Friday, 11 September 2015

No.63. Music on Film: BORN TO BOOGIE (1972)

In 1971 Marc Bolan was enjoying the height of fan worship of his music, dubbed ‘T-Rexstacy’, the early ‘70s version of Beatlemania. At that time, T-Rex was selling 60,000 singles a day. Even the Beatles themselves acknowledged Bolan was more popular then than they ever were in the UK at his high-point.

So it was a fitting kind of of anointment or passing of the mantle by Ringo Starr that he made a documentary celebrating his friend, composed of live film from T-Rex’s first British concert in six months at the Wembley Empire Pool and intercut with studio sessions and playful home-movie style footage.

Beginning with ‘Jeepster’, the live set is excellent quality, the sound reproduction mixed prominently to overshadow the crazed teenage rampage of the fans, although you can hear the occasional girly squeals of delight. There is a great, infectiously loose studio version of ‘Tutti Frutti’ with Ringo on drums and Elton John’s ferocious boogie-woogie keyboards. Fans of Bolan’s acoustic guitar-playing will love his sit-down rendition of ‘Spaceball Ricochet’. I’d never heard this song before, not being familiar with ‘the Slider’ album and found it very touching, preferring it to the slower original album recording I compared it to later.

The supplementary scenes for the most part are a mish-mash. The first one is a surreal nonsense at an airfield beginning with an interminable long-shot of Bolan eventually arriving in a convertible in Mad Hatter guise, accompanied by someone dressed as a giant rat. He recites some of his poetry, conversing it into the ‘phone as if in a conversation, then magically produces a dwarf who scoffs his wing-wirror. Your guess is as good as mine. Later, there is a series of indulgent out-takes in the same location where he and Ringo keep corpsing while trying to deliver lines to camera starting with : “Some people like to rock/Some people like to roll…” before abandoning it in laughter.

The one extra scene that may be of interest to fans is a sort of country Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, where Bolan does a nice acoustic medley backed by a string quartet  - including ‘Jeepster’, ‘Hot Love’ and ‘Get It On’, while nuns devour the sandwiches and Geoffrey ‘CATWEAZLE’ Bayldon performs.
The other highlight from the concert is the final eleven-minute ‘Get It On’ which goes from electric into an extended free-form jam session with Mickey Finn on bongos and Bolan imitating Jimi Hendrix by playing his guitar with a tambourine.

Despite Ringo’s unnecessary padding-out of the running time, BORN TO BOOGIE is a valuable time capsule of T-Rex’s stage performance and the fan hysteria of the time before Bolan entered his ‘Fat Elvis’ temporary spell of implosion  - as well as showing that Bolan had entered the Rock world establishment of impressive musical friends.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

No.62. Sam Peckinpah - Part VI: PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (1973)


(2005 DVD ‘Special Edition’ - 110 minute version)

With this 1973 western, Sam Peckinpah returned to the whisky-slugging man’s world of the genre for which he had the greatest affinity. James Coburn wanted him to direct as he had a yearning to play Pat Garret. PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID is an affectionate film with rich themes explored about the passing of the old Wild West, the easy and not so easy resolutions of disagreements through violence and the friendships and bonds between men as they age.

Garrett is an old friend of William ‘Billy the Kid’ Bonney; their history together going back to when Billy was a badge-man and Garret was an outlaw. Now their roles are reversed and Garret tells him as a friend that in five days he must take up the duties of Sheriff and bring his old buddy in as a criminal. The rest of the film is the lawman’s dogged pursuit of his mark but with respect accorded between the two men until their fateful last meeting when Garrett shoots Billy dead.
It’s easy to see why Coburn was attracted to Pat Garrett as a role. He plays the Sheriff with a cool understated elegance and an easy authority that sets him apart from other men, coupled with a reflective side that mourns the loss of friendship that comes with duty. Kristofferson is a genial, laid-back Billy but convincing also in his equal dead-eye physicality with a gun.

Along the way, Peckinpah stacks the deck with a marvellous collection of Western character actors. Jack Elam is Garret’s gentle deputy, resigned to a fatally cheating (for him) duel with Billy. R.G Armstrong gives a splendidly enraged cameo as the deputy almost psychotically infused with religious fervour and boiling hatred at Billy’s provoking of him: “Repent, you son of a bitch”, before Billy kills him with a blast from his own dime-crammed shotgun. Jason Robards makes an urbane Governor Wallace, offering Garret $500 on behalf of a syndicate to apprehend the Kid. Garrtet suggests Wallace’s group “take your $500 and shove it up your ass and set fire to it”. He will bring in Billy anyway, but as his decision, not for money. Chill Wills is featured as a saloon owner.
Another memorable and moving portrayal is Slim Pickens as Sheriff Baker. Pickens was born to be a Western movie player and here he is tremendously poignant when he is gut-shot in a siege by Billy and makes his way to the water’s edge, watched lovingly by his wife Katy Jurado, at peace as he knows he will soon die.

Aside from Kristofferson, there are two other actor/singers in the film. Rita Coolidge, married to Kristofferson at that time, is his lover Maria. The most well-known and publicised addition to the cast and soundtrack is of course Bob Dylan. As an actor, playing the enigmatic stranger Alias (always referred to as ‘Boy’ by Garrett), Dylan doesn’t make a strong enough impression on screen, despite a number of scenes and close-ups. He’s very much along for the ride, but his music is indelible. PAT GARRETT was the first time many people would have heard his seminal ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ which resonates beautifully at key moments in the film. Astoundingly, Peckinpah didn’t like the song and left it out of his longer ‘Preview Cut’.

The issue of varying prints of the film would become a real bone of contention when PAT GARRETT was released - and aside from a truncated editing period due to cuts in the over-run budget made by producer James Aubrey, was symptomatic of a breakdown in Peckinpah’s relations with the studio MGM. His increasingly erratic behaviour was fuelled by the full-blown alcoholism and cocaine use that would later ruin him. On the first day Dylan reported for work on the set, he watched previous dailies with Kristofferson and Peckinpah, who was so unhappy with the footage that he stood up and urinated on the screen.

PAT GARRETT involved a record six editors struggling to complete a satisfactory theatrical print. Peckinpah approved a 124-minute preview cut which the studio demanded be shortened to 106 minutes. Peckinpah kept a copy of his version which wasn’t made available publicly for many years. In 1988 his cut came out on Laserdisc, which caused a positive critical re-evaluation of the film’s quality. To add to the confusion of different versions, in 2005 there was a Special Edition on DVD (the version I have) which not only was a composite of both releases but also added previously missing scenes.

Whichever way you see it, PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID is a Western gem, and I say this as someone who only likes certain examples of the genre. I tend to be drawn mainly to those that are ‘revisionist’ myth-busters, comedies or deeper Westerns that deal with consequences of actions (rather than the old-fashioned racist ‘Cowboys versus Indians’ fodder) such as BUTCH CASSIDY and UNFORGIVEN. This film has a pleasing sense of mature regret about the facile way that guns cancel out life thoughtlessly, doubly powerful for being made by a director felt to be a pornographer of firearm-related violence. A great and wordless scene demonstrates this neatly whereby Pat is on a river-bank and idly joins in a boating family’s shooting target practise of a bottle in the water. The father is seemingly threatened by Garret’s involvement and begins firing at him instead.

Peckinpah himself has a short Stan Lee-style spoken cameo near the end just before Garrett goes to reluctantly take down Billy. He quietly encourages the Sheriff: “You finally figured it out, huh? Go on. Get it over with.” I’d venture that as a last pure Western of his, in spite of his personal battles Peckinpah had figured out some things in his own work…

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

No. 61. Sam Peckinpah - Part V: THE GETAWAY (1972)


Despite JUNIOR BONNER being a low-performer at the box office, Sam Peckinpah and Steve McQueen had profited greatly from working together. Peckinpah described the actor as: “ A beautiful guy to work with, a dedicated actor…a very creative man”. The respect was mutual so they were keen to aim for more success immediately after with THE GETAWAY, a tough crime heist thriller based on the novel by Jim Thompson.  McQueen had read a paperback of the novel at the urging of his publicist cum producer David Foster and liked it enough to have a screenplay commisioned by the brilliant Walter Hill.

THE GETAWAY is an action thriller about a newly-freed convict ‘Doc’ McCoy, whose wife Carol barters with her favours to gain him parole with a shady businessman Benyon (Ben Johnson). Doc then has to pull of a bank robbery as part of his end of the deal. Double-crosses abound, with Carol shooting Benyon when Doc discovers her sexual favour part in the deal, and Doc almost being killed by his treacherous partner Rudy (Al Lettieri) before they go on the run with the money. Rudy pursues them, hijacking the car (and lives) temporarily of a vet and his wife Harold and Fran (Jack Dodson and Sally Struthers), who treat him in more ways than one; Struthers willingly cuckolds Dodson with the dangerously attractive Rudy till Harold hangs himself. Meanwhile, Carol is the victim of a key-switching con-man at the train station, forcing Doc to go after him and retrieve the money. The climax is a shoot-out in a hotel featuring Doc and Carol versus Rudy and a group of Benyon’s hoods. McQueen and McGraw get away in a pickup truck driven by kindly Slim Pickens whose kindness is rewarded with $30,000 in return for his truck. The couple head off safely.

The original choice for director had actually been Peter Bogdanovich, who had wanted to cast his then girlfriend Cybill Shepherd as Carol.  When Bogdanovich dropped out, allowing Peckinpah in, he wanted Stella Stevens who had been so alluring in his THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE. Foster then suggested Ali McGrw, who had become known after the huge success of LOVE STORY and was then married to producer Robert Evans. The chemistry between McQueen and McGraw was more potent than anyone could have known; they began an affair during filming and McGraw left Evans to be with him.

The character of Doc McCoy fit McQueen’s yearning for a character that was both good and bad. “ I sort of fashioned what I play here after Bogart. I guess it was a tribute”, he said, referencing Bogart’s performance in HIGH SIERRA as an inspiration. Peckinpah and McGraw were also Bogart fans. As part of his method preparation for THE GETAWAY’s opening prison scenes, McQueen spent ten days living (but not sleeping) at the facility they filmed at, the guards under instruction to treat him like any other prisoner, running him between activities while he got to know a little of the men’s lives under incarceration.

 Ali McGraw was unhapy with her own work in the film, citing her lack of training or enough experience for the role. She had the self-awareness in a radio interview to understand that she needed guidance from a strong director and leading man. She was equally perceptive about Carol’s motivations; that she was prepared to follow her husband, to get to know each other again, that being involved in crime "turns her on”, though there may have been some mingling of her part with her real-life relationship in this re-awakening. Peckinpah acknowledged that “In a strange way, it’s a love story”.

THE GETAWAY is also greatly misogynistic, it has to be said. Carol is smart and loyal to her man and bargains using her body with Benyon solely to get Doc freed at an emotional cost that reverberates later between them, but since a heist was part of the deal anyway, must she give herself as well as part of the plot? More degradingly, Struthers’ Fran is seen as all to ready to throw herself at the gangster on the run and flaunt it in front of her husband. She’s also portrayed as a dumb floozy.  McCoy slaps his wife about several times (brandishing a closed fist) when the tension between them becomes all too much for him and later punches out FRAN when she’s on the verge of hysteria in the siege.

The only time the women of THE GETAWAY are attributed any real value or self-worth is an excellent pivotal scene between Doc and Carol where she tells him straight that their marrage is over unless he can get beyond his jealousy and understand the awful  self-sacrifice she made for him. McQueen is cowed at the realisation of his selfishness and they go on with greater closeness. The violence is handled with great restraint for a Peckinpah film, and enables the married couple’s fractious relationship to come to the fore, in many ways the most satisfying part of the film. Doc and Carol grow in honesty as the plot unfolds, from a cautious beginning sensitively directed, where it takes them some time and nervousness to make love after four years of being apart, to being a solid and devoted pair. They just happen to be doing it against the law
THE GETAWAY made $36m at the box-office, one of Peckinpah’s greatest successes and vindicated his talent after a run of problems and failures. Walter Hill, also proud of his screenplay was happy for the director: “…he took a fair amount of money out too. After all the disappointment and heartbreak of all these films he had never gotten any reward or been well paid, meant a lot to him.”.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

No.60 Sam Peckinpah - Part IV: JUNIOR BONNER (1972)


By 1972, Sam Peckinpah was establishing a pattern of alternating between directing one film that catered to his trademark violent themes, and then one that was quieter and allowed him to express greater range It was a frustrating period as each slower more personal film failed, forcing him to return to the adult action arena each time. After the critical backlash surrounding the sexual brutality of STRAW DOGS, he made JUNIOR BONNER - as much a lower-gear contrast as the genial THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE was to the censor-baiting THE WILD BUNCH. However, whilst JUNIOR BONNER is a welcome chance to see more of what Peckinpah is about, it suffers from being altogether too nice and slow.

The story promises to be about a world that could have some excitement and even a little western glamour, being the tale of the title character (called J.R. by everyone) played by Steve McQueen, who’s trying to regain his prestige as an ex-champion rodeo rider. In the opening, we briefly see J.R. unsucessfully try to stay on a notoriously uppity horse called Sunshine for the necessary eight seconds. He shrugs off the loss philosophically but bribes the organiser to let him try the same horse again the next week. He plans to succeed next time. the son of another well-known rodeo man Ace Bonner (Robert Preston), one of those reckleSs schemers who always has a master plan that fails and takes his long-suffering family’s money with it. His latest pie-in-the-sky venture is to start again in Australia. His wife Elvira will have nothing to do with him because of his dead-beat ways. J.R’s ambitious real-estate whiz brother Curly (Joe Don Baker) bails out his father’s continuing debts by buying his land from him. J.R. resents this deal as Curly has profitted unfairly from his dad by buying the land at much less than the market rate. Curly defends himself by remarking that he was the only one who could clear his father’s slate. They fight, a familiar turbulence in their relationship.

J.R. is on his uppers and needs to do well at the rodeo. Finally, he teams up with his dad, and though they come a cropper in most of the events, it is a much-needed bonding exerecise for them and J.R. achieves his goal of staying on Sunshine for eight seconds. Unbeknownst to his dad, with his winning, he buys Ace a first class plane ticket to Australia…

JUNIOR BONNER is a gentle and light-hearted film, and whilst it has charm in the rueful resignation of McQueen, the always warm and grand, rich tones of Robert Preston, it takes a long time between the first and last rodeo sequences – and what happens between in its family drama is ponderous and fairly uninvolving. J.R. is mostly  a passive observer, unable to take charge except when he lamps his brother at the family meal.

There is a hint of one of Peckinpah’s perennial concerns at times. As J.R. watches the bulldozers crush his daddy’s home, and endures Curly’s empire-building boasts, we feel that J.R. senses time is passing him by, that the pace of the world and modern commerce is leaving him behind. Also, it’s refershing to see that McQueen is pleasingly unconcerned about the image of being a macho hero in this role, but there simply isn’t the drive and energy to keep us involved. Even the second act saloon brawl seems oddly ambling and half-committed. The climactic rodeo scenes are a brief enlivener but it’s too late by then.

Fans of Peckinpah and McQueen may find this leisurely good’ ol-boy piece a cosy fireside chat but it didn’t set the box office aflame. Luckily, just around the corner the two Hollywood talents were about to re-team way more potently with THE GETAWAY…

Monday, 7 September 2015

No.59. Sam Peckinpah - Part III: STRAW DOGS (1971)


Following the disappointingly lukewarm reception accorded the gentle violence-free THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE and the severing of his relationship to Warner Brothers after it went drastically over budget, Sam Peckinpah elected to return to the arena of violence that had established his reputation and came to England to shoot STRAW DOGS. It was based on the novel ‘The Siege of Trencher’s Farm’ by Gordon Williams, who dismissed the screen adaptation by Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman as unfaithful to his work. Peckinpah was unfazed by this, yet it was to be only the mildest of the controversy the film would bring upon him. Much as I’ve grown to admire aspects of the director’s work, there are aspects here within the brilliance of this film with which I take strong issue.

STRAW DOGS is the story of a meek young American maths professor, David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), who comes to Cornwall with his beautiful young wife Amy (Susan George) to work on a grant-funded research paper. She is restless and soon re-ignites the interest of her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Del Henney) and the other young male villagers. Gradually, the young couple is ensnared in the slow-burning lust and resentment directed by the townsfolk toward her and he, until she is raped by Charlie and then Scutt (Ken Hutchison). The physical violation is further compounded when David and his wife protect Henry Niles, the simple-minded troubled villager with past sex offences whom they hit with their car. They don’t know that the confused Niles has accidentally just killed a local teenage girl. When the drink-fuelled resentful vigilantes come to take Niles by force, a siege of the couples’ home begins and David is forced to become resourceful and violent to protect his home and wife, resulting in all the assailants being killed. In the end, shattered but somehow at peace, David leaves to drive Henry home, unsure of his future…

The filming of STRAW DOGS seemed to go smoothly in the real environs of Cornwall, albeit with the typically cold British weather (although Dustin Hoffman pointed out in a location interview that it would have been much worse back home for him in New York). Peckinpah said in the same programme that he’d like to have made a second home in Cornwall, which never ultimately happened but was a nice P.R. gesture.

Peckinpah had a penchant for throwing knives at doors on the set as a way of relaxing. His prop master found some old doors they could put out to save him from damaging ones needed for the set. This eccentric habit became so well-known that for his birthday Keith Moon, Ringo Starr and Bob Dylan bought him a door as a present.

One worrying story was that over the course of shooting, relations between Hoffman and Peckinpah toward Susan George all too closely mirrored the film’s distancing between the couple. At first, both men were playful and close in their relationship with her, but as the on-screen plot produceS strain between David and Amy, so Hoffman and Peckinpah gradually became similarly isolated and colder toward her. Now while this could to some extent be mitigated In Dustin’s case due to being caught up in the subjective throes of method preparation, it is much less excusable of Peckinpah. He had the benefit of greater overall objectivity but was intentionally freezing her out. This is backed up by producer Dan Melnick, interviewed in the German documentary I saw, ‘Passion and Poetry: Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs’. Melnick urged the director to be gentler with her, but Peckinpah refused. “I’m getting the performance”, he said unapologetically. It’s hard to forgive this treatment of an actress, particularly a very young vulnerable one who was required to undergo extremely traumatic rape enactments. That is precisely the time for greater compassion and sensitivity, perhaps even on-set counselling; no film’s veracity excuses that behaviour.

This leads us to by far the most troubling element of STRAW DOGS, which I’ll deal with here in greater detail. The rape scene overshadows everything else in the film and I feel must be addressed before praising other aspects, out of responsibility.  (I find these kind of scenes extremely hard to take and avoid determinedly exploitative films such as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE). Specifically, violation of Amy is done twice in the same scene, and whilst the second rape is clearly against her will, I can’t accept Peckinpah’s defence that she is not consenting as the first goes on. She definitely struggles to begin with, but as Charlie overpowers her and has his way, she changes into urging him to be gentler, caressing and placating him: “Easy…easy”. That can’t be interpreted any other way than a move into consent. Even though the two have a past history, it is no defence for forced rape and ignoring the obvious here does Peckinpah no credit.

Having addressed the most damning part of the film before the ensuing release controversy, let me move on to the areas of STRAW DOGS that I feel are hugely praiseworthy. The casting, for example, is tremendous. The villagers, led by the intimidating Peter Vaughan, are impeccable in their simmering resentment and contrasting geniality. David Warner is a shrewdly sympathetic choice for Niles, making great use of his natural vulnerability and inner complexity. Susan George is marvellous as Amy, alternating between sexy and childishly provocativeness, and a heartfelt tortured anguish toward the climatic battle. The absolute stand-out performance though is given by Dustin Hoffman. It would have been a tragedy if STRAW DOGS’s irresponsible handling of rape had buried this film as his work is a magnificently nuanced and heartfelt model for complex truth on screen. He is perfectly cast as the mild-mannered, non-confrontational nebbish David who gradually is driven to become engaged and let out his capacity for primitive violence in defence of the sanctity of his home and wife. Critic Pauline Kael condemned the film for a perceived pleasure taken by David in channelling his primal side into thot of a man of violence. I disagree about this being overt, partly because director and actor are careful to never show Hoffman being ‘heroic’. His dispatching of the intruders via barbed-wire, hot alcohol and man-trap are always shown as reactive and are driven by fear more than some desire to display impressive kick-ass skills. This is not a Jason Statham or Steven Segal vehicle where such a character suddenly displays superhuman invulnerability and a bad-ass propensity for macho impressiveness. If that had happened, we would lose any human identification that drives the compelling action so thrillingly. There is risk and vulnerability here constantly during the invasion. We never forget David is having to be resourceful to overcome this awful violation and much of this is due to Dustin’s restraint in committing to the role’s integrity. His little smile as he surveys the carnage, murmuring “Jesus… I got them all” can be read as the wonderment of the little guy who only now realises he has triumphed over the bullies, not simply as enjoyment of being a successful murderer. Post-traumatic relief is also not the same as sustained pleasure. Nor does the film imply that he’s now permanently released an uncaged beast of aggression. As he drives Niles away, the second smile that acknowledges an unexpected future is allowable, (even though there is a possibly distasteful sub-text that it will be without his wife).

Norman Savage’s criticism of the shot footage in the climax is ironic as the final twenty-minute siege is brilliantly edited in razor-sharp quick cuts for pace and breathless intensity.  The harsh blaring of the bagpipe record is a bizarrely terrific sonic layer adding to the disorientation.

Upon release in December 1971, STRAW DOGS was heavily condemned for the two consecutive rapes and the aforementioned perception that it condoned violent solutions to problems. The timing of the film was unfortunate. The month afterwards, a climate of censorious fervour was whipped up by CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Unlike Kubrick’s film, there were no reported instances of copycat acts of brutality in the aftermath of STRAW DOGS, but it still drew unwelcome hostility that detracted from its complex and valid themes. The film struggled with classification, being banned under the Video Recordings Act on video-tape for home audiences in Britain, despite being passed uncut originally for the cinema. Over the years it was belatedly re-released intact, enabling fully-informed appraisal, since a former cut version truncated the rape scenes into one and distorted the scene from being fairly judged.

David Warner was amused by the pretensions of scholarly critics who believed that his character’s lameness and the sling-bound arm of T.P McKenna in the film were somehow part of a sub-texual connection to David’s impotence with his wife. In the documentary, he sets the record straight that his injury was a pre-shooting accident that made him sceptical about being fit to do the film, and McKenna’s arm damage was caused by someone falling on him during one of the crew parties.
Check out the striking posters as well that superbly reflected the turbulent themes of the film.

STRAW DOGS is ultimately a powerful, complicated film with much to offer as well as being controversial. One always has to be mindful that in praising its strong virtues, this in no way discounts its mis-handling of a societal taboo as well. Judge for yourself…

Sunday, 6 September 2015

No.58. Sam Peckinpah - Part II: THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE (1970)


After the great success of his violent and richly-themed western THE WILD BUNCH, Sam Peckinpah switched gears and proved that he could handle other tempos and tones with a surprisingly heart-warming comedy, THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE.

The plot centres around the title character, played with lovable roguish charm by Jason Robards; somewhat of a ne’er-do-well bum who’s left to die of thirst in the desert by his double-crossing partners Taggart and Bowen (L.Q. Jones and the ever-engaging Strother Martin). On the point of death, he discovers water and a dubious Reverend, a shifty fun turn by David Warner. Hogue stakes his claim in town at the Land Registry office. There he meets the lovely prostitute Hildy (a beguiling Stella Stevens) and begins to prosper by charging stage-coaches at his literal water-hole Cable Springs. Eventually, Hildy opts to join him, forced to pause unexpectedly in her big plans to save enough money in town and leave to marry well in San Francisco when the townsfolk throw her out. Three weeks pass before she must go to seek her fortune, but not before they fall in love in a very sweet courtship. One day a stagecoach comes by; Hogue finds it contains his long-lost nemeses whom he’s been waiting to gain revenge on for the past three years. He reels them in with his good luck story and when they return to rob him, he kills Taggart but takes pity on  the snivelling Bowen, whom he decides to leave his business to and go after Hildy. After one motor car goes by, which the men are afraid of and in wonderment of, along comes another more distinguished chauffeur-driven one containing Hildy. She had married into money as planned but her husband died. She has come to take Hogue with her. He readily accepts but while the car is being watered, it runs over him, causing fatal internal wounds. He asks to hear the funeral orations given in his honour and his companions oblige before the real ceremony…

Soemhow the budget of THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE over-ran by three million dollars and 19 days over schedule which ended Peckinpah’s relationship with Warner Brothers/Seven Arts studio. It  would be hard to see on-screen where the spiralling costs went as this is a small-scale quite intimate piece; however bad weather plagued the filming and Peckinpah attracted equally hard-living men to aid him in his renewed drinking, leading to a legendary bar-tab over the course of filming rising to $70,000.

There is much to like in this western, mainly in the through-line of whimsical and gentle humour. Robards is a winning presence, from his early desert soliloquies about his haphazard life and self-serving ‘prayers’ to God for water, through the charming romance between him and the rough-diamond Stella Stevens. It’s a courtship conducted in reverse as they’d already become intimate as ‘professional and customer’ in the saloon bedroom, but out in the prairies he becomes a more tender considerate lover with her, the better part of himself. There is one line that is very special, when Hildy stands in the doorway, having been kicked out by the townspeople and needing to make a go as guest of Hogue’s ramshackle hospitality. He surveys her beauty warmly as if for the first time. She remarks self-deprecatingly that he’s seen it before. “Lady, no-one’s ever seen you before” he replies. It’s a great romantic moment and Robards delivers it with sublime sincerity  - in a dang Sam Peckinpah movie!

David Warner also has immense fun as the wayward preacher with his own less romantic, groping interpretation of the laying-on of hands when he attempts to seduce a married townswoman while her husband is out, with near deadly consequences for him.

Even the ending is handled with a genial sunset glow as Hogue lays dying, propped up on a pillow and asking to hear what everyone will say about him in death whilst he is still alive to appreciate it. (Supposedly, this concern for his reputation was a genuine preoccupation of Peckinpah’s in real life). Warner delivers an upbeat and touching eulogy about Hogue without sentimentality, showing that his character does after all have a little divine gift for suitable oration.

The relative failure of THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE is a shame as it was a sadly rare chance to show Peckinpah’s versatility in a light touch for comedy and charitable humanity. Limited in his opportunities following its disappointing performance, he was forced to head back into the sturm und drang of violence and controversy, choosing STRAW DOGS as his next project. It would have its own problems and rewards for the bad boy prodigal son of Hollywood…