And with many people home from work for the day the 2020 Frontierado Holiday Weekend has started! The actual holiday is tomorrow, August 7th, but many of you have indicated that you’ve taken to getting started on the Thursday night before, or “Frontierado Eve” I guess we could call it.
So with the big outdoor meals scheduled for tomorrow, let’s kick off this three-day weekend tonight with some Tumbleweed Pizzas and a variety of drinks. For the mixed-drink fans there are Cactus Jacks and Deuces Wilds (both red and black).
Or if you prefer your drinks with no mixers there’s plenty of the OFFICIAL bourbons of Frontierado – Devils River Whiskey and Horse Soldier Bourbon. Barrel strength (117 proof) is my personal preference but your tastes may vary.
Anyway, for tonight’s movies, here at Frontierado Headquarters we’re doing a mini-marathon of the Top Three films for the holiday. Below are my reviews of those three:
SILVERADO (1985) – I’ve never made any secret about how Silverado is, to me, THE official movie of the Frontierado holiday. The film has all the high spirits and family appeal of Star Wars plus the well-choreographed action scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. On top of that Silverado features all the highly stylized gunplay of the best Spaghetti Westerns but NOT the mud, blood, sweat and brutality of that genre.
This movie is pure escapism and features the kind of preternaturally accurate gunslingers that I jokingly describe as “Jedi Knights in the Olllld West”. These guys (as well as most of the villains) can literally shoot the needles off a cactus, simultaneously draw and shoot with pin-point accuracy and can just “sense” when some low-down hombre might be pulling a gun on them, even with their backs turned and from half a room away.
Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner portray brothers Emmet and Jake, Danny Glover portrays their African-American friend Mal, and Kevin Kline has the most layered role as the gambler/gunfighter called Paden. In the style of William S Hart’s cowboy characters from silent movies Paden is a former outlaw trying to go straight and finds himself in an ethical dilemma.
John Cleese, as unlikable and pompous as always, shows up as a former soldier of Queen Victoria turned lawman and, since my life seems to begin and end with bad movies, there’s a bartender played by Bill Thurman, a frequent supporting player from Larry Buchanan films.
Our four heroes meet on the way to Silverado, from where Emmet and Jake plan to lead their sister’s family west to California, where Mal plans to help his father work his piece of land and where Paden encounters the villainous but appealing Cobb (Brian Dennehy), the boss of the outlaw gang Paden used to ride with.
Cobb is now the corrupt sheriff of Silverado and is in league with the evil McKendrick family, the typical grasping and covetous ranchers trying to steal as much land as possible through violence and intimidation.
Jeff Goldblum shows up as a gambler who throws in with the bad guys and the rest of Cobb’s former gang members all serve as his deputies and as targets for our heroes’ bullets.
To fully capture all the story elements of this movie would take a few thousand words, suffice it to say that the film intentionally includes almost every western action angle – gunfights galore, a barroom brawl, saloons, card-playing, a wagon train, outlaws trying to victimize the families of said wagon train, a jail break, a stampede, a barbecue shootout and some of the most memorable showdowns in cinema history at the movie’s thoroughly satisfying conclusion.
Best of all, this movie was never dilluted by a sequel (though there were plans to do one), so it stands as a saga complete unto itself.
(P.S. An added bonus is the fact that several characters from the Frontierado Sagas I write interact with characters from this movie. The Blackwater Kid, Amarillo Rose, Dusty Murtaugh, Bison Bloodworth and many others all have connections to Paden, Mal and the Johnson Brothers.)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is, to me, the definitive Spaghetti Western. This movie incorporates all of the best elements of Italo-westerns and has the additional advantages of actual artistic merit and some location filming in the real American West. One of the most distracting elements of many Spaghetti oaters is the fact that the films were mostly shot in Spain’s Jarama Valley, which is great for a Spanish Civil War buff like myself, but that valley doesn’t really resemble the American west that the stories are set in.
Sergio Leone got to shoot some scenes for this flick in Monument Valley and such authentic scenery definitely helps in a film that exploits visuals to a degree unseen since the age of silent movies. This is undeniably an action film, but Leone and his co-writers on the script ( Bernardo Bertollucci and Dario Argento. I’m serious!) intentionally used the framework of an old-fashioned western plot about the railroad, land-grabbing and westward expansion, yet made it all seem fresh.
I often jokingly call this movie Evil Is A Man Named Frank, because, in a masterpiece of reverse-casting Leone put Henry Fonda himself in the role of the conscienceless, sadistic and predatory Frank, the lead villain. Watching the black-clad Frank calmly blow away a defenseless child early in the film lets the audience know right away that this is NOT your father’s Henry Fonda movie.
Like the heroes and villains of the number one Frontierado movie, Silverado, Frank and the good guys in OUATITW are the type of superhuman, pure fantasy gunslingers who are impossibly accurate and can sense adversaries pulling their guns from far away and with their backs turned.
One of Frank’s signature moments of “Jedi-level” gunplay comes when he’s blowing away an inept underling. He draws and with three quick shots punctures the man’s left suspender, right suspender and his belt buckle, killing him while simultaneously following up on an insult about the man’s odd fashion sense from a few minutes earlier. (The guy wore suspenders AND a belt)
The good guys include Claudia Cardinale, playing a former Madame named Jill McBain who has come west to live with her new husband’s family only to discover they’ve all been butchered by Frank and his boys. Jill is probably the strongest female character in Spaghetti Western history, which isn’t saying much, I’m afraid, but she comes across as fully-realized and world-wise as the male leads do.
As Jill herself points out while slamming down some booze, “I don’t look like a poor, defenseless widow” and it isn’t until she makes that sardonic remark that you realize that her role COULD have been played in that outdated, sheepish and cliched way, but thankfully wasn’t.
Jason Robards plays Cheyenne, an outlaw leader who comes to Jill’s assistance because Frank framed Cheyenne and his gang for the slaughter of the McBain family. Our bandit chief doesn’t like that and wants the man behind the frame-up. Cheyenne, like Jill and Frank, is a consummate survivor, hardened and, if need be, ruthless, and this essential cynicism to the lead characters is very well-handled. The effect is almost Western Film Noir.
Charles Bronson plays the lead hero, called Harmonica after the instrument he’s always playing a mournful tune on. Harmonica is a mysterious figure from Frank’s past, and has been stalking the cruel, heartless villain for years across the west. In his quest he’s unearthed a great deal about our lead heavy, and throughout his memorable exchanges of dialogue with the black- clad figure he peppers enigmatic allusions to the many victims left in Frank’s villainous wake.
He knows all about Frank’s amoral services to the railroad and also knows why the McBain family was massacred. Harmonica teams up with Cheyenne to help Jill, and the audience doesn’t learn why he’s been after Frank all these years until the climactic showdown, in a scene that is savagely beautiful and searingly memorable.
Like Silverado, this is a good guys versus the bad guys actioner, but it’s nowhere near as light-hearted and sentimental as that film. OUATITW is definitely an “adult swim” movie. There are plenty of scenes with adult themes, many depictions of Frank’s sadism and plenty of subtext about the grey area where unscrupulous business practices and outright criminality mingle.
That last is handled not only through wry dialogue between Frank and the crippled, terminally ill railroad baron he does the dirty work for, but also through a very uncomfortable sex scene between Fonda and Cardinale where Frank pithily draws parallels between modern business and Cardinale’s oldest form of it.
OUATITW is not a non- stop action frenzy like Silverado, either. Some patience is required in those scenes where viewers get to soak in the visuals, like in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.
And the music … the music in this film accentuates the story so well the soundtrack plays like music from those silent films I’m always droning on and on about, especially in the emotion-charged scene where we learn Harmonica’s secret.
If you are someone who refuses to watch Spaghetti Westerns you need to make an exception for this one, which is the one and only film from that genre that will appeal to general film lovers.
Posse stars Mario Van Peebles, who also directed, as Jesse Lee, the brooding, revenge-driven hero of the saga. He and all but one member of his gang, our titular posse, are soldiers fighting in Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898. A dangerous assault they carry out turns out to be a plot by their commander, the villainous Colonel Graham (Billy Zane) to covertly lay his hands on a fortune in Spanish gold.
The Posse carries out the raid, then they survive Colonel Graham’s treacherous attempt to have his most loyal troops gun them down for alleged desertion to cover up the existence of the gold. Our heroes are forced to flee Cuba with the gold and begin an epic journey across the western states, headed for Freemanville, a fictional African-American town in California. Once there they help Jesse Lee get revenge on the people who lynched his parents, the corrupt white lawmen in a nearby town.
Each stage of their journey is an action-filled set piece as our heroes remain on the run from legitimate lawmen as well as from the soldiers of the relentless Colonel Graham, who lost an eye in the battle with Jesse Lee in Cuba and wants some payback of his own as well as the Spanish gold. The journey westward begins in 1890s New Orleans. It is there, on New Year’s Eve 1898 into 1899 that the gang acquires their only non-soldier in the form of gambler/gunslinger Father Time, played by Big Daddy Kane.
Other members of the Posse include Tommy Lister as the huge, hulking man ironically called “Tiny” and who is pretty much Little John to Jesse Lee’s Robin Hood, Charles Lane as Weezy (insert your own Jeffersons joke here), the mousy guy who gains courage as the adventure continues, Tone Loc as the wry and sardonic Angel and Stephen Baldwin as Jimmy J. Teeters, the cardplaying, insubordinate white officer that Colonel Graham saddled Jesse’s military unit with in Cuba.
Our heroes shoot and ride their way across plains, snow-capped mountains and deserts before reaching Freemanville, which could also be called “Blaxploitationville” since about 90% of the inhabitants are African American performers who were staples in blaxploitation films of the 1960’s and 70’s. (That’s not a complaint by the way. I think blaxploitation is a misunderstood and underappreciated genre, especially regarding its parallels with Spaghetti Westerns.)
Among the citizenry we find Robert Hooks, Trouble Man himself, as Jesse Lee’s father (seen in flashbacks), Isaac “Truck Turner” Hayes and Pam Grier AKA Foxy Brown, Coffy, Sheba Shayne and Friday Foster. Naturally Van Peebles’ father Melvin also lives in the town as a character called Papa Joe. Melvin directed and starred in the blaxploitation classic Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song, with his son Mario as one of the little boys who set a police car on fire.
Another significant cast member is African American film icon Woody Strode as the elderly storyteller. Strode not only appeared in John Ford westerns but also portrayed one of the gunmen blown away by Charles Bronson at the beginning of Once Upon A Time In The West, previously reviewed here at Balladeer’s Blog.
On the way west Jesse Lee had some of the Spanish gold melted down into gold bullets by a blacksmith and our hero uses those special bullets to perforate the bodies of the many lynch mob members who killed his parents. Squeamish viewers will be glad to hear that nobody ghoulishly digs the bullets out of the corpses to retrieve the precious metal, like in the bizarrely violent Spaghetti Western called Django Kill, which also featured gold bullets.
Naturally Colonel Graham eventually trails our heroes to Freemanville, where he and his soldiers form an alliance of convenience with the white racist authorities from the nearby town. All plotlines converge in the action-packed, bittersweet finale to this wonderful film. In addition to being expertly mounted Posse features wire-to-wire gunfights, brawls, chases, explosions and even a sword fight thrown in for some variety.
(P.S. As with the fictional town of Silverado, Freemanville features frequently in the Frontierado Sagas I write and is the eventual home of figures like Bison Bloodworth, Doc Robyn and Kid Equus.) Here is the trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi4154196249/
FOR MORE FRONTIERADO ENTRIES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/frontierado/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.