Monday, June 26, 2023

Rod Serling Saddles the Wind

John Cassavetes glares.
The opening of notes of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans's title tune--a torch song whispered intimately by Julie London--lets you know that Saddle the Wind (1958) won't be a conventional Western. But if you start to doubt that notion, Rod Serling's credit as screenwriter and the casting of John Cassavetes as an unhinged cowboy will dispel any such notions. 

Robert Taylor stars as Steve Sinclair, a reformed gunfighter who operates a mid-sized ranch in a scenic valley. Steve spends a lot of his time looking out for his younger brother--and surrogate son--Tony (Cassavetes). Steve loves his brother, but recognizes that Tony is a "gun crazy, loco kid." One day, Tony returns from a cattle-selling trip with a saloon singer named Joan (London) and announces his intention to marry her. 

Julie London as Joan.
Steve doesn't exactly welcome Joan into the family and she initially resents his parental treatment of Tony. However, Joan gradually realizes how much Steve cares for his brother. She also learns there is a dark side to Tony--especially after she watches him kill a gunfighter after goading the man into a face-off.

The opening scenes of Saddle the Wind promise to deliver a unique take on the Western genre. Unfortunately, the story goes off the rails when it nudges Julie London to the background and shifts focus to the tired old plot about Eastern settlers building fences on the open range. It's hard to fault screenwriter Serling, who was saddled (pun intended) with a story by Thomas Thompson. 

Saddle the Wind also exhibits signs of studio interference. The sub-90 minute running time is atypical for a star-powered feature and the denouement wraps up the story too quickly. Also, Jeff Alexander's score was replaced by one composed by Elmer Bernstein. (In 2005, Alexander's Saddle the Wind soundtrack was released for the first time.)

Robert Taylor as Steve.
Rod Serling's screenplay still crackles with memorable dialogue. When Steve is trying to make a point to Tony, he asks: "Do I have to crawl inside your head with an iron and burn it there?" The opening scene is pure Serling, a brilliantly-written, three-character "play" in which a grizzled gunfighter barges into a saloon looking for Steve Sinclair. It reminded me of Serling's later, underappreciated Western TV series The Loner, which takes place during the same post-Civil War period.

Robert Taylor and John Cassavetes work well together as the very different brothers. Taylor exudes calm and resilience, while Cassavetes plays Tony like a rubber band that's ready to snap at any given time. Julie London brings an gritty realism to her disenchanted saloon singer. The scene where she sings to Cassavetes could have been a throwaway, but she turns it into a touching moment. I was bummed when London's character was shuffled to the background and relegated to a minor supporting part.

One of the last "adult Westerns" of the 1950s, Saddle the Wind is an odd duck--and I mean that in a good way. It may not always work, but what's left on the screen holds one's interest while leaving the viewer a little sad that didn't turn out to be more.

You can watch Saddle the Wind for free on by clicking here. My Twitter pal @CED_LD_Guy has uploaded lots of interesting films on his Rumble channels.

Monday, June 12, 2023

12 Great World War II Movies of the 1960s...and How to Watch Them for Free

Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen.
I recently asked my 25,000 (awesome) Twitter followers to rate eleven of the finest World War II films of the 1960s. I wanted to keep my survey to a reasonable length, but it was tough to cut off the list at eleven. In fact, I initially tried to keep it at ten, but I just couldn't do it!

The reason is simple: The 1960s was an amazing decade for first-rate films set during World War II. Although Hollywood produced war movies during the 1940s and the 1950s, the number of major war movies exploded in the 1960s. There were films with big budgets and all-star casts (The Longest Day) as well as intimate pictures with rising stars (Hell Is for Heroes). There were fact-based movies (Battle of the Bulge) and espionage thrillers (36 Hours). Some films focused on daring escapes (Von Ryan's Express, The Great Escape), while others focused on daring missions (The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare). There were films about the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy (In Harm's Way), and the British Royal Air Force (Battle of Britain).

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
Interestingly, actors from The Magnificent Seven appeared in a bunch of 1960s war films: Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson in The Great Escape; McQueen and Coburn in Hell Is for Heroes; McQueen in The War Lover; Coburn in What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?; Bronson in The Dirty Dozen and Battle of the Bulge; Brad Dexter in Von Ryan's Express and None But the Brave; Robert Vaughn in The Bridge at Remagen; and Yul Brynner in The Battle of Neretva, Triple Cross, and Morituri.

Now, without further ado, here's my list of the 11 Best World War II Films of the 1960s, as ranked by the smartest film buffs on Twitter. I have also included a twelfth film, The Train with Burt Lancasterbecause it was mentioned frequently in the responses to my original tweet. Twitter movie guru @CED_LD_Guy secured the rights to make these movies available on his War Movie Classics channel on Rumble (which is similar to YouTube). I've added the links for you, so just click on a title below to watch the movie without ads for free! To view a film on your television, you'll need to add the Rumble app to your streaming device or smart TV and subscribe the channel (which is also free). If you want more information on how to do that, leave a comment below.

The Great Escape (1963) - Prisoners of war tunnel their way to freedom in this blockbuster starring James Garner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, Donald Pleasance, Richard Attenborough, and James Coburn.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) - An Army major (Lee Marvin) has to train 12 military convicts for a deadly mission behind enemy lines.

The Longest Day (1962) - Daryl F. Zanuck produced this all-star epic about the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944.

The Guns of Navarone (1961) - A team of commandos go undercover to destroy two large German cannons positioned strategically on Navarone Island. Based on an Alistair MacLean novel.

Where Eagles Dare (1968) - Another Alistair MacLean thriller provides the basis for this exciting tale about commandos tasked with rescuing a captured U.S. general from a mountain-top stronghold--but all is not as it seems.

Von Ryan's Express (1965) - Prisoners of war escape and hijack a train, racing through occupied Italy to their freedom in Switzerland. Check out my review.

Battle of the Bulge (1965) - This all-star epic is loosely based on the title battle, which lasted for several weeks near the end of World War II. The cast includes Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, and Telly Savalas.

Battle of Britain (1969) - The Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe fight for control of the skies over Great Britain in this all-star picture starring Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Christopher Plummer and many more.

In Harms Way (1965) - Otto Preminger explores the lives of naval officers and their wives stationed in Hawaii in the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hell Is for Heroes (1962) - A small squad of U.S. soldiers must hold off an advancing German company until reinforcements can arrive. The cast includes McQueen, Coburn, Fess Parker, Bobby Darin, and Bob Newhart.

36 Hours (1964) - On the eve of the Normandy invasion, an American intelligence officer (James Garner) gets thunked on the head during a clandestine rendezvous with a spy. He awakes in an Allied military hospital five years later and is told he has been suffering bouts of amnesia. Or is he? Check out my review.

The Train (1964) - The French Resistance seeks to stop a train loaded with art treasures stolen by the Nazis.