The Glory Guys (1965)

glorguyposBy the mid 1960’s, Sam Peckinpah had written and directed many TV western shows, and also had 2 feature films to his name, The Deadly Companions and Ride the High Country. Peckinpah was quite a difficult person to work with – especially when he was directing – over his career, a trait he showed early and often. Depending on what you read, Peckinpah did a fair share of directing on 1965’s The Glory Guys only to be removed from the position.

In the American west, Capt. Demas Harrod (Tom Tryon) has been reassigned to the famous Third Cavalry stationed at Fort Doniphan. He’s served under the regiment’s power-hungry commander, General McCabe (Andrew Duggan), before and doesn’t relish the chance of doing so again. With a major campaign looming against massing Indian tribes, Harrod is assigned to D Company, a group of misfit recruits who are new to the regiment. Can he ready these inexperienced men in time for the upcoming campaign? Can he navigate a love triangle with a beautiful widow (Senta Berger) and the regiment’s chief scout (Harve Presnell)? Only time will tell.

It’s hard not to watch this film and not see the Peckinpah influence (he did write the screenplay). He would use many themes, characters and situations in his own 1965 western, Major Dundee (a personal favorite). And while it isn’t on the same level, ‘Glory’ is still pretty decent. A thinly veiled take on George Custer and the 7th Cavalry getting wiped out at the Little Big Horn, ‘Glory’ has flaws, but there are enough positives to give it a solid rating. Whether it was Peckinpah or fill-in Arnold Laven (a TV director), this western is pretty decent.

To say the least, the star power here doesn’t blow you away. Tryon and Presnell are okay, but they don’t command a lot of attention. Compare the duo to Charlton Heston and Richard Harris in ‘Dundee,’ and you see the disparity. Tryon’s Harrod is an interesting character, but there’s just not much life there. The same for Presnell’s Sol Rogers, an experienced frontier scout who should have been such a cool character. No one is done any favors by the love triangle storyline with the lovely Senta Berger, one of the dullest triangles I’ve ever seen. Harrod kinda wants her – he figures, I guess, kinda sorta – and there’s a fistfight or two but…pretty meh overall.

‘Glory’ is not surprisingly at its best when dealing with the inner workings of the Third Cavalry, and specifically Harrod’s D Company. His history with McCabe is checkered, so he wants to guarantee his inexperienced men are ready for battle. Is it traditional, even familiar stuff? Sure, but it’s handled well. Underused score (listen to the main theme HERE) from Riz Ortolani, and beautiful filming locations in Durango, Mexico (the same as ‘Dundee’) are big positives. The iconic shots of cavalry troopers silhouetted against a rising/setting sun, the traditional cavalry vs. Indians (never identified by tribe, just called ‘hostiles’), it all works pretty nicely.

The misfit recruits of D Company end up being more interesting characters than the leads actually. James Caan hams it up and chews the scenery as Dugan, the hard-drinking Irishman, with Michael Anderson Jr. basically prepping for his ‘Dundee’ role as a young trooper in love, with Slim Pickens whipping them into shape as the veteran sergeant. Also look for Adam Williams (the inexperienced trooper) and Erik Holland as Gentry, the worrying Scotsman. Also look for Wayne Rogers as Harrod’s second-in-command, and Peter Breck as the condescending, bullying Lt. Hodges.

Maybe a touch long at 112-minutes, ‘Glory’ takes a little while to get going. No real action to speak of other than a company-bonding fistfight early, but the campaign against the hostiles gets going over the last 40 minutes. There are some truly impressive sequences, hundreds of riders battling in a grassy, hilled valley as the Third (or Custer’s 7th) march into battle. Genuine scope here as we follow D Company in a beautifully done extended sequence. Who knows what Peckinpah filmed, but it speaks to a potential what-if. The quality of these scenes certainly show what was to come, both with Major Dundee and The Wild Bunch among others.

Disjointed at times, slow in other instances, ‘Glory’ is far from a perfect western. It’s highly entertaining though when it gets things right. Not easy to find, but western fans should like this one. Definitely give a watch. As sure as I say “not easy to find,” I found the full movie via Youtube. The link is below!

The Glory Guys (1965): ** ½ /****

The Killer Elite (1975)

killer_elite_movie_posterWith 1969’s The Wild Bunch, director Sam Peckinpah helmed his masterpiece, a classic film, one of the best westerns ever made, and one of the most influential movies ever made in general. The problem? Though he directed some gems after ‘Bunch,’ he often got trapped by the legend of The Wild Bunch, often trying to live up to the reputation. Here’s 1975’s The Killer Elite, an uneven but entertaining Peckinpah flick.

Working together for a security firm affiliated with the CIA, Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are good friends who have worked together as partners for years. Protecting an important defector, Hansen betrays Locken, shooting him in the knee and elbow before killing the defector. The horrifically crippling wounds force Locken to undergo serious surgeries and intense rehab, some of it through karate that he picks up quickly. Walking with a cane and a slight limp, Locken is brought back out of retirement to protect an important Asian politician on the run from an assassination squad. Leading the squad? Of course, it’s Hansen.

When I first really dove into Peckinpah’s filmography – an impressive, schizophrenic 14 movies – this 1975 action thriller was one of the last I was able to track down. The cast, the story, the potential Peckinpah chaos, it sounded like a winner. It’s a mixed bag in the end. Good but not great, wandering story and odd humor, and the cast is wasted at times. The potential is there, especially with a story ahead of its time foreshadowing government corruption (it was the 1970s) and its portrayal of bottom-dollar mercenaries. It’s a mess at 122 minutes, but there’s enough that works in the end.

James Caan and Robert Duvall together? It’s Sonny and Hagen back together again! Well, sorta. One betrays the other, filling him with thoughts of murderous revenge. The early scenes introduce the partnership/friendship, 2 guys with a history with a language and rhythm all to themselves. Unfortunately Duvall disappears for about an hour and then briefly comes back. Badly underused. Caan is solid, the revenge-seeking, stoic mercenary who must crawl back up from his lowest point. Caan could do a part like this in his sleep, but it’s pretty cool seeing him go all-out in the fight and karate scenes, using his cane as an accessory.

In the supporting cast, Arthur Hill and Gig Young are the firm’s supervisors, tasking their agents with one dangerous mission after another. Putting together a team to work with, Caan’s Locken chooses Mac (muttering Burt Young), a retired wheelman, and Miller (Bo Hopkins), a slightly off weapons expert. Mako plays Yuen Chung, the Asian politician looking to get back to Asia with some divisive plans. Not much backstory for anyone here, but Young and Hopkins (a Peckinpah regular) are having a lot of fun. The movie is at its best when it focuses on the agents, the mercenaries, even when they’re on opposite sides going toe-to-toe.

Mixed in with all this potential is an odd, out of left field choice to use ninjas as a villain. Not martial arts fighters….literally ninjas wearing black outfits and masks and using swords and throwing stars. It plays at times like a spoof, but it isn’t. The Locken karate subplot is one thing, but come on. It tries to be philosophical, thoughtful, questioning, but really, we just want ‘Elite’ to be fun. It is in its quicker moments, but too often goes back to that disjointed feeling of a story filled with potential that never quite figures out where it wants to go. At one point in the finale, all the action stops for a mano-a-mano fight as Caan and Young make fun of the fighters. It doesn’t play well.

You figure with a Peckinpah flick, you’re getting some good action. Eh, kinda. The final showdown is very cool, filmed on a mothball fleet of retired US Navy ships. But then the ninjas attack (poorly) and the slow motion takes over. It’s cool, but you can’t help but notice how cheesy it plays out, how disjointed it feels with all the twists and turns and betrayals. One last thing, the San Francisco filming locations are always nice to look at, and the score from Peckinpah collaborator Jerry Fielding is excellent.

 The Killer Elite (1975): ** ½ /****

El Dorado (1967)

el_dorado_28john_wayne_movie_poster29With 1959’s Rio Bravo, director Howard Hawks turned in one of his finest films in a career that spanned 6 decades. How good is it? Over 11 years, Hawks remade the film twice, first with 1967’s El Dorado and then 3 years later with 1970’s Rio Lobo. Here we go with the first remake, El Dorado.

A hired gun with a reputation for a fast draw, Cole Thornton (John Wayne) has agreed to sign on with a powerful rancher, Bart Jason (Ed Asner). He doesn’t know exactly what the job entails, ultimately deciding to not take the job when he realizes Jason is trying to drive a fellow rancher out by any means necessary. In the process, Thornton takes a bullet in his back that causes him to lose all feeling in his right arm. Months pass though, Thornton eventually ending up back in the valley. He decides to join the effort against Jason, joining his old friend, JP Harrah (Robert Mitchum), who’s retreated into a bottle after a woman left him. Now, Thornton, Harrah and a motley crew must band together to stop Jason from taking over the valley.

Sound familiar? It should, ‘Dorado’ a loose remake of Hawks’ Rio Bravo, made 8 years earlier. It isn’t spot-on, but it’s pretty dang close, a sheriff and a ragtag band forced to band together to keep their town going against a power-hungry rancher. Sure, there are tweaks here and there, but let’s call it what it is, a remake. The same filming locations — notably Old Tucson — are even used! The analysis is pretty cut and dry. If you liked ‘Bravo,’ you’ll like ‘Dorado.’

Though they were both in The Longest Day’s massive cast, Wayne and Mitchum were never on-screen together (that I remember). So naturally, the pairing of the two Hollywood legends is enough reason to watch any movie. There are flaws here in ‘Dorado,’ but let me tell you, the casting ain’t one of those flaws. Wayne and Mitchum make it look easy from the word ‘go,’ just two pros doing their thing and playing effortlessly off each other. Thornton is the hired gun (a bit of a darker part for Wayne) with Mitchum as the drunken sheriff, good with a gun but down on his luck. Naturally, there’s history between the two men, former rivals turned longtime friends. Just go for the ride with these two. You won’t be disappointed.

According to a Mitchum biographer, Hawks approached him with the idea of casting him opposite Wayne. Mitchum asked about the script/story to which Hawks said ‘Nah, no story. Just characters.’ It’s a dead-on description. Yeah, there are bad guys, things to be dealt with, but that story (I use the word lightly) is sorta kinda not really something that ties one scene to another. It’s 126 minutes long, but that second hour feels much longer, seemingly watching the same scenes over and over again. There isn’t much energy, little momentum, and then it just sorta ends. It’s never bad, just not as good at it could have been. ‘Bravo’ is 14 minutes longer, but it crackles, always on the right path.

So no story? Better be some damn good characters then! A very young James Caan more than holds his own with Wayne and Mitchum, playing Mississippi, a young gambler who’s proficient with a knife…but can’t shoot a gun to save his life. A strong part with some good laughs along the way. Charlene Holt and Michelle Carey are the love interests, two strong women and not your typical damsels in distress. Christopher George is underused as Nelse McLeod, a gunslinger with a code, his scenes with Wayne’s Thornton excellent. It’s just two guys sizing each other up. Also, Arthur Hunnicutt plays Arthur Hunnicutt, um, I mean Bull, an old Indian fighter who’s always talking.

Also look for Paul Fix, Asner, R.G. Armstrong, Jim Davis and Robert Donner in supporting parts. Johnny Crawford also makes a quick appearance as a young rancher’s son. Any Rifleman fans will get a kick out of seeing young Mark McCain grown up a bit!

The first hour is excellent, the second hour just not able to keep up. There are so many plates spinning — a lot of characters — that it all gets muddled. The villains are weak at best, and there’s very little action. Still, the star power — Wayne, Mitchum and Caan especially — makes it worthwhile. Hawks does focus almost entirely on characters over story, and while risky, it pays off. A very good western, but not a great one. The theme song, well, you’ll be singing it for days. Listen HERE.

El Dorado (1967) ***/****