Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983

Downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983
STMcC in downtown Los Angeles, circa 1983

Monday, January 9, 2017

DEAD MEN RIDING

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MONTE WALSH
directed by William Fraker; starring Lee Marvin
1970
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MONTE WALSH is haunting and lyrical; a slow, dark, and melancholy poem on celluloid. It's Henry David Thoreau in a Stetson and down on his luck. 
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The episodic story revolves around two friends -- older cowboys -- who are trying to survive in the dying days of the big cattle ranches, as absentee Eastern corporations buy up the Western landscape, altering the only lifestyle that these hard-working, free-spirited men know and can embrace. 
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While many cowboys are sent packing as ranches are being dismantled or rendered inactive, Monte (Lee Marvin) and Chet (Jack Palance) are trying to remain on horseback doing the work that defines who they are and gives them a sense of accomplishment. But these are dead men riding in the dusk of their times; and what's worse, they know it. The serene pale pink and blue canopy of the fading daylight envelops these men and symbolically illustrates the sundown that lays heavily on their hearts.
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The truth dogs Chet until, in a relaxed moment at the close of a day, he acknowledges what all of the ranch hands know but have avoided admitting. "Nobody gets to be a cowboy forever", he warns his friend. But Monte is incapable of adjusting, and he will remain astride this horse called Honor even if it takes him into the horizon of a sad and solitary existence. 
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For Monte and Chet, some solace can be found in retaining their work ethic for the faceless employers and in the relationships that they clumsily but sweetly form with a prostitute (Jeanne Moreau) and a lonely widow (Allyn Ann McLerie) -- two women who can understand the pain that these men carry and who can share in their growing sense of isolation. The subtle and beautifully rendered relationship between Monte and his "Countess" is easily one of the silver screen's greatest tragic romances. It would have received the critical acclaim it so justly deserves if it had been framed in any environment other than a Western.
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THE  COUNTESS  AND  THE  COWBOY
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This is a very special and haunting movie that addresses the loneliness of those who feel distanced from their surroundings, caught up in forces that strip them of relevance in their times. This is NOT an action-packed, rip-roaring, shoot-em-up, and it will disappoint anyone who comes looking for exaggerated Hollywood gun duels. MONTE WALSH is a character study that takes a hard, and realistic look at Western men and women who cling to each other for support during the halcyon hour of soft, golden light and elongated shadows. 
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If what I have just written means something to you, then MONTE WALSH will find an honored place in your movie collection. If it doesn't, then I would recommend great but more traditional and/or exciting Western Movies to you (e.g., Red River, Shane, Butch Cassidy, etc.) 
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There are so many subtle, authentic touches to be discovered in this movie. For instance, in one scene, Monte's shirt gets ripped, but notice how a piece of it shows up later in the form of a bandana around his neck. That's true Western economy! 
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MONTE WALSH contains more honesty than we are accustomed to finding in Western films, and for this reason, it may seem too sedate for most contemporary viewers. The unique dignity of this film is summed up perfectly when the nearly destitute and futureless Monte is offered a significant amount of money to act like a caricature of himself in a traveling Wild West Show, but he resolutely responds, "I ain't spittin' on my whole life." 
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MONTE WALSH seems to have an indefinable quality to it that transforms it into a transcendental viewing experience for certain individuals. It's something like Blues music: you either FEEL it or you don't, but words will never quite explain it. 
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~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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18 comments:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that mere words will never be able to explain all the subtleties of this movie, but you sure did a beautiful job trying. This is a great review. It should be helpful to anyone looking for a few hours of use unadulterated feeling.

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    1. Ahh, thanks so much, NITRO. That was a tender romance that the Countess and the Cowboy had, wasn't it? Tender but sad and ill-fated.

      I have often said that the story of my life has already been filmed. I am Monte Walsh. (I'm shocked to see I didn't write that into the review. Gee, I've said it so many times how could I have failed to mention it when composing this piece?)

      ~ D-FensDogG
      'Loyal American Underground'

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  2. What are your thoughts about "The Countess/"

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    1. I'm sorry, but I didn't catch that. What did you say?

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  3. What are your thoughts about "The Countess?"

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    1. Oh, the Countess...
      Well, her name was Kathleen, and I let her go away, just like Monte did. And for the same reason, too: I just couldn't see myself not being a cowboy anymore.

      There's a great scene in the movie 'Scrooge' (1970, Albert Finney) where Ebenezer in the present is standing next to Ebenezer in the past, and they're both watching the love of his life walk away.

      Past Ebenezer let her go away -- out of his life. He had the opportunity to stop it but he didn't. I guess Ebby was a cowboy, too.

      However, the Present Ebenezer says loudly, desperately, "Don't go! It's a mistake!"

      Great scene. Great movie. One of my Top Ten all time -- as is 'Monte Walsh'.

      Sometimes we don't get a second chance to correct a mistake. We make our decision and then have to live with it for the rest of our life.

      Planet Earth: School Of Hard Knocks.
      (That's why God invented wine.)

      ~ D'plorable Cowboy D-FensDogG

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  4. DAMN BLOGGER! It ALMOST makes me want to give up commenting on your blog!! So... do you not require approval of comments here before posting? Because it does not give me the usual message "your comments will appeal after approval," thus tricking me into trying it a bunch of times. ARG! WHY, YOU.... biff, pow

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    1. As you can see, the comments were there waiting for publishing approval from the god o' de blog.

      Not sure why you don't get a message saying the comment was received and is in limbo. Other than that, it seems to be working fine now. And I've checked every single setting for this blog against the settings for my BOTB blog and they're identical.

      Maybe in the future just a quick text saying "comment submitted" to give me a heads-up to look for it.

      But you know I loved the "WHY, YOU... biff, pow!" Because I'm not JUST a cowboy but a cowboy-pirate (i.e., not just whiskey but rum, too!!:-)

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  5. Your use of literary symbolism just blows me away, Stephen! This is such a fabulous review, I'm going to look for the movie online. Thanks!

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    1. DANG! DOUBLE-DANG! DEBBIE, thanks!!!

      I hope you like Westerns. It's a Western though-and-through, but just a different kind of Western in a number of ways.

      ~ D-FensDogG

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    2. I do like Westerns and am a big fan of Lee Marvin; Jack Palance, too. Total movie buff. ☺

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    3. DEBBIE ~
      Cool Cowboys! Then by all means, see it if you can. It's much more realistic than most Westerns. Well, like I said in the review, it's a character study that focuses on relationships between people and their environment.

      Not that very many people would care, but one could learn a lot about me personally by analyzing Monte's attitudes and considering them a representation of my own. More than a few times I've said that 'Monte Walsh' is the story of my life. Ha!

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  6. Stephen - You are a man of many talents! This beautifully written review is poetic. I've never seen Monte Walsh before, but after your brilliant review I hope to rope it in.

    Julie

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    1. GEM JULIE ~
      All you gotta do now is remember where you left your lasso, eh? Ha!

      Hey, thanks so much for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed the review. (There are plenty more where this came from.)

      I appreciate all the nice comments here. (Helping get me through some NOT-nice weather!)

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  7. Dude - I don't want to spur you to an even bigger head, but you do wrangle up a herd of insight on this movie. You write purtier than a $2 wh***, as Slim Pickins would say. But I've gotta say adios for now: I'm saddled with duties elsewhere, Buckeroo.

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    1. Who dat? Who dat say "Slim Pickens" when I say, "Who dat?"

      Your comment is marvelous! You need to be writin' reviews of yer own, pardner.

      FYI, I myself be a whore, therefore the word "whore" be perfectly OK on this pimpy blog.

      Now... let's see YOU ride an A-Bomb all the way down to Rooskie-ville. (Slim Pickens: greatest American in the whole United States of Georgia!)

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  8. Good movie, but it's been quite a while since I saw it.

    Your writing is superb, mon frere!

    COMMENTS NO ONE ASKS FOR, BUT YOU GET ANYWAY:
    1) Lee Marvin looks exactly like my neighbor from my childhood home. He hired me as his housekeeper when I was a teenager and I thought I'd died and went to heaven. I was rich! Rich, I tell you! (If only I felt the same way about $30 now).
    2) My Dad looked like Jason Robards.
    3) With all that "star quality" floating around, you'd think some would have rubbed off on me. But...nope.

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    1. My writing is "superb"? Gee, I was kind of hoping you'd like it, but... I'll try harder.

      [Thanks!!!]

      Yeah, $30 doesn't go too far anymore. If anyone wants to know whose fault that is, they should read THIS review:

      http://stephentmccarthyreviews.blogspot.com/2017/01/an-evil-of-monstrous-proportions.html

      I like Jason Robards a lot. I mean, I don't know anything about him personally, but as a performer, he had great natural charm. Did you ever see him as Mark Twain in the movie 'MARK TWAIN AND ME'? A little hard to imagine maybe, but he made the PERFECT screen Twain!

      ~ D-FensDogG

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