Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2 Films by Monte Hellman: The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind Criterion Blu-ray Review

Dir. Monte Hellman

In The Shooting, a mysterious woman hires a bounty hunter to escort her through the desert, looking for a man. In Ride in the Whirlwind, a trio of farmhands are being hunted by vigilantes after being mistaken for part of a gang of outlaws.

In 1965, Roger Corman asked Monte Hellman to make a western, then asked him to make two westerns, back to back, as a cost cutting measure. These 2 films are the result, and are considered to be the first “acid westerns”, films that combine traditional western iconography with the outlook of the Sixites counterculture movement. Both films share actors, with Jack Nicholson and Millie Perkins staring in both films, and were shot in the same locations, in an area that was turned into a man made lake shortly after the films completed filming.

The Shooting is a strange film, deconstructing the genre with a dreamlike quality. Warren Oates is great as the closest thing to a hero in the film, and Millie Perkins does well in the role of the of the mystery woman. Jack Nicholson brings menace to the film as Billy Spear, doing the type of unhinged role he would eventually become famous for. The film has a dreamlike quality to it, and it is beautifully shot. While The Shooting is the better and more interesting film, Ride in the Whirlwind isn’t bad. It’s more of a traditional western, with a more simple story about 3 farmhands getting mistaken for a gang of outlaws, and then trying to hide and escape from the vigilantes that are pursing them. Harry Dean Stanton shows up in a small part in this film, and livens things up a bit, but once the farmhands arrive at the ranch where they hide out, the film slows down a bit, only really picking up towards the end of the film.

Special Features include commentary on both films, and a selection of interviews with the people involved with the production. The House of Corman featurette where Helman interviews producer Roger Corman was great and I ended up wishing that it was longer. The Diary of Millie Perkins segment was interesting, as was the interview with horse wrangler Calvin Johnson. Pretty much everyone of significance that is still alive that was involved with the films is interviewed here, with one noticeable exception.

Overall this is a great package that Criterion has put together, and the presentation both movies is great, with very good audio and video quality, and it includes some interesting special features and liner notes on the films. I do hope that this set sells well enough for Criterion to consider rescuing Hellman’s later western China 9, Liberty 37 from public domain hell that it seems to be stuck in. It deserves better than the pan and scan tv rips that seem to populate every PD western set that exists. But I’d recommend this set based on The Shooting alone.

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