Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Recent movies - Bad Company, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Gunga Din

Bad Company (1972) - Odd little "Western" featuring a very young Jeff Bridges as Jake Rumsey. Rented based on Nate Bell's recommendation via Netflix. It's about a straight-laced and up-tight kid named Drew who is dodging the Civil War draft and ends up in the company of Jake and several other dodger kids. The gang wants to make its way west, and intends to fund the expedition by robbing anyone it can.

While peppered with humor, Bad Company is also memorable for its dark and violent moments. When they try to steal chickens from a farmhouse at one point, the youngest kid in their gang is shot and killed. The camera pauses for a solemn moment on his tiny lifeless body before returning to the escape. It is a hard scene to watch. There is an equally violent but less emotionally damaging scene later when Jake and Drew take on a inexperienced but cruel gang of older gunslingers -- and win! I found myself cheering for the kids because it's such an unexpected turn but it's actually believable. It's a great action scene; written, staged, and executed nicely. Below is a shot from the end of the fight. The guy is plugging up his neck wound with his finger! Gross, dude. It's not played for sympathy; he's soon dispatched and we're still riding the high of triumph that the kids have had over these guys.

David Huddleston stands out as a gunslinger named Big Joe who turns up in several scenes mentoring the aforementioned older gang. One of the funnier moments is the first meeting between the two gangs as he supervises the older robbing the younger with helpful coaching. The scene ends on a memorable moment as Jake attempts to draw on him and we see how fast Big Joe is. Later, when Joe is caught by a US Marshal, there's a great scene where Joe is allowed to demonstrate his gun handling prowess to the younger deputies. It's a somber scene, as the Marshal and Joe know that the long relationship between them will finally end in the morning with a hanging. (Ironically, Jake gets in trouble because he wants to be more like Big Joe -- 25 years later we saw Bridges trying the opposite in The Big Lebowski.)

Bad Company is a movie with an odd feel. The relationship between Drew and Jake is the thing that drives the movie. It works pretty well, but I found myself interested more often in the ancillary stuff (as you can see in my "review," where the relationship is hardly mentioned). Jake is a fascinating character to watch, but Drew annoyed me, so it was tough to root for him.

Quick note on the guns: the movie is set during the Civil War era, and the guns are entirely anachronistic.  As you can see on the cover below, both boys carry Colt Single Action Armys, which were first patented in 1873.  This is common in pre-1960 Westerns, but not for a movie as late as 1972, and I suspect the director just didn't care about that aspect, as his armorers would surely have warned him of the error.  Metallic cartridge firing pistols are easier to deal with on a set, and he probably thought most of his audience wouldn't notice the error.

One last thing: I love Bridges' look on the DVD cover. I want to steal the costuming and color for one of my characters. It's very simple, but it's such a cool look. It misleads you about the actual movie, but on its own it's awesome.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) - Hadn't seen this one since becoming a gun nob, so decided to check it out again. I remember not really caring one way or another about it when I first saw it, but upon revisiting it, it's moved up in my list. A big reason for that is Chief Dan George's portrayal of Lone Watie. He's such a great character. Watching the making-of doc, Eastwood notes how he wanted to feature Native American characters who weren't simply stoic sages or angry savages. Lone Watie is such a funny guy, and the relationship he has with Josey makes the movie for me. There is also plenty of help from a fine supporting cast.

Gun-wise, how could I not love a scarred hero who carries dual Colt Walkers? Everyone's seen the iconic image of Clint wielding those two massive pistols. (In fact, there are several different such images, each of them famous.) This capture demonstrates the scale:

Later in the movie, he carries four pistols on him at a time. Love that. The scene towards the end where he advances on the villian dry-firing all his pistols is brilliant stuff.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie (featuring the beautiful Geraldine Keams):

"Only an Indian can do that."

Another favorite moment that uses the whole movie to build to the punchline: Josey spits tobacco everywhere throughout the movie. Probably spits 15 times or more. Usually to show his contempt for something or someone. He spits on this poor dog three or four times. Towards the end, when he's in the old woman's house, he goes to spit, but catches the old woman's eye, so he swallows it.

Gunga Din (1939) - Fun adventure movie. A young Cary Grant is a bit over the top with his goofy shtick and not-quite-believable accent. When it starts it takes you in several. It goes from Indian assassins killing Brits to a slap-stick bar-room brawl to talk of a treasure to a man's special relationship with an elephant. Finally it decides to be about war buddies who don't want their friend to get married, so they hook him into a rescue attempt where they will fight a horde of Thuggee death cult members (yes, the same Thuggees found in Temple of Doom). Oh, and Gunga Din? He's the water bearer who tags along with dreams of being a British soldier. Yep.

The fights in this movie are something special. Unlike other fake looking fights from this era, these are convincing and impressively choreographed.

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