THE OX~BOW INCIDENT ( 1943 )

 

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“MIRIAM…”

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OSCAR’S BACK…AND THE LADIES’VE GOT HIM!!!

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This is the fifth annual ’31 DAYS OF OSCAR Blogathon’ hosted by bloggers Kellee of “Outspoken & Freckled”, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club” and Aurora of “Once Upon A Screen.” This is the place for one’s work to be seen and read, so I made sure to get my butt in gear for this blogathon. We classic film fans enjoy the yearly Oscar telecast where we cheer and jeer at the winners in a variety of categories. With this blogathon we all get to cover the waterfront on those who’ve won or were snubbed by the Academy. Thanks ladies for giving us a place to hang our soapbox.

Now you might think my entry is as long~winded as the Oscar telecast itself. But I think my writing about a movie that should have won an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of 1943 deserves the depth and breadth of examination. So, take your shoes off, grab a sarsparilla, whiskey and some beef jerky and beans…and let me take you back to the Old West.

Here are the nominees for Best Picture of 1943:

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in-which-we-serve-1943 madame-curie-1943 more-the-merrier-1943 song-of-bernadette-1943 watch-on-the-rhine-1943

The winner of course was “CASABLANCA” a towering classic that I love. But my choice for Best Picture of 1943 would be THE OX~BOW INCIDENT.”

I admit…I’m head scratching at some of the nominees for 1943, but for others I can see why…the romance, the war, the toll on families. But I make my choice for this Western because of its look at Society. What makes a Society? What are the components? What makes us civilized? What makes us pass or fail as a body in the human community? Of all the films that were nominated in 1943, I think “The Ox~Bow Incident” is a stellar example of its sweeping nature of the examination of Society. Sit back. Relax. Are you comfy? Have that cuppa cuppa at the ready. C’mon…take a look with me at WILLIAM WELLMAN’s masterwork. This film is mighty powerful stuff.

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AN IMMOVABLE OBJECT MEETS AN IRRESISTIBLE FORCE:
Justice vs. Vengeance, the Group vs. the Individual

It is 1885 in Nevada. And three factions race hellbent towards each other to make the most tragic of perfect storms:

A. The Mob
B. The Law
C. The Rustlers
D. The Innocent Bystander

oxbow-xxvioxbow-xviRancher Larry Kincaid ( FRANK ORTH ) has been shot in the head and rustlers have stolen his cattle. This is the impetus for events that unfold. Kincaid’s best childhood friend Jeff Farnley ~ played by gangster bad-guy MARC LAWRENCE ( who fits pretty good in the Western genre ) ~ is angry and wants to catch the Rustlers. Inside the posse are followers and instigators and thrill~seekers.

* * * * *

( A )  THE MOB ~ ( THE GROUP )

oxbow-xixThe posse quickly turns into a Mob. It doesn’t take much for this to happen. First off, they are not sworn in by any duly appointed representative of The Law. Deputy Mapes might as well have been played by the swarthy Steve Cochran for all the good he does. ( The deputys played by actor DICK RICH ). Every one’s blood is boiling ~ especially Farnley’s ~ there’s been some drinking and there seems to be nothing else to do in this town. When justice is abandoned and vengeance sets in…you’ve just gone from posse to mob in a microwave moment.

oxbow-viiThere’s one really hateful S.O.B. in this mob named Smith ( played by PAUL HURST  ). He is downright giddy about the proceedings. HE is the first to mention they ought to just go and get these Rustlers and not wait for the law. He occasionally takes a rope and pretends to put it around his neck, mocking the ‘necktie party’ to come. Out of everyone, I really despised his hateful glee. When the saloon keeper offers the mob a drink in an effort to get them to wait for the law, the first one up the steps is Smith. But he stops dead in his tracks when the saloon keeper says the drinks will not be unlimited.

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The mob moves as a unit or should I say…organism;  a slimy, yellow-bellied blob monster. When a bystander’s partner is shot, they surround the wounded man. When an escaping Rustler is shot, he is surrounded to watch how he takes a bullet out of his leg. Life’s like a live inter-active movie to this group.

oxbow-xxxiThe bloodlust of the group is palpable. When they catch up to the Rustlers, I imagine every man in that mob is aroused at the prospect of engineering and watching the hangings, just as much as the men were aroused in Jodie Foster’s rape in “The Accused” whether they took their ‘turn’ or not. The Mob instigate events and watch them play out. And the one woman with them? She is played by the great JANE DARWELL. Being part of this mob is probably the only thrill her character, Jenny Grier, has had in a very long time, being long past desirability. It’s sickly funny to see her paired off with Smith, giggling on the side like deadly mischievous school children. I would have gladly shot them both myself.

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DEPLORABLES ( same sentiments…different century )

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Mobs need leaders, and the self-proclaimed leader of the pack is one Major Tetley played chillingly  by FRANK CONROY. He fills the vacuum and moves right in to direct this mob. What did we used to say as kids: Who died and made you King?!” I watch him throughout. Barking out orders,  rigid…ramrod straight in his physique and mindset…all in that confounded Confederate uniform that sausages him in too tightly. Its now 1885, the Civil War was some twenty years before. The two cowboys Gil and Art don’t trust him:

GIL: “And that renegade Tetley. Strutting around in his uniform pretending he’s so much. He never even saw the South ‘till after the war. Barely long enough to marry the kid’s mother and get run out of the place by her folks.”

ART: “I figure there was something funny about him dressing up like that.”

GIL: “Sure. Why do you suppose he’d be living in this neck of the woods if he didn’t have something to hide.”

oxbow-xxiCheck out the look of hateful disappointment, no wait…the  contempt Tetley has for his own son. Can anyone spell ‘loathing’? He thwarts every plea to wait for the Law. He needs this…wants this to happen. But it’s even worse. This obstinate b*stard has another agenda he uses the mob to satisfy: Making a MAN of his son played with softness, empathy and compassion by WILLIAM EYTHE.

* * * * *

( B ) THE LAW

oxbow-xxvThe one lone voice of reason is Arthur Davies. He is played by the wonderful HARRY DAVENPORT. I love his soft, wispy, white hair and whiskers. I love the flat affect of his voice. He tries to stop the mob. He sends cowhand Gil Carter for the Judge since the Sheriff is out of town. He doesn’t mind a posse, but he knows things are spiraling quickly out of control. When he sends Gil to get the Judge, he warns him NOT to talk in front of the Deputy (the ‘Steve Cochran look-a-like’ guy). I guess he knows what kind of man the Deputy is. And it isn’t the good kind.

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But the Law kind of fails Society too. The Judge ( played by MATT BRIGGS ) tries to petulantly weasel out of his responsibility, ( Doggone it, it’s the Sheriff’s job, not mine! ) He reluctantly faces the mob and half-heartedly gives them a lecture about law and yadda yadda yadda.


Davies still tries to persuade Farnley not to go off half-cocked. But I’m afraid he’s fully cocked. Farnley’s declaration:

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“Yeah, I know who’s going to take care of it. ME! I tell you now, whoever shot Larry Kincaid ain’t coming back here for you to fuddle with your lawyer’s tricks for six months, then be led off because Davies and some other whining old woman claim he ain’t bad at heart. Kincaid didn’t have six months to decide if he wanted to die.”

Uh…I’d say his position is pretty clear. And things haven’t changed too much these days. ( #RUSHTOJUDGEMENT

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If this is going to be the way it’s going to be, the Law invites Spirituality in to the mix. I love the way Sparks was used in this film. LEIGH WHIPPER portrays Sparks. Looking at his bio in IMDB, the actor was born in 1876 in South Carolina. I daresay he probably has witnessed some lynchings in his own life. It was good to see a person of color included in the movie as part of late 19th century. Wellman treated his character with respect. This film was made in 1943. Wellman didn’t have Whipper tap dancing or speaking broken English or mugging for the camera showing 65 teeth. ( Brings to my the dignity he accorded Clarence Muse in 1931’s Safe in Hell” a happy~go~lucky but dignified porter ). He represented some sort of religion, spirituality. And Lord knows that whole group is going to need prayer. 

The mob is very clear on what it’s going to do. It kind of hurt me to see the old man ( Davenport ) run a little ways down the street, calling after them. As the mob rides off, The Law rides off after them in an attempt to keep some semblance of law and order within the group. Even with the Rustlers captured…The Law keeps on pitching. Davies even tries to use one of the Rustler’s letter to dissuade the mob from its inexorable intent.

He will fail.

* * * * *

( C ) THE RUSTLERS ~ ( THE INDIVIDUAL )

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oxbow-xviiiOh, what a motley crue this doomed trio is. One arrogant, one drunk and one sincere. It is sad to see the realization wash over their faces when they see where this is heading…they are going to be hanged. Watch how they each handle this realization. FRANCIS FORD ( yes, THAT director’s older brother ) is the old man…sputtering. He doesn’t know what the heck was going on. They could’ve really let this old coot go.

But they don’t.

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The arrogant man makes me sit up and take notice. Yeah, he’s full of spit and vinegar and machismo. Of course, he is Latino. Juan Martinez, is played by the towering ANTHONY QUINN. HE looks at his accusers with contempt. HE is not trying to rationalize and reason with this den of vultures. HE is not going down without a fight. HE patently is NOT going to talk. I’m sure the mob looked down on him b’cuz they thought of him as a dirty Mexican. When Jenny Grier realizes he speaks English she says:

“So…he speaks American.”

Martinez replies:

“And ten other languages my dear. I don’t tell anything I want to in any of them!”

HA!! When he says he can speak ten languages, I laughed! NOW who is the Savage?? He cleans out his own leg wound (!) commenting to Major Tetley about his son:

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He’s very polite, but he’s no stomach for blood, ey?”

That sends a dagger through Tetley’s heart; someone noticing his son was weak. Martinez also throws the knife at Farnley’s feet. He was not going down without a fight. I loved him.

But he is going to hang.

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The kindly man of the bunch was DANA ANDREWS as Don Martin. He broke my heart.

“Speak up man. You’re taking it like a woman,” says Maj. Tetley.

Another time, Wellman doesn’t even show Jenny Grier who delivers her line off-camera:

“Keep your chin up. You can only die once, son.”

How cruelly consoling!

The Rustler’s goal is to slow things down:

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MARTIN: “Listen, why don’t you stop this farce and take us in if you think we had anything to do with it?”

But The Mob’s goal is to speed things up:

FARNLEY: “You want time and the Sheriff to get here and the job not done?”

The Law now speaks with resignation:

DAVIES: “They won’t come in time.”

TETLEY: “I believe you’re right, Mr. Davies, though I doubt if you want to be.”

The Mob does show one infinitessimal shred of pity for poor Don when he begs:

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“I’ve got to write a letter. If you’re human at all, you’ll give me time to write a letter!!”

Thank Heaven for small favors…The Mob will wait to hang them, especially realizing the Sheriff won’t come in time anyway. The vulturous mob needs to eat and raids the Rustlers’ knapsacks for food. So Don writes…the old man is clueless…and Martinez eats a hearty meal.

Mr. Davies ( DAVENPORT ) keeps quietly pitching, trying to get someone to read Don’s letter so they can SEE his innocence. He’s still trying to stop the mob…get it to wait for the Law. No one will read it; not even Gil Carter. ( More on Carter later. )

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“Won’t you even read it? Is it because you’ve made up your mind or because you believe everybody else has and you’re afraid to stand up for what you feel is right?”

Looks like the Law is trying to get some men on its side like Will Kane in “HIGH NOON.”

The individual must cry out and rail against the tide…against the wind, even if it means getting swept away. Even if it means drowning. Don and Mr. Davies have that in common. These two lone men try to stop the inevitable. Don wants to survive to go home to his family. Mr. Davies wants the Law to survive.

But even in the midst of the inevitable, Don Martin STILL has the wherewithal to speak up for his dignity. Where Martinez willfully would NOT speak, Don Martin shouts volumes. I love how Don gets in their faces yelling:

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“What right have you got to show my letter…All I asked you to do is make sure it was delivered…It’s enough to be hanged by a bunch of bullying outlaws without having your private thoughts handed around to them as a joke…I don’t care what you were doing. I didn’t write that letter to be passed around. It’s none of these murderers’ business…give me my letter!!”

Not only is he to be hanged, but humiliated. A shame.

There IS one more component to the symbiotic relationship between lynch mob and rustlers.

* * * * *

( D. ) THE INNOCENT BYSTANDER ~ ( NEUTRALITY )

It didnt work for Neville Chamberlin, either.

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HENRY FONDA and sidekick HENRY MORGAN are innocent bystanders Gil Carter and Art Croft who get swept up by the tide of the mob. They feel they have no choice. In fact, Art lets Gil know that if they make too much of a fuss, there may be a noose around their necks as well. Gil doesn’t approve but he keeps a watchful eye on things. His inactivity ~ is he us, the audience…watching events at the safe dark distance of the local bijou?? When sides have to finally be chosen…

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oxbow-xxviiI won’t beat too much of a dead horse on the classic film consensus about how good Fonda’s portrayal. Let me just say he was wonderfully understated and seething. He is us, the audience.  Henry ”Dragnet” “MASH” Morgan is a good Greek chorus, too. Fonda’s silent meeting with ex~girlfriend played by MARY BETH HUGHES was poignant. Sort of a non~sequitur in these parts, don’cha think. Why stick this moment into a film about a lynch mob.

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oxbow-xxxWhy. Perhaps to show something of how human relationships change; how Hughes’ character might have been one way at one point in her life, but found a man willing to marry her…even with knowing her past. In Fondas and Hughes scene neither one of them could speak openly because they were being watched by the mob and her new husband. (Nothing is private with a lynch mob. Everythings worked out in front of everybody. Sometimes less is more.) Brave man, that husband of hers as he faces the mob; many of the gents “knew” his wife very well and purposefully faced Fonda. But the husband was strong and self-assured when he quietly let them ALL know things have changed; there would be boundaries with his new bride.

But after theyve gone….its now time to take sides in this lynchin’ thing.

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Sharpe is the first man who crosses over wanting no part of this decision to hang these men…six other men stand with him. Interesting and wonderful thoughts went through my head as I thought of the Jim Crow South. Sharpe is in the center…the focal point. I’ll love William Wellman forever for that image.

Gil can take it no more when he sees Don struck while his hands are tied behind his back. He barrels into the attacker and the mob starts to fight each other. Gil has taken a stand. But too late. Tetley fights for order before the hanging. (  Reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove  ~  “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” ) He needs this to happen. Somehow this hanging is all tied up with some “weakness” about himself that he loathes sooooooooooooooooooo much, he must beat it out of his son. Martinez picks up on it. And Tetley even says it aloud to his son:

“I’ll have no female boys bearing my name. You’ll do your part, say nothing more!”

I suspect he was really talking to himself. The worse thing a man could be in the wild wild west is…be less than a man. Or produce a son like that. 

Yes, yes…the Gil-reading-the-letter-moment is poignant, a heartbreaking an iconic shot by Wellman. ( Click photo to hear the letter. )

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“There can’t be any such thing thing as civilization unless people have conscience.”

But there are two smaller moments I like even better: One…when the lynch mob slowly rides away from the scene of their murder. As the horses saunter up the hill around the mountain, Gil (FONDA) takes one last look at the three men hanging. He shudders and shakes his head as he passes the bodies. The second moment comes in the bar after its all said and done.

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As Gil reads the letter, we get a shot of Farnley. This got to me even more. I think we see a man recognizing the enormity of what he’s done. And that he’s going to pay.

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IF Hollywood were more courageous, they would have given THE OX~BOW INCIDENT the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1943. No telling where America would be now if Hollywood lead the way in showing us how to aspire to be our better angels. Yeah yeah…I know what Goldwyn said about messages and Western Union. But I think movies and the Media can construct HOW people see the world. I think the Academy missed a big chance back in ’43. The media missed a big chance now, during the recent presidential campaign as well. Funny how history repeats itself.

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“God better have mercy on ya. You won’t get any from me.”

 

William Wellman weaves a seamless tale in this film full of civic lessons without clobbering us over the head. I’m newly appreciating his mastery of genres ( gangster, pre~code, comedy, adventure, war film and social issues ~ of which my friend Wendy wrote an excellent write~up ).

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Join our hostesses for this 31 Days of Oscar blogathon and read others’ picks for that coveted Oscar. The Academy Awards are coming up and as Ive done since Sidney Poitier and Julie Christie won their Oscar, I will be watching with rapt attention cheering and booing every decision they make. The Oscar telecast is February 26th: HERE are the nominees.

[   H O M E   ]

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THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE ( 1962 )

“Sir, I don’t want to intrude. But a United States Senator is news. I’m the editor of a newspaper with a state~wide circulation. I’ve got a responsibility to know why you came all the way down here to bury a man. You can’t just say ‘his name was Tom Doniphon,’ and leave it at that. Who was Tom Doniphon?!”

“He was a friend, Mr. Scott. And we’d like to be left alone.”

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I had resisted seeing THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE almost all my movie-going life. John Ford...hes a’ight.. Westerns…meh.

I finally saw the movie.

…and on the big screen.

A few years ago I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music ( BAM we New Yorkers call it ) as part of their feature of films made in 1962.  The casting of John Wayne opposite James Stewart  was inspired. It brought together two acting styles and two screen personas for the only time in their careers. I’ve seen Jimmy tough ‘n grizzled in those Mann westerns. He tamps down that toughness in this film. He’s all about Law & Order. Cerebral. Books. The Dude Out West. Then there’s the Duke. A Man’s Man. Physical. Thinks With His Fists. It was kind of wild seeing these two icons meet, two different acting styles meshing. Would it work? Yep. You could see the respect each actor had for the other. And in terms of the film, you could see the growing respect each character had for the other.

OMG! What took me so long?! DUH!! This is an incredibly rich film.

There were some wonderful archetypal Old West characters in this movie. And everyone played their part to the HILT:

andy-devineANDY DEVINE ~ (Link Appleyard~  a very hungry, very ineffectual Marshal…afraid of his own shadow but he’s not afraid of making babies. He’s all fluttery and nervous, a coward basically. Ford shows how ineffectual The Law can be. 


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EDMOND O’BRIEN ~ (Dutton Peabody~  the newspaper editor. Bombastic and town drunk. Ultimately a man of principle…but he’s gotta have a drink.  I loved his blustering. He does a great job as a reluctant hero, and is proud as punch to get praised by Stoddard. O’Brien should have won or at least, hopefully, was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as the soused, but conscious conscience of what’s right.

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JOHN CARRADINE ~ (Major Cassius Starbuckle~  has a small role as a politician. He makes the most of this part as the self-important blow-hard politico who speaks for the cattle ranchers who want to keep the status quo: an open territory for their own specific use instead of Statehood, a place for all to benefit from.

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LEE VAN CLEEF & STROTHER MARTIN are Valance’s henchmen. Van Cleef, strong and silent. Strother…just a sick puppy. He gets off on Valance’s cruelty. Eeeeew!

WOODY STRODEwoody-iv ~ (Pompey~ works for John Wayne and is his right-hand man. He sees all, says very little. A man couldnt have a better friend. He’s a student in Stewart’s one-room schoolhouse and sits on the sidelines while the men of the town are allowed to go inside to vote. He sits outside with his rifle protecting their right to vote in case the bad guys try to stop the democratic process hes unable to participate in himself. When he goes to get Tom Doniphon out of the bar to come back to the ranch after Libertys been shot dead, Tom wants Pompey to drink with him. The bartender is about to tell Pompey he cant be served but Tom shouts: “Who says he cant???!!!” and offers him a drink. Pompey doesnt drink, but I wish hed at least have taken a swig. Its sadly great how Ford shows Pompeys place in the West.

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The Marshall and Pompey take secrets to the grave

  

VERA MILESvera-ii ~ (Hallie Stoddard) ~ Miles is usually so sophisticated in films, I was wondering if she could she pull off being a Western gal. She could. She’s a waitress in the town eatery. She’s loud and bossy and has control over the men in the restaurant. When she’s outed that she cannot read or write the hurt and embarrassment was palpable. Her hopefulness that maybe she could learn is wonderful. She is the object of the affection of both men (East & West). She does a lovely job of transitioning her feelings from Westerner Tom Doniphon (Wayne) to the Easterner ( Tom calls ‘Pilgrim’ ) Ransom Stoddard (Stewart).  Perhaps for her to move forward in life, to make progress, she needs to transition.

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LEE MARVIN ~ (Liberty Valance~  is despicably and psychotically hateful. There is not one redeemable quality about him. The whip he uses to beat people with is almost more deadly than his gun…and much more personal. He gets a sensual pleasure beating people with it. There was nothing Cat Ballou~cutesy in Marvin’s portrayal. How ironic his name is Liberty in this movie because there is none while hes around. He truly is a menace to society. He would beat down the law, the farmers, the press just b’cuz he could. He beats ANYthing in his way except John Wayne. The only man Valance would back down for would be Wayne’s Tom Doniphon.

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JOHN WAYNEwayne-i (Tom DoniphonI’ve known John Wayne all my whole movie~going memory. But he’s never really touched me emotionally until this movie. He gets scary angry in this film; his eyes like two ice-cold slits when he faces Vance. But he’s full of love for Hallie. I liked the heartfelt way he tells Hallie she looked pretty when she was angry. But the poor galoot doesn’t make his move quick enough with her. Faint heart never won fair maiden. She would have been his…but he allowed too much time to pass without putting his claim on her, and her heart was open for someone else. To see his abject heartache when he loses his girl is a tough watch. I think he represents the passing of the West. He doesn’t care about the credit Ransom Stoddard gets for killing that very bad man, he had just wanted the girl. Tom saves the life of the man Hallie loves. And becomes undone by the end of the film.
 
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JAMES STEWART ~ (Ransom Stoddard) ~ When we first see Ranse hes a big~time Senator. Carries himself with the self~confidence of a man in power. But he was not always so. In the beginning of the flashback, its a little tough buying the “young” Stewart but as the movie unfolds, I accepted him. He plays another man of principle. Represents the future of the West, of the United States. He gets beat up, but he was determined… hard~headed. He doesn’t like getting pushed around, had an unwavering faith in The Law…in being Civilized. But he does come to terms with the idea a gun is a necessary evil. Or at the very least, a means to an end.
  

“…Liberty Valance” has a melancholy wistfulness of looking at the past. Hallie leads the way as she and Ranse pay their last respects to friend Tom Doniphon. The old Marshall is there. As Ranse goes to talk to reporters,  the Marshall takes Hallie on a buggy ride to the past. He knows a truth, and is sensitive to her. He takes her to a burnt out old house with cactus roses growing all around. Back at the makeshift funeral parlor awaits faithful gray~haired Pompey. I like how Hallie takes his 19th century hand as they both sit before the coffin. Ranse tells the reporters the true story of who this friend was. John Ford takes us through Ranse’s… ‘confession’ [?] in flashback. 

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marvin-iiRanse is brutally whipped by the evil Liberty Valance during a stage coach robbery. If I cared to ponder, I’d say Liberty was probably beaten within an inch of his own life as a child. But Ford doesn’t take us into his story ( even though his name is in the title. ) Liberty Valance is just a dark blot on humanity, who serves as a springboard for different world~views. The flashback is helpful because we get the significant meaning of things we see, not knowing what they initially mean. When we see these things again ( in flashback ), it makes their meaning all the more significant. (I haven’t totally confused you, have I? Good. I’ll continue.)

There are a couple of threads John Ford weaves through this tale.

Guns vs. Civilization:

When do we put guns aside and use laws to settle our differences? Can we back those beliefs with action? Easy now, Man of Principle. This is the Old West. Everybody was packin’:

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“Well I know those law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems.”

“Do you know what you’re saying to me? You know, you’re saying just exactly what Liberty Valance said. What kind of a community have I come to here? You all seem to know about this fella Liberty Valance. He’s a no good, gun packing, murdering thief but the only advice you can give to me is to carry a gun.”

Education / Good Citizenship:

Education is the key to progress. Teaching people how to read and write and think critically is the key to uplifting civilization. Inside that little one room school house sat Black, white, Mexican, men, women and children, citizens and Immigrants alike, all there to learn. Actress Jeanette Nolan in the center of the photo below, so sophisticated and evil in “The Big Heat” with her mink on, plays the Swedish Nora who tells us what she’s learned:

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“The United States is a republic. And a republic is a state in which the people are the boss. That means us. And if the big shots in Washington don’t do like we want, we don’t vote for them, by golly, no more!”

( Her husband is played by the perennial Scandanavian~in~Classic Moves:  John Qualen )

Electing Progress ~ No Thugs or Bullies Allowed:

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Instead of just being a territory, these good people want to become a State. We see the townspeople conduct a meeting to elect delegates and how a bully and thug tries to take over the process ( sound familiar? ) with not~so~veiled threats. Only his stooges to back him up. The townsfolk fight back…with their votes. And make note to look at Doniphon sitting on the side, beaming with pride at Ranse. He is also the arbiter of keeping things on the up and up. ( “The bar is closed!” ) And look at Ranse come into his own here when he’s asked to take over the meeting to elect delegates.

“You know the issue. The cattle interests want to keep this territory an open range. Ruled by their high~minded ideas, whatever they are.  And we, and that means everybody in this room, we’re for Statehood. We want Statehood because Statehood means the protection of our farms and our fences. That means schools for our children and it means progress for the future.”

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And because Liberty is    voted down, because Ranse has shown up Liberty in front of the whole town, Liberty calls him out to a gun fight. Ranse can no longer avoid not using a gun. ( He’s even been practicing when noone’s looking, and doesn’t cotten to being made fun of by Tom either ).  He has to face Liberty knowing he’d never 

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win in a fight against the gunman. But he’s got to fight or die for his principles. Liberty uses Ranse for target practice, and when he’s ready to take the final shot, Ranse guns him down. Oh he’s shot up, but he vanquishes the Evil Bad Guy. And after a swig of whiskey, Doc Willoughby puts a period on Liberty Valance’s life:

“He’s dead!”

This brave act spearheads Ranse’s notoriety. Ford takes us to this 19th century convention, full of whooping and hollering and roping and yelling. The Cattle Ranchers vs the Townsfolk both yelling and spinning their points of view to make their case. A look into The Future in electing representatives for the People.

Two Men + One Woman = Heartache:

vera-i  vera-iii

Both Tom and Ranse woo Hallie in their own way. Tom is a bit brusque, aggressive. He softens when he tells her how pretty she is. Dresses up for her. Brings her a cactus flower. She knows he will protect her. But he’s waited a little bit too long to ‘claim’ her as his own. Ranse on the other hand is gentler. He can help her learn to read and write and open her world that way. He’s been beaten up a couple of times where Hallie’s had to nurse and mend him. Was it a bit of oneupsmanship he asks her if she’s ever seen a “real” rose. Or 

wayne-iii   vera-jimmy

does he offer her more authenticity? He needs her. She leans towards him to protect him. But she keeps going back to Tom to get him to bail out Ranse. How fair is what she asks of him. When she does make a definitive decision…poor Tom. Poor poor Tom. This is the heartache of the movie for me. 

woody-ii

He puts an end to the idea of being together with Hallie in a heartwrenching way. And by his side, as always, is Pompey. It was startling the cut Ford makes from the house on fire to the political convention. Tom shows up at the convention grizzled and worse for the wear.

  wayne-iv

I love Ford’s reveal of the flashback within the flashback; the change in the p.o.vl. of the gunfight. Upon looking at the film again, I notice the Marshall.  As everyone runs towards Ranse and the dead Liberty, check it out…the Marshall is looking down the dark alley:

john-wayne

Tom: “Cold~blooded murder. And I can live with it. Hallie’s happy. She wanted you alive.”

Ranse: “You saved my life.”

Tom: “I wish I hadn’t. Hallie’s your girl now.”

I can not imagine what his life was like once Hallie left Shinbone with Ranse. 

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” has an ironic sadness that coats the film…from its title, from the bad guy being named Liberty when he was anything but…from Tom’s self~sacrifice where he practically hands Ranse his career as a Statesman based on his killing a bad man. This movie makes me emotional. John Ford puts it all together wonderfully. Is there any doubt, that one hundred years from now his name will still be known, not just for this film but for his other masterpieces: How Green Was My Valley” The Searchers” “The Quiet Man” “Stagecoach” just to name a scant few. He gets his messages across (racism, immigration, politics, journalism, the ironic film title ) without bopping US over the head with that whip Liberty uses. He doesn’t let the story get lost in the fabulous vistas of the west. He lets our hearts get lost in the entire story. The sad train ride back to Washington, D.C. for Hallie and Ransom Stoddard will be full of unspoken truths. But you know, there are all kinds of truths. 

“This is the West. When the legend becomes fact, print
the legend.”

 


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DEVIL’S DOORWAY

SCENE I – EXTERIOR

An ex-Union soldier rides into town and enters a saloon where he runs into two old friends.

SCENE II – INTERIOR

The two old friends, the bartender and future Marshal, are both glad to see him. They kibbitz with him about surviving the War. He tells them he’s glad to be back and will be happy to settle back on his land, Sweet Meadows, and start raising and selling cattle. They offer to buy him a drink.

A man at the other end of the bar watches the scene between these three old friends. He says:

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( II ) DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( I )

“When I was in the Army, the regular Army, we were a little particular who wore those stripes.”

The Native-American Union soldier finishes his drink and leaves the saloon. The man at the other end of the bar speaks again:

“You notice how sour the air got? You can always smell ‘em.”

He follows the soldier outside, looks at him and pointedly spits on the street. This is DEVIL’S DOORWAY and you’ve just been introduced to Verne Coolan.

Eeeeew.

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to stand writing about him. I may have to burn my computer and toss it out the window after I’m done here, and you may have to wash your eyes with soap. Verne Coolan has got to be the most dastardly, despicable villain this side of the Rockies, the Mason-Dixon line, or at the very least, this side of the third annual GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON. You can see all the three years of this blogathon hosted by Kristina ~ SPEAKEASY, Karen ~ SHADOWS and SATIN, and Ruth ~ SILVER SCREENINGS here:

GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON ( 2015 ) GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON ( 2014 ) GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON ( 2016 )
                       2014                                            2015                            NOW

Verne Coolan is played by expert character actor LOUIS CALHERN. By rights, Calhern could appear in the ‘What A Character’ Blogathon for any number of roles he’s taken. He

    LOUIS CALHERN ( JULIUS CAESAR ) LOUIS CALHERN ( THE ASPHALT JUNGLE ) LOUIS CALHERN ( NOTORIOUS ) LOUIS CALHERN ( DUCK SOUP )

has played master Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes in “The Magnificent Yankee”, he was Julius Caesar. He was Marilyn Monroe’s four-flushing Sugar Daddy in “The Asphalt Jungle.” Hitchcock used him as Cary Grant’s boss in “Notorious” and he was Groucho Marx’s exasperated Sylvanian nemesis in “Duck Soup.” I’m including Calhern’s Verne Coolan in the Villain blogathon because I must warn everyone far and wide about this low-down, dirty varmint.

The story’s set after the Civil War and Lance Poole ( Robert Taylor ) has led a regiment and served his country with honor. He’s a decorated Seargent Major with the Congressional

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( VII )

Medal of Honor. He’s come back in one piece ready to resume his life. But NOT if Verne Coolan can help it. That rat bastid has a different idea and it runs along the lines of total extermination for Lance and his people. His racism is insidious and vile and just so gallingly unfair. The thing is, Verne Coolan gets others to do his dirty work for him. He “hides” behind the Law. He lies if he has to…if he wants to. He pits one group against another as they duke it out while he stands back smoking his cigar and coughing up blood. ( He’s got lung problems and has been sent out west for his health. ) There are a couple of set pieces to his villainy.

VILLAINY SET-PIECE #1 ~ Things are changing in the territory now that it’s a state. This does not bode well:

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XII )

And to anyone who’ll listen to him, Verne Coolan high praises the land Lance owns as prime property to be homesteaded by others. Lance seeks legal help, but it looks like the Law is NOT on his side.

( “I envy you ma’am, your being a lawyer. You’ve got faith.
Something to go by, like a religion. With you, it’s the law…
I’ve always wanted something like that. Something to tell
me what’s right or wrong…because then you don’t have
to bother about your conscience. It’s written out for you
to follow; no matter what it does to people. It’s the law.
Changing the law is something you don’t have to worry
about.” )


Coolan’s henchman joins in on the taunting. Then he all out starts a fight with Lance that Lance finishes. It’s a good scene; no big stuntman effects. Saloon bystanders watch the fight in dispassionate silence. There’s a nice moment when the camera tracks alongside Lance’s friend Red Rock (
James Mitchell ) as he stops Coolan from using his gun during the fight. As Lance and the henchman continue to fight, you should see Coolan’s face. He’s in gleeful ecstasy.

VILLAINY SET-PIECE #2 ~ Verne Coolan pits two factions to go for each other’s throats. It’s that age-old Western trope of sheepherders vs. cattlemen weve seen in countless cowboy movies and Coolan uses it to his advantage. Lance has done good for himself, worked his land, sold his cattle…depositing $18,000 in the bank. Hes lived in peace. But Coolan talks some sheepherders into exploring this beautiful grazing land…that Lance owns. Calhern uses his beautifully silky speaking voice to give voice to Coolan’s ugly rhetoric…with great insinuating effect:

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XX )  DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXI )

COOLAN: “Through that pass, the range never dries up. The mountains keep the wind out. There’s a waterhole in there big enough to float a clipper ship. Grass. It’s belly high on a steer. Oh. It’s a place for home. I’d like to live there myself.”

MAN #1: “Alright Lawyer. We paid you good money to tell us what to do. What’s your answer?”

COOLAN: “My answer is, in effect, the answer of the Land Office. They informed me that Indians are ineligible for the benefits of the Homestead Law. The rest is up to you gentlemen.”

MAN #2: “Well Indians have always fought for the land Mr. Coolan. Poole didn’t strike me as being afraid.”

COOLAN: “Well it’s my duty to point out to you your legal rights. The rest, of course, you’ll have to tend to yourselves. Fear didn’t enter into my considerations.”

Didja see what he did there? He gives them the idea, shames them for being fearful and them leaves them to come to his conclusions. He’s a big time instigator. But the second man, played by young Marshall Thompson, is a voice of reason among the sheepherders:

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXII )

“Why get your head blown off if there’s another way? I’d like
to talk to Poole. See his lawyer. Maybe we can make a deal.”

 [ Yeh. Uhhh…that’s the last thing Verne Coolan would want. ]

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXIII )

Advocating on Poole’s behalf is a lovely lawyer lady, Orrie Masters ( played by Paula Raymond from “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.” ) She takes MacDougall ( actor Marshall Thompson ) to see Lance. She tries to advise Lance, but he won’t compromise. He’s a stubborn cuss…and within his rights. Well, perhaps not within his rights by the Law, but of plain simple human fairness. Lance flatly turns down any compromise with the sheepherder and sends him away. 

VILLAINY SET-PIECE #3 ~ Coolan puts another plan into place that will set up both sides for failure. Coolan tells MacDougall that at his recent visit to the Land Office he’s found out that they will NOT change their position; Indians are not allowed to own land. Coolan tells MacDougall that he and his men should just begin to bring their sheep to Sweet Meadows and let the grazing begin.

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXVII )

They decide to face Poole again. Oh by the way…Coolan hasn’t been to the Land Office. Hasn’t been to that area in years. But he and his henchman will follow the sheepmen and watch that situation foment. Coolan rides back to town to stir up some more crap.

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXVIII )

The men confront Poole and his men. Imagine, a sheepherder facing a decorated Union soldier. The Henchman has something juicy to report to Coolan. In a draw, Lance shoots MacDougall. Good news for the henchman:

   DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXII )

   DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXIV ) DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXV )  DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXVI )

You want that kid of yours to get out of there alive… MOVE!!
What’s it going to take to teach you guys.

While the pot is stirring out on the range, lawyer Orrie tries to petition the townspeople on Lance’s behalf to allow him to homestead his own land. No, I uhmmmm, didn’t see any womenfolk in that decision-making process.
 DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXIX )

ORRIE MASTERS: “And I want to remind you, Mr. Poole fought long and gallantly for his country. He certainly earned the right to live.”

A voice of reason steps through the crowd. It’s the Marshal ( Edgar Buchanan who’s very good in this as Zeke Carmody ), Lance’s old friend speaking on his behalf:

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXX )

MARSHAL CARMODY: “The law says an Indian ain’t got no more rights than a dog. That’s the law I was sworn to enforce. I’ve known Lance Poole since his mother packed him on her back. He’s always been a good boy. He’s never made any trouble for nobody; just trying to hang on to his land. So if he fights, I’ve got to go out and try and stop him. As Marshal, I reckon I shouldn’t mix up in any politics. But I feel pretty bad the way things are. There’s nothing says a law can’t be changed.”

Perhaps the law should be involved in politics, not just mete out justice blindly.

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXVII )

While lawyer Orrie and Marshal Carmody get some signatures and common sense for this petititon, Coolan strides through the crowd:

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXI )

COOLAN: “If we sign this petition and the government grants this Indian title to this land, can you guarantee that he’ll live in peace with his neighbors; not revert to savagery?”

ORRIE MASTERS: “Of course.”

COOLAN: “Well in that case, I’ll be delighted to sign your petition.”

At THAT moment the henchman busts into the saloon with news of the shooting.

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXVIII )

Coolan’s machinations and timing help turn the tide of opinion against Lance and his Shoshone family. #INJUNFAIL Cunning Coolan has one more trick up his lying thievin’ cheatin’ race-baiting sleeve.

VILLAINY SET-PIECE #4 ~ Coolan puts the full court press on now. Since the shooting he really riles up the citizenry. He inflames a mob of people to go after the Indians. He wants to hang ‘em high:

“Who could blame us if we dangle Poole and his Indians from the yardarm of telegraph poles as a warning to other Redskins. The volunteers in this punitive expedition will have first choice in the homesteading of Sweet Meadows.”

Then he stirs up the sheepherds, who have vested their money and faith and followed him…like sheep:

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXXX )

COOLAN: “Marshal, you’ve stalled as long as you can. You’ve deliberately ignored your duties as a peace officer and a servant of the people. The Indian’s petition has been denied. Now then, are you going to give these men the Homestead protection they’re entitled to or aren’t you?”

CARMODY: “Guess I ain’t got much choice.”

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXXI ) DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXXIII )

The lawyer sees things escalate unstoppably out of control. She can’t talk sense to the sheepherders and her own personal issues dealing with her attraction to an Indian isn’t strong enough to pull him off his course.

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXXXVII ) DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXXXXI ) DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXXXX )

“Nothing an Indian needs like a speech from a lawyer telling him to give up! Now you’ve made it. Your conscience is clear…the color of my hide means just as much to you as it does to them out there. You found I could be lonely for a woman like any other man you stayed on the safe side of the fence. How much does my life mean to you Orrie? What would you give to see me live? Would you let an Indian put his arms around you? Would your conscience say its worth kissing me?…Don’t cry Orrie. A hundred years from now, it might’ve worked.”

Telling Coolan that the calvary will be on its way to settle things does not help. His bloodlust is up. He is at the point of no return.

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXXXI )

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXXXXII )

Mixing a posse ( aka lynch mob ) with the desperation of people who need to survive, he’s going for broke to drive out innocent people simply due to his own personal hate and bias. It will be a bloodbath that director Anthony Mann stages brutally and photographed by the great John Alton. People have to watch who they follow. This election year is proof of that. They may leave you down the garden path for their own self-serving interests.

DEVIL'S DOORWAY ( XXVI )

The man behind all this is Verne Coolan. And I say this is a cautionary tale for our November elections as well.

There are many villains in movies and The ( 2016 ) Great Villain Blogathon covers them:

VILLAINS ~ ( DAY 1 ) VILLAINS ~ ( DAY 2 ) VILLAINS ~ ( DAY 3 )
( Day One )                 ( Day Two )                   ( Day Three )

VILLAINS - ( DAY 4 )  VILLAINS ~ ( DAY 5 )  VILLAINS ~ ( DAY 6 )
( Day Four )                        ( Day Five )                                   ( Day Six )

 

 

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