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Thursday, August 12, 2010

SONS OF KATIE ELDER (1965)

In this old-school Western revenge pic, John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman & Michael Anderson, Jr play the titular brothers who return home for their mother’s funeral. They hardly know each other; no surprise since Mom took a decade between kids. (Wayne born 1907; Martin ‘17; Holliman ‘28; Anderson ‘43. Way to go, Mom!) But something’s rotten back @ the ranch. The reptilian new owner says he won it from their dad just before he got shot (in the back) and the whole town seems to have it in for the siblings. But truth will out . . . with a prod from Duke. Not even some exceptionally handsome lensing from Lucien Ballard does much to disguise how forced & formulaic a lot of this is, more like the Westerns Wayne typically made with hacks like Andrew McLaglen. Odd, since Wayne & veteran helmer Henry Hathaway brought out special qualities in each other. (Their next film was their seventh, and last, TRUE GRIT/’69.) So, it comes as a relief to watch things finally click into place in a tense & sober third act. As an actor, Wayne’s physical presence was a given. But his range in handling moral dilemmas & character complexity could kick in even without a John Ford or a Howard Hawks to call the shots. Hathaway also shows the technical chops of his four decades in film with an easy logistical mastery of the action scenes. Watch for a strikingly shot & edited sequence where Dean Martin corrals a young Dennis Hopper thru the city’s backstreets. A shame the rest of the film isn’t as good as the last three reels.

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