Watchlist: “Massacre Canyon” to “Western Union”

Massacre Canyon – 1954
A plainclothes Army detachment has to move a shipment of rifles through Injun territory. There’s a treacherous squaw and wagonload of Return To Sender mail-order-brides. That’s…about it.
This movie had a premise and one or two actors worthy of a better movie. Watching it, there are even flashes of intelligent thought. Unfortunately, each and every one of them is promptly ignored and/or tripped over on the way to something dumber. I did give it the benefit of the doubt for not knowing how stupid it really was and still trying…right up until the sentry got taken out by a man with his arms and legs literally tied behind his back.
Rated: mumble mumble look I’m getting therapy for my obsession with 1950s westerns, okay?

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman – 1951 – Ava Gardner, James Mason
Having some serious star power makes this movie work. Otherwise, the only thing you can really say about it is, this movie weird, yo.
Ava Gardner is Pandora Reynolds, a vaguely wealthy socialite-slash-singer who lives on an island somewhere with a nice climate, and quietly enjoys an absolute monopoly over the attentions of male population thereof. Since it’s Ava Gardner, you can believe it. You can also believe that absolutely no one ever tells Pandora “no,” or gives her anything less than their slavish devotion. You can also believe that she is a kind and generous mistress to most of her slaves, except the ones whom she wishes to test, because the script does also go into some little business about love equals destruction equals what you would sacrifice for it, etc, but really the attraction of this movie is watching Ava Gardner swan around in a variety of beautiful costumes, looking beautiful. (She is very beautiful).
So anyway, Enter James Mason as Hendrik van der Zee (AKA, yes, the Flying Dutchman of the legend and the curse). One round of negging later and Pandora is hooked. And so is Hendrik. But Pandora has already agreed to marry the nonentity of a daredevil racecar driver, Steve…and the learned Professor (there is a learned Professor) is starting to be suspicious of Captain van der Zee’s antecedents and intentions….
Oh, and then an excitable and jealous bullfighter guy arrives. Inside the bounds of the movie, he’s really small fry, but he’s still my favorite part, simply Something Happens and people Express Emotion at this point. Everyone else until then has been curiously passive (Racecar Fiancee Steve), or extremely underplayed (Flying Dutchman van der Zee)–having someone around who throws tantdrums, capes, and knives around is at least something happening. The poor guy is also the butt of a few dry narrator jokes, so there’s also that.
In short: the movie is beautifully filmed, the sets and locations are fantastic, the Technicolor colors are gorgeous, and the performances (as noted), are strong enough to make a mediocre script engrossing and would have made a superior script really shine.
Rated: three gored matadors out of five.

Possessed – 1947, Joan Crawford, Raymond Massey, Van Heflin
“So I was watching this movie with Joan Crawford–”
“The Joan Crawford?”
“Yyyyes?”
“I mean, I’ve never seen anything with her in it. Is she any good?”
“Well she was a major star for like fifty years, so, yeah?”
“Oh. What was the movie about?”
“It’s about this gi–woman, and she’s in love with Van Heflin, but he dumps her because she’s getting really obsessed with him and really clingy, and he’s not into that. So she marries this other guy and they’re doing ok, but then Van Heflin comes back and starts dating her stepdaughter. And she’s been kind of unraveling the whole movie, because she has schizophrenia, but she finally just goes over the edge and has a complete breakdown.”
“She has schizophrenia for real, or just in the movie?”
“What? Oh, and then she shoots the guy.”
“What!”
“And then she’s in like a catatonic, coma-like state, and her husband comes in to see her and I’m there wondering if he was going to smother her with a pillow–”
“What!?”
“Well, it’d make things a lot simpler for everybody else!”
“You’re terrible.”
Rated: antipsychotics have come a long way, baby.

The Virginian – 1954
So: this novel was recommended to me by Dr. [Redacted], the Good Ol’ Boy who taught Veterinary Science (and allowed extra credit for book reviews–his list of mind-expanding literature for young college mushheads, or acceptable classics–at 20 points a go. [I expanded his mind with Tarzan and Rafael Sabatini…I’m still not sure it was the right way to go.] It’s one of the early classics of the Western lit genre, and had a bunch of movies made from it. Apparently the best one is from the 1930s and stars Gary Cooper.
This isn’t it.
This one is just shy of twee and I got fed up with the sissy schoolmarm within about three minutes of her introduction.
Rated: I’m not wincing through this movie, I really amn’t.

Western Union – 1941
This one was made in 1941 and therefore Randolph Scott is a good decade younger than usual and quite a bit handsomer. Ahem.
Unfortunately, it’s also pretty twee. Not bad, but not to my tastes, really.
Rated: Is the therapy working? I think the therapy’s working. Yay….

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