Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Film About As Subtle As A Sledgehammer

I mentioned in yesterday's post that the characters in The Ratastrophe Catastrophe might actually be fairly smart, if they could get over the personal failings. A Man Called Sledge is all about people making the wrong decisions because of their personal weaknesses. In this case, it's always greed.

James Garner played Sledge, who led a gang of robbers. The film starts with he and just one member of his gang robbing a stage, then reaching a saloon to warm up. While Sledge spends some time with his lady friend, his partner decides to get in on a card game. Normally a bad player, he can't stop winning. . . until the losers shoot him in the back. Sledge staggers drunk down the stairs, and doesn't particularly want to kill anyone, but they press the issue by not allowing him a proper grieving period, and so he kills them both. He also attracts the attention of a weather-beaten old man, who follows him to a town. But the old man isn't interested in Sledge, he's interested in the heavily guarded shipment of $300,000 in gold being brought into the prison there. A prison where he spent 20 years in a cell next to the vault. It seems to have driven him a little mad, and Sledge gets the fever soon enough, growing determined to steal one of those shipments.

To the film's credit, Sledge doesn't pretend this is his retirement score. As Hans Gruber once said, if you steal $100, you can just disappear. If you steal $100 million, they will find you. So Hans said that in the 1980s, Sledge probably lived 100 years earlier, and 300 grand is roughly equivalent, once you adjust for inflation or whatever. Sledge understands that it's going to end ugly for him, he just wants to be able to enjoy the good life for awhile before then. I guess because the idea of faking his death didn't occur to him. Well, we can't all be as smart as Alan Rickman.

The movie really wants to hammer home the greed issue, because once they pull off the heist (with a few casualties), the survivors start playing poker for each others share. One person ends up with all of it, then kills the a guy who tries to shortchange him. Then Sledge, who had stayed out of it, plays cards with that guy and takes everything, then leaves with all of it. Then his former gang kidnaps his lady to draw him in to try and take back the gold, and you can guess how that goes. I guess that's meant to be a greed thing, but it really just comes off as Sledge being kind of a dick with no gift for employee relations. Seriously, you won all the gold, just give each guy back his share, then leave. If they want to start gambling again, or kill each other, fine. Your hands are (relatively) clean, and there's extra time to get away.

Also, the film isn't helped by the fact every time guys start playing cards or whatever, the movie starts in with an annoying song about remembering the danger of greed and coveting other men's gold or something. It's a too on the noise, they use it too often, and oh yeah, it's really irritating. A Man Called Sledge feels like one of those American-made Westerns that was trying to copy the success of the Leone films, but whiffed on it. Contrary to what the filmmakers (or my dad for that matter) think, it isn't about everyone being a bad guy. Clint Eastwood's character in the films always looks like a fairly remorseless killer interested only in money at the start, but the key is he demonstrates there are lines for him, and he can help people even when it isn't in his benefit. Sledge, on the other hand, starts out decrying the death of the stagecoach driver as senseless (he dropped his shotgun as ordered, and it discharged when it hit the ground and killed him), but generally demonstrates that he's mostly just a greedy, vicious ass as the film goes on. And the guys in his gang aren't any better, and there really isn't anyone else.

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