swank, comes along. She decides to let him go, because she’s just been chosen by a lottery system by the community, in this small frontier farming town on the Great Plains, to drive back east four women who have gone insane after this very hard winter. They’ve gone crazy, and they can’t take care of them in this remote area, so someone has to drive them across the Missouri River, the Big Muddy, and back to civilization.
HENRY: Have you run into any complaints about sexism – why do the women go crazy, and not the men?
MILES: Historically some of the men went crazy, too. They became raving alcoholics; they couldn’t keep them in the local jails. If they were disruptive and making people angry or uncomfortable, somebody’d just shoot them, but they wouldn’t do that to a woman. This is a very unusual story, a female-oriented Western, a mismatched couple running this wagon east with some women who have gone insane.
HENRY: Let’s talk about THE SHOOTIST. What was it like to adapt a novel to a screenplay with a man, not just the author, but your father, looking over your shoulder?
MILES: Well, that was my first screenplay adaptation, and you’re talking with the creative genius who made up the story in the first place, so he’s got a lot of good input. My dad did not write screenplays. He worked on the very first one for six months at Columbia Pictures, his best-selling novel, THEY CAME TO CORDURA. He was out in Hollywood, and he got job offers after that, to work for Burt Lancaster’s company Hecht, Hill and Lancaster, but he turned them down. He said no, I’m going back to Michigan State in East Lansing, to teach honors English. And I’m going to write other books, and I don’t want people telling me how to make changes and how to write stuff. So he gambled, and that turned out very well for him. His second novel was WHERE THE BOYS ARE, 1960, and it was a big hit for MGM, with Connie Francis singing the theme. But your question was about adapting THE SHOOTIST. And of course I showed him drafts, and we discussed stuff. I did get a screen credit on that. They did make a lot of changes. Don Siegel, the director, had another writer that he’d worked with before, a guy named Scott Hale, who was making changes on the set constantly, for Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, and big stars with big egos who wanted things adjusted and changed. So he wrote just enough of the rewritten script to get screen credit on the film. But luckily, it turned out, even though it was a very difficult shoot, in Carson City, Nebraska, and on the backlot at Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank. They had a lot of problems; Wayne came down with the flu and an ear infection. And he was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. They shut down filming, and he came back and got sick again, and they put him back in the hospital. They didn’t know if he was going to live, and if they could even finish the movie. So a lot of stuff had to be adjusted. It was the last film he ever made. His health deteriorated after that, and about two years later, John Wayne died. But the movie, even though he was feuding all the time of the filming with this tough director, Don Siegel, turned out very well. They had a great supporting cast. John Wayne was playing a gunfighter who was dying of cancer in the film. It was prostate cancer in the film. But Wayne had lost one lung a couple of years ago to lung cancer, and he knew at the time of shooting THE SHOOTIST that his cancer had come out of remission, and he didn’t tell the doctors and he didn’t tell the filmmakers. So he was obviously in some pain while making this movie. He’s playing a gunfighter dying of cancer, and he’s got cancer at the same time: talk about a movie that was hand-tailored for a famous actor as his last film. It just turned out very well.
HENRY: It certainly did. As you said, your father did not write for the screen, but by the time he wrote THE SHOOTIST, he was well aware that he had a real good chance of having his novels filmed. He’d had several movies already done very successfully. Do you think he had a movie in mind as he was writing the book? Do you think he thought of John Wayne?
MILES: No, he didn’t think of John Wayne. The original guy that the two producers, Bill Self and Mike Frankovich wanted to play the Shootist, was George C. Scott. And George C. Scott read the book and screenplay and said, “I’d love to do this. Don’t change one word of the script.” We thought that sounds great. But the producers took it around to all the studios with George C. Scott attached as the shootist. And all the studios went, ‘No, General Patton can’t be a cowboy.’ He’d already won his Oscar playing Patton, and they wouldn’t bankroll it. But Wayne at the same time had heard about this story, and he started lobbying for the role, because he was the right age, and with Wayne attached as the shootist, they got half of the eight million dollar budget from Paramount Pictures, for the North American rights. And they got the other half of the money from the famous Italian producer Dino de Laurentiis. He made that big monkey movie with Jessica Lange – KING KONG, and a whole bunch of other movie. Dino didn’t speak English very well, so he couldn’t read it; they had to tell him the story. And he said, “John Wayne, cowboy? Ya, he be good.” The Duke was cast, and then a whole bunch of really good ‘name’ supporting actors – Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Hugh O’Brien, all worked at lower than their normal salaries to be in this, because word had gotten around that Wayne’s health was pretty shaky, and it might be his last picture. Hollywood supports its own – particularly its legends like John Wayne. So that’s how they got a great cast, and the rest is film history. It’s now considered to be one of his five best Westerns. It’s past the test of time.
HENRY: I was just reading where Harry Carey Jr. was saying that while John Wayne got his Oscar for TRUE GRIT, and deserved it, he deserved it even more for THE SHOOTIST.
‘THE SHOOTIST’ SPOILER ALERT!
HENRY: The book is a very tight 158 pages, but still, no book reaches the screen without edits. What sort of changes needed to be made, to make it into a movie?
MILES: You have to cut out some of the characters. You have to trim it to get about a 120 page script – about a page a minutes. The ending of the novel is different than the ending of the movie. John Wayne dictated the ending of the movie, and there was a lot of controversy over this. In the ending of the movie, John Wayne has this big shootout in this fancy saloon. And he shoots Hugh O’Brien, and he shoots Richard Boone – who was a late addition. That was a different character than the character in the book. And John Wayne, after shooting these guys, and being wounded, and already knowing he’s dying of cancer – sort of committing suicide – the bartender comes out with a shotgun and shoots him – blows him in the back. So he’s dying, when Ron Howard comes into the saloon, the bartender is reloading. Ron takes Wayne’s Remington .44, and shoots the bartender, and kills the guy who shot John Wayne. And then, as dictated by the Duke, Ron throws the gun away. This is a kid, the Shootist is his hero, and he wants to be a gunfighter, too. But now that he’s killed a man, he throws the gun away, renounces violence, and goes home with his mother, played by Lauren Bacall. The problem with this ending is there’s no possible sequel. Hollywood loves sequels. In the book, John Wayne is dying. The kid doesn’t shoot the bartender, but John Wayne asks Ron Howard to kill him, ‘Finish me off.’ And the Ron Howard character says ‘okay,’ and he shoots him – it’s a mercy killing, and Wayne asked for it. And they had already made a deal in advance that Ron gets his two Remington .44 pistols. He takes them, and walks outside of the saloon – it’s a great ending passage. And people are asking if they can buy the guns, and what happened in there. The Shootist has killed all the hard-cases in El Paso, and suddenly, the kid is the one who killed The Shootist. And that’s the sequel –
HENRY: If I ever heard one! Somebody should write it!
MILES: (laugh) My new novel is called THE LAST SHOOTIST, and it’s coming out in October from Forge Books-MacMillan in New York City. And it’s the next six months in this kid’s life. The Shootist is dead, but this kid has got John Wayne’s matched pistols, and he’s got to flee 1901 El Paso, because the sheriff is after him. The sheriff wants those guns because they’re very valuable. The kid’s on the run, and he goes through various adventures in New Mexico with a wannabe novelist, and then on to Bisbee, Arizona, which was a copper-mining boom-town at that time. The character of the Shootist, my dad loosely based on John Wesley Hardin, who killed 44 men, and was a real gun-spinner. Hardin in real life had a special vest made up with leather pockets, so that he could cross-draw his guns. They tried to do that for John Wayne in the movie, made a special vest for him, but Wayne was overweight and too big, and couldn’t get the guns out easily from under his overcoat, so they had to go back to the six-guns in holsters on his waist. But I’ve changed that in my sequel. The kid is eighteen years old and has terrific hand-eye coordination, and he is the last Shootist. If you like the original, hopefully you’ll like my sequel.
HENRY: Speaking of your novels, I notice you have another, THE SERGEANT’S LADY.
MILES: That was my first novel. That was based on an extension of one of my dad’s short stories for the old Saturday Evening Post, and that won a Spur back in 2004 as the Best First Western Novel of the Year, from the Western Writers of America.
THE LAST SHOOTIST is now available, and if you’d like a preview, go HERE, to Miles Swarthout’s site, where you can read the end of THE SHOOTIST and the start of THE LAST SHOOTIST.
WED. COWBOY LUNCH A TRIBUTE TO AUDIE MURPHY AT THE AUTRY!
Every third Wednesday of the month, Rob Word presents ‘A Word on Westerns’ at the café at the Autry. A delicious repast will be followed by a discussion of the most decorated American soldier of the Second World War, who went on to be a popular Western movie star. I don’t know who the guests will be, but Rob always gets great speakers. It’s a free event, but you buy your own lunch, and it always is packed, so if you want a seat inside, get there early! Lunch is officially at 12:30. Enjoy!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CLU GULAGER!
Happy 86th birthday to the great Clu Gulager, who most of us Rounders remember best as Sheriff Emmett Ryker on THE VIRGINIAN, but who also starred as Billy the Kid on THE TALL MAN, and in dozens of movies and TV episodes in all imaginable genres. I particularly enjoy him in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, and in THE KILLERS, where he matter-of-factly introduces himself and partner Lee Marvin to Angie Dickinson, while Lee Marvin is shoving her out of a window. As a Cherokee, and as a working cowboy before he became an actor, he brings an authenticity to Western roles as few actors can. He’s also one of the most interesting, entertaining and insightful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to.
GLEN A. LARSON DIES – CREATED ‘ALIAS SMITH AND JONES’
Peter Duel and Ben Murphy
Writer, producer and composer Glen A. Larson is best remembered for series he created in the 1980s, including KNIGHT RIDER, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and MAGNUM P.I., but in 1971 he created the Western adventure comedy ALIAS SMITH AND JONES. Starring Peter Duel as Hannibal Heyes and Ben Murphy as Kid Curry, notorious train-robbers, they were offered pardons if they could keep their noses clean for a year, and they adopted Smith and Jones as cover names.
THAT’S A WRAP!
‘HELL ON WHEELS’ SPOILER ALERT!
Kasha Kropinski as Ruth
Hey, I didn’t mention that HELL ON WHEELS has been renewed for one last season, and will be jumping to fourteen episodes, one more than this year, and four more than all the others. Last night’s show was excellent, but I’m a bit heart-broken at losing Ruth. We all know she should have ended up with Cullen, but I guess we’re lucky she lasted this long. I remember my sister and I as kids watching BONANZA or THE BIG VALLEY. If any of the sons got serious with a woman, we’d place bets on whether she was a con-woman, or if she’d be dead by the end of the hour – it was always one or the other. But losing Ruth and Elam in one season is pretty cruel. Have a great week anyway!
All Original Contents Copyright November 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved