Weekly Video/DVD Picks
Open Range (2003)
An archetypal Western tale of itinerant cowboy heroes (Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall) standing up to a bully- I ing cattle rancher, Open Range is an unapologetically straightforward throwback to the mythology and iconography of the classic Western. It's an uncluttered tale of honor, loyalty, freedom and frontier justice.
Duvall and Costner aren't whitewashed heroes and their deadly confrontation with their enemies is more than a little tainted by vengeance. Still, somebody has to stand up to the murderous antagonist — and federal authority is too far away. It's rough justice but the only sort of justice that's available.
Religion gets little attention: Burying a comrade, the heroes make no mention of his or their beliefs except to express anger toward God for allowing the tragedy. Later, though, there's a countervailing moment when one of the heroes is urged to thank God for another life being spared and expresses some openness to this proposal.
Ultimately, Open Range is a bit like Charley himself: Competent, flawed, unglamorous, grim but not unhopeful, it gets the job done. It's not a great movie, but after 10 years since Hollywood's last stabs at the genre, it's nice to see even a decent one.
Content advisory: Strong, sometimes deadly violence and gunplay; some crude language, profanity and a crass expression of anger at God; a few minor sexual references. Mature viewing.
Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)
James Garner brings a variation on his “Maverick” persona to this classic satirical Western that even more than Destry Rides Again does for Westerns what The Princess Bride did for fairy-tale fantasy: It honors the genre's conventions and clichés even as it spoofs them.
Garner plays Jason Mc-Cullough, an easy-going, self-assured drifter who wanders into a rough-and-tumble frontier town looking to make a little extra money on his way to Australia. He winds up taking on the unenviable job of sheriff. Of course there's a bullying clan of ranchers (headed by My Darling Clementine's Walter Brennan, who's hilarious) to contend with; other challenges include rowdy cowboys, an unfinished jail building that lacks bars in the windows and cell openings, and the mayor's beautiful, spirited but mishap-prone daughter Prudy (a very funny Joan Hackett).
Though McCullough prefers, like Jimmy Stewart in Destry, to use his brains instead of his fists, he's not averse to using force when necessary. He's never at a loss, and his methods are as clever as they are unorthodox. True to the genre, he cleans up the town — right down to a climactic sight gag with an explosive impact (if an inadvertent one) on operations at the local house of ill repute.
Content advisory: Sporadic, sometimes deadly gunplay; mostly slapstick fisticuffs; occasional minor profanity; a bit of discreet off-color humor involving a bordello.
Oklahoma! was the first of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical collaborations, and it changed the face of musical theater. Breaking from both traditional musical comedies and Gilbert-and-Sullivan-style operettas — in which character and story were secondary to show-stopping production numbers and comedy — Oklahoma! for the first time placed lyrics and dance at the service of story and character development.
After The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! is the best-loved Rodgers and Hammerstein film adaptation, deservedly so. Many of the songs are worthy classics, including “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City” (a couple of omitted songs were dicier and aren't missed, and a few lyrics have been sanitized as well).
Leads Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones (in her first role) bring ample charm as well as strong singing to the depiction of frontier romance as a battle of the sexes with plenty of fraternizing with the “enemy.” Charlotte Greenwood is perfection as the irrepressible Aunt Eller, and Rod Steiger's Jud Fry is both more human and creepier than usual. The story effectively debunks Jud's nasty antisocial isolation and fantasy fixations, instead extolling healthy social engagement.
Content advisory: Romantic complications; a few suggestive lyrics and references; some menace; content relating to the antagonist's licentiousness (references to indecent materials in his possession; a symbolic dance sequence evoking his disordered inner state).
- January 18-24, 2004