Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)

Ride_in_the_Whirlwind_(movie_poster)Anyone who takes the time to search out this movie whether the reason is a young Jack Nicholson who wrote, helped finance, and starred in this western or because it’s directed by cult favorite Monte Hellman,  they probably already know it was shot consecutively with The Shooting. Whereas the first western has an unnerving existential tilt as the plot takes us through an endless journey across the oppressive desert plains, you could make the claim that Ride in the Whirlwind is a more conventional western.

However, it’s still highly intriguing for its main premise and the dilemmas that evolve as a result. But that’s enough with the big picture. Here are a few more details to fill in between the lines. The action begins with a holdup, a true western staple. True, a pair of men get injured but it’s about what you expect from such a skirmish. In the end, the stage rides off generally unimpeded and the bandits retreat to their lair up in the nearby mountains to wait it out for a while. Maybe they know a posse is on their trail and maybe not.

Either way, they’re mighty careful when a trio of riders make their way through the main pass. Of course, they don’t know that these are only a few cowhands making their way to Texas and they’re looking for a place to bed down for the night.

Both sides have a general sense of the other but rather than make waves they do the mutually beneficial thing and everything goes about their business nice and easy. There’s no need for guns and no ones looking for any trouble.

But the next morning a posse that means business rolls in and they’re not about to wait and ask questions. They set up posts to pin down their adversary and they hardly discriminate between who was a bandit and who is innocent. That’s not the way their righteous form of justice works.

Rather like the early Hollywood Classic The Ox-Bow Incident, they are searching for the men to lynch and it hardly seems to make any difference if the men are innocent or not. They shall be avenged. However, an interesting observation is that in once sense this does not seem like mob rule. The posse is calculated and cool in executing their objective although that’s no comfort to those who are actually innocent.

In the ensuing standoff, one of the ranch hands, caught in the crossfire gets it and the two bandits who come out with their lives get about what we expect. The second half of the film follows the two men who were able to escape and they just want to find a pair of horses so they can ride away from the whole business.

Their quest on foot leads them to a nearby homestead and this latter half of the story brings to mind earlier pictures such as Shane or Hondo where families are seen trying to make a life for themselves out on the plains.

Wes (Nicholson) and Vern (Cameron Mitchell) are desperate to get away yes, and they sneak into the families home but what makes them so different is the very fact that they are not real criminals. They are only doing this out of necessity. They treat the womenfolk respectfully including the ranchers taciturn daughter Abigail (Millie Perkins) but they’re also bent on taking for themselves a pair of horses.

First off, Evan ain’t so keen on having his home invaded or his family held hostage and he’s especially not obliging that they’re going to run off with some of his stock because they’re his after all.

This is in itself another brooding film like The Shooting but for different reasons. It’s filled with genuine tension because the irony of the situation is that we know these men are innocent and yet in order to survive in some ways they must take on the mantle of criminals just to live another day. There’s no space for a rational third way. There’s no grace or any type of understanding and so they’re forced to play by the rules already set up by the posse that’s pursuing them. That’s the moral conundrum at the core of this tale.

Ride in the Whirlwind has the dismal type of ending we expect with a bit of a silver lining but it’s that very shred of hope that makes it an affecting western. It feels right at home with the sentiments of the 1960s where the world is not as innocent as it used to be and the world often does not function by the most equitable standards. Some would say that’s why the western fell out of favor because in the classical sense, it no longer reflected the perceived world at large like it once did.

3.5/5 Stars

The Shooting (1966)

ShootingHellmanCrime films, westerns, and horror. It’s easy to see why these genres make arguably the best B-pictures, all things considered. It lies in their ability to deliver thrills with minimal capital and a bit of inspiration. Film Noir is by far my favorite but a film such as The Shooting makes me love shoestring westerns too. Except that’s just an initial gut reaction. What happens over the course of this film truly plays with our preconceptions. Its ambitions being rather curious.

The players are set fairly early on.  The cult favorite Warren Oates is cast as the laconic Gashade who however indifferent he might seem has some shred of decency in him as signified by his friendship with Coley (Will Hutchins) a needy and rather dimwitted miner.

His genial personality makes the addition of our third player all the more important. She’s a woman (Millie Perkins) who comes upon them unannounced and generally unwanted by Gashade. But she also comes with a proposition and money to boot.

Our protagonist is lukewarm to the whole undertaking but for some inexplicable reason agrees to become her guide in tracking someone. He wins a spot for Coley in their caravan as well and it’s easy to see Coley is very much taken with the lady to make up for his buddies complete lack of interest.

The acerbically biting Millie Perkins rivals Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch in the pantheon of cinematic Western women as she verbally spars with her fellow travelers. While the ever-leering Jack Nicholson, here in a very early role as a hired gun robed in black, adds another layer of tension to this extremely peculiar western exercise.

Monte Hellman follows a script penned by Carole Eastman that leads us through the blistering deserts of Utah on a very certain quest that nevertheless becomes increasingly vague and ambiguous as the film progresses. The very fact that The Shooting takes one of the archetypes of a man with a burning vendetta (for example The Searchers or The Bravados) and subverts it so completely denotes how unique this film manages to become.

It’s all orchestrated with a certain idiosyncratic paranoia both musically and otherwise. The opening moments prove just how effectively a score can impart a level of anxiety into a film without anything of much consequence actually occurring. It complements the slow burn that follows for the next hour — slow, brooding, perplexing, all those things — as we wander along with them like the Israelites in Exodus. But there’s an underlying goal to it all, the resolution that we expect to bring everything that has happened thus far to fruition. There will be a cathartic showdown where all is revealed if not made right.

Hitchcock’s long since overused quip that I will nevertheless mechanize one more time goes something like this and seems apt for this film. There is no terror in the bang only in the anticipation of it. That’s the key here. The “bang” as it were, comes but it comes in such a way that we were never quite expecting. The sequential narrative points that we are used to traversing are never quite passed in the succession that we are used to.

There’s a penchant for throwing out names that feel vaguely relevant such as Beckett or Kafka but not being literary enough I will forego such pieces of analyses to simply state in many ways The Shooting feels perfectly at home in the 60s. It’s a real trip and not simply on horseback. More in a precursor to Easy Rider sense. I believe the coined term is an Acid Western.

Paired with another Hellman-Nicholson collaboration backed by Roger Corman and filmed consecutively, The Shooting is made for a double bill with Ride in the Whirlwind. This number, in particular, proves just how mind-bending a western can be. There are no small films only small budgets and with enough vision, not even that can inhibit a truly inventive endeavor like this.

3.5/5 Stars