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Friday, 21 September 2012

Food for Western nerds: Cahill United States Marshal

Neville Brand, America's second most decorated serviceman next to Audrie Murphy,  played the Indian character, Lightfoot who is drafted in by John Wayne's Cahill US Marshall to track down a band of bank robbers in this lightweight but enjoyable western from director Andrew V Mclaglen and Wayne's own Batjac company. The veteran actor was joining a cast made up of many screen-vets, most notably Harry Carey Jnr and John Wayne himself.

It was the fifth time that the director had worked with Wayne, and in his entertaining commentary that accompanies the DVD of this movie, he provides a lot of interesting snippets of information. The famous opening scene for instance, where Wayne rides in and guns down several badman, was actually filmed on a sound stage which is something you'd never noticed. I've seen this film several times over the years and not once had I ever suspected the great opening was stage set.

He also points out that Wayne was drawn to the script, because of its modern themes. All action western it is but at its heart it is a story of children craving the attention of their far too busy lawman father, played of course by the aging Wayne who appreciated the depth this gave his character. He hoped it would make the movie attractive to modern audiences. This was 1973 and good parenting in a chaotic world was very much an issue of the day. At least it was according to the commentary on this disc. And although I'd never considered the movie from this angle before, but I could see it on this viewing. I watched the film twice - once without the commentary and once with.

The DVD, in the UK released as part of The Ultimate Western Collection, boasts a strong transfer with both sound and visuals which are up to the usual high standards of the medium. However it still looks and feels like a TV western to me, as do a lot of Wayne's late 60's/ 70's output. I started this piece by calling the movie lightweight and it is indeed that and must have seemed very old fashioned against the grim and gritty cinema of the 70's.

It's still a good film, though - maybe not exceptional but good all the same. George Kennedy plays the type of badman he so often excelled at, and although he often seems to be operating on auto-pilot, he is sinister when it is needed, but never quite reaches the levels of evil that his character so needs. Other weaknesses include the fact that Wayne is simply too old to have two such young sons and even the throwaway line that he had kids late in life doesn't make this premise any less likely.

I guess the biggest problem is that the movie doesn't seem to know if it should go for being a conventional Western or a children-in-peril movie. Still it's a John Wayne movie and John Wayne is John Wayne so I can still go with it and for the most part ignore the flaws. Wayne provided so many cinema high points that as a viewer I feel I owe him that much respect. He was 66 years old when this picture was made and yet he still comes across as pure bad-ass - a walking, talking definition of machismo.

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