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:
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:
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.
- Warner Bros. May Remake ‘The Wild Bunch’ (Shoot Me) and ‘Westworld’ (Which is OK) (slashfilm.com)
- “Sam Peckinpah’s Long-Lost Script for ‘The Texans’ Unearthed” (gointothestory.com)
- What’s the Big Deal?: The Wild Bunch (1969) (seattlepi.com)