The War Wagon (dir. Burt Kennedy, 1967) – This is really all formula, all textbook Western – for its era, anyway. John Wayne is a slightly less upstanding character this time around (but there were hints of that even in The Searchers, weren’t there? Wayne and Kirk Douglas certainly make a fine pair, although one wishes they’d taken advantage of the opportunity and put more of a visionary director at the help. It’s been commented upon that the Native Americans are pure stereotypes here (savage pawns existing for the purposes of the white protagonist, until they are easily massacred while the Duke rides away into the sunset…unlike The Searchers), to say nothing of the Mexican women (buxom, and that is all). Still, an old, entertaining classic.
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (dir. John Sturges, 1957) – There has been a bunch of films about the notorious gunfight, about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, those legends of the American West/Midwest that may as well have staged their lives in order to inspire one of the ideal Western narratives. Even the Westerns, old and Spaghetti, that have nothing to do with Earp and Holliday have everything to do with them. This realization of the story features a relatively inept Wyatt Earp, who needs Doc Holliday’s help even more than he’s usually willing to admit. He’s a rather poor judge of character, inasmuch as Burt Lancaster’s version of him allows for such an interpretation between the lines of the historical source. Contrast him with, say, Kurt Russell’s messianic version of Earp in Tombstone. Marks go to Sturges’ film, however, for subtlety and not being made in the 90s.
Snatch (dir. Guy Ritchie, 2000) – It’s still in style (as it probably always will be) to say that Lock, Stock… is better, so we must review it sometime soon in order to judge. To those of us who, in 2000, were not as in touch with broader cinematic trends, Guy Ritchie’s films seemed to come out of nowhere and carry tons of street cred by virtue of (1) being British and (2) being cool enough to lure Brad Pitt out of movies like Meet Joe Black and cameos in Friends for no paycheck (reportedly). Now, it’s easier to see Pulp Fiction all over it, along with plenty of other hipster-friendly, heist-driven, pop-and-roll-soundtracked, ecstasy-inspired editing before it. To be fair, though, it seems more than a little clear that Steven Soderbergh took a lot of hints from Snatch before delving into the Oceans series. What does Snatch say, exactly? What a confusing world we live in, with so many coincidences that mock humanity’s efforts to carry out their harebrained, get-rich-quick scenes. If you win in the end, it’s by sheer luck and despite the incompetence that undergirds the illusion of smarts you see when you look in the mirror.
Top Gun (dir. Tony Scott, 1986) – As gay as they get. So very many clichés fill this one up to the brim, but to be fair, it invented most of them. Tarantino’s rant in Sleep With Me gets some of the details wrong, and it certainly conflates everything else about the movie into subtextual homoeroticism (as so many are prone to do), but basically it’s all there. Buddy movies had existed for decades before this one, although they started to hit a real stride in the 70s. With Top Gun, it’s taken to a new level and given a man-love triangle to make it more interesting. Also, this is a big lesson in old-school morals, in the vein of Aesop’s Fables. Don’t be too cocky, or it’ll come back to bite you. Have fun in your job, but remember just what a high calling it is to be in the Navy. Hard to see much more in this through Tom Cruise’s perpetual grin.