Friday, July 04, 2014

Bite The Bullet

I'm on vacation! I wasn't on vacation the last two days, but I was tired, irritable, and preoccupied, thus no post. But I'm at my father's for the moment, before I go spend the 4th with Alex, so I can toss a quick post out.

We did watch Red River last night, but it turns out I've already seen parts of that before. Just didn't know what I was watching then. It's one of those roles for John Wayne where they take that tendency in his movies for him to be steadfast in his certainty he's right, and deal with what happens when he isn't right, or he takes it too far. He gets blinders on, a complete refusal to consider any viewpoints or ideas but his own, and anyone who challenges or disagrees with him has to be dealt with. Because in most of his films, those are bad guys. Here, they're just his trail hands who think there's a better way to do it.

I hadn't seen Bite the Bullet previously, and I missed the first part of it, so they were already into the long, newspaper-sponsored horse race. Gene Hackman's rocking that mustache I've seen him sporting in a lot of his '70s movies, and he's in it, just to spite a wealthy fellow he delivered a horse to slightly behind schedule. The wealthy jerk is sponsoring some champion rider, and worried it would cost him the race, so he treated Hackman poorly, and now he has to worry about his poor employee relations costing him this big race. James Coburn plays an old friend of Hackman's who entered the race and bet on himself to win. Ben Johnson plays an old cowhand in it for the glory. Candice Bergen is a former lady of the evening, who is in the race for reasons unclear.

There's an English jockey, and a snot-nosed, loudmouth kid with visions of glory and no respect for anyone, because he thinks that's how men act. So his large quantity of hot air keeps pissing Hackman off. Which leads to a scene where the kid rides his horse to death in the desert, and Hackman demonstrates his displeasure. The lead up is shot kind of interestingly, as Coburn's character rides alongside, then passes the kid. The kid's shot in slow-mo, while Coburn's sped up, so from the kid's perspective, he's being passed effortlessly, even as his whips his horse relentlessly, with the horse's labored breathing serving as the background noise for the whole sequence, getting louder and louder. The downside is you know how it's going to end, and it grows painful watching that horse struggle. On the other hand, it's very satisfying watching Hackman chase the kid back and forth in the desert, smacking him with the reins as he rides past. I did feel bad for Hackman's horse, though. It was hot out there, he could have just shot the kid in the leg, hopped off, and kicked the crap out of him, while the horse takes a breather.

It's an interesting movie, not great. But all the characters get some time, the way the race is shot tries to emphasize each character's different approach and personality. The other thing is the sheer size of the countryside. People may ride together for a time, but frequently they're scattered allover, trying to find the route that best suits them. It's a nice shorthand characterization. The ending came oddly abruptly, though. I'm not sure if the version we were watching got cut up or what. It was some scenic shots of some massive mountains and then. . . they're at the finish line at a rail stop. Maybe they figured we'd seen enough shots of the riders struggling through the wilderness.

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