Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Double-Feature c/o Author Craig Johnson

Here’s something that makes me feel instantly old and gray: describing to my children that I could buy one ticket and watch two pictures at a movie theater when I was their age. The film industry phenomenon of the double-feature (which dated back to The Great Depression) was in its last days as I grew up.

The stingy operation of presenting only a single feature returned (to theater chains) around the time I graduated high school and entered college. Afterwards, the potent combination of dating and the escalating ticket prices of the 70s provided prime motivation for my seeking employment, but that’s another story.

Luckily, today there are still steadfast believers in the venerable practice of screening two movies together, with kudos to the generous folks at The American Cinematheque Los Angeles and the New Beverly Cinema (along with other independent theaters). It’s a rare blessing for local L.A. filmgoers like me. When the practice was more everyday, you could get some wonderful, and perhaps odd, movie pairings.

From time-to-time, I’ve noted some book authors will insert or cite certain films in their written work (novelist Ken Bruen is very good at this). What these two subjects have in common is the point of it all. The two merged for me recently while I listened to another fine audiobook in author Craig Johnson‘s splendid Walt Longmire series, The Dark Horse.

In it, the fictional Wyoming sheriff of Absaroka County noted the last double bill he’d ever paid money to watch. Fittingly it seems, the author (through Walt) named two of the most uncompromising, but bleakly fascinating, neo-western films to come out of the crucible that was the 70s.

Not surprisingly, a pair of truly gifted filmmakers (ones that didn’t get enough credit and respect while they were still walking around), made them: Sam Peckinpah and Robert Aldrich. So, I thought to call attention to Mr. Johnson’s set in a post (and who knows, I may do more of these film couplets in the future). Here goes:

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

I actually showed this movie for a week, as the second feature on the marquee, during my stint as a projectionist way back when. The film has never really left me. Made during a particularly bad and bitter period for Sam Peckinpah while he lived in Mexico, it was nonetheless one of the most beautifully poignant, if brutal, of love stories to be found around. It starred two greatly underrated performers, Warren Oates and Isela Vega, in unforgettable roles. I’ll simply refer you to two of the best examinations by blogging friends regarding this intense masterpiece:

25 Years Gone: A Tribute to Sam Peckinpah: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia by J.D.

Nobody Loses All The Time by Mr. Peel


Ulzana’s Raid (1972)

Robert Aldrich’s films historically celebrated a defiant individualism and had a decidedly anti-establishment bent to them. This western was no exception. Like the above Peckinpah film, it’s brutal. But, in many ways it’s even more savage as there’s no love to be found in it. Its harsh tale was a keen look at the clash of cultures that occurred on the desolate southwestern frontier of Manifest Destiny. Acutely, it’s not lensed through a John Ford, post-World War II Fort Apache perspective.

No, Aldrich incorporates the ‘search and destroy’ Vietnam War parallels right down through to its core. The great Burt Lancaster again paired with the director (this the third outing in their four collaborations) and the result was another combustive and powerful feature which took no prisoners. And if there were any romantic illusions the audience had concerning the western (or war) coming in, this feature dispelled them, posthaste.

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14 Responses to “Double-Feature c/o Author Craig Johnson”

  1. Jen Forbus

    I know I repeatedly say this, but your film knowledge is always so astounding to me. Branching genres, directors, sound tracks….you just know them inside and out. You should be part of the industry; you really should!

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    • le0pard13

      You’re too kind, Jen. And that’s some set of films Craig Johnson came up with. In response to my question of if he himself had really seen them as a double bill, he said:

      “I’ve seen the films, but separately… Thank God.”

      Thanks so much, Jen.

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  2. J.D.

    Nice article, my friend! And thanks for the shout-out. One of these days I’d love to see ALFREDO GARCIA on the big screen – alto, the experience may be too intense seeing Peckinpah’s gritty, grungy tale writ large!

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    • le0pard13

      Glad to cite your wonderful review, my friend. And I hope someday you get to experience this Peckinpah on the big screen. I think it’ll mark you as it’s done me. Thanks.

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  3. Poncho

    I agree with Jen & Naomi. Your film knowledge is enviable, cousin. The good thing is when you bring these films to the spotlight I immediately write them down so I can search ’em wherever.

    Now, both films are on my list (‘though I think I’ve seen ALFREDO GARCIA quite a while ago, but can’t recall correctly). Hoping I have time this weekend.

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    • le0pard13

      If you get to watch these (or any other film I write about), I’d love to hear your thoughts concerning them. Thanks so much for the kinds words, Poncho.

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  4. Kevin (Col. Mortimer)

    Great article, though younger than you and not really experiencing filmgoing until the 1980s, I did see double features either via the drive-ins or at “dollar theatres” which in the days when it routinely took a year for a film to go from theatrical to video specialized in showing films which had exhausted their stay at the bigger theatres.

    Nice shout out to Ulzana’s Raid, which I ironically just watched last year for the first time, at the New Beverly theatre, in a double bill with Tell Them Willie Boy is Here

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    • le0pard13

      Ah, the drive-in… Such a great venue! You right, of course. The double-feature didn’t disappear entirely. The independents kept it going for quite awhile as they struggle to compete. Ulzana’s Raid is something, isn’t it? Thanks for adding to this, Kevin.

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    • le0pard13

      I’m certainly with you on that subject. Luckily, one can still find them. Earlier in the year, when the UCLA Film Series was celebrating Burt Lancaster ‘s centennial in a film series, I took my brood over to the Hammer Museum’s theater (where this was hosted) and we saw ‘Vera Cruz’ and ‘The Professionals’ one Saturday night. Great time.

      Thanks, Richard.

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