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Posts Tagged ‘Woody Strode’

SHALAKO (1968) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

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Stars – Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot, Stephen Boyd, Woody Strode, Honor Blackman
Director – Edward Dmytryx * Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

What is with this obsession to have a theme song in westerns? We heard Do Not Forsake Me over the credits and throughout High Noon (1952). There‘s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) sung by Gene Pitney. Then there is Chisum (1970) another John Wayne film with Merle Haggard asking in a gravely voice if Chisum can still keep going on. And what about that chorus of singing in Navajo Joe (1966) with Burt Reynolds? The Sons of The Pioneers ask What makes a man wander and Ride Away in The Searchers (1956). The Wild Bunch (1969) didn’t have any songs about Pike Bishop, they just rode in and started shooting. In this one we get to hear another chorus singing against a huge string section letting us know that , “Love came to Shalako”. That’s not really a complaint. But as someone who loves westerns there just seems to be an inordinate amount of theme songs going around. Some good, some bad but way more than necessary.

Thanks to the James Bond films Sean Connery had tremendous appeal at the box office. There was definitely a search for other vehicles for him to star in. The Hill made right after Goldfinger with Sidney Lumet directing was an exceptional picture but not real popular. A Fine Madness made after Thunderball was just kind of weird. The trailer shows Connery playing the part of a mad poet who seems to be punching a series of women in every scene. Shalako followed You Only Live Twice and is a much better fit for him. Here he plays a former cavalry man who keeps to himself. He spots a party of rich European dilatants who are hunting in Apache territory. Countess Brigitte Bardot has gone off with only one man for protection. The man is ruthlessly stacked out on a spear and left to die. Shalako rescues the Countess. Surrounded by the Apaches they give their word that they will leave. Once back at camp the pompous aristocrats refuse to be run off by a bunch of savages.

The rest of the film is a series of power shifts from the cowboys hired to escort the hunting party led by Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur) to the rich hunters and finally to Shalako the only one who can hope to save them. Prior to the real fighting the script builds up the Apaches as a band of very fierce fighters. This is something that The Stalking Moon released the same year also did well. The action scenes were staged by Bond stuntman Bob Simmons. His work is very assured and exciting. There is an extended scene where one of the women is tossed around and taunted as her clothes are ripped off. It’s an unsettling sequence that serves to place the attackers in a frightful light. In an interesting twist of character one of the elite hunters leads the party up a mountain to evade the coming onslaught. The party has to climb ropes and work their way up the treacherous mountain. The sight of someone dangling from a rope as they swing helplessly over the rocks below is a clever change of pace.

Sean Connery is a terrific lead. He is always commanding and cool. He rides well and is believable as a western hero. A brief bit of text at the beginning explaining how Europeans came to America then helps defray any qualms about his accent. Honor Blackman who appeared in Goldfinger with Connery plays against type as a distasteful manipulative bitch. Early on you know her character won’t make it through the picture. Woody Strode (The Professionals) who is always good to have on hand in any western winds up with the part of the leader of the marauding Apache. A bit of research reveals that the bulk of his party were made up of Gypsies local to the shooting location in Spain.  Shalako remains a decent western and one of the films that helped Connery to break away from the James Bond secret agent casting trap.

Video – 2.35:1
As the credits play it looks like we are going to be in for a rough ride. Titles get a trim off the top and sides. They are fair at best. However once the film proper starts with an exterior sunlit close up of Stephen Body things look a whole lot better. The bulk of the close ups and medium shots outside look good. Colors are fine and detail is okay. However some of the long distance shots appear soft and washed out. Landscapes which normally are striking in these films get a generally poor showing. Once in awhile we’ll see a beautiful looking wide shot but not all the time. Though the transfer may be fine the original elements offer up an inconsistent image. It is always watchable but often feels lacking.

Audio – DTS with subtitles offered in English
Dialogue is clear enough and easy to follow. There is a real plethora of accents flying about here.

Extras – Commentary by Alex Cox, Trailers

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Good

Movie – Good

The Revengers (1972) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

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Stars – William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Woody Strode, Susan Hayward
Director – Daniel Mann

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Revengers has the makings of a good western. Looking at the cast and the advertising you’d expect a cold blooded tale of revenge with no holds barred. You almost get it, too. Set right after the civil war, a good man’s family is massacred leaving him with nothing but a thirst for revenge. He sells everything and recruits some bad hombres from the local prison to set out after the man with one white eye who led the band of cut throats responsible.  This man Benedict won the medal of honor during the civil war but his morals will be twisted and turned inside out by the time he reaches the man he wants to kill more than anything in the world. William Holden is a solid actor easily capable of tracing this character arc during the course of the film. One of the prisoners thinks he may be the lost son of Mr. Benedict. There are some others of middling interest. The outdoor locations look suitably rugged. In keeping with the times there is a great deal of bloodshed with every battle. However something is missing. The plot kind of skips along. I don’t merrily I mean as if it just skips over long sections of time and leaves out portions of the plot line.

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We never get to see this randy group of miscreants do any real bonding with Benedict. There is one scene early on where he shows them how tough he is. We later find out that he greases up his holster for a quick draw and ties his trigger back so he can shoot faster. But we are denied any scenes of him earning their respect and vice versa. At one point they ride up a trail on a sunny day in the mountains. When they come down the other side we see them from way above. Everything is covered in snow and we hear someone complain that they have been on the trail for two years. Where did those two years go? There are none of those great male bonding scenes that Sam Peckinpah was so good at portraying. This crew is obviously devoted to Benedict but time and time again we see them choose to keep riding along with him because they have nothing better to do.

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At one point Holden gets shot and left for dead. The film stops being a rugged western and becomes a two person play with Susan Hayward (The Birds) suddenly brought in to play the Irish nurse who can give him back his health and let him find love again. She is a tough lady with a big heart and lots of homespun advice. Benedict turns a cold shoulder to her but eventually is won over. We know he likes her because he hauls himself out
of bed to go out in the field to help her dig potatoes out of the ground before it gets too cold. We see these two amazing actors sitting next to each other just filling baskets with dirty potatoes. That’s a pretty clichéd image there. Then all of a sudden Benedict runs into the old gang. Everyone is good friends again and they take off after the man with one eye since Borgnine knows he is being held prisoner by a cavalry outfit. They ride in to shoot the guy but wind up taking a heroic stand against overwhelming odds. They join the cavalry who are outnumbered by Indians who fill the horizon line.

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The film is more of a snack than a meal. Woody Strode is dressed in an outlandish outfit that makes him look like he should be in a road show of the play Purlie. It’s hard to know if the script was tampered with and cut down or if it was written badly from the start. The other real puzzler her is that Daniel Mann was chosen as the director. If anything he had a reputation for adapting stage plays into dramatic movies. Later in his career he had success with two very different films for him – Our Man Flint (1966) and Willard (1971). His talents just feel wrong for this. There are none of the kind of textures that should inhabit a western like this. The other factor that hampers this film so strongly is the poorly matched music. Pino Calvi’s score is brash and brassy. The quick tempos and melodies would seem more suited to any number of TV cop shows of the period. Still Holden and Borgnine are fun to watch. Borgnine had really perfected the art of the larger than life character who is along for the ride. He’s the only one that brings some fun into the proceedings.

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The cool looking posters and ad campaign touted the line, “He brought six men out of Hell and they brought it with them – These are The Revengers!”. If you loved the Wild Bunch the casting may hold out the promise of rejoining Holden and Borgnine together again. The film Holden made right before this one was The Wild Rovers (1971) with Ryan O’Neil. It was directed by Blake Edwards. It too was a western that meandered around too much. The ending was very bloody with squibs exploding all over. That one didn’t work either. Holden went on to much better films in the twilight of his career. So did Borgnine.

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Video – 2.35:1
Much of the exterior footage looks bright and detailed. When things get dark either inside or outside the presentation suffers. Black levels are not strong enough to sustain when the images are not lit by sunlight.

Audio – DTS Mono
All dialogue is clear. The effects fit well enough in the mix. The music tends to be obtrusive both due to the nature of the compositions and the sound levels. It also feels a bit on the sharp or trebley side.

Extras – Trailer

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Good

Movie – Fair / Good

Che! (1969) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

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Stars – Omar Sharif, Jack Palance, Cesare Danova, Robert Loggia, Woody
Strode, Sid Haig
Director – Richard Fleischer

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available at screen archives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

“And if there’s any hope for America, it lies in a revolution, and if there’s any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara. ”
- Phil Ochs.

Phil Ochs was a folk singer. He was very politically active and became a visible part of the protest movement in the late sixties. He seemed to have his finger right on the pulse of the nation. He also had a very wicked sense of humor. There were posters for sale in bookstores and head shops then based on the iconic and striking 1960 photograph of Che Guevara taken Alberto Korda. Revolution was in the air and Che had a very romantic image in America at the time. The idea of making a movie based on his life had some real electricity about it. However when it was clear that Omar Sharif would play him and that Jack Palance would take on the role of Fidel Castro there were some misgivings. It turns out that all of those misgivings were valid. Still if you are attracted to the persona of Che Guvera, it calls to you. This was made long before the excellent film adaptation of his autobiographical Motorcycle Diaries in 2013. This was 1969 and we had every reason to believe that this film would be very cool. Cool was an attitude and a style. To 20th Century Fox it must have been an irresistible marketing concept, especially in the same year that saw the runaway success of Easy Rider.

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The film begins with a viewing of the revolutionary’s dead body. We then get a series of actors portraying various experts and people who knew Che. They seemingly take a break from their day and talk directly to us. One man says Che taught him to read and now he is a school teacher. Then we join a rag tag band of soldiers slogging through the jungle. A younger Che is amongst them as a doctor. When a comrade is pinned down and out of ammo Che literally puts down his medical bag and picks up a case of ammo. Once Che starts leading the troops the overthrow of Batista is seemingly within easy reach. When Fidel Castro also makes Che a fellow Comandante it is clear that he takes all of his military strategy from him. After the revolution is won Che is off to Bolivia to start another one. There he tries to rally the people but winds up strong arming the peasants and degenerating into a cranky guy whose troops no longer love him. It is not long before most of his loyal men desert him. He gets easily overpowered and then shot.

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The real man, his beliefs, his passions and his charisma have been put through a strainer.  We never see what drove him to become who he was. It’s not like they did not have exceptional source material available. Che’s own book The Motorcycle Diaries chronicles the trip that opened his eyes and changed him. We even see a man in the film holding a battered and cherished copy of Che’s book, Guerrilla Warfare. Apparently he would not lend his copy to the screenwriters. There are smatterings and snatches of Che’s story here and there but nothing that really makes any sense. We hear convoluted bits of his poetic musings on revolution that are doled out to the troops like self help advice from a bad motivational speaker. There is nothing that tracks the changes in this man.

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What stands out most about this film is the unusual, even bizarre casting. Omar Sharif an Egyptian actor best known for his Oscar nominated work in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) was cast to play Che. Jack Palance who is from Pennsylvania and forever known as the vicious gunslinger in Shane (1952) was tapped to play Fidel Castro. In the vintage short made at the time of the film that is included with this release director Richard Fleischer tells us that he casts them both because they look so much like Che and Fidel. Well after the make up and stuff, yes they do. But really, Richard, is that why? Granted for many long years Hollywood would cast its box office draw actors in whatever role was required regardless of ethnicity. This was the late sixties and that just stood out as a dumb move. But what really tanks this project is the terrible script and convoluted story it attempts to tell. Why have these two legendary characters in a film if you don’t tell us anything meaningful about them. The only thing we learn is that they like cigars. All the revolutionaries wear a kind of dark olive green uniform. The militia they are after always wears light khaki.

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And what in the hell is Woody Strode doing there? If you were attacking Rome with Spartacus or attacking a well armed villa and needed someone to shoot arrow with sticks of dynamite tied to them in a western he’s your man. I just can’t picture Che saying before we attack Batista get me that guy from The Professionals (1966) that worked with Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin. Richard Fleischer is not a bad director at all. He’s done at lot of good work including some tough noirs like Narrow Margin (1952) and the powerful Compulsion (1959) based on the real life Leopold-Loeb case. Back in 1969 one would have thought that someone, somebody would have pulled this plug on this one. This is the first time that Che! has surfaced in any kind of home video release. Well Omar and Jack sure do look good in the stills, don’t they?

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Video – 2.35:1
The picture is strong throughout with nice bright colors and decent definition.

Audio – 2.0 DTS -HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
All the dialogue is clear.

Extras – Twilight Time’s Signature Isolated Score Track, Vintage Featurette Why Che?, TV Spot, Trailer

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Poor