Say “Cheese” 007 – The Klansman (1974)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

The good news is: Lee Marvin is always a bad-ass.The bad news is: He’s stuck trying to be a bad-ass in The Klansman.

The complete and utter wrong-headedness of this movie is obvious from the very beginning, but I wasn’t completely convinced of how terrible it was going to be until about thirty minutes in, when Bobby Poteet, whose wife Nancy (Linda Evans) has been raped on a country back road – presumably by a black man – comes to Lee Marvin’s sheriff Track Bascomb to tell him he’s leaving town. But not with his wife. It seems Poteet can’t take the stares of his fellow citizens whom he knows must be wanting to ask him what it’s like to be with his wife who has – no, not who has been raped – who has “been with a black man”. What bothers him most, though, Poteet goes on to say, is that she just doesn’t seem to care. “She’s got no shame.” When asked where he will go, Poteets responds that he doesn’t know. All he knows is that he will be going by Greyhound. “Just like the n*ggers,” he says, laughing at how low his life has gotten. He then goes on to lament “Dammit! Why did this thing have to happen to me?” He then leaves, but before he does, he hands the sheriff an envelope, asking his to give it to his wife. Inside is his life insurance policy and $34. “I divided it up. Half for her, and half for Greyhound.”

Do I really have to go into everything that is wrong with this scene? No, I didn’t really think so. But just in case you think this is an isolated incident, perhaps try to give it something of a spin by saying maybe it’s just one man blaming his wife in a misguided attempt to process the grief he is feeling over what has happened, we cut to the net scene, which takes place in the town’s church, where the preacher is railing against the downfall of family values and blaming it on “them with the mark of the black beast” who are intermingling with their children and the goo upstanding citizens. Enter Nancy Poteet, who is met not with comfort and concern for her well-being by these upright citizens, but with shock and outrage that she would dare to show up and sully them with her tainted presence. “How can you push yourself on these good Christian folks?” she is asked. An the preacher tell her from the pulpit that if she has any decency lin her she will leave. The, when she expresses her outrage at being blamed for what was done to her, she is forcibly dragged from the church,

Oh, did I happen to n\mention that all of this is taking place in Wallace County, a fact we are informed of in the opening shot which focuses on a “drive safely” sign?

Yeah, to say that The Klansman is not exactly a subtle discussion of the state of race relations in the south in the seventies is more than a mild understatement.

The movie also takes an odd turn when it comes to the mayor/head klansman (“Hell, I’m the damn Exalted Cyclops.”) explaining his motivations. In a discussion with the sheriff (who apparently everyone in the town turns to to lend an unsympathetic ear). Interestingly, he isn’t driven by some pathological hatred of blacks as a race – he doesn’t see them as inferior or anything like that. Well, he probably does, actually, he definitely does, but that main motivation behind his actions is money.

Because of the black/white conflict, as he calls it, the blacks are leaving the south and moving north. “They’re moving to Chicago, they’re joining the army so they can get a fifteen hundred dollar bonus.Then they go to Germany for two years and become ski instructors! And what happens to me? I gotta replace ’em with whites. But no self-respecting white will do grunt labor for what I pay the n*gger.”

That’s right, his business is suffering because all the black folks are leaving this wonderful town to become ski instructors in Germany.

Yeah, I’m like you. I got absolutely no response to this.

Oh, and just for the record, according to the mayor, he’s not the heavy in all this “If you wanna know who the heavy is,” he says, “I’ll tell ya. It’s the system. And we’re all of us caught up in it.”

All of this, and we still haven’t even gotten to our other two leads in the film. Richard Burton co-stars as Breck Stancill, a virtual hermit living on a mountain on the outskirts of town, and the only white person in town who seems to be on the side of the blacks and willing to stand up to the rest of the town.

Burton’s involvement in the film is especially interesting, considering that he was so drunk through most of the shooting that director Terence Young had to shoot most of his scenes sitting down because he was too drunk to stand up. Not that Lee Marvin was exactly sober during filming either. However, no matter how drunk either of them might have been, reports are that they both showed up to the set on time and were ready with their lines. And honestly, drunk Lee Marvin and Richard Burton are still better actors than so many other when they’re stone cold sober.

O.J. Simpson also takes a turn (his first acting role) as Garth, a black man who decides he has had enough of the town and the klan, and takes matters into his own hand. He gets a shotgun and begins to take out the klansmen one by one, eventually leading to a full-blown shootout.

Oh, and then there’s the ending. Oh, my, the ending. I’m completely tempted to just go ahead and spoil this film by outlining it, but no, if there;s anyone out there who might be intrigued enough to check out this train wreck, I don’t want to take all of the “thrills” away from you. Suffice to say I feel sure that there’s supposed to be some kind of symbolism or message being given, but if so, it completely escapes me.

Actually considering the talent both in front of and behind the camera, there’s only one reason for this movie to be as bad as it is, and what it all really comes down to is the script. Well, that and the basic ideas behind it. I can’t imagine what the people behind it were thinking, but the end result that they have produced is so completely offensive that even if they were trying to perhaps make a good point, it gets completely lost in the abhorrent scenario.

Here’s your trailer:

Up Next: The Excellent 80s  Disk 1 Movie 1: Intimate Agony – General Hospital’s Anthony Geary discovers herpes!


Saturday Double Feature: Suicide Squad (2016) And…

ssp01Hey! It’s Saturday. That means it’s time to pair up another couple of films for a Saturday Double Feature.

I’m cheating a little bit this week, since today’s feature movie has already finished it’s theatrical run, but since it’s just come out on disk in the past few weeks, I’m declaring it recent enough to qualify.

One of last year’s most anticipated movies among genre fans, and also one of the biggest disappointments was Warner Brothers’ Suicide Squad. This was hopefully going to be the movie that, after the bleakness of both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman brought some light and fun to the DC comics movie universe. The cast looked good, the trailers gave some hope, and then…

And then the movie finally arrived.


No, it wasn’t as dark as its predecessors. As a matter of fact it had some pretty good moments. Instead it committed an even worse sin.

It was, overall, boring.

Yeah, I’m not sure how you take a premise like this and turn it into the kind of slog that we got (a problem that is not ameliorated in any way by the extended cut). Actually, I take that back, I do know how – you do what they did with this movie – instead of taking the Deadpool route and simply embracing the ridiculousness of the premise and going completely over the top with it, you try to fit it into the “real world” where it just doesn’t belong.

Anyway, here’s the trailer:

So in thinking about this movie and its premise – take a bunch of thieves, murderers, etc. and give them a chance to – perhaps not redeem themselves, but at least do some good and perhaps shorten their sentences, it occurred to me that there was one movie that would fit alongside Squad pretty well as part of a double bill – 1967’s World War II -set feature, The Dirty Dozen which starred Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Robert Webber, and Donald Sutherland as a team of criminally misfit soldiers sent on a mission from which few, if any of them, were expected to return.

Take a look:

Okay, so that’s my pick for a double feature pairing with Suicide Squad. What do you think? Got a better or different idea of something to go along with it? If so, let me know in the comments below or over on the DurnMoose Facebook page.

Top 250 Tuesday: #125 – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #125 on the list, John Ford‘s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. For a longer introduction and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll be posting that info later in the day.

The_Man_Who_Shot_Liberty_ValanceThere is a trope that most impressionists use when they are imitating John Wayne, and that is to call whomever they are addressing “Pilgrim”. Now I can’t say for sure that this movie was the first or only time that Wayne actually used that word, and it does make sense in context, but by the time the movie was over I could see why it would become the go-to caricature of Wayne’s way of talking. Actually, by the time the film ended, I was ready to pull a gun on Wayne myself if he used it one more time.

In this particular case, however, the “Pilgrim” in question is James Stewart‘s character Ransom “Rance” Stoddard. Stoddard is an attorney, presumably fresh out of law school, who is following Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go west, young man!” and find his fame and fortune in the territorial town of Shinbone. We’re never told exactly which territory Shinbone is located in, but it is one that is in the process of voting for statehood and deciding whether to become an actual part of the United States or remain a territory.

libertyvalance stewart wayneIt’s this decision, and the need for a local vote to elect representatives to a territory-wide convention that provides the backdrop for the main conflict of the movie. That conflict boils down to one between cattlemen to the north of what is called the Picketwire River, and the townsfolk south of the river. The cattle ranchers want things to remain as they are, because in a society of “might makes right”, they hold the cards and most of the money, so they can run roughshod over the settlers who are desperately trying to hold onto their lands and eke out a small living. The settlers, on the other hand, want the territory to join the union as a new state so that they can use the power of the federal government and its laws to break the oppressive grip of the ranchers.

It’s into the midst of this conflict that Stoddard rides, bringing with him an idealistic belief in the power of the law as opposed to the power of the gun. However it not only sets up a conflict between Stoddard and the titular Liberty Valance, who is the cattlemen’s hired gun, frequently riding into town not only to run roughshod over the people there while having some fun at the expense of those who are too scared of his quickness and skill with a gun to stop him, but to remind the townfolk how powerless they really are in the face of the rancher’s money, it also sets up a conflict between the newly arrived “pilgrim” and Wayne’s Tom Doniphan who up until this point has used his own gun to make sure that Valance never steps too far over the line.

liberty_valance1It is, of course, this latter conflct that actually is the heart of the movie, and is where director Ford’s interest actually lies. As a matter of fact, even though it’s Valance’s name that appears in the title, it is completely apropos that the real emphasis is on the man who shot him. Lee Marvin’s Valance is actually a fairly one-note character, all gruff grumble, shout, and bluff, whereas both Stewart’s and Wayne’s characters are much more rounded.

What really makes this movie memorable, of course, and what sets it apart from other westerns that preceded it, is the way in which it goes about asking and then answering question at its core. In the conflict between Stoddard and Doniphan, Ford asks his characters and his audience to struggle with the question of who is really stronger, the man with the law on his side, or the man with the gun in his hand? Interestingly, in the way the movie plays out, the answer may not be the one you would expect.

To say that this is not exactly a “feel good” movie may be a bit of an understatement. Though we do get a sense of “justice triumphant”, it is at best a pyrrhic victory, and there is a sense of melancholy that runs through the entire film. It is definitely a case of “at what cost?” Ford’s west here may be somewhat romanticized, but it is never to the point where the viewer is allowed to forget that it was won on blood, and though the movie’s oft-quoted tagline, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend” may seem like it’s offering up something bold and brash, it actually serves to underscore the theme of men who, in the end, are forced to live with a particular lie, and the effect that it has on them for the rest of their lives.

936full-the-man-who-shot-liberty-valance-screenshotI haven’t really touched on the rest of the cast, but they are all incredibly strong in their support of the main players. Vera Miles plays Hallie, the female part of the inevitable love triangle between Stoddard and Doniphan (though really even that subplot is given a bit of short shrift as it’s made obvious from the first scenes in the movie how that is going to play out, though perhaps not exactly why), and she is well cast in a role that unfortunately doesn’t give her as much to do as one might hope. Even someone like Andy Devine, who later in life would continue to play variations on his ineffectual marshal character here, becoming increasingly broad as time goes on, is actually surprisingly restrained and comes across as a man who is not necessarily  coward, but simply knows that he really has no power to enforce the law, no matter whether he is officially the man with the badge or not. Edmund O’Brien also provides an interesting turn as the town’s newspaperman, who, though brave enough to offer Stoddard a place to open his law office and to run quite eloquent stories that are pro-statehood despite increasing threats from Valance, is eventually revealed as the town drunk who really only finds that courage in a shot of whiskey.

The cast is rounded out by a surprising number of other supporting players who all either were, or would become, quite recognizable in their own right, such as Lee Van Cleef, Denver Pyle, Strother Martin, Jeanette Nolan, Ken Murray, and John Carradine.

All in all, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a very strong film, and it’s quite easy to see why it ranks so high on the top 250 list. (Though interestingly, it is not the highest-ranked film for any of its three leads, nor for director Ford. But we’ll get to those other films eventually.)

Here’s the trailer:

So what are your thoughts on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? Is it a movie that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.