Criterion: The Shooting, Monte Hellman, 1966
The Shooting and Ride In the Whirlwind were companion, low budget westerns pieces, shot together over a 7-week schedule (3 weeks for each with a week off in between). At the time they were overlooked, but have become cult classics and influenced many of the ‘Acid Westerns’ that followed.
Of the two, I consider The Shooting to be superior. Maybe not so coincidentally, it also had the most problems with the production. Some flooding took place early and forced delays. While the movie was wrapped up in time and within the budget, there appear to be some short cuts taken. Some scenes probably did not get the coverage they deserved, and there are gaps in editing. Towards the end, the narrative skips and jumps ahead without dissolves, making the passage of time less clear and challenging the viewer
For such a small budget, the film looks spectacular. Some of the beginning photography has a gritty, washed out look, which may have more to do with the production delays than anything. The later scenes in the desert are brighter and more photogenic, in part because of some great choices in locations. Aside from a handful of interior shots, most of the movie was lit with natural light on location. DP Gregory Sandor deserves credit for making the most with limited resources, as the film does not look cheap by any stretch on the screen.
Compared to Ride In the Whirlwind and other westerns that came before and would come later, The Shooting is minimalist, with sparse dialogue and a lot of long shots of the characters that highlight the locations.
Warren Oates, who would become familiar to most film buffs later, was starring in his first lead role. Willett Gashade was a fitting character for him. He is quite, sober, sensible, and stoic, which is in stark contrast to Will Hutchins’ Coley Boyard, who is boisterous, cowardly, and wears his emotions on his sleeve, particularly his fondness for the mysterious woman that would set the narrative in motion.
Millie Perkins plays the unknown woman. We never learn her name, despite Coley’s attempts to learn it and get closer to her. She is also uniquely portrayed. In previous westerns, the villain’s are almost universally male. She is more like the mysterious femme fatales in noir films of the 1940s and 1950s. While we learn early on that she is on a mission of revenge, she keeps quiet as to her motivation until the very end, and we never learn of the circumstances that brought her there.
It is impossible to review Jack Nicholson’s involvement outside of the context of his later performances. While The Shooting was created before he was known, this is the same, familiar Jack that would rise to stardom in the upcoming decade. Like Perkins, he plays a reserved and quiet character and reveals next to nothing about why he does what he does. He reveals some information about a crime he has committed, but does so in the confidence of a character and the audience never understands how and why. His character relishes in cruelty, and he shows the same bright white, wicked smile that we would see later in his career. He grins widely and wickedly as he tells Coley, “Your brain is gonna fry out here. You know that?”. It is the same expression he would later use in The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and many other roles throughout his career. Even though he does not appear until the middle of the film with an unceremonious entrance, he steals most of his scenes.
The last 15 minutes are where the picture is the most impactful. They are when the action resolves, and they are also the most enigmatic and would embody the “acid” characteristics. There are some questionable editing decisions, such as when Gashade is burying a body. Most of the events unfold visually without narrative. We do not know how long they have been out there. The ending resolves the fate of some characters, but we do not know the fate of the rest. The actual ending is amazing, as ‘The End’ is written on the screening during a long shot with one of the remaining characters. Does that mean it is his end as well?
Film Rating: 8/10
Since this is a single disc combined with Ride in the Whirlwind, I am going to discuss the supplements in the entry for the other film.
The audio commentary was recorded this year with Hellman, film critic Bill Krohn, and western historian Blake Lucas. The three have an interesting dynamic. At times I wanted to hear more from Hellman about the production of the film, but on the other hand, I enjoyed them interacting with him and asking film geek types of questions. Without them, we probably wouldn’t have learned as much about his influences going into the film.
With this project, he wanted to get to the major question, as Hellman put it. He actually eliminated 10 pages of exposition just to speed up the plot. He eliminated dissolves as well, which he attributed to the French New Wave and the lack of a budget. Dissolves are more expensive.
His influences were of course John Ford films, and he mentioned a few others. One curious influence was One Eyed Jacks with Brando. He also mentioned that he was influenced by Antonioni, the French New Wave, and other arthouse cinema directors. Perhaps the most interesting influence was the JFK assassination. This project began soon after those events, and he said they were an influence on the film. You can see remnants of the Zapruder film and the footage of Oswald getting shot in the final scene.
This was a transitional period in westerns, which the critics commented more about than Hellman. The John Fords and Anthony Manns were slowing down, while Peckinpah was yet to come. One detail that came up but was not delved into was that Hellman was under discussion to do Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. I can only wonder how that would have turned out under his hand rather than Peckinpah.
Posted on November 30, 2014, in Criterions, Film and tagged acid western, criterion, film, jack nicholson, millie perkins, monte hellman, warren oates, western, will hutchins. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.