Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rare Clint Eastwood western

Over a week ago, at the annual Summer meeting of the Finnish Western Society, paradoxically called "pukkujoulut ("Lidl Christmas" or something like that), held in Oulu we watched a rare Western movie from the fifties that's reportedly never been released on VHS or DVD. Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958) would be totally forgotten these days if it didn't star the young Clint Eastwood in his first film to get a screen credit. He's billed third in the opening credits, but there was a rerelease - probably later in the sixties, after his Italian Westerns - in which he was credited first.

The film is not a B-picture, as someone might have an urge to call it. It's more like a cheap A-western, shot in black & white Cinemascope (or actually Regalscope). The film was written by prolific pulpster and later prolific B-picture writer John K. Butler (whose Steve Midnight stories from the Dime Detective are very good), and I think this shows in the dialogue. It's very crispy at times: "What happened to him? He's much nicer now than before." "The Indians made him nice."

Otherwise the film's virtues pretty much end there. Eastwood isn't very good - he plays a young, hot-headed Southerner, who's in with a ragtag crowd of other Southerners who haven't given up the fight after the Civil War. Eastwood grins uncomfortably through the film, and one won't give him a long future on silver screen. Scott Brady, the first-billed star of the flick, plays a Yankee officer who leads a small gang of soldiers. They end up ambushed by some Indians - we never see much of them and they act pretty stupidly. (Which is of course a Western cliché, but these guys are really dumb. And there's not too many close-ups of them. Maybe their contract with the studio didn't say anything about the close-ups. Actually there are not too many close-ups of other actors either.)

My biggest problem with the film - beside that it's wooden and doesn't pack much suspense - is how the only female character is portrayed very stupidly. Her whole family is slaughtered, even to the smallest kid, and yet she tries to hit on all the men she sees, with a greedy lust in her eyes. Maybe she's gone into a severe shock after traumatic events? And yeah, okay, the film ends more abruptly than anything I've seen in a long time.

Eastwood has been reported saying that Ambush at Cimarron Pass is "the lousiest Western ever made". In this interview he says the film almost destroyed his career, because he thought he never wanted to act again. (His wife talked him out of the decision, and then came Rawhide.) Is it because of Eastwood the film has never been released on video? Has he put a ban on it? It seems the film can be seen occasionally on something called Western Channel. Our version was taped from a small Finnish cable channel in the mid-eighties and transferred to DVD. We had a great time watching the film, as we had a small cinema at our use. I bet there are not that many people alive who have seen this on silver screen.

There's a long comment on IMDb here, which contradicts a lot of things I've said here. It is true that I fell asleep in the middle and maybe all the good parts came during those 5-10 minutes. See also this blog post. Seems like there's an illegal download doable from here.

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