Thursday, March 24, 2011

Character is destiny

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea had similar careers throughout the '40s and '50s in that both became known almost exclusively as leading men in Westerns. I'm hoping to finish out this year by watching Ride the High Country. Up until that point, I'll keep checking out the individual work of these two men.

Four Faces West is the best Western you've probably never seen (go ahead and surprise me here, Brandon!) by a director you've probably never heard of (Alfred E. Green). It wasn't even listed in the BFI Companion to the Western. Phil Hardy's Encyclopedia of Western Film did not fail, though, and Hardy has high praise for the film. I recommend Hardy's Encyclopedia to any Western fan. The films are listed alphabetically within a chronological listing.

What's special about Four Faces West? A whole lot. For starters, not one gunshot is fired throughout this movie, despite an impressive bank robbery and a film long chase of an outlaw by none other than Pat Garrett. I can't remember the DP's name, but the cinematography is quite nice.

Four Faces West makes a nice companion film to Colorado Territory. Both films feature McCrea as an outlaw who has temporarily gotten away with a crime. Both films feature a woman in love with the outlaw. The interesting difference is the (moral) Character of the outlaw (and the woman) in each. In Colorado Territory, McCrea is a hardened criminal looking to settle down with a big score. He has a code of his own, but has no qualms about his prior behavior. In Four Faces West, McCrea wrongheadedly engages in criminal activity for the benefit of another. His situation resolves because of his inability to ignore the health and welfare of a stranger. Both films (and all great Westerns) are "about" Character as externally manifest in Action.

I love both of these films.

Finally, Decision at Sundown. I love this film, too. Decision at Sundown is relevant now more than ever, considering the current prevalence of Revenge movies. I can't write about Decision without ruining the ending and I don't want to ruin the ending for any of you.

Decision at Sundown is interesting in the same way as Four Faces West. Like all of the best Westerns, these two films quietly and efficiently take established Western tropes and turn them on their heads to be examined afresh. These aren't "revisionist" Westerns. They stand proudly in the Tradition they are a part of, offering variations and new insights, but never rejecting the past.

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