It’s the Wild West, There’s No Rain — Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in Review

“You should have let yourself get killed a long time ago when you had the chance. See, you may be the biggest thing that ever hit this area, but you’re still two-bit outlaws. I never met a soul more affable than you, Butch, or faster than the Kid, but you’re still nothing but two-bit outlaws on the dodge. It’s over, don’t you get that? Your time is over and you’re gonna die bloody,  and all you can do is choose where.”
– Sheriff Ray Bledsoe: [to Butch and Sundance] –

In Summary:
As you might deduce from the title, this film is about the legendary outlaws Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford). The film follows the two robbers through the latter portion of their “careers” as they terrorize one last train, get tailed by an unknown horse posse, and jump ship for Bolivia with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta (Katherine Ross). This so-called “buddy film” is ultimately more about the friendship between Butch, Sundance, and even to a certain extent Etta, then it is the great escapades in which they partook. It also touches a bit on their efforts to live life on the straight and narrow, which never really seems quite possible for the two outlaws.

The film, directed by George Roy Hill,  brought Redford and Newman together for the first time. They would re-unite in 1973 for Hill’s film, The Sting. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid won Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Song. It was nominated for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Sound. It was nominated and won a cache of other awards, including several BAFTAS, Golden Globes, and a Grammy for Burt Bacharach‘s original score. You can view the complete list here.

Why I watched this one:
This movie popped to mind, because I’d seen a little part of it once (I was pretty sure anyway)– the part where they jump off the cliff — and I never saw the rest.

Mostly, though, I wanted to see another Paul Newman film (I’ve only seen Cool Hand Luke, and his more recent appearances in Road to Perdition and Empire Falls). I didn’t enjoy Cool Hand Luke, so I was skeptical of this movie. But, I like outlaws as much as the next girl, so why not give it a watch.

I didn’t remember much about Butch Cassidy or The Sundance Kid before watching this. I still don’t know too much about their outlaw career, to be honest, since the film is dated near the end of their heyday.

In doing some research for this review, however, I found this awesome old photo of Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, and the rest of their gang, The Wild Bunch. Interestingly enough, in the film their gang is not the Wild Bunch, but The Hole in the Wall Gang. It’s true, though, that the Wild Bunch would meet quite often at a hideout called Hole in the Wall in Johnson County, Wyoming. As it turns out, the various outlaws that met here were called The Hole in the Wall Gang. This referred to all of the individual gangs that would meet there, making it not just the one group, but several, including The Wild Bunch.


Robert LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, is in the lower right-hand side of the photo with his hand resting on the arm of his chair. I don’t really think Paul Newman looks much like him. The Sundance Kid (Harry Alonzo Longabaugh), seated on the far left, does look a bit like Robert Redford did in the film, though. It’s said that posing for this photo was one of the greatest mistakes Butch Cassidy made, because it allowed the Pinkerton Detective Agency to track them down.

Needless to say, after doing some quick research on Butch Cassidy and his gang, its clear that the film takes some liberties with actual events, and invents others entirely. Yes, they robbed a train called the flyer, and yes a posse did follow them for a while. Yes, they did go to South America with Etta (though they originally aimed for Argentina, not Bolivia), and yes they did supposedly die in a shootout. Everything else, might be a bit embellished. You can read more of the story for yourself here on Wikipedia or on a more legitimate site of your choice.

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It intermixed just enough humor and action to make it extremely enjoyable to watch. Paul Newman was entertaining as Butch Cassidy, but Robert Redford shined as Sundance. There was something quietly clever about his character, even though Butch was supposedly the brains of their gang. The minor characters are also rather ingenious — all endearing in their own right. They include, Woodcock (who guarded the safe on the train), the bicycle salesman, News Carver (of their gang), and poor Percy Garris (who almost helps Butch and Sundance lead a lawful life). Each of them has at least one memorable one-liner, which keeps the film enjoyable and light considering we’re watching a gang of outlaws.

Stylistically, the film is a total trip too. It starts out with an awesome sepia-tone look that, to be honest, I wish had been carried throughout. Then, there’s that wonderful montage of photos as Butch, Sundance, and Etta travel towards Bolivia with still pictures of the cast intermixed with historical photos. I was hoping this was intentional, and not a montage inserted into the DVD master of the film to make up for missing footage. It was intentional.

The only part I disliked about the film, though it seems to have received critical acclaim, was the bicycle scene and use of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. The song completely broke from the feel of the film. Why would that song be playing in the old west? It wouldn’t. The bicycle scene itself with Paul Newman and Katherine Ross, may not have bothered me had it only played out under a western-themed tune. My Darlin’ Clementine? ‘Ol Susannah? Anything!

That scene aside,  I came to an obvious decision immediately after watching this film… 

You may clap loudly for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and if you’re like Etta, you might just run off with a gang of outlaws after watching it. Okay, no… too much? Don’t do that… please.

“I’m 26, and I’m single, and a school teacher, and that’s the bottom of the pit. And the only excitement I’ve known is here with me now. I’ll go with you, and I won’t whine, and I’ll sew your socks, and I’ll stitch you when you’re wounded, and I’ll do anything you ask of me except one thing. I won’t watch you die. I’ll miss that scene if you don’t mind.” – Etta Place –

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Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim — The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in Review

 I know those law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems.
– Tom Doniphon, as played by John Wayne –

In Summary:
When Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) arrives to the town of Shinbone with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) for a funeral, the townsfolk become curious as to who’s funeral he’s attending and why. Though a few people seem to know the senator well, and it’s established that he spent time there earlier on his life, no one seems to know of the Stoddard’s friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Demanding that they know the truth about the senator’s visit, the local news reporters convince him to tell the tale of his arrival in Shinbone many years ago, his connection to the mysterious Tom Doniphon, and the shooting death of town outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). The bulk of this John Ford film is this old west tale. Check out the trailer below.

Why I watched this one:
For the greater majority of my life (meaning the entire portion that I remember), Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne have been larger-than-life acting gods. I suppose this has little to do with their actual skill as actors, but rather their iconic presence on-screen. It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my all-time favorite movies (not just at Christmas), and Rooster Cogburn, McLintock, and In Harms Way — amongst others — seemed to always be playing at my grandfather’s house in my earlier years. That said, when a fellow movie buff recommended a film to me with both Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in it, I jumped on the opportunity to enjoy both of these iconic actors at the same time.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Black and White).

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I have mixed emotions about this flick for several reasons. On one hand, I’m completely underwhelmed by Jimmy Stewart’s performance. The character of Ransom Stoddard reminded me of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the west. He was too preachy with his law-abiding morals, and downright annoying as a schoolteacher. On the flip-side, I thought John Wayne’s performance was excellent. He stood up to my expectations, and even showed a bit of conflicted depth when dealing with his feelings towards Vera Miles’s character, and even his feelings towards coaching Stewart’s character about the ways of the west. The true surprise for me was Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance. I’m not sure I’ve seen Marvin in anything before, and now I’m totally drawn to him. He represented pure evil in this film, and I have to say even I was a bit afraid of him by the end.

In one of my favorite clips from the film, Liberty Valance’s character trips Random Stoddard, causing Tom Doniphon’s steak to fall on the floor. This is the resulting interaction between the three characters. It’s scene’s like this that make the film entertaining and fulfilling as a western. That, and the fact that this is the film where John Wayne coins the word “pilgrim.” He apparently says it 23 times in this movie, and once in McClintock. Here’s a fun little clip someone put together of each occurence of the word in this film.

Right, so enough fooling around… pilgrim. What did I think of the flick? This is a tough call, because honestly I didn’t feel fulfilled at the end of it. The conclusion is somber, to say the least — a real downer for a western. The good guy wins, I suppose, but another good guy sort of lost… a lot. It’s not your typical western in that regard. That said, it has a sort of honesty to it that can’t be ignored. It addresses the ghosts in Senator Stoddard’s past, and how those ghosts (or legends) got him to his place in life. Who can’t relate to that? In the end, though, I have to say I was mildly disappointed in the film overall. I wanted to like it so badly, and perhaps that was my downfall.

You might clap for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but I unfortunately can only clap for the satisfaction of finally seeing John Wayne say “pilgrim” multiple times in one movie.

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They’re Never Going to Find that Girl; The Searchers, in Review


In Summary:
Set in Texas 3 years after the end of the Civil War, the Edwards family seems to lead a relatively quiet ranch life until Aaron Edwards’s long-lost brother, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), rides back into town. Though his nieces and nephews are thrilled to see their confederate rebel-rousing uncle, his sister-in-law conveys an awkward sexual tension that even the casual viewer can’t help but observe with unease. Before we can figure out what’s going on with that, though, Ethan rides off with the Texas Rangers in search of a cattle thief. Upon his return, he finds his family has been attacked by Comanche indians. His nieces are missing, and he’s determined to track them down. Thus, he embarks with his half-nephew, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter),  his niece’s boyfriend (Harry Carey Jr.), and a posse of men to find the tribe that stole away the girls. As the search party dwindles, we begin to wonder if they really ever will find the girls, and what will happen when they do.

Why I watched this one:
I wanted to watch a John Wayne film that I hadn’t seen. This was my main motivation. I also wanted to watch a John Ford film. I thought I’d seen one. As it turns out, this was my first. This also made two people’s lists of westerns that I should watch.


In doing a little research, I’ve found it was named AFI’s #1 western of all time. You can view the complete list here: http://suite101.com/article/afi-names-top-ten-western-films-of-all-time-a62021

It also made AFI’s top 100 films of all time, landing in spot #96. It wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards.

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I struggled with this one. Even a day after watching this film I’m really not sure how to review it. The peculiarity of the movie is, though it was made in the mid-fifties, it portrays America (Texas specifically) a  few years after the Civil War. In essence, then, it’s a period piece meant to represent a particular time in our history. There’s no denying that the film is horribly racist towards Native Americans, which is extremely difficult to bear throughout. No doubt, there are huge inaccuracies between the way the film portrays life in the late 1860’s and the reality of that time. No doubt, I’ll discuss this further in my later critical examination of westerns.

Racism aside, then, let me point out a few of the things I loved about this movie. The scenery, for one, is amazing. John Ford’s big sweeping open spaces are simply breathtaking. The use of color, contrast, and lighting is also exquisite. I just ate up the dusk scene right before the family was attacked by the Comanche tribe. The orange light used to represent a doom-filled-dusk was Douglas Sirk-esque in it’s over dramatic tone; I savored it. I also have to give props to John Wayne. I grew up watching John Wayne movies with my Grandpa, so I have a personal attachment to him. I see him as this super-sized hero amongst men, who always does what’s right (in the end) — A gruff gunslinger with a heart somewhere down in there. It’s hard to see him otherwise. Somehow, he pulled it off though, because in this film, he portrays a man strongly conflicted by his love of family and his hatred towards Native Americans. Though, in the end he does do the right thing (sort of), his coldness, his bloodthirsty quest for revenge, and his somewhat mixed motives for finding his niece, make him just as much the bad guy as the tribe leader, Scar, that he seeks.

If I throw all analysis aside, though, I have to say I was moved by this film. You can’t help but become invested in Martin Pawley’s character, nor in that of poor Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles) who waits for him back in Texas. Thus, because of it’s cinematic excellence, the fact that it is a period piece meant to represent a far-different time in our history, and my attachment to Martin’s character, I have to clap for it. I do this with much trepidation, though. It dances along the same line as Gone with the Wind in that regard. Though the film itself is well done, what it represents is horrifying.

What Does Spaghetti Have to do with a Western? – Fistful of Dollars, in review

“When I was young, I believed in three things: Marxism, the redemptive power of cinema, and dynamite. Now I just believe in dynamite.”
Sergio Leone, Conversations Avec Sergio Leone

In Summary
A Fistful of Dollars is not the first, but one of the most well-known of the Spaghetti Westerns. Fistful is the first in director Sergio Leone’s western trilogy featuring Clint Eastwood, culminating in one of the best known westerns, The Good the Bad and the Ugly.

In the film, a poncho-wearing stranger (Eastwood) rolls into town, wasting no time slinging his gun around at the unsuspecting, though probably deserving strangers.  He finds out that the town is run by rival families, the Baxters and the Rojos, who apparently spend most of their time shooting at one another. In a bold move, he wiggles his way into both families trust (if you can call it that). His apparent goal might be no more than playing both sides, earning a pile of cash, shooting a few men, then riding back out of town. Decide that for yourself. As the trailer to the flm so boldly announces, “A Fistful of Dollars is the first motion picture of its kind. It won’t be the last!”

A few things of note about A Fistful of Dollars, are that Clint Eastwood was not Leone’s original choice to play “the stranger,” and that it was in all likelihood a re-made version of the Kurosawa Samurai film, Yojimbo. Though Leone apparently denied the similarities between the two films for some time, a lawsuit eventually said differently, and a percentage of the profits from the film were given to Kurosawa. Incidentally, on the former point, Clint Eastwood’s role in A Fistful of Dollars is what took him from a part on the television show Rawhide to worldwide fame. Who knew that Leone’s last choice for a star would become one of the greatest actors and directors around.


Why I Watched This One

The first time I saw this movie I was a teenager, and I was accustomed to the John Wayne style westerns I’d been exposed to most of my life. I had the grand idea to watch the entire “The Man with No Name” series. I only got through A Fistful of Dollars. Seemingly cold-hearted killings, a machine gun, and a lead character who by the end of the film you still don’t really know anything about; this was not what I’d expected from a western.  As a teen, that didn’t make any sense to me.

My next exposure to the spaghetti western came while reading my film history book in college. That’s when I found out that the Eastwood series along with several other westerns of the time period were actually directed and produced in Italy, falling into the sub-genre of “Spaghetti Westerns.” The name ‘spaghetti western’ originated when in the mid-60’s several Italian (and even German and Spanish) filmmakers began making westerns. The term was originally an insult, given by foreign critics, because they believed these westerns must be inferior to the better known American westerns. Most of the films were low budget, but many were still innovative, artistic, and well-made.  Although some Italians still prefer to call the films western all’italiana (westerns Italian style), the term “Spaghetti Western,” is no longer seen as an insult.

While I found this whole spaghetti western idea interesting, it still didn’t prompt me to re-watch the films. Now, a decade or so later, I believe my taste in movies has become a bit more… refined. It was finally time to give this series another, no pun intended, shot.

My Review & Verdict – in Claps
Yes, it is violent. Yes, Clint Eastwood’s character is a bit mysterious. Was he trying to do good, or just entertaining himself by interfering with the petty squabbles of a small town? It’s really hard to say. I saw a few more sparks of character this second time around, though, that lead me to believe he was trying to do the right thing in his own peculiar way. Eastwood has some great one-liners, and that coffin-maker is hilarious, but what strikes me most about this film is the use of silence. What really distinguishes a great film, from a good film, from an okay film is some mechanism that pushes the story forward in an unusually fitting way. Here, it was Leone’s use of those silent, dramatic moments where Eastwood is just staring someone down. The silence is almost awkward it goes on so long. You’re waiting for something to happen, then when it does…BAM! It’s so worth it. Other cinematic choices, such as the extreme close-ups on the eyes of various characters, and the unforgettable music, make this a great movie. You may clap loudly for A Fistful of Dollars, just don’t laugh at the mule. Seriously, you really don’t want to laugh at the mule.

Related Links:

In Want of the Western — What are your Faves? … And GO!

I’m looking for westerns.

It’s a new year, and with that comes a new game plan… Right so, you’re correct in saying it’s been a new year for the past 5 months. Memo received.

In any case, starting this month I’m going to structure the blog a bit differently. Each month (or so), I’ll pick a GRAND THEME for the movies I’ll watch that month. I’ll do a short review for each film, then at the END of the month (or the start of the next one), I’ll do some cool (perhaps only to me) diatribe about the genre, the filmmaker, the actor/actress, etc. and so forth. It’s going to be great, fabulous, maybe even magnificent!

Right now, I’m looking for your recommendations of the BEST western films ever made, or at least the best ones you’ve seen. I’m kicking off the month with A Fistful of Dollars, because a friend lent it to me months ago, and it’s been waiting impatiently to be watched ever since. After that, the movies are up in the air. I want to watch another John Wayne flick, because it’s been far too long since I’ve seen one of those, but which one is still up for debate.

Hit me with your ideas here, or on my movie recommendation tab. I’m looking forward to what you come up with.

The Wolf Man and The Universal Studios Monster…Mash

Whether we’ve seen them or not, I’m sure most everyone has heard of the classic monster movies produced by Universal Studios in the 1930-s and 40’s. Films like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man (which is next on my list), The Bride of Frankenstein, and of course, The Wolf Man (two words). These well-known flicks stay alive symbolizing the dawn of horror, the popularity of the monster, and as a basis from which these iconic figures are depicted to this day. So what of The Wolf Man, in particular?

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. – Jenny Williams –

In Summary & Review
The Wolf Man centers around the story of Larry Talbot (Lon Cheney Jr.) who returns home after 18 years away. We don’t really know why he was gone that long, all we know is that his father Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) is rich, a bit snobbish, and fairly skeptical of his wayward son. Larry begins his return by stumbling upon his neighbor Gwen (Evelyn Ankers) Rear Window style,while testing out his father’s telescope; endearing him to us immediately (or not). He immediately rushes to her shop to introduce himself, and that’s where his lesson in werewolf lore begins. When a band of gypsies passes through town Larry and Gwen and her friend Jenny go to have their fortunes told, only to cross paths with a murderous wolf. Thus, the terror begins, landing Talbot right in the center of suspicion.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this movie. I suppose, it being one of the first werewolf films, I expected some sort of grand lore to unfold, and the first gruesome death-by-wolf to induce shock. Having not seen many werewolf movies, The Howling probably being the only one, most of my werewolf knowledge stems from books like Harry Potter and The Dresden Files. I was looking forward to a classic look at these strange and frightening creatures, which are depicted in these books as the deadliest, cruelest, and most devilish of monsters. After watching the film, though, I was left thinking the werewolves of my reading adventures were far more frightening than that of Lon Cheney Jr. as the Wolf Man. Of course, he was one of the first, and that does make him special. Doesn’t it?

I have to say, all-in-all, though I kept watching, I was a little disappointed in this film. It started with grand potential, slowly building up to Cheney’s character, Larry Talbot, becoming the werewolf. Little references to dogs, wolves, and wolfbane crept in weaving suspense. Then, after the transformation, the suspense just sort of dropped and everything from that point forward was both expected and shallow. I will give Universal props for the tragic ending, though. Expected, as it was, it was still…memorable. Until, of course, you find out that Universal went on to resurrect Larry Talbot for three more horror movies, and one Abbott and Costello monster flick.

Recognition & Discussion
It seems as if either the original Dracula, Frankenstein, or Wolf Man appear on many lists people have compiled of their favorite horror films. But why? They aren’t scary… not even close. Years later, I actually can’t even remember what happened in the Dracula or Frankenstein movies, though I obviously know the tales of both monsters as well as anyone. Of course, there are those images that stand out; Bela Lugosi opening up his black cape and grinning freakishly and Boris Karloff first coming to life as Frankenstein’s monster. The same is now true for me of the scenes in which Lon Cheney Jr.’s wolfman stumbles through the foggy woods in search of his next victim. It would seem, then, that the acclaim of these films now is more in respect for their significance in monster history, than in their actual timeless thrill. Unlike the classic comedies or dramas, which have themes, jokes, and characters that still hold relevant, it would seem that our sense of “scary” has changed through time. The twists, the jump-out-of your seat scares, and the gore of modern horror films has left these monsters of yore waddling about in disappointment. What they represent has not changed, but they’re scare-power has greatly decreased. In, my opinion.

I wonder, though, how a film like TheWolf Man was received in 1941. Was it scary? Was it cheesy? What about Frankenstein or Dracula? According to a 1941 movie review from The New York Times, reviewer T.S. (perhaps I should started writing with just my initials for a name) gives less than flattering remarks about the film:

Perhaps in deference to a Grade-B budget it has tried to make a little go a long way, and it has concealed most of that little in a deep layer of fog. And out of that fog, from time to time, Lon Chaney Jr. appears vaguely, bays hungrily, and skips back into mufti. Offhand, though we never did get a really good look, we’d say that most of the budget was spent on Mr. Chaney’s face, which is rather terrifying, resembling as it does a sort of Mr. Hyde badly in need of a shave. Privately, and on the evidence here offered, we still suspect that the werewolf is just a myth.

He goes on to compare the werewolf to Santa Claus, stating that both are in need of a makeover to make their image more convincing. He states:

Without any build-up either by the scriptwriter or director, he is sent onstage, where he, looks a lot less terrifying and not nearly as funny as Mr. Disney’s big, bad wolf. Sharing his embarrassment are Maria Ouspenshaya, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers—who under more nonchalant circumstances would be referred to as a “sterling” cast. Most of them look as though they wished they had a wolf-skin to jump into—any old wolf-skin, so long as it was anonymous.

I question his comparison to Santa Claus, though. I’m pretty sure that depiction has lasted throughout time. Also, why would you compare Santa Clause to a werewolf? Regardless, the film, according to The Times’  T.S., does nothing to make the myth of the werewolf believable. Of course, something important to note, is that the screenwriter, Curt Siodmak,  admits to purposely not writing the script based on actual werewolf mythology, but rather he makes up his own werewolf story. He claims to base his monsters on scientific truth rather than mythology. In this case, I’m not really sure where the science was, but Siodmak must’ve thought it was there. Perhaps, he refers more to his later scripts featuring Cheney’s wolf man squaring off with Frankenstein and Dracula.

Frankenstein and Dracula on the other hand roused positive reviews in 1931 when they were released. In the December 5, 1931 issue of the New York Times, reviewer Mordaunt Hall says, “It is naturally a morbid, gruesome affair, but it is something to keep the spectator awake, for during its most spine-chilling periods it exacts attention.” The same reviewer gives praise to Dracula in an article from February 13, 1931, “It is a production that evidently had the desired effect upon many in the audience yesterday afternoon, for there was a general outburst of applause when Dr. Van Helsing produced a little cross that caused the dreaded Dracula to fling his cloak over his head and make himself scarce.”

It would seem, then, that by the time The Wolf Man was released, either Universal was losing it’s flare, or audience tastes were changing. The Wolf Man and it’s sequels (of which most monster movies had in those days), were hailed as the last of the great Universal monster films.

In an article by Eric Hehr titled The Golden Age of Monsters on Chicagoist.com, he discusses this golden age of horror:

Universal’s impact on the horror genre is without a doubt tremendous. They were not only able to brand the genre and coin the term ‘horror’ in a cinematic sense, but they were also able to exploit it in order to bring money into an otherwise suffering studio in a bleak point in America’s economy. Carl Laemmle Junior and Senior fed the public’s craving for these romantically dark, twisted tales, and in the process an incredibly deprived and underprivileged public still managed to feed the Laemmle’s wallets. Junior developed shock value in horror films, set the foundation for the original archetypes, and in the process created stars out of actors playing disgusting, sinister characters.

Who’s to blame/thank for the film’s greatness or lack there of?
It’s hard to know who to blame for this film falling a bit flat. Lon Cheney Jr. certainly gave his best performance, and for the time, the make-up and costuming by the acclaimed monster maker Jack Pierce (Whose story is both interesting, and tragic) was on par. Curt Siodmak could, perhaps, have written a better story then with better suspense build-up near the end, but then, he too was on beat with the times. Or was he? The New York Times reviewer would say, “No.” I don’t blame anyone, though, for my underwhelming reaction to this movie. It was simply, not what I’d hoped for. I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe one of you can. Maybe you disagree wholeheartedly with me. Heck, maybe I just picked the wrong time to watch an early werewolf film.

Why I watched this film in the first place?
In searching for classic horror films, I found this on many lists. I hadn’t seen it, and I hadn’t seen many werewolf films. It’s as simple as that.

If you liked this, you might also like:
If you liked this, by chance, you’ll like Frankenstein and Dracula even more. You’ll also probably enjoy Abbott and Costello’s monster spoofs, of which, I plan to watch VERY soon. They did one with all of the Universal monsters, and some of them featured multiple monsters in one. I remember watching them as a kid and they were great fun. If you like this, I’ve included a few lists of werewolf movies that others have compiled. I can’t speak for them, so if anyone finds one you really enjoy, I’d love to hear about it.

Final verdict – in claps:
I did not clap. I did not howl. I didn’t boo, though. It was what it was, and I have respect for the era in which it was made. I loved watching the documentary about the Wolf Man that accompanied the film. I particularly enjoyed the section on costume designer Jack Pierce. Yak hair was apparently what was used to make Lon Cheney’s beard. Who’d of guessed? So… clap if you’d like. It’s just a matter of tastes. Clap in respect for an era, or clap because you love werewolves. Clap for Cheney and his depiction of the Wolf Man or clap for the costuming. I wouldn’t fault anyone for liking this film.

Related Links
More on the history of The Wolf Man: http://famousmonstersoffilmland.com/2010/01/07/wolf-men-the-men-who-created-1941s-the-wolf-man/
Other people’s favorite werewolf films:
http://horror.about.com/od/horrortoppicklists/tp/bestwerewolfmovies.htm
http://www.pajiba.com/seriously_random_lists/the-best-werewolf-movies-of-the-last-30-years.php
http://www.top10films.co.uk/archives/5793
http://www.ranker.com/list/the-best-werewolf-movies-ever-made/all-genre-movies-lists

Bette Davis Eyes Gone Bad: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Twisted Sisterly Macabre and Bitter Rivalry

Bette Davis, easily one of the best-known stars of the 1930’s through 50’s, was only 54 when she made the frightening film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? which acted to revitalize her career after a short lull. Her transformation from big-eyed beauty to beastly spinster is so terrifying that it really gives a whole new perspective to the phrase “Bette Davis Eyes.” The question I asked myself multiple times during my screening of the movie, though, was, “Is this horror? Or just depressing?” It certainly doesn’t meet the requirements that we normally think of when we think of “scary movies.” There are no monsters (or are there), no gruesome attacks (not exactly), and I certainly never screamed with terror. Upon looking up the definition of horror, though, it’s defined as: an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; centered upon or depicting terrifying or macabre events. That said, I suppose this does qualify as horror, it certainly was horrific to watch and it absolutely shocked.

Blanche: You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t still in this chair.
Jane: But you ARE, Blanche! You ARE in that chair!

In Summary & Review
The film is about two aged Hollywood sisters who live alone in their equally aged house. One sister, movie star Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford), is confined to a wheel chair from an infamous and somewhat mysterious car accident that we see early in the film. The other sister, Jane “Baby Jane” Hudson (Bette Davis) is her eccentric caregiver. Poor Jane was a child vaudeville star who never found her footing in the movies when she grew older. It’s a sad picture before Jane goes bonkers. It’s a horrifying picture once she does. While both sisters battled severe jealousy towards one another at various points in their lives, it seems Jane’s fall from stardom effected her more than Blanche’s. She’s trapped in the child-like world of Baby Jane, certain that one day she’ll regain her star status; that is, after she’s rid of her beautiful, annoying, and crippled sister. However, a spoiled child grown into a spoiled and mentally disturbed woman isn’t a charming thing to watch, but rather a frightening one. How can we feel sorry for her psychosis, when she’s raging twisted attack after twisted attack upon poor, helpless Blanche? No, Jane seems beyond help, and Blanche is but the helpless victim. It’s a frigthful depiction of childhood rivalry, turned adult rivalry, turned insanity. You can watch the trailer at the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAcf9QqXprc

Marked with all of the elements of a psychological thriller with doses of the macabre, I was actually on the edge of my couch rooting for Blanche to break free of her sister’s lunacy. I was shocked, appalled, and yes, rather disturbed by the pathetic place where these two sisters found themselves. I was hoping for Jane to trip up, perhaps even up the stairs while carrying one of those grotesque meals she brought Blanche. Of course, that’s not the formula of horror films, and sadly this one was no different. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford shine as eccentric, loony, bitter, creepy, and altogether cooky fallen stars. I couldn’t help but think of Grey Gardens gone bad. Thank goodness little Edie wasn’t that kind of crazy.

Bette Davis’ remarkable performance as Baby Jane reminds us once more of how completely devoted she was to every role she encountered. Practiced in playing the strong-willed beauty, how different it must’ve been for her to play the psychotic old lady, hell-bent on torturing her paralyzed sister. It’s remarkable the way in which Davis flits back and forth between the evil and innocence brought on by whatever personality disorder Baby Jane was experiencing. That moment when we first see her in the oversized Baby Jane costume that matches that of her Baby Jane doll perfectly, is perhaps the most terrifying and telling of all. Can you imagine some of our most recognizable recent child stars jumping into grown-up sized versions of their character’s best-known outfits at age 50? Somehow I picture a grown Urkel running about saying, “Did I do that?” It’s deranged. It’s probably not an uncommon effect of child stardom, though. What make the film most horrific, however, is that for some reason Bette Davis’ Baby Jane character takes out all of her twisted regrets on her sister, who’s trapped in an upstairs room with no hope of getting out. This is the part that puts What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, right on par with any other creepy kidnapper, torture, or serial killer film of today. It takes light, fun places like the beach, and turns them into terrifying reminisces about a childhood long-gone and two sisters on the edge of destroying one another. It makes the viewer go, “Oh God! What can she possibly do to that poor woman now! Make it stop!” It certainly made me do that.

Blanche, you aren’t ever gonna sell this house…and you aren’t ever gonna leave it…either.” – Jane

Reaction and Recognition
According to Tim Dirks on the AMC Filmsite, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is, “A great psychological thriller, black comedy, and over-the-top camp classic… It features the bizarre (and sole) pairing of two legendary — and rival — screen legends in a gothic, macabre.” He goes on to describe the original theatrical posters for the film as having the following five points or things you should know before buying a ticket:

1. If you’re long-standing fans of Miss Davis and Miss Crawford, we warn you this is quite unlike anything they’ve ever done.
2.
You are urged to see it from the beginning.
3.
Be prepared for the macabre and the terrifying.
4.
We ask your pledge to keep the shocking climax a secret.
5.
When the tension begins to build, remember it’s just a movie.

Here, we get a sense of just how terrifying it must’ve been to see this film in 1962 when it was released, particularly, if you were already a fan of Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. I know it bothered me seeing Davis in such a strange, new light. It was, perhaps, this strange, new light, however, that earned Davis an Oscar nomination for her role as Baby Jane, which she lost to Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker. Sadly, had Bette won this award she would’ve made Academy Award history as the first actress to receive three best actress Oscars. According to IMDb, “It was the general feeling among Academy voters that while Davis was superb, the movie itself was little better than a potboiler exploitation film, the kind that doesn’t deserve the recognition that an Oscar would give it.” The film, however, earned four other nominations. Newcomer Victor Buono was nominated in the supporting actor category for his role as Edwin, and the film was nominated for it’s cinematography, costume design, and sound. The only category it won was costume design. A fair win, because as previously stated, some of Bette Davis’ childlike costumes were terrifying! In the photo below you can see her as child standing next to her grown-up self. It gives me the creeps just looking at it.

The film was also listed as #63 on AFI’s list of 100 Years…100 Thrills, and Baby Jane Hudson was #44 on the list of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains.

Bette & Joan: Rivals on and Off the Screen

“You mean all this time we could have been friends?” – Jane –

Something interesting to note about this film is the way in which the real off-screen rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford must’ve played into the perfection of their twisted sisterly rivalry on screen. I didn’t know this before watching the film, but the two supposedly hated one another. If you visit Bette Davis’ IMDb page, you’ll find quote after quote about her dislike of Joan. According to the site:

“Joan Crawford and Davis had feuded for years. During the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Bette had a Coca-Cola machine installed on the set due to Crawford’s affiliation with Pepsi (she was the widow of Pepsi’s CEO). Joan got her revenge by putting weights in her pockets when Davis had to drag her across the floor during certain scenes.”

In a quote from Bette about working with Joan on the film she says:

“We were polite to each other – all the social amenities, ‘Good morning, Joan’ and ‘Good Morning, Bette’ crap – and thank God we weren’t playing roles where we had to like each other. But people forget that our big scenes were alone – just the camera was on me or her. No actresses on earth are as different as we are, all the way down the line. Yet what we do works. It’s so strange, this acting business. It comes from inside. She was always so damn proper. She sent thank you notes for thank you notes. I screamed when I found out she signed autographs: ‘Bless you, Joan Crawford.’”

Why did Bette hate Joan, though? From what I read it sounds as if her dislike stemmed from Joan’s constant need to be in character. Bette claims that off-screen she was herself, while on-screen she became whatever the character required. Whereas, Joan was always playing up what Bette regarded as the character of Joan Crawford. Was this true, or not? Hard to say. Odds are that Bette and Joan hated one another (if they did hate one another) because they were just too darn similar. For instance, after Joan’s daughter wrote the deprecating book about her mother titled, Mommy Dearest, Bette’s daughter went on to write a similar book. Both daughters apparently found something in their mothers to detest. Perhaps it was also a bit of jealousy that caused the stars to feud, or at least caused rumors of the feud. While both carried equal amounts of star power, Bette was a trained actress dedicated to her roles, while Joan was the beautiful actress who played into her image as a “star.” They made films for rival studios MGM and Warner Brothers for years, then Joan jumped over to Warner Brothers where Bette was. In an interview from 1987, which you can watch at the link below, Bette claims the two women got along just fine. Whether that’s true or not is another question, but in 1987 all seemed to have been well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4Y9B9PJnW8

In another interview, Joan Crawford talks about her time working on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? She talks briefly about her feud with Bette, and gives a few more interesting insights into the making of the film.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1QmhRRcT64&feature=related

Who’s to blame/thank for the film’s greatness or lack there of?
This was an all-around group effort of awesomeness. Bette Davis giving an amazing performance is a no-brainer. Joan Crawford’s performance, though, is not to be ignored. If we hadn’t believed 100% in her fear, then the film would’ve been cheesier than it was terrifying. No, she deserves a fair amount of credit for her fabulous performance as well. Director Robert Aldrich was spot-on in the way in which he builds up the horror and the characters. He’s definitely a director I want to look into now. Here’s a nice behind-the-scenes gem I found about him and the making of the film.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nY5hCBb48O8

Why I watched this film in the first place?
Believe it or not, my mom actually recommended this to me when I mentioned I was planning on watching scary movies this month. It was the first thing she thought of. I guess it scared her so much as a young teenager, that she wanted to share in the terror. Thanks Mom.

If you liked this, you might also like:
Okay, so this falls into that weird niche of horror like Psycho or The Orphanage (which isn’t an old movie, but one that I’d highly recommend) where it’s the freaky images that stick with you more than anything else. It holds up its end of suspense as well just like Rear Window or the original House of Wax. If you liked Bette Davis in this and aren’t familiar with her, please find a copy of All About Eve to watch right now, then watch anything else by her and enjoy. If you like the idea of fallen celebrities, then Hollywood has no shortage of great films about that. Amongst those I’ve seen Sunset Boulevard and Grey Gardens are the best. All About Eve dances around that same topic as well.

Final verdict – in claps
You may clap as Baby Jane dances around in circles at the beach, perhaps for the last time. She’ll think you’re clapping for her, when in reality you’re clapping at the sheer genius behind making this film seem so darn creepy and real.

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