Friday, July 12, 2013

William A. Wellman's films

In early 2012, Sam Juliano’s excellent round-up of William A. Wellman’s films was an eye opener as it highlighted the need to visit Wellman’s films. This is the first of a multi-part examination of the cinematic works of William A. Wellman.

The Ox-Bow Incident 

No film perfectly illustrates the phrase “Shoot first, ask questions later” than The Ox-Bow Incident. As a result, this film is essential viewing in understanding how blind revenge can override common sense and result in a serious crime. In the film, this thirst for blood possesses a group of men who go hunting for a rancher’s killers even though they have not seen the rancher’s body or verified any details of the crime. The men are repeatedly asked to show patience and calm down but those words fall on deaf ears as the men’s desire to kill overrides any shred of common sense.

The Ox-Bow Incident is an uncompromising film that never lets any glimmer of hope creep in and shows how a group of men can become vicious savages when their heart is set on revenge. One can extrapolate this blind revenge quality of a small group to a nation and understand why certain nations march into war with the slightest of pretexts. This may be a 1943 film but it is highly relevant in explaining the war mentality that exists in today’s world and how nations and groups of people can easily be forced into an act of violence without any evidence of a crime.

A true masterpiece. I placed this #3 on the Top 60 Western countdown.

Yellow Sky 

A visually stunning Western that features some of the most rugged and brutal terrain ever shown on cinema. After a group of bank robbers go on the run with their latest loot, their journey brings them face to face with a flat endless unforgiving landscape. They don’t have a choice to turn around so they head off into the flat land only to slowly get beat up by the heat. The horses start collapsing and the men are on the verge of death. Their spirits are lifted when they see a town in the horizon. But as it turns out, the town named “Yellow Sky” is a ghost town. The once prosperous town is empty and falling apart, mirroring the men’s situation. A young woman with a gun appears and tells the gang that a spring is nearby. After the men have had some water in their system, they start getting their strength back and discover that the young woman lives with her grandfather in a house. Examination of the surroundings leads the gang to conclude that there is gold buried in the mountains which is why the grandfather and the girl have not left. The thirst for gold results in fissures in the group and loyalties are put to the test.

Placed at #14 in my top 60 Westerns.

Track of the Cat 

This 1954 film features the most unusual villain in any Western film because the killing is not done by a human but instead by a panther. As a result, this film takes on a man vs animal scenario plus the cold snow background adds a man vs nature conflict to the mix. On top of that, family fights and tensions result in plenty of internal turmoil and personal demons which have to be conquered. This could have been a very dark feature but the color cuts through some of the tension.

The Conquerors

The rise and decline of America from the 1880’s to 1930’s is illustrated through the fortunes and struggles of a single family. Using a few characters, the film manages to depict the rise of a banking empire, followed by a stock market rise and crash, the backdrop of war and the progress caused by the railway. As family members age, the nation goes through a recursive pattern of excessive growth followed by an economic crash, immediately followed by another growth. After each crash, people call it the end and claim that America is finished but the nation recovers again. This 1932 film can be used to draw a lot of parallels with America post-2008, especially in showing the closed factories, no help wanted signs and people struggling to find work after a stock market crash. The stock market bubble is shown literally when a stack of money is shown growing until it bursts and in another sequence, money is shown to be piling up to become a large tower that comes crashing down.


Sam Juliano said...

Thanks so much for that acknowledgement my friend and kudos to you on yet another fantastic post! Completely agree on THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (one of the greatest of all westerns) and YELLOW SKY and TRACK OF THE CAT is one of the most accomplishment experimental films in the genre. THE CONQUERORS is another that should be seen by all the voters.

Wellman was a giant and you have stoked the embers of enthusiasm again!

Sachin said...

Sam, I owe you for being able to see these films. I cannot imagine I was unware of these great films until you first mentioned them. I can't wait to see more of Wellman's films.