Saturday, 18 December 2010

Stage Coach remade, Bandolero and Judge Dredd

There are only a few films, Casablanca, Dr Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, the Wizard of Oz, the Lady Vanishes and the 39 Steps that I enjoy watching over and over again even though I remember the story and the ending from the outset. On this list are also the musicals the Moulin Rouge and Cabaret and spiritual films such as the Shoes of the Fisherman and Quo Vadis. High Noon is a highly regarded Western, together with Bad Day at Black Rock but top of my list is Stagecoach, John Ford’s 1939 first Western in sound and which introduced John Wayne to an International audience. I was therefore disappointed to find that the MGM Sky channel film was not the original but the 1986 Television remake.

I was therefore more than pleased to find that it is a good film with familiar ingredients and the Cash family in charge, Johnny playing the role of Marshal Curley Wilcox together with June and John Carter Cash. The remake is almost a faithful retelling of the original story.

The film is an account of the lives of a group of diverse travellers who commence a stage journey from a town in Arizona to a town in New Mexico during the era when Geronimo and his Apache Indians were attempting to reclaim their land from the new arrivals. There are two stops for fresh horses, food and comfort breaks on a journey which is usually undertaken within one day. The army advises the coach driver and his passengers that their has been activity, including the cutting of the telegraph and advises against departure but offers them an escort to the first stop stating that other army escorts will accompany the other stages.

When the coach driver visit the Marshal for his shotgun rider he is told that the man has been sent out with a posse to try and capture an escaped convict known as the Ringo Kid, the part played by John Wayne in the 1939 original. The convict alleges he was framed by men who killed his father and brother and it is believed he is now on this way to Lordsburg, the destination town for the stage coach, to seek revenge on the killers who live there. The marshal decides that in the circumstances he will undertake the role as shot gun rider and as they leave town two events occur which make the story.

The coach is flagged down by the bank manger who is leaving town, he says having been telegraphed to take papers to the bank at Lordsbourg, a statement which immediate attracts the interest of the Marshall and driver who have been told the telegraph line has been cut. We, the audience, know that the man has been threatened to be exposed to his family by his mistress and has decided to run off with the shipment of cash brought to the bank by the stagecoach.

The second development is that the Ringo Kid having lost his horse attempts to board the coach only to be recognised by the Marshal, arrested, disarmed and made to sit inside the coach on its floor. Also deciding to make the journey is the pregnant wife of an army office she is travelling to be with for the birth of their first child. The second woman is a bar girl being run out of town by the local women’s committee although in the remake she is the victim of a man who promised to marry her. There is a Doctor, a drunk in the original film but switched to Doc Holiday in the remake, the Dentist gunfighter, a real life individual remembered for his part in the Gun Fight at the OK Coral with Wyatt Earp in the town of Tombstone. Doc Holiday is on his way back to Tombstone and the Whisky salesman is in search of new markets. There is also a former Calvary paymaster who was saved from execution by the father of the wife on her way to join her husband. He had gambled the wages and been imprisoned where he had learnt to become a card sharp gambler making his living from town to town. He offers to protect the wife until joining her husband because her father’s support for him in the past. The remaining traveller is a specialist whisky salesman selling his wares from town to town.

When they arrive at the first stop they are provided with food and rest but are told the new army escort had been attacked and that the wife’s husband had been injured and taken their base while the rest of the troop were out on the trail of the Indians.

The existing escort is under orders to return but offers to take anyone who wishes back with them. The whisky salesman does so in both films. When they reach the second stop they find is has been attacked and partially destroyed with the relief horses run off, The wife goes into labour so they are forced to stay over night. The wife gives birth with the help of the Doc and the women of the night. She has struck up a relationship with Kid who tells her of the ranch he and his family were developing and offers a home to her as they are two of kind.

As anticipated when they set off they are attacked by the Indians and in the remake there are two differences. In the original it is the cardsharp who is killed but in the remake he survives while in the original the banker survives to be arrested on reaching Lordsbourg but in the remake he is killed,

They are rescued by the army who drive off the Indians when all appears lost and the wife with her baby finds that in charge is her husband who contrary to the previous report had only a minor injury. In the original film the Ringo Kid goes off and gets his revenge killing all three brothers involved in the family deaths and the framing of him. In the remake the Marshall together with the Doc and the Cardsharp are all involved in tackling the gangsters leading to the death of the senior brother in a fair shootout and the arrest of the other two.

There is one other difference between the films is that in the original the Kid returns to custody expecting to be returned to prison and asks the Marshall to arrange for the woman to get to his ranch to wait for his release. The Marshall allows him to go off with the woman, although still a fugitive. In the remake his innocence is established before the shoot out and therefore the couple are free to start their new life together. I thought the remake was as well acted as the original and maintained an authentic feel.

A very different kind of movie is another James Stewart and Dean Martin team up called Bandolero. Dean Martin and his gang are bank robbers who are arrested, tried and due to be hung for the murder of the manager whose widow is played by Raquel Welsh.

James Stewart plays the brother who kidnaps the hangman and arrives in town with the intention of saving his brother and which he achieves while they are on the scaffold. Unbeknown to the brother Stewart has also robbed the bank while the crowd assembles for the hanging. Raquel Welsh is taken hostage but establishes a relationship with the brother. They take her across the Mexican border into an area known to be controlled by the Bandoleros, ruthless bandits who kill without question any foreigners (gringos) they find.

They are followed across the border by the sheriff George Kennedy, (who wants the widow), his young impressionable deputy and a posse. The two manage to capture the brothers and the rest of the gang and the Sheriff makes a rebutted play for the widow.

Then the Bandoleros arrive in great numbers and the Sheriff is forced to return the guns to the fugitives in order for them all to survive. There is a great shoot out in which most on both sides are killed. Only the widow and the Sheriff and a couple of the posse survive after the leading Bandolero is killed and the others ride off. The two brothers are given unmarked stone graves so that no one will know what has taken place. The film uses the village set for John Wayne’s Alamo. The story has been recreated in the novel Lonesome Dover made into a TV miniseries and also uses the Alamo set. It is a film not to be remembered and where I failed to see the point except that the two brothers had been dealt poor hands from start to finish whereas the behaviour of the lawman and the widow both highly questionable, survive. I remain uncertain about the moral involved

Although not a Western Judge Dredd has many of the Western Characteristics. This science fiction film of a kind is based on a British comic series. It follows themes covered in several other films. Because of climate change and political and social mismanagement most of the earth has become an unliveable desert which everyone concentrated in protected Megacities. The city has many levels and between the sky scrapping buildings it is possible to travel by flying vehicles and transports. Down below is a seething melting pot where street and district gangs fight it out for domination. The very rich live well at the top. Because of the conditions and circumstances the City is run by a board and law and order is operated by the Judges. Officers who are able to arrest, try and punish, including instant imprisonment or execution according to the law.

Sylvester Stallone, who else, is Judge Dredd one of the most experience, effective and therefore feared Judges.

The films begins as a Hacker is released from the separate penal institution back in the city and finds himself assigned accommodation at the lowest level and in the midst of a local war when the Judge Intervenes. He escapes by hiding in a garbage robot but is spotted by Dredd who refuses to listen to any explanation and sentences the man back to prison for tampering with city property.

We then learn that a former Judge who became a Murderer escapes with help from prison and one of his first acts is to frame Judge Dredd for murder and despite a spirited defence by a young female officer who looks up to the Judge the evidence is overwhelming and Dredd is sentenced to death. The Judge’s Mentor and chief of the Council is played by Max Von Sydow and after the trial he successfully pleads for the life of Dredd accepting this means he resigns his post and goes outside the City to bring law to the lawless.

His role is taken over by the man who framed Dredd and arranged the escape of a major criminal, a former Judge and also the unknown the cloned brother of Dredd. In the past the Council had started a project of genetic engineering to create a perfect Judge using DNA from all of them. The flaw was the assumption that the existing Council reflected the perfect mix, as quickly became evident with the outcome of one clone becoming a psychopathic murderer and the abandonment of the project.

The plan to gain power appears to go well as the rogue Judge creates anarchy after murdering over 100 Judges and the Council misguidedly agrees to the Perfect judge clone project being completed on being told that the process has been speeded up in secret and that Perfect Judges will replace those murdered within a matter of hours. The Council is then killed after learning that it is the DNA of the rogue Judge being used to create the new officers, and in turn the new Chief Judge and instigator of the plan is himself killed by the Rogue Judge. Nothing now will stop the creation of a rogue City where criminals are in control.

This would have happened but for two developments. First Judge Dredd avoids being murdered on his was to prison sitting next to man he sent for misusing a public vehicle. They both escape when the vehicle is brought down by a cannibal family living outside the City and the two then escape with the help of Max Von Sydow who loses his life in the process.

Back in the city there is help from the young female officer with a crush on Judge Dredd and who helps identify the rogue Judge with whom they successfully engage in violent battle, despite his help from a giant robot. The new batch of clones are destroyed and the Clone making plant explodes in flames

The remaining Judges want Dredd to become the new Chief Judge be he declines saying he wants to continue working on the streets thus providing opportunity for further films. Stallone has expressed dissatisfaction with the final cut of the film admitting that it took itself too seriously although he enjoyed working on an action film with a moral framework.

The three films provided different levels of entertainment but will quickly pass from the day to day memory until trigger red in the future.

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