Friday, May 27, 2011

The Spikes Gang

My dad came to visit a while back and we ended up tuning in to the Western Channel. There was a great movie playing which I remember watching with my Dad when I was just a kid of about age 12 or 13. "The Spikes Gang" stars the great Lee Marvin as outlaw Harry Spikes. Spikes is discovered half dead by three young men played by Gary Grimes, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith. These three actors were very familiar faces at the time this film was released. It was especially different for Ron Howard who was the face of wholesome American TV.

The youths take Mr. Spikes in and let him hide out in the barn while he is on the mend. They become enamored with his tales of living life as a desperado and begin to yearn for a taste of the outlaw life. Once he is healed up he promises the boys that he owes them for their help and, if they meet again, he will help them out.

It doesnt take long for the boys to decide they cant abide by the rules of their parents and one night they decide to sneak off and hit the outlaw trail. Unfortunately for them, they soon find that its a lot tougher than the stories they heard from Mr. Spikes. They find them selves starving and working all sorts of odd jobs just to eat. Right about that time, along comes Mr. Spikes to take them under his wing. He decides, as a favor to the boys who had once helped him in his hour of need, to form a gang and teach them the outlaw way.

It is important to stress that Lee Marvin gives a great performance. On the surface he appears to be down right charming and can use his silver tongue to convince his victims of his sincerity... but underneath his exterior it is always evident that he is a snake waiting to strike. The boys make perfect foils for his purposes as they are painfully unaware that Mr. Spikes is only out for himself. Meanwhile, the actors playing the three boys are great at portraying naive farm boys who have their innocents seduced away by the charming Mr. Spikes.

The movie starts out in a sort of light hearted manner with bits of humor sprinkled in, but it doesn't take long to see that the lives of these three young men is steadily careening out of control as they slowly begin to follow in the paths they chose. In the end it is tragic to see them each reach a point of no return. By the time they figure this out it is much too late for redemption... only vengeance can make things right.

I highly recommend that you give this a shot as I believe it is an underrated movie that deserves to be called a classic. It is available on DVD.

Cap'n Ron

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

True Grit 2010

As “True Grit” begins, we meet Mattie Ross, a young girl of 12 or 13 who has been sent to town in order to collect her late father’s belongings. The father has been gunned down by Tom Chaney, one of his ranch hands (Josh Brolin). Unbeknownst to her family , she has another task in mind: Find the no good scoundrel who killed her daddy in cold blood and see him killed or hanged. She decides to recruit an aging gunfighter/lawman named Rooster Cogburn whom people say has True Grit.

This incarnation of Rooster Cogburn could not have been played by any other actor than Jeff Bridges. He captures the feisty spirit of this character: An old grizzled Marshall who hides away in booze while wondering where the next job will come from. He doesn’t really seem to care about anything or anyone, but as the film progresses we begin to learn who He truly is. Rooster begins to bond with the young lady as he is conversing with her and it seems as though he has, for many years, wanted to have someone to tell his life story too. The girl listens to him as he speaks and I believe it helps Rooster to get some sense of relief from the pain and regret he has been carrying for many years.

I think one of the main factors that make this version of “True Grit” great is the fact that Jeff Bridges does not try to be John Wayne! Although much of the same dialog is used from the original, Bridges takes the Cogburn character and reinvents the role, making it is own unique portrayal. I love it when he stops at the trading post to have relations with the woman there and kicks the Indian kid off of the porch on the way in for no reason at all. The first time he did it on the way in I remember thinking that he was joking around with the kid, but once he kicks the kid on the way out I realized he was just being a mean bastard to those kids!!

I really think the Coen Brothers did a great job with this film. When I watched this movie, I felt as though I was being transported backwards in time. The authentic feel of the town where the film begins is excellent. You can see the dirt and dried mud on the white painted buildings. You can hear the sound of boots click clack on the wood planks as people walked through the scenery. I could almost smell the horse poop which would have certainly been wafting through the air in those days. In other words, the Coen Brothers paid great attention to the details.

One thing I don't like about the story is the fact that the Texas Ranger is portrayed as a buffoon. I have yet to find a Texas Ranger in the history books that couldn't handle himself in any situation. They were known to be rugged individuals and would track a desperado to the ends of the earth. They would not return until they had either captured or killed their quarry. I find it hard to believe that any Ranger would open fire on a gang of men thereby ruining any element of surprise and needlessly putting himself in imminent danger. I know that it was meant to be light hearted, but I just had to say that based upon my research, there was no such Texas Ranger as depicted in the movie... or maybe there was and that is why we have never heard of him as he would have surely died on the fist day of his duty.

I have heard many different opinions concerning this particular western throughout my lifetime. There are those who felt that Wayne's portrayal of Rooster Cogburn was his best work. I do enjoy the movie and love the character of Rooster Cogburn. Each time I watch the film I find myself thinking, “Maybe this time Cogburn and LeBoeuf will actually get to the other side of the river and keep riding instead of waiting for her to cross!!”… but I guess that would be an entirely different film.

I do recommend you see this version of True Grit. While it does not improve on the original, it certainly does the original justice as it truly is a worthy remake of a classic.

Cap'n Ron