Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Heartwarming Tale Of A Man And His Barge

I made an error in the first line yesterday by stating the Bears no-showed on Monday Night Football when it was Sunday Night Football (it's since been corrected). However, then the Panthers went and no-showed on Monday Night Football, and I wound up watching Lee van Cleef in Barquero.

Warren Oates (or Sgt. Hulka in Stripes) plays Remy, a guy who runs a large gang that early on in the film, robs a town of all its silver. His gang also slaughters an Army regiment stationed there (somehow winning a protracted gun battle even though most of his guys have pistols and the soldiers all have rifles), which means they need to get their asses across the border. And there just so happens to be a little town on the border between California and Mexico with a barge. So they're going to ride to that town, take the barge, cross the river, and burn the barge. Just one problem: The barge belongs to Frank (Lee van Cleef, showing off his arms in this film by wearing sleeveless shirts throughout). And Frank isn't letting anyone take his barge, and sure as hell isn't letting anyone burn it.

So he gets everyone (almost) in town across the river, and ties his barge up there, much to Remy's frustration. Because Frank knows what Remy intends to do, so Remy can't bargain with him, nor can he threaten him because what's he gonna do? Frank's all the way on the other side of the river. Also, Remy has a partner/second-in-command, Marquette, who has his own ideas on how to do things (mostly to split up the loot and let everyone scatter), and Frank has to deal with an annoying businessman/"reverend" who doesn't like the idea his store might be destroyed to protect Frank's barge. Never mind Frank didn't have to let him know he'd learned Remy was coming. Could have let the guy and the other "squatters" as Frank's associate Mountain Pete calls them, find out for themselves when they were busy getting shot.

There's a bit about these two stubborn guys, Remy and Frank, at an impasse, each trying to control an unruly mob. Remy's problem is his guys are a bunch of cutthroats, bandits, and morons, but he at least understands them, and how to keep them in line. Strength, liquor, and ruthlessness mixed with occasional compassionate acts. Frank's not dealing with nearly so dangerous a bunch, but he and they are different. The squatters want to settle, have families, build fences, civilize things. Frank built the barge simply because, as he put it, he saw the river as a fence, and he hates fences. He runs the service because he can make some coin, but what happens after he dies is irrelevant to him. Remy wants to use the silver to gain power in Mexico. Frank just wants to have his barge, his little cabin, and not have people telling him where he can and can't go.

I'm surprised the film didn't play up the ticking clock aspect more. Marquette points out at one stage that there will be a lost of soldiers from a nearby fort after them, so they either need to get across the river now, or scatter to the four winds. Other than that, there are no direct references to that. It's almost certainly in the back of Remy's mind, and Frank might even be counting on it as well, but you never see shots of cavalry charging through the wilderness, or hear bugles off in the distance. The Army is ultimately the concern of a guy like Marquette, thinking in concrete terms about the future. For Remy, everything has become focused on this one barge, and this one damn barquero that is as stubborn as he is.

There's one other sequence worth mentioning. I said Frank got almost everyone across. Well this one fellow he ferried over the day before had missed the news because he was out hunting. So he's captured, and Remy basically threatens to drown him. He has a lady, Anna (played by Mariette Hartley), who we've seen Frank kind of eying at times. Anna approaches Frank, and basically offers herself to him if he'll trade his barge for her husband. Which, OK, not my favorite thing to see in movies, but she figures she knows Frank well enough to use this as a bargaining chip, fine. But she makes her sales pitch to him by claiming he's never been with a 'whole woman', only half-women, which includes Nola (played by a Marie Gomez), who has been with Frank throughout the film. They live together, she supplements their food by hunting (since he's busy with the barge), she fights alongside him, always has his pipe tobacco ready. She's not all dolled up, but that would hardly be practical for the life they're living. But in Anna's estimation, this means Nola isn't a whole woman. She just pretends to be one for brief periods of time, before going out and doing the work of a man. The weird thing is this sales pitch is shown from Frank's perspective, so Anna is talking directly to us. I'm not at all sure what my reaction was supposed to be, but her presumption of superiority because she lets her hubby do all the huntin' and providin' was distinctly a turn off. I'm not sure what Frank was supposed to make of it. They didn't do anything screwy with the camera, or focus on any one part of her face, which maybe says something in of itself. Frank was unresponsive, regardless of the aspersions she cast on Nola, because he she started by trying to convince him to sacrifice his barge, and that was a no go.

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