It’s hard to think of a more perfect combination of films than Monte Walsh (William Fraker, 1970) & Tom Horn (William Wiard, 1980). It’s also next to impossible to think of a better way to start the New Beverly’s incredible March calendar considering how well they relate to their brother and sister films! Attending this double feature will leave you well prepared for the cornucopia of emotion-drenched narratives, wild rides and pleasure-soaked madness of March 2017 at the New Beverly Cinema.
But first… let’s talk Monte Walsh. Director William Fraker was a cameraman before setting out on Walsh, his directorial debut. His cinematic talent can be clearly seen in his photography for Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), Gator (Burt Reynolds, 1976) and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977). Fraker’s initial March New Bev connection is with the second film on this bill: he was the DP on the tremendous Steve McQueen film Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968). It doesn’t end there, though. Return to the New Bev in a few weeks for Frank Perry’s wonderful Rancho Deluxe (1975) – Fraker shot a damn fine film for Perry as well!
Lukas Heller and David Zelag Goodman were the screenwriters on Walsh. Heller, a Robert Aldrich favorite, wrote another Lee Marvin screenplay (The Dirty Dozen, Robert Aldrich, 1967), as well as the equally groundbreaking Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962). However, it’s David Zelag Goodman’s name you’ll see again on the Bev’s screen in March. He co-wrote Straw Dogs (1971) with director Sam Peckinpah, and that plays on March 3 and 4th.
As far as Tom Horn is concerned, it’s equally incestuous. First of all, let’s give a shout out to Billy Green Bush who acts in both Monte Walsh and Tom Horn. After Walsh but before Horn, Billy Green Bush’s was in James Guercio’s unbeatable Electra Glide in Blue (1973), as was Mitchell Ryan (who plays Shorty in Monte Walsh). Before Electra Glide, Guercio was hired to direct Horn. On set for little over a week, Guercio was let go and replaced by the final director, William Wiard. This wasn’t a huge surprise as the production had been through a number of director flip-flops before filming started. Tom Horn was a very personal endeavor for Steve McQueen and he was incredibly determined about the production. Cinematographer John A. Alonzo shot this work to perfection, allowing it to look precisely the way it should: either devastatingly beautiful or beautifully devastating, depending on what point of the narrative you are at. Screenwriter Bud Shrake co-authored Horn, a man also known for his work on the incomparable western Kid Blue (James Frawley, 1973), as well as the totally outta control Nightwing (Arthur Hiller, 1979) which is showing at midnight on March 18, as part of our “bats-gone-wild” theme this month. I would truly be remiss if I didn’t also highlight Shrake’s writing partner, Thomas McGuane. Not only is he responsible for the 100% one-of-a-kind Missouri Breaks (Arthur Penn, 1976), but, like Bill Fraker, he was involved in Frank Perry’s Rancho Deluxe (1975) – he wrote it!
That spider web of goodness alone should be enough to bring you to the New Beverly’s version of March Madness. But there’s more. The honest truth about the pairing of Monte Walsh and Tom Horn isn’t just that you get to enjoy Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, Jeanne Moreau (that smile!!!), Steve McQueen, Linda Evans and Slim Pickens on the same screen for a coupla hours. No ma’am. It isn’t just the fact that they were both shot in goddamn Panavision, meaning that no Blu-ray or home entertainment version of either of these films will EVER be as good as seeing it large and in fuckin’ charge, especially with an audience – a New Beverly audience. Naw, friends. There is much more to this double feature. It is one of the most emotionally charged and hardcore doubles I have ever looked forward to in my 20+ years of going to this theater.
Things to bring with you to this screening: Plenty. Of. Kleenex. As Roger Ebert keenly noted, Monte Walsh is “a three-handkerchief Western.” And Tom Horn follows suit. In the long-standing tradition of brilliant westerns examining the end of the west or the death of the cowboy (many shown here at the New Bev, like Kirk Douglas’ Posse from 1975), this double feature works on a whole other level of Western Cinema. They traverse old territory and look at nostalgia, they visit ideas of history and the forgotten man, and they mourn our all-too-quick celebration of new inventions like trains and “outdated” professions. These films, while set in a period of horseback riding and herding cattle, may look at a kind of masculinity that existed then, but it showcases the more fragile side rather than the macho. These are films about men in pain, depressed and lonely. These films are about strong individualists, characters who are fiercely independent, and they are now being left out in the cold, feeling betrayed, used and angry.
These are painfully relevant films – Monte Walsh handles unemployment, depression and corporate takeovers. It expertly depicts human desperation and the idea of “only knowing how to cowboy.” But these are not ideas or experiences that go away. Corporation buy-outs still occur in 2017, small businesses are still struggling nation-wide, and trade specializations are rare and underappreciated. One might compare the plight of Monte & his pals to that of 35mm film projectionists – highly trained, dedicated and die-hard as hell. Then, gradually, the technology changes. All of a sudden…BOOM. Almost every theater is digital and that highly specialized craft is a rare commodity that is no longer required in most places. The most tried and true are out of work, unable to find employment in the world that was once their home and no longer being given the opportunity to give others the unique pleasure of real projected film. While Chet (Jack Palance) says “no one gets to be a cowboy forever,” Monte embraces his cowboy “ness” and his loyalty to the West, sometimes (most times) to his own detriment and exorbitant loss. Monte Walsh makes big asks of its audience. But they are fair and hard ones. At what cost are we creating a landscape that makes war heroes and young men so desperate? Is it all worth it? These are the questions that the audience must answer. The film won’t do it for you.
Tom Horn only expands on this theme. Based upon a true story, Tom Horn is a tracker, cowboy and ex-Pinkerton agent who fought in several wars and was eventually hired by local ranchers to protect their farming interests from surrounding rustlers. Unfortunately for Tom, things went badly and he was accused of a crime that, most likely, he did not commit. To say more narratively about Tom Horn would ruin the film. This is one that should not be spoiled. Know this much: there was a certain level of back and forth about the ending due to the linear/non-linear structure as well as McQueen’s star status. Horn is not a light film and many studio executives were incredibly upset that it would not do well based upon the fact that it was so dark. They were not pleased about Steve McQueen being in a film that heavy. To top it all off, Tom Horn scored an R-rating. That was reserved for sex comedies and horror films in 1980. Most certainly not a Western! Needless to say, it did poorly at the box office, but it might be one of the most poignant films about accepting who you are that has ever been made.
Tom Horn is a rough film. There is no getting around it. Crying is par for the course. But there is the keen possibility that you won’t just be crying for Tom and the assholes who have used and abused him, there is the possibility that you will be crying because this is the umpteenth time you’ve seen this situation and you’re just sick and tired of it. McQueen’s performance is so heart breaking and so real. This was his second to last film, as his body was slowly being riddled with cancer, and yet the way his eyes shine when he looks to the mountains during certain scenes is so intense. He is the West. And that is part of the tears that might stream down your face as you watch. It is not just cowboys or their livelihood that seem to end in these films. Somehow, these men’s dreams become ashes. And that is the saddest part of all.
Monte Walsh and Tom Horn screen March 1 & 2.