Showdown (1973)

showdown_281973_film29Sometimes all you need is two stars. That’s it. That’s all. Unfortunately for 1973’s Showdown, that is all the western has in its entirety! It’s got two A-list stars — a little past their prime — but little else going on. Is star power enough to at least make the proceedings interesting? Better read on and find out.

Chuck Jarvis (Rock Hudson) and Billy Massey (Dean Martin) have been friends for years going back to their childhood. They stood by each other through thick and thin — with Billy making that especially tough at times — as they grew up, eventually buying and working a small cattle ranch together. They finally go their separate ways when a woman, Kate (Susan Clark), chooses Chuck over Billy. Not wanting to stick around, Billy rides out while Chuck marries Kate and becomes a town sheriff. Years later, their paths meet again when Billy joins a small gang and robs a train in Chuck’s territory. Now, the old friends find each other on opposite sides of the law. Will their friendship last or will it be done in for good?

I figured Rock Hudson and Dean Martin working together would be enough to make a pretty decent little western. I was wrong. From director George Seaton, ‘Showdown’ simply isn’t very good. Released in 1973, it feels about 10 years too late. While so many westerns were going for the unconventional, the revisionist look at the wild west, Seaton’s film has an incredibly uneven tone with bits of humor, a love triangle, some jokes, some unnecessary flashbacks, and only then goes for a downer ending. In the meantime, it’s far too slow-going for its own good and never quite recovers.

Western fans will still appreciate the pairing of Hudson and Martin, working together for the first time by my digging. Their chemistry is solid, two pros trying to liven up some familiar characters in an all-too familiar story. Hudson’s Chuck is the worrier, the hard-worker, the cowboy while Martin’s Billy is the fun-loving, hard-drinking ladies man who’s a skilled hand with a gun. In other words, a western Odd Couple of sorts. I liked the idea here, but it never clicks. The flashbacks become repetitive immediately and don’t do much to advance the story. Through it all, the duo keeps at it and makes things mildly entertaining, but never enough to lift up a pretty bad script.

My theory is that a love triangle can ruin just about any movie, and that plot device does nothing to help here (even if its far from the biggest issue). Clark’s Kate feels like an add-on for the sake of adding on. Donald Moffat is good if underused as Art Miller, Billy’s vengeful partner in the bank robbery. John McLiam does what he does best and plays a condescending a-hole who you just want to see get smacked in the face (or worse). No one else really jumps out from the supporting cast. Too bad because there’s some stock characters here and there that could have been better with even a little more development, or at least some more familiar faces.

‘Showdown’ has its positives. Hollywood legend and one of the best cinematographers ever Ernest Laszlo doesn’t disappoint, delivering a beautiful, sunny western that was filmed on location in New Mexico. It is a good-looking western. The musical score from composer David Shire is limited but manages to shine in some late scenes. Coincidentally? The movie is much better — if still too slow — in the last third as the tone shifts to a darker path. Unfortunately, it’s too uneven getting to that point. Things get dark, they get bloody and there will be casualties. The tonal shift comes too late to save things though.

Probably for diehard western fans, or maybe diehard Hudson and Dean-O fans. Not especially good but not awful.

Showdown (1973): **/****

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