Monday, April 25, 2016

Silver Screen Influences: Vera Cruz

My character Cincinnati is an amalgamation of some of my favorite on-screen badasses but his look was almost completely influenced by Burt Lancaster’s character, Joe Erin, from Vera Cruz. There’s a lot of Joe’s swagger and attitude in Cincinnati as well but if you want to know what my infamous gunfighter looked like, just watch this Cooper/Lancaster classic. I don’t know if it’s ever been officially noted but I’m willing to bet George Lucas was also hugely influenced by Lancaster since Joe Erin not only looks just like Han Solo, he acts exactly like him, too.

Vera Cruz is epic in scope with huge battle scenes and countless extras but the story is relatively straight forward and with an running time of just over an hour and a half, it has a pace more like the B-westerns I love. Gary Cooper is very Gary Cooper-y as the white-hat wearing Benjamin Trane but simply can’t compete with Lancaster’s awesome performance as Joe Erin. Lancaster steals the show more than once with this cocky, white-toothed delivery and his phenomenal gun-spinning tricks. He is the epitome of cool and well worth the price of admission alone.

I like Vera Cruz just fine, especially since it’s only around 90 minutes. It’s the type of movie that, if it were made today, would surely be bloated to three hours simply to justify its grand scope. I like the fact that it’s beautiful to watch but hasn’t had a convoluted plot and inane dialog shoe-horned into it just to make it more “epic.” Hell, Lancaster’s performance does that all by itself. 

Vera Cruz (1954)
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Roland Kibbee, James R. Webb
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Denise Darcel

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Silver Screen Influences: Joe Kidd

An argument could be made that every Clint Eastwood Western has had an influence on my writing but one in particular stands out above the rest. My first novel, TEMPERANCE, wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Joe Kidd. While watching it for the first time a few years ago, a certain scene hit me and gave me an idea for a whole story. When Eastwood is holed up in a church and quietly takes out two guys with his bare hands (he drops one through a trap door in the ceiling and crushes the other one's skull with a swinging, water-filled pot—it’s awesome!) I wondered what it would be like to have a main character who didn’t carry a gun go up against a whole town of men who did. The idea germinated and when I decided that I’d never be able to get a screenplay produced, it became my first novel.

It’s really no mystery why I happen to like Joe Kidd so much. Elmore Leonard wrote the screenplay (no, it wasn’t a screenplay based on his book, he actually wrote the thing), Lalo Schifrin wrote the score (his Bullitt soundtrack is one of my all-time favorites), John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, etc.) directed it and then, of course, there’s Clint Eastwood in one of his best performances.

As a side note, something just came to me. I’ve always said that there are two types of people: the ones who think Revolver is the best Beatles record and the ones who think Rubber Soul is. I think this also applies to Westerns. I find that there are John Wayne people and then there are Clint Eastwood people. I happen to be a Rubber Soul—Eastwood. Leave me a comment and tell me what you are.

Anyway, Joe Kidd oozes Elmore Leonard with a plot about natives fighting with the white man over land and of course his dry humor which Eastwood is perfect at delivering. Robert Duvall is great as the disgruntled land owner Frank Harlan and his gun-toting cronies could have been pulled from the pages of any of Leonard’s books. Hell, there’s even a shot where a train goes through a building. What else could you want?

Joe Kidd is fun and over-the-top and although it may not be as epic in scope as some of the films Sturges is known for, it sill is a great collaboration of some of the best creative people of the time.

Joe Kidd (1972)
Director: John Sturges
Writer: Elmore Leonard
Score: Lalo Schifrin
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, John Saxon
Buy on Amazon

Friday, April 8, 2016

Silver Screen Influences: The Gunfighter

The Gunfighter may not be a perfect movie but it has so many great little parts and bits that I find myself re-watching and borrowing from it more than most. One of the more influential images I’ve used is the gag where we see a wannabe gunfighter get shot as he pulls his gun by someone off screen. When the camera cuts to the Jimmy Ringo (Peck), his revolver is out and smoking and his yet-to-be-finished whiskey is still in his hand. The reveal implies a faster-than-the-eye quick draw that when left up to the imagination seems superhuman. I use the same technique all throughout my first novel TEMPERANCE continue to utilize it to this day.

You really can’t go wrong with Gregory Peck and his character, Ringo, is both mysterious and menacing. The movie does a good job of implying a long history between Ringo and the town’s reformed marshal, played by Millard Mitchell, without giving too much detail. Although her presence is brief, Helen Westcott does a good job as Ringo’s estranged wife and helps to add depth and ground his character.

Like I said, The Gunfighter isn’t perfect but it sure is fun. The plot is simple and the reveals are somewhat predictable but the ending is great and the performances are spot-on. If you dig Gregory Peck you really can’t go wrong with The Gunfighter.

The Gunfighter (1950)
Director: Henry King
Writers: William Bowers, William Sellers
Stars: Gregory Peck, Helen Westcott, Millard Mitchell