Jubal (Also Blu-ray) (Three Stars)
U.S.: Delmer Daves, 1956 (Criterion Collection)
My grandma Marie Tulane, who was born in Sweden and died in Wisconsin, often said she liked Westerns because the scenery was so beautiful. I think she would have liked Delmer Daves’ 1956 Jubal, starring Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine and Rod Steiger — a movie where the scenery is lush and green, with mountains and a deep blue sky forming a spectacular backdrop for the film’s highly dramatic (or melodramatic) plot. The story’s classicism would have appealed to her as well: An exhausted drifter named Jubal (played by Ford) is rescued and taken on as a cowhand by a big-hearted rancher named Shep Morgan (Borgnine) and persecuted by a vicious ex-foreman named Pinky (Steiger). According to director-co-writer Daves, this story was partly modeled on Shakespeare’s “Othello.“ and indeed, it does show jealousy and a descent into madness. (Officially, the movie is an adaptation of Paul I. Wellman’s Western novel “Jubal Troop.“,)
The Shakespearean vein reveals itself when Jubal almost immediately stirs powerful emotions in Shep, who singles him out as his second-in-command and heir, in Shep’s wife Mae (Valerie French), who wants to sleep with Jubal, and in the dirt-mean “Pinky” Pinkum (Steiger), who hates Jubal bitterly and wants him gone or dead. (To welcome Jubal to the ranch, Pinky burns all his clothes and tells him he smells like a sheepherder. Then later, to hasten the sheepman’s exile or demise, Pinky plays Iago to Shep’s Othello, with Jubal becoming a seemingly hapless mix of Cassio and The Sheepman.. The witnesses to all this — and to the final chaos and showdown — are a familiar and very likable bunch of ‘50s cowpokes, including those Western mainstays Noah Beery, Jr., John Dierkes and Jack Elam.
Delmer Daves, who specialized in war movies and film noir in the ’40s, (Destination Tokyo, Pride of the Marines, Dark Passage), and in sexy soap operas in the ’60s (A Summer Place, Parrish), was primarily a Western director in the ‘50s — and that’s what he was best at. His’ Westerns were often scenically magnificent, his casts were first-rate, his politics were liberal, and his stories (most of which he wrote or co-wrote) gripping and humane. Daves is credited with at least two movies that almost everyone considers Western movie classics, 1950’s Broken Arrow and 1957’s 3:10 to Yuma. Other aficionados, including Daves’ passionate admirer French critic-director Bertrand Tavernier, might also nominate Jubal, Cowboy (based on Frank Norris’ memoirs, with Ford and Jack Lemmon), and Tavernier’s favorite, The Hanging Tree, with Gary Cooper, Maria Schell and George C. Scott.
Jubal is not Daves’ best, but it’s highly characteristic, and a feast of color and Cinemascope and crane shots — violence and tenderness. Unlike such other Western masters as Ford, Hawks, Walsh, Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher, Daves liked to give his cowboy heroes — often played by Glenn Ford, and also by Cooper, Lemmon, Alan Ladd, Van Heflin and Jimmy Stewart – an atypical, appealing core of vulnerability. (Hawks liked to claim that John Wayne’s macho stubbornness in Rio Bravo was his answer to the more angst-ridden heroes of Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (Cooper) and Daves’’ 3:10 to Yuma (Heflin). Certainly Ford’s Jubal is both beleaguered and vulnerable, and Glenn Ford plays him with a wariness, tenderness and a nervous delivery that were his ‘50s trademarks, close to Coop but a long ways from Wayne. Maybe that’s why the character Jubal is balanced in the movie with a gunman friend, Reb Haislipp (played by Charles Bronson) who appears mid-film with a wagon train full or religious pilgrim/settlers, including the movie’s love interest, Felicia Farr (Mrs. Jack Lemmon) as the virginal Naomi, whose emotions are also powerfully stirred by Jubal.
When we remember Glenn Ford these days, it’s usually as the lover-puppet of Rita Hayworth’s Gilda, or the gutsy teacher besieged by juvenile delinquents in The Blackboard Jungle, or for one of his Westerns, of which this is the strangest and one of the most visually striking. When we remember Ernie Borgnine, its primarily for his warm-hearted portrayal of the gentle big city butcher Marty in Marty — as well his large gallery of villains, Western and otherwise, including an ultimate good-bad guy in The Wild Bunch. When we remember Rod Steiger, it’s as the crooked lawyer on the other end of Marlon Brando’s heart-wrenching “Charlie, Charlie you don’t understand…I coulda been a contender” in On the Waterfront — and also for his socially conscious star parts as the concentration camp survivor in The Pawnbroker and the Southern police chief in In the Heat of the Night.
But we may forget it was also Steiger who originated the role of Marty in the first TV production of Paddy Chayefsky’s teleplay. Since the movie of Marty was made in 1955, only a year before Jubal, it may instil ideas of a possible conflict between the two Martys. But there’s little evidence on screen of any feud. Borgnine plays Shep with the warmth and humanity he liked to bring out, as opposed to his sadistic villains. And though Steiger’s Pinky is a snarling scene-stealer, that fits the actor’s usual style: He plays Pinky crazy-malicious. with an emotional intensity that was also one of his hallmarks. (“He likes to cry,” Brando once said.)
Jubal deserves more recognition than it’s gotten. It was only another year, after all, before Daves made his top Western 3:10 to Yuma, in which Glenn Ford played the villain (a DVD also now available on Criterion). Kent Jones writes a tremendous appreciation of both films in the Criterion booklets for them, which may have the paradoxical effect of leading some audiences to expect too much. Jubal is not as good as 3:10 to Yuma , or as High Noon or Rio Bravo, or The Searchers, or as most of John Ford and Anthony Mann. But it belongs on the same tier as most of those films, and it’s been neglected for decades –whereas most of the others have plenty of defenders.
And, as I said, I think My Grandma, who was a writer herself, would have enjoyed it, even though she might have been a little put off by the movie’s strong sexual undercurrents — another Daves trademark, particularly noticeable in his ‘60s family dramas. But she would have loved the scenery. It might have reminded her of Sweden, a country where a lot of movie buffs, including Ingmar Bergman and Jan Troell, loved American westerns. And she also might have been intrigued by the dark heart Daves finds beating beneath those green hills.
Extras: Booklet, with excellent Kent Jones essay.
3:10 to Yuma (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Delmer Daves, 1957 (Criterion Collection)
Frankie Laine sings:
There is a lonely train called the 3:10 to Yuma.
The pounding of the wheels is more like a mournful sigh.
There’s a legend and there’s a rumor,
When you take the 3:10 to Yuma,
You can see the ghosts of outlaws go riding by.
Chorus: Riding by….
Laine: In the Sky… (Chorus echoes)
Laine: Way up high…The buzzards keep circlin’ the train.
While below, the cattle are thirstin’ for rain.
It’s all so true, they say, on the 3:10 to Yuma,
A man may meet his fate,. for fate travels everywhere.
Though you’ve got no reason to go there,
And there ain’t a soul that you know there,
When the 3:10 to Yuma whistles its sad refrain:
“Take that train… (Chorus echoes)
“Take that train…” (Chorus wails.)
Ned Washington (lyrics) & George Duning.(music): “3:10 to Yuma”
Here, in all its taut, bare-knuckle glory, is Delmer Daves’ best and most justly celebrated Western, the ‘50s classic 3:10 to Yuma. An Eisenhower-era show that reflects both the staunch ideals and the queasy fears of those years, it’s a movie sharply scripted, crackling with tension, shrewdly cast (Glenn Ford and Van Heflin are the leads and antagonists, supported by Felicia Farr, Henry Jones and Richard Jaeckel), and beautifully photographed in black and white by Charles Lawton Jr,, who also shot the gorgeous color landscapes of Jubal.
3:10 to Yuma — which may be the greatest title for a movie Western, ever — is based on a story by the young Elmore Leonard, who later became one of the primo contemporary American crime novelists (“Get Shorty,” “Freaky Deaky”) and also happens to be one of Quentin Tarantino‘s main writing models. It’s another clockwork suspense Western in the relentless style of High Noon, with Heflin as the upright but financially strapped rancher Dan Evans, who hires on as armed escort for a dangerous and deceptive prisoner — sexy affable outlaw boss amd killer Ben Wade (Ford) — all the way to the 3:10 train to Yuma (and justice), despite Ford’s relentless razzing and the gathering of his gang all around them.
Like Gary Cooper’s Marshall Will Kane in High Noon, Heflin’s Evans is the man of rectitude and honor harassed by outlaws, deserted by townsfolk, waiting for the inevitable showdown. But Ford’s Wade is a breed apart from Frank Miller’s silent, menacing “High Noon” gang. Like those deadly charmers Arthur Kennedy in Bend of the River, Robert Ryan in The Naked Spur, Richard Boone in The Tall T (also from a Leonard story) and Lee Marvin in Seven Men from Now, he’s the outlaw as seducer, the smiler with a gun. And 3:10 to Yuma, which boasts film noir mainstays Ford and Heflin as co-stars, is definitely one of the peaks of Western Noir.
Daves’ Yuma is also notable as one of the negative inspirations (see above) for Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo. (The other was, of course, High Noon.) Hawks underrated them both. The 1957 3:10 to Yuma is an inarguably excellent black-and-white Western, one of the best in its class despite a disappointing ending — a mistake not much improved when the movie was remade in 2007 by writer-director James Mangold, with Russell Crowe as Wade and Christian Bale as Evans. The 1957 movie also has what many Westerns should have but only 3:10 to Yuma, Gunfight at the O. K. Corral, Rawhide, Blazing Saddles and a few othrs do: a title song sung by Frankie Laine. There‘s a legend and there‘s a rumor that the song in 3:10 to Yuma. was Frankie‘s top effort too — though Ned Wahington‘s lyrics, which suggest an American Western Kwaidan, have almost nothing to do with the movie.
Extras: .Interviews with Elmore Leonard and Glenn Ford’s son, Peter Ford; Booklet with Kent Jones essay.
SAFE HAVEN (Two Stars)
U.S.: Lasse Hallstrom, 2013 (Tcfhe)
Welcome to Sparksville, U.S. A., where men are hunky — and nice,the ladies are funky and nice and the stories told about them are sometimes clunky — but nice. Located somewhere between the Mason-Dixon Line and Never-Never-Land, with many of its locales on the North Carolina shoreline, Sparksville, the fictional territory of novelist Nicholas Sparks, is home to gorgeous scenery, gorgeous people, undying love, dazzling sunsets, and wide beaches full of strolling lovers. A warning though: If you have an aversion to romantic clichés and fairy-tales, you might want to avoid Sparksville, where life always seems to be a book you’re reading on an airplane.
If only everyone and everything weren‘t so — well– nice. Safe Haven, directed by the estimable Swedish-born filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom and produced by the author himself, is the eighth movie to be derived from a Nicholas Sparks novel, and like the others, including Message in a Bottle (where Kevin Costner found undying love), The Notebook (where Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams found undying love and huge box office), it’s a romantic fantasy delivered with apparently just the right amounts of warmth, coolness, poignancy, picturesque scenery, sex appeal, niceness and (let’s face it), undying love.
This time, the story has a shot of suspense too. It’s a lady-on-the-run thriller, with Julianne Hough as Katie Feldman, who flees a Boston crime scene, dyes her hair blonde, heads off in a bus to Atlanta, impulsively gets off in Southport, North Carolina, is immediately hired as a waitress by a total stranger at the restaurant and fixed up with a cabin in the woods, and then wanders down to the local general store, where, on his first sight of her, she wins the heart of the handsomest man in town, widower Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel), a hunky but nice guy with two adorable kids. Simultaneously, Katie discovers Jo (Cobie Smulders) when she notices her peering though her cabin windows and dispensing wise small town advice. Katie then proceeds to find the most goddam wonderful bunch of people you could possibly meet or dream up, even if your name was Nicholas Sparks.
But don’t kid yourself into thinking that life is just a bed of small town Southern roses for fugitives from Boston. Katie is being pursued by this movie’s version of Inspector Javert of Les Miserables: Officer Kevin Tierney (David Lyons), a hard-working, hard-drinking cop who apparently won’t give up until he has her in his clutches. Nor, it seems, will Alex, a sexy widower, with two prodigiously cute children: bad-tempered Josh (Noah Lomax) and precocious cutie pie Lexie (8 year old Mimi Kirkland, who heists the movie). It’s a Sparksville sort of courtship, backed up by soft country rock, and full of strolls and romps on the beach, and lazy drifting canoe rides, and picnics, and thoughtful gifts of bicycles and everything you need to fall undyingly in love except maybe a few DVDs of Nicholas Sparks movies playing on a Visio big-screen TV, by firelight. But pretty soon, Tierney has found Katie’s new town, and there’s a huge fireworks show and we know it’s only a matter of time before things — well – before things get not so mice. So….
I like Lasse Hallstrom’s movies, especially his wonderful Swedish childhood film My Life as a Dog and his American family dramas What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Cider House Rules. So it gives me no pleasure to admit that, despite its l bucolic visuals, despite little Mimi Kirkland’s best efforts, and despite some scary turns from Lyons as Tierney, Safe Haven is mostly a nice little crock of cow-pudding.
Some of the problems come from the story’s weird surprise ending, but a lot of them come from Ms. Hough, who arrives in this movie on the run from two bad, silly musicals: Rock of Ages and Burlesque and whose performance is pretty empty. Katie is a thoroughly uncompelling character: a lady-in-distress who shows little distress, a gal-on-the-run facing a dangerous menace in strange environs and barely reacting to it. If Katie doesn’t seem all that worried, why should we be? Maybe the audiences who like Safe Haven are just happy to spend some more leisure time in Sparksville – havinge a nice time and looking around for some undying love.
PARKER (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Taylor Hackford, 2013 (FilmDistrict)
Parker, the anri-hero of the new Jason Statham movie, is someone you’ve met before — if you’ve ever read one of Richard Stark’s “Parker” books – “Richard Stark” being a pseudonym for Donald E. Westlake — or any of the movies based on them. Have you seen the great film neo-noir Point Blank, with Lee Marvin as a vengeful killer named Walker? That’s Parker. Have you seen — and there’s no reason you should — Mel Gibson in Payback, as a bad-mouthed, vengeful hard guy named Porter? That’s Parker too. Both movies, by the way, are adaptations of the Stark book The Hunter, in which Parker is double-crossed by a guy in the mob and takes them all on: one by bloody one.
Parker is also the ruthless anti-hero in a violent new neo-noir called, appropriately Parker — and this time the character is played by that tough Brit Statham. Like the Walker Lee Marvin played in Point Blank, this Parker is an ultra-hard-boiled gunman involved in a heist where his partners double-cross him and leave him for dead — and he goes after them all. In Point Blank, Parker’s targets were mostly establishment-looking crooks, including the pre-Archie Bunker Carroll O’Connor as a baby fat businessman type with a pool. Here, they’re mostly creeps and killers and thugs with money operating in West Palm Beach – including Michael Chiklis, who played John Belushi in Wired and who here impersonates a bald mean murderous tubbo named Melander.
Marvin had leggy Angie Dickinson as a sexy sidekick and Statham has Jennifer Lopez as leggy Leslie, a real-estate agent without any baby fat (as she proudly demonstrates). Leslie also has a blabbermouth Latina mama named Ascension played by Patti Lupone. The movie’s one-against-a-bunch plot is very similar to Point Blank or to The Hunter or Payday, or to The Outfit (1975). in which the Parkr character was oplayed by Robert Duvall. It’s a revenge fantasy, one of the more often-recycled ones — and it works fairly well here, though J-Lo is playing second fiddle, in a way, to Parker’s mentor Hurley (Nick Nolte) and to Hurley’s stand-up daughter Claire (Emma Booth).
Statham is, of course. a believable tough guy. I liked him in The Bank Job and in his Guy Ritchie movies, and not much else, but that’s not necessarily his fault. This movie is fairy well-directed , by Taylor Hackford — who has made some very good movies, like Ray, and also a pretty good remake of Tourneur and Mainwaring’s Out of the Past, Against All Odds
Parker is better written than some, by John J. McLaughlin (Hitchcock and Black Swan ). It’s also very violent, which means that we get a lot of shooting and, at one point, Parker banging some hood‘s head in with a cracked toilet seat. Does the movie encourage violence? Given the extreme and mostly ridiculous nature of what we see here — people hanging from high-rise balconies and kicking each other, and bombs going off at the start of a jewelry auction — I’d say you’d have to be a little nuts to want to emulate the behavior in this movie. And in any case, I think people are less likely to run out and shoot someone (or even dangle from a high-rise) after they see Parker than they might if a loaded gun were lying around the house, and they got mad about something. The problem with the violence in today’s movies, is how pervasive it is, how unrelenting, how the moviemakers over-depend on it and don’t vary their game. I don’t really think people kill other people because of movies — but I don’t want to get into a knock-down drag-out on this subject, especially if there’s a loaded gun lying around.