Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Once Upon a Texas Train (1988)

We just had the annual Summer get-together of the Finnish Western Society. We watched three more or less obscure films, one of them being Once Upon a Texas Train that I had bought earlier on VHS from a thrift store not knowing what it was about.

Turns out it was written and directed by Burt Kennedy, for whom it must've been some kind of a dream project: lots of old Western stars together possibly for the last time. The story is very traditional: an old train robber (Willie Nelson) gathers his old friends together and plans to rob a train. An old friend of the robber, colonel (Richard Widmark) has a hunch of what the robber is about to do and gathers some of their old acquaintances to stop the robber.

The line-up is sure something: Widmark, Chuck Connors, Jack Elam, Stuart Whitman, Gene Evans, Royal Dano, Ken Curtis, Dub Taylor, Kevin McCarthy (in a small role), Dub Taylor, Angie Dickinson, Harry Carey Jr., Hank Worden. But the movie is slow-moving and gets bogged down in the talkative middle. The ending is disappointing, and it seems like they shot two endings shot and used footage of both. Burt Kennedy wrote formidable scripts for Budd Boetticher in the late fifties, but his own films have been disappointing. I don't really care for his better-known films, either, like Support Your Local Sheriff!

Once Upon a Texas Train was made for TV, and it premiered CBS Sunday Movie on CBS on January 3, 1988, being a popular film with over 20 million viewers.

Here's Wikipedia on the film. The film seems to be available on DVD.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Always Outnumbered

I haven't read Walter Mosley's novel Always Outgunned, Always Outnumbered (1997), but when I saw a free VHS copy of the film based on it, I immediately snatched it. It's great when there are so many free VHS cassettes around in thrift stores and other venues nowadays.

The film has a shortened title: Always Outnumbered, and it was a HBO production in 1998. It was scripted by Mosley himself, and directed by Michael Apted. Larry Fishburne plays the lead, an ex-convict by the name of Socrates Fortlow who tries to live almost all by himself, but getting mixed up with the every-day troubles of his neighborhood. This is not really a crime movie, even though most of the stuff Socrates meets is crime-related: drugs, killing of a pre-teenage boy, stuff like that.

The TV movie is almost all black (or African-American, if you will), except for the director (Apted is an odd choice for this, though he's made noirish films before). There's gritty and believable realism to all this, but there's almost too much of the macho posturing by Fishburne and some others. When Socrates Fortlow talks to a woman whose husband he's promised to find, he says things like "if he doesn't show up, I'm gonna come up and take you and your kids with me" or "there are dozen men waiting for a woman like you". I'd feel this would be terribly disturbing, if I were a woman and someone was talking to me like this. The ending is sentimental, though it's not a happy one.

Made-for-TV movies don't suffer much when watched on VHS, so I was glad to give this a try. It's clearly an above average movie, though it has its problems.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Small Crimes

Evan Katz's Small Crimes (2017) is an excellent neo-noir film after Dave Zeltserman's novel of the same name. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays Joe Denton, an ex-cop who's been six years in jail for maiming the D.A. with a knife. In the beginning of the film, we see him get out and try to redeem his bad deeds and getting in touch with his two daughters. We see him getting mixed up with his old colleagues in crime, both cops and criminals, we see him being asked to do some favours, we see him getting trapped. There's no escaping the past. Whatever Joe does, it only tightens the rope around his neck. Near the end, it seems he's getting out - but that impression doesn't last for long. This is noir at its noirest, and there are no mystic serial killers or any of that Nordic Noir shit around. What I especially liked about the film is that there's no back story, you have to be alert to see what's been happening.

Small Crimes is available in Netflix.

Had the crime paperback series I was editing for a Finnish publisher six or seven years ago, I would've definitely included Zeltserman's novel in the series. I would've also picked up Zeltserman's Killer, which is even better, if you ask me. Both books come highly recommended.

I hope there are more Overlooked Films coming to Todd Mason's blog here.