Containing Multitudes Since 2004
My friends have always said I'm too hard on John Wayne and his ilk, and maybe it might seem like I'm too critical of westerns in general, but frankly, most older H'wood and practically all spaghettis just don't interest me - they have too much baggage as wannabe realities for me to even look at. I have my faves, however, and along with parts of, and even all of a few whole Fred MacMurray films, and the odd Greg Peck and James Stewart effort, "Hell to Texas" is one of those westerns. Could be I'm just a sucker for Diane Varsi, and it could be Don Murray, he of the always interesting performances, caught my eye when I first saw this on the small screen, but just this shot alone, among many others in this film and it's well-written dialogue, almost catch some of lightning-in-a-bottle that the great writers of the western, like Haycox or Culp, were able to produce.They used to show these 'small' westerns all the time when I was a kid, the TV was flooded with 'em, in series form as well, and it was a chore separating the chaff out, but it only reinforced my dislike for the genre in general as a serious form. Too much Wayne, too many 'Injun' attacks, too much Manifest Destiny without the ambiguity of the real west for me. This film has a place as a damn good western, and maybe because it lacked the overall saddle-jingoism of what was usually expected, it isn't shown much any more. Too bad.
I have to confess I love Westerns; particularly the chamber Westerns of the 1950s, of which this was an outstanding exmple. I think the reason it's not better known is because it was made at a time (1958) when the country was flooded with oaters, both on film and (especially) on television. Outside of large-scale efforts like 'The Big Country' there was little chance of any work in that genre making much of an impact.
When I saw this the first time, it was rather cramped in on the small screen as a pan & scan, and even then I liked it. Later when I saw it in its original wide screen, I was even more taken with Hathaway's ability to show the vast openness of the west - something my Dad still says is being able to see three day's ride in any direction. ;-) Hathaway also caught the lean and spare look of the people as well, and the script had a directness and realism of human nature that still sounds authentic. Only the ending was Hollywood, and that's a given in '58, so it's forgiven. I agree, Tom, about the chamber westerns in general, but good ones like "From Hell to Texas" were pretty much A- or B+ efforts, and there weren't enough of those for my tastes, sadly. I was watching "Face of a Fugitive" on one of the Western Channels last week, a MacMurray inverted chamber western from '59 I really like - he was so much better when he played against type. I'd put it as a proto-spaghetti western, with a noirish and a samurai bent, both - a bit subversive, as well, as the protagonist isn't a white hat, and not quite a black one, but very gray indeed. It, too, had some wonderful photography and sharp dialogue in what was essentially a throw-away film, the ultimate fate of most of the chamber Westerns.
Sothis flick is unavailableDamn!You guys have whet my appetite
No matter how much you think is out there now, when you start thinking about what remains unavailable . . . it's depressing!
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