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Posts tagged “Westerns

Bill Paxton R.I.P

bill-paxton-near-dark-vampireThe actor Bill Paxton, who was 61, has died due to complications from surgery, according to a statement from a representative of Paxton’s family.

“A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker,” read the statement, in part. “Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.”

That warmth earned Paxton a career that began in B-movies, experimental film and music videos, moved through bit parts in big pictures and, ultimately, leading roles. The epitome of a working actor, he described to The Los Angeles Times his on-screen presence as that of “a very straight-looking guy, very old-fashioned.”

“I consider myself an everyman, and there will always be an underdog quality to my stuff,” Paxton told Cosmopolitan magazine in a 1995 interview.

Paxton often found a way to make these roles his own. One memorable moment? As Pvt. Hudson in James Cameron’s film “Aliens,” Paxton’s desperate, defeated whine after a spaceship crash became a catch-phrase: “Game over, man! Game over!”

Born William Paxton in Fort Worth, Texas, the actor was the son of a hardwood salesman and, he told “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross in a 2009 interview, expected that he’d follow the same path. But after taking theater classes in high school, Paxton made a decision to become an actor.

He relocated to Los Angeles when he was in his late teens. One of his first gigs was at New World Pictures as a set designer for famed B-movie producer and director Roger Corman on the Angie Dickenson movie “Big Bad Mama.” A year later, he acted in “Crazy Mama,” a New World production directed by a young Jonathan Demme.

The actor continued with set design gigs while making inroads in front of the camera. Early appearances included a starring role in “Fish Heads” (1980), a cult-classic novelty video for the music duo Barnes & Barnes, which Paxton directed and that aired on “Saturday Night Live.”

Paxton played a blue-haired punk rocker in an opening scene of “The Terminator,” a role that led to a friendship with director James Cameron and jobs in “Aliens,” “True Lies” and “Titanic.” Paxton’s acclaimed turn in “Apollo 13,” further confirmed the actor’s abilities.

He was fantastic as the trashy vampire in “Near Dark” scene stealing as the scary, and comic relief, Severin.

“Every day you’re taking a final exam as an actor,” Paxton told the late film critic Roger Ebert in 1998, while discussing his work in “A Simple Plan.”

As Hank in “A Simple Plan,” Paxton harnessed his average-Joe demeanor in service of a career-defining role alongside Billy Bob Thornton. After their two characters find millions of dollars in the woods, Paxton’s Hank endures hardships that reveal the ways in which good men can do bad things.

“I don’t play my characters with any judgment,” he told Gross. “I don’t think it’s possible to play any character with judgment.”

The actor carried that philosophy into one of his most notable performances, as Bill Henrickson in “Big Love.” As the polygamist patriarch, Paxton played a husband juggling family, work and spirituality — with three wives, a half-dozen children and a sect-wide family feud.

When “Big Love” concluded, Paxton told The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara that he faced a hurdle. “It was the only steady job I’ve ever had as an adult,” he said. “But then nobody knew really what to do with me.”

As was always the case, though, Paxton found work. He earned an Emmy nomination in 2012 for the miniseries “Hatfields and McCoys,” and had a recurrent role in the TV series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Paxton was starring as Det. Frank Rourke in the first season of the CBS series “Training Day.” The 13 episodes finished shooting in December, with nine still set to air.

CBS and Warner Bros. Television praised Paxton’s work in a statement issued Sunday morning.

It read, in part: “Bill was, of course, a gifted and popular actor with so many memorable roles on film and television. His colleagues at CBS and Warner Bros. Television will also remember a guy who lit up every room with infectious charm, energy and warmth, and as a great storyteller who loved to share entertaining anecdotes and stories about his work.”

Paxton is survived by his wife, Louise, and two children, James and Lydia.


The Salvation – Trailer

I love westerns, always have, Clint Eastwood has a lot to do with my love of the genre. I love the classics, I love spghetti westerns and I also love the grittier ‘revisionist’ westerns like The Long Riders, Eastwood’s own Unforgiven and the Nick Cave penned Australian western The Proposition. Now we Mads Mikkelsen staring in Scandinavian western The Salvation, a Cannes Official Selection title which promises more of that… can’t wait.

Directed by Kristian Levring, the 1870’s-set pic also stars Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mikael Persbrandt, Eric Cantona and Jonathan Pryce. Levring co-wrote the script with Susanne Bier’s frequent collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen.

The large-scale drama follows Mikkelsen’s settler John and his arrival in the American West. When his family is murdered, he kills the culprit, unleashing the fury of notorious gang leader Delarue. Betrayed by his corrupt and cowardly community, the peaceful pioneer must turn vengeful hunter, slay the outlaws, and cleanse the town’s black heart.


R.I.P. Elmore Leonard

Elmore LeonardLegendary American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard passed away late yesterday in Detroit following complications from a stroke. He was 87. A last post on his Facebook page said he was “at home surrounded by his loving family” when he died at 7:15 AM. Some of the author’s works to be transformed into Hollywood movies included Hombre52 Pick-UpOut Of Sight3:10 To YumaGet Shorty and Jackie Brown (which was based on his Rum Punch). The FX series Justified is based on his novella Fire In The HoleLife Of Crime, adapted from Leonard’s novel The Switch, is to have a gala presentation in Toronto next month.

Leonard was born in 1925 in New Orleans and settled in Detroit in 1934. In the 1950’s there, he started out writing Westerns while also toiling as an ad man. He went on to specialize in crime thrillers with his trademark brand of simple dialogue and indelible characters who sometimes appeared across several of his works. Among his 10 Rules Of Writing were, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it” and “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” At the time of his hospitalization in early August, Leonard was “very much” at work on his 46th novel, his researcher Gregg Sutter told The Detroit News.


Lee Van Cleef

Lee Van Cleef_Westerns BannerClarence Leroy “Lee” Van Cleef, Jr. (January 9, 1925 – December 16, 1989) was an American film actor who appeared mostly in Westerns and action pictures. His sharp features and piercing eyes led to his being cast as a villain in scores of films, such as High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. After appearing in the last of these films he was propelled to stardom, becoming the hero in many of his later movies.

Lee Van Cleef_1Van Cleef was born in Somerville, New Jersey, the son of Marion Levinia and Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef, Sr. Both of his parents were of partial Dutch ancestry. Coming of age just in time for World War II, he served in the United States Navy aboard a submarine chaser in the Caribbean, then in the Black and China Seas on a mine sweeper. After the war, he had a brief career as an accountant. In 1952, he began his acting career after friends and family encouraged him to try it because of his unique looks.

Lee Van Cleef_2Although his first acting experiences were in minor productions on stage; his first film was the classic Western High Noon, in which he played a villain. He also had a bit part as the sharpshooter in the climax of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms around the same time. In 1956, he co-starred in the B-grade science fiction movie It Conquered the World.  .

In addition to westerns and the science fiction films, Van Cleef appeared on the children’s syndicated western series, The Adventures of Kit Carson. Van Cleef starred as minor villains and henchmen in the westerns, The Tin Star and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Lee Van Cleef_3In 1959, a severe alcohol-related car crash nearly cost Van Cleef his career as a resulting knee injury had doctors telling him he would never ride a horse again. This injury was to plague him for the rest of his life, causing him great pain. His recovery was long and arduous and did take him away from acting for a time. During his time away from acting, Lee began a business in interior decoration with wife Joan, as well as pursuing his talent for painting, primarily of sea and landscapes. It took his career some time to recover from this blow and in contrast to his earlier major roles, he for some years had only occasional small parts. He played one of Lee Marvin’s villainous henchmen in the 1962 John Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, with James Stewart and John Wayne. He also had a small, uncredited role as one of the river pirates in 1962’s How the West Was Won.

For a Few Dollars More_Italian PosterHowever, in 1965, there was an opportunity waiting for him that was to change his life. His career revival began when the young Italian director Sergio Leone boldly cast Van Cleef, whose career was still in the doldrums, as one of the two protagonists, alongside Clint Eastwood, in Leone’s second western, For a Few Dollars More. Leone then chose Van Cleef to appear with Eastwood again, this time as the primary villain in the classic The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. With his roles in Leone’s films, Van Cleef became a major star of Spaghetti Westerns, playing central roles in films such as Death Rides a Horse, Day of Anger, The Big Gundown and The Sabata Trilogy. Van Cleef also had a supporting role in the cult film Escape from New York, a 1981 cyberpunk action film co-written, co-scored and directed by John Carpenter. The film is set in the near future in a crime-ridden United States that has converted Manhattan Island in New York City into a maximum security prison. Ex-soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given 24 hours to find the President of the United States, who has been captured after the crash of Air Force One in the middle of the island.

Clint+Eastwood+Eli+Wallach+Lee+Van+Cleef_The Good The Bad and the UglyIn 1984, Van Cleef was cast as a ninja master in the NBC adventure series The Master, but it was canceled after 13 episodes. All in all, he is credited with 90 movie roles and 109 other television appearances over a 38-year span.

Lee Van Cleef worked up until his failing health took his life on December 16, 1989 at the age of 64. He collapsed in his home from a heart attack. His wife Barbara called paramedics but they were unable to revive him. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, California. His gravestone reads: “Lee Van Cleef January 9, 1925 – December 16, 1989 ‘Best of the Bad’ Love and Light.”


Robert Blake

Robert Blake (born 18 September 1933), is an American actor most known for starring in the film In Cold Blood, the U.S. television series Baretta, and more recently for the 2005 trial in which he was tried and acquitted of the 2001 murder of his wife.

Blake was born Michael James Vincenzo Gubitosi in Nutley, New Jersey. His mother, Elizabeth Cafone (b. 1910), was married to Giacomo (James) Gubitosi (1906–1956), however according to Blake in an interview with Piers Morgan, his biological father was actually Giacomo’s brother. As a result of this, he said his parents were cold and distant towards him. He had two elder siblings, brother James Gubitosi (1930–1995) and sister Giovanna Gubitosi (1932–1985).

James and Elizabeth began a song-and-dance act, in 1936, the three children began performing, billed as “The Three Little Hillbillies.” They moved to Los Angeles, in 1938, where the children began working as movie extras.

Then known as Mickey Gubitosi, Blake began his acting cat career in the MGM movie Bridal Suite (1939), before appearing in MGM’s Our Gang shorts (aka The Little Rascals) under his real name. He appeared in 40 of the shorts between 1939 and 1944, eventually becoming the series’ final lead character. James and Giovanna Gubitosi also made appearances in the series as extras.

In 1942, he acquired the stage name Bobby Blake and in 1995, Blake was honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its Former Child Star “Lifetime Achievement” Award for his role in Our Gang.

Blake also had roles in one of Laurel and Hardy’s films The Big Noise (1944), the movies Humoresque (1946), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). In 1950, Blake joined the Army.

He turned down the role of Little Joe in Bonanza, before appearing in the syndicated western series 26 Men, The Cisco Kid, Have Gun Will Travel and The Restless Gun. Blake performed in numerous motion pictures as an adult, including the starring role in The Purple Gang (1960), and featured roles in Pork Chop Hill (1959), Town Without Pity (1961), Ensign Pulver (1964) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). In 1967, he played real-life murderer Perry Smith in In Cold Blood; Richard Brooks directed, adapting Truman Capote’s non-fiction book for the film.

Blake featured in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), and Electra Glide in Blue (1973). Blake may be best known for his Emmy Award-winning role of Tony Baretta in the popular television series Baretta (1975 to 1978), playing an undercover police detective who specialized in disguises.

He continued to act through the 1980s and 1990s, mostly in television, in the miniseries Blood Feud (1983) and Judgment Day: The John List Story (1993), which earned him a third Emmy nomination. He also had character parts in the theatrical movies Money Train (1995) and more memorably in the warped David Lynch film Lost Highway (1997). In addition, Blake starred in the television series Hell Town, playing a priest working in a tough neighborhood.

Almost one year later, on April 18, 2002, Blake was arrested and charged in connection with the murder of his wife. His longtime bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was also arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection with murder. A key event that gave the LAPD the confidence to arrest Blake came when a retired stuntman, Ronald “Duffy” Hambleton, agreed to testify against him. Hambleton alleged that Blake tried to hire him to kill Bonnie Lee Bakley. Another retired stuntman and an associate of Hambleton’s, Gary McLarty, came forward with a similar story.

On March 16, 2005, Blake was found not guilty of the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley and of one of the two counts of solicitation of murder. The other count, the solicitation of Gary McLarty, was dropped after it was revealed that the jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favour of an acquittal. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, commenting on this ruling, called Blake a “miserable human being” and the jurors “incredibly stupid.” Blake’s defense team, led by attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach, and members of the jury responded that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. Trial analysts also agreed with the jury’s verdict. On the night of his acquittal several fans celebrated at Blake’s favorite haunt, Vitello’s.


Sam Peckinpah – ‘Bloody Sam’

He caught a lucky break in 1966 when producer Daniel Melnick needed a writer and director to adapt Katherine Anne Porter’s short novel Noon Wine for television. Taking place in turn of the century West Texas, ‘Noon Wine’ was a dark tragedy about a farmer’s act of futile murder which leads to suicide. The film was a critical hit, with Peckinpah nominated by the Writers Guild for Best Television Adaptation and the Directors Guild of America for Best Television Direction.

The surprising success of Noon Wine laid the groundwork for one of the most explosive comebacks in film history. In 1967, William Goldman’s screenplay ‘Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid’ had recently been purchased by 20th Century Fox; Warner Bros were interested in having Peckinpah rewrite and direct a similar adventure film, The Diamond Story. An alternative screenplay written by Roy Sickner and Walon Green was called, The Wild Bunch.

It was quickly decided that The Wild Bunch, which had several similarities to Goldman’s work, would be produced in order to beat Butch Cassidy to the theaters. By the fall of 1967, Peckinpah was rewriting the screenplay into what became ‘The Wild Bunch’. Filmed on location in Mexico, Peckinpah’s epic work was inspired by his hunger to return to films and what he perceived to be the utter lack of reality seen in Westerns up to that time. He set out to make a film which portrayed not only the vicious violence of the period, but the crude men attempting to survive the era. The film detailed a gang of veteran outlaws on the Texas/Mexico border in 1913 trying to exist within a rapidly approaching modern world. The Wild Bunch is framed by two ferocious and infamous gunfights, beginning with a failed robbery of the railway company office and concluding with the outlaws battling the Mexican army in suicidal vengeance due to the death of one of their members. Irreverent and unprecedented in its explicit detail, the 1969 film was an instant success. Many critics denounced its violence as sadistic and exploitative. Other critics and filmmakers hailed the originality of its unique rapid editing style, created for the first time in this film and ultimately becoming a Peckinpah trademark, and praised the reworking of traditional Western themes. It was the beginning of Peckinpah’s international fame, and he and his work remained controversial for the rest of his life. When The Wild Bunch was re-released for its 25th anniversary, it received an NC-17 rating, proving the film’s continued impact after so many years. Peckinpah received his only Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for this film. Unfortunately a remake is in the offing.

Defying audience expectations, as he often did, Peckinpah immediately followed The Wild Bunch with the elegiac, funny and mostly non-violent 1970 Western ‘The Ballad of Cable Hogue’. The film covered three years in the life of small-time entrepreneur Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) who decides to make a fortune after discovering water in the desert. He opens his business along a stagecoach line, only to see his dreams end with the appearance of the first automobile on the horizon. Shot on location in the Nevada desert, the film was plagued by poor weather, Peckinpah’s renewed drinking and his brusque firing of 36 crew members. Largely ignored upon its initial release, The Ballad of Cable Hogue has been rediscovered in recent years and is often held up by critics as exemplary of the breadth of Peckinpah’s talents. Over the years, Peckinpah cited the film as one of his favorites.

His alienation of Warner Brothers once again left him with a limited number of directing jobs. Peckinpah was forced to do a 180-degree turn and traveled to England to direct ‘Straw Dogs’ (1971), one of his darkest and most psychologically disturbing films. Starring Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner, a timid American mathematician who moves to Cornwall, England, to live with his young wife Amy (Susan George). Resentment of David’s presence by the locals slowly builds to a shocking climax when the mild-mannered academic is forced to defend his home. Peckinpah entirely rewrote the existing screenplay, inspired by the books African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative by Robert Ardrey, which argued that man was essentially a carnivore who instinctively battled over control of territory. The character of David Sumner, taunted and humiliated by the town locals, is eventually cornered within his home where he loses control and kills several of the men during the violent conclusion. Straw Dogs deeply divided critics, some of whom praised its artistry and its confrontation of human savagery, while others attacked it as a mysogynistic and fascist celebration of violence. The film was for many years banned on video in the UK, although some critics have come to hail it as one of Peckinpah’s greatest films.

Despite his growing alcoholism and controversial reputation, Peckinpah was extremely prolific during this period of his life. He returned to the United States to begin work on ‘Junior Bonner’ (1972). The story covered a week in the life of aging rodeo rider Junior “JR” Bonner (Steve McQueen) who returns to his hometown to compete in an annual rodeo competition. Promoted as a Steve McQueen action vehicle, reviews were mixed and the film performed poorly at the box office. Peckinpah remarked, “I made a film where nobody got shot and nobody went to see it.”

Eager to work with Peckinpah again, Steve McQueen presented him Walter Hill’s screenplay to ‘The Getaway’. McQueen played Doc McCoy, an imprisoned mastermind robber whose wife Carol (Ali McGraw) conspires for his release on the condition they rob a bank in Texas. A doublecross follows the crime, and the McCoys are forced to flee for Mexico with both the police and criminals in hot pursuit. Replete with explosions, car chases and intense shootouts, the film became Peckinpah’s biggest financial success to date earning more than $25 million at the box office.


Richard Matheson

Richard Burton Matheson (born February 20, 1926) is an American author and screenwriter, primarily in the fantasy, horror and science fiction genres. He is perhaps best known as the author of The Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, I Am Legend, and Hell House, all of which have been adapted as major motion pictures. Matheson has also written for several episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone’ such as  “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, and adapted his 1971 short story Duel into a screenplay later that year for the Steven Spielberg directed television movie of the same name.

Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey, and raised in Brooklyn where he graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1943. He then entered the military and spent World War II as an infantry soldier. In 1949 he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.

His first short story, “Born of Man and Woman”, appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950 and is the tale of a monstrous child chained in its parents’ cellar told in the first person as the creature’s diary. Between 1950 and 1971, Matheson produced dozens of stories, frequently blending elements of the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres, making important contributions to the further development of modern horror.

Several of his stories, like “Third from the Sun” (1950), “Deadline” (1959) and “Button, Button” (1970) are simple sketches with twist endings; others, like “Trespass” (1953), “Being” (1954) and “Mute” (1962) explore their characters’ dilemmas over twenty or thirty pages. Some tales, such as “The Funeral” (1955) and “The Doll that Does Everything” (1954) incorporate zany satirical humour at the expense of genre clichés, and are written in an hysterically overblown prose very different from Matheson’s usual pared-down style. Others, like “The Test” (1954) and “Steel” (1956), portray the moral and physical struggles of ordinary people, rather than the then nearly ubiquitous scientists and superheroes, in situations which are at once futuristic and everyday. Still others, such as “Hell House” (1953), “The Curious Child” (1954) and perhaps most of all, “Duel” (1971) are tales of paranoia, in which the everyday environment of the present day becomes inexplicably alien or threatening.

He wrote 14 episodes for the American TV series The Twilight Zone, including “Steel” and the famous “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (both mentioned above), plus “Little Girl Lost”, a story about a young girl tumbling into the fourth dimension. On all of Matheson’s scripts for The Twilight Zone, he also wrote the introductory and closing statements spoken by host Rod Serling. He adapted the works of Edgar Allan Poe for Roger Corman and Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out for Hammer Films. He also wrote the Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within”.

In 1973, Matheson earned an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his teleplay for The Night Stalker, one of two TV movies written by Matheson that preceded the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Matheson also wrote the screenplay for ‘Fanatic’ (US title: Die! Die! My Darling!).

Matheson’s first novel, Someone Is Bleeding, was published in 1953. His novels include The Shrinking Man (filmed as The Incredible Shrinking Man, again from Matheson’s own screenplay), and a science fiction vampire novel, I Am Legend, (filmed as ‘The Last Man on Earth’ (1964), ‘The Omega Man’ (1971), and  ‘I Am Legend’ (2007)). Other Matheson novels turned into notable films include ‘What Dreams May Come’, ‘A Stir of Echoes’, ‘Bid Time Return’ (as ‘Somewhere in Time’), and ‘Hell House’ (as ‘The Legend of Hell House’), the last two adapted and scripted by Matheson himself. Three of his short stories were filmed together as ‘Trilogy of Terror’ (1975), including “Prey” (initially published in the April 1969 edition of Playboy magazine) with its famous Zuni warrior doll. Matheson’s short story “Button, Button”, was filmed as ‘The Box’ in 2009, and was also adapted for a 1986 episode of The Twilight Zone.

In 1960, Matheson published The Beardless Warriors, a nonfantastic, autobiographical novel about teenage American soldiers in World War II. It was filmed in 1967 as ‘The Young Warriors’ though most of Matheson’s plot was jettisoned. During the 1950s he published a handful of Western stories (later collected in By the Gun); and during the 1990s he published Western novels such as Journal of the Gun YearsThe GunfightThe Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok and Shadow on the Sun. He has also written a blackly comic locked-room mystery novel, Now You See It…, aptly dedicated to Robert Bloch, and the suspense novels 7 Steps to Midnight and Hunted Past Reason.

According to film critic Roger Ebert, Matheson’s scientific approach to the supernatural in I Am Legend and other novels from the 1950s and early 1960s “anticipated pseudorealistic fantasy novels like ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist’… High praise indeed.