DT Moviehouse Review: Bronco Billy

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here)</a> and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review Clint Eastwood’s Bronco Billy.

(1960) Directed by Clint Eastwood

Screenplay by Dennis Hacken

Tagline: The most outrageous of ‘em all.


What It’s About:

Frigid spoiled heiress Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke), left high and dry in a cheap hotel by her newlywed money grubbing husband (Geoffrey Lewis), is forced to throw in her lot with a traveling wild west show led by posturing cowboy trick shooter Bronco Billy McCoy (Clint Eastwood) and featuring a retinue of cheerful outcast ex-cons.

Why I Bought It:

Bronco-Billy-1980-Sam-Bottoms-Bill-McKinney-Sondra-Locke-Clint-Eastwood-Scatman-Crothers-pic-10“I’ve got a special message for you little pardners out there. I want you to finish your oatmeal at breakfast and do as your mom and pa tell you because they know best. Don’t ever tell a lie and say your prayers at night before you go to bed. And as our friends south of the border say, ‘Adios, amigos.’”

Bronco Billy is the most unlikely movie to come out of Clint Eastwood’s repertoire since Paint Your Wagon, but it’s also one of my favorites.

Imagine One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Cool Hand Luke brought to you by John Ford with help from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

shot1_largeEastwood takes his tough guy persona and flips it on its ear, turning in a winsome performance as a New Jersey shoe salesman and ex-convict who is living his dream of being a rootin’ tootin’ buckaroo, surrounding himself with a bevy of likeminded souls (and fellow ex-cons), including barker Doc Lynch (Scatman Cruthers), hook-handed wrangler Lefty LeBow (Bill McKinney), snake handling Apache dancer and struggling writer Chief Big Eagle (Dan Vadis) and his wife Running Water (Sierra Pecheur), and boyish roper and Army deserter Leonard James (Sam Bottoms). There’s a nice cameo by Hank Worden (Mose from The Searchers) as a gas station attendant too.

flagtentThe cast is just as likable as can be, solidly carrying Eastwood’s nostalgic, idealistic message of the dream of the American West, namely, that you can reinvent yourself on the ‘frontier’ of society, that America itself is a land of slightly crazy, individualistic characters, a message no more readily apparent than when, after their show tent accidentally burns down, Billy has a new one sewn together out of American flags stitched by patients at a mental hospital. Running Water says plainly, “Do you understand what Bronco Billy and the wild west show are all about? You can be anything you want. All you have to do is go out and become it!”

It’s a passion project on every level, as far from the gritty realism of Unforgiven as a hawk from the moon. It’s full of John Ford corn and dopey situations, but like the exploits of a spangled Gene Autry, I can’t help but grin watching it.

Bronco-Billy-1980-Clint-Eastwood-pic-6The central storyline of course, is Billy’s romance of the ice hearted, materialistic Lily, and of her eventual sort of Taoist-coming-around to rejecting the lovelessness her extreme wealth has engendered in her in favor of Billy’s all accepting, all-encompassing dream. At first, nobody much warms to her as Billy’s assistant. Her job is to look pretty, say her lines (Billy doesn’t approve of her early improvisation) and spin on a wheel while Billy (blindfolded) shoots targets and throws a knife at a balloon between her knees. Conversely, she can’t understand the people she’s with. In one early scene, she tries to make idle conversation with Lefty, who rankles at her talking.

“I was just trying to make the time pass by more quickly.”

“What the hell you wanna make the time pass by more quickly for?”

Lily gradually learns the true identities of the show performers as her time with them progresses, expressing indignation at their colored and criminal pasts, but warming to their genuine familial fondness of each other. There’s a great turning point scene when Big Eagle and Running Water sheepishly admit to Billy before a show that they’re going to have a baby. Knowing full well the show’s constant financial trouble (the outfit is strictly subsistence – they haven’t been paid by Billy in months) they’re fearful of his reaction to the news he will have another mouth to feed. “What?!” Billy says when they tell him. He promptly draws his matched revolvers and fires them into the air in cartoonish celebration, busting into a broad grin.  He declares it’s time for a celebration and leads the grinning parents-to-be (and the others, who naturally come running at the gunshots) out, while we see Lily sitting in the corner watching them with obvious envy.

Is it dated? Most certainly, but so what?

Sexist? Probably. When Billy attempts to seduce Lily in a cot in the ‘honeymoon suite’ of the mental asylum, she sneers;

“I find your timing less than appropriate.”

To which he replies in mock innocence,

“Oh. Is it that time of the month?”

18953612_jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxAlso, it’s a Sondra Locke/Eastwood outing so Locke does get saved from attempted rape in the parking lot. I took a class on Eastwood in college and one girl in class wondered if Eastwood and Locke roleplayed this scenario a lot when they were married. I have no idea, but it is an oddly ubiquitous happening in all the films they made together…

Nevertheless, Bronco Billy is worth a watch, if you’ve got the heart for it.

Best Dialogue/Line:

After Billy and the gang lose their tent and fail to successfully rob a train, they decide to hole up in a mental institution for a few days (Billy’s show is welcome at orphanages and asylums alike, as reciprocation for Billy putting on free shows for the kids and patients). The kindly wannabe cowboy administrator welcomes them with this line;

“You and your gang can hole up here for as long as you like. You can take your meals with the staff or the patients – whomever you feel more comfortable with.”

Best Scene:

It’s a minor scene, but I always chuckle at Sondra Locke’s over the top heiress on her sham ‘wedding night’ with Geoffrey Lewis.

Lewis and Locke are marrying solely out of financial convenience. Locke can’t get her inheritance without being married by the age of thirty, and Lewis is on the skids. Yet he still apparently holds out hope for some intimacy and disrobes in an eager hurry, only to have Locke come out of the bathroom with a thick pea green mud mask on her face.

As they lay down to bed, Locke warns him that he is not allowed to touch her without first asking permission, at peril of being disinherited.

She flicks the lights out, and after about thirty seconds of silent, total darkness, Lewis whispers tentatively;

“Darling? May I put my hand on your breast?”

“NO,” intones Locke with imperious finality.

Next In The Queue:  Buffalo Soldiers

DT Moviehouse Review: Back To The Future III

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I take a look at Back To The Future Part III.

(1990) Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Screenplay by Bob Gale

Tagline: They saved the best trip for last…but this time, they may have gone too far!

What it’s about:

Picking up moments after the end of Back To The Future Part II (when lightning struck the DeLorean sending Doc to parts unknown and leaving Marty stranded in 1955), a 70 year old Western Union telegram arrives for Marty from Doc, who has landed safely in 1885 but with an irreparably damaged time circuit. The telegram directs Marty and the 1955 Doc to a mine where the DeLorean has been stashed for 70 years, along with instructions on how to repair it using 1955 technology and get Marty home. But while fixing the time machine, ’55 Doc and Marty learn that 1885 Doc was murdered by Bull “Mad Dog” Tannon (Biff’s ancestor). Eschewing a return to 1985 to save his friend, Marty heads back to the Old West to rescue his friend.

Why I bought it:

As stated in my previous BTTF reviews, the entire Trilogy was a gift from a friend who upgraded to Blu-Ray (again, thanks, Ryan).

But would I have purchased BTTF Part III?

Well, admittedly, only had I purchased Part II.

It finishes out the series very nicely and it’s a western. Westerns are pizza for me. I’ll practically watch and find something to enjoy in just about every western ever made (except Jonah Hex…ew).

This is my favorite of the series after the first one. It’s a wonderful change of pace, putting Doc and Marty into a truly alien past setting, and even better, shifting the focus from Marty to Doc. If it suffers from anything, it’s that you sort of have to have seen Part II in order to fully appreciate everything that’s going on.

Believe it or not, I saw Part III in the theater without having seen Part II. It only took about a minute to acclimate to the plot, but I do realize I missed out on things like the reappearance of Flea’s character Needles towards the end, which retroactively establishes him as being partly responsible for 2015 Marty’s fall and subsequent failure in his nowhere job.

Marty grows up in this one to be sure. His realization that he doesn’t have to be bandied into confrontations (a lesson compounded by the fact that in 1885 a fight is to the death) leads to his altering the course of his own lackluster 2015 future (we presume).

 But as mentioned, most of the character focus is on Doc Brown. He is shown to be making out fine in 1885, an era he expressed a fondness for in 1955. Setting up a blacksmith shop, his barn is loaded with anachronistic inventions, from a ponderous refrigeration machine that makes one ice cube to a telescopic lens for his Winchester rifle. We learn about his love of futurist Jules Verne, a trait that opens up a dialogue with the wonderful Mary Steenburgen’s like minded schoolteacher Clara. Their relationship hearkens nicely back to a similar role she played earlier in her career as a woman in love with a time traveler, HG Wells himself, in Time After Time.

Their romance is the heart and the best element of BTTF Part III.

A table of western faces: Dub Taylor, Harry Carey Jr, and Pat Buttram

The movie is also full of nods to western fans. When confronted by Mad Dog, Marty tells them his name is Clint Eastwood hoping to intimidate them (and later employs the same method Eastwood’s Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars to ultimately defeat Mad Dog – as foreshadowed in BTTF Part II). Harry Carey Jr (3 Godfathers, The Searchers, etc), Pat Buttram (Petticoat Junction, The Gene Autry Show), and Dub Taylor (numerous westerns including The Wild Bunch and Gunsmoke) all share a table in Matt Clark (High Spade in The Outlaw Josey Wales)’s saloon, Burton Gilliam (Blazing Saddles) is a Colt pistol salesman, and Bill McKinney (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Bronco Billy) is a train engineer. In another nice touch, Mad Dog Tannon carries a riding quirt, bullying his underlings (and constantly saying ‘dude’)  in a manner reminiscent of Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

There are great self-referential touches too. Marty and Doc take a daguerreotype photo in front of the brand new clock face that will be set into the HillValley clock tower, to which their fates are inextricably tied. Doc apologizes once again for the crudity of a ridiculously complex scale model crafted to enact their plan for getting the DeLorean up to 88mph. Mad Dog mixes up his metaphors (“I’m gonna shoot you down like a duck.”) the same as Biff. Doc is shown to have created an 1880’s equivalent of the complex Rube Goldberg-like alarm and breakfast cooking machine shown in the opening scene of the first movie.

The unpleasantness of Part II is mostly gone here. BTTF III is a lighthearted, high spirited adventure and the shot of Doc with Clara and his kids Jules and Verne aboard the wonderfully designed steampunk time machine locomotive is a beautiful end to a great little series of movies. You can imagine the Doc and his family having continuing adventures throughout time once the credits roll.

But here’s a thought – if Marty’s maternal ancestor resembles Lorraine….what does that say about the McFly blood line? Eww…

Best bit of dialogue:

Heartbroken over his apparent loss of Clara, Doc retires all night to the saloon and waxes poetic over the wonders the of future to every available ear and a glass of whiskey (which he never even touches). When he tells the boys at the bar about the wonder of automobiles (“Where I come from, we don’t need horses,” a verbal reference to the previous “Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”), one of them asks –

Do people walk anymore? Do they run?

Doc: Of course we run. But for fun. For recreation.

Pat Buttram (in his hilarious, characteristic hound dog drawl): Run for fun? What the hell kinda fun is that?

Best scene:

I really love the climactic sequence. In typical BTTF style everything requires precision timing (“Why do we always have to cut these things so damn close?” Marty declares at one point). The superheated locomotive engine must push the DeLorean up to 88mph to activate the flux capacitor and send Marty and Doc back to the future. Of course the track ends at about the 88mph mark and plunges into a ravine. Then Clara decides to pursue Doc and blunders aboard the doomed engine, forcing Doc to vacate the time machine to save her. At the last split second, Marty flips Doc the 2015 hoverboard, and Doc takes Clara in his arms. Marty’s last sight of them as the time circuits activate is of the two of them floating off safely as the locmotive hurtles into empty space.

An exciting scene with a positive, lovely ending.

Would I Buy it Again? Yes

Closing out my reviews of the Back To The Future Trilogy, here’s an epic rap battle between Doc Brown and my other favorite time traveler. Just ’cause it’s silly and made me laugh.