Jan. & Feb. 2016 at TCM’s Movie Morlocks

Links to some of the writing I did for TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog in Jan. & Feb.

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Jan. 7: William Cameron Menzies: Chandu the Magician (1932)

Excerpt: “In recent weeks, you might have heard about the upcoming Doctor Strange film currently scheduled for release in November of 2016. The news caught my attention because I’ve always liked the comic book character and the cast, which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, is impressive. I mention all this because tonight TCM is launching their month-long spotlight on legendary production designer and director, William Cameron Menzies. Some classic film fans might balk at the idea of mentioning the upcoming Doctor Strange movie and William Cameron Menzies in the same paragraph but there are slender threads that connect the two thanks to Menzies’s creative contributions to Chandu the Magician (1932)”

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Jan. 14: 15 Favorite Films of 2015

Excerpt: “Many of the best performances I saw last year were given by actors who were 65-years old or older suggesting younger generations of performers could still learn a lot from actors like Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Ian McKellen, Richard Jenkins and Kurt Russell (who will be turning 65 in March!). I hope it also encourages future filmmakers to create roles that allow these veteran actors to strut their stuff.”

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Jan. 21: ’60s Spy Stories: Gila Golan

Excerpt: “Femme fatales are as important to ‘60s spy films as they are to Film Noir but one of the most frequent criticisms of the genre is its questionable depiction of women. While it’s true that they’re often treated as mere sexual objects in these espionage romps and are regularly introduced into the paper-thin plots to give the male leads something to ogle, the particulars are a bit more complex than that. If you watch enough of these panache productions you begin to notice how subversive many of them are. Sure, the women might dress in sexually suggestive clothing and use their feminine wiles to lure men to their doom, but they are frequently put in positions of power. They’re also regularly portrayed as being smarter or at least as capable as the men they encounter and occasionally save the day. If and when they decide to fall into the hero’s arms they’re often the ones initiating the relationship and control much of the action.”

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Jan. 29: A Minor Picture Compendium of Classic Movie Nurses

Excerpt:”Movie nurses come in all stripes. They can be mean and cruel like Nurse Ratched or gentle as doves like Audrey Hepburn’s character in The Nun’s Story. They can also be sexy, smart, compassionate, laugh-out-loud funny and ruthless blood thirsty monsters. What follows is a picture gallery featuring some of my favorite movie nurses.”

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Feb. 4: Melvin Van Peebles: The Story of A Three-Day Pass (1967)

Excerpt: “Seemingly Influenced by both the French and British New Wave, including the early films of Godard and John Schlesinger, Melvin Van Peebles first full-length feature film subverts conventional narrative methods to delve deeper into its characters conflicted psyches. The Story of A Three-Day Pass bounces, pops and glides like a musical composition and the innovative freewheeling nature of the film mirrors its jazz inspired score. Van Peebles uses a number of experimental film techniques including dolly shots, freeze frames, jump cuts, jarring dissolves, split-screen and lengthy POV shots that impart the film with an intimacy and immediacy that immediately draws you in and demands your attention. We’re encouraged to see the world through Turner’s eyes and we experience the bigotry he faces in a very direct way. It was refreshingly straightforward and progressive stuff in 1967 that retains its power to shock and provoke audiences today.”

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Feb. 11: Jean-Claude Killy in Snow Job (1972)

Excerpt: “Snow Job was filmed on location in the Italian and Swiss Alps by American director George Englund (The Ugly American; 1963, Zachariah; 1971, etc.) and Hungarian cinematographer Gábor Pogány (Two Women; 1960, Bluebeard; 1972, Night Train Murders; 1975, etc.). According to interviews, they used helicopters extensively throughout the shoot, which allowed them to capture all the action on the slopes. The camerawork is occasionally breathtaking as we watch Jean-Claude Killy jump and drift across the alpine landscape like an agile bird while risking serious injury or even death. Killy insisted on doing all his own stunts and it’s remarkable that he got through filming unscathed. If you appreciate seventies heist films with dynamic action sequences or the kind of risky professional skiing typically reserved for Warren Miller documentaries, you should find Snow Job a particularly rewarding and enjoyable watch.”

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Feb. 18: Jack Palance: Horror Star

Excerpt: “I first saw the tall, broad featured and chiseled actor in Man in the Attic (1953) where he played Jack the Ripper in this fourth film adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’s 1913 novel, The Lodger. I was only a kid at the time but Palance’s quietly seething performance impressed me due to the sympathy he was able to generate for his unlikable character. Jack the Ripper is typically portrayed as a cold-blooded maniac or sexually motivated monster but Palance, despite his menacing presence, was able to imbue his Ripper with a complex psychology that was thought provoking and surprisingly contemporary. As a seemingly harmless killer with an unmanageable Oedipus complex, Palance’s Ripper prefigures the often-cited character of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho.”

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Feb. 25: Douglas Slocombe: A Tribute

Excerpt: “What follows is a gallery of some of my favorite screen shots from Douglas Slocombe’s distinguished oeuvre. They demonstrate that the accomplished cinematographer was much more than an artless journeyman or technician who simply took orders from a director. The images I’ve gathered are linked together by a unique creative vision that spans the length of his 50-year career in film.”

Regular visitors to Cinebeats over the years might recall my affection for many of the films Slocombe worked on, which I’ve written about here including The Third Secret, Boom! and The Servant. An image from The Servant even graces my “testimonials” page.

RIP Mr. Slocombe.

6 Months of Film Writing

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I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting Cinebeats again but I’ve been busy with various personal projects and obligations. I’ve also recently started writing for Publishers Weekly but I thought I’d finally update with some highlights from TCM’s Movie Morlocks. Here’s some of the more interesting (in my estimation) film related writing & entertaining babble I’ve produced in the last 6 months. You might notice that the topics I cover have gotten a little “lighter” in content and that’s by design. TCM’s blog readers generally prefer light reading about familiar topics so I’ve been trying to accommodate them more often.

March, 2015:
Superhero Saturdays on TCM: BATMAN (1943)
Bold! Noble! Daring! BATWOMAN (1968)
William Mortensen in Hollywood
Hammer Noir: A Poster Gallery
April, 2015:
“Robbery & Murder Were Their Code of Living!” – THE CATS (1968)
A Troy Donahue Top 10
Cooking with Sophia Loren
Orson Welles at One Hundred
May, 2015:
Think Pink: The Enduring Appeal of Lady Penelope
Two on the Run: DEADLY STRANGERS (1975)
The Hollywood Style
June, 2015:
Hollywood Comes to Hearst Castle: Memories & Musings
Men Among Monsters: Remembering Christopher Lee & Richard Johnson
Bugging Out! A Poster Gallery
Classic Hollywood Actors Discuss Women, Beauty & Femininity with Arlene Dahl
July, 2015:
Underrated ’65
Elisabeth Lutyens: Horror Queen of Film Composers
Midsummer Reading Suggestions
Q&A: Michael Kronenberg From the Film Noir Foundation
Birdwatching in Bodega Bay
August, 2015:
A Few Fun Facts About Michael Caine
The Kitten & The Cowboy: When Ann-Margret Met The Duke
Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride
Closing Act: Shelley Winters

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The National Film Registry: Little Big Man (1970)

I was recently extremely honored to be contacted by an employee of the Library of Congress who told me that my 2010 essay on Arthur Penn’s controversial film LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) had been selected by the National Film Preservation Board to be included on the National Film Registry website as part of their ongoing work to “ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s film heritage.” LITTLE BIG MAN was one of 25 films that the National Film Registry preserved in 2014 and it’s a film that’s near and dear to my heart. Not only is it my favorite Arthur Penn film but as the step-grandchild of a Native American grandfather who treated me as if I was his own flesh & blood and played an important part in making me the woman I am today, I have a very personal connection to LITTLE BIG MAN.

My essay (which I originally wrote for Turner Classic Movies) is highly critical of the U.S. Government’s treatment of Native Americans as well as the Vietnam War so I’m rather surprised that it was selected as a text that’s now officially associated with the film. And as a history buff who spends much of her time watching PBS specials & reading non-fiction books about America’s past I honestly can’t think of a higher honor than to have something I wrote affiliated with the Library of Congress and the important work done by the National Film Preservation Board.

So without further ado, I’ve decided to re-post my essay below and you can find my original text on the TCM website.

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LITTLE BIG MAN’S BIG IMPACT by Kimberly Lindbergs

Few film genres have captured the imagination of movie audiences with the same kind of power and persuasiveness as the American western. For decades Hollywood mixed facts with fiction and created a kind of celluloid mythology that made heroes out of cowboys, would-be settlers and the U.S. Cavalry. Unfortunately this myth-making led to the vilifying of Native Americans who experienced incomprehensible suffering and losses that went undocumented in our history books and were unseen in our movies. Occasionally Hollywood would offer up subtle suggestions of the injustices and racism that Native Americans experienced but the limited scope of these films often marred our general understanding of the people who once populated this beautiful country. In 1970 that all changed.

The decade began with an important event in Native American history. On November 20, 1969, 79 American Indians began a 19-month long occupation of the abandoned prison on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. The occupiers demanded the return of Alcatraz Island and expressed their desire to have an Indian cultural center and university built there. The U.S. Government ignored their demands and on June 11, 1971 the occupation of Alcatraz came to an end but the event brought world-wide attention to the plight of American Indians and helped strengthen the resolve of AIM (American Indian Movement).

During the occupation of Alcatraz, Dee Brown published his unprecedented Indian history of the American west, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. This best-selling book detailed the genocide of the American Indians and changed the way Americans perceived their country’s complicated past. At the same time a new type of western was taking shape in Hollywood that challenged the way American Indians had been depicted in previous films. These revisionist westerns included A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970), SOLIDER BLUE (1970) and Arthur Penn’s LITTLE BIG MAN (1970).

LITTLE BIG MAN, which was based on Thomas Berger’s novel of the same name, chronicled the long and troubled history of Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), a 121-year-old man whose family was killed by the Pawnee Indians when he was only 10. He’s saved by the Cheyenne Indians (longtime enemy of the Pawnee) who raise him as one of their own tribe members. Jack comes to love and respect the Indians who refer to themselves as “human beings.” Throughout the film Jack Crabb is torn between two worlds. The world of the white men who are often depicted as religious hypocrites, murderous gunslingers, racist brutes and money hungry capitalists willing to do anything in order to make a buck. And the more earth conscious world of the Native Americans who are trying to survive while their own way of life, identity and human dignity is being stripped from them by the U.S. Government.

If my description of the film seems heavy-handed it’s because LITTLE BIG MAN is often a very heavy-handed film. Arthur Penn wasn’t merely interested in making a movie that challenged the way Hollywood had mythologized the history of the American west. The director was also responding to the war in Vietnam that had led to well-publicized atrocities such as the My Lai Massacre that took place in 1968. Penn had never shied away from showing violence in his films before but the relentless brutality depicted in LITTLE BIG MAN bothered some of the nation’s leading film critics. The movie detailed an ugly and little seen side of war that often led to the killing of innocent civilians including unarmed mothers and their children but it didn’t stop there. Indians were shown viciously killing one another while children coldly murdered adults and animals were brutally slaughtered by the Indians for food as well as by fur trappers for mere profit. Death was usually depicted as violent, sudden and bloody in LITTLE BIG MAN, which led critics like Vincent Canby of the New York Times to say that the film “wears its social concerns so blatantly that they look like war paint.” And the respected critic Pauline Kael, who had championed Penn’s previous film BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), thought that LITTLE BIG MAN was “just crude, ideological filmmaking.”

Thankfully the movie did have its defenders and audiences flocked to it. The American public was eager to experience an anti-establishment western that questioned everything that had come before it, even if Penn’s sledgehammer approach to his subject was often seen as crude and self-conscious. The criticisms of LITTLE BIG MAN seem rather ridiculous now when you consider the decades of misrepresentation that Native Americans had to suffer through. Arthur Penn knew that he needed to hammer home his point in order to breakdown the seemingly impenetrable wall of ignorance that had been built around the history of the American west. But the film softened its bold attack on Hollywood myth-making with humor and human pathos.

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Penn shot LITTLE BIG MAN on location with help from cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. and their use of actual historic sites, including Little Bighorn as well as Indian Reservations in Montana, gave the film a realistic edge that was rarely seen in previous depictions of the west. Penn clearly enjoyed playing with the public’s perception of historical events in films like THE LEFT HANDED GUN (1958) which focused on the outlaw Billy the Kid as well as his critically acclaimed hit BONNIE AND CLYDE but LITTLE BIG MAN was a more urgent and angry movie. It illustrated an epic tragedy of immeasurable proportions but still managed to be one of the director’s most entertaining and personal films.

The film also provided its star with one of his most challenging roles. Dustin Hoffman had become a popular counter-culture figure thanks to parts in memorable movies such as THE GRADUATE (1967) and MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969). His impressive acting skills, short stature, self-depreciating humor and universal appeal had made him a world-wide star who didn’t fit neatly into Hollywood’s idea of a typical leading man. The role of “Little Big Man” seemed tailor-made for Hoffman and he is unforgettable as Jack Crabb. Unlike many films that turned their leading men into heroic outsiders who lead the Native Americans out of danger, Hoffman’s character is a fumbling, weak-willed anti-hero who rarely succeeds at anything that he attempts to accomplish. The 33-year-old actor had to age 88 years in the movie which was achieved by using the services of skilled makeup artist Dick Smith. Hoffman also spent an hour screaming at the top of his lungs before shooting so his voice would sound as ragged as he looked. As good as Hoffman is in LITTLE BIG MAN, his extraordinary performance in the film is occasionally eclipsed by his costars.

Faye Dunaway is well cast as a reverend’s wife who turns to prostitution after her husband dies and Martin Balsam does a terrific job of playing a resilient con man. I also appreciate Jeff Corey’s portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok and Kelly Jean Peters is very good as Hoffman’s Swedish wife. One of the film’s most memorable performances is delivered by Richard Mulligan who plays General George Armstrong Custer. Mulligan was a brilliant comic actor who depicted General Custer as an egocentric madman hell-bent on the destruction of Native Americans. In previous films Custer was typically presented as an untarnished hero but Mulligan’s crazed performance gave the public a very different version of Custer to consider.

What really set the film apart from so many previous westerns was its depiction of Native Americans. The Cheyenne are not merely noble savages or bloodthirsty Braves in LITTLE BIG MAN. The tribe that raises Dustin Hoffman’s character is made up of gay Indians (Robert Little Star), angry lunatics (Cal Bellini) and sexually motivated squaws (Aimée Eccles, Emily Cho, Linda Dyer, etc.). These would have been fringe characters in any Hollywood film made in 1970 but their appearance in a western was truly groundbreaking. Penn’s film humanized Indians in a way that few Hollywood films had dared to in the past and they suddenly seemed as complex and divided as their white brothers and sisters. They were our neighbors, our friends and family members.

If a film can have a soul, that part was played by Chief Dan George who portrayed Dustin Hoffamn’s adopted grandfather Old Lodge Skins. Originally actors as diverse as Marlon Brando and Lawrence Olivier had been considered for the role but thankfully they turned it down. Hollywood had rarely employed actual Indians in the past but Chief Dan George was the real Chief of the Burrard Band of North Vancouver in British Columbia. He brought his personal experience to the role and gave a voice to Native Americans everywhere. His sensitive and humorous portrayal of Old Lodge Skins won the hearts and minds of movie-goers around the world and he was nominated for many awards including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Today LITTLE BIG MAN is often dismissed as a dated relic and when the movie is written about or mentioned it can’t seem to escape the shadow of the Vietnam war but Arthur Penn’s film is much more than just an angry anti-war tirade. It universally changed the way that audiences viewed Native Americans and it helped to broaden our understanding and interpretation of American history. Few films can make such lofty claims but I don’t think the importance of LITTLE BIG MAN should be underestimated. Sometimes a rare film comes along that actually changes the world and makes it a more interesting place to live in. Arthur Penn’s LITTLE BIG MAN is one of those films.

February & March at The Movie Morlocks

eastwoodvcI’ve been neglecting Cinebeats again. Having a hard time getting back into the swing of things around here and other endeavors are keeping me from the blog. But I thought I’d finally update with a quick list of some highlights from my February & Mach contributions to TCM’s Movie Morlocks. You can read all the articles by following the links below.

Wanna Rumble?
Excerpt: “I usually go out of my way to avoid ruffling the feathers of my fellow film fanatics but there are plenty of things that get me riled up on a monthly basis. Sometimes a girl’s just got to let off a little steam . . .”
Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of TCM with a free screening of CASABLANCA
Excerpt: “What fires up my imagination (about CASABLANCA) are the peripheral characters that linger around the film’s rough edges. The shady rogues, crooked cops, war criminals and usual suspects are the glue that holds this movie together for me.”
Play it Again, Morricone: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965)
Excerpt: “While Leone’s camera lovingly lingers on dust covered streets, decaying buildings, weather worn leather boots, gleaming gun barrels and the expressive faces of the actors that make up his cast, Morricone breathes life into them through his music and sound design. Together they’re one of cinemas most extraordinary and ingenious duos and it’s become impossible to think of one man without acknowledging the talents of the other.”
Unfinished Films: Where Can I Buy My Ticket?
Excerpt: “Jodorowsky’s story isn’t uncommon and there are thousands of forgotten unmade movies that we’ll never get the opportunity to see although they may not have had the same ambition or scope as the long lost DUNE. With this in mind I decided to compile a list of some particularly intriguing film projects that never made it to the big screen. These are the forgotten dreams of frustrated directors and writers but from time to time I find them unspooling in my head…”

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Ancient Evil is Now a Modern Industry: THIRST (1979)
Excerpt: “Few film subjects have been as exploited, examined and scrutinized as vampires. These blood sucking monsters are a favorite topic of horror filmmakers and fans, morbid romantics and angst-ridden pubescent teens. In recent years the vampire has lost some of its bite thanks to a spat of predictable and tired films made for kids and indiscriminate adults but this wasn’t always the case. The 1970s was a particularly inventive time for our fanged friends…”
The Nightmarish World of Maya Deren
Excerpt: “MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON appears to take shape within the troubled mind of its doom-laden female protagonist. It’s propelled by dream logic without any familiar narrative structure but it contains elements and visual metaphors found in countless horror movies beginning with a locked door that leads viewers into a vacant house that seems alive with apparitions..”

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November at the Movie Morlocks

Apologies for neglecting Cinebeats for a month but I’ve been preoccupied with other things. I took some much needed vacations in late October and November to spend time with family and in the meantime I’ve just been too busy to update the blog. I don’t see things changing much in December due to the holidays and other commitments but I’ll try to make a few more updates next month. In the meantime here are some links to my recent posts at TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog in case you missed them.

“It’s my blood. I gave it to you.”: A few thoughts about the state of modern horror films along with my take on the independent British/Romanian vampire film STRIGOI (2009).

Ralph Nelson’s DUEL AT DIABLO (1966): A look at Anderson’s undervalued western DUEL AT DIABLO featuring a very young and very handsome Sidney Poitier in one of his signature roles.

Art Meets Artifice in Shohei Imamura’s A MAN VANISHES (1967): Icarus Films recently premiered Shohei Imamura’s 1967 film A MAN VANISHES in New York and a DVD release is planned for the future. I got the opportunity to view the film before the premiere and shared my thoughts about it at the Movie Morlocks.

Spy Games: James Bond is back in SKYFALL (2012): I’ve been looking forward to seeing SKYFALL all year and the film didn’t disappoint. In my latest installment of Spy Games I explain why the film worked for me and explore how Daniel Craig has reshaped the character of James Bond.

Yul Brynner, Photographer Extraordinaire: We all know that Yul Brynner was an accomplished actor but did you also know that he was a talented photographer who enjoyed snapping pictures of his famous friends? I gathered together some of his best photographs and briefly discussed his photography background in this piece that’s light on words and full of eye-candy.

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Terence Young’s Red Sun (1971)

During the month of August TCM will play host to their annual Summer Under the Stars event and for the last few years I’ve been asked to participate in an in-house blogathon devoted to one actor who is being featured in their line-up. This year Toshiro Mifune is our man of honor and I was happy to be able to contribute a piece on one of my favorite westerns, Terence Young’s RED SUN (1971). The film isn’t flawless but very few are and with a cast that includes some of my favorite actors including Alain Delon, Charles Bronson, Ursula Andress and the man of the hour, Toshiro Mifune, it’s nearly impossible to find RED SUN anything less than charming. It’s also surprisingly entertaining! My post focuses on Mifune’s contributions to the western genre, which got him saddled (literally!) with comparisons to John Wayne throughout his career.

Follow the link to read more:
Toshiro Mifune, Japan’s John Wayne @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks

My Grandfather And Me

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All month long TCM will be running a series of films under the banner Race & Hollywood: Native American Images On Film. It’s a broad and complex topic so I decided to write about a broad and complex film, Arthur Penn’s extraordinary Little Big Man (1970). While watching it again recently after a 20 year hiatus I was taken aback by how much the movie had influenced other films like Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995) and Robert Zemeckis’s less interesting Forest Gump (1994). I also got the urge to hunt down a copy of John Hammond’s wonderful soundtrack for Little Big Man since Hammond’s score got lodged in my head while I was watching the movie. I didn’t mention this in my review, but I think Little Big Man is probably my favorite Arthur Penn film. It’s a sentimental movie that I first saw in a drive-in with my parents when I was just a kid. Obviously this colored my view of the film along with other personal experiences.

Long before I was born my own grandfather and grandmother were divorced. My grandmother remarried a wonderful man by the name of Willie who happened to be a Native American. Although Willie was only my mother’s step-father he never let me know it. For years I assumed Willie was my real grandfather and he treated me with the kind of love and tenderness that you’d expect from a member of your own family.

Willie lived in a trailer right outside Nevada where he had created a makeshift farm and he surrounded himself with chickens, goats and an occasional cow or two. He also had vast gardens where he planted corn, squash and other delicious vegetables. In the summertime my mother would often leave my brother and myself with Willie and we’d spend the warm summer months sleeping in his crowded trailer home, feeding the chickens, milking the goats and cows, and picking vegetables. He was a quiet and reserved man who liked watching The Lawrence Welk Show and he smelled like gasoline. When he wasn’t at home he was working at a gas station and his hands were stained from oil. I grew up loving the smell of gasoline and the sweet taste of goat’s milk thanks to my grandfather.

As laid-back as my grandfather was, he wasn’t afraid to be aggressive if the need arose and he didn’t suffer fools lightly. I may even owe him my life. One hot summer day I was on my way to feed the chickens when I heard the sound of a rattlesnake close by. I froze in fear and was afraid to shout for help as I watched the rattler make its way towards me. Suddenly my grandfather seemed to appear out of nowhere with a shovel in his hand and in a blink of an eye he threw it right at the snake and took off its head. I’ll never forget that moment and I’ll never forget Willie.

If you’d like to read my contribution to TCM’s film series Race & Hollywood: Native American Images On Film you’ll find them at the Movie Morlocks.

Hannie’s Revenge

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In memory of the recently deceased actor Robert Culp and in honor of Raquel Welch’s appearance on TCM tonight as a Guest Programmer I decided to write a bit about one of my favorite revenge westerns, Bob Kennedy’s Hannie Caulder (1971). Like many of my favorite films, the movie is far from perfect but I appreciate it more every time I see it. If you’d like to read my lengthy thoughts about Hannie Caulder you can currently find them over at the Movie Morlocks Blog.

The Magnificent Soundtrack

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The sexiest group of cowboys ever? Hell yes!

Over at the Movie Morlocks Blog I posted a brief piece about one of my favorite westerns, John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960). It’s one of the earliest movies I can remember watching as a kid and falling in love with. I’m not sure why I was so drawn to The Magnificent Seven but I suspect it has something to do with my ranch hand roots, the amazing cast and Elmer Bernstein’s terrific score. Check out Variations on a Theme if you’re curious about the evolution of Elmer Bernstein’s unforgettable theme for The Magnificent Seven.