Westerns ‘39: Union Pacific

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This is Movie #2 of my resumed attempt to examine all five hit Westerns of 1939.

A re-cap for those coming in late (you’ve only missed Destry Rides Again at this point): 1939 was the most important year for the Hollywood Western. For most of the 1930s, the genre was relegated to B-picture status, with cheap films churned out by smaller studios like Republic, Mascot, and PRC as part of continuing series like the Three Mesquiteers. But in 1939, a storied year for the film biz, five A-budget Westerns turned into smash hits that changed how filmmakers would handle the genre for the next twenty years.

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Westerns ‘39: Destry Rides Again

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Eons ago, I started a project at my old blog of writing about the five hit Western movies released in 1939 that led to the genre’s revitalizing in the 1940s and ’50s. I never finished the project, writing about only three of the movies, but I’m starting it up again—first by digging up and revising the three posts I did finish. So I’ll begin with, let’s see … Destry Rides Again.

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My Thanksgiving Horror Picks: Ravenous and The Witch

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Poor Thanksgiving! Not only is it jammed awkwardly between two larger, more ornate holidays, both of which are chewing away at it from top and bottom, but it doesn’t have much in the way of a horror movie tradition. Halloween, of course, is wall-to-wall with horror goodies—it’s the only movie genre that has its own holiday!—and the winter seasonal horror film has developed into its own subgenre, offering everything from family friendly thrills (Gremlins) to gruesome slasher flicks (all those Silent Night, Deadly Night films; please note this is not a recommendation).

Thanksgiving is the official holiday for The Twilight Zone and Mystery Science Theater 3000, so it has that going for it. In fact, I’d prefer to drop the whole “Thanksgiving” business and think of the fourth Thursday in November as MST3K Day. Discard the turkey and family and football and replace it with pizza and the Satellite of Love. I’m not excited about turkey, too much family gets stressful, and I hate football.

But I do have two horror film picks that are good matches to the season. Once the kids are in bed, the adults can release pent up tensions and guilt about the holiday with The Witch (2015) and Ravenous (1999).

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Greed and Film Grain: Vera Cruz (1954)

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Probably no single US Western had more influence on the Italian revision of the genre in the 1960s than Vera Cruz. You can imagine Sergio Leone watching this movie and saying, “Hot damn, this is how I wanna make ‘em!” (Sam Peckinpah was watching too; The Wild Bunch contains direct visual quotes from this earlier trip down south for trigger-happy gunslingers to shoot up Mexico.) It was also a technical development in film formats: not exactly a tremendous leap forward, but something that placed the wider screen in reach of studios with less cash.

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Navajo Joe: Not Burt Reynolds’s Favorite Flick, But I Like It

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When Burt Reynolds died earlier this month at age eighty-two, I went directly home to watch Navajo Joe. Not Deliverance. Not White Lightning. Not even Smokey and the Bandit, which Amazon Prime loaded up only the week before. Nope, none of the classics. Instead, I went to a 1966 Italian Western that Burt Reynolds rarely had anything positive to say about.

When he hit the talk show circuit in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Reynolds liked to joke about Navajo Joe as a movie only shown in prisons and on airplanes because the audience couldn’t walk out. He often told a story about how he thought he was signing up for a film directed by Sergio Leone when he accepted producer Dino de Laurentiis’s offer, only to discover it was Sergio Corbucci. “Wrong Sergio,” he’d crack.

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