Tuesday, November 28, 2023

I Want Him Dead

 


A 1968 Spaghetti Western from director Paolo Bianchi and writer Carlos Arabia.

To be frank, I had never heard of it but gave it a shot as it turned up on two Top Twenty Spaghetti Western lists: Tom Betts and Thomas Weisser both picked it.

I usually find much to enjoy in Betts’ picks.

Here we have a somewhat bland Craig Hill go through the gritty paces.

Much ado about the usual—vengeance, close-ups etc.

To my eye it wasn’t bad, as some of this genre can be execrable but…personally, I found it in no way memorable and fail to see what distinguishes it from the countless others of this genre.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Day of Anger

 


An esteemed Spaghetti Western, Day of Anger aka Day of Wrath aka I Giorno dell’ Ira.

Released in 1967 and directed by Tonino Valerii who would go on to helm the oddly similar but mighty entertaining My Name is Nobody.

Here we have the aging gunfighter schooling the youngster in the ways of the gun and the eventual showdown.

An able Lee Van Cleef plays our experienced gunfighter and Guiliano Gemma our young hand.

I am a fan of gunplay and Gemma is one of the best in the Spaghetti Western genre, smooth fast, able gun handling, but oddly here, not used to much effect.

We have the usual obstacle of overcoming poorly dubbed dialogue and stretches of “Wha?”

But overall, it is a colorful film with more than a few fine stylistic set-pieces.

It is no classic but keep in mind that is merely my opinion, Spaghetti Western authorities Quentin Tarantino and Tom Betts place it in their top twenty lists.

So, your milage may vary.

Overall, not bad if you have a fondness for the genre.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Death of a Gunfighter by Lewis B. Patten

 


He stared down at the boots. They the finest calfskin a man could buy, Patch had said when he gave them to him. Dan had intended to put them away and save them for good, but Frank Patch told him, “You wear them boy, that's the way to enjoy a thing. Use it. What good ‘ll them boots do you if you put ‘em in a closet and let your feet get too big for ‘em.”

This novel is one of the revised Lewis 100 Best novels.

I’m of two minds here.

On the one hand, the ambition is admirable. A tale of a town that is ready to move on and a man who is not.

A Marshal less past his prime than past his time.

A town perhaps not as civilized as it assumes.

The tale is told inside the heads of many participants, from the marshal to seemingly peripheral players.

The motives and rationales are seldom straight lines as in lesser narratives, but messier, far more human.

This mature take is the admirable hand we consider.

On the other hand, it seems that Mr. Patten’s vision, while mature and appreciated, is not quite matched by skill.

This same story in the hands of a Steinbeck would be a classic.

Here, it is admirable—a thoughtful read without quite being an A.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

“La Grande Demoiselle” by Grace Elizabeth King

 


What Mademoiselle Idalie cared to learn she studied, what she did not, she ignored; And she followed the same simple rule untrammeled in her eating, drinking, dressing, and comportment generally; and whatever discipline may have been exercised on the place, either in fact or fiction, most assuredly none of it, even so much as in a threat, ever attainted her sacred person. When she was just turned sixteen, Madame Idalie made-up her mind to go into society. Whether she was beautiful or not, it is hard to say.

A perfectly delightful representative example from King’s Balcony Stories [1893.] These tales are a series of fourteen stories told  one evening by New Orleans women in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Being close in time to the event they are redolent with period detail that was not studied detail but lived detail.

I find it hard to believe that Margaret Mitchell did not read this volume and study it closely for her magnum opus, Gone With the Wind.

Delightful.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

A Case for Conan the Barbarian as Western Hero

 


Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.—The Tower of the Elephant

A Barbarian wandering hither and yon and laying waste in a Mythic Age?

What does such a character have to do with Western fiction.

Stay with me as I plead my case, a poor one perhaps borne of predilection, but there are a few points of evidence that may give pause to the doubters.

First, I refer only to the Conan of Robert E. Howards pen, and not to any of the authors that have attempted to follow in his footsteps, be it a character named Conan, Kane, Brak, what have you.

Secondly, I refer ONLY to Conan and not to the “sword and sorcery” genre in general, aka “Heroic Fantasy.”

Again, all of my meager arguments refer to the Conan of Howard, not the conan [lower case] of de Camp, Carter, Nyberg, Anderson, Jordan et al.

All other sword and sorcery and heroic fantasy leaves me unmoved.

Such a thing has always puzzled me.

Why is it that this single character, more specifically this single character in the hands of a single man click whereas the others strike me as carboard pawns?

To my mind this is no mere wish-fulfillment to shoehorn an icon of one genre to be more in alignment with one I adore—The Western.

It may be a small matter, but one that is not small to the author.

Many claim the fictional hero Jack Reacher of the Lee Child novels -and now those of his brother, Andrew Grant—is a “Western” hero.

This is thanks to a New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell [not known for pinpoint research] making claims that “Oh yeah, Western hero thru and thru.”

I quote from Gladwell’s piece:

The Reacher books are Westerns: they are about the man of honor coming to the lawless frontier town in order to impose a rough sort of justice.”

And…

Our contemporary fantasy is about lawlessness: about what would happen if the institutions of civility melted away and all we were left with was a hard-muscled, rangy guy who could do all the necessary calculations in his head to insure that the bad guy got what he had coming. That’s why there are rarely any police in Reacher novels—or judges or courts or lawyers or any discussion or consideration of the law."

Sounds like a pretty good justification, right?

The trouble is, Lee Child, the creator himself says, he holds no fondness for the Western. It is a genre he does not enjoy.

I don’t begrudge Gladwell for wanting to claim Reacher for the Western, but, maybe, just maybe it matters what the author himself intended.

Which brings me back to Conan.

Jack Reacher, on the surface at least, has seemingly more in common with the Western hero than a mythic Barbarian.

Let us allow Conan’s creator to have a say in the matter.

Regarding the character of Conan, “[He] simply grew up in my mind a few years ago when I was stopping in little border town in the lower Rio Grande… He simply stepped full grown out of oblivion and set me at work recording the saga of his adventures… Some mechanism in my subconscious took the dominant characteristics of various prize fighters, gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen I have come in contact with, and combining them all, producing the amalgamation I called Conan the Cimmerian.”

And there we have the key, to me at least, as to why I felt this Western affinity to the character of the original Conan.

Howard, a West Texan by birth, lineage and experience living in a day when his Conan models walked among us, created a living breathing bold character from living breathing swaggering actual gents.

Howard created the character and wrote from a real-life Western sensibility, whereas his followers are writing imitations of characters they encountered in books in false authorial worlds where inspiration is literary rather than gritty and actually human.

Conan in his wanderings strikes me as a forerunner to the laconic wanderers of the Spaghetti west.

Not cynical but pragmatic.

Not amoral but brutal.

Alive in a mythic past, but nevertheless alive.

One need not agree with my estimation of Conan as a Westerner, I merely offer as food for thought and as mystery solved for why one single character in an entire genre works for me and all other false heroes fail.

Conan was borne of real men.

That reality shows.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

“Daughter of Don Manuel” by Frederico Gana

 


Rounding the bend in the road, I came suddenly upon a group of men on horseback. It was a funeral party which had stopped for a little rest. I recognized some of the tenant farmers from the neighboring haciendas. Silent and motionless, they sat on their lean, perspiring horses. On their faces, tanned by the sun, half concealed under blue cotton caps and wide brimmed sombreros, there lingered an expression of somewhat conventional sadness, I might almost say of smiling drowsiness.

Frederico Gana is a new author for me. He wrote of the Chilean countryside and its peoples in the early 20th century.

This brief tale is melancholic, wise in observation and tinged with cynicism.

It reminds me of a Guy Maupassant writing of the West.

Based on this taste I shall seek more.

A Frontier Phrase Worth Resurrecting: “He Bubbles Pure"

  [Excerpted from our book The Frontier Stoic: Life Lessons from Those Who Lived a Life.] “ He bubbles pure .” ·         Said of a man w...