Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Will The West(ern) Ever Be The Same Again? [archived newspaper article]

 Fort Lauderdale News

By Jack Zink

June 6, 1972


While waiting for the feature film to start in a local theater over the weekend , the screen was lit for previews of coming attractions. In this particular case the coming attractions was a double-bill of Clint Eastwood oaters “Fistful of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More.”

     The man who was doing the announcing said that these films have set the mold for the modern Western.

     As I watched the short clips , depicting mean-faced men on both sides of the law, showing grisly killings and dust-bitten towns trying to fight for existence with the sagebrush, I had to admit the man was right.

     After watching another two westerns the same afternoon, that admission was even stronger. The Western whether it be a story with a conscience like “Chato’s Land” or a bloody comedy like “Hannie Caulder,” has undergone a change. It will never be the same.

     The formulas hasn’t really changed , but the ingredients are so different that it becomes difficult to make any judgments based on past experience. Westerns should be classed in two eras. You either prefer B C westerns (before Clint-Eastwood) or A. D. Westerns (After “Dollars”).

     “Chato’s Land” is a western depicting the classic hunt. A half-breed Apache (Charles Bronson) is in a saloon at the opener, trying to buy a drink. Bur racism reigns and the bartender won’t serve him. A redneck sheriff arrives and tells the half-breed to get out of the white man’s establishment or face being gunned down.

     The sheriff, however, is the one who gets gunned down when he tries shooting the Indian in the back.

     Bronson heads for the hills whole the townspeople form a posse headed by Jack Palance. The posse chases the Indian across numerous badlands, but the Indian manages to deplete their numbers until, in the end, dissension causes the posse members to start killing each other.

     Michael Winner directs the film with a flair for the raw edge, for slapping us with injustice of it all. The posse, even though aware that the Indian was in the right for killing the sheriff, conducts the search simply because the sheriff was white. This isn’t a posse; it’s a witch-hunt.

     Eventually, members of the group begin to lose heart. The Indian haunts the hills like a spectre, a grim reaper with no mercy for those who dare to enter Indian territory. Jack Palance, although the leader of the posse, is most understanding of the situation. But he’s antagonized by Simon Oakland, the perennial bad guy in Westerns who in this case, is hot-headed, hate filled bigot.

     When the posse reaches the Indian’s hut, Oakland and his contingent rape Bronson’s wife and burn his brother to blackened stump.

     But when the Indian reaps similar vengeance, Oakland goes berserk in his self-righteous anger, forcing the now beaten posse to continue to their deaths.

     The photography bears out the barrenness of the men’s motives, roving over the scraggy rocks of the Southwest as if in search for a last stop filling station. Jerry Fielding’s score is just as tense reflecting the barren land and the violent hatreds of the men on the chase.

     If you’re looking for a good Western in the classic sense “Chato’s Land” doesn’t fit. It is a product of this violent era. But even at its most gruesome, it has a conscience.

     Another Western, which has no need of a conscience is the half comedy effort, “Hannie Caulder.”


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