Sunday, May 1, 2016

Under Burning Skies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Junior Bonner, Waiting for a Comet

Senator Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard (James Stewart) and wife Hallie (Vera Miles) return to the town of Shinbone to attend the funeral of old friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Through a flashback we learn of what ties them altogether—specifically the sadistic villain Liberty Valance played by Lee Marvin. What more can be said about this John Ford directed classic except with each passing year a central theme of guns vs. law continues to be debated in parts of this county which is sad to my way of thinking. Film shot in stark black and white only ages in some of its hackneyed comic subplots, usually involving the coward sheriff (Andy Devine) or drunken town editor (Edmond O’Brien). Interesting to note Ford’s subtle presentation of African American Pompey (Woody Strode) who is shown on the community’s fringes like an observant, silent, all-knowing arbitrator: not saying the film was the gold standard of progressive thinking but it was a necessary step in the right direction.

Classic quote: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

JUNIOR BONNER (film, 1972)
Steve McQueen plays a modern Western cowboy as a rodeo champion Junior ”JR“ Bonner who returns to Prescott, Arizona, to reunite with his parents and brother and ride the unruly bull, Sunshine. Junior turns down a job from his arrogant salesman brother Curly by saying, “I gotta go down my own road.” “What road?” Curly replies, “I mean, I'm workin' on my first million, and you're still workin' on eight seconds.” The film bombed at the box office—director Sam Peckinpah remarked, ”I made a film where nobody got shot and nobody went to see it.”—but it’s now considered a film classic. A rousing crowded bar-room scene where the entire Bonner family and friends end up brawling but nobody is seriously injured is a hoot.

Note: I review Steve McQueen: The King of Cool Westerns at Macmillan’s Criminal Element blog.

WAITING FOR A COMET (Jo Harper Book 1, 2014) by Richard Prosch
Jo Harper is a twelve-year-old girl. She and her father, the publisher of the Willowby Monitor in Wyoming circa 1910, live alone after Jo's mother died years earlier. Things change when new constable Abigail Drake arrives with her pet calf. Jo finds a friend/mentor in Abigail and an unlikely adventure is in the works. A real joy to read this Y/A slice of Americana in the Mark Twain tradition who's referenced in the book (fellow Western author Wayne D. Dundee links similarities to Rooster Cogburn). Richard Prosch's (Holt Country Law, Devil’s Ledger) natural storytelling abilities hits all the emotional notes in this entertaining tale that adults as well as teens will find engaging.


jhegenbe said...

Mighty fine reading and watching!

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I haven't seen either of the films though I have been meaning to see the first for a very long time. I also need to catch up on Steve McQueen's movies.

David Cranmer said...

jhegenbe, trying to keep myself busy.

Prashant, John Ford is always a good place to start. Extraordinary filmmaker.

James Reasoner said...

I've loved THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE ever since I saw it at the Eagle Drive-In when it was new. It's one of those films I can watch again and again and see something new every time. Pure brilliance.

David Cranmer said...

James, Agreed. And I'm at the point (having also watched numerous times) where I study the background, secondary characters, etc. I paid a lot of attention, this go-around, to Pompey, Strother Martin, and John Carradine. Such outstanding acting with minor parts.

oscar case said...

Liked both the movies, but haven't yet read the book. Mister Prosch tells fine and entertaining stories.

David Cranmer said...

Oscar, Rich Prosch has that easy going narrative that pulls a reader in.

Elgin Bleecker said...

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALENCE is a haunting movie. The changes in Wayne and Stewart through the film are two extraordinary performances. Also consider the integrated school room. Ford was brilliant. JUNIOR BONNER is my favorite Peckinpah film. Great cast: McQueen, Ida Lupino, Robert Preston, Joe Don Baker. As modern westerns go, it is right up there with Kirk Douglas’ LONELY ARE THE BRAVE.

David Cranmer said...

Elgin Bleecker, I haven't seen LONELY ARE THE BRAVE in quite a spell, may have to add that to our schedule soon. I still like THE WILD BUNCH and THE GETAWAY over BONNER but only by the tiniest of margins.