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Sam’s Club

deadly companions small

He’s not one of my guys, but those who love Sam Peckinpah love him very very much, and for those folks there is good news this week in the form of editions of two of his early films. VCI Entertainment has released Cary Roan’s restoration of Peckinpah’s first feature, the 1961 “Deadly Companions,” in a widescreen version that is remarkably acceptable in the context of all the hideous home video versions this public domain title has suffered over the years. And Twilight Time has issued a double-disc Blu-ray that contains both the 122 minute American theatrical release version of Peckinpah’s 1965 “Major Dundee” and the 136 minute “extended version” that Sony released in 2005. While neither of these cuts are Peckinpah’s (he was thrown off the film, by the producer Jerry Bresler, before the editing stage), the longer version does make a bit more narrative sense, while adding a taste of the graphic violence that would make Peckinpah’s career with “The Wild Bunch” four years later. (For a history of the two versions, and a detailed comparison between them, see Glenn Erickson’s essay at DVD Talk.) My New York Times review is here.

These are the two westerns in which Peckinpah seems to be most directly addressing John Ford — using a star (Maureen O’Hara) and a cinematographer (William H. Clothier) associated with Ford for “Deadly Companions” (though it was presumably the film’s producer, O’Hara’s brother Charles B. Fitzsimons, who determined the cast and crew), and borrowing significant themes and plot elements from “Fort Apache” for “Major Dundee.” But where Ford is about foundation myths, Peckinpah is almost entirely concerned with apocalyptic finales. These two films belong to the bright beginning of a too brief career, but already Peckinpah seems to be rushing toward the cemetery.

121 comments to Sam’s Club

  • Peter Henne

    “dropping everything but the kitchen sink, and then the kitchen sink, on the noggin of classical narrative cinema”

    I have to say I love thinking of ole Screwy Godard, plotting how next to capsize, turn inside out or otherwise rearrange classical strictures and the laws of physics. But I find him inclusive instead of proscriptive. I would suggest taking another look at Valerie’s death scene. Sure, her nodding out foregrounds the fiction. But the camera is also patient for pathos to gather. Her dying is moving and bracketed as an illusion all at once. It’s like Godard wants seeing-in and seeing-as to take place exactly at the same time. Because settling for just one wouldn’t be good enough.

    I perfectly agree with Gregg that Peckinpah is a transitional figure. This thread prompted me to finally catch up with NOON WINE, and what a fine balance between classical grace and his restless exploration it operates on. On the one side, the fine actors and script; on the other, his disquieting camerawork and churning editing. In a sense, this tension is still going on in THE WILD BUNCH between the older performers’ precision and the upturning montage opening up clusters of violence. I love both, but I think in PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, where Peckinpah draws back from scads of overt displays and resituates strife in the world and landscape itself by bleak staging and his sober, chilling draining of color, he goes deeper.

  • It seems to me that what is depressing and what is not is not only rather personal, but also changes from time to time. When watching a film again it might be more or less depressing than the first time. It also depends on which part of a film we chose to focus on. As a Bergman scholar I have debated this issue more than once, with me arguing against the idea that Bergman’s films are all gloom and misery. There is almost always light and hope in his films as well.

    I have a handful of favourite directors, whose films I miss when I haven’t seen them for a while, that are part of me. One among them is Peckinpah. But it is also the case that he is the only one I can feel a bit uneasy about, where I wouldn’t say to an unsuspecting friend “Go and see his films, they’re great!” without some preparatory words first.

    All films he made from RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY to BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA are fantastic if you ask me, and I couldn’t say which one I like best, even though JUNIOR BONNER is very special. I like the other films as well, but not as much. (Unfortunately I haven’t seen any of his TV work.)

    We don’t quote enough about the Looney Tunes if you ask me, and that’s kind of depressing.

  • Barry Putterman

    In Norm McCabe’s DAFFY’S SOUTHERN EXPOSURE, an antecedent of BOOBY HATCHED, we find Daffy trapped in a raging blizzard and can only hear his desperate voice yelling “Food! Food!” amid the blinding storm until a little circle opens up and an angry looking Daffy addresses the audience; “What are you laughing at? I’m really hungry.”

    Later, Daffy comes to a cabin where the occupying wolf and weasel take him in and feed him beans with the ultimate intention of cooking and eating him. The wolf rhapsodizes at the prospect of a duck dinner; “Oh, for that fowl taste in my mouth once again!”

    I offer this in the hope of precluding any depressing thoughts from Fredrik about our work here. After all, he has enough to contend with as a Bergman scholar.

  • Thanks Barry, you’re a great great sportsman!

  • Blake Lucas

    It’s always interesting what things can, if we are honest, be funny. Though it may not have the self-consciousness of the Looney Tunes that have so helpfully enlivened this discussion, a moment of no less knowing charm that for me is the hilarious high point of the film comes very early in TWENTIETH CENTURY when Walter Connolly, forever beleaguered but always stoical in his job working for a mad man, says with what seems like absolute seriousness “Say the word O.J. and I’ll kill myself.”

  • Johan Andreasson

    ”It’s always interesting what things can, if we are honest, be funny.”

    Well, since we’ve entered the territory of cartoons, there’s a great one by Charles Addams on that theme:

  • Both Connolly and Roscoe Karns are fabulous in TWENTIETH CENTURY! The film is perfection.

    Ah yes, Blake, I have watched 13 films by George Sherman over the last two weeks, it was my first experience of his work and I’m overwhelmed because they were so good! (The only one I didn’t care for was SOUTH OF THE BORDER.) His images of horsemen, still or moving, in vast landscapes were extraordinary. Some shots, some compositions, were among the best I’ve ever seen such as in THE BATTLE OF APACHE PASS and COMANCHE. The aborted lynching sequence in REPRISAL! was especially goose bumps inducing. Besides the visuals the politics were also interesting. In addition, the musical-comedy-western FEUDIN’, FUSSIN’ AND A-FIGHTIN’ was wonderful, and SWORD IN THE DESERT was great. I’m still bewildered by being completely unaware of him and his work until two weeks ago, and I call myself a film historian. I need to watch them again, and I want to watch the rest of his work as well. OK, maybe not the other two with Gene Autry.

  • alex

    Not quoting enough from Looney Toons is DETHPICABLE!

  • jbryant

    All I can say is Mike is entitled to prefer art that promotes and endorses positive values, but I’m glad that this approach has not been universally mandated throughout film history. No individual artist is obligated (or maybe even equipped) to reflect all of life, but at least in a free society everything is fair game. As much as I have enjoyed positive-themed films, how impoverished would film culture be without the tragic, the futile, the angry, the jaundiced, the nihilistic, the depressing? Sure, negative films that fail artistically are depressing in more ways than one, but those that succeed give you a feeling that transcends simple negativity. True art is always heartening, no matter how tragic or depressing the content. Art reflects life, which isn’t always a bowl of cherries. End of overly obvious rant.

    I think the only downer ending that pulled me up short was that of THE MIST, Frank Darabont’s adaptation of a Stephen King story. Without engaging in spoilers, suffice to say the ending gobsmacks you into thinking deep thoughts about a storyteller’s moral responsibilities and such. It so violates your expectations that you can’t help but wonder what the filmmaker wants you to take from the experience. I liked the film overall, but if all endings were as bleak as this one, I’d probably join Mike’s camp in a heartbeat.

  • Johan Andreasson

    I also liked THE MIST, including the ending, as did Stephen King who wrote the story from which the film was adapted:

    “Frank wrote a new ending that I loved. It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last 5 minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.”

    An interesting thing with the DVD of THE MIST is that it includes a black and white version of the movie, which is apparently the look the director prefers.

  • Johan, the King is quote is interesting inasmuch as the narrator of the novelette says that he doesn’t want to leave the reader with a “Hitchcock ending” but has no choice, undoubtedly alluding to “The Birds,” and here King alludes to a Hitchcock marketing strategy.

  • alex

    Fritz Lang ‘s RETURN OF JESSE JAMES tonight on TCM at 10pm.

  • Brad Stevens

    Peckinpah’s films may be depressing, but they are almost always rooted in ‘positive’ values (the exceptions are absurdist works such as THE KILLER ELITE and THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND). Like all great tragedies, their impact depends on the presence of utopias which are in the process of being destroyed. The most intriguing example is BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, which begins with what is essentially a lesbian rereading of the Garden of Eden myth: a female community, associated with images of fertility and nature, which is shattered by the entrance not of a snake, but rather of two men who are the first in that series of paired males which culminates in the nightmare car journey of Benny and Alfredo Garcia’s rotting head – a particularly bitter critique of the male buddy films which were so popular in the 70s.

  • Tony Williams

    And who sends the two men to her? None other than Emilio Fernandez, El Indio of THE WILD BUNCH, who has no redeeming features such as the young boy who looks up to him as a hero.

  • About the sunny side of Bergman: did he enjoy This Is Cinerama (1952)? Here a screenshot from Kvinnodröm (1955).

  • Johan Andreasson

    There’s still a great deal of caution with this sunny side. He repeats the word “livsfarligt” (life threatening) three times in the shot.

  • Peter Henne

    I think there’s been a lot of great choices for black-and-white Cinemascope films. The format is something of an amalgam, looking back and looking forward, and maybe not the easiest thing to work with. It might even be said there’s a built-in danger for films possessing these dual components to turn eccentric and curious, like antiques redressed with modern fittings. But as the choices already made here prove, some outstanding and vital films have been made.

    Maybe there aren’t exact opposites at work, but some pronounced tensions are set up. To begin with, at least in the West, the width of Scope is the exception, not the norm: it goes past reasonable proportion for most subjects. It seems fair to say black-and-white tends to ennoble and classicize—it simplifies and idealizes. But Scope is bold and innovative and exploratory; its nature is to open up, not revere. Black-and-white constrains the means of expression, while Scope broadens out the sides of the screen. Black-and-white factors out the flashing temper of color, but the elongated shape of Scope is something of a shake-up to dramatic space and introduces greater possibilities for upheaval. It’s a truism for still photography that black-and-white drives down to the essence of things, yet Scope framing lends itself to playful organization of visual information. It’s as though we’re asked, “Try this out for size.” Though Scope’s width might seem more like actual vision than the Academy ratio, it seems to seldom work out that way. Maybe it is because Academy is inherently so well-equipped to convey the personal make-up of a single human being, and invites comparison to the most fundamental kind of reality we know, the life of a human: its ratio is broad enough to inspect that subject, but also tight enough to lead us to identify with it. Academy presents us our double simply and fully, like no other standard ratio can.

    Of course, those are all generalizations and I’m offering them, as well as what follows, only as guidelines at best. It’s well-established that in Japan the film industry widely adopted Scope starting around 1958, lasting for about 12 years. Yes, there were exceptions—for example, late features by Ozu, early ones by Teshigahara—but it was a comprehensive changeover. I’m sure that Junko can inform us much more on how all of this happened and how it affected production and individual directors. But one thing I’m struck by is that play and essence are not so disparate in Japanese art as they are in the West. Cleverness and slyness aren’t suspect skills for getting to the deep heart of the matter; they’re just tools in an arsenal. Japanese films, then, might have been more artistically free to combine Scope with black-and-white, operating in greater harmony between the two. Somehow, the combination feels like more of a natural among Japanese productions on average than it does outside of Japan. Plus, with little exception, the format was practiced more widely by its greatest directors than from those outside the country. For those reasons, I’m keeping my favorite black-and-white Scope films (one per director) on a two-track system, those from Japan and those from everywhere else.


    High and Low (Kurosawa)
    When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Naruse)
    Harakiri (Kobayashi)
    Go, Go Second-Time Virgin (Wakamatsu)
    Red Angel (Masumura)
    Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (Oshima)
    The Pornographers (Imamura)
    Onibaba (Shindo)
    Pale Flower (Shinoda)
    Fires on the Plain (Ichikawa)


    Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky)
    Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais)
    Silence and Cry (Jancso)
    These Are the Damned (Losey)
    La Dolce Vita (Fellini)
    Bitter Victory (Ray)
    The Tarnished Angels (Sirk)
    One, Two, Three (Wilder)
    The Innocents (Clayton)
    The Victors (Foreman)

    I look forward to seeing more. For these purposes I’m confining myself to the era when Scope was either thriving as a normal option if not the default, or was an artist’s regular expression—when it was needful, competed over for artistic supremacy and alive, not a toe-dip like a black-and-white excursion might be—an “occasional” gesture, like Blake said.

    I’ll note here there seem to be two categories of conscientious objectors. One kind I’ll call the Ascetics, who wouldn’t touch Scope to begin with out of distaste for all of that extra wide, unseemly display on the screen. This group includes Bresson, Bergman, Rossellini, Straub/Huillet, Rivette (who mastered the 1.85 screen but has never endeavored the Scope one), and Akerman (but after ALMAYER’S FOLLY, a veritable super-production by her standards, who knows what she might try her gifted and steady hand at?). The second kind of non-practitioners are the Color Stylists, who are going to go with wide space and color together in their Scope work: Minnelli, Walsh, Peckinpah, Altman. Kurosawa, Imamura, and Wilder seem to form a special group who had a particular affinity for black-and-white Cinemascope at one time in their respective careers. Each of them must rank among its masters, easily, and that facet of their work deserves to be studied.

  • Barry Lane

    Random Thoughts re The Deadly Companions: Beautifully written screenplay and story influenced, at least a little, by The Outcasts of Poker Flat and The Lost Patrol. Maureen O’Hara fine in her part but too glamorous. The kind of person she portrayed was undoubtedly under-nourished and beaten by both the elements and the clients she serviced. Chill Wills dominates whenever he is on screen. Reminds me of the “Ranown” cycle but I don’t believe Boetticher, Brown or Scott would have put up with Marlin Skiles tinny, tuneless truly annoying original score. As intelligent and well done The Deadly Companions does not reach the vest pocket theatre heights of The Tall T, Comanche Station or Ride Lonesome.

  • alex

    Junko, Interestingly perhaps, one of the great u.s. color Scope action sequences is, as I recall, set in Japan — the amusement ride finale to Fuller ‘s HOUSE OF BAMBOO.

  • mike schlesinger

    “[THE WESTERNER] was a Four Star production, so VCI should be able to obtain the home-video rights as easily as they did for the one season of ZANE GREY THEATER they released.”

    I actually mentioned this to VCI some time ago. They’ve tried, but the current owners are being kind of dick-ish about it.

  • Alex Hicks

    Re the strand of comments posted at this “Sam’s Club” thread about B&W cinematography, noir in particular, I’ve just re-seen Robert Florey’ THE CROOKED WAY and I , strongly recommend it – especially for John Alton’s splendid cinematography. This is not only striking in terms of it chiaroscuro and the like but seems to me perhaps to encompass direction itself during the film’s strikingly dynamic and well staged nearly silent final 20 minutes. I not only think the film provides one peak in Alton’s cinematographic career but stands as one of the best films on which Alton worked, raising the question of “can a cinematographer not merely enhance a film but be its auteur?

    Indeed, THE CROOKED WAY one of one of the best on which Alton worked, unsurpassed by any on which he worked with Mann. There’s nothing evident to me in Florey’s career to suggest that this level of quality as an accomplishment that can be attributes to Florey. (Surely, not the wildly different THE COCONUTS.)

    Consideration of Alton as auteur of THE CROOKED WAY raises the question of how much of the rather high guality Ingster’s STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOER to attribute to Ingster. Or should I be trying to view Insgster’s other two directorial efforts –unheard of by me until now — Southside 1-1000 (1950) and The Judge Steps Out (1949)?