July 2002

McCABE AND MRS.MILLER  (1991, 120min.) 

Director Robert Altman reveals for us here a vision of frontier life in a rough little boomtown of the old west that seems peculiarly authentic.  He introduces us to real people with runaway aspirations struggling to survive and thrive in an extremely precarious environment.  Principally there is Warren Beatty’s character, a fast-moving gambling entrepreneur, who ends up on the hit list of tycoons trying, without success, to buy out (for a paltry sum) his business interests, which includes a lucrative prostitution operation run by his partner, Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie).  Soon enough comes the showdown, preceded by a brief meeting between McCabe (Beatty) and the gigantic, bear-coated hit man and his two accomplices.  By this time, McCabe is ready to accept any offer he can get, but the big guy takes a puff on his cigar and says, “We’re not here to negotiate anything. We’re just up here to shoot some bears.”  There won’t be a big happy ending, but watching the movie is more than adequately satisfying.  It’s like a baptismal cleansing in what James Agee called “the cruel radiance of what is.”

 

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THE BIG COUNTRY (1958, 165 min., Cinemascope)

What a wonderful vision this was when I first saw it, spread across the screen in glorious cinemascope color! It remains, for me, the quintessential western, a larger-than-life parable of timeless class conflict and personal reconciliation.  There are so many unforgettable scenes: Burl Ives, as a rough-ass shorn patriarch of the outcast Hannassey clan, busting into the grand ballroom of Charles Bickford’s high-class ranch party and throwing down the gantlet so dramatically as he voiced his just complaints against the powers that be; the surprising final showdown; and, of course – my favorite – Gregory Peck’s unwillingness to publicly ride “Old Thunder” and then doing so to his own satisfaction when he was relatively alone, totally frustrating his intended fiancée, Carroll Baker, the rancher’s daughter, who sputters through her angry tears, “You don’t even care what people think about you!”  To

 which, he replies, “I’m not responsible for what people think about me, I’m only responsible for what I

 

 

WESTERNS

I grew up with westerns, digging those shoot-outs and fights by the likes of Bob Steele, then the more serious ones starring Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck and (my favorite) Randolph Scott.  Some westerns that have moved me: THE SEARCHERS, DEAD MAN (with Johnny Depp), and 3:10 TO YUMA. –BJ

 

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955, 81 min.)            

This film verifies all the paranoia we’ve ever had about really small town life.  Right after WW II, Spencer Tracy gets off the train at Black Rock, something strangers rarely ever do, because, you see, it is in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and besides, the place has a bad rep.  From the moment of his arrival, beneath his forties-style-brimmed hat, with his big-city “let’s get down to business” attitude, the local good-ol’-boys are against him!  And not without reason, because they are in cahoots with the town’s big-shot-boss-bigot (Robert Ryan) who, only awhile ago disposed of a Japanese-American neighbor who was deemed to be one of the enemy the very person, in fact, that Spencer Tracy is trying to find!  He will not relent or back down, and his superior deductive powers reveal to him pretty quickly what’s up it’s him against the mindless mob.  Here is a suspenseful drama with a thing or two to say about individual courage in the face of a threatening deadly force – the force of erroneous and malicious group pressure.

 

 

A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

In 1967, almost 20 years after my high-school projection days, I found myself interviewing for the position of associate pastor at a classically huge, “pre-Revolutionary” Church (UCC) in Wilton, Connecticut.  What immediately caught my eye, as we toured the facilities, was a little window, high up on the back wall of the huge meeting room that was called Pilgrim Hall.  This small, square window reminded me immediately of the little viewing portal in the projection booth at the Lyon’s State Theater in Franklin, Virginia, through which I used to gaze as a high school student projectionist at strange and wondrous visions passing before me on the silver screen.  Just spying this little window on the back of the church social hall and imagining its cinematic possibilities helped me decide to take the job.  And sure enough, it was not long until my band of young friends and I was beaming our own movie shows through that little window!  –Bill Joyner

 

 

P. O. Box 3411 / Sarasota, Florida 34230

joynerbill28@gmail.com

 

     
     

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