Movie Diary 5/15/2023

Cheyenne Autumn (John Ford, 1964). In some ways this is Ford’s Schindler’s List, a film so driven by its desire to be a document of historical urgency that it softens the usual keen storytelling instincts of its director (the account here is a rebellion of displaced Cheyenne people in 1878). Except that Schindler’s List was a significant cultural milestone, and this one a box-office failure. It is certainly full of beautiful moments, including some of those miraculous events that Ford would somehow capture on camera, such as the moment when cavalryman Richard Widmark is standing by a brush fire and the two covered wagons near him bloom into flames. Also much in evidence is Ford’s feeling for the beauty of gestures (both behavioral and physical) and giving supporting players their turns to shine – Mike Mazurki, Dolores del Rio, Sean McClory, and for sure Ben Johnson (some of the horse stunts in this thing are astounding). This is personal filmmaking, even though it is a historical document.

Dead for a Dollar (Walter Hill, 2022). Clean lines for a western, as bounty hunter Christoph Waltz (who seems to really get the western) travels to retrieve a kidnapped – but actually runaway – wife (Rachel Brosnahan), while eventually having to fend off a resentful former quarry (Willem Dafoe). One wishes for a slightly larger budget, and yet the strapped circumstances enhance the sense of elemental forces being played out. A good job of work.


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