47 FILMS: 45. THE LONG RIDERS

In our continuing series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams we present Walter Hills The Long Riders.

Walter Hill has had a strange career as a director. He’s produced some stone cold classics – 48 Hours, Extreme Measures, Southern Comfort to name a few. He’s directed the first episodes of the TV show Deadwood and was a writer and producer on the Alien franchise. He made Brewster’s Millions for crying out loud. And yet he never seems to get the recognition he deserves. Perhaps this is because some of his best work feels like it’s been influenced by past masters. The Warriors is a New York Clockwork Orange. The Driver has Bullitt written all over it. And The Long Riders is the best Western Sam Peckinpah never made. It also doesn’t help that he’s made some dross like gender realignment thriller The Assignment.

The Long Riders is another telling of the Jesse gang which takes as its gimmick the casting of real life brothers Stacy Keach and James Keach in the leads. Along with Keith Carradine, David Carradine and Robert Carradine as the Younger brothers. Randy Quaid and Dennis Quaid are here. Christopher Guest and Nicholas Guest play the Ford brothers. The overwhelming impressions is people had a lot of brothers in those days.

The story is familiar enough, but Hill films the action brilliantly. A protracted shootout in a town produces a bloodbath worthy of Peckinpah. The sound of the bullets played backwards creates a nightmarish ambience. And unlike Peckinpah there actually seems to be pain in the violence. The performances are all top class though it’s fun to notice which brothers come off best. James Keach has a dead-woodenness that actually suits his role. Soundtrack by Ry Cooder is also fantastic.

For more of our 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams CLICK HERE.

SIR EDWIN FLUFFER RECALLS ACTING IN THE THEATER

 HOLLYWOOD – Sir Edwin Fluffer returns just in time to cast his gimlet eye over the dream factory of Hollywood, turning his attention specifically to the place actors call ‘the wooden arse’: the theater.

There comes a time in every actor’s life when the work dries up and you have to tell everyone that you want to return to your first love, the theatre. Friends will be terribly supportive, but in all honesty it is what Audrey Hepburn used to call ‘a massive fricking ball ache’.

Theatre directors will absolutely insist you know all the lines off by heart and you have to work nights. The money’s not nearly as good as the movies either, but they’ve got you by the short and curlies and you pretty much have to take whatever crumbs fall from the table. It’s either that or television. I still remember when Sam Peckinpah fired me from The Wild Bunch because I swore at Ernie Borgnine and I was forced to do a play to clear my bar tab at the Garrick. It was one of those Shakespeare jobbies, all thee-this, thou-that, and forsooth-the-other; so naturally I assumed it was Hamlet and rolled on to stage for my big entrance only to find it was King Lear

The whole thing had the potential to go tits up, but I’d spent an entire afternoon trying to learn the words and I was determined to have a go. 
In the end the critics were not very kind, but they didn’t hold a grudge and gave me a Tony to make up for it. At the ceremony I dedicated the award to Van Heflin after he bet me $20 I wouldn’t get the word ‘flange’ into my acceptance speech. 
But that’s another story…

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BLOOD MERIDIAN GETS A DIRECTOR

HOLLYWOOD – The cult Cormac MacCarthy novel Blood Meridian is going to get a cinema outing after Tommy Lee Jones finally secured a director after years in development.

The rights to Cormac MacCarthy’s novel “Blood Meridian” were secured by Tommy Lee Jones many years ago, but due to the difficulty of the material no studio has been willing to back a version. A number of directors have expressed their wish to tackle it, including Ridley Scott and James Franco even made a twenty minute screen test of the material.

Tommy Lee Jones finally secured his dream director and told the Studio Exec EXCLUSIVELY how it came about:

I’d always wanted Blood Meridian to have a certain look and there was only one director who I thought could truly bring that vision to the screen: Sam Peckinpah.

But Sam Peckinpah’s dead.

Noted. And that was what you might call a deal-breaker. But then I got talking to these cyro-genic engineers at a hotel bar and they told me how they could revive a long dead body and 3D print the dead man’s brain. All they needed was the head. So I dug up the body of Sam Peckinpah.

Jesus Christ.

An apt blasphemy considering the resurrection. But it was more like “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”. We got the head to the lab and printed off the brain uploaded it into the computer and asked if Sam would consider directing the movie. I can’t say he was particularly happy about being alive again, but we gave him some e-whiskey and he warmed to the idea.

This is the craziest story I’ve ever heard.

I know. But can you imagine? We’re going to get Blood Meridian directed by Sam Peckinpah. Now all we need is someone like William Holden, or Warren Oates to play the Judge. I’m too old for it now, but I know Zac Efron is in the frame. I don’t know the actor but they tell me he is gritty.

I think you’re going to need that shovel again.

Blood Meridian will be released in 2018. 

THE MAKING OF THE WILD BUNCH

HOLLYWOOD  – In the latest of our ‘Making of…’ series, we look at Sam Peckinpah’s unusual move into romantic comedy: The Wild Bunch.

The Idea

Sam Peckinpah had wanted to make a realistic Western for years, but following disputes on Major Dundee and his firing from The Cincinnati Kid the controversial director found himself relegated to television. Here however he plotted his return and when he was handed a screenplay for a Romantic Comedy entitled A Bunch of Wild Roses which already had William Holden and Elizabeth Taylor attached, Peckinpah seized the opportunity. Shifting the caper to Mexico, Peckinpah guaranteed he was away from the supervision of the studios and began with the aid of screenwriter Walon Green. Green notes:

Every day we would shave Elizabeth’s part. Just a line here and there then a scene. She had a house with Richard Burton in Mexico at the time so she was really looking forward to the film, but it soon became clear that her part was getting much too small. When she pulled out, we had what we wanted and we changed the title to The Wild Bunch of Roses, though we fully intended to leave off the last two words of the final cut. The aristocrat who falls in love with his son’s governess became Deke Bishop. And the film became the Western that Sam had always meant to make.

Production

Sam Peckinpah wrote to his mother to describe the difficulties:

Hi Mom,

Still in Mexico trying to get this God Damned film made. Excuse my French. This assholes (sorry) just don’t know violence. They only know violence from crappy John Wayne Westerns where someone is shot and a trickle appears from between their fingers if at all. I want them to blow holes in each other. Blood should gout out and there should be the real image of what projectiles can do to flesh and bone.

Dear Samuel,

That sounds nice. How is Elizabeth Taylor. Is she as pretty as she is in the glossies?

Hi Mom,

Yeah, she’s a swell gal, but she’s not in the film no more. The problem is no one understands what I want. I need to treat time differently. When something violent happens to you, your whole perception of time changes. I keep trying to get the actors to act slowly, so that they look like the whole thing is happening at a different speed. It works quite well, but when one of them falls over of course they can’t help falling at a normal speed. Damn it! How am I supposed to solve everything? Sorry, ma I have to go and get surgically drunk.

Dear Samuel,

Why don’t you just film them at normal speed and then slow the film down. Wouldn’t that work best? You’ll need to film it at a different speed so the quality of the image remains sharp. I’d say  a multiple camera set up with cameras working at 24 frames per second, 30 frames per second, 60 frames per second, 90 frames per second and 120 frames per second.

Hi Mom,

I wish you’d not interfere with the technical side of film making that you clearly don’t understand. We have all the actors on wires now so that when they fall we can lower them slowly. Problem solved. You women!

Reception

The critical reception of The Wild Bunch was generally positive, though the film’s scenes of graphic violence dominated early reviews. Vincent Canby wrote:

There’s this bit right, where Ernest Borgnine gets the Gattling gun and he goes ‘RATATATATATATATATATAT!’ and like the Mexicans are going ‘Arrrgh’ and then this kid shoots P’Kew! and Borginine’s like ‘Urhhh’ and someone else shoots and goes P’Kew! But Borgnine still has the Gattling gun and it goes ‘RATATATA!’ ‘RATATATATATATTATATAT!’

The Wild Bunch was released in 1969.

For more of The Making of CLICK HERE.

BARRY MARBLES ON THE MAKING OF STRAW DOGS








Barry Marbles worked for forty five years in the British film industry, working his way up from tea boy to gaffer, via key grip. And now he is prepared to let you in on the behind the scenes of what he personally has never called the Dream Factorium. This week he lifts the lid on one of the most controversial films of the seventies: Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.


When Mr. Peckinpah came over to England he was famous for two things: slow motion violence and hating women. It also turned out he didn’t like men none to much neither. 

I was preparing the lighting rig inside the cottage where much of the film was done and it was very complex. There were quite a few of us on the job and in comes Mr. Peckinpah wearing a bandanna and shouting and hollering all sorts of profanity. The air turned quite blue. And this in front of the apprentices. 

So I stood up and I said, ‘Mr. Peckinpah, I shall be needing you to lower your voice.’ 

Of course, that set him off even worse and he started effing and jeffing and calling me all the names under the sun. The air turned quite blue. So very gently I took his hand as if to shake but then quick as a light I slapped it on the kitchen table and drove the Philips head screwdriver right through the back of his hand effectively nailing it to the wood.  Oh, he did scream and rock about and beg and scream again, weeping and begging me to stop grinding at it the way I was doing. 

‘It happens quite quick in real life, doesn’t it sir?’ says I.


After that we had what I would call an understanding and the rest of the shoot went very smoothly.

MEMOIR: PECKINPAH PICKED A PACK OF PUNCHING PEOPLE

HOLLYWOOD – I’ll never forget Sam Peckinpah. Oh that I could. He was a maverick, a trickster, fighter, a visionary and a genuine pain in the butt. We were shooting Pat Garret and Billy the Kid. Bob Dylan and Harry Dean Stanton had been raising hullabaloo and had spoiled the take. Peckinpah launched himself at them, punching Dylan in the face, kicking Harry Dean Stanton’s legs from under him and jumped up and down on his head with both feet. H.D. lost his perfect cut glass English accent (often compared to Gielgud) and began to speak the way he does now for the rest of his life.
However, Peckinpah had a soft side. He didn’t have much time for animals and he despised children, and loathed women, but he loved delicate hand made dolls houses, which he would buy for huge sums of money and arrange around his house before smashing them all with a mallet he kept expressly for that purpose
We were making Straw Dogs in England and I remember Sam leafing through the catalogs for hours searching for a perfect replica of Chequers.
Dustin Hoffman made some off hand remark regarding the machismo of dolls houses. Sam through himself at him, kneeing him in the groin and the pulling him off the floor by a clamp like grip he had on Dustin nose. What he did next was a major factor in Dustin’s success in the role Tootsie, but as my old friend Sir Edwin Fluffer often says, that’s another story.

The Studio Exec recounted this story to Chad.