Category Archives: FRONTIERADO

DJANGO: OPERA VERSION OF THE 1966 MOVIE

HAPPY FRONTIERADO! As this edition of the holiday winds down, here’s one last seasonal post.

Franco Nero as DjangoDJANGO: AN OPERA – Here at Balladeer’s Blog I love sharing my enthusiasms. My blog posts where I provide contemporary slants to Ancient Greek Comedies to make them more accessible have been big hits over the years, so now I’m trying it with operas. A little while back I wrote about how Philip Wylie’s science fiction novel Gladiator could be done as an opera. This time I’m addressing the 1966 original version of the Spaghetti Western titled Django.

IF YOU HATE OPERAS AND YOU’D RATHER JUST READ MY MOVIE REVIEW OF THE 1966 DJANGO, CLICK HERE 

DJANGO

Original Django posterLANGUAGE: Spanish. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that most of my fellow English-speakers find English-language operas to be silly. The prosaic nature of the forced rhymes in a language we are well-versed in does seem to rob opera of its mystique and its grandeur. 

I fall into that trap myself. I’ve noticed I can never lose myself in a Gilbert & Sullivan work like I can with La Forza del Destino or Tales of Hoffmann or any other opera sung in a less familiar language. At any rate, I’ve chosen Spanish for this opera because so much of the story takes place in Mexico during the war to dethrone Emperor Maximilian.

SINGERS: A Tenor, 2 Baritones, a Soprano, 3 Basses and a Mezzo-Soprano

For Django, I’m making it a two-act opera as opposed to the three-act format I used for Gladiator.

ACT ONE: MARCH 1867. A STRETCH OF BARREN DESERT ALONG THE US/ MEXICO BORDER. 

Django and coffinScene One: The opera would open with a stage version of one of the most iconic visuals from the 1966 film. Our title character, DJANGO, clad in his long blue jacket with his well-worn Union Army uniform underneath it, slowly, wearily drags a coffin behind him as he walks along singing his mournful song. He pulls the coffin via a rope slung across one shoulder.

The coffin symbolizes the burden of grief that Django has carried with him ever since his wife was killed during the U.S. Civil War by Confederate MAJOR JACKSON. Django has pursued his ideological and personal enemy across the west and now to this battle-scarred border town.

The vile Major Jackson and his former Confederate soldiers have turned into outright Klansmen. Jackson and his men are among the former Confederate military men who took up Emperor Maximilian’s offer of land and citizenship in Mexico (where slavery was still legal). In exchange they had to fight to help Maximilian retain his throne. Continue reading

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TOP THREE FRONTIERADO MOVIES

gunslinger costumeAnd 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).

Devils River BourbonOr 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:

NUMBER ONE

Top Frontierado Movie

Top Frontierado Movie

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.   Continue reading

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MORE WILD, WILD WEST (1980)

The three-day Frontierado Holiday weekend starts this Friday, August 7th. (Well, technically the good times start Thursday night, August 6th.)

more wild wild westMORE WILD, WILD WEST (1980) – Awhile back, Balladeer’s Blog reviewed the 1979 telefilm The Wild, Wild West Revisited, the previous reunion movie for the 1965-1969 Robert Conrad series in which he starred as wild west Secret Service Agent Jim West. Regular readers may remember that I tore that tv movie to pieces, on the grounds that it was more like a failed comedy than a sequel to the fun action series of the 60s.

This second attempt at a Wild, Wild West reunion special was – against all odds – EVEN WORSE. It repeated all the horrible decisions of the first one while introducing new creative disasters of its own.

more wild wild west 2Robert Conrad was back as Jim West with Ross Martin once again appearing as his sidekick Artemus Gordon. But that’s about all that went right.

From the very start More Wild, Wild West was bizarrely unoriginal. EXACTLY LIKE its predecessor it opened up with the retired Jim West, still a ladies man, getting interrupted mid-erection and Artemus Gordon, still a ham actor, getting called away from a stage career for “one last mission.” The characters frequently refer to the previous movie, so it’s not like you can say they were trying to erase the memory of the first one and start over. Continue reading

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LAS VEGAS, NM AND THE DODGE CITY GANG

The Frontierado Holiday is coming up this Friday, August 7th! Balladeer’s Blog will be squeezing in some more seasonal posts until that grand event kicks off on the upcoming three-day weekend. Frontierado focuses on the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality.

Las Vegas NMWHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS STARTED IN DODGE CITY – The Las Vegas in this article is Las Vegas, NEW MEXICO, not the more famous Las Vegas in Nevada. This lesser known Las Vegas held a degree of renown from the 1846-1848 war with Mexico onward. Its earliest history dated back to the 1600s.

On the 4th of July in 1879 the first train reached Las Vegas from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. At least half a dozen times a day trains would stop in the city and with all this new activity Las Vegas increased exponentially in size and population almost immediately. Many shady types from Dodge City settled in Vegas.

With business of all kinds soaring, so too did crime. The summer of ’79 saw plenty of infamous gunslingers, gamblers and outlaws from Dodge City and other locales arrive in town on the railroad. Doc Holliday and Kate Elder, Mysterious Dave Mather, Dutch Henry, the Durango Kid, Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, California Jim and many others made Las Vegas their temporary home. Continue reading

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KID RUSSELL AND SALLY SKULL: TWO MORE NEGLECTED GUNSLINGERS

Painting by Charles Marion Russell aka Kid Russell

Painting by Charles Marion Russell aka Kid Russell

Frontierado is just over a week away! The joyous day is coming when we can enjoy our meals of buffalo meat, Tumbleweed Pizzas, Southwest Fried Rice, corn on the cob, Cactus Salad, mashed potatoes and Western Spaghetti ! Later we can wash down some Deuces Wilds (Red or Black) and Cactus Jacks while playing Frontierado Poker or watching Silverado.

My most popular Frontierado articles over the years have been the ones about neglected gunslingers of the American West. Here are another man and woman whose lives were at least as interesting as those of the bigger names.

Self-portrait by Kid Russell

Self-portrait by Kid Russell

KID RUSSELL – How cool is it that an authentic, acclaimed international artist spent some of his younger years wandering the Wild West, even earning the nickname Kid Russell? Charles Marion “Kid” Russell was born in 1864 in St Louis, Missouri. As with Klondike Kate Rockwell, most of this figure’s life story is outside the purview of this article.

Since Frontierado is about the myth of the Old West I’ll focus on the legends about Kid Russell’s wild, wandering younger years full of guns, ranches, saloons, cattle drives, bordellos and sketches drawn on any nearby flat surface, sketches that showed the nascent talent that would one day make Russell world-famous.  

Charles Marion RussellWhen he was age 16 Charles’ well-to-do parents gave up trying to force him to continue his schooling at an eastern military academy and let him move to Montana, where, clad in a brand-new buckskin outfit, he worked on a friend’s sheep ranch north of Helena. It took skill with a gun and a true survival instinct to live through encounters with rustlers, hostile cattlemen and their hired gunmen but Charles, already being called Kid Russell, thrived and felt more at home in this rough and tumble lifestyle than among his family’s hoity-toity friends in St Louis high society.     Continue reading

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COMIN’ AT YA! (1981): MOVIE REVIEW

Comin at Ya 2COMIN’ AT YA! (1981) – Directed by Ferdinando Baldi, Comin’ At Ya! is often credited with starting the pointless and bizarre 1980s revival of 1950s-style 3D movies. The film stars Tony Anthony, famous to us Spaghetti Western fans for the movie series in which he played a gunslinger called the Stranger. He appeared in others, as well, some reasonably good and others, like Blindman, so bad as to be virtually unwatchable.

Tony’s standout feature is the way he always looks like he’s ready to burst into tears, which always set him apart from the countless tough guys in Italo-Westerns. That feature stands him in good stead in Comin’ At Ya!

Tony Anthony

Tony Anthony IS Tinsley – I mean H. H. Hart – in Comin’ At Ya!

Anthony stars as gunfighter H.H. Hart. No, not H.H. Holmes, which would be an entirely different type of movie. Hart has, like many a fictional gunman, decided to leave his past behind and settle down with his one true love – a female gambler called Abilene aka the Cajun Queen. Abilene is portrayed by European actress Victoria Abril.

On their wedding day, H.H. and Abilene are separated when the ceremony is crashed by a gang of white-slavers led by brothers Pike and Polk Thompson. Our story inverts the setup of Louis L’Amour’s western The Shadow Riders, in which two brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War set aside their differences to recover female family members from white-slavers headed for Mexico. 

In Comin’ At Ya! it’s the villains who are such a pair of brothers. Pike served on the Union side and Polk on the Confederate side. The duo command an enormous gang made up of veterans from both sides of the war in addition to renegade Indians and Mexican pistoleros. They steal the lovely Cajun Queen from her new husband and add her to the rest of their haul of young women to sell into slavery down in 1870s Mexico.

comin at ya - cinema quad movie poster (1).jpgOur main character, Triple H, ain’t havin’ it and sets out to recover his new bride and set free the other unfortunate women seized by the Thompson Gang. Needless to say he’ll also kill every member of the gang as well as some of the snobbish, upper-class Mexican aristos – male and female – who buy the ladies at an elegantly-appointed mansion/ former convent now used for slave auctions.

Even though this is really just a Spaghetti Western, albeit with slightly better production values, releasing a film titled Comin’ At Ya! clearly means you want it to stand or fall purely on its gimmick: 3D. First I’ll address the 3D effects and then examine the movie as a whole. Continue reading

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JOHN BULL: NEGLECTED GUNSLINGER

The Frontierado Holiday, which is coming up on Friday, August 7th, is about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality. Here’s another Frontierado Saga in honor of the season:

Union JackJOHN BULL – Very little is known about the early life of this mysterious British expatriate who became a famous gambler/ gunslinger. Even his name is in question – for obvious reasons – since “John Bull” had already been a standard nickname for British men in general for over a century.

Many accounts say the John Bull tag stuck to the Brit because he was so evasive about his real name, while other accounts claim his real name was John Edwin Bull or John C Bull. In my opinion it seems like a cosmically unlikely coincidence that an actual Englishman’s name would just HAPPEN to be John Bull, so I view it as an alias. Sort of like if an Irish gunslinger picked up the nickname “Paddy O’Rourke.”

The first accounts of him in the American West came in late 1861, when he took part in the Gold Rush to Elk Creek Basin back when Idaho was still technically part of Washington Territory. John Bull, giving his age as 25, claimed never to have engaged in anything as strenuous as prospecting, but said he had spent the last few years at multiple Boom Towns on the west coast, making a living as a card-player. 

PistolFor the next few years nothing can be pieced together except tales about “John” winning some big pots, losing others, gunning down sore losers and sometimes fleeing gold or silver camps with angry, shooting victims of his card-sharp skills on his trail. In 1865 or 1866 Bull arrived in Virginia City, NV where he met notorious gambler/ gunslinger Langford “Farmer” Peel and played a well-known practical joke on the young Mark Twain.    Continue reading

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TOM SAWYER – 1973 MUSICAL

Tom Sawyer

Tom Sawyer

TOM SAWYER (1973) – The TOM SAWYER I’m referring to here is the 1973 musical version which is unforgivably forgotten by many people. This musical has some incredibly catchy songs, memorable dialogue portions and terrific performances from all cast members, young and old.

Most importantly the film nicely distills the essential elements of Mark Twain’s popular story in a nearly seamless way. Anything you loved from the book when you read it is to be found here: Tom’s tall tales to Aunt Polly to explain why he’s late for supper or didn’t show up at school, Tom tricking other kids into paying him to whitewash a fence for him, Tom and Huckleberry Finn witnessing Injun Joe’s murder of Ol’ Doc, Tom chivalrously taking a thrashing for Becky Thatcher, Tom and Huck running away and being given up for dead and of course Tom attending his own funeral.

masc graveyard newAll that and a great musical number during an excellently mounted 1870s Fourth of July Celebration. Injun Joe gets a much more merciful end in this movie than he did in the book, so that’s a plus, too. 

Johnny Whitaker, known to generations of us as “that kid on those Family Affair reruns”, plays Tom in his best incarnation ever. Jodie Foster portrays Becky Thatcher, and in this version Tom shoots Judge Thatcher to  prove his love for Becky (I’m kidding!). Continue reading

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DANGEROUS DAN: NEGLECTED GUNSLINGER

The Frontierado Holiday is coming up on Friday, August 7th! As always, Frontierado is about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality. Balladeer’s Blog’s looks at neglected gunslingers of the American west are always a hit each year and here is another one.

Not Dangerous Dan Tucker

NOT Dangerous Dan Tucker

DANGEROUS DAN – David “Dangerous Dan” Tucker was no relation to the legendary “Ol’ Dan Tucker” from the folk song. This Dan Tucker was born in Canada in 1849 but his family moved south to the American state of Indiana when he was a child. In his late teens or early twenties, Tucker moved west to Colorado and began working as a machinist.

It was in Colorado that the soft-spoken young man picked up the handle Dangerous Dan (despite his real first name being David), a name he earned from being good with a gun during the wild and dangerous “Hell On Wheels” years of rapid railroad expansion throughout the Territory. By the mid-1870s this prototypical “strong, silent type” was forced to leave Colorado over a still-hazy incident in which he stabbed the wrong man to death.

Dangerous Dan relocated to New Mexico Territory, where he managed a Stage Coach Station near Fort Selden. That station was along the infamous Jornado del Muerto Desert, the “Journey of Death” between Santa Fe and El Paso. In his time there Tucker proved effective in fighting off attacks from Apaches, Mexican bandits and occasional homegrown outlaw gangs. 

By the summer of 1875 the legendary Sheriff Harvey Whitehill of Silver City, NM (Grant County) hired Dan as a deputy, kicking off the most well-known period of the gunslinger’s life. Early in 1876, outside Johnny Hall’s Dance Hall & Saloon on Broadway in Silver City, a man was fleeing after having disemboweled another man in the saloon, only to fall to Dangerous Dan’s gun. Continue reading

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BREAKHEART PASS (1975)

Breakheart PassBREAKHEART PASS (1975) – (Frontierado is coming up August 7th and, as always, it’s about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality.) Alistair MacLean may be more closely associated with espionage and crime thrillers like When Eight Bells Toll, The Eagle Has Landed and Puppet on a Chain but his lone Western, Breakheart Pass, is a very solid story which transfers MacLean’s usual themes to the American West.

Charles Bronson stars as Deakin, a former man of medicine turned gambler, con-man and gunslinger. Needless to say his wife Jill Ireland is along for the ride, this time playing a woman being wooed by oily Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna). Ben Johnson portrays Marshal Pearce, Ed Lauter IS Major Claremont and Bill McKinney takes on the role of Reverend Peabody.

Breakheart Pass 2Some critics bash this above-average film because they apparently thought Alistair MacLean’s name on the script meant it would be an over-the-top Western Spy actioner along the lines of Robert Conrad’s old Wild Wild West television series crossed with Where Eagles Dare. Instead, Breakheart Pass comes closer to grittiness than slickness and is all the more enjoyable for that. Continue reading

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