Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Remember when that giant fast food corporation tried to buy the entire sport of golf?

The McMasters  (Chevron Pictures, 1970)

Before the Camera:

Brock Peters  (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Burl Ives  (Uphill All the Way)
Jack Palance  (Companeros)
David Carradine  (Death Race 2000)
Nancy Kwan  (Supercock)
LQ Jones (The Beast Within)
RG Armstrong  (The Beast Within)
Alan Vint  (The Lady in Red)
John Carradine (House of Frankenstein)
Dane Clark  (Paid to Kill)

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Alf Kjellin

Produced by Dimitri De Grunwald and David Sachson

Written by Harold Jacob Smith

The late 60's and early 70's were a very interesting time in the world of cinema. After decades of being scrunched up by the very restrictive Hayes Code, the Movies had finally kicked that archaic nonsense to the curb. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was in its infancy. (Well, actually, the Hayes Code had been renamed the MPAA in the mid 40's, but it was the same old medieval puritanism until the mid 60's.) There was a vacancy in the top position there in 1963, and it sat empty for three years. Then Jack Valenti came along and revamped the whole magilla. Now, this isn't a debate on the pros and cons of Jack Valenti and the MPAA that he created and presided over for decades. But regardless of how you feel about Jack, after the Hayes Code was terminated with extreme prejudice, married couples could sleep in the same bed on screen, dying could be done with the eyes open, and endings no longer had to be happy.
    With all that under our belts, now we can turn to The McMasters. Benjamin (Peters), a former slave, returns from fighting in the Civil War to the only place he's known outside of the war: the ranch of his former master, Neal McMasters (Ives). Benji passes through town on the way there, and it becomes readily obvious that despite the war ending and slavery being abolished, he is not going to be readily accepted by most of the townspeople. It doesn't help that Benjamin chooses to make the journey wearing his Union uniform. And it isn't surprising that the one person in town most upset by this is Kolby (Palance), who coincidentally hangs around town with one arm and his Confederate uniform on.
    Trouble is going to ensue.
    Neal offers Benji half of his spread, and his last name. For a moment, it seems like the men are getting married - and it's a long moment. After a while the relationship settles back to a father-and-son dynamic, but it leaves one to wonder if the other idea was really there? Benji tries to become friends with the local Native American tribe - including White Feather (Carradine) and his sister Robin (Kwan); the Native Americans are wary, tired of being accused of being cattle thieves and treated like trash by the townspeople. That they are cattle thieves shows the shades of gray nearly all the characters have in this movie: Benji eventually starts shmoozing romantically with Robin, but unused to tenderness and kindness he lashes out and abuses her physically, mentally, and emotionally. He comes to realize what he's done and makes amends; but movie heroes didn't do things like that in the decade previous.
    Eventually Kolby's hatred sparks some of the locals into an act of repellent violence against Benji and Robin, and the three factions (the ranchers, the townspeople, and the Native Americans) face off in a deadly climactic showdown.

"I think I can calm 'em down with a little 'Holly Jolly Christmas'."

This movie always interested me after I read its capsule entry in Leonard Maltin's TV Movies book. In it, he indicates that this movie has two running times, due to there being two different endings filmed. Major spoiler here - he says in one ending Palance and his men win, and in the other the "good guys" (his words) win out. I always used to be intrigued by this as it used to be a fairly rare thing. Nowadays in the world of "Filmmaking-by-Committee" it happens all the time and there seems to be an alternate ending on two of every three DVDs released. But 40 years ago, that was strange. I always wondered why they had shot two endings. The more positive side of me hopes it was filmmakers ready to explore the tragic endings they'd been denied for decades prior to this, but unable to fully commit, they went ahead and shot a second option. The more negative side wonders if they used one ending for showings in the North, and one ending for showings in the South. I hope that's not the case, but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility.
    And here's the really weird part - I have no idea which ending I saw! Maltin lists the running times as 89 min/97 min. He lists the endings in the review as Palance, then "good guys." The DVD I watched ran 89 minutes and change. Now, it was a bargain DVD, and those prints can be chewed up and run any old amount of time, so I wasn't sure I had the downbeat ending, but I thought I probably did. Then the film ended, and I'm not sure...a mix of the good and bad guys died...no one came out particularly happy, but there were survivors... so I don't know? And the movie has not stood the test of time - there's not that much info to be found about it on the internet, and it has apparently fallen into the public domain (or at least has copyright holders who are lax enough to let it be released on several DVD collections from several of the notorious companies who do that sort of thing). I had hoped to read about both endings (or better - see them on YouTube) but my research turned up nothing. The one review on Amazon is from a guy who worked on it in the locations department who hated the movie. *sigh*
    So in the end, it was a very grim drama, but a fairly interesting flick, with a great cast. Peters, Ives, and Palance are all just fine; Carradine and Kwan are strange choices to play Native Americans, but they're both pretty good doing it; and special kudos go to Dane Clark as a forward thinking guy in town who sticks up for Peters at a couple of key moments. Everything else about the movie - including the direction and production values - are solid and workmanlike, not spectacular, but they get the job done. If you don't mind your dramas downbeat and wearing Western clothing, this is a fairly safe bet and it can be found for $1 most places. All others need not apply.

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At around 51:05, Brock Peters reveals he's tired of carting shot-up cattle poisoners around.

Eye Candy ?

She's dressed frontier style, but no amount of dressing down can take away from Nancy Kwan's beauty. Welcome to the list, Ms. Kwan!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "The McMasters is worth watching - and
moreso because it's got two Carradines in it!"

Thanks very much Buddha Man! Til next post you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

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